Monday, June 25, 2012

Figuring Out What They Really Are

Between the first and second week of Woodland Park's first summer session we received a box of what are described by the manufacturer as "open-ended play costumes" from the Icelandic company Fafu Toys.  I'll admit to have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of these "toys"; they look both magical and well-made on the website and I couldn't wait to put them through their paces.

We're an outdoor school during the summer, rain or shine, and last week started off quite wet. I've noticed that almost all of the photography on Fafu's website shows the products being used outdoors, so I'm assuming they're designed for rugged use, but I decided, in fairness, since they're made from felted wool, cotton, and silk, to wait for drier days for their maiden voyage, although I still fully intend to eventually find out what happens with these toys after some good solid rain play.

I displayed them on a funky coat rack near our garden, giving the parent-teacher in charge of the garden the basic instruction to just re-hang things when the kids aren't using them any longer, so they're easy to find, but to otherwise let the kids use the toys as they would.

Charlotte arrived early, and being a child who has been coming here for a long time, saw something new, and made a beeline for them, "What are these?"

"New toys."

"They're costumes." She then began to systematically remove items from the rack and drop them on the ground.

"Aren't you going to try any of them on?"


I was sitting in the sandpit while she dismantled my display. When she was done checking the inventory she came over to me and asked, "What are you doing, Teacher Tom?"

I'd been fiddling around with a couple pieces of colored plastic tile. I stuck them in the ground and said, "I'm building a house."

"I'll help you."  So we set about collecting rocks, pieces of bark, some scraps of wood, and a few seashells.  Liam joined us and we were soon engaged in a "Little World" style building project, that grew to include "a forest," a "backyard," and a "swimming pool."  At one point Charlotte said, "I know!"  She went back to the costumes, which an adult had carefully returned to the rack, picked out a purple "Cony", which she had clearly recalled, and added it to the construction, supporting it by inserting a stick through the hole in the point and into the sand, saying, "This is the tower."

It pleases me that the first thing we did with our new toy was to use it as a loose part, an element of construction, as we played a story, sticking a feather into it for good measure.

As the construction grew, someone reflected on the cone shape of our "tower" and incorporated a couple more cone shapes. 

As the loose part play took on a life of its own, I made myself scarce, which is what I try to do once things get going.  A half and hour later, when I thought to check in, all of this was gone, the parts re-purposed for more timely endeavors.

I tried to make no big deal of the new toys, wanting the kids to discover and explore them in their own way at their own pace, although it was hard given that nearly every parent who arrived with her child took a moment to enthuse over them, remarking particularly over the thick felted wool items.

I tried to avoid the use of the word "costume," opting for the less limiting word "toys," but like Charlotte, most of the kids saw them as things to wear.

Ah, but what kind of costumes?  The "Handys" were alternatively animal paws, monster hands, and dinosaur feet. Some of the kids didn't like how the mitts limited the use of their fingers and discarded them fairly quickly, but others seemed to enjoy exploring things without the use of their fine motor control, trying things like climbing and drumming.

The kids didn't really know what to make of the hat-like items, like the Coneys and "Earys". Oh, they knew they were hats, but what kind of hat?  I slipped up at one point and suggested that maybe they were princess hats, only to be shot down: "Princess hats are pink!"

A couple kids experimented with the triangular shaped "Silkys" (made from real silk!), asking me to tie them around their waists so they could "match."

The cotton "Poppys" were identified by most of the kids as capes. I like the way they have dozens of snaps sewn around the edges, however, which should allow kids to explore using them in a variety of ways as they get to know the toys better. I can imagine sleeves and skirts being "made" from these. So far, the kids have asked adults to work the snaps. Ultimately, we're going to want the kids to be doing that on their own, I think, if we're going to really unlocked the potential of these toys.

We definitely need to add a large mirror to our outdoor classroom, something I've wanted to do for awhile, but until now I've not felt strongly compelled. There's nothing that promotes dress-up play more than being able to see yourself in costume. 

The one item that didn't get used during these first few days were the "Andys", circular poncho-like pieces with lots of holes for arms and legs. 

I don't think we've done anything so far more than scratch the surface with these toys. My plan is to let them "run" out there in the outdoor classroom all summer.  It will be an ever-changing group of children of all ages, but a core group will be there all summer, which should give them an opportunity to really put them through their paces and figure out what they really are.

(This is more "inside baseball" than I usually like to get into around here, but hardly a day goes by that I'm not approached by someone who wants to use this blog to help them "get the word out" about a product or service or website, most of which are likely wonderful, worthy, and wow. Sometimes they're inquiring about advertising rates, sometimes it's a quid pro quo kind of offer like a trade of links, sometimes it's free stuff to use for my own site's marketing efforts like give-aways, and some of it's a straight forward publicity pitch. I spent years working in public relations, advertising and marketing before finding my calling, so believe me, I do sympathize, especially with small business operators who are working on a shoestring, but mostly I decline.

When I started writing here 3 years ago, I did so under the assumption, even expectation, that one day I'd have enough readers that Teacher Tom's Blog would be an attractive place to advertise.  I even have a page all written up and in draft form that I prepared 2 years ago against the day when I launch official efforts to sell advertising.  For awhile I rented out a tiny portion of the page to a major advertising network, but even though I checked all the boxes I could, I was still regularly appalled at the ads I would find here, so I discontinued that.

I still want to run ads some day, but the longer I've been doing this, the more uncomfortable I get with the idea of product advertising for things that I myself can't endorse. I hope, if nothing else, part of the "Teacher Tom brand" is honesty and integrity, and if I'm going to attach my name to something, I want it to be something that will not only not damage that brand, but will be something about which I believe readers will be happy to learn. 

Hulda from Fafu Toys contacted me awhile back to introduce me to her company. I have to say I really like what they're up to over there in Iceland! I believe I've read every word on every page of their website, including their outstanding blog: they seem really committed to creativity, open-ended play, and childhood, and better, they are applying that knowledge to their products.  Fafu has sent Woodland Park a "Starter Pack" based on a promise from me to "review" the products, "good or bad." This is the review I promised, but I expect I'll want to write more about these well-made products as the children learn how to incorporate them into our curriculum.)

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Kierna C said...

Brilliant, I too am trying out this set & the kids love it. We were surprised on the forst day when one girl wore the 'thing with loads of holes in it' (what other way to describe it?) as a skirt - we hadn't thought of that! I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Hulda & Thorunn last week & loved everything their company stands for.

Dawn said...

aren't silks the most wonderful play item ! we love ours...the wee ones here can't get enough of them ! We order plain white so that we can dye ours ...wonderful addtion to your outdoor play ...
light and magic your way

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