Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Moving and Shaking Outdoors

There is nothing that can take the place of good old-fashioned outdoor play!

Rolling in the grass, climbing in trees or on playground equipment, and balancing on low walls or curbs all help your children develop the balance and gross motor skills they need for so many daily activities. Movement of the body and development of those core muscles may even help with their stamina and ability to focus and attend to tasks. These actions can also give little ones the sensory experiences that they don't get enough of in today's plugged-in world :)

Allow your child to make choices and try things that push them a little out of your comfort zone. Explore new playgrounds or see opportunities for exploration in a daily walk through the neighborhood. Outdoor or active play gives your children areas to try out new skills. Choose a safe environment, but with room to explore and move freely, and let your children set the tone.

Let your kiddos strengthen their growing muscles by pulling up or hanging upside down on playground equipment or sturdy tree limbs. Let them try out some hanging ladder-style bars - even making it a little way across will seem like a great accomplishment ... and then help them set goals for how they will improve through the summer :) Balance on a curb, or sidewalk edging.

Even though your children may be great walkers or even runners, crawling is still great exercise for your little ones. Group or single play obstacle courses are fun to set up, change up, and explore! Crawl around or under some backyard chairs or tables, hop over some garden stones, walk along some patio blocks ... you get the picture!

Remember rolling down grassy hills? So much fun! Make sure your kiddos get to experience barrel rolling down hills and across grassy areas - it is good for their bodies to exercise and get the stimulation that occurs naturally through these simple activities.

When you're all worn out, lie out on some cool grass, look through some leafy trees - there are lots of moments that can be great for conversation with your little ones - unplugged, relaxed, and open ended :)

Have fun!


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Math with water!

One of the BEST things about summer is that you can get wet and messy ... and, then just clean up outside!

Playing with water as an open-ended activity can present your child with many different learning opportunities - and lots of fun! The math lessons and practice with language concepts will take place organically :) while fulfilling so many of the core learning concepts that we want kiddos to explore.

I like to have an inflatable baby pool on hand, but any kind of tub or container that holds water will do!



First, make sure you have different sized containers available for pouring and measuring. Model how to pour from one to another, or just let your kiddos figure it out. They will soon see that some containers can handle more water and some less ... and what happens when you pour from larger to smaller and vice versa. There is no better teacher for this type of measurement than hands on experience!

Next, play with a variety of objects to establish a sink and float lab. Provide some interesting household objects - plastic dishes, spoons, corks, colanders and funnels, etc. - and show how some will sink and some will float. Let your little ones try different things and put them in categories ... another math skill!

Float a few rubber duckies (or whatever small floaty toys you have handy!) in the water and count them out as you go. Matching objects with the numbers that represent them is an early skill to hone, and you can sing as well ...
"One little, two little, three little duckies ..."

Then, start to play a game that uses positional words - over, under, next to, etc. - and let your child take the lead, coming up with new ways to display the ducks (or balls, or boats, or whatever). This practice with verbalizing the positional concepts will help your child become more familiar with the words for each.

Let them come up with new ways to play - filling up and draining the containers, splashing and pouring, floating different toys - all will teach new lessons, and make for hours of fun! Don't forget to provide some clean paintbrushes to paint on hot sidewalks or decking, making shapes, lines, and even beginning to practice letters and numbers :)

A tub of water + lots of fun = tons of authentic math learning!

Have fun! 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Take Science Out for a Walk!

Sometimes you just have to pack your stuff and get outdoors! As Spring approaches, look for new ways to explore the backyard, playground, or sidewalk. Grab a basket or tote and throw in whatever "science" tools you have around ... Magnets, magnifiers, measuring tools, a sieve or colander, transparent colored or clear lids or containers. Grab a block and a car for even more fun! Somehow, making a Kit makes it more official - and fun!

Let your little ones take the lead - see what they're drawn to and slow down the pace to "notice" everything about it. It might be bugs or spiders, it might be plants or trees - lessons are all around you! If they need a little nudge, model your own observing style ... they'll want to know ... "What are you looking at?"

Prompt them to explore with "I wonder..." statements, and then let them go with it!



  • Take some little cars out to the playground or backyard and see which ones go faster down the slide. Build your own slide with a long piece of wood and change the angle to make the car go faster or slower.
  • Use your magnifier to get a close up look at all the different colors and parts of a bug (the non-stinging variety!) Your kiddos will be amazed at the details they see. Help them take a picture with your phone and enlarge it for viewing. Bring a sketch book with crayons or colored pencils, so your child can record like a scientist :)
  • Measure everything you see - with a ruler or against something familiar - sneakers or fingers make a great non-standard unit of measure. How many fingers tall is that flower? How many sneakers long is that bench?
  • Do a magnetic or non-magnetic study! Have your child see you try a magnet with something magnetic - it's magical! Then, something non-magnetic ... they will want to join in and find out for themselves!
  • Take samples of dirt from different areas and check them for differences ... are they the same color? Texture? Wet or dry? Sift some sand and see what different sizes those grains of sand really are - are there stones left behind?

Let your little ones play in the dirt and the mud - it will open their mind to scientific thinking and making conclusions.

Have fun!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Word Problems and Graphing with Goldfish!

Learning math through playful word problems can be super fun - with the right props! Use whatever you want for counting ... reading books about fish inspired us to use pretzel goldfish ... which happened to be in the kitchen cabinet!

To get started, grab a pair of dice, some paper fishbowls, and some yummy goldfish and get ready to play! It doesn't matter which flavor you use - player's choice :)



Players take turns rolling a die and counting out the number of fish into their own bowls. Then, they each take a second turn as you state the problem - "Tommy has 4 fish and he gets 3 more. How many does he have all together now?" This use of typical word problem language, while your child can directly visualize the scene, eases your child into making those connections.

When you have played a few rounds this way and the kiddos are understanding, take it to a new level .... make some fish vanish! Roll again, but this time, it is to take away or subtract! "Sarah had 5 fish, but she ate 2 - how many are left?" Players can keep rolling until all their fish are gone :) Decide on your rules beforehand - ending on an exact roll was one of ours!

If you have rainbow goldfish, you can also practice some math skills by setting up some columns and sorting out the four different colors - then graphing them and using "most" and '" fewest" to describe the amounts. Proper math terms are good to know :)

All of these math skills are goals for any early childhood curriculum - but always, always make it fun - yum!



Sunday, February 28, 2016

Making Friends: Interview Chat

Little ones don't always know how to start making friends ... or conversation. Give them an assist with a brand new microphone for "interviewing" - home made or dollar store bought :) If you're going with home-made, invent your own from recycled materials around your home. We used a cardboard roll, some silver foil, and stickers.

If you're not looking to DIY, check around at the dollar stores to find one that is durable - I have a toy microphone that is all plastic, non-electronic, and echoes your voice, mimicking a real microphone for a fraction of the cost.

Now, help your child come up with some practice questions, such as "What's your favorite toy? What movies do you like? Do you have a favorite animal or pet?" Ask your child what they would like to know about a friend and practice setting up questions.

Model this behavior with your child by playing an "interview" game to help them know how it works, to prepare for when they are ready to try it themselves. Then, next time you are in a social situation with some other little ones, set them free to make new friends and find out all about them.

Have fun!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fairy Tales: Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk is a favorite story with the little guys ... it has everything - magic, a giant bad guy, a castle - all their favorites in one fairy tale!

Make a playset to act out the story, including a castle in the clouds and a tall, tall beanstalk! A file folder, opened top to bottom, makes a great tall backdrop to situate your scenery on. Your children can set their castles near the top and make sure they add some cotton ball clouds. Next, have them use markers, chenille sticks, paper, or whatever you have around to make the tall, tall beanstalk that grew from the magic beans. Then, draw or color some characters and they will have their own "stage" to act out or retell the story.

Be sure to start out with "Once upon a time," and "far, far away" ... fairy tales help little ones sort out good and bad, and develop some sense of resolution, especially when the ending is "happily ever after."

Before reading the story, check for any background your audience has with this story or similar fairy tales.

Then, begin to relate the story in the style of an old-time storyteller, without the book ... just to spark their interest and get their attention.

Next, pull out the book, and launch into the story, pausing to have them participate physically whenever possible ... tossing beans, climbing up the stalk, peeking under the giant's door. They will love the movement, and it will help to imprint the story on their brains :)

When you're all finished, look for some short video clips - there are some great animated short clips of all the popular fairy tales - and compare and contrast with the story you read aloud! Your little ones will amaze you with their attention to detail :)

For more extension activities...
  • plant some bean seeds ... use either dirt or get really magical with seeds sealed up with damp paper towels in ziplocs and hung in the window - roots and sprouts to come!
  • sort all sorts of dry beans and count, pattern, etc. for math
  • have friends draw pictures for each of the story parts, or the giant's special things, and practice sequencing 
  • photograph your little ones in climbing poses, cut them out, and help them fashion a paper beanstalk to "climb" - they will get a big kick out it! 
Have fun!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Fairy Tales: The Three Little Pigs

Once upon a time, we read "The Three Little Pigs." The best way to remember a story, or anything at all, is to immerse yourself in it. So, read it, watch a video clip of it, act it out, make crafts, etc. When reading "The Three Little Pigs," give your kiddos some materials and let them make one (or more!) of the pigs' houses from the fairy tale.

Work on scissor skills by having little ones cut strips of red paper for bricks to build the brick house. They will need something to glue them onto ... so search around for some cardboard or a small container of some sort to act as the structure. We used cardboard food containers, like those for Chinese food, sold in multiple packages at craft stores, and they worked great!!

If your crew is up for it, you can keep going, like we did, and make a whole RETELLING KIT!! One house was not enough for us, and we did have a whole container to fill, so we cut up some small cardboard house shapes and thought about what to decorate them with. We let our little friends add straw (yarn) and sticks (cut up lunch bags) to complete their set of three houses. (Thanks for the great ideas, Amy!!) Both  houses are now stored in our brick house container!

When all the houses are complete, add three little pigs and a wolf. We made ours from paper, but you can do it any way you want. Clay, small animal figures, counters, etc. would all be interesting and fun. Practice retelling the story using all your new props, and talk about the characters as you go along! 

When you're reading the story together, make sure you include some little actors from your group - all they have to master is the repeating lines "Little Pig, little pig, let me in" and "Not by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin!" Of course, "I'll huff and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house down!" is a pivotal line, as well!

Have fun with the story and make sure you end with ... and they lived happily ever after (the pigs that is...)!

Looking for other play ideas to go along with the theme? Try adding sticks, yarn, chenille sticks, and small building blocks to a playdough table to build the pigs' houses - or just play!  

Have fun!