Friday, 31 January 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Bottle Babies

For those who know all about Bottle Babies you might just want to check out the other outdoor play posts hopefully linked up in this weeks OPP but perhaps there are some out there who still haven't heard about Bottle Babies.
A whole gaggle of Bottle babies, all lined up ready to be counted.
I first came across them over at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School (TPCNS). I noticed lots of lovely bottles with coloured water in them in the background of lots of their photos but never really considered them as anything other than a quirky resource of TPCNS!
The TPCNS Bottle Babies - such delicious colours.
But then I got chatting with Lesley, the Director of TPCNS and she told me about how they came from a book called The Out-of-Sync-Child-Has-Fun by Carol Stock Kranowitz.
I first introduced to my nursery class of 3-4 year olds in September 2012 & they were an instant hit, the children just accepted them straight away & incorporated into their play. At the end of the school year they each got to pick one to take home & keep and so we started off in September 2013 with a whole new set.

They are the ultimate 'loose part' and best of all they don't cost money - just refill old 2 litre drinks bottles with anything you can find to hand. We have pen lids, lolly sticks, glitter, water beads, buttons, sequins, straws etc. - honestly try anything! The children use them as babies sometimes pushing them in prams etc. but they can also be salt & pepper when cooking, ice cream, nail polish, bricks, you think of it the children will build them into their play.

They are brilliant at settling in time, when the children don't know each other or don't mix easily. A child who is unsettled or finding it hard to focus on play can be won over by searching for a particular colour of bottle baby & then this is turn can end up as part of a larger group activity, helping to gel the class together. 
Walking on bottle babies is a particular favourite of my class each year too - it takes real skill to do this without them rolling from under their feet.
Once again there were so many great posts linked up in the last OPP but my favourite was from the inspiration for Bottle babies for me - Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School. I love what they have been doing with the old Christmas trees & I'm already planning what to do with some next January!

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We'd appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we'll gladly further share your post on FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the 'featured' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Guest Post #playiceland - On the ice.

Delighted to have Unnur from Leikskólinn Stekkjarás guest posting again this week - amazing photos & story of how her class got to go skating on a nearby frozen lake.
"Before you all read this I can say this, the area we go to is with a lot of grass around the lake and the lake is quite shallow where we enter it, so it it more like a big puddle to start with. It had been frosty for quite a long time with us when we made this decision to go out on the lake and we knew that there were people on it the day before us.
And even after two weeks when we went back it was still quite frozen (in fact so frozen that I on my own would have gone out on it ) but we do not and never will take any risk with the children."
It is always fun when we try new things with the children and we did on this trip on the 8th of January. Our lake out in the woods was frozen solid so we could skate on it with out worrying at all if it would break fun, fun, fun. Of course we spoke to the children about safety before getting on the ice. We asked them what do we needed to do before we got on it and the were a few ideas like throw a stone, use a stick and send a teacher out on it before they went on it. Two teachers walked out on the ice and jumped up and down on it like Olympic trampolinists and nothing happened!  
After a good test the children got to go out on the ice and it was difficult to see who had more fun, children or teachers. It is nice to see how the children notice all the little things around them and this trip was no different, we saw a little spider frozen in the ice and it got some sympathy for being stuck in the ice but then we found a centipede and that is a creature we don't see very often. 
We also so a lot of strange pictures looking through the ice, some saw butterflies & some mushrooms. After sliding on the ice for a good while we slowly made our way back to school.

Two weeks later the kids were still talking about that trip on the lake and as preschool teachers we need to keep our eyes open for the opportunity to teach as we play so we used this opportunity to take the group back to the lake to find out if we could still go out on the ice. The weather was a lot warmer so we knew that it would not be safe to go out on the ice but it was not ours to say. We did come up with the question if they thought the ice was still safe even if the weather was warmer and we had some different opinion so off we went. When we got closer we saw that there was a lot of water on the lake so we knew that it would not be safe and some of the children were quick to notice as well but some thought it was still safe so what could we do? Yes like last time throw a stone, use a stick or get the teachers out on it, but this time they slide slowly out on the ice and it came clear quickly that it was NOT safe. This gave us the opportunity to talk about being safe around the water, never go out on the ice alone, always tell someone if they are playing around water and always test the ice before walking on it. 
Since we could not go on to the ice we decided to go to “Ulfaskógur” Wolf-forest like the children call it even though like some of them point out there are no wolves in Iceland! On our way there we found a dead bird that had to be buried and say a prayer for before we could go back to school. A trip that all of us will remember for a long time.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

On top of the world!

A real hill at a nearby school we visit on a monthly visit.
A few weeks back I decided to put some more bark chippings (mulch) down on the 'forest area' in the playground. This area used to be the grassy part but a couple of really wet terms & we had no grass left only mud. Rather than let this deter us, we put down some old Christmas tree branches & then lots of bark chippings. The children have had so much fun with them, they cook with them in the saucepans & love them around the 'forest floor' - the area really looks like a natural woodland area rather than being part of a school playground. It is surrounded by logs to keep the chippings off the nearby tarmac & safety surface.
Old Christmas tree branches soaked up some of the mud.

A little 'forest' on the edge of the urban playground.
Cooking with the bark chippings.
When I dumped out the new bark it created a mound and before I could start to spread it out some of the children began to climb up the 'hill'. So rather than shoo them off it I decided to get some more bags & create a little hill within the forest area. Once again, the children proved to me that as an adult I need to stop over thinking things. I was convinced it was more of a gradual slope than anything else but to the 3 & 4 year olds it became a MOUNTAIN! They love to roll off the top onto the ground below & when I was able to persuade the groundsman to donate a pile of hedge clippings the mountain grew again. I love listening to the giggles as they play on the hill & it just shows how children can have fun on the simpliest of slopes, it doesn't have to be a giant hill.
Our little 'hill' is providing just as much fun as the big one!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

#playiceland - Cooperation & Team Work.

I am delighted to have Unnur from Leikskólinn Stekkjarás guest posting again on the blog, here she tells of a triumph of team work that resulted in so much fun for the boys involved. Please take time to check out another guest post Unnur has done over on Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School's blog on how these same children got creative with an old Christmas tree!

It was so much fun to follow these two boys around hard at work. First they asked me to help them roll the tyre up because the ground was so slippy. Our outside area has been covered with ice for the last week or so and some days we have not been able to go outside at all. 
I asked them if they could work together as a team to get the tyre up. First idea was to use a shovel to stop the tyre from rolling back down, but then they came up with the idea of one pushing the tyre and the other boy pushing the others back side!
Working as a team and cheering each other on it all worked out in the end and sliding down the hill as a end result was a great award for this great teamwork. :0)

(I would love to see photos of the condition of the playground when it was out of bounds, as from experience most schools in the UK don't let children out in heavy frost yet here these children are playing safely on packed ice)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Cotton Wool Snowmen.

I have made these with my class for 3 years now & honestly this year I was not really inspired by the thought of making them & even toyed with ditching the idea for something else. However, once again, the children proved to me that sometimes as an adult I have to be very careful that I don't over think things & remember that just because I've done something before it doesn't mean the children in the class won't enjoy doing it for the first time in their nursery year.

Experience has however taught me that it's much easier if the children put the glue onto the page rather than onto the cotton pads, as they tend to pull apart if they get too much glue on them. I offered a selection of collage materials for the children to choose from as accessories for their snowmen - buttons, match sticks, sweetie papers & paper semi circles. They also had wiggly eyes in a variety of sizes. 

As I watched the children working on these pieces I loved seeing how they all approached it so differently, some wanted theirs to look exactly like the one I had used as a guide whilst others created their own with a completely different layout & approach. These are always lovely when displayed all together on the wall & they then go into the portfolios when it's time to replace the artwork.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Happiness by A.A Milne

Happiness by A.A Milne (1882-1956)

John had great big waterproof boots on;

John had a great big waterproof hat;

John had a great big waterproof mackintosh - 

And that (said John) is that.

I have met so many great people through social media networks & it never fails to surprise how 'connected' we can feel to each other even if we have only ever met on line or briefly in real life. So I was really delighted when Conor Galvin who is a lecturer at UCD sent me a tweet about this perfect little A.A Milne poem called Happiness from Brain Pickings. He thought it was perfect for me given the title of the blog & I just loved this little verse so much I decided to make it into a post!

A new sign for Bear Woods.

Look at the wonderful sign that Peter from An Creagán made for our wooded/wild area. I can't wait to see the reaction of the children when they see it next week.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Pipes & Balls.

There are lots of must have resources for good quality outdoor play and one of them in my opinion are the gutter stands that are available in the UK from most if not all educational supplies. However I have to say all gutter stands are not equal - I have some really heavy good quality ones that are very robust & stand up to lots of pushing or shoving from the children without falling over. I have another set that are way to light weight to use on windy days & that are easily tipped over by the children. Sometimes I find a combination of the 2 sets works well on calm days. The pipes (or gutters) can be used with balls. water or boats & water. 
When I am setting up the pipes for play I use the tyres in the playground to mark off an area for 2 different runs to be set up, each going a different way. I use upturned milk crates to hold the balls at the start of each run & usually provide a stepping stone for the children to climb up onto to launch the balls down the pipes. At the other end sometimes a tyre collects the balls or a bilibo.

The children do knock the pipes off but I love watching them try to work out how to get it to all work again & sometimes they set up a far better run than I ever thought of!
On very wet days it can fun to set up the pipes & see how far the children can get the rain water from the water butt to travel along the playground.
Even though it was the first couple of weeks of 2014 & it has been bitterly cold & the US has been experiencing the worst weather it has seen in over 20 years, I was very heartened to see so many great outdoor play posts linked up. I loved this one from Creative Star Learning Company all about how a group of nursery children were allowed to negotiate a concrete slope & I especially loved the photo of one little girl returning to it again on her own & using all her new found skills & confidence to walk along it safely.

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We'd appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we'll gladly further share your post on FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the 'featured' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!

Monday, 13 January 2014

The 2 inevitable questions.

Whenever other practitioners come to visit our nursery to see how we 'do' outdoor play everyday, there are always 2 questions they ask.
"How do you convince staff to go outside no matter what the weather?" and "What do you say to parents who tell you they want their child to stay inside because they aren't well enough to go outside?" 
Firstly it's not about convincing staff to go outside - it's really not an option! We provide suitable clothing for all staff (and students or visitors if need be) and as we start outside every day it's not up for discussion, it just happens. It is usually just 2 of us but some years we have extra staff & they soon see the advantages to going outside after a few days - honestly!
Outside but under the covered area.
The 2nd question amuses me because I haven't heard it in over 7 years now. I used to hear it a lot, especially when we did free flow play and the children had the option to be in or out. However once we started all going out or in at the same time it isn't an option either. How can I possible have 1 staff member inside with 1 child while another is outside with the other 25-26 children? More importantly when I did have a request to keep a child inside due to sickness I began to reply that if they were not well enough to go outside, they were not well enough to be in school. And that is the crux of the issue - if a child is honestly not well enough to be outside, properly wrapped up for an hour, then they shouldn't be in school anyway. Why would it be healthier for that child to be inside in a warm environment with all the other germs etc. circulating in the classroom?

But it all ultimately comes down to communication again, I take time to stress to parents when they first visit the school that we go outside everyday no matter what and again if they are successful in their application it is stressed at the introduction evening in the June prior to their child starting with us. I make it very clear that if their child is sick they should not be at school & that we will not be keeping any children inside because they are not well. As I said earlier, in the past 7 years no parent has even ever said this to me.
After a while being out  in the rain seems quite natural to everyone!
Then last week I came across this post from The Pine Project on why it is important that children are outside even on the coldest days. If you haven't already seen it please do click on the link to read this great article.

Last week we had a leader from a neighbouring playgroup come to visit to see how we 'do' outdoor play. She had requested to come on a Friday when she heard that we would be outdoors for at least 2.5 hours regardless of the weather. Yes, she inevitable asked those 2 questions but she also 'got' why we go outside no matter what. She could see that the children weren't in the least bit concerned by the rain or cold. We are very lucky to have a covered area where the children can get changed into their wellies & rain gear & play at a variety of activities, including snack) without choosing to go out in the rain etc. So as the morning unfolded Janice could see some getting on their wellies to go in the sand, others getting on the rain gear to play with the water (from the water butt) and go down the wet slide, explore the forest area of the playground and play with the pipes & balls that were out.
Then as we lit the fire most of the class got on their rain gear to sit around it & enjoy the apples we cooked on it, only 1 child chose not to do this but as he was still outside just under the cover this is perfectly OK.
Generally we find that after 2 weeks of going outside both the adults & children just accept it & more importantly so do the parents. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

Cooking on the fire.

The fire grill with wind shield, stain steel pan & the lid on the ground below.
For almost a year now we have been lighting a fire every Friday on our outdoor days (when we stay outside until lunchtime), last year our Board of Governors gave every teacher an amount of money over and above our normal annual requisition budget. I knew that I wanted to buy a Haba fire grill, I had seen them in action in 2 Scottish settings I had been lucky enough to visit & I also knew I could never normally justify spending that much money on a single piece of equipment. Ours was bought from Muddy Faces last January & it has certainly more than paid for itself a year later. Then the PTA, known as Family & Friends at my school agreed to buy some additional pieces for the fire grill e.g. a wind shield & big stainless steel pot. With the annual requisition allocation we bought a lid for the grill as well. 
The Haba Fire Grill comes complete with the grill pan.
So far with this years class we have cooked sausages for a party, popcorn & heated milk to make hot chocolate. On Fridays I make a seating circle around the fire so the children can enjoy watching the flames & sit chatting around the fire. It never ceases to amaze me that as soon as I start to set the fire the children will start to gather around the seats. Even if it is raining the children will just get on their waterproofs & sit on the log seats, usually on a Friday morning a lot of them have on their 'rain gear' anyway as they know they are outside for a longer period & get more engaged in water play or messy play.
I am always looking for easy recipes to use on the fire but more importantly ones that won't spoil appetites later at lunch. A few weeks ago Lesley from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School was also looking for a healthy-ish recipe for a camp fire she was planning at her school. Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre suggested baking apples with cinnamon, sugar & butter. This was declared delicious by all at Takoma Park, so I decided to try them for this weeks cooking activity. When the 3 of us were chatting about this Martin suggested adding some marshmallows too. 
Takoma Park's baked apples on the camp fire.
We have a great apple cutter that makes perfectly even slices so we used that to cut the apples & then the children added some sugar, a little butter & 2 mini marshmallows. (I forgot the cinnamon for the first 3-4, so decided to just ditch it this time)

We wrapped the little parcels of apple (we used 1/2 an apple for each child) in tinfoil and then lit the fire & put them on the grill. It had been raining on & off all morning & I did toy with bringing the fire in under the covered area but then it eased off enough to attempt lighting it in the usual spot. With the wind shield the rain was kept off the flames long enough for the apples to cook. The smell was amazing, it really did smell like apple crumble. 

They took about 20 mins to cook until they were softened & then a little while longer to cool down enough for the children to eat. 
Windmill's baked apples!
Of course as always some of the children didn't want to even try them, some didn't like them but then others ate about 3 portions! This was a great cooking activity & one we will be trying again after we had tried all the other recipes first!