Friday, February 24, 2012


It was a busy day at work today.  I had to sit at my computer all day getting things done and attending long teleconferences while listening to the twins run around the house giggling and playing (and not being able to join them!)  Then the photo above made me smile, and I remembered how incredibly lucky I am to have three amazing little kiddos.  I'm looking forward to a fun relaxing weekend with the little ones.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Impressionist Fingerprint Art

Today we made some impressionist-inspired art using our fingers.  The supplies we used included contact paper, ink pads, painter's tape, coloring sheets, and white paper.  It's a simple concept, but the results were wonderful (especially if you have kids who like coloring in the lines).

First I put the coloring pages on the girls' table, and then placed the contact paper on top - sticky side UP.  L helped me put blue painter's tape all around (basically taping the contact paper to the table, with the coloring page underneath).  After that, I gave the girls one color of ink at a time and told them to color the picture using the tips of their fingers:

L was very good about coloring in the lines.  I did help her by asking her which section she wanted to do next and what color it should be, as well as lend the use of my fingerprints to help her finish.  Meanwhile E decided to be a little more creative:

 Her baby chick (toy) wanted to use his feet on her artwork as well.  Once the girls were done, we removed the painter's tape and stuck the contact paper on top of a sheet of white paper so we could see the final masterpieces:

The masterpiece above was made by E and Baby Chick.

This was L's artwork (with a little help from Mommy).

I made the artwork above when I was trying out this technique to see if it would work 
before presenting the activity to the girls (Mommies like to play too!)

I've seen coloring books of famous artwork, which would probably turn out gorgeous using this 'impressionist fingerprint' technique for older kids or even adults.  Mandalas could be beautiful this way too.  This is absolutely an activity we'll be repeating in the future.

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Jamberry Jam: Montessori Style Cooking

Just like our art experiences, when I have Cooking Day for the kids, I try to focus more on the process than the final result.  Yesterday after I read the girls Jamberry by Bruce Degen, L asked if we could make jam.  After looking at jam recipes online, I realized I don't have pecitin powder, which seems to be a key ingredient in all of them, so we improvised.  We dragged out the process and used lots of Montessori Practical Life and fine motor skills until I came up with something to actually make with the berries.

The first activity was plucking the leaves from the strawberries:

Next, the girls transferred blueberries into their containers:

A pouring activity followed - the girls emptied the large water cup into their bowls without a spill:

The girls' favorite part was washing the berries with their hands:

I realized that I'd never done any filtering or straining/draining with the girls, so they got to use a colander for the first time:

Next, the plastic knives came out and we cut the strawberries into smaller pieces (I'm happy to say no fingers were harmed in this exercise by my knife-wielding toddlers):

Then the majority of the cut strawberries were eaten by L.  This preparation process took a long time, and by now I'd devised a plan for making "jam".  The girls helped me add 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of blue jell-o powder to the berries, and then watched as I boiled and stirred the mixture.

The result was basically a berry compote with a bit of jelly consistency.  Both girls tried it at dinner (even picky E).  Unfortunately the jello added a texture that they were not used to and even L who eats everything tried it and then told me it was 'weird'.  Now there's a tupperware container full of "jam" that my husband and I will have to finish.  Oh well - it's the process that counts, right?

Update:  after some time chilling in the fridge, the jam turned out delicious!   I ate it all by myself over the course of three days in yogurt parfait - YUM!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Early Science: Learning About Gravity

We continued our Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) curriculum with lesson D-1: "The Earth's Gravity; Horizontal and Vertical".  It's easy to be skeptical about teaching preschoolers about gravity, but when you think about it, how much does the typical adult know about gravity?  Kids are beings capable of making observations just like adults are.  In fact, L and E (31 months) already knew a lot about gravity before I even started the lesson:  I held up a ball and asked the girls if I drop it whether it would fly to the ceiling or land on the floor (of course they knew the right answer).  They also knew which way a ball would roll on a tilted surface without any explanation.  I explained that gravity was something we can't see, but it is a force that pulls things towards the ground.  L told me that when she jumps she goes up, but always lands on the ground.  She also made the connection that when she pushes her sister in her Bumbo chair, she is applying a force (well she didn't quite state it that eloquently, but she made the connection all by herself).

We spent an entire morning doing fun experiments that demonstrate 'gravity'.  We dropped lots of objects and watched them fall, and jumped off things (while I reiterated that we always land on the ground because gravity pulls us down).

Then I constructed a pendulum for the girls to explore, out of their Tubation set (any pvc piping would work too), and some weights on a string:

The girls swung the pendulums and then waited until they stopped, as I pointed out that when they stop they always point down in the direction of the pull of gravity.  They tilted the frame to the side and observed the pendulum's orientation:

Then I altered the frame to have open ends at the top.  The girls took turns dropping a unit cube into the center when the frame was level.  I asked them to observe the orientation of the pendulums and tell me where they think the cube went.  They both pointed to a spot at the top of the frame just below where they had dropped the block.  Then they tilted the frame to one side and observed the block fly out:

The girls have been learning the terms "parallel" and "perpendicular" from Rightstart Math, so I used those words, as well as introduced "horizontal" and "vertical", to describe the orientation of the pendulum in relation to the top of the frame (and gravity).  The girls explored the pendulums for quite a while, trying different things like releasing them from various heights, making the strings shorter, etc..

Then while I was setting up some other experiments, the girls played with dropping objects into water.  Originally I was planning on using our plastic weight set to show them that light and heavy weights will sink to the bottom of the water at the same time.  However our weights floated, turning this into a lesson on buoyancy instead!  We repeated using magnets:

I'm glad we used magnets, because I showed them that we can get them to lift up out of the water, as well - the magnetic force was stronger than gravitational force.

We've been doing a lot of weighing activities with their bucket-scale lately, so I wanted to demonstrate weight in a different way.  I created a simple spring-scale out of a clipboard, rubber band, dental floss, and a paper cup.  I think the spring-scale makes it easier to associate weight with gravity.  We put different numbers of weights in the cup, and L helped me draw a line showing where the top of the cup was.  Of course she wanted to do it all by herself (I'm surprised she even let me write the numbers):

L and E took turns adding and removing weights and observing the effects.  Then they took a break to take some scientific notes:

The final project of the day was inspired by one of those large funnels at the mall that into which you drop pennies and watch them spin around.  I cut through the radius of a paper plate and turned it into a cone.  I made a little shelf that a bead could rest on before the girls gave it a push and watched it spin around towards the center (gravity!).  We dipped the bead in blue paint and tried to record its path.  The girls had lots of fun with this, especially E who repeated the activity over and over:

I don't know who had more fun with our lesson on gravity - me or the girls!  I'm not sure at what level the girls are grasping these concepts, but I think that the activities from BFSU will build a foundation that the girls can build on as they learn some of these scientific concepts in a more formal setting when they get older.  Furthermore, they are making observations, playing, and having a great time, which is what really counts.

UPDATE: I was so inspired by how much my kids enjoyed early learning games that I created the La La Logic Critical Thinking Curriculum for 3-6 year olds, which includes online brain challenge games, printable worksheets, enrichment activities and more!

learning laboratory at mama smiles

Monday, February 20, 2012

Organizing Objects into Categories

L and E are almost 31 months old.  This week we started going through the lessons in the K-2 curriculum Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Bernard Nebel (BFSU for short).  We started with lesson A/B-1, which is the concept of organizing things into categories.  Sorting is an activity I've been doing with the girls for a long time (sorting various items by shape and color, cleaning up room and putting toys in specific locations by type, etc..).  So I wanted to reinforce the concepts they already know about grouping objects by attributes, introduce the terminology "organization" and "category", and also challenge them to think about different ways that the same objects can be organized.

We have a collection of foam magnets representing different objects.  I decided to use these magnet representations of objects rather than the actual objects because I think it adds a bit of additional difficulty since the girls have to think about the properties of the real object (for example, in real life a feather is soft, but the magnet representation is not).

The way we played this game, is I would put a collection of approximately 10 magnets at a time on a cookie sheet and then ask the girls if they see some objects that have things in common that we could use to categorize them.  Sometimes the girls had good suggestions (like organizing based on whether an object was an animal or not, or whether it was a toy, or by color), and other times I came up with the category to give them ideas of the different ways we can look at these objects.  Once we decided on categories, the girls picked out the objects that fit into each category and transferred them to the smaller magnetic boards.  Here are some of the ideas that we came up with:

It would be really easy to use clipart, photos, or web images to create flashcards to serve the same purpose as these magnets.  I have an open request to my husband to get me a large oil drip pan the next time he is at the hardware store, which we can use as a giant magnet board (I've seen the idea all over Pinterest).  Once we have that larger magnet board, I want to repeat the idea and create some Venn diagrams, so the girls can see that the same object can exist in multiple categories (a chicken is a bird, but also lives on the farm, etc..). 

L and E really liked the categorization activity and we played a long time.  We also played a memory game where I put some objects on the cookie sheet and then turned it around and asked the girls to recall the objects.  L has amazing (almost photographic) memory.  I did show them that it is even easier to remember the objects if they put them into categories in their mind and then recall them based on the categories.  They did really well if I reviewed the categories and objects with them, but didn't quite grasp the concept of employing that technique in their head on their own (which is fine - they are only 2.5 years old, after all).

I peeked ahead at the lessons we'll be doing later on in the BFSU curriculum, and I think the girls are going to love the categorizing in future activities (solid/liquid/gas, living/nonliving, animal classifications, etc..).

UPDATE: I was so inspired by how much my kids enjoyed playing "IQ games" that I created the La La Logic Critical Thinking Curriculum for 3-6 year olds, which includes online brain challenge games, printable worksheets, enrichment activities and more!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Painting and Prints with Foam Stickers

Today's "Messy Morning" activity (an elaborate foil-impression-paint-project I devised) did not work out as planned, so I quickly improvised and turned it into a project based on the Kid-Friendly Printmaking Tutorial at Frugal Family Fun Blog, which I saw last month.

Foam stickers are really inexpensive and my kids like them quite a bit more than regular stickers.  The first step of this activity was to stick some foam stickers on fairly thick paper:

I couldn't resist joining in (mine is the paper in the middle with the symmetrical design).  Next I gave the girls some paint and brushes.  It was actually a really fun experience painting over the foam stickers and produced some interesting artwork on its own:

The final step, however, was to see if we could make some prints by placing another paper on top of the painted paper and using a rolling pin on top:

The results looked more like modern art than precise prints, but I think they're fabulous:

The process was really enjoyable for the girls, and this is definitely an activity we'll be repeating.


Early Learning - Fun with Feathers

L and E are almost 31 months old.  Our Tot School theme today was "feathers".  I tried to incorporate a variety of activities that involved sensorial exploration, art, math, science, literature, physical play, and lots of fun.

We've done a lot of free-play with feathers already, so I focused more on the guided activities.  First we read the short story, Gertrude McFuzz by Doctor Seuss (it's in the Yertle the Turtle collection).  It's a great story about a bird who is not happy that she has only one feather in her tail and her friend has two, so she finds a way to grow more and more feathers and has to pay the consequences (fantastic lesson on jealousy).

I gave the girls some playdough and googly eyes for making birds, as well as some berries.  First their birds started out with one feather each, and then as we read the story and Gertrude ate the berries and grew more feathers, the girls added feathers to their birds (and then removed them as the feathers were plucked off).

The girls requested that we repeat the story/activity a couple times.  E loved her baby bird so much that she carried it around with her for the duration of our playtime:

We made nests for our birds out of some small baskets (3 for $1 at Target).  And inserted feathers through the holes in the basket to decorate the nests (awesome fine-motor activity).  Of course, no nest would be complete without some eggs:

Next we experimented with more properties of feathers and air resistance.  I challenged them to guess which will fall to the ground first, a ball or a feather:

Then the girls practiced both dropping and catching feathers with their hands as well as various containers.  Since the feathers fall fairly slowly, this was a wonderful exercise in hand-eye-coordination and catching skills. 

Then I showed the girls how to blow on their feathers through a straw, and we had races blowing our feathers all through the house:

To make cleaning up more fun, we sorted the feathers by color:

Then I posed the question: what will weight more, a bowl of feathers or a bowl of blocks?  Although the girls both knew the right answer, we wanted to test out our theory by giving it a try:

I took out the bucket scale, and we figured out that the blocks do indeed weigh more than the same volume of feathers, and that our bowl of feathers weighed 4 blocks (or 4 grams).  From that, we explored the unit blocks, played with the scale and did other non-feather-related activities.  I could think of many more things we could do with feathers (math games, patterning, etc..), but the time felt right to just let the girls explore on their own.

UPDATE: I was so inspired by how much my kids enjoyed early learning games that I created the La La Logic Critical Thinking Curriculum for 3-6 year olds, which includes online brain challenge games, printable worksheets, enrichment activities and more!

Tot School