Sunday, March 27, 2011

April Showers ...

Get ready for April showers by checking out all the spring weather changes: wind, clouds and rainy days!

Wind projects are fun - kids love to play with kites, pinwheeels and flags - and there are lots of projects you can do with them at home. If you have an opportunity to fly a real kite, go for it! If not, a paper kite with a streamer for a tail and craft sticks in a "t," for support, is fun to make! If you trace the shape of a diamond on larger construction paper, give your child practice cutting it out to make the body of the kite. Decorate with markers, paint or stickers (or all three!) and then assemble the rest to form your kite!

To see which way the wind is blowing, make a "wind wand" - use a paper towel roll that you have decorated with stickers, markers or even colored tape. Attach one end of ten to twelve inch party streamers or lengths of tissue paper to one end, leaving the other end of the streamers free. Then take your wand outside and hold it in the wind, and watch the streamers fly!

When you're ready to start checking out clouds, try Google-ing "cloud shapes" - all sorts of websites will pop up with fun pictures of cloud shapes - make sure to preview them first before showing to children. There are also some great books to read with your child: "It Looked Like Spilt Milk" by Charles G. Shaw, "The Little Cloud" by Eric Carle and "The Cloud Book" by Tomie de Paola are just a few! Take some time to view the clouds yourselves - see what cool things you can see in the clouds!

Make cloud pictures with white chalk or white paint on blue "sky" paper - then you can fill in the area with some nice, puffy cotton balls ... pull and stretch them to make them look different, like cloud types look different! Some might be thin and stringy, while others might be full and fluffy! Have children dictate a word for "My cloud looks like a _______," to finish it off.

Sing a cloud song with your child - this one follows the tune of "Frere Jacques" .....

Rain pictures are fun to do: using powder tempera paint on large paper, have your child make a design with the powder. (If you can't find powdered paint, just thin out some finger paint or bottled tempera paint so the rain can splatter it.) Carefully place pictures outside in a drizzle of rain on a tarp or plastic sheet and let the rain do the rest! When the design looks just right, bring them inside, again very carefully, and let dry - you will have a masterpiece!

To celebrate the rain, make a mobile with a cloud on top and some falling raindrops, with fun silver glitter to make the raindrops shine! Super easy project to do: All you need is white card stock or cardboard for the cloud, some varied lengths of yarn and blue paper raindrops. Use a little glue or a few swipes with a glue stick and your  silver glitter will look great on the raindrops! Tape or glue together and hang from a doorway or hanging fixture.

Play a counting game with some hand-made raindrops! Use the same paper as you used for the mobile, but cut a big "puddle" out of the blue and "raindrops" out of the white paper. Trace the shapes you want and have your child practice cutting on or close to the lines, if able. Lay the puddle on the ground and take turns dropping raindrops - some will land in the puddle, some outside the puddle. If you do this in pairs, one child can drop the raindrops while the other counts and then reverse. Count how many are in, how many are out and decide which is more/less/the same.

Have your child finish the sentence, "When it rains, I ______" and draw a picture to go with it! Maybe there are several endings to this sentence, and you will have a book! Take the opportunity to allow your child to point out or form some of the letters, if able.

Sing all the rain songs you know, "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day" and "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring ..." while noticing the rhyming words in the songs. Make up your own rhymes, too! When you use a familiar tune and make up new words, children usually find it easier to pick up.

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Restaurant Readiness

If you’re planning a trip to a restaurant or somewhere else where you want your children to behave in a quiet, refined manner (ha!), make sure you go prepared!  While some restaurants cater to children and have supplies on hand, like crayons, crackers, etc. – never assume!
Simple To-Dos for a Relaxed Meal:
Bring your own snack: Since the wait can be long and good service can take time, bring along something to stave off the hunger! Stash some crackers, pretzels or fruit snacks in a small container – little snacks like pretzels sticks, goldfish or teddy bear cookies also have the added benefit of play – make shapes, play counting games, tell stories, etc. A little imagination goes a long way! If you have packed some folded computer paper that can be turned into a special placemat, your child can make "bowls" for the goldfish or forests for the bears to hide in!

Pack a surprise kit:  Use a small container or pencil case to hold some interesting objects for your child to play with. (Mine all fit in a sandwich sized plastic bag!) Leave out anything that will break, make noises, or leave permanent marks! Include small soft toys like finger puppets, one or two cars or figures, tiny playdoh containers, as well as little stickers, a mini-notebook and just a few crayons or a pencil …. And, you are set for anything! Make sure that some of your items are do-alone things, as you probably want to enjoy your meal, as well! J (Hint: Next time you have something that comes in the cereal box or an extra McDonalds toy, stash it in a special place to be resurrected – “new” is always exciting!)
Schedule smart:  Sometimes our expectations for our children are completely out of line with reality! If possible, try to schedule your dinner out to be within a normal range for your child – expecting a child to be charming when it’s already way past their regular bedtime is just setting yourself up for failure! If it’s not optional because you are a guest or it’s a special occasion, consider a mini-meal at your child’s regular meal time before going to the restaurant, and just grazing at the restaurant. Less stress is always better!
Use the opportunity to go over good manners – role play before your visit, allowing your child to take on different roles. Practice how to properly ask for something and how to express appreciation! We can’t expect them to be born with social skills -  prior “play” should make them more comfortable and avoid some potential pitfalls!
Those children who are able can also be put to work with menus - write down their favorite food on a sticky note or a bit of paper - e.g."chicken" or "pasta" - and have them find it in the menu. Finding individual letters would work for younger learners! Developing skills with oral language by just relaxing, enjoying each others' company and having conversation is always wonderful, too!
So, on this trip to the restaurant, you will be exposing your child to new situations, broadening their vocabularies, giving them opportunities for math exploration, letter recognition, imaginative play and working on small motor skills – and, hopefully, enjoying yourself as well!!

Have fun!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring into Seasonal Fun!

"March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb ... " Well, we know the first part of this saying already happened and now we're hoping for the second part!

Make It!: Lion and Lamb Puppet
Make a lion and lamb reversible "puppet" for tracking what kind of day it is each day:

Use two small paper plates and a craft stick to make the head - one side will be decorated like a lion's head with scraps of yarn or felt for a lion's mane, using markers and big googly eyes for the lion's face. The other side should look like a lamb's face, using fluffy cotton balls, markers and something for the eyes - maybe buttons!

This can be a lesson in textures as well!  Have your child describe the feeling of the materials they are using, "soft, fluffy" and have on hand some smooth (plastic or metal objects) and rough (sandpaper or tree bark) objects to choose from for contrast. When starting the project, ask "Do you think a lion's mane is rough or soft? Which thing here feels like it might be right?," and your child will touch, feel and decide what materials would work best.

They can give you a daily weather report with their puppet, letting you know if it's a lion day or a lamb day - great for starting to make associations about proper clothing and temperatures for dressing safely - use the newspaper or weather report to stimulate interest in learning about this world we  live in!

While you are talking about the changes in March, be sure to discuss all the seasons where you live, as well as other seasons they may not see!

Make It!: Four Season's Book
Make a four season's book, using four identical pages and a cover... each page could have a line dividing it in half with an outline of a tree on the top and an outline of a person on the bottom. Each day, have a conversation about one of the seasons, asking questions and generating information - kids love it when you record what they say on paper and read it back ... "so I heard you say ..."

Have materials and/or drawing tools to "dress" the tree and to "dress" the child. For instance, the winter tree could be trimmed with some cotton wisps with cotton at its base and the child will need boots, mittens, and a hat, as well as clothes. The summer tree might have some green tissue paper "leaves" and a bird in it (maybe a sticker), while the child might just have a swimsuit on! Make sure to design a cover and put it all together with staples or yarn, and transfer some of your child's appropriate words to the pages. This will become a favorite story!

Your child will be learning a science lesson about the changing seasons, as well as getting some needed practice with small motor activities, and you will be sharing a great literacy project, generating vocabulary and Making a Book! 

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

If You Read A Kid A Story ...

Kids love the style of Laura Numeroff - her characters are cute and interesting to look at and her stories get them involved in predicting what comes next - which they LOVE! There are so many things you can do to get them involved in the story ... and, when they do more than just read or get read to, they learn more!

For example, look at the Laura Joffe Numeroff books, "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie", “If You Give A Moose A Muffin,” etc. You and your child should notice the circular nature of these stories - they end with the thing they start with! The concept of the circular story is one that kids can identify - "play" with this idea and they will remember it!

Here's what you can do:  Draw pictures of the different parts on index cards, or use a copier to make picture cards and then lay them in a circular, clock-wise pattern to get back to the beginning of the story. Model this for your child ... "First, I remember, he asked for a glass of milk....hmm, what came next..."  Mix up the cards and have your child decide "what comes next" while walking around a table or by placing in a circle on the floor - this is great for recall and retelling a story! Make sure you get all the way around and back to the beginning!

While this concept is one that teachers do with elementary students, it works with younger children, too! When we’ve tried this in Pre-K, just about every child who experienced this could tell what a circular story was after that!

When you're reading a particular author, check out their websites if you can - often there are coloring sheets  and other projects to go with different stories! There is a link to this author at the bottom of my blog page. :)

If you read these circular stories in a bunch, as an author study, your children will recognize the characters and story style and you can have conversations about things that are the same and different, about sequence in a story (what comes next?) and about using pictures to predict things in a story ... all great literacy projects!

Sharing with your child and watching "the lights go on" as they start to put these things together is so great - and it's free entertainment - use your library to assemble a group of books and dive in!

I like to do a science lesson that is circular in nature alongside this particular author study. Little ones as young as four can get the concept of the water cycle - and we're getting into the rainy season of spring! Talk about how the rain comes down, fills up the rivers, oceans, etc., evaporates in the sun's heat, gathers in the clouds, comes down as rain, etc. Next time it rains, catch a little in a clear plastic container, measure it and mark it with a permanent marker and then place it outside when the sun comes out - see what happens!

You know they're really listening and understanding when they figure out that the water cycle is a "circular story" ...  exciting learning going on here!

Have fun!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Playing With Paint!

When you think of painting, you usually picture a brush and some paper, but there are so many other ways to experiment with paint!
More recyclables!
If you want to explore shapes with your child, use some paper or plastic containers that have round or square openings – anything that you can use to make an impression on paper!  Pour some paint on a paper plate or disposable, washed food tray (such as from the store bakery) and let your child press the object in the paint (upside down or right side up!) and then press it on paper!
For circles, try margarine or yogurt containers, paper cups of all different sizes, even circular shaped cereal. (Referring back to the Olympic blog entry, you can make Olympic rings using the five colors & small paper cup rims! Hold the cup upside down, dip in paint and make circles galore!)
To print squares or rectangles, use take-out containers, microwavable food trays or cartons, or whatever you can find! Pasta or cracker boxes with the flaps ripped off could be just what you need to get started!
Sponge Fun!
You can purchase sponges in many shapes at dollar stores, craft stores, etc. – but, you can make them, too! Use a new, clean sponge and cut it into shapes … if you cut across the sponge and make a long, tall piece, little hands won’t get all “yucky”!

I like to make distinct shapes for seasonal projects - sometimes, kids DO want their paintings to look like something specific and sponging can give them this sense of accomplishment, even when their own hands can’t do it yet! BUT, I also like to just cut them in random shapes and see what the kids will make by combining shapes, adding on details with fingers or brushes (or Q-tips!) –  and let them CREATE!
Other objects …
Marble painting in a box – lay paper on the bottom of the box, dip the marble in paint and roll around, tilting the box in different directions!  Car painting – same concept, rolling little cars (hard/impossible to get all paint off!)  Painting with string – dipping string in paint and seeing what happens when you plop in down on the paper in random directions – fun! Use washable paints and make clean-up part of your activity – always!

Stamping with paint and different kitchen implements (think potato masher!) or cut vegetables and fruits can produce interesting results, as can leaves and small branches dipped in paint! Look for more on these in future blog entries :)
Have fun!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Treasure From Trash!

Ready for more no-cost teaching tools? Right in your own home, there are many opportunities to create learning from things you come across every day. Everyday items like cardboard tubes, yogurt and baby food containers, ends of wrapping paper - all have secondary uses for craft projects. It just takes a little imagination to find the next great recycling use!

So, before you fill up your recycling container, check for second uses for some of those objects -

Water bottles:
Make a set of measurement bottles! Using a measuring cup and some water, find the level for several different amounts (half a cup, one cup, two cups, etc,) and use a permanent marker to mark the outsides of a few different bottles. Then mix up a batch of colored water by adding a few drops of food coloring and let your child measure and pour to their heart's content. They will be learning about more and less, quantities and measurement, all kinds of great things!

Use a water bottle to make an "I Spy" toy that's great for all kinds of learning skills - as well as quiet play if you're going to be out somewhere :) Use an empty water bottle that is completely dried out - fill it with confetti (shredded paper) and add items to search for- either small objects or pictures on heavy paper (glossy magazine or card stock). When complete, fasten top on with a small bit of craft glue or use a glue gun (adults only please!). When your child shakes it up, differerent objects will "appear."  I've seen these done for different letters (ABC bottles) or concepts (a beach bottle, a bug bottle, etc.).  Have fun with it!

Egg Cartons:
Sort out beads in egg carton cups to get ready for pattern making - keychains, bracelets, or just string on a chenille stick - an egg carton will help you sort them out as well as keep them from rolling away!

"Creature" making - Bugs, worms, caterpillars - use some washable markers and attach some googly eyes and some pipe cleaner legs - and, presto! Use your creative skills and see what you come up with!

Use part of an egg carton as a disposable paint organizer! Are you painting with three colors? Four? Put just the amount you want to use in a strip of egg cups and when you're done - no clean up necessary!

Cereal boxes:
Heavier cardboard boxes are just right for cutting into stencils for tracing! Cut into shapes, different stencils for different seasons - hearts in February, shamrocks in March, bunnies in April - and it won't cost you a thing! Your children will have hours of fun and improve their pencil grips and small motor control at the same time!

Paper Towel Rolls:
Every child loves a telescope! Decorate your paper towel roll with paper, tape, stickers, etc. to make a great "focusing" device ...then play "I Spy" for all things that begin with certain letters, have specific shapes or colors - whatever strikes your fancy! Adaptations that are fun to try: "Leprechaun-scopes" for St. Patrick's Day for seaching out little elves, "Santascopes" for you-know-who with a little tag attached:  "On Christmas Eve night, look up in the sky, Santa's reindeer may fly by!"  Use your imagination!

Plastic Containers:
Use tops for individual paint trays and bottoms for water containers for watercolor painting. Use containers and baby food packages for stashing small craft items like beads, stickers, buttons, etc.

Wrapping Paper Scraps:
You get to the end of the paper roll and there's not enough left for another package ... save these scraps for collages and shape projects. Multicolored papers make great flower petals for cut and glue practice. Cut some into shapes and use them as picture starters - an oval piece might be a person's body - add head, arms and legs and keep going! Holiday paper can be cut into little cards for little hands to use at holiday time!

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Olympic Efforts!!

Even though it's not an Olympic year in 2011, 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!

First, generate 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!

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! :)