Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Community Helpers Theme: The Baker, The Chef, and The Mashgiach

Our final exploration of Community Helpers took us to the kitchen, the playroom, and beyond as we learned about occupations involving food! My son is currently very into playdough activities, so this invitation to make cupcakes (left) was a definite favorite. I included playdough, some baking tools, some small parts (foam beads and pompoms) for decorating and "birthday candles" (straws). Baking is a favorite activity of my son's (although he's not always a fan of eating what we bake together). One of his favorite toys to play with is this wooden Melissa & Doug cookie set (below). We got ours off Amazon when there was a flash sale.

We used that along with some plastic coins props to go along with this cute action rhyme:

Five Little Cookies
There were five little cookies in the bakery shop
Freshly baked with frosting on top
Along came [insert child's name] with a nickel to pay
He/she took one cookie and went on his way!
Now there are four....
(...and continue on down to one)

This baking-themed science experiment that we did earlier in our unit helped show how yeast works. You can read all about it (and other community helpers themed science activities) here.

Part of learning about occupations related to food and its preparation also included talking about a very important Jewish community helper: the mashgiach. A mashgiach oversees the food preparation in factories, restaurants and other public venues to ensure that it is prepared according to the laws of kashrut. We help our son learn about keeping kosher naturally as we are eating and cooking together. He learns about how we eat only kosher foods and that we eat meat and dairy on separate dishes and at separate times. He learns to check eggs when we are baking together to make sure there are no blood spots that may render them unkosher and to wash produce carefully in order to eliminate any bugs. Grocery shopping is also an adventure in learning about kashrut as we look together for kosher symbols on packages of processed food items.

He plays frequently about cooking and shopping in his kitchen dramatic play area, so we brought out a fun Shopping for Shabbos game since we happened to get to this theme on a Friday. I prepared a shopping list ahead of time and set out the play materials we would be shopping for in our pretend storefront. He got to carry the list and a pencil for checking off items as he got them. He was very busy filling up a recycled brown paper bag and his toy shopping cart! You can make an activity like this more advanced by including a number of each item you wish to buy to encourage some practice with counting. You can also delve deeper by including prices and pretend currency and even a calculator or toy register if you have one. Take it on the road for a practical field trip and provide your little helper with his/her own list of items to find and add to the cart at the real grocery store!

Sensory bins are always a favorite activity in our house. We brought back our bin of dried beans and pasta from our construction workers day and this time added some toy kitchen tools, pots and pans and empty recycled spice containers. He loved scooping, pouring, filling and shaking. Then he was ready to eat some actual lunch and take a good, long nap before joining me in the kitchen to help prepare our actual Shabbat dinner.

Well, that's a wrap to our Community Helper's unit and we've had a LOT of fun. This theme is one that will continue to follow us in dialogue and in action as we go about our normal family routines. The dramatic play aspect of it was a great segue into the sub-themes of Purim, a topic we are playing and learning about heavily as the holiday draws near. Join us next time for a peek at what we're doing to get ready and until then...

Happy Playing!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Community Helpers: Being a "Family Helper"

Bathing baby was so much fun--this baby got about
a dozen baths in one afternoon!
BWhenever I teach a Community Helpers theme in the classroom, I take at least a day to talk about being helpers in our community. That ranges from how children can help (right now!) in our classroom, to their homes, to the community at large. It can be so much fun to imagine a time when they are grown up enough to go to work in the occupation of their dreams--and yet it can feel so big and far away. Many of my students were also at an age in which they are fascinated by superheroes. We would take a morning to create a puppet and story of each of them as their very own version of a superhero. A would allow them into their fantasy world in which they can have incredible powers and do incredible things--and then I would welcome them back into our classroom world in which they already have incredible power to do incredible things. We would talk about being a good friend, a helpful member of the class, a helper in their homes and in our community. So many of our community helpers truly are super people doing super things in our neighborhood.
For the sake of a homeschool scenario, I wanted a play and learning opportunity to focus on how my son is a family helper in our home. He is at the age and stage where he loves to help! He likes to help in the kitchen, help with washing the table, help with sweeping and mopping, help when his Tatty is using tools for something. He is curious about how so many things in this world work. Sometimes his curiosity manifests as anxiety. Machines and things that make noise in particular are a little frightening to him. He feels less worried and more in control when we explain that something is "safe" (as opposed to "not scary" when he adamantly feels it is), and when he gains an understanding of how it works, what it does, and why. Animals that can move independently of him into his space are rather frightening to him, so we visit parks and zoos and farms and pet shops. Babies or other children crying also seems to worry him, so we talk about ways to help in those times. On the one hand, seeing a peer cry is a reminder to him that emotions are all OK and always fleeting. His friend is "sad" right now, but the sadness will pass. With babies, it is a bit more complicated. Cries do not always mean "sad," and that is a world he does not remember! He loves to play with baby dolls at home, particularly feeding them, putting them to sleep, pushing them in a stroller and bathing them. For our Family Helper day, I set up a dramatic play activity to do all of the above plus more. He loved it--and who knows, these skills may just come in handy soon enough!

Play is a great way for our children to work through anxieties, to develop social and problem solving skills and to gain a sense of control and understanding about their environment at large. In that merit, happy playing!
Along with our babies, I set out blankets, board books, baby toys and rattles, bottles and toy dishes for feeding. Our diapering station (comprised of a plastic lap desk!) was stocked with actual diapers (a travel pack from the Dollar Tree), old baby wash cloths we still had from my son's infant days, doll clothes and baby wipes. If you prefer not to open the can of worms that is allowing a toddler access to his own baby wipes, you may prefer to use fabric or wash cloths and even to use or make your own doll cloth diapers.
Our bathing and feeding station all ready to go (minus the soap and water at this point). On a nice day, this would even be a great activity to take outside for some waterplay! It is also one of our favorite bath time activities at home, and almost a surefire way to get my toddler in the tub on the rare occasion that he is not wanting to take a bath. I just filled our basin with a shallow layer of warm water and dish soap and provided plastic toys, wash cloths and towels. 

Diapered and ready to go! 
This baby is drying off from one of her dozen baths of the day and about to enjoy another book! 

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Peek Inside Our Playroom: Getting Ready for PURIM

The Jewish month of Adar is welcomed with two days of Rosh Chodesh, beginning at sundown this Saturday night and continuing through Monday evening. This is a month in which we are commanded to increase our joy and happiness as we get ready to celebrate the holiday of Purim! Purim is one of the most joyful and fun holidays for children and adults alike. We wear costumes and enjoy a festive meal. We eat special treats like hamentaschen and give gifts of food (shalach manot) as well as extra tzedakah (charity) to those in need. One of the most important parts of Purim is hearing the Megillah, a story that recounts the Jews' miraculous deliverance from the wicked rule of Haman in the days of Queen Esther of Persia. While the story is quite graphic and can even be frightening (particularly for young children), we value the importance of teaching it in an age appropriate manner to our children and my very favorite way to teach is through play and hands-on experiences. The day of Purim is one we spend as a family giving out shalach manot to friends and neighbors, attending Megillah readings, parties and festive meals at our local shuls and celebrating with delicious treats and fun costumes. At home, we are already getting into the Purim spirit with some themed playroom set-up.

Purim is holiday that is fun for all ages! Even as a baby, my son loved making noise with graggers...
...and dressing up in costume!

Some of our highlighted activities will include:
delivering shalach manot to neighborhood friends last year

  • a dramatic play shalach manot sweets & treats shop
  • a field-trip to our post office to send out shalach manot to family members who are not nearby
  • learning activities to explore the shape of a triangle--a common theme in Purim related to the shape of Haman's hat and our favorite Purim cookie, hamentaschen!
  • invitations to build castles using a variety of mediums and building materials 
  • story telling and sequencing using costumes, sensory bins, felt boards, books, puppets and props as well as songs, music and movement
  • a science exploration of different sounds and instruments related to the use of graggers (noisemakers) to blot out the wicked Haman's name during the reading of the Megillah
  • a cool hands-on science exploration to excavate "treasures" from an ice castle
  • some Purim themed gross motor games to get us moving indoors and out
  • games and learning activities to build descriptive language for different emotions and recognition of facial expressions
  • cooking and baking activities to prepare holiday treats
  • plenty of dramatic play and opportunities to wear and create costumes
  • process art and project opportunities to make festive decorations and holiday props

 Here's a peek at some of our favorite activities and materials from Purims past! I hope you'll join us over the days to come as we explore some great learning and play activities in our home preschool.
Counting Crowns combines foam crown shapes (Dollar Tree) with numerals and corresponding dots for visual representation along with glass gems (you can use plastic jewels, buttons, sequins or beads) to help teach one-to-one correspondence for younger mathematicians

More advanced mathematicians can begin simple adding activities with the same materials

We love using a variety of props to retell the Purim story. Puppets, costumes, pictures and flannel board sets make story telling and sequencing activities a fun, hands-on experience.

Last year, each of my students (ages 4-5) helped to make their own version of this felt story Megillah using a large rectangle of felt and two Velcro dots for secure closure. We included laminated castles and story characters with Velcro dots as well so that they could enjoy some quiet story telling while the Megillah was read in shul, a time when we are commanded to hear each and every word. As it is so important for children and adults alike to hear the Megillah, we must get creative with ways to include and engage our children while limiting any extraneous noise (other than the important use of graggers and noisemakers to blot out Haman's name!) so that everyone can fulfill this special mitzvah together!
We had a lot of fun dying our own rainbow rice last year for a Purim themed sensory bin!

Small costume props and jewelry, toys and castle shaped buckets made for some great small world play to retell the story of Purim in our sensory bin. This year we are looking forward to adding one more theme-related element to a fresh batch of play rice: a sweet orange scent to remind us of Persia, where the story of Purim took place!

For some additional great ideas and materials, check out this free, printable Purim Activity Pack and 25 Fun Activities for Purim, both provided by the wonderfully talented blogger of A Jewish Homeschool Blog.

If you're looking for a simple, free printable castle coloring page for some Purim story themed artwork, check out this one!

Here are some great free printable photographs of actual castles to inspire your little architect courtesy of the blog "Fun-A-Day."

We bake hamentaschen every year using our favorite family recipe. We also had a lot of fun using this peanut butter playdough recipe to practice shaping (and eating) hamentaschen last year! It's a great one for kids--WARNING: adults may like it, too!

Hope you're feeling as excited for Purim as I am, now and that this will tide you over until my next Purim-themed post. Until then...

 Happy Playing and may we all experience an increase in joy this month!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Community Helpers Theme: Construction Workers and Vehicles

One of the best days of our year so far was
when we came home to find this in our apartment
complex parking lot!
 My son loves all things related to construction. Trucks, diggers, dirt, hard hats, shovels, tools, rocks--it's his best version of a playground. I can remember early last summer driving a ridiculously long distance to get to a far out branch of our library that is known for having an amazing children's play area. Just as we pulled into the lot, we passed a huge construction site full of dirt, piles of rocks and huge excavators. When we got inside the library and into that amazing children's area, my son started throwing a colossal fit; he wanted to go back to the parking lot to see the "big diggers!"
Well, we definitely needed to include construction workers and vehicles into our Community Helpers theme! As it is already a play theme he loves, we have a lot of related toys, books and activities here. To add some novelty to the topic today, we included some new books checked out from the library and some play activities to go along with them.

Our Construction Worker Puppet is ready
for a great day at Homeschool!

My son loves the board book series by Steve Light. Diggers Go has become a new favorite! He was equally excited to find our construction worker puppet and a copy of I Drive a Backhoe by Sarah Bridges and illustrated by Amy Bailey Muelenhardt in his school bag this morning.

If your little ones like construction vehicles, this is the book for you!

 It was a rather rainy day outside, so rather than digging around in the dirt and rocks outdoors, we found ways to play about construction workers inside!

All set up for some construction themed dramatic play plus an invitation to play with playdough and toy tools!

Tools and playdough were a match made in heaven!

He especially has enjoyed our construction site small world sensory bin. I used dried beans and pasta we've had on hand (spoiler alert, they will be reappearing in our Baker/Chef Day theme!) and added some toy construction workers, vehicles, scoops and dishes to fill and even some mini-eraser tools I found at our Dollar Tree. He added the big excavator!
He also had a lot of fun working on and in this cardboard Car Shop I found at the Dollar Tree. It came with stickers he enjoyed using to decorate and I added in some little toy people, he aforementioned mini-eraser tools and some cars! He LOVED it--a dollar well spent!

Car Shop
We've got a couple of Community Helpers left to learn about that will have us busy in the kitchen and at play--plus a day of exploring how we are helpers in our own home and family. Until then...

Happy Playing!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Community Helpers Theme: Teachers & Librarians

With some of our favorite school themed books and toys as well as an opportunity to decorate a cover page to the ABC book we've been compiling over the past several month, we were ready to begin a day of learning about two of our favorite community helpers: teachers and librarians!

It was time to kick off our teacher and librarian day here as we progress through our Community Helpers Theme. We've taken my son to the library from before he was even old enough to stay awake for a Curious George book (pictured left)! With a Mommy who teaches preschoolers and a Tatty who teaches college students, it is unlikely he will grow up with any questions about what teachers and librarians do. Our Teachers and Librarians day was, therefore, a great day to set up some fun play centers with activities to review some of librarians' and teachers' favorite topics: letters, numbers, colors and shapes!

We've been learning letters through multi-sensory exposure since the beginning of last summer. Whenever we did a project to go with a particular letter, I've saved it in sheet protectors a binder. Today my little guy used letter stamps, stickers and markers to decorate his own cover page (above) and now I've set our book-in-progress out on his bookshelf so he can access it anytime to go through the letters he already knows.

busy at work!

We are big fans of dry erase markers here! He has had a lot of fun doodling in this book about colors and shapes we found at the Dollar Tree, erasing it and doodling again!

We managed to coincidentally sync up again with our Mommy & Me playgroup that is also covering Community Helpers this session. They had Teacher day on the same day we did and my son LOVED this laminated shape page with playdough. He spent a long time naming his shapes and smooshing playdough over top!

He was literally dancing he was so excited by these felt letters, numbers, and shapes from Target's Dollar Deals section. Does the "R" and "N" mean he wants to be a registered nurse when he grows up??

We LOVE letter magnets here. I usually set out only one letter at a time as we learn our alphabet letters, but this time I set out all of the letters and was amazed at how many he knew/remembered!

This chalkboard contact paper makes a great vertical work station. He dictated a story about drawing our house, a shul "for Hashem" and a rabbi inside the shul!

I combined a felt number card set (also from Target) and some school-themed mini erasers for this one-to-one correspondence math activity.

He LOVED it!

At the end of our day, he grabbed his basket of felt letters, shapes and numbers and announced "I'm going to school! Bye bye!" That's either a homeschool success or failure, I'm not sure I've decided which! 😋

We finished our play-based day of learning about teachers and librarians with a fun waterplay activity in the bathtub I call "Alphabet Soup!" We'll be back next time with some fun and hands-on exploration of Construction Workers, tools and trucks! Until then...

He couldn't even wait to get undressed and for the tub to fill up before testing out our Alphabet Soup activity!

Happy Playing!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Community Helpers Theme: All About Rabbis

A rabbi must certainly know his alephbet and be able to read and write in order to continue studying Jewish texts and law!

A rabbi is certainly someone we see in our synagogues and day schools. We see them reading from the Torah and leading prayers. We see them teaching students of all ages. But what else do rabbis do? What must someone learn and be able to do in order to become a rabbi? Do all rabbis do the same things or do some have different jobs? From a very young age, Jewish children learn to treat rabbis with reverence and respect. As they get older, they will learn and see how many different roles rabbis can play in their occupations. Some do work in synagogues and lead services. Some are chazzanim and lead prayers in synagogue services. Some work as a mashgiach in restaurants and food factories to oversee kashrus (to ensure that foods, ingredients and cooking practices are all carried out to the standards of keeping kosher). Some are counselors, some are authors, some are teachers and all are students. Some study specific areas of Jewish law and help Jewish people answer questions and solve problems. Some rabbis might be a sofer or scribe, and perform the tedious and important job of writing Torah scrolls, mezuzahs, and other important Jewish documents.
One thing is true for certain--and that is that a rabbi must do a lot of learning! One of the first things a young Jewish child will learn is his alephbet, his Hebrew alphabet. That will lead to being able to read and write and from there, the possibilities are endless! For the purpose of learning about rabbis as community helpers, I set up a variety of alephbet activities for my son to work with. He announced at the end that he now wants to be a rabbi when he grows up; I'm not entirely sure, however, that he is not currently convinced a rabbi paints, makes collages and uses rubber stamps all day long!

This puzzle is still a bit challenging for my toddler, but the more he manipulates and handles each of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the more he will become familiar with each of them and eventually with reading and writing them. He already is able to identify each of the letters inside this book--something his own mother could not do until her mid-twenties!

I set out a large sheet of easel paper for working with. We began with some alephbet rubber stamps and washable ink...
Next we tried our hands at using a "quill" (craft feather) and "ink" (washable paint) to "write letters" just like a sofer who must write each letter of the Torah without any mistakes at all! That surely must take a lot of practice....

He especially enjoyed using paint and these alephbet cookie cutters to make prints!
We've been continuing work in our Twelve Pesukim book project. He loves reciting each of these Torah passages as much as he loves making collages on each page as we learn them together.

Adding the next letter to our Aleph Beis Train project (pictured at the top) seemed like a perfect way to wrap up our activities. We started this when he was just a little baby--and I did all the handiwork. Now he does the gluing all by himself! We even found a great video online that shows the writing of a Torah scroll. Although the video is meant for children, we found it a bit lengthy for my young toddler and parts were a bit above his level. I chose a few select portions to show him and he was so impressed with seeing a real scribe hard at work making each and every letter inside the Torah. While a sofer must work tediously to make sure that no mistakes are made as he writes, the most important work of a child is play. We do not focus on perfection but rather on opportunities to try through hands-on exploration and play. In that merit, I wish you all happy playing!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mad Science Monday: Community Helpers Edition

Scientists are one of my favorite community helpers, and in the spirit of Mad Science Monday and our current theme, we are becoming scientists today with a series of great community helper themed experiments! I hope you'll join in with us and feel free to choose one or even a few of the activities below to engage your little one's scientific mind!

Architect Themed Science: Building Bridges Experiment

You will need:
  • a collection of blocks to build the base of your bridge (we used Magnetiles)
  • a collection of small objects to use as weights (we used glass gems)
  • a variety of bridge surfaces to test, all prepared/cut to the same size (we used construction paper, card-stock, and corrugated cardboard)

Remember that to make your results most reliable, you'll want to change only one factor of your building each trial. For this experiment, you'll want to build your base in the same way each time and use the same material as a weight. You could use pennies or glass stones or even Legos (so long as you use a collection all the same size). I encourage you to make and even record your predictions about which surface material will be the strongest (i.e.: hold the most weight). Test and observe your results and discuss which materials and strongest and why. Architects must use science when they plan and build bridges, buildings and other structures to ensure they are strong enough to withstand the pressure of weight, weather and time!

Baker Themed Science: Observing the Science of Yeast

As part of learning about bakers and chefs, and our letter of the week Yy, we made a chart of foods my son thinks are "yummy" and those he thinks are "yucky." At the table, we generally encourage him to use language like "that's not my favorite" in lieu of the word yucky, but it's a great letter Yy word, nonetheless. Yeast is another great word that begins with the letter Yy and anyone who has ever baked bread knows that there is a science to it! My son helps me bake challah regularly and I always explain that yeast is what makes the bread dough rise so our challah is soft and fluffy after baking it. With this experiment, you can see how yeast works!

You will need:

  • 2 empty bottles or jars of the same size
  • warm water (determine the amount you will use so that the same amount is used in each bottle)
  • sugar (determine the amount you will use so that the same amount is used in each bottle)
  • 2 balloons
  • 1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
Add equal amounts of water and sugar to each bottle/jar. One container will be your control sample and to the other one, you will add your yeast. As an adult assists in stretching a balloon over the top of each, encourage your young scientist to predict what will happen inside each container and what will happen to the balloon. In just minutes, you should be able to observe that as yeast (which are a tiny fungi) eat the sugar, they release a gas (carbon dioxide) that makes bubbles and inflates the balloon! 

Florist and Botanist Themed Science: Study and Observe the Parts of a Flower

A botanist is a scientist who studies plants of all kinds. We recently did flower dissections as part of our Tu B'Shevat theme and my son still talks about this activity on a regular basis.

You Will Need:
  • a small collection of flowers or greenery--you can pick weeds from outside, use flowers that are ready for the compost pile from your dining room table (like we did) or purchase some on discount at your local nursery. Some garden nurseries or florists might even have damaged plants or flowers they are getting rid of and would be happy to donate to a botanist in training!
  • child-safe scissors
  • tweezers
  • magnifying glass or microscope (if you have one) for observing more closely
Let your young botanist experiment with cutting and plucking and pulling apart the flowers and plants. He or she can observe the different parts of the plant, the textures, aromas and structure. You may want to choose particularly pretty leaves or petals to press and dry for later use.

Fireman & Fire Safety Themed Science

What does fire need to continue burning? Fires and flames need oxygen to continue burning. To demonstrate this to enthusiastic young firefighters (and to help show an important aspect of fire safety) you will need:
  • three tea light candles
  • matches or a lighter*
  • two glasses or jars, one larger and one smaller
*An adult must assist with this experiment and be present at all times! Have an adult light all three tea lights. Talk about how fires need oxygen to burn. What would happen if there were no more oxygen? Could a flame continue to burn? You will cover two of the tea lights with a glass or jar. Predict with your young scientist what you think will happen? Will the flames beneath the jars stay lit or burn out? Which might burn out first, the larger jar or the smaller one? Observe the results and make sure to extinguish any remaining flames before leaving the area!

For some more hands-on fun, make your own fizzy "fires" using baking soda and vinegar. For our version of the experiment, we like to begin with a simple baking soda dough:

You will need:

  • about 1 cup baking soda
  • about 1/4 cup water
  • a few drops each of red and yellow food coloring to create your fire colors
Your junior scientist can dig right in with his/her hands to form a crumbly dough that is able to molded into a solid ball (or even more than one). For dough that is too crumbly, add more water; for dough that is not solid enough, add a bit more baking soda.

For your fizzy fire chemical reaction, you will need:

  • white vinegar
  • an empty condiment bottle or pipettes for squirting
Allow your little one to squeeze vinegar onto the baking soda dough and observe the fizzy "fire" that results. You may just want to include some plastic toy firefighters and fire trucks to the scene!

Police Officer Themed Science: Observing Our Fingerprints

You will need:
  • a washable ink pad
  • paper (you can print out the template pictured below by clicking this link)
  • baby wipes or a wet washcloth close by for inky hands!
  • a magnifying glass for observing
Many children love dipping their fingers or whole hands in ink pads to make prints, but did they also know that each of us has different and unique fingerprints? Police officers use fingerprints to help solve crimes and identify people. Instruct your young officer in training to dip one finger at a time in the ink and slowly roll it from one side to the other in the appropriate space on your template. You may wish to model this and assist younger children with the process. Once you have recorded each of your fingerprints, you can use a magnifying glass to observe the unique lines in each of our fingerprints.

You can check out this template along with other ideas for exploring fingerprints at this website
Through a day (or many days) of science exploration, you can see how many professions rely on science and the work of scientists to perform their jobs. Hope you will have as much fun with this as we have! 
Happy Playing!