Minibeasts’ Theme Shelves & Resources…
…including how to set up a topic area
Somehow we’ve managed to have a minibeast theme during National Insect Week. I really should look forward a little more so that I can actually plan these things and it not just be luck. The great thing about doing something during a themed week or day is that lots more resources become available and you can see many ideas shared on platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest. I’m still a firm believer in going with the interests of the child, which is often why I don’t plan ahead. However, you can often link things that your child is currently keen on or showing a developmental need for to such themes.
Why did we end up with minibeasts?
Floss has had a fascination with small creepy crawlies. When she’s found a spider or an ant she’s gradually got closer to observe the creature and watch it move. Since our ocean theme shelves she’s also enjoyed having smaller animals to play with (Floss doesn’t have these unsupervised as they are not meant for children under 3. I let her use them with close supervision as she is particularly dexterous and doesn’t mouth toys any more). At the end of last week we found a butterfly on the floor that mesmerised Floss for a long time. When it flew away she watched it flutter until it disappeared out of sight. So, that’s the reasons behind minibeasts for this week.
Before I tell you what’s on the shelfie for this theme I wanted to let you know a little more about the thought process behind our shelves; not just for this shelf, but for all theme based shelves.
Needs & Interests
As I said above, I go with what the child is interested in. Now for me this has two elements – a topic interest and a developmental need.
- Topic Interest – Are they really into animals, flowers, football, a particular country etc. This is often very easy to find out through observation and discussion with your little one.
- Developmental Need – this can be trickier to know. Careful observation of the child will help you and it’s often a case of trial and error until you become more sure. You can usually tell if you’ve got it right as there will be a good level of engagement in the activity. Too easy and the child will become bored – too hard and the child will become too frustrated. Using documents such as development matters can help you know the stages of development and ideas for what next when something has been mastered. It is important to remember that children like to master a skill and practise something over and over. Introducing new concepts can also secure their understanding and help hone their skills.
Here’s an example to hopefully demonstrate what I mean about developmental need. Floss has always enjoyed stacking towers. She used to use two hands to be able to add rings onto the stick, but has lately become proficient in using one hand. She has been continuing to enjoy it, but it has become much easier for her and she doesn’t often miss adding one; she’s almost mastered it! Knowing how much she enjoys this I wanted to extend this activity and bring back some challenge, so I got a Plan Toy Lacing Sheep. This has a ‘stick’ that moves and smaller rings to put on. The head of the sheep is not flat so she has to secure the head with one hand while trying to slot the rings on with the other. I also introduced bobbins and thread, again so that there would need to be a two handed challenge with both hands working together to perform the action.
So, I took an interest she had, saw what she could do and planned for the next step to develop her fine motor control and hand eye co-ordination.
What to do?
- Mind map or jot down all the things that come to mind for that theme – asking other people for ideas helps too. My mom and Floss’s DadDad usually contribute. I love mind maps. They can be as simple or as elaborate as you like; I learnt from the Tony Buzan books.
- Using the main theme and ideas that you have come up with, do some image searches and look at Pinterest to get other, linked ideas. Add these to your mind map or list.
- Find books that you have that match the theme or ideas.
- Go to the library to get other books that match.
- Find items around the home that would be good to use with the stories. For example real fruit you might have to use with the Very Hungry Caterpillar. A jar to go with Christopher’s Caterpillars. A ball for Oscar and the Cricket, Farm Animals to go with What the Ladybird Heard.
- Find out puzzles, games, small world figures and other resources that match the theme that you already have. Check – are the resources developmentally appropriate?
- Use fabric, natural wooden toys, bowls and baskets to make the area more inviting. You may already have these around the home. I’m always on the look out at charity shops for these and at haberdashery shops for off-cuts or fat quarts of fabric.
- Borrow things that you don’t have. Do you have any family or friends who would let you borrow items for a couple of weeks that might fit your theme?
- Make items to match, if you’re a little crafty. Do you have a relative who likes to make things too? It could be that you plan to make items as part of the theme with your little one. For example we’re a little shy on small world butterflies, so we’ll be making some butterflies this week.
- We use free printables to get images to use for matching and other games – twinkl and pinterest I find really useful for this.
- Start to arrange your resources onto the shelf space you’ve got. Don’t put everything on if it looks too overcrowded. It’s nice to be able to swap things in and out of the time your theme is running. Don’t be afraid to swap things around, especially after you’ve seen how your little one interacts with the area.
- Planning an experience linked to your theme can be a great way to make your shelves come alive. This can be searching for insects in your garden to going to a Butterfly Farm or looking at fish in a pond or a local aquatic centre to going to a Sea Life centre. A seaside theme could have a trip to the beach or a bag of sand in the back garden. I often find that interest in the topic area really increases following on from a little adventure.
- Lastly, have a wish list. Topics are often very seasonal or cyclical and you will no doubt be investigating them further in the future. Make a list of other items you’d wish you could have next time. Then if you see things in a charity shop, on discount or gift ideas for your little one you’ve got a list ready.
These suggestions can work for one child or a class of 30. The only difference is how many children’s needs you’re accommodating; everything doesn’t need to be for everyone. Let me know if there’s anything you do that I can add. I’m always on the look out for great ideas.
I’ve written an updated minibeast exploring post for Floss now she is three – link here. We’ve introduced nature journalling too!