Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas.
We hope everyone has had a very good year and ready for a relaxing holiday.
We are busy getting a web site up and working so check us out next year!
In today's "Dominion" newspaper there was a report from Dr Sebastian Suggate of Otago University. His research is claiming that teaching children to read from the age of five is not likely to make them any better at reading than a child who learns from seven.
"Because later starters at reading are still learning through play, language and interactions with adults, their long term learning is not disadvantaged. Instead these activities prepare the soil well for later development of reading."
Dr Suggate's research has been placed on otago University's "distinguished list" of doctoral theses for 2009.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Value of Play
From the Washington Post (read the full article)

With increasing pressure on early-childhood education programs to promote math and literacy skills, educators are debating the value of play in preschool and early elementary grades. "Play is problem-solving," said one Virginia educator. "It's really critical life skills." While some studies show that students who attended play-based preschool programs develop better socially and emotionally later in life, time for play is increasingly being pushed aside for more instruction aimed at achieving higher test scores.

A interesting article that is worth a read.

Monday, November 16, 2009

David Elkin -"The Wisdom of Play"
I am staying with my son and family in New london, Connecticut, USA. I came across this free (in USA) booklet introduced by David Elkind.
...."Clearly, play serves a very different function for children than it does for adults. For children, it is a way to learn about self and the world through self-created experiences. That is one reason child-initiated play is so important and why it should not be replaced either by adult-organised sports or by academic activities disguised as games."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

..time to play
..time to create
..time to discover

"Features of the natural world children explore with their senses by day, they play with in their dreams at night, and turn into poetry when they wake."
-William C. Crain

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Remember your science and technology resources!

Have a look in your science resource room for equipment to bring out in Discovery Time.
Lenses, prisms, mirrors.coloured plastics!
What about electric circuits, light bulbs, switches, bells!
The possibilities are endless.

Friday, November 13, 2009

'Play Time - The Game of Learning.'
author -Trish Konzak.
Read this interesting article on the Edutopia site or google Trish Konzak.
She is passionate about the importance of play and her worry that testing and teaching for testing will take over.
Other books she recommends - ( I haven't previewed them )
  • 'The Power of Play.' David Elkind.
  • 'Play: How it Shapes the Brain, opens the imagination and Invigorates the Soul.' Dr Stuart Brown.
  • 'A Child's Work - The Importance of Fantasy Play.' Vivian Gussin Paley.
  • 'A Place for Play.' Elizabeth Goodenough.
  • 'Play, Development and Early Education.' James E Johnson, James F Christi, and Francis Wardle.
  • 'Play: The Pathway from Theory to Practice.' Sandra Heidemann,and Deborah Hewitt.

Let us know how you feel about these authors.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Creativity and the camera

I hope you have all seen the Groovy Girl dolls we love. I am in USA at the moment and couldn't resist buying 5 new dolls!
Try putting out a box of small fabric scraps, ribbons, trims etc, plus velcro and then watch the fashion designers create!

Give them the camera and see the fun!

Using play mobile characters to explore animation is fun too. Add some scenery: twigs, blocks, stones lego -anything!

Creating characters from modeling clay is also magic.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Getting Started with Discovery Time

"OK ! Lets go to Space!"

It has been a lot of fun getting Discovery Time underway at Pukerua Bay School.

Their first key competency focus was -'working together',but we found not enough activities required co-operation. We are all learning!

The second week was -'challenge yourself' and wow, they sure did.

Black paper and shish kebab sticks soon became shadow puppets. With the sun streaming in through the shade curtains the children quickly created their own theatre stage - how's that for creative thinking?

The class camera was used to record their own space rescue drama. The teacher was impressed with the child that self appointed herself as narrator.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A bit of creativity for Halloween.

Just love this spiderweb that Jack made.

He says it's really easy!

You need wool, a bowl of PVA glue and a sheet of plastic.

Cut the wool to the right length so that it will fit from corner to corner on the plastic.

Dip the wool in the PVA glue and construct the radial lines (forming a star shape) on the sheet of plastic.

Then use longer pieces of wool (also dipped in PVA) to make the circular pattern.

When the PVA dries you can lift the stiffened cobweb off the plastic.

I wonder how big you could make it?

check out LooLeDo website for a spooky spider

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Creativity with boat design

A lovely couple of sessions at Randwick School where one of the activities was boat building. We provided the dried flower stems from harakeke (flax), kebab sticks, knives and chopping boards plus a couple of articles that would provide ideas and suggestions. The actual design was left to the students (so as you can see we are part way toward a student directed session).

We started with some safety issues around using knives (direct instruction still has a part to play in Discovery Time!). Then we basically left them to it.

The students experimented, struggled, redisigned but all persisted!

As teachers we kept an eye on safety, helped out with any particularly difficult cutting and asked questions.
"Do you think it will float? How can we find out?"
"How will your boat move?"
"What else do you need?"
"What do you think might happen to sellotape in water?"

As teachers we discovered:
  • That the students really didn't know a lot about boats and we probably could have done some preparatory work on this or linked it to a picture book or reading text.
  • That our students were very creative and tenacious. No one gave up!
  • That some students were able to forward plan and get the water tray ready for the second session.

The students discovered:
  • That at times it helped to work with a friend, epecially when things went wrong and you need some support and new ideas.
  • That sails need to be vertical rather than horizontal and that light material works better than polar fleece!
  • That for a fair race the boats have to start at the same time.
Student Directed Learning

Jackie West (Resource Teacher Learning & Behaviour Maori) and I ran a workshop on Thursday for teachers from two local kura. As part of the session we delved more deeply into the issue of teacher directed versus student directed sessions: what each would look like in a discovery time session and how to make the shift toward giving students more control.

As teachers we are generally very good at directing the action and feel very comfortable doing so, but it can be quite a scary prospect to pass control over to the students.

One of the discussions centered on what the shift might look like.

Teacher directed session
"This is the card we are going to make for father's day. You can cut out these flowers and stick them on and write a message to dad inside."

Teacher /student shared session:
"I thought some of you might like to make cards for father's day so I've put some paper and card out for you." (teacher)
"Has anyone got any ideas for how they might do this?"

Student directed session:
"Can we make cards for father's day?" (student)
"What ideas have you got for doing that?" (teacher)
"What might you need?"

Change happens slowly, and the move to a student directed session may take time. Teachers need time to learn to stand back, while students need time to realise that they really can direct the action.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quality work and Discovery Time

In the last two weeks, in two different classes, we have had a focus on quality work. What a difference this has made! Students stayed at activities for longer and really took their work to a noticably higher level than in previous sessions.

Our digi kids for the day took photos of what they considered to be quality work.

At the end of the session students reflected on what made their work 'quality' - which aspects they were happy with and what they could have done differently.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Discovery Time Learning in England.
Gay will be in the Uk early September for 2 weeks.
Are any schools there interested in her bringing the Discovery Time book?
She will be in the Oxford area and would love to know of any schools there doing Discovery Time programmes.
email to:
Christchurch workshop
We had a great time in Christchurch and wonderful to see all the exciting enthusiasm for Discovery Time.
We found Groovy Girl Dolls in the:
CHILDREN'S BOOKSHOP in Victoria Street.
They also have a shop in Auckland -Jervois Rd Ponsonby.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Imaginative play with Groovy Girls... & Boys

If you've been to our workshops you'll have met our Groovy Girl Dolls.

The kids just love them and have a wonderful time making clothes, building houses, cars, beds etc and then using them in all sorts of imaginary games.

They are available in lots of places but we get ours from a shop in Petone ($25-$30)

Playdays Toyshop
238 Jackson St
Lower Hutt
New Zealand

tel 04 586 8056
email toys@playdays.co.nz


The dolls don't show on the website but phone or send an email and Trish and Debbie will let you know what is in stock.

Friday, July 17, 2009


"Ship ahoy!"

A few sheets and a climbing frame, with some pegs and tape to hold it all together and they're off. Sailing the shark infested waters in their pirate ship!
The kids imagination runs wild and pirate hats, flags, eyepatches and telescopes materialised from the construction table.

"But how do we get to shore when there are sharks in the water?"
Great problem solving opportunities!

A fantastic Discovery Time at Randwick School.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

TED Talks - Tinkering School

Check out this video about a 'hands-on' school for kids in the States. Students are only there for a week but look at what they achieve in that time. Gever Tulley teaches life lessons through tinkering

Thursday, July 09, 2009

'Hands-on' learning
Discovery Time is alive and well in Dunedin!

We were hosted by the RTLB team at Wakari School and visited six of their schools. What a wonderful range of exciting 'hands-on' learning opportunities we were treated to.

Here are just a few that might provide some inspiration...

Disecting sheeps hearts!

The week before it was sheeps eyes!
The kids loved it.

Then there was decontruction!
"How does this printer work?"
"Which screwdriver do I need to get this bit off?"

"So that's where the ink comes from!"

Then we went down town and found this fabulous reconstruction at the Gallery De Novo.
Made us wonder about all those bits from the printer could be turned into...

Recycled metal spider
Artist: Chris Meder

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Great Story From the RTLBs in Dunedin

"A group of three little girls bathed and dressed their babies (dolls), got their handbags and went out for coffee (a table in the family corner). One was heard to order a latte. While having coffee they decided to go to the movies. They went to the shop (table set up with boxes and shopkeeper) and bought movie tickets and popcorn. They sat on the couch to watch the movie.

If I hadn't been close enough to hear and follow the conversation it would have appeared to be three girls with their bags and babies sitting quietly on the couch.

I asked what movie they were watching and they told me and asked if I wanted to join them. I said I would rather see Hotel for Dogs. They said it was on next week and they would phone me to make a time and day. But then decided they needed a phone.

They asked the teacher for her cellphone and she suggested that they could look at it and then make their own. Which they did from the construction table. The outcome being they phoned me on the cardboard cellphone to arrange to go to the movies next week."

This reminds me of what Brian Sutton-Smith says about play:

"The typical image of play is a single child sitting in front of a television set or videogame. This is not play - play is an open ended experience initiated by children that involves pretence and spontaneous creative activity. It is a time of wonder and sensory exploration."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Great Ideas from Randwick School

Randwick School in Lower Hutt run two Discovery Time sessions a week in their junior school. As well as the key competency and curriculum focus they also have a letter of the week theme. Last week the letter of the week was L l
This led to making lemonade and setting up 'The Lemonade Cafe' - a great success.

The teachers also brought in a Lava Lamp. The challenge was for the kids to create the darkest possible cave (blankets, sheets and desks) so that they could see the lava lamp light up. They sat mesmerized!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Benefits of Discovery Time -
Just a few of the wonderful responses to the questionnaire we sent out.

"Children are starting to think more logically, trying new things, starting to problem solve, working together and higher motivation in follow up language activities. For some of the children being able to make a choice of activity has been a big step. They love coming to school on Discovery Day" (Adrienne McElroy, Sommerset Cres School, Palmerston North).

"Helps with the transition to school for our preschoolers, encouraging more sharing and cooperation (this has been a focus for us), children taking responsibility for making their own decisions and following the routines e.g. packing up." (Sherryl Allen, Mangaroa School)

"Fantastic to watch a 2nd year teacher put out a few bowls, paper circles and plastic shapes following a discussion about restaurants, and see the children transform this simple equipment into a cafe. The paper circles were plates, pizzas and tortillas! the maths shapes became a variety of food. following this the next Discovery Time the whole class transformed with the children collecting old phones, keyboards (booking and checkout) making their own menus, table numbers, they set up a waiting room, made a sign and all of this with the children working together. This is now into it's 4th week and still very popular! So great to see the teacher embracing this and seeing the links to literacy and maths!" (Karen Titcombe, Milson School, Palmerston North).

Will post some more soon, we've had a fabulous response.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"Boys aren't getting a fair deal at school and need more play time."

Micheal Irwin (Massey University, Auckland NZ) was interviewed on National Radio by Kathryn Ryan last Thursday (30.04.09)
His PhD research showed boys prefer hands-on, relevant experiences.
Boys need activity - activity stimulates the brain.
He supports the concept that play provides opportunities to:

  • stimulate imagination
  • develop creativity
  • encourage scientific investigation
  • socialise
  • support risk taking.

Check out Michael's recent publication. "Educating Boys - Helping Kiwi Boys To Succeed At School."

Thursday, April 16, 2009


The new NZ curriculum has a vision of-
"confident life long learners, able to seek, use and create their own knowledge and in the process, develop the key competencies required for continual learning."

Currently it seems we are leading the world. (see B. Hammonds blog)

A Cambridge Review of Education has just been published after three years research. It presents a damming view of the current UK primary curriculum.
It says there has been an over emphasis on the skills of reading, writing and maths at the expense of other subjects. This, the review says, limits children's enjoyment of school and risks severely compromising their natural curiosity, imagination and love of learning.

The Cambridge review is suggesting something very similar to what NZ has commenced with the new curriculum.
Let's hope standardised testing doesn't kill our childrens' passion for learning.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Junior Exploration Time
Have a look at the Hutt Central School web site for pictures of their Exploration
Time. Lots of good activity ideas.

If other schools have photos on their website that would provide inspiration drop an email to
discoveryt@gmail.com and I'll add a link to the blog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ken Robinson - guru on creativity!
Have just listened to Kathryn Ryan's interview with Sir Ken Robinson (Radio New Zealand podcast 20th March 2009). This is really worth listening to.

He is saying that current education systems (designed to meet the needs of the industrial age) are stifling the creative ability of our young people. Yet finding new ways of doing things is fundamental to our society today.
Listen to his recommendations.

Also explore Bruce Hammond's blog entry (21st March 2009) -Creative Education

Monday, March 16, 2009

A sound theoretical base
For those of you who have been to our workshops or are going to the Manawatu Reading Association meeting on Thursday, these are the references for the Discovery Time 'Key Ideas': - Play, student directed learnng, 'hands-on' activity based, creativity and whole child.

Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whariki: He Whariki Matauranga mo nga Mokopuna o Aotearoa (Early Childhood Curriculum). Wellington: Learning Media.

Sutton-Smith, Brian. Cited in Hammond. Leading and Learning for the 21st C
sadly “the typical image of play is a single child sitting in front of a television set or video game.’ This is not play – play is an open ended experience initiated by children that involves pretence and spontaneous creative activity. It’s a time of wonder and sensory exploration.”

Dominion Post 19.04.08
The Importance of being Playful
“You can have your ballet lessons, extra tuition, sport and music lessons, but children must have creative personal play as well.”

“Kids learn socializing skills, creative skills and judgement skills and about right and wrong when they’re allowed to play.”

'Hands on' activity based learning
Marcon, R.A. (2002). Moving up the grades: Relationship between preschool model and later school success. Early Childhood Research & Practice, Vol 4(1),
Those who had hands on experiences in early schooling did better later on

Michael Shayer – Children are less able than they used to be

11 and 12 year old students in year 7 are “now on average between 2 & 3 years behind where they were 15 years ago” in terms of cognitive and conceptual development.
They know less about the world and how things work

Reason – speculation
“Lack of experiential play in primary schools, and the growth or a video game, tv culture. Both take away the kinds of hands-on play that allows kids to experience how the world works in practice and to make informed judgements about abstract concepts”

Importance of student directed learning
Dockett, Sue. Cited in NSW Dept. of Education and Training. Hurry! Hurried! Hurrumph! Reprinted in Education Horizons. Vol 8. No 5, 2005 pp. 30-31.

“Parents see adult supervised activities as a way of doing something valuable. Play isn’t seen as valuable any more in its own right”

“The most creative people in the world play with ideas.”

“Hurried children don’t get a chance to test ideas, explore and experiment because they are always meeting adult time frames and expectations”

The importance of creativity
Yong Zhao (2006) “Are We Fixing the Wrong Things?” Educational Leadership. vol 63 no 8, pp. 28-31

“Creativity cannot be taught but it can be killed”
The current focus on centralized curriculum, standardized testing, accountability,required course of study – could kill creativity, the United States real competitive edge.

Educating the 'whole child' - social / emotional, physical and cognitive.
“Modern life leads to more depression among children”

“Children need what developing human beings have always needed, real food (as opposed to processed “junk”), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives...

They also need time. In a fast-moving hyper-competitive culture, today’s children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum. They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini adults and exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past. Our society rightly takes great pains to protect our children from physical harm, but seems to have lost sight of their emotional and social needs.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A good Discovery Time quote

Tony Horsfall came across this quote the other day:

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery” - Mark Van Doren

Thanks Tony

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Great Start to the Year

I called in at Randwick School on Thursday to see how they were going with Discovery Time. The junior school of three classes started DT at the beginning of the year and this was just their third session - and wow what a session! It absolutely blew me away!

As I walked across the playground at 9.00 (the whole school was in the hall doing Jump Jam) I could see they were well prepared and making the most of the fine weather. Outside under the trees were two water trays, the woodwork bench and painting easels all set up and ready to go.

As I wandered through the classrooms I could see that they were well prepared for students to manage their own learning. All the things that students could possibly want to use were readily available and well organised. The rooms were set up to foster independence and creativity.

As the teachers and students came in, they gathered in one class for the introduction to the session - focus on routines and boundaries. They quickly covered the essentials of:
  • managing the painting (a new system for hanging up pictures).
  • keeping things in their designated areas (talked about the soggy dough that had ended up in the water tray last time).
  • deciding how many students could successfully work at the water troughs.
  • introducing the activities available

The most awsome session followed with eveyone engaged in purposeful learning. The teachers and two helpers were sooooo skilled at standing back and following the childrens lead. They watched and listened to what the kids were trying to do and asked questions to explore and extend their thinking.

"Tell me what's happening here?"

"What are you trying to do?"

"How might you do that?"

"Why do you think that happened?"

"Can I do anything to help?"

"Is there anything else you need?"

The woodwork bench with various shaped pieces of wood and nails with good big flat heads was popular and involved intense concentration. Loved the way that helper Mark held the nail with pliers whilst the kid bashed it in!

The two water trays with a bit of pvc guttering was between them was an absolute winner. The oral language, turn taking and negotiation that went on whilst trying to get the water to flow uphill... were a joy to watch.

But the most wonderful aspect was that when these teachers had their first session the previous week they were disappointed with the results. It was their reflection, problem solving skills and determination to make it work that produced an absolutely amazing session.

Next time I'll stay for the wrap up at the end and report back on that...

If other people are coming away from sessions just buzzing with excitement please add a comment and let us all know what you are doing.

Oops forgot to mention the Digi Kid! At each session a senior student comes in to take photos and show the little ones how to use the camera - great stuff!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bruce Hammond

We've just had our teacher only day with Bruce Hammond. Fantastic! Provided a vision of where we can head with the new curriculum... and yes Discovery Time fits right in!

  • Allowing students to direct their own learning.
  • Providing opportunities for 'hands on' experiential learning.
  • Educating the 'whole child' - social / emotional, physical and cognitive - finding the 'spark' in each student.
  • Understanding the importance of play and exploration in making learning connections.
  • Encouraging creativity.

All part of the new vision for education - but is it new? Suddenly one starts to feel somewhat old! Haven't we been here before? References to Sylvia Ashton Warner, Elwyn S Richardson and of course Dewey and Vygotsky. Comforting somehow that what was for a time lost, has been found again. Roll on the new year!

Check out Bruce's website

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Children's Book Shop - Kilbirnie

If you are stocking up your library book shelves then this is a wonderful place to visit.
Our book, "Discovery Time. Developing key competencies through activity-based, child- directed learning" is available at the Children's Bookshop.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A new school year.

At long last Brenda has taught me how to contribute to the Blog site - I hope I can remember!
Holidays are nearly over so lots of plans and exciting things happening for 2009.
Brenda and I are looking forward to being part of Teacher Only days next week. We will be helping schools to get started with Discovery Time. Sounds like fun!
We do like the feed back we get from around NZ. We would love to hear from the Arlington, Virginia people that have been visiting our blog site. Are you into some exciting Discovery Time things in your school? Let us know what you're up to.