Category Archives: home schooling

Why Is Pretend Play Important?

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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.

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Free Resources for Play and Ideas for How to Use Them.

We have recently joined a wonderful group called Buy Nothing. The idea is that people in the local community share, via a Facebook group, the things they no longer need and offer them to others for free.  It is a great way for an outsider like me to feel part of the community. Our group also has a central meeting point, where you can drop off and collect reserved items or look through the other items, to find little gems.  Browsing the things people have offered has inspired lots of new play opportunities.  Here are a few to share. You may be inspired to use some of the things you have stashed away or maybe even set up a Buy Nothing group of your own.

 

The Flower Shop

We were given a huge amount of fabric flowers from a member. I  had often considered  setting  up a play flower shop at nursery but the flowers were so expensive and we needed a large quantity.  I was very excited to finally have the chance to try it out. The girls have been making flower arrangements, taking telephone and internet orders and delivering the flowers in a little car.  After posting  photographs of the shop on the group page, we have been gifted even more flowers; such is the beauty of a community like this.

The girls have loved this so much and it looks really beautiful in the garden.  They asked if there was such a thing as a real flower shop; so that’s next on the agenda.

Baby Bath – Water Beads and a Nail Salon

There was a poor, lonely baby bath, crying out for attention on one of our recent visits.  A few water beads and hollow eggs later and we had an activity for my toddler class.

water beads

The girls had more great ideas when I brought it home. The water beads in the bath made a perfect foot spa for a nail salon.

foot spa

Squeezy Bottles for Puffy Paint

Someone was giving away squeezy bottles, they were perfect for  puffy paint.

puffy paint

My eldest was very impressed

Wow! What is this?

she remarked, when she spotted the dry pictures.

Mirror Play

I saw an image of a beautiful mirrored table recently, so when someone offered mirrors, I thought we could recreate something similar.

 

I am so lucky to be able to provide my children with these opportunities due to the generosity of others. Inspired? Why not create a Buy Nothing group in your locality?

 

 

 

 

 

How to Teach Preschool Science

I don’t make assumptions about what my children will learn from an activity.  I don’t presume that they will learn anything, I’m happy if they are absorbed and having fun.

Sometimes a simple activity can unexpectedly become a rich learning experience full of questions and discoveries. These for me are precious moments. I have recently become aware that the simplest craft activities lead us unexpectedly into an exploration of scientific concepts. For example,we recently acquired a movie reel canister, perfect for paint rolling .  I gave the girls a small box of marbles and small balls (a ping-pong eyeball and a golf ball) and a few pots of paint. The discussion that ensued was interesting.

paint rolling

 Child 1 : 5-years-old    Child 2 : 3-years-old.

eyeball

Child 1: The eyeballs go much slower.  I think because the eyeball is bigger it goes much slower but the marble is smaller so it goes faster.

Child 2: It’s too sticky

Why do you think it is sticky?

Child 2: Maybe there’s too much paint.

golf ball

Child 1: This one is not as sticky as the other one but it is much bigger.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t put as much paint on.

What makes the 2 balls different?

Child 1: One is bumpy and one is smooth…………..but that would make it slower.

It gets stuck and the other one goes really fast.  Maybe the material it is made from is sticky but now that we don’t have as much paint on, it goes fast.  Perhaps the paint sticks to the material and stops it slipping and sliding.

Maybe because the golf ball is hard it doesn’t stick to the paper, maybe the paint doesn’t like it and slips off.

When we went to wash the balls we checked to see which would float.

Child 1: The golf ball and the marble sink and the eyeball floats.  This one floats because it is all filled up with air.

Child 2: This one sinks because it is bigger…………………….. but what about the marble, that sinks?

Child 1: It is because it is heavier.

The connection between the mass of the ball and how fast it travelled did not register but there are many other projects we can explore to help them work it out.

These incidental science experiments happen a lot. There was the time I left an empty milk carton outside and they turned it into a tap by inserting a straw. The girls decided they needed to find a way to turn it on and off. Further experimentation helped them work out how to get the tap to drain all of the water.  My role as teacher was not to give them the answers but to ask questions like ‘How could you make it better?’ What could you use to…? or what would happen if…?

tap science

Having open-ended materials readily available makes it easy for them to instigate projects .  This week, I put pieces of foam in the water table soaked in bubble mixture and showed them how to squeeze the foam to make bubbles.  I knew my eldest would love this.  She had another idea, taking a piece of plastic tubing she blew into it creating lots of foam. The children’s ideas are always the best! She asked me for test tubes and filled them with  bubble mixture and opened her own beauty parlour with potions that made your hair soft or skin younger.

foam bubbles

 

In the TED talk, Science is Play , Beau Lotto views Science as a way of being. He explains,

“We normally walk through life responding. If we ever want to do something different, we have to step into uncertainty…. Science lets us step into uncertainty through the process of play.”

Our youngest children are full of uncertainty so they are naturally questioning things all of the time. Isn’t that the foundation of science? Our skill as teachers is not to feed them the answers but to give them the tools to make their own discoveries. Do we need to plan specific science lessons? Isn’t science and discovery the very essence of childhood?Children don’t call it science, they call it play and in play they work things out for themselves.

I love this quote from the American Scientist article entitled ‘Science as Play

When I grew up, every kid put in some serious sandbox time, and it often involved building (what seemed like) complex sand structures around which fantasies were composed and competitions took place with neighborhood kids. The organic chemistry labs (at Yale during the junior year) were fun in the same way. We constructed molecules and competed with each other in the class on speed and yield. We mixed things up, and chemical transformations took place. We separated, we isolated, we analyzed. The odors were pleasant, and the physical process of working with our hands, as with sand, was satisfying. The biweekly organic labs became the high points of my week. By the end of the year, I knew that I wanted to be an organic chemist, as I realized one could play in the sandbox for a living. (Joseph B Lambert)

Playing in the sandbox for a living? ‘Isn’t that what I do?

 

 

 

Ideas for Outdoor Play in the Springtime

whisking water

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

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

ducks

 

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

 

A Bug Hunt

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

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

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

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

Gardening

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

 Painting the Ground

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

pebble painting

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

 

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

foot painting

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

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

violets

Echoes

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

Mummy why do our voices sound all echoing?

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

Yes

We moved something to see if that made a difference.

We are still echoing.

How do you make echoes?

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

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

Flowers and Plants

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

Harry Potter

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

Water Spritz

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

First they wanted to clean.

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

I know we could use this as a shield.

umbrella shield

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

 

How I Encourage my Children to Become Confident Writers

Happy New Year everyone.

writing toddler

The lead up to Christmas was a great time for writing messages in our house.  Our visiting elf Christopher Poppinkins left notes for the girls and they responded with their own notes, we made gifts for the neighbours with a little note attached, wrote Christmas cards for the family, shopping lists and yesterday the girls helped me write a list of songs for my music class.

As children approach school age, parents are often anxious about their children’s emerging literacy and how best to support them at home.

When is the right time to introduce writing?

Does my child need to be able to write their name before they go to school?

How do I start?

Do they have to form letters in a particular way?

Writing is a complex skill involving much more than the correct formation of letters. I can’t guarantee that my girls will continue to love writing but I think we are headed in the right direction.

If you are interested in finding out how I  encourage the girls to write and keep it enjoyable I am sharing some of my experience in a guest post for ‘What to Expect.’

4 Ways to Help Toddlers Fall in Love with Writing

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.

icicles

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

icicles

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?

Yes.

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.

steam

steam

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?

salt.

salt

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 :

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Home Preschooling – Doing it My Way

blocksThis year I am home preschooling my 2 youngest, not something I ever thought I would find myself doing but my reasons for making this choice can be found in a previous post Why I am Home Preschooling my Children.

I get a mixed reaction from people, some give me a glazed expression as if to say really? Can’t you just send them to preschool like the rest of us?  Others wonder why on earth I would want to. Some look at me as if I am some kind of Supermum and others as if I am denying my kids a normal social life.  Some however, just want to know how it all works and what exactly I do with them – this post is for you.

It really isn’t rocket science, I don’t follow a rigid schedule and  home schooling allows us loads of flexibility. My 5-year-old said today

I’m glad we are doing your preschool because it means we can go to the zoo whenever we want.

It isn’t entirely without structure though – I plan for the learning environment and have a timetable .  I suppose it is a little like having a plan for how you spend time with your children. It isn’t an academic preschool, we play and explore together, sometimes they play alone and we share interests, questions and ideas.

What about interaction with other children?

One day a week we have no preschool the girls go to ballet class, meet with friends and help me with normal everyday things like grocery shopping.

large blocks
Building a mountain with the large blocks.

Two days a week we attend a local membership based playspace, it’s a little like a toddler group in the UK except that it is a purpose-built space and is open all day. Some  of the music and language games we play at home don’t work very well with only 2 children  so I run music and movement, craft, sensory play or storytelling sessions here which gives us an opportunity to do activities in a larger group.  The rest of the time I allow them to free play but take their learning diaries to record what they may be interested in or achieving  in a different context.  The girls get chance to play with other children and use different materials than those we have at home.

The other 2 days are home based but sometimes we will use one of them to go out on a trip.

Timetabling

visual timetable)One of the things I have disliked about many preschools is the rigidity of their schedules.  There seemed to be little time for the children to become absorbed in a project or flexibility about what they might do each day.  I did however feel it was important to have some schedule in place.  I created a visual timetable using printed symbols.  Certain symbols are always present – Snack, lunch, free play and others I add in based on what we might do that day.  The symbols can be moved around and often if we don’t have time for an activity I move it to the bottom of the timetable to be saved for next time.  Sometimes I let the children plan the timetable  although they don’t exactly have a realistic understanding of time so we usually end up with far too many activities to get through in one day. It is also a really good way of regulating screen time, this usually goes into the timetable for after lunch followed by outdoor choosing time and if they ask for it earlier in the day I point them to the timetable. I’m surprised at how well the timetable works , the girls really respond to it and look forward to knowing what they are doing next.

How we Plan

observation into planning

I plan, building on the children’s interests to provide next steps in their learning.  If I observe the children following consistent patterns of play, enjoying particular materials or asking questions, I record them and consider what I might plan next to enable the children to use this skill or interest in a different way or to extend their learning further.  For example, my  youngest daughter has just learned to cut with scissors and loves to  snip paper into tiny pieces.  She also loves gluing so I suggested they use the pieces to make a collage. As an extension to this we are going to look at pictures of mosaics for further inspiration and play with wooden pattern tiles. Only having 2 children to observe means that their learning experiences can be truly individualised in a way that might not be possible in a bigger setting.

collage

Planning for the Learning Environment

environment planning

In addition to this I also have a plan for the environment.  How often this changes is fairly flexible. Using  information from the observation into planning, I might decide to include particular materials with the sand or water, put a particular craft activity out, lay out particular toys, set up a new role play area or display materials in a certain way. For example the girls were playing cafes at the play centre so at home the next day I gave them  notebooks to take orders and a chef’s hat.  I laid the table and I was the customer. This also allowed them to build on some of their other current interests like emergent writing and playing picnics. Sometimes we may just try something new and see if they like it and how they play with it – they are usually good at making suggestions as to what we might do next.

The Learning Environment

There are certain materials I like to always have available to the children

  • sand (outside)
  • water (outside)
  • craft materials
  • paper and pencils
  • books
  • loose parts
  • construction
  • small world toys
  • role play and dressing up

In an ideal world clay and paint also but this is a little messy even for me especially in the winter when we don’t use outside as much.

All these materials however are difficult to manage. I have recently reorganised our playroom but I still feel that there are too many things on view.


It isn’t as easy to have the environment you would like when it is your own home but I’m constantly re-evaluating how we display things and adding new ideas to the outside area.

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