Thursday, June 30, 2011

Investigations

I was recently at the Early Childhood Summer Institute and was excited to find a couple of exhibitors set up sellign science materials. The first booth was called Fun Science Kits. She had numerous items that were very affordable, including petri dishes and tweezers. I was thrilled to find the petri dishes as I have been looking for an easy way to do investigations with my son.

I purchased a four pack of petri dishes and then we put something different in each dish. The first dish was filled with red sparkly pom poms and regular blue and white pom poms. We went with a 4th of July theme. Next we pulled out our tweezers and magnifying glasses and looked closely at the textures of the pom poms and used the tweezers to move them around.

The next dish was filled with dinosaur candy that goes on top of cakes or cupcakes. I purchased these sprinkles in the fall and still have not used them so at least he gets to look at them now. We looked closely at those and tried unsuccesfully to pick them up with tweezers but they are too small and thin to get a grip on them.

The third dish was contained a Petunia bloom. We studied the top, bottom and inside of the plant. He was just mesmerized with it as the bloom looked huge with the magnifying glasses.

The last dish contained a bllom from a plant called "Firecracker Plant". The blooms are very small, which was the opposite of the Petunia. We had to hold it carefully with tweezers in order to look inside the plant at the stamen and he was not nearly as impressed with this plant.

This was a fun activity for us and one of the few times that my son sat down quietly for an extended period of time. He enjoyed the magnifying glass and I am sure we will be using it more and more now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Teachings - Scissor Proficiency

It is hard to decide when a child is ready to use a pair of scissors as children all develop at a different rate. Watch your child closely and if they seem interested, you can try using safety scissors with them. If your child is not ready, here are some great suggestions to get them ready.

First, there are some things your child should master prior to trying out a pair of scissors. The first skill to learn is "Ripping". I know it puts fear in your heart for your small child to rip up every paper in sight but it is a necessary skill. When the child is very young, use thin, easy to rip items like tissue paper. Show the child how to rip the paper by putting their hands on the top of the page and then your hands over theirs. Now rip the paper together. Soon they will catch on do it alone. This is the beginning stage of working on a tripod grasp and will also strengthen the forearms for later writing and cutting skills. As they get stronger and the tripod grip improves, move on to sturdier items. Some of the things that we kept in our rip basket were magazine inserts, construction paper, index paper and old holiday or greeting cards. I do recommend you keep all of these items in a central location as you do not want the child to think it is okay to rip up all the papers that they see. They need to know that only these papers that you have picked out can be ripped.

Secondly, you will move on to the "Snip" phase. A snip involves using scissors but it requires only one snip to complete the cut. We started our cutting cheap straws that I found at a Dollar Store. If you use straws, be forewarned that the pieces will fly all over the place. For my son, that was part of the intrigue.

When we started snipping, I purchased special scissors for him. The scissors we used did not have spaces for your fingers and thump, instead you put your thumb on top and the other fingers below and just squeeze. These were a huge asset to my son as his muscles were weaker than other kids his age. If you are interested in these scissors they are made by Faber Castell and are available on their Creativity for Kids website. I love these scissors as they are spring motioned and can be used with a left or right hand. If you do not want to use the straws to snip with, try play doh, sandpaper, cooked pasta or herbs. Steer clear of paper for now to give them confidence and excitement.

Lastly, you can move on to cutting with multiple movements. It is best to practice on heavier paper like construction paper or card stock. The paper will be easier for the child to handle thus increasing their confidence. You can find lots of cutting pages on line but until the child is confident, do not give them these pages to work on. Just let them cut the paper any way they please. Once they seemed to have some skill at cutting in multiple movements, draw some dark lines on the papers and ask them to cut on the lines. At first you will start out with straight lines, then lines with one angle, then lines with two angles, etc. Do not get too excited to progress though, be sure the child has the confidence needed to move on to the next step.

Cutting on curves is the last skill they will master. This is the most difficult one. The easiest way to begin learning this is to use items that are already round, like a paper plate and allow the child to cut around the edges.

All during her primary school years she will be working to improve and master her skills. Cutting is not a skill that is mastered overnight. Be patient and understanding with your child to keep them from getting frustrated and giving up.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Meanderings - 4th of July

The 4th of July is almost upon us and it is a great time to do a recap of some of the great ideas I see online. From crafts to education to food, there is a plethora of great ideas out there.

Let's start with Ms. M at Teaching Blog Addict and her adorable fireworks alphabet strip. She has generously offered free downloads of her strips. If you like this one, be sure to go to her blog and check out all of her other alphabet strips and some samples of how she uses them.

Next, head on over to Serendipity to see the adorable flag she made. I love it and think it would look great hanging in my home.

Are your kids too young for fireworks? Want to avoid the whole "fire" part of fireworks? Craft these adorable "Fireworks" from Make and Takes.

Looking for an eye-catching dessert to take to a cook out on the 4th? Nothing beats these great red, white and blue cupcakes from Recipe Girl. By the way - they look impressive but are low maintenance!

For a little healthier dessert you could always make the great fruit kabobs featured on Recipe Tips. I think they would also be great with raspberries or watermelon in place of the strawberries, blackberries in place of blueberries and if you need to bribe the kids to eat them, try marshmallows in place of some of the apples and bananas.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sleep Routines

Night time can be difficult in many households with kids. The children always stall going to bed, the parents get upset and stressed, the kids pick up the same emotions and every night becomes a battle. There are many great suggestions out there about obtaining a peaceful bed time routine and these are some of our favorites.

Allow enough time. Many parents work full time and find themselves having to multi-task all day and night. When it comes to getting the kids in bed we want a quick fix. That is not usually possible. Kids often time feel like they are missing out on something super fun when they have to go to bed. They stall and stall so they do not miss a second. In many households the bed time routine is an hour or longer and that is okay. Sit down and write out your schedule and how long you believe it will take to get each part of the routine completed. That evening when you are getting ready for bed, keep in mind how long it actually took, did you underestimate the time?

I underestimate time with my own child all the time. His books are short so I should be able to read a book in less than 5 minutes. I did not take into consideration that he always wants me to read it at least 3 times, never less than that. I also have to stop while he makes up little stories about the pictures on the pages. Reading time is never less than 25-30 minutes in our nightly bedtime ritual. I used to get frustrated with this until I sat down and considered the fact that this is the best one on one time I have had with my son all day! We are snuggled together, enjoying one another, expanding his vocabulary and picture recognition.

Another struggle in our house is which pajamas to wear. Some days it seems that my 4 year old son is really a teen age girl that is very particular about what she wears out of the house. It used to drive me bonkers! We have a new routine now though, he is given 2 sets of pajamas to pick from. I then leave the room and let him ponder his decision while I prepare a small snack. When I come back of he still has not decided, he gets to the count of three to pick on his own or I will pick the pajamas. At first, I picked his pajamas most nights but now he usually is ready to get dressed when I come back into the room.

As for that evening snack, he is allowed something light and a cup of milk. Snack usually consists of blueberries, watermelon, pretzel sticks or veggie chips. It does not consist of candy, cakes or pies even though that is what he usually asks for. If he is given something too sweet, it just makes bedtime more difficult.

I will also admit that since having my son, my teeth get brushed a lot! I brush at my normal times that I always have and then when it is time for my son to brush his teeth, I have to brush mine again. We also had to purchase him a battery operated toothbrush. It is a small price to pay not to have to fight over tooth brushing every day. If he is being especially difficult I will turn on the music and we dance and brush at the same time.

Does your child get out of the bed for a potty trip, one more drink and one more hug after you put them down for the night? Try giving them Get out of Bed Free Tickets. I have attached a sample for you to print. If your child gets out of the bed 5 times on average now, give them only 4 tickets. Each time they get out of the bed, they have to give you a ticket. After a week or two, remove one of their tickets. Keep weaning away the tickets until the child has just one ticket per evening. If you would like them not to get out of bed at all, you could set up a schedule and reward them for going several nights without using a ticket. For example, if you go 5 nights without using a ticket we will go to the pool together. Then user a calendar on the refrigerator to mark the days that tickets are not used.

What is your bedtime routine?

Is bedtime in my household always easy and perfect? Of course not, but since planning ahead it has gotten easier. There are nights that go without a problem and then other nights I am exhausted by the time he gets into bed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Meanderings - Stargazing

With the Summer Solstice quickly approaching (June 21st, 2011 at 1:16PM EDT is the starting time) I thought it would be helpful to include some great resources to teach kids about the night sky. Summer to me means warm days and beautiful night time skies.

First up we have Sky Maps which is a great resource. Each month you can download an evening sky map guide to the night sky. In addition to the map and sky calendar it also gives you descriptive details about the items that you can see with a pair of binoculars, a telescope or just using your eyes.

Next we have Deborah Byrd of Earth Sky with a nightly update as to what can be seen in the sky.

Some things to keep in mind for star gazing:
1) Light pollution is bad. You want to be in an area that does not have lots of lights, whether that is your back yard or a ride in the country.
2) Do not get too far away from a bathroom. Kids will inevitably need to go potty as soon as you get set up.
3) Take a couple of blankets to lay on.
4) Take snacks and drinks.
5) Binoculars and telescopes are nice to have but not completely necessary. If you do not already own them, do not purchase them until you know whether the family is even interested in stargazing.
6) A laser pointer is a nice item to have to show the kids exactly where a star is but be sure you know the regulations/laws in your city before you use one for stargazing.


A great project to bring your stargazing inside is quick, easy and inexpensive.

Supplies:

Empty Milk Carton
Pin
Constellation Book
Flashlight
Dark Room

Look through the Constellation book and let your child pick out their favorite constellation. Run a copy, shrinking it down to fit on the bottom of your milk carton. Tape the copy to the bottom of the carton and use a pin to poke through the paper and the milk carton. Once you have completed the pattern, remove the copy. Go into a dark room and shine the flashlight up through the bottom of the milk carton and and you will see your constellation reflected on the ceiling.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Family Science Night - CO2

CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is a naturally occurring gas that is consumed by plants and trees along with water and sunlight to produce oxygen. Kids can easily see water and sunlight but since CO2 is an invisible gas and it is a harder concept to grasp. These science experiments will help them to see how CO2 is real even though you can not see it.

CO2 is found in the air and is absorbed by the leaves of a plant. Sunlight is then needed to power the process of photosynthesis. The energy absorbed from sunlight moves the water that the plant has absorbed through the plant by capillary routes. Capillaries are small tubes much like our veins that run through the plants system.

Several things that we discussed during these experiments were about plant health and our body. We went outside and looked at some of our plants. Most plants looked healthy and happy but due to the high temperatures and no natural rainfall the Hydrangea looked a bit droopy and needed a good drink. We related this to when we are outside playing and need to stay hydrated also. We went ahead and watered the Hydrangea and then went inside to get a drink for ourselves. Later we went back out and the Hydrangea looked much happier.

Experiment #1 - What are capillaries?

Supplies:
Containers
Water
Food Color
Celery

We cut 3 pieces of celery from the bunch and laid them to the side. Next we added water in equal amounts to three containers. The first container we left as just regular water, the second container we added blue food coloring and we added red food coloring to the final container.

Once the coloring had been mixed in, we added one celery stalk to each container.
It is hard to tell in the pictures but the celery veins did change colors.

Experiment #2 - What is CO2?

Supplies:
2 empty water bottles
water
vinegar
balloons
baking soda

Put one inch of water in one water bottle and one inch of vinegar in the other. Put one teaspoon of baking soda in each balloon. I used a small funnel and stretched the balloon over the neck of the funnel to add the baking soda. Take your first balloon and stretch the mouth of the balloon over the mouth of the bottle with just water in it. Lift up the bottom of the balloon to shake the baking soda into the water. Watch closely and discuss what happens.

You will see that nothing happened as the water does not contribute to the production of CO2. Now take your second balloon and stretch it over the mouth of the bottle with vinegar in it. Lift up the bottom of the balloon to shake the baking soda into the water. Watch closely and discuss what happens.

You will see that the balloon begins to inflate. It looks like magic but it is really CO2 that is escaping from the vinegar and the baking soda combining. The acid from the vinegar reacts with the sodium bicarbonate found in the baking soda and forms a carbonic acid. The bubbles that form are the CO2 leaving the solution.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Homemade Watercolor Pictures

Colored but not "Painted"

When traveling you need to be sure to have something that is fairly mess free for the kids to do in the back seat and this fits the bill. The only think you need are the pictures, a paintbrush for each kid and a small bit of water.

I searched online for some coloring pages and printed a few out. The fish came from Craft Elf. I printed out the image on card stock since we would be adding water to the picture later and I did not want the paper to rip. When I first started this I did not want anything to detail oriented, just a basic image. I then used watercolor crayons to color the pictures. It is not necessary to completely fill in the pictures as the colors will blend in.

On the picture I colored in I tried two different ways to "paint" the picture. On the back half of the water and the fins of the fish, I used a wet paintbrush to blend in the colors. It worked pretty well as long as I had quite a bit of crayon on the page. On the fish body and the front half of the water I put my finger in a baby wipe and used that to blend the colors. I think it looks a little better but I did run into a problem of the ink from printing the picture bleeding with the baby wipe. This may not be a problem if you are patient and wait a few minutes before you try to color. I have very little patience though and was eager to try it out and complete a few pictures before picking up my son.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Teachings - Scavenger Hunts



As the weather warms and the family spends more time outside it is a great time to explore your surroundings. A great way to do this is to go on scavenger hunts with the entire family. This is an easily adaptable process by customizing your sheets. I am going to attach a few sheet for you to print with typical nature items found in most areas but you could also do a sheet using clip art available in any program.


We love to go on scavenger hunts at different times of the day. We then keep track of which items/creatures we were more likely to find in the morning, afternoon or evening. This is a fun and easy way to begin teaching graphing skills to your child.


There are 4 lists that we put together for scavenger hunts. You can use one for each child or everyone can use the same list. You will notice that each list does have one item that is exactly the same. We have encouraged each child to find one piece of trash to recycle. This will be a great opportunity to encourage your kids to be great stewards of the Earth.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Meanderings - Father's Day

Father's Day will be celebrated on Sunday so this week is a great time to put together a few activities for all the great men in your life.

First we have Anything But Perfect with a "wheelie" cute candy bar wrapper for the Dads in your life. This is a great gift for someone that loves cycling or if he is teaching a little one to ride a bike.


Next we have While He Was Napping with a personalized "Daddy's Six Pack". It is a cute idea and an even cuter blog name. We have all tried to get everythign completed while the babies are napping.


Lastly, we have Sugar Bee Crafts with a great shirt for Dad. It would be a nice gift for Grandpa too. You have to go to her blog to see the completed shirt. The front is only the beginning!

Happy Father's Day to all the great Dads out there. Enjoy time with them!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Straw Painting

This week we have decided to work on our blowing skills. Many children, including my own son have problems mastering the suck and blow functions. This makes whistles, bubble blowing and straw drinking difficult. As a way to combat this we did some art, since art always makes life easier.


You will need:

Paint

Water

Spoons

Straws

Construction Paper or Card Stock

Containers for the paint



Put paint into the containers. We used about 1squirt of paint. Now you will want to add enough water to make it a little runny. In the picture above, two of the colors are mixed with water and two are not. It does not take much water or paint. Using your spoons, scoop some of the watered down paint onto your construction paper. We put 4 colors on at a time before we started using the straws.



Once you have the paint on your paper, pick up your straw and blow through it to move the paint around on the paper. Periodically you are going to want to turn your paper around and blow the paint from different angles.



We had lots of fun doing this. Not only did we work on our blowing skills but we also learned about mixing colors. Since we used four colors, it was fun to watch the colors mix and mingle to create new colors.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Children's Garden

Metal Fence with Cutouts from Children's Artwork

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Marcia Farris, Director of the Arboretum in Lexington, KY. If you live in the area then I am sure you have visited the Arboretum numerous times but I was interviewing Marcia for something very special. They have opened the new Kentucky Children's Garden. My family made a visit to the Arboretum the day of the grand opening and we were excited to see the diversity offered in the Children's Garden.
The Butterfly Garden

Marcia was kind enough to take some time out of her busy day to sit down and discuss exactly how this garden came about and what the plans are in the future.

In 2004, the Arboretum hired Herb Schaal of Fort Collins, Colorado to be the conceptual designer of the garden. Once they discussed all the options and were able to narrow down the choices, they began fundraising to make their dream a reality. As of 2011, they have raised $1.2 million of the needed funds and only have $80,000 more to go for completion.
Spider Labyrinth Garden

This dream came about as more and more families came to the Arboretum for walks, family time and classes. The Little Sprout classes offered at the Arboretum were filling up and the staff was being forced to turn away children that wanted to enroll in the classes. They knew that the interest in outdoor and environmental activities could be sustained and that the 25 square foot garden plot that was currently being used as a Children's Garden was inadequate for the volume of visitors.
Pond with Rock Path Bridge

The new Children's Garden is situated on 1.85 acre of the Arboretum and provides an environment for hands on usage, exploring and learning for kids aged 2 and up. There are areas to get in a creek, plant flowers, crawl through butterfly antennae, walk through a labyrinth and so much more.
Pathway with Fossil Imprints

They currently have installed a butterfly garden, a birthday garden, a creek and pond area, a spider web labyrinth, tall grass prairie, Native American area and a cave. Once more funds are raised they are also planning a few other things like a short grass prairie, Pioneer garden, transportation garden and fairy garden.
Native American Garden

As you go through the garden paths you will see animal tracks and leaves imprinted in the paths. These tracks are a history of our state and the animals that have been in our area. At every turn there is something to learn, whether parent or child. They have great raised beds that include a sensory area with soft plants and smelly plants; a barnyard garden with plants named after barnyard animals and an Alice in Wonderland Garden that contains the plants Alice encountered (minus the talking).
The Cave

If you have not visited the new Children's Garden I hope you will put it on the list of things to do this summer.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Teachings - Life Cycles

We recently ordered the best books about Life Cycles. They are by David M Schwartz and one of my favorite things about them is that they contain real photos of the animals and plants instead of illustrations. The photographer for the books is Dwight Kuhn. Below is a picture of the Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle book and the link to purchase.


They have a large variety of books including: Bean, Wood Frog, Horse, Ladybug, Sunflower, Fighting Fish, Chicken, Hummingbird, Maple Tree and Jumping Spider.

Prior to receiving these books my child had zero interest in life cycle activities. I had tried numerous times to get him interested but to no avail. Once we got the books everything changed. In the last week I have read each of these books to him numerous times, I can almost recite these books!

I immediately thought back to an activity that I saw online a month or so ago on The Crafty Classroom. I marked it in my "Inspiration" folder and I am now inspired. I made Life Cycle stamps for my son to play with. It was easy and he loves them.

Supplies:
Craft Foam
Pencil
Wood Block
Glue
Scissors
Stamp Pads

I used an old book that we got at a yard sale last year for my inspiration photos and then I sketched the designs lightly on the craft foam. Once I was happy with the design, I went back over the pictures pressing hard to make the design stay indented enough to use as a stamp.

Once the pictures are completed, cut them out leaving a small border around the pictures and glue them on to left over wood blocks. We used alphabet blocks that we had duplicates of, you could also use just one block and put one picture on each of four sides. Once the glue is dry, start stamping!

I am also planning on going back and making life cycle stamps for other animals and plants. Next up will be the frog.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Meanderings - Healthy Eating

The United States Department of Agriculture made a huge announcement last Thursday. The Food Pyramid that was revealed in 1992 has been replaced by the new My Plate.

As you can see on My Plate, half of the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables, grains and protiens fill the other half and then there is a seperate small plate to represent dairy. This is an easier picture for citizens to understand and comprehend as we go about our meal planning. In addition to the recommendations above the USDA also recommends that at least half of yoru daily grains be whole grains and that your dairy be fat-free or low fat (1%).

You can read the new dietary guidelines here. They have not updated all of the guidelines yet. I was hoping that they personalized recommendations for preschoolers would be completed for this article but as of yet they are still updating them.

Here are links to some great resources for keeping kids healthy.

First we have Kids Health which is dedicated to keeping kids safe and healthy. They have a variety of articles on the website from social-emotional to weight loss and healthy recipes. Here is a link to a quiz for kids entitled, What is the right size for me?


Next is Eating Well Magazine with a list of great recipes for kids and families. Personally, I am going to be trying out the spaghetti and meatballs very soon. It looks delicious and you get six servings and only use 8 ounces of meat! Economical, healthy and looks delicious.


Have you heard about Super Healthy Kids yet? If not, you should really drop everything and head on over to her website. She sells a plate that is perfect for kids to use for portion control and it fits the new dietary guidelines. She has been selling the plates for a few years now and has great testimonies from parents that have used the plates to change thier families eating habits. She also has some amazing recipes on her blog. I made her 100% fruit rolls and they were really delicious!