Category Archives: EYFS

The English Early Education System

Why Is Pretend Play Important?




Great Pretenders recently asked if I could write a guest post for their blog.  I hadn’t come across them before but I was blown away by the wonderful play costumes that they create.  So of course I said yes .  Why Schools Need to Embrace Pretend Play? talks about my experience about a lack of pretend play in schools and why I think it is important that schools embrace it.

Water Play in the Rain

Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of enquiry, their motivation and interest explode.  – Loris Malaguzzi.

We’ve had a few rainy days so I decided to leave the lid off the water table to catch the rain.  We’ve had so much rain that it was nearly overflowing.  My girls looked out at the rain and decided to play in the water.  They know from experience that rain water is very cold so my youngest put on her waterproof gloves so that she could tolerate the cold water for longer.

I gave her a bottle and a funnel to add to the other materials.  I have recently noted her eagerness to transport things from one place to another and predicted she would probably use the bottle to empty the water from the table.  True to form she filled the bottle, carried it to the bench and poured the water through the slats before returning for more.

water play

Her sister is less eager to play outside but loves umbrellas so when I suggested she take her umbrella outside, she was out like a shot. Of course her sister needed her umbrella too.

I want to make an invention

What kind of invention?

Like we made before for serving drinks.

Last summer the girls had inserted a straw into a hole in a milk carton and made a drink dispenser. They worked out how to turn the tap off and where to place the tap so that they could drain the container of all the water.

What do you need?

A cup – this will be good (finding a coffee container)  a tube or something and some small cups.

I found a piece of plastic tubing and plastic wine glasses.

I need another pipe. One to blow into and the other one for the water to come out of.

I gave her another piece of tubing that her sister had been using to make a contraption the previous day.

It’s not working mummy, when I blow nothing happens.

Are there any bubbles coming when you blow.


The air isn’t getting through the pipe.

We put the container onto the floor so that she could keep the pipe straight without any kinks and still reach to blow into it.

I have to be honest I didn’t expect it to work but look what happened.

You have to blow so, so hard to make it work that it hurts your mouth, but that’s okay.

Meanwhile her sister was trying to catch floating objects with the tongs.

More fun



More play activities for a rainy day

Outdoor Play: Ice Activities – how a simple art ice project turned into a science investigation.

ice decorations

Ice Ornaments and Icicles

What had originally been an icy art project, unexpectedly turned into a fascinating science investigation.

A few weeks ago we filled up my baking tins with water  that we coloured with powder paint and dropped all manner of things into them.  Shells, berries, leaves, sequins, buttons and even a stone were placed inside to make ornaments for our tree.  The weather unfortunately instantly became warmer, so we had to wait some time before they were ready to hang.  Even then,  only the top layer of ice had frozen and within an hour of hanging them on the tree they had melted.  We also discovered that if you colour water with powder paint it separates once it begins to freeze, so most of the ornaments were not the lovely colour we had hoped for.

The girls have been peeking outside every morning to check if there is any ice.  This week they were rewarded with below freezing temperatures.  The ice ornaments were finally ready!  We hung them on the tree.  The sun was shining and the tree stands in the sun until mid afternoon.  I wasn’t sure how long they would stay this time as ‘plop’ one fell down from the tree.

Let’s put it by the door. That’s in the shade – it might make a nice present for Father Christmas.

Ice ornament
A present for Santa

As we went inside I asked the girls to watch the ornaments from the window.

They are melting.

How do you know?

They’re wet and they’re dripping down.

What do you think will happen as they melt?

I don’t think it will fall off the string because the string is attached. It will just melt and the floor will be wet.

When we went out later there were more interesting observations

Look this one has holes in it.  It might break not melt.

melting ice ornament with holes

Can I touch one?

Yes sure.

child touching ice
It’s cold and wet.

Within an hour or so the tree was in the shade and the temperature was beginning to drop. We noticed that the drips were starting to turn into little icicles.


The girls thought this was really cool and the next day even more so when we saw large icicles had formed.


They rushed outside to feel them, touching them gently so that they didn’t break off.

A Winter Pirate Treasure Hunt

The weather was so cold that during the late afternoon I sneaked into the garden with a jug of water and some pirate coins.  I put the coins in various containers and poured a little water on the top.

In the morning I invited the girls on a pirate treasure hunt. First they needed to make a map.  I had some coffee stained and singed paper that in true Blue Peter fashion I had prepared earlier.

Next they needed their pirate toolkit:
A hammer
A spoon
A pot of pirate sea salt

pirate toolkit
Ready Mummy

Out they went and quickly found coins. The hammers were their first choice. They weren’t very successful so then they tried the salt. They found that if they used the spoons and the salt they could gradually get down to the coin and hook it out.

pirate treasure hunt
Got it!

This could take ages, if we got a jug of hot water it might be quicker.

We were talking about the sea salt later in the day.

How do the pirates get salt from the sea?

Good question.  The salt is in the water so how do you think they could get it out?

I don’t know.

Shall we try it?


Little Scientists

What do we need to do to make the salt disappear into the water?

We need to dissolve it

How? Do you remember how we made jelly dissolve or the sugar water we make for the hummingbirds?

We put hot water on it. Let’s be scientists and do an experiment.

The girls helped to stir the mixture until all the salt had dissolved. We poured the mixture into a pan and put it on the stove.

What happens to water when it gets cold?

It turns to ice

What about when it gets hot?

I don’t know.

Watch. What can you see.



If I put this spoon over the steam what can you see on the spoon.

It’s wet – water.

Yes the water is turning to steam. Now look what’s happening in the pan. What do you think the white stuff is?

salt distillation

I don’t know. Is it steam. 

No. The water has gone now so what is left?



We had another idea for an experiment.  If we put the salt back in water and then left it outside would it freeze?

We will find out tomorrow.

Linking to :


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.


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.


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.

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

10 Preschool Activities using Leftover Pumpkins

Hallowe'en pumpkinsWe were a little disorganised this year and didn’t get our pumpkins until Hallowe’en.  It seemed such a shame to throw them away almost as soon as we had made them.  To avoid  this the pumpkins were incorporated into our play, building on the children’s interest in pattern making and investigating some of the questions and discoveries they  made when we visited the pumpkin patch.

One of the things I love about living here is that we don’t have to go to the supermarket to buy our pumpkins because there are pumpkin patches everywhere.  I love that the children can find out how pumpkins grow by wading their way through the leaves and mud to find the perfect pumpkin.

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Pumpkin Play

  1. Exploring Inside a Pumpkin and Learning about Seeds

I removed the top of one of the pumpkins and gave the girls spoons to explore what was inside.

Look at all the seeds, they look like lemons but with no other side
Look at all the seeds, they look like lemons but with no other side
It's a slother pumpkin. It feels really cold. There are lots of stringy bits, they look like messy hair.
It’s a slother pumpkin.
It feels really cold.
There are lots of stringy bits, they look like messy hair.

We talked about saving the seeds for the Spring, so that we could try to plant pumpkins in the garden next year. This lead to a discussion about how the seeds were spread.

How do the seeds get out of the pumpkin if they are in the pumpkin patch?

The pumpkin gets mouldy and then the seeds can come out.

Do you know how the seeds are spread?


What happens to a dandelion seed?

Where are the dandelions seeds?

The seeds are on the dandelion clock.

Oh so they get blown around.

Yes. Does this happen to the pumpkin?


We talked about how the animals spread the seeds – the girls thought it was a bit disgusting to talk about poo so we left it at that but later read ‘The Tiny Seed’ by Eric Carle to remind ourselves how other seeds are spread.

2. Scientific Experiments

How Does the Pumpkin get Soft?

I think we eat this bit because it’s all juicy but it is hard. How do we make it soft?

Hmm, can you think of any ideas?

I know we could make it wet and then dry it.

We could sprinkle it with soft sugar.

We could cover it with a bag.

We covered one half odf the pumpkin with a warm flannel to see what would happen.
We covered one half of the pumpkin with a warm flannel to see what would happen.
We sprinkled the other half with caster sugar.
We sprinkled the other half with caster sugar.

After 30 minutes we checked to see what had happened.

It didn’t work, it just got wet on my side.

What about the sugary side?

It feels softer, the sugar is softer but the pumpkin is hard.

I asked the girls if they could remember how I made spaghetti squash soft (when I tried to cut it, it was so hard I cut my finger instead). They couldn’t remember. I said that they had been along the right lines when they decided to warm it.

How could we warm it?

Put it in the microwave


The oven.

Yes that’s how I made the squash soft.

3. Paint a Pumpkin

We painted our largest pumpkin with acrylic paint. The acrylic paint remains shiny .

painting a pumpkin

4. Make a Squirrel Feeder

With the painted pumpkin we made a squirrel feeder by removing a section at the front and sprinkling it with birdseed.  We often have squirrels in the garden but this gave us a good opportunity to watch them close up.

5. Fairy Toadstools

Our garden is full of toadstools in this damp Autumnal weather and we have been exploring them to see if we could find any fairies.

toad stools

Turning the top of the pumpkin upside down made a perfect fairy toadstool for our flower-pot.  We are also going to watch and document what happens as the pumpkin starts to decay.  It might make a nice art or photography project for the girls.

toadstool from a pumkin lid

6. Pumpkin Poetry

I helped the girls to make up a poem about a pumpkin using some of the descriptions I had recorded them saying.

Pumpkins by my 5-year old

Pumpkins are very orange

Inside they have seeds

The seeds look like lemons

And feel slimy and cold.

Around the seeds it is orange and stringy

It looks like crazy hair.

The bottom is lumpy and chunky

I call it the core.

7. Pumpkin Juice.

pumpkin juice

I sliced and peeled the pumpkin we had been exploring and we used it to make pumpkin juice.

Ingredients (quantities according to taste)





Sprinkle with cinnamon.

8. Seed Collage

One of our current topics is pattern.  We used the pumpkin seeds alongside other seeds and pulses to make collages.

seed collage.

9. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

As a healthy snack we tried roasted pumpkin seeds.  Sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.

10. Mr Potato Head


We still have one small sweet pumpkin left to make into a pumpkin curry.

Further ideas

  • Use the seeds for measuring in a balance scale
  • Use the seeds in a play or mud kitchen
  • Put a hollow pumpkin in the water tray
  • Make pumpkin cookies
  • Make pumpkin drafts or checkers

pumpkimn checkers

  • Roll pumpkins down a hill and see which one reaches the bottom first.
  • Give children trays of seeds with scoops and containers.
  • Use the seeds with clay or pumpkin scented playdough.


Shadow Play: Investigating shadow and light in preschool.

Shadows provide extraordinary educational opportunities.  Not only do they raise a spontaneous curiosity in the child, stimulating his imagination and exercising his emerging intellectual abilities but they are also omnipresent (even more than sand, stones, water or “pencil and paper”, because you only need a bit of sunlight or even a candle to produce them). Perhaps more effectively than other things, shadows can nourish the child’s need to do and to experiment given the ease with which the variables involved in their formation and transformation can be manipulated.

( Guido Peter – The Hundred Languages of Children)

My youngest has become increasingly fascinated by shadows. As we walk along she shouts

I can see your shadow


my shadow is long

With this in mind I thought it would be a nice idea to make shadow shapes and draw around them with pavement chalk.  Some shapes worked better than others, my youngest daughter’s shadow looked a little like an embryo!

embryo shadow

The girls drew around them. They were particularly interested by the fact that they couldn’t see the whole of their legs.  It was a very hot day so only my 4- year- old wanted to colour in the detail.  They were very proud of them and pointed them out to their dad every time he walked over the driveway.

My 4- year -old has very poor eyesight and needs practice copying and tracing shapes to enhance her perceptual motor skills . I hate the idea of sitting her down with worksheets so I thought shadow tracing might be a nice alternative.  We took a number of objects outside to draw around. We even attempted to draw around her bike, which was a little tricky.

Later in the week we were playing with blocks in the house.

My 2-year old declared

I have a shadow, it’s behind me

Where is the shadow coming from?   What makes it appear?

Maybe the fan.

Okay, so let’s turn the fan off and see if they disappear.  Has it gone?


My 4-year-old had an idea

I know maybe it’s the light, let’s turn it off.  It’s gone!……………oh hang on it’s still there, it’s just fainter.

Shall we see if we have a shadow outside today?

We don’t have a shadow……. Oh wait, when you sit  down there is a bit of a shadow.

Why do you think that happens?

I don’t know.  Let’s see if there are any shadows on the grass.  No, not even the dog.

Do the trees have shadows?

Yes and the bushes.

My 2-year-old had an idea,

Maybe the sun has taken away our shadows.

No, that’s not right because the sun makes the shadows.

Maybe when the sun is not there it takes them away?

I know, let’s draw a sun and see if they come back.

drawing a sun
drawing a sun to bring the shadows back

I know we can stand in the sun and make it bright colours to see if it comes out.

In the meantime my 9-year-old came to join us. I told them the girls had a bit of a problem that they were trying to solve and wondered if she could work it out.

Why is it that when it is cloudy there are no shadows but when things are close to the ground there is a small shadow?

Maybe it’s because it is darker when you are close to the ground

But there is no sun and you need light to make a shadow.

Yes, but if it was dark I couldn’t make a shadow because it couldn’t get darker.

If we were in the sun and it was too bright what would we do?

Stand in the shade.

What makes the shade?

A tree.

So what is happening to make the shade?

I don’t understand.

I drew a picture of the sun in the sky with a stick person stood underneath and a tree with a stick person underneath the tree.

Oh, the tree gets in the way of the sun.

At that moment as the girls were standing in their picture of the sun, the sun came out.

standing in the sun
They stood in the sun and hey presto the sun came out. Look, it worked the sun came out!

I think we might work on reflections as a starting point for our pre-school year .  We could

  • Resurrect the shadow puppet theatre
  • Use the projector to make and investigate shadows
  • Place paper on the windows and observe and trace shadows
  • Continue to talk about and ask questions about shadows when we are out and about.
  • Make a homemade light table
  • Investigate mirrors and natural materials
  • Observe reflections in water

and wherever else it might take us.

Why Clay is an Essential Material for Pre-Schools

clayWhen I taught at nursery school, clay was readily available to the children on a daily basis. I’ve seen very few pre-schools since that use clay daily.  Most settings use dough, but why not clay?

It may be that it is too expensive, dough can be made very cheaply but air drying clay is an expensive resource. If clay is stored and looked after properly however, and used to enhance the children’s play rather than simply to make models to take home this needn’t be the case.

How to store and look after air drying clay

It is essential to keep your clay damp.  Store  it in a bucket or  lidded container and place a damp flat rock in the bottom.  The clay should then be moulded into cubes smoothing out any cracks. Make a thumb sized hole in each cube and fill the hole with water.  Occasionally spray the clay with water.  The clay will keep for a considerable amount of time like this. Should you feel the clay drying out cover the clay with water and leave for 48 hours.

It was a rare exception when children asked for their creations to be dried, painted and taken home. Mostly they would build the blocks of clay on top of each other, stick things in it, roll it out, and bash it with hammers and were happy to put it back in the clay bin at the end of the session.  Occasionally we would have a focused activity on techniques like pattern making, how to join 2 pieces of clay together or moulding around wire. A group of 4-year-olds worked on a long-term project about self portraits . They looked closely at their faces in the mirror and drew a number of self portraits with adult guidance to enhance the detail. These were transferred to clay models. The accuracy with which they translated their drawing into the representation in clay was astonishing.

The Benefits of Playing with Clay

  • Clay inspires creative thinking
  • Clay is far stronger and more malleable than dough which makes it far better for modelling.
  • Children (and adults) find working with clay engrossing
  • Clay can offer children emotional contentment, they can knead and manipulate the clay to ease anxieties.
  • Children with lots of energy or displaying aggression can dispense some of this on a large block of clay. You can hit a piece of clay with force without it disintegrating to nothing.
  • Children are able to problem solve by making mistakes and working out how to fix them.

The Developmental Stages of Working with Clay

0-2 Years 

For these children large blocks of clay are best, the bigger the better. Lay a piece of plastic sheeting on the floor and allow the children to experience the clay with their whole bodies, they can sit on it, make impressions in the clay and pull pieces off. It might be better served as an outdoor activity with this age-group but it depends on your space. Allow the children to explore the clay with their hands, build towers with clay blocks or offer tools if they are reluctant to touch it.

2-3 Years

Experiment with the different things that clay can do. Let them build, flatten, roll, pile and stick objects in the clay.  A finished product is not necessary at this age, allow them to integrate loose parts from the environment. Investigate what happens when you spray the clay with water.

3-4 Years

Some children will be ready to make simple models so you could begin to demonstrate how to join 2 pieces of clay together. Many children will prefer to use clay in their imaginative play, making cakes or lots of tiny peas. Include small world objects with the clay perhaps rolling out a flat piece for the play people to walk on or build a rocky swamp for the dinosaurs. Continue to introduce natural materials.

4-5 Years

Children will now begin to build things for their small world play, chairs for the house or shelters for the animals.  Once the children are confident you could set them projects like build a bridge for the Billy Goats Gruff or a bed for the 3 Bears. Clay can now be used to support mark-making teach children to draw and write on clay with sticks, twigs or blunt pencils.

5+ years

The children will be keen at this age to make a finished product. Show the children examples of clay sculptures as inspiration.  Encourage them to translate both imaginative and observational drawings into clay models. Support group work, building one large co-operative model.

You will see in the gallery below how my children of different ages play with the clay. My 9-year-old goes straight into making a model, while her 4-year-old sister starts by making a pizza, practicing rolling and cutting. She soon copies her sister and starts to make a bowl. Both girls encounter problems with their models and work out how to fix them. My 2-year-old is happy to squish the clay, making marks with knives and then moves the pieces around the garden, collecting loose parts and piling blocks together.

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My Thoughts on the Tickell Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage

I usually approach such reading with trepidation, however when Jonathan Douglas Chairman of the National Literacy Trust described it as ‘exhilarating’ my ears pricked up.

The Review recognises the success and popularity of the EYFS and that it will be some time before this will be fully embedded in practice.  It therefore does not recommend radical change, but maintaining  EYFS in its current form whilst  fine tuning certain aspects.  I’m sure this will be a relief to many who are only just getting to grips with the EYFS and dread being faced with even more change. The tone of the report feels very much as though Dame Tickell has listened to the many individuals and organisations involved in the consultation and shows a commitment to the importance of early education. The review supports learning through play, active learning, creativity and critical thinking as characteristics for effective teaching and  recommends  that the EYFS remains inclusive and mandatory.

There are a number of recommendations in the review including:-

  • A greater emphasis on parental partnership .  The EYFS should be more accessible to parents by making sure it is in plain English.  I also think this would really help with the wide range of people that use it and help to remove any ambiguity .  In addition an online interactive version of EYFS is recommended that would be accessible to parents.
  • A reduction of the Early Learning Goals from 69 to 17, with a simple scale defining the skills needed for emerging, expecting and exceeding each goal.  Anything that reduces targets has to be a good thing in my opinion and the examples of the simple scale are very clear.
  • A commitment to greater clarity on the level of paperwork required, alongside the suggestion that paperwork should be reduced.  This sits alongside the recommendation that Ofsted and the Local Authority work together to ensure that no unnecessary demands made.
  • There continues to be an emphasis on formative assessment based on observations of daily activities to illustrate children’s learning.  Summative assessment (the Foundation Stage Profile) will be significantly reduced and there is a call for stronger links between EYFS and KS1.
  • A call to investigate as a matter of urgency the suitability of a ratio of 1:30 in reception classes.
  • A commitment to recruiting a professional and highly qualified workforce including a review of Early Years training courses and a clear progressive structure for qualifications.  I just hope that this quality is maintained by providing financial incentives.
  • A recommended change to the areas of learning. This would create 3 Prime areas – Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional and Physical and 4 further areas through which these will be applied. These would be Literacy, Maths, Expressive Arts and Design and Understanding the World.  I am undecided as to whether the separation of Communication and Language from Literacy will lead to a greater emphasis on speaking and listening or whether it will detract from the interdependence of reading, writing, speaking and listening.  I hope that there will be clear advice as to what early literacy is .  I am a little disheartened that literacy is defined in terms of reading and writing and that definitions have not been reframed for a new technological age.  I am also unsure about the change from Creativity to
  • Expressive Arts and Design.  I am certain that it has been changed to avoid ambiguity, but creativity encompasses so much more than art and design, that I would hope that this would be fostered in diverse ways.  It is good to see that technology has a specific mention in Understanding the World.
  • A review of children’s development at aged 2-2.5  sharing knowledge from all agencies.

The examples of good practice in the appendices make good reading and there are some thought provoking quotations interspersed throughout.  Reading the whole document takes some time, but is worthwhile.  If you didn’t want to read the whole review the summary of recommendations in Annex 2 will give an overview.

I watch with interest to see how policy makers will adopt these recommendations for the new EYFS.

The full consultation report can be viewed  here

‘Can I sing on the microphone?’ Recording children’s voices.

Since investing in a Samson C01U Studio Condenser USB microphone, this has been a regular request from my 2 year old.  It was originally intended as a means of recording music and voice for rehearsal purposes, for listing on audioboo or creating cd resources.  However, once my 2 year old had tried it out , she was addicted.  She sings into the microphone and then sits down to listen to it back.  This got me thinking about how it would be an extremelly useful resource for schools and nurseries for both music and literacy.  Older children could be encouraged to record and edit their performances (we use audacity for this) and would be especially useful in the teaching of dynamics.

I recently attended  a talk about Vivian Paley’s ideas for creating story circles.  In these young children tell their stories to a teacher  and then the group come together to act them out with the author taking the main part in the story.  There was some discussion as to how time consuming it was to record the stories in written form .  If the stories were recorded into a computer and converted to mp3 format this would enable the stories to be recorded quickly and easily and if my 2 year old is typical , I would also imagine that most children would be eager to have a turn.  It would also help to build reluctant writers storytelling skills without the anxiety of having to write it down.  Since children’s ability to tell a story verbally is a pre-requisite to story writing then this would be a wonderful tool for children in their first years of school.