Thursday, February 19, 2015

3 Sizes of Teaching Big Concepts to Little People

There is often talk about scaffolding learning along the learning path, but I don't hear about scaffolding the learning EXPERIENCE of a specific concept.

My philosophy is that young learners learn best when concepts are presented in three levels. It's like a movie. On the big screen in a theatre, it's an experience. You see the details and how everything works together. It's big and loud and holds your attention. 

If you see it on your big flat screen TV, whether 80 inch or 32 inch, then while it may be entertaining, it's something you watch, rather than experience. You may enjoy it, but if you have to grab a bite, you pause it and don't feel you've lost anything.

Watching it on the iPad, yeah, you may pause it multiple times. You can't see all the details, and you don't really care. It's not an experience, it's a time filler. It's something entertaining to do and if you pause it multiple times, then you are fine with it.

Unfortunately, most learning starts and ends at the iPad viewing stage. 

There's a reason we go back to the theater to watch the good movies. We crave the EXPERIENCE.

Make it BIG
Whenever I teach a new concept we always start out BIG. 
As big as we can get it. 
As interactive as we can get it. 
As fun as possible.

For instance when we began number line work, we laid it out on the floor in tape. The children placed the numbers. Then we stepped it off. Then they hopped it. Then they hopped addition and subtraction. They worked as teams to provide equations to the person jumping. 

I taught it, they learned it, then they played with it. After about a week of playing with it, they had it pretty much down. Obviously they were simply scaffolding to a higher level and new format of addition and subtraction, but it was vital to their understanding to begin with it BIG.

Shake it DOWN.
Once the children have a concept down in BIG format, then we start gradually shaking it down. Just as you get a better movie experience from an 80 inch screen rather than a 32 inch, the size of the learning experience needed depends on the level of detail and interaction necessary to continue the learning path. Each child is different in this requirement. 

We drew number lines in the sand box and had sand toys jump the equations. We moved it down to drawing number lines on the chalk board and white board. Eventually we moved it down to drawing them on the lap boards and writing equations.

Mr. G wanted to measure everyone one day, so we did. We graphed it on the number line and worked the less than and more than aspect between their heights, along with graph interpretation stuff.

Take it SMALL.
Small is worksheets. Small is independent work. Small is reinforcement of mastery, not learning.

If learning the concept has been fun, and they have it mastered, then they WANT to "play" with it on worksheets. 

Even with our worksheets, they are dynamic and interactive. Above all, they are a FREE CHOICE activity, not a requirement. The children roll a die for the two numbers writing them in. If the second number is less than the first, they have the choice of doing addition or subtraction.  

Since they can do one of these in about two minutes with a 6 sided die, I'm making a new one that will use a 12 sided die.

So this is how we've done number lines, but we do the same with other math concepts, and it's also how we do reading:

Big is actions and manipulation as a group.

Shaking it down with activities, big books, and group reads.

Taking it small.
Miss A - 4 years
BIG hands on exploration in a fun, playful learning experience is a much better introduction to big concepts for little children than going straight to small work. By the time they get to the small work, they should already be very familiar with the plot, characters and setting of the concept. Having seen it as the big picture, the small one will make sense.
Tags: teaching, daycare, preschool, pre-k, reading, math, classroom, early elementary, homeschooling, homeschool, curriculum

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Valentine Art Piece Bag

Sometimes our art is organic. Such as our Valentine's bags.

Miss H brought her small heart punch from home. Miss A wore a heart grid top. So of course we had to combine these into an art piece.

We've been working on multiplication with the bigs, so I took advantage of that aspect of this activity as well.

Since I knew this activity would be time consuming - we only had the one punch and each child had to punch 12 hearts - so I did the folding of the paper to provide the 3X4 grid for the children to glue their hearts into.

Two big aspects of this project were taking turns, and preparing for your turn.

If the punch got to you and you didn't have your paper picked out, then it went on by. It's not often that the children are rushed to make decisions, so it was very interesting for me to observe that aspect of their behavior and capabilities and to see how their thinking and planning changed/developed as the activity went on. I think it was a very beneficial experience.

It was also good experience in fine motor control, and placement of the paper within the punch, which was not clear for easy viewing, so some critical thinking was having to take place.

One of the things I observed, was that the wiser ones would pick out several pieces of paper, have them ready, and then punch out multiple hearts when their turn came. Thinking they were doing something potentially wrong, they were a little sneaky, and very fast at it. 

Impressive. I didn't catch on quickly, since I was helping the younger ones. Since I had never said that you could only punch out one heart at a time, I felt it was just efficient and sound judgement.

As the punch moved on, the children used glue sticks to paste their hearts into individual squares on their grids. Good hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

Once done, I realized that the size of paper I had used would fit on our white lunch bags and make cute Valentine bags for our Valentine exchange. The children thought it was a wonderful idea, so we did that.

It worked out great!

We had a wonderful Valentine's party with some special treats for the children from the parents, and some special gifts for me!

I have AMAZING clients and kiddos!
Tags: Valentine, craft, cut, paste, math, learning, bags, box, Valentine's, homeschooling, art, process, preschool, pre-k, daycare, child, care

Preschool Mardi Gras Sensory Bin

The children actually help put these sensory bins together. They get to canvas the art room and play area for relevant items. 

The big girls decided we HAD to have jewels in this one, so I put them to the task of fishing out the appropriate colored gems. Excellent fine motor activity, and they debated between them on whether the color of the gems fit. "That one's too light green." "This is more pink than purple."

We ended up with it including:

  • Base of split peas
  • Crepe paper streams
  • Metallic ribbon curls
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Reindeer moss
  • Mardi Gras coins
  • Mardi Gras beads
  • Feathers
  • Gold metallic grass
  • Gems
  • A small doll to hide like in King Cake

The girls also insisted on adding green and gold glitter to the split peas. 

The crepe paper is for tearing and tying.

Since we had pipe cleaners in our Valentine sensory bin, I wasn't planning on putting them in this one, but was over-ruled. Little Miss H made several "balloons" out of them to celebrate today. They are a very versatile loose part.

Feathers and coins are must-have for Mardi Gras,

along with masks and beads.

The reindeer moss is a new element. It not only has a very unique feel to it, it also has a very earthy scent as well. It is a great sensory item as it can be pulled apart using fine motor skills, and pressed back together.

This is prior to beads and gold filler. They threw in some St. Patrick's Day foamies as well. Hey, they are green. And, you know which holiday this sensory bin is headed into next...
Tags: child care, daycare, preschool, pre-k, homeschool, holiday, loose parts, loose parts play, spring, child, children, kids

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

You've Got Mail Sorting Activities

I've been waiting for these little mailboxes to arrive in the stores. I've tried using small buckets, muffin cups, etc. to do independent sorting activities, and simply kept mentally kicking myself for not buying some of these last year.

Luckily, Target had them in their dollar section last weekend, and I snagged the last few. 

Since children have a natural affinity for the number three, I try to appeal to that natural order. However, I can use only two of the mailboxes if that's all I need, for instance noun vs. verb; or up it to four on the few occasions that is needed, for instance sorting by seasons.

The tops of these mailboxes come completely off, so I am able to label them on either side for two completely different activities, one for the bigs and one for the littles.

For the bigs, I wanted to work on them distinguishing the blends dr, gr and tr. I used my clipart program and made up picture cards. Since they read well, I didn't want the word on the cards, as many teachers do, so I had to make my own. It was pretty easy for them, but helped to reinforce the skill. 

Surprisingly, dragon gave them the most trouble, with it often going into the gr box.

For the little ones, I simply take the top off and plop it the opposite direction. For the youngest, they have red down, but green and blue get mixed up. So I included red as a given success. For the first few times, I place the green and blue right next to each other for easier discrimination. Once they seem successful, then I move them to either end with red between for higher mastery.

These thick magnetic number and letter tiles were also in the dollar section at Target.

One of the best aspects of these little mailboxes, is that I do not allow the children to take off the tops. First of all they would ruin the soft plastic trying to get them back on, and secondly this allows the children to not fix their mistakes, usually what I DO want, which allows me to assess their first response ability. I can go do something else, and have assessment results wait for me, rather than having to observe the activity. 

Some of the other planned activities:
  • shapes sorting, including 3-D
  • person/place/thing
  • number/letter
  • beginning sound sorts
  • ending sound sorts
  • living/non-living
  • animal pictures to habitats
  • animal families
  • land/air/water
  • size sorting
  • sequencing sort
  • root/stem/leaf/fruit
  • food groups
  • senses
And I'm certain to find a LOT more uses for these little gems!
Tags: homeschool, preschool, pre-k, children, child, kids, math, language, science, sorting, fine motor, homeschool, homeschooling, child care, daycare, care, learning, activities, 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Valentine Sensory Bin

Our Valentine sensory bin this year was put together by the children. They were given free reign in the art studio and allowed to pull anything pink red or white. I gave them a choice of base material, and they requested "red" rice, which turned out more pink.

To make the rice, I used about a half gallon size container of rice. I mildly heated 1/3 cup of vinegar with a pea sized dollop of Wilton Christmas Red gel food coloring. I mixed it well until the gel had completely dissolved, then combined it with the rice until thoroughly coated. The rice went onto two jelly roll pans and into the oven. I had preheated it to 350 degrees, then turned it off and left the rice in the rest of the day. It probably could have used another pea size of the coloring gel, but I didn't want it to come off on their hands once dry.

The rice is their filling and dumping activity.

To this they added a package of Valentine confetti. The confetti they have sorted out [fine motor] and sorted by color.

They also added pom poms, which they sort by size and color and use in a variety of ways; feathers, which they color and size sort; pipe cleaners, which they color sort and manipulate; and red shiny shred filler. 

The cookie cutters they use as bases to fill with rice and pom poms, and wrap with the pipe cleaners.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sorry Doesn't Make It Okay

"Sorry doesn't make it better."

"Sorry," doesn't mend wounds, physical or emotional. It can't heal boo boos or broken hearts.

There are very few reasons a child gets a time out here, and the only automatic time out children get here is for maliciously harming another child. 

Somehow, society has gotten to the point where an apology, sincere or not, is seen as an acceptable response to a willful action. 

It isn't.

Too often we make children apologize, accepting a casual, "Sorry!" tossed out. This from children who are NOT sorry, and the victim's response is usually, "That's okay."

It's NOT.

Neither child learns anything useful from this interaction and it goes nowhere in changing behavior. 

Neither does time out. Or spanking. Or loss of privilege. I use time out to give me a moment to contain the bully while I deal with the victim. It is not intended to change behavior, but to stop motion the child until I can respond appropriately to that child.

Small children are unable to comprehend the potential outcomes of their actions. They lack the experience and knowledge. It's up to adults to show proper interactions.

A bully needs to be held accountable.
A victim needs to stand up and be heard.

Sorry does not make it okay.

You would imagine a child that looks like this would be the bully.

However, it is more often the ones that look like this little angel that snap a short fuse and cause harm.

I believe in making children under three say they are sorry. They don't know if they are sorry or not, usually they are not. However, societal conventions demand an apology and it's a good habit to foster in the early years. However, an apology is not a grudgingly mumbled, "Sorry," from half way across the room.

Having the children look each other in the eye (starting age 2 and good verbal):
"[Laura], I am sorry I hit you and made you cry. That was not nice and I will not do it again." 
"You hurt me. That was mean. Do not do it again." 
Looking the child in the eye,
 "It is my job to keep everyone safe. I will NOT allow you to hurt people or things."

Acknowledgement of action and outcome, holding the bully accountable, giving the victim a voice and position of power, stating my responsibility.

After age 3, I begin to leave the actual apology up to the individual child, depending on where I believe they are in development. When a child can determine if an apology is truth or lie, then I do not wish to place them in a position of lying. An apology is only good if it comes from the heart.

However, even if the child chooses to not apologize, they still must acknowledge their actions.

If someone is needing to apologize, then what they did is NOT OKAY. Drives me nuts to hear a person apologize and the other person say, "That's okay."


The appropriate response to an apology is telling the other person how their actions made you feel, impacted you, and warning them that you will not put up with it in the future.

Saying, "Okay," pretty much lets them off the hook, minimizing what took place. This isn't fair to either party. 

Luckily, this group is pretty tight, smart, and considerate. So, their interactions are more likely to look like this:

But even with good, sweet children, we've had three apologies this morning alone. But no time outs, because there was never any intention to harm.

Pictures in this post were staged. Except the hugs. Those were truly spontaneous.
Tags: parenting, homeschooling, development, preschool, social, emotional, pre-k, daycare, child, care

Monday, January 26, 2015

Is My Preschooler Gifted?

My oldest son is gifted. My youngest is smart. Over the last twelve years, I've taught many preschoolers, with about 1/3 each average, smart and gifted. 

The parents ask me why I think their child might be gifted. There are some good lists out there, but I want to give my own perspective from my personal observations.  

Gifted children are different. They feel more intensely, they think differently. Their abilities arise from a brain that is wired in a much more complex, inter-connected manner. 

It starts early and doesn't let up. My gifted students have all had heads shaking from the time they were early toddlers. 

Gifted is not necessarily a blessing. They feel more intensely, they get analysis paralysis, they can be obsessive, their brains never stop and often their mouths as well, and they can easily be overwhelmed and overwhelming. Their view of our very gray world can be sharply black and white, and reality can be difficult for them to handle. 

Here's just a little of my perception of the differences. 

This is very simplistic and generalized and does not discuss varying abilities within children, outside forces that impact performance, gifted issues, etc. 


Even with infants, I can tell a marked difference in their future abilities by their focus and tracking as early as a few months old; along with how they look for reinforcement and information from an adult. It can be a little uncanny to see intelligence shine from someone so young.

  • The average child pays the minimal attention and must be engaged through movement and fun.
  • The smart child will pay attention in order to "get" it, then be ready to move on.
  • The gifted child will pay close attention, ask questions, mull it over and ask questions throughout the day, and bring it back up for a week, or month, in different contexts until they feel comfortable that they completely UNDERSTAND the concept and all its applications. [One of the reasons I leave new material out and available for at least a week.]

Caught Miss H contemplating the whiteboard rather than playing during free time. Just turned 5.

  • The average child says, "OK," and accepts information as given.
  • The smart child will ask simple questions for clarification purposes or about a specific topic. Once answered to their liking, they move on to the next topic.
  • The gifted child asks big questions about a specific topic. A LOT of them. They will not let it go until they feel thoroughly informed.  "Ok, but what if...", "I know [concept] when [this] happens, but what about when..." "How about...?" 


  • The average child needs a lot of repetition and different contexts to understand and retain information.
  • The smart child needs just a few lessons.
  • The gifted child often only needs a 1-2 sentence INTRODUCTION of a concept to grasp the material, retain it, apply it and extrapolate it. 
Group ages 3,3,4 & 5 working on big numbers.

  • The average child has to work to mentally retrieve relevant data and skills when set to a task.
  • The smart child easily assimilates into tasks that they have encountered before, or can apply known skills towards.
  • The gifted child can not only pull from experience, but can also extrapolate their own and observed experience to new situations to easily perform new tasks and skills and create new understanding.


  • The average child pulls pockets of relevant memory to perform the task at hand.
  • The smart child pulls linear, linked strands of memory to perform the task at hand. Performs most tasks more quickly. They can extrapolate within a limited distance from the current learning.
  • The gifted child can pull un-linked pockets and strands of memory and knowledge and combine them into an entirely new, seamless, whole. Information retrieved can be as seemingly random as an overheard conversation when they were 2, combined with a tower they built when they were 3 that fell in just a certain way, along with a PBS show on physics that was playing in the next room one Friday night, and currently watching another child try to build a bridge. They can take these flashes of information from their memory and almost instantly have a solid insight or understanding of something new. 


  • The average child needs to manipulate the world to understand, as appropriate to their developmental level.
  • The smart child still needs kinesthetic learning, but is able to do much more mental processing.
  • The gifted child spends much of their time in mental processing: daydreaming, mentally running through scenarios, contemplating concepts, imagining, thinking of possibilities, mulling over societal issues, and playing with words and ideas. While initial instruction is still best accomplished through hands-on learning, gifted children easily move forward to worksheets and board work as the level of difficulty increases.

  • The average child is stimulated by new or interesting information and experiences, but can quickly be diverted in other directions.
  • The smart child pays attention long enough to get the gist of something.
  • The gifted child would rather learn and discuss than play. They seem to have an innate need to fill a seemingly bottomless knowledge pit within them. They simply blossom when learning something new or discussing ideas. They play with what they learn. If they learn about bridges, there will be bridges of all kinds all over the place. They naturally experiment and mentally record data for analysis and will want to talk at length and in-depth about their observations. It is not unusual for them to figure out the next level of instruction before it can be presented to them. They will also initiate learning objectives.


  • The average child is generally happy with the status quo. 
  • The smart child will manipulate to gain advantage.
  • The gifted child is emotionally hurt by injustice, perceived cruelty, unfairness, bad sportsmanship, and other societal issues. They have a tendency to worry about such issues and to try to bring peace and fairness about for all. They are more empathetic and willing to negotiate, and do not understand other children who do not have this same awareness.


  • The average child will move on if things don't go their way. They will find another toy or another playmate.
  • The smart child will try to manipulate things to their advantage or view point.
  • The gifted child wants things, "Just so." They have a firm belief in how things should be and when others don't go along with that vision, they can have trouble dealing with it. They can't be happy with the way things are if they are WRONG, and they can't manipulate others, because that just wouldn't be RIGHT, and why can't these other kids not just see how it should be and do what they should? Then the world is too loud, or their clothes are too itchy, or someone took their favorite doll, etc. It can be overwhelming for any child, but for gifted children, it can be exceptionally overwhelming when they know how the world should be and it doesn't conform to their expectations.


  • The average child will usually be able to find something to occupy their time, even if it is twirling a stray piece of string around their finger.
  • The smart child will get bored and complain about it, looking for direction.
  • Many gifted children need constant stimulation of higher level learning to fill that knowledge pit within them to be their happiest. Whether it's doing a new art project, listening to new music, learning a new word, a new science experiment, etc. They are constantly craving new knowledge and experiences and the ability to explore known ones at a new level. When forced to participate in activities lower than their abilities and knowledge, they can grow depressed and anxious. 
These are simply my observations.

I keep hearing lately the comment, 
"Not all gifted children read early, but all children who read early are gifted."
Miss A 4 and Miss H 5. Yes, they can read it all, even with my bad handwriting.

If this is true, then my current three preschoolers are definitely gifted. But then, I pretty much already knew that.
Tags: preschool, child, care, child care, daycare, kindergarten, gifted, preschooler, homeschooling,