Category Archives: Social and Emotional Development

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!


Presents for L’s Teachers

Soon we will be moving house, and tomorrow is L’s last day at his school.  He and I had some special time together making some presents for the teachers and teaching assistants in his class.  I thought I would share them here as they are easy and fun, and make lovely presents for children to create themselves.  L and N are always so proud of anything they have made, and can’t wait to give it to the recipient.  I hope it encourages thoughfulness, and an appreciation of the things people do for them, as they realise the effort involved, and also have to think about what other people might like.

As we made these presents we were having a conversation about how someone might feel if they were the only person left out of the present-giving thank-you’s and goodbyes, and how we can make sure nobody feels left out – I think these are really valuable conversations to have, as long as they are done in a way that doesn’t make the child feel guilty.

there was actually no danger of anyone being left out because L wanted to go on making more and more!

For his teacher, we made this notebook:


To make this, I used a plain notebook from the pound shop.  This is what we did:

  1. We cut 2 pieces of upholstery wadding the same size as the notebook.
  2. We used spray adhesive to stick a piece to each outer side of the cover.
  3. We covered the notebook and wadding in pretty fabric, and used more spray adhesive to stick it together.  be careful not to use too much, or it stains the fabric.  An alternative would be to use PVA around the edge of the fabric.
  4. We used pritt stick to glue the first and last page of the notebook to the inside of the cover, hiding the ends of the fabric.
  5. L drew a picture of his teacher on plain fabric, using fabric markers.
  6. I used spray glue to attach the picture to the front of the notebook, and stitched around the edge to secure it and decorate.
  7. To finish, we tied a ribbon around the notebook – this is ribbon printed with “Handmade by L” which I ordered very cheaply off Ebay last year to use with their handmade gifts (N has some too, and I think F might need some soon!).

You could cover any book like this to make a pretty gift – photo albums, scrap books, the children’s own stories…

Then, L and I made some truffles.  This was messy but easy, and L loved rolling the chocolate ganache into balls.  He also very much enjoyed licking out the bowl of ganache afterwards.  The recipe we used was not really a recipe, but went something like this:

  1. Melt chocolate in a pyrex bowl over a pan of boiling water.
  2. Mix with warmed cream in a ratio of 2 parts chocolate to 1 part cream.
  3. Add some butter (I didn’t measure the butter; it was probably about 100g in 250g of chocolate).  If you are using milk chocolate, you will probably need to use more chocolate and butter relative to the cream, to get a really thick ganache.
  4. Chill until at the right consistency – it should hold its shape when you scoop a bit out.
  5. Roll into balls – a less messy way would be to use a small ice cream scoop.
  6. Coat in cocoa powder, dried coconut, crushed nuts, icing sugar – whatever you like.
  7. Keep refrigerated.

So, we needed something pretty to present our truffles in.  L decorated 3 pound shop glasses, which turned out to be perfect!  We coated them in PVA glue, rolled them in coloured glitter, and added sequins.  They would make fantastic tea light holders as the light would shine through them beautifully.  L was so proud of the way they turned out!  His favourite was a rainbow one he made by using stripes of differently coloured glitter.  It always pleases me so much when he comes up with something creative and tries it out, as even a few months ago he wouldn’t do this for fear of making a mistake.  Open ended craft activities with no set end point have really helped him develop confidence to try things out.

Here are our glass pots:


So easy to make and so pretty, plus the children got their dose of glitter!

We also made alphabet cupcakes for the children in L’s class, using sugar letters as decoration.  Similar to the alphabet pudding we had at tea time the other day!



Fun and Games

My favourite post of all time has to be The Day We Did Nothing – because I love realising that learning doesn’t have to be hard work for me or the children – in fact, they never stop learning as we go about our daily lives.  Playful learning doesn’t have to be structured – in fact the best times can be spontaneous and relaxed.  Just spending time together is building family relationships and happy children, which is every bit as important as learning to read.

Today the children and I all felt the need for some “down time”.  You would be forgiven from reading this blog for thinking that our lives are jam-packed with crafts, baking and days out –  we do plenty of those things and we love it – but I believe that children need unstructured time too, and this is when they out into practise the skills they have learnt, process the events of their little lives, develop their social skills without coaching from an  adult – and so many things that are just as important to their development as anything else we do together.

So this morning we watched a film together,  then all three spent time playing with their toys.  L and N played a fantastic game involving lots of different animals, and made good use of their dressing up box.  Their whole morning was free play, followed by a picnic lunch on the living room floor – and in the afternoon we got out the board games.

We love board games.  And they exist to prove that playful learning doesn’t have to be high maintenance.  Sitting down together, the children had my time and attention, and someone else had done the creative thinking and careful planning, so all I had to do was relax and play!

We played Junior Scrabble, Jenga, and Guess Who.

Scrabble these days has two levels for juniors.  Level one is a simple matter of matching letters, and N (3) is a whizz at it.  Whilst L (5) doesn’t seem to have the concept of a strategy yet, N plans her next move carefully and strategically, and L is learning from his sister.  So in playing scrabble, they are not only learning letter recognition, but a whole range of other skills – turn taking, planning, deferred gratification, and second-guessing what other players might do next.  This is why N is at the moment a better player, even though L can read!  Level 2 requires players to form their own words – L can do this but N needs to work with a partner.  The main stumbling block for L has been learning to read the words going down the board – the “wrong” way.  But after having played a few times, he is getting quite good at unscrambling his letters to make a word, and by joining in and watching, N is understanding how words are made in preparation for reading and writing.

F wasn’t upset not to be able to play the game – since we were all sitting down on the floor at her level, talking to her, she felt included and not left out.  She played with plastic letters – interesting shapes and textures for her to explore, but also alongside daily stories it should hopefully help her to be familiar with the shape and appearance of letters, and make them a part of her life, even whilst she is far too little to read.

I apologise for the poor quality photos in this post – taken on my phone in a room with poor lighting.

Junior Scrabble - Kangaroo and princess outfits optional!

Junior Scrabble – Kangaroo and princess outfits optional!



We were given this for Christmas, which I was very excited about as I’d wanted to get it for the children.  It is just great on so many levels.  Even building the tower requires co-ordination, care, fine motor skills, and following an alternating pattern (a pre-maths activity).

The other thing I love about Jenga is that it forces L and N to slow down in order to win.  It rewards care and attention, whilst still being fun.  Slowing things down without telling the children off for being bositerous is brilliant!

This is a game that L is better at, being older and having more refined motor skills.  But N makes up for it with effort, and practise is definitely the way forward in learning and development, which is why I tend to take the age guidelines on a game with a pinch of salt.  As long as it isn;t so beyond their reach that they become bored, frustrated or demoralised, I think underestimatin g them does more harm than letting them have a go.  Equally, they can often benefit from a toy that could be considered too young, by using it in an unexpected and creative way.


The friends who gave us jenga were thoughtful enough to include F by buying her stacking cups to go with the Jenga, so she played with those, although she did also want to explore the wooden blocks!

Guess Who?  just proves my point about the age guidelines.  N plays it brilliantly.  Both L and N love this game, and it encopurages observation skills, reasoning, early maths (sorting into categories) and also social skills and particularly differentiating their own perspective from others’.


It always reassures me to remind myself of the benefits of what I’d think of as a lazy day – and how much the children are learning even while they are relaxing.

Involving Baby in our Playtimes

This is the thing I always find the most challenging with any of our playtimes – how to involve little baby F whilst still challenging the older two?  L and N are old enough to enjoy the same activities and even (shh, don’t jinx it!) co-operate on occasion.  I don’t want little F to be watching from the sidelines – she is 8 months old now, and old enough to want a part of the action.  And she is so delighted to be included.

Babies love, and need to investigate new materials.  they need to explore them with their senses, find out what they do, how they feel, as a part of working out how the world around them works.

So this is how we have helped F to join in some of our playtimes recently.  Some of these ideas have been included in previous posts but I still thought it might be worth putting them all together in one post.


While big brother and sister made paper snowflakes, F played with paper.  We started with the offcuts of the snowflakes, then gave her crepe paper and card for some different textures.  She enjoyed crinkling, ripping, banging, rubbing, and generally exploring.


To involve F in our Christmas preparations, we have put together a collection of Christmas things which act as a very basic sensory tub for her to explore.  It includes:

  • a felt stocking with a textured snowman
  • our winter themed discovery bottle
  • Some shiny baubles
  • A length of tinsel
  • A plastic Christmas mug
  • A wooden spoon (for Christmas baking)
  • A ribbon from our wrapping box
  • Some wrapping paper

She has also played with pom-poms, coloured sparkly pasta beads, and glittery pipecleaners.

practising that pincer grasp with pom-poms!

practising that pincer grasp with pom-poms!


F has very recently enjoyed being given a lump of play dough to investigate, whilst big brother and sister are busy using it in their own play.  Here, she is exploring play dough whilst N plays tea parties.  F enjoyed the tools as much as the dough – we gave her cutters (plastic, not sharp), a small wooden rolling pin, and a chef’s hat to make her part of the game.


Sometimes, it pays to be creative, and since F doesn’t like playing with ice (brother and sister have spent a lot of time investigating ice this winter), she has preferred exploring winter hats and scarves.


Plenty of “touch and feel” type books in our Christmas book box have ensured that it is just as much for F as the other two.  Our favourites are That’s Not My Snowman and The Usborne Touchy Feely Nativity.


It’s worth mentioning that babies are never too young to enjoy a good story.  Even when they can’t follow the story, they still seem to love the attention and the rhythm of the words.  By now, F is old enough to explore and investigate books, and enjoy pictures too, so board books with bold or textured illustrations are perfect – but she still enjoys listening to longer stories, even though she will not understand the content for a while.  L and N enjoy reading to her too, and I think it is a great way of involving her, to involve the older ones in looking after her and teaching her.11112012(035)


Nature walks are another activity that can be enjoyed by all ages – F just loves being out in the fresh air, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, but I especially like getting her out of her pushchair to play, letting her explore the surroundings freely just like the others can (which is why a warm, waterproof suit is a must!)

Autumn leaf play

Autumn leaf play

exploring the frosty grass

exploring the frosty grass

Exploring with brother ans sister

Exploring with brother and sister

Indoors, whilst we played and learned about the Autumn, F played with leaves, and investigated her own pumpkin:


While we read Flat Stanley and made our own Stanleys to send off around the country, F investigated a range of flat objects:


While we painted, she made handprints:


While we made music, she joined in with rattles, bottles of dried pasta, jingle bells, and a xylophone:


L, N and F's band!

L, N and F’s band!


When we learned about the water cycle, F played with some coloured water:


And she loves to get in on the action with themed sensory baths – the bath is another great leveller in terms of play, with all three children being entertained and playing at their own level.


I think the golden rule with babies is that doing something is better than doing nothing – getting them out of their pram or sling, encouraging them to get active and interact with their environment, including them in the family’s activities rather than carrying them around as a passive observer – well, that is the valuable thing, and all experience is a learning one when you’re this tiny.  A tiny bit of extra thought to including F in our playtimes has made the whole juggling act much easier and meant that we are all focused on the same thing rather than my having t6o divide my attention between different activities.  I also think it is better for the older children to see F as a playmate rather than an unwelcome interruption to their activities, and better for her self esteem too!  And also, we’ve all had a lot of fun!

Co-operative Artwork

This was another activity aimed to help L and N practise co-operation.  It was also designed to get them to play constructively together as a change from the boisterous play that can get on my nerves need to be defused sometimes.

I set this up as an “Invitation to Play”, inspired again by The Imagination Tree – here is my take on “invitation to co-operate”:

Invitation to co-operate (and create firework art)

This took approximately two minutes to set up, with odds and ends from the craft stash, the important feature being that there is one of everything – one pair of scissors, one glue stick, one try of materials – including such coveted items as one glitter shaker, one pot of PVA glue, one paintbrush, one pot of sequins.

Obviously, this was a gamble that could have gone horribly wrong, since this could easily double as “invitation to come to blows” – but it didn’t.  Seeing as carefully laying out two of everything doesn’t seem to prevent arguments, and my two are definitely capable of fighting over one of two identical items, it seems that the only solution is more activities like this.  I’m inspired by its success!

I told L and N that this was a really special activity, which they were going to work together on, and work out how to share the materials, and ask each other for help rather than me.  And they actually did!

I promise this is not a set-up!  Maybe it was the novelty, but with the occasional prompt, they asked each other “please can I have it after you?”, they passed each other things they have previously been prepared to fight to the death over, L helped N to cut things out when she asked him to.

My favourite thing was that they talked to each other directly instead of using me as a go-between, and solved their own problems together.  this is teaching them resourcefulness, co-operation, self-reliance, negotiation skills – and I like it very  much.  Now to devise some more exercises like this, figure out why it worked so well, and incorporate it into everyday play!












A “Kind Hands” Tree

I think I mentioned in a previous post that we have been having a problem with lashing out.  It has been apparent since the start of the school term, and I really want to find a way of helping L and N to stop and think of alternative ways of solving problems, and dealing with angry feelings.

Sticker charts are becoming tired in our house.  I for one am bored of them.  L and N always seem to have a sticker chart for something, and they have lost their novelty and I think their impact.  I wanted something new, since this is an important issue and dealing with it now will be important for years to come.

What we settled on in the end was this:

A “kind hands” tree on the wall at home, as a way of tying in our autumn crafts with the reminders that hitting is not acceptable.  The “kind hands” idea seems to be a concept used in the foundation stage curriculum and it seems like a good idea to me that school and home take the same approach on this.
I also hoped that if the children made the tree together they might feel pride in it and ownership of it, which might help them engage with the idea.  But mainly, I wanted this to be a positive, playful and fun activity, not something that reminds L and N of a telling off.  We approached this as celebrating our kind hands and all the things they can do.

We cut the tree out of cardboard, and painted it brown.  Then we made a list of things we do with our kind hands.

L and N came up with the list themselves.  L already seemed familiar with the idea of “kind hands” and talked about surprising his teacher with what he had done, so I am obviously right in thinking this might link school and home nicely for him.  N quickly got the idea and she loves to help with jobs, so both children made handprints on card, then wrote their ideas alongside (L all by himself, N used our favourite highlighter trick to trace the letters).

N shows off her very kind and very blue hands!

careful writing

Whilst we do love the messy play aspect of hand-printing, I also really like these sponge pads which allow L and N to handprint independently sometimes, without too much of a major clean-up operation afterwards.  These were a present, but are from Asda.

Even baby F got her turn at making handprints, since this is supposed to be a whole-family project (reinforcing that we all use kind hands, adults included), although I confess to having helped her with the writing 😉

We have quite a collection of autumn leaves by now, and we painted some with watercolours the other day  (I love the idea of using natural materials for the autumn theme as well as using new materials to make art), so we used these for the tree.  The children were quite creative, using the natural markings of the leaf to decorate different areas and selecting their colours very carefully.  N wanted brightly coloured leaves, L went for natural autumn colours. I loved the sensory element of painting on leaves and they looked beautiful.  The natural autumn colours showed through the watercolour paint, which just tinted the leaves, and the effect was lovely.  I love it when simple activities turn out to be so special.

Leaf Painting

F enjoyed playing with the leaves while we painted, crinkling and feeling them.  When she had had enough, we sat her by the window to look at the leaves outside.  I really enjoyed being able to include her in the fun at her own level.

L and I laminated the leaves (he LOVED this part, and even made up a song about laminating – yes, really!), and the idea is that we stick a leaf on the tree when the children do something special, helpful or positive with their kind hands.  Laminating allows us to write on the leaves and makes them re-usable.

L’s first leaf, for not hitting back

N’s first leaf, for helping me with jobs

L sticks his own leaf on the tree


So far, the tree seems to be quite motivating.  They love sticking their own leaves on the tree.  I love the fact that it fits in with our autumn play, learning about the seasons, that it transcends the gap between home and school, and that we had so much fun making it.  There were so many sensory elements to this that it ended up being great fun and a brilliant if late start to autumn play!

Dealing With Feelings

Today, we looked at a book I had picked up in a charity shop, called How Do You Feel? It is a beautifully simple book introducing feelings, and some situations that might evoke them, and a very useful basis for discussion.  I feel it is worth a blog post, as I definitely understand my children better for our conversations around it.

First of all, we read the book through.  Then we went back through the pages and talked about the different emotions.  L and N practised expressing the feeling in front of a mirror, and to each other, and I took photos of them to print out and use again.  I could see the difference in their ages and understanding here – N had difficulty in labelling some more complicated secondary emotions (proud, shy), and with these feelings her faces all looked the same, which I wouldn’t have known without trying this.  L had no trouble at all.

N’s Happy Face

L being shy

L makes a sad face

N’s crying, sad face

L looking “proud”

Jumping up and down to show “excited”

Running away, being “scared”

Tired and Sleepy N


I think next we might play this as a game of charades, acting out different feelings while the others guess which one.  It seems to me that the feelings N had difficulty with are the ones we don’t talk about as much, and hopefully making a conscious effort to label them for her and with her will help her recognise them and understand the terms.  I think we could also talk about degrees of feeling – really sad as opposed to a bit sad, and for L introduce some more descriptive terms and synonyms.

We talked about the things that make us happy, sad, angry, proud, etc – and I learnt the following things that I didn’t already know about my children:

  • Both L and N denied ever feeling shy, and saw it as a negative emotion, the opposite of brave.  “I’m not shy because I’m a big boy” – L; “I’m not shy, I’m friendly” – N.
  • Writing makes N cross – “because the letters won’t go right, and I go like this…” (bangs table) – I hadn’t realised she was feeling frustrated by trying to form letters, something she voluntarily practises a lot.
  • “When someone hurts me I don’t feel sad, I feel angry” – L

We focused on angry feelings in particular (my ulterior motive for all of this was to deal with some lashing out that has been happening) and made a list of things we can do when we are angry, apart from hitting.  They came up with all of the following for themselves, which I was surprised and impressed by:

  • Tell a grown up
  • Ask for help
  • Stamp my foot
  • Say “no” and “don’t do that to me” in a loud voice
  • Go and find someone else to play with
  • Say “I’m angry”
  • Cuddle a toy dog (this is N’s toy dog who goes pretty much everywhere)

It did surprise me that such young children already had these resources and coping strategies, and hopefully just need to be reminded and encouraged to use them (as we all do!).

We used the aforementioned dog, and a kangaroo to act out a “fighting” type scenario and the possible outcomes.  L and N both really enjoyed this and it was clearly something they related to.  I started the game – with one toy pushing the other, and L finished it in two ways: –

  1. The second toy hits back, they fight, and the teacher sits them both on the naughty chair
  2. the second toy tells a grown up and asks for help, the first toy goes to the naughty chair and the second finds someone else to play with.

I really like the fact that he worked out for himself the benefits of not hitting back, and hope that this game might help it stick in their minds, especially if we repeat the role play regularly, and prompt them to remember.

We did try role playing the scenario involving people, but it led to some enthusiastic pushing, a bit of crying and a real-life illustration of the above…

This has definitely inspired me to make a concerted effort to talk about feelings beyond happy/sad, and reminded me that since they are going to experience complicated feelings, they need to be given the language and tools to express them, and healthy ways of managing them.  We will definitely be doing more of this.