Air time

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<P> It's all around us, but how do children explore something as invisible as the air? The final part of our elements series offers ideas from <B> Gail Ryder Richardson </B> </P>

It's all around us, but how do children explore something as invisible as the air? The final part of our elements series offers ideas from Gail Ryder Richardson

Air is an invisible force that has an unpredictable nature. In the eyes of young children it takes on an almost magical quality when it swirls autumn leaves, whips their hair around their faces, bends branches, lifts kites and flips umbrellas inside out.

For children to become aware of the air around them they need to go outdoors and feel the air on their faces and bodies and discover for themselves what it can do. So how can they be given opportunities to investigate air and explore its mysterious properties?

With a bit of planning, a few simple resources, and plenty of enthusiasm, practitioners and children can go up, up, up and away on a windy day. Here are a few examples that show clearly how experiences with air and wind can children's progress towards the early learning goals.

Personal, social and emotional development

Children have a strong exploratory impulse and are naturally curious. This is a vital attribute to nurture in children as they work towards developing positive dispositions and attitudes towards learning.

Maisie, for example, spends a long time blowing soap bubbles and she watches them as they are carried away on the breeze.

Communication, language and literacy

As children work towards the early learning goal for thinking they begin to recognise patterns in their experience, through linking cause and effect.

Harry looks out of the window at the waving branches and comments, 'It's very windy today, last time some branches got blown off.'

Mathematical development

As children's familiarity with numbers grow and they work towards developing calculating skills, number rhymes can be used to follow up a windy session outdoors and reinforce children's understanding.

Anna enjoys chanting 'Five little leaves so bright and gay were dancing about on a tree one day'. She blows hard on her fingers, saying 'The wind came blowing through the town and one little leaf came tumbling down.'

Knowledge and understanding of the world

Children working towards the goal for exploration and investigation need opportunities to talk about what is seen and what is happening.

Katie notices that the clouds are moving across the sky and disappearing behind the flats, and she wonders where they are going.

Physical development

Children working towards the learning goals for movement need to be able to move spontaneously within the available space.

Sean hears a plane flying overhead and looks up to watch it. He puts out his arms and moves round the garden, calling out 'I am up in the air, I am flying'. He does this for several minutes before lying down. 'Now I have landed,' he says (Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, p104).

Creative development

As children work towards the learning goal for responding to experiences and expressing and communicating ideas, they need opportunities to explore an experience using a range of senses.

James is twirling round and round, making the clothes he wears from the dressing up box flare out around him. He calls out 'look at me, look at me!' The practitioner shows him how to use a scarf and streamer to make swirling lines in the air as he twists around (Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, p126).


It is worth taking time to assemble some inexpensive resources that will inspire or extend children's exploration of air. Label a storage box clearly and remember to keep it in a place where children can access it easily.


  • Feathers of different sizes and colours
  • Lengths of floaty materials or scarves
  • Balloons of different shapes and sizes
  • Bubble blowing kits
  • Ribbons or streamers of about 1m long and 5cm wide
  • Handheld windmills
  • Paper bags and string
  • Biodegradable confetti or scraps of rice paper
  • Sycamore seeds
  • Big pieces of stiff card.

Wish list

  • A parachute
  • Kites
  • Old umbrellas that will turn inside out, as in the story The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins (Picture Puffins, 3.50)
  • Unbreakable mirrors to look at reflections of hair blowing
  • A tape recorder to record the sound of the wind
  • A camera for children to record their experiences and discoveries.


First, spend some time developing children's awareness of air:

  • Take the children for a walk on a windy day. Encourage them to notice what is happening around them.
  • Spread out a blanket and ask the children to lie on their backs to watch the clouds and trees moving with the air currents. Can they feel the wind on their faces and hair? Can they describe what it feels like?
  • Read stories such as The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins or Mrs Mopple's Washing Line by Anita Hewett (Mini Treasures, Red Fox, 1.25). Discuss times when the children have seen and felt the wind blowing hard. Can they tell you how it made them feel? Can they describe what the wind sounded like?

Use the resources above to explore the properties of wind. These activities may be incorporated into a topic, but they are equally valuable as a response to children's natural interest or enthusiasm. A skilled practitioner will be able to exploit these spontaneous opportunities and extend children's understanding by introducing one or two of the following ideas.


  • Throw feathers into the wind and watch where they fall. Follow the feathers to see where they land. Are some feathers more difficult to find than others? If so, why?
  • Put several downy feathers on the ground. Watch as the air lifts them and redistributes them. Follow them to see where they land. Which are easy to find and which are more difficult? Make the link to the idea of camouflage in the natural environment.

Material, ribbons, streamers

  • Encourage children to run into the wind with the lengths of material or scarves against their bodies. What happens when they run in the opposite direction away from the wind?
  • Encourage children to hold a length of material at arm's length in the wind. What happens to it? How does it move? What happens if they move their arms up or down, or side to side?
  • Run along holding high a ribbon or streamer. What happens? Listen and watch.
  • How does it move in the wind?


  • Blow up several balloons and hold the air inlet tightly. Release the balloons one by one. Do the balloons always behave in the same way?
  • Blow up a balloon and fasten it tightly so that the air cannot escape. How high can you make your balloon go? Can you move your balloon by blowing on it? For how long can you keep the balloon in the air?


  • Experiment with bubbles. How big can you make them? Do big bubbles go further than small ones? How long can you keep a bubble in the air?
  • Blow bubbles outside to check which way the wind is blowing.

Handheld windmills

  • Hold windmills and watch what happens. Try using them inside first. What happens if children turn and face in a different direction?

Paper bags and string

  • Make simple kites and run with them outside. What happens to the bag?

Confetti and sycamore seeds

  • Throw them and watch what happens as they are carried through the air. Why do sycamore seeds spin? Can you think of anything else that spins as it flies through the air?

Stiff card

  • Encourage the children to run against the wind holding pieces of stiff card. The bigger the card, the more wind resistance there is. Can they tell you what happens to the card? What happens if they run in the opposite direction?

Planning and teaching

Be prepared! As Marjorie Ouvry points out in her book Exercising Muscles and Minds (see box), sooner or later there will definitely be a windy day when the children are at the setting. But if you are going to make the most of it, you will be too late to start planning and preparing on the day.

  • Collect posters and pictures that have links to air, for example kites flying or trees blowing.
  • Observe what children do and what they notice on windy days.
  • Collect useful resources and devise activity ideas that will support children's enthusiasm and interest in air.
  • Make a note of useful open-ended questions to extend children's thinking and understanding about air.
  • Consider how activities will support children's progress towards the early learning goals.
  • As part of your partnership with parents, let them know that you will be taking children outside whatever the weather. Talk to them about the value of these windy day experiences and ask for their support.

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