My son Jason is 3 and is a very creative player. Three-year-olds are so much fun to be around because they have their own opinions and understand, in general, about how things work in the world, but they are still unrestricted by reality. ANYTHING can turn into a magical sword or cell phone. That was the case with toilet paper tubes the other day at our house.
Jason was helping me clean the bathrooms. With six kids, we have a lot of empty TP tubes and that day it seemed that everyone had gone on strike for about a week, letting the tubes line up like soldiers on the back of the toilet bowl. Jason’s job was to hold the rolls for me while I cleaned. As I cleaned he imagined he was a fisherman with a “shirt net”. We talked about how silly the fish were to “just jump” into his shirt net instead of swimming away. What a tricky fisherman! That discussion led us to talk about what would happen after we got all the fish to shore and dumped them out of the net. Jason commented that he was a sad fisherman because if the fish are out of water they die. He didn’t like that and changed the fish to robots. He called them “tubebots” and began pretending that they were on a mission to defeat an evil dragon. Like I said, a 3-year-old sets his own rules!
Jason is a huge Transformers and Power Rangers fan, so he knows that individual robots/ninjas can come together to make an even better and bigger Megabot/Meganinja. I suggested we take his toilet paper tubebots and combine them to make a master tubebot. Jason loved the idea! Here’s what we did and some of the language concepts we worked on (unbeknownst to Jason).
STEP 1: Laying out our master tubebot.
We grabbed a few grocery paper ads and created a clean place to make a mess with watercolors (you could use crayons or markers or just brown tubes instead). We talked about cause and effect by discussing why we needed to cover the counter with newspaper and what would happen to the paint when we got it wet with the Q-tips we used as paintbrushes. Q-tips are very versatile tools at our house, so we solidified Jason’s understanding of vocabulary items and their functions as we brainstormed all the ways we use Q-tips and specifically, how they are similar and different (e.g., use Q-tip as a brush to paint & apply glue, to clean small spaces like ears and in between computer keyboard keys, etc.). Finally, I encouraged Jason to make a plan for the TP tubes. We needed 2 arms, 2 legs, a body and a head. Jason practiced connecting short sentences with the word “and” as he described the role each tube would play in our master tubebot. This activity worked to increase the length and complexity of Jason’s expressive language.
STEP 2: Painting the tubebot
Next, we painted. We talked about attributes of the tubes (e.g., what color(s) each part would be, if we would need to cut the tube piece to make it smaller, etc.) and the order of events that needed to occur to be sure the tubebot would look just like Jason’s idea in his mind’s eye.
STEP 3: Put together the Master Tubebot
On hand in the kitchen, I had a stapler, tape, two large blue straws I rinsed out from foam cup fountain drinks in the recycling bin and a popsicle stick. We went to work building our Master Tubebot. Jason acted as the foreman and I was the builder. We defined those roles so that he would be satisfied in the fact that he needs my help with staplers and tape (he is a 3-year-old who thinks he can do everything himself). Jason gave me time-ordered directions and used specific vocabulary to talk about what we are doing vs. what we did (e.g., First put his arms on his body. You are stapling his arms on the straw. Next, put on his legs. You stapled his legs! Last, put on his head with tape.).
My kids are very used to talking in this way. Anytime we are learning a new skill or performing a skill with steps (e.g., making dinner, cleaning the table, making a bed, putting on clothes, clicking into a car seat, etc.), I model the time-marking words “first,” “next” and “last.” This practice helps them to (a) complete tasks more independently, (b) tell stories or recount events that have a timeline that is dependent and makes sense and (c) chunks words to help them more effectively express complex ideas.
STEP 4: Play with our Creation!
It took us about 10 minutes to collect our supplies (newspaper, TP tubes, 2 straws, a popsicle stick, tape, watercolors, Q-tip, marker and a stapler) and build our Master Tubebot. We had great fun building him and even more fun playing with him. Jason brought his Tubebot with us in the car to run errands and then told the big kids all about our adventures! I can’t even recount all of the wonderful language learning and practice that came from those interactions, but here are just a few: asking and answering questions, using adjectives, adverbs and prepositions, conditional reasoning, communication repair strategies, etc.
My point in sharing this post is to inspire you to make any task special. No one likes cleaning the bathrooms, but look what fun can come from enjoying the moment. From a fisherman to a robot builder, Jason was engaged in joint interaction the whole time. I got the bathrooms cleaned and Jason and I enjoyed time together. You don’t have to pull out the arts and crafts bin. Just latch on to the imagination of your child and take a ride. You’ll both have fun, grow language and create memories that will last forever.