Thursday, 29 April 2010

How Avenues of Learning are Opened!

If, like me, you sometimes second guess yourself then you will totally be on my wavelength here.  If, unlike me, you are always totally level-headed and rational about planning for the EYFS then you will be groaning and saying well... yeah, of course!! So to get on with the story, I have been wanting to take the children to the National Sealife Centre in Birmingham for a while but putting it off because I thought it should be part of a 'theme' rather than stand alone because they would get more out of it that way.  Well yesterday I decided to make it happen and we went today.... and I have completely changed my mind!

Where do I start?
  • The rays were partially hidden on the floor of the tank and the girls discussed camouflage from what they remembered from Eric Carle's 'Mr Seahorse'.
  • They also remembered that the male seahorses looked after the eggs and babies, and took their own pictures of the seahorses.
  • They watched a ray breathing and commented on them breathing under water so we talked about that.
  • They were shown a rectangular ray 'egg' and were fascinated to discover that not all eggs are ovoids!
  • They came up close with a starfish and now know that they have five eyes (one on the end of each leg), that they have legs on the arms, and that if one arm is lost, they can grow another one!!
  • They discovered themselves that crabs walk sideways. not forwards like they do.
  • They thought that the nautilus at the top of the page was the same as the fossils they had seen at the dinosaur museum!
It was an amazing day for them and for me!! It has opened up so many ideas to take further and to talk about again. Very well worth not over-planning it and just seeing where the children took it!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Herons are Huge!!!!

This was our impromptu life size heron painted this afternoon; we did this to help the children understand about the bird that they had seen on a nest high up in a tree at the nature reserve!

And this is the heron through a zoom lens!  We had gone to the nature reserve to look for signs of shrews; we didn't find any!!!! But when we investigated the persistent chuckling sound, we found huge nests containing heron hatchlings and the parents flying in and out at regular intervals to feed them.  They are big birds (up to 104cm tall) and make an impressive sight soaring out of the tree tops above!

With the help of a bird book, some cardboard, and enthusiastic painting from the children (including R who painted practically everything in his sight grey!!) our heron was born.  It is now cut out and wrapped in clingfilm in the wild area of my friend's garden, awaiting a nest to be built on Friday!!

having re-discovered my artistic side today, I might do some garden birds for my garden with the children.  fancy a go? This book has beautiful illustrations easy to copy and is a great first book for bird spotting with children:

Monday, 26 April 2010

Making Paper with Children

We tried this out last week and it worked really well, the children were fascinated with the process and because it took time and we did it outside, they drifted in and out of the activity as it suited them.  One of the youngest at 18 months old stood still at the edge of the table with her chin on her hands and observed very closely as three children made thier paper sheets.  When it came to her turn, she knew the steps to take and did so well!  I had never seen her concentrate like that before.

To make your own paper you will need:
  1. A picture frame with the glass, back and any sharp bits removed.
  2. A pair of finely woven tights.
  3. A rectangular washing up bowl or plastic storage box that will easily fit the frame you have.
  4. A blender.
  5. Scrap paper (a mix of different types of paper is great.... if you want to make coloured paper, use some tissue paper that bleeds its colour when wet!)
  6. A bucket and spoon.
  7. Dry sheets of newspaper cut slightly bigger than your frame.
  8. A rolling pin.
  9. A sponge.
Follow these steps:
  1. Tear the paper into very small pieces about 2cm/2cm maximum, put them ina  bucket full of warm water, mix round and let them sit..... overnight is preferable but a few hours will do, just keep topped up with hot water from a kettle if you do it over a few hours.
  2. Take two cups of the paper to one cup of the water and blend it in a food mixer until it is a pulp. If the blender is working very ahrd, add a bit more water.
  3. Tip the half-blender-full of mix into the storage box/washing up bowl.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3.
  5. Add 2 inches of water to the storage box/bowl and swirl it around until all of the pulp is suspended in the water.
  6. Put the tights carefully over the frame, taking special acre that the corners do not snag. Tie a knot in each end close to the frame and cut the extra bits off.
  7. Lower the frame into the mixed up pulp, and then gently and slowly lift it out of the box.
  8. Lay a few pieces of newspaper over the top, place your hand flat in the middle, flip the frame over and lay it down on the newspaper.
  9. Use the sponge to press over all of the frame (don't rub or you will wrinkle the paper!) until you have sponged away as much of the excess water as you can.
  10. Slowly and gently peel up the frame and use your fingers to tease away from it any edges that stick.  this will leave the paper open side up on the newspaper.
  11. Put a few more sheets on top and use the roling pin to squeeze more water out to be absorbed by the paper.
  12. peel the newspaper up carefully, and leave the exposed paper to dry in the sun or in a warm place.  it will peel off its newpaper base when dry!
Experiment with different amounts of pulp, different types of paper to shred, essential oils to make scented paper, adding dired leaves and petals to the pulp, and see what you can create!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Core Experiences

Core experiences is one of the 'buzzwords' that is popping up more and more lately.  I see it as a version of 'continuous provision' which different early years settings use for their EYFS planning.  If grey is the new black, then continuous provision is the new long term planning!  I think it is particularly suited to child minders because of the number of daily routines or activities that can be linked to all of the areas for learning and development within the EYFS.  As well as considering the core experiences in your continuous provision, you can put in mealtimes, going to the shops, walking to school etc. 

It sounds like just another load of paperwork to create but I think it needn't be like that!!  I am planning to create mine gradually as I go, I have already made a start when I considered how baking linked to all of the areas of the early years foundation stage.  Once written I am going to put them in a folder and parents can see what is on offer, as well using it to aid evaluation of observations and planning of next steps.  It provides a way of reflecting on the resources that you already have and how you might use them, as well as what you would like to add in or remove.  If you don't know the six areas of learning and development well already then you will by the end of your continuous provision planning!!

Some key points about core experiences:
  • Officially there are fourteen of them but you can adapt them to your early years provision.
  • The ideas is that they are areas that the children can access every day or regularly, rather than one-offs.
  • It isn't about making sure that the children use all of the resources and cover all of the fourteen core experiences, but that they can follow their own individual pathway, becoming more skilled and advanced as they go.
  • Children know that the resources will be there and can plan in advance what they would like to do.  This brings children into the planning.
  • It is important that the children can return to their model/picture the next day if they want to, so think about some space to put things so that they can return to it; this shows that you value what they are doing and encourages concentration and perseverance.
Some core experiences to consider:
  • Book area.
  • Cookery.
  • Role-play.
  • Gardening.
  • Outdoor play.
  • Malleable materials (dough etc).
  • Music, dance and movement.
  • Emergent writing and book-making.
  • Painting and colour-mixing.
  • Craft.
  • Sand and water.
  • Construction and block play.
  • Woodwork, modelling and making.
  • Sewing.
  • Small world play.
  • Treasure baskets and heuristic play.
  • Trips and educational visits.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Friday's Favourites!

Well it's been a rough old week..... my beloved Granddad died early on Wednesday morning before I could get to see him and it hurts.... a lot.  But I have great family and friends and my life has pottered on gently through the last few days.

Friday's Favourite's this week takes a slightly different format as I've just realised that I put incorrect links to nearly all of the books that I have mentioned (a sign of an amateur blogger indeed!).  To save you slogging back through the posts if you fancied a look at the book and were annoyed with me because it didn't come up I have slogged through on your behalf and here they are:
As for my favourites this week...... this little boat which will be installed in my garden in the next week or so for the children to play with!! I can't wait to see the games and stories they come up with for it!

And a quote from an e-mail from Bea, a new friend that I have made; we had been chatting about what makes an outstanding childminder in the eyes of Ofsted and I just think she puts this so well.....
"I agree it is definately attitude with an extra dose of understanding (development, meeting children's needs, clear philosophy) that informs provision, without that all the self reflection in the world ain't gonna improve your practice. I think regarding the resources it's not how much you have it's whether you provide the children with the correct resources to support their needs and whether that is evident by their engagement"

Check out her amazing site here, and have a great weekend!!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Montessori in a Minute: Independence

From the moment a child is born s/he strives to become independent; to crawl, to feed her/himself, to walk. to talk and so on.  If nothing gets in the way, a child can be very independent but many things do get in the way....... tables and chairs too high to get up to and sit at, taps too far to reach, clothes too difficult to put on, utensils and equipment too big for her/his little hands.  It is not only the child's goal to become independent, but the adults task to enable independence.

So how can we support the child the become independent? Well, I see three main ways:
  1. Attitude (including the way you see the child and your patience!)
  2. Environment- does it allow the child to do things for her/himself?
  3. Toolkit - you need to demonstrate and give the child 'tools' to be able to take a task on and become skilled at completing it.
As regards attitude, you really have to believe that the child is strong and capable.  You have to be prepared to slow things down and go at the child's pace and you have to be willing to put in the effort and thought required to make it happen!  Toddlers want to walk, but very often find themselves strapped into buggies or car seats.  It takes longer to walk, holding a hand, yes, but planning for them to have at least some time a day walking on the school run or the shopping trip is invaluable as they see such a different perspective on their own two feet!!  I hope that the days of plonking toddlers in a playpen with a handful of toys are long-gone, but if you still do that, consider how much you are restricting that child's movement, and development of walking, muscles, balance and co-ordination!

Some of the effort and thought goes into the environment. Think about how easy it is for the child to be able to do the things that s/he needs to do every day.  Consider:
  • Child-sized coat pegs.
  • Small tables and chairs rather than highchairs for toddlers.
  • Small jugs and cups for them to pour their own drinks.
  • Step for the toilet.
  • Press on wall lights where the switch is too high to reach.
  • A sink at child height or a hand-washing station.
  • Child-sized gardening tools; watering can, hoe, spade, wheelbarrow.
  • Child-sized cleaning equipment; broom, dustpan and brush, spray bottle filled with water and cloths/sponges.
  • Toys stored in way that helps children to find what they want and return it after use.
Making as many changes to the environment as possible and finding ways around things that cannot be changed helps to make daily tasks achievable for young children - a vital ingredient for them to become self-motivated learners and contributors to the community (community can be the childminding setting, toddler group, home or the wider world eventually!).

Once these changes are in place, you model how to do things to the child and then allow her/him to try it her/himself, providing a 'toolkit'.  The child will make the actions their own and that is great, you are simply introducing them to a way of doing things!  S/he will need lots of practice to master each skill and will delight in repeating the actions over and over, refining and perfecting the skill; once achieved it is really important that the child has opportunity to use that skill in everyday life:
  • Put out small jug and cups for the children to pour their own drink.
  • Put bread, butter and filling son the table and allow the children to make their own sandwich.
  • Encourage them to brush teeth and hair, wash faces and hands after meals.
  • Keep cleaning equipment in the same place and children can clean up their own spills and messes (within reason!!).
  • Chat with parents to make sure that children come in clothes that they can manage themselves, such as trousers that aren't too tight to pull up after using the toilet!!
Allowing children to take responsibility for themselves in this way builds their self-esteem and confidence which will spill over into building relationships with other children and trying new activities.

If you want to read more about Montessori, try Montessori From the Start by Paula Polk-Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen.  It isn't rated by all Montessorians but I personally have found it clear and understandable and very readable which is worth a lot if you have ever ploughed through Montessori's original writing translated from Italian!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Creative conversations in the Early Years

I have recently read a book entitled 'Supporting Children's Creativity Through Music, Dance, Drama and Art' edited by Fleur Griffiths and I want to tell you about it!

Before I start I should tell you about me and books; everyone has to have a treat or something they look forwards to and my treat is a book.  I love a crisp new book and the possibilities of the ideas inside!  I especially love the journeys they take me on from one book to another! I know within the first few pages, or just by flicking through whether I am going to like it or not, and pictures are important to me!  I often pick books that are on a topic I know a little of and want to learn more about, but sometimes I make a leap in the dark based on a reccommendation or a hunch and I am rarely disaapointed when I do!!  I thought it would be nice to review the books that I read to help you decide whether you are interested in reading them too!

I am sometimes wary of books that are by a number of contributors and edited to make one volume but this book really works becuase it reads in a very conversational way.  So much of what we do and learn is based upon discussion and it is a refreshing way to read about the contributors ideas.  the anecdotes and interviews convey the enthusiasm and passion of the practitioners involved.

I found it a book to dip in and out of, pencil at the ready to mark passages and topics that I wanted to come back to!  There is so much to gain from this book; just one interview offered inspiration whether you were\looking for ideas for including children in planning, pondering on the nature of wall displays to put up or considering how you use the space that you have.

The practitioners are clearly very knowledgeable and experienced but they openly state that it takes time to build that up; the whole tone of the book makes you feel like a colleague rather than an underling!!  For me, that boosted my confidence to follow the children more closely than I do now, rather than trying to tick all the EYFS boxes at once!

It challenged my current practice on a couple of areas in particular, such as making the room look 'pretty' at the expense of what the children actually WANT in there, and my reliance on books and resources for 'activity ideas' (ahem, guilty as charged!!) and I'm sure that next time I dip into it, it will spark off some more reflection in other areas too!

All in all, a thoroughly worthwhile read and one I will come back to regularly!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Earth Day 2010

I have never explored Earth Day before, but after searching around, the emphasis seems to be on protecting the earth for future generations and increasing understanding about issues that affect the earth today.  Personally, I will be focussing on trees and their importance and wood and it's uses, with a side step into making paper, for the reason that trees are a popular theme around my setting after tree-planting recently!  Other themes that you could focus on could be recycling or water. 
Our focus this week has been on making paper..... the children asked how paper was made and we have been chatting about it and we recycled some scrap papers into new paper today.  It worked well and even the littlest children were fascinated with the process.  I will post on our efforts tomorrow!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Extension ideas for sink and float

You can do all of these activities outside on a much larger, messier scale if you want to!
  • Use all natural found materials - you could do this in a pond/stream as you are out and about also.
  • Collect different types of 'boats' such as a metal jam jar lid, coffee lid, matchbox covered in tin foil etc and put a box of metal washers/nuts etc with it; see how many washers/nuts you can get into each boat before it sinks and talk about what happens. 
  • You could use marbles with boats also, these are interesting as they roll around and can cause the boats to sink as they all gather on one side!
  • Collect different shapes and sizes of leaves and very small pebbles and float a leaf, trying to put as many pebbles on as possible.
  • Put a lump of plasticene or bees wax with a small bowl of warm water. When you drop the lump in it sinks, but if you warm it and fashion a small boat shape out of it, it will float!
  • Have a collection of all different types of one object such as balls (tennis, golf, ping pong, marble etc) or spoons (metal, plastic, wooden, slotted).
Some books you may find useful to take this idea further:

Writing to Penpals

This is my daughter concentrating on writing a letter to respond to our penpals at 'The Playhouse', set up through the childmindinghelp forum.  We are really enjoying corresponding with them and it is great on so many levels because letter writing is dying out somewhat these days, yet it remains so special to receive a handwritten letter.  If you don't want to write to penpals, you could encourage children to wriet to their parents, or grandparents (especially lovely if they live far away and don't see their grandchild often!)
  • PSED - dispositions and attitudes as the children get excited about receiving mail and then replying; making relationships as they work on a reply together and working at making a relationship through writing to new friends; sense of community as they learn about others and how others live and what they like to do.
  • CLL - language for communication, linking sounds and letters, reading and writing.
  • PSRN - handling money to buy the stamp we need
  • KUW - Time as they wait for a reply and think about what others are doing in other places; communities as they become more interested in what people in different palces are doing; talking about how the post works (a bit of history about how post used to work)
  • PD - fine motor control drawing pictures and writing words to their friends; using equipment and materials by folding the paper to go in the envelope.
  • CD - make a postbox together to add in to role play.
Some other ideas I have tried are to find writing paper that ties in with anything that the children are interested in.... these are quite simple to find through searching google.  We have started a scrap book to keep the letters in and have decorated the front with these realistic stamps.

if there are any readers who would like to team up with other settings to exchange letters, please e-mail me at and I will try to pair you up!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Friday's Favourites!

This week has been sunny and cold in equal measures but we have had a fabulous week; exploring the woods learning about badgers and marking Baisakhi with dancing and cooking and sharing samosas.  Even the children who don't normally try new things ate more samosas and wanted the recipe to take home!!

The new room arrangement in my home is working really well - the abundance of floor space is amazing and the children have used it wonderfully.  None of the resources that I removed have been missed, the children have concentrated attention instead on things that are flexible and open-ended.

This weeks best picks are very crafty, I fancy trying a few of these this weekend myself:
  • I'll be digging in the recycling for bottle caps to make these ladybirds.
  • These sensory bottles have some good ideas contained inside them!
  • How about a paper plate tambourine? genius!!
Next week we will be celebrating Earth Day by making our own paper from scrap paper.  Look out for a planning post this weekend, as well as some extensions for the float and sink activity!!

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Science in the Early Years - Sink or Float?

I have been planning to extend some of the Montessori cultural ideas into my setting for a while now and organised myself to do it last night!  The Montessori cultural curriculum has some lovely suggestions for science activities that early years children can learn from in a hands-on, child-led way, supporting their knowledge and understanding of the world, amongst other things.

To set up an activity for exploring objects that sink or float,  you need:
  • A tray that will hold a glass bowl/vase (glass because you can see through it and observe the objects that have sunk); fill the bowl three quarters full of water. 
  • Next to it you need a plastic tray, box or basket that holds eight small objects that vary in size and material. 
  • Objects made from different materials; on the tray above I have a light plastic ball, a plastic dinosaur, a small pebble and a marble (inside the small copper pot on this picture), a cork, a piece of bark, a shell and a small copper pot.
  • A cloth to dry the objects and their tray with afterwards.
You can also have a laminated piece of card or paper that has the words 'float' and 'sink' on it including a simple diagram of an object below the water line and on the waterline for non-readers.

I like to get the child to make a hypothesis about what will happen such as "Do you think the shell will float or sink?" - you could also ask why they think that, giving you an amazing insight into their reasoning and knowledge (see sustained shared thinking for more tips on asking questions open-ended questions!)

Some of the thinking that came out using this activity was:
  • That the dinosaur looked bigger at the bottom of the water because the water reflects it.
  • That the shell was nice and thin like the pot so it would float (it sank of course).
  • If you drop the pot from a low height it would float but when you drop it from a high height it sinks because it fills with water and goes heavier then.
Not all of the thinking is scientifically accurate but the children are making close observations of the materials and what is happeneing and using creative thinking to apply that knowledge to the other objects.  By exploring this themselves and actually experiencing it, it has more value than being told or reading about it in a book.
Here there is an attempt to balance the dinosaur on the bark to make it float instead of sink. Good Thinking!!

To make this suitable for toddler/baby exploration, put the objects into a wide necked plastic bottle or tub and fill half full with water and screw the lid on tight.  Every way they turn this up, the floating objects wil float and the sinkers will sink!  Differentiation in a nutshell!!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Badger Bumble!

We took twelve children to the nature reserve today, ranging between 18 months and 8 years old.  We showed them photographs of signs that badgers were in the woods and off we went.  I hadn't known what to expect when I planned it but it was fantastic! The children were so excietd and interested and engaged, examining logs for signs of scratches, looking carefully at muddy patches for footprints and peering down every hole they found.  We found the badger setts almost at the end of our walk, and they were worth the wait..... huge earth mounds with dark mysterious holes underneath them!! They all just loved being in the woods and it was a joy to see them!

If you want to plan your own 'badger bumble' you might find the following links useful:
  • Lots of information and great photographs here about badgers so you know what you are looking for!
  • A lovely set of wildlife footprints and photos of the imprints to print and laminate.
  • Simple badger outlines.
  • A gorgeous badger mask!
Remember that there doesn't actually HAVE to be badgers in the area to do this..... simply the process of suggesting it gets the children looking more closely at the natural world around them and thinking about the possibilities!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Life Cycle of a Bean

    Today we planted our beans from the BBC 'Dig In' campaign as well as some snap peas that we had left over from last year.  Gardening with children is such a great way to spend a sunny afternoon!  Often the children that you are childminding will not have the opportunity to grow vegetables at home making it an invaluable experience for you to offer them.  Planting seeds covers all of the areas of learning and development within the EYFS and should be part of your continuous provision contained within your planning. 
I wanted to provide you with a nice set of resource links to support the life cycle of a bean but came up rather short!!  The best that I found was this set of sequencing cards, although it would be nice to have a card that shows the bean pod open with the beans inside ready to be sown and start the cycle over again! 

My solution to this, and far better than using printed resources in my opinion is to make your own cards!  I am going to cut out some bean shaped pieces of beige sugar paper and then take photogrpahs of the bean developing.  Print a photograph for each stage and then stick to a bean shape with appropriate words.  A great way to include children in the planning!

To enable you to take photogrpahs and the children to see the bean developing, trap beans between damp kitchen paper and the side of a clear glass jar.  Keep the paper moist and the bean will germinate and produce leaves within a week! 

This idea is clearly explained, amongst other simple and fantastic nature activities in the 'First Nature Activity Book' which I thoroughly recommend! There is also a book dedicated to 'the life cycle of a bean'!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

What is Sustained Shared Thinking?

In an effort to 'jargon-bust' the EYFS I have looked up sustained shared thinking and have discovered that it is something that we all (hopefully) do everyday as we play alongside the children we care for!  According to Kathy Brodie, sustained shared thinking is "those wonderful times that you get when you are totally absorbed with a child, whether is is in conversation or in an activity, with a genuine interest on both parts to find out more".  The thinking can occur one-to-one between child and adult, or between groups of children, epecially where there are older children mixing with younger ones (such as childminders and your own home amongst siblings!). 

Let's break it down a bit:
  • SUSTAINED - it must carry on for a while but this could be varying lengths of time; this therefore requires flexible planning and contingencies for ensuring that other children are safe and provided for.
  • SHARED - both child and adult must be contributing, there are various ways to encourage the dialogue and find out the child's ideas.
  • THINKING - there are six critical thinking skills identified that are developed through sustained shared thinking.
During periods of sustained shared thinking "the practitioner has the opportunity to learn extensive amounts about how the child sees the world, their level of cognitive development, schemas, community and self esteem (to name but a few!). The child may learn things such as social interaction techniques, how to think creatively, cause and effect and factual information" Kathy Brodie (2009)

The six critical thinking skills are:
  • Enquiry skills - asking and answering appropriate questions, deciding on the next question.
  • Information procesing skills - these help the child to 'do something' with the information they receive in answer to their questions; organising it and retaining the most important parts.
  •  Reasoning skills - forming an opinion based on the information gathered (cloesly linked to the development of language, social and emotional skills).
  • Evaluation skills - children look at the information they have and decide whether they agree with it or not.
  • Problem-solving skills - recognising that a problem is something to be solved rather than a failure and being able to recognise that changes can be made that will affect the end-result.
  • Creative thinking - using the imagination to generate new ideas, looking beyond the obvious.
Research has shown that there are three essentials to encourage sustained shared thinking.  The first is OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONING, using such questions as:
  • I wonder if.....?
  • What could we do......?
  • can you find a way to......?
  • What would happen if.....?
  • Why do you think that happened.....?
  • What did you notice about.....?
  • tell me about.....?
The secret to open ended questions is that they don't put children on the spot to find the 'correct' answer; the children use the knowledge they have to think creatively and come up with a suggestion.

The second essential is ADULT MODELLING; wonder aloud about things to demonstrate problem solving for events in your own life, or the day ahead with the children.

The third essential is that children are engaging in FREELY CHOSEN PLAY ACTIVITIES as these provide the best platform for extending children's thinking as they are motivated and absorbed.

Other strategies that you can use are:
  • SUGGESTING - you might like to try this......
  • INVITING CHILDREN TO ELABORATE - I'd really like to know more about this....
  • RE-CAPPING - so you think that.......
  • SHOWING GENUINE INTEREST - give whole attention, make eye-contact, smile, nod, affirm.
  • SPECULATING - do you think that the wolf really wanted to be little red riding hoods friend?
  • USE MAKING-SENSE WORDS - I agree, I wonder, I think, I imagine, I like......
Sustained shared thinking is part of the EYFS under 'Creativity and Critical Thinking' (4.3).  I have printed out the strategies and open-ended questions and have put them up on the wall for a short time to remind me to use them more!! My sources and further reading for you are here, here and here!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Making Books With Children

I first realised the power of making books with children when I made some laminated pages with photographs of the farm visit we had made and the words of 'Old Macdonald' linked to them, with the children's writing and marks and pictures alongside.  Bound with wool this book is now dog-eared and well-loved, having been looked at every day since we made it!  I used to think it was difficult but it isn't - you can make a book about anything, or just notebooks to write in.  I have gathered together lots of inspiration and ideas here, as well as step-by step instructions for you to jump in and have a go!

So why make books with children? Well...... you can:
  • capture and record meaningful experiences
  • demonstrate that you value their thoughts, ideas and abilities
  • provide opportunities for children to express themselves
  • provide a way for the child to use many fine motor skills
  • provide thechild with many opportunities for problem solving
  • all contribute to a shared effort 
What can we write books about? Well....... you could write about:
  • A trip to the shops and what happens there.
  • What the children do at the park.
  • A special trip out to the zoo or farm.
  • A favourite recipe.
  • What we do during the day as a welcome book for new children.
And now we've decided what to write about, how do we set it out? Here are some ideas
  • Once upon a time… stories
  • Repetitive stories (I was walking down the road. Then I saw a….)
  • Cumulative stories (On Monday I…On Tuesday I)
  • Rhyme/Rhythm (change the words of songs and nursery rhymes )
  • Opposites (In and Out; Up and Down)
  • Counting Books
  • Alphabet Books (My Food Alphabet, An Alphabet of Pets)
  • Time Sequence (time of day, days of the week, months of the year)
Information taken from this Canadian resource.

I have so far bound my books very simply with ribbon or wool, but you don't have to make books that open in the traditional way; try this fold out version for an 'all about me' book.

This tactile book from is absolutely stunning and would be such fun to make!

Another of Bea's creations "We Went for a Walk" is a golden idea too!

How about making a fabric book that represents you setting? This resource talks you through the process; a big time investment to be sure but worth the effort!

On a simpler note, I have found downloadable books to complete with the children that have worked very successfully as a collaborative effort that is well-used afterwards, a couple of examples are this 'sing a rainbow' colours book and a version of 'The Mitten'.

'Lapbooks' are popular with some home educating families; the idea is that a simple cardboard folder is adorned with many little 'books' containing information about a topic or theme that the children are learning about.  This idea lends itself to a childminding setting beautifully as each child can make a little book at her/his level and add them together to make a collection. Find a big collection of 'folds' for lapbooks here and try some yourself!

I hope that you have found this inspiring and make some books yourself, please let me know how you get on!!



Friday, 9 April 2010

Friday's Favourites!

Hello..... I hope you've all had a good week....... I've only worked one day as I took some time off over Easter to spend with my family and we've had a lovely time!  And hasn't the end of this week been beautiful?? We're soaking up the sunshine and I feel really enthusiastic.  I dived into re-organising the children's space (again... cue rolling eyes for those that know me and how often I move furniture around!!).  I am going back to basics and culling some equipment and toys that have crept in over time that are not adding anything positive, just cluttering..... more on that another day I think!!  The late evening sunshine is calling to me to bring a cup of tea and my pile of new books outdoors so I'll get on with a few links for the week!
  • This simple idea for creating a spring forsythia picture is perfect for bringing children to look more closely at the natural world; bring some branches of the blossoms indoors if you like or take the art outdoors!
  • A new blog called Simple Organic that I came accross this week has a post about using cloth instead of paper products in the home, now re-useable loo paper is a step too far for me but the idea of using napkins really appeals to me as part of mealtimes with the children!
  • Make an aqua-scope to get a closer look at the tadpoles!
  • Loving all the yellow over at the Crafty Crow!!
Whatever you are up to, have a lovely weekend, the sunny weather has made me want to go boot saling this Sunday...... just to window shop y'know, I'm not buying, I'm. not. buying, I'm not, I'm not!!!!!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Baisakhi Planning 2010

I have struggled to find resources on the web that are ready planned to help explore Baisakhi.  There doesn't seem to be a lot around but what there is will be lots of fun! Here are my ideas:
  • Look at this picture of the 5 K’s and talk about why they are important to Sikh people (scroll down, I think it's about page 17!!)
  • Look at the traditional bhangra dress (for men) and giddha dress (for women), read about them here.
  • I could only find a good colouring picture of a bhangra dancer.
  • Play some bhangra music and dance to it: the dances tell stories of everyday life so make up some moves related to gardening (as baisakhi is the Sikh harvest festival), cooking and eating as a fun story line!
  • See a picture of the Dholak hand drum used to drum the beats here.
  • Make anklets and bangles to wear.
  • Cook Halwa.

Growing for Gold!!

These are pictures of veg planting that children from around age three upwards can organise by themselves!! Seeds such as sunflower, peas and beans are very robust and easy to germinate and it doesn't matter how deep or in what multiples they are crammed into pots, they will still find their way to the surface and flourish!  The joy and satisfaction that children get from seeing something they planted completely independently is something else beyond the interest they have in growing vegetables..... it is magical to see.  
I realised this last year when my daughter had a friend round to play.  She scampered up the garden and asked for two plastic drinking cups which I provided without asking what they were for.  Later on, she presented me with a cup full of mud and sunflower seeds, watered to within an inch of their lives!  She had found a packet of seeds and remembered planting them one time so decided to show her friend how to do it.  We kept the cup on the kitchen windowsill and one seed came up, we looked after it then planted it out....... well that little tiny seed ended up nine feet tall, with a stem thicker than my arm and a flower the size of a dinner plate. 
I understood then that it doesn't matter if they plant the whole packet when you only have room to grow on four, or half of the seeds don't come up.  you can always give them away, send them home, or plant some extras in case none come up!!
So this year I gave a quick refresher course in planting seeds and left them to it..... my daughter came to ask me to write 'sun' for her to label the sunflowers.  It was wonderful - the children were busy with their planting for far longer than a planned and tightly controlled 'activity' would have taken them and got far more out of it.  I admit I find it hard to let go of the reins and let things be less than perfect but I am so glad when I do as it means so much more to the children.  Next up..... carrots, onions and lettuce!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

April Planning!

There will be lots going on regarding planting veg, fruit and salad out in the garden, and observing signs of Spring such as our tadpoles that we have in pond water in the lounge, ready to be returned to their pond when the taddy's are bigger! 
I am planning a series of nature walks for the childminding group in the local nature reserve, as well as tree identification by looking at the twigs before they burst into leaf - use this ID sheet from the nature detectives website to guide you, it can be used in your garden or local park, it doesn't have to be a nature reserve!

Topics I am planning to cover are:
  • Vaisakhi - Sikh festival on the 14th April.
  • Earth Day - 22nd April.
  • St. George's Day - 23rd April.
  • National Pet's Month.
  • Lifecycle of a bean.
As I do the planning for each topic and post all my ideas and links, I will link each post back to this main one so that you can access all the ideas from one place!
For those in the childminding group, the walks will be titled:
  • Badger bumble
  • Otter oddyssey
  • Shrew shimmy
  • Rabbit ramble
  • Fox fandango
once again, i will post all of the links through to the site for you to use wherever you are; the resources will be aimed at increasing awareness and understanding about how animals live in woodlands, it doesn't really matter if there are thopse species where you go, the children will get excited none the less!!  Fortunately for us, there are those species at the nature reserve...... whether we find any evidence of them is another matter!!!!!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Rainbow planning!

My theme this last couple of weeks has been colours of the rainbow - for no particular reason other than it offered some nice sensory play and other ideas, so for those that follow regularly and like the links, we have been playing with the rainbow stacker:
and exploring some rainbow rice; labour of love to set up, and just seconds to mix together!!

There were feet as well as hands in this - it is so lovely to play with, just falling through your fingers!
Instructions to be found here.
I also laminated a rainbow array of paint chip cards and bound them with a book ring,
and we coloured some rainbow pictures to go on the cupboard door.
We loved the book 'What Makes a Rainbow?'
This book is lovely too!

Montessori Snack Time

Sarah made some great comments after I posted about allowing children freedom in my first 'Montessori in a Minute' article. (read it here). The beauty of writing on a blog is that i don't have to think on my feet........I have had a think about it and here is my considered answer!

To start with, Montessori as a way of structuring your environment is not supposed to be a prescriptive 'one size fits all' approach where Montessori is best and nothing else is worth trying.  It's not like that at all.  Montessori based her work on the earlier work of other early childhood theorists and was both a friend and colleague to others; they shared ideas and discussed each other's approaches. In particular Montessori was influenced by the work of Froebel, Pestalozzzi, Seguin and Piaget.  My point being was that Montessori 'borrowed from the best bits' of others and why shouldn't we?? I do!!  There is no way that we can recreate an ideal Montessori classroom environment at home, and we shouldn't be either, it is a home, and one of our unique selling points as childminders is that we offer homely care!  Even in Montessori schools, nurseries and classrooms there are myriad different expressions of Montessori, driven by the interprestation of the adult involved, and built around the needs of the children.

So........ snacktime....... the 'ideal' is that children self-regulate and help themslef to an appropriate sized snack at an appropriate time, but in reality, most children will need guiding, whether that is to take an appropriate amount, to actually have some snacks in the first place, to sit at a table to eat it, and more!  Young children act impulsively; if they want to eat all the snack, then they will!

The two most important things that I take from Montessori ideas about snack times, is that they support independence and that they are a sociable time! With independence, the children can cut up fruit, spread butter and jam on bread, pour their own drink, set the table etc.  The sociable side is that children help one another, talk with each other and with adults and experience the pleasure of being together.  I think that Sarah's description of her snack time sounds really lovely, it is what works for the children in your care that is best!

I will try to find some ideas from around the web to add for those that want to see some more ideas for how it could work if they want to try a more individual approach in their setting.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Friday's Favourite's!

I'm actually writing this on Wednesday evening, as I am not working again until Wednesday next week now so thought I would have a complete break (If I can really make myself!!).  This week has been tough with poorly little ones to contend with on top of lack of sleep testing all my skills!  I have spent this evening in a fit of giggles making a birthday cake for my youngest daughter who turns three on Sunday, but tomorrow is her 'official' birthday when we will go to Waterworld to celebrate as a family. We started the tradition of a family day out for birthdays long ago, instead of a party and they are looked forwards to greatly.  All my daughter wanted for her third birthday was a chocolate dinosaur cake and green swim goggles like her sister!  Commence an evening of fun concocting a stegosaurus/triceratops style creature out of microwaved sponge cake, butter icing and a variety of sweeties from the pick and mix!!  My daughter will love it and that is what counts!!  So down to this week's hot picks from the web:
  • This train table makeover caught my imagination.... it could work in a builder's tray too I think!
  • This collection of Easter poems is a lovely mix, and worth keeping for next year even if a bit late this year!!
That seems to be it this week, everyone is busy with Easter it seems, look out for some April planning soon!

Happy Easter, Jenni

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Curly Cursive Writing!

This is a subject close to my heart... a strange topic maybe but my daughter didn't get along with print so we tried cursive and she loves it.  Cursive is 'old style' lettering that is curly and has a flick to lead into it and a flick to lead out of it.  All children will learn a version of it eventually, when they need to join up their handwriting, but most schools teach print to begin with.  Print is the type of lettering that you will see in books, newspapers etc.  The problem my daughter had with print is that all of the letters start in different places, consider 's' and 'e' and 'l', they all begin at a different place, with cursive, this doesn't happen, as all letters begin at the bottom left, with a lead-in stroke to the letter.  This particularly helps when children get muddled up with 'b' and 'd' and 'p'!  Cursive also supports children to form the letters properly as they are less likely to draw a ball and a stick for 'p' for example as they understand that it must flow from the left, so bad habits are less likely to be picked up. 

Lots of schools are beginning to go back to teaching cursive as a starting point, and this may affect you as  a childminder if you find yourself supporting a child with homework that is in cursive, or looking after them in the holidays.  Whilst it is accepted that children who learn letters in cursive usually have no problem in reading in print, it is great to be able to meet the needs of all children by differentiating what you do.  I searched high and low for cursive resources for two years and then I found this site which is well worth a read as it details soooo eloquently all the best bits about cursive!!!! I am biased I know, but my point is that if you care for children whose school teach cursive (even if those children have yet to begin nursery and you know that they will be going there, you can use one of the fonts from this site to produce titles, captions for paintings, headers for your displays, name tags for the child's coat peg and so much more)  The fonts are so affordable and make individualising your planning so easy that it is well worth writing off against tax!!

There will be more to come from this talented lady, as I will hopefully be interviewing her soon!!