All posts by rightfromthestart

Preserving Traditional Playground Games

wp_20160324_009Four years ago, all of our worldly goods were packed onto a container to make the journey to our new home in the US.  We wouldn’t see them again for 10 weeks.

The children packed a small case each with colouring pencils, paper, a few books and a cuddly toy. They were without any other toys for the whole of the summer.

This was an amazing opportunity to be creative with things around the house.  We decorated pistachio nut shells, made pictures with coffee filters, built a mud kitchen and hosted our own Children’s Olympics. In some ways I wished it could be like this all of the time and once the toys arrived I was selective about what I unpacked.

The most popular activity however, was learning playground games from my childhood. I explained how  I didn’t have equipment or toys in my school playground, when I was a child. We played our own games, which we would also play in the street at home.  I am very conscious that if we don’t pass games down to our children they may be lost forever and I’m glad that our lack of toys gave me an opportunity to resurrect them.

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There has been concern for some time that children no longer play outside. The good old Seattle or British weather doesn’t help. Couple this with the constant lure of TV and electronic media and it can be hard to get kids outdoors. Teaching them  a new game was a great way to get my children outdoors and they often ask me to teach them more. I really must make a point of doing that now that they are a little older.

One of my  play sessions for pre-schoolers involved teaching them simple games, like What’s the time Mr Wolf?, Please Mr Crocodile and the Bean Game.  I was surprised at how many were new to local families. After seeing how much my children enjoyed traditional games I was intrigued to see if any other parents remembered games from their childhood, most didn’t.

We played some of the more popular games; hopscotch on the driveway, skipping rhymes, What’s the time Mr Wolf but also some less well known games.

 

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Polo

Polo

This was my kids’ favourite.

  • One child is it and stands at one end of the garden (as kids we used to play it in the road and run to the other side of the street).
  • They call out a category to the other players on the other side of the garden such as animals or colours.
  • Each player quietly chooses something from that category and a nominated player calls them out – let’s say dog, pig and cow.
  • The player who is  it chooses one, e.g. ’dog’ and the player who is‘ dog ‘races them  across to the other side and back.
  • The first player back to their place shouts ‘polo’ and is it the next time.

 

Red Letter

  • One child is it and the other children stand at the opposite side of the playground.
  • The person who is it chooses a red letter and tells the players what it is.
  • She then calls out a letter – the players take one step for each time that letter occurs in their name.
  • The first player to get to the caller is  it the next time.
  • If the caller calls the red letter, she chases all the players back to the start, if one is caught then they are it.

 

Ice-cream

  • The person who is it stands with their back to the other players.
  • The other players stand on the opposite side of the garden and edge closer to the person who is it.
  • The person who is it turns around at intervals.
  • The players freeze when she turns around. If they are caught moving they go back to the start.
  • If anyone reaches the other side, they touch the person who is it, on the back and shout ice-cream, she then chases the players and if anyone is caught they are it.

 

Please Mr Crocodile

  • One player is the crocodile. The other players stand on the opposite side and recite

Please Mr Crocodile May we cross the water, to see the queen’s daughter, who fell in the water, 100 years ago. Which colour must we wear?

  • The crocodile chooses a colour and any children wearing that colour have to run to the other side without being caught by the crocodile.
  • If they are caught, they become the crocodile.

I’m sure that there are many other playground games that I have forgotten over time. Many of them will be unique to British childhood so perhaps I should write them in a book to preserve a piece of British heritage for my children.

 

pooh sticks
Pooh Sticks

If we can’t remember the rules to our childhood games then they are in danger of being lost forever. I’d love you to share any games you can remember and if there are any lunch supervisors out there perhaps you could make it a mission to bring traditional games back to the playground.

I have a list of games I’m going to teach to my kids this spring particularly mob, and elastics (we got the elastic from Ikea recently) now that they are old enough to play.

 

 

 

 

 

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Valentines for All or for Special Friends? Does it Matter?

American Valentine Traditions

When I first arrived here, I was shocked by the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated at school.  Parties and giving little bits of pointless paper to every child in the class seemed completely meaningless to me.

When I was a child we all made a card at school.  Some took it home, some gave it anonymously to someone they ‘fancied’ and some gave it to their best friend. Most of the class didn’t get a Valentine, usually one boy and one girl received loads, it didn’t really matter, that’s life.

I do however understand the policy of all or none when giving out these odd tiny Valentines they have here. Nobody wants to be the child who receives nothing.  I buy into it because the children want to give, but they ask all kinds of questions.

  • Why do I have to give something to that person if I don’t really like them?
  • Can I give something more special to my best friend or will everyone else think it is unfair?
  • It takes too long to write cards for everyone can’t I just send a few?
  • Why should I give something to someone if they are horrible to me?

The answer to most of these questions is ‘because school says’, which is always the worst kind of answer in my opinion.

I think there is a better way. Can we spend time talking with children, discussing the issues and then let them decide for themselves?

  • What would it be like if we could choose who to give Valentine’s to?
  • Could we make a few really special Valentine’s with thoughtful messages instead of a piece of paper with a name on?
  • How about if all Valentine’s were anonymous – if we gave a Valentine to the people we care about but we don’t tell them who gave it?
  • Would that make it more about seeing a smile on someone’s face rather than how great  a gift we could give?
  •   How does it feel to be the only child without a Valentine?  Think about those people, perhaps you would like to send them one so that they wouldn’t feel left out? (My daughter said she was going to send a card to the girl in her class from learning centre, even though she didn’t know her, because she thought otherwise she might not get any.) 
  • Do you feel that you should send a card to all the class to make it fair?  If you do then go ahead.
  • If we only send to some people what message are we sending? Are we saying you are the most special people in my life or I don’t like these other people?

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and friendship. We don’t care about all people equally and that is perfectly normal. Giving to all in my opinion makes it thoughtless.  Rather than celebrating how we care for everyone, it degenerates into an automatic exercise that is expected of us.  We send cards without sentiment because we have to, not because we care about those people. We can’t write special messages to our friends because that wouldn’t be equitable and to write a long message to the whole class would take too long.

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I like the exercises where the children have to think of one good thing to say about each person in the class but even then I have had my child in tears because there are some children she doesn’t really know and can’t think of anything good to say.  Even at that level then, it is false sentiment.

I wonder how much this is thought about at school before they decide on an all or nothing policy as a matter of fairness? Is it really fair and can’t we trust our children to show kindness and know right from wrong without imposing our own ideas on them?

I wonder what the children would say if we had these discussions? I think we might be surprised.

How to Stop Using Pre-planned Topics and Plan from Children’s Interests.

Many teachers (myself included in the past) base their planning on weekly, monthly or termly topics.  Using topics helps us to come up with ideas, focus the children’s learning, ensure we cover all areas of development and makes planning easier because we can re-use plans from previous years.  All of this sounds attractive but there are downsides too.

  • Topics can lead to a narrow focus of learning that isn’t necessarily relevant to the children.
  • Topics may have to be changed before the children have explored all the concepts adequately.
  • Topics are sometimes repeated in the same way, year after year without any consideration for the different dynamics or interests of the group.
  • Pre-planned topics come from the teachers ideas and don’t  take the children’s’ thoughts views and questions into account.
  • If we follow a topic, we may miss a rich learning opportunity  because it doesn’t fit in with our theme or topic.

There are ways we can improve this while still maintaining topics and themes.

  • Don’t plan topics too far ahead. Rather than having firm topics set for the year, review them on a monthly or weekly basis and adjust them in line with the children’s interests.
  • Choose topics that are very open-ended and can encompass many aspects of learning for example, water, questions, stories or movement. The book  First Hand Experiences: What Matters to Children has some great suggestions for selecting topics from the real world.

Some settings decide to follow a child centred or emergent curriculum where children are co-constructors in the learning process. Projects are not pre-determined by the teacher but instead they are chosen based on the children’s interests.

Planning from the children’s interests can be difficult to begin with if you are used to following a topic based approach.  Below are some common questions and misconceptions.

  • My children don’t know what they want  to do next when I ask them? How do I plan for them?

A common misunderstanding is that teachers should ask children what they want to. It is more important to think about what might be driving the children’s learning and using those insights to inform our planning.  By all means engage the children in conversations about their interests but asking them directly may not yield useful answers. Rather than asking children what they would like to do, set up open-ended activities and observe children in their play.  Watch for patterns or common recurring themes, watch for resources they return to time and again. When interacting with children offer suggestions that might extend their play e.g. I have something that might work really well for that or I wonder what would happen if we tried this?

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  • If I plan at the end of one week to start something new next week how will I have time to get the resources ready?

The planning should be a natural progression of what was already occurring, rather than a completely new experience.  If the children were enjoying mixing paint colours, give them a new media to explore like a different type of paint, pastels or dough. Provide the children with a challenge e.g how many shades of green can you make or can you match up these shades?  Add one small item to their play or ask a different question .  There may be times when a completely new interest emerges. Involve the children in the planning process – what do we have that you could use for that? How could we find out more about that?

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  • How on earth can I record my planning to show Ofsted / Head teacher or an inspecting body?

This is probably the most common question.  When you are required to record planning how can you make in the moment planning visible?

  1. Have a clear long-term plan. This would outline all of the things that you intend to achieve in your setting and your core philosophy.  Also include how you will organise your environment and the strategies you will use to support learning.  This will be a core document and can be referred to if you are asked how you fulfill particular criteria.  Collate the things that happen everyday like snack times, transitions, group reflections  and explain how each of these items map to the standards you are following. 

This example was mapped to the 2008 EYFS.

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2. Medium term planning will use observations to create an overview plan of opportunities for exploring projects and interconnecting themes, based upon the children’s’ genuine interests or explorations.  A medium plan might include a list of resources to be collected or a description of some of the key materials within different areas.  You may also want to highlight key skills to be developed, for example to use a variety of ways to represent pattern or to co-operate and listen to others ( these will likely come from your observations).  These might fit with a project you are following.  Daily/weekly schedules could also form a part of your medium term plans and stories or songs you plan to share.

3. Short term planning This is a joint record of what you observe the children doing, their fascinations, questions they are  asking, clear patterns of play , an analysis of this data (what learning is taking place? can you identify schemas?) and then using this analysis to determine what will happen next.  Often the term next steps will be used.  I prefer to break this down into more useful questions –

  • How might you encourage those interests further?  
  • How could you encourage their interest to be more complex? 
  • How could you bring that interest into other areas of learning/activities?

These plans could be daily or weekly records of what you will provide in the environment and the adults role within it. Keep them simple and flexible so they can be changed and adapted easily.

Think about what you are recording – only record information that is useful for future planning – don’t record for the sake of it.

Examples

Planning for children's interests

planning for children's interests

Use any format that works for you.

  • All my children have different interests, how do I plan for all of them?

Sometimes there will be clear group interests but often, children will show an interest in different things.  For individuals, watch for patterns in play –

  • are children following a particular schema?
  • how do they play,?
  • what questions are they asking and can these be incorporated into the future planning for the whole group?

  Some weeks you may be planning for a particular group of children or developmental milestones for a few individual children.  Some children will not display a clear fascination every week. Talking as a team and documenting learning will help you to reflect on learning and decide on next steps.  Don’t overcomplicate things.  If there isn’t a clear interest put out exciting materials, follow something seasonal, share an interesting book, observe children in free play or talk to parents to develop ideas.

  • My children love Pirates/Fairies/Star Wars what ideas do you have to support those themes?

Don’t assume that the idea the children appear to be interested in is necessarily their fascination.  Think deeper – what aspect of cars do the children love, is it the motion, is it speed, is it building roads and tracks or do they like them to be transported from one place or another?  Watch and listen over a period of time before organising complex and sometimes expensive resources to support a theme.

  • If I always plan from interests how can I make sure that children are challenged to try new things and cover all areas of the curriculum?

Use the children’s interests to channel them into other activities by linking resources, moving them into different areas or using slowly adding new elements to their existing play. Use small group times to focus on specific skills that children may not choose to demonstrate at other times.

What about small group time?

For small group time the teacher may decide on an area of focus e.g number, rhyme or cutting with scissors. Through recording the children’s progress the next session can be planned according to the children’s skills, needs, questions or next stage of development.  This probably won’t be the same for every child. 

Turning Planning on its Head

When I was a student teacher we were taught to plan by asking the following questions:-

  • What will I teach?
  • Why will I teach it?
  • How will I teach it?
  • What resources will I need?
  • What will I do next?

For child led, in the moment planning, turn these questions on their head.

ALWAYS START WITH THE CHILD

  • What are the children learning and what do they  already know?
  • Why are the children learning? (interests and fascinations)
  • How are the children learning?
  • Which resources/materials do they find  motivating?
  • What is my role as a teacher in extending this learning? What resources can I provide? How should I present them? How could I present this learning in a different context? What questions could I develop further?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when planning in this way is that the teachers role is not to let children do as they wish.  The teachers role is to reflect on how the children learn, to interact with the children and to work as part of a team that shares ideas for the benefit of the children.

I like the analogy of throwing a ball used by Filippini in The Hundred Languages of Children,

We must be able to catch the ball that the children throw us, and toss it back to them in a way that makes the children want to continue the game with us, developing perhaps other games as we go along.

As I see it, the children throw us an idea, we think about it and toss it back to them from a new angle or in a more exciting way and this back and forth continues as we learn and develop together.

Painting Rain

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This month we were asked to create something for square one art using the theme of water. Square one art is an annual fundraiser to create an art project that prints onto mugs, key rings etc. Since it rains a lot here, I decided it would be apt to create a rain themed project.

For square one, I always try to make something that is unique to each child and that parents will think is cute enough to persuade them to place an order. With this is mind, I decided to ask the children to draw a picture of themselves under an umbrella.  The rain would be painted on top of the picture but the area under the umbrella would remain without any rain by marking it off with masking tape.

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I collected images of rain paintings to show the children different ways of painting rain. Some showed rain dripping, others had splashes or fine sprays and some just had a mix of crazy colours in streaks.

I decided to practice rain painting techniques with kindergarten before creating the finished product.  When I told my daughter we were painting rain she asked, “But how can you paint rain because rain doesn’t really have a colour? ”

I started the lesson by showing the children pictures of rain paintings. We talked about some of the techniques and I demonstrated how to make paint drip down the page using a paintbrush and using a pipette/dropper.  I also showed them how to flick the paintbrush to make a fine mist that looked like a rain shower.

Each child had the following materials:

  • watercolour paper
  • a pallet with tempura paint colours
  • a pot of water
  • a paintbrush
  • a dropper

The children went away to practice.  They tested different ways to make the paint drip.  Some made their paintbrush really wet and then dipped it into the palate.

 

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Some painted a splodge of colour at the top of their paper and then used the dropper to add water to make it drip.

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Some found it worked well if they painted splodges all over the paper and then added water with the dropper.

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Some used a combination of techniques.

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and some did completely their own thing.

When I came to do the project with 2nd Grade, we didn’t have practice time. I decided to water down the tempura paint in advance and give each table pots to share.

The 2nd graders started by drawing a picture of themselves under an umbrella. I marked out a border so that the drawings wouldn’t be chopped off. I think with hindsight I would also have drawn a square within which the children should fit their pictures as some of them were a bit small.  We then taped over the pictures with masking tape and then dripped  and splattered paint to make rain. The 2nd graders loved the drippy part as much as the kindergartners and some were a little over zealous.

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The next day when I came back to remove the tape from the dry paintings some of them needed to be fixed because the colours from their drawings had bled.

img_0776 Some I was able to fix myself by re-colouring them but some needed to be painted over with white acrylic and the children coloured them in again or in some instances re-drew the whole picture.

The kindergartners had already drawn their pictures on a small piece of paper. When I prepared their project, I decided to measure the pictures and then place masking tape over an area of the same size.  We could then create the rain picture, remove the masking tape when dry and stick on the picture, hopefully avoiding any colour bleeding.

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I showed the kindergartners some of the 2nd grade pictures to show how they  had chosen to paint rain and how they might be improved.  We saw that the paintings needed to have paint all around the masking tape for them to clearly show them sheltering under the umbrella.  We also discovered that too much paint sometimes didn’t leave a perfectly clear area; although in some cases this left an interesting effect, like rain dripping from the umbrella.

I watered down the paints and showed the children how to put the paint at the top of the paper and let it drip. It was important that they made their brushes really wet before dipping them in the paint as this helped it to drip.  Having experimented with painting rain beforehand, the children had clear ideas of how they would like their rain to look. I added a yellow paint to the kindergartners colour choices, the 2nd graders had shades of red, blue and purple.  Some children mixed a green shade.

 

children's rain painting
I love this one. It looks like a big gloomy rain cloud above his head.

 

The 2nd grade rain pictures were more experimental as the children explored the materials, whereas the practice session enabled the kindergartners to be more precise and have a clearer picture of the finished product.   Each child found their own way to depict rain. Some used all the colours,

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Some chose their own colour scheme,

Some used individual dots dripping down,

others spread paint along the top and let it drip.

Some added lots of paint splatters by flicking the brush,

Others used a lot of water to make softer colours and spread them with the brush, creating the effect of rain blowing.

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One child wanted to spread paint all over the picture and made the rain by running her finger through it to make lines.

rain painting

The kindergarten pictures were much brighter than the 2nd grade ones. My personal favourite is this one. I love the big splashes of colour in a heavy downpour, in contrast to the person walking in safety under his umbrella.

kids umbrella painting

The colour choices, use of droppers and the volumes of paint make the 2nd grade pictures darker and more intense like that of a grey, winters day with heavy rain.

dark rain picture

 

The Kindergartners are more akin to spring showers.

rain painting

Perhaps a cool project would be to test out different techniques and colours to make a display of rain through the seasons.

I’m always frustrated by the infrequency of my art sessions. I can already see the progression and probing questions that might make this into an extended project.

  • How does the use of different colours change the way we see the rain?
  • What colours would you choose for winter rain, tropical rain or a spring rain shower? Test out your ideas.
  • Does the texture of the paint and how much water we add change the type of rain we paint?
  • How does the size of the brush alter the painting.
  • Try other ways of painting rain, use sponges, droppers/pippettes, cotton balls and what else can you suggest.
  • Make a giant collaborative painting of rain – what can you drop onto paper to make a splash?
  • How can we paint a heavy rainstorm?
  • What would happen if we tried a different type of paint?
  • Do you like rain? What colours would you use to show that you didn’t like rain? What colours would you use to show rain is fun?
  • Think about all the different types of rain you have in your area, are they the same or different? How would you paint each type to show the differences?
  • Make a list of  rain adjectives or similes under the title ‘Rain is'(particularly after spending time in the rain) – choose one and paint a picture to illustrate the description.
  • Look in a large puddle. What do you see? Can you try to draw/paint it?

And that’s just the art – the possibilities for other areas of learning is endless.  Perhaps you’d like to use my pictures as a springboard for an extended rain project? I’d love to see the results if you do.

How to Survive a Road Trip from Seattle to Yellowstone with Three Kids, a Dog and a Tent.

 

I love the idea of a road trip. It isn’t something people do that often in the UK, since it is such a small country and the main roads are really congested. With so many places here to explore and big open roads, I can’t wait to get out and explore. Perhaps it is a little unrealistic to expect it to be plain sailing with a three kids and a dog in tow, but I’m always eager for a challenge.  A few years ago we took a road trip to Curlew lake for our first family camping holiday, which was a really successful trip. Why not take the plunge and go for the long haul?

Close to 700 miles seems an awfully long way to drive so we broke up the journey with a camping trip with friends in Eastern Washington and an overnight stay in Missoula.

Packing

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We have camping packing down to a fine art. We decided not to take the kayak on this trip but everything else in the picture was loaded into the Suburban.  Our tent is an Alaknak with an added vestibule. It has plenty of room for our family of five to walk around inside and is quick and easy to put up. We sleep on camping cots and pack a camping kitchen but to be honest on this trip we didn’t use it a lot. The best time to see wildlife is early morning and evening so we rarely got back to the campsite before it was dark.  I was told it was cold at night so packed plenty of warm clothes. We didn’t need many warm weather clothes at Yellowstone. Yellowstone is mountainous territory so has considerably cooler temperatures than surrounding regions, we mostly wore long trousers and layers.

On the Road

After our weekend camping we headed through Eastern Washington( I saw tumbleweed for the first time) towards Spokane where we took a lunch break. We then crossed the State line into Idaho.  To keep ourselves amused, we accepted a friend’s challenge to spot  licence plates from different states. This was the perfect challenge for a trip like this. Yellowstone is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, so there were plenty to find. We managed to find 45 of the 50 states by the end of our trip.

We then crossed another state line into Montana. There were lots of roads like this,

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They don’t call it the blue sky state for nothing.

Overnight Stop

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For our overnight stop we had pre-booked a cabin at KOA Missoula. I was really impressed with how neat and clean this KOA was. There were floral displays everywhere and a man who ventured out every morning to water and feed them.  The staff were really friendly and the shop well stocked.  Ice cream  was served in the evening (much to the delight of the girls) and breakfast in the morning. The girls enjoyed a dip in the pool before it got too dark.

Travelling to West Yellowstone

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The next leg of the journey, through Montana was really beautiful.  We stopped for lunch along the way and then another rest break (conveniently at a consignment/antique store) made the journey around six hours. Arriving at West Yellowstone KOA, the girls headed off to the indoor pool while Dad put up the tent.

Tips for Camping in Yellowstone

 

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Tips for Camping at Yellowstone

  • Our first concern regarding camping was that we were in grizzly bear country. The owners at the campsite assured us that they rarely see any wildlife on site except for foxes, but to keep any food locked in the car to be safe.  We also had a bear proof food container which was almost human proof too.
  • Even in the height of the summer, Yellowstone gets pretty cold at night often reaching below 0 degrees centigrade.  My advice would be to get good quality winter grade sleeping bags, lots of layers and hats for night-time.  We also bought a camping gas heater and with this on we were warm enough.  If you have very young children or are not seasoned campers I would recommend staying in a cabin or RV. Campfires are permitted at West Yellowstone KOA.
  • During the daytime, campsites are pretty quiet as all the guests are out exploring.  The pool and hot tub was very busy in the evenings when people returned.  We chose to stay at the campsite and use the facilities in the morning when it was quiet and head out after lunch. This gave us plenty of time to drive to the best places to view wildlife in the evenings.

How Easy is a Yellowstone Trip with a Dog?

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  • Dogs are permitted in Yellowstone but there are a number of restrictions.  Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails or boardwalks or on the roadside.
  • We were fortunate to have cooler, cloudy days so that we could leave the dog in the car when visiting big attractions like Old Faithful.  On warmer days we took the trails and boardwalks in shifts. I went with the younger children and then my husband and my eldest went when we got back.
  • Yellowstone is huge and a lot of the sites you can see from the road, particularly the wildlife.  I think we would probably had a different experience if we had used the trails more but it is perfectly reasonable to take a dog and do the trip in the car.

The Sights of Yellowstone

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Day 1. Artists Paintpots – We underestimated quite how big Yellowstone is and how much there is to see. On the first day we headed to artists paintpots, passing a few smaller sights on the way. We took it in turns to walk the trail and boardwalks around the hydrothermal basin, so we could leave the dog in the car. Artist paintpots is full of coloured pools and mudpots that bubble like a witches cauldron, perfect for making up fantasy stories for little ones. Yellowstone wildlife greeted us for the first time in the guise of a chipmunk and a coyote walking out of the woods past the car.

For the rest of our stay we decided we should plan the things we really wanted to see and work out a manageable route. This was our list and route.

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Day 2-Old Faithful – The times that Old Faithful is likely to erupt can be found on an app. The signal in the park is very poor, so once you get in you may find that it doesn’t work but the times can also be found in the shop. Next to Old Faithful is a display of photography and old cameras.  This was fun to visit.  At the shop we picked up Yellowstone Jack – a very cute friend to carry around and include in your pictures.  He can then be tagged on Instagram to win prizes.  The girls thought this was great fun. If geysers are your thing, there is a whole trail of different geysers around old faithful, but by this point we were a bit geysered out.

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Day 3Wildlife spotting   Our main destination for day 3 was the Hayden Valley, a good place to spot wildlife. Along the way we stopped to see an Elk, walking along the edge of the river. At the Old Faithful gift shop we bought a book,”Who Pooped in the Park”.  The book is a children’s guide to animal tracks and scat that might be found in the park. The girls were fascinated and walked around the meadow trying to identify all the different types of poop.

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We also stopped to admire many of the views and arrived at the valley at dusk.  We saw a whole herd of Bison, some walk along the road but mostly you watch them coming out to graze as daylight falls.

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We spotted a group of people looking out over the valley, so stopped to see what they could see.  They had set up very powerful scopes and showed us a pack of wolves, too far in the distance for the naked eye to see. We were hoping to see a bear but unfortunately not this time although we were assured there was one travelling down the hill.

Day 4-  Waterfalls .Our  first destination was  Canyon Village, where we stopped at the store before heading to view the Lower Falls.  The view was spectacular and you could clearly see the yellow rocks that give Yellowstone its name. Even the little ones were absorbed in a few moments of quiet contemplation.

img_0838-2 The girls amused themselves by climbing the rocks, travelling in different ways around a tree.

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Our next destination was the Lower Falls, a short distance away. We were a little cautious when we saw  bear warning signs but the girls soon found a tree trunk to amuse them.

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There is a longer walkway that takes you above the falls but it was a little late in the day to try that.   When we left it was beginning to get dark.  We saw a sign for Artist’s Point but debated whether it was too late to stop.  We decided to take a quick look and I’m so glad we did.  This was the biggest surprise of the trip, the view was so stunning that it almost didn’t seem real. The whole trip was memorable and full of new experiences but I think this is the view that will remain imprinted in my memory forever. It left me lost for words. I can clearly imagine sitting there for hours writing or painting, it certainly lives up to its name.

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I could have stayed here forever. The little ones thought the view was amazing too and they studied the rock faces with the binoculars.img_0972-2

Day 4 Final Day – The Quest to Find more Wildlife

We decided to cut our stay at West Yellowstone KOA short and booked a cabin in Deer Lodge, Montana, for a slightly warmer night and to shorten the journey home the next day. After packing up and letting the girls choose homemade fudge from the campground store, we headed back to the park for the last time. After 3 days of spotting bison, the girls were really keen to find different wildlife. Our first discovery was a mountain goat sitting in a ditch along the side of the road.

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We climbed the high ground to reach the Loire Valley.  The views as we climbed were magnificent and we stopped many times to take photographs.

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We were really keen to see bears, and stopped to use the binoculars to see if the dots in the distance might be bears, but sadly just bison.

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Our intention had been to drive some of the valley to spot wildlife and then turn around to  exit the park.  After driving for some time we  realised we had driven the whole valley and reached an exit to the park in a little town called Silvergate, where we stopped for a drink at a small café.

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I overheard the owners saying that they had been visited by a bear on recent nights and often it could be seen on the hill in front of us foraging for wild strawberries. We sat staring at the hill, but didn’t see any wildlife.

The lady told us that in the park there was a dead Bison near the old ranger station and you could often see bears feasting on the carcass.

As we headed back into the park it began to rain and as we looked to the side we were greeted by the most magnificent full rainbow, one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

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The rain soon stopped and we carried on until we saw crowds of people along the side of the road.  The people pointed out the location of the Bison carcass and invited us to look through their scopes.  You could clearly see a pack of wolves feasting on the carcass. The girls thought this was really cool.

Finally we travelled to the exit of the park at Mammoth Springs. Mammoth village was a pleasant surprise. It houses the parks headquarters, hotel, lodges and a historic fort. Deer were grazing everywhere and I wish we’d had time to get out and explore.  This will definitely be our first destination if we return to Yellowstone.

mammoth-hot-springsPoints to consider when visiting Yellowstone with children

  • Expect a lot of driving.  The park is vast and getting to the main attractions often involves a few hours drive.
  • Pack snacks and drinks. There are places to eat at Old Faithful, Mammoth Springs,  Canyon, Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake but they may take a while to get too and are often busy. If you travel to see wildlife in the evening as we did it will be dark by the time you leave and more difficult to find food.  There are plenty of restrooms throughout the park.
  • A lot of the wildlife is far off in the distance –  the Loire Valley has lots of bison for  close up wildlife, or Mammoth Springs for deer.  If you want to see wildlife in the distance invest in a scope (a good pair of binoculars helps but you will only see wildlife clearly with a scope).
  • Go to a visitor centre on your first day, here you can pick up junior ranger activity booklet to keep the children occupied during their stay.  The stores also have some great books for nature-based activities, facts and figures and things to spot on your journey.

We stopped overnight at Deer Lodge KOA – a small KOA perfect for an overnight stop. Our final stop was Couer D’Alene in Idaho, where we stopped for lunch, a play in the park and a swim at the beach before heading home.

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Driving itinerary

Alta Lake State Park to Spokane – 3-4 hours (with a short stop at Grand Coulee dam)

Spokane to Missoula 3- 4 hours (overnight stop)

Missoula to West Yellowstone approx. 5 hours ( we also stopped twice;  for lunch at the Smiley Moose Deli in Bozeman and to browse antique shops between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, I can’t remember exactly where ).

Return

Mammoth Springs to Deer Lodge KOA approx. 3 hours (overnight stop).

Deer Lodge KOA to Couer D’Alene  3-4 hours.

Couer D’Alene to Eastside Seattle – 4-5 hours. (one short food stop).

The children on this trip were aged 12, 7 and 5. The trip was taken during late August.

Photographs by Michael Mcclary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing Outdoors in Winter

Rolling a snowballChildren always look forward to snow days but when it is cold but there isn’t any snow or only a smattering it isn’t always  as enticing.

My children love playing with ice – so we often leave water in their water table or allow rain water to collect in containers.  They are always keen to go outside on icy day to investigate how solid the ice is and I often find strange deposits of ice in my freezer.

On New Years Eve, it snowed.  In the morning there was a smattering of snow left on the ground and the girls headed out to make tiny snow men.  They took carrots from the fridge and borrowed our dogs Santa hat.

In the haze of a tired New Years Day afternoon, my youngest asked if we could go for a walk. We headed along the trail. She started to make a snowball, it was quite big and heavy .

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We continued along the trail and found a stick. The snowball was the perfect place to store it.

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The stick was perfect for knocking snow from the branches of trees that were just out of reach.

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We started to roll the snowball.

“Maybe we could roll it back to the house and use it to make a snowman”  my daughter suggested.

It seemed a good idea at the time but rolling an ice impacted snowball uphill and sometimes through patches without snow was the best new year’s exercise I’ve had in a long time.

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We had a base for a very dirty snowman.

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We added a middle.

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and a head.

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The finished result.

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Proof that you don’t need a lot of snow to have fun.

It has stayed cold all week, so the snow hasn’t melted and even the little snowmen are still there.  Last winter we visited the storm pond when it was icy.  the children tried to break the ice with sticks but it wasn’t thick enough to stand on.

This week for the first time it has been frozen enough to stand on and even get the sledges out.  Every day after school, the girls would meet their friends at the pond. Convinced that it was solid, I allowed my daughter to use her ice-skates on the pond. This was a first for all of us and very exciting.

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My youngest found a flat round piece of ice that looked like a puck – if the weather stays cold it would be fun to find sticks and play ice hockey or grab a broom and a big piece of ice for curling.  Much better than when we tried a Winter Olympics without any snow!

Why Mums and Dads Shouldn’t be Camera Shy.

A few months ago a Facebook post asking dads to take more pictures of their partners went viral.  The post is re-surfacing this week.   I recently wrote a piece about it that had a lot of favourable comments if you would like to check it out.

Messy Hair and No Make-Up, the One Reason we Should Stay in Front of the Camera Anyway.