Tag Archives: play

Scrap Workshop

Scrap Workshop cover

One of my favourite workshops to lead at a local play centre was scrap workshop.

I liked it because it was suitable for all ages, it was a natural extension to my heuristic play workshops with toddlers and it gave children the freedom to develop both creativity and skills.

We collected all kinds of scrap materials, large and small and displayed them in separate containers.

Examples of materials

  • boxes
  • tubes
  • plastic containers
  • fabric
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • shells
  • pinecones
  • bottle tops
  • straws
  • netting

Sometimes we would give the children a project

  • make something that moves
  • make something that makes a sound
  • build a replica of the Mayflower

junk boat

or a problem arising from a project or book

  • invent something to help Rapunzel get out of her tower
  • Can you build a house that can’t be blown down
  • How could you be rescued from a desert island?

but best of all we would make sure there was plenty of tape, string, scissors and markers and let them create and explore.

Sometimes they worked on small projects

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a boat with an anchor

or larger group constructions

building a boat

they practised threading

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and joining

scrap workshop

made things for dramatic play

wings

and problem solved

‘ When children engage with people, objects, ideas or events they test things out and solve problems.  They need adults to challenge and extend their thinking. (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

 

scrap workshop
How can you balance 3 boxes without them breaking?

They made choices

Provide flexible resources that can be used in many different ways to facilitate children’s play and exploration’  (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child).

 

joining parts of the boat

and tested strategies

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they discovered how two different materials could work together

‘ Every child’s learning journey takes a personal path based on their own individual interests, experiences and the curriculum on offer.’ (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child.)

 

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and nobody asked them “What is it?”

Active learners need to have some independence and control over their learning to keep their interest and to develop creativity.’ (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

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They worked at a table

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or on the floor

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and made discoveries using all of their senses.

An open-ended project like this gives plenty of opportunities to observe and work alongside children, guiding them towards their next steps and sharing ideas together.

’ When children have opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things.  Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions’  (EYFS 2008 – Creativity and critical thinking)

 

filling and emptying

This child wasn’t interested in joining pieces or making anything. They explored filling and emptying.

scrap workshop

This child wrapped and wrapped their construction with tape.  They went on to wrap their hands with string. We provided them with materials they could explore wrapping in more depth – paper sheets, tape, string, ribbons , blankets, paper strips with tubes, poles, boxes, and table legs wrapped in string.

‘ Children need and will respond positively to challenges if they have a good relationship with the practitioner and feel confident to try things out.’ ( EYFS 2008 – Supporting learning).

The children were able to work in mixed ages. The youngest children were 2 and the oldest 10. All the children enjoyed the workshops and learned from and supported one another.

‘ In their play children learn at their highest level’  (EYFS 2008 – Play and Exploration).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Simple Pleasures

I believe that sometimes we try too hard to arrange things for our kids to do and it is important to let them be.  There are however, some things that I feel we should introduce our children to. The simple pleasures that we had as kids, are sometimes forgotten and lost. If we are going to teach our children anything, lets preserve simple pleasures like these.

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Pooh Sticks
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Learning to play hopscotch
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Chalking with a stone
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Flying a kite
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Blowing a dandelion clock

 

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Blowing bubbles

 

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Planting seeds

 

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Making a rainbow
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Making a daisy chain
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Burying yourself in sand.

 

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Making a paper aeroplane

 

What are your simple pleasures?

You’re My Kind of Mum Friend Because…..

A few weeks ago I went for a walk to the park with my  daughter. She likes to climb to the top of the climbing frame and play pirates. The game involves roaming the edges of the park for interesting treasures and on this day, she discovered big rocks.  She proceeded to pick them up and roll them down the bank, watching them crash at the bottom. The only other child at the park was a little younger than my daughter and after observing her for a while, she found her own rock.  She used all of her efforts to lift the rock and proudly show it to her mum. At which point, she was greeted  with a look of horror and her mum quickly took the rock away and ushered her to ‘more suitable’ pursuits.

This kind of reaction is very familiar.  When my children were toddlers, other parents would often ask me if my children were okay when they climbed a ladder and slid down the longest slide, as I observed from a distance. I have never been a parent to shadow my child’s every move and rarely feel the need to step in.

It is always refreshing to find a parent who shares my attitude.  On a recent trip to the park with a friend, I was so happy to find someone who not only didn’t bat an eyelid when my eldest started paddling barefooted in the cold wet mud but actively encouraged the others to join in. When the children threw rocks on the ground to see if they would break , she gave them advice on how to do it safely, rather than stopping them because it was too dangerous.

You are my kind of mum friend because you let all these experiences happen.

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It’s fun to stand on the roundabout, when we fell, we worked out how we needed to balance to stay on.

 

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When you are 5 you can climb a big rock without any help.
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I can test the ice if I stand on the edge and throw sticks to see if it will break.

 

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I explore the size of the ripples as I throw stones into the pond.  If I get too close I might get wet and the water is cold!
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Mud is good – the squishier the better!
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We don’t need a swimming costume to get wet.
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Who can find the biggest branch?

 

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Don’t tell me it’s cold, I need to feel it!
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Puddles are the best!

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It’s okay to play – even when you’re almost 12.
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If I ride on my coat, I go faster.
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It’s okay to remove your shoes and coat when it isn’t quite Spring.

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Take off your shirt and play with a stick.
getting wet
I’m going to have a shower. I’m getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.

And when you let these things happen, with a little bit of support they will have the courage to jump.

 

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What Toys Should I Provide for Babies and Toddlers?

Toy shop shelves are laden with toys claiming to be educational. For toddlers and babies, this usually means something noisy, requiring batteries.  I have always held that there is little educational value in such toys. In my experience children play with them for a short period of time before moving on to something else.

Alison Gopnik discusses the manner in which children experiment with toys in her book the Philosophical Baby.   A toy that  worked by moving levers was presented to a group of 4-year-olds.  The adults demonstrated to the first group, how it worked, while  the second group were left to work it out for themselves.  The second group spent significantly more time playing with the toy than the first, who quickly abandoned it once they understood its function.

Another recent study led by Professor Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University  focused on children between the ages of 10 and 16 months old. She gave families three different kinds of toys to play with; books, traditional toys like stacking blocks and electronic toys. The toys that stimulated most conversation were books, closely followed by blocks. The families playing with the electronic toy shared very little conversation, allowing the toy to do the talking for them.

If you are considering which toys to buy for a young child, these points may help.

  • The most important resource we can give to babies and toddlers is ourselves. Spend time playing tickling games, singing to them, playing rhyming games, blowing bubbles or rolling a ball.
  • Other suitable toys for babies and early toddlers include small musical instruments for exploring sound ( saucepans, spoons and homemade shakers work equally well), a treasure basket or board and cloth books.
  • Think about toys that they will play with for a long time.   The best  toy investments for our family include magnatiles, wooden blocks, paper and pencil, a magnetic drawing board and play food.
  • Toys do not need to be expensive. Children can have hours of fun with a balloon, pot of bubbles, home-made play dough or  a cardboard box.

The infographic below has many more developmentally appropriate ideas for play.

Helping Your Child Develop Through Play
Helping Your Child Develop Through Play by Wooden Toy Shop

Outdoor Playspace in Your Own Backyard.

I recently hosted a party for friends and their families.  I was  surprised at the comments I received about my garden being an exciting place for children as I often think of it as small with too many trees and very little grass. I’ve worked hard to make it an enticing play space and most of the materials have incurred little or no cost. Here is a little tour.

Water Play

water wall on tree

 

The water wall is a recent project. The pipe came from an old vacuum cleaner and the other containers are empty bottles.  The containers are fastened to the tree using nails and pipe cleaners or threaded through markers for obstacle courses. The tyre at the base is to help my youngest daughter to reach.

water table

The good thing about the water table is that we can move it to different parts of the garden. It is perfect as a water source for the water wall . Other materials can also be used in the water table like the packing peanuts the children built sculptures with in the picture above.

 

Potions and Mud Pies

This is one of the children’s favourite activities and we have experimented with a variety of potion stations and mud kitchens. This is our current set up.  The plastic tub was purchased very cheaply after Hallowe’en and fits perfectly inside a tyre.  A split pallet in between is the workspace and another tyre with planks of wood laid over is where I set out materials for them to experiment with.  Test tubes, containers and sticks for mixing are conveniently located in storage nearby.

 potion station

I didn’t know these mud tables existed until one was offered on my local Buy Nothing Group. It would be easy to make something similar with a washing up bowl on a stand.

mud pie table
I have tried different positions for mud table and play kitchen and I am still unsure which works best. Currently they are close to each other but not in the same space so that the mud table, potion station and kitchen can be used together or separately.
kitchen
Storage on the trees. The containers hold kitchen utensils for the kitchen and pans hang on hooks screwed into the tree.
storage on a tree

Sand


The children love this sandbox that I bought second-hand.  It is really sturdy and has held out really well.  The trees in our garden offer lots of shade so the girls can often be found making up imaginative games in the sandbox.
sand box

I use a storage net from Ikea to store the smaller sand toys, water toys and small balls and hang it from a tree branch.

storage outdoor toys

Mark Making

The girls are always making little paper signs to include in their play so I added a chalk board to the tree.  I placed it near to their play shop so that they could use it as a sign.

chalk board

The spool table  another space for mark making
kids play table from an electrical spool.

Imaginative Play

My eldest daughter created this puppet theatre using a sheet and a few sticks jammed between 2 trees. I nailed the sticks into the tree to stop them falling and added a board from a broken picture frame for them to write on. This could be painted with chalkboard paint but works just as well without.
puppet theatre

We were donated a large amount of fake flowers last Summer and we used them to create  a flower shop using an old plant stand and their play till. We could also use the puppet theatre with a table behind it. The girls use cars and waggons as the delivery vehicles.

The Flower Shop

The Fairy Garden

.fairy garden doorway

Quiet Time

Another Ikea purchase but something similar could also be made using a hula hoop and ribbon or tulle.  I hang it from a tree and put cushions and books inside.

quiet cornerWe also use a parasol for a shady spot. The girls recently created a face painting station beneath it.  The parasol came with our water table and doesn’t have a stand.  I used the stand for my Christmas tree.

A shady parasol

Sometimes they use my umbrella propped up on the porch for shade.

reading in the sun

Physical Play

Of all of the things we have in the garden, the one that is used the most by all of the children, is the trampoline. We have a Springfree trampoline that I was lucky enough to win in a competition. They are not the cheapest trampolines but based on amount of use and durability,  had  I bought the trampoline, it would have been a worthwhile investment. The trampoline is overshadowed by trees so the girls keep a broom next to it and brush off fallen leaves and seeds before getting on. They have created a number of games to play,  make up shows or practice gymnastics and often my eldest disappears to the trampoline for a bit of peace and quiet.

trampoline

The balance beam is strung between 2 trees with paracord.

balance beam

We use tyres to make obstacle courses. Getting rain water out of them is also an interesting challenge for my youngest.

rolling tyres

I’ve made ribbon sticks before using sticks bought from a craft shop. These sticks  collected from the garden work just as well. The ribbon can be glued onto the sticks or simply tied. Ribbon sticks with multiple ribbons work well too.

ribbon sticks

 

Sound Making

Our music garden is housed between small trees. We made a jingle stick by nailing metal bottle tops to an old broom handle.

music garden

Observing Nature

My daughter made this nesting box and this year for the first time we were rewarded with a family of nesting sparrows.  You could hear the hungry little chicks as their parents flew close to them and we spent a lot of time lying in the hammock watching them going in and out of the bird house.

nesting sparrows

Other regular visitors are squirrels, hummingbirds and an occasional racoon.

hummingbird feeding

 

I am always interested in gathering new ideas for outdoor play spaces.  If you are interested too, follow my Pinterest boards:  Outdoor Play, Children’s Garden Inspiration and Forest School.

Children’s Imaginations – What is the Adult’s Role in Nurturing Creative Children?

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child in a witches hat writing a spell

I had an interesting conversation with a grandmother at one of my recent classes. In the class we decorated pebbles. The children were aged 2-4 and she had joined with a 2- year-old who was fascinated by stones. He drew on the pebbles and then she helped him to add eyes.

When she took her grandson home, her daughter looked at the stones and remarked that it was not his own work. She felt that during her own childhood, her mother had never been satisfied with her art projects. She would always offers suggestions for improvement, rather than accepting it the way that she wanted it and felt strongly that she would encourage her son to express things in his own way.

At the next art session, the grandmother was clearly reflecting on this with interest.  She stood completely back from the child as he was scribbling and snipping, without any interference and discussed her daughter’s comment with me.

I found her reaction interesting; she clearly wasn’t comfortable with the distance but wanted to respect her daughter’s wishes. We discussed the balance between taking over and being on hand to help or extend learning.  I explained my response to children when they are learning to draw, discussed in ‘I Don’t Know How to Draw Ducks’ Feet’ – How to Support Young Childrens’ Drawing,” Sometimes it is hard not to take over when a child says they can’t do something but a little support can encourage a child to trust in their own ability. Thankfully, I had recently finished reading Ursula Kolbe’s latest book Children’s Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses
The role of parents in nurturing creative children is the main theme of the book. It encourages parents to see that creative play can arise from the simplest things and that letting go will foster children’s imagination.

childrens imagination

If we want to nourish children’s creativity what exactly is the adult’s role?

All too often we adults feel the need to label, to continually teach, wheras close attention and companiable silence are often more valuable. Valuable because then anything can happen”  Kolbe says.

The role of the adult is to:

Provide Resources

art and craft storageThe adult’s role is to provide interesting materials. A constant stream of new materials, however, leaves little room for development of expression. If, on the other hand, a variety of materials are easily accessible, children can choose those that interest them.

The greatest possibilities occur, as children ask “what can I do with this?”  Perhaps,this is why children love the outdoors, where loose parts are plentiful. At home, I keep paper, pencils, scissors, watercolour paint, brushes tape and glue next to our kitchen table. Most mornings the girls will go to the shelves, take a piece of paper and scissors and create something.  My kitchen table is rarely clear but I love to listen to their stories as they draw their latest picture or make a sign for imaginative play.

Observe and Listen

 One of the simplest pleasures is to sit and observe a child or group of children at play. The little pearls of wisdom that children offer could otherwise be missed. Observing encourages teachers and parents to question why things happen or how play can be extended . Loris Malaguzzi describes it as

“Catching the ball that children throw  us.”

It is easy for parents and teachers to find a wealth of activities for their children to do but most of the time it isn’t necessary. If we follow the children’s lead we can become their supporter, encourager and co-explorer explains Kolbe.

“A steady diet of adult-chosen, one-off activities denies children opportunities to find the extraordinary in the ordinary for themselves”

Time and Space

outdoor painting

The most important things we can give children are time and space.  Our role, is to provide inviting materials and allow children unhurried time to explore them, revisiting as many times as they would like. Unhurried time is almost impossible at school, where a strict timetable needs to be followed. I think it  is vital therefore, to provide this at home. My children were upset recently at a local playcentre, because their things were tidied away before they had finished playing.  Leaving things out for a while shows that their creations are valued and allows them to modify and expand their ideas. Ask children if they have finished before tidying or encourage them to clear their own materials, so that you can be certain they are finished.

Show Interest Without Intrusion

If we sit near children as they draw, build, paint and play imaginatively, they will begin to tell us the story behind it. We will learn far more about their inner thoughts and motivations than we would by questioning children about what things are and offering endless suggestions. Let them lead play and show interest in what they do. My children don’t mind when I observe their play, taking photographs and writing notes. They ask me what I am writing or if they can see the photographs.  It shows them that I am interested in what they do and value it enough to record their thoughts. I explain that I am telling the story of their play, so that we can remember and share with other people far away. Sometimes I stay indoors and watch from a window or listen from afar. It is  important that they have times without any adult nearby, to develop their own ideas and find their own solutions to challenges.

raining heather

Kolbe’s book is a wonderful insight into the things that ignite children’s imaginations and how parent’s can nourish and support this. The examples in the book are simple but inspiring  and  don’t require expensive resources or time consuming planning. The close of each chapter includes a written conversation between Kolbe and  Susan Whelan, a parent. They talk through their observations of the anecdotes in the book. I particularly liked this aspect, as it gives it a personal element and shows the importance of reflecting with others to obtain a deeper understanding.

I read this book at a time when my youngest daughter is eager to share her stories through drawing and painting, imaginative and sensory play.  It reminded me that these moments  are precious and to take time to listen and record them.