Friday, February 24, 2012

Tapping for Sap

Last year the I had this vision of creating a model maple tree that my preschoolers could tap and pretend to collect sap. I wanted the kids to have some first hand experience before we took them to a local sugar shack.

So I found the largest piece of cardboard I had, and got to work crafting a maple tree. Then I recruited my then five year old to help me practice collecting the sap. He was a bit dismayed at how slow the drips were, but once a puddle of 'sap' collected in the bowl he became excited about the process. As with many of our projects and experiments, I lost interest long before him. He continued to collect the sap for almost an hour and only stopped because his little sister started dumping the sap bucket!

How it works:
One child gets to stand in the back of the tree and starts the flow of sap by using a pipette to push water into the tap.

The other kids watch as the sap drips from the tap, runs through the plastic tubing, and finally collects into the bucket.

To keep a group of kids interested in the activity, be sure to have plenty of funnels, cups, spoons, strainers, and tubing for them to explore properties of 'sap'.

When I led this activity in my preschool classroom the kids were eager to be the one behind the tree and a line formed as they waited their turn. So I put additional pipettes in the collection bucket and they played there until it was their turn to 'be the tree'. 

This activity would be great to try at home. You could use any type of hose and a turkey baster! If you don't have cardboard to make a tree, you could use a grocery bag with a hole cut or a large oatmeal container.

I will do a couple of blog posts in March about the science of maple sugaring and will include sensory play & art check back!

** Check out the maple tree for yourself at the World Maple Festival on April 28th from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. in St. Johnsbury, Vermont! The Balch Nature School at the Fairbanks Museum will be leading a pretend "Sap Collecting" activity in the Kid Zone area. More information about the festival can be found at

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hibernation Party

I teach at a nature-based preschool. In December we did a unit on 'Animals in Winter'. As a concluding event we had a Hibernation Party on the last day before winter break. Below I included the text of the letter that went home, as well as some additional ideas and few helpful links. I thought some of my blogging friends might like to use the ideas. It's too late (this year) for a hibernation party but could be adapted into a "Waking up from Hibernation Party"!

Note: It's very sad news to kids when you tell them that bears don't actually hibernate. (Many don't believe you!) I explain that bears are TORPOR animals, and sleep soundly for weeks at at time. Bears breathing slows and their body temperature goes down but they do wake up during winter.
We distinguished animals that are 'true hibernators' by referencing books. We learned that in Vermont there are only 3 animals in this category. 
Woodchucks (or groundhogs) are a true hibernator and might be a better choice than bears for our focus animal for the Hibernation Party, but it just didn't as much fun! I weighed the pros and cons and decided that bears were more engaging for the preschoolers. (My program is located in a museum and the kids LOVE going to see the bears. They are much less enthusiastic about the groundhog!)
Maybe next year I will go with the groundhog as our featured animal for the hibernation party, and then have a follow up celebration on Groundhogs Day!
-----------Here's the text of the letter I sent home to families:

We will celebrate the arrival of Winter with a "Hibernation Party"!
Friday, December ?

Children are encouraged to wear their pajamas and bring in a teddy bear from home!

Teddy Bears need to be able to fit into a large brown paper grocery bag, which we will transform into bear caves for the children to bring home.

On the day of our Hibernation Party we will start the day outdoors, so send your children with snow pants over their pajamas!

We will get ready for winter with a big "Bear Feast". Children will enjoy fresh berries, nuts, and homemade granola with honey. (Miss April will be providing this snack.)

The entire classroom will be set up to look like a winter scene with lots special bear dens for the kids to crawl into. (white sheets, cotton quilting batting, sleeping bags)

All of our bears will be hibernating by 10:30 and parents are invited to join us at that time. Please tiptoe into the classroom to find your little bear.

We will finish with a Sing Along of all our "Animals in Winter" theme songs: (I provided a song sheet so everyone had the words. This was not meant to be a performance, rather a low-key family sing along!)
Gray Squirrel
Time for Hibernation
Winter's Coming Soon  (to tune of wheels on the bus)
The weather's getting cold so bundle up, bundle up, bundle up
The weather's getting cold so bundle up, winter's coming soon.
The bears in the cave sleep all the time............
The squirrels in the trees get lots of nuts...............
The frogs and toads go deep in mud.......
The ducks and the geese fly south........
The kids in the town wear hats and gloves..........

----- Additional teacher notes:

Read aloud - The Bear Snores On
(Previously in out unit we read, "Going on a Bear Hunt" - that was a favorite and I thought about re-reading it but opted not to.

Post signs on the classroom doors that say, "Shhhh...bears are sleeping."

Children will make a "Bear Trail Mix" to take home. Parents are encouraged to send in snacks to add to the mix such as: goldfish, dried berries, nuts, mini teddy grahams, and maybe honey sticks.

Black Bear Game - one child acts as the bear and lies in the middle of the circle with their eyes closed. (If played outside, first lie done blanket.) The bear keeps their eyes shut while the rest of the group sings:
"Black bear, oh black bear, oh sleeping in your den. Please be very quiet, very, very quiet. If you shake him, if you wake him, he will growl at you!"
As the group sings, the teacher selects one child to gently shake or tap the bear. The child shakes the bear and returns to their spot in the circle. Then the bear wakes up, looks at the group, and tries to pick the child that shook him. The bear is given two guesses and then can growl at the bear who woke him. (I tried this game with my 2 year old at home and she DID not like the idea. I think the growling was too much!)

Bear Caves - previously children each made their own cave out of a brown paper grocery bag. For the Hibernation Party, children each bring in their own teddy bears to put into the cave to "hibernate" for winter. Play a game with the bears that reinforces positional words (in, out, over, under, next to, above, below, near). May need to help some of the younger children since this is a new skill.

 More ideas for the next time we do a Hibernation Party:

Hibernating Bear Cupcakes / "Cup Cave" snacks - prepare a cake batter as normal and pour into cupcake liners. Before baking, insert one teddy graham into every cupcake. Explain to the kids that there is a bear hibernating in every cupcake.

Shelled nut snack- Another fun hibernation snack could a wide variety of nuts that are still in their shells. (Obviously you would need to check for nut allergies first.) Many children are not familiar with shelled nuts so encourage them to look at the shape, texture, and firmness. Teach them how to crack them open and observe the inside. Many preschoolers will need help breaking the shells but would be able to peel softer shells such as peanuts or partially opened shells like pistachios. Show pictures of squirrels and chipmunks and talk about how they collect acorns and nuts in the fall.

Stringing popcorn and cranberries to decorate a wildlife tree would also be fun!

At the play dough table encourage kids to make animals homes. Add coffee grounds or sand to the dough. Have pictures of a variety of homes (beaver lodge, burrows, dens, and caves). Suggest using some sort of form such as a recycled applesauce cup, yogurt container, or toilet paper tube as a base so the home is stronger. Offer a variety of natural materials such as sticks, leaves, and dried grasses.  

On-line Bear & Hibernation theme ideas:

My "Animals in Winter" booklist!

Bear Themed games -

Lots of hibernation ideas here -

"We're going on a bear Hunt" sensory play idea here -

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Exploring our Sense of Hearing

We explored our sense of hearing!

Outdoor - Sound Walk - guide the children in becoming still, closing their eyes, and listening for sounds for 30 seconds. Then try for 1 minute. Go longer if they are attentive. My two year old daughter loves this game. We will walk through our woods and stop and listen for sounds. She loves to be the first to point out a woodpecker or identify another sound in nature!

Before going on the sound walk, read aloud the wonderful book The Listening Walk by Paul Showers.

Active Game - Bells on Boots - tie a jingle bell onto each child's boot laces. Then have the children dance, hop, stomp, and walk around the courtyard. Try a game of hide-and-seek with the bells on and talk about why it's easy to find other kids when their bells shake.
An easy way to make these is to use small jingle bells, thread a twist tie through the whole on top, and then twist onto shoe laces. I find if you put the bell on the child's zipper pull they will hold it and muffle the sound...which could be a whole other type of learning.

Art: Rain Sticks using paper towel tubes that have tape on one end, let the children fill their tube with dried beans using a wide mouth funnel. Then the adult helps close the other end with tape. Paint, collage, or draw onto the paper tubes. Later add mod podge to make them more durable.
Smaller ones could be made using toilet paper tubes but they have less of a 'rain stick' feel.
If you are making these with just one or two children, you might consider poking toothpicks or popsicle sticks into the sides of the tube so that the 'rainfall' is even more pronounced! Just be sure to cover with felt or card stock so the sticks don't pop back out.

Guided Activity -- Matching Sound Eggs Game: Make two each of the sound eggs (plastic Easter eggs) before the children arrive. Children shake them and try to find the two that match. Contents include: dry beans, coins, corn kernels, salt, cotton balls, and paper clips.
Another option would be to use one container that was see-through and one that was not. Then the kids would have to match the sound but wouldn't have to open the containers. This year I had salt spilled everywhere and the some of the coins disappeared, so this second option may have worked better.

Water Table: add objects that make noise. I took a variety of clear plastic containers and filled them with various objects (dice, sand, rice, mini jingle bells, beans, and cotton balls). Then I sealed them with bright orange electrical tape and asked the kids to keep them sealed. The kids had fun scooping them out of the water and shaking them. Making matching pairs would have been another idea!

Sensory Table- dried beans as base, small container (plastic & tin) for the kids to scoop and fill, and then close to make shakers.
One another day try adding a variety of crunchy & noisy objects - cellophane, wax paper, bubble wrap, painted paper.

Writing Center - my class didn't have the dexterity to do this but at home my son used my paper crimper to make textured papers. I have a set of three crimpers and he discovered that each one makes a different sound! What other ideas could I use for incorporating SOUND into the writing center?

Science Center = “Sound Station” - set of hand bells, clear rain stick, toy cell phone, cat “meow” toy, wooden xylophone, wind chimes, jingle bells of various sizes. This station was highly engaging for the preschoolers. Just this activity alone would have been enough for exploring our sense of hearing!

Closing Circle - Show a picture of the inside of the ear & explain briefly how our ears work.

One important thing about our sense of hearing is learning how to change the volume of our voice, especially when we are indoors. Can you show me your indoor voice, how about your whisper voice, and your outdoor voice?

Read aloud, Listening Time by Elizabeth Verdick (explains how to be a good listener at rug time) and reinforce how our sense of hearing is important in being a good listener, especially at circle time! 

Books for the sense of hearing:

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bil Martin & Eric Carle
The Ear Book by Al Perkins
Listening Time by Elizabeth Verdick (explains how to be a good listener at rug time)
The Listening Walk by Paul Showers

Additional Activities:

Follow that Noise- the adults in the room each have some sort of noise maker in their pocket. The adults spread out, kids close their eyes, and one adult makes a noise. The kids are told to open their eyes and walk to the adult who they think made the sound. Once there they guess the sound. (Try: cricket clicker, jingle bell, ring tone on a cell phone)
Guess My Sound - With their eyes closed, the adult makes a sound and the child guesses what made the noise. Try: clap, stomp, pretend sneeze, snap, whistle, cough. Instead of guessing the sound the kids could mimic the sound.

CD or recording of common sounds - play the recording and have the kids guess the sound.

Bubble Wrap Walk

Repeat my beat - using claps and taps create a variety of rhythms.
If doing an Eric Carle author study --- Read Aloud: Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you Hear? 

On-line inspiration for teaching about Sound & Hearing

Sound cups activity & kids making their own sound cups:

Water & Music Play

5 Listening Games -

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Exploring our Sense of Smell

Try to convince a six year old boy to only use his sense of smell and this is what you get! ;0)

Exploring our Sense of Smell

Outdoor - To get the kids thinking about what we will learn about today, I wore a clown nose as they arrived. Actually I popped it on once all the kids were there and the parents were gone!

Once we were all gathered for circle time I asked "What part of body helps us to smell?" and then led a lively discussion of things that smell good and things that smell bad. You know we entered the potty-talk department but I quickly brought the conversation back to other more appropriate topics!

"Smelling Walk" would be fun but since it's mid-winter there really weren't any aromas to find, so we'll save that for spring when there are flowers and freshly cut grass!

Active Game - Smell and Go Seek Game - I put peppermint essential oil on small "leaves" made from felt. I had our intern hide the 8 leaves and the children and I used our noses to try to find the hidden cloths. It was fun hunting for the smells with the kids since I didn't know where they were located. Though the cloths were saturated with the oil the fragrance wasn't strong enough. In the future I would use a spray bottle with additional peppermint essential oil in it to spray the areas that the cloths are hidden so the children would be more successful finding them. Doing this activity indoors would make the aroma easy to detect as well.

Smelly Art Ideas:

Kool Aid Art- make by sprinkling a small amount of dry kool-aid mix onto a coffee filter. Then the child uses eye droppers or small spray bottles filled with water to wet the filter. Use several different kool-aid scents. (Kool Aid does stain clothes, so we may want to use the smocks.)

Smelly Water Colors - Mix 1 part hot water to 2 parts jello. Make sure all of the jello is dissolved and then let the children paint.

Homemade Scratch and Sniff Pictures: Mix one Kool Aid packet to 2 Tablespoons hot water. Stir well. Let the kids paint and allow to dry. Afterwards it can be used as a scratch and sniff!

Easel Painting - I didn't get to doing this at preschool this year, but I thought it would be fun to add essential oils to tempera paint to make them smell like the color. (Such as: Purple - lavender oil, Yellow - lemon oil, Green - mint oil)

Guided Activity - Smelling Jars - we used four different jars filled with a familiar scent to the children (use - lemon, garlic, cinnamon, & soap). The child smelled the container and put it next to the picture they thought it matched. Then we opened them to see if their guesses were right. 

Instead of using jars I put the objects into a toilet paper tube that was taped shut on the bottom and partially shut on the top. These worked well and I though let more aroma come out than the jars I poked a hole in.

I did this same activity at home with my kiddos but I put one of each of the objects for them smell on the mat and then match. My almost 3 year old loved this game but decided to eat the raw garlic when I wasn't looking!
  Water Table - "Lavender Water" - add several drops of lavender essential oil & lavender flower buds. Add a variety of scoops and funnels for gathering the flower buds. This smelled wonderfully but many of the kids did not like the texture of the herbs floating in the water. It looked murk-ey and not inviting. Next time I think soapy suds and lavender essential oil would be much more pleasing!

Sensory Table- add a variety of natural materials that have strong scents - pine branches, dried herbs such as peppermint, etc.
Another smelly bin would be to dump a full can of fresh coffee grounds and put small cups, scoops, spoons, etc.

Play dough Table-
Chocolate Play dough was a huge hit and little Valentine boxes and mini candy wrappers made it great fun for the kids!
Kool-Aid Play dough with various scents would have been fun as well!

Writing Center - Mr. Sketch smelly markers, cut-outs of a nose for the kids to decorate.
At home I gave my children popcorn scented scratch and sniff stickers. They were so tickled over these stickers that I have to remember to buy them a variety of scents at holiday times!

Science Center -
Smelling Jars were added to the science center after the guided activity was done.
Make a T chart: Smells I like, Smells I dislike. Ask the children and draw their responses on the chart.
I wanted to have a collection of herbs and spices for the kids to smell and explore but need to find containers that they can sniff but not dump. (Any tips?)
Fragrant Flowers - some fresh cut flowers would be fun but mid-February in Vermont there are NO flowers outdoors and the prices at the floral shop are at Valentine premium prices! I considered using rose water to scent some silk flowers but the aroma is overpowering to me.
Scratch and sniff books would have been fun but all of mine seem worn out. (Maybe I can re-scent them?) smelling jars.

Closing Circle- I read The Nose Book and the kids just loved it. I also shared a story of how I was working at my desk at home and thought I saw a cat outside pass by the window. When I looked closer it was a skunk! The preschoolers thought I was joking but it was a true story...of course I left out the part were I jumped out of my chair and said a naughty word!

The Nose Book by Al Perkins
Smelling by K.B.Smith
Big Smelly Bear by Britta Teckentrup
Skunks! by David T. Greenburg

Additional On-line ideas for teaching SMELL:

How to present Smelling Jars -

Idea for making smell cups with aluminum foil tops & aromatherapy flower craft -
Books for the sense of smell:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Chocolate Play Dough

When the Imagination Tree posted about chocolate play dough I knew I needed to make some.
So I made it for my two kids at home. I knew then I needed to make it for the 12 preschoolers in my class.
Then my son begged for me to make it for his kindergarten class and he wanted there to be enough for all 16 kids to enjoy! Wow...I've never made so much play dough in the span of a week!

Here are my son's special Valentine chocolates and in the back is my daughter's "Happy Birthday cake with dots and dots of candles!"

The kids opened their very own chocolate store. I LOVE when they play together like this!

Monday, February 13, 2012


I am so excited for the Valentine cards that I am making for my Nature Preschoolers. It's a line drawn mason jar that says "Your very own LOVE BUG for Valentines Day!" 

To make simply copy onto cardstock, cut out, and glue on a bug! I can't wait to see what the kiddos think of them!

I got the idea and free printable here:

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blogs by Grade Level!

Just the other day I was thinking, "I wish a I had a list of teacher blogs by grade level."

Tonight while I was wasting time surfing the net, I stumbled upon this 'grade level linky party'. Woohooo...score!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Exploring the Sense of Touch

We explored our sense of Touch!

Outdoor Discovery Time- "Finding Textures in the Outdoors" - I love to take my preschoolers on walks looking for something in particular. Today we went on a texture hunt. We found lots of sort snow, a little bit of crunchy snow, hard ice, bumpy tree bark, smooth tree bark, prickly pine needles, hard frozen jugs of water, and thorny rose bushes.
Ask you children...can you find something smooth? rough? hard? soft? bumpy? cold? It's fun to see what they find!

Art - Sensory Texture Painting - put tempera paint in paint cups and add one of the following to each cup: coffee grounds, crumbled leaves, coarse salt, and sand. Paint onto card stock since the paint will be thick. While painting encourage the kids to use descriptive words for how the paint feels & what they see.

Paint in groups at the table to encourage dialogue between students!
You could also provide a variety of things to use as paintbrushes - sponges, toothbrushes, cotton balls, forks, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, and Popsicle sticks to make their own special textures.)

Guided Activity - Textured Letter Boards - give each child a small piece of corrugated card board that is cut out in the shape of their first initial. Lay out a variety of materials: sand paper, aluminum foil, lace doilies, cloth, string, curling ribbon, crinkled gift bag stuffing, cotton balls, painted paper scraps, etc. The children paint on watered down glue and select items to make their own textured board. Display them on the bulletin board. (I think we will revisit this project and make an entire alphabet to display in our classroom!)

Water Table - Warm Water vs. Cold Water Test - in the middle of water table put a medium sized bowl with very warm water. In the rest of the table, add cold water a few ice cubes and several large ice blocks.

Easel painting - open the easel after the art project at the tables is done, use the same paint cups with textured paints. Cut out the shape of an over sized hand for the kids to paint!

Sensory Texture Bin - wide selection of objects that have various textures (Soft: feathers, tulle, foam curlers, tissue paper balls. Hard: wooden bracelets, plastic curlers, rocks, popsicle sticks, plastic credit cards. Stretchy: plastic necklaces, rubber bands. (For this bin I also kept the color scheme to yellow, blue, and white since I will use the same materials for our SIGHT theme. That day we will sort objects in the bin by color.)

Science Center - Mitten Match game - each mitten contains an object. The child feels the object and matches to the picture that they think is inside. Then they self-check their answers.

Science Center -- Feeling Boxes - put empty tissue boxes and a variety of objects at the science center. Children can play with a partner to feel and guess the object. (Soft teddy bear, porcupine balls, foam triangle, wooden block)

Writing Center - Heart Rubbings- offer a variety of heart shapes that were cut from paper, paper doilies and sandpaper. Tape these shapes to the table. Show the children how to place a piece of thin white or pink paper over the heart shapes and rub with a crayon to make special Valentine cards. (offer envelopes, heart stickers, and peeled crayons)
Closing Circle - "We've been learning about our sense of Touch today. We are going to use our sense of touch to figure out what is in our Surprise Box today."

We will do the surprise box each day during the month of February. The object inside will reinforce the sense that we study for that day.  Use common objects from the classroom that would be easy to identify: ball, train car, paint brush, bell, cookie cutter, dollhouse furniture, thick crayon, mini binoculars, plush owl, and a block.

To make the Surprise Box I took a medium sized coffee can and stretched a black knee-high nylon on the top. It held on great and the kids could reach their hand all the way inside to feel the object but could not pull it out! The nylon was dark enough that they couldn't see the object either!

Other fun sensory ideas for our sense of TOUCH could be:

Cooked spaghetti!

"Mess Free Paint Bags" - sealed gallon sized Ziploc bags with different colored tempera paint. Encourage mark making, name writing, and picture drawing in the bags. (Limit 3 students, one per bag.)
Texture Tray - use a compartmented tray (like a veggie tray) - put out a variety of objects and help the kids sort the objects by similar texture (aluminum foil, sand paper, onion bag, feathers, double sided tape, salt dough ornament, sock, felt, cork, dried herbs, bark, pine cone, leaves, sponge, silk, and construction paper.)
Soft & Hard Sort Bins - using the same objects in the sensory texture bin, have students sort by soft/hard.

Books for the sense of touch:

Quack! Quack! A Touch and Feel book by Louise Rupnik
(need to find some good touch and feel books)

Online Resources & Ideas for the sense of touch:

Texture painting using rolling pins with objects attached -

What activities do you like to do to explore TOUCH with your children?

Focus on Mom

Is it just me or do you go to pick out pictures to print and there are ten thousand of the kids and zero of you? I resolved that I need to take more family photos years ago...but this year I really plan on doing it!

So for 2012 I decided to accept a challenge from one of my bloggy friends (Nicolette) to "get out from behind the camera and step out in front of it". Basically she wants moms to "capture the simple everyday moments that years from now you and your family will treasure most regardless of what you were wearing or what kind of camera you were using".

So I went through our January pictures to write this post and I found 3 pictures that I was in. Astonished...that is 3 more than most any other month! So here they are....

Here is me and my family at the end of a gymnastics party. I love how proud both the kids are of their Gold Medals! Even that cheesy little grin on the Queen is priceless.

So my right hand looks abnormally large, and my left hand looks like I'm about to punch myself...but none the less it's a photo!

And last but not least...a silly picture of me leading my preschool class in a snowflake dance.

I love that that the only "rule" for this linky party is that "mom" needs to be in the picture! It will encourage me to ask for someone to take at least one picture a month of me and the kiddos!

If you want to join the fun of "Focus on Mom" check out

Until next month!