A Natural Playground

Young children have an immense curiosity about the natural world – the challenge is to stop them from losing it! Nurture that precious sense of wonder …….. A little empathy and enthusiasm is all you need to encourage children to appreciate wild places.

( Nature’s Playground)

There is even frost on the leaf

There is even frost on the leaf

Natural environments offer opportunities for adventure, which build confidence and instill bravery.

clifton slide
Take time to stop and explore. Rushing children along to the next thing, denies children the opportunity to make their own discoveries.
blossom
Using natural materials creatively helps us to appreciate them in new ways.

sand man
Wild places provide opportunities for quiet reflection.

musing over a blade of grass

musing over a blade of grass

Finding creatures in their natural environment encourages respect and reduces fear.

holding a frog Explore all types of weather. Rain, snow, wind and sunshine offer many different experiences.

rain

I just want to lie in it

I just want to lie in it

reading in the tree

 kite(1)

Allow children time to be immersed in their experiences and they will adapt natural materials, weaving them into their own imaginative worlds.

building a bonfire

Sometimes nature is cruel but when children come across these things in the wild, it promotes discussion and allows them to navigate difficult concepts in a meaningful way.

We found a dead birs in the garden. How did it get there? What shuld we do with it? We buried it under a tree.

We found a dead bird in the garden. How did it get there? What should we do with it? We buried it under a tree.

Being in a natural environment offers children opportunities to develop physical skills, through climbing , negotiating space, moving on different surfaces, reaching, touching and many more.

climbing tree
toddler on beach

It makes a big splash. Plop!

It makes a big splash. Plop!

Explore with all of your senses.

I'm going to have a shower. I'm getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.

I’m going to have a shower. I’m getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.

picking huckleberrieshands on a tree.

blackberris

If I need a little encouragement to go outside I only need to look at the joy, concentration and contemplation on my children’s faces.

If you need further inspiration I recommend reading Nature’s Playground

This is not a sponsored post the book mentioned is a personal recommendation only.

Posted in early education & play, play, active learning, children, outdoor play, wildlife, woods, sensory play, snow | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Let’s Welcome Autism with Open Arms

Today is world autism awareness day. I worked with children on the spectrum and their families for many years. Each child was different and wonderful in their own way.

Often fear of the unknown drives people to keep their distance, to worry that teaching these children will be too great a challenge. I felt this myself when I was first asked to teach a child on the autistic spectrum but went on to choose this field. Working with the children was the richest, most rewarding, fascinating and challenging experience.

Please take time to read this post written by an adult on the spectrum about the challenges they have faced through life and hopes for this generation. For all the unique, wonderful, individual children I have encountered, may the world accept you for who you are.

Let’s Welcome Autism with Open Arms.

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The Mirror Table

investigating natural materialsThe girls often enjoy mirror play, I’ve tried a number of different types. I love this big one but it is very fragile and difficult to store. For small projects, I have an oval mirror in a tray but it isn’t big enough for more than 2 children to play with.  Unframed circular mirrors work well, but I’m yet to find a suitable one. We also use Ikea mirror tiles, these are portable and I can change the arrangement to suit the project but the pointed edges bother me.

ice skating mirror

Suddenly it came to me – “why not stick the mirror tiles onto a table?” I sent out  a plea for a table to my Buy Nothing group. I didn’t expect to find one that was the perfect size but within 30 minutes I had been offered a table that would fit the tiles perfectly. The mirror tiles come with sticky pads for mounting to a wall. These were perfect for attaching the mirrors to the table.  I taped the sharp corners with duct tape and a vanity mirror was placed against the wall.  In a preschool setting I would mount more tiles to the wall and put the table in front to allow for seamless reflections. The border around our mirror makes it difficult for small items to be reflected in the upright mirror.

mirror table

A couple of small card mirrors and a few loose parts led to fun explorations.

mirror table loose parts

I cut the insides of a roll of tape in half and placed them on the table with a few wooden rings.

“It looks like wheels.  I’m going to make a car”mirror table car

To keep the interest going, I changed the materials regularly. The loose parts, building bricks and mirrors maintained interest for only a short time. Knowing that my children love to draw and write, I decided to leave white board markers and a rubber on the table to see if this would engage them.

using a mirror table for drawing.

This arrangement was perfect and by far the most popular so far.

abstract drawing

writing on a mirror table

collaborative drawing

To add variety, I purchased a pack of glass markers.  This was a very different experience.  The girls discovered that the pens were difficult to erase. They liked that they no longer needed to avoid erasing part of the picture with their sleeve. It took more effort to erase and the girls experimented with the best ways to do this. Since they love to use cleaning sprays, I showed them how to use a small amount of glass cleaner to remove the pens quickly.

I noticed that the style of drawing changed when I introduced these pens. The girls drew intricate patterns using the colours and adapting their movements to light touch of the pens.

pattern and colour on mirror table

This one reminded me of Kandisky ( and a pattern in one of the earlier photographs is reminiscent of concentric circles).

“I like drawing random things that come into my head. Then they don’t have to be anything”   said my 6-year-old.

I explained that this is called abstract art. I have an artist friend and we all visited her exhibition recently. I told them that this was the kind of art that she makes.
Later, I printed some Kandinsky paintings, placing them around the edge of the vanity mirror.
art on mirror table
glass pens on a mirror table

“Why did you name this one the traveller?” I asked.

“He looks like he has a bag on his back and the multi-coloured bits look like a map”

The mirror table is also the perfect surface for shaving foam.

mirror table shave foam

On a flat, even surface their natural instinct was to cover all the space, smoothing it over like icing a cake.

shaving foam on a mirror table

They began to create a story.

How about we’re the servants and it is the queen’s birthday and she wants us to decorate everything?

Now we need it all smooth again. We are the servants.

Wait, she said decorate everything. How about our hands? Oh no there are some gaps.

Maybe the queen will be mad. Come on we’ve got to make it smooth.

I don’t think she’ll be mad. She is the nicest queen. Everyday for pudding she gives us cupcakes.

It’s all textury, move your hands around like this.

Or I could do an M – like this.

IMG_0428

The scenario soon changed to one where they were at school.

There is lots and lots of art  but you don’t like doing it, do you?

Of course I do, why wouldn’t I? I love it

No, but remember we’re playing a game where you don’t like being creative . You just like playing video games and stuff.

I know, this is creative and you don’t like it. Pretend when someone asks you to do something creative you just say ” but when can I watch tv?”

Do you know what I’m going to do next?

No

Neither do I but it will be something creative.

How about you make a snowball?

The girls  abandoned a game of Minecraft when I put the foam out.  It is interesting that they were exploring ideas about creativity in their play.

Additional mirror table activities can be found on my mirror table Pinterest board.

Posted in active learning, art and crafts, death, diaries, early education & play, education, imagination, play, pre schoolers, Reggio Emilia, sensory play | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

British Children Learning to Read and Write in the US.

 

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……

t

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.

alphabet ball and stick

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.

 

Posted in books, children, early education & play, education, expat, Life in the US, literacy, parenting, pre schoolers, reading, teaching, UK, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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 Duck’s Feet’.  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.

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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 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.

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, 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.

Oct 07 049

Potion Making

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

IMG_2255

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.

Posted in 2 year olds, active learning, clay, early education & play, play, teaching, toddlers, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment