Monday, July 30, 2012

Pom Sorting = A Bevvy of Skills Practice

So, I know that pom pom sorting is nothing new under the sun, but I wanted to give it a shot with L now that she's getting a bit older and becoming aware that objects are different from one another.  I offered up this pom pom sorting activity using a muffin tin and spoons and was quickly surprised (and pleased) at just how many learning areas were addressed in one simple activity.

Fine Motor: L got a kick out of using the spoons to scoop the poms out of the muffin tin into bowls or from one cup to another in the tin. She quickly learned that the bigger the pom, the tougher it was to keep it on the spoon.

Sorting: I chose a variety of poms that were basically one size big and one size small. We had a lively discussion using the words big and small, as well as large and tiny.  Great vocabulary lesson for a gal who loves to chat!

Patterning: While I don't expect L to grasp the concept of patterns at this point, it was still fun to make lines with the poms - big, little, big, little, etc.

Color Recognition: L is really interested in color words of late and has been asking frequently about the colors of things she encounters. This was a fun and organic way to talk about some of the new color words she's working so hard to master.

This activity was so simple and yet had lots to offer (the best kind, in my opinion!). L enjoyed it so much that I just added the muffin tin and poms to her play area for her to explore at her own leisure!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Books We Love: Duck Sock Hop

Of all the many animals L adores, ducks are pretty high on the list so I was absolutely thrilled to find this little treat from Jane Kohuth and Jane Porter.  Bright, beautiful illustrations move through silly rhyming text that kids will just love. L is especially happy when the ducks get Band-Aids and snacks (two of her favorite things) and I personally find the multicolored ducks just darling. Little ones are sure to request this one again and again, so hold on to your socks and wiggle right in!

Ducks pull socks from a big sock box:
Socks with stripes and socks with spots,
socks with square and socks with dots.
Socks with stars and socks with moons,
socks with cars and socks with spoons.

Prepare yourself for the very real possibility of reading this one a dozen times at least! Of course, you can always take a break and do a little sock hopping of your own!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fine Motor Fun: Open & Close Basket

Not so long ago, I was clicking around on the Montessori at Home section of the fabulous Carrots Are Orange and found an idea for an activity that I couldn't wait to try with L. I just love a good fine motor activity and the great thing about Montessori activities is that they are really practical and encourage kids to play in ways that will help them figure out real life. This particular activity, a basket full of items for L to practice opening and closing, was a fantastic example of how simple activities can create engaging play for even the littlest hands.

I started out with a basket of various items from around the house that open in different ways (twisting, snapping, pushing, etc.) and gathered them all in a basket.

The other real beauty of this activity was that I just used things I already had lying around the house, so prep time was pretty minimal. I invited L to take a peek at what was in the basket, and with very little explanation or modeling, she was off and ready to explore everything before her.

Some containers were easier for her to manipulate than others, but I was close at hand to offer help in case she got frustrated. My little gal has a busy body, but this activity kept her engaged for quite some time. It was so much fun watching the little wheels of her brain turn as she tried to figure out each new container. I plan to leave this basket in her playroom for continued exploration.

I just adore activities that are so simple, yet so engaging. How are you engaging your little ones these days?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wooden Letter Collage

L has been really interested in letters of late - pointing them out on T-shirts, book covers, and cereal boxes - so I wanted to find something out of the ordinary for her to do that would give us an opportunity to talk about the letters she loves. I decided to go with a letter collage using contact paper and wooden letter tiles.  This was a nice activity that satisfied L's desire to talk about letters and was a great sensory activity to boot!

I found two types of wooden letter tiles at Hobby Lobby.  I'd been wondering for some time how I would end up using them, and this was a great way to do so.  I taped contact paper to L's art table, sticky side up, and presented her with a bowl of the tiles.  I also provided some alphabet stickers as well, just to mix things up a bit and give L the opportunity to see letters in many different ways.

L really enjoyed this activity. Not only did we have lots of opportunities to discuss the letters she was seeing, but she also loved the  nice clicking sound the tiles made when they came into contact with the tabletop.  This was such an easy breezy activity that fostered letter recognition and language, and was very satisfying from a sensory standpoint. When she was finished, we just folded the contact paper in half and added it to her growing art gallery. No muss, no fuss and lots of fun!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Books We Love: This Little Chick

We have been lovin' on some really great books of late, but L's favorite this week by far is This Little Chick by John Lawrence. A very enterprising little chick heads out one morning and meets all sorts of farm animals along his way. He is soon imitating the sounds of every creature he meets, much to the delight of young listeners. L has really mastered animal sounds, so this book is a real thrill for her, owing to the fact that she has lots of chances to show off her skills. I personally adore the vinyl engravings for their humor and beautiful detail.

This little chick from over the way
went to play with the pigs one day.
And what do you think they heard him say?

Well, it's not "peep peep peep" if that's what you were thinking!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's Party (Tub) Time!

Here's a quick and easy sensory tub that is loads of fun: the party tub!  This one is guaranteed put you in a good mood!

I filled our sensory bin with gift bag filler (that shiny, Easter grass-type stuff you find near the wrapping paper in any store), shiny pom poms, and segments of colorful Mardi Gras beads. (Note: necklaces pose the threat of strangulation, so it's a good idea to go ahead and cut the necklaces into short pieces.)  Viola! Instant party in a bin!

L wasted no time digging into this tub! The gift bag filler makes an excellent crunching noise as it moves about the tub, and digging those pom poms out of the stuff is wonderful fine motor practice.

Who wouldn't want to party with this girl?!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Golf Ball Painting (Sort Of)

The method is pretty easy: take a shallow container (I used a plastic tote), line it with heavy paper, dip a golf ball in tempera paint, throw it in the tote, and let the rolling fun begin. You're left with an awesome work of art with groovy lines and textures and colors. Or so I thought when I presented this art activity to L. You see, I once did this activity with the kindergarten class I'd been teaching and it was a huge hit.  But for a toddler like L, there were much more satisfying things to do with than paint-covered golf ball that roll it around in a shallow tote.

For starters, L was much more interested in propelling the golf ball around the bin herself. I actually loved this because it was excellent fine motor practice and she had more control of her art experience.

After experimenting with that for a bit, she decided it was way more fun to smear large globs of paint around with her hands. Again, I thought this was fantastic (love a girl who controls her own destiny!) and also it was hilarious for those of us watching this whole shebang.

Of course, when have we ever gotten through an art activity without at least some amount of paint ending up all over L's appendages? Never!

Eventually, she did decide to give the whole rolling-the-golf-ball thing a try, and it turns out she was a master of that skill in no time. She laughed riotously every time the ball banged against the side of the tote. 

We ended up with some pretty cool designs, and the most important thing is that L experimented with art and had a good time. It's always so funny to see your own plans thrown out the window by a wee just never know what can happen!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Coffee Sand

Need a change of pace from regular old sand in your sensory tub? I have just the thing for you: coffee sand! It is a soft, fluffy alternative to traditional sand, and bonus: your house will smell like a Starbucks as long as you've got it lying around!

Coffee sand is so easy to make. After you've had your morning cup of joe, just dump the used grounds onto a cookie sheet lined with newspaper and let it sit out all day to dry. (It generally dries out in about 12 hours.) After you've collected several days' worth, mix it together with some corn meal. It doesn't necessarily need to be equal parts, but I like to make mine look (and smell!) more like coffee than corn meal. If you get impatient, you can always add in coffee straight from the tin, but why not get your daily pick-me-up out of it first, right?

Since L is such a fan of scooping and pouring, I equipped the coffee sand with measuring cups and bowls. It was so much fun watching L work her little sniffer to figure out what was different about this new sand! It is definitely a treat for the hands and the nose!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Playroom Rhythm: Tempera & Sheet

Whew, what a week! L's grandma came to visit this past week, which meant one thing: our household was busy, busy, busy! It's always fun when family comes to stay, but this past week was particularly fun and hectic because we spent the better part of the week converting our attached garage into a playroom for L. It was a lot of work, but totally worth it for L to have her own space to play and for me to reclaim at least a little bit of my living room!

The final product looks fantastic, but as it is a garage, we decided we needed to do something about that pesky (and not so cute) garage door. My mom had the genius idea to let L paint a sheet that could then be hung up to block the view of the garage door. Swell idea, and it made for an awesome afternoon of messy fun!

We laid out a plain white sheet in the yard and some pie tins filled with tempera paint. L got right to work!

Of course, after a few tries sticking her hands into the pie tins, clever L discovered a much more effective method for paint distribution:

And as per her usual, it just wouldn't be a proper painting activity without experimenting with a little body art:

The creativity went on and on! It was so much fun to listen to L talk to herself about what she was doing and comment on all the different colors. Her dad and I just couldn't help ourselves...we had to join in the messy fun too!  Of course, even the great artists sometimes need a rest:

Eventually, L decided her masterpiece was complete. She raised her hands in creative victory!

L did grace me with enough patience to sit still long enough to take a photo of our very painty feet:

Finally, the fun came to an end and we had a marvelous new work of art to hang in the new playroom.  I joked that we should change our name to Pollock, and that's when the husband came up with the very clever name for our family masterpiece - Playroom Rhythm. So much fun! We shimmied L straight up to the bath tub and frankly that grungy orange bath water was just as lovely as the sheet!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Books We Love: Green

Beautifully detailed illustrations and simplistic rhyming text explore the many shades of green in Laura Vaccaro Seeger's latest picture book delight, Green.  This book sort of took my breath away the very first time I read it, and the kiddo adored the cut-out elements in some of the spreads. What a fantastic way to help children consider the many shades of a color they see so regularly. It was a bit mind boggling, even to me (reluctant adult).  I especially enjoyed khaki green..genius sneak attack, I must say!

What are you reading with your little one these days?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Quick & Easy Color Recognition Cards

L has been very interested in colors of late, and while she's getting the concept of color words, she's not quite there when it comes to matching the word with the actual color.  I had been brainstorming creative ways to help her in her quest for mastering this skill when I came across the paint department at our local hardware store. Gasp! Paint chips! So easy, so many possibilities, and they cost nothing. Score!

I "sampled" many different paint colors, making sure to take two of each color.  I taped each set back-to-back with doubled sided tape, covered the whole thing in contact paper, and bound them together with a ring to form a little book.

The great thing about paint chips is that the color possibilities are nearly endless. You can pick any colors/combinations you'd like and do all sorts of things with them.  I stuck with the six basic colors of the rainbow, figuring we can always move on to more complicated stuff once these are down pat. (And yes, I realize there are technically seven colors in your typical rainbow, but ol' Roy G. Biv is just gonna have to forgive me on this one - all these different shades make my head spin!)

This whole project took me less than 30 minutes to complete and L has had at least that many minutes of learning and entertainment from this handy little teaching tool. Totally worth it in my (color recognition) book!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Farmer's Market Frolics

Despite the blazing hot weather we've had of late, I still try to get L out and about in our neighborhood. I also, of course, try to find things that we can do early in the morning, to try to avoid as much of said blazing hot weather as possible. Enter: our community farmer's market. 

I was trying to think of a way to make our trip a little more meaningful, so I created a little visual discrimination game for L to take along with her to the market.

I made picture cards with photographs I found on the Internet of various fruits and veggies I was sure we'd see at the market.  I covered them in contact paper and bound them together into a little book.

I'm always in favor of a good visual discrimination activity (for another simple visual discrimination game, click here) and I also love activities that make L think and give her the opportunity to use her emerging language skills.  This little scavenger hunt gave her the chance to practice all of these skills while exposing her to an awesome experience within our community.

Over breakfast in the morning, L flipped through her new book, and we talked about some of the things we might see at the farmer's market.  After that, we were ready to head out and see what we could find!

We quickly found nearly everything in our book, plus lots of other surprises! L had a magnificent time exploring the market and discovering all kinds of yummy things to eat and meeting loads of friendly people from our area.

By the end of our trip, we were all nice and sweaty, and L was positively glowing with blackberry juice!  She even met a friendly dog, which was certainly the highlight of our outing! Bonus: we found every single item in our book! It was such a fun day!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Books We Love: Toddler Crowd Pleasers #1

Time for another collection of books we are reading and loving! Things are a bit more varied this week, but this crowd is sure to please kiddos big and small!

Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage

This wordless picture book is a laugh riot!  Mischievous Walrus escapes from the zoo and sends the zookeeper on a wild goose (walrus?) chase all over town. He hides out in some pretty inconspicuous (and slightly more conspicuous) places until the zookeeper discovers that Walrus has a special talent he wants to share with the world! L adores searching for Walrus in each brilliant spread and is delighted every single time she finds him! Literary genius.

Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton

"What will George do?"  This repeated refrain, followed by the equally thrilling line, "Oh no, George!" makes this tale of a dog with self-control challenges a fun and engaging story for young listeners. George is a good old sport, though not always quick to make good choices. Older kids will relate to his struggles to turn from temptation and do the right thing. L is in L-O-V-E with George, but luckily it's so much fun that her dad and I don't even mind reading it over and over again.

Dot by Patricia Intriago

Dot is a lot of things, but one thing it's not is dull! L only recently learned to identify circles, so this book is a big hit with her. Visually simple, this little gem is sort of a feast for the eyes, as it really challenges readers to look at that simple dot in many new lights. It is also equipped with a host of illustrations depicting opposites, so it's a great introduction to that concept as well.

Potato Joe by Keith Baker

What's not to love about a spunky little spud and all his spunky friends? This story of a rollicking bunch of potatoes is a joy to read and share with one kiddo or a whole group. I shared this one with my class of toddlers and the resounding call of laughter echoed through the room with every turn of the page. I personally love the illustrations, which are so hilarious and sweet you just can't help yourself when the kids scream, "Again!"

I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry

The giant blue squid who stars in this book is convinced he's the biggest thing in the ocean...and will tell you all about it, whether you asked or not! Bright illustrations and a hilarious twist ending make this book a crowd pleaser over and over. L cannot help herself when we pull out this book; she begins laughing before we even start to read! This squid is larger than life and even bigger than the bar code on the back of this book!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Raise a Reading Superstar!

We are a family of readers and books hold a lot of clout in our house. I am often asked how it is that L is such a lover of books (and treats them so reverently) at the tender age of not-quite-nineteen months old. The truth is, since before L even joined us in the world of oxygen breathers, we were reading to her. One of the first things we did with her after she was born was read. We've been reading nearly nonstop ever since. When I get asked how to raise a reader, I have lots of advice to offer. Heck, sometimes I'm not even asked. I just love books and there are lots of things parents can do to raise superstar readers.  Mostly parents need to be reading superstars themselves first. Kids emulate that which is modeled for them, so if you want to raise a reader, a reader you must be.

Ways to Be a Good Reading Model for Your Kid:

Let your child SEE you reading. And read varied materials: books, newspapers, magazines, cereal boxes, anything with print.

Let your child HEAR you reading. All of the above, plus traffic signs, labels at the grocery store, letters and emails, advertisements...all types of environmental print.

Show your child that reading is a priority. Make time in your schedule for shared and independent reading. Have a family reading night in your weekly household schedule. Attend family story times at your local libraries and bookstores.

Limit screen time. TV takes away loads of time that could be spent reading. Let your child know through your words and actions that reading takes precedence over television.

Give books as gifts to your own child and encourage him or her to pick books to gift to friends and family for special occasions. Discuss what a gift reading is and encourage your child to share that gift with others.

Participate in reading programs at your child's school or at your local library.

Teach your child the value of the public library. It is a treasure trove of resources and costs little to nothing. Get your child a library card in his or her own name.

Donate books to your child's classroom in honor of his or her birthday. If your child doesn't have a formal classroom, you can donate books to gift giving organizations such as Angel Tree or Toys for Tots, or choose an organization that supports child literacy, such as First Book or Reading is Fundamental.

Get involved in a book swap (for an explanation, click here). These handy little programs can be done within a group of friends and for the cost of just one book, your child can expand his or her library by dozens.

READ, READ, READ!! This is, of course, the most important thing to do when cultivating a reading superstar. A love of reading is fostered early, and kids learn by what is modeled for them. Show them how much pleasure comes with reading a book and they will associate that pleasure with the books you share with them.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rainbow Pasta

I don't know what's been going on with the weather in your neighborhood, but it has been surface-of-the-sun hot in these parts. Usually L and I are outside playing daily, and taking our sensory play outdoors is one of our favorite things to do. That being said, we've been cooped up more than we'd care lately, as the heat wave has really been a bit extreme. So what's a mama to do with a tot who needs a change of scene? Pull out the old sensory tub, of course, and relocate it to said tot's bedroom!

On this particular day, our playtime prompt was rainbow pasta. So easy to make (you can find the method here) and with so many ways to play, this is a great activity no matter what the weather.

When I originally colored the pasta, I chose a wide variety of pasta shapes. This led to a lot of talk and discussion of different shapes and sizes, and frankly it's just more fun that way. I threw in a colander, a pasta scoop, ladle, and a couple of bowls. Instant fun!

Zephyr came to check things out, but I assure you that is a yawn and not a gaping maw of terror. He's bored with being cooped up too.

As usual, scooping and pouring were a big part of this activity.

Gotta blow on that pasta to make sure it's not too hot!

What are you doing with your kiddos to help beat the heat?