More Maths outdoors…

Yesterday’s activity got me thinking about mathematical experiences and activities I provide outdoors.

We know that it’s important to provide a rich environment outdoors as well as indoors, in which children are provided with interesting materials to sort, count, talk about and compare. We’ve also touched before on the fact that maths involves much more than ‘doing sums’.

My 4 year old mindee loves being outdoors and I feel this is a great place for him to learn. Of course, outside isn’t confined to just my back garden, the opportunities for incorporating maths are everywhere, this is one of the reasons that I am not concerned with having numbers printed all over my garden, this ends up being like wallpaper that ends up not being noticed. I would rather it was incorporated into fun activities for the children who are actively involved.

These are just some of the ways I’ve identified that we are learning about maths outdoors –

  • Sand and water play (Sand and water wheels encourage children to think about movement and fast/slow, Filling jugs and containers explores capacity: full half full empty holds container) etc
  • Fishing ducks “(I’ve caught 5!” etc)
  • Number magnets on the easel (recognising numerals)
  • Hopscotch mat – Reinforces and practises arithmetic skills
  • Time – how long to the park “how long will it take to get to the park?”
  • Visiting the shops and using Money (Cheap, costs less, cheaper costs the same as how much…? how many…? Total)
  • Distance and Positional language – distance home from school – you’re behind me, in front etc
  • Counting stepping stones in the garden
  • Making a number line (recognising numerals)
  • Measuring plants in the garden – height (short, tall etc)
  • Jumping in puddles – (Capacity: shallow/ deep)
  • Counting conkers, blackberries picked etc (I’ve got more, less etc)
  • Rolling down hills (I was fast, faster, fastest)
  • Pooh sticks (“My sticks first”, last etc)
  • Looking at shapes in environment (rectangular doors, square windows, triangular road signs)
  • Nature finding walks (how many leaves, twigs etc)

I am constantly reviewing the activities I provide and as always am happy to hear if anyone has any good ideas!


Taking Maths outside

Yesterday my mindee and I made some fun, colourful number bunting to pin up in the garden. Not only was this a good mathematical activity, it gave us an opportunity to look at maths outside and provide print in the outdoor environment. Of course children get to see print in the environment all the time – road signs, shop frontages, car number plates and in the school playground.

My mindee has a fantastic imagination and as I sat cutting the triangles he enjoyed playing with the triangular offcuts – “Look, I’ve got the monsters teeth”. We counted the number of plain flags we had in total and then he was able to tell me which number I needed to write next on each of the 10 flags. We explored shapes (cutting a triangular shape out of a rectangular piece of card).  He was excited to choose which colours we should use for the line.  We then pegged it up outside and were even able to see it from the playroom window once back inside which brightened up the view on a winters day!

Areas of learning covered: Communication and Language, Mathematics, Expressive Arts and Design


Treasure basket for babies

I have had a lovely 9 month old join me in recent months.  She is still suffering badly with separation anxiety and likes to be with me the whole time. I can encourage her on to the floor to play for short periods to explore the items out of the treasure basket though which I have been compiling carefully recently.  My own son who is slightly older loves heuristic items such as these over any “proper” toy, his particular favourite at the moment being a small metal tea strainer!

All items are new and clean and used with supervision. I like to sit alongside them and let them explore. I sit and observe as they pass items from one hand to another, turn them over, put one inside another. Sometimes I chat as they look at the items but the key idea here is to let them explore.

Current items in the treasure basket include

  • Metal Tea strainer
  • Willow ball
  • Wooden Pastry brush
  • Fir cone
  • Wooden dolls peg
  • Wooden nail brush
  • Pumice stone

I am always thinking of new items to include and reviewing what’s popular with them and what’s not.

I find this kind of play great as I can provide them with an ever changing assortment of ‘toys’ to enjoy and the benefit is the fact that they provide a rich sensory experience for them to discover.

I found a great link on the NCT website which talks about separation anxiety in babies – for any new mums going through this.




Sensory Walk

When we had a slight break from the rain and the sun popped out for ooh, 5 minutes earlier this week(!), we went on a lovely sensory walk. On our walk we talked about what we could see (ponies, berries, daisies), what we could feel (wind on our faces), what we could smell (fresh air) and what we could hear (cars, wind, leaves crunching on the ground).

I’m always surprised how these simple activities ignite the children’s interest.

Without any prompting and within a few paces my mindee was naming all that he could see, feel, smell and hear. His imagination and language flowed as he told me I should be the discoverer and he should be the explorer…

It was lovely to get out and soak up our surroundings! IMG_6711

Areas of Learning covered: Communication and Language, Physical Development, Expressive Arts and Design and Understanding the World.

Quick Focus Activity: Maths Quiz

Today after lunch as my son took a nap, I set up a quick, fun quiz for my mindee. In addition to our normal planned activities, I am trying to introduce additional, short, focused and fun educational activities.

It’s thought that the average 4 year old may spend 7-8 minutes on a single activity alone, or as much as 15 minutes if the activity is new and especially interesting. With a small group, a 4-year-old may spend 5-10 minutes playing without interruption. Therefore this activity which required hunting and finding objects and placing them on the correct sheet held his interest for just long enough for it to be both fun and educational. He correctly identified items of different shapes and placed them on the corresponding sheet. He then was able to count all of the items afterwards. He loved running back and forth to the playroom and was excited each time he found an object of the correct shape.

I am going to keep trialing these quick focus activities and see how they go.

Areas of Learning covered: Communication & Language, Mathematics (shape and numbers) and Literacy.

Focus on…Expressive Arts and Design

Today I am focusing on Expressive Arts and Design. This area of learning, as defined by the EYFS (The early years foundation stage), calls on us to provide children with opportunities to explore and use media and materials and to be imaginative.

Here at Aston Childcare we love our arts and crafts! We love to paint and draw, print, do collages, model making (junk modelling) and play and listen and dance to music.

Every day during their free play sessions the children engage in role play and imaginative play, the dressing up items on offer such as various hats and scarves are always big hits and open up the children’s imaginations.  I also provide a wide variety of musical instruments for the children to play with.

I try to expose the children to many different medias. Over the past few months alone, the children have enjoyed all kinds of painting and printing, drawings using pencils, felt tips, crayons, chalks and glitter pens, drawing on both paper and blackboards and whiteboards, produced many a creation using paper plates, tubes, cardboard boxes, they have made and painted masks, made lavender bags by sewing, made bugs using pipe cleaners and pom-poms, used stickers in conjunction with a theme ie bug stickers when making bugs and talking about them. They have played with clay and plasticine, they have enjoyed decorating fabric bags, t-shirts and pencil cases with fabric pens, decorated wooden stars, wooden dolls pegs, egg cups, door hangers, photo frames, wooden spoons, mugs and treasure chests.

We also do lots of messy play activities like making and playing with playdough, salt dough and gloop and playing with shaving foam, glitter and rice.

Some of the expressive arts and design resources I offer –

  • Musical instruments (including maracas, kazoo, xylophone, tambourine, castanets, clacker, percussion scraper, etc).
  • Musical CDs – including Baby Einstein classical music (Vivaldi and Neptune)
  • Easels
  • Paints
  • Crayons, pencils, chalks
  • Plasticine
  • Model making resources
  • Ingredients to make playdough, salt dough and gloop.
  • Sand and Water play where children make castings, moldings, and prints.
  • Role play and small world items.

I am always adding to my resources and this is probably one of my favourites to buy for!



Robot Maths

I had an inkling that this Robot related activity would be a big hit with my 4 year old mindee today and it was! It’s amazing how, when applied to a fun subject matter, that maths can come alive and be interesting!

I presented him with a series of coloured shapes and asked him to identify each shape and its colour which he did perfectly. We then set about making our robot which sparked lots of great ideas from him – “this triangle could be his icecream cone” etc.

My mindee then named his robot “hearty” and was then keen to use the remaining shapes to make another one!

We then did a short quiz counting how many of each shape our robot had.

Simple, effective and fun!

Areas of Learning covered: Maths, Expressive Arts and Design, Communication & Language.

Mark making with rainbow rice

On Monday we made some fantastic coloured rice. Using Basics white rice, food colouring and vinegar we put the ingredients in to a bag, tied a knot and got massaging the colour into the rice. This was a great sensory activity as we squished & squelched the bags until all of the colour was combined evenly. We discussed which colours to use, the smell of the vinegar and the feel of the rice in the bag.

We then left it on a tray to dry and when ready we came back to make marks in the rice using our fingers and paint brushes. Messy play materials like this rice are wonderful for mark making (quite literally the earliest form of writing, where a child makes marks and symbols) and early writing which was the aim behind this activity. You can use all manner of things to write and make marks with – fingers, lolly pop sticks, cotton bud sticks, chopsticks, paint brushes and the feet of toy dinosaurs. We swirled and zig zagged in the rice and had great fun!

My mindee will not sit and write on a plain piece of paper. It does not interest him yet, so I need to find new ways to make writing fun for him and this is just perfect for igniting his interest unaware that he is in fact learning!

The Benefits of Sensory Play (source: HIGHSCOPE | Extensions, VOLUME 25, NO. 5)

  • We know that young children are oriented toward sensory experiences. From birth, children have learned about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing. Sensory play also contributes in crucial ways to brain development. Stimulating the senses sends signals to children’s brains that help to strengthen neural pathways important for all types of learning.
  • As children explore sensory materials, they develop their sense of touch, which lays the foundation for learning other skills, such as identifying objects by touch, and using fine-motor muscles. Children can work with materials that have many sensory attributes — they may be warm or cool, wet or dry, rough or smooth, hard or soft, textured or slimy. Discovering and differentiating these characteristics is a first step in classification, or sorting — an important part of preschoolers’ science learning and discovery.


A lot of learning can occur while children are doing what they do best: playing and exploring! Consider the following benefits of sensory play to children:

Cognitive development. Even before children can speak, they are developing an understanding of things in their environment by actively exploring them with all their senses. As they become more verbal, they are able to describe similarities and differences in what they see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. For example, each time a child explores sand, he is confirming his previous explorations and discoveries that sand is dry, gritty, and so forth, and he will eventually notice other materials that share those same characteristics.

Social skills. Working closely together at the sand and water table gives infants and toddlers opportunities to observe how peers handle materials, try out the ideas of others, share their own ideas and discoveries, and build relationships.

Sense of self. As they directly experience things themselves, children explore and communicate preferences, making sense of the world around them. For instance, they discover that they enjoy the feel of dry sand or that they have an aversion to slimy things. When caregivers acknowledge and accept their preferences, children learn that their feelings and decisions are valid.

Physical skills. Children develop and strengthen new motor skills through shaping, molding, scooping, dumping and splashing— these actions all support the development of small and large muscles. For instance, holding a scoop to fill and dump sensory materials works many muscles used in other parts of the children’s day, as when they hold a cup or spoon at mealtimes.

Emotional development. Sensory experiences can be very calming for many children and can help them work through troubling emotions, such as anxiety or frustration. For example, working with materials that require pressure and manipulation, such as play dough, can help children release physical energy or tension. Likewise, sensory materials lend to children’s expression of positive feelings, such as joy and excitement.

Communication skills. Through their choice of materials and actions during sensory play, children have opportunities to communicate both verbally and nonverbally. While splashing in the water table, a young toddler may display a look of surprise as her hand makes contact with the water or squeal in delight as she is able to make the water splash repeatedly. A caregiver’s responses to the efforts to communicate help children know the message they are trying to convey has been received.





Call to improve toddler safety

Whilst watching the news at the weekend I saw a report on a call to improve toddler safety within the home.

Emergency doctors and safety campaigners are calling for a national home-visiting scheme to help prevent injuries to toddlers. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) say it would make a “huge difference”.

The report said that burns and scalds, falls, asphyxiation and poisoning all represent major threats to 0-5 year olds and said that the solution to the problem is very simple.

The report said that this age group is particularly prone to injuries in and around the home resulting in nearly half a million visits to AE in England each year.

Interestingly I recently had a very lively discussion (well, a disagreement!) on safety and baby-proofing with another childminder. She suggested that I was hampering their development and sense of exploration by “baby proofing” my home. I explained that I aim to provide a comfortable, safe and stimulating environment where children are free to explore but whilst maintaining safety and vigilance at all times. I am interested to know others thoughts on the subject!

Here at Aston Childcare I have the following measures in my home –

  • Stair gates to prevent unaccompanied access to the kitchen where there are knives, cooker and cleaning agents and to prevent any unaccompanied climbing of the stairs.
  • “Safety Blind Cord Lock Away” on all window blinds
  • Soft floor coverings
  • Draw and cupboard locks
  • Hydraulic ram fitted to toy box to prevent fingers jamming
  • Choking hazards identified and removed

I don’t use socket covers on advice from RoSPA as they say “13-amp power sockets made to BS 1363 (which we have) incorporate a shutter mechanism, which prevents inappropriate access to the live connectors. Therefore, RoSPA does not consider it necessary to recommend the use of socket covers”.

I also haven’t opted for safety corner guards as I haven’t yet found any that don’t fall straight off!

I think it’s ultimately better to be safe than sorry and I am not willing to take a risk that I can see can be eliminated. I think the call for home safety checks is a fantastic idea and the more awareness around safety for 0-5’s the better.

RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) have a great website which I always turn to for safety advice.

Stay safe!

Focus on…Mathematics

Here at Aston Childcare I aim to provide a varied learning environment where I endeavour to cover each of the 7 areas of learning and development across the age ranges.

Today I am looking at what mathematics resources and learning experiences I provide for the children. I am always keen for new ideas and am always looking to add to my resources.

Maths skills amongst the young have been in the news a lot over recent years and OFSTED are paying particular attention on the maths teaching we provide to ensure children are being exposed to quality learning experiences.

It’s important to remember that Maths incorporates not only numbers but size, shapes, weight, capacity, position, distance, time and money.

My current maths resources and activities on offer include –

  • Hopscotch mat
  • Number skittles
  • Sand and water play using containers and jugs in variety of sized and shapes
  • Baby Einstein number and shape discovery flash cards
  • Baking (using measuring and quantities)
  • Shape sorter puzzles
  • Number correcting puzzles
  • Counting balls
  • Abacus’
  • Clocks
  • Height chart
  • Number magnets
  • Variety of Books such as Oxford First Maths dictionary and See and spy shapes
  • Measuring plants such as sunflowers in the garden
  • Matching pairs numbers games
  • Dominoes
  • Snakes and ladders
  • Card games such as “UNO”
  • Everyday conversation using mathematical terms such as more/less, many/few, empty/full, heavy/light etc

The height chart is a current popular favourite and I am always keen to add resources which the children consider such fun they don’t even realise they are learning!