Culture

Two boys doing constructive play outdoors

Justifying constructive play

A couple years ago I worked in a nursery in Australia. The weather was gorgeous and we spent all our time outdoors in a spacious garden kept very tidy so as not to attract snakes and spiders. However, we noticed that our older children just ran around the garden, unable to engage in their play.

One evening we staff put our heads together and realized we needed to make a change. Our garden was too sterile. With a group of dads and other volunteers, we transformed a small grove of shade-trees into a mini adventure playground with logs and woodchips, outdoor blocks and other loose parts. The change in the children’s play was dramatic. They settled down and began to construct things.

“Constructive play is what young children do naturally,” writes Francis Wardle. "It is critically important for young children, and should be encouraged and supported both in the classroom and on the playground."

Wardle has some great ideas on how to encourage and justify constructive play. Read the full article here.

Camels built from Unit blocks

We three kings of Orient are

Not to be daunted by the absence of the real thing, a local reception class built their own camels with Unit blocks. Bejewelled with the tops of coloured lights, the majestic symmetry of these creations stopped me in my tracks. They only stayed around for a day or so, before they disappeared to make room for something else. But I captured them on my camera so you can enjoy them too.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2016

Evelyn

Girl with flower garland

Making flower garlands with children

Before the flowers are gone for the year, here’s something I love to do with children. Making flower garlands is a festive way to celebrate a birthday or any other happy occasion. It is a real gift as it involves your time as you work together with the child. I made this one with a child in South Korea; she picked the purple asters blooming by a mountain stream while I wove it.

If you’re ready to give it a try, here’s how to make a garland. Cut a thick stem or a willow branch long enough to fit round the child’s head. Tie the end of a reel of cotton to one end of this base stem. Lay one flower along the stem and wind the cotton two or three times around the stem as close to the flower as you can. It needs to be tight – but not so tight it cuts through the flower’s stem! Lay a second flower right against the first and wind as before. Continue winding flowers along the stem until it’s the right size for the child’s head. To finish the garland, overlap the ends and wind securely together with the cotton. This is the hardest step.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t work the first time – practice makes perfect!

Boy playing the ukulele

The school where everyone plays the ukulele

Have you ever been in a school where students learn to play the ukulele before learning to write? I have! It’s on the Isle of Luing, in the Inner Hebrides. Head teacher Stephen Glen-Lee explained, “The ukulele is almost the same cost as a recorder but has a faster success rate. A child can make a really good noise from a ukulele in a few minutes!” Their whole-school band, Ukulele Luing, has performed before 1200 people in Perth. We too were treated to a spontaneous concert. I especially enjoyed a homemade song with the catchy refrain, “I can play my ukulele and we’ll have ourselves a ceilidh.” The words rhyme – ceilidh is a Gaelic celebration.

Watch a video of the children’s performance for us

Visiting this little school was an adventure. First Martin and I took a ferry to the island. Then we drove a winding track, losing phone connection as we passed an old slate mine. Because folk still put out gifts for faeries here, I expected the school would be old-fashioned. It turned out to be one of the most forward-thinking schools I’ve ever experienced. Fair trade symbols alternate with children’s sewing and artwork on the walls. A green flag (and compost bins in the back) proclaim an eco-school. Most important, children’s individual strengths are recognised and built upon. For instance a lad dealing with ADHD loves constructing in the woodwork shop. They have a small steep mountain behind the school, and some children were busy with a rappelling rope while others were building dens.

When Stephen applied for the headship, he laid down one condition: the council had to supply a full set of hollow blocks. When he won the job, he got rid of all chairs and desks and began with only the hollow blocks! The children created a pirate ship and staff learned to teach all subjects within it. Stephen did eventually purchase furniture, after ensuring that our wood comes from sustainable forests.

Both the children and their teachers seemed wholly motivated in all they were doing and learning. If we ever get the chance, we’ll go there again. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these lively young musicians as much as we did!

Child with candle

A candle in the dark

Children are instinctively drawn to the light of a candle in a dark room. Watching their total absorption and seeing the flame reflected in their eyes is one of the wonderful parts of the Christmas season for me. As adults privileged to work with children, we also need time for quiet reflection. Despite the rush of these days, take time to light a candle. Then consider how to shield and nurture the flame that is in every child you care for. 

Merry Christmas from all at Community Playthings!

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