RCK 009: WHY PLAY MATTERS WITH AMY COX
WHY PLAY MATTERS
This week, I bring to you a conversation with educator and mum of 4, Amy Cox from Playful Little Learners where we talk about why play matters when it comes to engaging the little ones in our world and how we can practically encourage our kids to play, and learn independent play techniques.
Amy shares a little of how she ended up teaching English in China and how without understanding a single word of Mandarin, how she engaged her class through play and effectively taught the English language with ease.
- How to create a home that's conducive to play.
- Amy's top 3 toys that she highly recommends for kids
- Why play is the universal language of kids
- How she helps other parents engage their kids in play, even if they don't know where to start!
Some of the toys we referenced today include Lego, Duplo, Schliech Animals, Grimms Blocks
CONNECT WITH AMY:
You can find Amy on all the following social media platforms.
CONNECT WITH ME:
You can find us on all the following social media platforms.
LOVE OUR PODCAST?
If you've found this week's Podcast helpful, I would LOVE you to write a review!
Podcast reviews are super important to iTunes and the more reviews we receive the more likely iTunes will reward us with better reach. I want to help empower more mamas to give their kids a head start on their language journey and would love your help to make this a reality! I already love you forever, but I’d be extremely grateful if you would review me on iTunes!
If you’ve loved this podcast, never miss another one! All you have to do is SUBSCRIBE to the Raising Cultured Kids Podcast on iTunes.
Shannon Kelly: 00:00 Okay. Hi Amy. It's so nice to have you with me today. Thank you for joining me.
Amy Cox: 00:05 Thanks so much for having me Shannon and it's a pleasure to be here.
Shannon Kelly: 00:09 Now it's such a treat for us today. We are so lucky to have Amy today. Amy is from Playful Little Learners and she is like a mega resource when it comes to kids and play and really how to do it well. As a mom who really struggles with the idea of sitting down with my kids and working out what play looks like. I used to feel really in over my head when my kids were really little. I suspect there's are lots of mums and dads who are in the same boat! So my desire to have Amy here today is half because I want to hear all her wisdom, but secondly, I just know that there's a lot of our community with young kids who we could actually get lots of nuggets of wisdom today from Amy. So thanks for joining us today Amy. I'm so excited you're here. Firstly I'd love you to tell me a little bit about Playful Little Learners because it's incredible, that what started as a hobby has really developed into something so much more than that. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Amy Cox: 01:12 Yeah, absolutely. I'll try to give you the skinny. I tend to have a bit of verbal diarrhea, so I will try my hardest. My background is that I'm a teacher and so I was one of those teachers that I just lived and breathed it. It was vocational for me and I was really lucky when I first came out of university to be in a situation where the leadership team of the school i worked at was like the embodiment of everything I'd learned at Uni. It was just such a beautiful time and I was nurtured and supported and I, absolutely thrived in those early years of my career. I won a couple of education awards and I was presenting at professional learning meetings and conferences and it was really amazing. It was just my thing, I'd found my zone. And then I got married to my husband and in 2009 we moved to China. And so we taught, I don't know if you know this part of a story actually. We taught at an international school where we had a handful of children that all of them had English as a second or their third language and so coming from a school that was really well resourced and had like superstar leadership team to this amazing school, but it was just very new and that it wasn't as well resourced because it was like a startup. And then having all these kids from all these different nationalities that couldn't speak English and they were coming to me and I had to teach them and they were younger, you know, three to five year olds and it was really a really poignant part of my story because it made me realize how important play is, and this is the thing that happened after having this class for just a day. I realized despite the fact that they all came from all over the world and some of them couldn't speak any English play actually was a universal language that they all understood. And that was the language of play. So what happened was I learned in this year how to create a learning environment that was open ended and enabled the children to play. And then through that they picked up so many things and I just, it blew my mind with how quickly the capacity to learn language blossomed through this opportunity to learn through play.
Amy Cox: 03:37 So we spent a year in China, then we came back and had our first child and the leadership team changed at the school I was at., that's an essential part of my story because I'm coming from these women that who were like powerhouses and they really embodied what early learning should look like. This was when I first started seeing this formal learning pushed down on all the early years, which just completely contrasted to what my personal philosophy towards learning was. It made me really mad. I was part time teaching at this stage. And so from that I started, my first business to champion learning through play. That's why back in 2014, I was part time teaching at this time. I was running this business and I just completely burnt out and we moved to the Pillbra in Western Australia, where we are now in 2016 and I didn't have to teach, I left the business to the side and I was like just mom for the first time ever. So I had four kids. Yeah. I'm thinking I might be crazy because I launched this second business when I had three kids under three. I was teaching part time. I was like, I just had this burning to help people realise that play is so important. I just want it to equip parents with this knowledge. And so that was, that was the heart of that first business. But I just couldn't do it all. I couldn't do it all. I totally burnt out. And when we moved to the Pilbara with, a five year olds, a three and a half year old, an almost two year old and a newborn. And it was like, yeah, I could breathe I guess for the first time. And, I just started sharing like stuff that we were doing over on Instagram and that sort of became my outlet. And from there, yeah, communities grew. And, and then I realized that I had a heart centered burning to champion play in the early days. I could actually continue to do from up here and just so now we've taken it online and I've got a membership site now that I use to help and educate and empower and inspire parents to unlock their child's potential through play.
Shannon Kelly: 05:58 Yeah, love that. Because I think you mentioned how you first started your Instagram account and we just sharing just some of the things that you are passionate about, some of your experiences with your own kids. But I (if you guys haven't seen, you need to go and check out Playful Little Learners on Instagram), like the account has exploded and I think that's because as you mentioned, this such a huge desire for parents actually want to have their kids immersed in an environment of play. Because can you talk about why play so important from that perspective? Particularly with little kids?
Amy Cox: 06:29 Absolutely. It's the way that they learn about their world. As parents. we just want to do the best thing for our kids. And we think that that means, you know, taking them to all the classes and doing all the things, but really just providing the opportunity to 'be' with open ended materials and resources that enables them to explore their environment in that safe and loving way. And, that's where they develop all their social skills and language and vocab and all of these, just beautifully juicy skills. And, I think that play for me, it's just, Oh, I just love it. I love it. I love, I love it. It's just such a powerful thing. But sadly it is one of those things. It's been, you know, squeezed out of our early childhood classrooms cause all these formal learning is making its way down.
Shannon Kelly: 07:13 So can I, can I ask what's the question you get asked the most? I mean obviously you have a membership site these days, which is an environment where mums and dads can actually come in and get supported. And even just the ideas, like I feel like in such a fast paced world that we live in. For me, I know my biggest challenge when my kids were little was just coming up with ideas on how, do kids play in, how do you facilitate an environment where your kids can play to the best of their abilities.
Amy Cox: 07:41 Yeah, so I guess in The Play Squad membership, we've got a few goals. So there's these four of our key values. The first is that kids learn through play. The second is that parents are a child's first teacher. So despite what, you know, what you don't, you were actually the first point of what your child learns about their worlds. And the third thing we look at that, the third thing we look at is that children need love and connection with their people. So like more than they need all that stuff and the rainbows and the everything, they just need to feel loved and nurtured and fourth is that all children are unique and individual with different interests, needs and strengths. And what we look at in the membership is tapping in to what your child's personality is like and what they like, and from that build on the skills and develop their independence and encourage and deepened your connection. And so that's something that within the membership that we look at, um, and we provide like ideas monthly that based on a theme and that the parents all implement them and then everyone gives feedback. And the most beautiful thing about this community is that someone share an idea and it has raging success with one family. "They're like, this is just the best thing ever". And then someone else will say, well, hang on a sec. 'This actually didn't work for my child'. And the best thing about it is just that normalizing had different and unique and individual or people are, and it's not about like, this is the best idea that you hadn't, you know, that you can use. But more so like, let's find that key to unlock your individual child's personality and preferences and learning styles.
Shannon Kelly: 09:28 And, and I think that's the thing is, there's no one size fits all and that's actually one of the most beautiful and releasing things about kids is that there's not one way to do things. Kids are different, they're unique and there's no right or wrong, like you've actually got to just work on it. And that comes with time as well. Can you share a little bit of your experience and that how you navigated that in a classroom setting, like you saying you were teaching these kids English, you're in an environment where all of a sudden you understood that play was the universal language. Can you tell me a little bit of an experience of how you use play to really engage your kids in an environment where maybe you didn't have words to be able to do that?
Amy Cox: 10:11 Oh my goodness. That situation was just so unique. It was so unique because it really just snapped me straight into the actual power of play. So kids first came in, we had like five or six different stations set up some were puzzles somewhere like a created station where the kids could build and construct and blocks. And so there was all of these different opportunities to engage kids that had those different interests. So it wasn't necessarily like, here we go, come on, sit down, here's the thing, we go a, b, c, d. and that's how we learn. It was really the environment was really the third teacher because it allowed the children the opportunity to go to the different stations and express themselves through with the materials that were provided. And this is something that I think is so powerful, providing those open ended opportunities for children to be able to express themselves. Once I saw those familiar things, like oh, I know how to build up with the blocks, I know how to do this or I don't know how to paint or I know how to do whatever. And that empowerment that arose from doing those things like we started talking about color, like red, or build or colour or whatever. And that was how the language started to emerge. And Oh my goodness, I like cried my eyes out so much, in that year of my life because like, it was such a unique opportunity to see these children who came in knowing zero English and was speaking in fluent sentences by the end of that year. So that's how it's structured and that's how it looked in that particular context. But with my own children, the same sort of philosophy even to the way we lay out our play space for the kids.
Shannon Kelly: 11:51 So how often do you do this type of play? Obviously you've got this dedicated, space in your house to have this playroom that is colorful and bright and accessible. But for families who live in small environments who don't necessarily have the same space opportunities, how would you, how would you empower them to create a setting that is play friendly for their kids?
Amy Cox : 12:19 Yeah, I think the thing is just like going back to what we were saying before about everyone's unique and that's not just related to kids that's related to adults and everyone. Like everyone's got a different mess tolerance, everyone's got different houses, everyone's got different situations. And I think for us we have like I've got quite a high mess tolerance. I have had to let some standards go with four kids under five. So, my biggest advice would be for parents that don't have space. And like a little side note here, like we never had the space. In the room that we have at the moment. Oh my goodness. It is. It's crazy. Our last house before we moved here would fit pretty much in that room. So we never had space ever, ever, ever. We've just sort of come since we've moved to the Pilberra we've had these. But I think my biggest advice and biggest takeaway for people that don't have the space would be just to a know your child, know what the thought sorts of things they like and provide a few options. So like for us, what we did when we had a smaller house, we had just a little cube shelf and on each of the shows we had like four different options of things that we knew that they would like. So for our boys that went through train phase, so we'd have one show if we'd have, the wooden train tracks, we'd have like a small box of Duplo with a couple of men, you know, just things that are tapped into their interest. And for us, that worked really well. And one side note, actually I will add on to that as well is that, before we, so we've moved, (we moved twice in three months when I was pregnant with my fourth child). We moved to a house, not this small house and not the house that we're in now. But if there was another one in between and finally we had this playroom but it was a way from the main living area. So it was almost like off the main living area. And I was really excited at the time to set up this space with - that was where they were going to play and everything else. But the reality of kids is, especially young children, this is they want to be where you are. So my biggest recommendation would be if you didn't have a large space just to have a pocket near where you spend lots of your time. So if you're in the kitchen or the living area, have a couple of shelves out. And this is really confronting for people that don't like mess, but you know, having a couple of things out.
Amy Cox: 15:11 It all comes down to expectations too. And I feel like I'm contacted quite regularly by people saying, oh my goodness. Like I really want my kids to apply independently, but they just need me by the side all the time. And I think for so long, and this is going back to that second place that we had, I fought that, I fought it, fought, fought it. But it's really counterintuitive to have, you know, when you want that independence. But having that opportunity for kids to be near where you are was the first thing I did to start getting them to be, become more and more independent. And now, my kids they're a little bit older now, but this happened when they were younger as well. They just, that really stretched out how long they were able to be independent
Shannon Kelly: 15:51 Because you were close by?
Amy Cox: 15:55 Yeah, that's it.
Shannon Kelly: 15:56 We live in an inner city cottage, so it's very, very small and it's like a cottage when we've got these tiny spiral staircase that goes upstairs and the kids used to have the big loft room for their own bedroom and it was huge, like there to be space and the room was just always chaotic and nurse and they never really wanted to spend time up there. But we've got these two little bedrooms downstairs and I love it because my kids are now eight and 10 and they are jammed into one of the teeny tiny bedrooms. Well, they actually now have the master bedroom. We gave up our room so they could have and we're the teeny tiny bedroom, but they're now in bunk beds in the same room, in our teeny tiny little master room. And it's really funny because they, they would say that they are much happier being together close by all of us on the same level, then actually having a whole room upstairs that they could have everything everywhere. So it's really interesting to see that dynamic of proximity and wanting to play. And now to be honest, we created a little very little playroom in the front of our house, which has a very small sun room. It's like probably a meter and a half wide, but it's really long, and we've plopped down some cushions on the floor and a little table and they sit and play lego for hours and hours and hours. But before that happened, they never really wanted to play upstairs. So it's a really interesting dynamic, isn't it?
Amy Cox: 17:25 It is. And I think so often we try to force the issue. Like I know I was like, Hey, it's your space. Like you use it. But as you said like that proximity, it's a real like, you know, what did they say about the umbilical cord hasn't quite been cut. Like they just need that little gradual increase of distance before they can know how to play totally Independent.
Shannon Kelly: 17:43 Can I ask, just with regards to taking kids and helping to play independently as well. Cause I know a lot of parents, they feel that responsibility to play with their kids all the time. And sometimes it's nice to just have a little bit of, "Hey, go and play on mum has a cup of tea and sit still and takes a breath for a minute." Can we talk about that? Cause often times parents feel guilty for wanting that and they feel like they're rejecting their child. Can you touch on maybe how parents can do that in a healthy manner and how we can encourage our kids to play that in that independent way?
Amy Cox: 18:21 Absolutely. And I'd kind of say just on that point, like I think we all beat ourselves up. We all have that level of guilt that they're not doing. We're not doing enough. And, oh my goodness, I want five minutes, you know, for myself. And that is so well like you deserve to have that timeout. I guess my first thing that I would suggest in helping to encourage your children to be independent is because it's going to sound counter intuitive again, but like playing with them. And so helping them develop a game that where you're overseeing it. So I think that having open ended resources and materials like, you know, Duplo, Lego, all of that sort of thing, that's not like one, there's only one way to play. Like often we say those push button toys and once I've exhausted the wide apply with that one item, then that's it on board of the, someone to the next thing. And I think the power of open ended items is that there's so many ways to play in so many ways to extend it and having that like actually sitting down with your children. And I'll talk about it in a context. So I'm not talking just randomly, like with them on, I don't know if you're on Instagram at the moment. They're all about the Grims, like the wooden toys and the rainbows and everything. They're really nice, like the beautiful, however, so many people are like, oh my goodness. It's like my kids do not play with these. I don't how to Bubba. And so what we did, I, my kids will play for that. Wait for hours now, hours now as an hour's because initially, when we first got it, like they were like, what do we do with this mom? And so I sat down with them and you know, we built a stable for the horses or we'll be able to house. So we built a, you know, a bedroom or we built, all of these different things. And so that sort of opened the doors to what was possible. I open the doors to possibility and I think that, as parents, if we can do that with whatever items we have lying around our house, whether it's, you know, the trains or the whatever else and just familiarizing themselves with the toys that they have and the possibilities that the toys have, then that has opened the doors for them now to have independent time and back again. That's different depending on the different needs of the kids too.
Shannon Kelly: 20:20 Yeah. But I love that though, that whole idea of really showing them what's possible and then letting their imagination run wild initially to be able to actually set them up for that as well. That's exactly right! Well there's just a couple more questions I want to ask before you run off and continue your play cause I know that do it nonstop. It's awesome if you like, could you tell me what are your three favorite toys? I know it could be blocks, it could be whatever, but do you have any toys in particular that you find your kids actually lean in most in terms of creative play? In terms of independent play. It doesn't have to be three, but did you have any favorite toys that you've found over and over again? They're like fail safe. You can always rely on them.
Amy Cox : 21:15 Absolutely. Now that you agree with this one, Shannon, for me, hands down. Favorite toy is Duplo. Like Duplo for me has been so timeless. My kids have got so much Duplo but it has been one of those toys that we've had for my eldest is almost eight and we've had the seven years and the older boys still play with it as much as they did when they were one year old. And I think it stems back again to that showing them what's possible and everything else. But now like the girls will play with it. The boy was actually the only thing that all of the children would play with together because they were able to take it to wherever they personally were at and I think this is something that also it can get a bit sticky because you know, with the Duplo and they're very clever, that lego corporation and the way they have the individual booklets and the step by step theme because it kind of like in a way it says, all right, well this is how you play with it. But what I have found was moving away from like, you know, once they've first got whatever set it was, and once I first had apply with it the way that it was intended to be applied with, I'm using inverted commas and then it opens up to the different levels of possibilities for that. So for me, I think 100% we'd be Lego. It would be on my list. And also it would be, just a little miniature animals.
Shannon Kelly: 22:31 Yeah. Like those Schleich ones?.
Amy Cox: 22:32 Yay. Yay. Yay. Yep. The little animals, different brands like we just came at once. I feel like, I mean the, I mean the schleich ones are amazing, but you know, you don't have to spend $1 million. No, I think this is, we just gets caught up I think sometimes and all that we could do for our kids and often times the simple things are actually the best. And the reason why Lego and Duplo has stood the test of time, like my mom and dad, I've got like a tub of it from the time when we were children and the reason is because it's timeless. You know, the stuff that we have now, we'll all have for my kids when they grow up and I think that's another bonus of those sort of open ended toys is they never get old. You know, they never, never get old.
Shannon Kelly: 23:13 They see it through new eyes, time and time again.
Amy Cox: 23:15 That's exactly right. Yup.
Shannon Kelly: 23:17 I love that. I love that my kids are eight and 10 and they still so playful and it, they're still so engaged in trialing new things and like, like you said with the Lego, like we started out, we started out very simply and my son sometimes gets to the point where even with his Lego, he's like, mum, can I have the iPad so I can find the instructions to be able to rebuild this? And I'm like, no, no, that's called copying. We're going to create! Oh Amy Thank you much. I just, I actually genuinely very inspired by the way you play and your perspective on play because I, I've seen it firsthand. Like I know you're so passionate about it because you've had an experience firsthand within your family about why play is so important. So if other people want to find out more about how they can be better play parents, I don't know how if, that's a thing. :) How can they find out more, because I feel like we've touched on a 20 minute conversation, but there's only so much you can really impart in such short period of time.
Amy Cox: 24:25 So I hang out on Instagram. I'm an insta-addict. You know, this I'm at @playfullittlelearners over on Instagram. My website is like www.playfullittlelearners.com that I use, but, I also have regular challenges where I walk people step by step through things like setting up a place space and using what you have and tapping into the needs of your child. So if you head over to, www.transformplaytime.com you can either jump on the waitlist or if it's open at the time of publication and it's all free because I'm so passionate about this stuff, I just want to get it out there. And also my membership is joinplaysquad.com for anyone that's interested in getting walked through month by month and joining a community of people that are so amazing. I Love My Squad! I love my people.
Shannon Kelly: 25:11 Yeah. And you're amazing. Just the way you lead and guide them! You're so passionate about it as well. Like how can we not learn from somebody who's so passionate about this topic as well? So thank you so much for your time. I am so grateful and I know that there's going to be so many of our community who is going to find fresh inspiration about how today might look or how this afternoon when we're at home and were a bit overwhelmed at what to do, like how we can actually take that first step to engage our kids. So thank you so much for your time. I so appreciate it and I'll make sure you go and check out Playful Little Learners because these highly, highly valuable and so practical. So thanks.
Amy Cox: 25:50 Thanks so much for having me. Appreciate it.