Julie Meseha of @theplayroomadventures on toys, tidying and executive functioning

Julie Meseha of @theplayroomadventures on toys, tidying and executive functioning

Qualified teacher, projects manager of Melbourne Water, and friend of mor-stor Julie Meseha champions education at all levels (and species!). 

With a career spanning from zoo keeping and ecology to education – and more recently, a grants and projects role at a popular Melbourne kindergarten – Julie’s passion for play, early childhood development and motherhood has manifested into @theplayroomadventures, a “reflective record” of the play and learning of her young children. 

Influenced by the Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Waldorf philosophies of learning and child-lead curiosity, the educator strives to provoke creative, confidence-building play that supports the development and independence of all children. Lucky for us, Julie was open to sharing her top tips on toys and tidying for happy, engaged, well-developed kids.

Hi Julie! So, what inspired you to start @theplayroomadventures?

As a teacher we are taught to always reflect upon the play and learning possibilities of our students, think about their interests and find ways to incorporate this into their learning. 

I get an abundance of ideas from other like-minded professionals through their own social media pages, and was inspired to start my account as a way of keeping a reflective record of the play and learning of my own children.

What role do toys play in the development of our kids, and why is it important to have the right ones from an early age?

Investing in the right toys from an early age will avoid you spending money on things that are only appropriate for a limited developmental age range. 

Toys that ‘do’ all the work for the child – like ‘press the button to talk’ toys – take away the opportunity for the child to be creative and independent. Instead, I would suggest blocks, lego, play silks, magnetic tiles, and tubs with scooping or pouring tools (they can be filled with coloured rice, beans, shaving cream, or slime). A selection of animals, dragons or fairies can also be used with all the other items for sensory and small world play.

Some of the best “toys” are not what would typically be considered toys! Boxes and recycled materials provide wonderful opportunity for open-ended creative, imaginative and constructive play.

How does the process of tidying up affect a child’s executive functioning skills?

The process of tidying up is an important skill for all children to learn for a variety of reasons. Through taking care of their own property they learn to be respectful of their home environment. Basic executive functioning skills are often developed through tidying up, too. 

As well as helping them to feel calm and in-control, tidying up can promote self-monitoring skills, encouraging children to reflect on how well they were able to pack up. It also gives the adults in their life the opportunity to celebrate the success of packing up, a form of positive reinforcement extremely important for young children’s self-esteem. 

How important is the layout of a child’s bedroom or playroom to their general development? 

A child’s bedroom should be a place of rest, and if at all possible I would say that having a separate space to play that is not the bedroom is very beneficial. We have been very lucky that we can set up a separate room to provide a place for play, but this could be more of a nook, shelf or corner of a room if that’s what’s available. 

We have a limited number of toys out on the shelves at any one time to make the packing up process easier, and rotate the toys regularly from boxes tucked away in cupboards. This is helpful to keep the space interesting for the child – they will be more creative with fewer interesting and developmentally appropriate items, rather than lots of items cluttering the space. 

What are your top three tips for raising a happy, engaged, intelligent child?

Really listen to what your child is interested in – observe their play and try not to interrupt with adult ideas and desires. Children are far more capable than our society gives them credit for; they will reveal their likes and dislikes by the way they play. This will be especially apparent if you set up an environment conducive to this kind of play.

Invite children to participate in everyday life skills, like gardening and cooking. Young children like to be involved in purposeful tasks around the house, and these tasks are usually very beneficial in developing essential skills such as gross motor skills, fine motor skills and concentration.

Talk, Talk, Talk! The more time you spend building those early language skills, the more you will find children that are happy, more engaged and able to handle the skills they will need once they get to school age. Reading as many books as possible, limiting screen time and not ‘talking down’ or using baby talk to children will go a long way to starting good oral skills. 

Where (or who!) do you look to for reliable tips and recommendations? 

On Instagram, I look to @worksatplay@theworkspaceforchildren@invitationtoplay@storiesofplay@where_learning_meets_play@pickwick_and_sprout, and @playfullearning.

As for podcasts, Raising Lifelong LearnersRead-Aloud RevivalCalm Parenting PodcastWild + FreeSquiz Kids, and the Big Life Kids Podcast are some of my favourites.