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When my son could barely sit up I decided to take him to  Rhythm Time sessions because I had heard that it was good for brain development etc.  As it happened Alistair ended up being the only one in the session so the hour of music and singing was pretty intense and hardcore.  On some occasions tiredness would make playing instruments quite difficult and my son would lie on the floor while we sang around him.  I wasn’t sure how much he had taken in until he was old enough to tell me and show me what he had learnt on his instruments at home.

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Newborn babies recognise music their mother listened to while they were in the womb. children’s music specialist Meredith LeVande of MonkeyMonkeyMusic.com says “More and more studies show a correlation between higher academic achievement with children who are exposed to music,”. This is because “Music simply stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, math, and emotional development.”  (Source: sheknows.com).

Singing and playing music is extremely important for children’s all round development while practicing and learning how to play an instrument encourages, focus, concentration, dedication, patience and if they get good at it they can travel all over the world as part of a youth orchestra.  Cbeebies – yes that channel that keeps your toddlers quiet and after a while Mr Bloom and Mister Maker start looking attractive – advocate the benefits of music, singing and making your own instruments.

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Source: Cbeebies

Schools are accommodating natural creativity by installing musical playground equipment so children can create beautiful music at playtime.  Without adult intervention, children will learn how to organise themselves so that they can play successfully as a band.  Children love free creativity and are aware that music does have rhythmic rules that have to be followed so that they produce music rather than noise.

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So next time you hear an almighty crash and terrible noise and your child claims that they are making music then you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that they are increasing their intelligence – honest!

 


 

We have had a bit of family illness to contend with recently and my son has dealt with it like a super hero.  I promised him that I would take him to LEGO Land Windsor and that we would stay in the resort hotel. To be perfectly honest staying in the resort hotel is incredibly expensive, for the same amount you could probably stay in a cheaper hotel for three days.

We had an early start on the morning of our expedition and many different trains to catch but we managed to get to LEGO Land in one piece.  The outside of the hotel did have a wow factor and was so child orientated that nobody needed to nag their children to stand still and wait while you checked in.  The greatest attraction in the reception area was a large sand pit full of LEGO, tearing Alistair away from that proved to be quite difficult and we hadn’t even entered the park.  We couldn’t go to our room until three o’clock so we spent the next three hours exploring the park.

It was a bit disorientating entering the park from the hotel because you are essentially entering it from the back into the quiet part.  We wandered towards the Viking area and went on the spinning log ride.  Most of our time was spent wandering around and squirting water on the people doing the wet rides.  We had some doughnuts and a drink then went to the shop to buy a big LEGO cube storage box.  We were both a bit tired and relieved to get back to the hotel so that we could enter our room.

The floor our room was on was fantastic and kitted out like an Indiana Jones set.  Our room definitely had the wow factor and the children’s bedroom bit was everything a little adventurer could hope for.  The carpet had pictures of scorpions, spiders and bugs on it and the walls were decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphs and Lego sculptures.   The adult side of the room was near the window and looked like a luxury hotel room with a really comfortable double bed.  There were two televisions so the children can watch Lego TV and the adults can watch Midsummer Murders.

On the side was a set of clues instructing the child to count four objects so that the answers could form the combination of a safe.  We were hopeless at counting and eventually managed to unlock the safe to reveal a Lego car.  We spent an hour resting and snacking on our packed lunch before getting ready to go into the hotel splash pool. It was great splashing about and extremely hot.  We went to the restaurant for dinner and entertainment – the entertainers did a sterling job of playing Simon Says and setting Duplo building competitions.

Finally it was bed time and I was so stiff I could hardly walk.  Alistair fell fast asleep without a fuss and I wasn’t long after him.  We slept soundly until seven o’clock in time for a 7.30 breakfast.  The breakfast selection was fantastic and you could eat as much as you wanted to.  We didn’t have a cooked breakfast and Alistair could only manage a small bowl of cereal because he was so excited.  We stayed in the lounge for a short while until we went upstairs to pack and check out of the hotel.  After handing my rucksack in to be looked after we spent the next three hours enjoying the park.

Lego Land has been designed to accommodate children of all ages and abilities and the staff are really good with children. Before 12.30 a Lego driving licence was acquired, we saw sharks, we went on a train, we saw the Star Wars exhibition and models of all of the major cities in the world.  We also had a play in one of the playgrounds which like the rest of the park had an inclusive playground design allowing all children to have the best time ever.

We spent the last half hour in the reception area playing with Lego and spending money in the shop until the Taxi arrived at one o’clock.  We were taken straight to Slough Station and had a tiring but good journey home.  It wasn’t until I looked in the mirror did I realise that I looked a complete mess.  My eyes were swollen and starting to go black the next day to the shock of my friends who said that I looked as if I had been mugged.  Anyway my son said that his holiday had been, ‘better than awesome’, which was all I wanted to hear.

 

 

 

 


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I think that the greatest thing I miss about not being in education any more is not being able to participate in role play.  Working with children provides the best opportunities to let go of reality (without being sectioned) and enter a fantasy world.  Although in reality we are all role playing to hide our short comings and sadness.  Some adults take role playing to another level and become members of role play societies.

If you have ever been to a summer fair and watched someone weaving baskets, wearing medieval clothes, chances are they are part of a role play group.  Companies like Iron Shepherds Living History visit schools and attend summer fairs educating people about the Medieval and Victorian era through role play.  Role play is so useful as an education tool that businesses use it to train their staff.  So what is it about role play that is so fantastic?

Play puts the zing in to. ‘role play’, children don’t need to dress up to enjoy it and can visualise a whole new world in the sitting room.  Unlike adults, children see the magic in everything and become masters of their own universe.  Apart from objects scattered all over the carpet, children are processing everything they have learnt during the day and programming their brains to use that knowledge the next day.

We associate role play with the under fives and school and public play areas have early years playground role play equipment fitted so that parents and teachers can encourage and observe children participating in role play activities. Kiddy Charts blog has written a fascinating blog on the benefits of role play for children.  When you are the parent of a young child, like it or not, you will end up pretending to be a shop keeper, customer, patient or a dog.

The Training website basically repeats virtually the same benefits of using role play in training as the Kiddy Charts blog but in a commercial way; confidence building, develop listening skills and creative problem solving.  Play therapy is used to treat children who have had a traumatic time but is increasingly used to treat adults with dementia, grief and loss, post traumatic stress syndrome, obsessions and compulsions, anxiety and depression.  Adults often need to be reminded on how to summon up their imagination in order to participate in the treatment.

If you are an adult who enjoys dressing up as a Viking, knight, basket weaver or Victorian you are probably boosting up you well being scores. As long as you don’t start believing you are who you are dressed up as you will probably have a very fulfilling life.

 


Generally you don’t really take much notice of the condition of playgrounds until you get a child’s eye view.  Parents of preschool children tend to spend lots of time in playgrounds giving their children fresh air and getting out of the house.  Our local Sure Start centre even provide a list of the locations of playgrounds in our area to visit. Therefore it is hardly surprising that you notice how worn out playground equipment is while you sit in your shattered mother of a toddler state.

The little playground near to us is very basic with just a slide, swings and a couple of rockers.  I did consider fund raising to update the equipment but only got as far as contacting  Playdale and a lady who seemed to know about how to raise funds for playgrounds.  My only major issue was that I didn’t know enough people to start a committee with.  Unfortunately the five years you spend with your baby is very fleeting and before you know it they are striving for independence so you don’t really see the playground equipment close up any more.

Once your child has made the transition from toddler to infant and you are starting to foray into the adult world, the shoddy swings and ancient slide suddenly don’t seem to be important any more. New parents take your place in the playground and if they are all like minded they could work together to improve the local playground.  This is exactly what happened in our area but the playground in question is to be a new one on a big stretch of road quite away from where we live.  The playground project is extremely ambitious and aims to fulfill the recreational needs of all ages including adults.

The NCB has produced a fact sheet on how to raise funds for your playground. You can request a funding guide from playground equipment companies like Playdale Playgrounds who have produced a funding guide. They also follow up the request by contacting you to see if they can help with your project.  Once you have read through all of the instructions you will have to form a committee and be prepared to write detailed plans so that people funding your project know exactly what they are paying for.  In some cases you may need to think about why your project is more important than other people’s so you can secure grants from different organisations.

Hopefully you will have some very creative and dynamic people on your committee who will be full of ideas for fundraising events.  Eventually after a lot of hard slog and dedication you will be ready to speak to your local playground adviser who will help you to confirm which pieces of equipment you would like and where you are going to put them.  Once an installation date has been agreed the playground equipment installers will come and set up your playground.  Most playground equipment companies provide maintenance contracts to ensure that your playground remains in tip top condition.

All that is left is for your local community to launch the new playground and welcome children and parents into your amazing play area.

 


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These days it would seem that the Nicky Morgan and Jeremy Hunt make policies without actually talking to each other.  We are given such mixed messages when it comes to developing our children’s minds and bodies.  On the one hand the Education Minister wants to increase the amount of academic work our children do, including dreaded homework. On the other hand,  the Health Minister keeps telling us we are too fat and children don’t get enough exercise.  The amount of opportunities children have to free play and therefore exercise is decreasing with every new target that is added to the OFSTED process.

Tracey Crouch, the Sports Minister, tried to convince us that the Olympic games would make athletes of us all.  There was a little increase in sports participation but nothing to get excited about.  Our medalists didn’t inspire us to exercise more, rather they encouraged us to; open new bank accounts, eat Quorn and watch, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.  All of these activities could be done at home on the sofa and failed miserable to get anyone excited about sport. apparently there is no single reason why people don’t participate in exercise more.

School trim trails, climbing frames, climbing walls and many other pieces of playground equipment adorn our school playgrounds now, yet children are not getting as much time in the school day to play freely. In the late 70’s and early 80’s when I was at school our playground equipment consisted of a dangerous climbing frame, a huge field, crystal draining stones in a filled in stream, grass cuttings and magnifying glasses.  Incidentally the exercise we got from the magnifying glasses was running away from the dinner ladies when we used them to melt black bin bags.  If it was sunny we would go out and play rounders or cricket on the field.  If it was snowing we took our sledges to the nearest hill and didn’t worry that we were missing English or Maths.

These days, unless an activity has got a significant number of learning outcomes and can be incorporated into a success criteria anything that doesn’t have a box to tick doesn’t count as learning.  The notion that exercise has to be formal and that you should achieve some sort of accolade for participating in it is suffocating our love of sport.  My brother and I spent one summer holiday playing in our grandparent’s empty coal bunker, it was great because the adults couldn’t get to us and we got filthy.  The amount of agility and strength required to get in and out of a coal bunker is quite a lot, we slept well at night and fat kids can’t fit into coal bunkers.

We all probably interfere far more in our children’s lives than our parents did in ours.  For some reason we treat children like they are made of fine china and neither their feelings or their bodies should be hurt.  I had bruises and scuffed knees for most of my childhood – I didn’t get upset about it and our parents were caring but accepted that it was part of childhood.  Now I am terrified of my son getting bruised and scuffed simply because I am afraid of being judge as a bad parent.

Play is definitely the secret to getting children to exercise more because it is so flexible and the imagination takes away the boredom of training.  When I watch my son and puppy playing together they are both exercising but because they are playing then don’t realize it.


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Author Gill Jepson telling her stories about Furness Abbey in the abbey.

When looking at different cultures it is extremely interesting to notice the different ways in which we approach religion, morality, social structure, appearance and of course food.  Fundamentally the needs of human beings are exactly the same but how they are provided is determined by those who rule our societies.  Different belief systems tend to be the greatest determiner of how a country is run.  One element of every culture, that is almost identical, is the act of storytelling.

Storytelling-Quote

Traditionally storytelling was used as a way for elders in a society to teach younger generations about the strife of life and the values of their community.  Stories were passed down each generation like heirlooms changing and growing in each telling.  Cavemen in France told stories about hunting and battles against enemies by drawing on cave walls.  As communication got better and people could share ideas through a common language stories became the main entertainment in any society.

Pow Wow

Before electricity and the microchip revolutionised the world  candle light or the flame from a camp fire was the only source of light groups of people had to gather round.  The most striking image that comes to mind is that of the Native American Pow Wow. Tribes would sing songs and tell stories about the world around them to the flicker of warm protect flames. Without the use of technology and special effects it was up to the storyteller to keep their audience engaged.

Multi Media Storytelling

As society has become more sophisticated, storytelling is presented in the form of; films, plays, computer games, songs and television programmes. I haven’t included books because I am concentrating on the performance side of storytelling.  It doesn’t really matter how good special effects are, if the story is weak then the film will flop.  Stories have maintained their durability due to people retelling them over and over again.

Encourages Anticipation

Being able to communicate and anticipate are two very important skills in life.  Without these skills our lives would exist very much in the present and we would be very vulnerable to the trouble and strife of life.   Retelling stories helps children to structure sentences while they are speaking and get their message across.  Being able to think ahead and consider the implications of any decisions you may make is an extremely valuable skill to learn.  Just being able to sequence a story will help you deal with maths problems.

Written Stories

Eventually people started to write down stories so that they would not be lost by the passage of time.  At first reading and writing was a pleasure that only religious figures and insanely rich people could enjoy.  The introduction of the printing press in the 15th century eventually led to more people having access to books and eventually the existence of schools.  Reading is generally a private activity where one person can immerse themselves into a fantasy world from the safety of their arm chair, while storytelling is very public and involves lots of people.

Storytelling Chair

Schools are very keen to reignite the concept of storytelling because of the many factors I have mentioned above.  As well as storytelling areas in the classroom schools have installed storytelling chairs in the playground.  Sometimes the storytelling chair is surrounded by little seats or benches so that everyone can gather around and enjoy stories being told like our ancestors told them.

Storytelling is always going to be with us and the history of storytelling is one huge story in itself.


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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.