Sunday, September 27, 2009

Toddler snacks and lunches

For some reason, I find lunch the hardest meal of the day. If Munchkin and I had our way, we would have sushi every day ... but the budget of doom doesn't allow it and my one attempt at making it was an un-mitigated disaster. I love cooking, but I'm rubbish at anything fiddly and sushi is definately fiddly.

From time to time we fall into the trap of having marmite or peanut butter sandwiches every day for a week or so, which quickly gets boring, and means that I am personally starving my 4pm and start eating everything in the cupboard (including peanut butter by the spoonful). So, as a general rule I do try to put a bit of effort in. (as always, my apologies for my dreadful photos but I thought they might give you some ideas!)

While I do often bake little things for snacks and lunches (I must get around to posting some recipes), a lot of the time I want things that are really simple and quick. In the interests of nutrition I very loosely aim for a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit. I thought I would share my 'master list' of lunch ideas, many of which double up for snacks.

- hardboiled eggs
- omelette strips
- canned tuna or salmon
- freedom farms shaved ham (hooray, you can now buy this at the supermarket)
- leftover meat especially sausages
- cubes of cooked tofu that has been marinated in a little soy sauce
- chickpeas whole or as hummus
- chunks of edam cheese
- yoghurt (great for dipping fruit)
- feta cheese
- fried haloumi cheese

- pita bread triangles
- small sandwiches with marmite, jam or honey
- baby pinwheels (cut crusts off a slice of bread, butter it, roll it up and slice it)
- pasta - penne or spirals
- couscous (best eaten outside - its really messy!)
- israeli couscous
- breakfast cereal
- bagel slices
- mini crackers
- new potatoes (cold with mayonnaise for mummy!)
- pastry shapes

- avocado chunks
- cucumber slices
- cherry tomatoes
- frozen peas
- broccoli (my daughter loves broccolli so we eat it A LOT)
- grated carrot
- bell peppers (red, yellow and orange are the sweetest)
- grated beetroot, carrot and apple mixed together
- sweetcorn

- apples
- pears
- mandarin segments
- grapes
- banana slices
- persimmon slices
- gorgeous summer stuff like strawberries and blueberries
- tinned peaches, pears or pineapple
- kiwifruit
- dried apricots, sultanas or apples

Leave me a comment and let me know whats on your lunch table at the moment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Getting my act together

I promise I am still here, and I am still working on these areas of play posts. I have fallen into the trap of being so busy researching that I haven't got to publishing ... but I hope to have some more 'areas' up soon.

The other thing I've been up to is a massive organising binge (I blame Nicole!). Actually, I've been working at it for the last couple of months, but its taken a long time to get real traction.
Originally this blog was intended to be an organising and homekeeping blog (hence the title) ... I've always loved tidying and cleaning, and until I fell pregnant with number 2 I was one of the most organized people I know (and one of the most modest right!!!)

But, during my second pregnancy things got more and more on top of me, and when my little guy arrived I was totally shell-shocked by the tiredness, and the busy-ness. Fortunately it never got to the point of post-natal-depression but I think it got pretty close ... I suffered from some reasonable severe panic attacks and was lucky to have a supportive holistic doctor who sorted me out.

So, after a couple of months of sorting, de-cluttering, and re-organizing I am now at the stage of feeling really motivated again. I'm back to having a planning notebook full of lists (in five categories!) my wardrobe is in perfect order, even our bathroom cabinets are spick and span. To top it all off hubby made me an organiser for my 'utilty drawer' so I have little cubbies for things like my stapler and holepunch, notepaper, mending kit, string and sellotape ... it really is a 'good thing'

As a result of all this organising, we have been able to turn our spare room into a playroom (which means the baby may have to stay in the teeny-tiny baby room for ever). We now have our ' Steiner' open ended toys in the lounge, and Montessori-ish activities in the playroom. We don't have any classical Montessori ... we are more Michael Olaf than Neinhuis, but for us its a great mix. I thought you might like some photos ...

Must go clean a cupboard!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sand Play


I still have so much to write about stories and literacy, but I have been desperate to write about sand play since EcoWorrier sent me this photo, of her son in his pyjamas in the Playcentre sandpit.

You’ll find sand play pretty much everywhere in ECE – Playcentres usually have enormous sandpits, and Waldorf/Steiner kindergartens see sand play as essential. In Montessori pre-schools it will be set up for ‘free play time’ and sand trays are often set up for children to practice writing. And of course, playing at the beach should be part of every childs' summer memories.

The nature and value of sand play

To very young children the simple delight of rolling in dry sand, pouring it over themselves or burying themselves in it provides an all-over sensory satifsfaction” Gwen Somerset, Vital Play in Early Childhood

I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love playing with sand, even ‘mess-phobes’ enjoy it (even if the mothers aren’t so keen!).

The youngest toddlers love the tactile experience of sand … the feel of it between fingers and toes, the way wet sand drips off their hands, the way it sticks to everything, the way it can be dug to make a hole, or mounded up into a pile, or poured out of a bucket (And yes, they will even try to eat the stuff!).

As children get older, the sandpit becomes a stage for imaginative play .. so you will see kids making pretend birthday cakes with twig candles, or creating a maze of sand-house villages, or digging trenches for cars to drive through. Other children will see sand as an artistic material for creating intricate sand sculptures and collages.

The value of sand play is immense. As a natural material, sand is an ideal way to learn about hot and cold, wet and dry. It is a first stage of science to see the changes sand goes through from so dry it can easily be sifted, to wet enough to hold its shape, to sopping wet and able to be poured like concrete. Playing with sand develops hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills ... and it provides great stimulation for imaginative play and artistic creation. They say everything you need to learn can be learned at kindergarten … perhaps in fact it can be learned in the sand pit.

Setting up for sand play

No back yard is complete without sand and water. When we think of sand, we want to think big, and lots of it’ Sharifa Oppenheimer, Heaven on Earth

Sand is a relatively easy thing to set up at home. In New Zealand, you’ll often see the large plastic clam shells filled with sand on the front deck. These are easy to set up - a couple of bags of sand from a landscaping supplies depot and you are done. The downside is that there is nowhere for the water to drain, so they fill up and get gloopy. Also, they are pretty small for more than one child … so they don’t really facilitate the kind of ‘sand work’ that pre-schoolers like to get into.

So, if you possibly can, go for ‘big, and lots of it’! You’ll want to make sure its open at the bottom so your kids can ‘dig all the way to China’ … and so the water can drain away keeping the sand fresh. (You’ll also want a good quality cover so the local cats don’t mistake it for a litter box).

Sand is not a lot of fun without water, and Oppenheimer suggests the water source is put “far away from the sandbox to encourage plenty of running ... running back and forth, bucket in hand, is full of meaning and purpose for your child as is creating great river systems in the sandbox’.

Sand play ‘accessories’

Toys for the sandpit are everywhere … any plastic household item is likely to be great. From sad experience, I can say that metal and wood will have a hard life in the sandpit … even our Waldorf/Steiner kindergarten uses plastic materials in the sandpit!
Some of our favourites

- tupperware containers that have lost their lids, or lids that have lost their containers
- ladles, slotted spoons, salad servers, tongs, scoops, fish slices
- colanders, funnels and steamer baskets
- microwave cooking equipment like those funny egg cookers and muffin trays
- those random accessories that come with food processors, smart grills, blenders etc. I always seem to end up with weird odds and sods from these appliances, and they make great toys!
- tubes and half-tubes of all shapes and sizes – clean drainage pipe is great, but cardboard postage tubes will last at least a few days unless they get dunked in the water

Natural resources are great for sand play – so collect up things like leaves, twigs, rocks, shells, pebbles, flax fronds, seed pods, acorns, feathers etc. (these natural materials are wonderful for all sorts of open-ended play).

Gwen Somerset (grand-matriarch of the Playcentre movement) says that sand play ‘accessories should be of at least three types:

1) for filling, measuring, pouring – buckets, containers of graded sizes:
2) for carrying or working as adults – large lorries, trucks of different sizes, wood off cuts, vehicles and small cars for roads etc
3) for shaping, digging tunneling – scoops trowels, shovels paua shells and in addition oddments for decoration

Extending sand play

There are just so many ways to extend sand-play. Those of you involved with Playcentre have probably done most of these … but I thought I would list them here anyway!

Set up a sandpit ‘volcano’. In a plastic milk container put 1 cup of baking soda, and some food colouring or tempera powder. Pack up the sand around it in a ‘volcano’ with the top of the milk container exposed. Then, when the kids are ready … pour in a cup of white vinegar and watch it bubble over.

When there are enough adults for supervision, set up a mini bonfire in the sand pit. Roast marshmallows or put pre-baked potatoes in foil at the bottom of the fire to get all smoky and delicious.

Put a paddling pool in the sandpit with a sun umbrella for a beach party. Don’t forget to make some pretty drinks with those little umbrellas and floating cherries.

For dinosaur obsessed 4 year olds create a dinosaur excavation. Bury a range of plastic dinosaur toys, and maybe any 'bones' you can find in the sand. I have heard the idea of partly covering the dinosaurs in plaster of paris, letting them set, and then getting the kids to find them and then ‘dig them out’ … I haven’t tried this one myself but would love to hear how it works!

Messy play … in a bucket put too much water in some sand and then drip it off your fingers - it looks really freaky.

So, tell me what your favourite ideas for sand play are!

Another spring story

Over at the fabulous Artemis Moon blog , is another spring story 'Peter and the Willow', which I just love.

Go check it out!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Area of Play 4 – Stories and Literacy


I’ve always been a total book worm – and I know in blogland that puts me in good company. Knowing the immense pleasure that reading gives me, a love of books is right at the top of my list of things to ‘pass on to my kids’. Actually, I think every parent wants their child to develop a love of reading - but it isn’t always easy.

Developing literacy skills is pretty controversial … the spectrum ranges from the ‘teach your 3 month old to read’ to the unschooling approach where children simply learn to read in their own good time … and there is everything in the middle.

So, I’ve been puzzling over how best to tackle such a huge subject. There is so much I want to write about here. There are huge differences in approach here between Playcentre, Waldorf and Montessori to children’s literacy – in fact I would go as far as to say that this is THE area where the differences are really obvious. It is also an area where I personally disagree with the Waldorf approach, but more about that another day!

I think now is a good time to remind you all that this is a blog – not a textbook – so please see all these thoughts as just my interpretation, and feel free to debate with me in the comments!

The book corner of my dreams
Rainbow Mama

The Waldorf/Steiner approach

One of the most controversial aspects of the Waldorf/Steiner approach is not teaching children to read until they are 7, or the change of teeth. This is because, in the Steiner philosophy, children under the age of seven are still developing their physical bodies, and should not have their intellectual capacities called upon. Its not that they can’t learn to read, but Steiner considered that it was actually damaging to teach this to young children.

"It is quite possible to teach young children reading and writing by rote .. but it is also possible to deaden something in them by doing this, and anything killed during childhood remains dead for the rest of one's life" Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf education and Anthroposophy

"People will object that the children then learn to read and write too late. This is said only because it is not known today how harmful it is when children learn to read and write too soon. It is a very bad thing to be able to write early ... A child who cannot write properly at thirteen or fourteen ... is not so hindered for later spiritual development as one who early, at seven or eight years, can already read and write perfectly" Rudolf Steiner, Kingdom of Childhood

So in a Waldorf/Steiner kindergarten you won’t see many, if any, children’s books. You won’t see charts on the wall with the alphabet and numbers on them. You won’t see children’s names on cards for them to find and put on the attendance board. While mainstream ECE strives to be ‘print rich’, a Waldorf kindergarten is deliberately ‘print poor’.

However, Waldorf kindergartens are very rich in language and story telling. Steiner teachers are trained in therapeutic speech techniques, so you should hear teachers speaking slowly, calmly, with a particular emphasis on the vowels. They will ‘paint pictures’ with their words rather than give directions, so a jacket might be ‘crying on the floor’ rather than ordering a child to ‘pick it up’.

A daily story, which will be acted out with handmade puppets, is a key part of the kindergarten curriculum. Usually, the children will be told simple fairy tales – Steiner himself had a real thing for ‘Grimms’ – so for the kindergarten years (4-6 year olds) tales like ‘sweet porridge’ ‘the star child’ and ‘the gingerbread boy’ are common fare. Stories are repeated every day, often for weeks at a time, so that the children can really absorb the story.

Picture books are still certainly part of a Waldorf child’s life … I was told by a Steiner Association supervisor that we should ‘surround our children with books’ and that we should read to our children all the time, even when they are teenagers if they will still let us! There are many wonderful children’s books that you will see commonly recommended by Waldorf teachers and parents … I will put up a list in a future post!


Playcentre, being more aligned with modern ECE approaches rather than a particular pedagogy, values and encourages the development of literay skills, but does so from a basis of free play. One of the ‘areas of play’ is the story corner, and literacy as a curriculum area is woven across the entire centre.

Playcentre mama Mary explained the Playcentre approach to me like this

“Numeracy and literacy are dealt with holistically in each area of play. We might roll playdough snakes together and count them - 1, 2, 3, 4!. We might fly to the moon on the swings - countdown with me! 10!, 9!, 8! etc. We might ask a child if we can write their name on the top of their painting, saying the letters as we write them. The child might like to write their own name on instead. We might set up the home corner as a print-rich environment - telephone books, shopping list books with sharp, ready-to-use pencils, posters on the wall with labels at child height, drawers labeled. The carpentry area has the tools labeled, has builders' pencils and metal tape for measuring. We might make stop/go signs for the diggers in the sandpit, and build walls with blocks. If the children show an interest in extensions along these lines, the adults can go with the flow. So, you might see all sorts of stuff going on at Playcentre that comes into the numeracy and literacy areas. Is letter and number recognition seen as a good thing? Sure, but so is a child immersed in concentration at the fingerpaint table, or a child who has shown empathy to another. Children showing an interest in learning is a positive thing - and if that so happens to be an excited 2 year old recognising the letter his name starts with, then that's good.”

During our (rather brief) time at Playcentre, I saw the ‘gingerbread’ boy being read from a book, to a bunch of children all huddled in the outdoor boat. After reading it the children went to the ‘kai’ (food) table and decorated gingerbread boys of their own to eat … which I think is a very classic Playcentre story extension.


When many people think of Montessori they think of the sandpaper letters and the moveable alphabet … which are very tactile materials that children can use to learn letters. As with all Montessori activities the children are not in any way pressured to use these materials – rather the materials are there whenever the child chooses to discover them.

Tim Seldin describes the Montessori approach as the ‘writing road to reading’. Children learn to write, firstly using the sandpaper letters to experience the ‘feel’ of each letter, and later a moveable alphabet to construct words .. a little bit like magnetic letters on the fridge. Rather than being taught the names of the letters, children are taught the sound of the letters … which given our crazy alphabet is probably incredibly sensible. (As an interesting aside in Montessori children are taught only lower case letters in the beginning - in Waldorf they are first taught upper case letters!)

It was very hard for me to learn how to read. It did not seem logical for the letter "m" to be called "em," and yet with some vowel following it you did not say "ema" but "ma." It was impossible for me to read that way. At last, when I went to the Montessori school, the teacher did not teach me the names of the consonants but their sounds. In this way I could read the first book I found in a dusty chest in thestoreroom of the house. It was tattered and incomplete, but it involved me in so intense a way that Sara's fiancé had a terrifying premonition as he walked by: "Damn! This kid's going to be a writer."
— Gabriel Gárcia Márquez Nobel Prize recipient for literature

Books certainly have a place in a Montessori classroom, and in the daily group time the teacher will read from a book. Books for under 7s are chosen based on their ability to represent ‘reality’ rather than fantasy, so fairy tales are saved until children are older and have a firm understanding of what is real and what is not. Extension activities are set up so the child can do them independently, as with all Montessori activities. Here is a beautiful example of a Montessori extension activity – where toddlers can match the animal figures to the pages of the book as they look at it.

So, three very different approaches to the literacy question for young children, and not a flashcard amongst them. What all these approaches have in common is that there is no pressure for the young child to learn to read and write before he is ready.