Allotment-Spring Update

This post is long overdue but honestly, we have been so busy at the allotment, there was just not enough time to sit down and write it up.

Since the start of the Spring, we have spent a lot of time at the allotment, keeping very busy with planting and some new projects. It might not sound much but try and do any work with the little ones around and you’ll soon understand why everything takes twice as long as it normally would.

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And that’s fine,  because the allotment is for the children,  for them to learn first hand, to experience things by seeing, touching and feeling, to understand their surroundings and how things work…Their enthusiasm and eagerness to participate is refreshing and energizing to keep going and growing.

The allotment is our happy place, I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I cannot emphasize it enough.

Anyway, enough of the blabbering, let me show you what we’ve been up to.

Planting

After a shopping trip to buy our seeds, we spent a couple of sessions planting. The children were more than happy to help and filled up pots with compost, selected which seeds they wanted to plant and with a little bit of guidance, they finished the job.

We transferred the pots in our new greenhouse where we’ve been taking care of them since, observing their progress with each visit.

Projects

Greenhouse- this is big!We have a real greenhouse!Of course, we had to risk assess the area and we put a protecting fence on the side and the children know they can only go inside with an adult.

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Strawberry planter- we decided to change the way we grow strawberries because they became very crowded in the previous patch to the point we lost control over them and they didn’t yield a  very good crop. So we thought we would give this set-up a try. So far, so good.

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Minibeast hotel- we already had one but it needed a bit of sprucing up so we ended up building a new one. It’s a bit smaller but tidier.

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Adventure play area- this is the biggest project we’ve attempted so far this year. We had to relocate the sand pit which was hard work, but it meant we had a bigger space for the adventure area and linked to the existing stepping stones/ number logs. It is still work in progress, we involved the children in placing the tires and the beams and we are still to put the finishing touches.

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Playing and learning

Every visit at the allotment is packed with fun, playing and learning through play. It’s the simple things such as filling and emptying buckets in the sand pit- learning about quantities; digging for worms-learning about habitats and observing live animals; watering the plants – knowing the plants need water to grow, practicing their physical abilities by running, climbing, balancing…

 

 

 

 

 

A morning at Hall Place & Gardens

A few months ago, on a dreary Saturday, Decima and I attended a training session about Experiencing the World through the children’s eyes. We sat there a whole day and the most important thing I came away with, was called active participatory learning- is all about the process of learning rather than the final product.

It is proven that children learn best from having real experiences “We learn 10% of what we read, 15% of what we hear, but 80% of what we experience” Daryden & Voss (1994) The Learning Revolution.  It is for this reason that we at Dee’s Childcare are committed to providing our children with as many “real experience” opportunities to support and extend their learning.

We visited Hall Place and Gardens some time ago on a sunny but very cold day. Nevertheless, the children enjoyed the visit very much and we are planning to go back.

Hall Place and Gardens is located in Bexley, Kent and is a Tudor House surrounded by magnificent gardens. We did not visit the house, we were more focused on visiting the gardens and the Butterfly Jungle.

So we started off in the gardens, first stop was the maze where the children warmed up by chasing each other around

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The children led the way and our next stop was the Wildlife Corner

River Cray runs through the garden so it was a huge attraction for us. Lots of ducks and geese were on the banks so the children were able to observe the birds close up.

The topiaries planted at the time of the Queen’s coronation are striking, but the children were more interested in playing hide and seek around them

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A quick stop in the Botanical Gardens. Amazing plants, flowers, pond with fishes, even a banana tree which was the highlight of the trip.

And finally the Butterfly Jungle. Before entering the gallery we stopped in the shop and the children were shown different species of cocoons. Beautiful I might say, never thought I’ll use this word to describe cocoons but look:

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We were given safety instructions and then entered the gallery. Inside is very hot as they recreate the natural habitat of the butterflies and some may find it a bit frightening with all the butterflies flying around but I assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of, they are so delicate and beautiful. The ones resting on the leaves, give you the opportunity to observe their detailed features, the ones flying around might land on you if you’re lucky…

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The children loved it, they were so excited to spot the butterflies around them and when some landed on their little hands, they showed no fear, only curiosity and fascination.

Even now, months later they remember this experience which shows us how important it is for the children to explore and understand the world in their own way.

This further benefited the children as in the setting we have three groups,  Caterpillars (under 5’s) Cocoons (5 – 8) Butterflies (Over 8’s). So the visit to the Butterfly Jungle and witnessing the process has helped to reinforce our room names and the older Caterpillars look forward to moving up to becoming Cocoons, as do the Cocoons to Butterflies.

A few useful things if you want to visit: there’s free parking, the gardens, cafe and visitor’s centre are free to visit, there is a small fee for the Butterfly Jungle. It is open every day and there are other exhibitions -one that we are definitely going to visit is All About Owls. You can always visit their website for more information should you want to visit.

Easy Playdough Recipe

Playdough is one of the most requested activities in our setting so we make it a lot.We have tried a few different recipes of playdough but found this one to be the easiest so I thought I’ll share it with everyone.

Three reasons I love homemade playdough: is made of edible ingredients so no danger if any of the children decide to have a taste(which you know they will no matter how many times you tell them not to). It’s easy to make because it’s a no cook recipe and you can get the children involved in the process which means you’re offering them more learning opportunities.

Ingredients

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  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 cup of boiled water
  • food colouring

How to make it

First, put the dry ingredients and the oil in a bowl. Next, you have to add the water and the food colouring. I find it easier to put the food colouring in the water so it spreads evenly. Start mixing everything together with a spoon, then use your hands to knead the dough. Add flour if it’s sticky. Be careful, it will be very warm to hot because of the boiled water.

And that is it!

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I make one batch per colour and the playdough lasts a few months if properly stored in a zip lock bag. After a while, it starts to smell funny so a few drops of essential oils should solve the problem.

Let the fun begin.

Trip to the Zoo- Handa’s Surprise

Handa’s Surprise is one of the children’s favourite story. Building on their interests and likes, we decided to focus our activities on the story for a month. We did book clubs, arts and crafts, role play and ended with a trip to the zoo to enhance their learning and understanding of the animals that Handa had encountered on her way through the savannah while taking a basket full of fruits to her friend Akeyo.

You can read about our other activities here.

For the zoo trip, we made a checklist with the animals from the story and the children carried the list around the zoo, ticking off the boxes as they found them.

The children engaged fully in searching for the animals on the list and felt a sense of accomplishment everytime they were able to tick one off. And the story of Handa was always in their chats as they tried to remember what fruit each animal took, which was exactly our aim.

But the trip turned out to be much more as the children took the lead. They stopped when they saw a map and asked for our help to find the way. When the map wasn’t helping, under our guidance, they asked a zoo worker for directions to find the elephants.

The highlights of the trip were the chimpanzee encounter and the elephant feed.

For the chimpanzee encounter, we were able to watch the chimpanzees while they had lunch. It was truly an experience watching them swing on the ropes as they raced to get to their food. The children commented on their bodies and ability to move so fast.

The elephant feed was an amazing opportunity to come close and observe the elephant, even feel the touch of his trunk on the hands as it took the food and moved it to its mouth. The children weren’t afraid, surprisingly and talked about the experience a lot after it happened.

The zoo we visited is so big and kind of impossible to complete in one day, especially with young children needing many toilet stops, a long lunch and an interest for anything that looks fun.

 

I’ll leave you with a challenge.

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Chinese New Year- Dee’s Childcare Style

At Dee’s Childcare we go big on Chinese New Year.

For two weeks (end of January- beginning of February) we focused our activities on the Chinese New Year and included the school children who come in the afternoon alongside the younger children who are here the whole day.

Here are some of the most enjoyed activities:

Trip to the farm

2017 is the Year of the Rooster. And to start off, we visited the farm to see some roosters and introduce the Chinese New Year story to the children.

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Book Club

First, we read the Chinese New Year story and then we did an arts & crafts activity and painted a rooster. We’ve simplified the story for the younger children and used puppets, also the globe to locate China to give the children an idea of its location and size.

The painting was great as a sensory experience as we encouraged finger painting but also a mark making opportunity for the younger children.

The pre-schoolers showed control in painting inside the lines and technique when changing colours, using the water pots appropriately and not soaking their sheets with the water.

Shopping at the Chinese Supermarket

We took the after-schoolers to the local Chinese Supermarket in preparation for our Chinese New Year celebrations.One of the store staff gave a talk to the children about the traditional foods and customs, showed us around the store and presented us with a gift of a Chinese calendar for the setting.

Rice play

This was a messy one. Be prepared for the mess because we were not. However, it was worth it, having seen the children so invested in the activity: filling and emptying cups and bowls, imaginative play, using mathematical language when talking about quantities, comparing and making predictions of who has more/less.20170130_100432

Lunch at the Chinese restaurant

To further enhance the children’s understanding of the differences and similarities between cultures, traditions, foods, we took them to the Chinese restaurant for lunch. One of the children said “Oooh spaghetti” when the food came and it was the best time to talk to them about how noodles are similar to spaghetti but at the same time a bit different in shape and taste. Having tried the chopsticks and the fork, most of them finished their food using…fingers. And the prawn crackers were by far the most enjoyed.

Chinese New Year Party

To finish the two weeks of learning about Chinese New Year, we organised a party. The school children prepared a little performance, dressing up in Chinese clothes and dancing to Chinese music. I would say that was the highlight of the party but the children might think different when presented to an array of Chinese foods and sweets. When they left, they received a fortune cookie and a selection of Chinese sweets in a money envelope which I’m sure they appreciated more than they would have if they were to get money.

We did lots more but these were the most enjoyed activities. Hope this post inspires you and gives you some ideas to build on for next year’s Chinese New Year Celebrations.

Allotment in Winter

Our visits at the allotment during Winter are infrequent. The cold weather dampens even the most enthusiastic gardeners. So we visited maybe twice a month and for very short periods of time.

The allotment looks very sad compared to the lush vibe of the greenery and summer life so our visits were purely to check on the last crops we left growing through the winter.

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Early December we had some very cold days so during one of the visits we found the allotment frozen. The children were delighted to play with blocks of ice that we found in the plant pots.

dsc03412 The children handled the ice, commenting how cold it was and explaining their knowledge of how water turns into ice when it’s “freezing cold”.

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Even the pond was frozen.

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The last visit of 2016 got us harvesting the remaining parsnips that surprisingly fared very well even in the frozen ground. We’ve had some funky shaped parsnips, some very big ones and some “babies” as the children referred to them.

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We had enough parsnips to roast and make soups and also to share with the Dee’s Childcare families.

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2017 is here and we’ve only been to the allotment twice- to harvest the broccoli and to do a bit of clearing and preparing the soil for spring.

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I cannot wait for Spring to come so we can start working on the allotment again.

 

 

 

The Bluewater Nature Trail

Today we visited the Bluewater Nature Trail in Kent. We are always on the lookout for new places, to offer interesting experiences to the children we care for. If it’s outdoors it’s even better.

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The nature trail is in the grounds of the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, near London. You can find more information on their website  but I want to share our experience and some of the pictures we took as the Autumn scenery is so beautiful.

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The shopping centre is built inside a quarry so it’s surrounded by white cliffs all around. There are lakes, bike paths, walkways and playgrounds.

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The Nature Trail is highlighted by animal paws on the ground and signs, accompanied by Sidney the Squirrel who shows the way and gives detailed information about the flora and fauna around the area.

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The children loved the walk as much as we did, stopping very often to admire the view, the lakes, the ducks, swans, to look for minibeasts under the logs, to look at the map and finally to play.

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The playground we stopped in is very challenging so maybe children aged over 5 would appreciate it more, but our little ones gave it a try nonetheless. They are fearless and willing to tackle any new challenges that come their way.

They were also responsible to lead the way, so they looked for the paw prints on the path and consulted the maps on the way. We also came across Sidney, the squirrel who pointed arrows towards the way so we couldn’t stray from the path.

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The wildlife is rich, we saw lots of ducks, swans, black headed gulls, minibeasts but the information on the plaques advised to look out for bats, herons, lizards and even grass snakes.

Flora was as amazing as the wildlife. The path is surrounded by trees and being Autumn, the colours offer an amazing view, backed by the white cliffs.

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There is a picnic area in the playground but today was too cold to have lunch outside so we headed to the food court inside the shopping centre.

We promised the children a return visit, maybe in Spring and then in Summer so that we can compare it to the Autumn experience and hopefully see more of the animals that reside there.

The Nature Trail is surreal…a lovely place to visit, nature at its best especially after the hustle and bustle of the shopping centre.

 

Green tomato chutney

Green tomatoes? Chutney? I know! Exactly my thoughts. But after two years of growing tomatoes at the allotment and ending up with a big batch of green tomatoes, you have to become creative, so why not green tomato chutney? It’s delicious with some cheese crackers and perfect to eat this time of the year.

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The recipe I used was a mix of other recipes I found online and after reading so many I kind of followed a bit of all of them. If anything, my recipe will give you tips about what works or doesn’t.

Ingredients

2 kg green tomatoes

450gr onions

450gr sultana

450gr apples(We had loads of apples from the allotment and had chopped and froze previously)

450gr muscovado sugar( I used a mix of muscovado and brown sugar)

1 l malt vinegar

salt

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I made the chutney twice. First time I had 2 kg of tomatoes  but the second time I only had  1 1/2 kg of tomatoes so I  adjusted the quantities of all the other ingredients accordingly.

How to make it

Chop the tomatoes and apples in small cubes, then slice the onions finely. Mix the tomatoes and onions, add the salt and leave either overnight or about two hours- I tried both and they worked fine. This step is for draining the excess water from the tomatoes.

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Next step is to put the vinegar and sugar in a big pan and slowly bring to boil, stirring the sugar to dissolve it. Add the apples and sultanas, stir for 10 minutes. Strain but do not rinse the tomatoes and onions and add to the pan. Bring to boil and then let it simmer, stirring occasionally. I can’t give you a precise time, I knew it was ready when the mixture thickened, I would say about two hours.

How to preserve

Wash and heat the jars and the lids in the oven for 40 minutes on low heat.

Once cooled, fill them with the chutney and make them look pretty.

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It’s quite easy to make, you really can’t go wrong with it, just be prepared for the strong smell of the vinegar. It’s worth it in the end. The taste is a delicious mix of sweet and tangy and the personal satisfaction of eating a homemade chutney  with organic vegetables that we grew made it even tastier.

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Last year we gifted a jar of chutney at Christmas to all of our families, this year we have a different surprise. Just wait for it!

Gym fun

We all know that physical activity is a big part of a child’s development. In the  EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage), Physical Development is a prime area next to Communication and Language, Personal Social and Emotional Development.

And as much as we love outdoors, there are rainy days or times when children need something different.On these occasions, we take them to gym sessions which are a combination of soft play and real gym apparatus.

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It’s pointless to try and explain how much the children love going to these sessions. It could be the enormous bouncy castle right at the entrance, or the trampolines, the different levelled beams, obstacle courses, or simply the idea of being able to run freely indoors that excites the children so much at the mention of going to the gym.

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It is a great place to practice their physical abilities, learn coordination, balance, negotiate space, jump and land appropriately all of this in a safe soft environment. Alongside physical development, the children learn about self-confidence in their own abilities, new skills, they explore and interact socially with other children.

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Leek and potato soup

From the garden to the plate- this leek and potato soup is exactly that.

Today we went to the allotment with an aim- to harvest leeks and anything else necessary for the setting’s most beloved soup.

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We also got some parsnips and carrots and had to add the rest from the pantry.

The soup is fairly simple. You’ll need

-oil or butter

-onion and garlic

-leeks

-potatoes

-any other vegetable you like

-creme fraiche

-seasoning – salt, pepper, vegetable stock

First, you chop and fry off the onions and garlic, then add the chopped leeks and let them soften a little before adding water until it covers everything in the pan.

In the meantime, peel and cut the potatoes into small cubes and feel free to add any other vegetables you like. Today we added the fresh parsnips and carrots.

Let everything come to boil, season with salt and pepper then simmer until the vegetables are tender. Use the hand blender to turn it into a smooth cream. Add the creme fraiche and  more seasoning if necessary, blend a little more  and serve with french bread.

Ready to serve

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And ready to enjoy

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Do give it a try, it’s delicious and full of flavours.