What They Like and What They Need

I wish this photo was a bit more clear but my grandson, Owen, took this selfie on his Kindle and texted it to me.  I am so very grateful for technology that lets me keep in touch with them.

I also don’t think you can over-appreciate the value of playdough.  From my two year old grandson Calvin to my eleven year old grandson Owen, they all love playing with playdough.  Of course what they do with the playdough looks quite a bit different – it is a very versatile material!!

Today Owen used playdough to make a Millenium Falcon – he’s a huge Star Wars fan.


I thought it was great and asked him if he had a Star Wars mold.  He did not, and  he took the opportunity to tell me step by step how he constructed it!

First he rolled out the dough to the thickness he wanted.

He used this tool to cut it into a circle, which he traced from the playdough lid.

He sent me all these pictures – I hope I am remembering the steps correctly – he really should have his own blog!

This is how he made the compressions.

He told me he made a cylinder for the cockpit, and two triangles for the things that stick out in front (sorry Owen, I don’t remember all the terminology).  I thought it turned out great!

I think it is really important to have a good balance between allowing your child to do things he or she likes and chooses to do, along with the activities you think he or she needs to reinforce skills.  I also think it’s important to try to make those skill reinforcing activities fun too – especially when they are working at home.  (But the teacher in me would have loved to ask Owen to write a step by step HOW TO book.  I know he is a bit old for that but he was so good at breaking it down and explaining it to me!)

Sometimes you can blend the two – what they like and what they need.  For example you could bring out alphabet cookie cutters, or  a pencil to write numbers or multiplication facts in the playdough – but sometimes they just want to play.

I am trying to give my daughter ideas to help her kids in the areas they need a little practice or reinforcement.   She mentioned that although Max is doing great with sight words and sounds, he could use some practice with lower case letters.  He has been able to name upper letters for a long time, and can identify most lower case letters too.  But most books are written with primarily lower case letters so it is important that they are really confident with them.

I sent her these letter cards to print and cut apart, to play a memory game.  Some lower case letters are the same as the upper case, except for size; like s, o, x, u, z.  I knew Max was confident with those.  I also was trying to limit the number of cards for the game.  If this is still too many you could use half of them at a time – or pick the ones that are tricky for your child.

I printed all the lower case letters on these fish cards – to make a game of GO FISH.  Two or more people can play this game – you would need 2 copies of each letter.  Start with 5 or 6 cards and the first player asks if the other person has a letter that matches one in his/her hand.  If they get the match they put the pair down, if not they pick another card from the fishing pond – pile of cards!


Another idea would be to attach a paperclip to each fish.  Then make a fishing pole by tying a piece of yarn or string to a dowel and attaching a magnet to the end.  All the fish should be face down and the child uses the fishing pole to “catch” a fish.  If he or she can name the letter they keep it, if not tell them the name of the letter and it goes back into the pond.

One more idea I gave my daughter for reinforcing lower case letters was to cut apart the sight words Max is able to read.  Put each word into an envelope and ask him to put them in order to spell the word.  Then ask him to name each letter in the word.  I printed them so they are easy to cut apart.  Try to cut all the letters about the same width.

This is also a good activity to practice reading the sight words.  When the kids are writing and use one of these sight words they should be able to spell it in “book spelling” too.

The most important thing is to have fun with your kids!


Everything Counts!

Everything does count.  All the conversations, all the explorations, all the read alouds, all the explanations, all the togetherness, they all count as teaching and learning.

You might not realize you are introducing new vocabulary and different sentence structures when you answer your child’s questions.  You are teaching science concepts when they watch you pretreat laundry stains or turn juice into frozen popsicles.  You are demonstrating many math concepts when you talk to your child about time, use a measuring cup or set a timer.  If sitting down and working on worksheets or projects doesn’t work for your family you are still educating your child through all the ways you interact every day.

But there are also lots of opportunities to COUNT every day!   (Okay – so that might not have been the smoothest segue!)   Still, numbers are an important part of our lives. 


You could try asking your child how many ways they can show the number 5.  They might even think of some creative ways to show it.

Another idea would be to ask your child to count all the places in your house where there are numbers.    If they are interested, they could make a list – or even take a digital photo of the places or things in your house that have numbers.   You could print the pictures and make a simple book using sight words.   Here’s what that might look like:

Here is the blank template, print the two pages back to back, cut them in half horizontally then fold the pages together and staple.

You could print more copies of the second page if you want to make a longer book.

This recording sheet might encourage your child to go around the house and count these objects – then record the number.  They will be using a bunch of number skills!  Counting, 1:1 correspondence, numeral writing!

For kids who are ready to read and spend a little longer on this activity here is another list:

When they are done counting you might talk about which things they found the most of, which were the least amount,  or if there were the same amount of any things they counted.  If they are ready you could even ask something like “how many more spoons were there than boxes of cereal?  Ask them if they were surprised by how many or how few of the things they found.

If you are looking for a fun activity today you might like to try playing with shaving cream.  You can spray it directly on your table or counter – you will end up feeling like it is good and clean – or you can spray it on a cookie sheet or tray.

Push up your child’s sleeves and let them draw, scribble, mound it up, and have a good time!  They can even practice writing letters, numbers or sight words!  If it gets on their clothes it dissolves quickly.  I would just advise them not to slap it or clap foamy hands because it would sting if it went into their eyes.  Nora and Max had a great time!



Teddy Bear Counters


It’s been three years since I retired, and I know lots of things have changed in Kindergarten.  I recently took a look at the core curriculum for Kindergarten math and I realized that children are now expected to enter Kindergarten with some of the skills we worked on in my class.  While I was teaching I knew that some children came into kindergarten counting, recognizing numerals, one to one correspondence, able to name shapes, and understanding patterns; but not all children had those skills.  While we explored and played games with math manipulatives all children gained confidence and competence in these skills.  The math games we played were great practice for early math skills, and the children loved playing them!  So when I was thinking about Christmas presents for some preschoolers who are very special to me, I decided to put together some games using Teddy Bear Counters and colored tiles.

Bear sorting set

I bought sets of Teddy Bear Counters and matching sorting trays from Learning Resources.  Here is a peek at the games I put together.

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The children I plan to give these to range from 3 to 5 years old.  I tried to include a range of things they would think are fun and also help them gain important math skills like sorting, counting, numeral recognition, one to one correspondence, concept of number, simple addition and subtraction, measuring, counting backward, skip counting and concrete graphing.  Some games will be just right to play now, others will be good as they get a little older.

I am happy to share these games and activities, most will probably be familiar to any of you early childhood teachers.

Sorting Bears – basically I suggested that parents encourage their child to play with the teddy bears and practice sorting by color.  In my class I realized that most children could easily do the task, but sometimes they were not familiar with the word “sort.”    I also suggested using comparative language like most, least, and equal or the same.

Counting Bears

Bear Game

I found this game board online and thought it would be great to practice counting the dots, and putting the correct number of bears on each gameboard bear.


I suggested starting out with a simple AB pattern.  I always introduced an AB pattern by naming the colors:  i.e.  red, blue, red, blue.   But I wanted the children to know that you could use any terms to “read” the pattern, including alphabet letters.  After the child shows that he or she understands what a pattern is I suggested moving on to more complicated patterns.

One of the most popular games in my Kindergarten room was BEARS IN CHAIRS.  Over the years I had several parents come in to ask where they could buy this game!  Basically the children make a pattern with the colored tiles and keep it going to form a shape like a game board.  Then they choose one bear, roll a die and move their bear from one chair (tile) to the next as they count to the number they rolled on the die.  This game is great for 2 – 4 players, but one child can even play it alone.  As children gain confidence with patterns they can make their tile game board more complicated.  You could even use 2 dice that they would add together to make the game more challenging.

Jumping on the Bed

Bears in bed

For this game I suggested asking the child to count out 10 bear counters and place them on the bed game board.  Then you sing the song “Ten Bears in a Bed” and remove one bear at a time.

My Turn, Your Turn

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This was another favorite game in my classroom.  Two children play using only one game board and sharing one teddy bear counter.  They begin by placing the bear on the star in the middle of the board.  Then they roll a die, one child moves the bear toward the right side of the board, the other child moves the same bear toward the left side of the board.  Play continues until the bear goes off the board in one direction.  I made this strip by gluing together 2 of these pattern strips.  You could make it as long as you like, but be sure to have an uneven number of squares and put a sticker or mark in the middle.

my turn your turn printable

Bears in Caves

Bears in Cave

I loved telling math story problems with my Kindergartners.  It is so much fun when each child has a set of materials to manipulate as they listen to the story.  In my directions I suggested giving each child a small amount of bears and a gameboard.  Then I would tell a story and the children would move their bears in and out of the cave, practicing very simple addition and subtraction problems.  Check out the directions I am including if you need a suggestion of a story to tell.

In my class we often told stories like this using manipulatives we could eat like goldfish crackers, teddy graham cookies, Froot Loops, etc.  At Halloween I could sometimes find Count Chockula cereal with ghosts and goblins that we placed in a simple haunted house.  The kids really love these games!

Measuring Bears

It can be fun for the children to practice measuring by lining up a row of bears to match the length of simple things around the house like a pencil, book or favorite toy.

Bear Counting Game

Using the same bear game board you can play another game.  The children take turns rolling a die.  They place a bear counter on the gameboard bear that matches the number they roll.  If they roll a 6, they place a counter on the bear with 6 dots.  You can allow them to keep putting counters on until all the numbers have been rolled, or you can say they can only put one counter on each bear – so if they roll a number that matches a bear that already has a counter they lose a turn.   Not all young children are ready to play a game where they lose a turn.

Bear and Crocodile

I was looking online for a simple number line that the children could use to pracitce naming numerals, counting forward and backward, and simple skip counting.  I found this cute crocodile number line.

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Crocodile number line

I also included the largest hundreds chart I could make, to give the children a chance to move bears along the numbers, and notice patterns in counting.


Graphing Bears

I also suggested scooping out bears and sorting them into a graph configuration.  It is a good way to compare and practice all those important words like most, least, same.

In my Bear Game Gift Kit I also plan to include some tongs – the kids love using them to pick up things like the bears, and it is great fine motor practice.  I got these big ones at a dollar store.  The small ones are from Lakeshore.

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I ordered a set of these big foam dice from Oriental Trading – they were good and cheap!

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In school I always had plastic tiles, but I found the foam ones are a lot less expensive and should work great with kids at home.  I ordered mine along with the Teddy Bear Counters from Learning Resources.


Here are the game directions that I made into a booklet to include with these math materials.  I hope the kids love them!   Maybe you are still thinking of a different kind of gift for a special child you know too!

Teddy Bear Game Directions

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