October 2016

wooden vs. plastic: the great toy debate

27 Oct 2016, Posted by alanacherneck_0 in Uncategorized

Wooden or plastic, that is the question.

I am a big fan of wooden toys for children. Does it mean I don’t own plastic toys for our girls? pfft! Heck no. We own more Babies + Barbie transport modes than Ken has hair styling products.

But I value wooden toys, and would spend double the amount (or more) on a quality wooden toy than plastic ANY day. There are so many reasons to invest in a set of quality wooden toys for your children.

  1.  They are open-ended:  wooden toys are typically more open ended than tradition plastic variety. Often plastic toys are accompanied by a disclaimer on the package:  “batteries not included.” look, mamas: if your toy needs batteries, who is doing all the work? Certainly not your child’s brain! Wooden toys invite open-ended play with limitless possibilities.  Wooden toys are often less “descript” and more open-ended, leaving so much for the child to imagine + create.  Imagination, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving: these are high level thinking skills we want to foster and develop for our 21st century learners.  Wooden toys were created because they were made from readily available material, using very simple tools. There is something so romantic and beautiful about that simplicity.  Children are naturally drawn to wooden toys, and tend to care for and respect wooden toys differently. What a wonderful thing, to learn responsibility + care for our materials.

 

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Melissa and Doug Dolls with Plan Toys Dollhouse Furniture

 

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Wooden Beads with Wire

 

  1. They are better for the environment:  wooden toys are more durable and last longer than their plastic counterparts. This equals less waste. Think about all of the drive-through toys you’ve accumulated? Where do they end up? Wood is a recyclable, replenishable resource, much gentler on the earth.

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Grimm’s Wooden Cave Arch

 

  1. They embrace the sensory components of play: play is a full-body experience. Play involves all senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, and even taste (think about how your youngest would mouth things – this is a form of making meaning of her world!) wooden toys fire up all the senses. Think about the smell of a fresh wooden toy. The feel of it. I love how nostalgic I feel when I hold these toys in my hands. Wood BEGS to be touched. Smelled. Explored. When children engage more than one sense, they are creating MANY connections in the brain. When a child uses an iPad or Tablet – they are using at most, two senses. On the contrary, plastic electronic toys can OVER-stimulate the brain, providing too much feedback. Children construct understanding of their world through concrete experiences that involve all of our senses. It’s how we were wired. One Instagram follower of mine posted about the “visual noise” factor.  It’s so true. Visual noise produces visual clutter. There is so much research on clutter and it’s adverse effect on thinking and learning. Why bring more visual noise in to a space where you want your child to play, grow AND learn?

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PlanToys Water Blocks (Photo credit: B2 Photography)

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Melissa and Doug Natural Wooden Blocks 

{for fun: try mixing in scraps of material or fabric with your blocks and watch the possibilities unfold! Pat Furman of SSCY’s Robertson Early Enrichment Program shared this one with me!}

 

  1. Durability:  to quote Roland Barthes, philosopher + French literary theorist:  wood “is a familiar and poetic substance, which does not sever the child from close contact with the tree, the table, the floor. Wood does not wound or break down; it does not shatter, it wears out, it can last a long time.” wow. Yes.

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PlanToys Creative Dollhouse (Photo Credit: B2 Photography)

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Manny and Simon Wooden Stroller Push Cart (Photo Credit: B2 Photography)

 

  1. Nostalgia factor: think about the most classic toy that ever was. Wooden alphabet blocks. We all owned them. There was a simplicity + timelessness to them that was incomparable to any other toy. What kinds of toys will YOU hand down to grandchildren? Our wooden toys will definitely top my list. I am a minimalist, but one thing I will hold onto for sure is our Grimm’s wooden stacking toys. And our wooden blocks. And our wooden dollhouses. For the number of hours our girls have played with and engaged with these toys – it is amazing how new they still look. they are truly gems in our toy collection.

 

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Plan Toys Chalet Dollhouse

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Grimm’s Rainbow Stacker (Photo Credit: B2 Photography)

 

My top five reasons for embracing wooden toys in the playroom come with some drawbacks, and the cost factor would be at the top of the list. Wooden toys (especially the hand-crafted variety) are more expensive than plastic. It’s true. But when you weigh the pros + cons, and adopt a “less is more” attitude, you can get more mileage out of the fewer wooden toys than all the plastic at a Toy’s R Us. Think about it.

What about you? Where do you sit on the wooden ………….. > plastic spectrum? I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

image of the child + SSCY

19 Oct 2016, Posted by alanacherneck_0 in Uncategorized

Robertson Early Enrichment Program

SSCY Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Written by Alana Chernecki in collaboration with Pat Furman

Photographed by Becky Radtke, B2 Photography

 

Walk through the doors of Robertson Early Enrichment Program, and one is immediately awestruck by an environment that is not only beautiful, but thoughtfully curated with the child at the centre.

The foyer, furnished with a beautiful console, comfortable chairs and enticing children’s literature, has been thoughtfully designed for parents and children entering the childcare centre for the first time. Here, you will find pens, pencils, notecards and the Hundred Languages of Children by Loris Malaguzzi, prominently displayed as a reminder of the caring and child-centered way the Centre does business.

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At Robertson Early Enrichment Program, children are respected and supported as investigators, researchers, thinkers, and communicators. The Centre works hard to provide children with a multitude of experiences that encourage children to be leaders in discovery, to construct understanding of the world around them and to express their understanding in a variety of ways.

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Because environment has such a great impact on children’s learning, behaviour, and development, it is the rationale for the attention to detail exhibited in the beautifully designed programme and environment at the Centre. Alana Chernecki, interior stylist and curator for the space, notes that, “Today, children spend a great deal of time in childcare programs and school. Brain research tells us that a stimulating, engaging environment creates more connections in the brain. Most of the “wiring” of the brain’s neurons comes after birth, and depends on the quality of experiences infants and children have. Thus, the environment, plays a critical role in the developing brain.”

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Each room at the Centre has been thoughtfully designed and furnished with the child in mind. A mix of organic, modern, calm, colourful, and comfortable furniture and equipment, suited to both adults and children, has been carefully selected for the space, and sourced from a variety of vendors. For example, the reading nook, filled with natural light from the Centre’s windows, is outfitted with a child-sized teepee resting on a soft plush rug, and surrounded by comfortable cushions and poufs, as well as a giant plush giraffe.

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The atelier, the art area of the Centre, is equipped with a variety of interesting materials and resources, all displayed at children’s eye level and reach, and housed in glass jars that allow children to “read” the media. Children are taught from the moment they walk through the doors to be responsible and respectful when handling all materials, so glass jars are treated with care. “In our programme, children are viewed as capable, competent, curious, and full of knowledge and potential. We strive to reflect that in the environment and materials we choose,” explains Executive Director Pat Furman.

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The selection and presentation of toys, materials and children’s literature was not an exercise that was taken lightly. Both Director Pat Furman, and interior stylist and curator Alana Chernecki felt that toys should be of the highest quality, open-ended enough to engage children, open the imagination, and drive exploration and deep thinking. Toys and materials are as natural as possible, and mainly constructed of wood. The Centre is also abundant with beautiful collections of “loose parts” – materials and objects that can be moved around, designed and redesigned, tinkered with and reconstructed, in order to engage children’s creative thinking. “You won’t find any blinking, flashy, beeping plastic toys in here!” proclaims Director Pat Furman. Instead, scarves, blocks, authentic musical instruments, quality children’s literature, felt foods and real cookware provide opportunities for open-ended exploration for children.

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“We believe the environment reflects our image of the child. We’ve created a space that we are proud of and love to work in. We know that the children who attend here daily will be excited, motivated and engaged in the programme. Our environment provides a message to all those who enter – children, parents, educators and service staff – that children are worthy of a beautiful environment, and that they thrive in a beautiful environment.”

 

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my story.

06 Oct 2016, Posted by alanacherneck_0 in Uncategorized

People love a good story. Stories are the literary fibres that connect us as human beings. I have never thought of myself as a superb storyteller, but I try. And my kids always forgive me.

Once upon a time, I was a teacher. It so happened, that our school was bursting at the seams, and we needed to open up another Nursery/Kindergarten classroom. But we had no space. The only room available in the school was a dingy-old former staffroom {with remnants from the days when teachers were allowed to smoke in there!}. The walls were stained, the flooring was in rough shape and the windows were covered with metal bars. It was the dullest and most depressing room in the entire building.

I should preface the story with the fact that I’ve always loved dabbling in design. From the youngest I can remember, I would arrange, then rearrange my room in a myriad of furniture permutations until it felt “just right” and then I’d do it all over again the following month.

Having the yuckiest room in the school presented a clear challenge. But, as a resourceful, young, hip, passionate educator, I knew I would meet this challenge head-on, and surpass everyone’s expectations – especially the tiniest students.

I used my resourcefulness to acquire donations from across Winnipeg (I also faced many “no’s” as well). Beanbag chairs, little coffee tables, floor cushions, even beautiful textural rugs were gifted by local businesses. (Big shout-out to EQ3 here).  I also used my handy-ness to craft some creative storage solutions. I looked for discounts EVERYWHERE. And finally, after a coat of paint to freshen things up, the room came alive.

I witnessed firsthand, the transformative power of the environment. Being in the Inner City, my students came from a variety of home settings, but sadly, many were underprivileged and faced enormous life obstacles.  I wanted to create a beautiful space for these young children – who were about to embark on the beginning of their educational path – a space where they felt welcomed, at peace, invited to participate in constructing their own learning journey.

Rewind the story a bit here, please. Years earlier, I was introduced to to the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. The approach immediately struck a chord with me, and I felt each tenet resonate profoundly with me as an educator. Reggio-inspired educators hold an image of the child as creative, capable, strong, responsible – full of knowledge and wonder. Their curriculum is child-led, that is, children learn what they are naturally curious about.  Reggio educators believe that children communicate in a multitude of ways, and give them a variety of tools to help them communicate their understanding of the world.  (This is why you will so often see art media housed in transparent jars – so that children can make choices about how they will represent their knowledge).  Reggio educators believe that children have three teachers: the parent, the teacher and the environment.  (yes, other children are teachers as well…a little theory called the social construction of knowledge). This notion, the environment as a participant in the education process, was the theory I was testing with my new students that year, in their newly transformed classroom. Great attention was given to lighting, windows, pathways, materials selection and organization, and colour and texture choices as well as flexible seating arrangements. I believed my students deserved a beautiful environment and that they would thrive in this space.

Fast forward a few months, and I immediately began to see changes. These children – who were only two generations removed from residential schools – were excited to come to school, excited to learn, amongst friends, in a space that was as inviting as the coziest tea house.  Students’ learning flourished, as we explored, through inquiry, big ideas that mattered to them. Parents wanted to volunteer and “hang out,” and I absolutely loved teaching and spending time in my classroom. I believe the beautiful environment I created made me a better teacher that year.

We had a wonderful year together, and in bittersweet fashion, concluded my career as an educator in the public system. I was nine months pregnant with our first child and I had always wanted to stay home with our children, so I said goodbye to an era.

*Brillante is an intersection of the three worlds I am most passionate about:  education, children and design.  I fiercely believe in what I do. I hope this little story helped you to understand how it all began.

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