Category Archives: childhood

How to Be a Playful Family

As a finalist in America’s Most Playful Family contest our task was to create a 90 second video showing tips that will help families become more playful. With so much to say about what we do and why play is important to us, this was a real challenge but here is the finished product.

For further detail about the activities and ideas featured in the video, follow the links below:-
Play Don’t Throw Away

Mud Kitchens –Why Playing in the Mud is Good for You

Music Garden – How to Build a Music Garden

Heuristic Play – Now Playing

Loose parts – When they Would Rather Play with Sticks and Stones

Playing With Household Objects

Water painting – Painting with Water

Playing Without Toys – Do Children Need Toys?

Outdoor Events – How to Stage a Garden Olympics    How to Stage a Winter Olympics

Playing in nature

Snow Day

Spring

Frost and Ice

Connecting with Nature

 Woodland activities

In the Rain

In the Dark

When Life is Busy

Literacy Games in the Car

Passing Down Traditions
Playground Games

 Party Games

 

 

Ideas for Outdoor Play in the Springtime

whisking water

Springtime in Seattle is as unpredictable as springtime in the UK.  Today we have glorious sunshine, yesterday we played in the ice and frost and a week ago we were playing in the rain.

Whatever the weather the girls are drawn to the outside and unlike the summer when they sometimes complain that it is too hot, they tend to stay outside for a long time.

ducks

 

We have a pair of ducks that are regular visitors to our garden in the spring. What better way to get the girls outside than to send them out to find the ducks and feed them.

 

A Bug Hunt

We had a bug explore kit for Christmas, so while I was doing a little gardening, the girls decided to look for bugs.  The warm weather had brought lots of spiders and beetles to the surface. They were fast and quite difficult to catch.

I found a beetle.
I found a beetle.
I have a spider
I have a spider

As I was turning over the soil, the girls decided to dig with trowels for worms and observe them in their pots.

The worm is very wriggly.
The worm is very wriggly.

Gardening

I’ve tried for years to grow wildflowers without any success. We chose to mix the seeds with sand from the sandpit, scatter them and rake them in.  We don’t need to water them too much this time of the year because of the rain and they are slowly starting to grow. Each day we check on their progress and talk about how delicate they still are, so to be careful where we tred.

 Painting the Ground

The girls began by painting pebbles with bright colours and then decided to paint pictures on the driveway.

pebble painting

I suggested that they might like to paint the stepping-stones, they thought this was a great idea.

 

When we take paint outside they nearly always decide to paint hands or feet.  The paint left footprints on the driveway.

foot painting

I know, we could play an easy kind of hide and seek. One person hides and we have to follow their footprints.

They followed the footprints across the path. When they got to the grass, they were difficult to follow, so they made arrows from sticks. We found a little piece of treasure, in the shape of one lonely violet.

violets

Echoes

As we were sat on the driveway painting they noticed that their voices were echoing.

Mummy why do our voices sound all echoing?

I don’t know, do they still echo when we stand up?

Yes

We moved something to see if that made a difference.

We are still echoing.

How do you make echoes?

You need a sort of tunnel. It works when we talk in a tube. The driveway doesn’t look like  a tunnel.

I’ll have to dig out ‘Little Beaver and the Echo’ and explore this further.

Flowers and Plants

I love it when they explore the flowers and plants. Heather is great for playing rain showers and we are looking forward to the blossoms falling from the trees and making ‘fairy rain’. The girls were so excited that the trees are full of blossom and ran to tell the other children in the street.

Harry Potter

Pavement chalk is  a big favourite.  When the children play in the street together they draw towns on the ground and play that they are visiting the shops or hospital.  Recently, they were playing Harry Potter and drew a huge Hogwarts castle in the road. They collected sticks for wands and branches for broomsticks (I left them the cuttings from trimming the trees) and with a tennis ball they played Quidditch.  The potion station is also perfect for mixing spells.

Water Spritz

I suggested that we take water spritzers outside filled with paint.  The girls tried the painting but were much more keen to take them out with only water in.

First they wanted to clean.

They wanted to spray each other, it wasn’t really warm enough but my 3-year-old had a good idea.  She ran to fetch her umbrella.

I know we could use this as a shield.

umbrella shield

With rain expected for the weekend – I wonder what other ideas they will come up with.

 

Outdoor Play Ideas: Discovering and Learning about Ice on a Cold and Frosty Morning

children exploring frost and iceI used to love frosty days when I was a kid because we could play on the way to school  pretending to ice skate or breathe like a dragon.  The same sense of wonder came over my girls when they looked out on a clear frosty morning. They dressed quickly and rushed outside to see if they could find ice . They found ice on top of the water table and in containers that we have on the deck.

They soon learned that ice is very cold!


Later in the morning the girls put on their gloves to go out on an ice hunt.

 

ice
Look there is water and a leaf is floating. The ice has edges, I think there is water underneath.

I removed the lid from the water table. The girls were very excited to find ice inside there too. We added the penguins play set and a few whales.

When we got to the front of the house we found a small patch of frost.

Why is it frosty here and not anywhere else?

Because the sun made it melt.

So, why didn’t this bit melt?

It was in the shade.

frost

We decided to leave the lid off the water table to see if we could get even more ice the next day.  When they woke up the next day the girls were desperate to get out before any of the ice had melted.

First they checked the water table.

ice
The ice was thick and some of the penguins were buried underneath.

Let’s see what else we can find.

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We went back to the water table where the girls found 2 scoops filled with ice.

We can’t get it out.

Shall I run it under the hot tap like I do with the ice lollies?

Yes please

Next the girls turned their attentions to the animals stuck in the water tray.

Please can we get them out? Can we put hot water on them too?

Yes. I’ll get some.

We poured water onto the ice to free the animals, they could feel the hot water making holes and as we poured more on they were able to free them.

The other side of the water tray made a perfect ice rink for the penguins.
ice rink

I’m so glad we are home pre-schooling on days like this. Our next project is to make ice decorations for the tree at the front of the house and using  pirate treasure maps they made earlier in the week, hunt for coins buried in the ice. My pirate obsessed girls will be armed with special pirate tools and a bit of magic sea salt.  Arrrr.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Learning for Life

#Get Outdoors: Children Connecting with Nature

binocularsAutumn is a time for woodland walks, collecting interesting things along the way and looking out for animal homes and habitats.  As a child we had nature tables at school and we were encouraged to bring in conkers, sticky buds, acorns and leaves.  I used to love to walk in the woods and collect things.  We’d put nuts and conkers in their cases in the airing cupboard until they opened.  I used to lie in the grass scouring the leaves for 4- leafed clover. I found one when I was about 6 years old. I looked after it all weekend and on Monday carried it to school as the prize exhibit for the nature table. The temptation to fiddle with it however, was so great that on the way one of the leaves fell off. I turned up with an ordinary clover and a loose leaf and so no-one believed me.

autumn leaves

We’ve been foraging for Autumn things this week.  In the garden we have an abundance of Fir Cones, Maple Seeds and coloured leaves but we wanted to find other things like acorns and conkers.  I asked a friend where we might find conkers.

Conkers? What are they?  was her reply.

I found a single, solitary conker that had managed to make its way with us from England.

Oh, it’s a bit like a chestnut.

Yes, a rounder chestnut and the casing is different, with larger more spaced out spines and they are poisonous.

maple leaves

Outside the girls ballet class we found a variety of different pine and fir cones from tiny ones in clusters to great big narrow ones.  We walked in the woods to see what else we might find.  We found….. more pine cones, …. more maple seeds,… more maple leaves but nothing different.  I suppose we often take the things we have in our environment for granted – I love the towering Evergreens we have here, mixed in with the colours of the Maples but I do miss conkers and acorns.

woodland walk

Wild animals on the other hand are extremely varied.  We watched huge salmon jumping in the river, saw enormous yellow butterflies and watched a small snake basking in the sun.  Our favourite visitors are hummingbirds.  The first time I saw one I thought it was a dragonfly but when it rested on a flower I was so excited to discover it was a hummingbird.  I had no idea hummingbirds were native here. I read up about attracting them to the garden and bought a hummingbird feeder that we fill with 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  We now have regular visitors outside our window.

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Of course there are also the more scary types of wildlife. The ‘ballet moms’ were talking about finding bobcats, cougars and coyotes in their garden and black bears on woodland walks, especially near the rivers now that the salmon are spawning.

RSPB Get Outdoors

As  I was musing about our appreciation of the natural world and the things we miss from home, a new report from the RSPB was brought to my attention. Connecting with Nature presents the findings of a three-year RSPB research project measuring just how connected to nature the UK’s children really are. Connection to nature is measured in 4 areas:

  • Enjoyment of Nature
  • Empathy for Creatures
  • Sense of Oneness
  • Sense of Responsibility.

You can take the questionnaire to see how connected your children are. If you are outside of the UK, the report also gives you the criteria used for the questionnaire so that you can investigate how connected children are in your area.

I think the sense of oneness is an interesting one.  How young was I when I first felt a sense of oneness with nature? I know my youngest daughter will always choose to go outside collecting sticks, pouring rainwater and arranging stones – is this an early sign of oneness with nature?  My eldest daughter emphatically announced that she felt peaceful when she was in a natural environment.  In a household with 2 noisy pre-schoolers her favourite haven is reading a book in a tree in the garden.

reading in the tree

I know for me, I feel at peace by the sea or in a woodland, both places I spent a lot of time in as a child. I can’t wait to visit the National Parks here in the US, to see the amazing diversity of the natural world here.

Connecting with nature has many benefits from physical activity, mental health and a sense of well being, education, social interaction, empathy and the impact on the sustainability of the natural environment.  The study found that  only 21% of children aged 8-12 in the UK have a connection with nature at a level that is realistic to their age.

“ There are statistically significant differences between children’s connection to nature at a national level across the UK, as well as between boys and girls, and British urban and rural homes.”

Surprisingly girls are more likely than boys to connect with nature and urban children more likely than rural children.  Further studies will be undertaken to determine why this might be. Looking at the questionnaire I think it may be that the questions are angled at more feminine pursuits, feeling peaceful in nature, collecting shells, listening for sounds and taking care of animals are not exactly cool for young boys.

investigating natural materials

The research will add to the growing evidence base about children and nature. This includes a study by Natural England which suggested that factors contributing to connection are in decline. It reported that only 10% of children in the UK played regularly in natural places in 2009, compared to 40% in the 1970s.

Getting children out in the natural world when they are young won’t guarantee a continued interest once the world of school, clubs, homework and computer games takes over but it will certainly put them on the right track.

The environmental identity developed by children between the ages of 3 and 7 is  an emotional affinity towards a specific aspect of nature which had been strengthened by providing positive experiences with nature on a regular basis.   (Karls and Ittner 2003).

Some researchers also believe that there is an optimal moment usually between the age of 6 and 12 which form a person’s attitude to nature;  perhaps the 4 leafed clover was mine.

Other Posts You May Like to Read

20 Outdoor Things to do Before you are 5

Woodland Activities

Outdoor Play: Making Potions

 

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My eldest daughter has been an avid potion maker all her life.  We are always finding concoctions in her bathroom and when she was young she would leave them on the windowsill of her bedroom or on the side of the bath and if you knocked them off whilst having a relaxing bath the cold would give you the shock of your life.  She is now a huge Harry Potter fan, having read all of the series 4 times and her potions are taking on new meaning. Her younger sister is following in her footsteps. Now that the weather is nicer I set up a little potion station for them in the garden – they love it.

It is a great  sensory play activity and science experiment, they got their hands in, testing and smelling the potions and used all kinds of things from the garden. Best of all I love how the imaginary play scenarios evolved.  I suggested to my 9-year-old that she might like to make a book of potion recipes.

‘Yes’ she exclaimed excitedly, ‘ But we’ll need about 70 pages, the McClary recipe book’

 

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

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Those of us working with young children are familiar with the term Foundations of Learning.  What does that really mean? For me, it means everything that gives us the capacity to learn, think, create, behave, communicate and build relationships. The things that you learn in the first 5 years remain with you for life, whether they are physical skills, values and beliefs or ideas and knowledge. This is why for me,early education is the most important and exciting phase.

With this in mind, I would like to share an excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten .  This was first introduced to me during my Master’s Degree.  When I look at my own children and the way they develop and learn every day, I am reminded of this piece.

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten.  Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned: share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess.Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say your sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.  Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap.  Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations always to put things back where we found them, and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

So next time someone discredits you as ‘only playing’ or says ‘she’s just a mum’ or she only teaches little ones, stand firm in the knowledge that ours is the most important job in the world.

Monsters and Imaginary Friends

My 2 year old has recently become pre-occupied with monsters, sometimes she is a monster, sometimes there is a monster in the room but she mentions them at least once a day.  I was fairly sure that this was a developmental stage connected with how young children make sense of the world .

She has also started talking about a bat that lives in her bedroom.  There is a small cubby hole in her bedroom where the stairs cut in for our loft conversion – the bat lives in here.   When I questioned her about it further she said that there were 3 bats a baby (with her baby sister’s name) a daddy (with her daddy’s name) and a mummy called Rachel.  There are also 3 ogres that live in the cubby hole with them – they scare away monsters.

This story made me think about the connection between the whole monster obsession and imaginary friends.  When my eldest daughter was around 3 she had an imaginary friend ‘Piglet’ from Winnie the Pooh.  Wherever we went Piglet came with us and usually my daughter would pretend she was Roo and I was Kanga.

By a strange turn of events as I was thinking about these things and trying to find some information about the development of imaginary friends and foes in young children, Penny at Alexander Residence wrote a post about imaginary creatures.

Imaginary companions usually start appearing between the ages of two and a half to three, around the same time as children start to engage in complex fantasy play. This also signals the beginning of abstract thought.  Children are starting to replace physical objects for mental images, for example they can derive comfort from the thought of a teddy bear in addition to the physical object.  Their fears also begin to change from concrete things like dogs or vacuum cleaners to abstract concepts such as monsters. You could help children to have the power to conquer their fears by capitalising on this imagination and asking them to suggest what the monster might be afraid of and making a concrete object to represent it.

In my quest for information about imaginary friends and foes I found an interesting book about children’s imaginations, ‘ The House of Make Believe ‘ by Dorothy G Singer and Jerome L Singer. The book suggests that the key components to fostering creative children are

  • A key person who inspires play and accepts invention with respect and delight
  • a place for play
  • open-ended and unstructured time
  • simple objects to inspire the adventure

The book also discusses their research into imaginary friends.  They found that parents reported that children with imaginary friends were largely happier and more verbal than those children who did not have imaginary friends and that the children were not shy.  Imaginary friends are more prevalent amongst only or first born  children and they can help children to solve dilemmas.  Often they take the form of real characters from television or film in particular super heroes.

Charles Schaefer found that teachers of adolescents reported that their most creative pupils had imaginary friends as young children.  Imaginative children were more likely to have parents who valued imagination, curiosity, adventurousness and creativity.

So if your child has an entourage of imaginary companions don’t despair that they are disturbed or worried about something .  Develop the stories with them and enjoy it for the short period it lasts – I loved this imaginative phase with my first and I’m looking forward to the wonderful tales that my slightly bonkers 2 year old will unravel.

Children’s Parties – No More Party Bags Please

 

Party season has arrived again in our household.  My eldest has just had her 7th birthday and most of her class are spring and summer born babies so we now have an endless run.   In her book bag today I found 3 thank you cards, some written by the child and some by the parents.  What will I do with them?  Look at who they are from and put them straight in the bin. To the mums who spent hours writing them or the poor children who have been made to sit for hours signing their name, I am sorry.  Though I agree that it is right that children should be grateful for what they are given, when they go to so many parties is it really necessary that we get a thank you card from every one?  I’m probably known as the ungrateful or disorganised mum because I don’t send them.  At the weekend we visited friends and my daughter decided she wanted to write a thank you card for them, this one was written because she decided it was a thoughtful thing to do rather than because I had told her to do so – surely that means far more.

Women’s Hour today discussed  children’s parties and most of the views expressed were either that they were a huge headache both financially and in terms of organisation, or that they were a thing that the parents relished organising.   I have a friend in the latter category, who will throw a party at the drop of a hat, hand making everything to fit the theme including party clothes and food.  A part of me would like to be like that but time and inclination hold me back.  Besides which,  I’m sure my children would be just as happy with a trip somewhere nice and a shop bought cake.  We have tried various things from overcrowded parties in the house, hiring a big hall, not having a party but taking a few children to the theatre and this year an ice skating party. My 2 year old is yet to have a party as she doesn’t really have enough friends to justify one .  Parties in the house are far too stressful for me, the combination of noise, overcrowding, mess and organising food is a nightmare.  The big hall party was fine on the day (a joint party with 30 children) but organising what I was going to do with them, sorting food and all the things we needed to entertain them took a lot of time and energy.  The last 2 were relatively easy.  Ice skating with a group of  7 year olds was surprisingly stress free.  The children had a lesson and then were given penguins to hold to help them balance if they needed them.  There were plenty of adults around to help out so that even the 2 year olds had a turn.  The food was prepared by the venue and all I needed to provide was the cake. Party bags included a free ticket to come back and ice skate – so much better than the usual tat (though some of that was still there).

Why do we feel the need to provide party bags at children’s parties?  We all hate the little bits that come out of them that usually end up scattered around the house.  Some people  substitute the bags with presents but all children somehow expect to come home from a party with a present  these days. When we were kids this was never contemplated, if we were lucky we came home with a prize from a game.  Even pass the parcel now has a present in every layer – I remember the days when each layer had a forfeit rather than a prize.  My children so don’t need anymore stuff.  Call me a humbug, but I’m not going to do it anymore and hopefully lots of like minded mums will join in the boycott.

Who touched your life when you were a child? – Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture

I have finally managed to watch Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture.  How refreshing to hear someone from outside of the world of Education recognising how undervalued the Early Years profession is.  The lack of financial reward and status means that many of the UK’s brightest individuals are discouraged from entering the Early Years profession.  Working with our youngest children is one of the most important occupations of all, as Morpurgo put it

‘a pound spent in the early years can save ten pounds later’

Thank goodness some of us care enough not to desert the profession.

The lecture also decried the target driven education system we have in this country.  When everything relies upon targets and league tables it is easy to forget about the individuality of each child and how their needs can be met.  Morpurgo explained how  in New Zealand children enter school on their 5th birthday, thus allowing teachers time to get to know each child individually , rather than having a class of 30 all arriving at once. Also in Finland, which comes 2nd in the OECD World Education rankings, children do not start school until they are 7 years old.   With an education system built on targets and children starting school at such a young age we are setting our children up for failure.  No wonder we  keep seeing headlines about how boys are failing to read.

Morpurgo argues that the most important part of a child’s education is building trusting relationships, focusing on the unique qualities of each child. When teachers and adults are passionate about a subject, be it reading, music, sport or science they enthuse children to enjoy those things too.  This reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’.  In this he talks about how each of us have something that we excel at , that we enjoy and is at the core of our very being.  Many of these things are discovered by perceptive and enthusiastic adults when we are children, others of us do not find our ‘element ‘ till much later in life, if at all.

There are a number of people who helped me to find a passion.  My mother read me books, took me to the library and showed me that books were special, instilling in me a love for reading.  The primary school teachers who first put me on the stage in school shows and sowed the seeds for a love of performing and my secondary school English teacher who recognised my talent for writing and called me her ‘shining star’ helped me to believe that I could.

It also made me think of another thought I had earlier in the day as I taught my eldest daughter to play clock patience.  I thought about all the things my grandfather taught me to do when I was young.  Not only clock patience, but how to make a paper hat and paper aeroplane, how to play pick up sticks and two little dickie birds with pieces of paper on your fingers – things that I hope I remember well enough to pass down.

Working in Early Years Education I am sure that we touch children’s lives in many ways, with the experiences we give them, through listening to them and sharing their worlds and understanding their needs.  In some ways it’s a bit sad that few of the children we teach will remember the influence we had on their lives, they wont cite us as someone who touched their life, but I’m pretty certain we did.

For a full transcript of the Dimbleby Lecture    http://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/news/read-michaels-dimbleby-lectur/

 

Brain Food – Junk Food may lower IQ.

As parents we are keen to get our children the latest educational toy, send them to the best nurseries and pre-schools and give them the best preparation for school that they can.    A research study conducted by the University of Bristol released today suggests that diet at the age of 3 may have an effect on how intelligent our children are at the age of 8.

The study bases its findings on participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) which tracks 14,000 children born between 1991 and 1992.  It suggests that a diet of predominantly processed,  high fat and sugary foods up to the age of 3 may lower IQ at the age of 8.5. In contrast A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients may do the opposite.  Parents were asked to complete diaries outlining the food and drinks their children consumed at age 3, 4, 7 and 8.5.  IQ was measured at the age of 8.5.  After taking other influential factors into account it was found that children with a predominantly processed diet at the age of 3 were associated with a lower IQ at the age of 8.5, irrespective of whether their diet had improved by that age. Similarly children with a healthy diet at age 3 were associated with higher IQ’s at the age of 8.5.  Diet at the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on IQ.  Though the findings are modest, the results are in line with previous research which shows that quality of  diet at the age of 3 is related to school performance and behaviour. A possible explanation is that the brain grows at its fastest in the first 3 years of life, therefore good nutrition may lead to optimal brain growth.

toddler-apple-snack-420x-420x0

So much marketing is aimed at parents and children, making parents feel guilty that they are not buying the child the latest ‘educational’ toy or taking them to classes to improve their language and social skills.  So why not use this as an opportunity to market nutritious food for the youngest children as brain food. Three years isn’t that long a time to limit processed foods and it sets children up with good habits for life.  So maybe next time my 2 year old is nagging for a biscuit or sweet I’ll suggest a healthy alternative –  ‘ Have some special magic food , it will make you clever’.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac