Category Archives: play

The End of an Era – Goodbye Under 5’s

As an early education consultant, today is a momentous day. Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday and so, after 11 and a half years, this is the last day I will have children under 5.

A few years ago I looked forward to the day when my children would be growing up but today I am a little sad for all the things I will miss.

  1. Their chubby little faces and hands
striped hat

2. Watching them play

3. Cute drawings

child's drawing

4. Messy faces


5. Thumb suckers


6. Kisses, cuddles and holding hands

mother kissing baby

7. Having a constant companion


8. Learning to sing

9. Sleeping babies

Had enough now mum
Had enough now mum

10. Everything about this

Luckily, I have almost a year before she goes to school, so lots of time left as a pre-schooler. Happy Birthday little one and as your t shirt says ‘Never Grow Up’
never grow up

Hallowe’en Activities: Spells and Witches Brew

spells and witches brew

One of my favourite Hallowe’en activities as a teacher was creating spells and dancing around the cauldron. The children were transfixed by the iron cauldron that emerged from the kitchen and wondered if it might belong to a real witch. Dressed in witches hats and cloaks, we would imagine fantastical ingredients and create spells that would transform us into dragons, frogs or birds, that would make us fly, shrink or become invisible. It was a fun way to explore rhyme, share ideas and use our imaginations. We left ‘spell books’ in the mark making area and the home corner became a witches cave complete with potion bottles, spell books and jars of bugs, bats and frogs.

My girls love to make potions, so when I told them about it, they loved the idea but wanted to make a real witches brew.

tin foil wand


To start, we made wands from tin foil and chose witches hats and capes. Tin foil wands are simple to make if you have limited time; wrap tin foil around a pencil or simply roll and scrunch the foil into your desired shape.   If you are more ambitious, make wands from sticks by stripping off the bark, adding ribbons or painting them in special colours. I also like these Harry Potter wands from Red Ted Art

With wands in hand, they chose ingredients to go into the brew.  They didn’t think witches and wizards used shaving foam or cornflour to make a spell, so they chose gruesome alternatives.  Flour became giant’s dandruff, hair gel was ogre snot and fuzzy balls became warts.


The girls wrote down their ingredients so they could remember the order in which to add them .

quill writing

It didn’t matter that my youngest is only just beginning to write, she found her own way.

potion recipe

spell ingredients

Armed with spells, wands and witches hats, they made their way outside to the cauldron at our potion station. One by one, they tossed the ingredients into the cauldron, stirring it and modifying the quantities until they were satisfied. Then it was time for the spell.

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog

See the little jumpy frog

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wagon

Turn the frog into a dragon

We looked for the dragon but decided it was hiding amongst the clouds.

witches brew

The dance around the cauldron resumed with another spell.

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog

See the little jumpy frog

Wibbly wobbly wibbly wat

Turn my mum into a bat


Thanks girls, I’m not sure  I want to hang upside down from a tree.


witches brew
The potion remained in the cauldron for sometime and became the central point of their witch and wizarding school.

Suggested ingredients for a witches brew

  • Jello/jelly powder (makes it smell great)
  • mud
  • hair gel
  • shaving foam
  • flour
  • glitter
  • coffee grounds
  • leaves and petals
  • plastic bugs
  • coloured water
  • baking powder-

Further Ideas

  • Give the children collection bags and a card with ingredients for a spell, in picture and written format.  Ask the children to find the objects they need and place them in the bag.
  • Give the children a group of objects and ask them one at a time to add a specific number into the brew.
  • Chant around the caldron and make spells that require the children to make specific movements e.g make us slither like a snake, make us jump or stretch up tall.


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.


Outdoor Playspace in Your Own Backyard.

I recently hosted a party for friends and their families.  I was  surprised at the comments I received about my garden being an exciting place for children as I often think of it as small with too many trees and very little grass. I’ve worked hard to make it an enticing play space and most of the materials have incurred little or no cost. Here is a little tour.

Water Play

water wall on tree


The water wall is a recent project. The pipe came from an old vacuum cleaner and the other containers are empty bottles.  The containers are fastened to the tree using nails and pipe cleaners or threaded through markers for obstacle courses. The tyre at the base is to help my youngest daughter to reach.

water table

The good thing about the water table is that we can move it to different parts of the garden. It is perfect as a water source for the water wall . Other materials can also be used in the water table like the packing peanuts the children built sculptures with in the picture above.


Potions and Mud Pies

This is one of the children’s favourite activities and we have experimented with a variety of potion stations and mud kitchens. This is our current set up.  The plastic tub was purchased very cheaply after Hallowe’en and fits perfectly inside a tyre.  A split pallet in between is the workspace and another tyre with planks of wood laid over is where I set out materials for them to experiment with.  Test tubes, containers and sticks for mixing are conveniently located in storage nearby.

 potion station

I didn’t know these mud tables existed until one was offered on my local Buy Nothing Group. It would be easy to make something similar with a washing up bowl on a stand.

mud pie table
I have tried different positions for mud table and play kitchen and I am still unsure which works best. Currently they are close to each other but not in the same space so that the mud table, potion station and kitchen can be used together or separately.
Storage on the trees. The containers hold kitchen utensils for the kitchen and pans hang on hooks screwed into the tree.
storage on a tree


The children love this sandbox that I bought second-hand.  It is really sturdy and has held out really well.  The trees in our garden offer lots of shade so the girls can often be found making up imaginative games in the sandbox.
sand box

I use a storage net from Ikea to store the smaller sand toys, water toys and small balls and hang it from a tree branch.

storage outdoor toys

Mark Making

The girls are always making little paper signs to include in their play so I added a chalk board to the tree.  I placed it near to their play shop so that they could use it as a sign.

chalk board

The spool table  another space for mark making
kids play table from an electrical spool.

Imaginative Play

My eldest daughter created this puppet theatre using a sheet and a few sticks jammed between 2 trees. I nailed the sticks into the tree to stop them falling and added a board from a broken picture frame for them to write on. This could be painted with chalkboard paint but works just as well without.
puppet theatre

We were donated a large amount of fake flowers last Summer and we used them to create  a flower shop using an old plant stand and their play till. We could also use the puppet theatre with a table behind it. The girls use cars and waggons as the delivery vehicles.

The Flower Shop

The Fairy Garden

.fairy garden doorway

Quiet Time

Another Ikea purchase but something similar could also be made using a hula hoop and ribbon or tulle.  I hang it from a tree and put cushions and books inside.

quiet cornerWe also use a parasol for a shady spot. The girls recently created a face painting station beneath it.  The parasol came with our water table and doesn’t have a stand.  I used the stand for my Christmas tree.

A shady parasol

Sometimes they use my umbrella propped up on the porch for shade.

reading in the sun

Physical Play

Of all of the things we have in the garden, the one that is used the most by all of the children, is the trampoline. We have a Springfree trampoline that I was lucky enough to win in a competition. They are not the cheapest trampolines but based on amount of use and durability,  had  I bought the trampoline, it would have been a worthwhile investment. The trampoline is overshadowed by trees so the girls keep a broom next to it and brush off fallen leaves and seeds before getting on. They have created a number of games to play,  make up shows or practice gymnastics and often my eldest disappears to the trampoline for a bit of peace and quiet.


The balance beam is strung between 2 trees with paracord.

balance beam

We use tyres to make obstacle courses. Getting rain water out of them is also an interesting challenge for my youngest.

rolling tyres

I’ve made ribbon sticks before using sticks bought from a craft shop. These sticks  collected from the garden work just as well. The ribbon can be glued onto the sticks or simply tied. Ribbon sticks with multiple ribbons work well too.

ribbon sticks


Sound Making

Our music garden is housed between small trees. We made a jingle stick by nailing metal bottle tops to an old broom handle.

music garden

Observing Nature

My daughter made this nesting box and this year for the first time we were rewarded with a family of nesting sparrows.  You could hear the hungry little chicks as their parents flew close to them and we spent a lot of time lying in the hammock watching them going in and out of the bird house.

nesting sparrows

Other regular visitors are squirrels, hummingbirds and an occasional racoon.

hummingbird feeding


I am always interested in gathering new ideas for outdoor play spaces.  If you are interested too, follow my Pinterest boards:  Outdoor Play, Children’s Garden Inspiration and Forest School.

Making a Play Table from an Electrical Spool

I find play value in everything.  This isn’t always an admirable quality.  My house overflows with strange objects and if anyone offers random things for free, I perk up like an eager child in class.   I’m certain it’s an occupational hazard and I’m not alone.

My latest acquisition was an electrical spool. Pictures can be deceptive and I hadn’t anticipated something quite as big, when I accepted it.  When my husband discovered this eyesore in the garden, I sensed he didn’t share my enthusiasm for my latest scrap heap challenge.

Electrical spool

Knowing it will be useful, doesn’t always equate to having  a finished product in mind.  Sometimes, I prefer to leave things as  loose parts  , so the children can find their own use for them but the weight of the spool prohibited them from moving it. I positioned it in front of the potion mixing station,  hoping it would be integrated into potion play but the children had other plans.

potion station I left  pavement chalk near the spool and they decorated the top in bright colours. We don’t have many suitable surfaces for chalking in the back garden, so I sprayed the top of the spool with blackboard paint.  I added hardware hooks around the edge for storage.  Choosing what to hang from the hooks is a work in progress. We currently have a basket holding bug catchers and magnifiers and another containing small world fairies, a cloth for wiping the blackboard, a cowbell and a crystal.

hanging baskets

The girls helped to paint the sides and my eldest painted windows and a door for the fairies.
painting an electrical spool

The bottom was decorated with old cd’s that we cut up and mounted with no more nails to make a rainbow mosaic
kids play table from an electrical spool.

I am eager to see how the children will use the new addition. I’ll keep you posted.

Other  ideas for spools can be found on my Reclaimed Materials  Pinterest board.

A Natural Playground

Young children have an immense curiosity about the natural world – the challenge is to stop them from losing it! Nurture that precious sense of wonder …….. A little empathy and enthusiasm is all you need to encourage children to appreciate wild places.

( Nature’s Playground)

There is even frost on the leaf
There is even frost on the leaf

Natural environments offer opportunities for adventure, which build confidence and instill bravery.

clifton slide
Take time to stop and explore. Rushing children along to the next thing, denies children the opportunity to make their own discoveries.
Using natural materials creatively helps us to appreciate them in new ways.

sand man
Wild places provide opportunities for quiet reflection.

musing over a blade of grass
musing over a blade of grass

Finding creatures in their natural environment encourages respect and reduces fear.

holding a frog Explore all types of weather. Rain, snow, wind and sunshine offer many different experiences.


I just want to lie in it
I just want to lie in it

reading in the tree


Allow children time to be immersed in their experiences and they will adapt natural materials, weaving them into their own imaginative worlds.

building a bonfire

Sometimes nature is cruel but when children come across these things in the wild, it promotes discussion and allows them to navigate difficult concepts in a meaningful way.

We found a dead birs in the garden. How did it get there? What shuld we do with it? We buried it under a tree.
We found a dead bird in the garden. How did it get there? What should we do with it? We buried it under a tree.

Being in a natural environment offers children opportunities to develop physical skills, through climbing , negotiating space, moving on different surfaces, reaching, touching and many more.

climbing tree
toddler on beach

It makes a big splash. Plop!
It makes a big splash. Plop!

Explore with all of your senses.

I'm going to have a shower. I'm getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.
I’m going to have a shower. I’m getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.

picking huckleberrieshands on a tree.


If I need a little encouragement to go outside I only need to look at the joy, concentration and contemplation on my children’s faces.

If you need further inspiration I recommend reading Nature’s Playground.

This is not a sponsored post the book mentioned is a personal recommendation only.