The Importance of Watching

I think, sometimes, as an ECE, I forget to use what I know about children in the context of my own home. I have all these play experiences set up, pretty much any kind of toy you can imagine, but I forget to do the rest of it – observing, documenting, reflecting, planning.

Take this week. We were home all week because L. was a close contact to someone with Covid. So, I plan for all this time home. We have sensory bins, cars, blocks, a play kitchen, a ball pit, all these wonderful things. L. just wants to sit and drive his cars, and that’s what he did. G. just wanted the sensory bins. And good lord. I drove myself absolutely nuts with the idea of “She isn’t playing with it right!”

Seriously. What the fuck?!

Apparently there is a right and a wrong way to play with water beads. Who knew?!

After several days of constantly saying Please stop pouring the water beads on the floor! and You’re getting sand everywhere, try to keep it on the table at least!, I gave in and I just watched and I discovered she was baking. She was filling small containers with sand and making cupcakes with bead sprinkles, she was making donuts with and without play dough icing. She made coffee to drink with our sweet treat. I was so obsessed with the mess (that piece of anxiety has a whole other post hahah) that I almost missed what was really going on.

So, I decided fuck it, if she wants to bake, let’s do this thing. That afternoon, I left the kids with the hubby and I went to the dollar store. I bought flour, salt, vinegar, baking soda, baking powder, lemon juice, corn starch, vegetable oil, plastic condiment containers, spray bottles, and little bowls. It was the best 20$ I ever spent.

Of course, I began with the carefully laid out materials, set out attractively, with the mixing bowl and the spoons. That lasted about 36 seconds. Once she realized that she could just do whatever she wanted, it was on. The first round, she mostly just mixed liquids. She added different food colourings, she wanted the oil and water bubbles dance, then she added in some of the dry ingredients and watched how the colours swirled and how the textures changed as she added different ingredients to the mix. In the end, she used every bit of her “science”. Thank god I bought doubles of everything.

The next day, she went with the dry ingredients first, then experimented with how the different liquids interacted with each other. She was thrilled when she learned that lemon juice reacts with baking soda the same way vinegar does (same reaction, less smelly). As she mixed everything together, she told me that it felt like dough, and asked if she could eat it. I told her to go for it, but she didn’t really want to follow through. She watched how the coloured liquids made the dough have different layers of colour throughout, she felt the difference between the gritty salt and the soft flour. It was a full sensory experience.

And that was it. She mixed and she kneaded, and she was so involved in her play that an hour and half went by before she was ready to move on. And honestly, the mess took less than 10 minutes to clean, so I don’t know why I was so fixated on that. Today, she was playing with a set of stacking rings – again, they were donuts. Maybe this week we’ll try to make our own donuts; I’m pretty much down with anything that ends with donuts. Maybe we’ll make our own bread. Maybe she’ll be over it in a few days. Who knows?

I just know, the next time I’m obsessed with the mess, with them not playing with things “right”, it’ll be my reminder. Just watch. Just wait. Something amazing will come, just wait and see.

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