Using loose materials in the snow

Using loose materials in the snow

The ‘Beast from the East’ finally arrived here in London, this morning, after a few flurries of snow yesterday. We woke up to find everything covered in a blanket of snow.  The best snow is the most unexpected, I always think, as it creates the greatest excitement amongst children who cannot wait to get outside!  This is particularly true in areas, like London, that receive little, if any snow, each year.

I am working at a school in Kingston tomorrow and cannot wait to get outside to play in the snow myself!.  I have asked the teachers to organise lots of resources ready for me to work with them and the children to provide them with lots of ideas , across the curriculum, for working in the snow!  I have asked for sticks, shells, stones, pebbles, feathers, paint and a variety of paint brushes.  The number of materials that can be used is almost endless but as I have limited time with them, I thought this would give them a start!

I shall also be bringing some items with me such as picture frames and some wooden bed slats which I shall give the children to see what they can do with them. Giving the children some loose parts encourages them to think of different ways of combining and using different materials. I cannot wait to see what happens!

Why don’t you take your class outside to create some masterpieces in the snow?



Using natural materials outside

IMG_0254Using natural materials outside

I had a great day working with some school direct students today.  I challenged them to make something for mother’s day with natural materials which they had to collect from outside.   It never ceases to amaze me how everyone produces something so entirely different…….and that’s exactly why I love working with loose materials. Whether natural or man-made they are so flexible, offer so many opportunities and different ways of working…. in 2 and 3d.

Look at how students from a previous course arrange leaves on a skewer!  There are so many ways in which you can challenge children with just this one activity. You can challenge them to make a repeating pattern, order leaves from large to small/small to large or order them by shades of colour – light to dark or vice versa. These are just a few, there are many, many more.

Chinese new year

Chinese new year

Chinese New Year 

Chinese New Year was always a great event in my classroom and was loved by children and staff alike as there was something for all – a visit to Wing Yip to buy food, which was later cooked for our Chinese banquet, dancing, making costumes, re-enacting stories and playing in the Chinese restaurant role play.  Children fully emersed themselves in the experience which provided for great observations of independent learning.

Valentine’s day fun

IMG_6952Valentine’s Day fun  

There are lots of lovely ideas for Valentines Day on the internet but these are mainly tabletop based.  Why not ring the changes this year and get the children outside to make cards and presents for Valentine’s day.

Here are some ideas:

  • Chalk a heart outline onto the groundThis can be done by either adult or child and can vary in size dependent on the fine motor ability of each child.  The outline can be decorated, using natural materials such as stones, leaves, flowers, twigs etc. Children can also infill them with other materials if desired.
  • GO LARGE by drawing a gigantic heart outside then create a border with children’s bodies, laid head to toe. Encourage children to problem solve how to shape their bodies to the curves. Children can later write their message in the centre of the printed photo. Make this even more special by backing the photo with card that is slightly larger, and decorate the border with natural materials.
  • Create a heart shape wreath – Shape bendy twigs, florist wire or wire coat hangers into a heart shape for children to wrap and weave with natural materials along with twine and ribbon for added effect. Children can write their messages on heart-shaped cards and attach at the bottom with ribbon or string.


Valentine’s day doesn’t have much appeal to boys as it is very pink and female dominated! Provide boys with alternative ways of sending a loving message to their families by:

  • Creating superhero valentines – Photo them in action in different areas outdoors e.g. on a large rope ‘spider’ web, hanging upside down on the climbing frame or climbing a tree! Young children are still very egocentric and love to work with their own images. Print the photos and provide speech bubbles on which to write their message and stick these to their photos.
  • Large-scale drawing or painting creating their own images and messages outside… in the dirt, on a wall, on the ground etc. Use larger mark making implements such as wooden sticks, rollers, large paint brushes or large brushes attached to sticks. Mark making on vertical surfaces also supports the development of the upper arm muscles, needed for writing. Photos can again be used to capture the images/messages created and made more special by the addition of a border (see above).
  • Making mud valentines – create a mud patch and encourage children to mould mud into a heart shape. These can be created on the ground or the mud pushed into the bark of a tree, log or onto large stones. These can then be decorated with natural materials.

Photos of the creation process provide great evidence for assessment, particularly when accompanied by children’s explanation of the process.   Don’t forget to get children to share their creations with one another as this expands their creative repertoire. You can also support the development of self-assessment by encouraging children to say what they like about each other’s creations and what, if anything, they would change about their own.

Adults attitudes to outdoor learning

One of the things I have noticed, when leading training on outdoor learning, are the attitudes of teachers to the outdoor element of the course. All delegates enjoyed working outside during the summer however during the winter training, most want to get back inside as quick as they can. You can’t learn about outdoor learning without getting outside – whatever the weather! The same is applied to teaching outside in the winter – If children see you complaining about being cold and wanting to go back inside they will follow.  You need to fake it till you make it!  Children take their lead from you!  Be active and devise games where you are running around with the children – this will soon warm you up.

Wearing the right clothing is key and makes all the difference – you need to be warm and more importantly dry! Don’t underestimate the need for water and windproof jackets. It is worth investing in a good one from outdoor clothing suppliers.

I was recently introduced to a hot water bottle that warms the neck – one area of my body that does feel the cold! This is a great investment and really does the trick. They are available online from a number of suppliers but the one I have is from eBay.  You can also get hand warmers for gloves too!

If your budget allows, it is worth investing in wet weather gear and wellies for the children. However, this can be expensive so ask parents instead.   I asked all parents to provide the children with waterproofs and wellies before they started school. As the children moved onto Year One we were left with most of them as the children had grown out of them.  If you include this as part of your uniform requirement and inform parents and carers in advance,  you will be good to go from the start.  I would also suggest that you ask them to provide children with good quality waterproof gloves as woollen gloves are insufficient for most winter weather and one of the main causes of discomfort when they become too cold.