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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?

The Cute Classroom Conundrum

I love exploring teacher Instagram feeds. There are so many wonderful ideas for teaching and learning out there. The learning resources, lesson plans, behaviour management strategies…. so many purposeful, engaging and meaningful ideas that support and encourage learning and growth amongst students. But then there’s this cute side of the teaching world that confuses me a little.

Now I’m not being cynical or judgy (well, maybe a little!) but I’m just a little perplexed by some of it so hear me out. The cute classroom is definitely a thing these days. I know there has always been hype around having a theme for your classroom and decorating it accordingly but styling it with whatever is currently in fashion (rose gold staplers are a thing?!) seems new. These rooms have Kmart and Target decor spilling from the doorways along with every craft resource you can possibly think of organised ever so beautifully in sparkly containers that are carefully marked with printed and laminated labels.

Rewind back to my first couple of years as a squeaky clean new teacher and I had all the sparkly, bright, pom pom laden things so I do get the feeling of needing to have a beautiful, fun learning space. I spent silly amounts of money on cute pictures of cartoon animals, art supplies, and anything that was glittery. It felt good in the moment. I had classroom themes, sweet little cushions and all sorts of other crap that looked amazing to begin with yet as the year progressed it eventually lead to mess, stress and more work to try and keep it in order. Most of it served no educational purpose whatsoever but it made my room look cute. Cute was good. It made me happy and I loved doing it. Yes there was excitement amongst the kids but eventually it became old news, annoying or invisible. I once had this epic rocket that my Grade 3 and 4 students made out of boxes and foil for our numeracy corner. They loved it. It looked amazing,but then the tin foil was pulled off resulting in me getting grumpy because kids were rolling it into balls and flinging it across the room. Not cool guys. Not cool.

So in more recent months my thinking about how and why we decorate our rooms has shifted a little and I have questions about these cute classrooms… Many, many questions…

1. How do they stay so neat?

I know what kids are like. There would be snotty tissues, unclaimed school jumpers strewn across the floor and those craft containers would no longer own their original lids. That’s the reality. Of course I’d get the kids to help keep it nice but seriously, have you watched a bunch of Grade 5/6s clean? Not too crash hot in the art of tidying up! So I’m pretty sure these teachers are packing up their cute things on a daily basis to ensure it looks perfect for the following day aka ‘Instagram ready’. This is precious teacher time that could be used to mark some papers or eat a Mars Bar! Priorities!

2. Where do these resources come from? 

I’m pretty sure the school isn’t investing in meters of bunting and fake flowers. I know stores like Kmart and the like are ridiculously cheap but I saw someone who had about six giant Kmart kids’ cushions at $25 a pop! Whaaaaaat!? Our sad little teacher wage can’t afford that so how is this happening. Are people just not eating food for a fortnight in order to pay for their crafty habits and cushion obsessions?

3. Who has time to make and laminate that many displays and resources!? 

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good laminating session but some of these printables don’t seem very necessary. I’m not laminating a bunch of flowers that spell out the words ‘Reading Corner’, I’m just not! The kids know it’s the reading corner because I told them, it’s a corner and there are books there! No laminating required. So many of these displays do not really serve a purpose, and for the resources that do, I still wonder – are the kids actually looking at them or using them? How can they read it if it’s up near the ceiling!? Sure it all looks very bright and inviting but is it purposeful? Do these overly decorated rooms overwhelm the kids? They certainly freak me out!

4. Why are some teachers decorating their classroom without any regard for their students? 

“Okay kids the theme this term is ‘The Secret Garden’ because I just think it makes everything look so pretty and it was my favourite book when I was twelve.” Meanwhile the boys are rolling their eyes and the girls are giggling because the room looks like a fairy just vomited all over the place. To me the learning space is a shared space and it should therefore be a collaborative process to some degree. They are the learners so I think they have some right to say what they would like to have and we should listen. Setting everything up for the year the way you as the teacher like it doesn’t seem to show any regard for the kids but it’s okay because the room looks super cute. Right? Riiiiight?

And I’m sorry, but….

6. Why are people sticking pom poms on to pegs along with a whole range of other mind boggling decorations?! 

7. Why is there so much glitter on everything?!

8. How do people have time to change classroom themes EVERY SINGLE TERM?! 

What is happening here!? When are teachers planning lessons, assessing and managing their rooms with all of these extra, non educational craft projects going on!? As teachers we are already stressed, overworked and overwhelmed by the compulsory aspects of our schools and education departments so why are we spending so much time making beautiful things that no one really needs to have? I get that for many these extra crafty jobs bring joy but that’s usually in the moment, as the year goes on do these things just end up gathering dust before being thrown away? It certainly doesn’t bring joy when I just spent 2 hours covered in glue and glitter only to realise that I now need to moderate some writing for a further 2 hours.&nbsp

Having said all of this, if you think it’s worth it and makes a difference then there’s no problem, but take a minute to consider the following things….

Why do we want a cute classroom? 

Is it to enhance learning? Or to have our fellow colleagues green with envy? Is it to excite the kids? Or for ourselves? Is it to promote learning and student engagement? Or is it for teacher fame so we have more followers on Instagram?

I suppose we all decorate our learning spaces for some or all of these reasons and whether we want to believe it or not most of the time these cute things aren’t for anything remotely related to education. They just make things look nice. I’m not suggesting any of these reasons are bad or wrong but I guess what I’m wondering is what is it all for? I think you can still have a beautiful room without all the fluff and for your own sanity I think we can all agree that hot glue gunning a pom pom to a peg is a little silly. I want to ensure that the learning space I teach in has an element of excitement and wonder whilst still being educational and meaningful for the students using the space. I want to make sure everything the children are exposed to applies to the learning at hand. Cute is good, educational is better.

Where do you stand? 

Dear Square Peg

Dear Square Peg,

You never did fit into that round hole did you?
You sat (possibly wriggled!) in your spot and were made to feel like you were doing something wrong, when all you were really doing was being you.

Because… You’re a square.

You aren’t obnoxious, you’re just confident.
You aren’t vague, you’re just a dreamer.
You’re not odd, you just think a little differently.
You don’t have ADHD, you just need to move… All. The. Time.
You’re not difficult, you just like to manipulate (and possibly throw!) things to figure out how they work.

Because…
You’re a square.

You’re told over and over again that…
YOU need to sit still.
YOU need to calm down.
YOU are causing trouble.
YOU are being a nuisance.
YOU need to change.
YOU need to be… round.

But…
You’re a square.

You try. You really do, but it just doesn’t feel right.
It’s not you.
No matter how many times you turn yourself around you just don’t seem to fit.
It can be hard to fit into a world that…
Compares you.
Labels you.
Tests you…
Over and over again.
It feels like the world wants to make you round.

But…
You’re a square.

You tell yourself to be more round. Surely you can.
But, apparently…
You’re NOT quick enough.
You’re NOT smart enough.
You’re NOT successful enough.
You’re NOT motivated enough.
You’re NOT round enough.

Because…
You’re a square.

You have wonderful round friends.
They seem to make it in this world.
They fit.
They sit quietly.
They absorb information with ease.
They answer questions with enthusiasm and clarity.
They are the epitome of success.
They are beautifully round…

But…
You’re just a square.

Everyone wishes you were just a little more like them.
Things would be a whole lot easier if you were just like them.
Everything would be done the way it was ‘meant’ to be done if you were just like them.
Things would go to plan if you were… Just. Like. Them.
Just be like them.

But…
You’re a square.

And you know what?
That’s exactly who you should be.

So…
Be confident.
Dream.
Think differently.
Move! All. The. Time.
Be hands on.
Continue being you.

You may not always fit but you belong.

From,
Someone who gets you. x

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