Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Letter and word recognition activity

Our theme this week is flowers. So i have tried to produce activities to tie to this theme.

To encourage Henry's interest in letters and word recognition further i created a simple activity, which he has enjoyed a couple of days this week so far.

I tend to to a lot of our activities on the floor, as Henry is more receptive to learning away from a table!

You will need:
Cut out shapes of flower heads in different colours, labeled with alphabet letters (at least 1 for each letter of the alphabet). For the purpose of learning mummy and daddy i added extra 2 extra Ms and Ds!
A sheet of paper with flower stems drawn on. I made ours big enough for 5 letters - so that Henry could start with his name each time.

We started with Henry's name. I laid out all the letters in his name randomly below the paper on which he would put the flowers together. I then suggested the letters would spell his name and suggested he made the flowers bloom. He loved this.

I then moved on to some simple words with strong sounds at the start and end: dog, cat, sat, mat, hot. Then we did mummy and daddy to finish.

A few words at a time we will build each time we do this activity. But Henry seems to find it "hands on" enough to not resist its learning potential!!!

Aquarium visit

Last week we took a trip into the city and had a morning at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

We last visited over a year ago, at which time Henry was not that interested in looking at anything for any length of time. This visit was a whole different experience. It was all i could do to drag him away from the turtle tank, the marine reef exhibit and the rays.

We started the visit watching a diver in the marine reef exhibit feed the huge turtle, sharks and rays. This scared Henry last year, but this year he was enthralled, and was full of questions regarding why the diver didn't get eaten by the fish!
Onto all the other tanks displaying salt water, river and lake species. He asked so many questions about why the fish were certain colours or sizes.

It was so much fun. Henry & his friend spent ages sat watching a ray as it played peek a boo with them, up and down the glass of the tank...its mouth smiling!
We saw Nemo as well!

On returning home we read a number of Henry's fish type stories including:
Tiddler - The story telling fish - by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffer
(a firm favorite on the book shelf). A story all about a small fish who has a lot of excuses for arriving late at school every day!
Fidgety Fish - by Ruth Galloway
A story about an adventurous little fish who feels the need to explore.

Our activity was matching words to pictures.
I found photos on line of some of the fish we saw at the aquarium; shark, clown fish, leaf fish, plaice and sting ray, and printed them onto paper at home. I cut each picture out individually. I then printed out the name of each fish on paper and again cut these out separately.

Together, using the first letter of each word we paired the fish pictures with their names.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shearing a sheep!

Henry needed a hair cut, so yesterday we finally got around to it! Henry has also fallen in love with this book called "Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep - a yarn about wool", so i figured a way to link the two together for
a project.

I created cardboard cut outs of two sheep and explained that we were going to give one sheep wool, then give it a hair cut and then
give the other a woolly jumper (as per the story).

Henry got about cutting lengths of wool to attach to the sheep. Then we stuck them on. I made sure the lengths were plenty long enough, so that when we gave the sheep a hair cut there would be enough for the jumper!

We then left that sheep to dry.

It was then time to shear the sheep! Henry loved this bit and gave the sheep a real nice trim!

With all the wool we sheared from the sheep we then got to work dying the wool.

Henry chose purple, so we added a few drops of food colouring to some water and then dunked the wool in a small bowl to dye it. Once coloured we left it to dry for some time. We then came back to the project later.

In the mean time it was Henry's hair cut time.

We discussed that Henry was like the sheep and didn't need all his hair, and that the hair dresser used clippers, just like Farmer Brown!

Hair cut complete, it was now time to give the other sheep
its woolly jumper! So we stuck lots of bits of dyed wool all over the sheep. This time i let Henry stick the wool in whatever direction, and then we filled in the holes.

The end product - a sheep with a purple woolly jumper on!

We read the story again at bed time and discussed the project we had done. It's a great book, rhyming story & really colourful art work.

Farmer Brown Shears his sheep - a yarn about wool. By Teri Sloat. Published by Dorling Kindersly Inc.

Great illustrations in this book which gave me the idea for this project!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth day art project

The world in my hands........
I searched for Earth Day art projects for pre schoolers on the internet, and from the few ideas i found i created the following project.

You will need:
Blue paper
Paints to create green and brown
Pink paper
Paper to place the project on
A small photo of your child
Something to paint with - today we went green and used broccoli!!!!

First Henry traced around a baking tin circle to get the earth
shape, which he then cut out.

Next we mixed yellow & blue to create green paint, and the same plus orange to create brown paint - an ideal chance to discuss colour mixing.

We then used broccoli to paint with. Henry loved this idea and was well into it, discussing which countries he was creating - America, UK and New Zealand and who he knows that lives in each. We then let this part of the project dry.

I then traced around his hand, then let him cut them out. I wasn't sure if the hands would have 5 fingers left after he had attacked them with scissors, as this is by far the trickiest thing he has used scissors for. But he figured it out gradually and left both hands intact!

I then cut some pieces of paper for him to write each of the words on. "the world in my hands" and guided his letter formation.

I then took a picture of him and printed it out (at fairly low quality) on my home printer, then put the whole thing together. A great keepsake for the first "earth day" he and i have celebrated.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recycling sort out

With Earth Day about to occur, i figured now was a good time to introduce the idea of recycling to Henry. We recycle loads in a very easy no sort system, picked up every week where we live nr Chicago.

A put a good selection of recyclable stuff in our washing basket, placed pieces of paper on the floor labeled: Paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminium and glass, then set about the sorting process.

First i asked Henry to try to identify which label is which from the first letter of the word. All good letter practice.

Next we started to take articles out of the basket and figure oat where they went. We used our senses lots. We felt the object for any idea of what it may be, we tapped it for the noise it made...i discouraged smelling however!

Gradually we placed the articles into groups. For the plastic items, i got Henry to turn each upside down to look for the recycle logo, and to tell me the number in the middle each time. This allowed us to discuss what this symbol meant.

I took pictures of the articles, which we will use to make a recycling book tomorow.

On the next recycling collection i will try and get us to watch the collection of our articles from their box and atke further pictures for the book, and discuss where Henry thinks the articles might go and what they may be made into.

Mr or Mrs Cress Head!

Today, six of Henry's 3-4 year old friends completed this fun activity. This is one from my childhood that is considered by some to be a "must do" before you reach 10 yrs old!

Incorporating a craft project, science, and fine motor skills, kids learn without even realising it.

What you will need
Egg shell or top half of a plastic Easter egg (the type used for Easter egg hunts)
Cress seeds
Cotton wool
Decorating materials (we used stick on stuff, but you can just use felt pens on egg shells).
Small container for easy water pouring
Egg cup or something similar to hold the project safely.

Having completed this many times before i made my own way through the project, but for a comprehensive outline and more info check out this great web page.

Firstly i had Henry and all the other kids decorate their eggs. We used plastic egg halves as we had plenty left over from Easter and they are less fragile for small hands. We used googly eyes, felt and sticky foam bits for extra fun. But on egg shells you can easily just use felt pens.

Next, we put cotton wool inside the egg shell, and added water. No science here, just keep pouring till the cotton wool is saturated. Using a small jug, even the
smallest kids were able to water their own eggs.

Next i measured out cress seeds into a small pot, which allowed the kids to put their own seeds onto the cotton wool with very little intervention. Some just tipped the lot on top then spread them with fingers, others carefully places seeds a few at a time into the egg shell - fantastic for fine motor skills.

We will continue to water the cress seeds for the next few days, and look forward to a full head of cress sprouting in a few days time.

FYI, none of my friends in USA knew of cress. You could use fast growing wheat or cat grass instead and have a grass head instead of a cress head if you can not get hold of cress seeds.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Create a machine

This idea is brought to you from Kevin!
Sitting on the sofa on Friday evening, wondering how to entertain Henry on a Saturday morning whilst i was going out, Kevin came up with a great project that Henry found fascinating and a lot of fun.

What you need:
Coloured paper (at least 3 colours)
Scissors & glue
An imagination!

In preparation, Kevin cut out around 20 different shapes that he imagined Henry would identify with as part of a machine - cogs, levers, conveyor belts, switches and funnels, using two different coloured papers to make it more interesting. He then stuck the frame work onto the paper (the box in which he envisaged Henry would make the machine).

With Henry they discussed that they were going to make a machine, what the parts might be that Kevin had prepared and how it might work. after that Henry had a free hand in the design of the machine.

Sticking each piece down individually, Henry came up with a pretty impressive end could possibly even work!

When i got home he took the project off the fridge with great enthusiasm and explained what all the bits did in this "gravity making machine".

Definitely one to be replicated.

Build a log cabin from twigs

A number of Henry's friends have a toy that allows you to build log cabins from perfectly moulded imitation logs, small scale of course. I've not got around to purchasing that toy yet, so whilst out dog walking in the local woods and throwing sticks, i came up with this idea for us when we got home at absolutely no cost.

You will need.

At least 20 small twigs. As long, short, thin or fat as you want, just try & get them relatively similar so that the building process is not too frustrating! We had twigs about the thickness of your smallest finger and about 6" long, they worked very well.
Bark. This is optional for the roof. I came across this on my walk and instantly thought "roof"! Otherwise provide more twigs for the roof.

I built the log cabin first so Henry could see what i was suggesting we did with the materials.
I then dismantled it and said, "see what you can do".
Henry needed a little guidance for the first 6 sticks, then i was no longer needed and the structure grew very quickly. With twigs rolling if not balanced correctly, and the slightest nudge destroying the structure this was a patience building as well as a logical thinking exercise.

Once built i asked Henry who may like to live in the small cabin. He came up with "Warehouse Mouse" from his favourite programme of the moment - Imagination Movers! We discussed what the mouse might do in the house - "eat cheese" and how he would get in and out....hmmm that's a tricky one as this rather crude log cabin has no door. Still suggestions of cutting a hole for the door and using different sized twigs were offered...very logical!

The whole exercise lasted maybe only 10 minutes, but Henry enjoyed it. We got rid of the twigs into the garden, and so will look for some of a different size and length again sometime, to repeat the process.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cooking: Banana,oatmeal,raisin cookies - Yum yum!

Henry loves getting involved in the kitchen. All too often however it ends in me getting cross and it not being fun, because the recipe i've chosen is not really that kid friendly. THIS ONE IS!
Everything is measured in cups or tea spoons.

Henry measured all the dry ingredients in himself with me just showing him where to fill up to in the cup. Then he stirred them all together.

I then added the wet ingredients, let him stir as long as
he wanted then finished the job.

For measuring out the cookies onto the baking tray there is no exact science. Small piles of dough make small cookies, large make large and so on!
We used two teaspoons and i showed Henry how to scrape one spoon off the other to deposit the dough onto the baking sheet. He did about 5 and got bored, but at least he had a go.

One bit of the process that he really got involved in was the tasting! I got a thumbs up for these, from Henry & Kevin and i've managed a few more than i should have too!

Happy cooking.

Recipe provided by a fellow mum Jill - thanks for this! Taken from

Makes about 25 cookies.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup raisins
1 3/4 cups old fashioned oats
Add chocolate or nuts (optional)

Mix everything together in a bowl. Drop dough by teaspoon on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Garfield Park Conservatory - Chicago - Trip out

Our family love this place, and at less than an hour's drive from home it is a great resource we have for fun, relaxation, and learning as a family. A great plus is that it is free! We took a trip out on easter Sunday, and had a great time. Henry was happy to explore the whole location for over about two hours. Taking charge of the map and his parents off we went!

First exploration was in the "sugar from the sun" hall. A great voyage of discovery as we explained how the air
plants suspended above us did not require soil to live, how all the plants needed sunlight to thrive. Great excitement ensued as we all spotted the bananna trees and real fruit - something Henry could relate to as he LOVES bananas.

In the children's garden the emphasis is on using the senses. Once Henry found out how sensitive some plants can be to touch, he couldn't help himself from making them all look dead as he stroked their leaves lovingly then disolved into hysterics as the leaves closed shut and the branches drooped.

Spraying the plants with water from a bottle was a hit, as was spraying me!

The children's garden is full of great resources for learning, books and hands on stuff. A very filthy Henry emerged after playing in the soil, potting plants and uncovering bugs for quite some time. Totally engrossed.

With so much to explore we visited the desert house full of cacti, the palm house, where we found a double coconut tree and chocolate could see Henry trying to figure that one out!

Every year the conservatory puts on an amazing display of colours in its show house. A fantasic place to explore colours, smells and just to feel a little spring in the air. We did a few plant identifications with simple flowers like tulips, daffodils, and blubells, played find a flower the colour..... and took some amazing photos.

All in all a great trip out, and a great learning experience for Henry.

Easter egg treasure hunt

Henry has a love of treasure hunts, which Kevin devotes hours to preparing on demand. So this year, the easter bunny prepared a treasure hunt around the back garden to find the eggs.

We placed the first clue inside an egg in a basket on the back step, and the hunt began. Each time Henry found an egg it had to be opened to reveal the treat and the next clue.
Clues consisted of drawings of places in the garden where the eggs were hidden, with some words written on as well, which Henry was at least encouraged to think about!

According to Henry..."the bunny does the best treasure hunts"!

When we complete treasure hunts in the house we try to make some of the clue drawings a little less obvious (not difficult with my drawings) and write the description of the clue location, and encourage the sounding of at least the first letter to get Henry started on what the drawing may be.

As Henry's reading and sounding of letters develops we will move more to words and less pictures.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


When i think of sequencing i think of drawing shapes or colours in a row and getting Henry to try & tell me the next one. This however has a short life as it gets boring pretty quickly.

I get as hands on as possible, encouraging the use of words as well as the act of choosing the next item in sequence. The more Henry can actively touch the better. The following are a few fun ideas that i've done.

Pizza making - we made the pizza together and i took photos of each stage, which i have since printed out and get Henry to order on their own. But while we made the pizza i encouraged the words "next" and "then". I've done a little slide show of the pizza sequence.

Other ideas we have had fun with are:
* Making a sandwich - encouraging the description of what we are doing, but also encouraging Henry to actually work out what physically comes next (e.g. butter before the cheese).
* Getting dressed - lay out clothes and ask what comes first, last etc.
*Using coloured M&Ms for actual sequencing lines on the floor - every time he gets the sequence right he gets one to eat!
* Use socks of different colours to create sequences.
*Pieces of clothing layed out - figure out what comes next - sock, T shirt, sock......
*Playgough shapes - make the first 3 or 4 then get Henry to make the next out of the playdough.
*Favourite books or characters - we do this with Thomas books and Paddington and Dr Seuss. Simple is one after each other, but this can be made pretty tricky.

You can sequence with ANYTHING. Forget the drawings in a book, if you want an attention grabbing exercise that is developing so many areas of learning go physical and touchy feely!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easter egg tree

So we are making the most of having Easter as our theme at home this week. Yesterday we made an Easter egg tree. I guess you could make the eggs out of anything to hang on the tree, but the following worked well with Henry.

You will need: card, tissue paper, glue, scissors, twigs, sand and a pot.

I cut out loads of squares
of tissue
paper of different colours. Both Henry & i did a page each (moral support and racing each other seemed to improve Henry's attention span).

We then pasted glue onto the card & got sticking. I totally let him do his own colour choices! A few white spaces are no big deal, but look to try & cover the card, and then paint a layer of glue over the top of all the tissue to secure it down & make it shiny.

It took us about 30 minutes to do the sticking, after which
we took a break to let the glue dry.

Once dry, flip the card over & trace around an egg shape as many times as possible on the page. Henry is just learning letters so i wrote "egg" on the back of the egg. Our eggs were about 3" long.

This was the first time I've ever asked Henry to trace anything other than his hand, it took a few goes, but he quickly got the hang of it.

I let Henry cut out as many eggs as he could, but it was pretty tough for
him with the card & stuff stuck on top. He managed 3 which was more than i expected.

We then paired the eggs up so that when they hung they would look good from any angle. We punched holes near the top of each egg, then threaded cotton through the holes & knotted it. I encouraged Henry to do some threading, and he managed a few eggs, though it was a pretty fiddly process, real fine motor skill development & hand & eye co-ordination.

The most fun bit for Henry - running round the garden to find
twigs for our Easter tree, filling a container with sand from hi
s sand box, then making the tree!

Hanging the eggs was really satisfying after such a long process - kept us occupied for a few hours & the tree looks great in our living room.