Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sight word fun!

Sight words are one of the first steps to early reading success - those common words we see when we read, that we need to know "in a snap" in order to read more fluently. Special practice for those sight words can be turned into FUN TIME for you and your child!

When your child starts learning these words in school, make practice FUN and varied, so they begin to enjoy reading right away!

Make a memory game: Grab some index cards, cut them in half, and have your child write each word twice. Use cool markers, lots of colors, whatever makes it more fun and interesting. Set up a game board by turning a few words at a time (2 cards for each) upside down in rows - make sure they're mixed up! Focusing on a few words at a time, looking for matches, will help your child get fluent in reading these words. When they're ready, add more to make it more challenging :) Sight word cards are also available as sets in many office or school supply stores.

Letter tiles: Use your old Scrabble letters or pick some up at an office supply or teacher supply store. The game BananaGrams also has the same sort of tiles. Play with them by making cards up (or using the ones from your Memory game), and challenging your child to find all the letters that make up that word, placing them in the correct order. After they get the visual matching, take away the cards … have one player read the word out loud and the other find the letters, without a visual guide. Great

Stamps and magnets: Use Playdoh to roll out letter shapes or look for letter stamps to press the words into the dough. Stamps and stamp pads would work the same way! Magnetic letters on the fridge or on a cookie tray are an easy, no-mess way to practice, as well.

Sensory options: Try some sensory play to get your child interested - tracing letters and words in shaving cream, pudding, salt, sand, etc. gives them a tactile experience that may help to solidify the learning. If messy is not your thing, put your choice in a Ziplock bag and trace through this squishy bag with a fun effect!

E-practice: There are also many apps available for iPads and iPhones to practice sight words. Just search for sight words and look at the variety that come up.

Try these posts for more ideas:

Most of all ... Have FUN!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Moving and Shaking Outdoors

There is nothing that can take the place of good old-fashioned outdoor play!

Rolling in the grass, climbing in trees or on playground equipment, and balancing on low walls or curbs all help your children develop the balance and gross motor skills they need for so many daily activities. Movement of the body and development of those core muscles may even help with their stamina and ability to focus and attend to tasks. These actions can also give little ones the sensory experiences that they don't get enough of in today's plugged-in world :)

Allow your child to make choices and try things that push them a little out of your comfort zone. Explore new playgrounds or see opportunities for exploration in a daily walk through the neighborhood. Outdoor or active play gives your children areas to try out new skills. Choose a safe environment, but with room to explore and move freely, and let your children set the tone.

Let your kiddos strengthen their growing muscles by pulling up or hanging upside down on playground equipment or sturdy tree limbs. Let them try out some hanging ladder-style bars - even making it a little way across will seem like a great accomplishment ... and then help them set goals for how they will improve through the summer :) Balance on a curb, or sidewalk edging.

Even though your children may be great walkers or even runners, crawling is still great exercise for your little ones. Group or single play obstacle courses are fun to set up, change up, and explore! Crawl around or under some backyard chairs or tables, hop over some garden stones, walk along some patio blocks ... you get the picture!

Remember rolling down grassy hills? So much fun! Make sure your kiddos get to experience barrel rolling down hills and across grassy areas - it is good for their bodies to exercise and get the stimulation that occurs naturally through these simple activities.

When you're all worn out, lie out on some cool grass, look through some leafy trees - there are lots of moments that can be great for conversation with your little ones - unplugged, relaxed, and open ended :)

Have fun!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Math with water!

One of the BEST things about summer is that you can get wet and messy ... and, then just clean up outside!

Playing with water as an open-ended activity can present your child with many different learning opportunities - and lots of fun! The math lessons and practice with language concepts will take place organically :) while fulfilling so many of the core learning concepts that we want kiddos to explore.

I like to have an inflatable baby pool on hand, but any kind of tub or container that holds water will do!

First, make sure you have different sized containers available for pouring and measuring. Model how to pour from one to another, or just let your kiddos figure it out. They will soon see that some containers can handle more water and some less ... and what happens when you pour from larger to smaller and vice versa. There is no better teacher for this type of measurement than hands on experience!

Next, play with a variety of objects to establish a sink and float lab. Provide some interesting household objects - plastic dishes, spoons, corks, colanders and funnels, etc. - and show how some will sink and some will float. Let your little ones try different things and put them in categories ... another math skill!

Float a few rubber duckies (or whatever small floaty toys you have handy!) in the water and count them out as you go. Matching objects with the numbers that represent them is an early skill to hone, and you can sing as well ...
"One little, two little, three little duckies ..."

Then, start to play a game that uses positional words - over, under, next to, etc. - and let your child take the lead, coming up with new ways to display the ducks (or balls, or boats, or whatever). This practice with verbalizing the positional concepts will help your child become more familiar with the words for each.

Let them come up with new ways to play - filling up and draining the containers, splashing and pouring, floating different toys - all will teach new lessons, and make for hours of fun! Don't forget to provide some clean paintbrushes to paint on hot sidewalks or decking, making shapes, lines, and even beginning to practice letters and numbers :)

A tub of water + lots of fun = tons of authentic math learning!

Have fun! 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Math Games with Ladybug Wings!

Make a cute ladybug game to practice math with your little ones -  you can play it over and over! You'll be getting in lots of small motor work during the creation of the game, and then, math skill practice with such concepts as one-to-one correspondence counting, matching numerals and the objects they represent, odd and even, etc.

First get some black construction paper to make the body. Use something round, like a cereal bowl, as a stencil to trace around. Model holding the bowl and tracing around, then hand off for kiddo practice :) When that's done, add a small semi-circle at the top for the ladybug's head! Make sure your little guys add some eyes and antennae - whatever materials you all choose! (We did googly eyes and some mini pipe cleaner pieces!)

When you're all finished with the body, help your kiddos use the "stencil" again to cut a big round red circle for the ladybug wings. After tracing and cutting it out, help your little one fold or draw a line down the middle to cut it apart into two wings. Glue them on, overlapping a little bit, so they stick out a little - like real wings do!

Now, comes the game part! Cut out some round black dots to place on the wings. Roll one or two dice and count out how many dots are rolled.

Then, try to put them all on the wings, one on the left wing, one on the right, etc. ... but remember, ladybugs have the same number of dots on each wing! Does the number you rolled work out, or do you have a "leftover"?

Take the dots off and roll again. Each time, practice matching numbers to objects, for counting practice. For a change, use dice with numerals, or cards with numerals instead, to reinforce matching the number with objects that represent it.

Try to remember which numbers work and which don't ... when your kiddos are ready, introduce even and odd ("the odd one out"), as concepts to explain how sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, in math!

Laminate your ladybug, or put it in a plastic sleeve, to use a Dry-Erase Marker for dotting - for replaying ease! Remove the eyes and antennae while you're laminating, or look for alternative decorations that will lie flat :)

Have fun!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Take Science Out for a Walk!

Sometimes you just have to pack your stuff and get outdoors! As Spring approaches, look for new ways to explore the backyard, playground, or sidewalk. Grab a basket or tote and throw in whatever "science" tools you have around ... Magnets, magnifiers, measuring tools, a sieve or colander, transparent colored or clear lids or containers. Grab a block and a car for even more fun! Somehow, making a Kit makes it more official - and fun!

Let your little ones take the lead - see what they're drawn to and slow down the pace to "notice" everything about it. It might be bugs or spiders, it might be plants or trees - lessons are all around you! If they need a little nudge, model your own observing style ... they'll want to know ... "What are you looking at?"

Prompt them to explore with "I wonder..." statements, and then let them go with it!

  • Take some little cars out to the playground or backyard and see which ones go faster down the slide. Build your own slide with a long piece of wood and change the angle to make the car go faster or slower.
  • Use your magnifier to get a close up look at all the different colors and parts of a bug (the non-stinging variety!) Your kiddos will be amazed at the details they see. Help them take a picture with your phone and enlarge it for viewing. Bring a sketch book with crayons or colored pencils, so your child can record like a scientist :)
  • Measure everything you see - with a ruler or against something familiar - sneakers or fingers make a great non-standard unit of measure. How many fingers tall is that flower? How many sneakers long is that bench?
  • Do a magnetic or non-magnetic study! Have your child see you try a magnet with something magnetic - it's magical! Then, something non-magnetic ... they will want to join in and find out for themselves!
  • Take samples of dirt from different areas and check them for differences ... are they the same color? Texture? Wet or dry? Sift some sand and see what different sizes those grains of sand really are - are there stones left behind?

Let your little ones play in the dirt and the mud - it will open their mind to scientific thinking and making conclusions.

Have fun!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Word Problems and Graphing with Goldfish!

Learning math through playful word problems can be super fun - with the right props! Use whatever you want for counting ... reading books about fish inspired us to use pretzel goldfish ... which happened to be in the kitchen cabinet!

To get started, grab a pair of dice, some paper fishbowls, and some yummy goldfish and get ready to play! It doesn't matter which flavor you use - player's choice :)

Players take turns rolling a die and counting out the number of fish into their own bowls. Then, they each take a second turn as you state the problem - "Tommy has 4 fish and he gets 3 more. How many does he have all together now?" This use of typical word problem language, while your child can directly visualize the scene, eases your child into making those connections.

When you have played a few rounds this way and the kiddos are understanding, take it to a new level .... make some fish vanish! Roll again, but this time, it is to take away or subtract! "Sarah had 5 fish, but she ate 2 - how many are left?" Players can keep rolling until all their fish are gone :) Decide on your rules beforehand - ending on an exact roll was one of ours!

If you have rainbow goldfish, you can also practice some math skills by setting up some columns and sorting out the four different colors - then graphing them and using "most" and '" fewest" to describe the amounts. Proper math terms are good to know :)

All of these math skills are goals for any early childhood curriculum - but always, always make it fun - yum!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Making Friends: Interview Chat

Little ones don't always know how to start making friends ... or conversation. Give them an assist with a brand new microphone for "interviewing" - home made or dollar store bought :) If you're going with home-made, invent your own from recycled materials around your home. We used a cardboard roll, some silver foil, and stickers.

If you're not looking to DIY, check around at the dollar stores to find one that is durable - I have a toy microphone that is all plastic, non-electronic, and echoes your voice, mimicking a real microphone for a fraction of the cost.

Now, help your child come up with some practice questions, such as "What's your favorite toy? What movies do you like? Do you have a favorite animal or pet?" Ask your child what they would like to know about a friend and practice setting up questions.

Model this behavior with your child by playing an "interview" game to help them know how it works, to prepare for when they are ready to try it themselves. Then, next time you are in a social situation with some other little ones, set them free to make new friends and find out all about them.

Have fun!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fairy Tales: Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk is a favorite story with the little guys ... it has everything - magic, a giant bad guy, a castle - all their favorites in one fairy tale!

Make a playset to act out the story, including a castle in the clouds and a tall, tall beanstalk! A file folder, opened top to bottom, makes a great tall backdrop to situate your scenery on. Your children can set their castles near the top and make sure they add some cotton ball clouds. Next, have them use markers, chenille sticks, paper, or whatever you have around to make the tall, tall beanstalk that grew from the magic beans. Then, draw or color some characters and they will have their own "stage" to act out or retell the story.

Be sure to start out with "Once upon a time," and "far, far away" ... fairy tales help little ones sort out good and bad, and develop some sense of resolution, especially when the ending is "happily ever after."

Before reading the story, check for any background your audience has with this story or similar fairy tales.

Then, begin to relate the story in the style of an old-time storyteller, without the book ... just to spark their interest and get their attention.

Next, pull out the book, and launch into the story, pausing to have them participate physically whenever possible ... tossing beans, climbing up the stalk, peeking under the giant's door. They will love the movement, and it will help to imprint the story on their brains :)

When you're all finished, look for some short video clips - there are some great animated short clips of all the popular fairy tales - and compare and contrast with the story you read aloud! Your little ones will amaze you with their attention to detail :)

For more extension activities...
  • plant some bean seeds ... use either dirt or get really magical with seeds sealed up with damp paper towels in ziplocs and hung in the window - roots and sprouts to come!
  • sort all sorts of dry beans and count, pattern, etc. for math
  • have friends draw pictures for each of the story parts, or the giant's special things, and practice sequencing 
  • photograph your little ones in climbing poses, cut them out, and help them fashion a paper beanstalk to "climb" - they will get a big kick out it! 
Have fun!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Fairy Tales: The Three Little Pigs

Once upon a time, we read "The Three Little Pigs." The best way to remember a story, or anything at all, is to immerse yourself in it. So, read it, watch a video clip of it, act it out, make crafts, etc. When reading "The Three Little Pigs," give your kiddos some materials and let them make one (or more!) of the pigs' houses from the fairy tale.

Work on scissor skills by having little ones cut strips of red paper for bricks to build the brick house. They will need something to glue them onto ... so search around for some cardboard or a small container of some sort to act as the structure. We used cardboard food containers, like those for Chinese food, sold in multiple packages at craft stores, and they worked great!!

If your crew is up for it, you can keep going, like we did, and make a whole RETELLING KIT!! One house was not enough for us, and we did have a whole container to fill, so we cut up some small cardboard house shapes and thought about what to decorate them with. We let our little friends add straw (yarn) and sticks (cut up lunch bags) to complete their set of three houses. (Thanks for the great ideas, Amy!!) Both  houses are now stored in our brick house container!

When all the houses are complete, add three little pigs and a wolf. We made ours from paper, but you can do it any way you want. Clay, small animal figures, counters, etc. would all be interesting and fun. Practice retelling the story using all your new props, and talk about the characters as you go along! 

When you're reading the story together, make sure you include some little actors from your group - all they have to master is the repeating lines "Little Pig, little pig, let me in" and "Not by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin!" Of course, "I'll huff and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house down!" is a pivotal line, as well!

Have fun with the story and make sure you end with ... and they lived happily ever after (the pigs that is...)!

Looking for other play ideas to go along with the theme? Try adding sticks, yarn, chenille sticks, and small building blocks to a playdough table to build the pigs' houses - or just play!  

Have fun!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Playdough for the Win!

There are SO many things you can use playdough for - make all of them super fun!!

Small Motor Play
  • Roll it out and cut out shapes with cookie cutters
  • Pinch and pull to strengthen muscles
  • Cut thin ropes with scissors for resistance
Literacy Practice
  • Roll out "snakes" to make letters, numbers and shapes
  • Get letter or number stampers and make impressions in the play dough
  • Use as base for thematic play with sticks, blocks, yarn to recreate a story 
  • Mix up some playdough with your kiddos - make predictions, measure, add, see the ingredients come together
  • Take shells or other natural materials and make imprints like fossils
  • Use small figures of animals, dinosaurs, etc. to make tracks

Sensory Play 
  • Add dry jello to scent it 
  • Add salt to make it gritty
  • Add glitter to make it sparkly
  • Add all to make it super fun!
  • Introduce beads, buttons, or fake jewels to up the interest factor

  • Take a muffin tin, add tape with different numerals written on it to each cup and roll small balls to make the amount in each cup.
  • Make playdough pancakes and serve them up on different plates to give equal portions - one for you, one for me, etc.

Ask your little ones what THEY would like to do with the playdough - they will come up with even more ideas :)

Have fun!!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sharing and Caring

Extend Valentine's Day by talking about friendship, with explicit lessons about making and keeping friends, taught with storybooks. Sometimes our little friends need things spelled out for them ... and what better way than through a story?

Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister, tells the story of a little fish who is beautiful to look at and sought after to play with, but when he snubs the other fish, they stop trying to be friends and he feels isolated. Through learning to share, the Rainbow Fish eventually makes friends, and plays happily with his new friends. (I always stress to my little ones that sharing friendship and experiences is really the best gift of all. )

Corduroy, by Don Freeman, is told from the viewpoint of a stuffed bear who just wants to belong to someone and have a home. This sweet book can be a stepping stone to great conversations about inclusion and making sure no one feels left out - and how good it feels to feel wanted!!

My kiddos always enjoy The Crayon Box That Talked, by Shane deRolf. It gives voice to all the different crayons, who eventually put aside their griping to see that if they all work together, the results can be amazing - a great lesson for those having trouble sharing and working as a team.

Of course, there are always some great on-their-level Clifford books to go with these friendship lessons. Clifford's Pals and Clifford's Best Friend, by Norman Bridwell, highlight friend relationships with characters that are known and loved!

Take some time to read through these titles and others before reading with your kiddos, so you know what discussion points you might want to steer them towards. Or ... let them do the talking and encourage them to share what they feel like after reading these books - and any connections they might have to the characters in the stories. Sit back and listen while you color a picture together of one of the characters - great coloring sheets and extension projects are available on the author's websites.

Or, search Pinterest - great ideas should pop up!

Have fun!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Have a Cutting Party!

Let your kiddos cut! 

Children need to be comfortable cutting, in order to stay on task and work efficiently once they start "real work" in school. To prepare, give them the opportunity to learn how to operate scissors, cut on straight lines and follow curvy ones. Space these "lessons" out and make it fun - success will not be achieved in one sitting :)

  • First, have them learn the grip and motion of the scissors - open and shut, little "bites."
  • Use strips of paper just wide enough for a little scissor to cut, and help your child feel success in cutting it up. 
  • Next, use snakes of play dough or drinking straws for cutting practice, to give some resistance.
  • Then, you can draw lines on paper or have them draw the lines and cut along them! 
  • When they are getting good, use stencils to trace around shapes and then cut them out!
  • Old magazines are treasure troves - pick a theme for a collage and cut away! (Get some glue stick practice in, too, when you glue them all on a piece of paper!)

Make it fun!! Pull out the toy catalogs and the coupon pages - let them go crazy cutting with no real goal in mind. Steer them in the right way to grip the scissors, making sure that their thumbs are placed correctly on top.

Introduce the "helper hand" to hold the paper that they are cutting, in order to manipulate the paper as needed. 

One teacher friend pulls out the party hats and calls it a "cutting party!" Whatever goofy trick it takes to make it fun for your little ones, try it out! The more practice they get, the easier cutting will be for them down the line!

Thanks to my friend, Kelly, for her great cutting tips! Have fun!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Process vs. product: It's OK!

Children learn about the world around them by running their hands through water, dirt, and sand ... not to do anything in particular with them, but just to experience them using their sense of touch. They are great little scientists! Your children instinctively use their five senses to explore things in the natural world ... their food, toys, people, even bubbles and snow.

With toddlers and preschoolers, we are used to this exploration with science topics and encourage them to get hands on experiences to add to their knowledge of the world around them.

We should use this same approach when beginning to use art materials with our children. Letting your little ones experience the PROCESS of using art materials, instead of looking for a perfect PRODUCT at the end of the line, helps them discover so much about each medium they try.

Open ended exploration of dough can inspire all sorts of creativity, especially when everyday objects are available to add in to the play. Children can be inspired by the simplest of things and take the play to new levels.

Using pudding, doughs, shaving cream, or paints to mess around with gives your child a chance to experience the medium with no great expectations of the outcome, so that they can be free to explore on their own terms and - often - come up with new ways to use the materials.

Watercolors and Q-tips were a hit in our group a few days ago and today - play dough and buttons!

Give them a chance to use their own creativity and be inspired by their interest level and the fun they are having :)

Have fun!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow day!!

It is snowing here today - the kind of snow we don't get too often :) If your little ones have had enough of the cold, but not quite enough of the snow ..... OR, if they (or you) aren't up for getting out there ... BRING IT IN!!

Take a big container and fill it with snow, then find a place where it would be great to dig in and play with it. An old shower curtain liner or a vinyl table cloth would make a nice floor mat, or just put it on the countertop and know that it will be easy cleanup - it's just water!!

   Then, play! We got out some little cups and containers and dug around in it ... if your little ones' fingers get cold, put the mittens on inside :) Build a tiny snowman and decorate it with anything you can find in the kitchen - check ours out!

For a science and math connection, fill up a measuring cup with some fresh snow and wait it out - check back every half hour to see what happens.

Make some predictions and take some measurements - you will be able to see how much the snow shrinks and what the water amount is for the snow you collected.

Grab an erasable marker to make some marks showing the progression :)

There are so many literacy connections for Snow - look for books like "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats on YouTube if you don't have any titles in your snow-bound home! Enjoy!!

(This post is inspired by a picture I saw from my friend Mary Ann, but I just loved it and wanted to share the idea :)