Watch Your Kids Play Happily for Hours With This 3 Step Technique – Today is Step Two!

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Last week I answered a blog follower’s question, “How do you get the kids to play happily for long stretches of time?” with a video about loose parts play.  The video talked about Step One in my 3 Step Technique towards extended independent play. Watch the video here to learn all about the materials needed for loose parts play.

Today we are going to dive into Step Two of this technique and talk about how to inspire the children to play with loose parts materials.  I hope you had a chance to gather your three types of loose parts materials because you will need them today for Step Two.

I suggest you put your loose parts materials in a sturdy basket or bin at eye level in your playroom.  For example, fill a small to medium wicker basket with wooden blocks.  At first, it is better to offer a smaller amount of blocks to the children.  We want the children to look at the blocks and see endless possibilities in their play value.  We don’t want them to see a huge bin of blocks that seems to scream, ‘dump me and then walk away.’

Eventually, after the children are coming to the blocks to use them in their games time and time again, then you can add more blocks to their collection but in the beginning, less is best.  I always place new toys that I want the children to notice at their eye level or below.  I specifically place large toys near the floor to avoid having them drop on little toes.  I also place toys with a high potential for exuberant dumping on the floor.  Often if a basket of blocks slips and gets dumped accidentally (and it makes a fantastic display of colour and sound) then my toddlers will return to purposefully dump it again and again.

Once the toys are in the playroom, I’ll set up a little playscape using the loose parts play materials to inspire the children.  I might make a bridge out of the blocks, or maybe a roadway.  Parking a few small cars beside the roadway and bridge will help give the children an idea.  Most children only need a little bit of modelling on how to use loose parts materials. Children are naturally curious and love to experiment so it doesn’t take them long to catch on to the idea that these toys can be used for any game they want.

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However, sometimes I’ll have an older child who hasn’t had much practice in independent creative play.  My older kids are the models for the toddlers and babies.  They are the ones who model the possibilities of the blocks beyond the toddler’s immediate desire to dump the whole basket.  If my older kids have difficulty leading the play into creative avenues then it affects the whole group.

If my older children aren’t sure about the fun factor of a pile of blocks, I will get down on the floor and model some potential games with the playscape.  The most important part of modelling creative play with loose parts materials is to be genuinely enthusiastic and interested in the play.  Kids can sniff out a fake in a minute!  So my advice to you is to set up a game that YOU would enjoy playing.  Make the blocks into pretend food and bake up a delicious soup.  Set the blocks into a tower and roll a ball into them.  Balance them into a sculpture.  Make fences for the barnyard animals.  Build a house for some little people or a garage for some trains.  Shape them into letters or numbers.  Place them end to end and see how far they reach.  And the list goes on..

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Your interest and focus towards your play will attract the children to you like bees to honey.  Have you ever noticed that when you sit down ready to focus on a task all of a sudden all the children want to crawl in your lap?  I think kid’s have a sixth sense towards adults who are involved in a project.

Make that project some play with loose parts and the children will quickly join in. Once you have modelled a game with the blocks and the children are playing well, take a step backwards out of the play.  Stand nearby to continue to verbally interact with the game if necessary.  Eventually you will be able to model some ideas with the loose parts by setting up the toys before the children arrive in the morning and they will play happily by themselves.

The next step in my technique is to extend this type of play for longer periods of time.  I will go into more detail on how to extend the play next week in Step Three.  Your homework for this week is to set up a little play scene with your loose parts materials and model a game or two with the toys.  Get down on the floor and show your older children a few ideas on how to use the materials in a game using your own imagination.  Remember to choose a game that YOU find fun because pure, honest enjoyment is a powerful influence for a group of young children.

Leave a comment about the type of loose parts materials you plan to use this week.  I’d love to hear from you!

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