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Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category


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This year nature seems to have provided us with a bountiful supply of mud.  Whether we have liked it or not country dwellers have been forced to contend with muddy feet and huge puddles on a daily basis.  Children have found having impromptu mud baths fun and washing machines have been working double shifts during this constant wet season.  If we think that sending our little darlings to school will prevent them from getting dirty then we are going to be disappointed.

Mud kitchens are all the rage in schools now, whether a DIY plucky Governor version or bought one, your children will spend some of their school day in mud kitchens.  This article from Playdale Playgrounds explains why mud kitchens are such great fun. At home children can pester Mum and Dad for old utensils, cupboards and buckets so that they can enjoy the glory of mud.  As with all aspects of play, a mud kitchen provides a rich learning experience that we just assumed was mucking about.

If learning objectives and opportunities are what floats your boat then this chart produced by blogger Worms Eye View applies EYFS Learning Opportunities to playing in mud kitchens.

Learning opportunities sheet Outdoor Kitchen

All children can enjoy playing in mud kitchens, as the activity provides learning experiences for children of all abilities.  Aspiring artists and those who like to touch and feel the world have wonderful opportunities to explore texture, consistency and the possibility of shaping mud.  Scientists will totally enjoy experimenting with water quantities and soil types. All children enjoy copying their home life and a kitchen environment is where a lot of the action happens.

Learning objectives aside playing with mud and soil is really pleasurable.  I remember my mud kitchen in the corner of the garden, consisting of an old pan, buckets and a sieve.  One very warm summer holidays 35 years ago was spent sieving dry mud to make a sandy dust – I can’t remember the expensive activities we did that year but playing in my mud kitchen is firmly fixed in my mind.

To make lasting memories kit your kids up with clothes that can withstand mud and frequent washing, old spoons and pans. These are the ingredients of happy childhood memories.

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My son is thankfully interested in learning all there is to know about everything and appears to have developed his own set of learning objectives that he works on at home.  I once mentioned that I had been a teacher so now he sees me as a very useful resource in his pursuit of knowledge.  I thoroughly enjoy the process of being a hippy teacher at home using everything as a learning opportunity in spontaneous and completely informal ways – the school can do the boring bits.

Leading up to Alistair’s birthday in May we were unsure of the best present to buy for him because quite often they just end up abandoned and forgotten all over the house.  I found this article by Playdale Garden  about gardening with your children which gave me the idea to buy a selection of gardening tools so he could do gardening whenever he liked.  The local garden centre didn’t have children’s versions of tools so he has trowels, forks, etc that will last him for ever.

I am very good at delegating when it comes to Alistair’s home education and never resent anyone for showing him how to do new things.  One of the best bit of delegating is related to gardening as Alistair’s granddad is a very keen gardener and frequently likes to share his pearls of green fingered wisdom with everyone.  So armed with tomato seeds and sunflower seeds my son learnt how to make things grow.!

It is now the end of the season and we have had a continuous supply of juicy tomatoes and three successful sunflowers smiled down at us throughout the summer.  I wonder what delights he will grow next year.


When I was about two years old a man told my grandmother that I would make a good rugby player – when she informed him that I was actually a girl he just said, ‘Pity help you then’. I proceeded to be a pretty fearless person who was quite prepared to risk physical injury to do what I wanted, in fact I have broken my nose so many times that it has actually become straight again.  I managed to avoid any serious injury but did sprain my wrist while putting the breaks on when I went over a ramp – I never did that again.  When I was a child I used to love climbing trees and getting into territorial battles with other groups of children relating to the ownership of our den.  In fact we were definitely more, ‘Lord of the Flies’, than Cbeebies.

As a young adult I have tried climbing, abseiling, caving, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and many other activities that involve a calculated risk.   I always considered bruises to be a sign of being adventurous and had no hesitation in showing off amazing purple patches on my legs and arms to show how courageous I had been.  However since having my son I get really bothered if he has bruises or evidence of risk taking on his body for fear that it looks like I haven’t been looking after him properly. Even my own mother worries about him hurting himself in a way she didn’t when I was a child.  My son doesn’t seem to have inherited my fearless genes and tends to consider the consequences of every action meaning that he always takes calculated risks.  I am having to quash my protective instinct and actively allow him to get hurt and scared in playgrounds and in the countryside so that he can learn from his own mistakes.

The Early Years is the most important time in a child’s initial development and although the government has being producing a nicely decorated early years curriculum apparently children are still not prepared for school at five years old.  This is after they have spent a year in nursery and a year at school, does this indicate that the educational environment is not conducive with the way a child develops?  Maybe children really can’t learn in a mass production environment after all.   The Government perpetually makes staying at home to look after your own child either financially impossible or socially unacceptable.  Studies are starting to show that children from deprived areas are going to underachieve in schools whether the school is graded, ‘Outstanding’, or lower.  This really points to a child’s crucial learning time to take place within the home environment, the government however has made this increasingly difficult for parents who need advice and assistance by either closing or reducing the hours of Sure Start Centres that provide valuable information on how to help your children learn and develop.

Everything in life is quantifiable and graded in a way that a child can be given a grading at five years old.  In order to grade a child you have to make the environment they are in clinical and organised and play becomes formal rather than spontaneous episodes of learning.  No child ever learned to walk by sitting still and listening – they took risks and persevered until they achieved their goal.  The only way a child can learn about their own body and world around them is by taking risks and experimenting with every aspect of their being.  For many years failing was part of the learning process but now children have to achieve their goals or they have failed in some way.  A school is a failure if their SATs results aren’t up to scratch but you can’t grade compassion and emotional support.

The only way we can ensure that children have the opportunity to take physical risks away from the academic intensity is by giving them the opportunities when they are at home.  We all cannot afford to have a child’s climbing frame in the garden, some don’t even have a garden so it is fundamentally important that there is provision made in the form of communal playgrounds for parents to allow their children to take risks in a safe environment.  Growing up is about knowing your strengths and weaknesses  and being able to interact with people who are friendly and of course those who are hostile.  There is nothing like a confrontation in the playground to teach you about human nature.  We need to stop over protecting our children and let them learn from their own mistakes and the education system need to remind itself how we do learn in those exciting early years!

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The Child’s climbing frame featured in our main picture is available from www.playdalegarden.co.uk.


We don’t have much play equipment in our garden. Other than a sand pit we never really have had. Is this wrong? My son’s new school friend is the proud owner of a (very impressive) garden climbing frame set. It comes complete with swing, slide and rope ladder, something quite like this one, and the kids absolutely love it. Everyday he wants to go round there to play, though if I allow him I’m quite sure that soon the parents will think we are starting to take advantage. It is a wonderful thing though, fantastic for the imagination as well – one minute it’s a pirate ship, and then it’s a cave and then they are climbing a mountain, it is rather quite fun to watch!

piarte ship

I’m not sure he’s a fan of the rope ladder but the swing is definitely popular, lower to the ground and something that can be held onto tightly. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting something for the garden in the past but then fear that as soon as it was there in his own garden he would lose interest in it (which is usually the way)….Maybe it would be best to just start with a swing and see how it goes from there!


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