Monday, January 27, 2014

Groundhog Day: Real or Make-Believe?

Fiction or nonfiction? Real or make-believe? Fact or fantasy? These are all phrases for an important early learning concept: Could this really happen? And what better time to encourage child thought about make-believe events versus real-life occurrences than Groundhog Day!  

You can introduce your child (or children) to this key idea by asking him or her to look at books you have in your home, classroom, or during a trip to the local library. Use books to begin the conversation, “Could this really happen?” We like to encourage children to sort books into 2 piles: “It Can Happen” and “It Can Not Happen.”

This book can happen.
This book is pretend. There is a talking bear.

After this, you can introduce your child (or children) to Groundhog Day. Tell the story of the little creature, Punxsutawney Phil. We encourage you to use the name, Punxsutawney, as our experience tells us that young children often delight in saying unusual multisyllabic words. Practice this with them and watch the joy when they share this name with others!

Discuss that a real groundhog will come out of its hole. Ask children if the groundhog can really tell us what the weather might be for the next several weeks. Some children may have valid reasons for answering yes. We encourage you to accept any reasoning. The key component is for children to verbalize support for a position. It is important to remember that children should learn to give reasons for what they think.

As you look forward to the big day, have children make their own groundhog, popping out of a hole. Use a cup for the groundhog burrow. I use white cups for snowy areas and brown cups for other spots. You can cover the cup with brown paper from a recycled bag as shown below.

Cover any disposable cup to make it brown or white.

Give children an outline of a groundhog or have them draw one of their own.

Children can draw their own animal or you can help them.

Cut out the animal. Next, poke a hole in the bottom of the cup and tape the groundhog to a craft stick or pencil. Your child can move the groundhog up and down to peek out of its hole. Remember, this is a valuable opportunity for children to experience the concept of up and down or in and out.

The groundhog is in its hole.

The groundhog is out of its hole. It is up.

Encourage verbal skills by asking children to explain Groundhog Day as they show their art creation. You can add to the fun by reading and rereading the following poem:

February Second

What animal gives us the weather report,
Right there from his snowy winter fort?

He wiggles his nose up from the ground,
And looks at the scenery all around.

If his shadow he suddenly sees,
Into his burrow this fellow flees.

Then snowy, icy winter stays,
For 42 more freezing days.

But if this creature runs about,
Then “Spring is here!” we all can shout!

Yes, the groundhog is legendary,
For weather advice in February!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thinking Creatively With Macaroni!

While we certainly want children to have and use concrete skills like knowing color words or numerals, we also hope they think creatively and problem solve. One of the ways we can encourage and celebrate creative thought is to let children play with sorting. They will surprise you with their thinking.

I like to take out the macaroni that we dyed together (see last week's post) and ask children how they would like to sort it. Usually I show how to sort by color and then I ask them to think of different ways.

The child took the curly macaroni in hand. 

I encourage children to describe what they are doing to encourage expressive language and use of important school language like "in a line" or "first," "next," and so on.
This preschooler used directions words and phrases like "in a line" and "use them all."
While encouraging school language, we can also celebrate unique ways of sorting. This child thought about shape.

Notice that the child is still sorting using shape. He is also talking about the idea of "below."
Finally, the shell macaroni shapes are added to the sort.
When finished with shape sorting, the child was asked to think about a different way to sort the macaroni. This is important. We should encourage children to consider new ways of thinking. When asked to sort in "Bennett's way" (use children's names for added motivation!), look at what this young child did:

The child wanted to make "groups."

Notice the idea of numeracy in these groups. One straight macaroni, one curly macaroni, and two shells are used in each group. He described his color choices of as he picked matching shells and yellow curly macaroni.
This is a wonderful example of personal creative thought. We need to encourage and celebrate this type of unique sorting!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Make a Math, Language, and Critical Thought Manipulative: Color Macaroni!

Last week we talked about the importance of knowing and using color words. This is necessary for both expressive (saying) and receptive (hearing) preschool language skills. There are so many meaningful and fun activities you can do with colored macaroni that we thought it important to share our favorite techniques with you.  Remember, this isn’t just about you, as the adult, making a cheap manipulative, but it’s about modeling for children that we don’t always need expensive tools. We can make them!

Parents can take children to the grocery store to look at the boxes of pasta. Discuss the different shapes. Teachers can cut out advertisements showing various pasta shapes and bring these in to show the class. Discuss the shapes children find interesting and tell them you will try to buy them. You can even make a list together, a great interactive writing lesson that shows children the power of writing!

Be sure to add white vinegar, food coloring, and zip-loc bags to your list.  Bring all the ingredients and show children just how these simple household supplies can create meaningful learning tools.

Pour about 3 tablespoons of white vinegar into a baggie.  Then have your young helpers decide on a color. We suggest guiding them to the primary colors first. Then using information and activities from last week’s activity, encourage children to mix the primary colors to create green, orange, and purple.

Ask children to help you find various macaroni shapes.

 Shake the bags and allow to dry a bit.

Then place the contents of each bag on wax paper to air dry.

When finished, show children the wonderful and easy learning tools they helped create!

 Check back next week for macaroni lessons!

Monday, January 6, 2014

School Language and Inquiry: Color Words

We know how important it is for our young children to identify colors. It is one of those school language skills that can confuse children if they begin kindergarten not being able to identify blue, red, green, etc. Think about it - teachers say, “Sit at the red table. Stand on the green square.” If children are not able to identify colors, it can set them up for early confusion. They may be mislabeled as poor students or behavior problems when the real issue they didn’t understand color words. This is why academic language (or school language) is necessary for children to learn. 

You can use color identification as more then memorization; this skill can lead to inquiry and scientific thought, too. So let’s delve into the many opportunities color provides us!

One fun way to encourage color knowledge is to let children explore. Give them paints and have them plop blobs of the primary colors: red, blue, and yellow on a paper.  Develop expressive language by talking about the colors. Have children look for other objects that match these colors. Be sure to use the color words when looking and discussing these objects.

This child looks for red, blue, and yellow letters.  

You may even encourage children to look through books for pictures of red, blue, or yellow items. This encourages all those Concept of Print components like holding the book right side up, turning pages correctly, or looking at the page on the left before the page on the right.  Be sure to discuss this with your child (or small group of children) as you do this. Model and talk about looking at a book by saying, “We can look for red things by holding the book like this.” Show how to hold the book. “We can look for blue things on this page first.” Point to the left page. “We can turn one page at a time to look for yellow things.” Demonstrate how to turn pages. It sounds simple, but children often don’t know and we forget to show them!  

Children can begin to think about sorting colors. This encourages higher order thinking skills. Sort anything: blocks, crayons, pieces of clay, or even letters. We like sorting as it encourages creative thought!

There are many ways to sort objects. This child sorts by color.
A wonderful way to go beyond the identification of colors is to encourage scientific inquiry. Ask children to predict (or hypothesize) what will happen when colors are mixed together. This is the beginning of science exploration! Let children find out for themselves and rejoice in their discoveries. This can be as simple as letting them mix paint on a paper as shown below:

Stay tuned for more January fun with colors. We’ll show you how to continue to develop creative thought!