Tag Archives: Repost

Repost: A Handful of Fun

(After a very LONG day, I decided to reach back into the archives to provide this post on sensory play that originally came through during March of last year!)

 Think of your average preschooler.  How long has this child been proficient with language?  Depending on the age, the child may not really be too proficient yet!  Others seem to have been talking non-stop since 2 1/2, but that means they’ve been talking now for all of…..about a year!  Now think of how long these children have been seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting.  Their whole lives!  Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one.  This is why children will dive in hands first, exploring a new substance.  The senses are their most familiar, most basic way to explore, process, and come to understand new information.

This is why we must allow young children to learn through experience, not just lecture.  These children need to use their senses and be engaged in meaningful experiences.  As we talk with them about what they are observing and sensing, we give them new language tools to connect with these more familiar sensory tools, building language as well as supporting cognitive concepts specific to the experience. 

Now, the flip side to this equation is important to remember as well.  Just as children learn through their senses, they also are developing the ability to use those senses and are building the neurological pathways associated with each one.  With added sensory experiences, combined with the scaffolding of adults and peers, children become more perceptive.  Their sensory intake and processing becomes more acute.  As they are better able to use their senses, they are then better able to learn through their senses.

Sensory play is really part of the scientific process.  Whether out loud or within the internal dialogue of the mind, children have developed a question, leading them to investigate– by grabbing, smelling, listening, rubbing, staring, licking , what have you!  They are using their senses to collect data and from that, attempt to answer their own questions.  Whether or not young children are always able to verbally communicate this process, it is still a valid exercise in scientific inquiry.

The sensory table is the usually the first place people think of for sensory play.  That’s logical, as the term “sensory” is shared by both.  The sensory table certainly stands as an open invitation for hands-on exploration, but it is not the only place where the senses come into play.  Throughout the preschool room and throughout the preschooler’s day, there are appeals being made to the five senses.  The sound of toppling towers in the block area, the feel of finger-paint sliding under their fingertips, the glow of the Light Brite at the small manip table, the smell of cinnamon playdough.  As teachers, the more we can attend to the sensory involvement of our planned activities, the more our children will be engaged and the more they will learn. 

For example, when discussing the need for warm clothes in the winter time, we can simply tell children about it, or we can have them hold ice cubes, one in a bare hand, and one in a gloved hand, let them really feel the difference and then meaningfully attach a verbal discussion to the sensory experience.

Back at the sensory table, we can find many more benefits to sensory play.  That bin of sand, or foam, or colorful rice is more than just another way to keep kids busy, it is a bustling factory of developmental growth.  In addition to honing sensory and science skills, sensory play builds language, social, and dramatic play skills as the children negotiate with one another to share tools, create stories, and build dialogues.  Both small and large motor skills get a boost as well, as the children manipulate the medium and tools of the day.  Creative, divergent thinking is displayed as the children are essentially invited to explore and come up with new ways to use the materials.  Cognitive skills are fostered as well as the children learn about specific concepts pertinent to the bin’s contents.  Things like gravity, parts of plants, states of matter, and color mixing are easily explored and understood through sensory play.  As you teach appropriate boundaries with sensory play, children develop more self-control and body awareness.

As one of the truest open-ended activities, sensory play provides an opportunity for every child to succeed.  No matter whether you are gifted or delayed, learning a new language or mastering your first, you can’t really fail with a bin full of beans or a ball of playdough.  Children who struggle to succeed or who are apprehensive about failure often find solace in sensory play.  The simple act of pouring water or running fingers through rice is often cathartic and calming to many children who may be struggling emotionally.  It can soothe the nervous child, distract the homesick child, and serve as an outlet for the angry child.  For children with special needs and sensory integration disorders, sensory play may be particularly therapeutic.  (Please note that we must also avoid over-stimulation in many sensitive children.  Special attention must also be paid to children with sensory integration disorder and properly recognizing their thresholds.)

We often think of the sensory table as being a tactile activity, which it largely is, but the other senses come into play as well!  The tapping sounds of popcorn kernels hitting the bin, the pungent smell of baking soda and vinegar at work, the sight of separating colors as tinted water, oil, and syrup are mixed together are all sensory experiences that can be tapped at the sensory table.  Taste sometimes finds less desirable ways to sneak in at the table as well, though taste-tests can also be properly planned as fantastic sensory experiences!

Find ways to optimize sensory play for your children.  Whether that’s providing a bin of sand to explore, giving your child a dish wand and plastic dishes to “wash” at the sink, or finding ways to integrate the senses into your other activities, provide space and time for sensory play!  It’s a natural and satisfying way to explore and learn!

Links you might love:

Creating a Sensory Table on a Budget

Setting Boundaries with Sensory Play

How to Find Sensory Materials on the Cheap

Messy Play: Bubbles, Sand, Dough, and Water  (Great Sensory Play Ideas from lekotek) 

Top photo by osmar01.
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Colorful Ice Sculptures

This is one of my favorite winter-time sensory activities!  Though it’s great any time of year, colder temps outside make it easier to freeze all those ice blocks!  Get your kiddos in on all the action by letting them mix the colors (I like to use washable liquid or powder watercolors), and letting them observe the change from liquid to solid…..and then back again!  Pop the colored ice into your sensory table, kitchen sink, or even the bathtub, and get building!  (Originally posted 12/18/09.)

Ice is a fun, inexpensive, and fascinating material to explore in your sensory table!  I like to add color to the water before filling my ice molds, to add interest, and so that the colors begin to mix as the ice melts.  Then I fill a variety of containers – ice-cube trays, of course, but also empty plastic food containers (Cool Whip, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), plastic cups, popsicle molds, muffin tins – anything to create an interesting shape.  You can place these in your freezer, if you have the room, or if you’re lucky enough to have absolutely frigid temperatures as we did here, just place them outside overnight.

Place the ice in your sensory bin with paintbrushes and water, and show the children that if they brush the ice with water and then press two together, the water freezes and holds the ice pieces together like glue!  They can build castles and forts to their hearts’ content!  I also add a salt shaker so that they can observe what happens as salt is added to ice.  Inevitably, they’ll eventually want to chop at the ice (particularly if they’re only partially frozen, with water in the middle, a fortuitous and fascinating accident), so if you want to protect your paintbrushes, provide something else, like craft sticks to use for chopping.

This activity provides experience with science concepts like freezing and melting.  Talk about why the ice is slowly melting and discuss whether the ice would stay frozen or melt outside right now!  It also provides a frigid sensory experience that paves the way for language development as you use synonyms for the word “cold”, like “freezing”, “frigid”, “chilly”, and “icy”.  Other words to describe the experience, such as “slippery”, “smooth”, “melting”, “freezing”, and “dissolve,” easily come into play.  (And, if your children are anything like my own boys, words like “destroy”, “blast”, and “invincible” will also likely come into play.)

See how much learning fun you can have with a little water and coloring?  For a fun spin, you could also try the same activity outside on a snowy day!

For more wintry activities, click here!

 
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Repost: The Winter Games…..Outdoor Ideas for Preschoolers on a Snowy Day!

It has been plenty cold around here, so I thought I’d go back to last year  for a re-post of outdoor winter activities!  Enjoy the holiday weekend!

The best way to learn about winter is to get out and explore it!  Here are some ideas for some fun in the snow!

  •  Fill spray bottles or squeeze top bottles (dish soap, Gatorade) with colored water and create designs in the snow.
  • Make tracks in the snow using a variety of objects (cars, spoons, shoes).  Play a guessing game to match the tracks to the objects.
  • Look for animal tracks.
  • Experiment with freezing different sized containers of water outside.  Which freeze fastest?
  • Place a small plastic toy in water and let it freeze outside.  Bring it inside and experiment with ways to thaw it out.
  • Go Sledding!
  • Bring a container of snow inside and let it melt.  Look with a magnifier at the impurities in the resulting water.
  • Bring in snow and put it in a pot or electric skillet.  Pour salt on it and watch it melt.  Apply heat and melt completely to water, then boil it.  Collect some of the steam on a lid or dish.  You can talk about the water cycle, phases of matter, as well as the fact that when the water evaporates, the salt is left behind.  (This is a complex concept to really grasp, but children enjoy the activity.  I used it to answer a child’s question as to why the snow leaves “white stuff” on our cars.)
  • Build a snowman or snow fort!
  • Use the same tools you would use for sand castles to build snow castles.
  • Press cookie cutters into the snow to make shapes, or use letter cookie cutters to write a message.  This works best in packed snow.  If you’re worried about cutters disappearing, put the snow in a baby pool or in your sensory table.
  • Catch snowflakes on black paper or black felt and examine them with a magnifying glass.

 Outdoor activities promote motor development as well as provide natural earth science experiences.  Bundle up and let the games begin!

For more wintry activities, click here!

Photo by toomas.
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Five Fun Ways to Serve Up Some Pumpkin!

If you’re looking for some ways to make this week memorable for your little ones, try serving up some pumpkin!  You may want to use pumpkin as an ingredient (as in Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread) or use the pumpkin as the dish!  Here are five ways to serve up some fun, originally published on Halloween of last year!

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I mentioned before that a pumpkin’s greatness is in part due to its hollowness. We’ve talked about floating pumpkins, pumpkin drums, and of course, Jack-o-lanterns, but perhaps best of all, a pumpkin can be hollowed out to create a bowl! You can use a cleaned out pumpkin to hold pre-made food, such as soups or a casserole, or you can actually cook in the pumpkin shell as well!  Here are five festive ways to turn your gourd into a gourmet dish!

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1.  Apple Crisp!  I love making this Pumpkin Apple Bake recipe in the fall, cooking it up inside the pumpkin.  The children love using the apple peeler/slicer to help out.  I give the apples a head start by cooking them on the stove before putting them in the pumpkin and cooking it all together.  The pumpkin does soften a bit, but holds its shape as long as you don’t cook longer than 1 1/2 hours or so.  Take the opportunity to talk science and compare the cooked pumpkin to the uncooked pumpkin lid!

2.  Soups, Stews, and Chiles!  Cook up your favorite fall time soup.  Place it in a hollowed out pumpkin and serve it up from there!  Try out this delicious Potato Soup recipe or this tasty one for Chicken and Rice.  You could also use smaller hollowed out pumpkins as individual soup bowls!

3.  Shepherd’s Pie!  Because Shepherd’s Pie is basically cooked already, it doesn’t take long just to melt the cheese on top.  This helps keep your pumpkin from getting too soft.  Try this tasty recipe here.  (I omit chipotle chiles when cooking for the little ones.) 

4. Dips!  Whether you’re having something sinfully savory like this one, or going the healthy route with something like this, you can easily put your favorite dip inside a pumpkin, place it on a platter, and serve chips, veggies, or bread all around the pumpkin.

5.  I Scream!  OK, a little Halloween play on words.  Use small pumpkins to hold ice cream!  Serve up your favorite flavor with cookies on the side!

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Whichever route tempts you most, start by cutting the top of your pumpkin off.  Jack-o-lantern style is usually a little too small. Don’t be afraid to cut off 1/4 to 1/3 of the pumpkin.  This gives a wider opening which makes it easier to serve food.  Hollow it out well, and then rinse.

Don’t forget to involve your children in this fun project!  Have your little ones help you hollow out your pumpkin and rinse it.  Let them help make the food to go inside as well.  (Read more about how cooking benefits the child’s development here.)  Serve it up for something truly memorable!  Don’t worry if you’ve missed Halloween.  Pumpkins are a symbol of harvest and a fun fall fixture! (Say that ten times fast!)

Enjoy a special pumpkin surprise with your little ones!

For more favorite fall activities, click here!
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Repost Reminder: The Spectrum of Preschool Arts and Crafts

Little Artist ginam

There’s a fascinating article from Newsweek entitled, The Creativity Crisis.  It was actually published in the summer, but I just stumbled upon it recently.  It’s left me with all kinds of writing prompts swimming around in my head, but I thought I’d actually start with something I’ve already written.  Here’s a look at what the term “arts and crafts” means to me, originally published August 12, 2009.

I recently got a great compliment from a parent. At least I think it was a compliment. She said, “I love that you have these random art projects!”  Now, as I said, I do believe she sincerely meant it as a compliment, but it got me wondering.  Certainly I can see how creating collages with seeds, fingerpainting with  colored shaving cream , and dropping colored water on coffee filters may seem a little random, but random as compared to what?  I think when most people envision preschool arts, they see the paper plate snowmen, the construction paper alphabet train, and woven paper place mats.  These aren’t actually arts, they’re closer to crafts.  Now I’m not saying crafts aren’t appropriate for preschoolers, I quite enjoy making  paper plate snowmen and I think the children do to.  I just hate to see crafts used at the exclusion of art.  Let me explain how I see them as different.

A Crafty Plan.  Crafts are more teacher directed.  Whether for supervision, help with a technique, or providing step-by-step instructions, an adult’s help is usually needed for crafts. Though it is important to provide some kind of opportunity for variation and choice, crafts generally need to be done a certain way to create a certain “object”.  There is a bit more emphasis on the outcome being something (a tree, a frame, an ornament).  Often, we do crafts when we’re creating a parent gift with the children.  We want it to be something so that it has a purpose as a gift.  This has some benefits.  It is certainly not a bad thing for children to learn how to follow directions, and they usually have a great sense of self-satisfaction when they complete their product.  They also learn techniques that are often implemented in independent art projects later.  But to do only crafts and call it art gives our children the short end of the stick.  In fact, constant focus on crafts can muzzle creativity and leave children feeling discouraged.

Express Yourself.  I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t read Bev Bos’s book, Don’t Move the Muffin Tins, until recently, but I’m convinced that I was taught her philosophy for art by my own mentors during my undergrad. I think Bev distinguishes between arts and crafts best when she says, “I make my own distinction between “art” and” craft” by asking how much participation by an adult is needed once I have presented materials.  When the activity is truly art and genuinely creative, all I have to do is to put a name on the paper or perhaps stand by to add to the supplies.” (page 2) 

That’s how I judge my art activities.  If I really want to foster creativity  I simply need to focus on providing tools and media and watch how the children put them together.  They don’t need me to tell them how the end result should look any more than Monet would!  As a matter of fact, I have always taught and been taught that providing models for the children stifles their creativity and causes frustration, but I love Bev’s example of setting out something like a Van Gogh for teachers and asking them to copy it.  That’s what it’s like for children looking at our own versions of their projects.  It’s demeaning and intimidating.  True art activities honor the artist.

Often times, the satisfaction and expression comes in the process of doing the art.  It is not uncommon for children to spend tens of minutes on a project, and then show no interest in taking it home.  They have mixed colors and tried every utensil and now that their paper is caked and finally dried, they tell you they don’t need it. 

For them, it was about the experimentation, the sensory input, and the experience.  They weren’t looking for something to hang on the fridge.  They were looking for something to unload their feelings and energy on.  They wanted something to explore.  They wanted something to control.  The “product” is often something only we adults see.

So take another look at your art activities.  Do you see product or process?  Mentally create a spectrum with “true art” on one end (child-driven, teacher simply provides and monitors supplies) and “complete craft” on the other (teacher directed, step-by-step with identical outcomes expected).  As you plan, take time to evaluate where your art activities fall on that spectrum.  For the benefit of your children, make sure you’re providing enough “random art projects”.

Photo provided by ginam.

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Let the Seasons Move You

Fall is certainly creeping in!  Celebrate the changing seasons with this music and movement activity using Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  (I originally posted this back in December.)

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has always been one of my favorite musical works.  This program music is so beautiful and powerful, but also so descriptive, you can literally see in your mind and feel in your bones what Vivaldi is trying to describe with his music.  (And if you aren’t sure what he’s trying to describe, check out these sonnets Vivaldi wrote to correspond with his music.)  Because the music is so suggestive of movement, it’s perfect for a music and movement activity with children!

I usually start out with the children by mentioning that this music was written by a man named Antonio Vivaldi a long, long time ago, and that he wanted to write music that sounded like the different seasons.  Then I announce each season as the music begins and we move to the music, calling out new movements to go with the music.  For example, in the Spring segment, we start out marching, then as the music quiets we tiptoe, as it has quick runs we jump and talk about flowers blooming up out of the ground or birds jumping into flight.  For Summer, we usually pant and fan, or slowly walk or crawl looking for water, because the music is slow and hot.  Fall involves some hands as falling leaves, of course, and Winter is freezing and shivering, or perhaps a snowstorm, dancing with white scarves.  (Here’s a great YouTube clip of Winter.  You can find other clips online as well.)

Create the movements together, listening carefully to what you hear and considering what you and the children know about each season the music is representing.  Should you be moving quickly or slowly?  Will your body be down low or up high?  How could you show leaves falling/birds singing/sun shining?  You may even want to listen to the music without any dancing first, and talk about what you hear and the types of movements you might use before you begin the movement portion of the activity.  I’m not suggesting that everyone should be doing the same choreographed movements, but some discussion time to consider movement will make them more intentional. 

I don’t usually use Vivaldi’s entire movement, but enough to keep the children involved.  I may just use the Winter movements if we’re talking about that season in particular.  If I’m doing all four seasons, I may transition by saying something like, “Oh this is just way too hot here in the summer, let’s look for someplace cooler!”

This type of music and movement activity is great for exposing children to famous works of music and increasing their understanding and appreciation of it.  More importantly, it builds in them the ability to create as they internalize the music and express it again through their unique movements.  The movements also increase muscle strength and control as well as an awareness of personal space and boundaries (something you may want to address at the beginning of this endeavor).  The activity also builds active listening skills, which are important not just to music appreciation, but to learning in general.  For more information about the importance of music activities for preschoolers read here.

For more favorite fall activities, click here!

For more wintry activities, click here!

Top photo by Kerbi.
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Repost: A Puzzling Mess

For teachers, spring cleaning often comes in the summer time.  Here’s an organizing tip I shared a while back.

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Tell me I’m not the only mother with a two year old who thinks the best thing to do with five boxes of puzzles is to put them all into one bucket together.  Luckily for me, I learned at a university lab preschool, that it is very handy to number the backs of your puzzle pieces to help out in just such a situation.  Each time I get a new puzzle, I write a number on the box and then write that number on the back of each piece.  Then, say when I find two random puzzle pieces mysteriously stuffed into the only VCR left in our house, I can quickly determine which boxes to return them to.  Now if only fixing the VCR was that easy!

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