Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Table Time Tuesday: Shavuot Theme

Last year's Playdough Invitation to Create Har Sinai
By now, you probably know my love of Table Time activities, or what I describe as any activity that can engage a young child for a developmentally reasonable amount of time with minimal adult support and involvement and be used in a contained area (i.e. a table or part of a room, etc.). Some folks refer to these as "busy box" activities or "quiet time" activities and they can be used for a wakeful child during a sibling's nap, by a toddler with a mommy nursing an infant, or while the adult caregiver is trying to tend to chores and household tasks, etc. Indeed, I set out Table Time activities nearly every evening to welcome and occupy S in the morning so we can move through breakfast routines and getting ready for the day at a reasonable pace without a lot of stopping to redirect. I have done this for about a year now (noted by the photo to the left!) and now Table Time activities do not just refer to those that I set out on the table, but also activities S can grab and take to the table himself. I keep these available to him on our play/learning shelves and in our STEAM cart drawers as well. Some activities instantly draw S in for independent play, while others require a bit more luring and demonstration before he feels confident to explore on his own. Among his very favorite types of Table Time activities right now are invitations to create with playdough or process art, felt board sets, anything with stickers, his journal, and theme-related play and learning activities. There is no need to reinvent the wheel either. It's OK (wonderful, even!) to set out a repeat activity. Art and writing activities need not always involve a lot of prep work and craftiness either; it's OK to use coloring books and worksheets if these will engage your little ones. Sometimes setting out a toy, puzzle, or material or even a combination of toys and materials that are already familiar will engage children simply because they are placed in a way that is inviting and therefor novel! (For example, setting out woodblocks and plastic dinosaurs may create a whole new world of play for two toys that were just before collecting dust on the shelf.) Small scale sensory bins are also great for Table Time. These are sensory bins or experiences that are presented and stored in a small container versus a water table or large bin and usually have room to play for one or two children at the most. For those who hesitant to use larger scale sensory bins, this is a wonderful starting point as well!
In this Shavuot themed edition of Table Time Tuesday, you can take a peek at some of our favorite play and learning activities from this year as well as years past:

We've done this dissection of a flower table time more than once! It's great when you have some cut flowers on the wilt or even to do with weeds gathered from the garden. Simply set out your flowers and plants, some safety scissors, perhaps a magnifying glass, some tweezers and let your little botanist have a wonderful time exploring the parts of plants while developing fine motor skills as well!

As I said, art and writing activities need not always involve a lot of prep work--this is a Shavuot coloring sheet printed from this great free printable Shavuot pack, and rather than setting out the traditional crayons or markers, I set out Do-a-Dots and some flower stickers for him to decorate Har Sinai.

Playdough Invitation to Create: Parts of a Flower--in this Table Time activity, I set out lavender scented playdough we made at home, some dry bean "seeds," pipecleaner "stems" and artificial leaves and flowers for creating. I love using these discount store party trays for activities like this.

A small scale flower garden sensory bin:this is simply paper grass found in the party section of Dollar Tree, some artificial flowers, plastic garden pots, a scoop and some plastic tongs. 

Here's another repeat-worthy activity: Set out some floral foam and individual artificial flowers for sticking into the foam. You can even place the foam in a planter, pot or vase if you'd like. If you are not comfortable using floral foam or do not have any, you can do this activity with playdough or even a colander with holes that the stems can be fit into. It's a playful introduction to floral arranging and a great fine motor building activity. 
Invitation to Create Flowers: We did this activity last year and I stored the remaining parts in a ziplock bag for a rainy day or, as it turns out, our Shavuot unit this year! I am eager to see how S will use the materials this year now that he is a whole year older! I included full sheets of construction paper for the background and construction paper, tissue paper and printed paper cut to various sizes in the shapes of circles, petals, stems/strips and leaves. I also included a variety of colors of hole punched construction paper (this is a great fine motor activity for older preschoolers to do as well) and glue with craft sticks for spreading. Older preschoolers can help in the preparation for this art invitation or adults can cut/prepare the materials in advance. I do make a point to not do away with leftovers from activities like this. They can be used in other art activities, set in a scrap paper bin for cutting practice and child led process art or stored for future use.

I especially love these sectioned plates I found at our Dollar Tree for use with art and learning materials. 
Beyond being useful for creating designated spaces for different materials, they also fit quite nicely in our STEAM Cart drawers so that S can take out the activity on his own when he'd like and it can be neatly stored between uses..
Felt board sets are also great for Table Time story telling--rather than using with a vertical flannel board, I set out with a smaller portable flannel board (or you can simply provide a larger rectangle of felt).

I hope these give you some ideas and inspiration for your own tables as you prepare for Shavuot or even as part of a gardening or flowers theme this season. We are having a lot of fun with these and will be back  with more Shavuot themed activities soon. Until then...

Happy Playing!

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Mad Science Monday and We're Growing Butterflies! Part II

It's Mad Science Monday and I thought I'd welcome you back into our playroom to take a peek at our progress in growing our own painted lady butterfliesThis kit we purchased was well worth the money and the experience has been as much fun for the adult scientists in the house as it is for the younger ones! We have had such a blast watching our caterpillars eat and grow and eat and grow. They were several times their size by the time we took this photo (left) on Day 9! Between Days 7 and 10, the very hungry caterpillars work their way to the top of the jar and hang in the shape of a letter J as they prepare to make their last molt and turn into a chrysalis, the pupa stage of metamorphosis.

S loves to see the caterpillars each day and even to hold the container when given the opportunity (although he needs support to not tip it upside down or drop it!). He talks about caterpillars and butterflies all the time, creating "pupas" and "caterpillars" out of playdough, biting pretzels into the shape of a butterfly and requesting to read books we've checked out of the library on the subject. Reading together has been one great part of this extended science study.

We have also made use of our preschool journals to document the process in a variety of ways. One of my favorites is to print and incorporate photos of our journey into his journal and allow him the opportunity to dictate/draw his observations and predictions. Our journals are such a treasure already after spending just the last year working in them. While I have done a lot of journal work with older preschoolers (4-5), this was my first experience with the toddler age range and I am so tickled by how much skill and comprehension S has demonstrated over just this last year. His doodles have emerged into story lines and representations of objects as he dictates the words he would like me to add. I never push the process and he is very young for writing at this point. I encourage it and at times he even takes his journal out independently to use it. I am sure he will also grow to treasure this memoir of our year together!

He was excited to begin drawing/dictating on the morning I set out this journal prompt with two photos of our caterpillars taken on Days 3 and 7. He dictated as he drew about how his caterpillars have grown so big and what will be happening next. He especially enjoys prompts with photos we take at home--especially if he is in the picture, too!

Dramatic play is another wonderful way to incorporate play into learning about science. We wondered what it would be like to be a caterpillar. After a very hungry S finished his breakfast, we decided to build a chrysalis for him! I have seen this activity done with toilet paper but wanted a less wasteful option for us at home. I used a sheet and wrapped him up in his chrysalis. 

Next, I got out a butterfly wand we had in our dress up collection and POOF! he emerged from his chrysalis a big, beautiful butterfly! (The magic in our butterfly wand allowed us to speed up the pupa stage so he didn't have to be stuck in that chrysalis for so many days!)

 But a big, beautiful butterfly is simply not so convincing without a set of big, beautiful butterfly wings! Using a large rectangle of felt, I pre-cut the shape of butterfly wings for S to decorate with foam stickers. He had so much fun peeling paper from the stickers and sticking them on his wings. He decided the circles represented "eggs" that would hatch into more caterpillars! (He also requested one pink circle on his shirt for a second belly button...that's my boy!)

Peeling stickers for sticking is a great fine motor activity! Many children need help with this process, however I try to resist the urge to automatically do it for them unless they demonstrate frustration or ask for help. 

My handsome butterfly on the flutter!

Now we are eagerly awaiting the next stage of metamorphosis here. We are so excited to observe the caterpillars in their chrysalis form as they harden and prepare for the next fascinating stage--emerging as fully grown painted lady butterflies! We hope you'll join us on our journey and until then...
Reading while we wait...

Happy Playing!

Friday, May 19, 2017

A[nother] Peek OUTSIDE in our Play Garden: We're Planting Seeds!

Inch by inch, row by row, we're gonna make this garden grow! The play garden has been a major attraction for S as he explores the dirt and worms and slugs, plays in the water-table-turned-mud-kitchen, blows bubbles, doodles with chalk and has good old outdoor fun. He has really wanted to do some planting and once we passed a few good weeks of above-freezing temperatures through the night, I felt it was time.

Last year we did a massive planting experiment, starting a whole bunch of vegetable and herb seeds indoors earlier in the season. The summer was super hot (and I was pregnant with Y) and while all of our seeds sprouted and grew, only certain crops did particularly well. We are still enjoying our chives and some lettuce has returned from having gone to seed last fall. I did not want to bite off more than I can chew this year with over-planting in our little space and I also want it to be more toddler-friendly so that S can continue to play and work in the area throughout the season as our garden grows!

 I saved our seed packets and some seeds from last year for observation. This is such a great learning material! The photographs on seed packets depict the fully grown plant and it is fascinating to compare that to the same species in seed form. I originally snagged the idea last year from this blogger's post and brought my collection into my preschool classroom for the students to observe and explore under magnifying glasses. The packets and seeds fit perfectly into snack sized ziplock bags. It is such great fun to compare the size of the seed to the size of the fully mature plant/fruit. Do big vegetables always come from big seeds? Do the colors of the seed predict the color of the plant or fruit? Do seeds from similar types of vegetables all look the same? When we were done using these in my classroom, I brought them home to begin our garden adventure with a then much younger S. Now S loves to observe and explore the seed packets from last year. He even liked shaking the bags to compare the sound they all made or whether they made a sound at all. And he also really wanted to plant them!

I explained that I was not sure if these older seeds would still grow a year later (having been stored in less than optimal conditions). We made a plan to get some new seeds and S even planned out a few he wanted to grow in particular--beans and peas! Earlier this week we took a trip to our local hardware and garden shop and bought a selection of vegetable seeds to plant that did particularly well last year: beans, peas, carrots, radishes, and sweet peppers. S asked to grow some flowers as well so we picked out a pack of marigold seeds as well. We bought some starter pots but also recycled some of the pots we had left from last year. (This is where we discovered a wonderfully slimy collection of garden slugs to observe!) S helped fill pots with soil, poke holes for seeds, pull some weeds from our garden space and create space for the pots. He especially likes to help water. Y helped in his own right by not getting too annoyed at being outside in the heat and we've shortened our garden visits to accommodate his tolerance span with some enticing indoor activities so we can all make it back in without too many tears in the process!
We have plenty of play tools for the garden but I also enjoy introducing real tools to S along with supervision and instruction on how to use them safely and appropriately. All of our tools are accessible in the play garden for him to use and practice with. We practice using them in areas that open for digging/exploring. This may become more challenging once we transplant some of our plants directly into the garden, so I am glad we are already working on developing this skill.

He loved helping to scoop and pour the soil...

Busy growing (while S is busy playing)...

If it were up to S, we would probably live outside. He loves to play and explore. He also loves to collect natural treasures, like interesting rocks, sticks, acorns and pine cones, flowers that we allow him to pick (weeds) and more... I love having natural materials in the house for display, however, with limited space, we cannot always manage to save every single treasure he brings home. Additionally, I want to accustom him to leaving items from nature in nature for conservation. One way we worked with his infinite curiosity and growing collection was to have him create a special place to store and keep some of his found treasures outdoors. I labeled a small planting pot "S's Tiny Treasures" and he decorated it with some stickers. You can use a larger container if you'd like or choose one that is not breakable if you are concerned. (This was just a dollar store purchase so I'm not too worried.) If you are storing an open container outdoors, I do recommend something with drainage to avoid water collection or a tightly fitting lid if you do not intend to keep it open. S promptly filled his treasure jar with a couple of his favorite found sticks. They are used as "lawnmowers," "wands," "diggers" and more... It also makes it a lot easier to make it back inside when it's time now that S can store his found treasures and not feel sad about "putting it back" and going inside at the same time!

We are eagerly observing our seeds for signs of growth as we water, play, nurture and wait. We hope you'll join us on this journey from seed to plant to (hopefully) table! If you're looking for more great ideas on what to do with extra seeds and seed packets, here is another great article from a fellow blogger. We will see you next time and until then...

Happy Playing!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Think Outside the Box Thursday: Troubleshooting the Challenges of Nursing an Infant While Entertaining a Toddler

Ah, the joys of nursing an infant when you have a toddler. Nursing and feeding a newborn baby no matter how you do it is one of the most turbulent challenges of those early days and weeks. Each infant has his or her own unique strengths and difficulties when it comes to feeding. I have had two breastfeeding experiences now that are vastly unique and both of them leave me with a strong desire to remind my fellow mommies that 1) fed is best--no matter what combination of techniques works for your family and child, and 2) utilize support, even if you end up "double dipping" and asking more than one expert. After all, the greatest expert at what your baby needs is your baby, and he or she is not talking much about their expertise at this point.
On the other end of that spectrum is my very talkative toddler. S and I had a nursing journey that lasted just over two years when he self-weaned. It included many challenges, many triumphs, combinations of breast milk and formula, pumping (unsuccessfully with a broken pump) and in the end, a special bond and memory. And the memory is not just mine--my son who NEVER forgets talked about nursing continuously (without asking for it) even well after he weaned. At some point during our journey, he named it "nee nee," and it did not surprise me as we got close to welcoming his new baby brother that the topic emerged again. He talked a lot about remembering "nee nee" and described aspects of the experience. I was careful to word my response in such a way that I was honest and to the point. I recalled a mother who ended nursing her own two year old while pregnant after experiencing nursing aversion and not wanting the bond to end on a bitter note. She explained to her toddler that "mommy milk was all gone," but when he saw his baby sister latch on for the first time, he let out an angry and resentful cry. He felt that he had been lied to and betrayed--that she had still had the milk but withheld if from him. Both mom and her son (and even baby sister) all lived to tell about it and heal from the hurt, but I still tear up when I think of that story that I first heard while at the end of my pregnancy with S!
And so the language I used with S was that the new baby would eat "nee nee" as he/she would not be able to eat cheese toast or pretzels or applesauce yet (insert any food S likes.) and that "nee nee" is something Hashem gives to mommies for new and very little babies as they grow and that lasts until they no longer need it. (I do realize this is not true to every nursing experience, but I was aiming to bring it to toddler level.) I mused with the lactation consultant in the hospital the day after Y was born that it would not surprise me if S asked to have "nee nee" again once he saw his brother nursing. She asked what I would do if he did and how I felt about it? I responded that I was open to the question and the feelings behind it. I felt it would come from a place of curiosity and a desire to connect and bond rather than a need for the actual breast milk. My first mode of action would be to validate and fulfill those feelings with other methods before offering to nurse again, but that if he was very persistent with the issue,
In the end, I accurately predicted that S would ask for "nee nee" again. He joked about it a bit: "I no have nee nee," or even asked at times. He also requested that his baby dolls get "nee nee" but I could not imagine nursing my own infant plus three of his! He even tried to make off with a couple of bottles of milk I had just pumped one morning! We continued to talk about it and honor our own experience of having had "nee nee" together and I also offered immediate options of connection (like sitting next to Mommy while I nursed or reading a book together) or options that could follow my nursing Y (like going outside or doing an activity). Nursing was clearly one expression of the closeness S and I share that he sees is shifting now that he is a big brother. It is important that I nurture our unique bond in ways that meet his current developmental needs and that I am sensitive to his expression of those needs. Many times he merely needs to say something in order to move through it and does not need further explanation or accommodation. This is a quality I wish I could cultivate in myself!
Another challenge of nursing an infant with a toddler in the house is the aspect of keeping that toddler appropriately busy while you're tied down for a bit! I went into motherhood of two with a few tricks up my sleeve and have found some helpful and others less helpful. Since then, I have also found a few other tools to get us through. I keep in mind that we do what works while it works and if/when it stops working, we do something different.

  • Busy boxes/Independent Play Activities: If you have followed this blog for a while, you know that I value children being able to functionally play independently as much as I value playing with them. Each has its own unique benefits and I have invested a lot of time and thought into encouraging S to be able to play in his own space and own way using his own skills ideas. Many of our Table Time and Independent Play activities are great for setting up and using during times a mom is nursing a younger sibling or busy with something else. 

  • SCREENS: Yes, there's a place for them and this was one suggestion I had read again and again. Use this as your toddler's screen time. There were many occasions especially in the beginning that I flipped on a video during nursing sessions and at that point it worked well. However, I noticed as we did this more frequently that it became harder to transition away from the screen afterward (i.e. tantrums about videos) and that it was also leaving S feeling somewhat empty in the attention tank. It wouldn't play out right away with attention seeking behaviors, but rather later on (remember our book tearing fiasco?) when he processed his feelings of not having spent enough time together. It is natural for him to desire my attention especially when he sees it being shared with his brother. It is impossible to feed this desire in every moment of the day, but I realized I needed a replacement activity that would leave him feeling more connected to me and less connected to the computer screen.

  • Audio books are a lifesaver! They are great for the Sefirah period if you do not listen to music. We check out a selection from our local library to listen to in the car and enjoy at home as well. Now when I am nursing, I can offer (or S will request) to listen to a favorite audio book together. Sometimes S likes to read along with the hard copy of the book and at others we just listen all together. It feels as though we are sharing in the experience and does not require my hands to hold a book plus a baby that may spit up at any given moment!
  • Snacks that take a long time to eat. You read that right. And I'm maybe not so proud of it, but I read this on a social media feed and it's brilliant. If you need to buy some time to nurse your infant, provide your toddler with a snack that takes a long time to eat. Maybe it's healthy homemade ices. Maybe it's a bowl of dry cereal or some nuts and raisins or a granola bar, but it keeps him occupied and satisfied (and less likely to request a snack while my hands are full)! I make sure that particularly during Y's feeding after S's naptime (always an awkward transition of timing) that snack is set up for S on the little table from which he can get up and move around when he's ready and therefore he is not restricted to eating (as in a high chair) while I am feeding his brother. He can come and go as he chooses and knows that snack stays at the table. In this way, he comes in and connects with me and plays and eats when he is hungry.

  • Playdough is my favorite babysitter. Well, second or third favorite, because we actually have some amazing sitters in our lives. Playdough is something that occupies my toddler's attention for a LONG time. It's messy. He mixes colors. It's gonna require some clean up later, but it buys me some time to nurse and is an activity that S feels is novel and special. Reserving a beloved activity just for quiet times or nursing times is a great way to make an older sibling feel special rather than neglected during these delicate balances of attention. 
These are things that have worked or are working right now. Many times, S simply plays during nursing and may require some verbal redirection or suggestions for activities intermittently. I'm sure we will grow through many of these tactics and find new ones as well. Stay tuned and until then....

Happy Playing!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Shavuot Theme: Ice Cream Shop Sensory Bin

 I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Sweet dairy delicacies like ice cream are a big part of the holiday of Shavuot. As a little girl, I had no idea what Shavuot celebrated, but I did know it as "the cheesecake holiday." Here's a sweet treat of a sensory bin that will be a great addition to you Shavuot or Summer themed play this year. I call it our "Ice Cream Shop," and it is a favorite activity for S each time we use it! As a bonus, your little ones will not just be "playing," but will likely also develop fine motor skills in transferring, scooping, pinching and manipulating the pompoms as well as mathematical skills like sorting by color and size. Who said learning can't be fun? The sweetest part of this sensory bin is that it is also easy to create on a low budget with many of the materials being ones you may already have on hand.

You can use:

  • a large batch of cotton balls or pompoms--enough to fill your bin of choice. We found value packs of pompoms at a craft store and I keep them on hand for sensory play and crafts. I like the element of color and size variety in the pompoms. You can also buy a few bags of cotton balls at the dollar store and use them as is, or dye them/color them to look like your favorite flavors of ice cream.
  • plastic ice cream scoops (available at dollar stores and discount stores or maybe even your kitchen...)
  • recycled plastic cups from applesauce/fruit for ice cream bowls
  • baby spoons (we have a set in our play kitchen that I bought at the Dollar Tree)
  • cardboard tubes for ice cream cones: I cut each toilet paper tube vertically and then cut a triangle off each corner of the bottom before stapling a cone shape. If you have an eager artist in your house, you may want to enlist him/her to draw details of an ice cream cone as well.
  • recycled ice cream containers if you have on hand
  • you can add a scent (like vanilla or peppermint extract) to your cotton balls/pompoms if you'd like for an added sensory element
  • anything else you'd like! Perhaps you would like to color code your cups or cones for color sorting or provide a variety of sized containers for sorting by size...
When he was smaller, S liked to get right in the bin with these pompoms. Now he prefers to play from the outside and although both methods can lead to pompoms outside of the bin, they are a material that is easy enough to enlist his help in cleaning up! (He even managed to sneak a few of them into the bathtub the other night, so now they are really clean...)

Want to do more? This ice cream craft looks good enough to eat and is a great sensory experience for little hands. It's gooey and sticky and pleasantly messy! You can prepare it at home using materials you likely already have on hand. Here's a simple homemade puffy paint recipe to create your own ice cream art.
You will need: 
  • shaving cream
  • white school glue
  • food coloring
  • brown construction paper and construction paper in your background color of choice
  • markers, glue stick
  • rainbow sprinkles (optional)
To prepare your puffy paint, mix a blob of shaving cream and school glue to get a thick consistency. I never measure and the results are always slightly different, but lean toward a thicker consistency for a puffier result. Little hands love to help with this! They can even choose their colors of food coloring to create their "flavor" of choice. I used a little bit of red to create pink when mixed in with the white glue and shaving cream. You can pre-cut and detail your construction paper cones and use a glue stick to affix it to the background paper. This is best done ahead of time so that your little artists can dig right into the painting experience. Many kids like to do this part with their hands, however craft sticks or paint brushes can be used as well. If you are using sprinkles for detail, they can be sprinkled on top of their paint before allowing it to dry. I have noticed that in our humid southern summers, we often need an extra day or two to allow these creations to fully dry. Once dry, however, the puffy paint should be smooth and hard to the touch and look quite delightful to display in your home just in time for Shavuot or Summer!

One more bonus for you--a fun little ice cream song to sing as you play!

Sweet & Happy Playing!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Shavuot Theme: "Little Har Sinai"

We are getting ready for Shavuot here! We have been diligently counting the Omer as we work our
way up to this sweet holiday that celebrates our receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai some thousands of years ago. And even though the Jewish people received the Torah so very long ago, the sweet foods, beautiful flowers and special meaning behind this holiday remind even the very young (who are so integral to this holiday) that every Jewish soul was present at Har Sinai when we first received the gift of the Torah--and so, too, do we receive this gift anew each year at Shavuot! I love to introduce the holiday with a beautiful children's book, When The World Was Quiet by Phyllis Nutkis. The story line is simple and quaint and the illustrations are gorgeous as it beautifully depicts how the whole world became absolutely silent when the Jewish people received the luchos (Ten Commandments) for the first time. My older son (whom I'll start referring to as "S" to simplify things a bit now that we've got two little ones here!) absolutely loves when I read it in an especially quiet voice!

On the louder end of the spectrum is a playful song that tells all about the unique characteristic of humbleness that Har Sinai possessed--a quality that Jewish people ought to also portray--which was the reason for Hashem choosing to deliver His gift of the Torah on a small mountain, rather than one that was much bigger or taller. Last year Shavuot fell just after I finished teaching out of the home and we began our "Mommy & Me Camp" at home with a unit on this theme. S was just old enough to start recognizing and singing songs and used to request this one repeatedly. "Sing bum, bum, bum!" he would shout again and again from the car seat! (I always sing the sounds of a tuba playing and that's what he first caught on to.)

The song "Little Har Sinai," has been adapted from Professor Green in the album "Professor Green and the Simcha Machine:
The littlest Har Sinai...

Little Har Sinai

"I am a mountain so very high [reach hands up]
I can reach way up to the sky
The Torah should be given on me
Because I am as tall as can be, you see!"

"Oh, no! I am so very wide [reach hands wide]
I can stretch from side to side
The Torah should be given on me
Because I am as big as can be, you see!"

But Little Har Sinai just stood there and sighed [sigh]
"I know I'm not tall, I know I'm not wide,
The Torah can't be given on me
Because I am as small as can be, you see..."

But from all the mountains
Hashem chose Sinai
Because he did not hold himself high,
He had such gentle and humble ways
And from this we learn that humbleness pays!

Mountain stick puppets made with construction paper & google eyes. This is my own teaching set, however if you are leaving them to littler hands, I'd recommend a run through the laminating machine!
We love doing this song with the associated hand motions. I have also in the past created large mountain shapes from poster board that the children can hold up during each part of the song. My favorite accompanying activity, however, is to have each of my students create their own stick puppets to use along with the song. During the last two years, S has enjoyed holding my stick puppets. Last year, he even helped decorate my class set of poster board props.

Little brother (whom I'll now refer to as "Y") is filling in the role of holding puppets and already loves this song when S and I sing together! S is now old enough to decorate and create his own stick puppets and had a great time using our Kwik Stix to color each of the mountains and a little Torah to attach to Har Sinai. I helped him cut out the shapes afterward (older artists can do this step independently) and we ran it through the laminating machine for durability. I offered him flower stickers to decorate his Har Sinai since Hashem rewarded Har Sinai with beautiful flowers for being so kind and humble; he was not interested in that part and just wanted to get our puppet theater out and sing the song! 

S busy at work, decorating his soon-to-be stick puppets at Table Time

Finished product, with craft sticks taped to the back of laminated pictures... 
I always tape the Torah to a folded strip of card-stock so it can be propped up as you get to the verse about Hashem choosing to give the Torah on Har Sinai. It's always such a pleasant and playful surprise for your audience and young puppeteers also enjoy using this feature!

Humility is a challenging character trait to teach to young children. It is developmentally not at all natural at this age. As children grow and develop, we certainly want them to be able to attain inner feelings of success and confidence as they achieve new skills and complete challenging tasks. That said, we also want to instill in them that our talents and skills are all G-d given and that we ought also to leave room for others to feel confident and proud, whether or not we are all skilled and proficient in the same areas. This song is a kid-friendly way to demonstrate this character trait and such a fun one for the holiday of Shavuot. 

Both S and Y love singing and acting out "Little Har Sinai" in their own way!

Children can also enjoy other extension activities to learn about and create their own Har Sinai experience. You can use furniture, cushions and fabric in your house to create your own mountain and invite your children to decorate it with handmade or artificial flowers. They can use a step stool to "climb" Har Sinai and receive a (toy) Torah! While teaching, I have even incorporated a long term project of creating individual siddurim with the students and had them celebrate receiving it before Shavout by ascending a model Har Sinai. Another sweet activity this time of year is to bake cupcakes or a cake together (or in advance) and let the children decorate their own edible Har Sinai using green icing, graham cracker luchos (tablets for the Ten Commandments) and any other beautiful and tasty decorations you'd like.

S enjoyed this playdough invitation to create Har Sinai last year:

I included some homemade playdough we dyed green and scented with lavender oil along with a selection of artificial flowers, leaves and glass gems (all from the Dollar Tree) on a dip tray and he had a great time playing and decorating! I look forward to bringing out this activity again this year and seeing where he takes it. He is quite into playdough nowadays and can spend a good chunk of time working at it! 

Join us next time to see a fun and sweet themed sensory bin idea for Shavuot! Until then....

Happy Playing!

Monday, May 15, 2017

More Alphabet Adventures: Teaching the Letter Xx

A couple of years ago, I found a toy xylophone quite similar to this one at a local thrift shop. My budding musician loves it--second only to anything that can be used as a drum and his "pipano" (toy piano). I have to remind myself when I am casually hiding some of these instruments for a while that I, too, was an aspiring musician at his age and, indeed, demonstrated this early interest similarly--which led to years of classical piano lessons and hundreds of compositions to boot. Children who demonstrate a passion provide a great tool for us adults who wish to teach them! Whenever I can incorporate those passions into our natural learning process, I feel confident that not only will my sons (or students) enjoy our activities, they will also retain the knowledge they acquire.
I hold off on teaching the letter Xx until we have covered many of our other alphabet letters. Xx is a confusing little letter! It does not begin a lot of words that children are familiar with, and the few that it does do not even have the same beginning sound. Many educators present a project related to X-rays. I knew, however, that my little musician would much prefer an activity about a xylophone!

When I was ready to introduce our letter of the week, I got out our trusty toy xylophone and we sang this playful little song:
The Xylophone Song (adapted from a song I once heard a music teacher play with a preschool group)
"Hi, my name is ______ and I can play the xylophone!
Hi, my name is ________ and I can play the xylphone!
I can play high [glide mallet up the xylophone]
I can play low [glide mallet back down the xylophone]
I can play fast! [play quickly]
I can play slow! [play slowly]
And now I pass the xylophone... [child passes to next player]"

This song is a great group activity. The leader/teacher can demonstrate first and pass the xylophone around the circle. Through singing and playing the song, children learn social skills of taking turns and also the musical skills of playing at different tempos, playing up and down the scale and how to be gentle with instruments. The song also builds confidence in budding musicians, who can successfully "play" this song at a wide breadth of developmental ages and stages.

Our letter craft incorporated both our target letter and the developmental skills of being able to sequence shapes from largest to smallest! I pre-cut strips on colored paper that happens to be different colors on each side. My toddler chose which side to glue and which to have face up. Just as I suspected, he has really retained memory of this letter, likely because of my inclusion of his current passion--playing music. He found letter "rex" (have to work on that one!) in the perpendicular lines of a parking lot, in his tinker toys and even in the sky at the park!

"Look, Mommy, letter 'rex!' Starts with 'xylophone!'"

When I teach letter Xx to older preschoolers, I also use it as an opportunity to develop early sequencing skills. We talk about how this letter is not found at the beginning of a whole lot of words but is found in the middle and at the end of many words. I provide sentence strips with the words "beginning," "middle," and "end," along with a set of words containing the letter Xx in each of these categories for sorting (such as xylophone, x-ray, xerox, ox, exercise, ax, fox, excellent, exit, fix, mix...).

I do feel proud as a parent (and teacher) when a lesson is retained! I also feel pleased when I see how this builds confidence and love of learning. However, my greatest feeling of success comes not in how many letters my son (or students) "know" and I do not have a specific agenda for these skills to be developed; every early reader develops at a different rate. I feel most successful in teaching when I see a child enjoy learning and playing and we can appeal to this by incorporating themes they are passionate about.

Happy Playing!