Thursday, 20 December 2012

what is water made from? how do the clouds move?

We’re busy planning next term’s work at Dunkirk and questions about water have been flowing all around…
We’re part of an exciting Comenius project, linked with schools in Italy, Finland and Norway, where we’ll all investigate Big Questions with the children and share our work.   

All the schools are looking at issues around Why Is Water Precious? Which gives wonderful scope to explore many questions in depth. The children at Dunkirk have been asking wonderful questions – about many things, not just water – and its so exciting to explore the ways their questions link and cross-over.

They are interested in ice a lot at the moment – we’ve had lots around and their first-hand explorations lead to brilliant observations. They ask and notice really detailed things through all their work on the school allotment – they are curious about the creatures that love damp places, about the ways plants grow, about the pond - how do the creatures living there cope when their home is frozen they wanted to know…

How do plants drink?  How do you make wood?  Why do we need water? Where does the water in our taps come from and how does it get there? In fact – where does the water to flush our toilets come from and how does that get there?   We’re busy planning lots of experiments and hands-on investigations to look at these questions and more… 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

does all ice sound the same? and other questions...

I've been incredibly inspired lately by questions the children are asking at Dunkirk School.  They ask questions all the time; and at the moment we are gathering ideas with them as we plan - with the children - what they would like to explore next term.   Water, in various forms, keeps cropping up.  The freezing weather has prompted some wonderful questions - they notice all the changes around them and are so eager for hands-on exploration.  Above is the pond we've made on the school allotment - and below is what it looks like at the moment, all frozen: 
                  This prompted wonderful questions and discussions - about ice but also about the creatures living in the pond and how they felt.  The children were really interested in the ball left on the water as a means of air getting into the pond.   It also led to some really important health and safety discussions about ice and venturing onto frozen water (or not).   Children need the first hand experiences to prompt questioning and thinking - and the discussions that arise are crucial in their learning.

They were really interested in the frost on the leaves and the different colours, patterns and shapes this brought out.  They were really amazed by leaves "glued" together by ice!  They also drew into the ice and frost everywhere they could find to do so...

We found this piece of ice (below) last year and built a sculpture with it;  and they've been recalling this and wondering if they'll be able to find similar pieces this year.

Many of the children adore making potions - they constantly experiment with different concoctions.  We have a set of potion / mud-pie making equipment on the allotment all the time and the children return to it over and over...

 So, the younger children were delighted to find a set of frozen mud cup cakes recently!  The older children had made them and left them to "cook", but when the younger children found them the next day, they were frozen solid - and popped out of the bun cases in a perfect ice circle!

So, they became the ingredient of a new ice-mud-water concoction made by a very focused group…

If ice breaks you notice further things about it…  and if you jangle frozen ice in your  hands, it makes amazing sounds…  But, does all ice sound the same the children wondered?

Water frozen in a bowl with leaves was deeply fascinating when they got the moulded ice out!   And, indeed, getting ice out of any and all containers became a huge focus...


Ice on hands with and without gloves prompted really good questions – they noticed how ice began to melt when you held it and were  so interested in how ice kept changing…
One of my favourite questions was asked by a year two boy as we got ready to go out exploring.  I was handing out equipment for the children to help carry to the allotment and this prompted one of the children to ask “why does the hot chocolate stay hot?” as he was carrying one of the metal flasks.  We’re planning lots of experiments with insulation and different materials to test this out later…  The best questions always come from the children; but it needs adults who can listen and help nurture the right kind of environment for questions to thrive…  


Monday, 12 November 2012

autumn in the woods

Autumn colours seep all around…  and the autumn woods
are clearly the perfect place to bathe in it…
I love finding things like this, it ignites stories and sets questions racing in my mind… 
If you’ve finished bathing in the autumn colours, then you can swing
through the gold-bronze-orange-yellow glowing leaves…

All the colours held deep inside each season are precious and beautiful.  Often each combination of natural colours doesn’t last for very long – and it feels important to soak in the autumn leaves whilst they surround us.    It’s not just the colours, it’s the sounds and smells and tastes – the combination of all of these is a seasonal wonder.  And it’s there, for free…

Monday, 5 November 2012

Autumnal heads

Autumnal heads inspired by Day of the Dead

The year 5 class at Dunkirk had been really inspired by images of the Mexican Day of the Dead which they had looked at with their teacher.  So when we all got out onto the school allotment we created a set of clay heads adorned with autumnal finds.  The children wanted to make their creations as colourful as possible and spent ages searching for things in the hedgerows and amongst all the fallen leaves.

We took lots of photos of their creations and the children left them outside to watch what would happen (as it’s real clay (rather than air-hardening) this is fine to leave outside).  When I returned to the site the following day with the reception and then the year 1 children, they were really interested in the work left by the year 5 class.  They made up stories and a host of their own creations all inspired by the work of the older children. 

It had rained too, so the heads had taken on a whole new set of qualities as they had sat in rain-water.
I do love the incidental discoveries and conversations that happen whilst making things in this way.  The children notice so much about the leaves and seasonal changes – and this prompts so many questions.  They find all sorts of qualities in the natural materials as they use them – and they invent ways to use the resources around them.   

Saturday, 3 November 2012

this leaf is a bed for an ant

The stunning colours of autumn are all around and it always feels vital to celebrate this and explore all the colours whilst the leaves are in abundance in all their glory (it doesn’t take long for them to be whisked away by the wind).   

I’ve used autumn leaves with children in many ways and am constantly inspired by the descriptions and delights children find in them.  We spent a long time at Dunkirk this week with the reception classes looking at a collection of leaves – the children wanted to look really closely and were so eager to share the things they noticed.
They were really interested in the names of the different leaves and recognised the leaves from the familiar trees around school and the local area.  Some of the children really were gripped by this and spent ages learning the names of different leaves and then sharing their knowledge with others, they were repeating words such as “sycamore”, “rowan” and “lime-tree” over and over in a sing-song way.

They felt all the textures of the leaves, they were intrigued by all the vast colours and spent a long time colour matching the leaves with paint-charts.  They put the leaves on the light-box, they made leaf rubbings…   Everything had a story attached to it and I loved the qualities they found in the leaves and twigs as they told me their ideas.  A leaf could be bed for an ant, or a pathway to a castle or a balloon or a boat…

They looked at images of creations by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and Mark Pouyet and were really keen to make their own patterns, lines,  marks, arrangements and images.

It’s really interesting to see what grabs the attention of different children.  Some were interested in the textures of the leaves and wanted to tear the leaves into smaller pieces to explore this and then arrange patterns with the small pieces; some children made three-dimensional work with leaves and seed-heads piled together.  Some children were fascinated by the leaves falling and floating and wanted to watch them flutter over and over.  Some children only wanted to use the stems and twigs; some were intrigued by the way the stems rolled and wanted to use sticks, logs and pine-cones to make towers and castles.    


Much of this is all part of trying to slow down and really look in detail at the world around us with children.   Children have vast capacity to notice amazing detail and to share this if they have listening ears around them.  This all links to development of communication and language and it needs to be a gentle and slow process.  If things are to have real meaning for children and to stay in their memory, then they need to happen in the time-frame of the child – and often this takes a lot of time.  Children want to really examine things and they frequently see things that an adult doesn’t. 
I use this quote a lot, from the wonderful Ursula Kolbe, I think it sums up so well the need for adults to make time to slow down and really look with children:

“… the visual arts are not only about making things with materials: they begin with looking and touching.  Sometimes we simply need to slow down and look intently at things with children – movements of creatures, the gleam of colours in a shell or in the grains of sand trickling through fingers, a favourite picture book…”  Ursula Kolbe


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

once upon a time in the woods...

... there lived a host of very small people, who made their homes in the trees, used suction boots to climb up high and adorned themselves with clothing in many fine fabrics and colours...  They lived in little groups with their families and friends and had great adventures in the woodland with their friends the birds...  They also have some wonderful friends in the shape of Oak Class at Dunkirk Primary, who have been incredibly inspired by Roald Dahl's book "The Minpins".

As autumn gets underway there are so many treasures to be found.  Things have been really busy recently; I've been busy developing my website Stories Under Stones, really busy with developments on the allotment space at Dunkirk Primary School and planning new projects in several places. 
At Dunkirk I'm working with all year groups exploring a host of different aspects of the curriculum using the school allotment and the natural world as we make many different things.  We've been finishing work on the wildlife-friendly pond; once we had lined it we were delighted when a combination of heavy rain and our rain-collecting systems meant we could fill the pond immediately with rain water.  The pond has been planted up and the children are absorbed in watching the space to see what will visit and set up home there.  Its been a wonderful point of discussion, observation and reflection.
We've also made more potions, watched endless mini-beasts, made an insect hotel and frog homes and lots more.
When we returned to school in September we were delighted to find so many plants in full flower and really pleased we had thought through a set of different plants to bloom at different points! The space has been so incredibly busy with bees, dragonflies, butterflies, other insects and birds of many kinds.   As autumn now takes hold we are noticing so many signs of wildlife and watching the changes that take place as the seasons change.  We've found nibbled hazelnuts, signs of birds-eating blackberries, leaves eaten by insects and interesting feathers and tracks.

 As part of explorations with ways of collecting rain water, we've made a set of rain-gauges, which were put to very good use in the vast downpour that took place recently (the downpour that helped to fill the pond!).