Friday, October 27, 2017

A Sneak Preview of our Art Center for Next Month...

We are about to take off for a week to visit family up north and while the boys were napping today, I decided to give our Art Center another makeover.  S (and sometimes Y) had a lot of fun with our setup from this last month, and while I've found the S generally goes through longer phases with toys and books, his attention span with particular art and writing materials can be a bit shorter. In general, he loves playdough ANYTIME. He likes to "write" letters and draw pictures now and he also loves cutting and gluing. However, if the same particular materials are out for more than a few weeks, he does not tend to be as interested in revisiting them again and again in the same way. Sometimes a demonstration of using something in a different way can freshen things up and sometimes a rotation is in order. Since Shabbos is on its way, our Art Center is now under wraps, but I'm so excited about the updates that I'm giving you a sneak preview!

This coming month I am using our Art Center to combine a few of my greatest loves: child-led process art, hands-on exploration of color mixing and children's book extension activities. One of my very favorite pieces of children's literature about art is Leo Lionni's little blue and little yellow. In fact, we've done a couple of story stretcher activities with this particular book over the years. You can read about them here and here.

As I build upon exploring colors in isolation and mixing primary colors, and as S's preschool class will be focusing on the third of the primary colors, blue in November, this was the perfect time to turn our Art Center into an invitation to play and create about blue and yellow. I wanted the area to be mostly child-led, although I may take out certain materials to demonstrate or use with S (and Y as appropriate) since they are new. Here's a peek at our Art & Writing Center now--but if you see S and Y next week, shhhhh don't tell them, it's a surprise!

ta da!

I love integrating children's literature into an art and writing center. Sometimes I might set out a small basket or collection of relevant books and at other times, one book says it all, like Leo Lionni's little blue and little yellow. For some great ideas of children's literature about art, check out these suggestions at Mini Monets and Mommies and Art is Basic. Many of the books are available in our library system and perhaps in yours as well. Alongside the book, I placed two disposable clear plastic shot glasses. On one, I used permanent marker to draw a blue circle and on the other, I did the same with yellow. Over-top one another, you can actually see how green is formed. This is such a fun, hands-on way that even very little ones can explore mixing colors alongside the book.

Some folks see glass dropper bottles for essential oils and a tub grip turned upside down and other folks (this one) see a great fine motor and color mixing activity. One bottle has water dyed yellow in it and the other has water dyed blue. It may be a bit confusing at first that both bottles are blue glass rather than clean, but perhaps that adds an element of surprise to the activity as well. The idea is that children practice using the droppers to suck up water (a skill in and of itself), and to drop into the individual suction cups. Naturally, they will explore how many drops can fit before it overflows (you may want to include a rag for that purpose), what happens when they mix and even how to suck the drops back up and into the bottles again! Your colors will get mixed up and there will probably be a few spills before all is said and done, but it's a great opportunity to also teach about wiping up water, filling the bottles and starting again! In my classrooms, my students LOVED this activity. I'm eager to see how S enjoys it when we get back from our trip.

I've kept a set of yellow and blue drawing and writing materials out in addition to a stock (not pictured) of white paper.

I also enjoy using actual art with children for inspiration. I printed off a copy of Monet's "Starry Night," one of my personal favorite paintings and set out a tray of similarly colored chalk pastels to inspire some starry night creations in my own little artist. I also love that chalk pastels naturally mix on paper so that S will further be able to explore the process of blue and yellow mixing together in his own work.

Painting is a favorite activity and S enjoys using different types of brushes. I love these sponge dabbers--they even remind me of "little blue" and "little yellow," and an art smock is ready to go so all S needs to do is grab some paper, an art mat for his table and paint!

Cutting and gluing are always popular with S. This month I set some white index cards on our tray and tissue paper squares in blue and yellow for cutting, gluing, overlapping and exploring. They are great on their own, scrunched up, torn, cut and many other ways that I'm sure my creative artist will come up with. 

Overlapped, children can observe how shades darken and how colors mix...

How much more hands on can you get than playdough or clay? I used some white clay and food coloring in yellow and blue to set out a color mixing station, but you could use store bought playdough in blue and yellow, colored clay or make your own dough recipe and dye it yellow and blue. Your little ones will likely not need any prompting to test out mixing the two colors--it kind of happens naturally around here.

Well, we're over and out and will be back upon returning home...until then, happy playing!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Playtime Post: Pumpkin, Pumpkin!

You know those obnoxious people who start going crazy over all things pumpkin in the middle of July? I'm one of 'em! I love Autumn and I love pumpkins, and I don't care if it's not even Labor Day, I'm gonna start pumpkin spicing everything.
By September, we took an afternoon outing to my favorite local produce shop to pick some decorative pumpkins and gourds for our table...

By the beginning of October, although temperatures were still in the upper 80s here, I had concocted my own loom knitting pattern to whip up a couple of pumpkin hats for my own little bumpkins:

Maybe I'll just crank the AC up and let them wear these inside...

And yesterday, we accompanied S's preschool on their Fall field trip to a local farm to pick pumpkins!
I learned a lot on our field trip...

  • Did you know the flowers on pumpkin vines that actually bare fruit are purple, not orange?
  • Managing 20 preschoolers belonging to other people on a field trip was way easier than managing my own preschooler on a field trip--he literally turned into a pumpkin in the middle of a pumpkin field requiring me to football carry him back to the hay ride...
  • If your preschooler refuses to put on a pumpkin hat you spent three days knitting to pose for a photo, you can bribe him with pretzels and then he will undoubtedly refuse the reward until you agree to take half a dozen more photos...
  • Pumpkins come in all shapes as they evolve from seed to plant to flower to fruit...our adult vision may gloss over some of those incredible early stages of life as we eye the prize of a bright orange giant of a fruit, but you can be sure your little ones will notice and appreciate even the tiniest, most incredible signs of growth and life!
S was enamored with these teeny tiny little baby pumpkins. He really wanted to pick one but chose to leave them on the vine so they could grow into great, big pumpkins all in due time! I admired his fascination with everything from the purple flowers to the still-green pumpkins to the giant orange prize-winners and everything in between. We came home lugging one big orange pumpkin, one medium sized green and orange specimen, and a little green guy, along with two tuckered out boys ready for a good, long afternoon nap!

As tired out as we all were after the big morning, I was in the mood for some more pumpkin themed fun. While the boys slept, I cooked up a batch of my favorite stove-top playdough adding red and yellow food coloring to give it a lovely shade of orange and a generous dose of pumpkin spice for scent. After naptime, both boys dug right in to the playdough fun! Along with our playdough, I set out a laminated playdough mat of a pumpkin patch scene that I printed off for free from this great website. I demonstrated to S how to roll little balls into pumpkins, which he loved doing. He also took it a step further and began "smashing" pumpkins, which led to baking pumpkin cakes and pumpkin cookies until he noticed the bag of dried pumpkin seeds that his Safta sent last year from a pumpkin that grew in her garden. He asked if he could open the bag and use the seeds in the playdough, and while I hesitated at first, I decided to let him have at it. After all, how many years do I plan to save dried pumpkin seeds?? And with half a dozen pumpkins gracing our dining room table right now, there's plenty more where that came from!

S had so much fun using his fine motor skills to pour the seeds into a little dish, to pinch and pick up seeds as they spilled or fell on the floor, and pinching and poking the seeds into his playdough to "plant pumpkins." This is the joy of child led play and exploration! I, the adult, rolled little balls for pumpkins in a pumpkin patch, but S, a child, had a pumpkin patch, a full service bakery and a raised bed garden for planting pumpkin seeds! Y enjoyed teething on the pumpkin shaped cookie cutter...

S also loved using some laminated cards depicting the life-cycle of a pumpkin that I printed off for free over at There are a great variety of free printables here as well as some fabulous articles and resources for families and teachers who are inspired by the Montessori method. S used the cards both to retell the life-cycle sequence and to talk about things we had seen on our trip that morning. Then he asked to read a book from our shelf, Pumpkin, Pumpkin by Jeanne Titherington as he continued to play with the playdough.

That was all the pumpkin themed fun we could squeeze into one day! There are so many great activities you can do with pumpkins, and if you're looking for some more, you can revisit some of our favorites from last year. S really wants to bake a real pumpkin cake with a cooking pumpkin he bought with his Tatty and I have a few other ideas up my sleeve for the weeks to come. Until then...

Happy Playing!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Peek Inside Our Playroom: Revamping the Art Center

 If you've followed my series on playroom setup, you know that I do a lot of rotation and toy swapping in general here. In part, this is because we live in a small space and do not have room to have everything out at once. In part I also do this to keep things fresh and interesting to my kids while cutting down on clutter. I rotate materials based on season, theme and interest. More recently, I have included S in the process of choosing toys to have out and toys to put away for later when I do a rotation. This helps eliminate some of his feelings of disorientation when things change and also encourages his sense of autonomy. I make shifts when themes, seasons or holidays come up, but sometimes I will also make a change when things seem to get a bit stale.

Since S has started preschool, his interest in our Art Center has really decreased. I am not a "project pusher" and aside from providing opportunity, I don't have a specific agenda with our play areas. However, I did wonder if, in part, his lack of interest in our Art Center had to do with what was on the shelf more than simply being a factor of already having done activities related to art and writing in school each morning. Having a lot of holidays in the last month also meant that this area was closed off for a good portion of each week. Out of sight, out of mind. After the holidays ended, I decided to do a strategic revamp of our Art Center. This time, rather than adding more items in, I actually took a lot of things out. Less is so very often more when it comes to drawing in the interest of young children. Sure enough, S was back at it the very next day, exploring a tray of collage materials in shades of red, yellow and orange.
I loaded up a tray with ribbon, tissue paper, scraps of shiny paper, artificial Fall leaves and dot stickers in shades of red, yellow, and their combined form, orange! A glue stick and some white glue provided all the luring S needed before selecting a piece of white paper from the bottom shelf to make his own collage.

He created and dictated a collage story of a train (made from shiny paper shapes) that was carrying leaves up a train track.

 From the first time I introduced our Art Center, I have always had bins of markers, crayons and colored pencils accessible at all times. When S's interest seemed to decrease in all of these items, I wondered if there were "too many options" out and what would happen if I isolated a couple of colors at a time. In his school, S focuses on learning one color each month. While he now knows all of his colors now, many children struggle with learning colors. One reason for this is that colors are rarely isolated in our environment and there are also many shades of a color that fall under the same name. Rather than providing crayons, markers and colored pencils in all of the colors, I selected a variety of mediums in red and yellow, the first two colors focused on in S's classroom.
Additionally, children are often taught about primary colors mixing into secondary colors, but not always given the opportunity to explore this, hands-on. Providing individual mediums in primary colors invites the process of color mixing to occur naturally at the hands of young, curious artists.

A tray of paper and shapes in shades of orange, our target secondary color, along with some scissors invite S to explore one of his favorite activities, cutting practice! He can use his scraps for collage or focus instead on just practicing the act of cutting and cleaning up the tiny results. I find it helpful to include a tray or small container for collecting tiny scraps and it's always useful to have a dustpan and brush nearby for independent cleanup. 

In lieu of our Writing Center bin with a variety of materials to encourage pre-writing and writing, I set out one clipboard with a notepad and one jar of pencils and pens. This is handy when you need to quickly jot down a dictated note, list or practice some lines and shapes that will surely yield letters and words before we know it!
A tray of black paper and white chalk and crayons encourage the exploration of light on dark, an extension
of our Bereishis play theme.

S and Y loved the basket of books about colors! Adding literature in unlikely places is my favorite way to encourage reading to happen all around the house. Indeed, S went right away and made a bee line for this basket! It can also be fun to include a piece of art that is particularly interesting, post cards, books about art or artists or something from nature...

As an extension on our upcoming theme of rainbows in parshas Noach, I set out a tray of art materials in rainbow colors and some watercolor paints, a brush, and a jar for filling with water to use as S explores the colors of the rainbow and mixing colors together. Art mats, a smock and white paper are provided as always so that any of the materials can be used independently as the inspiration strikes.
We are having renewed fun with our Art Center now. It is so refreshing to remember that loss of interest does not always mean there is not enough to do--it is often a sign of sensory overload and this time, for sure, less is definitely more!
Happy Playing!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Days of Creation Play Stations: Day 2 The Shamayim

On the Second Day, Hashem created the Shamayim (translated as the Heavens/sky). We happened to reach our afternoon of Day 2 Creation Play Stations right before last Shabbos, when we read Parshas Noach (the story of Noah and the Ark). S is learning more in depth about this parsha in preschool and we did a lot more at home with it last year, which you can read about here. I did not want to entirely skip over it at home, so I rotated in a toy boat, a Fisher Price "Noach" and some plastic animals to our bathtub playtime. To incorporate the idea of the rainbow both to learning about the creation of the Shamayim and to Parshas Noach ,I also prepped some colorful Shabbos treats...
Rainbow salad...

Rainbow fruit salad...

...and a chocolate cake with rainbow icing...definitely not the healthiest of the three options, but certainly the most beloved!

I covered our dining room table in white craft paper so S could decorate our Shabbos table with our favorite rainbow themed art materials and stickers...

Both boys have been enjoying our play stations. I've been preparing sensory bottles for each of the days (mainly with Y in mind, but S still enjoys these as well).

Day 1: water (dyed black with a bit of paint) and vegetable oil for Dark & Light
Day 2: blue dyed dry rice and cotton ball clouds

I especially love the small sized Gatorade bottles for sensory bottles. They are the perfect size for little hands! So when my husband came home with a pack before Yom Kippur, he saw an easier fast and I saw a future play at home project! I always hot glue and/or duct tape the caps to securely seal them. Numeral stickers help identify the day of Creation on each cap.

 On the topic of colorful rainbows and clouds, we've all been a bit under the weather here since the end of the High Holidays. It started with four green noses and progressed to five pink eyes. (Don't even ask... My preschooler is bringing germs home like a first year teacher!) We've kept many of our afternoon play sessions very low key, and that has been quite lovely nonetheless. For Day 2, we did some cloud themed sensory play using shaving cream and blue & green paint inside our water table. There's a great science experiment and story stretcher you could add in if you wish that I posted here.

I had no audible voice for reading a story that day, but S loved using a plastic fork to marble the paint inside the shaving cream and afterward got his hands into it as well! I like to make the most of my activities, so before he really had at it, I took a piece of white cardstock and made a print over top of the shaving cream. I used a squeegee to scrape off the excess back into the sensory table and allowed the beautiful marble-painted paper to dry. It would be perfect for use in our process art Days of Creation Counting Book.

 We've been creating a page with each of the days, along with a title page and this introductory page along to the song below, one of our favorite Bereishit themed songs:

(t.t.t.o. "This Old Man")

Hashem created a world so fine, 
He did it all in six days' time
How did He do it? What did He do?
Each day He made something new...

On Yom Rishon, there was dark and light
Hashem made the day and Hashem made the night,
On Yom Sheini, up very, very high, 
Hashem created the big, blue sky!

On Yom Shlishi, the rivers and the seas,
And from the earth grew flowers and trees,
On Yom R'vee'ee, the sun so bright
The moon and stars just for the night.

On Yom Chamishi, the fish in the sea
And way up high the birds in the breeze
On Yom Shishi, big animals and small,
Adam and Chava, most important of all!

On Yom Shabbat, Hashem worked no more
So we should know what this day is for,
A day of rest is the rule,
We learn Torah and go to shul!

Here's a peek back at our Day 1 page, white (light) chalk and crayons drawn onto black (dark) paper...

For Day 2, I set out "cloud paint brushes" in white paint. Simply pinch a cotton ball between a clothespin for these super simple paint dabbers! They are always a big hit and great fine motor practice for little hands. (Even Y was able to use it with some extra help from me.)

We are gearing up for another day of play here and will surely be back to post about it. In between our organized play sessions, S has really enjoyed this makeshift DIY Days of Creation garland. I printed out the beautiful clipart for free from this website and laminated/cut out the circles for each day. I hung some yarn across our deep freezer with magnets (we use every inch of available space here!) and wrote numerals 1-7 on clothes pins. An envelope placed below is great for holding on to the pieces between play. Both fine motor and math/sequencing skills are called into play with this activity, but your little one will likely be having too much fun playing to even notice he is learning, too!

Happy Playing!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Days of Creation Play Stations: Day 1 Dark & Light

S is early in the stages of understanding how to
play the game of Dominoes, but this family
heirloom set of Bereishis dominoes is a great
starting point! He loves making a "train" of
matching pictures and "reading the directions."
The first parsha read in the Torah each year is, arguably, one of the most important. Parshas Bereishis chronicles the events of Creation, day by day, as well as the stoPry of Adam and Chava. And although this is one of the most significant parshios of the year, it occurs in our annual rotation right on the heels of a huge holiday season. As a teacher in Jewish classrooms, I grappled with whether to teach this parsha "in time" and rush through the opportunities for learning and play so we can make it to the next several and equally significant parshios, or whether to extend the lesson beyond its week in the limelight. There are benefits to both ways. It is nice when children can learn the Torah portion of the week as it comes up. Particularly in homes where children go to synagogue on Shabbos or discuss the parsha at the Shabbos table, even preschool aged children like to feel a part of the action! There are benefits as well to having the time to explore in depth these early parshios, particularly through the lens of hands on exploration and play based learning. The best part of either route you choose is that the cycle repeats itself again and again. In other words--there's always next year, G-d willing!

Revisiting some of our favorite learning materials from last year is a fun way to play and learn together!

This year, S is learning about the first two parshios in school, Parshas Bereishis (the story of Creation), and Parshas Noach (the story of Noah and the ark). We explored these parshios in depth at home last year, as well. You can check out our Bereishis activities and Noach activities from last year if you wish. This year, we are enjoying a more relaxed flow of play-based activities in the afternoons. S has already had a morning of more structured learning and projects, which he loves and a more child-led approach in the afternoons really works for us right now. In addition, Y is able on his own level to join in our play adventures. I decided to extend our time exploring the theme of Parshas Bereishis into seven afternoon play stations to visit each day of Creation through sensory exploration, family field trips, themed snacks, process art and dramatic play.

Here's a peek at our first day of Creation Play Stations: Day 1, Dark & Light

While the boys were napping, I gathered a white pillowcase to attach to our puppet theater, a selection of flashlights/small lights and LED decorative lights, and transformed our play area into an exploration of darkness, light and shadows...

Some lights strung over our play tunnel added a whole new element of wonder to this already beloved gross motor activity!

Y got a kick (or enjoyed kicking) some lights strung above his activity mat. Adult supervision is definitely required when allowing very little ones to play with items that contain batteries and cords!

What's more fun than crawling through a tunnel? Crawling through a tunnel that lights up in a dark room and chasing after a light up ball!

S was both fascinated and bewildered by the shadow puppet station. He kept looking behind the curtain of the puppet theater where the action usually takes place, but was confused as to why the shadows weren't there! We observed together how the shadows are formed in front of the light by the objects placed in front of the white curtain. He brought in a variety of other objects to try besides the animals I had set out. We tried our hands (literally) at some shadow puppets as well. Much of the fun was just in playing with flashlights on their own!

Y LOVED the light up ball! I have found these on and off at our local Dollar Tree and they are always popular!

Adding in some of our translucent magnetiles to the mix gave way to some especially colorful shadows and fantastic buildings. This was a great way to introduce some STEM and building activities into the mix.

S has had little interest at home in doing "art projects." He does amazing art activities at school and at home I try to introduce more opportunities for process art (which he also does in school). Both brothers are participating in our Days of Creation Process Art Book. Day 1 was an invitation to explore white chalk and crayons on black paper. 

S was not interested in this station at all until Y and I sat down. He Loves showing Y how to do things!

We had a surprise themed dessert of "Dark & Light" pudding (chocolate and vanilla pudding). This is a great early cooking activity that toddlers and preschoolers can help with in the kitchen and although I made it in advance because we were short on time, S was so happy that he thanked me repeatedly without being prompted and told me it's his "favorite!" Alternatively you could make/buy black and white cookies, have hot cocoa with marshmallows or even chocolate sandwich cookies with white cream filling...very healthy, I know! Maybe pumpernickel and white bread??

We are having so much fun exploring the days of Creation through play that I am already excited for our second day! We will certainly be back soon and until then, happy playing!