Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Monster Playdough

In a previous post Experience is the Best Way to Know, I talked about extending holidays past the actual day in order for children to have experiences to connect with activities. 

I was hoping the day after Halloween would bring with it some talk about being afraid, or seeing some scary costumes while out trick-or-treating.  WHY?  Because I  was hoping to have some "monster fun" this week!  WHY?  Because the monster books I have are a HIT with the kids, and monsters are just plain FUN!!  But, with that said, I am a believer in following the lead of young children....I sure love it when they lead me where I was hoping they would go!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Simple Spider Fun!

With winter quickly approaching, and cool weather (for some of us) inevitable, it's time to load up on indoor,  "ENERGY OUT" activities.

Spiders are something every child can relate to and web fun can supply some much needed movement as well as large and small motor coordination!

There are many ways to build spider webs with young children.  Here are three ways I KNOW are fun!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Let Them Play is looking for "Test Drivers"

I've just recently enjoyed a new journey in life and have co-authored a book with Jeff A. Johnson from Explorations Early Learning.  The book is titled, "Let Them Play, an Early Childhood UNcurriculum" and will be available through Redleaf Press in March 2012! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Simple and Inexpensive "Tie Dying"

I discovered a fairly simple way for young children to get a "tyed dyed" effect on fabric.  We painted pirate bandanas,  New Pirate Ideas (at least new for us!) but I would think this method would work on just about anything and is very inexpensive.

Arrrrrgh Mateys! Thar Be Treasure WHERE?!

I always seem to have pirate-loving children.  We always end up on a pirate adventure for several weeks every few months.  We've done the map thing, the treasure hunt through out the neighborhood, the pirate talk and walking of the plank. We've made  a pirate ship out of a big box and we've even written a pirate song!

This time around, I had a desire for something new.  Here is what I came up with:

1)  Treasure Playdough

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Deconstructed Calendar

Some of the "stuff" (for lack of a better term) we do with young children need to be re-evaluated and deconstructed. Take Calendar Time for example. I struggled for years through calendar time.  Why did I even do calendar time?  The 2-5 yr olds that are in my program rarely fully understood the calendar.  It was more of a routine than anything and something that ate up valuable play and discovery time.  With a simple change, calendar time has turned into an amazing learning opportunity completely lead by the children! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Here's a quick and simple plop that involved waaay more learning and creativity then I ever could have planned.  The goal? To stay cool during a super hot, humid South Dakota summer day.  The results?  A plethora of learning and blossoming creativity!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

NON-Mentos Diet Coke Rocket (serious, crazy family fun!)

(Don't miss the video link at the end!!)

Okay, I should start at the beginning. Our son Landon is banned from white clothing. If we are eating in a restaraunt, and I am wearing white...he sits on the other side of the table.  If there is a cup of colored liquid, Landon will spill it. If there is sauce of any color, it will end up on Landon's clothing. He is a delightful 11 year old, but the kid is accident prone. 

So then, last night we were grilling with my good daycare buddy Jenn's family and my co-author Jeff Johnson and his wife Tasha.  In true Jeff fashion, he had a ton of fun stuff in his "adventure van" for the kids to play with.  One of them being the traditional mentos and 2 liter bottles of diet coke.  After doing that one time, my Landon had the brilliant idea of shaking one of the unopened bottles of diet coke, just to shake it.  As he is vigorously doing the shakey shake, the bottle slips out of his hand, hits the ground and takes off like a torpedo narrowly missing Jenn's hubby's feet.  It was stinkin' hilarious!! From that moment, the evening's entertainment was set.

By the end of the night, we blasted off about 20 2 liter bottles of Diet Coke.

PLEASE NOTE:  I am not necessarily recommending this as an activity to do with your early childhood crew -- more something to do with people that will not sue you if they are injured by the sparatic movements of a diet coke missile!

Click on the following link and enjoy the video!!!    I should mention that the awesome editing job was done by Jeff.    Diet Coke Rocket Video Link

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smashing Take 2

Today we added some goop to the smashing of the chalk -- the results were AMAZINGLY fun!!  Photos speak louder then words -- so enjoy!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Smashing and Wet....Great Ways to Learn Outside!!

Ahhh summer!  We are literally outside from the moment everyone is here (or sooner) until lunch time...then repeat after naptime. The last two weeks have been incredibly hot and humid, so water play is a necessity in order to stay comfortable in such otherwise near miserable conditions. I refuse to complain because winter will be here before we know it, but let's be honest...there is only so much butt sweat a person can tolerate. (oh I know you know what I'm talking about...and if you don't you must be putting deodorant in places I haven't thought of yet).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ready, Aim......WRITE?

Any eye-hand coordination activity is preparation for writing.  My recent favorite is shooting bubbles!

First of all, just chasing and popping bubbles is a grand eye-hand coordination activity -- but taking it to the next level by adding spray bottles is all the more fun!!'s a great way to stay cool on hot summer days plus, squeezing that bottle is lots of hard work! counts!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Experience is the Best Way to Know

Young children learn through experiences. It is hard for them to learn through pictures and being "told about it". That's why we are still celebrating the Fourth of July this week. The week prior to the Fourth we can talk about it, we can make silly hats to wear on the Fourth, but to truly understand, the children needed to experience the Fourth of July.

Tuesday morning (the 5th of July) I was greeted with stories of Fourth of July thrills.  The excitment spilled into their play as they were lighting firecrackers (aka:  bark) and running away and setting up parades.  There were stories of horses and boat rides. They now had concrete experiences to reference.  I heard about the loud sounds and smells of firecrackers, the sight and sounds of parades and other fun associated with the Fourth of July. 

Feeding off of their excitment, I used an idea I learned from "my Jenn". She is near the end of sorting out her "stuff"; saving the quality play ideas, and throwing out the teacher led, carbon copy mumble jumble. Somewhere in that process she came upon this process art activity. I like to call it "firecracker painting" -- it could easily be called many other names and used for many other moments besides the Fourth of July.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jammin' J

I get asked all the time what my opinion is of "letter of the week" type programs. Here's my stand. I'd love to hear opinions in the comments after you read this.

I, personally do not see a problem with isolating a letter and saturating learning with it, or a couple of letters that have a common bond (like "boring letters" or "letters that curve" or "letters associated with apples" or whatever).

What I do have a problem with is months worth of pre-planned experiences.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Inspiring Imaginations: Dragon Hunting

Over a month ago, I added Where's the Dragon by Jason Hook to our collection of books. This gem of a book quickly became a favorite and was requested daily during our pre-nap "we love books" time. This is a 30-45 minute section of time that the children are all cozy with their pillows and blankets and I read any book they request.

I had lots of ideas of how to bring this book alive, but the children never gravitated towards this particular storyline during their play. So, I decided to wait until the right moment to plop something into play time that would spark their imaginations.

Friday, June 10, 2011

This "Plop" Got GLOWING Reviews!

Want to know how to brighten up a cloudy, dreary day? GLOW stick bracelets will do the trick!  Usually available at the Dollar Tree for ....wait for it............ONE dollar, and most recently in the ever-so-lovely dollar section of Target! They come in a tube of for the low, low price of $1 you get 15 bracelets. I, happen to have bought 5 tubes and we used them all this morning! I'll save you the brain draining task of math...that's 75 glowing sticks!!  ***Just found them at Michael's Craft store today (June 12, 2011) 15 for $1***

It began as a simple plop. After all the toys had been picked up, I silently went to work closing the blinds, then turned off the lights one by one. The children were all watching eagerly as they had no clue what was coming.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Whoops to Wow

On the same day that I plopped the natural clay  natural clay, I also got out the chalk, cheese graters, bucket of water and paper for some chalk shaving art. The children were all familiar with these materials so I just plopped this a ways away from the clay play and walked away.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Plop Your Way to Amazing Clay Play!

I am honored to follow the lead of children. I used to be a planner, and had children follow my lead....but every time I would let go of that lead, ever so slightly, amazing ideas would transpire. Finally, after years and years of transitioning, I have truly accepted my role as a follower. I have found a happy place where I can still do a little planning and then I follow. I call this plopping. I plan a plop, then follow where the children take it.

My planned plop to get the week started? Natural clay. I bought it at Michael's Craft comes in a plain white box and runs about $7.00, but I used a 50% off coupon and got it for the lovely cost of $3.50.  I'm not talking about Crayola clay, or any other name brand -- this is just "boring" old gray natural clay. This stuff is be warned before you pick up the box, the box is not all that large, I was shocked by how heavy it was. 

I plopped the chunk of clay in a large tub with a smidgen of water in the bottom just to keep it moist. I also added the ice cream scoops (these things are great for EVERYTHING...I found mine at the Dollar Tree), and about 50 sea creature beads in the tub as well. Off to the side, I had a fairly good sized bucket of warm water for washing hands.

Instantly, there was a curious group gathering around the picnic table. The usual question "what is this?" was asked, and I explained and encouraged them to feel it.I commented on how soft and smooth it felt. I then took a piece of plastic lacing and sliced the clay into about 3 large chunks. (use about 1 1/2 feet of plastic lacing and hold it like you are ready to floss your teeth. Using a sawing motion, cut through the clay, flipping it over half way through.)

Within seconds, there was a "turtle island" created and slides with water and fish beads enjoying a slick ride. The stories they were telling were priceless and the sharing and cooperation that was going on was very impressive.

It didn't take too terribly long for another discovery to be made. Hands covered in clay, outside on a hot, windy day will dry rather quickly. Dry clay on your hands makes you feel like you are a monster!! It is hard to move your hands too! Then, when you put your monster hands in the warm water, they instantly feel soft again. This was done again, and again and again.

The very last discovery made with the clay was the joy of creating holes in it. Ty and Cole were so proud of the holes they had worked very hard to drill with their thumbs. Ty was so proud as he yelled across the yard "Hey Nita! Look! We made volcanoes!"  As I came across to see, I knew exactly what I would "plop" out there next. Colored vinegar, baking soda and pipettes would add an entirelyl new level of discovery!

Colored vinegar, pipettes, baking soda and a spoon

The very beginning of the volcano fun

The "volcanoes" with baking soda in them awaiting the colored vinegar!


Awesome for eye-hand coordination and strengthening
 those oh-so-important muscles needed for writing!

I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it was to create volcanoes and watch the pretend lava flow. The colors were gorgeous against the drab gray clay. Since it was so incredibly windy out, I scooped the baking soda into the holes, but they did the drilling, and the vinegar themselves. 

Having explored baking soda and vinegar in her hand before,
and knowing how cool it felt, Ella wanted to try it again

When the clay was so full of baking soda and vinegar,
 I dumped it out and rinsed it all with water.
We then smoothed it out and started all over again!

Recall how all this learning began? A simple plan: plop clay in tub and step back. The results: a morning so filled with learning it was simply awe inspiring!

Here's a closer look at the learning the children led themselves to:
Literacy:  vocabulary, story telling, spatial awareness (necessary for letter recognition),and pre-writing (the clay is very hard to manipulate, it requires great large and small muscle strength and coordination).
Math: one-to-one coorespondence (at one point, a group was making homes for each fish, carefully placing one fish into each home), counting, measuring
Social Skills: taking turns, sharing, cooperating to achieve a similar goal

I invite you to go and buy some natural clay and plop it. Here's the not set up what my group discovered. Please, step back and let your children explore and make their own discoveries!!  THEN....share what happens in the comments below!!  I would love to hear what direction your crew took the clay!

Miscellaneous Tidbits:

1) a bucket of plain, warm water will wash away the clay from hands with ease
2) if you end up using baking soda and vinegar with the clay, rinse it off and cover the remaining clay with plastic to be played with again
3) Add lots of water to make a clay time I an planning on  plopping a pitcher of water and paint brushes with the clay -- we will also be wearing swimming suits and the sprinkler will be on....I'll let you know how it turns out!!  I'm anticipating some monsterous fun!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Inspiring Imaginations: The Ice Cream King

The simple discovery of a wonderful book called The Ice Cream King by Steve Metzger led to amazing imaginative play for my daycare kids!  This discovery was made on an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon while browsing through Barnes and Nobles.  On my way home, I had some errands to run at Target. While there, another discovery added to this first....vanilla flavored lip balm.

Immediately, the gears started turning.

That Monday I plopped The Ice Cream King. We read it again, and again and I do believe 2 more agains. When all the "read it agains" had subsided, I took out our mystery bag (handy drawstring bags I found at Ikea for $3 which was a wonderful discovery for a non-sewer like myself). I shook the bag. We passed the bag around the circle. What could possibly be inside?

(Recall the vanilla lip balm? Well...they also had chocolate, banana split, strawberry, blueberry, mango tangelo and many, many more ice cream topping sounding names. The gears turning came up with the following which has been a daily activity since the very first time we did this over a month ago.)

I reached in and pulled out the vanilla and chocolate lip balms. I called up the first child and said, "Would you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream today Mam?"  This child played along, "Vanilla please". I opened the vanilla lipbalm and rubbed it on the back of her hand. Then asked her if she would like a topping, she did, and so she reached into the bag to pull out a topping.

As each child anxiously awaited their turn, the children who had their "treats" were "sharing" with each other, offering bites of their delicious smelling deserts.

I had also picked up some ice cream scoops at the Dollar Tree, and my friend Jenn had picked up some ice cream cone shaped bowls and spoons for me about a month prior to this (funny how the perfect purpose always pops up!).  So now, we needed some imaginary ice cream to play with!

We mixed together flour and baby oil, adding just enough baby oil to make a playdough like substance in a large tub...all hands were involved!

We then added ONE Liquid Watercolor color at a it a special name. For example, yellow was banana split, red: strawberry etc.  The wonder of adding Liquid Water Color to oil soaked flour is the water soluable coloring will not mix in the flour. It forms tiny little speckles...just like sprinkles on top of ice cream!  So by the time we were finished adding coloring, we had a delicious looking tub of ice cream!

This photo was taken before we went crazy with the coloring....note to self (and you), stop at this point!

The ice cream scoops and bowls were added and the kids took it from there for days of fun! 

Notice how dark the mixture is in this photo? That's what happens if you add too much coloring.  We had made a batch a few months ago by accident (that's how we discovered the Liquid Watercolor sprinkles)...we were making the flour and oil mix and I wanted to change it up a bit, oil soaked flour is very blah looking, it's fun to play in, but it's blah.  So we were just experimenting, I had no clue it would "sprinkle" it up like it did.  So anyway, the second time we did it, we wanted to see what would happen if we added lots more color.  What happens is it gets more of a sandy texture -- still fun to play with.  Just mess around and have fun exploring different combinations!

The flour and oil mixture never dries, and , I don't believe it builds mold -- (as least not yet, and we have had this sitting around for a month and a half now!)

Imaginations were sparked even more with the plopping of sliced swim noodles and cut up PVC pipes. My friend Jen had called to tell me what her crew did with this mixture of items, and so I had to try it with mine -- we ended up having the same results, which doesn't always happen!

Just look at what they thought of!!  How clever!

  SAFETY NOTE: make sure your pvc pieces are at least 4"inches long to avoid a choking hazzard.

Notice Elsie selling her ice cream treats?  The rest of the kids were making money out of construction paper, and counting out the correct amount to give to her.  Elsie was walking around yelling "ICE CREAM!  GET YER ICE CREAM!" They were ordering by "scoops" and she was handing them their requests accordingly. So much math and language being explored right alongside imaginations soaring -- I LOVE it!!

After two weeks of imaginary ice cream play, we enjoyed an ice cream party where the kids got to scoop out and create their own ice cream treats! 

All of this from the simple "plop" of a book!  Go!  Inspire imaginations!!  Plop something and follow where the children take it!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Inspiring Imaginations: Imagination Gardens

Oh how I love the imaginations of children!  As Walt Disney said "Our most valuable natural resource is the mind of a child".  How very true!! In the mind of a child, nothing is impossible.  There is no self-doubt or worry that someone will laugh at their ideas.  They share them with no reservation. Sadly, at some point in life, that magic is lost. It could be because someone laughs at an idea one too many times, or there just aren't enough opportunities to use one's imagination. Perhaps imaginations are being stolen by technology, read: Self Sizzle Play . Whatever the reason, far too many adults have little imagination, they have lost the ability to think outside the box, to solve problems in new ways.  As early childhood professionals, we hold the key for inspiring imaginations. We have the time, we have the resources (books, songs, art supplies, dumpster dive discoveries, re-purposed items...) and we have the minds of children to inspire!

Here's an example of how easy inspiring imaginations can be. It can be as simple as reading a story, then responding to the magnifiscent direction the minds of children may take it.

I plopped out the book My Garden by Keven Henkes in the spring of 2010.  This is a darling book about a little girl who is helping her mother in her garden.  She then drifts off into imagination and talks about what her own garden would be like. Flowers could change color just by her thinking it, if she planted a sea shell, sea shell plants would grow, and (my very favorite) the bunnies would not eat the lettuce because the bunnies would be chocolate, and she would eat them!

When I was finished reading (after the "read it agains" had subsided), I asked one simple question. Using as much suspense and wonder as I could muster I simply said "Boys and girls....what if you could have a garden like hers? WHAT would be magical in your garden?".  Oh the imaginative ideas the uninhibited mind of a child can have! They imagined starburst bushes and skittle plants, gummy bear visitors and shoe trees. The sparkle in their eyes told me that they believed with all their being that these ideas could be reality.

The more they imagined, the more I realized that a candy garden was truly their biggest dream.  I decided then that we would make these imaginary gardens come to life. 

that night, I ran to the store to get starbursts, skittles, gummy bears, gummy worms, chocolate pudding, chocolate teddy grahms, frosting and toothpicks.  Let the imaginations go wild!

We mixed up the pudding, crushed up the teddy grahms in ziplock bags with rolling pins (oh what fun).  After putting in the worms, each child filled their container with the pudding and cracker mixture.  Then, the real fun began.  Using the toothpicks, candy and frosting they could create anything they could imagine might grow in their gardens!

Not only were imaginations flourishing, but little minds were working on other things too.  Fingers were coordinating with eyes in order to spread frosting on small starbursts.  Patterning skills were used as beautiful skittle flowers emerged.  We were cooperating and sharing. We were counting, dividing and sorting.  We were enhancing our vocabularies as stories were told of the wonderful creations growing in each child's garden. All of this plus self-esteems bursting at the seams!

As you look at these pictures, sure, notice the creations in their hands.  But don't overlook the true treasure....the smiles and pride written clearly on the faces of the creators!

This year, as the snow melted and we were  S-L-O-W-L-Y reminded of spring and the wonder it brings, guess what was requested?!  And guess who happily responded!
Now go imagine!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Self-Sizzle Play

Eight years ago I purchased a new play kitchen set for my daycare.  I carefully chose one that had lots of drawers and cupboards to put our utensils, dishes and pots and pans away.  When I got it home and had it all assembled, I was suprised to see batteries were required. Without a second thought, I put the batteries in, I was excited to see what this kitchen would do! To my complete amazement this piece of modern technology made boiling sounds when the pot was on the burner, and sizzling sounds when the frying pan was in use. The microwave beeped and the phone rang.  "Wow, isn't technology awesome?!" I thought.  When I was a little girl I had a plain old wooden kitchen set and I had to supply all the sounds.  How wonderful it would have been to play with a toy that made the noises for me. I would have LOVED that!

Fast forward well over a year, to the day the batteries died. (hmmm...anyone else now humming "American Pie"?) My thoughts of "what an amazing piece of modern technology" quickly changed to "oh my goodness, what has happened to the imaginations of children?!". 

After the last "beep" was heard, the children froze.  Their play came to a screeching hault.

"Nita! The kitchen is broken!  It won't let us play anymore!"
"Oh no! The microwave won't beep!"
 "Oh no...oh no...oh no!"

I didn't say a word, I just took the frying pan out of the cupboard and cooked up some "bacon" making some Oscar worthy sizzling sounds. I then cracked some "eggs" and scrambled them up, and heated up a cup of "coffee" in the microwave, inserting all of my own stellar sounds of yesteryear (minus the microwave beeps of course...back in the day, microwaves didn't have beeping buttons, and when it did "beep" it was more of a "ting"). 

No one said a word.  They just looked at me.  I returned their gaze and simply said "I don't think I could have made such a delicious meal if this kitchen was really broken.".  I then excused myself to eat my newly prepared breakfast. 

That moment made me realize that technology was stealing imaginations.  Right from under well intentioned adults who thought they were doing children a favor by getting them toys that made their own sounds. It was then and there that I made an oath to steal it back.  Children that spend time at my daycare will use their imaginations.  They will be exposed to "self-sizzle play" where all the sound effects are made by them.

I am so thankful for the wooden kitchen set and frisbee dishes I had to play with as a child. Because of it, I can inspire children with my own vivid imagination. I can set the stage for them to believe that leprechauns are real, and so are the fairies they make shoes for. We can imagine that planted candy will grow a candy bush. We can solve problems with our imaginations because with imagination, nothing is impossible and all solutions are worth a try.

Insert some self-sizzle play into your day and watch those imaginations soar!

SIDE NOTE:  All posts from this date forward (May 25, 2011) titled "Inspire Imaginations..." will contain stories of real experiences with my daycare children where imaginations were soaring!  Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Lesson in Plopping

So, my son and I went dumpster diving at Karl's (the local appliance store)  No worries, when you call and ask them to save some boxes they tell you, "oh, just come and dig in our dumpsters" so THAT is what I did. 

My friend Jen had discovered the most wonderful treasure a few months ago, the fantastic cardboard pieces that hold an appliance nice and snug in the box.  These beauties remind me of rain gutters.  PERFECT for some ramp play and who knows what else!  So my son crawled in and came out with eight of these glorious pieces of cardboard.

When we got home, I just plopped them on the daycare floor to await their destiny.

Monday morning, the daycare kids came in and there was an instant buzz surrounding these strange new additions to our space.  I didn't say a word.  I didn't tell them what they were, where they came from or anything, I just stepped back and observed. 

The first thing I heard was "Wow!  Look at these guys!"  then I heard "Look Nita! I'm taller then this one" and "Whoa!  This one is waaaaay bigger then me!"  A good 20 minute exploration of measurement followed.  They were sorting the new toys by size, they were figuring out who was the same size as each of them.  They were imagining what animals might be the same size, imagining giraffe necks and gorilla arms.  Then, the moment I anticipated finally happened, but not at all in the way I had imagined.

Jack announced that he was the same size as the one he was holding....but wait a minute Ty made an important observation and said "Oh no you aren't Jack!  LOOK!  You are holding it like a slide!  Let me hold it. I KNOW it is taller then you"  The word "SLIDE" is all it took for the ramp rompous to begin!  They were working together, problem solving, taking turns and being down right creative in order to get cars, then ping pong balls, then rubber balls of all sizes to make it down the ramp.  THEN, they decided to make the ramp turn. 

Do you see the learning here?!  Holy cats there is learning all over the place!  More learning then I could have EVER planned ahead for!  I knew they would eventually make ramps out of these cardboard delights, but I would have never guessed they would first provide themselves with a nice lesson about measurement, and same and different, and bigger and smaller.  I could have never planned such fantastic conversations bursting with learning.

Thank goodness I have learned the value of plopping and stepping back.  It's hard to do, but so worth it in the end!  It counts!