Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post: Why We Love Finger Painting

Have you been over to visit Leslie at Play Ideas--Early Childhood Activities? If not, you are missing out! I've pinned many of her tried and true play ideas on my pinboards on Pinterest, and I've fallen in love with her new blog. Leslie was kind enough to guest post on Play-Based Classroom while I take a blogging break. When you're done reading, why don't you hop on over to Play Ideas, and have a peek at her quick, easy to implement ideas for play?

Why we love finger painting
Finger painting feels great and it is a delightful, creative, sensory experience. It is an unstructured and completely child-centered activity.  It also helps children learn and develop: moving skills, feeling skills and thinking skills.
They have a sense of purpose and curiosity as they discover what marks they can make.
They watch and experiment as the marks change and change again before their eyes.
They work independently in active, hands-on learning.
They take pride in their creations - “Look what I made by myself.”
Providing opportunities for them to explore a variety of materials is what parents and teachers can do and then watch them have fun.
Suggestions to extend finger play:
Add sand to the paint.
Add glitter to the paint.
Use coloured glue instead of paint and add beads to the glue.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guest Post: When Life Gives Me Rain, I Make Puddles!

Note from Gina: Blogging has given me the opportunity to meet some fabulous preschool teachers from around the world: one of which is Ms. Kierna Corr, the author of the blog, "Learning for Life." Kierna and I bonded over a flubber recipe, and we soon realized we had similar approaches to teaching. When I decided to open up the blog for guest posting, she was the first person to come to mind! I hope you learn to love her as much as I do!

I live in N. Ireland, and everyone knows that the island of Ireland is known for its green landscapes. There is a very good reason for that - loads and loads of rain!

I decided that rather than fight against it or try to stay inside when it rains that I needed to embrace it.

 As the old saying goes, 'When life gives you lemons make lemonade!" When life gives me rain, I make puddles!

 I teach 26 three and four year olds, and we go outside everyday, no matter what the weather. In fact I can't imagine anything worse than having to spend the 5 hours each day inside. It helps that all staff are in agreement with me, and are prepared to don waterproof trousers & boots & get stuck in to!

We usually find that after about 2 weeks the children are all happy enough to be outside in all weathers provided they are dry, warm & comfortable. We have invested in waterproof clothing for everyone. In fact we have 2 sets of coats & trousers so that if we out first thing & get soaked we have another set to put on later if we go again again.

I watch the forecasts so closely because I like to know if it is going to be a very wet or windy day so I can plan to have the powder paints out so we can decorate the playground with the rain or fly our kites.

From following other preschools around the world I also now appreciate that although we may have rain & sun in the one day, we don't get the extreme heat that some people have to worry about. Our slide is never going to be too hot to use; nor would I ever have to put the tyres away in case anyone got burnt on them.

I like that we can have hailstones one minute & sun the next, literally as this photo shows.

We do spend a lot of time in our 'rain gear,' but it means we can enjoy whatever the weather throws at us.

 We can always take our coats off if we get too warm. Most parents comment on how much their child enjoys going out in any weather after a few weeks at our school, and none of them have ever complained or asked that their child stay inside, even on the coldest, snowiest days. They were delighted that their child was getting the opportunity to go out.

It really is all about the right clothes, not the weather!

Note from Gina: So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes! I'm drooling over that weather gear--especially the rain boots! If you would like to see more from Kierna, hop on over to her blog: Learning for Life 

You can also find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/nosuchthingasbadweather

Happy playing!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Want to guest post?

Hi Everyone!

I have some apologizing to do. I naively started a series the same week that I also started fall classes, THINKING that I would be able to manage it. Little did I know that I would barely have time to even get on the internet for enjoyment (which is what blogging is for me)! I apologize to anyone who has been waiting for my second post in the "How Does A Play-Based Classroom Teach...?" series. I am still adjusting to my new schedule, and I'm trying to work in a time slot just for blogging. Please bear with me!

On a happier note, I decided to open up the blog for guest posting. If anyone is interested, please let me know. The criteria for posting are pretty basic. Please post something family and (more importantly) child friendly. It should be new material (i.e. not something from your archives).It can be relating to any early childhood education topic: sensory, large/small motor, science, art, block play, dramatic play, or WHATEVER tickles your fancy. If it is relating to an art project, it should be open-ended, process oriented art. The messier the better! So that is my challenge to you! If you're game, let me know!

UPDATE: If you would like to guest post, you may email me at:


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Making a Portfolio For a Play-Based Classroom

This is the first post in a 8 part series of "How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...?" 
  1. Making a Portfolio for a Play-Based Classroom.
  2. How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...Social/Emotional Skills?
  3. How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...Language and Literacy? 
  4. How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...Math?
  5. How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...Science?
  6. How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...Social Studies?
  7. How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...Health and Safety?
  8. How Does a Play-Based Classroom Teach...Fine Arts?
     I am killing two birds with one stone by not only breaking down how children actually learn in a play-based setting, but by also organizing my ideas for my own classroom portfolio.  Documentation is an essential exercise for early childhood educators who follow a play-based curriculum. 

Why make a portfolio?
  • Because there are still many parents, teachers, and directors who still differentiate play from learning.
  • Portfolios tell your story. They document how you meet standards, your classroom routines, classroom traditions, the teacher's creativity, and the children's joy all in one place!
  • Pictures speak a thousand words. 
  • Portfolios demonstrate consistency in your curriculum.
  • When teachers are prepared with a portfolio that is organized and up-to-date, the teacher gains credibility.
  • When a parent comes in asking, "So what did they do today?" about their three year old, you can confidently say, "Play," with a visual portfolio showing how play supports learning.
  • Portfolios serve as a great resource when accreditation assessors come a-knockin'! Nothing growing in the garden at the moment? No worries! It's all documented in the classroom portfolio.
  • Maintaining a portfolio gives teachers feedback. What worked? What didn't? What were the children's interests? What are the program's strengths and what do we need to focus more on?
  • You can take portfolios with you wherever you go. Hey. In this economy, it never hurts to be safe. If you end up in a situation where you need to find a new job (or even just want a raise!), a portfolio is the perfect resource to have on hand.
Tips for Assembling a Classroom Portfolio: 
  • Know What Kind of Portfolio You Want To Make.  It might sound obvious, but before you start this project, ask yourself, "What do I want my portfolio to tell people?" In my case, my objective is to design a portfolio that portrays what standards we meet through play.
  • Gather Your Basic Information. Make copies of your daily schedule, hand washing procedures, disinfecting schedule, daily reports, a sample of your planning, parent newsletters, class expectations, and whatever else you have on your Parent Information Board. 
  • Take pictures throughout the year. I've found blogging to be the perfect excuse for me to take out my camera more often. Make it a habit to carry your digital camera around with you at all times. Technology has made it possible for some camera phones to have nearly equal quality to a digital camera.
  • Organize as you go. As you take pictures, mentally organize what standard the activity meets. When you upload your photos onto your computer, sort them into files according to your needs. You might sort them by Early Learning Standards, by date, or by what type of activity it is. It's up to you. For a long time, I only had mine organized into only two folders: "Printed" and "Needs To Be Printed." :)
  • Make neat, legible labels. Once you have the paperwork and photos organized, it's time to make labels. If you choose to write the labels with your hand, please make sure it is neat and legible. You also use a label maker, or type and print labels from your computer.

    This is important: if you decide to make an Early Learning Standards Portfolio, like me, make sure the labels are specific to each strand and sub strand.

    The Arizona Early Learning Standards read like this:

         "Strand 1: Knowledge of Self
               Concept 1: Self Awareness. The child demonstrates an awareness of his or herself.
                   Indicators: a) Demonstrates self-confidence."
  • Assemble. By now, you have an objective in mind, your papers and photos organized, and labels are made. Now all you have to do is assemble! :)
Take your time! This is a huge undertaking, and I'm well aware of all the MILLION things that teachers already have on their plate. Do a little bit at a time, and you will have a killer portfolio to show for it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Organize Your Crayons, Markers, and Colored Pencils

The Problem:
I've been searching for ways to make my art and writing center more organized. I'm sick of marker lids being lost, basket contents getting mixed up despite all labeling, and colored pencils being forgotten. 

I found these thin baskets that are meant for organizing drawers at the dollar store. They were only 3 for a dollar! 

How I Did It:
  1. I hot-glued strips of construction paper to the bottom of each one: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, black, pink, purple, white, and brown.
  2. Then I sorted my crayons, (and later) my markers and colored pencils into the baskets according to their color. 
What works: 
  • Markers are lasting longer, now that lids don't get lost in one, huge bucket of markers. It is easier to find a marker lid in a small basket of only 4 markers. 
  • This is a natural color sorting activity. I over hear the children correcting each other, "NO...that goes in the red one!" 
  • I have more space on my writing shelves. I've since filled that empty space with baskets of stickers, pencils, note pads, dry-erase markers/ boards, various types of paper, calendars, etc. The extra space means more space for creativity!
  • The great thing about using baskets (as opposed to cups or cans) is that they are stack-able!

    What Doesn't:
  • I love my new organized shelves. The only qualm I have is that children may not learn to sort crayons from markers, and markers from colored pencils. This may become an issue when they move on to the next classroom. However, it works really well for my classroom of young 3's!
Happy playing!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'm going back to school.

Hello bloggers!

I've never really taken the time to talk about me, personally, but I just wanted to give a quick update about this upcoming fall semester. I am currently going to school to earn my AA in Early Childhood Education. This semester I will be taking 7 credits (3 classes), as well as working 30-35 hours a week. I'm also married, and I have a 2 year old (soon to be three) at home. This semester is likely to give me gray hairs!

Between family, work, school, and the blog, something will have to give, and it will probably be the blog (and probably house work...yes...I foresee lots of housework piling up, and fast food in my future...)

I will continue to try to update when I can--once the semester starts, I will try to keep up with a schedule. I still have LOTS of ideas and pictures to share with you all! This was also my way to communicate with parents, and I am really regretting that I won't get to devote as much time to this endeavor.

These past six months I have come to LOVE blogging to the point of obsession. I have learned so much from fellow bloggers, and I have grown as a teacher as a result.

THANK YOU for taking the time to read my little blog...a baby in the world of blogging! It means the world to me whenever I see that someone has been inspired by one of my posts, or just happens to click on by while searching for ideas for the classroom.

This is certainly not the end, and hopefully it will not be an extended break. I will keep you posted as often as possible.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Plunger Prints

Ooey Gooey Lady Groupie Alert!

I LOVE the Ooey Gooey Lady. Her ideas for the classroom are developmentally appropriate, messy, and FUN. 

Plucked straight out of the Ooey Gooey books, here is an activity that is sure to please, sure to get messy, and sure to be developmentally appropriate:
Plunger Prints.
Don't worry. These were new. I bought them from the dollar store specifically with this project in mind! :)
Do yourself a favor, and do this one outside!
We did ours on a water day.
This was at the tail-end of our school year, so the only paints left were blues, blacks, and browns. The kids didn't seem to mind at all. They were too busy learning a new skill...

...because it takes some serious muscles to pull a wet plunger from a piece of paper with paint on it!
The plunger suctions to the paint, and you can either slide it off, anchor the plate with your foot and pull really hard, or walk around with a paper plate stuck on your plunger. They figured it out eagerly and quickly. I was impressed.

I used logs to hold the paper down. If I could do it again, I would use even more paper, because this was very popular!

See why it's a good idea to do this one outside?
After the paint ran out, I busied myself with taping the paper to the fence to dry (and be displayed). Meanwhile, the boys had filled up a bucket of water, and began cleaning the plungers...

I need to hire these guys to fix my toilet!
Their WHOLE bodies were involved in this activity
The plungers were sparkling clean by the time we went inside.
While the boys were busy cleaning the plungers, we found out that the paper plates had become stuck to the sidewalk. This is pretty typical in hot, dry climates like Arizona. The paint-soaked paper plates dried quickly, and were glued to the pavement. The girls scratched, scratched, and scratched away to get the paper plates off, while I aided them by keeping the area wet (to soften the paper).

Here's what worked: 

This activity is great for building gross motor skills:   
Arms, shoulder and back muscles are needed to push and pull the plungers, and incidentally, these are the same muscles needed for writing. In a way, this activity was a very effective pre-writing exercise!

This activity is a language booster:
  Here we put real meaning to the words, "plunge," "suction," "grip," and "circles." 

It meets Early Learning Standards: 
Making prints with plungers meets the AZ Early Learning Standards by allowing the children to use a variety of writing tools, materials, and surfaces to create marks.

Clean up time was almost more fun than the actual painting:
Clean up time took more time than the actual painting. However, in this case, clean up became almost more fun than the painting, so it worked out. When we were done, I hosed everyone down, and we continued on with our day.

Here's what didn't:

I only had four plungers available for a class of 13. 
Silly Ms. Gina. I should know better by now! If it's possible, try to have one for each child. If the budget doesn't allow for that (these plungers were only a dollar at the dollar store, but they were a part of a larger purchase), try to have at least enough for half of the kids. 

The Paper ended up being blown down by the wind:
 I thought I taped it pretty good, but by the time we came out in the afternoon, that paper was gone. So much for our cool plunger print display! It's times like this that I have to remind myself, "Process, NOT product." The process was enjoyable, and the product...not that important.
I forgot to explain what plungers are really meant for BEFORE the activity.
While I put them away on the bathroom shelf, one of the children exclaimed excitedly, "PLUNGERS! THOSE ARE FOR PAINTING!" 


Happy playing!  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

Howdy from over here in Arizona!

I am all up to date with technology, now, and have not one, not two, but THREE accounts to share with you.

Follow me on Twitter:  

Twitter is a great way to quickly share links, and give a short description (140 characters, to be exact). This way, all the hours spent poring over new ideas, articles, and pictures won't be spent in vain! I can actually share some of this with others who are interested. Yay!

Follow me on Facebook: 
Just about everyone I know has one, and not everyone has a Google account. Facebook is a convenient way to quickly connect to your readers, as well as interact with them. You can even purchase a Facebook ad space for your blog, and target it to your audience. This gets the word out to potential readers. I love my new Facebook account, because it has also allowed me to interact with other bloggers, and I get quicker feedback from my readers. 
Follow me on Pinterest:

I am hopelessly addicted to Pinterest. It is a free website that allows you to "pin" photos of your favorite ideas onto a virtual board. You can categorize your bulletin boards into as many categories as you like. I already have 24 boards! When you come across an idea online that you really like, click "Pin it," and pick the photo to pin. It will link you back to the original site every time.

Here is a list of my personal boards:

Glove Spider

Preschool teachers don't have much time in a day for making cute little projects..

at least THIS one doesn't! 

My day is all about efficiency. I don't do arts and crafts that require me to do much more prep work than gathering the supplies, and maybe cutting a large sheet of paper to cover the table.

I am not one of those teachers who spends hours creating cute little creations out of construction paper, felt, or socks. Being the only teacher in a classroom of 13 students keeps me busy enough. That being said:

Here's a quick tutorial on how to make the EASIEST puppet ever!

Step 1: Gather a glove and googly eyes (I had some googly eye stickers on hand, and these were perfect.)

Step 2: Either glue or stick the eyes onto the glove. 


We gathered in a circle, and sang Raffi's "Spider on the Floor" song. The laughter and squeals of delight were beautiful. When were done, I put the spider in the home living area, and he has explored every corner of the room via little hands. 

Happy playing!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coffee Oobleck!

One of our lovely teachers, Ms. Leslie, brought in a week's worth of used coffee grounds for us to use. I immediately added them to our sensory table, thinking they would be an instant hit! 

Not so much. 

I didn't get it. How could they not be drawn in by the smell alone? I even tried sitting at the table and inviting the children to come join me...I had a few takers, but no one stayed for long.

Usually it's just a simple fix to draw the children in to the sensory table. In this case, our simple fix was the addition of cornstarch (I added two cups.)

...and a container of water.
I also added wooden spoons (for those who don't like coffee's gritty texture), measuring cups, and measuring spoons.
Jackpot! The table began gathering attention, although they didn't immediately dump the cornstarch and water.
 Instead, they used the measuring spoons to mix

Their favorite thing to do was transfer the cornstarch and coffee grounds into the cup, watching the water slowly swirl, mix, change colors, and settle.
You can see the layers of cornstarch, coffee grounds, and water. The children lovingly called this, "Chocolate milk."
The language this activity inspired was amazing. The kids started calling it the "coffee table," and spouting out words like "mochachino, and cappacino."
I heard stories of Mommies and Daddies who always drink coffee...
...and how coffee was for grown ups only, although no one really knew why.
Eventually, the container became so fill, that the water overflowed, creating a river of coffee.
...And this became a new sensory experience. The smell was incredible, but to be honest, the texture was not. It was very gritty and wet, which was off-putting to most of the kids. Most...but not all (obviously).
They truly savored the process of creating a new substance. It was very relaxing to watch the white cornstarch swirl and mix with the contrasting, brown coffee.
The next day, I added another box (2 cups) of cornstarch to the table, as well as some more water.
*Side note: If you decide to do a coffee/water/cornstarch combo...leave the mixture UNCOVERED over night, or it will mildew. I've forgotten this in the past, and came to class the next day with a healthy growth of mold...and well, you can just imagine the smell. Ugh. Leave it uncovered!
There was more mixing action...
You can see the coffee in the table change as it gets more attention from the kids. The consistency is thicker, like gravy.
Eventually, all the cornstarch is dumped, and little hands start to mix it up. The process took two days...If I had my way, I would have done it immediately. Adults are efficient like that. But children need time to explore, and figure things out on their own.
Here it is...Coffee Oobleck: Mix 2 boxes of cornstarch (4 cups), 2 cups of water, and a few days worth of coffee grounds (maybe 3-4 cups?)  

 Just like normal oobleck (cornstarch and water), this was completely addicting to play with, and filled the classroom with beautiful smells.

Ready for some nerdy talk?
The cornstarch/water combo creates a non-newtonian substance. It's viscous in nature (something all cooks know from when they add a little cornstarch to sauce...it thickens up!). This substance looks like a liquid, but when you touch it, it feels solid. When you force the molecules into motion (for example, letting it drip from your hands), it acts as a liquid once again.

Because of the unique nature of oobleck, you can roll a ball, and watch it melt before your eyes. 

Did you know that coffee grounds act as an exfoliate?  
Who knew? The cornstarch will leave your skin feeling silky smooth, and the coffee rubs away dead skin! 

 So, rub your hands in some coffee oobleck, and after you rinse, they will be rejuvenated and silky smooth. Bonus: They'll smell great, too!

Happy playing!
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