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When We Let Children Play…

When we let children play amazing things happen. We just have to allow ourselves to see it.

I’m a big believer in child led play… and when I say play I refer to ALL aspects of learning because child’s play is not a time filler or what we do when we’ve finished learning. Play IS learning and as the great Albert Einstein once said… “Play is the highest form of research.” As adults we often lose sight of this but when we really step back and observe (and shut our mouths for once!) we begin to see what these clever little humans are up to.

For a while there I think I was getting hung up on creating these incredibly detailed and well resourced spaces with a narrow minded view of how they were to be used. I was getting caught up in the unrealistic Instagram world where all we see are pretty pictures of untouched play spaces and set ups without any children actually playing and if they are it’s likely being carried out through the eyes of an adult. I have not seen one image of a child throwing those little wooden people all over the place before using the Grimm’s rainbow pieces as boomerangs! Not once!

Anyway.

The things I offer my children are definitely inviting and beautifully set up like those images and they are played with (and thrown about the place!) but rarely is it in the ways I expected them to… and if I’m honest, sometimes not in the ways I wanted them to. I thought I knew what child led play looked like but over time I’ve realised that this adult control we seem to have ingrained in us as teachers (and parents!) is a hard thing to shake off. It’s really difficult to let go and allow our children to explore, problem solve, hypothesise, experiment, research and investigate on their own! Our natural instinct is to intervene and fix whatever it is we think they’re doing wrong because we want to help! Apparently!

Adult: They made a mistake! They can’t do it by themselves… They’re making a mess! I’ll just show them how it should be done.

Child: What’s the point in trying? I can’t do anything right! I’ll probably get into trouble! I should just wait for an adult to help me.

My focus lately has been to make use of quality open ended toys that encourage children to find things out for themselves and become active learners. Alongside these carefully chosen pieces are the hoards of loose parts we often find in the garden or recycling bin. Although I still enjoy setting spaces up to be aesthetically pleasing I don’t put any pressure on myself or the children to use them in any particular way or with any sort of end result in mind. In the past I would say “How about we do this..?” or “No, let’s not do that…” because I wanted the learning to go a certain way… or perhaps it was that I just preferred they didn’t make a giant mess every single time. Now I try to observe and listen more than I speak but when I do I use phrases like “I wonder what would happen…?” or “What can you tell me about…?” It’s hard and I still have a long way to go but I’m excited to see what changes in terms of the relationships I build upon with each child as well as where the learning might go beyond one simple activity.

One of our favourite resources has been our MAGNETIC TILES from JC Creative Toys. They have been used in more ways that I can count but a popular activity has been one that involves making ‘homes’ for different sized vehicles. It’s given us an opportunity to discuss the best shapes to use to accommodate wing span, as well as counting out how many tiles should be added to enclose a semi-trailer. For my preschooler it was an opportunity to predict, measure and compare and is such a fantastic way to introduce early concepts about length and area! I’m looking forward to seeing where this learning might lead us next.

Another popular choice has been the very messy and simple sensory tub set up involving oobleck! I currently have cornflour everywhere but it’s been worth it! Initially I added small beads, accompanied by spoons and containers for some fine motor practise, but as time went on a whole range of things were added resulting in one huge, delightful mess! Yet beyond the mess I gathered some incredible information about these little ones that I wouldn’t have come across in the past because I would have been too worried about all the stones they were pouring in from the pot behind them!! So many stones!

When we let children play we’re demonstrating that we trust and respect them and their abilities. We just have to be willing to stop and observe the magic in front of us.

Establishing Rituals for Children: Nature Walks

In my last post, I pondered the idea of establishing rituals to help create a peaceful and relaxed environment for children. I didn’t want the prospect of these rituals to be daunting or forced so taking a nature walk seemed like a good place to start! Simple, enjoyable, achievable.

I like to consider the following 5 points to ensure our outings are pleasant, engaging and meaningful.

1. Slow it Down

If we’re trying to create a positive experience for children then rushing them along unnecessarily isn’t in the spirit of what establishing a meaningful ritual is all about. I always encourage my little ones to be energetic and run like the wind… if that’s what they want to do, but I also highlight the importance of enjoying the quiet and finding ways to be still occasionally.

I always plan for fifteen minutes of getting ready to walk and an hour of actual walking and exploring. This gives us time to discuss what we might see or do as well as giving everyone a chance to feel excited before it has even happened. There is no rushing. It will happen because I’ve allowed for that window of time. Our slower pace means we can take it all in and enjoy the fact that we’re out and about.

2. Be Flexible

For us, a morning walk seems to work best. The time of day is important, especially when considering the smallest of humans and their needs. After a few test runs I’ve decided that mornings are when everyone tends to be happy and enthusiastic. Very few meltdowns happen at this time!

However, I always make room for the unplanned [insert toddler tantrums here] and because I want these experiences to be joyful, taking a screaming toddler along (because we must stick to our ritual!!) just doesn’t cut it with me. So sometimes they just don’t happen… and that’s okay.

3. Predictability and Adventure

Another important factor for me is creating some form of predictably without making it feel like Ground Hog Day. We’ve gently eased into our walks and added new parts on a monthly basis to ensure everyone feels safe and secure. Sometimes we might take a different path or go the long way around but by keeping the setting the same or at least similar, means the children know what to expect.

Having said that, we still have our fair share of adventures along the way! I always support age appropriate risk taking and encourage challenging activities such as balancing on rocks or climbing over logs. In doing this we’re adding a little extra excitement along the way.

4. Find Somewhere Beautiful

We’re so lucky that our walks include a lovely bush/forrest setting found at the end of the street. Finding a beautiful space to walk through can be helpful if we want to make a simple walk with our children something more.

Using our senses when exploring the animals and plant life around us turns our walk into a beautiful, calm experience. If your daily walk is a little more urban and concrete you can still find plenty of interesting things to explore so take your time to find the best setting for everyone. Often you’ll be surprised at what you can find when you really take the time to enjoy a walk along a busy footpath!

5. Include Elements of Learning

Games, challenges and competitions are fantastic ways to engage with and learn about the environment, so I try to include a simple activity each time. I encourage everyone to be inquisitive and excited about the world around them.

Sometimes our activity involves collecting the natural resources we find along the way (so many sticks and rocks!) or capturing photos of our discoveries and adventures. We take these back with us to use for future activities or to simply revisit that moment in time and reflect.

Any activity you include throughout your day can simply be routine, being the thing you do to get from A to B. Of course, sometimes that’s necessary but I invite you to take one of those simple tasks and turn it into something more. Engage in purposeful activities together and take the time to enjoy what you’re doing along the way.

Make it meaningful.

Bree x

Daily Rituals for Happy Children

Working with young children means I can be up against some BIG emotions. As an educator I know this will happen from time to time (usually on a daily basis!) and I value the importance of supporting, guiding and comforting children during these moments. Sometimes it can be incredibly challenging to stay calm and figure out what will help diffuse the situation as well as what might help to support them later on.

I regularly ask myself… What will help to guide me through this hurricane of childhood emotion?! and; What will help them to find the calm before (and after!) the storm?

It’s all about the vibe…

Aside from the layout and aesthetics of a child friendly space it’s important to consider the ‘feeling’ or ‘vibe’ of the environment and this needs to come from us. I think our personalities, belief systems, expectations and values help to set the tone for the environment so if we continually feel rushed, stressed or on edge it will filter through amongst our children. By including opportunities to ‘check in’ verbally (or non-verbally!), encouraging moments of self reflection or simply providing the space to just breathe, demonstrates that it’s okay to focus on ourselves a little and sometimes it’s nice (and healthy!) to share those feelings with others. Even the busiest of children can be supported in finding ways to be still and take the time to reflect.

Routines Vs. Rituals

In an attempt to consider the feeling of our environment my mind continually shifts toward the idea of daily rituals and how implementing them throughout the day might help to create this positive vibe I talk about. Rituals are not routines. A routine is something we do because we must, i.e wash our hands, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, etc. A ritual however, is often a symbolic activity that we carry out in the hopes of gaining something meaningful from it. Including daily rituals helps to create a calming experience that gives everyone an opportunity to come together as a group or take moments for themselves.

Implementing Daily Rituals

Consider the following things when making the decision to include child friendly rituals throughout your day or week:

  • Start slowly. It’s important to take your time at the beginning. Consider the needs of the children and how you plan to introduce it. Focus on one at a time and allow it to become a comfortable experience for everyone before introducing something new.
  • Let them happen organically. Forcing or imposing it on children defeats the purpose. Always consider the current mood or needs of everyone first and if it’s not working, try it later.
  • Be open to change. Not everything works the first time around and with younger children our own expectations and ideas might not translate well, especially for a toddler! Be patient and alter as needed.
  • Have fun! If your daily rituals start to become a chore or your children are reluctant to join in then perhaps it’s just not the right activity. Involve the children as much as possible in the planning process to ensure their voice is heard and it’s meaningful for them.

Daily rituals can be explored individually or as a group and can be included as a way of welcoming each other and the day ahead, as a chance to slow down when things seem too chaotic or as an opportunity to be just be still. In the coming weeks I’ll share the daily rituals we are beginning to include to our day and the benefits they may have for all children and yourself!

Bree x

The Power of Nature Play!

In a world where classrooms are defined by a desk and four walls, where technology reigns supreme and helicopter parents continue to wrap their little ones in cotton wool, it’s important we find ways to move beyond those walls, simplify our learning environments and get in touch with the good stuff; sunshine, mud, wind and sand… just to name a few!

Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls. – Erin Kenny

As adults we often think we know what’s best. We notice it’s raining and decide it’s too wet to be outside anymore and of course, we tell children not to jump in those puddles! We justify our reasons for exposing children to technology as early as possible (they’ll be left behind otherwise!!) before having mastered the skills of running, writing or climbing… and of course we stop them from climbing that tree for fear of hurting themselves! Massive generalisations here obviously, but we’ve probably all imposed our adult views upon children when there wasn’t any need to. Our intentions often come from a good place but why do some of us believe these ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’’ things live outside? Why do some of us decide that keeping children cooped up for hours and handing them screens and plastic objects is best?

The goal of early childhood education should be to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn. – Maria Montessori

As an educator in early childhoood I continue to realise that children will more often than not gravitate towards the outdoors and by taking them out into the world (or at least bringing the outside in!) and giving them the freedom to take risks and explore encourages independence, imagination and creativity. It’s out there where some of the most important and rewarding moments in play and learning occur. The beauty of taking play outside or bringing the beauty of nature inside is that it’s cheap (usually free!), changes with the seasons and is influenced by the natural environment around us!

As I continue to explore an amazing online community of passionate educators who believe in the power of connecting children to nature I felt it necessary to share not only my ideas but theirs… Simple and inspiring ideas that remind us all to get back to basics and enjoy the natural world around us. I hope the following ideas will inspire you to not only incorporate nature into your children’s play environment but to take it outside as often as possible!

Take your playdough activities outside! Love the addition of a mirror!
A bug hotel! Endless opportunities for outdooor learning here.
Go on a nature walk, collect natural materials and make some crowns.
Bring nature indoors to incorporate with playdough experiences.
Sensory bottles to magnify nature.
Wooden people made with branches.
Mud kitchens are a hit when it comes to outside play.
Don’t have a mud kitchen? A simple idea like this solves the problem!
Natural manipulatives likes these help to bring a little of the outside in!
Wilding Wands… Check out more ideas like this from Nature Folk Co. as part of their ‘The Nature Series’ workshops.
Collect all the pretty colours from your garden or next nature walk and get creative!
Using stones like these are great for mindfulness activities.
Chopped up branches for a natural block play experience.
Nature as inspiration for this beautiful invitation to create.
A perfect example of using your surroundings to your advantage when playing and creating.
Story stones to promote a love of literacy and a connection to nature.
Fake snow (real snow would be even better!) and a mixture of natural materials for sensory play.
More sensory fun with grass clippings, sticks and leaves to engage little learners.
Freshly stocked shelves for making all sorts of recipes in our mud kitchen.
Another example of using nature in place of plastic when learning indoors.
Leaves and sticks to explore bugs!
Mud paint using tempera paints and mud (of course!)
Colour match with Autumn leaves.
Fine motor skills with wool and pinecones.
Nature match! A great way to explore symmetry too!
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Nature bunting coloured with beautiful blooms.
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Nature weaving to strengthen those fine motor skills.
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A mortar and pestle is a great addition for this aromatic sensory bin!
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Forget plastic counters… Natural manipulatives are far more interesting!

Some questions to consider…

  • How can we ensure that outdoor experiences aren’t hindered by the weather?
  • Are there indoor spaces that allow for nature to be the focus?
  • How can we use these natural materials in our indoor/outdoor learning environment?
  • How can we add to, manipulate or change these natural materials?
  • What pre-planned ideas can we take with us before we step outside?
  • What will the children teach me today about the natural world?
  • Where will today’s experiences take the learning tomorrow?

Taking it outside shouldn’t be a scary concept and excuses for not going out to play and learn are usually linked to our hang ups as adults. So the next time you take a trip to the park, wander down the street or step into your backyard make sure to breathe the good stuff in and… have fun!

Bree x

Experimenting with DIY Watercolours

Every few months I have a major clean out and reorganisation of our art and craft supplies. When sifting through everything there’s some things that are recycled, some are binned and others are re purposed. Part of this process includes giving some tired,= and worn out textas a second chance at life. We did this by removing the ink fibres from inside the texta tube and placing them in water. After a few days we tested the ink but it was still quite watery. In the end we actually forgot about them for a few weeks so a great deal of water evaporated (another learning moment!) but thankfully it was this forgetfulness that led to some vibrant DIY watercolours!

With our new DIY watercolours ready to go I provided the kids with some paper (watercolour paper would be best but any paper that can absorb a small amount of water will do!), droppers and straws. From there it was simply a case of experimenting and exploring what the paint could do and my favourite past time – getting messy!

Through this process the kids had opportunities to experiment by mixing colours to create new ones, as well as analyse the movement of paint when moved about by hand or with straws and predict what would happen when oil was added on top of the paint.

The final products were really quite beautiful and turned better than we expected. The splatters and drops of watery colours mixed in with blobs of oil created some muddled rainbows on a now translucent paper, which when held up to the light provided lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the kids.

Watercolour Paintings

What you will need:

  • Homemade or purchased watercolours
  • Watercolour paper or a thick paper that can hold a small amount of water
  • Droppers
  • Straws
  • Oil
  • Tray for watercolours

Directions:

Begin by adding blobs of watercolours to your paper with the droppers. Using straws or by tipping the paper from side to side to move the water around. Alternatively drop a mixture of watercolours to create beautiful rainbows before adding drops of oil with a dropper.

The fun thing about this activity is the learning outcomes and final products will differ every time. It’s all about experimenting! What the children go on to do with their paper is another exciting adventure and one we’ll explore and share soon.

How would you use this paper to continue the artistic process?

Trust the Process…

Process based art and child led activities are a big interest of mine, I enjoy observing children’s creative processes as it tends to tell me a hell of a lot more than anything I plan for or control. So I’m steering away from the product based art and craft activities along with adult led play and learning activities in favour of experiences that invite children to have a voice and a  choice when it comes to play and creativity. How this will look will no doubt evolve and change over time and sometimes my adult input may be visible but the main aim is for the child to lead the way and for me to shut up a little more and just observe. I’m not lying, this is going to be hard!

Last week I decided to see what would happen when I placed some carefully selected craft items in front of the kids. In the past I would have selected these items with a final goal or product in mind and because of this the activity became highly adult driven. What I often found was the kids became bored, frustrated and annoyed that I was telling them what to do. So this time,although I still chose the items with a goal in my head I didn’t make it apparent to the kids.

I selected a range of green and yellow crafty pieces along with some egg carton pieces and imagined cute little turtles. Imagine how cute they would be!? So cute. BUT I kept my mouth shut, placed these items in front of the kids and watched (along with taking a million videos and photos!).


The  only time I spoke was to tell Master 1 not to paint his sister because she didn’t like it, as well as asking the odd question to encourage creative thinking and problem solving…

“How could you attach that?”

“What might that piece become?”

“What will you do next?”

In my mind I knew what I wanted those pom poms to be along with the best way to attach the pipe cleaners but it wasn’t for me to dictate or control!

It was interesting to note that initially Miss 4 wanted to make a turtle (hurrah!) but as she began to give the turtle hair (um… turtles don’t have hair, but okay!) by adding a pom pom she changed her mind and decided it looked more like an alien and as her approach changed she became incredibly excited by what she was making. Master 1 was just pleased to be making a mess but as I watched him a little closer I noticed how he was figuring out ways to keep the sequins on the carton as well as practising his fine motor skills by pulling off pieces of Blu(green?!)tack and rolling them into balls before flinging them on the ground. Imagine if I tried to take over!? I would have been met with tears, tantrums and paint in my hair…


Messy fun!

Placing our trust in children tells them that we value and respect their opinions and ideas and I really believe that this allows them to become more empowered, engaged and motivated learners. By continually dictating the ‘best’ way tells them that without our help they’re likely to fail and it’s this adult driven approach that may result in children becoming dependent, frustrated and worried individuals. So I think the big lesson here is that sometimes we just need to sit back a little more and trust that our little ones know what they’re doing (most of the time! Master 1 defintely shouldn’t eat the paint!) and as hard as it can be it’s often worth it for their response and the final result!

Little Alien (so much better than my cute turtle idea!)

I’m really pleased with this little experiment of mine. Not only did my preschooler come up with a rad little alien that is way cooler than any turtle I could make but it allowed me to really see what my children can do. If I continually held the paintbrush, stuck on the eyes and said things like “No…” and “You need to…” I wouldn’t have observed some amazing little successes that they figured out all on their own and now we have some truly lovely little green art pieces that proudly sit in our kitchen!

What do you think of Process based and child led activities?

Rain Clouds and Mindfulness 

A few weeks ago my daughter and I made rain clouds in a jar. An easy little experiment you can do with any child starting from preschool age really, and although it’s a fantastic way of exploring the science behind rain clouds and weather in general, we ended up going along an entirely different path from what I had planned in my mind the night before.

We naturally (somehow?!) gravitated towards mindfulness.

Once the excitement of spraying shaving cream everywhere (and I mean everywhere!) had subsided we took a moment to chat about what might happen once the food dye was added..

“It will explode!”

“Will it make the white clouds blue?”

“It will go down the bottom…”

I really tried to slow down the process of beginning and finishing this activity in the hopes we’d gain more from it… in a way it meant we weren’t controlled by it. There were no expectations and nothing needed to be achieved in order for it to be successful. I tried to help my daughter focus on what we were doing during that precise moment before focusing on what may happen in a few moments. We avoided the rush by really settling into the activity… We looked at what we had in front of us… we talked about what the ingredients and materials are used for… and we talked about what we hoped would happen. Building the anticipation is all a part of it but I was mindful of th fact that preschoolers are eager to get things moving and so, I took her cue and moved on as necessary.

We added a drop at a time and waited patiently… well… I did! To begin with we didn’t notice too much but again, without rushing I invited my daughter to take a moment to think about the clouds outside and what they do, what they look like and where they go. Before adding the next drop I asked her to close her eyes and imagine a rainy day…

“What does it look like?”

Drip.

“How do you feel?”

Drip.

“What can you hear…?”

Drip…

“Look!”

Little droplets of ‘rain’ were making their way down through the shaving cream clouds and after those few moments of calm we erupted into laughter and excitement about what we saw. It was finally raining and met with such joy and relief from my little one…

After adding more food dye we watched the swirls of blue glide around inside the jar and again it brought us back towards a state of calm. We were mesmerised by these watery snake like creatures swimming around in waves and figure eights. We didn’t say much. We just sat and watched. As adults we tend to sometimes talk AT our kids instead of WITH them. We can also be guilty of not really listening to what they have to say either. We tell them what to do, where to go and how to be. Sometimes what we really need to do is just shut up and give them the time and space they deserve as people. They are people remember? They’re just small. Watch and listen a little more. Take their lead and let them tell you something about their world.

So as the drips continued I too continued to watch my daughter. Silently she followed those thin blue lines as they dripped down in quick succession. She was exploring something new at her own pace and in her own way. In this moment I didn’t feel the need to explain the science behind what we were doing or ask any questions. A few days later when we read a book about weather I was able to refer back to this exact moment and that became the time to learn what was really going on. But in this silent moment I just enjoyed watching and listening. Listening and watching. I listened to her choice of vocabulary used to explain what she saw and I watched her reactions to the changes in the water… How her eyes darted from the bottom of the jar back up to the top so she could poke the shaving cream clouds with her finger in the hopes more blue would be released…
“The blue is dripping through the clouds Mummy!”

From here we engaged in a brief conversation about why that would be. Stopping myself I allowed her to explain her thinking…

“It drops down because the clouds aren’t strong. The rain is strong.”

Amazing.

We continued to silently watch the rain clouds until the water turned blue which led to my little one coming to the realisation that she was indeed very hungry and needed a second breakfast. We did the experiment a second time later in the day so her big sister could experience it too (and so I could take some photos!). Miss 4 explained in her own way what we were about to do and what would happen… a teacher in the making I’m sure!

Although I had planned this activity it was completely led by what I saw my daughter doing as well as what she was eager to take part in and therefore changed direction. If she wasn’t keen on imagining a rainy day or asking questions then I wouldn’t have pushed it. I also didn’t push my own agenda on her. What I had hoped would happen didn’t but that was okay. What we ended up experiencing and what I learnt from her were things I couldn’t plan for and that’s far more exciting and meaningful.

I think it’s important to add an element of calm and mindfulness to the lessons or activities we plan for our children. We don’t need to set aside an hour here or there in our teaching week, just a moment or two on a daily basis where we can slow down a little to help us all become more aware of who we are and what we’re doing, which is exactly what this activity taught me. I do realise this romantic idea of calming tones, taking deep breaths and being at one with ourselves can sometimes be hard to achieve or be met with rolling eyes in a classroom setting, but I think we owe it to ourselves and our students to find a way of making it work in our own way. We need to find that time.

I’m eager to explore other ways I can incorporate mindfulness into my day as a mother and teacher in order to help build stronger connections with small people in my life as well as to develop a better understanding of self…

How do you promote mindfulness amongst your children/students?