Monday, December 31, 2018

Winter Story Stretcher: "The Story of the Snow Children" by Sibylle von Olfers

The wondrous world that exists in Sibylle von Olfers' children's books may be teeny tiny, but they truly stretch the imagination to new heights. S and Y still frequently ask to hear The Story of the Root Children before bedtime and this winter, I was eager to add The Story of the Snow Children to our collection. These whimsical tales naturally lend themselves to storytelling and play acting, so I knew that this would be an integral part of this story stretcher in our Winter Break Story Stretchers Playcamp. \

I introduced our book and a simple craft to decorate winter crowns for our Morning Work activity the day before we were to do our story stretcher. We used snowflake stickers and glitter crayons to decorate our crowns as we would be playing the part of guests at the royal feast of the Snow Queen and her little Princess on her birthday. I love setting out a small world display to introduce our book and morning activity. I used our peg doll family and a collection of peg doll snowmen pulling them on a tiny sled. The boys enjoyed playing with that as much as making their crowns.

When it was time to start our story stretcher, the boys were greeted on the rug with a welcoming song and our own makeshift sleigh. But before it was time to board, we danced around the room like the snow children do in the book and bundled up in warm clothes like Poppy, the main character, just as she is about to embark on her wintry adventure. Our sleigh took us to the table where our own royal feast was ready to be served: iced tea (as in the book) and "snow snacks" (Muddy Buddies I prepared in advance from this recipe since we did not have white chocolate as mentioned in the book). The boys loved having iced tea poured from our fanciest tea pot!

As the boys sipped and snacked, I finished reading the book. S and Y donned their winter crowns for the royal dancing around our living room...

S really wanted to act out the story again from the beginning! I told him he can retell it and act it out as many times as he'd like! That's the wonderful thing about storytelling and great literature. We gathered once more at the table for a story related craft, making "crystal" flowers like the ones described in the icy garden in the Snow Queen's royal kingdom. We used recycled plastic bottles that I cut and prepared ahead of time to look like flowers. The boys used permanent markers in cool wintry colors and some blue and silver gem stickers to decorate their flowers. Later we would string some dental floss through a hole I punched in each one and hang them from our dining room window to capture the light and bring some colorful life to our own winter season.

Great authors are the ones that make you want to read and retell again and again. Sibylle von Olfers may not be among the most popular of children's authors in our country, but she is truly a beloved one in this household. If you can get a hold of any of her books, they truly do warm and heart and spark the imagination. We will be back soon with another ice cold story stretcher--even as our winter break draws to a close and we prepare to go back to school. Until then...a happy and healthy new year and, of course...

Happy Playing!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Art Together: "Frozen" Mixed Medium Paintings on Canvas

If given the opportunity, Y would probably paint all day long. Give him a brush, a stick, a sponge or just his own two hands and he's one happy dude as long as there's paint involved. He'll probably ask for a "samock" [smock] to go with it... Y goes through phases of liking to paint and being less drawn to that medium. I like to include process art opportunities at home working with plenty of mediums. I also know the value in open ended exploration of high quality art materials, so I do include supplies like real canvas, quality acrylic and watercolor paints, "real" brushes, oil pastels, chalks, clay and more. When I saw how teacher Sally Haughey of Fairy Dust Teaching used a collaborative art activity with her preschool class to capture her students' interest in the motion picture "Frozen," I was inspired! Over the course of several days, she introduced a large canvas and a variety of painting mediums and loose parts for her students to work together and create a truly chilling masterpiece.

I love the idea of stretching out an art experience over more than one day. I think that so many times when it comes to creative work and art with children, we push a "deadline" and "production" mentality. This does not honor the time it may take to fully experience and explore materials and it does not value the child's process in that. For some children, this may become apparent when they have difficulty transitioning from a project. For others, it may manifest as a lack of interest in beginning or staying with an art activity. Different children feel differently about art and require different amounts of time. Additionally, they may be more drawn to certain mediums than others--especially if sensory preferences come into play. One thing I do believe universally is that children engage more with the experience of exploring art when we join in. So while I opted to provide separate canvases for each artist involved rather than to collaborate on one, I did make this an "Art Together" activity here--one where we would all sit (myself included) and work on the project each day. Both boys (and I!) came to look forward to adding the next step each day and watching the paintings transform. The experience was incredible and the finished results were museum worthy! Here's a peek at our process:

Day 1: We used acrylic paints in a variety of cool colors and some textured sponge roller brushes on canvas. Each of us had a recycled sushi tray with paints lined up side by side. We mixed, rolled, dipped and rolled again. S, usually a minimalist, filled his canvas from corner to corner with colorful layers of paint. Y, usually a page filler, restricted his work to the center of the canvas, leaving the borders white.

 Day 2: This time, I set out six sectioned pallets with purple and blue tempera paint and black and white on either side. I provided Q-tip brushes, and the boys were encouraged to mix colors, shades and hues as they desired. S loved using the Q-tip to make squiggles and dots. Y started off with the Q-tip, but transitioned to his fingers. S, who often does not like to finger paint, did want to try it that day, and used his finger as well to make dots, then covering them up with more lines and squiggles. I tried both methods, making Q-tip dots on one corner and finger squiggles coming down from the opposite corner.
While S is often averse to getting "hands on" in paint, he was
inspired by Y. Having wet washcloths at the ready can help
a sensory sensitive artist feel more comfortable to explore.
Day 3: If there's anything I love just about as much as process art, it's loose parts. And the two of those combined are a match made in heaven! The only thing that could possibly make that an even more desirable combo for my little guys is the addition of glue. Yes, glue! Today, our "paint" was concocted of glue and food coloring. A sectioned tray was set up with a variety of small glass gems, silver hex nuts, and beads--all in wintry shades. Each artist was given a cup filled 2/3 full with clear gel glue and a wooden craft stick for mixing. Each artist also got to choose a color to add and small loose parts to mix in. I love using recycled plastic fruit cups for this as they are translucent for easy viewing and the perfect size for "portion control." We mixed our "ingredients" in the cups and poured, drizzled, scraped, spread and sprinkled the concoctions over our canvases.

I really loved watching how they mixed, poured and got hands in and hands on with this step. We worked slowly and intentionally. We didn't worry about being sticky or getting messy (smocks and a disposable tablecloths help with this). Nobody worried or fought about not having "enough" materials because the cups really helped designate a space for what we needed. I am actually quite happy I captured a few moments on film during which S remarked that the glue concoction reminded him of jelly. I quickly turned off the camera just as Y thought S meant it actually was jelly and then wiped a lovely shade of purple sticky goo from his bottom lip!

Day 4: Oh, is it ever wistful when good things come to an end, but at least the "end" of this art experience will leave us with a lasting souvenir. On the final day of our painting, we each mixed a small recycled cup of white school glue with glitter in blue, white and silver.There were wooden craft sticks and wide paintbrushes for everyone to use. S was the first to mix his "paint" and then Y. S asked if he could pour his paint again and I said he could. Y opted to use his craft stick to spread and scrape it on. I tried pouring, drizzling and then brushing thinner layers over flat spaces and edges. And what's the only thing in the world that's better than glitter? Why, more glitter, of course! S asked for more glue and glitter and then asked if he could also sprinkle glitter over the top of his painting. I love being able to say yes and on this day, "Yes" was brought to you by a disposable tablecloth we've used again and again for almost a year. I knew that I could roll it up and toss it when we finished and before I knew it, we were all three eagerly shaking glitter over our canvases.

I'm pretty impressed with the finished results (even though in the photo collage above, the glue is still drying). But even more than my joy in seeing these on display in our home is the joy I got in creating them together. I really look forward to concocting and creating some more family masterpieces together in the future. I also especially love this article with 5 Paint Invitations to Embrace the Explore Stage for more ideas on how to encourage and introduce painting to young artists at home or in the classroom. This was such a fun addition to our Winter Break Playcamp and we will be back next week to share some more fabulous story stretchers with you. Until then...

Happy playing!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Three "Cool" Winter Sensory Play Activities

Winter is a season full of sensory opportunities. Cold, wet snow, smooth ice, prickly pine needles and fragrant evergreens-- all the unique textures, scents and sensations of the season abound outdoors. And when it's too cold and snowy to get out, you can warm up inside with one of these three fun sensory play activities:

In this simple sensory table setup, cotton balls are "snow," and a couple of empty recycled plastic bottles have been turned into snowmen using permanent markers and a bit of yarn for a scarf. I tossed in some plastic snowflake decorations as well. With the addition of a couple of sets of large tweezers, some plastic shovels and cauldrons, the boys can practice scooping and transferring cotton snowballs into the larger pots or using their fingers and/or tweezers to pinch and poke them into the snowman bottles. The real fine motor challenge comes when trying to get all of those cotton balls back out of the bottle one by one! As simple as it is to set up, it's a winner of an activity and has kept both boys busy at play!
Here we are "leaving the house" and temporarily distracted by
a thoughtfully set up but simple and inexpensive sensory play opportunity!

 Small loose parts from our winter themed tinker tray and some snow white sparkly playdough were the main ingredients of this invitation to build a snowflake activity. I provided some snowflake shaped cookie cutters, rolling pins, plastic knives and also a collection of glass gems and mosaic tiles, winter themed paper straws (cut in half), Q-tips and metal hex nuts. I made our peppermint scented snow white playdough following my favorite stove-top playdough recipe but substituting in corn starch for flour. I also added in some peppermint extract and silver glitter after it was done cooking. To be totally honest, I was not a fan of the texture of this dough afterward. It is a bit harder/crumblier than the typical version of the recipe. It is, however, a vibrant white (which using flour will not yield) and allergy safe for those who are severely sensitive to gluten.

It can be stored in a ziplock or airtight container just as you would store regular homemade playdough. The boys are far less picky about playdough than I am, so they have returned to use it again and again as we keep it ready in our STEAM Cart playdough drawer.

 We also love incorporating sensory and small world play here. While many times our sensory table is used solely for scooping, transferring, pouring and exploring, sometimes the addition of some small world play objects and loose parts can introduce a beautiful element of storytelling and dramatic play to the scene. We used play sand and glitter for the "snow" base of this Arctic animal winter wonderland, complete with red sleds, snowmen and some tiny shovels. Finishing touches included some small trees, a "hibernation cave" made from a recycled container with a section cut out from one side and a collection of "ice" chunks (glass gems, stones and mosaic tiles).

Sensory play is such a great way to warm up this winter season! We'll be back with some toasty winter story stretchers and a great wintry process art experience in the days to follow. Until then...

Happy Playing!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Winter Story Stretcher: "Snowmen at Night" By Caralyn and Mark Buehner

I don't know how I missed author and illustrator team, Caralyn and Mark Beuner's Snowmen book series until this year, but if you haven't seen them yet, run--don't walk--to your local library! Snowmen at Night is a delightful story written in captivating rhymes that tells the imaginative story of what snowmen do all night long while we're fast asleep. It's always a wonder to come outside in the morning and see your snowman flopping to one side or missing a few parts. S's knowledge of snow science helped him solve the mystery of our own snowman as he melted, but it's still fun to imagine a world where snowmen sled, skate and have snowball fights and baseball games only to return, slightly disheveled to their posts in our yard by morning.

It's so much fun to imagine about this that I thought S in particular would enjoy making his own Snowman at Night story and both boys would love to illustrate it. Most times when we do a story stretcher activity, I begin with the book. But with a book we have already read or sometimes even one we haven't, it's fun to go in reverse order. On the morning we were going to take Snowmen at Night beyond the book, I set out our theme related art activity for Table Time.

The boys were greeted in the morning by 5 little snowmen on display with our target story and black card stock, Crayola Metallic FX Crayons (great for dark backgrounds) and a selection of white crayons, oil pastels and chalk for creating their own nighttime snowmen scene. I also set out some fun snowman and star stickers. Both boys surprised me with their response to this activity. Y loved sticking and re-sticking the snowman face stickers around his paper. He then took a white oil pastel and drew dots of "snow" all around the page. S expressed some anxiety about being "able to draw" a snowman and asked me to do it for him. He does not typically ask for help with artwork when we do more process oriented art. I think the formality of more "directed" drawing threw him off at first--and that was even before he got to the table! I wondered then if I should not have put out my own version on display, but it didn't seem to bother him once he sat down. In fact, with a quick statement of reassurance that there are many right ways to draw about and tell a story and that each person's picture would be different and unique, he sat down and got quite busy. He told a story as he drew and used his stickers about snowmen going to space. He then wanted to know if we had any rocket ship stickers he could use (we did-with robots on them, too!) and added that to his illustration and story.

S was so delightfully proud of his work and his story that he asked to bring it as "show and tell" to our story stretcher time on the rug. Y brought along our snowmen to hear the story as well! Both boys shared their version of the story that I took down as dictation on separate paper. We hung their finished illustrations and dictations on our "museum wall," a space for family artwork along our staircase. Next, we read the story together.

This was a shorter stretcher than some we do. Sometimes if you're short on time, one simple activity is really all you need. If you'd like to do more, incorporate some science and sensory play with Fizzy the Snowman!

We also love this cute little winter fingerplay, sung to the tune of "10 Little Indians:" (note: this is not my own song and I also do not know to whom credit for it is due, but you are welcome to enjoy it as much as we do!)

Five Little Snowmen

Five little snowmen sitting in the snow
Waiting for the winter winds to blow
Along came the sun, and what do you know
Slush, slush, slush and away one goes!

Four little snowmen sitting in the snow...
(continue until the last snowman melts and...)
Slush, slush, slush and away he goes!

You can sing this song with your fingers as snowmen, but I have loved using handmade stick puppets in the past or, this year, little plush snowmen I found at Dollar Tree and a makeshift sun puppet from some recycled artwork we made over the summer. I remember how much S loved this song as a baby and toddler (and he still does). Now it is Y who eagerly carries over the snowmen in their basket, our sun puppet and a laminated song sheet (even though we all have it memorized) so we can sing and act it out again and again!

Whether your world outside is white and wondrous or your only snowmen are indoor versions right now, I hope you're enjoying our Winter Break Story Stretchers so far. We will be back soon with another one and some other great Winter themed play activities to keep you busy at home or the classroom.

Until then, stay warm (not too warm if you happen to be a snowman) and...

Happy Playing!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Winter Writing & Pre-Writing Activities

I have an eager early writer here! S was not always interested in writing. It was an activity I always offered up in many (creative) ways, but until this school year, he had yet to really have a desire to sit and work on proper hand position or forming and tracing letters. I also have an eager little brother here who is very keen on doing anything his older brother is doing! To support them both in their developmental stages as they grow as young writers, I keep our Writing Center stocked with a variety of tools and materials they can access in our living room. I also set up a variety of Table Time activities in the morning for "Morning Work" that encourage pre-writing/early writing. Lately, S had been asking me to use our Writing Desk upstairs in the boys' bedroom. Thanks to Y's busy "naptimes," it had become somewhat of a storage and dumping grounds for a variety of things unrelated to its initial purpose. One day while the boys were out with my husband, I managed to get it cleared off and stocked again (only this time I have everything stored in a drawer during nap and sleeping times). When we do have a play theme going on at home, I tailor our writing materials and centers to be theme related. Here's a peek at some ways we've incorporated pre-writing and writing opportunities into our Winter theme. They are great activities to encourage at home if your children are interested and also easily adaptable to classroom use (if you're a teacher spending winter break planning for next month).

There are a lot of resources for free and for purchase on websites like Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers. I love the Winter Math and Literacy Centers from Pocket of Preschool. The printable writing paper is perfect for our Writing Center and stocking the boys' Writing Desk. The literacy games and tools are great for a plethora of uses. To the right, I've set up a couple of "snow" (Kosher salt) trays with icicle "pens" (an ornament set I found at the Dollar Tree and adapted). The boys chose a snowball letter from their baskets and had the opportunity to trace it into the "snow" with their icicle pens. You can provide a basket of all of the letters, uppercase and/or lowercase, just the letters of a child's name or just a few letters you are focusing on if you do formal introduction of the alphabet or letter of the week in your home or classroom. Y is obviously more at the level of exploring the salt tray and how to make marks and strokes in it. S is ready for some copying and practicing. They both had a great time with this activity!

Using a printed and laminated set of these free Penguins Pre-Writing Cards, I set out a tray of kosher salt "snow," a small plastic penguin and a small plastic fish on each boys' tray. Their job was to choose a card and get the penguin to his fish! It was a playful and fun way to practice straight lines, curvy lines, boxy and zig-zaggy lines--all strokes necessary for forming letters later on.

Meanwhile, at the Writing Desk... I taped an alphabet chart and an aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) chart to the top of our desk. It's great for reference and exposure. I used a couple of Dollar Tree plastic caddies for the boys' writing materials. After the explosion of our Writing Desk, I have learned [the hard way] that less is more. I tailored each boy's basket to what he is working on. S and Y both have pencils, notepads, neon colored index cards, small sticky notes, some Winter stickers and a laminated sentence strip with their names printed. S has a variety of pencil options including one with a cushioned grip that helps him form his hand posture correctly. He has a selection of skinny writing markers in a variety of colors. He also has a laminated set of winter words for inspiration and exposure. Y has a smaller set of laminated winter word flash cards with larger pictures to encourage language development. He also has a few chunky crayons, a writing a drawing medium he currently really likes. I like to tailor our writing center and desk to be interesting and captivating to the boys. There are no assignments or agendas in these spaces, it is intended to be child-directed and we are there to support the boys if and when they need it. I stocked a small file organizer with printed writing/illustration paper, winter stickers, alphabet/number stickers, some envelopes, snowman die-cuts and snowflake doilies.

When these materials get a bit stale or when we switch up themes, I swap in some new ones. The key to keeping kids writing is to keep it interesting and fun. Some other fun desk or table activities could be to include a tray and kinetic sand or playdough along with some rubber alphabet stamps. Letter stamps and stickers in general are great tools for pre-writers. Opportunities to trace letters are great, whether with pencil, pen, crayon, etc. or with dry erase markers on laminated cards. Even using playdough or small loose parts to trace larger letters is a great way to encourage early (or reluctant) writers.
Another pro-tip is to let them see you do it! I realized that perhaps one reason S was so hesitant to begin writing while he did take an interest in many other fine motor activities is that he rarely sees the adults in this household writing. My husband and I constantly communicate by written word--but when I say written, I mean typed. We keep our shopping lists, correspondence and even this blog on computers and smart phones. The boys were not seeing us doing a whole lot of handwriting (although we both occasionally do) and therefore they  may not have been intuiting the value and importance of the activity. We have both worked toward being more visible in our writing engagements at home. I love to keep notes and reminders about play activities in a journal and my husband takes a lot of notes for work and continued education in a set of notebooks.

Our journals also get a lot of attention here in Morning Work activities. Sometimes it's geared toward drawing or doodling, forming lines, shapes and pre-writing strokes. Sometimes it's introducing letters and writing in other ways, like with sticker "tracing." To the left, the boys had an invitation to trace the letter Pp with small penguin stickers. S had a row of Pps to trace in pencil at the bottom. Y had a pencil as well, but is young yet to be tracing letters. And our resident needle-felted penguin was proudly on display to inspire and encourage my little writers as they sat to work. Writing practice doesn't need to be dull and dreary. Pencils and lined paper are only the beginning. Adding a bit of creativity and whimsy can add aesthetic appeal and captivate interest. We'll keep you posted on future pre-writing and writing activities here and how you can support and encourage your own early writers as well.

Until then...

Happy Writing!

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Peek Inside Our Playroom: Welcome to Our Vet & Pet Center!

We did it again and revamped our dramatic play theme here! Our Ice Skating Rink was so much fun but the boys had begun to slow down with their play about it. I could tell it was time for a change, and even though I had not initially planned to switch things over until after the Winter Break, I decided this was the perfect time to shift the scene. We're home anyway, might as well have something to keep everyone busy and engaged. We are still enjoying our Winter Story Stretchers (and will be back with more in the days to come), but today I want to take you on a little tour of our new Vet & Pet Dramatic Play Center!
Some of our resident pets...
Cutting up recycled magazines or catalogs
can be a great way to make "shavings" for tanks and
cages. Even recycled cardboard tubes or collected
rocks and stones make great accessories and
recycled containers can make great food dishes

Ok, to be totally honest, we're not exactly "pet people" here. We just said so long to the last of our pet goldfish, may it rest in peace, whatever its name was... We love the idea of having a fish or something similar to teach a little bit about caring for another living being and the responsibilities that go along with it. The boys do love looking at the fish and we will likely get a new fish pretty soon. The boys love visiting zoos, farms and even pet stores to see animals. S is rather afraid of dogs and cats outside, but is equally curious about them. He and Y both love playing doctor and having a veterinary center in our play area seemed like a good combo!

I had some help and inspiration from these great resources by Pocket of Preschool:

I love using credits and taking advantage of sales on to support other educators while saving myself some time and energy here as I set up play and learning experiences. You certainly don't need these materials to set up your own Vet & Pet Dramatic Play center at home or in your classroom, but it's a great way to gain ideas, inspiration, supplemental activities and a variety of great printable resources to encourage reading, writing, math and organization.

A closer peek at our play area
In addition to the above resources, I included the following in our Vet & Pet Center:
  • plush and plastic toy animals such as fish, turtles, frogs, lizards, dogs, cats, snakes, spiders, rabbits, mice, birds, etc.
  • plastic shoeboxes and a critter cage we had at home for pet cages/tanks
  • recycled catalogs for cutting "shavings" for the bottom of pet tanks (and now my boys will NEVER see the Amazon toy catalog! Phew!)
  • rocks, sea glass, gravel, stones and mosaic tiles we had for our "fish" tank
  • toy doctor tools
  • a real stethoscope
  • a scale (we have a kids' scale from Learning Resources, but you can make a pretend one from cardboard, use a bathroom scale or even a food/kitchen scale)
  • a toy pet carrier we got as a Chanukah gift, but you can make one from a cardboard box or recycled shoe box
  • recycled containers with lids and empty pill containers with labels covered/removed for pretend food and medicine
  • I bought some food dishes, brushes, leashes, and collars from The Dollar Tree
  • Scrubs/lab coat we had in our dress up bin (both purchased secondhand from a thrift store)
  • toy cash register, toy money, toy walkie talkies
  • towel, sponges, empty spray bottle, toy scissors, brushes for the grooming station (and even a hose on our toy kitchen sink made from recycled durable medical equipment)
  • pencils, pens, clip boards, dry erase markers, notepads, receipt book and printed appointment reminder cards I made for writing
  • crepe paper for making bandages, bandaids, cotton swabs, large wooden craft sticks for tongue depressors, toothbrushes, cotton balls, disposable gloves and pipettes for medicine droppers (I raided our medicine closet and craft supplies)
  • pompoms for "food" and a scoop--I store these loose in one of our drawers for easy access and the boys bring over containers and food dishes to fill
  • books about pets from our local library
  • a couple of dollar store calendars with great photos of pets
  • transparency paper for printing pet x-rays and light table (optional)
You don't need all of this! You can use what you have and what you can easily and inexpensively get. The only new items I bought were all from the Dollar Tree pet aisle and everything else we already had or it came from my recycling bin.

I love incorporating writing opportunities into our dramatic play, particularly for my early writer. The printable appointment book and groomer check list from the resources listed above are great for this. I also made appointment reminder cards and stuck a blank receipt book and sticky note pad to our toy cash register with double sided tape There's even a role of stickers, because if we like getting a sticker after a check up or hair cut, probably our toy pets will, too! In addition, peeling and sticking stickers and using pens and pencils for doodling are ways that Y can work on the fine motor skills necessary for writing when he's older.

We included a waiting room area and small pet store in our Vet & Pet Center. A plastic lap desk makes for the perfect exam table or grooming table. Some collected supplies from our actual medicine cabinet (like bandaids, cotton balls and swabs, and disposable gloves are a fun and realistic addition for our veterinarians on staff. Crepe paper rolls are perfect for cutting or tearing bandages. We happened to be out of white, so green it is! The boys were especially fascinated by using our light panel to view the "real" x-rays I printed onto transparency paper from the vet dramatic play set I linked at the top of the post. You can probably find images for free and even regular printer paper is generally thin enough to make a great x-ray--especially if you use the cheaper quality!

Well, I am dog tired after setting this all up! I think it will keep us busy at play here for a while. We will be back later this week with more winter themed story stretcher fun and a great multi-day process art activity that is fun for the whole family! Until then...

Happy Playing!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Winter Story Stretcher: "The Fox and the Falling Leaves" by Julia Rawlinson

Most folks would probably think of Julia Rawlinson's The Fox and the Falling Leaves (also under the title Fletcher and the Falling Leaves) as Fall themed book and, indeed it does whimsically share the tale of a young fox, Fletcher and his fruitless attempts at "saving" his favorite tree from this thing called Autumn that is responsible for causing all of its leaves to fall off. As Fletcher tries again and again to help restore his poor, beloved tree to its leafy Summer self, he is confronted again and again by Autumn's seemingly gravitational pull and some other woodland critters who are of little help. There is a magical Wintry surprise at the end that makes this the perfect book to transition seasons. We chose this book for a star role in our Winter Break Story Stretchers Playcamp on the afternoon before Winter solstice and to celebrate and honor Autumn's departure with a fun STEAM activity to go along with it.

Lest you think that our Story Stretcher times look picture book perfect, there's Y wandering in the background and S trying to hear the story over his singing...

"Tree, tree!" shouted Y, gleefully bringing me the pipe cleaner tree from our activity setup at the table!
We gathered (more or less) on the rug for our story together, and then took to the table for our STEAM Challenge to Build a Winter Tree. This is the perfect activity to combine fine motor skills, art, engineering and creativity as the children got to use cotton ball "snow" and a prepared pipe cleaner tree trunk (I found a great tutorial and the inspiration for this project on the blog Play Trains!) If you have older kids, they can shape and form their own tree trunks and branches from pipe cleaners. Cotton balls have a lovely way of sticking to the pipe cleaners and Y even discovered how to pull them apart and stretch the cotton like drifts of snow. I was quite impressed! S followed suit. The harder challenge is getting loose parts like glass gems, sea glass and mosaic tiles to withstand slipping through the branches to taking the whole tree down! It's a challenge we were up for! As the boys were busy building, designing, constructing and reconstructing, I thought it might be fun to add in some Fletcher to Fox characters, and offered them each a small toy fox from our collection of winter forest animals.

I love using the collection of building prompts from Pocket of Preschool's Winter STEM pack to introduce our activity at the table. It supports the print rich environment I strive for and provides visual inspiration as well. To try this activity at home you will need pipe cleaners (black or brown) for your tree base and cotton balls for snow (alternatively you could use fiber fill or wool batting). Glass gems, mosaic tiles and/or sea glass make a lovely optional addition and the addition of a toy fox or other small toy woodland animals could make for some great small world play and storytelling.

I almost never know what activities will draw the boys in (one or both) and which will sustain their attention and curiosity. This one was a huge winner!  I aim to set up our area in ways that are thought provoking and visually appealing. The formality of wooden bowls added a sense of beauty and reverence to their work area and I think that goes a long way in capturing their interest. I love finding these at secondhand stores. I find them super inexpensively and they are great for storing and organizing art materials, loose parts, small toys, even jewelry and small personal objects. They are also a lovely addition to dramatic and sensory play. Both boys really had a great time with this activity and were quite pleased when I showed them that all of the parts to recreate it are readily available in our Winter STEAM drawers or other easy to access areas in our play space. I think it is especially important when children do take an interest in an activity like this to make it available for recreation and repetition.

With that, we've officially said so long to Autumn and welcomed Winter! And we will be back soon with some more Winter themed Story Stretcher fun. Until then...

Happy Reading and Happy Playing!