My kids are huge Great British Bake Off fans so my daughter chose a bake-off themed party for her 9th birthday. The idea of ten children all baking together at the same time was a little daunting but I needn’t have worried. I think this was probably one of the most successful parties I have organised.
My kids love any kind of cooking show. A particular favourite is The Great British Bake Off (or baking show as they call it in the US). In true bake-off style, they decided to make a mud cake. “The theme is cakes”, they told me “but it can’t be just a cupcake it has to be a proper cake”.
Today is International Mud Day, when children around the world celebrate the most diverse, low-cost and accessible plaything on earth. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.
They build a plan and get to work, problem solving all the way.
They gather things from around the garden to create their designs.
The children explain the rules for the judging.
Something always goes wrong on Bake Off. The trial run didn’t quite go as planned so the girls think again.
The trial run of the frog mould cake works perfectly, but when the final one is made it drops too early and spoils the mint and grass lily pad. After a few failed attempts a final frog is made by moulding it with hands instead.
And Master Baker this week is…..
The mint and rose surprise – sadly the frog was a great idea but there were a few problems with the batter.
Don’t you love that play can be inspired by so many things? Happy International Mud Day.
My twelve-year-old placed the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio tour firmly at the top of her list of places to visit when we were in the UK. Following our visit to the Dr. Who Experience her younger sisters were more cautious. Friends who had visited previously, assured them that it was amazing and not a bit frightening but I’m not sure they were totally convinced. Of course, their friends were right, it wasn’t a bit scary. You are taken on a journey to see how the film was created and seeing the special effects behind the film alleviated all their fears, especially seeing how tiny the dementors are in real life.
Warner Bros Studio Tour is located North of London so we stayed nearby at North Hill Farm. As a family of five it can be difficult to find hotels and B&B’s that allow us to share one room. The family room at North Hill Farm slept five and was perfect for all of us.
Excitement mounted as we drove into the car park and saw the signs and statues outside. All visitors require advance booking with timed slots and this allows for a wonderful experience where you never feel overwhelmed by crowds and everything is easy to see without queues.
I have to admit to feeling a little emotional watching the introductory film and completely awestruck when the doors opened onto the great hall. Groups are led by a guide into these first two sections, while the rest of the tour is self guided.
As a Harry Potter geek, my daughter listened to the audio tour. I knew she would appreciate facts and figures but without it most exhibits have a guide or video screen telling you more about it. My seven-year-old was enraptured by the talk at the wig stand and delighted in telling me stories about Malfoy’ wig.
There are plenty of exhibits young children can interact with from making magic to wand workshops and riding on a broom. The guides were so good at encouraging the kids as seen in this video clip.
Next stop Platform 9 3/4. Inside the Hogwarts Express, the carriages move through the movies in sequence , decorated with appropriate props.
This takes you to the outside lot where you can sample butterbeer or butterbeer ice cream. The detail in Privet Drive is wonderful, each certificate on the wall depicting Dudley’s pointless achievements.
Jump inside and take a shot
Lily and James Potter’s house.
The Knight Bus
The final lot features special effects, illustrated by a series of clever videos and the art of Harry Potter. The tour ends with a surprise that truly takes your breath away, so I’m not going to offer any hints to spoil it.
There is so much to see at the Warner Bros. Studio tour. I would plan to stay at least three hours and allow extra time for shopping. There is a lot of exclusive merchandise and entry to the shop is not permitted without a ticket for the tour. We found some cool stuff although sadly I ruined my husband’s Slytherin Quidditch top with bleach after he had worn it once. Looks like I have the perfect excuse to return some time. If you visit the café, the kids lunches come in this really cool knight bus box.
There was never a complaint from any of the kids that they had seen enough, the whole experience was utterly engaging and we wouldn’t hesitate to return. If you are looking for a full, well organised and good value experience I would put this top of your list. When I asked the girls what their favourite part of our trip was, the unanimous response was Harry Potter! In case you need further confirmation, just look at these faces.
Disclaimer: No payment or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.
I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar. There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.
A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,
“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”
“Really! Can you show me”
It is a bit like an x, like this……
My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.
I asked my kindergartener
” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”
“No we do it like a cross”
I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.
I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses. We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both. As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.
Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience. When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions. My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart. Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).
“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)
” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)
My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls. Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).
I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:
1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).
2. What sound does a short ‘o’ make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.
3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :
Let’s go find Leo.
The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different. When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.
4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.
On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word. It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.
Most Pre-school teachers in the UK are experienced at teaching children aged 3-5. It is rare however, that graduates or teachers with Qualified Teacher Status are appointed to teach children of 2 or under. This may be set to change, as children from disadvantaged backgrounds are offered government-funded early education. There is lively debate as to the ‘best’ type of setting for these children but evidence shows that the quality of the setting is the most important factor. Graduate and teacher led settings have been shown to be the most effective at closing the achievement gap (Matters et al 2014).
‘Early Education’ have published an excellent briefing for school leaders considering offering provision to 2-year-olds. It also offers valuable advice to anyone considering teaching 2-year-olds. In the search for graduate teachers for this age group, it is possible that experienced and well qualified teachers will be asked to take on a new role of leading this provision. This may be daunting. It certainly was for me the first time I encountered this age group.
When I began working in a mixed age nursery environment for 2-5 year olds, I was used to teaching children who could sit on a carpet in a large group and listen, who could draw representational figures, talk and share ideas, were toilet trained and who played for the most part, cooperatively with their peers. Planning for the 2-year-olds terrified me at first but I soon learned that creating an environment in which they could freely explore and move around was the most important consideration.
Our mixed age setting was split into 3 rooms. Sometimes the 2-year-olds were in their own group (and always at small group time) but for a large chunk of time, they were mixed with 3 and 4-year-olds. Teaching in a mixed age setting comes with its own challenges.
Common Concerns About Teaching in Mixed Age Settings
If you are a parent of more than one child, begin by thinking about how you manage the challenges below at home. In a mixed age family unit, compromises have to be made but the youngest children’s experiences are enriched by the older siblings and the older children learn to nurture, guide and understand different needs.
How do you find activities that are appropriate for 2 year olds but also challenging enough for the older children?
Choose activities that are open-ended. Building blocks, small world play, painting, drawing, clay, water, sand and other sensory activities, imaginative play and recycled materials are perfect for all ages. Make sure there are times during the day when children are in a smaller group with same age peers. Build an engaging outdoor learning environment and allow the children to move freely between indoor and outdoors.
How can you ensure safety without denying the older children valuable experiences?
Tools can be kept out of reach of toddlers inquisitive hands but in a place where older children can reach or ask an adult to get it. It is important to me that my children have ready access to mark making materials but when my youngest was at the drawing on walls stage, these were pushed back on the shelf where she could not reach but her sisters could.
If younger children want to use scissors, clay tools or small loose parts don’t deny them the opportunity; simply ensure an adult is sat with them to support them. Keep the materials to one area which has adult supervision.
How do you stop the younger ones spoiling older children’s games by knocking down things they have built or taking toys they are playing with?
Learning to negotiate with younger children is important, learning that children of different ages have different needs and they do not mean to spoil things for the older children. Encourage older children to play at building and knocking things down with the younger children and allow the older children to place their completed models out of the younger children’s reach. Have special places for ongoing projects and ensure that there is some time with their own age group. Projects requiring a finished product or advanced skills are best for small group time.
Additional things I learned about teaching 2-year-olds
They like to move around and explore. Often, they will not stay at one activity for long and prefer activities with lots of space rather than at a table top.
They find large groups distracting. Do not expect them to sit for a story session with 3 and 4-year-olds as they will more than likely lose interest before the end. They would much prefer to be read a short book in a small group, or better still 1:1 on an adult’s lap.
They like songs that are simple and short with actions, puppets, props or simple instruments to maintain interest . Again this is best in a small group
They love messy, tactile or sensory play and are interested in exploring materials. They are fascinated by processes and how things work. This may mean they will use materials in unexpected ways – tipping, throwing or splashing, for example. Try to channel these investigations in positive ways. Do not expect them to create a finished art product.
Some are not yet talking, others may be difficult to understand. It takes time to build relationships with these children and understand their needs. Play alongside them and observe. Build positive relationships with parents and help the children to build a secure relationship with you
They are still learning to use tools and will need adult supervision when using scissors, small items and books.
They learn by repetition, so don’t be worried that your planning isn’t varied. Try to spot schemas and re-occurring fascinations and plan a variety of experiences to support them.
‘Art’ projects work best on a large-scale. Rolls and large sheets of paper, chunky crayons, blocks of clay, pavement chalk and large brushes are all perfect for this age group.
They will assert their independence. Give them plenty of choices – I need you to come and have a drink, would you like a blue or a red cup?
Below are a selection of activities for 2-year-olds or in mixed age settings.
Do not limit this to a home corner, use your imagination to create familiar experiences like shopping, new ones such as a vets or pure fantasy with pirates or fairies.
Often as parents we are unsure about introducing children to poetry, fearing that it is difficult to understand. My children however love poetry and will often choose to read it rather than prose. A new CBeebies programme Magic Hands launching soon will make poetry even more accessible to children.
CBeebies Magic Hands is a brand new and groundbreaking series for the channel featuring poetry translated into British Sign Language.
A co-commission with BBC Learning, Magic Hands presents modern and classic poetry for children in a way that has never been seen before. Across the series, the Magic Hands presenting team – Ashley, Donna, Aimee and Simon – perform some of the best children’s poetry entirely in British Sign Language (BSL).
From Robert Louis Stephenson to Roger Stevens and Michaela Morgan, the programmes are fun, five-minute packages that mix sign language, the spoken word, music and vibrant animation to bring the poems to life and capture the imaginations of both deaf and hearing children.
The series is made for CBeebies by Remark Ltd, a company that is owned, staffed and run by people who are deaf.
Series producer, Judith Bunting, says: “Translating modern and traditional poems for children into BSL on such a scale is a first. There are deaf poets and deaf theatre companies but no national television company has ever tried translating children’s poetry into BSL.
The Magic Hands presenters are all new to television and have been profoundly deaf since birth. On set they worked with professional interpreters along with the series’ artistic director, Jean St Clair, and both deaf and hearing production crew.
Each episode of Magic Hands is based around a single verse, interpreted for children. The selection comes from poets including Christina Rossetti, Kenn Nesbit, Gareth Lancaster, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Katharine Pyle, Charles Kingsley, James Carter, Sarah Coleridge, Maya Angelou, Rabindranath Tagore and Grace Andreacchi as well as Shakespeare.
Controller of CBeebies, Kay Benbow, says: “We are delighted to bring Magic Hands to CBeebies. The mix of sign language, music and lively animation creates spellbinding poetry that we are sure all our young viewers will enjoy.”
Alongside making some provision tax deductible, other proposals include
increasing the number of children a childminder can care for.
improving their qualification level in a bid to maintain quality.
It seems however, that there are a number of flaws in their thinking.
‘Ms Truss has pushed for reform to regulations imposed on child minders to
increase the number of child minding places. If more places can be provided for
parents, then the Conservatives believe prices might start to come down.’
Yet in a later paragraph:
‘Downing Street sources said Liberal Democrat and Conservative figures alike were
now convinced that looser ratios mean nurseries can take more children on which
could see staff paid more, and so greater quality staff attracted.’
I’m not sure that increased wages for early years workers and a lower cost to parents can be achieved without a significant investment of government funds.
It seems to me that the government believe that by increasing the number of children childminders can care for, they will attract more people to the profession, as they will be able to earn more. However they are also proposing changes to the qualifications needed to become a childminder in a bid to maintain quality.
In my experience of working with childminders, this is what I think will happen. A proportion of very good childminders will be scared off by the thought of having to achieve yet another qualification, losing many of our oldest and most experienced childminders. Those that stay may take on extra children but once they are better qualified and have factored in the added expense of having more children (e.g. equipment, larger car) and the additional challenges of caring for a large number of children under 5, they are likely to quite rightly increase rather than decrease their hourly rate. Some childminders will decide that their quality depends on taking fewer children, therefore not achieving the desired increase in childcare places. Some will be attracted to the industry I’m sure but how attractive really is looking after 5 children under the age of 5 on your own?
In my opinion these proposals reduce parental choice. I like many women chose to send my children, in their first years, to a childminder. I chose this for my children because I felt a home environment where my children could experience many of the things they did with mummy, would be the easiest transition. I also chose a childminder because they could play with a few other children but have the individual, loving attention they needed from one adult. My children love their childminder in the way they would an aunt or a close friend of the family. I’m worried that this would be lost once the number of children is raised significantly above the size of the average family.
My mother was a childminder when I was growing up. The children she cared for (never more than 2 at a time) became an extension to our family, they called her ‘aunty’. Childminders these days take on far more children in a bid to fulfil demand for places and to earn a decent wage, if the ratio is increased again will there be any ‘aunties’ left? Please UK government don’t take away parental choice.