Category Archives: childhood

What Can We Do with All These Leaves?

This time of the year my garden is covered in a blanket of leaves.  The girls enjoy helping to rake them up but it is a never-ending task. When leaves are plentiful there are many activities that you could take advantage of. Here are a few of our favourites.

Leaf Man

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is illustrated with photocopies of leaves that have been arranged to make pictures.  We studied the way Ehlert uses coloured paper to create a layered background and  leaves and natural materials for the main body of the picture.

leaf bird rowena

We created our own pictures, starting with the background and adding leaves.  The leaves work better if they are pressed beforehand using a flower press or a heavy book.  Preserve them by laminating before the leaves dry out.

leaf man


Young children enjoy printing with leaves or painting on larger leaves. You could also try  painting with different types of leaves or dipping the stalks into paint to make marks.  Dried leaves crumbled into paint could also make an interesting texture.


Leaves are perfect for investigating colour mixing.  Give each child a leaf and ask them to try to mix the matching colour.  Younger children could paint the colour onto their leaf, print it on paper or paint around the outline, older children may like to try an observational painting of their leaf. Small square canvases or watercolour paper would make them extra special.

Leaf Rubbing

leaf rubbing

Sometimes young children  find this difficult so experiment with different colours and materials, like crayon, pencil, chalk, pastels or charcoal to decide which makes the most effective rubbing.

Leaf Mosaics, Patterns and Sculptures

Use leaves to create mosaic patterns and pictures. These could be individual or large group projects.

leaf face

The girls collected leaves on a camping trip and used them to thread onto sticks to create clothes for their stick people.

stick men


clay and leaves

Leaves  make interesting imprints in clay or they can be used  as a template to cut around. Clay leaves make great bowls, tiles or mobiles.


Sensory Play and Loose Parts

Collect leaves and put them in a sensory bin – investigate what happens to them over time. Add interesting objects hidden amongst the leaves or toy woodland animals and bugs for small world play.

If you have leaves outside how do the children use them as loose parts?

My children built a bonfire……


building a bonfireBuried their feet….

Oct 07 045

and added them to a potion.

potion making


Use them as a Filler

Last Halloween we made spiders to hang on the bushes outside.  The bodies were made from black bags stuffed full with leaves.  You could also use leaves to stuff scarecrows or guys for bonfire night.

Laminate them

laminated leaves

Over a period of time we collected interesting leaves and laminated them.  They looked great on the window and I challenged the girls to find out which trees they belonged to. I think they would also make an eye-catching mobile.    This year we are using the laminated leaves to see if they can find matching leaves in the neighbourhood. Laminated leaves could be used for all kind of things. We have used them as gift tags, to play matching pairs and they look great on the light table.

Leaf Rainbows

If you collect leaves gradually from the same tree or bush as they change colour you can make a leaf rainbow.

leaf rainbow

Before you  decide to rake all the leaves away, take a look at this face, I think it says it all.
autumn leaves

Finding the Perfect Preschool

muddy feet
A place where I can kick my shoes off and sink my toes in the mud.

Regular readers will remember that when I moved to the US, I struggled to find a preschool that I was entirely happy with.  I became so disillusioned that I decided to home preschool for a year. I’d lost faith of ever finding a preschool that valued play, independence and individuality above academics and rigid schedules until a friend told me of a preschool situated on a farm.  The preschool shared my belief that children learn best by doing things that have relevance in their lives through exploring, discovering and creating.

The school is so popular that it was a whole year before I had a chance to visit and see the school for myself. Children were busy pulling apart sunflower heads on the covered deck area whist others moved freely between the different activities indoors and outdoors. The teacher’s enthusiasm and passion for both the children and the setting was evident immediately and a bubble of excitement rose up within me. Our name was put on the waiting list for Sept 2015 but before Christmas a place became available in the co-op class so finally my youngest daughter had the chance to attend.  This was perfect as I also had the chance to be involved in this wonderful experience as a parent helper.

There was little doubt in my mind that this was the perfect preschool for my outdoor loving daughter. My expectations were high. I have been fortunate to teach at a highly acclaimed nursery in the UK and to visit the best preschools in my local authority as an advisory teacher. My experience of this school has surpassed all my expectations, I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect preschool for my daughter and I am only sad that my older daughters didn’t have a chance to go there. After she started, it just seemed to get better.  Regularly she would come home covered from head to toe in mud.  To some parents this would be horrific but to me it meant she had the freedom to be herself and have fun.
Being a part of the co-op class means that I get to help out once a month. This is the most exciting part for me as I get to join in.   I love the covered deck area which enables the children to play outdoors all year.  The children explore the whole farm for the 2nd part of the session, mud, water, animals, climbing and balancing. They are actively encouraged to take risks.

long paintbrushes.
As we arrive my daughter always chooses to paint . She liked this painting activity with paintbrushes placed on extended poles.
painting with feathers
Painting with feathers

What makes it so perfect?

1. Children are individuals

Small classes and the dedication and experience of the teacher, mean that she understands each child as an individual. My daughter who is uncomfortable speaking in a group or to unfamiliar adults is given time to think about what she wants to say, often being presented with a question at the start of a session and returning for a response later.  The child who hates to get his hands dirty is offered alternative tools and all the materials are open-ended so that children can use them as they see fit.

2.Children are competent

Children are always encouraged to try things for themselves, even when they ask for help they are first encouraged to try.  The children are trusted to use adult tools for woodworking and tinkering, peeling vegetables and cooking.  The teacher shows them how to use the tools safely and responsibly and thereon in they are trusted with them.  The children cook their own green eggs and ham on the tiny stove, they dig with metal shovels, they observe candle flames and peel carrots with a peeler.  Outside they are permitted to climb trees, feed the animals, hold guinea pigs and dig in the mud. The children are trusted to handle precious materials like birds eggs, chicks and nests.

This tinker table is always available. I regularly see children sawing pieces of wood placed in the clamps, hammering nails or taking apart electronics with a screwdriver. In the nursery I taught at we had a tool bench with real tools but we weren’t confident enough to leave it out all of the time. I have never seen a child have an accident or do anything dangerous with the tools.

climbing trees at preschool
My daughter loves to climb trees – I’m not sure I could find anywhere else where this would actively be encouraged.

3. The Preschool fosters understanding and respect for nature.

Many of the activities involve the natural rhythms of the farm, collecting the produce, understanding the cycles of the plants and learning about the animals and creatures they find.

After the first few sessions, my daughter told me they had unicorns at preschool but that it was too small to have grown a horn yet. A preschool with unicorns? Could it get anymore magical?

When the duck’s eggs hatched the children were allowed to hold them.
bug hunt
A bug hunt in the woods

4. Children’s thoughts and opinions are important

Each session the children are asked a question and the answers are recorded for parents to read on the wall outside.  The children listen to each others responses and discuss them with respect.  The children’s choices are respected as they are presented with a number of activities to choose from at leisure. They also have opportunities to choose the songs they will sing and are confident at asking for things.  The children are offered a snack, they choose when and if they would like to eat it .

5. They have fun.

wading in  the swamp
On the last day of school, parents are invited to join the children as they wade in the swamp.

horse riding on the last day of term
horse riding on the last day of term


Best of all, I feel that my daughter experiences something here that she would never have the chance to experience elsewhere.  I feel so fortunate to have found this preschool and that my daughter has one more year there.  When our time is over I will be so sad but I hope I can remember her teacher’s words of wisdom.


Why Is Pretend Play Important?




Great Pretenders recently asked if I could write a guest post for their blog.  I hadn’t come across them before but I was blown away by the wonderful play costumes that they create.  So of course I said yes .  Why Schools Need to Embrace Pretend Play? talks about my experience about a lack of pretend play in schools and why I think it is important that schools embrace it.

Why Do Young Children Draw Belly Buttons?


My youngest daughter (age 4) has recently started to draw detailed pictures. Mostly they are people.  She always starts with the eyes, adds a nose and mouth and then draws the circle for a head. After adding hair, she draws a torso, arms, legs, hands and feet.  The finishing touch is always a belly button. I found this fascinating. I don’t remember my younger children doing this for any sustained period of time, if at all.

In the earliest stages of children’s drawings of people, there is no torso. At this stage they often draw a navel (or circle) between the legs to depict that there is a torso there.  I’m not so familiar with children drawing belly buttons onto a torso however.

drawing by 4 yr old of man with belly button

Clearly, children under the age of 5 do not generally draw clothes on their people.   Seeing a navel on her sister’s drawing, immediately led my 6-year old to the assumption that it was naked. As they talked through the drawing together, the picture became one of a daddy and his little girl in the shower and anatomically correct details were added.  These didn’t survive into later drawings when her sister was not present but the placement of the belly button continued.

There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)
There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)

My intrigue grew, when a friend with a child of a similar age shared her daughter’s drawing of the family.  There was the belly button again.

I  decided to ask an expert and consulted Ursula Kolbe author of Rapunzel’s Supermarket:All about Young Children and Their Art for help. She suggested that children are fascinated by belly buttons and the drawing of a simple round shape is often intensely satisfying.  Perhaps then, it is the circles that she finds fascinating.  The drawing sequence always begins with eyes made up of a circle within a circle. Kolbe also suggested that children often copy the ideas of other children but since my little one is yet to attend preschool and only has her sisters to influence her this is unlikely in her case.

4 yr old drawing people

Often what children include or don’t include in their drawings is determined by the sequence in which they draw. “If a child draws a torso and then legs they sometimes won’t go back up to include a navel even if they intended to do so” says Kolbe.  I watched my daughter’s sequence with interest; she always drew the whole person and then went back to draw the navel as a finishing touch.


child's drawing of people

Sorting through boxes, I came across some old photographs of me as a child. In amongst them was this.

childs drawing of people


I must have been 4 or 5 years old when I drew this man, complete with belly button.  What a magnificent and timely discovery to help solve my conundrum.

Waiting for the Fish

dads gone fishing‘ Let’s just go camping for our Summer holiday this year’

Hold on a moment, did those words really come from my mouth?  Until my mid twenties I recoiled in horror at the thought of camping. After I left girl guide camp half way through the week because I hated it so much, I convinced myself that camping wasn’t for me. In truth, I didn’t hate it at all. A rumour that newcomers would be pushed in the cesspit if they didn’t pass initiation had worried me so much that I begged to go home.  After a few great camping trips as an adult, my views changed but I’d never have considered a camping trip for my main holiday.

A yearning to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, good weather and the children’s eagerness to go camping, convinced me it was a good idea.  An 8- hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, 3 young children, a dog and a heatwave; perhaps I had lost my mind?

Amazingly, the car journey was fine.  The first couple of hours were spent playing ‘would you rather….’ and guessing the names of characters from books or screen.  The rest of the journey we listened to cd’s of musicals and admired the view.

Our destination Curlew Lake State Park, chosen for it’s beauty, a place for the children to swim and for my husband and the girls to go fishing.  “Fishing!” I hear my 20- year-old self, with an irrational fear of fish exclaim, ” are you intent on sending me on the holiday from hell?”  Strangely none of those sentiments cross my mind as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of the campsite on the shore of the Lake.

curlew lake

Without a shop or a playground in sight, would the children be happy? For now the excitement of sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside and trying to catch their first fish fuelled their enthusiasm.

They were eager to go to the beach to swim. I was amazed that we were the only people on the beach.  The ground wasn’t soft like the lake at home but filled with slippery algae.  It didn’t put them off.  They used the algae and stones to create patterns on the ground and then set up their own foot spa, spreading the algae over their feet and washing it off.

curlew lake

The Foot Spa
The Foot Spa

I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me too. At that moment I knew why this holiday was no longer my biggest nightmare. The children were immersed in the moment, playing, discovering and sharing. In the distance, my husband was on the lake in the canoe and I was here in a rare moment of quiet. This wasn’t one of those family holidays where we rushed to cram in every little experience.   I’m sure that these unhurried moments are the ones they will remember most.

There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.


They found magic in the simple things.

Eeyore's bbq

Look I think Eeyore has been here

Maybe it’s his barbecue?

Really! Do you think so?

musing over a blade of grass
musing over a blade of grass
curlew lake
building sculptures

My eldest had big girl time with dad, paddling the canoe at sunrise. Nights weren’t the most restful we had ever had, with five people and a dog in the same tent but there are few things more peaceful than the middle of a lake in the early morning.

canoe on curlew lake

It didn’t take us long to understand the rhythms of nature; the time of day that the deer would wander down the hill to visit,  geese would fly across the lake, fish would start to bite or that darkness would fall.

Sometimes though, nature takes you by surprise.  One night, as we were snuggled in the porch of the tent telling stories, the poles holding the porch open, fell down. As if from nowhere,  the winds whipped up and tugged at the tent. Before we knew it dad and big sister had us zipped up inside while they battled against the wind and dust to secure the tent. I tried to drown out the rangers talk of trees blowing down, by telling the story of  ‘My Favourite Things’  from the ‘Sound of Music’ and singing.  Enraptured, the little ones soon forgot about the storm. They implored me to tell the story of ‘The Sound of Music’- the whole story, all 3 hours of it complete with every song. Thankfully the storm was short, the tent and trees survived and unlike my 11-year old self, I didn’t get the urge to run home.

One of the reasons for choosing Curlew Lake was the fishing, so in the early evenings we took the canoe out to explore the lake and try to catch fish.  The girls had only ever caught small fish and were eager to catch one they could eat. Our family trips in the canoe lacked the quiet and patience needed to catch anything of note.  However, on the last day their wish came true. Our neighbouring campers, who visit every year to fish, offered to take us out in their boat and help the girls to catch trout.  The fish came one after the other.

Here we go
Here we go
My first fish
My first fish

Then the fish got bigger

They were so proud of their catch.

After the holiday, fishing has become a regular pastime. When dad goes out on his own, the girls greet him eagerly to see if he has caught anything we can eat. Other times, we all go to the lake together and mix up fishing with swimming and playing.  On a recent trip, we explored the river bank , a place we probably would never have visited if it weren’t for fishing .  Watching the girls excitement at their discoveries and creating with sticks and stones was magical. We returned home with a pile of sticks and ideas for making things with them.  Moments like this are important for all of us. Resting our minds through daydreaming and play increases productivity and creativity says Daniel Levitin author of ‘The Organized Mind’. Without time for spontaneity, children lack the mental space to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.

It makes a big splash. Plop!
It makes a big splash. Plop!
Drawing with sticks on rocks
Drawing with sticks on rocks
building a xylophone
building a xylophone
Let's see how many 'Y' sticks we can find.
Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.
Look what it can do.
Look what it can do.

As I looked out across the river at the jumping fish, the blue skies and the green trees, I could picture an old couple; man fishing, wife painting the landscape or writing in a notebook.  I suppose fishing isn’t so bad after all.  I’m happy to spend many more years waiting for the fish.

Fairy Houses in the Woods.

fairy houseLook I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!

Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.

Fairy Hogwarts
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
This one had a swing made from blades of grass and a piece of bark.
This was my favourite.
This was my favourite.

fairy bathroom
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
fairy steps
Maybe I could build some steps to go up to this room.

Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other.  We searched for the right sized piece of wood.

That's perfect.
That’s perfect.

They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.

furniturebuilding a fairy house

fairy house 3

They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?

Pirate Play

pirate play
The crocodiles don’t like this colour so they won’t pull it into the swamp.

In the hot sunshine the girls don’t really need a lot of encouragement to play with water.  When I suggested we set up their pirate ship in the garden and make a plank that they could jump from into the paddling pool, they thought it was a great idea.

To make it truly authentic, we made pirate swords so they could push each other off the plank in true pirate fashion. They coloured them with chubbie paint markers  before adding jewels.

making pirate swords pirate sword

We emptied the paddling pool to clean it, leaving water on the lawn.  The girls decided that this should be a swamp where crocodiles lived.  They collected branches to lay across it so that they could cross the swamp.

branches to cover a swamp
Leaves are the only thing that works to help us cross the swamp, everything else sinks.


They then went on the lookout for something to use as a plank and decided on a large branch that had been pruned from our maple.

I had been changing the words to songs to fit a pirate themed music class. ‘If you’re a pirate and you know it say aaarh’, ‘1 little, 2 little, 3 little pirates’ and , ‘there were 10 in the ship and the pirate said walk the plank’.  The girls made up songs of their own, counting down as the pirates walked the plank one-by-one.

walking the plank

Next they set out on a pirate treasure hunt. One of the girls hid the treasure and made an X from sticks to mark where it was. My eldest made a map and clues for the girls to follow.

We should find a green ball here.
We should find a green ball here.
Now we need to go this way towards the den.
Now we need to go this way towards the den.
Open the chest with the magic key. Wow, look at the treasure!
Open the chest with the magic key. Wow, look at the treasure!

More Pirate Play Ideas

Winter Pirates


Pirate Phonics


Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. Some of the art materials were gifted for trial purposes.