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Service Learning in Our Own Backyards

The students from the University of Missouri who spent a month in Cape Coast, Ghana, this summer went to serve and learn. They used their skills to address urgent needs and, in so doing, learned the power of an individual to make a positive difference. As Catherine Rolfe remarked, “It’s amazing how much a simple gift…can mean to a child.” Whether a gift is a rhythm band instrument or time spent one-on-one teaching a child a basic skill, the sharing of ourselves reaps benefits to both the giver and the recipient. That’s the amazing power of giving.

Not all of us can travel to another state, much less another country or continent, to participate in a service learning project. Happily we don’t have to. Opportunities galore present themselves where we live. All we need do is open our eyes wide and take a fresh look. If you live in a city, as I do, you’ll not need to go far before finiding more opportunities than there are days in a week. Not all will appeal to you. That’s to be expected. We each have different skills, talents, and passions, and time and energy to share.

Within a mile of our home is an exquisite three acre public garden that demonstrates what can be done when dedicated people band together to effect change. Once upon a time, long ago ~ 1902 ~ this land was part of a 10 acre estate complete with a 17,000 square foot, 50 room mansion and extensive landscaping. Then in 1961, the house was razed, and the three acres became a vast vacant lot. Forty years passed.

When the city was able to lease the lot, the city councilman for the district recruited property neighbors Betty and Charles McKenney to spearhead a committee to determine the best use of the space. Community members wanted passive development, and Betty suggested a garden. Thus began an ongoing project that finds countless volunteers and city employees working together on creating and maintaining a water-wise garden in harmony with our climate. The McKenneys became the Constant Gardeners, their project an ongoing pursuit, and their passion a gift that truly keeps on growing and giving. Needing inspiration for finding a project near you that matches your skills and passions, time and energy? Visit Arlington Gardens on-line. Time spent in a garden is time well spent, whatever the motivation.

Volunteering takes many forms, from formal committments requiring specific training, as does being a docent at a museum, to informal, as is driving someone to a medical appointment. All are valuable gifts.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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What Types of Toys Support Healthy Play?

Our last blog entry addressed the question Why Is Quality Play So Important? Now that we’ve defined the essential character of quality play, let’s move on to explore What Types of Toys Support Healthy Play? The answer goes beyond my suggestion that you Throw Away the Script and Engage the Imagination.

A quality infant and toddler toy can be used in many ways.

A quality toy can be used in more than one way and will grow with your child. For example, a set of nesting blocks can be used for many things: filling, dumping and stacking when your toddler is young, and as car garages, towers, for sorting, and homes for animals as she grows!

A quality infant and toddler toy engages the senses.

Young babies learn by using all of their senses. They like play that involves materials with a variety of texture, as well as lots of physical contact, singing and dancing. For older toddlers, play with sand, finger paint and shaving cream provides opportunities for learning using touch, smell, sight and sound.

A quality infant and toddler toy allows children to use their imaginations.

Look for stuffed animals or dolls that aren’t from a TV show, or other media, to allow your child to create her own play ideas. Developing creativity and problem solving skills is important for life long learning.

A quality infant and toddler toy lets children make decisions about their play.

A quality toy does not do something for the child. Instead, the child finds pleasure and satisfaction from doing something to the toy. For example, a soft and simple doll can do whatever your child imagines, while a battery-operated doll that talks limits what your child might pretend.

What does this kind of play look like?

When you child builds with blocks, she is learning many important skills such as: creativity as she creates a unique structure of her own design; physical development as she develops fine motor skills; and thinking as she explores relationships among object size, shape and balance.

When you share a book with your little one, you are developing social and emotional skills through parent/child bonding; language development and literacy skills as he learns new vocabulary, enjoys hearing stories, and learns to “read” the pictures to see what is happening; and creativity as you are supporting the development of his imagination.

With permission from the Child Life Council,  PlayopolisToys is pleased to share this most informative and thought provoking article with you, section by section. TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, reprinted from the Winter 2010 Child Life Council Bulletin.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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More Made in the USA @ Uncle Goose

So, what else from Uncle Goose gets me excited? Alphabet blocks for languages worldwide. You should see all the exquisite block sets. I counted 26. Each  combines letters with decorative elements representative of its culture. The world’s most widely spoken languages are available, from Arabic to Ukrainian. And if that’s not enough to delight the most passionate linguist, Cherokee and Maori blocks provide further intrigue. Were you thinking alphabet blocks were only for pre-schoolers? Think again.

Uncle Goose Blocks invite children and adults alike to play and learn. Their educational value is undisputed. They are also treasures that families pass down from generation to generation.

And the production practices at Uncle Goose insure quality, safety, and sustainability. The basswood, also known as lindenwood, used in their blocks comes from managed land in Michigan and is kiln dried for stability. The blocks are CPSIA compliant. The company re-purposes scrap and virtually every speck of dust at their factory. Horses bed down on wood curls, and wood salvage heats homes.

Yes, I like wooden toys, and I appreciate those who bring their talents to crafting these heirlooms for our families to enjoy generation after generation. I also appreciate the commitment to our environment that seems to run through all these companies.

As we “travel” across the country discovering who’s making what, where, and how, we’ll also take time to consider play itself and how classic toys, such as we’ve discovered at Maple Landmark, Holgate, TAG, and Uncle Goose, enhance playing and learning for our children. We’ll detour from time to time to do that. I invite you, our reader, to share your ideas too. Let’s share and learn together.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play