Category Archives: parenting

20 Outdoor Things to Do Before You are 5

 

outdooe pin.pngThese Ideas were originally written for Parentmap in 2013

When my eldest daughter was working through the National Trust’s list of ’50 things to do before you are 11 3/4′.  I was inspired to create a companion list for my younger children.  Some of the challenges on the National Trust list, like picking wild blackberries were easily completed by young children but I felt a list of basic foundational outdoor experiences for babies, toddlers and preschoolers could work alongside it.

I realise that we are fortunate to live in a house with a garden and nature all around us but I tried hard to make the experiences accessible to all, in all weather and without an outdoor space at home. There are many amazing things that young children can experience outdoors, these are the ones I believe are essential .

20 things to do before you are 5.   

  1. Splash in a puddle:  Put on your rain boots and/or waterproof trousers and splash in puddles large, small and muddy.puddles
  2. Blow a dandelion clock : counting out the hours of the day as you blow

    blowing a dendelion clock
    child blowing a dandelion clock
  3. Play in sand: In a sand box, at the park or at the beach. Playing with sand needn’t be limited to building sandcastles. Explore wet and dry sand, fill containers, hide things in the sand, draw in it with a stick or make a dinosaur swamp.

    sand play
    Sand play
  4. Walk through crunchy autumn leaves: You could also catch some from the trees as they fall, take them home and print with them or make a crunchy collage.autumn leaves
  5. Catch blossom from a tree.blossom
  6. Play in the snow:  If snow is thin on the ground head out to a snow park or if you live in a country where you don’t have snow, set up some icy play in the sunshine.

    lying in the snow
    I just want to lie in it
  7. Grow a flower from a bulb or a seed: Guess the colour of the flower that will grow or grow a tall sunflower and measure it as it grows.WP_20130718_004 (2)
  8. Ride a tricycle, bicycle or scooter.IMG_0513
  9. Make a mud pie: You could even build a mud kitchen using old pans and kitchen utensils.mud kitchens
  10. Walk barefoot on grass, mud or sand: Walking barefoot helps children to balance and strengthens muscles in the foot. It is also a great way to stimulate the senses and talk about different textures.IMG_0615
  11. Collect natural materials from the woods, beach or park: Collect shells, leaves, pinecones or seeds. Put double sided tape on a pair of boots or a hat and help the children collect items to stick on. Use them to make pictures, sculptures or for small world play.skeleton leaf
  12. Go on a bug hunt: Dig for worms, look in dark places or watch spider webs wet with dew.

    bug hunting
    I found a beetle.
  13. Play with a stick: Sticks can be swords, fairy wands or pencils. We have a huge collection outside our front door as our only rule is ‘No sticks in the house’.

    Y sticks
    Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.
  14. Go for a walk in the woods.
  15. Paddle barefooted in the ocean, lake or stream: If your budget or location doesn’t allow you to get to the seaside, lake or stream, paddle barefooted in a puddle.paddling
  16. Play Pooh sticks.pooh sticks
  17. Throw and kick a ball: Start with large balls and as children get older experiment with different shapes and sizes.

    fairground games
    Throw the ball at the trampoline and see if you can bounce it into the tub.
  18. Go fruit picking: At a farm or pick wild berries in the woods or park.strawberry picking
  19. Run in an open space.kite(1)
  20. Chase and blow bubbles.
    dr mazes farm
    small bubbles

    My little ones are over 5 now but still their favourite thing to do is climb the tree in our front garden,  make a mud pie or potion (my 8-year-old carried a pot of gooey mud home from school yesterday) or collect and create with sticks, petals and stones.

What would be on your list?

 

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Scrap Workshop

Scrap Workshop cover

One of my favourite workshops to lead at a local play centre was scrap workshop.

I liked it because it was suitable for all ages, it was a natural extension to my heuristic play workshops with toddlers and it gave children the freedom to develop both creativity and skills.

We collected all kinds of scrap materials, large and small and displayed them in separate containers.

Examples of materials

  • boxes
  • tubes
  • plastic containers
  • fabric
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • shells
  • pinecones
  • bottle tops
  • straws
  • netting

Sometimes we would give the children a project

  • make something that moves
  • make something that makes a sound
  • build a replica of the Mayflower

junk boat

or a problem arising from a project or book

  • invent something to help Rapunzel get out of her tower
  • Can you build a house that can’t be blown down
  • How could you be rescued from a desert island?

but best of all we would make sure there was plenty of tape, string, scissors and markers and let them create and explore.

Sometimes they worked on small projects

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a boat with an anchor

or larger group constructions

building a boat

they practised threading

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and joining

scrap workshop

made things for dramatic play

wings

and problem solved

‘ When children engage with people, objects, ideas or events they test things out and solve problems.  They need adults to challenge and extend their thinking. (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

 

scrap workshop
How can you balance 3 boxes without them breaking?

They made choices

Provide flexible resources that can be used in many different ways to facilitate children’s play and exploration’  (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child).

 

joining parts of the boat

and tested strategies

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they discovered how two different materials could work together

‘ Every child’s learning journey takes a personal path based on their own individual interests, experiences and the curriculum on offer.’ (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child.)

 

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and nobody asked them “What is it?”

Active learners need to have some independence and control over their learning to keep their interest and to develop creativity.’ (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

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They worked at a table

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or on the floor

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and made discoveries using all of their senses.

An open-ended project like this gives plenty of opportunities to observe and work alongside children, guiding them towards their next steps and sharing ideas together.

’ When children have opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things.  Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions’  (EYFS 2008 – Creativity and critical thinking)

 

filling and emptying

This child wasn’t interested in joining pieces or making anything. They explored filling and emptying.

scrap workshop

This child wrapped and wrapped their construction with tape.  They went on to wrap their hands with string. We provided them with materials they could explore wrapping in more depth – paper sheets, tape, string, ribbons , blankets, paper strips with tubes, poles, boxes, and table legs wrapped in string.

‘ Children need and will respond positively to challenges if they have a good relationship with the practitioner and feel confident to try things out.’ ( EYFS 2008 – Supporting learning).

The children were able to work in mixed ages. The youngest children were 2 and the oldest 10. All the children enjoyed the workshops and learned from and supported one another.

‘ In their play children learn at their highest level’  (EYFS 2008 – Play and Exploration).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heuristic Play: Activities for Toddlers

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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.

How we Keep Head Lice Away the Natural Way.

You’ll be very lucky if you manage to escape the school years without at least one case of head lice.  We were lucky until this year when the whole of kindergarten were infested.  We tried stupidly expensive shampoos which worked for a while, but soon I would find an odd one in one of the children’s hair and we would be back to square one.  Combing daily with the nitty gritty comb helped to keep on top of it and I tried spraying their hair with tea tree but they didn’t like the smell.

We have salons locally that specialise in lice removal with a guarantee they won’t return, however at over $100 a head, that wasn’t really an option I wanted to consider.

For months I battled with just keeping on top of things by combing and catching them early until a friend suggested Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel conditioning spray. A blend of organic Rosemary, Citronella,tea Tree and Geranium oils help prevent lice. With all natural ingredients, I didn’t expect it to work, but even when they were running rampant through kindergarten, my daughter remained lice free.  The girls like the smell too, even though there is tea tree in the ingredients, the other fragrances mask it well.

I spray the girls hair every morning before we brush it and it has been a really simple and effective way to keep the lice away.  As a teacher of small children catching head lice is always on the cards, so I will be using it on my own hair too.

We recently used Fairy Tales Shampoo for added protection. My girls hair was beautifully shiny after using it. Fairy Tales offer a whole range of hair products too so I will be looking into those.

Fairy Tales also have other products useful for keeping other bugs at bay. Fairy Tales Bug Bandit – Deet Free, promises to repel fleas, mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies all with a mere spritz.  It is free of harsh chemicals, pesticides, toxins, parabens, sulfates, dairy, gluten and nut free. We haven’t tried this one yet because we haven’t quite hit mosquito season but I’ll definitely try it in the summer, when the girls avoid going out in the evening because they are afraid of being bitten by mosquitoes.

If Bed Bugs are your problem, Fairy Tales also have a Bed Bug Spray without harsh and unsafe ingredients.

Disclaimer: Though I was given sample products, I have purchased and used Fairy Tales products with success before being asked to review their products. All recommendations are based on personal experience. All links are Amazon affiliate links.

 

Alex and Eliza: A Love Story – Young Adult Novel for Hamilton Fans

Alex and Eliza is a young adult novel, documenting the love story between Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler.  Written by best-selling author Melissa De La Cruz, it is likely to be a popular choice for young Hamilton fans. Netgalley  offered me a sneak peek of the first 4 chapters. Will Hamilton fans be disappointed?

The prologue gives an interesting historical insight into the Schuyler family history. As a  prologue should, it left me wanting  to read more . The opening chapter introduces the Schyuler sisters.  Their portrayal is different to the girls presented in Hamilton the Musical.  Eliza is the central character and the author clearly has a strong emotional attachment to her . She is presented as both clever and beautiful, very principled and caring little about the common frippery of young girls seeking a husband. Angelica, certainly in the first part of the book, does not appear to be the leader of the sisters (although she is also described as beautiful, intelligent and the boldest of the sisters) and seems more interested in looking beautiful and attracting men than more intellectual pursuits.  Eliza is independent of her sister in the novel in comparison to her portrayal in the musical. This is also reflected in her initial meeting with Alexander, where her clever use of wordplay puts Alexander down a peg or two. The characters are immediately likeable and interesting and have enough depth to make you care about them.

I was interested in my teenage daughter’s view, as an avid Hamilton fan who has researched the history behind the Hamilton story intensively.  I personally like the way the Schuyler sisters were portrayed but wasn’t sure how close the representation would be to her understanding of the sisters.  She liked it and didn’t find the different portrayal from the musical annoying, as I had wondered she might. She said that she found the switch between the traditional use of language used by the characters and the more modern narrative voice strange at first, I personally didn’t notice a strong switch in tone. My daughter liked it and wanted to read the rest of the book but wasn’t chomping at the bit because she only had the first four chapters.

To be honest that was also my opinion, I liked it, the characters were compelling and I would like to finish reading the book but I wasn’t desperate to read it in one sitting which is always my benchmark for my favourite books. Perhaps only having four chapters and already knowing the main plot was a factor, so I’m still looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Alex and Eliza is available to pre-order with a release date on 11th April 2017.

 

Pre-order on Amazon.com

Pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

 

This post contains affiliate links. No payment or product was received for review purposes.

Picture Books: Future Releases to Look Out for in 2017

A Pattern for Pepper by Julie Kaulis

 Click on image for link for US readers.
 Click on image for link for UK readers

I absolutely love this one. Pepper visits a dress-maker who is making her a dress for a special occasion.  Pepper can’t decide which pattern she should choose for the fabric, so the dressmaker shows her different patterns, explaining their origins and meanings.  Julie Kraulis’ illustrations are adorable; delicately drawn with a simple colour pallet of blue, white and red. The patterns form the background to the illustrations as they are explained in the text, merging text and illustration beautifully. This would make a wonderful read-aloud story to introduce pattern to young children.  I learned a lot!  Available for pre-order, release date 1st August 2017.

Further Activities

1. Bring in different fabrics – can the children identify any of the patterns in the story?  Are there any other patterns? Do all patterns have names?  Make a matching or sorting game.

2. Ask the children to create their own pattern (limit the colours so they focus on the pattern element).  What do you call your pattern and why?

3. Creative writing : what is the story behind your pattern – this could be done orally for pre-writers.

4. Discover fashion designers, look at sketches and photographs of fashion shows. Create designs from pieces of material and scrap materials and role-play a fashion show.

5. Investigate how textiles are made both in modern times and in the past – visit a mill or find a visitor who can spin wool.

6. Practice cutting out pieces for a pattern, laying them on fabric and drawing and cutting around them.  Perhaps try sewing the pieces together with small groups of children or cut them in paper and see if the children can piece them together with tape to make a garment.

Different? Same! by Heather Tekavec illustrated by Pippa Curnick

 Click on image for link for US readers

Link for UK Readers

This non-fiction title, highlights  differences between animals and then asks the reader to stop and think about how they might be the same.  The simple repetitive pattern of the text encourages children to look closely at the animals and predict their  similarities, before it is announced in the text.  This makes it a lovely interactive  book to share with young children.  The illustrations are bright and bold.  At the end of the book, you will find additional activities and further descriptions of the animals featured in the book.

Available for Pre-order: Publication date 2nd May 2017.

Further Activities

  1. Sort other things into same and different groups e.g. fruit and vegetables, transport, natural materials, household objects.
  2. How are you the same as other children in your class/family? How are you different?
  3. Play a guessing game – show four objects and work out how they relate to one another.
  4. Explore animal skins, shells and /or feathers or choose two objects of the same category and describe them orally for young children and in writing for older children.

Where Will I Live by Rosemary McCarney

Click on image for link for US readers

Click on image for link for UK readers
This powerful photo-based picture book for young readers, written by Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, tells the story of the hundreds of thousands of children around the world who have been forced to flee their homes due to war and terror.  The photographs are stunning, and depict the hardships these children face and their resilience without being disturbing to young children.  The text and photographs work together to explain the plight of refuges to young children in a completely age appropriate manner.  A perfect book for introducing a difficult topic to young children.

Available for pre-order: publication date 4th April 2017.

Future activities for this one will undoubtedly arise from the children’s questions.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links

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.

puddles

muddy

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

ducklings

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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.