Save Oxfordshire’s Children’s Centres

Oxfordshire County Council is proposing to shut down all 44 of the County’s Children’s Centres, and halve the current Early Years budget of £16m. Instead the council will replace them with just eight Children and Family Centres, which would only be accessible to the most vulnerable by referral.

I’ve signed the petition….have you?

Giving nature a home

The rspb are currently running a lovely campaign called “giving nature a home”.

They say ”Gone are vast swathes of wild flower meadows, miles of hedgerows and hundreds of ponds: there are fewer and fewer places for wildlife to call home. More than 60% of the UK species assessed are declining, so it’s more important than ever that we work together to help them”.

I sent off for my free guide and am happy to say myself and the mindees can tick off some of their 20 suggestions and we are pleased we are doing our bit to give nature a home.

No 2. “Cut back on cutting back” The guide recommends that “Rather than rushing into action with the secateurs as soon as your flowers have died off, leave them to go to seed. Birds, such as goldfinches, will appreciate the extra food, and minibeasts may hibernate in hollow stems over winter. The dry seed heads also add visual interest to otherwise bare winter borders”. So, here at Aston Childcare, we are leaving the sunflowers that we planted back in April that have since died alone.

No 3. “Grow flowering plants” The guide says that they “provide shelter for insects, which in turn provide food for birds and small mammals”. We are growing some tulips and daffodils which we hope to see bloom early next year.

No. 6 “Create little green patches” The guide says “Herbs such as thyme and rosemary make perfect container plants – not only are they brilliant for insects, they taste great too!”. Here at Aston childcare we have grown some rosemary and mint and the mindees have written plant markers.

No. 11 “Make a bug hotel” The guide says “You can make your hotel as large or small as you wish – the only limitation is your imagination. Just remember to provide as many nooks and crannies as you can for minibeasts and other wildlife to shelter in”. One of my mindees has made a great bug hotel and filled it with twigs and fircones and covered it in leaves to appeal to the minibeasts. She wanted to put tissue inside so that the bugs “would be comfy!”.

No. 13 “Bring your garden to life with dead wood” The guide says “At first glance, a pile of dead wood might look just that – dead. But look closer and you’ll see that it’s alive with all kinds of fungi, mosses and lichens. As it decays, it will become a thriving bug hotel for a variety of minibeasts, and frogs, toads and other creatures may shelter in the nooks and crannies. What’s more, a dead wood pile is really easy to create. Just stack a variety of logs and branches in a sheltered spot and wait for the wildlife to move in!” Here at Aston Childcare, our log store is a favourite of birds and we’ve recently spotted many a robin taking up residence there.

No. 19 “Set up a garden restaurant” The guide says “Providing additional food all year round will give the birds in your garden a boost, helping them to get through hard times and to feed their families. Calorie-rich bird cake will help birds to fatten up and survive cold winter weather, while juicy mealworms are particularly appreciated in spring, when busy parents are on the lookout for insects to feed to their growing chicks”. We have left out fat balls for the birds on the bird feeder.

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Happy Halloween!

Here at Aston Childcare, we are celebrating Halloween a week early as not everyone is here next week for half term. We’ve enjoyed decorating paper plate pumpkins and ghosts, Halloween inspired hand-prints and spooky bats. We have also enjoyed reading our Halloween book called “Spooky” with sliding windows which is enjoyed by all ages and kids classic Room on the Broom.

We have coloured the playdough to give us a great ghoulish green and blood red to play with which resulted in some great creations including a dismembered body!

I wasn’t prepared for apple bobbing to be requested so with some quick thinking we created a great cork bobbing game instead using large corks – a great lesson in floating!

To top it off we indulged in some tasty Halloween treats.

Happy Halloween!

Areas of learning covered: Expressive Arts and Design, Literacy, Communication and Language, Understanding the World, Personal Social and Emotional Development and Physical Development. 

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Global Hand Washing Day

Today is Global Handwashing Day! It’s a day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.

The children here at Aston Childcare are great at washing their hands and knowing that the warm water and soap kills germs.  They know to wash their hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, or going near the chickens or any other messy, dirty activities!

We have a poster detailing 8 steps to effective handwashing up on the mirror in the downstairs toilet that  serves as a visual reminder to them.

We’ve enjoyed lots of hand related arts and crafts in honour of global handwashing day!

British Values

Ofsted are now inspecting childminders – and all early years providers – on how well we ‘actively promote’ British values.

The term has got lots of us childminders in a spin!

Admittedly, I didn’t like the term when I first heard it, I was worried that it had some xenophobic undertones, but, on the contrary, it’s about teaching our children how to live together peacefully, each of them a valuable part of our multicultural world.

Here at Aston childcare, respect and consideration underpins everything we do.

Every childminder will have their own take on how they like to promote British Values but this is what we practice here at Aston Childcare –

  • We explore different cultures and celebrate diversity
  • We teach children to be kind, helpful and respectful of others
  • We teach children to be part of their local community
  • We say “please” and “thank you”
  • We celebrate and support cornerstones of British infrastructure – village post office, village shop, police station, village school and teach children to be part of their local community
  • We celebrate the seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter)
  • We eat fresh, seasonal British grown produce
  • We play with resources that reflect our multicultural society
  • We sit and eat at the table with a knife and fork
  • We treat men and women, girls and boys with the same level of respect.
  • We learn about world events and discuss them
  • We learn about and respect other religions
  • We learn about our political leaders and discuss our right to vote and the fact that we live in a democracy
  • We learn about our monarchy and mark noteworthy events ie. The Queens reign
  • We learn about right and wrong
  • We learn to respect the natural world

Heuristic play

I attended a children’s birthday party over the Summer on one of the hottest days of the year.  The parents had laid on a huge bouncy castle, 2 paddling pools, they had ice lollies and choc ices and a very impressive birthday cake.

However, It wasn’t the nice cool paddling pool or the bouncy castle that were the biggest hit with the children, nor the choc ices, ice lollies or birthday cake but a very large cardboard box the Grandfather had knowingly placed in the middle of the lawn! They spent hours crawling through it, chasing one another around it and using it in their role play for all manner of scenarios.

I don’t know why this surprised me particularly, I am fast learning as a new mum that the money I have spent on ball pits, a paddling pool and expensive jumperoo is pretty much wasted!

Watching my son play, it’s clear that the things he really enjoys are everyday objects – a toilet roll tube, a cardboard box, even a clean nappy!  He likes nothing better than clanging the pots and pans and baking trays in the kitchen or playing with my car keys!

This is what is known as “Heuristic play” which describes the activity of babies and children as they play with and explore the properties of ‘objects’. Heuristic play was a term coined by a child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the early 1980’s.

I have developed my own treasure basket and heuristic play trays here at Aston Childcare and give children the opportunity to regularly explore natural objects or everyday household objects. As always, the utmost of care is taken to ensure there are no choking hazards and that all items are age appropriate.

Mud pies

Yesterday afternoon some sand and water play in the garden developed into the children making mud pies. They had great fun adding grass, mud, berries, feathers and twigs to their pies and proudly showed off their creations to their parents at pick up time!

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Making mud pies is number 13 on the National Trusts list of “50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ ” that I have spoken about before.

Whilst this may seem an insignificant activity, children actually learn a lot from mud play –

  • Children express their creativity, enhance their fine motor skills, and practice literacy, science, and math skills whilst playing with mud. The mud is an art medium that children mold and decorate in unique, creative ways. The creations become the centre of children’s play. Adding small ingredients to their creations allows them to use their fine motor skills.
  • They have opportunities to practice emergent science and maths skills, such as making before-and-after comparisons; investigating solids, solvents, and solutions; examining components of various soils; exploring changes due to freezing and melting; measuring; investigating volume; practicing one-to-one correspondence; investigating questions; and solving problems
  • Playing with mud also encourages the development of positive dispositions: independence, cooperation, communication, curiosity, and responsibility. Children learn to work cooperatively, complete tasks, develop independence, enhance communication and social skills, and experience pride in completed creations.

Conker collecting

A recent report by the collectible toy company Sylvanian Families has shown that children’s knowledge of nature is dwindling. The research shows that their knowledge of basic facts is declining to worrying levels.

One in five (21 per cent) 25 to 30 year olds didn’t realise conkers fell from horse chestnut trees – instead believing they must fall from conker trees. Of course, there is no such thing as conker trees but over half (53 per cent) of 25 to 30 year olds thought they fell from conker trees, silver birch trees or even oak trees.

They say “Playing outside as a family has emotional and social benefits, as well as encouraging curiosity about the world around us.”

Here at Aston Childcare we are lucky to have lots of beautiful nature right on our doorstep for us to enjoy.

One of my fondest memories as a child was collecting bag upon bag of conkers with my Dad so I was excited when this week we went out conker collecting. We picked the conkers out of their fallen horse chestnuts and picked up some lovely horse chestnut leaves. We looked closely at the conkers the children collected, talking about their shape, colour and how they feel. We discussed where they came from and how they grew. Children proudly counted how many they had.

We have been looking for other signs of autumn when out and about and in the garden and talking about what we can see – especially the leaves changing colour and falling from the trees.

Back at home, we have a great book with sliding windows about the seasons which all the children love and that encourages them to chat about the changing seasons.


Fabulous flapjacks

This afternoon we turned our hand to making flapjacks. I’ve recently acquired a new flapjack recipe and was keen to try it out. I love cooking with my mindees, it’s not only therapeutic and interactive but arms them with a wide range of skills too. They were a roaring success and (after retaining a couple myself!) were sent home for parents to enjoy too. Baking, other than producing yummy things to eat, provides the children with a great opportunity to learn –

Cooking provides great opportunities to help children learn mathematical vocabulary such as ‘more than’ or ‘less than’ than when weighing ingredients.
Children gain experience in counting and recognising numbers. Children also learn about shapes such as cutting flapjacks into rectangles and discussing how many corners or sides they have.

Language Skills
Children can learn lots of new words whilst cooking. They can learn what a recipe looks like and learn that you need to follow instructions in order to achieve the required result.
Children can learn the names of ingredients and words like sieve, whisk, stir, mix, roll and melt. They can look for words on packets like eggs and sugar and try to find these words in the recipe.

Science plays a big part in cooking. It involves the concept of changing materials: liquid cake mix becomes a solid through baking, juice can become ice lollies when frozen and chocolate melts when heated.

Physical Skills
Children love to get involved in weighing ingredients and mixing. Tasks such as holding a spoon, mixing, beating, shaking, pouring, rolling or cutting help develop their fine motor skills. They can also smell and feel the ingredients which help to improve their senses.

Emotional and Social Development
Children learn to share and how to take turns. When the cooking is over, you can sit down and enjoy eating together.


Lovely lavender!

I keep reading about lavender playdough and have been desperate to try it! Yesterday afternoon the children cut some stems from the lavender plant in the garden. We then made fresh playdough which they love – taking it in turns to pour in a sachet of cream of tartar each, taking it in turns to stir and pour the flour in. We then added the lavender and got kneading! It was a very calming, soothing sensory play session!

I love using playdough with the children, it’s not just fun to make and play with but covers lots of areas of learning too –

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  • By making the playdough from scratch together, the children learn about measurement and numbers by filling the cup and comparing the size of teaspoons and tablespoons, and about counting as we add the ingredients.
  • Children note changes in shape and size as they comment on, compare, and contrast the objects they make (“I made a triangle” and “Mine is a tiny ball and yours is big”). Others notice who has more or less playdough.
  • It encourages mathematical thinking – “What shape is that?” “Which snake is longer?” or “How many pieces do you have now?”
  • Children practice counting, learn about shapes (geometry) and how they relate to each other (spatial sense), and practice sorting and classifying.

Physical development

  • While poking, rolling, and squishing playdough, children develop the small muscles in their fingers and hands. They use hands, fingers, and tools to pound, push, poke, shape, flatten, roll, cut, and scrape. Through these manipulations, children develop eye-hand coordination, the ability to match hand movement with eye movement. They also gain strength and improve dexterity in their hands and fingers, critical areas of physical development for writing, drawing, and other purposes.

Communication and Language

  • Children practice listening to and talking with others
  • It helps children build their vocabulary as they explain what they are doing. For example, when a child exclaims, “Chop!” as she brings down the plastic knife, she uses just the right word to describe her action.
  • Children use language to invent stories about their playdough creations.

Creativity and Imagination

  • Children express their ideas through art and make-believe play. At the same time, they learn symbolic thinking by pretending that the playdough is something else (“That thing with the antlers is a moose”).

Social and emotional development

  • It lets children feel competent (“I’m good at rolling the dough”) and proud of their accomplishments (“Hey, I made a dog”). Pounding, flattening, and squeezing are healthy and safe outlets for extra energy. They can also help children cope with strong feelings like anger or stress.