Sunday, September 16, 2018

Making Beads

Here's a nice little activity that extends over several days, builds lots of skills (such as fine motor, creativity, and cause and effect!) and is just plain fun :)

We used the awesome book Mudworks by Mary Ann Kohl to create a batch of dough for making beads...




Once our dough was just right, we rolled it into various small shapes.





We poked holes into the dough shapes with the ends of thin paintbrushes:

We had to wait several days for the dough beads to dry, but when they were finally ready, we painted them.  Then, when the paint was dry we strung our beads onto string and made bracelets and necklaces!

  

  



Sunday, September 2, 2018

Fine Motor Activity: Plant a Flower!

I had been using flannel boards in my classroom to share stories, songs and games for quite a while before I started making actual felt sets for the kids to use.  For some reason with the sets I made for the kids, I had limited myself to scanning my story sets, printing them out on card stock, laminating them, and attaching Velcro.  

I guess it was probably quicker and easier that way--but those sets were quite limited in that the pieces couldn't be layered, and the kids didn't get to experience the feel of felt, or the problem solving that happens when felt snags slightly on a dry finger, or needs to be pressed a little more firmly to stay on the board...

But finally I realized the error of my ways, and began to make what I call DIY sets for the kids.  These sets are kind of amazing in all the skills they enhance--and all simply through play!  
Math skills like color sorting, shape naming, counting, one to one correspondence... 
Early literacy skills like vocabulary building and labeling happen naturally--and I include a list of awesome books to read as well as several rhymes and songs to use with the kids.  
Fine motor skills grow of course, as they pinch and grasp and place/remove/replace the pieces.  
And then there's creativity and imagination, as children decide whether to decorate a butterfly's wings with circles or tear drop shapes; to put 1 or 10 leaves on a flower stem; to turn a lady bug into the center of a flower...  

The ideas they come up with always make me realize just how limited my own imagination has become!

Do you use felt sets in the classroom, beyond the circle time stories and games you might have?  If not, I encourage it!  If you're crafty, felt is inexpensive and you can create all kinds of sets around a zillion different topics.  

If you're not crafty, come buy some from me ;)  











Sunday, August 26, 2018

Two Art-Area-Organizing Ideas

If you're a preschool teacher, you're probably on a bit of a budget.  Even if not, it's always nice to find ways to recycle!  These two simple tips will help keep your art area just that little bit more organized; will provide simple ways for the children to help at clean up time; and can even build a few math skills at the same time!  Here they are, easy as pie:

Organizing your crayons has never been so simple.  Collect and clean out empty food cans--all the same size works best (for those of us with a few OCD tendencies, at least!), and I prefer them short enough so the tips of the crayons can be seen sticking out of the tops.  You'll want the number of cans to be equal to the number of colors in your collection.  Simply cut colored construction paper to wrap around the cans, gluing or taping them neatly on.  Cover that paper with Con-tact paper or clear packing tape, and voila!  Store your cans in a shallow tray or basket, and you've got a nice organized crayon storage method.  Kids can easily transport the whole tray or individual cans to the art table, find the color they're looking for, and can get a little practice in math and color recognition at clean up time :)

Next up:  paper storage!  How many random baskets and tubs of  papers do you have making an eyesore of your art area?!  (I admit that even with this one in use, I still kept other messier baskets on the shelves as well, to provide a larger variety of types and sizes of paper...)  But this is such a perfect paper holder, and fits so nicely on a preschool classroom art shelf, and lets the kids be so self-sufficient and independent, that I consider it a must have.

The box you see pictured below is the storage box from a class pack of markers.  My school always got ours from Discount School Supply (here's a link).  Now if you don't already buy these class packs, you're not going to want to order a set for $90 just to have this paper storage solution!  But if your school already buys them this way, all you have to do is take off the lid, cut your papers to fit, and you're set!  Just as with the crayon cans, this lets the kids be independent, helps them sort and organize naturally, and is a big help at clean up time.  Mine lasted at least five years, and my school went through boxes and boxes of markers each year, so this was a no-brainer :)  You can even cover the bottom of each section with its own color of paper if you really want to help with the whole color sorting idea...



Do you use these or other similar tools to keep your art supplies organized?  Leave your comments below!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Problem Solving in the Classroom

I always used a problem-solving approach in my classroom.  It takes a lot of work at first, but the results are amazing, the children benefit so much from it, and you'll have children as young as two negotiating for the use of toys in no time!  Here's an example of a letter I sent out to the families explaining this method:


Dear families, 
As the school year is right around the corner, we wanted to give you a little bit of information about part of our classroom philosophy.  We use a child-centered, problem solving approach to discipline and guidance in our classroom.  Below is a description of some of the main aspects of this approach. 

*We realize the importance of active listening.  During conflicts (and at all times), children are listened to.  We repeat children’s words in order to reinforce and validate them, and all feelings are accepted and explored.  We also provide words for those children who are pre-verbal or who struggle to communicate.
Example:  
"Okay, Rosie, it looks like you guys are having a problem with this toy.  Tell me what's going on..."  "Margaret, now tell me how you're feeling."  "Okay, it sounds like you both want to have a turn with this small doll, and you're both feeling pretty frustrated.  Let's figure this out..."

*Because we respect children’s choices and need for time and space, we don't expect or force children to share toys; instead we encourage communication, negotiation, and taking turns.
Example:
"So how can we solve this?  You both want a turn with this doll.  What would make you happy, Rosie?  Okay, Rosie's idea is for her to have a turn and then Margaret.  Is that okay with you Margaret?"  (continue until they come up with a solution, and offer solutions to them if they are stuck.)

*We don't solve children’s problems for them; rather, teachers facilitate children’s negotiations, encouraging children’s active participation in their own conflict resolution.
Example: We don't say "Well, I saw Margaret with it first, so she gets the first turn."  That's the easy way, but it doesn't help them come up with their own solutions.

*Knowing that children need repetition and to work at their own pace, we don't set time limits on the use of toys.
Example:  "Alice, I can tell you want a turn with that truck.  Yes, I know Harry has had it for a long time.  Do you want to ask him how many more minutes he's going to be?"  We then help the children negotiate on a time that's okay with both of them.  Though they don't really have a concept of time, just giving them control over being able to contribute to the solution usually solves the problem!

*We don't expect children to apologize or express any other emotion they do not genuinely feel.  We do model sympathy and empathy as we facilitate a conflict resolution.
Example: "Oh no!  Sammy, that hurt, didn't it?!  Ouch!  You can tell Jane she can't hit you with that block!"  "Jane, Sammy is telling you that's NOT okay!"  "Are you okay Sammy?  I'm sorry you got hurt!" No lectures here.  Jane knows she was in the wrong, and giving her a lot of attention about it can backfire and encourage more of the same. We give more attention to Sammy so if Jane is lashing out for attention, she's not getting it.   We've found that having children say they're sorry when they actually aren't helps no one.  When they genuinely feel sorry and express that, we welcome it!

*We remember that although something may not seem fair to us, we do not ultimately determine the outcome of conflicts between children.  We are here to help the children determine their own solutions.
Example:  "I can tell you both want to use this amazing puzzle.  Gloria is asking you how many minutes you're going to be, Frank...  20 minutes?  Is that okay with you Gloria?  Yes?  Okay, I'll tell you both when 20 minutes are up."  Even though 20 seems awfully long to us, that's what they decided on.  In the meantime, Frank will probably finish in two, and when we see that, we'll remind him to let Gloria know that it's her turn.  Since she was able to negotiate, she's probably forgotten all about it anyway, and has moved on to play with something else!  (Be sure you follow through if Frank really does keep playing with it that long.  They both need to know we're reliable and that they will be held accountable for their decisions!)

By using these methods, children acquire important problem solving skills.  They begin to rely upon themselves to figure a problem out, which builds their self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of control.

If you have any questions about this method of guidance, please let us know.  We are passionate about this way of supporting children as they learn to work and play in a classroom setting, and we look forward to sharing and exchanging ideas with you throughout the year!





How about you?  Do you use a similar method in your classroom?  Do you love it like I do?  Comment below :)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Play dough--the details!

Soft and squishy, bright and colorful--what's not to love about play dough?  Upon entering my classroom, it was one of the first things the children were greeted with each day, and was one of the most popular spots in the room.

collage of play dough images


As I mentioned in another post on play dough, I changed the color of the dough every two weeks, and swapped out a selection of open-ended gadgets and gizmos at the same time.  By that time the dough was becoming a bit too crumbly, the toys needed a good soak and scrub, and the scent I'd added had probably faded quite a lot.

So what about those colors and scents?  When I first started out as a teacher, I was lucky enough to get the best recipe ever for play dough from a co-teacher.  I used the same recipe for 25 years (sometimes I'd make a double batch and freeze half to use at another time--it freezes perfectly!)  But it wasn't until I'd been teaching for a few years that I discovered the joys of Liquid Water Color (beautiful, vibrant colors that you just can't get with food coloring), and the added sensory benefits of scenting the dough.

So here's everything I know and love about a good batch of play dough--enjoy!

The Only Play Dough Recipe You'll Ever Need
With a whisk or spoon, stir the following together in a medium pot:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup salt
2 Tbs. cream of tartar

Add and stir with a whisk or spoon:
2 cups water
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
As much liquid water color as you need to get the desired color
Whatever scent you've chosen (Some ideas are listed below)

Once you've whisked/stirred until there are no more lumps (a minute or two), turn the heat on to medium high.  Stir with a wooden spoon constantly, until the dough begins to form a ball (a few minutes).  It can still be a bit wet and mushy in spots when you dump it out of the pot onto the counter.  Let it cool for a few minutes, and fill that pot with water right away for easier cleaning!  Once the dough is cool enough to handle, knead it/mush it all together, combining any wettish spots with the more cooked parts.  Soon you'll have a gorgeous lump of brightly colored, beautifully scented dough.  You can store it in any airtight container (I usually used a zip top bag or Tupperware-type container.)

Smells and COLORS!
(Make sure there aren't any allergies or sensitivities in your class before you add scents to your dough)

Extracts--from the baking aisle in the grocery store--these go on sale periodically, so stock up!
Peppermint (great with red, green, pink or uncolored dough)
Lemon (yellow--or purple!)
Vanilla (uncolored, brown, black, blue--any color, really!)
Coconut (yellow, tan, turquoise--think beachy colors...)
Almond (uncolored, brown)
Lime (green!)
Orange (orange!)

Kool Aid
You can use Kool Aid to color and scent your dough--but it makes it a little sticky, and in humid weather it can go bad (aka moldy!) quickly, so beware!

Spices
Cinnamon (I love this with red or brown dough)
Pumpkin Spice (orange or brown...at Thanksgiving)
Italian Seasoning (uncolored, so you can see all the flecks!)

Cocoa Powder
I love to use this to make chocolate scented dough, and it adds a lovely smoothness to the dough, too.  Throw several tablespoons in with the other dry ingredients.  Add lots of black and brown food coloring for a deep chocolate look...

Hopefully you love play dough as much as I do, and use it daily in your classroom.  And if not, you've got no excuses now!  Get going!

Flannel Board Fun logo and newsletter sign up


Do you have a favorite recipe?  A color and scent combo you couldn't live without?  Post in the comments below!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sensory Table Fillers

I see a lot of pins on Pinterest with sensory table ideas--there are tons of great ideas out there!  But it can be difficult and expensive to switch out the filler very often (which is why I would often make smaller, special sensory trays to use in addition to the big table.  That's for another post!)

In my classroom, I had three main fillers that I kept in the table for extended periods of time.  These were tried and true materials that children can pour, scoop, pile and otherwise manipulate to their heart's content.  They are food items, which is a sticky point for many, as children shouldn't be playing with food, and it's wasteful to use food as a toy.  However, I stored my fillers in large cat litter tubs, and they kept for several years with no problem.  Most of these can be bought in bulk at stores like Cosco, and asking each parent to bring in one bag or box of the filler to get you started is a great way to go about this, too.

First up:  cornmeal.  With grits added to cut down on the dust.  I love how soft and quiet this is.  

Next is my personal favorite:  lentils and split peas.  The feel of these is so soothing.  They sometimes get stuck in a funnel--what a great problem solving moment!

Finally, rice.  This is a common filler--some people even call their table the 'rice table' because that's all they've ever used in it!
 

I certainly supplemented with other fillers, but mainly I used these and rotated the tools instead.  So easy to give the tools a dunk in a bucket of hot soapy water, and put in a new batch of tools for a new experience.  

A tip for those times you do switch your fillers:  put your storage tub in the middle of the table and use a large dustpan reserved for this purpose to scoop as much of the filler into the tub as you can.  Then you only need to lift the mostly empty table to pour the last few bits into the tub.

Want more ideas of tools and fillers to use in your sensory table?  


Share your favorite sensory table fillers in the comments below!



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Finger painting!


Does finger painting bring back childhood memories for you?  It does for me, and they're all good ones!  I loved the smell of the paint, the cool, slick feel of it, the bright colors mixing together...  Which no doubt influenced me to offer finger painting pretty frequently as a teacher.  I wanted my students to have those same fond memories, and I think they will :)

Finger painting is one of the few art experiences that really does work best with a smock of some kind, because the kids really lean into the tray of paint more than they do in any other painting activity. I generally avoid smocks, as they often discourage a child from participating, and honestly I haven't found any that actually keep paint off the kids!  But our school had t-shirts made for a fund raiser, so I took some of the leftovers, a couple sizes too big for my kids, and turned them into finger painting smocks.  T-shirts aren't foreign to kids, so they aren't as disturbed at putting them on!

My favorite way to present the finger paints is on a big, round, shallow tray.  Ask them what colors they want, and where they want their blobs plopped down.  Then let them go to town!


Of course you can also add paper.  I often don't bother--it really is about the process, not a product--but sometimes they ask for it, and sometimes it's just fun to show them how they can make prints.  Just let them do their own thing, and everything turns out great :)


Not to be dismissed is fingerTIP painting!  This is great for kids who don't want their whole hand covered in paint.  We put a wet rag nearby for anyone needing an extra wipe now and then :)

So many benefits come from finger painting:  Color mixing is science!  Stress floats away!  Finger and hand muscles get stronger!   Awareness of cause and effect grows!  Self-help skills abound at clean up time!  Sensory integration occurs!

Finger painting is certainly one of the most fun preschool painting activities I know of--and one that requires lots of clean up time!  For a tip on that, and four more art area tips, click below...


Do you have fond memories of finger painting?  Share them in the comments below!


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Little Pig

I didn't use flannel boards for the first 10 or so years of teaching.  I can barely remember that time of my life!  Thank goodness I was introduced to them--they added so much to my circle times, making them WAY more fun and engaging for both the children and me.

Here's an example of a perfect little flannel board game (and I got this pig version of the idea from the amazing Kathryn!)  This can be played with toddlers up to five year olds, or even older, I'm sure.  The original version of this game that most people know is called Little Mouse, and it features a mouse and several houses of various colors.  I've got a post on it here and for lots more variations and explanations of how to play, click right here!

But for this version, we're using pigs.  And yes, a stack of pancakes.  I love both of those things, but I only eat one of them ;)

**Before I go further, you might be asking "Why should I play this game?  What's the value?  Sure, it's cute, but is it worthwhile?"
Well of course it is!  As you play the game, kids are either learning colors, or their color knowledge is being reinforced. Count how many pigs you have left to guess, and you're adding even more math into the mix!  You're exposing them to rhyme and rhythm.  Critical thinking and observation skills abound!  They're building language skills as they chant along or simply listen.  And very importantly, they are having fun!**

five felt pigs and felt pancakes


Here are various chants you can use with this game:

*Purple pig, purple pig, let me see...
Do YOU have some yummy pancakes for me??

*Pancakes, pancakes, playing hide and seek...
Are you under the purple pig?
Let's take a peek!

*Pancakes, pancakes, not very big...
Are you under the purple pig??

Kids love guessing where those pancakes are hiding.  You can make this super simple by having  a bit of the pancakes sticking out from behind whichever pig you've hidden them under.  This is great for toddlers just getting used to the game.  But they catch on quickly!  You can have the kids cover their eyes as you hide the pancakes, or turn your flannel board around so they can't see your tricky methods...

Have you played this game or another version of Little Mouse/Little Pig?  Drop your ideas in the comments--I'd love to know!

          

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Painting with Rolling Things!

I'm always touting the fine motor benefits of a good old fashioned art activity.  Those tiny muscles get worked, challenged, and built by holding onto thin or thick paint brushes, by spreading or drizzling glue, by placing small scraps of paper carefully onto the paper...

But it's not all about fine motor!  Art activities can build gross motor skills, too.  Vehicle painting and using rolling sponges and other rolling tools are two easy ways to build the larger muscles of the arms, as well as core stabilization.  

To get the most out of those benefits, provide large work spaces and larger pieces of paper when you do these activities.  Group paintings are great for this--simply tape a huge piece of paper onto a large table, provide several plates of paint with a vehicle or paint roller nestled on top, and watch them go!


Giving the kids their own individual trays works well, too.  I like to cut large pieces of paper and present them on a long tray, which really encourages that back and forth motion from one end of the paper to the other.


There are all sorts of painting tools available for this sort of activity.  You can use rollers intended for painting, and I liked to mix it up with stamp rollers as well.






Do you love rolling tools for art?  How have you tweaked this activity for your classroom?  Share in the comments!






Sunday, July 15, 2018

Early Literacy in the Dramatic Play Area

Reading books with children is certainly one perfect way to enhance early literacy skills, and I love, love, love children's books!  But there are a zillion other ways to provide early literacy opportunities in the classroom (or at home).  Today I'm sharing just a couple of ideas for your Dramatic Play area.

A well-equipped Dramatic Play area has child sized furniture and accessories for pretend play endeavors and escapades.  Think dress up clothes, baby dolls, play food and dishes.  There might be doctor's kits and stuffed animals to take care of; toy or real cameras and phones; accessories like watches, bracelets and sunglasses; purses and bags for imaginary trips to the moon or the beach.  Among other benefits, these props encourage creativity and socialization--which in and of themselves also enhance early literacy by building vocabulary and conversation skills.

To add an even more direct early literacy element, you only need a few extra props!  My favorites are a can or cup of thick, stubby pencils, a container of notepads and loose paper, and old computer keyboards.  Place them on shelves (labeled with pictures so they can be put back at clean up time--another early literacy tool!) and let the children play.






What I love about simply providing these tools, rather than doing some sort of teacher-led, potentially developmentally-inappropriate activity, is that the children can use them in open-ended, self-directed ways.  This naturally leads them to learn more, because they are engaged in something they have chosen to do themselves.  Aside from the obvious letter recognition that may occur with the keyboards (especially as you interact with the children during play), simply providing them with these tools is exposing them to the idea that written communication is important and a needed part of life.  This is enforced even more as you ask them to take your order at a restaurant, or write out a prescription for you at a doctor's office, or write down directions on where to meet them at the beach trip...  And of course as they play with these tools on a regular basis, they learn how to manipulate them, their fingers gain strength, and they learn to love writing even before they are capable of doing it!

What are your favorite ways to sneak early literacy into your classroom?  Do you have pencils and paper in various areas of the room?  I'd love to hear your ideas--drop them in the comments below!

Want more preschool stuff?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Simple Math Activities

Math is an area that can sometimes be a struggle when it comes to including it in a preschool curriculum.  Some teachers can feel intimidated or unsure of how to provide opportunities to develop math skills in a developmentally appropriate way.
It's important to realize that math is all over the place--you don't have to do "projects" to help children gain math skills.  Your engagement with the kids as they use the simplest materials can help them gain math concepts like one-to-one correspondence, sorting, and patterning.  Below are some examples of incredibly simple materials that build math skills naturally through play.

The shape sorting puzzle above is a math bonanza on its own, and combined with teddy bear counters it goes even further.  Children can sort both the blocks and bears by color and size; they can line them up and begin to create patterns; they can put all the red things together, or all the small things together, or create a pile of just blue and yellow, a line of alternating blue and green...  The list goes on and on.  See how they're working with the materials on their own, and enter their play at that level.  Then as they're ready, you can begin to make suggestions, or simply model another idea to get them thinking.

Even toddler toys like the linking ducks above provide math opportunities, over and above the obvious fine motor skills involved.  "Oh, it looks like you have three blue ducks in your line.  Can you help me count them?  1, 2, 3.  Yep!  You've got three.  I wonder how many yellow ducks we can add to your line?"  


Adding colored bowls, plates, or even pieces of colored paper to a set of counters adds another element of math.  Children might choose to sort by color into the coordinating bowl/plate/paper.  They also might not--and that's fine! It's all about providing the opportunity, not doing things the "right" way.  Commenting on what you see is a great way to simply make children more aware of things.  "Hey, look!  You put two purple animals in a purple bowl, and you put one purple animal in a yellow bowl!  I wonder where you're going to put that blue animal?  We have five bowls to choose from..."  Using math language really does occur naturally when you involve yourself.  Open-ended questions are the way to go, as it encourages thinking and language development.

What are your favorite math materials?  How do you encourage math skills in a developmentally appropriate way?  Comment below--I'd love to hear your ideas!

Want more preschool-related stuff?