Category Archives: Activity Ideas

Inspiring your preschoolers to be readers and artists

by Jamie Le Sesne Spears, Family Engagement Specialist

Even before your little one can read, their journey to becoming a reader begins with you! Story time is more than just fun for children; reading aloud is an essential part of supporting literacy and developing language skills.

Encouraging your preschooler to participate in story time

The need for reading aloud starts as early as infancy and continues well into your child’s school-age years. As your child grows older, this is a great opportunity to encourage additional participation during your read-alouds. Preschoolers can begin to:

  • Hold the book.
  • Turn pages.
  • Read alongside you.
  • Retell parts of the story.
  • Point out letters.
  • Ask and answer questions.

 

Step up your read-alouds with art

Moving down the path to reading, you can provide art experiences that engage with the books you read together. These experiences create a fun, engaging way to interact with the text. Your child can creatively retell parts of the story, make personal connections, and express their own thoughts. When you add adult questions alongside the art, you enhance their development even more. Your child can practice answering questions about a story, respond to the characters, as well as predict what may happen next. 

 

Good reads to encourage art and literacy

You can enhance many books through art, but I have found that children’s books about art support both literacy and creative development. These children’s books about art both engage children and provide an easy transition into an art experience:

 

Scribble Stones by Diane Alber

A little gray stone discovers its purpose to bring joy and creativity to the world!

Art Experience

  • Go on a walk and gather a few stones (rocks).
  • Take them inside and let your child wash and dry their stone.
  • Provide markers, paint, or sharpies
  • Encourage your child to add “scribble” and “splatter” to their stone.
  • Try adding stickers to add texture and patterns to their art.

Question to Ask

How can we use our Scribble Stone to give joy to someone else?

 

The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions by Anna Llenas

The color monster’s feelings are all mixed up! He learns to put his feelings in the right place by matching each feeling with a color.

Art Experience

  • Pull out different colors of construction paper, scissors, and markers/crayons.
  • Draw or cut your own color monster.
  • Give your color monster a feeling.
  • Try making your color monster 3D by sculpting it with playdough!

Question to Ask

What color do you feel when … ? (i.e. I tell you “no” or you are playing outside)

 

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg

This book teaches children that everyone makes mistakes and those mistakes can be created into something beautiful…and it’s a favorite of our Family & Community Engagement Manager, Tom Taylor!

Art Experience

  • Provide scrap paper, scissors, hole-punch, ruler, or markers/crayons.
  • Encourage your child to take a mistake or create a mistake by cutting or tearing paper.
  • Encourage them to transform that mistake into something new!

Question to Ask

What are some ways from the story that you can make an oops beautiful?

 

If Picasso Painted a Snowman by Amy & Greg Newbold

Everyone knows what a snowman looks like, but through beautiful illustrations, this story shows children that artists see snowman a little bit differently!

Art Experience

  • Take out your watercolors, paint, or markers.
  • Provide a space that you do not mind getting a little messy.
  • Encourage your child to create their own snowperson.
  • Try recalling an artist and creating a snowperson in a similar style.

Questions to Ask

What was your favorite snowman from the story? What about it do you like?

 

Additional Art+Literacy Resources

10 Inspiring Children’s Books for Budding Little Artists

Reading Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages

KidLitCrafts Blog

Choosing the Best Toys for Your Child

by Lauren George, Family Support Specialist

Children are explorers and inventors who learn by doing. Play gives children an opportunity to develop and practice new skills at their own pace by following their unique interests. With hundreds and hundreds of options in the store, and thousands online, choosing toys should be easy, right?  The toys and non-toys your child engages with can shape his/her development in important ways while also keeping them entertained and exploring for hours.  If you are anything like me, the real question is knowing which toys will spark my child’s interest, support their imagination, and won’t be broken in a week!  Below are some ideas for choosing toys that will grow with your child, challenge them, and nurture their overall development – their thinking, physical, language, and social-emotional skills.

Open-ended toys that can be used in a variety of ways

Choose toys with no “right” or “wrong” way of playing that spark your child’s imagination and help her develop problem-solving and logical thinking skills:

  • Blocks
  • Cars & trucks
  • Animals
  • Building materials 

Toys that will grow with your child

Plan ahead for your child’s development by looking for toys that can be fun at different developmental stages and by children of different ages.  I often choose first birthday gifts this way, thinking about what a toddler would need rather than buying something for “now.”  These could include things like the open-ended materials listed above or:

  • Outdoor toys
  • Train sets
  • Oversized trucks
  • Larger investment pieces like a doll house or play kitchen

Toys that encourage exploration and problem-solving

STEM is a buzz word you might have heard before; it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  Toys that promote STEM encourage exploration, problem-solving, and trial and error.  Choose toys that give kids a chance to figure something out on their own—or with a little coaching. Look for toys that build their logic skills and help them become persistent problem-solvers. These toys help children develop spatial-relations skills (understanding how things fit together), hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills, which is all about using the small muscles in the hands and fingers. These skills are all essential for school success! Look for:

  • Puzzles
  • Shape sorters
  • Magnetic builders
  • Interlocking blocks
  • Art materials

Toys that spark your child’s imagination

Toddlers are beginning to develop pretend-play skills, and by age three your child’s imagination has taken off.  For my son, he LOVED lawn tools.  Choose items that will spark their imagination and let them take on “real world” roles. Pretend play builds language and literacy skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to sequence (put events in a logical order). Look for things like:

  • Pretend mower and power tools
  • Kitchen set
  • Baby dolls (Yes, even for boys)
  • Costumes
  • Real items like old phones, keyboards, pots, and pans

Toys that encourage your child to be active

Children are developing A LOT in the first five years of life, doing all kinds of physical tricks as they become stronger and more confident with their bodies. Look for toys that help your child practice current physical skills and develop new ones. These toys can also help your child develop early writing and reading skills.

  • Books
  • Magnetic alphabet letters
  • Play dough
  • Magnadoodles
  • Art supplies like markers, crayons, and fingerpaints
  • Real-life” props like take-out menus, catalogs, or magazines

These toys fun for your child to look at and play with; and they also build familiarity with letters, text, and print.  Avoid things like flash cards or early reader books—choosing materials your child can explore and use with their hands! 

Toys based on your child’s age

Looking for more ideas for your child, based on his age? Check out these options!

Parlakian, Rebecca. 2020. Zero to Three. “Tips for Choosing Toys for Toddlers.” Accessed December 8, 2020.

Healthy Eating and Cooking with Children

by Molly Manley, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Coordinator

Looking for a way to learn and grow with your kids, while also promoting healthy eating? Get on your aprons, and get ready to whip up something delicious with your children or those in your care. Cooking with children can promote lifetime skills such as:

  • Basic Math – Cooking involves counting, addition, shapes, sizes, and measurements.
  • Science – Highlight growing food or changing forms, like liquids and solids.
  • Language – Conversations with children while cooking will increase their language development and ability to follow instructions. Creating simple recipe cards with instructions is also a useful tool. Obtain children’s books from the library that pertain to the type of foods they will be eating.
  • Art – Have children draw pictures of the foods they ate.  Ask them to create a picture by painting with yogurt, or glue cereal to a piece of paper.

GO ON A FOOD ADVENTURE

Cooking with children also encourages them to explore new foods and how food gets to our tables. Discuss where food comes from, plant a garden, or take a field trip to the grocery store or a farm. This will give them a better understanding of what they are eating.

It would also be a good idea to shop around for child size utensils, cups, bowls and pitchers. This will make it easier for the child to prepare and serve themselves. We are promoting self-help skills, and, if the child has a difficult time succeeding, it may prompt them to quit out of frustration.

TRY OUT A NEW AND FUN RECIPE

Below are three simple recipes to try with children.

Fruit and Yogurt Muffin

Ingredients:
1 Whole Grain English Muff
¼ cup of Yogurt- any flavor
¼ cup of fruit- bananas and berries work well

Directions:
Adult: Portion out yogurt and fruit for each child separately.
Adult: Toast English Muffin.
Child: Spread yogurt over English muffin using a spoon.
Child: Add fruit to top.

Pizza Rollups

Ingredients:
1 tube of crescent rolls
1 jar of pizza sauce
1 package of string cheese – cut into quarters (1 ounce each)
1 bag of pepperoni- cut into quarters, unless using minis

Directions:
Adult: Unroll crescent roll dough, separate into 8 triangles.
Child: Place 8 pepperoni pieces on each.
Child: Place a piece of cheese on the short side of the triangle.
Child: Roll up dough starting on the short side and pinch seams to seal.
Adult: Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Cook at 375 for 10-12 minutes

Serve with ¼ cup of warm pizza sauce
Makes a 8 roll ups.

Celery Snails

Ingredients:
1 bunch of celery –  washed and cut in halves
Apples –  cut into slices small enough to fit into celery
Peanut or Almond Butter

Directions:
Adult: Wash and cut celery and apples to appropriate size.
Child:  Spread peanut or almond butter on celery pieces.
Child: Insert apple into middle of celery.

Cover image by Flickr user Andrew Seaman, Creative Commons license.

A provider’s view on food and the CACFP program

by Emily Barrow,  CACFP Child Nutrition Professional

March 12th-18th is National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) week. To celebrate, here’s a peek into the work that we do every day at Child Care Answers, sponsoring providers throughout Central Indiana.

Proper nutrition during the early stages of childhood ensures appropriate development and reduces physical and educational problems later in life.  Providers participating on the program receive valuable nutrition education that helps them support growing children and their nutritional needs. In addition, they receive a reimbursement to assist them financially in serving nutritious meals.

WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A CACFP PROVIDER

I recently reached out to one of my child care home providers, Shannon Garcia, to understand her experience with the CACFP program. She shared, “CACFP not only provides good nutrition for the children but also enhances my business. It is a marketing tool that makes me stand out from other home day cares that don’t participate. I enjoy meal planning and shopping for meals. It eliminates the hassle of trying to decide and make meals on the fly. It also helps me see menus in writing so that I know I’m offering variety and healthy choices.”

INVOLVE CHILDREN IN THE FOOD PREP (AND MAKE IT FUN!)

The children in Shannon’s program also love to help her make colorful fruit salads and sing songs as they prepare them.  As providers (or parents), involving kids in the preparation is always a fun way to get meals going.  Below is a delicious fruit salsa recipe served with cinnamon chips that makes an excellent CACFP snack. Enjoy!

FRUIT SALSA WITH CINNAMON CHIPS

Recipe by Jen Nikolaus, Yummy Healthy Easy

Ingredients

Fruit salsa:

  • 16-oz. strawberries, diced
  • 2 kiwi, peeled and diced
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar-free apricot preserves or jam

Cinnamon chips:

  • 4 flour tortillas (I used soft taco size)
  • cooking spray
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ tsp. cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.  Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. On a large plate, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Spray each tortilla front and back and carefully lay on the plate, one at a time. Move around lightly to get the cinnamon and sugar to adhere to the tortilla, then flip coating the other side.
  3. With a pizza cutter, cut cinnamon and sugar tortilla in half and then each half into four pieces, creating 8 slices per tortilla. Spread out on the baking sheet. Repeat with all tortillas and then place in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Pull baking sheet from oven and set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the fruit and the preserves in a medium sized bowl. Serve with cooled cinnamon chips and enjoy!

Cover image by Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiCreative Commons license.

STEM Activities for Toddlers

by Rachel Lee George, Paths To QUALITY™ Coach with Infant and Toddler Emphasis

Let’s face it –  the struggle is real. We as adults in general are scared when it comes to thinking of science/math activities to do with toddlers. The word “science” is scary. We aren’t scientists. And, math…well, I can only speak for myself, but, math was definitely not my strong suit growing up.

Over the years as my many roles in early childhood education have evolved and changed, I have strengthened my knowledge in this area and developed a much better understanding and appreciation in this connection between science and math to brain development in toddlers.

As I read my newsfeed before bed at night, I see moms and dads reaching out for advice on how to incorporate science and math into their young toddlers’ lives. I see teachers making comments about the struggle of incorporating science and math into their environments in child care and creating science/math activities.

Here’s where I hope sharing my experience can help.  Below are some activities that are fairly easy and incorporate science and math into the daily routine for toddlers.

SCIENCE

SENSORY BOTTLES OR “OCEAN IN A BOTTLE”

What you need:

  • Water
  • Cooking oil
  • Blue food coloring (or any color)
  • Large bottle. (2-liter pop bottles, mouthwash bottles with child-safe lids, or recycled water bottles work well)
  • Funnel

Instructions:

  1. Have the children assist you with placing the food coloring into the bottle.
  2. Fill the bottle one-third of the way full with water.
  3. Top it off with the oil
  4. Swoosh away
WATER ABSORPTION AND COLOR BLENDING

What you need:

  • Cotton make-up removal pads or coffee filters
  • Liquid watercolor paints (you could use food coloring and water)
  • Droppers/pipettes,
  • Small bowls
  • Vinyl tablecloth (to protect your work surface)
  • Baking rack

Instructions:

  1. Fill small bowls with water, place a few drops of food coloring into the water, you can use multiple bowls with different colors of food coloring.
  2. Then, use the droppers and place them into the bowls with colored water, and then drip the colored water onto the cotton pads and watch the colors absorb, blend and expand.
  3. Place on baking rack to dry.

MATH

SORTING ACTIVITY

What you need:

  • Cupcake tin
  • Rocks, beans (supervised if beans are small), pom pom balls, or anything that can be collected in abundance and has some color to it
  • Sand or water

Instructions:

  1. Let the child fill the cupcake holes with the materials.
  2. Talk about: How full they are, which is fuller, or which one is less full. How many colors are in each hole and compare/contrast. How many items in one hole as compared to items in the next hole
FILLING AND POURING WITH MEASURING CUPS AND SPOONS

What you need:

  • Sand table or small aluminum foil bins
  • Sand or substitute such as water, rice, cornmeal, or oatmeal
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Scoops
  • Shovels

Discuss:

This activity gives you the opportunity to talk with children about numbers, weight (which is heavier, lighter), fill (empty/full), equal, greater. All of those words are easy to introduce during sand play.

You may choose to use individual bins rather than a common sand table to allow two or more children to explore at one time.  We all know that when one child is interested, they all tend to want to come over as well to see what’s happening.

Remember – there are so many things that are math and science related on daily walks through the neighborhood or park. Point out simple things like looking on the ground as you walk with your toddlers. Seeing worms or ants on the concrete might produce a long discussion about texture, size, how it feels, smooth, soft, shapes, or shadows from the sunlight.

Daily trips to and from work or home in the car can provide other great discussion topics. Firetruck sirens, airplane sounds, water fountains, stoplight colors and shapes, the wind from a cracked window, small and large school buses….there are so many simple yet dismissed conversations that we have. As parents, we often don’t realize those missed opportunities where we can extend learning by asking just a few more open-ended questions. We can always engage toddlers and young children more. Be creative to dig deeper and build that core knowledge from the beginning.

Cover image source.

Teaching Children the Art of Giving

by Kristin Cofield, Paths to QUALITY Coach

Four year old Kennisyn overheard a conversation between her parents discussing donating to the United Way of Central Indiana. Kennisyn chimed in and told her parents that she would like to donate also. Each day for one week, Kennisyn took money from her pink piggy bank to school and donated to the United Way collection jar in her class. Kennisyn even asked other family members to contribute to her classroom jar and help raise money for children in need.

Teaching children the art of giving develops kindness, compassion, and caring for others.  Anne Frank said “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” At any age, we can all make a difference in someone’s life by showing compassion through our giving, acts of service by volunteering, or other forms of community outreach.

When families make giving and volunteering a normal part of their lives they will teach their children strong core values as they demonstrate these values in action. This philosophy is also true for educators who create a classroom learning environment that introduces and encourages children to practice social tolerance and respect for all people regardless of religion, race, socioeconomic status, gender, age, etc.  There are many creative ways families and educators can teach children the art of giving. The following are a few thoughtful ideas for families and educators to help children become involved in their local community.

  1. Thinking of You: Have children draw or paint a picture of their choice; frame the picture and give to a local hospital where the patients are fighting a terminal illness. Sometimes knowing that someone is thinking of you gives these patients hope to continue fighting their illness.
  2. Charitable Giving: Children can raise money through a lemonade stand; bake sale, art sale, etc.  Allow the children to choose an organization and donate the proceeds to that organization.
  3. Acts of Service: Ask family, friends, and classmates to donate items to create care packages for the homeless.  Donations may include food such as crackers, packaged fruit, or water; personal hygiene items such as soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste; socks, hat and gloves, etc.  Allow the children to help pack the sack lunches or care bags.

A simple Google search will generate many other ideas to help families and educators teach children the art of giving.  So search away and make giving and volunteering fun for the children in your life.  Follow the child’s interest and remember no deed is too small when the act of service stems from a heart full of kindness, compassion and most importantly, love for humanity.

Sensory Activity/ Actividad Sensorial

The idea of these is to support the development of pre-writing skills and strengthen fine-motor skills./La idea de estos es para apoyar el desarrollo de las habilidades de pre-escritura y fortalecer las habilidades de motricidad fina.

 

Materials/ Materiales

 

Ziploc bags/ bolsas Ziploc

 

Tape/ Cinta

 

Hair gel/ gel para el cabello

 

Food coloring/ colorante de alimento

 

Laminated numbers or letters/ Números o letras laminadas

 

Procedure/ Proceso

 

Help the children add the hair gel and food coloring in to the baggie. Next choose the laminated picture you would like to add to your bag. The final step, seal your bag, add a heavy tape over the seal to help insure there is not any leaking./ Ayude a los niños añaden el gel para el cabello y el colorante en la bolsita. A continuación, seleccione la imagen laminada que le gustaría añadir a su bolsa. El último paso, sellar la bolsa, agregue una cinta pesada sobre el sello para ayudar a asegurar que no hay ninguna fuga.