Thursday, 22 August 2013

Daily outside play and childminders

Do you take the children outside every day, whatever the weather - or do you say you offer every child the opportunity to go outside and then let the children make a decision based on how they are feeling during the day?

There is absolutely no expectation for childminders to keep their doors open throughout the day - in fact, if you think about it, free flow play when an adult is not always outside with the children might not be safe. It can also be very difficult to ensure educational outcomes for children if they are playing outside without adult supervision - so many childminders have a ‘one out, all out’ policy.

This can make things difficult again because some children might not want to go outside at the same time as others - so it is important to find a balance that works for you. Most childminders find that a daily ‘outside after nap time’ or ‘outside after morning snack’ expectation will usually motivate the children to see what is happening in the garden, especially if there are toys and games outside that they enjoy using.

Parents need to provide appropriate clothes of course and this can be a battle for some childminders. It can be helpful to keep old clothes and wellies for children to wear during outside play - it doesn’t matter if they get wet and dirty if they are old and children’s clothes will be protected. We always ask that children come dressed in play clothes and keep a set here in case they wanted to wear their best fairy dress or Superman costume to show us.

Before any outside planning is done, you should complete your risk assessment to take account of, for example -
• The play areas
• The flooring surfaces
• Standing water
• Trees, bushes and plants
• Toys and games
• The shed and other storage
• Weather conditions
• Children’s illnesses
• Clothing available
• Drink provision
• Fence and gate security
• Age and stage of development of each child - what does each child in the provision need in place to enable them to play safely outside?

Once you have the basics in place - a commitment to go outside, a risk assessment and appropriate clothing the next step is to think about what each child enjoys doing at the moment.

Planning outside play

The best and most important planning you will do in your provision is individual, based on each child’s likes, dislikes and current interests. This planning, often called ‘next steps’ will normally be in writing, but you do not need to write reams of information - a quick overview will be enough.

- Jane likes birds - so you put some binoculars and a bird spotting sheet outside for her

- Jack enjoys digging - you will set up the digging tools for him

- John loves doing rubbings - provide him with paper and rubbing crayons outside and show him how to rub the trees, leaves, floor, walls etc.

Alongside your individual planning, you will have some group planning / activity ideas for all the children. These will be based around your continuous provision resources - the toys and games you always have available for all the children to use. Of course, the children do not need everything out at once!

You might plan different experiences for them through the week, for example -

Creative experiences - July - week 1
• Monday - singing outside songs
• Tuesday - decorating CDs for a display
• Wednesday - drawing butterflies
• Thursday - dancing
• Friday - painting

Physical experiences - July - week 1
• Monday - bikes
• Tuesday - bats and balls
• Wednesday - obstacle course
• Thursday - hopscotch
• Friday - balancing beams

Outside play allows children to experience the weather and the changing seasons, so when you are planning the first thing to do is look outside...

• Wind - flying kites, running like the wind, making windmills; reading ‘The Windy Day’ by Anna Milbourne and learning the poem ‘The north wind doth blow’;
• Rain - catching raindrops, counting rain, making rain pictures in puddles; reading ‘Splosh’ by Mick Inkpen and acting out songs such as ‘Rain, rain go away’ and ‘Doctor Foster’;
• Sun - making sunshines with yellow paint, drying dolls clothes, watching water disappear; singing ‘The sun has got his hat on’ and other sunny day songs;
• Fog - making foggy day pictures, watching your breath, playing hide and seek;
• Cold - playing with ice in warm water, exercises and dance to keep warm;
• Snow - catching snowflakes and bubbles, cutting snowflakes out of circles of paper, reading ‘The Snowy Day’ by Anna Milbourne.

For more information about outside play planning, please see e-book 6 from Knutsford Childminding.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Developmentally appropriate next steps - early years

A lot of childminders are getting Ofsted inspection actions related to next steps planning, so I thought I might have a look at them in a little more detail.

Next steps = individual planning - plods (possible lines of development). They are the steps a child might take to move their learning and development on.

A lot of next steps happen automatically as the child gets older - they go from lying to rolling to crawling or shuffling to standing to walking OR they go from nappies to recognising when they have done a wee to the potty to the toilet.
Other next steps might take a bit of practice - doing a jigsaw, sharing a toy, using scissors carefully, holding a pencil using a tripod grip etc.

Next steps usually follow on from observations of something the child is doing or saying at home, in the provision with you, in other settings, with granny etc.

For example...
• Observation - child A is sitting on his bike
• Assessment - links to physical development and suggests the child might be ready to learn to pedal
• Next steps - give lots of opportunities to use the bike, plenty of time and space and encourage pedalling
This is a long term next steps planning - it will not happen overnight.

Another example...
• Observation - child B does a painting of straight lines. The child likes straight lines - you know that from other observations
• Assessment - the child might well be learning using a trajectory (straight line) schema. This links to the characteristics of their learning and to physical development because trajectory schema children are normally very physical and climb, jump, run etc
• Next steps - provide other resources to promote the schema such as things to throw, bikes to ride up and down the path etc
This is a short term ‘next steps’ - you are quickly responding to a child’s interest. Why not write some of the things the child is doing on a sheet to share his schema with parents?

Another example...
Observation - mum says the child C has been to the zoo at the weekend. He arrives clutching a toy lion from the zoo shop
Assessment - the child is really into zoo animals after his weekend adventure. Link it to understanding the world probably... maybe communication and language if he is making animal noises
Next steps - out comes the farmyard or zoo, read ‘Dear Zoo’, make some animal masks etc. All the things you will plan to follow the child’s interests.

You do these things every day - yet a lot of childminders over-think them trying to put them down on paper. It is important to remember that they are not meant to be complicated...
The child does / says something - what might the child enjoy doing next?
Use your knowledge of the child’s learning characteristics to support them where possible... and don’t forget to come back to the next steps planning in a little while and add some evidence that the child has achieved as a result of your planning.

For example...
Child A - come back to your next steps planning in a few weeks or months, maybe with a photo of the child pedalling or some notes from home to say he has just ridden his bike by himself.
Child B - add the sheet of trajectory schema ideas and some photos you shared with parents
Child C - help the child to make a little photo diary of his visit to the zoo and pop a photo of it in his file before he takes it home.

Ofsted want to see clear individual planning for each child, re-visited regularly to show that you are helping the child to make good progress. They want to know that parents are involved in providing you with and supporting their child’s next steps.

Individual planning is the most important planning you can do. If you don’t write it down, you must be prepared to explain it in depth to an Ofsted inspector on the day of your inspection.

If you would like help with any areas of provision - if you have been given an inspection action you do not understand - if you are unsure about how to use a piece of paper your Local Authority has given you - don’t sit and worry about it! Please ask!

Sarah x

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Schemas in the early years

Do you ever wonder why a child lines up their toys... seems fascinated by things that go round and round... hides repeatedly under blankets and in boxes... throws everything round the room?

What you are probably seeing is a child learning through a schema. A schema is a repeated pattern of behaviour. I first found out about schemas in 2009 when I attended some training and researched about schemas for my e-book 32. I have been totally fascinated by them ever since!

Some of the most common schemas include -

• Transporting - the child carries toys around and loves sitting in a buggy so you can push him around the house and garden;

• Trajectory - usually spotted when a child simply cannot stop throwing - everything they can get their hands on is lobbed around the room. They will normally love water play as well;

• Enveloping / enclosure - the child covers themselves or their toys with blankets and hides in things; linked very closely to enclosure schemas where children draw borders round their work or prefer to be within a boundary made with cushions or boxes;

• Assembling / disassembling - lining things up (toy animals, trains, cars), putting them together and taking them apart;

• Rotation - pictures in paint and crayon show lots of circles and the child can often be found spinning themselves or toys round and round;

• Scattering - children are not being ‘naughty’ when they throw contents of sand trays or toy boxes in every direction. They are learning through a scattering schema and will appreciate you providing lots of baskets of bits and bobs which they can tip out and move around on the floor with their hands or legs;

• Orientation - the child looks at things from different angles eg upside down, through their legs, sideways etc.

Once you have observed and recognised that a child is learning through a schema (not all children use schemas to learn so you need to spot it a few times first), you can share information about how they are learning through their play with parents and research to find lots of ideas for follow on activities that their child might enjoy.

I write little information sheets in parent friendly language when I spot a child exploring a new schema and give them to parents. They contain a little bit of information about the schema I have observed, photos of the child learning through their new schema (I find that parents will engage better if they are asked to read something that features photos of their child!) and some ideas for extension activities to develop the schema further.

Do you want to find out more? You can...

• Download this document from Leicestershire Early Years -;

• Borrow a copy of ‘Again Again’ by Sally Featherstone from the library or local Children’s Centre;

• Look at the lovely pictures on my friend Lucy’s website -;
• Print this illustrated sheet to put into your Learning Journey files and share with parents -;

• Buy e-book 32 ‘Schemas’ for £3.99 from

Enjoy schema spotting! Sarah x

Friday, 9 August 2013

Labelling toy boxes and Ofsted

A number of childminders have complained to me recently that they have been told by Ofsted inspectors to label their toy boxes. They say ‘we are working from our own homes... these are our children’s toys... we don’t want labels all over our houses.’

There are 2 ways of looking at this action from Ofsted...

1. It is not a requirement of the EYFS 2012 to label toy boxes and you could argue that it is an inappropriate action... or maybe that too much print turns children off learning... or maybe that your husband says 'no, absolutely not' to labels in his home.

2. You could think about what the inspector is actually saying and how you can enhance your play areas to improve children’s access to print. Ofsted want to see a ‘print rich environment’. It’s not really about labelling toy boxes - it is about how you promote literacy in your house and garden.

There are many different ways you can provide a print rich environment without labels. Most of them can be taken down at the weekend or during holidays.

Here are some examples...

• Alphabet - put one up on the wall or on a window for the children to see; print and laminate one for the drawing box. Make sure the children recognise the pictures - they have to mean something to them or the poster will be ignored.

• Name labels - print and laminate a label for each child with their name typed out in Comic Sans font. Use about 48 point size so children can copy it when they are learning to write. Include their photo or a picture they have chosen so the label is personalised for them.

• Pegs or shelves - if the child has a peg or shelf where they put their bag, shoes and coat, put a label on it with their name so they know it is their space.

• Register - when children arrive in the morning, help them to register by putting their name card onto an ‘I am here’ poster or put some photos with their name underneath near a laminated ‘welcome’ board. Some childminders have a ‘registration sheet’ which children use to sign in every morning. It is displayed for the day and then goes into the recycling - with a few copies saved to show how well children are making progress in their writing. If you write their name they can sign in underneath and copy the letter shapes.

• Books - put books with different resources. For example, make some menus and recipe cards to laminate and go in your cooking box; add books about numbers to your maths resources; put magazines in a box so children can read them independently; display some books forward facing so children can select them from the title.

• Clipboards and paper are great for taking mark making outside. Add interesting pieces of paper to the clipboard, attach a pencil and put words outside on the fence and near toys so children can copy them. For example, the children could help you to decorate and laminate pictures of butterflies, birds, snails and other outside inspired things and add a name label so the children make links between the picture and the word.

• Signs - nobody is asking you to put ‘window’ on your windows! However, signs can be used and made by the children for their games. For example, a window cleaning business can have a ‘we are working here’ A board sign... a role play shop can have an ‘open’ and ‘closed’ sign etc.

• Mark making tables can have pre-printed sheets featuring shapes, words, alphabet, numbers etc which are laminated for longer life.

• Home made books - when you visit the farm, park, soft play or zoo take lots of photos which, when printed, can be used to make a book with the children. This is an excellent way of ensuring your book provision reflects the local community and the children’s home and family lives - for example, you might ask parents if they would like to contribute pictures of home festivals and celebrations so you can make a book for all the children to read.

• Label artwork - when the children have put artwork on the wall ask them what label they want you to add and help them to type and print it.

• Pre-school children might enjoy exploring a ‘letter of the week’ through words, pictures, favourite toys and books.

• Buy or make some posters to display - put them on a board and take them down at the weekend.

• Label your own folders - the children will learn that print has meaning if you talk about finding a folder and look for the correct label. Children’s names and a picture chosen by them or photo will help them to find their own Learning Journey files so they can look through them.

• Use real food boxes in your cooking box - taken from children’s favourite home food and drink as well as things they enjoy while with you - so they learn to associate the labels with the contents.

• Make and put up a birthday display featuring children’s names and their birth month.

• White boards or chalk boards - write and draw something on them for children to copy and to provide inspiration.

• When children are making models, give them some writing paper with squares on it and work together to make a drawing of the model. If you do this regularly it will become part of the children’s normal play routines and they are more likely to do it as part of their play when Ofsted are in the house!

• Rebus rhymes and stories - are great for combining words and pictures to support early reading. Have a look on for lots of ideas.

• Number lines can be made by the children featuring their favourite toys torn from an old catalogue or if you have a laminated number line on an easy to access shelf they can put little toys along it to count.

• Food cartons - empty ones for role play from the cupboard so they are real and things children see in their own homes.

• Some children are auditory (listening) rather than visual (seeing) learners and will enjoy listening to story tapes or CDs. Provide them with headphones, the CDs, a copy of the book to read along with the story as the are listening.

And if you actually want to label toy boxes... for very young children, words alongside good quality pictures work best - you could tie labels to your toy boxes with a short piece of ribbon which can be removed at the weekend if your own children object or you think it looks messy. Some childminders use laminated labels attached to toy boxes with Velcro so they can be removed easily.

I hope this inspires! Chat soon, Sarah x