Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I came across a great series of books by Sabastien Braun.  Meeow is a creative little cat who turns pots and pans into a marching band, a cardboard box into a fire truck, and some chairs into a train.  The words are simple and the illustrations cute and colorful.  Best of all, they set up an irresistible invitation for children to use their imaginations.  

After hearing this book, Teo industriously set about gathering drums of all sorts (as well as a drum stick for each).  I also read the book to my class, and they went on to happily bang on a variety of pans and bowls.  

My little musician also had the great idea of playing a song by stomping on several squeaky dog toys.  I was pretty impressed that he could stomp, sing and strum the guitar at the same time.  Not sure I could manage that!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It began with a book.  Written and illustrated by my co-worker, Lory Britain, Mama Crow's Gift is about a crow who brings treasures home to her family, making their nest beautiful and cozy.  When disaster strikes and all seems to be lost, Mama Crow's most valuable gift becomes apparent - her optimism and ability to delight in even the smallest beauty. 

After Lory read the book to our preschool class, one of the children picked up on the theme, and played it out day after day, being a Baby Crow while I was the Mama Crow.  

Since then, we have done several nest themed activities with our class, and I have done some others with my son.  Here they are!  Which one is YOUR favorite?

 NEST  #1 - Paper Bag Shred and Glue


Run a bag through a paper shredder (or cut it into narrow strips yourself).  Turn a large bowl upside down and cover the bottom with plastic wrap, taping the edges to keep it in place.  Set out the shred and any other materials you want (we used yellow craft feathers and red tinsel).  Also put out a bowl with a generous amount of glue.  With your hand, spread a layer of glue on the bowl.  Then show your child how to dip the nest materials in the glue, coating them fully.  Layer the materials on the bowl.  When it is finished, add another layer of glue.  Let the nest sit for a few days, then gently detach it from the plastic wrap. 

Original idea from The Chocolate Muffin Tree

NEST  #2 - Mud and Grass

Similar process, but this time put the plastic wrap INSIDE the bowl.  Your child will enjoy scooping gloopy mud mixed with grass, flowers, pine needles etc. 

Also from The Chocolate Muffin Tree.  Gotta love that blog!

NEST  #3 -Willow Branches

We didn't make this one.  It is a permanent fixture at our local bird rescue center.  A visit there inspired even more bird-themed dramatic play!  Cascades Raptor Center

NEST #4 - Grass Clippings

My son and I made this after visiting the Raptor Center.

NEST  #5 - Pine Boughs with Ribbon and Pipe Cleaner Decorations

This was built by two preschool classes after hearing Lory read her book. 

Do you have a favorite?  Leave a comment and let me know! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Because I'm a working mom, I treasure the weekends when Teo and I can do something special together.  That might mean taking the bus to the library, going berry picking, or going to a park.  What he really seems to crave, though, is time at home to just play together.  

Last weekend, I surprised him with this little masking tape town.   When he woke up on Sunday morning and saw it, his face reflected wordless delight.  His favorite part was the ice cream shop.  To set this up, I rolled some construction paper cones, fastened with tape to fit the marbles from a Chinese Checkers game. 
The garden was Teo's idea.  He asked me to make seeds, which he planted and watered, and then he waited for them to grow (so of course I made some vegetables).  Oh, and one of the trees is a strawberry tree (wouldn't that be cool?). 

 A note of caution - masking tape can damage some tables. 

Let your imagination run wild.  Many props can be made with construction paper, but you can use other materials, too.  Some dry grass could line the stalls for toy horses if you add a farm.  Small sticks standing upright (just stick them in a little play dough), can be fence posts or tree trunks.  A little water in a bowl could be a pond or swimming pool.  Blocks, carpet remnants, tin foil, yarn . . .  

For more ideas, Anna from The Imagination Tree is a genius at this stuff.  Check out her shaving cream "Park in the Snow" or  moon sand "Seaside." 

What are we learning?
Dramatic Play, Language and Literacy - enhance vocabulary and understanding of many concepts by talking in rich detail while you play with your child.  For example, if you are exploring the garden theme, build on what your child already knows.  Add in new concepts - "edible" "compost" "sprout" "harvest."  Introduce new vegetables.  Talk about the parts of plants.  All this is best when worked naturally into the play dialogue, not offered as a lesson. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

As a teacher, I used to be a one-man-show.  I felt that teaching alone allowed me to get into my groove.  When I was hired by the Relief Nursery, I wasn't sure how I would adapt to their team teaching model.  Now, after 6 years, I would never go back to teaching alone.   My teaching partner and assistant offer me encouragement, inspiration, motivation and support.  Not to mention they have awesome activities.  My teaching assistant, Janae, came up with this fun idea.  

Tape a large sheet of paper (or a bed sheet) to a fence or wall.  Give your child some containers of paint and some old wash cloths scrunched into balls and fastened with rubber bands.  Your child can throw the paint-dipped cloth at the paper, or she can walk up to the paper and use the cloth to make prints.  

Other fun ways to get paint onto a large hanging paper or sheet

Throw paint filled water balloons
Use spray bottles or squeeze bottles filled with liquid water colors
Swat a paint-dipped fly swatter or a pine bough
Mix the paint with some sort of thickener, like flour, and throw globs of it
Fill small paper cups with paint and fling or pour it onto the paper a la Jackson Pollock
Dip a paint brush and then flick your wrist to send the paint flying

Any other ideas?  

What are we learning?
Creative Expression, Gross Motor, Physical Science

Monday, July 9, 2012

“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”    -David Sobel, Beyond Ecophobia
This is a simple but rich activity for your child.  Simply head outside, offer a bucket or cooking pot filled with water, and suggest that he make some soup.  If your child is old enough, a pair of scissors can be helpful for cutting plants.  A spoon or ladle and some small bowls for serving will add to the dramatic play.  

When I have done this with my son, he becomes very inward and focused.  I try not to interfere in his process other than to make occasional observations.  "I see some clover over there.  I wonder if that would be good in the soup," or "Wow, you found four different types of grass seed."  Mostly, though, he just wants me to delight in the exquisite taste of his masterpiece when it is finished.  

Work with your child to create a recipe.  On a large sheet of paper, glue one of each of the items that your child puts in the soup.  Write the number of the quantity your child decides the soup needs next to each item.  

Or, as Childhood 101 suggests, offer scavenger hunt challenges: 
Can you find something small and yellow?  Something prickly?  etc.

What are we learning?
Connection with Nature, Dramatic Play, Language and Literacy (names of nature items, recipe writing), Early Math (recipe writing), Problem Solving (scavenger hunt), Fine Motor Skills (using scissors, serving with a ladle)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I originally saw this idea on The Imagination Tree, and it's become one of my favorites!  Teo was about 2 when we tried it, and he was instantly focused on the fine motor task of painting the tin.  I've also done this with kids up to age 5. 

To set it up, lay out a large sheet of paper on a tarp.  Offer some paint, a brush, and a muffin tin turned upside down.  After your child paints the bottom circles, you can demonstrate how to turn it over to make a print.  Then your child can try doing it herself (or maybe she will find another way to explore). 

An older child might be interested in using a finger or the end of the paint brush to draw letters or symbols in the paint circles before printing.  I'm tempted to do this project myself and write L  O  V  E on the circles and use the finished piece as wrapping paper. 

Once you've tried printing with a muffin tin, let your imagination run wild and try other objects for printing.  Here are a few suggestions.

- a potato cut in half and carved with a shape / letter / etc (an easy way to do this is to press a metal cookie cutter into the potato and use a knife to cut away the extra)

- a child sized rolling pin or a toilet paper tube with cardboard or foam glued on

- wooden blocks with a raised letter  OR  legos

- nature items like pine cones, leaves, stones, etc.

- kitchen utensils (potato masher, fork, the rim of a cup, cookie cutters)

- other household items (clothes pin, fly swatter)

- toy animal / doll foot prints

- body parts (hands, feet, elbows, noses)

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. 

What are we learning?
Fine Motor Skills, Creative Expression, Early Math (possibly patterning, counting), Sensory, Language / Literacy (if letters are involved, or if you talk about shape names, etc)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Offer your child a variety of non-toxic WASHABLE paints (I use tempera), and some brushes.  Set him naked or diapered on a tarp / old sheet, and let the body art begin.  Of course, this is more fun if you join in as well!

If you are doing this in a classroom, you can simply roll up the children's pants and offer this activity as Foot Painting instead of full body. 

Check out Pepper Paints to see some lovely African tribal face painting for inspiration!   

What are we learning? 
Body Awareness, Language (names of body parts),  Creative Expression, Fine Motor Skills, Sensory Experience. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We make our own play dough, and periodically it needs to be tossed and replaced.  If you are about to throw it away anyway, you might as well do something irrevocable (and interesting) with it. Here are a few ideas.

- Paint it.

- Make it into a big ball and play catch with it outside (it will definitely be ready for the trash after hitting the ground multiple times). 

- Also outside, lay it on the ground in a ball and stomp on it with bare feet (sure to be repeated amid many giggles!).  

- Take it to the sand box.

- Put it in a sensory tub with water and enjoy the sliminess. 

- Use it to make a volcano shape for this activity

- Make cookies or snakes or sculptures, and then set them in the sun to dry out.  Check them periodically and observe with your child how the dough changes as it sits in the sun.

- Use is as a soup or potion ingredient (along with whatever other materials you can think of).

Any other ideas?

Click here for my favorite no-cook play dough recipe!
This would be a sweet birthday gift - small batches of various colors of home-made play dough. My approach to play dough is very imprecise, but I roughly use this recipe from theimaginationtree.com. I like it because it requires no stove time.
1 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup salt
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
up to 1/2 cup very hot water
food coloring

In separate bowls for each color, mix this ratio of dry ingredients, then add oil and color, slowly add water while stirring (if you get too much, just add more flour). Once it is starting to clump, kneed it with your hands. Of course there are a million variations you can add - scents, texture stuff like sand / oats / dry rice, or glitter. I guess a few drops of glycerine makes it shiny, but I've never tried that.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I am sure I saw this activity somewhere on the web, and I should give proper credit, but I can't seem to find the original anywhere.  Suffice it to say, this is not my idea, but it is definitely worth sharing! 

Turn an electric skillet on its lowest setting (please read safety note!).  Lay a piece of computer paper in it.  Offer your child a selection of crayons with the paper peeled off (the fat crayons work best).  Explain that the pan is quite warm and should not be touched.  Then either let your child experiment with the crayons, or if she seems unsure, you can demonstrate pushing the end of a crayon onto the paper until it becomes soft.  The crayon will then slide in a delightful way, leaving a colorful trail behind.  

I tried this with children ages 3-5.  They seemed quite mesmerized, some of them drawing round after round of circles, and others making pools of color.  

If you come back to this activity a second time, try offering only a white crayon.  Tell your child that she won't be able to see her drawing right away, but you have a trick to make it appear.  When the drawing is cooled, offer water color paints.  When your child paints on the paper, the crayoned areas will remain white.  Older children might enjoy writing secret messages!

What are we learning?
Art, Physical Science (transformation, heat, melting)

Safety Note
Please do this activity with caution.  Even older children should have constant supervision when using a skillet.  Also, different skillets surely have different temperature settings.  Mine was cool enough that there was no chance of a burn unless a child held his hand on it for several seconds.  Test yours ahead of time. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

It can be very intriguing to paint on something other than paper.  Foil offers some interesting qualities - shiny, crinkly, smooth (or crumpled).  I presented this activity already taped to a construction paper frame to avoid tearing, but you could also just give your child a piece of foil by itself.  Because it is so malleable, it might turn into a painted sculpture instead of a flat piece. Try a very large sheet of foil, or a small one for different experiences.  

Another option, which you can demonstrate for your child, is to spread paint all over the foil (hands work best for this), and then use a finger or the other end of a paint brush to scrape a drawing in the paint.  This is a fun way for your child to play around with writing letters or his name, too.

What are we learning? 
Art, Physical Science (properties of foil)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Offer a selection of magnetic letters (or other magnets).  Tell your child that magnets stick to a special kind of metal called iron.  Model trying magnets on different surfaces, narrating as you go - "No, the magnet doesn't stick to the wooden table."  "Oh, it does stick to the refrigerator.  There must be iron in the refrigerator!"  If your child is interested, turn him loose to explore what other objects the magnets will stick to.  

If your child is a bit older and can identify first sounds of words, he can put the first letter of the object name on the object (ex. the W on the washer).  

What are we learning?
Physical Science, Close Observation and Concentration, Problem Solving, Language (names of different materials, letter names)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My son, Mateo (2 1/2), basically invented this activity, and I have to say, it is truly awesome.  He started by sorting all the marbles from a Chinese Checkers game into some paper cups.  He poured water into them, and then used a paint brush to transfer water color paint to each cup.  He then suggested putting ice into the cups as well.  

We went from that to sticking the cups in the freezer for a couple of hours.  When they were frozen, we ran a bit of warm water over the cups so the ice would come out and we put them on a sheet pan.  They slid and spun and slowly melted, which was great, but the real fun came when I offered Teo a wooden hammer to smash the ice and release all the balls.  When he was done, he immediately suggested we make more, so we did. 

When the second set was done,  Teo got into the bath, and I set up a bath table by turning over a plastic tote and setting it in the tub.  Teo used a toy tea pot to pour warm bath water over the ice to melt them.  He pondered whether they would sink or float and tried that as well.  He was delighted to see the paint making color swirls in his bath water.  

I am so excited to try freezing other small objects or toys in ice.  I've seen people freeze big blocks of ice with things inside, too.  What fun!

What are we learning?
Physical Science (freezing / melting, floating / sinking, how objects move - sliding, spinning), Problem Solving,  Fine and Gross Motor and Eye-Hand Coordination (hammering, pouring), Sensory, and Color Matching / Sorting / Mixing.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

Stop by the local hardware store and pick up some free paint samples.  These can be used in so many ways!  Sort yarn “pasta” to the same color “plate,” or matchbox cars to the same color parking spot.  Your child can carry around one of the samples and search for objects that are the same color.  In pairs, they can be used as a memory game. 

What are we learning?
Color matching and names.  Sorting. 
Here is a fun (and yummy) building project.  Offering two colors of grapes allows for patterning.  

If your child likes this, he might also enjoy making fruit kebabs - another great fine motor and patterning activity.

What are we learning?
Early math (patterning).  Fine motor skills.  Problem solving.  Food activity.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Offer your child several cups filled part-way with water (or offer empty cups plus a squirt bottle of water, as shown here).  Your child may discover on her own how to transfer paint color to the water, or you can show her.  You can offer occasional reflections, such as "I wonder what would happen if you mixed red and blue together."  As long as your child won't be tempted to drink the water, you can inspire some dramatic play by asking her to serve you some blueberry / orange / lime juice / etc. 

Different children will approach this activity differently.  She may pour water from cup to cup.  She may simply ask for paper and want to paint.  Your child will enjoy and learn the most if you follow her lead.  

Another option is to offer pieces of tissue or toilet paper that your child can dip into the colored water to watch the color travel up the paper (suggested by Lory Britton, PhD).  Eye droppers are another great prop for transferring water. 

What are we learning?
Color mixing.  Fine motor skills.  
Begin by pouring a bit of paint onto a sheet pan and letting your child play with it with fingers or utensils.  Then, add a cup with a few tablespoons of baking powder, a squirt of dish soap, and a few drops of food dye.  Give your child another cup with some vinegar in it (1/4 c or so), and let him pour the vinegar into the baking soda mixture.  It will "erupt" like wonderful, colorful lava.  

There are many ways to set this up.  You can construct a volcano out of play dough (put a small bottle in the center to hold the baking soda mixture).  This can also be done in the sand box with a sand mountain.  For dramatic play, you could add small dinosaurs.  

What are we learning?
Your child is watching a chemical reaction.  He will likely delight in the magic of it, and it will engage his senses (touch, sight, sound (fizzing) and smell). 

Fill the balloon with water and tie it.  Offer your child the balloon, a dish of paint, and some paper, and see what happens.  Your child might hold it by the knot and bounce it, or roll it around, or he might find another technique. 

To expand this activity, offer a second balloon filled only with air.  Your child can feel the difference  between them, and you can narrate his exploration, offering concepts such as light and heavy.  For more gross motor exploration with this, you can put the paper on the ground and attach a long rubber band or piece of elastic to the balloon knot.  Your child can swing and bounce the balloon while standing on the paper (best done outside!). 

What are we learning?
Children construct an understanding of their world in part by manipulating objects in different ways.  In addition to being an art project, this is a physics experiment. 
Make a tape bracelet (sticky side outward) for your child.  Show her how things will stick to it, and turn her loose in a field, forest, or just your backyard. 

What are we Learning?
This activity encourages your child to look closely at nature.  She will use fine motor skills to pick leaves and flowers and to press them on the tape.  

To make a little post office, draw a rectangle for each mail slot on a cardboard box.  Cut the sides and bottom of the rectangles with a utility knife to make little doors.  Cut rectangles of different colored paper for each door, and affix with tape.  Write names on the doors (this could be names of family members, friends, or story / cartoon characters).  

Next, poke a hole in each door with the tip of your scissors, and thread through a piece of yarn to tie in a loop (this will make the doors easier to open).  Cut out rectangles for mail from each color.  Your child may enjoy writing / drawing / placing stickers on the mail. 

You may want to put the mail in a basket or bag for your little mail carrier.  Show her how the mail matches up to the mail boxes.  

If your child is beyond color matching, you can make each door the same color and your child can match by name (in this case, write the name of who the mail is for on each piece of mail as well).  Or, you can use single letters, shapes or numbers.

What are we learning?
Early Math (matching).  Fine motor skills (slipping the mail through the slots).  Dramatic play.  This activity also supports literacy learning in a meaningful context.   Even if your child is matching by color, she will probably begin to notice the letters on the mailboxes, and you can point them out as well:  "Oh, I see that Katie and Kerry both have names that start with K."  "Jo has a very short name.  It is only 2 letters."  
To do these really cool paintings, put shaving cream in baggies with some liquid water color (or food dye) of your child's choice. Mix it up, then seal the baggies and clip the corner so your kiddo can squeeze the paint out onto their paper. Glitter can be sprinkled on afterward

This is a great way to use puffy paint, too (just mix a generous bit of glue with the shaving cream, and it will dry thick and puffy).  Without the glue, they are no longer 3D when they dry, but still very pretty. 

What are we Learning?
Squeezing the baggies develops hand strength and control.  This can also turn into a fantastic sensory experience if your child decides to explore the shaving cream with his fingers.