Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Scales and Spots, easy and effective fingerprint sensory artworks

 My daughter recently received a wonderful book called Finger Stemplen für kleine Künstler, which translated means finger stamping for the little artist. As you can see the how-to book came with a great set of ink pads so we could try it out straightaway.

 Having opened it, my daughter and I sat together and had a look through the book to see which of the examples we would like to try ourselves. It quickly became quite clear to me that the book's ideas were probably a little too advanced for my child to do without a lot of help from an adult. I didn't let that stop us though. This had the potential of being a really great sensory art experience.

I started thinking about what fingerprints can look like and I realised they could easily be spots or scales on animals. This lead to a lovely brows through Google images looking at pictures of animals with scales and spots. For scales we found dinosaurs, fish, dragons, lizards and snakes. For spots we found cheetahs, giraffes, leopards and Dalmatians.

At first my little one started drawing her own dragon. See photo below. She used fingerprints for the eyes and then started to fill its belly with green fingerprints for the scales.

When it came to fish, she asked mummy to draw some for her. I drew some simple fish with bubbles which she once again filled with fingerprints to create their scales. This was very effective when she used more than one colour. The little monkey also decided to put fingerprints in all the air bubbles which was a nice touch.

Here are some photos of other artworks that we finished.

I think these would make really nice personalised cards for Mother's Day or Father's Day. To have your child's fingerprint immortalised in a beautiful artwork like this I think makes for a beautiful gift and all you would have to do is frame it. Like the giraffe picture above, you can have a mama and baby animal standing together or a papa and baby. Below is something I played around with in Photoshop to see what a Father's Day card may look like.

You don't have to make it in Photoshop, you could easily cut it out and glue it to some beautiful card. There are available already pre-cut and pressed cards you can buy from craft stores. Some have a window on the front of the card which you could stick the artwork behind.

Such a simple sensory art project, yet so effective that any child of any age can create a masterpiece within minutes! If you don't feel comfortable drawing the animals yourself just print out some colouring pages from the web! I hope you get to try it.

P.S do have some wipes ready on the side, it can get messy!

Until next time, happy printing and happy playing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Exploring music in the kitchen with water and glasses

Do you remember that scene in the movie Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullocks character is dressed like a Bavarian cream puff playing glasses filled with water? I was always fascinated by that scene. I would wonder 'Is that just a Hollywood trick or can you really play glasses filled with various amount of water like that?' While I don't have the musical skill to set up something as extravagant as what was in the movie, I did get to thinking about how we could try something similar but keeping it at a basic level. Something that would be easy for my 3 year old to understand and enjoy.

Here is what we ended up doing for our musical glasses experiment.

What we used
food colouring 4 various colours
a jug of water
4 glasses of the same size and shape
1 teaspoon
1 measuring syringe that you use for measuring 5ml of medicine for children.(usually comes in a box with Panadol or Nurophen 

  To start this musical experiment we started by using the syringe to fill the glasses with different amounts of water. By using a measuring tool we could record how much water made what sound. We could test how many more milliliters of water was needed to make a noticeable difference in sound between two glasses. If I has a guitar tuner I could measure small amounts of water in order to create specific notes, but unfortunately mine is in Australia.  Something that precise might also be better for older children to explore rather than my 3 year old.

Between filling the glasses with different amounts of water we would play the glasses to test the difference in sounds and if we were able to achieve different notes.  We found that there was not much difference between 25 mls and 50 mls but there was a noticeable difference between 25 mls and 100mls. In order to remember our findings we made a quick note about how many measuring syringes we used for every glass. This could be something older children could do themselves. 

Once we had our desired notes we coloured each glass with a different colour using food dye. The reason for doing this was this...

By having different colours you could write a piece of music, well not in a technical sense, but by following the colours your child would be able to play a simple song. Ours is for Mary Had a Little Lamb.

I think the beauty of this activity lies in its educational value. There is so much maths involved. 
  • Counting out how many times you've squirted water in each glass.
  • Comparing different amounts
  • Following patterns
  • Recognising colours
It is also a very lovely kitchen science experiment that costs close to nothing, just a bit of food dye. The experiment could be extended by using different materials to tap the glasses with. While I don't have a photo of it, we also used a wooden spoon to tap the glasses which gave us a totally different sound quality. Using different size or shaped glasses also affects the sounds produced, something for us to try and experiment next time.

Even if you are not interested in its educational potential this activity does seem to involve the two things toddlers and preschoolers love best. Water play and hitting things to make music. I know my daughter enjoyed herself immensely. I hope you get to try it too!

Until next time, happy playing.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Exploring shapes using the gigantic scrunchie or cooperation band

A while ago I posted a tutorial (here) on how to sew a giant scrunchie which could be used for the classic schoolyard game Elastics. In our household the gigantic scrunchie, which is also otherwise known as a co-operation band in the educational and sport's sector, has been used for more than just Elastics. In an earlier post (here),I showed how the children used it to play 'horse and carriage' as well as an obstacle to jump and tumble over.

Today I want to share with you another way we've been using our gigantic scrunchie. With this beautiful sunny weather we've been having in Germany, we've taken the scrunchie back outside to use it as a tool for making and exploring shapes.  With just my daughter and I playing, we we're able to make squares, rectangles and a range of polygons. In order to see what shape we had made we looked at the shadows we casted on the lawns.

I really liked using the scrunchie for making polygons. This also lead to a chat between my daughter and I  about  how we can find out the name of some shapes by counting how many sides they have. I also explained that if she could count to 10 in Greek it would be easy for her to work out the name of these shapes as they relate to the names of the Greek numbers.

For those of you who are interested, numbers 1 to 10 in Greek are...
Image from
As you can see Pente is very close to PENTA gon. Exi is very close to HEXAgon. Epta is close to HEPTAgon. Octo is very much like OCTAgon. Ennea is probably the only one this is quite dissimilar with the shape name being NONAgon. Deka is again similar to DECAgon. The small differences are due to the way English speakers have translated some sounds. The letter E in Greek represented by H when translated or used in English. You might have seen t-shirts from Greece with HELLAS written on them. We pronounce the H but in Greek it is ELLAS.

Here we are attempting to make a hexagon. Unfortunately it was sometimes a bit tricky to get the shape just right but we could still count the sides and name the shape.

This was our attempt at a pentagon. We achieved 5 sides but not the typical pentagon shape we are so used to. My head kept getting in the way!

I can imagine this would be a great activity with more kids. Each child could create a corner and position themselves to make more regular shapes. With more children you could also attempt more complicated polygons and try to work out their names. You could learn to count beyond 10 in Greek to see how similar the names are to the Greek numbers.

Doing it in this fashion the shape would not cast a shadow before the children but underneath the shape. You would have to look at the shape from above to see what it was. Here is an example of my little monkey and her cousins making a triangle.  As you can see there is still a shadow but just from underneath.

Well there you have it! Who would have thought I'd be posting about giant scrunchies, polygons and Greek numbers all in the same post? I sure as pie didn't see it coming.

Well until next time, happy learning and happy playing.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Indoor fairy garden small world play

As you might know we here at We are Happy Playing are totally in love with all things fairy. We turned our reading corner into an enchanted fairy inspired reading nook (here). We've also made an indoor fairy garden for my daughter's bedroom (here), and had lots of fun making paper mache fairy houses (here). Today I have chosen to write about our fairy garden small world play that my daughter has been enjoying over the last few months.

For our indoor fairy garden small world we used
  • 1 Tray half full with play sand. 
  • A range of plastic flowers
  • assorted craft shells
  • blue pebbles
  • Plastic deco stones
  • twigs from outside
  • blue foam board cut in pond and river shapes
  • tiny cocktail drink umbrellas 
  • coins
  • wooden animal figures on sticks
  • pieces of twirled bark
  • coloured potpourri sticks
  • some odds and ends like mini clay pots and ceramic deco flowers
  • little handmade fairies 
  • Kinder Surprise plastic gnomes
  • small pine cones

The play session began with my daughter building the fairy garden. Unlike most small world play, our fairy garden small world play allows the child to be responsible for setting up the small world's landscape. With this 'game' it is the adult's responsibility to simply supply the child with as many different 'fairy' things to build their garden with and to sit back and watch.

At the beginning of her first fairy garden small world play session my daughter started by establishing where the water features and rocks would go.

Once the ponds, rivers and paths were in place she started adding her fairy house, ornaments like ceramic posts, wooden fence.

After this stage was finished, the little monkey decided it was time to hide 'treasure' for the fairies to search for later. For this my daughter used some coins I had given her. She buried them around the place in 'secret hiding places'. 

Finally finishing touches were addded such as the umbrellas, little animals, fairies and flowers. 

Once the garden was finished my daughter continued to play with her enchanted play set, playing out scenarios where the fairies went searching for treasure, or where they needed to find their way home through the flower forest or where the fairies simply played with the little animals sunbathing all together under the 'beach' umbrellas.  

The garden itself also evolved over the course of the play sessions as my little one continued to arrange and rearrange the flowers and rocks etc. By the time the play session was finished most of the flowers had been removed and replaced by ditches in the sand where the fairies had dug for treasure. The animals too were set to one side and the stones were rearranged to make different paths leading to the lakes. 

All in all I couldn't be more happy with the outcome. The fairy garden small world had required my daughter to use her imagination to the limit. Nothing was fixed, the play possibilities almost endless. It didn't even matter if my daughter played with the fairies at the end, for it was a great enough effort just to build the landscape in the first place. 

I hope this post has given you some ideas for your own fairy garden small world play. Maybe you could make a winter version? If you do send us some photos and leave a comment below. 

Until next time, happy playing.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Bean bag races and numeracy, a workout for our bodies and our brains.

Races are my all time favourite way to get kids moving! I would hold races in my classroom daily to get students working key areas such as their vestibular and proprioceptive systems as well as their core muscles, all of which are vital to have developed before academic work and success could be achieved.

In a special educational needs classroom, races also were a great way to incorporate choice making and social connections between students. Before a race, a student would be chosen by the teacher and they would then choose who they wanted to race against and what type of race they were going to compete in. The other students who were not participating in the race would sit on the side lines shouting or signing out 'ready, set, go'. To add an element of numeracy we would tally the number of races won by each child, using our counting skills to work out who had won the most races.

While I may not have a class to teach at the moment, I do have a daughter and her cousins to take care of on occasions. The last time they came around I decided we needed to have a go at some of the races I used to set up for my students.

For these races, which are not all the types of races I used to conduct, we used
  • small buckets
  •  bean bags with a clear pocket. Find instructions on how to make some here.

Running Race

Our first race was a simple running race to see who could collect the most amount of bean bags which had been scattered around the lawn. In one version of the race the children had to run and collect a bean bag and bring it back to their bucket which was at the finish line. In another version the children were allowed to take their buckets with them as they scrambled to get their bean bags. 

Rolling Race 

For this race the children had to roll along the lawn to get to the bean bags. In order to roll properly it would have been better for them to leave their buckets behind. Proper rolling, that really activates the core muscles, occurs when children lie straight with hands above their heads and their feet together. This way they need to use their stomach muscles to turn themselves over and not their hands or legs. Unfortunately this time the kids insisted that they take their buckets with them which meant they were not rolling by using their core muscles but rather their legs and elbows.

Crawling Races

For this race the children had to collect their bean bags by crawling around the lawn. Unfortunately this photos isn't the best for showing the kids crawling as they have both stopped to pick up a bean bag. Crawling is a fantastic activity to help children who may be restless as the pressure on the limbs from carrying the child's body weight can have a calming effect. It is also a form of cross crawling which gets kids right and left side of the brain working together.

Unfortunately these are the only photos I have of the races we ran that day. There were a few more sorts of races we did before the children had a snack break. Those races were...

Bunny Hop Races
Children hopped around on all fours like bunnies in order to collect their bean bags.

Seal or Commando Races
Lying on their stomachs, the children moved around by wiggling their bottoms and torsoes, using only their hands and elbows to pull them forward. The legs and feet stay together without helping. This is an awesome workout for the core muscles.

Races and Numeracy Skills

As I mentioned before, races where students are collecting something like bean bags are also a great opportunity for introducing or further developing numeracy skills. The winner of these races was not who got back to the finish line first but who collected the most bean bags. Therefore in order to know who won, every one's bean bags had to be counted and tallied.

For my niece who is older than the others and also more advanced with her numeracy skills, I increased the level of difficulty by placing 2 digit numbers in the clear pockets. Instead of counting out how many bean bags every one got, she had to add the numbers together to see who had the greatest total.

I hope that in the near future I can organise more races for these guys and do a better job of photographing them so I can show you more of my race ideas. If you are an educator, I hope this post has given you some ideas for incorporating physical activities with numeracy skills. I can assure you the children find it more appealing than sitting over counters and counting worksheets! Again if you are not familiar with the benefits of physical activities and academic achievement please have a look at my interview with Occupational Therapist Cara Sheekey who explains it very well. Here.

Until next time happy playing!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

DIY Backyard obstacle races without spending money on equipment!

Continuing the theme for Moving it in May we decided to get really inventive and make our very own backyard obstacle course, out of nothing but what we had lying around. Sometimes you find yourself thinking you need to fork out money on expensive equipment for your kids to get a real physical workout. I know I get caught up in that trap from time to time. In Australia we bought everything from trampolines, swings, slides and a climbing set. Now that we are on an extremely tight budget, there is no option but to make do with that we have.

As you can see in the photo above, our obstacle course has 7 elements.  The course was designed to include elements that required balancing, crawling and jumping so that the children were forced to work on their   vestibular system, their core muscles and proprioceptive sense. Jumping, crawling and tumbling also provide fantastic opportunities for children to further develop their body awareness and gross motor skills. 

Note: If you feel your children are not that great on their feet, maybe they have extra physical needs, a good idea to keep them safe is to get them to wear bike helmets. I tried this with my child before I knew that she could manage the course easily.

Following are a few photos to help you see the components of our course, how we made them and how we used them.

The course begins with sliding down this slide, which my in-laws have permanently in the garden. It's just a plastic kids' slide that you could easily pick up second hand if you don't have one. 

Next we found two long wooden poles on the side of the house. Not sure where they came from but we tied them up with some tape and they became the 'balancing beam' to walk across. 

Two more sticks, a few old bricks and tada! you have some mini hurdles. 

We were super lucky to find some old tires in the shed. This made a great balancing element for our course. Initially I thought the kids could jump in them but they decided to walk on them, balancing their way across.

A few old pots spaced like this acted as a running section with the kids having to run, weaving through and around the pots. Though at one point the kids decided to just jump over them. 

This here is a pool noodle cut in half length ways and pinned into the ground in an arch shape using tent pegs. For this element the kids had to crawl under the arch.

The last part required an adult's help to hold the hoola hoop up. For this part of the race, the kids had to do a somersault through the hoop and then run back to the slide, finishing the race.

To make it more of an official race, we wrote out names down on pieces of paper on which I then wrote the times they kids had completed the race in. I used my phone as a stopwatch which made it easy to time each child's attempt. The kids loved finding out if they'd beat their personal best time. I think timing the kids was what motivated them the most to play this game for over an hour. I am sure at the end of it they went through the course at least 30 times. (I ran out of space on the paper for writing all the times down)

Here are some shots of the kiddies going through the obstacle course.

 Anyhow I hope this post has shown you how easy it is to set up a fun physical activity for your children without breaking the bank. Of course the beauty of it is that you can redesign and arrange the course every time you set it up again, keeping the kids interested and challenged!

Until next time, happy playing!