Category Archives: pre schoolers

Fun with Magic Snow

A few weeks ago, I picked up a tube of Magic Snow.  I have never seen this before but I thought it might be a nice Christmas play idea. It comes as a powder in a  test tube shaped container and when you add water to it, it expands to 100 times its original size to look like snow.

It feels really soft and just a little bit cold

You get all the fun of playing with ice and snow but it doesn’t melt or feel too cold on little fingers.

We tried to mould a snowman and make models with the snow.

Then we added the Happyland Christmas set

I’m putting snow in Father Christmas’ sleigh

The snow was a big hit but was gradually creeping onto the floor and getting a bit slippery, so I suggested we put the snow in a tray.

We found some snow animals and the penguins slid around on the ice.

 We went out and left the snow in the tray for a few hours, it showed no signs of drying up during this time so I am hoping that we will get a few days play from this batch.  Magic snow is a big hit with my 3 year old who loves messy, tactile things and I’m sure it is an activity she will return to regularly in the lead up to Christmas.

Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster on Kinect – A Review

I have been so excited about the forthcoming release of this game for a number of reasons.

  1. I am a huge Sesame Street fan and think it is the best in pre-school entertainment
  2. I have been waiting for a game that my 3 year old can play easily on Kinect.
  3. It is billed as a co-operative game and I would love to find  a game that my children won’t argue over.
  4. I am interested in evaluating its educational merit and whether or not it could be used in a pre-school classroom.

So when I was offered a copy to review I jumped at the chance.

The game centres around a story book ‘ Once Upon a Monster’ that Elmo and Cookie Monster jump into to embark on adventures.  As each chapter unfolds they encounter monster friends both new and familiar (Grover and Oscar) and help them to solve problems through a number of fun tasks.  The graphics and the story behind the game are captivating and we were all excited to see what would happen next.

The game is designed with drop in/ out co-operative play.  It can be played solo or with the help of an adult or sibling, if you decide to join in half way through a small monster appears in the corner of the screen and directs you to wave. This is great for young children as they often decide to wander off in the middle of a game but it doesn’t spoil the game for the other child. The game is only suitable for 2 children which means that it probably wouldn’t be suitable for use in pre-school unless you wanted to use it as an exercise in turn taking. I would like to see it adapted for 3 children, partly because I have 3 children and it would avoid one being left out and partly so that siblings could play with a parent to help if necessary.

With Kinect games I have found that my 3 year old has struggled to keep within the sensor.  There is a helpful built in feature with this game in that if the child  steps outside of the sensors limits a monster pops up and points in the direction that they need to move.

I had high hopes for this game as a controllorless game that my 3 year old would be able to use easily.  However I encountered a few problems which meant that she couldn’t play it independently.  To get inside the page of a book the monsters ask you to bring both arms together.  This worked really well when my 7 year old or myself did it but it didn’t seem to work for my 3 year old or her friend, even though they were making the correct movements. The other problem is that if you go too close to the sensor (or my one year old runs in the way) a menu pops up .  You need to wave on the back button to go back to the game.  My girls became frustrated because the sensor found it difficult to pick up which player was trying to direct it.

So far we have played the first of 6 chapters.  This centres on cheering up Marco the monster and helping him get to a birthday party.  The tasks along the way include running through the woods collecting objects and avoiding obstacles, flying to the tree tops to collect fruit with Grover, choosing outfits for Seamus the monster, drumming and my personal favourite disco dancing with Grover.

The usual response from my 7 year old when playing Kinect is to moan at her younger sister for getting in the way.  When she tried to join in yesterday my 7 year old complained and I told her that it was meant to be for 2 players.  The mood soon changed  to a lovely picture as my 3 year old watched her sister intently and copied her every move.  It is certainly fulfilling some of the games aim to foster a social and emotional curriculum in our household.

There could be a few tweaks to make it easier for young children to play but the game is engaging and  fun and my high expectations were not disappointed. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the other chapters have in store.

Sesame Street Once Upon a Monster is released on 14th October

 

All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

WP_000447

Those of us working with young children are familiar with the term Foundations of Learning.  What does that really mean? For me, it means everything that gives us the capacity to learn, think, create, behave, communicate and build relationships. The things that you learn in the first 5 years remain with you for life, whether they are physical skills, values and beliefs or ideas and knowledge. This is why for me,early education is the most important and exciting phase.

With this in mind, I would like to share an excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten .  This was first introduced to me during my Master’s Degree.  When I look at my own children and the way they develop and learn every day, I am reminded of this piece.

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten.  Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned: share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess.Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say your sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.  Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap.  Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations always to put things back where we found them, and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

So next time someone discredits you as ‘only playing’ or says ‘she’s just a mum’ or she only teaches little ones, stand firm in the knowledge that ours is the most important job in the world.

Fisher-Price Red Rover Game – A Review

My middle daughter is 3 next week and she has just become interested in games.  We have found some that occupy her and her friend but I am always on the lookout for more.

Today Red Rover arrived at our door.  This is a new Pre-school game by Fisher-Price that teaches colours, shapes, numbers and letters in a fun way.

My first pleasant surprise was to find that gone are the hours of removing fiddly packaging.  The security tabs have been redesigned so that they are quick and easy to remove.

Red Rover the dog is sturdy and compact and wears a backpack to store all the bones that form part of the game.  This will make it easy to store and to put away without losing all the pieces.

The game begins by placing all the bones face down around the floor. Each bone has a colour and a shape, number or letter on it. You then press Red Rover’s nose to choose easy level (colour only), or hard which includes all the attributes.  Press Red Rover’s nose and he calls out a colour to find.  The children run around the room turning over the bones until they find the correct one.  Once they have found it they put it into Red Rover’s mouth and he tells them if they are correct.  If it is the wrong colour he says ‘Yeuchh’ which we thought was very cute. If they find the right one they get to keep that bone and the game continues.  If the correct bone is not found within a specific time the children are directed to return to Red Rover and he chooses another. The object of the game is to collect the most bones.

My kids loved it.  I had to encourage my 7 year old to let her younger sister find a few  bones when she got a little competitive, but they had fun together. I think I might give them a bag each next time as it was easy to forget the bones you had collected when engrossed in the fun of the game.  I love that it is an active game and it kept my lively pre-schooler engrossed. I envisage a few tears as the children compete to be the first to find a bone, but they’re all valuable lessons.

There were a couple of down sides.  As with many electronic toys the accent is American and American phrases such as two times rather than twice are used.  I would have preferred Red Rover to have had a British accent but it didn’t distract from the fun of the game.  The other point is that the letters on the bones were upper case.  I always teach lower case letters first and often wonder why toy manufacturers tend to use capitals.  Is it to familiarise children with the initial letter of their names?

My daughter is having a small 3rd birthday party next week and I will add this game to the list of party games.  A great fun way to encourage children to learn shapes, colours, numbers and letters.

Starting School – A Change in the Relationship

20110823-233234.jpg

I was asked if I would write a post about starting school. This isn’t a recent event in our household, my eldest started school 3 years ago. Many of my friends are struggling with the thought of their children going to school, fearing how much they will miss them. I don’t remember feeling any great sense of loss but this was probably due to the impending birth of my 2nd child. My eldest starting school meant that I would be able to spend quality time with the baby and get rest when I needed it. One thing that has struck me however when recalling those times is the way in which our relationship changed once she started school.

When you have a baby and toddler you feel that you know everything about them, you are always with them when they do things and understand all their little signals better than anyone else. You as a parent are also the biggest influence on your child’s life. You decide what they are exposed to, what they do, where they go and how they are disciplined and brought up. I felt very close to my daughter in her pre-school years. I wasn’t a stay at home mum but even on my working days I spent time talking to her about what she had done and planning what we would do together.

I think this has been the biggest change since starting school. I am no longer the only influence on her life and many of the things that happen on a daily basis I never know about. When I ask about her day I get ‘fine’ as a blanket response. Yes, she still talks about some things, but I do feel that there is a lot that I miss out on. Helping out at school sometimes helps, you get to know the other children and the routine and teachers. This has been difficult however since having her younger sisters. Being at school takes up a lot of time, couple that with clubs and playing with friends and sometimes you feel like you barely see them. I try really hard to build in quality time, bedtime stories, talking at mealtimes or sharing a game or piece of music, but it still feels inadequate compared to the early days.

I have had a positive experience with school. My daughter has enjoyed school, been sufficiently challenged, enjoyed new experiences and made good friends. She is growing into a wonderful young lady and becoming independent. On occasions we have time together doing things that the younger ones wouldn’t appreciate or be able to do. I look forward to more of these as she grows older.

Once our children start school we are no longer the be all and end all, but we are still a major influence on their lives. They still love and need us, they still look up to us and want us to share in their achievements and interests. We no longer get to spend so much time doing things with them but that enables us to do more for ourselves and appreciate the times when we can do things together. Starting school is a new chapter, bringing new challenges but it is also a time when child and parent alike can gain a bit of independence and build new interests .

Little Princess – I Want to Play iApp

I’ve been given the chance to try out the new Little Princess I Want to Play iApp.  As I am always on the lookout for good apps for pre-schoolers, especially those of an educational nature I thought I would give it a try.

My first impressions were favourable – the Tony Ross illustrations are as vibrant as those in the books and there is a selection of 4 games to play.  The games are simple enough for young children to play, are very visual and have nice sound effects.  The instructions for the games are written on the screen.  As an app designed for pre-school children I feel it would be very helpful if they were also explained in audio, although once the rules are explained by an adult they are very easy to follow.

My 2 year old absolutely loved this app. She made her way through each of the games starting with pairs as this is familiar from many other apps. The cards are touched to reveal characters from the Little Princess stories and the object is to reveal all the matching pairs. 

 The dressing up game was a firm favourite, a selection of clothes and accessories are dragged onto the princess until she is dressed, you can then take a picture of your chosen outfit.  My daughter was a little disappointed that when she dressed the princess in her swimming costume complete with armbands, goggles, flippers and rubber ring, the princess did not go off for a swim.  Perhaps this could be an added feature? A helpful arrow appears to show where the accessories should be placed on the princess, helping to avoid unnecessary frustrations.

Bath Time was another popular choice, Puss and Scruff need to be cleaned.  To begin with you rub the animals to lather them up (an arrow appears to tell you if you have missed a bit) and once they are covered in soap, bubbles appear .  The object is to pop all the bubbles in the shortest space of time. Even my 9 month old enjoyed playing this one (much to the annoyance of her sister).

The final game is bunny bop.  Rabbits appear from rabbit holes and the object is to bop as many as possible on the head in the alloted time. If you bop Puss or Scruff points are deducted ( this didn’t deter my 2 year old who prefered to bop the cat and dog – clearly not as competitive as her dad then).

The app was a huge success with my 2 year old and my 7 year old enjoyed it too.  I wouldn’t say it has any particular educational value but is a very good entertainment app for under 5’s.

The Little Princess I Want to Play iApp is available to buy for £1.99. Money well spent I would say.

This app was tested on the iPad.

Monsters and Imaginary Friends

My 2 year old has recently become pre-occupied with monsters, sometimes she is a monster, sometimes there is a monster in the room but she mentions them at least once a day.  I was fairly sure that this was a developmental stage connected with how young children make sense of the world .

She has also started talking about a bat that lives in her bedroom.  There is a small cubby hole in her bedroom where the stairs cut in for our loft conversion – the bat lives in here.   When I questioned her about it further she said that there were 3 bats a baby (with her baby sister’s name) a daddy (with her daddy’s name) and a mummy called Rachel.  There are also 3 ogres that live in the cubby hole with them – they scare away monsters.

This story made me think about the connection between the whole monster obsession and imaginary friends.  When my eldest daughter was around 3 she had an imaginary friend ‘Piglet’ from Winnie the Pooh.  Wherever we went Piglet came with us and usually my daughter would pretend she was Roo and I was Kanga.

By a strange turn of events as I was thinking about these things and trying to find some information about the development of imaginary friends and foes in young children, Penny at Alexander Residence wrote a post about imaginary creatures.

Imaginary companions usually start appearing between the ages of two and a half to three, around the same time as children start to engage in complex fantasy play. This also signals the beginning of abstract thought.  Children are starting to replace physical objects for mental images, for example they can derive comfort from the thought of a teddy bear in addition to the physical object.  Their fears also begin to change from concrete things like dogs or vacuum cleaners to abstract concepts such as monsters. You could help children to have the power to conquer their fears by capitalising on this imagination and asking them to suggest what the monster might be afraid of and making a concrete object to represent it.

In my quest for information about imaginary friends and foes I found an interesting book about children’s imaginations, ‘ The House of Make Believe ‘ by Dorothy G Singer and Jerome L Singer. The book suggests that the key components to fostering creative children are

  • A key person who inspires play and accepts invention with respect and delight
  • a place for play
  • open-ended and unstructured time
  • simple objects to inspire the adventure

The book also discusses their research into imaginary friends.  They found that parents reported that children with imaginary friends were largely happier and more verbal than those children who did not have imaginary friends and that the children were not shy.  Imaginary friends are more prevalent amongst only or first born  children and they can help children to solve dilemmas.  Often they take the form of real characters from television or film in particular super heroes.

Charles Schaefer found that teachers of adolescents reported that their most creative pupils had imaginary friends as young children.  Imaginative children were more likely to have parents who valued imagination, curiosity, adventurousness and creativity.

So if your child has an entourage of imaginary companions don’t despair that they are disturbed or worried about something .  Develop the stories with them and enjoy it for the short period it lasts – I loved this imaginative phase with my first and I’m looking forward to the wonderful tales that my slightly bonkers 2 year old will unravel.

Toddler Takeover @At-Bristol

watering cans
I’ve had a really fabulous day out with my 2 year old and her friend at the bi-monthly Toddler Takeover at At-Bristol.  At-Bristol is an interactive science centre with over 300 hands on exhibits.   The Toddler Takeover is a themed day targeted at the under 5’s.   The theme for today was ‘Come Rain or Come Shine ‘.  I’ve been impressed by the amount of exhibits that my 2 year old can enjoy when visiting with her older sister in the past.  There are 2 under 8’s areas that are always available .  A role play airport including a cockpit where the children can fly a plane, passport control, luggage and an x-ray machine and a hostess trolley.  When my eldest was 4 we spent most of the session playing here.playing airports  The other has an animal theme and includes a tunnel, dressing up, storytelling and a sticky spider’s web game where the aim is to throw bugs at it to try to make them stick in the web.

throwing

I once saw a superb storyteller in this area so was disappointed to have missed the storytelling session today.

As our children were under 3 we only had to pay for the adults therefore the day was good value for money.  In addition to the usual exhibits, there were a number of theme based activities  designed with the under 5’s in mind.  These activities were on the whole well thought out and there was a mixture of child directed hands on activities and more structured adult directed activities.  Some of the activities involved making an end product – a windmill or weather wheel and some were more exploratory such as musical instruments that made weather sounds, pretend snow and water play.  These were suitable for even the youngest children and each of the exhibits included a list of  suggested questions and discussion points .

There were a lot of staff helping the children to make the most of the exhibits including a number of volunteers.  Some staff were better at engaging the children that others but in all I felt that the level of supervision was excellent.

For an extra 50p the children could watch a show in the planetarium.  This was very interactive and visual and at about 15 minutes short enough to keep the children’s attention.  It may have been better presented by someone with experience of working with large groups of under 5’s but he managed to keep the interest of most children.

My little one enjoyed running through the lights best of all and is looking forward to returning with her sister so that they can do it together.

playing with light

We had a lost child incident whilst we were there and would just like to commend the staff for the efficient way that this was dealt with.  The child had wandered from the cafe to the main exhibit area.  When  staff  observed that he was without an adult, 4 members of staff  kept in close contact  without approaching him directly, so as not to alarm him. When reporting the lost child the reception staff immediately alerted all the other staff and the child was found .

On a practical level there are a number of baby change areas and buggy parks throughout and a picnic area where you can sit and eat your own food.  The cafe has its own small play area so the children can play whilst you have a coffee break. Parking is on the expensive side but park and ride or public transport are an option.

As an added bonus to the day out, outside At-Bristol there are a number of water features that on sunny days become a great place for children to splash about in.

splash

My only real suggestion for improvement is that there could have been better signage from outside that the event was going on . I’ll definitely be recommending this to my friends and am looking forward to the next one.

At-Bristol is also a great place to visit with older children too, my 7 year old wants to go tomorrow and is disappointed that she couldn’t come with us today. ‘I want to play with the fake snow’ she said when she found that it was only available for the toddler session.

http://www.at-bristol.org.uk/

Is there any value in pre-schoolers using iPads?

 

As you may have read in previous posts I am very interested in harnessing technology to engage children in early literacy.  I have been reading a number of articles about using iPad with pre-school children and am still yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion. 

In Maine there is an initiative to give iPads to  pre-schools in the hope that it will open up new worlds of learning for students.  It is recognised that this it will take a great deal of thought to achieve optimum benefits.  The hope is that it will be used to open up new avenues for exploration and not purley for entertainment.

 http://new.bangordailynews.com/2011/04/22/education/ipad-use-among-kindergartners-sparks-debate/

This is where I struggle.  My 7-year-old has just been allowed a DSi and I had hoped that she would use it as a camera and music player, creating projects to share . As yet I have only seen her engrossed in solitary activity and pushing her younger sister away.  I fear that this could also be the case with iPads if the applications are not creative and far-reaching enough.  Are there any applications that promote creativity and open-ended activities?  Are there any that are designed to be used with groups of children collaborating on tasks?

I have looked for many recommendations but have so far found that most involve variations on the same theme.  The kind of things that have been around on children’s websites for years – memory match games, puzzles, flashcards, colouring in, matching and tracing. Also I have seen a number of interactive books which are great on some levels but would worry that they would replace important aspects like bedtime stories.

So I’m very much on the fence at the moment .  If anyone has experience of using an iPad with pre-schoolers (particularly in the classroom) or has found any ground breaking applications in line with an active, play based,creative and interactive classroom I would love to hear about your experiences.