Friday, April 29, 2011

Thoughts and Ramblings :-)

Hmmmm....some thoughts that have been rolling in the back of my mind over the past few months to a year.  :-)  This week, two thoughts on others' blogs has got me thinking again.

The first one likening traditional school as a "factory model of education".

The second was a quote from Maria Montessori,

“If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn."


So where have my thoughts been?  Really to try and find my "niche" even after 15 years in the field.  There was a measure of discontentment a bit ago and I thought it was because I wished to be back center-based. I felt that I couldn't offer what I'd like to at my home-based program.  So, I spent a school year back at a center-based program.  Well, needless to say, I'm back home.  And really, I am much more content. 

Something that bothers me is this thought of "socialization."  I have to tell my families, I really can NOT provide the social aspect that a center-based program provides.  So why is that?  I would typically state, I'm very small group (which has immense benefits) and often less than 6 children in attendance with some being much younger than preschool age.  Is this a bad thing?  Not too long ago I might have said yes.  I still feel I have to make them aware of this situation but I have a different opinion now.  The reason why I thought it wasn't the best situation was because I was lacking in preparing them for this "factory model of education".  Thinking of it from that perspective...they are going from maximum six children, mixed aged group to 25-30 students all at the same age...definitely not all at the same development.  And with this generation, there is more violence and disrespect for adults, peers, and materials.  And, in reality, there is minimal supervision.  So, for some children, especially young 5s, I haven't prepared them for the actions and choices of their peers, the competition that's going to be shown and how to deal with it because that all comes with experience and when we have such a small group...really, they don't experience it.  I've see children who have learned how to problem solve and use their words get into that classroom of 25-30 kids and only have a handful of kids that do the same.  What happens?  If no one else does it, they "have" to get their feelings across and the teacher doesn't want to them to tattle tale so they fall back on physically reiterating their point...because that's what the rest do!  Oh my.  It annoys and saddens me immensely to see this.  But that's reality.  My children do attend public school, and no, I'm not planning on homeschooling...but there are some benefits to it if it's done "correctly" (definitely an opinion there!)   Another thought, behavior problems.  There is a lot of "behavior problems" in public schools.  Maybe it's because there are so many children in one place that we just hear more of them.  But, I don't think that's the real reason.  Consider the competition that is going to come with having 25-30 same age children in the classroom.  And some are "up to speed" and some are "advanced".  So, a child who can not meet the expectations of the teacher or their peers are going to do what?  Act out, yep!  You bet they are. Surely won't want to bring attention to their "lack." Okay, so now we have the students who would be considered "advanced".  But, the teacher must bring the whole class up to a certain level and with all the time spent there...the more advanced ones get "left out."  And they become bored.  And so what do they do?  Act out!  So, what do many teachers do?  (Let me just state here...I have HIGH respect for public school teachers.)  They "treat the symptoms".  They spend a lot of time "correcting the behavior" but not really getting to the root of the problem.  Really, I believe that most behaviors come from somewhere, often leading back to an academic lack due to learning style or immaturity.  There is almost always an underlying cause.  But with such a large group of students, who has the time to observe these children, really notice what's going on and finding the root cause and treat it?  They don't.  So one thing leads to the next and these children become labeled with "behavior issues" and are definitely looked and treated differently...which starts the never ending cycle of behavior problems, no higher-level of thinking, feeling poor about themselves and back to behavior problems. 

So, M. Montessori's thought...if they aren't learning, why do we start teaching them they way they learn. Is the traditional way we are teaching really appropriate for the way children develop and learn?  I think back to years ago.  What was it like?  It was definitely less competitive as the group of people together were mixed age group.  Grandparents, parents, large families with much older siblings to very young siblings, aunt/uncles and so on all living and working nearby or even together.  And one about "formal" school?  It was a one house school room...with mixed aged groups with them all working together to help each other.  So, do we see a pattern here?  Mixed age groups.  Hmmm...maybe Maria M. has a point.  Almost all of their classes now are mixed age group.  At a preschool level you'll see ages 2-6 yrs and an elementary level you'll see 6-12 years.  Is it easier on the teacher?  No, which I think is one reason why we often try to put like ages together...but is it better for the students?  In the long run...I think so.  Consider this...students all working together to help each other...provides a sense of community.  There was definitely room for children to develop at their own speed.  And if they didn't get it the first go was always repeated somewhere/somehow.  Hmmm...just some thoughts of mine lately.  I'm sure there will be more as the days go by. 

I'm definitely drawn to Montessori approach...but I also have some qualms with today's Montessori's.  Most people do not stick with just one philosophy/approach. We take a little from here and a little from there to make our own.  But I do want to reiterate that it's definitely okay if your philosophy changes over the years.  Experience definitely does play a part it in.  I would say that I was all for "center-based" mainly because my formal education was training me for this traditional model of schooling. But, time and experiences have gone by and I find myself reviewing just what I feel and believe. 

Hope my ramblings cause you to review your own thoughts and beliefs about education.  :-)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April Showers Theme

It's never too early to explore with any type of concept.  It will definitely set the foundation for future learning if they are too young to grasp the concept.  One benefit for having a mixed age group is that children listen in and explore with concepts long before they are "ready" too and if they are older but still don't grasp it...then they'll get it the next go around.  The problem comes in when we, as adults, expect the children to grasp and show understanding of a concept before they are ready.  I see that often with well-meaning parents trying to teach their children academics at two years old.  Just like we develop physically from trunk to extremities...we also learn things in an order, cognitively, and it all must build upon each other.  So, if a parent is thinking their child is "smart" and wants them to write their letters of the alphabet "because their know their abc's" that parent is actually pushing the child in a way that is going to cause frustration which can cause issues with attitude toward "school" later.  More likely than not, the 2 year old can sing the abc song.  Yes, that has it's place...but that is not the same as knowing the letters and sounds out of place.  Also, at two, they are not physically ready to write.  There needs to be so much more fine motor work done prior to expecting a child to pick up a pencil and write their name.  But it just come from the lack of knowledge of child development coupled with wanting "what's best for their child". 

Okay...not sure why I felt I needed to mention that...but maybe because one of our activities today would have been seemingly "too advanced" for my students.  We actually worked with word families today.  But that's Kindergarten work!  Well, perhaps, in a traditional school setting.  But I'm not all that traditional.  :-)  My goal is to help each student, individually, take a step forward from where they are at.  Actually, I would say that both the 4 and 5 year old are probably more advanced then what they expect of the K students upon enrollment, at least in our area.  But so be it.  Why hold them back?  Go with the flow of their development.   Anyway, after a child can hear and make their own rhymes and are also showing letter recognition, I like to take it a step further and introduce word families.  They noticed right away that the words we were working with rhyme.  Yeah!  And the oldest student noticed that the word had the same letters at the end of the word.  Yeah, again!  There in lies the key difference between word families and rhyming words.  Rhyming words use the sound at the end of the word and word families have the same sound and the same letters at the end.  For example:  bear and chair rhyme but they are not in the same word family because they have the different ending letters.  All four older children did this activity today.  Definitely exploration for the 3 and 4 year old but it's stretched the brains of the two 5 year olds, especially the one that has been with me since a baby. 

You can't really see it well but some of the raindrops have -ot word family pictures, dot, spot, cot, hot, tot, pot.  I wrote the word so that the ending sound was in a different color then the remainder of the word.  For the younger ones, they'll use the activity for rhyming reinforcement but the older ones will begin to build on what it means to have the same letters at the end of the word.  Each child did a different ending and we'll keep them all posted for a bit.  Extras:  half of a circle is a semi-circle; crayon-water color resist as an art technique; counting raindrops; noting that sometimes a handle on an umbrella is the same shape as the letter J. wall is more than a drying rack (previous blog).  :-P
It's a work space also.  It's beneficial for children to work standing up and it's nice for me not to have to help each child up into the booster seat at the table each time they go to a new "work".  :-)  Activities like this work well at a wall.  There were actually two more clouds off to the left. I spread it across the whole wall to keep it less cluttered.  I taped the clouds on the wall and placed the raindrops on the wall in two columns with sticky tack.  Sticky tack works very well for activities that require moving pictures.   The children looked at the picture on the raindrop and placed it under the cloud with the same beginning sound.  This activity is a printable from

Rainbow Painting
I did encourage stripes because I wanted them to get the effect of the project.  So that put it's down a bit on the art scale.  :-)  The younger ones tend to use every color that you provide.  The older ones tend to come up with their own idea.  That's what we want to strive for.  The craft scissors were difficult for the three year old to use and even the four year old, but she got it.  I wonder if they have child size craft scissors.  Hmmm, will have to look into that! You could do the same idea but with regular scissors.

Tomorrow is Free Friday.  I don't plan specific activities for this day.  Sometimes we finish up projects or doing baking/cooking.  We'll just see how the day goes.  Perhaps it will be really nice outside :-P and we'll spend the majority of it outdoors.  Wishful thinking, I know!  Hope you all have had a great day!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers III

I really had another post started for today...but it can wait. I've been doing a lot of informational blogs so we'll do another day of "what we did today" pictures.  Those are the fun ones!

Ever had a day...not that it didn't have it's normal behaviors/issues...but it left you smiling.  That was this morning for me.  To see children engaged in dramatic play.  To hear words like, "May I use that when you are done?" Or even "You're being bossy." but said in a very matter of fact tone of voice. To listen to the singing, humming, unprompted conversation all through their work.  To hear "I like this kind of work."  Playing and exploring is their "work" at this stage of life and so we want to encourage it.  What an awesome morning we had!

Here's some of the "work" we did today.  :-P 
Rhyming Rainbows
One of our literacy activities were rhyming rainbows.  I found some rainbow clip art on the Internet.  I had already glued on one picture inside a cloud and then we went through the pictures to find their rhyming matches.  They did so well!  If you find a child not being able to make rhyming word/picture pairs...I suggest you do something similar to this activity.  Then you can give them two that is obviously not the rhyming match and one that is.  It helps them "hear" the rhyming ending sounds.  I heard a snipit from LeapFrog about a rhyming song so I'm going to go searching for it.  It seemed very catching.  I'll let you know if I find it.  :-)
A note about making activities:  I had the children help me decide which picture would go on the other cloud.  Now I'll laminate them.  Do you think they are more apt to use them on their own now?  You bet!  Involve them and they are much more interested (and they respect the materials more).

 Logical Thinking Matches
One of our mathematics activity was a "filler".  I wanted to get some logical thinking in with my younger ones.  This activity was from the Mailbox publication Find the Match: Math.  These make nice little fillers, especially for 3 year olds...or 4 year olds with minimal exposure.  Personally, I prefer actual objects but I understand that we just don't have the time necessary to collect the least I don't often. So these type of activities are available for purchase as well as pretty easy to make, if you so desire.

Muddy Boots
These turned out cute!
 Mailbox idea again.  Can you tell I like Mailbox?  Very reasonable...and the activities are "worth it".  Usually "tried and true" from other teachers.  I just want to reiterate that this is not an art activity.  On a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 being "well, okay" and 5 being "awesome!"... I'd put this activity as a 1.  :-P  Just because it uses paint, it doesn't mean that it's true art.  There were a few decisions to be made...choices they could have so that put it at 1.  This was put under fine motor/scissors today.  Children cut out their boots, glued on the pieces using paste spreader and liquid glue, added legs in the color they wished and blobbed the "mud" on and smeared it the way the wanted.  But really, it's not open-ended at all. Now if I gave them all the materials and just let them go (hmmm...wonder how that would have turned out?  :-) Not "cute" by any adult standard.) then it would have been further up the scale.  The children also gave me a dictation sentence or two about muddy boots.  I got "Muddy boots.  It's okay they get dirty." (4 yrs) and "I like to step in mud and drive a car and get muddy tracks on it." (3 yrs). 

Our art today would be at a 4, in my opinion.  They pretty much had the freedom to do what they wished with it...but that stencil makes only certain flowers so it "limits" them.  Perhaps I'm harsh on myself...but so be it.  :-)  The stenciling is "new" lately.  And to see their expressions, I wished I had incorporate some of these kind of stenciling sooner.  I've used the large one object stencils but these whole sheet stencils add a different dimension.  I purchased a set of three at our dollar store.  They are a flimsy we'll see how they hold up.  Here's an expression that's priceless!
One of the things that made it such a good morning was both children automatically started cleaning up their area.  The little guy sang his own little song, "Cleaning, cleaning, for the next person." (Even though he was the last person since we only had three here today.) I love that they are showing such a sense of order and respect for friends and materials. 
I purchase a box of store brand wipes that we call "art" wipes.  These are used for clean up (if it's something they can do on their own) or if they have just a wee bit on their hands so we don't have to constantly go through the livingroom to the bathroom.
Trent's version.  :-) 
He really concentrated after he got over the paint on his pinkie.  LOL  He does not like ANYTHING on him.  But my goal is to teach him it's "okay to get messy". (MOST TIMES!)

I really would love a decent drying rack.  Have had my eye on one from Discount School Supply but...really, I have no space for one.  So, my kitchen wall turns into a "drying rack" for most artwork that doesn't have a lot of drippiness to it.  Keeps it out of reach until dry and keeps my counters clear of artwork.  I could buy stock in masking tape.  One of my most used "materials". :-)  I am always securing down their work. It makes life easier on everyone if their work (especially painting) is secured to the tray or table.  Just a little FYI. 
So, I was talking about Trent.  Maybe today is a turning point.  Typically he enjoyed painting until something got on his hand...which was about the first or second stroke.  Lately, when I asked if he wished to paint he'd adamantly shake his head no and say something to that effect. But today he did so much more on his paper.  But even more important than that, after he was cleaned up he went out into the livingroom with the other kids, I stuck it up on the wall.  When he came back in for should have heard him blibber blabber, pointing to his artwork and smiling and laughing.  Wow! Didn't have a clue what he said but sure got the point! :-P 

April showers bring May flowers.
I took the flowers off of a lei to put in the water.  They will float...and sink as they found out!  They will also stick to the side of the container.  We had a pattern going at one point.  Awesome!  When they do a skill on their own then you know they've got it. 
He told me..."downpour...sprinkles" while he dumped the water out onto the flowers and then sprayed with the spray bottle.  We had been talking about downpours so most likely that was his connection.   Water play is always a favorite.  Lately I have been changing out our sensory material every day or every other day.  It's working out nicely.  At one point we did one sensory material for the week with different tools.  The kids are really enjoying this frequent change.  But that doesn't mean we don't want the "tried and true".  Water exploration has so many benefits and should be repeated often...even if it's only in the bathtub after a bath.  The spray bottle was the hit today and we know, from previous blog, the benefit of using a spray bottle.

Have a lovely day!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers II

Well, today started a little differently but it all worked out.  :-)  Here are some of the activities we did today.  Maybe there will be something that can be used as a jumping board for your own kiddos!

First off, I had someone ask me whether I did the weather with the children.  I had in the past but this year we mainly talked about it informally.  But as I went through the weather tub I found what we used before and so decided to pop it up with our calendar and see how it went.  There was so much excitement from the children who were here previously.  :-)  We're doing it differently as space/time doesn't allow for us to get into it too much but we'll play it by ear. looks like my days of the week pockets are crooked :-) Didn't notice it until I took the picture.  That'll need to change!  LOL  Not that the kids care.'s getting cluttered here.  I won't be able to add too much more. I had a lot larger place for my calendar wall before we remodeled the kitchen and took the wall/cupboards out.  We use to have all this and a weekly nursery rhyme and it never looked too cluttered to me.  Oh well, we do what we can.  Changed the alphabet display to flowers and butterflies. is where I got this printable. I have it so that we can remove the lower case letters.  The typical progression of themes seems to go  So I'll be keeping this display up for a bit instead of changing it out...I think!  Below is a closer up of the weather section.  All laminated for durability and also so we can write and rewrite on the page.
Excuse the smeary look of our weather helper page.  We found out that the dry erase marker we used yesterday does NOT erase easily with even the Expo spray.  I find that the easiest way to get that smear off is to keep writing over top of it with a different brand and eventually it will come clean.  We sing a weather helper song and that child goes to the window and tells us about the weather and clips the clothespin on the weather wheel.  We put the symbol in the "actual" column and the child predicts what tomorrow is going to be like. (Must be a MI boy...he told me he thinks it's going to snow tomorrow!)  We place that symbol in the "prediction" column.  Then they give a weather message.  Since it's the end of the school year I do talk about punctuation briefly with each dictation.  Previously we did a weather graph book where we took the actual pictures and glued them onto a page for the month and then we could compare from month to month.

We had a perfect start of our week.  Goes right along with the theme!
Here is a little language activity we also did today.  I like to include these simple activities for each theme.  It makes them think!  And of course they are getting print concept reinforcement.  I use a different color for each child when I'm writing their thought.  Here's what I got to my statement, "Tell me about rain."
* It makes it muddy out.
* Flowers grow!
*  It makes leaves wet.
* It goes to ice.
* Rainbow!
*  It dropped down and get super, super wet!
*  It make plants grow.
* It gets my hair wet!
*  Kenzie had a umbrella and I get dirty on my feet.
Note:  I repeat their thought back exactly how they said it and get confirmation that I understood correctly and then I write it down exactly as they said, saying each word as I write it.

April showers bring May Flowers!
I saw this at the school yesterday.  :-)  Well, something similar.  Their's all looked the same and had no writing on it.  We turned it into a math and fine motor activity.  Children cut out their clouds and wrote the words "April" and "May" (hand over hand for the younger one).  The far left on is actually mine.  I don't normally display my work but this time I did because I wanted the additional math problem. Things we talked about
* primary colors
*  number sentence
* adding/addition
* more/less
* long/short
* couple means 2.

K. is cutting out her 9 piece rainbow puzzle.
These make great scissor activities.  All the puzzle printables from this site are so bold and some are realistic pictures, which I like.  This one had a sun in the upper left hand corner and rain in the lower right hand corner with a rainbow in the center.

Hunt and Write
This was a Mailbox idea.  Well, I'll give them credit.  I've been doing things like this for a long time but I was reminded of it in a Mailbox magazine.  :-P  I placed rainbow rice in a tub and hid large magnetic letters, A-Z.  Provided a metal pan for them to put their letters on. The found a letter, put it on the pan, and wrote it on their paper.  At this point, he had already filled one side of the pan and flipped it over (nice thing about metal pans!). Since he's my oldest student I had folded his paper into rectangles to help him make his letters a wee bit smaller and more organized.  He also found all (or almost all) the letters.  The younger children had no folds and they only did it as interest kept them.  They stayed interested for quite a while though!  Consider putting shape and numbers in sensory tubs also.  If you have an older child you can do sight words or CVC words.  I did the CVC words with my own children.  Had small picture of the words in the sensory tub and they wrote the word down on their paper.

Well, that's a few of the things we did.  Enjoy! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers

These next two weeks will be with that thought in mind..."April showers bring may flowers".  We've already done "weather" but we'll focus more on rain and finish up our rainbow projects we didn't get done previously.  And then next week we'll start into flowers.  I love "flowers" theme.  There is SO much that can be done! 

Going through the tubs and here's a few past projects/activities we've done.

Five Umbrellas.  I went ahead and popped them on the fridge since the children love magnets at the fridge.  In the picture, Trent is pointing to the words in the song (posted for my benefit) and saying "e, e, e!"  :-P  Reminder that little fingerplays and songs like these are great for beginning subtraction, counting and, in this case, color recognition and naming.
Five Umbrellas
Five umbrellas stood by the door,
The red one went outside, then there were four.
Four umbrellas, pretty as could be,
The blue one went outside, then there were three.
Three umbrellas with nothing to do,
The green one went outside, then there were two.
Two umbrellas, not having much fun,
The yellow one went outside, then there was one.
Just one umbrella alone in the hall.
The purple one went outside and that was all!

Side note:  It really doesn't matter what order the colors are said in.  And we don't really want to teach it in a specific order, so mix it up when you are saying it with them.  That way they will be much more comfortable "retelling" the story on their own and that is the goal, at least for my older ones! When I see them working with this type of display on their own, I can see exactly what they have learned.  These umbrellas were made out of craft foam and pipe cleaners with self-adhesive magnet strip on the back.

If All The Raindrops...
Remember that song?  If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops...oh what a rain it would be.  I'd stand outside with my mouth opened wide, singing "ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah".  The year we did this the kids were so into that 'ah-ah-ah' so I decided to incorporate a little literacy lesson. I only suggest this if you are doing it for your own children or for a small group.  It was simple but a little time consuming on my part.  The children did color mixing in an ice cube tray and the dropped the colored water onto a coffee filter semicircle.  Then they chose their pipe cleaner color for the handle.  The bottom part was a little book and I used each letter of their name with corresponding beginning sound food items.  So Aaron's first page stated,
"If all the raindrops were apples and apricots, oh what a rain it would be..." and instead of "ah-ah-ah..." we changed it to the upper and lower case letter (Aa) we focused on that page and said the sound of that letter.  Caleb's first page was
"If all the raindrops were candy and cantaloupe, oh what a rain it would be..." and then "Cc, Cc, Cc, Cc..."  Then I went through each letter in their name.

Tall Tulips
This was probably a Mailbox idea.  Simple activity, great for fine motor.  The children chose their colors of precut triangles, as many as they wanted, to fold into tulips and glue at the top of the paper.  Then they drew tall stems and wrote Ws at the bottom for leaves. 

Violets in a Vase
Again, most likely an idea from The Mailbox.  The one on the left is obviously an adult made one.  Do I show examples to children? Not usually-especially not with art projects, but in this regard, they needed an idea of what I meant.  So I did and then I put it away.  This is a fine motor/scissors activity.  First they ripped lavender and violet paper, done in a previous session.  Then they cut out the vase and decorated it with Vs.  They showed me where they wanted their violets and how many and I traced a circle for them to help them to keep the paper in one area (in order to actually make a violet).  Then they glued their vase and ripped paper on.  Finally, to complete the project, they took a green crayon and made a stem from the flower to the vase, hard to see that in the right picture.

Here the child sorted the foam circles onto their flower pots.  For a younger child, have only one pot and provide only the colors they need.  For an older child, sort with more colors and then we compare the two pots. 
We talked about
*  similarities/differences
*  how many of each color. 
*  If the colors are in two sections (like the 2 pink centers and 4 pink circles on the flower pot) then we added them together. 
*  They also use prediction.  For example, if the blue flower pot had 5 blue foamies across the top.  How many orange foamies do you think there are on the orange flower pot?  Then, of course, we use the term "equal". 
*  We also talked about odd and even and set the foamies out in a line and counted by twos to see if there was an "odd one out".  There's a lot to do with something that looks so simple! 

Note: I'm not sure where I printed these from.  It's unusual for the website not to be on the pages somewhere!  If anyone knows what site these came from, please let me know so I can provide the link and give it proper ownership.  Thanks!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

100 years from now...

One hundred years from now,
It won't matter what car I drove,
What kind of house I lived in,
How much I had in my bank account,
Nor what my clothes looked like;
But, the world may be a little better
Because I was important in the life of a child.

I love this "poem"/thought.  We know we'll never be rich monetarily, in this field, but oh, watching a child take steps forward in their development is so worth it!  We had an excellent week today.  I had a FULL house on Friday.  There was a completely different set of dynamics and it went so wonderfully well!  (Not that I wasn't tired...but it was a pleasant tired).  And to hear those conversations, the peer teaching and the obvious steps forward in development "made my day" and reminded me...this is what I'm in this field for.  Hope you all have days like I had that remind us about the important things in being important in the life of a child.

Here's another "thought" for you!
The ABC's of Children
    Acknowledge them!
    Trust them!
    Allow them!
    Honor them!
    Nourish them!
   Embrace them!
   Treasure them!
Here now
    Be with them!
    Delight with them!
    Appreciate them!
    Learn from them!
    Cherish them!
    Fly with them!
    Esteem them!
    Respect them!
    Value them!
    Encourage them!
    Support them!
    Enjoy them!
    Believe in them!
    Affirm them!
    Protect them!
    Recognize them!
Xtra special
    Celebrate them!
    Notice them!
    Laugh with them!

------author unknown-----

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bubbling Fish

Thought I'd share this activity we did today.  The original idea came from and looked like this. 
 Her photo is much more clear and organized then mine, since I didn't actually take a picture of the completed activity...only of the children doing it.  Sorry!  By the way, after "going fishing" in the water for sensory...this was the 2nd most wanted activity today during our kitchen work.  :-)
I only had color fish and didn't have time to make my own number fish so I adapted the activity to meet our needs (mine and children included).  I actually have three students who really need color recognition activities, a new child who I'm informally assessing to know where she is at and another who really didn't need color recognition but we talked about the color words and the word chunks.  So, first thing they did was put the fish out on the blue blanket (the pond/ocean) above the tabs of paper (can't see it but they have 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th... and they are in an ABAB pattern- yellow/green/yellow/green.)  Then we talked about where the first fish was at.  This most preschoolers can do.  Now the second question was "Where's the last fish?"  This almost always stumps them.  Note:  If a child does not have a sense of "left to right" progression when they are counting, ask only about first and last when the set is in a single row.  But most of my students have a good sense of left to right so I went ahead and gave them the challenge.  :-)  Then the children added corresponding "fishy bubbles", which were glass beads- set 1-10.  Then they put the beads back in the bowl for the next child (sense of order and respect for others) and put the fish back in their original fish bowl telling me the color name as they put it back in. 

Another side note:  next time I'll use a large blanket so that the beads don't get mixed together while those younger ones are trying to count them out.  :-)

We got our color fish (Let's Go Fishing Play Set) from
Note about color recognition/naming activities.  With Trent (not quite two), I simply name the colors as he puts them in.  Actually, yesterday he pointed to something yellow and said it quite clearly.  I'm guessing that "yellow" is going to be the general color term like 4 and E are for numbers/letters.  :-)  The three year old doesn't name all the colors correctly yet BUT...if I say the colors he'll point to them correctly.  So that's what he did.  Note:  many young children will interchange red and green. This does not necessarily mean they will be color blind.  Most time it's just development.  So no worries!  The four year old named them for me, only missing a couple.  The new five year old just named them as my goal was to see where she was at.  And my oldest five year old noticed the color words printed on the fish and we talked about how they are spelled (remembering the magnets on the fridge with the color fish) and how many word chunks were in each word.  So that should give you an idea how you can vary an activity to meet the needs of each individual least in the realm of colors!

So glad for all these creative people that are willing to share their ideas.  We're all in this together...helping our children take steps forward in their development.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Handwriting IV

A quick tip I came across the other day.  I'm not sure where I came across it though, sorry.  But the thought was about tearing paper.  I find that tearing paper is very difficult for toddlers and preschoolers, even up to 5 years old.  Ripping the paper requires them to bring one hand back and the other hand forward, which is difficult but the biggest thing is starting the paper.  Typically I began the paper for them with a little rip on the top but the idea was this...use craft scissors (pinker/pinking shears) to cut the paper for the child.  The zig zag makes it's easier for them to rip.  So I'm going to try it soon! 
Another side note:  Scissors-  if scissors are being held and used correctly, they themselves help strengthen the hand using that helps with the strength in the hand also, necessary for strong handwriting skills.  In our program we do a scissors activity daily, separate from a fine motor activity. 

Ocular Movement:
So what is Ocular Motor Skills or Movements?  Without getting into too much detail it's really refers to the ability of the eyes to working together to focus on an object and keep it in the line of vision even if it is moving (so focus and track).  Also, ocular movements compensate for our own body's the object isn't distorted.  I'm sure you can see just how it plays a part in reading and writing.  Again, I'm not a specialist in these areas.  But I'm a big believer that early childhood teachers/care providers should be well aware of development and possible delays is in typical development so that we can get our families the assistance that they need to better help their child be successful.  If children have difficulty in this area, as they get older one might notice poor penmanship, poor spacing with their letters and words, difficulty copying letters, needing to put their finger under each letter/word when they should be reading more fluently without, they might begin to skip words as they are reading and so on.  It really does effect more than just that though.  When vision problems are going undetected, these children are missing a lot of information and are often unable to retain the information given to them visually and that will effect the whole realm of learning...which then can lead to behavior problems also.  Maybe this is a good time for another "sidenote".  :-P I find that when children have behavior problems... providers/teachers (especially at the elementary and higher level) tend to focus on the behavior when the behavior is actually caused by something else.  I often told those I worked with to look beneath the behavior.  Observe, keep track, get that relationship with the child and the true reason (which is often because of something beyond the child's control- vision, cognitive, physical, so on) and go from there.  Find the root of the problem...don't focus on the leaves. 

Activities to do with this thought in mind:
*  Right from babies you can keep this in mind and "track print".  So when you are reading a book, point to each word as you say it.
*  I often have pointers available and children will "track" with me with the displays.  Many Montessori blogs show poems that they have available for the children.  In Kindergarten, typically there is a song, poem, sentence on large chart paper to track.  This is done in some preschools also.  :-)  I'd like to incorporate more of that in my own program.  We tend to do a lot of tracking at a smaller scale but I could definitely incorporate poems and such at a larger scale.
*  For little ones, be sure to encourage tracking of a rattle or your face/fingers...right from birth!
*  Children love flashlights.  Have them move a flashlight along a wall or ceiling and follow it visually.  Perhaps you want to add a basic concept reinforcement...have them track with their eyes and flashlight a row of shapes, colors, alphabet, numbers and so on.
*  Mazes- this doesn't work well for very young preschoolers.  Nice for older students but you can find or create very simple paths to follow that work the same as mazes.  I tend to put these in plastic page protectors and into a binder.  Then we can reuse them over and over.  :-)  Here's an example of a "maze" that is in our Kumon Tracing binder.  This has gotten a lot of use.  The children love this progressive book. So colorful!  They have a colorful tracing page and then the back side of that page is a practice sheet. 
*  Hidden picture pages/books, again I tend to tear the pages out and put them in page protectors and into binders.  There are a lot of these types of printables available on the Internet.  And, of course, don't forget about the Highlights publications.  Kids love to get stuff in the mail!

Eye-Hand Coordination
Eye-hand coordination is something we use all day long, every day of our life.    And really, handwriting, tying your shoe, buttoning your shirt, zipping your jacket is quite a thing for some kids.  It requires them to use together their cognitive, vision, sense of touch and movement to get the task done.  Some children will avoid this type of thing when it becomes difficult but that's something we can not allow.  :-)  So make it fun for them!  Eye Hand Coordination activities aren't fancy.  Much of it can be done throughout the day with their own toys.
*  Throwing balls, bean bags and etc into a target, starting closer and moving farther away.  This week we had our hula hoops out so we also used it as a target.  (Tossed the fish into the pond.)
* Bowling pin set
* Pegs into a peg board
* hammer and tack set
*  The balloon batting that I mentioned in a previous post is also good for eye-hand coordination.
* Dressing dolls (you can purchase these type of dolls that have shoe lacing, buckles, zipper, buttons, velcro and so on from and other like stores/suppliers).
* puzzles and any type of manipulative toys.
* sensory activities are great for this...digging and scooping and transferring to another container is perfect for this.
* lacing large beads onto dowels (or laces if they are capable).
* Yes, and even video and computer games can benefit hand-eye coordination.  Just use them in small doses please!
*  tweezers moving items from one place to another. I feel like I'm repeating myself...which is probably a good thing since it brings me to the reminder that many of the fine motor games/toys/activities we have available often benefit multiple eye-hand coordination, hand strengthening and so on.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fish Theme

I really did plan to add to our Handwriting Blog but today's work went so smoothly that I wanted to share that.  Information is important but pictures of actual activities are much more fun! 

Yesterday, due to circumstances, I had only one preschool child.  So needless to say there was a lot of 1:1, which is nice for a change and was able to do some review with that child.  Here is one activity she started yesterday and finished today.
Steps one and two.
1) cut strips of tissue paper in squares.
2) place squares on wax paper and cover completely with liquid starch.  I added blue food coloring to the starch.
End product!  Looks nice on a window.
This idea was from have done things like this with watered down glue, but liquid starch is much easier for the children to spread.

Shell Sorting and Counting
I planned it so there were 4 shells in each of the 5 groups.  I did this intentionally as I'm working with number formation with my older students.  It's also a great way to reinforce the term "equal".  As you can see below, I used our tactile numbers to reinforce number recognition/formation.  I also provided chips to place on each of the starfish, adding a little more "hands-on" to a work sheet.
I prefer to have block numbers vs. dotted/dashed numbers for tracing but I really don't have time to make my own sheets.  The students that have been with me for awhile do not have difficulty with tracing dashed lines so I go ahead and use them.  I sang the numeral formation song with her as she traced the numbers and then we flipped it over so she had a big white space to practicing writing the number four.  This helps me see just where they are at for that particular number.  The website for these sheets is  We'll do the set of 10, one a day for the next little while.  Each time we do a sheet, we'll have a separate hands-on activity related to that number.

Does that tray look familiar?  Of course it does.  The shells are just piled up in the measuring containers though, this time around.  I hid the shells in the sand and suggested they sort them.  Obviously, this little guy had other plans.  No problem though!  Sensory is pretty much their science exploration and we'll get the shell sorting another time.  :-)

Okay, this has nothing to do with the fish theme.  But it's something we did yesterday and has enough benefits to warrant me mentioning it.  :-)
Yesterday, K and I made Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins.  I had to change some of our plans to fit it in, time wise, so we considered this sensory.  :-P  It's also great fine motor.  She cracked that egg like a pro!  Mashing the bananas took a little more effort.  And then the hardest was putting the paper liners in the muffin tin.  It harder than it looks for little hands!  But great fine motor and we reinforced that 12=dozen.  Also, remember that stirring helps with strengthening the hands/wrist.
Mmmm!  They were good!

Color Word Spelling
(mentioned in a previous blog)
Yes, I was was a hit.  :-)  Especially with the oldest student and my own kids.  Trent (20 months) loves to take the letters down and put them back up and he tells me "E" whenever he sees a letter now.  Note:  check that posture, see how his back is straight.  I put a few just above eye level when sitting down so that the children have to reach up a bit.  Couldn't do it for eye level at standing because then the shorter/younger children wouldn't have been able to interact.

I can NOT believe I have not done this activity before.  Have seen this idea on many a Montessori blog but never could find the bath mat clings already in a shape.  So said, I amdoing a fish so here we have it.  Excellent activity for fine motor control-crossing the midline.  Great for Trent...who if he was at a center, would not be doing an activity like this because of the choking hazard concern.  And I understand that completely, but as I've mentioned before, children NEED to participate in activities that have small items so they can work their hands...and better to be done between 18-24 months when it's really developing.  So supervise I did and he LOVED it.  (Actually, he was suppose to be sleeping and I went into this bedroom and he's standing at the side of his crib saying his version of "marble-ball, marble-ball" :-))The other kiddos loved it too.  It really kept their attention and was a challenge.  Since I've been blogging about handwriting I was really watching the kids today.  Trent is doing exceptional with hand dominance and crossing the midline.  Actually, you'll notice the big spot on the tray in the upper left hand corner?  That's where I had the bowl of marbles.  :-)  Somebody moved the bowl to the right side after trying a few times to use his left hand to scoop from the left side and then switching to the right hand and reaching (which didn't work well either).  So he solved that problem.  Next time I'll use a bigger tray if I can so that the bowl can be put easily on either side (to catch the marbles).   I noticed that the older two did well also.  The younger one did okay when I reminded him to use the one hand and reaching vs. left hand for left side and right hand for right side (this is the child who is still working on hand dominance also).  This child also ended up using his pincher fingers more often than not.  So I know what area to work with him!

Venn Diagram
When it's been awhile since we've done something I like to do a little group lesson.  Then I leave the items out.  This is what I saw after lunch.
Oh, that does make the teacher in me smile!

Scissors skill for today.  Cutting on a thin but short line.  We'll later use these pictures for patterning and such.  I added a fine motor component by putting a slit in the top of a margarine lid and having them place their pictures inside.  This was three fold, I don't have a laser printer so the pictures will smear if we aren't careful so it "protects" the pictures, it helps them feel a sense of order (and appreciate it), and of course the fine motor component of putting a small item through a small slit.
My older student was beyond this activity so I gave him his own activity. A picture to word match that you can find at
This was definitely him thinking "okay, give Ms. Amber a smile." picture.  Beautiful smile though!  You'll notice that most of the pictures taken are of them tongues sticking out in concentration and etc.  LOL  He would have preferred to do the other activity because he doesn't particularly care for a "challenge" but I know him well and he was proud of his work when he was done. 

This was Trent's "art" today.  He really did NOT like the foam stickers sticking to his fingers and he needed help squeezing and moving the bottle.  But that's fine for a not yet 2 year old.  He definitely enjoyed adding the extra dots of glue and spooning the salt over his picture (and dumping the salt onto his tray!)  He had quite the blue fingers when he was done!
Here are the other children's.
I did put this under "art".  It's not (well, yes it is in a way) messy art but it was wide open for how they wanted to do it.  I'm not all into sticky foamies.  Sometimes these type of foamies are really hard to peel off the backs but they did well today, for the most part.  We set it up with foamies on the left, paper in the center, bowl for backings on the right to help with that left to right concept and sense of order.  When they got as many foamies as they wanted, they set it aside and mixed blue food coloring into a bowl of salt.  Stir, stir, stir!  Then they added "waves".  The top two are older children and I asked them if they wanted me to show them how to make a wave.  "Yes!"  So we did one wave hand over hand.  Then they made their own wave(s).  The child who owns the bottom piece of artwork did not want me to help him. Re: pictures on the top- child on the left is "more into" math and fine motor is lacking a bit, for various reasons.  The child on the right is more into that nitty gritty fine motor stuff and appreciates order and you can see the difference in their waves (especially when they do it with markers.  It's hard to squeeze and move that glue bottle!) and their placement of the foam shapes.   The picture on the top left, that child was telling me he was going to make a pattern and told me what it was going to be (a correct pattern, by the way) then he got busy and there wasn't room to make the pattern he wanted so he changed his mind.  :-P  Oh, I love to listen to them talk, sometimes to themselves and sometimes to me.  After awhile you begin to know when to actually say something and when to let them do their thing without interruption. 

Two more sites for you:
We did an Ocean themed "What's the Difference?" page today.  I'm big on children noticing detail and this page fit into our theme.  (Also helped with drawing circles).  You should be able to find it at the above site.
We also did an I See Fish booklet, color review, counting sets and scissors.  I'm not sure if that was a free booklet or not.  This is the one site that I actually pay a membership for.  This site often has color and black & white options.  The b&w options are often smaller and that makes it nice for your preschoolers!
Oh, we've had fun the last couple days and there are still a couple more days so you can see why it was better for me to post today ;-) instead of waiting to the end of the week.  Fun stuff!