Engaging a preschooler during your homeschool days in a way that encourages independent play is indeed a valuable skill. Photographer and mama of two, Abbie Foster Chaffee, shares the strewing strategy she uses to buy her some one-on-one time for learning with her older daughter.
By Abbie Foster Chaffee | Miles From Ordinary
Like many homeschoolers, our daily life involves multi-age learners. Typically, this is a blessing; older siblings are often eager to help (or boss around!) the younger ones in the name of learning. Elementary-aged learners, though, can require more one-on-one time to better understand many of the new concepts they are working through. Anyone who has a child in this stage and a preschooler knows how challenging it can be to facilitate learning for the older sibling while also trying to keep the younger one entertained! To help prevent continual interruptions from my littlest -- now four years old -- I’ve taken to strewing.
What is Strewing Anyway?
Strewing is essentially just setting out activities -- mindfully -- for your children to work on by themselves. I first came across the idea a few years back on the fabulous site The Artful Parent. We’ve been using this method of play since both girls were toddlers and it really is amazing how much more engaged they are when the playing comes about organically.
Keep in mind that strewing in itself is an art form! The key to success lays in the surprise and intrigue your child feels when they happen upon an activity. My children are notorious for shutting down once something starts to feel formal or school-like. When I strew work for my girls (especially the four year old), I never draw attention to it. “Oh… I think there might be something in the kitchen you'd like," is the most I’ll say.
The second thing to consider is presentation. This is huge. It's amazing how laying out items with thought and intention, in way that looks beautiful, impacts the length for which my girls will stay busy with an activity. Wooden trays, mirrors, and fun placemats help set the stage for most strewn activities.
Picking Spots To Strew
I have three go-to areas in our house where I set out activities for my preschooler to find. The first is the family room floor. It’s an open and quiet area where she can focus, but remain very much a part of the action.
My second strewing spot is usually a small table we have set up in our family office. Since our four-year old likes very much be a part of the hubbub, having her own space in our shared office has made her a much better independent worker.
The third area of our house where I tend to strew is the kitchen. This is a great place for setting out art supplies, craft projects, and sensory bins. Having these messier things set up on the kitchen floor makes clean-up much easier than if it were in another room of our house… so it allows me to take a step back and allow my kids to immerse themselves in a project without feeling I have to remind them to stay on their work mats.
The Art of the Sensory Bin
Hands down, my favourite strewing activity is a simple sensory bin. A plastic tote filled with rice, beans, cloud dough, or even just soapy water is such a wonderful invitation to play for little ones. Add in some plastic figures and some scoops and spoons, and you have yourself a happily occupied child and a very peaceful afternoon. From the time my girls were old enough to sit up on their own, we’ve used sensory bins as our primary method of entertainment for little ones. Every week, I update our kitchen sensory bin to something seasonal and fun for the youngest to discover on her own.
Our Favourite Strewing Activities:
- Blank books and stickers.
- Paper dolls.
- Sensory items like kinetic sand or play dough.
- Magnetic tiles on the light table.
- Connect the dots and color by numbers books.
- Sticker and magnetic play scenes.
- Logic games (like Rush Hour Jr.)
- A spray bottle filled with soapy water and a small scrub brush.
- A basket of picture books with some animal figures added for instant storytelling.
What I love most about this strategy is that is fosters actual creative play and problem-solving skills, and it isn’t just a method of distraction. Most days, both girls find a great deal of joy in the little activities I lay out for them. I also love how simple it is to set up activities! Nothing fancy is ever required -- just a touch of mindfulness and a little bit of creativity.
Do you practise 'strewing' with your little ones? What are some of your favourite prompts? Tell us in the comments below!
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Abbie is a photographer, writer, and homeschooling mama to two precocious girls (ages 7 and 4) living in the US. She is passionate about interest-led home education and believes in seeking adventure in the ordinary whenever you can. With a camera never too far out of reach, she spends her days capturing the little moments of her girls' childhood; one snap at a time. Find her on Instagram @abbiefosterchaffee to follow along with all their daily adventures.