Sunday, September 26, 2010

Family Fire Drill

The beginning of each school year comes with reminders of past lessons learned.  One lesson that most school children can give explicit details on is the procedure to follow during a fire drill.  They all know to stay calm, use walking feet, and go with the class to a safe location.  This drill should serve as a reminder to families that fires can occur just as easily at home.  So, when your child tells you about the fire drill at school, have a drill at home.  Follow the same guidelines: stay calm, use walking feet, and meet at a safe location.  You can also add additional important points such as do not go back inside for special belongings, don't look for the dog or cat, and meet at your chosen safe location.   Take a minute to hold a fire drill with your family.  Hopefully you'll never have a true emergency, but you may rest a little easier knowing that your children will know what to do just in case!

Here's a link to more information about creating a family plan:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Story Extensions

The importance of reading with children has been established time and time again.  Shared reading time between you and your child becomes even more enriched when it is followed by a related activity.  With most children's books there is a cooking project, nature walk, creative play, or art project that can extend the story's theme.  

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis conveys that a box isn't just a box through the creative eyes of a child, or in this case a rabbit.  Using either a box or other recycled material, your child can use his/her own imagination to repurpose them into something new, pretend or real.  Offer support to make their vision a reality.  Another simple way to extend this story and allow for creative thinking is to draw a simple line or shape on a piece of paper.  Have your child add on to the line/shape, creating something new.  Have him/her tell you about the drawing.  For example a "<" may become the open mouth of a shark with sharp teeth!

Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert will excite your child about the wonderful process of butterfly metamorphosis.  If you live in a climate that supports caterpillars and butterflies there is nothing more magical than a butterfly garden.  By simply adding a few host plants (for the caterpillars) and nectar plants (for the butterflies) to your flower beds or pots your child will certainly have his/her own opportunity to wait for wings!  Information can easily be found online to help you create a butterfly garden.  In Dallas, we only needed to add a parsley plant and marigolds.

Waiting for Wings

Hats, Hats, Hats (Around the World Series) by Ann Morris is one of several books that use authentic photographs to bring us images from around the world.  In this book she provides photographs of different hats and their many uses.  These books will begin a discussion of other things around you and their similarities and differences.  Make a list, play a game in the car, or if you have access to a digital camera help your child make a photo collection of his/her own.  For example: various chairs and their purpose, animals with tails, things that are red, things that have wheels.  These simple activities will help to develop your child's critical thinking.

Hats, Hats, Hats (Around the World Series)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Collection Kits

Kids everywhere love to collect things.  Even as adults we find collections that we have too.  It's easy to turn a collection of similar items into a wonderful exploration of math concepts.  The first strategy to make this activity a success is to have an engaging collection.  Children will always learn more and stay focused longer if their attention is held.  The collection my be temporary, the new bag of colored candy.  The collection may be a favorite item, my daughter has a small horse collection.  I know I have an accidental collection of buttons that I'll never use.  In my classroom I have a collection of keys that the hardware store gave me for free.

So now that you are thinking of all the little collections around your house, here are some ideas of how to put them to use...

1.   Explore - It's very important that children are given time to explore something new on their own.  Observe how your child explores the items.  Does he/she count them, line them up, sort them, or study them closely.  This will give you an indication of how to support his/her learning.

2.  Counting - Simple yet important.  Demonstrate one-to-one by pointing and counting out loud.  This can be challenging for some young children.

3.  Sort - Talk about the different attributes of the item (size, color, shape).

4.  Simple Graph - Make a graph using the sorting stacks.

5.  Patterns - At an early age children can grasp the concept of simple patterns such as ABABAB (red, blue, red, blue or big, little, big, little,).

6.  More Free Play/Exploration - You'll be surprised what your child will come up with next!

IMPORTANT - Be aware of choking hazards with young children!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Shaving Cream Canvas

Inside or outside...
Tub or table...
Shaving cream has many benefits other than the obvious.  It offers a wonderful sensory experience that encourages a variety of skills to be practiced.  The younger child can explore lines and shapes.  Letter formation can be introduced and practiced before adding the use of a writing instrument.  Older children can practice cursive and spelling words.  While most children enjoy the sensory experience along with the fine motor skill practice, for me there is an added benefit.  Every now and then I'll come across a child who is very aware of making their picture/writing look "just right".  There is a permanence that comes with crayons, markers, paints,... etc.  For some children this lessens the risk they are willing to take to do something new.  Shaving cream allows for a quick change of all or part of their work.  This encourages more risk and builds confidence.  Not to mention its fun and relaxing.

Apply a small amount of shaving cream to a baking sheet or the side of the bathtub.  If desired, add a few drops of food coloring.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dough for more than "playing"

Most of us take a quick trip back to our childhood as soon as we sink our fingers into a new batch of play dough.  The scent, texture and perfect color is appreciated by adults and children alike.  But there is more "learning" to be found behind the "play" in the dough.  In my house and classroom homemade dough ranks above the store bought variety.

I won't go into the benefits of preparing the dough with your children (measuring, sequence of events, recipe reading,...) but trust me it's worthwhile!  Here's all that you need to do:

Mix -
2 cups flour
2 cups water
1 cup salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 Tablespoons oil
food coloring (I prefer the gel type in the small pots for baking)

Combine in a large, cool pot.  This allows the little ones to help without fear of getting burned.

Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat once the dough has formed into a large ball and easily pulls away from the side of the pan and spoon.  Turn dough onto waxed paper and knead.

Instead of cookie cutters, which do almost nothing to support fine motor development, give them rolling pins and child sized scissors.  Demonstrate how to roll "snakes".  Encourage them to use their fingers to roll small balls for added fine motor development.  This is also a beneficial activity to pull out if your child needs a little calming and "time away".  It's a great stress reliever!

The dough stores well in a sealed container or bag.  Don't be surprised if you catch yourself enjoying the therapeutic benefits of play dough too!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Painting Without Paint

Painting Without Paint

The first thing I learned about children's art experiences is that the process is more important than the product. As a parent, though, I love the product as it is a glimpse into the mind of my children. The reality is there are more creations made at school and home than I have room to store. But still, my children love to paint and they could empty my printer of paper in one sitting. So, the answer in my house and on the playground when its just not the best time to pull out the paints – paint with water.

Give your child any size/type of brush or the extra sponge under your sink (cut into long strips) along with a plastic cup of water and your sidewalk will become an instant canvas. Extend the experience into a scientific discussion on evaporation. The processes of large arm movement, creative thinking, and “observing with scientist's eyes” will far out live the product.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


When I told my husband I was going to start a blog his first response was "Weren't you going to do that a long time ago?".  Yes, and finally I've really done it!  I want to write about the joy of learning I get to share both in the classroom and at home with our daughters.  If anything it'll be a lesson plan of sort that I can refer to when I'm having "one of those days" and need a fresh idea to make it through the day.  I firmly believe that the best tools for learning are not found in the toy aisles fastened in pretty packaging that requires a pair of pliers to dislodge the toy from its box.  Although a quick outing to Target gets us out of the house and brightens the girls' faces as they clutch their purchase all the way home, chances are that shiny new toy will be tossed aside before the end of the week.  Rather, items found in my pantry, my recycling bin, or in nature can have the greatest "play" value for our daughters.  These activities are some favorites from my classroom that our daughters have enjoyed at home as well.

So here's idea number one.  It's nothing fancy or expensive.  It has, however, given the girls extended periods of make believe play.  It has developed eye-hand coordination.  It has also encouraged counting and measuring.  And it's the featured photo on my blog page.  All you need is an oversized plastic shoe box with a lid.  Fill it a quarter way with corn meal.  Add small scoops, spoons, and cups.  Thats it!  Simple and kid tested for hours of ever changing play!