Category Archives: Science and Discovery

Fun with Water Play

Pinterest is full of these – and ours is a humble effort.  But it only took an hour or so to put together, and gave us an afternoon of fun.  Plus it is a temporary fixture, so can be changed, adapted, and ultimately removed.


We used a variety of empty plastic bottles and containers, which I had made holes in with a craft knife to produce a variety of watery effects – big splashes, tiny trickles, and shower-head type effects:

  • an empty juice bottle with lots of small holes made in the bottom for a “shower” effect.
  • a bottle cut in half to make a long channel, like a drainpipe (I’ve seen guttering used to great effect in water play.
  • The neck of a bottle sliced off to make a funnel.
  • empty hummus and cream cheese pots with holes – some bigger, some smaller
  • a milk carton with a tiny hole in the bottom, to fill quickly and empty slowly
  • the lid of an ice cream tub to make a water slide.

I gave L, N and F some containers for pouring, catching and carrying water, filled the water table with coloured water (with a drop of food colouring added), then set them free!  N’s cry of “Wow, this is fantastic Mummy!” made me feel this was going to be a success – and it was.

L and N fetched and carried water, as part of a game involving feeding N’s very thirsty horses, in which she enlisted L’s help.  Whilst doing so, they were working out which containers carried the most water, pouring water from one to another and comparing capacity.  They were both surprised when the tallest container didn’t hold the most water.


They also experimented with how quickly the water would flow from different containers, and how to make it trickle from one to another, directing the flow of water in different directions, at different speeds – some very early physics was happening!  The great thing about using pipecleaners and trellis was that L and N could easily move things around the wall as they wished, allowing them to experiment more than would have been possible had the bottles been nailed to the wood.

We used coloured water in blue, red and yellow, which reinforced colour mixing and allowed them to experiment with making “magic potions”, which included some leaves and twigs from the garden too.

F enjoyed watching the water flowing, and also splashing in the coloured water in the water table (although I only managed to get a very grumpy looking picture!).


We also ended up “painting” with the water, which was hugely popular, and all three children could join in with – in fact, F loved it most of all and it was lovely not to have to mind where she “drew”!




Wildlife Fun in the Garden

We were inspired today by our weekend visit to the RSPB Headquarters at Sandy, Bedfordshire.  I came away full of plans to make our garden a little wildlife haven, and we made a start today by creating a simple bug hotel.

We had seen a very impressive one at Sandy – the Ritz of Bug Hotels.  Ours is more of a Travelodge but was great fun to make using things we already had at home, and got the children thinking about different habitats.

We used a large planter turned on its side as a basic framework, and added plant pots containing various materials – dried leaves, pinecones, stones, mud, grass, twigs.  We added a brick stuffed with vegetation and mud too.


The great thing about using small plant pots was that L and N could carry them around the garden and be responsible for creating their own little habitats in each one.  This really got them thinking about the conditions bugs and insects would like (cool/warm, damp/dry, dark/light) and investigating the properties of materials as they tried to create those conditions.  L had the idea that butterflies and moths wouldn’t like getting wet and so we had some dry areas too – and this led to the idea of planting some wildflowers too, to attract bees and butterflies.

N mixing soil and water to make the right consistency of mudImage

ImageL filling his plant pot with leaves and sticks

F had a go at filling a pot too…and emptying it…and refilling it…Image

Another challenge for L and N was to fit the plant pots, stones and bricks into the larger planter – a bit like a jigsaw using natural materials :-).  Here are L and N showing off the finished product:


Our plan is to keep a journal with pictures and a bit of writing about the insects that visit our “hotel”.

Seeing as we had already collected sticks and leaves, and made mud, I challenged L and N to play at being birds, and use these materials to make a nest.  It involved getting very messy indeed!


We experimented with weaving sticks and leaves, shaping them, bending them, sculpting mud – alil great fun and involved some real planning and problem solving for the childiren, as well as a little science lesson in understanding how birds make nests.  We discovered that our most effective way to build a next was to use mud as a glue and leave it to dry.

I was pleased that F could join in.  I have been finding it harder to include her ithan I did when she was tiny. She is now at an age where she wants to be in on the action, but doesn’t quite have the skills or concentration to match her enthusiasm – it’s a difficult balance between letting her experiment, and not letting her destroy things carefully constructed by the older ones.  In the garden, she was free to roam with supervision, and seeing as the point was to get messy and experiment, it was right up her street.  Pilus it was novel enough to hold her interest that bit longer than usual.



Finally, we fed the birds and put together a very basic makeshift bird bath using two planters:


We plan to make the birds some food tomorrow, like we did here.

The afternoon “flew” by (ha ha) and even thought the weather wasn’t as lovely as expected, the fresh air certainly was – we came in tired, happy and muddy, which is always the sign of a good day!!

Learning in the Great Outdoors

Quite a few people have asked me recently how I manage to Home Educate L (aged 5) with two younger children at home.  This post isn’t going to be a defence of our decision that for the moment, this is what suits L and our family, or an exploration of when or if that might change, nor is it going to provide a full explanation of the varied and interesting approaches to Home Education – but hopefully it might illustrate how not only possible but natural it is for the whole family to learn and explore together.  This isn’t limited to Home Educating families of course – it happens naturally, and it’s fun.

This week the sun has been out, and we have made the most of it after being cooped up for too long (I’m all for getting children outside whatever the weather but there are only so many welly walks we can take before the novelty wears off).  So we have been outside this week as much as we can, doing a bit more playground maths , planting potatoes with our pack from the Potato Council


as well as hunting for bugs and exploring the countryside.  great fun, and so full of learning opportunities that it would be almost impossible to learn nothing!

We have collected and counted sticks and stones, ordered them from biggest to smallest, played “how many more shall we find to make 10?”


We have looked in puddles, rivers and streams, played “what sinks and what floats?”, predicted what might happen (both L and N thought that if they could find a big enough stick, it would not float because it would be heavy and so we have experimented with different sizes of sticks and stones)…


We have written in the soil with sticks, practising letter formation (N), sentences and joined-up writing (L) and simple mark-making (F).


We predicted which leaves / sticks / twigs would fly the furthest in the wind,  what variables might change how far they travelled (how strong the wind was, how high in the air we held them, where we stood, etc), and how to make the test fair.  We did the same racing sticks down a river.


We indulged in a bit (ok, a lot) of role play with natural materials aka playing with sticks, which is one of the children’s favourite pastimes at the moment (they will look around for a stick literally as soon as we leave the front door).  Sticks, with a bit of imagination, have been mice, babies, rockets, tools, guns (of course, and no matter how much I discourage it), keys, a policeman’s truncheon, a knight’s sword, a magic wand…and probably more that I’ve forgotten.  Whilst playing, we have explored concepts of justice, morality, punishment, sharing, giving, gender roles, the difference between looking after oneself and being selfish…all initiated by the children, and conversations we wouldn’t have had without our stick-play prompts.

And not forgetting F, who wasn’t doing much science or role play, but was nevertheless very busy exploring the properties of the things she found outdoors, trying to repeat words, clearly getting excited and pointing to things she saw, engaging with us, interacting, observing, investigating…and practising her new found skills of mark-making, standing, stepping (with support), clapping…


We also did a bit of birdwatching and identified some of the birds we saw.


The bonus “lesson” was all the positive interaction the children had, practising turn-taking and co-operation as well as building all our relationships 🙂


We also took our bug collection kit out and about on a fabulous afternoon-long Bug Hunt.


We looked at bugs, along with leaves, flowers, bark, and anything else we found, under a magnifying glass – N in particular was captivated by the detail she saw, and even had a good look at the bugs, which are not her usual favourite!

L’s favourite part was “meadow sweeping” – running through the long grass dragging a net, and examining the contents.  We also considered where we might look for different kinds of bugs and worms – under stones (cool and damp) vs. the long grass (warm and dry) – introducing the idea of different habitats and adaptations.


We also took a close-up look at the sticky sap of a tree, identified different kinds of tree, and talked about what is inside a tree trunk.


And then we had an unexpected lesson about reproduction, comparing and contrasting mammals and birds, courtesy of two pheasants we met on the way home (no photo I’m afraid!),

F was tired out from all the fresh air and activity, just ready for a nap which did allow us a little bit of reading and writing based around the things we had seen.


That, my friends, is how we are currently home educating with two pre-schoolers!

The Big Birdwatch, Feeding the Birds, and a Five Senses Box

This is the weekend of the Big Garden Birdwatch, where anybody, anywhere in the country is invited to count the birds in their garden, or ion a local park, for one hour, and send the results off to the RSPB.  You don;t have to be a member of the RSPB to take part.  It’s fun and it’s free, and an opportunity to learn about the birds that live in our garden – so when we heard about this from Grandma we decided to sign up.

We got ready for the birdwatch this week by reading about garden birds – there are so many lovely books suitable for very little children, but we used the RSPB’s My First Book of Garden Birds, which has a very sweet “who is hiding?” concept that kept the children nicely engaged since they loved guessing which bird was being described, and learnt a bit about each bird too.  The RSPB Garden Birds Sticker Book was a nice matching activity and helped L (5) and N(3) get to grips with identifying some common garden birds.

We also made some snacks for the birds, to attract them to our bird table.  We made fat balls by heating vegetable fat in a pan and adding bird seed and meal worms.  Rather than rolling them into balls, Grandma told us it works better to make them in plastic cups and place them in a net bag, so this is what we did.

We also made two kinds of bird feeder.  One very easy if slightly sticky method was brilliant for L and N to make independently.  They each spread a toilet roll tube with peanut butter, then rolled it in bird seed.  We hung these from the bird table and the birds loved them.  It was very entertaining to watch them investigate the new food, check it out, keep coming back to it, getting closer each time, before one brave coal tit tried some, and the rest then tucked in.

Here are L and N making their bird feeders:


Meanwhile, F got involved by exploring some bird nuts inside a ziplock bag:


We also began making a bird feeder out of an empty juice carton.  It would have been easy enough to make one like this from No Time for Flash Cards, except that I decided I liked the look of this pretty one, so ours are still wet with paint and unfinished, and daddy says they will scare away the birds, since N painted hers bright orange.  Sometimes simplicity is best!

So the time came to count our birds!  F loved looking out of the window and watching them.  L and N were very excited and probably scared away a fair few birds!  But they did enjoy keeping a simple tally.

L's tally chart

L’s tally chart

...And N's

…And N’s

The plan is to use these to make a pictogram of the birds in our garden.

Afterwards, we put together a garden birds sensory box, and had fun playing with that whilst learning a little bit about birds.  So many of our sensory boxes are thrown together in five minutes, and work wonderfully well – this one took a little more thought and preparation, but I think it was worth it.  Here we have a sensory box that gave the children the scope to use all five senses in bird-related play.  I especially like this idea for F, since pretty much all her interaction with the world is sensory and it makes a lot of sense (no pun intended there) to stimulate all her senses.  L and N seemed to appreciate it too, and it made things a bit more exciting and different.

Garden BIirds Sensory Box

Garden Birds Sensory Box

My first idea had been to make some garden birds for a felt storyboard.  But whilst searching for ideas on that theme, I came across some garden bird finger puppets and just had to have a go at making some.
It was actually quite achievable, and involved cutting the pieces out of felt and sticking them together with PVA glue – no sewing involved, although I may sew around the edges to strengthen the puppets against the children’s robust treatment of them.

Blackbird and Robin

Blackbird and Robin

Thrush and Bluetit

Thrush and Bluetit

This feels like such a fun and interactive way to  teach L and N to recognise a few birds, and seems to be working already, since they were calling the birds by their correct names as they played.

The birds formed the basis of the sensory box, along with some basic features of their habitat:

A nest (made of sparkly gift packaging)


Some stones, under which some worms (pipecleaners cut to different lengths), ladybirds (card toppers), and squidgy insects (from L’s nature explorer kit) were hiding, ready for the birds to eat.  We also included a tub of pom poms to represent berries.


Some water – we used a zip-lock bag filled with hair gel and blue glitter to form a cool, squishy pond.  It also smelt lovely!

Some toilet roll tubes, since we used these to make bird feeders, and I thought they would be great for pouring.  I put some cups in the box for a bird-feeding scooping and pouring activity.  We used bird seed as a filler for the box, and added pinecones to represent trees.  L and N were involved in putting the box together and were very good at telling me what the birds would need.

Lastly, I put together a “bird table” that the children could eat from, to go alongside the box.  The snacks were slices of apple topped with peanut butter, topped with raisins, cranberries, blueberries, and muesli.  This was the tasting element, and LI and N devoured their bird snacks – I wasn’t sure how adventurous they would be, and they did seem concerned that I was going to give them bird food!  F mainly tipped hers on the floor and ate a bit of apple.

For really adventurous eaters it might be fun to try this blindfolded, and see if they can identify different berries, fruit, nuts etc.  I also plan to make jelly worms this week, by pouring jelly into drinking straws, allowing it to set, then running under warm water to release the “worms”.  L and N love eating spaghetti “wormsI” so I think this just might appeal to them.


When L and N began to play with the box, I gave them some tweezers and tongs to move objects around, like a bird in its beak.  This was very popular, and I was surprised how easy they found it (I had included big tongs as well as little tweezers because I wasn’t sure if they would be able to manipulate the tweezers.  next time I plan to give them tiny craft beads to move around (the kind even I find fiddly), to challenge them a bit more and really practise that pincer movement.

moving "berries" in a "beak"

moving “berries” in a “beak”

All three loved the squishy bag, which has inspired me to give them a range of different ones to play with.


A lot of creative play went on, with much feeding of baby birds.  There is also a lot of scope with this box for sorting activities.  I deliberately included pom poms of different sizes, and pipecleaners cut to different lengths, to allow for sorting of biggest to smallest etc.



Frosty Fun

We woke up this morning to a magical frosty wonderland!


L and N immediately wanted to go out and investigate but being a school morning, there wasn’t time.  Fortunately, the frost lasted all day and made for a super after school playtime, which was a welcome break from the whirlwind run-up to Christmas, as we all lost ourselves in play :-).

First, we went for a walk and explored the frost with all our senses.

We took a close look at the frost on the grass and leaves:12122012(003)12122012(019)12122012(002)12122012(018)

N thought it looked like sugar.  L already knew it was “ice crystals”.  Both decided it was made from water.

We investigated how it felt (we found that it was cold, wet and crunchy.  We found that it melted on our fingers (L could predict that this would happen, and both knew it was because we had warm fingers).

F also had a close up look and feel of some frosty leaves and grass:


All three children enjoyed playing in the frosty leaves for quite a while and it was just lovely to watch how they all enjoyed the same sense of wonder and enjoyment of nature, and how this spanned the difference in their ages.  They really were more similar than different in the way they enjoyed this, and it made me very glad to have decided to go outside when it would have been so easy to put the telly on.  It also struck me that this was more of a break than the telly would have been – it took us outside the daily routine and gave us what felt like a peaceful interlude in a week of frenetic activity.


We had an even closer look at the frost crystals with a magnifying glass:


through a magnifying glass

through a magnifying glass

Then carried the magnifying glass around the garden looking at the frost in different locations, and the ice in the bird bath – L and N were both really interested.


We found that the frost had stuck leaves together:


We discovered how the leaves and grass felt crunchy to walk on, and that if we were really quiet we could hear the ground crunching as we walked.  We noticed that we left footprints in the grass.


We drew in the frost on the car window:


And seeing as I had said we were going to use all our senses, and L is a bit of a pedant, we also smelt and tasted the ice!

N then decided to take some frosty leaves into the house to watch the frost melt next to the warm radiator:


Once inside, we decided to have a go at making frost in a jar, and finding out how frost is formed.  We used this experiment from Weather Wiz Kids as a guide.

We used some of the Christmas ice still in our freezer from our ice play.


First we crushed the ice.  L was very keen to take on this job, and with the ice in a freezer bag, he used a rolling pin to bash it, with plenty of boy-noise to accompany the action.  We put the crushed ice in a jar, and added some salt.


We left the jar to stand for five to ten minutes, and frost duly formed on the jar.


For those of you wondering why this happens, the answer is this:

1. The salt lowers the melting point of ice, accelerating the melting.

2. Melting the ice lowers the temperature inside the jar, so the temperature of the salt/ice/water solution falls below freezing.

3. Water droplets in the air outside the jar freeze on contact with the outside of the jar, forming a frost.

So the frost outside forms when the temperature of the ground outside falls below freezing, causing water particles to freeze on contact.  This fascinated L, who was interested in the difference between frost and snow, and he was amazed that the frost had formed “its own self” and not fallen from the sky.

We also talked about using salt to melt the ice on the roads – and to finish off, all three children had an exploratory play with the rest of the ice and a tray of salt!


Fun and (Sensory) Games with Ice

Today we have been getting in the mood for staring our Christmas crafts with a bit of winter-themed play, continuing from last week when we started exploring the weather by making clouds in a jar.  L and I had a look at the water cycle today, making good use of our jar again to demonstrate evaporation and condensation.

Condensation – the “rain” we made

Here is how to make it rain inside a jar:

  1. Place the lid of a jam jar in the freezer and leave it there to get really, really cold.
  2. Pour boiling water into the jar (warm it first to avoid cracking the jar)
  3. Screw the freezing cold lid onto the jar
  4. Place some ice on top of the lid to keep it cold
  5. Watch as the steam from the water cools on contact with the cold lid, and it “rains” inside the jar.
  6. Use this to illustrate the water cycle.

L enjoyed this so we did it again.  And we were able to link it to the book his class are reading at school, Rala Rwdins, which is a Welsh children’s book about a witch who looks after the weather.  We have just ordered this book and it arrived today, so we had a read as part of our weather-focused play.

L was very interested in the ice we used to make the rain jar, and asked if he could play with it, so we set up some sensory play with a tray of ice.  I wouldn’t have thought they would like having their hands immersed in freezing cold ice which is why we have never tried this before, but they loved it (well, L and N did, F was not so keen).  I’m not sure what L and N did but they played with the ice for quite a while.  Instead of the ice we gave F some winter hats and gloves of various different textures (fleecy, woolly, bobbly) to play with, which she liked much better.

L enjoyed putting his hand inside a freezer bag filled with margarine, and discovering that it insulated his hand against the cold ice – we talked about how animals that live in the ice and snow are insulated against the cold by blubber under their skin.  Although N wouldn’t put her hand in the margarine and was even too suspicious to touch the outside of the bag, she enjoyed naming some animals – whale, dolphin, polar bear, seal.

We also explored the ice with salt and food colouring – the salt sprinkled on the ice makes little channels through the ice, which the food colouring flows through, making some very pretty patterns actually inside the ice.  I personally think this is very cool, and you could make some amazing ice sculptures in this way.

Both of them remember that last winter we “discovered” how to make ice by freezing water, after L asked me where the icy puddles outside had come from.  This is over a year ago, and N was only just two at the time, but they still talk about it a lot – which just shows how much all children delight in learning new things.

Today we froze some Christmas ice, ready for more sensory play – we coloured it red and green, and added christmassy treasure to be frozen inside the ice.  the “treasure” was mainly card toppers – father christmases, stockings, and gold stars, and a bit of glitter.

We also froze two cups of ice containing a fairy and a unicorn (playmobil figures) – because I plan to repeat with N something I did with L last year, which is to ask how the toy can escape from the ice (let’s see if N can work out that she has to warm the ice to melt it).  The problem I had with this last year is that L managed to melt the ice under the tap using water, and so he thought he could dissolve the ice – so this year he is going to try this out with water of varying temperatures, and at varying temperatures without water to make sure he realises that temperature is the important factor.

Here is all our water sitting in the freezer ready to be frozen:

Christmas Ice

L did want to sit and watch the ice freeze, so I let him for about five minutes before he realised it would take a very long time, and agreed that we could check on it at intervals.  The ice was the last thing N mentioned before falling asleep at night, and we will check its progress in the monring!














Cloud Experiments

Last weekend, we had a hailstorm.  And a spectacular one it was too.  This is the view from our window:

All three children had their interest well and truly captured by the noise, the way the hailstones bounced off the ground, the white floor.  L asked to go outside to “see what it felt like”, and instead of saying “no, you’ll get wet” (my automatic reaction), I decided to let him investigate.

He was really excited and full of questions, and N decided to join him out there despite her initial reservations.  They both had fun making patterns in the fallen hailstones with Daddy, whilst F and I watched from the window.

F really enjoyed watching too, as this strange new substance fell from the sky – she definitely noticed something different.

So, I decided to go with their enthusiasm and have a look at the weather this week.  We have so many books about the weather, and L was very pleased to be able to tell me all about clouds, and so we had a go at making some clouds to explore.

The first experiment showed us how clouds are formed.  We took an empty jam jar and backed it with dark paper so as to get a better view.  We half-filled the jar with hot water, warming the jar first to prevent it from cracking.  We put a few frozen peas in a freezer bag and placed them on top of the jar.  This provided the cold and warm air necessary for cloud formation.



Next, we lit a match and allowed it to burn for a couple of minutes, before blowing it out and placing it inside the jar.  This provided the dust particles (or “focal points”) in our mini-atmposphere.

This was one of those experiments that work perfectly and brilliantly every time.  Wisps of cloud were formed right away, and clearly visible.  More could be formed simply by dropping in another  match.  Perfect!  Unfortunately, the clouds can’t be seen clearly on the photos but they were so clear in real life.

warm water and a match in side the jar, ice on top.

watching the clouds form

And when we removed the ice, we watched the clouds escape.

The second cloud demonstration we did was to illustrate how clouds hold onto water, until it becomes too heavy to hold in the air, when it falls as rain.  We used a bigger, empty jar, with some kitchen paper tied across the opening.  We trimmed our kitchen paper with curved scissors to look like a cloud, but that part is optional!

Our rain jar

I then gave the children a jar of coloured water and a pipette.  They love playing with pipettes!  They dropped water onto the kitchen paper cloud, watching it hold onto the water until it became too heavy, and the “rain” fell in the jar.

L and N were delighted by this experiment and wanted to do it again and again.
And what was little F doing while we were making clouds?  why, she was joining in at her own level, playing with a tray of coloured water on the floor!

She didn’t like the cold water at all, but cheered up and played happily when the water was warm.  And later, big brother joined in to show her what happens when it rains.

This very soon developed into  “what floats and what doesn’t” water play.  It was lovely seeing oldest and youngest play together happily and I always love seeing them get different things out of the same activity – and self initiated too, what could be better? 🙂

I also thought that shaving foam play would provide some good sensory play related to our cloud activities – especially as watching food colouring drip through it slowly would be another good demonstration – next time!