Our bright idea - Magic potions

Getting children to make potions at the nursery and at home helped engage parents, says Laura Wayman

Photographs at Busy Bears Children's day nursery by North News We have been promoting 'parents as partners' with our Bumble Room team, who work with children aged three to five. Considering that 80 per cent of what children learn happens at home, we believe that forming strong partnerships with parents is essential to help extend learning and development opportunities for all of the children in our care. These strong links can help to give children the confidence to keep learning and extending their boundaries of knowledge and understanding.

Our bottle collection has reinforced our belief in the importance of involving parents in their children's learning. It began as a simple collection after one of our children asked, 'What is magic?', but has been extended to involve activities both in the nursery and in the home.

Practitioners have been overwhelmed with the response from parents and carers to these activities. The success of the 'magic potions' activities has, in turn, motivated staff to consider other effective ways to engage with families.


  • Many of the children had become fascinated by magic and were constantly seen mixing 'potions' in the sand and water tray. A parent even commented that their child's morning bowl of cereal had become a magic concoction.
  • To tap in to this interest, we assembled a collection of bottles of different shapes and sizes and provided a range of resources that the children could use to create their own magic brews. These included: cake mixture, sawdust, gloop, glitter, instant snow powder (available from TTS), food colouring and oil. We also provided resources that would make a sound when shaken in the bottle, such as lentils and other pulses.
  • To further support the children's interestm we provided a selection of books: Ten Green Bottles - An Interactive Counting Book by Tamsin Hinrichsen (Top That! Publishing), The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nancy Dunaway Fowlkes (August House Little Folke), Tom and The Island of Dinosaurs by Ian Beck (Picture Corgi Books), Spells by Emily Gravett (Macmillan Children's Books) and A Day in the Life of a Little Glass Bottle by Alison Inches (Little Green Books).
  • The children's explorations provided a wide range of learning opportunities (see below) and the chance to touch on subjects such as recycling.
  • The children continue to treasure their collection of potions, which remains on display and is often incorporated into their role play.


Alongside the activities in the nurseries, we asked the children to create their own potions at home, bottle them and bring them into the setting. This proved successful and we were inundated with potions that the children had created with their parents.

One of the children enjoyed spending one cold windy afternoon with his mum at a local beach collecting an array of rocks from the rock pools and sea water for his contribution to the bottle collection. His mum kindly documented the learning experience by providing his special carers with documentation and photographs.

Matthew's mum documented all three of the magic potions he decided to make at the kitchen table. Oliver's potions were inspired by The Incredibles superheroes and included bat juice, made with blackcurrant, while Isabel and her mum experimented with food colouring and oil.


After a few weeks of collecting the children's potions and brews, we evaluated the home activity and concluded that the responses had greatly helped to extend parent/carer involvement in the setting.

We noted that it tended to be the children's mums who had helped to create the potions and brews at home and decided to encourage more fathers to get involved.

We considered activities that men tend to enjoy, such as football and being outdoors, and decided to encourage fathers to work with their children outside.

Our children's special carers encouraged the children to create their very own 'messages in a bottle', and ask if it would be possible to go on an adventure (where appropriate with dad) over the weekend to find somewhere to release their bottles. The messages were sent home with the children and we also provided the family with a camera so that they could take a few shots of their adventures. Our plan is to now focus on getting fathers more involved in their children's learning.


Personal, social and emotional development

Enjoy joining in with family customs and routines

Talk freely about their home and community

Work as part of a group or class, taking turns and sharing fairly, understanding that there needs to be agreed values and codes of behaviour for groups of people, including adults and children, to work together harmoniously

Communication, language and literacy

Use vocabulary focused on objects and people that are of particular importance to them

Use talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking, ideas, feelings and events

Mathematical development

Use developing mathematical ideas and methods to solve practical problems

Knowledge and understanding of the world

Show understanding of cause/effect relations

Remember and talk about significant events in their own experience

Show interest in the lives of people familiar to them

Creative development

Talk about personal intentions, describing what the children were trying to do


Laura Wayman is the deputy manager of Busy Bears Children's Day Nursery, Durham (www.busybearsdurham.co.uk). She spoke to Jean Evans

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