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Rainy days

Rainy days

Rainy days spent indoors needn't lead to boredom and grumpiness.

Children like to move and space is in short supply at home.

What could you do to get them moving that wasn't too boistrous? You don't need any special equipment.

Put on the radio and dance.

Scatter stepping-stone cushions across the crocodile-infested rug.

Play Simon Says.

Sing 'Heads, shoulders, knees and toes'.

Have a living-room Olympics: see how many star jumps you can do in a minute; count how many times you can throw a balled-up sock into the wastepaper bin.

Whatever you do, make sure it's different and make sure it's fun. Soon enough your children will get the idea and start to invent their own games.

There's something in the room with you right now that is waiting to be played with in a new way. Can you see it?

Time for a well-earned cup of tea.

September 15, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
What was the first game you ever played?

What was the first game you ever played?

You played it in the womb.

It was right there at the very beginning, millions of years ago, when life began.

Without it, no other learning would be possible. It's the most fundamental skill. Pre-schoolers love to play it. You'll find it in every children's magazine.

Have you guessed?

Spot the difference.

Light and dark; sound or no sound. A foetus is aware of so much.

From birth, babies can distinguish between mother and not-mother. Toddlers prefer two biscuits to one. Preschoolers look for what's unique about 'b' and 'd'. All learning is about difference.

A child will think, How does this new thing fit into what I already know about the world? Can I put it into one of the existing pigeon holes in my mind? Or do I have to pay attention and investigate further?

Next time you’re sitting with your child, try to put yourself in their shoes. What do they already know? Now, focus on what’s different, what’s new. Ask them to notice this.

They’ll draw their own conclusions. You can’t make them learn. But they will have moved forward on the road to greater understanding. 

Spot the difference drives all learning. It's the most powerful game in the world.

September 13, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
Going to nursery vs. staying at home

Going to nursery vs. staying at home

Research suggests that high-quality early years education is good for all children, regardless of the family's income or social background. And the benefits last into adulthood.

Some children benefit from going to nursery because the alternative is to be at home, where their needs are not being met. For the rest, it's simply the case that a well-run pre-school offers a richness of experience that is hard to replicate at home (although that doesn’t mean children should go for five days a week).

That's not to say that it can't be done, only that parents need the time, resources and dedication to make it happen.

How do your skills measure up? Do you feel you have the knowledge it takes to offer a full range of learning opportunities at home?

For inspiration, why not take a look at The 100? It's our guide to the toys, games and fun things-to-do that we believe all pre-schoolers should experience.

September 13, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
Play is the child's work

Play is the child's work

Play is the child's work, or so it is said. But how much, and for how long? Formal schooling doesn't begin until seven in many countries in stark contrast to the early focus on reading and writing we have here in the UK. Are our children missing out? Is our approach wholly negative?

Perhaps you know of a child who would have benefited from an extra year of play. Maybe they were diagnosed with learning difficulties when all they needed was another year to mature. What a shame that a bright child, so young and enthusiastic could be branded a failure - a stigma that can last a lifetime.

But what of the child who arrives at school able to read and write? Doesn't she also deserve to be somewhere that stimulates and challenges her?

The system is not going to change anytime soon. We can disagree with it. We can even fight it. But for our children who have started school this month, we also have to accept it.

If schools won't offer the experiences our children need, we must provide them ourselves.

What could you to to keep the spark of play and creativity alive at home?

September 13, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
What's so good about wooden toys?

What's so good about wooden toys?

We love wooden toys. But there's nothing magical about them.

They feel wholesome and timeless. And unless they've been treated with unpleasant chemicals (rubberwood toys can contain insecticide), they are also overwhelmingly safe.

So what's the problem?

You can have too much of a good thing.

Once you've got one set of wooden blocks, what do you gain if you buy a second? Why not buy something different instead? Wooden figures, wooden balls, wooden stackers. All have an honoured place in the toy box.

But after that? Children learn from new experiences. There's only so much you can learn if you only ever play with wood.

You have to offer a variety of materials.

We may frown upon plastic now, but it has unique properties that make it ideal for certain kinds of play. Think Lego or bath toys.

Each material poses its own set of challenges. And overcoming these fosters creativity and encourages problem-solving.

Stone, metal, fabric; water, sand, or acorns.

What new experience could you offer today?

September 12, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
Down with Pinterest-friendly craft ideas!

Down with Pinterest-friendly craft ideas!

Play is the most important thing a child can do. Bringing home a paper plate face with button eyes and a piece of string for the mouth might make you feel like your pre-schooler has achieved something today. But it was accomplished at the expense of freely-chosen activities. Author Erika Christakis argues in her book, The Importance of Being Little, that we should allow more time for unstructured play, both at home and in the nursery.

At One Hundred Toys we say, down with Pinterest-friendly craft ideas! Children need access to open-ended materials - when you absolutely have to be at home - and lots of time to explore nature.

Do you agree?

September 04, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
How to choose a school for your child

How to choose a school for your child

Have you thought about which school to send your child to? Did you turn to the league tables for guidance?

The pressure on schools to maintain or improve their position in the league tables creates an intolerable pressure to achieve results.

Teachers sometimes even cheat to improve test scores.

In that context, what do the league tables really mean? Can you trust them? Can they tell you what kind of experience your child will have? Even if you could trust the tables, a school is about so much more than results. Is it supportive? Inclusive? What are the other families like? Do they value education as much as you do? Does the headteacher emphasise results or focus on the whole child? Which of the two do you value?

It's not enough to find a good school. You have to find the right one.
August 25, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
Babies learn by looking for the unexpected.

Babies learn by looking for the unexpected.

Just like us, babies have a mental model of how they think the world works. When something unexpected happens, it challenges what they'd previously believed. So they have to take in new information that will enable them to piece together a more accurate picture. It's why you'll see them repeat actions many times. They're testing to see if their understanding was correct.

You'll also see them modify their actions to see what difference it makes. They drop food from a high chair. How did it land? What was the impact like? Did it bounce? What sound did it make? How do those outcomes change if I drop it from higher up or lower down? If I throw instead of drop?

The longer they stare at something, the more interesting they find it. The more interesting it is, the more unexpected it must have been.

It's why they like to drop food from their highchair. They want to see what happens.

And there you were thinking they did it on purpose to annoy you!

Look around the room now. Is there something that works in an unexpected way? Or that has a new texture or sound or taste?

What would your baby delight in discovering? 

(Clue: it's not another toy.)

August 25, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
Throw out the bath books

Throw out the bath books

Sharing a book in the bath can be nice. It's a way to comfort a baby who is afraid of the water. It can help them to relax.

But for older children, being in water is to be surrounded with possibility. So much to learn! Floating, sinking, displacement, pouring, splashing and bubble-making.

You can read a book anytime. A few minutes in the bath before bed offers the chance to do something different.

Why waste the opportunity?
August 25, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
What is a provocation?

What is a provocation?

Henry comes into the living room to find a line of cars, buses and taxis perched on the second shelf of the bookcase, two feet off the ground. He notices a second line of vehicles on the coffee table, pointing in the opposite direction. 

Yesterday we took a trip into London to spend time by the river and crossed several bridges. On holiday in France last week we saw a famous aqueduct. Henry would like to visit Tower Bridge next. He's desperate to see it open for a boat to pass through.

On the floor between the two sets of toys lies a pile of blocks, alongside postcards of London bridges, a map of the city and the Tower Bridge snow globe we bought on our outing.

This is the provocation.

Henry likes bridges and we want to deepen his understanding of their construction. But he has to work it out for himself. 

He doesn't have enough blocks to span the gap. He will have to use his imagination to find other materials that will do the job. And knowing Henry, we expect that halfway through the construction he will suddenly decide to convert it into Tower Bridge, with a road that can be raised up. He knows where the craft materials are kept and we've made sure that it's stocked up with card, string and sellotape, ready when he needs it.

Perhaps he won't even make a bridge at all. That's just one of many directions his play might take.

Of course, a provocation can be much simpler. A tray full of natural materials, a pile of leaves and some PVA glue, a bag full of objects that are all one colour or a jar full of buttons.

All you can do is take your child's interests as a starting point and leave them to it. As ever, it's the process, not the outcome that's important.

With each provocation, Henry is learning to look at the world in a new way. His assumptions are challenged and he learns to see more clearly.

What provocation could you offer your child today? 

Note: The term 'provocation' comes from the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia, famous for their enlightened approach to early years education. Indeed, the '100' in One Hundred Toys was inspired by Reggio's idea of 'the 100 languages of children', a subject we will return to in the coming weeks.


August 24, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
How many uses can you think of for a paperclip?

How many uses can you think of for a paperclip?

Children are masters of this kind of thing but our ability to think creatively diminishes over time.

Complex problem solving is expected to be the number one work-related skill for the coming decades. But too many parents have been led to believe that they should be teaching numbers and letters to their pre-schoolers.

As a result, there is less time for play and fewer opportunities for problem-solving and creativity.

The answer: free, unstructured play.

How could you change the toys and experiences you offer your child to encourage them to play in this way?

Children instinctively know what's good for them. Give them the freedom to pursue it.

August 22, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs
Are you a gardener or a carpenter?

Are you a gardener or a carpenter?

Do you create the right conditions for your child to thrive or do you try to shape them according to what you think is best?

At One Hundred Toys we like to think we fall (mostly) into the former camp, but it's not always easy. And perhaps the distinction is not always clearcut. And children do need to grow up at some point. Hmmm. It's a tough one!

What do you think?
August 22, 2018 By Alexis Ralphs

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