Friday, 29 October 2010

I get to go indoors!!!

Being known as 'Lily who plays out for a living' has some drawbacks.....erm.... I'll tell you what they are when I think of them...
Excitingly, this winter, I will also be playing indoors too! A wonderful school has invited me into their foundation stage be their provider of springboards, their atelierista, their Lily who plays indoors sometimes too. We'll be going to the woods to do some Forest School sessions, carrying on some work we began last Spring but this will be an exciting opportunity to work over a number of terms with a group of children. Indoors and out, in the setting, in the studio, in the woods and in the grounds. 

The Foundation Stage is influenced by Reggio Emilia and I will be offering provocations and springboards and seeing where the children want to go with them. I have started to feel a bit nervous and excited! It's going to be a new challenge. But where to start? I have so many ideas for provocations I barely know where to begin. There is a part of me that is tempted to start with nothing and see where we end up.... watch this space!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Follow a trail through the woods

I remember back to when I first started working with children, and I remember distinctly the first group of children I ever took into the woods. We followed a trail that was marked with posts and signs and the children loved running from one signpost to another, checking that we were following the right symbols and always waaaay ahead of me.

The thing I noticed then and since, is that it takes a long time to lay a good trail or treasure hunt and then children will follow it in seconds.

I am a great believer that effort and time I put in to planning has got to a lot be less than the amount of time it absorbs others otherwise it's something I should keep as one of my own hobbies or entertainments. I remember two of my students complaining that they had spent an afternoon cutting out shapes for craft activity at an after school club and the children arrived, stuck them onto paper, bam! bam! bam!, in three seconds flat and were off to do something else.

This boils down to my default position when planning, "hmm maybe we get the children to do that bit".

So I don't ever lay anything but the simplest trails or treasure hunts for children to follow, maybe dropping a trail of feathers as I check out a site.
Collecting coloured feathers helped motivate this group
during a chilly walk and helped improve
 observational skills and awareness.

Otherwise, I see if the children want to lay the trail instead:

It helps improve empathetic skills; will someone else know this is the right way to go? How will they know which is the wrong way? How will we tell them if we are not there?

 You can split into two groups, each taking a territory and laying a trail for the other group to follow.

Have a set amount of time for each group to lay the trail and meet back at the start.

It's always good to have other things to look for along the way, animal footprints, interesting things to point out to the other group, it helps keep motivation and concentration levels up and encourages awareness of what is around.

 There are loads of different ways that you can make signs, but make sure they aren't somewhere that will get trampled.

 It can still help sometimes to swap one person from each group so at least one person knows where they should be going

Although that might just be taking the challenge out of it! Agreeing what signs mean is always helpful though.


Thursday, 21 October 2010

How does it feel to jump over the jaws of a crocodile?

This post was originally posted on my website on 3rd March 2010, but I moved over here to be with my other thoughts.

Kindling delivered a training day with a wonderful enthusiastic group of Early years practitioners on Monday. To end the session we talked about  how being outdoors makes us feel. We had been in the woods for most of the day and I asked them, based on the emotions and feelings they had had whilst they had been busy, and immersed in all sorts of creative and wonderful explorations what benefits they thought that similar experiences would have for the children they work with.

They individually wrote down all their reflections and then we clustered them together to see what similar themes came up, " a real confidence booster" came up first and then loads of similar reflections were added. Then linked themes started to emerge, “building self-esteem” one person added everyone agreed adding more similar thoughts that they had had. The next phrases that were added built on the idea “Self belief”, “successful”, “overcome fears”, “gain real sense of achievement” “proud to learn new skills”.

               This log was renamed 'the crocodile' thanks to
a bus driver who let the nervous kids off the bus
into the woods for the first time
and called after them
"watch out for the crocodile!"
  Thanks for that!
Luckily we discovered we could jump it's jaws.
I was interested when everyone’s sense of what they had got out of the session was mirrored by what children say they got out of similar experiences. The following day I was with a  group of children of mixed ages from the Speech and Language unit of a school. I asked them before we went into the woods to think about how being there made them feel.

 We had been looking in the snow and recording signs of spring in the woods, at the end I asked them again how they felt in the woods. The first child said “happy”, someone else said “cold”, “well I felt hot” said another, “I felt proud today” one child said. It was like opening a flood gate of agreement, “I was proud too”, “I was proud and happy” “I’m proud and happy and excited”.....

The way they latched onto the word ‘proud’ was interesting, they didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about self belief and self esteem in the way the group of practitioners had. But their faces said the same thing.  

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

A map to find the fairie's houses

If you were given a map like this one, you would have to check it out, wouldn't you? I was given this map yesterday and followed it to a special place in the woods:

Gif Created on Make A Gif

And there, in the woods, I found all the fairie's houses. Generations of them, some with little notes pinned to them, some in trees, apparently people come for miles to build houses here;

 We had been making houses of our own, for things with eyes:

Sometimes we make houses for fairies and boggarts;

They need a ladder to get into their house

The lovely andromedababe encourages people to make houses for Derek the Gnome

Do post to let us know who you make houses for...

We Play

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Play is like breathing

I have searched the whole internet to see if this has been posted anywhere else and it hasn't. It isn't mine, I can claim nothing but having found this a few years back and saved it. I would love to credit "Jacky" so if that's you, or you know who it is then give me a shout. But this is too good not to share:

"I'm not sure if this is going to play out but here goes - Is play linked to present wellbeing or to future development?

 If we use the analogy of breathing, (both play and breathing being natural human processes?) we can see that we need oxygen to live both from day to day and to grow and develop. Our bodies are designed to get oxygen through breathing. Most people breathe without assistance and we are not taught to breathe it just happens. The more freely we breathe the better we feel. Had we not evolved to breathe we would not be here in our present form now. Without breathing we do not live. 

Our breathing changes automatically in relation to the personal and environmental circumstances it finds itself in, e.g. when we run we breathe more heavily to get more oxygen; if there is a lack of oxygen we breathe in a laboured way; when we are relaxed we breathe more slowly and deeply; if the air is polluted we breathe in some of the wrong stuff etc. In some circumstances we need intervention to help us breathe. The interventions can be minor - olbas oil on the pillow to help with a stuffed up nose; regular - inhaler for an asthmatic; ongoing - oxygen for someone whose lungs have collapsed; or major - full on mouth to mouth resucitation when somebody has stopped breathing. We can be helped with techniques to breathe if we are either having problems or if we wish to control our breathing more effectively, e.g. breathing in and out of a brown paper bag if we are hyperventilating, or becoming very aware of our breathing for meditating. From this we can see that breathing is the stuff of life past, present and future. Most of the time it happens automatically and without interference, but sometimes there is a need for intervention.

Play is also the stuff of life. We are designed to play. It happens automatically and it changes in relation to our own personal needs and circumstances. We need all the immediate benefits that play gives us as part of the process of playing. Had there been no playing in the past we would not be who we are now. If we do not play we are not emotionally healthy, we  do not live effectively and we do not develop fully. The environment can have an effect on the quality of the play that we do and sometimes we need intervention to help us have better play experiences both for the here and now and for the future. These interventions can be minor - a look to show that it's OK; regular - an after school club for children;  ongoing - wonderful props and places for play and friends; or major - play therapy, depending upon the circumstances. Sometimes we want other people to intervene in our play or we recognise that we need assistance. Other times somebody, other than ourselves, sees that we need help.

Now here is my point. Play is linked to our past, present and  future just as breathing is. Intervention is needed when people are having difficulty breathing and this should be appropriate to the problem. Generally healthy people either breathe automatically or they can control their own breathing. Generally children control their own playing and intervention is only needed when there is a problem or if the child invites it. The intervention then needs to match the circumstances. We do not resucitate somebody who has a snuffly nose, neither do we use olbas oil to cure a collapsed lung. The problem with intervention into play is that for too long in recent years when the rhetoric of play as progress has been the dominant one and formal education has been seen to be the only way to help children develop, we have been using the equivalent of play resucitation on perfectly healthy children when no intervention was needed, or at the most a bit of olbas in the environment might have improved the atmosphere!

I would say that of course play is linked to development, but this is not the only thing it is linked to, and there is a real danger in thinking this, if we think that we can in some way become responsible for how it plays out in the individual child.  If we intervene inappropriately we may well do more harm than good, or at very least we may be being completely ineffectual and not recognise the fact. A large majority of children need no form of intervention for their playing to be part of their natural healthy development. They will play and they will develop. However there are circumstances when some children do need intervention in their play and this may be needed just for the here and now and/or for the health of their ongoing development.

I wait with baited 'breath'     Jacky"

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Shrunken apple heads

In my early twenties I used to go to Oxford once a fortnight and my treat was to go to the Pitt Rivers museum of anthropology. I was always fascinated by the shrunken heads from the Amazon Basin.

 When I found a how to in an old craft book I had to have a try. That was a few years back and I kept meaning to revisit the idea. I had a fine opportunity this weekend.  First get a head, one that isn't being used......actually these shrunken heads aren't quite as gruesome as the ones in the Pitt Rivers but almost...

These are some that I made as an example for a group of children of mixed ages and adults as part of a whittling and carving workshop. They used potato peelers for the peeling and the carving and made some fantastic creations, which I managed not to photograph! But they are a great way to practise carving skills on something easier than wood.
Some of them were almost dry after being near a heater over night, It will take differing amounts of time to shrink depending on how warm and humid the place you store them...

The children enjoyed matching pictures of the unshrunken heads to the shrunken version. 

I scrumped all the apples from apple trees growing by busy roads, so we weren't wasting apples that could have been eaten. But if you want a fab eating apple recipe, ladies and gentlemen... I introduce 'fabulous Stella's fireside toffee apple'.

Cooked on a stick over the fire, coated in sugar and cinnamon and cooked for a little while longer until the sugar caramelises. Delicious!!

Toffee apple on a stick  wonderfulness!

Friday, 8 October 2010


This post was originally on my website 26th Feb 2010. I'm enjoying being able to collect all my thoughts together in one place!
I have been thinking a lot about springboards this week. Not the swimming pool ones, but a playwork theory that was first described to me by Martin Maudesley; sometimes even if we want to stimulate free play for children, or encourage self directed learning we need to provide a solid starting point - the springboard. This then can be used by the child to take off in any direction.
I did three sessions this week taking new groups to the woods, all with three and four year olds from two different nurseries. I provided the same spring board, putting up a shelter and making smaller shelters for soft toys. I watched as each group and each child took off in different directions. On Wednesday afternoon the children found a dead bird and three boys made it the most beautiful mausoleum discussing what they thought, the emotions the bird's family and friends would be feeling and treating it very respectfully (only a little bit of poking it with a stick).
Two other boys didn't want to take part in building the little shelters until they watched an adult role modelling and then became very absorbed in making a hedgehog a home that was properly weather proof.
Their sessions then developed beyond the springboard to lots of other self-directed activity: digging, climbing, tying string, jumping off logs and carrying the biggest log as they were able.
Another group were a lot less confident and needed more direction and structure, my role became less about observing and more about providing more and more springboards, playing hide and seek, singing songs and more about setting the boundaries, as they needed these to compensate for the fact they were not as absorbed in what they were doing.
These observations have all been tied together by a discussion I had with Jen from Bradford Community Environment Project. I am writing a publication for their Wild and Safe Play Spaces Project. This is to share ideas and encourage the use of the outdoors. We have made a pact not to use the word 'activity' in the activity ideas section of the publication and encourage people to only offer a new springboard to the children when the previous one is finished with.
The finished publication can be found here:

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Building bridges

This post first appeared on my website on 28th Aug 2010
Rope Bridges
These last few months have seen an increase in the number of rope bridges I have been making with Forest school groups. It is interesting to notice how each group takes the same basic springboard and has their way of using it. 
With the younger nursery age children I have noticed how much more time they spend using the bridges if they have been involved in setting them up in the first place. Although having a group of helpful 3 and 4 year olds winding the ropes around trees has its own challenges, they soon get the idea and after a few times doing it they need me to tighten the ropes which they set up.
                  Setting up rope bridges 
                                Setting up rope bridges
It is really good fun pulling together to tighten the ropes, and there is always a bag of other shorter ropes to satisfy the needs of the ones who want to wind and tie ropes around themselves, the trees or my legs.
One child, who was electively mute in nursery, couldn’t resist shouting ‘look at me’ as he swung from a bridge, repeatedly dropping off to the floor and climbing back on.
 YR 5 and 6 children hadn’t been asked to queue or take turns in using the rope bridges but did it spontaneously. Crossing the bridges was part of their quest; they came up with their characters and what the bridge was built to cross. We ended up crossing rivers of fire and chocolate and a lava flow which all featured over a couple of days.
One boy in this group got the idea of how the ropes could be tied to make a bridge and was really chuffed when we used ‘his’ idea.
Building rope bridges encourages team working, problem solving and physical development; hanging, swinging, traversing etc.
 But it also involves a fair amount of negotiation, turn taking and fine motor development and a lot of laughing.

Dancing leaves

This is what happens when I get trapped in the house on a rainy Sunday. I'm putting together a howto soon, but first I am going to do some more with the kids in the woods next week.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Health and Safety Executive, how I do love thee.

This post was originally posted on my website on 2nd Sept 2010

In a recent discussion about whether children should be allowed to use egg boxes in their play I was reminded of how completely fabulous the HSE myth of the month posters are.
The truth about egg boxes is here:

There are quite a few others of these posters that I particularly like:

This time of year the conkers are ripening, kids must wear goggles to play with them, right?

Children in spacesuit-like full body protection clothing playing conkers

If a child did  hurt themselves I could't put a plaster on it:

and I would be sued:

and all playgrounds should have every element of risk removed:

because children need to be wrapped in cotton wool: 

This poster ends with the statement: "Risk itself won’t damage children, but ill-managed and overprotective actions could!"

Health and Safety Exec, how I do love thee!

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