Spice it up

Spicy nature table

Our interest in rosemary got us thinking about spices in general.

We removed all the pine cones and insects and other things that had been our nature table, and replaced them with herbs and spices.

We harvested fresh herbs from the garden.  We raided the centre kitchen for dried herbs and spices, then brought some from home, and finally went to the supermarket and stocked up.

We tried to include as many as possible of the herbs and spices in two forms, placed together for comparison.  Fresh and dried herbs.  Whole and ground spices.

At first we left the table without comment.  Children came singly or in small groups and explored the colourful powders and interesting shapes.  They soon started to sniff them as they noticed the aromas.

When we joined them to talk about the display, they made comments like

‘That smells like gingerbread.’

‘My Mum puts that on my porridge.’

They had differences of opinion about which ones smell good and which ones don’t.

At mat time, we talked about the display, and pointed out the different states and types. Being an Italian class, we also introduced the names of some herbs and spices in Italian (though we did not attempt to turn it into a vocabulary memorisation exercise). We discussed how to use them.  We passed them around and smelt them.  We talked about which parts of the plants they come from.

When we went outside, some children were interested in seeing the living plants in the garden.

We have kept the display out for several weeks now.  We don’t put out all of them all the time.  We swap them around a bit. Sometimes the aroma of one or another gets stronger – especially when something gets spilt as happens from time to time.  We have added screw top jars so the children can choose individual spices to smell. (Just the commercial ones they are sold in.)

Spices are a treat for the senses – interesting to look at, rich in colour, aroma and flavour.  We are also finding them a rich vein of ideas for learning activities.



Our Biscotti al Rosmarino grew out of our rosemary play dough.

Actually, I need to go back a little further.  I wanted to attract the children’s attention to the rosemary in our kindergarten garden.  I remembered seeing posts on using aromas in play dough, so I decided to give rosemary play dough a whirl.

We took a couple of children out to the garden to collect the rosemary, then sat a small group down to cut it up.  The performance of our Kiddie Kutter knives was disappointing. We found that scissors worked better.

My co-educator took the lead in making the play dough with the children, adding the rosemary, and taking the colour from its flowers rather than the leaves.

The play dough has interesting flecks of green that add texture and visual difference.  It does not smell particularly strong at first, but the aroma emerges more as it warms up while you work it.

The pretty terracotta pot turned out not to work very well. The children stuffed it full of play dough when then dried quickly to the thirsty unglazed pot and was extremely difficult to get out again.

But it was the conversation while playing with the fresh warm dough that turned out to be really productive. They chatted about what rosemary is and what you can use it for, and came up with the idea of making some biscuits.


Biscotti al rosmarino


We made ‘biscotti al rosmarino’ at kinder this week.

We asked the children to divide into two groups for this experience. They divided into two even groups themselves. At first the groups were 5 and 10.  I was interested to see how they spontaneously started to volunteer to wait until tomorrow, until the groups were fairly even.

First they went out and collected some rosemary from the garden. The children cut up the rosemary with scissors.  They combined the ingredients, taking turns to add and stir.  Each child got a small amount of dough to roll into a ball. They pressed them down gently on the tray to flatten them.

The cooked biscuits filled our room with the scent of rosemary.

We ate some biscuits during class.  Each child had to ask  “Posso avere un biscotto al rosmarino.” We practised how to say it. They could not have a biscuit unless they asked for it in Italian.  All the children did it.

There were plenty of  biscuits. At home time, we offered a biscuit to the people who came to pick us up.  The children had to say: “Vuoi un biscotto al rosmarino?”  Most of them did that too.

And the biscuits were yum.



flour               500g           

butter            250g

sugar             125g            

eggs              3                       



Melt butter. Cut rosemary fine. Combine flour and sugar, then add melted butter and eggs.  Blend into a workable dough. Form into small balls, then flatten onto a baking tray covered with baking paper.  Cook at 180° until the colour starts to change.

Salt writing

Melinda* had drawn a picture.  “It’s for my Mum”, she said.  I asked if I should write that for her – then thought to ask if she would like to write it herself.  We settled that she would write ‘Mum’. I wrote it for her and she copied.

Melinda went to put the drawing in her bag. I asked her please to put it in her folder so it would not get bent.  She was dubious about this, so I showed her the hanging folder with her name on it.

“But why doesn’t it have an A like my name”, she said. The lower case, serif font [a] is not what she is used to at the end of her name.

I got out my computer and showed Melinda her name written in CAPS and in lower case letters in various fonts. I showed her the difference between a big [A] and a little [a].

I had recently seen a blog post about writing in a tray of salt.  So I grabbed a tray from the kitchen and a layer of salt and brought it back to the room.

I got Melinda to write her name in the salt.  Then I showed her the difference between a big [A] and a little [a], writing with my finger in the salt.

We had an audience by then:  8 or 9 kids had a turn at writing their name in the salt.  I took photos of their writing, then rubbed it out and shook it smooth again for the next child. Melinda waited patiently for another turn.  She wrote in  the salt a couple more times. Then she went to play somewhere else.

Noel* was not so confident at writing his name.  I wrote a big [N] for him, and got him to trace it with his finger.  We did it several times.  Then I smoothed the salt and told him to try it himself.  What he wrote did not much resemble an [N].  So we tried again.  I wrote it for him, and got him to trace over it.  Over and over.  I told him to feel the movement, and try to remember how it felt.  Then I smoothed the salt and told him to try for himself again.  This time he wrote [M].  I quickly rubbed out the spare leg.  “Well done”, I said “That is [N] for Noel. You wrote it yourself.”

Later, when Mum came to collect her, Melinda grabbed her by the hand. “Come and see”, she said as she pulled Mum across the room to the salt tray.

Melinda wrote in the salt.  “This is a big [A] and this is how you do a little [a]” she said.  And she was right.


*names changed

Seeing beyond red


I had an interesting discussion with my online colleagues this week about colour themes.

It used to be fashionable in kindergarten to adopt a single colour theme.  “Tomorrow we will have everything red.  Wear something red to kinder.”  And then there would be red paint, and red pasting, and red pencils and red everywhere.

I have not done it for a while.  It does not seem to sit particularly well with current emergent approaches, or a view of kindergarten education that runs at a more conceptual level than ‘learning their colours’.

But I remember those sessions fondly.  I learnt some valuable lessons.

The most striking lesson was that when you make everything one colour, the last thing you can talk about is colour.  A single colour scheme is not a way to learn about colour, at least not through language.

A single colour scheme put the emphasis on everything but.

When I selected only the red bits of all my sorting sets, we had to sort them by their other attributes: into insects, vehicles and teddy bears; into flies, dragonflies, spiders and caterpillars.  Where the children had tended to sort the sets mostly by colour, when colour was gone as a distinguishing feature they started to notice other attributes and groupings, and I started to use other language. 

When I provided only red paint at the easel, I provided different types of red paint; acrylic and powder paint and watercolour and dyed glue.  Each behaved differently on the paper.  Each had its own shade.  Each had its own texture. 

When I provided only red materials for collage, the emphasis moved to shade, and texture.  Different red drawing media had different weights and required differing strokes and effort to transfer to the paper.

Making everything red did not make us focus on red.  It removed red – and every other colour – from our conversation. It made us focus instead on other characteristics and attributes.  

Making everything red pushed us to more subtle colour perception.  We noticed shades and gradations of red.

Finally, making the whole room red was a strong sensory experience.  Being surrounded by red made it harder to talk about red for long.  But the experience of redness was dramatic.

The Magic Door

It started with a squabble over a long cardboard tube.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some children stabbing it with scissors, and others trying to grab it away.  I jumped in and asked what they were doing. Turned out they wanted to cut it up and make guns.

So I said no to that.

And I told them I thought the beauty of that tube was its length.  If we cut it up, we would wreck it.  Couldn’t we think of something else to make out of it.

‘A key’, he said.

‘Great’, I said ‘Go and draw what you want the key to look like, and we will work out how to make it’.

He drew the key. He found some tiny boxes to be the teeth. (Head first in the huge basket with his feet waving while he looked for the small boxes in the bottom.)  He found some masking tape, and taped the teeth to the tube.  I reminded him to make it strong.  I showed him how to add cross pieces to make it stronger.  I said ‘It is called reinforcing’, and he nodded and said ‘My Mum told me that’.

A friend jumped in and added an extra layer of tape to cover up holes in the boxes.  He had to negotiate with some others to get the short rounds of tube he wanted to make the handle end with.   Other mates added a bit here and there, or talked, or watched.

I sent a few of them to draw the door.   Again, he was the one who delivered.

He collected another pile of boxes and started to build a lock with his mates helping.

While they were busy, I snuck out with his drawing and copied it onto the fence.

When we went outside, I told them the Magic Door was out there somewhere. I showed them the drawing. They searched for it. They looked in the fort.  They looked on the hill. They started digging for it in the sandpit.

Then one of them found it.  He called out excitedly.  They all came running. ‘Yes’, they said ‘ That is the Magic Door’.  He went inside and brought out the key.

I sat them down in front of the door.

I asked ‘Is this a real door, or a magic door?’  And they said ‘Magic’.

I asked ‘Is this a real key, or a magic key?’ And they said ‘Magic’.

‘So where is it going to take us?  Out into the lane, or to a magic place?’ And they said ‘Magic’.

I told them they could go to a magic place. They could open the Magic Door with the magic key and go wherever they like, in their imagination.  I told them I would like to hear later where they went.

I took a photo of each of them using the magic key to open the Magic Door.  Then they ran off to play.

Later, he made a book.  He stapled 8 pages together.  He cried when they came apart.  I helped him make it stronger. Then he drew in it.

I managed to upload the photos and put them into a PowerPoint on my laptop in the latter part of the class. We had mat time at the end of the three hour class.

I showed them his drawings, and the key they had made. I used the PowerPoint to tell them the story of the Magic Door.

Then I invited him to read his book.  He got up and ‘read’ it to his classmates. He told them about going up a high mountain, and flying on the back of a giant bird.

And we were both very pleased.


I have a dilemma.

A parent told me her child wants a different locker.

I want to say ‘NO’.

The thing is, I try not to say no without good reason.  I think of myself as someone who does not set unnecessary limits for children.

Why do I want to say no to a change of locker?  The locker is available.

Well – None of the other children got to choose their lockers.  It is much easier to have the lockers in use grouped together. We have extremely limited time to do admin work, and I am reluctant to spend it creating new locker labels or peeling off old ones.

Those are reasons, of a sort.  But they are not very strong ones.

And my real reason, when I think about it, is that I want to say no to this child.

I am finding this child demanding.  There is difficult behaviour.  Requests are ignored.  Help is not given.  Boundaries are not respected.

I believe I should work to get the child to feel involved.  Build a strong relationship.  Praise.  Connect. Recognise strengths.  Interact. Be responsive. Create a sense of belonging.  And I am doing those things.

But I also feel a strong need to say no to this.

I want to send the message ‘you don’t get everything you want just because you say you want it’.

And I feel a need to assert hierarchy.

I want to say no so the child learns I am in charge.

I don’t like recognising this in myself.  I am conflicted. I wonder if I am wrong to feel this way.

But I still do.

Is this love?

Anne Stonehouse poses the question whether educators should describe as ‘love’ the relationships they have with children.  She is dubious about the phrase ‘I just love children’ as often used by educators in interviews. She argues that respect is more the issue than love.

I agree that ‘I just love children’ should be treated with caution. It is often a thoughtless, throwaway line, produced to avoid thinking of a more careful answer.

But I do not think ‘love’ is an inappropriate term for what we do. Educating young children is emotional work. It involves forging genuine relationships. It involves deep personal bonds.

Family love is, of course, different. We do not love the children we work with in the same way we love our own children.

And yet.

Love is unconditional. Love is supportive. Love is a deep commitment to a relationship with that person.  Isn’t that what we aim for in our relationships with children?

We do – we must – have a deep commitment to each child we teach. When we do our best work, I think perhaps ‘love’ is the most appropriate word to describe the strength of the bond we have with that child.



I promised myself this school year I would live by the mantra ‘no such thing as bad weather’. We would spend as much time as possible outside.  We would let the children go outside in all weathers. We would let them be the judge of when they wanted to be outside or in.

This week was the first real test of our resolve.

We had no horrid heat in the early weeks of the year. Even with our late afternoon timetable, the summer classes enjoyed balmy days.

This week, after Samhain, as the leaves fell from the trees, a cold wind blew in from Antarctica.  Temperatures fell. And today it rained.  And rained and rained.

We did not push the kids to go out.  We are starting inside. When the first child asks to go out, one of us goes to0, and a few (most) usually follow.

Today, they were not asking.  We were all inside for a long time.

But eventually someone did want to go out.  So we found jackets and coats and gumboots. A lot were not very well equipped.  They had coats, but not raincoats.  They had no gumboots. But it was not really all that cold.  The rain was steady, but light. Inside was warm and dry, and everyone had a change of clothes.

Nothing to be afraid of.

I was just a little worried about their shoes.  There were puddles.  Muddy ones.  I could change their pants, but I could not do anything to fix wet shoes. So we decided that people who wanted to walk in the  puddles had to take their shoes and socks off first.

Most of the children gave it a go.  Even one who had gumboots.  Then they dried their feet and put their shoes back on.

I just wish we had worked out a system for recognising socks before we let the children strip them off.

Eggs for Easter


See how beautifully our red eggs turned out.

I found proper Orthodox egg dye in our local supermarket.  They had two types in fact.  For one the method involved cooking the eggs in the dye.  I chose the one where you boil the eggs first, and put them in dye at room temperature.  Much easier at kinder.

I got the kids to draw on the eggs first with wax crayon.  They are quite young, and new at kinder, so just getting the crayons to make any kind of mark was a puzzle for them.  We dyed them and watched them turn bright red.  The children were as fascinated as any teacher could hope.

I had planned to polish them with oil as well – remembered to bring a rag from home.  But we had plenty to do without that.

A new boy was a bit upset. He has a Greek name.  I rightly guessed he would made some eggs with a grandmother.  We drew on and dyed an egg together. It made a great link between school and home.  +1 for belonging.

We painted on egg shaped paper and searched the garden for little plastic eggs with chicks inside.

Several families had remembered my request to bring in Easter egg wrappers.  We used them for collage, on (vaguely) egg shaped paper.

We sent the red eggs home.

So that is what we did for Easter in the end.