Wednesday, August 31, 2011

3 Billy Goats Gruff Playset

Today we broke in the Three Billy Goats Gruff playset!

I cut the three goats on the scrollsaw out of a scrap of mahogony (with a little help and a blade-change from my sweet husband). The troll was made out of a wooden doll figure. We used yarn, felt, and two purple beads for decoration. The grass is a piece of felt, and the bridge is some blocks!

We told, and retold, and retold AGAIN the story today. I left blanks for the little one to fill in the next parts, as I was orally telling the story. Then she took a spin at telling the story, of course moving the pieces along to match the story!

I put the pieces in a basket on the work shelf and hope they will make their way into her dramatic play! We'll also be continuing to retell the story, I am already sure! It was a definite hit!

Oral retelling of stories builds comprehension, acquisition of story elements (phrasing such as once upon a time, etc.), understanding of the components of plot, and the abilitiy to hold details in the memory and retrieve them again. Plus it's just good fun!!

We can also read our BGG book and use the pieces to correspond to the text!!
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Feltboard Story

I got these pictures out of a teaching book I have--they are supposed to be part of a color sheet that goes along with a story. Not a huge fan of color pages....a few here and there do teach fine motor control with a crayon, but they're usually overdone. So, anytime I can, I try to think of an alternate use.

I colored the pictures, cut them out and glued them onto a sheet of felt, then cut again. Then I used them to tell Quinn the story. I chose this particular story because it includes goats, which we've been talking about quite a bit lately since focusing on the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Gus Goat woke up grumpy. When Granny Goat said, "Good Morning," Gus grunted at her. When Greta Goose said, "Good Morning," Gus just grunted. When Greta's goslings all said, "Good Morning, Gus," all he could do is grunt. Finally Granny Goat said, "I know what is wrong! Gus Goat is hungry!" The goslings shared some green grapes with Gus and he felt better already!

Quinn LOVES the story--she loves putting the pieces on the board as I tell it, and she loves to try to tell it herself, with a little help from me.

This activity teaches listening comprehension, the elements of a story (characters, setting, problem, solution), direction following, and dramatic play.

You could go to Word or Google images to find pictures of goats and a goose and goslings if you want this for your own feltboard play. Or you could raid your own coloring books to find a story to make up for your child!

Older children could make up their own story, draw or color their own pieces, and glue them onto felt themselves!
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Rockin' the preschool lunchbox

Tomorrow's fare:
pretzels and hummus
dried fruit and nut mix
mini sweet yellow pepper (raw)
two cherry tomatoes

and of course some water!
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School Buses and Mural

To go along with our "school" theme we made school buses!

First we had a cardboard template that we traced around. Q needed quite a bit of help with this, as this is a new skill for her. Tracing work is very useful in pre-writers to help teach pencil control and to train the small muscles in the hand to respond to small movements. Tracing imitates many of the strokes needed to write letters, and teaches slow, careful strokes with a pencil. Then I helped her cut the bus out. Having to turn the object with one hand and also turn the scissors is new for her, as well, so I helped hold the bus while she cut.

Next we talked about the shapes on a bus--we got out our shapes and found a square. I traced and cut squares for windows (she had lost her interest in tracing and cutting at this point) and also circles for wheels. I let her glue these all on her own using a glue bottle--reminding her "Use a DOT--not a LOT!"

Then we printed out pictures of some of her babies and glued them in the bus windows. We used letter stickers to write "School Bus" on the side--I told her the name of each letter and she found the corresponding sticker. I had to help her stick them on because they kept trying to curl up when she took the stickers off the backing paper. Next time we'll use sturdier stickers!

We spent two days making our buses.

The third day we taped a big sheet of paper down and I showed her how to paint a road--I did the outside lines and she did the dashes down the middle. We also talked through how to paint trees, sky, and sun. Now that I've taught her these elements, I am noticing them showing up in her own paintings--especially suns! It's important to draw/paint alongside children and model AND use verbal explanation of what you are doing--each element involved in drawing a particular item. For the sun, for example, I talked out loud and said, "I think you should paint a circle for the sun. What color is the sun?" Then once she'd painted a yellow circle, I said, "I think you should fill it in with paint, now!"
A fun element of this project was painting on the floor--we'd taped the paper down to our dining room floor, which was fun and new!

This activity encouraged prereading and prewriting, shape awareness, spatial awareness, art skills, fine motor skills, new vocabulary, direction following, working cooperatively, and listening skills.
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to school...two of my current faves.

Q is back to preschool two days a week starting tomorrow. So we've been slowly getting things ready. My goal recently has become not to buy anything new if at all possible. This has really caused me to become creative in trying to repurpose items to fit other needs. And the second part of my goal has been that if I DO need to buy something, either buy it used or buy something that can be repurposed later on. That seems a little confusing, but here's an example.
Quinn got this awesome backpack from Oma and Opa for Christmas. I decided it will be her school bag this fall (yea--no need to buy another when we have a perfectly good one!). I needed to mark it with her name. I decided sharpee was a no-go, because little brother may someday inherit this backpack and he probably wouldn't be a fan of Quinn written on it. I also decided the ever-popular monogramming is not in our budget and a bit too permanent.
I was browsing the isle at Hobby Lobby to see what options were available in iron-on or sew-on letters when I discovered these little guys:
They are pin-on letter badges. Each one was .99, so for under $5 I have Q's name on her school bag, it's removable and I can use the pins again for something else. Now to give them a try and see how they hold up for school.

I DID buy Q a new lunchbox this year. I pack her lunch "bento style" (more on that later) and her previous lunch box's opening was small enough that the containers I packed had to be tipped to remove them from the lunchbox, causing the contents to get all mixed up.
I randomly discovered this new lunchbox (which came with the tupperware container) at Walmart for $6, and the little opening on the bottom is PERFECT for holding her little lunch container, with an ice pack underneath.
I bought her initials with the badge letters for her lunch box.

Now, onto lunch. I pack her lunch "bento style." My main inspiration for this is Wendelonia's blog. However, I take a much more relaxed (or lazy?) approach to her lunch and don't do much decorating, although I am in big time awe of the food art from her website!

Because my goal in packing her lunch is to save money, I always use the same main container, a small square tupperware knockoff (this year I'll use the one that came with her lunchbox.) I also use two small pinchbowls I got at walmart a couple years back (Q used them when she was a baby) and two small stacking bowls that I stole from her little kitchen in the playroom. I also sometimes substitute in different sizes of lids--I save a bunch of lids--peanut butter lids, peanut lids, etc., and they come in handy when I need lids of different sizes. I also sometimes use cupcake wrappers to hold the food. Here is Q's lunch for tomorrow:
-triscit crackers, sliced cheddar-jack cheese, sliced baby carrots and a nut/dried fruit mix.

If I put something with lots of small pieces in, I usually slip a pasta lid over the little bowl to help minimize spilling.

Here are the tips I've discovered in a year of bento packing for a toddler (and from being a toddler/preschool teacher OBSERVING kiddos eat at school)--
-I always pack TOO MUCH (and not on purpose...). She never eats all I pack. Oops. So I try to limit what I put in there to a reasonable amount, and I also offer her the leftovers from her lunch for an afterschool snack in the car on the way home.

-packing bento style helps me pack a healthier lunch as I try to include protein, whole grain, fruit, and vegetables in each lunch. And I can see it all at one glance, so that helps me see where there are nutritional gaps.

-packing her lunch this way saves lots of money--I don't buy any packaged items--no cheesesticks, no packaged crackers, etc. It's easier just to take a small amount from a bulk container, and often I noticed my toddler/preschool students (when I am in the classroom teaching) throw away the majority of those little packages because it's too much food for them.

-she only eats the stuff that is really easy--if she has to open something or it's in too big of pieces, she won't eat it. At home we believe kids need to learn to eat apples without someone cutting them up for them their whole life, so we give her a whole apple and she is fine with that. For school, though, I usually find she'll take a bite or two and that's it. From the teacher end I have observed that lunch is such a social time--kids talking, kids watching other kids, kids wiggling around, kids looking to see what else everyone else has for lunch--and also such a quick time that minimal attention is put into actually EATING the child's own lunch. So fingerfoods that are cut into smaller pieces and are quick and easy to eat are the biggest hits. And you don't need to keep track of a spoon this way, either!!

-for this reason I don't do sandwiches much. When I occasionally do, I cut into small pieces.

-I try to pack a wide variety of foods to encourage her to try new things.

-I sometimes use "fancy toothpicks" to hold turkey rolls together or for her to use to spear and eat grape halves. This adds a little excitement to her lunch.

-I only pack water as a beverage. If it happens to spill in the lunchbox/backpack, no tears are shed on my part. We use the same waterbottle each day, and it fits in the top compartment of her lunch box. I use the Inchbug labels for her waterbottle. We bought these for her baby bottles when she was a couple months old and they have been a great investment and have since marked her sippy cups and now her water bottle. Love that they stay on even through the dishwasher and I basically never have to worry about marking her drinks again.

I'll try to post a few more photos through the next few weeks of some other lunches I pack her....
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Thursday, August 25, 2011


We have been using 3 Billy Goats Gruff as our fairy tale focus in our Kitchen School these past few weeks because Q is so interested in the story.
Today we read the non-fiction book "Bridges" and talked about the different types of bridges pictured in it. I love to try to include as many good quality non-fiction books as I can in our curriculum as preschoolers and toddlers are heavily saturated with fiction in read alouds, but aren't exposed to nonfiction as much.

Then we got out our blocks and I started modeling for her how to build bridges. We got out cars and some little wooden people, who quickly became "trolls." Today during naptime I have high hopes for drawing out 3 billy goats on some wood and begging Matt to get my jigsaw down tonight so I can make her some goat play pieces to go with her bridges!

This activity promoted vocabulary skills (lots of new words in the Bridges book!), fine motor (through placing/balancing the blocks and the cars), spatial awareness, shape awareness, and dramatic play.
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Welcome to Kitchen School, Bakey!

Now that he's crossed the two week mark and is awake a little more, I decided it was time to carve out a spot for him in our playroom/learning room! Between two bookshelves I propped a mirror (wish I had a supercool non-breakable one from Lakeshore, but for now this regular ole mirror will have to do the trick!). I put a pallet on the floor to make it nice and comfy, and then I hung a mobile over his head.

I made my own version of the Munari Mobile from the Montessori curriculum's Visual Mobile Series. I had determined I am really trying not to buy anything new for our kitchen school, but to get really creative on how to repurpose items we already own. So I just used black and white cardstock, a dowel we already had, and I did break down and buy a clear Christmas ornament at Hobby Lobby for $1 because I couldn't find anything to substitute.

I am not a certified Montessori teacher--my experience is in a traditional classroom, but I did spend a great deal of time in an Infant Montessori Environment at the lab school where I worked because I took any overtime hours offered while I was there, so that gave me lots of hours in the IM classroom. I was able to see the infants exposed to the different visual mobiles and knew I would want to incorporate them with my own kiddos. The most important feature of these mobiles is the crisp black and white contrast, which appeals to their sight at this age. The mobile is also hung fairly close to them so that it's in their sight range. For older infants who can grasp, the mobiles are moved much higher (unless meant to be grasped).

Bakey was very interested in looking at himself in the mirror and even stared at the mobile for a few minutes. After about 10 minutes he fussed and let me know he was done being stimulated and ready for a nap. Newborns aren't ready for too much organized stimulation, but it is important to offer them a little bit each day and respond to their signals--kicking feet and staring=I'm liking this, while fussing, hiccupping, spitting up often indicates overstimulation.

We are so excited to start including our newest little love in our daily rhythm in our kitchen school!!

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Bible Study Time

One thing my little one does not do well is play independently without making repeated trips to show/tell Mommy things. Normally this is not a big deal, but when I want to read my Bible, it's near impossible with constant interruptions. So I had taken to doing my reading during naptime. Lately I've decided that I want my little ones to SEE me reading my Bible, so I began to think about how I could create a quiet time when they are awake. Q's Aunt Lynda gave her 3 great Bible story books on Monday, and that got me started thinking about how to create a Bible Study time for both of us!!

I gathered all the Bible Story books and children's Bibles we had in one basket we call the "Bible Study Basket." I also put a couple manipulatives in--a little Moses doll we made and some creation felt pieces.

Each morning (or as often as we can) after breakfast (which in this house is 10:30ish) we sit down for Bible study. I do my reading, Q reads from her books...and she knows she isn't allowed to talk to Mommy. When she tries, I just put my hand up and don't make eye contact. Initially I explained that I need to concentrate when I read God's word so I can put it in my heart. Now I just use the hand up to indicate it's not a talking time.

Some days she stays engaged with her Bible study books the entire time. Other days she will read them for a bit and then wander into her playroom for a bit, wander back to the living room where "Bible Study" occurs, but she has done well so far keeping quiet. I am pleased that she is spending some time in her own level of God's word each day, and also that she sees me making reading a priority. After I finish reading we sing two songs together--one I choose and one she chooses. Then we practice our memory verse. We do all this with her on my lap--so she gets some good lap time as we sing and recite.

I want to collect a few more items for the basket such as some more Bible story books and maybe some type of coloring book about Bible stories...I'm still refining this time and what I want to include in her basket.

Also, I don't allow her to use the materials in the Bible Study basket any time other than Bible Study to keep them exciting and special!
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Syllable Clapping Song

(tune: Fere Jacques)

We like to use this song during circle time. We double up by using the names from our "Who's at school" poster. I may need to make some more sentence strips with family member/friend's names soon to add a bit of a challenge.

Q still does not have the hang of clapping syllables, so this is a great song to practice!

Syllable awareness is an important early literacy skill because syllable segmentation is vital for reading (decoding) and writing (spelling).

I wrote the words and Q colored some pictures of clapping hands to give her a little ownership of the poster. ;)
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Who is at school today? Poster

(definitely click to view larger size!)

To go with our "school" unit, we made a poster to show who is at Quinn's school. We started by taking a picture of each of her babies (I limited it to her 5 favorite and also her). Then I wrote out each one's name on a sentence strip.
Q helped with this by telling me each baby's first letter, and she wrote her own first letter. Then I had her match the names to the printed photos and glue the photos on the strips.

I laminated the sentence strip names. We made a poster that says, "Who is at school today?" and I printed a picture of a little bus that Q colored (not that nicely since she was in a bit of a tooty mood at the time...).

We then put velcro on the sign and on the name backs.

During circle time, we go down the row and put up names of who is at school.

Q practices:
-talking about/recognizing the first letter of names
-following sequence--we always go down the row in the order the babies are seated and do a lot of talking about first, second, third, etc.
-matching velcro pieces (which is actually a lot harder for kiddos than you'd think. My first graders often still struggled with it!)
-completing the chart in order--not skipping any spots when adding names
-learning to work with a simple graph--believe it or not, Q is learning some very basic graphing skills--Graphs have titles, graphs record information, when adding information to a graph you don't skip any spots, etc.
-counting--we count how many friends are on the chart and write the number on the chalkboard.
-letter writing--I've started inviting Q to write each baby's first letter--I model or use hand-over-hand assistance to help her.

We sing:
Honey's at school today,
Honey's at school today,
Hip-hip-hip hurray,
Honey's at school today!
(tune= Farmer in the Dell)

This activity promotes so many great skills--math (counting and graphing) and prereading (recognizing letters, point at the title of the graph), most importantly!

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Gingerbread Man Poster...and early literacy skills.

I've started introducing Q to the concept of words as a unit--ie: one spoken word equals one written word. I haven't done any direct instruction on this, rather I find times to point to the words as I say them--just using modeling to introduce this literacy concept. This is a delicate task, though, because I don't want to overwhelm her or take the joy out of just listening to reading aloud by turning it into work. Typically I point to each word when reading titles of books as we begin them. I read/point the title first, then I ask her to do it. If she has trouble, I help by guiding her finger and saying the words. When I am reading the actual story, I don't typically point to words for children her age.
Another great opportunity to point to words is on posters and signs. They are typically short (in length) and the words are written in large letters.
I wrote out the chant from The Gingerbread Man and Quinn helped me glue on her previously-made gingerbread men. Then we found a fox picture (at her request) on the internet, traced it onto red paper and we each cut out a fox. Can you tell which fox belongs to each of us? :)

(Sidenote--I am doing a lot of parallel work with Quinn at this point--for most of the art or writing we do, we each make our own. That way I can model how to complete the work while still giving her the freedom and independence to do her own thing, only helping if she requests or really is having a hard time.)

During our daily "circle time" we use a pointer (spatula, wooden spoon, ruler, chopstick...depending on what we decide for that day) to point to the words as we read the poster together.

I've noticed her using the poster to "teach" her babies when she's playing on her own in the playroom. She is not yet correctly matching one-to-one with written and spoken word, but she is beginning to grasp the concept that the written words somehow mean the same thing as the ones she's saying aloud, which is a great first step!
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More Gingerbread Men

Quinn is still very much enthralled by The Gingerbread Man story. A few weeks back we made a simple craft that she enjoyed! We have a gingerbread man cookie cutter, so I helped her trace around it onto cardboard (back of a cereal box) and then cut them out for her. I put out different materials--sequins, buttons, etc. for her to make the faces on the gingerbread men. We talked about them needing eyes, nose and mouth. We are also practicing using "a dot, not a lot" when she applies glue from a glue bottle, so this was the perfect time to practice this skill.

I put the finished gingerbread men (after dried) on a little cookie sheet (from our toaster oven) in a basket along with an empty flour sack, the gingerbread cookie cutter, a spatula, and a big mixing bowl for some dramatic play. Quinn is still on the cusp of independent dramatic play, so she didn't spend much time with these props, so I decided to do something else with the gingerbread men. (will post about that soon)

I love any opportunity to extend book experiences through cooking, art, etc. This activity also promotes fine motor, as Q had to manipulate the tiny art materials, art skills such as tracing and gluing, and also the skill of placing the facial features correctly on the gingerbread men.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lunch Packing Work

Our "theme" for August is going to be SCHOOL. Q is super interested in "teaching class" and loves sitting her babies in a row and drawing on the chalkboard easel while she teaches them. She'll be going to preschool two days a week starting at the end of August, so it's a good time to draw on her interest in school and extend it in our Kitchen School here at home.

Our first "work" for this unit is a lunch packing activity. She has a little sandwich making kit she got for her birthday last year. The pieces of the sandwich velcro together. I also put out a small bowl of strawberries. I saved an empty sandwich baggie box and put 4 bags in it. I washed out a small milk container. I also put out her lunch bag from last year which got replaced with one that fits her waterbottle (this one turned out to be a bad design for the containers I typically send so it's been replaced.). I showed her how to make the sandwiches and put one in each bag, and fill the other bags with strawberries, then put it all in the lunch bag. She likes to incorporate other objects from her little kitchen as well, and LOVES to pack lunch for her babies to take to school.

If you don't have the sandwich kit, any play food would work, or you could cut sandwich pieces from felt or even cardstock.

This pretend-play work is a big hit. It also promotes following steps to complete a task, practical life skills of packing a lunch, fine motor skills of zipping the lunch bag and the sandwich baggies, and allows for dramatic play.
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Rock tonging

Because fine motor development is SO important for children to be successful writers/drawers, I almost always have some type of tonging work out. This work uses rounded rocks, which are a little tricky to grab with the tongs, since my little one is needing more challenge. Remember that we dump the rocks out on the left side and then tong them into the egg carton, working from left to right, top to bottom (the direction print runs when reading).
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Letter Match/Memory

I made a simple memory game using the letters Quinn is still working to name. I didn't include all the letters because that would be too many pieces for her attention span and also because she already knows them.

I bought these round wooden discs at Hobby Lobby very cheaply using the great ole 40% off coupon. The letters are felt stickers from Hobby Lobby, as well. I made two of each letter (using the same colors).

To begin with we just practice finding matches with all the letters face-up.

Next we play Memory by turning them all over.

This game promotes concentration, memory, letter awareness, strategy development, and an awareness of letter features.

You could use any type of stickers or even write on the discs with markers.

This game could be modified to practice shapes, colors, words, or any other skill just by changing what is put on the wooden disc.
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Equal sharing work

One of the most important math skills for young children is equal sharing of objects. This starts with one-to-one correspondance. I've been providing activities for Q to practice this since she was a year old--teaching her to put one object in each compartment. Now that she understands that task, we are ready to step it up a little. For this activity she will first put one glass mosaic tile in each compartment. Once that is done, there will be more tiles left over. We'll then show her how to go around and "deal" one more time to each compartment. This particular work task has enough for two tiles in each spot. Once she understands that, we can add more. Eventually we want her to be able to equally share various numbers of objects.

This skill promotes a counting awareness, builds the intial foundation for multiplication and division, encourages fine motor through the hand coordination needed for dealing, and extends a child's awareness of one-to-one correspondance.
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Letter stringing work

These plastic beads came from Lakeshore. The string is a stiff cord that came with the letter beads. I love these particular beads because they are the actual shape of the letters--so little fingers can "feel" the characteristics of various letters.

Sometimes Q just strings letters randomly. When I work with her we make names of people we know or we string the first letters of all our family members.

She knows the key words of almost all her letters, now I am stating the letter's name for her as we come across it and she is really soaking this up. I believe that letter skills should be taught as children express interest. That time period may vary depending on the child. Q is VERY interested in letters right now, so we are taking advantage of this to answer questions she asks about letters, point out letters in her environment, name letters for her, and make letter learning into a kind of game.
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Shell Counting Work

I have posted similar activities to this one before. I made this sheet using looseleaf paper reinforcers. The goal is for the child to place on shell (or whatever object you have available) on each reinforcer. You could use any sticker, stamp, mark, etc. on the sheet, as well.

This activity encourages one-to-one correspondance, fine motor (placing a small object precisely using pincer grasp), counting, and an awareness of number quantities.

I always make sure the bowl holds the exact number of shells that matches the reinforcers on the page.

This sheet has more reinforcers than the last sheet I posted--as I increase the difficulty of the task I add more objects.
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