Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Three Reasons Why This is One of the Best Years Ever

The 2020-2021 school year, which we approached with a lot of uncertainty and a degree of trepidation, has so far proven to be one of the best years ever. Parents and teachers alike have said numerous times that there's something special about this year. While we truly missed helping the children prepare food to share with their families at our annual Thanksgiving feast, and we've missed gathering as a whole school every week for Shabbat, there have been benefits to this school year that few of us were expecting.
We've slowed down.
Ask any teacher what they wish for most and I guarantee the majority will answer "time." Teachers never have enough time. 

This year, because we're cohorting, the same two teachers stay with the same small group of children all day long. In a more typical year, a child who is in school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm might engage with ten different teachers and 20 different children in three different classroom spaces. Thanks to cohorting, the classes this year are more cohesive, and there are hours more opportunities every single day for the teachers and children to learn together. There are far fewer transitions during the day which creates a calmer atmosphere and allows everyone the time to really focus on the tasks at hand. Classes eat when they're hungry and nap when they're tired. Routines are more natural. Everyone feels at home.

We play outside all the time.
All. The. Time.

You might find us planting a garden. Or swinging from the "climbing tree." Or exploring the "fairy garden" behind the parking lot or the "field" by the rabbi's house or the "woods" across the street. Classes take walks around the block, even when it's pouring rain, and jump in every puddle they find. They identify letters and numbers on license plates. They wave at firefighters driving down the street. They look for butterflies and bees in our neighbor's natural habitat garden. The go swimming in giant piles of leaves and find bugs in the dirt and poke at funny looking fungi that grow out of tree stumps. All the while their bodies and minds are being challenged by these experiences. They're growing and learning in ways they simply can't inside a building.

These spaces and these opportunities were always there, but it wasn't until we were compelled by necessity to spend more time outside that we realized what we'd been missing out on all along.

Our community has grown stronger.
There is a palpable element of trust and respect between the families and the school this year. The parents are grateful that we've reopened, and the teachers are grateful to be back at work. The children are grateful to be with their friends. We've all taken our commitment to each other's health and safety very seriously. Our communication is open, honest, and frequent. We know how lucky we are because not all schools have re-opened and not all school re-openings have been so successful. We know it is not a cliche to say that we're all in this b'yachad, together. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Potential for Light

Everyone knows the story of Chanukah:

The Macabees, a family of Jewish freedom fighters, won a war against Israel's occupiers, the Syrian-Greeks. The Jews reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated. They set out to make it holy again, and so they looked for oil to light the menorah. But they found only enough oil to last one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, which is why, to celebrate Chanukah (which means dedication), we light candles and eat food fried in oil for eight nights.

So, we’re commanded to light the candles, but how? Two of the greatest sages of all time, Hillel and Shammai, debated the proper way to light the Chanukah menorah, or chanukiah.

Shammai believed you should begin with the “days remaining,” meaning you start with eight candles. Each night you light one fewer candle. In this way, the light decreases.

Hillel believed you should begin with the “days completed,” meaning you start with one candle and add one each night, thereby increasing the light each day.

Hillel, whose opinion we follow, realized you should celebrate the potential of the commandment and the potential for light. Each night you light candles, you realize not only how many days you’ve celebrated, but how many days you still have to celebrate. The light never diminishes, it only increases, becoming more beautiful each night. As the light grows, so does your joy in the miracle. 

It's important sometimes to take a moment to reflect not just on what's to come, but on what's been achieved. This is especially true when those big life transitions are right around the corner. So, each night before we light the candles this year, we should pause, think about and take joy in our past accomplishments, and then imagine what the future may bring.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Shabbat Blessings -- Our Children

A few weeks ago we started reading the first book of the Torah, Breishit (Genesis). It's in these stories that we meet the patriarchs and matriarchs and learn how the Ancient Israelites ended up in Egypt generations later.

A lot of "blessing" goes on in these stories. Gob blesses Abraham, Isaac blesses Jacob (a blessing Jacob steals from his brother Esau), and Jacob blesses the sons of his son Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe. 

The "priestly blessing," known to many, refers to this blessing of Jacob's. It has become traditional for Jewish mothers and fathers to give their sons and daughters this blessing on Friday evenings, often right after lighting Shabbat candles.

This can be a very meaningful moment for parents and their children. Parents often place their hands on their children's heads while reciting the blessings. In my experience, children, once they become teenagers, pretend to not like this tradition anymore. I think they secretly love it, because they know it's a demonstration of their parents' love for them.

In English, the blessings are:
For boys: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.

For girls: May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

For both: May God bless you and keep you. May God's light shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God's face be turned toward you and give you peace.

To learn more, and for the blessings in Hebrew, check out the link below.
Bim Bam (video)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Science of Shabbat Dinner

Every now and then I’ll come across a study that seems to confirm the importance or validity of a Jewish tradition. This happened a few years ago when I read about the research promoting the importance of the family dinner and immediately connected it with the Friday night Shabbat meal. In addition to the traditional and spiritual benefits of celebrating Shabbat as a family, there are countless other benefits to simply sitting down together a few times a week to enjoy a meal together.

From The Family Dinner Project (thefamilydinnerproject.org): Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. Shabbat affords families the perfect opportunity to reap these benefits.

While there are certain customs associated with the Shabbat meal, in my opinion there’s really no wrong way to celebrate Shabbat. Families shouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by the “do’s” and “don’ts” of Shabbat that they hesitate to give it a try. Start with what is familiar, and build from there. You’re worried that you don’t have time to make a traditional meal? Or no one will like it? If your kids love pizza, and if ordering a pizza gives you the time to sit down as a family, then order the pizza. And have Oreos for dessert. Maybe some of the meal’s rituals don’t resonate with your family for whatever reason. Don’t force it. Find or create traditions that do have meaning for your family. Maybe instead of reciting the traditional priestly blessing for the children you tell them something about themselves that makes you proud. Whatever your family make-up or level of observance, it’s about finding the time to be together as a family that’s most important.

And if you'd like to join your friends at Agudas Achim for Shabbat, visit our website. We've tried to come up with a variety of programming to meet the needs of all families. Maybe we'll see you soon!

Friday, October 9, 2020

Here's to Another FANTASTIC Year

As I wrote to the parents last June: Our school year started on September 3. And then it started all over again on March 13. This has been a year none of us will ever forget. 

This school year started on September 8, and I simply cannot find enough words to convey how happy we all are to be back at school. The children skipped into the classrooms with huge smiles on their faces (as evident by their twinkling eyes seen above their masks) and the teachers welcomed them with open arms (and virtual hugs). We're adjusting to new routines and procedures, but the sounds of joyful laughter and learning are once again being carried through the halls of our building.

We could not have arrived at such a successful re-opening without the efforts of dozens and dozens of people. A huge thank you to preschool vice-presidents Alex Perry and Melissa Siskind; all the members of the synagogue's 19-20 and 20-21 Boards of Directors; the synagogue's COVID safety committee; and the members of the preschool's re-opening group (Meg Whelpley, Hattie Gore, Doug Fagen, and Sue Finger).

Thanks also go to Barry Nove, Glenn Mays, Diana Weil, Rachel Goldberg, and KB the Magnificent (people who work in the synagogue's main office) for everything they did behind the scenes. 

And to Rabbi Rein and Hazzan Dienstfrey, thank you for checking in on me and supporting me in ways I didn't even know I needed support. You have no idea what it meant to me.

Finally, to the preschool teachers and the preschool families, thank you for joining us on this journey this year. We are a kehillah kedoshah, a sacred community built on covenantal relationships. At no other time have these words meant so much. Families, you have entrusted us to care for your children during this time, and it is a responsibility and a privilege we take very seriously. We are all in this b’yachad, together.  

Thank you for everything! Here's to a fantastic year.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Thank You for a FANTASTIC Year

Readers Discuss Monarch-Butterfly Migration - The Atlantic

Our school year started on September 3. And then it started all over again on March 13.

This has been a year none of us will ever forget. 

I cannot imagine getting through this time without each and every one of you.

To every extraordinary teacher, for going above and beyond in ways you could never have possibly imagined, meeting the challenges head-on, successfully, day after day, inspiring each other in the process: thank you.

To every family, for being there for us with your kind and supportive words, for your patience as we learned something new, your donations, and your faith in us: thank you.

To the synagogue lay leadership, for working with us to overcome challenges none of us could have anticipated and for supporting us in our mission: thank you.

To the staff at the synagogue, for everything you have done, day in and day out, to help me personally and to enable the preschool to operate virtually: thank you.

Finally, most importantly, to the children, for sharing your smiles and your laughter and for brightening our days when we needed it most: thank you.

Have a wonderful summer.

See you next year!

Friday, June 5, 2020

Summer Time Outdoor Play Spaces

We've always known that young children should have opportunities to play outside as often as possible. Now we're learning that being outside during this particular time helps mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Since most of us will spend most of the next few months at home, there's no better time to think about finding or creating outdoor place spaces for your children to enjoy this summer. No matter how small your yard, opportunities abound.

The National Wildlife Federation has created an incredible and comprehensive guide for families: Nature Play at Home, A Guide for Boosting Your Children's Healthy Development and Creativity. The guide explains the social-emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits of outdoor play and includes beautiful photographs and simple directions. Here are some examples of what you'll find inside:

1 Shovel level of difficulty 

"Loose Parts (natural and not) include almost any found object or play material that increases play and learning. To start, gather some of nature’s loose parts already present in your yard. Children’s creativity is driven by anything that can be manipulated, changed, or moved around. Rather than purchasing toys for your children play to with outdoors, consider recycling and reusing everyday objects and taking stock of what nature provides for free!"

Nature Play at Home: Creating Outdoor Spaces that Connect Children ...2-4 Shovels level of difficulty
"Adventure Pathways create opportunities for repeated exploration and adventure, even in relatively small yards. Pathways can be simple: a footpath around the edge of the site sneaking around trees and bushy plants. Complexity can be added with logs, stumps, rocks, stepping stones, and other obstacles to balance, jump or clamber around. A looped pathway is more enticing. To a child it feels like it leads to a secret place. In larger sites, other settings along the path increase the sense of adventure and mystery. Settings such as backyard habitat, gathering places, grass mazes or fairy villages work well along a pathway."

4 Shovels level of difficulty
"Vine Teepees are structures of six poles, six to eight feet long, made of bamboo, sturdy branches, or painted PVC. The poles are secured at the top and covered with climbing vines. Teepees create mysterious, natural, private, child-sized spaces."

Another very similar and fantastic resource is Nature Play at Home by Nancy Striniste. For more on loose parts, perfect any time of year, check out Loose Parts, Inspiring Play in Young Children by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky.

Have a great summer!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Such a Busy Week!

Memorial Day, Bike Day, and Shavuot, Oh My!

Celebrate Memorial Day on Monday
  • Make an American flag cake (and explore shapes, counting, patterning, and fractions at the same time -- if you use strawberries instead of raspberries you can cut them in half or in quarters)

Join Us for Bike Day on Wednesday
  • Check your weekly email for all the details!

Celebrate Shavuot on Friday

Friday, May 15, 2020

STEAM Challenge - A House for the Three Little Pigs

This activity will keep you busy all week!

Read a variety of Three Little Pigs books. Ask your child how the books are the same and how they're different. Ask which one is their favorite and why. Act out the story together. Have them tell you the story in their own words. Write and illustrate a family version of the story together.

Take a walk around your neighborhood and notice all the different kinds of houses. What do all houses have in common? How are some houses different from other houses? When you get home, draw pictures of the houses you saw. Draw a picture of your own house. Draw a picture of your dream house.

Ask why the pigs' straw and stick houses blew down but their brick house didn't. 

  • straws, skewers, craft sticks, toothpicks, pencils, crayons, wood pieces, sticks, coffee stirrers, leaves, paper cups, etc.
  • tape, binder clips, rubber bands, glue, paper clips, staplers, etc.
  • scissors
  • Legos, blocks, K'nex, etc.
Build different kinds of houses using different materials. Predict which ones will blow down (and why). Test out your theory by trying to blow the houses down! Use your breath, a paper fan, or an electric fan.

When the houses fall down, try re-building them so that they don't blow down the next time. Keep trying!

Remember, it's not about building a strong house the first time. It's about figuring out why some houses fell down and others didn't. What kinds of materials are strongest? Which design is sturdiest? 

It's also about overcoming frustration and realizing that we've learned something even when our experiment has failed. We learned what didn't work. (Thomas Edison usually gets credit for that quote.)

As always, the best questions to ask during this process are: Why do you think that happened? What would happen if . . .? 

Have fun!

From: Making and Tinkering with STEM, Solving Design Challenges with Young Children by Cate Heroman (NAEYC, 2017)

Friday, May 8, 2020

Staying Busy with Stuff You Have at Home

Literacy: Name Game
  • On index cards, write each letter of your child's name
  • Mix the cards up and have your child put them in order
  • Once they've mastered their first name, play with their last name, their middle name, and family members' names
Numeracy: Egg Carton Counting
  • Write the numbers 1-12 in the spaces in an empty egg carton
  • Give your child raisins, cheerios, or other small items
  • Have them fill the spaces with the correct number of items
Problem Solving: What Will Grow?
  • Talk with your children about how plants grow
  • See what they know and fill in the gaps in their understanding
  • Conduct an experiment to deepen their understanding
  • Fill cups with dirt
  • Plant orange and apple seeds, unpeeled garlic cloves, chunks of potatoes, beans, etc.
  • Also plant dried fruit, cereal, egg shells, cheese, etc.
  • Make predictions and see what happens! 
Motor: Hot Lava Game
  • Spread pillows or small towels around the floor
  • Have your child jump from pillow to pillow (or towel to towel)
  • Don't fall in the hot lava!
Arts and Crafts: Painting Without a Paintbrush
  • Paint (or print) with toothpicks, cotton balls, Q-tips, cut-up sponges, plastic spoons or forks, bubble wrap, yarn, magnetic letters, etc.
Music: Make a Shaker
  • Decorate an empty water bottle and fill it with beans, popcorn kernels, buttons, pony beads, etc.
  • Cut a paper plate in half and staple the edges together, decorate, and fill with same as above
Drama: Clean Out Your Closet AND Create a Dress-Up Corner
  • Your child will LOVE dressing up in your old skirts, scarves, dress shirts, jackets, ties, costume jewelry, hair accessories, and shoes and playing with your old briefcases, wallets, purses, keys, and cell phones
Social-Emotional: Plan a Party
  • Involve your child in planning a ZOOM party
  • Who to invite?
  • When to meet?
  • Where to meet? (everyone's backyard or kitchen, a nearby park?)
  • What to eat? (everyone makes a fruit salad? or pizza?)
  • What to sing/play/or talk about? What's the theme?
With thanks to The Preschooler's Busy Book by Trish Kuffner for the inspiration

Friday, April 24, 2020

Not All Screen Time is Created Equal

I've known that I wanted to write about screen time for awhile now, so I was very happy to see this article in this morning's New York Times. Catherine Price hits on all the points I'd wanted to make, and more.

Our notions of screen time have changed dramatically in the past six weeks, as have our notions about just about everything else. I've come to realize that not all screen time is created equal. There is a huge difference between spending time talking with grandparents and connecting with preschool friends on ZOOM and mindlessly playing video games. Watching a high quality television show together as a family can be a meaningful experience, whereas everyone staring at their own screen during dinner most certainly is not. Using the internet to find information or learn a new skill is not the same as watching YouTube videos all day.

Price explains this by talking about the 3 Cs: consumption, creation, and connection. "Once you’ve identified your screen time 'essentials,' it’s time to think about your leisure time (or what passes for it these days). Identify which of these 'C's feels good to you, and in what doses. Then brainstorm ways to do each both on- and off-screen. Bonus points if you ask yourself what kind of consumption, creation and connection makes you feel the best."

Bottom line: Don't worry too much about screen time right now. It's how you engage with the screen that matters more than how much time you spend doing it.

Go To Preschool/Kindergarten with ACPS every day

Go to Storytime with the Met every Thursday

Visit the Cincinnati Zoo

Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Visit Mount Vernon

Have you found other good virtual tours or online experiences? Please share in the comments section below.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Follow Their Lead

Written a month ago (and sent to me a month ago by a colleague), this essay still resonates. And yes, even though we're only five weeks into this new normal, some of what Teacher Tom says might seem outdated by now. But the overall point he makes remains true: "Young children were built for this. Young children are the masters of learning from whatever life throws at them."

I've been thinking a lot lately about what we mean when we talk about education, and I've realized that we're all talking about different things. For some, education is strictly book learning: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. For others, it's about learning how to be an important part of a family, a community, and a society. For most, it's somewhere in the vast in-between.

It's very easy to feel stressed right now. As this crisis evolves, we're given new opportunities to feel anxious almost every day. But I believe what Teacher Tom believes, and that's that our young children will come through the other end of this just fine, especially if we follow their lead. Let them show you the way; let them show you what they're ready to learn.

Eventually, I promise, they will show you that they're ready to learn their letters. But right now, in this moment, they might need to spend 30 minutes trying to figure out how to get a stuck toy out of a tree, and might literally throw everything they've got at it. Let them do it. Don't make them stop to do something else that you think is more important. Let them find their own solution to a real-life problem. Let them flex their problem solving muscles and practice those skills in a relevant and meaningful way.

And when they come to you later, a little lost and needing a little direction, know that so much of what we have at home and do at home can provide delightful and meaningful experiences for young children.

Wash the Dishes
  • Fill the sink with soapy water, a sponge, and non-breakables and ask your child to help you wash the dishes. (motor and social-emotional skills)
Do the Laundry
  • Ask your child to separate the lights from the darks, put the detergent into the machine and push the buttons, and match the socks and fold the dishtowels. (motor, language, problem-solving, and social-emotional skills)
Set the Table
  • Give your child the job of setting the table every day for every meal. Even if they're too young to carry plates, they can still put out the placemats, fold the napkins, and count the forks. (motor, numeracy, problem-solving, and social-emotional skills)

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Getting Ready for Passover - Make Chocolate Matzah!

This chocolate matzah is truly addictive. You've been warned!

Children can easily help with all but the middle steps.
  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Line two baking sheets with foil (to help with clean up) and then put parchment paper on top of that.
  • Break 5-6 matzahs into pieces and spread them out on the baking sheets, making sure not to overlap.
  • Melt two sticks of butter and one cup of firmly packed brown sugar in a medium-size pot on the stove on medium heat.
  • Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil (about 2-4 minutes). Allow to boil and stir constantly for another 3-4 minutes. You'll know it's done when the mixture pulls away from the pot a little bit.
  • VERY CAREFULLY pour the very hot mixture all over the matzah. Use a spatula to spread it around, making sure all matzah pieces are covered.
  • Put the matzah in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 350. Let the matzahs bake for about 15 minutes. Check every few minutes to make sure they aren't burning. If they're browning too quickly, reduce the temperature to 325.
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Give them a minute to get all melty, then use a spatula to spread the chocolate around. You can also add chopped nuts, kosher salt, or sprinkles.
  • Put in the freezer to give everything a little time to firm up. Break the matzah into bite-size pieces. Store in the freezer.
  • Try not to eat it all at once!
This version of chocolate matzah comes from Marcy Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, found on Epicurious (online), 2010.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Getting Ready for Passover - Make Charoset!

Charoset is one of the traditional foods served at seder. It represents the bricks the Hebrew slaves were forced to make in Egypt.

In Ashkenazi communities, it's usually made with apples, nuts, and spices. In Sephardic communities, it's usually made with dried fruits.

This is super easy to make with children. Have fun!
  • Peel and chop three red apples
  • Chop a handful of walnuts
  • Add ½ tsp. ginger, ½ tsp. cinnamon, 1 ½ T sugar
  • Add 3 T grape juice
Mix well and refrigerate for a hour or two before eating.

Eat for breakfast all week with matzah and cream cheese. B'tayavon!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Our Community Garden

We had such plans for our gardens and grounds this spring! We wanted to build new garden beds, clean up the flower beds, and create a beautiful natural play space for the children around the climbing tree.

Last week, while on a walk that took me behind the synagogue, I saw the sadly neglected flower bed near the climbing tree play space. And I got an idea.

We're all taking walks and riding bikes and scooters these days. What if, when we went by the synagogue, we stopped for a few minutes to weed? I can prune the tree. And once the weeds are gone, I'll get some dirt. 

And then, maybe we can transplant a few flowers from our own yards, or pick up some annuals while at the grocery store, or even some herbs, and plant them in the bed. There doesn't have to be a real plan. I think a mishmash of sun loving perennials and annuals lovingly planted by our families during this time will be absolutely beautiful.

As our community garden grows, I'll take pictures and post them here.

Happy spring!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Sensory Tub

Activity: Sensory Tub

  • Using materials you have at home, create a sensory tub
  • Large, flat bottomed plastic tub that fits on your table (an extra large Tupperware will do nicely)
  • We often use a mix of uncooked rice, beans, lentils, pasta, popcorn kernels, oats, etc.
  • If those are currently unavailable, try shredded paper, ribbons, cut-up straws, cotton balls, small toys like marbles, puff balls, magnetic letters, corks, bottle caps, aquarium rocks, etc., really anything that is small and scoop-able and pour-able
  • If you want a messy experience, try water (and ice cubes!), dirt, sand, or shaving cream
  • You can also order kinetic sand online
  • Scoops, cups, measuring spoons, bowls with and without lids, etc.
Questions and Prompts
  • How many scoops will it take to fill that bowl?
  • Can you make me a chocolate cake?
  • Help me clean up everything that fell on the floor!
  • Ongoing
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - can be a very calming and soothing experience for some children
  • Language - vocabulary development, conversation skills
  • Cognitive - math and science concepts, open-ended exploration and discovery
  • Physical - learning to use all senses to take in information

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Bird Nests

Activity: Build a Bird Nest
  • Birds are busy building nests right now. Go on a walk and look for nests.
  • Notice the different materials the birds use.
  • Notice how big the nests are and how many birds and eggs fit inside.
  • Say, Hey! I wonder if we could build a bird nest just like these birds!
  • Pictures of birds and nests (find online)
  • Paper (to shred)
  • String, yarn, pipe cleaners, toothpicks, etc.
  • Packing materials
  • Small sticks, leaves (mud!)
  • Small rocks to represent eggs, a small toy or stuffed animal to represent the bird
Questions and Prompts
  • Why do you think the birds chose those materials to build their nests?
  • What materials do we need to build our nest?
  • What shape should your nest be?
  • I wonder why your nest fell apart.
  • What would happen if . . . 
  • Is your nest strong enough to hold one egg (rock)? Two? Three? What about the mama bird? Let's test it out!

  • 15-30 minutes
  • Easy to revisit as the weeks go on and you notice more birds and nests in your neighborhood

 Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - connecting with nature, learning about families and relationships
  • Language - using descriptive words
  • Cognitive - learning more about animal habitats, problem solving, scientific inquiry, close observation, perseverance 
  • Physical - getting exercise, fine motor work

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

It's a Box!

Activity: It's a Box!
  • Give children boxes to build and play with and just step back. Their creativity will astound you.
  • As many cardboard boxes as you have (delivery boxes, egg cartons, shoe boxes)
  • Scissors, tape, glue
  • Extras like buttons, string, colored paper, markers, stickers, pom-poms, etc.
Questions and Prompts
  • I wonder what we could make with this box?
  • I wonder what would happen if . . .
  • What do you want to make? How will you build it? What do you need?
  • All day
  • Design a city
  • Make a model of your house
  • Build a rocketship
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - this engineering activity will evolve into a dramatic play activity
  • Language - vocabulary development, giving and following directions
  • Cognitive - exploring concepts such as spatial relations, balance, design engineering
  • Physical - fine motor, hand-eye coordination, hand muscle strengthening

Monday, March 30, 2020

Learn Something New, Together

Following up on last week's post about sharing a skill or talent with your child, today learn to do something new with your child. Try a new recipe. Learn some Hebrew words. Find a YouTube video on making paper origami. The point isn't what new thing you learn to do, it's that you show your child how to learn something new.

  • Start with a question (I wonder how you . . .) or a statement (I've always wanted to . . .).
  • Do some research. Use the internet. Ask your spouse. Borrow a cookbook. Call grandma.
  • Build, bake, practice, experiment. Make mistakes. Try again. And again.
  • Do some more research.
  • Keep at it. Make a goal. "When we get really good at baking, we should try baking our own challah" or "We're going to practice and practice with building and constructing until we're ready to build a birdhouse."
  • Don't give up. Persist. Let your child see that you're capable of learning, too, even when it's hard. All of us can always learn something new.
  • Have fun.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Bird Feeders

I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and I remembered the bird feeders we have at school. The birds had just started coming almost every day and the children loved standing at the window and watching them.

Activity: Bird Feeders
  • Such a great tactile experience!
  • If you don't have or can't easily find birdseed, there are lots of use-what-you-have-at-home recipes to be found online.
  • Toilet paper roll
  • Scissors and string
  • Honey
  • Birdseed
  • Shallow bowl
Questions and Prompts
  • Why do you think we need the honey?
  • Where should we hang the bird feeder so the birds can eat from it but the squirrels can't? And we can see it?
  • How long do you think it will take for the birds to eat all the food? We have to keep checking every day so we know when it's time to make another bird feeder.
  • 10-15 minutes to gather the materials and make the feeder
  • Thereafter, ongoing
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - teamwork, connecting with natural world, caring for animals
  • Language - vocabulary, following step-by-step directions
  • Cognitive - planning and problem solving
  • Physical - fine motor planning, development of all five senses

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Share a Hidden Talent or Skill with Your Child

There is a lot that you know how to do. Your child doesn't yet know how to do a lot of things. And they love you and look up to you and want to be like you and want to spend time with you more than anything.

Find 30 minutes today to teach them to do something you're already really good at. Playing the saxophone? Building a flower box? Making pasta sauce from scratch?

Yes, they're young. Very young. But that doesn't mean they can't learn something from you. They'll take from the experience what they're capable of taking away.

If nothing else, may this time remind us that it's moments like these that matter more than anything else.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Build a Fort

Activity: Build a Fort
  • Another rainy day?
  • Build a fort inside!
  • Sacrifice a corner of your family room for hours of guaranteed fun. Children love to play in forts!
  • Couch cushions
  • Pillows
  • Blankets
  • Stuffed animals
  • Flashlights
  • Books and small toys
Questions and Prompts
  • The wall keeps falling down. I wonder why. How can we keep the walls standing up?
  • Do you want a door? Or a window? How can we build one?
  • Do you think I can stand up in your fort? Why or why not? Could we build it tall enough for me? Why or why not?
  • 20-30 minutes to build
  • Hours to play
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - teamwork, independence (taking ownership of the space)
  • Language - pre-reading and writing (if you make signs for the fort!)
  • Cognitive - planning, organizing, problem solving, engineering, imagining
  • Physical - heavy work
Personal Note
My son always wanted to sleep in the forts that he and I built. He would take hours long naps and would sleep well beyond his normal morning wake-up time, even when I was working nearby in the kitchen. There's something about the small spaces - I think children love that it's their special space.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Found Object Art

Activity: Found Object Art
  • While the sun shines today, take a walk around your neighborhood to collect 10-15 found objects: small rocks, twigs, leaves (old and new), flower blossoms, etc.
  • Once home, create a piece of art using the found objects.
  • You could create a collage, a 3-D monster, a rainbow, or anything!
  • A bag
  • Some patience
  • A limitless imagination
  • (and some paper, cardboard, glue or tape, maybe some scissors, etc.)
Questions and Prompts
  • I spy with my little eye . . .
  • What do you want to make? Maybe we could look for objects to help you make it.
  • Look what we found! What could you make with these objects?
  • Why do you like that object? Why did you pick it? What makes it special?
  • Our challenge is to find only 10-15 very special objects. Which do you like more? Which one do you want to keep? (By limiting the choices, you make the end product more special.)
  • 30-60 minutes to walk and gather
  • 20-30 minutes to create
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - patience, the art of conversation, making choices
  • Language - building vocabulary (use new and interesting adjectives to describe what your child has found)
  • Cognitive - making a plan, executing a plan
  • Physical - large motor (walking is great exercise!)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Connecting with Neighbors

Yesterday, several children in my neighborhood used sidewalk chalk to draw a huge rainbow crosswalk from their house to another house across the street. It lit up the neighborhood.

We're all finding new ways to stay connected, and a lot of those new ways involve the computer. While it's socially responsible to maintain a safe distance from others right now, that doesn't mean we have to isolate ourselves completely from those in our immediate neighborhood.

Today, while it rains, help your children make cookies, bread, paper flower bouquets, pictures, crafts, or friendly notes. When the sun comes out, take a walk and leave the gifts on your neighbors' doorsteps. Stay connected.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Make Your Own Playdough

Activity: Make Your Own Playdough
  • Yes, you can make your own playdough! 
  • It's easy and it's better quality. It lasts longer. It's softer. 
  • And, if you add spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, it also smells delightful!
  • Once the dough has cooled a bit, your children can help you knead it.
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Cream of tartar
  • Water
  • Oil
  • Cook pot and spatula
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Spices (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Cookie cutters, rolling pins, etc
  • Ziploc bags
  • What color do you want to make? We only have red, yellow, and blue food color. How can we make purple? Or green? Or orange? Can we make a rainbow of colors?
  • It's Friday! Would you like to make playdough challah for the table?
  • 10-15 minutes to gather and mix the ingredients
  • Playdough should last for weeks and weeks if stored properly
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - cooperation and collaboration
  • Language - following directions (reading a recipe)
  • Cognitive - counting, measuring (following the recipe)
  • Physical - large muscle work to knead, small muscle work to play (both essential for holding a pencil down the road!)

Thursday, March 19, 2020

STEAM Challenge - Baby Bear's Chair

Activity: Baby Bear's Chair
  • Read any version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears with your child
  • Wonder aloud what the bears might have done about the broken chair. How would they have fixed it?
  • Wonder aloud about things that have broken that you've had to fix. Share how you did it.
  • Pretend that the bear family has come to your "Fix-It Shop In the Woods" and asked you to fix Baby's Bear Chair.
  • Cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, craft sticks, egg cartons, etc
  • Tape, glue, paper clips, brads, rubber bands, etc (aka "connectors")
  • Scissors (children will need help cutting cardboard)
  • Paper, markers, crayons, markers
  • How will you build the chair?
  • What do chairs need?
  • Where does Baby Bear sit?
  • How can you build a strong chair that won't fall down?
  • Why do think Baby Bear's chair broke but the others didn't?
The MOST IMPORTANT Questions and Comments
  • What do you think will happen if . . . 
  • Tell me about your chair.
  • What part needs to be stronger to keep the chair from falling down?
  • 30 minutes (at least!)
  • Find a weight of some kind (maybe a small toy) to test the stability of the chair. If/when it falls down, try again!
  • "I have not failed. I've just found 1000 ways that won't work." - attributed to Thomas Edison
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - cooperation, collaboration, tenacity
  • Language - vocabulary
  • Cognitive - cause and effect, problem solving, scientific process/inquiry
  • Physical - fine motor, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness
Making and Tinkering With STEM, Solving Design Challenges with Young Children 
by Cate Heroman (NAEYC)

Take pictures of your child's creations and share them in the comments section below!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

More Activity Ideas and Great Literacy Resources

Following up on my last two posts, here are some great resources to help you plan Activity Time, Story Time, Quiet Time, and playing school. A huge thank you to Hattie, an ACPS preschool teacher and preschool mom, for sharing these ideas with me. I'm especially excited about KidLit Radio and Mo Willems Lunch Doodle!

If you've found resources that you think others would appreciate, include them in the comments section below.

Mo Willems Lunch Doodle every day at 1 pm on the Kennedy Center website.  

PBS KIDS is sending a daily email with activity ideas. A bit screen time heavy, but the activities are appropriate for preschoolers. 

BoredToddler has daily activity plans with things found around the house.

KidLit RADIO is one of the best book podcasts I’ve found.  The stories are told in an engaging way and are sometimes familiar.

Authors reading their books on Instagram:
Mac Barnett
Oliver Jeffers

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