Monday, June 12, 2017

Story Stretchers Play at Home Camp: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

 Welcome to the second week of our Story Stretchers Play at Home Camp! This week's fiction forecast is one of our favorite books of all time, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, pictures by Ronald Barrett. This book captures the bedtime tall tale told by a grandfather to his two grandchildren of the town of Chewandswallow. This town is much like any other except for the fact that there are no grocery stores or restaurants; all of the food eaten by its inhabitants comes from the sky in the form of some very wacky (and tasty) weather! This great story along with its enthralling illustrations will really stretch your imagination (and possibly also your waistband if you're not careful)!
I must give credit where credit is due, and give a shout out to my sister (if you're reading this, hi, schvester!), who is an amazing play at home mom of two wonderful boys and early childhood educator by trade. She and her preschool aged sons also love doing story stretchers together and we often share our ideas. (Ok, I'm kind of more stealing this one than sharing it.) A few weeks ago as I was planning out the first few themes for our Story Stretchers Play at Home Camp, she sent me some photos of the activities she and her sons did with this book as well as its equally fabulous sequel, Pickles to Pittsburgh. I was super impressed and inspired, and knew I wanted to include a Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs week here, as it is already one of S's favorite books to read together. And with Father's Day coming this Sunday, we are also busy working on some homemade gifts for the amazing Tatty in our house and the two wonderful grandfathers in our sons' lives. What better book to inspire our play this week than one with a fabulous bedtime story narrated by a grandpa? I love this book as well for its very versatile play themes, including storytelling/tall tales, food/cooking, and weather/precipitation. These are all great sub-themes to expand upon through multisensory play and will inspire many of the activities we do this week as we make our journey to the fictional land of Chewandswallow to engage in some exciting dramatic play, art, sensory play, building/STEM activities, science experiments, and of course, taste tests!

If you'd like to set up your own Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Story Stretcher, here are some materials you may wish to include:

  • building toys and manipulatives, like blocks, Lego/Duplo blocks, Magnatiles or even recycled boxes for building your own Chewandswallow
  • toy people and construction vehicles to add to your town of Chewandswallow
  • play food, kitchen accessories, kitchen set, aprons for dramatic play
  • construction paper (blue and any other colors you like), easel paper, white paper plates, glue, white paint, pompoms, dry pasta, markers/crayons, old magazines with pictures of food, scissors, stickers with pictures of food for our art projects
  • dry pasta for cooking and for sensory play
We're all set up for some sensory bin dramatic play about the town of Chewandswallow! You can add in some blocks or building manipulatives, too, if you'd like!

  • miniature food or buttons shaped like food, small dry pasta, recycled clear plastic bottles for Chewandswallow sensory bottles
S loves to help make themed sensory bottles for both he and Y to use with our play and story themes. Small dry pasta and miniature food from the dollhouse section of the craft store made a great filler for this week's books, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel, Pickles to Pittsburgh.
  • shaving cream, food coloring and a recycled jar or glass for our weather themed science experiment later this week
  • pasta in a variety of shapes and two or more varieties of pickles for taste testing
  • any other theme related toys or materials you can think of! I pulled out a set of Mr. Potato Head toys we found a while ago at a secondhand store and S has had a lot of fun with this food themed toy!
Reading together!
I began setting up our story stretcher materials over the weekend, and as soon as S saw the target book on his shelf, he brought it over to read together. He loves this book! I always introduce the idea of what a tall tale is when I read this to young children. Many preschool aged children go through phases of telling their own tall tales. For adults, it can be alarming to hear children tell blatant fibs and pass them off as the truth. We wish for our children to grow up as honest, upstanding citizens and to be aware of and sensitive to reality versus the imagination. Of course, there is a difference between telling a fib to avoid getting into trouble--"It wasn't me, the baby did it!"--versus the types of tall tales children may tell to gain attention or just express creativity. With students I have had who frequently tell tall tales of the latter type, I do give the language to say "this is a tall tale," first so that their peers can identify when a story is true and when it is made up for entertainment. Honesty is an important social skill in developing friendships. That said, this type of creativity and story telling are fabulous skills that can be homed in on through an appropriate lens. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a great book to demonstrate this--after all, as I tell my students, there is a whole section of the library devoted to authors who like to tell tall tales and it's called the fiction department! I encourage young story tellers to put their stories to words and pictures. Creating a space where telling tall tales is accepted can sometimes mitigate them being told in less socially appropriate fashions.

We began our week this morning by reading our target book again. Our art shelf is stocked with a tray of food stickers and food pictures cut from recycled magazines, greeting cards and food ads. Older children can definitely cut out their own given the materials. I set that out along with markers and a glue stick with his journal and the prompt "Today's weather is cloudy with a chance of ______." S got to decide what delicious weather would fall from the sky, and picked "lollipops and plums." 

He found a picture of an ice cream cone cut from an old birthday card and dictated that he would eat that first! In the land of Chewandswallow, dessert can always come first!

Using a piece of easel paper and a similar prompt taped to the door, S can enjoy working on a vertical surface to create his own Chewandswallow poster. He has gone back to this activity multiple times.

Pasta Taste Test
Meatballs are lonely without their delicious counterpart, spaghetti. I happen to have a toddler who is a particular eater. Now, when I say particular, I don't mean picky. In fact, S eats a lot of very healthy foods. He loves making smoothies with his Tatty and they put in ingredients like bee pollen and hemp seed and flax seed and chia seeds... He drinks kombucha and thinks it's a treat. He loves cucumbers and snap peas, fresh fruits of all kinds and, like many of his peers, also likes jelly beans and ice pops and cupcakes. He knows what he likes and eats what he knows; under the proper conditions, he will try new foods. Because he is more sensitive to trying new foods and I am more sensitive when I present them at dinner time after a long day, I tend to break the one rule I said I would never break and we serve two different suppers. I always offer what we are having and we also provide an option we know he will eat. When my sister showed me a pickle taste test activity they did with their story stretcher, I wondered if doing "taste tests" might inspire and encourage S to try some new foods or some less preferred ones again. Sure enough, he was very eager to participate in our Pasta Taste Test today. He got a face drawn on for each shape pasta he tried and its expression to match his own reaction. We cooked three shapes of pasta: spaghetti, bow-ties (farfalle), and shells. I kept it pretty simple for him and just added some margarine and salt (which he does like) but you can provide sauce and even meatballs if your taste tester is interested! I also prepared our results chart in advance and glued on dry versions of each shape of pasta as a visual aid. S got a real kick out of that and wanted to put some of his pasta on the paper as well--he will surely like some of our art activities later this week! S was most comfortable licking each shape first and then eating some. He has had pasta before, but it's not one of his favorite foods by any means. As a rule of thumb, I do not make a big deal one way or another with trying new foods; it's just not worth the battle. However, many times when I don't make a big commotion and I do provide a distraction--like a great book, less preferred foods are eaten without a fight. So today at lunch, we read Pickles to Pittsburgh, and as it turns out, S quite likes bow tie shaped pasta! 
I'm not sure if he will go for the pickle taste test I have planned for later this week...but if he doesn't, I'll eat the leftovers! We have a lot more planned for our week ahead and look forward to sharing it here. Until then, happy playing!

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