Tag Archives: outdoor play

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!


A Princess Birthday

My big girl turned three on Saturday – cue lots of misty-eyed reminiscing and cries of “I can’t believe she’s three” – but I really can’t.  Here is how we celebrated…

N had waited long and patiently for this day, having shared a joint party with her brother two weeks ago and not quite able to understand why they shared the party but not the birthday.  I really didn’t want her day to be a replica of L’s, but she seemed to be looking foprward to having her turn at exactly the same thing…so here is how we kept some elements of the day she was waiting for, whilst adding some special surprises just for her…

There was an unintentional “princess” theme to the day, partly because she has caught the princess fever that seems to be compulsory for three year old girls, and also because all toys/decorations aimed at three-year old girls come with built-in princesses.  It’s a chicken and egg situation, but N loves it, and seeing as it was her special day, I put my reservations about just how much this princess thing is taking over to one side for the day and focused on doing what she would really love and remember.

N ate her breakfast on a Princess throne.  The inspiration for this was that I remember having a special chair decorated for my seventh birthday party, and how, well, special it felt.  I couldn’t quite believe that chair was just for me.  I wanted to pass that feeling on to N.

This didn’t cost a penny.  Because I made it up as I went along.  I took a large piece of while netting from my sewing stash, draped it over the chair until it looked suitably princessy, and pinned it in place with safety pins.  I tied a large pink spotty ribbon around the middle and added a fluffy pink cushion.  I used a fabric marker pen to write “Princess Nancy” across the front, and decorated with assorted odds and ends from the sewing and craft stashes – some miscellaneous pink fluff, some beads, some shiny streamers.  I’m thinking this could be easy to do for a variety of themes, and with a bit of advance planning some really complex themed chairs could be pulled off – but it’s not something I’d want to do too often because for me, the charm is in its “one-off” specialness and complete surprise.

I also made N a princess garland to wear, which with all the gratitude of a three year old, she didn’t want to wear.  But I did get a very sweet picture of her wearing it before it was discarded (she will no doubt love it another day, so it’s gone to the dressing up box).

This was made very simply and easily by threading silk flowers through craft wire, and weaving ribbon through.  I had planned to try this tutorial, as I think these crowns look amazing, but I didn’t have any liquid or powder starch and spray starch just didn’t do the job.  I ran out of time to try stiffening the fabric with a sugar solution.  But I still plan to make the crown at some point in the future.

After breakfast we played with N’s presents.  I had made a Pink Birthday themed sensory box, which L and N played with for ages and was a huge success.  again, this didn’t cost a penny.

My first thought had been to use sparkly multicoloured rice as a filler, but knowing this would be played with in the lounge I lost my nerve.  Also, we have done a lot of play with rice recently which was a good excuse, and I decided to use party decorations and wrapping – I literally put them in the box for the children to do what they liked with  and explore.   I find it hard not to have ideas of what they might like to do with the materials, but this time I had no ideas – their ideas were plentiful; I needn’t have worried.  I added some miniature birthday cards (made my folding card toppers in half – these were mainly ones I got free with craft magazines, or had been squished at the bottom of the craft drawer.  Ditto some cardboard fairies.  I added two fairy wands, some ribbons of various textures, some of those cheap and shiny rosettes for present-wrapping, a giant fuzzy pipecleaner twisted into a heart shape, some squishy butterfly shaped gel packs  and some sequins (I chickened out on the glitter).  I found some lovely shiny wrappings, spray painted some bubble wrap silver, and just threw them all in.

The centre of a cupcake stand worked well to divide the box up, as well as conveniently being shaped like a princess castle – you may recognise it from our fairy picnic.  Ditto the miniature tea set which was included because it reminded me of a birthday tea party.  I also added my silicone cupcake cases (some pleasingly heart-shaped) and a jar of beads and candles.  the finishing touches were a pink “birthday princess” balloon left over from their party, and some textured decorative tape stuck along the edge of the box.

The first thing L and N did was to host a picnic for their dolls and toys.  The beads became “food”, the bubble wrap was spread out on the ground and the tea set used for the dollies’ picnic.  The beads and tea set were all tiny, so lots of fine motor development going on here.  This is our third sensory box, and this time L didn’t ask me what the materials were for, he just got stuck in, and I think he initiated the picnic 🙂

This has been an ongoing game for three days now, with bead cupcakes being designed and candles added.  N has played at it by herself today (and she never plays by herself!):

N enjoyed a completely self-initiated sorting activity, sorting the beads into their different colours to make different coloured cakes, and they both practised alternating colours to make patterns.  When they have had some time to play without my intervention I might suggest making necklaces for the dolls, practising further motor skills and more complicated repeating patterns.

The pink tinsel was a hit – it has been a river next to the picnic, a dressing up scarf, a relay baton, a train track, the piston of an engine as they ran around the room being a train, one at each end of the tinsel.  They have practised jumping over it, skipping with it, walking along it without falling off…

The castle has been a home for the assortment of playmobil fairies N received on Saturday.  Although this was a very strictly supervised playtime for baby F, she enjoyed handling those materials I gave her access to.  She didn’t seem to mind not joining in, as the wrapping paper from N’s presents was her favourite anyway!

F plays with a giant pipecleaner

Wrapping paper fun

The dressing up box  was brilliant, it made for a memorable day of eclectic outfits and pretend games, here we have a selection:

Princess jasmine and Woody make cupcakes for tea

Woody and a snowman get ready to make paint

A skeleton sweeps the decking

As you can see, we had a crafty interlude where we made cupcakes (I’m saving that for another post, but suffice it to say they were pink and delicious), and more paint for the bath.

But first, we had to see what Daddy had been doing in the garden:


And we had a great time bouncing on our new trampoline!  Bouncing turned to hopping, skipping, and follow the leader.




Hop like a frog

Lots of gross motor development happening here 🙂

Even little F had a turn – cue very sweet sibling bonding moment…

A tea party with Nana and Grandad to follow, giving L and N the opportunity to show off their cupcakes, followed by the last surprise of the day – a fairy-themed sensory bath.

Pink food colouring in the water of course, along with flower-shaped sparkles and rose petals (I cut up an old hair scrunchie with a flower embellishment) made a perfect fairy pond.  I also found these flower-shaped paint palettes in Home Bargains, which made perfect lily pads and allowed the opportunity for mixing paints.  I sat a plastic fairy on each one.  Here is what it looked like:

All three children joined in, F joining for the first part, and enjoying watching the coloured water being poured.  I think soon she might enjoy a tray of coloured water on her high chair tray for her own playtime.

We repeated a lot of the ideas from this sensory bath, because that was what L and N wanted – it has struck me during our recent playtimes that whilst I want to keep things new and exciting, children love repetition, and that they get different things out of an activity each time it is repeated.  They seem to let you know when they have exhausted the learning potential (and therefore the fun).  There is always something they can get out of it, even if it is just demonstrating to a younger sibling, or a sense of accomplishment from practising something they are already adept at), and they will very quickly find it. The thing I love about this sort of activity is that it is adaptable – we can add or take away from it as it fits the children’s needs, and unlike a shop bought toy which they outgrow and becomes redundant, this type of play evolves with the children.

So out came the paints again!  L and N ask for this every bath time and I keep reminding them that it wouldn’t be special if we did it every day.  This time they added a lot of water to the paint, which i let them do in the name of exploring the properties of the paint and finding out what happened, then wondered if i’d made a mistake and allowed them to spoil their own fun – we poured away the water and there was still enough paint left for play time.

We added a bit of fairy magic to our bath for ‘s birthday – fizzy heart shaped bath bombs leaving “fairy dust” in the water (L wanted to do this again and again and enjoyed the feel of the fizzing on his hand, and exploring ideas about what happened to the material – I had to admit that I don’t know how a bath bomb works and promised him we would look it up!).  and we used magic blue water to turn the bath purple (N’s other favourite colour).

After the bath, all that was left was to read a princess book in bed, wearing her new Tinkerbell pyjamas:

And for the first time I said goodnight to my three year old daughter!