Thursday, August 4, 2011

Outside Learning With Minimal Materials

Yesterday, we changed things up a bit and decided to spend most of the morning outside.  The children really enjoyed it.  We didn't touch on every component we typically do during our K readiness routine but we did many.  That just got me thinking about learning activities we've done outside and maybe I'll share a few.

 This is one of our favorites.  A simple hopscotch board on the driveway.  I created the outline for those that wanted me to but they wrote the numbers in so we got some numeral formation practice in.  Then, of course, you are getting oral counting, number recognition and gross motor in there also.   We've used the "hopscotch" idea to reinforce shapes, colors, name spelling, letter order, and so on.

We also jumped over logs yesterday creating rhyming words as we jumped.  log, bog, tog, shog, zog, mog, dog.  It's important to remember that nonsense rhymes are okay.  It adds a component of silliness but more importantly, I know that if they can come up with nonsense words then they are truly understanding the concept of rhyming.  Otherwise, they might just have memorized a set of words that we use over and over as rhyming sets.  What other things can you jump over and rhyme with?
rock (the children here enjoy throwing rocks in a puddle-remember to reiterate that you only throw rocks in the puddle!),
tree (we have little saplings all over that are small enough to jump over),
ball (use a small enough one that they don't land on it and fall),
hole (we have a dog and so we have plenty of holes :-))

We also used our sand box to write words.  You could do lines and shapes or individual letters for your younger students. Use your finger or a stick.  On that note, maybe I'll mention a little lesson I do with my students about letters.  If you have read my other blog posts you'll know that I'm a fan of teaching children letters using sticks and curves.  One of the first lessons we do is explore with sticks and curves.  What can we make?  Now that we have the actual "Mat Man" from Hand Writing Without Tears we'll take the route that Mat Man is going to teach us how lines help us make shapes, letters and numbers. activity I like to do outside is done after this mini lesson about lines.  I create large lines that are straight, horizontal/vertical, zig zags, curves, circles on the driveway with sidewalk chalk.  Then we move on the lines, walking heel to toe first and then maybe sliding, jumping and so on.  Next they are giving large paint brushes (dollar store) and a bucket with a bit of water and they "paint" the lines from  left to right.   We always end this activity with free exploration creating lines or "painting" play structure, bikes, sidewalk.  It's always a favorite.  One thing that's really nice about a small group is that I can create a set of lines for each child and so they are experiencing each of the lines with moving and erasing instead of just one line. 

If you have a flower garden, this is a great time to reinforce colors and size.  Something I'd like to do is grow sunflowers.  Maybe this next year.  Measuring every few days-collecting data, creating graphs and so on.  One activity we came across recently was to take small flowers and freeze them in water in a shaped icecube tray (dollar stores or Target dollar section), being sure to add a string/ribbon/yarn,  then have a "race".  Hang the flowers in different areas.  Which melts first? 

I find that purchasing an actual balance beam always gets put at the bottom of our priority list, though it has many benefits.  2 reasons, one is price and the other is storage.  So, we make do in another way.  :-)  Practicing around the border of our play area.  Great practice!  Balancing, jumping, sliding, walking forwards, walking backwards, tiptoe etc.  One day a child took it upon himself to jump 100 times.  :-) He'd jump and run around the corner, get back up and jump again.  He did make it to 100!  I was suitably impressed, especially with this specific child!

I like to use balls to practice oral counting or alphabet reciting.  You can roll with your younger students and bounce with your older students.  1, 2, 3...  Another favorite is to use a large light ball and put alphabet or number stickers all over it.  The children are given a sticker for their thumb on their right hand.  They catch the ball and tell us what is on the sticker under or nearest to their thumb.  You may also wish to use object stickers and do word chunking, rhyming, beginning, middle, ending sounds, segmenting and so on.

I've mentioned Follow the Leader in a past blog...being able to copy in action is crucial to being able to copy a written symbol on paper.

Weaving on a fence.  We don't have that ability here.  I was looking at getting a large classroom loom but it didn't get purchased because of $$$.  But if you have a fence, allow them to weave ribbons and other materials creating patterns.  Great for fine motor also.

Do you have lots of rocks?  Oh my, that's for another post.  :-P

"Car Wash".  I'm sure many of you already do this but want to mention it in case there is one or two that haven't.  A little squirt of dish soap in a bucket of water and sponges and let your kiddos give their "cars" (bikes, wagons) a bath.  GREAT fine motor with the squeezing of the sponges.  And if you do it routinely, it can become a lesson on "caring for our tools/equipment".

Hoop hopping, I actually do this indoors more often then outdoors because I use it to reinforce concepts.  I have the children arrange hulahoops in a line and inside I put a basic concept card and we hop from one to the other.  Kind of fun to pretend the hoops are lily pads and we are frogs. 

An obstacle course can easily be turned into a learning experience beyond just a great gross motor.  Add number cards for them to do a certain action that many times.  If the children are capable, have them create the obstacle course out of your outdoor toys or natural materials.

Find patterns in nature.  Crayons with wrappers removed, copy paper.  Encourage them to place their paper on different surfaces and coloring over top.  Can they find a pattern?  Tree bark, picnic table, back steps, siding, play structure, fence, sidewalk, etc.  Later encourage them to cut them into squares (or other shapes) and creating a collage.

Our kiddos have really been into creating a fort and every day they were a little on it.  It's getting a couple of rooms now.  :-)  They have used rocks to create a fire pit and so on.  This is great for learning to work together and learning about stability.  :-)  It's one of my repeated questions..."Is it stable?" and they'll test it out. 

Can they find something that is taller than them?  Shorter?  Wider/skinnier?  How about finding something that is soft, something that is hard.  Smooth/rough?  Outdoors is great for reinforcing texture and opposites.

Acorns?  Pinecones?  We have an abundance of the little tiny pinecones.  Great for counting, addition, subtraction, odd/even concepts, fractions, beginning division (sharing fairly), measurement and so on.

Don't forget the clouds!  Science waiting to happen.  :-)  And fine motor...remember the book It Looked Like Spilt Milk. My goal for this year is to create my own cloud identification cards (Montessori). 

Well, the list goes on.  I'll stop here for now.  :-P 

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