My Assistant, Kristen Ossmann, invented a wonderful game, which the two- and three-year-olds in the playgroup absolutely love. We call it “Get Back Here.” She holds one end of a stretchy piece of fabric (about 4-5 feet in length) and one child holds the other end. Kristen stays in one spot and asks them to back up, while facing her. As they do she says: “Bye-bye, see you later, have good time, I’ll miss you, call me when you get there.” When they are far enough away that the fabric is stretching, she gently pulls them toward her and says: “Wait! I miss you too much! Get back here!” They always end up hugging and laughing. I haven’t met the child who is not delighted by this little game. Every child in the room is either waiting their turn or is happy just to enjoy the show. It’s so sweet! If only this could be packaged and sold, Kristen would be a multi-millionaire. Maybe it’s a variation on “peek-a-boo.” Another way for children to practice or tolerate separating from their parents for a period of time and then coming back together.
A 2-1/2 year old girl in one of my groups occasionally piles (our homemade playdough) on top of a baby doll! I’ve seen a few other kids do this over the years. So strange, so curious. Sometimes our adult interpretations of of these sort of, to us, odd activities fall short of whatever impulse drives a particular child. They are fascinating.
It is nothing new to say that toddlers like to stack objects (and especially knock them down). I’ve read the knocking down part is much more satisfying because it gives them more of a sense of control. It’s easier than stacking them. They also love fitting shapes together (puzzles, shape sorters), and putting objects inside of other objects. There was an amazing plastics store a few blocks from here that was going out of business a few years ago (a great loss to the neighborhood) and had discounted all kinds of odds and ends. I bought six plexiglass see-through cylinders, 12″ long by 3″ in diameter and duct taped them together to make a “car tunnel.” A HUGE hit. One of the kids will ask for the car tunnel (it rests out of reach when not being used), and they take turns running small cars down the chute. Another great way to learn that concept of taking turns.
There was one year when the kids in my three-day group, initiated by one of them, began taking almost every toy I have from one side of the room to the other. At first they kept checking with me – by eye contact – that it was ok. At times like this I think it helps to be an artist (I am one) because I really appreciate this sort of unconventional activity that they probably don’t get to do anywhere else. They piled the toys up carefully on top of one another until they had a enormous pile. They were so focused, so purposeful and so joyful. Of course I made sure they didn’t throw the toys, but were gentle with them. It was absolutely amazing to watch. I let them do it a few more times over the year (always their idea!), to their great delight and appreciation. After they were bored with it everybody helped put the toys back in their normal places. Less fun for them, but, because I allowed them the freedom to fulfill this idea, they helped willingly. Again, their sense of fairness.
A game can simply be running back and forth across a room together. Sometimes the kids call it a race (or one of them thinks they’re racing!). There were two little boys a few years ago who, once or twice a day, would run back and forth across the huge mats that cover a lot of the floor of the play area, for a minute or so. Then they would declare out loud that they had to take a rest. They would sit together on chairs they set up next one another for about 45 seconds, then suddenly would get up and go again. The whole activity lasted probably three minutes, but it was their own made-up game and they were proud of it.