Category Archives: play

Cat Themed Children’s Party Ideas

IMG_5562.jpgMy daughter wanted a cat party for her eighth birthday.  I hosted a dog themed party for a friend’s daughter a few months ago, so we re-used some of the ideas and added a few new ones.

For their arrival, each child had a pair of cat ears and my eldest drew noses and whiskers on their faces.


The food was simple. My daughter asked if they could have tuna fish sandwiches and I cooked a pizza cut into triangles to look like a mouse.  We had cheese triangles with slices of cheese string for mouse ears and tails and strawberries with strawberry lace tails. My daughter baked cat shaped cookies and cupcakes with paw prints made from M&M’s and Minstrels (British chocolates that are bigger than M&M’s). Goldfish and other snacks completed the ensemble.

Plain, black plates were decorated with cat ears and  faces and whiskers  drawn on black paper cups.



One of the parent’s commented that it was the calmest party they had ever seen, as the group of mostly girls settled down to crafts.

  • First they coloured in wooden cat masks from Michaels, which gave us time to wait for everyone to arrive.


  • Once everybody had arrived, we made cat faces with polymer clay.  At the dog party we made dog faces into necklaces but this time I decided to turn them into fridge magnets by attaching magnetic tape.


  • Finally we made pipe cleaner cats.  The pipe cleaner was coiled around a finger, leaving  a piece for the tail. Pom pom heads were attached and ears and faces added.




The first game was a magnetic fishing game.  I made a fishing rod with a magnet attached and cardboard fish, labelled with numbers and a paperclip attached. Each guest caught a fish and then were handed a package with a corresponding number.  Inside the package was a cuddly cat and a certificate for them to adopt the cat and take it home.

img_5577-2Pass the Parcel

Pass the parcel is a traditional British party game and one of my kids favourites.  A gift is wrapped in multiple layers and passed around a circle.  When the music stops the child holding the parcel unwraps one layer.  Inside each layer was a cat themed action that the children had to perform, if they performed it correctly they received a treat.  The child who unwraps the final layer wins the gift.

pass-the-parcelMusical Cat Beds

Following the same rules as musical chairs but using cushions as cat beds.  When the music stopped, the children had to find a cat bed to sit on. Each time one cushion was removed.  When a chid was out, I let them choose a sweet from the bag and the winner chose a larger prize from our goody bag.

Silly Races

We played this game at the dog party and it was a big success, so decided to use it again.  Two bowls with a small amount of chocolate cereal are placed side by side (the cereal looks like pet food).  Two children race each other to see who can finish the cereal first, by only using their mouths.  The winner received a prize from the goody bag and the runner-up a sweet treat.


The second silly race, was to push a ball of wool/yarn across the floor to the finish line, using their nose.  Some children worked out very quickly that if they gave it a significant nudge, it would roll a long way.

Pass the flea

I found a glow in the dark bug to act as our flea. This was an adaptation of hot potato.  The children pass the flea quickly around the circle to music. When the music stops, the child holding the flea is out.  The last child left in, is the lucky cat not to catch fleas and wins a prize from the goodie bag.

The party was a great success – I think the birthday girl would agree.


Jerome Bruner and Early Education


Jerome Bruner

Photo credit Poughkeepsie Day School

This week one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Jerome Bruner, died at age 100. If you have studied psychology or education you will most likely have come across his teachings. It’s easy to forget what we have been taught once college days are over, so I have been reminding myself of his teachings and their importance to early childhood educators.

  1.  Scaffolding   

Bruner proposed the concept of scaffolding. Scaffolding is the action that an adult performs to assist the child in learning something that would otherwise be beyond them. Examples of scaffolding include modelling, making suggestions,or structuring learning into manageable parts. As the metaphor suggests, the scaffold supports the child as they build skills so that it can eventually be reduced and removed completely.

The following video illustrates a number of points about scaffolding. Notice how the amount of scaffolding from the adult is minimal or non-existent for the eldest child (aged eight). Some scaffolding is offered to the three-year old in the form of suggestion and answering questions but lots of scaffolding is required by the one-year old.  The children themselves also offer scaffolding to each other, as they watch what the others do and  try things for themselves.

2. Bruner believed that learning was an active process and that children could discover complex concepts at any age.

“Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child,” he wrote in “The Process of Education,” “providing attention is paid to the psychological development of the child.”

This concept heavily influenced the view of the capable child in the schools of Reggio Emilia.  Bruner was a regular visitor to the schools even into his 90’s.


3. His work was fundamental in raising the profile of early education and his ideas contributed  heavily to the development of Head Start.

4.  Spiral curriculum

This method focuses on revisiting learned content at set intervals and re-teaching it at a more refined and difficult level. Eventually, learned content from one subject informs more in-depth discussion of content in another subject. Learning through play allows us the luxury of visiting concepts multiple times in different contexts.

Studies are not isolated but intrinsically linked with a common thread running through them all. Bruner believed that learners should go beyond the information given and understand the process in order to generate ideas of their own.

With over 70 years of research, this list only scratches the surface.  I found this video useful for understanding his key contributions.





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.


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.


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.

slimbridge eggs

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.


Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?


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


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

Teacher? Play Worker? Educator? What’s in a Name?

beachcombingMany years ago, straight from college and failing to find a teaching opportunity in my locality, I accepted a job  leading a play scheme. This was a new concept at the time, the first after-school and holiday club in my town. I learned a lot. I learned that play doesn’t need to have an end product in mind, I learned the importance of open-ended materials and space, I learned how to work with parents and the huge responsibility of being in charge of somebody else’s child.  Through play work I learned that I loved working with the youngest children  in a play-based environment. I no longer looked for teaching posts with 7-11 year olds but volunteered at a local nursery school to learn the trade of being an early years teacher.

As a young aspiring teacher, I was never proud of my title – play worker.  I was always sure to let people know that I was actually a qualified teacher, that I had been to university for four years and wasn’t just a child care worker. When I got my first teaching post, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Stuck in a classroom of five and six-year olds with nothing to play with apart from a pack of modelling clay, I was quickly disillusioned.

My next job, in a nursery was very different. I worked with a team of teachers and nursery nurses who bounced ideas off one other, who valued play, who cared that the kids were happy and were passionate that teaching was far more than imparting knowledge.  I watched, I listened and I learned. One of my colleagues was wonderful with the children and the parents loved her but she didn’t have a single child-care qualification. I quickly learned that having a teaching qualification didn’t make me better than those less qualified ; we could all learn from one another and had our own contribution to make.

Teacher Tom’s post, I’m Not Sure That’s Teaching ,reminded me of this. Tom questions the meaning of the word teacher and whether or not those who follow the children’s interests, supporting them as they go, are teachers as most people perceive them.

Peter Moss describes Loris Malaguzzi’s role in the schools of Reggio Emilia, as an educational leader whose role was

Not to tell others what to do, not to lead a pliant following wherever he chose – it was to create and evolve an educational project in his city, but always in relation with others and in a spirit of participation and co-operation

I’m currently reading a selection of Loris Malaguzzi’s writings and speeches. The rise of the preschools in Reggio Emilia as a reaction to education built on pre-determined knowledge imparted bit by bit, seems to ring truer today than it ever has.

Labels are complicated and to this day I’m not really sure what I’d prefer to be called. A teacher? educator? play worker? early childhood professional? I’m not sure any of them are quite right. Perhaps that is why I often struggle for a title when people ask me what I do.

Most of the children I have worked with in my career have called me Rachel. Not teacher Rachel, Miss Rachel or Mrs McClary  but simply Rachel. Perhaps titles don’t matter that much after all.


Do We Over Complicate Loose Parts?


WP_20160324_006For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term loose parts, check out my post on the theory of loose parts. In simple terms, loose parts are moveable objects that can be used to create, explore and discover.

Educators often collect loose parts for their environments.  Collections include buttons, feathers, beads, coins, shells and seeds. Loose parts are added to clay and dough, left in baskets around the room, used for weighing and measuring, to create art, on light and mirror tables and added to block play. I think though, that sometimes educators over-complicate loose parts. We get so excited about the different things we can provide for the children and the beautiful ways we can present them, that it is easy to forget the true essence of the theory of loose parts.

I was reminded as I played with my daughter at the park, that loose parts are everywhere.  If we as educators don’t provide loose parts, the children will find them.  A brick will become a piece of food, a calculator  is a telephone, a sheet will become a cloak or torn paper will be money. Playing with loose parts is the way I played as a child, playing shops with empty boxes or filling empty bottles with leaves, petals, dirt and water.  For the child, loose parts are everywhere, they probably don’t call them loose parts but they will find them.

For me the theory of loose parts is an attitude to how children play.  It is an acceptance that children may use what is in their environment and make their own choices about what to do with it.  Materials do not have to be displayed or stored beautifully, they simply need to be there.  The following video illustrates children’s natural ability to find and use loose parts creatively.


Simple Pleasures

I believe that sometimes we try too hard to arrange things for our kids to do and it is important to let them be.  There are however, some things that I feel we should introduce our children to. The simple pleasures that we had as kids, are sometimes forgotten and lost. If we are going to teach our children anything, lets preserve simple pleasures like these.

Pooh Sticks
Learning to play hopscotch
Chalking with a stone
Flying a kite
Blowing a dandelion clock


Blowing bubbles


WP_20130718_004 (2)
Planting seeds


Making a rainbow
WP_20140320_001 (2)
Making a daisy chain
Burying yourself in sand.


Making a paper aeroplane


What are your simple pleasures?

Absract Painting to Music


WP_20160318_003One way to ensure that you don’t end up with a wall of identical paintings is to introduce children to abstract art.  We used the book The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art as a starting point.  The book tells the story of Kandinsky’s ability to ‘see music’ and ‘hear paintings’.

I explained that abstract art is not about creating a particular thing but is about expressing how you feel.

Each child had a pallet of acrylic paints, 2 different sized paintbrushes, a canvas, a pot of water and paper towel to wash and dry  the brushes.  I showed them how to clean their brushes by washing it in the water and drying it with the paper towel.


The children began when I played the music – I chose a quiet piece to add focus, Dvorak’s Largo from Symphony no. 9.

Some children were engrossed in colour mixing, while others enjoyed layering colours one on top of the other.  Some concentrated on texture and others focused on shape and colour.


The strong focus on process lead to an interesting discussion with the teacher after class.  We lamented the lack of time children in Kindergarten and beyond, to experiment with paint and the impact this has on their motor development. I always feel my lessons should be in at least 2 parts, one for discovery and process and the another to create a product. I wish there was time for the children to practice skills and develop.  My eldest daughter attends a school where the whole curriculum is taught through the medium of visual and performing arts – are there any creative elementary teachers out there doing the same?