Making potions never gets old, and if your kids haven’t ever tried, this will give them a tool for play and investigation they can (and likely will) use again and again. At Tinkergarten, we’ve also found that potion-making sparks such joy, that it is a perfect activity for engaging kids in conversations about their own emotions and the emotions of others. In this activity kids create a love potion to gift to someone special. What is a love potion? It’s a potion made with things that make us feel happy and when we give it to someone we love, it makes them feel happy, too!
Talk together about the people in your child’s life who are special to them. Wonder, how do we show our special people that we love them (e.g. give a hug, make a card, share with them)? Invite kids to think of one special person who they love.
Introduce the activity:
Show your child the empty jar and say, “Do you know what this is? It’s not just a jar. It’s a potion pot! Maybe we could use this jar to make a love potion for someone special to us.” Explain that a love potion is made with things that make us feel happy and when we give it to someone we love, it makes them feel happy, too! Take a few moments to talk about the recipient of the love potion and what might make them feel happy. Does their special person have a favorite color? Favorite plant? Where will we find ingredients for potions? All around us!
Hunt for ingredients:
Set aside the glass jars and use a bag, sack or a bindle to gather all kinds of ingredients like fallen petals from flowering trees, clovers, leaves, dandelions, freshly cut (or ripped) grass, dirt, bark, stones, mulch and more. Once kids have a good bunch of ingredients, let them know they can circle back when ready to turn them into a potion. Remind them that they can always go off again in search of more. Note: Kids will also need a stick or two for mashing and stirring.
Offer a scented ingredient or two:
You can hunt for or bring along a few different materials that could enhance kids' sensory experience. Some ideas: lilacs or other scented petals, spices like turmeric or paprika, dried lavender (our favorite).
Offer colorful ice:
To add some frozen treasure magic to potion play, add a few drops of food coloring or watercolor paint to water before freezing in ice cube trays or muffin tins. Kids can explore color combinations as the ice melts inside their potion. Or, freeze small nature treasures into blocks of ice and invite kids to "free" them from the freeze inside their potions.
Make a love potion:
Kids can add found ingredients plus about an inch or two of water to their potion pots. Then, they do whatever it takes to mix up their potions: use sticks to stir; get a stubby piece of wood to mash it; put the top on and shake it up. Let them do their thing and give them plenty of time. You can also offer a few drops of red or pink food coloring to symbolize love. Or, they can choose a color they think their special person would enjoy.
As they are working, ask them what they notice about their potion. If you don’t get much back, ask to see it. Ask something about its appearance (“What do you notice about the water? Does it look the same as when you started?”). Or, ask to smell the potion, and ooo and ahh. This should prompt them to observe, notice and talk with you about the potion as well as their process.
Gift your love potion:
Once kids have made their love potion, they can use markers to add a note or drawing to the lid of the potion jar or can tie a ribbon around it. Deliver your love potion to your child's special person or take a photo and send it to them. Afterwards, take a moment to wonder together how their special person will feel when they receive their special love potion.
Why is this activity great for kids?
As kids make potions, they not only flex their senses of sight, touch and smell, but they also strengthen their ability to integrate their senses. Gathering ingredients, mashing and mixing as well as stirring activate transporting, transforming and circulationbehavioral schema, three of the patterns kids repeat in their play that support development of their brains and bodies. When kids think and talk about their loved ones and create something they think would make them feel happy, they are also forming the basis for empathic thinking.
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What are schema and why should you care?
There are patterns of repeatable behavior known as "schema" that you can notice in your child's play during early childhood (~18months-age 5 or 6). No matter where you are in the world, these same schema are exhibited by kids. Experts believe that when kids repeat these patterns in different situations, kids develop physically and cognitively. In turn, they are better able to understand, navigate and interact with their worlds, resulting in transformative learning. Kids naturally become absorbed in repeating these patterns, and practice with schema is highly engaging for them.
“Children’s schemas can be viewed as part of their motivation for learning, their insatiable drive to move, represent, discuss, question and find out.”—Professor Cathy Nutbrown, UK
How are schema useful to parents and teachers?
First, it just feels great to better understand your little ones. Once you notice these patterns, your child's seemingly random and (occasionally frustratingly) repetitive actions suddenly appear elegant and purposeful. Best of all, once you realize that they are really exploring a certain schema or two, you can pick activities for them that give them the opportunity to practice them, increasing their engagement and extending their learning.
Does every kid get absorbed in schema?
These are universal patterns, but different kids will engage in schema in different ways. For example, some kids dabble in schema, engaging in several at any given time. Others move from one schema to another over time. Others still stay working on a single schema for years.
How should you support your child as they exhibit schema?
Exploration with various schema is built into Tinkergarten activities. It's also interesting to notice how some of the best kids' toys enable children to practice with schema.
To get started, check out the most common schema and see if you recognize these patterns in your child's behavior. If you do, check out our activities that help to extend his or her learning by supporting that schema. For fun, mention these to your friends as you watch their children at play. They'll be in awe of your observation skills, any maybe even refer to you as the toddler-whisperer?!
The scoop on common schema:
You may have noticed that your child seems to spend lots of time picking up objects, putting them into a container, perhaps only to transfer them to another container or dump out the container and start again. Your child may also simply love to haul around hefty things (e.g. logs, books, blocks). Kids may also love to fill up wagons, carts, strollers, etc. so they can "transport" objects or people around.
So many children become engrossed in spinning around and around to the point of dizziness…who hasn’t?! Kids who are focused on rotation/circulation spin themselves or become fixated on watching things that rotate, like a wheel, or the clothes dryer. That is the magic behind rolling down a hill.
Many kids go through a phase or just always seem to like moving in straight lines. They probably like to walk along the cracks in the sidewalk, balance on the curb, walk along a log, climb up and down ladders or whiz down slides. Some can't get enough of those swings. They also love to throw, drop, roll and toss all kinds of things.
Kids like to order, arrange and position objects or themselves. They may arrange blocks, cars, rocks or other objects in lines, rows, piles or patterns. Drawing, painting and sculpture work likely includes lines and patterns as well. Lining up may be a favorite activity, and where friends and family stand, sit or walk may be of particular interest.
Kids like to cover, wrap or enclose things and themselves. For example, your child may hide themselves under the bed covers, love to wrap up in a towel after the bath, or use a single crayon to cover a whole piece of paper during art time. You may also notice a time when your kids continue to find places to tuck objects or themselves out of sight (aggrrr, not the keys again!). They may love to sit in tunnels, climb into empty boxes, hide up in trees, build forts, or squirrel away in a little area under the stairs. Or, they may love to tuck treasures away into boxes, bags, pockets or hidden nooks around the yard.
A child might spend a great deal of time connecting things to one another. You may notice that they love to join the train tracks together, link LEGOs in long chains, build “fences” out of blocks, each block touching its neighbor. They also love to use tape, glue, string, and other things that connect objects.
Kids like to transform the shape, feel and look of things and themselves. You'll notice this when they are dressing up in costumes or putting on make up. These are your potion-makers and demolition crew, who may add milk to their mashed potatoes, make potions in the backyard, knock down buildings and towers, and mix all of the play-doh colors together...in short, they can be a big sister’s nightmare!
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!