Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tot School + PreK Learning Activities: Letter H for Halloween, Honey and Hats! (Bonus Share: Project 101: Weekly LIbrary Challenge Books)

Today, I'm catching up with two series and sharing many of the fun letter activities we've done for the Letter H over the past two weeks and sharing about what we're reading now for Project 101: Weekly Library Challenge. We've been having lots of fun and focusing a lot on quality family time, but I'm excited to take some time to share today. 

Our Tot School focuses on a letter each week, and we explore that letter through all five senses with lots of preschool level extension activities as well. I love this set up because it reinforces letter learning with Caterpillar, my 2 year-old and beginning letter sounds with Wild Thing, my 3 year-old.

My favorite thing we did for letter H was learn a lot about honey. I've been wanting to take the boys to a local honey farm that features a tasting room, and we finally went! (Of course, I forgot my camera). The experience worked so well as we explored the letter H. At the tasting room, we tasted at least 10 different types of honey and compared the different smells of the honey. The colors and texture of the honey varied as well, and there were honeycombs and hives the boys could look at. Plus, we got a fabulous Honey Farm coloring book for just $1, as well as a jar of honey and some honey BBQ sauce. I love supporting local farmers and expanding Caterpillar and Wild Thing's understanding of honey. In fact, for Wild Thing, honey was a really great learning activity for the letter H because we also learned about hives, hexagons, and honeycomb! 

We've also been reading some fabulous honey books. The boys love The Honeybee Man by Leli Nargi, about a Brooklyn beekeeper. It's a fun story, but also quite informative. The boys particularly enjoyed learning that bees communicate with one another by dancing -- of course, they danced around while they buzzed as inspired by the bees. I've been reading an interesting book, too: The Honey Trail: In Pursuit of Liquid Gold and Vanishing Bees by Grace Pundyk. I love travel books and The Honey Trail is that and so much more. The story begins in Yemen and from there goes around the world, literally, as Grace pursues some of the tastiest honey in the world and explores the reasons that bees are disappearing. Reading about honey while the boys are reading and learning about honey is lots of fun. Sometimes, Wild Thing has so much many questions and I don't have answers, but this time I do! Do you ever read adult books that connect with books that your children love? 

Exploring Letter H in the weeks leading up to Halloween was perfect timing, since H is for Halloween, House and Hats -- this gave us lots of opportunities to focus on haunted houses and hat fun in connection with Halloween. Wild Thing excitedly shared his discovery that haunted and Halloween were "h" words! 

Houses were our focus for letter H things we can see. On a walk, we counted houses and observed the different colors and styles of the houses in our community. When we arrived at the park, we made some houses and read a fun haunted house book: In the Haunted House by Eve Bunting

We decorated soap boxes to make houses, then played at the park -- lots of pretend haunted house play on the playground inspired by our book. We also had a snack and made the letter H out of our crackers. Simple, but fun. I was also glad that I brought number stickers with me as Wild Thing had to add numbers to his house -- he's really interested in addresses right now. (In fact, a walk home can take quite some time as he must read every address on every house!)

For touch, we had lots of fun with hats, hair and hands. We touch with our hands, so we did some hand activities (sorting the hand cut-outs we had by color), and we explored the different types of hair that people have and had lots of fun playing with hats -- fluffy hats, warm winter hats, baseball hats, cowboy hats, etc. The Hair Book by Graham Tether is a fun book -- and of course, Wild Thing pointed out that hair and hats go on our heads -- another H word! We did an activity where we put different hat stickers on snowman faces that I cut out from a holiday catalog that came in the mail. (The hat stickers and catalog faces are in the blue box in the basket and were a fun surprise for the boys to discover).

The big hit was Halloween Hats by Elizabeth Winthrop -- a fun book that features lots of different costumes and hats and ends with a Halloween party where everyone throws their hats in the air and gets a new one. This book inspired lots of hat and costume fun for the boys. Here's our Halloween Hat basket and all of the fun it inspired.

Trying different hats on themselves and their animals was lots of fun!
We also had some hat-making fun using paper bags and hat color sheets. 

Finally, for sound, we talked about different things we can hear -- letter h, and they loved that we hear cars going Honk! Honk!

Wild Thing also excitedly picked out Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle stressing to me that h is for hear as he selected the book at the library. It didn't take long before we had all of our animal magazines pulled out and were making our own Polar Bear book. Here's a peek. 

With H we're almost 1/3 of the way through the alphabet, and we're having so much fun. Here's our other Tot School + PreK Learning Experiences: A is for Apple (and so much more), Bells and Bears, Tot School Letter C Learning Through Play, Kid's Co-Op ABCs and Fun with the Letter D, Eggs and Elephants (and so much more), Fire Trucks, Fish and Feathery Fun (including a Letter F Linky), Letter G: Exploring Ghosts, Garlic and the Color Green

Plus, my Tot School Pinboard has all of our Tot School posts as well as many other toddler learning activities and letter focused learning experiences, and another fabulous resource is All Done Monkey's 31 Days of ABCs, through which I'm linking this post for the Letter H Linky hosted by Toddler Approved. Finally, I also have a Tot School Photo Album on my Facebook page to see our letter learning activities through photos and photos that didn't get shared on the blog, so make sure you like The Good Long Road on Facebook for more fun and simple learning activities. Thanks for reading! 

You might also like:

Bee Sensory Bin + Honey Painting
Lavender Painting & Sensory Play
4 Ways to Play + Learn with Brown Bear
This Year's Halloween Story Box 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

{Kid's Co-Op} Celebrate Food Day with Healthy Recipes Kids Will Love and Edible Food Play - #KidsintheKitchen

I love bringing my kids in the kitchen and teaching them to eat well. I also focus on and share quite a bit about hunger on my blog, including ways to take action and get involved around the issue of hunger as a family/with kids. I see sustainable eating (with an emphasis on local foods and foods made from real ingredients, not chemicals) as an important aspect of both teaching my own family (and myself) to eat well and ending hunger. (I shared a bit about this connection over at Multicultural Kid Blogs during Hunger Action Month).  

I'm grateful to Conveying Awareness with Jessica David for introducing me to Food Day, which is today and is a nationwide celebration focused on healthy, affordable and sustainable food. I discovered Jessica through Facebook and appreciate her healthy living tips and the recipes she shares on her blog. 

In honor of Food Day, I selected some fabulous kids in the kitchen activities and real food recipes shared last week as part of The Kid's Co-Op. I hope these inspire you to get in the kitchen with your kids, some fresh produce and whole ingredients and get cooking! 

Apples are our go-to fruit. My boys LOVE them, and it's a snack I can feel good about giving them. Last week, I linked up our Apple Taste Activity and some other apple-inspired fun (including a free printable color sheet)Sow Sprout Play shared 15+ Apple Activities and Recipes, and House of Burke shared her Apple Taste Test Sensory Activity, which I loved -- she compared different types of apples and forms (apple slices, freeze dried apples, apple mum mums and applesauce). 

Our taste included (clockwise): apple butter, plain yogurt, peanut butter, peanut butter with raisins, and cinnamon.
I love Lessons Learnt Journal's 2 Ingredient Sweet Bread -- we make a version of this often using plain greek yogurt and self-rising flour. Inspired by her sweet bread version, I'd love to try adding in some pureed pears and a hint of brown sugar.  

Highhill Education gets bonus stars and creativity points for her very cool Human Body Blood Activity that includes 2 fruits, 2 veggies and yogurt -- all used in an edible way to teach about the human body. How cool is that?!

B-Inspired Mama shared a creative way to enjoy fruit with her Thanksgiving Cornucopia Snack

I'm eager to try both of these recipes, which feature oats and pumpkin -- two real food/whole food ingredients I absolutely love: Pumpkin and Oat Morning Bread from Crafting Connections and Pumpkin Oat Chocolate Chip Bread from Homegrown Friends, which includes maple syrup (real, not imitation) as the sweetener, which is a healthy baking option I use a lot as well. 

For Food Day, I'm also sharing one of our favorite alphabet books, which is also a book I use often to encourage my boys to try new fruits and vegetables -- and my pick for Picture Book of the Day (here's a bit more about the blogger crew involved with Picture Book of the Day). Last Fall, I shared 30+ Kid-Friendly Recipes for Meatless Monday inspired by this book

Join me in celebrating #FoodDay. Pop over to my Facebook page 
and share your best tips and recipes for eating well as a family 
and/or grab some fresh ingredients and join your 
#kidsinthekitchen for some fun and creativity! 
Now, Link Up and Play!!

From Drawing to Dance: Puss in Boots Comes to Life at The Broad Stage - Going to the Theater for the First Time

This weekend, we'll be taking the boys to the theater for the first time, and this unique performance happening at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica seemed like a great introductory opportunity for them as it incorporates music, dance and film and is followed by milk and cookies! Who wouldn't love that? 

Here's a bit more about this unique performance: Puss in Boots: From Drawing to Dance offers a privileged peek behind-the-scenes as Helios Artistic Director Laura Gorenstein Miller and her dancers share the process of creating the choreography for the characters in Dreamworks’ Academy Award-nominated film, Puss In Boots. Drawings dance to life in styles from Flamenco to contemporary as this award-winning company incorporates rarely seen hand drawn story boards, choreography, video of the motion capture technology and finished film scenes from the movie. It’s fascinating for audiences of all ages to experience live dance in this new and innovative way using popular culture and the love of film. The one hour show is followed by a half-hour fun festival with fresh cookies and milk, entertainment, crafts and an artist meet and greet. If you're in the Greater Los Angeles Area like me, come check it out! 

Puss In Boots: From Drawings to Dance
Saturday, October 26, 2013 / 11:00am
The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
1310 11th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Plus, a promo code:
 Receive our buy one get one free offer 
using the “2FOR1” promo code! 
Offer expires on 10/25.

P.S. This is NOT a sponsored post. I love the work of the Broad Stage, feel strongly about introducing children to the arts, including theater, and I'm a filmmaker, so the behind-the-scenes element attracted me. Given all of that, I just had to share it. 

P.S.S. Have you taken your children to the theater? How did it go? Do you have any tips? Please share in the comments! 

You might also like:
Creating Family Art
Family Movie Night: E.T.
Bee Sensory Bin

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Simple and Effective Early Writing Activities {or The Evolution of a Reluctant Writer}

This may not look like a success, but for us it is! See that "w" he's forming! 
I'm taking a break from sharing my Tot School post this week to share some of the activities we've done that have (finally) engaged my reluctant preschool writer. (I use writing with my preschooler to include drawing, coloring, scribbling, tracing and the actual formation of letters and numbers).

Fine motor skills receive a lot of attention and emphasis as essential skills for toddlers and preschoolers, and I often see parents and educators stressing this even more with boys as many believe that boys may be delayed in their writing skills in comparison to girls. 

I am NO expert and do not intend to enter into a debate or discussion of boys in comparison to girls with fine motor development and writing. Rather, I intend to share my own experiences and observations as a mother of two boys. In general, Wild Thing typically displayed little or rare interest in "coloring." He enjoyed other fine motor activities and sensory bins with items to "transfer," but "coloring" and holding crayons was frustrating and not fun. (Caterpillar, on the contrary, also a boy, began coloring when he was between 12-18 months).

Still, even now Caterpillar (now 2) will ask to color much more frequently than Wild Thing (almost 4) does. However, Wild Thing always loved books and letters and could recognize all of his letters at an early age (around 2). At 3, he finally began to be interested a bit more in coloring and "writing." However, he was still easily frustrated. He wanted everything to be "right," which of course was not the case given his motor control. 

We have finally began to make progress with his interest and enjoyment in trying to write. I've looked back and noted which activities seemed to help us with this shift. 

The first success came when I purchased some large letters for tracing from the dollar store. They are the ones intended for classroom bulletin board borders, I believe. I would tape them to poster board and then put the poster board on the floor and give Wild Thing crayons. I think being on the floor helped as did the size of the letters and the arrows indicating how to guide his hand -- instead of the freedom of drawing and/or coloring everywhere. 

Recently, a fun alphabet learning activity I initially set up for Tot School for Caterpillar evolved into a great pre-writing activity as well - in fact I think it is our most successful writing activity to date. Initially, I used painter's tape to put 5-7 different letters on the floor for Caterpillar to find the letter "F" during F week. I also spelled out the word "Frog" as something Wild Thing could find and we had lots of fun playing a little "Leap Frog" game, which I still need to share on the blog!! 

As the boys and I wrapped up dinner, Daddy disappeared. After dinner, we went into the living room to discover that he had re-used all of our existing tape, and we now had the entire alphabet on the floor (as our frog game had evolved, we began moving tape to create new letters and words and had started on the alphabet project). The boys loved the surprise! Then, Wild Thing began tracing the letters with his fingers. 

Soon, the tracing evolved, and he was tracing the letters with a marker. 

Finally, he pulled out a notebook and began drawing and writing in it as well. 

My 3 year-old (who turns 4 in just a few weeks) has evolved and grown as an early writer from someone not interested at all into someone who now asks to color and draw and is working hard to write his name (and who completed an entire Cars numbers book). Here's what I've learned through this evolutionary writing process over the past year:
  1. Encourage gently, but don't push. 
  2. Make it fun! (Jumping on letters and getting to "draw" on the floor is fun). 
  3. Tracing letters with fingers is a very important part of the writing and reading learning process that really empowered my son. 
  4. Every child has their own pace and that's okay. 
  5. When one thing doesn't work, try small adjustments --- taking paper from a desk to the floor made a big difference for us. (I make sure we use washable markers when doing floor drawing/coloring as they wash off easily or a put a very large piece of poster board or even two pieces taped together underneath so that any extra coloring goes on the poster and not the floor). 
  6. Textures help. I think tracing the tape also helped because the tape has a texture that he can feel, rather than just tracing letters written on a page. We've also traced foam letters with our hands with similar interest and success. 
  7. Put it on hold. (Throughout the past 6-8 months, we've had weeks when the crayons and/or markers rarely came out, and I didn't force it. Then, we'll have weeks where we color everyday). 
  8. Encourage and celebrate the activity and ask them to tell you what they've drawn or written. (I noticed that a lot of Wild Thing's initial timidity and lack of interest came from him being self-conscious about what he was creating and from not feeling like he could "do it right." Praising what he creates and having him tell me about it keeps me from naming the wrong letter or animal and raises his confidence, which helps him keep trying and then he gets better). 
  9. Read. Read. Read. Wild Thing's love of books and love of letters connected with his interest (finally) in creating letters himself. Plus, through reading I knew that he was internalizing letters and words even when he was not interested in trying to create them himself. 
Some other tools we've used that have excited Wild Thing about writing include: stencils as well as a white board with dry erase markers. (I have alphabet stencils and stencils of items. He loves using both). I also love the Montessori Letter Work Book. Friends have it. It features lowercase letters with arrows to follow for tracing the letters with finger and each of the letters is textured. It's on the Christmas Wish List! (There's also a numbers one as well).

If you have a strategy that has worked well in your home or classroom for exciting children about early writing or have a favorite pre-writing activity, please share it! I'd love to see it and to pin it to my Early Literacy Pinboard

You might also like:
4 Activities for Brown Bear
Tot School & PreK Learning: Letter C
Fine Motor Leaf Transfer + 50 Fall Activities

Thursday, October 17, 2013

{Kid's Co-Op} 8 Candy-Inspired Play Activities and Recipes

With Halloween two weeks away and candy everywhere, I just had to share some creative ways to use all of the candy. So here's some experiments, paint made from candy, learning activities, recipes and so much more to help you use up all the candy you might have lying around these days!

Counting with Candy Activities from Reading Confetti and Learn Play Imagine

Learn Play Imagine has also some fabulous Candy Corn Paint, Hershey Kiss-Inspired Play DoughCandy Corn Foam Dough  and paint made from Starburst Candy -- how cool is that!

And for some creative candy-inspired recipes there's Candy Corn Jell-O Pudding from We Made That and Candy Corn Krispie Treats from Crafty Moms Share.

Have you got some crazy candy-inspired activities or recipes? I'd love to see them -- please share!! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

{Ten for Tuesday} Tot School + PreK Learning Activities: G is for Ghost...and so much more.

Last week, we explored the five senses through the Letter G, our Letter of the Week, and had so much fun. I'm excited to share everything we did -- and it's quite a lot! I'll start off nice and easy. 

1. For taste, we went with grapes - doing a simple color by number sheet (part of our Romero Britto-inspired sheets made for the boys by a friend) and, of course, eating some grapes too. Look closely, Caterpillar's cheeks are full of grapes! 

2. Moving on to sight, we focused on the color green and worked together to create a green sensory basket. First, Wild Thing and Caterpillar helped me find green things around the house for a basket. Then, we went for a walk and added some green things to our basket during our walk. 

3. We also read Green Eggs and Ham, several times!

4. Then we did some simple sorting and grouping of our green items: plants, animals and toys. Wild Thing did most of the grouping - that's why everything is in such neat rows. Caterpillar enjoyed looking at the items and picking up various items to play with and explore every now and then. 

5. We also made green playdough. The boys enjoyed helping me make the playdough. We used a basil playdough recipe from The Imagination Tree and added in some savory herb we happened to have and a few drops of green food coloring - I've also had success coloring playdough light green using water that I've cooked the pods of peas or edamame in after shelling them - it's a nice natural dye option.

This set up would work well for Christmas too with a few adjustments. 
6. For touch, I we explored gel however, since I knew my boys would not really enjoy touching the gel directly because neither of them likes to touch anything sticky, I put the gel in a plastic bag and had them explore it that way. (Gak and/or goop would be another great letter G activity related to touch. I just didn't have the energy to do either!)

7. Our fun gel activity brought together another item we made to go with things that we hear. Since, Halloween is approaching and my boys love scaring each other by hiding and then jumping out and saying "boo" (so simple and yet so fun for a 2 and 3 year-old), we decided that we can hear ghosts! So, I made some simple ghosts by cutting up a milk jug and made a g is for ghost notecard. 

Then, I put the ghost in a ziplock bag and squeezed in some hair gel that has been under our sink for years! Initially, it looked like this...

I also wrote "ghost," "boo," and upper and lowercase g's on the milk carton and cut those out as well for the bag.

It became a hide-and-seek bag of sorts as they pressed the gel around to focus on different ghosts or letters or words. To make it more challenging and fun, we added some food coloring to the bags, which for some reason inspired Caterpillar to drive his car on the bag to move the coloring around. 

Wild Thing preferred to push the colors around with just his hands and really got quite into it. 

Finally, as an experiment we also added some Kool-Aid to the bag -- just one pink packet, no liquid. It created a pretty cool affect. The ghosts became very spooky. 

One note of caution: I recommend double bagging. I didn't. Caterpillar's bag did not get punctured and leak, but Wild Thing's did. The milk carton edges can be a tad sharp, so if you try this activity (and you should, it's really cool and so simple), double bag it! When we were done with the bags, I dumped the liquid out and rinsed off the ghosts to reuse. One worked perfectly in our latest Halloween Story Box and the others are being utilized in lots of fun ways, which I plan to share soon!

8. For smell, garlic was an obvious choice. I opened one clove of garlic for the boys to smell and also laid out several garlic skins that I kept after using a bunch of garlic in a dinner dish the previous evening. Then, I mixed together some glue with a little bit of water to create a quick modge podge and laid it all out for the boys. Can you guess what we created? Garlic Skin Ghosts, of course! 

The translucent skins of the garlic really lend themselves to ghostliness. 

We also made one mummy - top right. 
9. Another activity we did also related to something we hear - which is the words "Goodnight." The boys both love Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I knew a traditional story box for the book would have too many components, particularly for a calming night time box. So, instead we painted the inside of a small egg carton, and I added a few elements that referenced the book as something simple and small they could explore as we read the book. They also love to hold the moon up as high as they can and pretend they are getting it down from the sky as in the book Papa, Please Get the Moon For Me by Eric Carle, another of their nighttime favorites.

10. Finally, we did a fun Globe-Making Paint-in-the-Box Art Activity. I happened to have two green styrofoam balls left from when my husband used them as trees when building Wild Thing's train table (two years ago, I think). With some simple paint and a box, the boys could make their globes. 

A simple layout.

I absolutely loved this activity for them -- it was not messy at all and was so much fun. 
Though the "globes" look much more like the earth from space than actual globes. 

I'm realizing this could be a really fun way to create a solar system! 

I'll be linking this up over at Here Comes the Girls who shared Gel Writing as part of 31 Days of ABCs, a linky hosted by All Done Monkey. Here Comes the Girls is the featured blogger for the Letter G, so if you have a Letter G post to share, pop over there and share it! Also sharing at Montessori Monday, Tuesday Tots, Artsy Play Wednesday, Mom's Library, the Ultimate Sensory Play Party and It's Playtime! 

I'd also love to see your favorite ghost crafts and activities, as obviously we've gotten pretty inspired by ghosts this Halloween. Leave me a comment with your favorite ghostly fun or share it with me on Facebook

You might also like:
Tot School: Letter C
Tot School: Letter D
Tot School: Letter E