Using Ramps at Small Group time

Science and math happen all the time during play, but sometimes its fun (or necessary for assessment reasons) to set up an activity and take the time to make note of what the kids know and understand.  Ramps are a great option for this, because they are fun, easily accessible, and kids love them! 

When I planned with my co-teachers for small group activities, there were two main goals:  1.  We wanted the kids to have fun and 2. We wanted the activity to allow us to easily gather the info we needed for whatever assessment we were focusing on.  For this activity, our assessment goals were to see whether the children used and understood distance, position and comparison words like close, far, near, farther, closer, higher, lower, faster, slower, etc.

So all we need for this activity are ramps (we had flat boards and some double unit blocks that we used) various things to prop them on at varying heights, balls and other small toys that do and don't roll, a roll of masking tape, and a pen.

We'd break the kids up into pairs (this is a great time to pair up kids who might not normally choose to work together, just to expand their horizons!) and give them all of the materials (other than the pen, which you'll be using).  We'd give them a little prep or a challenge, like "Can you guys see which of your toys can roll or slide down your ramp the fastest?"  And off they go!  

As they work together, using tape to mark where their toys land, you can write the names of the items on those pieces of tape, and encourage them to try things in different ways.  "What if you make your ramp lower?  Does that make the ball roll faster or slower?  Does the block go far from the ramp, or stay close?  How can you make your toys move more quickly?  Why can't things roll UP the ramp?"  Have a notepad or clipboard all set up ahead of time with the kids' names already printed, and jot down notes about what they do and say to transfer to your assessment tool later.  You can even use the marked pieces of tape to make a graph with the kids, noting which things traveled farthest from the ramp...

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!



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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 ;)