teaching to learn, means learning to teach

Posts tagged ‘large group play’

A spot of Luck

Just yesterday, I considered getting stressed out as the children continued to climb up on tables, balancing and climbing down again. They happily spouted out “Look, I’ m on the stairs!” Which is when I *knew* I had to create a more challenging and varied climbing structure outside. I figure if I can give them the more semi-permanent areas they need, whilst making them safe and meeting all the National Quality Standards, then the children will know it’s there and hopefully stop using furniture to meet this need. The only trouble was, how could I incorporate this in our yard, without having to worry too much about the elements – as we’ve had some crazy hot days, big rains and now cool breezes, all in the space of a fortnight!

Then this morning, as I was taking my own children to school, I came across a house that had recently cut down one of their trees, into an assortment of logs! Oh Yay 🙂 Fitting as many into my bus as I felt safe carrying, I drove on to work with a smile on my face. There were many options for where these could go, how I could change them up in future to be more of a ‘table and chairs’ sort of play area, or use them for surrounding our planter boxes, but to start with, they needed to be ‘stairs’. Finding a space that I hate looking at (all cement and corrugated iron fencing) I moved the planter pots around and laid out stumps in alternating heights, with the larger ones supporting the smaller-thinner ones.

Getting my colleagues up to try out the balance and feel of it was easy. In fact Rae was up and walking along before I even asked 🙂 I took this as a good sign, if she couldn’t resist it, then the kids wouldn’t either! The first thing I realised was that this was a great opportunity to explain a little more about looking after our plants. Encouraging them to hold the trunks of our ‘trees’ and not the leaves.


On our first few runs, I knew the kids would All want to be on it, and took measures to ensure they had a path to follow, minimising the risk of pushing and falling through exuberant entries. Turned out to be a good thing too, as some of our balancers were speed demons, practically leaping from one log to the next, quickly finding their feet and trying out the various smaller, higher  steps. Whilst others took their time, supporting their steps with hand holds and careful motor planning.

Some children opted to take their shoes off, gaining a greater feedback from their footfalls and increasing balance. Others extended their leaps off the end (on to a mat) and over to the low platform. Effectively turning it into a stage where they could call out “TaDa” and take pride in their achievements, before starting all over again!

 As play time wore on, the numbers of kids dwindled. I am really excited to see where this leads us. Will we build Ob courses from the end of our stumps? Will the children use them for sitting and talking? What about spontaneous counting and size recognition? Kally has already suggested that we paint them…which is a definite possibility too 🙂 Let’s just hope that whatever they choose to do with it, the prescence of this roving stairwell means we’ll see less climbing on furniture! A girl can has to have hope you know 😛


Re-creating the freedom of my youth

Remember when we were kids and there would be random piles of bark, soil and rocks that were on the edges of building sites and we’d run up and over them. The feel of danger and achievement as the ground slipped away and you ascended higher. To reach the top and take a running leap or slide, just to start all over again.

So I recreated that feeling, albeit on a smaller scale, with tyres piled on top of each other, covered in sand, that was dug from a moat around our mountain.

The first child to find it was excited and pointing and yelling ‘Look! Look! A mountain!’

The brave ran and jumped up the mountain, finding their feet as they went,

often travelling so fast it was hard to catch a picture of their movements!

Others had to work harder to climb up, using their whole bodies to stabilise and move,

enjoying the challenge and ownership of the climb.

Before too long, the numbers grew and the children sorted themselves into a semblance of a line. This was their doing, you can see our ringleader at work, organising the masses into order so that everyone gets a turn 🙂

With every challenge there is more than one solution. Watching the children develop their risk taking skills and being part of a large group activity that focused on their abilities was wonderful. I loved that my presence there was just as a pace keeper. Which allowed them time to climb and celebrate before another child jumped in on their play. For the very essence of discovery is in repetition and development of concepts, of practice and persistence and that’s what makes me happy 🙂

New Yam Festival!

Technically the New Yam Festival is on Saturday, but as with all great weekend occasions, we make them fit into our week day experiences 🙂

We started with a group time that introduced Nigeria, as a country, what a Yam was – and how I didn’t have one but a sweet potato was like it – what the difference was between potatoes and sweet potatoes, how and why the Nigerian people celebrated the harvest of their yams, hen I made a mask/headdress like the ones they wear for the festival and parade.

It all got a bit crazy after that, as I fitted hats, another staff member added double-sided tape (for ease of decorating) and the children moved on to a table which had and arrangement of leaves, feathers, flower cutouts and insect cutouts.

Once done, we grabbed out instruments, chose our leader and ‘tail’ then prepared to entertain the younger kids with our parade 🙂

Straight down our yard, making lots of noise – no doubt having the centrelink customers on the other side of the fence wondering what was going on 🙂

Into the koala yard following the balance walk along the sandpit and around the obstacle course!

We had one teacher giving out sweets to the children as we returned, in high spirits to our outdoor group time area – getting to make so much noise and showing off our creations was an invigorating experience!

Our wonderful cook had gotten right into the theme and created two sweet potato dishes for us, one a roasted savoury number, the other a sweet concoction of melted marshmallow and boiled vegetable! The majority of children enjoyed both dishes, with some making their way up for seconds of their favourite dish 🙂

Of course the best thing about wearing crowns in getting to keep wearing them during play! Interestingly, the boys wore them, while a few of the girls allocated characters to them, the two that stand out in my memory are a fairy and Princess Fiona (from Shrek)

The craziness of busy we felt as teachers was probably due to us normally having a fairly calm morning time that allows for small group play and individual interactions, so getting everyone together at once for art activities and big noise was definitely not normal for us! However, the children coped well with most able to self-regulate their hyper activity to move on to productive outdoor play.

In the late afternoon, I grabbed an African tambourine and donned the headdress then began a rousing game of chasey and hide ‘n’ seek, beating my Tambourine slowly as I crept along the yard, shaking out my headdress for emphasis on ‘looking’. As I approached the hiding places, I let the bells ring more and sped up the beat of the drum so that the kids had an aural sense of anticipation of being found. It was fun, it was exciting and it was hard work wearing that headdress – I might need to trim a layer in front of the eyes for more play on Monday!

Outdoor Classrooms

Our Centre is not one that can easily support indoor-outdoor play. We ensure a large amount of play time in both areas, but are just not equipped to fully supervise both areas, without putting too much pressure on staff, thereby losing quality interactions with our kids. It’s something we have learnt to work with and although we dream of the centres who can allow free flow between their indoor and outdoor learning environments, we rate the quality of our interactions and supervision higher than that wish.

Which is why I love coming across images like this on the computer 🙂

This shows me that the girls from the other room have valued their children’s interest in water play and have tried to encourage it in a positive way – especially during our colder months! You can see here the old boat run we have. Some of the rubber stoppers have worn away and it is prone to leaking. It has been used for ball runs and water play in summer months, where puddles abound and the kids can enjoy the cooling water on their feet.

The children are actively involved in getting the water moving, using scoops and watering cans to add more water to the track – which extends into the sandpit and disappears until the sand forms walls that push the water further down its waterway. The concepts of maths, science, environmental effects and sharing jobs and space would all have come into play. Not that they knew the words, but they certainly learnt the ideas!

More building and construction to continue the waters flow, working together towards a common goal – not an easy task as any teacher form a two-year old classroom will tell you! This activity was done over the school holidays, so the mix  of 3-4 year olds in with the 2 year olds probably helped with the sharing of ideas and building on the raw concepts. It’s a great activity, I wish I was there to share in the fun! But I’m so glad that this happened while I was away too 🙂 It just goes to show the quality of our team, the pride they take in creating play based learning experiences, and the love they have for our kids! Well done girls!

The tall and the short of it

It’s not often I’ll say this, but the activity you’re about to see should only be done on a Friday/last day of the week. It takes a lot of prep, needs an excessive amount of drying time and lots of space! I had seen it on various blogs on the internet, Teacher Tom\’s version

Irresistible Ideas version both inspired by

this mans work, Holton Rower

Tall painting has a beautiful effect, tests hand-eye coordination, created interest in art experiences for those who prefer larger scale or hands on activities, gives concrete learning about spatial awareness and maths concepts like tall, more, some and counting plus it just looks beautiful! Being as most people seemed to be using wooden blocks, I looked at all the tree branches we had, but due to bends and rough bark and difficulty balancing them, I had to let the idea go. Once visit to our local recycling warehouse ‘That’s not Garbage’ saw me walking out with a big back of cardboard reels from industrial sewing machines and a plan in my head 🙂 A donation of large packing cardboard came in to good use, as I cut it into rough squares for our bases!

The children were shown what the basic steps were to set it up, as well as the nest steps in pouring, during the group time. I made it clear that they didn’t have to do it if they didn’t’ want to, but everyone was rushing in to get their art on!

We filled the floor as our children figured out ways to make their first cone stick. Masking tape and large stickers were the best adhesives, with many children taking the opportunity to explore different techniques and applications…and that’s where it’s always nice to have a helping hand 🙂

The first layer was followed by optional extra layers, that were more of the same cones, but stuffed with a paper towel to give extra lift. We then moved our art boards outside (there was no way I was going to attempt this activity on a carpeted area! I’m brave but not silly) We each had our own piece of architects paper (gotta love recycling!) under our boards in case of spills, plus to designate clear work areas…with this many kids attempting to pour paint all at once, I was a bit nervous!

Then it was on to the paint. Each child could choose 3 baggies of watered down tempura/acrylic paint, ensuring they were 3 different colours.

We had one brave teacher on the firing line, snipping corners off the bags as the kids began pouring, as more kids moved over another teacher helped out.

Although we seemed to be rushing from one kid to the next with our scissors, the children themselves were showing great concentration and really appeared engrossed in the paints flow. Some even tried to counteract or adjust the direction of the paint!

Afterwards, we discussed our favourite part of the activity and almost unanimously it was ‘the squishing’. Although almost all the children used the same descriptive word, it was interesting to look back at these photos and see the different styles that ‘squishing’ encompasses! Above you see a squeeze whilst below is more of a pour…

This is definitely and art of balance and tipping. The way the children applied the paint didn’t impact too greatly on the finished art, you could see the slight variations in the process 🙂

Whilst most of the group were sleeping – approximately an hour after we’d first poured paint – some of those children who were awake came outside to attempt to ‘marble’ their colour puddles. I likened it to the patterns on the top of a cappuccino but you might remember it better from marbling oil paints on water trays. It wasn’t truly successful for the patterning, but it drew a clear interest (and frustration) from those involved.

Some went for simple lines and slow movements,

while others went gung-ho and dragged, drew and smeared some of their still-wet-paint!

The designs were not as large our rainbow-hued as Holton’s but I was already feeling the pinch from using so much paint! Maybe if I could outsource old paint samples or mis-tints, I’d be more willing to use more paint on a really large block. The time it took to set up this activity was far more than I’m used to allowing for and possibly working on one large block and floor sized painting, whilst taking turns to pour from a few ladders would be more time efficient and space-saving. But I’ll save that thought for when I next run into a tall box, from a small refrigerator!

Cutting along the bias

One of the things we are confronted with everyday in childcare are bias’. How we react to others, how we help children interpret their own and ensuring that we both understand the families personal choices as well as helping parents and carers understand where we are coming from.

The other day we had our make up day. This can be quite confronting for some families – especially so for Dad’s opinions of their sons.

Likewise we can have parent’s upset because their little girl comes home with bruises and scrapes from climbing, running, building – instead of a bag full of artwork like their big sister.

What had me thinking about this was watching the ‘Koala’ kids cooking. The age group is 2 years old to 3 and a half, so their abilities and interests vary. The connections they make to each other and the resources vary greatly. The way they play with the equipment you put out is influenced by the particular individual or groups of children attending the activity. Because not all of them are talking yet, their play is far more interpretive. They are literally showing  your how they understand the world around them. what they connect when they look at the play area you have out, to what they are aware of.

Originally the ‘home corner’ table was set each morning with sparse plates and all the foods in the kitchen, gradually more food was added to the plates and the table until it looked like we were expecting a medieval feast!

It took one comment, from one of our fantastic Koala room girls, for  me to notice that we didn’t have saucepans or different textures of household objects; wooden spoons, metal whisks, plastic spatulas – it was all plastic. Was this because we saw it as a play area instead of a learning opportunity or because we didn’t trust the children, ourselves or the value of these items? Wow. I couldn’t believe I’d been so biased that the questions had not occurred to me, until *that* innocent comment!

So off to the local Op Shop I went. Disappointed to find only one small pot for sale and very few utensils at all. I tentatively asked the girls at the counter if there happened to be any more pots available and what followed was one the most exciting op-shop experiences in my life! I won’t go into details now, but I ended up walking away with a carton of saucepans, various utensils, bamboo steamers,  many cane baskets, kids costumes and a box of lego!

Hoping that the new additions to home corner would create more interest and extend the connections between the children’s knowledge, the opportunities for learning and the bonding between staff and children, we changed up the area to allow for more space, but also to set a boundary for play (so no stray pot pans wandered off to cause damage to peers and windows!)

The initial layout had 4  pots with a utensil  each and a collection of cotton balls inside. The area soon became so popular, that we bought out the other saucepans and utensils! The children showed us their understanding of hot, of sorting, or space and complex motor skills needed to hold a pot and stir at the same time. Their imaginations engaged their peers and their educators in play.

Dinners, food and even marshmallows were being cooked and served up! We needed to add another table as the play gained momentum and more children were served meals and drinks.

The success of the area was valued through the positive interactions between carers and children, the engagement the children showed when accessing and extending play in the area and the engagement other children could enjoy in various other areas of the room. Without a doubt, the area will be tweaked and refined to reflect the growing involvement of the kids, but it’s one I’m hoping to walk through without the blinkers of unrecognised bias’ on!