Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Review: Señor Cat’s Romance and Other Favorite Stories from Latin America

After reading these folk tales from Latin America, children will never look at a weather vane in quite the same way. Poor Medio-Pollito’s selfish ways confined him there for eternity. The inclusion of all readers is quite evident in this book. Each tale contains “Something about the Story” where author Lucía González connects with the reader on a personal level or tells a little about the variations of each tale in different Latin American countries. Even the illustrator (Lulu Delacre) reaches out by painting in her own favorite recipe for Arroz con Pollo in the saga of “Juan Bobo and the Three-Legged Pot.” In addition, González defines words and phrases within the text and includes a pronunciation guide and definitions for unfamiliar Spanish words at the end of each legend. The illustrations add an authentic flair to the book in soft yet bold watercolors.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Book Review: Freight Train

Only 55 words fill this book, yet when the reader is finished, she will have an understanding of what a caboose, tank car, hopper, cattle car, gondola car, box car, tender and engine look like. She will also learn about trestles, tunnels, bridges and color. She will see motion take place on a still page. This Caldecott Honor book from Donald Crews, like the companion book Inside Freight Train, Truck (which won the same award), Harbor, School Bus and others offer young children from 2 to 6 years of age a vivid vision of worlds both familiar and unfamiliar using language that is reinforcing and expansive.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Book Review: Charlie Needs a Cloak

Tomie de Paola may lack the true skills of a shepherd or garment manufacturer, but he makes up for it with the few, carefully chosen words he uses to enumerate the process of making a cloak. More so, his artistic talent does more to tell the story than his words. This story rides the fence between non-fiction and fictional picture book: It contains a whimsical lamb and playful mouse who entertain themselves and readers while Charlie works to shear, spin, weave and sew (all words defined in an end glossary). De Paola has been involved in the creation of over 150 books and has won numerous awards since this book was written, but it still stands out as a worthy read for children from 2 to 6 years of age.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Book Review: The New Kid on the Block

What is a Yubbazubbie, anyway? Jack Prelutsky creates poetry here that ranges from outlandish and nonsensical to more realistic or at least practical: A year of practice or an iron rear will get you far when cactus-sitting, for example. References to bodily functions and noises abound that children will also enjoy. Irreverent and sometimes eschewing authority (“I wish my mother wouldn’t make so many useless rules”) this is for children 6 to 10 who love the rhyme and creativity of Dr. Seuss but who may be ready to leave him to a younger, more conformist crowd. That younger crowd may get some enjoyment from the verse here, but some concepts may be beyond their understanding or they may lack knowledge necessary to make the joke work – knowing what a bully is and that one is frequently perceived to be male or that being a horse’s rear is a stab at self-deprecating humor. Simple, yet expressive and humorous illustrations complement each poem.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Book Review: The Forgotten Door

A child falls from a Utopian planet onto a selfish, war-loving, greedy Earth. And that’s just the first page. This story manages to suspend throughout. Its science fiction undertones, however, should not be a deterrent for the young reader (8 to 12) who may not regularly be drawn to this genre. Beneath the U.F.O.s and supernatural powers, Alexander Key manages to take a small valley and create a microcosm of the world, replete with ethical dilemmas and characters representing good and evil. Like Key’s other books, the children and a few trusted adults are the heroes, open-minded and wise, while most of the remaining characters (especially those in authority) come across like backwards buffoons. The book may be nearly four decades old, but the message will still ring true for readers today.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Paint Brushes Recalled

I know when I was responsible for buying for my centers or family child care, Discount School Supply often saved the day with their low prices. And I loved the BioColor line of art supplies. Some of you out there are probably like me, and if so be aware that some of their paint brushes have been recalled because of high lead paint content.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Three Men in a Tub Art

For nursery rhyme week, one of the art projects that you can complete goes with the nursery rhyme "Three Men in a Tub."

First you're going to want either white construction paper or light blue construction paper. If you choose white then you can use other pieces of construction paper to represent the ocean and the sky or you can have the children use crayons or colored pencils or markers to add these touches.

Second you're going to want to either cut some brown "tubs." You may not know this, but the tub that is in the rhyme is actually more like half a whiskey barrel rather than an actual bathtub.

Now, you can have each child place their hand on the larger piece of construction paper and you can trace around it or if they're older they can trace around themselves -- but don't trace around the whole hand. You only want to trace around the three middle fingers.

The children can then glue the boat on top of the fingers, letting the top stick out just a bit since these represent each of the three men. They can then decorate their fingers with happy faces and hats or hair if they wish. And of course, they can add bits of construction paper or drawing to represent the ocean and sky.

Here's my 5 second sketch of horrendousness, but it should look something like this:


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blank Lesson Plan for Pre-K

This lesson plan can be used for pre-k, preschool, kindergarten or homeschooling. It's not a comprehensive form, more of a guide to keep yourself on track or to alert parents or administrators to your plans. I always like to post something like this on my wall so that all interested parties would have an idea of what we were doing in class that week and it was helpful to keep me on track as well.

The curriculum enhancement space is for those of you who may have "extras" that go on, like when your kids leave class for Spanish, Dance or Computers. On days when the children aren't going anywhere outside the classroom, I usually would focus on sign language to teach and reinforce the letter and color of the week.

You can fill it out something like this:

Pre-K Lesson Plan Sample

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Spider Webs

These spider webs look great when hung in random corners around the room. What I like to do is let them dry and then attach a white string with a construction paper spider cut-out that has the child's face mounted on. I'll wait until all the children are gone to hang these in various places and they love going and looking for their own the next day when they arrive.

You'll need:

  • A round cake pan

  • Black construction paper

  • White paint

  • Marbles

Use the cake pan as a template and trace around the outside. Cut enough off the edges so that the paper fits inside the pan. You'll need one paper for each child.

When it's time for the activity, place the paper inside the pan, then add a small spoonful of white paint right in the middle of the paper. Put the marble in the pan and allow the child to tilt and move the pan around to make the web.

Do not hang these to dry as there can still be a big clump of paint in the middle that will run. Lay these flat. Also, I use a white colored pencil to mark names or initials on the backs of the papers before they begin painting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Two Different Pumpkin Pies to Try

Cooking and eating pumpkin pie is a special treat that can be added to a Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Fall Curriculum theme. Most of the mixing, measuring, pouring and such should be done by the children if they are old enough.

This no bake variety is especially good for the youngest group. You can buy pre-made graham cracker tarts or you can give them a bowl with graham crackers to crunch into tiny bits and then come around with a little bit of melted butter to make it a "crust" in their bowls. A second bowl can be used to mix together the pudding mix, milk and pie filling and then they can pour it onto their crust. You can also make it one big pie as follows:

You'll need:

  • 1 can PREPARED pumpkin pie filling
  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 prepared graham cracker pie shell

Mix the first three ingredients and then pour it into the shell. Eat right away or chill and eat.

Note that there is a difference between prepared pumpkin pie filling and canned pumpkin. They look similar, but the prepared filling has already been cooked and has spices added.

Now, the cooked version -- a real treat for school-agers. Top it with whipped cream -- real whipped cream. I'm so surprised to see a group of school-agers who don't even know that you can whip liquid cream and get whipped cream. It's right there in the name, but I think so many kids are used to cool whip, they don't even think about where it comes from. I know that there's a real trend in moving cooking out of classrooms because of liability issues, too, and I think that just stinks. (/tirade)

You'll need:

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 can pumpkin

  • 1 can evaporated milk

  • 1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell (or see recipe below)

And then do the following:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

  2. Mix the sugar, salt and spice in a bowl.

  3. Beat the eggs and then stir in the pumpkin.

  4. Stir in the sugar mix.

  5. Stir in the evaporated milk.

  6. Pour it into the shell and bake it for 15 minutes.

  7. Reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

  8. Allow to cool for several hours and then serve topped with whipped cream.

You can make an easy pie crust even if you don't have a rolling pin. Just mix the following ingredients all together and then press it into the pie pan. This is a really fun part for the kids!

  • 1 1/2 cups flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

  • 2 tablespoons milk

  • 1/2 cup canola oil

And now for the whipped cream... Just add about 2 cups of cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla to a cold metal bowl and beat on medium speed until you can see a trail left by the beaters when you drag them through the mix. Set the beaters on high and mix until it's as stiff as you'd like (should only take a minute or so more from that point.)

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds is a fun activity after carving a pumpkin. Not only do you get to have a nutritious snack, you get to talk about using the seeds and not being wasteful.

  1. Gather all the seeds and have the children dig through them (after washing hands, of course) to pick off the pulpy bits.

  2. Put the seeds in a colander and let the children take turns stirring the seeds up in a sink of running water to wash the seeds.

  3. Spread the seeds on a towel and roll it up, squeezing out any excess moisture.

  4. Spread the seeds on a cookie sheet sprayed with a little bit of cooking spray (if desired).

  5. Place in a 350 degree F oven until toasty.

  6. Salt if desired.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wrap Your Mummies

This activity makes a great time filler or party game in October for Halloween or during an Egypt theme.

  1. Have each child bring in a roll of toilet paper from home.

  2. Pick teams of two children each.

  3. Have one child be the wrapper and the other child be the mummy

  4. You can keep time and have the teams shout when their toilet paper roll is empty or you can have them go to a designated spot to ring a bell. It doesn't have to be competitive, however, to be fun.

  5. For round two, have the mummy take a turn as the wrapper this time.

Once everyone is wrapped, be sure to take a group picture.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sponge Painting a Jack-o-Lantern

You can sponge paint a Jack-o-Lantern by using the sponge painting tips here.

You'll need:

  • Orange Paint

  • Black Paint

  • Paper Plates

  • Sponges

  • Clothespins

Have the children first sponge paint a paper plate orange. This serves as the pumpkin base. Then use the black paint to sponge paint eyes, nose and mouth. Hang to dry.

For younger children, if you want to offer some guidance about where eyes and mouths go, you can draw a face with a Sharpie before painting begins or you can hang pictures of real Jack-o-Lanterns in the area where art is being done that day. Some children will never have seen one before, so an example can be nice, but you don't want to provide so much guidance that it's not a free activity or that it drains all the creativity out of their art. :)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Easy, Almost Mess-Free Sponge Painting

If you like the look of sponge painting, but not always the mess, try this tip: Cut the sponges into small squares, about 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches. Then place the sponge pieces in the jaws of a clothespin. The clothespin acts sort of like a paintbrush handle.

This is a great way to use multiple colors. Just make several clothespins and then use small cups or bowls with a little paint in them. It's also a way to conserve sponges and use up the random bits of a sponge that you've cut for another activity.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Los Angeles Area Child Care Teachers and Administrators — Conference

If you are a provider in the LA area, here's a professional development opportunity for you. Even if you can't afford the $100 conference fee... there's an Expo that is free and open to the public. Register here.

Universal Preschool Conference and Education Expo celebrates the Benefits of Early Childhood Education

More than 2,500 parents, children, preschool providers and educators are expected to gather at the Universal Preschool Conference and Education Expo on Sept. 7 and 8 to celebrate the advantages children gain in life by attending preschool. Participants in the two-day event will discuss, share, explore and learn more about the best methods and resources available to better prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Peanut Butter Alternative

For those making pine cone bird feeders and otherwise dealing with peanut (or other tree nut) allergies, I've mentioned using soy butter before. The deal with the soy butter, however, is that... well, it doesn't taste the greatest, really.

Now there's something else on the market... it's called SunButter and it's made from sunflower seeds. This stuff actually tastes good.

Might be something to try. Especially if you already love sunflower seeds.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Comprehensive Curriculum Books

When I was homeschooling, I really liked to supplement what we were doing with pages from the Comprehensive Curriculum series. I can't say I like this for the younger ages, though, since worksheets really tend to be more stifling at those ages (preschool, K), but my son was in 4th grade when we homeschooled, so it was a nice way to practice some of the basic skills he was learning.

I did the cheap thing (as I'm prone to do, being pretty frugal on most days) and bought copies from half.com (this was before Amazon.com started doing their marketplace, so that's a cheap place to get books now as well.)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Making Colored Sand or Salt

Here's a movie of my kid and I making some colored salt...

As you can see, these are pretty easy to make. I know the big name guys like Discount School Supply sell this stuff inexpensively, but really, you can make it yourself and use the money you'd save on some colored butcher rolls. (Always seems like there's never enough of that...)

Learning about Rainbows

There are so many teachable moments with kids, but sometimes we forget when we get caught up in routine or mundane tasks.

For instance, when you fill up the wading pool or you're hooking up the sprinkler for the kids this summer, remember to take the time to show them how you can make a rainbow and give them turns holding the hose and creating this wonderful effect. (Just remember to put your back to the sun and tell the kids to spray over their shadows for the best results.

When I was a kid, I never got tired of making rainbows in the hose. And every rainbow seemed like magic to me. But don't leave it at that for the kids in your care... be sure to teach them some of the science behind rainbows.

Other ways to have fun with rainbows:

  • Put prisms in the science area or on the science table

  • Blow bubbles on sunny days and point out the rainbow effects in the bubbles

  • set out all the colors of the rainbow at the easel and teach the children about "Roy G. Biv" (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet)

  • Make rainbows on large paper with colored sand or colored salt

  • Hold up a compact disc in the light and let the children see the rainbow pattern

Rainbow Spray Photo is Copyright abbydonkrafts (Taken by Samantha)

Rainbow Spray

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Square foot gardening

I've been reading a lot about square foot gardening lately. I think that this really makes sense and would be a great way to start a garden in a child care setting where you may not be able to "give up" much of your playground space.

I would advise that you make the boxes 4x2 however, to allow the small arms of children to reach their own squares.

If you buy the book, be sure and get the newer version. They're both about the same price, so that's not an issue... but the author has made some advances in the technique that are particularly welcome. For instance, in the past, he recommended that you dig down into your existing soil where the box is going to be. In the new version, this step is not necessary.

There's a Yahoo! Group for this that I've been following, and almost nobody does anything with their existing soil. In fact, most folks lay down a weed blocking fabric or old newspapers and cardboard boxes (cheaper than the fabric!) and put the boxes right on top.

Also, the book isn't really necessary, although there is a ton of reference material in there with charts and such... very handy. But the author has a Web site and shares his knowledge and experience very generously. He's quite an advocate of this system and is even spreading it to poverty-stricken areas of the world and to Habitat for Humanity homes.

If you join the Yahoo! Group, you'll be able to see member pictures -- there are many albums that have stunning examples of gardens in all stages of growth, arbors and fences covered with tomato vines and such... just really great stuff to inspire you and your students.

Also see pictures of square foot gardens and their bounties at Flickr.

Peanut butter projects and allergies

Someone recently asked about the pine cone bird feeder project and what they could do if there's a child in the class with a peanut allergy.

There are a few alternatives here, including using tallow -- rendered beef fat, other nut butters like almond butter or macadamia spread, and using soy butter.

Growing plants from fruit and veggie scraps

There are lots of things that we usually get rid of when cooking that can make a great "growing" unit for kids. Vegetable tops and fruit seeds... many things that we just toss or (hopefully) make compost out of will grow when set in water or soil. Have kids keep a lookout at home for things that they can bring in and then you can set up an experiment area. Be sure to use popsicle sticks or other labels (preferably with pictures) so kids get a good visual of what's going on over time.

Things you can grow:

  • dried beans and peas (plant in dirt)

  • carrot tops (trim leaves and plant leafy side up in a tray of soil)

  • green onion tops (plant the white part root side down in soil)

  • Popcorn kernels (plant in a tray of soil)

  • avacado pits (use toothpicks to balance the seed in a cup of water. Place in water with the bigger side pointing downward)

  • seeds from oranges, limes, lemons and other citrus fruit

  • beet tops (trim leaves and plant leafy side up in a tray of soil)

  • turnip tops (trim leaves and plant leafy side up in a tray of soil)

  • pineapple crowns (set in a tray of water)

  • sweet potatoes (put in water with half of potato always submerged)

When growing from seeds, like popcorn kernels or citrus seeds, place some plastic wrap over the pot or tray and keep moist. Remove the wrap as soon as you see the first sprouts.

Good planting containers include the bottoms of milk cartons or milk jugs, the bottoms of two-liter bottles and aluminum pot pie or pie tins. Be sure to poke holes for drainage (I like using milk carton bottoms simply because it's easier to make holes) and place the container in a saucer to catch any extra water.

When using soil, be sure to use a light mixture that has some vermiculite or other additions. Soil that is heavy is not the best for planting. Roots don't grow in soil, after all, they grow in the places between the soil. For that reason, you need to make sure you get something loose and light that the roots can really move in. Adding peat moss or the more environmentally friendly Coir Fiber as a good way to make room in your soil for roots to grow.

Make a Plant Person

What you need:

  • Old pantyhose or knee-high stockings (one pair will work for two children)

  • Sawdust or peat moss mixed with some potting soil

  • Grass seed (enough for each child to have a few tablespoons)

  • a leak-proof saucer or bowl (one for each child)

  • Felt pieces

  • Glue or glue gun

  • Peanuts

What to do:

  1. Cut the feet off of the pantyhose or knee highs at about the ankles.

  2. Put a few tablespoons of grass seed in the toe and then fill the rest of the way with the  sawdust/peat moss mixture leaving enough room to tie it in a knot.

  3. Knot it closed and then form the stocking into a rounded head shape with the knotted side down.

  4. Allow the children to decorate the "heads" with felt pieces for eyes and nose and peanuts for a mouth.  If using a glue gun (recommended since it has a bit more staying power than regular glue) assist children in this process.

  5. Soak the "head" in water and put it in a window or other sunny area.

  6. Be sure to keep the heads moist, watering as necessary which could mean every day.

The grass will begin to grow out of the top making hair which the children can then leave or shape into hair styles with scissors, ribbons, etc.