Infants, Toddlers and 2/3’s in the “Wild”
Karen Paskiewicz, Infant Toddler Program Coordinator
At ITC our Infant and Toddler program works to offer children experiences that support their innate curiosity of the world around them with a focus on how children learn best---hands-on. Our outdoor play spaces offer just that. Using their senses infants and toddlers are able to follow their own wonders about their environment while developing an understanding of the materials they manipulate. Through relationships, with their teachers and with found materials, infants and toddlers share in their discoveries about new findings and work to become their own expert of their learning. The teachers make the outdoors a natural part of the curriculum, with extensions of the children’s interests and skill levels in mind.
Our play spaces are unique in that each area concentrates on the development of the age groups they are designed for but open enough for teachers to manipulate the environments to reflect the interests and skill level of the current groups. What makes ITC so exceptional is how the teachers naturally have a focus on all the domains of development when implementing curriculum---this includes time outdoors and it is reflected in our current set ups. Though our yards offer opportunities for individual discoveries there are also many areas that bring excitement to whole groups of children. The following are just a few highlights of such areas:
For our youngest of children, the infants have really utilized their new outdoor “patio” (of sorts) to provide more opportunities to be outside. The gated area offers them a chance to explore in an enclosed space while outside without the worry of a cart or wagons driving nearby. The enclosed space makes it less intimidating for our new crawlers and walkers as they get a chance to watch the “big kids” over the fence as they practice their own stability skills. The infant teachers have also been able to use this outdoor space during busier times inside as an extension of their classroom by opening up the door and having a teacher and small groups out on the porch while keeping the door open for some fresher air for children inside. Although the gates are a great addition to our porch area, they do come off easily to create the inviting path that the toddlers have been used to. A big surprise was the addition of the ramp on the side of the porch that invites the infants and toddlers to practice walking up and down a small incline, perfect for new walkers. This simple addition has seemed to reinvent this area of the playground that was once just seen as a preschool by-pass. Now the ramp leads to an invitation of peek-a-boo behind the forsythia bush or a game of chase around the trees. The adjacent bench invites teachers and children to sit and observe the actions nearby or partake in their own version of peek-a-boo through the bench. The ramp also supports the older toddler physical play of pushing the carts around the whole playground---no more getting stuck!
In addition, there are common spaces that parents are well aware of on the Infant/YT playground: the swings, bench swing, two-person slide and sandbox. These areas all invite social engagement with others. My personal favorite is the slide, as it offers toddlers a chance to investigate, at their own comfort level, their skills to move their bodies freely while also offering a chance for co-learning to happen through observation. Toddlers are egocentric---it’s about them and only them---but what is wonderful about our outdoor spaces are the special attention to details like this slide that offer toddlers a window into another’s play. Parallel play is a focus for older toddlers and creating opportunities for children to co-exist in an activity helps them to deepen their own ideas and learn from others new ideas. Teachers look for opportunities to facilitate such encounters which happen often naturally in our yards. Just look at the bench swing. One toddler works to climb up which then invites another to join them by giving them a push. A natural interest in their own ideas, one climbing up onto the swing the other pushing and pulling, then becomes an interest of two with a song of “row your boat.” The sandbox is another one of those areas that just invites social play. It often becomes one of the first areas older infants and younger toddlers flock to when outside. The design of the sandbox creates a close community of explorers within the four sides, but both playground sandboxes extend into the yards for more exploration. Some the most popular items to add to their play are metal bowls and spoons (we cannot have enough spoons no matter what playground we are on). These “real” materials allow children to begin symbolic play and enter into the world of representational play. The sandbox also offers children heavy work as well, using their large muscles to maneuver large shovels and construction trucks as their play becomes “work” to them.
The 2/3 play yard has its own unique areas as well that offer children a chance to do their “work”. This year we added a working hand pump station that has been a huge success with offering water in the children’s play. The desire to dump and fill as well as carry heavy objects that toddlers just love, are addressed with this new tool. On those warmer fall days you can observe groups of children around the barrel with their buckets and bowls negotiating turn taking and then figuring out how to carry their water filler containers across the yard to their destination. Some of the children just love to fill up their buckets and pour it back out, which works well with this barrel as it has screened over slots to absorb the water back in. The invitation to do “real work” with the hand pump is the real draw for these older toddlers/preschoolers. The 2/3’s have muscles to use and love to use them. On our porch big wooden crates offer more real work that invites the imagination of the group. Baby beds, a train or even a bed for a friend have all been created using these wooden crates. Lined up along the bike path to recreate a train going by or upside down to offer a stage to perform on makes good use of such open-ended materials. The bikes as well are used in more creative ways as small groups of children can be observed clustering together in a group play of traffic jam. One last big draw for the children on the playground is the trees at the front of the yard, The perfect place to pull up and hang or work on getting up just a bit further into the tree is a focus for many of the children that often times it can look like an reenactment of the book “Caps for Sale”.
With all this there is still one more big attraction for our groups and that is the Little Woods…
So what’s so great about the Little Woods? It’s what it has to offer naturally. The sights and sounds of autumn as nature provide the backdrop for a full body sensory exploration: the beautiful colors and rustling sounds of the leaves, the visions of trees dancing in the breeze, the smell of dew on the grass and the sensation of the crisp autumn air on our cheeks. Daily walks through the little woods offer the children these experiences at their own pace as the teachers allow time---lots of time---for children to investigate an intriguing sound or a colorful leaf. Natural obstacles like the stone wall or fallen logs create opportunities for children to try out their physical skills of balancing and climbing at their own leisure. The steeper hills and added slides invite the children to try and climb up and down the hillsides while taking in sights and possibly some playful envy of the big kids on the preschool playgrounds. For a more detailed look at what the woods has to offer your children, take a look at the videos by clicking on the links!