Monday, February 10, 2014

Love Bug Bands

 This is a simple Valentine's Day activity that I've had success with both in a classroom of first grades at at home. I'm sure the age spectrum is even greater, but it certainly has been liked by the kids I have tried it with ranging from 2 -8 years old. I will be doing this in my preschool class as well as my son's class party at school. The fun thing is that it can really be for any holiday if you have the right stickers. I first saw this in Family Fun Magazine.
 You'll need the above supplies. I used conversation heart foam stickers, strips of construction paper, and cut my pipe cleaners in half.
 The first part is decorating the hand band portion with stickers. One thing I like about the foam stickers is the added work of peeling the paper off the back.
 Between that and just placing the stickers, there is lots of good exercise for those little fingers.
 Once the band is complete it's time to work on the antennae.
 Each pip cleaner is going to be the middle of a sticker sandwich. Symmetrical stickers are best for this part.
 Even when they are symmetrical, sometimes they aren't aligned just so, which is obviously fine.
 I found that taping the pipe cleaner on the headband worked better than staples.
 We saved the stapling for putting the band together (first measure on the child's head).
And a little love bug is made!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Paper Strip Tree

 This post is a project we did last year around Christmas time. It's great for any age. My kids ranged between 2.5 and almost 7.
 When I saw this idea on Whatever... I thought it would be a great way to use a lot of Christmas scrap paper I had left over from another project.
Supplies - lots of patterned green paper, scissors, glue stick, and if you want to save some time, a paper cutter.
I cut out the paper in various widths. I cut those strips into various lengths (something a child could also very easily do). Once we had a pile ready to go, I let everyone chose a background paper.
From there is is just gluing. It might be helpful to lay out the tree before gluing, but winging it is sometimes more fun. Either way will obviously work.
It's meant to go from longest strip at the bottom to shortest strip at the top to look like an evergreen.
We are not picky about that and figure the kiddos should just do what they can. Just gluing down the strips is good work for those cute little hands.
And my little artist had a tree set up to glue, but changed his mind and decided to make his into a shark instead. The point is to create and that he did!
The three individual creations side by side.
I still have papers left over, so maybe this year we will make a wreath like this one featured on Mer Mag

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ghost Party

 So, last year my son who was turning 5 at the time asked me if he could have a ghost themed birthday party months before his birthday. Being the kind of mom I am I said - uh, sure - despite his birthday being around a time more suited for Valentine's or Mardi Gras. So, since it is seasonally appropriate now, I thought I'd share in case you need some Halloween party ideas (or even preschool ideas)!
Here in this photo are the goodie boxes, foam cups for games and bean bags for games and also for take home.
 My son wanted a dark room with glow sticks in the balloons to make it spooky. This doesn't really work at 10 am, so we compromised with ghosts hanging out in a crepe paper mist.
 Our first games involved our bean bags. The original was drawn by my son and i did my best to copy it on felt. Of course I did this the night before the party, because that is what all sane moms, do. :)
 Sorry for the mega blur and creepy faces in the next bunch of pictures. I don't want to post pictures of other people's kids' faces. Our first game was a simple basketball time. Toss the bean bag into a basket - hooray if you get it, try again once if you don't and everyone gets a few chances.
 I laughed at myself for this one since my house is so tiny. We tried the game where you slowly move further apart and see if you can still toss your bean bag to your partner and have then catch it. Not too hard when you max out at like 2 feet away from each other.
 This was a bean bag pass game. When the music stopped the person holding the ghost was out.
 Bowling with the Styrofoam ghost cups.
 I wish I had a picture of the final project. It is very basic. Each kid drew a face on a plain white paper plate. When finished we attached a few strips of white crepe paper at the bottom to make a ghost. One girl loved making them so much she made extras to take home to her siblings.
 Spooky version of duck, duck, goose for us was ghost, ghost, boo!
And for the trip home, goodie boxes with dipped pretzels in a bag with ghost eyes and mouth, plus a elementary school time favorite of mine - a Dum Dum covered in a kleenex like a ghost.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Words From a Rookie

I'm pretty sure I should be bringing my camera to the classroom every day. Despite today not being my best flowing day, there were a lot of fun things we did that should have been documented. I'm going to compile each theme for you as I go. Truthfully, it's not really for you, so much as it is for me to note for next year.
 For now though, a few things I have learned so far as a rookie teacher.
  • The preschool owner told me not to plan too far ahead at first because I would need to know the class and cater to them. Very sound advice. My kids have sort of short attention spans for most of our centers activities, but can sit there for a long circle time. Granted there are a few that don't do as well sitting there period, but overall as a group they really dig that time all together. So, when I plan now, I try to make circle time very full of different activities and songs and engage with them there as we learn about the theme. (Not that I wouldn't try to engage with them if they could only sit for 5 minutes.) For centers I've figured they really like to be in a group still. I try to mainly plan group things and less independent work, though I am working on that.
  • You are going to look like an idiot. You are going to mess up words to finger-plays and songs. You are going to forget where you just put something down a second ago. You will accidentally skip that whole part about teaching them how to hold scissors or about much glue to use. It's ok. The kids don't care. They just love that you love them. (Incidentally, more sound advice the owner gave me when I was still feeling terrified.) They don't care that your tune for a song is wrong or if you are way off key. The parent helpers may notice, but, hey, you are there for their kids, not to perform for them.
  • Don't be afraid. I'm sort of laughing that I am writing this because I was a serious wreck for weeks before my first day. I ran a marathon for the first time the following week and that was way less stressful! I believe that people really can do most of the things that they think they can't do. It just take a little belief in yourself and baby steps.
  • It may be too soon to know how effective what I am doing is, but I am slowing adding things to circle time, specifically calendar time. We've done a days of the week song and now have added a months of the year and a today, tomorrow, yesterday song. They are getting better at the songs the more we sing them, though I still feel like I'm solo on stage. That is one thing that makes teaching only twice a week hard. There are themed songs that we really only sing once and the kids never really get the chance to learn them. I mean, it's not like we're going to try singing about the falling leaves in January. It might work where you are, but we have 4 seasons.
  • I'm also unsure just how awesome this is for them, but based on instinct and what I can remember from school eons ago, but I'm trying to mix up story telling. I will do a finger-play one day and chant/song with movement another. Everyday I read at least one good old fashioned book. I'm not a natural at story telling and need to work more on memorizing the stories I'm not reading from a book. That way when I bust out the flannel board I can focus on being a lot more fun instead of worrying about singing or saying the wrong words.
  • Prepared to be surprised about what holds their interest. Playing with shaving cream was nearly a bust, but they went gaga over Bingo. It may have been the biggest hit yet (well, outside of play dough and the sensory bin.) I would have never guessed that a simple matching game would win out over making a mess.
  • And to bring us back to where we started, document what you do. Keep files on what you do for each theme or center. Be as detailed as you figure you need to be so that when next year rolls around, "future you" will thank "present you" for doing so much prep work. Note what worked, what you might change, or something new to try out next time. I do this for recipes and let me tell you, "future me" loves to know when less oil is better and when some added green peppers instead of cucumbers would enhance the meal.
  • Do what works for you. For instance, I have been working on master lists for songs. I know there are a lot premade lists that exist online, but I need a list of ones that I would actually enjoy singing with the kids. Ones that flow out easily and naturally as we perform the actions together or tap out the beat are going to be more fun for the kids because they can see that I think it is fun. This goes for all different aspects. If you love art, they will sense your enthusiasm as assist them in creating their own masterpieces. If you think science is the greatest thing on earth, they will happily explore and learn with you. It should go without saying, but you will have to to things you don't love too and the kids might not love what you do. Find a way to mix what works for you with those things you don't love as much and it will be a win-win for all. I love organizing things in a way that makes sense to me, even if it is not how it's "always been done." Using what you know about yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses to help you as you plan. Which brings me to...
  • There is always a better way. This might sound discouraging, but it's meant to be the opposite. Someone will always have a cuter idea. They will have a more exciting way to present an idea. Don't compare yourself to them. It's hard not to, but just like you are teaching your preschoolers, you are special and there are things that only you can bring to the classroom.
Hopefully that doesn't read as a bunch of incoherent rambling nonsense to you. I'd like to be helpful to people who might be in the same shoes I was just a few short weeks ago. I am loving what I am doing. It has been way too long I've been able to say that about a job. I'm lucky to have such a fabulous class. And let me admit this too, since I want to be real. I feel a bit like a faker writing this because I am still so new. Teaching young children is something that I think I have always naturally gravitated to, so some of it is not something I learned in a college classroom or even by having my own kids. I am far from a pro and am learning every day.
So, good luck to you on your new journey. And if this is a road well traveled for you what advice would you give?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Diving into Preschool

I would love to say that this is a "how to" post about ways to run your own preschool or doing lessons plans. It isn't. One of our most popular posts put together by my sister Rachel has a lot of ideas for an at home variety of preschool. You can read it HERE. I actually just started a job last week working at a preschool. Having only done co-op preschool with other moms my first day was a bit terrifying. It  was a huge learning experience too. During my college, and even high school, days I observed several different preschools. I have volunteered regularly in the kindergarten classroom for 2 years and 1st grade for one. I have my own kids and work with kids at church. My bachelors degree is in human development. Despite all this useful stuff, knowing about and doing are definitely not the same.
As I am learning and becoming a legit preschool teacher, I hope to share tidbits along the way. You know how I blog though...sporadically.
As I sort though countless books, blogs and CDs and fill my "just for preschool" Pinterest board, I hope to gain useful knowledge for both myself and maybe you too. So, welcome to my journey. I think this will supplement and not detract from what we already have going on here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Squishy Water Bombs

Just because school is starting soon (or maybe you've started already!) doesn't mean the warm weather fun must end. While you are picking up your back to school supplies, make sure to stop in the cleaning aisle to get a package or two of sponges so you can make some squishy water bombs.
I bought 3 4-packs of basic cleaning sponges. You'll need some zip ties and scissors too.
Cut lengthwise into 3 strips.
Stack 'em. Zip 'em. Cut 'em.
I only did 2 layers for mine, but you can use 3 for a fuller ball.
This is a fun one for kids to help make too, not just to play with.
So easy! 
 So fun!
Inspired by this post.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Road Trip Tips

I meant to get this up before summer really began, but here we are now - half way done.  There are such good ideas all over the internet on how to make a road trip easier on everyone with kids. We took a trip last year that wasn't just a road trip in the sense of get from A to B, but more like a let's go drive all these scenic roads type. We spent a lot of time in the van. My kids are pretty good travelers, so what worked for us might not work for you. I'm not anti-movies in the van, but I did limit them big time, more on that later in the post. Where to begin though? Food. I love to eat, so let's start with snack stuff.
 At the time we took this trip we only had 3 kids and used only the middle seat in the van. This enabled us to fill the back seat with our stuff and use the very back as a refill/storage station. The photo is pretty self explanatory. When on trips we try to not eat out except for dinner, and not always for that either. We stay at places that have some sort of breakfast and have lunch supplies to either make sandwiches in the morning or later on the go. The cooler was full of carrots, green and red pepper strips, grapes and things like that to use both with lunch and as snacks. We'd also put drinks in there so there was always one cooling while we had one. The kids mostly drank juice boxes (and I prefer to get the real juice when I can, not just Kool-aid), but also bottled water. When the water supply ran low, we'd refill the bottles in the room that night. Let's see - baby or no baby, wipes are so handy to have for cleaning up. Extra sandwich bags for left overs and bigger bags for garbage are handy. We forgot to pack some laundry soap kits at home, so we got the smallest box we could find at the grocery store at one of our stops. This way you can do laundry in the hotel for a little less (they usually charge a rip off price for a 1 load box of detergent) - or, of you really have to - in the tub. The snack refills were snack sized bags I'd prepped before we left so I could just switch them to the front when we ran out. So, moving on to the front.
I aimed for healthier snacks that would keep them fuller. So, in that regard we have fruit leather (buy in bulk at Costco to save $$), PB crackers (ok, not super healthy, but PB has protein to keep those tummies happy for awhile), raisins (a mix of golden and regular - and really any dried fruit is great), and trail mix. The more fun not so great for them stuff was a mix of like 4 different sugared cereals and then a pretzel goldfish cracker mix. And we did have some full on candy too, because a trip without Red Vines is just plain wrong! So, this basket sat up in front on the floor by the console between the driver and passenger seats.
Moving back now. Right behind the console was a small cooler. In here were the active refrigerated snacks - like fruits and vegetables. That would also get refilled as needed. And then behind that was the bag of fun.
I would control how slowly these things came out. Sometimes the anticipation of knowing there were things in there that they wanted but had to wait until the next day for made them even more fun.
I bought a book of mazes and ripped out all the pages so they could be put in plastic sheets. The kids would do them with dry erase markers and then flip it over for another. Once those were done, they could erase and start all over with another set of mazes within the plastic page protector. I used a few of those so more than one kid could do mazes at once.
 Magnetic fun! The pipe cleaner bottle I made was not as awesome as I hoped, but they still played with it. (Idea from here)
No matter how old my kids are, they have always loved these Mangadoodles (well the generic cheap ones).
I remember loving these as a kid, Wooly Willy, anyway. I think these frustrated me kids some, but they still happily took turns using each of them.
I got these Colorform paper dolls at a thrift store. They are a great travel toy and keep small ones entertained in the car or even just waiting for the doctor, etc.
I made 2 I-spy rice bottles. There was no list to look off of. I just wanted them to try and find whatever they could. I filled them with rice, some odd and ends and things I have bought over the years for such a project. I used a glue gun to seal the top closed.
These were all new items (purchased from the dollar section of Target). We actually never even got to all of these during our trip. I tried to limit how many new things I got out each day.
Books are such an obvious choice, aren't they? I think they are great for them to look at in the car, but also to have some to read to them in the hotel room, or even as you drive.
Ever wonder what to do with all those kids meal toys? Well besides filling a shoebox full and giving it away as a white elephant gift (I did that, totally awesome), put them in a bag for trips. By having a random mix of these small toys, your kids will be able to create all kinds of imaginative play and funny stories with the objects.
Pipe cleaners. Chenille stems. Fuzzy sticks. Whatever you call them, they should be a standard "go to" source of entertainment for kids. We use them all the time.
Years ago we took our 2 boys on a road trip that went from Pittsburgh though Ohio, down to Atlanta and back up to North Carolina. It was a 2 week long trip and still remains one of my favorites. Anyway, The kids were 2.5 and 3.5 at the time. All that we brought to entertain on the plane, in the car and in the room were 10 pipe cleaners, like 20 pony beads, a couple of straws cut up, 10 mini plastic animals, a bag of crayons, pad of paper, half a dozen books and some stickers. (Now it sounds like a lot typing it out, but it took up virtually no space, so it really didn't seem like much). Anyway, the kids got so much use out of it all, especially the pipe cleaners. They made bracelet then undid them to just make patterns with the beads and so on.
  They are bigger now and last summer during our road trip through Idaho they used a few more pipe cleaners and expanded their play to include "locking" themselves up and using them as bottle holders. If this isn't proof enough of how awesome pipe cleaner play is, go back and check out Natalie's post where they make animals from them!
This isn't the greatest duo of pictures, but you'll get the point. The ever-fun lacing cards (see the pig hiding there?) can go beyond what they are made for. My boys love using the laces to tie things up and weave them around other toys (or themselves).
Another simple plaything is a mini felt board glued to half a manilla folder stapled shut.
By using the folder you have a little hiding place for the pieces. You can be way fancier, but I just went with basic shapes. Another thing I remember having as a kid was a piece of felt glue to the top on a pencil box with the pieces hidden inside. They can just make their own scenes or if you have more than one, they can play a game where they recreate what the other has made (even if the colors don't match).
Another item that I had hidden away for the kids was aluminum foil. You might remember Natalie's post on how they used it on a road trip. My kids opted to play a game with it. It was my daughter's 2nd birthday (such a fun way to celebrate- a car ride, right? I promise we did something fun - cake and presents at a park!) and the kids kept hiding different object in foil and took turns opening them. They were so entertained. Seriously, what's more hilarious than a carrot wrapped in a foil ball given as a gift?!
Not the best picture, but still gets the point across. Books are great in the car. Some kids get motion sickness and might not be able to read/look at books very long. We have them stop and just start out the window until they feel better. And if they don't? Well, a brown paper bag (like lunch bag sized) lined with a plastic grocery bag makes for a great barf bag. (Better yet, pull over for that business if you can! Lucky for us we deciphered "my mouth feels weird" as a warning sign.)
Another item you might want to get (or make!) is a neck pillow. She is totally fake sleeping.
I mainly used the tutorials on Muddle Puddles & Daisies (for the general shape) and sizing help from 
Hiragana Mama for sizing help
The kids mainly used them just for fun as we were driving and not really for sleeping. I forgot we weren't really going to be driving much after dark so that rendered them a bit useless for this particular trip.
That same scenario is why we didn't use the glow sticks and glow-in-the-dark animals. However, I'm glad that I have them for another time.
I made kits for teach kid to go in the back seat pocket. The pencil bags for the boys had colored pencils and for my then 2 year old had crayons. they boys each brought an big activity book and we got something similar for my daughter. Then I made mini books that were several piece of paper folded in half and either stapled or sewn together. The final part of their kits were 3 pronged folders filled with activity pages (**see below for sources).
Before I jump into the boys' here my daughter's. I just put some extra copies of the pages I game the boys and also printed a few coloring pages. I knew she would just want to have her own folder like her bros, but wouldn't be able to do some (most of) the activities. She was happy to just color whatever she got.
We used the hundred charts to tally certain things. For instance, you could say - ok, I'm going to find 100 cows or yellow cars or water towers. I gave them a couple of sheets in case they filled one. These were loose in the front pocket of the folder.
The kids shared dry erase markers for the mazes and a few other activities like this. It's a variation of the alphabet game, pretty self-explanatory.
Next up were some bingo/I-spy/scavenger hunt sheets.
Counting cows.
More I-spy and my favorite of all the print outs - the license plate game.
Matching shapes to objects found out the window and another bingo. On a recent trip we took I brought nothing for the kids to do for a 3-3.5 hour car ride. Not sure what I was thinking, but they were actually fine on the way there. On the way back though, they needed something to do. So, I just wrote up a list of random things to find, like - 10 semis, a horse, 2 trains, a car with a bike rack, 7 red cars, etc. It was fun for them and I was able to write the list based on our surroundings and make it unique to that particular trip.
In the back of the book was another dry-erase activity. I printed out a map for the kids so that they would be able to follow along and mark our roads. This really could have just been down with their colored pencils, but I have one son who I know would have a mini melt down if he messed up on his map. In the back pocket of the folder I had some print outs of journal pages.
When the boys felt like it they could write about something special that particular day. This is one of my favorite souvenirs.
Here is some of what the aforementioned blank mini books pages became.
Another note on maps. There are freebie maps often at hotels or rest areas. It's fun for a child to open up those huge things and look around on them.
One suggestion I had read and others had suggested to me was to try audio books (I have to try really hard not to say "books on tape!") So, got a few CDs and checked out books to match them so the kids had something to look at while they listened. I don't know if they were just too young, if I started with a boring book or if the British accent of the reader threw them off, but they didn't like it. So, we abandoned this idea. If I remember right, I ended up just reading them a chapter book. And if my memory is wrong, well, then it is still a good idea. :)
I'm not anti-video games. I think they are fun and can be educational. I think they should be used within reason though. My kids have really liked their Leapsters and they did get them out a few times on the trip. I put both Leapsters in a mini backpack along with headphones for each, spare batteries and their games. This enabled them to be in control of their belongings and empowered them to use them correctly.
Another media option we used were DVDs. I opted to get a pile or random ones from the library that they had never seen. This was very successful. They usually only got to watch one DVD a day, but on a particularly drivey day after several days of already driving, we let them watch a few. It made us happy to hear them laugh their heads off at old Micky Mouse cartoons, be introduced to Looney Toons, etc. 
Last thing - take breaks outside of the car. Pack a lunch and eat it at a park with a playground. Let them run around and get some fresh air. It may add another 30 minutes to your drive, but it will make everyone happier.

**There are SO many great sources for car activities that you can print out. The ones I used are: 123Homeschool4Me (20+reusable games), Dating Divas have a lot of great ideas here, but we just used (and LOVED) the license plate game print out, Prepared Not Scared is where we got some of our other worksheets like the alphabet search.
A few others that had great ideas were Connecting Family and Seoul which featured some very clever sensory bins for the m/hotel room, Play Dr. Mom shared carious creative tricks they use, Sun Scholars had great ideas rounded up from around the web, and lastly, Aggieland Mom posted about something their family has used. Truly, there is an abundance of great ideas and different methods of making travel fun even during the parts where you are just looking at what seems like the same field or ranch or pine trees for hours on end.