Home > Early Learning, Environment > Let’s Talk…Tinkering

Let’s Talk…Tinkering

August 29, 2012

“Is that a stick? You know the rules about playing with sticks.” Have you ever said that to a child in your care? I’m sure I have. My intentions were good – Keep kids safe and steer them towards more “appropriate” learning materials and activities. Hope you will watch this brief video to see how the statement above inspired one engineer to design a program where children are allowed the TIME and FREEDOM to follow their ideas – building and solving problems using real and everyday materials like sticks and plastic grocery bags. Love the roller coaster 7-year-olds created!

So much critical learning happening! How do you allow children the opportunity to create and develop their own ideas and pathways while in your care?  We hope to hear from you at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/tinkering/


Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader

Malisa Rader is a human sciences specialist that misses the daily hugs and high-fives from little people.

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Early Learning, Environment

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  1. I would love to have a discussion about this. This video is great. I wholeheartedly agree. With that said, as a CDH provider, how am I supposed to distinguish between the mixed messages given to us of loose materials play-based learning versus the crazy Caring for our Children over the top ‘best practices’? You can’t have both. So how to choose?

  2. Excellent discussion topic!! As an instructor for the Environmental Rating Scales as well as Nature Explore, I totally understand where you are coming from. I loved in the video seeing the children in the structure built in the trees, but knew it would never pass the fall zone requirements for best practice in child care. However, I do believe we as early childhood professionals can work to find balance between these two worlds. In group care situations, we may not be able to allow climbing structures built to unregulated/untested standards, but we can allow children access to materials and time to extend their projects over several days or weeks if needed. We can allow children to get messy yet still teach proper handwashing steps at the needed times throughout the day. Do regulations and recommended best practices sometimes make creativity and true free play a challenge? Yes, you will get no argument from me here, but challenge does not necessarily mean we must choose one or the other. It means just like we need to nudge children to think creatively and solve problems within their limitations, so must we as teachers. Is there a specific Caring for Our Children criteria that you feel is hindering you from allowing children in your program the time and materials to be creative free-thinking problem-solvers? If so, perhaps we could brainstorm!

  3. Too much in the QRS standards is based on the ‘Flavor of the Day’ expert opinion, and not on unbiased scientific research. According to this research article from the National Institute of Health (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564414/), ‎”Results from all three studies on the height of falls suggested that short vertical falls (<5feet) do not commonly cause multiple or visceral injuries in young children. Being dropped by a care taker, however, is a risk factor for severe injury… the risk of a fall injury at home in infants and young children was double the risk of a fall injury in the day care setting."

    So can someone please tell me why we need a fall surface under a step-stool?

  4. That article would suggest that caretakers should not carry children…Is that the next standard in the Environmental Rating Scale? Isn’t eliminating all risk the goal of that?

    Perhaps we need to take the same approach to child care as we take in Medicine. All medications and treatments have risks. Rather than ban everything that carries a risk, we must weigh the risks and the benefits and determine if the benefits outweigh the risks, while being mindful and alert for those risks so that we can intervene when necessary.

  5. Interesting research abstract! Thanks so much for sharing Deb! The abstract does share there is a link between the height of playground equipment, the type of surfacing depth and the risk of injury. It also seems to support the adoption of, and adherence to, playground equipment standards.

    I am unaware of a regulation requiring a fall surface under a step stool when used as an assistive device for routine care such as helping children reach a sink to wash hands. Are you able to share the standard that is requiring you to use a protective surface under your step stool? Is the step stool higher than 18″ inches and being used in some way as a climbing play equipment?

  6. The FCCRS standard says that we must have a fall surface under any elevated surface over 9″ high. The instructor said that includes step stools in our bathrooms.

    I have a classroom loft with the same height rails as as my deck. while my deck does not require a fall surface around it, the child care consultant said my loft does. I asked her why one does and not the other. She said the kids don’t play on my deck, but they do play on the loft. I informed her the kids do play on my deck. It makes no sense at all. Would we need a fall surface below a railing for a stairwell or upper hallway? Why is a classroom loft, with plexiglass walls that the kids can’t climb, considered playground equipment?

  7. I did not read the line about “being dropped by a caretaker is a risk factor for severe injury” as their suggestion that children stop being carried by caregivers. Just like I didn’t read the line about “the risk of fall injury at home is double the risk if a fall injury in a day care setting” as a suggestion that children belong in child care rather than their home. I took them as simply information that the study showed about risk factors, but not a recommendation to the extreme approach.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that we can never eliminate all risk in life! Just like it is not an option to stop using cars in our society, but we can balance some of that risk with safety precautions such as speed limits and seat belts. I think what I hear you saying is that in our early care and education field, regulations and standards have gone too far to the extreme and need to find some reasonability with a responsible, thoughtful, balanced approach. Safety regulations have a place, but we need diversity at the table for those decisions – not just health & safety experts, but also the early childhood professionals in the field sharing what they need to effectively do their job – knowing that we are probably never going to fully see eye-to-eye because of the lens we are using, but finding some common ground and compromise between us. 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing! This has been a really thought-provoking discussion!!

  8. My point is not that the study suggests that we should stop carrying children. My point is that some of the standards are based too much on one risk without considering the risk of eliminating the practice completely.

    For example, eliminating high chairs for infants is very common now because of QRS. Yes, high chairs need to have specific safety features, and the child needs continuous supervision while in the high chair. Now we need to look at the risks of the alternatives.

    Putting a young child that can not self feed in a low chair on the floor makes it harder for the caregiver to effectively monitor spoon feed and monitor for aspiration because they are no longer at eye level with the caregiver. If the caregiver sits on the floor with the child to be at eye level, now the caregiver needs to put their hands on the floor to get up and down. Sanitizing the floor before feeding is not very realistic.

    Having an infant sit on the caregiver’s lap for spoon feeding is physically difficult and potentially dangerous. There is more risk of the infant falling off the caregiver’s lap when the caregiver is using one hand to hold the spoon and the other hand to hold or stabilize a bowl of food while scooping. If the infant arches back at the wrong moment, the caregiver would not be able to grab the infant before their bottom slides off the lap.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to use a high chair with a wide base, a seat belt, a support between the child’s legs to prevent the child from sliding under the tray, and adult supervision at all times? This is common sense to most people, yet QRS seems to have a different frame of reference.

  9. Mmmm, I think of myself as pretty knowledgeable on the FCCERS standards, but I just can’t think of what FCCERS standard talks about fall surfaces under any elevated surface over 9″ high. The Notes for Clarification for Item 12 Safety Practices does list “play equipment too high (e.g., more than one foot per year of age above fall surface),” but that is play equipment and not routine care equipment. Let me know if you find that regulation in the FCCERS book!

    It would be my understanding that to not be considered a major safety hazard (something that might lead to hospitalization), play equipment such as a loft needs fall surface when higher than 18″ due to the open stairwell, not the plexiglass railing. This is based on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Public Playground Safety Handbook. If your deck has an open stairwell and you use it for play, then it should be considered the same way.

  10. It is my understanding that PITC philosophy recommends the practice of holding infants for feeding until they can sit on their own and then using low chairs for socialization purposes rather than high chairs. I am not aware of this being a part of the point system for Iowa QRS. For full disclosure, I am not a QRS expert, so I could be missing something here. I assume you are talking about the high chair regulations found on the injury prevention checklist (http://www.dhs.state.ia.us/iqrs/docs/Injury_Prevention_Checklist_2006.pdf), but these relate to safety features of the high chair not to the practice of not using high chairs. This where I believe your professional judgment comes into play. The PITC philosophy has information to share related to feeding infants and toddlers, but you make valid points related to you and the children in your care. It is important to learn as much as we can, but impossible to put into practice everything from every theory, philosophy, or recommendation. It is my understanding you are fine to use safe high chairs and be a part of the Iowa QRS. 🙂

  11. The ERS tools are very comprehensive and a lot to digest! Participants in one of my recent FCCERS classes pointed out to me when I stated that they could count their individual soft blocks when counting soft items that the most recent additional notes for clarification states that the set would only count as one. I’m human and had missed that latest additional note, but so happy they were reading so closely! If you would like to chat privately about your FCCERS class experience, I am happy to do so. You can send me an email (mrader@iastate.edu) and I will share with you my cell phone or Skype contact info. Again, thank you SO MUCH for the discussion!!! Know that you are preaching to the choir when it comes to us finding proper balance with children and in our own lives. 🙂

  12. Malisa, I could give a thousand examples but I’ll tell you one that happened just today which probably initiated me starting this discussion. My husband and I are Category C providers and we currently have 8 boys between the ages of 2 and 4. Eight very energetic boys. We have a very large back yard where they can freely roam and explore. They love to climb. In fact, they must climb or I think they will combust! They climb on top of the play tower, on top of the play houses. They are boys and they must climb. We have recently experimented with some ‘loose parts’ in the form of left over wood from building a large sandbox. It was fun for them to stack and move for a couple of weeks. Today they spent all of their outside time throwing the wood blocks up into the trees. Why? Because they thought if they could get them to stick there, they could build a treehouse. How awesome is that thinking? There are no words, no excuses to give these boys as to why we can’t build them a treehouse. Especially when they are pleading with my husband to go get ‘bigger wood’ this weekend. All we see is one of the greatest project opportunities before us suffocated by rules that guard safety. I have every confidence that we could build a safe treehouse complete with a ramp supported by a pull rope for them to climb. Childhood at its finest. To me, that is best practice.

  13. Jill, I can envision these eight energetic boys building with wood in your sandbox! 🙂 Thank you so much for what you do and the dream you have for these children to experience a “free-range” childhood where they learn not by sitting and hearing what you have to say, but by being active, experiencing true childhood, getting dirty, expending energy, and going home tired yet fulfilled at the end of the day. Without being able to see exactly what you would like to do, I’m wondering about a loft outdoors? So to not have it be considered a major safety hazard (anything that could cause hospitalization) it would need fall zone surfacing wherever there is an opening just like any other climbing equipment you have available outdoors. I can tell from your post that you are a caring child care professional loved by your children and parents for the opportunities and thought put into your program. I agree with you that we must find a better balance between safety and risk. Children need the experience of testing what their bodies can do, of feeling strong, of solving problems, and creating new ones. Thank you for what you do and for speaking out on how you feel! 🙂

  14. I just wanted to say that my son loves Phineas and Ferb and this video comes to mind. Granted my son is 4 I am not sure sure how keen I am on letting him use a power drill but balsa wood and wood glue light weight hammers … He would never leave the back yard! Recycle Recycle I love the plastic bags idea – we have used them for army men parachutes, never thought about a bridge. Thank you Malisa for sharing this site 🙂

  15. Let me start with,I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all these responses. I was recently visited by DHS & after telling me I needed to add fall zone materials under my basically everything in my fenced in yard, not use that space (which is the only option to use) OR not go outside at all. Well…I’m not a big fan of any of those options and neither are the parents who pay me to watch their most prized possessions..their children. This is Iowa, & I do business in a farming community. Most of my families grew up or still live on farms. They do NOT want their children playing on mulch, sand, pea gravel or shredded tires. They would prefer they play on regular normal grass. They are all aware & have seen my yard from Day 1, & they all love it. Its a safe place with lots of things for various age kids to do. I would like a logical legitimate reason how and why the above options are safer than grass. Has anyone ever been sent to the hospital bc they got grass in their eye? OR chocked on it? Stuck it in their nose/ears? Splinters due to grass? Been poked by a full of energy little boy with a piece of mulch he is using as a weapon? Burnt their feet on hot shredded tires in the heat of the summer? I’ve been in childcare for over 20 years & have 4 children of my own, 3 of which are very active boys & yes I’ve made some trips to the ER, but none were bc of falling on grass. A home childcare business is supposed to be like a home, what parent has a foot of mulch under their swing set in their back yard? I don’t know anyone who does….Centers so, schools do, parks do, but nobody in their home does. That’s because its very costly, messy, and something that honestly I think will cause more harm than normal simple ordinary grass. Adding this to my yard could potentially cost me to lose some clients as one said, “If I wanted my child to be in a center like setting I would have sent him there, but I want him in a home setting. Mulch in a yard is not a home setting, that’s a center”. Does this mean if I put my kids on my couch, I need a safe fall zone? Its taller than 18 inches. I have an adult size chair that’s taller than 18 inches, I guess I need one there too. How about the toilet, its taller than 18 inches too. Why are we so afraid to let our children play, run, jump, climb. Kids are not made of china, yes, they will get hurt, but you know what, they’ll get up and do it again. They find ways to get hurt or be rambunctious sometimes I swear, especially boys. Is this not a normal part of childhood? Teaching kids boundaries, how to play safely & smartly & that taking risks has consequences is a very important part of our job as childcare providers, not to bubble wrap them & kid proof every step of their life. I encourage those who make these rules to spend actual quality time doing out job, with our pay, following “the rules” & then tell me why these rules actually make sense in the grand scheme of things..