Monday, 23 September 2013

Circle times

Circle time, carpet time, together time or whatever other name you give to this learning opportunity can be one of the most challenging times at nursery... but can also be one of the most rewarding!

Challenge: Children needing the toilet.
It never fails, as soon as the children sit down together I hear "can I go to the tooooooiiileeeeet?" (just like that!) and when one child has asked, then another does, and another, and another, and another, until you have more children in the bathroom than participating in your group!
Image from

 Method: There's a few ways that you can tackle this, depending on the type of activity that you are leading.
  1. You could pause the activity every so often to ask the children who is needing, and allowing small groups to go at a time.
  2. You could have another member of staff to quietly and unobtrusively send children to the toilet a couple at a time. This does not interrupt the pace of the activity and leaves you free to focus on the learning.
  3. You could have a visual clue for the children, such as a wrist band. For example the children who are in the bathroom wear a wristband, when they return they pass it to the next child who is waiting. This prevents children wondering if it is their turn or thinking that you have forgotten about them.
  4. And of course, there is the classic list. Perhaps using a whiteboard where the children can wipe their name off the list once they have finished in the bathroom. This allows the children to see who is next, it can also promote name recognition.
Challenge: Children struggling to sit for longer periods of time
I must admit, I'm guilty of this one sometimes. Even when an activity is going really well, it is important to keep in mind the amount of time that the children have been sitting/ focusing for. This is even more important when working with a younger group or a group with mixed ages.
  1. This may seem obvious, but plan for your group. When you are planning your group times, remember which children will be participating. If you know that you have a younger group, you may need to plan shorter, snappier activities that you can repeat at a few different times, rather than a longer activity.
  2.  Split the group into smaller groups. If you have enough staff, it may be helpful to split a larger group into 2 smaller groups. 
  3. Take a break. If the children are participating in a sitting down activity such as 'news time' and are beginning to get restless, why not take a quick break to do something physical? It could be as simple as 'stand up, turn around and sit down again.' This very quick and easy distraction adds an element of fun and keeps the children who have already taken their turn involved.
As the children have more practise at sitting and focusing on an activity for small periods of time, you can then begin to encourage them to work for slightly longer.

Challenge: Children struggling to take turns
If your children are anything like the children at my nursery, they will be BURSTING to offer their thoughts and ideas all the time.Of course, we don't want them to think that we don't want to listen to them, or that their contribution isn't valid, but at the same time, children need to learn the valuable life skill of listening and taking turns.
  1. Visual clues are very helpful. It could be a special 'talking stick' or something that the children have created. It could be a soft toy or a item of clothing such as a cape or a necklace... the sky is the limit! Just be sure to reinforce to the children that the child who has the item is the child who is taking a turn. 
Here is a wonderful example of a Native American Talking Stick (Taken from Activity Village - click the image to follow the link)

Challenge: Fidgeting and fiddling.
It's a given, children will always find something to fiddle with! Whether it is a toy, a button, the Velcro on their shoes or their friend's hair, you can guarantee that those little fingers will be fidgeting!

  1.  Consider your environment. When preparing a group activity, try to plan so that there are the minimum of temptations around. After all, how can a child resist if the box of toys is within reach?
  2. Pick your battles. As annoying as it can be to have a child fiddling - remember, if it is not dangerous, they are not disturbing the group and if they are engaged in the activity, what is the problem? As an adult, I tend to find fiddling (clicking my pen, twisting a button, squeezing a stress ball) can help me to think! From time to time it may be worth considering letting the little things go. 

Challenge: Range of abilities
If you have a large group of children, you are bound to have a wide variety of abilities. It is important for all children to feel that they are able to take part without failure.
  1. Careful planning is the key to this one, and knowing your children well. 
  2. Allowing the more able to take on 'helper' roles such as turning the pages on the book. This can help to stop them from getting bored when less able children might need a little longer to participate or work out a problem.
  3. PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE. Whether a child is more able, less able or somewhere in between, they all need to gain the confidence to have a try. All children should feel like they have achieved and done well. 
Image from
Challenge: Disruptive Child(ren)
It can be very frustrating when all of your hard work is being disrupted by a child or group of children. 
  1. Draw attention to the positive, not the negative. For example "look how lovely Tommy is sitting!" instead of "look at Billy being silly". We all love to be praised, and children will usually respond to this praise by imitating the good behaviour.
  2. Stay calm and pick your battles. Yep, I'm using this again! Remember that negative attention is still attention, and can affect a child's self esteem.
  3. It's not always possible, but it might be worth removing the disruptive child(ren) and taking them to do another activity with a different member of staff. 
Remember: Sometimes activities don't work. It's important to recognise when the children are not engaged or when an activity is not working to plan. This way you can adapt it, alter it, or even scrap it and try something new! The activity is for the children's benefit so, if they are not engaged, it's time to try something else.

At my nursery, we also use visual cues to remind children of our 'Rules of the carpet'. These simple rules are displayed in picture form which the children can easily identify and we regularly remind ourselves of them. There are some nice clear example here: 

I wish I could say that I remember all of these and follow my own advice, but at the end of the day, I am a human. Sometimes I am not as patient as I should be, sometimes I am more focused on what I want to achieve rather than what the children are achieving... but I try every day to provide the best possible experience for the children. 
If you have any methods or challenges during your own group times, I would love to hear about them!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Optimus Prime - eat your heart out!

Today I was lucky enough to attend a CLPL (career long professional learning) course called 'cooking bus'. 
"What a bizarre name" I'd thought while signing up,  and I wondered what on earth it could mean.
 As I drove in this morning I concluded that it must be some fancy new resource or gadget to help while cooking with children.  Imagine my shock then when I arrived at the address and found a huge lorry that had transformed into a beautiful classroom come kitchen. And it wasn't as if it used to be a lorry and had been re-made into this classroom, oh no! It had sections that moved out, and then the moving parts all slotted back together again when it changed back into it's lorry form, ready to hit the road - Amazing!
Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I cannot cook for love nor money! I'm a dab hand at making toast, and I can re-heat an oven meal no problem, but as for cooking with real ingredients? I have a serious case of 'can't cook, wont cook'. This being said, I was excited to get on the bus and see what the lovely ladies had in store. They welcomed us in with coffee and the temptation of raspberry muffins (all the best courses offer you treats!) and then we were invited to learn about diets, nutritional needs, packaging and information and they also busted a few myths about food. 
This reminded me again of how lucky we are at my nursery to have all of our meals cooked on site by a wonderful and talented cook who really cares about giving the children healthy meals.
Then, the fun bit! We were able to do some cooking! The ladies didn't give us any recipes, but rather they demonstrated the methods and techniques that we should use and that we should teach to children when carrying out food technology activities.
I was rather proud of the 2 sample dishes that I came away with! It just goes to show that with a bit of encouragement and instruction, anyone can cook or prepare a healthy meal (even me!)

I definitely feel equipped to try and bring a bit more adventure into our food technology at nursery! I will report back on how it turns out so watch this space!

For more information about the cooking bus, please visit the cooking bus website!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Oh the fun you will have, Oh the mess you will make!

While I was at nursery today, I got thinking about what a wonderful resource our Water Tray is! 

It's such a simple thing and can easily be forgotten or taken for granted, so I am going to take a moment to think about some of the many fun and stimulating ways that water trays can be used to promote children's learning across the curriculum...


We use all kinds of different containers in our water tray, from clear pop bottles to opaque yoghurt pots and a variety of shapes and sizes! Playing with these allows the children to experiment with scooping and pouring, investigating light and what they can see and it also encourages them to begin to understand about volume as they transfer water from one container to another.

Funnels and Tubes 
Funnels and tubes can be used along with bottles and containers,or can be provided as a separate activity, to allow the children to problem solve and use trial and error while connecting tubes, or working out a way to allow the water the flow through them.

Sieves and colanders 

Anything with a few holes will do! The children at my nursery love to pretend to make it rain by holding the sieve or colander up above the tray. This encourages talk about the weather and could lead on to learning about the water cycle. Children can also be encouraged to listen to to sounds as the water falls back into the tray.


How fascinating to see how a sponge absorbs water, and how satisfying to squeeze all of the water back into the tray! This simple and fun activity promotes fine motor skills and muscle development.

Baby dolls

Fill the water tray with some warm, soapy water, provide some flannels and a couple of dry towels and maybe a few baby sized bottles. Then introduce some (washable - non electronic!!) baby dolls! 
The girls in my nursery class adore babies and want to play Mummy and Baby games all of the time. 
This encourages the children to think about how babies are cared for, and also how we care for ourselves and our own bodies.

Mixing colours 

Why not provide some small bottles of watered down food colouring and allow the children to mix and experiment with colour?


At my nursery we are lucky enough to have our very own herb garden. We recently picked a lot of home grown fresh mint and added it to our water tray to create a wonderful smell! You could also use peppermint essence, vanilla, fruity soap... the possibilities are endless!

Melting Ice

The water tray is a great area for the children to investigate temperature. They could be allowed to mix warm and cold water. You could also add ice cubes to either cold water, or warm water. This allows the children to predict what will happen, and also introduces them to the different forms that water can take.

Floating and sinking

Of course, providing a range of materials - some that will float and some that will sink, is a fantastic learning activity for children. It allows them to predict outcomes, and to test out their theories. You can also provide opportunities for children to change the items, for example "if i fill the boat with bricks, will it still float?"


Why not learn about reflections and light by providing some large and small mirrors in the water?


Have you ever tried adding soap flakes to water? It makes a fabulous goopy texture which your children will love to explore. You could also use this activity to promote descriptive language.

Of course, there are so many other ways that a water tray can be used! And don't forget all that wonderful 'splishy splashy' language!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Let's go outside!

Isn't it great that so many Nurseries are getting on board with using NATURE in children's learning?
When there is so much to investigate and explore, so much to make us wonder and marvel - who needs plastic toys and TV screens?!
Here's a couple of ideas to get your creative juices flowing in the great outdoors:

Nature Bracelets

I was delighted with how this activity worked out! 
It was popular with both boys and girls, it was completely the children's own work and they got SO much learning out of it, including... 
  • Investigating different kinds of plants and flowers
  • Comparing sizes of leaves, flowers and our hands as we tried to fit them through the bracelet
  • Noticing colours
  • What happens to a plant/ flower once it has been picked
  • That we all have our own likes and dislikes, and that I can find something beautiful even if others think it is ugly

 The best part is, you only really need 3 things:
  1. Toilet roll tubes, cut into bands
  2. doubles sided tape
  3. An outdoor area full of natural treasures (a dry day is preferable as wet leaves etc don't tend to stick quite as well)


This one takes me back to my childhood! Did anyone else spend hours making flower potions and petal perfumes? It was so much fun!

All you need is:

  1. A range of flowers, plants, herbs, mud and other interesting ingredients
  2. A few bottles or jugs of water
  3. A large bowl/ bucket for mixing or lots of bowls for individual potions
  4. Some empty bottles or containers for finished potions
  5. Spoons for mixing
  6. (optional) pipettes, funnels, food colouring, glitter
 I love the way that this activity has no rules and can be totally different every time.
"But what are they learning?" I hear you ask. Well...
  • Textures, smells, sights and (sometimes) tastes of plants and herbs
  • Language that describes (smelly, slimy, squishy, soft, wet, dry)
  • Problem solving, trying things out and predicting (for example - "what will happen if I add more water?")
  • Hand, eye co-ordination through pouring, scooping, mixing
  • Imaginative play - what does your potion do? Does it make you fly? Does it make you HUGE like a giant?
  • Quantities and measurements (for example adding 2 scoops of mud)
  • We also practised teamwork and compromise by all working together to create one big potion

Again, there's so much more and you could easily extend this activity to cover more areas of the curriculum for example creating a pretend shop to sell their potions/ perfumes and learning about money and coins, or by creating a potions recipe book, involving mark making, early writing, numbers and quantities. You could read stories about witches, wizards or fairies or you could even use this activity as part of your Halloween festivities!

Get outside and have some fun with nature - and report back with lots of exciting ideas!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...

I love story time! I have always loved a good story book and having the chance to share this with the children is an experience that I treasure.

I think that everyone is a story teller at heart, here are some of the methods I use at story time to keep the children engaged and interested:


I find that adding puppets can add a whole new dimension to the story! There are many ways that puppets can be used:

If you are using a book, you could hold up the puppets as they are mentioned in the story allowing the children to visualise the character as you read about them. You could even pause the story to have the puppet 'speak' to the children about their thoughts/ feelings at that point. Or let the children ask the puppet questions.

If you are telling a story from memory you can get really creative and have the puppets act it out.

You could use one large puppet to hold the book as you tell the story, or the puppet could be the story teller - just having this character involved can make story time different and exciting for the children!

You could also give puppets to the children, and let them act out the story as you tell it. This is great fun and gives the children something to hold which can help to stop them fiddling with themselves/everything around them!


This is one of my favourites!

You can use the whiteboard to draw the characters, scenes, and anything else throughout the story. You honestly don't have to be an artist to do this! I recently tried to draw the 3 Billy Goats Gruff from memory and they ended up looking like bizarre dogs with horns which the children (and staff) had a good laugh at, but it was a very successful story time!

You could also allow the children to have a go at drawing the characters.

The great thing about whiteboards is that you can continually edit your picture to fit with what is happening in the story.

Using the children's names

Imagine finding yourself as a character in your favourite story! Well you can do this for your children by cleverly replacing the names of some of the characters with their own names! For example instead of Goldilocks discovering the 3 bears house, it could be little Susan discovering the house of Fred, Ted and Billy! Simple!

Making up a story

If you're particularly imaginative, you could have a go at making up your own story! I find the best ones involve the children, the nursery, their own homes or something else that is well known to them.
Maybe you could even add in some familiar characters like Bob the Builder or Peppa Pig!
You may even want to let the children help to create/ tell the story in their own words.  This usually works better with slightly older children and can be used as a fun circle time activity where each child takes a turn to add a little more to the story. You'll be amazed at what they can come up with!

Reading from the book

Of course, you can't beat a traditional story time with a good book. It's so important to get children interested and excited about books at an early age. It makes me sad to think that some children miss out on the wonder of getting sucked into another world full of adventure and magic and grow into young people who think books are 'boring'!

While reading from a book you could try:
  • holding your finger underneath each word as you read - showing the children at you read from left to right and encouraging them to begin to recognise some simple words.
  • Using different voices for the characters
  • Using songs and music throughout the story 
I believe that on first reading of a book, it it best to keep the flow and read it through from start to finish.
After reading the story a few times, and when the children have an understanding of the story, you can pause at certain points and ask questions such as...
"What do you think ___ is feeling?"
"Why do you think ___ did/said that?"
"What would you do?"
"What do you think will happen next?" (This one can also work on first reading of a story, if you are developing the children's ability to predict and guess)

Children telling the story

My children LOVE to play teachers. So sometimes I allow them to take turns sitting on the teacher's chair and using a familiar book to tell the story to their friends.

Some other ideas
  •  Use a particular 'Story chair' (decorated perhaps) that the children will associate with story time
  • In the same way, you could have a special 'story apron' or other item of clothing that when you put on, the children understand that it is time to sit and listen to a story. If you use an apron, you could keep puppets or other props in the pockets!

 Please let me know if you have any other ideas or methods that you find helpful. I'm always looking for inspiration!

Good luck Story Tellers!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

When bad weather turns into great learning!

Today I woke up full of ideas and plans to begin our activities and learning about tennis (following Andy Murray's spectacular performance not that long ago which many of the children were aware of and interested in) but the weather had other ideas. As I drove to work I watched the dark clouds roll overhead and saw a few spots of rain. "Not to worry" I thought, "we can still go onto the courts and throw the balls about, a bit of rain wont stop us!"

I arrived at work and before I started organising my plans, I began by setting up our computer so that the children could watch a news clip about William and Kate's baby boy (Congratulations!) We got into a discussion about what we thought the baby should be named and the children had some interesting suggestions, the most popular of which seemed to be Jesus!

By this time, the rain had really started to pour down and I was not feeling quite so optimistic about using the tennis courts. I was looking out of the window, deciding whether to brave taking a group out into the garden for splishy splashy puddle play when... A huge rumble of thunder clapped overhead... and another one... and another, all in a short space of time! 
A couple of the children were feeling a little bit frightened at this point, but most were amazed at this dramatic weather. Then we began to see the lightning and the children decided that they wanted to stand at the door and watch.
What happened next was like something out of a cartoon: The children were all stood at the door, watching the rain tumble down and watching for lightning. They were getting used to the thunder by now and were saying to each other "we're not scared are we? We like the thunder and lightning" 
Suddenly all of the nursery lights flickered off and on and then there was the LOUDEST clap of thunder that you've ever heard! Together as one, the children turned with looks of surprise and panic on their faces and ran into the arms of my colleague and I who were standing just behind them. It took a moment but when they were all feeling safe again they began to laugh. 

What a fantastic opportunity for some learning! We used the computer to find out what causes the thunder sound and then the children had a go at creating their own thunder sounds by clapping their hands and stamping their feet. They also listened to other sounds that they could hear around the nursery and spoke about whether they were loud sounds or quiet sounds. We then spoke about the lightning and found out what causes it. We talked about electricity and why the children thought the lights had flickered and we even talked about how light travels to our eyes faster than sound travels to our ears!

The children were very disappointed when the rain stopped and continued to ask throughout the day if the thunder would be back!
It just goes to show, even though I wasn't able to carry out my plans, the children experienced something really exciting and were able to learn so much through it!
Hooray for Scottish Summers!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared!

Let's bring the magic back into childhood! I just love that glint of wonder in a child's eyes when they believe something that is unbelievable.

The other day at nursery, I was about to take the children out on a walk around the grassy and wooded areas. I had no real plans apart from to get the children out because they needed some fresh air and to burn off steam. I watched them as they put on their wellies and wondered 'how can I make this walk magical?' and so I began to tell them a story...

I told them of a special friend of mine who just happened to be a fairy. I explained how my friend was very sad because her tree house had been cut down, and now she had nowhere to live!

By this point all of the children were engaged (boys and girls alike), all with looks of concern on their faces that made me want to giggle - but that would spoil the moment, so I asked the children what they thought we could do for my friend.

They came to the decision that we should find my friend a new home. They discussed amongst themselves how there were lots of trees around our nursery, and we could find one that was just right. We decided to take a digital camera out with us, so that we could take photographs of the trees - nicely linking in the technology side of the curriculum for me!

And off we set, investigating every tree that we stumbled upon. The children quickly wrote off some trees as too small, too thin, too ugly - linking in descriptive language and some mathematical comparisons too.

As we walked, one of the children asked me "is this real, or is it just pretend?"
This caused me a small dilemma,  I don't like to tell children flat out lies BUT I didn't want to spoil the magic, so I said "well, I believe it's real. What do you believe?" It took her a minute to reply. You could almost see the cogs turning in her mind until finally she replied "I think you're making it up!"

Feeling a little deflated, but not wanting to let it ruin our fun, I shrugged it off and continued with the group to look at many, many trees until the children finally decided on a beautiful big old tree with a hole at the top which they agreed could be a window.
The children took it upon themselves to decorate the tree and spent ages finding pretty little flowers, feathers, leaves and all sorts of other natural resources which they placed on and around the tree until they were satisfied that the fairy would love it.

By this time the children were due to get some lunch, so I lead them inside and promised that we could go back to visit the tree in the afternoon.
While they sat eating, and after scribbling down some notes of all the fantastic learning that had taken place that morning, I headed out to the tree alone, armed with glitter and a note - addressed to the children from 'Fern the Fairy.'

In the afternoon, the children were eager to get back to their special tree, so again we got wellies on and walked out across the grass. As we got closer, the children noticed that something was different.
They began to run and shout with excitement! I watched as they circled the tree, following the glitter trails with wide eyes until they saw the note rolled up and pegged on a branch.
The little girl who earlier had been an unbeliever jumped up and down and cried "it's a note! It's a note for me!"
I read the note to the children which told them how happy Fern was with her new home and how she was so grateful to them for decorating it for her.

Now, I expected the learning to end there - we had completed everything that I had planned for and as far as I was concerned, it was quite a success! But the children had other ideas; on their return to nursery they proceeded to draw pictures and write letters to Fern. They took the idea into their role play and I even heard them discussing it while playing in the sand tray!

As for the little girl who hadn't believed in my friend the fairy: when her Mum came to pick her up she said "Mum, fairies ARE real! I know because we saw one!"

So much learning with just a touch of magic!