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Make Mealtime A Teachable Moment

I got a terrific idea from my son’s teacher this week.  This idea can be used with just about any subject being studied.  Take a piece of posterboard (12 x 18 inches) and have your child decorate it with anything that is currently being studied.  For example, if your child is learning his or her multiplicaction facts, have him or her write them around the edges of the posterboard.  Or, if your child is learning to identify colors or letters, do the same with that information.  Maybe your older child needs to memorize a timeline or a set of dates or events.  Write whatever subject it is on the posterboard, then cover it with clear Contact paper.  Viola!  Your child has made an instant, teachable placemat to use at mealtimes!

Working With Preschool-Aged Children – Pre-Writing Fun

“Practice makes perfect.”


These words couldn’t ring truer for preparing a child to become a writer.  Writing isn’t an acquired skill; it is learned and practiced long before pencil is actually placed in hand.  Here are some great ideas to get your preschooler ready to write – and still have a great time doing it!

  1. Take a ziplock baggie and place about 1/4 cup of hair gel inside.  Seal the bag, squeezing out all the excess air (depending on the size of bag, you might need more or less gel, and colored gel works better).  Place the sealed baggie on a flat surface and use as a writing “tablet”.  Children can draw and doodle in the gel, wiping their “slate” clean by simply smoothing out the gel.  Place the gel baggie over a piece of paper with squiggle lines or simple shapes and have the child “trace” the shape with his or her finger.  This can even be used with large letters written on paper as well.
  2. Spread sand on a cookie sheet or other edged pan.  Have children use this surface as a writing surface.  It can be easily “erased” as well.  Use fingers as well as other items, such as straws, unsharpened pencils, pasta and even small cars to “write”.
  3. Place a dollop of shaving cream on a table.  Have the child spread the shaving cream out and then use it as a writing surface.  Children can “erase” by simply covering their marks with more shaving cream.  (I use this method at the end of the day, and the shaving cream helps “clean” my tables!)  To make it more interesting, add a drop or two of watercolor.  Children can make shapes, squiggles, pictures or even write letters.
  4. As children become more intentional in their strokes, give them several markers or crayons.  Have them trace the same shape over and over with different colors.  These shapes can be arcs, circles, lines, zig-zags, or even letters.  My class calls this “rainbow writing”.
  5. As a culminating activity as we learn our letters, I give each child an unbaked breadstick (Pillsbury makes a good one, as does my generic store-brand).  Children then form their breadsticks into either their favorite letter or the first letter of their name.  Bake and eat!

Reading Readiness – Get Ready For School!

Here’s a fun activity to try with your child that promotes critical thinking and school readiness.  This idea can be adapted for any age from preschool through grade school and beyond.  Best of all, no supplies are needed!

Have your child turn his or her back to you.  Using your finger draw a letter on your child’s back and see if he or she can identify the letter.  After he or she guesses the letter, see if they can come up with a word that begins with that letter!

If this is too difficult for your child, try it out first on the palm of his or her hand.  That way, your child can see the letter being written.  With younger children who might not know their letters yet, try simple shapes, like circles, triangles and squares.  Older children will enjoy the challenge of entire words or a more complex picture, such as a tree, a plane or a house.

Have your child do the same to your back as well.  It is great practice for writing, spelling and simple fine motor skills and dexterity!

Fine Motor Skill Development In Toddlers

Stringing beads, lace up cards, even picking up cereal – these are all wonderful ways to help your child develop fine motor skills and strengthen hand muscles.  In turn, these skills will aid your child in learning to write and even cut with scissors.  Providing ample opportunities for your child to practice is important during the Toddler Years.

  1. Necklaces!  Give your child a piece of yarn (tape the end to keep it from fraying) or a shoelace and let him or her create some fun and festive jewelry.  Children can string a variety of pasta (and it can be colored as well – simply mix 1/4 c rubbing alcohol or vinegar with food coloring in a baggie, add pasta to be dyed, shake and let dry on wax paper!) to create patterns and designs.  Or provide them with other household items to string: keychains, old keys, large buttons, big beads, and even construction paper “donuts” (circles with a hole punch in the middle) are great for stringing as well.  For coordinating bracelets, use chenille stems or pipe cleaners to string items.  Twist around wrist to fasten.
  2. Lace up cards.  Several companies provide lace up cards to work on the ‘in and out’ motion of simple sewing.  You can also create your own.  Mount a picture from a magazine on a piece of sturdy paperboard, posterboard or even cardboard.  Once dry, punch holes around the outside.  Provide a shoelace for “sewing” and let the fun begin!  Younger children may need a knot in one end of the lace to keep from pulling it through.
  3. Starburst.  Take a paper plate, punch holes around the outside edge, and give your child a piece of string.  Lace around and across the plate, creating a multitude of patterns and designs.  For even more fun, punch a hole in the middle of the plate as well – can you make a sun?  A star?  What other shapes can you make?  Use different yarn colors as well for another design element.
  4. Snack time!  Give your child an activity to do during snack time.  Give him or her a bowl of their favorite snack for lacing, such as pretzels and/or cereals – anything with a hole in it.  Using a piece of string or dental floss, let your child create an edible necklace.  Or, use it as a way of sharing snacks with nature – create a garland to hang in a tree for the birds!

Meeting Children At Their Level = Success

Jenna* is a child in my pre-k class.  She is your typical just-turned-5-year-old – curious, sweet, full of energy.  Jenna comes from a strong family unit with a brother who probably tests off the IQ scale, a dad who is a high school math teacher, and a mom who is a nurse.  Jenna is in crisis.

Jenna’s family, without realizing what they are doing, are putting Jenna into a tailspin before she even gets to kindergarten.  Jenna’s mom and dad are doing what many parents do at this stage: they are encouraging beginning reading skills, such as sounding out letters and words, modeling good writing skills and having Jenna do the same, and living in the “teachable moment”.

Jenna, however, isn’t ready for this.

Jenna is now exhibiting classic symptoms of a child who is being “pushed” academically.  She is having nightmares at home, is reluctant to come to school, bursts into tears at any given moment, is terrified of her parents finding out about things she does at school, and spends most nights in tears when her mom reads out loud to her.

Pre-kindergarteners are highly sensitive to change, and this specific time in their lives is chock full of change.  My preschool class is very aware of the approaching end of school and upcoming summer break.  They are also keenly aware of the “scattering” of friends that will occur as each moves on to a different school next year.  While it is an exciting time for them, it is also a time full of uncertainty, and children can become “stressed out” over such change.

What Jenna’s parents (and I on occasion) are witnessing is an outward show of emotion from Jenna.  She is scared she isn’t like her big brother, the genius, and she will tell you that her daddy teaches at the big school, and she is NOT going there – EVER. 

What Jenna needs is acceptance for who she is – a young, five year-old little girl who likes ribbons and horses, drawing rainbows and hugs.  She knows her letters and numbers, but developmentally, she isn’t ready to start reading or writing.  Jenna needs for her parents to read to her every day in a fun and non-threatening way, to learn to enjoy the printed word and relish in stories, and in her own time, she will learn to tell and read on her own.  By stepping back from the “teachable moment” and allowing Jenna to flourish at her own level of success, they will, in turn, make her a successful student.

*The name of the student has been changed.

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