Fun summer food activities

Fun summer food activities

As Nat King Cole once sang:
“Roll out those, lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer!”

Yes, summer has finally arrived, the mercury levels are rising on the thermometers and we can look forward to a cool beverage after work as the nights get warm and balmy – (well, hopefully – unless you’re off on the Parenta Trust Rally, the rest of us are still in the UK after all!)

Looking on the bright side, during summer, we often aim to take our children outside and just enjoy the wonderful weather and let them feel the sun on their skin (with sunscreen of course!) and the sand between their toes. However, once you’ve built a sandcastle fortress and run through the sprinklers a few times, why not try some of our alternative activities involving summer food, to help fill those long, summer days? They may take a few minutes, or a few hours, but we hope they will give you a few useful ideas for some seasonal fun.

1. De-core strawberries with a straw

Strawberries are best at this time of year; they’re plump, sweet and juicy; and they’re also rich in vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and fibre so nutritious for little people too. But do you know how to de-core a strawberry with a straw? No? Then prepare to be amazed. Having washed your strawberries, hold the strawberry with the pointed end facing down, then using a strong straw, place the straw on the pointed end and push the straw upwards through the middle of the strawberry until it pokes out of the top, taking the core and the top leaves with it. It’s a simple ‘hack’ but it works, and the best thing is that the children in your setting can have great fun doing it too. The cored pieces look like miniature ‘strawberry palm trees’ so you could make a food picture with these, and of course, you’ll have plenty of delicious strawberries for a healthy snack as well!

You could extend this activity to sing about rainbows too using some popular nursery rhymes and teach the children the names of the items you are using.

2. Make an edible rainbow

This is a great way to encourage your youngsters to eat more fruit and vegetables and teach them about the colours of the rainbow at the same time. Cut up some pieces of fruit and vegetables of different colours and get the children to create their own ‘food rainbow’. Below is a list of fruits and vegetables you could use for the different colours, but if you can think of more, even better:

3. Make your own ice lollies

Everyone loves an ice lolly on a hot summer day and children will love helping to make them. You can buy some lolly moulds and sticks easily in any household store and for a quick and simple lolly, make up some fruit squash, use fruit juices or yoghurts, putting them in the freezer to set. However, why stop there? There are some great recipes on the internet; see this website for some unusual ones such as avocado and coconut, fruit salad ice-pops, and traffic light lollies. Or get the children to experiment and see what they come up with!

4. Make a picnic and visit a local park

Summer would not be summer without a picnic, but you don’t have to rely on the old ‘sandwiches and cake’ anymore. The list of picnic-friendly fare has been expanding over the years, and now, people take just about anything on a picnic, so think wraps, exotic salads and quail’s eggs! Some of our favourites can be found here but be warned – visiting this page can make your mouth seriously water! The great thing is that they are all cheap and easy to make with younger children. And if you are going to the local park for your picnic, remember to take along a blanket and some suitable bird food to feed the ducks too!

5. Make a summer smoothie

Smoothies are great for younger children as they are often used to drinking milk, so you could switch to making a smoothie every once in a while, to add some extra nutrition or some hidden vegetables if children are resistant to eating vegetables. A basic smoothie recipe would consist of:

  • Milk or a milk alternative like soya or rice milk
  • ½ mashed banana
  • An extra portion of fruit such as strawberries, blueberries or raspberries
  • Some ‘hidden’ vegetables such as kale, spinach or summer squash

Put all the ingredients into a blender or smoothie-maker or use a hand-held blender to create a smooth mixture.


6. Make fruit kebabs

Fruit kebabs are fun to make but ensure that the children are well supervised if you are using skewers. Cut up some ripe summer fruits and get the children to make fruit ‘kebabs’ by pushing the fruit onto the skewers. You could mix up the colours, create another rainbow, or have different themes such as ‘all red’ or your favourite football team colours.

Whatever you do this summer, we hope these ideas will keep you active and healthy! Let us know what you make by emailing us.

National Simplicity Day

National Simplicity Day

When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses?
Yesterday? Last week? Or so long ago you can’t really remember?

Have you EVER stopped to smell the roses? Or is the thought of switching off from daily life, unplugging from the internet and social media, something that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?

Then it’s time you heard about National Simplicity Day!

On July 12th, many people will celebrate National Simplicity Day – the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, an American philosopher, naturalist, and ardent advocate for simple living. They will switch off their mobiles and electronic devices; ignore their emails and purposely forget where they put the TV remote, in favour of a simpler, more natural lifestyle, devoid of distractions and the unnecessary ‘junk’ that doesn’t make them happy!

And their challenge to you? Dare you do the same?

Thoreau was born in 1817 in a time that many of us today would already consider ‘simpler’, yet even then, Thoreau and his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, looked critically at what they saw as the ‘trappings’ of society at that time, and sought happiness by returning to nature and a more simple way of life. What they would make of today’s fast-paced, global, 24/7 economy is anyone’s guess, but it’s a pretty safe bet, that they would not be impressed!

For the real question is not how high our country’s GDP is; or the current level of inflation or employment; but rather “are we really happy?”

The answer to this question is much more complex than quantifying the number of people in work, but truthfully, is immeasurably more important! Thoreau believed that the happiness that people sought, was not to be found in acquiring more and more material ‘things’, but rather in connecting with nature and thereby appreciating the essence of all things. He is primarily remembered for his book “Walden” – a reflection of living simply in the natural surroundings of Walden Pond, where he spent just over 2 years living in a cabin in the woods.

National Simplicity Day is not advocating people become a hermit living in the woods, but it does suggest re-evaluating the things currently in your life and focusing on the really simple things which are ultimately the most important things to you.

According to a report from the communications regulator, Ofcom, (March 2014), the average UK adult spends 8 hours and 41 minutes every day, glued to some sort of screen.

Other studies have found that in young people, heavy social media use may be harmful for their mental health. Thoreau himself said: “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” So was he deluded, or just way ahead of his time? Why not use this July 12th to find out for yourself, your staff and the children in your care?

How to simplify your life for the day

Challenge yourself and your staff to do the following:

  • Unplug from the internet and technology.
  • Switch off your mobile phones – people can leave a message.
  • Disconnect from other electronics such as tablets, game consoles and TV.
  • Don’t use a ready meal or microwave to cook your food.
  • Give up your regular routine in favour of something different.

What to do instead

  • Go out and appreciate the natural world around you; be that the woods, the park, a beach or a lake.
  • Take some time out to meditate – sit quietly and try to switch off the ‘noise’ in your head – try 10 to 15 minutes to start with.
  • Practice some mindfulness – sit quietly and notice how your body feels in the moment.
  • Cook your meal from scratch, organic if possible – without the use of a microwave.
  • Cuddle your children/family more.
  • Read a book.
  • Write a letter to someone saying you love them.
  • Volunteer for a good cause.
  • Read some of Thoreau’s books or essays.
  • Declutter your house.

Relating this to the children in your setting

Mindfulness and simplicity practices are not just for adults – in fact, many would argue that it is more important than ever that we teach the children in our care, how to relax, switch off and appreciate the simple things in life.

A recent major study of children and young people’s mental health found an increase in mental health disorders in children aged 5–19, largely driven by an increase in emotional disorders, (anxiety and depression): up from 3.9% in 2004, to 5.8% in 2017. [1]

In the 2–4-year-old bracket, 5.5% of children were reported to have a mental disorder, and pre-school children living the poorest third of households, were more likely to have a mental disorder (8.9%) compared to pre-school children in households with a higher income (4.0%). [2]
Mindfulness practices, on the other hand, have been shown to have significant positive effects on mental health outcomes such as mindfulness, executive functioning, attention, depression, anxiety/stress and negative behaviours. [3]

So why not introduce some simplicity into your own practice for the day? Try some of the following things and see how much calmer you and the children feel:

  • Remove electronics from the setting for the day – encourage children to use their imaginations rather than rely on electronic stimuli.
  • Allocate areas of your setting as a ‘quiet or reflective zone’ where children can sit and be quiet and/or still.
  • Try some simple yoga poses or get the children to lie on the floor and relax, thinking only about how their body feels.
  • Dedicate time to playing some calming music and ask the children to just sit and listen to it with their eyes closed.
  • Ask a mindfulness coach to run a session in your nursery. Alternatively, you can find some more excellent ideas and resources here.

Whatever you do, have a simply fantastic day!


Festival of British Archaeology

Festival of British Archaeology

Have you ever wondered how we know about the dinosaurs?
Or what the walls of an ancient building can tell us about the people who lived there? Or what an archaeologist does apart from dig?

Well this year, the British Festival of Archaeology, which runs from Saturday 13th to Saturday 28th July 2019, is your chance to find out.

The Festival is coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, a UK-wide archaeology charity whose aim is to enable people to protect and celebrate their archaeological heritage. The aim is to showcase the very best of archaeology for everyone, with special events right across the UK, organised and hosted by museums, heritage organisations, national and countryside parks, universities, local societies, community archaeologists, Young Archaeologist’s Clubs and youth groups.

The aim of the Festival is “to make archaeology as accessible as possible, by providing hundreds of opportunities, to people of all ages and abilities.”
Holding an annual festival helps the charity to:

  • create a higher profile for archaeology
  • promote a better understanding of the past
  • increase public engagement with archaeology and history
  • diversify and increase visitor numbers to relevant sites

The organisers say they want everyone to “understand, appreciate, and celebrate archaeology in the UK”. Whether you’re interested in fossils or castles; ancient ruins or ancient battles, there’s plenty for everyone to get excited about. The theme for this year is “archaeology, science and technology” or #ArchaeoTech, so why not get out into your local, or not-so-local area and discover the history that is all around you?
Some of the events taking place around the country include the chance to:

  • explore the local archaeology of your area and watch the experts at work
  • experience the excitement and thrill of being on an archaeological dig and take part in mini-excavations
  • learn about the technology behind archaeology and have a go at some of the geophysical and/or technical aspects
  • experience life in the past with living history, warfare demonstrations, food tasting & mosaic making
  • visit historic industrial sites
    listen to different talks and practical demonstrations such as Viking cookery
  • watch a battle re-enactment
  • enjoy farm and woodland-themed activities, talks and tours on the latest discoveries and expert-led walks

It is entirely up to you to decide how you would like to get people involved and thinking about archaeology and the wider historic environment. In recent years, there were over 1,000 events put on around the country by over 300 different organisers under the banner of the Festival, and the promoters are keen to exceed these numbers this year. There is a full list of events on the Festival website, which you can access at:

However, the fun does not stop there, and the charity is also keen to hear from people, clubs and event-organisers all over the country with ideas for holding their own celebrations. And you don’t have to live in a castle to get involved either. You could organise a historical dressing-up day to promote the ideas behind the Festival and be part of the fun that way.

There is a leaflet of event ideas that you can download here giving you plenty to think about when planning your own events.

Whilst many events are aimed at families, some are more suited for older children, however you can still promote the Festival by getting into the spirit of history and archaeology in your own setting. You could consider some of the following activities which can be done in your own nursery:

Themed, historical days

Why not decide on a period of history that you want to explore? The ancient Greeks, Romans in Britain, medieval, Tudor times, or the industrial revolution are just a few that you could choose from. Tell stories about people from that time and encourage children to dress up to reflect that period. Remember to include people from all ranks and walks of life too. It’s great fun to be ‘king’ for a day, but most of the work was done by the peasants and the ordinary people, so get the children to think about what life might have been like for those people too.

Create your own archaeological dig

If you have access to a sand pit or garden area, you could bury some objects or artefacts and ask the children to carefully explore and dig them up. You could combine this with a small treasure hunt, getting the children to follow a simple map, for example. Once you have dug up your ‘treasure’, get the children to wash the objects and then attempt to tell you what they are, or what they are used for. You can be quite inventive here burying different things from either history or the present day.

Get hands-on with some historic crafts

Everyone loves modelling clay and you could use this activity to explain to the children about how people used to make pots and cook with them. There’s a great (if implausible) myth about how the Romans lined their roads with clay, but the local people would steal handfuls of it to make their own pots – hence the term ‘pothole!’ You could also do some simple weaving or spinning to link in with traditional cottage industries.

Have some historical fun and games

How about playing a game of quoits, or trying to get a hoop to run along the ground using a stick, or play marbles or use a spinning top? Traditional games like these have been played by children for hundreds of years, and not one of them needs an internet connection or a battery! Have fun in your setting by making your own games too. And who knows, ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ might be seen as an old-fashioned game nowadays so maybe there’s a place for that in historic games too!

Nursery graduation

Nursery graduation

Although kindergarten graduation ceremonies have been taking place in America for around 50 years, the nursery graduation ceremony is still relatively new to the UK, but is definitely growing in popularity! July is the month when thousands of settings, up and down the country, will be holding their ceremonies for their imminent leavers..

The aim of a nursery graduation ceremony is to teach children about change as they move on to a new chapter in their life. It also shows them that change can be a positive experience: children change, grow and develop so much during these early years, so these ceremonies can be a great way of celebrating this.

The ceremony itself often includes a small presentation, followed by the children collecting their certificates and some settings even hold a little party for children and their families afterwards. The day is intended to be both fun and memorable, and usually talked about beforehand as more of a party and celebration, so that children are less likely to become nervous about it.

Dressing up in different clothes and collecting their graduation certificate can be a rewarding experience for children which can really help improve their self-confidence too. At some nursery graduations, the staff say something about each child’s progress and at others, the children entertain their parents with songs and poems. Whatever the format, it should be a happy and momentous occasion for all involved! The day will almost certainly be an exciting one for the children, who often have happy memories of dressing up in fancy clothes, singing songs, being given a certificate (maybe for the first time) and celebrating with party food and games after the ceremony. It’s a great opportunity to mark the next chapter in their life and watch them be praised for their development and achievements.

We spoke to Micah from Maidstone, Kent who has just had his graduation ceremony.

Are you excited to start ‘big’ school in September?

Yes, I’m very ecxited – big school sounds like fun!

What are you looking forward to the most?

To be able to play with my friends and sit in the reading corner.

Do you have any friends who will go to the same big school as you?

Yes, some of my friends will also go to my big school!

What did you do at your graduation party?

We sang to our mums and dads and had party food! I love my certificate!

To make your setting’s graduation day even more special, the team at Parenta have designed a wonderful certificate you can download! Download your free, editable graduation certificate here.

Don’t forget to send us your photos from your graduation ceremonies!

The Importance of a well-considered transition

The Importance of a well-considered transition

It is a busy time of year for EYFS settings particularly reception class teachers as they help their current classes prepare for life after the EYFS curriculum and that all important transition to Year 1, ensuring they have met the Early Learning Goal (ELG) they have worked towards since birth! And then there is the essential task of ensuring that new entrants’ transition is managed sensitively. Lindsey Harris, a deputy headteacher with a degree in primary education and masters in early years, shares her experiences.

The key to a successful transition is relationships. Secure relationships between nursery settings and schools, between parents and schools, and the most important relationship to nurture, is that of the staff and the children beginning school.

A successful transition considers not just the processes and clear routines for this transition but those that do this with consideration and empathy for a child’s emotions during this time. In order for a child to seamlessly move from nursery to school, a three-pronged approach is essential:

Nursery educators have worked with, and cared for their pre-schoolers for a minimum of a year, perhaps longer. They are a fount of knowledge when it comes to that child’s wants, needs, likes and dislikes. Their insight into that child is immeasurable, therefore schools need to initiate and maintain a good working relationship and open communication with nursery teams.

Nursery visits

In order to do this, reception teachers should conduct nursery visits during June/July to have honest conversations, and to discuss the nurseries records of achievement so far for that individual. This is also a time for the professionals to share key information that has helped them to form secure relationships with the child during their time at the setting. In addition, there should be time for teachers to observe and interact with the child at their nursery setting. Teachers should leave nursery visits with a much better understanding of where the child is academically and how to care for their emotional wellbeing in line with what the nursery has started. This continuation is essential to a successful transition from nursery to school.

Parents and carers

The people who know the child best are the parents or carers. They know all their child’s quirky ways, what makes their child happiest and what their child does not like.

In order to prepare their child for starting school, there are several practical things parents could do:

  • Promote independence e.g. putting on their own shoes and coat, doing zips, eating their lunch independently.
  • Purchasing and trying on uniform to help create a sense of belonging.
  • Help their child to recognise their name on their school items e.g. their new school jumper.
  • Spend time preparing and talking about school.

But this relationship is more than just what the parent can and will offer to their child’s learning journey as they continue their way through the early years curriculum.

The role of a parent during transition from nursery to school is not just in the form of practical support, it is about supporting their child emotionally with this next step in their education. Therefore, it is vital that parents feel secure in their choice of school and have confidence in the staff. They too are leaving the familiarity of the nursery setting, making a huge leap of faith. Parents must feel valued by their child’s new teacher and reassured.

School transition routines

There are several ways to initiate a good professional relationship with parents and carers. All schools have a slightly different approach to initiating a connection, but here are some practical things that practitioners may wish to do:

Teddy bears picnic
Children and parents are invited to attend a picnic at the school with the staff who will be responsible for the care of their child. Children can enjoy a picnic with the security of their parent being there and adults at the school can begin to support the networking process, parent-to-parent.

Welcome meetings
Schools should host a welcome meeting in June to share with parents important information about the school; this will include: what a child needs to bring to school daily, as this may differ to their previous setting; what a “typical” school day entails; any part-time starting arrangements; and information about further transition sessions (often referred to as ‘Stay and Play’ sessions). Parents will be given an opportunity to ask questions, meet staff, and purchase uniform.

‘Stay and Play’ sessions in summer
Schools should offer ‘Stay and Play’ sessions for children in the summer term. These sessions are usually an hour long and nursery children are invited to attend to play in their new classrooms. In my experience, it is better to invite ‘children only’ to these sessions as it ensures there is no confusion for the child when they are expected to leave their parent in September. As this is difficult for parents to do initially, and as an hour is a short time, I have always invited parents to have refreshments in the school hall and have encouraged them to network. During this time parents are looked after by different teams who may work with the children whilst they are at school. (e.g. SENCO and their team, the pastoral team, the Senior Leadership Team). This encourages open communication and familiarity; if the SENCO wishes to talk to the parent about a particular need later in the year, the parent already knows who he/she is and this always helps.

During the ‘Stay and Play’ session, settings should use the time to:

  • Make the children’s peg labels so children know they belong.
  • Share a transition book – this is a book that some schools make with photos of the classroom and the adults at school in the form of a story for children to read over the summer.
  • Make notes about good friendships for class groupings.
  • My school has always provided a balloon with the school logo on it in an envelope with a home visit appointment scheduled. This means the child can put the balloon on their front door and teachers can easily locate the child’s home.

Home visits
Schools should arrange to complete a home visit to see the child in their most natural environment. Home visits usually occur before a child starts school, this may be in July or the first few weeks in September. Home visits are important because of how personal they are. The visits usually follow a structure – the teacher will share information with the parent(s) and then complete a questionnaire (set by the school). This gives the team a greater insight into medical needs, dietary requirements and anything else that teachers will want to know first-hand, not just from the school office. The child is the centre of the discussion. When this is completed, parents will have the opportunity to ask any questions they may still have. Whilst the discussions occur, the learning support assistant/teaching assistant will spend time down at the child’s level reading with them or looking at their toys. Some schools provide a book bag to their new entrants and this can be given with a reading record or home/school planner and a picture book for the child to share with a family member. This is helpful for providing a connection between home and school.

Part-time schedule for starting school
Finally, despite a child having gone to pre-school and perhaps even spent longer days in day care of some kind, it is essential to a child’s wellbeing to have a period of part-time attendance. This enables a child to get familiar with their new environment and their new rules and routines without feeling overwhelmed. Settings vary on this: some encourage a staggered start; some have part-time morning sessions and afternoon sessions which children are invited to attend. The best part-time approach I have ever seen is one week of part-time, all children in together from 9:00am–12pm, Monday–Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 9:00am–1:00pm with lunch. This allows a child to build up their time in school but doesn’t mean they become too reliant on a part-time schedule.

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