🐸My Etsy Sh🌎p🐸

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Big Announcement for my Etsy shop

 Today, I am giving the readers of my blog a sneak peek.  Tomorrow, on my Instagram and Facebook pages, I will announce that I will be offering a few sets of these Schleich animals.  Whew! Finally, you say.
 Pairing these animals with my playscapes seems as natural as peanut butter and jelly, toast and jam, peas and butter...gosh, I am hungry!
 When you take away the bells and the whistles from toys, you get imaginative play in its purest form. Children gravitate towards these quieter moments of play.
 I do not have to site a Harvard study that tells you that imaginative play is essential to childhood.  It is therapy - a child can work out big world issue through play.  It is relaxing - sometimes, children just need a quiet time to simply play.  It is educational - children learn, role play, count, develop vocabulary, retell stories through play.
20+ years in the early childhood education field under my belt, I love to hear the stories and small world tales that children create with these toys.
I have only 7 sets available in my Etsy shop right now.  I may or may not be able to restock before Christmas, so snag your set soon!

Have a fun and playful day!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Bathtime - a splashin' good time or a chore

 Okay, parents, here's a question for you! Is bath time a fun, happy time or is it more like a chore? I think the majority is split 50-50.  For me, I think to when my girls were young, I looked forward to that nightly ritual of bubbles and puddles on the floor and laughter and warm towels fresh out of the dryer.  Those two little slippery bodies were happy and playing and getting clean.  I felt like I was the best mom in those moments.
 But there are parents that groan at the mere mention of baths.  (That's okay!)  It is seen more like a chore than anything else.  That water on the floor has to be mopped up.  I have more water on my than the kiddos.  I get it.  I have definitely had those moments.

I looked forward to it, because we would bring toys into the tub and create sea-worthy stories of elephants sailing across the ocean to discover new lands and new friends and even new foes! Sharks or alligators inevitably crashed our boats and created drama and new story lines.
Pretend play in the bath tub has the same benefits as dry land pretend play :) Children use their imaginations to tell a story, build vocabulary, role play.  In the bathtub, there is the added layer of water play or sensory.  And the kiddos get clean at the same time! 

Embrace this fleeting time called childhood.  It will soon be over and they will become smelly teenagers! I jest but as a mom of two college-aged daughters, I can tell you that I look back on those nightly bathtub tsunamis with great delight.

Have a fun and playful day!

(photo credit @stephanimcnally on instagram)

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