🐸My Etsy Sh🌎p🐸

Friday, July 7, 2017

Making Literacy Tangible

 As a preschool teacher, I put it upon myself to 1. read many, many books to my students, 2. help them fall in love with reading at an early age, and 3. fill my classroom with amazing picture books.

This counting book I love so much.  Why?  The art is incredible.  I believe picture books are pieces of art with words.  And children can visit an art museum every time they open a book.
 I love setting up invitations to play around a book.  This book I discovered while searching for books about Africa.  That's the great thing about books - they can show you things, places, people that are thousands of miles away.
This book lends itself to a wonderful invitation to play.  I used safari animals from the book.  These are all by my favorite company Schleich.  I hand painted the peg dolls and used faux trees and greenery and some rocks (aka treasure!) that were found on a nature walk.

One day, I hope to get to Africa, to meet the people, to see the landscapes for myself, to hear their music (and maybe dance!).  I has been said that if you go to Africa, you will fall in love with it. Africa is #2 on my travel bucket list - just behind England.

With simple items, this book comes to life in a child's hands.  The learning is in the play.

Have a fun and playful day,

He loves me!

So...my husband does not buy me flowers.  In almost 18 years of marriage, I have received 2 bouquets.  Two.

He doesn't like to buy flowers, because "they just die."

Instead, he buys me toys.

He recently came home with 2 Schleich Giraffe Calves - that's better than a dozen roses any day!

He grinned that grin that STILL gives me butterflies (yes, even after 18 years!) and said, "So you can stage your play mats."

Gosh, he's cute.

And I...I am a lucky girl!

Have a fun and playful day,

Pictures from around the world

 I am sharing pictures that customers (and friends!) have sent me of my play mats from around the world.  To see more, follow me on Instragram @melanieshanks35

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Revisiting Memories through Play

 Every year in the month of June, we travel to Michigan for vacation.  It's a week of just us.  My late father-in-law would call this "making memories".  Being the shutter bug that I am, I take about a million pictures.  Okay, maybe not a million, but I have been known to take as many as 4000 in a week on vacation. (insert my husband's eye roll here.)
As a child, we spent our summer vacations at the Englewood Beach in Florida.  Those are some of the happiest childhood memories that I have. But...Once vacation is over though, there's laundry to do and a car to clean out and sometimes those pictures stay on the camera.  Why not make those memories tangible?  Why not revisit those happy times through play?
 With a few simple props, your vacation can continue - a mini vacation, if you will.  We go to Michigan to the lighthouses and beaches.  So I would use a beach play mat, a lighthouse, and some peg dolls of the family to recreate our vacation.
Through play, children can bond with their caregiver or parent. They act out scenarios.  They are developing their language and vocabulary by retelling events (or embellishing stories!)  Play is essential for brain development.  And why not relive some of the happiest times of their childhood?

Board Books - not just for babies

 Board books are works of art in the hands of children.  Usually colorful illustrations accompany simple text.  This is what makes them perfect for early readers.
 Want to encourage a toddler or preschooler to get a bath? Read a book like this where different animals get different kinds of baths and pair with an animals.  Let them take the animals into the bath with them.  Clean the animals. Clean yourself.  It's a parent win!
 Board books are great for teaching early concepts like counting and letter sounds.  One Tiger is thee perfect counting book!
 Add animals to any book for kiddos to get excited about storytime and reading.  Someday, when I decide to go get a PhD, I am going to write about how making characters from a book tangible to children helps them to comprehend and retain the book more completely.  And, hey, how cute is this Schleich Bear?  When children have props, they can later act out or retell the story.
Make the story come alive.  Preschoolers love the book Dinosaur Roar!  let them retell it with their favorite dinosaurs.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Power of the Peg Doll

 I am happy to share that my peg dolls have been purchased and shipped all around the world along with my play mats, mountains, boats, & more.  As an early childhood educator and parent, I know that children's imaginations are sparked by the simplest things - a cardboard box, a stick, a peg doll. These simple wood turning dolls are handcrafted by a fellow Ohio artisan and hand painted by me.  They are sealed with a natural, non toxic sealer safe for children.
 Peg dolls can be anything and everything. One simple doll painted with a green body can be a zookeeper, a fairy, a mommy, a garbage man, and so much more.
 No bells. No whistles. No batteries. No small pieces to break off.  These peg dolls are unisex and hold a whole universe of imagination within them.

 Children have BIG ideas for these little peg dolls.  Adults do, too.  I have heard that they are being used for imaginative play, home decor, in classrooms, and even in play therapy!  I love the fact that not only are my peg dolls part of your children's childhood, but also that they can be part of the healing process for children. That's the power of the peg doll.  My heart is full.
This is the magic of childhood.

Have a fun and playful day!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tell Me A Story - A Young Prince

 Once upon a time
 there was a young prince
who traveled to a far away land
where he met people
with beautiful songs
beautiful hearts
and beautiful smiles
He fell in love with the people
the land and their song
He asked how he could help
They needed a well dug,
a school built,
food and clean water
The young prince worked tiredlessly for weeks
he dug the well alongside the people
who sang as they worked
that song filled his heart
After the gardens were planted
the young prince knew that it was time to return to his kingdom
but he promised again
to the beautiful people of this beautiful land
The people sang him a song that stayed in his heart for a year
 Their song stayed with him
and he returned the next year with friends and resources
The people again greeted him with a song
He loved how they were always singing
He felt like he was home
The young prince and his friends finished the school for the children
they planted many fruit trees
They began construction on a new medical center
The young prince cared for the people and the animals of this beautiful land
His heart was full
He promised to return again
And he did
year after year until he died
The prince tended to the gardens, protected the animals,
and danced with the children.
They sang their beautiful song in celebration and thanks
to the Prince
Though his kingdom was hundreds of miles away from them
their song stayed in his heart forever

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Beauty in the World

 "Every child has the right to know that there is beauty in the world." - Isaac Stern

Last Friday evening, I went to a ballet recital for 2-7 year olds.  As I snapped pictures of my little ballerina in the corridor, this quote was on the wall above her.

I can honestly say that the words that someone painstakingly scribed onto the wall of that elementary school hallway wall have haunted me for days.  Sometimes, we lose ourselves in the pace of the day to day, only see what is directly around us.  That overscheduled calendar dictates our movements.

But that quote forced the Big Picture into focus.
 Early childhood is IN me; it's part of who I am.  I have been "teaching" kids since I was 12 years old. They needed a Sunday School teacher for the 3 year old class and no one could do it, so I stepped in. I quickly learned (by the seat of my pants!) classroom management, engagement, making learning fun. It became a passion for me.  Me and children are like magnets! We just seem to find each other everywhere - the classroom, the street, the grocery store.  When people who know me speak of me, it's always about my work in the early education field.
 Though I did not know it, I grew up poor.  We had enough.  I always had food, a beautiful home, and clothes. But by most standards, we were poor.  Financially, we did not have money, but we were not in poverty.  My father often worked his full-time factory job and then side jobs to make sure that his family of five was always taken care of.

When I moved to "the big city" as my grandma called it, I saw poverty.  I saw children needing the basics - food, clothing, education, books read to them, a safe home. I worked in a low income preschool and after care program.  I more than once bought diapers for a single parent or food for a family to take home for the weekend as I knew there was nothing in their cupboards.

I felt God's hand pushing me to embrace these children, to help them, to educate them, to read so so many books to them, to spark their love of learning.

I think teaching preschool has been among my greatest accomplishments.
Thanks in part to that quote written on an elementary school wall, I am feeling His nudge again - a nudge to do something. Something bigger.  Something for those in need. Something to give back.  I don't know why (honestly, I don't), but Africa keeps coming to mind.  As I am writing this, I feel a sense of "yes!" and need to explore this calling.  I know that there is work to be done here close to home and in the US.  I do.
I believe that children have the right to education, clean water, food, books, love, art. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if children knew the beauty in the world? There is so much chaos and ugliness in the world, but there is also beauty and kindness and amazing people. How am I going to change the world today? How am I going to change the world of a child today? I guess this post will have to end "to be continued".

Have a fun and playful day,

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Play Dough Perfect Play

 Early childhood education will always have a special place in my heart.  I taught preschool for 12+ years and loved it so much!
 I used to tell parents, "Play isn't rocket science, but it is IMPORTANT."
 Two of the most beneficial things that parents can do with their child:
1.) Read
Read lots of books. Read all types of books.  Read all the time.
2.) Play Dough
The benefits of play dough outweigh any mess that may occur.  Child are squeezing and pinching and poking and rolling play dough.  These actions are strengthening their small muscles in their fingers that will someday soon need to be strong enough to hold and control a pencil to write their letters, their name, the next great American novel!  :)
 Play dough brings out the imagination.  This morning, in a matter of 30 minutes, Roo made a forest scene, a nest, and an ocean.
 My friend Kira @z_dough makes wonderful wonderful wonderful scents in her play dough.  This morning, we played with Blueberry, Wntergreen, and Eucalyptus.
 Did you know that smells "awaken the brain" to learning?  They do!  Why not incorporate smells (good ones!) into play?  Children will be using the sense of smell and touch when playing with ZDough.
Play is important.
Play does not have to be complicated.
Play Dough.
Splashing in water.
Finger paints.
Pretend play.
Don't over think it.  Let your child take the lead. See what interests them and play along! As I always say, the play possibilities are endless.

Have a fun and playful day!

@z_dough on Instagram

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Art of Play

The art of play is mastered by children.

Toys do not need to have bells and whistles to entertain them.  Let them entertain themselves.  Simple, quality toys lend themselves to more creative, imaginative play.

Studies show that children with an active imagination who engage in pretend play are happier, healthier, and mentally healthier.

Children utilize play as a tool to understand the big, confusing world around them, to act out scenarios, to escape from reality, to make sense of everything they cannot control.

Let them play.  Let them be little. If you need to schedule time for them to just play, do that.  Even better, get down on the floor with them and make funny voices for the toys, but allow them to "lead" the play.  Let them guide where it goes. You can ask questions like, "what should we do next?" or "how do you think we should play."

Children are rarely in control in this world (except for that temper tantrum in Target!). By letting them take the lead of the play scenario, they feel in control, become confident, relax, and engage fully with you.

I have 20+ years of teaching in the early childhood field.  These are just a few random thoughts that I have on the subject of play.  I am going to be better about posting.  The blog has taken a backseat for a while - through Etsy chaos, family medical issues, and...well, Life.

Have a fun and playful day!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Baby it's cold outside

This crazy Ohio weather has been up and down. One day it was 56 and the next day it was 19! Well, weather aside, I have been sewing sewing sewing up a storm (maybe this crazy weather is MY fault!😂).

I am trying to find a balance between creativity and a clean house! I tend to paint and sew and photograph everything all in a whirlwind and my home ends up looking like a tornado blew through! I am also trying to find a balance of keeping the Etsy shop momentum going while staying present in my family's lives. It is all a balancing act.

The dream of traveling to Europe is close. My mother in law and I plan to travel next spring if all is well. I worry about the political scene and traveling abroad. My mother in law has the same worries. We tend to be in the same page as each other most of the time.

Thank God my husband is fully supportive in all that I do. The living room is a mess...okay. I have peg dolls all over the kitchen table...so what? I have a pile of felt on the couch...no problem. He really is a saint!  So, last night, while he was at school working on lesson plans, I turned up some music, danced barefoot in the kitchen, and tidied up. It felt good - the tidying AND the dancing!

I think my secret to doing everything I do is 1) I never do dishes :), 2) I only do what I can do in one day. Some days, I pray as much as I breathe. Some days, I cry more than I should:) just because I realize that I am indeed NOT Winder Woman! I set small goals and accomplish as many of those as I can. I keep it simple. I drink a lot of caffeine!

Just a few things I wanted to share.

Have a fun and playful day

Monday, January 16, 2017

Weathered Forest

Maybe it is something deeply rooted in my childhood, but the forest has always captured my imagination.  In the hills of southeastern Ohio, my bare feet ran on mossy carpet, canopies of tall oak trees shielded me from the sun, and woodland smells tickled my nose.

I think about children who grow up in the city and how they may never know the simple treasure of growing up with a forest in your backyard like I did.  Maybe, just maybe, through my imagination-sparking toys, I can give them those treasure, too.

I live in a fairytale world. I really do.  My husband is part Prince Charming, part Constant Encourager.  I make things with my hands.  I create toys.  That's pretty fairytale like if you ask me.  I have an amazing family and extended family, who all support my craft.

If I dare to dream for more (which sometimes seems selfish), I would dream of travel. I want to see the world and translate it into toys to spark more imaginations.

I love the pins that Pinterest picks for me.  Yesterday, they picked the word Meraki - to do something with soul, creativity, love; to put something of yourself into your work.  I think that word is so fitting for me.  Melanie/Meraki

So, I am going to "put this out in the universe" as they say.  My goal for this year is to create more (not sure when I will sleep!), to open my Amazon Handmade store, to travel. My goals also include encouraging & empowering the women in my life more this year, cooking more (Heaven help us!), and donating to more causes that are special to my heart.

Do you make resolutions? Or do you set goals?

Have a fun and playful day!