Month: January 2016

Mark Making and encouraging early writing

Mark making is recognised as a precursor to writing.

Research shows that boys can often be reluctant writers. A document issued back in 2008 The National Strategies, Early Years “Mark making matters” says “In an emotionally secure environment, where their creativity is valued and respected, children will often become prolific mark makers. This is particularly true when the purpose and the means of representation are within their control. Boys’ mark making tends to flourish when the pressure is off, the choice is theirs and the motivation arises from a specific desire to communicate”

My role as their childminder and the the importance of providing positive support  is explained further in the document “As well as providing rich opportunities for young children’s mark making, practitioners will also need to consider carefully their attitudes and responses. Genuine interest and encouragement are prerequisites, alongside some opportunities for the teaching of new skills, but over-zealous questioning and attempts by adults to alter or correct the marks that children make can be intrusive and nearly always counter-productive. Stencils and adult-drawn outlines should not be used, as they provide little in the way of new learning and unintentionally give children a hidden message that the adult version is superior to theirs.

Children, particularly boys, seem to gravitate naturally towards whiteboards and blackboards, where they can experiment freely, take risks with their mark making and test their own limits, safe in the knowledge that this medium is not permanent, so changes can be made when they think they are needed and ‘mistakes’ can be rectified as necessary”.

Here are just some of the things we do here at Aston Childcare to encourage mark making:

  • Water painting
  • Finger painting
  • Dot to dot
  • Making marks in sand
  • Making marks in gloop
  • Making marks in shaving foam
  • Making marks in oats and rice
  • Large scale painting
  • Drawing
  • We use crayons, chalks, felt tips, colouring pencils, glitter pens
  • We make marks on wood and material as well as paper
  • Use small portable clipboards and small pencils
  • Use portable A4 clipboards outdoors
  • Use a range of writing materials eg Sticky notes, notebooks etc
  • Use blackboard and whiteboard easels both inside and outside


And to Develop the muscles needed for writing we:

  • Use giant tweezers to transfer small objects (To encourage and support pincer grip development)
  • Pop bubble wrap (yes, really!) between their thumb and index fingers
  • Playdough (which helps develop finger and hand strength and control. When they are playing with these materials, children are squeezing and kneading, poking and pinching, rolling and pressing – all excellent strength building movements.)
  • Using scissors (develops and strengthens the hand muscle)
  • Play with construction toys and blocks (develops and strengthens the hand muscle)
  • Turning pages of books (To encourage and support pincer grip development)
  • Using lacing boards (To encourage and support pincer grip development)
  • Using letter and number magnets (to strengthen the upper body while standing)
  • Use vertical spaces for drawing (strengthens upper body)



Outdoor Play

The Foundation Years Team at 4Children (The national charity
all about children and families) say that “Being active regularly is good for all of us, but for the under fives it can be vital to their future health and wellbeing. 91% of children aged 2-4 are currently not meeting the UK physical activity guidelines for their age group of three hours of activity a day. This means that they are missing opportunities to positively benefit their health and establish healthy behaviours that carry on into adulthood.”

They say “Being physically active at a young age is proven to support brain development, enhance bone health and muscular development as well as have non-physical benefits to social and cognitive skills development and emotional wellbeing.”

In light of this and in order to ensure that every child has the opportunity for the best start in life the British Heart Foundation National Centre (BHFNC) and its Early Years Advisory Group last week launched its manifesto for physical activity in the early years. This sets out the Centre’s key asks to ensure every child has access to high quality physical activity opportunities from birth.

Read more about the manifesto here.

Here at Aston Childcare, we love the great outdoors. We visit the local park to play on large scale play equipment (ropes course, roundabout, swings etc) and we walk to and from school. We also enjoy lots of village walks.

I recently completed some training on Playing and Exploring which made me consider my immediate outside space and prompted me to do an outdoor audit to consider what activities and opportunities I offer in my garden.

For safety reasons, I operate a “one out, all out” policy, this means that if I have a baby indoors napping we will not go out.

Parents provide me with all weather clothing so the weather is never a hindrance to us getting out.

In the colder weather we obviously consider how to keep warm and in the hotter months we consider water provision and sun protection (including shade and suncream). In rain and ice we consider the surface underfoot.

The garden is secured by gates with locks and children are within my sight at all times.

A full risk assessment has been completed and is reviewed every 6 months.

Here are just some of the outdoor resources and activities on offer –

  • Painting and drawing
  • Number and letter magnets
  • Chalks
  • Gardening and gardening tools
  • Hopscotch
  • Den
  • Ball pit
  • Tunnel
  • Various ride on toys
  • Balls
  • Sand and water play
  • Blowing Bubbles
  • Gymnastics ribbon
  • Picnics
  • Magnifying glass
  • Paddling pool
  • Making mud pies
  • Skipping rope
  • Box of books
  • Picnic blanket

I am constantly reviewing the garden to ensure I am providing an enabling environment with opportunities to learn and explore.

Learning where food comes from

This week we took a look at where our food comes from with a fun picture quiz. The children loved this and loved shouting out the answers. Some they knew and some they didn’t know or were unsure about.

So we learnt that – Carrots and potatoes grow under the ground, cabbages grow above the ground, pears and apples are grown on trees, broccoli and strawberries grow on a plant, fish fingers can be made from cod, tomatoes grow on a vine and herbs can be grown in pots and then of course the ones they knew – milk comes from dairy cows, beef burgers from beef cattle, eggs from hens and that sausages are made from pork from pigs.

A recent study revealed just how little the latest generation of youngsters know about the foods they eat and the animals that produce them.

One in five have no idea bacon comes from pigs – while one in 20 think we get cheese from them.

There is a similar ignorance about fruit and veg. Five per cent believe strawberries grow inside the fridge, while six per cent think they grow on trees.

Over a quarter, 28 per cent, have no idea that carrots grow underground, with 9 per cent, believing they grow on a bush.

And six in ten admitted they didn’t know lettuce grew on the ground while a massive 78 per cent didn’t know broccoli grew on a plant.

Here at Aston Childcare we like to take a healthy approach to eating and that of course includes knowing the origins of the food we eat. Keeping chickens in the garden is a great way to teach children where food comes from. They know exactly where the eggs have come from when they eat their scrambled eggs for lunch as they’ve collected the eggs from the coop themselves!

As with lots of things we do, this activity ended up in role play with the children playing a quiz game each taking on the part of the scary quiz master! They turned a cardboard box into their podium from which to read the questions and rustle their papers on!

Areas of Learning covered: Understanding The World, Communication & Language, Literacy, Expressive Arts and Design

Learning through play

We know that play underpins the EYFS. It also underpins learning and all aspects of children’s development. Through play, children develop language skills, their emotions and creativity, social and intellectual skills.

Earlier this week, my mindees used the Duplo to build a large pyramid. “Look we’ve built a huge pyramid” they told me.  I asked them in which country they may find pyramids. The elder of them knew that the pyramids are located in Egypt and told me that one of the pyramids was The Great Pyramid of Giza. I told them the capital of Egypt was Cairo “Oh my parents have been there” she said.

They then extended this all into their role play setting up a great pyramid scene with talk of pharaohs and sphinxes. It was fascinating listening and watching them, imparting facts and asking questions of one another.

Areas of Learning Covered: Maths (Shapes), Expressive Arts and Design (Being Imaginative), Communication & Language, Understanding the World.

Cold as Ice!

With the temperatures plummeting to well below zero this week (-4 here in Aston today!) it seemed like the perfect time to explore ice!

My mindee had been exploring water at pre-school this week so this seemed the perfect opportunity to extend this activity and explore ice in some detail.

The watering can I left outside the back door overnight had frozen as I had hoped which gave us a good opportunity to look at ice. “When will it melt, how do I break it?” my mindee asked. We had lots of descriptive words as to how the ice felt – cold, slippy, hard.

Back inside, we looked at ice cubes and explored what happened when we dropped them into a bowl of warm water with my mindee exclaiming “Look its gone!”. I introduced words like “defrosted and defrosting” and asked why they thought it was melting. They correctly told me it was because it was warm.

I had added some food colouring to the ice cubes which, coupled with the feel of the ice, gave the activity an added sensory element to it.

We looked at the puddles that had frozen over on our school run and walked over the frosted lawn in the garden once back home.  My mindee knew that the ice on the ground would melt when it got warm and that had it frozen because it was so cold.

Areas of Learning covered: Understanding the world, physical development and Communication and Language

Chocolate Brownies!

After the success and popularity of our chocolate cookies this time last week, today we decided to make chocolate brownies. I baked these with my 4 year old mindee this afternoon and my after schooler was able to join us in enjoying them when she finished school.

Not a bad way to start the week!

School Readiness

In September one of my mindees will start primary school. It may seem a long way off right now but I’m sure the time between now and then will fly!

Here at Aston Childcare these are just some of the ways in which I get mindees “School ready”.

  • We read books about starting school such as Janet Ahlbergs “Starting School”
  • We talk about starting school and how mindees are feeling about it (nervous, excited etc)
  • Teach them to recognise their own name
  • Teach them to be independent by practicing putting on and taking off their own coats, shoes and socks.
  • Teach them to go to the toilet on their own and manage wiping themselves clean and washing their hands
  • Practise eating packed lunches and work out how to manage food wrappers or eat meals using cutlery.
  • Ensure children understand the importance and follow instructions such as “No” and “Stop”
  • Teach them to help with tidying up
  • Sit and read together
  • Offer lots of mark making activities
  • Practice lots of counting


In addition to the above I speak with parents and other settings about how I can help aid their transition. Hopefully this will help in ensuring we have happy school starters come September! J

Focus on…Communication and Language


The EYFS 2014 states that “Communication and language development involves giving children opportunities to experience a rich language environment; to develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves; and to speak and listen in a range of situations”.

Communication and Language covers Listening and attention, Understanding and speaking.

I have a chatty, lively bunch of mindees here at Aston Childcare. To ensure I am providing them with opportunities to develop these skills we –

  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes
  • Read and listen to stories
  • We keep background noise to a minimum (especially important with babies when developing early communication and language skills)
  • Use puppets to encourage listening during stories and role play
  • Listen to one another and take account of what eachother say
  • Listen to sounds in the environment (using our senses on nature walks etc)
  • Play games which involve listening and following instructions such as “Simon says”
  • Communicate and chat with babies throughout the day including at nappy changes
  • Use actions to communicate words to younger children and babies such as waving when saying bye
  • Talk to one another about what we have been doing
  • Role play

Some of our favourite communication and language resources and activities are –

  • Toy mobile phone
  • Books and nursery rhymes
  • Role play item such as toy till and tea set
  • Happyland
  • Dolls House, Barn and farm animals
  • Playdough
  • Sand and water play
  • Baking

I currently have walkie-talkies on my wish list and am always happy to hear new ideas.


We love baking here at Aston Childcare and after hearing how much the children loved cookies I thought we would have a go at baking our own. We’ve spoken before how cooking is great for covering many areas of learning so it’s the perfect excuse to make some yummy treats. The children enjoyed the cookies for their afternoon snack and the remainder were sent home with them for them and their families to enjoy.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

We’ve had a lovely end to the Christmas holidays today. Today was an INSET day for my mindees so we were able to enjoy one more full day together for a while.

This morning the kids caught up after their Christmas and New Year breaks and enjoyed some free play (Personal, Social and Emotional Development) and read some new books we have (Literacy) before settling down to a film.

They enjoyed chicken and tomato soup respectively for lunch.

We then enjoyed baking some chocolate chip muffins (Maths, Physical Development (fine motor skills, stirring etc, Understanding the World) before they requested and enjoyed playing with the playdough (Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Communication and Language, Expressive Arts and Design, Physical Development (fine motor skills).

They then decided they wanted to make lightsabers(!) (Expressive Arts and Design, Communication and Language) which they then enjoyed using in their role play!

Another day covering all EYFS 7 areas of Learning.

Here’s to a good 2016!