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Bake Alphabet Cookies

July 6, 2015

What You Need:

  • 4 ½ cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups butter
  • 3 hard-boiled egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 raw egg yolks
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Colored sugar, chocolate chips, or sprinkles (optional)

What You Do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Measure the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the flour. Have your child mix the flour and butter with his hands until the mixture forms fine crumbs.
  3. In a separate bowl, mash the hard-boiled egg yolks with the sugar. Stir this mixture into the flour mixture.
  4. In a separate bowl, blend the raw egg yolks with the vanilla. Stir this mixture into the flour with a fork.
  5. Have your child press the combined mixture into a firm ball. Cover and refrigerate it if you plan to shape and bake it later. Otherwise, you can work with it at room temperature.
  6. Roll out the dough. Cut 3- or 4-inch strips and have your child roll them with his hands to make ropes. Shape the ropes into the letters of your child’s name, or into other letters he might like forming into words. Flatten the letters slightly so they’re about ¼ inch thick. If you like, decorate them with colored sugar or sprinkles. You can even press in a few chocolate chips.
  7. Bake the letters on a baking sheet for 25-30 minutes.

Bottle Cap Games for Kindergarten Readiness

July 4, 2015

What You Need:

  • Assortment of plastic bottle caps in a variety of colors, around 200
  • 2 small sheets of poster board
  • Glue
  • Permanent marker

What You Do:

  1. First, look at your assortment of caps. If you have caps of many different colors, pull out one cap of each color and set them aside. These will be used to help your child categorize and learn all the different colors.
  2. Think of about 10 fun symbols that you can draw on the cap: a star, a smiley face, a sun, a moon, a heart, a diamond, a triangle, a peace sign, or come up with your own! Then draw the symbols on each cap. Make three sets, so there are three caps with the same symbol.
  3. Next, make a bigger set of "alphabet" caps to help your child learn her letters. Write a letter of the alphabet on each cap . Make two or three caps for common letters such as A, E, I, O, U, C, D, H, L, N, R, S, T.
  4. Now, make a set of number caps. Write the number 1 on one cap, the number 2 on two caps, the number 3 on three caps etc… up to ten.

Once you have your caps ready, it’s time to play! Here are some ideas for using your caps to learn with your child (but be sure to incorporate free play with the caps, too: you and your child may find some other great activities of your own):

  • Take your set of colored caps: How many different colors do you have? What are the names for the colors? Take your poster board and write all the colors down on the board. Then help your child glue the caps onto the poster board underneath the right color name. This is great categorization practice, but also teaches her to recognize color words.
  • Go Fish! Mix up your symbol caps and spread them face down in the playing area. Take turns lifting up one of the caps and trying to find its’ matching pair. This is great memory practice for you and your child!
  • Use the symbol caps to practice patterning. The patterns ABAB and ABCABC are good starting points. Lay out two symbol caps: a heart and a star, for example. Then lay out two more to repeat the pattern. Ask your child to place the symbol that she thinks would come next in the sequence.
  • Take your alphabet caps and ask your child to arrange them in the order of the alphabet song, spreading them in a line on the floor or tabletop.
  • Using the alphabet caps, help your child to spell out her name. Are there other words she might be able to spell out with the caps, such as "mom", "dad", "dog", or "ball"? 
  • Place all your alphabet caps in a bag and shake them up. Ask  your child to draw one cap out of the bag and read the letter out loud. Then she has to think of something that starts with that letter. Allow for phonetic spellings, for example if she says "phone" for the letter "f".
  • Mix up the number caps and spread them out on the floor. Ask her to find all of the caps with the number one on them, all the caps with the number two, and continue until she has grouped all the different caps by number. Glue them together in groups on the poster board.

Again, be sure to allow for free play opportunities. If you child decides she/he would love to drop the caps into a tin can to hear the “ting!” sound, that’s great! 

Patterned Pets

July 3, 2015

What You Need:

  • White Drawing Paper
  • Markers
  • Pencil

What You Do:

  1. Help your child draw the outline of her pet using a pencil. Make sure she keeps the details to a minimum. Encourage her to draw the outline of the pet as large as possible so that it fills the page.
  2. Help her to trace the pencil outline with a marker so it’s easy to see.
  3. Section off parts of the pet using a marker. We drew horizontal stripes across our animal, leaving a couple of inches between the lines.
  4. See how many patterns she can name. Some of them may be: zig-zags, polka dots, plaid, stripes, argyle, diamonds and geometric.
  5. Ask your child to design a different pattern for each section of her pet. She can use as many colors as she likes, but each section must be completely unique. 
  6. When she finishes, hang up her patterned pet portrait for family and friends to enjoy!

Patterned Name Art

July 2, 2015

What You Need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Markers, crayons or colored pencils

What You Do:

  1. What patterns fascinate your child? Perhaps it’s the repetition found in nature ranging from the stripes on a tiger to the spots on a jaguar. Or, it might be the bold geometric prints in Native American beadwork.
  2. As you talk about patterns, have your child use the pencil to draw her name in large block letters. The letters should be big enough to fill with clearly visible patterns.
  3. Have your child create a pattern to fill in the first letter in her penciled name. For this example, we used a combination of red checks and lines.
  4. Fill the next letter with the same pattern but alter one element of the pattern. It can be a change in color or a shape or line. In this example, we removed the lines and have created a similar pattern with only red checks.
  5. Again, fill the next letter making one change in the pattern used in the previous letter. This time we changed the color for a pattern of blue checks.
  6. Continue changing one element at a time, letter by letter, until the entire name is filled in. Our example started with a pattern of red stripes and checks, and finished with with a pattern of blue stripes and checks.

Expand on this project by creating a whole series of patterned names. In one, change only the color. In another change only the scale, or size, of the pattern.

Tissue Paper Hearts

June 30, 2015

What You Need:

  • Cardboard
  • Tissue paper (red, white and pink) cut into 2 inch squares
  • Pencil
  • Glue (not a glue stick)
  • Paper or plastic bowl or plate
  • Scissors  

What You Do:

  1. Draw a large heart on the cardboard and cut it out. This will be the base of your decoration, so feel free to make it any size you wish. If your child wants to do a few different colors on your heart, it’s best to make it large enough to accomodate all the colors.
  2. Encourage your child to cut out small squares of tissue about two inches on each side. To make them quickly, fold the tissue and cut along the folds to save time.
  3. Place some white craft glue in a small bowl.
  4. Help your child take a piece of tissue and place it flat under the bottom of the pencil eraser. Gently pull the sides of the tissue up along the pencil and give them a twist.
  5. Holding the tissue against the pencil, dip the eraser side into the glue. Try not to saturate it—a little will go a long way!
  6. Show your child how to hold the pencil straight down on the cardboard, where you want the tissue to go, and hold it there for five seconds. Then gently pull the pencil out of the tissue. You may have to wriggle it out a little.
  7. Keep repeating this process and fill up the entire heart. When the tissues have dried, you can gently push them down to create a more rose petal-like effect.
  8. Your kid has practiced his fine motor skills and made some lovely Valentine’s decorations in the process! You can even use them as a special card and write a love note on the back.

Pumpkin Candle Holder

June 29, 2015

What You Need:

  • Miniature pumpkin
  • Sharp knife
  • Pencil
  • Tempera paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Votive candle
  • Matches

What You Do:

  1. Carefully carve off the top of the miniature pumpkin by making a circle around the stem. Make sure the circle is slightly larger than the votive candle.
  2. Hand the pumpkin over to your child and let her use her fingers to scoop out the pumpkin "guts."
  3. Let her use a pencil to draw a face on the pumpkin. Encourage her to create a personality. Is it a boy or girl pumpkin? Will he or she be scary, happy, sad or silly?
  4. Have her use paint brushes to paint over her pencil sketches.
  5. Set the entire pumpkin aside to dry.
  6. Let her place one votive candle inside the miniature pumpkin.
  7. Use a match to light up the candle.

Play Beep!: A Context Game

May 30, 2015

What You Need:

  • A song, rhyme or verse that your child is familiar with

What You Do:

  1. Choose a familiar story, song, or rhyme that your child has heard often.
  2. Read or recite the story, song, or rhyme but substitute wrong words or names in obvious places. For example: "Old McDonald had a car" or "Mary had a little dog."
  3. Have your child listen for the incorrect words and say "Beep!" when he hears one.
  4. When your child can quickly identify the incorrect word try making the game more challenging by inserting a word that sounds like the one being replaced, or has a similar meaning. For example: "Old McDonald had a barn" or "Mary had a little man."

Jumping Bean Phonics

May 29, 2015

What You Need:

  • Five pieces of large thick paper (oak tag or cardboard work well)
  • Index cards or construction paper
  • Markers or crayons
  • Masking tape

What You Do

  1. Start by writing the following consonants on the index cards or construction paper: B,C,F,H,M,P,R,S,D. Review the sounds these letters make with your child and ask him to say them aloud, so you’re sure he’s familiar with the sounds each of the letters makes.
  2. Next, take out your five large pieces of thick paper. On each sheet, write one of the following ending blends: -at, -ig, -og, -an, -it. Tape each sheet to the floor (leaving a bit of room between each).
  3. Start by looking at the ending sounds on the floor and saying them together.
  4. It’s time to jump! Tell your child that he’s a Mexican jumping bean, and that his job is to find a partner. Then explain the rules of the game: each time you give your child an index card with a letter on it, he’ll try to jump onto as many word matches for it as he can find. (You can use a timer if you’d like, to make things more challenging.) For example, if he had the letter “m”, he could jump on "–at" to make “mat”, or he could jump on "–an" to make “man." But if he jumped on "–it", he would lose his turn, because "mit" is not a word (it’s mitt!). The goal is to make as many words as possible, before the timer rings, or the player makes a mistake.

This game is a great way to bring home the idea that words are made up of several sounds put together. And it works just as well outdoors, with chalk on a driveway, rather than construction paper taped to an indoor floor.

It may be tough for your child at first, but it will get easier. And all that moving keeps things silly, which makes for low pressure and high energy fun. So if you want to help your child with reading, gather some paper, break out the markers, and get a jump on it!

Play with Words: A Pretend Bakery Game

May 27, 2015

What You Need:

  • 1 toy blender or large mixing bowl and spoon
  • Markers
  • 2-3 foam sheets (can be found at any craft store)
  • Safety scissors
  • Construction paper
  • Paper or plastic plate
  • Pretend money

What You Do:

  1. Set it Up. Using the foam sheets, help your child write each of the 26 letters of the alphabet on the foam, leaving two finger spaces between each letter. Make at least one extra for each of the vowels in the alphabet (A, E, I, O, U). As she’s writing the letters, have your child say each letter name aloud and remind her of the sound(s) it makes. Now get out those safety scissors! Ask her to cut the letters into squares. (They should look like Scrabble game pieces.)
  2. Make a Menu: In this game, your child will pretend to run her own bakery, but instead of cooking with flour and sugar, she’ll be mixing letters together in her blender or bowl to make words. No bakery would be complete without menus. Give your child some construction paper and markers, and ask her to write down the items she has available, so her customers can order what they want. She should use the following list:
    • cat
    • hat
    • tip
    • sip
    • bed
    • red
    • hop
    • top
    • hut
    • cut  
  3. Mix it Up!: Have your little chef get out her toy blender (or a large mixing bowl and spoon) and put all of the letter tiles inside. As the customer, it’s your job to shout out your “order.” When she hears the word, your chef should mix her ingredients, then look inside the bowl for the letters in the item you’ve ordered. For example, if you order “cat”, she should search for the letters “C” “A” and “T”, then lay them out on the plate and tell you your order’s ready. If you arrive at the counter to find that she’s spelled the word correctly, pay for your purchase and thank the chef. If the word has mistakes, tell her, “That’s not exactly what I ordered” and help her figure out how to correct it.
  4. Stay Hungry: Reading takes practice, so make sure to build on what your child has learned so far, rather than just doing one word at a time. Place another order, sticking to something in the same word family. For example, if you’ve just tried “cat,” move on to “hat”. Repeat this process for each word on the menu. Once your child has mastered everything on the list, help her dream up new words to add to her menu, for example, “bat” or “mat”.

This is a really fun way to help kids practice their letters and sounds. So get those ingredients ready, and cook up a good reader!

Helping Young Children Cope With Frustration

May 26, 2015

One of the best lessons that you can help your young child learn over the years is how to cope with frustration. As they move through school, children will be asked to do increasingly challenging tasks that are at or beyond the limits of their capabilities; they will inevitably encounter frustration, both in academic and social arenas. In fact, the gulf between successful and unsuccessful children will not necessarily arise due to differences in intelligence and skills, but rather due to differences in ability to handle setbacks and persist in the face of frustration.

Preschool children do not have very much experience dealing with frustration, as all of their needs have always been met by their caregivers. They haven’t yet acquired all of the language skills that they need to express themselves verbally, and they also lack the brain development that enables adults to label and regulate emotions and how those emotions are expressed. In order for children to develop both the verbal and social/emotional skills that they need, it’s important that they be encounter situations that involve a small, manageable amount of frustration.

Preschoolers can get easily overwhelmed, and need a lot of assistance in terms of breaking down problems into manageable parts, a key step in handling frustrating situations. Children that do not learn how to deal with frustration early in life may encounter later problems, such as lack of confidence, anxiety, anger, trouble with friends, and difficulty trying new things. If they do not know how to tolerate and cope with frustration, children will always expect others to solve their problems and will give up in the face of the first sign of difficulty.

Keep calm. When you see your child become frustrated, try not to mirror that frustration in your own voice or behaviors. Instead, focus on staying calm and talking your child through the situation in a gentle voice, guiding her to mirror you. Acknowledge that she is frustrated, but stress the importance of continuing to try to do something that she finds difficult.

Set challenges. Look for opportunities to challenge your children. Routinely ask them to do things that are slightly beyond what they have been capable of doing in the past. Do not jump in to help them. If you see them struggling, instead of immediately helping, try to prompt them by offering hints to make the situation easier. If they are really having difficulty and do not seem to be making any progress after a few minutes, break the task down into small steps. If necessary, guide them through or even do the first step for them, and then back off again. Your child should be hearing the following phrase quite often: “Try it yourself first and if you can’t do it, then I’ll help you get started.”

Wait for it. Help your child learn the important skill of delaying gratification. Preschool children do not yet have the brain development or experience to effectively cope when they have to wait for what they want, so you have to give them practice developing this skill. As much as it is practically possible, have them wait for what they want, even if it’s just for a minute or two. Talk to them about how to distract themselves while they are waiting for something.

Encourage independence. Make sure that your child is given many opportunities to play with other children in situations where close adult supervision is not required. Adults should be responsible for ensuring children’s safety, but other than that, try to let children work out problems among themselves. When children play independently, they learn how to deal with frustration in ways other than letting adults solve their problems.

Foster effective communication. Do not teach your child that expressing frustration inappropriately, such as through screaming or hitting, is a good way to get your attention, even if it is negative attention. Ignore these behaviors if they’re not causing serious harm, and give lots of positive attention for times when your child handles a potentially frustrating situation in a healthy manner. Point out specifically what she did effectively.

Rely on routine.
Keep your child’s world as predictable and routine as possible. If children feel confident and secure in general, they will be able to handle minor setbacks and frustrations.

Talk with the teacher. Use your child’s preschool teacher as a resource. Ask for suggestions about how the preschool deals with frustration in children in general, as well as for specific tips about helping your own child. The more that you can be consistent with what the preschool is doing, the easier it will be for your child to internalize the lessons that you are both trying to teach.

Be a role model.

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