Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter Play-Based Preschool Invitations

It was our turn again to host for our play-based preschool co-op this week, and, despite the sunshine, we decided to get chilly.

gift bows, glitter glue tubes, stickers, paper strips, old Christmas picture books, toy catalogues, white glue, curly ribbon, spangles, gems, and pony beads

We started by making holiday cards for our families, using similar materials to our Freeform Festive Art Explorations from last week. I don't like to tell the children what to make when we're creating. I generally offer up new and interesting art materials and let them interpret them how they desire. However, these just-started cards were sent along by last week's hosting parent, and it's in the nature of a co-op that no single parent teacher rules the roost. It ends up being really beneficial to the kids, because they're exposed to so many different things than they would be with just one teacher. Making these cards was the highlight of the kids' day, so I was so glad I was gently nudged outside my comfort zone.

The kids worked on these cards for a good 45 minutes.

1. "a scary spider web for spiders to sit on" 2. "a rainbow" 3. (Meg's) "the Christmas baby"

We spent our outdoor time:

Painting with gift bows (inspired by Teach Preschool)

One of the boys found a bunch of craft sticks stashed inside an outdoor toy, and the kids decided to incorporate them in their painting.

Drying in our holiday canopy

Mixing up a batch of "fluffy stuff" (inspired by many preschool blogs currently playing with this fun stuff - I wish I knew who to credit it to). We mixed one box of corn starch with half a can of shaving foam. Once mixed, the fluff could be formed into "snowballs" and "snowmen," and then crumbled in our hands to start over.

Playing in our "junk toys pool" (inspired by Teacher Tom). This is always a favorite.

Practicing scissor skills at the cutting table with holiday kids' clothing catalogues. We had a tub of confetti by the time the kids were finished.

During circle time, we read The Snowy Day, sang "Once There Was a Snowman"* and "Snow is Falling,"+ and danced to classical music, pretending to be snowflakes. On Thursday, we will repeat all the activities we did today and also make some cookies to share at snack time. We will also read The Snowman.

*Once There Was a Snowman
Once there was a snowman, snowman, snowman
Once there was a snowman - tall, tall, tall [stand up on tippy toes]
In the sun he melted, melted, melted
In the sun he melted - small, small, small [scrunch down to ground]

+Snow is Falling
Snow is falling all around
On the housetops, on the ground
Snow is falling on my nose
On my head and hands and toes


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Freeform Festive Art Explorations - A Way to Reset a Rough Day

I had a hard day with my kids today. We've spent the past couple weeks taking turns passing around a bad stomach virus, the kids have been having a number of sleep regressions, and just general the responsibilities of managing a household during the holidays all ended up piling together and made for a very trying Tuesday. I lost my temper. Multiple times. Both kids went down for naps with tears, and I dropped a few of my own on the couch while I caught my breath. And then I decided, you know what? I'm the only one here who really has the power to turn this day around.

So I set the scene for a calm and pleasant afternoon to greet the kids when they got up from their naps (hopefully) rested and cheerier. I tidied up the kitchen - 'cause Mama doesn't function well in chaos, set a pot of good smelling things to simmer on the stove, turned on some Christmas music, put out some snacks, and then went hunting in my craft room.

My only direction in mind for this afternoon activity was "festive." I gathered some baskets, raided the gift wrap center, then finished up with a few supplies from Meg's craft shelves. (Please forgive the poor lighting. It's that time of year where the days are shorter, nights are cooler, and lighting is artificial.)

The spread.

Papers - dollar store holiday cards that have been languishing in my closet for years, pages from a ruined holiday picture book, construction paper halves, toy catalogue

gift bows and ribbons

white glue, glitter glues, and scissors

"Strings 'n Things" bin - bits of yarn, ribbon, elastic, etc.

As with most art explorations in this house, Meg decided to take things her own direction when she awoke. She pulled out a number of papers and asked to use my scrapbooking paper cutter. I pulled it out, reminded her which part was sharp and how to use it safely, and she went to town, cutting everything in her path into strips. She even attempted cutting one of the gift bows and found out on her own what was and wasn't possible to cut with the tool.

Her first try.

So proud!

I'd like to say this turned the whole day around and there were no more tears and tantrums and sharp words. But that isn't true. We're all human and this has been an exhausting and trying time. But those 3 happy, giggly, singing, creating, wonderful hours were enough to get us through the rest of the day. And tomorrow we'll all try to do better.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Shiny Stuff" Treasure Tin for Winter

Our autumn treasure basket was such a hit, I decided to make a new one for winter and the holidays. These baskets are inspired by traditional heuristic baskets and are great fun for both my infant and preschooler. I enlisted the help of my 3 year old, and together we gathered all manner of shiny and sparkly things hanging around my craft room and tucked them into a pretty tin I'd gotten on clearance after Christmas last year.

Inside the tin are three glass jars (they once held bullion cubes) filled with silver tinsel, metal bottle caps, and rhinestones. I hot glued the lids shut, and they make interesting shakers and discovery bottles for the littlest one. I also added a large gift bow, an empty tart pan, a jingle bell ornament, and holographic foil tissue paper.

As with our autumn treasure basket, this tin is kept on the entry way credenza alongside a basket of seasonal books, magazines, and music. The kids love playing with it in the evenings while dinner is cooked and many other times throughout the day.

These treasure baskets are inexpensive (free!) to put together from recycled materials and dollar store finds. It's simple to change up the content to keep them fresh and engaging. They really draw my kids in, and I like that they're attractive enough that I don't mind leaving them out in "entertaining" areas of my home.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Gotta Plug in to Recharge

Warning, it's about to get sentimental up in here, yo. Grab your slickers and prepare for a heavy downpour of syrup.

I often do my kitchen cleaning - dishes, wiping down counters and appliances, sweeping the floors, shining the sink - in the mornings. I set up a little art project for Meg at the table and put the baby in his high chair with snacks and a few safe art supplies from Meg's project. Today, instead of working on the ever-present mountain of dishes and piles of crumbs, I set a pan of water, cinnamon sticks, orange peels, and rosemary sprigs to simmer on the stove, turned on some handbell Christmas music, and took a mug of tea over to the table to sit with my girl while she created.

I'd given her a new package of colorful paperclips, and she started right to work folding envelopes, sheets of foam, and papers from her art shelf and pinning the clips all over them. The table was cluttered with scissors and crayons and markers and confetti.

As I was sitting with her, soaking up the sweetness of the moment, I had to consciously keep pulling my thoughts away from responsibilities and chores and other distractions. "Oh, now would be a good time to paint the front door. They probably wouldn't even notice if I got up." "Maybe I should vacuum up those pine needles in the sitting room. I'll be able to see them from there." "Ugh, dishes. I need to get those done before lunch. I could still talk to Meg while I do them." "I could just run downstairs and throw a load of wash in real quick." "I could check my Facebook right here from the table."

And every time I had to ask myself, "Really? Would I really rather be doing that than sitting with these sweet little faces and chattering and singing?" I don't always have the luxury of just sitting with the kids and enjoying their company. Why do I feel such a pull to give up that time when the rare opportunity presents itself. I had nowhere to be and no deadlines to meet. So I sat and enjoyed a lovely morning and afternoon with my favorite people.

Sometimes keeping the house in order feels like a circus act, keeping all these balls in the air while balancing on a beam and doing cartwheels. Mornings like today's give me that boost to keep on juggling. And these little faces are better than any back pats or applause for shiny floors and empty sinks.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Simple Autumn Collage Art

now coverI picked up some small foam leaves from Michael's last year on clearance after Halloween. The other night when the witching hour struck and I had James engaged with his autumn treasure basket, I pulled them out for Meg. I set her up with the leaves, white glue with a tap and glue cap (I love this gadget!), plain paper, and autumn-colored crayons. She didn't have any instructions, and she didn't need them, because she went right to work.

I couldn't resist giving it a try when she invited me over.

She's been playing with these materials for a week now, and autumn trees and leaf collages now cover our fridge and front door. Open-ended, festive, simple art. Just the sort we like.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Autumn Treasure Basket

I put together a simple autumn treasure basket for my son (age 11 months) from some things I had laying around the house. The basket, wooden spoon, and wicker bowl were pieces from his first heuristic basket. The faux leaves and gourds were purchased from the Dollar Tree and originally used as tablescape for my sister's wedding shower.

I tossed this basket together one Sunday evening while we were trying to get dinner on the table, and the kids were getting antsy. I was surprised what a hit it was with both the baby and my 3 year old. James was very serious in his exploration. First picking up each gourd and leaf and testing it in his mouth, then exploring it visually and with his fingers.

My daughter couldn't resist the fun. She filled the wicker bowl up with leaves and threw them into the air repeatedly while we sang "Leaves Are Falling."*

I've left the basket on our entry credenza, next to our nature display and basket of autumn books, and the kids have played with it multiple times each day since.

*Leaves Are Falling
Leaves are falling all around
On the housetops, on the ground
Leaves are falling on my nose
On my head and hands and toes


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Joy of the Earth Invitations

We participate in a home preschool co-op with a couple of neighbors. It's very casual and completely non-academic. Twice a week we rotate homes and offer activities with a loose playful theme. This past month our theme was "Joy of the Earth." Here are a few highlights from my week hosting. On my days, we focused on introducing plant and animal life.

I held as much of the lesson as possible outdoors. I prefer this in general, and especially so with this month's theme.

Tent Center

Blocks, barn, and animals

Blanket Center - mammal/bird/insect/sea life puzzles

Sensory Table - Potting soil, faux flowers, shovels. The children chose to incorporate the hose into their play here, and not only planted the faux flowers, but cared for their "garden" afterward.

Art Center - Making seed collages

Ice cube tray with different seeds. I also provided the empty seed packets, so we could discuss which seeds grow into which plants.

My daughter's finished collage.

Welcome Activity - salt dough nature sculptures

Balls of salt dough for each child and baskets of rocks, pine needles, leaves, seed pods, etc.

I'll have to make a separate post on the children's different processes using the materials. They were really into this project.

Snack Center - Inspired by this post at Pre-School Play, I offer a self-serve and self-cleanup snack area. At snacktime, one child sets the table and another passes out the snacks. Afterward, each child takes their plate, cup, and utensils to a wash tub of water and scrubs them clean using their flannel napkins. They then set them in the dish drainer. I bought the wash tub and dish drainer from Dollar Tree. They're significantly smaller than most I've found, which is just perfect for the kids.

Some other activities my group did (my camera battery died before I could get pictures of all our fun):
  • field trip to a local farm
  • walk to a neighbor's garden
  • made birdseed feeders like these
  • painted with nature like this
  • made contact paper nature collages like these
  • made applesauce

Songs we sang:
5 Little Speckled Frogs and 5 Little Ducks with our felt board pieces

Books we read:
A Tree is Nice
The Snowy Day
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (We have a giant version of this book with a plush caterpillar, and the kids loved it.)
Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf