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Bringing child care strategies home

Child care centres are a place of laughter, learning, and play. Children learn from their surrounds and their carers at the centre through play-based programs. You can bring these elements into your own home to help your child’s development.  



Children are curious and stories are great ‘brain food’ for their imaginations. Early learning experts encourage reading at home to improve literacy and communication.

Reading to children isn’t a complicated exercise. It’s ideal to regularly set aside a time when you can read together. Some parents like to read with their children before bed and the traditional ‘bedtime story’ is still going strong. Picture books are better for younger children so they can associate the words on the page with the illustrations. Older children can better handle books with longer blocks of text.  



“Play has many valuable purposes.  It is a means by which children develop their physical, intellectual, emotional, social and moral capacities.  It is a means of creating and preserving friendships.  It also provides a state of mind that is uniquely suited for high-level reasoning, insightful problem solving and all sorts of creative endeavours.”

– Peter Gray.  


Child care centres implement play-centred learning programs under the guidance of the Early Years Learning Framework, and parents can just as easily implement a play centred ‘program’ of their own at home.

Inviting your child’s friends to your home for a playdate is one way to facilitate this. Hosting a playdate doesn’t mean children are avoiding doing something productive or ‘wasting time’. Rather, they have the opportunity to work in a team, recognise the importance working together, and understand that other opinions matter besides their own. Early Childhood Australia has a short list defining the different types of ‘play’.


Get outdoors

Following from the last point, play-based learning isn’t always done indoors. If you live in a home with a backyard area, spend time with your child outside or encourage them to play in the yard. Child care centres have outdoor areas where children are active, and an abundance of loose-part resources are available to them.

Loose parts allow children to move, manipulate, control, change, carry, combine, redesign, line up, take apart and put back together in endless ways.  They invite conversations, interactions and they encourage collaboration and cooperation. They promote social competence because they support creativity and innovation. Loose parts can be available in both indoor and outdoor environments and offer excellent opportunities for open-ended learning and higher levels of critical thinking and creativity.   

Understanding the Early Years Learning Framework

The Australian Government has developed this Framework to help childcare educators develop a foundation for children’s future success in learning. It’s not a bible or syllabus, but a guide for early childhood teachers to help their children become their best.



Children may play in a group but they still have a strong sense of self. They don’t turn into “another face in the crowd”. They develop a sense of identity first in a family setting, where they spend most of their time, and this is built up further in kindy.

The EYLF encourages a “safe” environment where children will discover themselves and understand what it means to belong in a group. Discovering identity also means knowing their background/cultural heritage and taking pride in it.


Connect, contribute

We build bonds constantly, but it starts in childhood. After discovering their sense of self and feeling like they belong, children start to form bonds with others. This happens at home and in childcare. It’s important to make connections and become a part of a group. A group dynamic helps children learn about the diversity of the world around them and to respect it.

Contributing is encouraged in group discussion and play. The teachers create settings where children are able to voice their opinions and feel comfortable doing so. This part of the Early Years Learning Framework encourages children to have a voice, respect those of others and have an awareness of their surroundings.


A sense of wellbeing

Nobody should ever feel isolated, excluded or feel mentally drained to the point of it affecting their physical health. This is especially true during the critical development years in childhood.

The third outcomes of EYLF aim to have children not only feel happy and healthy but also take responsibility for it. Children can’t develop strong bonds and a sense of belonging if their wellbeing is low mentally or physically. Signs of a sense of wellbeing in children include “owning” their feelings, taking risks and facing challenges, recognising what their body needs and having an awareness for the health of others.


Confident, involved learners

When children feel like they belong in a community, they feel more confident in their abilities. They’ll learn effectively, make mistakes and have more involvement in a group learning situation. They hypothesise, experiment, research and investigate like scientists with a curiosity only they can manage. Their teachers are the “guides”, encouraging open-ended discussion and helping them work towards a solution when problems arise.


Effective communicators

Communication is key in relationships, work and general everyday life. The Early Years Learning Framework guides educators on how to help children develop these skills. Their job is to help teach the children how to communicate politely with others and how to interpret nonverbal cues. This starts from infancy and doesn’t stop when the children leave go to prep; learning is lifelong, after all.

Communicating effectively applies to play situations. The childcare teachers create scenarios or supply materials to help the children verbalise what they learn. Popular outlets for self-expression are drama and music.

Learning Through Play – Dancing and Singing

Learning Through Play – Dancing and Singing

When you encourage your child to sing and dance you are helping them to develop a host of skills while teaching them to embrace one of the most enjoyable pastimes of life. Music and dance is a joyful experience that should be encouraged from the youngest age.


Physical Benefits of Dance and Song

Let’s start with the obvious benefits of music and movement and that is all the physical benefits. Through movement a child builds physical control, a sense of space, improves balance, and builds strength and coordination.


Natural Instincts

A foetus in the womb lives with the constant beat of the mother’s heart and has been shown to feel and hear the mother’s voice before it’s born.  The voice is the first instrument a child will use when at birth and all humans are naturally drawn to singing and dancing of one form or another. Most of us will tap a foot to a tune we like or find a catchy song will stay with us all day, playing over in our heads. Children are even more likely to respond instinctively to music, especially as they are yet to experience the adult behaviour filters. Children are naturally musical and by six months old are able to respond to music with movement of their bodies or shaking toys that make sound. Songs and music teach a child pulse, pattern, rhyme and structure.


Improvised Instruments

You can encourage your child to listen and participate in song and dance by playing music and getting them to join in. This can be done by encouraging them to dance to music, singing nursery rhymes together, acting out with their bodies or fingers the words of the music, playing simple musical instruments like drums, tambourines and bells. Homemade musical instruments can be made with jars of rice to make a maraca, chopsticks on a plastic lunch box to make a drum and attaching small craft bells to a piece of cardboard to make a tambourine.


Language Skills and Communication

Studies have shown that singing is one of the quickest ways to learn another language. So it’s not surprising that singing will accelerate a child’s learning of their native language. When a child sings along to music, the experience allows them to vocalise in different ways than talking and encourages a new form of creative communication. Songs contain emotions and expressions of feelings that they may not have encountered before. Songs also tell stories and require visualisation of those stories, thus requiring the child to use their imagination. If a child is finding the expression of emotions or thoughts difficult, music and dance can immediately free the anxiety and tension this creates.



When children sing together they collaborate and bond. Encouraging them to sing and dance with other children is a way to feel part of a group and interact on a creative basis.


As a parent, allowing your child to respond in whatever they want to music and song is important. Don’t expect them to sit still and listen quietly to music or singing. Their instincts will be to move and make noise. That’s the best outcome for learning through play with song and dance.


The journey of opening a Nature Kindergarten and Why?

I’ve been asked to share our journey about opening Mayfield Nature Kindergarten.  In combining some of the “why’s” along with some of the “how’s, hopefully I’ll be able to create a picture in your mind that illustrates our vision and values that underpin our work with children.


Firstly, a little background about us.  I (Sharon) have a background in early childhood having worked as a Group Leader, Assistant Director and Director, and I’ve also taught in Primary schools from year 1 through to year 6.  After having our own children, I resigned from teaching in schools, and my husband Scott and I decided to open our first childcare centre.  We were very fortunate to find a lovely little centre in Karana Downs, which was fairly close to home.  Two years later we opened two more centres in Springfield and Capalaba.


We were fortunate when we found Karana that it already had the most beautiful, natural playground for children full of dirt, rocks, grass, sand and trees.  When we purchased Springfield and Capalaba, they were what we would call “McDonald’s playgrounds”.  They were a plain, boring, artificial, sanitized, plastic spaces – not a blade of grass, a piece of dirt or a natural item in sight.  Before opening both Springfield and Capalaba, we bulldozed the artificial playgrounds and transformed them into beautiful, natural spaces with sandstone boulders, mud pits, grass, trees, sand, timber and logs.  We purposely furnished these 2 new centres with natural timber furniture and focused on creating beautiful natural spaces indoors to match the beautiful, natural outdoor spaces we had created. Plastic toys were few and far between and we tried to acquire natural materials and loose parts where possible.  Over time, we’ve made big changes to the indoor environments at our Karana Downs Centre and the team have really focused on creating more homely and natural spaces.


A few years ago we heard about the lovely Claire Warden, and thought she aligned beautifully with our beliefs and philosophy about natural spaces and environments for children so we wanted to learn more about “ Nature Pedagogy“ approach meant.  I went off to a single day presentation and when I heard the statement about children having access to nature inside, outside and beyond all day every day, it firmly planted the vision in my mind of having a child care centre on a large property so that children could have this amazing opportunity every day.  It’s taken a while, but we finally found a beautiful property of 155 acres, with a gorgeous little Queenslander Cottage built in approximately 1902, with bush, dams, and river access that would be just perfect for a Nature Kindergarten.  We bought the property, quickly did some renovations and started the process of speaking with council about the application process.

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Unfortunately, this has been the most frustrating part.  When we spoke with council back in September 2015, they were about to go through some code changes, so we were advised to hold off on applying until the beginning of 2016.  The new code didn’t actually come to our council until the March of 2016.  When the application was submitted there was further information requited about the pod we were going to build for children’s toilets and the waste system, and it seemed that no-one wanted to quote on that job.  Eventually we found someone, but then there was extra information required and extra costs involved for having signage on the property.  We’re finally at the stage of public notification, but it’s also now the end of October, and the public notification will be up until mid-December.  We’d hoped to be able to open the Kindy in 2016, but we are still with council, and we are still waiting ….. a very frustrating place to be.  Once we have council approval, the pod needs to be built, and then we need to go through the child care licensing process.  It’s all a much longer process that we would have ever anticipated, so my advice to anyone else would be – patience!


When planning for Mayfield Nature Kindergarten, we thought really deeply about what we wanted it to look like and feel like.  We knew it was going to be a small and intimate space with a maximum of 27 children, but we also didn’t want it to feel like a “centre”.  We wanted the space to feel like a home.  We didn’t want the children to be separated into “rooms” or “groups”, we wanted every child to belong to the whole space, and we wanted every educator to belong to every child.  When we furnished the Kindy, we didn’t want it to “look” like a centre, we wanted it to look like a home, so we’ve purposefully selected lounge suites, coffee tables, buffet cabinets, bean bags and dining tables that you would find in children’s homes.


We have been feeling the beginning of a wonderful shift in the thinking of some families who attend our current child care centres.  For a long time now, many families have believed that children needed to have “structured programs” so they can be “ready for school”, and play has been seen as a frivolous waste of time.  We are starting to feel however, that the research about the importance of play as the primary means of learning for children is finally making an impact on a few families.  Families are specifically seeking out our centres because we have such a strong focus on children having authentic childhoods, children connecting with the natural world and children being seen as capable, competent, independent and creative thinkers who can have significant input into their own day.  The children in our services can choose if they want to play inside or outside, the can choose to eat when they’re hungry, and sleep if/when they are tired.


The old model of child care saw adults as the complete controllers of the day, and adults had a full dictatorship over the children in their care.  Children would have no choice and no real voice.  An example would be that 9am was a whole class group time, 9.30 was a whole class morning tea, 10am was the designated “indoor play time” and 11am was the designated “outdoor play time” etc.  It was very inflexible, and followed an adult clock, and an adult agenda.  Each set of educators only really knew the children directly in their care, and it didn’t really matter whether the children were interested in the group time or if the children wanted to continue playing – they had no choice, they had to sit at the group time or pack up when the teacher said.  Reflection upon this practice saw that teachers spent the majority of their time trying to control the behaviour of children who weren’t interested.  “Cross your legs”, “stop touching so and so”, “you’re not listening” were commonly heard at group times.  “Lets let the children out for a run” was often heard if the inside time got too rowdy and loud.  “Stop wriggling” and “close your eyes” was often heard at the compulsory sleep times from 12pm until 2pm.  Thankfully, we’ve grown and learnt a lot about children’s natural rhythms, routines and flows and we’ve listened to the mountains of research about developmentally appropriate practice and working respectfully with children.


At our services, each child is at the centre of our decision making.  We don’t just have 1 routine for the whole group; we have multiple routines for all the children in our care.  We don’t coop children up inside; we allow children a choice to be indoors or outdoors.   We don’t make mandatory eating and sleeping times, we allow children to listen to their bodies and decide when they feel hungry or tired.  Putting children at the centre of the equation respects each child as an individual and empowers children to make decisions.  It gives children a voice and allows them to make choices that are right for them.  Some people think “they will just run wild”, however in our experience, children make good decisions for themselves, they become deeply engaged in their learning and their social/emotional maturity grows significantly.  We often hear the saying “they have to line up when they get to school”, and our response is that they learn that very quickly – it’s not a hard skill to learn, and they’re more developmentally ready to line up when they’re older.  We often hear the saying “they can’t eat when they want at school”, and what we have found is that school is starting to listen to the developmental needs of children, and many are implementing a snack/break time earlier in morning as they too are beginning to consider the best developmentally appropriate practices for young  children.


In Queensland in Prep (4.5 years – 5.5 years), they have been trialing a program called “Age Appropriate Pedagogies”.  What it basically means is “the art of age appropriate teaching” which really means “play-based learning ” – because that is what is age-appropriate for prep.  Why aren’t they using the word “PLAY”?  There is such a cultural aversion to the word “play” within our community.  Play has been seen as bad.  Play has been seen as a waste of time.  Play has been seen as inferior.  The government now knows that play is imperative, play is valuable and play is the best way for children to learn, but they are battling against a belief in the greater community that play is a waste of time.  So – they decided to call it “age appropriate pedagogy” because the greater community won’t really understand that it’s a fancy word for “play-based curriculum”.


Bringing the story back to the development of our nature kindergarten, we recently had an interesting conversation with two members of staff from ACECQA.  One of the topics of conversation was about the weekly trips to Mayfield.  We described the opportunity for the children to engage with “raw nature”.  We spoke about children accessing only items in nature for their play, we spoke about the different areas the children would play and the increase in creative capacity and problem solving back at the service.  One of the questions we were asked was “So there is no intentional teaching?”  This was such an interesting question because everything we do at  Mayfield is intentional.  We intentionally don’t bring extra resources, we intentionally let children source items from nature in their play, we intentionally notice and discuss items in the natural environment, we intentionally speak about the flora and fauna of the land, we intentionally speak with children about their curiosities and questions, and we are very intentional about leaving time to explore, wonder, discuss, problem solve and create.


Intentionality is something that is often misunderstood.  Some think of intentional teaching as sitting down at a table doing worksheets, others think of intentional teaching as reading facts out of a book, some think of intentional teaching as researching on the internet, but there are a thousand other ways teachers are being intentional, and even the art of being the silent pedagogue is a very intentional practice.  Intentionality moves well beyond teaching abc’s and 123’s.


At Mayfield, every choice we have made is intentional – from the homely set-up, to the ages, to the furniture, to the resources, to the philosophy.  Every facet of the Kindy is intentional.  There will be intentional teaching and learning around the natural elements of earth, light, water and air.  There will be intentional teaching and learning around farms, rivers, dams, vegetables, fruit, seasons, weather, cooking, and a million other opportunities that present themselves each day, often sparked by children’s questions and curiosities.  Do we need bright, plastic equipment with a pre-determined purpose… no, we will provide children with a multitude of loose parts that children can use in an infinite number of ways, whilst engaging their imaginative and creative minds.  Every choice and decision we make is carefully thought about, with children at the heart.


We can’t wait until we can finally open the doors to Mayfield.  We’ve already delighted in having our Karana children out each week, but it will be such a great feeling of achievement and satisfaction to finally realise our dreams of opening a Nature Kindergarten.  We believe the families in our local community will embrace this beautiful space, and we can’t wait to see children and their families play, grow and learn in this beautiful space.


Written by Sharon and Scott Kneen

Owners of Eskay Kids – Karana Downs, Capalaba, Springfield & Mayfield






Learning Through Play – Dress Ups

Learning Through Play – Dress Ups

Dress ups inspire role play and dramatic play, helping to build empathy, creativity and imagination – all skills that help with the emotional development and mental reasoning skills in children. And it doesn’t have to be something as fancy as a superhero costume to get your child excited about dress ups.  Most children love to don a costumes or adult items and supplying a few key items is all they need.

Gender Roles Don’t Apply

Don’t worry about the gender of costumes you child chooses for dress ups. Parents shouldn’t assume a boy who like to girl’s shoes and a dress as a four-year-old will be transgender. Wearing items of clothes from the other sex is perfectly normal and a step in the process of gender self-discovery as well empathy and appropriate emotional responses. In fact, studies have shown that children who engage in dress ups are more likely to have empathy as adults. If you child is not responding to your choice of items for dress ups, or to remove the gender stereotypes from your child’s play, offer both kinds of clothing or costume:  items that are traditionally worn by men like police uniforms, hard hats and more feminine items like tiaras and tutus.

Dress Up for Role Playing

The importance of role playing is one of the key experiences of childhood that helps develop a number of critical skills. Role playing in costume introduces a child to some the bigger issues of adulthood like right and wrong, equitable outcomes, power and control, and the need for acceptance. Asking your child about how he or she feels in the role they have assumed by dressing up can help them discern different feelings and highlight negative and positive responses, fairness and realise empathy.

Dress Up Communication

When a child assumes the appearance of a fireman they also have to consider how they would be in the world as a fireman. This kind of role playing spurs communication skills. You’ll find when your child assumes a new role for the first time they will begin to use language and make actions that you’ve never seen them say or do before. Dress ups encourages new forms of relating to others that will influence and improve their communication skills.

Start with a Single Item

It’s surprising how excited a child can get about a particular item like shoes, a hat, a wig, a wand or a tutu. Shoes have particular interest for pre-schoolers and are considered a symbolic way for a child to empathise with others – ie walking in their shoes. You may find when a whole costume is offered a single item is all that the child wishes to play with. Don’t despair if that’s the case. An obsession with one part or aspect of a role play is normal.

Bad Taste Dress Up

Some mothers fear their four year old, who loves to wear a tiara, tutu, beads, slippers and a wigall at once (and everywhere in public), will end up with the same gaudy choice of clothes as they grow up. A child’s preferences when they are young will change dramatically as they grow older as different experiences and people influence their style. Allow your child as much freedom as possible in dress up time and don’t judge the resulting appearance. Everyone looks fabulous in dress up.

The years when a child wants to dress up are important for the child to begin to learn a range of important life skills – and for the parents to get plenty of great photo opportunities. Allow you little one all the freedom they want to be whoever they choose. Dress ups is a magical experience of learning through play.


Learning Through Box Play

ek-fb-playtiles-jun16-5Learning Through Play – Boxes

The simplest of toys are the ones that inspire the most creativity and resourcefulness. The cardboard box – a carrier of stuff – in the hands of your child can be turned into a spaceship, car, pram, house, bed, artwork, drum or anything else that you, as an adult, you would never think of. Here’s how to turn a cardboard box into child’s play.

Start With Unwrapping

Every box that enters your house can be a special occasion for your child. If the delivery to your house comes in a box and is child friendly start by allowing your child to open the box. Taking off the wrapping and tape (some help may be required) is the start of your child’s fun with a box. You’ll find tearing off wrapping paper is particularly enjoyable for older babies and young children.

Unstructured Play

If you don’t have anything delivered in a box, ask for a box from your local supermarket. They are usually happy to get rid of them. Big boxes are good, but not so big that the box can’t be lifted and moved by your child. The act of carrying and arranging is important to the aspect of motor skill development in box play. A box alone is usually enough to start a child off on an adventure because, you allow your child to turn it into any kind of shelter, tool, or vehicle without the addition of other props. That’s creativity at work.

Social Skills Through Role Playing

However you can also consider adding other items like toilet rolls, cardboard tubes, foam bricks from packaging, and masking tape that’s easy to tear. Your child may want to arrange the box with other items or build something like a car or house with all the materials. Adding pegs and pieces of fabric will naturally encourage a child to build a tent or home-like structure. Building cars and houses leads to role playing, which teaches social skills.

Artistic Box Play

Aside from bigger props, smaller items can enhance box play. Items like corks, paddlepop sticks, seed pods, branches and leaves can be glued onto the box or used in other ways to decorate it or even inhabit the box. Offer paints and brushes to further decorate the box.

Box Play Combinations

Boxes can be added to other learning-through-play activities like sand tray or building blocks. Boxes are naturally transportable so they can be easily moved by you or your child to incorporate other items or activities. Try getting your child to decorate a box and then taking it to the sand pit or encouraging a dress up game with the box – to further enhance role-playing games.

Discovery Boxes

By adding a range of fun items inside a box the child gets the delight of opening the box and then discovering those items to expand the box play. Use items that you have collected from outside the house like pine cones, large leaves, flowers, and strips of paper bark. Where possible combining the outdoors. Giving items like these for children to play with is a basic tenet of learning through play because it reinforces the importance and value of nature and the outdoors.

For an adult, playing with a box won’t seem like much fun. But for the curious mind of a small child, a box is a wealth of possibilities. Keep it simple and enjoy watching your child engage in the physical, creative and social aspects of this simple game.


Learning Through Blocks



Blocks were a toy of choice as far back as the late 1600s, when English philosopher John Locke declared the learning of letters and numbers printed on blocks would make it a more enjoyable experience. More than 300 years later the research is – learning through play is best and blocks are the cutting edge of this movement.

Which Block is Best

Blocks can be made from foam, wood, bamboo or plastic. Wood is the traditional material for blocks and offers the extra sensory advantages of smell and texture. Wooden blocks also weight more than plastic or foam, which means engaging muscles in small hands and fingers. We advocate wooden blocks when so few toys are made from natural materials these days.

Mini Architects

The act of arranging blocks in formations, shapes and mini buildings helps a child learn about gravity, balance and basic geometry. The natural urge for a baby will be to touch them or put a block in their mouth. As they get older they will be more inclined to build blocks higher or into shapes. This is an important step in developing their creativity and introduces them to the concept of building things to get a desired result. Arranging of blocks into structures helps develop spatial awareness and the ability to rotate objects in their mind. Keep the block building game open ended without nominating a building or thing that they should do with the blocks. Ask open-ended questions like: “why have you done that with those blocks?”, “what other things would you like to do with the blocks?”

Educational Blocks

A block with numbers on it doesn’t mean you should start teaching your child to count. Identifying blocks that look similar, or merely grouping or separating the blocks will introduce them to simple maths. Keep the block play as creative and free from traditional counting or alphabet learning as the child desires. Block play is essentially a crude form of model building – which is the common exercise of engineers, architects and scientists wanting to visualise their vision. As children get older you can introduce more sophisticated blocks. Only when they reach an age when they ask about counting or letters should you introduce these concepts. While studies have found regular block play in childhood helps teenagers with superior mathematics performance, there are also age-appropriate blocks for primary kids, tweens and teenagers that studies have found can continue to stimulate learning and intellectual skills.

Convergent Versus Divergent Play

Psychologists define two types of children’s play – convergent and divergent. The latter is a closed-ended activity like solving a jigsaw. Divergent play is open ended and involves working with objects that don’t fit together. A study of these two types of play found the latter – which block play is a quintessential example of – was a better skill to foster in children to help them solve problems more creatively later in life.

Other Developmental Markers

Last decade a study was conducted that involved one group of children where other elements of play like miniature cars, people and similar items were added to block play with instructions to parents to encourage block play. A control group of parents and children were given no instructions and blocks were only introduced at the end of the study. The study found the block play children scored higher on vocabulary, grammar and verbal comprehension and had less interest in television or other screen stimulation than the control group.

Block play may be overlooked by many parents as a bygone pastime for babies. But recent studies support the role and value of block play in a range of developmental skills and valuable life attributes.

Learning Through Mud Play

Learning Through Play – Mud Kitchen


In this busy tech-driven world of children’s entertainment, mud play is at the other extreme. An hour or mud play will provide a host of assets to your child’s young life. The benefits far outweigh the messy results!



The Tools for Mud Play

Assemble a range of kitchen items because your child will inevitably want to imitate your own action in the kitchen, which means things like bowls, cups, scoops, wooden spoons, ladles, a sieve and cake tins. Add some elements of nature like leaves, gum nuts or other large seed pod, small flowers, and seeds. If you have toy dump trucks or other truck that can hold mud add them to the mud play. Also consider any other item that can be used to make a mud stamp – like a halved potato, or plastic animal figure to produce animal tracks, or even an old pair of baby shoes. Art supplies like brushes, sponges, are also useful. And finally you’ll need some dirt and water supplied in watering cans or plastic jugs.

Sensory Experience

Mud play is the ultimate sensory experiences of childhood. And when combined with the outdoors and creative freedom, it’s the perfect recipe for learning through play because oozy, squishy mud will create the kind of sensory stimulation that is essential for a child’s brain development.  Mud is a unique in texture and the patting, slapping, plopping and throwing of mud, without the filter of adult judgement, is pure joy for a child. You’ll also find mud kitchen an engrossing and calming experience for your child.

Mud Creativity

Mud can be formed into shapes and arranged in patterns. Allow their creativity to flow with some encouragement to form whatever shape or pattern they desire. Make the experience open ended by offering any number of kitchen items to make their own mud masterpieces. A muffin tray can be a great addition to mud play. Allow the child to create their own mud mixture by using their judgements about amounts of water and dirt. You can also supply paper and encourage the child to paint with the mud on paper or apply mud to the paper with sponges. Ask open-ended questions like: “why did you decide to make that?”; “what else could you make with mud?”.

Mud Motor Skills

Eye-hand coordination is improved with mud play, as are other motor skills when they use shovels and bowls, lift and pour, mix, sit, squat, stand and carry. The more kitchen utensils and other items you supply the more exploration and motor-skill engagement that will occur.

Role Play

Any game that allows a child to role play is helping them understand and master relationships. Cause and effect is played out with mud play and being chef, home cook, or little scientist allows them to imagine life as an adult and gain insight into the emotions and outcomes of their actions.

Outdoor Play

Like all our play-through-learning suggestions, if you can conduct the mud play session outdoors it’s always better. The outdoors gives a child the opportunity to interact with nature, appreciate their natural environment and builds curiosity in the outside world. And of course, it’s much easier to clean up mud play in the garden.

Mud play is not something that every parent wants their child to do everyday, but as a regular activity in their preschool years, you’ll find they thrive in this messy environment. The disadvantages of some messy clothes, dirty utensils and kitchenware are far outweighed by the benefits and joys it will bring your child.



Learning Through Pebble Play

DSCF8856Our ancient ancestors’ earliest evolution started with a rock in hand and our relationship with stones, rocks and pebbles started as one of survival. The urge to hold, stroke and sort stones is primal. So it makes perfect sense that your child finds playing with rocks, pebbles or small stones naturally fascinating. Here’s how to make pebbles a great opportunity for learning through play.

Sensory Play with Pebbles

Children learn through touch. Sensory play is a normal but also a powerful way for a child to learn. Pebbles allow the child to feel shapes, texture and size. Offer a range of pebbles and stones. Gathering and arranging pebbles doesn’t just develop the obvious motor skills but the feel of a pebble is irresistible to a child – the act of touching and the sensation it brings is an important opportunity for self expression and discovery.

Art Play with Pebbles

Sorting and resorting pebbles into groups of colour, shape or size becomes an exercise in creativity. In fact pebble sorting is a form of learning through art, which is one of the basic tenets of children learning through play and it’s many benefits are well researched in early childhood science. Art experiences help build confidence and create engaged learners.

Add Paint to Pebble Play

Adding paints to the pebble play will intensify the art aspect of the experience. Transforming the stones by painting them can offer new worlds to the child. Encourage the use of paints by saying: “try the paints and see what happens with colour”. Allow plenty of time for the child to work on their rock painting. Ask open-ended questions like: “why are you choosing that colour for that stone?”, “what other things are the same colour as that stone?” Observe if their pebbles are painted with faces, are painted to become animals, completely covered in paint or received more than one coloured paint. Consider laying some paper down first and then encourage the child to paint on the paper and arrange the stones in and around the painting. Using two different forms of artistic  expression will heighten the benefits of the pebble play.

Outdoor Gathering

Pebble play is ideally played outdoors. Feel free to allow your child to collect other items from the outdoors to compliment their pebble play. Sticks, leaves, and feathers can join the pebble world. Offer elastic bands or other means to bind different items with the pebbles.  When the child groups objects together ask why the items in question have been chosen.

Pebbles offer many opportunities for your child to experience the sensory, while developing motor skills through artistic discovery.

Learning Through Mortar and Pestle Play

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Welcome to the first in our series of posts on learning through play. The topic this week is playing with a mortar and pestle. This isn’t about your little one becoming the next Junior Masterchef or Nobel scientist, but using a trusty kitchen utensil to spark curiosity, help develop mental and physical skills and lastly and most importantly – encourage your child to learn while having fun.

Tools at Play

The concept of a tool, starting with something as simple as a rock, has shaped our evolution as humans. So it makes perfect sense that on a micro level tools will help the evolution of your child. In fact, it’s already in your child’s DNA to pick up and engage with a tool. You can buy a cheap unbreakable plastic or wooden mortar and pestle set from a discount store or dollar shop. Let the fun begin.

Garden Activity

The readily available is always the best ingredients for children learning through play. That’s because using what is in the immediate environment or household is particularly powerful for the development of your child’s resourcefulness. Grab anything non-toxic from the garden that can be mashed. Dry leaves, seeds, and bark make great material for a mortar and pestle. Flowers, herbs and grasses release aromas when ground that will engage the olfactory senses. A particularly rewarding activity for your preschooler is dissecting and grinding a sunflower. Buy a few stems or, better still, plant some seeds in the garden with your child’s help, and watch them grow. Then pick them once the bloom has died and turn it into the perfect mortar and pestle game. It’s worth noting that adding a gardening element to play is considered a critical component in National Childcare Accreditation Council guidelines. Sunflowers grow on a single stem and therefore provide an easily observed microcosm of plant life. The process will help your child understand the process and value of living things.

Measuring Vessels

Sparking a natural curiosity in measurement can occur with the introduction of measuring equipment to the mortar and pestle game. Scales, measuring cups and spoons will expose children to the idea of quantity and you will likely find them mimicking your own behaviour of measuring in the kitchen. Offering different quantities of each item to be included in the mortar and pestle game as well as a range of different sized vessels will offer the child lots of options and therefore more opportunity to learn and have fun. With measuring items you can also introduce liquids that can be combined with the material that has been ground in the mortar. For example, combining lavender flowers or rose petals with water makes perfume. Compare sizes of item being measured and make reference to terms such as size and weight.

Food for Play

It may seem like the obvious choice, but using items from the pantry cupboard will be just as enjoyable for your child as non-food items. For your ingredient list consider dried herbs, especially seeds and items that may pop or release a strong odour. Coffee beans can work although your little one may find them a little hard to crush. Grapes, strawberries, melon balls and eggshells, make good grinding matter. Combine items with different consistencies and smells. If you can then turn the grinding efforts into something that’s edible – great. But if it’s a particularly messy episode of play, good hygiene may not permit!

Playing with Chalk

Taking the material that is ground in the mortar and pestle and then using it for another activity is another valuable opportunity to expose your child to resourcefulness and imagination. Take a range of coloured chalks to be ground in the mortar. Then offer water. The result is a messy paint that can turn into an art activity. For best results, let the child discover the process of turning chalk into paint. Introduce a jug or bottle of water but allow them to arrive at the results of combining the two ingredients. Offer paint brushes and paper to create their masterpieces.

Keep in mind that getting dirty and making a mess are prerequisite for preschoolers’ learning fun. Allow them to find new items to add to the mortar. And it doesn’t matter if the items are too hard to be ground up. Adding a rock to the mortar is as useful a journey of discovery for a child as finding a soft item that grinds easily.