Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carnival of Educators for December 22, 2009

It’s my first time hosting a carnival!  Yeah!  I hope I got enough fairway food for everyone…

First up, a couple of items about brain research.  Always learning, we teachers are.  Joanne Jacobs gets us started with some information about learning styles.  Then Alvaro Fernandez shares “a stimulating interview with brain scientist Michael Merzenich. Who will be the "personal brain trainers" of the future? (perhaps educators can add this to their New Year Resolutions?)”  That comes to us from Sharp Brains.

In the There’s-No-Good-Answer-For-That Department, Siobhan Curious wants to know why Lia is so outraged (though she says she’s not) and what she can do to become a kinder teacher while figuring it out.  Andrea Hermitt wonders on Families.com what it is about homeschooled children that makes people think they can pick them out of a crowd easily.  Maybe we should test it in a lineup, just to make sure (I’m kidding about that, people).

On a happy note, have a little fun with a puppet challenge, sent to the carnival by Pamela Jorrick and the Blah, Blah, Blog.  As an adult I love such challenges, but as a kid, well, I found them challenging!

In the Resources section we’ve got online math games and lessons sent in by TutorFi, the top 45 websites to head for if you want a Christian scholarship sent in by Online University Reviews, and 50 essential blog posts on educational reform sent to us by Online Courses.org.

And finally, from the I-Can’t-Believe-This-Crazy-Weirdness-Happens-In-Our-Public-Schools file, Andrea Hermitt shares with us the story of a teacher driven to distraction by…hair.  Add a pair of scissors and you’ve got a heartbroken kid and a bizarre story to share with your relatives over the winter break.  At least you don’t do stuff like that where you work, right???  Right???

Hopefully you all get some well-deserved rest over the next couple of weeks.  I don’t want to hear any reports of strange teacher behavior when you go back to your classrooms!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas in the Twos Room

By now your school Christmas celebrations are over and all the kids have started their winter break.  Now that you have a chance to breathe, I’ll share with you what we did (or didn’t) do.  I’ll warn you, it’s a little non-traditional!

My nursery school is housed in a church, which considers us a ministry of the church.  They are very generous with our program and many of the things are able to do are because of their generosity.  Luckily, they are also a very inclusive faith community.  We do very little that’s strictly Christian and most classes have one or more students whose families wouldn’t describe themselves as Christian.

In our twos classes we were very low key this year.  I had a ficus tree that I strung with some simple lights and we plugged it in for the last week before break.  Each classroom is supposed to have a nativity set to play with (we don’t instruct about it, we just set it out), but ours somehow lost pieces between last year and this one so we left it packed up.  We used red and green paint, glue, and some glitter the last week and we talked about the upcoming break during snack.  We had a holiday party on the last day where parents brought in healthy snacks, hung out, and let us give them a gift we made with the children’s art work.

And that was it.  (Don’t have a heart attack.)

Now, I love the holiday season as much as the next person, but when it comes to little ones, less is more.  In all other areas of their lives they are bombarded with Christmas decorations, music, advertisements, and the gimmies.  If they don’t celebrate Christmas then they are left out completely.  Their little brains need a rest.  They don’t need more sugar and they don’t need more glitz.  They need their usual routines with just a *little* dazzle added.  Not the whole bag of dazzle, if you get my meaning.  Twos are truly experiencing all the special times of the year for the first time since they don’t usually remember the last time clearly.  It doesn’t help to overdo it.

I will admit that other classrooms in the building worked a little harder at the holiday thing.  And that’s ok.  The threes remember the previous year so it’s not completely foreign.  They get that something’s different than regular times of the year.  The fours know enough to look forward to it.  But for twos it’s a crazy enough time.  Relatives may be visiting or they may be traveling.  Parents are stressed.  We tried our best to make our classroom a haven from the winter holiday crazies that seem to take everyone over at this time.

Whatever your personal winter holiday traditions, enjoy them with love and generosity toward others.  And stay tuned for the Carnival of Educators just a few days from now, right here!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Under (Very Little) Pressure

Drawing on Gak with Markers

It's really difficult to teach something as subtle as “gentle” to a two-year-old.  Last year I had a kid who thought that “gentle” meant he was supposed to give a hug!  Pressure is a difficult concept, particularly when children are still learning what their little bodies can do.  And let’s face it, in preschool we’re always trying to get them to more, not less, so it’s easy to understand why asking for less of something would be confusing.

I like to use gak to let children experience pressure.  I’ve talked about gak before, once with a picture and once without.  It’s a substance that’s fluid when you allow it to move slowly and more solid when you interact quickly with it.

We made gak as a class last week.  This week I set it out on little trays (more about the trays in a sec).  The trick with gak and markers is that the markers only make a nice mark if you use a gentle hand with almost no pressure.  Once you poke it in the marker gets gunked up and doesn’t do much of anything other than make a hole (which is a fine experiment all on its own).  After your gak gets colorful you can fold it or flip it to write some more.More Gak Drawing

Gak will get to a strange purple-y color after awhile when you’re writing on it.  That’s ok.  Before all the colors mush together you can extend the learning a little bit by folding the gak like you would pastry dough each time you want a clean slate.  Then you can cut into the gak to see all the layers of color you’ve made.  If you’re really on top of it you can have some examples of rocks with layers for comparison.

You will have children who either can’t or won’t press lightly.  If the child in question is frustrated, don’t push it.  Just suggest another activity.  If that child is frustrated but still trying to figure it out, offer assistance but don’t do it for him or her without asking.  With permission, take his or her arm in your hand and demonstrate what it feels like to use very little pressure.  For the ones who insist on poking, give them their own gak (it’s hard to write on bumpy gak) and make sure they have markers that are already dead or something else you can clean off easily.

When I pulled out my gak this time I couldn’t find my handy mini crate from the last time but I found something in the supply room that was almost as good: a dishwasher basket!  It was so fun.  Our gak was a little on the firm side so it didn’t flow as fast, but it was still cool. 

Gak in a Dishwasher Basket

Oh yeah, about the trays.  The trays we use for stuff like this come in two different sizes and are FREE.  We live in a town with several biotech firms.  One of them uses these trays to store sterilized parts for medical devices before they are assembled.  Then they leave stacks of these trays at the recycle center.  They are so clean I really would eat off of them without washing them first (I do wash for the children at school though!).  We use the trays to contain a lot of messy things and for drying artwork.  We tend to use them until they are totally gross and can’t be cleaned out anymore and then we recycle them.  I scored some totally new ones for these photos.  They are so slick to the touch it makes me happy.  Yes, I’m weird.

Monday, November 16, 2009

NAEYC 2009-Bound

Yeah, I know I’ve been a slacker.  But between accreditation, working 5 days with 2 different teachers, and preparing for the NAEYC conference, it’s been busy!  We leave Wednesday afternoon for the conference and won’t be back until late Saturday night.  Is anyone else going?  If so, let’s meet at the Tweetup spot they’ve got scheduled!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Preventing Food Allergy Emergencies

I am in the midst of an occasional series on food allergies for classroom teachers. I hope to eventually put the posts all together for a presentation at a conference next year, but I’m having trouble deciding what teachers need to know. As a parent of food allergic children, I know a lot more than teachers should be expected to remember or take care of. I need to find the right balance of information. I’d love to have specific feedback on these posts in order to make them accurate, understandable, and helpful. Other topics were/will include: Food Allergy Basics, How to Handle Food Allergy Emergencies, and Instructional Implications for Food-Allergic Students. Thanks for your input!

How can I avoid an allergy emergency?
Planning! Assess the times when children in your care will be around food in order to manage their exposure.

1. Lunch. If a child has an allergy that requires epinephrine, consider creating an allergen-free zone at a table with signs. Only children who do not have that food in their lunches can sit there. It takes teacher support for this to work without becoming alienating.  Some schools make this a special treat for the non-allergic kids.  There’s nothing sweeter to a parent’s ears when their kid comes home and beams, “The peanut-free table was PACKED today!”  You do not need a separate table for each allergy, just the ones that may be lethal.  For example, my own son has multiple allergies, but there’s only a peanut-free table at school.  That’s totally reasonable, since, in his case, he’s unlikely to go into anaphylactic shock with his other allergies.

As children age, the “free” zone should be re-evaluated, depending on the allergy.  A kid with a severe contact sensitivity to something that can easily be spilled (like milk) may have to be separated for quite awhile.  And though peanuts are often a severe allergy, since they don’t tend to spill you may be able to eliminate the separate table once all the children are aware of good etiquette depending on the allergic response.  The age will depend, but my personal feeling is that somewhere around second or third grade is a good time to start moving to shared tables.  You can even talk to children that age about allergies and let them know to get a teacher immediately if they think a classmate has been exposed by accident.  You may want to make a strict “no sharing food” rule at lunch.  Make sure you enforce it.

For preschools, if an adult will be sitting at the table with the children you can share the table.  Just make sure the food-allergic children will be unlikely to come in contact with the allergen.  If you are lucky enough to use several small tables for snacks or meals, then it’s easier to quietly designate one where the allergen won’t be served.  The children don’t even have to know about it.

If your school has children wipe the tables (a good, responsibility-teaching job), make sure any allergic students clean tables that are unlikely to have their allergen, wear protective gloves (which may be problematic socially), or do another, similar chore.  Do not let them get out of doing work or other children will notice and they will feel as though they aren’t good enough to contribute.  Don’t make a big deal about it, but make sure they do something so no one feels it’s unfair if you’re asked.

2. Snack. Provide safe snack foods. If you don’t have control over what’s served, make sure your food allergic students have a safe backup snack you can serve them on days when the provided snack isn’t safe for them.  Learn to read labels (and do it every time, even for things you’ve served before) or have the parent of a food allergic child do it for you if that’s practical.  Another alternative is to request that each child bring in his or her own snack and don’t permit sharing.  If parents bring snack, remind them to bring in any packaging that came with the snack or ingredients for the snack.  I remember one nice family making chocolate chip cookies for my son’s class using a recipe that didn’t include any of my son’s allergens.  They gave me the recipe so I could check it, but didn’t bring the package for the chocolate chips so I couldn’t let my son have the cookies.

For both lunch and snack, it is advisable to wash hands not only before but after eating when an allergen has been consumed by the rest of the class. Allergens are not washed away with hand sanitizer. Mechanical removal is required. Hand wipes are acceptable if the children are taught to wipe the fronts, backs, fingers, and between fingers. Ask for wipes as part of your supply list if you know a food allergic student will be in your class or arrange for the parent of the food allergic child to supply them. Some wipes have allergens, so ask for brand recommendations.

3. Class Events. Let the parent of the food allergic child know IN ADVANCE that there will be a class event that involves food and what that food will be if you know. Ask the parent to provide something similar for the food allergic child. If possible provide food that everyone can eat so you don’t have to think about it. Parents of food allergic children are happy to provide recipes! Even if all the food you will be providing is safe, parents of food allergic children like to know that an event will occur so they can be available in case the worst happens by accident. If you plan to leave the classroom and food will be involved, bring the epinephrine with you as well as an antihistamine if it is in the child’s action plan.

The reality is that a food allergic student is much more likely to have a reaction in times and places that are not normal food times.  Parties, field trips, and class treats can turn into a nightmare if you’re not prepared.  Plan a little in advance, communicate with parents and helpers, and you can make sure everyone has a good time.

4. General Measures. Communication and practice are the keys to prevention. As a school you should have procedures in place to ensure that all adults who are responsible for the well-being of children are ready to provide emergency assistance. Your communication plan should include classroom teachers, aids, specials teachers, office staff, field trip chaperones, substitute teachers, extended care providers, cafeteria personnel, and cafeteria helpers.  Do a run-through of an emergency.  Remind specials teachers at least once during the school year who has what allergies.  Since specials teachers deal with many more students each week than a classroom teacher does they tend to forget unless they are especially sensitized to allergy issues.

In regards to the food allergic children themselves, remind to ask “Is this safe?” of any food they don’t normally eat.  Children trust the adults in their lives, but they need to learn to look out for themselves.  Even the most diligent parent of a food allergic child has accidentally given that child an allergen.  You can’t expect more from a teacher with more children to take care of.  Food allergic children should always question the caregivers in their lives and their caregivers should encourage this without getting annoyed.  The 130th time you are asked may be the time you forgot to check the ingredient list and the manufacturer just happened to change the ingredients.  Being asked may remind you to check, so encourage it.

Questions?  Comments?  Post them here!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Very Preschool Halloween

Table Pumpkins

How do you celebrate Halloween with little ones? Carefully. Some children are easily scared, but most twos really don’t get what all the fuss is about. At our school we focus on the seasonal aspects of Halloween. There’s a lot of orange and black, some extra dress-up available, and subtle room decor changes. Children who wish to wear their costumes to school may, though that’s our everyday rule and not a change for Halloween. Sometimes the whole pre-K class decides as a group to wear costumes and they visit the other classes to show them off.

In my classroom we put some pumpkins out in the kitchen area (above) to change the decorations slightly from our usual fruit bowl. Since we had sand in the sensory table at the same time, you canBlack and Orange Paint at the Easel be sure that everything that started in the kitchen ended up holding sand at some point. We also had plenty of orange and black paper and paint. I’ve resisted trying it in the past, but this year I used the “Make it Shimmer” and “Make it Glitter” paint additives you can buy so that matching paint and paper would show up against each other. I do actually love glitter paint, but I’ve never bothered to make my own with the additives before. I must say I liked the effect, though you can’t really tell from my picture.

Older children have the opportunity to nail golf tees into large pumpkins (like we do with styrofoam), and sometimes we open up pumpkins to show to the children. This year the week before Halloween was short because of fall break and we had many absent children, so we skipped the pumpkin opening. Pumpkins and their guts get dumped in the garden when we’re done so we can watch the vines grow in the spring. Older children are also presented with a variety of face paints in addition to extra dress-up.

The only thing that might be counted as crafty is that we let the kids paint their own mini pumpkins. We tend to stay away from crafty activities because art for twos should be about exploring the medium rather than beginning with an end in mind. Some of the mini pumpkins were so covered in paint it was hard to tell there was a pumpkin underneath!

I didn’t take a picture of it, but we also try to have Halloween books available. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find Halloween books for young twos. Yes, I know that Five Little Pumpkins is a great book/fingerplay. But much of what’s out there seems to be for older kids. I’d love some ideas if anyone has them.

So what do you do to celebrate Halloween with young ones?

Painting Pumpkins

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Too Many Pumpkins

Too Many Pumpkins

Too Many Pumpkins, by Linda White and Megan Lloyd, is my favorite pumpkin book. I truly enjoy looking for it when we pull down the Halloween box each year at home.  I got my copy through a book club order because it was the 99 cent book of the month. How could I lose, right? Anyway, the art in this book is just fabulous. The little details are great, especially because the book has a lot of words for a picture book.

In the book, Rebecca Estelle (and her cat Esmeralda) hate pumpkins.  Through a pumpkin truck accident they end up with more pumpkins than they know what to do with and they come up with a creative, kind, and generous way to get rid of them all.

Besides the enjoyable art I love that the book goes through a whole year and the cycles of the seasons as though they were nothing special.  Nothing screams, “fall is when we harvest!” at you, like so many other books do.  I love that the protagonist is an older woman who has a history that informs her current preferences.  I love that several of the pages end with, “until…” implying that something new might happen and letting you guess what it might be before you turn the page.

This is not a book for very young children.  The main problem is that the very first page has a lot of words and very little art other than the page border and a small drawing.  3-year-olds who love to read may be able to sit for it.  I’d say it’s more for 4s and 5s. 

This year, my own kids (who are 6 and 8) informed me that I didn’t need to read it to them when we pulled it out of the Halloween box.  They told me they could read it themselves (which they can), which deprived me of my snuggle time with them and my enjoyment of the book.  In desperation I read it to the Kindergarten class at my school.  I figured only a few would listen, but most of the class sat and paid attention.  They loved the page with all the carved pumpkins.  At least someone wants to hear about Too Many Pumpkins!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Baby Washing

Babies for Washing After I took this picture I realized how creepy it looked, so let me explain.

We sometimes put soapy water in our sensory table.  We often wash dishes or just play with the water.  We also like to wash the babies (well, baby dolls).  The kids get great joy out of this activity.  We provide lots of washcloths and large towels so the babies can be washed, dried, and wrapped up in a nice, warm towel.  They usually get fed at some point after this, too, and then put to bed.

Our school has special babies for washing.  Yup, they live in a crate in the supply room labeled, “Babies for Washing.”  Why?  Because babies with movable limbs get water inside that’s difficult to get out and that eventually gets mildewed.  Our washing babies are either sealed or they are old enough that we don’t care much what happens to them.  While we’re washing babies I put our regular classroom babies out of sight so the kids aren’t tempted to add to the collection of bathing beauties.

The tricky thing, whether it’s dishes or babies, is that other things will migrate to the sensory table.  It’s helpful to decide in advance what you’re willing to allow so you’re not caught off guard.  My personal feeling is that if I can clean it up and there’s no harm to be done by letting them try, I let them.  But things that might rust, mildew, or dissolve I don’t allow.  You’ll have to decide if you can stand painty water from hands that were just at the easel; I don’t have a problem with it.  You have to wash and bleach the dolls at the end of the day anyway, so what’s a little paint?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Water: The Simplest of All Art Supplies

Water on Dark Paper

Teaching twos is kind of like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.  Some years, we have paint-eaters.  Other years, we have paint artists.  Some years, we have both in the same class.

I like to start the year with something simple at the easel.  I’ve had one year when no one knew what to do at an easel because they’d never seen one before, so it’s good to start simply.  Here’s a shot of my beautiful art (the kids hadn’t arrived yet) using water on dark paper.  Any dark paper works, so if you’re feeling purple, blue, green, red, or black this is the activity for you.  Fat brushes seem to work better than thin ones.  And since this picture was taken on the first day I supplied three cups on each side of the easel so that if everyone wanted to do it at once we could manage it.

The one negative with water is that you can’t really take the art home with you unless you’ve impregnated the paper with something that will bleed.  That’s a whole other art activity, in my mind.  The beauty of water is that you can reuse the same piece of paper over and over.  You get to watch the art disappear and you get to use words like, “evaporation,” and wonder aloud about where the water goes.  If someone puts on so much water that the paper disintegrates, well, that’s another good word to use.

In my classes this year we seem to have lots of painting pros.  We didn’t have to keep the water more than a few days before it got old.  In other years we’ve spent the first several weeks with water at the easel because of the aforementioned paint-eating (actually it’s more like brush-sucking).  Some kids like to put brushes in their hands and walk around the room.  I usually let them do this but substitute super fat stubby dry brushes so they’re less likely to stab anyone or hurt themselves.  It’s typically more about having something in hand than having a particular brush.

On a personal note, I used to set my own kids up with brushes, dark paper, and water when I needed to cook a meal.  If the water spilled it was no biggie and they felt like artists without much adult intervention.  Try it!

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Classroom 2009

Our Door Sign

I haven’t posted in awhile.  But as everyone is getting ready for school, you’ll forgive me.  This year I’d like to show you around my classroom.  We’ve made some changes this year and I like them.  The other two teachers I work with made some of my thoughts turn into a real room.  We all need such nice people who help us to do what needs to be done.


So, on with the show!

Buckets and Hooks

Mail Boxes

To the left of my door (and this text) we have the hooks outside the door with the children’s names on them.  Each child gets a bucket for the year in which to put his or her spare clothes and which we use to put art to be taken home.  The buckets are big enough to put boots and raincoats in them.  I have two classes named after colors (take a guess what they are) so there are two rows of buckets waiting.

To the right are our mailboxes.  I believe their original purpose was as shoe organizers, but they work pretty well for family mail.  Each family has a mailbox outside each of their children’s classrooms (this is located to the right of my classroom door).  Families with multiple children have a dot on all but one of their box labels to indicate that school-wide items only need to be put into one box.  I tend to use electronic communications more than paper, so my families only get school-wide stuff in their boxes.

Easel, Sink, and Bathroom

Bathroom and Cubbies

Step inside the door and turn to your immediate left.  There you’ll see the easel and our classroom sink.  We ask that parents help their children to wash their hands immediately upon arrival.  The door to the right of the sink is our scary little bathroom.  We’re very limited in what we can do to make it nicer, but we’re working on it.  Most of our kids aren’t using the bathroom yet except for the sink.  It’s nice to have two sinks, isn’t it?  I highly recommend it!

If you turn your body a little to the right you’ll see the next picture.  The bathroom door is still there, but then you see cubbies up above and stacked chairs with the housekeeping area next to them.  Why both cubbies and buckets, you ask?  The cubbies are for diapers and wipes, since the changing table is on the wall against the bathroom.  The kitchen play area tends to move around a bit, and this is the first year I’ve had it there.  We don’t use chairs much.  The kids sit in them for snack, but at their heights they usually have more leverage at the tables without chairs.  I typically put two chairs at each of our two tables.  We can always get more, but if they aren’t used they’re in the way.  Chairs have to be stacked at night for vacuuming.

Kitchen, Outside Door, Toys

More Toys

Turn to the right a bit more you’ll see the kitchen area again and one of our tables.  We usually use one table for play dough and the other for art experiences or a manipulative that doesn’t fit on the shelves.  You’ll also see the door to the play yard.  Hanging next to the door is our classroom backpack.  In the backpack we keep first aid supplies, medication, and all the emergency cards.  The backpack goes with us wherever we go, so if we ever need to leave the school for any reason we can get a hold of everyone’s adults.

Turn a little more to the right and you can see the other shelves.  I didn’t think to show you what’s on them, but it’s mostly blocks, vehicles, instruments, phones, and tools right now.  That will change as the year goes on and we get to know everyone.

Reading Area and Sensory Table

Mirror, Sensory Table, and Closet

Turn to the right again and you’ll see our reading area.  Not five minutes after I took this picture someone covered the couch, so it’s much prettier in real life than you would think.  There’s also the doll bed and wee chair for nurturing dolls and listening to stories.  We’ve left the wall empty for now.  Between these two pictures you can see our sensory table (filled with sand right now) and our one-way mirror.  We are the only room with such a mirror in the school and it is dead handy for those separation anxiety parents.

To the right again is our big closet in the corner.  The metal cabinet belongs to the church, which uses our room for child care during services.  My room is small so it’s hard to have an extra cabinet I can’t use, but it’s in a better location than where it’s been the last 5 years so I can’t complain.  At the edge of the photo is the edge of my door, so we’re all the way around now.

Here’s what the room looks like when you’re standing in the door:  View From the Door

Pretty spare, isn’t it?  I purposely left the room very plain this year.  As the kids start making stuff we’ll put that on the walls.  If they come up with an obsession or interest we’ll decorate with that in mind.  I’ve found, over the last two years, that kids get very over-stimulated in school.  I’m trying to keep it cool for awhile until we get to know everyone.  Everyone who knows what a clutter bug I am has been telling me how nice the room looks this year.  Dirt may not stand a chance with me, but I find it hard to remember to put things out of the room as fast as I bring them in.  We’ll see how the year goes. 

I forgot to take a picture of the fabulous geometric shapes hanging from the ceiling.  Our music teacher makes them for fun and the kids adore them.

There it is, a tour of my room!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reading Magic by Mem Fox

readingmagic Poor Mem Fox. On my edition of Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Foreverthere’s copy on the cover that implies that if you follow Fox’s advice your child WILL be reading by the time he or she goes to school.  I couldn’t bring myself to read yet another “get your baby to read” scheme so I put off reading this book despite advice from people I trust that it’s a good, rapid read.  I’m sure the implication that your child will read before school sells more books to the average, freaked-out parent, but teachers will be put off by such a statement.  Since I’m pretty sure Fox wouldn’t want to make such silly promises, I give you permission to ignore the front copy and read the book anyway.

Of course SOME children who do what Fox says WILL be reading before school.  But this book isn’t about teaching them to read, it’s about providing the foundation for reading.  Whether the reading happens at home or at school for the first time isn’t really the important thing.

So here’s the big fundamental: reading isn’t about decoding the sounds but about decoding the meaning.  This is an important distinction because we often make it difficult for children to comprehend what they’re reading by making them read aloud.  Yes, they’ll eventually learn to read all the sounds.  But if they can’t get any meaning out of their reading, then they aren’t really reading.

According to Fox, there are three “secrets” to becoming a fluent reader.  The first secret is the “magic of print.”  The second secret is the “magic of language.”  And the third secret is the “magic of general knowledge.”  Let’s look at them quickly.

The magic of print is really just about how fun print is.  You have to get familiar with the printed word.  Many people call this “print awareness.”  It’s about recognizing the print that’s all around us, such as in signage, as well as the print in books.  Fox points out that only 50% of English print language is phonetic, so there’s only so far phonics can take you.  Children need to learn the patterns of the printed language in order to decipher the meaning.

The magic of print is about playing with language.  Nursery rhymes are covered here as well as how to play with language as you’re talking with young children.  Fox encourages us to talk with our children a lot, describing what we’re doing and what we’re thinking.  Children won’t be able to read if they don’t have any language skills.  She also talks about how reading aloud can help our children learn to apply language skills.  Even if they can’t read a certain story it doesn’t mean they can’t understand and enjoy it when it’s read to them.  But things you read to children should be fun for you to read to them and fun for them to listen to. 

The magic of general knowledge addresses how a child who isn’t reading words strictly phonetically can figure out what the words are.  The child with a large vocabulary and knowledge of many topics will be able to figure out a new word in print if he or she has been exposed to it in speech.  It’s all about context.

So, should you read this book?  Critics have pointed out that Fox doesn’t exactly cite the “experts” she uses for her source material.  That’s true.  But I think everything else I’ve read does back up her opinions and I didn’t read anything that struck me as unreasonable.  I think if you’re a teacher you may not need to read this book unless you’re looking for something to recommend to parents.  If you’re a parent and you’re uneasy about how to get your child to become a reader, this is a great book for you.  It’s easy to read (heck, read it out loud to your kids!) and it’s upbeat enough to be motivating.

Just do me a favor and ignore any claims about getting your baby to read!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Slide Painting

Rolling painty balls down the slide

Here’s a fun one for summer, and older preschoolers might not even get that messy.  Roll painty balls down the slide!  Of course, if you don’t want your slide to be painty afterward, make sure you cover it with paper.  This paper makes a great background for displaying children’s art inside once it’s dry.

In this picture you can’t really see what’s at the top, but there are several containers with paint them.  We put bins at the bottom of the slides so that the balls wouldn’t get covered in mulch and would be easy to collect.

For cleanup, use the hose.  If your kids are in bathing suits they can go down the slide with the water, cleaning the slide and having fun at the same time.

Alternatively, you can let kids do the painting AS they slide.  They can dip their hands in paint or use sponges.  I probably wouldn’t use paint brushes because, well, somebody could poke their eye out.  That wouldn’t be pretty!  If the kids do the sliding and painting they will be gloriously messy.  Have a hose or other water toy handy for washing off and lots of towels.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Patti’s Baking Soda and Vinegar Compendium

Baking Soda and Vinegar on a Tray

I’ve done a slew of baking soda and vinegar posts this summer. Hopefully they’ll inspire you to share your inner geek with a child in your life. Here’s the whole list:

This list is really only the tip of the iceberg. Notice that I didn’t even mention cereal box toys, and those were my big introduction to the fabulous world of chemistry when I was a kid. I think Cap’n Crunch had the best ones, though my mother rues the day we convinced her to buy such a cereal so we could fight over the toy inside.

So now I want to hear about your chemistry experiments with kids! There are others out there, but since baking soda and vinegar are easy to find and cheap they are the ones I see the most in early ed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thoughts on Food Allergy Article in April/May 2009 TYC

As you know, food allergies and how we, as professional educators, deal with them are important to me.  Recently, Teaching Young Children reran an article that was originally published in the March 2004 issue of Young Children, published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  Titled “That Food Makes Me Sick” Managing Food Intolerances In Early Childhood Settings it was an overview of food allergy issues for teachers.  I am hoping the link to it works so you can read it for yourself.  Normally articles in those two magazines require NAEYC membership, but I think it’s now available to the public.

Of course I think that any positive coverage of food allergies is important and I’m pleased that this article has appeared twice.  It can be very hard on a teacher to find out one of the students has a food allergy, particularly if it means that anticipated activities can’t be done the same way as they always have been.  Having a starting point is great.

I do have one peeve with the article, and I only share it because it’s important for educators to be aware of.  On page 45 there is a comment about having food allergic children wear plastic gloves for activities that include ingredients that might harm them.  While I applaud the thinking (keeping a kid safe and letting him/her participate) behind the recommendation, it bugs me for two reasons:

1. When you single a child out, it hurts.  And I’ve NEVER come across a recipe that couldn’t be altered or replaced to be safe.  You might have to shift gears a little and try a new recipe, but you can keep the learning intact without being so rigid.  What are you teaching?  How to make peanut butter sandwiches?  Or how to make sandwiches with spreads and knives and then cutting them into fractions?  Think about it.  Plus, what’s the point in participation if the child can’t enjoy the fruit of his or her labors?  That would irk most adults and it does for kids as well.  You’re just delaying the exclusion to the consumption part of the activity.

2. Have you ever watched a child wearing plastic gloves be able to DO anything effectively?  These kids are still mastering fine motor skills.  Adding an extra layer makes it that much harder.  Heck, I have trouble changing diapers with gloves on and I do it every day.  Why should I expect a young child to work with gloves on?  Plus, wearing gloves limits tactile sensations and may be difficult for children with sensory issues.

I do think there are times when wearing gloves is appropriate.  For example, if cleaning tables is a shared chore in your classroom or lunchroom and you think there may be an allergen on the tables, by all means provide gloves for your food allergic students.  Alternatively, you could find other things for them to clean, like desks.  Having an allergy is no excuse to get out of normal responsibilities.  Some other work with similar meaning should be substituted.

I’m pleased that early educators (that’s preschool through grade 3 in the States) are making an effort to protect the food allergic students in their care.  And I am grateful that the author of the article bothered to write it and NAEYC bothered to publish it.  Please don’t take this post as a criticism of their efforts; in fact, I’m grateful for them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Do It With Lemons!

I just had to post this link here, since it’s related to all the baking soda and vinegar stuff I’ve been blogging about.  If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, do it with lemons instead and clean your counter at the same time.  Brilliant! 

Baking soda, dish soap, and lemons at Education.com.

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Monday, July 20, 2009


Chemistry Grenade

Here you are, the LAST POST (for now) about vinegar and baking soda. Enjoy!

We don’t advocate violence here, but we had trouble coming up with a good name for this one that wasn’t weapon-like. It was either grenade or bomb. I guess ours were more like bombs since we didn’t throw them, but I think next time we’ll toss them. You definitely want to put them down and not stand too close, just in case. Alternatively, if you’ve got a bunch of little geeks, have them don their kid-sized protective eyewear.

For our last baking soda and vinegar experience at alumni camp we did it in little film canisters. Many of them had such tight lids that they just leaked a little when the pressure got too great, so you’ll want to test your canisters before doing it with the children. You want them to pop off, not ooze under pressure.

After camp I found this great Instructable that adds a little twist: a small plastic bag part that prevents the baking soda and vinegar from coming into contact with each other until you throw the grenade. I think this is a fabulous idea. I also think it would be great to add paint or watercolor and create a paper or fabric target of some kind.

Need a refresher on the chemical reaction itself? Baking soda + vinegar = water + carbon dioxide + sodium acetate (more or less).

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Friday, July 17, 2009

“Exploding” Paint

Waiting to Explode

You thought I’d end the baking soda and vinegar business with the volcanoes, didn’t you?  At alumni camp this year we did exploding paint.  The concept is a little cooler than the execution, but it was fun to experiment anyway.

We put some baking soda and paint in snack-sized sandwich bags and then used a funnel to pour in a little vinegar.  Zip it up quickly and then toss it.  At some point, it all bubbles out.  If you throw the bag with some force you get a slightly more exciting event.  We threw the bags onto white paper on a sidewalk so we could see what it looked like later.

We got this idea from one of our early experience education students.  I’m not sure she had actually done it, now that I have.  We did have lots and lots of colored bubbles, so it was fun that way.  But I can’t really say that anything truly exploded.

We also attempted this with Alka-Seltzer and soda water, but the results were about the same.

Need a refresher on the chemical reaction itself?  Baking soda + vinegar = water + carbon dioxide + sodium acetate (more or less).

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Handle Food Allergy Emergencies

This is part of an occasional series on food allergies for classroom teachers. I hope to eventually put the posts all together for a presentation at a conference next year, but I’m having trouble deciding what teachers need to know. As a parent of food allergic children, I know a lot more than teachers should be expected to remember or take care of. I need to find the right balance of information. I’d love to have specific feedback on these posts in order to make them accurate, understandable, and helpful. Other topics will include: Food Allergy Basics, Preventing Food Allergy Emergencies, and Instructional Implications for Food-Allergic Students. Thanks for your input!

Emergency Action Planning
Every child with an emergency medication, including inhalers, EpiPens, and insulin, should have an emergency action plan that you have reviewed and practiced. Anyone who will be responsible for the child’s well-being needs to be made aware of the plan and where to find it.  Emergency action plan forms can be found in many places, including The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, and Safety Sack.

What should happen during an allergic reaction?
Follow the child’s action plan. Here are the steps that are part of most allergy action plans:

1. Assess severity: For breathing difficulty administer EpiPen and call 911. Remove the allergen (see next step) while waiting for ambulance if possible. If there is no immediate distress go directly to the next step.

2. Remove allergen: If the contact was a spill, remove clothing and wash any areas touched by the allergen. If allergen was ingested, be prepared for vomiting.

3. Antihistamine: If action plan indicates it, administer an antihistamine (such as Benedryl or Zyrtec). If possible, call a guardian to let them know what is happening, never leaving child alone.  If you have to choose between calling a guardian and staying with the child, stay with the child so you can monitor for signs of anaphylaxis.

4. Respiratory Distress: If respiratory distress develops administer EpiPen and call 911. Administer second EpiPen if paramedics have not arrived and breathing does not improve or gets worse after easing for awhile.

5. Call Guardian: Once paramedics have control of the situation, call a guardian. If an extra adult is present the guardian may be called sooner.

After the EpiPen has been administered a child should have constant supervision until the paramedics or a guardian arrives. Allergic reactions can have a rebound effect several hours after the initial incident. Even without a rebound reaction, an EpiPen will make a person jittery and sometimes emotional.

While there are some parents who want their child to stay in school after an EpiPen has been administered, this is not recommended.  They will not be able to focus while the medicine is in their system and they can’t be properly monitored for a delayed reaction.  If a guardian does not want their child to go to the hospital, insist that the child be taken home and supervised carefully.

Where should we keep the EpiPens and antihistamines?
Ideally, medications should be stored where they are most likely to be needed AND where they are most likely to be found. My children have EpiPens in their classrooms (older children should carry them on their persons), in the cafeteria, and in the office. Antihistamines are not emergency medications and can be kept in the office in most cases.  At my children’s school, non-emergency medications MUST be kept in the office. 

At the nursery school where I work we keep medications in each classroom’s backpack, which goes with us whenever we leave the room (even to go outside) and also contains emergency contact information for each child.  We have high hooks inside and outside to keep the backpacks out of harm’s way.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Volcanoes for Preschoolers

A Preschool Volcano

You can’t really do a series on baking soda and vinegar without bringing out the volcanoes.  But since most preschoolers have very little practical experience with volcanoes it doesn’t make sense to do any sort of a unit on the things.  Instead, we try to get the sense of one in the hopes that this knowledge helps them learn about them later.

First you need a volcano.  We had made play dough in class with the kids a few days before that had somehow not kept well, so we used that.  The children helped even though they really had no idea what we were going for.  We tried showing them volcano pictures and read a few books but the information didn’t transfer well.  We made two volcanoes and put them on trays that we took outside.  We put a small pile of baking soda inside each model.

Since we’re not going for realism, I let the kids pick the color for the lava.  On the day I took these pictures, they first picked green.  Unfortunately, since the play dough we made was blue, it wasn’t quite the thrill it could have been.  The red lava was much more interesting for the second batch.

It's Hard to Fill a Volcano with Droppers

As we had practiced with droppers and syringes the day before, that’s what we provided for adding the vinegar to the baking soda.  We were able to do this for quite awhile without reloading.  I was a bit surprised at how little baking soda I had to add for this experience.

Even though we weren’t studying volcanoes we did talk about lava and magma as well as how hot it all would be if they were real.  Some how igneous rocks even got mentioned.

I highly recommend doing this outside or in your sensory table if you can’t go out.  It was spring when we did this, so we all had jackets on and it was still fine.  We had plenty of towels with us but didn’t really need them.  The biggest temptation for them was not to put their hands into the volcanoes.  While that makes for a fun ending, the play dough gets very squishy during the eruptions and can’t support a child’s weight.  Once the hands get in there, it’s all over.  And of course, that’s how it ended!

Allergy Note: We did this with gluten-free play dough.  If you have a gluten allergy in your class, by all means do the same.  It works fine.  If you don’t, regular play dough will work just as well if not better.

Need a refresher on the chemical reaction itself?  Baking soda + vinegar = water + carbon dioxide + sodium acetate (more or less).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Baking Soda and Vinegar with Threes

Droppers Galore

With threes I do a similar setup as I do for the twos, namely on trays.  But instead of squeeze bottles I provide several types of droppers and syringes.  We’re working on our fine motor control as well as investigating how fluids work in addition to our chemistry when we do it this way.  I usually set it out with the droppers and syringes filled so that there’s some instant gratification that encourages the kids to try the droppers and syringes themselves.  Otherwise they sometimes get discouraged before they get success.  Doing it once is usually enough to keep them trying until they get it.

While we’re here, do YOU know how a dropper or a syringe works?  What’s the principle behind it?  Well, I’ll tell you.  It’s a vacuum!  That’s right, you’ve got a little bit of nothing in that dropper when you squeeze out all the air and then put it in the liquid.  When you release the dropper head the liquid fills the vacuum.  For the syringe, you create the vacuum and fill it when you pull up on the plunger.

I put my droppers in a set of watercolor paint cups, but you could just as easily use small cups.  The tricky thing with this setup is refilling the wee cups.  Get yourself a small pitcher and prefill it with the vinegar to make it easy.  But be forewarned: if you put the pitcher in reach of the children you will have helpers!  I’m all in favor of letting kids do the pouring if we’re outside, but our custodian takes issue with saturating the carpet with anything he didn’t do himself so I do the refilling myself when we’re inside.  And yes, I’ve tried to do this with something on the floor to catch the overflow and I’m sure you know how well that worked out if you’ve tried it yourself!  Anyway, I will let the children help me add watercolor to the vinegar, inside or outside.

Trays and Droppers Ready for Work

Threes also enjoy doing this activity in the sensory table.  If you really trust your threes, try putting the vinegar in spray bottles!

Need a refresher on the chemical reaction itself?  Baking soda + vinegar = water + carbon dioxide + sodium acetate (more or less).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Baking Soda and Vinegar with Twos

Setup for Twos

Here’s how I like to set up experimentation for my two-year olds. I use trays on a low table. I spread baking soda on the tray and then fill small squeeze bottles with vinegar.


  • Keep the tops on the squeeze bottles twisted down low so it doesn’t all pour out so fast that the joy is gone immediately. Then it becomes more about pouring rather than observing the reaction.
  • Have a funnel that fits in the top of your squeeze bottles handy for refilling the vinegar. Unless you have an unlimited supply of bottles you will be doing this A LOT.
  • Put some dish soap in the squeeze bottles. Not only does it make the vinegar come out a little more slowly but it makes the reaction slower. The Trays Get a Bit Wet
  • Put a little liquid watercolor in the squeeze bottles. I just use primary colors. This way you have something to talk about with the kids who aren’t impressed by the bubbles.
  • Have more baking soda standing by. When the bubbles stop but there’s still vinegar left, you can add more. You may need to dump the trays periodically.

If you do this outside then cleanup is a breeze. Just dump the trays outside and clean them with the hose (or let the kids do it). You can also do this activity in the sensory table, but for some reason there seems to be more squirting in eyes at this age when you do it there.

Scientists at Work

Need a refresher on the chemical reaction itself? Baking soda + vinegar = water + carbon dioxide + sodium acetate (more or less).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Preschool Chemistry, or What Do You Really Know About Baking Soda and Vinegar?

Chemist at Work with Baking Soda and Vinegar You may have seen baking soda and vinegar in action in a volcano experiment in elementary school or even as an activity at the preschool level. You may even know how to make that volcano. But do you know what the chemical reaction is? Just what’s in those bubbles, anyway? I don’t presume to be a chemistry nerd but here’s what I know.

Baking soda and vinegar leave you with three things once they’re mixed: carbon dioxide (the bubbles), water, and sodium acetate*. I asked a chemist to find out, but you can just as easily find this information on the web. The friendly chemist assured me that sodium acetate tastes really awful and would be hard to consume in large enough quantities to be harmful. Besides, to make sure nothing amiss happens you should be watching kids who are working with chemicals! Vinegar stings in the eyes and on cuts, but isn’t harmful.

Adding dish soap to the vinegar makes the reaction last a little longer. The bubbles are smaller and seem to appear more slowly. This is a great comparison activity and can be useful for children who are intimidated by all the very active bubbling that takes place when large quantities are being used.A Preschooler's Volcano

I like to add watercolors to the vinegar so children can see color mixing going on. It doesn’t always mix as quickly as you think it would, particularly if you’re also using dish soap.

When you’re working with young children, be brave enough to use the real words for things. This gives them exposure to new descriptive language for the concepts and also give them “hooks” for learning the information in a different context later. Go ahead and say things like, “chemical reaction,” “sodium acetate,” “reactants,” and so forth. You might feel like a dork at first but you’ll warm up to it.

For the next few posts I’m going to explore what we can do with vinegar and baking soda with the early childhood bunch. It’s a favorite activity starting from toddlerhood and going until, well, adulthood for some of us. I’m sure some of you have creative ideas and I’ve love to hear about them. Feel free to leave links in the comments so other people can see what you’ve done, too.

In my own house, my son likes to make a HUGE pile of baking soda and inject vinegar into it using long droppers. We all end up with very soft hands from the salty scrub that ends up happening. It’s like grainy wet sand by the time we’re done with it!

*For the detail-oriented among you, the the water and carbon dioxide start out as carbonic acid but quickly decompose into the water and carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Learn About Weaving with Kids

61vK4S3VRGL._SL160_ My Monday post inspired me to dig out You Can Weave!: Projects for Young Weavers, which has been very helpful in working with my own children. I’m not a particularly crafty person (with the exception of knitting) so I need to be guided step by step with lots of instructions and pictures. This book does that. The first few projects are great for pre-K and Kindergarten. Some children with good spacial awareness and fine motor skills in the older threes crowd could probably do those projects as well.

What I like about weaving is that for the simpler projects the gratification is immediate. It’s also very easy to do your own thing and still create something of beauty. Even if the end result isn’t something a child can take home, the act of weaving, once the process is understood, can be very soothing for some children. If you’re teaching elementary school you can add math, history, and social studies to the mix while providing a tactile experience for the children who need it. Remember, wigglers behave and learn better when they are able to wiggle while they learn.

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Monday, June 22, 2009


Loops on Pegs

We have two large weaving looms at school.  Usually we do the warping for the kids with string or yarn and then provide them with all sorts of materials—yarn, ribbon, paper, stuff they find outside--with which to weave.  We also sometimes set out large plastic needles with ribbon if they want to “sew” their materials in.  Sometimes we let the kids warp the loom, but it’s really hard for them to get something all the way across AND lined up because of its size.

The loom itself is a large square someone put together with a matching set of nails on the top and bottom (or right and left, if you’re that kind of person).  I hate to think how hard it was to get the nails all lined up, but they are.  The loom is large enough that several children can work simultaneously in different areas of the loom.Warped Loom

This summer we pulled out the loops, which made the loom something like a big potholder maker.  The loops were made by tie-dyeing t-shirts and then cutting them horizontally, keeping the seams intact.  We have a huge bag of these at school that get reused for various things.

Since we had a day or so with nasty weather this year during camp and some of the kids preferred to stay dry we had several customers at the loom.

And what about the finished product?  Well, there never really is one.  To my knowledge, no one has ever removed a finished piece from the loom and kept it.  It’s all about the process with this one.  I suppose someone could keep it and it would be the size of a large baby blanket.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Food Allergy Basics

I am beginning an occasional series on food allergies for classroom teachers. I hope to eventually put the posts all together for a presentation at a conference next year, but I’m having trouble deciding what teachers need to know. As a parent of food allergic children, I know a lot more than teachers should be expected to remember or take care of. I need to find the right balance of information. I’d love to have specific feedback on these posts in order to make them accurate, understandable, and helpful. Other topics will include: How to Handle Food Allergy Emergencies, Preventing Food Allergy Emergencies, and Instructional Implications for Food-Allergic Students. Thanks for your input!

What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is an immune system response to a protein in a food with which a person has already had at least one contact. Contact can occur through ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact. All foods that humans normally eat contain some protein; therefore it is possible to be allergic to any food, including fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Reactions to chemicals in food may or may not involve the immune system. Some people prefer to call these reactions “poisoning” because the substance in question is entirely man-made so not really a food, but your response as an adult is likely to be the same regardless of the offending substance.

What are some common food allergies in children?
The “Big 8” allergens cause 90% of anaphylactic reactions. These allergens are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, soy, and shellfish. These foods may be highlighted on ingredient lists or in statements on food packaging but the only true requirement is that they appear in easily understood English in the ingredients list. If a separate bold statement does appear on a label then any of the big 8 that are present are required to be on it.

The “made in a factory that also processes…” types of statements on packages are voluntary. About 10% of the packages that contain such statements DO contain the noted allergen regardless of the warning’s wording. There is an exception to this statistic for special manufacturing processes, but it’s better not to serve a food that’s questionable than to make a guess if you don’t already know for certain.

What are some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction?
The allergic response can produce symptoms in the skin, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. Symptoms may include one or more of the following: a tingling feeling in the mouth or throat (for example, “my mouth feels funny”), swelling of the tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, low blood pressure, unconsciousness, and death.

Very young children often do not exhibit symptoms in the way we would expect. Be aware of odd behavior, particularly when accompanied by anxiety or severe worry. Children who cannot verbalize their health status may look extremely stressed for no apparent reason.

What is anaphylaxis (or anaphylactic shock)?
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that occurs suddenly and may cause death. It involves two or more systems in the body and may or may not include trouble breathing.

What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance? What is a food sensitivity?
An allergy involves the immune system’s reaction to a protein. An intolerance involves an inability of the body to digest something, typically a sugar. While an intolerance is not life-threatening it can be just as painful as an allergy and can send some people to the hospital. A sensitivity is something that doesn’t fall neatly into the allergy or intolerance categories. Intolerances and sensitivities do not require emergency treatment but are to be taken seriously all the same because they can develop into an allergy with continued exposure to the offending item.

Where can I get more information on allergies?
A great place to start is the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, or FAAN. Also useful are the Food Allergy Initiative and Allergy Moms.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chime Wall

Chime Wall

Here is a picture of our fabulous, all-weather chime wall. This sucker is expensive but was purchased because of a grant we got. Our music teacher spent some quality personal time writing grant applications and so we are very, very lucky!

The kids love the chime wall. We had it inside our large motor room for awhile, but it was pretty loud in there. We also had to modify the mallets a bit so they couldn’t be inserted in the chimes, necessitating some roto-rooter action by our custodian (you’d think the company would have thought of that).

We put it outside at the start of alumni camp and there it will stay pretty much permanently. It’s so nice to hear. The kids like to experiment with wiggling the chimes in their pockets, like the boy in the photo. Some of them are convinced that they can get the chimes out.

In the past we've used various metal things attached to the fence for music, and I'm assuming we'll continue to do that. If I ever get a picture, I'll post it. Random metal items and then sticks to bang them with is always a good idea for outside. Kid-made music beats even the nicest thing played on the boom box.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mentos and Diet Coke

Mentos and Diet Coke Geyser

My husband thinks this is an urban myth, but it’s totally true.  You CAN make a geyser by dropping Mentos into a Diet Coke bottle.  This picture is from our alumni camp.  What you can’t appreciate are the chants of, “Men-tos!  Men-tos!” from the kids watching.

The activity is simple enough.  Put a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke on a stable surface so it won’t fall over when the geyser shoots.  Open it.  Then, as fast as you can, drop in as many mint Mentos (not the kind with the candy coating) as you can.  We found that 9 was about as many as we could do with our hands.  The reaction is so fast that the tenth piece of candy flies up with the geyser.

This is a great opportunity to try things with the kids.  Let them make suggestions and act on them if you can.  How many Mentos is optimal?  Will things other than Diet Coke work?  (Yes, they will, but you don’t get a really high geyser, so come prepared with sparkling water, regular Coke, and other things you think the kids might ask for.)  What about different kinds of Mentos?  (This doesn’t work, by the way.)  Why does this work, anyway?  And of course, you should let the kids taste the Diet Coke afterwards.  Is it any different in taste or amount of bubbles?  Why?

Our school owns one of those geyser tubes and we like to use it because it lets you drop the Mentos in nearly simultaneously with the little pin plus the nozzle makes the geyser shoot straight up.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it!  The supply room is being reorganized and some things just aren’t findable right now.  But as you can see, you don’t really need that tube.  It’s just for added fun.

Tasting Mentos-Laced Soft Drinks

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Alumni Camp

I'm going to be mostly gone this week. We have camp in the morning and by afternoon (after cleaning the kids and washing their stuff, putting away lunches, helping kids put away the mess they were making when the other kid was being washed, etc.) I'm just plain done. But let me tell you a little bit about the camp we're doing this week because it's so fun.

At my nursery school we have summer camp for our students for three, four-day weeks in the mornings. So, M-Th mornings for three weeks. Last year we added a week of alumni camp. Any kid who's gone to the school in the past and who has just finished grades K-3 can sign up. We do all the regular nursery school stuff but at an older kid level entirely outdoors, weather permitting. We tell kids to come in their swimsuits and bring a change of clothes so they can get as messy as they want to get. It's a total blast.

Both my kids are in it this year, so I'm one of the teachers. Yesterday was our first day. I'm already exhausted. We didn't do all the things we planned because the kids were so busy getting reacquainted with each other and making new friends from different ages. There was much running, digging, building, splashing, and general mayhem. But all the good kind.

We keep joking that we need to do a camp like this for grown-ups. I'd go if I knew all my old friends would be there, wouldn't you?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Camp Planning

Hi, I haven't disappeared, I'm just busy! I'm sure you all get that way sometimes. This morning some of us met to finish planning and start prepping for summer camp for the next few weeks. I'm going doing alumni camp so my kids and I can all be together. I'll post more details as next week unfolds. It's way fun and I can't wait!

I'll be back soon, and then summer will start for us in earnest.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dot Painters

Dot Painting

Dot painters come by various names: bingo markers, do-a-dots, and dotters, among others. They are simple but can help kids explore a new tool for painting.

Adults usually restrict themselves to dotting with dot painters. But young children don’t have this preconception about what they’re for. They typically drag them like brushes across the page until they see someone else banging them. The child in this picture figured out how to squeeze the bottle so hard the paint dribbled out and then waved the bottle around to make splashes. Luckily Mom knew to dress her child in an old shirt for school, even if it WAS white!

Child often pound so hard that the dots look more like splashes. If you haven’t tried it, do! It’s fun and for adults it’s a little like therapy. Children also like to try to peel the pads off the top. Peeling is one of those things I redirect from since once that top is off you can’t put it back on effectively.

I use dot painters at the easel and on a table for different perspectives. Changing the angle of something makes it a slightly different experience. Dot painters are great to take outside because it’s really easy to clean mulch and dirt off them, which you can’t say for many kinds of brushes.

We have two kinds of dot painters at school. Some are refillable and some are not. The refillable ones take awhile to get the paint from the bottle into the pad, but it’s nice to be able to select your own colors or let the children pick. The non-refillable ones seem to work a little better, but your color choices are limited and sometimes the bottles can’t be reused for anything, which is wasteful. Refill dot painters with liquid watercolor or food coloring mixed with water.

A note of caution: some bingo markers are NOT nontoxic and washable. Buy dotters labeled for use with children.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Record Player Art (and Associated Experiments)

Record Player Art

Do you have an old, sturdy record player hanging around?  Use it to make some fun art!

We have two, large, heavy, institutional-type record players that we use for art.  One still has a needle, so we tape down the arms securely.  Since these things are heavy-duty we let the kids control the turntable.  One of them even lets you change the speed.

In general we use paper plates because the turntables are grooved and regular paper won’t sit well on them.  I’m lazy, so I just push the plate on the knob that sticks up from the turntable.  Other teachers punch holes in advance, which does make it a bit easier for the kids.  You can use anything that draws, but markers seem to work better than crayons because you don’t need to press as hard.

Of course, eventually someone will put something on the turntable while it’s spinning.  Usually we spend some time experimenting with different objects and speeds to see what it takes to make something fly off.  Much giggling follows each successful trial, as you can imagine.  Luckily these things don’t get far or fly fast. 

You can also use record players as spin art machines, but you have to be careful not to get any paint on the machine while not blocking the air holes.  Use thinned paint to get it to spread the farthest, and test it before the kids arrive.

What about actual records?  We don’t have any at school anymore, unfortunately.  My own son, when he was in preschool, was asked by a classmate if he knew what a record was (the teachers were overheard talking about them).  In typical kid fashion, he replied:

“I think records are really big CDs for old people.”