Thursday, 28 February 2013


Today, mummy, I'm going to teach you about mark making!
It's a bit odd being a teacher and becoming a mum! I was quite conscious that I didn't want to be a Teacher in the academic sense to my children, in fact I try quite hard not to be, although of course all parents are their child's most important teacher in every other sense of the word. I'm not ambitious for them to be academically brilliant, I'm ambitious for them to be curious and love learning new things. When they were little I tried to give them a love of books but I never tried to teach them to read, I'm happy to let their school teach them all the mechanics.
It seems a bit contrary then to talk about chalk, the teacher's tool of choice (until our lovely whiteboards wiped centuries of chalk dust and squeaky blackboards from our classrooms.)
Lovely picture, and the red tastes yummy too!
We've got a little "tree house" in our garden that  I nabbed from the school I used to teach at when it was deemed unsafe for the children to play in. My husband dis-assembled it, brought it home and rebuilt it in our garden with the worst of the rot in the legs cut off! I added a board at the back- mostly so the boys wouldn't be constantly noseying at the neighbours, and painted it with blackboard paint so they could indulge in some early (and totally undirected- I promise!) "mark making." It seemed like a great idea ('til one of their older cousins came and wrote "Poo" on it in large letters and I realised there might be problems in the future!)

Time for a clean slate.
The boys really enjoyed chalking on it. In fact, Zac was more enthusiastic about drawing with chalk than anything else. I used to worry about his reluctance to draw, I even spoke to his pre-school about it, which seems hugely ironic now that he absolutely loves drawing and is really good at it. I think his problem was that he couldn't make his pictures look like he could see them in his mind. Completely unlike me, he is a perfectionist about that kind of thing. Chalk seemed to free him up, because if he "went wrong" it was very easy to wipe it away and try again.

And of course, once we had chalk in the garden everything else got chalked too. They drew tracks on the patio and drove toy vehicles along them. I drew hopscotch games and we sort-of played, with rather more jumping than hopping. We drew round each other, and I drew round the kids shadows so they could see whether they were taller or shorter than their shadow when they lay beside it. We played noughts and crosses. We all drew pictures up and down the path, and of course, as soon as it rained all the marks faded away.

There be chalk in them there hills!

You can get great, colourful, chunky chalks pretty cheaply. We also collected natural chalk on walks because there's lots of it in the hills around us, but it was a bit "scratchy" on the blackboard and only really worked well on the paving slabs.

There are lots of other chalk ideas to be found on the internet- some of which I'm now itching to try! A recent one I read involved letting the children crush up the little nubby ends of their chalks and use the colourful powder they made for colouring potions, making watercolour paints etc.
Here are a few links.

But of course, you'll probably find your kids have plenty of good ideas of their own.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


I was looking for something in our chaotic shed full of "stuff" this week when I came across a massive magnet I'd used when I was teaching.
Look how many pins I can pick up!
Magnets are another example of something which children (and adults like me) perceive as kind of magic. How amazing is it to have an invisible force at your control?! You can feel a mysterious pull, make inanimate things apparently leap to life and push things away without even touching them. Magic!
Danny spent a lot of time wandering around the house to see what would stick to his magnet. He quite quickly realised it was metal things, but then discovered that not all metal things stuck- hmmmm.
He then set himself a challenge of getting all of the pins out of his pin-a-shape set and found that he could not only pick up "millions!" but that they didn't even have to touch the magnet, they could connect together in long chains.
I can make the pins dance around all by themselves

Zac enjoyed putting the magnet underneath the box lid and making the pins move around apparently on their own. He narrated a school-based story in his best teacher voice, telling the "children" to stay together in a group and reprimanding them when some of the pins escaped the pull of his magnet and "ran away!"

Using magnets to make a really long train.

The magnet entertained them both for a long time. It's a good one!
That said, you can find little magnets all over the place. Zac discovered their attracting/repelling qualities long ago when he was playing with his train track. He realised that sometimes the trucks wanted to stick together, but other times they pushed each other away. We've also got lots of those letter magnets, which came free with a particular brand of yoghurt, so the kids are fairly familiar with things they can stick them to around the house. I once made one of those magnetic fishing games with lots of paper fish with paper clips on their nose and a magnetic letter on the end of a piece of string to be the fishing line, which the kids had fun playing with too.

So if your little one is in the mood for a bit of scientific experimentation or just a bit of magic, find a magnet and see what it will do.

Monday, 18 February 2013


Wow! Daddy made a whopper!
Hmmm, should bubbles have been included in my "flight" post? Never mind, here's a little thought for the day on the subject, better late than never!

Bubbles are really beautiful. A delicate floating shape covered in a swirl of rainbow colours which fly where the breeze takes them and vanish in an instant. No wonder kids are excited by them. Being able to create such a marvel, watch it fly and then make it disappear again with a tap of your finger is like being a little magician.

What can you see in your bubble?
I find it nearly impossible to make good bubble mixture myself. The recipes on the internet suggest you need to add a bit of glycerine- soapy water just doesn't cut it, even with a bit of sugar added; plus, we've got very hard water which apparently doesn't help. I confess I generally buy the ready made stuff. We've had lots of different bubble wands, generally the bigger the better according to the children, tho a drinking straw dipped in bubble mixture will blow millions of tiny bubbles, which can be just as entertaining. You can easily make bubble wands out of a circle of wire- then they can be whatever size and shape you like, or you can look around the house and see if you have anything with a hole in that you can blow through, and experiment to see which ones will make a bubble. What about different shaped holes? Are bubbles always round? Can you blow a big bubble from a small hole,and vice versa?
Bubbles invite other questions too- which is the biggest/smallest bubble you can see? How many can you blow in one go? What can you see reflected on your bubble? What colours are on your bubble? Can you pop them all before they touch the ground? How high will they float before they pop? Can you catch one without it popping? What if you have wet hands?

Making a bubble trail.
"I made a bubble snake!
When it comes to blowing bubbles, little folk can find it tricky. Getting the strength of your fuff just right to blow up a bubble and detach it from the wand without it popping is quite an art, it's often easier to wave the wand from side to side, run along or spin round with it to get a stream of bubbles. Holding a pot of bubble mixture upright while you concentrate on making bubbles is also very difficult! It's worth wedging the mixture container somewhere so they come back to dip their wand and can't knock it over. Often kids are just as happy to let someone else do the blowing so they can concentrate on chasing and popping them.
Big, bare bubble blowing!

When they do learn to blow a big one themselves the sense of achievement is great!

Aaah, bubbles. The simple things in life...!

Just saw a link to this great vid showing how to make mega bubbles, will definitely be spending plenty of time doing this when the weather warms up!
And another great idea for bubble snakes:
Blowing a bubble snake.
Blowing bubble clouds through a sock.

If you want some ideas for bubble art, check out my post on paint.

Monday, 11 February 2013


Up, up and away!
When Zac was just 3 he had a dream about flying and decided that he was going to collect lots of feathers so he could make himself some wings. He was so excited and so optimistic about his idea working that I couldn't bear the feeling of impending disappointment. I debated trying to let him down gently by attempting to explain all the problems with his plan, but couldn't bring myself to tell him it would never work. Luckily, although his collection of feathers grew, the original idea simultaneously faded away and we used the feathers for head-dresses, cat teasers, painting with and tickling each other instead.
None-the-less he is still very interested in things that fly, maybe because his Daddy flies model aeroplanes and worked for Airbus!

Zac with a helium balloon kite.
The simplest things to fly are balloons and kites. A balloon or a nappy sack on the end of a piece of string can keep  a small person entertained for ages on a breezy day (see my post about weather.) It's worth tying the end of the string around their wrist if they're likely to be disappointed when it flies off into the distance, but otherwise, chasing it is great exercise!

Daddy releases the parachute!
The boys have also been given several of those little plastic parachute men in party bags. Parachutes are easy to make. Just cut a large circle from a poly bag and either make holes round the edge to tie some strings on, or just sellotape them on if the parachutist isn't going to be too heavy! Any small toys can be parachuted, we spent quite a lot of time parachuting playmobil pirates out of the tree house. Be a bit careful about letting little critters launch parachutes from high places- they are quite likely to launch themselves too in their excitement. It's actually just as much fun to fold up the parachute and then throw it up into the air from the ground, so it floats back down to you, then you don't have to climb down from your starting point to fetch it every time.

Launching the glider.
We have had various flying toys, one of the most successful being a polystyrene glider that flies really well. It's easy for little folk to throw and is pretty indestructible. Martin had a go at making another out of some polystyrene packaging. It flew, but it wasn't quite as aerodynamic as the boughten one!
Who can fly their glider the furthest?
It's fun to make a range of paper aeroplanes and see which design will fly furthest, which will do a loop the loop, which has the smoothest landing etc, and once they're reasonably good at folding paper, kids can design and make their own.

Helicopter flying!
Zac also has a remote control helicopter which he loves and has become very accomplished at flying around the house. Martin sets him landing challenges putting ever smaller helipads in ever more difficult places to reach. It seems to be great for hand-eye co-ordination and spacial awareness, plus it built up Zac's resilience because he found it pretty tricky to start with but he really wanted to succeed so he kept practising long after he might have given up with a less-entertaining challenge.

I wish I could fly like little Ted!

You don't need toys to investigate flight, there are natural things which fly just as well. Finding sycamore seeds which spin like helicopter blades, or "fuffing" dandelion clocks and watching the seeds parachuting down to land can keep kids entertained for ages.
So even if they can't build some wings and fly themselves, investigating things other things which fly is definitely an entertaining way to pass a bit of time. I know Martin's hoping that before too long the boys will be able to accompany him on his trips to the model flying club and do a bit of flying themselves.

Here's Zac trying to encourage our totally earthbound duck to fly when he was a toddler:

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


Visiting the pond in the forest with Granny.
Aaaargh. I've been caught out by the weather again this week. Just as I started to think Spring was only just around the corner it's decided to revert to full-on freezing again. Thus my post about tadpoles seems a little bit premature, but hey ho, perhaps the snowdrops are right and Spring will be on its way soon.
I love watching tadpoles develop and turn into frogs. Even as an adult it seems something of a miracle. I reckon watching those little dots inside the mass of jelly balls gradually metamorphose into tadpoles, and then into little frogs, is an amazing opportunity for kids.

My parents live on the edge of a forest and in the forest is a pond. Getting to the pond is a perfect walk for kids because it takes about 25 minutes- long enough to be a proper walk but not so far that they can't walk back again without whinging, plus the track has a hard surface so now they can bike it. We go there most years to fetch some frogspawn. There's always loads of it and it's generally in reeds just near the edge, where the water's shallow enough to paddle in without it going over the top of your wellies, (not that my two ever manage to stay in the shallows!)

Baby tadpoles in the kitchen.
Where are their tails going?
Once we've got the frogspawn home we think about how we can turn a big tub in the kitchen into a miniature version of the pond we collected the spawn from, putting in pond water, adding weed and a couple of rocks etc. Even once the emerging tadpoles have consumed all their jelly they don't need much in the way of food but we do add a chunk of cat food now and then, which they seem to devour with relish! Then we watch and wait for the first sign of "LEGS!!"
Looking for the "ickle fwogs".
Once they start to turn into tiny frogs we adapt their habitat so they can come out of the water. Martin put an old fish tank on a slope and put a bit of turf in at one end, whilst the other end was still water, and the boys loved watching the newly mobile frogs climbing out of the water and creeping through the grass.
Nearly ready to hop it!
Finally, we move the tank outside so they can adjust to the outdoor temperature before we release them.
We have got a little raised pond in our garden, but it's full of fish who would definitely snaffle our new babies if we put them in, so we just let them hop off into a patch of long grass. There are plenty of water sources around and lots of cool, shady places to hide, and we often find frogs lurking under stones or logs in the garden which probably started their life in a tank in our kitchen.
Here's one we grew earlier!
 A few years ago we donated some of our spawn to the village school and the pond over there is now hopping with life in springtime and producing enough spawn to populate the whole neighbourhood.

So when Spring does arrive, see if you can track down some of the globular stuff! It will give the kids some temporary, easy-to-care-for pets and will teach them about one of the most interesting life processes you can see.