Friday, April 28, 2017

Yom Ha'atzmaut: Celebrating Israel through Play!

Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day/Israel's Birthday is next week. To celebrate this special day, we are learning through play here about Israel! We did a brief study of Israel earlier this year during our Around the World unit, but I love the opportunity to revisit previously enjoyed activities and to add in a few new ones. If you're looking for some ideas to incorporate learning about Israel into your home or school routine, here are some of the ones we have greatly enjoyed! Our Israeli Artifact Observation Station (pictured to the left) was a big hit with my toddler. While sorting through bins of stuff in our closets, we came across many souvenirs, photos and keepsakes my husband collected on his trips to Israel as a child. I have actually never been to Israel in spite of having a great deal of family living in the country, but on his trips, my husband collected and saved water from the Dead Sea, tea bags, Coke wrappers, coins, photos and post cards--all of which have been great to share with our children now (who have also yet to travel there). Rather than "formally" instructing on the topic, I am aiming to make this mini-unit more hands-on and child-led. In my traditional preschool classrooms, I would often swap out our picture books in the library area for copies of popular favorites in Hebrew and other Hebrew picture books. The students always got such a kick out of seeing The Cat in the Hat all in Hebrew!

They also loved books that introduced Hebrew vocabulary with pictures in a child-friendly way. My son also really enjoys learning words in Hebrew and has repeatedly requested to go through the colorful pages of our copy of My First Hebrew Word Book. We own it now but have previously checked it out from our local library. Introducing vocabulary in a second (third or fourth) language is a great asset to children. While previous schools of thought encouraged parents in bilingual/multi-lingual homes to focus on only one language, studies now show that in most cases of early childhood development, learning additional languages is a benefit to young children as they become verbal. While my husband and I are only fluent in English, we introduced words in American Sign Language, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish and Portuguese from the time our older son was a baby. He now knows a plethora of words in these languages and communicates quite effectively in English. He loves learning words in any language!

Maps and Flags of Israel are hung at child level so my son can access them
Our local Jewish Community Center usually has a family event for Yom Ha'atzmaut featuring performance arts, a petting zoo, camel rides, music and Israeli cuisine. If your community or synagogue does not happen to have any events for this day, or you would like to introduce the theme at home, there are a variety of ways you can do so through a multi-sensory approach:

Come SEE Israel: 
  • Displaying souvenirs or artifacts, maps and flags, photographs and artwork at child level can draw in their natural sense of wonder and exploration
  • A photograph of the Western Wall in a block area can inspire young architects to construct their own version
  • Even pre-readers can benefit from an environment rich in written language. When you're learning about Israel, include some labels in Hebrew for popular household items/areas.
  • Books about Israel and books in Hebrew are a wonderful material to include. Children also like to see greeting cards from Israel (that open backward!) and especially appreciate photographs or books that are specifically meaningful to their family. This can include photo albums from family trips, sefarim (holy books), travel pamphlets from trips or even mementos like food labels and wrappers, ticket stubs, currency, postcards, etc. 
  • It is common during Yom Ha'atzmaut both here and in Israel to wave Israeli flags in celebration. We had fun decorating and making our own this year!

When it's dry, I will laminate it and attach a long wooden dowel. You can also use a laminated flag as a playdough mat, as pictured below:

Come HEAR Israel:
  • We generally have the custom not to listen to recorded or live music during the Sefira period. We are more lenient with children, particularly for educational purposes. Israeli music and Israeli dance are a great way to hear the sounds of Israel right in your home, car, or community. 
  • Singing songs with and to your children can also introduce the theme of the holiday. My toddler especially likes singing this song I learned while teaching preschool (and unfortunately do not know whom to credit):
I Have a Lovely Degel [Hebrew: Flag]
(to the tune of "I Have a Little Dreidel")

I have a lovely degel
It comes from a special land
It's blue and white
And I hold it tight
As I wave it in my hand!

It says we have a homeland
A land we love so well,
I stand up proud and I shout out loud
I love Eretz Yisrael!
I stand up proud and I shout out loud,

  • My toddler loves singing popular Hebrew songs for children. He also enjoys hearing popular American songs with Hebrew words. YouTube is a great FREE resource for this and one of his very favorite videos to watch is "Morah Shifra's Sing-along:"

He also loves the TuTiTu Language Learning English to Hebrew series. The adults in the house find it a little less entertaining but the toddler requests it whenever we offer screen time! He has, in fact, learned a great deal of Hebrew vocabulary words from this and taught them to me!

Come TOUCH Israel:
  • Learning is very hands-on here and learning about Israel is no exception! Encourage fine-motor development with Israel themed activities like sticking Israeli flag toothpicks into floral foam, clay or playdough. 
  • Early writing comes into play when you create and keep a travel journal with your child(ren). Include what you already know, what you'd like to learn more about, pictures from your adventures, maybe even some correspondence with friends and family in Israel. My students always particularly enjoyed dictating questions for me to email to my cousin in Israel for her children to respond to. Pen-pal relationships are a great childhood asset!
  • Early writers can write or dictate/draw prayers to stick inside the Western Wall. Bonus points if you get your little one's hands busy building their own Western Wall!
  • Building and construction play is a great way to incorporate STEM activities into an Israel theme. Provide building prompts in the form of printed photographs of Israeli landmarks or books featuring photographs. You can experiment with a variety of building materials and mediums and even incorporate some dramatic play with construction themed props, tools, trucks and costumes.
  • Sensory play is a great way to introduce some of the textures of Israel. Sand play is a great way to learn about the desert climate. Salt and saltwater can help teach about the Dead Sea. Incorporate some science into your experience by testing how objects sink or float in water versus salt water. This is a great way to demonstrate and experience the buoyancy of the Dead Sea!
  • Fine motor skills are not the only ones that come into play when learning about Israel. Get the whole body involved in some themed gross motor activities by setting up your own Israeli Defense Force obstacle course or (if you have enough kids for humps) acting out the song "Alice the Camel:"

  • Arts & Crafts are also a hands-on favorite for all ages. We love process art here. Last year, my son had a blast creating this painting in blue (and white) using cookie cutters shaped like a Star of David and his hands in blue paint and glitter. It still hangs above his chair at our table and he talks about it almost every day!

Come SMELL Israel:
  • We loved making (and using) these "Jaffa Orange Scented Dead Sea Salts" earlier this year using Epsom salts and sweet orange essential oils

Come TASTE Israel:
  • Make some of your favorite Israeli cuisine together and enjoy it as a family! Israeli salad, schawarma, falafel, couscous, and shakshuka are some of our favorites. My toddler also LOVES squeezing oranges for fresh juice like the type he might enjoy if he were to visit Jaffa!

Play is a great way to explore and learn. You don't have to get too complex to incorporate Israeli themes into your dramatic play. You can make a pretend passport, board an airplane made from chairs and visit Israel right from your living room. While you're there, perhaps you'll try some of the activities we have tried and loved. Whether you're here (or there), happy travels, happy Yom Ha'atzmaut, and HAPPY PLAYING!
Learning about farm animals at a kibbutz through farm-themed play!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

For the Love of Letters! (and Numbers...)

Whenever I need a quick and easy to prepare homeschool activity, I know I can count on my toddler's love of letters. We have not exactly done a "letter of the week" this year, but I have introduced alphabet letters, one at a time, over the course of the last several months. I have chosen a specific order of introduction based on studies of child development and early literacy. That said, I do not drill or push worksheets or even have a goal in mind of my toddler being able to recognize letter names and sounds at 2 years old. He does recognize a good number of letters by name and some sounds. Most importantly, however, he loves learning and playing about them! If you've followed our alphabet posts in the past, you'll see how I utilize a multi-sensory approach to introducing both English and Hebrew letters. We do some crafts, some sensory play, some learning activities and a lot of repetition/predictable routine (like the songs we sing when introducing letters or certain materials used to introduce them). Here are a couple of our recent alphabet adventures (along with some of the numbers and counting themed activities we have incorporated as we learn about Sefiras Ha'omer):

Our Munch Monster is a favorite material that I bring out repeatedly for learning new letters. He loves to eat our letter of the week (in magnet form) and proudly displays his favorite "food" in sticky-note form whenever a new letter arrives. 

Mmmm, letter Qq! Quite delicious!

Q-tip painting was a fun (and fine-motor-developing) way to decorate our letter Qq page.

Half of the fun was exploring color mixing, using Q-tips to stir several colors of paint together in an ice cube tray.

Dinosaur collage and plastic dinosaur stamping for letter Dd
We display our letter art for a short while and then it gets saved inside the alphabet book we've been working on inside this binder over the past months. There are many great ways to preserve work like this. You can make your own alphabet book or even laminate your letters for play-dough mats (another great way to practice pre-writing).

Sometimes our letter of the week will incorporate our current theme (we were learning about dinosaurs when these letter Dd projects were made). Other times, I may choose a letter-related theme that my son is particularly interested in. He is right now very interested in zoo animals since we have purchased a membership to our local zoo. That seemed like a great theme to incorporate into learning about the letter Zz this week!

It was the 14th day of the Omer, and we counted 14 zoo animals!
This time, we used a favorite alphabet board book to introduce our letter of the week and my little letter lover immediately found his toy zebra to match the picture on the page!

Even baby brother gets in on the fun and learning with a zoo-themed setup on the activity mat. I recently printed out and laminated the whole alphabet onto colored printer paper to use for just this purpose. Both brothers are enjoying it!
Z stamping and zoo stickers on our letter Zz page. 
Sometimes our letter learning is intentional and at other times it happens naturally. We might point out that zipper begins with our letter of the week as we are zipping up a coat to go outside. While doodling on paper, we might notice a zigzagging line. My greatest feeling of "success" comes when I hear "p-p-p P!" from my little guy who is snacking on potato chips in his car seat and recognized the letter P on the bag! He also loves pointing out letters on signs, trucks, in the grocery store and beyond. As long as he is motivated and interested, I know his love of learning will carry him toward development of literacy skills all in due time. For now, we are learning a lot and happily playing here!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Troubleshooting Family Challenges: Building Brotherhood

Becoming brothers has been a work in progress here. It began before the baby arrived with some strategic dialogue and activities with our soon-to-become-big-brother. We balanced the desire to plan/prepare our toddler with the important need to not overdo it and cause undue anxiety. As it got closer to the due date, we introduced some books from the library about becoming a big brother. We played about taking care of babies and talked about having a new baby brother or sister. We watched the "Daniel Tiger's Neighboorhood" episode about Daniel's new baby sister (over and over again!) and we talked with our toddler about his feelings. He expressed feeling nervous over the new baby crying and we made a list together about what to do when that happens. I laminated it and hung it in an accessible area.

I was fairly confident that this issue would self-resolve one way or another rather quickly, and it did! The first time my toddler heard his baby brother cry, they both simultaneously shoved their fingers nervously in their mouths. However, within a few weeks, my toddler was used to his brother's mode of communication and now he confidently says "check booba!" or walks over to his brother's bassinet and asks "are you OK?"
Big Brother LOVES reading to his little brother...

He also loves having his own turn on the activity mat once little brother is is fun to imagine life as a baby again and to relish all of those feelings of being nurtured and cared for. We make sure to address those needs in age-appropriate here-and-now ways as well...

Our pre-baby mommy & me date to the bookstore
As the days before our family would expand dwindled, I made time for a special Mommy & Me date to our local bookstore. We played and sat, snacked and read and even bought a selection of books on the topic at hand. Our family was about to change and in the face of change I love to plan. That said, not everything can be planned for. We did not plan on a cesarean birth and one of the greatest challenges I have felt in the aftermath is not being able to pick up my toddler. Thank G-d my husband was home a lot as he transitioned into a new job and we had babysitting help as well when he was away. We have also seen just how independent our older son is now--for better or for worse!
Playing about caring for babies helped prepare
Big Brother for some of the activities that we
would do with his new baby sibling. It is also
a playful way for him to feel a part of the role
of caring for his brother now.

Navigating this first month has felt kind of like a game of whack-a-mole. Once we seem to overcome one molehill, another one rises! We got through those emotional first few days and I returned home with the baby in tow. Then we got through preparations for and celebrations of a bris for the newest member of our tribe. Next we prepared for and made it through Pesach! Now, my husband is officially back at work and I am traversing the molehill (or mountain) of flying solo with the two little guys. Yes, it's a work in progress, but brotherhood is developing and along with it, a new sense of family-hood.
Some of our current favorite reads!

Some moments of some days are total triumphs. Big Brother loves to "read" to his little brother, gave him a sweet nickname ("boobaleh"), likes to show him his toys and give him his "sucker" (pacifier). He loves sharing the backseat of the car now and giving a play by play monologue of what his seatmate is up to. And some moments of some days are total flops. Like the afternoon I walked in on my toddler after his nap time to find he had torn several of his favorite picture books to shreds. It's a behavior that first crept up several months ago in an isolated incident that no-doubt got my attention. It was clear that this "repeated offense" was an attention seeking behavior in response to the quantity and sometimes quality of attention greatly shifting since our family has grown. I don't think he even understood the ramifications of tearing a book (that we can no longer read his favorite stories) or fully comprehended why he did it. Perhaps he was curious, bored, or tearing that paper felt good! I, of course, responded like a pro... Or maybe I cried and yelled and took all the books away and then calmed down and asked my sister for advice... Thank goodness for sisters who have A) been there, done that, and B) have degrees in early childhood development! She suggested providing alternative after-nap activities to be accessible in the toddler's room and perhaps some board books. She also suggested a sensory bin for tearing paper (without mentioning the books) and, overall, not to worry too much over it--this, too would pass. We've since purchased a bookshelf to put in a public family area (not the toddler's bedroom) to hold our children's books for everyone to use. Big Brother has found the scrap paper bin on his art shelf to be a perfect way to utilize the energy for tearing and cutting paper--which are skills so fundamental to fine motor development.
And I've also had a conversation at a less emotional moment with my darling toddler. He talked about "missing Mommy," and I talked about missing him as well! I suggested that we make a special time each day to do something together--just us. We have since initiated Mommy & Me dates again (albeit at home right now). Sometimes it is a "school" activity. Sometimes we play with a toy on the rug. Sometimes we read or draw or snuggle. Sometimes my toddler picks the activity--like doing Yoga or taking a walk! It's not always a "long" time, but it is quality time as much as possible--no phones, minimal distractions and interruptions. It was also becoming clear to me that our Big Brother was looking for ways to connect with his little brother. (I think Daniel Tiger may have given false expectations about how active and interactive newborn siblings are!) We've set out a basket of brothers' toys that both brothers can "play" with. This has been really helpful for joint play sessions and also a favorite space for Big Brother to play individually when little brother is sleeping.

The "Brothers' Basket"

We are adjusting to including a new member of the family into daily family routines, like davening (praying)...

Big Brother decided his little brother needed a Torah, too!

We are totally winging it. We are utilizing resources for support and revisiting things that work and things that need tweaking. Developing that "new normal" may feel like a game of whack-a-mole, but there's no need to make a mountain out of a molehill. The best gift we can give our children is a model of how to try and try again. We are building brotherhood here and it is a beautiful work in progress!
After reading a couple of books where older siblings drew family portraits of their growing families, my own little guy wanted to make a picture of his newly expanded family. I created and printed a family portrait template and picked up an inexpensive picture frame to display his work. This was one of our Mommy & Me Time activities and he loved it!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Peek OUTSIDE, Our Play Garden!

Spring is in the air! Outdoor play and exploration is so vital for children and adults alike. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of hours spent outside in our backyard digging up worms, making mud pies and leaf salads and playing pretend. My mother had a vegetable garden and designated a small plot just for me and my sister. Gone are the days of being tossed out back only to come home for supper (and I often came inside reeking of the bundles of freshly grown chives I'd picked to eat!) but our children can still learn and gain so much from less supervised outdoor play. This does not mean that we allow our children to be in any way unsafe outdoors, but rather that we minimize our adult-dialogue and input and allow for child-led exploration and discovery. One way to encourage this is to strategically set up an outdoor space to be child-accessible and play-friendly.
Zip ties and plastic shower curtain rings are a great and inexpensive way to affix shovels, hula hoops, baskets, bubbles, even a broom for sweeping to the rails of a stairway or deck...

We love our little water table for water/sensory play. We've also used plastic bins with snap-on lids in the past for sand and water play outdoors--even messy artwork! Plastic baskets are great for storage and drip-dry access. Just like our indoor area, I swap in and rotate what's inside. We're set up for play-gardening right now, but perhaps we will fill them with plastic dishes and kitchen utensils for a mud-kitchen down the line. Or maybe some toy animals for a pretend jungle. Or cars and shovels for a construction site! Anything that can withstand getting wet/dirty indoors can be brought outdoors for play as well. You needn't buy all new toys/materials. Even household items like colanders, containers, cups and scoops can be used for water and garden play. And if they get a little dirty? Washing them is half the fun! 

We live in an apartment complex, so our outdoor space is somewhat public and rather small. We do have a great plot for a small play-garden and the ability to creatively work with the small amount of space we have.
Bubbles are always a huge hit here. I zip-tied a couple of store-bought tubes to our railing, but you can even make your own bubble solution at home. Imagine filling a basin or watertable with bubble solution and exploring different household utensils for blowing all kinds of bubbles!

Ok, focus on the happy bubble-blowing kid and not the piles of post-Pesach trash in the background! We also love using plastic baskets ziptied to our railing for storing/drying toys between play. The only caveat is that when your entry/exit way is playfully inviting, you may have a harder time getting in and out without your little ones wanting to stop and play! 

With a little bit of creativity and imagination, I was able to set up our little yard on a low budget (think Dollar Tree, Walmart and items found around the house) using inspiration from some of our favorite outdoor spots around town. We have a lot of fabulous public parks nearby and a great botanical gardens. I have big dreams of a yard where we can have a permanent sand/sensory box, a mud kitchen, a music wall, a wood-working center, an edible garden and places and spaces to discover, store and explore nature's many treasures. That said, I am quite content with our little play garden and treat it much in the same way I treat our play space inside: we rotate toys/materials and keep things easily accessible and easy to store between play sessions. Our small water table is a great place for waterplay and pretend gardening right now. Down the line, it may become a mud kitchen or a sand table. We might add some shaving cream and toy cars for a car wash. We might add in some ice on a hot summer day. My son loves rocks, so perhaps we will collect and use it for rock observation, decorating or washing... The options outdoors are as endless as the imagination itself. Sometimes I will supply a prompt in the form of an object, a picture or a verbal idea. Other times, the experiences in this space will be entirely child-led.
I spent a good chunk of time and energy scrubbing our watertable clean after a winter season left outside. In about five minutes, my very satisfied little gardener had filled it with dirt and mud! All part of the play process and I didn't want to hinder that. Good thing he also loves cleaning and scrubbing--that may be another activity in and of itself if all of the rain we are having right now doesn't take care of the issue first!

Some materials are best not left outdoors--like chalk! We keep a bucket or two packed and ready to grab-n-go for when we head outside. 

Play is a huge part of our outdoor time. Learning happens as well. Gardening together is a great way to incorporate science, math, language development and more into your family routine. Even bringing "indoor" learning activities outdoors can be a novel way to spice up a homeschool or homework experience. Art and messy play activities brought outdoors can eliminate some of the stress of cleaning up indoors! Spring has sprung and we are eager to get out there and smell (even plant!) the flowers. We have big plans for observing the life cycle of a butterfly, creating our own "wormery" and planting some delectable vegetables. For now, we are busy digging, discovering and, as always, happily playing!
Exploring water...and gravity!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mad Science Monday: It's Raining, It's Pouring...

Got rain? We do! I just finished setting up our front yard and play garden (and you can check out tomorrow's post for more about that!) in time for four days of a rainy forecast and cooler temperatures. No problem! We can dress in a few extra layers and some waterproof gear for some mud pies, puddle jumping, worm hunting and, of course, science and art. Science and art, you ask? Why, yes! Rain Art is, in fact, one of my favorite science activities to demonstrate and perform with children and is a wonderfully easy-to-set-up-and-execute rainy day fix. So grab your rain gear, some paper and a selection of washable markers; it may be raining out, but it's still Mad Science Monday!

Rain Art Science Experiment

For the sake of this experiment, I will include instructions for both a basic set-up and an advanced version with extension activities. Materials for the advanced version will be in italics.

You Will Need:
  • white paper (watercolor paper or construction paper are thicker and may be a better candidate for this soggy activity!) you can also use blank canvas or experiment with different types of paper
  • washable markers
  • Mr. Sketch markers or non-washable magic markers
  • permanent markers
  • rubbing alcohol, a spray bottle, pipettes
  • rain!
Have your child(ren) color a picture on their paper. While they are working, explain that you will be seeing what happens when a piece of artwork colored in washable markers is left in the rain. Ask them to make predictions? What does washable mean? How do we clean marker off of our hands or work surface? If your artist is particularly attached to his/her work, you will want to prepare him/her for the fact that the picture will change in the rain! Your young artist may wish to make a second picture that will not be left in the rain. When you are done drawing and doodling, it's time to set your work out in the rain. You can rest it directly on pavement or set it on a plastic tray or mat. Perhaps this a good time to take a duck waddle around the block or a little puddle jump. You will not want to leave your artwork too long or you will return to very clean canvas/paper if there is a lot of rain! Observe the results together. What happened and why?

To extend this experiment into the advanced version, you may wish to test a variety of different types of markers. Remember--to conduct a proper science experiment, you will want to change only one element each time. Choose one type of paper and a few types of markers, coloring with one type on each paper. Perhaps you will try washable, Mr. Sketch/magic markers and permanent markers. (If you are concerned about young children with permanent marker you might want to eliminate this one or provide careful supervision). Place your test subjects in the rain and see which markers change in water and which do not. Why is this so? If you used permanent marker, you can talk about what the word "permanent" means. Alternatively you can test the same type of marker on different types of paper or background mediums. How does washable marker left in the rain differ between printer paper, construction paper, watercolor paper, fabric, canvas...?

As a further extension activity with permanent marker artwork, you can talk about what does get permanent marker off! (This is a good add-on activity if you used permanent marker and now have colorful hands upon you!) You will need rubbing alcohol and a spray bottle and/or pipettes for this part. Experiment with spraying and dropping rubbing alcohol onto your permanent marker artwork and observe what happens to the colors. What do you think might work to get permanent marker off other surfaces where it is unwanted?

Hope the rain hasn't got you down this Monday and that you'll join us next time for a peek OUTSIDE in our play garden. Until then...happy experimenting!
Washable markers...
Mr. Sketch markers...

You can journal about your scientific process as well if you'd like!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Peek Inside Our Playroom: Counting the Omer & Numbers/Counting Theme

We counted nine toy cars for the ninth day!
The dust is beginning to settle after the excitement of welcoming home our newest family member and then Pesach. The period between Pesach and Shavuos is a special time as well. Sefiras Ha'Omer, or counting the omer is a way we mark the seven weeks between the two holidays each year. We say special prayers each day as we count and take on certain practices to mark this period of time that will culminate on the 50th day with the sweet holiday of Shavuos--the commemoration of our receiving the Torah. To be quite honest, I had no idea this period of time even existed as a child nor did I even know anything about counting the omer until I was an adult! The deeper meaning behind this time is that we are meant to work on self-refinement as we prepare to renew our special relationship with G-d and His Torah. For young children, it is a great time to introduce both this deeper meaning (at an age appropriate level) while also incorporating the mathematical concepts of counting, one-to-one-correspondence, grouping (seven weeks of seven days) and numbers in general. For very young children, like my toddler, multi-sensory exposure through play is by and far the best way to introduce these developmental concepts. We have set up our play area to incorporate materials that introduce numbers and rudimentary counting activities. We also practice the main bracha (blessing) over the omer each day and introduce a manipulative/small toy in that quantity so he can get a concept through play of what that means.
Our shelf is stocked with some number and counting themed materials, puzzles and games. My toddler especially loves the puzzles (actually a find from our local Dollar Tree). 

A variety of magnetic, foam and felt number manipulatives are great for hands-on exploration, whether it's in a sensory bin, on a magnetic board, in the tub or on our felt wall. 

We found these snap blocks at Target in the fall. Older children can use them to solve simple equations while younger ones can enjoy snapping, building and stacking.

We brought out this learning activity from our previous Community Helpers theme when we learned about teachers. Combining materials like number flashcards (these felt ones are from Target) and mini erasers (these were from Dollar Tree) is a great way to introduce one to one correspondence.

I like to strategically place materials related to our theme all over the place for my little learner to find. He happened to lift up his easel from its tabletop position one afternoon only to discover these little number magnets I'd found at the Dollar Tree.

Eight blocks for the 8th day!
We have incorporated the bracha and counting into our daily davening/circle time routine. My toddler gets quite excited by the element of surprise when I take out this drawstring bag filled with our number of the day and a toy/manipulative. We always enjoy a little time playing with it together and I welcome his desire to add more toys into the mix or work with the material in whatever way interests him. In other words, he need not leave his building limited to 8 woodblocks because it is the eighth day! We do have a couple of other creative ways of tracking our counting on display that you can view below. In addition to counting toys or other small objects, you could also have your child(ren) choose an action to do a number of times to correspond to the number of the day. This allows children to feel that number through whole body learning. Ten jumps on the tenth day is a great way to get on (and off) your feet and just wait until you start creeping up through the thirties--you'll really get your heart rate up then!

At home we use this makeshift abacus to count our seven weeks of seven days. I did this project with my preschoolers last year using cardstock (I couldn't resist the idea of incorporating my fellow number lover, The Count from Sesame Street), yarn and pony beads. The students were able to mostly independently string the beads on of their choice, count their groups of seven and, with assistance, tie off the ends for use at home.

Here is a larger scale abacus using construction paper rings on yarn stapled to a bulletin board. You could create counters in a number of ways, charting one by one with die cuts or paper squares or sticky notes, with a paper chain, on a chart or calendar...

...or with this little DIY tracker using wooden cubes labeled with numbers and the word days. I used 4 cubes and labeled 0-4 on one half and 5-9 on the other. On each cube I wrote the word "days" on the sixth side. You could paint and otherwise decorate them as well. We store and display them on a recycled tin (yes, that's Yoda from Star Wars), though you could also use a match box or simply set them up on any flat surface for display.

Whether you're counting to omer or just looking for ways to incorporate more counting practice into your day, hope you have some fun and inspiration from these simple ideas and activities. We will be back soon with some more fun and learning. Until then...happy playing!