Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ocean Animals

Ocean animals are sure to catch your children's imaginations! There are so many different animals - crabs, jellyfish, sharks, just to name a few - and they are all fun to read about and fun to do projects with! Gather some books, plan some crafts and have some fun!

Here are a few of the summer books I have in my reading bin right now:

"Clam-I Am! All About The Beach" by Tish Rabe (a Cat in the Hat book)
"Curious George Goes to the Beach" by Margaret and H.A. Rey
"Commotion in the Ocean" by Giles Andreae
"Beach Day!" by Patricia Larkin
"George's Store at the Shore" by Francine Bassede
"There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Shell!" by Lucille Colandro

I have LOTS more, and you will find many on your own - choose books with fun language and active words, as the kids are getting "summer fever" and want to move more these days!

When you read a book the first time with your children (always read through by yourself first, if possible), take your time and make the most of interesting words and rhymes, etc. Before you read, tell your children that you want to read it all the way through, and then allow time after to revisit each page to ask questions or notice things in the pictures. Reading should be an interactive experience, but doesn't have to take away from the rhythm and rhyme of the story! Picture books always invite many questions that NEED answers, but, by doing it this way, you still have the pleasure of reading the book as the author wrote it :) AND still having all questions and observations be a part of the experience.

With younger children, or as needed, this process can be flipped. Take a visit through each page before reading the book, making observations and answering questions, then read through for enjoyment. Your experience with your child will steer you to the most effective way to enjoy each book!

Then, each time you reread the book, you will find new things to experience - children remembering words, repeating phrases, rhymes - enjoy the book over and over to stretch your literacy lessons.

When you are ready to make a craft, a simple CRAB will be fun to assemble! All you need is a small paper plate, some red construction paper, two googly eyes and a chenille stick or some yarn. Make a template using the pictures here to make claws and arms - you will need two of each per child.

Fold over your paper plate and color red, if you wish (or maybe they want to make blue-claws!) Attach all pieces as shown and glue on two eyes. Punch a hole at the top to hang or play with just as-is - have fun!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nursery Rhymes for Fun!

Nursery Rhymes have been around for generations, and are still valuable for so many reasons! Repeating familiar words, with the rhythm associated with these poems, introduces and reinforces identification of rhyming words, good listening, beginning and repeating sounds, new vocabulary - all sorts of literacy skills!

See if you can recall one or two, then model for your children how a writer writes down the words. You can do this seated at a table, with paper and pencil, by acting it out and helping your children realize the process of beginning to write. Invite your child to join you, gather the tools you need, and practice sitting properly and gripping your pencil. Then, talk through thinking of the words, sounding them out and writing them down. "How do I start? Let's see ...  'Little Miss Muffett...' I hear an L at the beginning..."

Your children may join in the "game" at any time, so make sure you have more supplies on hand! Have a book or two on hand to refer to - there are many collections out there - and have fun with it!

When you want to "play" with the rhymes, make some props!!

Make a Spider: Find a large button with four holes for attaching to fabric. Instead of attaching to something, take two chenille sticks (pipe cleaners) and cut them in half. Push the pipe cleaners through two of the holes each, so that all the ends are dangling on the same side. This will be the bottom of your spider, so flip it over to the other side and attach two googly eyes, and, you have a SPIDER!! Use it with "Little Miss Muffett" and other spider poems!

Web Construction: Draw a web on construction paper and have your child try to "match" it by dipping lengths of yarn in white glue and laying it on top of the lines you have drawn. This is definitely messy fun, but great practice for those little hands! Now, you have someplace for your spider to hang out :)

Paper Garden: Make a scrap paper garden, cutting or tearing paper for stems and leaves. Add cupcake-paper flowers to illustrate "Mary, Mary"!

Act it out: Think of some other rhymes and act them out - practice safe tumbling to "Jack and Jill," fall (safely) off a chair for "Humpty Dumpty," walk in a garden for "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary," etc.

Adding an action or art extension to anything makes it easier for the children to recall!

Have fun!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reading Time: Bill Martin Jr.

A book isn't just a book! Each time you read to children, you show them that books and reading are important and that sharing time with them is valuable to you! Reading aloud is a stepping stone in the exploration of literacy with a child. Make it fun and use opportunities that the stories afford to ask questions that will extend your children's growth in literacy.

Bill Martin Jr. wrote many of the first favorite books that children everywhere love to hear. His book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,” illustrated by Eric Carle, is a favorite among children and adults and has built-in lessons to help your child grow!

“Children in a literate society are fascinated by books and reading. From the toddler years, children are drawn to a parent's or caregiver's lap by the call of rich, predictable, melodic story books. Reading begins through the ears and through the eyes as children hear the melody of language and see the beauty of the picture book art. Reading aloud to children creates a loving and pleasurable haven as the adult reads the story to the child time after time. Love and repetition are two key variables. Art and language structure are two more.”
Michael Sampson, Ph.D.

Dean, School of Education

Southern Connecticut State University on www.billmartinjr.com/model

The obvious lessons, colors and animal names, are easy to spot as you read. Anticipation of “what comes next” and recall of the order of the story are two more things to explore. You can break it down even more to find beginning sounds and repeating words – all great skills for learning to read!

“Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?” looks at endangered animals, introducing new vocabulary and following the same sort of pattern as “Brown Bear.” Reading aloud with melody and rhythm gives this story a familiar sound, but with different animals – animals who are not as familiar – which is another area to converse about with your children.

“Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?” puts a different spin on the progression of animals, as you listen for what they sound like, not what they look like! Working with these books as a unit, you can explore same and different, order and recall, and even chart the stories to see if any of the animals mentioned are the same or have anything in common. Extending the story helps children gain new skills for reading!

For an extension project, make a book with a single child or a group, in the framework of one of these stories ... use family members, classmates or friends for each of the pages and have the children illustrate and possibly fill in some words to “write” on each page – it will become a favorite!!

Listen to Bill Martin Jr. read with the melodic rhythm that he intended when he wrote it! @ http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/martin .

Cozy up with all these great books, and the many others by this wonderful children's author, and spend some "quality time" with the children in your life! Have fun!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Make Your Own Toys!

Play is about creating, imagining, sharing ... and anyone can do it! The ability to "invent" is one that is being pushed aside, as we find ourselves in toy aisles filled with every kind of already-made play props. There is a place for all these toys, but a need for imaginative approaches to play, as well :)

We have to make sure that Invention, Problem-Solving, Creating - all great skills we look for in adults - are encouraged when children are developing!! Open-ended projects, where materials are gathered and new things are made, are great for helping to develop these skills. Start with one project, where everything is created from materials you already have and see the wheels start to turn. You might have to model and vocalize the thought process for making playthings, but the fun will catch on!

Take a basket of recycling, including plastics, paper, cardboard and boxes, and see what interesting things kids can make! It might be a challenge at first, to use their imaginations ... some will have a hard time pretending the shredded paper that you might use in pretend play is "spaghetti" or that cardboard boxes could be made into other toys, but as their imaginations kick in, magic might happen!

We found a simple cardboard box, some margarine tops, some silver foil and bottle tops - and look what we came up with!! Use whatever you have on hand, and, if you don't permanently attach things, you can change it up again! Our little kitchen comes apart and can travel to Grandma's or go on vacation with you!

Use YOUR imagination and see what you can come up with - maybe you have a train scene to make or a pet park or another appliance for your pretend play area!

Have fun!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Build a Sand Castle!: Early Childhood Project

When the summer starts to get closer, thoughts turn to the beach, the waves – and the SAND! While you’re waiting for beach weather, build your own sand castle! You’ll need some cardboard tubes from paper products, some glue, a small sturdy paper or plastic plate and a few handfuls of sand.
First, prepare the cardboard tubes by notching out the tops to look like turrets. Older children can help with this task, cutting out in a pattern, but younger ones may need this step done for them.
Next, have the children paint the tubes with white glue, just until they are lightly coated. While wet, roll in a shallow tub of sand until the tubes are covered and let dry.
Glue three or four tubes together to form a castle, using varying heights if desired. Then, pour some glue on the plate, and set the castle on it, and add more sand.  This will give you a base for your castle.
You can decorate the castle by adding some play-doh rocks or a blue paper moat. When you’re done, design a flag for your sandcastle, using paper, foam, stickers, etc. and add it using glue and a toothpick or stick.
Have fun with it while you dream about making the real thing soon!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bug Party: Early Childhood Exploration!

Plan a "party" to celebrate and explore BUGS! Gather a few things together to make your children feel like explorers - we chose safari hats and bandannas from the party store, a simple bug collecting case (ours was from a craft store, but you could make one from a recyclable container) and a magnifying glass. Then, round up your bug-hunting crew (we did it for a small birthday party!) and get ready for an adventure. Plan on visiting a nearby park or garden, and plan your route with a rough map - map-makers welcome! (On our walk with a few three and four-year-olds, we decided to make a work-crew guidance device (!) using a length of rope and making a big knot for each child to hold onto - the leader held one end of the rope and a spotter took up the rear! We told them we all had to help carry the rope in case we needed it!)

Once you arrive at your destination, have an adult or child model for the other children how to move  rocks without hurting bugs, how to slow down and look carefully, and how to stay very still while "hunting" - then, set off on your own or in pairs, once a perimeter has been established! Cries of "check this out!" and "quick, look at this!" will ensue as everyone has fun finding a variety of insects.

Make sure to have a digital camera on hand to record some of your finds for review later! Have some books about bugs along to read or another activity for when you start to slow down ... we sat down and did some body art, coloring ants and ladybugs on forearms or cheeks with face-painting crayons.

Later, prepare some special treats with your "buggy" crowd:

Ants on a Log
Use sections of celery sticks, spread on cream cheese and add a row of raisins for ants. I've also seen this done with variations using pretzel logs, peanut butter and craisins :) Watch your food allergies!

Dirt Dessert
Mix together one large vanilla pudding mix and two cups of milk. Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and 8 oz. of softened cream cheese - mix until blended. Stir in 8 oz. of Cool-Whip type topping. If you do this with the kids, make sure to count and measure along the way - math!

In another bowl, combine 1 1/2 lb. package of crushed Oreo cookie crumbs and 1/2 stick of melted butter to look like dirt. Alternate layers in a cups or a bowl, ending with crumbs on top! Add some gummy worms for fun and refrigerate!


Saturday, May 7, 2011

In the Kiddie Pool for Early Learning Fun!

An inflatable baby pool is a great tool to have on hand – I like to keep a small one around for all sorts of fun- no water necessary! A 3-ft diameter size is great for a small play center, while larger is better for a library or group “sit-in” set-up!

Swim into Reading
Fill your inflated pool with some comfy cushions – I’ve thrown in a few beach towels, too, that they can roll up or spread out. Add a stack, or a beach bag, of books, such as ocean and/or fish books!  Plan with your children how many can comfortably fit in and generate rules for use.  Chances are you’ll find lots of reading going on!

Sandy Beach
This is a great way to have some sand play, even if you don’t want or don’t have a whole sandbox set up! Fill partially with some sand – you don’t need a lot! – add some shovels and maybe some shells or plastic sand toys. Watch out for sharp edges that could puncture the pool or hurt a child. You can make it a “reach in to play” center or a “get in to play” center, depending on the size of the pool and your clean-up requirements .
Imagination Play Prop
Children are resourceful in planning out how to use props for imaginary play. A small pool might be an animal pen, a baby crib, a comfy bed, even – a pool! I’ve seen one used as a stage, a lake, a fish pond – even a Jacuzzi!
Fishing Hole
Make some fishing rods from sticks you find outdoors or from some dowels (easy to find at a hardware store). Attach a length of heavy string or yarn and add a magnet to the end.  Whatever you are fishing for should have a paper clip, or something metal attached to it, to make it “catchable”! You can catch fish, octopi, and whales made out of craft foam - great hand-eye coordination practice!
Fish for Learning
Take your fishing to another level and make letter cards, number cards, matching cards – and plan games around them! If you already have cards with magnets on them, just change the fishing pole, so it has a big metal clip – it works either way! Practice letter and number recognition, do simple addition when you catch two cards – the options are endless! Colors, shapes, sight words, beginning sounds … "Look, what letter did you catch? Hmmm, what sound does that make?..." or "Find and catch a yellow fish! Now catch a red fish!"
Practice throwing/tossing into the pool to get some exercise and hone throwing skills – bean bags, beach balls or other small balls would be fun to try! Try from different distances with different things, see how things fall depending on their weight and distance – have your children guess and then experiment!
Have fun!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Early Childhood Fun: Float Your Boat!

Where I live, there are sidewalks and curbs lining the streets, making a great channel for water to float or race a boat on a particularly rainy day! If you have somewhere to float a boat, gather some materials together and make one! To make a "boat", all you need is a small piece of wood, like a piece left over from a house project or lightweight shims that you can find at a hardware store. If you don’t have access to wood, a container that is shallow with a flat bottom, such as a small tray from a frozen meal or a plastic bowl or lid would work fine! Look through your recyclables and get inspired :)
Whatever materials you decide to use, put together an “activity box,” including paint, stickers, foil, tape, cardboard and anything else you think might work! If you want to, include natural materials like small sticks or large leaves or pods for interest. Let the children create, going over some basic sink and float information while you “play!” (I needed some sandpaper to sand my wood a little, to avoid splinters! Then, markers or paint and a few stickers - and my boat was ready to try out!)

Have a larger shallow container ready with an inch or two of water to test the boats’ seaworthiness periodically! Sticky tape, such as the clear packing type, can seal areas that might not be otherwise waterproof – and, remember - sometimes, the simplest designs are the best at floating! (We found that a plastic lid from a food container made a great raft, like those in a water park - we imagined riding down the "river" in that!)

When you are ready, make sure there are no traffic hazards for your children, and get out in the rain! You might want to try to race boats made of different materials or try boats on different streets that have more or less incline (see if they go faster or slower!)  Brainstorm to come up with ideas that will prove/disprove different theories – scientists in the making!
Try adding some ballast to your boats and see what happens! We added plastic bags of coins and washers – maybe you have a favorite toy figure who would like to go for a ride?
Have fun!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


When it's time to celebrate Spring with flowers, some seed science experiments are exactly what you need. Hands-on plant growing is so much fun for the kids - they will learn by doing and will be so proud of what they accomplish!

Grow something! Pick out some seeds with your child and get ready to get dirty! Make sure that you plant more than you need, to avoid any disappointment if things don't all grow. Sunflower seeds are always popular and easy to handle, but any seeds will do. I used zinnias this time, but have done all different flowers - and vegetables! Noting the differences in the seeds when working with a variety is fun, too!

Try a few different "experiments" with seeds:

1. Grass "Hair" - take a plain paper cup (somewhat sturdy) and draw a face on it - make it silly! Fill about two-thirds full with dirt and then add some grass seed. Water and leave in the sun and in a few days you will have grass "hair" sprouting! (I've also seen these done with character paper cups and with egg shells!) When it grows tall, you can give it a haircut! :)

2. Dirt/No-dirt planting: You will need a few of the same variety of seeds, along with dirt, a paper or plastic cup, a sandwich-sized plastic bag and a good paper towel. Plant two or three seeds in dirt in the cup, give it water and set in the sun. Then, soak the paper towel in some water, squeeze and fold into a square to fit in the plastic bag. Add a few seeds on the towel and seal up. Hang in sunlight in a window. In a few days, you will start to observe the seeds in the bag beginning to grow roots - it's fascinating for the children to observe.

We can't see what's going on in the dirt (unless you have planted a seed close to the edge of a translucent cup!), but soon a sprout or two will come up out of the dirt! Compare the size and growth of the two plantings and, when you have little seedlings in both, replant together into a larger container!

3. Keep a plant diary! Children can make an initial entry, drawing the process of planting and writing or dictating any words. Every day, as new growth or change is noted (or not!), new entries can be made, documenting the process (like a REAL scientist!!) At the end, a picture of the final product will cap it off!

4. To integrate technology into your lesson, take pictures with a digital camera and practice downloading and inserting into a document, where you can make your plant diary digital!

5. Take a few different seed varieties and mount samples on index cards. Cover with clear packing tape and label on the back with your child. Plant each type of seed in a different cup and label (one friend does this in cardboard egg carton cups). As you get plants starting to come up, try to match up the plants with the seeds you have on cards :)  See if the seeds look like the plants in any way! If you're in a classroom, set this up as a science center, updating with pictures of tiny seedlings on cards (again, label on back) as the plants grow bigger. Take new pictures at different stages and soon you will have a sequencing activity, too!

Have fun!!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Go On A Bear Hunt!

It is always fun to read and get involved in a story with children - sometimes a favorite story is read over and over again! Remember stories where the children got so involved, they were chiming in on parts? While you are reading and re-reading, you can be sneaking in valuable literacy lessons, too, that just seem like good fun!

A favorite book to read and act out is "We're Going On A Bear Hunt!" by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. In this book, there are lots of repeating lines, fun words and descriptive language - draw your child's attention to the sounds that each section of the "hunt" brings and encourage them to recall and order the events - great exercise for attention to detail!

Take a good look at the illustrations, alternating between black and white drawings and vivid color! For an animated version of the book, check YouTube - there are also other interesting videos, including the author acting out the story.

To act out the story yourselves, brainstorm with the children about the sounds that come up in the story ... and how you might recreate those sounds! Try to find things around the house that would make all the various sounds... "Hmmm, this part says "swishy, swashy".....what do we have that could make that sound?" Gather together some home-made sound effects or instruments that you could use to act out the story.

Make up simple symbols for the different scenes in the story and make posters to set on the floor and take a  walk - a grassy field, some mud, etc. - while acting out the story. Play "what-comes-next" and make sure you backtrack at the end!

For an art extension (and social studies!), make a map! Use simple symbols again or cut-outs to represent the areas that the family goes through and have the children lay it out in a map form! Use lines and arrows to show how the group should progress according to the story - maps are fun to make! Have a child describe the map to you and sequence the events of the story!

Have a good time reading!