The Magic of Storytelling
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW
Oral stories are powerful things—they can teach, entertain, evoke emotion, elicit memories, develop imagination, provoke deeper thinking, and prompt reflection. Most importantly though, they bring us together and keep us connected. Stories transcend time and space, have the power to evolve, and are free to give and receive. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
Storytelling is also very natural—we do it all the time without even thinking about it—when we recount an incident or event, when we reminisce, when we tell a joke, and when we use examples to teach or reinforce a moral or value. What’s more, is that oral storytelling—many stories existed well before the printed word—with children is universal. And for good reason! Oral stories are hugely important to a child’s cognitive and emotional development.
“Telling and listening to stories provides a bridge between the oral language skills of early childhood and the more formal language of print. With the ability to tell stories develops the ability to talk about things outside the here and now, to understand how we use language to express cause and effect and to talk about feelings and motivation.”
Did you know that by the time a child is 2 ½ years old they are usually familiar with the basic structure of storytelling? They know how to sequence basic events, understand the purpose of place and time, and can organize characters. Amazing! But why—and to what end? Telling stories helps children solve problems and work out concerns. Just as we might see them acting out a worry with dramatic play, children will tell stories (not necessarily to others) to help make meaning of an event or incident. Storytelling also plays a role in how children view and understand themselves within the context of their family, and their community.
We know that children express themselves in many ways. When we support the development and expression of communication in all of its forms, we are telling children that we see them as capable and competent.
What stories are being told here? Who are the storytellers and who are the story-listeners? Look at the connections and togetherness created during these moments.
So, what can we do to encourage storytelling in young children?
- Have lots of conversations using rich vocabulary and a variety of concepts
- Introduce and expose children to a wide variety of story mediums—written, oral, theatrical, etc. and story genres.
- Encourage storytelling and story-listening all throughout the day—mealtime, bath time, naptime, in the car, out for a walk…have children narrate stories about their play and about their art. If you can, transcribe their stories or take a video.
- Tell them stories about themselves, children love to be the central character in their own story!
- Practice re-telling a familiar story together—based on a real event or a popular tale.
- Use the tools of rhyme and repetition—children love hearing the same story over, and over, and over…!
- Ask open-ended questions: Who are the people in the story? What happens next?
- Model storytelling using various props. A felt board and felt shapes (take a look at Frosty Fun our new Winter Mini Felt Kit!), simple masks, a story apron, story stones or discs (check out our Wooden Wonder Collections!), all add to the storytelling and story-listening experience.
- Play with puppets—puppets no matter how simple, can provide a “third voice” (separate from the narrator and audience) adding to the dramatic interest. Puppets often have the freedom to say and do things that we might not, making them excellent teaching tools. Simple puppets might be as easy as using your bare hands. Other puppets might be made out of paper bags, paper and popsicle sticks, paper plates, photos, socks, fabric, etc. These can be made by an adult or child. More elaborate puppets can be purchased commercially. For a unique and beautiful addition to your storytelling tools consider one of CCPRN’s handmade story puppets (Coming Soon!)—crafted to include a puppet pocket and puppet accessories, these pieces are sure to inspire.
- Don’t forget to think about your tone of voice, volume, body language, and gestures. Using these effectively is what makes the story come alive.
- Invite the children to enjoy a story table, story basket, or story sensory bin: Using the script from a familiar picture book, children manipulate the materials to act out and re-tell their own version of the story.
- Try something new: cut and tell stories are fun and engaging! This one is simple yet captivating: http://drjeanandfriends.blogspot.com/2017/01/cut-and-tell-stories.html
- Introduce reflection with occasional comments: “Hmm, I wonder how that makes him feel?”, “I was thinking about that story you told earlier…”.
Most importantly, listen attentively and participate actively when a child tells you a story (even if you’ve heard it 50 times before!). Enjoy the beauty and magic of the moment.
References & Resources:
To Be Known and Cared For
Written by Julie Bisnath BSW, RSW
(Originally posted in December 2019)
When I was little, I heard this once—and it resonated so deeply, this notion—this way of being in the world. This idea that everyone is worthy of and deserves to be known and cared for.
One of the most fundamental and intimate human needs is the need for connection and belonging—the feelings and experiences of being valued and of forming meaningful relationships with others. According to Maslow, in his work describing a hierarchy of human needs, belonging is an essential and prerequisite need that must be fulfilled in order for humans to achieve a meaningful sense of self-esteem and self-actualization (McLeod, S. A. 2018. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html).
Furthermore, and more specific to the field of early childhood education, Ontario’s pedagogical document How Does Learning Happen? describes belonging as a core foundation of the framework:
With various religious and cultural holidays being celebrated during this time of year, December provides an opportune time to reflect and consider how this sense of belonging is being nurtured within your home child care environment—not only during the holiday season but throughout the year too. Below you’ll find some questions to contemplate.
- Do the children in your care feel connected to you and to one another? Are they excited to share the important details of their lives? Do they seek and offer comfort from other members of the group (you and/or the other children)? How does each child contribute meaningfully to the group?
- Do your childcare families feel connected to you and to one another? How is this exemplified? Are there opportunities for children and families to make connections between home and childcare? What do you know about each family’s holiday celebrations (or lack thereof)? What are their expectations? What are your expectations? How are these communicated?
- How do you consider varying beliefs? Maybe you and your families all celebrate the same annual holidays. Maybe they celebrate the same holidays but in very different ways. Maybe one or more families celebrate different holidays or no holidays at all. Are there religious or cultural components? How do you know? How do you invite families to share this information? How do you learn about other holidays and celebrations?
- Shared experiences can be a wonderful way to anchor the group and provide a sense of belonging. Are children and families invited to share special traditions? How can you encourage meaningful connection? Which of your own special traditions do you like to share with the children and their families? How do you do this?
- How do you embrace and respect cultural diversity? How is this modeled with the children and their families?
Understanding the needs of your children is also key. Perhaps you choose to not emphasize any holidays or celebrations. This time of year can be particularly overwhelming and over-stimulating for many young children. Providing a predictable and calm environment might be exactly right for the children in your care. You can respectfully acknowledge holidays and celebrations without holiday themed art, crafts, stories, food, music, outings, etc. Letting the children talk about what’s happening at home—how and what they are celebrating, and being prepared to help the other children understand and make meaning of the fact that different families celebrate differently, is in itself nurturing a sense of belonging.
Collaborating with families as you consider how and what to celebrate with the children will build trust and confidence. Invite them to share ideas and work together to decide how best to meet the needs of the group.
Reflective practice, authentic communication, and a genuine willingness to learn about new or different holidays or traditions will create an environment where the children, and their families, feel welcome and are encouraged to be themselves. This, in turn, nurtures caring relationships and fosters feelings of belonging and being valued—of being known and cared for.
Comprehensive calendar of holidays and observances in Canada (also features an international version). Includes specific dates and a description of the holiday/observance.
Winter holidays & celebrations:
Christmas traditions from around the world:
Celebrating holidays in childcare:
Create and Craft Christmas–Art Ideas and Inspiration
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW
I think for most of us, we know deep down that art is good. We know that children learn from doing. We appreciate the artistic talents of others. We have good intentions and great ideas (thank you Pinterest!). Where we sometimes get bogged down is in the logistics, the preparation, and most importantly, the mindset:
- Making the commitment to offer more process oriented art.
- Allowing the children to come and go from the “art table”.
- Having them decide what materials to use, how to use them, how much or how little to use, and when to stop.
- Understanding that art is not always about having a “finished piece” or “product”.
- Knowing and preparing for the fact that there might be some mess.
- Accepting that art ideas and interests are as subjective as the art itself.
- Embracing the learning and creativity that comes from consistent, unstructured (not unsupervised!), access to art.
When we really challenge ourselves to shift our mindset and include art as a part of our children’s daily experience, we open the door for them to explore, express, innovate, create, craft, discover, wonder, imagine, question, problem-solve, enjoy, and so much more. We build confidence, pride, and self-esteem. We instill and nurture a sense of agency, mastery, accountability, self-efficacy, and ownership.
If providing daily access to open-ended art seems difficult or unmanageable, start with changing only one or two small aspects of your usual art activity/routine. Try to increase access to art. Try to include new or different materials. Think about how to arrange your time and space to be “art-friendly”. Follow the interests of the children. Extend books or dramatic play onto the “art table”. Invite the children to suggest ideas.
Offer art activities often, provide variety, and modify as needed. Follow the cues from your group. Consider the age range of your children, their varied abilities, and their individual interests. Most importantly—is there joy? Are the children curious? Is there wonder and delight? Lead with a happy heart, be open to new experiences, and share in the learning—enjoy the opportunities and your children will too.
Many of my favourite holiday activities involve art, crafting, and creativity. Here are a few ideas for inspiring art and supporting the artistic and creative expression of young children:
Ideas for Encouraging Process Art:
- Messiness is ok and to be expected! This does not mean that the children are permitted to paint your walls or each other! Have them wear play clothes so no one has to worry or feel anxious about getting dirty. Talk to parents ahead of time and explain the concept (and value!) of process art. Have clean up items (towels, wipes, water, etc.) readily available.
- Provide access to open-ended materials—paint, fabrics, water, shaving cream, glue, markers, chalk, paper, pompoms, collage items, clay or play dough, bits and bobbles, etc. You do not have to provide all of the materials at the same time! Too many options can be overwhelming. Large amounts can also be too much—start with a little and add as needed.
- Supervise without providing instruction. Lead by example. Enjoy exploring and creating with the children. Try new things. Get messy!
- If it’s easier—go outside! This is especially true for glitter! Or go outside just for fun and to experience process art in a different environment.
- Introduce materials and tools found in nature: twigs, stones, leaves, grass, etc.
- Use recycled objects: bottle caps, sponges, containers, toothbrushes, bubble wrap, etc.
- Try to allow for long periods of time and/or have the art materials available for children to access and explore throughout the day.
- Comment occasionally on the specifics of the process and/or ask questions: “I noticed that you are using the toothbrush to move the paint around on your paper.” “You mixed glue with paint. What happened to the colour? What does it feel like?”
- Let the child decide when they are done and whether or not they want to keep the end result. Do they want to include their name? If so, where?
Ideas for Encouraging Product Art:
- Keep the project age appropriate and set the children up for success (i.e. pre-cut any difficult shapes, pre-measure any difficult ingredients, etc. but let them do as much as they can themselves).
- Provide several models so that the children have a guide but also know that their product does not need to look exactly like one specific model.
- Offer choices: colour/texture of material, added ingredients (raisins or chocolate chips?), glue stick or glue pot and spreader, etc.
- Explain the steps and do the project together (each person can do their own or it can be a combined group effort). Provide visual aids and examples of each step.
- Help the children understand that with some projects following the steps and directions are important. Ask questions. Encourage problem solving. Give them opportunities to learn and practice new skills.
- Do not correct or fix their work—3 eyes and 5 legs are ok! For older children, if the product didn’t quite turn out (to THEIR expectations) that’s ok too, focus on what went well and encourage them to try again. Learning any new skill takes perseverance and lots of practice!
- Focus on positive outcomes: “We did it! We followed all of the steps and now we each have a duck! My duck is yellow, with one eye, and green feathers. Tell me about your duck!”
Examples of Christmas Process and/or Product Art
These ideas can all be modified to better suit the age of the children:
- Marble, golf ball, or jingle bell painting (on plain or pre-cut paper to have a product)—use a tray or closed container (place the paper inside the closed container).
- Bubble wrap prints (on plain or pre-cut paper to have a product).
- Collage of various Christmas materials and textures (fabric, paper, old cards, ribbon, etc.).
- Paint using evergreen branches.
- String beads on pipe cleaners to make an ornament.
- Provide a sensory experience and offer to make prints on paper or pre-cut shapes.
- Use Christmas cookie cutters to stamp with paint.
- Make and paint salt dough or clay ornaments with the children.
- Spice art: the children apply glue and then sprinkle on spices (ginger, cinnamon, clove, etc.). Use plain paper or a pre-cut shape.
- Paint with various tools (spray bottles, squeeze bottles, droppers, pompoms, fingers, Q-tips).
- Provide contact paper and a variety of Christmas bits (sequins, glitter, ribbon, etc.).
- Use the end result from process art to make a card or framed piece of art.
Holiday Resource Kit Reveal
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW
This year has been like no other—a rollercoaster ride of emotions—and we know that the holidays will be just as challenging. Our goal at CCPRN is to help you spread a little cheer and happiness.
With the holiday season right around the corner, CCPRN has been busy developing new Imagine.Create.Play Resource Kits designed to make your holidays merry and bright.
Take comfort in knowing that when you support CCPRN you are supporting a locally run business with more than 40 years of delivering quality services to home child care providers and parents across the province.
With your health and safety in mind we offer:
- Convenient online shopping
- Contactless pick up
- Shipping across Ontario–and beyond!
Here’s a look at some of our new products as well as a few seasonal favourites that we’ve restocked especially for you:
New! Personalized ICP Kit: The Gingerbread Friend
- The Gingerbread Friend is an adapted version of the classic tale “The Gingerbread Man” by Jim Aylesworth. Our unique version is customized upon order to include your name, the names of one or more children, and possibly pets. Whether it’s purchased as a gift or for use at home/child care, this kit provides many opportunities to celebrate and focus on the four foundations of How Does Learning Happen? —Belonging, Well-being, Engagement, and Expression.
- Your kit includes the personalized story, wooden story pieces (customized with your photos!) for re-enacting the story and/or creating a new adventure, your choice of Gingerbread Friend—either felt or wooden, a foam gingerbread for decorating, a resource handout and, as a bonus—the board book version of “The Gingerbread Man” (while quantities last).
- These wooden story pieces can be gently cleaned with a lightly saturated disinfecting wipe. As with all small/hand crafted items, children must be supervised closely when playing with these sets.
- Kit pricing starts (includes 5 story characters) at $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Orders must be placed by December 4th at the latest.
New! Wooden Santa Ornaments
- Original art transferred onto wood…a beautiful ornament to give as a gift or enjoy for yourself. Optional custom photo added to the other side. These are $7 for members and $9 for non-members.
New! Wooden Wonder Collections
- Perfect as a gift or to use at home or daycare. Inspire play-based learning with our Wooden Wonder sets. Use to re-enact a story, tell a new story, spark imaginative play, add to a sensory bin, build vocabulary, and more. Add Velcro to use on a felt board or magnets for the fridge. Buy two identical sets to play a game of Memory or to practice matching and counting. Buy two different sets to play Tic Tac Toe (i.e. Dinosaurs vs Unicorns), or to create extended stories and dramatic play opportunities.
- Once again, these wooden discs can be gently cleaned with a lightly saturated disinfecting wipe. As with all small/hand crafted items, children must be supervised closely when playing with these sets. Also please keep in mind COVID-19 restrictions and best practices.
- All images credited to: Jane at Digital Artsi www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DigitalArtsi
- Pricing starts at $10 per set for members (or 2/$16) and $15 per set for non-members (or 2/$24).
Christmas Tree & Gingerbread Person Playscapes
- Back by popular demand! This kit includes either a large felt Christmas tree or large gingerbread person and a multitude of decorations. We have also included a set of numbers (1-5) and some circle time songs and rhymes, making this a very versatile kit! Can be used with the very young as well as kindergarten age children.
Christmas Tree: $20 for members and $30 for non-members
Gingerbread Person: $25 for members and $35 for non-members
Christmas Paper Die Cut Collections
- Invite your children’s creative Christmas ideas to shine with paper die cuts of gingerbread houses, Christmas trees, candy canes, wreaths and bows, pine tree cards, Santa, reindeer, sleighs, and lots of mini accessories such as lights, stars, and candies. Enough materials for six children and comes with a list of ideas and suggestions for free play, games, puppets and more! $10 for members and $15 for non-members.
ICP Kit: The Mitten
- An all-time favourite, this kit includes the board book “The Mitten” by Jan Brett and some pretty adorable wooden props including a sewn fleece mitten and “animals” to hide inside. The Mitten, a fanciful story based on a Ukrainian Folktale, is fun to read and perfect for re-enacting. $30 for members and $50 for non-members.
ICP Kit: The Snowy Day
- This kit is based on the board book by Ezra Jack Keats. Winner of the 1963 Caldecott Medal, Keats’ story of a young boy experiencing the year’s first snowfall is a delight. The kit contains the book, 2 felt dolls with 4 different winter felt outfits (total), crochet snowflakes, snowballs, smaller felt people, and playdough mats. Great for free play, imaginative art, and circle time activities. $41 for members and $61 for non-members.
ICP Kit: Snowballs
- This kit is based on the board book by Lois Ehlert. This is a great book to read to a group, search for various items, and use as a springboard to design unique snowscapes. The kit contains the book, felt pieces to create your very own snowscape, play dough mats and open-ended play/art pieces. The hand-out has suggestions to help extend the play. $31 for members and $51 for non-members.
ICP Kit: Tap the Magic Tree
- Tap the Magic Tree is an engaging and interactive book about the changing seasons and one special tree in particular. Tap, rub, jiggle, wiggle, and more to see what magic takes place. Perfect for all seasons with beautiful and brightly coloured artwork— children will love the magic and whimsy of this simple story. Your kit contains the hard cover book, 4 beautifully hand-painted wooden peg dolls each representing a season, and 4 coordinating, hand-stitched felt leaf pockets. $37 for members and $57 for non-members.
You won’t want to miss out on these unique products, sure to inspire curiosity and delight.
Head on over to our e-store to place your order today!
Spread joy, shop local, and support CCPRN ❤
Loose Parts Play
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW
Coined in the early 1970’s by Simon Nicholson, the concept of “loose parts” came from his belief that the use of open-ended materials in childhood was strongly linked to creativity and critical thinking skills later in life. It has since become a central component of many early learning environments and you can find lots of research and information pointing out that loose parts play does indeed develop skills across the entire continuum of development.
“Children need opportunities to be creative and inventive in their environment, manipulating and constructing their ideas through play. This result can be achieved through the introduction of unstructured play with loose parts.” https://www.cpha.ca/loose-parts-policy
Essentially, loose parts are any open-ended bits and pieces that have no intended purpose or specific play goals. They can be moved around, added to, organized, taken apart, and used in many different ways allowing children to be creative, to explore, to investigate, and to learn from their own experiences manipulating the pieces. Basically, any collection of natural or man-made materials can be thought of as “loose parts”.
Natural environments automatically provide a rich assortment of loose parts. Think about the ocean side with water, sand, shells, and rocks or a lush forest bed filled with sticks, stones, leaves, dirt, pinecones, moss, and bits of bark. The opportunities for play and learning are endless. Children are invited and encouraged to use their imagination (the stick is a wand!), to develop analytical skills (which pinecones are sturdy enough to support a bit of weight?), and to test out their own ideas and hypotheses (small rocks float and big rocks sink). They use the materials in new and inventive ways. With no right or wrong way to play, children enjoy the freedom to explore and create without the typical constraints of store bought toys meant to do one or two specific things. Loose parts play also fosters self-confidence and builds resilience as children are free to re-use the materials and experiment with a variety of ideas. It gives them the opportunity to try and try again.
“Loose parts pave the way for critical thinking. It allows the children to have their own ideas, to make things the way they decide, and to figure out for themselves how to make their idea work.” http://www.thewideschool.com/the-theory-of-loose-parts .
No need to take a day trip though (although how wonderful to spend the day lakeside or in the woods!)—you can incorporate loose parts play right in your own backyard or indoor play space.
A simple way to get started is to use what you already have at home: blocks, large pompoms or cotton balls, large popsicle sticks, balls, and recycled paper towel rolls set out on the floor are perfect for toddlers. Older preschoolers might enjoy a variety of smaller loose parts added in: clothes pins, gems, shells, rocks, pinecones, and spoons. A sensory bin filled with miscellaneous materials sets out an intriguing invitation. Another option is to try table top loose parts—have the children sit at the table each with their own tray or shallow box of loose parts to examine and explore. This works well with a mixed age group as you can tailor the items specifically to each child, following their interests and abilities to manipulate the loose parts safely. This set up is also helpful if you are trying to minimize having the children touch or share common items. Perhaps you have kindergarten or school age children who would enjoy some gross motor, outdoor, loose parts play? Scavenge your basement, the garage, or ask your local hardware store for discarded materials: old tires, broken bricks, bits of lumber, large industrial rolls (sturdy cardboard inside large bolts of plastic or fabric), recycled yogurt containers, milk crates, and rope make a good start. Recycled materials (containers, cardboard boxes, plastic bottle caps, etc.) are free and also helpful when it comes to clean up—no need to wash or disinfect, when the children are done playing out into the bin they go. Dollar shops and thrift stores are another great place to look for loose parts—think about wooden napkin rings, bits of hardware, craft supplies, bins, baskets, etc. Know someone who likes to sew? Ask them to set aside the empty spools. Friendly with a local merchant? Ask them to keep the inside plastic piece from the cash register paper rolls. Going out for a walk? Bring along a bag to collect pinecones, rocks, sticks, leaves, etc.
Just as there is no right or wrong way to play, there is no right or wrong way to offer or set out loose parts. Through trial and error, you’ll discover what works for your space, and what works for your children. Follow their lead and enjoy the limitless potential of loose parts play.
Interested in buying a ready-made loose parts collection? We have 2 left for sale–head on over to the e-store for a closer look!
As always, children need to be closely supervised when playing with loose parts. Be sure to select items that are age appropriate and suitable to the child’s skills and abilities.
A sample list of bits and bobbles from: Loose Parts Play
Stones, rocks · Tree stumps · Logs · Pebbles · Gravel · Twigs · Sticks · Washers · Planks of wood · Coconut shells · Corks · Ping pong balls · Pegs · Bulldog clips · Duct tape · Straws · Marbles · Decorative stones · Spoons · Curtain rings · Paperclips · key rings · chains · tape measures · Pallets · Balls · Buckets · Baskets · Crates · Boxes · Rope · Tyres · Shells · Seeds & seed pods · Pine cones · Old CDs or DCDs · Ribbon, string tape wool, lace · Metal tops from bottles & Jars · Cardboard cylinders · Raffia · Cable reels · Feathers · Pasta · Costume jewellery · Pots · containers · Glass beads · Cable ties · Guttering & drainpipes · Garden trugs · Tarpaulin · Nuts & bolts · Bark & moss · Leaves · Coins · Old bike wheels · Small slices of logs · Empty food cans (not sharp) · Netting · Garden canes · Dried peas, beans, rice · Wood off cuts · Torches · Cameras · Dice · Gourds · keys
Online Resources and References:
How NOT to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts
Simon Nicholson and The Theory of Loose Parts – 1 Million Thanks
Playing with Loose Parts: That’s How Learning Happens!
Canadian Public Health Association: Loose Parts Policy
Looking for more in-depth reading? Check out the Loose Parts Play Toolkit: https://www.inspiringscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Loose-Parts-Play-Toolkit-2019-web.pdf
Attachment: Nurturing the Connection
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW
It’s 3am and the baby’s crying…again. Your toddler is having a massive meltdown. Your preschooler is hurt and is panicked by the sight of her own blood. Your older child worries. A lot. At midnight, your distraught teenager comes to tell you that they are in crisis. Parenting is exhausting–emotionally and physically draining, there’s no question about it. Yet we persevere. We push through. We figure out how to give more when we once thought there was nothing left to give. This is the work of parenthood and of caregiving– caring for and meeting the needs of our children. Responding to those needs, especially in times of distress, in a kind, caring, and swift manner, builds and maintains what experts call a secure attachment.
Attachment can essentially be described as the component of an adult-child relationship relating to the child’s safety and security. It is the profound and enduring connection that a child forms–usually with their parent and/or primary caregiver. A secure attachment develops from a consistent, reliable, responsive, and caring relationship.
It is within this secure attachment that young children first learn to trust others. It also provides them with a safe place from which to explore and investigate the world. Feeling secure and having a strong sense of belonging allow children the freedom to learn and grow. As they mature, it is important that the secure attachment with their parent/primary caregiver be nurtured and strengthened. They still rely on us to be responsive and sensitive to their needs—to show affection, to model resiliency, and reinforce self-regulation skills.
Here’s what we know from the Ottawa Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Initiative:
- Infants are hardwired to develop strong emotional connections or attachments to primary caregivers through face-to-face interactions and eye contact.
- Babies need to feel safe, cared for, and protected. When a parent or caregiver responds consistently in a manner that is warm and sensitive, a secure attachment develops.
- The parent or caregiver are the anchor from which young children can safely explore their world and develop to their full potential.
- When secure attachment needs are met, children develop trust and gain the knowledge that they are loveable and important.
- Children require a nurturing parent or caregiver to protect them from harm and the effects of toxic stress.
- A secure attachment is foundational to positive developmental outcomes and future relationships with peers and partners.
Attachment can also be nurtured at child care–especially in a home child care environment where a child might spend several years with one caregiver. Over time, and with a sensitive and responsive adult, a child learns to depend on their caregiver to meet their needs. Trust is established, and they feel safe and cared for. This can be particularly important if the child’s attachment to their parent is not secure. In her book Rest Play Grow, Deborah MacNamera states that “more than 60 years of attachment research has demonstrated that what every child needs is at least one strong, caring adult to attach to”(2016, 77). She uses Gordon Neufeld’s definition of attachment—“the drive or relationship characterized by the pursuit and preservation of proximity” to explain that attachment is the greatest need of a young child. Instinctively, children ask “Who will take care of me?” (pursuit) and “How can I be close (physically and emotionally) to that person?” (preservation of proximity).
Neufeld’s theory describes attachment as unfolding in six sequential phases whereby children seek to attach to others. Each phase is deeper and more complex than the one before it and should “deliver a new form of pursuing someone and being able to hold them close” (MacNamera, 2016, 81).
As children move through the phases, they develop roots, strong and deep, essential for maturation.
Neufeld’s Six Sequential Phases of Attachment—(MacNamera, 2016, 81-94)
- Attaching through the Senses—At Birth—with close contact, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch
- Attaching through Sameness –Age 1+ —with imitation and mimicking, wanting to be “the same as”
- Attaching through Belonging and Loyalty—Age 2+ —displaying possessiveness over people and things, staying close by following rules, enforcing rules with others, and taking sides.
- Attaching through Significance—Age 3+ —needing to feel special, longing for approval, needing to be seen and heard, to matter
- Attaching through Love—Age 4+ —with emotional intimacy, and vulnerability. Tenderness and caring emerge—frequent proclamations of love
- Attaching through Being Known—Age 5+ —with the development of a separate consciousness, they actively seek a psychological intimacy—an inclination to reveal themselves—for example: the awareness that they could keep a secret but choose not too in order to be close —paving the way for truth telling, authenticity, and personal integrity
If you aren’t familiar with Neufeld’s “Attachment Roots”, I highly recommend watching his webinar for a more thorough overview of these phases of attachment and how they relate to a child’s behaviour.
We’ve touched a bit upon what attachment is and how children might move through the phases, but what about the why? Check out this pretty impressive list…
According to The Circle of Security Intervention (Powell, Cooper, Hoffman, & Marvin, 2016, 20), research has shown that children who are more securely attached:
- Enjoy more happiness with their parents.
- Feel less anger at their parents.
- Get along better with friends.
- Have stronger friendships.
- Are able to solve problems with friends.
- Have better relationships with brothers and sisters.
- Have higher self-esteem.
- Know that most problems will have an answer.
- Trust that good things will come their way.
- Trust the people the love.
- Know how to be kind to those around them.
In contrast, when an adult’s responses to a child’s needs are repeatedly (over time) and regularly inconsistent and/or insensitive, the attachment is not secure. This impacts the child’s developing brain negatively and can result in profound difficulties with emotion regulation, cognitive development, activation of the stress response system, lifelong learning, and/or behaviour.
Developing a secure attachment starts with safety and connection.
“If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.” ~Alfie Kohn
But what exactly does “feeling safe” mean? The notion of safety is processed in the brain as a basic, instinctive, reaction to fear—used to protect us and ensure our survival. It is this part of the brain that activates our fight/flight/freeze responses and triggers our stress response system. We know and understand that this survival state can be triggered by a threat to our physical safety. It can also be triggered by a threat to our psychological and/or emotional safety. MacNamera comments that if “attachment is our most preeminent need; therefore, separation is perceived as the greatest threat and can activate a strong alarm response” (2016, 179). She goes on to explain that facing separation can be overwhelming for young children and that the separation alarm is “rooted in the loss of contact and closeness” (2016, 180). In other words, children don’t feel safe when they experience the actual or anticipated threat of not being with, not belonging, not being liked, not mattering, not being loved, or not being known as they relate to their closest attachments—parent/caregiver/grandparent etc. (MacNamera, 2016, 180).
So, what can we do in the early years to encourage a secure attachment? Here are some key strategies provided by Infant Mental Health Promotion for both parents and caregivers (download the full handouts here– https://www.imhpromotion.ca/Resources/Hand-in-Hand-Resources):
- Be engaged and engaging—cuddle, sing, talk, and play. Be available and interested.
- Be sensitive—listen, follow cues, acknowledge likes/dislikes, preferences, and feelings. Provide choices and support when trying new things.
- Be consistent—build routines that are predictable. Set limits, be consistent with rules. Be patient.
- Be responsive—respond quickly, use touch, your voice, your eyes. Be a play partner. Comfort and reassure.
- Be enjoyable to be with—take the time, enjoy the moment, cherish, and take pride. Be emotionally available. Keep your own emotions in check, ask for help if you need it.
- Be the baby’s/child’s voice—be the advocate, give words, intervene as needed, offer support. Be close and model handling big emotions.
To learn more about attachment, attachment theory, and nurturing the connection, please take a look at the references and resources below.
“If we who are responsible for children can give a sense of belonging, a sense of significance; if we can hold onto the heart and make it safe, if we can give them a sense of being known…this creates the womb for maturation.” ~Gordon Neufeld
- Kohn, A. (2006). Unconditional Parenting. Atria Paperback.
- MacNamera, D. (2016). Rest Play Grow Making Sense of Preschoolers. Aona Books.
- Powell, B., Cooper G., Hoffman, K., & Marvin, B. (2016). The Circle of Security Intervention. The Guilford Press.
- Best Start: My Child and I—Attachment for Life https://www.beststart.org/resources/hlthy_chld_dev/pdf/parent_attachment_eng.pdf
- Center on the Developing Child—Harvard University: 5 Steps for Brain Building Serve and Return https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/how-to-5-steps-for-brain-building-serve-and-return/
- Child Encyclopedia: Eyes on Parent-Child Attachment http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/sites/default/files/docs/coups-oeil/parent-child-attachment-info.pdf and http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/attachment/synthesis
- Circle of Security International https://www.circleofsecurityinternational.com/circle-of-security-model/what-is-the-circle-of-security/
- Infant Mental Health Promotion https://www.imhpromotion.ca/Resources/Hand-in-Hand-Resources
- Neufeld Institute—Webinar: Attachment Roots: Developing the Capacity to Hold On When Apart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8qt1rv7K9Q
- Ottawa Public Health—Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health https://www.ottawapublichealth.ca/en/professionals-and-partners/resources/Documents/iecmh/iecmh-attachment-en.pdf
- Parenting in Ottawa https://www.parentinginottawa.ca/en/babies-and-toddlers/Attachment.aspx https://www.parentinginottawa.ca/en/children/Attachment–Children-.aspx
The UV Cube for Home Child Care–An option for sterilizing toys, masks, and other small items!
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW
I want to share this story with you–not to push or promote a product, but because I love that in addition to having a practical purpose, this is also a story about community support and the full-circle impact of the child-family-caregiver relationship.
When you run a home daycare, the stress and worry associated with keeping everyone safe and healthy doesn’t end at 5pm when the last of your littles is picked up for the day. In addition to the daily thoughts and concerns (Did I apply enough sunscreen? What shall we have for lunch? Are they drinking enough water? Is that a new bug bite?), much of the preparation and planning occurs “after hours”. Once again, health and safety are never far from thought—general home maintenance, yard upkeep, vehicle safety checks, toy repairs, grocery purchases, meal planning, cleaning, thinking about outings and activities, setting up your space to inspire and nurture exploration, learning, and growth…phew! As you know, the list is endless.
Now, with COVID-19 lurking in the community, this stress and worry has been amplified to induce a hyper-vigilance—not only in constant screening for signs and symptoms of illness, but in cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing. This is true for both home child care and larger centre-based care. Striving to meet Ministry of Education and Public Health guidelines, lots of research has been done, and many new policies and procedures have been put in place.
For the Independent Professional Caregiver, this has fallen squarely on your shoulders. When to clean, what to clean, how to clean, what to use, where to buy it, how much does it cost, is it safe–so many valid questions—most of which will only be answered in time, through trial and error. What works for your family, your home, and your business may or may not work for others.
So how can you support your fellow caregiver and the general business of home child care? By sharing information and ideas. What have you tried? How has it worked? What do you like about it?
Recently, CCPRN member Gwenäelle shared with me a new addition to her home daycare: The UV Cube. This innovative bit of technology sterilizes items (think toys, re-usable masks, cell phones, and more!) using ultraviolet light.
Assembled by the Woodroofe High School Robotics Club, the UV Cube credit goes to FIRST Team 1305 for researching and designing the prototype meant for use in small businesses and organizations. FRIST Team 1305 is a competitive student robotics team (STUDENTS!!) from North Bay. Currently, they have two models being used in the North Bay Regional Health Centre (in the emergency and intensive care departments)—so cool. Once they had the design worked out, FIRST Team 1305 shipped out free kits to student groups wanting to build one (or more) for their own community—again, so cool.
When the Woodroofe HS Robotics Club was looking for a recipient for one of their assembled UV Cubes, one student and his mom, thought about their former caregiver Gwenäelle. A little pause here to acknowledge how awesome and influential their relationship with Gwen must have been in order to think of her so many years later. Knowing that she runs her own home daycare and also volunteers to coordinate a community playgroup, they thought that Gwen would make an ideal recipient.
Gwen’s UV Cube, provided and assembled by the Woodroffe High School Robotics Club, included on top are the instructions and safety warnings.
The UV Cube ready to go–filled with cell phones, wooden toys, felt pieces, and other hard to clean items.
Although the initial “Build a UV Sterilizer Cart to Help Your Community” project is now closed, FIRST Team 1305 has published the DIY Build Instructions, Part Lists, Safety Warnings, Operating Instructions, and more—with the idea that “it could be made by any clever teenager as a home project during the quarantine, and the parts are all obtainable locally or online.” (Anyone have a teenager or two to spare?). A quick look at the parts list (6 items only for prototype #2) says that the materials cost would be around $370.
So, the big question—how does it work? It’s easy-peasy. You pop in your items, close the panel, plug it in and turn it on. Looking for a scientific explanation? Here’s what FIRST Team 1305 has to say: “It is a known fact that UV sterilization has been found to be extremely effective and can kill over 99% of viruses, bacteria, and fungi in an extremely short amount of time. This UV Cube has been designed and tested by members FIRST Team 1305 to fill the current need during the COVID-19 pandemic to sterilize personal protective equipment and personal Items.” While not yet approved by any regulatory agency the UV Cube’s purpose is to reduce transmission of COVID-19 by sterilizing items quicker than simply letting them “sit”. You can read up on the nitty-gritty here: https://www.team1305.org/diy-uv-sterilizer-cart.
Operating Instructions recommend that items are sterilized for 20 minutes to be sure “all bacteria, viruses, molds, and other pathogens are killed.”– Gwenäelle runs her unit for 30 minutes to be extra-safe.
What goes in her UV Cube you ask?
- Wooden toys
- Felt pieces
- Her cell phone
- Baby dolls
- Other hard to clean items
It’s a fair-sized cart (although small and light enough for her to move around) but since all surfaces need access to the UV light, you can’t stack items on top of each other. Although it certainly doesn’t replace the general household/daycare cleaning and disinfecting required to keep COVID-19 at bay, it definitely makes it easier and quicker for those harder to clean toys and/or items used daily. As Gwenäelle notes, allowing the children access to felt stories and soft toys and being able to put them back into circulation the next day is very valuable—both for the caregiver and the children. She has used her unit several times in a day, but never when the children are there. It is an electrical appliance with a fragile UV bulb, and it can be harmful to look at the UV light directly so she takes all precautions and only uses it once the children have left.
Is it the perfect home daycare solution to cleaning and disinfection? No, of course not. Is it helpful? Gwen says for her, yes– it is, and so we share the idea with you.
Maybe you will want to learn more about UV sterilization, or about FIRST Team 1305 in general. Maybe you will research and source out a ready-made version or maybe you are like me and have a teenager that you hope will get to work on building one for home and/or daycare use 😊.
Have you found a product you love or have you creatively adapted your home child care services to help meet the demands of living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic? If you have something you’d like to share please send me an email ([email protected]) and tell me all about it!
Talking to Children about COVID-19
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW, RSW
With many children returning to care, you might be wondering about how exactly to approach the topic of COVID-19 with your little ones. As adults, many of us struggle to understand the full scope of the pandemic—our brains are on information overload and our hearts can only take so much. I for one, have had to seriously limit my daily intake of news and especially statistics—and no matter how hard I try, I cannot even comprehend what’s happening in the U.S. How, then, can we possibly support children in their learning and understanding? How can we answer their questions? How can we help them to be resilient? Thankfully, there are well-developed resources and tools to help us out.
Back in March—long before “pandemic”, “physical distancing”, and “PPE” were part of our regular vocabulary, I published this blog post https://ccprn.com/covid-19-information-and-ideas-to-share/ addressing how to talk to children about the current situation and how to teach young children about germs and handwashing. While the information still holds up (if you haven’t had a chance, I suggest a quick read), we are at a place now where we simply need more.
Building on the previous article, this post will highlight the following topics:
- Answering questions and addressing concerns
- Mask wearing and physical distancing
- Building resiliency in young children
- Books for children on COVID-19
As always, we strongly encourage open communication with your daycare parents—work together to decide what/how information will be shared with the children. When children receive consistent messaging, it helps them to feel safe and secure.
Answering questions and addressing concerns:
One of my favourite resource websites, www.caringforkids.cps.ca, provides us with a few specific things to do and say when talking with children:
- Reassure your child that many doctors, nurses, and scientific experts around the world are working hard to keep us safe and healthy.
- Children are observant and pick up on our expressions and emotions. Help them to understand, verbalize and organize their own feelings around the pandemic.
- Find out what they know about what is happening. Correct any misinformation about “this new germ”.
- Be honest, but positive. Reinforce that they are unlikely to get sick, but that it is still important that they do their part to protect themselves and their families — especially those who are at higher risk.
Just as when we address any difficult issue (serious illness, death, fire, etc.) it’s important to follow the child’s lead and to focus on helping them feel safe. Some children might have a lot of questions and others might not have any. Welcome questions but keep your answers clear and simple. Try not to offer more detail than necessary and if you don’t know the answer, say so. Focus on validating the child’s feelings and concerns while reassuring them that they are safe. Finally, keep the conversation going—let them know that you are available to answer any other questions that they might have.
Mask wearing and physical distancing:
An important aspect in reassuring children is to focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. In addition to enhanced handwashing (covered previously), mask-wearing and physical distancing are now part of everyday life.
Whether or not a child wears a mask they are still likely to be exposed to others who wear them. You can help to normalize this experience by talking about how masks keep us all safe.
Here in Ottawa, mask wearing is mandatory for many indoor enclosed public spaces and to access public transit. This is what Ottawa Public Health tells us:
Children under two years of age, or children under the age of five years either chronologically or developmentally who refuse to wear a mask and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver can be exempt from wearing masks.
Encourage your child to wear a mask by the following:
Kids watch, listen and learn. Explaining the importance of mask wearing in simple terms can help them understand why wearing a mask is important. Allow them to ask questions and express their feelings. You may want to start by reading a bit on how to help children cope with stressful public events to give you some guidance.
Consider letting your little one(s) choose their mask pattern and/or colour. Kids like to feel independent and being given choices. If you are able, include your child in selecting a cloth mask of their choice.
Include masks in imaginative play
Young children have amazing imaginations. Include a few cloth masks in their playtime and see what they come up with. Having masks present in their environment will let them become more comfortable to the look and feel of masks.
Set an example
When heading out in public, show your kids how you put on your mask and explain why you are doing it – to protect those around you. Be a role model of the behaviours you are hoping to imprint on your youngest. Kids absorb information so quickly and mirror behaviours they see, especially of their care takers.
Another great article for talking to children about mask wearing can be found here: https://monadelahooke.com/how-to-talk-to-your-child-about-wearing-a-mask/. Author Mona Delahooke, Ph.D., provides suggestions on how to encourage children to wear a mask while not straining an already stressful situation.
Physical distancing is another strategy that we are all using to stay safe. Like mask wearing, there are things that you can do to help children understand the importance of this strategy.
While children in a home child care environment may not necessarily be required to remain physically distanced from one another (although best practice includes encouraging as much individual play as possible and increasing the space between children during naps and mealtime), they would need to practice physical distancing at a park, play ground, or library/play group type event. Children used to regular outings might ask why these excursions have been limited or are no longer part of their daycare experience. Explaining in simple terms is best, starting with a discussion about germs and how they spread.
Here’s a good start, adapted slightly from https://www.kindercare.com/lp/explaining-social-distancing-kids:
Germs are so tiny you cannot see them with your eyes. These germs can make us sick if they enter our bodies. Sometimes we breathe them in. Other times we might touch our nose, mouth, or eyes with unwashed hands that have touched a dirty surface or a sick person. Sometimes, it’s hard for people to tell if they have germs that make others sick. So that’s one reason why we’re all physical distancing. Doctors think it’s best to stay away from most other people so they cannot touch or cough on you. Not going out (at all or as much), helps us to stay far apart from other people. Just like good handwashing, physical distancing keeps the germs away and helps us to stay healthy.
Refer to https://ccprn.com/covid-19-information-and-ideas-to-share/ for ideas on talking specifically about germs and handwashing.
Resiliency strategies for young children:
“Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from life’s inevitable pressures and hard times. It helps us handle stress, overcome childhood disadvantage, recover from trauma and reach out to others and opportunities so we can grow and learn.” https://www.reachinginreachingout.com/aboutresilience.htm
Modeling and practicing self-regulation and resiliency skills with children builds their character and teaches important skills for life long happiness and success.
Not too long ago, I came across this easy to read article “Building Resilience in Children – 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies” filled with lots of strategies relating to:
- Expanding the circle of support
- Learning how to ask for help
- Encouraging mindfulness activities
- Developing feelings of competence and mastery
- Nurturing optimism and a growth mindset
- Facing fear and taking risks
and so much more!! I have read this article many times and love that most of the strategies are easy to implement and/or adapt to the age of the child. I have referred to it professionally and also personally when thinking about my own children and how to build and nurture their resiliency. Working to implement strategies such as those suggested in the article, over time, will help to prepare a child for dealing with challenges by giving them the tools and skills they need to thrive.
When I think about how we (individually but also as a society) are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic (certainly one of “life’s inevitable pressures and hard times”) it puts into perspective just how essential these strategies really are.
Books for children on COVID-19:
Reading together provides a wonderful opportunity for connection and can help children to process difficult information. Story books often help children to feel more at ease with their feelings as they explore sensitive issues in a non-threatening way. Be sure to read the story first yourself to make sure that its content is appropriate.
Together, Apart: Life during the Coronavirus ($14.95 proceeds to CHEO and Kids Help Phone)
By Loukia Zigoumis
“Offering a glimpse of hope while reinforcing COVID-19 preventative measures like hand washing and social distancing”.
Order a copy by emailing: [email protected]
The New York City School Library System has put together an extensive (it’s huge!) list of free e-books in multiple languages—definitely worth spending some time here.
Coronavirus: A Book for Children (free pdf e-book) (also included in the list above)
By Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson & Nia Roberts
“Written in consultation with an infectious diseases specialist and illustrated by Axel Scheffler of The Gruffalo, this nonfiction picture book offers children information about transmission, symptoms and the possibility of a cure, reassuring readers that doctors and scientists are working on developing a vaccine.”
A Kid’s Guide to Coronavirus (free pdf e-book)
By Rebecca Growe, MSW, LCSW, and Julia Martin Burch, PhD
“Kids have a lot of questions about the coronavirus pandemic and all the new changes in their lives. This colorful picture book gives them the answers they’ve been looking for, explaining what the virus is, how it spreads, and what they can do to help, in gentle and simple language that even the youngest kids can follow. A Note to Parents and Caregivers offers strategies for helping your kids navigate anxiety they might be feeling around the pandemic.”
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Growing Up Resilient–Ways to build resilience in children and youth:
Ottawa Public Health–Resources for Those Pregnant and Parenting During COVID-19
Ottawa Public Health–Masks
Ministry of Health COVID-19 Fact Sheet: Talking to Children About the Pandemic:
Caring For Kids (Canadian Paediatric Society) COVID-19 and your child:
Ministry of Education Operational Guidance During COVID-19 Outbreak Child Care Re-Opening Version 2 – July 2020:
Risky Play–Essential for Healthy Child Development
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW, RSW
Risky play is exactly that—play that involves risk—usually the risk of physical injury. It is exciting and exhilarating and thrilling and, well, risky. It does, however, provide children with much needed opportunities to challenge themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. Risky play allows children to test the limits of their abilities, develop an awareness of risk, and feel in control of their actions. Plus it’s FUN! How do I know? From observing the shrieks of joy, the belly laughs, the nervous giggles, and the huge smiles that come from feeling confident and capable. Researched and developed by Norwegian professor Ellen Sandseter, risky play encompasses eight categories of risk, as perceived by a child 1.
- Great Heights—climbing, jumping, balancing, etc. with a risk of falling
- High Speed—uncontrolled speed and pace while running, biking, sledding, etc. with a risk of collision or injury
- Dangerous Tools—knife, axe, saw, etc. with a risk of injury
- Dangerous Elements—fire pits, cliffs, open bodies of water, etc. with a risk of falling or injury
- Rough & Tumble—wrestling with other children, roughhousing, fencing with sticks, snow ball fights, etc. with a risk of injury
- Unsupervised play—exploring alone with a risk of getting lost
- Impact—crashing into things for fun with a risk of injury
- Vicarious—the thrill of watching other (often older) children take risks
When provided with the time, space, support, encouragement, and appropriate level of supervision (risky play is not a free-for-all), children can actively pursue and enjoy this type of daring play. Think back to your own childhood and hopefully you’ll find memories of being outdoors, engaged in play fraught with risk and adventure. I grew up in the city, but here’s what I remember best— a farm, a wooded park, a junk yard, a creek’s edge, an open field, and hours of fresh air and fun. I played by myself, with my sister, with friends, and with random children I hadn’t met before or didn’t really know. My mom would be close, but not too close—probably a good yell or two away.
Now I know that times have changed, and most parents prefer to keep a closer eye (myself included!) and I certainly am not advocating for caregivers to be “a yell or two away” but it is good to reflect upon and consider how we (parents and caregivers) might adapt our practices to include more elements of risky play. We know from our own experiences that the benefits far outweigh the potential risks and we have the full support of many leading health and research organizations including the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Toronto’s Sunnybrook Centre for Injury Prevention, and the Canadian Public Health Association—all of whom advocate and promote risky, unstructured play.
In a position statement supported by CHEO, risky play is explained as “giving children the freedom to decide how high to climb, to explore the woods, get dirty, play hide ’n seek, wander in their neighbourhoods, balance, tumble and rough-house, especially outdoors, so they can be active, build confidence, autonomy and resilience, develop skills, solve problems and learn their own limits.”2
Why is risky play important?
Good things happen when children are encouraged and supported in risky play. Driven by curiosity, they naturally want to explore and be adventurous. When children are curious, they explore, ask questions, and make discoveries. In doing so, they learn and grow in all areas of health, development, and well-being. Children engage in pro-social behaviour (communicating, negotiating, co-operating), improve executive functioning abilities (goal setting, attention span and focus, spatial working memory, judgement, planning, etc.), and learn how to keep themselves safe (understanding what feels safe, knowing the limits of their skills and abilities).
“When children experience the uncertainty of challenging or risky play, they can develop emotional reactions, physical capabilities and coping skills that expand their capacity to manage adversity. These skills are important for resilience and good mental health in childhood and into adolescence.”3
Life is full of risks and uncertainty—if we want our children to grow into adolescents and adults who are capable of making good decisions and have sound judgement then we need to give them lots of opportunities to practice and develop these skills. If we as adults constantly decide for them what is safe or unsafe how will they learn for themselves? Risk assessment is a regular and ongoing element of adulthood—we routinely evaluate physical risk, emotional risk, financial risk, sexual risk, etc.—and we each define and measure risk differently. What’s risky for me might not be risky for you. Knowing how to evaluate risk comes from practice. Understanding your body, how it moves, and what feels safe comes from doing. When we teach our youngest children about risk by providing them with appropriate opportunities to practice risk assessment and management skills, we are paving the road for our teenagers who will most certainly be challenged with a risky suggestion or two. Learning and practicing how to assess risk according to your own abilities and comfort levels lends itself to being comfortable with setting limits and boundaries. If children grow up learning to identify and express what feels safe, it will be much easier for them as young adults to say “No, I don’t want to”, or “No, I don’t feel comfortable”, or (and maybe most importantly) just “No”.
“Children rehearse handling risky real-life situations through risky play; and they discover what is safe and what isn’t.”4
How to support risky play:
Risky play is adventurous play—and it can be tailored to children of all ages and abilities and to various levels of risk tolerance.
- Caregivers and parents can work together to decide on how best to incorporate elements of risky play at home and at daycare. Obviously, all existing health and safety regulations should be followed.
- If you are away from home, assess the space and remove hazards (broken equipment, unsafe items—such as needles, broken glass, rusty or sharp metal).
- Use common sense to provide age-appropriate and ability-appropriate time, space, and freedom for children to build skills and figure things out for themselves. Infants busy crawling might enjoy a variety of natural textures (grass, sand, mud, etc.) or low obstacles (small hill, cushions to crawl over, etc.) and obviously require constant supervision. Risky play for a toddler might include balancing on large, low rocks or running freely in a large field. Preschoolers might find it exciting to climb a tree or build with real wood, a hammer, and nails. Older children may well enjoy the freedom to explore greater heights and speeds.
- Do not push children beyond their comfort. Each child will be unique in their willingness and readiness to explore risk and that’s ok. Follow their lead.
- Outdoor play, in natural settings, in a variety of weather conditions, is essential. Think about tall grass, hills, mud, muck, large boulders, trees for climbing, logs for balancing, barns, etc. Natural settings are perfect for mixed age groups because there is always something for every age and ability. Even a large grassy field provides elements of risk.
- When considering your yard, incorporate loose parts and materials—tires, tree stumps, burlap, rocks, logs, bricks, etc.
- Provide guidance. Talk about danger. Talk about risk. Ask questions to prompt reflection. “How did that feel?” “What helped you decide?” “How will you…?”
- In the absence of an immediate safety concern, count to 30 before inserting yourself to allow children to assess the situation first and try to problem solve independently. It’s amazing to see the creativity and ingenuity of young children–they truly are capable and competent learners.
- Supervise but… get out of the way! Watch carefully for potential safety concerns but also observe the pure joy and delight that the children are sure to experience.
“Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks—is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”5
- Webinar: Re-thinking Risk: Are children too safe for their own good? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lf4n3wioRYQ
Sensory Bottles and Bags—Ideal for Individual Sensory Exploration
Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW, RSW
Preparing to embrace and move forward with a new sense of “normal” provides a perfect opportunity to reflect upon and be creative when selecting toys and other items for play. While the more traditional type of sensory play (small open bins of material with groups of children exploring together) is currently being discouraged, individual sensory exploration can and should be included as an option for all children.
Sensory bottles and bags provide young children with the opportunity to enjoy a variety of sensory experiences without the mess, shared contamination, or potential mouthing/choking hazards of an open sensory bin. They are easy to make, easy to clean and disinfect, have endless fill options, and are sure to engage even the youngest children. They can be made ahead of time by an adult, or as an activity that you do one-on-one with each child. Be sure to practice good handwashing techniques before and after and limit or divide the materials to avoid having multiple children touching the same items.
Start with a clean empty plastic bottle. Recycled water bottles are a good option for lighter fill items. They usually make a nice crinkle sound and have a bit of texture built in along the walls of the bottle. Other recycled plastic bottles (small juice bottles, condiment bottles, salad dressing, etc.) made with a thicker type of plastic are sturdier and can withstand heavier types of fill as well as more active use. Coloured plastic bottles are fun too—I like the small lemon/lime juice bottles as they also have an interesting shape. Opaque bottles (from drinkable yogurt for example) are great for making auditory sensory bottles—fill and have the children guess what’s inside or use as “instruments”. Similarly, plastic spice bottles can be re-used for learning about scent and smells (try coffee beans, vinegar, vanilla, spices, etc.).
If your bottle has a difficult to remove label, use a bit of Goo Gone to help. Be sure to then thoroughly wash the bottle with dish soap and hot water. Empty bottles can also be purchased at Dollarama, Walmart, or Michael’s. When choosing bottles, look for smaller, easy to hold options with a bit of neck to help secure the lid. If the bottle is too big it will be harder for little hands to grasp.
Time to fill! Bottles do not need to be filled up completely as this will make them too heavy and more likely to fall and break open. Bottles can be filled with dry items only, liquids only, or a mix of the two—just be sure not to add too much liquid as this adds significant weight and will make it hard for younger children to hold and manipulate the bottles.
- Egg shells
- Apple seeds
- Bird seed
- Tiny pebbles
- Tiny shells
- Shells and sand
- Nuts, bolts, nails, tacks, etc.
- Jingle bells
- Tiny pinecones
- Tiny Styrofoam balls (cling to bottle with static)
- Small bouncy or sticky balls
- Gems or jewels
- Glitter or sparkles
- Coloured water
- Rainbow coloured water set
- Water and oil (try different amounts of each)
- Dish soap
- Soapy water
- Coloured shampoo
- Coloured hair gel
- Clear hair gel/corn syrup/glue with a marble
- Clear hair gel/corn syrup/glue with small beads or gems
- Clear hair gel/clear corn syrup/glue with tiny Rainbow Loom elastics
- Glue/glitter glue, glitter
- Clear hair gel/corn syrup/glue with sequins or glitter
- Small toys
- Water beads (with or without extra water)
- Other household bits and bobbles
- Other items found in outside (petals, twigs, seeds, etc.)
- Any other materials that the children are curious about or interested in
Secure the lid. Depending on the type of lid and bottle you can use regular glue, hot glue, or many rounds of electrical tape (from Dollarama, black or coloured, stretchy to conform to the bottle neck shape). Obviously, bottles for smelling can’t be completely glued or taped shut, just be sure to provide direct supervision when a child is exploring and enjoying these bottles.
In addition to providing a sensory experience, sensory bottles can also have a very calming effect. Slow moving, quiet bottles work well. Clear glue with a marble for example. Bottles with water, oil, and glitter or glue and glitter also work well as children can focus on the glitter settling as they themselves also settle. There’s something very soothing and mesmerising about a glitter filled bottle.
Closed sensory bottles can be easily washed with soap and water and disinfected as needed. The open “smelling” variety can be easily wiped down and disinfected as needed.
Medium or large, thick, study Ziploc –type bags work best.
Fill with liquids/dry materials or make an “eye spy” bag. Do not overfill and be sure to remove as much air as possible. This will allow for easier manipulation of materials.
- Coloured water and glitter, sequins, buttons, gems, etc.
- Thicker liquids such as dish soap, hair gel, corn syrup, or glue. Add other items of interest. White glue with glitter or snowflake sequins makes a nice winter bag.
- Shaving cream and paint or food colouring. Let the child mix by manipulating the bag.
- Water, oil, food colouring
- Cotton balls, oil, food colouring
- Coloured ice cubes or frozen pompom ice cubes
- Play dough, or other types of dough. Add gems or pebbles.
- Rice, or Epsom salts and various “eye spy” items—assorted or based on a colour/holiday.
- Sand and small, smooth, shells and coloured sea glass
- Pumpkin seeds and squishy insides
- Water beads
- Rainbow coloured bags
- Reindeer Food: Oats and glitter
- Blue gel and plastic fish for “Under the Sea”
Close the bag. Secure with heavy duty tape as needed. Bags can also be secured to a table top or window (so pretty when the sun shines through!).
Secured sensory bags can also be washed easily with soap and water and disinfected as needed.
*Remember to never leave children unattended with any type of sensory bag or bottle.