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Mini Minds

When nothing is more than enough

Tim Graham


Before heading out on any Forest School trip I look around my workshop and think "what will I need?" I have planned activities which require certain items but I also have my continuous provision which can be brought out to facilitate a range of interests shown by the children.

There's normally string, cord, scissors, knives, collecting pots, binoculars, magnifying glasses, cloth, paper and crayons ready for when a child shows an interest so that I can help them develop their ideas and engage with their interests.

Primrose Hill meadows

Just before a walk through Primrose Hill Community Woodland recently with preschool children from Grosvenor I was looking around but instead of packing my usual pieces I thought "Let's see what happens when I take nothing", no extra items, no forest school backpack, no extra weight apart from the grab bag that accompanies us on every trip.

What happened instead was one of the most enjoyable trips possible. Rather than thinking constantly about how to extend each child's interest using extra items we focussed purely on what was around - sticks to make bug and fairy homes or to make arrows that directed us around the woods, charcoal from recent fires for drawing on trees. Dandelion clocks whose seeds are perfectly designed to float away on the lightest breath of wind were spread far and wide by the group who also investigated the wide range of meadow flowers on the hill; buttercups, plantain, lady's smock, herb robert and daisies to name just a few. Moreover there was the geography of the walk, climbing upwards, upwards and upwards right to the summit was a challenge the the group were more than up for, one girl even carried up three large rocks that she had found in the woods.

Primrose Hill meadows

Eventually we reached the top and the view out across the surrounding landscape couldn't have been more rewarding. It was a session where I took nothing but everything came together perfectly.

view of Bath

The Dough Disco!

Janey Mondal

What is ‘Dough Disco’?

This is a fun and engaging activity that involves moulding dough in time to music and combining a series of hand and finger exercises designed to improve  fine and gross motor dexterity, hand-eye coordination and self-esteem.

It helps strengthen children's muscles in their fingers which in turn will help them to develop their pencil grip in preparation for mark making and writing, but most of all it is great fun.

How a session unfolds…

First of all the children use their imagination by miming putting their disco clothes on. They are then prepared, ready and excited to ‘go to the Dough Disco’!

They then go on a little walk around the room before ‘arriving at the Disco’ and are then given their dough.

Excitedly they choose the music they will be dancing to.

The children find their disco spot to stand on. The music starts and dancing to the beat of the music the children follow the staff as she demonstrates various ways to manipulate the dough in a fun and exciting way using Tommy Thumb, Peter Pointer, Toby Tall, Ruby Ring and Baby Small, making sure each hand is exercised.

  • Rolling the dough into a ball using their hand-eye coordination as the dough is manipulated into a ball in the palm of their hands.
  • Poking the dough with each finger.
  • Squeezing the dough using all fingers in a fist grip one hand at a time.
  • Rolling the dough backwards and forwards in the palm to form a snake!
  • Making a pancake by pressing the dough flat in the palm until it become flatter and flatter.
  • Pinching the dough with ‘Tommy Thumb’ and ‘Peter Pointer’, using both hands.
  • Larger movements like stretching the dough out to the side, up high and down low helps   develop arm muscles, shoulders, balance, posture and core strength.

At the end of the Disco, the children make a pancake with their dough, lie down and quietly place their dough on their tummies. They then have a few moments to calm down, rest their bodies and mind by focusing on their breath as the breathe in and out and feel their dough rising up and down with each breath they take.

The children absolutely love this activity and each day look forward to go to the dough Disco and let their hands and bodies dance!

Continued growth

Mary Llewellin

After last month's grandparents' growing day at Keynsham, the planting has continued apace across all the nurseries: borders and planters are being filled up with fresh compost and a smorgasbord of seed and bean varieties to delight the children. 

At Keynsham the unusual organic herb varieties we sourced from Jekka's Herb Farm In South Gloucestershire are settling in well with the help of some diligent watering. We've already put two of the mint varieties to use with a refreshing lemon, apple, mint and elderflower infusion made by the children after a busy planting session. At this time of year the plants seem almost to grow as you watch them and the cartwheel vegetable beds are already yielding some tasty salad leaves which look too delicious to miss. Unfortunately, that's what our resident rabbits think too, so we've had to do some careful netting and an assault course of bamboo canes to try and fend them off. As one of the children said, "Mr McGregor has Peter Rabbit and he tried to catch him because he ate his lettuces".

This week Tim and the children planted some exotic "Painted Mountain' sweetcorn which will produce multi-coloured cobs of yellow, red, black and purply brown and some white 'Czar' runner beans which we are hoping will form a bean archway over our rambling nasturtium wall.

With all these plants to tempt us we couldn't resist getting started with some simple recipes starting with a fresh and zesty salad. When Tim was on hand to guide them, some of the children picked a selection of leaves to make a mixed leaf, herb and radish salad with three different lettuce varieties - little gem, lamb's and butterhead - chives, fat hen, radish, parsley and edible ground ivy flowers. Ground ivy, despite the name, is actually a member of the mint family and completely safe to eat. Whenever we pick plants we repeat the important instructions about which plants are safe and remind the children to ask before eating anything they've grown!

As promised, the latest Nursery Kitchen video features some of the produce from the garden - we used chives, parsley and marjoram to flavour some hand made "pici" pasta but any selection of your favourite herbs would work. 

Sunshine Circles

Alison Shires

Sunshine Circles ® are adult-directed, interactive group activities designed by The Theraplay Institute to promote an atmosphere of fun, caring, acceptance and encouragement that leads to better social, emotional and even cognitive development. Through playing games that emphasise cooperation and trust in a warm and nurturing environment, children develop the emotional confidence to explore and develop.

When one of the rules of the game is to "have fun" you can expect the children to enjoy the planned sessions. In our experience at Snapdragons, they have embraced getting to know each other and  looking after their friends whilst having fun. "Sunshine Circles" are used in the nurseries to help the children develop their Personal, Social and Emotional Development, supporting them to look after themselves and others, which is a key skill for life and one to encourage.

We know from brain research that when we are relaxed we learn better and absorb more information. During the sessions we encourage the children to relax and look after themselves and their friends using the "check in routine". Children readily start to rub lotion into their friends' hands, acknowledging their "baddies". They also become familiar with saying positive, supportive comments to each other, for example, "what beautiful, big, brown eyes you have" and "your hands are so strong". 

Children enjoy having their individual time and feel valued. Songs and rhythm are part of the session and all the children love the 'Toodie ta' song, with its silly actions and words. Please accept my apologies if they are driving you potty singing it! Children engage in the carefully planned activities and learn new skills.


"Check in" time, and using touch to connect with each other. 


Having fun, whilst learning and making friends, is key to "Sunshine Circles". 


Sunshine Circles create joy and build trust; they give a sense of belonging to a community. Children like having clear rules, boundaries and structure and Sunshine Circles support this. They also encourage the children to learn and practise self-control - we choose activities to get them excited and playful and then support them to calm themselves, so that, when they experience this outside of the group, they know how to control their mood. They learn how to regulate their own behaviour.


Challenge is a big part of the fun: here a child is using different parts of his body to keep the bag of balloons up in the air. A good way of getting some physical development as well.  

Nurture in the group helps all children to feel safe, relaxed and able to learn. Children enjoy the snack and unique way we "feed"; this helps the brain to relax and remember a nurturing time in their development. 


Children indicate when they want "feeding" by opening their mouths and letting us feed them. Drinking through a straw also soothes them, whilst they listen to a story. 


When I visit the nurseries, children greet me with a cry of "am I coming to play?" How wonderful and lucky I am to be part of a child's day, knowing that I can help them to develop in a nurturing way. 

The Dawn Chorus

Tim Graham

The alarm goes off every morning at 5:30. Not my work alarm but the first early call of the Robin replacing the silence left by the few steady Owl hoots at 3am. The Robins are overshadowed and outshone by the deeper, throatier call of the Blackbirds closer to the window, and then at 6 o'clock, near enough on the dot, the Wren starts, its machine gun cry covers everything around - impressive for a bird that looks like a feathered ping pong ball.  Steadily as the sun comes up the winged world starts to warm up its vocal chords - Blue, Long-tailed and Great Tits and Goldfinches are the most common where I live but around the nurseries there are always different calls and songs to hear.

If you head to Corsham and Broadwood the Sparrows chatter-chatter in the hedge along the bottom of the garden, over at Grosvenor and Horfield there are Starlings whistling and clicking from the tops of the buildings, Keynsham has its own brave Robin who has been known to hop indoors to see what's going on and Weston is home to several Great Tits who call out "teacher, teacher". At the top of Atworth's thick cypress hedge are Blackbirds getting a good view of the surrounding area and over at Shirehampton Blue Tits cry shrilly in between the branches of the young trees in their forest garden.

This time of year is a perfect opportunity to release your inner twitcher as the song and chorus will be increasing in volume and length before the mid summer hush when the birds are nesting. It's not about being able to spot and name every creature around but to notice patterns and place where you hear the same calls. For example, whenever I take a group to the woods I ask everyone to walk in as quietly as they can and to listen carefully. Quickly the children notice the bird calls right around them. These calls are an alarm system that will echo through the trees as more birds respond to the alarm and pass on the message further and further. Steadily, as the woods become used to us being there the calls will settle and the birds will carry on with their lives. Next time you're in the woods, try and spot the point when the birds start calling and when they stop.

On May 7th it is International Dawn Chorus Day which celebrates this natural phenomenon. All over the world people will be getting up early to hear the birds so if you find yourself awake, go to a window, close your eyes and listen.