8 EvEryday Early lEarning
potential for learning (especially language and
social skills) makes it worth the effort.
Older children can take the lead in preparing
the materials for play. My child care buddy
Pam from South Dakota says the schoolagers
in her program built many of the projects from
my book Do-It-Yourself Early Learning. In an
e-mail, she shared the following: “I asked them
to review the book, choosing items they would
like to build. After reading and viewing the vari-
ous options, they began writing up materials
lists. As a team, we then headed to the nearest
hardware store where we found and purchased
our supplies. With supervision, they went about
building their favorite projects in the book. I still
remember the pride on their faces when their
projects were completed.” Pam said all the kids
in her program enjoyed the projects the older
children had built.
Don’t introduce too many new activities at
once; it can overwhelm the children and make
it difficult for them to focus. The goal is to give
them the chance to fully explore and get to
know the materials. It is hard to get any kind of
deep engagement when kids are trying to focus
on too much input.
Let the children discover the materials when
possible. We introduce most new dramatic
play props and manipulatives to the children
in our program by placing them on a shelf the
night before and waiting to see what happens
when they are discovered. Allowing children to
discover new materials is exciting for them, it
gives them control and ownership, and most of
all it is great fun to sit back and see how they
act and react.
Don’t worry if kids don’t use something “right.”
Unless they are doing something potentially
dangerous to themselves or someone else, let it
go. Exploration and discovery are what we are
after; you never know what someone’s personal
history, knowledge, and unique perspective will
bring to the materials.
Use your own ideas too. Don’t hesitate to build
off the following projects using your own ideas
and knowledge. See where your ideas take you.
The key to these projects is their flexibility; don’t
think for a second that you have to rigorously
adhere to my suggestions and ideas. Use what
follows as a starting point for your own adven-
ture in early learning.
Hi, I’m Zoë. Jeff’s my dad and I’ve helped him think
up lots of the projects in this book. I’ve also helped
test them out with kids and have even helped
demonstrate them to child care providers at con-
ferences. I’ll be popping in every once in a while
throughout the book to add my opinion or tell a
story. My dad is almost done rambling on about
early learning—that means the projects are coming
up really soon. Stay tuned.
A Note on Safety
Child safety is a concern in all early learning envi-
ronments. My goal has been to develop activities for
this book that are safe for use by average children
under average supervision in average play environ-
ments. Each activity considered for this book was
taken for a test drive in our family child care pro-
gram. Most made the cut as originally conceived,
but some failed to stand up under the rigorous use of
real live children (real live children with extremely
close and alert supervision, of course). While they
all passed the Empty Box Test with flying colors,
some items were not as durable as I would have liked
and a few had other flaws that made them unsafe.
The ideas that didn’t work on their initial test drive
were sent back to the shop for more work. We man-
aged to hammer the kinks out of most of them pretty
quickly, but there were some we just could not save.
The items that made the cut for inclusion in this book
are used regularly in our program and many were
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