Category Archives: nature

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.

 

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Have You Ever Eaten Every Part of a Plant? We did on our field trip to Oxbow Farm.

Oxbow Farm is my favourite place for field trips.  The guides are wonderfully entertaining and keep the kids motivated with songs, movement, challenges and a fast paced, hands-on journey through the farm.

The children learn about the farm plants and have an opportunity to investigate, pick and taste everything, whilst being shown respect for the plants and their environment.

They eat leafy plants being careful not to stand on the plants.

picking Kale leaves
Snap off a whole Kale leaf and eat it. “It tastes like broccoli”

They eat seeds, learning about where the seeds come from, how they are spread and dried out in the greenhouse.

seeds drying in the greenhouse
The children collected bean pods in the garden, split the pods and brought the seeds to dry in the greenhouse

taking the beans from their pods

They eat stems. We found tiny celery sticks to try.

They eat flowers. We ate small yellow flowers that tasted like licquorice.

edible flowers

They eat fruit. We ate juicy apples from the tree and found the seeds inside them.

They eat roots. We pulled salad turnips and carrots from the ground, washed them and ate them.

tasting a salad turnip
tasting a salad turnip. “It tastes a bit spicy”

The children found a caterpillar

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Found out that runner bean leaves stick to you

runner beans

and even played hide and seek in the rhubarb

And everyone had a juicy pumpkin to take home.

Whittling with Kids

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, this means if you purchase any  products using these links, I will receive a small commission.sticks to whittle

The girls are totally hooked on the television survival series Alone and eager to go out into the woods and test out their skills. My 6-year-old can often be found attempting to whittle a stick with a pair of blunt ended scissors.  It worried me that she didn’t have the correct tools to do this properly and I felt it may be more dangerous to whittle with scissors than with a suitable knife.

My husband bought my eldest a knife when she was younger, so we discussed when might be a suitable time to introduce the younger girls to knife skills. I always believe that when children show a strong interest in learning a skill, then the time is right to introduce them to the appropriate tools. My youngest has very strong motor skills and co-ordination and follows instructions well. The girls are able to peel vegetables with a peeler and  have practised chopping fruit and vegetables with a small kitchen knife. With this in mind, we decided the time was right to buy the girls their first knives.

My husband researched the knives used by a local wilderness school and decided on the morakniv fixed blade outdoor knife.  The knives are the perfect size for little hands. They have  a grip handle, sharp blade and a sheath with a clip belt. They come in a variety of colours. We chose neon colours, so they would be able to see them easily.

The first lesson was how to get the knife out of its sheath. They were a little frightened at first but soon got the hang of it. These knives have a bump at the side to remind the children of the correct way to face the knife when removing it from the sheath.

The children have to follow the following rules and guidelines:-

  1. They are only to use the knives under adult supervision
  2. Always put the knife back in its sheath when not in use.
  3. The knives are to be stored in a special drawer and always put away after use.
  4. Never cut towards their hands (they’ve seen what happens if this rule is broken on Alone).
  5. Always sit down when using the knife
  6. Always keep their eyes on what they are doing. If they need to look away, put the knife away first.

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The girls loved whittling sticks and were desperate to try other projects. I bought them a book on whittling, The Little Book of Whittling.  Some of the projects were difficult with their knives because the blade was too long.  On our camping trip this summer, we bought them a multi tool with a smaller knife. With this, they were able carve more successfully and new skills were learned.  They learned how to  fold it safely and we only had one small accident when my youngest closed it a little to close to her hand.  This made the girls more careful in future.

Whittling has been the favourite pastime of the summer. I had to spend a lot of time supervising them, and my garden is littered with bits of wood and splinters but they have had so much fun and learned a lot.

One of my favourite projects, was sharpening sticks to put in the ground and make a playground. They added string to join pieces together and made a zip wire, slide, climbing frame and monkey bars.

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The slide
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My personal favourite, the zip wire for teddy

They spent a lot of time stripping  bark from sticks. Some they used for tent pegs, some they sharpened to make arrows and sometimes they simply whittled the sticks for fun.

They also learned to split pieces of wood with a knife. They used a thick stick as a hammer to push the knife through the wood.

splitting wood

They attempted to make a spoon, like one of the contestants on Alone, but hollowing out wood was a little tricky with their knives. They found it much easier with the multi tool.

attempting to make a spoon

They came up with all kinds of imaginative projects,some more successful than others. In the video my daughter demonstrates how she is making a rain collector. The large stick on the floor is the one they used as a hammer, to split sticks. You can clearly see the difficulty the girls had with hollowing sticks. This project remained unfinished, which is just as well considering we haven’t had any rain this summer!

I can’t wait to see what they achieve as they become more skilled.

 

How to Make Sun Prints

sun prints

You will need:

  • sheets of sun sensitive paper
  • clear plastic or sheet of glass from a photo frame
  • bowl of water

I bought sun sensitive paper for my girls as a gift, but today was our first trial. We set out to find objects to place on the paper.  Our first attempt used loose parts.

loose parts on sun sensitive paper1. Create  your designs inside, away from sunlight and put the paper on cardboard or a tray to help carry it outside.

sun sensitive paper

2. Cover the picture with glass to stop it blowing away and keep it flat and place in the sun for 3-5 minutes. The paper will turn white.

sun prints with sun senstive paper

3. Remove the glass and the objects. Place the paper in a bowl of water for 1 minute, to stop the chemical reaction.

4. Remove the pictures and leave to dry.

As you can see, one of the pictures came out clearly, whereas the other had only faint prints.  The girls discussed why this might be.

Why did mine work better?  I thought mine was in the sun longer but the other one was definitely in the sun for longer, so I don’t know.

It wasn’t because my things were heavier because I used sequins too. Maybe it wasn’t pressed on as hard?

leaves collected for sun prints

I suggested they try another, to see if they could work it out. This time we searched the garden for natural materials.  Usually, I only let the girls use natural things from the ground, but this time I gave them permission to pick flowers and leaves.  They searched the flower bed and found things they hadn’t seen before,  climbed the tree to reach leaves and lichen and we found that even weeds could have interesting shapes.

They chose their favourites to make a design.

making sun prints

And left them in the sun to develop

sun prints

This batch was both successful.

Sun prints

I love the detail of the smaller leaf. The girls reflected on the success of these pictures.

I think it worked better this time because we laid the leaves really flat before we started, or perhaps it is because we left it in the water for longer? But I don’t think that would make a difference.

sun prints

Even the little sequins came out this time.

We saved a few sheets for their big sister to try, it will be interesting to see what she will create. I also ordered bigger sheets because some of the bigger leaves didn’t fit on the 5×7 paper.

The Great Mud Bake Off

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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

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.

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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.

4 Ways to Inspire Kids to Go Outside and Be Active

Disclaimer: No payment was received for writing this post. I received a few small samples of Go Organically Fruit Snacks.

go organically outdoors

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports month and to inspire kids to get outside and be active this spring Go Organically have come up with 4 things to try. I don’t often share content from brands but I liked the ideas in this one and they align very closely to the ways I encourage my family to go outside.

My kids favourite outdoor activity is climbing trees. It’s the first thing they do when they get home from school and I love that it attracts them more than any other activity.It is important to me that my kids get independent playtime outside, but sometimes kids won’t go outside without a little push from an adult.  Here are some simple ideas from Go Organically fruit snacks  if your kids need a little encouragement.

reading in the tree

1.       Gear Up

Make sports equipment easily accessible so you’ll be more likely to use it. Park bicycles near the front of your garage, or keep scooters in the mudroom to inspire impromptu usage. Stash a Frisbee or soccer ball in your car for pick-up games, or “catch up” on the day while playing a quick game of catch in the evenings. The idea is to integrate activity into your everyday life so it becomes a part of your routine.

I love the advice about integrating it into everyday life. We use scooters to go to school everyday, often stop at the pond near school to explore the changing seasons and have skipping ropes near the door so they are easy to grab.

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2.       Play Nature Bingo

Which family member has an eagle eye for spotting things like squirrels, ant hills or pine cones? To find out, head to your local park—or simply your own backyard—and play an active yet educational game of Nature Bingo. Print out a free online template (we like these for their earthy feel) and try to find as many items as you can, marking off each square as you go.

Nature bingo is always fun. When my girls were younger and struggled to walk back from the park, I would pretend we were pirates and give them a list of “treasures” they had to find or collect .You can also try some of these  woodland activities we enjoyed. They would work equally well in a garden or park.

finding big cat markings

3.       Embrace Old School Games

When we were kids, it was all about classic backyard games like Freeze Tag, Simon Says and Hide-and-Seek. Our favorite? Red Light/Green Light. One child acts as the “stoplight” and stands with his or her back to the crowd across the yard from the other kids. When the stoplight shouts “green light,” the kids move forward and try to be the first to touch the stoplight. At any point, the stoplight may shout “red light!” and turn around. If any of the players are caught moving, they’re out.

Regular readers will know, I think it is really important to teach my kids games from my childhood and other simple games. It will not only preserve these games and rhymes for future generations but it is also an opportunity to play together outside. I recently taught them how to play elastics (French skipping) and we had great fun.

Try out some of my families favourites here.

hopscotch

4.       Take a Walk

It sounds so simple, but sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics with regular family walks. Take the dog out together in the morning instead of making it a one-man job. Or work off dinner by hitting the pavement as a family for a sunset stroll. It’s a great way to discover your surroundings, get to know your neighbors, and enjoy quality time as a family while burning off energy. When my youngest was small she hated to walk but loved to see things in our neighbourhood. I bought her a scooter and she used that and never complained.

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Before my youngest started school, she would ask me everyday if we could go for a walk.  We wouldn’t go far, a quick circuit around the neighbourhood was often enough for her, but she loved to discover things you can only find on foot.  We identified flowers and plants, rescued worms and snails, found caterpillars, ducklings, birds, frogs and salamanders, caught blossom, collected leaves and carried sheets of ice.  My daughter didn’t like to walk far when she was younger but once I bought her a scooter we could go on long walks together.

carrying a sheet of ice

What are your favourite ways of getting outside?

If you like these ideas, and you would like to explore more, below are some of my many outdoor play posts.

Activities with leaves

Inspiration for a low cost outdoor playspace

Ideas for encouraging children to enjoy their natural environment

Water Gun activities

Build a Fairy Garden

 Ideas for playing outside in the Spring

Ideas for playing outside in the rain

Ideas for playing outside in the dark

Ideas for playing in the snow

Children connecting with Nature (discussing the findings of a 3 year study into how connected to nature the UK’s children are)

Loose Parts

Why mud Play is good for children

Finding the alphabet in nature

To find more resources, click on the outdoor play tab above.