Pop Up Friends

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These Pop Up Friends are placed on the shelf in the prepared environment of my own Montessori 'Nido' Playgroup - but they never seem to stay there for long! Children are engaged and delighted by these four little colourful friends. Each figure can be placed into one of the holes - and when they are pushed down firmly a hidden spring in the base of the hole makes the figures spring back out! I love listening to the giggles as these four little figures learn to fly!

The Pop Up Friends activity is certainly very popular amongst the children but perhaps it's worth considering why I value it so much as a teacher. Here are some of the benefits I observe:

  • Hand-eye coordination. For very young children it is quite a challenge just to place the figures into the holes. The cavity is only slightly larger than the peg itself, so precision is paramount! I enjoy watching babies and toddlers focusing their eye on the cavity and trying to communicate that goal to the hands. It takes some patience and persistence to get there, and I love seeing the look of satisfaction on a little one's face when they achieve their goal!
  • Fine motor control. Just as this activity helps the child to strengthen the link between the eyes and the hands, it also helps the hands themselves to become more dexterous. Each attempt at placing the figures in the cavity helps to refine the control of the child's hands and fingertips. This fine motor control is further refined by the attempts to make the figures pop-up using the spring mechanism. This is actually quite challenging, and requires just the right amount of pressure along with a quick reflex of moving the fingers away to avoid obstructing the 'pop'. So the activity holds multiple opportunities for fine motor refinement.
  • Cause and effect. Any parent or carer of infants and toddlers knows that 'cause and effect' is a favourite phenomenon of this age group! Little ones love to engage in experiments to test and observe this amazing effect in all sorts of situations. They will even design their own cause-and-effect activities if they need to (such as 'if I cause these keys to drop on the ground the effect is that mum will pick them up...and then I can do it again!"). The little child can discover that they can cause the figures to pop-up just by pressing down on the spring mechanism. This causes a great deal of delight and also inspires lots of repetition (see below!). 
  • Repetition. The four figures immediately offer a chance for repetition - doing the activity once involves placing four figures in the cavities and then making four figures pop back out. So even in a single 'round' there are multiple repetitions to help promote prolonged concentration and refinement of coordination. But I don't think I've ever seen a child use this only for a single attempt! Usually a child will repeat the experience time and time again, motivated to replace the figures each time because of the promise of the exciting 'pop' effect. 
  • Colour matching. The four coloured figures correspond to coloured strips on the wooden base. A child who has mastered the basic task of placing the figures can progress to trying to match the colours. When an adult is participating this can also lead to identifying the names of the colours - for instance the adult can ask "where is the red figure?" or "Let's put it in the red hole".  
  • Pincer grip. The dimensions of the colourful figures are very similar to a thick pencil. This means that each time the child collects and places a figure he or she is practising a pencil grasp!
  • Long lifespan. This game is suitable for infants but seems to be equally enjoyed by my four and five year olds! The younger children focus on building their hand-eye coordination, while the older ones start to attempt more advanced 'aiming' with the spring mechanism. I have even observed two four-year-old boys setting up a "goal" (using our Floor Mat basket) to try to make the figures spring into it! So the fun doesn't have to end just because a child has mastered the basic purpose. 
  • Lots of fun! Perhaps most importantly - this activity seems to make children extremely happy! And as Dr Montessori herself said - "one test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child"!