December 13, 2012

Patterns with Cranberries and Popcorn

We have limited Christmas decorations this year because they're all in storage back in the States.  We will enjoy them next year, but we needed a little something to decorate with this year.  I decided to make garland out of cranberries and popcorn.

This is my first time making garland.  At first it seems tedious, but as you go on it is relaxing, too.  It is a great way to be reflective in this busy season.  This would also be a terrific way to spend some time in conversation with your child.

Pull out some thread to the desired length, thread your needle, and tie a really good knot in the end.  With younger children, man the needle yourself or look for one of those plastic needles at a craft store.  Children can help by sliding the cranberries and popcorn gently down the thread.  They can also help by determining the pattern and laying out the cranberries and popcorn in order of the chosen pattern.

The understanding of patterns is an essential early math skill, and is useful in other subjects like reading as well.  Pre-schoolers will enjoy making AB patterns (two items alternate), ABB patterns (one of the first item followed by two of the second item; repeat), and ABC patterns (three items in a row repeat in sequence).

Children need practice with patterns in the following ways:

-Identifying patterns

-Adding to existing patterns

-Creating their own patterns

-Filling in blanks in patterns

Understanding patterns is an acquired skill.  Expect learning to take time and practice.  Start as simply as possible, and increase the complexity as understanding improves.  Use colors, shapes, numbers, sounds, objects, words - you name it!  Soon your child will be finding patterns everywhere! 

December 3, 2012

Paper Plate Angel

This week in my Sunday school class, we read a story about when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce her pregnancy with Jesus.  The story was apparently really interesting, too, because in the middle one child hollered,

"When do we get to color?!"

When do we get to color? That is a good question.

Color we did, and because I couldn't come up with any projects centered around Mary that I liked, we made these angels instead.  

How to make the angel:

1.  Trace lines on a paper plate to make wings and a head.  Cut along the lines.

2.  Color as desired.  I really tried to find glittery crayons -I really thought/hoped they existed- but instead we used markers.  See my notes below for good pre-schooler rules for using markers.

3.  Use a hole punch to make a hole at the top center of the head.  Using half a glittery silver or gold pipe cleaner, bring the ends together and twist them about half way from the rounded end.  Form the rounded end into a circle, and bend the pipe cleaner where you twisted it making a right angle.  Insert the pipe cleaner ends into the hole.  Tape on the back side to secure if your angel is going to be doing a lot of flying.

4.  Bring together the corners of the paper plate (the parts that were next to where you started cutting for the wings), and form a cone.  The ribbed parts of the paper plate will be almost lined up.  Staple to fasten.  Test to make sure your angle stands, and adjust the shape of the cone if necessary.

Markers Rule!
Markers are awesome, and as such, they need three rules to keep them awesome.  Markers without rules become markers hidden away in the back of the pantry or somewhere your pre-schooler will never ever find them.

I show one finger to represent each rule, and then I repeat them one more time before letting them loose.

1.  Markers are for paper only.

2.  Always put the cap back on the marker.

3.  Be gentle with markers (those strong pre-schooler hands sometimes cause the marker tips to get smashed up inside the handle -no fun- or to run dry long before their life expectancy is up).

Rules like this are really helpful.  So many of the situations you may face can be corrected with one of these rules.  You don't have to say no markers on the face, hands, walls, mouth, table, dog, etc.  Simply remind the child that markers are for paper only.  And if one day you find a great project that is an exception to the rule, wait until then to tell your child about the special activity.

October 8, 2012

Want to Know What's Inside a Chinese Lantern?

For the past month I have been curiously noticing these Chinese Lanterns growing alongside my drive way.  I can guess what most flowers look like inside, but these were so mysterious. 

I plucked one of these beauties, and discovered a straight tap root that brought the whole plant quickly out of the earth.

I took it inside and got ready to dissect it.  Have you ever dissected a flower?  Dissection usually brings memories of frogs and owl pellets, but a flower is a fun, easy, and less messy project (or so I thought...).  It doesn't require many supplies either.

Find a flower of your choice.  A flower straight from the ground works really well because the roots and all the leaves may still be attached.  Lay some paper towels out on a flat work surface.  Obtain a pair of scissors.  Child-size scissors can help increase participation from the kids in your care.

I started with the roots and worked my way from the bottom up.  First I used the scissors to cut off the root section of the stem.  There were a bunch of smaller root shoots coming out of it, and I cut each of those off, too.  Let your child touch the twisty texture of the root shoots, and count the pieces.  My flower had eight small shoots and one large root.

Next I cut off each of the bunches of leaves (there were eight), and each individual leaf (there were thirty four).  Take time to notice the shape of the leaf, the feel, and the difference between the front and back.  

One of my leaves has a hole in it and it's brown there.  Can your child problem solve to figure out what happened there?

Cut the leaves off the stem carefully because you may find some teeny tiny new baby leaves like I did.  Target math skills by arranging the leaves in order from smallest to largest, and largest to smallest.

Now it's time to dissect the blossom.  I've been anticipating this part so much!  I start my scissors at the tip of the flower and slice straight up to where the stem meets the top.  I pull it open, and . . . 

Two little, squirmy, mili-peedy bugs scurry out!!  That is so not what I was expecting!  I instinctively  slam the handle of the scissors on to them; I was so startled.  I took another peek inside the blossom, and there were several more bugs inside!  I had no idea this lantern would be a home for insects.

I thought carefully about whether or not to cut open the whole blossom like I had originally planned.  I decided I could see inside well enough, there was nothing else in there, and I didn't want to loose five more squirmies into my kitchen. 

I move from the blossom onto the stem.  Cut across it to see the inside.  It is strong, green, and moist.  The water inside is what keeps the stem straight.

The flower dissection is finished.  Help develop understanding and comprehension with a brace map, which demonstrates the concept of a whole (on the left) and all of its parts (on the right).  A flower is not a whole flower without all of its parts because each part is necessary to create a whole flower.  You can make this map with pictures, actual flower parts, or you can cut look-alike flower pieces from construction paper and make your own that way.

To extend your conversation, discuss what else the flower needs to grow and where they grow.  Try growing your own flowers in your home or garden, and enjoy watching as each part grows.

October 2, 2012

Pom Pom Day

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Need something fun and creative for the day?  Try playing with fuzzy pom poms!  They are found in the craft department, and come in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and sometimes even prints or glitter.


Sort your pom poms by color, size (serration), or pattern.  If you can sort by one attribute, try sorting by two - it's much trickier!  This time make piles of large purple pom poms, green glittery pom poms, and teeny tiny white pom poms, and so forth.

Pour the pom poms into a jar and estimate how many are inside.  To make this harder, guess how many large, medium, and small or how many blue, yellow, and red.  Try recording your guesses in the form of a chart or graph.  When your guesses are recorded, pour out the jar and count them.  Record the actual numbers.  Did you come close or were you way off?  What could you do to make better guesses?

Practice one-to-one correspondence as you count your pom poms.  How high can you go?  Build the foundation for multiplication skills by arranging the pom poms into groups of two, or pairs.  Now split them into groups of threes, then fours. 


Let's experiment with our pom poms.  Put them in a sink of water.  Do they float or sink?  What can you do to help them float or sink?

Can you create a catapult for your pom poms?  Try balancing one on the handle of a spoon and then slamming your hand on the scoop end.  How far can you make it go?  Whose pom pom went the farthest?  What did you do to make if fly farther?

Do you have a water works or toy car ramp.  Have pom pom races on it.

What does it look like if you dissect a pom pom?  Is it hollow or solid inside? Allow the children to guess what it will look like.  Once you cut it open, have them practice their observational skills and use those adjectives again.  If it doesn't look any different, then your child sees that not everything is exciting inside.  Can they think of something that might have a surprise inside?  Consider dissecting a flower, a stick, a fruit, or a vegetable.  Be sure to keep it safe of course, with the adult handling the knife, and plenty of supervision.  Also, try to find objects that a child can cut with safety scissors to increase participation.


Get your adjective on:  Pretty, pink, fuzzy, whizzy, pommy, soft, bouncy, loved-by-cats, squishy, rolly, flick-across-the-room-able.  

Pom poms can be used for so many things that there are a hundred ways to describe them.  Have fun coming up with unusual and creative descriptions.  This activity gets you and the children using your senses and thinking about things in new ways.  This is an excellent starter activity for any kind of critical thinking activity.

Use pom poms to tell a story.  Perhaps the large green ones are lily pads and the small green ones are frogs that hop on them.  The tiny black poms are flies that buzz around trying not to get eaten by the frogs!

Use alliteration, rhyme, and descriptive words to make your story come to life.  Model storytelling and then encourage your child to try.  Children also love for you to begin a story, and allow them to chime in when they have an idea.  Maybe you can start and they can finish your sentences.  Gradually encourage the children to take over more of the story telling.  


Create pom pom prints.  Set out a variety of paints and sizes of pom poms.  Encourage children to dip the poms in the paint and print away.  They can even experiment with mixing colors.  For a cute, homemade wrapping paper, use a variety of colors of paint on repurposed paper bags or newspaper.

Try cutting out a large shape such as a flower or a Christmas tree from an old cereal box.  Using school glue and multicolored poms, cover the shape completely.

Using the photo at the top of this post for inspiration (from, thread poms onto string to create a pom pom string.  Arrange multiple strings in a row to create a pom pom curtain.  This could be a fun entrance into a play room or tree house.

Dramatic Play:

Pretend the pom poms are food in the home center.

Or perhaps put double sided tape on red poms, adhere them to your clothes, and pretend you have Chicken Pox.  Your child can pretend to be the doctor and make you better.

Get moving:

Play a relay game with pom poms.  Have all the players stand on one side of the yard, each with a spoon in one hand and a pom pom in the other.  The first person in line puts her pom pom in the spoon and races across the yard.  When she gets to the other side, the next person goes.  Try not to drop your pom pom.  How fast did you complete the race?  Can you do it faster trying a second time?

Balance a pom pom on your head, hand, shoulder, or nose!  Can you do it?  Where is it easiest to balance a pom pom?


July 24, 2012

Oatmeal Canister Drum

We eat a lot of oatmeal around here.  In the summertime I often choose something sweet for breakfast over something savory.  And when I want something hearty that isn't eggs and toast, I microwave a bowl of oats with chopped apples and nuts.  When it's too hot to bake dessert in the oven, I make a quick batch of No-Bake Cookies.  It is now the end of July, and we have gone through several canisters of oatmeal!  

I just can't throw away an oatmeal canister.  There's so much it can be used for!  Right now I have two small canisters to repurpose.  I'm making them into personalized drums for two kids I know.  

How to make an oatmeal canister drum:

1.  Shake out oatmeal crumbs into the trash.  Then wipe canister with a damp cloth.

2.  Use white printing paper and tape to cover the canister evenly.  I used two sheets to cover a small canister.  When the paper was too long on one end, I just folded it under because this simple project doesn't require precise measuring and cutting.  I used packaging tape to secure the paper and help make the drum durable for little hands.  Be sure to tape one end of the paper to the canister, then roll the paper around and secure again with more tape along the entire seam.  Don't tape the lid down because it will effect the sound quality and it's fun to store things in an oatmeal drum, too.

3.  Give the drum to a child with some markers or crayons.  Encourage them to decorate it to their heart's content.  

4.  Allow the child to experiment with the drum first before offering directions.  They may find some creative ways to play with it!  

When they've had a chance to explore it, show them how one way to use this canister is as a drum.  Show them how to tap one end or both ends at the same time.  Show them how to tap with a whole hand or just fingertips.  Help them explore different ways to make unique sounds.  

The drum is also a great storage device.  What kinds of sounds come from the drum when there are things inside?  How are these sounds different from when the drum is empty?

An oatmeal canister drum makes a really easy, very fun, wonderfully personalized toy.  It also doesn't add to toy clutter around the home or classroom.  When you're done with the drum (or it becomes smashed) separate the plastic lid from the cardboard cylinder and recycle.  


June 27, 2012

I'll Meet You at the Beginning

I am back in country (well, this country anyway) and have just started work for JBY.  A few posts ago I was letting you know about my need to take some time to dig into research about scope and sequence.  I wanted to gather ideas to help build a framework for my writing here.

I discovered something interesting.

The words here are all about early childhood, but I was undecided about whether or not to include kindergarten under that umbrella.  Kindergarten is definitely still early childhood, but the educational demands in school systems for children of kindergarten age are incredible.  They are much closer to what the expectations used to be for first grade students.  In some ways this is understandable because kids today are growing up in a very different world.  Many children are ready for the challenge of these new expectations.  Most children, however, are ready intellectually before they are ready emotionally and physically.

There is a definite scope and sequence of content starting with kindergarten.  It can be overwhelming for students and teachers alike.  There is no need to be worried though!  Most students soak it up, or at least as much of it as is appropriate.  And the ones who aren't quite as sponge-like?  Schools get better everyday at supporting students' individual needs.

The wonderfully interesting thing -as far as what this means for preschool education- is that the scope is essentially from nothing to everything.  It is 100% based on the uniqueness of the child.  And the sequence is allowed to flow naturally based on the child's interests and inclinations.  We get to meet children at their beginning.

There is such freedom in preschool education.  It allows for so much exploration and two very favorite things!

May 25, 2012

What Children Really Need to Know

I just want children to know the world is their classroom.

I mentioned last time (about an hour ago) how I was needing to adjust my focus.  My world has been clouded these past few weeks with busy-ness, some necessary and some not.  Then today I wrote here and read this article from my personal blog, and everything cleared up.  My heart softened.  My lungs breathed deeply.  My body relaxed.

Clarity is coming.

The wonderful, humbling, frustrating thing is that it is coming because I asked it to.  I laid on the bed, settled my heart, quieted my mind.  I needed clarity.  I asked God for it, and he brought it.  He brought it immediately.

Hmm, maybe I should've asked sooner?

Don't you love that?  Maybe if I had laid, settled, quieted at the first sign of haziness, maybe then I wouldn't have been wandering through this fog the past few weeks.  Or maybe, perhaps, I needed to get far enough off track to notice.  To notice, "Nope, this isn't it.  I'm off course.  This foggy, unproductive, wandering place is not my Narrow Road."  This is how I'm pruned.  This is how I learn.

This is how children learn, too, and this is why I write here.

Children don't require manipulatives, pencils, and glue to learn - albeit those things can help.  Children really need experiences, testing, checking, trying, practicing.  Just like you and me.  They need you and me to encourage, challenge, provide, facilitate, scaffold, nurture, inquire, wonder, wander, think, reflect, and offer.

The world is my classroom, too.

Matchmaker: Willingness & Completion

I began this blogsite with such a burst of energy that I have burnt myself out a bit.  I enjoy writing here so much, but the last two weeks I have been procrastinating in a big way.  While I love writing, I don't love sitting at the computer.  I want to be steady in my work here, motivated by these words:

"Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means."  2 Corinthians 8:11 

I have been primarily posting lessons designed for children ages 4-5, but a big part of my heart is for children ages 2-3.  I'd like to figure out a way to post for a variety of age groups without becoming overwhelmed.

I am going to spend some time researching ideas about scope and sequence to help build a stronger framework for my lessons here.  I will not be posting as much these next few weeks while I work to create this template, but I hope to sneak in a few posts about what I'm discovering.  I will also be out of town and country for a few weeks in June to visit family and friends during which time I don't expect to be posting at all.  I will have plenty of hours in the air to read about curriculum design!

I'm sure this research will be good news for my work here.  Thanks for sticking with me!

May 22, 2012

Plants Around Us: Science Edition

Ask the children, "What do plants need?"  Review answers from the story Plant Secrets as needed.  Create a circle map to define plant needs.  In a small circle in the center of a paper, write "Plant Needs".  Draw a much larger circle around the inner circle.  It should be almost as big as the whole paper.  Fill this circle with words and pictures that define plant needs:  sun, water, soil, air.  Children should offer the ideas as much as possible.  They can even help with the words and pictures!

Ideally, you would use the space outside the large circle to describe how you know the information inside the large circle.  The link above demonstrates this.  Reasons would include: "I read Plant Secrets", "I have plants at home", and so on.  This step is not essential, but it provides an opportunity to practice metacognition, or thinking about thinking, which is an important skill that enhances the learning process.

Do you need a challenge?  Create a double bubble map to compare plant needs with human needs.

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Write "Plant Needs" in a medium-sized circle on the left (shown in blue).

Write "Human Needs" in a medium-sized circle on the right (red).

Write and draw plant needs in small circles to the left of "Plant Needs".  Then connect to them medium circle with lines.

Write and draw human needs in small circles to the right of "Human Needs".   Then connect to them human needs medium circle on that side.

What needs do plants and humans both have?  These go in the small circles in the middle with lines connecting to both plant needs and human needs (purple).

Note:  You obviously don't have to use these colors.  In fact, you don't have to use color at all, but it does help to visually make a bit more sense out of all those circles and lines.

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Here is an example of a double bubble map, which is designed to compare and contrast just like our double bubble map of plant and human needs above.


There are many components that make up a flower.  One way to help children understand that a variety of parts make up a whole is to use a brace map.  A whole flower goes on the left, then the brace symbol { with the point towards the whole flower, and finally the separate parts of the flower.  Note:  The picture below should ideally have the point of the brace towards the whole flower rather than the parts.

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Have extra time?  I found an excellent idea here to dissect flowers!  Doesn't that sound fun?  Model for the children how to carefully dissect the flowers.  Be sure to instruct them exactly what pieces should be taken apart (stem, leaves, petals, roots if it has them, seeds).  Provide a paper plate to put the pieces on so they do not get mixed up with other children's dissected flowers.

When they have finished dissecting the flowers, they can make real, 3-D brace maps using the actual flowers.

Finish up today by planting seeds in the pots we painted yesterday.  Remind the children of how Ping planted and cared for his seeds in the story, The Empty Pot.  (Painting pots and reading about Ping are both found in this week's literacy lesson.)  Water the seeds and arrange the pots in a sunny locale where the children can observe the growth.

Next Time
Plant identification can be very complex, but there is plenty young children can learn and so much they already know.

Go on a hunt in a park or playground with a checklist like the one pictured below.  Explain the types of plants on the checklist, and show children how to make a check in the box next to the plants they find.  Children will be excited to hunt for the variety of plants, and they will begin to notice similarities among grasses, bushes, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and trees.

{My computer is having an issue...  The picture checklist is coming soon!}

I encourage you to make this activity a team event.  Children will probably automatically do this with a partner or group.  They can use each other as a resource.  Encourage them to try to find the plants with their peers before getting help from you.

Plant Taste Test

In our math lesson we compared the sizes of various seeds and their fruits.  Today, let's taste test plants in various stages of development:  seed, stalk, flower, fruit.

I'm going to leave the flowers out even though there are some edible flowers.  Whenever I have seen them in the store they are expensive.  If you want to try it, by all means go ahead!

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Obtain a variety of plants in the above categories.  Here are some suggestions:
Seeds - sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios.
Stalks - celery, rhubarb, asparagus.
Fruits - blackberry, mango, kiwi.

Prepare the plants as necessary (rinsing, chopping, etc.), each one on its own plate.  One at a time, introduce the plant.  Pass the plate around and allow each child to take a piece, taste it, and discuss what they taste.  Proceed with all the plants.

As a group, with you as facilitator, arrange the plants in order from which tasted best to which tasted worst.  Is there general consensus within the group of children or not?  Which do they like best:  seeds, stalks, or fruits?  Which do they not like at all?

May 16, 2012

Watermelon Math

All kinds of watermelon math is coming your way today!

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Our study of plants this week begins with the humble seed.  Try an orange or a slice of watermelon for a snack.  Be sure everyone has a plate on which to discard his or her seeds.  When everyone is finished, encourage each child to count his or her seeds.

Who had the most?

Who had the least?

Did anyone have the same amount as someone else?

Count each other's plates of seeds.

Still hungry?  Try again!

The story Plant Secrets (from the Today section of this week's literacy lesson) pointed out how the sizes of seeds vary tremendously.  The same thing goes for the sizes of plants and fruits.

Let's do an experiment?  Do small seeds make small plants?  Or do large seeds make small plants?  (And vice versa.)

{Writing about this experiment and reading Plant Secrets inevitably led me to questions about the differences between fruits and vegetables, trying to remember what classified something as an angiosperm, and so on.  A good, quick -and seemingly reliable- reference is found here.}

Obtain a variety of seeds and their respective plants or fruits, as well as a plate to put each one on.  For example, put an orange seed and an orange on one plate, a sunflower seed and a sunflower on another plate, a strawberry seed and a strawberry, and so on.

Do you notice any patterns?

Try putting the plates in order from smallest seed to largest seed.  What do you notice about the plants or fruits?

Try putting the plates in order from largest seed to smallest seed.  What do you notice now?

You can adjust this experiment and manage its variables in a number of ways:
-Use only typical "vegetables" squash, zucchini, pea, carrot, onion, and their respective seeds.
-Use only typical "fruits" such as lemon, orange, strawberry, blueberry, cherry, and their respective seeds.
-Use only seeds and the grown plant without including the fruit at all.
-What to do about plants that can't fit on a plate, such as trees?  Good question!

Next Time
In honor of Peter Spit a Seed at Sue, let's play who can spit the seed the farthest.

Well, almost.

A seed spitting contest would be so much fun, but alas it is probably not the best idea I've ever had to line up 15 four or five year olds and ask them to spit a seed as far as they can across the playground!

They will plead with you, I'm sure, that they can safely spit the seeds.  Remind them that the seeds are so slippery, and what would they do if someone made them laugh and they choked on the seed by accident? It was so much fun in the story, and it may be something families choose to do at home.

After having a kindergarten student choke on a peppermint a few years ago, I think we can have just as much fun flicking seeds across the playground!  Yes, flicking.  I think we can keep it fairly harmless.

~Make a starting line with a tape measure, sidewalk chalk, and a piece of string as a straight edge.  Then measure and draw a few more lines every foot past the starting line for about ten feet.  These lines will help determine whose seed was spit the farthest.

~Each person kneels behind the starting line with a watermelon slice.  Take a bite, set the seed on the starting line, flick it as far and straight as you can out ahead.  Keep an eye out for yours!

~Judges, what do you think?  Determine the winner and play again!

~Record the distances (you can round to the closest chalk line) the seeds were flicked and by whom.  Once back inside, you can make a bar graph together displaying the results of the contest.


Plants Around Us

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Read Plant Secrets written by Emily Goodman and illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes.  This is a fantastic book:  great pictures, simple text, highly informative and also fun to read!

We are doing a lot of Thinking Maps this week!  I have described a few of these before, but if you have questions, please email me or take a look at their website for further explanation.  I learned about these maps while I taught kindergarten, and they have been the most amazing learning tool.  There are eight maps that work for all subject areas for (almost) all ages.  This is wonderful for students because it helps them organize their thinking more simply.  There is a way to use every map to explore any idea or concept.  In doing so, you explore the idea or concept thoroughly and with great depth.

To help children understand the plant growth process, make a flow map of plant growth from seed to fruit.  To do so, make or draw something like the picture below, but with a fourth box.  Prompt the children to remember the details from the story.

How do plants start?  What happens next?  Then what?  What happens last?

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You could even use fives boxes, the fifth one being a seed again, to show the cyclical nature of plant growth.  Alternatively, you could just draw an arrow from the fourth box, underneath the other boxes and back to the first one to show that the cycle repeats.

Art:  Obtain a small terra cotta pot for each child.  Cover work surface with old newspapers and arrange 3-5 colors of acrylic paints with a separate paint brush for each color.  Instruct children not to mix the colors because otherwise all the colors will turn brown.  Encourage them to paint the pots as they wish.

If you are a teacher, be sure to mark the children's names on their pots.  A piece of tape inside the pot would be ideal.  This way you don't have to turn over a pot with still-wet paint to find out to whom it belongs.

These pots would make excellent Mother's Day gifts.  Tomorrow we will plant seeds in them.

Read The Empty Pot by Demi.  This is a beautiful story with a timeless moral message.  The illustrations are rich in detail.  You will be captivated by the devotion and courage of the boy Ping.

Character/Faith:  We all want children to know goodness and honesty are treasured, revered, and rewarded.  This story depicts the way goodness and honesty also often require fortitude and courage.  I can't spoil the ending.  You will have to read it for yourself.  The ensuing discussion will surely come naturally.  Ask the children about times it took courage for them to be honest.  How were they rewarded?

Art:  Allow children to paint their own flow charts of plant growth.

Next Time
Read Peter Spit a Seed at Sue written by Jackie French Koller and illustrated by John Manders.

Oh, my goodness - this story is such a fun read!  I hope you aren't mad for the seed-spitting ideas it may plant in your children's heads.  As made clear at the end, it is all in good fun!

Enjoy this book on a Friday as you savor the soon-to-be weekend.  There are wonderful words and illustrations in this story.  Talk together about your favorites, which parts were funniest, where you were surprised, and so on.  Enjoy!

More watermelon-themed lessons are coming your way in this weeks math lesson.

Art:  Create a masterpiece with oil pastels and thick art paper.  Portray your favorite fruit or vegetable with vibrant colors and the characteristic thick, greasy, textural lines of oil pastels.

May 11, 2012

Time to Tally

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Do your children have a concept of time?

Children who are older preschoolers should already know:
-There is day time and night time.

-It is light during the day and dark at night.

-People use clocks and watches to tell the time.

Children may find it interesting to learn:
-Morning is called AM and night is called PM.

-There are 24 hours in a day.  The first twelve are AM, and the second twelve are PM.

-It is not always light during the "morning" or "AM" time.  "AM" time starts at midnight, but it's obviously still dark then.  Likewise, it's not always dark during the "night" or "PM" time.  "PM" time starts at noon, but we definitely have plenty of daylight remaining.  Children will begin to see how what we commonly refer to as morning, day and night does not always line up with "AM" and "PM".  They will almost surely ask why, and -well- that is a very legitimate question, don't you think?

With just a paper plate and a few craft/office supplies, you and your child(ten) or class can make clocks!  Follow this activity for directions, and then enjoy moving the clock hands and reading the time.

We introduced counting by twos back in February, now we will try counting by fives.

Please note:  Proficiency in skip counting is not expected for preschoolers.  Children will practice this and become proficient with it later, usually in kindergarten.  We introduce it now because a) it is fun, b) there are some children who are ready for it now, and c) it gets children thinking about math in a new, creative way.

Counting by fives is tricky, but it's also very useful because so many things in our world are organized in groups of tens, and therefore also in groups of fives.

Skip counting is an advanced skill, so we are just exploring the concept.  An easy way to start is with our fingers!  Hopefully everyone has two hands with five fingers each.

-Count the fingers on your left hand.  5!

-Count the fingers on your right hand.  5!

-Count all your fingers together starting at your left pinky and finishing at your right pinky.  10!

-Put your left hand in the air out in front of you and say five.  Then put your right hand out in front of you and say ten.  Practice this a few times.  If you'd like, you can even start by putting both hands behind your back and saying zero.  0, 5, 10.  You just counted by fives!

-If you're ready for more, continue on counting 0, 5, 10, 15, 20 but don't go too far ahead this first time.  Practicing the lower numbers for a while will give kids a good foundation.

It is also helpful to do this activity with a hundreds chart.  You can make the numbers used to count by fives in a different color to help children learn the concept.  You can also print a hundreds chart and have children color certain numbers specific colors to show the patterns.  For example, color the numbers used to count by fives red.  Color numbers that end in seven blue, and so on.  This really supports learning number recognition and number patterns.

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In addition to using our fingers, we can also practice counting by fives using tally marks.  This is a good visual reminder that when we're counting something, there is exactly one thing (or one tally mark) for each number we count.  When we have a large number of things to count, tally marks help us keep track.

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Next Time
In our literacy lesson this week we categorized small, medium, and large amounts of rain into a little, middle, and a lot:

{When it rains, we hear a variety of words to describe how much it rains.  The terms "sprinkle", "rain", and "pour" are very common.  Print pictures of these types of precipitation.  Write the terms on sentence strips or index cards, and match them to the pictures.  Introduce the words/phrases "a little", "middle", and "a lot".  Encourage the children to identify which picture represents a little rain, a middle amount of rain, and a lot of rain, pointing to each one as appropriate.  Give each child a turn.}

Comparing amounts is an important skill.  Lots of things in our world come in multiple sizes.  As adults, we may take for granted understanding the relationship between small, medium, and large.  Children though need to be taught which is which and how they relate to one another.

What items do you have in your home or classroom that come in all three of these sizes?

Ideas:  books, remote controls, cups, forks, shoes, pillows, balls, dolls, trucks, pets, people, towels, clothes, bowls, stuffed animals.

Obtain three or four sets of items.  Set the small, medium, and large of one set in front of the child in random order.  Encourage him to arrange the items from small on the left to large on the right.  Continue with another set of items.  It may be helpful to try to put one set directly "beneath" the other in a row on the floor, creating a matrix.  Kitchen floor tiles are helpful for doing this, thus making an organized picture for the mind.  By doing it this way, you can ask the child to identify all the small items and he can point down the row, or identify all the medium items and he can point down that row.

How is it going?  Do you want to make it more challenging?  Try these ideas:

-Put all the items from all the sets into one pile.  Now try arranging each set in it's small, medium, and large order.  The child will have to sort by type of item (books, dolls, towels) as well as size.

-Add more items to the sets.  For example, use five different sizes of toy trucks or plastic bowls, and encourage the child to put them in order from smallest to largest.

May 10, 2012

Can You Splash Like a Sprinkler + Storm Safety

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Today we have an opportunity for two types of dramatic play involving water.

1.  The first idea exercise is one for creative movement.  Sometime during the week read Water Voices written by Toby Speed and illustrated by Julie Downing.  Allow the children to guess to what form of water the poem is referring.  After the initial reading, read again, but this time -in a large space- encourage the children to be the water with their bodies.  Can they act like a wave, pour like the rain, splash like a sprinkler?

2.  As time allows, maybe during the discussion of precipitation or perhaps when a storm brews in your neighborhood, talk to the children about storm safety:

Do they know what a thunderstorm is?  
Do they know what a tornado is?  
Are there other types of storms that occur in your area during the spring?

Review with the children your family's or your school's plan for storm safety:

Is there a siren or announcement?  What does it sound like?
Where do they go and what do they do when they hear the siren or announcement?
Is there anything they shouldn't do?
Teach the children about remaining calm and practice it with them.

Dramatic play is a way for children to rehearse real life events.  Usually we have them practice home life or being at the doctor's office, but we can also encourage them to practice storm safety.  Encourage them to practice remaining calm and going quietly to the safe place in the event of a storm.  This will really build their confidence and may even save their lives!

World Tour: Travel, Communication & Climate

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Read First Rain which is also integrated into the Next Time section of this unit's literacy lesson.

Ask questions such as:  Why was the family traveling?  Where is Israel?  How did they get there?  What do we know/want to know about life in Israel?

Everyone experiences travel in some capacity.  Travel can be navigating across town, country, or globe.  Accompanying the different distances we travel are the different ways we travel.  Walking, biking, driving, and the subway or bus are appropriate ways to travel across town.  In some cases, people might even take a boat, but they would never take a plane.  Likewise, a person can travel by plane or boat to go across the globe, but driving is not always possible and walking is most definitely inefficient.

Work with the children to develop a tree map (Thank you Thinking Maps for your brilliant cross-content graphic organizers!) about the ways people travel.

     1.  "Ways People Travel" will be your overarching theme written at the top of the map.
     2.  Use "Across Town", "Across Country", and "Across Globe" for the secondary headings under the overarching theme.
     3.  Under the secondary headings is where you will put input from the students: the method of travel used.  You can list all the options that are within regular possibility.  If someone offers something off-the-wall like taking a rocket ship to travel between states, discuss why that wouldn't work, but be sure to reveal when it would work.  Consider adding a fourth category to the tree map: travel across planets!  

(It is helpful -as usual- to include pictures along with the text.  You can make these up ahead of time, as you already know what type of input the students will offer, or you can make simple sketches as the students offer answers.)

Hang the thinking map in a place where the children can come back to it later in the week.

I've been looking for a children's book about forms of communication without any luck.  Maybe I should write one!  Really though, your children should have no problem thinking of the ways people communicate.  The thing that may be more difficult is sharing with them the ways people used to communicate in the past.

Review First Rain.  In what ways does the family in Israel communicate with the grandmother?  (Answers:  Phone, Email)

Ask the children, in what ways their families communicate with friends and family.  (Possible Answers:  Home phone, Cellular phone, Email, Skype, Text messages, Facebook, Blogs, Letters, Cards, Postcards, Notes on the kitchen table or in the lunch box, Shouting across the street, etc.)

Can they recognize what sort of device is used for each of these modes of communication?  Combine in a box items to symbolize each mode of communication.  In addition to actual phones and stationary, you might use pictures of logos or (a picture of) a computer.

Hold up each object and encourage them to identify it and say for what it is used.  Notice how many mode of communication involve a computer!  You might also include items or pictures of items for modes of communication from the past:  typewriter, telegraph, an old style phone, telegram, etc.

Next Time
When we consider travel across town, country, or globe, we must also consider the climate of those places.  It may be the same or different from where we are now.

The book First Rain describes the climate found in Israel during the summer and fall:  hot dry summers and raining coming in the fall.  It also tells about the food grown in this climate:  figs, dates, vegetables, pomegranates, etc.

For each place in the world, its climate determines the amount and type of precipitation it receives when and for how long during the year.  Climate is also what makes places cold, warm or hot when and for how long during the year.  Precipitation and temperature determine what kind of food can be grown, the types of houses people will live in, the clothing they will wear, and sometimes the work the people will do.

Read:  On the Same Day in March:  A Tour of the World's Weather written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Frane Lessac.  This book is a wonderful introduction to the various climates of the world, and will help open children's eyes to the fact that others in the world are experiencing very different weather right at this moment.

     1.  Provide children a wide array of books about climates of the world to flip through and skim.  You probably already have a few, and your library almost surely has many more.  Help them study the pictures.

     2.  Encourage children to casually share with each other what they find as they flip the pages.  Through your conversations, help them draw conclusions about the pictures they see.  Which things go together in one climate?  (i.e. polar bears, ice, snow, seals, glaciers).  Which things do not go together in the same climate?  (i.e.  lions, oceans, snow, big cities)

     3.  Have children choose one type of climate to draw a picture of.  Make sure they include only things that are really part of that particular climate.

Other good reads:  Somewhere in the World Right Now by Stacey Schuett, A Drop Around the World written by Barbara McKinney and illustrated by Michael S. Maydak, and A Child's Introduction to the World:  Geography, Cultures, and People - From the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall of China written by Heather Alexander and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton.

May 3, 2012

The Sky Above

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This week we learn about the sky.

Start by reading Sophie's Window by Holly Keller.  This is a cute story about a bird learning to fly.  It can also be used to introduce the concepts were studying this week.

Print pictures of the main concepts in our Sky unit:  sun, clouds, rain, wind, storm, bird, shadow.  Use sentence strips or index cards to write and/or have the children help you write these words.

Note:  Please remember that it is perfectly acceptable for preschool and kindergarten children to copy a word you have written.  It still counts as them writing it!  Writing words is very much about copying symbols.  This helps children learn to form letters.  While doing so, they relate the letters to the sounds they hear in the word (which helps them develop a capacity for phonetic spelling), and they relate the word to the context around them (the story, the discussion, the pictures) which develops schemes of meaning in their brains.  All of this works to develop literacy.

Encourage the children to mix up the pictures and words, then match them.  When they are familiar with the words and their corresponding pictures, you can make it more difficult by making it a memory game.  Turn over all the pictures and words.  The first person to have a turn flips over one picture and one word. Are they a match?  If they are, the first person gets to have a second turn.  If they are not a match, the next person gets a turn.

There are many ways to engage with the sky.  The most simple is to go outside, lay face up on the earth and gaze at the sky.  Take note of all that you see and hear:  clouds, wind, birds, bees, and so forth.

While outside, see if you and the children can make shadow puppets with your hands.  They are easily seen over a pale smooth surface like concrete.  Spend time playing with shadows and all the things the children can create in the shadows.  You may appreciate the story Moonbear's Shadow by Fran Asch.

Science:  Today we emphasize the sun and we want to be sure the children know begin to understand the sun's role in the water cycle.  This book and this experiment are great ways to introduce the concept of the sun causing evaporation.

Art: For an art experience today, try painting the sun.  Use a large piece of white paper, large child-friendly paintbrushes, and a variety of shades of yellow:  gold, mustard, canary, primary, pastel yellow, etc.  I think finger painting would also be an awesome way to create the sun.  Big sweeping motions by fingers loaded with paint can bring warm texture to the creation.

Remind children of the way God created the light, the sun.  We have a creative God who loves us tenderly and has seen fit to bless us with the delights of sun, sky, clouds, shadows, and rain.

Today we continue studying the sky with an emphasis on clouds.

Read: Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld.

Ask children to tell you about Cloudette.  How did she feel?  What did she want?  What happened to her?

Make a bubble map (this is another Thinking Map) to describe what they learned about clouds while reading this story.  To do so, get a blank sheet of paper.  Put one circle in the middle and write "Clouds" in it.  Each time a child tells you something they learned about clouds, draw a line coming out from the center circle.  Write the description information at the end of the line and put another circle ("bubble") around it.  Perhaps the child or you can draw a small picture next to the word or phrase to illustrate it.  Then you can display the bubble map and children will be able to "read" it even if they can't literally read all the words.

Read It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw.  Go outside, lay down in an open space, and stare at the sky again.  This time pay close attention to the clouds.  Do the children see shapes?  What do the clouds look like?  Do they notice how they change?

Science:  Review yesterday's book, The Magic School Bus Wet All Over:  A Book About the Water Cycle written by Pat Relf and illustrated by Carolyn Bracken, emphasizing the parts about cloud formation.  Clarify as necessary, then use this experiment to create your own cloud by illustrating the concept of condensation with the children.

Art:  Have children choose one or two cloud forms they saw while outside.  Using a piece of blue construction paper, glue and cotton balls, recreate the cloud formations.

Next Time
We've explored sun and clouds.  Now it's time for rain!

Read First Rain written by Charlotte Herman and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter.

Answer questions and comments about the story.  There is richness to it in the way it uncovers aspects of culture study and science.  We will study those more in the proceeding lessons.  For now, we will introduce a little math and vocabulary.

When it rains, we hear a variety of words to describe how much it rains.  The terms "sprinkle", "rain", and "pour" are very common.  Print pictures of these types of precipitation.  Write the terms on sentence strips or index cards, and match them to the pictures.  Introduce the words/phrases "a little", "middle", and "a lot".  Encourage the children to identify which picture represents a little rain, a middle amount of rain, and a lot of rain, pointing to each one as appropriate.  Give each child a turn.

What other words to the children know to describe rain?  They might offer words like "storming", "raining cats and dogs", "thunder and lightning", and so on.

Science:  We have one more science experiment this week.  Utilize The Magic School Bus Wet All Over to review the concept of precipitation.  The Water Project, which is the website noted (linked) for the previous two experiments, does offer one for precipitation, but I think it is inappropriate for young children.  It involves a tray balanced on trash cans over a burner; a good visual for sure, but it is intended for older children.

I'm trying to think of a great way to illustrate precipitation for young children, something that even shows all the forms of precipitation, but I don't have it yet.  The good thing is this is the part of the cycle most apparent to children.  The water cycle also includes collection, which is the term for available water in lakes, streams, ponds, oceans, rivers, puddles, and so on.  Children also have experiences with this part!

Art:  It's time for more drip painting with water colors.  Use an easel or the method described in the "Next Time" section of this post.  Use a small paintbrush this time and liquid water color paints (These can be diluted slightly to last an even longer time. They are awesome and provide very vivid colors!).  Hold the brush at the top of the paper and allow the color to drip down.  Children can use all one color or a variety.

Cooking:  In honor of learning about Israel in First Rain, prepare plates of vegetables, cheese, figs, and dates for a snack today.  Help children identify the foods they know and the ones that are new.  What do they look like and feel like?  How do they think they will taste?  Encourage children to nibble away and try the new foods!

May 1, 2012

Spring Science Times Three!

Skim through Don't Throw It, Grow It! 68 Windowsill Plants from Kitchen Scraps by Deborah Peterson.

Choose a plant growing experiment of your own, or try this one using a sweet potato or an avocado pit.

Obtain a wide-mouthed jar, 1-2 cups water, 4-6 toothpicks, and a sweet potato or avocado pit.  Or try both if you like!

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1.  Insert toothpicks around center of sweet potato or avocado pit.
2.  Fill jar with water.
3.  Set sweet potato or avocado pit over the mouth of the jar.  The toothpicks will support the potato or pit while the bottom of it dips into the jar.
4.  Set in a sunny window and watch it grow!

It's so easy!  Children will be excited to see the plant grow on a daily basis.  Encourage them to describe what they see.  Use words to describe the color, size, texture, what is changing, what is staying the same, what they think will happen next, and so on.


While our sweet potato and/or avocado plants continue to grow (and ironically, mine bake in the oven), we will begin another science project.

Read:  In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming.

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Oh, what a wonderful read!  This makes me want to be right there with you reading these engaging words and imagining all that is coming alive in the tall, tall grass.

Before we get on to the science project, first a bit of literacy.  This book has great rhyming words.  Use highlighting tape to draw children's eyes to the rhyming words.  Give them a small piece of tape and allow them to cover one of the rhyming words with the tape.  Continue, giving each child a turn, as you cover all the rhyming words.  Encourage all the children to recite the rhyming words.

Rhyming is an important early literacy skill.  When children learn rhyming they are simultaneously learning the concepts of "onset" and "rime".  These terms are used to determine the beginning consonant or consonant blend of the word (onset) and the vowel(s) with any final consonants (rime).  {Link up here and here for more about onset rime in early literacy.}

For example, on pages 3 and 4 of In the Tall, Tall Grass the rhyming words are "crunch", "munch", and "lunch".  The onset parts of the words are "cr", "m", and "l".  The rime parts of the words are all the same: "unch".

You can use two different colors of highlighting tape to encourage children to distinguish between the onset and the rime.  Rhyming, as well as segmenting onset and rime, are important phonological awareness skills.  Phonological awareness is the biggest predictor of reading and spelling acquisition.  That may sound kind of intense for young children.  The good news is the best way to acquire literacy skills is simply to play with words.

Whew, on to the science project now!  This one ought to be relaxing!

Obtain the following for each child:  blank sheet of paper, pencil, markers, and a clipboard.

Instruct children to draw one line down the middle of the paper and another line across the middle of the paper, dividing the space into four rectangle-ish areas.

Go out to a grassy place:  your yard, the playground, a park, the crack in the sidewalk, etc.

Lay down on the ground.  Get right down to eye level with the grass.  What do you see?  Are there bugs?  What does the grass look like?  Is there a random Cheerio or a wrapper?  Is there dirt?  What else?  These are your observations.

Draw one observation in each of the four rectangles.  Lay on your bellies in the grass and color your observations (you did draw pictures, didn't you?).  Written words are encouraged as well, of course.  Allow each child to share his or her observations with the others.

Next Time
I love how spring opens the doors (quite literally, actually) to all kinds of science projects!  Today we have a third experiment to observe and test!

This is best done outside, with children sitting down if at all possible.

Supplies per person: a clean jar with lid, about 1 cup of dirt, about 1 cup of water.

Combine dirt and water in jar.  Seal lid tightly.  Shake!

Watch what happens to the dirt and water.  Do they mix?  Do they combine?  Do they make mud?  Shake again.  Roll the jar on the ground.  Does anything change if you change how you shake it?

This is a fun time to delight in dirt.  Children will watch with wonder as they mix, shake, and think.

Read:  Mud Puddle by Robert N. Munsch and illustrated by Sami Suomalainen.
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