Monday, 24 May 2010

Skills for early Writing (part one)

On Saturday I went to a seminar about literacy in the Montessori setting.  I was struck by the large number of skills that a child needs to have developed in order to write successfully.  Generally across early years settings there seems to be a lot of focus on mark-making and 'emergent writing' with little consideration given to preparing the child to be able to do those things!  If a child is pushed to write before they are fully prepared and developmentally ready then there can be long term effects that actually hamper the child's efforts to write.  These effects take the form of 'bad habits' that have become ingrained such as a distorted pencil hold or backwards formation of letters.  So what are the attributes that a child needs to develop?
  • Tripod grip - strength in fingers and hand needs to develop, alongside good control over fine-motor movements in order to hold a pencil and write.
  • Lightness of touch - needed to avoid pressing so hard that pencils break and paper becomes gouged.
  • Flexibility of wrist and hand - needed for continuous fluid writing.
  • Hand-eye co-ordination - this is how the hand responds to what the eye sees, controlled by the brain, and will aid in controlling a pencil to form letters.
  • Memory of shapes - the mind is almost like play dough, shapes leave an imprint upon it making a lasting memory.  This is why correct letter formation from the outset is so important, and why leaving out letter tracing activities can be counter-productive for young children.
  • Visual discrimination - recognising the difference and similarities between things; this will help to tell apart letters such as b and d.
  • Self-esteem - A child valuing him or herself and being valued by others around him or her will feel confident enough to give things a go that are new or a little difficult.
  • Concentration - this is a skill that needs to have developed in order for children to be able to focus for a long enough time to learn letter shapes and their sounds.
  • Sequencing - knowing what becomes at the beginning, middle and end.  it provides a structure that the child will use as a foundation to build grammar upon.
All of these skills are equally as important as each other and when taken all together provide a mighty looking list of skills that we can support very young children to develop in order that they may have a good chance of beginning to write successfully when they are ready.  In part two I will look at activities that can support each of the skills, both shop-bought and home-made.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Saturday's Selection!!!!

Well, you might have noticed that Friday's favourites passed me by this week; it probably had something to do with having had a manky sore throat and falling asleep whilst putting my children to bed last night (and waking up with a dead arm hours later!!).  I thought that I would do Saturday's selection instead as I have kept a few links to pass on to you!
  • Making puzzles from felt for children to learn the parts of a tree and parts of a flower.
  • Silhouette cards of vegetables and fruit for a matching game with a twist! (Thanks to Hayley for this link!!).
  • Making solar night lights...... this type of jar is 69p in Ikea if you have one near to you...... I think this is such a pretty way of using quite an ugly lamp!
I hope that you all have a lovely weekend enjoying this weather..... I'll be posting again tomorrow!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

An E-Learning Degree?

Just a quick post tonight, I'm interested in this way of studying..... thought I'd put it out there for others that hadn't heard about it to look at too!

There is an article in Nursery World about it here.

And a link to the course information here.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Block play and the EYFS

As part of a series on core experiences I have looked at Block play and what children can gain from it as part of continuous provision.  Although the ideal is to have unit blocks, they are expensive and for many people they will still be on a wish list!!  I have mobilo, stickle bricks, duplo, mega-bloks, small wooden blocks, tree blocks and am waiting for a set of hollow blocks to arrive.  They have all been well-used by different children at different stages of their development; often they go back to them after a few months and use them in a more sophisticated way.  It is recommended to have an area for building in that isn't in the middle of the room so that structures don't get knocked down and the children can come back to them later if they want to.  This is hard to achieve in many settings due to space constraints - you could have a rolled up mat to put out to build on that provides a visual boundary that encourages the blocks staying on the mat and other children to walk around.  Without further ado, here are some things that block play supports children to explore:
  • PSED - A safe way to express emotions, particularly if children are small-world playing with block constructions.  Building something that wasn't there before and being able to express ideas in this way raises children's confidence and self-esteem.  Working together with other children provides opportunities for practicing turn-taking, sharing and negotiating.
  • CLL - The vocabulary that children acquire directly related to what they are doing is very important, introduced to them by an adult or older child; Talking about the blocks that children choose and what they are building supports conversational skills, sequencing and expressing ideas. For younger children the symbolic representation of a block or blocks as other items is an important step towards recognising words as having meaning. making signs for their block structures or drawing pictures of them before they have to be taken down to tidy away, introduces new ideas of what writing is about for children. Positional language such as on top of, next to, behind begins to be used.
  • PSRN - using language such as more than/longer than, cube, square, triangle.  Exploring ideas of half and whole, area and length are all important concepts that the children will be exploring.  If you have unit blocks for them to use they will see equivalency in action as four blocks that size are the same as one this size so fractions are seen and used before they are understood as being fractions!
  • KUW - Children investigate the scientific principles of balance, gravity, stability and cause and effect as they try out various structural arrangements.  They learn about how the blocks can be put together to make different types of structures.
  • PD - hand and finger strength is developed as children manipulate smaller blocks and the control of large motor muscle groups is refined during the use of large blocks such as hollow blocks.  Children can experience risk taking within a safe environment that is important for them to develop a sense of safety.
  • CD - Children can develop new ideas about the world around them and then bring their concept to life with the blocks, they are working with different textures and shapes often, combining sizes and colours of bricks and blocks to achieve new effects.  Imaginative problem-solving abounds as the children create a stage for their stories and imaginations to flourish in.  Children see their building from different perspectives as they stand up and move around, giving depth and understanding to buildings they see on the street.

Sources used are here.
How to make your own blocks!
Lots of ideas for setting up a block play area and resources you can use!
Brilliant article from Nursery World about blocks

Monday, 17 May 2010

Nature's Palette

Today we made paints from natural materials.  We tried three.  This is dandelion yellow in progress.  We crushed the petals with a pestle and mortar then added some patio chalk and crushed that up, then added some water.  We also did brown (mud) and green (mint leaves so it smelt nice too).  This is the painting in progress......
The brown and green worked the best.  Dandelion yellow was a bit pale, but then maybe we are just too used to gaudy bright manufactured paints!!  They left a nice texture on the card we painted on and definitely provided a sensory experience.  I want to continue exploring this with the children. I wonder if something could be made with cornstarch?
Here is suggests using paprika, chili powder, turmeric and ginger from dried ground spices.  It suggests using gum arabic from art shops to make a cake of paint that can be used like those palettes you can buy for children to use.  I've ordered some from e-bay tonight and we'll give it a go!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

How do Plants Grow?

I am doing a Montessori Early Years Teaching Qualification and my latest assignment requires that I write a planning web for a topic before choosing one of the 'cultural activities' and doing it with the children.  As it is currently a 'hot topic' with the children here, I decided to plan for 'How do Plants Grow?'I thought of lots of things to extend children's knowledge about plants and their growth and decided to share them here as I'd like to do lots of them and post about them and then you will all know what I am talking about!  I have combined Montessori curriculum headings with EYFS to suit all interested parties!!

Literacy (Communication, Language and Literacy)
  • Booklets or spinning books (i-dials) on the life cycles of seeds.
  • Sequencing cards on stages of growth.
  • Books and stories
  • Language tray with initial sounds that relate to seeds and plants (b-bean, p-pot, c-compost, s-sun, w-water, g-grow, l-leaf)
  • Word wall - new vocabulary relating
Mathematics (Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy)
  • Measuring the plants as they grow.
  • Ordering seeds and beans from largest to smallest.
  • Making bird cake from seeds - following a recipe card.
  • Volumes of compost in pots.
  • Measuring rainfall.
Creative (Creative Development)
  • Make bean collages.
  • Sunflowers - Van Goch painting, pallet of colours mixed to match and paint sunflowers.
  • Natural paints using mud, dandelions, other flowers, leaves.
  • Maracas with dried beans/rainmakers.
  • Music and Movement - growing as plants grow.
  • Songs and poems about growing.
Activities of daily living (Physical Development - fine motor)
Cultural (Knowledge and Understanding of the World)
  • Cooking and tasting recipes from around the world that use beans.
  • Biology - set up a wormery and put leftovers from the children's fruit into it.
  • Botany - parts of a plant/ what parts of a plant do we eat?/ life cycle of a bean
  • Science - what plants need to grow/ celery stalks and food colouring/ dark box for plant to grow to the light.
  • Leaf shapes/types.
Sensorial (CD, PSRN)
  • Paint colour swatches in green to match to leaves of plants as they grow.
  • Matching herbs by their smell.
  • Leaf skeletons in the nature basket.
  • Matching shapes to plant related items - cone (pot) seed(ovoid) etc.
Although Montessori curricula don't specifically have a section for Personal, Social and Emotional Development, by the approach that Montessori setting take, PSED is supported through all other activities, so you can look for aspects of this as the children take part in activities, just as you would normally.  I'm hoping to post about these activities as we go along, and will link them back to this plan as I go to make it easier to find them.  I'm anticipating that we will spend all summer investigating the way things grow though, so don't be disappointed if it isn't all here in the next couple of weeks.... if you want more information about any of these activities now, please leave a comment and ask and i will do my best to help you out!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

What to Buy?

I notice on the childminding forum that I go on that there are often questions about what resources should be bought when child minders are setting up for the first time.  There are usually a range of responses but often they focus on large scale and very commercial items.  Last week Nursery World magazine had a very sensible supplement with it that suggested what was needed for under threes.  I have summarised the main points here for anyone that is interested, and added a few comments of my own here and there! First off some quotes from the article:
"It is easy to get seduced by glossy catalogues offering colourful must-haves that actually have limited learning potential"

"Look for versatility, durability and longevity.  Wooden toys are more expensive but buying cheaper plastic items can be a false economy"

"It is the role of the adult to plan how children will be able to use the equipment, rather than buying the equipment without a purpose"

"Wood is more sensory than plastic and more durable.  Wooden toys retain children's interest for longer"

"The best resource for children is a knowledgeable and highly attuned adult"

"Invest in some high-quality items and then bulk out your provision with cheaper buys, natural materials and recycled items such as cardboard tubes and cartons"

Suggestions for resources:
  • Cushions and mats for creating cozy spaces and defining different areas. 
  • Rocking Toys.  I am cautious about having these indoors as a childminder due to the potential for squashed fingers underneath. 
  • Stackable toys - good old blocks and bricks.
  • Sorting toys - rather than shape sorters, that can be frustrating for little ones, collect 'heuristic play' materials - a range of natural materials and various small boxes and baskets for the children to discover shape and space for themselves.
  • Small-world play - small wooden cars, trucks and planes and very simple wooden people, as well as a plain wooden, open fronted house that can be many things.
  • Role-play - go easy on the fancy costumes that limit possibilities and stock up om various fabrics, hats shoes and accessories that expand the possibilities of dressing up.
  • Pullable and pushable toys - carts, trolleys, animals, wheelbarrows, pushchairs.
  • Soft toys - not highly rated by the author of the article but I value the gradually expanding collection of very beautiful and life-like British wild animal soft toys that I have.  They are used daily wither for play or cuddles!
  • Dolls - a range of genders and ethnicities and fit for purpose such as hard bodied to go in the doll bath and soft bodied for changing clothes quite easily.
  • Puzzles - simple is better, shape peg puzzles or those demonstrating size from largest to smallest.
  • Mirrors - wall-mounted, infinity cube or hand held.
Dare to be different..... you don't have to have all of the same resources that everyone else has!  I decided a long time ago to declare an embargo on bleeping, buzzing and flashing plastic toys and I have never regretted the decision.  It makes for a more peaceful background where I can hear the children making their own sound effects!  Also consider that less is more - you don't have to have the super-giant sized tub of duplo or 30 figures to play with....... smaller amounts call for children to be imaginative and creative with the resources and you will see fascinating ebb and flow in the way their play develops!

I'd love to hear your comments on this article and how you decide what resources to invest in!

Friday's Favourites!

Well it's been a funny old week.... I said a final sad goodbye to my Granddad on Monday at his funeral, with beautiful words from my Mum and my Uncle...... I only hope that I will one day have the strength of character that they possess!  I felt bruised and raw on Tuesday but the little ones came up trumps with some fascinating explorations to watch and marvel at.... I loved seeing them discover how wet chalks leave strong marks, then later tip over a tub of water on the patio and run to fetch the chalk to repeat the experience in a different way!  Then there were my friend's little ones.... one using trial and error to work out how the tree blocks could be balanced one on top of another, and the other one fascinated by the sound of falling rice on a plastic tray and then a wooden one.... so focused and absorbed and so lovely to see.... just what we are here for, to provide the environment where those kinds of discoveries can be made! I was also very pleased to find out that I will be featured on The Montessori Goldmine next week.... take a look using the button below!

The Montessori Goldmine

Other than that, 'the boat' has arrived thanks to my friend very kindly trusting me with her car and roof rack!!  It is residing in the front garden whilst we get up the strength to haul it over the garage roof and install it ready for adventure in the back garden!!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Water Play

This is a photograph of the exploration that went on in the water tray recently.  We had been to the Sealife Centre and I bought small figures of a seahorse, starfish, ray and crab.  These were the creatures that the children had been most interested in whilst we were there.  I put an inch of water in the tray, along with some smooth pebbles and shells; in this picture the children were covering all the creatures in the shells and pebbles to camouflage them as they had seen the rays doing at the centre!  The water tray is a very simple and low-cost set-up of an under bed storage box placed on two upturned milk crates.  It is easy to store, easy to clean, easy to use for something different, and with a lid to put on to keep it clean!

I later added some clear plastic fruit boxes that utterly absorbed one of the little ones as the water flowed in and out.  She made piles of stones then covered them with an upturned box, then pressed her face to the base to look as she could still see the stones and usually when something is covered with an upturned box she can't see it!  I would like to introduce clear plastic bags to extend her investigation next week (under very close supervision of course!!)

Another very simple idea that has been a bit recently is placing a deep box of water under the end of the guttering system with some cups and jugs.  All of the children experimented with pouring the water at different parts of the guttering and trying to catch it at the bottom as it trickled back into the box.  When they weren't looking I added green food colouring and the children brought out another piece of guttering so there were two tubes then flowing into the builder's tray.  Add some cardboard packing and dinosaurs and another half hours messy play was created!

Some other ideas that I would like to try are:
  • Clear tubes wound round some upside down wire baskets, complemented by funnels and jugs, and coloured water so the children can see how the water moves through the tubing depending on how much they put in and where etc.
  • A pump such as the ones you empty fish tanks with where you squidge the bulb in the middle and it starts the flow of water to transfer it one from place to another.
  • I would also dearly love a concrete water channel in my garden with a hand-pump at one end!!!!
  • For babies I have put just half a centimetre of water in a builder's tray and allowed them to crawl through it to experience it with their hands and feet, either in a nappy/nothing in warm weather or an all-in-one waterproof in colder weather!
This article has ideas for linking water play to the EYFS as a core experience and part of your continuous provision planning.  To extend children's thinking about water there is Water Splash from the charity Wateraid. The on-line booklet 'Learning Through Play in the Early Years' has a great resource list for waterplay along with what ideas the tools and materials can support children to learn.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Friday's Favourite's

This is my favourite picture of the week..... after nursing Woody the guineapig, the girls commandeered the clean syringes and set about ministering medicine to the toy animals..... it was so touching to see the care and attention that they lavished upon them!  This week I have struggled to get into my groove and have been glad to have good childminding friends to spend time with!  I'm off for our annual church weekend away in Derbyshire tonight so should come back refreshed and inspired for next week! Some fun things I came across on the web this week:

  • How about jazzing up some fabric shopping bags with bright designs simple for chilren to create and take home?

  • I thought this thumb print pendant in some form or another is a nice keepsake to go home for mums especially!

  • These curvy clay flowers made me think of doing this with leaf shapes and leaf prints in the clay
I really liked these birthday display resources to make an individualised display for each child on their special day.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Telling the Time

I picked up this clock box in a second hand sale for a pound a few months ago but it has been irritating me a little as it never really 'fitted' anywhere..... too big for the bookcase and too enticing for the littlest ones to take them in and out and carry them round.... all very well but I have books for them to do that with if they wish and I wanted these to be used to explore the passing of time!!  So I re-purposed them into an activity box that can be used independently or with support from an adult.  This is what I added to the box:
  • Blank clock faces printed and laminated with a whiteboard pen to draw in the hands.
  • A larger clock with moving hands - make your own from here!
  • Quarter past and quarter to cards from here (fourth down in the right hand column)
  • Half past cards from the same site (fourth down in the left hand column!)
  • Days of the week sequencing cards based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar story - these help children to put them in order by themselves as the number of fruits the caterpillar eats through increases as the days go on..... they also encourage children to expand into literacy!
  • I made this simple activity to introduce the months.
  • Ordinal numbers showing 1st to the 31st.
  • The Seasons of a tree.
  • I have also made a card for each child with their photograph and birthday on it.
  • These resources from twinkl also look great
  • I'd like to add one or two of these large sand timers when I can.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Bedtime Reading that will Make you Excited to get up in the Morning!!

This book poses questions to consider and then offers ways to achieve something special in your setting.  Many of the resources are found and car boot items making them inexpensive to set up.  The ideas are flexible with space requirements, therefore ideal for homes and childminding settings.  Although this is an American book, there are many contributions from 'home daycare facilities' that are the equivalent of childminders in the UK!  This book doesn't blast you with theory but gives short, punchy information blocks on an essential, need-to-know basis then offers inspirational photographs of how to make use of that in many different ways.  Given how many of the pictures include comfy chairs, rugs, side tables etc, it is quite reassuring to think that we are halfway there as childminders in creating the home-like environment that many of the contributors to this book are aiming for!!  Although not the cheapest book you could buy, it is one that you will refer to for years to come, and offers a refreshing alternative to the pressure to own every plastic resource known to man!!

Designs for Living and Learning - Transforming Early Childhood Environments

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Cinco de Mayo!

This is a Mexican festival marking the day that an important battle was won.  The celebrations are not about the battle, but about the patriotism, love and bravery shown by the soldiers for their township.  Now round here we love a good theme day and are looking forwards to all things Mexican tomorrow!! 

Some books to set the scene:
Some crafty activities:
  • Dolly peg Mexican dolls - the idea here is to make dancers but I'm planning on looking in our children of the world book and making some with traditional dress.
  • Simple weaving to make a 'God's Eye'.
  • Mexican maracas.
  • Mini sombrero
  • Paper plate pottery
If you want to make a display or book of your celebrations, have a look at these colouring pages with the flag, map and other cultural pictures.  Try some Spanish words for things the children are familiar with, like colours (two pages here and here) or numbers 1-10.

And last but not least some recipes to whet your appetite!
  • Guacamole - serve with taco shells or tortillas and vegetable sticks with the salsa too!
  • Easy Salsa - except I'm not using three jalapeno peppers in mine, and am taking a tip from 'Katy cooks' and will get the children to chop up fresh tomatoes in a bowl with clean scissors instead of blending tinned tomatoes!
  • Charro beans.
  • Polvorones (sugar biscuits with cinnamon)
Have fun!!!!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Nursing a poorly guinea pig

This is me syringe feeding Woody, one of our little guinea pigs.  We found him this afternoon huddled up outside the run and enclosure.  he didn't attempt to run away and when we picked him up it was clear that he was very weak, dehydrated, thin and cold.  He must have wriggled out somehow yesterday and I missed him when I locked up in the dark last night.  There was torrential rain, wickedly cold winds and low temperatures here overnight and the little dab was out in it all.  I remembered advice from the vet for another guinea pig years back and we got some organic apple and pear baby food to syringe feed.
This is my daughter drawing up the food for him.  Thankfully after a few hours of extra feeds and once he had warmed up a bit, he seems to have perked up a little and is sitting up for himself now and eating a few of the tempting morsels the girls found for him in the fridge and the garden (he loves dandelions!!).  I tucked him in my husband's jumper pocket for a bit more warmth (and to watch the snooker, what boy doesn't enjoy a bit of snooker!!) and hopefully he will have a good night and be even better tomorrow!

Friday's Favourite's!

Well it's Friday again and it's been another busy, happy week that has flown by. I love watching the children and seeing their little mile stones, this week one of my little ones learned how to clamber up the metal bars of the climbing frame to go down the slide all by herself.... a real WOW moment for her!!
  • These garden play mats look so lovely.... how about a bit of old mac underneath them and turn them into picnic mats that roll up really small?
  • This new website is building up some wonderful resources - have a cruise round their site and see..... they'll even print it for you if your printer is out of action!!!!
OK so this post didn't make it onto the blog for Friday, it has been one of those weekends, but there has been plenty going on behind the scenes, look out for posts on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican festival chalked in for Wednesday, group plans for Child Safety Week in June, and some water activities!