Monday, March 19, 2018

Learning Through Play

All they do is play. This is a statement that I’ve heard many times while working in the classroom. This is a big compliment, because the statement says that we are doing a good job at making learning fun. Play is a child’s work.  It is our job to integrate learning in the midst of their work. It takes content knowledge and intentionality to turn play into an opportunity for learning. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children; valued content is learned through investigation, play, and focused, intentional teaching. Children learn by exploring, thinking about, and inquiring about all sorts of phenomena. These experiences help children investigate ‘big ideas,' those that are important at any age and are connected to later learning. (2003, 2) Project work allows us to extend this play into many content areas. For example, this year’s kindergarten class showed an interest in restaurants. The teachers took this observed interest and built many opportunities for the children to learn through play. Creating a menu allowed for social development as the children worked together to decide on food items for their restaurant, decided what jobs were necessary and who had which responsibilities.  Literacy concepts were added as the children wrote up the menus and then the customer orders. Deciding how much each item cost got the children thinking about math concepts, gave them meaningful opportunities to write number symbols, and introduced addition. Identifying money was also a focus as the customers paid for the food that they had ordered. All of this learning took place in the context of a democratic environment in which everyone worked together. Good Eats, the restaurant’s name, was a good opportunity to learn by playing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

March is Reading Month! As I reflect on the past; both as a parent and an educator, I am filled with many warm thoughts of snuggling next to a child with the intention of sharing a book.  Unlike most of my guilty pleasures, reading aloud is a good thing—both for me and for those who hear the story.  Reading aloud allows an opportunity for connections. Adults and children are given time to build relationships and connect while reading together. Hearing the rich language written in a storybook also provides experiences that hardwire the brain; a connection that encourages later school success.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s much more! According to research compiled by Read-Aloud Handbook author  Jim Trelease, reading aloud to your child also:

Increases vocabulary
Improves attention span
Stimulates imagination and creativity
Nurtures social-emotional development
Improves critical thinking and problem solving skills
Encourages self-esteem

Just imagine, every time you pick up a book and snuggle up with your child to share a story, you increase the probability of all of these skills! It almost sounds too good to be true—but it isn’t—so let me share a few of the secrets to success that I’ve learned over the years.

Make sure that you choose a book that lends itself to being read aloud and make sure that you like it. There is nothing worse than getting stuck reading a book that you don’t like over and over. Remember, you are in charge of the choices. Pick two that you enjoy and let your child pick from them.

Share the pictures while you read. Who holds the book is between both of you as long as your child can see the illustrations while you read the text. A book worth its merit has pictures that add details to the story that you wouldn’t get by just reading the words. “Reading” the pictures to tell the story is the first step in emergent reading, so let them look!

Add variety to reading time and change things up. Take turns “reading” the book; you can look at the words and your child can read the pictures. Ask them to predict what is going to happen next. Ask them questions that can be answered by reading the illustrations. Take turns holding the book, turning the pages, or running your fingers under the words as they are read. These choices serve to model book concepts as well as empowering your emergent reader.

Read with expression! The best part of reading aloud with children is the chance to be silly. Change your voice to match the character. Make a dramatic pause. You’ll be surprised how much of the story that they remember when it sounds interesting.

Finally, make reading a ritual; like brushing your teeth. Sit somewhere comfortable, prop yourselves up with pillows, dim the lights and turn on a cozy reading lamp. Make reading a special time so that you both look forward to it. Reading aloud is to the brain as eating a healthy dinner is to the body; so make it a part of your daily habit!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Food. It's colorful, it smells good, and it tastes great!  Food not only nourishes your body, but it provides lots of learning opportunities as well. This month, we have partnered with the National Kidney Foundation to present Regie Rainbow. The program's goals are to introduce young children and families to the importance of choosing a healthy lifestyle.  By relating the colors of fruits and vegetables to those on the rainbow, the books shared during the program helps to incorporate healthy habits in a fun and creative manner.

Regie Rainbow is a superhero broccoli character who introduces the colors and concepts. Regie gains his super powers by eating from all the colors of the rainbow, limiting screen time, and exercising every day. As the teachers move through the program, they read each of Regie's island adventures aloud. Next, the children move on to explore and prepare a fruit or vegetable that coordinates with the adventure. The children come together at the table and work as a team to use their senses to explore the whole fruit or vegetable before cutting it into bite sized portions. The sense of taste is the last sense that the children use to find out more. In some classrooms, they've even taken the next step and used their prepared vegetables to cook/bake the afternoon snack!

While visiting the Island of Orange, we introduced peppers and carrots. We heard words such as crunchy and sweet as the children used their sense of taste. The children worked together to turn the carrots into french fries to bake and added cinnamon and applesauce to create carrot cookies with the grated vegetable. Believe me, the smells were wonderful that afternoon!

During our visit to the Island of Red, our creative and skilled teachers worked with the children to prepare tomato candy. The cut up pieces of red tomato were placed inside a dehydrator. Once done, the children snacked on nature's candy. This experience surprised some of the children who used the word sweet to describe what they had created.

Research has shown that children are more apt to sample unknown fruits and vegetable when they have had an opportunity to participate in the preparation. Sitting next to a peer that is an adventurous eater often motivates them too. Regie Rainbow provides us with an opportunity to introduce fruits and vegetables to children in the context of play.

The islands that we visit represent all the colors of the rainbow; so we have a lot of traveling to do! I invite you to join us on our island adventures by volunteering in your child's classroom. We'd love to see you and have you try some healthy snacks with us. Ask you classroom teacher which island is next on our destination and get ready to taste!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Play dough

January is upon us and it certainly has brought lots of cold temperatures along with it!  As we stay inside to keep warm, I’d like to offer some suggestions to keep the fun and learning indoors until the warmer weather arrives.
Play dough. The material is easy to make, fun to manipulate, and playing with it addresses all of the critical domains of growth and development.  If you want to get fancy, you can engage your child in looking around the house to find some things to bring into your dough play.  Cookie cutters are a go-to, but unusual kitchen items such as bottle caps, forks, and rolling pins can also encourage imagination and problem solving. Follow your child’s lead and experiment with how the utensils change the shape, texture, or look of the dough.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to give you a recipe to make the play dough. Like baking, making play dough with your child is a learning experience in and of itself! For making play dough, you will need:

·         1 cup                     water
·         1 pkt.                     Kool-Aid
·         6 cups                   flour
·         1 cup                     vegetable oil

·         Measuring cups
·         Mixing bowl
·         Wooden spoon

1.       In a bowl, mix water and food coloring.
2.       Add flour.
3.       Add oil.
4.       Stir together.
5.       Knead until smooth in texture. 

Encourage language by talking through the steps with your child. First we will pour; second we will stir, mix, and knead. Your sneaking in ordinal words in context. Providing children with hands-on experiences along with the words will help those words to stick. Use words that describe the mixture as it changes; pointing out how the ingredients transform as others are added: mushy, wet, smooth, and dry. Making play dough together not only gives real-life opportunities to provide language, but also adds science concepts as the children observe the processes that take place.

Math concepts are introduced next—at the good part; manipulating the dough. As you play together, point out big and small sizes and shapes that are created. Challenge your child to sort the items you’ve made into categories. Compare the lengths of the snakes that you roll. Thinking about these ideas will prepare them for more complex math concepts in the future.

While you are exercising the fine motor muscles of the fingers by pinching and poking the play dough, you are also teaching the social skills of sharing, cooperation, and perhaps turn taking. All of these foundational skills will benefit your child as they go to school: fine motor skills encourage the strength needed to write and draw, turn taking sets your child up for social success with peers.

Make believe or pretend play is also encouraged by play dough. Anything from a pizza party to a fire breathing dragon is possible with imagination and creativity. Talk with your child while manipulating the dough and you might be surprised by what you learn as they express themselves through the material.  Play is the work of young children, so why not learn and have fun?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Learning at the Holidays

Preparation + Your Child = Meaningful Learning Opportunities

Get out your recipe or cookbook for your favorite baked good. Following the recipe gives your child a real life reason for reading as well as a new why. When we read a recipe, we read for instructions. If you're at my house, the conclusion of this story is something tasty! Have your child follow along with their finger as you read the ingredients and instructions. This helps to practice the early reading skill we early childhood teachers refer to as the return and sweep, a print concept that builds a foundation for later reading. Following along lets children know that we read left to right and top to bottom.

Reading a recipe also introduces lots of vocabulary. Ingredients to look at, touch, and taste are connected to new words. Actions such as whip, fold, and pour allow your child to hear and act out new words as you work together to combine the ingredients. 

In addition to reading words, a recipe allows for reading numbers too. A cookbook gives lots of meaningful opportunities to talk about and show fractions. Most children know what a half is when asked, but following a recipe lets you talk about 1/4, 1/3 and the teeny tiny 1/8 measurement. Let your child scoop, measure, look and feel the differences a fraction can make. Talk about bigger and smaller; comparing the sizes as you mix them in. Challenge children to  estimate and you will have them contrasting as well as comparing!

Finally, we get to the good part; baking. Call attention to the mix before you put it in the oven. You can even take a picture of it with your cell phone. Spend some time together watching the oven as the chemical reaction takes place. Teach about safety while taking the baked goody out of the hot oven.

Once safely placed on the counter to cool, ask questions as you patiently wait for the first bite!

What do you notice about the cake?

What is different?

Why do you think it changed?

How did the change happen?

Be prepared to be amazed at the answers that these open-ended questions can elicit and be ready to laugh too. After all, holiday learning is about spending time and laughing  together. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Healthy Holidays!

No matter which holiday you celebrate, there is a common theme around food. Whenever we come together, people include food as a part of our celebration. As a teacher and a mother of young boys, I always became concerned about offering a healthy diet during the holidays. Should I limit the indulgent foods that the holidays center around? Cakes, cookies, and pies are full of empty calories and the sugar seems to energize them at nap time! Most importantly, I worry that eating all of the food that signifies a celebration will actually cause health concerns later in  life.

 As a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, I am privy to research regarding the health of young children.  According to the NAEYC:

Calories are not bad, but necessary, in the right amounts. Children have specific caloric needs that depend on their age, size and activity level. The word “calories” is just a measure of the energy a food contains. However, foods that offer only calories and have no other nutritional value are best avoided since they run the risk of filling a child up with “empty” calories before all of her nutritional needs have been met.

This news is good and bad. Good, in that the sugary stuff that I am talking about usually isn't introduced until after we all have a chance to fill up on our "good food".  Bad, in that no matter how much "good food" I put on their plate, my boys always seemed to find room for plenty of deserts. It took me a few years to catch on; but once I did, I became an expert chef regarding sneaking nutritious foods into indulgent, celebratory, holiday foods. In fact, I am patting myself on the back just thinking about it! As I am congratulating myself, I am also thinking about the resources that helped me to become an expert Sneaky Chef, and I want to share them with you:

Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food 
 by Jessica Seinfeld

The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals
 by Missy Chase Lapine

Healthy Recipes for Picky Eaters: Create Tasty Meals Your Kids Will Love to Eat
by Martha Stephenson

For those of you like me who hate to wait for the mailman, visit Pinterest and type "Healthy Kid Recipes" in the search. In seconds you will be inundated with recipes from sneaky moms around the world--pictures included! A word of warning:  get comfortable and schedule lots of time beforehand.

Holidays are also about spending time with those you love; which brings me to another sneaky tip! Over the years I found that if I included my boys in the preparation of food, they were more likely to eat it. In addition to quality time spent, cooking with young children presents lots of opportunities for  meaningful learning...

Stay tuned!

To read more, visit the NAEYC  website: