Saturday, February 2, 2013

Preschool Theme of the Week - Weather

I am so excited this week to be teaching my preschooler about weather. We've been doing our new homeschool preschool for a few weeks now and we've finally settled into a nice routine.

One of the very first parts of our day is getting big brothers on the bus. I've been able to use this time outside to get everyone to make observations about the weather. Once Little Man and I head inside, we talk about the weather again and how it will affect our day. If it's cold, we'll need jackets to play outside later. If it's rainy, we can put on boots and stomp in the puddles after lunch. We already love observing the weather, I know that my little man will enjoy exploring this basic concept more.

We're focusing on the letter W this week, so after coming in from the bus stop, we do a few reading, writing, and letter recognition exercises.
  • There are lots of printables out there intended to be used with Bingo dot markers. These are great to use with manipulatives too. Cotton ball clouds can be placed on the letter W to practice letter recognition and fine motor control. Little Man loved this activity so much that he also put cotton balls on a Letter W tracing page I made for him.
  • We love sensory trays, so I filled up a shallow plate with shaving cream and used my son's finger to trace the letter W. Then I encouraged him to trace the letter again without my help. After the letter tracing I "rained" a few drops of food coloring into the shaving cream and let him play. Fun!
  •  Another sensory activity, I filled a Baggie with hair gel and some glitter then placed the bag over our letter W tracing page. My son traced the letter in the gel making a "storm" of glitter.

After our morning routine, I let my son enjoy some less structured activities to reinforce our theme. Our weather activities for the week include:
  • Painting with wind: I gave my son a straw and three small blobs of paint on a piece of paper. Then I asked him to make a painting by blowing the paint with his straw. This is definitely an outside activity unless your preschooler has the self control to stop blowing the paint at the end of their paper.
  • Shaving cream clouds in the bath: add a few drops of blue food coloring to the bath water and then shaving cream clouds for counting practice. 
  • Homemade snow: mix just enough water into a bowl of baking soda to make it moldable. Put the mixture in the fridge until cold. Kids can play with this outside with gloves on or in the bath. Make snowballs or trace letters and shapes in the "snow". (This activity was inspired by this post over at Growing a Jeweled Rose.  However, I didn't have the right ingredients so we winged it and it worked just fine.  Phew!)
  • Weather dress up: provide a dress-up bin filled with seasonal clothes including jackets, hats, and gloves, a rain jacket and hat, sun glasses and a sun hat. Encourage your child to dress up and talk about the weather they're prepared for.  Try the online version of this game over at PBS Kids.  Little Man really enjoyed Sid the Science Kid's Weather Wheel.  You spin the wheel and dress Sid for the weather that's shown when it stops.
  • Make sun prints: search for interesting shapes in nature such as leaves and flowers. Lay these objects on a sheet of dark construction paper in a sunny spot. Check back in a few hours to see the power of the sun. This art project will take more time in the winter when the sun's rays are not as direct.
  • Wind chime craft: make wind chimes by stringing painted terracotta pots and beads onto heavy twine. Hang them outside and listen for the wind.

How do you explore different types of weather with your preschooler?

  STEM Mom Linky

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teaching Children to Leave No Trace

My boys ran inside from the backyard the other day asking for safety goggles. Never a good sign! After some investigating, I discovered that they were "taking care" of a tree stump in our backyard. How considerate of them.

This isn't the first time that their natural curiosities have led them into some destructive activity. These boys love to dig holes, flip over logs, and swing big sticks around. They've been known to take out a few small plants and have possibly displaced an ant colony or two.

My goal as a mom is to encourage their natural desire to explore nature while simultaneously teaching them to respect nature. Here are a few simple ways to teach even the youngest child to respect nature:

1. Read Eric Carle's the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Talk about what animals eat. Explain that sometimes animals eat things they should not, like food we leave behind or trash we leave on the ground. When we eat things we shouldn't, we might get a stomach ache or worse.

2. Plant seeds with your child. Plant their favorite color flower or let them pick vegetables to grow. Talk about what plants need to thrive: clean water, sunlight, and healthy soil. Explain that humans can help plants grow by safe guarding these elements.

3. Start a small compost pile. Explain that some things decompose into compost that is nutritious for gardens and plants. Some things cannot go into the compost pile and are not healthy for the soil. It's important to throw trash away because it does not decompose into compost.

4. Visit the zoo. If possible, watch local animals from a safe distance behind a nature shield. Help children to understand that animals will only thrive in their natural environment. It's important to help maintain that habitat to protect animals. As the Girl Scouts say, "take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints."

The more my boys learn about nature, the more amazed they are by the plants and animals they see all around them. They'll still swing sticks at a dead tree stump, but hopefully an ounce of respect will save a few of the plants and animals in their path.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bus Stop Observations

With my youngest son, we are trying out a new homeschool preschool routine. It's pretty basic, easy, and flexible given his age, my experience, and the overall craziness of our days outside of the morning routine.

By the time we start school in the morning, we've already been outside at the bus stop getting big brothers off to public school.  I use this time outside to squeeze in a little education activity if I can and encourage all three of my boys to make simple observations about the weather and nature.  What a beautiful way to begin the day!
  • As we get ready to head outside, we talk about what the weather may be like.  Is it cold?  We put on jackets.  Is it rainy?  We put on rain boots.
  • Outside, we take a second look at the weather.  Were our predictions right?  Is it windy?  Or foggy?
  • On our front porch, we always pause to look for wildlife.  Our most common encounters are a neighborhood cat that sprints out of the bushes as soon as we step outside.  Deer are often in our neighbors yard across the street munching on the tall grasses.  Spider webs crop up in our front lawn and in the bushes.  We've also enjoyed trying to spy birds nests this winter in the bare trees.
  • As we wait for the bus in our driveway, I 'll ask my youngest son to call out the colors of cars as they drive past.  The older boys look for patterns.
  • If dump trucks, police cars, or taxis drive by, we'll talk about who might be driving those vehicles and where they might be going.
  • Finally, although my youngest will not leave home to attend Kindergarten for a few more years, he learns about bus stop expectations and how following those rules is necessary for safety.  We get outside several minutes before the bus comes and the boys are allowed to walk down to the road to wait, but must stay a safe distance from traffic.  The boys all keep watch for the bus and call out when they see her turn onto our road.  At that point, they all line up at the end of our driveway and wait single file.  The older boys don't cross the street until the bus has stopped and extended the stop signals.  My little man and I wait in the driveway and wave to the bus driver as she drives away.
I truly believe that every experience can be educational if I take the time to guide my kids in every experience.

How do you start your day with your little ones?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Preschool Polar Animals Theme

Little Man loves animals and I love winter. So I thought that a Polar Animal theme was a perfect way to kick off our homeschool preschool series. Here's a peek first at our daily routine.

We all wake up and eat breakfast before big brothers get on the bus for school. When we come back inside from the bus stop, we usually spend about thirty minutes finishing up breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, and brushing our teeth. Then we're ready to start our day. I like to talk about the weather based on bus-stop observations. I usually ask Little Man what he wants to do today. And then we sit down to read at least one book. (...while I resist the urge to check my work email until a little later in the morning.)

Each weekend, I pour through our bookshelves and fill a basket with as many books as I can find related to our upcoming theme. We usually make a library run at some point as well. These books sit on the fireplace hearth and Little Man can pretty much pick any book he wants to start the day.

Our Polar Animal reading list includes the following:
Animal Babies in Polar Lands by Jennifer Schofield
The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
A Polar Bear's World by Caroline Arnold
Little Polar Bear Finds a Friend by Hans de Beer
Polar Bear Arctic Hare by Eileen Spinelli
Pug Wug and Little by Susie Jenkin-Pearce and Tina Mcnaughton
The Polar Bear Son: An Inuit Tale by Lydia Dabcovich

The rest of our morning generally includes only a couple structured activities and some independent playtime. After lunch, we often head outside to play in the backyard or take the dog for a walk. Then it's on the couch for quiet time, a few more books, and waiting for brothers to get home. They're always excited to see what we've done during the day and Little Man likes to show his brothers what he can do. This creates a nice distraction for the two youngest during homework time.

Here are a few of the activities we'll enjoy during our Polar Animal week:

  • Cotton ball sensory bin: Fill a large shoe box with cotton balls then hide polar animal figurines inside. Show your child pictures of the hidden animals on a laptop or iPad while he digs around trying to find each one. This is a cool sensory experience and also gives you a chance to identify several animals by name. You can also provide your child clues to find each animal based on concepts of color and texture. 
  • Baby animal match: show your child pictures of baby animals on your iPad, etc. and ask them to match the baby in the picture to the adult figurine. This is a fun way to play while encouraging critical thinking. 
  • Build habitats with white playdough: with those same figurines, add white playdough to build a snowy habitat. This is a fun way to learn about where animals live. Stamp footprint trails into playdough landscapes and let your child narrate a creative story about the animal families. 
  • Ice skating penguins: sand and water tables can be great all-season toys.  If you have snow, fill up your sand table with heaps of snow and let the kids explore, build, and march animal figures or drive small cars through the snowy landscape.  If not, you can fill the table with water and hopefully it will freeze overnight.  Then you can play with figures on the ice even talking about how animals must navigate snow and ice jammed water ways to find food in the winter.
  • Torn paper snow storm: I don't know why, but kids love to tear paper. Give your child some white construction paper to tear into little pieces. Help your child practice self control by placing all the torn paper into a box. Draw polar animals, or place stickers onto a piece of colorful construction paper. Then invite them to glue pieces of snow onto the scene. 
  •  Polar animal march: This is a fun game to play with preschoolers outside where they have lots of room to move around.  Lead your children in a Simon Says-like game.  Roar like a polar bear.  Waddle like a penguin.  Jump like a whale.  Run like a fox.
Each week too, we'll focus on a different letter.  For this week, we'll work on letter recognition activities for the letter P:
  • I have bottle caps with capital letters written on one side and lower case letters written on the other side.  I'll pull out several P's and ask Little Man to sort the capital and lower case P's.
  • has some great (free!) letter recognition games perfect for preschoolers.
  • We also use printable coloring pages like these penguin and polar bear pages from DLTK.
  • I also love the pre-writing pages from 3 Dinosaurs Tot Packs like the ones in this winter pack.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Preschool Theme of the Week Series

Do you make New Year's Resolutions?  Studies show that most people who make New Year's Resolutions have already abandoned them by mid-way through January... That's actually not a real study, just my gut feeling.  None-the-less, I've set a few goals for myself this year and one of those goals is to be more intentional about teaching my three-year old basic preschool skills.  Everything from letters and numbers to colors and shapes and so much more.

In the past few months, establishing a routine with my little man and carving out time to be a teacher to him has been a real challenge for me.  Between relocating the family and starting a new work-from-home position, I've been easily distracted from what I'd like our normal day to look like.  But I've had enough of not putting my best effort into my most important job.

To accomplish that goal while also allowing some flexibility in our days, I decided to compile a list of weekly themes with coordinating activities to get through at some point throughout the week.  In addition, we'll go to the library each week and check out a bunch of books on that theme with the goal of reading at least one topical book at the start of every day.

I've selected six outdoor-inspired themes that we'll work through this Spring:

  1. Polar Animals
  2. Weather
  3. Bugs
  4. Gardens
  5. Farm Animals
  6. and the Beach
Be sure to follow along as we explore each theme with stories, crafts, games, snacks, and songs.  And know that I'm new to this whole homeschool, preschool thing.  So please leave your ideas, advice, and encouragement in the comments!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bad Weather Days

I love the temperate weather of North Carolina.  We've just enjoyed a week of sunny, mid-50s weather days making outside activities very enjoyable.  After lunch each day, my preschool-aged son, myself, and our energetic lab puppy suit up in weather appropriate clothes and take a walk.

This last beautiful weather week though, my son has had the same request every single day.  He's wanted nothing more than to put on his frog boots and stomp in puddles.  The only problem - no puddles, not a drop of rain.  It got me thinking though, how easy it is for adults (myself very much included!) to use "bad weather" as an excuse to stay inside.  I even have an entire Pinterest board devoted to Rainy Day activities, and most of them are inside activities!

So today, it's raining and chilly, and we're making it a point to get outside to stomp in some puddles.  Here are some of our other favorite bad weather day outside activities:

  1. Hunt for worms and follow them as they slowly make their way into the mud
  2. Build sandcastles in the sand box when the sand is wet and very moldable
  3. Play in a mud pie kitchen
  4. Make tracks in the mud with different trucks and toys
  5. Collect rain in different containers and measure the rainfall
  6. Have a kid's toy car wash and let the rain wash the bubbles away
  7. Blow bubbles and try to catch them to see how bubbles act differently in the rain
  8. Draw with chalk on the driveway, enjoy the vibrant colors thanks to the rain
  9. Grab an umbrella and sing
  10. Look for rainbows as the rain stops and the sun starts to shine again

How do you enjoy rainy days with your little ones?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

2012 has been an amazing year for our family!

After working so hard for four years, my husband completed his education and landed a wonderful post graduation job.  We relocated to a beautiful area of the country with wonderful schools.  And after years of working full time, I was able to find a work from home position and enjoy spending my days with my youngest son.  I've enjoyed spending time with each of my kids outside and exploring the scenery around our new home.

I hope you had a great New Year's celebration.  As we gear up for our first outdoor experiences of 2013, I wanted to revisit some of our favorite posts from last year.

What outside activities are you looking forward to this year?