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


Asking open-ended questions

What have you learnedOpen ended questions help your child/ren…

  • Notice details
  • Think more about what they are doing / saying / thinking
  • Use their developing language rather than just giving one word answers
  • Experiment with language
  • Extend their critical thinking (learning characteristic)
  • Feel challenged to solve their own problems.

Open-ended questions are a great way to involve children in their own learning because they support children to do things and find things out for themselves.

While closed questions can be useful to find out what a child knows eg ‘what colour?’ or ‘what shape?’, open-ended questions encourage them to give a lot more information and think more carefully about what they are doing or what they can see (links to UW and C & L). We are also giving the child’s voice more importance when we ask them to tell us what they are thinking and how they are feeling as well as raising their self-esteem and confidence (links to PSED).

Some children need practice to manage open-ended questions. During an inspection, our Ofsted inspector will want to see them answering open questions so now is the time to start asking more of them! Ask the question and then be prepared to wait for the child to put their answer together. We need to give them plenty of time to think – don’t rush in with an answer.

Here’s an example of how we use open-ended questions during a reading session…

  • Look at the picture on the cover – ask the child/ren what they think the story will be about…
  • Read all the way through the book the first time in one go, pointing to the pictures and telling the story. This promotes children’s listening skills and helps them to grasp what is happening without the distraction of talking or pointing things out.
  • Now we go back to the start and open the first page – ask the child/ren some open-ended questions about the story and the characters eg
    • What is the character doing in the picture?
    • Why do you think that happened?
    • What would you have done in the same situation?
    • How can they make that better / different?

Open-ended questions start with questioning words like… Who..? What..? Where..? How..? Why..? Can you..? Here are some ideas for open-ended questions you can use with young children…

Open-ended questions – FREE question prompt download.

Have fun asking open-ended questions! Please let us know how it goes 🙂


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.

Our commitment to teach children British values


Here at Knutsford Childminding we are committed to providing the highest quality care and learning for all children between the ages of 3 months and 17 years.

We recognise the requirement from the Department for Education (inspected by Ofsted) to ensure children are protected from radicalisation by those wishing to unduly, or illegally, influence them.

We are committed to teaching the children in our care about British values which are embedded in everything we do.

Ofsted guidance states that the requirement to teach children British values aims to “promote tolerance of and respect for people of all faiths (or those of no faith), cultures and lifestyles; and support and help, through their words, actions and influence within the school and more widely in the community, to prepare children and young people positively for life in modern Britain.”

The government defines British values in the Prevent Strategy as:

  • Democracy
  • The rule of law
  • Individual liberty and personal responsibility
  • Mutual respect
  • Tolerance of those of different cultures, faiths and beliefs

To ensure we at Knutsford Childminding comply with these government requirements we have reflected on our teaching and curriculum and considered how we promote British Values in our provision –


  • Children are treated with respect and dignity;
  • Their views are requested and always considered;
  • They are given choices about where they want to go and what they are doing;
  • When we buy new resources or make changes to the provision children are consulted;
  • We believe in free speech for all;
  • When a child says ‘no’ we stop and think more carefully about what we are asking them to do.

The rule of law

  • Children are taught about right and wrong and contribute to our behaviour goals;
  • Reminders about appropriate behaviour are displayed in the playrooms;
  • Children are encouraged to reflect on their behaviour during group activities using props and books appropriate for their ages and stages of learning;
  • Themes such as ‘people who help us’ support children to learn about the police and emergency services and their role in our society.

Individual liberty and personal responsibility

  • Children understand the need for rules to keep them safe;
  • They support the younger children;
  • They recognise the need to respect resources and equipment;
  • Children’s successes are celebrated on the display board and in their Learning Journey files which are regularly shared with parents;
  • Children are given shared responsibility for ensuring the provision is safe for everyone;
  • Independence is promoted from the earliest age.

Mutual respect

  • We use role play and group sessions to teach children how to show empathy for and understanding of others;
  • Personal, social and emotional development is embedded in our day-to-day curriculum;
  • Children learn how they can share and take turns with others in respectful ways;
  • Adults and older children are positive role models;
  • Positive images and stories of disability promote equality of opportunity for all;
  • Children are always spoken to respectfully;
  • Close working partnerships with parents and other settings children attend help us to raise outcomes for all children;
  • As part of our balanced curriculum group activities support children to learn about British festivals such as St George’s Day, the London Olympics and special days celebrated by our British Royal family.

Tolerance of those of different cultures, faiths and beliefs

  • Children are taught about modern Britain through group activities which help them to learn in age appropriate ways about their local area, art, history, special days and the country in which they live;
  • They learn about Christianity as the major religion of the country in which they live;
  • We plan activities to help children mark special days from other religions, countries and cultures through our group planning to teach them to respect the views and beliefs of others;
  • The children learn about their place in the wider world through books, multicultural and diverse resources, displays and themed activities;
  • We have strong links with our local community and children are taken on outings to learn about the area of Britain in which they live.

To support other childminders and early years providers we will share our British values statement on our blog.

We have also written this article about how providers might promote British values in a child-friendly way. We hope you find it useful.

Sarah and Nige / Knutsford Childminding, 02.2015

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

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