Welcome to It's Playtime! Last week there was an amazing array of ideas linked up and this week will no doubt be the same! Please take the time to click through and check out the posts that catch your eye.
After a trip to the beach where we collected lots of pebbles and shells, we made our very own rock pool sensory small world play scene to continue the fun and learning at home!
You may know by now that we love to create small world play scenes. They are excellent for promoting language and storytelling skills, encouraging cooperative play, talking about real life events and allowing for extended playtimes over a series of days or even weeks. All of these are crucial developmental skills in the early years. Small world play is also fantastic for older children as an imaginative way to introduce creative writing prompts.
My girls absolutely love the rhyming picture book Sharing a Shell and it was also a favourite of mine to read aloud to my Reception classes while I was teaching. The strong rhythm and repetitive elements, coupled with the beautiful illustrations and heart-warming storyline make it a modern classic!
I set this rock pool up by adding 2 cups of play sand to the bottom of a large blue bowl, then filling 2/3rds full with water and adding the pebbles and rocks from our beach trip. We had a little starfish toy that was just crying out to be added too! I put it out as aninvitation to playfor them to discover with the book next to it and they were really excited when they found it!
They loved taking the pebbles in and out, arranging them on the table top and making the starfish splash around his home. We read the story again as they played and Cakie used one of the larger shells to represent the main shell that the characters all live inside. If only we had a hermit crab, anemone and bristle worm too! But that's what imagination is for after all.
literacy: story telling, retelling and sequencing from familiar stories, vocabulary development
knowledge and understanding: talk about rock pools, where they are found, what lives in them? Examine shells and pebbles using magnifying glasses
Bean: 5 months
You can buy everything you need to make this small world scene here! (Add some pebbles too!)
Have you made a small world play yet? What's your child's favourite? Leave a link!
This time we paired play dough with one of our all time favourite, classic picture books...The Gruffalo!
Together, we made some coffee play dough using our 4 minute no-cook recipe (and adding 3 tbsps instant coffee to the boiling water to create a brown colour.) Then we re-read the descriptive passages in the book together and listed out the items we would need to add to the dough to create our monster!
"His eyes are ORANGE
His tongue is BLACK
He has PURPLE prickles all over his back!"
We found buttons, bottle tops, some purple-dyed macaroni and a coloured in lolly stick and set them out as an invitation to create! The girls jumped to it and straight away C told me she needed arms, teeth, tusks and horns! We added more pasta shapes, rice and bbq skewers and she set to creating hew own version of The Gruffalo. I didn't create one for her to copy, she did this completely alone after reminding herself of what he looked like from the book!
I absolutely love it! More so, I love that while she created him she was spontaneously retelling parts of the story from memory, reciting some of the rhyming passages word for word!
Pop joined in enthusiastically too, adding lots of "purple prickles" to her lump of dough, carefully pushing them in, pulling them out and practising her fine motor control as she played!
Using a hands-on, tactile activity to link to stories and other learning experiences helps children to consolidate knowledge and retain it for longer. An active, creative curriculum for children is by far the most effective, at home and at school! I can't wait for us to explore some other favourite stories using play dough soon.
Have you ever created a favourite character from dough or used it to tell a story? Please share!
fine motor skills: using a malleable material to pull, pinch, roll, flatten, mold, form, squeeze, squash to strengthen small hand muscles
creativity: creating representations of real life or imaginary things using another medium, experimenting with combining materials
literacy: developing language and storytelling through imaginary play
Let kids create some modern art masterpieces in the bath tub, using brightly coloured foam shapes and water! Easy, effective and open-ended artistic exploration for young children and a great way to introduce a little art theory too.
We recently went for a day out into London and visited the Tate Modern. Cakie loved the enormous, wonderful, collage by Henri Matisse, The Snail, (one of my all time favourites too!) She stood in front of it examining the colours and shapes as we talked about what animal could be hiding in the picture.
Then I cut some simple shapes from coloured foam craft sheets, and tried to cut similar ones to match those used in The Snail. I dipped them in the water and stuck them straight onto the side of the bath, arranged as much as possible like the original art work!
The girls wanted to create their own pictures straight away and C made a few different finished pieces. This was her favourite one, titled Sun Peeping out from the Sky!
Pop especially enjoyed layering the pieces on top of each other and overlapping them, fascinated by the way the foam stuck as if by magic. (It's been a while since we made this window foam art!) She busily made some Flowers in the Garden, complete with leaves and petals.
As soon as the bath was over, the foam shapes dried out and are now ready to be used again on the window, fridge door or bath again! They could even be glued down to create a large work of art together.
These fantastic activities that were linked up last week are so bright and colourful, as well as being completely diverse (and great fun too!) Check them out and find some new blogs to read at the same time!
Here are 60 amazing ideas for exploring nature with your child through play, art and investigation!
I recently gave a talk at a nature play group, in the middle of the woods, about activities to do with your child that involve natural resources and that encourage interaction with the natural world. Here are those ideas that I gave in that talk, plus many more, with links to some fabulous articles from some talented writers around the web!
For the days that you can't get outdoors and explore nature first hand, go and gather some natural materials from your local woods, fields or beach and gets creative at home! Bring the nature home and let the connection with the natural world continue whatever the weather.
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There was a time when I could never get any dishes or cleaning done around the house because my daughter was constantly running up to me and screaming, "Mommy! There is a spider! Come look!" Usually the spider was dead or it was really just an old web or even a little piece of lint so I decided I needed to cure her of this fear of insects and bugs. I bought a magnifying glass and we spent a wonderful afternoon in the sun, inspecting anything that moved. She suddenly became the world's greatest connoisseur of bugs, insects, even spiders and she has a new wish for her birthday: a pet in a jar. I will admit that so far I have taken my time with this request. I have enough trouble sleeping as it is, without worrying about spiders escaping from their jars in the middle of the night.
However, Susan Case is a former Kindergarten teacher and the co-author of my book, and in our chapter about science, she recommends: "Help grow a scientist with simple tools such as magnets, a magnifying glass, net, bug box, and labeled collections. Let children get messy with water, dirt, mud puddles, and sand. Easy-to-care for pets include a goldfish in a bowl, an outdoor cat, or wild birds." I have to admit that I love the idea of having a little scientist around the house, so, last weekend we were visiting my in-laws and while we were playing outside in the morning, my daughter was thrilled almost to tears with the sight of...a snail. Actually, there were tons of them. My mother-in-law explained that for some reason they had an abundance of snails in their area and apparently they tend to eat up all their plants. See all those holes in the leaves?
So I decided this was a great time for her little pet. We found a jar and my daughter gathered up her 2 favorite snails (don't worry, there were dozens more around their patio so we weren't injuring an extinct species.) Now, I have to admit that I know next to nothing about snails. Normally we would go to the library and get a book to educate ourselves on something new, but since we were just visiting and our time was limited, I decided to take this opportunity to teach my four year old about Wikipedia! We looked up snails and found out all kinds of things about them. For example, did you know that snails typically live for 15 years? Oops! I guess we now have some long-term pets! My daughter really enjoyed seeing all the photos of snails that we found on the Internet and we learned that snails really like water and are more active at night.
It has been five days and the snails are still alive. My daughter takes them to her room each night and puts them to bed carefully on her bed-side table. We were out running errands the other day and she told me that she really missed her snails and was excited to get home to watch them eat, so I guess I have successfully nurtured a little scientist! I am certain the novelty will wear off, but really I am just hoping we are able to keep them alive until then!
Make a simple colour matching and sorting game using an egg box, colouring pens and coloured chips - great for reinforcing early maths skills in a playful way!
We are still working on consolidating colours with Pop as, even though she recognises them all and can fetch the correct one when prompted, she still likes to name them all as PINK! (I wonder why?!) This was a great, easy game to play with her and took just a few minutes to prepare, using objects from around the house and the recycling bin.
I coloured the bottom sections of a large egg box in various shades of a range of colours. I included light and dark versions of some colours to provide a little extra challenge, and also used black even though I knew we didn't have any chips that colour to promote some questioning and problem solving.
The girls wanted to play the game together and straight away Pop got the idea of what to do, searching through the lovely bowl of tactile colour to find chips that would match each space. Cakie helped her out if she got it wrong and was very puzzled about the lack of black, declaring we needed to leave it empty as there was nothing close enough to match it.
She then was inspired to go away and raid the recycling bin to make her own egg box colour matching game, industriously colouring in the bottom sections and gathering left over chips so Pop to play with it.
This tray is open ended and would work well with any objects with a similar objective in mind, such as coloured lego or duple blocks, pom poms, crayons or match sticks. We have moved this to our store cupboard and will pull it out to play with again soon!
maths: sorting and matching by colour, 1:1 correspondence, recognising and naming colours
phse: turn taking, co-operation, perseverance, sustained involvement in play, independent planning and creating
Bean: 5 months
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Create a play space for young babies inspired by Reggio principles, to encourage independent play, interaction with stimulating materials and curiosity about the world.
This is the first in a series of new posts about creating inviting and stimulating play spaces for children, starting with the area that we created for Baby Bean, that she has been playing in since she was just a few weeks old. We wanted something simple, stimulating, spacious and safe, and that reflected some of the ideas of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of learning.
The principals behind Reggio and Montessori educational philosophies are fairly similar, both placing a strong emphasis on the child as intelligent, inquisitive learners, capable of learning from birth, with the parent as a partner to their discoveries, learning right alongside them.
In Reggio thinking there is a belief that the environment is the "third teacher" and that it is crucial to provide children with plenty of natural light, space for movement, stimulation and access to open-ended play resources. For babies and young children it is important that these are highly tactile and varied so that they can investigate them using their primary way of interacting with the world; the senses.
We don't have our own play room or a huge amount of floor space in our terraced, Victorian home so when trying to create a play space for Bean we had to bear in mind our restrictions. We placed her own personal play spot in a BabyDan play pen (base raised) chiefly for her own safety, as her over-eager sisters were a little too generous in their affectionate hugs in the early days! We will eventually move this to a similar set up on the floor when she is more mobile.
Comfort and Space
The space is lined with a padded mat, with an all-natural lamb skin rug which is wonderfully soft to touch. The tactile element of this rug alone is enough to make me want to hop in there and lie down myself for a little nap (wouldn't that be wonderful?!) She touches this with hands, face and feet and it keeps her cool in summer and warm in winter. There is plenty of space for her to roll around and she has begun to choose which areas she would like to get to, rolling and stretching to reach for interesting objects that have caught her attention.
High Contrast Stimulation
It's well known by now that young babies tend to focus the most on high contrast images, particularly black on white and white on black, followed by bright, complementary colours. There are some wonderful toys on the market that cater to this that are very well designed and of high quality. We have placed a high contrast stimulation mobile above the area, which has interchangeable image discs. These get rotated often to keep baby interested, and have a range of patterns, shapes and faces on them.
There is also a high contrast soft mat, hung over one side, that can be reversed to reveal bright colours, and has other sensory elements attached to it, along with a couple of other infant cloth books. A beautiful hand-made gift with colours, tags and a bell inside is often a favourite to grasp and shake.
Mirrors and Reflection
Along one side we have attached acrylic mirror tiles, to promote as much light and reflection as possible, a strong Reggio emphasis. All babies recognise the human face as being extremely important, even from birth, and it is the first thing they are able to focus on. Bean loves to look at herself in the mirrors and frequently babbles to her reflection, engaging in infant conversation and learning social skills as she plays.
Sounds and Textures
At this age it is not possible to apply the Reggio approach fully, in that she can't yet have access to loose parts and open-ended materials, of course! (She can get her hands on her big sisters' Reggio inspired Discovery Boxes when she's a bit bigger.) Instead, this idea has been simplified to include access to stimulating toys that promote multi-sensory exploration. In one corner there are musical instruments that make an interesting range of sounds, from jingly bells to soft shakers and rattles. These are light enough for her to hold or roll and are made of wood and metal, providing sensory contrasts in texture and temperature.
Near to the mirrors, where she can see her own face, there are some lovely Waldorf style, soft baby dolls. She loves to hold these and smiles at the larger one as though she recognises her each time she rediscovers her. She investigates their textures with her tongue too, of course!
Create a similar space at home!
(Amazon affiliate links are contained in this post)
Make some frozen letters and use them to play with the alphabet in a fun, sensory way (sneaking in a little learning on the side!)
My friend Val introduced me to these wonderful alphabet ice trays which can be both frozen and cooked, therefore making them perfect for making ice and cookies to explore the alphabet with! The girls and I mixed up some coloured water using food colouring, and poured it into the trays ready for freezing.
After being checked on approximately once an hour by a very excited Cakie, the letters were finally ready to pop out and play with! We put them on large sheets of paper so that when they inevitably melted, they could create some liquid watercolour art at the same time.
They recognised some letter names and sounds, but mainly enjoyed using them to stack, sort and build alphabet ice towers. Through play they discovered that they could carefully stand them up on end and that they were both slippery one moment and sticking to each other the next.
As they were playing on paper it was easy to throw in a little learning opportunity, by writing letters and small words to match the ice letters to. Letter matching is an early literacy skill, which is great for pracistiing in a fun way before any formal letter learning takes place.
When the sun came out we took them outside and played ice fishing using a net and a bowl of water! As she scooped them out Cakie tried to name each one and to recognise whether or not it came from her name. She had to be quick as they melted quickly!
Further questions and ways to play:
play "spot the letter" by choosing one for your child to pick out
find the letters from their name
match letters to written words
find initial letter sounds to match objects e.g. here is a cup, can you find the letter sound that starts with?
letter snap game- freeze 2 sets of letters and match them all up! make them different colours for more of a challenge
Here is where you can find the alphabet moulds. What else could you create? We have a few things planned!
Today I've chosen to feature 5 fantastic ideas for encouraging early literacy skills, from pre-reading and writing activities to creative story-telling prompts, with a large dose of theory thrown in too! Enjoy.
We had a fantastic family day out at the Lollibop Kids Festival in London last weekend! Activities, crafts, games and wonderful children's entertainment were all on offer and the girls had a brilliant time (despite the sweltering heat!)
There were two performance areas at the festival with live children's presenters and singers, as well as famous story book characters. The girls' absolute favourite part was watching The Gruffalo live on stage (after being brave about how "big and scary" he was when they first caught sight of him!) Second to that show, Mister Maker's appearance was next on the hot-list of favourite moments!
Some of the activities were a bit old for them or out of their interest zone, but there was a wonderful range of play time fun in the Under 3 Foot area, with art easels, baby sensory and ballet sessions, bubbles machines, dancing and plenty of hands-on toys to explore. They could have stayed and played all day!
Also on offer were some fantastic activity tents, ranging from weaving to painting, clay shape decorating to mask making. The B&Q Activity tent offered a really fun coaster making challenge, starting off with using saws and clamps to cut their own shapes from wood. It was great to see an idea that allowed kids to have a go at a typically "off-limits" activity!
The girls decorated theirs with paint and copious amounts of glitter and stickers (why not eh?!) and left them to dry as they went off exploring for the rest of the day.
At the end of the day we carted home 3 very happy, exhausted girls, lots of vibrant art work, 2 enormous helium balloons and some wonderful memories of a great family day out. Cakie is asking about next year already! Thank you Lollibop Festival!
(We were sent to review the Lollibop Festival on behalf of B&Q. All opinions are my own.)
Next in our Baby Sensory Play series are the wonderful, limitless possibilities of water play!
Every experience for baby is a new one and filled with amazing opportunities to learn about how things work, cause and effect, relationships between people and objects and what things can do. This is why babies investigate their whole new world using their senses as their main tool for discovery, as just about everything needs to be touched and tasted to be truly understood!
Babies and toddlers are particularly drawn to water, not only because of the familiarity of their womb environment, but also because of the calming effects it can have, as well as being one of the most exciting materials to explore on the face of the planet!
Just think about how incredible it is as a play substance. It can be held, thrown, sprayed, dripped, trickled, poured, swooshed, soaked, absorbed, sprinkled, coloured, scented, funnelled, spun, frozen, melted evaporated and, best of all, SPLASHED! It's a great way for discovering about temperatures, capacity, gravity, water ways, dams, filling and emptying and more.
For a baby who is newly discovering their amazing world, this is the most incredible thing ever!
When baby is in the bath, try using either a reclining chair or a fixed upright bath seat so that they can safely splash (and be splashed!) with their head way above the water. Use funnels, colanders, bottles and cups to pour water on and around your baby, trickling water up and down their arms to increase awareness of their own body and to encourage visual co-ordination as they track the stream with their eyes. Use a sponge to gently squeeze water onto their face and on top of their head, so that it trickles down across their eyes (no soap in this water, of course!) It is important for young children to get used to having water near their faces and not to panic when it happens, as this helps them later when learning to swim and stay safe in water.
When baby is old enough to sit in high chair, offer them a shallow tray of warm water to simply investigate with their hands! Bean absolutely loved this coloured water we gave her to explore the other day and the looks of curiosity and amazement on her face as she played were priceless. She babbled, laughed and happily played for a sustained amount of time, increasing her concentration and learning a lot of new things about the world as she did so!
EYFS Learning Links: (birth-11 months)
sensory: investigate and discover the world using all of the senses, as appropriate
phse: respond to differences in their environment e.g. showing interest or excitement
maths: develop an awareness of shape, form and texture as they encounter people and things in their environment
physical: use movement and senses to focus on, reach for and handle objects, use movement and sensory exploration to link up with their immediate environment, reach out for and touch objects
knowledge and understanding: anticipate repeated sounds, sights and actions
Bean: 6 months
Have you introduced your baby to water yet? What did they make of it?
We've combined two of our favourite things, play dough and stories, to come up with a fun new way to re-tell our favourite picture books! Using coloured, no-cook play dough, wooden food, a butterfly toy and a well-worn copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the girls retold the story in an exciting, active way from memory!
Early literacy skills are fundamentally built upon a knowledge of rhyme and stories. The more stories young children hear, the better their understanding of language and literacy and the greater their ability to read and write with comprehension as they get older. You can read about the theory of reading the same stories repeatedly until children can memorise them and retell independently in this original post about our 5 a Day Books scheme.
We made some of our easy no-cook play dough in red, green and yellow for creating the caterpillar with. Then we collected some wooden play food using the book as a guide to help us find what we needed. We had most of the items that the caterpillar eats through in the story, but not all, so the girls had to problem solve the missing ones!
I laid it all out on the table as an invitation to play, and Cakie started to make a caterpillar model immediately, copying carefully from pictures in the book. I love how she rolled thin strips of yellow to create the outlines of the eyes- something I wouldn't have thought of at all!
Pop was inspired by her big sister (always the way at the moment!) and started to make her own caterpillar too. I absolutely love the developmental contrast between the two finished pieces! This is why open-ended play and creative prompts are so important and appropriate at this stage. If we had been doing a fixed outcome craft instead we would have ended up with 2 identical products and absolutely no suggestion of age, developmental stage or creativity!
They then used the food and butterfly toy to retell the story, turning the pages and matching up items as they did so. C noticed that we didn't have some of the food and she set about making it from play dough instead. She made wonderful representations of the sausage and cherry pie! Pop also played along, using some of the key elements of the story that she could remember, with the main features in the correct order. Fantastic early literacy skill practise and emergent reading just beginning!
Here are some other creative ways to re-tell stories:
Use an old-fashioned coffee grinder to learn about simple machinery, observe a change of materials, smell a fantastic sensory aroma and practise some vital, gross-motor actions! The side bonus is that you get a great fresh cup of coffee too!
Gross motor skill development
Observing changes in materials
Understanding cause and effect
Investigating basic machinery
The other morning my colleague from teaching days came over for coffee and cake and I soon discovered we were out of ground coffee. No problem, as I remembered we have this beautiful, ancient coffee grinder that belonged to my great, great grandmother, and is over 150 years old, sitting on the shelf! Why not get the girls to have a go at grinding some beans and practise those big, rotational motor movements while they're at it? Double bonus for everyone!
This was also a great opportunity to take a look at old fashioned machines and talk about their design and function, as well as questioning how they actually work.
They tipped the beans in the top and were desperate to have a go at turning the old handle. It was much harder than they expected and a great little work out for those arms and wrists!
Ta da! Pulling open the secret drawer to reveal the ground coffee was a bit magical and promoted some great questions and thinking about how the beans changed shape and "disappeared" while the handle was being turned. I love that something so ancient and special is still working perfectly and providing a lot of pleasure. It says a lot about the poor quality of today's appliances doesn't it? And best of all my friend and I got a delicious, freshly made coffee from the product!
There were some wonderful ideas linked up to It's Playtime last week, and in particular I loved these activity ideas for creating sculptural art work with kids! Exploring art in three dimensions creates new opportunities to plan, problem solve, create and imagine for young children. Enjoy these wonderful ideas!
Create a wonderful new family tradition, by making a birthday tree together to mark the occasion!
Last year we began our own family tradition of making birthday trees to celebrate each child's birthday! I thought, why have a special tree just at Christmas time? Why not make one together for placing presents underneath, decorating and hanging little surprise gifts on the branches on the birthday morning?! [Here is our original tree that we made together for Pop's 1st birthday and the introduction to the idea.]
Cakie is just about to turn 4, so this week we worked together to make another, collaborative birthday tree project, ready for her big day!
I cut out two large tree shapes from cardboard boxes and cut a slit in each, one from the top down to the middle and the other from the bottom up to the middle. Then I set out a range of papers, feathers, stickers, pencils and glue as an invitation to get creative together in a giant, recycled materials collage!
It was a rainy afternoon and we spent a couple of hours working on it together, covering both sides of each tree with the materials.
When it was covered I slotted the two pieces together and made it stand up. Then the girls started to add stickers all over the branches to finish it off. Working at this angle was even more fun and accessible!
It was declared "all finished" by Cakie, and we stood back to admire our collaborative efforts. Next I made some number 4s on circles of paper which they hung on the branches, along with some salt dough heart decorations that we have had hanging up in our room since we made them at Christmas time! Any presents and cards that have been arriving have been placed straight underneath the tree, ready for her birthday morning.
On the morning of her birthday there will be tiny little packets wrapped up and hanging from the branches. These will be filled with stocking-filler type presents for all of the girls as a way of making sure everyone is included in the excitement on the day! I will add a photo of the surprise parcels hanging from the branches later.
This activity encourages:
art and creativity on a large scale
fine motor control through sticking and tearing
Bean 6 months
Have you ever made a birthday tree? Or something similar? I would love to hear your birthday traditions too!