Category Archives: active learning

A Step by Step Guide to Making Ice Ornaments

It isn’t often we get a cold spell long enough to make ice ornaments, but with freezing temperatures set to last, we made a few batches to hang on our bushes. They look really beautiful, but also provide lots of opportunity to learn about ice, freezing and melting. A few years ago we made some and shared our learning story, as we watched them melt and freeze.

How to Make an Ice Ornament

You will need

  • Baking trays
  • Ribbon or string
  • Food colouring (optional)

Step 1.

valentine ice ornaments

Choose a baking /cup cake tray and fill each hole with cold water.

Step 2

Add a drop of food colouring – mix or leave to mix itself which can leave a marbled effect.

Step 3

ice ornaments

Snip pieces of ribbon or string and submerge one end in the water, making sure the other end is free. You could loop the string but I prefer to leave it as it makes it easier to tie to larger branches. I usually do this part outside to avoid spilling when you move them to freeze.

Step 4

Leave outside overnight to freeze (or put the tray in your freezer).

Step 5

ice ornaments

Hang on a bush or tree. If there is snow on the ground the food colouring will drip onto the snow as they melt. If there are prolonged freezing temperatures the ornaments will melt slightly and form icicles as they re-freeze.

I wasn’t sure how easily the hearts come out of the tins but they came out without any trouble. If they need a little help, bring them inside for a few minutes or run some warm water on the base of the tin. Alternatively, you could use a silicone mould.

The second batch also included owls and bears. We made half of the owls clear, to see how they would look without colour, but kept the colour in the bears, because my daughter thought they would look like gummy bears.

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Try These Ideas for Summer Fun with Bubbles

We have had fun with bubble painting in previous summers, but usually use straws. To try something a little different, we made bubble blowers using plastic bottles and netting.

How to make a bubble blower

  1. Cut the bottom off a plastic bottle
  2. Tape on mesh or netting,
  3. We used 3 different types to investigate how the bubbles would differ.
  •            Christmas tree netting with large holes
  •            Netting from a bag of oranges
  •            Tulle
  •           We made 3 with tulle, 1 layer,  2 layers and 3 layers

 

For the paint, we mixed bubble mixture with a table-spoon of powder paint.

We tested the blowers to see which one we liked the best.

  • The Christmas netting made three or 4 large bubbles.
  • The orange netting made lots of clear bubbles
  • The tulle made a foamy snake of bubbles and the more layers there were, the better the effect.

 

 

 

The best paint effects were made if we blew the bubbles away as soon as they hit the paper, otherwise they melted into a splodge and you couldn’t see the bubble shape.

We made another discovery. A plastic straw makes a perfect bubble wand.

 

I wonder what else we will discover about bubbles over the summer?

IdeaS for  Summer Bubble fun (1)

Why Ice is the Perfect Loose Part

Why ice is the perfect loose part

My children are fascinated by ice. I’ve added loose parts to ice before, but never considered that ice could in itself be a loose part.

When the cold weather comes, the first thing my kids do is to check if their water table has frozen and any other containers they have left around the garden.

ice
the cauldron has loads of ice in, not like yesterday. How can we break it?

The next thing they like to do is to go to the storm pond near their friends house to see if it has frozen.

Last year it froze solid for the first time. The kids loved throwing sticks to try to break it and even ice skated on it.

ice skating on the pond

When the ice wasn’t solid enough to walk on, it was just as fascinating.

The children broke off the surface, ice sheets very carefully and had competitions to see who could break the largest piece.

carrying a sheet of ice

My youngest insisted on carrying pieces home, even though her fingers were numb and left them on the doorstep to see how long they would remain frozen.

When the pieces broke, they used them to make these pictures.

Ice is a perfect loose part. It

  • Encourages expoloration
  • Is a full sensory experience
  • Can be any shape or size
  • Can be easily found
  • Presents challenges as it changes form.
  • The children can help create it in different shapes and forms
  • And is fascinatingly beautiful

Ice
I broke this piece – look at all the lovely patterns.

If you don’t live in a cold climate you could make your own in moulds in the freezer or place a few bags of ice outside and see how the children explore.

 

ice on bare feet

child looking at ice
This piece looks like a magnifier. I can look through it – see.

 

How to Make Sun Prints

sun prints

You will need:

  • sheets of sun sensitive paper
  • clear plastic or sheet of glass from a photo frame
  • bowl of water

I bought sun sensitive paper for my girls as a gift, but today was our first trial. We set out to find objects to place on the paper.  Our first attempt used loose parts.

loose parts on sun sensitive paper1. Create  your designs inside, away from sunlight and put the paper on cardboard or a tray to help carry it outside.

sun sensitive paper

2. Cover the picture with glass to stop it blowing away and keep it flat and place in the sun for 3-5 minutes. The paper will turn white.

sun prints with sun senstive paper

3. Remove the glass and the objects. Place the paper in a bowl of water for 1 minute, to stop the chemical reaction.

4. Remove the pictures and leave to dry.

As you can see, one of the pictures came out clearly, whereas the other had only faint prints.  The girls discussed why this might be.

Why did mine work better?  I thought mine was in the sun longer but the other one was definitely in the sun for longer, so I don’t know.

It wasn’t because my things were heavier because I used sequins too. Maybe it wasn’t pressed on as hard?

leaves collected for sun prints

I suggested they try another, to see if they could work it out. This time we searched the garden for natural materials.  Usually, I only let the girls use natural things from the ground, but this time I gave them permission to pick flowers and leaves.  They searched the flower bed and found things they hadn’t seen before,  climbed the tree to reach leaves and lichen and we found that even weeds could have interesting shapes.

They chose their favourites to make a design.

making sun prints

And left them in the sun to develop

sun prints

This batch was both successful.

Sun prints

I love the detail of the smaller leaf. The girls reflected on the success of these pictures.

I think it worked better this time because we laid the leaves really flat before we started, or perhaps it is because we left it in the water for longer? But I don’t think that would make a difference.

sun prints

Even the little sequins came out this time.

We saved a few sheets for their big sister to try, it will be interesting to see what she will create. I also ordered bigger sheets because some of the bigger leaves didn’t fit on the 5×7 paper.

Storytelling with Shadow Puppets

I recently cleaned out the linen cupboard and gave the kids a huge bag of old sheets to play with. They like to make-up stories and turn them into royal capes or build dens with them. In amongst them was a white sheet. I thought it could be used to build a shadow puppet theatre in the garden.  We have a swing set that isn’t safe to use, so I removed one of the swings and fastened the sheet to the frame.

outdoor shadow puppet theatre

The children and I made puppets from cardboard. The children chose characters and I helped them draw them in silhouette. They collected sticks from the garden, whittled them to smooth them out and stuck the cardboard characters on with tape.

home made shadow puppets

I also found images of hand shadows. I printed and laminated them and stuck them  on the swing set frame for reference.

hand shadows

We had to do a bit of work cutting back the tree branches to make a clear screen, but soon it was ready. The magical stories they have created have been wonderful.  I think this would be a great resource for a school or pre-school to encourage story telling and build the foundations of story writing. You could build it outdoors or inside with a light source behind.

 

Videoing the story showed the children where they needed to improve. They saw that sometimes you couldn’t see the characters well because they were too low or placed at an angle. They also noticed that the size of the puppet changed according to how close to the screen it was.

I love the way my daughter played with accents and voices.  It particularly love the voice of the bird and banana man in the land of the forgotten.

 

Shadows, like mud are a great, free play resource – check out some of our other shadow explorations or follow my shadow and light pinterest board

The Great Mud Bake Off

IMG_1634

My kids love any kind of cooking show. A particular favourite is The Great British Bake Off (or baking show as they call it in the US). In true bake-off style, they decided to make a mud cake. “The theme is cakes”, they told me “but it can’t be just a cupcake it has to be a proper cake”.

Today is International Mud Day, when children around the world celebrate the most diverse, low-cost and accessible plaything on earth. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

They build a plan and get to work, problem solving all the way.

They gather things from around the garden to create their designs.

The children explain the rules for the judging.

Something always goes wrong on Bake Off.  The trial run didn’t quite go as planned so the girls think again.

The trial run of the frog mould cake works perfectly, but when the final one is made it drops too early and spoils the mint and grass lily pad. After a few failed attempts a final frog is made by moulding it with hands instead.

Frog Cake in Great Mud Bake Off

And Master Baker this week is…..

The mint and rose surprise – sadly the frog was a great idea but there were a few problems with the batter.

Great Mud Bake Off

Don’t you love that play can be inspired by so many things? Happy International Mud Day.

the Great Mud Bake Off

Additional Resources for International Mud Day

Find out why mud play is good for you

Build your own mud kitchen

Make mud faces

Meeting a Dragon & Treasure Hunting at Caerphilly Castle

caerphilly castle

It has been a year since we took an amazing trip home. We had a long list of places and people we wanted to visit and top of the list for our stay in Wales was a castle. Growing up in Wales, I took it for granted that my kids would get to visit historical sites with school. Now, I need to pack all the things they can’t experience here, into our visits home.

caerphilly castle

Top of our list for our week in Wales, was a castle. There are so many castles in Wales it was difficult to choose the right one. I considered Castell Coch and Cardiff Castle, but eventually went for Caerphilly Castle, as it was the most traditional of the 3.  I wasn’t certain if it would be too ruinous or if there would be enough there to entertain the kids. As it turned out, it was the kids favourite day out in Wales.

They couldn’t wait to get to the castle as we walked towards it and when they were greeted by Dewi the real Welsh dragon, at the entrance, their excitement mounted.

dragon at caerphilly

Dewi, who first arrived at the castle on March 1st 2016,  is a star attraction at the castle. This May, he flew to Caernavon Castle, to join his sweetheart Dwynwen.  Dwynwen soon  laid two eggs. The eggs hatched into baby dragons Dylan and Cariad, on May 26th and are now taking on summer adventures across Wales. The dragons are an integral part of  Visit Wales’ 2017 Year of Legends, inspiring visitors to discover Wales’ rich folklore. Dewi has returned to his home at Caerphilly.

cadw dragons

Where can you meet Dwynwen and the baby Dragons?

12 -25 June Raglan Castle – Dwynwen and the baby Dragons.

27 June – 9 July  Tretower Court

11 – 30 July  Kidwelly Castle

1 – 13 August  Harlech Castle

15 – 28 Aug  Beaumaris Castle

Treasure Hunting

Included in the admission fee (£23.70 for a family ticket admitting 2 adults and up to 3 children under 16)  was a treasure hunt activity. The children visited every part of the castle looking for information to answer to clues that would lead them to the treasure.

caerphilly castle

We descended spiral staircases.

stairs caerphilly castle

Walked along balconies.

treasure hunt

through dark corridors

castle coridoor

and explored the grounds for clues.

caerphilly castle

After hours of fun (and a few painful feet from new shoes) we found the treasure.

kids activities caerphilly castle

The children exchanged their treasure hunts for a special prize in the gift shop. We admired the view and said our goodbye’s to Dewi, before heading home.

view from Caerphilly Castle