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Outdoor learning just in the garden

Tommy and LJ love our garden, they love Mamma’s greenhouse (Tommy has been calling me that since he began talking and couldn’t say grandma). We are learning so much by playing outdoors just in this small space.

I wanted to share some free and inexpensive  ideas for developing your garden and using it for fun learning

  1. I’ve left a patch of grass ‘wild’ to encourage butterflies and bees. It looks very wild now and the grasses are almost waist height for Tommy and LJ. They love walking through this and feeling the different textures as well as looking for butterflies.
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  2. Seeds – I saved seeds from poppies, sweet peas and foxgloves last year and we planted these earlier this year. They understand the sequence of plant pot, soil, seeds, more soil, water and writing a label and can now plant seeds with very little help.
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  3. We won a book on Toppsta called ‘Bee and me’ this is a stunning book all about the friendship between a little girl and a bee. It arrived with a packet of beautifully illustrated seeds. Obviously we planted theses and nurtured them ( toppsta is a site where you can look at book reviews and recommendations but can also win ‘ giveaways- well worth a look)
  4. As a result of the above we now spend a lot of time looking for ‘buzzy bees’ and talking about pollen and flowers.
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  5. I caught Tommy outside with his camera taking ‘photos of flowers like mamma’
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  6. We allow the kids to fill up the bird feeders and that’s one of the things they ask to do now.
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  7. Tommy has a digger with a bucket on the front and we collect small items to fit in, leaves, feathers, stones all the while talking about big and little
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  8. We listen for sounds – I could have cried when Tommy said ‘listen to the birds singing’ -Tommy particularly likes aeroplane spotting.
  9. We have picked tomatoes from the green house and eaten them outside ( I have stressed he must always ask me first before eating anything!! Paranoid grandma.)
  10. Tommy uses the hosepipe to water the tubs and we are gradually learning what is the correct amount of water – we’ve had weeks of too much water to get to this stage!


None of this is rocket science I know but I’ve really started to learn about the joys of outdoor learning as I have been privileged to work with Juliet Robertson ( take a look at her blog there are so many ideas on there!)  on two of her books Dirty Teaching and Messy Maths ( both by Crown House ). I now think about the language I use and can see joy in the kids faces when we lay on the floor to look at a green caterpillar or Tommy asks what the berries are on the tree. I love it when they are excited to see starlings feeding their young or when LJ makes piles of pebbles. Yes they get dirty and my hosepipe is Tommy’s favourite toy but they are outside playing and learning to love nature which has got to be a good thing 

We did buy some items, a magnifying glass which meant we could look closely for caterpillars and bugs, children’s gardening gloves – they were £1 a pair at a local hardware store, smaller watering cans and the children’s first book of birds from The RSPB.

The (tongue in cheek) grandparent’s guide to indoor play areas

Tommy and LJ love ‘Play Valley’ and a trip there instigates almost mass hysteria. Never underestimate the pull of brightly coloured plastic!

It occurred to me yesterday that there are pearls of wisdom ( tongue firmly in cheek) I can pass on to Rookie grandparents

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  1. Footwear – never wear shoes that have laces or are difficult to get on and off. By ‘difficult’ I mean you must be able to just step out of them at a seconds notice to race after your charges. I know you will usually take them off when you get there but the same rules apply – no 2 year old is going to sit and wait patiently whilst you untie your laces!
  2. Clothes – nothing ‘posh’ nothing restricting – it may be years since you climbed to the top of a huge slide but once your grandchild runs up those squashy stairs and totters at the top – you will have no option but to scramble after them.
  3. Ball pools – may look empty BUT always assume there is a child hidden under the balls (99% of the time there is) so do not allow your grandchild to dive in head first
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  4. Do not assume you can sit at the side sipping your latte in a leisurely fashion – get that fitbit on and realise the only way to cope is to get in the middle of the melee and follow your grandchild within grabbing distance.
  5. Food – you are usually not allowed to take your own food but there will be an enticing ‘bag’ option. Do not even think about trying to steer toddlers into the healthier option, pick your battles – they are never going to go for a banana when there is the option of chocolate. Give in gracefully and eat half of it yourself.
  6. Don’t underestimate the fearlessness, agility or speed of your grandchildren. I am still cringing as LJ (who is 19months) pushed a 5 year old down the slide yesterday as she was sitting at the top too scared to move and was in her way!
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  7. Change their nappies before you go – they will create such a fuss if you try to take them away from the coloured plastic for something as mundane as a nappy change.
  8. The machines that require money for a ride are always ‘broken’ well that’s what I always tell my two – having once made the error of saying one ride only each …
  9. Always smile encouragingly and sympathetically at a grandparent who is trying to coax their toddler to leave – it won’t make a difference but hopefully someone will return the favour and smile in sympathy with you when it’s your turn to leave.
  10. Take your phone or a compact camera – the smiles and joy are worth all the aches and pains you will have tonight – and reliving it over a glass of wine in the evening will make you smile.
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A break through …

The lack of left handed cameras is frustrating, as is the lack of understanding on the part of major manufacturers. However, we are undeterred and yesterday saw a breakthrough for us.

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We were in a cafe when Tommy put his camera onto the table and looked at the live view screen, he shook his head and said ‘can’t see you mama’ He was actually trying to line up his shot! I am so incredibly proud of him. He usually balances the camera on his little arm and presses the shutter with his left.

JMH_1252  Later on I put my own camera away and realised I was thinking about tripods in the wrong way – he doesn’t need a proper size one just a miniature one. I had a very small gorrilla pod and attached it to his camera – we then laid on the floor – RESULT – look at this photo of LJ – Now look closely in the bottom right hand corner – total fluke but you can see myself and Tommy in the reflection in the cooker. Its not an ideal solution but it’s one we are going to continue to experiment with.

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#tenfingersareoverrated #luckyfinsrock

Taking air quality for granted

There was an interesting article published in the Guardian today saying that 300 million children live in areas of extreme pollution.

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It made me think about the little things I saw in Shanghai last week about how pollution is a part of a school’s daily life in China.

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On the front door every day is placed an update about the atmosphere that day with a green/amber/red rating and any additional measures that need to be taken. As you can see here this was a green day – lots of rain that week so the air was quite clear.

The school has ‘pollution days’ where it is not possible for children to attend in the same way that in the UK we sometimes have ‘snow days’ and the school has to close.

In the grounds there is a large white tented structure which is used on amber days to allow the pupils access to outdoors whilst still being protected.

It was a little strange to see people wearing masks around school and in workshops but it’s just an accepted fact of life.

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I’ve been for a beautiful autumnal walk this morning at my local RSPB and it did make me think how much we actually take for granted.

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Playing with light – Photography

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One of the things I remembered to pack last week was my sunglasses – they were not necessary! The light quality in Shanghai during the day was poor from a photography point of view, very grey, dull and overcast. If you google images of Shanghai most of them are at night when the lit buildings are really impressive.

We had several days of heavy rain ( including a typhoon warning) which meant that I had to try and be creative. Fortunately my room was on the 19th floor and had  a huge window so I could sit on the floor with a tripod and just play with the light.  Some images didn’t work but I was pleased with a couple – the one below is an abstract shot of the skyscrapers at night.

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Just a quick post to say whatever the conditions you can still work around them if you think creatively x

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#Shanghai in the rain

Out of my comfort zone

Eleanor Roosevelt said ‘Do one thing every day that scares you’, well last week I was terrified. The offer of presenting at The Festival of Education, Wellington College, Shanghai was too good an opportunity to miss. BUT and it’s a big but, I’ve never actually flown anywhere by myself, I’ve never visited China and as you know i’m just an ordinary person ‘A granny from Barnsley with a camera’ so why would anyone want to listen to me?

I DID it! I was scared but I did it and I’m proper proud of myself so I want to share a few of the things I learnt.

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  • Your comfort zone is good but the highs that can be yours if you step outside of it are worth the risk.
  • If you put on an act of being confident then gradually that will become real, even to yourself.
  • It’s OK to ask for help – people are only too willing to help you, you just have to ask.I couldn’t lift my camera bag at times so actually getting it into the luggage locker on the plane was beyond me.
  • There are some amazing people in the world who are just friends you haven’t met yet.
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  • Kids are kids are kids wherever they are in the world, curious, inquisitive, sparkly eyed early years, cautious teenagers – but all willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and have a go. Be yourself – kids can tell intuitively if you are genuine or not.
  •  Sometimes ‘ordinary’ is good. Some teachers are over awed by ‘academics’ and the down to earth approach is what they need, they can relax and ask questions without feeling stupid. It’s Ok to laugh and enjoy yourself even if you are a teacher.
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  • I use twitter far too much and felt completely lost when I realised it wasn’t possible to access it in China. (The kids did explain all about having a VPN but I was too jet lagged to take it in )
  • Chinese coffee is awful!!
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Hopefully I’m going back in March for the Arts festival and already have lots of ideas buzzing. I’m processing what I saw and will blog again later.

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Opening doors

I love my camera. I feel naked if I leave the house without it. I have a bad shoulder from its weight, I have a permanent red mark on my neck from the strap. I broke my coccyx falling down a set of concrete stairs whilst taking photos in the Outer Hebrides. I see life in rectangles. I have a constant crick in my neck from looking at different angles. I use a rucksack as a handbag as it’s the only bag that will fit my lenses so nothing fashionable for me. BUT I would not change anything – my camera has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.

I’ve written my own books, illustrated books for amazing educators who I admire greatly and from whom I’ve learnt so much. I’m an associate of Independent Thinking Ltd a group of the funniest, kindest most innovative people you could ever wish to meet.


I’ve run courses at places such as The Hepworth, Chatsworth, and YSP in the future, all places where real artists work.


I’ve been to Kakuma refugee camp which was a life changing experience and so far removed from our daily life here it’s indescribable – the photos I took have been instrumental in educating people about life there and inspiring others to become involved, in turn raising money for new classrooms. I’m spending 3 days a week this Summer blogging for my local RSPB site and learning so much along the way. I can now identify black tailed Godwits, Great Crested Grebes and fox poo!!


I love the fact that Tommy is already a keen photographer, always ready to use the compact camera I keep in my bag. He gleefully cries ‘cheese’ whenever he spots it – I will have to teach him to call it a camera but love the idea of it being a cheese.


I’ve had the privilege of working with the amazing Barnsley Youth Choir since 2009 and watched them grow into the world class choir they are now, as well as meeting the inspirational Laszlo and the Aurin girls. Edinburgh fringe next week.


That’s not forgetting the number of fantastic schools and children I’ve been invited to work with.

I’m going to Shanghai in October to work at the Festival of Education at Wellington College alongside Ian Gilbert and Paul Clarke ( I am beyond excited!)- all of this from being a #grannyfrombarnsleywithacamera 😃

I love my camera

2nd Aug just for fun

The 1st of August is Tommy’s birthday – proper little Yorkshire man. Where there’s a birthday there has to be cake. My granddaughter Layla-Jane loves food and the glee on her face when we just let them have the cake was priceless. Hence today’s prompt – ‘sometimes the only answer is …’


Just as a heads up – I’m off on holiday on Saturday so won’t be posting a challenge as I’m not sure how reliable wifi will be – happy for anyone to take over 😃

#Photochallengesummer 16 – Reflections

This post is for our challenge on Sunday 30th July but can obviously be attempted any time

http://webneel.com/reflection-photography-inspiration-tips

It’s all about ‘Reflections’ I’ve included a link to give you lots of ideas. It can obviously be straight forward reflection in water but think about other reflective surfaces too.

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For anyone interested in finding out more about using Photography with young people my book Learning Through a Lens can be found on Amazon HERE