Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Art Geometry!

Holiday time is a wonderful opportunity to intersect geometry and art. This week we share two fun ways to teach and reinforce geometric shapes. The key is oral expression. So, get children talking about their work!

Painting Geometry:
First paint a large green triangle on a paper. 

Talk about the shape and ask children to find other shapes that look like a triangle in your classroom, on the playground, or in the home. Give children green paintbrushes and ask them to fill in the green triangle.

After it dries, suggest they paint red circles or other shapes on the tree. Again, discuss the shapes and ask children to verbalize. For an added touch, I like to have children use a straw to create a string of lights. Dilute paint with water and then put a dab on the tree. Have children use a straw to blow the paint around. There will be lots of giggles and excitement!

Shape Tree:
You can also glue a geometric tree scene. Cut several sizes of green triangles. I cut out squares and rectangles to look like gifts, too. 

Ask children to layer the triangles from small to large. This is good practice with key math vocabulary.  Have children glue the triangles. Later add the gifts as you discuss the shapes.

This project can become a winter scene, too. Skip the gifts and glue cotton balls to the trees. As you do this, talk about circles and spheres. The finished product is a winter wonderland of geometry!

Happy Holiday Art! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Art = Science and Oral Language Skills

Many of you likely made the famous “hand” turkeys but did you know handprints can be used to make many other animals, too?  As you do this art project, remember the key is in the conversation. You can teach and reinforce color words along with direction words as children make their caribou (or reindeer) masterpieces.

Begin by showing children a picture of a reindeer or caribou. For interested children, you may want to point out that reindeer are smaller caribou. They live with people. For curious children, you can even introduce the word domesticated. You can talk about dogs, cats, or cows as domesticated animals. Ask children to think about animals that are wild animals like squirrels, bears, seals, and caribou!  You can show children this drawing of a reindeer:

Tell children they are going to make a reindeer (or caribou) head. Have them clench their fist as shown:

Ask children what color the reindeer’s face could be. This child chose purple:

Paint the part of the hand as shown above. Have the child put his/her hand down on the paper. Emphasize the word, “down. “

Then have children make the antlers. Talk about these structures that appear on caribou and reindeer. Ask children to choose a color and paint the hand:

Emphasize to children to put their hand “above” the head.

Let the paint dry. Then ask children to paint the eyes and nose on the face.  See if children can point to the place where these facial features should be before painting.

When finished, have children describe the sequential steps in creating their pictures. See if they use appropriate color words and proper direction vocabulary such as down, on, and above.  Also ask children to talk about the differences between caribou and reindeer. The key is the conversation! 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Squishy Squash Exploration

Squash exploration is a perfect integration of science, art, fine motor skills, and school readiness skills. Try squishin’ some squash to excite young children.  And holiday time is the perfect time to turn preschoolers into food scientists.

Bring in several types of squash. Still have pumpkins around? Add them to the table or ask them to recall what they remember about cleaning their pumpkins.  This will help activate background knowledge, an important school readiness skill. 

Write words like seeds, pulp, and skin

Ask them to look at types of squash you have in your classroom or home. You can encourage families to visit the local market to look at different types of squash on display. Some families may even use their mobile phones to take photos of this squash exploration. 

Ask children to predict what the squash will look like when cut open. Either write class predictions on a chart or have each child draw a picture of what they think they will see. You can also encourage children to talk about and/or draw what they think the similarities and differences of each squash will be once cut open.

Encourage children to handle the squash. Ask them to use specific vocabulary to describe the squash as they take out seeds, feel the pulp, and touch the carved-out squash.  Children can discuss their predictions. It is important to create an atmosphere where children are free to say, “My prediction was wrong.” We like to praise children for these words, as we want them to feel free to think creatively as they make guesses. We don’t want a classroom where only correct predictions are celebrated.

Finally, integrate art with your science project.  This art can be an accurate representation of what was discovered. Have them glue actual seeds and ribbon or yarn to construction paper to show the inside of a squash.

Conclude the Squishy Squash Exploration by preparing a dish with squash and reading a book like Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow and Anne Wilsdorf to the class. 


Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me!

As families and teachers know, a birthday is an important and exciting milestone in a child’s life. There are many ways to celebrate and mark this occasion, but you can also use a birthday as a fun motivator for accomplishing necessary preschool learning goals.

Ask children to look through family photos. These should range from birth to the present. Talk with the child about the passage of time. This will help make words such as year and month more meaningful. Encourage your child to choose 3 favorite pictures showing different ages of growth.

Have your child put the photos in order from birth to present day. Ask the child to think about how he or she has grown and changed. Encourage the child to tell you something about each picture. Write the words under or beside each picture.

This helps children understand time passage (especially as birthdays approach!), use sequence vocabulary, practice oral language skills, and see that ‘writing is talk written down.’ What important learning opportunities along with a special way to celebrate a child’s birthday!   


 I was a baby. My dad had to hold me.

I got bigger. I could sit. I learned to eat messy food. I was funny. 


 I grew and grew. I went to school. It is my birthday!

*Teachers can send home instructions to families to complete this project at home. It makes a fun and meaningful family project.  Teachers may ask that the photos be bought to school for sharing time.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Importance of Rhyming

We know there is a strong correlation between a child’s phonemic awareness and later literacy abilities. You can develop phonemic awareness by helping your preschoolers learn to rhyme.

We love books that have a regular rhyming pattern like the Llama, Llama books by Anna Dewdney. Read these often to children. After children get the sound of the language in their ears, leave out the second pair of rhymed words and let children fill in the word, as the child does in this clip:

Give clues and praise for the rhymes! This sets the stage for onsets and rimes as children move to the beginning stage of reading. For example:

-ide is the rime. Add the onset r to make the word ride. Add h for hide, s for side, or t for tide. You can see how rhyming sets the stage for reading.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thinking BIG Mathematically: Naming Numbers

Picture a ladder.  Is your ladder narrow and tall? Will it get you to the top but in a tippy way? Wide ladders give you balance. When we encourage preschoolers to talk about numeracy, we need to be sure we are giving them a broad understanding of numbers. We don’t want those mathematical ladders to fall down in future years!

As your preschooler begins to talk and explore numbers, be sure he or she understands the many names for a number and the many ways to represent this number.

Ask your child to pick a number. I like numbers with meaning like the age of the child. If your child chooses 4, have them find 4 items.

Show the representation of these 4 items, by using dots.

Have children draw their own pictures or even just lines to show the concept of 4.

Write the number 4 using words – four:

Show something broken or torn into 4 pieces:

Other ideas, depending on a child’s understanding include:

Discuss or write the idea of before and after. – “The number before 4 is 3. The number after 4 is 5.”

Tally four:


Write the number four in another language – cuatro

Have your child find everyday objects and use them to show addition sentences:

Count backwards from 4 as this is an important precursor to subtraction:

4, 3, 2, 1 ,0

Showing the many representations for numbers will help your child understand mathematics in a BIG way! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Using Science Fun to Develop Fine Motor Skills!

We know that fine motor skills are important for preschoolers. Consider ways you can naturally develop these skills when you take a walk. The added bonus is the science you can encourage as you walk and talk!

Ask your child to pick up examples of fallen autumn leaves. Discuss the change in colors. Encourage your child to hold the leave between his or her thumb and pointer finger and twirl it. This exercises important finger muscles and encourages coordination.

Observing and noting differences in the trees, fall air, and ground cover, like crunchy leaves helps your child improve oral expression.  Ask questions to elicit descriptive words like crackly, chilly, and crisp.

When you get back to school or home, create a fall tree picture. Prepare cut strips of red, orange, yellow, and brown paper. 

Have your child use his or her thumb and pointer finger to tear small pieces to represent leaves. If your child has difficulty making this rip, get him or her in what we call the zone of proximal development* by starting the rip yourself. Encourage the child to continue and make the rest of the tear.

Prepare a construction paper by drawing the trunk of a tree on it, as shown below.

I love to have children squeeze glue from a bottle into a container as this also strengthens important hand and finger muscles.

Give your child a paintbrush to dip in the glue. Use the paintbrush to smear glue on a large area of construction paper, above the tree trunk.  Talk about this to reinforce the concept of above.

Have your child pick up each torn piece of paper, again using the thumb and pointer finger. Ask them to place it on the area smeared with glue.  

Discuss the different colors as they are placed on the “tree.” This connects the art with the out-of-doors experience.  Connections make for meaningful learning! 

*The zone that is the difference between what a child needs help to do and what he or she can do without any help at all. We often need to make a small step in the middle of this zone to assist children, as they become independent learners.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fun With Fonts!

We like to introduce our preschoolers to letters and numerals. But have you stopped to think about the font you use? Experienced readers see a or a and know what is meant. We see 1 or 1.But the different fonts that represent these letters and numerals can easily confuse children. Is it g or g? We need to be vigilant in looking at letters and numerals through the eyes of children who do not have the years of experience we do. So, be sure when you show children letters and numerals, you use one consistent font.

To help children recognize letters, have them “paint” letters on a small blackboard using water and a paintbrush.

You might have them form numerals from play-doh.

Ask them to find specific letters from the lowercase magnetic letters you have for the refrigerator. Using a giant magnifying glass makes this especially fun!

Then, when you feel confident your child knows the letters and numerals, introduce various fonts and have children match them. You might want to use a paper such as the one shown below. Cut out the letters and numerals. Let children match them.

You can also have children find various a’s etc. in environmental print examples such as newspaper circulars, signs, or household objects. 

Make finding letters and numerals part of your everyday routine. By showing children that print is everywhere, it becomes meaningful and natural!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Family Scientists!

This week we offer background and ideas for teachers to use in the classroom or in a newsletter. We hope families use these outdoor ideas as they explore the seasonal changes in the environment.

Science is all around us. You can encourage science in a classroom or where you live. How? One of the easiest and best ways is to simply take children outside. When adults do this, it helps awaken those memories of our own childhoods. What did we enjoy and see outside? Do you have memories of seasonal changes? Did you collect leaves, look for snakeskins, or intently observe a caterpillar on a twig? These produce long-term memories for humans. Experiences in the out-of-doors are memorable and create genuine learning opportunities. They also remind us to take time to appreciate the world all around us.

Recently I watched the excitement of four preschoolers as they discovered a large green caterpillar. The ensuing science talk was both developmentally-appropriate and would have made trained scientists proud. The little boys discussed the movement, the prickly hair, and the "googly"eyes. This is observation, as it should take place, in a natural setting. Scientific safety practices were noted as one child said the caterpillar should not be touched as it might sting. They all agreed. One budding environmentalist even said touching the caterpillar could stop it from going where it needed to travel.  With this, the talk turned to the question of where the caterpillar might be going, I realized these very young children were making hypotheses. They pointed outside the playground, up a tree, and across a road. Then they waited to test their guesses. They clapped and jumped as the caterpillar headed for a tree.  What a way to make the scientific process come alive!

An experience like this can be the perfect segue into scientific reading. Books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle can be read and connections made to the outdoor experience. Make art part of the learning fun with a follow-up painting, pictures created with markers, or even cutting out a caterpillar and using it as a puppet to reenact the experience. Remember, anything can be science!

Below are just some of our ideas. Use these as a jumping off spot to create your own natural science lesson.

·      Observe the weather.  Keep a chart. Talk about the clothes we need to wear for this weather. Books like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats can mirror a child’s experience and lead to discussion about what we do when the weather surprises us.

·      Tracks on the ground? Study them! What animal could have made them? What direction was it heading? Perhaps you can observe ants or grubs. Invite children to ask questions about their observations. This is inquiry-based learning!

·      Observe shadows. Mark a child’s shadow on the sidewalk using chalk. Return several times during the day to discover how the shadow changes. This will likely lead to the all-important “why” question.

·      Watch a worm go into the earth. Encourage children to ask questions about this and to draw what they see.This is reporting results!

·      Watch dandelions change over several days. Talk about how the dandelion looks on specific days. This helps children activate higher-order thinking skills as they consider change over time.

Now, it’s your turn! What will you do in the classroom or home? How can you encourage families to get involved in outdoor science?

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Predictor of Later Math Success: Subitizing

We know it is important for children to count in a meaningful way. They need to be able to point to objects and say “One, two, three,” and so on. But, learning to quickly identify the number of objects is also important. Research shows that this skill, termed subitizing, is a predictor of later math success.  Yes, there are even different types of subitizing, but more about that in later posts. For now, let’s see how we can build a child’s subitizing skills.

Show them cards with dots on them. Have them say the number they see.

It is best to arrange the dots in different ways. So five could be arranged as these two examples show:

Rearrange in other ways, too. The point is that quantity recognition should be immediate. 

A fun way to help with subitizing is to cut-out fun shapes, use magnetic tape, and put them on a cookie sheet. For those with a need to touch items, put like objects on a board.  Ask children how many shapes are seen.

Using pictures with circles can help children with tactile needs. Have them use puff balls, colored stones, or small blocks to cover the dots. Discuss the quantity until the recognition becomes automatic.

Print this picture to use with your children: