What a delight it was to pick up ‘The Perfect Picnic’ by Ciara Flood (author and illustrator) and read it to my little bunch of 4 year olds. The book tells the story of Squirrel and Mole. They do absolutely everything together and are the best of friends.
When they decide to go on a picnic, Squirrel wants it to be the best picnic ever in the best picnic spot ever! Things don’t go to plan and squirrel wonders if they will ever find the right spot whereas poor little mole doesn’t mind where they dine.
This is a lovely story of friendship and kindness overcoming a disastrous situation! But what’s even better than the written word is the illustration. Ciara has included such beautiful detail in every page that there are a multiple of stories in one book. This book could be opened up every day for a week and something different would be noticed among the drawings.
My little group of 4 year olds enjoyed the anticipation of mole and squirrel discovering what had happened to their carefully planned picnic. What a big giggle they let out when poor Squirrel shouted “NOOOOOO!” They, of course, had known of this disastrous turn of events pages ago!
What a lovely group of animals live in this neighbourhood. To come together and return missing food and dust off damaged goods impressed the children. We stayed on this page for a while noticing how everyone helped in their own unique way.
A book as rich as this lends to lots of extended play ideas and lesson learning. Below, I have outlined some that came to mind after we enjoyed “The Perfect Picnic”
Maths concept and pre-reading skills:
Game: “What have the pigeons eaten?”
As kind as the pigeons were to return one cracker to Mole and Squirrel, we’re sure there were more than that to start with! What happened to the rest? The pigeons must have eaten them!!
If those pigeons had a whole picnic of food laid out in front of them, I bet they would steal that too. Let’s play a game where we guess what pieces of food have been taken.
What you will need:
- A couple of pigeons: These could be sock puppets, cut-outs or simply your own hands using your index finger and thumb as a beak.
- Picnic food: Play food, real food or pictures of food. 10 items would work well for this game with 3-4 year olds.
Lay out the food on a table and let the child/children take the time to look at each item. Here come those pesky pigeons! Ask the children to cover their eyes while the pigeons steal an item or two from the spread. When the children open their eyes again they need to figure out which items were taken.
The observation and memory enhancing skills that are practiced here will help the children as their reading skills grow.
The game can be set out in a way that helps illustrate some maths concepts too. For example;
- 10 crackers can be set out for the pigeons to steal. The children need to figure out how many have been taken.
- Various sized crackers set out and the children will figure out how many large/small/medium crackers were taken.
- Picnic food set out in groups/categories like Breads, Fruit, Meats, Drinks. When the stolen food is returned, the children need to return them to their respective groups.
An awareness of our neighbourhood and community:
Make maps with drawings and/or collage:
In the first and last pages of the book, there is a map of the countryside in which Squirrel and Mole travelled to find their picnic spot. The map is made of pictures, words and symbols.
How did you all get to preschool today? What did you pass by on the way? Let’s make a map of your journey using pictures, words and symbols (with an adult’s help if needed).
An idea to enhance these maps would be printed photos of various landmarks in the locality like shop fronts, churches, sign posts, parks etc and use as part of the collage.
Alternatively, you could make a group collaboration of a map of the preschool and its immediate surroundings. Ask the children to think about all that they pass on their way to the preschool room like the car park, plants/grass areas, front door, hallway, other rooms etc.
This activity will encourage the children to become more aware of their local community. It should raise discussions on various buildings and their occupants e.g. the doctor in the doctor’s surgery or the friendly shop keeper in the local shop.
Go for a picnic!
Of course, the mouth-watering pictures of a delicious-looking picnic would make any child want to go straight to the fridge, cupboard and fruit bowl to pack their bag and go in search of the perfect picnic spot for themselves and their friends. Good idea!! Why not squeeze in a little lesson on good food choices here.
Notice how balanced and colourful Squirrel and Mole’s picnic spread is with cheese and salad sandwiches, crackers and yummy red apples. Of course there is no harm in a sweet cake too, a little bit of what makes us happy is good for our overall health and well-being 🙂
Why not plan a picnic for the next day and encourage the children to bring in something from home, something with a bit of colour (fruit or veg). How proud they will be as they contribute to the group’s outing (even if it is just out the back!).
Ciara has delicately illustrated the prettiness that is meadow wild flowers in several of the pages in the book. Take the time to notice the variety of shapes and colours of the drawings with the children. If you are lucky enough to be located near a meadow or garden of colourful wild flowers, grab a notebook and pencil and search for as many varieties as you can. Get the children to sketch the flowers and take a few pictures with your camera/phone. When you get back to preschool, produce the water colour paints or colouring pencils and let the children continue to bring life to their drawings.