Seeds on a Sponge

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Happy Playing!

*I’ll try to update as our seeds change!

 

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Early Science & Math: Colored Carnation

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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 Sensory… If you let your child gently explore the different parts of the flower they are going to gain different sensory experiences.

Happy Playing!

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Christmas Tree Sort

This is a fun and easy early science activity with a Christmas spin. No, it’s not considered science because it’s about “trees.” This is an early science activity because it involves sorting. Sorting by color, size, shape, etc. is a type of classification and it takes a lot of observation skills and the ability to differentiate between whatever characteristic it is that you are sorting by. It is something that as adults we probably do all the time without realizing it.

To get it going… in grade school did you ever make a paper heart? Where you folded your paper in half and made half of a heart, cut out the folded half, opened it up and it was a whole heart? This is the same concept, only instead of a heart draw half of a Christmas tree. Make between 5 and 10 Christmas trees from small to large.

If you are doing this with a younger toddler it might involve a lot of you demonstrating and describing characteristics of the trees. “Here’s the biggest tree! Let’s put it here, now what comes next?” Utilize a lot of description and turn taking! As children get older demonstrate and describe, but then let them have a little bit more time to experiment and figure things out on their own.

Here’s what happened when I did it with my 3-year old…

First I showed him how they could be arranged

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Then I scrambled them up and asked him if he wanted to try putting my trees in order from biggest to smallest

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This is what he did… not exactly, right? Which, if you know me you know I’m all about the process, not the outcome necessarily. So, I’m glad he got to try. At this point though, why not work together a little?

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So, then I improvised and started by asking which tree was the biggest.

From then on I asked which of two trees was the next smallest. It was much easier for him to decide between two trees rather than from all of them. So, be involved and don’t be afraid to change things up with the activity to make it more interesting or fun for your child!

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Happy Playing!

Early Science & Math: Nature Walk

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.

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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!

Early Science & Math: Carve a Pumpkin

Today’s early science and math activity is carving a pumpkin! Get ready for messy messy fun! My husband and I have carved a pumpkin every year since we’ve known each other, just for the fun of it. Now, we do the same with our kids, still for the fun of it, but they are simultaneously having so many experiences that are getting logged away in their little minds!

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First, you’ve got to have a meeting to discuss what your pumpkins face is going to look like! There will be lot’s of indecisiveness and changing minds… but finally with some encouragement from mom and dad you will find something to agree on.

Next, it’s time to scoop those gooey, slimy guts out of the inside. Getting to see inside that sealed exterior of a huge orange pumpkin is like revealing a mystery! Plus, it’s getting in great sensory experience. Which reminds me… a lot of toddler’s and preschoolers hate things that feel slimy or make their hands messy. They may not enjoy the experience of sticking their hands in and digging it all out. That’s ok, don’t force it. Doing that part of the activity is not worth the stress for them. If that is your child, let them sit along side you and watch their pumpkin face take shape! You can talk about what you are seeing and doing, what is one the inside, how the pumpkin grows…

Obviously this is an activity that requires a lot of adult contribution… and sometimes that adult is left on their own to keep working on the new pumpkin friend…

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Get your helpers back to help dig out all of the pumpkin seeds to roast for a tasty snack (we’ll have that up here soon too!)

 

From the science of plants and growth, to sensory, to fine motor experiences this activity has a ton of components! Plus, it will be such a fun activity for the whole family to take part in together.

Happy Playing!

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Early Science & Math: Nature Walk

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

Happy Playing!

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Early Math: Sorting Leaves

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Happy Playing!

 

 

Early Science: Float or Sink?

IMG_0124Activities 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!

Happy Playing!

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking and Baking with Young Children

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

  1. img_1221Before you start… mentally prepare beforehand and accept the mess. I’m being dramatic of course, but realize it is going to be messy, and messy experiences are good for our kids. Hopefully you’ll have so much fun that it won’t really be that big of a deal in the end anyway! And…
  2. Let go of the end result… commit this experience to your child’s learning and the experience you will have together. It’s also best to not count on your finished product being for something or someone- unless you are ok with imperfection. If it is an activity just for you and your child it will be easy to remind yourself that it’s ok if your Christmas cookies are too thick with tie die smears of frosting, or if your peanut butter balls look more like peanut butter blobs… the process is more important than the product!

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…

img_1047Fine 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.
IMG_0271The 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 courseimg_1392 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 img_1388ingredients… 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!