Watching plants grow is a lovely experience for your little ones, and the rapid growing nature of cress makes it a great plant to monitor for a project. You can buy packets of cress seeds in supermarkets, garden centres and hardware stores; a single packet will have plenty of seeds for a few growing projects.
Cress grows very well on cotton wool which is less messy than using more traditional soil. You can grow cress in any receptacle, here are a few ideas:-
- Create growing 'pots' out of Duplo, Lego or other building blocks
- Take some egg shells and grow in there, draw faces on the front to make 'cress men'
- Use an egg box to create a mountainous landscape with cress 'trees'
- Grow cress in the shapes of your childrens initials, try creating their whole name!
- Use small boxes, tins or any other containers
Lay some cotton wool inside your chosen 'pot', sprinkle seeds on top and saturate it with water. Leave it in a warm and light place such as a windowsill. Look at the pot each day and see what happens. Watch as the seeds start sprouting and then grow into tall cress. After a few days you will be able to harvest the cress - chop it with a pair of scissors and sprinkle it inside a sandwich and enjoy the reward of your labours!
How many times do you come back from a walk to school or a stroll to the park and find your child holding leaves, twigs, and muddy grasses? ...or how often do you find rock and pebbles in trouser pockets (or in the bottom of the washing machine!)? Nature is wonderful; it's ever changing and it's all around us - children can enjoy nature in so many ways no matter where you live.
Here are some activities to encourage an appreciation of nature... and help with some other areas of development too!
1. Nature Bowl: Whenever your child hands you an acorn or a pine cone to look after, ask instead for it to be put in the special "nature bowl". Have any old bowl or basket and keep it in an accessible place so precious treasures can be stored and appreciated. Encourage counting by each time more things are added (or taken away!) count the bowlful together. Encourage sorting by sorting the items into sizes, or shapes or colours. Encourage naming by finding out the name of each item and what it is/does?
2. Practice finding and looking: Collect some nature items (pine cones, acorns, twigs) and hide them in a sand pit. See how many the children can find again in one minute. Use a stop watch to time and count the items together. Ask the little ones to hide the items next time and see if you can find any more quickly. Encourage Problem Solving.
3. Birds: put out a bird bath (shallow bowl of water!) and see if any birds come to have a dip! Go out and choose a bird feeder. You can get some very reasonable ones at shops. Make sure the children choose it. Get them to help put it up and fill it and encourage them to keep an eye on it so it can be refilled. Try to make it their responsibility. Encourage problem solving, and self confidence.
4. Tent-making: give the children some blankets, branches, old boxes and see whether they can build a den in the garden or park. Leave them to it and see how they get on. If they need help, guide rather than take over. Just show them how to balance things and give some tips. Encourage creative thinking, physical movement and problem solving.
5. Mud pies: make some mud pies together with wet mud and allow it to dry. Roll the mud into shapes and place on an old try in the sun to harden. Use twigs to stick into the pies and leaves to decorate. Encourage creativity and problem solving.
6. Name all the insects you can: bee, spider, ladybird, butterfly, caterpillar etc. and as you call out each one, try to move like they do. Wriggle like a worm, glide like a moth, dart like a wasp. Encourage understanding of the world problem solving and physical movement.
Playing games is the best way to teach children and now the weather is so lovely it's even better to be out in the garden or park while you are learning. Here are some matching and sorting ideas to try out with grasses and seeds for you to find.
- Pick some grasses and see how many you can hold without dropping!
- Match the grasses: Find grasses with feathery seeds and interesting leaves. Try to get 2 of each sort. Lay them in a line and see if the little ones can pair them up, matching the same 2 grasses together.
- Counting: Count the grasses together. Take a few away and count them again.
- Put the grasses in order according to their length. Sort them by size and line them up to see the size differences.
- Sort the grasses by shade and colour (if you have some green, some brown, some dark green).
- Blow: Hold each grass and see what happens when you blow them. Do seeds fly off, do they bend or break?
- Bug hunt: Sit and watch the grass for a while and see how many bugs and spiders you can spot scurrying about.
- Shhh: Sit down and listen to the noises you can hear: cars, buzzing bees, laughter, a siren.
- Picture: Take the grasses home and make a seed and grass picture with them.
As a follow-up diary project, put some seed into a pot of soil and watch over the next few weeks to see if the seeds germinate and grow into new plants?
Now that the warm weather is here - hopefully to stay - it's a great chance to get outside and capture the pretty things that appear in spring. If you have a digital camera, a phone with a camera on it or a kiddie digital camera why not go out on a photo shoot.
- Discuss where you want to go... the local park, a pond or river nearby or the garden.
- Plan together what you should take: snacks, drink, sun hat, blanket for resting on or note book to draw things.
- Talk about when to go (morning time when the birds are singing, lunchtime when the sun is brightest and highest, or evening when things are covered in the glow of the setting sun.
Allow your little one access to the camera - with supervision. See what they are attracted to and help them take photos. You could focus on different things:
- Colours: Take photos of different coloured things line green grass, brown bark, pink blossom, white daisies. See how many you collect.
- Texture: take photos of different textures like rough tree, smooth leaf, bumpy path, silky flowers.
- Size: take pictures of small, medium and large and super-large things such as tiny ants, medium shrubby bushes, large fallen trunks and massive towering trees.
- Mini beasts: find and photograph as many mini beasts and animals you can find: insects, squirrels, butterflies, spiders and webs, birds etc.
Have a happy, snappy time!
It has been reported that teachers and carers who are afraid of spiders and creepy crawlies are stopping our children learning about the natural world! Children are not getting involved with nature because teachers and carers are afraid of getting mucky from soil in the great outdoors and are too scared of insects to teach about them.
Experts have said that natural history and nature in general is not being taught in schools. Not so for the childminders and parents who enjoy ToucanLearn! There are some great outdoors activities that introduce insects and teach children about their natural environment. We don't agree with the 'don't get mucky'! philosophy of learning and teaching! The whole idea is to get children involved. Get them interested and inspired! The muddier the better!
The Chairman of the Association for Science Education said teachers need more support to carry out experiments and take children outside. Perhaps these teachers should join ToucanLearn!
He also said that Parents should take their children outside to enjoy the natural world, to learn where their food comes from, what grows in the woods and what goes on in nature.
So, let's take his lead, pull on some wellies, grab a magnifying glass and get out there in the undergrowth! Have fun, explorers!
Could it be that some children born happy while others not? Some children certainly seem happier than others even if they come from the same family, so can it be that some children are going to be happy from day one and others will always be moodier or more inclined to be unhappy?
If they fall over, some children laugh and others burst into floods of tears. When they wake up, some laugh at the sunny morning and jump out of bed. Others turn over in a moody shrug. If they don't get their own way some get stroppy and remain miserable for hours. Others just move on to the next activity and forget about it. Why is this?
Some scientists would say that yes, some children do have a tendency to be happier than other children. However, it cannot be proved beyond doubt. Wherever your child is on the happy/sad spectrum, the important thing is to be aware of how they might respond in certain situations and react accordingly.
Child psychologist Dr. Lise Eliot, Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, maintains that happiness is a state of mind, a mood, rather than an inborn trait. However, certain aspects of a baby's temperament (shy or bold for example) will play a role in determining how happy they are. And, it is this emotional information that is embedded in the brain.
This doesn't mean to say that if your little one is scared of going to pre-school, or nervous of new people that they will be unhappy later in life. Not at all. In fact nature and nurture play an equally important role in the first years of a child's life. Just because a baby's temperament (confident or reserved) may be determined by nature, it doesn't mean it's permanent. Nurture plays a very important role too and those early traits can be modified and honed down with careful parenting. The end result is personality... a blend of the two.
Personality is controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain. We feel good things in the left frontal cortex and bad things in the right, according to scientists. It is said that people with happier dispositions have more activity in their left frontal lobe.
So, spot any signs of unhappy tendencies and deal with them. Support a nervous child; try to tame a bold child; nurture a nervous child and try to guide them to be rounded, happy and creative individuals.
Birds are wonderful to watch and with a little encouragement can become part of your the family! If you don't fancy a dog or a cat as s pet, then, why not care for some wild birds instead? Children will love spotting them, naming them, watching them feed, looking at their different colours and you can even draw some together.
How to invite the birds into you garden
Fix a bird box into a hedge or tree depending on which sort of box you buy and what type of bird you wish to attract. There are some 5-6 million bird boxes in the country now and as birds' natural habitat declines they are relying more and more on our help.
They need not be expensive. There are about 200 different types of bird box on the market. Some even have hidden cameras so you can spy on the resident of your bird box. However, you can pick up traditional boxes from garden centres or you can try and build your own if you are handy! Once in place, you then have to watch the box and see who moves in!
There are all sorts of bird feeders available. If you have squirrels in your area, you may have to opt for a squirrel-proof feeder as they can be very crafty and manage to get away with all the bird feed! Many birds will come on to feeders even if situated close to you house. So if you don't have a garden, then put a couple of feeders at the window or on your balcony and you may still attract visitors!
Naming the birds
Once you are getting birds into the garden, you can start spotting them and finding out what they are called. You can go online and discover the breeds, or buy a children's spotter book or a sticker book. See how many different types of birds there are in your garden and keep a note of what you see.
Interesting facts about some common garden birds you'll see
- Male are black and female are brown
- Blackbirds eat worms from the lawn and scratch around in leaf debris for insects
- They have a lovely tuneful song
2. Blue Tits
- Blue tits eat caterpillars, nuts and seeds
- They nest in trees and bird boxes
- They usually stay up in the trees rather than down on the ground
- Male and female both have red breasts, young are all brown
- They are normally found alone rather than with other robins
- They love to sing
- They eat worms, seeds and insects
- Brown, black and white feathers, if they have a black bib, they are male
- They live near humans and eat seeds and scraps
- They are less common now than they used to be
Out and About
Taking interest in birds is great for children. Even when you take them out and about, keep an eye of for birds you recognise and ones that are new to you! Try look at the colour of their feathers and then draw them together when you get home.
Tweeting is bird-watching and some people are obsessed! They travel the country for a sighting of a rare hawk or a possible glimpse of a migrating finch. However, tweeting with children can be great fun and a good way of introducing wildlife to them.
We've been obsessed with birdwatching for centuries. There are shelves of books in the library all about the birds that reside in different regions of the country and those that migrate and spend just the summer or winter in certain places. There are also lovely birdy books for children with a smaller selection of birds illustrated and presented in an accessible way.
So, how do we go about staring birdwatching?
At this time of year, its easier than ever to spot birds because there are no leaves on the trees! This means they can't hide away as easily as in the summer. Winter also brings migrating birds through, so you might spot more unusual ones! Start in your own garden or around your home. Even cities have a great selection of birds that roost in the buildings or in parks.
What equipment do we need?
If you have a bird watching book that's great. Take it along to the local countryside or park and use it as you look for birds. If not, jot down the characteristics of the birds you see and you can look it up in the library or on the internet when you get home to find out what it is called. Older children might want to scribble blocks of the colour that they see on each bird and you can then look up birds with those colours and confirm their sighting with pictures.
Do we need binoculars?
If you have binoculars, it adds to the fun so take them with you! If not, make the play the part and make some pretend binoculars with kitchen roll tubes, stuck together and some string attached to hang around you child's neck.
What do we do?
Simply sit still in your garden or in the park and wait! You'll probably hear the birds before you see them. Then just watch! See what the birds do, observe their colours, are they in a flock or alone. Try to identify them if you have a book with you, show the pictures to the children and ask them if that is what they see.
When you get home try to draw them and find our their names. You could even log your sightings in your ToucanLearn diary, noting what you see and where you see them. Happy watching!
As the weather changes, moving from one season to the next, take the children outside and do seasonal activities that illustrate the changes around. Each season brings its own characteristic patterns in nature, look at the trees, the animals, the sky, what people wear, and discuss how the seasons change. Explain what the coming season is, and how this affects everything around. Younger children can collect seasonal flora and create a collage, sticking leaves and flowers onto paper, or maybe do some leaf printing. Older children can make a diarama using a box, sticking in twigs, mosses, stones, and other collected debris to create a little scene. The seasons present a fairly abstract concept, but talk about the weather and what you see outside, and this will help your children gain an understanding of what the seasons mean.