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Monday, 28 September 2020

Messy Play Activities (That Aren't So Messy!)

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5 Quick To Engage & Even Quicker To Tidy Away Messy Play Ideas!

I absolute adore messy play, but it wasn't always that way. I can still remember the first time a friend of mine mentioned it. She had taken her daughter to a messy play group at the local village centre and explained how she would strip her off and dunk her into a bath of beans or a tuff tray of spaghetti. I was horrified! Who on Earth would do that to their child?! I wondered, seeing visions of children screaming and covered in mashed potato. I smiled, nodded along and vowed never to subject my future children to that nonsense. 

Speed forward about 3 years and I was in my local village centre supporting a local cause with fundraising. Across the way, a leader was in the process of setting up a messy play area. Space was at a premium, so she meticulously covered the carpeted floors in sheets and plastic then laid out the materials. I watched intently as Mum's arrived with their babies and plonked them into various vats of mess. Well, I was amazed. Every single child was engaged, smiling, laughing, squishing things between their fingers and toes... having an absolute blast! From that moment, I realised what messy play was all about. It was something we, as adults, don't get to experience very often - being in the moment with nothing much going on except the enjoyment of our senses coming alive. I was hooked! 

Soon after, I begin to use messy play experiences in my work as a newly qualified teacher. The children found the experiences so memorable. It was a joy to see. Years later, I was pregnant with my son and I couldn't wait to get started with all of the messy play experiences. 

In the year or so since Arlo has been able to engage in messy play, I have tried dozens of activities. Some were successes, some he hated and were complete failures, others were good but not pitched correctly for his age. I learnt a lot! One of the things I learnt, was how to conduct a 'messy play' activity that wasn't actually so messy. Let's face it, some days, there is just too much going on to spend the afternoon washing mashed potato off the kitchen cupboards. Sometimes, I only have an hour or two to get an activity set up, played with and put away again. This got me thinking about how I could incorporate the experience of messy play - engaging the senses, plenty of sensory things to touch, feel, smell, taste (sometimes!), and to really get into that 'hands-on' zone where learning is a true joy both for our little ones and for us to observe, too. 

Here I hope to share with you some of my favourite not-messy-messy-play activities which you can keep in your repertoire to bring out again and again when you're looking for an engaging experience which can be tidied away quickly. 

1) Using Shredded Paper

Shredded paper makes a fantastic messy play resource. It is free (just shred whatever you have to hand and if you don't have a shredder, cutting some newspaper with scissors will work just as well), it can be stored indefinitely to use again and again and it makes zero mess! 

In the activity pictured, I had stuck some plastic toys to a tuff tray using tape and covered in a layer of shredded paper. Arlo had great fun 'rescuing' the animals and exploring the paper. 

2) Water Play - Without The Water!

Water can be a pain to tidy up, especially if time is short, however this one is much easier as it uses ice instead.

Here, I used moulds from a sand castle set, filled them with water and a splash of food colouring, added a wooden hammer tool and let Arlo go to town breaking apart the ice with a hammer. When he was done, I simply brushed the ice onto a dustpan and threw it outside to melt on the grass. Job done! 

A little word of caution, however. Some food colourings can stain clothes, so if you don't have time to change your little one, use plain ice instead.

3) Getting Back To Nature

We use nature themed activities all the time. Again, they're free as I can collect the pieces I need outside in the garden and are easy to set up and put away. 

For the activity pictured, I ran around the garden and gathered up some cuttings from various plants, laid them out in the centre of the tray and hid some plastic insects underneath. I then gave Arlo a pair of tweezers to see if he could move the branches aside and find the hidden critters! This one was an absolute hit and so easy to do! For packing away, all I needed to do was collect the insects and put to one side before sweeping up the leaves and putting them into the garden waste bin. Perfect! 

4) Pass the Pasta! 

Pasta is a great resource for practical activities. It is cheap, reuseable and easy to clean away. 

For this activity, I drew a picture onto the tuff tray with chalkboard pens and gave Arlo the corresponding colours in pasta (see my post on dying your own pasta). He used his trusty tweezers to put the right colour onto the right area. Arlo is still a little young for this, so he didn't put the colours in the correct place, but he definitely worked on his fine motor skills and had great fun while doing it! 

To simplify this activity, you could lay out some plain pasta in different shapes to be sorted into various containers or give them a few tools and some pasta to explore for themselves. You will be amazed at what they can come up with! 

Clean up is easy - sweep the pasta into a box or food bag and store for next time! 

5)  Beans, Peas & Lentils! 

These make great resources for messy play because you can dump them back into a box or bag and use them time and time again! A quick run around with the vacuum and all the mess will be gone! 

In this activity, I gave Arlo some toy diggers and let him race them around the track I drew with chalkboard pens - a must have if using a tuff tray! I have tried several different kinds and some are really faint, but I highly recommend these ones which have lasted absolutely ages and still give clear, bright colours. I positioned some stones and various split peas, quinoa and cous cous to make different areas for the diggers to dig. This one was a huge hit!

Packing away was simple. I used a dustpan and brush to sweep up the different ingredients and put them back into food bags ready for our next adventure! 

Now it’s your turn!

So, there you have it! Five different messy play activities which will keep your child's clothes mess free and allow you to engage in some wonderful play before getting on with the rest of your day!

If you have a go at one of these activities, or think of any other suggestions, drop me a message in the comments box below. Alternatively, tag me on Instagram @MontessoriAtHomeUK and I will be sure to share your wonderful creations on my story! 

Don't forget, you can also find us via our Facebook group and on our Instagram account. 

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Dying your own pasta or rice!

Dying your own pasta or rice with just two ingredients!

There are so many wonderful and engaging activities that can be done with coloured pasta and rice. If you've been on my Instagram account you certainly will have seen some. 

I love it because its cheap, versatile and easy to make. It can be used in a huge variety of activities from shape sorting to investigation trays. It's also a wonderful sensory experience and children love getting their hands in to explore. 

All you need is two ingredients:

  • Rice (or pasta, chick peas etc.)
  • Food colouring.
  • Spoon 
  • Food bag OR Foil tray OR easy to wash bowl.

Then, just pop your rice into a food bag or easy to clean container and drop on a few drops of food colouring. Mix to combine and leave for a few minutes to dry out. If your mixture looks particularly wet, you may need to spread it out onto some kitchen roll or foil, but usually it will dry just fine without this. My top tip is to only add a few drops at a time, combining as you go. Too much will cause a wet mixture and you'll need to leave it overnight to dry. 

You can also use paint to get a broader range of colours including neons, however be mindful that if you do it will no longer be taste safe and therefore only suitable for older children. 

Here are some of my recent rice and pasta activities: 

Drop me a comment in the comments section and let me know which one is your favourite! 

Don't forget, you can also find us via our Facebook group and on our Instagram account. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Montessori Self Care

Self-care and independence. 

This is perhaps my favourite element of the Montessori lifestyle because it reaches into every branch of life. As a primary school teacher, I cannot tell you the amount of times I have met a child who struggles with the most basic self-care skills. For example, an intelligent, bubbly ten year old who cannot use a knife correctly. Having observed this for years, I vowed that should I be blessed with children of my own, I would ensure they had adequate skills to care for themselves. This doesn't mean, of course, that we force our children to do everything while we sit back and watch - quite the opposite in fact! It is simply about providing opportunities for our children to engage with us in everyday tasks.

Here is a short time lapse video of Arlo helping to squeeze some fresh orange juice for his breakfast. Afterwards, I poured it straight into his cup and gave it to him along with his cereal and fruit. Over time, these simple changes help our children to appreciate where things come from and how we get our food. Orange juice doesn’t come from a carton, they come from oranges!


Some other examples (age dependent):

  • Could your child cut up their own banana? 
  • Could they put the ingredients into the blender to make a smoothie? 
  • Could they brush their own hair? Teeth? 
  • Could they hang their own coat up when you get home and put their shoes on the rack? 
  • Can they stir the pot to help with dinner? 
  • Butter their own toast?
  • Use a dustpan and brush to clean up their crumbs?
  • Pour their own drink?
  • Help you to load the washing into/out of the washing machine?

Involving our children in the everyday tasks of life not only helps to build their skills in these areas, but many others too. For example, allowing your child to cut their own banana means they develop fine motor skills, grip control and their ability to appreciate size and measure as they aim for similar sized pieces. These skills are invaluable and the great thing is you can begin to include these in your day-to-day life without buying or setting up a thing. As you make breakfast in the morning, ask your child to help you butter their toast, or pour the milk on their own cereal. These simple things really do make the world of difference! 


Thursday, 3 September 2020

Beep Beep! Sorting pasta by colour.

Using Dyed Pasta To Teach Colours

Arlo is now at the point where he is beginning to distinguish between different colours. To help develop this interest, I came up with a simple pasta activity that would work time and time again. 

First of all, I dyed some pasta in lots of different colours. To do this, simply spread some pasta out into little bowls or food bags (here I used foil take-a-way containers as they are cheap, easy to store and can be reused) and mix in a tsp of food colouring per cup of pasta. There's no need to measure, just add more pasta if your mixture is too wet and more dye if your pasta isn't bright enough. Give it a good stir and then lay it out onto some paper towels or foil to dry overnight. 

While this was drying, I used chalkboard pens to draw a picture onto my tuff tray and arranged some coloured cups and tools. 

In the morning, I simply put each colour of pasta into each cup and let Arlo explore the different colours. During the demonstration, I modelled selecting a colour and matching it to the correct place on the picture (for example: the red pasta is used on the car).

I know it will take Arlo quite a few more attempts to understand this concept, but it is certainly a great way to teach it! 

What do you think? Drop me a comment in the comments box below! 

Don't forget, you can also find us via our Facebook group and on our Instagram account. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

We're Going On An Insect Hunt!

Using Nature To Create Engaging Play Activities. 

This one was a huge hit! One of the Montessori concepts you may have heard of is all about following the child's interests. Well, we were out on a walk over the bank holiday weekend when Arlo spotted an enormous beetle on the floor. It was huge! He was mesmerised for quite a while and even said 'bye-bye' when it was time to move on, so I decided to follow this interest by creating a bug themed activity.

I grabbed some of our bug shapes and some cuttings from our trees outside to create this effective yet simple scene. I arranged the leaves onto the tuff tray and hid the bugs underneath. I added a copy of our bright, colourful bug book, some tweezers and a scoop. The lettering I made myself by adding chalkboard paint to slices of wood. It is really effective and can be used time and time again! 

I then took up my role as the observer and watched as Arlo engaged with the materials. It is such a rewarding experience to sit back and watch children play as I can guarantee they surprise you more often than not! Today, Arlo surprised me by heading straight for the wood slices and using them to build a tower. After exploring this for a while, he started to notice the hidden bugs and had great fund sorting through the leaves to find what else was hidden beneath. Finally, we sat together and read the book, matching some of the pictures to the insects he had found in the activity. 

After he had finished, the activity looked like this. A clear sign it had been thoroughly enjoyed and played with!

Arlo definitely loved exploring this one and I can't wait to do it again! What do you think? Why not drop me a message in the comments box below! 

Don't forget, you can also find us via our Facebook group and on our Instagram account. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Parenting Hack: Talking about your children's day.

20 Questions you can ask to find out about your child's day.

Times have been difficult lately, haven't they? As parents, we certainly haven't experienced the 2020 we all expected, but that is true for our children, too. Many have been out of school for a very long time and so it is only natural for them to feel anxious about returning. Equally, as parents we want to protect our children and ensure they are happy and healthy - not just physically, but mentally, too. 

Arlo is (thankfully) much to young to worry about this yet however, as a teacher, it is a question I get asked so often by parents, I felt the need to address it directly here. 

Has your child ever climbed into the car or walked into the house after a long day at school, you ask them how their day was and they simply grunt back or call 'fine!' before racing upstairs to their room? It is something parents up and down the country deal with every day! 

So, to helpfully easy some of those back-to-school worries for both parents and children, I have compiled a list of questions you can ask your child which will hopefully engage them in further conversation. This will undoubtedly help you to find out how they are coping with their return to school life and share more effectively in their everyday experiences. 

Remember: the goal is to ask open ended questions. Here are some examples:
  1. What was your favourite lesson today? Why?
  2. Who was your favourite teacher? What do you like about him/her?
  3. What was the best thing that happened today? 
  4. What was the worst thing that happened? 
  5. Tell me what you know now that you didn't know when you left the house this morning.
  6. Which lesson did you find the most challenging? 
  7. Which lesson did you find the most rewarding?
  8. Which lesson did you find the most engaging?
  9. What equipment/technology did you use today? 
  10. Who did you sit with at lunch? 
  11. Tell me the funniest thing you heard today. 
  12. Tell me the saddest thing you heard today. 
  13. What was today's assembly/class story about? 
  14. If you could drop any of your lessons, which one would you lose and why? 
  15. If you could do more of any lesson, which one would you choose and why?
  16. How did you feel at the start of the day? 
  17. How did you feel at the end of the day?  
  18. What are you most looking forward to doing tomorrow? 
  19. What are you not looking forward to doing tomorrow? 
  20. What topic do you need support with? 

There you have it! This is by no means a comprehensive list. Instead, it is a guide to get you going and hopefully steer you on the right path to some truly meaningful conversations. The key is using questions which are broad and cannot be answered by a 'yes' or 'no'. 

Let me know how you got on by dropping me a comment in the comments box below. 

Don't forget, you can also find us via our Facebook group and on our Instagram account. 

Benedykt and Sylvester

Benedykt and Sylvester is a small British business run by Brittany, a Montessori Mum to Benedykt, 4, Sylvester, 2 and baby Otylia.  After be...