Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Time: Gift Giving

This holiday season, let your children experience the joy of giving. You can try to teach them … or you can step back and let them learn!

Spark some interest in some of the great organizations that are gathering gifts for the less fortunate. Let your children know that they can help make the holiday special for someone else … elves come in all shapes and sizes! Let them know that they can be "helpers" to spread the Holiday Spirit.

Then, find or work together to make a container that will become a focal point for gathering loose change (and good thoughts!) during the next few weeks. You might take a holiday tin or a special basket or decorate a gift bag … whatever you decide to do will be great!

Next, have your children check around for change in pockets, junk drawers, cars, and the sofa cushions :) It will be amazing how the change adds up! When you go to the store or come home from a day's outings, help your little ones to "find" the change and put it in the container. When you're ready, take that change to the bank or grocery store change counter. If you're not near one of these, or just looking for practice counting coins, you can separate and roll them up yourselves!

You will have enough saved up to go shopping, big or small, for someone who might not have much for the holiday. My little ones always like to pick something for someone their own age, but take your child's lead! Remember to reflect on the giving :)

While you're waiting for the coins to pile up, create some one-of-a-kind sparkling ornaments to share along with your gifts. You'll need some chenille sticks or florist wire, some jingle bells or small buttons or charms, and beads of any and all colors and shapes.

At one end of the wire/pipe cleaner, attach an anchor of some sort - we had some jingle bells, so we used them. Then, let your child create a masterpiece, adding things until its about one-third full. Twist the remainder into a loop for hanging and you have a beautiful ornament/door hanger to give away! (Make another for a great gift for grandparents or someone special!)

Have fun!!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Time: Trim a Tree

When it's time to get in the spirit of Christmas, little ones like to make some fun themselves!! Let them experiment with these cute trees, making ornaments, magnets for the fridge, or even gifts ... handmade gifts are always well-received :)

To get started, you'll need some tree shapes cut from fun foam - you can pre-cut your own or pick up a pack at fabric/craft stores. Have on hand some plastic beads, shiny stickers or sequins, sticky foam pieces or cute colored buttons. Teach your child, using a white glue squeeze bottle, how to make small "baby" dots of glue and then have them pick a few places where they want to place a "decoration." Keep adding until each tree is just the way your little one wants it! When complete, they should be left to dry on a flat surface.

While you're waiting for them to dry, get in some counting practice - count up the ornaments on each tiny tree. Use leftover beads or buttons to play a pattern game … lay out a two or three part pattern and see if your child can continue it with "what comes next?" Then, if you're making your tree a gift, design a gift tag or a card to put it in. Gift giving teaches lessons about sharing and thoughtfulness that are wonderful to pass along to your children. Spending time with them and sharing experiences is the best gift of all!

When the trees are dry, decide whether you want to punch holes or glue on ribbon loops to hang your trees up as an ornaments or holiday decorations, or attach magnets to the back to hang on your fridge. Either way, you have some cute new crafts made by your fabulous kiddo artist!

Have fun!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thankfulness: A Thanksgiving Project!

Saying thank you is a wonderful way to build social skills with your child. Whether your child received a gift or had a wonderful visit with someone, a homemade thank you card is the way to go!

Fold some paper in half - construction or computer paper is fine … or look for cool card stock papers, available at your local craft store. Show your child how cards typically open, book-style, and show them how words go in a left-to-right progression.

Then, go on a letter search - use all those catalogs that are coming in the mail! Help your child find all the letters to make the words "Thank You!" and get some cutting practice in … so good for small motor practice! Your child can arrange the letters on the card, practicing that left-to-right progression again, an early reading skill :) When thats done, help brainstorm what to say.

Thanksgiving time is also a great time to practice these skills! Get your child in the habit of looking for things to be thankful for - it can be a lifelong thing! And … so many other skills come into play with a project like this!

First, you and your child will use language and planning skills to come up with a list of things to search for that your child is thankful for. Then, hone small motor and visual discrimination skills while searching for pictures and words that fit your list. Get out your scissors and cut, practicing small motor skills. Now, make a placemat of things that your child is thankful for. It could be laminated for use at the table on Thanksgiving - and beyond!

Your child will delight in finding photos and words that represent things he or she is thankful for! (And get lots of practice at so many things!) You could even make it a counting project … add a new thankful thing each day :)

Have fun!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Making Friends: Books to Read

Such a big part of the early years is moving beyond the world of self into the world of friends. Just as we learn many other concepts, our young ones need "friend behavior" modeled and practiced to get started.

Make time for interaction with other children - get out, go for walks, stop and check out areas where your children might spend some unstructured time with others. It doesn't have to be a special dance or sport or art class - although these can be great fun, too! The important thing is that your child gets a chance to mingle and learn what is expected behavior with friends and what isn't! Practice makes …
well, maybe not perfect, but better :)

As another strategy, read to your child from consciously selected books about friendship. There are so many wonderful books that allow children to see characters whose feelings mirror their own, giving them voice. For little ones, the Rainbow Fish books by Marcus Pfister are great, as are the Bear books by Karma Wilson. They have simple language and engaging illustrations, just right for teaching things like sharing, making friends and caring for our friends.

For older children, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is a personal favorite. Children can see what bullying behavior looks like and sounds like, and will vow never to be like that! Chester's Way, another Henkes story, is also fantastic for friendship themes like taking turns and having more than one friend.

For a list of books on making friends, click on:


Reading about these themes opens the door for discussion - never let an opportunity get away to help your child develop these much needed social skills.

Above all, have fun with it!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Great Halloween Reads!

Halloween is a fun time - and a fun time to read some GREAT stories!!

Two of my favorites to look for:

Too Many Pumpkins!
by: Linda White / Megan Lloyd

This story teaches on so many levels! Work on sequencing with the story of pumpkins growing, from splattered pumpkins to sprouts to vines, etc. Show how it becomes a circular story, with the seeds at the end of the book. The pumpkins' growth, despite not being wanted or cared for, is displayed through the book's interesting artwork and wonderful words.

There is also the deeper story of the book's main character moving from an isolated, unhappy life to having an entire group of neighbors who join her for Halloween festivities. "Too Many Pumpkins" is a consistent favorite with little ones up through primary grades.

Pumpkin Jack
by: Will Hubbell

Kids love this book! Any child who has had to throw out their pumpkin after Halloween will appreciate the way Tim disposes of his pumpkin - in the garden. It has great lessons about the after cycle of the pumpkin's life ... From a Jack-o-lantern to a mushy mess to a snow-covered mound. Then, in the Spring, new life brings Jack (and many others!) back to the garden! Great illustrations and  descriptive metaphors that kids can understand make this a book to treasure.

Have fun reading!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Journals

Summertime is a great time for your children to launch or practice their skills as writers. Grab a journal and help them keep track of things that you do, places you go, special times. Whether your children sketch a bit, dictate thoughts or even write a few words, the process of brainstorming and writing about their experiences and feelings will help them develop skills needed to become writers. Using simple graphic organizers is a great way to gather ideas and your children will enjoy deciding on things to include.

Start out by letting them choose or personalize a journal or writing notebook. Maybe they'd like to put some photos on the cover or cut some big words or pictures out of magazines. Encourage them to express what they feel. Try to make sure that there is time set aside for journaling on a regular basis to get in the habit of recording those thoughts.

Don't focus on the mechanics so much in the beginning ... just get some ideas on paper. Once you've captured some initial ideas, you might go back and add to the writing, through interviewing your child or rereading and asking, "What else did you want to say?" or "Why was that important to you?" You can always go back later to choose things to work on together, through revising and editing.

"YOU are a writer!!" Say this often to your children and they will indeed become writers! Getting those ideas is a big part of the process - the rest will come in time!

Have fun!


Monday, June 24, 2013

Early Learning: Math Skills

Whatever developmental stage your child is at, it is never too early to introduce a little math play. Numbers are a part of everyday life and your child will be more comfortable with them when school starts if they're presented that way :)

I tell my little ones that Math is like magic, and then I show them some of the "magical" patterns you can make with numbers! Even finding patterns on a calendar can seem like magic when you're little - we take out our calendar number cards and try to make up new color patterns - one side is red, the other black! Let your children experiment with numbers, using cards or little magnets, and see what interests them.

Use your child's sense of rhythm and love of music to "hear" Math - clap patterns and count beats while you're singing and dancing! Make up some new beats and play "Follow the Leader" with clapping. Magic!

Block play can be a math lesson - making towers with two different colored blocks (patterns, sequencing) and then counting them up (one-to-one correspondence) sneaks math into a favorite pastime!

Continue counting other objects, noting one-to-one correspondence. Count fingers, toes, toys, cookies, cars ... you get the picture! Encourage your child to repeat the numbers and practice counting on their own, when they're ready.

Older preschool and school-aged children can work on solutions to simple word problems, using a group of like objects. You might put together some buttons, blocks, small figures - and get ready to practice some Math facts. If Mom has two Legos and You have three, how many do you have together?

When they've mastered that, try this!

First, count out a total number of objects - start small with a number like 5. Then, separate this amount into two groups ... Let's say 2 and 3. Record the number of objects in each group and practice writing the numbers. Relate the written numerals to the number of objects and have your child practice counting each one. Make a simple number model to represent what you're playing with: 2+3=5.

Now, put the objects back in a pile and separate again into different groups - 4 and 1. Try the same thing, recording the numbers, and notice the total. Write a new number sentence. Make sure to notice how the two different groups add up to the same number! See if you can find other combinations - then, try a new number. If you line up all the math facts on a piece of paper, your child will be able to notice some more Math "magic!"

All these Math games will give your child some "number sense!"

While you're at it, have fun!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Early Learning: Summer Skills

Keep your child's skills up over the summer with some simple, everyday activities!

Play! Set up some unstructured play time for your children, when they can interact with others and create, collaborate, and converse. Open-ended play works well to allow children to discover new uses for things and lets them learn to play with others. Genuine conversation will help your child develop and practice language and social skills.

Explore! Find a new park, examine the details on your usual walks, try a new route when you're going somewhere ... All these will open up your child's world a little, without breaking the bank. If you can get in a day trip or two, find child-centered, child-friendly spots to visit. Zoos, farms, playgrounds, music and art events will all give your child new experiences to draw from.

Move! Singing and dancing your way through the day will help your child remember all sorts of things. Pairing facts with music has been shown to help memory ... sing songs about the weather, the days of the week, counting songs, ABC songs! There are so many out there! Some of my favorites come from www.drjean.org.

Count! Count everything you see. Use one-to-one correspondence when you count, assigning numbers to each item. Encourage your child to do as you model. Count forward and backward ... count steps, cookies, Legos - add them up and then take some away. Make it fun and have your child make up number stories, too!

Read! Read aloud, listen to reading, talk about reading ... In short, make reading a daily event! Your child will benefit from reading all sorts of books with you. Picture books, fiction stories, non-fiction informational texts ... Whatever catches their eye! Pair a fiction book about their favorite animals, bugs or dinosaurs with a vivid pictorial non-fiction book and have them discover and talk about the differences. You will be amazed at the discussions you can have, even with little ones.

Have fun!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Poetry Fun!

Introducing poetry to younger children may seem ambitious ... but it can be so much fun! They love to hear poetry in songs and fingerplays - so why not try writing some! And ... it doesn't have to rhyme!

Encourage your child to choose a topic that they have strong feelings or memories about - maybe a favorite person, place or object. Then, have your child dictate words about that topic to make a moveable "poetry pile" of word cards. You can help the process along with some questions like, "How do you feel when you're with ...?" and "What do you love most about it/her/him?" "Close your eyes and describe ... to me" works well, too! We chose "cupcakes" and had fun listing some yummy attributes ...

Once you have the cards written, explore them and repeat the words, noticing the beginning of each one and looking for familiar letters. Have your child try to repeat a few back to you :) Next, let your child play with different arrangements, moving the cards around until they come up with the arrangement that sounds best to their ears ... like a song!

It's also fun to arrange the words in the shape of the object when writing them down or to write them around in a circle and leave space in the middle for a picture to be drawn. I think we'll try writing our Cupcake Poem in the round and make a delicious picture for the center!

You can choose who will be writing the words of the finished poem - copying from the cards might be exciting for your little ones, if they're able! Most of all, be creative - and, have fun!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Little Scientists "Discover" Symmetry

Have some fun with symmetry in nature ... It's perfect for Spring!

First, find some beautiful non-fiction books that show full-winged pictures of a variety of butterflies and bugs. Have your children inspect some close-up pictures to "discover" all on their own ... lessons stick better that way! Direct their attention to specifics in the photos and have them do the "noticing."

There are also many children's book authors who use beautiful artwork displaying symmetry in fiction stories depicting animals or insects. The books might tell about the seasons, life cycles, or natural occurances such as camouflage - you might have some on hand that are already favorites of your children. Eric Carle's book, "The Grouchy Ladybug," shows symmetry in the collage work he does, even though it has other themes. Use resources you have on hand to draw attention to something new!

Then, get out there and explore! Make sure you have a "kit" to inspire your little ones to get into the activity. Our kit consisted of some plastic tweezers, magnifying glasses of different sizes, some index cards (for lifting delicate specimens), and a small container with holes to temporarily house what we found. It all fit in an old lunch box ... a small sand bucket would do nicely, too! Your child will be delighted to find all sorts of examples in the critters you uncover! Make sure they are using their words to describe what they see - and you could even bring along a sketch book and some crayons to do critter portraits :)

For some fun artwork, when you're back from your travels, fold a large sheet of construction or other heavy paper in half. Draw the shape of a butterfly's wing (or another bug's) on one half with the center of the body at the fold. Cut through both pieces of paper so when you unfold, you have a butterfly shape. Have your child make a design on only one of the wings with some acrylic paint and then fold and press gently to transfer the design to the other wing. You should end up with a mirror image - symmetry!

You can finish up by adding a body, head and antennae with some paper scraps, pompoms, or whatever you have on hand!

Have fun!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring into Action!

As the weather starts to get a little warmer, it's a great time to reevaluate your daily routine with your children! Use this time of year to jumpstart a daily movement plan that will get you ready for summer play. Slipping in some exercise, some walking, balancing, throwing, catching - it will all help your child's overall development! After a long winter of sitting inside, it's just what we all need!

Start by inserting some basics, such as running in place or jumping jacks, in between everyday tasks. It will rev up your energy level and boost your mood! Have a catch with a squishy ball or stuffed toy! Visit a playground or plan a playdate that is a no video/no game time for action :) Pull out some chalk and make some hopscotch or maze patterns to use for more fun!

Find some pockets of time where you can get in a daily walk - even if it's only for a few minutes. While you're walking, you can cover a whole day's worth of early childhood curriculum.
Children are fascinated by the tiniest things in nature ... a bud opening on a tree, an ant crawling on the sidewalk, a ladybug on a leaf ... use this time to help your child connect with nature! (science)  Work on counting as you cover the distance down the sidewalk! (math) Practice songs and clapping to different patterns while you walk - find objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet! (literacy)

And, best of all .... have fun!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mix Up Some Colors!

Make learning about colors fun!

Learning about primary colors - blue, red and yellow - and the colors they make when blended together - is so much fun for little ones! Get some washable paints and some large paper and get ready to mix and make!

There are some wonderful books that illustrate for children just how to do some color mixing! Mouse Paint, by Ellen Stoll Walsh, is an adorable tale about white mice who jump into different paint colors and end up mixing them up on paper, thereby creating new colors through blending. Your child will love the cute little mice and the patterns they make - it is a perfect way to explain how blending certain colors results in new colors.

Let your little "mice" replicate the story by mixing up some paint colors of their own. Playing with paint and paper is fun, messy and will have your little ones exploring - and learning! You can use fingers, brushes, sponges or even fabric scraps as your tools ... try each primary color first and then see what happens when a dot of something else enters the picture! Let your child direct the learning and be ready for some terrific artwork! Have extra paper on hand for when "experiments" turn everything brown or gray and your child wants to try again :)

Another book on the same theme is Color Dance by Ann Jonas. Children will be fascinated by the swirls and twirls of the colored scarves in this lovely picture book! Make sure to linger over each illustration and have your child retell the story to you to reinforce the learning. Explore some fun with movement by trying out some scarves of your own ... then, look for colorful fabric scraps or bits of ribbon to make a color collage!

Have fun!