Thursday, October 31, 2013

Learning to write, learning to read with block play

We inherited these lovely little blocks from a cool mom who picked them up at a yard sale for us. I LOVE it when parents bring us in cool new toys because I never know what we will end up with! We usually spend some time exploring new open ended items to figure out how they work and what we can do with them.

Here we were building stairs by lining the blocks up so that they are in order from tallest to smallest. This is tricky because there are many varying sizes so she has to try many blocks before she finds the ones that fit into her plan. She also refines her fine motor skills as she carefully concentrates on lining the blocks up along the long flat block, then balances the tiny cubes on top of her rods without tipping them. The project requires a lot of precision and patience! 

 So far we’ve used the blocks for a bunch of sorting / counting / building projects such as the one above but my latest idea has been to use them to construct letters.

While demonstrating how to make letters for the kids, it occurred to me that I have sharpies in colors that correspond with the blocks. I decided to use the sharpies and the blocks to make templates for the kids so they replicate the letters correctly. 

To make the templates I built the letters then I carefully moved each block then traced it with the same color sharpie. As I worked I made sure the template showed the accurate color and size block so it could be a sorting / matching activity too. 

As I worked the kids watched and made some letters of their own on the table. They counted the number of blocks they would need to construct each letter then compared sizes of the blocks to get the correct size lines to complete the letters. Some of their letters were oddly shaped or comprised of too many lines to accurately portray the letter they were attempting to build but they had fun experimenting with their own approximations of the letters. 

Working with the tiny blocks requires a lot of attention to detail and patience. One false move could cause the entire letter to go off course. Some of the children worked intently on creating one letter for over 15 minutes before moving on to something else. 
Once we had enough templates for the kids to work, they got busy building. As they worked they practiced identifying letters, talking about the sounds of the letters and requesting new letters to build based on words they were thinking about.

One of my little ones stumbled across the letter L then he decided he wanted to build all the letters of his name. This is the process he used.

Upon building the letter L, Will asked me to make a second L because he has two L’s in his name. When he was finished constructing the letters L - L - he requested a letter W to complete his name. When he was finished making the letter W he proudly pronounced that he had spelled his name. 

I took a look at it and said, “You did a lot of great work here but I think you are missing a letter, What are the letters in your name?” He responded with “W - I - L - L”. I said “Most of the letters are here but one is missing, Which one is it?” He looked closely at the letters pointing to each one and naming it - finally he said, “I need a letter I!” So I made him a template to the letter I. When he was finished he said “There, now I spelled my name.” I came over to take a look and said “Great! Let’s sound out the letters so we can see what you spelled.” I sounded out the letters in the order he had constructed them. Pointing to each letter I made the sounds for the “word” he spelled “L- L - I - W”. 

He looked at me and giggled then he pointed to the letters (in the correct sequence but placed out of order) and said, “No! W - I - L - L spells Will”. 

I said “That is how you spell “Will” but if you want everyone else to know you are writing the word “Will” you have to make sure the letters are in the right order so that the letter sounds tell everyone the word is “Will”. “I can write the word Will on a piece of paper so you can check your letters and know if they are in the right order to spell the word Will.”

Then I asked Will “Which letter to I need to write first to spell the word Will?” Will proceeded to tell me each letter in correct sequence and he watched as I drew them slowly for him. We sounded out the word together to make sure it was right. When I was finished I placed the paper with his name above the letters he had constructed.

Will took a minute to study both the letters I had written and the letters he had constructed. Then he got to work rearranging the letters in the correct sequence so that they spelled the word Will.

When he was finished and we double checked his spelling, Will proudly called all his friends over and explained how he constructed his name.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fall Owlets

These adorable little guys were made from scrap paper donated by a couple of cool moms. All you need to create a flock of owlets for your crew are:

A simple owl tracing on card stock
Scraps of fall themed scrapbooking paper
Two large circles (for the eyes)
A sharpie (for the pupil of the eyes)
Felt leaves (from the dollar store)

I usually have the cutting station available a few times a month for the kiddies to practice tearing, using knives and cutting with scissors. While we were working on other things last week, I set out the paper for this project and the kids cut LOTS of paper. By the end of the week we had plenty of pieces for everyone to work with.

Next I put the templates out during project time. It took two cutting / glueing sessions to fill up the owl template.

On day four, we put it all together. I gave each child a piece of black card stock with a tree branch glued to the bottom. They added the final touches by stapling the owls in place, adding the eyes and gluing the felt leaves on the branches.

Later we googled Barred Owls and Screech Owls to compare their bodies. We practiced mimicking owl sounds then looked closely at the patterns on their beautiful earth tone colored wings. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Super Simple Fall Math Game

Fall math game

Today’s super simple math game took about five minutes to create and set up. If you would like to make one for some of your favorite little people here’s a list of materials:

Playdough - ours is home made and it smells like vanilla, so it’s perfect for fall!
Leaf gems - found at Target in the dollar bin.
2 Wooden cubes - mine were snagged from a building set but you could also find them in the craft store if you don’t have any laying around.

To set up the game: 

1.) Place the gems in a container in the center of the table. 
2.) Give each child a lump of play dough

To Play: 

The first player tosses the dice, identifies the number on the die then chooses that many gems to push into his / her play dough. When s/he is finished pass the die to the next player.

The really great thing about this game is that younger children can play with the dough and gems while waiting for the next turn because waiting can be such a L-O-N-G time when you are little. 

Also I made 2 dice numbered 1-6 and 7-12 but these guys were only able to wait, count and identify up to 6. If I had added the second set of dice I would have lost them so we will try it again when they are ready for something a little more challenging. 

To vary the difficulty consider the following adaptions to the game.

For younger players use only one die numbered 1-6.
For older players use two dice numbered 1 - 12.
Make all the dice double digits and practice identifying larger groups of objects. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Daycare On a Dime

For any of my fellow Daycare Divas and teaching friends out there looking for a great way to outfit their classroom cupboards on a dime I urge you to consider hitting up your local mom to mom sales. These amazing sales are an awesome place to scoop up great deals on gently used items. 

For those of you live under a rock and haven’t heard of mom to mom sales you should know they are magical sales usually take place in churches or schools on Saturday mornings between 9:00 and 1:00. If you don’t have any darlings of your own getting up early Saturday morning for daycare purposes might seem like a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to sleep in but as they say, the early bird gets the worm. Plus it’s WAY better than hitting random garage sales in hopes of stumbling across a fantastic find because almost EVERYTHING in the place is geared for children under the age of five.

A few things to keep in mind....

  • Be aware of recalled items, especially when purchasing infant items like highchairs, swings, cribs and strollers.
  • Never ever, ever buy car seats second hand!
  • Hit up the sales in upscale neighborhoods because rich kids have tons of cool stuff that they hardly ever use and it’s all in pristine condition.
  • Double check to see if all the pieces are in the box, believe it or not some people will try to pass off their junk for a few bucks knowing it’s crap - I’m pretty sure there’s a special place in hell for them.
  • Go in with a dollar amount in mind, or you will likely overspend. (That being said I have to leave my purse at home and only bring cash otherwise I will go to the ATM because I have no restraint when it comes to buying kids stuff.)
  • Keep a running list of things you need in your phone so when you get there you will remember what you are looking for.
  • Go early if you are looking for big ticket items like train tables and jogging strollers the good stuff goes quick.
  • Stay late if you want to scoop up deals from over worked moms who don’t want to drag a bunch of crap back to their car.
  • Keep track of your purchases they are tax deductions!

Mom to mom finds of the day.....

I went in with 20.00 determined not to spend a dime over that and this is what I came out with.

A bag of penguins and five Arctic books for 2.00, how cool is that? I will use it in my sensory bin during the winter for sure! I’ll probably add it to a giant hunk of foam or packing peanuts for building igloos, we could google the different kinds of penguins to learn about what makes them unique.... there are at least ten uses for these guys right off the top of my head.

I also found this awesome race track to continue our investigation of downward slopes, gravitational pull and speed. We could also use it as a springboard for conversations about simple machines and levers. Four cars are loaded at the top then you hit the lever and they all go flying down the track, as the track narrows more two cars go careening off either side until finally one car hits the finish line. Love that it folds up for easy storage too!

Below in my stash is a little collection of cars will be great for our small world construction sites or to be tossed in our beautiful new sand box once it has sand.

 I also found a Connect Four launching game, I spy, Critter Crash, Playskool play tiles, alphabet Beads, Sparkly Beads, some science books, a word building game and a puzzle.

Construct, Deconstruct and Reconstruct to nurture flexible thinking

When I’m looking at board games I always look for ones that have good nuts and bolts. Something we can take a part and use for a few different things other than what the game was originally intended for. It's good for baby brains and good for my overstuffed toy shelves  Also using parts of games for different activities encourages kids to think outside the box and to use things creatively in their play. 

Some examples of open ended use of games are:

This critter crash - This game can be used for patterning, sorting, building, counting, adding groups of objects or pressing into clay (the pieces are textured). 

This connect four launcher - This game has two launchers that promise all sorts of fun for the kiddies in making up target games or shooting across the light table and keeping score. We can also use the acrylic trays for sorting / counting / observing small items on the light table. The launching disks can also be used in stringing projects, or for dropping on pegs. We could also use the disks for placing over specific letters for letter hunt games on paper.

This little building kit was not quite as awesome as I hoped it would be but it still has lots of potential. I broke one of my own rules by not looking in the box before buying it. Instead I asked the mom if it had all it’s pieces, she said it did but she was wrong. Four pieces and the diagram cards were missing. I was a little bummed about it but after playing with the pieces I decided it is going to be a “what can you imagine” kind of a thing. The kids know that when I set out a tray of objects and say "What can you imagine?" I am looking forward to seeing how their own ideas emerge as they work with the objects.

The building kit does have a working motor so it’s good for building simple machines that move. I'm sure my little engineers will conjure up something cool with it. 

As a way to extend their thinking we will take photos of the children's creations before they are dismantled during project time. Later in our large group discussion I will pull the pictures up on the computer screen then ask each of the children to share the steps they used to construct their own machines. The pictures will serve as a prompt to help them recall and retell their process in building.

Kickin’ it old school....

Sometimes I come across really old school games like Connect O Straws and this Playskool tile game. They are usually a lovely shade of burnt orange or avocado green and sold in boxes held together by yellowing masking tape. These little gems always make me smile. They are super cheap and kind of ugly so it’s easy to overlook their hidden potential. Toys from the 70’s are the best open ended toys on the table. Their simple design and no fuss no muss pieces are a great workout for the imagination.

Last week the kids used connect o straws to build some really cool things on the light table, can't wait to see what they come up with while using all our cool new stuff next week :)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Experimenting With Angles and Moving Objects

The other day the kids made up a racing game with the cars, some cardboard tubes and some plastic tracks. As they worked together and separately they experimented with shooting the cars down the tubes from various angles. They seemed especially interested in getting the most cumbersome tubes to rest on the top of the sandbox seats, then they would climb up on the seats to peer down the tubes as they sent the cars careening down the tubes. This game went on for quite some time and the tracks took on many different shapes throughout the course of their experiments.

The children took joy in discovering how to extend the tubes, add other pieces to the tracks or change the look of the tracks by stacking closed tubes on top of open tracks. They also set up little cross roads by setting smaller tubes across the tops of larger tubes. 


Noticing their interest in the plastic tracks and cars, I decided to pull the remainder of our tubes out and give them a scrub so we would have more tracks to work with in the upcoming days. The children love all sorts of washing projects so we ended up with a crowd of boys who wanted to help wash the tracks. As they cleaned the tracks they discovered that they could make little chutes to direct the water off the end of the table. I wondered aloud if he could they could find a way to use the chutes to fill a bucket with warm soapy water. They got to work experimenting with positioning a bucket under the chute - it took several tries but eventually they got it. 

After working with the bucket one of my little guys seemed interested in finding a way to extend the track by positioning some tracks next to each other. The tracks didn’t stay together very well and we were running out of time for the activity so we decided we would take a look at how we could make longer tracks another time.


For our third investigation of angles, tracks and extending tracks I set up this waterworks station:

The crates serve as the highest point, then the largest rain gutter extends over the water bin and that runs down into a third level - the water table. I also added this little work table and a step stool for the children to climb up on so that they could see the highest level of the waterworks. They really enjoyed the challenge of climbing up to the highest level without spilling their water! 

We also had this little water bottle set up on the side for the children to practice filling their cups as they waited for a turn to climb or work in the most coveted spaces around the table. 

Some of the things we noticed while working: 
A watches as the corks are carried down the track and over the edge to the sensory bin below. While she works, the track slips and is positioned so that it forms a bridge rather than a downward slope. A looks confused so she moves it back and forth for a bit until she thinks she has fixed it. She tests the track again but the water does not move as quickly so she goes to the end and dumps a larger amount of water off the edge of the track. After watching her work I asked her “What do you think would happen if you moved the track up a little higher?” She moved the track up to the highest point so that it created a dramatic downward slope and the water / corks moved very quickly to the bottom bin. All of the other children came to see her track. 

While working at the water table S watches his corks move down the track and off the table. He repeats the process several times and as he works his track moves so that the downward slope of the track moves in the opposite direction. He dumps a cup of water onto the track and all of his corks go down the slope into the sensory bin. S notices the movement in the opposite direction and says “Hey! they’re going the wrong way.” Then he continues to dump water on the tracks and watch the corks move in the opposite direction.

Our youngest waterworks participant was primarily concerned with filling / dumping cups of water then watching it run off the end of the rain gutter into his cup. He also put several corks on top of the crates and dumped cups of water over the corks until the flow pushed the corks through the crate holes into the stack of crates. Then he peered through the holes to see where they went.

While working with the water spigot some of the newer children were having trouble figuring out how to get the water out. The children who had more experience with the tricky spigot helped figure out how to position the container just right so that water would come out. As they worked together on the project the other children were patient with the child who was trying to figure out how to get it to work, then they all took joy in his success when he finally accomplished his goal.