slapdash slide

While I’ve been on baby duty this past week, my husband has been an incredible pal to our older daughter, and it’s been inspiring to watch them develop their own style of play and invention. We both believe strongly in paying close attention to our child’s interests and then helping her grow beyond her current capabilities, which is how this little activity emerged.

On this snoozy weekend morning, N really wanted to hit the park and run around, but my sleep-deprived husband was still rubbing his eyes and nursing his coffee. A middle ground was found with a few rounds of couch somersaults, and then my DH struck gross-motor toddler gold when remembered the large piece of wood we picked up for my inverted-board-turn-the-breech-baby exercises. Add in a yoga mat for friction and a few pillows for protection, and the slapdash slide was invented.

slapdash slide

One of the pillars of our parenting philosophy lies in the idea of the zone of proximal development, a learning theory developed by renowned psychologist and cognitive theorist, Lev Vygotsky, which can be described as the gap between what a learner has mastered and what a learner is capable of doing with help.

slapdash slide

In this case, our daughter loves climbing and tumbling. Combine building the slide with some dialogue and a few gentle suggestions, and she was soon diving down the slide head-first, turning her body sideways to scoot down in “the splits”, and walking up and down the slide. These are all things she could do at the park, but with other kids around we ask N to play it safe and have good playground etiquette. The beauty in this activity is that it was all hers, and she could explore and push herself as she desired.

slapdash slide

What games and toys have you invented with your kids? In what ways have you guided a child master a skill that was too difficult for him or her to master alone?


  1. hmmm. the gap. it seems there is a constant flow between activities they can do alone, the gap and full parental guidence. I strive for gap activities constantly because, like Scott, it gives me an opportunity to get something done. Dave came up with this idea because Simone had taught herself to climb the bookcase and jump on her bed.(really cool, but scary). So he decided to blow up the airmatress, place it under her play structure outside and now she can climb and jump all she wants. the other successful gap project is writing letters. we talk about who she want to write to, bring out the supplies and when I get back, there is a letter in an envelope.
    I can’t wait to hear what others are going!!!

    • Our love affair with mail started a few months ago, and N is on a first-name basis with our mailman. I think I need to make up a huge batch of fake “stamps,” though, because she’s obsessed with the little suckers…and knows the difference between stamps and stickers (so she won’t fall for, “hey, how about a star stamp?”). Dave is on to something with the air mattress — super idea, dad!

  2. Looks super fun! I bet Max would love to check it out 🙂

  3. When I taught in a Reggio-inspired preschool, we got PVC pies and joints from the hardware store and allowed the students to build their own structures. These were great because they were relatively light weight, had safe edges, and were inexpensive. They learned to twist the joints on the ends of the pipes and created great structures to climb through. They also had a ball putting small objects in one end and see it come out the other. We talked to each other through them too. Oh, the possibilities for play things at the hardware store!

    • Brilliant, Lori! N would love rolling balls through some pvc pipes, and before I know it she’ll be ready to do some pipe and joint building too. The hardware store is a great place to look for materials.

    • this is a great idea! I have a return at osh hardware tomorrow. looks like I’m spending $15.49 on PVC piping.

  4. I love that slide idea! Leave it up to dads to find the most creative play out of the most non-obvious choices.

    Kindergym is one of JD’s most favorite things, and the tumbletrak is his all-time love, so since we’ve got a sofa-bed, I take the cushions off, exposing the soft folded-up part underneath – perfect for toddler bouncing action! I line up the cushions on the floor in front of the couch (for added safety precautions) and he’s got his own tumbletrak right in the comfort of his own home.

    Also, we just bought a huge filing cabinet for the office, so I did the obvious thing and turned the empty box into a play house by simply cutting out “windows”. I remember loving to play in boxes when I was a kid. Unfortunately, JD did not share this love. I think he was thinking, “mom, what’s so great about sitting in an empty box?!” I guess it wasn’t too conducive to his love for running, jumping and just plain being wild 🙂

    • Kanda, you always make me smile 🙂 You’re right about dads — they can have a fresh perspective on play when mom is all out of ideas. Your tumbletrack sounds like so much fun. Will you send me a photo because I’m planning a post on building living room forts. LIke you, I would totally make N a house box only to have her dismiss it.

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