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!