Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Goodnight Gorilla" Story Stretchers: a short stretch for when you're short on time!

 Remember when I thought I wouldn't get to post until after Shavuot? Well, cooking and baking in bulk when I could during the last week and having a lot of help from my husband over the holiday weekend allowed me a bit of extra time. I don't know about you, but around here "extra time" is a luxury! There's always something to be done (and many things undone) and we still need to find time in there to spend with the kids. Especially as we prepare for Shabbos or a yom tov (Jewish holiday), I feel it's so important to try as hard as we can to demonstrate a) a sense of joy (or at least calm) as we prepare and b) to include in that routine time to play with and spend with our children. We want for them to grow up feeling the joy and excitement that comes with a holiday and Shabbos and not just the lengthy list of to-do's and to-don'ts! Additionally, making time to play with the kids as we prepare is also like an investment plan--if we "pay now" and play a bit, we can "save later," when they are playing independently and not acting out because they crave our attention. So what can you do when you're short on time? A story stretcher!

That's right, you can do a story stretcher activity without a lot of preparation time, materials or time to spend! Many of the children's book extensions I've presented on this blog are detailed and lengthy. We have spent entire days taking our learning and play beyond the book and into the playroom, the art table, the kitchen, even outside. We are about to center our entire summer around story stretcher activities and yet, there's no reason at all that you can't include children's literature into your play activities when you're short on time and/or materials and resources. Treat these play activities like working out--you can do a triathlon session with your story stretchers (particularly if that engages your little ones) or you can take a 15 minutes and have a quick stretch. If you're looking for ideas, you can revisit the above links on this blog and rather than doing all of the activities, choose one or a few that interest you. You can find a lot of great ideas on Pinterest simply by searching the title of your favorite children's books. You can check out ideas in books I've listed below. Many are probably available in your library system (either for checkout or in-library resource use) or you can purchase them, often used, from Amazon.

  • For Preschool Aged Kids: Story S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-R-S: Activities to Expand Children's Favorite Books by Shirley Raines and Robert Canady
  • More Story Stretchers: Activities to Expand Children's Favorite Books by: Shirley Raines and Robert Canady
  • Picture Books Plus: 100 Extension Activities in Art, Drama, Music, Math and Science by: Sue McLeaf Nespeca
  • For Infants/Toddlers: Story Stretchers for Infants, Toddlers, and Twos: Experiences, Activities, and Games for Popular Children's Books by Kathy Dobbs and Leah Curry-Rood 
  • For Older Children: Story Stretchers for the Primary Grades: Activities to Expand Children's Favorite Books by: Shirley Raines and Robert Canady
  • 450 More Story Stretchers for the Primary Grades:Activities to Expand Children's Books by: Shirley Raines
When it comes to choosing a children's book for your story stretchers, you can go by ones suggested here or on another blog or in one of the above resource books. Our local library system even puts together preschool backpacks with a theme and corresponding picture books, materials and activity ideas. Perhaps your library has something like this in stock. You can also pull your children's favorite books off the shelf and create activities from there. Story Stretchers are a great way to infuse new life in those books that are growing a bit stale after reading again and again and again...

We spent Memorial Day morning at our local zoo. It is always great fun to visit the zoo and a bit hard to leave (especially when you are going home to a pending naptime!), so I coaxed a very tired S toward the parking lot by reminding him that we would have some really fun activities in the afternoon. Now I just had to come up with those really fun activities...and with Shavuot beginning tonight and cooking and baking to work on, I was short on time. I decided to stick with our theme from the morning and choose a book from our shelf about zoo animals. Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman immediately came to mind. For one thing, the book does not have a lot of text--this would mean even if S wanted to read it again and again and again (as he often does and he did), I could manage it and eventually pass it on to him to read independently. It's also a great book to play about and you don't need a lot of materials to extend this beyond the book:;

Short Stretch: 

Dramatic Play: Goodnight, Zoo! Pull out some plastic zoo animals and baby wash cloths for blankets and you can tuck in your own zoo for the night! We added a wooden barn house we have and S got such a kick out of re-enacting the story with our animals and tucking them in for bed. You can add in other zoo themed toys as well if you wish, like little people for zoo-keepers, tractors or trucks for transporting the animals around the zoo, blocks for building with... If you don't have plastic zoo animals, you can print or draw pictures of animals and laminate them or tape them to wooden blocks. Alternatively you can gather your children's stuffed toys and some baby blankets and play about zoo animal bedtimes in this way! 

Dramatic Play: You Be the Zookeeper! Using stuffed animals and toy food, a toy doctor kit, a plastic bin for "bathing" and anything else you (or your little zookeeper) can think of, play about taking care of and feeding all of the animals in the zoo. We recently did this with stuffed dogs after S had a FaceTime call with his cousins who were engaged in a story stretcher activity of their own and playing about being dog groomers and veterinarians. He wanted in on the fun, so we pulled out our own toys at home and he was busy all afternoon!

Medium Stretch:

If you have a little more time, choose one or a few of the following, depending on how much time you have and what materials you have on hand: 

Playdough Zoo: You will need plastic zoo animals, playdough (homemade or store bought are fine), and craft sticks for building and playing about your own zoo.

S built a scene very similar to one illustrated in the book, Goodnight, Gorilla!

Then he played for a while about giving his lion a lot of playdough hair and a hair cut! I'm beginning to see a striking resemblance...and S is playing a lot about his upcoming haircut when he turns three!

Zoo Animal Paint Stomp: You will need plastic zoo animals, paper and washable paint in the colors of your choice. Let your little artist dip their animals' feet into the paint and stomp them across the paper. You can see different animal footprints this way and your little one may also have some fun dipping other parts of the animals into the paint! I've done this activity a few times with S, and it's always a big hit.

Take It Outside! Bring your plastic animals outside to play in the dirt or the mud, the sandbox if you have one, or even the sprinkler, water table or kiddie pool. One of S's favorite parts of our zoo visit yesterday was seeing a rhinoceros taking a mud bath.  We didn't have the time yesterday, but I'm sure he would love to give his zoo animals a mud bath of their own in the play garden.

Obviously an older photo of S, but proof that story stretchers can be enjoyed at all levels of pre-literacy!

Bath-time at the Zoo: Before we go to bed, we need a bath! Your little zoo-keeper will love washing toy animals in a basin of soapy water, at the sink, or even in his/her own bath. If you want to add on to this activity, you can include shaving cream to the washing station and then let your little ones wash and rinse it off.

Animal Antics: In this gross motor game, you can use pictures, flash cards, toy animals picked from a bag/basket or just call out an animal to your young actors and have them move and make sounds in the style of the animal. Younger players may need specific instructions like "slither like a snake" (for a single step direction) or "slither and hiss like a snake" (for a multi-step direction) and may also need a demonstration. More advanced players can even play this charades style and try to guess the animal being acted out.

"I'm Thinking of an Animal, Can You Guess What it Is?" This game always makes me feel nostalgic! My grandpa, OBM, used to play this game with us (and subsequently our parents) whenever we had to wait for something like dinner in a restaurant or our turn in a line. He would think of a zoo animal and give us three guesses to figure out what he was thinking. Then he would offer a descriptive clue and three more guesses and so on, so forth, until we guessed the animal. Whomever correctly guessed first would be the next "thinker," and many a time of waiting was passed by more easily because of this simple little game!

Music & Movement: We love Raffi's song "We're Going to the Zoo," and nothing brings a bigger smile to my face than hearing my toddler sing it to the very best of his abilities from his car seat as we travel to the zoo for a visit! You can listen to and sing your own favorite zoo and animal songs and action rhymes.

BIG S-T-R-E-T-C-H: When you've got a day to fill or want to take up a number of days with a story stretcher theme, you can combine activities and repeat ones that your little ones like especially. If you want to do more with Goodnight Gorilla, you can combine and extend the above activities.

  • You can add on some arts and crafts, or set out some recycled materials, paper scraps, google eyes and art supplies for your children to create and build their own zoo animals. Paper plate masks, paper bag puppets and toilet paper tube animals are some of my favorites. 
  • You can check out other zoo themed books from the library, both fiction and non-fiction.You can search YouTube for zoo themed videos.
  •  You can add a zoo field trip to your story stretcher as well if you have access to one or visit animals in another location, like a farm, petting zoo, pet shop or museum.
  •  If your child takes an interest in a particular animal, you can extend your activities to focus on that and learn more about it. 
  • You can write and illustrate your own version of Goodnight, Zoo using family members and pets or create a bedtime social story to demonstrate your own bedtime routines and traditions.
  • You can create a play and act out the story with family members and/or friends. Children can use (or create) animal costumes and pillows and blankets for props. 
I love using children's literature as a basis for our play because for me, it takes the guess work and planning aspect out of it. The themes are right there in the pages of the book and if I don't have ideas already, someone else probably has either online or in a resource book! Playing about children's literature can be as abstract as you wish--it needn't be very specific to the book itself, but rather, can include themes or concepts from the book. The best part is that you can expand on children's books through multi-sensory play (art, science, dramatic play, sensory play, cooking, music/movement, field trips and more) and it does not need to break the bank. Libraries are a fabulous resource in our communities. Many offer story times catered to various age groups (especially in the summer!) and have programming based on the story stretcher concept. You can often find or create materials at home to play about a story and use them again and again. When we use play and creative activities to expand on stories our children love, we also teach them how to expand and creatively think in their own play and exploration. We open up a world of pretend play and imagination that will carry them through life with a love for reading and perhaps, even writing!

Happy Reading and Playing, and if you celebrate, Happy Shavuot!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Shavuot Theme Round-up

S is especially proud to see his artwork
displayed as we count down the last
days before Shavuot begins!
It's a big holiday week ahead with Memorial Day tomorrow and Shavuot beginning Tuesday night. We will be enjoying some quality family time together before beginning our summer "Story Stretchers Mommy & Me Camp." But before we power down and fire up the grill, here's a little Shavuot theme round-up with some of our favorite activities.

Before you imagine I somehow have a clone who spends a lot of time playing while I am baking and cooking in the kitchen, you should know that many of my activities in preparation for holidays and Shabbat are ones that help me prepare for holidays and Shabbat!

Like baking challah...
From the time he was old enough to sit in a high chair with a blob of dough, S has loved helping to bake challah. Now he also enjoys climbing his step stool in the kitchen and pouring ingredients into our mixer. He likes to shape his own and, um, hinder help me to shape the rest! He loves to sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds and raw sugar. I used to stress myself out trying to fit in all the cooking/baking while he was asleep so we could play when he was awake. Now I see how special he feels to be a part of the preparations for holidays and special occasions--and with two at home on varied nap schedules, it's a lot less stressful to see cooking and cleaning and setting the table together for Shabbat or a holiday as part of our time together--not something that needs to be done so we can have time together!

Y has continued to LOVE the Tiny Seed Sensory bottle S made for him. The sound of the beans and the colorful flowers always make him smile and coo, and S feels especially proud that he made a toy for his brother.

This invitation to create a flower collage was a real winner. Although it's a repeat activity from a year ago, it occupied S's attention for quite some time and process art is always a great way to encourage independent play (so you can be setting the table or folding Mount Laundry in the background). He put a lot of effort and concentration into arranging parts of the flower to resemble a stem and petals. Another benefit to doing repeat activities and projects is our opportunity as parents and/or teachers to see how children have grown and progressed!

Playdough is always a winner of an activity here. I could offer it every day and it still would not get old! S really liked this year's invitation to create and decorate a playdough Har Sinai. Especially the rocks!
Sweet dairy treats like ice cream are a big part of the holiday of Shavuot. We made our own "ice cream" puffy paint for some colorfully delicious looking artwork!

 To make your own Ice Cream Puffy Paint you will need:

  • shaving cream
  • white school glue
  • food coloring
  • sprinkles (optional)
  • construction paper for background (color of your choice) and ice cream cone (brown)
  • scissors, glue stick, markers for details, plastic cup and craft stick for mixing/spreading, baby wipes for hands

  1. Cut/prepare your ice cream cone and glue it to the background paper. I cut and drew the details on the cone first, but S used the glue stick to glue it on to the background paper of his choice.
  2. Mix your paint! Combine equal parts shaving cream and school glue--you can't really go wrong here from my experience. S loved mixing it with the craft stick and adding food coloring in his choice of color (he picked a light blue). Note that even mixed into paint recipes, sometimes certain shades of food coloring or liquid watercolor can stain hands.
  3. Paint and play! If your little artist is sensory averse to sticky textures (like mine is) he/she may prefer to use the mixing stick to apply the paint. S loved drizzling the paint over the paper and spreading it. He loves a lot of messy play, but dislikes sticky textures. I provide wipes or a wet washcloth alongside messy play activities in case children wish to wipe or wash their hands intermittently. Allowing for children to wipe/wash during a project (instead of the ol' wait till you're all done method we're all used to) often is the difference between a child trying and even enjoying a sensory experience versus avoiding them altogether.
  4. Sprinkles! So you may want to have some separate sprinkles for nibbling if you have a sprinkle lover like I do! And this is definitely an optional material. You could also use glitter or sequins if you prefer not to use food for art/sensory play (are sprinkles technically food??). S loved using the spice bottle to sprinkle on these colorful little balls of sugar. As noted in the photo above, he also enjoyed a small bit in his hand to eat afterward.
  5. Allow time to dry. Particularly in hotter/humid weather, this paint does take time to dry completely. It will be smooth and hard to the touch (an awesome sensory experience in and of itself) once it's dry and can be hung to admire.
 Hearing and learning about the aseret hadibrot (Ten Commandments) is a big part of Shavuot for children. There are so many great craft projects that can be done about this and creative ways to teach about it. If you have not already, check out this great free printable Shavuot activity pack from A Jewish Homeschool Blog. I've used this fellow mommy and blogger's free printable activity packs in a variety of ways. They can be printed and used as is or laminated/slipped into a plastic sheet protector for repeated use with dry erase markers. I've cut and laminated picture and vocabulary cards, puzzles and games for holidays. This time, I used her wonderfully designed page on the aseret hadibrot to incorporate into a craft I designed using a simple black and white image of a Torah I printed off. I presented S with a mini scroll I made by cutting/combining the Ten Commandments from the free printable pack. I affixed each side of the scroll with a paperclip and taped the center. S loved unrolling both sides as we read the aseret hadibrot together. I particularly liked the language that was used in this printable to teach the Ten Commandments to young children. I asked S if he could think of something he has ten of and gave a few clues before he found his 10 fingers! Since we all have a hand in receiving and keeping the Torah, S got to stick both of his hands into washable ink and decorate his Torah. You could encourage your little ones to create distinct hand-prints or allow for creative license. I did a bit of both! After he was done, S and I taped his little aseret hadibrot scroll to the center and hung his finished work. This craft is fun because of its interactive nature. Hung at child level, your little one can return to it to unroll the Ten Commandments and "read" the Torah. You can even remove the paperclips for easier access.

Well, that's a round-up of our Shavuot Theme for this year. Memorial Day weekend also means the opening of pools and sprinkler parks around here and in many other locations. If you're headed outside for some water-play fun, I encourage you to check out these old posts for some ideas for water-play with babies, toddlers and older children! Have a great long weekend, a fabulous week ahead and, as always...

Happy Playing

Friday, May 26, 2017

Beyond the Book: Eric Carle's "The Tiny Seed"

What is Shavuot without flowers? And one of my very favorite children's books about flowers is The Tiny Seed, written and illustrated by Eric Carle. This beautiful story chronicles a group of sunflower seeds through the seasons. As they make their journey through the pages and through different terrains and trials, one question remains--what will happen to the tiny seed? Will it succumb to its humble stature or triumph over the obstacles placed along its way? In addition to sequencing the four seasons of the year and the physical journey of the tiny seeds and its larger counterparts, this book also demonstrates the life cycle of a plant.

We have explored the themes of flowers, plants, and gardening before here through a variety of play activities and wonderful children's books on the topic. We have even read The Tiny Seed before and done extension activities with it. When it comes to Story Stretchers, repetition is OK! After all, how many times does your child request to read and reread a favorite book? I have even talked before about the benefits of using Story Stretcher activities to expand upon themes and concepts presented in a favorite book. This can encourage your young reader to engage in fabulous pretend play, sensory exploration and expand upon language development and other pre-reading skills. It can also eliminate some of the monotony of reading that same book again and again and again...

I find it helpful when engaging in a story stretcher to set out certain activities ahead of time and to have others prepared in advance to introduce throughout the day. I did a slight remodel of our toy/materials shelf to include some of the day's themed activities.

In the morning, I had set out this simple Flower Garden sensory bin for Table Time:

I included plastic flower pots, artificial flowers, scoops and tongs and a fluffy bed of paper grass. S LOVED planting flowers. He even went to our STEAM cart to add more flowers to the scene from another activity!

I introduced our target book at our Morning Meeting. S loves this book so much he wanted to read it twice in a row! It is a rather lengthy story so young readers may prefer a paraphrased version to reading it word for word. I also like resources like YouTube or audio books/Scholastic videos from the library for introducing children's literature. We did indeed listen to The Tiny Seed from the YouTube video posted above as we ate our lunch!

S genuinely wants to play with Y now that he is growing into more up and alert periods of the day and quite smiley and playful to boot. I have been eagerly brainstorming ways beyond our "brothers' basket" of toys to include Y in our play and learning activities. Creating a Tiny Seed Sensory Bottle seemed like a great activity to do with S that he could then share with his baby brother. I set out two plastic bottles (I bought these at a craft supply store, but you can use a recycled bottle if you have), some dry black bean "seeds" in a tall cup with a small scoop, a funnel with an opening large enough for the beans to fit through, and a collection of colorful silk flowers. I had a roll of thin duct tape with a fun floral print on hand for tightly sealing the bottles when we were done. You could use any type of duct tape or even hot glue your lid on if you wish.

S was so proud to be making sensory bottles himself and especially eager to share it with his brother...

...so eager, in fact, that delivering his gift could wait for nothing, not even a nap to be done!

The materials are quite simple, but the burst of color and the sound of the black beans as the bottles are shaken are wonderful elements to intrigue the sensory development of infants (and older siblings!).

While Y finished his nap, S and I took a Seeds We Eat Scavenger Hunt in our fridge and pantry. We looked for foods that

  • have seeds on the inside (we found apples and pears, cucumbers and peppers, oranges and grapes, even frozen blueberries)
  • have seeds on the outside (strawberries were a perfect candidate for this category--we had some in our freezer as well for use in smoothies)
  • are seeds! (We had a snack of trail mix made from mixed nuts and seeds. We also talked about foods like beans and peas that are seeds we eat!)
Speaking of beans, transfer activities have been a longtime fine motor favorite for S--I set out this simple transfer tray and he played with it for quite a while! 

Next, it was time for a game! We played "Whose Seed Is That Anyway?"--a simple matching game I devised from recycled and laminated seed packet photos and ziplock bags of leftover seeds (ones we had from our planting earlier this season).

To play the game, I set out the pictures and held the bags of seeds. Each bag is labeled (so I know what's inside!) and one at a time, I presented a bag of seeds. Certain seeds, S recognizes quite well--like beans and peas. These are seeds that look like foods he is familiar with. I still present a series of clues with each bag, although as he familiarized with the game (and asked to play again and again!) I simplified my clues and eventually eliminated them altogether.

We had a lot of fun with The Tiny Seed story stretcher activities we did at home. Perhaps you'll try some of them in your own home or classroom. Want to do more? Here are some other play and learning activities related to The Tiny Seed:

  • Plant some seeds of your own! Whether indoors or outdoors, planting seeds is a great way to take the journey in this book into your own hands and garden! You can chronicle your own seed's journey as it grows into a sprout, a plant, a flower or vegetable... Visit your seedlings often to observe and discuss their progress.
Observe a variety of seeds and photos of their mature plants. How are seeds different and how are they alike? Do big fruits and vegetables always have big seeds? What other things do you notice or wonder about seeds?

  • Get crafty!

This was a cute handprint/footprint painting our local playgroup instructor did with everyone to create a sunflower painting. S loved getting his hands all painty and Y tolerated his foot being dipped in. We glued on poppy seeds and voila! 

Painting/printing with flowers is another great activity to try. We had some flowers on the wilt last year around this time and used red and yellow paint to create our own sunflower like the one on the cover of The Tiny Seed.

Aww, look at little S! He had such a great time dipping and dabbing those flowers on the paper plate that had been prepared with slits around the edge to resemble petals of a flower.

Once the paint was dry, we glued on some dry beans in the center to resemble sunflower seeds. You could certainly use actual sunflower seeds if you have them on hand!

  • Get moving! Create motions or choose from Yoga poses to act out the story of The Tiny Seed!

What fun even the most familiar stories can be when we stretch our imagination and expand into a world of play and hands-on learning! Instilling a love of literacy in young readers is as simple as planting a tiny seed. Hope you enjoyed reading and playing along with us...

Happy Playing!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Another Alphabet Adventure: Letter "Vv"

"teacher sample"
 When I teach the alphabet to preschoolers, I follow a particular order that introduces each letter in a sequence that tends to be easier for pre-readers to learn. Vv is always among one of the last letters I teach, and this brings us to the end of our alphabet adventures this year. We will certainly continue to play and learn about letters through multi-sensory exposure here, and S will also be going through the alphabet in this order in his preschool class next school year. There are certainly a lot of fabulous words beginning with Vv that could inspire some great play and learning activities: vegetables, volcanoes, and vehicles are just a few! Because Shavuot is just around the corner, I chose to teach this letter with a cute vase paper-craft and to decorate an actual vase to grace our Shavuot table next week as a themed extension activity. S had a great time with this one, although I think his very favorite letter Vv word is still "vacuum!"

I presented my "teacher sample" from my classroom teaching days along with a blank letter V sheet with stems/leaf outlines drawn on. S used crayons to color first...

And then had fun with the glue and tissue paper! I showed him how to crumple the tissue paper squares if he wanted to, but I always invite him to use the materials in his own way when we do craft projects. I also provided some flower stickers at the end if he wished to use them. When introducing projects with a variety of materials like this, it can be easiest for young artists to have only one presented at a time (for instance, first crayons, then glue/tissue, and lastly the stickers).

S's finished product!

Next we took to decorating a vase for our Shavuot table. S felt so proud to have his very own glass vase! We talked about how glass is "fragile," and I explained that this means it can break very easily if we are not very gentle. I definitely supervise activities with materials like this, however I have found most children to be able to comprehend this concept and with that support to be very careful and particularly reverent toward such "grown up" items!

He was even more proud when I selected some flowers we had left over from Mother's Day and Shabbos a couple of weeks ago and placed them in his new vase on the table! He is very hopeful we will still have these by Shavuot, although we may need to replenish them by then!

The very best thing about teaching letters in this way is that activities can be incorporated into almost any theme you are exploring. Letters are all around us both in and out of the house. Pre-readers can learn just as much through play and impromptu activities as they can through "formal instruction." In that spirit, I wish you all happy playing!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Troubleshooting Family Challenges: Get BORED This Summer!

Make your own Summer Bucket List this year!
Involve the whole family to sit together &
brainstorm ideas for summer fun and activities--
however simple or grandiose those may be! If you're
looking for some bucket filler ideas, check
out my Pinterest collection here to get you started!
What's on your Summer Bucket List this year?
As the month of May winds down, the inevitable is upon us: summer is coming! For many, this means surviving these next few months without school. For children and adults alike, the end of the academic school year brings a sudden change in routine that can be concurrently unsettling and exciting. During the academic school year of 2015-2016 I founded and facilitated a peer group of Jewish parents and professionals who work with children. We met for a series of community workshops and discussions on topics that affect not just Jewish homes, but all families and perhaps one of our hottest topics (pun intended) was surviving the summer without school! This was a topic I decided to tackle and present on as a soon-to-be-stay-at-home-mom who thrives on structure and routine: two factors that are quite different when you are at home with children than they are when your days are filled with work and school.
Many families and children look forward to camp experiences whether they are day camps or overnight facilities. Many parents' work schedules do not change in the summer months even when their children's schedules do! Some parents eagerly await that last day of school as much as their children do and some approach these months with fear and trepidation. I tended to fall somewhere in both categories when school let out and my months at home approached. In addition, I knew as the summer months approached last year that I was not planning to return to work the following Fall. This was a huge change and one that I simultaneously embraced and had reservations about. I took to the books and blogs, planned what I could (as I always do!) and I realized as I researched that this topic was not unique to me at all. Many parents have mixed feelings as those summer months approach and wonder how to approach this time with their families while maintaining some semblance of sanity. Around the same time, I came across several articles including this one in Psychology Today on the benefits of boredom in children. I remembered my own summer vacations as a child. We did attend some camp programs during parts of the summer, and my mother was frequently at home during the summer months when she was teaching. However, our days were not filled to the brim with planned activities and outings. We spent a lot of time playing independently, playing with friends and playing outdoors. We had time to have fun, to get into mischief, to feel a little bored and subsequently conjure up more fun and mischief! And so my plan for surviving the summer without school was born--and now I invite you to join me and
Get BORED This Summer!
  • Balance:
    • Find a comfortable space between routine and schedule: having a predictable "order" of events as opposed to "sticking to the clock" is one benefit of a lighter load in the summer. Find a balance that works for your family.
    • Choose a comfortable ration of structure to spontaneity: rules and limits are important and consistency is the cornerstone of childhood security. That said, a later bedtime once in awhile to accommodate a summer sleepover or free concert at the park won't destroy the boundaries you've set for your family; it may produce a slightly more tired child (and parent) the next day. Decide when it's OK to bend the rules a bit and make way for some summer surprises. 
  • Organize:
    • Make a Summer Bucket List--kids from about the age of 4 can be included in compiling a collection of activities to do at home, outside, in the community and beyond
    • What will your days look like? Are there times for active play, quiet time, chores, screen time, outdoor activity, camp/work, etc.?
    • Fill a bucket, jar or container with ideas/activities that can be pulled out when you need a boredom buster. Older children can help come up with these ideas as well.
  • Realistic Expectations:
    • What are your daily anchors? These are the activities you do individually and/or as a family NO MATTER WHAT that help you to feel grounded even when things get a bit chaotic. Perhaps it is your morning cup of coffee. Perhaps it is reading a story at night with your children. Perhaps it is prayer or meditation...
    • Do-overs are OK: I love this one all year round--when all else fails, make breakfast for lunch (or even dinner) and start the day over. It's OK to say it in front of the kids, too! "Things are rough right now! Let's have a do-over!" Imagine what a gift you give to your children to allow them see you catch yourself in a rut or a foul mood and try again.
    • Self-care: When our children act out, we have mental checklists we go through as we trouble-shoot: are they hungry? Are they tired? Are they frustrated with a task that is too difficult? Are they sick? Are they worried about something? And then we tackle how to help. Do not forget this list for yourself! Make sure you are nourished in mind, body and spirit this summer and all year round. Do things to feed your soul daily, however big or small. Children learn so much about following their passions when they see us nurturing our own. We cannot give from a place of emptiness--whether it is our stomachs or our energy levels we are talking about here.
  • Experience the moment
    • Notice what is working and what needs to be tweaked--without judgment!
      This is some recommended reading
      for you this summer--it changed
      the way I looked at my time with my
      family whether I am at home or working
      out of the house, whether it's summer or
      any season of the year!
    • Indulge in some slow family living, check out the book Slow Family Living by Bernadette Null from your local library for ideas!
    • When something is frustrating, disappointing, overwhelming--name it!
  • Do Something Different & Mix it Up!
    • Get playful: Camp out or camp in! Pitch a tent in the yard or living room
    • Get crafty: Don't worry if you're not crafty, your kids are! 
    • Get your kids a notebook and some writing supplies for a summer journal:school supplies aren't just for school!
    • Get involved: volunteer opportunities are abundant in the summer months
    • Get creative: try a neighborhood camp co-op or a staycation
    • Get silly: run through a sprinkler or break out the hula hoops. Blow bubbles or crank up the music and have a family dance party...
    • Get OUT: check out local no-cost and low cost family activities, parks & rec centers and libraries offer a lot during the summer months

After my first school year ended when S was just about to turn 1 and I was about to stay home with him for the very first time, I was understandably nervous. I did not yet have a drivers' license, I had a husband who commuted and worked for approximately 12 hours a day during the week and I was going to be home ALL DAY LONG with a baby for the first time ever. I had all the confidence in the world when it came to entertaining other peoples' children all day long, but very little confidence in my ability to entertain my own. Luckily, what I lacked then in confidence, I had in creativity and ingenuity. I kept a list taped to the inside of my pantry door with a list of things to do "If All Else Fails." It was on the inside of the pantry door because I knew there might come a time I would need to hide inside there and indulge in some chocolate. What I learned that summer was that I was capable of being home with my son all day; I was even kind of good at it and I even liked it. Choosing the set-up of who works and where in a family is a decision unique to each family's financial and personal situation. What I do believe to be true is that what works best for the adults in the family and creates the most security and contentment is therefore also best for the children in the family. No judgment. No guilt. Whether you are home with your children more in the summer months or trying to balance your workdays with their school-free days, I hope these ideas are as helpful to you as they are to me. Feel free to peruse the archives of this blog as well if you seek play activities and ideas. I will be continuing to post as well--in fact, we are gearing up to wind down our homeschool year here and enter into another summer of Mommy & Me (PLUS ONE) Camp.

And I'm introducing this year, for the first time a "Story Stretchers Play Camp!" We will be playing together and exploring multi-sensory activities based on children's literature. I am busy compiling a list of themes, books, authors and characters that interest S and compiling activities for both boys to enjoy. I'm looking forward to plenty of time outdoors in parks, splash pads and our play-garden. I'm eager for story times at our local libraries. I'm even looking forward to a little bit of boredom... And when the mood strikes, we will have some great play and learning activities at home that take us beyond the book into a world of play, creation and imagination! Hope you'll join us for the ride and until then...

Happy Playing!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Table Time Tuesday: Shavuot Theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Playing!