Category Archives: self help skills

Treasure Task: A Fun Way to Teach Kids New Jobs

When you’re teaching young children a new set of responsibilities, it can sometimes feel like you’ve suddenly become a task-master, constantly nagging them to hang their coats over here, or get their dishes to the sink, or put their toys away when they’re done.  If you’ve told them once, you’ve told them eleventy million times, right?

Well, here’s a fun game to reinforce some of those new responsibilities.  And this time, you get to be the good guy, not the task-master.  It’s called Treasure Task, and it combines a treasure hunt with practicing these new responsibilities.

Just as with any great treasure hunt, hide the prize and then work backwards with your clues.  Your clues should remind them of their responsibilities and give them an opportunity to practice.  Here are a few examples:

Where do toys go when you’re done playing?  Put away 2 toys.

Where does garbage go?  Find some garbage to throw away.

Where do your shoes go when you come home?  Straighten your shoes.

Where do your teeth get cleaned?  Brush and rinse.

As the children complete the task, they find the next clue because it is hidden in that toy cupboard or on the garbage can and so on.

This activity helps to really teach these new responsibilities, rather than simply assume the children already know how to complete them.  As you join in the hunt with your children, you’ll notice if they really don’t know where the garbage can is or if their toy shelf is actually too high for them to put toys away independently.

This activity can also be really great when you’re working with children in a new environment- whether that’s a new classroom, or a new home.  You can play a Treasure Task game to orient them to their new surroundings.

Enjoy turning your child’s work into play!

Photo by Kriss Szkurlatowski.

Add to DeliciousAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to Twitter



Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, self help skills, Uncategorized

Cake Mix Cookies. Better Than the Easy Bake Oven

Do you remember the Easy Bake Oven?  You may even have an Easy Bake now, as they’ve been revived.  One of the clinchers for the Easy Bake is the simple mix that allows a child to pour, stir, and create all on her own, and bake…well…less than savory delicacies.  (Another downer, in addition to the finished product, is the fact that these refill mixes don’t come cheap.)  Well, here’s a baking experience that’s just as easy, but a bit more authentic, and whole lot more palatable. 

Now, before I get comments about nutrition and sugar, let me make the disclaimer that I am not advocating feeding these treats to your children for breakfast.  I’m also not suggesting you make them on a regular basis.  And if your nutritional guidelines don’t allow for a few crazy treats now and then, I admire your discipline, but this recipe may not be for you.  Ahh.  Now that my conscience is clear,here’s the basic recipe:

Cake Mix Cookies

1 cake mix

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1 cup mix-ins, optional

(In the above picture I used a Yellow Cake Mix with Reese’s Pieces, mostly because the candies had been mocking me from the pantry all day and baking them into cookies was the only way I could think of to keep from eating them by the handful.)

That’s it!  So simple!  Just mix, scoop onto cookie sheets, and bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes.

I love this recipe because many children can mix them all on their own!  My five year-old niece did just that this weekend as she asked for a baking project while visiting at my house.  I loved seeing the excitement in her face when she presented my brother with the cookies and told him she made them all by herself!  (You may need to supervise with an electric mixer if mixing by hand is too arduous, and, of course, you need to oversee the hot oven part of the endeavor.)

I also love this recipe for the versatility!  Brainstorm with your children on the many ways they could use this simple combination.  Allow them to create and experiment, even when you think the combination may not sound so appetizing!  Learning from mistakes and adapting is critical in cooking and in life!  I’m personally a bit partial to the Devils Food with chocolate chips, though you might try these combinations too:

  • Yellow with Chocolate Chips
  • Yellow rolled in Cinnamon and Sugar (a la Snickerdoodles)
  • Devils Food with Cream Cheese frosting sandwiching two cookies together like Oreos
  • White with Craisins and White Chocolate Chips
  • Anything with M&Ms!
  • Spice Cake with Nuts, Raisins, and a little Oatmeal
  • You could even set up a cookie creation center with mix-ins and let your children custom design each cookie!

While I generally advocate cooking from scratch, using a simplified recipe like this is a great way to give a child more independence and ownership in the cooking process, building self-esteem.  It also helps the child to learn a step-by-step process, when the steps have been minimized.  The versatility of this particular recipe is also fantastic for building culinary creativity and confidence in experimentation (a key part of the scientific process).  The act of cooking in general is an incredibly rich experience.  Read more about how it benefits children here.

Lastly, I like this recipe because there’s always that day when you need a last minute dessert for your impromptu picnic; or the realization that you have made a commitment to bring a baked treat somewhere in about 20 minutes coinciding with the realization that you have no flour in your house (both based on true stories). 

*Speaking of stories, you could tie this in to a literacy experience by reading the book, Mmm, Cookies! by Robert Munsch.

Enjoy some easy baking together with your little ones!


Filed under book activity, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, self help skills, Snack Time

Book Activity- Pinkalicious!

PinkaliciousPinkalicious, by sister team Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann, is a unique and hilarious book about a girl who develops an acute case of “pinkatitis” after eating one too many pink cupcakes.  At first, being completely pink sounds like a marvelous improvement to this little girl, until she gradually turns to a deeper shade of red.  On doctor’s orders, she eats as many green foods as she can find in her fridge, the only way to return to her normal self.  This book is a surefire winner, and not just with the pink crowd.  The boys I’ve read it to have loved it as well!

After reading this book, I talk with the children about whether or not this scenario could really happen.  Of course not!  But then, I ask what would happen if they ate too many cupcakes.  They certainly wouldn’t feel well, and their bodies wouldn’t be healthy.  Then we talk about healthy and unhealthy foods.  I prepare ahead of time, cutting out pictures of food from my local grocery store flyers and laminating them to cards.  (Be sure to collect a variety, spanning the food groups.) 

With the children I set out two plates, one large and one small.  I explain that some foods are healthy for our bodies, and we can eat a lot of them.  Other foods aren’t as healthy and we should only eat them sometimes.  (Note:  It is important not to describe food as “good” and “bad” as this can create dangerous attitudes about food.  Reserve the term “bad” for truly dangerous things, like poisons and drugs.)  I have the children draw a food card out of a bag and place it on the large plate for healthy foods we can eat a lot of, or on the small plate for less healthy treats we eat sparingly.  As we go along, we talk about the foods, pointing out the ones with protein to make our muscles grow, or the fruits and veggies that give our bodies vitamins to make it healthy, and also noting the candy that would make us sick if we ate too much (similar to Pinkalicious) or the pop that requires us to brush our teeth really well after we drink it.

This activity promotes healthy food choices, encouraging self-help skills by teaching the children how to make those choices independently.  Sorting also increases cognitive and mathematical skills, while the story presents a fantastic and enjoyable language and literacy opportunity.

So enjoy Pinkalicious with the children you love and teach!  I promise you’ll be tickled pink!  (I couldn’t resist!)

 For more food-themed activities, click here!

Leave a comment

Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, self help skills

Clean It Up!

broomWhile we’re on the topic of clean up time, I thought I’d mention that I use Laurie Berkner’s song, “Clean It Up” as my clean up music.  (You can find it at iTunes for just a dollar.  Though if you can get out of iTunes having only spent one dollar, my hat’s off to you!)  I give kiddos a five minute reminder before clean up time, then after five minutes I turn this sing on repeat until the task is done.  The trumpets at the beginning are great for getting everyone’s attention, and the song is fun and child-friendly without being hokey.  (That’s a trademark quality of Laurie Berkner’s music.  It’s kid appropriate, active, fun, and full of awesome musical elements and different genres-not watered down monotony.  I’m obviously a big fan.)  Sometimes, as we’re getting close to finished, I challenge the children to see if we can be done before the song is over.  They’re usually up for the race.  Music is great for signalling routine transition times such as this.  If the ‘Everybody Everywhere’ version of a clean up song is working for you, stick with it.  If you’re ready for a change, and maybe a little more musical styling, check this one out!

Photo courtesy frecuencia.


Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, music and movement activity, procedure/organization, self help skills, Transitions

Book Activity: Pigsty by Mark Teague

Pigsty (bkshelf) (Scholastic Bookshelf)

At the beginning of each year, I really like to read Pigsty by Mark Teague with my new little ones.  It is a funny, and fantastically illustrated story of Wendell Fultz who decides he does not want to clean his room.  His mother tells him it’s his choice if he wants to live in a pigsty.  Wendell is content with his choice, even when a few pigs show up to live in his pigsty.  The piles keep growing, and soon, Wendell begins to discover some of his prized possessions have been chewed on, smashed, and lost in the mess.  He demands that the pigs help him clean up!  With the room nice and tidy, Wendell is happy, but the pigs don’t feel quite so at home, so they move to Old MacDonald’s farm and now only come to visit for game night. 

When reading this story with preschoolers, it is important to explain the term “pigsty” at the beginning.  I usually just let them know that pigs on a farm live in a pigsty, and it’s muddy and dirty and really messy.  So when people want to describe a place that’s really messy, we call it a pigsty.  As we read the story, I really emphasize the part where Wendell’s things get ruined in his messy room.  We talk a little about how he must feel about losing some of his favorite things. 

At the end, we talk about our room, and clean up time in particular.  If we didn’t clean up, what would happen to our things?  Would you be able to find all of the pieces to your favorite puzzles?  Would our books get smashed and ripped?  How would we color if all the marker lids were left off?   Talk about a few of the specifics in your room.  (You might even choose to read this book before doing a clean up and look around at what gets left behind.  Then set them loose to clean with gusto!)  Let the children know how happy you are that they help you during clean up time, because when we take good care of the fun things in our room, that means we’ll be able to play with them again.

When I use this story in a small group, we play a memory game as an extension activity.  Using an art tray, I arrange a few items, preferably some things that might have been in the pictures of Wendell’s room.  I’ll gather about ten items, and use about five at a time, using more or less depending on the age group and their ability levels.  I’ll let the children look at the items on the tray and talk about what they are.  Then I have them close their eyes and I remove one item.  The children open their eyes and try to guess what’s missing.  After doing it a few times, I let each child take a turn being the one who removes an item while the others close their eyes.  This activity fosters cognitive skills while also teaching the social skill of cleaning up and promoting language skills as you discuss the story.  It’s a great way to reinforce, right from the beginning, the importance of cleaning up our preschool room, and keeping the pigs out!

For more welcome week activities, click here.


Filed under book activity, Building Readers, game, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, self help skills

Pouring Preschoolers

DSCN2308Here’s a little secret:  Preschoolers can pour their own drinks.  It’s true!  The children gain so much independence and self-confidence by learning this self-help skill.  Autonomy is something children crave at this age, and this is certainly an activity they can do on their own when appropriate parameters are set. 

First of all, I use a small pitcher that they can easily lift and control.  I use these little, plastic, liquid measuring cups that I picked up at the Wally Mart, and have my little ones pour their own water at snack time.  I love that these are see-through so the children can watch as they and others pour (and the fact that they are extremely cheap and readily available is nice too). 

Secondly, I don’t fill the pitcher completely full.    This way, they can move the pitcher without it immediately spilling.  You may need more than one pitcher, with frequent refills, to accommodate your group, but it is well worth it!  I also point out to the children that their cups only need to be filled half way (this minimizes spills), pointing out where half-way is on their glasses .  Then I have them point it out as well .  I let them know that there is more water than that in the pitcher (an embedded math lesson in fractions and volume), so they will have to watch as they pour.  I always let them know that I am confident that they can do it!

To be sure, many children will quickly turn over the pitcher, pouring out the contents and overrunning their cups.  You will have spills.  But the spills will lessen dramatically as the children gain experience – experience pouring as well as experience taking care of their own spills.  (Have towels handy!)  I often have people comment, “You’re so brave.”  When they see that I let the children do their own pouring.  My response is usually, “It’s just water, it’s not going to hurt anything,” or “They can do it, they just need the opportunity to try.”  Not only can they pour their own drinks, but they should.  Pouring is a great hand-eye exercise.  It is requires self-control in the form of motor control.  It is self-correcting.  You don’t have to tell a child whether or not she successfully poured her drink.  Usually she can tell very quickly by whether or not she has a puddle dripping into her lap!  Give them the means to clean up, and an opportunity to try again.  You don’t have to get upset.  This isn’t your water, it’s theirs.  Let them own it!

I often chuckle at well-intentioned parent volunteers who quickly jump in and start pouring the water at snack time.  I don’t usually have to remind them that the children do their own pouring.  The children readily, and emphatically let them know they can do it themselves!  The confidence and autonomy gained here is extremely beneficial for these children who developmentally crave these opportunities.

As a mother, I’ve found an added benefit to these small pitchers.  My oldest son inherited his dad’s extremely low threshold for soggy cereal.  Far too many mornings, I have poured his milk only to later pour his cereal down the sink, because it got soggy before he decided to eat it.  Now, I pour milk into this small measuring cup and tell him to pour his own milk when he’s ready to be focused on eating his cereal.  I won’t say we’ve never had a soggy cereal morning since, but we’ve had less, and I will say he is much more aware of his responsibility to eat the cereal promptly, now that he has some control in it as well.

You can extend pouring activities (which can also be extremely soothing, particularly when done in a repetitive fashion) into the sensory table, encouraging children to pour not only water but also dry  materials (rice, beans, popcorn, etc.) either from a container back into the bin, or from container to container.  Provide cups, bowls, scoops, and pitchers in the sensory table and the children will go to work! 

So give your preschoolers the opportunity to pour.  It’s a simple activity that will garner great rewards!


Filed under fine motor skills, Large Motor Skills, Learning through Play and Experience, math activity, procedure/organization, self help skills, sensory activity, Snack Time

Ah-Ah-Ah-Choo! Teaching Preschoolers How NOT to Share


As teachers of young children, we’ve all been there.  Dodging sneezy spit particles, heading straight for us at 100 miles per hour.  Or stealthily intercepting a cracker before it goes from being coughed on to being shared with a best friend.  We will stay healthier, and the children we teach will stay healthier if we start out the year teaching the children to properly wash their hands with soap, and to “catch” their sneezes and coughs in their elbows.   (This is better than covering with hands, as that simply puts germs on their paws.  That’s not very helpful in a “HANDS-ON” classroom!) 

I like reading the book, Wash Your Hands, by Tony Ross with them and then doing this great science activity I posted back when we were first hearing about Swine Flu.  I also model “catching” sneezes and coughs in my elbow, and have the children practice the same.  (You may even notice some children with fake sneezes later on, just so they can practice their cool new trick!)  You may want to also model using a tissue and throwing it away so that they know where they are and how to use them.  Taking a bit of planned time to teach these concepts early on teaches health, social, and self-help skills, and will pay off as colds weasel their way into your classroom, as they always do.  We spend all year teaching the children to share with their friends, but we also need to spend at least one day teaching them how NOT to share!



Photo courtesy of evah.


Filed under book activity, Learning through Play and Experience, procedure/organization, science activity, self help skills, social skills