Oxbow Farm is my favourite place for field trips. The guides are wonderfully entertaining and keep the kids motivated with songs, movement, challenges and a fast paced, hands-on journey through the farm.
The children learn about the farm plants and have an opportunity to investigate, pick and taste everything, whilst being shown respect for the plants and their environment.
They eat leafy plants being careful not to stand on the plants.
They eat seeds, learning about where the seeds come from, how they are spread and dried out in the greenhouse.
They eat stems. We found tiny celery sticks to try.
They eat flowers. We ate small yellow flowers that tasted like licquorice.
They eat fruit. We ate juicy apples from the tree and found the seeds inside them.
They eat roots. We pulled salad turnips and carrots from the ground, washed them and ate them.
clear plastic or sheet of glass from a photo frame
bowl of water
I bought sun sensitive paper for my girls as a gift, but today was our first trial. We set out to find objects to place on the paper. Our first attempt used loose parts.
1. Create your designs inside, away from sunlight and put the paper on cardboard or a tray to help carry it outside.
2. Cover the picture with glass to stop it blowing away and keep it flat and place in the sun for 3-5 minutes. The paper will turn white.
3. Remove the glass and the objects. Place the paper in a bowl of water for 1 minute, to stop the chemical reaction.
4. Remove the pictures and leave to dry.
As you can see, one of the pictures came out clearly, whereas the other had only faint prints. The girls discussed why this might be.
Why did mine work better? I thought mine was in the sun longer but the other one was definitely in the sun for longer, so I don’t know.
It wasn’t because my things were heavier because I used sequins too. Maybe it wasn’t pressed on as hard?
I suggested they try another, to see if they could work it out. This time we searched the garden for natural materials. Usually, I only let the girls use natural things from the ground, but this time I gave them permission to pick flowers and leaves. They searched the flower bed and found things they hadn’t seen before, climbed the tree to reach leaves and lichen and we found that even weeds could have interesting shapes.
They chose their favourites to make a design.
And left them in the sun to develop
This batch was both successful.
I love the detail of the smaller leaf. The girls reflected on the success of these pictures.
I think it worked better this time because we laid the leaves really flat before we started, or perhaps it is because we left it in the water for longer? But I don’t think that would make a difference.
Even the little sequins came out this time.
We saved a few sheets for their big sister to try, it will be interesting to see what she will create. I also ordered bigger sheets because some of the bigger leaves didn’t fit on the 5×7 paper.
Washed Ashore, is the brainchild of artist and educator, Angela Hazeltine Pozzi, who distressed by the volume of plastic washed up on her beloved Oregon beaches, decided to take action. Pozzi, along with a team of volunteers, created giant sculptures made entirely from the rubbish they found on the beaches. Each sculpture is designed to educate about plastic pollution in our Oceans and encourage a change in consumer habits.
At the entrance you will find Gertrude the Penguin.
Each sculpture comes with an I spy activity, urging visitors to find objects hidden within. They range in difficulty from plastic bottles (of which there are many) to tiny toy cars and cell phones. The girls loved trying to find the hidden objects. It encouraged them to examine how the sculptures were made.
The displays also share facts about plastic pollution in our oceans and the dangers to animals within this ecosystem.
Outside the aquarium are Weedy the Sea Dragon and friends.
My favourites are at the back of the aquarium. I love the detail in the coral reef and walking underneath the plastic bottle jelly fish.
The theme of plastic pollution is present throughout the zoo. The marine exploration centre has many activities encouraging visitors to learn how to be more responsible in our plastic consumprion and creative ways of using non-recyclable plastic, like these botte tops with magnets attached for creating pictures.
The zoo’s new Wild West show, shares a clear message of Refuse, reuse and recycle and the shop and café no longer use single use plastic, including plastic straws and cups.
Once you have seen the sculptures, there are plenty of other things to see. If you haven’t been to Point Defiance before, it has a strong focus on marine animals and an aquarium full of native species and others from warmer climates. Who could resist this little guy?
You can stroke a stingray, anemone or starfish, watch puffins, walruses, seals and polar bears from above and below, ride a camel or hand feed birds.
Our day out really helped the kids think about the things they throw away and the effect it has on the environment. If we were a little closer, I’d love to check out some of their summer events.
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Many years ago, I attended a training course where we were encouraged to follow the acronym OWLSin our teacher-child interactions. OWLS stood for
Children are naturally full of curiosity. Sometimes questions are asked as a way of thinking out loud and sometimes asked directly to obtain an answer from an adult. In both scenarios, if we follow OWLS we will discover a great deal about the children’s way of thinking and enable them to provide their own hypotheses.
If we are to support, rather than limit, children’s developing understanding, we need to allow them to help us recapture some of the wonder and innocence we have lost and to gain insight into their struggles to make sense of what is often a confusing and worrying world. Teaching is not about imposing our views, concerns or values on others. It is about enabling children to carry out their own investigations and draw their own conclusions. (Margaret Edgington – The Nursery Teacher in Action)
My children watched the fluff flying around the playground and wondered what it was. I’m not sure if they wanted a direct answer from me or a means of discussing possibilities together. I took it as the latter and listened to their thoughts.
The children used their existing knowledge about fairies, clouds, snow and cushion fillers to create hypotheses. They also borrowed ideas from the familiar story Cloudland by John Birningham to create a new story. Their answers could be a springboard to a project where the children create worlds, stories and characters involving the mysterious fluff.
Jerome Bruner explains that when we see children as thinkers, understanding is fostered through collaboration and discussion. The child is encouraged to express their views to achieve a meeting of minds with others with different views.
As the discussion ensued, the girls used their senses to explore the material and build on what they already know about the world to find answers. My role was to build an exchange of understanding between the two children and myself, to find the roots of the children’s systematic knowledge.
As we turned the corner we found a clump of the fluffy stuff.
The children began to construct even more elaborate stories, connecting with worlds they had previously imagined.
Encouraging these moments to develop into projects is described by Carolyn Edwards in The Hundred Languages of Children. She describes the role of the teacher in Reggio Schools.
The teachers constantly pay close attention to the children’s activity. They believe that when children work on a project of interest to them, they will naturally encounter problems and questions they will want to investigate. The teachers’ role is to help the children discover their own problems and questions. At that point, moreover, they will not offer ready solutions but instead help children to focus on a problem or difficulty and formulate hypotheses. Their goal is not so much to facilitate learning in the sense of making it smooth or easy, but rather to stimulate it by making problems more complex, involving or arousing. They ask the children what they need in order to do experiments – even when they realise that a particular approach or hypothesis is not “correct”. They serve as the children’s partners, sustaining the children and offering assistance, resources and strategies to get unstuck when encountering difficulties – Carolyn Edwards.
I wonder how many rich learning opportunities are missed in our school system because there isn’t time to slow down and teach in this way? Perhaps, all the more reason to share these experiences with our children when they are at home.
The children went on to discuss the ‘fluff’ with their friends. One friend told them it comes from a tree and they thought it was Dogwood. The next question was ‘What is a dogwood tree?’. This will be the next step in their discoveries.
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.
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.
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.
2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted. There is plenty of food for them in the woods.
There were other bugs to collect.
Lots of worms and millipedes.
and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.
We looked up
We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.
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 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!
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.
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.
Weave a spider web inside a hula hoop for a large-scale decoration.
Turn a round table upside down and give the children a ball of string or yarn to make a web around the table legs.
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.
Sing the elephant and the spider web song
Pipe an icing spider web onto a plate and make spider cakes to fit inside.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The girls collected leaves on a camping trip and used them to thread onto sticks to create clothes for their stick people.
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……
Buried their feet….
and added them to a potion.
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.
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.
If you collect leaves gradually from the same tree or bush as they change colour you can make a leaf rainbow.
Before you decide to rake all the leaves away, take a look at this face, I think it says it all.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.