Interesting Elements to Add to our Environments for Children

Sometimes, we come upon a piece of equipment or an unlikely object that works so well in our programs for young children that we just have to pass the idea on. Such is the intent of this post.

I’ve added pictures and links where I can, but if you need more information (such as where to find), just contact me. In addition, if you have found things that work in your environments, pass them along, and let’s use this blog and network of directors and teachers for sharing. We can learn so much from one another!

Years ago, I purchased Bear Blocks. These were carpeted, hollow, wood structures – large enough for children to climb on, sit on, lie on, jump from, and sit in. They came in many shapes and sizes, and provided hours of play and numerous cozy spaces for all ages of children. In addition, they offered differing heights and vantage points where children could observe and just hang out. My original builder is no longer available, but I have located a fabulous craftsman who also builds carpeted, wood structures. He calls his product “Soft Blocks,” which he can customize to fit your space and color scheme. In addition, his wife is the director of a children’s center – perfect! You can visit his Facebook site by clicking the Soft Blocks link in the Resources section on the right side of this page. His email address is softblocks@gmail.com.

Clear, fabric shoe organizers (the kind you hang on the inside of a closet door) make wonderful storage for small parts – basters, measuring stuff, tongs, funnels – all of the hundreds of small items that fill sensory tables and discovery shelves. Rotating items is easy, and finding what you are looking for is probably the best selling point of this find (especially when time is of the essence). And, did I mention de-cluttering!

A metal cookie sheet attached with Velcro to the side of a storage unit or shelving unit makes a perfect magnetic surface. It is inexpensive, yet effective – and when you want to make a change, attach something else in its place. A basket of magnetic letters, shapes, or cutouts on the floor beneath the cookie sheet provides an activity for one. Using otherwise unused space stretches the activities and experiences you can offer.

Hair-curling rollers become versatile, open-ended materials for play and exploration. These are the smooth, plastic cylinders that nest in one another. I found these rollers (not to be confused with brush or foam curlers) in the hair accessory aisle of my favorite low-budget store. They are multi-colored, and come in six different sizes. They nest beautifully in one another. No sharp edges and they are dishwasher safe. A basket of rollers engages infants through preschoolers – the play is as varied as the children.

For home-to-school, school-to-home, and school-within-school messages and surprises, we found beautiful wooden boxes – and purchased enough for each of our three to six-year-olds. The boxes have numerous uses, but we are building a “community” in our large program, and two of our goals are making connections and communicating with everyone involved – children, teachers, and parents. These boxes have been perfect for this ongoing project. Messages, happy thoughts, and sometimes treats await the children!

And finally, add herbs! Peppermint and spearmint are easy to grow – and rubbing them to release their scent, and tossing them into the water table or mixing them into sand is a sensory delight.

So, what about you? What have you found, used in a unique way, or delighted in creating?

Please share – your large audience awaits!

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