Monday, 23 April 2018

Quiet books for a quiet life?

I've been mulling over the 'Quiet Book' concept for at least a 2-3 years now, but never got round to doing anything about it. But now we will be travelling long-haul this year with all the little ones, I decided try and make a few so-called quiet book pages to keep them amused, with all the hanging about at airports etc. It needs to be light and fairly flat for carrying, along with all the nappy changing gear, baby food, changes of clothes, and other entertainments for young children on a long flight.

Mr / Mrs Potato Head

On this post, I'm giving you a sample of some of the pages, which write about in more detail in separate posts. But I'll also give you some reflections on making quiet books in general. Later, I'll recommend other websites where you can find great ideas, and give you some of my own, too.


First, what is a Quiet Book? I think it's really a misnomer. The original idea, I'm sure, was to create something to keep very small children entertained in church. (And hence 'quiet'). Largely being made of felt, they don't rustle like paper, and they don't tear as easily. (But believe you me, an over-enthusiastic toddler can soon pull quiet book pages apart with no problem unless supervised.) 


Where the 'quiet' concept kind of falls down, is that while most small children do like playing with many of the pages, they don't really want to do so quietly! There is far more fun to be had in playing with a play kitchen and serving breakfast, if you can say "Mummy, would you like your egg easy-over or sunnyside?" They can need some help in getting started with all the activities that involve learning motor skills, like zips and press-studs. And learning activities to help with numeracy and language skills are great but definitely need adult support.
Bee counting game

Well, maybe I've just got particularly noisy grandchildren. But I really can't see them sitting quietly in a corner playing by themselves with these quiet pages.

Traffic lights - who has to stop and who can go?

[As an aside, my daughter's church doesn't actually want children to be quiet. They encourage lots of joining in, singing and dancing and play acting. The Sunday school they go to helps them learn that there are times to be gentler and reflective, and times to run about and shout, and that's fine - and the older people seem to love having these little joyful souls around them. ]
Abacus with animal beads

So maybe these aren't so much quiet books as soft play activity books. Well, now that we've got that straight, let me talk more about the things to look for in choosing which ones to make.




1. TIME! 

The first factor is TIME. Be under no illusion: some of the most beautiful pages you can find on the internet can take ages to make. Not just hours but days and even weeks. That's why the ones you can buy ready-made can cost a great deal of money. So be sure you are ready for the commitment. This Tic Tac Toe one (or Noughts and Crosses) below was one of the quicker ones I made, and still took a couple of days to complete. There are short cuts - but you do need time

Tic tac toe


2. EFFORT v. REWARD 

Linked to the time needed to make each page, is the amount of time realistically that children are likely to spend playing with each, before getting bored or frustrated.

Ribbon weaving game


Here's a weaving game. I thought it would be quite fun to learn the 'ins and outs' of weaving. Jane (nearly 4) did the first ribbon with some help from me. The second, she started off well but by the end was so bored, she never got to the third ribbon. Luckily, this wasn't a game that had taken me a week to make, or I might have been quite upset!

In contrast, although it was more effort, the favourite page by far was my Superheroes page.


3. AGE SUITABILITY

I only started making for my grand-children when they were already 4, nearly 4, nearly 3, and a few months old. I'd say the prime target age for a lot of the quiet book pages is around 18 months, give or take a bit, so my grandchildren were already too old (or too young yet) for many of the lovely pages I found and wanted to make. Some were too difficult or advanced. You need to take into account the level of motor skills (and especially fine motor skills) of the child who will be playing with the pages, as well as their intellectual and perhaps social development, and their boredom threshold. An example: I did make the sock matching one which is attributable to Imagine my Life. It's a two-page spread. It's very pretty and cute. It did take a while to make, but not that bad. The loose bits can be held on with Velcro or snaps, or stored in the washing machine. (Actually the designer suggests using tiny magnets - I would strongly recommend AGAINST this, unless the child playing with it is old enough not to put things in their mouth and has no younger siblings. Small magnets are very dangerous for small children.)


The child can put the single socks into the washing machine, then take them out and match them up to the pair on the second page. The two 4 year-olds did like this, and did it once each (in seconds) but after that, there was nothing to it for them.  (Though they still found it hard to open the snap fastener door catch.) The 3 year old did it fractionally slower, and was happy to repeat it. Her efforts at putting the socks into the washing machine consisted of stuffing them in forcibly. She enjoyed it but I don't know whether she will be prepared to have another try. So I guess I'll need to wait until the baby is old enough that she doesn't just want to stuff the pieces in her mouth. At a guess, I'd say this would work for 18 months to 2 years. That may be true for any of the matching games, whether colours, shapes or whatever. Once a child is easily able to match things, the game loses its interest. But if it's too hard to do, it can simply frustrate rather than educate. Tic Tac Toe is a very good case in point. A child needs to be old enough the grasp the concept of putting the pieces in and blocking the other person from getting a line. But ten minutes after they can do this, a smart child will also see the trick, and once you know the trick, the game is hardly worth bothering with.

So I'd suggest you look carefully at each page you are considering making, and evaluate it against what the child can do and enjoys doing - and for how long.

4. BULK

Some pages, especially those with a lot of loose bits to attach or place on the page can make for a very bulky book. For example, the Mr and Mrs Potato Head page (first on on this post) has a sort of pot on the right that can be used to store all the multiple bits (hats, eyes, ears etc). This made that part of the page over a centimetre thick. 
The storage of the noughts and crosses is not quite as thick as that, but is still pretty bulky. So you wouldn't want those on back to back pages. Don't be under any illusion that you will end up with something that is nearly FLAT! If you want the thinnest possible, then choose pages without the need to store lots of loose parts, or, if there are loose parts, make sure they are well spread out over the page.

5. LOOSE BITS TO GET LOST

And so we come to the loose bits. They WILL GET LOST. We lost a whale finger puppet on one aircraft. (So I had to remake him.) I suspect that some of the clothes with letters spelling out the grandchildren's names, for them to hang on the washing line, are already missing. I suggest you try to:
  • go for larger rather than smaller loose bits (harder to lose)
  • have several things that are similar or equivalent (e.g. autumn leaves, apples, presents, or pieces of luggage) so it doesn't matter so much if the odd one disappears
  • make some spares (I've got extra noughts and crosses)
  • make the most secure storage for them that you can - a fastening 'cupboard', or Velcro dots, for example, or attach them if possible with ribbon or cord.
  • Or, choose pages without loose bits.

On this traffic and crossing lights page, the car and the doll are not only attached to the page edges with cord, but there is a little piece of green elastic at the bottom to hold them when not in use.


6. CUTENESS / ATTRACTIVENESS

Oh yes, there are some really beautiful pages. I'm quite proud of my bee counting game page, based on the Imagine my Life patternIt took weeks to make. I even researched flowers that actually have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc petals up to 10, so that I could have flowers with the correct number of petals, not just the written number. (They can't all read numbers yet, or at least couldn't when I started.) Then I made all the flowers individually. 

It is very satisfying to have something that gives you a sense of achievement. But this point, cuteness and attractiveness, I've listed LAST. If the other points above are wrong, the fact that your page will look fantastic and cute and other people may admire it, won't help you a jot when the child shows no interest in it. IT'S NOT FOR OTHER MOTHERS TO ADMIRE: IT'S FOR A CHILD TO PLAY WITH!!!

On this post, you will find links to more of my quiet book pages.

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