Sunday, August 28, 2016

Room set up

When I worked in the schools as a speech-language pathologist, I got moved around to different schools almost yearly.  While getting to know new students and staff was a little intimidating to introverted little old me, I always got more than a little excited about organizing and preparing a new therapy space and I kind of miss it.

Our space hasn't really changed in the last few months, although I have streamlined some things that have made it easier.  However, we are going to be building a new house with a dedicated school space (hallelujah!) and I am busily poring over Pinterest and sketching out ideas for when we finally get to move in.  In the meantime, I thought I'd show you our current space and go over a few of the things I've done to help organize our materials.

When I first started with Mother Goose Time, I bought fancy bankers boxes and hanging files to store each day's curriculum pack.  These didn't work perfectly, though, since the lids wouldn't fit flush over the hanging files which made it difficult to stack them.  I finally realized that the adorable school bus box that the the curriculum ships in is actually the perfect place to store them.  I do take them out of their shrink wrapped bags and put them in tabbed manila folders, which fit perfectly in the boxes.  Large, bulky supplies are labeled with the day of use and placed in a large freezer bag and kept in front of the folders.  I also put the contents of the teacher material bag in freezer bags.  Manipulatives are kept in the box for the month and then transferred to our toy shelf for use in other activities.

I've shown you the recycled containers I use to store our manipulatives before.  I love these tall, clearcontainers that were full of mixed nuts from Costco at one point.  However, we don't go through mixed nuts very quickly so I have a very limited number of these.  I had been using Costco size cottage cheese containers since Littlest could eat it for every meal and we go through one every 10 days but they were hard for the girls to open on their own and they'd have to go through lots of them to figure out what was in each one.  My mom was cleaning out her supplies and gave me a stack of these clear Betty Crocker containers.  They are perfect for our smaller items, like foam shapes and the counting manipulatives.  The girls can see what they want and they are easier to open without my help.

We do Circle Time in the corner of the living room.  I put together a portable Circle Time display last fall using a science fair board.  It works pretty well and I store it in our catchall-understairs storage area when we aren't using it, along with a few boxes of curriculum (we have a storage unit nearby where older boxes get moved so we don't fill up this space entirely).  I also have an Algot rolling shelf from IKEA in there that I use for storing art supplies and my Scotch laminator.  This area is not photo-ready at the moment but you can imagine.  I use cottage cheese containers to store my glue, scissors, crayons, stickers and other large supplies.  Little things like extra googly eyes, glitter and sparkly things are placed in glass baby food containers and then kept in diaper wipes containers to keep things semi-organized.

I've commandeered the back wall of the living room for our preschool alphabet, song and shape displays.  I've had to move everything up kind of high lately because Littlest has become obsessed with taking the things down and peeling off the sticky tack.

I love the I Can Read books that come every month.  I keep them all in a big bowl, easily accessible on the lower shelf of one of our side tables so Miss M and Littlest can pull one out and either read it on their own or bring it to me.  Miss M's reading skills have really blossomed lately and she feels so proud of herself when she's able to read a book all by herself.

That's our space for now.  I imagine a more typical preschool set up with stations in our new space, along with a large, dedicated store room for curriculum and materials when we move into our new home.  It's still several months away but a girl can dream...

Family Picnic Variations

I have always loved the extra celebration packs MGT adds to many of their monthly curriculum boxes.  This month was a family picnic, full of ideas for games and treats.  I find them very inspiring and usually end up coming up with some of my own ideas using the materials provided.  I thought I'd share some of those ideas today.

The spinner that came in the packet can be used for lots of different things.  I came up with a spin-off of the pasta salad game using it.  I didn't have plastic ants and didn't want to go buy any since we have little things coming out of our ears right now.  Instead, I used some of the foam shapes I've collected from previous month's boxes and added it to a bowlful of expired penne I found hiding on the top shelf of my pantry.  Using tweezers from another month of curriculum, the girls would take turns spinning and then pick out the corresponding number of shapes from the noodles.  You could also use little sticky notes, draw shapes on them and place them over the number for another variation.

After they finished that game, we continued to use the spinner and the pasta.  I cut long pieces of  yarn, made a tape "needle" on one end and tied a piece of pasta to the other.  They then took turns spinning and threading the corresponding number of pasta pieces onto their yarn to make a necklace. Miss M made a nice ABC pattern.

We then took our magnifying glass (from last July's nature box) outside and started looking for things in nature.  Originally I was going to have them observe some of the ants that live at the end of our patio but those little suckers were super fast so we settled for closely examining our roses and lavender flowers as well as the honeybees visiting them.  The girls then drew chalk pictures of what they saw (I see this as a precursor to nature journals, which I'd like to start with them next summer).  We talked about the different parts of the plants, the colors, smells and how they felt.

Daddy joined us outside and came up with a fun but definitely adult-supervision only activity.  Being a boy and former Scout, he decided to show the girls how to use the magnifying glass to concentrate the sun's rays and melt crayons onto a piece of paper.  We talked about safety as well as why the crayon was changing from solid to a liquid.  They had fun swirling the melted wax and drawing with the stubs.

Those were my variations to some really fun activities as we end the month of August.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


We've been doing from the Structures lesson and inspired by it for a few days.  We started at my parents house with my nephew.  I'll be honest, I couldn't figure out how to fold the Strong Shapes, except for the cylinder.  I tried but after nearly a week of very little sleep (thanks to Littlest's sudden need to be rocked to sleep and hold my hand all night) my brain just wasn't functioning at it's highest capacity.

I gave my nephew a few of the letter cards and he did his best to twist the pipe cleaners into the same shapes.  Obviously sinuous letters like S were easy but he had a harder time with some of the others.  Miss M wasn't interested in participating at this time and I didn't push it.

We did use the pictures to create the shapes with straws and pipe cleaners.  Miss M enjoyed figuring this out, although it was a bit over Littlest's head.  We turned the triangle into a necklace, which caught her attention, though.

I talked with my nephew about which shape was the strongest (he guessed a square).  I think it would have been a good idea for me to elaborate on this by showing pictures of buildings with triangular elements, as well as bridges.  We spent some time building the strongest structures we could with his blocks (unfortunately, no pictures).

When we finally got home from our long car ride, the girls wanted something to do so I had them build with their blocks.  Of course, they chose to build castles for their princesses.  I think they did an amazing job.  I did help them with spacing their pillars and we talked about how if they wanted it to stand up, the base of each block had to be completely on top of the one below it, not hanging off.

Another activity was more shape-related than structures but it worked on their fine motor skills.  Thanks to Mother Goose Time, I have a plethora of foam shape pieces and at least two nice sets of tweezers.  I dumped the shapes on the floor, gave them each a set of tweezers and containers (because sharing is not a strong skill right now) and let them have it.  It actually kept them occupied for about five minutes.  Miss M chose to only pick up pink shapes while Littlest seemed drawn to the tiniest ones.

Friday, August 19, 2016


We were on vacation this last week for my high school reunion (we won't worry about how long ago I graduated) so I took some of our lessons to do with the girls and my nephews.

The first lesson we did was Light.  We started by matching marker caps that my art teacher/recycler extraordinaire mother saved from dried up markers for sorting activities.  The kids were all pretty fast with this activity and enjoyed finding different shades.  My 6-year old nephew decided that the pink caps belonged with red since all you do is add white to it to make pink.  I love his reasoning skills.

We tried the rainbow in a glass of water experiment but had a hard time with it.  We had the most luck when used a cut crystal bowl that acted like a prism.

They enjoyed making the color paddles.  I found the easiest way to do it was to put the cellophane between the two sides and cut around it, then add glue to around the insides and then just shut it.  I had them use the rectangle cut out pieces from the paddle to draw their different colored pictures.  They all had a great time running around, pretending to be color changing detectives (I guess they reminded them of magnifying glasses).

I think the most favorite activity was finding the letters with the lantern in the fort.  My dad actually constructed a PVC framework that rests on the couch and coffee table in order to build a sturdier blanket fort.  We blocked all the holes with blankets and pillows, then I hid letters and shapes inside for them to find.  I had Littlest looking for shapes and the older kids looking for the letters.  They had an absolutely great time until one of the decided not to come out and give the other kids their turns.  It quickly devolved from there but was an activity we could come back to again and again.

My nephew has a great series from Weekly Reader called "Just Ask" and there is one about rainbows that would be great for supplementing with kindergarten and first graders.  They appear to be only available second hand so I've got my fingers crossed he decides he doesn't want them anymore in a couple of years. ;)

As a sort of related activity, we tie dyed tee shirts.  They had a ton of fun and the shirts turned out great.  I do caution you to wear gloves even if you intend to have the kids do most of the dyeing because it took several days to get the dye off my fingers and all I did was take the lid off the bottle for Miss M.

We didn't do the rainbow color by number because my nephew isn't much into coloring and my girls only wanted to do what he was interested in doing.  I know Miss M could have done it perfectly but Littlest doesn't like being constrained by rules or lines right now.  I would probably just have her draw her own rainbow, maybe handing her the colors in order.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

We're Back!!

We took July off but I am so excited about our new August curriculum.  It has been unbearably hot here for the last several weeks, forcing us to spend large amounts of time in the air conditioning.  Thankfully, we have a super fun box of science experiments to keep us entertained and educated.

My girls love to pour and mix things so the Mixtures lesson was perfect for them.  We started with the sugar and oil experiment.  We don't drink bottled water so I didn't have any clear capped bottles and just made do with a couple of the glass spaghetti jars I have been saving.  It worked fine since I just had the two girls with me but I might not recommend using glass if you've got more than that just because of the possibility of breaking.  As it was, I ended up washing my floors three times during school because Littlest kept knocking over water.

We started with dissolving sugar into water.  Miss M noted the water was cloudy and then became clear as we swirled  and mixed it.  Then we added the oil to the other jar and watched it bead up and separate as we swirled and mixed it.  At this point, the sugar water got spilled all over the floor and we took a short break while I cleaned.

Our next experiment was making Jello.  My girls have been noticed steam in the past when I've used my Instant Pot (my favorite household gadget) so after I boiled the water we talked about how water changes state from liquid to gas when it gets hot (also used it as another opportunity to talk about kitchen safety) and from a liquid to a solid when it gets cold.  Would you believe that my girls have never actually had Jello before so this was all completely new to them? Their reaction to the jiggliness was totally adorable, although Littlest didn't actually like eating it.

Hands down their favorite activity was the color experimenting.  We read from the monthly storybook about Alfred Nobel first, then I filled the largest beaker with clear water and the other four with different colors (this is when the next two water accidents occurred.  My floor was very clean this day).  They each took turns add a little bit of their selected color and either predicting what would happen or naming the resulting color.  This will be one that we repeat (although maybe we will do it outside...).

Lastly we mixed paint colors on the included color mixing sheet.  I was a little worried about them mixing colors in the paint pots so we used two brushes for each primary color (so they each had their own because heaven forbid they have to share or wait for a color) and I had them put all the paint down for that particular color at one time.  They decided that their favorite mixed color was purple so I gave them each construction paper and let them paint away in purple until they decided they were done.

I'm really looking forward to taking some of these up to Washington next week and doing them with my six year old nephew.  This is a great box for keeping kids occupied the last few weeks before school starts up.

Monday, June 27, 2016

S and T

So, I love Mother Goose Time buuuuut I had to do something different for S because while Sheep (the animal they chose) technically is spelled with an S at the beginning it does not actually start with an /s/ sound.  I found a cute, free Snake coloring page on the internet and printed off three copies.  I started by showing the girls pictures of snakes and pointing out the different patterns. I had the girls chose 2-3 markers and come up with their own repeating patterns.  For Littlest, I did a simple pattern for her, coloring every other stripe red, and then let her decorate the rest of the picture on her own.  Miss M chose a pattern of four blue, one brown and got a little tired of coloring the four blue after a while so to help her maintain the pattern, I colored the blue stripes and she did the brown one.

The concept review game was fun for the girls.  Since I wanted to reinforce the /s/ sound and we were also doing activities from T is for Tiger, I chose to use letter magnets instead of a small toy to hide under my paper cups.  I randomly placed cut up cards on top of ten overturned cups and hid both letters while the girls closed their eyes.  They then took turns choosing a cup and looking for the magnet letter after telling me about the card on top.  If they chose a number card, I made them count to it.  If they chose a letter card, I made them tell me something that started with that letter.  They had a lot of fun with this game.  Littlest is making good strides with her speech but still can't quite name letters so she just made the sounds and I directed her to identify numbers and shapes instead of choosing them on her own.

These cards could be used in lots of ways.  You could put them in a little Tupperware (to keep them corralled) facedown and use them when playing board games like Candyland and have every player draw one and name it before taking their turn.  You could have your child pick a card, then find something in the room that starts with that sound or is the same shape or color (you could make it into a scavenger hunt for older kids).  For numbers, they could collect that many of a certain object (or different kinds of objects that add up to the total).  You could also use the number cards with coloring games, having them take a number and then color that many items on a page red, for example.  You could do a version of the alphabet car game but have them use names of objects or family members for each letter of the alphabet.

They loved the tiger masks and they turned out so cute!!  I didn't help them at all except to tie the yarn on (I cut it in half first so it was easily adjustable).  After they finished drawing on their stripes and had donned their feline alter egos, all three started growling and prowling around the living room, climbing on the back of sofas.

We finished off the day with masks firmly in place and dancing away to the ABC Zoo Dance N Beats DVD.  We started with the T is for Tiger song and then they chose their favorite letters from there.  I think my favorite was watching them run around like quick quail, especially Littlest who still has that adorable whole-torso toddler run.  It was a fun morning for us.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

P, Q, R

It's been a while and a crazy, difficult couple of weeks.  Our temperatures have soared into the high 90's and we've been cooped up inside to keep from roasting my littles in the afternoons.  Thank goodness for some ready at hand fun from Mother Goose Time.

On Friday we had a long overdue class with our friend and learned about Polar Bears, Quail and Rattlesnakes as we did projects and played games.

The included Zoogo card game was a huge hit and I plan to play it with the girls tonight with Daddy.  It's basically played the same as Uno, except instead of numbers they use animals we have been learning about this month.  You could easily make your own version of it by printing a sheet of pictures of your own choice (farm animals, transportation, items of clothing, letters, numbers, shapes) on four different colors of paper.  This game is great for helping children work on problem solving skills as they decide whether to match by color or picture, as well as reinforcing vocabulary and/or early academic skills.  I had them put their cards face up on the table and at each turn, asked them if they had a card with the same color or animal as the card in play.  After a few times around, the older girls no longer needed reminders and Littlest would place the correct by herself with a verbal cue.

We talked about rattlesnakes and they practiced their best slithering and snake sounds before making the rattlesnake rattle project, which of course evolved into bracelets because all three of these little girls love jewelry.  String beads onto pipe cleaners is a great fine motor project, even better than using yarn or string for young kids, because the pipe cleaner is nice and firm so they only have to concentrate on getting the bead on and not holding it still.  You could work on patterning with the beads but I chose to let them do it their way.

I think the favorite activity of the day was painting their feet for the Polar Bear project.  We talked about what they would need to protect their feet out in the snow and ice and discussed how polar bear feet are special in that way.  These girls love getting painted and each very patiently waited for me to get to her, then giggled as the paintbrush tickled their toes.  I had to watch Littlest carefully after she was done because liked it so much, she wanted to do it herself.  Make sure you get that paint out of their reach or you may end up with an adorable little toddler toe path painted on your floor.  I loved their responses when I asked them what would happen if they met a polar bear; our friend said it would eat her, Miss M insisted it would protect her from the snowstorm with its warm fur and Littlest shouted "Boo!" indicating that it would either scare her or she would play games with it.  :)  These will be fun to look out in a few years when their feet have gotten so much bigger and I yearn for the little days.

For the Quail egg game, each girl made her own cozy nest and took turns carrying an egg from basket back to it, where she opened it and identified the letter tile inside.  Littlest told me the sounds they make, which I thought was super impressive.  The older girls also listed animals and people they could think of with names that started with that letter.  Miss M then tried to incubate her eggs by sitting on them.

That was all we had time for, although I plan to go back and do the rattlesnake skin shedding activity today or tomorrow, just for fun.