Monthly Archives: November 2010

Natural Learning From The Cold Spell Of Weather

We are having a cold spell of weather at the minute, and lots of places have had some snow fall. Exploring at this time of year is exciting, and ideal for natural learning, just make sure the children are wrapped up warm. You can of course help guide things along, but left alone you may find that children just find things out and explore for themselves, just be prepared to answer questions.


Children may naturally find some small bits of ice, if not have a hunt and try to find some, watch what happens to it at different parts of the day, or when you hold it etc. Ideal for nice science discussions about freezing points, liquids, solids etc. Even young children will pick up the basics and it is fascinating. If you can’t find any ice, put some water outside and see what happens to it.

It’s also a good time to naturally chat about larger expanses of ice, and the dangers of not walking on it. Particularly if you are out and about and see frozen ponds or similar.

Frost is another fascinating and very pretty feature at this time of year. Frost on the grass in the morning is so lovely and delicate. It’s actually a hoar frost, the air cools and water condenses onto the grass.

While outside have a look at your breath, blow out into the air. If it’s cold enough outside your breath will look like smoke, compare it with your breath inside, in a warm building. Contained in the air you breath out are small drops of water, held as water vapour, so small you don’t normally see them, although they are always there even in the warm room. Outside in the cold the water drops go from warm to cold and the water vapour condenses, resulting in the cloud of breath we see.

If you are lucky enough to get some snow, why not make a snow angel, most people know how to do it, lay in the snow on your back, move your arms up and down to make the wings, and open and close your legs to make the angel’s skirt.

Have a look at the snow through a magnifying glass, pop it on some black paper and have a look at the lovely six sided shapes and patterns. They are all pretty much unique, and very beautiful.

Of course you can also have fun making traditional snowmen and snowballs, or maybe try a different character, a snow rabbit or cat? You can also use a spare plastic container like an old ice cream tub or margarine container. Compact the snow into the container firmly, then tip it out, you have just made snow bricks which you can make to construct things, if you have enough you could try an igloo.

If snow has been forecast, we use the radar service on netweather, you can watch and see if the snow is headed for you, or which other parts of the country are getting snow. Just looking at this site sparks off lots of conversations about geography about different parts of the UK, the direction the weather is moving in, talk of north, south, east and west etc. You do have to pay a small amount to see the radar but there is something addictive about it, for children and adults alike!

Children in Need

Today my son had to wear something spotty to school to raise money for children in need. They get to wear something spotty, and donate some money to wear it, as it’s a non school uniform day. After a search of his wardrobe, we discovered he owns nothing spotty at all, not even socks!

So not wanting to go and spend money on a spotty item of clothing, which would probably be worn once, we decided to fashion our own. It is times like this, I am grateful we are hoarders and seem to accumulate stuff!

So we used an old plain white school polo shirt, and found some fabric pens that we already had, and basically marked spots all over it, big ones, little dotty ones, in a variety of colours. Resulting in one spotty t shirt for children in need day at school.

Very simple, no extra expense, just a bit of time.

Plume Moth

We found an insect on a wall inside our house today. So we tried to identify it. It was a T shape, but as it suddenly took off we discovered it had wings and could fly !! Eventually we identified it as a plume moth.

I think it’s a brown plume moth? It looks like other photos of Emmelina monodactyla that I’ve looked at.

Plume moths get their name from their wings, which are just a few feathery plumes. When they are resting they roll the plumes and hold them at right angles to the body forming the T shape that we noticed, and used to try and identify it. They are a type of micro moth.

Apparently they are quite common and found throughout the UK. So now if you come across one of these lovely little moths, which I think look a bit like a stick insect, you will know what it is.

Here is a photo of our plume moth. You can see some of the plumes on the left.

Plume Moth

Get out in the garden, have fun and create some colour and food !

It had finally stopped raining today, so it was a great day to get out in the garden to do some bits before we get into Winter. Get the children out in the garden, getting some fresh air and learning about the natural world around them, through just being and doing. If you only have a small area or limited budget it’s amazing what you can do in just a few pots, or squeeze them in with some other plants .

We planted some bulbs, you should have enough time to plant them now, before the end of November preferably. Bulbs are always good as they amaze you, you start with something that looks dead and lifeless and then suddenly comes to life in the spring, with wonderful colour. We planted daffodils, tulips and some crocuses. Just in the beds, mixed in with the other flowers and vegetables. They should produce some welcome spring colour.

You can just as easily pop a few bulbs into a couple of pots, and come the spring you will have some spring colour. You can then replace these bulbs next spring when they have finished flowering with some easily grown vegetables to have some home grown produce. I will post more suggestions come spring time. It’s also fantastic for children to see how things grow, and the process it goes through, a great way to learn about something by watching and doing.

Also if you have the space for a few vegetables now, its the perfect time for planting garlic and onion sets. You want the roots to take off and get established, but not too much greenery on top, that should start next spring. Now we have the cooler days, that should prevent too much top growth while still leaving enough time for work beneath the surface to be carrying on before the even colder weather arrives.

Other veg that can be autumn sown now for an early crop next year are arctic king – lettuce, carrots – nantes frubund, and broad beans – the sutton. These are all specific varieties for autumn sowing to produce an earlier crop in the spring, so extending the growing period and providing fresh vegetables for longer. Children just seem to love the magic of growing food and then eating it, it brings it alive and real for them rather than just buying it in a shop or supermarket.

Don’t be scared give it a go, you don’t have to do loads maybe just start with some carrots which always seem to be popular with children. Find a space in a border, you can mix them in with flowers, or get a tub or pot and plant them in that. Give it a try and see what you get. Even if you only get tiny carrots the kids will love eating them raw and whole. I have a daughter who is a veg phobic but she will eat home grown carrots, raw, especially if she has grown them herself. So even if you have a fussy eater and you think, “they will never eat that”, get them involved and you may be pleasantly surprised. Try getting them involved right from shopping for the seeds all the way through the process.

Don’t get disheartened if they don’t want to be involved all the way through either, mine like to go off have a bike or scooter around, have a play, and then keep coming back, remember their attention span is still quite short but they will be taking it all in, and think they are involved.

So go and have some fun with your children and make some food and spring colour.
If your children are really getting into the gardening they just love to have their own tools like mummy and daddy. This set is just great and also comes with a watering can, all kids love watering.

Are Guinea Pigs Rodents – Question of The Day

So the question of the day today came about because of the rain. Our cat was sheltering from the rain in the bottom of the guinea pig hutch. One child decided this wasn’t great as the guinea pigs are rodents and as cats eat rodents, they could be gobbled up by the cat. Other child disagreed that they weren’t rodents as they didn’t look like mice or rats.

So we went on a hunt for information to try and find out. The results were not quite as straight forward as I thought ! Most places say that Guinea pigs or cavy, are rodents, however, some argue they shouldn’t be in the rodent family. Apparently protein in the guinea pigs blood is different to other rodents, and their teeth also differ which has lead to some people saying they should be in their own animal family. The general consensus was that they are rodents.

Other questions that also arise from children about guinea pigs are:

Are they related to pigs? – Simple answer to that is no. Why they are called guinea pigs we can only speculate about, it may be related to how they look, or the noises they make. Both of which bear a little resemblance to pigs.

Do they come from Guinea? – Simple answer again is no. They originated in the Andes, but the pet ones we keep today are not seen in the wild they are a domesticated descendent .

Do people really eat guinea pigs? – Yes people do eat guinea pigs, they are kept for food like we would keep animals, like chicken, or cows for their meat. This happens in Peru, Bolivia, some areas of Ecuador, and Columbia. Apparently guinea pig meat is high in protein, low in fat and tastes a bit like rabbit.

Guinea Pig

Swim Activities For Increasing Confidence In Children

Today we have been swimming and I thought I would share the activities, games and songs that we do in the pool to help gain confidence in the water. These are ideal for beginners, who can’t  swim at all and are needing to gain water confidence before they can move onto actual swimming.

The main thing is it’s all done through play, involving songs, and imaginary ideas and the children progress as they feel ready.

So initially the children need to get used to water in their faces, so getting them to wash their face etc, singing the song this is the way we….,  with various lines, you or the children can probably think of your own too. So ones we use are wash their face (splashing pool water onto their face), wash our hair (scooping some water in their hands and putting on their heads), if shallow enough for the child, we do walk to, nursery, school, shops whatever is most appropriate for you age child. So they walk along in the shallow end which results in splashy water. It is best to let the child do the actions to themselves and you do it to yourself so they can see it’s absolutely fine. 

We also do ring a ring a roses nursery rhyme too. Ring a ring o’ roses, a pocket full of posies, atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down. At which point the child goes under the water as far as they are happy, which initially may just be the tip of their chin ! but they will go further over time. Especially if you do fall down and get your face wet, and they see you are ok. You can also do another verse the cows are in the meadow, eating buttercups, atishoo, atishoo we all jump up. At which point you both jump up, which normally creates some splashing and getting used to moving in the water.

On a similar theme you can do the grand of duke of York nursery rhyme, moving up and down in the water at the appropriate times.

If the pool has a shallow enough section that the child can stand and walk around comfortably I normally pretend I’m a shark, dolphin, seal, fish, whatever sea creature works for you, and I pretend to chase them. Which involves them running away from me through the water but they normally end up splashed and also sometimes end up kicking or using their arms like swimming if they go quickly enough without realising it.  Also in the same way, we race to a point depending on the pool which encourages movement in the water. 

If they are at the stage of being happy to put their face in the water, even a bit, or you are trying to encourage it. Again use the sea analogy and pretend underwater is the sea, and sea bed and get them to look and see what they can spot underwater. You join in too, so face in the water see what you can see, shipwrecks, colourful fish, dolphins etc… Use your imagination.

We also do blowing bubbles on the surface, breathe in and then blow out into the water causing bubbles. The bigger and noisier the better. See who can do more. At the pool we go to, there are characters on the wall so we blow bubbles to the frog and the boy painted on the wall. For this activity these toys are great fun, they flip over in the water as you blow them.

Get The Children To Do The Housework

So today I had a child (age 7) who every 5 minutes didn’t know what to do, so I made lots of suggestions, along the lines of if you can’t think of anything to do out of your toys, books, art and craft etc. there is loads of things that need doing, cleaning and tidying in the house. 

Surprising me completely this was met with an ok what needs doing, and then it must have seemed like so much fun as second child appeared and they were actually arguing over the hoovering. 

So I went from having a child at a loose end and a house that was in need of attention and  I actually ended up entertaining the children, and cleaning and tidying. They did need me to be specific, and we focused a fair amount on their rooms that needed sorting too. So they were taking responsibility for their own rooms.

It made me realise that they can probably help out more than they do already. Actually it also gave them a sense of responsibility and life skills for the future, and being independent. Doing some of the jobs together it also gave them a chance to communicate with each other and work as a team to achieve something.

So my suggestion for a children’s activity is get them doing the housework !! What specifically will depend on their age, but we covered tidying, hoovering, sorting dirty washing for the machine and putting away clean clothes, emptying rubbish bins and recycling, and stripping beds. 

We also put some loud music on and danced around while we did the housework, which I think helped too, it became a fun activity.

Hello Baby Book

We are loving Hello Baby by Jenni Overend. Perfect for any child who is going through an interested in babies phase, which is why we ended up reading it.  It would also be useful for anybody wanting to prepare their child for the arrival of a new sibling, or baby in the family, particularly if there is going to be a home birth involved.

It’s a storybook, and the story is told from a child’s perspective about the preparation and birth of a new baby at home. During the course of the story and illustrations it opens up the possibility for a whole host of questions to arise and discuss. Be prepared that it does contain pictures of birth with the babies head appearing, and the placenta, but we found it was done in a very natural way, although some may find it too much. It also contains co sleeping and indirectly breastfeeding. The only down side, from a practical viewpoint is it’s set in a cabin in the woods, so doesn’t seem related to a homebirth in a “normal” home, although that seemed to bother me more than my daughter.

Overall a lovely, sensitive, natural book which sparked off lots of questions particularly about the process of giving birth, placentas and umbilical cords. It’s a book that different ages will get different information and enjoyment out of. As it’s a picture book it could be read with young ones of 2 or 3 years old, and it would also be useful and of interest to those aged up to about 5 or 6 depending on the child. After that they may find it a little too cutesy but it obviously depends on the child.

Autumn Mushrooms

Todays discovery was a lovely looking clump of mushrooms. Growing in a close group together, in the grass. So we took a few photos to see if we could identify them.
Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma Fasciculare)

So after some searching around I’m pretty sure they are Sulphur Tuft, also known as Hypholoma Fasciculare.

The only thing that confused me initially was that most sources stated that the Sulphur Tuft grows on tree stumps and dead wood, and these were just growing in a stretch of grass between a footpath and a road, with no obvious wood. Then I found that they can grow on dead tree roots or stumps that are underground and so appear to be growing just in the grass, which is a possibility. These mushrooms were growing in an area with plenty of trees around, just not directly around the spot they were growing in. It’s certainly a possibility that trees used to grow around this spot and either died naturally or were even felled to make way for the path and road at some point.

Everything else fits, they were a yellow colour, with an orange brown centre. Finding them here in the UK makes sense, as these mushrooms are abundant in Northern Europe. They are seen all year round but are more prevalent from June to November, and it’s currently the beginning of November. So that’s what I’m identifying them as for now Sulphur Tuft or Hypholoma Fasciculare.

If you find some too, don’t eat them, as apparently they are inedible, bitter and can cause vomiting.

Great Little Minds First Blog Post

Great Little Minds first blog post, yay. Here I will share various musings and questions asked by children and try to answer those questions ! Also anything of interest we have found during our day, brief reviews of products, toys, and books, and just generally any snippets of information that’s broadly around our children’s theme but things adults might find of interest too, hopefully with some photos too. For anything more in depth and a whole load of activities, colouring in, recipes etc. come and visit us over on the main site at