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Great Pretenders recently asked if I could write a guest post for their blog.  I hadn’t come across them before but I was blown away by the wonderful play costumes that they create.  So of course I said yes .  Why Schools Need to Embrace Pretend Play? talks about my experience about a lack of pretend play in schools and why I think it is important that schools embrace it.

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Teaching 2-Year-Olds: Advice for Teachers Who are New to this Age Group.

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 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 had 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.

Pretend Play


potion making

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.

Water Beads

These are great for a water or light table.

water beads
Painting on the Ground

With paint or with water. Decorating brushes are especially popular.
 painting stepping stones
Water Play

Indoors,  outdoors or even in the rain.
duck swimming down the waterfall
Exploring Sound

Create a music garden or sound wall

music garden

music garden

Clay

An essential material in any early years classroom.

It's an ice cream

It’s an ice cr

Large Scale Projects

Paint on the ground, use large rolls of paper to print with feet, hands, leaves etc, paint large cardboard boxes, build with big bricks.
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Treasure Hunt

Finding hidden objects, How many of a given object can they find, find things beginning with a certain letter, following a checklist, finding different coloured objects, searching for things of interest  or excavation.

I hid them in the bushes.  Found one!  Now I have 1,2,3.4 butterflies, only 4 left to find.

I hid them in the bushes. Found one! Now I have 1,2,3.4 butterflies, only 4 left to find.

Loose Parts and Nature Play

Loose parts don’t have to be small and young children are fascinated by mud, sticks and other natural materials.

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Potion Making

Potion Making is great for water tables or outdoors for sensory exploration and scientific experimentation.

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Sensory Materials

Many sensory materials can be made with simple materials, for example, Goopplaydough, slime, or bubble mixture. ,A list of sensory recipes  is available for downloadfrom TES Connect.

goop

Stories and Songs

Bookfinder is an excellent resource for finding books suitable for a particular age groups as are the booklists provided by the National Literacy Trust.

Words for Life have an excellent list of songs for young children complete with lyrics and MP3’s. This list of songs for 2-year-olds from teaching 2 and 3 year olds is also worth consulting.

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Why Do Young Children Draw Belly Buttons?

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My youngest daughter (age 4) has recently started to draw detailed pictures. Mostly they are people.  She always starts with the eyes, adds a nose and mouth and then draws the circle for a head. After adding hair, she draws a torso, arms, legs, hands and feet.  The finishing touch is always a belly button. I found this fascinating. I don’t remember my younger children doing this for any sustained period of time, if at all.

In the earliest stages of children’s drawings of people, there is no torso. At this stage they often draw a navel (or circle) between the legs to depict that there is a torso there.  I’m not so familiar with children drawing belly buttons onto a torso however.

drawing by 4 yr old of man with belly button

Clearly, children under the age of 5 do not generally draw clothes on their people.   Seeing a navel on her sister’s drawing, immediately led my 6-year old to the assumption that it was naked. As they talked through the drawing together, the picture became one of a daddy and his little girl in the shower and anatomically correct details were added.  These didn’t survive into later drawings when her sister was not present but the placement of the belly button continued.

There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)

There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)

My intrigue grew, when a friend with a child of a similar age shared her daughter’s drawing of the family.  There was the belly button again.

I  decided to ask an expert and consulted Ursula Kolbe author of Rapunzel’s Supermarket:All about Young Children and Their Art for help. She suggested that children are fascinated by belly buttons and the drawing of a simple round shape is often intensely satisfying.  Perhaps then, it is the circles that she finds fascinating.  The drawing sequence always begins with eyes made up of a circle within a circle. Kolbe also suggested that children often copy the ideas of other children but since my little one is yet to attend preschool and only has her sisters to influence her this is unlikely in her case.

4 yr old drawing people

Often what children include or don’t include in their drawings is determined by the sequence in which they draw. “If a child draws a torso and then legs they sometimes won’t go back up to include a navel even if they intended to do so” says Kolbe.  I watched my daughter’s sequence with interest; she always drew the whole person and then went back to draw the navel as a finishing touch.

 

child's drawing of people

Sorting through boxes, I came across some old photographs of me as a child. In amongst them was this.

childs drawing of people

 

I must have been 4 or 5 years old when I drew this man, complete with belly button.  What a magnificent and timely discovery to help solve my conundrum.

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Hallowe’en Songs for Pre-schoolers.

When it comes to Hallowe’en my repertoire of songs is not as large as some other seasonal favourites. Tweaking a few nursery songs and finding a few favourites online,  I put together a small package of activities for a preschool music session.

Look at all these pumpkins

Look at all these pumpkins

 

5 Little Pumpkins ( A Popular Rhyme in the US)

5 Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate

The first one said “Oh my, it’s getting late”

The second one said “There are witches in the air”

The third one said “But we don’t care”

The fourth one said “Let’s run, Let’s run”

The fifth one said “Isn’t Hallowee’n fun?”

Then woooooo went the wind

And OUT went the lights.

And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

 


 

There’s a Spider on the Floor ( To the tune of ‘Put your Finger on your Head)

spider webs spun using sticks and yarn

spider webs spun using sticks and yarn

 

Move the spider up your body and make rhymes with different body parts eg There’s a spider on my tummy and I really want my mummy, there’s a spider on my knee and he’s very scary. Lyrics to the first verse are here.

 

 


 

If You’re a Monster and You Know It (Spooky Version of If You’re Happy and You Know It)

If you’re a monster and you know it then say ‘raaaaggh’

If you’re a witch and you know it say ‘HA HA’

If you’re a ghost and you know it then say ‘Oooooooo’

If you’re a dragon and you know it, breathe out fire.

If you love Hallowe’en then shout ‘BOO’

Charcoal Monster

Charcoal Monster

 

The Skeleton Dance

Doing the Skeleton Dance A slightly different version of the song ‘Dem Bones’

 


 

 

This is the Way we Carve a Pumpkin (to the tune ‘Here we go round the Mulberry Bush)

carving

This is the way we carve pumpkin, carve a pumpkin, carve a pumpkin,

This is the way we carve a pumpkin on Hallowe’en.

This is the way we cut off the top….

This is the way we scoop out the seeds….

This is the way we cut out a face…..

This is the way we light it up….

 

The Jack o Lantern keeps monsters away….

Monsters away, monsters away

The Jack O lantern keeps Monsters away

On Hallowe’en

 


 

I Hear Thunder (Use a spring drum for atmospheric effect)

I hear thunder, I hear thunder

Hark don’t you? Hark don’t you?

Pitter-patter raindrops, pitter-patter raindrops

I’m wet through

So are you.

Bats are flying, bats are flying

In the night , in the night

Watch out for the witches! Watch out for the witches

What a fright, what a fright.

Trick or treating, trick or treating

Door to door, door to door

Gathering our goodies, gathering our goodies

More and more, more and more.


Instruments and Movement.

after-dark-playing-in-the-dark2

Turn off the lights and give each child a flashlight/torch.

Play spooky Music – We chose ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Mussorgsky .

Encourage the children to make their torchlight dance to the music.

Help the children to choose instruments that might add to the atmosphere. (Deep drums, a spring drum, rainmakers and penny whistles are especially good).

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Waiting for the Fish

dads gone fishing‘ Let’s just go camping for our Summer holiday this year’

Hold on a moment, did those words really come from my mouth?  Until my mid twenties I recoiled in horror at the thought of camping. After I left girl guide camp half way through the week because I hated it so much, I convinced myself that camping wasn’t for me. In truth, I didn’t hate it at all. A rumour that newcomers would be pushed in the cesspit if they didn’t pass initiation had worried me so much that I begged to go home.  After a few great camping trips as an adult, my views changed but I’d never have considered a camping trip for my main holiday.

A yearning to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, good weather and the children’s eagerness to go camping, convinced me it was a good idea.  An 8- hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, 3 young children, a dog and a heatwave; perhaps I had lost my mind?

Amazingly, the car journey was fine.  The first couple of hours were spent playing ‘would you rather….’ and guessing the names of characters from books or screen.  The rest of the journey we listened to cd’s of musicals and admired the view.

Our destination Curlew Lake State Park, chosen for it’s beauty, a place for the children to swim and for my husband and the girls to go fishing.  “Fishing!” I hear my 20- year-old self, with an irrational fear of fish exclaim, ” are you intent on sending me on the holiday from hell?”  Strangely none of those sentiments cross my mind as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of the campsite on the shore of the Lake.

curlew lake

Without a shop or a playground in sight, would the children be happy? For now the excitement of sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside and trying to catch their first fish fuelled their enthusiasm.

They were eager to go to the beach to swim. I was amazed that we were the only people on the beach.  The ground wasn’t soft like the lake at home but filled with slippery algae.  It didn’t put them off.  They used the algae and stones to create patterns on the ground and then set up their own foot spa, spreading the algae over their feet and washing it off.

curlew lake

The Foot Spa

The Foot Spa

I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me too. At that moment I knew why this holiday was no longer my biggest nightmare. The children were immersed in the moment, playing, discovering and sharing. In the distance, my husband was on the lake in the canoe and I was here in a rare moment of quiet. This wasn’t one of those family holidays where we rushed to cram in every little experience.   I’m sure that these unhurried moments are the ones they will remember most.

There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

WaltWhitman

They found magic in the simple things.

Eeyore's bbq

Look I think Eeyore has been here

Maybe it’s his barbecue?

Really! Do you think so?

musing over a blade of grass

musing over a blade of grass

curlew lake

building sculptures

My eldest had big girl time with dad, paddling the canoe at sunrise. Nights weren’t the most restful we had ever had, with five people and a dog in the same tent but there are few things more peaceful than the middle of a lake in the early morning.

canoe on curlew lake

It didn’t take us long to understand the rhythms of nature; the time of day that the deer would wander down the hill to visit,  geese would fly across the lake, fish would start to bite or that darkness would fall.

Sometimes though, nature takes you by surprise.  One night, as we were snuggled in the porch of the tent telling stories, the poles holding the porch open, fell down. As if from nowhere,  the winds whipped up and tugged at the tent. Before we knew it dad and big sister had us zipped up inside while they battled against the wind and dust to secure the tent. I tried to drown out the rangers talk of trees blowing down, by telling the story of  ‘My Favourite Things’  from the ‘Sound of Music’ and singing.  Enraptured, the little ones soon forgot about the storm. They implored me to tell the story of ‘The Sound of Music’- the whole story, all 3 hours of it complete with every song. Thankfully the storm was short, the tent and trees survived and unlike my 11-year old self, I didn’t get the urge to run home.

One of the reasons for choosing Curlew Lake was the fishing, so in the early evenings we took the canoe out to explore the lake and try to catch fish.  The girls had only ever caught small fish and were eager to catch one they could eat. Our family trips in the canoe lacked the quiet and patience needed to catch anything of note.  However, on the last day their wish came true. Our neighbouring campers, who visit every year to fish, offered to take us out in their boat and help the girls to catch trout.  The fish came one after the other.

Here we go

Here we go

My first fish

My first fish

Then the fish got bigger

fishing
They were so proud of their catch.
trout

After the holiday, fishing has become a regular pastime. When dad goes out on his own, the girls greet him eagerly to see if he has caught anything we can eat. Other times, we all go to the lake together and mix up fishing with swimming and playing.  On a recent trip, we explored the river bank , a place we probably would never have visited if it weren’t for fishing .  Watching the girls excitement at their discoveries and creating with sticks and stones was magical. We returned home with a pile of sticks and ideas for making things with them.  Moments like this are important for all of us. Resting our minds through daydreaming and play increases productivity and creativity says Daniel Levitin author of ‘The Organized Mind’. Without time for spontaneity, children lack the mental space to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.

It makes a big splash. Plop!

It makes a big splash. Plop!

Drawing with sticks on rocks

Drawing with sticks on rocks

building a xylophone

building a xylophone

Let's see how many 'Y' sticks we can find.

Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.

Look what it can do.

Look what it can do.

As I looked out across the river at the jumping fish, the blue skies and the green trees, I could picture an old couple; man fishing, wife painting the landscape or writing in a notebook.  I suppose fishing isn’t so bad after all.  I’m happy to spend many more years waiting for the fish.


Posted in active learning, childhood, children, days out, early education & play, families, happiness, holidays, imagination, Life in the US, memory, outdoor play, parenting, play, reflection, sensory play, story telling, wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fairy Houses in the Woods.

fairy houseLook I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!

Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.

Fairy Hogwarts

Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on

Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on

This one had a swing made from blades of grass and a piece of bark.

This was my favourite.

This was my favourite.

fairy bathroom
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.

fairy steps

Maybe I could build some steps to go up to this room.

Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other.  We searched for the right sized piece of wood.

That's perfect.

That’s perfect.

They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.

furniturebuilding a fairy house

fairy house 3

They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?

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Pirate Play

pirate play

The crocodiles don’t like this colour so they won’t pull it into the swamp.

In the hot sunshine the girls don’t really need a lot of encouragement to play with water.  When I suggested we set up their pirate ship in the garden and make a plank that they could jump from into the paddling pool, they thought it was a great idea.

To make it truly authentic, we made pirate swords so they could push each other off the plank in true pirate fashion. They coloured them with chubbie paint markers  before adding jewels.

making pirate swords pirate sword

We emptied the paddling pool to clean it, leaving water on the lawn.  The girls decided that this should be a swamp where crocodiles lived.  They collected branches to lay across it so that they could cross the swamp.

branches to cover a swamp

Leaves are the only thing that works to help us cross the swamp, everything else sinks.

 

They then went on the lookout for something to use as a plank and decided on a large branch that had been pruned from our maple.

I had been changing the words to songs to fit a pirate themed music class. ‘If you’re a pirate and you know it say aaarh’, ‘1 little, 2 little, 3 little pirates’ and , ‘there were 10 in the ship and the pirate said walk the plank’.  The girls made up songs of their own, counting down as the pirates walked the plank one-by-one.

walking the plank

Next they set out on a pirate treasure hunt. One of the girls hid the treasure and made an X from sticks to mark where it was. My eldest made a map and clues for the girls to follow.

We should find a green ball here.

We should find a green ball here.

Now we need to go this way towards the den.

Now we need to go this way towards the den.

Open the chest with the magic key. Wow, look at the treasure!

Open the chest with the magic key. Wow, look at the treasure!

More Pirate Play Ideas

Winter Pirates

Quills

Pirate Phonics

 

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. Some of the art materials were gifted for trial purposes.

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