Monday, January 31, 2011

Make Your Own Card Games!

If you're getting a little tired of the same old games and you're handy with a digital camera - this activity is fun to do with your child! (If you don't have access to a camera, you can achieve the same results with magazine pictures or by drawing shapes, etc. on paper.)

Go around your house, with or without your child, and take close-up shots of different objects - make sure you have some of the same things in a group, such as two different candlesticks, two or three toy cars, some vegetables or apples.... you can then print out pictures 9 or 16 to a page and make them into little photo cards. You will need duplicate pages, so you have at least two copies of each picture.

Now you have what you need to play Memory.  Choose 8 or 10 pictures, in pairs, and place them face down on a flat surface. Your child will turn over one and then turn over another to try to find a match. If they don't match, you flip them and try another two, until matches begin to come together. This will encourage your child's memory and visual discrimination - and, it's FUN!

Now,  for a different game, take the cards, face up, and try to form patterns. To get your child started, verbally play the game yourself - model for them the thought process you go through to choose your pictures. "I think I will try to make a pattern with these toy car photos. I'm going to start with the blue one, then the red, then the blue again ... hmm, what comes next?" Before you know it, your child will be putting together sequences of objects in two-part patterns ... then, try three!  These are great to keep on hand for restaurant trips, doctor's office waits, etc. - they travel well and take up less space than all the objects they represent!  

Have fun!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Letter Detectives!

Make your child into a "letter detective" for some fun around the house! Give your child a dime-store magnifying glass and set them loose on your house, finding letters all over the place! They will notice that there are letters in all sorts of places - labels, newspapers, artwork, appliances, etc.

I also like to make books out of a few pieces of computer paper stapled together, with a page or half a page for each letter. Then, grab a pile of magazines, flyers or junk mail and let your "letter detectives" find, cut and sort letters into their books - this will incorporate literacy skills, small motor exercise, as well as exposure to different typeface letters - it's all good!

When kids are ready to learn about letters, don't drill them - make it into a game - it's always more effective! I have played the "letter game" in the car for years (or on a field trip bus!) with great results! Here's what you do ... you're driving down the road and you spot a store sign or a road sign with the letter "A" - point it out  with great excitement and then try to find a "B," and so on ...   This works particularly well if you are stopped at a light or waiting somewhere in traffic - the time goes by a little quicker! You can also play this with the letters of your child's name, or random letters!

A variation of this game uses each letter to come up with another word that begins with the same letter - this gives your child the opportunity to connect the letter with a sound and then the reverse - connecting the sound with another word! "I see a T in that STOP sign - what else begins with T?" "t-t-t, how about train?"

As you are going through your day, notice how many opportunities there are to make learning a game - have fun with it!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mitten Matching Time!

Kids love to play with ordinary things ...  so, when I show them a basket of mittens and tell them that we will be playing "games" all week with them, they are thrilled! Little do they know that I am sneaking in all sorts of math skills, like sorting, matching, patterning, etc.  And, YOU CAN TOO!

I am lucky to have a big basket of hand-knitted mittens of all shapes and colors (thank you, Gigi!), but you can use whatever is around your house - or even create pairs of paper mittens first as an art project. Here are some fun activities:
Mitten Patterns - use your collection to make two-part and three-part patterns (e.g. red, blue, red, blue, etc.)
Mitten Hide and Seek - have each child pick a mitten (or lay out the mittens in a row if playing with one or two children). Hide the match somewhere in the room, school or house and have the "matchers" find them and lay them out in matches. Repeats are always requested! 
Mitten Storm - same idea but you toss the formerly hidden mittens up, like a tornado, in a large area and run to find (great way to break up the TV or video time) It only takes a minute but gives a little exercise and practices those matching skills!
Mitten Chain - each child gets two different mittens and puts them on their hands - when all (you need a group) have two mittens, have pairs hold matching hands, one at a time, until human chains are made - sometimes a few chains, sometimes one long one.
Now, have a mitten brainstorm - have your child use his/her problem solving skills to come up with more ideas for games with mittens! Have fun!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Penguin Sizes: How do you Measure Up?

According to different sources, the Emperor Penguin is anywhere from 3 feet, 7 inches to 4 feet tall!! For a fun project, create a penguin-sized paper model, using black and white posterboard or craft paper rolls, make it four feet tall. I have one that I take out every year with preschool-aged children, who are usually just under or just about that height - and use it as a measuring stick to see where we would "measure up" to a penguin!! You can use white crayons to make a mark, or chalk, or align another piece of paper alongside the penguin to mark up with heights - your child will be amazed that a penguin could be that big!

To take your measuring a step further, measure other things against the penguin, teaching your child about comparisons and units of measure ... how many spoons tall is a penguin? how many books tall is a penguin? Check some penguin books out of the library and study up - you will find that some penguin species are only 16 inches tall - how many of those would make the Emperor Penguin?

You will also find that penguin dads take care of their eggs by carrying them around on the tops of their feet - making a fun game for a snowy day - make an "egg" out of hard-packed snow and try to carry it around on top of your boots - oops!! Have fun!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Save those Game Pieces!

When it's time to fit the new Holiday Gifts into the game closet, box or cabinet, something's got to go! When you're assessing what is missing pieces, broken, or just ready to go, don't throw out all the pieces without trying to see them through different eyes!

I have used old Scrabble pieces for years to play a game with little ones. We take cards and either draw pictures or take digital pictures of things (they LOVE to click the camera!) and make picture/word cards. Then, we use the Scrabble pieces to match the letters and create the words. My classes had a basket of each others names with small snapshots of each child - you could do this at home with family members, toys, foods, etc. They will LOVE it! (Plastic letter tiles are also available at office supply stores and parent-teacher stores, if you want to get started without waiting for old games.)

I also save dice and counters for math games and little playing pieces and small objects that would fit in a used water bottle for ABC bottles. You can throw them all in a shoe box and you'll be ready for a rainy day of sorting and matching,  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Extended Family Photo Books

Now that the holidays are over, use those holiday photo cards you received to make a photo book with your child, complete with name labels. You can use construction paper, card stock from an office supply store or craft paper, ... or anything at all! One friend has even done this with brown paper bags ... use your imagination!

Take the cards of cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. - or far-away (or close) friends and mount them on pages that will allow you some extra room to put on names with a brightly colored marker. If you want to write right on the photo, there are even markers designed exactly for that! Make sure that you make the letters kid-friendly, to encourage letter association (e.g. Grandma starts with "g") and beginning sound development. Associating letters and sounds with things or, in this case, people, that are near and dear to their hearts, will spur their interest! Then, read this home-made book again and again with your children - it will be a favorite!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brrrr....icy fun: sink and float icecaps!

Children are naturally curious about the world we live in - and, right now, it's pretty chilly out there!  Here's a fun activity to do with your child that will let them explore some basic science theories!

First, find an empty plastic container, such as a margarine or cream cheese container. With your child, fill it about 2/3 full and find a spot in your freezer to freeze it solid. (If it's REALLY cold outside, you could also freeze it outside!) After it is hardened (even the next day!) run a little water over the outside and pop the frozen form out. You have successfully changed water - a liquid - into ice! This is your "polar icecap"!

You will need a larger container for the next part - maybe a dishtub or a large plastic storage container - and a small plastic animal, such as a penguin or polar bear (or any small figure, in a pinch!). You will want to fill the container with three or four inches of water. Your child will have fun trying to float the "icecap" in the water while trying to get the figure to stand up or stay on it. Keep a towel close by and keep warming up the fingers!

As you play, encourage your child to notice how the "icecap" is shrinking, and discuss what is occurring - a fun and interactive liquid-solid-liquid lesson, as well as sink or float!! Have fun!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Print Richness

When you visit an early childhood classroom, you should notice lots of print - posters, pictures, lists, poems, songs, labels, etc. Even though the children who are attending class in these rooms may not be able to read these words yet, it is important for them to start attaching meaning to groups of letters and to start beginning to "value" reading. You can do some of this at home, too!

Some parents set up labels in a room or two of their homes (some even try bi-lingual labels!) Having children help with this is fun, too! Have them identify things they want to know and create the words to name them.

You can start with your child's room, representing their name on posters, cards or even quilts. Getting familiar with one's own name is an important skill to have when starting school - it comes in very handy! Make a poster with your child, having them color in the letters of their name, or locate letters from printed materials to create the name. Make it as organized or crazy as you want - include pictures to add to the fun! Then hang it up and it will serve as a visual "connector" for your child to learn from!  :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's Never Too Early to Start Learning!

I wanted to start a blog to assemble some ideas that myself and other early childhood teachers have used to encourage preschool-aged children in their exploration of the world! I have participated in many parent-teacher conversations over the years that generated all sorts of questions and information that I thought many others would benefit from, so here we are!

What I hope to do is give you, the reader, ideas that you can use at home with your children, to encourage early language and pre-reading skills, as well as skills in other subject areas. In this day and age, where children are spending more time with technology and less time with face-to-face interaction, language skills are starting to take a back seat. We can all use some new ideas to encourage our children in these areas!  Have fun!