Category Archives: pre schoolers

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

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How to Stop Using Pre-planned Topics and Plan from Children’s Interests.

Many teachers (myself included in the past) base their planning on weekly, monthly or termly topics.  Using topics helps us to come up with ideas, focus the children’s learning, ensure we cover all areas of development and makes planning easier because we can re-use plans from previous years.  All of this sounds attractive but there are downsides too.

  • Topics can lead to a narrow focus of learning that isn’t necessarily relevant to the children.
  • Topics may have to be changed before the children have explored all the concepts adequately.
  • Topics are sometimes repeated in the same way, year after year without any consideration for the different dynamics or interests of the group.
  • Pre-planned topics come from the teachers ideas and don’t  take the children’s’ thoughts views and questions into account.
  • If we follow a topic, we may miss a rich learning opportunity  because it doesn’t fit in with our theme or topic.

There are ways we can improve this while still maintaining topics and themes.

  • Don’t plan topics too far ahead. Rather than having firm topics set for the year, review them on a monthly or weekly basis and adjust them in line with the children’s interests.
  • Choose topics that are very open-ended and can encompass many aspects of learning for example, water, questions, stories or movement. The book  First Hand Experiences: What Matters to Children has some great suggestions for selecting topics from the real world.

Some settings decide to follow a child centred or emergent curriculum where children are co-constructors in the learning process. Projects are not pre-determined by the teacher but instead they are chosen based on the children’s interests.

Planning from the children’s interests can be difficult to begin with if you are used to following a topic based approach.  Below are some common questions and misconceptions.

  • My children don’t know what they want  to do next when I ask them? How do I plan for them?

A common misunderstanding is that teachers should ask children what they want to. It is more important to think about what might be driving the children’s learning and using those insights to inform our planning.  By all means engage the children in conversations about their interests but asking them directly may not yield useful answers. Rather than asking children what they would like to do, set up open-ended activities and observe children in their play.  Watch for patterns or common recurring themes, watch for resources they return to time and again. When interacting with children offer suggestions that might extend their play e.g. I have something that might work really well for that or I wonder what would happen if we tried this?

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  • If I plan at the end of one week to start something new next week how will I have time to get the resources ready?

The planning should be a natural progression of what was already occurring, rather than a completely new experience.  If the children were enjoying mixing paint colours, give them a new media to explore like a different type of paint, pastels or dough. Provide the children with a challenge e.g how many shades of green can you make or can you match up these shades?  Add one small item to their play or ask a different question .  There may be times when a completely new interest emerges. Involve the children in the planning process – what do we have that you could use for that? How could we find out more about that?

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  • How on earth can I record my planning to show Ofsted / Head teacher or an inspecting body?

This is probably the most common question.  When you are required to record planning how can you make in the moment planning visible?

  1. Have a clear long-term plan. This would outline all of the things that you intend to achieve in your setting and your core philosophy.  Also include how you will organise your environment and the strategies you will use to support learning.  This will be a core document and can be referred to if you are asked how you fulfill particular criteria.  Collate the things that happen everyday like snack times, transitions, group reflections  and explain how each of these items map to the standards you are following. 

This example was mapped to the 2008 EYFS.

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2. Medium term planning will use observations to create an overview plan of opportunities for exploring projects and interconnecting themes, based upon the children’s’ genuine interests or explorations.  A medium plan might include a list of resources to be collected or a description of some of the key materials within different areas.  You may also want to highlight key skills to be developed, for example to use a variety of ways to represent pattern or to co-operate and listen to others ( these will likely come from your observations).  These might fit with a project you are following.  Daily/weekly schedules could also form a part of your medium term plans and stories or songs you plan to share.

3. Short term planning This is a joint record of what you observe the children doing, their fascinations, questions they are  asking, clear patterns of play , an analysis of this data (what learning is taking place? can you identify schemas?) and then using this analysis to determine what will happen next.  Often the term next steps will be used.  I prefer to break this down into more useful questions –

  • How might you encourage those interests further?  
  • How could you encourage their interest to be more complex? 
  • How could you bring that interest into other areas of learning/activities?

These plans could be daily or weekly records of what you will provide in the environment and the adults role within it. Keep them simple and flexible so they can be changed and adapted easily.

Think about what you are recording – only record information that is useful for future planning – don’t record for the sake of it.

Examples

Planning for children's interests

planning for children's interests

Use any format that works for you.

  • All my children have different interests, how do I plan for all of them?

Sometimes there will be clear group interests but often, children will show an interest in different things.  For individuals, watch for patterns in play –

  • are children following a particular schema?
  • how do they play,?
  • what questions are they asking and can these be incorporated into the future planning for the whole group?

  Some weeks you may be planning for a particular group of children or developmental milestones for a few individual children.  Some children will not display a clear fascination every week. Talking as a team and documenting learning will help you to reflect on learning and decide on next steps.  Don’t overcomplicate things.  If there isn’t a clear interest put out exciting materials, follow something seasonal, share an interesting book, observe children in free play or talk to parents to develop ideas.

  • My children love Pirates/Fairies/Star Wars what ideas do you have to support those themes?

Don’t assume that the idea the children appear to be interested in is necessarily their fascination.  Think deeper – what aspect of cars do the children love, is it the motion, is it speed, is it building roads and tracks or do they like them to be transported from one place or another?  Watch and listen over a period of time before organising complex and sometimes expensive resources to support a theme.

  • If I always plan from interests how can I make sure that children are challenged to try new things and cover all areas of the curriculum?

Use the children’s interests to channel them into other activities by linking resources, moving them into different areas or using slowly adding new elements to their existing play. Use small group times to focus on specific skills that children may not choose to demonstrate at other times.

What about small group time?

For small group time the teacher may decide on an area of focus e.g number, rhyme or cutting with scissors. Through recording the children’s progress the next session can be planned according to the children’s skills, needs, questions or next stage of development.  This probably won’t be the same for every child. 

Turning Planning on its Head

When I was a student teacher we were taught to plan by asking the following questions:-

  • What will I teach?
  • Why will I teach it?
  • How will I teach it?
  • What resources will I need?
  • What will I do next?

For child led, in the moment planning, turn these questions on their head.

ALWAYS START WITH THE CHILD

  • What are the children learning and what do they  already know?
  • Why are the children learning? (interests and fascinations)
  • How are the children learning?
  • Which resources/materials do they find  motivating?
  • What is my role as a teacher in extending this learning? What resources can I provide? How should I present them? How could I present this learning in a different context? What questions could I develop further?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when planning in this way is that the teachers role is not to let children do as they wish.  The teachers role is to reflect on how the children learn, to interact with the children and to work as part of a team that shares ideas for the benefit of the children.

I like the analogy of throwing a ball used by Filippini in The Hundred Languages of Children,

We must be able to catch the ball that the children throw us, and toss it back to them in a way that makes the children want to continue the game with us, developing perhaps other games as we go along.

As I see it, the children throw us an idea, we think about it and toss it back to them from a new angle or in a more exciting way and this back and forth continues as we learn and develop together.

8 New Picture Books to Add to Your Christmas List

At this time of the year I love to add books to my children’s wish list, but it often takes a lot of research to find new books that I know we will all love. I have received a large number of books to consider for review during 2016, so to help those of you who are seeking inspiration, I compiled a list of some of my favourites.

The Barefoot Book of Children

The Barefoot Book of Children is an absolute joy of a book and a clear favourite.  I would urge any parent or teacher to add it to their collection.  This non-fiction title is a celebration of our common humanity and helps facilitate discussions about race, diversity and inclusion. It looks at how other children live, how we are different and most importantly how we are alike.  The book is full of questions that provoke discussion , “How do you share your love? ”  “What would you like to do if you had a chance?” “Do you have a special place?” As a teacher, I would share a few pages each day to lead a discussion or topic.  Detailed descriptions of the illustrations can be found in the reference materials at back of the book. Children who love facts, can find out about the cultures depicted in the book including names of houses, meanings of names, special celebrations or cultural foods. This section has further talking points, to develop the thinking of slightly older children.  My youngest daughters shared this book together and were completely absorbed by discovering new things and discussing the questions together.

The Barefoot Book of Children is not available until the Spring in the UK but is currently available in the US.

The Branch by Mireille Messier illustrated by Pierre Pratt

The Branch is a charming story book featuring a little girl, who has a favourite branch on her tree where she likes to play and watch the world go by.  One stormy night, she is devastated to find her branch laying on the ground. Her mother agrees that she can keep the broken branch, for a while. Mr Frank, her neighbour understands the little girls sadness and seeing  potential in every piece of wood, he crafts the perfect gift from her favourite branch.The relationships in this book are portrayed beautifully through the text and illustrations.  I particularly love the sequence where the old man and the little girl, work together in the workshop to create something special. The Branch is a perfect book for children like mine, who love to climb trees.

The Littlest Family’s Big Day by Emily Winfield Martin

The Littlest Family’s Big Day is about moving to a new home and is perfect for younger readers.  The simple text will keep their interest and the beautiful, detailed illustrations have plenty for children to explore. This would make a wonderful bedtime book as you snuggle together and point out all the tiny details of this woodland world.

A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery

A Squiggly Story is the tale of a little boy who wants to write stories like his big sister, but hasn’t yet learned to write words.  His sister encourages him to tell his story, using individual letters and shapes. He tells the story to his class at school, who contribute more ideas.  This is a great read aloud  book for pre-school or kindergarten teachers, perfect for showing children that you can tell a story even if you can’t write words.  It would also make a lovely gift for an older sibling to give to a younger sibling practicing emergent writing.

Lily the Fancipoo and Piper was Afraid

These books come in gift sets, complete with a soft dog and adorable little mouse. The toys are of excellent quality and are totally irresistible.  I didn’t get chance to review Lily the Fancipoo as it was held up in transit, but we received Piper was Afraid. Piper was Afraid, is about a big dog who misses out on all kinds of fun because he is afraid.  The book had two features that made it an instant hit with my kids – the added bonus of the cuddly toys and an interactive element where you find the mouse hidden on every page.  Either book would make a perfect gift for young children.

Leonard’s Beard by Nancy Cote

Leonard’s Beard, is a comical story about a writer who becomes so absorbed in his stories, he forgets about the outside world. His beard grows and grows until one day  during a storm, Leonard realises how out of control it has become. He cuts his beard, revealing all manner of interesting objects. As he removes them, he discovers that being absorbed in writing has stopped him having his own adventures. This would be a good book to encourage children to get outside more or move away from a screen.

This or That: A Busy Morning by Wendy Kronick

A perfect book for babies and toddlers.  It follows the RIE parenting model , offering choices  to the child as he moves through his day. This is a lovely, interactive book to share with a young child.  At transitions during the day the toddler is presented with two options, “the bib keeps your clothes dry and clean, which will you wear, the red or the green?” Simple rhyming text will appeal to small children and it is perfect for promoting early social, emotional and communication skills.

Mr Matisse and his Cutouts by Annemarie Van Haeringen

Mr Matisse and his Cutouts is an ideal book for teachers or parents wishing to inspire art projects.  The story focuses on the latter part of Matisse’s life, when due to cancer he was no longer able to create art as he had done before.  Matisse found new ways to create, by cutting shapes from paper and displaying them around the room.  I’m looking forward to using this one in my art lessons next year.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  I recieved review copies of the books featured in either digital or traditional format.

What is my Responsibility as an Early Educator in the Wake of the US Election?

Yesterday, in the wake of the US election, I was filled with  questions.  These were not questions about my role as a parent or about my future as a resident of the US but about my role and responsibility as an educator.

My core educational philosophy is to encourage children’s critical thinking and creative expression. Children should be valued for who they are and children, teachers and parents should work collaboratively, in an environment of respect and dialogue.  I draw inspiration in my thinking from Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the preschools of Reggio Emilia.  He worked with the community, to create  new schools in the aftermath of World War II that would bring hope for a new generation. He created an environment that encouraged critical thinking and creative expression, and a culture of working together with respect for one another.  Malaguzzi achieved his goal with a community of like-minded individuals.

Yesterday, a key question for me was; if I only work with liberally minded families is there really anything to change and  am I really making a difference? If I want to encourage a different way of thinking, shouldn’t I be helping children who have not been encouraged to think in this way?

I struggled with the juxtaposition between encouraging critical thinking and respecting family beliefs and cultures. I believe that it is our duty to create an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness, and to promote a culture of children who think for themselves and whose opinions and emotions are valued. However, I also believe that we should work alongside families, respect their beliefs and work together for the good of the child.

More questions arose.

Can you do both and is it even possible to foster a new way of thinking if there are opposing values at home?

If a family believes something is a fundamental truth should I give the child the tools to question their world or would this be disrespectful to the families beliefs?

Perhaps it is my own issue and not theirs and I should instead seek to understand them better and why they uphold those beliefs?

Yesterday, that is where I left it, but today things are clearer, particularly in regard to the final question.

When there is hatred, unease and unrest in the world it is because of misunderstanding, ignorance and lack of knowledge. I can criticise people if they believe in things that I find fundamentally wrong, but should not condemn them until I have listened to their story, understood why they feel that way and looked into the contexts of their beliefs.  America is divided; there is a clear feeling of them and us, but who is looking to understand why the other side holds their beliefs and the reality of their lives?

I grew up in Wales. In Wales we dislike the English because we are fed a history of English wealthy landowners who treated the working classes badly and took away our language.  We see the English as arrogant toffs who think they are above us.  Of course this is ludicrous and there is as much diversity in England as there is in Wales,but if you rarely cross the border, ignorance prevails. The same is true here. Liberals see Trump supporters as racist, bigoted individuals and people outside of the cities, see city people who are ignorant to their way of life and take away their values and livelihoods.

I think I now know my role. All children should have their minds opened.  This isn’t only about questioning and critical thinking, it is also our duty as educators, to partner with other educators from other parts of the country and the world, to help them understand what the world is like for others. Show children the diversity of the world, teach them to ask questions of one another. Do they have the same questions? Do they think the same things as me? How are they different and how are we the same?  We have a new opportunity in the world of the internet and social media to open children’s eyes so that they will not grow up in ignorance and fear.

We are all different but in many ways we are also all the same – let’s celebrate that for a while instead of trying to outdo one another all the time.

 

 

 

Picture Books for Children Who are Afraid of the Dark.

Fear of the dark is fairly common amongst young children. It often arises around the age of two or three when their imaginations develop and they begin pretend play.  Often, children become fearful about what might be lurking in the darkness but sometimes it is also tied up with other anxieties.

Sharing a book is the perfect way to invite a child to talk about their fears. Children’s fears are real so it helps to listen to them and work out strategies for alleviating fears together .  When my daughter was young, she developed an extreme fear of darkness, so bad that she would cower and cry if I left the curtains open as it was getting dark. It turned out that she had very poor eyesight but was too young to articulate it.  When it was dark, she could barely see anything at all.  Once her eyes were tested and she wore glasses, her fear was more manageable.  She still gets scared sometimes when she gets up in the night, but having a night-light by her bed (preferably one she can carry) helps a lot. When her fear was at its height, sharing stories helped a lot. I even wrote a book just for her, about a magic elf that she could call upon whenever she was scared.

Fears are helped when children can talk to you about them and what better way to start a conversation than reading a good book together. Below are some of my favourites; let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions.

  1. The Moon Inside by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

This new title, is the story of Ella who grows more comfortable with darkness as her mother gently encourages her to appreciate  nature’s night-time wonders. Ella’s favourite colour is yellow and she feels sad as the yellow disappears at dusk.  The illustrations move from an indoor world of yellow, black and white to an outdoor twilight of green, red, blue and oranges.  Ella looks and listens as she explores with her mother and finds many beautiful things. She finally decides that if she leaves fewer lights on inside, then she can experience the glow of the moon from her bedroom.

Talking points for children

  • What can you see at night?
  • What can you hear at night?
  • Does it feel darker inside or outside?
  • How does it feel to look out of your window at night?
  • What would happen if we didn’t have night? What would you miss?

2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Lazlo is afraid of the dark but the dark usually lives in the basement. That is until one night when the dark, in its personified form, enters Lazlo’s bedroom and takes him on a journey through the house to the basement. Once there, the dark shows him  a drawer where he finds night-light bulbs and Lazlo and the dark live in harmony ever after.  This book combines sumptuous, descriptive text with pictures that show the stark contrast between the shiny blackness and the light of the flashlight.

Talking points for children

  • What does dark look like?
  • What does dark feel like?
  • What can we do to make the dark feel different?

3. Can’t you Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Barbara Firth

This timeless classic tells the story of Big Bear and Little Bear. Little Bear can’t go to sleep because he is afraid of the darkness all around. Big Bear brings lamps of different sizes to help Little Bear, but he is still afraid.  When Little Bear still can’t sleep, Big Bear takes him outside to see the light of the moon and stars. Finally convinced that he is safe, he falls asleep in Big Bear’s arms, in front of a warm fire.  If comfort food came in book form, this would be it.

Talking points for children

  • What helps you when you can’t sleep?
  •  Why aren’t grown-ups afraid of the dark?
  • How do you feel when you look up to the sky when it is dark?

4. The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard

Another timeless classic, this time in early chapter book format.  Plop is a barn owl, but unlike all of his friends, Plop thinks the dark is scary.  Each chapter deals with a different aspect of darkness as Plop learns  through his many adventures, that dark is exciting, kind, fun, necessary, fascinating, wonderful and beautiful. This is a perfect read-aloud book for young children.

Talking points for children.

  • Why do you think dark is fun, fascinating, beautiful etc.?
  • Can you think of other adjectives to describe the dark?
  • Have you ever been convinced by someone else that something you thought was scary wasn’t actually that frightening at all?

5. I’m Coming to Get You by Tony Ross

I first came across this picture book as part of a children’s literature module back in my student days and it is a personal favourite. Though not strictly about a fear of the dark, it is a book about putting fears into perspective.  As a creature from outer space hurtled towards Earth, it warns Tommy , “I’m coming to get you”.  Tommy  searches for it as he goes off to bed but can’t find it. In the morning, the monster gets ready to pounce, only to find that he is smaller than a matchstick in the human world.

Talking points for children

  • If you could squish one fear with your shoe, what would it be?
  • What things are you scared of that might in reality be more frightened by you?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?

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

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