The Power of Shiny Stones
Parents want their children to be successful. Getting along with others is cited over and over again as being crucial to success in school, at work, and for happiness in everyday life. Classic Tales stories provide endless opportunities to structure activities where children can practice social learning skills.
Entering new situations and meeting new people can make children feel nervous. Open-ended materials related to the current story give children something to do as soon as they enter the room. “We’re making snowflakes!” is a simple invitation to watch, work alone, or join in with a group of children who are busy creating. The task provides relatively risk-free ways for children to participate at whatever level they desire. Asking for materials, sharing the space, and commenting on each other’s work are easy ways to begin conversations. More materials can be added as children progress in their ability to work together to share sometimes scarce resources. I encourage children who are trying to work out a pattern or fulfill a vision to ask for what they need and for other children to yield so that the work can be completed in a satisfying way. Forced sharing is not always the best solution–respect for the work others are trying to accomplish can be a good guide for how to act.
Using packaged items in new ways is a way to encourage flexible, creative thinking at a stage of development where children can be quite rigid as they are figuring out how the world works. This princess matching set is usually played as a memory game by turning the pieces over and trying to find pairs. I have used it as a sorting game–“Let’s put all the flowers together. We’re putting all the princesses over here.” I have divided them up, passed them out, and asked children to find who has their match by going up to people and asking them. The cards can also be laid out on a table face up with an invitation to find matches as quickly as you can. Many children resist these suggestions, telling me how the game is supposed to be played. I try to gently nudge them to open up to the possibilities.
Design and build activities can help children to plan ahead, make decisions, and manage disappointment. I created this activity for children who have difficulty yielding to others and accepting circumstances. Children roll dice or pick a number from a bowl. They choose any material in the quantity that matches the number they got on their turn and arrange the selected materials on their tile. As the turns progress, children must manage various situations such as getting low numbers and materials running out. This is a great game for adults to play along as a model for how to create something interesting regardless of what materials you have at hand. Children can see at a glance that everyone is capable of making something cool. They can see at a glance that everyone has ideas to try out.