by Katie Brazerol
As providers, it’s important to teach children about the world around us. However, it is not always realistic for us to think that all children will feel icy cold snow, step in the ocean, or experience a jungle safari. That means it’s up to providers to give children a taste of the elements and experience cultures outside of their own. One great (and fairly inexpensive!) way to do this is to raid the fabric aisle at your local craft store.
During one of my sessions at a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference, the presenter (from the Wolf Trap Foundation for Performing Arts) placed a long section of fabric on the floor, similar to what is pictured here. She asked all participants to gather around the outside of the fabric. Then, she began to engage us in some patterning identification. “Place your left hand on a fish that has red stripes. Place your right hand on a fish that has yellow on it.” The great thing about a patterned fabric is that the pictures repeat, so there are enough pictures for everyone to locate the specified items. You can buy as many yards required for the size of your group! As a bonus, the presenter even spritzed our backs with water to show us how mist from the sea might feel while we were kneeling over the water. (That may be the closest some children ever come to feeling it.)
Next, the presenter had us lift the fabric like a parachute. We raised the water over our heads and low to the ground, and we created fast and slow waves. Then, she threw laminated cardboard fish onto the water and challenged us to keep them on while bouncing the fabric up and down.
Lastly, the presenter played some Caribbean-style music, and invited us to form a line while dancing down the center of the fabric. By the time we were done with the activity, we had touched on math (patterning), social/emotional (working together to hold the water and keep the fish on), social studies (seeing, feeling, and imagining ocean qualities), music (listening to Caribbean-style music), and physical/movement (waving arms and dancing). All of that from one piece of fabric!
Another great idea she gave was to buy smaller pieces of fabric and cut them into long strips or triangles. These can be worn as headbands, arm bands, or aprons. Children love to wear costumes, and just one small piece of fabric can help them immerse themselves into a different place. Choose fabrics that represent places you are learning about. Animal prints work well for a jungle theme, and floral prints represent beautiful tropical landscapes!
Fabric works great for everyday pretend play, as well. As all of us know, children do NOT come in the same shapes and sizes. Costumes become a hassle when they only fit some of the children, and many providers can’t afford to buy more than one set. Not to mention, they can be itchy and hard to wash! Instead, consider buying a few yards of the same kind of fabric. One yard will generally wrap around one child’s body, and can be tied as a dress, an apron, or even a cape. Buy patterns that relate to popular dramatic play themes: white satin fabric for wedding dresses, firefighter fabric for community helpers, red fabric for super hero capes, or fabrics with fun prints and textures for general dress-up. The possibilities are endless! You may just get a ton of additional ideas when you browse the fabric section in your area!
If you come up with a great idea that can help other providers improve their play environments, we’d love to hear about it!