Sunday, January 14, 2018

Loose Parts: Junk Drawer Bounty!

There are so many cool things that you can do with Loose Parts - all the little things that end up in your junk drawer or around the house. With only a discerning eye and some old odds and ends, you can put together a basket or box of small things to tempt your child's imagination! Playing with collections can enhance math and science skills, stimulate language development, encourage creativity, and give small motor skills a workout. And, it's fun!

First, check your junk drawers for old keys, buttons, and other little pieces that might make interesting additions to your collections box. Coins can also be cool for sorting, patterning, and making designs with. Nuts, bolts, screws, etc. might make the list - anything small hands can tinker with, while staying safe. We also found some old monopoly houses, dice, bottle caps, and ping pong balls, which were all of immediate interest to our small friends.

Next, set them out and watch the magic happen! All of these small objects can be examined,  sorted by many different attributes - size, color, shapes, etc. Piles, patterns, lines and arrays may happen. Counting and comparing will be a natural next step. Encourage one to one correspondence counting by touch-counting objects yourself. Some of our friends even made creative pictures with different small pieces, shaping flowers, people, houses ... watch out, imaginations may be sparked! Side by side play on the part of the adult is a great way to spur exploration, without direct instruction or direction.

When our friends discovered our classroom collections, buttons and keys were examined and sorted - conversations about where they came from and what they would do with them came next. Sorting mats were pulled out and magnifying glasses employed. Every child discovered their inner scientist :) Patterns were made, and attributes discussed, using comparative language! The balls were bounced and rolled and then raced on flat surfaces - and then  other small pieces were used to make an obstacle course - lots of basic physics tests followed. Different objects were even put together to make non-permanent art - very cool pictures and collages!

See what's in your junk drawer - and get started!

Have fun!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Host Your Own Kiddo Olympics!

With the Winter Olympics coming up, there are so many fun ideas to play with that are Olympics-related and that will inspire excitement in your children!! Check out the live feed from or get lots of info at www.olympic.orgGoogle "Olympics" for more sites ...

Even though your kiddos aren't in the real Olympics (yet!), you can still do some training and competition! It is so important for children to have lots of exercise and physical movement - get out there and make it happen! It's easy to put together a simple program of activities using items you may already have around the house or classroom. If you do a few games or exercises each day, you can stretch it out over a few days or a week - culminating in a Closing Ceremony of your choice!

Generate some interest in a "Kids Olympics" by asking your children what they already know about winter sports ... skiing, skating, hockey, snowboarding, etc. Build the conversation by sharing your own experiences with athletics or your memories of Olympic athletes (or other sports figures!). There are lots of clips available on Google, YouTube, etc. to help explain the concept of the Games to children - just be careful to preview all clips before sharing - titles do not always reflect content. Talk to your children about competing and taking pride in their accomplishments - stress the value of trying and training, and the concepts of winning and participating.

A trip to the great outdoors when there is snow on the ground or to the ice rink is a great option for those who are able. Any time you can fit in a little large motor activity, go for it! If you are looking to do a competition indoors or in a more controlled way, you can come up with your own games. Try putting together "Our Own Olympics" with fun and games for all! 

Here are some game suggestions that you can do at home or school with little preparation: 
(A punch card or sticker card is an easy way to keep it organized!)

Sock Skating: shoes off on a smooth surface and you can practice some twirls, figure eights or, in a big enough space, some speed skating! Great for the large motor stretching!

Balance Board: using a piece of 2x4 or some long wooden blocks, practice walking on the thin raised (just the depth of the blocks) platform to work on balance!

Olympic Ring Toss: use bean bags and some hula hoops or a piece of rope made into a circle to do some tossing for depth perception and eye-hand coordination.

Precision Racing: Plastic egg on a big spoon - find a friend and race up and down the room or outside - great exercise for coordination, balance and it's fun!

Tumbling - on a soft surface with supervision, rolling races (roll like a rolling pin!) are action-packed. (Or down a snow-covered hill!)

Keep going ...  inventing games is half the fun! Perhaps your athletes have some ideas, too!

For a related art project, trace children's hands on flame-colored tissue paper - red, orange, yellow - one set of each if you can! Wrap a paper roll with black paper or have them paint them black and then attach the hands to the top - now you have an Olympic torch!

Make some hand-made medals together, going over the five colors of the rings - every country participating, at the time the logo was developed, had at least one of these colors in its flag! The five rings represent the five continents (North and South America were considered together at the time, Europe, Africa, Asia and "Oceania") of the world - and the fact that they are all joined together for "unity" - kids understand that concept!

Crafts can be simple:

For olympic rings, you'll need paper, paint (representing each of the five colors) and small paper cups! Hold the cups upside down, dip in paint and print circles galore!

I like to finish off with individual photos of my Olympic athletes, standing in front of the flag, wearing their hard-earned medals - and huge smiles! They make a great keepsake - and, who knows, maybe it will be part of their own Olympic profile someday! :)

As always - have FUN with it!

(note: Parts of this post are taken or adapted from my previous posts on the Olympics.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mindful "Noticing" in Springtime!

 As Spring emerges, "noticing" has become our favorite word. We notice buds on bushes, water streams after the rain, pods lying on the sidewalk. Many "gifts" have been brought in - dandelions, shiny rocks, flower petals ... all the signs of spring!

As good as the children are at noticing, sometimes we adults are so busy organizing and planning, and just doing, that we miss the opportunities that are presenting themselves ... to stop and look through the eyes of the child next to us, and see where we can go with the subjects they are showing interest in.

Welcome and celebrate the interests of each child - see where their interests lie by the things they consider treasures and want to share with you or their friends. Find a way to incorporate telling about treasure in your day - a show and share type of activity, expanding vocabulary, and promoting conversation and questioning. Try taking turns filling a special bag or box and sharing what's inside! Each day could be a different surprise!

Explorations in parts of a flower or plant, how trees come back to bud, life cycles of plants and animals ... all of these "growth" topics are great for springtime, with examples all around us. Asking open-ended questions, such as "What would you like to do with it?" or "How can we find out?" will get your child more involved in the exploration.

Set up a "sticky wall" to give your children a place to display their treasures. A square of contact paper, hung sticky side out and tacked onto a window or other surface, can become a favorite display and organizing tool for your kiddos. With the light coming in, treasures are highlighted and can become a focus for future explorations. A dedicated exploration center, with small bins and boxes, is another way to organize special things that should be handled and examined. My friends are excited about magnifying glasses and plastic pincers - the tools of a "real" scientist!

Add art materials to the mix! Leave paper for sketching and clay for sculpting near the objects and see what your little ones decide to do - they may make a sculpture with sticks and flowers incorporated, or mold a tower with clay and rocks.

Combining natural materials with traditional art materials gives them a whole new experience! Sketching a rock with all its veins and colors helps children really see all the variety in its appearance, instead of just seeing a brown oval shape. It takes them deeper in "noticing."

 During the day, as you go about activities, make sure that you are present in the moment to witness these experiences, as often as you can. This attention to the little things is the mindfulness we hear so much about lately - young children are so good at this naturally, if we give them the opportunity :)

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Board Game Bonanza

Playing board games with your little ones can be so much fun - and such an unexpected learning tool! Along with things you might think of - counting, letters, colors, etc. - game-playing is also GREAT for practicing social skills and language skills!!

To plan some game time, first you need to pick out some fun, engaging, and visually appealing games to play - little ones love to see lots of pictures and colors. When it is set up right, they can "read" what is going on, even before they can actually read words :)

Some first favorites are Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, both of which are labeled for children as young as three years old. They involve moving along a path on a game board, with some counting, one-to-one correspondence, and unexpected turns here and there. Your child will get practice following directions, taking turns, and being a "good sport"- all great things for them to learn!

Another fun option is Zingo, a Bingo-type game, where they have to use visual discrimination to cover their cards, to match the pictures/words shown. They get to fill up their whole card and will have a great time doing so :) There are other versions of this game which highlight numbers, sight words, etc., but the first one is all about pictures.

Any one of the Memory games offered at stores or online will help your child with this same skill, as well as recall and position words. With so many Memory games out there, your child will have no trouble finding a favorite to pick from :) They turn over two cards at a time, looking for matches, and then have to remember where the matches are as the game progresses.

Charades for Kids can be so much fun for children - and get them talking and acting things out! These are great ways to grow your child's language skills, both when it's their turn and when guessing what others are trying to show. All the cards have both pictures and words to choose from, so even non-readers can play!

There are Spot It cards for many different skills - alphabet letters, shapes, numbers - and they all help with visual discrimination and language skills - make sure you're talking with your child while playing! Any opportunity to engage in new vocabulary with your children is GREAT!

I recently saw a card game called Dr. Seuss "I Can Do That!" that looks like kids would have a blast playing! Each card has a different, sometimes very silly, activity to do that will get your children up and moving! It's on my list!

Get some games together, and get going! It will be great time for conversation, socializing, learning, and, most of all ....

Having fun!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Think It - Make It - Try It!

Scientists have questions, try to figure out ways to answer the questions, come to conclusions, and record their information. Sounds like every young learner I've ever met!  So, let your kiddos know that they ARE real scientists ... and watch them get to work!

To get started, you can put together an assortment of materials that might be useful - and definitely will be appealing. At first, the children might just want to tinker with each of the materials but, before long, they will start to see possibilities for using them in different ways. The idea is to provide this "makerspace" where they can have a thought and then test it out :) For example ... What would make this ball roll faster? Farther? Hmmm....

PVC pipe, in varied widths and lengths is a great place to start. Your local hardware store may even have it pre-cut into shorter lengths - two feet is a very workable length for little learners. I made sure to include two different width sizes (1 1/2" and 2"), as well as different joints that fit one or the other - or both! My scientists had to figure out which would work together and which wouldn't! It has been the workings of many experiments in velocity, friction, air pressure, etc., all by 3, 4, and 5 year olds.

A standard set of unit blocks, as well as any Duplo or Lego sets are great to have around, too. They can be used in conjunction with each other, as your child sees fit. Simple things like shoelaces, twist ties, and velcro strips make great connectors when building. Ping pong balls, available in colors and 6 to a package, were a big hit from my local dollar store!

Small cars, marbles (depending on the age of your children), and any small, light balls are all terrific tools for testing theories on speed and direction. Make sure that they are within reach and at eye view, so that inspiration hits :)

The idea is to introduce these elements but then STEP AWAY. Let the children formulate questions and try out hypotheses through interaction with this variety of resources.

Ask how, what, and why questions to help steer them, if they are stalled.

Maybe they want to see how to make the cars go faster or farther. How could you make that happen? What could you use?

Maybe they want to roll a ball so it goes farther than before. What would help with that? How can you use it?

Prompting to problem solve is the way to go!

My crew wanted to roll ping pong balls farther and faster - so they built this .... on their own!

See what your little scientists can come up with!

Have fun!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dr. Seuss Books to Learn With

It's hard to choose a favorite Dr. Seuss book! There are so many and they each have a different lesson to teach ... and, they're so fun to read!

"Hop on Pop" is a great first read-along for your little ones - there are lots of Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) words involved, and many are rhyming words, which makes them easier to figure out. That feeling of success when kiddos first realize that they recognize a group of letters can propel them into being lifelong readers :)

Play a little game with some letter tiles or index cards ... look for a word that you can work with to change out a letter and make a new word. Show the word first in the book, and then build it with your props - sound out each letter and then ... SWITCH! Change out the first letter, like HOP and POP and watch your child get excited about what they could do with this!

There is nothing better than a little one bringing you a book, with THAT SMILE on their face, and saying "I can READ this!" I see that smile most often with a Dr. Seuss book attached!

"Green Eggs and Ham" is another early favorite! It's silliness and rhymes again make it easier and more fun to read - and the repetitive, lengthening list is a challenge that is still fun for them! The use of positional words is embedded in the text, and can give your student a boost in this math skill.

Pull out a favorite toy or stuffed animal and play a positional word SIMON SAYS game: Simon Says put the Teddy under the chair ... Simon Says put the Teddy in the cabinet, etc.

"Ten Apples Up On Top" is a favorite of many, and can really be enjoyed as a loud, dramatic read aloud, when it gets more and more exciting, as the numbers rise! Counting is of course a focus here, but not the only thing happening. You can discuss feelings and facial expressions, to look for social clues in the illustrations. There are different arrays of apples, up and down and stacked in groups ... not as easy as counting in a straight line!

Look for lessons all around while you are enjoying your Dr. Seuss books ... or any books!

Have fun!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Learning with Lois Ehlert

When you start to plan some garden activities, make sure that you gather up Lois Ehlert books to help your little ones understand what the garden is for! The illustrations and vivid colors are so attractive, and the messages are clear.

Start with "Planting a Rainbow" to illustrate the planning and planting process. Colors are the highlight here, as the flowers in the flower garden all represent the colors of the rainbow. The process of growing from seeds and bulbs is also shown.

"Growing Vegetable Soup" is a great book to show the growth of vegetables from start to finish. Little ones are not always sure where their food is coming from, and may need the visuals to make connections between what they eat and how it come to be. Combine this with a trip to a local farm or farmer's market to get your child's brain thinking outside the supermarket.

"Eating the Alphabet" is another great book for seeing what different foods people eat, including some your child may not be familiar with. It relates each food to alphabet letters, both upper and lower-case, for authentic learning. When children can see and experience things that they read, it becomes more real and stays with them longer. Learning the alphabet this way will give them reference points - visuals - to connect to.

Lois Ehlert is the author of so many great learning books - "Color Zoo" teaches shapes and animal names, as well as giving children a view into how pictures can be broken down into shapes, for easier drawing :) Die-cut pages and surprise flipsides give every reader something to look forward to, as the pages turn.

In the fall, "Leaf Man" and "Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf" are wonderful tools for learning all about the changing of the leaves and the process that deciduous trees go through each cycle. The author' s creative use of natural materials to make pictures in "Leaf Man" will have you and your child seeing leaves in a whole new way! Try to make your own leaf creations when you're done :)

"Snowballs" is a crowd favorite for wintertime - something for every season! The use of natural, found items in her pictures is one of her style choices that delight young readers, as they find things on the page that are familiar.

Lois collaborated with other authors as well, illustrating the "Chicka Chicka" books, among others, so it's easy to see why her style is so familiar and attractive to little ones - and everyone!

Have fun reading!