Friday, 28 February 2014

Outdoor Play Party - A visit to Bear Woods.

Last year children, parents & staff came together to plant over 300 trees on a grassy bank in the main school with the intention of created a wild area that will eventually become a woodland. On the day when we ran out of space on the main grassy bank, it was decided to spread out beyond the gates and onto a small, sloping bank above the nursery. 
In the summer term the class enjoyed going up to play on this area when it was full of daisies, buttercups & long grass. I then asked if this little area could be fenced off just for the nursery class to use on a regular basis, it was perfect for us as we didn't need access to the main school to use it. 
The area all fenced off ready for us to use.
Our wonderful caretaker put up a lovely fence & we decorated the fence with coloured circles, bunting, mirrors & posters.
In the first term we used the space on a monthly basis & very quickly the children named it 'Bear Woods'.
Mirrors & posters add interest to the area.

Peter from An Creagán, who helped us with the tree planting made us a wonderful sign for the area & this term we have been going up to the space once a week. The patch of 'woods' is just up the hill behind the nursery & accessed by a tarmac road used only by delivery vehicles. When the children get to the bottom of this road they can run on ahead until the reach the gate that has a red circle on it. 
Then they wait for an adult to open the gate - they have got into the habit of shouting 'Bear Woods' as if it opens the gate - when they are running ahead so excited you would think they were going to an amazing playground! They love playing in this natural space & over the past few months we have added some resources - Bottle Babies, mirror balls, plastic food, sticks, Rock Babies, plastic trucks & buses & a rope ladder. We do hope to add a permanent shelter at some point in the year & are also hoping that is he has time when he visits Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre may add a small mud kitchen. 
Some weeks we take a small snack or hot chocolate. We can spend up to an hour up there depending on the weather as we have discovered that because it is on top of the hill it is a lot colder that the sheltered nursery playground but we are hoping to have our first Birthday party up there next week.
The area is one gradual slope that peters out at one end and the children love rolling down the slope or rolling the mirror balls down it. The skills they are developing by walking on an incline will be of great benefit to them when the move onto the more sedentary environment of the primary school.
It's not a rope ladder - it's a roller coaster!
It is lovely to see seasonal changes & the small trees are starting to get some buds & catkins. It will be great to see this area in the summer term when the children will be able to do all the simple things that many of us did as children - making daisy chains, portions with flowers etc. and hiding in the long grass. I imagine we will be able to spend whole mornings up there having fun in a safe yet stimulating environment.
In the last OPP there were 40 great posts linked up with loads of inspiration to help anyone get outdoor whatever the weather. The one I'm featuring this week is from Party of 5 in Calgary on making wind sticks using recycled materials of sticks & florist ribbons.
This is such a simple activity that even the youngest of children will enjoy making & I could see us doing something like this up in Bear Woods.
  • 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!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Box Collage Project.

In September every child was asked to bring in an empty cereal box & then each month they have added a different layer to them, they started off with orange paint, then green, then green tissue paper & tinfoil & then today they added different coloured tissue paper & more tinfoil.

I saw these first on The Sophia Preschool, last year & have to say it was one of my favourite art activities, the children loved coming back to their boxes every 4-5 weeks & adding more detail each time. Sometimes there are children who get fed up very quickly when faced with a large blank space and this project is perfect for them as they can add as much or as little as they want each time and yet the end products all looks gorgeous.
As the year progresses they will add feathers, buttons, paper off cuts etc. and then in June they will be displayed around the classroom before they take them home. It was fantastic to see how many of the parents last year were so excited to get these home & one child told me his mum had put his up on the wall 'like a real painting'. I think you'll agree they did look rather cool.
The finished boxes last June.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Risk - it's all about the right attitude.

Yes it is a muddy steep bank & they could fall but they will get back up again.
The whole debate about risk in childhood has never been so alive as at the moment, there are 2 very distinct camps, you are either for it or against it. I have heard lots of people saying that they are OK with their own children taking risks but they can't allow those in their care either as a teacher or daycare provider or childminder to do the same. I even heard a teacher once say that it was our job to keep children as safe as possible.

Think about that last statement? Can we really keep children as safe as possible without keeping them in a completely padded room for their entire life?
I think it is much better to teach our children to embrace challenge & take risks in as safe an environment as we can provide and by that I mean making sure that equipment is not broken or not age appropriate. I also believe that we as adults can help children to have the right attitude to risk & getting hurt.
This narrow plank takes a lot of courage & coordination to master.
When I look back at my childhood, of course it was always sunny & the days were longer! But really what I remember most is that I did play outside & was allowed to take risk in my play & yes I did have accidents but my mum in particular gave me a great outlook for life. Whenever things were bad, if I had fallen & got hurt or was having to face something I didn't really want to do - like go to the dentist/doctor - my mum would say "You'll be able to tell a great story about this some day" or "You'll laugh about this some day".
And you know what that is still true for me today, no matter what happens to me or how bad it seems at the time, I always remember her advice & so far it always proved to be true & it has made some horrible events more bearable at the time.

It was also a big deal in our house when I got my first scabbed knees from a fall, it was almost a cause for celebration & I wore those scabby knees like a badge of honour! Yes my parents were very caring & loving & I was always very comforted when hurt but I was also encourage to see that falling was part & parcel of my right of passage as a child. I was that child who slipped on a book (I left on the stairs) & went head first down the stairs & into the telephone seat (those of a certain age will remember those) & knocked my front teeth out. I was the child who bounced off my parents bed & hit their dressing table giving my self a black eye - both of these events made for interesting First Communion photos.

With that mantra "It'll make a great story some day" I have put myself forward for some uncomfortable or challenging events, knowing that it would be putting me out of my comfort zone but relishing the chance to have a good story later! 

I think as a teacher of young children (the youngest in the education sector in N.I) I believe that I have to pass on that confidence to try new challenges & embrace uncomfortable experiences. In my setting we do of course comfort children who have fallen when scrambling over crates or tree stumps or climbing trees etc. but more importantly we want the children to dust themselves off & try again with the knowledge that they were hurt but are still OK. We can't keep children as safe as possible but we can teach them to judge what is safe for them at a particular moment. I love watching children climbing or walking along the planks of wood & crates in the playground. Some will be very apprehensive about the whole affair & take days of walking slowing along the route & jumping off a certain part they are unsure off, whilst others will run along the route. But more importantly if the structure remains in place long enough every child will manage to negotiate the route & feel such accomplishment at the end. 

After 6 attempts he mastered the tree stumps & was so proud of himself.
Anyone who works with young children will know the scene; a child has completed a hard puzzle only to tip it out again & redo it again & again; repetitive practice is how young children learn & that's why it's important to allow them time to revisit activities again & again. It's why we like to visit familiar outdoor spaces on a regular basis, the children enjoy trying new found skills again & again & having something to work towards.
Arms out for balance - a familiar chant in the playground.
I know of settings that have removed crates or tree stumps after one child fell on them and sadly this is mostly due to fear of litigation. But think about when someone has a car crash do we remove all the cars off the road? I think it's time people began to take a look at this blame culture we have created, if a child falls on a crate & gets a bruise or scrape, why should the school be sued? The other big myth often quoted is that Health & Safety wouldn't allow it - nonsense! People use H&S as an excuse in my opinion, of course we have to make sure equipment is in good condition & that there are broken or jagged parts that could cause a serious injury but H&S have never said that children shouldn't be allowed to play with tree stumps or crates.

I am very fortunate that all the parents who decide to send their child to our school also support us in our risk taking culture - many will say they couldn't watch their child do some of the stuff they do in school but they trust us to know what we are doing. I watched a parent visibly wince as she saw a child fall on the hollow blocks this week, she then turned to me & said, "I suppose you are used to that & don't react?" and yes we don't wince or gasp or panic if we see a child fall but we certainly can empathise with their pain. Generally we find it best to watch & see how the child reacts, if they bounce up again with no crying etc. it's best to not make a big fuss of the fall but is a child is hurt we do comfort them & make sure they are OK. 

If we want to have a generation of young people who can weigh up the risk versus benefit in situations they find themselves in throughout life, we have to allow them to embrace risk at a young age & then we will have given them a very important life skill.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cookies on the fire.

For this weeks outdoor day, we decided to try baking some cookies I had got a roll of cookie dough & it is supposed to take 15-20 minutes in the oven so I figured it would be possible to bake them outside on the fire too.
The instructions were clear & easy to follow but I decided to cut the 'discs' in half so we could get double the amount out of a packet. The children enjoyed trying a little taste of the cookie dough while helping me cut them up.
I was glad I had cut them in half as they really spread when heated up & I think they would have been giant cookies if I'd followed the instructions!
The children enjoyed watching the cookie dough spread & change colour & texture. With cooking on the fire, it is trial & error & once again we left them too long before turning them over but the children were more than happy to accept that the burnt bits were chocolate!
The cookies were delicious & I reckon next time we try this we'll get it just right, but the fact that there were no crumbs left showed how popular they were.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


One of the best things I ever discovered for our playground was milk crates - and not just any old crates oh no - ours are the deluxe version!! Originally we did have some of the traditional ones but I found that the children got their feet stuck in the spaces for the milk bottles. A few years back our milk provider changed & the new one began to leave 2-3 crates a week outside the school. They were just perfect for us! I managed to gather up a whole pile of them over the months until the milk man stopped using crates at our school, I suppose he was fed up of them not coming back!
Crate seats

A walk way of crates - running because she is so keen to get back to the start of the course!
We use them as seats mostly, they are brilliant for this purpose & can be left outside in all weathers with no fear of them being damaged. They can be lined up to provide a walk way or with planks added to lengthen the walk, they can be stacked on top of each other to provide steps. The children can carry stuff about in them or put dolls to bed in them. They have to learn to be careful when walking on them as they are very hard if they fall onto them. 

(When Peter from Cosy Direct visited our school, he loved these crates & managed to persuade the suppliers to start making them for him, to be able to sell them as an outdoor resource for schools. So if you ring for a copy of the latest Cosy catalogue 01332 370152, you'll see packs of these same crates available to buy for your setting. They are in packs of 6 or 30 and if you can't get them from a friendly milkman you should invest in them, they will last for ever, promise!)

Friday, 14 February 2014

Outdoor Play Party - A very wet day out.

We are very lucky to have the use of the amazing sensory garden of a nearby special school. We have been going to this great outdoor space for over 6 years now & have established a strong link with one of the teachers & her nursery class. This year the class has been going on a monthly visit to the garden & it gives the children from the 2 schools to play together in the space. 
This garden affords great climbing opportunities.
Part of the fun on a trip like this is going on a bus, we get the children all ready in their rain gear & they play around the playground while waiting for the bus to arrive - they can see it through the fence when it drives through the gates - and its arrival is always a cause of celebration. Generally, before we go on a trip we ask the children to stay out of the mud patch & not to play with the water so they aren't wet or muddy before they get on the bus but this week it was so wet that everyone was already soaked long before the bus even arrived!!

Some of the children played in the sand pit under the cover while waiting whilst others had fun climbing on the crates or 'cooking' in the forest area.
When we arrive at the school, we walk through the main school to get out to the garden, the children are encouraged to run on ahead when we reach the garden, down the hill until they reach the seats where we have a small snack of fruit & biscuits before they are free to head off & play.
Watching an adult tackle the wobbly bridge
Sitting chatting around a pretend campfire!
Even though it was cold & very wet the children had a great morning of fun, climbing up the steep, muddy bank & rolling down it again. Playing on the wobbly bridge, the swings & slide. After all the recent rain there was a giant mud patch at the bottom of the slide and of course it was so much fun to slide down into that. There were also lots of puddles for jumping in.

When we got back to school, lots of children had to be changed as they were soaked & there were loads of coats put into the drier before home time. But they all agreed they had had a great morning of fun & can't wait to go back again next month.

Despite the terrible weather that lots of parts of the world are having, there were lots of great posts linked up in the last OPP. My favourite was from The Boy and Me about a fun time they had in the mud, I love their motto - Clothes in the wash, Me in the bath!! This fab, fun post also featured The Boy's cousin who features in the blog Wild family Fun, so blogging is a real family affair!

  • 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!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Open ended resources.

I think the best aspect of working with preschoolers is their ability to see the potential in any object to be anything they wish it to be. I have often said I am lucky to spend the day with a bunch of optimists & it's true the preschooler really does believe anything is possible & they rarely give up on the first failed attempt.

I love that these children accept Bottle Babies as just that, they never question the actual purpose of them, they can see their potential to be whatever they need them to be at any moment in their play. 

Often as adults we have lost this ability to pretend or adapt set objects into something else and I do worry that if young children are only ever given replicas of real objects they won't hone this ability to pretend. It is lovely to see toy camp fire, fishing rods etc. but really preschoolers don't need them, anything can be a fishing rod for example a stick or a pool noodle.

I introduced these reflective decorative silver balls into the playground with no real end purpose other than I liked them & the fact you could see yourself in them. We have a set in the forest area & a set in Bear Woods. The children enjoy rolling them down the slope in Bear Woods & carrying them about in the playground. But one child went even further & made one into her 'recipe book' while she cooked hot chocolate!
Not a ball but a recipe book!
Others have seen the Bottle Babies as condiments during there cooking process! The best open ended resource we ever got was definitely the bark chippings or mulch. It can be anything it needs to be from money to sausages to the magic ingredient needed for potions.
Not Bottle Babies but salt & pepper!
Crates & tree stumps are great for any playground too. The crates can be seats, beds, create walkways & best of all they can be left outside in all weathers.

Money is always an issue when trying to provide resources in preschool & that's why I love to see things that can have many roles - like a plastic bowl that can hold water, play dough, popcorn or be a drum!

Not a bowl anymore but a drum!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Cooking toast on the fire & making butter!

Those who regularly follow this blog will know that we have an 'Outdoor Day' every Friday, when the class spends the majority of the day outside, usually only going inside for around an hour to watch a DVD (another Friday routine) & have lunch.
Double cream, marbles & a jar - makes butter!
We also light the fire in our amazing Haba BBQ fire grill, that our Board of Governors was good enough to fund for us last year. It has more than paid for itself by now a year after we first got it. We try to 'cook' something on the fire each week too, whether it's marshmallows, milk for hot chocolate, bananas stuffed with chocolate, apples & cinnamon or sausages. 

Family Days. Tried & Tested - where the original idea came from
This week it was decided to cook some toast on the fire & our wonderful NVQ student had seen a great idea for making butter on 'Family Days. Tried & Tested' on Facebook & I did also find this one from Babblin Brooke so please do go check it out too. The basic idea is to get some double cream, put it in a jar with 2 marbles & let the children shake the jar until it separates & you are left with butter & butter milk. Even at the age of 3 & 4 most were able to shake the jar for quite a long time & the adults helped too. The children were amazed to see butter in the jar at the end of all the shaking.

I love on Fridays that the minute I start to set the fire some of the children begin to gather around the fire on the stump seats. I had bought a BBQ fish holder in the end of summer sales & knew it would be perfect for toasting bread & it was perfect!
Children who don't normally take snack had 2 pieces of the toast & declare the butter delicious. This was a great activity & one we will be trying again with perhaps some added flavours to the butter.