This week we have been learning about vegetables. The children all seem to have enjoyed this mini topic and gained a lot from it. They have loved having real vegetables to hold and sniff and lick and try and cut up!
All too often we give plastic versions of everyday items and the children seem quite pleased to play with them.
But they all feel the same, weigh the same, smell and taste the same. The only difference might be the size, shape or colour. I have tried to address this a little by replacing the huge selection of plastic play food that I did have, for a smaller but better quality selection of felted, knitted and wooden play food items. I have gone for quality over quantity. Something was still missing though.
It became very clear once I offered a selection of fresh vegetables in to the home corner last week. The first thing I noticed was the smell in the playroom. A lovely smell of fresh vegetables, a sweetness in the air.
The second thing I noticed was the time the children spent exploring each item. In the past I have watched as they have filled bowls with play food and then very quickly passed them to me and urged me to "eat up!"
This week however, the children all seemed to take time over preparing the imaginary meal. The held each vegetable and commented on its shape or size.
"That's a long carrot!"
"My onion's round look!"
There was conversation about the weights of the items. Children held up Turnips and sweet potatoes and told me it was a heavy one!!
There were lots of discussions over the feel and look of the Aubergine! New words were used such as rubbery and shiny.
The learning opportunities and quality of play was enhanced and improved by a simple change. Adding real items to the activity rather than toys. The change was not expensive either as vegetables can be bought cheaply at your local market. Before any items became bad and unusable, we either fed them to the rabbit or chickens, used them in our painting activity, added them to the mud sensory tray or used them in a meal.
This has left me thinking about how I can offer real food items in the play area more often. Maybe Pastas, beans and lentils. Dried foods seem like a safe place to start. Cereals would also be fun and maybe dried herbs and rice.
Any spillages can be swept up and popped back in the bowl, they can be used as the base of a sensory tray and the sweeping up of spills can be used as a fantastic opportunity for learning life skills. Maybe add a small dustpan and brush to the home corner or a child sized broom. Anything left can be easily hoovered up at the end of a play session.
I have set myself a challenge of providing the children with more "real" play items. Old mobile phones, broken digital cameras and laptops are far more appealing to the children in my setting, than the toy versions. They certainly get more play time than the plastic toy versions.
My children's tool set is very rarely chosen despite being available and accessible. But I can guarantee you that as soon as I place a broken electrical appliance on the table and a couple of screwdrivers out, all the children come flocking and everyone wants a tool of some sort to take apart this wonderful treasure!
I wonder how many toys we can find to swap for something more real?
I would love to hear you thoughts and idea on this.