Category Archives: pre schoolers

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

Some children hate bugs, they think they are disgusting or scary. That’s why I love our annual preschool bug hunt in the  woods. The children look for bugs, find out about them, collect them in bug jars and bring them back to observe in a terrarium for a few weeks.

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In our front garden we have a wildflower border.  As we pass it each day we look out for bees, ladybirds and butterflies. When we found aphids on the lupins, we hoped they would attract ladybirds.

“Why can’t we spray them?” my daughter asked. She had been learning about aphids at school.

“If we spray them”, I explained, it will disrupt the ecosystem, “the ladybirds won’t come and ladybirds are good food for birds.  If we kill off all the bugs we will have fewer birds and small mammals in the garden.”

They don’t like every bug – they are a little afraid of spiders, think mosquitoes are a nuisance and my youngest is a little unsure about worms but they don’t see that as a reason to kill them. We know the worms in our compost bin turn our scraps into compost for the garden , spiders can be left alone if they live outside and they are good because they eat flies and even mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. This is a useful resource for explaining to children why bugs are good.

There are two kinds of bug we don’t collect on the bug hunt.

  1. Termites because they will eat our preschool.  The children know that termites are important for breaking down old wood from fallen trees but they need to stay in the woods.

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2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted.  There is plenty of food for them in the woods.

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There were other bugs to collect.

Lots of worms and millipedes.

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Spiders

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and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.

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We looked up
children and teacher look at trees

and down.
looking for bugs in a decomposing log

We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
tree log hollowed out

It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.

girl balancing on hollow log

Sometimes it is useful to add a focus to a walk and those tiny bugs can easily be forgotten, so next time you walk with your kids, turn over some logs and stones and see what you can find.

Izzy the Very Bad Burglar: book review

  Last Hallowe’en, my daughter decided she wanted to dress as a burglar. She chose the idea because “burglars are bad but not really scary like monsters or devils.” At school they are not allowed to dress in gruesome costumes but my kids believe that Hallowe’en costumes should be scary, to capture the true essence of the holiday.

One of our favourite books is Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. We laugh at the antics of Bill and the baby, every time we read it.  When another burglar book came their way, the girls were very eager to read it.

Izzy the very bad burglar tells the story of Izzy, a young burglar, who comes from a family of excellent burglars. Every time Izzy steals something, she gets a bad feeling in her stomach. Izzy tries to tell her parents but they tell her she must be a good burglar.   Izzy tries different ways to make the feeling go away but it always returns, until eventually she finds a solution that might just work.

My 7-year-old shared her thoughts about the title,

I thought it was going to be about a burglar who is really bad, you know, like she does bad things but really the title means that she isn’t very good at being a burglar.

The underlying message of the book  is to do what is right and not bow to peer pressure.This resonates perfectly with the 3-6 age group, who have a clear sense of right and wrong. It would be a perfect book for teachers to introduce a moral discussion.  Teachers could  talk about good and bad by introducing the following questions. Are burglars bad? Was Izzy bad?What does it mean to be bad? What made Izzy different to the other burglars? Do you ever get a feeling like Izzy did when you do something unkind?

Izzy the Very Bad Burglar is written and illustrated by Amy Proud is available in hardcover from May 3rd in the US and May 19th in the UK.

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book.

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.

 

Are Your Kids Fussy about What They Wear? Let Them Design Their Own

All three of my girls have gone through a fussy stage at some point. My eldest wouldn’t wear anything on her waist and had to pull everything down to her hips and all three have gone through a phase of only wearing dresses.  My youngest is the most particular about what she wears. We have a wardrobe of clothes that her sisters loved but for some reason she turns her nose up at.

We were very excited therefore, when we won a custom-made dress from The Patchery in a prize giveaway.   The Patchery began when a mum was sewing clothes for her kids. Immersed in the creative process, she thought, “Why can’t this be available to everyone, even if you can’t sew?” And that was the beginning of The Patchery.

To design your own clothes you choose a design and fabrics and then the garments are custom-made and shipped to your address.   My daughter chose the kimono dress. She chose her fabrics for the bodice , skirt and sleeves and then chose a different fabric for the back. We went through the design a few times to make sure she was happy.

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Her face was a picture when the dress arrived and she tried it on.  “Do you think people will think I’m weird because I have different colours on the front and back?” she asked. I told her that nobody else would have a dress quite like it, so they would think it was really cool.  “Could I wear it both ways? The blue side one day and then turn it around to the orange side?” she asked.  “Perhaps if we cut the label out” I replied. I think she has a pretty cool idea for making her dress even more unique.

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It turned out so beautifully and the quality is stunning. It is such a great concept, I just had to share it.  It makes a wonderful gift for young children.  Baby clothes are also available so next time someone I know has a baby, I’m going to order a custom-made outfit. What a special gift that would be.

disclaimer: this is a personal recommendation. I did not receive payment or products for writing this post.

Art Lessons: Abstract 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.

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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.

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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?

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I Finally Made Play Dough that Isn’t Sticky

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I am terrible at making play dough.  For years I have experimented with all kinds of recipes, cold, cooked and microwaved but all of them turn out in a sticky mess within 24 hours.  That is until a pre school teacher shared this simple formula with me.  Mix 2 cups of corn starch/ corn flour with 1 cup of hair conditioner. Finally a recipe that works!

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Feel your skin, it’s really nice and smooth.

 

The texture is slightly less firm and more crumbly than standard play dough but it has a lovely silky texture and led to some interesting creations.

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I made a face

 

 

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Me too
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The first time I made a snowman, it was really good and then I noticed that it kept going down all the time. It’s like a melting snowman.

 

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I added some silly putty to it to make this design

Art Lessons: Designing Monsters with Oil Pastels.

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For this months art lesson with First Graders, I wanted a project that came from their own imaginations and displayed their creative expression.

Knowing that my own children had invented wonderful monsters with charcoal, I decided to make colourful ones with oil pastel.

Some children struggle with inventing a character from their imagination, so I started the lesson with a book to provide inspiration and illustration of shape, texture and size.

sleepy monsters

I chose the book  Sleepy Monsters, Creepy Monsters because the text is simple and does not distract from the visual images and the illustrations depict a variety of monsters.

We talked through the pictures, noting features such as eyes on sticks, number of legs, spikes and shapes and discussing the function of these features.

Once the story had finished I instructed them to think for a few minutes about what they would like their monster to be.

Did it have a particular function?

Where did it live?

What would it eat?

Was it a kind or scary monster?

The children then drew their outline shapes on the paper.   Once I had checked the size of the monster, the children were given oil pastels to add detail and colour it in.  I asked them not to leave any white spaces, except for the background so that they would be as vibrant as possible.

When the children were satisfied with their drawings, they were show how to use a Q tip/ cotton bud dipped in baby oil to blend the oil pastels to a smooth finish, without any white spaces.

Finally they outlined their drawings with a black sharpie to add definition.

The background was applied with a watercolour wash.

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I asked my daughter about her monster.

The 2 eyes on the right can turn all the way back, so they can see behind them.

It has spikes to protect itself from people. Monsters are scared of people, that’s why they attack us.

It’s favourite food is carrots.

He is 8.

He likes to make monsters out of pipe cleaners.

‘One Thing’ – One More Absolutely Wonderful Charlie and Lola Book by Lauren Child

 

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Don’t turn the page yet! Let me start with the biggest number; so 7 plus 3 is 10, plus 2, plus 1 is 13, plus 4 is 17, plus 5 is……. 22.  Now turn the page -Yes! I was right, 22.

This wasn’t a maths homework exercise but a bedtime story for my 5 and 7-year-old.

Regular readers will know that I am a huge Lauren Child fan.  Her version of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears features in my top 5 books for the Under 5’s, my eldest daughter read and re-read the Clarice Bean series and our visit to Lauren Child’s exhibition was like a step into Wonderland.

As  I was browsing books for the younger ones for Christmas, I discovered a brand new Charlie and Lola book called ‘One Thing’. With great excitement, I quickly contacted friends from the UK who were coming to visit and asked them to bring a copy. I didn’t know what it was about but as the Charlie and Lola books are amongst our favourites, I was looking forward to finding out.

As an additional surprise, a new Ruby Redfort book popped into my recommended items. It may seem a little sad, but I react in the same way to a new Lauren Child book as I would to news of a concert from my favourite artist. My eldest daughter loves Ruby Redfort and I usually pre-order them but somehow I had missed this one. Her face was a picture when she unwrapped it on Christmas day. She says this is her 2nd favourite in the series, beaten marginally by the first book. On finishing the book, she immediately wrote a letter to Lauren Child, explaining how much she enjoyed it, asking her questions and telling her about her own life. Through Lauren Child’s writing, children sense a genuine interest in what they think, feel and do which I believe, compelled my daughter to correspond.

One Thing is Lauren Child’s 5th Charlie and Lola book. Most Charlie and Lola books are adapted from the television scripts. The television series is based on Lauren Child’s characters and she collaborates closely with the script writers but there are only 5 Charlie and Lola books written by Lauren Child:-

Charlie and Lola: I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato

Charlie and Lola: I Am Too Absolutely Small For School

Charlie and Lola: I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed

Charlie and Lola: Slightly Invisible

and the new book  Charlie and Lola: One Thing

We love the television series but the Charlie and Lola books from the series don’t have the same sparkle for me, so I am always brimming with excitement when a new one from Lauren Child is released.

‘One Thing’ did not disappoint my giant expectations. In usual Lauren Child fashion, ‘One Thing’ captures perfectly the workings of a young child’s mind. The story begins when ‘mum’ promises Charlie and Lola ‘one thing’ when they go shopping. The book takes you on a number journey, tapping into the minds of children like my own, who count everything and work out number problems in their head.

Lola talks about numbers and Charlie gets frustrated, adding up the time it takes Lola to get anywhere. All of the number references are displayed as sums, puzzles or hidden numbers in the illustrations.  It is a wonderful introduction to maths for young children but ‘One Thing’ is more than an educational number book. The book recognises the natural way that children see numbers everywhere  and is full of discoveries for an inquisitive mind.

One Thing is a delight for adults to read. I particularly  identified with Lola’s constant distractions and Charlie and mum’s negotiations with her,

“What are you doing?” I say.

Lola says “I am just trying to count the dots on my dress but I am not sure what comes after twelve.”

I say “Missing going to the shops comes after twelve.”

It is a perfect example of a picture book where text and illustrations are dependent on one another, each enriching the other. I asked the girls what they liked about the book,

“I like finding all the numbers” said my 5-year-old “and I like Charlie and Lola”.

Each time we read it we find something new, from the title page with handwritten numbers,

Why did someone write on it?... Oh, I think it's meant to be like that. I think it is meant to be Lola's writing.
Why did someone write on it?… Oh, I think it’s meant to be like that. I think it is meant to be Lola’s writing.

 

…to discovering the number of minutes it takes Charlie to get ready hidden in the pictures,

“Oh look the toothpaste is a number 3”.

This was their favourite page.

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They returned to it multiple times, trying to find the numbers hidden on the birds.  We couldn’t find a number 3, perhaps you will have better luck.

Thank you Lauren Child for another book to treasure.

One Thing is available in hardback in the UK and for pre-order in the US.

Disclaimer: This is a personal recommendation. I  completely, absolutely did not get paid or get free stuff for writing this post.

 

 

 

Why Singing and Dancing Promote Social Skills and Friendship

singing kidsResearch has shown that singing increases happiness and emotional well-being.  People feel happier after singing than simply listening to music, probably due to the release of neurochemicals in the brain.

It isn’t news to me that singing lifts your mood.  The quiet teenager that would skip along the road after my weekly singing lesson, head held high and ready to conquer the world is testament to that. When I sang I came alive, through singing I could truly let go. I grew up loving musicals, perhaps because it is perfectly acceptable to sing and dance down the road in a musical and everyone is always happy.

Singing as a group has additional benefits, according to recent research from Oxford University.    Singing in a group encourages social bonding, and singing groups form friendships more quickly than in other group activities. Group dancing also produces similar results, suggesting that a shared musical experience and working together are key factors.  Many of my closest friends were made during my musical theatre days and joining choir was the perfect way to meet people and make friends, when moving to a new country.  A large proportion of the ladies in my choir joined because they were new to the area and wanted to meet new people, whilst sharing their passion for singing. Perhaps if we mix in a little dance we will be even closer?

Singing is a natural way for parents to bond with babies .  As a singer, I instinctively sang to my newborn babies when I was alone with them for the first time.  Often a parent will get their first reactions from a baby when they sing to them. Smiles, laughter, calming, eye contact or gesture can all be encouraged through singing.

When my eldest was born, I felt privileged that as an early education teacher, I  knew lots of songs to share with my baby. With this in mind, I started a baby music group with my antenatal group. My aim was to reach out to others and introduce them to songs that they could share with their babies.  With hindsight, this not only helped the babies but also gave this group of new mothers the chance to socialise, at one of the most vulnerable times of their life. As new mothers singing to their babies, it didn’t matter if they felt they ‘couldn’t sing’  and we quickly built strong friendships.

Group singing was an important part of my teaching day and something I was very comfortable leading.  This confidence wasn’t shared by all the teachers but some approached singing time with enthusiasm and energy, even if they believed their own singing voices to be terrible. The children responded to the teachers who could have fun and draw them in, musical proficiency was never a factor. Singing in a group is a fundamental part of many preschool settings and is one of the ways in which children learn to work together. In order to create a unified sound the children have to listen to one another and share in the experience together.

Young children are instinctively drawn to music and dance and sing without restraint. This usually remains with them until the age at which they become self-conscious and concerned about whether they are good enough. Reluctance to sing may also arise as singing becomes  performance focused rather than purely for pleasure.

One of my favourite memories of Christmas time, was the year my great aunts came to visit my grandparents. The sisters sat around the keyboard as my Auntie played and we all sang for hours.  That family togetherness is difficult to replicate in other situations. My great aunts grew up in the era before television, when singing around the piano was part of everyday life.  I believe that it is important for children to see that singing (and dancing) isn’t about winning a talent show.  Sing along to the radio on car journeys, make up silly songs or fire up some karaoke videos and sing along.

When we have friends around it nearly always ends up with a round of karaoke and it has paved the way to some of the best parties. I love that young and old, singers and non-singers join in and it is always accompanied by laughter and friendship.singing

The End of an Era – Goodbye Under 5’s

As an early education consultant, today is a momentous day. Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday and so, after 11 and a half years, this is the last day I will have children under 5.

A few years ago I looked forward to the day when my children would be growing up but today I am a little sad for all the things I will miss.

  1. Their chubby little faces and hands
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2. Watching them play

3. Cute drawings

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4. Messy faces

Finished!
Finished!

5. Thumb suckers

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6. Kisses, cuddles and holding hands

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7. Having a constant companion

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8. Learning to sing

9. Sleeping babies

Had enough now mum
Had enough now mum

10. Everything about this

Luckily, I have almost a year before she goes to school, so lots of time left as a pre-schooler. Happy Birthday little one and as your t shirt says ‘Never Grow Up’
never grow up