Friday, March 28, 2014

Everyday Activities for Cognitive Skills

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The last two posts have been about fine and gross motor skills.  This time I'm going to share how we develop cognitive skills in the activities of our daily routine.

The term cognitive development refers to the process of growth and change in intellectual/mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and understanding. It includes the acquisition and consolidation of knowledge.  (Read more about this from the California Department of Education.)

I like to think of it more simply as learning how to think and learn, make sense of the world and how to remember what they've learned.  It's not technical and may not be perfectly accurate but it sits well in my brain.

In order for children to best develop their cognitive skills, they need a safe environment and a caring child care provider.  They need to feel safe and they need to feel loved.  Relationships are crucial and I strive to create and maintain good relationships with all my buddies and their parents.  When children feel safe and loved, then they can learn.  (You can read more about creating an emotionally safe classroom by Dr. Bruce Perry.)

So I have that safe environment, and I have established a relationship with my buddies and I want to help them in developing cognitive skills to their maximum potential.  How?  Daily activities.  Almost everything we do has the potential for learning.  Some of the play activities that I  especially like for cognitive skill development are dramatic play, cooking, gardening, memory games, puzzles, science experiments, problem solving, construction and building activities, nature walks, manipulating art and sensory materials, and especially talking. Simply having conversations with my buddies as they observe and take part in the world around them can turn a simple play into a rich learning experience.  Depending on the age and ability of the buddy, I might just narrate their activity: "You've got the red truck", or I might pose questions to stimulate their thinking, "I wonder where the red truck is going today?"  For a really good look at using questions to promote learning I recommend this article by Ruth Wilson: Promoting the Development of Scientific Thinking

Perhaps the best thing I can do to help my buddies' development is to instill a sense of wonder.  If I can engage their curiousity, they will seek out their own answers.

Inspire childen to wonder why and they will have learned more by far than the children who have been given the answer. photo InspireChildren.jpg

Often my buddies learn from the things I don't do.  If I don't take over when they are struggling, it encourages them to figure things out.  I might make a suggestion or give a hint but I will strongly refrain myself from rescuing them.  When one of my buddies is struggling to put a puzzle together, I might move a piece closer to it's position, for example.  Or perhaps I will suggest that the piece be turned around another way.  This  is a type of helping referred to as scaffolding.  You can read more about scaffolding here on

My buddies can learn so much from doing real everyday things.  The simple act of setting dishes out, for example, can help teach many things  in a real concrete way. It provides the opportunity to learn about one-to-one correspondence, for example, by figuring out how many items are needed for the number of children.  We talk about  the colours of the plates and cups, the number of children, the taste and smell of the food we're eating, and I listen to them!  Through these conversations I learn what motivates them, inspires them, and those are the things I will follow up on.

During other activities, and while they play, I will point out problems and encourage them to solve them.  Something as simple as: "Oh, we are out of green paint.  What can we do?" can be a good way to start a problem solving discussion that builds on cognitive development.  You can learn more about teaching using problem solving in this article from Scholastic.

Be the one who encourages them to wonder why.  Create a space where they have what they need to be successful.  Schedule time to allow them to experience that moment when they figure out for themselves how it all works.  @mybuddiesandi photo BetheOne.jpg

There is so much to know about cognitive development that I can't even come close to containing it all in this post.  It is a topic that grows and changes all the time, as well. If you are interested in child development, I am creating a pinterest board full of resources to expand on my own knowledge, and keep up to date.  I'd love you to follow along with me!  Click on the image below to take you there!

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Now if you have come here looking for a list of specific activities and you have read this far and are feeling disappointed and uninspired, don't despair!  I came across a wonderful post with an amazing 75 everyday activities that you can do with your child.  You'll find it on No Time For Flashcards. < Click on the name.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Everyday Activities for Gross Motor Skills

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My last post was about acquiring fine motor skills through everyday activities. This time I'm going to share what we do for the development of gross motor skills.  Gross motor skills are the abilities required in order to control the large muscles of the body.

Read more:

With my buddies I have made a conscious decision to incorporate more gross motor skill activities into our everyday routines.  What I have come to realize is that even though these activities can be slightly more dangerous and definitely need closer supervision, keeping gross motor activities available as a play option has made my day so much easier!

Like many daycare providers, my buddies and I spend time outdoors almost every day.  We go for walks around our neighbourhood almost every day and often stop to play at a local playground.  We spend time in the backyard, too, where there are a variety of toys like wagons, slides, climbers, cars, bikes, scooters and sports equipment as well as space to use them.  This provides many opportunities for running, jumping, climbing, throwing and catching, pedalling, pushing and pulling and all sorts of gross motor movement.  Indoors...well, there just weren't as many options.  At least not as many acceptable, safe options.  The types of activities my buddies and I would do to incorporate gross motor skills were planned out and teacher-led and very structured in nature.  Things like dance/exercise videos or cd's, parachute games, hopscotch, bowling, throw/catch games, and action games.  These are okay, usually fun for most of my buddies, and still useful, but, in hindsight, I don't think they were enough to satisfy the needs of busy, energy-filled toddlers and preschoolers. 

Things began to change for me when I was given a jumping horse.  This was a rather large item but I really thought my buddies would enjoy it and I found a place for it in our classroom.  Keep in mind that my classroom is a room in my home, and it's not terribly large, either.  Well, to say the horse was a hit is an understatement.  He has been with us for two years and is still used every. single.  day.  What I discovered from the addition of the horse was that when my buddies had the opportunity available to them to get active and release that energy that seems to build up in kids, they were happier and more agreeable.  Behaviour issues decreased. Anything that makes behaviour issues decrease makes me take notice.   Hmmmm..... What else could I add to my space? 

I started looking for more toys.  I'd love to have the space for ride on cars but I don't.  I've even thought having a playground inside would be great.  But I don't have that kind of space.  I did come up with several toys that do work very well in my space. If you'd like to read about them, you can find my favourites here: The Best Toys for Active Kids in a Small Space .  These toys have my buddies using lots of muscles to move around. Now they jump, bounce, spin, slide, push, scoot, and rock.  They have been kept accessible - except for the trampoline which I've been bringing out each day.  So now our free play time indoors can be just as active as outdoors.  My buddies are happier and possibly healthier and I am confident that they have plenty of opportunities to develop their gross motor skills to their maximum potential.  It's win/win!

I hope you've enjoyed this post an will come back to read about Everyday Activities for Cognitive Skills.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Everyday Activities for Fine Motor Skills

Everyday Learning - Fine Motor Skills photo FineMotorSkills.png
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I tend to take for granted just how many things my buddies learn from our everyday activities.  There are just so many things that they learn simply by doing the things that we need to do everyday.  Sometimes  I can get get so busy planning special activities to promote learning that I forget about letting my buddies do what they would naturally be doing.  By simply my taking a step back, and letting them do for themselves, they benefit in learning in many ways.

For the next few posts, I'm going to examine how different skills can be learned in the course of a regular day with my buddies.

I'll touch on each of these areas:

  1. Fine Motor Skills
  2. Gross Motor Skills
  3. Cognitive
  4. Language and Literacy
  5. Social/Emotional

These are known as domains.  I have seen learning divided differently, into fewer or more categories, but because this is the format that is used most often in my area, I am going to stick with this arrangement. 

To start, let's look at fine motor skills:

Fine motor skills can be defined as small movements of the hands, wrists, fingers, feet, toes, lips, and tongue. 

From the moment my buddies arrive in the morning until they walk out the door, opportunities for fine motor skill development abound.  I love to see their parents allow them to remove their own coats and shoes and put them in their lockers.  Dressing and undressing themselves is such a great way to build these skills and create a "can do" attitude, too.  There is a huge difference in kids who are encouraged to dress themselves.  After some free play time, we clean up the toys, and picking up small toys will also build skills.  Then my buddies will use the toilet and get washed up.  This involves more dressing and undressing, and pumping the soap dispenser and turning taps, and drying their hands - all of these help to promote - you guessed it!  Fine motor skills! It's snack time, and someone is wiping the table, and another is handing out the cups and plates or bowls.  Then we will sit down to eat.  Whether we are eating with our fingers like my youngest buddies, or using utensils, fine motor skills are being developed.   Clearing the table will use more of these skills.  As we progress through the day, one of my buddies will change the date on the calendar, by picking out a small card from the pocket chart, turning it over and replacing it to show the numberEveryone will be engaging in a variety of activities that will also involve the use of fine motor skills.  Whether we draw, paint, colour, cut, paste, build with blocks, do puzzles, lace, bead, use playdough or clay, turn pages reading books, do fingerplays, or play with construction toys, we are using our fine motor skills to do it!  If I feel the need to really work on hand strength and co-ordination, I can plan specific activities using tweezers or tongs, droppers or clothespins.  When we get ready to go outside again, most of my buddies will get themselves ready and sometimes also help a younger buddy, once again using our skills in dressing and undressing . When we come in, they will put out their mats and blankets, and get ready for lunch.  My buddies really enjoy preparing their own lunch.  Simply making a peanut butter sandwich is a great activity for fine motor skills.  It takes the use of utensils one step farther to scoop and spread peanut butter onto bread evenly. Once made, they might even decide to cut their sandwich in half or in quarters.  Our day goes on,  with rest time, more cleaning up, another snack, and more play and organized activities, but almost every one can help teach fine motor skills in some way.

Every activity that we do naturally, and routinely has the capacity to build skills.  It's important to allow children to do as much for themselves as possible so that they become not just capable, but competent at these skills.

Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy. photo IMG_00000378.jpg

I want the very best for my buddies, and sometimes it's hard not to help them more than is necessary.  It's hard to watch them struggle when I could just help them along.  But in some cases, helping doesn't help because it robs them of the opportunity to learn and practice skills for themselves.  The goal is always to help my buddies to learn and become competent and confident in themselves and their abilities. 

I hope you've enjoyed this post & I look forward to sharing Everyday Learning : Gross Motor Skills with you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Our Book of Really Big Feelings

Our Book of Really Big Feelings - a tool that labels, acknowledges, and validates strong emotions and promotes literacy skills for preschoolers photo FeelingsBook.jpg
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It's not always easy for my buddies to get along. Sometimes they get upset with each other and sometimes they get upset with me.  I do encourage negotiation when appropriate, but sometimes it's not really what's needed. 

I read a post about using kid's angry feelings to teach them to read.  Just having kids dictate their feelings and writing them out was suggested as a way to promote literacy. I wish I knew where I had seen it so I could give credit.

I thought about it for a bit and decided we would try it.  I used a duotang notebook and filled it with blank sheets of paper.  On the cover of the duotang, I taped emotion pictures and I labeled it "My Buddies Book of Really Big Feelings".  I showed my buddies the pictures of different emotions.   I explained that when they had "big feelings" we would write about them in the book.  Then we went about our day.

It wasn't long before there was some dramatic mishap where one of my buddies was upset.  I directed my buddy to get the book and we would write it down.  And that's how it began.  My buddies were quite content to get their feelings out and on paper.  Often they draw a picture to go along with their tale of woe, but not always. 

This has been such a great tool!  I love that I am giving them the language to express their feelings, and acknowledging and validating them, too!  It seems to help my buddies release those feelings instead of hanging on to them.  We will go over the words I've written for them and because there was such strong feeling attached to them, they are very interested in reading them.   They will also occasionally pick up the book to read themselves.  It's fantastic!

When we first started using this book, I did have a surge of unhappiness - for one little buddy in particular, every little thing seemed to be upsetting.  It was more of a dramatic unhappiness, rather than a genuine distress, though.  I did not want to turn unhappiness into a habit so I started adding big positive emotions to the book as well.  Fortunately, that seemed to solve the problem.  All in all, this has been a fantastic addition to our regular routines and I think we will be keeping this up.  I would encourage everyone to give it a try and if you do, let me know how it goes.  I'm also on the look out for that mysterious other post that got away from me so I can thank the author.  Please let me know if you've read it before, and know where it can be found.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Active Kids in a Small Space

The Best Toys for Active Kids in Small Spaces - My Buddies and I photo BestToys.jpg
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This has been a very busy winter for my buddies and I.  I have tried out some new ideas that have gone over so well I wish I had tried them years ago. 

We know kids have a natural need to keep active and that can be more challenging in the winter when we are not outdoors as much. Even though we play outside a lot, I would dream of having a room inside my house with a big climbing structure for my buddies. 

I used to think that I needed a large open space for active play. This winter I succeeded in creating an indoor playground in an average sized room.  I have to move our table to a corner but it gives us plenty of play room for the toys you see above. 

On any given day, I will have 5 - 7 children in my care, ranging in age from 1 year to 5 years.  The 5 toys I have chosen as the best work very well for these ages.  Let me tell you a little more about them. 

  1. The Dora Sit 'n Spin by Playskool - This toy is a hand-me-down from my granddaughter.  It has seen many years of use and is a favourite for my buddies of every age.  It takes a little bit of co-ordinating for my buddies to learn to use their hands and arms to pull themselves into a spin but they are delighted to figure it out and can spend hours with this toy.  Rumor has it that it once had sounds but I will deny it and keep the batteries well hidden.
  2. Radio Flyer Jumping Horse - I LOVE this horse.  He was donated to the daycare by past clients.  He was the first active toy that became a permanent fixture.  He takes up more space than the other toys but is so worth it.  I swear my buddies are able to use the horse to calm themselves. This helps to avoid possible tantrums and makes me a happy daycare lady!  My buddies are usually able to climb on and off the horse easily before their second birthday.   
  3. Mini trampoline - This is an adult trampoline and it clearly states that it is not a toy.  Obviously lots of supervision is required.  I like that the bounce is a little limited on this trampoline.  It helps keep the jumping more controlled.  My buddies have shown caution and I am pleased with how careful they are.  We have basic rules and my buddies are good about following them.  I can also stand it up and put it away.  My trampoline has legs that can be removed, I've seen others that have legs that fold under for storage and that would be add convenience in storing.  I can't imagine how many mattresses could be saved with the purchase of one of these.
  4. Radio Flyer Spin N Saucer - These are my number one most favourite indoor active toys.  I don't have enough space for ride on cars but these work well in my room.  They take a little more work to move around that a sit on car and seem to be more fun.  I have two and they are in constant use. My youngest buddies are able to use these.  Many of my buddies' parents have wished they came in adult size (and so do I)!
  5. Bilibos - These are very versatile.  They can be used for spinning, stepping or sitting on or as buckets for carrying toys.  I have two of these as well. They are great for any age and really promote imaginative play as well as active play.

These are the toys that have made my classroom into an active, happy place.  We have less complaining, more sharing and even turn-taking!  I do still have other toys up my sleeve that I keep put away for special activities.  These include scarves, ribbon sticks, dance and exercise videos and music, bean bags, hopscotch, bowling, balls and a parachute.  I also had play tunnels which we really loved but have now worn out. 

If you're struggling to keep your active kids happy, try creating an active play space that satisfies their needs.  If you've already done this and have more ideas for us, I would LOVE to hear them!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Food Gets Crafty

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If you've never thought of food as a craft material before you are really missing out. FOOD is the best craft material out there. Are you not convinced?  Allow me to share this little poster to prove my point. 

See?  How great is this?  I know, I know, you're convinced, right?  You can't wait to get started?  Just need some ideas to get you started?  Well, here you go!

You could start by PAINTING WITH PUDDING. This is a great multi-age activity. 

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Or you could make some playdough that is meant to be eaten!  Chocolate or Marshmallow?

Quick and Easy Chocolate Playdough photo IMG_000005421.jpg

Marshmallow Playdough photo utf-8BSU1HLTIwMTIxMDE4LTA2MzY0LmpwZw.jpg

Are you just trying to get your kids to eat healthy?  Who could resist these vegetables?

snack plate photo funnyface-2.jpg

All my buddies love making cookies. We make these simple gingerbread cookies every year.  You could get extra creative with some frosting, too! 

Gingerbread Cookie Recipe photo utf-8BSU1HLTIwMTIxMjAzLTAwMjg2LmpwZw.jpg

So now that you are all excited about crafting up some snacks you're probably thinking you're stuck with a ton of craft supplies, right?  WRONG!  Here's the best thing about this post.  It is part of The Ultimate Guide to Craft Materials.

That means that you will be able to find a craft for just about every craft material you might have in that cupboard.  Every one!  And when you run out of craft materials, come back here and start crafting with food again because by then my whole page is going to be filled with FOOD CRAFTS!  It will be awesome!  And you're going to link your ideas too, right?  RIGHT!

Let's GO!  Add your food craft idea below and I will pin it on pinterest and share on my facebook page:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Herbal Tea Playdough

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The chocolate playdough I made last week went home with my buddies so I was playdoughless. We can't really function properly for very long without some form of playdough kicking around so I whipped this stuff up.  I had been debating about what kind of playdough to make when I found all these boxes of herbal tea in my cupboard.  Since we very rarely drink tea, it had expired and I didn't think it would taste very good.  It still smelled fantastic though, and it would be a shame to throw it out.  It would be perfect for playdough.

My usual playdough recipes have cream of tartar in them and I didn't have much of it so I searched to see what I could substitute. You'll note this recipe has lemon juice and baking powder in it - google told me that either of those could be used as substitutes depending on what you were adding them to.  I used both in my playdough, just to be safe.  They seem to have worked well.  We've had our playdough for two weeks now and it's still in great shape!

Here's the recipe:

Herbal Tea Playdough

2 cups of flour
1 cup of salt
2 cups of water
3 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. lemon juice
tea from assorted tea bags (cut and emptied)

Add all ingredients and mix together in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat.  I prefer to use a large fry pan because it seems to cook more quickly with more of the playdough in contact with the heat on the bottom of the pan.  Keep stirring it and watching it.  The playdough is ready when it all suddenly clumps together.  Remove it from the stove and take it out of the pan.  Knead it carefully as it cools down.  Then it's ready for play!

 I love giving my buddies still slightly warm playdough to play with.  I don't provide tools right away either.  At first, I just want them to feel the dough with their hands.  The tea gives the dough a slightly gritty texture that is different from most of the playdoughs that we make.  After they've played for a bit, it's time to break out the tools for even more fun!  I hope you'll give this recipe a try.