Friday, December 30, 2016

Winter Staycationing & Our Next Adventure...

We are enjoying a little family style hibernation as we staycation our way through the winter holiday break. We're keeping Chanukah low key, fun and playful and filling our days with family time, a few fun trips and lots of playing. When I have taught outside of the home, school vacations were vital for refueling my creativity tank. I've found the same to be true for homeschooling, so while my "building" is always open year-round, I make sure to include weeks of un-planned family fun and even "professional development days" off as needed.
We had time for a few simple activities we hadn't gotten to yet, like this contact paper "stained glass" dreidel decoration that now hangs in our front window! If you're looking for a versatile craft staple to add to your stash this season, I cannot recommend a roll of clear contact paper enough. It has endless uses around here!

We are not huge into giving gifts on Chanukah at this point for a variety of reasons. We do try to make each night special with festive meals, family activities and quality time together. He was very excited to eat a dreidel shaped grilled cheese by menorah-light on festive Chanukah paper plates!

Even breakfast is extra special when you make an edible menorah out of bananas, pretzel stick "candles", and raisin "flames" stuck on with a dab of peanut butter.

We had a lot of fun painting and preparing this year's family menorah together. My little guy is so proud to be old enough to help his Tatty light it each night!

In between all of the Chanukah celebration, we had some fun revisiting old favorite activities, like watercolor painting on ice. Then we "recycled" the ice chunk into this snowy small world scene. We always have a lot of hands-on (and messy) fun with this icy cold sensory experience that turns into ooblek as it melts. This time, the little Arctic Explorer wanted a hammer to go with it...

So what's up our sleeves for January? Well, I am very eager for our next adventure! We are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime without straying too far from our living room as we explore an Around the World theme! I planned out all of my themes for the year back in August and this one was one I was immediately eager for. That said, as the January page in my planner started creeping closer and closer in, I started to get a bit anxious. You can easily spend a year of teaching through this theme. I've seen and participated in amazing units on cooking/baking around the world, animals around the world, art around the world, holidays and celebrations around the world, music around the world, buildings around the world, children's literature around the world. There is just so much world to see! Over the past few days, I got busy searching, organizing and planning our upcoming month of learning and playing together and I am quite excited for what we have in store. Follow along with us as we travel across the globe in a multi-sensory learning approach that will include pre-reading/early literacy, music, science, math skills, art, cooking, dramatic play, and more!

Join us in:

  • Mexico as we make a musical Mariachi band and a fun family fiesta!
  • Brazil where we will explore the rain forest 
  • England where we will try our hands at painting with tea bags, building bridges and preparing finger sandwiches for an afternoon tea party
  • Ireland as we explore the wonderful world of castles
  • \France as we continue building on previous themes and explore the Eiffel Tower and get in touch with our inner artists in the style of Claude Monet
  • Italy where we will get our aprons on and explore the culinary delights of an Italian style Shabbat menu
  • China where we will build our own great wall and dig in to some fine-motor and sensory fun with chopsticks, rice and more. While we're here, we'll learn about the Chinese New Year as well.
  • Japan as we use some of those great fine motor skills for arts & crafts, sushi-rolling, and origami paper folding...
  • India where we will engage our senses with spice painting and some sweet snacks
  • Israel for some Dead Sea style relaxation, dancing and dining...
  • Australia for some wildlife exploration and amazing animal arts and crafts and Yoga
  • Africa where we will craft our own souvenirs to take home...
  • and finally back home to the United States of America where will complete our unit with some patriotic painting

Well, our bags are packed and we're ready to go! I look forward to sharing the experience here as we head on our way. Happy New Year, Happy Playing and Happy, Safe Travels along the way--whether or not you actually leave your living room!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mad Science Monday: Chanukah Science with Oil and Water

It's Monday! And if you're looking for a Chanukah themed science activity to infuse your winter break with the joy and light of the holiday, here's a fun--and meaningful--one you can explore. Perhaps one of the greatest miracles of the Chanukah story was that the small amount of oil salvaged from the ruins of the Beis Hamikdash that was seemingly only enough to light the menorah for one day, lasted for eight days and nights. This is the reason we light our Chanukah menorahs for eight nights and also the reason we eat some many delicious oily foods this time of year. The miracle greater than that--the one that we are called upon as Jewish people to repeat and relive again and again--was the miracle that although was that in the face of adversity, fear and even temptation, we maintained our Jewish identity of learning Torah and performing mitzvos. One of my favorite Chanukah-themed science explorations to do with children that can demonstrate this concept visually is to work with oil and water.

Chanukah Oil & Water Sciene/Sensory Bottle
Question: Do oil and water mix?
This year my own little guy was old enough to help make his own oil and water Chanukah sensory bottle. When I have taught in preschool classrooms, this is a great experiment to perform in the classroom and send each student home with. You can take one for the team (and drink a LOT of Gatorade or water) to provide recycled bottles for the class, or students can bring in and donate empty bottles. I particularly like the small Gatorade bottles because they are made from a harder plastic that is seemingly indestructible after lots of vigorous shaking and they are a wonderful size for little hands.
Before we began, I shared a short version of the Chanukah story with my little one. We gathered our materials together. I let my little helper assist in choosing some of the small items we would put inside the sensory bottle and choose the color we would dye the water. Next I posed our question: do oil and water mix together? My junior scientist predicted that they would not mix. (He helps me bake a lot and I tend to point out science in action in the kitchen!) You may wish to record predictions, the process and results of your experiment in a journal or on paper.

You will need:

  • empty recycled plastic bottle with cap
  • water (enough to fill about 3/4 of the way)
  • food color or liquid water color if you wish to dye the water
  • vegetable oil (enough to fill about 1/4 of the bottle)
  • filler items like glitter, sequins, small beads, a small dreidel, a Chanukah candle, gems, etc.
  • duct tape and/or hot glue gun to permanently seal the top when you are done
  • a plastic funnel for easier pouring
  1. I had my junior scientist first add in the filler items we chose--this time some small plastic beads, a dreidel and some glitter.
  2. He helped me pour in the blue water. (He chose the color and I'd already added a few drops of food dye to the water.)
  3. He helped pour in the oil.
  4. We watched and observed the oil bubble and rise to the top. We wanted to know if this would remain even after a good shake. I sealed the bottle tightly with duct tape and he gave it a good shake. He even asked me to shake it, too! Sure enough, even with lots of bubbles, that oil rose right back up to the top. What if we turned it upside down? The oil rose back up to the top! 
Just like the Jewish people, the oil rises above its surroundings. So, too, must we always rise above things that are hard or scary or just plain tempting and continue to learn Torah and do mitzvos! This is a beautiful Chanukah lesson and science exploration neatly stored in the portable case of an empty recycled bottle! Little hands will love to shake it, flip it, and share the lesson at your Chanukah table.

Want to do more? Working with oil and water can be fun and beautiful as well in a larger exploration area if you're brave enough to weather the potential overflow. We brought our water table indoors to the kitchen and tossed down an old towel beneath it. I set up a simple invitation to explore with some colored and clear water, some oil, and a variety of containers for pouring and mixing. I let my little guy experience it hands on with minimal input and observed his process.
I provided containers ready to go with oil,
oil AND water, and just water, mixed with
food color in shades that will mix well.

He LOVED squeezing the oil and oil/water mixtures out of the bottles.
When he asked for "more 'poil'" (I don't know why he calls it "poil,"
but for now it's too cute not to share!) I showed him how to squeeze
the bottle and slurp the liquids back up again.

Looking for a less oily Chanukah science option that will be worthy of hanging on your wall when you're done (or giving as a festive gift)? Try your hand at the science of using heat to melt wax with crayon art!

You will need:
  • a blank canvas
  • old (or new) crayons--I found through trial (and ERROR) that Crayola brand crayons work the best. After a science flop in the classroom last year (which is STILL SCIENCE!) using generic brand crayons, I learned that the actual wax content of a crayon makes a difference in how it melts!
  • low temperature hot glue gun
  • blow dryer
Prior to beginning the experiment, glue your crayons onto the canvas. If you wish you can unwrap them first. Older children with supervision can assist in using the low temperature hot glue gun to glue the crayons on next to each other spanning across the top of the canvas.
Using the blow dryer (you'll want to make sure the glue has dried ahead of time, perhaps even overnight if you're worried about crayons falling off), apply hot air directly toward the crayons. As the crayons get hotter, they will "sweat" and melt beautiful colors down the canvas. You'll want to work in a covered area in case of splatters and drips and also be cautious with little ones and splatters can be hot! You can talk with your junior scientists about what causes candles to burn and crayons to melt (fire/heat) and identify items that are made from wax.

Have a happy, colorful and scientific Chanukah! May your season be full of light, miracles and plenty of playing!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Mad Science Monday: Frosty the Snow Can

It's Mad Science Monday! Do you remember the fun of doodling and writing messages in a frosty window? When you were little did you ever wonder what caused frost and how it formed? Here's another adorable winter-themed experiment for your collection--and you probably have the very few items required to conduct it already in your kitchen. 

Frosty the Snow Can
You Will Need:
  • an empty tin can
  • ice cubes
  • kosher salt/sea salt
Science teaches us so much about our environment and any time an experiment we do can also help the environment--even in a small way, I love to point that out. Recycling is one small way even little children can feel part of protecting their environment. If we had infinite space here, I'd probably have the world's largest collection of recycled containers, cardboard tubes, brown bags, empty bottles and cans. We merely don't have that space and so I aim to keep around the house only what I have an immediate use for. I do keep a small canvas crate full of recyclables and I always kept a recyclables bin in my classrooms as well. One of my (and my students') favorite activities to do were recycled process art days. I'd let them "empty the recycling bin," add in a few additional art and craft materials and have at it! So here's a great way to use that empty can--and if you want to give it one more go-around when you're through, it will make an adorable container for pens and pencils or markers.


If you'd like before beginning, you or your little artists can draw a snowman or snowy scene on the outside of your tin can with permanent markers. You may wish to supervise younger artists with this and advise them to be extra careful since the ink will not wash off hands and clothes easily. To begin the experiment, put ice cubes in your can and then pour some salt in. The salt will speed up the experiment (much in the way that it speeds up ice melting outdoors--and you can explain that your junior scientists as well). After a few minutes you should see some frost forming on the outside of the can!

Your junior scientists will enjoy touching the frost on the outside of the can to see how cold and wet it is! Happy Mad Science Monday and, as always, happy playing!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Beyond the Book: We're Going on a Bear Hunt!

"We're Going on a Bear Hunt" by Michael Rosen has been a longtime beloved book in this house. It's got everything you could ask for in a great children's book: rhythm, repetition, great illustrations and a fabulous sense of adventure! It also seemed like a perfect piece of literature to take beyond the book as part of our Animals in Winter Theme.
I've always been impressed by some of the preschool curricula based entirely on children's literature. I'm not quite ready to take the plunge and take our homeschooling solely in that direction, but spending a day in themed activities and play based on a favorite book seemed like a great way to incorporate this concept into our usual routine. I wanted it to be very exciting and special for my little one as well, so I spent some time the night before our Bear Hunt Day doing a little preparation and setup.
I pitched our play tent as a "cave" and hid a stuffed bear inside. In the morning, I met my son in his room with a pair of binoculars and after getting dressed and ready for the day, I announced we were going on a bear hunt! He took his binoculars along and began the long trek down our mountain (stairs) and toward the bear cave, where he was very excited to find our resident bear inside! We took a bear themed breakfast break before we began our school time routine.

Our Table Time activity was a scissor skills practice to cut "grass" for a project we would get to later in the day. He was quite excited to have another opportunity to practice with scissors, a skill he's been very eager to master lately. We did our traditional morning circle time activities from the coziness of our bear cave and read our copy of the book together. Next it was time to get to PLAY! If we were to go on a bear hunt, we might need a map. So we sat down together at the table and made our own story map collage to retell the adventure of We're Going on a Bear Hunt.
We used a variety of materials and mediums for our story map.

We retold the story and looked at the book for reference as we completed our collage.

There are a lot of great ways to inspire story telling and playacting of children's literature. One of my favorite is small world play. It's great fun to act out the story through dramatic play and to watch as my son expands on the theme to create his own versions of the story.

All that story telling inspired my budding author to draw about and dictate his own Bear Hunt story. He asked to use his journal for this activity and made up a great version of the story in which there were two bears!

Even bears need a snack break. He loved this paper plate mask activity and using it to act out the part of the bear in play!

This DIY lacing shape of a bear was a great filler activity and a great material for inspiring fine motor practice and quiet play as our morning drew to a close. He also had a great time adding his Magnetiles to our small world scene and building a house for the family and the bear! 

Want to do more?
My little bear fell fast asleep after a morning engaged in play and learning about this book. I hope he's having sweet and adventurous dreams. Happy Reading and Playing!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Chanukah, Oh Chanukah, Come Play, Learn and Create!

The excitement is building as we continue learning and playing about Chanukah. And a lot of learning is happening, too! I sometimes feel like the Sneaky Teacher--and rather than hiding vegetables and protein in my child's favorite foods like my culinary counterpart (don't get me wrong, I do plenty of that, too!) I am constantly finding creative ways to sneak educational content into really fun play activities. This is a lot easier than you'd think--so much of the way children learn about the world around them is through play. Early childhood years are vital for this, and truly, play should be a part of life throughout the ages and stages! (Yes, even grown ups!) Some skills and areas of development come more naturally to a child and are more appealing while others may need a little nudging and creativity to foster. Getting creative and playful can help inspire interest in areas where a little learner may be hesitant or reluctant. And even the most eager little ones benefit from learning content through a variety of methods and experiences.

My little guy happens to LOVE talking about and identifying shapes. Whether it's in books, toys and manipulatives or experimenting with his doodles and scribbles, he is very drawn to geometry! But an interest in geometry and other mathematical concepts needn't mean all work and no play--check out this very simple invitation to create a dreidel shape out of magnets! The same activity can be done using paper and collage, blocks, or even sponges and paint. My toddler had a lot of fun copying the dreidel shape and exploring his own geometric creations with triangles, squares and these skinny little rectangles!

We continue learning letters in both English and Hebrew even as holidays approach. Learning the Hebrew letter YUD included some hands-on fun (literally)! We start our alephbet lessons with a familiar routine no matter what our activity is. Repeating songs and routines helps to set the stage for what we are learning and supports comprehension of new material as well. After singing our introductory songs and meeting our new letter, we learned a Hebrew word to go with it--YADAYIM, or hands. My son had fun doodling on this coloring page--and even coloring pages and coloring books have educational value! He is practicing lines, squiggles and fine motor movements that will lead to drawing shapes and eventually letters. He also had a lot of fun using his yadayim in washable ink-pads to make a hand-print menorah in his journal. 
Hand-print menorahs can be a great hands-on play activity for the whole family, as seen here in a
family art project we did last Chanukah!
And speaking of art, in this process art activity the world of painting and science came together as we explored painting with water colors and oil! I set out liquid watercolor paints and some vegetable oil in an ice cube tray. We do not have fancy liquid watercolor paints! I actually just found a liquid set at the dollar tree and figured I couldn't go wrong either way. They are not an amazing quality art product but definitely served their intended function here! Prior to beginning, I cut a dreidel shape from white cardstock. If you have watercolor paper on hand, that would be great, but it is not a necessity. I chose a thicker paper since I knew this would be a wet project! It would be a good idea to use a tray or foil pan beneath your paper to collect splatters and excess and to cover your work space. Some painting activities capture my son's attention for a few minutes, but this one kept him busy and engaged for almost half an hour! He loved exploring the paint colors and mixing them/transferring them inside the ice cube tray. He loved experimenting with different types of brush strokes and two different brushes on the paper. He loved the element of seeing how just like in some of our other experiments with oil and water (and stay tuned for more on that in the weeks to come), that on paper, oil and watercolor paints do not mix. 

Even cleaning the brush between uses in a glass filled with warm, soapy water (to help cut the grease of the oil) and dabbing it on a paper towel was a great learning opportunity and helped develop an important practical life-skill. Learning happened all around and play was at the forefront.

Happy Playing and (Sneaky) Learning!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Playtime Post: Winter Edition

We are continuing on our Winter theme this week with the addition of also playing and learning about animals in the Winter and animals in cold climates. While many of our activities, particularly earlier in the day, are more structured, we are including more opportunities for open ended play in the afternoons--particularly as cold and dark weather have us at home more often than out and about. For this week's Playtime Post, I've included some of our favorite winter-themed play activities that involve minimal set-up and preparation but maximum interest and focus! The intention with activities like this is to draw in extended periods of play that ignite their interest, imagination and creativity. There are always skills being developed through various types of play and that is, of course, an added bonus. Many times I create activities based upon an interest my child displays or if there is a particular activity that he is consistently drawn to, I might add a new element to it to draw upon his own imagination and creativity process. Some of the time, I am engaged in play and exploration with him and some of the time he is playing independently. There is, of course, no "right" or "wrong" here--playing together and playing independently both offer important opportunities for development!

My little guy has been VERY into using a glue stick and liquid glue lately, so I've included more opportunities for artwork that involves gluing. Many times, if there is a medium or element he is very interested in, it will overtake his desire to add anything else to a piece of artwork. This is totally fine and there are so many wonderful skills that are built through drawing, painting, gluing, cutting, etc. I also like to work with my son's "comfort in the familiar" to expand out of his boxes a bit. Repetition is the essence of learning at a young age, so it is natural he would want to do the same thing over and over again. With this comes a concept of the world around him, mastery of skills and a great deal of self confidence. Mixing it up a bit is also important. Adding something to a comfortable scenario can encourage creativity, adaptability and flexibility. With this Arctic Animal Snow Scene, I added in another medium--white paint with a Q-tip to use as a brush. This was "different" since it pushed beyond the "just gluing" aspect of a collage and also introduced something with paint that was NOT a typical paintbrush. And he totally went for it! He even dictated a story of what each animal was feeling and experiencing as he dabbed "snowflakes" on them and around them. He was quite proud to show his finished creation to his Tatty when he returned home from work in the evening. We happened to have these animal die cuts from the Dollar Tree on hand, but you could also use animals cut from a magazine or recycled greeting cards or stickers--anything you have on hand. Painting with Q-tips is a great way to encourage fine motor development and you likely already have them in your medicine cabinet!

Lately my son has also developed an interest in using scissors and practicing cutting. He is very early in developing scissor skills, and while he has the idea of squeezing to open and close the scissors, hand positioning is still a work in progress. Since he is interested, I am offering more opportunities to practice (with supervision, as even safety scissors have their potential risk factors). If he did not seem interested and especially if he adverse to cutting, I would certainly not push it so early. I first introduced safety scissors to him over the summer and he was initially curious but quickly grew very frustrated and made it clear he did not want to continue. I decided to re-introduce them at a later point, and when he displayed an interest in using the scissors at our Children's Museum art room, I knew it was time! At this stage, it's more about opportunity to practice than proficiency.
Cutting snowflakes is an integral winter craft that has spanned the generations. I remember doing this as a child and I'm sure you do, too! One of my favorite "fool-proof" mediums to use is white coffee filters. They are already the perfect shape for folding and cutting into beautiful snowflakes. Additionally, you can use washable markers and spray with water for some colorful results (who says snowflakes have to be white?). For this activity, proximity was important since my little guy was practicing with scissors. I definitely didn't push for him to cut "correctly" or produce a snowflake like mine. I think I had just as much fun making them! They are a fun and festive way to decorate your home or window this season.

This is definitely an activity the whole family can get involved with. All you need are scissors and white coffee filters. You can add washable markers and water if you'd like. My favorite pair of safety scissors are actually ones commonly sold at the Dollar Tree. They have a plastic lever than can be flipped across the handles to make it easier for little hands to just squeeze in order to cut and flipped back up once cutters are more advanced. Even with safety scissors and early cutters, it is important to talk about and demonstrate safety techniques for using scissors.

Setting up for successful playtimes is sometimes all about set up itself! Making playthings readily available at child level not only encourages interest and attention, but also fosters more independence in beginning and moving through playtime activities. Many times my own son does not seem to play with a toy, it is because he does not realize it's there. How it is stored and where it is stored sometimes makes all the difference. This does not mean everything is out all of the time--on the contrary, we do keep what's "out" pretty minimal. Less really is more when it comes to play. Interest and functionality in playing seems to increase when there is less in a space to distract from and detract from focus. This month I made a temporary flannel wall using a swatch of sparkly white felt for a snowy looking background. This is tacked low on our wall at child-level. Although we have a more permanent one set up in an upstairs hallway, it gets very infrequent use as the space it is in is very infrequently used! This totally drew him in. I keep our homemade winter themed felt board sets in a basket right below it and he's had a great time telling stories to go along with what he builds and creates. As an added bonus, he is gaining fine motor practice and coordination while simultaneously developing vocabulary and storytelling skills!
We also set up a winter themed sensory bin this week. I kept this one very simple--and sometimes, simple is best! We used cotton balls, scoops and recycled cardboard tubes for a Snowball Sensory Bin. Later (not pictured), I also added some foam and plastic snowflakes. He had such a great time shoveling up snowballs and putting them through the cardboard tubes. With different sized scoops, he is gaining spacial awareness and he is definitely practicing those fine motor skills, too. One of my favorite parts is that a larger filler material means more independence on his part when it comes to cleaning up any spills or strays. Admittedly, as often as I swap and fill my sensory bins, I don't always get them out for play. Either I forget about it (as it's tucked away between play sessions) or I am too lazy to go through the process of getting out a drop mat, having time to play and then time to clean it up...there's my guilty confession for the day! So if you, like me, feel yourself getting into a rut with certain play activities, it's totally OK to find a loophole or hack! For me, this was choosing a filler that didn't require a drop mat and assistance at clean up time. We love our rice and beans, but cotton balls, you are a Mom's best friend right now! (And I think the toddler is a fan, too...)

We are huge Magnetiles fans here. This is another toy my son goes back to again and again. His activities are repetitive with them, and with this, he demonstrates his ability to master skills (like building a cube) that he once required help with. As he becomes more confident and comfortable, I like to mix it up a little bit and expand on his play. We've added toy cars and trucks and made a parking garage. We've added Fisher Price Little People and built cities. We even added jingle bells for some noisy, magnetic fun! This week, I created a winter animals themed small world basket. I included some Arctic animal figurines we had, some cotton stuffing as "snow," some blue glass gems as "ice" (found in floral departments of craft stores or the Dollar Tree--just make sure to choose a large enough size with little ones not to pose a choking hazard and supervise play with small parts in general!), some "evergreen trees" made from cardboard tubes and construction paper, and a recycled container "cave" for our resident bear! He's enjoyed using the items in the basket on their own and here, he enjoyed building an "ice castle" together with his Magnetiles. Initially I sat with him and engaged in play and storytelling, and as we continued, he "took over." His Tatty even had fun joining in the game when he got home a few minutes later!

And there you have it! Some winter themed playtime fun for your little ones (or bigger ones) to keep you warm and busy this season. Happy Playing!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Chanukah, Oh Chanukah: Alphabet, Aleph-Bet & Early Literacy Activities

Chanukah, Chanukah, READ ALL ABOUT IT! We learn about English and Hebrew letters year round and I especially love when I can incorporate our learning activities into our current theme. Here are some of the Chanukah-themed ways we've incorporated learning about letters and early literacy into our play this month:

 We learned about the letter D! We always start with our favorite letter introduction song and some sort of manipulative to handle and explore, like magnets, stamps, stickers, foam letters, blocks, etc. For the letter D, we began by reading Jane Yolen's and Mark Teague's How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah. We love to have a story buddy join us, and my little guy loved sharing this one with his toy dinosaur!
Next we were ready for some letter D themed Chanukah fun!
 We started with this doodle dreidel, made from a recycled CD labeled with the appropriate Hebrew letters and a marker set through the center. He loved trying to spin it and doodling with it!
Next it was time to take some traditional dreidels and paint to the table for dreidel painting. Older artists will be able to spin the dreidel in the paint for some great splatter/spin art. Younger hands may still struggle with this skill but will nonetheless enjoy trying it (and watching it) as well as dabbing, and dotting the dreidel in the paint. We left the results to dry while we got out some do-a-dot markers to decorate this paper dreidel.

A little cutting/prep by Mommy and some glue helped us with our finished product all about the letter D!

We learned the Hebrew letter tes by trying our hands at tearing tape together to prepare this tape-resist menorah project:

Tearing tape is a great fine motor activity!

He needed a piece for his shirt, too.

We headed to the table with some paints and brushes to paint over the prepared canvas. Once it was dry, we removed the tape and used the results from our process art activity earlier in the week to make some flame shapes to glue on top of the candles.

Reading together is a great activity for emerging readers of all ages. I always teach my students (and son) that there are many ways to read! Recognizing letters and words is just one. Recognizing pictures or colors is another way little ones demonstrate their ability to "read." We love Mommy & Me books here--whether it's a couple of copies of one favorite children's book to share or a couple of printed booklets from online. I printed off this little booklet entitled "Hanukah's Rainbow of Lights," and went through underlining each color word with the associated color. I sat next to my little reader and showed him how to open our books together, use our pointer finger for left-to-right directionality, and when we got to a color name, he "read" the word! He felt so proud of himself, he wanted to do it again (and again and again)! My biggest goal with emerging readers is always to instill a confidence and joy in reading that will carry them through developing the skills to go alongside it. This, I believe, fosters a lifelong love of reading and learning.
We also "practice" sight word recognition in other ways. I love flashcards--but not for drilling and grilling in the traditional sense. Rather, we use picture cards with vocabulary words through play to develop early reading skills. Using Chanukah themed vocabulary cards that you print offline or make yourself can be a great way to play a game of I-Spy. Your player(s) select a card and then must search for and locate the associated item from a tray, sensory bin or sand table.

For children ages 4/5 and up, a game of Letter Latkes can be a great way to review letters and practice some silly motor skills at the same time!

To prepare, set up your learning space or "pan." I used a tape dreidel shape on the carpet, but you can also use a large picture of a pan or a towel or mat to designate the space. I prepared my letter latkes using paper plates colored brown to represent the latkes. Depending on how advanced your players are you can include  more or fewer letter latkes. On each plate, I wrote one letter in uppercase and lowercase form. I had a collection of pictures of objects that began with each of the letters, with at least 3 or 4 pictures for each letter. On his/her turn, each player selects one letter latke and uses the spatula to pick up the pictures beginning with the letter from the "pan" and puts transfers them to the latke. It's silly. It's fun. It's early reading!

There are so many great ways to play about and learn early reading skills. The very best and most important one of all is, of course, reading together! So head to the library or your own collection and grab a favorite Chanukah book. There's little in life more cozy and warm than cuddling up together with a great book.

Happy Reading, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Playing!