Meet Jennifer Low from Auckland, New Zealand. She is an Early Childhood Home Educator with two children aged 5 and 16 months. Read on as we talk unconventional materials for play and the educational style that influences Jennifer most…
Jenni, thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the Inspirational Educators series. I love seeing your posts, especially because our boys are really close in age. What got you started with creative baby play activities?
My passion for early childhood education inspired me to join Instagram and share play ideas with a global community. When my son arrived I was very engaged in his learning & development and I wanted to share the play ideas we created at home.
As an early childhood educator I’m trained to notice, recognise and respond to children’s interests. I document their learning through photographs and stories. I plan programmes which evolve over time as children’s interests and abilities change.
When my son was a very young infant I noticed him looking closely at objects that were near to him. I created baby gyms by hanging play objects between two dining room chairs. He would lie on his back, scan the objects with his eyes and bat them with his fists. When he began to roll I created play mats for him to explore on his tummy. Sensory bags were perfect as he gained muscle strength in his back, neck and arms. He could pat the bags and watch the objects and materials move around inside.
Conventional materials are often restrictive. For instance a rattle may only be suitable for a short time in a babies development. The materials I share on Instagram are open-ended. There is no set use for them and they can be used and reused repeatedly for babies, toddlers and older children. These are materials that grow with the child.
For those parents who are hesitant to try baby play with more unconventional materials, what advice would you give them?
My advice is to think ahead before purchasing anything new. Is this likely to engage my child again and again? Children build connections with materials and always surprise me with their ongoing interest. For instance coloured plastic bottles have intrigued my son since he was a very young infant and he keeps returning to them in his play.
There are definitely rules with unconventional materials. Anything that could pose a chocking or mouthing hazard must be avoided and play should always be supervised.
For more information on unconventional materials for infants & toddlers I love the book “Loose Parts 2” by Miriam Beloglovsky.
The loose parts play trays you present are just gorgeous! What are your top 5 items for loose parts play?
Great question! I’ve learned a lot from watching children create with loose parts. These are my suggestions for preschool age children (over 3’s)
- Sticks (from nature or craft naterials such as popsicle sticks. Different sized sticks present different creative possibilities)
- Stones (natural stones, pebbles. We also use glass stones)
- Wooden spools – these are great for 3D constructions.
- Mosaic tiles – they come in different shapes & sizes and are pretty and delicate to work with
- Recycled materials – bottle tops, jar lids, corks, food pouch lids, twist ties, boxes, plastic bottles etc.
Is there a particular educator / educational style that influences the activities you create?
Our early childhood curriculum in New Zealand “Te Whariki” empowers children to learn and grow as competent and confident learners and honours the holistic way children learn. I create play ideas which meet children at their level of interest and ability so they are able to self direct their learning.
I was deeply inspired by Reggio Emilia when I trained as an early childhood educator. This Italian philosophy of education values children as equal members of society. Children’s thoughts and ideas are respected as they inform and guide the curriculum. Teachers are researchers who document children’s learning and plan the environment and materials in response. Reggio Emilia highlights the joy and wonder of learning in teachers and in children. The philosophy keeps me curious and hopeful about the future of education.
As well as running Creative Play Ideas, you are also co-host of @ctinquiry. Could you tell us more about the page?
CTinquiry was founded by @joannebabalis and stands for Connected through Inquiry: a curious community of learners.
CTinquiry began as a face to face community in Ontario Canada for educators to come together and share inspiration about Reggio Emilia. It later grew to digital chats on Google Hangouts with participants from all over the world.
After going on maternity leave @joannebabalis created the @CTInquiry page on Instagram, sharing inspiration in a very visual way online. Joined by @creative_explorations @nurturedinspirations and myself, the @CTInquiry page offered Reggio Emilia inspired challenges and created yet another community.
The @CTInquiry page is evolving this Fall and we are hoping to encourage more authentic encounters and sharing about the Reggio Emilia philosophy on a global scale. Follow @ctinquiry and stay tuned as we share even more ways to connect!
Obviously, Instagram only shows us a snippet of people and their personalities. What three words would your friends use to describe you?
Finally, how can we find out more about Creative Play Ideas?
www.creativeplayideas.com (under construction)
Facebook page coming soon!