Thursday, May 31, 2012

Simple Things

Teaching young children does not have to be a big fancy production.  There are amazing discoveries to be made with the simple things.

Mystery word: 
string  (What's a mystery word?  Click to learn more)

What evolved from the mystery word? 
After stringing beads on pipe cleaners and stringing metal balls together with magnet wands and sticks (that led to some amazing discoveries...blogpost coming soon), then strumming the strings of my guitar, into my mind popped a beautiful image of strings of bubbles. 

When we were finished singing our hearts out with the strings of my guitar, I quickly prepared the next "plop" (a plop is simply placing something new into the environment while being able to set aside adult ideas in order to follow the lead of children.  Sometimes the plop leads right to my "plan", but more likely then not, it leads to something that my fenced-in adult mind would have never dreamed of!)

I plopped:
  •  bubbles (the sticky kind, great for indoor play...Gymbore Bubble Oodles are my favorite
  • roughly 1ft pieces of string (yarn)
In my mind, the goal was to make a string of bubbles. I never told the children the task however.  I wanted them to own this discovery and figure it out all on their own.  All I did was lay the pieces of string on the ground and started blowing bubbles. It didn't take long before someone exclaimed "NITA! LOOK! I made a string of bubbles!!"

Visual planning, visual tracking, proprioception (knowing where our parts are in relation to other things and people...I've always referred to this as spatial awareness), cooperation, self control, muscle control and words, words, words are just a few of the benefits of bubble play.

Learning does not have to come in a fancy package.  Most of the time it is found in simple things, like string and bubbles.  You know what I'm going to say next.....PLAY COUNTS!!

Other posts containing "simple things":

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Preparing for Life with Slimey Motivation

Are you preparing young children for kindergarten?....or for life?

 At my family child care program, we focus on preparing for life.

 We solve problems, we share, we are kind and we practice self control.

We get our muscles ready for important tasks and use our imaginations so we can solve problems and be innovative.   

We discover that it's okay to mess up because we learn just as much through our mistakes as our successes. 

We explore our world and question and follow our curiosity until we are content, and sometimes ... even after! 

We test hypothesis's and challenge old discoveries just to make sure what we know to be true, is still true.

We ask for what we need in order to accomplish all of the above.

We look at the big picture...these are skills that will take us much, much further than kindergarten!
The best part?

We practice these life-long skills through play. 

Part of my job as an early childhood professional is to provide opportunities that motivate children to, unbeknownst to them, practice life-long skills. 

Are you interested in  a good motivator for polishing up the skills of sharing, using imaginations, practicing self control, grasping, squeezing, manipulating, inventing, problem solving, handling conflict and cooperating?

Natural clay.  Good old, slimey, messy natural clay!

The following photo shows not only muscles being strengthened and coordination being practiced, but terriotories being claimed.  Each child has access to a portion of the clay clump....notice how they each have staked their claim? child isn't so sure about this stuff...see the set of hands on the right?  They are hesitant hands just checking out this "stuff".
Simply plop the clay into a large container, add a splash of water to help keep the clay moist and some tools (ice cream scoops work REALLY well) then step back and observe young minds at work!

Clay offers a way for young children to organize themselves so they can work together sharing supplies and respecting each other's projects.
Organizing the environment BEFORE messy play begins provides security (some children need the reassurance that their once clean hands are not far away) and allows plenty of room for all to enjoy playing!  In this photo we see two buckets, both with a clump of natural clay, tools, sea creature beads and some plastic lizards and the purple hand washing bucket placed strategically between.  You control the environment, so the children can control the play!

Clay offers boundless potential.  There is no right or wrong way to explore clay.  It washes off of everything.  No matter how clay is explored the benefits are there.  Language, sensing, sharing, strengthening, coordinating, cooperating, organizing, discovering,'s all possible with clay.

My job is to motivate and observe.  After some exploration, I added two things, with no direction:  A cup of blue colored water and some pipettes....
Soon after the children dug in, I added a glass of blue colored water and some pipettes...just to see what would happen...
I stepped back and took pictures.  The cleverness of young children never ceases to amaze me!  It did not take long after the addition of colored water for a waterfall to emerge!
They pipettes combined with the clay created a problem to be solved.  The tip of the pipette easily filled with clay, and would no longer work.  It didn't take long for the children to work together to first of all figure out the problem and then, to solve it.  I could have easily stepped in and said "boys and girls, do not put the tip of the pipette into the clay, it will ruin the pipettes and they won't work anymore" -- but, there is very little learning in words alone.  Trial and error is a far better teacher.
Shortly after the addition of the blue water, a waterfall emerged from the clay!

The texture of the clay is smooth and slimey.  It is super fun to manipulate with one's fingers as the clay follows directions quite easily!

One of the benefits of playing in a bucket of clay for an extended period of time (over an hour in this case) on a windy day is "monster hands" -- how very exciting!!

Natural clay is great for those of you who struggle with messy play.  It doesn't hurt clothing, and it washes out of hands, hair and the driveway with ease. 

Here are some tips I have learned along the way:

1)  cleaning up clay is far easier when it is wet vs. dry.  Let the children help with the clean up!  It is play to them...not work!!

2)  store the clay in a plastic bag until the next time

3)  If the next time will be the following day, leave the clay in the container and put the whole thing into a big garbage bag and seal it.

4)  I bought my clay at Michael's Craft.  I got two 10 lb slabs for $8.99 each.  I used a 40% off coupon for one it was actually cheaper then that.

5)  you can use the clay again and again.

6)  After lots of play opportunities, you can let the clay airdry, then add water to it the next time you want to play for an entirely different experience!

Want more clay play ideas?  Read Plop Your Way to Amazing Clay Play!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Set Those Piggies Free!

Feet want to join in the fun too!

Messy play doesn't have to be reserved for the upper half of the body only.  Feet want to join in the fun too!  

Whenever it's possible, and safe, we ditch our shoes and socks.  I know this is not always easy for everyone to do...but honestly, if and when you can.. please do it!  Let those piggies breathe and explore the world!  There is something so beyond exciting when toes get to be messy too!

I know what you might be thinking, but there are no worries here.  Avery is simply exploring what we know as "goop" (ooblick to some of you).  It's a mixture of cornstarch and water.  When it's at it's best form it is both a solid (when hit or squeezed hard) and a liquid (when treated gently).  When it dries, it becomes powdery and is easily brushed out of hair and clothing.

Now these are some happy feet!
This beats going to market or bringing home the roast beef any day!
Wind and goop makes for a new adventure!

Ever played with goop on a windy day?  Wind adds to the fun without adding to the worry!  Goop cleans up so easily, it doesn't really matter what it gets on!  Once dried, it is a powder that is easily brushed out of hair and out of clothing!

The kids LOVED the mess the combination of wind and goop made rather QUICKLY!

  Control the environment so the children are able to then control their own play!  The purple hand washing bucket is just a short distance away to offer security to those that love to get messy, but need to know the opportunity for comfortable clean hands is a few short moments away!

We need to give children opportunities to practice important life skills!  Skills like sharing, cooperating, self control and problem solving all can be polished through fantastic messy play!

  Notice how the children have organized themselves?!  YES!  Cooperating and collaboration are life-long skills!

Not everyone likes to get messy!

It is very important to add tools to the environment when messy play is involved.  This allows not only for more exploration, it also gives those that are anti-messy a stress-free way to join the fun!

Always supply tools for messy play!
In addition to adding tools, remember to think of the sensitive child when organizing the environment.
That all important hand-washing bucket is a must for some children.  I have found (as is the case with the child in the following photo) the hand washing bucket gives slow to adapt, sensitive and unsure children the confidence they need to dig in and try messy play.  With MUCH success!

Jack finds great security in the purple hand-washing bucket.  5 months ago, he would not even touch playdough.  Now, he is a sensory play addict!  Thanks to the safety net that a little bucket of water can supply.

What do you do if goop gets on your knee?  Put your knee in the handwashing bucket of course!

Those little piggies want to do more then just go to market!  Let them explore the world whenever you can!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Incredible, Bendable DIY Magnets!

I have a brain that sees bizarre possibilities in the normal.  I am never content in using something for it's intended purpose.  I can walk the aisles of the Dollar Tree conjuring up all sorts of creative things to do with the ordinary and walk out with oodles of options.

This idea was sparked while I was making some magnets my fellow family childcare buddy Jenn (known as "My Jenn" in Let them Play )  was making (basically adding magnets to the ordinary...plastic lizards, puzzle pieces, fuzzy pom poms etc.) While doing that I thought to myself:  " could I make bendable magnets that could be manipulated with little hands into whatever shape they desired?!" Wah lah...the pipecleaner magnet was born.

Here's how it's done:
  1. Simply take 4-6 pipecleaners (after making several, I prefer 6 pipecleaners)
  2. Braid the pipecleaners together
  3. Attach each end to round magnets using a hot glue gun
  4. Ta Dah!

This is a mass of a bunch of pipecleaner magnets...they are soft, flexible fun!

One can make all sorts of fun creations with pipecleaner magnets!
It is challenging for little fingers to manipulate the pipe cleaner's also super fun, so the motivation is there for some excellent small motor mean PLAY! :)


Pipe cleaner magnets are great for teamwork too!  Gavin and Ethan are creating a........ROLLERCOASTER!!!

Can you guess what this is?!! 
A beautiful butterfly!

To make just take four or six pipecleaners.  This one was made with four.  Two yellow, and two blue.  I then braided the pipecleaners...keeping the two blue together as if one, and each blue seperately.  Then hot glue each end to magnet.
Two year old Lindsey is twisting the pipecleaner magnet in an attempt to make a springy magnet

What are you waiting for?  Go get some pipecleaners, round magnets (52 for $5 something at Walmart) and pull out your hot glue gun and let your inner glue nut go crazy!!  You will probably invent some other fun magnets!  If so...share in the comments below!!!

Hungry for more?  Here's some of my personal favorite blog entries:
Inspire Imaginations with Curiosity....part 1  (make sure to follow the link on the blog to part 2!!)

Check out the list of "popular posts" on the right side of your screen for more favs! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One Small Change = Great New Discoveries

I'm almost certain we are all familiar with what I call "rainbow volcano".  It's where you fill a good sized container with a mountain of baking soda, then add bowls of colored vinegar, and for me, pipettes (from  Then you step back and let the children squeeze the color vinegar onto the mountain of baking soda all while observing colorful fizzing eruptions all over the place.

It is a beautiful, entriguing activity that the children in my program absolutely love, and can't seem to get enough of it!

Out of necessity while presenting at a conference during a blizzard in Grand Island, NE, I had to improvise in order to fill in for a speaker that was unable to attend. 

When one has no pipettes, colored straws can play the part as the tool that would carry the colored vinegar to the baking soda.

While playing and exploring, the awesome early childhood professionals in Grand Island discovered something totally awesome.  I then discovered that this something totally awesome becomes OVER THE TOP AMAZINGLY AWESOME when:
1) you use clear straws instead of colored ones and
2) you hand the ownership of discovery over to young children.

So then, what is this something over the top amazingly awesome discovery? 

Take a look:

This is simply a container of baking soda (the baking soda needs to be at least 1 1/2 inches deep), colored vinegar (colored with liquid water color from and clear straws I found at Walmart.
Use the straw to capture the vinegar, then stick the straw (with the vinegar still inside) firmly into
the baking soda, then let go of the straw and wait for the reaction to happen!  EXCITING!!!

It is SO fun to watch the force of the baking soda/vinegar reaction climb up and out the top of the straw!

In the photo below, we see Bergen focusing very hard on capturing the colored vinegar in her straw.  This was so challenging for her.  BUT...she did NOT give up!  She was motivated to succeed.  She tried again and again.  The other children were HELPING her by offering suggestions on how they successfully captured the vinegar.

See the learning?!  Life-long skills of persistance, problem solving, learning through trial and error and helping others are all being fine tuned.  This is much more then "just" the science of reaction.

When you change one thing, a lot of learning can take place.  Look at the learning the simple change from pipettes to straws inspired:

1)  The children needed to organize their muscles in a completely different way.  The process of capturing vinegar with pipettes requires squeezing, then unsqueezing to capture the vinegar.  Straws require no squeezing, and you need to cover the top of the straw in order to capture the vinegar.
2)  The results are completely different...and completely exciting.
3)   Trying something different is hard, and requires stick-to-itiveness (aka: determination and persistance).
4)  Succeeding at something new is great for our sense of pride.

When all the vinegar is gone..and the fizzing has all fizzed away, dump the excess vinegar that is on the
top, and you will reveal a colorful slimy new adventure!
Think of activities that your children enjoy.  The ones that get requested again, and again and again.  Make one small change, and see what happens!  Change the tool used, change one ingredient.  Change SOMETHING...then step back, have the camera ready, and document what happens!  Be prepared to dissect the fun of discovery to see the learning that's "IN THERE!"

And once again I say:  "PLAY COUNTS!"

Hungry for more? Here's some of my personal favorite blog entries:
Inspire Imaginations with Curiosity....part 1 (make sure to follow the link on the blog to part 2!!)
Check out the list of "popular posts" on the right side of your screen for more favs!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blah Blah Blah

Raise your hand if you have ever yelled at a child. 

If you are sitting at your computer right now with your hands tucked neatly at your side, well...good for you.  But, if you are like the majority of adults who have ever spent a significant amount of time with children, you have, at one time, yelled at a child.  Whether it was your child, or someone elses is beside the point of this blog.  The question is quite simple.  Have you ever yelled at a child?

If (and likely, yes you have) you have, then the following picture may give you some insight as to yelling's affectiveness on a brand-new four year old.

While we were picking up toys today, these pictures were discovered under the pile of toys on the table. 

Two almost IDENTICAL pictures.  Hmmmmm..... these are important to some one.  Someone felt it necessary to draw this not once...but twice.

After identifying the artist I asked him to tell me about the pictures. 

The tale was short, humorous....and then, quite eye opening.

I started with the picture on the left when I questioned my little Picasso.  His response:

"That's my mom."

ME:  "What is mom doing?"


ME: (holding back laughter) "What about this picture?  Tell me about this one"

"Oh.  That's my dad.  He's yelling too."

I know this family well.  They have four children, this child is the youngest.  I know the older children and am not surprised by this masterpiece! :) you have it.  In the eyes of a four year old...yelling is nothing but a bunch of scribbles which, in my mind translates to "BLAH BLAH BLAH"

The lesson:  Yelling at a young child is a waste of time....all they hear is scribble (blah), scribble (blah), scribble (blah).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Inspire Imaginations with Curiosity....part 2

STOP!!  Make sure to read Inspire Imaginations with Curiosity...part 1 BEFORE going any further!

The numbers on the floor are.....(drum rolllllllllll.........)

a great big dot-to-dot!! 

Before the children arrive in the morning (I actually do this the evening before) I tape the numbered dots on the floor....then, I anxiously await their excited curiosity!  And oh, what curiosity this creates (as you've read in Inspire Imaginations with Curiosity...part 1).

On this particular day, once the children's curiosity was peaked, it took a lot of brainstorming and lots of trial and error to figure out what the numbers on the floor were for. We played several different kid-invented games (figuring for sure that is why there were numbers on the floor) before finally concluding it was a dot-to-dot! on earth can we connect them?  We can't connect them with a pencil or marker!  This inspired more questions and more trial and error until  someone mentioned yarn.  (a great mystery word (read "The Power of One Word" for more info.) to go along with this activity would be yarn, or dots....)

Ty is taking his turn connecting the dots.  At this point, we have NO idea
what it's going to be.

Number recognition, motor skills, visual planning, proprioception (awareness of self..muscle strength, joint angles etc),
sense of pride, number order and imagination all from numbered dots and yarn! 
There is so much learning in the SIMPLE!!
 After the picture was finished, and it was determined that we had made a star, the fun truly began.  The children loved to follow the lines from one dot to the next...
Balance, coordination, number recognition, number order, sense of pride, visual planning
and FUN!

Then they noticed the triangles, and decided it would be fun to jump from triangle to triangle...
Ownership of discovery, large motor, muscle coordination, visual planning,
proprioception (shhh...don't tell them, they think they are just having fun!)
Then the star became a giant sorting tray.  What better tool to use to sort Christmas erasers then the grabbers!  Now we are not only polishing our math skills, we are adding some vital visual planning, eye-hand coordination and working those grasping muscles!!  (shhh...don't tell anyone all this fun is actually teaching us "important stuff")

You guessed it.... again, LOTS of learning going on here!!!
Now it's your turn to dissect the learning in the following photos.  Being able to see the learning in play (dissecting) is an invaluable tool for early childhood professionals.  We need to be able to identify the learning that happens during play in order to translate it to parents. 

We also need to see the learning in play for our own benefit and the benefit of the children.  All early childhood professionals are aware of  learning guidelines and standards.  There are two ways to meet those guidelines...the right way (child led discoveries through play) and the wrong way (teacher lead, MY plans, MY way philosophy).  I find great success in simply setting up opportunities for learning by plopping  something into the environment and then FOLLOWING the children!!  (see all the posts labeled "plops" by looking under "categories" on the right side of the screen) Observing and documenting the incredible amount of learning that is occuring will help you and "the powers that be" see the value in play.

Now then...we KNOW the next photo is  a dot-to-dot....but WHAT on earth can it be?!!  One of my parents asked if we were learning about Pac Man!!  (can you see how it could be a Pac Man ghost?)

Some people have guessed rings, a queen with a crown.  One of my children thought it looked like a snow globe (brilliant).

In the was...


You can use a giant dot-to-dot to create a spark for some imaginative learning and create even more curiosity, or use it to enhance play already in progress. 
In the case of the T-rex footprint, we were already highly involved in dinosaur play.  Earlier in the week, the children discovered dinosaur eggs (Easter eggs that look like dinosaur heads I picked up years ago on clearance...I filled them with a baby dinosaur).  The discovery of the dinosaur eggs sparked all sorts of fantastic dinosaur play!

Last year I discovered the song "Horrible Credits" on is an EXCELLENT choice
for inspiring imaginations and talking about fears.

The children discovered dinosaur eggs (Easter eggs that look like dinosaur heads...I filled them with
a baby dinosaur)

A nest was built for them, and then we patiently waited (delayed gratification) for
days and days (we checked them periodically throughout each
day) until they all finally hatched!

Once the mystery is solved, and it's a well-known fact that when  numbered dots are taped on the floor it's going to be a dot-to-dot, it's time to hand the process over to the children.

Each child cut out a dot, and we wrote numbers on them.

Then, we randomly put the numbers on the floor.  Then each child got a turn to place
a dot on the floor.  We chose to place them in order (you could just
randomly place the numbers as well...have fun with this, there are no rules!!)

Any idea what our dot-to-dot is?

Dragon wings!!

Here's another that we did.....any guesses?

See the way the children are playing on it?  Does that help you figure out what
it is?
that was a LOT of learning disguised as simply inspiring imagination with curiosity!!  Run to the store, buy some clear packaging tape and yarn!  INSPIRE the children in your life with CURIOSITY!!!

Play counts just does!!