Thursday, 26 September 2013

Autumn Days

"Autumn days when the grass is jewelled and the silk inside a chestnut shell, jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled, all the things I love so well.  So I mustn't forget, no I mustn't forget, To say a great big thank you, I mustn't forget!"

If you went to primary school in the 70s or 80s in the UK then you will be familiar with the above song from assembly.  This time of year always takes me back to being a child - conkers scattered at the bottom of a tree, leaf piles asking to be crunched and sunny days with a hint of a cold wind make this a lovely time of year.

One of our favourite things to do is make an autumn collage with materials we find whilst out walking.  Beautiful coloured leaves, bark, sticks, conkers, fir cones and acorns all make great materials for an autumn treasure hunt and gathering them is part of the fun.

Next take some card or a canvas, pva glue and let the children go wild.  We also decided to do some hand and food prints on our canvas this year before sticking the found items plus some autumn coloured items from the craft box on. 

Here's Ethan making his collage last year:

What a difference at year makes:
Autumn 2012 picture:
Autumn 2013 picture:

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Myriad of Mini Beasts

One of the beautiful things about summer is the way life blooms outside.  As well as the trees bearing fruit and flowering plants, children also remind us there are lots of mini beasts that come out to play.  The bumblebees have been attracted to the flowering sage in our garden and both bees and butterflies have loved visiting the purple loosestrife.

I have also planted some hyssop, evening primrose, chives and maiden pink brilliancy in the hope of attracting wildlife in the garden in future years (and providing some edible flowers for my family and mindees!).  Children tend to sit and stare and get involved with the plants and dirt in the garden more than adults and thus every creature is spotted and asked about.

The other day we spotted a caterpillar and thanks to the power of Instagram Rachel at fizzpopbangblog identified it as a lime hawk moth.  We were able to find photos and pictures online documenting the life cycle of the lime hawk moth which was a lovely way to visually learn more about it.

A few months ago Ethan developed a slight fear of spiders but since we now let them crawl on us feeling the way they tickle and he names them (the last one was called Squeaky) he has grown to love them.  Most of the time when we encounter mini beasts we look at them and don't touch.  If a bee or wasp is close we stay still & observe them and I try not to panic the children.  In my experience those who get stung are usually the ones freaking out the most around bees or wasps.

The only mini beast that I really have trouble with irrational fear with is the slug.  But this video of them mating shows that even they are capable of amazing beauty and ingenuity.

I am planning on building a wildlife hotel as shown here with the children to extend their learning and love of mini beasts further and will update when I have!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Process Art

Often as adults we are so obsessed by goals that the process of doing things becomes unimportant.  This can especially be the case in early years settings in the UK where the government continues to make box ticking and goal setting a statutory requirement.  Children are much less concerned with where they end up and able to live completely in the moment much more easily.  It can be especially tempting in art and craft projects to take over and start directing children in order to get a more aesthetically pleasing end result but this stifles creativity and inhibits growth whilst not building confidence.  So today I attempted to create an environment for Ethan where he could enjoy the process of the art  (for more about process art read here ) he made as much as possible and with as little interference from myself as possible.  The fact we live in a rented house with beige carpets added extra challenges to this! First I covered the living carpet with a big dust sheet.  Then I brought in the tuff spot.  I had some wallpaper samples I covered the tuff spot with before taping them in place with gaffer tape.  Then I poured paints in the inside packaging of a biscuit tin (chocolate packaging, cardboard or paper plates etc would work just as well or if you have an artists pallete use that!).  I put some other items of interest out too - old megablocks, lids from jars and milk bottles, a dragon stamp and a toilet roll tube plus some paint brushes.   Ethan was excited to see the blank canvas before him and soon got stuck in using the megablocks to print squares and then the lids to print circles on the wallpaper. 

He also used the brushes and then started painting the megablocks and lids with the brushes and then his hands and arms.  Soon he asked to add water to the mix.  He also wanted to add more paint so I helped him do this when he got stuck.  The end result was not as conventionally pretty as if I'd sat down and given him rules and directed him but he seemed to thrive in the freedom he was given.  He was fascinated that by mixing red and blue on his hands that he could make purple or blue and white made light blue.  It can be hard when we get resources out for children and hope they will use them in a certain way to sit back and observe (only helping when asked) but the benefits of this are so much more enriching for children than trying to force our agenda on them.    

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Power of Play Dough

Play dough is one of Ethan's favourite things and I can see why.  There are endless possibilities to what it can be made into and how it can be manipulated.  There are also so many different recipes for home-made play dough available on the internet that Ethan has only used the bought stuff at playgroups we have visited.  I much prefer the home-made stuff, it keeps better, feels better to handle and doesn't combine together to make the murky grey colour that the commercial stuff does.  Below is our favourite play dough recipe.

Kool-Aid Play Dough  

2 Cups of Plain Flour
1/2 Cup of Salt
3 teaspoons of Cream of Tartar (available in the baking section of supermarket, next to baking soda)
2 tablespoons of Oil
1 Sachet of Kool-Aid
1.5 Cups of Boiling Water

Pour into the bowl in the order given.  Mix until combined with a spoon.  Leave to cool a bit and then knead.  If it is a bit sticky add a bit more flour.  Store in an airtight container.  This play dough smells really nice and keeps for ages.  I use some coloured kool-aid and some clear which I put liquid food colouring into until it took on the colour I wanted.  I ordered my Kool-aid off amazon but apparently you can get it from market stalls or some supermarkets in the UK now.   

Play dough is a great tool for imaginative play as it can become whatever we want it too.  It's also good for making into letters and numbers for introductions to literacy and maths.  Ethan likes adding his vehicles to it for small world play.  Adding different things gives a fresh element to the play too.  As well as specific play dough tools that shops sell, why not add sticks, pine cones, pebbles, shells and leaves?  As grown ups we all still like to have a go if play dough is in front of us.  There is something very satisfying about rolling up a piece into a ball, a sausage or a snail!  When I play with Ethan with the play dough we both relate to each other in a new way.  I become his play mate and I feel like a child again.  Ethan loves this and directs me and we think of ideas together.  Play dough is a good reminder in the importance of play which is child-led and spontaneous.  


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Just Add Water

The gorgeous summer weather has been a great time to involve h2o in our outside play.  The paddling pool came out the shed and got cleaned up.  Part of it had sprung a leak so it didn't fully inflate but Ethan was just as happy with it as last year and his play has become much more precise with detailed storytelling going on involving boats, shells, cars and london buses.  Quite often a toy will end up in there that is not really made for water but Ethan just wants to involve all his toys in whatever game he is playing!  Ethan remembers back to the sinking/floating experiments we all did at Belsize Bears whenever he is in water now and loves to predict what will happen with new objects and test it out.  I do hope he gains a love of science which I found very uninspiring at school as it is actually interesting when presented in the right way!

When Marley came to play I filled the tuff spot with water and the plastic food and tea set for them to play with.  This soon became a big muddy puddle! They splashed around and got the watering can and measuring jug to pour muddy water on each other.  They also both lay down in it.  It was one of those occasions I am glad I am not friends with people who are overly precious about their children getting mucky as both boys were covered in water and mud by the end of the picnic.  My theory is clothes and children can always be washed so let them go wild! Children can sense our inhibition in situations and it can stifle their creativity.  The beauty of childhood is living in the moment so if we can allow them to just be, then we should.

At Belsize Bears we filled the tuff spot with water again but this time it was set up outside on a concrete path with no mud around so it was an entirely different experience.  The invitation to play we set up was drinking straws, beakers and an early learning centre pour and play run.  I also filled an old washing up bottle with coloured water.  The beauty of the tuff spot (or builders tray which can be purchased at builders merchants or ebay) is that children of all ages can access the play.  This meant the whole group was engaged in an activity at once and it was lovely to see.  They did pouring, squirting, splashing, paddling, imaginative play and were able to practice social skills negotiating a play space involving lots of other children.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Down on the Farm

Ethan used to love playing on the model farm I picked up for £3 from a summer fete last year (mainly putting on the vehicles on it, sometimes adding pebbles too) but lately he hasn't been interested at all.  So while he was at nursery today I thought I would jazz it up a bit with some compost and hay (shhh, don't tell the guinea pigs!). I also got all the farm animals out, a tractor and some small model cats.

I had placed the pig in a box containing compost as it's pen.  Ethan said "How can the pig get out of there? I know, he can jump out!" and then he spotted Jess the cat and told me he needed Postman Pat and his van too.  It was lovely to see him engaging in play with this again after many months of being disinterested in it.  Adding natural materials was a great way to make this play a more sensory experience and Ethan enjoyed smelling and touching it.

Coloured Salt

Given the success of yesterday's invitation to play, I have decided to try and do one each day for Ethan. I have been meaning to do something with coloured salt ever since I saw it on the Imagination Tree website.  I poured some table salt into a tub, added quite a few drops of blue food colouring and then stirred it until it became a powdery blue.  I liked how sparkly the salt made it look and Ethan commented on that when he came down and found it presented in a blue (unused!) cat litter tray with a tool in.

Ethan thought it was sugar at first and ran straight over to investigate further.  At first he used the tool to drag through the salt.  Then he asked if he could make a hand print. Then I showed him how I could write an e in it for Ethan using my finger and he copied.

After this Ethan ran to get the cookie cutters to make shapes in the salt.  He made a hexagon and diamond and asked me what the shape names were.  He also made a crocodile and pig.

Then Ethan added the cars.

He had so much fun with the existing resources by utilising them in a new way with the salt.