Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Water Table Alphabet Soup!

The water table is an amazing space in a preschool classroom.  Once everyone has learned not to pour the water on the floor.  Or drink the water.  Or splash their friends in the face.  But yes, once that has all been figured out it is a wonderful place to play and learn!  Many skills are enhanced as children play here.  Depending on the materials and tools you add to the table, the possibilities are pretty much endless...

I've found over the years that most children are interested in pretending to cook and eat.  The Dramatic Play area of my room was fully stocked with play dishes, toy food, and empty food containers.  But carrying that theme into the water table is a super fun variation!

The addition of alphabet letters adds a touch of early literacy to this activity.  Letter naming and recognition for one!  The kids might be interested in finding the letters in their name--if they're ready and interested, challenge them to find the first letter of the name of each family member!  Math can happen, too, as you count letters with them, ask them to find all the red or blue letters, categorize by curved or straight line letters...

To create an Alphabet Soup water table, all you need are the following:

Plastic alphabet letters
Mini ladles if you can find them!
Empty spice containers
Cheap white shoelaces, cut into 10" or smaller pieces

Fill your table with water, sprinkle in ingredients, and watch the creative play in front of your very eyes!

Want more fun tidbits for teachers, parents, or anyone that loves small kids?

What's your favorite thing to put in the water table?  Have you tried this recipe?  Post in the comments below!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Art: Colored Salt and Glue!

Ah, I loved the art area of my classroom!  I loved seeing the ways the kids would use the various materials that we provided.  It was always fun to come up with new ways to present the same materials, such as this colored salt activity.

Yep, it's salt.  Although you could use colored sand just as easily.  To make colored salt you simply mix powdered tempera (I always bought my art materials at Discount School Supply) with salt until you have a consistency you want. You don't want the powder to be 'poofy'--that dustiness isn't good for little eyes.

Now you have a couple of ways to use it!

Pour that mixture into a little salt shaker (you can find them at the dollar store).  Now, you need to cover 90% of the holes with masking tape, otherwise it all just flows right out in a big pile--which means you're done in two seconds.  No fun for anyone!  Pour a little glue into another container, and add your spreading tool of choice :)  Many kids will just pick up the glue spreader and get drizzling, and then pick up the salt shaker and get shaking--but if they don't you can suggest ways to use the tools.  I use a deepish tray for this one, because the salt does scatter a bit.  It's tricky for them to aim correctly (yay!  eye-hand coordination!), but you can be sure they will take as much time as they need to (obsessively) cover every drop of glue...

The second way is to pour some colored sand into a wee bowl, and some glue into another.  Now you need tiny spoons!  I use a 1/4 tsp or smaller--this extends the length of the project, encouraging the kids to keep at it (and not have immediate gratification). Taping the bowl of sand down with a loop of tape underneath is a great idea here, otherwise they might just dump in out!

Do you have a different way to do this art project?  Have you tried one of the methods above?  Share below in the comments!

For more fun tidbits and ideas for teachers, parents, nannies and more...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sensory Tables!

Sensory tables used to be something found only in a preschool classroom, but lots of people have them at home now, too.  I LOVE sensory tables, and if you don't have one I recommend them highly.  You can buy an inexpensive under the bed storage container, attach it to a table temporarily using loops of duct tape, or just set it on the floor on top of a bed sheet or shower curtain (to catch the spills and dribbles :) Here are some of the benefits of playing in one:
  • As they share space and take turns with materials, children are learning to play cooperatively with others.  
  • As they explore lentils, cornmeal, dirt, rice, pasta, and water, they can observe those materials to see how they compare and contrast.
  • Problem-solving skills are developed as the children try to fit lids on containers they have over-filled, or as they try to keep a collection of items from floating away in the table of water.
  • Their fine motor skills grow as they use tongs to scoop up shredded cellophane, or use tiny spoons to scoop cornmeal into small film canisters.  
  • Eye-hand coordination grows as they pour water into a tube…  The skills are as endless as the fun!

You can make the experience even more valuable by interacting with the kids as they play in these tables.  Ask them how many scoops it takes to fill a certain container, or ask them to pass you the biggest spoon, or the smallest cup—in these way you can enhance their thinking skills, their math skills, and their language skills all at once!

Need ideas for your sensory table?  I've collected about a million right here.  Want stuff more toddler-focused?  Check these ideas out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hedgehog and Friends

Another awesome custom order produced this set!  It's a combination of my Quilts Galore set and one of the hedgies from my Four Little Hedgehogs set, combined with 5 apples and a tree.  The intent is to use it with this story, and then there are probably quite a few others it could be used with as well--anything with apples/trees/animal friends...  Counting!  Hide and seek!  So many ways to use flannel board sets--I just love them :) 

(Below are the original sets!)


Want more tips and ideas for preschoolers?  

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Scissors & Envelopes!

You might have seen my recent post on the open ended art philosophy in my classroom, which mentioned the 'open art table' I had set up in my classroom.  Scissors are always a popular tool at that table:

Before we leave (safe, blunt tipped, children's) scissors out for everyone to just grab willy nilly, we go through a process of introducing the scissors to the children.  We use a combination of small group activities (showing the children where art tools are stored, talking about safety rules, and practicing with the materials) and adult-monitored cutting activities at our smaller art table.  Once we feel that the kids are competent and capable and understand how to be safe with them, we put the scissors out in a small container on the shelf of our Open Art table.  And then they are free to explore!  

Our shelves are stocked with construction paper, scraps and half used notebooks we've collected from families, and paper remnants from past activities.  We also put out a request at the start of each year for the parents to collect their unused junk mail envelopes, and envelopes included with bills that they now pay online.  We get TONS of envelopes, and the kids love using them to store all the scraps they have snipped on any given day.  

So, this might look a lot like junk, or a big mess, or a waste of time to some people (not me!)  But look at all the skills these tools provide:  fine motor, self-confidence, independence, creativity... too many to count!

Do you have a similar set up in your classroom or at home?  Do scissors and kids not mix in your opinion?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Leave a comment below!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Golf Tees and Scrubbies = so many skills!

I came up with this idea when I was a nanny and needed an easy activity to keep the kids entertained in the back seat of the car. Two simple ingredients: golf tees and dish scrubbies... Just put them out in a tray and see what happens! This one is great for fine motor development and color sorting--if you can find colored golf tees, they'll poke those tees into the color-coordinated scrubbie. Counting happens naturally (or with your gentle, appropriate guidance), and they love lining up the tees, so you've got the potential for creating patterns as well. Older kids also like to use the tees as legs and arms as they create various critters. Such a fun and simple (and super cheap) activity.

Do you have similar activities that are inexpensive and provide tons of skills?  Leave them in the comments below!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Alphabet Sensory Tray

Here's an idea I used to do in the classroom when I was a preschool teacher. 
Maybe it will work for you too!

Although I always had a regular sensory table in my classroom, with the older kids (3 and up) I liked to have sensory trays on a table as well. These were set up for individual play. I put two trays on the table across from each other, with a beach towel underneath to catch spills. Here's an example. The filler is dyed tiny alphabet pasta, and we put lots of little containers, spoons, etc in for the kids to explore. Love the touch of early literacy with the ABC pasta--the kids loved hunting for the letters in their names...

We usually colored the pasta as a small group activity but you could skip the kids' participation and just do it all yourself :) We gave each child a small zip lock bag and had them use a small scoop to put some of the pasta in the bag. Then we used liquid watercolor from Discount School Supply--the kids chose which color they wanted to use. The teacher squirts a little into the bag and seals it, and then the kids shake, shake, shake. Add more color if needed. Shake some more. Dump all the bags out onto a tray and shake it so it's spread out a bit. Let dry. I'm not really sure how long it takes to dry--we always did this before snack time and often wouldn't get back to it till around 1 or 2. By that time it was totally dry. I imagine it probably takes about half an hour to be usable. Easy peasy mac and cheesey :) This lasts for years, by the way.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Transportation Set

Thanks to custom requests, I am able to keep up with my best laid plans of frequent Flannel Friday posts!  Well, actually my plans were for every Friday, but I am now just going to have to admit that that isn't going to happen.  But better sometimes than never...  
This set is intended to go along with a Barefoot Book called We All Go Traveling By, but it can be used in lots of ways.  

Conversation starters, for instance:  "I have something hiding in this box that has LOTS of wheels, and can carry lots of people, or freight...  Does anyone have an idea of what it could be?"  "Ok, the next thing in my box has NO wheels, but it can still carry people from place to place...What could it be?"

Do you have other ideas of how to use this set?  Leave them in the comments below!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Open-Ended Art

I loved so many things about being a preschool teacher that it's hard to come up with favorites.  But one of my most-loved areas of the classroom was definitely the art area.  Always busy and usually messy, this area of the room was full of so much creativity, conversation, and discoveries!  It took me many years to get my space and ideas organized in just the right way so that children could work independently, have access to varied, high-quality materials and tools, and engage in experiences that were interesting to the many little personalities in a group of 2, 3 and 4 year olds.

Communicating the 'why' of our open-ended art to the families was another issue.  There are crafts, and then there is creative art exploration (people call it process art now.)  My preference is creative exploration, but that's not always what parents know or understand.  I liked to get it all out in the open from the beginning of the year so anyone expecting cut out snowmen or construction paper apple trees would understand why instead they were receiving globs of yarn glued to a stick, one stripe of paint on an easel paper, or an envelope full of tiny cut up scraps!

Here's the letter I sent out each year to my three year old class.  I hope you find something useful in it!
                                               Our Art Program

The art program in our classroom is Developmentally Appropriate and child-centered.  This means that we provide materials, and the children are able to use them in unique and creative ways, at their own pace.  It means that your child may sometimes come home with artwork, and sometimes come home with nothing, because it will be his or her choice to work with art materials or not.  It means that we focus on the process of art, rather than the product.  It means that what your child does at one of our art areas may be completely different than what another child does with the exact same materials.  Additionally, because we know how important it is for children to repeat activities, you may see the same art activities coming home day after day. Children learn by doing and through repetition, so we make every attempt to provide repeated experiences. 

When your child does artwork, and other work in our classroom, we use objective language when we talk to them about that work.  We will be sending home and posting (on the Good Information section of our bulletin board) a note with some examples of the kinds of words we use with them, but basically, we “Say What We See.”  By using objective language, we help children form concepts, develop vocabularies, and grow in self-awareness.  

We have three art spaces in our classroom, which are all grouped near each other and the sink.  They are the easel, the open art table and the round art table.

The easel:  We provide an easel in the classroom because different visual perception and eye-hand coordination skills are developed when painting here, versus painting on a flat surface.  The easel is open every day, and we do not limit the children as to how often or how long they paint here.  When we provide different consistencies of paint, various scented paints, scraps of different weights and textures, contrasting colors, shades and tints, and complementary colors, the children become aware of and attuned to these qualities and properties.   

The Open Art Table:  The long rectangular table is our Open Art Table.  This table is also open every day.  The shelves contain open-ended materials that are easy for the children to use independently.  We provide paper, scissors, crayons, stickers, glue and collage materials.  As the year goes on, we add baskets of lids and tubes and small boxes, along with masking tape, string, and ribbon.  This is where your child might create things that look like “junk” to you ;-).  Again, it is the process, and not the product that is important.  As your child tries to cut a piece of paper or use masking tape, important fine muscles are developing.  As she makes choices about what colors of paper or crayons to use, she is making color discriminations and planning in advance.  As children work here, they might also experience problem solving, decision making, inventing, and imagining, and they develop an awareness of linear patterns, color contrasts, spatial relationships, cause and effect, texture, proportion, etc.!

Round Art Table:
Our third area is the round art table.  This is where the teachers will introduce a new material or activity for the children to explore.  It may involve many of the things that the open art table will eventually contain.  This is where children can paint on a horizontal surface.  Sometimes we want to expose the children to an activity that requires a little more adult supervision, so we present it at this smaller table.  With our emergent curriculum, we may link an art activity to an interest we see happening in the classroom (for instance if someone is extremely interested in cars or other vehicles, we may invite them to paint with the wheels of cars; if someone is always playing with the animals, we may introduce painting with the feet of the toy animals;  if balls are a constant toy in use on the playground, we might experiment with painting with various sizes of balls…) Sometimes we may simply introduce a fun, messy activity that we hope the children enjoy.  In all cases, the end product is not what is important.  Rather, the process that each child becomes involved in is what holds the most meaning…