Category Archives: outdoor play

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!

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

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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.

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

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

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The swamp

 

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The mud patch – building rivers and streams

 

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

 

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Polo

Polo

This was my kids’ favourite.

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

 

Red Letter

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

 

Ice-cream

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

 

Please Mr Crocodile

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Playing Outdoors in Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We started to roll the snowball.

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

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

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We had a base for a very dirty snowman.

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We added a middle.

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and a head.

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The finished result.

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

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

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

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

Leavenworth in Winter

 

 

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Last year was our first trip to Leavenworth during the Winter.  We have visited a number of times in the summer and had heard great things about the Christmas lights, so decided to take a trip. The Christmas lighting festival takes place during the first three weeks of December. There are plenty of activities at the festival and the girls loved seeing Santa and Mrs Christmas.

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It gets very busy, so parking can be difficult.  If you prefer to go when it is quieter,the lights remain lit until February. We took another trip with guests after Christmas, which personally I preferred as it wasn’t so crowded.

Leavenworth is the perfect place to find snow. Take your sledges with you and go down the hill in the town centre.  It is pretty bumpy so your sledge may not survive evidenced by the pile of broken plastic sledges at the bottom of the hill at the end of the evening. Surprisingly, the sledges we brought over from the UK survived, but the ones we bought here cracked.sledging in leavenworth

On our first visit we weren’t quite prepared for how cold it would be. We took our dog , who shivered the whole time and since we arrived in the evening for the lights, we really needed an extra layer of clothing.  On our next visit we came fully prepared with our ski gear and left the dog at home.

Ski hill was the perfect place for my eldest to try out her snow board for the first time. Our guest skied on the larger slope and the younger ones tried out tubing.

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The view was spectacular too. When we had all had too much cold, we had hot drinks at the lodge on the hill and warmed ourselves by the fire.

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I think if I were to go again, I would book early for an overnight stay.  A day trip is fine in the Summer but I think a warm fire, hot drink and comfortable bed nearby would top off the day perfectly.

Big Rock Park

We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an area where there are lots of great parks. Last week saw the grand opening of Big Rock Park, so we took a trip to see what it was like.

I liked that it didn’t have the same old playground equipment.  The slide was built into a hill, with a natural climb up to it and the zip wire was low enough for young children to climb on independently. There were also a number of climbing posts made from tree stumps and plentiful building blocks crafted from branches.

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They have really tried hard to maintain this as a nature park.  The fences are all crafted from rough cut wood and they are still cultivating the meadow around the slide complete with little peep holes. In collaboration with STEM High School, Big Rock Park will design an environmental education programme and promote renewable technology.

Beyond the playground you can head down to the nature trails.  On the way admire the giant nest built by local families last year.

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At Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, in England, the playground (wellyboot land)  had giant bouncy eggs. This nest is crying out for some of those.

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As you head into the trails you have a number of paths available, all well signposted.  The trails aren’t very long, so perfect for little legs to explore.

Leading towards the trail is another little guest.

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Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?

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This was easily the main attraction. The trails circle around the rock and lead back to this wonderful natural climbing area.

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We loved the new park and will be heading back soon with the older children, who were sad that they missed it.

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

Some children hate bugs, they think they are disgusting or scary. That’s why I love our annual preschool bug hunt in the  woods. The children look for bugs, find out about them, collect them in bug jars and bring them back to observe in a terrarium for a few weeks.

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In our front garden we have a wildflower border.  As we pass it each day we look out for bees, ladybirds and butterflies. When we found aphids on the lupins, we hoped they would attract ladybirds.

“Why can’t we spray them?” my daughter asked. She had been learning about aphids at school.

“If we spray them”, I explained, it will disrupt the ecosystem, “the ladybirds won’t come and ladybirds are good food for birds.  If we kill off all the bugs we will have fewer birds and small mammals in the garden.”

They don’t like every bug – they are a little afraid of spiders, think mosquitoes are a nuisance and my youngest is a little unsure about worms but they don’t see that as a reason to kill them. We know the worms in our compost bin turn our scraps into compost for the garden , spiders can be left alone if they live outside and they are good because they eat flies and even mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. This is a useful resource for explaining to children why bugs are good.

There are two kinds of bug we don’t collect on the bug hunt.

  1. Termites because they will eat our preschool.  The children know that termites are important for breaking down old wood from fallen trees but they need to stay in the woods.

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2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted.  There is plenty of food for them in the woods.

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There were other bugs to collect.

Lots of worms and millipedes.

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Spiders

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and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.

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We looked up
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and down.
looking for bugs in a decomposing log

We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
tree log hollowed out

It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.

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Sometimes it is useful to add a focus to a walk and those tiny bugs can easily be forgotten, so next time you walk with your kids, turn over some logs and stones and see what you can find.