Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Simple activities for small children - GLOOP

This is probably one of the simplest activities you can set up for your children, though it can get pretty messy.

C found the instructions in his book "50 Science Things to Make and Do", a Christmas gift from one of his aunties.
Product Details
All you need is a large bowl (washing up bowl is great), aprons, cornflour and a little food colouring (optional).

C followed the instructions to make the gloop himself.

Pour two cups of cornflour into the bowl (this was the messiest part in the inkspots house, somehow my children had forgotten how to pour and there was cornflour everywhere, but a dustpan and brush soon put this to rights).

Add a cup of water and a few drops of food colouring.

Mix together with hands.  

Once mixed gloop has some very odd characteristics.  It is made of long thin molecules particles which don't dissolve in water.  When you apply pressure or roll the gloop the particles join together and the gloop acts and feels like a solid.  When allowed to dribble or rest the particles slide over one another and the gloop acts and feels like a liquid.

The children remained engrossed in this weird liquid/solid material for almost an hour, squeezing it, punching it, pouring it, rolling it and then dribbling it through their fingers.

It did splatter across the table, but then goes back to solid form, making it pretty easy to sweep away afterwards.  At the end don't wash down the sink, as it may cause a blockage: either place in your kitchen bin, or allow to dry out to a fine powder, which can be used as a sensory material soil for toy diggers, or can later be rehydrated to make gloop again.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Recipe for a super family holiday

  • a lovely campsite (we enjoyed our stay at Camping and Caravan Club - St Davids)
  • sunshine (a bit of rain is acceptable and, let's face it, in a British climate inevitable)
  • a good tent
  • family
  • time off work and/or school
  • scenery and things to do.

Choose a destination with lovely scenery and activities for your type of holiday.  We chose beaches, cliffs and history.

Now arrive on site, set up your tent with a stunning West-facing view of the sunset.  If possible the best view on the campsite, and set up your home from home:

Go for lovely walks

Visit historic places

Take part in fun activities for the children

Play on the beach

Enjoy some pleasant refreshments.

Spend time with fantastic family.

And there you have it, a wonderful Summer holiday building memories.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Kid's Activity - Junk robots!

I know the term "found materials" is preferred over "junk" these days, but "found material robots" just don't have the same ring about them.

This activity was eagerly anticipated by the children as soon as they saw it on the Holiday Plan, and their imaginations were already fired up and ready to go.  I actually had to do very little.

First we raided the Recycle Bin for any robot components.  We found plastic lids, cardboard boxes and cans.

Next we laid out our chosen materials on the dining table.  C thoughtfully laid out newspaper before we got started, and I fetched scissors, PVA glue and brushes, kitchen foil, and selotape.  The children also fetched their craft boxes and zippy bags (full of pom poms, pipe cleaners, scraps of patterned paper, craft foam, tissue paper, googly eyes and any other craft paraphernalia you care to imagine).

I sat next to them and worked on my own robot.  I tried not to make suggestions, but every now and then gave a commentary on how I was doing something.  For example I mentioned how I was cutting tabs at the ends of my toilet roll tube to make it easier to stick on, and how I was trying to stick the foil on flat before adding the face features.  I also commented on how they were doing things, for example the choice C made about his robot's eyes.  Here's my robot:

Here's C's:  
 I love the hose coming out of the arm.  I think it's so that he can put out fires.  C is delighted with it.  The face features apart from the eyes are done with Sharpie permanent pens.  See how he's done the tabs on the toilet roll tubes too?
 Here's Bug's:
 It's cardboard boxes are still showing through on the front.  This is a design feature apparently.  It is silver on the back, with feathers for a special robotic decoration.
 I note that this one also has a hose.  It also has an important added feature in that the head is removable.  This is a design feature, so that it can get under low furniture or bridges apparently.
After our creative session the children cleared up most of their stuff, and then set about playing an elaborate game of hide and seek with their robots for the rest of the afternoon,

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Absentee Blogger

Hello.  I've been a bit of an absentee blogger just lately haven't I?

It all got a bit exciting with two teaching job interviews on two consecutive days, and not having been in front of a class since 2008 - eek!!!  As you can imagine I buckled down and did some homework, catching up on the curriculum changes and reminding myself what I actually used to do.  I didn't get the first job, which was a Full time, year-long post teaching Year 1/2 at my own children's school.  It would have meant teaching C's class.  I didn't get the job, but I was confident that I'd done my best.  The feedback was positive too, which helped a lot!  Basically my exemplar lesson (maths problem solving) let me down, and I agreed with everything the Head said afterwards.  Being a little out of the loop, I had made the mistake of pitching Year 1 at C's level.  Turns out he's pretty bright, so there were some children in there who just couldn't access what I was doing.  Also I could have brought things back together with a better plenary.  The next day I had the second interview, this time for a term-long part-time contract teaching Key Stage 2.  My lesson this time was teaching figurative language writing to Year 5/6.  I got the job!!!!

So the last few weeks were filled with baking for school and pre-school bake sales and PTA stalls, visiting the school I'll be working at, school productions and then the preparations for C's 6th birthday which was on Saturday.

Now we're on holiday.  I'm having a major clear-out of my belongings to get the place tidy and clear my mind of detritus ready for September.  Have you heard of "The Magic Art of Tidying" by Marie Kondo, or the Konmari tidying method?  The book has sold millions and having read it, I can see why, and I'm giving it a try.  We've also been for a bike ride, been swimming, been to the library, been to the skate-board park, and done some cooking and some science experiments.  As well as the very exciting school planning I'm doing ready for September (is it really sad that I'm so very thrilled to be going back to work?), and tidying, I've also had 14 articles commissioned in the last couple of weeks, mostly on various aspects of learning to drive and on various aspects of American Summer Camp.

I'm going to be returning a bit more regularly to update the blog, but possibly with shorter, picture based posts about some of the things we are up to and making - as long as I remember to take the camera out with me each time!  Post about robots should be following in the next couple of days.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Why the i-Scout brand has got it wrong

I'm a Scout, and I'm proud of it.  

In fact, I was delivering Module 1 of the Scout Adult Training Scheme this morning to ten new volunteers in my District.  I like Module 1 - Essential Information.  It's a huge amount of information for new Leaders to take in, but it covers vital stuff - safety, safeguarding, the structure of The Scout Association and... the fundamentals that underpin everything that Scouting stands for.  So as I was driving to this meeting I started to wonder about some of the branding that The Scout Association in the UK has opted for in the last decade.  Most of the branding is fine - there's this one:

and then there are brands for the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Explorers and Network (which have just been updated, so make sure you're using the correct ones), and then there's this one:

and this is the one I think they've got wrong.  I can see what it's about - it's on-trend, it's snappy, it's great for marketing (you see i-kayak, i-camp etc so it's really selling the adventurous opportunities you get in Scouting), but it's too... well... it's too much "i".  It sends the message, to our young people and to everybody else, that we're about "what Scouting can do for me", and I think that misses a huge chunk of what Scouting is about.

Scouting is about reaching out, and as the World Scout Bureau strap-line has it, creating a better world:

In a world where pupils stab one another in classrooms because of gang rivalry, where kids throw bricks at fire-engines on the street just for a laugh, where a rogue gunman can walk on to a beach and shoot down random strangers because of ideological hatred, and where teenagers blow themselves up in crowded market places to make a point, then there's more need than ever for Scouts to reach out and build bridges in their communities.

"Doing a good turn every day" isn't about the past, it's a relevant part of an everyday attitude where Scouts are a central part of their community, forging links and promoting understanding and tolerance.

The Scout Association knows that.  This year sees the launch of the "Million Hands" initiative, calling on the half-million members of UK Scouting to work on community impact projects.  For several years now the Scout Community Week project has seen young people carrying out projects in their local communities.  Every week around the country Scouts are visiting fire stations, old people's homes and places of worship, are learning about poverty, homelessness and fair trade, and are carrying out litter-picks and pond-clearances and planting community gardens.

Scouting isn't all about "i".  Scouting is about looking outside, holding out our hands and trying to make the world we live in a better place.  So I guess ... if that's what Scouting is all about... then i-Scout.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Developing Children's Creative Writing

What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is difficult to define.  It is the art of making things up; illuminating truths about the world and the people in it in an interesting and attractive way.  Creative writing is original and self- expressive.  Genres of creative writing include poetry, movie or play scripts, song lyrics and novels.

Why is Creative Writing important?

Creative writing develops thinking in children which extends far beyond their writing.  Being able to think creatively means being able to think outside the box and use imagination, which is essential for all types of problem solving.  

Creative writing is also a useful outlet for self-expression – sometimes it’s hard to work your way through a problem, express your feelings, or work out your own morals, but writing it down as a problem for a character to face, or in poetry or song lyrics helps to work it through and get it out.  

Thinking about characters, their motivations and feelings helps to develop empathy.  

Being able to express yourself clearly will lead to a lifetime of clear communication.

How to develop Creative Writing in children.

Most of these activities are for Primary School children, and can be done in class or workshop situations, but there’s nothing to stop them from being adapted and used at home or with younger or older children or even adults.
  • ·       The most important thing to do to develop creativity is to get lots of experience.  It’s difficult to write about a beach on a far-off planet, or a treasure island, if you’ve never been to the seaside or seen the ocean.  It’s difficult to write convincingly about something happening at a football match if you’ve never been to one.  While extensive reading, and watching television and films, can begin to bridge this gap, it’s no substitute for real first-hand experience.  While it’s true that if you lead a cloistered life, you can still write beautiful creative fiction or poetry simply by sticking to what you do know, or by creating something entirely from the realm of fantasy, wide experience gives you a lot more to draw from.
  • ·         Role play helps children to think through how characters might react to different situations, and how dialogue works.  Extended role play helps them to think about what makes a good story – a role play game of mums and dads where they get up, go to work and make dinner is all well and good for a while, but children soon work out that things get a lot more interesting if there is conflict or a problem to solve.
  • ·         Encourage children to describe using all of their senses.  A walk in the woods – what can you hear?  What do you see?  What colours are all around you?  What do you smell?  What does the air taste of?  What do the tree trunks feel like?  What does this peach smell like, taste like, feel like, look like and sound like?
  • ·         Pick any object or phenomenon and come up with as many similes and metaphors as you can.  For example, “this daffodil… is like a patch of summer… is like a beam of sun… is like a smiling face… is a fresh faced child on a spring morning…”  “The wind… is like a toddler tantrum, fierce and loud… is like a rollercoaster ride… is like a bully in the playground…”
  • ·         Start creative journaling.  Regularly open the journal to a new page and write something.  It might be a description of the view outside, a story opening, a descriptive passage about an imaginary character, or a poem.  Anything you like, as long as it’s unique and expressive.
  • ·         Create a character together.  Pick a name at random from the phone book.  How old do you think this person might be?  What’s their ethnic background?  What’s their family situation?  What kind of person are they? What do they look like?
  • ·         Take the previous suggestion to the next level.  Either using a character from a known story, or an invented character – start to think about how they would behave in different situations.  Is their bedroom tidy?  How would they behave at a football match?  Would they make a good friend?  If you lived next door, what would their garden be like?  Would they feed your fish while you were away?
  • ·         Once they can describe a person, an object or a situation using all their senses and some wonderful descriptive adjectives and similes, it’s time to introduce them to ”show, don’t tell”.  Think about their character eating a peach.  We could tell: “He ate a juicy peach”, or we could show: “He bit into the peach, and hurriedly wiped away the sticky juice that dribbled down his chin” which also gives information about the character and how he might be feeling.
  • ·         When you’re reading stories and poems together, stop and think about what description the author or poet has used.  How do they describe the character?  How have they begun the story?  How have they brought it to an end?  Is their dialogue long and descriptive or short and punchy?  How do we know how the character is feeling in this situation?

There is so much to include in this topic, that we’ve only really covered description of place and character, and haven’t even got started on plot development or poem structure, which is going to have to form the basis of a future blog post.  Children are innately creative and imaginative, so developing creative writing is simply about harnessing that, getting them to use what they see around them, and find the words to put it on paper as written art.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Nuclear energy vs wind turbines

What do you think about global sources of energy?  Do you believe that the burning of fossil fuels creates Global Warming, a world environmental and ecological catastrophe in the making?  Do you believe that we are running out of fossil fuels, and if so, what should we be using instead?

There's a general consensus that electricity is a good thing.  We all like to have the lights on, put the kettle on and be able to see where we're going.  In addition, as many people are shunning gas guzzling cars and turning to the new generation of electric vehicles, we'll need to be plugging them in somewhere every night.
image from

There's also a general, though not unanimous, consensus that burning fossil fuels is pretty bad for the planet, and that we ought not to do so much of it, and that we might be running out of oil and coal.  Estimates vary widely, with the possibility that there might be as yet undiscovered stores of fossil fuels under Canada and Siberia, but it's possible that coal might run out in just twenty-five years and oil in as little as fifty years.

There is no consensus at all on what we should do instead.  Even in our current UK parliament there is no agreement: The Conservatives have pushed through a deal to build twelve new nuclear reactors across five sites, Labour think that Nuclear is an important part of the power generation mix, and the Liberal Democrats are staunch supporters of wind technology.  

Hydroelectric power is probably the most efficient renewable power, but building huge dams, creating enormous lakes and blocking rivers from their natural flow relies on having the necessary geographical terrain, and can cause massive ecological problems too.

Solar energy relies on having sun, and is very inefficient.  Even in a sunny state like Texas, a solar array the size of Texas would be required to provide the power used by... Texas!

So, with a few small and mostly insignificant exceptions, that leaves us with Nuclear Power or Wind Power.  They both have their drawbacks, and when they are planned, they both create uproar with local people protesting that they don't want them.  Here's a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of each.

Nuclear Power
image from Sellafield

+ We already have the technology
+ With increased investment, technology will be improved to develop ever more efficient and safer technologies with less waste.
+ Nuclear waste is solid and can be transported and stored well away from human populations.
+ there aren't any greenhouse gas emissions.
+ while there are huge costs involved with building and running nuclear power, it's actually a cheaper way to produce electricity than any other.

- Poor reputation for safety
- Technology for nuclear power and nuclear weaponry is the same - do we really want more potential for nuclear weapons in our fragile planet?
- Historically, there has been a lot of secrecy around nuclear development and power.
- Nuclear waste is dangerous.  It remains dangerous for thousands of years.  It needs to be stored somewhere away from water, populations and tectonic activity.
- Building and decommissioning reactors is extremely expensive.
- The fuel for running nuclear power is also finite.  Turning exclusively to nuclear will shift power to the countries where it can be found, and it too will eventually run out.

Wind Power
image from

+ safe
+ green - no pollution
+ enormous potential
+ completely renewable, will never run out.
+ efficiency and technology are improving
+ operational costs are low

- fluctuates according to the wind, so to meet base demand would need to be stored by pumped hydro or batteries.
- space inefficient - you'd need to build 30,000 new wind turbines, over an area of 1200 sq km, to produce the same amount of electricity as one nuclear power plant taking up only 1.7 sq km.
- unsightly
- damaging to scenery, and unknown wildlife impact at this time.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tuesday Tutorial - How to make a campfire cushion

 Some of you  may remember my post a few weeks ago about the tepee I made for the children to play in the garden.  I also made a campfire cushion and some bunting to go with it.  From Bug's point of view, the tepee is certainly the most successful item, and she also loves the bunting, and has plans for me to make a lot more of it.  For me though, I was most pleased with the cushion.  I've now made several more of these campfire cushions, am sending one to a friend from Scouting (I sent me something awesome several months ago, so if he reads this he'll now know who he is), and have some for sale on my Folksy shop, with a posting coming soon on Etsy.  So here's how to make one:

You will need: 
  • canvas or other fairly hardwearing light coloured fabric.  I used lightweight canvas because I had plenty left over from the tepee construction.
  • a square each of red, orange, yellow and brown felt
  • fusible interfacing (bondaweb or similar)
  • red thread and natural thread
  • polyester toy stuffing - large bag
  • cutting tool (I use a rotary cutter and mat), scissors, sewing machine, needle

 - First measure and cut your first triangle.  Each side is 40cm (about 16 inches).
 - Cut around this triangle to cut three more.

 You can either cut your felt into flames and log shapes first and then fix them to the fusible interfacing (as I've done in this picture) or you can fuse the interfacing onto the whole sheet of felt and then cut out the shapes (which I did when I was making eight cushions at once).  Either way, you get your flame and log shapes with the fusible interfacing on the back.
 Peel the backing paper off the interfacing and arrange the flames and logs how you'd like them to make your fire, then iron them through a damp cloth to stick them.
 Use the sewing machine and red thread to stitch over the edges of all your felt pieces.  This not only stops them from peeling off in the future, but also adds some definition to the fire.
 Next, pin the triangles together right sides together (making sure to keep all the fires the same way up) to make a pyramid and stitch with cream or natural coloured thread, leaving a small gap on one of the bottom edges to turn the right way out.
 Turn the pyramid the right way out, stuff and then overstitch to close the gap.  
Et voila!  A cosy campfire cushion to inspire creative play and just to look gorgeous around the home or garden.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Dos and Don'ts of Wild Swimming

Wild Swimming is basically swimming outside.  When people think of swimming they think about sanitised chlorine wafted swimming pools, where you know how deep the water is, you know where the edge is, you know (hope) there won't be anything odd floating about, there are lots of other swimmers and a nice friendly qualified lifeguard to make sure that everybody is safe.
The Roman Baths at Bath - from
Swimming in swimming pools is a fairly recent phenomenon.  While the oldest watertight public tank that we know of was built in Pakistan 5000 years ago, and organised swimming and public and social bathing were popular in Greek and Roman culture, public swimming pools didn't come back into regular use until about 150 years ago.  By 1837 there were six man-made indoor swimming pools with diving boards in London, and after swimming races were included in the reborn modern Olympic Games in 1896 the popularity of indoor swimming began to spread.
Chudleigh Community Swimming Pool - from
Today, most regular swimmers will rarely venture away from the security of the man-made pool, with the exception of an occasional paddle in the sea on warm holidays.  They are really missing a trick, as the UK's many wild swimmer will testify.  Whether you opt for endurance swimming, swimming in the sea, in rivers or in lakes the feel of the water is very different to a swimming pool.  It's colder for a start, but then you begin to notice variations in water temperature in and out of the current, in shallow pools or on the edges.  Sea water feels different from river water, some water is soft and silky, while another river might have a grittier feel.  Swimming in the rain has a very different feel to a sunny afternoon, and a night swim is different again.  When you put your feet down are you in soft tickly grasses, sand, pebbles or rocks - and was that a fish that just brushed against your ankle?  As you swim in a river you're part of the wildlife scene, you might see a kingfisher darting over head, keep your distance from that nesting swan, and just float on by as a mother mallard leads her ducklings across the water.  The surface of the water sparkles in the sunlight, waves lap at the shore or the river bank, and leaves rustle overhead.  What could be better than swimming in such an inviting landscape?
wild swimming in Rydal in the Lake District from
Most people are nervous of swimming outdoors, thinking that it must be dangerous.  Stories in the press about drownings can be pretty scary, but of the 381 water related deaths by accident or natural causes in the UK in 2013, eight were in the bath, six were in the swimming pool, 14 were sub-aqua divers, 31 were boating, and one hundred and twenty six were walkers or joggers who fell in the sea, canal or river.  Only fifty five were wild swimmers.  To put this in context, in the same year 1,713 people died on the UK's roads.  When wild swimming though, you don't put your safety in the hands of the swimming pool and their attendants.  It is up to you to choose where to swim, to assess your own capabilities and the risks of your swim, depending on weather conditions, water level and your own ability, and to keep yourself safe.  Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

DO - 

  • always be polite to other water users and landowners.  
  • swim with somebody else - this is particularly important in cold water (officially, UK water is cold year-round).  They could be in the water with you or on shore.  This keeps you safe and makes the swim more fun.
  • wear a wet-suit when the water is cold, and get into the water slowly to allow your body to acclimatise.
  • Until you are used to swimming outside, and understand your body's "getting too cold" signals, don't stray too far from shore.
  • Keep cuts and grazes covered up.
  • Report any obvious signs of pollution to the Environment Agency (and Surfers Against Sewage for coastal areas)
  • wear a bright coloured hat so that other swimmers and boats etc can see you - a tow float can also be useful where there is a lot of boat traffic.
  • Build up your swimming ability, the better you are at swimming indoors, the better you'll be able to manage outdoors where the conditions are very different.

DON'T - 

  • trespass to get to the water.  Use public footpaths or other rights of way
  • stay in too long.  All UK water is classed as "cold" year-round - staying in too long increases your danger of cold incapacitation (you can no longer swim effectively, and may struggle to climb out of the water at the bank).
  • Get in to water that looks murky and unappealing or smells funny.  
  • Swim in privately owned reservoirs unless it's clear that it is allowed
  • swim under the influence of drugs or alcohol - EVER.
For more information on wild swimming in the UK, check out The Outdoor Swimming Society.  Their website gives lots of information on staying safe and where it's okay to swim, as well as including a map showing local wild-swimming spots that have been recommended by users.  It's well worth starting with some of these, as they have been tried and tested and comments on the map can tell you what conditions are like.
Lady Alice Douglas wild swimming in Wales, from