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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Writing Center, Dramatic Play, and Pen Pals

Activity: Writing Center (AKA school or office)
  • Turn a section of your dining room or family room into a writing center.
  • Encourage dramatic play such as school or office.
  • Older siblings can join in the fun, especially if playing school.
  • Children can work in their office while parents are teleworking in theirs.
  • Table and chairs
  • Scrap paper, envelopes, mailing labels - make good use of your junk mail!
  • Notebooks, folders, binders, sticky pads, business cards
  • Pens, markers, pencils
  • Scissors and tape
  • Staplers and hole punchers
  • White board or cork board
  • Old cell phones, computer keyboards, calculators, any other "gadgets"
  • Ongoing
Extension: Pen Pals
  • To maintain connections with family and friends, have your children write letters and draw pictures to drop in the mail. How exciting it will be to get a response!
  • Similarly, create an email account for your child (something anonymous like kittycat123) and have them send messages to family and friends. Check the email together at the same time every day to see if they've gotten a reply.
Skills Learned and Practiced
  • Social-Emotional - dramatic play teaches cooperation and creativity and writing to pen pals builds connections and/or strengthens relationships
  • Language - children will practice pre-reading and pre-writing skills and build vocabulary
  • Cognitive - this kind of dramatic play encourages planning and problem solving
  • Physical - all the fine motor activity helps strengthen the muscles in the hands
Personal Note
I still have vivid memories of playing office in my grandparents' house when I was 4 or 5 with supplies my grandfather would bring home from work. The notepads has his name on them! I answered the rotary phone, made appointments in a large spiral ledger, and used an antique adding machine in ways that seemed very important. It should come as no surprise that I played school as well. A lot. Activities like this can keep a child happy and busy and learning for days.

Thoughts or suggestions? Comment below!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Schedules and Routines

Image result for schedules clipartSchedules and routines help children feel safe and secure and can also help parents feel in control. In these next few weeks schedules and routines will help provide your family with a much needed sense of normalcy.

Sit down with your children to discuss your new daily routines. Involve them. Write the schedule out, find or draw pictures to go along with it, and post it in a central location in your house. Refer to it often. 

Below is a recommended generic schedule. Young children don't understand 10 am, but they do understand "after breakfast." Whatever schedule you end up creating, ideally it would contain all of these elements:

  • PLAY TIME - Unstructured play time is essential right now. Children still need the time and the freedom to explore on their own in their own way in their own time. Allow at least an hour for unstructured play time. 
  • ACTIVITY TIME - This is not "academic" time! Please don't feel as if you have to resort to worksheets or flashcards or online games to create a meaningful experience. Children still learn though play, even when they're at home in this unique situation. We will be offering you suggestions daily on this blog and there are an abundance of ideas to be found online right now.
  • SNACK and MEAL TIMES - Take advantage of these opportunities. Give your children responsibilities in the kitchen: snapping beans, chopping soft veggies with butter knives, mixing ingredients. Give them the silverware to dry and put away. Most importantly, sit down together at regular times to eat and talk and enjoy each other's company.
  • CHORE TIME - It's never too early to give your children chores! Young children can fold underwear and match socks, put their toys away, dust furniture, and help unload the dishwasher by putting the silverware away.
  • QUIET TIME - Everyone needs quiet time, which is not the same as nap time. Children can be expected to spend at least 30-45 minutes every day in their bedrooms or in a room close by you listening to music, looking at books, doing puzzles, or drawing/coloring. Check out PJ Library Radio. This is a great time to introduce audio books. 4 year-olds might even be ready for chapter books.
  • OUTSIDE TIME - Thank goodness it's spring time! Get outside for some fresh air and vitamin D. Pull weeds and plant flowers. Go for long walks. Explore your neighborhood. Check in on elderly neighbors.
  • SCREEN TIME - Yes, screen time. It's ok. Don't feel guilty. The American Academy of Pediatrics says up to one hour of high-quality screen time per day is appropriate for children ages 2-5. I'd say 90 minutes are ok in these circumstances.
  • GAME TIME - Bring out the board games! Ravensburger makes excellent board games. Or call One Two Kangaroo in Shirlington (703-845-9099). The proprietor always has spot-on recommendations, and he's staying open for as long as possible (while maintaining social distancing).
  • STORY TIME - Make sure you allow for time to just read with your children. Story time doesn't have to be saved for bedtime.

Friday, March 6, 2020

They Are All Esthers

Image result for clipart queen esther purimThe celebration of Purim seems to have been designed with young children in mind: cookies, costumes, parades, carnivals, goody bags, songs, and silliness. Yet, the story of Purim itself is decidedly child un-friendly. We read about gluttony, greed, misogyny, xenophobia, and attempted genocide. And don't forget the execution at the end. So what should we focus on when teaching this story to our children?

I used to ask my fourth and fifth graders to identify the 'big idea' in a story, and I used to think the 'big idea' in Megillat Esther is that one person really can make a difference. But this year I see a new 'big idea.'

King Achashverosh was willing to follow the suggestion of his evil adviser Haman and kill all the Jews in Persia until he learned that his beloved wife was Jewish.  In that moment, the Jews in his kingdom became less amorphous; they became real people. At least one Jew in his kingdom had a face, a mind, a personality. If Esther, a Jew, was a real person, then all the other nameless, faceless Jews must be real people, too, none of whom deserved to die because ONE Jew had refused to bow down to Haman.

In today's world, where increasingly it seems as if different groups, for different reasons, are trying to identify an 'us' and a 'them,' and to pit 'us' against 'them,' I think it's important to remember who 'them' are. They are all Esthers.
Originally published March 10, 2017

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