Thursday, July 21, 2011

Puzzle work supports prereading skills....

Puzzles are undoubtedly one of the best activities for toddlers and preschoolers for so many reasons--spatial awareness, problem solving skills, matching, sequencing, visualization, concentration.....I could go one.

One other major skill puzzle-work supports can be reading.
Here's how--
Preschoolers and Toddlers benefit from activities that let their hands/brain practice working from left to right (the direction of print). When your child works a puzzle, first encourage her to take the pieces out and place them on the left side of the puzzle. Then, as she places them back in the puzzle, she's training her eyes, hands, and brain to work in a left-to-right progression.

I made this "work mat" for Quinn to use when she does puzzles. She takes out all the pieces and puts them on the left where it says "puzzles" and then knows to put the puzzle frame on the large rectangle.

I made this out of the back of a piece of used posterboard and it took me about 20 seconds. Nothing fancy, but just something to remind her how to organize her puzzle work. This also helps keep all of the pieces together and that way we aren't searching all over for that last piece!

Even when working peg puzzles with infants, I always modeled for them how to take out the pieces and place them on the left side. It's never too early to begin!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

The importance of a sensory tub

A sensory tub is one of the most important teaching "tools" you can provide for your child of any age--from infant to school age.

I suggest using one container all the time as your designated "sensory tub" and changing out the items inside it from time to time.

Ours currently has a mixture of dried beans--for scooping, filling, dumping, sorting, counting, shaking, and spooning.

There are gazillions of ideas out there on what to put in sensory tubs--from simple to complex.

For babies--start easy! Water is a great first sensory experience and you don"t have to worry about them eating it! But I encourage you to move on to other substances like shredded paper, bubbles, feathers, fabric scraps, etc. Sit with your child for 5-10 minutes while they play and explore to monitor safety. For infants, you may not want to provide any tools--just let them use their hands.

For toddlers, begin introducing tools such as scoops, funnels, measuring cups, spoons, jars and pans with lids, shakers (empty parm cheese containers or spice containers), etc., so they can practice measurement and fine motor skills. They can use a variety of materials--beads, sand, shaving cream, pasta, rice, cornmeal, birdseed, cedar chips (from petstore), leaves, etc.

For older children, hide plastic letters or numbers in the sorting mix. Mix in metal and non metal objects and provide a magnet for them to sort through the mix and find all magnetic materials.

The internet abounds with different sensory tub experiences you can give your children.....and usually putting together a sensory tub takes about 5 it's not super involved to set up.

We usually keep the same materials in our tub for 3-4 weeks to give lots of opportunities for exploration and EXTENDED exploration. Initially I just teach Q the rules of whatever materials she's using (ie: keep the beans on the tray) and let her explore. Then over time I might challenge her in different ways--
"Can you fill the measuring cup up using the green scoop?"
"How many scoops fit in the pan?"
"Let's sort the beans by type! Let me tell you their names."

So.....happy sensory-tubbing!!
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Easy "anything" stromboli

Here's my recent favorite "I don't have anything to make for dinner" rescue...
I just try to keep a couple of the basic ingredients on hand, and then substitite leftovers/whatever I have in my fridge for filling.

You need a thin crust pizza dough--the kind in the roll--refrigerated.

Roll out on cookie sheet.

Down the middle of the dough layer:
-spaghetti or pizza sauce (or tomato sauce, or whatever kind of sauce you have/like)
-vegetables (spinach, broccoli, shredded carrots, peppers, onions, olives, squash, tomatoes, etc.)
-protein (lunchmeat, shredded/chopped *(already cooked) chicken, ricotta or cottage cheese, etc.)
-once you have all your filling in place, use some kitchen shears to cut from the outer edge of the dough almost up to the filling--in lines perpendicular to the filling row. Cut about 10 strips on each side.
-fold the strips up over the filling, matching them with a strip from the other side--pinch closed.
-brush crust with milk
-sprinkle with: garlic salt, dill, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Bake about 15 minutes on 350 or until top starts browning.

DELISH, easy, and makes good use of random leftovers you have in your fridge!!

I've even made this for company with great results!! Yummy with a nice salad....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Literacy Focus--The Gingerbread Man

Quinn has recently fallen in love with Aylsworth's version of THE GINGERBREAD MAN. We read it at least twice a day! This is a great book for her because of the rhyming verse, new vocabulary introduced (sow, butcher...) the repeating lines, "run, run, as fast as you can....," the predictable text, and the fact that there is actually a plot--setting, characters, problem, solution.....We read the book and then talk about different elements for a couple of minutes--sometimes the characters, sometimes the problem, to help build comprehension. I also use a cloze method with her--this means I pause at points in the story to let her fill in lines or words she knows. This also encourages comprehension skills--the most important reading elements that toddlers should be picking up at 2-3 years of age.

So, since we had been reading about the Gingerbread Man, of course today we had to bake some gingerbread cookies!!

We haven't baked cookies together in a couple months and I was amazed at how focused Q was able to stay today! She helped with the entire process--her favorite being decorating the faces of the gingerbread men by adding eyes and a nose and a mouth with sprinkles!

And then, of course, we had to enjoy our cookies!!

It's a great practice when working with young children (toddlers/preschoolers) to take things s-l-o-w with new stories and just let them soak it in.....repeated readings are wonderful for building strong readers (because they encourage the skills mentioned above, which are vital for children to develop confidently as readers later on and not just be "word decoders"), and they also allow children to fully explore new worlds that books open for them.

So, we'll be doing lots of fun things with the Gingerbread Man story this week...and maybe next week, too, if interest is still there!
Stay tuned!!

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Baster Water Work

I recently purchased these basters on a trip to Lakeshore for under $3 for a set of 3. They are smaller than regular kitchen-sized basters. I've also seen the small ones at kitchen stores such as Sur La Table for around $2 each. The smaller ones are easier for toddler/preschool fingers to squeeze than the bigger ones....

To begin with, I got out two bowls. Filled the first one (on the left) with water and asked Q to transfer the water (using the baster) to the bowl on the right. It takes a little while for children to get the hang of using a baster--the process must be practiced--squeeze, submerge, release, hold over other bowl, and squeeze. She doesn't yet have the hang of it, but we'll keep practicing.

Other extensions:
Vary the temperature of the water provided--warm, cold, etc.
Put a few drops of essential oil (peppermint, almond oil, vanilla, eucalyptus, lavendar, etc.) in the water
Get out an ice cube tray and allow child to fill each compartment
Add a little bit of watercolor to the water to make it colorful

You can also use an eyedropper or medicine dropper if you want even finer motor practice.

Once again this activity works the muscles in the hands, arms and fingers--that team of muscles that is so important for writing later on!

It also encourages following a process, science skills (properties of liquids), and practical life.

For babies, they will enjoy just playing with a baster--exploring it with their mouth. We kept one in the bath for Q as a baby and she enjoyed when Daddy squirted her with it! Made her giggle like crazy!!
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Spray away!

A repurposed spray bottle (washed well) has become some of Q's favorite work lately. She enjoys spraying her table, letting it soak a bit, and then wiping it dry. She also asks to wash patches of the floor, chairs, and other surfaces around the kitchen.
While this is a fun activity for her because it involves water, it also does a great job of exercising the muscles in her arms, wrists, and fingers as she squeezes the bottle.

Once she has gotten more adept at using the bottle, I'll teach her to spray window glass and use a squeegie and rag to clean up the water!

This could also be adapted for the bathtub or even outside play!
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