Nana Camp – Bear Week!

brown bear pics

Brown Bear, Brown Bear was a fun way to start our bear week.  I found these wonderful pictures on pinterest – check out the site to download them if you’d like!  I put magnets on the back and had Nora and Max put them up on the board as we read the story.  We reread it all week!

Brown Bear Strip copy

I reduced the pictures and printed them off in a strip.  The kids cut them apart and helped put a small magnet on the back of each of their pictures.


Another fun idea from Pinterest – on the site they glued a strip of velcro along the length of a paint stir stick, I only had sew-on velcro so I used magnets instead.


I think I will be able to reuse this stick to retell other stories too!  They loved having their own small version.

Memory bear

I copied these images onto cardstock and we played Memory.  I colored mine but if you want the children to concentrate more on the shapes than just colors you could use them in black and white.  Or it might be fun to ask the children to remember what color each animal was in the story.

Goldilocks and the 3 Bears!

3 Bears song magnets1

3 Bears song magnets2

I read a couple of versions of the 3 Bears story, and used these pictures to retell it on the magnet board.  I taught the children a simple song that told the highlights of the story too.

Song – 3 Bears – tune of 3 Blind Mice

3 Brown Bears

3 Brown Bears

See all the beds

See all the chairs

The mama cooked in a big round pot

The papa’s porridge was much too hot

The baby bear always cried a lot,

3 Brown Bears

After singing it all week I made a book for the children using this song and the pictures from the magnet board.

Bear song book1

Bear song book2

Bear song book3

Bear song book4

Because they had been singing it with the pictures they could turn the pages and “read” it too.  Nora was even pointing to some of the words.

Goldilocks copy

I made a Goldilocks pointer for each of them by gluing her onto a popsicle stick.

Bears Bed copy

We had fun playing 5 Bears in the Bed too.

smaller bears

I enlarged these a little for my magnet board, and copied these for the children to color.  Nora cut her own.

Bears in bed

You probably know this song (chant)

5 bears in the bed and the little one said

I’m crowded, roll over

So they all rolled over and one fell out

4 bears in the bed …

1 bear in the bed and the little one said

I’m lonely!

We sang it with hand motions and took the bears off the bed as we sang it every day too.


Of course we had to do it with Teddy Grahams too!


We used our new table for pudding paint.  The kids helped me mix up some instant chocolate pudding.  I put a few spoonfuls on the tray and let them play – and then lick their fingers!

pudding bear

When they had had enough fun we made a print of the pudding by laying this bear shape onto the pudding and gently pressing it down.


I wanted to cut out the bear shape but decided I liked the words at the top too!

It was a Bear-y fun week!  (sorry)


Nana Camp – Learning about Shapes!



I take care of my two youngest grandchildren, Nora and Max, while their parents work.  Nora will be 4 in August and Max is 2 1/2.   I decided it might be helpful to have a little structure for a small part of our day together, so last week I started Nana Camp.  So far they have been loving it – just the routines and songs and games make that time in the morning a little special.  For the first week our theme was shapes.  Nora was already pretty confident and Max knew a few but they both had fun with the activities.  I even made up lesson plans (guess who misses teaching a bit?)

Nana Camp ideas

We start each day with a special handshake – I shared all these in a previous post about greetings and celebrations if you are interested!  Then we have a visit from Rosco – again the details of Rosco are explained in a post under the Language Arts section.  Each day Rosco (a large dog puppet) brings an alphabet letter, and the children do something simple with him that begins with the letter – we ate apples for A, bounced a ball for B, played catch the cow for C, etc.  He gives them a big lick and a cut out letter to take home.

Next I brought out my little critter puppet – and named him Shape Monster.


I cut out felt shapes and put them on the flannel board.  Each day we concentrated on one shape and learned a song about it.

Shape songs

Every day we chanted off the words to the Shape Monster book, this was something I did with my Kindergartners and just adapted for my little ones.

As we said the words “Shape Monster, shape monster, munch!  munch!  munch!  How about a red circle for your lunch?”  I chose one of the kids to come and take the red circle down from the flannelboard and “feed” it to Shape Monster.  This puppet does have a slit in the back of his mouth so he can “swallow.”  Each day Shape Monster ate each of the shapes, and Nora colored the page in the Shape Monster book.  The rest of each day’s activities emphasized one shape.

Shape Monster 1

Shape Monster 2

Shape Monster 3

We only spend about 10-15 minutes doing these things, but then I brought out some other activities during the day.  As you see in my ‘lesson plan’ we had a different shaped snack each day.  I also made a road in each of the shapes that I brought out one at a time because Max loves matchbox cars.

IMG_3881 (1)

I cut these out of black foam and used white-out to write the dotted lines.  I made another set out of the stiff kind of gray felt and used a marker for the lines.


For circles I introduced Bingo markers, can’t believe I hadn’t let the kids play with those before!  They were a staple in Kindergarten.


As I was scrolling through Pinterest ideas about shapes I came upon the idea of a Tuff Spot.  It came from England – basically a washable tray that you can use for everything from play-dough and shaving cream to sand, rice or paint.  I found a version on Amazon and my husband built a stand for it out of PVC pipe.


Here the children are cutting play-dough circles.  The shiny surface is a piece of sparkly poster-board I cut to fit because we used this on the 4th of July and I wanted the stars they were cutting to look sparkly!  I also put glitter into the play-dough.  Most of the week we have used this outside but it is really easy to take in or out.  Of course you don’t need a special table for any art activities but it is fun.


For squares the children put together a square man – I precut the squares but I am trying to find more opportunities to let them cut.  Nora handles scissors pretty well but Max is a novice!  They used a glue stick pretty independently.  I wondered how Max would put his together but he really took his cue from Nora.

IMG_4018 (2) 2

I wanted to emphasize the 3 sides of the triangle so they counted 3 tongue depressors and we glued them together.  Then they used a Sharpie (don’t tell their mom but they didn’t get it on their clothes) to draw shapes and then watercolor painted over them.


For rectangles I gave each of them a clean sponge and took a tub with a small amount of water in it out onto our driveway.  I showed them how to squeeze it out a bit so when they made a print it was in the shape of a rectangle.  They loved this!


Another day I drew shapes on the driveway and we played several games running around and stepping on the shapes while we yelled out the names.

Nora is interested in sight words so I put out the words ‘I, see, a” in a pocket chart.  This is one of those $1 pocket charts I bought at Target and again my handy husband made a frame from pvc pipe.  I set the words out to make a sentence by putting a different shape at the end.  I see a circle, etc.  She loved using the pointer to read it.



I hope you are enjoying summer time and the little people in your life too!


Pat the Bunny Party!


Please indulge this blessed Nana while I share a little more about my precious grandchildren!

We recently celebrated Nora’s first birthday with a Pat the Bunny party!   Her Mom made these cute invitations, using fiberfill under the bunny cut out.

We planned a game for each page of the book.  I was thinking that many of these activities could be used to reinforce 5 senses too!

Directions for games10

Directions for games2

Please overlook the chewed on bunny page, Nora did a little teething on my book!

Pat bunny times

I got these giant fly swatters at the Dollar Store.


Directions for games 3


Sharpies worked well for decorating the outside of the styrofoam cups.

Directions for games4

Here are the pictures we used to match the smells.

I used baby food jars to make the smelling containers.  I punched holes in the lids and covered them with a strip of construction paper.

smell pictures


Directions for games5

I found these stick on glasses, mustaches, etc. online and bought an unbreakable mirror at the Dollar Store.


scratchy face dirWe made cut outs on the ends of a large cardboard box for the children to climb through.  On the inside of the box we attached bubble wrap, sandpaper, corrugated cardboard and cotton batting for the children to feel.


Directions for games6

Here are the pages for the books we made.  I just stacked all the pages and cut through them all and stapled them to make individual books for each child.  Some of the guests could do their own writing, parents wrote for the others.

Book to read

Book to read4 

Book to read3 

Book to read2 


Directions for games7 


Directions for games8 

Okay, I was stretching things a bit for the Bye Bye page!  Put they liked knocking down the cans. 



Nora had a wonderful time at her party – oh, and she loved her new wagon too!


DSC_0340 - Version 2


Delightful Dinosaur Day

Dinosaurs are fun!

I am always on a campaign to bring more fun to early childhood.  I am very familiar with the amount of curriculum and expectations that govern the time young children spend at school, but I just really believe that teachers need to advocate for play and fun.  I shared a book we made about dinosaurs in an earlier post, now I am sharing a parent/child activity day that my kindergartners loved.  I think these parent/child days are one of the most effective ways to educate parents about how children learn and things they can do with their child at home.  If you are new to my blog, please check out other parent/child activities like Cowboys, Outer Space, Transportation, Oceans, and Pirates.

Here is our invitation:


When I planned these special days (or evenings) I tried to include activities from many areas of the curriculum, language arts, science, math, and social studies.  We usually began the day by showing a little of our every day circle time routines, then we did a fun song, story or poem that got parents and children actively involved.   For Dinosaur Day I passed around a basket that contained simple dinosaurs cut from construction paper, and everybody took one – parents and kids.  Then as we sang this song, they stood up and did the motion.

Tune – If You’re Happy and You Know It

Printable version:

If you have ..

Then we did an enthusiastic version of  Dino Pokey (think Hokey Pokey!)  I really encouraged parents to get up and do this with the kids.  I always practiced it the day before with the children.
 Dino Pokey

Here are some very simple clipart pictures of these dinosaurs:

5 dinos clips

Next I quickly went over the activities that were available, passed out a check off list, and gave each child a paper bag to collect his/her work as they went between the classrooms.  We usually decorated the bags ahead of time.

I repeated this parent/child activity many times and usually changed a few activities, but here is a simple description of the activities from one year.

description of activities

I also found a list of things to do in my files, so I thought I’d share that too!

I printed directions for each activity and posted them on 3 sided signs on the tables containing the materials for the project or game.  Here is a picture to show what the 3 sided signs looked like:

I didn’t save all of these directions, but here are a few.

activity directions

Some activities required a recording sheet, like Bronto Boats.  The children placed small dinosaurs in different colored boats, after predicting which boat would hold the most dinos.  They recorded their results on this paper (2 on the page).

Bronto Boats

We also play Dinosaur Soduku

Dino Soduku

The kids made up a dinosaur story with a beginning, middle and end.

Here is an assortment of dinosaur clipart:

dinos clipart

More clipart


This boy was tossing beanbags into the swampy basket!

Check out the stegosaurus hat – they glued spikes to a piece of adding machine tape that went down their back and was fastened to a headband.  We put a stegosaurus head on the headband.

Here are a few more resources that I found in my files.  I hope you find something you might be able to use.


Here are a few songs and poems about dinosaurs!

I hope you find some time to play dinosaurs with your class too!


Choosing a Preschool

I never realized how complicated choosing a preschool can be!  Owen’s mom has been researching and visiting schools, and pondering this important decision for the past few weeks.  I have gone along on a few classroom visits, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about how to choose a preschool too,  it can be overwhelming for parents who are trying to make the best choice for their child.

A few years ago one of my professional goals was to build relationships between early childhood teachers in our school district and local preschools.  I began by sending questionnaires to Kindergarten parents asking their opinion about the preschools their children had attended.  Overwhelmingly parents were very positive about their child’s experience at preschool, which was great to hear.  I think that takes some pressure off parents making this decision – most children have a good experience.  But this personal decision is very emotional, as well as financial and practical.

I love hearing from teachers who have read this blog, and I know you are all professional and very capable of evaluating a program on your own.  I also know that providing a program that parents will choose is important because preschools are a business that depends on tuition paid enrollments.  Before I went to visit preschools with my daughter-in-law I needed to sit down and think through what I thought was important.  When I was teaching, parents would ask me for preschool recommendations every year.  Maybe this post will give you a few ideas if parents ask you too!

I recommend starting this process by making a few important decisions:

-Compile a list of possible schools

-Decide how far you are comfortable driving to take your child to and from school

-Set a limit for the amount you feel you can pay for a program, check to see if you are eligible for Head Start or a subsidized program.

-Decide if a specific type of program is a priority for you.  Here is a link to some very simple definitions of different programs and terms you might come across.  I found these definitions online – if you have more or conflicting information about one of these, please share that with all of us.


Think about your goals for your child in preschool, are you looking for a socially based program or more rigorous academics?  A co-op or day care?  Faith based or Montessori?  There is not one answer that fits all children and families.  What matters most is that the preschool experience helps your child gain an appreciation of what school is like and a positive attitude toward school.

-Think about how much time you’d like your child to spend at preschool – how many days per week, how many hours each school day.

-Then, if possible, talk to neighbors and friends whose children attend these schools.

Hopefully answering those questions will help you cross some programs off the list you created, and steer you toward a few schools you would like to visit.

My daughter-in-law told me she found plenty of check lists online about what to look for when she visits preschools, but most of them gave her questions to ask, but not how to evaluate the answers she was given.  Here is a link to one checklist I found online – there are lots if you take a little time to search.


Here are some basic guidelines from NAEYC.

Today I would just like to share some of my thoughts about what to look for and things you might ask when you are choosing a preschool.  Basically there are 3 parts to each preschool – the people, the place and the program.  So I broke down questions I would ask, and my thoughts about what makes a quality preschool, among these 3 categories.

The People

-What are the qualifications of the staff?  I would look for preschool teachers and assistants to have some early childhood training.  In our area most preschool teachers have a 2 year degree.  Years of experience working with young children is often more valuable than a 4 year degree to teach high school.

-What is the staff turnover?  If teachers don’t stay long that might indicate problems among the staff or dissatisfaction with the school.

-Who is in charge?  How comfortable are you speaking with the director?  I think it is important for teachers to understand and be able to explain why they are doing specific activities with the children.  You should feel very comfortable speaking with the director of the program.

– What is the adult/child ratio?  NAEYC’s guideline is one adult for every 7 children aged 2 1/2 to 3; with a limit of 14 children in a class.  For ages 3-5 the ratio should be about one to ten, and up to 20 in a class.

-What is the age range of the children in the class?  In a 3 year old class, what is the cutoff for entry – must they be 3 to enter the program?  How many children will begin the class as a 2 1/2 year old, and how many will start the same program at age 3 1/2?

Some things you might notice about the teacher:

She should relate to the children at their level as much as possible

She should be warm and affectionate with the chidlren

She should communicate through conversations, not commands

It would be great if she delights in the projects, the play and the children’s interactions

Research shows that strong positive relationships with a teacher can predict children’s cognitive advancement at preschool.  (They don’t care what you know until they know that you care!)

I came across a YouTube video of Vivian Paley, the well known author, Kindergarten Teacher and play advocate.  She begins this short speech talking about the importance of imaginative play and ends talking about the special relationship between a teacher and child – it’s worth watching if you have a few minutes!

Vivian Gussin Paley at 92Y Wonderplay Conference 2008

The Place

– Is the preschool licensed by the State or Social Services?

Preschools meet in elementary schools, church basements, and free standing buildings.  Many preschool classrooms were not built specifically for that purpose, and which leads to a lot of creative storage solutions and challenging bathroom situations.  When a preschool is licensed you know that the facility, materials, and general practices have been checked for health and safety, and approved.  They adhere to an appropriate teacher/child ratio and teachers have the required credentials.

-Do you have a good feeling when you go into the classroom?

-Check for general cleanliness and organization.   Clutter and disorganization can affect some children negatively.  When you look at the classroom from your child’s point of view it should be welcoming and friendly.  All visible materials should be there for the children to use each day.  Stored items should be out of sight, behind doors or curtains if possible.

-There should be adequate toys and play items for the amount of children.  These materials should be clean, safe and in easy reach of little people.

-Materials and shelving should be labeled so the children can clean up independently.  That is an important skill for them to be working on in preschool.

-Is the bathroom easily accessible?  Are children allowed to go to the bathroom whenever they need to, or do they have to wait and go as a group?  Are sinks located close to the bathroom and accessible for children?  Are sinks available in the room to for hand washing before snack or after messy projects?

-Research also shows a clear relationship between physical play and brain function, as well as long-term health benefits.  Is there room for kids to run around?  Do they have a climbing structure, tricycles, balls?

-Are outside play spaces safe and fenced?

-Is the parking lot safe?  How far do you have to walk (maybe bringing along younger siblings!) to get into the building?

-A few programs offer drop off service, where a staff member or volunteer greets your car and helps your child out, and into the building.  This can be very convenient, but you also miss out on the chance to see what activities are set up for the day, have a quick word with the teacher if needed, and help your child get settled for the day.

The Program

Teachers should be able to tell you not only what they do in the classroom, but also why they do it.  In every classroom the time is limited and teachers need to carefully prioritize and choose how to use this precious time.  For every thing you choose to do, you must eliminate other things you won’t have time for.

-Do they focus on important social skills like gaining independence, sharing and following directions?  Do they incorporate activities designed to help children delay gratification and wait for their turn?

-Do they plan concrete activities because they know that children learn best through hands-on, active learning that engages their senses and emotions?   How much time is spent on coloring sheets and worksheets?

-Do they encourage collaboration, interaction and discussion?  Cognitive and social development are enhanced when children work to discover the hows and whys of their actions.  Today Owen was using my warming tray to melt crayons and “discovered” that blue and yellow make green.  He was so excited – we’ve read Leo Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow many times, but it wasn’t real to him until he accidentally mixed the colors on his own.

-Can the teacher describe or give examples about how they promote problem solving and creative thinking?

-Are children allowed to choose some of their activities each day?  Children benefit most from open-ended materials like blocks and construction toys, play dough, dress up and dramatic play, and creative art supplies.  These should be available for a good portion of time every day.  When teachers step in to take a role in the play it is even more valuable.  Sometimes free choice activities are mostly games or materials designed by teachers to fulfill an objective.  The children are really self directed if they are allowed to choose what to play with, and how they would like to use the materials.

-How is play woven into the day?  Do they encourage imaginative, pretend play?  Are there opportunities for physical play?

-Do they include lots of rich literature and story telling?  Do they usually follow up reading with discussions, role playing or retelling, or projects that relate to the story?  Developing comprehension skills is a vital step in learning to read, and it begins when children are engaged and involved in stories they hear.

-Do they integrate letters and numbers into play as well as routines of the day?  Some parents tend to evaluate a preschool based on how many numbers and letters their child is learning.  Research from NAEYC shows that children who recognize at least 8 letters when they enter Kindergarten are usually successful in school.  When preschools spend a lot of time focusing on letters and numbers they do not have time for many of these other rich, valuable experiences.  This is especially important in a class of 3 year olds who will be exposed to letters and numbers over and over before they reach first grade.  One of the best ways to encourage children to learn letters and numbers is to show them how they are used – letters in their name, letters in words around the room – like “on and off” on the light switch, and “open and closed” on doors, numbers on the clock or a telephone, etc.

-Are they open to unannounced visits from parents?  Do they ask you to call before stopping in to observe or pick up your child?

-What is their discipline policy?  I think discipline is an opportunity to teach.  Of course teachers must keep every child safe and they often need to stop inappropriate behavior.  In order to help the child learn to make better choices the teacher needs to be sure the child understands what (s)he did wrong, and help the child come up with some ideas of better ways to handle the situation.

I don’t think any parent will find a perfect preschool program.  When you choose from the list of schools that fit your basic needs you are looking for the best fit for your child.  As a parent you can help your child love preschool by always talking about the school and the teacher in very positive terms.  When you are excited and eager to hear about what goes on every day, your child is likely to love it too!


Dear Future Teacher …

Owen’s parents are thinking about preschool.

I know it would be great for him.  I want him to love it.  I sure will miss him!

Seriously, how can I be feeling sad about this when he won’t possibly go until next year?

Change has never been easy for me!  I loved every stage of my own children and never wanted them to grow up!  But of course they did.  And then I found out how much fun it is to be a grandmother!  I always say I am the luckiest Nana in the whole world.   My wonderful son and daughter-in-law generously let me invade all the time, and willingly share all the exciting marvelous wonderful things these three little beings do.  And this time around I have all the time I want, to listen and play and just be with them.  See how lucky I am?

So with the whole issue of choosing a preschool being discussed I have started thinking and reading about how to choose the right preschool.  It can be overwhelming!  I will be writing more about that process very soon – but today I wrote a letter.  It is written to Owen’s future preschool teacher, telling her a little of what I hope he will find in her classroom.

I know that preschools are a business.  In a sense they are in competition with other preschools, so they must make some decisions based on gaining students.  Parents approach this whole process of education in so many different ways.  Some parents demand a preschool that will push academic subjects and they are happy with worksheets and homework.  I understand this, but I also think that all early childhood teachers are responsible for educating parents about child development and how children learn too.

I started thinking about what I would want in a preschool for Owen (and I do realize that it is not my decision, his parents are very capable!)  At three Owen already recognizes upper and lower case letters — he learned them through everyday experiences, like looking at STOP signs and reading alphabet books, and talking about what is on his cereal box in the morning.  He knows sounds too – I’m not really sure how he learned those!  He was interested, he asked questions, luckily he had lots of people ready to respond to him.  He LOVES numbers.  He notices them everywhere – on piled up warehouse boxes at Costco, on weather forecasts, and on his favorite matchbox cars (he calls any car with a number on it a race car!)   I know he doesn’t need a preschool that focuses on drilling letters and sounds.

Research conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children has shown that children who enter kindergarten knowing at least 8 letters are usually successful.  That means they know important letters – like the ones in their name and a few others – maybe the T of Target and M of McDonalds.  It certainly won’t hurt them to learn about letters and numbers in preschool – but I hope that doesn’t become the focus of what goes on.  Especially for children like Owen who have a late fall birthday.  We have a Dec. 1 cutoff date, and I have encouraged his parents not to send him to school when he is still 4.  If he does wait, and goes to preschool 2 years, and then Kindergarten – I am concerned that he will be taught and retaught letters and numerals that he already knows!

So why should he go to preschool now?  I think he needs to be with peers – his little sisters are quickly growing into worthy play partners, but they are younger and littler.   I think he would love all the experiences and fun of going to school.  Anyway, all this thinking is what led me to write this silly little letter to Owen’s future preschool teacher.  I would love to pin it to his shirt on that first day of school, but I won’t.  I will share it with you, some of you will be meeting, hugging, playing with other Owen’s next year.  Maybe you will take a minute to listen to one child’s Nana.

Here is a printable version in case it is too small to read on screen!

Future Teacher