teaching to learn, means learning to teach

Posts tagged ‘small group play’

Cooking with the Babies

Live and Learn right 🙂 We all make mistakes, plan an activity and then go ‘Uh Oh, I should have expected that!’ From not having enough towels or washing water after an exuberant finger painting activity, to not allowing the space for drying or displaying the fantastic large collage or art pieces!
I had a new one this week.

The Babies are making salt dough hand prints for end of year gifts. I was covering a shift in their room and asked to whip up a batch of the dough and see if I could get any hand prints done. 

No probs, thinks I! I can even get the babies involved with this!

A bit of pouring and mixing, they will probably try to taste it, but it’s all plain ingredients and Ok 🙂

I was truly impressed with the way the babies handled it, taking turns and eager to try for more!

What I didn’t plan on or think about was  Pavlov’s effect. Sitting the children at their regular eating table, offering ingredients to play with and then not prepping any food for afterwards! Oops. One hungry little batch of babies waiting for the immediate love of whatever they had just mixed! Big Oops!

A very quick snack of biscuits to tide us over as we sat among our floury mess and a big *headdesk* moment for me!

Of course babies appetites would be stimulated by the smells of cooking, of course their table means eating, how could I have missed this?

At least the activity went well, the presents were made, the babies were fed and smiles were all round!


Pendulums and the art of community Recycling


One of the things I like about being me, is that I like the feeling I get from making a great activity from recycled goods and other peoples trash. I thing this works well in childcare because the kids will get hands on and learn from things that might stick with them as they get older. Not everything has to be recycled in a bin, you can change it to something new and fantastic – and if you are super creative, you can even move into upcycling!

This next photo involves the most expensive part of our activity. Plastic cups and paint. Once we figured out the best consistency for the paint to be, we used the bottles the paint can in,  picking colours that had ‘run out’ and were destined for the bin. I always add a drop of dish washing liquid to my paints, because it helps the colour wash off of surfaces and clothes. So this mix is paint, water and a good dollop of dish washing liquid – in anticipation of the mess we could possibly make!

A4 card (donated by parents who work in IT) was slipped into old protective sleeves from ring bound folders, then curler into a cone with a very small opening at the end. We’d cut a strip off the card and attached it to the sides with tape to create a handle.

Pegs tied to string hung from large frames that I’d bought at my daughters school fro $1 each. Their previous use was for storing hanging bags with stories and games in them as part of their library displays. The base was covered in large packing cardboard that one of the Dad’s donates to us. He installs solar panels and this it the ‘trash’ from a days work, but is an invaluable tool for me! The large sheets of paper come from a local architects office, where they throw our reams of this stuff every week! I know many centres are still buying ‘clean’ copier paper or butcher paper for their kids to use. But when real estates and architects offer both these resources with printing on one side only, I’ll always grab it!

The gentle motion of the pendulum creates groovy patterns, but too thick a paint doesn’t run and too thin a paint creates puddles. This is definitely and activity that requires paper on hand for replacing along the way before everything turns to mush!

You can see how we tried working in teams, but it didn’t work so well in our environment – the swings got more wind and more and more paint ended up on the cement and kids than on the paper! So my fantastic Kally redesigned the area to back up against the fence which was walled off with tarps, created small walls for the sides of the book racks and made it a cleaner, more successful, individual activity to enjoy 🙂

I’ve seen people use swing sets for enormous pendulum painting on a tarp, smaller versions hung form ceiling fans above covered tables and mid sized ones using mini soccer goals  with the net removed. I wonder what will work best for your environment? I can’t wait to see how this evolves over the coming weeks!


Magnifing Times

At one point I’d bought a little bug inspection kit. A container with three tubs on top with magnifying lids, tweezers and a small magnifying glass. My kids explored it and then passed it over. As my kids know, anything that is not looked after or left lying around quickly makes it into a bag destined for the op shops or school! Anything that can be reused or refashioned will get an overhaul, but we are not hoarding toys and knick knacks that are uncared for!

So these magnifying lenses had made it as far as my handbag….intending to go to school, but just hanging out invisibly on the bottom of my bag 🙂

As I was about to leave work the other night, a few of the remaining kids noticed ants coming out of the skirting board. Now whether these are regular ants or termites, I don’t know, but the opportunity was there to extend the kids interest as well as get the lenses out of my bag!

At first the boys tried to catch the ants under the lens to see it. But after a bit of practice they could zoom in and out to change their view 🙂 Once they got it, the only limitation was the space. Three boys just couldn’t’ squeeze in tight enough! But that’s OK, because the room had lots more to explore through these ‘new eyes’!

Personally, I love lenses. Magnifying glasses, reading glasses, binoculars or a kaleidoscope! I remember being at a seminar on learning environments and hearing a woman talk about how she had placed binoculars by the windows for the kids to look out and see what was in the park next door to them. I thought it sounded fantastic, but my classroom had frosted windows to reduce the Queensland summers heat. Now I have clear windows again and a view of trucks, buses and cars going past….but that’s not going to stop me from sourcing out some binoculars for my windows! I figure a hook to hang them off will entice the kids to keep them there and have them always accessible. Yet another item for my wish list, but it’s a worthy one!

Foam puzzle construction

I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t find the link that was the inspiration for today’s activity! One wonderful preschool teacher out there had chopped up bars of glycerine soap and used it as the building blocks for toothpick construction!Knowing that my kids would probably try to eat the soap, or rub it in their eyes or slip on it or all manner of other ‘exciting’ things, I decided to use my Eva floor mat/puzzles. These foam puzzles have had a life well lived. They’ve been puzzles, they’ve been floor mats, they’ve been stuck to the bathroom wall and rearranged multiple bath times over! They’ve been set on shelves for dolls to play with, chewed on, lost and stuck in cupboards. Now it’s time to move on.

So I started by getting the kids to pull out all the puzzle pieces, whilst I chopped in to the foam. I originally planned to cut it with a chefs knife, but quickly realised that the knife was just bouncing off its rubbery texture! It’s fairly easy to cut through. Just time-consuming.

The thing with scissors is that once they are out, everyone wants a turn! The foam proved to be a bit tricky to cut through for the kids, but small distances could be worked through!

Once we had an array of pieces I showed them how to push in the toothpicks, without holding the ends. It’s important to note that I purposely bought cheaper toothpicks, because I knew they’d be pointy at both ends. It did also mean that we had a few dodgy ones in our midst!

Assembly began as a fairly 2D affair.  Here you can see the back of our puzzle pieces, the numbers were there to help us sort and complete the puzzles as we packed up. now they just become part of the construction!

The projects soon gained 3D effects, as wings were added, stabilising pieces were put in to make them stand up and as we experimented with what we could do! Like any activity that has my daughter in it, something will eventually be made to be worn. First were the glasses, then she moved on to make Bunny Ears, which she used toothpicks to tuck into her head band for support!

I began creating a ‘thing’ out of the little pieces, and found myself thinking that it looked like a Christmas Tree. Not a whole lot, but just enough to start me off on a project to make one. But then Quinn stole my pieces and threw them like frisbees (or flying ninja stars – more likely these, as told by his maniacal laugh!). So you’ll just have to use your imagination when you look at my ‘inspiration’ piece!

After this was done, I had a whole new respect for the Dozers sugar-stick construction, in Fraggle Rock!

Putting a little Nature into our Nurture

Yesterday I posted about how I wanted to create an Oasis in my Kindy Yard. Well today was simply AMAZING. Really, truly awesome 🙂

As I drove to work, I drove down a side street to avoid traffic and came across two large trees trimmed with branches ready for disposal. How could I pass up the opportunity to start on collecting logs?! I didn’t 🙂 Once I’d started though, I realised how pretty the branches were and how much they reminded me of the Christmas trees we’d have growing up. Trimmed branches and that fresh smell permeating the lounge. I filled the van with as many long, leafy branches as I could – including one which had a birds nest in it! (It was empty, scattered with soft seed pods)

Then as I turned the corner, I saw a plain pallet sitting on someone’s front nature strip, which is usually a sign of a give away in Adelaide. I knocked on the door, got permission to grab it and drove on to work with the biggest smile on my face!

This fantastic good luck meant that my daily plan went out the window! I filled in my co-workers – who all smiled that smile you save for crazy talkers – and prepared for a super exciting day. Ooooops, did I forget that today was the day that we were having our first visit from the “Quality Inclusion Support Program”? Yep I did! So this ex-Director, ex-Accreditor rocked up into  my classroom to see how my team and I are coping with the high level of refugees and additional needs children, to offer ideas to help us run a smooth classroom. We got glowing reviews at the end of the day, but she’ll be around 3 times a week for 6 weeks to help out in the other rooms if we need her! But I digress.

We started the day by discussing what was going to happen, how excited I was, but also how important it was to have a plan so that we all knew what we were aiming for. Once we drew it up, we headed to the sandpit and began filling planters with sand, working lino circles into the bottom so that it didn’t escape.

While the kids got busy with this, I drove the ‘bus’ around into the yard and prepared for the kids to safely unload it! The excitement at seeing a ‘forest’ in their bus was huge! The energy they were putting into carrying the large lengths of tree or the shorter, but far heavier stumps was enviable.

Before we’d finished moving all the pieces into our yard, a number of children had climbed into the bus to explore it too. About half of them are familiar with it, from their daily trips to state Kindy, so they were able to show the others how to do up seatbelts and help out. Although at least one also wanted to jump into the driver seat and try out the steering!  With all this interest in the bus, how could I not follow up with a quick trip around the block! It took two trips, but soon we were all back in our yard, ready to start building our new “Forest”

Digging into the pots, making our ‘trees’ stand up tall, patting the sand in to make it sturdy and testing out our newly carpeted ‘stage’.

Fantastic for exploring, hiding, imagining and socialising.

For testing out smells and textures, sounds and echoes.

Although some of us preferred to sit amongst it and watch the magic happen!

Knowing that the high levels of adrenaline we’d been sunnign with would soon cause this engaged bunch of learners into a crazed mass of wild animals, a quick discussion saw us setting up an impronptu art gallery along the fence. Aprons on, paper up, brown and green paint in tubs on a communal table and off we went.

We got some great impressions of our new ‘forest’ – I tried to go for ‘Oasis’, but the majority of kids recognising the collection of trees as a ‘forest’ won me over 🙂

Some were painstakingly etched out for details, time taken to plan, outline and colour their work.

And, of course, a painting of Ben 10’s Humongosaur appeared 🙂

The day continued, the play evolved and a range of animals appeared in our jungle.

Some of the children even took to calling the sand filled pots ‘deserts’!

While others explored every possible space for their animals to enjoy!

And so it is, that for No Money and No Program we had a brilliant day of interaction, hands on learning, exploration and rewards that will keep on giving us inspiration and creating play opportunities, just by being there for us. Just like all the best teachers!

P.S see the log at the front right? That one log was what changed all my plans today! When I was a kid, we’d play in the neighbours mulberry tree and a few metres up off the ground was a branch shaped like this that my brothers, sister and I would use as a motorbike. When all those memories came flooding back to me, I knew I wanted to share a tree climbing adventure as best as I could!

Mud, mush and miniatures!

Originally I was hired to work in the “Koala” room, an age group of 2-3 and a half year olds, but as time and staff have moved along I now find myself in the Kindy room. I’ve gotten to the point that I’m really happy with the program and Observation system I helped redesign after the introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework. I’m happy with the girls I work with, I’m happy with how the room is shaping up and I’m happy with our routine. What is playing on my mind though, is our outdoor area.                                                                                                                “Look! A bug!”

My current age group has a long yard that is half astro turf and half cement. All the natural elements fall into the Koala yard – which we share in the mornings and afternoons but are separated from during the day. I simply adore looking at other educators blogs as they show off a water feature, a rocky outcropping or a muddy hole to dig in. Then I have to stop and think if I’m crazy to try and bring dirt back into fashion!

When I was working with the Koalas, I added a rockery and logs to the area near our sandpit. It’s no bushland wonder, but it is a nice little oasis. I have loved watching how the kids and staff have used and moved the pieces to create current learning areas that reflect the children’s interests in play.

Now I’m looking at water walls, (I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten where I got this from, if you know, link me in!) which could be used with sand in the cooler months and still offer the experimentation and skills of this lively little one.

I’m also remembering miniature play.

Years ago I went to conference that invited us to think of the children who like to play alone or in small groups, who need to block out the running, the noise and the levels of sensory input being delivered by the average child care centre.  We looked an arrangement of small tables set up to invite play. We talked about how to create the boundaries for these areas and how to make them age appropriate.

(thanks to  http://www.playbasedlearning.com.au/2011/02/miniature-playscape-fences/ for reference pictures and re-igniting my imagination)

We set up some on tables against the wall, others on velour mats on the floor and even more on a table surrounded by a hanging mozzie net. The response was Amazing! We had children engaged in different areas, all wanting to be part of these quiet zones! We had to bring in a timed system at first so that the pressure could be taken off the areas and all the children could experience them, then as the original novelty drew off the children began to really play. Creating stories and using the props in their own way, whilst still keeping these miniature play zones to their areas and maintaining the quiet area rules.

What I want to create in our yard is actually an outdoor classroom. One that teaches us more about being outside than gross motor skills and ‘outside voices’. My aim is to find more of those logs for use as chairs around some sort of raised bench or box with an added edge to keep a little rock garden/fairy garden/zen garden/dinosaur environment in. I’d love this to be surrounded by (potted) palms and trees so that even the temperature and lighting tell the story of a special place. I will figure out a way to create a pouring/water wall, from PVC pipes to bottomless jugs, I’ll connect it to one of the old outdoor banners if I have to!  I want a discovery area for weighing and balancing, rolling and stacking and I’d love this to be done with large wooden discs cut from locally trimmed branches. I want MUD people! I want rivers and causeways. I want worms and bridges. I want to create a place where our generation of Screen Time kids will want to go, to be inspired and play out all those things they’ve seen but not yet experienced!