Authentic Tepees Review

In keeping with reconciliation and linking with the grade 4 curriculum, my students and I looked into traditional Indigenous homes. Quality Classrooms sent us The Kids Book of Aboriginal Peoples to assist with our study. Since we were studying the Anishinaabe people who lived on the plains we decided to take a closer look at the tipis in which they traditionally lived. They also sent 2 Authentic Tepees Craft Kits to review and create our own.

The first thing we did was open the kits and look at our supplies. They included plenty of materials to make the tipis.

One thing we noticed right away was that the included template for the outer covering was not symmetrical and was too big for the dowels provided. We set about to create our own template which fit the dowels and also incorporated the traditional smoke flaps and an opening for the door.

We pre-tied the dowels together with the included string to make assembly easier for the students.

It was then time to glue the dowels to the base. While plenty of glue was included it was difficult to use since it was so runny. We ended up using large blobs of glue and sticking the dowels into the centre of each blob. It needed to dry overnight before we could attach the outer covering. When I repeated this activity a second time I used a glue gun and it worked much better.

In the meanwhile, the students began to work on their outer coverings. They traced the template on the paper provided and carefully cut it out. Next came the designs. We discussed the importance of including Mother Earth and Father Sky at the bottom and top of their tipi and that the animals and people who live on the earth take up the space in the middle. We also looked at symbols they could include such as Turtle Island, the animals of the 7 Sacred Teachings and the Medicine Wheel.

The next day it was time to attach the outer covering. The students had some difficulty with this as the glue did not hold the covering in place. A paper clip would have held the covering together while the glue dried. Instead, we just held it together with our fingers for a few minutes while the glue dried. The glue gun worked much better the second time.

The students were really pleased with their tipis and had a great crafting experience overall.

They even made a village with their completed teepees.

Written by Ange, a teacher in Pembina Trails School Division.

3 Ideas for your Block Play Area

Unit blocks are an important staple in most early learning rooms. They are invaluable for supporting every area of the curriculum.

Here are 3 ideas to extend and complement your block play area:

Windows & Doors are an exciting new option to add detail to house structures. An ideal addition to a structure, windows and doors are a fun challenge to build with, as children learn how to make space for their window or door and continue to build for strength.

The five piece set includes 4 windows and 1 door and is available as a single set or double. They are scaled for use with standard unit blocks and recommended ages are 3+. The window and door panels are permanently attached.

Rainbow Blocks are an adventure in colour and light. Indulge children’s appetite for exploration by combining blocks to form new colours, or stack the blocks in a different order each time to form new and exciting shapes.

These Rainbow Blocks are standard unit block measurements and include 8 squares, 4 1/2 circles, 2 large triangles, 6 small triangles and 10 rectangles. The rectangle measures 7cm x 3.5cm x 14cm (2-3/4″ x 1-3/8″ x 5-1/2″). and recommended ages are 2+.

Organize your unit blocks easily with this storage unit designed just for that. The Block Shelf divides blocks according to size and shape. We often forget that choosing the correct block for its purpose and then sorting and returning blocks to their home spot, is an important part of the learning process. Having a permanent home for each type of block in your Unit Block Set makes this process much easier.

The Block Shelf accommodates a 150 piece block set and comes fully assembled with a 15 year warranty.

Happy Block Playing!

Arches and Tunnels

The package containing our Arches & Tunnels arrived on a Friday afternoon.  Initially I planned to wait until Monday before introducing the children to the new item to review but there were only a few children here so I decided it that it would be a fun way to end the week.  After the children got up from a nap, I let them open the package.

I didn’t tell them what it was – although ‘arches’ is an accurate description of the shape of these blocks, I felt ‘tunnels’ might influence the children’s use of the blocks.  I wanted them to use their imagination and not have the product name limit what they chose to create. However, the first thing they did was make “the longest tunnel ever” and of course they used the packaging to ‘decorate’ it too;

I confiscated the box – I know they would have loved to play with it too but I needed it for storage!

I was impressed by the quality of these arches – they are sturdy and smooth with no sharp corners or edges.  I really wanted the children to see these blocks as more than just tunnels but I resisted the urge to make any suggestions or direct their play.  They eventually started to make other things like ‘garages’ – most of which were really just shorter tunnels but some had a different design (the packaging was used as the roof on the circular garages).

They played exclusively with the arches for the remainder of the afternoon.  By home time they had begun to make ‘flowers’.

The following week everyone got a chance to use the arches – the children in my current group range in age from 18 months to eight years old.  The older ones really showed off their engineering and design skills.

The preschoolers’ garages evolved to be much more elaborate than their initial circle or short tunnel;

The school-age children then developed the ‘roller coaster’ game which soon became the preschooler’s favourite game. The goal of this game was to move the arch in such a way that the vehicle would roll all the way from one end to the other without falling off.

Of course, some of the children suggested bonus points if you could hold it high in the air and rock it really, really fast while running in circles. *sigh* I much preferred ‘calm and gentle’ in our small, indoor, mixed use space but I’ll admit some of them could demonstrate quite impressive skills even if it caused me a bit of angst.

Most interestingly it was one of the preschoolers who discovered they could make ‘numbers’ with the arches – wow!

After several weeks of play, none of this group of children ever lost interest in playing with the Arches & Tunnels.  However, there were a few things that I think would improve the play value – at least for me and this group.  We definitely could use many more blocks. Even if only one child was using them they would run out of pieces before they completed their construction projects.  There were many disputes if two or more wanted to build at the same time.

Yet, having many more blocks of this size would have been an issue in our small space.  Sure the large size is nice when you want to drive a truck through a tunnel but honestly, after that first afternoon, no one ever made another tunnel.  Construction with curved blocks offered so many more design opportunities than are possible with straight, square or rectangle blocks.  It was fascinating to watch their creativity flourish. I wish we had hundreds of small arches to build with.  I even tried boiling some tongue depressors and shaping the softened wood around a can.  Sadly, it is not easy and it would take me years worth of time I don’t have in order to make enough.

So, until someone makes us a bigger set of small arches we will have to keep taking turns using our big arches to build small projects.

Written by Cheryl, an experienced ECE II who runs her own daycare (Cheryl’s Child Care).

Gears Gears Gears Super Set

In addition to working with young children, I also do arts and crafts with the After School Program (ages 5-12) at Earl Grey Community Centre in Winnipeg. Sometimes that extends into other activities like tinker trays, and recently it extended into the toy world with the Gears Gears Gears Super Set.

I divided the bucket into 3 medium sized bins and put them out on a big long table and it wasn’t long before kids were swarming like bees around a jar of honey. They figured out how to put the gears together more quickly than I did, which I think is a characteristic of great toys; it appeals to the Kid Brain. And then they were completely absorbed in putting together sculptures. Some wanted to see how tall they could make it before it fell over, some were wide, and some used only a handful of pieces. Then there was an audible gasp from one of the kids as their sculpture “came to life” and they discovered how to make the gears move, and then how to add more layers of gears and get them all moving at the same time. It’s an amazing activity for problem-solving too, in more ways than I expected.

The pieces quickly got gobbled up and within about 20-30 minutes the bins were empty. Then, without any hint or suggestion from anyone else, they started combining their structures. They worked at making them fit together and then adjusted the gears so they’d all turn at the same time. When they teamed up it became a different activity; one where they were problem-solving together and sharing ideas for how to make the structure bigger and/or better.

There did come a point when one or two structures seemed to have most of the gears so I said they had to share the pieces, but they could choose which parts of their sculpture to share. And they did. Pretty soon I just stood back and watched as they started talking to each other when they needed something. Then they took it one step further by bartering for pieces; “I’ll give you an orange connector if I can have the crank”.

Then I asked them what their factory or machine was making (a better question would have been “What are you making with the gears?”), but it added another level of creative play. One machine made banana ice cream, another an elevator, a turtle, and one made “Tim Horton’s secret ingredients!” At some point a couple of small cars appeared and a snow cone machine became a “car washing machine”, not a car wash, but a car washing machine.

And there are probably lots of other ways to extend the play with this set of gears, including my favourite activity, arts and crafts. The gears would make great stamps dipped in paint like Mary Catherine did at Fun-A-Day, or could be traced with thin markers or pencil crayons and then coloured.

These gears are also tough. Once or twice pieces popped into the air and onto the floor when an inventor was trying to make it fit somewhere it didn’t want to be. They used their fists to pound pieces together, but nothing broke. I expected to see tiny stems snapped off, or cracked connector pieces, but these gears are extremely sturdy. They survived 90 minutes of intense play from about 12-15 kids by the end of the first day, and many more sessions since.

The Gears Gears Gears Super Set includes 66 colourful gears, 36 square pillars, 31 six-way axles, 8 pillar connectors, 8 interlocking bases, and 2 crank handles, all contained in a plastic tub for storing in, and an activity guide. There are lots of small pieces – which makes it a great activity for fine motor skills – but use caution if there are younger children around who still put things in their mouth. (The age recommendation is 3 and up.) It’s perfect for one to three children, but we did end up getting an additional set for the After School Program. Whether you’re buying it for one kid or many, it’s worth it for the skill development and ‘playability’ you get out of this unique and creative building toy.

Written by Alison McLean, educator and craft creator at Earl Grey Community Centre. You can follow Alison on Facebook: Alison’s Crafts To Go and on Instagram: @alisonsmagicalcrafts.

Roadway System Review

I love to look through toy catalogues and create wish lists but I know I have neither the storage space nor the funds for all the items I find interesting.  Honestly, being budget conscious, many items get added to my ‘make this’ list instead of my ‘buy this’ list.  The Roadway System was one of those items I planned to make instead of buy – I even went to the lumber store to price out the supplies.  However, once I factored in the time it would take to cut, sand and paint all the pieces, I decided it would have to go on the ‘buy – someday when you have more money’ list.  So, when I was offered the opportunity to receive a product in exchange for writing a blog post about it I knew I had to include the Roadway System on the list of items I’d like to try.

My current group of five boys range in age from 22 months to 4 ½ years old.  They tend to get very excited and sometimes reckless so toy durability and safety are equally as important as play value. When I first unpacked the Roadway System I was very impressed by the quality and the size of the pieces – I would never have been able to make ones as nice as these. Often when I buy construction type toys I buy multiple sets in order to ensure there are enough pieces for all the children to use so I was a little concerned that ’42’ roadway pieces may not be enough but to date the boys have never run out of pieces for any project.

The pieces are easy to put together and take apart.  Even the youngest boy in the group needed no assistance;

There was a little frustration at first because several of the pieces (as seen in the photo above) have one connection point with tabs and two connection points with spaces resulting in many more spaces than tabs.  The boys have since decided that when they leave these spaces lined up with a straight edge or another piece with spaces it creates ‘potholes’ in the road – bringing real life experience into play.

I really like that the pieces are thin enough that the children can walk across the roads without tripping and yet strong enough that they will not bend or break.  Standing on toys is usually discouraged but for these it is OK;

They boys did also complain that they couldn’t make a circle road – they kept choosing some pieces that curved one direction and at least one that curved the ‘wrong’ way and wouldn’t work unless it was upside down. I wouldn’t show them how to do it but I did encourage them to take a closer look at the eight curves and sort them into groups.  Eventually they figured it out and made TWO circles.

I found it quite amusing that the boys use the crosswalk sections of roadway as ‘jail’. Any cars caught speeding are escorted there by the police car and must stay on the ‘bars’ until they are permitted to drive again. We’ve been working on getting all the cars to drive on the right side of the road so there are fewer collisions between vehicles driving in opposite directions.  This may however just be my point of view – I think sometimes the collisions are actually their intended outcome.

We’ve been spending the majority of our playtime outdoors but since I first introduced this roadway system it has been their favourite indoor toy.  For weeks now, with the exception of a few trips to the housekeeping area to make food for the hungry drivers, they have played exclusively with the roadway when they are in the playroom.  They have become expert roadway designers;

I love the little ‘parking lots’ they add.  Note all those ‘extra’ pieces still in the bin and no one is complaining that they ran out of pieces.  With most of the other construction toys the boys become quite competitive – trying to build structures that are bigger/better than what the other boys are building.  With the roadway there are some racing competitions but the construction is always cooperative.  Making this MY favourite building set too.

Cheryl is an experienced ECE II who runs her own daycare (Cheryl’s Child Care).

Texo Play

Texo“, Latin for weave, twine together, plait, construct, build, is a toy that grows with children.

The flowers got the chance to play with the 65 piece set and were excited:

We eagerly explored the many different components of the set including solid wood planks, plastic moulded connectors “stars”  and plastic rods.

Rose began by building a tower.

While Daisy explored the connectors, which they named “stars”, fascinated with how they fitted together.

Rose moved into stacking and size ordering with the wooden planks.

While Daisy joined the rods and connectors and decided how to incorporate the wooden planks.

She was hesitant to use the activity guide and wanted to freely construct.

And when you are not sure how to use your creation… wear it as a necklace!

Rose created a forest of what was initially trees and became flowers. The bouquet was later given to me and my husband with “Happy Valentine’s Day” sentiments.

She was able to combine the parts but needed help to take them apart again.

While the girls play I tend to do something nearby. If I watch too closely I am tempted to interfere, give unneeded opinions or direct play; yes I have control-freak tendencies!

So I flicked through the activity guide while listening and watching their play. The guide explained the creator Lester Walker’s intention to provide a toy that grows in complexity as a child grows. As they gradually learn to play with the components in a more complex manner they are exploring concepts of architecture, design and engineering.

Basic construction is illustrated, moving onto simple builds and then more complex builds.

We thoroughly enjoyed playing with this construction set from Quality Classrooms.

How will you play with Texo?