Toddler Provocations for Snowy Days: Ideas for the Living Room

To say I am SICK of the snow is the understatement of the year. And I am a bonafide snow person. I spent my two years of graduate school weathering winters where the wind chill hit -30 on the reg. TRUST me, I can handle it. But, apparently, not with kids who are neither old enough to don snow-pants and enjoy the snow, nor young enough to simply snooze through the storms or bat at hanging things in front of them/giggle at themselves in the mirror. No, The Boy is in an age-space where neither is really going to work. So I have to be creative (yay!) and turn my house into a playground (double yay!). Here is the skinny…

According to the Reggio Emilia philosophy (which my son’s school employs, along with RIE in their classrooms), areas should be set up in a play space with the intention of inviting a child to play. This means using open-ended items (nothing with buttons you can swat that essentially ‘play for the child’, but things like blocks, books, art supplies, items from nature, household items and puzzles) and creating some suggestions for how to use them, but ultimately providing a well organized arrangement of items they can manipulate and express themselves with on their own terms. This sounds realllly abstract until you see what I am talking about, and then you go, “OHHHHHH I GET IT!”. Our friends over at An Every Day Story have a great setup to explain how they do it, if you want an example before I show you mine. With Reggio, we are encouraged to start with a question, maybe something like…”what are your children curious about right now?” and to create provocations from there. For The Boy, magnets and wheels are just insanely mesmerizing to him, as are books and being read to while simultaneously flipping through another book on his own. So I created provocations based on his interests, not just on stuff I think he should know, that is the difference between constructivist/emergent education (meaning it is constructed by and emerges from the child) and traditional models of education wherein the adult seeks to impart what they feel is worth knowing to the child. See the difference? As education moves forward into elementary and secondary schooling, there will be plenty of time for that kind of teaching to happen, hopefully in concert with a more self-directed approach as we are encouraging here, but when they are super-young like this, my goal is to impart a love and a desire to learn, an insatiable curiosity and the sense that they are capable and competent learners. Not only is this developmentally appropriate for toddlers, but it also helps him to feel good about what he can accomplish…and that is a beautiful thing.

Aight, enough about the concept…onto the play!

I started with his new thing…MAGNETS. Created a little area (which I like to carve out with small blankets or rugs to designate) and two 3.00 waste baskets I picked up from the cheapie section of Target. I had picked up this set of alphabet magnets from Melissa and Doug at my local hardware store during the apres Xmas sale, so I got them for a song.

Gingercat approves of this provocation.

Gingercat approves of this provocation.

Simple, right? Not a whole lot of fuss. I put a few out as a suggestion, but I am more interested in setting up the materials and letting him go to town. A big part of this style of teaching involves observation of the child. Interestingly, I often find myself watching “boy-vision” as I observe his play and problem solving. Especially when he puts the baskets on his head. And can’t get out.

Next, I wanted a space that felt like a cozy cave and appealed to his desire to scurry away to read (or…pre-read I guess), which I have noticed him do at school and certainly before bed. So I took his very favorite purple couch pillow, his Boppy and yet another small blanket and carved out a space under dad’s (insanely messy, AHEM) desk. I then arranged a bunch of books he hasn’t had much of a chance to read yet into a wooden crate, so he can select the ones he wants. I may have also tucked a baby-doll in there in case he wanted a friend who could actually fit under the desk with him. 🙂


One thing I like to do is add little toys tucked into unexpected places. To the left of the dresser, the magazine basket contains two wooden puzzles and all their pieces.

Next, I wanted a space for his fine motor and problem solving toys, which are old standbys, but which were previously in his room and little used. I used our coffee table as a sort of “workbench” where he could float from one problem solving toy to the next, but which remained uncrowded. My goal is to invite play, not to overwhelm with choices.

Three piece puzzle, "work tools" with real wooden screws, nuts and bolts, stacking pieces on a wooden dowel and this funny mind-bender toy I found for him.

Three piece puzzle, “work tools” with real wooden screws, nuts and bolts, stacking pieces on a wooden dowel and this funny mind-bender toy I found for him.

Because my son is a toddler, he also desperately needs to MOVE. To practice walking, climbing and throwing himself on various things. That’s why there is a little trike and his pushcart (from the book-nook picture above), as well as his green ball and of course, the good old standby–the couch cushions–to help facilitate that play. I usually put the coffee-table in another room for that portion of the day (usually right after lunch) or else I schlep the kiddo to The Providence Children’s Museum, Kidzone, our fabulous local playground or the Bellani Tot Gym to help him get his gross-motor skills revved up. But this is a daily MUST for this kid at his age…there is no way around it. In a house of 850 square feet, it is a challenge, but totally doable with prior planning (and always checking the weather the night before to determine how psychotic the following afternoon will be).

Finally, there is Old Reliable. The Boy just loves his blocks. So, I make a space for him to stack and crash. Simple. I used an overturned storage basket as a building surface, but he seems to prefer climbing on it half the time. No worries; it is sturdy. Enough. For now.


I would like to add one final thing…these pictures were taken on a day when The Boy was in school. I set up the provocations for him after cleaning the house. Let’s take a look at how the living room looks when he is actually IN it, enjoying the space (pics are a couple months old, but I didn’t want anyone feeling like only they spent their days in play-squalor, because that’s not the case at all…)


Holiday squalor…

Nursery Squalor...

Nursery Squalor…

Also if you are wondering what The Boy is doing in this picture, he has climbed into the bed of a toy dump truck, and is (sadly) in the process of learning why it is called a dump truck. There were tears, poor guy. He had to try it to learn though…

In any event, happy provocations! How are you are yours staying busy inside?? Got any pics or tips to inspire?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s