We’re closing out our celebration of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child with Family Friday. We have revamped this post from spring 2020 a little to reflect the changes that have happened since last April, but as many families have learned this year, classic activities are classics for a reason. Please enjoy these ones with your young child, and remember - the love, support, and work you’re putting into them will change the world.
As children’s book hero Alexander might say, 2020 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. In some places across the U.S., you and your child may be venturing out more and more, but in others, families are still spending plenty of time at home. So, what can you do when they’ve read all the books, played all the games, and aren’t even enticed by the television? The short answer, rely on your children’s ingenuity. While you might be tempted to seek out new games, puzzles, or books, I’m betting that there are some common materials you already have that you can use to spark your children’s imagination. Here are some ideas to try out:
Cardboard boxes, especially larger ones, can turn into all sorts of great things. Individually, boxes can be a boat or a car. Turn the box upside down and decorate it, and you’ve got a lemonade stand. String a series of boxes together in a row and you’ve got a train. All aboard! An appliance box makes a great spaceship. Boxes can also be turned into costumes. Cut a hole in the top and a hole on each side and you’ve got the start of a robot costume. Don’t have any larger boxes? No need to worry, a bunch of shoeboxes can be used to make a dollhouse or corrals for the farmyard, while older kids can make dioramas. The possibilities are only limited by children’s imaginations!
Every superhero needs a cape and in a pinch, a towel makes a good one. Stuff crumpled up paper into the middle of a hand towel and cinch in together with a rubber band and you’ve got a puppet. A blanket on the floor makes a good picnic spot; put that same blanket over the kitchen table and you’ve got a blanket fort where kids can snuggle and read together. Finally, if you string the blanket on the wall, it makes a great backdrop for a puppet show or a play.
Even if no one in your household sews, chances are good that you have a rag bag or a pile of not-so-gently used clothes. And if you’re like me, you probably have a jar full of buttons - you know, the extra buttons that come with new clothes that you saved just in case you ever need them. Now is the time to bring these things out. Fabric can be used to make costumes, doll clothes, headbands, and yes, even face masks. Strips of fabric can be woven together to make placemats, yarn can be used to string beads and twisted together to make bracelets.
Cardboard rolls are incredibly versatile. A single paper towel roll makes a dandy telescope, while two toilet paper rolls can be glued together to make binoculars. Rolls that are cut into even “slices” can be decorated and strung together to make necklaces or napkin rings. Egg cartons can be painted and turned into caterpillars or used to sort buttons or other found objects by size, color, or shape. Clean empty cans can be painted to make a personalized set of bowling pins.
These are just some of many ideas of how to use household items to keep children busy and encourage their creativity. And while it may seem that the kids are just making crafts, they are also building skills!
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When I was a teacher, I can remember taking care to intentionally plan differentiated, or individualized, instruction. And, when I was teaching pre-K I added the same level of intentionality to which materials were available in interest areas, and how I approached transitions throughout the day.
While any level of intentionally, specifically in relation to planning, is important -- I missed a critical opportunity in being more intentional in my interactions with the children in my class.
There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
It's not uncommon for teachers in early education to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. We know that intentional teachers are aware of their responsibility to assess student progress, understand skill mastery, and plan accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. However, many times, as teachers begin a specific teacher-directed activity, it is unsettling when students begin to veer from the step-by-step plans the teacher has worked hard to implement.
Teacher and coach, Colleen Schmit, will share how teachers can strike the balance between following the lesson plans and giving children freedom of choice and flexibility in the classroom.
We’re more than a month into the school year, and many educators and school leaders are feeling tired or burnt out already. That’s normal in any school year, as the newness of back-to-school wanes and the reality of a long year ahead kicks in. But, this year, that tiredness may feel like it has never felt before. Chalkbeat has reported that teacher vacancies are up in 18 of 20 large school districts, and it’s not surprising. Many are exhausted after a difficult year and a half (to put it mildly!). Many are also leaving the profession in droves to find work in competitive environments that provide a substantially larger salary.