Saturday, December 27, 2014

Preschool Pinecone Science and Math

The holidays are a wonderful time for families to support learning in fun and natural ways. 

Go for a walk. Collect pinecones. This is a perfect opportunity to talk about the different kinds of trees: those that stay green all year long and those that shed their leaves. Ask children to tell about the trees. Have them explain their observations. 

Children may even collect pinecones that are on the ground. 

When you get home, children can line-up the pinecones from largest to smallest. Have them tell about this sequence. This is a good vocabulary builder!

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC: 2.C.03; 2.D.06; 2.G.02; 2.J.05
Head Start: I.D; III.C.; VIII.B.; XI.B.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evergreen Trees: Art and Science

In the autumn most of us talk about the changing trees, the colors, and the falling leaves. Now that it is winter, this is a wonderful time to point out the differences in tree types. Invite children to look at those trees with bare branches; the ones that just a few months ago sported vibrant colors. Then have them look for trees that are still green – the evergreens.

Develop vocabulary skills by having children talk about the differences between the evergreen trees and deciduous (those that lose their leaves) trees.  How motivating as those that celebrate Christmas will be decorating an evergreen tree!

We suggest having children collect pinecones that have fallen from nearby evergreen trees. Below is an integrated art and science project that will help children understand that evergreen trees keep their needles all year long.  It is a project that preschool children can complete without adult hands needing to intervene. We love this type of project as it is truly child-created. The bonus? Fine motor skills are practiced and refined!

Collect a few pinecones.

Color a paper plate green.

Paint the pinecones green.

Gently tear apart cotton balls. Glue the cotton to the paper plate. 

Glue the pinecones to the winter scene.

Now have children describe their winter scene and what it tells us about evergreen trees!

Standards Alignment:

NAEYC: 2.C.03; 2.D.06; 2.G.02; 2.J.05

Head Start: I.D; III.C.; VIII.B.; XI.B.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Living Things

Children are natural scientists. They love to observe and should be encouraged to talk about their observations. We can help guide them to “discover” many key concepts. Asking questions and having children sort objects into categories helps in science learning. This has the added benefit of helping develop oral vocabulary and even pre-reading skills.

Go for a walk around the school neighborhood or playground. Ask children to find the living things. When you go back into the room, ask children to draw one of the living things they saw. Have children show their work and verbalize why this is a living thing. Responses such as these are age-appropriate observations:

  • It moves.
  • It grows.
  • It needs food.
  • It breathes (actually exchanges gases like in the case of plants)

Have children look around the room for representations of living things. Examples include stuffed or plastic animals, plants, the children, pictures in books of fish, etc. Children can bring their items to circle time and verbalize their reasoning for why the item represents a living thing.  This helps develop new vocabulary.

We also like to incorporate movement and have children show how a plant moves or talk about the needs of animals for food and air. Some concepts are likely to be beyond what a preschooler can easily understand but we think it is helpful to introduce vocabulary such as a plant gives off oxygen, the air we need. It takes in carbon dioxide.

Children can then circle items on a worksheet such as the one below to identify living things:

For more on a unique living things, see our Weekly Activity, "Sand Dollars." It is a good way to integrate literacy skills with an unusual living thing. Sign up in the white box with your email.

Standards Alignment:
Head Start: IV. C; VI. B.; VIII. B.; XI. A & B.
NAEYC: 2.B.04; 2.D.04; 2.D.07; 2.G.02; 2.G.08.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Good Morning: Social, Sequence, and Science Connections!

We can never underestimate the importance of the beginning of the day. Whether you are a family member or teacher, the way a child starts his or her morning usually sets the tone for the remainder of the day.  This can be combined with other key learning goals to set the stage for a happy and productive day.

Before bed, look at the weather forecast together. Plan appropriate clothing based on this prediction.  Ask your child what clothing is right for cold weather, rainy weather, whatever is in the forecast. This will help develop vocabulary and will assist your child in making decisions.
Sometimes children become attached to one piece of clothing. You can help your child by narrowing choices. Show 2 shirts, etc., and let your child make the final decision. This will decrease problems in the morning.
You can also sequence morning events with your child. For example, you can say, first we will get out of bed, and then we will go to the bathroom. You will next brush your teeth. You will then get dressed. Finally you will eat breakfast before we go to school. This often gives children comfort and confidence, as they know what will happen. It decreases tensions in the morning.

Mornings are busy times for educators. But setting the tone for the day is essential.  We need to be available to our children as they walk in the door. Sit in a small chair or bend down to greet each child. Listen for any anxiety or trouble as children tell you about their morning.  Often problems can be solved right at the classroom door! We suggest putting out fun, meaningful, and child-friendly activities so that teachers can focus on individual greetings rather than on managing the group.
Many times families want to tell you something important and often believe the morning is the time to do this. While we want to hear from those at home, we encourage them to write a note or call/email with any information other than an emergency. We have found that when we explain to families the importance of the morning greeting as a tone-setter for the day, most families are more than willing to let the non-essential information wait until later.
This is also a good time to help child use new words or even tell you about the “sequence” of their morning. If it is snowing, you might want to have individual children describe their outerwear. You can even have them tell you about getting ready. For example, “Tell me what you put on first – your coat, boots, mittens, or hat? What did you put on next?”  This has the benefit of establishing a personal connection with each child, encouraging verbalization and discussion using sequence words along with understanding the relationship between weather and appropriate clothing.

For more on weather and appropriate dress, be sure to sign up for our free activities. Just enter your email in the white box! 
Standards Alignment:
NAEYC: 2.A.07, 2.B.01, 2D.03, 2D.06, 2G.04
Head Start: IIA., IIB., VIIIB., XI. A.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Questions For Families

On occasion, we will provide families with good questions to ask preschool teachers. We hope that not only families, but also that teachers and preschool centers will find these to be helpful. Teachers can send these questions home in advance of conferences or home visits. They can also use them as a guide when preparing remarks for conference time. These are just a few of many helpful discussion topics. Stay tuned for more!

Good Questions for Families to Ask:
Can you tell me how my child gets along with other children? Does my child play with other children or next to other children?

What is my child’s favorite activity?

What does my child like to do when you play outdoors?

How does my child respond when you give directions? (In other words, can my child follow 2 or 3 step directions?)

Does my child look at books?

Does my child know how to hold a book properly?

Does my child listen to a story when you read aloud?

Families Helping at Home:
Can you tell me 2 things I can do at home to help my child listen to directions better?

I know that reading to my child at home is important. Can you suggest good books for me to read?

Standards Alignment:
Head Start – II. A, B, C; IV. A; VII. A.
NAEYC – 2B; 2E

Monday, November 17, 2014


Sequencing is an important topic for school readiness. But we need to be sure we are being realistic in what we ask children to do. Sequencing should be developmentally appropriate.

Let’s start by defining sequence. It’s a list of numbers or terms arranged in a definite order.   

You can begin teaching children the idea of sequence by showing them pictures. You can hold up the large turkey and the small one. Say, “Here is a large turkey. Here is a small turkey. Put them in order from small to large.” When you model this, be sure you hold them so children’s eyes move in a left to right direction, the way eyes move when we read.

We have provided three turkey outlines for you to have children sequence from small to large. Ask them to glue them on a sheet of paper and verbalize the sequence. Talking about sequence is important as it gives children a mathematical vocabulary.

Look around your room – are there objects that children can sequence? Books can be put in order from smallest to largest. They can be put in order from lightest to heaviest. Use your scrap box. Children can glue four pieces of paper in sequence from small to large.  Encourage children to look outside and name three or four objects like grass, flower bush, holly tree, and pine tree that could be sequenced the opposite way - from large to small. This will encourage thought about the natural world and about an important mathematical idea: the school readiness skill of sequencing.

To see Dr. Kathy explain sequencing, visit our YouTube channel at

Standards Alignment:
Head Start: Mathematics Knowledge and Skills - 10 D1
NAEYC: Early Mathematics - 2.F.08; 2.F.10

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thanksgiving Preschool Crafts!

In our emergent reader activity for this week, we highlight a fun turkey craft for children. Like many holiday crafts, assembling it helps children with fine motor skills. The finished product makes a wonderful 3D bulletin board. 

Families appreciate the art as a decoration for their Thanksgiving table. For more on this delightful project, please be sure you are signed up to receive our free activities! To tempt you, we are posting the activity this week under our “Sample Activities” tab, in English and Spanish.

Like many preschool crafts, this one requires preparation on the part of teachers and caregivers.  This has many benefits as it helps children follow directions and sequence instructions. They need to glue the tail feathers on from small to large. We know this type of sequencing and color recognition is helpful for school readiness. But, there is another type of activity that we can’t forget about and must also celebrate.

We need to encourage children to create their own art. Merely giving children a blank piece of paper can encourage a world of wonder. You may not recognize what is drawn, but a simple, “Tell me about your picture” can bring forth valuable verbal descriptions and creative thought.

For November, we suggest simply drawing the outline of a large plate on a paper. Ask children to think about their favorite Thanksgiving foods. Without much prompting, this preschooler immediately picked up a marker and started drawing a serving of turkey.

He continued by adding mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and salad. While these foods may not be recognizable to adult eyes, they are to his eyes. This allows for creative and critical thought. He proudly shared his full plate and verbalized what he drew. This encourages use of oral vocabulary.

We must remember that while those many wonderful art projects available here and on other sites are valuable, simply providing a “blank slate” for preschoolers celebrates their creativity!

Standards Alignment:

Head Start:
Social and Emotional Development B
Creative Arts Expression C
Language Development B

2.D.01, 2.D.03, 2.J.06,

Monday, November 3, 2014

A "Worldly" Address

Children need to know their community but they also benefit from feeling grounded, as they understand their place in our big universe. Young children like to look at the sky and imagine what the moon, stars, and even clouds are like. We, at Maggie's Big Home, suggest you help children understand how their home or school relates to their town, state, country, continent, planet, solar system, and the universe. Watch the video below for a practical and teacher-tested idea to give children a concrete example of their universal address! 

You can write this address on chart paper and have children practice "reading" it as part of your morning routine. Take a photo of it and share with families so they can reinforce this long worldly address at home.

You may want to add art to the activity and ask children to decorate the boxes to represent their town, continent, the Earth, etc. this would make a good creative arts center activity for interested children.

While we are on the subject of addresses, we hope you help your preschoolers learn their home address and phone number. This is something families can partner with you to accomplish.

Your children dont have the memory for this yet and youre going on an outing? We suggest pinning a cell phone number inside a child's shirt so this can be shared should someone become separated from the group. It was rare that we pinned children's names to the outside of their clothing, as we didn't want strangers calling children by name. But the helpful hint of each child carrying a cell phone number in a hidden spot has proven to be helpful. We even role-played scenarios to help children understand who they should approach if they became lost. 

Be sure to sign up for our free weekly activities with your email (box to the right). These are wonderful classroom or home learning opportunities.  

Standards Alignment:

Head Start: Social Studies Knowledge and Skills A.5

NAEYC: Curriculum Content Area for Cognitive Development: Social Studies - 2.L.11

Monday, October 27, 2014

Preschoolers and Their Community

As teachers and parents of young children, we often emphasize holidays like Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, but our children can and should be exposed to other special days such as Veterans Day. For more on this, please sign-up to receive our fee activities. 

Include family and community members in your celebrations. Perhaps a relative or neighbor of a child is a veteran. You can ask the class to create a special letter for this person. 

One way we like to introduce children to the wide-range of services in their communities is to adopt an assisted-living facility or even a Veterans' Center. This is a wonderful reciprocal relationship. Children can draw pictures or write simple class letters that the facility can display in their dining room or recreational era. This brings joy to the residents and children feel a sense of pride in their work. As you deliver the letters or art, ask if you can take photos of the residents enjoying it. This type of display in your own classroom can make children feel a part of something larger then themselves. 

If you have easy access to a bus, you can take children to the facility on special occasions such as Veterans Day to sing a song or recite a poem. This brings great joy to everyone.

Children bring a smile to residents of assisted facilities. 

Standards Alignment:
Standard 2. Building Family and Community Relationships
Head Start:
Knowledge of Families & Communities

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scientific Inquiry All Around!

There are so many ways for children to use inquiry in daily experiences. Looking at the sky and wondering where a bird might be heading, studying a tree to determine what animals call it home, or gazing at the ground to watch a worm's movement are all valuable science opportunities. The best part? This seems like play to children. And IS the business of childhood!

Take a look at this short video I captured while on a playground.

While watching this worm, I was struck by the number of learning opportunities. To help children ask their own valuable questions, I would pose a broad question: "What do you notice about this worm?" Responses might be that it looks like the ground. What a wonderful chance to talk about nature and camouflage. Some children might note its movement. When you get back to the classroom, children can act out the worm's movement on the classroom floor. This gives them a good chance to experience how animals in nature move in different ways. It can lead into a movement learning experience: children role-playing the movement of various animals they see in books.

They may even pose questions for which you have no answer. This is my favorite type of inquiry! It allows adults to say the important phrase, "I don't know but I know how to find out." What a model this is for children. It shows that no one has all the answers but by using references, we can find out.

Additionally, it is a good beginning science activity to have children draw pictures of what they see, such as the worm on the playground. This helps prepare children to document their observations.

For a home-school connection, you can give children something specific to look for on the way home. Ideas include a yellow tree, any kind of water, or a park. Post a sign and/or picture outside of your classroom so families understand what children are to look for outside of school. This helps develop verbal skills as children are encouraged to discuss observations about their surroundings. In our experience, families love to have this opportunity to help children with "school work."

Standards Alignment:
Knowing and using the central concepts, inquiry tools, and structures of content areas or academic disciplines
Head Start:
Expands knowledge of and abilities to observe, describe and discuss the natural world, materials,
living things and natural processes.
Begins to describe and discuss predictions, explanations and generalizations based on past experiences.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Choral Reading: An Important Skill!

Singing, doing finger plays, and reciting poetry are an important part of a preschooler’s day. These are more than just fun activities. They help prepare children to read in unison, an important way children learn sight vocabulary and fluency. Remember to note this with families and share this with them in your newsletters and conferences because singing together, in any language, helps children get a sense of the rhythm of how words and phrases slide together.

You can further develop this in your classrooms by having children chorally read the morning message or text from our free activities (see the samples and sign-up in the box to receive yours!).  I like children to have their own copies of the material, if possible. Have them point to the first word and walk around praising children for having their finger in the correct place. I usually give a signal and read along with the group to model fluency. I move from table to table to be sure children are pointing to each word as we read. The passages should be practiced over and over to help children get the cadence of the language and perhaps even learn a few sight words. They will certainly learn how to follow a line of text!

You can also have children read the morning message together by having one child use a pointer as the class reads. This allows children who may be nervous or unsure to speak in a lower voice. Gradually we want these children to feel confident and proud when reading chorally.

Our downloadable activity for this week focuses on pumpkins. For more on choral reading and child writing using their own pumpkin recipes, take a look at this fun-filled idea:

Standards Alignment:
Standard 4. Using Developmentally Effective Approaches 
Head Start:
Shows progress in recognizing the association between spoken and written words by following print as it is read aloud.
Begins to represent stories and experiences through pictures, dictation, and in play.

Dr. Kathy’s Opinion Corner:
As I visit classrooms, I notice some teachers put on a video and let children sing and dance with it. While that expands children’s exposure to different songs, I also encourage teachers to remember the power of leading singing and even dancing on your own. This encourages an important personal connection between children and teachers. I know my former students still write to me remembering the joy of doing the “Tooty Ta” together!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Weather Watching and Art

Helping children to understand the weather and its impact on daily life is an important part of any preschool or kindergarten program. Our activity this week provides valuable age-appropriate sentences about this topic along with a page to encourage thought about weather. If you are not signed up to receive these free activities, please do so in the box to the right.

While you are likely encouraging children to describe the weather in your classroom by asking them if it is raining, snowing, cloudy, windy, or sunny, take this a step further. Encourage them to also verbalize what types of clothes are appropriate for this weather. You can even include items such as a raincoat, umbrella, winter coat, mittens, or just a t-shirt in the dress-up box. Have children pull out the type of clothing that is appropriate for the day. Ask them to explain why they chose the specific item for the weather.

Additionally, you can develop verbal skills and thinking skills by asking children to describe activities that are appropriate for the day. If it is raining, help them prepare for indoor activities by talking about this during your opening. Ask them to plan what they will do inside. This pre-planning avoids upset children when you can’t be on the playground.

Make the home-school connection by encouraging parents to begin watching the weather at home. Tell parents they can encourage thinking skills along with verbal skills by having children plan what they will wear based on the weather.  This is a wonderful way to partner with families to share age-appropriate activities.

For a fun and meaningful art activity, watch the video below:

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC Alignment:
Using developmental knowledge to create healthy, respectful, supportive, and challenging learning environments for young children.

Head Start Alignment:
Develops growing awareness of ideas and language related to attributes of time and temperature.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Environmental Print

Environmental print is everywhere and can help children develop a sense of both Alphabetic Principle (identification of letters) and understand that those “mysterious marks” on a page, sign, or on a box have meaning.

For more on environmental print and alphabetic principle activities watch the video below.

You likely have objects labeled in your classroom to help children develop this understanding. But are these signs at child eye level? Crouch down to the height of the children in your class. Make sure your labels are at the eye-level of the children. 

This label is too high for a child. Sometimes we tend to automatically put objects at our eye-level.
This label is "just right." Children should not be looking up to read.
Suggesting to families that they label items in their homes is a good way to make the home-school connection.  Use your newsletter to ask families to label three items in whatever language is spoken in the home.  Children can draw a picture or take a photo of a labeled object and explain it in the classroom.

This also makes a wonderful and meaningful car game. As children are riding to school, to the store, or going along on errands, families can encourage them to look at businesses or signs along the roadways and streets. See if they can spot letters from their names.

Please feel free to copy our family suggestions in your newsletters or suggest our website.

Do you want more free activities and ideas? Just sign up and they will be delivered to your “in box.” 

Standards Alignment

NAEYC Alignment:
Knowing about and understanding diverse family and community characteristics

Supporting and engaging families and communities through respectful, reciprocal relationships

Involving families and communities in young children’s development and learning

Head Start Alignment:
Identifies at least 10 letters of the alphabet, especially those in their own name
Develops growing understanding of the different functions of forms of print such as signs, letters, newspapers, lists, messages, and menus