Category Archives: early education & play

Collage Inspired by Eric Carle.

Eric Carle collage

A friend recently gave me a beautiful book about illustrators and the story behind their work.

The cover design of Artist to Artist was the inspiration for my art project for 2nd grade. I read the Eric Carle section of the book with interest and looked up videos of Eric Carle explaining how he creates his illustrations.


Various shades of blue tissue paper

Scrap book paper

glue and scissors

black sharpie

After watching the video with the children, I explained our under the sea themed collage.  The children would draw and cut out sea creatures using scrap book paper and then the sea around it (or over the top if they preferred) would be made using a collage of tissue paper.

The children chose their paper , drew sea creatures of their choice, cut them out , drew features with a sharpie and stuck them onto their paper.


Following this the children added different colours of tissue by tearing it into strips or small pieces to make the Ocean.  I showed them how they could put a thin layer over their creature to show it was under the sea and give it a shadowy effect or collage around the creatures.


Some children didn’t want to have sea creatures in their picture and instead chose to draw stones or shells.

under the sea collage

I explained that we would combine the pictures to make a complete under the sea scene.  Some had clear ideas as to where their picture should fit into the display. This child for example asked if the dolphins could be jumping out of the ocean and used white tissue to make the foamy waves, her picture was placed at the top.


Once the pictures were dry, I coated them with modpodge. This gave them a varnished effect and helped loose bits of tissue to lay flat.


One observation I have made with this class is that often I come away feeling that some children have been so carried away with the process that the finished product feels rushed and very messy.  I wish we could have a process session before making a product as I do with Kindergarten .  However, my main observation is, even when I feel some children’s projects really will not come together properly, somehow they always do.  Every child has a different idea (which I encourage) and somehow they all work in different ways in the end.

IMG_0962IMG_0963Eric Carle inspired collageocean Eric Carle collageEric Carle Ocean collageIMG_0959

And once they were all put together they looked like this.

FullSizeRender - Copy

We have an art walk later in the year. I intend to add a 3-D art project to this piece and hang it, so it looks more complete.


Playtimes: An Online Collection from the British Library Documenting 100 Years of Children’s Songs, Rhymes and Games.

Following my recent post about traditional playground games, by chance I came across this wonderful collection from the British Library.  For a play enthusiast like me, it equates to giving my kids free rein with the pick n’ mix.

The collection includes over 100 video and audio clips of children’s play, articles and video about the history of play and how it translates to modern times and teaching resources for KS1 and 2 (elementary age).

The Playtimes website is part of a wider research project entitled Children’s Games and Songs in the New Media Age.  The project sought to preserve play traditions and investigate how these types of play continue to be used in the modern age. The project digitised the Opie collection of games and songs created in the late 1960’s through to the early 1980’s, capturing the games and songs of children across the UK.  The majority of the recordings were made by Iona Opie as she travelled the country recording in playgrounds and schools, estates and parks. These visits were often unplanned and Iona described how she would simply wind down her car window and ‘follow the sound of children playing’.  The project also carried out a two-year study of children’s playground culture today.

Many of the videos are narrated by Michael Rosen and others are animations created by schoolchildren.

I’m fascinated by traditional games and their rhythmic quality so I have ordered Opie’s books of rhymes and games and some of her research findings to learn more.  What a treasure trove!

Picture Books: Future Releases to Look Out for in 2017

A Pattern for Pepper by Julie Kaulis

 Click on image for link for US readers.
 Click on image for link for UK readers

I absolutely love this one. Pepper visits a dress-maker who is making her a dress for a special occasion.  Pepper can’t decide which pattern she should choose for the fabric, so the dressmaker shows her different patterns, explaining their origins and meanings.  Julie Kraulis’ illustrations are adorable; delicately drawn with a simple colour pallet of blue, white and red. The patterns form the background to the illustrations as they are explained in the text, merging text and illustration beautifully. This would make a wonderful read-aloud story to introduce pattern to young children.  I learned a lot!  Available for pre-order, release date 1st August 2017.

Further Activities

1. Bring in different fabrics – can the children identify any of the patterns in the story?  Are there any other patterns? Do all patterns have names?  Make a matching or sorting game.

2. Ask the children to create their own pattern (limit the colours so they focus on the pattern element).  What do you call your pattern and why?

3. Creative writing : what is the story behind your pattern – this could be done orally for pre-writers.

4. Discover fashion designers, look at sketches and photographs of fashion shows. Create designs from pieces of material and scrap materials and role-play a fashion show.

5. Investigate how textiles are made both in modern times and in the past – visit a mill or find a visitor who can spin wool.

6. Practice cutting out pieces for a pattern, laying them on fabric and drawing and cutting around them.  Perhaps try sewing the pieces together with small groups of children or cut them in paper and see if the children can piece them together with tape to make a garment.

Different? Same! by Heather Tekavec illustrated by Pippa Curnick

 Click on image for link for US readers

Link for UK Readers

This non-fiction title, highlights  differences between animals and then asks the reader to stop and think about how they might be the same.  The simple repetitive pattern of the text encourages children to look closely at the animals and predict their  similarities, before it is announced in the text.  This makes it a lovely interactive  book to share with young children.  The illustrations are bright and bold.  At the end of the book, you will find additional activities and further descriptions of the animals featured in the book.

Available for Pre-order: Publication date 2nd May 2017.

Further Activities

  1. Sort other things into same and different groups e.g. fruit and vegetables, transport, natural materials, household objects.
  2. How are you the same as other children in your class/family? How are you different?
  3. Play a guessing game – show four objects and work out how they relate to one another.
  4. Explore animal skins, shells and /or feathers or choose two objects of the same category and describe them orally for young children and in writing for older children.

Where Will I Live by Rosemary McCarney

Click on image for link for US readers

Click on image for link for UK readers
This powerful photo-based picture book for young readers, written by Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, tells the story of the hundreds of thousands of children around the world who have been forced to flee their homes due to war and terror.  The photographs are stunning, and depict the hardships these children face and their resilience without being disturbing to young children.  The text and photographs work together to explain the plight of refuges to young children in a completely age appropriate manner.  A perfect book for introducing a difficult topic to young children.

Available for pre-order: publication date 4th April 2017.

Future activities for this one will undoubtedly arise from the children’s questions.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links

Mud,Mud, Glorious Mud: Why you Should Embrace Mud Play.


I’ve never been able to avoid playing in dirt with my kids, nor have I ever wanted to. From the youngest age the girls would pick up small stones from the ground or carry sticks.  I would walk the dogs at the local park and my daughter would gravitate towards a dirt patch and spend the whole time absorbed with the dusty dry mud. At other times, she would stop at every mole hill in the meadow, exploring it with her fingers.


As for muddy puddles – regardless of footwear they are just too tempting to resist.



I was very lucky to find a preschool for my youngest that embraces mud play.


The swamp


playing in mud
The mud patch – building rivers and streams


If you can’t enjoy getting dirty when you are a child then when can you?


international mud day
I want it to have hair like mine.
dr mazes farm
digging for worms

footprints in mudWP_000447mud kitchens

Mud play isn’t just fun, it is also great for children’s health and development. Check out my article in Parentmap to find out more.

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.



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.




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.



  • 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.






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.


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?


  • 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?


  • 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.


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.


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.


  • 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.