Invite children to explore the world through open-ended play, conduct an Easter egg hunt with a difference, and relax inside a sweet pea teepee, suggests Judith Harries…
This could be part of your continuous provision or an occasional activity. Provide children with a set of loose parts, sorted on a tray with lots of compartments or a 12-cup muffin tin, or with separate pots for each item. Children can mess, mix, make or ‘tinker’, and perhaps make something to use in their imaginary play. Offer them keys, corks, pegs, stones, pipe cleaners, washers, dried pasta, beads, buttons, split pins, bottle tops, cotton buds, nuts and bolts, cotton wool balls, and so on. A portable tray means any table can be transformed into a ‘tinkering table’.
Adapt the tinkering table to allow children to discover how things work. Let children handle and dismantle different items such as old house phones or analogue clocks, video cassettes or remote controls, etc. Provide child-sized tools such as screwdrivers, pliers and spanners, and show them how to use them. They can use magnets to find metal and non-metal parts. Add some books for children to read as they discover more such as Look Inside How Things Work by Rob Lloyd-Jones.
One of the challenges of loose parts play for the practitioner, is the tidying up at the end of the activity. It is also key to remind children that loose parts become loose again and can be returned to their ‘place’. Encourage children to create rather than consume. Can they help tidy up using this song, to the tune of ‘Frere Jacques’: ‘Time to tidy, time to tidy, Time to stop, Time to stop. [Buttons] in here, [corks] in there, That’s the lot, time to stop.’
This is a simple indoor growing activity that can link in with your Easter celebrations. Clean some empty egg shells and invite children to draw a face on them using felt pens. Place two cotton wool balls inside each egg shell and then add some water and sprinkle on some seeds. Place inside egg cups or egg boxes and leave on a windowsill in the sunshine to watch their hair grow. Cress grows very fast and tastes lovely added to an egg sandwich.
Collect together some different containers such as flower pots, old china teapots, buckets and tins. Make sure they all have enough holes in, or place loose pebbles in the bottom, for water to drain and fill them with compost. Plant a variety of herbs in the pots using seeds or small plants. Try mint, basil, thyme, parsley, chives and rosemary – all good herbs to grow inside or outside. Water the herbs well and make sure they have lots of sunshine.
Use six long garden canes to construct a teepee in a sunny part of the garden. Push the canes into the ground firmly in a semi-circle then tie at the top with twine. Let children weave twine in and out of the canes to create a structure for the plants, leaving the front open. Plant sweet pea seeds at the base of each cane and cover them with soil. Water regularly and wait for the flowers to bloom in May or June. The children can sit on cushions inside the teepee and enjoy the smell of the flowers as they read or tell stories.
Celebrate St Patrick’s Day, on or around March 17th, by organising an Irish day at your setting. Invite the children to wear green and provide green hats for those who forget! Make and share lots of green food. Try green fruit kebabs with apple, cucumber, grapes and kiwi on a stick or add green food colouring to batter and make some green pancakes. Share Irish stories about leprechauns, giants and faeries. Make some lucky shamrocks using a heart template and green paint. Each leaf is made up of three hearts and a stalk.
The Hindu festival of Holi or ‘festival of colours’ is celebrated every spring, on March 9th–10th in 2020. Invite any children or families at your setting who celebrate Holi to share their recent experiences. Look at images online of people celebrating by throwing paint. Try this slightly less-messy version. Draw around some of the children onto large pieces of cardboard and cut out the outline shape. Go outside and let children sprinkle, spoon and shower dry powder paint onto the shapes. Add drops of water using pipettes and syringes and watch the colours spread.
Mother’s Day falls on Sunday March 22nd in 2020. Talk about all the different things that mums do for their children. Read My Mum by Anthony Browne. Ask children to make thank you cards for their mums. Invite them to bring photos of their mums and then to draw or paint a portrait on the front of the cards. Can they write a thank you message inside? Organise a Mother’s Day parade. Invite all mums and grandmas to come and admire their portraits. Serve home-made scones, jam and cream and lots of cups of tea.
An Easter egg hunt with a difference! Challenge the children to follow clues and read maps to find the eggs rather than just looking for them. Hide wrapped mini-chocolate eggs inside and outside your setting. Write simple clues such as ‘Look under a book’ or ‘Look near a tree’. Draw maps for children to use. Ask children to work with a partner and provide either a clue to read or a map to follow to a specific hiding place. Can children think of different places to hide the eggs and new clues to use?
This is a great way to share the Easter story. Select a shallow box or tray and fill with compost. Create a hill at one end by burying an empty plastic pot and cover it with moss. Place a stone in front of the opening to create a tomb. Make a cross out of twigs and place it on top of the hill. Plant bedding plants at the bottom and make a path to the tomb using pebbles. Tell the story of Easter Day to the children using the garden.
Try some simple experiments with eggs: Naked eggs – ask the children if they think you can remove an egg’s shell without touching it. Place the egg in a cup of white vinegar and leave for 24 hours. Remove the egg carefully with a slotted spoon and admire the results. Spider web eggs – hard boil some eggs with some blueberries. Tap the eggs gently all over to crack the shells. Return the eggs to the blueberry water and cool in the fridge. Remove the shells and look at the spider-web patterns. Chop and share for snack.
Tinkering or investigating loose parts is a great way to inspire open-ended play and exploration at your setting. There are no right or wrong ways to do it and children should be free to choose how and why they use the materials on offer. Start with just five different loose parts and make sure children know where they put them back, eg ‘All the corks live here’ and a labelled box or basket. Children may not know what to do with loose parts at first, especially if they are more used to following instructions. Take time to have a go yourself and model different ideas for the children to get started. Use open-ended questions such as, ‘I wonder what this could be…?’
Judith Harries is an author and teacher of music and drama with experience of working with children aged nine months to 11 years.