Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Counting Cupcakes Sensory Bin

This Counting Cupcakes Sensory Bin is super simple to set up and so much fun! We're in a stage where both of my boys love and benefit from activities in our sensory table. Sensory play is certainly a common catchphrase around classrooms and homes. Pinterest, Instagram and blogs are full of ideas and there's a whole market for materials related to sensory play. But what exactly are children gaining from playing in a basin full of dried beans, sand or water? Isn't it just playing? Not to mention the mess! I'm here to cheer you on and encourage you to take a deep breath. Grab a cheap dustpan and brush from your dollar store, maybe a plastic shower curtain, too, to catch the spills. And while there is a whole industry to target folks looking for sensory bin fillers, props, tools and trinkets, you don't need to break the bank. You can use (and re-use) inexpensive materials, many of which you have in the pantry or can access inexpensively from dollar stores, the grocery store or even secondhand. Unless something gets irreparably damaged in play or we all have horrendous runny noses, we store and save our fillers for future use. It's a good idea either way to wash hands before and after sensory play.

What skills are children developing through play at the sensory table? As a teacher and a parent, I'm of the mindset that sensory play targets a huge range of skills, especially when you are creative in your setup. Particularly for children who may struggle in certain developmental areas, the sensory table is a safe and confined space to explore and expand skills that are challenging in a more traditional setting.
  • Fine motor development is targeted through scooping, pouring, pinching with tongs or tweezers, transferring, manipulating more viscous substances (like slime, dough, ooblek, kinetic sand, etc.). Sensory bins are a great place for scissor practice as well when children cut their own crepe paper, ribbon, yarn, paper, etc. Provide scrap paper and hole punches for children to create their own confetti filler. For children too young to cut with scissors, tearing tissue paper or crepe paper is another great way to target those tiny muscles.
  • Literacy skills are targeted through the use of novel vocabulary. Talk about textures, colors, scents, what you are doing, planning, creating... You can add letter manipulatives and written words and labels to create a print rich environment or base a sensory table on children's literature to extend a lesson through play.
  • Social skills like engaging in conversations, problem solving (navigating sharing materials, space and ideas) are targeted especially when children work in pairs. In my classrooms, the sensory table was a place where children who may not typically play together did have an opportunity to do so. Sometimes this was strategic on my part (as in, I chose pairs and the desire to play in our sensory bin outweighed the desire to only play with certain students). Friendships developed in this space that might not have happened on the playground or in other areas.
  • Problem solving skills and other executive functioning skills are called into play when children tinker, build, rearrange and otherwise navigate materials in the sensory bin.
  • Symbolic play and abstract play skills that children struggle with or resist in a dramatic play setting are often more appealing (and less threatening) in the confines of a sensory bin when small world play is introduced through the addition of toy animals, people and other props. Children who do not naturally engage in role playing and character/story development through traditional dramatic play often feel more comfortable to do so in this setting.
  • Math concepts like sequencing, measurement, sorting/categorizing, shape and numeral recognition, one-to-one correspondence and even early operations and fractions can be introduced through sensory play.
  • Science is in action as children manipulate and observe materials found in nature or chemical reactions and states of matter of various concocted sensory bin fillers.
  • STEM skills are targeted with opportunities to build, construct, design, transport and otherwise manipulate a variety of materials and loose parts.

Lately, S has been very engaged in play about cupcakes and baking. He uses pom poms, toy dishes and recycled containers on a daily basis to set up shop and sell his wares. He is always making sweet treats with play dough and clay (in fact, we've been working on a batch of Model Magic cookies to be used in our kitchen set). Such was the inspiration for our latest sensory bin. S is also making huge strides in his math skills both at school and at home. As it is something that interests him, I incorporate it into our play. Nonetheless, even if you have a reluctant mathematician at home, sensory play is a great way to sneak it in! Y just LOVES playing at the sensory table. He often spends even more time playing there than S! He loves practicing scooping, pouring and transferring and, um, cleaning up spills... He isn't quite to the point of counting candles or numeral recognition, but he will surely have a great time playing and exposure through play is the path to success down the road.

Here's what you'll need to set up your own Counting Cupcakes Sensory Bin:

  • Rainbow Dyed Rice for filler. We reused the batch I had from our UnBirthday Party theme last spring, so it has some birthday confetti mixed in.
  • Vanilla extract (optional) for scent
  • Plastic cups and scoops (both from Dollar Tree). You can also use silicone cupcake liners and recycle scoops from protein powder or other drink mixes.
  • Birthday candles
  • Number magnets or candles
  • A number line (optional) to support early mathematicians who do not yet recognize numerals
Children can use scoops to fill their cupcake cups, choose a number or number candle and then stick in the corresponding number of birthday candles.

Variations on the theme:

  • Provide a second set of magnetic numerals and an addition symbol and equal sign. Children can set up and solve their own addition problem by adding two cupcakes together.
  • Add some dice or a spinner into the mix and have children roll/spin to choose their number.
  • Younger children (like Y) can play and explore by scooping, pouring, transferring and sticking candles into the rice.
Looking for more sensory bin ideas? Check out our extensive collection of related posts here and stay tuned for more ideas in the future! Until then...

Happy Playing!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Creative Self Portraits with Kids

 Doing long term self portrait art with young children is a great way to incorporate a variety of developmental skills while creating a special keepsake that will undoubtedly make you both smile down the line! As a classroom teacher, I always did at least two or three self-portraits with my students each year, and some years we did self portraits as a monthly morning work activity (often coinciding with Rosh Chodesh (the new Jewish month) to add a sense of ceremony to the activity.
Some children loved doing self portraits. Others did not. In fact, some of those children would rush through the activity altogether. I realized this happened for a variety of reasons. Some children did not particularly enjoy coloring in general or struggled with representational drawing or fine motor skills, making the activity challenging. Some children didn't feel connected to the activity of drawing themselves and most did not feel particularly encouraged by the idea of a keepsake they would not take home until the end of the school year. For young children who live very much in the moment, the idea of "looking back on your work and how you've grown" in seven months just isn't that compelling! Nonetheless, I never abandoned the project. Creating self portraits in the early years targets and tracks a variety of developmental skills. Fine motor strength comes into play along with spacial awareness as children develop from the scribble stage to drawing lines, squiggles, simple shapes, representational shapes and eventually body parts and bodies. Early on, the activity may be just some scribbles on a page. Children develop into their ability to recognize that a body has parts and later, to where to those parts are placed proportionally and how they can utilize art to represent their own bodies on paper. So rather than abandon ship with the activity, I got creative. I continue to toy and tinker with self portrait art as I incorporate it into our home routine. If you're looking to integrate a long term self portrait study into your own classroom or home, here are a few of my own tried and true tips of the trade:

  • Format Matters: When doing a long term project or study, I prefer to use a medium that lends itself to long term use. Using paper or printouts on their own is fine and this can be bound down the line. Nonetheless, using a notebook, blank book, journal or even a homemade journal can be a great way to provide a permanent format for your long term project. 
    • I introduce journals to my own children as soon as they are able to use a crayon or marker, glue, stickers, etc. This is certainly a young stage in journaling and using journals with a toddler will look different than using them with a preschooler/pre-writer and even different than an early writer/independent writer. Journals in my home and classrooms are always accessible and available to children to use as they like and at certain times, I provide a prompt or guided activity. 
  • Display completed portraits done on individual paper in a frame if you do happen to go with a loose-leaf version. You can even set it alongside a current photo and swap them both out when you add your next installment.
  • Provide Mirrors: Drawing from memory is not only challenging, it is a very abstract concept for young artists. For my students who did not connect to the idea of drawing a self-portrait, some particularly struggled with the concept of drawing themselves as they currently appear. I would provide verbal prompts to encourage them to think about what they are wearing, what colors they have on their clothes and body parts, what shapes and where things are spatially. Nonetheless, a real game changer happened on the morning I first set out a class set of mirrors with our activity. All of a sudden, my most reluctant artists were enthralled! What child doesn't love to look at himself in a mirror and make silly faces? And I even allowed for silly face self portraits! Individual mirrors can be purchased quite inexpensively even at the Dollar Tree. As with anything fragile, be careful to support children in safe handling.
  • Make it Special:  For children who do not feel connected to long term projects (and most do not--it's hard to wait!), adding some unique elements to your setting can give it more meaning. Perhaps you reserve a special set of crayons or markers just for self portraits. Perhaps you coincide the activity with the new month or an upcoming holiday/milestone. You can even add a holiday/birthday theme to your self portraits if you wish.
  • Templates are a great option for children who may be overwhelmed by a blank page. A simple Pinterest or clip art search will provide you a variety of printable options for head or full body templates.
  • Size, Dimension and Medium can also change up your game a bit. Consider working in a smaller format (think blank index card or paper doll cut from card stock). Or perhaps think BIG and trace a full body onto butcher or craft paper. For children who are not as drawn to drawing in two dimensional form, consider abandoning paper and crayon altogether. Use cardboard, fabric, clay, or sew a mini-me doll. Work in collage, with paint, tape, stickers, foam, felt, etc. Draw or paint self portraits onto wood blocks or wooden peg people to use in your block area or with a dollhouse. One of our favorite methods so far has been using dry erase markers directly on mirrors to draw temporary self portraits.

  •  Join 'em! Why not join your students or children in the activity as well and create your own self portrait? You can even partner up and take a turn drawing each other!
Whether they are smitten with the idea of self portraits or slower to warm up to the activity, children love to look back at their artwork from "way back when..." We will certainly be continuing our creative self portraits at home and until then...

Happy Playing!