Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Beyond the Book: "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak

There's a lot of great new children's literature out there and fabulous new authors and illustrators. I have so many new favorites and I'm sure there will be many more to come as I raise my own young readers. And every so often, I also love sharing with them one of my favorite books from when I was a little girl. Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are has been a longtime favorite of mine and it was a great candidate for our most recent story stretcher.

The little boy, Max, in this story is an easy character to relate to if you are a little boy or girl whose ever been accused of being too wild! Lucky for him, even though his wild ways end him up in his bedroom for a bit, his equally wild imagination takes him to a distant land where he becomes king of the Wild Things. The fascinating tall tale is only topped by the equally incredible illustrations. I introduced our story stretcher by setting out some monster masks to color in at our little table. I found these a few years ago at the Dollar Tree and used them with my students when teaching about the letter Mm. Today was a great day to bring out the leftovers (yes, I will someday appear on an episode of Hoarders entirely devoted to preschool teachers...) and S had a lot of fun coloring as we talked about and read Where The Wild Things Are. The book introduces a lot of great conversation starters--we talked about the meaning of the word "wild," and how it looks and feels in our bodies. We talked about monsters and how they are make-believe. We looked at the pictures to see if the monsters looked scary or friendly. S decided they looked friendly! We introduced some great vocabulary words like "terrible" and "gnash" and "rumpus." We even had an impromptu wild rumpus of our own! By now, Y had woken up to join the fun (pictured above) and S was eager to wiggle his wilds out around the dining room.

S has been very into telling his own stories and dictating his words through self-directed artwork and through journal prompts. I took the opportunity to take his dictation about when he feels wild using one of the great free printable prompts at Fairy Tales And Fiction By 2. There's something for everyone there--no matter what early stage of writing your little one may be in!

Next it was time for a game! We've been using simple games to introduce the concepts of taking turns, following rules/directions and other important social skills that children can learn through board games and apply to social situations in "real life." I set up our own version of this great monster googly eyes counting game by printing and laminated the monster mats and then hot glued googly eyes onto a large die I had on hand.

We set out three monster mats, one for S, one for Y (who needed my help to play!) and one for me. I laminated the printables to be double sided, though you could do them single-sided, particularly if you have more players. These would also be great for using with playdough and other small loose parts or with dry erase markers. Our die had one-six googly eyes hot glued to each surface and I set out a dish of assorted loose googly eyes. On a players turn, he/she rolls the die, counts the number of googly eyes and places an according number of googly eyes on his/her monster mat. It was fun to see all the silly ways we could put eyes on those funny little monsters! This is a great game to practice one-to-one correspondence and counting. We did not play for a "winner," but rather played that each player took 3 turns, which seemed to be the right length of time to spend on this activity before moving on to our next one. You could play that the winner has the most eyes if you wish.

I like to use our story stretchers to review alphabet letters as well. Where The Wild Things Are would be a great book to introduce with the letter Ww, but since we recently reviewed that one with our whale themed adventures alongside Baby Beluga, I decided instead to bring back the letter Mm for monster, mask and, of course, our story's main character, Max. I also thought it would be a great time to introduce the concept of alliteration in a fun game to make silly sentences using only words that begin with the letter Mm! Older readers/writers can come up with their own silly sentences. You can provide supports like suggested words lists or use sentence strips as I did with letter Mm words pre-written. For pre-readers and writers, you will need to assist a bit more. For S, I demonstrated a few silly sentences, placing words across the little table and pointing to them as I read. He could see how a sentence is built and how we read it from left to right. When it was his turn to build a silly sentence, I placed the starting word "My" and strategically helped him select from piles of nouns and verbs beginning with our letter Mm. We recorded our silly sentences in his journal and he drew an illustration to go with his: "My mommy makes monster marbles!"

Once our littlest wild thing was tuckered out, we moved on to the arts & crafts portion of our story stretcher. I had a great idea to make a couple of stuffed felt monsters S could decorate for he and his brother could play with. Then I remembered how much I hate to sew. And that I don't even know where I have a needle and thread here... But I do love puppets and I always have the hot glue gun handy for when school glue just won't do the trick. And with that plus the abundance of felt I do have and some googly eyes, we were well on our way to making some great wild thing sock puppets. All that was left was to add in a pair of really beloved knee socks that I've had since college and worn to threads. S helped set up parts where he wanted them and I assisted with the hot glue gun so we could play right away. You could definitely try school glue instead or tacky glue. And if you do like to sew, you could do that...and maybe while you're at it, hit the stack of clothing items here that are missing buttons. I'll be busy putting on silly sock puppet shows if you need me...

I was particularly excited about our next activity. I saw the idea for blow paint monsters on The Seasoned Mom. I loved the idea of using straws for painting. Blowing through a straw is a great way to strenghthen those little muscles in the mouth and assist in speech development. S does not have any speech delays but does have low muscle tone that also affects his mouth, so I love sneaking in playful ways to build up those brain-muscle connections! He had a blast blowing through the straw to move the paint--and you have to blow hard! He also discovered the joys of dabbling the bottom of the straw in the paint to print little dots. I chose to use artists' canvas for this  activity so that S would feel it was very special and take his time to enjoy the process of creating it. As an added bonus, it will make a lovely keepsake once it is dry and done. After the paint dries, he will have a great time adding on googly eyes, feathers, buttons, sequins and maybe even some doodles to create a fun and friendly monster!

We've had a lot of fun with this story stretcher and will likely continue having fun with our wild thing sock puppets and playing our googly eyes counting game. Want to do more with Where The Wild Things Are? Try out one or more of the following fun activities:

  • Invitation to Make a Monster out of Playdough: make or buy playdough in your favorite color and add in googly eyes, pipe cleaners, buttons or other small loose parts. For a more permanent option, substitute Model Magic clay or salt dough.
  • Googly eyes sensory bin: add googly eyes to your favorite sensory bin filler (like water, slime, ooblek cooked spaghetti...) 
  • Make your own monster masks from scratch using paper plates and construction paper, feathers, yarn, etc.
  • Act out the story using costumes or with puppets. You can print out your own set of toilet paper tube story puppets here.
Happy Playing!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Beyond the Book: "Cars Go" by Steve Light

 Got a car lover on your hands? Maybe a car lover who also loves to play outside? Then Steve Light's Cars Go is the perfect book to pack up and go with for a sunny afternoon of story stretcher fun. If you read our post the other day on Planes Go, then you're already familiar with the style of these fabulously illustrated and alliterated transportation themed books. They are great for inspiring dramatic play and story dramas and the sound effects will have readers of all ages giggling.

When I was little there used to be a commercial for a hot wheels car wash on TV and between you and me (and the whole blogosphere now), I really wanted that toy. I was kind of terrified of going to the actual car wash, but soaping up toy cars sure looked like fun. And if you've ever seen my husband, you know that the only thing we use men's shaving cream for here is sensory play! That seemed like the perfect medium to add to a dramatic play and sensory bin set up to accompany our reading of Cars Go.

We've had some great weather, so I packed up our book, materials and set up shop out front. What kind of shop, you ask? Why an auto-mechanic shop, of course! Complete with a repairs wing, gas station and car wash. Some of our story stretchers are more interactive and adult-involved. This particular one is designed to set up and run on its own, truly child-led and play based. It's perfect for when you're short on time but also can captivate your little ones' attention for quite a while. You may just want to join in and play, too! (I still kind of want that hot wheels car wash...)

We began by reading together on the front porch while S ate his afternoon snack. Y was very busy catching up on the naps he had avoided all morning! 
We did some review of the letter C and its hard beginning sound as in the word "car" with this letter tracing activity

You really shouldn't let your babies play with gas cans, but this DIY play prop is constructed from a recycled laundry detergent container and, um, yes, an old CPAP hose (because you probably also shouldn't let your babies play with durable medical equipment, but...)

Our auto shop included larger cars (riding toys), hard hats and construction vests (purchased from a secondhand shop), toy tools and a three year old's infinite imagination...

He was so busy repairing cars and filling them with gas, he didn't even remember he wanted to also go for a bike ride until it was time to go inside for dinner. We compromised with bringing the riding toy back in. Did you know our kitchen is also the parking lot outside of S's office? Neither did I! You may want to watch your step while you're making dinner, though...

We have the ever familiar collection of hot wheels cars here...they are perfect for playing about traffic jams and races and driving across hardwood floors. They are great in play dough or kinetic sand or even paint. And they are a whole lot of fun to wash using shaving cream and water (dyed blue with food coloring). I included a variety of sponges and scrub brushes for washing and experimenting with...

Our toy raceway was a perfect way to zoom and dry...and also make a soapy slip and slide. Squeezing the sponge was so much fun for S. He observed how the soapy water dripped down the ramp (and built those tiny fine motor muscles while he was at it). I cut a standard kitchen sponge in half to make it easier for him to hold.

Transportation themed play and learning is something we love repeating here. We've done longer units with it as a stand-alone theme and included it in themes like our Around the World unit and our Community Helpers unit. The many ways we get from place to place, both near and far, are a fascinating part of every day life. S loves talking about everything from traffic lights to the construction vehicles he sees as we drive around town. I personally did not get my drivers license until I was 30 and am not quite ready for either of my boys to actually take the wheel anytime soon--but I know they will love to play and read about it until then. Steve Light is a wonderful author to introduce to budding backseat drivers. Time flies faster than a jet plane or a race car and soon enough, S and even Y will be begging to get their learners' permits. But until then, we'll be happily playing (and reading)!

Join us next week for a wild rumpus of a story stretcher...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nature: Now In Full Color!

 By the time August rolls around here, the temperature seems to settle into a tolerable range of warm to toasty warm and a break from the scalding hot humidity beckons us away from our air conditioning back to the great outdoors. We've been having a lot of fun in friends' yards, local parks and playgrounds, and even taking activities out to our own play garden. We happen to live nearby some great outdoor spaces, including an incredible botanical garden.

I'm telling you, if I could live at this place, I would. Among several beautiful gardens and greenhouses (including a live butterfly exhibit) sits an amazing children's garden area. It is my dream classroom; it is my dream home! There are living and growing gardens children (and adults) can work in and walk through. Baskets of children's books and accessories hang on tree branches inviting visitors to sit beneath the shade and share in a story stretcher. For those who love the sun, the summer months include a sprinkler park for little feet to pitter patter through. For shade lovers, there are little huts and houses to explore, a shady tunnel, a giant tree house and a covered area with books, art invitations and natural materials to manipulate and discover. Little ones dig in to the dirt and an enormous sandbox. Trees come in all sizes and shapes--even those perfect for climbing. An indoor library and education center offers a respite from the heat or a place to warm up by a fireplace in the winter months. It is a hands-on, full body and sensory experience--you could truly spend a week here and not see it all.
A variety of activities invite gardeners and budding scientists of all ages to come and observe, explore and discover... 
S particularly liked this opportunity to draw a still life. It was a great opportunity for me to teach him about the concept of drawing still life pictures--in which we observe something that does not move, that sits still, and draw what we see and how it makes us feel. Some easels were set up flat on tabletops like this one that S chose, while others were set up vertically. S chose to draw a sculpture of a butterfly nearby (pictured below) choosing the colors he saw in the sculpture, even though his drawings are still in the scribbles stage of life.

S invited me to draw the butterfly sculpture as well. I am hesitant to join young artists in drawing at my adult (albeit very untalented adult) level as sometimes seeing more advanced writers and artists can inhibit early writers and artists. There are some who say if your child is still in the scribbling stages that you should also scribble. I don't strictly adhere to this idea, but I do try for S to have an opportunity to begin his own work before I will draw alongside him. 

Needless to say, you really only need to pack your family and maybe some lunch and snacks to enjoy a day at a place like this--but today I thought we would bring a little take-along activity as well. Sometimes outdoors with so much to do and see, it can be hard to slow down and smell the roses (yeah, there's a garden for that, too!), and having meaningful objects or games to accompany a nature walk can enhance the experience. We packed a pencil pouch with our play binoculars to encourage focus. If you don't have binoculars or a magnifying glass on hand, you can make your own set of play binoculars by stapling or taping two toilet paper tubes together and attaching a length of yarn to allow for wearing around the neck. I decided that today we would go on a color scavenger hunt in the gardens.
We have done this activity before using our journals and some colored pencils. S was quite a bit younger then and just in the beginning stages of learning and recognizing colors. Color recognition is a challenging developmental process. Colors are rarely isolated in the world around us and many shades fall into the same name category. Additionally, the shades of colors that we see in our common crayon and marker sets are not necessarily the same as the ones we see in nature. So on our way to the botanical gardens, we made a stop in the paint section of a hardware supplier and collected a selection of paint sample cards. These are a great learning tool in general. They can be used in matching games, memory games, sorting games and even just for observation of colors in different shades. We also bought a badge clip and I'd packed along a hole punch. In the parking lot I quickly punched a hole in each card and attached them to the badge clip. The badge clip allows the cards to be attached to a belt loop and easily accessed but you can easily just use a metal ring or a brad. You can also do this at home if you're not into DIYing in your car! You might even want to laminate the cards for durability.
a light green leaf...

Well, now we were ready to go! We found colors in all shades and forms of matter...

a brown-winged stowaway

a photo of ripe red tomatoes

little pink flowers up high in a tree

and large purple blossoms at the bottom of a plant

 We photographed what we found. While some outdoor spaces allow for collecting and bringing items home, I like to encourage S at parks and natural preservation spaces to leave items from nature in nature. Taking photos is a great way to capture your activity and at home they can be printed out and made into a book or poster!

We had a fun and colorful morning and will be back soon with some literary fun in the great outdoors! Until then...happy playing!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Beyond the Book: "Planes Go" by Steve Light

 After a recent visit to the Virginia Air & Space Center, S was enthusiastic about doing a story stretcher with an airplane theme. Steve Light is one of my favorite authors and illustrators when it comes to transportation themed children's books. His book Planes Go has bold and brilliant illustrations featuring a different type of plane on each page and very simple text that encourage repetition and some really fun (and funny) sound effects!

Image result for planes go

 This board book and its transportation themed counterparts are a fabulous resource for transportation loving toddlers! Although the text is simple and repetitive, it introduces a variety of fabulous vocabulary words so your toddler can appropriately correct the next time you confuse a jet plane with a propeller plane.
Air travel and a child's imagination can take
you as far as the moon and beyond! We had a
great family visit to the Virginia Air & Space
Center that inspired our most recent story stretcher...

S has really looked forward to our story stretcher afternoons each week. (So have I!) We've done a lot of play activities with a transportation theme prior and even a great Around the World unit earlier this year. I see no need to reinvent the wheel (pun intended) every time we bring out a book with a common theme. While adults crave novelty, children thrive on repetition in addition new experiences. In setting up our story stretcher, I did a bit of preparation and Pinterest perusing. I also dug out some of our old favorites.

I introduced our target book at our afternoon snack time while Y finished his nap. When reading books with limited text like this, I like to use the opportunity to track the words with my pointer finger as I read so that children can begin to associate the letters with words and the words with the story that is being told. We read through the book once and then I asked S if he had a favorite plane in the book. He asked to read through it again and picked the jet plane because his Tatty works for a company that manufactures jet engines. I picked the blimp because I love making the sound! Next I told S that I had a book we both could read.

 He loves using emergent readers. At three years old, he is a bit young to be working on sight words in my opinion. I first offered the opportunity to him last year when I was preparing for and teaching an early literacy class to pre-k aged children. S took to it right away! He enjoys the opportunity to mimic me as we track the text from left to right with our pointer fingers. He knows what I tell all my early readers: there are many ways to read a book. You can read it through recognizing pictures, letters and eventually words and sentences. There are always many clues on a page and in some way or another, we are all readers no matter how much we already know and how much we have yet to learn. Fostering confidence in reading and inspiring interest is always the most important goal I have in mind. Since we are reading Planes Go this week and will be reading Cars Go as well, I printed and provided us each with copies of "You Can Go!" available for free at Hubbard's Cupboard. I pointed out the word "Go" in Planes Go and in the emergent reader. S loved finding it with his pointer finger on each page and identifying through the illustration what type of transportation ended the sentence "You can go in a_____."

Before we continued with some table activities related to our book, it was time to get up and moving. I always like to get a good stretch in during a story stretcher using theme related songs and action rhymes.

We brought back a favorite song from our previous Around the World unit, sung to the tune of "Are You Sleeping?"

S and Y both loved singing "I'm a Little Airplane" available for print at DLTK's Crafts for Kids.
Next it was time for a fun learning activity to introduce prepositional language. I love using games and fun activities to expand language development and vocabulary. We recently had a great time acting out the prepositional language in Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins. For this activity, I printed out and laminated these adorable templates available at No Time For Flashcards. I used a magnet to affix the pages onto a cookie sheet and hot glued a magnet to the back of an airplane mini eraser. I found this in a set from the Dollar Tree, but if you do not have a little plane on hand, the free printable set does come with airplane graphics as well. I love expanding S's vocabulary when it comes to position words. It's hugely helpful when it comes to telling him to "put his book on the shelf" or that his "toy screw driver is next to the kitchen set." The more ways our toddlers and preschools have to communicate with us, the better!
Some of the words in this activity were new to S and he seemed a little unsure of himself at first but felt very proud and confident to correctly place his airplane beside, above, below and between the clouds on each page. I am being mindful to use these new words in conversation throughout the day as well.

Now it was time for a craft! S has really been working on using liquid glue from a squeeze bottle and is doing so well with it, so I set out a shape collage to create his own airplane along with some cotton ball clouds to glue on.

He also had a lot of fun with this sticker sorting activity to identify things that "can fly" and things that "cannot fly:"

We were finally joined by an awake little brother who was ready to take our story stretcher to the skies in some fun air travel themed dramatic play!

I popped on some John Denver in the background, starting with the classic "Leaving on a Jet Plane." S was very busy enjoying the flight snacks! Y was put in charge of collecting tickets (raffle tickets that are super fun to tear and dole out to your little brother). 

Almost ready for lift off...

Please keep your trays in upright position and your seat-belts fastened at all times until the captain turns off the fasten seat-belt sign...

Some empty bags, backpacks and lunch boxes inspired S to think about what he might pack on plane ride.

He deciced we'd need plenty of snacks from his toy kitchen in case we landed in a place without kosher food!

Our story stretcher closed with some free time to play in this airplanes and clouds (cotton balls) sensory bin while I heated up our dinner. After dinner S and Y had a great time playing outside with a Styrofoam plane and my two little travelers were sufficiently tuckered out. (So were their parents.) Luckily, when you read Planes Go, you get all the fun and benefits of air travel without any of the jet lag!

We'll be back on the ground with some fun and themed play with the book Cars Go also be Steve Light next time.
Until then...happy playing!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

STEAM Activity: Building On a Lego Theme

 Activities that integrate Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math are a hot topic in the field of early childhood and beyond right now. Educators are recognizing the importance of building a strong foundation particularly in the fields of math and science for both young boys and girls and how vital it is to foster confidence in these subjects. Confidence comes from feelings of competence and enjoyment, and there are many ways through play and exposure that young children can grow to enjoy and feel competent in these areas. Even changing the language around how we speak to our kids in regard to math and science can affect their own perception of these academic subjects and later on, careers in the growing fields of technology and engineering. A recent Forbes article presents some fresh ideas on how to "Help Your Kids Love Math and Science, Even If You Don't."

And what kid doesn't love to build with Legos, Duplos or Mega Blocks? Ok, I'm not a kid and even I still like building with Legos! When I asked S what kind of birthday party he wanted to have this year, he asked for a  Lego party. I admit, I may or may not have fed him the suggestion (along with a few others I thought he'd like) and we had recently had a great time playing in a Lego exhibit at a local amusement park.

Yup, that's a huge sandbox full of Duplos--don't you kind of want to just dive in?

Legos, Duplos and Mega Blocks are all great materials for play that children of all ages and stages can grow and learn with. From the early days of Mega Blocks and Duplos to finally being able to manipulate and maneuver Lego bricks, children are developing fine motor skills, spacial concept, architectural planning, abstract play and a variety of skills in math and engineering. S in particular likes to tell stories and engage in dramatic play while he is building. Social skills around handling frustration, problem solving and navigating the inevitable fall of a tall tower (or kicking down of a tall tower by another eager engineer) are also inherent parts of playing with these toys.
At this point, S enjoys playing with all three sizes. I got a bit tired of stepping on Legos and finding them on the floor, so one day I just dumped them inside his sensory table in the kitchen and he spent hours of days building and playing in there! That kind of sparked my idea to pack up the sensory table, a few yoga mats for designating play spaces and our collection of Legos, Duplos and Mega Blocks and bring them all along to our annual celebration of S's birthday at a favorite park. This park truly has it all on its own between its fabulous playground and equally fabulous sprayground. I am not a super ambitious party planner and prefer to keep it a bit more low key for open play and visiting rather than structured games and activities. We also have mixed age groups who attend, so having a Mega Block station set up for very little hands, a Duplo station for the next step up and a Lego station higher off the ground in the sensory table (so the little pieces didn't end up in little mouths) was a great way to accommodate this.

Even Y got in on a bit of the fun!

To incorporate the "A" in STEAM and appeal to arts and crafts lovers, I set out a simple invitation to create a Lego Mini Figure Puppet using this free printable, a wide craft stick, and a selection of crayons, stickers, google eyes, buttons and glue/tape. S was still in the mood to build and play at home well into the beginning of this week! He even made a set of Lego Mini Figure Puppets for our whole family.

When I searched the world of Pinterest and beyond for Lego themed ideas for parties, there was a plethora of games, activities, accessories and more! I honestly find the whole world of themed birthday parties a little intimidating (maybe Pinterest is the reason) so I kept it simple and everyone seemed to have a great time nonetheless. But you definitely don't need a birthday to celebrate a child's love of Legos. Feel free to incorporate open building stations into your own home if that works or to lure a busy engineer over to the art table for this fun little craft. And if you're looking for even more great Lego-themed fun for the budding architect in your house, check out these over at Life with Fingerprints.

We're still building here but will be back with some story stretchers this week that will really get you going...until then, happy playing!