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!