THE VALUE OF FREE PLAY IN WILD PLACES.

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Reading this wonderful brief article by Dr Kumara Ward (a lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the University of Western Sydney) is a delight and explains the research surrounding the need for children to develop a connection with the natural environment.

I cannot add more to her thorough understanding in this area (but highly recommend you read her post). I will simply add my own personal experience to her wisdom, and a small solution that we use to ensure our own city dwelling kids do not miss these opportunities to connect with nature.

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: BECOME A BUTTERFLY!

In the honor of letter M we’ll be mulling over the Magnificent Monarch Butterfly who migrates to Mexico each year.

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Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. Not all the generations migrate, but every year the generation that migrates will fly around 20,000km to find their warmer climate for the winter! (That’s a long way, as our butterflies discovered after they traveled part of it!)

There are lots of cool things to learn about butterflies in general, and the 4 stages of their life cycle is captivating for all ages:

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: KIDS FOLD AN ORIGAMI PENGUIN COLONY

Now, I’m no origami buff (I’ve never even made the classic bird!) but this little penguin was easy enough for all of us to make (the 5yo was rather capable of making her own, the 4yo needed some assistance!)

To make the photo instructions easier for you to read I made a penguin myself with 2 colours (so you can see the folds easier, and also see where the folds are intended to fall – my kids folds may were a little less accurate, but work just fine if they are close to the intended position!)

All you will need to make this little guy is a square of paper. Fold it into a triangle as below (to make a centre line) then open it out again.

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Fold the two top corners of your diamond into the centre, as below.

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Now turn the diamond over and fold in half (as below).

Fold the top point on an angle as shown. Then fold it to the other side, and back again, and again. (basically we just want the paper to fold at this point in the next step so you are reminding it where it should fold!)

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Open your diamond back up (with the point you were just folding pointing up) and then fold it in half again, this time ensuring that the point you had been folding bends over to form our beak. This sound a little complicated, but is easy to do once you have the paper in your hand. it should look like this:

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Now fold back your wings (on both sides)

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And fold up that long pointy tummy. Do the fold back and forth thing again (to remind it where to bend for the next step)

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Now open your penguin a little so you can tuck under that tummy you have just been folding backwards and forwards, this is even easier to do than the beak, and should look a little like this:

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Now those little points at the bottom of your penguin are not very good for balancing on, so fold then out for some little waddling feet.

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Add an eye, and any extra decoration you desire.

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Now you can add your little penguin to his colony for a play. Anica (5yo) loved following the instructions to make these, and only needed a little assistance (you can see her pink ones here turned out rather well, and fortunately with this design even if the folds are not accurate the penguin still functions very well!) Elka was less interested in the making, and more interested in the playing afterwards. These penguins were a lovely way to add a little Antarctica to our play, without having to expand our permanent toy collection!

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PADDOCK TO PLATE WITH KIDS.

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We are lucky enough to know a lovely couple who invited us to their small home farm for a day of fruit picking and pie making. If you don’t happen to know such a lovely couple with a farm, then there is apple and pear picking at Sorrel Fruit Farm (as we did earlier this year for strawberries) or another PYO farm will do just fine!

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We pilled in the car and headed 40min South. It has been a year since we last visited and but during our drive the girls recalled so much of our last visit (explaining it to us as though we hadn’t been there!) and looked forward to re-living each moment of it this year.
When we arrived we were greeted by smiles and fury friends who’s happy tail wags could brighten any day. My young ladies instantly wanted to start the harvest so we headed first for the blackberries, then the pears and apples, then the tomatoes.

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It is wonderful for the kids to see how much this productive garden progresses each year, and indeed how much food it yields. (With our own vegetable garden still being constructed, it is the perfect opportunity to see how much we can grow and eat ourselves – indeed it wasn’t that long ago in our big history that home grown was the norm!)
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With old varieties of apples, and tomatoes fresh of the vine the taste is so different to the supermarket varieties, and for every spare patch of soil the kids want to know what will be planted there next.
Next it was off to the kitchen to make some pies (and indeed, we even tried our hand at ice-cream making to accompany our pies, though we have not quite mastered this one yet!) Each made (and then ate!) their own special pie (and of course the adults had a good share too!)


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On our way home we stopped by to feed the fallen apples to the calves that the girls had chosen names for last year; Haha, Hoho and Alice are all growing into beautiful bovine. The girls asked after the calf they fed on their first visit (pictured below) and we explained that he had been sold on to make way for the new calves, and that the land could only sustain a certain number of cows healthily. Introducing farming practices in this gentle environment is the ideal way for children to grasp the early concepts needed to understand some of the larger environment issues that face our growing population who loves so much farm intensely so we can have steak for dinner every night!
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After a busy weekend, this was the perfect way for the entire family to re-set for the week ahead. Thank you Jane and David for your wonderful hospitality!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: PAPER PLATE POLAR BEAR.

This simple paper plate polar bear only takes a moment to make (in our case before school one morning) and is a fun way to add a little Arctic into your play space.

Send your little hunters to gather your supplies:

  • Paper plate
  • Pencil
  • Cotton balls
  • Scissors
  • Eyes (optional)

First fold your plate in half and draw on your polar bear – ensuring that the back is along the fold. (Anica drew her own bear but this ‘back along the fold was a tad tricky for Elka to grasp with her current stage of drawing – so while I usually avoid ‘tracing’ type activities, Elka had a template to work form so her bear would stand up at the end!)

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Cut your bear out.

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Dismantle a few cotton balls (this is always a fun thing to do, regardless of your age!)

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Glue your fur to your bear (as you might have read when we were talking about Polar Bears, their skin is actually black, and their fur is acutlay clear, so feel free to substitute or paint for a more accurate representation, in our case we were happy to just use what we happened to have on hand!)

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Add some eyes (or draw them on).

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TA DA! You have polar bear playmate for the rest of the morning… he can even go to tea at the dolls house and terrorise everyone inside… Have fun!

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THINGS TO SEE AND DO: PENGUIN SPOTTING.

Here in Tasmania we are lucky enough to have penguin colonies living literally on our back door step. The most centrally located one that I am aware of is located on Sandy Bay road, a place we walk past every day on our way to school.

Penguin spotting is bast done a particular times of year and it also requires a degree of stillness and silence in the evening. Unfortunately my own children have not yet mastered enough stillness and silence (at least in the evenings!) to make it safe to take them penguin watching at our local colony. (I say ‘safe’ because noisy children disturbing these birds can interfere with their mating and nesting patterns, so we’re talking about ‘penguin safety’ rather than ‘child safety’ in this case!)

IMG_8243Instead we opted to see our penguins at Singapore Zoo, and simply talk about where they live in the wild. One day I hope to share the wild penguin experience with my own kids. However, if your children are better at keeping their excitement quite, then pack a thermos of hot chocolate and head on down for a memorable evening of waddling penguins. Please read this guide from Parks and Wildlife before you head out to help make sure you care for these little creatures while you watch.

As you sit sea side and watch the penguins waddle in from the sea this is the perfect time to explain that these animals (along with many other species of wildlife that live in our towns and cities) were here long before the houses built in the area. That these fragile animals are afraid of dogs and cats (because they eat them!) so it is really important that we keep our pets contained. It is our responsibility as pet owners to make sure that our pets (and yes, that includes cats!) don’t wonder freely because they are skilled hunters who can do far more damage than we see.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PENGUIN PRINTABLE.

This week we’ve got a little reader book for your young tots to colour (it’s a free download, but you will need to sign up to the free membership for Teachers Pay Teachers – I signed up myself and have not regretted it.)

Sample of the work found in the full pack of penguin printables made by teacher Jennifer Drake of Crayons and Cuties in Kindergarten.

This download is great for learning the different penguins and also early readers. Because my oldest is right at the transition into independent reading I splashed out the $10 and downloaded the full set of penguins for us to carry with us on our travels. You can see what is included at the creators blog. The books don’t just give an opportunity to colour, but also give great facts about the different types of penguins, their environments and what similarities and differences there are between the different species!

BIG HISTORY CONCEPTS FOR LITTLE TOTS.

We’ve talked before about the importance of introducing a bit of ‘big history’ into early learning, and with everything from the dinosaurs to when mumma was born classed as ‘the olden days’ this project will help give a little perspective to our place in time.

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Our strategy for the year is to provide some understanding of big history concepts. We have created a time line on one wall and as we come across facts, figures, dates and details we add them to our timeline.

When we visited a cave (that began forming tens of millions of years ago) we added that to our timeline, giving the experience even more historical wonder than the simple beauty they saw. When we talked about how the waterwheel that was used to make flour in the ‘olden days’ we were able to add that to our time line and see that it is relatively recent in our history. When the kids asked when the first person was born (being a believer in evolution rather than creation) we added that to our timeline and could explain the idea of evolution far more simply when they could physically see the degree of time passing and the changes happening.

We have left some space for the future too, so they can imagine and dream about what might be in store in the near future. We hope to get to this after a few more history concepts are visited. (Over the coming months as we work through the letters we will look back at the first civilizations, dinosaurs, and so on). I am also excited to see a few more concepts overlapping (ie “this was happening at the same time the pyramids were being built” etc).

Now, if you plan to set up your own timeline you may wish to ‘cheat history’ a little as we did. Human history is so tiny in relation to many of the other big history concepts (such as the evolution of plants, Dinosaurs, mammals etc) that our entire human history is just a dot at the end of a 2m stretch of history (and that’s not even going back to the formation of planets etc!)

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To solve this problem of scale we ‘expanded’ our little dot of history into another timeline to allow for more detail in the human history. We used a coloured ribbon for each timeline (blue for the overall time line, with a dot of orange at the end. And orange for the human history.) This colour reference made it easer for the little historians to understand that the orange line represented that tiny little dot at the end of the blue line. We marked up our history over a 3m stretch of wall, simply using chalk directly on the wall to label the periods in time, and to add new concepts. When adding new ideas the little historians often create an image (painting, gluing, drawing etc) and we blue-tack that image to the wall at the relevant place on the timeline. This visual cue that they created is far easier for them to remember and explain to the other adults in their life than a simple text ‘entry’ on our timeline. By re-visiting the concepts as they explain their work they re-enforce their understanding of what they have learnt.

If you wish to create a similar timeline in your own learning space, we used this as a guide for our own timeline (you can calculate and measure this out to fit your space, but we were not so precise as the exact accuracy of the spacing is not so important – it’s a general concept that we are working towards at this stage so just sketching up an approximation is totally fine!)

World History:

  • 600 million years (before common time) – until the year 3,000(ish)
  • Separated at 100 million year intervals.

Human* History:

  • 10,000 years (before common time) – until the year 3,000.
  • Separated at 1000 year intervals

*Please note; the beginning of ‘human history’ that we expanded is determined at a point where there are some interesting things to add to the timeline (ie beginning of farming etc) rather than the beginning of Humans as a species. For practical scale reasons we found this to be more workable as it allowed a little more space between centuries once scaled to fit our space.

While my own little historians are not the ‘remember exact facts and figures’ type of learners, that is not our primary goal. Our aim with this timeline is to give the little historians a sense of their place in history. A sense of belonging in something much greater than themselves, an idea that things change gradually over time, and (as we enter further into human history) some understanding of how they can alter the future by their own actions.

A sense of belonging in time (as well as in space, community, culture etc) is vital for growing our young people into the adults we want in our world.