Category Archives: science

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.

bug hunt

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.

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

9 Spider Web Activites for Children

spider web activities

This time of the year there are spider webs everywhere. We stopped to watch a spider devouring a fly on our walk home from school and one has built a web right outside our window, so we watch his antics everyday. If your children are interested in spiders or you are looking for spider activities for Hallowe’en, here are a few we have tried.

  • Tie sticks together into a star shape and weave a web  with wool or string around them, wrapping around each stick as you go.

spider web

  • Weave a spider web inside a hula hoop for a large-scale decoration.

spider web on a hula hoop

  • Turn a round table upside down and give the children a ball of string or yarn to make a web around the table legs.
table spider web
spider web on table
This child had watched the spider wrap up it's prey, so hung these around the web.
This child had watched the spider wrap up it’s prey, so hung these around the web.
  • Make a Velcro web and bugs from old socks or pairs of tights.   Throw the bugs at the web and see how many  get stuck.
velcro spider web
Spider web game At-Bristol
  • Sing the elephant and the spider web song
  • Pipe an icing spider web onto a plate and make spider cakes to fit inside.

spider cakes

  • Find a spider web to climb inside
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Giant spider web at Dr Maze’s farm
  • Read books about spiders

  • Observe real spider webs
spider eats fly

What Can We Do with All These Leaves?

This time of the year my garden is covered in a blanket of leaves.  The girls enjoy helping to rake them up but it is a never-ending task. When leaves are plentiful there are many activities that you could take advantage of. Here are a few of our favourites.

Leaf Man

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is illustrated with photocopies of leaves that have been arranged to make pictures.  We studied the way Ehlert uses coloured paper to create a layered background and  leaves and natural materials for the main body of the picture.

leaf bird rowena

We created our own pictures, starting with the background and adding leaves.  The leaves work better if they are pressed beforehand using a flower press or a heavy book.  Preserve them by laminating before the leaves dry out.

leaf man

Painting

Young children enjoy printing with leaves or painting on larger leaves. You could also try  painting with different types of leaves or dipping the stalks into paint to make marks.  Dried leaves crumbled into paint could also make an interesting texture.

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Leaves are perfect for investigating colour mixing.  Give each child a leaf and ask them to try to mix the matching colour.  Younger children could paint the colour onto their leaf, print it on paper or paint around the outline, older children may like to try an observational painting of their leaf. Small square canvases or watercolour paper would make them extra special.

Leaf Rubbing

leaf rubbing

Sometimes young children  find this difficult so experiment with different colours and materials, like crayon, pencil, chalk, pastels or charcoal to decide which makes the most effective rubbing.

Leaf Mosaics, Patterns and Sculptures

Use leaves to create mosaic patterns and pictures. These could be individual or large group projects.

leaf face

The girls collected leaves on a camping trip and used them to thread onto sticks to create clothes for their stick people.

stick men

Clay

clay and leaves

Leaves  make interesting imprints in clay or they can be used  as a template to cut around. Clay leaves make great bowls, tiles or mobiles.

 

Sensory Play and Loose Parts

Collect leaves and put them in a sensory bin – investigate what happens to them over time. Add interesting objects hidden amongst the leaves or toy woodland animals and bugs for small world play.

If you have leaves outside how do the children use them as loose parts?

My children built a bonfire……

 

building a bonfireBuried their feet….

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and added them to a potion.

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Use them as a Filler

Last Halloween we made spiders to hang on the bushes outside.  The bodies were made from black bags stuffed full with leaves.  You could also use leaves to stuff scarecrows or guys for bonfire night.

Laminate them

laminated leaves

Over a period of time we collected interesting leaves and laminated them.  They looked great on the window and I challenged the girls to find out which trees they belonged to. I think they would also make an eye-catching mobile.    This year we are using the laminated leaves to see if they can find matching leaves in the neighbourhood. Laminated leaves could be used for all kind of things. We have used them as gift tags, to play matching pairs and they look great on the light table.

Leaf Rainbows

If you collect leaves gradually from the same tree or bush as they change colour you can make a leaf rainbow.

leaf rainbow

Before you  decide to rake all the leaves away, take a look at this face, I think it says it all.
autumn leaves

Finding the Perfect Preschool

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A place where I can kick my shoes off and sink my toes in the mud.

Regular readers will remember that when I moved to the US, I struggled to find a preschool that I was entirely happy with.  I became so disillusioned that I decided to home preschool for a year. I’d lost faith of ever finding a preschool that valued play, independence and individuality above academics and rigid schedules until a friend told me of a preschool situated on a farm.  The preschool shared my belief that children learn best by doing things that have relevance in their lives through exploring, discovering and creating.

The school is so popular that it was a whole year before I had a chance to visit and see the school for myself. Children were busy pulling apart sunflower heads on the covered deck area whist others moved freely between the different activities indoors and outdoors. The teacher’s enthusiasm and passion for both the children and the setting was evident immediately and a bubble of excitement rose up within me. Our name was put on the waiting list for Sept 2015 but before Christmas a place became available in the co-op class so finally my youngest daughter had the chance to attend.  This was perfect as I also had the chance to be involved in this wonderful experience as a parent helper.

There was little doubt in my mind that this was the perfect preschool for my outdoor loving daughter. My expectations were high. I have been fortunate to teach at a highly acclaimed nursery in the UK and to visit the best preschools in my local authority as an advisory teacher. My experience of this school has surpassed all my expectations, I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect preschool for my daughter and I am only sad that my older daughters didn’t have a chance to go there. After she started, it just seemed to get better.  Regularly she would come home covered from head to toe in mud.  To some parents this would be horrific but to me it meant she had the freedom to be herself and have fun.
ducklings
Being a part of the co-op class means that I get to help out once a month. This is the most exciting part for me as I get to join in.   I love the covered deck area which enables the children to play outdoors all year.  The children explore the whole farm for the 2nd part of the session, mud, water, animals, climbing and balancing. They are actively encouraged to take risks.

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As we arrive my daughter always chooses to paint . She liked this painting activity with paintbrushes placed on extended poles.
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Painting with feathers

What makes it so perfect?

1. Children are individuals

Small classes and the dedication and experience of the teacher, mean that she understands each child as an individual. My daughter who is uncomfortable speaking in a group or to unfamiliar adults is given time to think about what she wants to say, often being presented with a question at the start of a session and returning for a response later.  The child who hates to get his hands dirty is offered alternative tools and all the materials are open-ended so that children can use them as they see fit.

2.Children are competent

Children are always encouraged to try things for themselves, even when they ask for help they are first encouraged to try.  The children are trusted to use adult tools for woodworking and tinkering, peeling vegetables and cooking.  The teacher shows them how to use the tools safely and responsibly and thereon in they are trusted with them.  The children cook their own green eggs and ham on the tiny stove, they dig with metal shovels, they observe candle flames and peel carrots with a peeler.  Outside they are permitted to climb trees, feed the animals, hold guinea pigs and dig in the mud. The children are trusted to handle precious materials like birds eggs, chicks and nests.

This tinker table is always available. I regularly see children sawing pieces of wood placed in the clamps, hammering nails or taking apart electronics with a screwdriver. In the nursery I taught at we had a tool bench with real tools but we weren’t confident enough to leave it out all of the time. I have never seen a child have an accident or do anything dangerous with the tools.
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climbing trees at preschool
My daughter loves to climb trees – I’m not sure I could find anywhere else where this would actively be encouraged.

3. The Preschool fosters understanding and respect for nature.

Many of the activities involve the natural rhythms of the farm, collecting the produce, understanding the cycles of the plants and learning about the animals and creatures they find.

After the first few sessions, my daughter told me they had unicorns at preschool but that it was too small to have grown a horn yet. A preschool with unicorns? Could it get anymore magical?
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ducklings.
When the duck’s eggs hatched the children were allowed to hold them.
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A bug hunt in the woods

4. Children’s thoughts and opinions are important

Each session the children are asked a question and the answers are recorded for parents to read on the wall outside.  The children listen to each others responses and discuss them with respect.  The children’s choices are respected as they are presented with a number of activities to choose from at leisure. They also have opportunities to choose the songs they will sing and are confident at asking for things.  The children are offered a snack, they choose when and if they would like to eat it .

5. They have fun.

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On the last day of school, parents are invited to join the children as they wade in the swamp.

horse riding on the last day of term
horse riding on the last day of term

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Best of all, I feel that my daughter experiences something here that she would never have the chance to experience elsewhere.  I feel so fortunate to have found this preschool and that my daughter has one more year there.  When our time is over I will be so sad but I hope I can remember her teacher’s words of wisdom.

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How to Teach Preschool Science

I don’t make assumptions about what my children will learn from an activity.  I don’t presume that they will learn anything, I’m happy if they are absorbed and having fun.

Sometimes a simple activity can unexpectedly become a rich learning experience full of questions and discoveries. These for me are precious moments. I have recently become aware that the simplest craft activities lead us unexpectedly into an exploration of scientific concepts. For example,we recently acquired a movie reel canister, perfect for paint rolling .  I gave the girls a small box of marbles and small balls (a ping-pong eyeball and a golf ball) and a few pots of paint. The discussion that ensued was interesting.

paint rolling

 Child 1 : 5-years-old    Child 2 : 3-years-old.

eyeball

Child 1: The eyeballs go much slower.  I think because the eyeball is bigger it goes much slower but the marble is smaller so it goes faster.

Child 2: It’s too sticky

Why do you think it is sticky?

Child 2: Maybe there’s too much paint.

golf ball

Child 1: This one is not as sticky as the other one but it is much bigger.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t put as much paint on.

What makes the 2 balls different?

Child 1: One is bumpy and one is smooth…………..but that would make it slower.

It gets stuck and the other one goes really fast.  Maybe the material it is made from is sticky but now that we don’t have as much paint on, it goes fast.  Perhaps the paint sticks to the material and stops it slipping and sliding.

Maybe because the golf ball is hard it doesn’t stick to the paper, maybe the paint doesn’t like it and slips off.

When we went to wash the balls we checked to see which would float.

Child 1: The golf ball and the marble sink and the eyeball floats.  This one floats because it is all filled up with air.

Child 2: This one sinks because it is bigger…………………….. but what about the marble, that sinks?

Child 1: It is because it is heavier.

The connection between the mass of the ball and how fast it travelled did not register but there are many other projects we can explore to help them work it out.

These incidental science experiments happen a lot. There was the time I left an empty milk carton outside and they turned it into a tap by inserting a straw. The girls decided they needed to find a way to turn it on and off. Further experimentation helped them work out how to get the tap to drain all of the water.  My role as teacher was not to give them the answers but to ask questions like ‘How could you make it better?’ What could you use to…? or what would happen if…?

tap science

Having open-ended materials readily available makes it easy for them to instigate projects .  This week, I put pieces of foam in the water table soaked in bubble mixture and showed them how to squeeze the foam to make bubbles.  I knew my eldest would love this.  She had another idea, taking a piece of plastic tubing she blew into it creating lots of foam. The children’s ideas are always the best! She asked me for test tubes and filled them with  bubble mixture and opened her own beauty parlour with potions that made your hair soft or skin younger.

foam bubbles

 

In the TED talk, Science is Play , Beau Lotto views Science as a way of being. He explains,

“We normally walk through life responding. If we ever want to do something different, we have to step into uncertainty…. Science lets us step into uncertainty through the process of play.”

Our youngest children are full of uncertainty so they are naturally questioning things all of the time. Isn’t that the foundation of science? Our skill as teachers is not to feed them the answers but to give them the tools to make their own discoveries. Do we need to plan specific science lessons? Isn’t science and discovery the very essence of childhood?Children don’t call it science, they call it play and in play they work things out for themselves.

I love this quote from the American Scientist article entitled ‘Science as Play

When I grew up, every kid put in some serious sandbox time, and it often involved building (what seemed like) complex sand structures around which fantasies were composed and competitions took place with neighborhood kids. The organic chemistry labs (at Yale during the junior year) were fun in the same way. We constructed molecules and competed with each other in the class on speed and yield. We mixed things up, and chemical transformations took place. We separated, we isolated, we analyzed. The odors were pleasant, and the physical process of working with our hands, as with sand, was satisfying. The biweekly organic labs became the high points of my week. By the end of the year, I knew that I wanted to be an organic chemist, as I realized one could play in the sandbox for a living. (Joseph B Lambert)

Playing in the sandbox for a living? ‘Isn’t that what I do?

 

 

 

Water Play in the Rain

Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of enquiry, their motivation and interest explode.  – Loris Malaguzzi.

We’ve had a few rainy days so I decided to leave the lid off the water table to catch the rain.  We’ve had so much rain that it was nearly overflowing.  My girls looked out at the rain and decided to play in the water.  They know from experience that rain water is very cold so my youngest put on her waterproof gloves so that she could tolerate the cold water for longer.

I gave her a bottle and a funnel to add to the other materials.  I have recently noted her eagerness to transport things from one place to another and predicted she would probably use the bottle to empty the water from the table.  True to form she filled the bottle, carried it to the bench and poured the water through the slats before returning for more.

water play

Her sister is less eager to play outside but loves umbrellas so when I suggested she take her umbrella outside, she was out like a shot. Of course her sister needed her umbrella too.

I want to make an invention

What kind of invention?

Like we made before for serving drinks.

Last summer the girls had inserted a straw into a hole in a milk carton and made a drink dispenser. They worked out how to turn the tap off and where to place the tap so that they could drain the container of all the water.

What do you need?

A cup – this will be good (finding a coffee container)  a tube or something and some small cups.

I found a piece of plastic tubing and plastic wine glasses.

I need another pipe. One to blow into and the other one for the water to come out of.

I gave her another piece of tubing that her sister had been using to make a contraption the previous day.

It’s not working mummy, when I blow nothing happens.

Are there any bubbles coming when you blow.

No

The air isn’t getting through the pipe.

We put the container onto the floor so that she could keep the pipe straight without any kinks and still reach to blow into it.

I have to be honest I didn’t expect it to work but look what happened.

You have to blow so, so hard to make it work that it hurts your mouth, but that’s okay.

Meanwhile her sister was trying to catch floating objects with the tongs.

More fun

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More play activities for a rainy day