Tag Archives: play

Everyday Play in the Ruth Washburn Basement

Everyday Play in the Ruth Washburn Basement


Everyday Play in the Ruth Washburn Basement.

Have you ever been down to the basement of the Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School? It is a marvelous place filled with STUFF that teachers use each week, in original combinations, to create enriching, educational classroom environments. Here’s a sneak peek into some favorite items on the chance that you haven’t yet experienced this wonderful space:

  • An entire wall filled with process art materials including a set of baby bottles filled with colored water, fly swatters, sea sponges, golf balls, strawberry baskets and all kinds of brushes including scrub and toothbrushes.
  • Homemade props. One example is the bin containing berets and monkey tails that are used year after year by RW children as they act out the classic story by Esphyr Slobodkina,  Caps for Sale. What simple, grand props!
  • Shelves filled with recycled items. Corks, baby food jars, aluminum trays, paint samples, tiles, scoops, wire pieces, sytrofoam sheets, smooth stones, cardboard squares, egg cartons and so on.  Parents in our cooperative are the perfect source for these materials that get used by children for tinkering, building and creating.
  • Science bins including Weights and Measures, Pulleys, Bubble Wands, Sight and Sound, Beakers and Test Tubes. There is a bin with more than ten bird’s nests. Amazing! Shells, rocks, antlers, even a coconut can be unearthed from the many natural objects stored offering children the opportunity to study real objects.
  • There is more. Paint, glitter, glue, costumes, hats, scarves. Oregon sand, keys, and popcorn. Multi-cultural musical instruments and a set of hand drums. A wooden train, a circus train. Foam, wood, cardboard and other blocks. Puzzles, magnetic builders, flannel boards and stories. Castles, barns, a space ship.

Ann Epstein in The Intentional Teacher recommends that teachers provide “sturdy, open-ended materials that children can use in many ways and reflect the diversity of their homes and communities.” This is just what we do with basement STUFF.

“Children are particularly fond of haunting sites where things are visibly worked on. They are irresistibly drawn to the detritus generated by building, gardening, housework, tailoring or carpeting,”  William Benjamin stated way back in 1924. While our basement “detritus” isn’t generated by tailoring or housework, it is generated by good teaching. RW teachers, parents and children are “irresistibly” drawn to this school, in part, due to all the great STUFF in our basement that we use to facilitate children’s play and learning. If you haven’t yet been down to our basement, be sure to plan a visit. You will be amazed by everything there.


Sukie Jackson, Teacher

Everyday Play with Blocks



I forget about the blocks in our classroom sometimes. I shouldn’t. Anytime I find a way to encourage both boys and girls to engage in block play, the outcome is positive. Most recently Older 4 children built on a lesson about shapes to create imaginative and elaborate block structures. Here are just a few highlights of our Circle Time:

  • One crew made a construction site with a hemisphere shape as “a dome.” A member of this group thought long and hard about how to use the curve shaped blocks.  Blocks1 Eventually he created a road to the site with C-shaped blocks and a ramp.
  • Four children used block shapes to build a water park.  Blocks2 Triangular blocks were positioned upright as water slides and columns sprayed water.
  • One child built a pyramid into his structure to make a tower. Another opted to build a house. She persevered when her first attempt toppled over and built a second. The third child working in this area experimented with arches. Blocks3
  • All the children engaged in an impromptu show-and-tell. As we walked to see the three different areas where children worked, each individual child had something he/she wanted to say about their creation.
  • When it came time to clean up the blocks, groups worked as teams matching block with shape outlines on the shelves— a puzzle in itself.

There is no shortage on research about the benefits to block play. This excerpt from The Economist magazine in the article “How do unit blocks help children learn?” nicely summarizes the benefits of block play and what is meant by “unit” blocks.

“Theorists cite a laundry list of the benefits that children derive from playing with unit blocks… Co- Blocks4 operative building develops language and social skills. The “unit”-based measurements of halves, doubles and quadruples, combined with columns, ramps, curves, buttresses and other specialised shapes, lay the foundations for basic maths and geometry. Balance and collapse teach the nature of gravity. Ramps and columns can be used to make simple levers and fulcrums. The need to place blocks carefully develops hand-eye co-ordination. Does all this ascribe too much educational potential to simple chunks of wood? In fact, multiple studies over several decades back up these claims, with some finding that children who play with blocks significantly outperform those who do not, not just in infancy but over their entire academic careers.”

I find that simple questions and an interest in my part can encourage use of blocks by children. “What would you like to make?”  I wonder if you can build something tall?”  “Do the cars need a garage?”  “Could blocks be used to keep the farm animals separate?”  “Is there something you two could you build together?”  “What could this long block be used for?”

How can I forget about blocks? Special thanks to teacher Brenda Holmes-Stanciu who helps me remember!


Sukie Jackson          Older 4s teacher.



Everyday Play with Tools

by Sukie Jackson

Everyday Play with Tools

While remodeling a bedroom in preparation for the arrival of our second child, I spent many afternoons in hardware stores with lists of tools and materials to buy. Often, my two-year-old son, Kenji, was with me. It was his fascination with nails, tools, pipes, wood, chains and just about everything else there that started me purchasing hardware toys.

Here are some examples:

  • plastic toolbox (even the latch is engaging)
  • adjustable wrench (experiment with “jaw” widths)
  • putty knife (works great with play dough)
  • tape measure (look for one that has a gentle retractor)
  • plastic plumbing pipe pieces (a puzzle for the many ways these can be screwed together)
  • paintbrushes and a paint can filled with water (great for large motor skills and learning about evaporation)
  • pliers (try having your child pick up/clean up with these)
  • flashlight (a night walk is such an adventure)
Older 3s using tools to work on bike

Older 3s using tools to work on bike

What I liked about these hardware-store toys is they helped us to make our son a part of our everyday life. Each tool has a real purpose, and he could see what we did with tools to fix, clean, change or build. Like all parents, I am concerned about the safety of toys. I made sure to be in the same room or outside area supervising Kenji when he used these tools. I appreciated their durability and the many creative uses my son found for each one.

Although Kenji is a boy, I heartily recommend hardware toys for girls as well. These toys help children of both sexes become comfortable with tools from an early age and help them feel confident and independent.

In the same way that including children in work projects at home provides learning opportunities, Ruth Washburn Maintenance Days offer children the chance to watch, work and play alongside adults using a  variety of tools for the real purpose of readying the school for classes. The learning has already begun when children can see their parents model volunteering, a caring for the school environment and skills as they clean, fix and build.

RW graduate Kenji is now twenty-six years old. Playing with tools as a child prepared him well for his current tools, an otoscope and stethoscope. In his training to become a pediatrician Kenji’s first year medical school  advisor just happened to be another RW graduate, Dr. Ben Scott.

Happy Hammering!


Sukie Jackson   Older 4s teacher.

Everyday Play With Kitchen Utensils

by Sukie Jackson

Cooking Up Fun and Learning with Kitchen Utensils

Students create masterpieces with paint and kitchen utensils

Students create masterpieces with paint and kitchen utensils

I’m a big fan of the creative use of kitchen utensils. When my daughter was still in a high chair, I would pull her chair up to the utensil drawer and let her play while I did cooking alongside her. I put a towel over the drawer side so she couldn’t pinch her fingers by closing the drawer and I was careful to remove any utensils that might pinch, poke or cut. That still left many items with which to play: wooden spoons, a whisk, spatulas and measuring cups. A small sauce pan can be placed in the open drawer and a child can take on and off the lid, and fill and empty the pan, all under the watchful supervision of an adult.

Bin of Utensils for Playing Ruth Washburn teachers, over the years, have found many creative uses for kitchen utensils. A favorite of all of us is Kitchen
Gadget Art. We have a bin in the school basement which contains a potato masher, several spatulas, and a boing whisk (even if you don’t use or want one, you must buy one for the art and fun word potential of “boing!”). Dipping these utensils Painting with Kitchen Utensils into paint and then using them to print offers children endless possibilities for pictures and patterns along with the opportunity to engage with a real tool. And you will have an entire refrigerator’s worth of art after this project!

Another basement bin contains egg beaters. We use them in sensory tubs with water and dish soap. Bathtubs are the ultimate sensory tub for young children. Children can stir up a lot of fun with measuring spoons, non-breakable measuring cups and spoons and a variety of utensils in the tub.  In our study of Simple Machines in the classroom, Morning Mixed Age teacher Kristi used kitchen utensils with children as levers ( forks, cake frosters and spatulas) and wheels ( rolling pins and egg beaters).

Of course the very best use of utensils is cooking with children.  Molly Katzen in her book  Pretend Soup lists the many benefits of cooking with youngsters:

  • A blossoming of creativity and a sense of aesthetics
  • Confidence and self esteem: A feeling of accomplishment
  • Early math skills (counting, measuring, sequencing of events, and understanding of time)
  • Small motor-skills; hand eye coordinaton
  • Strength and endurance (stirring batter or spreading cream cheese can be hard work if you are three feet tall)
  • Patience and self control (waiting for that pizza to come out of the oven is a challenge)
  • Language skills (observing, describing, predicting outcomes)
  • Ability to follow directions
  • A sense of teamwork

Try cooking up some fun and learning with utensils in your kitchen!

Sincerely, Sukie Jackson                Older 4s Teacher

Thanks to Kristin Schoonveld for photos.

Everyday Play with social interaction

by Sukie Jackson

Promoting Social interaction: Handshake, High Five, Hug Or Butterfly Kiss!

We are so lucky, in our parent cooperative, to have parents with a variety of skills sets. Nathan’s mother, Jennifer has her master’s in Early Childhood Special Education.  She recently presented to our staff “Promoting Social Interactions in Daily Routines” which began with the statement that adaptations that encourage positive social behavior “don’t require a ton of effort” and can be “built into daily routines.” Jennifer’s presentation was filled with good ideas and good reminders appropriate for teachers and parents both.

Jennifer suggested that when singing “If You Are Happy and You Know It….” social alternatives to “Clap Your Hands” include:

  • Eyelash to eyelash, Kerry gives her son a butterfly Kiss

    Eyelash to eyelash, Kerry gives her son a butterfly Kiss

    Hug a friend

  • Give a Thumb Kiss
  • Give High Fives
  • Hold Your Neighbor’s Hand
  • Scratch your Neighbor’s Back
  • Give your friend a side bump
  • Blow a kiss
  • Wink at Someone
  • Smile

These are all such simple, wonderful ways to for children to connect to each other and for us as adults to connect with children anytime, not just when singing a song.  Teachers may incorporate them into a Circle Time routine, while parents may want to make them part of saying good-bye or good-night to a child.

Nyshie and her dad share a thumb kiss

Nyshie and her dad share a thumb kiss

How did I raise three children and never encounter a “thumb kiss” (simply touching your thumb to another person’s thumb).  My grandmother always gave me butterfly kisses (eyelash to eyelash). Try this with your child. And then try it with your partner or friend! It’s a fun and funny way to relate to another person (imagine being the husband of this preschool teacher).

Jennifer suggests that children can be encouraged to work together cleaning up by having one child hand toys to a peer to put away.  She offered ideas for children to work on art projects in pairs (it can be as simple as putting two chairs close together at the art table with just one canvas and one set of art materials to share). I believe that all the good ideas Jennifer shared with classroom teachers could be used to promote positive interactions with siblings too.

I often think of my son’s first Ruth Washburn teacher, Pat. At the end-of- year Circle when Pat called on each child individually to give them a Certificate of Belonging,  she offered to say good-bye  with a “handshake, high five or hug. ”  I appreciated that Pat respectfully offered a variety of choices that honored different comfort levels for physical touch in a class full of children.  I couldn’t have been more surprised and delighted when my shy and reserved son ran up and gave Pat a hug.

Hug, handshake, high five…. or butterfly kiss your child today!

Sincerely, Sukie

Special thanks to Jennifer Cronk for being such an inspiration.