Category Archives: sensory play

Why Ice is the Perfect Loose Part

Why ice is the perfect loose part

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

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

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

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

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

ice skating on the pond

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

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

carrying a sheet of ice

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

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

Ice is a perfect loose part. It

  • Encourages expoloration
  • Is a full sensory experience
  • Can be any shape or size
  • Can be easily found
  • Presents challenges as it changes form.
  • The children can help create it in different shapes and forms
  • And is fascinatingly beautiful
Ice
I broke this piece – look at all the lovely patterns.

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

 

ice on bare feet

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

 

Advertisements

Storytelling with Shadow Puppets

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

outdoor shadow puppet theatre

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

home made shadow puppets

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

hand shadows

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

 

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

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

 

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

The Great Mud Bake Off

IMG_1634

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

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

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

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

The children explain the rules for the judging.

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

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

Frog Cake in Great Mud Bake Off

And Master Baker this week is…..

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

Great Mud Bake Off

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

the Great Mud Bake Off

Additional Resources for International Mud Day

Find out why mud play is good for you

Build your own mud kitchen

Make mud faces

I Can’t Be a Teacher who Discourages Mess and Noise

For a teacher like me, who spent her teaching career with under 5’s, I am used to teaching in a messy, noisy environment.  Children are permitted and often encouraged to make a mess and be messy.

duck swimming down the waterfall

Young children need to do and create things on a large-scale. They use big chunky brushes, they use oversized pieces of paper, they are developing their motor skills through moving around in a large space, they build with big bricks, look at big books and work on the floor.

IMG_0707

Children are developing their language, communication and social skills. They are encouraged to talk as they learn, to ask questions, re-tell events, act out scenarios, explore sounds and negotiate with their peers.

If an early years classroom was always tidy and always quiet, I would be very concerned.

Early years classrooms are well organised. Resources have their place and children are shown how to return resources and take care of them.  But when the children are at play they are rarely tidy.

dens

Early years classrooms discourage shouting, teach children to take turns when talking in a group and are building the foundations of listening skills but much of their learning is verbal and kinetic so would not and should not be silent.

It makes me so sad to see children at desks in silence once they start school, children walking around the school without making a sound. It saddens me to see lots of whole class teaching where there is little room to be different, make choices or move around the classroom. Carpeted classrooms where we have to be so careful about making a mess, so there are no painting easels, water trays or sand boxes. Where the kindergartners don’t have an outdoor classroom to extend their space and experiences. Mostly, the teachers know that this isn’t right for the children, they do their best to bring fun into the classroom and make learning as active as possible, but their hands are tied by environments, school policies and by national or state curriculum and assessment.

Sometimes I think I should return to teaching to show that there is another way. Mostly, I think I’d end up demoralised, frustrated and constrained by a system with very different values.

Yesterday, for our final art lesson, I wanted the children to have fun with art, to work on a large-scale and be messy. It was to be an outdoor celebration of art.  My plan was to set up a number of art stations outdoors and have a volunteer on each station.  This didn’t quite work to plan due to a shortage of volunteers so I scaled it down to 3 activities.

Activity one

I taped paper to the base of a large paddling pool. The children squirted tempura paint in different colours into the pool.  I then threw in a variety of balls. We worked together, holding the pool and tilting it to make the balls roll in the paint and make a pattern. The children squealed with laughter. They took it in turns to send the balls towards different members of the class and tried different techniques to make balls of different weights and sizes move.

IMG_1540

 

Activity two

I added powder paint to pots of bubbles and mixed it well.  A large piece of paper was taped to the wall and the children used a variety of bubble wands to blow the coloured bubbles onto the paper and make it pop. They enjoyed touching it with their hands as it popped and dripped down the wall leaving splashes on the floor.

img_1553.jpg

 

Activity Three

I would have done this one outside on a large piece of paper too, but I felt the teacher felt more comfortable at a table, so this activity was moved inside. The children blew paint onto their paper with straws and then used sharpies to turn the shape into a character or person.

My teacher was a substitute. She greeted me with a bewildered look when I described the projects. Her face suggested she was unsure that I had thought it through and that it would be a logistical nightmare to manage.

I suppose our priorities were different. I didn’t care if the kids were noisy and overexuberant. I wanted to see them laugh, explore and take risks. I didn’t mind if transitions weren’t completely orderly. The children were excited by what they had experienced and what they were to try next. I didn’t mind if the children were messy and paint got onto the playground. The paint was washable and the weather would wash it away. I didn’t mind that the end product wasn’t beautiful or particularly thoughtful. I  wanted them to see that we don’t always have to sit at a desk to paint, that we can create with our whole bodies and with a variety of materials. I didn’t have a learning goal. I wanted the children to share a new experience and to have fun.

Children from other grades who were out at recess, came flocking to see what we were doing, they looked on with envy. The Kindergarten children were full of joy, they talked freely amongst themselves and to me, without inhibition and they helped me to lay the pieces to dry, placing rocks to stop them blowing away. They enjoyed the responsibility, before returning to the classroom to sit at desks, eat their snack and listen to a story in silence.

If you have thoughts about spaces for children Suzanne Axelsson is collecting information about how space affects children’s play and learning outcomes and also, more importantly, how it affects your teaching…. if you cannot teach the way children learn, then it is going to have a HUGE impact…  You can respond to her questions and engage in a conversation about learning spaces here.

 

 

What is That White Stuff Flying Around? Co-constructing Knowledge, Sustained Shared Thinking and Seeing the World Through a Child’s Eyes.

Disclaimer the links to books referenced in this post, contain Amazon Affiliate Links.

Many years ago, I attended a training course where we were encouraged to follow the acronym OWLS in our teacher-child interactions.  OWLS stood for

Observe

Wait

Listen

Speak

Children are naturally full of curiosity. Sometimes questions are asked as a way of thinking out loud and sometimes asked directly to obtain an answer from an adult.  In both scenarios, if we follow OWLS we will discover a great deal about the children’s way of thinking and enable them to provide their own hypotheses.

If we are to support, rather than limit, children’s developing understanding, we need to allow them to help us recapture some of the wonder and innocence we have lost and to gain insight into their struggles to make sense of what is often a confusing and worrying world. Teaching is not about imposing our views, concerns or values on others. It is about enabling children to carry out their own investigations and draw their own conclusions. (Margaret Edgington – The Nursery Teacher in Action)

My children watched the fluff flying around the playground and wondered what it was. I’m not sure if they wanted a direct answer from me or a means of discussing possibilities together. I took it as the latter and listened to their thoughts.

The children used their existing knowledge about fairies, clouds, snow and cushion fillers to create hypotheses.  They also borrowed ideas from the familiar story Cloudland by John Birningham to create a new story. Their answers could be a springboard to a project where the children create worlds, stories and characters involving the mysterious fluff.

Jerome Bruner explains that when we see children as thinkers, understanding is fostered through collaboration and discussion. The child is encouraged to express their views to achieve a meeting of minds with others with different views.

As the discussion ensued, the girls used their senses to explore the material and build on what they already know about the world  to find answers. My role was to build an exchange of understanding between the two children and myself, to find the roots of the children’s systematic knowledge.

 

As we turned the corner we found a clump of the fluffy stuff.

IMG_1376

 

The children began to construct even more elaborate stories, connecting with worlds they had previously imagined.

Encouraging these moments to develop into projects is described by Carolyn Edwards in The Hundred Languages of Children. She describes the role of the teacher in Reggio Schools.

The teachers constantly pay close attention to the children’s activity. They believe that when children work on a project of interest to them, they will naturally encounter problems and questions they will want to investigate. The teachers’ role is to help the children discover their own problems and questions. At that point, moreover, they will not offer ready solutions but instead help children to focus on a problem or difficulty and formulate hypotheses. Their goal is not so much to facilitate learning in the sense of making it smooth or easy, but rather to stimulate it by making problems more complex, involving or arousing. They ask the children what they need in order to do experiments – even when they realise that a particular approach or hypothesis is not “correct”. They serve as the children’s partners, sustaining the children and offering assistance, resources and strategies to get unstuck when encountering difficulties – Carolyn Edwards.

I wonder how many rich learning opportunities are missed in our school system because there isn’t time to slow down and teach in this way? Perhaps, all the more reason to share these experiences with our children when they are at home.

The children went on to discuss the ‘fluff’ with their friends. One friend told them it comes from a tree and they thought it was Dogwood.  The next question was ‘What is a dogwood tree?’. This will be the next step in their discoveries.

Heuristic Play: Activities for Toddlers

TextPicture20170414_1225

I am often asked to suggest art and craft ideas for toddlers. A toddler is not interested in making a product, they enjoy exploratory activities, where they can move around.  I suggest sensory experience where they can use their whole bodies. This might be using art materials like clay or paint but can just as easily be other sensory materials, like ice, water, bubbles, goop, sand or natural materials. I have a sensory play Pinterest board if you are interested in more ideas (I’m happy to have new contributors too, post a comment if you would like to be added).

Another great activity to encourage toddler exploration is heuristic play.

Treasure Baskets (Heuristic Play for Babies)

Treasure baskets are sturdy baskets filled with safe, natural and household objects, which stimulate a baby’s natural curiosity, through their senses.  They are presented to babies to explore from the time they are able to sit. The baby removes things from the basket to investigate the properties of the objects using their hands, mouths and eyes and ears .  The adult’s role is to sit near the baby to offer comfort or support when needed.  Treasure baskets could follow a theme like metal objects, wooden objects or black and white objects. You could choose things your baby is naturally curious about or try new objects.  Always check the safety of the items, make sure they are not small enough to be swallowed, can’t trap little fingers and look out for parts that could break off. Also choose things that can be easily cleaned or replaced at little cost

Suggestions for objects to place in treasure baskets

  • a lemon, lime or orange
  • natural sponges
  • wooden spoons
  • tins with lids or tape the lid down and put something inside to make a sound.
  • empty crisp packets
  • wooden or metal egg cups
  • napkin rings
  • a soft blanket, cloth or scarf
  • large shells
  • A string of large beads
  • laminated photographs
  • a pumice stone
  • large corks
  • wooden nail brush
  • shaving brush
  • small boxes
  • wooden bowls
  • bunch of keys
  • powder puff
  • lavender bags (or fill with other herbs).

What is Heuristic Play?

When young children begin to walk and gain independence they are driven by a natural curiosity and urge to handle things and find out what objects can do.  How often do we find ourselves asking them not to touch, finding that they have pulled things out of cupboards, emptied containers or posted raisins into the DVD player? Heuristic play allows toddlers to freely discover how things work, exploring concepts like posting, stacking and sequencing.

Heuristic Play offers children an opportunity to play freely with a large number of different objects and receptacles in a controlled environment without adult intervention (unless the child requests it). The term was coined by Elinor Goldschmeid and Sonia Jackson – heuristic coming from the Greek word ‘eurisko’ meaning to discover or gain an understanding of.

During a toddler session a variety of multi sensory materials (not toys)  are spread around an otherwise empty room, free from all other distractions. Each child is given a selection of containers with which to explore.

heuristic play

The Adults Role

The adults sit quietly around the outside of the room so as not to distract the child’s natural exploration,  they do not direct the play in any way and only support the child if they come to them for help, are distressed or they sense that their child has had enough.

At the end of the session children help to sort the materials putting them back in their correct bags with the support of the teacher. Objects are stored in labelled drawstring bags, for easy storage.

playing with loose parts
filling eggs with stones and glass beads.

We do not call this ‘tidy up time’ as this is an abstract concept; instead it is merged into part of the experience.

How Do the Children Benefit?

There are many benefits to play of this kind :-

  • Children will be engaged in self-discovery and test hypotheses
  • Cognitive development is strengthened by working out how things work and fit together
  • Develops fine muscle control
  • Develops hand/eye co-ordination
  • Encourages children to make choices
  • There is no right or wrong way to do things therefore it is therapeutic and fully inclusive
  • It sustains children’s natural curiosity
  • Children modify and change what they already know to gain new knowledge
  • Children become absorbed for long periods learning to explore without adult direction.
  • It supports children’s natural ways of learning through schemas.

toddler play activities

Materials I have used during heuristic play sessions

  • shells
  • pinecones
  • conkers
  • tins and boxes
  • poster tubes
  • curtain rings
  • poker chips
  • kitchen roll holders
  • the insides from sticky tape
  • scarves
  • handbags
  • ladles and large spoons
  • plastic fillable eggs
  • baskets
  • cd’s
  • socks
  • strings of beads
  • wooden blocks
  • jam jar lids
  • cotton reels
  • pegs
  • ribbon
  • bunches of keys
  • corks
  • ping-pong balls

 Is Heuristic Play the Same as Loose Parts?

Not really, although they are clearly related.  The main difference is heuristic play is a deliberate attempt to engage children in exploratory play by putting the materials in a room free from all other distractions.  Also the goal is for the children to explore without adult intervention.  In loose parts play the objects are usually part of the pre-school environment and can be used in any way to enhance all aspects of play, the adults normally engage with the children to develop sustained shared thinking.  Children engaged in loose parts play will often explore many of the characteristics of heuristic play and vice versa but they are similar, not the same. Heuristic play will naturally evolve into loose parts play as the children become older.

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

img_0926

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.

oct-07-024

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

puddles

muddy

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

ducklings

IMG_0617
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?

planting

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.