Messy play

messy play picture

As you know, we like to keep ourselves on our toes and ensure we are offering the very best learning opportunities for all our children so… our self-evaluation question this week is – how well do we provide opportunities for messy play?

We recognise that messy play is essential for teaching children so many different skills. Messy activities are fun and exciting and promote concentration as well as supporting children to develop the hand eye coordination and the fine motor / handling skills they will need for writing in the future. The children are encouraged to develop independence during messy play as well – they find and put on their aprons, wash their hands afterwards etc.

We often focus our observations on maths when children are engaged in messy play because we can play alongside them and note how they are learning about number (finding numbers in the sand and naming them), shape (noticing how wet sand changes shape), capacity (filling and emptying), weight (is the bucket of water heavy or light?), counting etc.

We have a couple of messy trays outside every day and we try to go beyond the ‘normal’ sand and water to provide children with some new and different messy play experiences. Here are some of the activities we regularly offer and ideas we have thought of for ways we think we can enhance children’s learning…

  • Mark making in silly soap and sand mousse (sand and bath foam) builds muscle strength. We recently tried making puffy paint and added salt (sand would work well too) to the paint to create a sensory experience;
  • Mark making with sticks and finger painting develops hand eye coordination. We have put the easel next to the messy tray and put blobs of paint in the tray so children can use it easily. This worked so well we are going to put blobs of paint and drive cars through them to look at the patterns the wheels make next;
  • Children paint using ‘finds’ from nature – teasels, long grasses, feathers, leaves, fir cones etc. We have been reading how to make PVA paint and we will try that with natural ‘finds’ to see if it feels any different – we can stick our ‘finds’ to the pictures as well;
  • A puddle is great for riding bikes through – we often add some powder paints or crushed chalk to make patterns and play with the puddle poking it with a stick;
  • We prefer not to use fruit and vegetables for craft because we are aware of the lack of food in many parts of the world the world. However, we do make an exception by buying cheap rice and pasta for the children to use with paints and glue. We made some coloured rice and pasta using a recipe from Imagination Tree – a favourite place to visit for messy play recipes.
  • After reading ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ and watching it on YouTube read by Michael Rosen we tried to recreate the story in the garden – with mixed results to be honest but that was part of the fun and we are going to try it again once the grass recovers!
  • We bought some GilliBaff and added water … blimey it was slippy but the children really enjoyed it on the grass and were very careful to keep the mixture in the tray. We have some Magic Snow to try next but it will need 100% supervision because it is not suitable for under 3s and we know our little ones will want to play too. We will add snowy world animals to the tray and read some books about animals in winter to help children make connections in their learning;
  • Our winter theme for January is ice and snow so we will be making lots of ice with the children to go into our messy tray for simple science experiments. We will be putting small world animals inside ice and making coloured ice for painting which we hope will be fun;
  • We are working on improving our maths provision (more to follow on that one) and we have tried some shape painting. The only problem was the some of the wooden blocks are now a bit stained but the children don’t seem to mind;
  • We make playdough most weeks here at Knutsford Childminding – we make it lots of different colours and often add a scent. In summer we add some of the lavender heads from the garden and made the playdough purple – it is always very popular. For the winter, we made white snowy playdough and we have plans to make some warming gingerbread playdough (recipe on my Pinterest board);
  • We have bought some ivory soap as well!

Risk assessment – please see our ‘sensory play’ blog for a sample risk assessment.

More information – I have started a new messy play Pinterest page with lots of ideas and recipes and I am always looking for new ones to include. If you have any good links please let me know.

Childmindersthis article from Teach Nursery magazine is excellent for noting further links between children’s messy play exploration and the areas of learning of the EYFS.

Illustration © my cute graphics


Preparing children for school

schoolIs it really March already – where it the time going? In a few short months your little one will be starting school and  facing all the challenges of a big noisy classroom. We are working really hard to prepare them – we are focussing on their social and emotional readiness and doing lots of activities to teach them how to, for example, put up their hands to ask a question and wait for friends to finish speaking before shouting out.

There are lots and lots of ways you can help your child to be ready for starting school. Here are just a few ideas from teachers to help you prepare them…

– Give them lots of time to do things by themselves – putting on their coats, doing up their shoes, getting themselves dressed etc. If they take ages then let them start earlier so they have time to do it independently.

– Give them lots of praise for trying hard as well as succeeding.

– Give them the words to describe how they are feeling – when they are happy or frustrated or upset or clingy describe their emotions to them and let them know that it is ok to feel like that.

– Give them choices – what do they want to wear? Where do they want to go? What do they want to do?  They will be given lots of choices when they are at school and they need to know how to answer and that their opinion matters.

– Let them choose what game to play with you – follow their lead and let them decide. It can be really hard to let them take the lead but it is important that they are prepared for independent play at school.

– Listen to your child’s worries about school – even if they don’t seem important to you they might be very big and scary to your child.

– Chat to them and do things together – they will enjoy cooking, helping you to clean up, helping with the dishes (and making a mess).  Even if they make things harder they will still be learning from you.

– Read with them – go through the book without chipping in first and then read the book again and let them ask questions, tell the story and read it to you – they won’t understand the words yet but they can tell you about the pictures and you can have fun making up new endings for books you enjoy reading together.

– Be a good role model – let your child see you reading books, finding things out, eating healthily, counting money out loud so they hear the numbers and see the shapes of the coins etc.

– Ask them questions and listen very carefully to their answers. Not questions like ‘what colour?’ or ‘what shape?’ but questions that show you are interested in what they are thinking and doing.

– Walk or drive past the new school a few times and talk about it with your child.  Remember your school days with your child – the happy times – and chat about them together.

– Have a daily routine so they understand that things happen in order – they get up, have food, play, have more food etc. This will help them when they start school because they will recognise the routine of their day and understand that certain things have to happen before you come to collect them.

– Read a starting school book with your child. This is one of our favourites which you are welcome to borrow…

starting school book

– Laugh, dance, sing, read, play, go outside, get dirty… children learn best when they are happy and playing

Most importantly spend as much time with them as you can over the coming months, playing and having fun. They will grow up and be independent so quickly once they start school!

Chat soon, Sarah.

Planning for your child’s learning

Golden 2015 Happy New Year Greeting Card With Sparking Spot Ligh

Our statutory framework, the EYFS, tells us that we must observe children’s learning and plan for their ‘next steps’ – the things they might enjoy doing next which will support their future learning.

Mostly ‘next steps’ are about doing something again – practicing, consolidating and checking children’s understanding -because we don’t want to move them on until we are sure they are secure in their current learning.

Sometimes ‘next steps’ planning can be used to develop a child’s interest and teach them something new.

Here are some of the ‘next steps’ activities we have planned for the children at Knutsford Childminding recently –

-> The children were excitedly talking about Christmas and their visits to meet Father Christmas… so we took them to see the decorations in town and we helped them to make a grotto in the playroom. They dressed up as Father Christmas and reindeer and had lots of fun pretend playing. We read books about Christmas and did lots of crafts – which we hope you enjoyed opening!

-> One of the children loves superheroes and has been talking to his friends about his favourite heroes and pretending to shoot everyone. To develop his interest and teach him that his friends might not like being shot, we talked about being gentle and taking the needs of others into consideration… we then developed group superhero play so that it focussed on being helpful. We made superhero masks and we all wore capes and rescued each other from sticky situations.

-> We have seen some lovely pictures of the children enjoying the snowfall over Christmas and we are sure this will be one of their interests when they come back after the holidays. We have planned lots of experiments to develop their understanding of snow – and we have bought some pretend snow for our messy tray. We will see where the children’s interests take us…

E-book 9 ‘Seasons Planning’ contains lots of winter planning – it is available from my Knutsford Childminding website.

We also have a winter Pinterest board which is full of snowy day activity ideas.

-> It has just been New Year and the children have been celebrating at home. We want to develop their understanding of New Year so we have put together a list of different learning experiences. We won’t have time to cover everything on the list – we will just do some of the activities through the first week in January to consolidate children’s learning and encourage them to make links with their home and family lives.

New Year activity ideas… here are some of our planning ideas with links to the Eyfs to support our childminder colleagues who might be reading this blog too…

Chat to the children about their holiday and plan some activities based on their home experiences.

  • EYFS – C & L – talking / UW – people & communities

Sing and dance to ‘Happy New Year’ with Abba.

  • EYFS – A & D – media and materials / C & L – listening / PD – moving

Make some noise-makers with the children.

  • EYFS – A & D – media & materials / PD – fine motor skills

Watch a spectacular firework display set to Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’.

  • EYFS – A & D – media & materials / C & L – listening

Make some firework pictures with Imagination Tree.

  • EYFS – A & D – media & materials / PD – fine motor skills

Make a list of the best things that happened in 2014 with the children. Older children might like to make a 2014 time capsule.

  • EYFS – UW – talking about home and family / C & L – talking

Print some free 2015 colouring sheets for your visual learners who enjoy colouring.

  • EYFS – A & D – media & materials / PD – fine motor skills

Talk to the children about New Year resolutions and what they mean – and make some together.

  • EYFS – C & L – vocabulary

Make some warming gingerbread to chase the cold weather away.

  • EYFS – maths – numbers, shape, capacity, weight, size

Don’t forget the birds in winter – here is a recipe from the RSPB website.

  • EYFS – maths – capacity, weight, shape, size / UW – the world

Make a wishing tree with this activity idea from Nurture Store.

  • EYFS – PSED – self-confidence & awareness / C & L – building vocabulary

Print some photos of New Year memories.

  • EYFS – UW – technology / UW – people & communities

Find out when New Year arrives in different time zones.

  • EYFS – Maths – time / UW – the world

Make a party hat and plan a little New Year party.

  • EYFS – A & D – media & materials / PD – fine motor skills

Make some 2015 celebration glitter star wands … if you can cope with more glitter after Christmas!

  • EYFS – A & D – media & materials / PD – fine motor skills

Read through children’s Learning Journey files with them and talk about the past year – record their memories to share with their parents

  • EYFS – UW – people & communities / C & L – talking

Find out about New Year traditions around the world.

  • EYFS – UW – the world

Welcome the New Year with experiments into light and dark – make candles and glow in the dark playdough.

  • EYFS – UW – the world

We want to involve our parents where we can and will be suggesting some activity ideas as we go along through the month … and providing you with resources so you can support their child’s learning at home. We hope you have fun – please don’t forget to let us have your feedback on how your child is getting on at home!

Wishing you and your family a very happy New Year! Sarah x

Your child’s learning characteristics


We all have learning characteristics – learning styles – because we all learn in different ways. Some of us read … others prefer listening to an audio book … others are hands on learners and will never get much out of a book because they prefer taking things apart to see how they work!

Your child is the same – they have their own set of learning characteristics. When we have observed your child’s learning characteristics we can start to understand how they learn. When we understand how they learn we can support their future learning by using their learning characteristics in our planning.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds! We might, for example, spot your child learning through a schema (a repeated pattern of play) and we can plan some more activities that link into the ways they are currently learning. You will find more information about schemas in my document on the Childminding Forum here.

Or we might notice that your child prefers to use puppets so they have a visual representation of stories, songs and rhymes so we will make sure we include lots of visual prompts in their play.

We need your help to note your child’s learning characteristics. Please let us know what learning characteristics you spot at home so we can use them here to support your child.

Thank you! Sarah

Portion sizes for pre-school children

We quite often find that parents worry about how much their child is eating through the day… and a visual guide to appropriate portion sizes for their pre-school child can really help to reassure them. I have borrowed this picture from Your Kids Table because it is a pretty good representation of pre-school lunch time portion sizes –

Portion sizes

Food portion sizes have been increasing in recent years and we are told that we are over-feeding children… this is leading to a lot of concern when they get to school about children being overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is likely to lead to health complications in later life so this is something we need to get right in the early years.

The main guidance for childminders comes from the ‘Voluntary food and drink guidelines for early years settings in England’ on the Children’s Food Trust website. It contains advice about portion sizes, healthy food and drink to offer children, suggested menus, bowl sizes and much more.

A toddler / pre-school child needs about 1000 – 1200 calories a day. A healthy child who enjoys food will normally stop eating / turn away / push away a spoon when they have had enough – listen to them, respect that they know their own bodies better than us and do not force extra food on them because that will stretch their tummy and they will not learn to control their own portion sizes.

The calories should be spread across 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and tea) and 2 snacks a day because experts tell us that children should have 2 healthy snacks each day (one morning and one afternoon) and not go longer than 2.5 – 3 hours between food so they stay alert and do not feel hungry.

A healthy pre-school diet includes –

  • 4 portions of starchy foods – half of the grains offered should be whole grains. Do not serve sugary cereals or foods high in salt, sugar or saturated fat – stick to whole grains and good quality foods, home-made where possible. Offer a selection of grains – rice, couscous, 1 medium slice of bread or 2 breadsticks, ½ chapatti, pasta, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, noodles etc.
  • 2 portions of milk products – milk, cheese, yoghurt, custard, milky puddings etc.
  • 2 portions of protein – chicken, beef, pork, egg, hummus, fish, beans etc.
  • 2 – 3 portions of fruit – fresh, tinned or frozen. Latest advice is to give dried fruit as part of a meal but not snack because of the damage it will cause to teeth.
  • 2 – 3 portions of vegetables – fresh, tinned or frozen – cooked or raw.

An easy way to work out a portion size = 1 tablespoon per year of their life… so a 3 year old portion of grains or milk products is approximately 3 tablespoons. A child’s hand is a good gauge when working out portion sizes as well… there are some useful portion size tables on the Infant and Toddler forum here.

There are some really important rules from the experts that we should follow when feeding children – our own children as well as childminded. We want children to have healthy attitudes to food so –

  • Don’t withhold one food group until another is eaten – food is necessary for life and must not be used as a treat or punishment.
  • Don’t confuse hunger with thirst or boredom – offer a drink or distract a child who is asking for food between meals so they are more likely to eat properly at the next meal time. Most children in school environments do not drink enough through the day and need a good drink because they are thirsty when they arrive in our care.
  • Teach children how many sticks of carrots or pieces of fruit are in a portion and where possible let the children serve themselves – they are more likely to take what they want and if they are hungry they can always be offered a little more.
  • Don’t give children low calorie food – they need the calories because they burn them off. If a child is overweight, any diets must be monitored closely by a qualified nutritionist.
  • Don’t withhold a food group without ongoing advice from a doctor or nutritionist.
  • Don’t tell a child to eat more – just one more mouthful or try to force a spoon in. If the child says s/he is not hungry or starts messing around, take the plate away and praise them for what has been eaten.
  • Sit down and eat together, encouraging children to take their time and recognise when they are full. All day grazing does not help children to listen to their bodies.
  • Don’t stop a child from eating if he says he is hungry – the child needs to be in charge if his own growth spurts.
  • Latest advice to share with parents is that we should not offer babies and children under the age of 2 years sweet puddings, chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits, crisps etc because they do not need these foods in their diets.

We need to trust children that they will eat as much as they need. Like adults they have hungry and less hungry days – and days when they are going to be stubborn and refuse to eat things. Instead of forcing the issue we need to get creative and offer, for example, a tomato sauce packed full of other vegetables or a fruit compote rather than individual fruit pieces if they are going through a picky phase. Parents should be giving vitamin drops at home to supplement their diets as well.

It can be quite a shock to look at portion sizes and really think about what children are offered through the day. Many children eat far too much because adults put it in front of them … or think they must be hungry and offer them a biscuit or sweet ‘treat’ at the end of their meal when they have said they are full! You can use the NHS Eatwell Plate for children over the age of 5 … but up to 5 they need to eat less because their tummies are smaller!

For more detailed information about food and healthy eating, please see e-book 21 ‘healthy eating’ from my Knutsford Childminding website.

More advice…

Self-reflective moment – it might be time to re-evaluate our own portion sizes as well and set a good example for children to copy.

Sharing information with parents – provide parents with the link for this blog or provide them with your own information about portion sizes and healthy eating tips. Your local Children’s Centre might have some information booklets for them to read as well.

Supporting home learning – share children’s favourite recipes with parents so they can be made at home. Let parents know how independent their child is at meal times – preparing food, pouring drinks, serving friends, working out portion sizes etc to encourage them to allow their child to help at home.

I hope you have found this blog interesting. You can click below to ‘like’ the blog and you will be informed when I write new ones. Thank you! Sarah.

Song and dance

We plan a singing and dancing session every day here at Knutsford Childminding. The children make sure the floor is clear of toys so they can move around safely – or we take ourselves into the garden where we can move around freely. We try to include a mixture of different songs so children are offered a range of experiences.

Here are some of our current favourite songs and rhymes…

Our 5 favourite movement songs are –

  • Sleeping rabbits
  • Dr Knickerbocker – The Wiggles
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Rock a bye your bear – The Wiggles
  • Teddy bear, teddy bear

Our 5 favourite sitting down songs are –

  • The wheels on the bus
  • Wind the bobbin up
  • Teasing Mr Crocodile
  • Old MacDonald’s farm
  • Baa baa black sheep

Our 5 favourite number songs are –

  • 5 currant buns
  • 5 little ducks went swimming
  • 5 little monkeys
  • 5 little leaves so bright and gay
  • 5 little men in a flying saucer

Our 5 favourite songs with instruments are –

  • This old man (drum)
  • Twinkle, twinkle little star (triangle)
  • If you’re happy and you know it (shake your shaker, bang your drum)
  • Frere Jacques (bells)
  • Hickory dickory dock (sticks)

Our 5 favourite songs to listen to –

  • Anything from the film ‘Frozen’
  • Ant and Dec ‘Get ready to rumble’
  • Holst Planet suites – especially ‘Mars’
  • Songs linked to our themed activities
  • Dance music

Music and dancing is an holistic activity which links to all areas of the EYFS –

  • Communication and language – listening, developing vocabulary
  • Physical development – fine and gross motor development
  • PSED – expressing emotions through music and movement
  • Literacy – movement promotes muscle development necessary for writing
  • Maths – number songs; understanding of rhythm is essential for learning maths
  • Understanding the world – learn about people, communities, the world and technology
  • Art and design – explore media and materials and develop imagination

Plan a music and movement session every day… and enjoy some of our favourites with your children! You can find more music and movement activity ideas in e-book 7 ‘Songs and rhymes’ from Knutsford Childminding.

Chat soon, Sarah

Teaching children to share

Sharing can be very tricky … especially when you are a pre-school child. You have a toy and another child comes up to you and tries to take that toy off you – why should you give it them? Then an adult comes along and says, ‘Share’ and you have to give it to them because they want it – it’s your toy and you were happy until they decided to crash your party. Now you are angry and you might throw another toy or scream and shout or fight or refuse … and then you get told off for misbehaving and not sharing!

Then the adult who told you off goes to your parent/s and tells them that you cannot share and they need to help teach you to what…? They need to teach you to hand over whatever you are playing with when someone else asks for it or takes it from you – without getting upset!!

It seems very strange when you look at it like that doesn’t it? Why would a child be happy to hand over something they are playing with… would you be happy to hand over your pen in the middle of writing a sentence or give your mobile phone to someone else because they wanted to take it away? How about if they came over and bopped you on the head for it – would you be happy to give it to them then? Yet we spend a lot of time trying to teach children to do exactly that!

So how do we support children and resolve sharing issues? There are a number of strategies used by childminders – quite a few use a timer and say that a child can play with a toy for a short time until the timer goes off – then it must be handed over to someone else. How does that teach a child that the world is fair? He can’t possibly concentrate, learn at his deepest level and fully enjoy his play knowing that he is about to lose the toy to someone else.

Some larger providers buy duplicates of the most popular toys – and this does resolve some conflicts and sharing issues – but where do you stop? Is your house big enough to have 2 of everything? If you have a child who continually takes toys from others, they will want whatever their friend has, regardless of duplicates on the shelves.

Of course, sometimes it’s an even more complicated scenario and you then have the child who sits on a basket full of toys and refuses to let anyone else near them… or the child who guards ‘his’ trains or ‘her’ dolls from everyone… or the child who is told to give something back, only to note that the other child has now moved on.

If you have younger children yourself, it is also important to recognise that you are probably asking your own child to share all their toys. It can be useful to have a playroom full of neutral resources purchased for work with your child’s special toys in their bedroom for evenings and weekends – everything in my house is mine and I am very good at sharing!

Here at Knutsford Childminding we look at the other side of teaching children to share and focus on supporting them so they learn how to behave appropriately in a group environment. We teach them from the earliest age depending on their level of understanding as part of our commitment to preparing them for a bigger group. We want them to understand that it is not ok to take toys from others. The temptation for any provider is to be reactive and plan some activities to try and resolve problems when they arise… but we believe it is more important to spend time proactively teaching all the children including the potential snatcher and grabber alternative ways to resolve issues before it becomes a problem.

Teaching children to wait, be patient and understand that someone else has rights etc is linked very closely to teaching them about empathy (we do lots of work on emotions as well – I will blog about this another time). When they understand the needs of other children and can put themselves in another child’s shoes they will be one step closer to recognising how their friend feels when a toy is taken from them.

Most childminders organise group times through the day – sitting together at snack or lunch is a good time to introduce some PSED related learning. Some providers use circle time which, although is not very appropriate for little ones, can be very useful for teaching age 2+ children who can normally sit and listen or chat about things for a few minutes. At Knutsford Childminding, we use a combination of meal times for everyone and circle time for our older children. We use a range of different teaching strategies including puppets, teddies and dolls, made up stories, books and games (depending on how the children are learning at the time) to work through different scenarios and teach children about difference, similarities, feelings, empathy, understanding etc.

We talk to the children about how it feels to have something taken away from them and share some coping strategies so they learn how to react appropriately if another child forgets to stay within the boundaries. It’s important to regularly reinforce group rules about taking turns and sharing in a positive way – we take turns … we are kind to our friends …

It is also important to respond to children positively when they forget – we acknowledge they want the toy / game and ask them to wait until their friend has finished with it: while at the same time gently and calmly explaining the effect their actions have on others.

I have talked about sharing and taking turns and much more in my e-book 4 ‘Behaviour Management’ from my Knutsford Childminding website.