What we get up to at pre school

You can see what we have been up to recently by checking out our Facebook posts.  Below you will find past activities, with ideas for things you can do with your child at home to reinforce and expand upon play and learning experiences. We hope you enjoy trying some of them. 

table top games

Playing table top games - favourites include Snails Pace Race, Red Dog Yellow Dog and Shopping List.  All of these are excellent for turn-taking and memorisation. 

IDEAS FOR HOME:  Play picture lotto or pairs.  If your child picks up a card that does not match, then they replace the card but encourage them to remember where it was as they might need it later.  

Maths games are popular including Dice, Bingo, Snakes and Ladders (1-20) and Domino Spots.  Instead of playing dominoes in the usual way, you count all the spots on both sides of the domino (eg, 1 and 3 = 4) and then place the domino in the square labelled 4.

IDEAS FOR HOME: Either of these games would be good for home and are easy to find.  Draw boxes on a plain sheet of A4 and label them 0-12 for Domino Spots.  You may be able to print a copy of Snakes and Ladders from the internet. 

Practise rolling a dice.  Make it fun and don’t worry if your child needs to count the spots each time as eventually your child will learn to recognise the spot pattern.  Make a ‘lucky dip’ of pieces of paper each with an action written on it, e.g., jump, hop, nod, clap, wink.  Pull an action out of the bag and perform it the number of times rolled on the dice, e.g., 3 jumps, 4 winks.  Make a collection of dice (the more the better), each choose a dice and roll, highest wins all the dice in that round, repeat until all the dice are used up, the winner has the most dice.

IDEAS FOR HOME: Place about 6 objects on a tray, cover with a cloth and take one away.  Now, the other person has to guess what is missing.  We find the children love having a turn to take one away and make the adult guess.

stick paintings

Years ago anyone entering a pre-school or nursery would probably have been met with a sea of primary colours and plastic so why has this changed?  

This proliferation of plastic meant that many young children were missing out on the benefits of handling and investigating natural materials.  It is now accepted that bright colours and plastics can be over-stimulating and distracting for children.  Also gone are the busy displays and posters.  There has been a definite move towards providing an environment rich in natural materials such as wood and hessian and decorated in neutral colours.  There is still a place for some man-made materials though and you will still see Lego, Playmobil and Duplo in the setting.

When using natural materials children are:


We have painted with sticks collected from the field and ‘brushes’ made from lavender which the children cut.

Inevitably this progressed to painting with hands!  It may look messy but the children were busy, chatting and sharing ideas. The process (exploring and experimenting) is more valuable than the end product. 


IDEAS FOR HOME: Use sticks to draw in mud when you are out for a walk or make some mud pies. Find plant material to make your own brushes, eg, grasses tied to a stick.

Home corner

One of the most popular areas of the pre-school is the home corner.  Children feel comfortable in the home corner because it’s a familiar space, there’s a cooker, sink and washing machine, as well as crockery, pans, keys, phones and all the little bits and pieces that enable them to act out home experiences…or, in other words, pretend to be you!  So, what are they learning?

Firstly, they are making sense of what they know.  Copying what they have seen at home, using familiar speech and language, collaborating, resolving conflicts, asserting themselves, caring for others and sometimes wanting to be the one who is cared for.  In the same way that adults might think things through in their heads, children will act things out.  They are developing their thinking skills by recalling experiences and practising the skills needed to recreate those experiences. 

Parents often worry that their child isn’t playing with other children but this tends to take off in the year before they go to school.  Prior to that, children usually play alongside others, engrossed in their own play and gradually taking more of an interest in other children.  At this point it will probably be adults they choose to play with.  Being offered a ‘cuppa tea’ by a child shows that they want to invite you into their world and, importantly, that they trust you. 


Most days at pre-school there will be somebody in the home corner making a phone call, putting the baby to bed or piling every bit of tea-set into the sink.  As children do this, they will be talking.  When you are learning a new skill (talking), you want to practise it somewhere you feel relaxed and comfortable - safe in the knowledge that if you get it wrong, it doesn’t matter.  The home corner is perfect.

As their speech and language skills improve, so children will feel more confident about engaging in play with other children.  The year leading up to school will be all about ‘friends’ and making up games together – picnics, shopping, school, parties etc.  There may be lengthy negotiations about who is mummy or daddy and who is the younger sister or brother!  Good negotiating skills will be an asset later on.

Take a peek in our home corner and you will notice it is stocked with ‘real things’.  There is a china tea-set, metal cutlery, wooden bowls and plates, plus real keys and phones.  Generally speaking, children take better care of real things.  They hold more value for children and it makes their play seem real.  It’s also good for children to handle different materials and to feel the varying weights and textures. 

So the home corner is a pretty special place where lots of important life skills are being learned.

Ice, Sand & Shingle

Playing with ice, shingle, sand and water in the large tray (called a tuffspot tray) with polar animal figures.  Some were interested in what happened to the ice and talked about melting and hailstones.

IDEAS FOR HOME: When it gets warmer, perhaps you could have ice lollies and talk about melting – where else have they seen ice (eg, pre-school)?  Or, your child could fill a container with water (anything from yogurt cartons to rubber gloves) and put it in the freezer.  You could add colour or items to the ice (eg, dinosaurs).  Play with it or just watch what happens.  And if you’re worried about the mess, take it outside to play with.

TOP TIP: Put a surprise or treat in a lockable box and freeze the key in the ice (you will need to do this in two steps – freeze bottom half of container, add key, add more water and freeze).  Write a note to leave with the box... “Dear Finder, The key to this treasure box is trapped inside the ice.  How can we get the key out and unlock the box?”

making paper

We sometimes make paper using a mold and deckle made out of two old picture frames and some net curtain.  The children help to tear old paper into shreds which are soaked overnight.  The paper is liquidised and kept in a large sieve until needed.  The children add several handfuls of paper mash to a large bowl of water and add extras including flowers and leaves from the garden, sprinkles and fragments of printed pages.

Each child takes a turn to dip the mold and deckle into the water, catching the mash in the frame which they turn out onto a damp cloth to make a single sheet of paper.  It is quite a tricky skill to master but it is surprising how many can manage the process without any help.  Another damp cloth is placed on top and further pieces of new paper and cloth added until there is a little stack.  The stack is sandwiched between towels and two pieces of wood.  Two or three children stand on the sandwich to squeeze the water out of the new sheets of paper.  The sandwich is taken apart and the new sheets carefully removed to dry.  

IDEAS FOR HOME: Try making pressed flowers.  Pick flowers from the garden or while on a walk (Note: some flowers are protected and cannot be picked) and place them between two sheets of absorbent paper such as plain kitchen towel, blotting paper, coffee filters etc.  Place that inside a heavy book or between two books – a phone book or encyclopaedia is perfect but not many homes have these now!  You might need to place a sheet of plain printer paper underneath and on top in case the colour leaches through the kitchen towel.  If the kitchen towel is very padded it may leave an imprint on the flower so no need to buy anything expensive!  Remove after a week and the flower should be ready to use in a picture or card.



The children rarely need any encouragement to use Emma’s ancient hand-operated sewing machine and will wait patiently for a turn to make bean bags (or may be flags, Christmas decorations, sleeping bags for cuddlies).  The children choose their own fabric from a large selection of donated offcuts.  The children turn the handle of the machine and, under Emma’s guidance, change the settings so the machine goes backwards or forwards and learn how to lift the ‘foot’ so the fabric can be turned round.  They choose their filling (lentils, black eye beans, wheat) and use a spoon to fill the bag, before sewing up the remaining side.

What do they learn?  As well as patience and turn-taking, it is an activity that requires good listening skills and the ability to understand an instruction.  Listening and paying attention to safety information is essential as the machine has moving parts which could cause an injury.  The children appreciate that it is a ‘real’ activity and that is definitely part of the attraction.  They are fascinated by the way the reel turns round, the thread moves and the needle goes up and down and some children like to look inside the machine to watch the mechanism.  The children practise fine motor skills (snipping thread, filling the bag, moving levers) and gross motor skills (turning the handle).  There is the pride and satisfaction gained from making something that you can take home and play with.  It’s fantastic to see their reactions when parents turn up and see what they have made.  Don’t ever underestimate how much your opinion of their creations matters to them.

IDEAS FOR HOME: If you have a sewing machine at home, perhaps you could try making something simple with your child, eg, bunting for a bedroom or birthday party.  It’s quite easy to make a simple ‘sleeping bag’ for a soft toy. Other ‘real’ activities might include gardening (planting seeds for the summer or potatoes) or cooking - there are recipes on our website.


Mixing playdough (uncooked) and adding fresh herbs, which the children cut from the garden (mint and chives).  Children might stay at this activity for an hour, chopping, cutting, stirring, rolling and mixing. We might follow this up with a session of making ‘potions’ using coloured water, herbs, mixed spice and confetti.  The children use mortar and pestle sets, scissors, spoons, pots, jugs and bottles.  This encourages concentration and deep involvement, together with the opportunity to practise pouring and cutting skills.

IDEAS FOR HOME: Make playdough – see the recipe below which includes recipes for uncooked and cooked dough.  Cooked playdough can last for weeks if kept in an airtight container.  Use with whatever you have at home – knife, pastry cutters, shells, garlic press.  Make potions or mud pies outside in the garden – use anything you have to hand, eg, old basin, wooden spoon, plastic jug.  Add soil, water, mud, flower petals etc.


2 cups flour (SR or plain)                4 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup salt                                          2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 cups water                                            Food colour

Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan.  Cook over a low heat, stirring all the time.  As soon as the dough begins to come away from the sides of the pan, it is ready.  Wait until it is cool enough to use as it can be very hot in the middle.

SR flour will make stretchier dough. This will keep for some time in an airtight plastic container.


2 cups plain flour (SR can react in uncooked dough)

1 cup salt

Food colour or paint

Water to mix

Mix dry ingredients and colour/paint together.  Add water until mixture reaches a suitable dough texture.

This will not keep – only good for a few days at most.  Will probably need to use extra flour when rolling etc.


(Note: Untested recipe!)

1 cup salt                                        2 cups flour

2 tsp cream of tartar                     1 tbsp cooking oil

1 cup water with food colouring added

Combine all ingredients.  Microwave on defrost: 3 mins then rest, 3 mins then rest, 3 mins then rest.  Knead well.  Will keep well in an airtight container.


Mix cornflour and water together until you have a dropping consistency.  Food colour can be added for extra interest.  This has an amazing texture that has to be touched to be believed.