Category Archives: play

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Playtimes: An Online Collection from the British Library Documenting 100 Years of Children’s Songs, Rhymes and Games.

Following my recent post about traditional playground games, by chance I came across this wonderful collection from the British Library.  For a play enthusiast like me, it equates to giving my kids free rein with the pick n’ mix.

The collection includes over 100 video and audio clips of children’s play, articles and video about the history of play and how it translates to modern times and teaching resources for KS1 and 2 (elementary age).

The Playtimes website is part of a wider research project entitled Children’s Games and Songs in the New Media Age.  The project sought to preserve play traditions and investigate how these types of play continue to be used in the modern age. The project digitised the Opie collection of games and songs created in the late 1960’s through to the early 1980’s, capturing the games and songs of children across the UK.  The majority of the recordings were made by Iona Opie as she travelled the country recording in playgrounds and schools, estates and parks. These visits were often unplanned and Iona described how she would simply wind down her car window and ‘follow the sound of children playing’.  The project also carried out a two-year study of children’s playground culture today.

Many of the videos are narrated by Michael Rosen and others are animations created by schoolchildren.

I’m fascinated by traditional games and their rhythmic quality so I have ordered Opie’s books of rhymes and games and some of her research findings to learn more.  What a treasure trove!

Preserving Traditional Playground Games

wp_20160324_009Four years ago, all of our worldly goods were packed onto a container to make the journey to our new home in the US.  We wouldn’t see them again for 10 weeks.

The children packed a small case each with colouring pencils, paper, a few books and a cuddly toy. They were without any other toys for the whole of the summer.

This was an amazing opportunity to be creative with things around the house.  We decorated pistachio nut shells, made pictures with coffee filters, built a mud kitchen and hosted our own Children’s Olympics. In some ways I wished it could be like this all of the time and once the toys arrived I was selective about what I unpacked.

The most popular activity however, was learning playground games from my childhood. I explained how  I didn’t have equipment or toys in my school playground, when I was a child. We played our own games, which we would also play in the street at home.  I am very conscious that if we don’t pass games down to our children they may be lost forever and I’m glad that our lack of toys gave me an opportunity to resurrect them.

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There has been concern for some time that children no longer play outside. The good old Seattle or British weather doesn’t help. Couple this with the constant lure of TV and electronic media and it can be hard to get kids outdoors. Teaching them  a new game was a great way to get my children outdoors and they often ask me to teach them more. I really must make a point of doing that now that they are a little older.

One of my  play sessions for pre-schoolers involved teaching them simple games, like What’s the time Mr Wolf?, Please Mr Crocodile and the Bean Game.  I was surprised at how many were new to local families. After seeing how much my children enjoyed traditional games I was intrigued to see if any other parents remembered games from their childhood, most didn’t.

We played some of the more popular games; hopscotch on the driveway, skipping rhymes, What’s the time Mr Wolf but also some less well known games.

 

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Polo

Polo

This was my kids’ favourite.

  • One child is it and stands at one end of the garden (as kids we used to play it in the road and run to the other side of the street).
  • They call out a category to the other players on the other side of the garden such as animals or colours.
  • Each player quietly chooses something from that category and a nominated player calls them out – let’s say dog, pig and cow.
  • The player who is  it chooses one, e.g. ’dog’ and the player who is‘ dog ‘races them  across to the other side and back.
  • The first player back to their place shouts ‘polo’ and is it the next time.

 

Red Letter

  • One child is it and the other children stand at the opposite side of the playground.
  • The person who is it chooses a red letter and tells the players what it is.
  • She then calls out a letter – the players take one step for each time that letter occurs in their name.
  • The first player to get to the caller is  it the next time.
  • If the caller calls the red letter, she chases all the players back to the start, if one is caught then they are it.

 

Ice-cream

  • The person who is it stands with their back to the other players.
  • The other players stand on the opposite side of the garden and edge closer to the person who is it.
  • The person who is it turns around at intervals.
  • The players freeze when she turns around. If they are caught moving they go back to the start.
  • If anyone reaches the other side, they touch the person who is it, on the back and shout ice-cream, she then chases the players and if anyone is caught they are it.

 

Please Mr Crocodile

  • One player is the crocodile. The other players stand on the opposite side and recite

Please Mr Crocodile May we cross the water, to see the queen’s daughter, who fell in the water, 100 years ago. Which colour must we wear?

  • The crocodile chooses a colour and any children wearing that colour have to run to the other side without being caught by the crocodile.
  • If they are caught, they become the crocodile.

I’m sure that there are many other playground games that I have forgotten over time. Many of them will be unique to British childhood so perhaps I should write them in a book to preserve a piece of British heritage for my children.

 

pooh sticks
Pooh Sticks

If we can’t remember the rules to our childhood games then they are in danger of being lost forever. I’d love you to share any games you can remember and if there are any lunch supervisors out there perhaps you could make it a mission to bring traditional games back to the playground.

I have a list of games I’m going to teach to my kids this spring particularly mob, and elastics (we got the elastic from Ikea recently) now that they are old enough to play.

 

 

 

 

 

Minion Themed Party

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It was party time again recently and this time my six-year-old chose a Minion theme. On arrival they were given a Minion hat made from a builders hat with a pair of cardboard goggles attached.

Food

minion-banana

Minions love bananas, so they had to be on the menu. My eight-year-old decorated each banana to look like a Minion.

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My six-year-old did the same with the cheese sticks.

I found Minion shaped fruit snacks and we had a selection of fruits and snacks.

It was all topped off with a Minion beach party cake.

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Crafts

Whilst we were waiting for guests to arrive, I printed colouring sheets for the children.  My daughter had requested cookie decorating, so we decorated mandolins ( a perfect shape for a minion) with blue and yellow icing, black icing to add detail and edible eyes to make a Minion cookie.

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I laid out pictures of Minions and gave each child a piece of yellow and blue polymer clay to make Minions. They added black and white for the eyes.  I love how they turned out and that they were all so different.

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Games

Pin the hat on the Minion

This was a pre-bought game and acted as a good time filler while I laid out the food.

Pass the parcel

A Minion themed gift was wrapped and then covered in multiple layers.  The parcel is passed around a circle to music and each time the music stops a layer is unwrapped.  In previous parcels we had an activity to complete in each layer but this time I simple placed a lollipop in each layer.  The person to unwrap the last layer, gets to keep the gift.

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Musical bananas

A variation of musical chairs. Lay out the same number of laminated pictures of bananas on the floor as there are children.  The children dance and move around the room and one banana is taken away.  When the music stops everyone runs to collect a banana and the child left without one is out (but gets a treat as consolation). The last child left in wins a prize.

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Races

Balance a banana on your head and walk to the other side of the room. Complete it successfully and win a prize. This was a big favourite. We ran out of time for more games but below are a few more banana games you may like to try.

  • Race to peel a banana wearing a pair of gloves
  • Hide bananas for a banana themed treasure hunt.
  • Stick pictures of bananas to a blow up palm tree and hold it high.  Jump up and pick as many bananas as you can in a given time frame.

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