Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pesach, Pesach! Play All About It: Frog Prints & Some Little Tips to Keep You Hopping into the Holiday

We're in the final countdown to Pesach here! I'd love to tell you that our house is spic and span and ready to go, but people live in it. And some of those people are children. And one of them decided all on his own to ditch the diapers and give the potty a go this past Shabbos (woohoo!!!) so Pesach prep is a work in process. And speaking of process, here's a great Pesach themed process art activity that is just the right way to have a hopping good time (maybe before you finish cleaning for the holiday).

I think it can be so easy this time of year to make it so hard. As we prepare for a holiday that commemorates our redemption from slavery, we become enslaved to the very tasks that are necessary (and some that are not) to prepare for this holy experience. And in that, sometimes, we lose sight of the joy and the beauty that is our freedom--an exodus that not only our ancestors experienced, but that we experience again and again. This holiday is such a special one for our children. They are invited to our Seder tables and encouraged to ask questions. They are held up not only as leaders of our families on these nights, but as leaders of the Jewish nation. It can be hard to shift our task-driven focus to include the very little hands that will lead us, with G-d's help, to Jerusalem!

And so I find myself taking a breath and regaining that ever important mindset to approach this holiday b'simcha--with joy--and to include my tiny helpers in that preparation as well. Sometimes that means we all need a break to splash in some ooey gooey green paint!

Remember the incredible shades and hues of green paint S concocted in this process art activity? Everything goes to good use here, and I set out a variety of green paints for both boys to use in a tray with a paintbrush (should they choose to use it), some plastic frogs and a few other items for inspiration and creation. Each brother had a piece of light blue card stock and we used aleph bet stickers to spell out "tzfardeah," the plague of frogs in Hebrew. At that point, I let S have at it and gave Y a little help to navigate his painty frog to the paper (and not his mouth). S favored making his frogs hop along the paper and Y liked to drag them across and then use his own "flippers" instead of the frogs'! Both boys had a great time with this activity and it was a hands flippers-on way to jump right into the Pesach story.

With so much to be done and so little time, these final days approaching the holiday can be a little tricky. Every family has their own style and routine that works for them this time of year and here are a few little tips that work for us:

Utilize Your Helpers: S in particular is quite excited and eager to help Mommy and Tatty with anything and everything that needs to be done. These are opportunities to naturally involve kids in household tasks rather than trying to come up with ways to "entertain them" while you try to plow through on your own. Both boys got into cleaning our upstairs to get it ready for Pesach! Rags, squirt bottles, our "toy" cleaning supplies and real ones all got put to use as we worked together.
S was especially excited to hang up a door hanger he made at school and a few we made last year at home that designated the spaces we had cleaned as ready for Pesach!

This was from last year--check out that tiny
newborn Y in the background!
Make It a Shared Task AND a Learning Opportunity: With two little guys on the move here, shared playing areas and toys become a breeding ground for hidden chametz. Some toys do get put away and rotated out until after the holiday. It can be helpful to include children in choosing toys to rotate in and in our house we often raid the stash of yet to be opened Chanukah or birthday gifts in the closet... Nothing like something new to spark the excitement of the upcoming holiday.
Both boys love playing in the the kitchen set, though, and this is a great way to bring some learning into the mix as you prepare. We sort out the toy "chametz" and set up a soapy water sensory bin for a Toy Wash station to prepare any toys that will stay in the area for playing over Pesach.

Bring Them to the Table: Once the holiday finally starts, there is a brief sigh of relief until it's time for the Seder. This time of year, Sederim start late and it can be hard on the children (and the adults) to manage energy levels well past bedtime. In our house, it has worked best in these scenarios to include the children as much as possible at the actual seder and then to have a special "kinderlach seder" (kids' seder) on the second day that is geared toward the shorter set of folks in our house. We go at our own pace, make it playful and fun and really invite those thought provoking questions and observations. On most other nights, we don't allow books and toys at the table, but on this night, you might just see some 10 Makos Finger Puppets, sensory bottles, haggadahs made at home and at school and a variety of child-crafted Pesach props.

I printed off a couple of sets of these adorable finger puppets. One I printed onto card stock and prepared as directed and the other I laminated and applied velcro dots so they could be used with a pair of gloves. Many families enjoy using a version of Bingo or a printable game board to keep track of the parts of the seder as they occur. This year I hope to also set out a small world scene of the Jewish people walking through the Nile in the middle of our table to spark some creative play and discussion during our kids' seder. If you're looking for some more inspiration, check out my previous Pesach posts from years past...

My final tip (to myself) is to breathe and slow down. If a task is urgent, I tend to it--maybe even pop in a fun video for the kids (I still love Bubbie's Boarding House!). If a task is not urgent, it can wait. (Maybe I need a break to watch Bubbie's Boarding House, too!)  I wish all who are celebrating a Chag Kasher v'Sameach and through Pesach and all year round....

Happy Playing!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Pesach, Pesach! Play All About It: Build a Basket for Baby Moshe Science Experiment

Every year, we read the story of Pesach, beginning with the cruel decree by Pharaoh that all Jewish babies be killed and the difficult decision made by baby Moshe's mother to send him via The Nile River to (hopeful) safety. We know that Moshe did indeed arrive to shore safely and was found and rescued by Pharaoh's own daughter. He would be raised in the Egyptian palace and eventually grow to lead the Jewish people out of slavery and into freedom.

I have to be honest here--I get nervous when my boys are in the bathtub, forget about the Nile River! I wonder if Moshe's mother applied some scientific experimentation and critical thinking when she prepared the vessel she would use to float her baby down the Nile? As we play at home about Pesach, I decided to invite the boys to test out the best way to build a basket for "Baby Moshe" in this simple (and low cost) science experiment:

Build a Basket for Baby Moshe Science Experiment

You will need:
  • toy baby dolls (I like the little ones from Dollar Tree for this experiment since it's affordable to provide one for each scientist and the prospect of them getting wet isn't too worrisome at $1 a pop)
  • a selection of buckets, bins, trays and baskets in a variety of materials--invite your scientists to help you gather these and talk about what might make a good flotation device and why
  • water! either in a sensory bin/water table or even the bathtub--you can even take this experiment outdoors if your weather allows for it
  • you might also want to add in some towels, baby/doll blankets, toy bottles and baby doll accessories and talk about things that would help make the baby more comfortable and safer as he travels down the Nile
We started out by gathering our babies, baskets, buckets, bins, bowls, trays and accessories. I set out a vinyl shower curtain on the rug so the boys could work on the floor and had some towels handy as well. We have done sink and float experiments here before, like in this Noah's Ark themed experiment and even explored the mechanics of boats. I always say that great play and learning activities are worth repeating, and this experience reminded me why!

S has done a lot of versions of sink and float science over the years. Y had his first run with it this time (aside from natural exploration of buoyancy in the tub and in water play). Even though S has done this before, his understanding of buoyancy has evolved. He now understands that holes in a basket let water inside and that water inside makes the baby wet and the basket sink! He was quick to problem solve this before selecting a bucket with no holes at all to safely float his Baby Moshe down the Nile! Y had plenty of fun exploring the mechanics of the wicker basket he chose, water, baby and all!

When we were done with the experiment, we wrapped up our slightly soggy babies to dry and added some soap bubbles, a plastic baby doll, some plastic frogs, washrags and brushes into the sensory bin for some baby bath fun. Both boys had a great time splashing around (and simultaneously helping to wash our rug and their clothing). 

Water play is an activity that never gets old here, and as the saying goes, it's only water! We will be back again with a great Pesach themed process art provocation that will incorporate our green paints from this play activity and some amphibious friends...

Until then, Hoppy--I mean,Happy Playing!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Extra, Extra, Read All About It...

Over the past few years, I've gleaned a great deal of inspiration for my classrooms and play at home activities at Fantastic Fun and Learning. This website was created by a classroom kindergarten teacher turned stay at home mom to support educators and parents alike in playfully support early learning experiences. You can learn more about that here. Boy was I tickled (and somewhat star struck) to be asked to join the team of contributing editors! I'm so excited to announce my first article in a series all about loose parts play, "Everything You Need to Know About Loose Parts Play for Kids." This is a great "starter course" in setting up your environment at home or in the classroom to incorporate the use of loose parts. While you're there, check out some of the other great play and learning activities. We'll be back soon with a great Pesach themed science experiment. Until then...

Happy Playing!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pesach, Pesach! Play All About It: Frogs Are Jumping Everywhere Sensory Bin

Frogs here, frogs there, frogs are jumping everywhere! You know you're getting ready for Pesach when parents and teachers kvell over their children playing about plagues and slavery. Many of the topics of this holiday may be a bit dark and intense. Children learn and work through dark and intense emotions through play and in the spirit of keeping things age appropriate and play-based, we love to play about the plague of frogs each year!

This year I set up our sensory bin as a frog pond! It's in our kitchen, which allows the boys to be nearby while we get some of the other things in there ready. Because I included some smaller parts, Y will need some support to play or a version with only larger objects to play more independently. I love to include a piece of art or photography in our sensory play area for inspiration. In our bin itself, I mixed natural objects like rocks, driftwood, tree circles and tree blocks along with man-made materials like plastic toy frogs, artificial flowers and leaves, glass gems and a plastic "grass" mat that was actually intended to be a bottle drying rack but never used for that purpose in this house! I added water, some drops of blue and yellow food coloring and debated whether to pick up S early from school to play or play in it myself! Most of the the materials were purchased at the Dollar Tree or a craft supply store and you can really add as much or little as you'd like to make your own Frog Pond sensory bin. I'm hopping--I mean, hoping, that this will be a big hit as we get ready for Pesach here. You might just see these frogs again next time in a process art activity....

Until then, Hoppy Playing!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Pesach, Pesach! Play All About It: Matzah Bakery

Pesach is coming! This is one of the busiest times of year for grown ups, whether it's at home or in the classroom. At home, the adults are busy cleaning, organizing, making lists, shopping and preparing for the holiday. At school, teachers are drowning in a Nile River of projects that are often heavy on adult-hands even as they are created by the children. There is so much to do to get ready for Pesach that it is easy to forget one of the greatest purposes of this holiday: the children! This is a holiday that commands us to invite our children to the table well past their bedtime and encourages that three letter word we often tire of hearing by 4PM: "Why?" 

Last year at this time, I was pretty busy adding a brother to our family, so much of our home activities were set up to be simple, play based and child led. You can revisit those here! Even as a play at home Mommy who loves to plan and organize, I truly was able to embrace the simplicity of S experiencing the holiday through open ended exploration more than the typical structured approach I adopted throughout our homeschool experience. And this year, I am embracing that again! He is busy at school with projects, games, songs, learning and play. I am immensely grateful to his teachers and aware of the amount of work they are putting in this time of year, too! I'm pretty sure that employees at Dollar Trees around the nation wonder what we are all doing with cart loads of plastic disposable wine cups, serving plates, toy frogs, baby dolls and Easter baskets this time of year...

Whether you're looking for something to round out your home experience as Pesach draws near or something to enrich your classroom theme, these next few posts are for you! We'll start off with a playful way to use up the last bit of flour in your cupboard...

We've been exploring fairy tales here and this week we checked out a few versions of "The Little Red Hen" from our library. We also read a Pesach version of this book, The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah  by Leslie Kimmelman. We invited some toy animals to join us in the story telling and then proceeded to test our hands at baking our own matzah!

Since matzah used during Pesach must follow very strict guidelines and use only kosher for Pesach ingredients, we used this activity as an opportunity to experiment with the process and ate the goods before Pesach. I made sure to explain that to S in particular who would likely have expected this to be the matzah served at our seder!

Ingredients and Tools:
2 parts flour to one part water--we used about 2 cups of spelt flour and about a cup of water
a mixing bowl
a mixing spoon
measuring cups
a rolling pin
a baking sheet

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour your flour into a mixing bowl and make a hole in the center (your little bakers can do this!). Now, start a timer for 18 minutes--this is to show your little bakers how the process of baking matzah must be complete in 18 minutes. We love our visual timer for this and I also explained that it's only to show how quickly this happens in a real matzah bakery so that no one would feel nervous about it. Slowly pour the water into the depression (little ones can help with this, too) and mix until a dough is formed. Split your dough into balls for each baker (we did two) and roll it flat. Poke holes in the dough with a fork. Next you're ready to place it on an ungreased cookie sheet (we lined ours with foil) and bake for about 3-4 minutes or until lightly golden on the edges. (Ours took a little longer as it was thicker--thinner matzahs will cook faster).





Not quite poking...

In an ironic twist, my pickier eater loved the matzah and my equal opportunity chow hound did not! It was really neat to see and experience the process hands-on in real life.
"Yummy! I love this matzah!"

"No no no no no!"

We'll be back next week with a fun Pesach themed sensory bin... Until then, happy playing!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

It IS Easy Being Green: An Invitation to Explore Shades and Hues

Have you ever met a kid who doesn't LOVE to mix colors? Neither have I! I'm certain there is a special tone of brown reserved just for describing what happens when children have more than one color of playdough at their disposal. For those of us who might be a bit more prone to orderliness, painting, sculpting, watercolors and even coloring with young children can be a bit overwhelming. And yet, there is something so pleasurable about watching colors mix. That feeling I get in the morning when I see milk clouds in my coffee probably stems from early experiences with finger painting at the easel. There are more "traditional" methods of teaching about colors in our environment, but when it comes to exploring secondary colors and shades and hues of colors, a hands-on approach is invaluable. 

In every class I have ever taught, there is always that one kid who colors EVERYTHING black. What is the fascination with black? Fast forward to my own preschool aged son, and S is fascinated by black. It's dark, ominous, powerful. It can make things magically disappear in one fell swoop of a paintbrush. There are educators who remove black markers, crayons and paint from the setting altogether, but I prefer not only to give access, but to encourage the process of exploration. Shades of colors are created when black is added to a primary or secondary color and it darkens. Hues occur when white is added, and the color lightens. In this simple Invitation to Explore Shades and Hues, both my boys got to experience hands-on how shades and hues of green are formed.

We chose green since [this week] it is S's favorite color. I filled a plastic condiment bottle with green paint and provided two recycled baby food jars with black and white paint. I set out some paper and brushes, a container with water for rinsing and a rag for drying or wiping up splatters and spills. I also set out an old ice cube tray with a lid that we bought for freezing and storing homemade purees when S was a baby (boy was I a first time mom!) and a couple of plastic spoons for scooping paint out of the jars. There are a variety of ways you could set up this activity, but I love the unique fine-motor opportunities of squeezing the condiment bottle and scooping/transferring paint from the jars. I also added in some laminated paint samples that can visually demonstrate shades and hues of green. These are available for free at hardware supply stores and even Walmart and can be used in so many play and learning activities!
The only "directions" I verbalized were that we would be exploring how shades and hues are formed. I explained what they are and that the ice cube tray was where we would be able to mix and store our colors.

Y was ready to go, paint brush in hand. For him, I put a small scoop of white and black
paint on either side of a blob of green.  

Little ones will likely love the feeling of squeezing, squirting and scooping paint. Remember that this is part of the process, too! Paintbrushes and paper are really just the icing on the cake--this is the essence of process art! Using containers with lids that can be closed and stored allows this to be an experience you can return to without wasting supplies.

Hands-on fun and learning!
This is such a sweet and simple way to say yes to mixing colors! We now have a Crayola crayon box worthy palette of shades and hues of green paint to use and surely it will keep us busy painting for some time to come...

Happy Playing!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Fairy Tale, Fairy Tale, Play All About It!

With the holiday of Purim, now just behind us, came an influx of story telling, dressing up and dramatic play. We even dressed up to act out the story at home in a makeshift play castle so we could create our own photo megillah! So many of the stories we teach from the Torah feature common themes that children grapple with through play: strong emotions, characters acting heroically, characters acting villainous, crisis resolution and personal conflict. One could certainly argue that there is a level of extreme maturity and sometimes even darkness associated with this. The same could be stated about fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Many times as parents and educators, we wonder about how (and if) to expose young children to such things. Do we "water down" stories from the Torah? Do we shield children from classic fairy tales, poetry and literature? While I am not here to tell you the "right" way to go about it, I am a big believer in the power of child's play to work through strong emotions and fears and I do believe that literacy is a safe space to grapple with those as well. An article by Matt de la Pena in Time Magazine recently touched upon "Why We Shouldn't Shield Children From Darkness," and an older article from Psychology Today discusses "the Importance of Fairy Tales" in early childhood.

What I can say for sure is that S spent plenty of time over the past weeks intermittently playing the role of a king and Haman from the Purim story, repeatedly demanding that we bow down to him or he will send us away! Story telling and play acting are great ways for children to safely try on costumes and personality attributes they may not typically display! After Purim, I did a toy rotation in our play area and set out a basket of miniature flocked bears, dollhouse furniture and a wooden barn house. S's play took off! He even asked us to bring in some bigger toy bears so Y could play. And as we played, I began to think about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. On the spot, I did some impromptu storytelling and from there, S became fascinated with playing out the fairy tale.

We headed to the library yesterday in the afternoon to check out a variety of versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Combined with a selection of toys to act out the story, a playful porridge sensory bin and a selection of themed songs and poems, we are set up to play about this classic tale. In playing about fairy tales, I focus more on storytelling and child-led play than in reading and structured activities as I do with my children's literature based story stretchers. Even though I am less directly involved, I recognize the learning that is also occurring through play about fairy tales, this one in particular! For sure, the story addresses social concepts of asking permission before touching others' belongings and respectfully handling those materials. It also gives over spacial and size concepts (as in GREAT, BIG, HUGE, middle-sized and teeny tiny). Literary concepts like sequencing and rich vocabulary opportunities also arise in this story.

Another benefit to playing about fairy tales is the opportunity to expose children to a vast collection of literature based upon the same story. While the main components of the story are the same in each book, every author and illustrator has their own spin on language, art and cultural aspects of the story. I even printed and laminated some paintings of scenes from the story that I found particularly lovely. Infusing a child's play space with art can give a sense of beauty and value to the area. And while we can directly expose children to art in structured activities and lessons, there is an appreciation for it that I believe is better developed through exposure and their own personal experience with it. I am mindful to strategically place artwork (both prints and their own) in areas where my children can easily see it and where it might inspire and spark their play.

I love supplementing our storytelling with themed songs and action rhymes. Music is a helpful memory booster and greatly supports children in recalling the sequence and events of stories. There is a great collection of fairy tale themed songs and rhymes available at Fairydust Teaching and on Pinterest as well. My two little guys are totally in love with this one:

Three Brown Bears
t.t.t.o.: Three Blind Mice

Three brown bears, three brown bears
See all their beds, see all their chairs
The mommy cooked in a big brown pot,
The daddy's porridge was much too hot
The baby bear always cried a lot
Three brown bears, three brown bears.

S is a big fan of reading books during breakfast or dinner and sometimes this is possible (we read a couple of great versions of the story this morning at breakfast), while other times it is too difficult to manage feeding Y and holding a book at the same time! Laminated songs to the rescue! Singing through some of our favorite Three Bears Themed songs and rhymes kept everyone occupied and engaged through dinnertime last night and I was even able to successfully wipe the mashed sweet potatoes off of the laminated pages that Y helped "decorate."

One of the most beloved play-along activities with this theme is our Bears' Porridge Sensory Bin, a taste-safe sensory bin that both S and Y can use with dried oats, cinnamon sticks and a collection of story appropriate dishes to go with it! We use these dried oats and cinnamon sticks especially just for sensory play and are careful to make sure hands are clean and dry before digging in so that they can be reused as long as possible.

Because fairy tales are stories we commonly tell again and again, they also inspire play themes to occur again and again. Children then have the opportunity to expand upon their play and therefore their learning as well. We are having a lot of fun playing all about The Three Bears here and I am already eager to introduce more fairy tale inspired play in the future. 

Three bears in three chairs

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, three days old!

Until then....happy playing!