Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Acorn Smashing

We have an abundance of acorns thanks to our oak trees, so we've been having fun using large rocks to smash up the acorns.  Q was interested to see what they'd look like on the inside.  We use the smashed acorn-ness in mudpies, of course!  They make great "sprinkles" for the tops!
At school they have a pecan tree, so they do the same thing with the pecans that they find on the ground. 
The smashing is great hand-eye coordination, practices muscle control, lends itself to imaginary play, and involves science exploration skills.  Who knew....just from smashing up a bunch of acorns! 
And the mommy benefit--it is a positive way to get some wiggles and energy and even aggression out of little ones!  If you don't have acorns or pecans there is probably some smash-able item out in your nature area--seed pods, etc.  Check it out!
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Natural items in the playroom

I try to always have some natural objects available for examination/play in our playspace.  I raided our overflowing nature shelf and put the majority of items "into hibernation" for a while.  I kept out some pinecones and acorns (above) and feathers and leaves (below). 
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Dancing Bells

Quinn is 4 and LOVING dancing bells.  I've had them for a couple years, and she's used them as shakers before, but recently she's discovered that she loves to wear them. 

To make them I just cut a piece of ribbon a bit bigger than her leg.  I used a lighter to seal the ends so it wouldn't fray.  I strung on a large bell.  I happened to have some iron-on velcro on hand, but you could sew or hotglue it, too. 

She can fasten one bell to each ankle and dance along to the beat of music.  They can also be used as shakers in the hands, or you can do like Q does....just wear them around as a nice little accessory.  :)
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Farm Work

Here are two more items on our work shelf right now.
The blocks make an animal noise when you put the matches together.  Beck has a hard time getting them lined up right (and really isn't that interested in working with it by himself) but loves for me to demonstrate it for him.

The milk jug has wooden blocks inside.  Beck can open the lid, dump the blocks, and then put them in again.  The same thing could be made with a regular milk bottle or carton. This one is vintage--it was ours when we were kids!

Now you are looking at this thinking "What good is this post?  I don't have either of those toys and I am not doing a farm unit."  What I am really hoping to encourage is the mindset to always be purposeful in the toys/work you provide for your children.  Try not to just set out toys because you have them.  Be sure they are selected because they are supporting a current developmental milestone OR that they fit with the overall theme or focus of the work area....and in an amout that the child can play with and clean up with only a little assistance.  I also want to encourage you to think creatively, outside the box, with the items you have--think about how items can be repurposed or just a few pieces used for a different purpose.

Providing toys/items in the context of a theme or area of focus (ie: farm, fall, cooking, animals, transportation, etc.) helps teach children to build inter-related schemas in their minds--ie: fall things include pumpkins, leaves, scarecrows, colors of gold, red, orange, squash, etc.  They learn that these items fit together--which is a huge science and vocabulary/comprehension skill. 

And I'm off my soapbox now.  :)
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Opening/Closing work

Our little man has discovered his fine motor skills--he wants to open and close everything he can find!  I made him a tray of items.  He isn't quite able to do twisting yet, but I still included two twist-off jars so I can demonstrate/teach him.  I also included the metal pot and wooden jar--both have lift-off lids which he can remove easily.  The little wooden heart box has a latch that he's working on.  The oatmeal lid requires a bit of leverage to get the lid off, so it's a challenge for him, too.  So he has a nice mix of easy and challenging lids.  Sometimes he works by himself with these items, other times I sit and work with him.  We like to hide things in the jars when we play together!

His big sister likes to incorporate the containers in her pretend play.  Usually they become some type of medicine for animals or babies.  :)
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Our music basket

One constant in our playroom/learning areas is that we always have a basket of instruments out.  I change the instruments occasionally, but some assortment is always available.  Here are a few that are being particularly enjoyed right now:

*I inherited this metal tin from Mimi during a garage clean out a few years ago and it makes THE BEST drum!  The drumstick varies, but right now it's the wooden handle from a kitchen baster brush (the silicon brush part comes off to wash).  We have also put pennies, rice, beans, etc. inside to make more of a "snare drum" sound, but with Little Brother right now, we just use it "as is."

*My kids LOVE tp and papertowel tubes.  Whenever I finish one I always present it to them with a loud "dooo-de-dooo" trumpet sound and they go nuts to try and get it from me.  Often I have to cut it in half so each kid gets a piece.  We do lots of songs through the tubes and even some trumpeting!  I will someday rock their worlds by showing them the wax paper/rubberband magic that turns it into a kazoo!

*Beck has a wooden baby teether/rattle I made him that we discovered makes a great sound--sorta like rain--when it gets shaken.  We rescued it from the "outgrown baby toys" basket and it now resides with our instruments!  Lots of baby toys make music and can be repurposed as an instrument for older children.  Check out your stash!!

*My sister gave Q a triangle for her birthday and it's been a huge hit with both kids.  It takes quite a bit of coordination to hold one side and play with the other hand, so I love watching them try to do it!  I have seen these at the dollar store recently and I think they are definitely a staple to an instrument set!  Plus the noise is so pleasant!

So nothing amazing, but a few simple items we are enjoying.  A couple years back I met a lady that had her master's degree in early childhood music education and was a guru in the field.  Her own two boys are in highschool and are musical genuises.  Not that I have that ambition for my kids, but I we do love music, and at the very heart of it, I believe that God gave us the ability to use music to worship him (we've been studying the life of David recently, which totally drives home this point with the kids).  Anyhow, I asked this mom/teacher/musician what her number one recommendation in teaching music at home was--she said to always have instruments available and to take "music breaks" whenever possible to just sit and sing, play, and explore.  She said conventional instruments are great, but even better is to offer some unusual instruments and ask "How could we make music with this?"  Such a open-ended, thought-provoking, creativity-encouraging activity!  This is the core of "music education" at our house!!

I encourage you to start a music basket if you don't already have one.  Ours is nothing fancy, in fact one handle is even broken.  And it's not very big.  Only a few choices at a time are practical. 
If you DO have a music basket, I encourage you to assess its contents and see if there is any updating needed!
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Farm Puzzles

I always use different ways for displaying puzzles at different times.  For this season I got back out the plastic paper sorter and put Q's farm-themed puzzles out. 
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More farm work

I have been having lots of fun working on creating a "harvesty" playspace for a 4 and 1 year old....something that meets both their interests and stretches both of them developmentally.  Here are some items geared more for Beck.  He has a shelf that we keep mostly his work on, though of course Q is welcome to use it and he uses work on her shelf.  We put stuff we really don't want him into up high on her shelf, though there aren't many items we keep him out of.  We're more of the mind that we can teach him how to use things correctly and then we won't have to keep everything away. 

Here is a basket of baby farm books:

These farm animals all make sounds when you squeeze them.

The tractor basket. (several tractors borrowed)

A borrowed tractor book:

This is the stable from my nativity set repurposed for farm play.  Also a set of bigger foamy animals borrowed from a friend and a farm PeekABoo book.  Beck loves the peekaboo series!
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Fruits of the Harvest

We've brought some real "harvest items" into our playroom this fall.  Each of the kids has a pie pumpkin they can tote around and play with.  The perfect size for carrying--they require a bit of effort and make the kids feel so proud when they carry them!

We also have a basket of decorative squashes that Q bought with some of her bday money. 

And a little basket of the tiny pumpkins. 

We'll be adding some dried Indian corn and some nuts (still in their shells) in future weeks.  I LOVE fall and all of the harvesty items we bring into our home during this season. 
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Handbell Holder

I have been wanting one of these for a while now and Matt finally indulged me.  He used some scrap maple plywood to make a holder for our handbells.  I love that this helps ensure the handbells all get put away properly, makes a great presentation to encourage music-making, and also promotes hand-eye coordination when putting the bells back into the holes.  The insides of the holes could even be painted the colors of the bells to add another dimension of color-matching. 

The same thing could be made with cardboard. 
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Farm Work

To go along with our fall harvest/farm study, I borrowed a play barn and some farm blocks.  I had to really resist buying a nice wooden farm set, but I did and instead borrowed a plastic one from a friend.  I also borrowed the block set--the blocks are a wooden Melissa and Doug set.  Q really likes them and plays with them a ton!  The fence part is everyone's favorite....
Beck likes the farm blocks, too. 

I took a few pieces out from a puzzle we have.  I put some farm animals in a basket and we use them for singing "Old McDonald Had a Farm."  We take turns drawing out an animal and then singing about it.  Q also likes to match these puzzle piece animals with a set of plastic animals we have--she puts the cow on the cow, etc.  Beck just likes to chew on them.  :)

These are pictures from our various units so far--veggies, tractors, and farm animals.  Beck in particular loves the photo cards.  He loves pulling them down, looking at them and then trying to put them back up again.  So I do spend lots of time re-taping, but that's okay.  :)  These are pics I printed and laminated. 
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And the rabbits....

We also have a rabbit hutch in the barn.  I put a tablecloth over a piano stool we had around the house and then covered it with a basket that fits down perfectly over the top and VOILA!  Instant rabbit hutch.  We have the rabbits from my sewing spree last spring, so they re-emerged from the toy cupboard.  I also put in a wooden bowl and some felt veggies we had around the house.  Nothing fancy, but also leads to some good dramatic play--and motor skills when putting the basket back on the rabbit cage--a bit tricky!
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Meet our Hens!

Meet Zoomba, Daisy and Cupcake, our fine hens!
Cupcake is the best layer.  If you look closely you can see an egg under her!

We feed our chickens cracked corn, but it has to be kept up high because little brothers also like to eat it!  Only comes down at mealtimes. 
We're doing a fall harvest study in our Kitchen School, so we've set up our playroom to be a barn.  The pictures above are the chicken coops.  I made the chickens out of scrap felt and a chicken tutorial I found online.  They are stuffed with a couple cups of dried rice to give them a nice weightyness, and then fiberfill pulled out of an old pillow we're no longer using.  Their roosting boxes are baskets I collected from around the house.  I raided my wrapping paper box and got the raffia for "hay."  Daddy gave us some scrapwood to put the names on each roosting box.  There's been lots of pretend play with the hens!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Farmer's Market Pretend Play

We've finished up our birthday party play...and since our Kitchen School has moved to a fall Harvest/Farm theme, we decided that we needed an in-house farmer's market!  So our little kitchen area has been converted.  To begin with I took all the furniture out and cleaned underneath, then moved things back in, rearranging to a different layout.  I always feel new arrangements give us a fresh feel in our play spaces and always seem to reignite play in an energetic way.  I encourage you to spend the time rearranging the furniture in your play spaces!  It feels SO good!

I had grand schemes for a super cool sign....but life got in the way and I wasn't getting around to it, so finally I made myself loosen up a bit and I whipped this one up with felt scraps and some scrapbook stickers in about 10 minutes.  And it does the job just fine and is much better than no sign....which is what waiting for my PERFECT sign was leading to.  :)

The top shelf of this little wooden stand holds our meal essentials--cloth napkins (changed to orange for the fall season) and the kids' fabric placemats.  The second shelf holds a basket of fake apples and the bottom holds a basket of mixed produce.  We've been talking a lot about what items are fruits and what are vegetables (after reading about these in Gail Gibbon's book THE VEGETABLES WE EAT) and we decided we needed to label the bottom basket PRODUCE since it has both fruit and vegetables.  This was a great science lesson for us that delves into classifying and sorting and properties of plants!

On our actual little kitchen we sell other items:

Q chose the prices, and she can actually read enough to know how much items are--and is able to take the correct amout of bills according to price!  This is a great pre-reading and pre-math activity and she loves being the market clerk and getting paid for the items.  We're working on some simple adding anytime someone buys more than one item. 

These eggs are still out from our Easter wreath I re-did this year.  I pulled them off and put them out for her to work with.  She puts them into the cartons and sells them in her store.  We also have some pretend chickens (pics to come soon) in the playroom/barn that lay eggs!

A friend taught me to crochet a circle so I could make these flowers to sell at our market.  I couldn't get a great picture because if they aren't arranged just right they tip the pitcher over.  With Little Man and his grabby hands, we have to use a plastic pitcher, even though a larger vase would work better.  Anyhow, you get the idea.  Q can take the flowers off the stems and arrange them to her choosing. 

I have agonized for quite some time over what to do for a cash register.  Honsetly I really don't like the plasticy ones...and they are so big to store when not in use.  So I raided my vintage jewelery box collection (I LOVE THEM!) and this small one works just fine for her moneybox.  When Beck stops eating everything we'll be able to add some play coins in the small compartments, but for now we have to stick to bills.


Fruit and veggies...she has the knife to cut them if a customer only wants a portion (FRACTIONS!!) and she cracked me up because she had the peels/leaves/skins from these in a pile on the floor the other day and she told me it was the compost pile.  :)  THAT is my girl!

Baskets and bags for shoppers.

I moved the little curtain that usually covers the lower "cabinet" part of the little kitchen up (just tucked the excess behind the shelf) for a change of pace and put our library on top.  These are farm and harvest books we'll be reading throughout our unit!
I have fallen in love with using our little kitchen as a "stand" upon which to create different dramatic play areas.  Both kids--4 years and 13 months--have had lots of fun with the farmer's market already!
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