My name is Kevin and I’ve just started a 10 week placement at @playtoz as part of my Masters in Health and Organizational research at The #University of Essex. I am keen to investigate ways of supporting people within #Dementia. Having seen my Nan suffer from Dementia I would like to explore the link between the symptoms of mood and behaviour, (two key consequences of Dementia) and the use of #sensory-rich resources – objects, toys or messy play resources, hence my placement at award-winning sensory play resource and training provider – Play to Z.  Initially I hope to explore the benefits of stimulating Dementia sufferer’s senses of touch and smell to ultimately improve their behaviour and mood as I feel that this in turn could act as a coping strategy, supporting both the patient and carer.

I am passionate about conducting meaningful research that can help make a difference to people’s lives, which is why I am looking for Dementia sufferers, carers and families to be involved in my research by trying out a range of (observed) resources or activities, and providing feedback on their affects, if any.

I would be really interested to hear from anyone who’d like to be involved or feels they can provide information, advice or insight to help shape my dissertation focus and ultimately make a difference.

Kevin Hughes

Email: research@playtoz.co.uk

Mobile: 07506755781

Tel: 01206 796722

On a crisp day, with gloved fingers keeping the cold at bay and the sun warming noses and cheeks, there’s something really thrilling about venturing out in fresh snow. If you’re like me, you may even be tempted to create snow angels or start a snowball fight. But I wonder if the same is true on chillingly cold damp grey days, when all but the most stalwart adult would rather stay snuggled up indoors? For children their keen interest in just about everything outside seems to protect them from the cold and damp, much like the Ready Brek ad of my childhood. If you have children then at some point you too will probably have felt the need to explain to strangers their lack of coat when you’re wrapped up from the cold like Michelin man! Children, unlike adults, show little awareness of the cold and given something exciting to do, can play absorbed in low temperatures for hours. Adults however, myself included, are much less likely to respond enthusiastically when cold which makes me wonder if it is the adults rather than the children in nurseries and schools, who need the protective clothing! So if the right clothes and being absorbed in something are key, here are some ideas for fun things to do on those cold grey winter days:

  • Make a mud pit as this is great for splashing in; experimenting with  consistency for creating mud pictures; mixing up hearty concoctions with old pots and pans; and of course, making mud pies.
  • Fill an old ice cube tray with mud and leave outside overnight to freeze in the freezing temperatures. Turn the mini bricks out for lots of building fun. Add small world figures for firing imagination.
  • If you don’t fancy getting messy, make frozen mini ice bricks instead to build igloos with.
  • If it’s damp and cold outdoors then why not create a fire pit for charcoal making, toasting of marshmallows and warming chilly fingers by the fire? Share a flask of hot chocolate for the best snack ever!
  • Make ice sculptures to hang on the trees. Simply arrange holly and other foliage or sliced citrus fruit in transparent plastic takeaway containers. Add a loop of string for hanging, fill with water, put the lid on and leave to freeze over night. Freezing accentuates the colours in the leaves, berries and fruit creating a truly mesmerising display guaranteed to melt even the frostiest heart!

Lots of children, my own son included, can become disenfranchised by subjects that feel too much like hard work, with maths and literacy typically falling into this camp. For some maybe they sense failure and therefore feel safer not trying, for others the learning approach, mechanics of writing or lack of perceived relevance to their lives may be the root cause.

Walking back from school last week it was a welcome surprise to hear the words ‘That was the best literacy lesson ever!’ Now that’s a lesson ripe for Ofsted inspection! With descriptive content never the issue for my son, but the mechanics of punctuation, handwriting and staying on task the culprits, the challenge of writing a story using certain punctuation and with a word count of precisely 201 words, achieved the desired effect. With a verdict of ‘That was the best literacy lesson ever!’,  I expect you’re wondering how this was achieved? Working in pairs, story writing was elevated to a challenge and the focus on a precise word count, not 198, 200 or 202, but 201 words, apparently freed him up to write with excitement and drive.

This week his verdict was ‘Literacy is awesome!’ High praise indeed from an 8 year old sceptic! Walking through the school gate home from school he eagerly shared what they had done and later over dinner excitedly told the whole family about his robotic invention for tackling the tiresome chores of Christmas preparation. Like any good robot his naturally came complete with ipad (for online shopping of course), large box (for hiding presents in), extendable arms (for multiple present wrapping) and hover board for beating the Christmas rush! A great teacher is able to tap into the interests and strengths of children and in so doing help support and extend learning. Clearly this activity did just that. An avid inventor already, working in pairs his time and energy saving ideas flowed and literacy came to the fore as he labelled the gadgets and features of their invention.

With two such positive evaluations I was keen to share this great feedback and apparent change in attitude with his teacher. ‘How interesting’ his teacher reflected with evident satisfaction ‘as we scrapped literacy lessons last week and have been focussing on challenges, with a literacy focus instead!’ As the irony of this revelation sank in I couldn’t help smiling at the message written large by an 8 year old. With an ever greater Government focus on school readiness and meeting literacy and numeracy targets I hope Nicky Morgan will be persuaded by this convincing argument.  As for the robot invention, I’ll guess I’ll have to wait until next year!

shell-sand close upIf we take the time to watch children, and I mean really watch them rather than pre-judging or paying lip service to this as we busy adults are prone to do, then they can do as Rudyard Kipling suggest, ‘teach us delight in simple things’. It doesn’t happen though unless we give them the time and freedom to become truly absorbed in whatever captures their interest, be it an unusual stone, an insect or inviting puddle.

If you’ve ever tried to walk anywhere fast you’ll know how much there is for young children to marvel at in everyday life and how open they are to its possibilities. Us adults in contrast miss so much by virtue of being in a rush and plagued by preconceptions. With this in mind storytelling guru #MiltonErickson implores adults to look afresh at our environment saying “Did you know that every blade of grass is a different shade of green?” 1 In so doing we can open our minds to new possibilities and be rewarded with wondrous awe and wonder, discovering a wealth of patterns, symmetry, joy and inspiration in everyday nature.

If you need a reminder of nature’s awe and wonder then google ‘sand grains microscope’ on the internet and be amazed by the gloriously detailed, highly patterned images that you will see.  I guarantee you will never look at a sandy beach in quite the same way again! Inspired by the sticky globule left by some gorgeous Longiflora lilies, my 11 year old dusted off her magnifier to take a closer look. What followed said it all, as she gasped with awe as a multitude of dash-like lines came into view. How fitting then that her science homework was to create a cell? Choosing a plant cell to make, she set to work with jelly, a bouncy ball and loom bands to create the different #cell parts! If you want to have a go at making your own cell or even a cellular cake, check out http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Model-Cell. For more microscopic inspiration treat yourself to The Natural World Close Up (Giles Sparrow, 2011). Much more than just a coffee table book, children and adults alike will be wowed by the close up views of nature revealed. So go ahead and enjoy nature close up this weekend.

1 (My Voice Will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson, Sidney Rosen, 1991).

Image source – http://geology.com/articles/sand-grains.shtml

Nature's Miracles

Albert Einstein is attributed with saying:

“There are two ways to live. You can live as if nothing is a miracle or you can live as if everything is a miracle. “

It seems to me that children are naturally endowed with an appreciation of awe and wonder, easily finding miracles in a frozen puddle, fossil, unusual shell or snowflake. Given time, children’s fascination for detail and a positive disposition help prime them for spotting the abundant miracles offered by Mother nature, the very same things that often pass us adults by. Reading this quote really struck a chord for me. As a parent I feel that a key part of my role is about providing magical moments in my children’s lives, from Christmas stockings to fairy notes or even just an amazing icicle that I’ve spotted or a picture of a building or construction vehicle that I think they’d enjoy. These little pieces of magic don’t have to cost the earth but bring real pleasure and delight. For a baby where every experience brings something exciting, finding out that a metal tin can be open and shut, makes noise when banged or a rattle when filled and shaken, are all mini miracles to discover.

Striding purposefully to school one balmy spring afternoon last week my eyes were drawn to a young boy on the other side of the road. Aged about three years old, he walked slowly yet equally purposefully, with his neck craned upwards and his head looking skyward. The source of wonderment was the billowing petals on a cherry tree, filling the sky with creamy blossom and literally captivating this little boy’s interest. As he approached the densest part of the canopy, nearest the trunk, he slowed to a standstill, just staring open-mouthed at the laden brunches above. His mum (I presume) who had been walking a little way ahead, turned and paused before remarking upon how beautiful the tree was. Unhurried he moved on, his gaze averted by the speckled pattern of blossom on the floor.

Walking back from school with my children I told them about the little boy and suggested that we cross the road so that we too could enjoy its magic and the miracle of nature’s abundant store cupboard. And that’s exactly what we did, whilst trying to catch fluttering petals in our hands and open mouths!

2014 – A time for reaching for the stars

I remember years ago debating the issue of emotional intelligence with my husband. He was firmly of the opinion that it is a result of nature, while I was equally assured that nurture had to be involved. The debate had been sparked by one of those pearls of wisdom that young children are adept at dropping into the conversation. Aged 4 our daughter matter of factly suggested to her daddy that maybe ‘a compromise’ would help him with the power struggle that he was having with her younger brother! Flushed with pride at her emotionally sophisticated comment, these words spawned the nature/nurture debate.

Seven years later I was reminded of this by the inscription on a mug that I was given this Christmas.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

As I read the words on her carefully chosen present I couldn’t help feeling moved. With the loss of my mum to cancer in 2013 it had not been a good year and Christmas was understandably slightly subdued. Knowing my love of good old fashioned tea and my appreciation of this positive mantra, my 11 year old’s emotional intelligence made my day. Whether nature or nurture, or a combination of the two, tea’s never tasted so good!

Christmas Treasures

It was our staff Christmas party this weekend, the culmination of a good year’s work and lots of home baking! The tree was up and looking majestic, nibbles arranged and glasses ready to be charged with mulled wine. With adults happily ensconced on sofas and children playing nicely, a knock on the door bought the arrival of our youngest guest, a gorgeous 1 year old who I have been observing playing for the last 6 months. Raring to go and making an instant beeline for the peanuts, chocolates and glasses on the coffee table, adults sprang into action removing everything to a safer level. This little girl was clearly in exploratory mode and so an empty table was simply not going to do. Grabbing a treasure basket for her to play with kept her happily occupied for the next three hours picking up objects, taking them to the other guests and doing a circuit of the ground floor, always with object in hand. Even hardened skeptics would have been converted to the joys of treasure baskets seeing this toddler happily occupied and clearly on a mission to toddle and explore. Now you might be forgiven for thinking that she only played with the treasures because there was nothing else to do, but this was not the case. With a splendid real tree bedecked in sparkling lights and decorations, a growing mound of brightly wrapped presents under the tree and stairs to climb, there were lots more obvious distractions to be had.

Clearing up later, a warm glowing feeling pervaded. Not just because of the lovely company and tasty food but because this little 1 year old had poignantly reminded me of the importance of what we do, providing children with the opportunity to do what they do best, playing.

When I was at school, research for homework involved pouring through books, not just because it was fun and enriching but because there was no world wide web to answer questions for us. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a fabulously enabling tool for information finding and sharing, but I firmly believe that it is not a substitute for books.

Whilst out dog walking one weekend we came upon three boxes of dumped books left next to the river. Why anyone would feel the need to fly tip books is beyond me, when charity shops proliferate every high street providing a free outlet for people’s cast offs. Sorting through the now slightly water damaged books we discovered some real gems which we decided to take home and give a new lease of life. Once cleaned and left to dry by the radiator my 8 year old son began leafing through the books. One in particular caught his eye. Called Modern Technology it featured page after page of carefully drawn picture and nugget of facts on vehicles and construction contraptions. The best bit was the fact that the book was published in 1971 so the ‘modern’ technology solutions were themselves a talking point.  In some instances technology had moved so quickly that it was as though we now inhabit a futuristic world. In others, the book had surprising foresight, such as talking about how hybrid cars would be a pollution solution in the future.  A series of facts about traffic accidents also sparked a flurry of questions. With approximately 500 road traffic injuries cited in the UK the obvious question was how does that compare to today? A quick search on the internet provided the answer, a trebling in the number of accidents in 40 years and a discussion about why this might be.

The page about engines similarly elicited a quest for fact finding. Still clutching the book my son looked on the internet to compare engines today with the ‘modern’ and historical ones in the book.  Another page of images showed the evolution of the wheel which inspired a whole host of wheel drawing as 8 year olds do. Far from becoming redundant, this slightly dated encyclopaedia has actually taken on greater interest than perhaps it had when new. It helped of course that he could relate it to his daddy who would have been 3 years old when the book was published. This created interest and a talking point as my husband and I reminisced about life when we were younger. I fear it also confirmed in his young mind just how long ago that was!

As Oscar Wilde famously said “ If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again there is no use in reading it at all” and for this collection of discarded books this is certainly true as they have found a new lease of life and light bulb to ignite in the hands of a certain boy.

You’d have to be hibernating not to notice the carpet of autumnal coloured leaves transforming the world outside. Vibrant and springy, now is the time to gather handfuls of freshly fallen leaves for a host of fun activities. Pick the leaves carefully to avoid urban litter or other hazards. If needed, wash in soapy water and leave to dry, then you’re ready to start. My quest for leaves was driven by the challenge to make times table revision fun for my 8 year old son!  But once we got started we were inspired to do and make lots of fun things, suitable for children young and old. Here are some of the things that we did, if you come up with your own ideas don’t forget to share them!

Times table games

We played lots of times table games with the leaves, all of which were a great hit. To play any of the following games you will need 12 leaves and a pen. Write the numbers 1 to 12, one on each leaf. We wrote the numbers on the back of the leaf but either side is fine.  All these simple variations proved to be a lot of fun and due to their physicality, resulted in the children doing their times tables but with the main focus on catching or picking up the leaves!

Leaf Race

Arrange the leaves in a pile with numbers face down. Pick a times table to focus on, say the three’s and the challenge is to turn over each leaf one at a time and work out the resulting sum. So if you pick the number 4 leaf the sum is 3 times 4. You can add further excitement by doing this against the clock or using a sand timer. We also used counters on a 100 square, so he could cover the answer to the sum.

Falling Numbers

An alternative to this involved me standing on a stool and one at a time dropping a leaf for him to catch. He then worked out the number sum and positioned a counter on the 100 square grid before repeating with another leaf number. We did this against the clock which really added to the challenge and excitement.

Number Pick

Another variation involved spreading the leaves out on the floor, number side up. The challenge was to pick up the leaf and put it in a large bowl saying the answer to the sum, without using their hands. Children experimented using their elbows and feet and we also tried this with large tongs instead.

Catch a Leaf

The final variation involved throwing all the leaves up into the air for two children to try and do as many times table sums as they could with their leaves.

Here are some other fun things to do.

Leaf Masks

Make simple leaf masks by cutting eye holes in large leaves, (sycamore leaves would work well). Use the leaf stalk to hold the mask with. Decorate if wished with pens.

Leaf Boats

To make the boat hull you will need to either find a boat-shaped leaf or cut a boat shape from the centre of a large leaf, ideally with the central line of the leaf skeleton forming the centre of the hull. Cut triangular boat sails from another leaf, decorating with pen if wished. Use a small twig to create the mast and secure the sails and mast in place with sticky tac. Once finished, make more boats for a sailing race using straws to blow the boats across a tray of water.

Image

Leaf snowflakes

Create snowflake decorations using leaves. Simply cut geometric shapes in the folded leaves and hang by the leaf stalks from the ceiling or a window. Sycamore leaves work particularly well, as these can be folded and cut along all three lines of the main skeleton.

Creepy Crawlies

Make leaf spiders and bugs using leaves for the body, pipe cleaner legs and pen or bead eyes.

Hide & Seek

Play a game of hide and seek by spreading out the leaves and hiding treasures or mini creatures under these. Use for an unusual game of pairs, with matching pairs of items (e.g. coins, beads, numbers or pictures) hidden under different leaves, for the children to remember and pair up.

Fairy Leaf books

Gather together several leaves of the same shape and size. Pick a special one for the top and bottom of the pile, dark colours work well as they look like leather. Create mini leaf books by sewing or stapling the pile of leaves along one edge and cutting the leaves to book shape. If you’re lucky when finished the cover of the book will look like well worn leather and the pages will curl as the leaf dries out.

If you’re inspired to make the most of nature’s abundant treasures, don’t leave it too long as before you know it they’ll be transformed into a brown mushy squidge!

This half term saw my children try their hand at all manner of creative pursuits. From lantern making to glass decorating; Mexican flowers to God’s eyes; photosensitive creations to spoon whittling; musical graphics to cartoon drawing and a sprinkling of baking in between. I knew that all this artistic expression had had a positive effect when my 10 year old daughter announced to her dad that ‘We’re all artists you know’.

Like so many things in life, practice and mastery breeds confidence which in turns enables creativity to flourish. This progression was certainly in evidence when my 7 and 10 year old decided to create wooden spoons from split logs. An hours whittling yielded smooth pale bark stripped logs, then began the lengthy process of creating the ‘bowl’ of the spoon. For this we lit a fire and collected embers to carefully position on the logs and burn a hole. With adult support the children mastered the art of safely collecting embers, innovating as they did so by using a fire blower to both hold in place and ignite the embers! Next came more whittling, sawing and sanding as the children shaped their creations to something resembling a spoon. In this era of instant gratification it is important to celebrate the process as much, if not more, than the end product. This prepares children for life’s lessons that achieving almost anything great is hard work and that if you have a vision you can realise it.

When it comes to divergent thinking we know that prior to school most children would be ranked as geniuses. Yet years of colouring within the lines and learning that green is for grass and blue for sky can stifle this creativity leading children to declare “I’m not very artistic” or “I can’t draw.” A first step in reversing this trend is for us adults to rediscover our own creativity and immerse ourselves in a culture of artistic expression. You only have to look at the winners of the Turner Prize to see that we are all potential artists. It’s just a matter of how we look at the world around us, be it a messy bedroom or the carcass of a cow!

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