Christmas Tree Sort
Activities don’t have to be complicated to be fun and full of learning. Check out our Christmas tree sort for today’s early science and math activity.
Activities don’t have to be complicated to be fun and full of learning. Check out our Christmas tree sort for today’s early science and math activity.
We picked seeds on a sponge for our “favorite” science and math activity this week. Mostly because we didn’t get it done in the week it was planned! I get this idea in my head that certain activities are going to be harder or take more time and then I dread them. This was one of them. It ended up going really fast and being a lot of fun. I need to remind my self of that. They always go fast and I always enjoy it!
This activity idea originated a long time ago, back when I was a lead toddler teacher of 1-year olds. I literally have no memory of where I got the idea. I don’t really know why sponges and not just dirt. It’s even weird to me.
But, I stick with it! And it end up being pretty fun seeing the seed. Because in the dirt you can’t see it, but on top of the green sponge we were able to see the seed changing. So, that’s probably why the sponge.
I had pre-cut the sponges into circles to fit into sections of egg carton. That is totally unnecessary. Cut a sponge in half (or even in quarters if you want it smaller), because a whole sponge would be a lot of area to cover with tiny seeds. Set the sponge in a small container to catch extra liquid and you are good to go.
I had my son wet the sponge first with a spoon (hello fine motor and science!) and then he sprinkled a couple of pinches of the seeds onto the sponge (more fine motor and science!).
Then, we looked at them while they changed and talked about a good place to set them so that they could get sunlight. The great thing too is that you get to watch it change over time and sharpen those observation skills. With the youngest little ones it’s going to be a lot of you noticing and pointing things out and asking questions. Remember, just because they aren’t saying things doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you are saying! As they get a little bit older, they’ll be able to share the things they notice. Don’t be surprised if they notice things different than you. I love hearing how little guys describe things in their own language! So, be encouraging and supportive.
Let’s talk about what’s going on here…
Fine motor: I know I already mentioned it some, but using the spoon to pour over water is a great fine motor movement. Think of all of the control that it takes to keep it steady until just the right moment that they get to pour it in the right spot.
Then, picking up the seeds gets that pincer grasp (between thumb and forefinger) going, and then sprinkling them onto the sponge just so uses the muscles again.
Science: Clearly this is a science activity, but not really for the obvious reasons. Most people will think it is a science activity just because it is planting seeds. Yes, you are right it is science because of that. For this age though, the science is more about the process, feeling the materials (sponge, water, seeds) and then observing what happens.
Also think about the simplicity of pouring water over a dry sponge. The sponge starts hard, crunchy even, and pretty small. With the addition of water it completely changes. It gets soft, squishy, and grows. To me, water and sponges is actually an activity in itself. So, capitalize on having fun with that part of the activity and talking about the changes that are happening.
*I’ll try to update as our seeds change!
Five minutes… that’s all you need to do this activity! It goes quickly, but it has a lot of learning and fun packed into it.
Just getting to experience picking colors, dropping the colors in, and watching the swirling transformation in a fun science experience in itself.
It really is kind of mesmerizing!
Then, getting to add in their white carnation and see what happens adds an extra element. And it’s really not too messy, unless you forget to warn your oldest that the last bottle of food coloring is different than the first two! Then, you end up with this and both kids start yelling “It’s blood!” Because obviously it’s automatically blood if it looks like it!
So, what’s going on in this activity?
Fine motor… squeezing the color into the water and stirring the color in both engage the small muscles used to control the fingers and hand.
Science & Math… Observing the color transformation and using water and food coloring are science and math components. It’s just fun for our kids, but it’s laying this early foundation of experience with these materials and with the different colors.
Sensory… If you let your child gently explore the different parts of the flower they are going to gain different sensory experiences.
I’m pretty sure Fall is completely confusing my kids this year. I like to include at least one nature walk in each month of the transitional months (Spring & Fall) because there is so much change that happens. But this fall I’m pretty sure our first nature walk in September was colder than our last nature walk!
That’s ok, we have enjoyed the extra warmth. We have had plenty to talk about with the changing trees and other foliage. Plus, it’s a nature walk. There is so much to take in and explore even if the typical change isn’t happening. We changed things up this time and combined a trip to a new park with nature. We saw deer tracks, water, lot’s of leaves and trees, and new kinds of birds by changing our location.
So, what’s happening during the nature walk?
I like nature walks because it is… multi-sensory? multi-development? multi-dimensional? I’m not sure there is a word that exists to fully describe it, but a nature walk employs almost everything that your child has going on. They can move their bodies, they can run, they can crawl on the ground to discover bugs, grass, and dirt. It’s sensory… they can feel bark on the tree, leaves, grass; they can smell flowers; they can hear wind, the geese flying over head; they can see colors, shapes, changes. They can experiment, they can be creative, they can use their imagination…
It is our job to capitalize on these experiences. The key is being descriptive in our communication with them. Talk about what you see, talk about things that interest your child and connect to their world. Ask them questions, even the little ones that don’t give an answer yet. Talk, experience, and have fun together!
We had a positively perfect fall day for our nature walk today. My kids even thought it was chilly enough that they insisted on wearing mittens. So, since warm clothes shopping hasn’t happened here yet, my son was stuck wearing his sisters pink mittens.
What I love about the transition seasons, fall and spring, is that it makes nature walks very dynamic. What I mean is things are constantly changing… temperature & weather, colors, growth or loss of leaves and flowers, the animals around us are bustling, there’s always something to look at, compare, and experience. So, we had plenty to talk about!
We started out by checking on our pumpkin in the back yard. My expertise is children, families, and parenting… I fail in any knowledge or common sense with growing any living thing from the dirt! Last spring one of our activities was planting some seeds, so, how fun would it be to grow a pumpkin to get to carve or bake with come fall?! This is the second year that we have planted pumpkin seeds, and the result is the same. We have enormously overgrown pumpkin vines, and 1 teeny tiny pumpkin that barely turns from green to orange. We obviously will be relying heavily on canned pumpkin for our fall recipes! So, once we checked on the pumpkin we grew, we then had to go check on the pumpkins in the front… the ones we didn’t grow! It still counts as nature I guess, even though it’s now on our front porch.
We found lot’s of great things to learn from. Seeds from one of our trees for next years growth, bugs, huge spider webs in some bushes, and lot’s of changing trees and leaves to look at.
Let’s talk about what’s going on here…
Early science and math: Obviously this is an early science and math activity, so those are the main developing areas. I’m certain that I’ve said here before, but I will say it again… all children are scientists. Doing simple activities like this allows your child to use their growing observation skills to build upon the knowledge they already have. So, on top of that it’s our job to talk about the things we see, provide new information, and connect it to their life.
So, for instance with our pumpkin I might say, “Hey, look our pumpkin is turning orange! It’s not green anymore. Do you remember planting the little white seed last spring when it was getting warm?” Springboard off of what your child knows or is familiar with (the pumpkin) describe something new or different that you see (changing color) and connect it back to their own life (planting in the Spring).
The key to any activity with this age group is simply being descriptive in our communication with them. We are obviously not going to discuss the more complex science behind the fall transition. They are, however, learning what a fall leaf feels like in their hand. They are observing (with our help) that those leaves aren’t the same color anymore and maybe learning a new color. And they are learning what cold weather feels like and what the difference is between feeling warm and feeling cold. Simple concepts to us, but they are creating an understanding in their little minds that they will eventually build academic learning upon. I hope you have a wonderful fall day to explore together!
This is a good example of an activity that just doesn’t quite go the way you plan. I’ll get to that in a second though.
So, one concept of early math at this age is recognizing differences (ie. color, shape, size) and learning to sort them by those characteristics. It’s something that we, as adults, do on a daily basis without even realizing it. So, for the fall season I found these decorative leaves for a couple of dollars at the local craft store and thought they would be fun to sort. The nice thing is they have come with different types of leaves, different colors, and different sizes, so they can be sorted by any of these characteristics.
When we did this it was kind of flat. Don’t be discouraged if sometimes activities just don’t catch the eye of your child. They are supposed to be fun! So, I presented this to my son, he would start to sort them, and then just lose interest in it and start putting leaves in any pile. What he really wanted to do was throw the leaves in the air!
This activity is repeated throughout the fall season. So, now I know to be more on top of asking him questions and giving ideas for new ways to play with them and new ways to sort the leaves. And even then he might still just want to throw the leaves, and I’m fine with that.
Keep in mind your younger child (1 -2 years) might not grasp this sorting concept like you are expecting them to. I would recommend demonstrating what it means to sort the leaves and just let them try. Even if they aren’t doing it, they are going to be thinking about it and building new concepts.
By doing this simple sorting activity, even if it doesn’t go according to plan, your child will have fun playing with a new material, they will engage fine motor muscles, you can point out similarities and differences in the different leaves, and they will start to process what those differences mean. This activity is repeated, and that offers several more times to keep building upon what they learned or experienced the last time.
Activities with toddlers are so easy to incorporate into their every day tasks. Learning about science is as easy as giving them a bath! I think a lot of people hear early science and think I am crazy because we think of chemistry, biology, and physics! When in reality if we are proactive at talking about things in our environment, they will learn. Toddlers are already avid scientists, they are constantly mentally comparing and logging away colors, differences that they notice in their world, cause and effect, sounds, tastes, textures, and so much more!
That is what this activity is for. It is letting them play with water and experience those properties, and then on top of that it’s basically answering the question, “What happens when I do this?” In this case they are finding out what happens when they drop some of their toys, and other familiar objects into water. Take a look at Summer Week 3 for more instructions and a materials list.
Do this at bath time, or like we did with a tub of water and some favorite toys and other objects. I collected items first, my kids put them in water, and then were intrigued enough to go find more things and “test” what happened! Keep conversation simple, “The car is sinking! It’s going down to the bottom!” or “Look, the foam letter is floating, it’s on top of the water!” I’ll be honest I was actually surprised by some of the things we used! I guess I learned something too!
Ok I’ll be the first to admit, my fish look pretty funny! In fact they make me chuckle when I look at them, but you know what, when I pulled them out my 3-year old didn’t care at all. He exclaimed “Fishies!” And immediately jumped into the activity. It was just another reminder that kids don’t care that they are doing activities with beautiful, lifelike materials… they just want to have fun with us!
I laid out the fish and explained that the big fish were the mommy fish and the little fish were the baby fish. Then, I asked him if he could match the mommy fish with the baby fish. He didn’t hesitate and once he had matched all of the fish he was beaming with pride and exclaimed “I did it!” If that doesn’t make your day, I’m not sure what will!
What if my child is young and not interested in matching or sorting? Your 1 and 2 year old might not be interested in sorting or matching fish yet. You can still make it fun. Lay out the fish and describe what they are, just like I did in the beginning. Make the fish “swim,” talk about the mommy fish and how they are bigger and the baby fish are smaller. Talk about their colors, and then maybe demonstrate how to match the mommy fish with the baby fish. All along your young toddler will be building those brain connections to be able to do this and similar activities in the future.
Lets break down what is happening in this activity:
Early Math: Recognizing characteristics and sorting or matching based on those characteristics is an early math concept. You might remember in elementary school learning about labeling and categorizing as a means to graphing and figuring more difficult concepts. In the case of this early math activity, the fish match, your child is considering both size and color to determine how to match or sort the fish. In the mommy match, they must first separate out the large fish to be the mommies and the small fish to be the babies. Then match based on color. Similarly, they can be sorted based on size, big fish in this pile, and little fish in the other pile.
Problem Solving: These are the types of activities that really build the “I think I can, I think I can… I KNOW I can!” mentality. A few years ago the push was to tell our kids how wonderful and smart they were thinking we were building “self-confidence…” the belief was that if kids felt good about themselves they would be successful. Well the reality was that it didn’t work, and we discovered that children need to build self-esteem by trying things, making some mistakes along the way, solving problems, and finally achieving success. That results in pride… not the pride cometh before fall type of pride, rather the kind of pride that comes from satisfaction in achieving something. We can foster this even more by doing these little fun activities with our kids. We can be their cheerleader along the way, and maybe even give some hints here and there, but ultimately when they can problem solve with these simple tasks they will build the beginnings of confidence that will continue to benefit them as the grow and develop.
Communication: I could literally talk about communication into every activity! Your child is literally a communication sponge! Any activity that we do, well literally anything we do, is a chance to label and expand our child’s vocabulary. This is why it is so important to talk, read, sing, and talk some more with even our infants! In this activity talk about the colors and the size of the fish. Describe what you see your child doing, “You are matching the red mommy fish with the red baby fish. The mommy fish is bigger than the baby fish.” Give simple hints to help your child, “I see the green baby fish is all alone. Where is the green mommy fish.” Pretend play with the fish. Make them “swim” and talk to each other, and even find ways to connect the activity to your child’s life, “This red baby fish has a mommy just like you do.” When in doubt, just talk about what you see!
Is it just me, or are some of your fondest memories getting to cook as a child? But, does the thought of cooking and baking with toddlers make you cringe thinking of the mess?
Head to toe covered in flour and sugar,
eggs stuck on the ceiling…
chocolate chips up the nose…
Of course it’s never that bad, and cooking and baking can be quite fun, even for us! There are two pieces of advice I have for you when you are cooking and baking with toddlers and preschoolers
Cooking and baking with young kids is such a rich and fun experience for them. I’ve never been around a young child who didn’t want to help in the kitchen. Let’s talk about some of the learning opportunities that take place in a cooking and baking activity…
Fine motor is probably one of the first I think of, from stirring a cupcake batter, rolling a cookie into a ball, or sprinkling in a pinch of salt, all of these activities are forcing those little muscles to work. These are the same muscles that they will later use to hold a pencil when they are learning to write. Let your child scoop, dump, pour, pinch, roll, squish, pat, tear, crush, mash, and shake as much as they can! Give assistance as it is needed for younger toddlers, demonstrate as needed for older toddlers, but then give them space to experiment on their own.
The next thing I think of is the sensory experience. It’s fun and important for kids to get messy every now and then to experience different textures. When you have the chance give your child the words to express what they are feeling… “that is so slimy!” “this peanut butter is sticky,” or “these crackers are really crunchy.” Also keep in mind that it’s really easy to get stuck in the mindset that sensory experiences are only those things that we touch, but keep in mind that sensory experiences can and should include all of our senses! Look for opportunities to point out something that you are smelling, like vanilla or peppermint extract, herbs and spices, or anything as it bakes in the oven. We can also have sensory experiences through what we are seeing, in things like colors and shapes. And of course one of the more fun senses to explore while doing a cooking activity is taste! When it’s safe (ie. no raw eggs or meat, or anything that might be icky for a child’s tummy) try and see how individual ingredients taste, compare a little salt and sugar, lick the pudding bowl, or when you’re making cookies… that heavenly concoction of brown sugar and butter, right before you add the eggs, yuuuummmm!
Two of the less obvious experiences going on in a cooking and baking activity is early math and early science. You might be thinking I’m crazy to even talk about science and math for a toddler or preschooler, but keep in mind we are talking about the very early building blocks of these areas of learning. Even though we aren’t teaching our children what volume is, or how to use numbers in adding or subtracting, or the fact that they are really doing a science experiment by combining ingredients… they are gaining that experience every time they fill a measuring cup with flour, or a teaspoon with salt. Every time they help or hear you count in the number of eggs, and every time they see their ingredients transform over time in the oven, they are making those connections in their brain that they can build on later in their learning.
I love when it’s Fridays and we get to do a cooking activity together- it always feels like we saved the most fun for last! My kids love it, and I’m not going to lie, I look forward to the treat that we get to enjoy just as much as my kids! I’m by no means a food blogger or professional cook, but I have done my best in adapting most of the recipes to combine things I grew up with, things I’ve seen over the years, and things that I’ve learned in my own cooking experiences. If it makes sense to use your cookie recipe instead of mine, by all means, use your recipe. What I have provided is part of a plan, just the springboard for you to add in things that are meaningful to your family. And remember, ultimately, aside from all of the learning processes going on in these activities, the main goal is that you both enjoy one another and create meaningful experiences that just happen to take place in the kitchen. Happy cooking!