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Mini Minds

Learn Through Play - The Gingerbread Man

Snapdragons Nursery

In our new Snapshot series, 'Learn Through Play', we examine the educational methods behind each activity, analysing what the children are learning from their experiences and how it helps them evolve and grow whilst at nursery.

This first episode is hosted by one of our Early Years Advisory Teachers, Catherine Bond, as she studies the activities the children enjoyed for January's 'Book of the Month' - The Gingerbread Man. Have a watch of the video or read through Catherine's notes and accompanying pictures.

Gingerbread gloop

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Gloop gives children opportunity to explore materials using their senses. The ginger presented to the children gave them a new powerful scent to experience.

Communication and Language development is being supported by the use of the story’s repeated rhyming refrain. As the children join in they are building their attention and listening skills. Early literacy is supported through the growing awareness of the rhythm and pattern involved in story language.

Physical skills are being developed through controlling the one handed tools to mix the ingredients together. They are physically exploring the texture of the gloop and learning about the consistency of the thick liquid and how it behaves when poured and dripped through fingers.

Making marks using their fingers and tools is providing experience important to the developmental journey from experimentation to subsequent early writing. Forming circles is another important element of this.

Gingerbread dough

In this dough exploration these babies are using their developing fine motor skills to control different tools. The process of exploring is as important as the end result of achieving a little Gingerbread Man shape.

This particular activity requires them to explore the range of physical movements involved in rolling with rolling pins, cutting with wheels and gingerbread man shaped cutters. The Key Person is helping them to acquire these skills by showing them and guiding their actions, this leads to having a go by themselves as they copy the actions they have seen and experienced.

Communication and Language skills are being developed through the staff providing an ongoing narrative for what is happening using a range of descriptive vocabulary. This gives meaning to the words as the child physically experiences the action simultaneously as they press, roll or cut. A roly poly rhyme gives added emphasis to the use of the rolling pins.

These older children have refined their physical skills in the use of rolling pins to successfully flatten the gingerbread dough and press down cutters to make a gingerbread man.

Their emotional development and well being is boosted through the sense of achievement having a go by themselves provides. The Key Person reinforces the related language throughout.

Body drawings

Drawing around a child to create a large scale gingerbread man image requires teamwork with the Key Person and children working together in a small social group. This requires skills of listening and following simple instructions.

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The Key Person names each body part as she draws around it, and uses language related to the direction of the marks as she makes them such as around and down. This ongoing narrative reinforces children’s knowledge and related vocabulary.

The children’s fine motor control is being developed through the use of coloured crayons to mark out the outline. The children were free to explore making their own marks, with all attempts being valued. This is important in encouraging a positive willingness to have a go that will stay with them as they continue to develop both early drawing and writing skills as they progress through the Early Years Foundation Stage.

The position of the paper on the floor enables these young children to move more freely without being restricted to a chair and table top, which is beneficial to the flow of their mark making movements at this stage in their physical development. They are motivated to persist with the task, concentrating on what they are doing together. The end result is shared and celebrated together.

Run, Run, As Fast As You Can

Outside provides the space to move freely in this running game of chasing The Gingerbread Man. The children’s physical skills are challenged by negotiating their way around the various obstacles in their path in the playground. They are also acquiring the ability to vary and control their speed and direction.

Communication and Language development is supported as the children are experiencing listening and following instructions and understanding the concept of stopping and starting. The children are also gaining skills of cooperating in a small social group and following the rules of the game together.

The story is experienced in a new way through this very active approach which gives all children the opportunity to access learning in a way that suits them.

Superhero Capes

Catherine Bond

We introduced these superhero capes to our pre-school children to enhance their ongoing interest in Superman, Batman and Spider-Man play. Our pre-school team often raise the issue of how to approach this kind of imaginative play without it becoming overly aggressive, so the arrival of this resource stimulated fresh thought on how to support this.


We started with the children to gain their thoughts and ideas. We asked questions such as “What is a superhero?” And “What do they do?” This allowed us to develop thinking surrounding the nature of this theme beyond play fighting alone.

We also made sure we involved both the girls and boys fully to ensure this play would be equally accessible to both genders.

Thoughts progressed from seeing the role of superheroes as “getting the baddies” to “helping people”. Superheroes are not only strong and brave but they are also kind, caring and helpful.


After researching this area, we provided a box of superhero props to extend imaginative play ideas. This included phones, torches, magnifying glasses, binoculars, pens, pencils and notebooks. The direction of the play turned towards search and rescue scenarios, with children making maps to locate mysterious dens and caves where characters could be hiding out.

This naturally progressed to den building outdoors which gave a different dimension of problem solving to their role play possibilities.

To extend this play further, pre-school could engage in more large scale collaborative construction to create different forms of transport for superheroes to travel on.

Communication and language can be developed through looking at different pictures of superheroes and talking about their features and super powers and which of these characters is their favourite and why. Creative activities can be encouraged through designing their own superhero, even making their own props and costumes. The whole nursery could hold a "dress as a superhero" day.

The benefits of this kind of pretend play allow children to practise communicating their emotions in a dramatic play context. Behaviour boundaries can also be explored through this theme, such as, what we can and can’t do, and being part of a group, leading to greater understanding and empathy towards others.

Involving members of the local community such as fire fighters, police officers and nurses will engage the children in understanding that the people who help us actually can save lives and are the real life superheroes.

Constructing new ideas

Catherine Bond


Construction sets are always one of the most popular and well used resources in Nursery. One we have provided for many years is Mobilo. It contains multiple connectors and a variety of pieces of different sizes and shapes that give children enough scope to make choices and build many static and moveable models. This gives so many opportunities for learning across the early years curriculum.

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Mobilo is a useful resource for many aspects of mathematics. The individual components contain different shapes so meaningful learning can be applied in the context of the children’s hands on play. When using the set, you can talk together about the shapes they have used or need more of, which work well and why, and use combinations of shapes to represent and symbolise other things.

The angled triangular pieces are frequently used for making space rockets and airplanes, as the children use them for the streamlined nose and for the wings. The most adept rocket builders use the connecters to angle and adjust the take off, flying and landing position of the wings.

The concept and language of size also emerges and can be developed through this form of construction play. The elements lend themselves to size description and comparison when talking about their choices and intentions and their ongoing or finished creations. Models may be simply big or small, but scope for talking about whether they are long, short, high or low, even wide or narrow can be developed through conversation whilst playing together. A recurring theme for our children is connecting up the long, flat rectangular pieces to build ladders for fire engines.

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The flexibility of Mobilo really supports children’s creativity and imagination because they can make whatever they want to, and change it along the way. Our preschool children use the models they made to create toys to play with such as trains, cars and lorries. They quickly find out that the different connecters allow for a range of movements, some can create a bending motion, others let a piece rotate right around. Once this is discovered then helicopters and wind mills can be explored. Connecting pieces can also be used to make boundaries for toy animals.

Props for use in role play also become evident such as mobile phones, and items from their first hand experiences like thermometers, hammers and even necklaces. This really supports the children’s social interaction and language. The children’s fine motor skills are continually being challenged and developed due to the manipulative actions required to join the construction pieces together securely.

Some children like the challenge of using the activity cards and problem solving how to recreate the model shown in the picture by matching the exact shapes and colours and counting how many of each part they need. However it is the open ended nature of Mobilo that truly enables children to really extend their thinking, and engage in symbolic play where there are no limits to their ideas.

Breaking the obesity cycle

Mary Llewellin


Type 2 diabetes amongst children, once almost unheard of, is on the increase according to a report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. They found that more than 600 children and young people under 25 were treated for Type 2 diabetes in 2015/16 in England and Wales, including some aged between five and nine. 78% of the young people in the audit were also categorised as obese, a strong contributing factor in the development of Type 2 diabetes along with unhealthy diets.

According to government figures, around one in five children starting primary school now is overweight or obese and the figure rises to one in three by the time they leave. That’s one in three children who have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in later life and facing the possibility of associated health problems like amputations, blindness, heart attacks and strokes if they don’t learn how to manage their weight and eating habits effectively.

The cost of this to the NHS, and therefore to us all, is going to be horrifying if nothing is done to reverse the trend. The government has responded by launching a new initiative to get food manufacturers to reduce the calories in some of the most popular products like ready meals, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and savoury snacks. This initiative follows the push to reduce salt and then sugar which evolved into the Change 4 Life Sugar Smart app. Public Health England will be setting targets aimed at reducing calories in meals, snacks and drinks from supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways and, although these will be voluntary, they could be followed by legislation if the industry does not respond.

The trouble is, that we’ve been here before and nothing changes. When products are labelled as “healthy” because they are low fat, we then discover that the sugar or salt content has been doubled to compensate for the lack of flavour and preservative property of the fat. Salt, sugar and fat are what makes ready meals and takeaways so addictive and our taste buds have been trained to want more and more. Ready meals, snacks and sugary drinks are inherently unhealthy and many contain long lists of unappetising ingredients which really cannot lead to a healthy diet. Check out the ingredients in this popular food item and see if you can guess what it is:

Soybean Oil (Antioxidant (330)), Water, Relish [ Pickles, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Distilled Vinegar, Preservative (202), Thickener (415), Flavourings], Mustard [Water, Distilled Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Salt, Sugar, Colours (150d, 100), Spice], Salted Egg Yolks, Distilled Vinegar, Onion, Thickeners (1442, 415, 405), Spices, Sugar, Salt, Hydrolysed Protein (Corn Gluten, Soy, Wheat Gluten), Preservative (211), Colours (160c, 150d, 100), Emulsifier (433), Garlic, Antioxidant (385).

Sounds delicious doesn’t it? These are the ingredients in the special sauce on a MacDonalds big mac apparently. It doesn’t take a genius to see that a diet so full of articial “food” is never going to be a healthy option.

I don’t think we should leave our health and that of our children at the mercy of big food manufacturers at all. Let’s give our children back the power to control their own health by reducing their reliance on convenience foods. The importance of all aspects of our food and health, including growing, cooking from scratch, eating more fruit and vegetables and cutting down on meat (especially hormone and antibiotic-pumped, mass-produced meat) and taking regular exercise should be taught far more rigorously in schools or children will never have the skills to break this cycle of ill-health. 

As Snapdragons parents, you can rest assured that your children are eating food that is always made from scratch so we know exactly what goes into their meals. We do not add salt and colourings and all our puddings use lower sugar recipes. We don’t use ready-made sauces (one of the worst culprits for high salt and sugar). If you see yoghurt on the menu it’s natural, unflavoured and the fruit purees served with it are simply blended fruit with no added sugar. We add extra vegetables, beans and pulses to stews, casseroles and even sausage rolls, to make sure that the children hit their five a day too.

Please ask us if you ever have any questions about how we make the food and we will be happy to tell you and don’t forget that some of our recipes are shared on the website and in our magazine.

Ten Stick

Tim Graham


On a training course in Cornwall this Summer I had the great opportunity to have a masterclass in outdoor Maths by Juliet Robertson (her Messy Maths book is out now); ideas, tips, games and activities filled the 45 minute session and left me with a long list of things to introduce into my practice.

The first thing I did when I got back home was to take one of my hazel walking sticks (yes I have several) , saw the top off to make it a metre long and then cut notches every ten centimetres. This transformed a once ordinary pole into THE TEN STICK!!

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What does it do you ask?

It measures the length of flowers, grasses, trees and other sticks when we need things to be a certain length. It tells us the depth of a puddle so we know if it will come over our wellies. When we put things next to the notches it tells us how many things we have collected and spaces them out so it's easier to count them. It can even tell us the circumference of a tree if we wrap some string around it first and then lay it flat. The first time the ten stick came on a walk it even worked as a (wait for it) WALKING STICK to show who the leader was of the group!

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The ten stick provides a simple way to measure amounts for young children and helps them to understand amounts in a visual and tactile way. It now accompanies me out of most forest school sessions and it always gets used. 

Not bad for a bit of hazel...

P.S The next time you're in a woods try this simple way of measuring how tall a tree is!