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.

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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.

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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!





I was very excited to have a chance to visit Owen’s preschool classroom last week.  They will be visiting a local farm later this month, and since Owen’s favorite animals  (and stuffed animals) are sheep, I decided to read a sheep story and share some facts about sheep with his class.

In my classroom, and now in my basement, I kept my teaching puppets in a castle that my husband built for me.  So I decided to make a traveling castle to carry my puppets into school.


I always try to bring my puppets out “alive,” already on my hand and ready to interact with children.  I love how effective puppets are at capturing children’s interest and attention, and I have fun too!

I started out telling the class how much Owen loves sheep and so I decided to bring my sheep puppet to visit with them.  But when I opened up the castle box (from the back) and brought out the puppet they all laughed.


I had a conversation with my puppet, Critter, and he tried to convince me that he was a sheep because he had a furry coat, but then he remembered that it is really called wool – not fur.

Then he told me that he really was a sheep because sheep only have teeth on the bottom, and he opened his mouth to show us.


He also said that sheep have 2 toes on each foot.


Then he shared the fact that sheep can see almost all the way around, and that he could see me, sitting behind him, without even turning his head!  I loved how engaged all the children were listening to these facts about sheep.  Then he told me that sheep are really good at smelling and he sniffed a few kids.  He asked them if they had been eating grass or flowers or clover, because those are his favorite foods and he was really hungry.  Then I told him that I was sure he could not be a sheep because sheep have 4 stomachs.  Critter insisted that he does have 4 stomachs, and opened up his wooly coat (telling us that sheep get their coats taken off in the springtime) to show his 4 stomachs underneath.


Then Critter told the children that sheep’s favorite game is Follow the Leader.  Whenever one sheep starts going somewhere the whole group (flock) follows after him.  Then I put Critter back into the castle box, and brought out Roxy Heart.


Roxy talked to me and asked who the children were, and if they were smart.  I told her that they were very smart and Roxy noticed what a great job they were doing all sitting on their bottoms.  She asked the class if they liked her dress, and told them that her mama had just made it for her.  The children noticed that it has sheep on it and Roxy told them it was because she was an expert about sheep and knows more than anyone!  She told them that sheep have a special coat and it’s called … and the children shouted out “wool!”  She turned around and stared at them and told them that they are really smart!  She continued starting to tell the kids facts about sheep that they had just heard from Critter, and she was amazed at all they knew.   So it was a review about 2 toes on each foot, teeth only on the bottom, 4 stomachs, etc.   Her mouth dropped open, she jumped up and down, and she almost fainted when they knew the facts she was trying to share!

Then she told them that she had something special in her purse and pulled out a small bottle of perfume.  She told them that she had perfume because sheep smell good.  I stopped her and said “Roxy, sheep live on a farm and they get really dirty!  I don’t think they smell good!”  Then I pretended to figure out that she meant that sheep are good at smelling.  We talked about how they CAN smell well, but they don’t smell good!  Then she said she wanted to go to the farm and play the sheep’s favorite game, and all the kids yelled “Follow the Leader!”  Roxy went back into the box after being amazed at the smartest preschoolers in the whole world.

I showed the class the book Where is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox, but instead of reading it, I enlarged the pictures on cardstock and told it as a magnet story.  Some of the children noticed that there are many opposites in this book.


It lent itself very well to a magnet story because of the structure of the words.  It begins “Here is the blue sheep.  And here is the red sheep.  Here is the bath sheep, and here is the bed sheep.  But where is the green sheep?”  So it worked very well to put out the first 4 pictures, and then take them off as I asked the question.  This was the pattern throughout the book, and the children quickly chimed in with some of the opposites and asking the question “Where is the green sheep?”


After the story I passed out a sheep stick puppet to each child and we acted out some of the motions – here is the high sheep, and here is the low sheep.  Here is the jumping sheep and here is the still sheep.  After leading the children this way for a few minutes I chose a child (okay – I shamelessly chose Owen!) to take a turn leading the group with motions.  I encouraged him to do 3 motions that we would repeat and follow – using the patterned words from the book “here is the _______ sheep” and then he chose another child to lead.  The preschoolers did a wonderful job listening and participating, and did not get upset when we didn’t have time for everyone to have a turn!  It was a fun time, I have missed sharing the wonderful combination of puppets and stories with children.




I think I first fell in love with puppets when my father helped me make some for an elementary school project.  We made paper mache heads over tennis balls, then painted the faces.  We glued fabric to a hole in the bottom of the heads for clothes.  I’m really not sure if it was because of the puppet fun, or the special time with my Daddy – but I was hooked!

I didn’t make puppets like those with my own children, but I did a paper mache project every year in Kindergarten!

Anyway, when I began teaching Kindergarten I knew that I wanted to use puppets in my classroom.  I loved every puppet I saw and soon realized that I needed to start finding a way to use them in order to justify buying so many!   I read lots of books about using puppets, and attended several conferences.  I saw for myself that it really doesn’t matter what kind of puppet you use, it is the connection you make between yourself and the puppet, and the puppet and the children – that makes it effective and fun.

One person who really impressed me was Joyce Davis.  She owned and ran a preschool in Toledo, OH based on science and puppets.  I attended many of her presentations, and always came away even more excited about using puppets as wonderful teaching tools.  Check out her blog – Joyce Davis and Puppets.   Joyce would put large jiggly eyes on different kinds of squash and use them as puppets – I would find myself leaning forward, laughing and falling in love with the squash!!  One year we hired her to do a presentation for our kindergarten classes.  She went out in the field behind our school and found plants and insects and included them in her presentation.  But the best part of Joyce is how she interacts with the puppets.  Thank you Joyce!!

Many years ago Joyce published a booklet and some videos with tips about working with puppets, I don’t think they are available any longer – but I have used them a lot!  Joyce recommended finding a way for your puppets to “come out alive.”  She used a picnic basket and would reach in, put her hand into the puppet, and bring it out ready to interact.  I tried many things in my own classroom, finally my husband built me a special castle to keep my teaching puppets in.

Sorry, I couldn’t find any pictures of my classroom with the castle, now it is in my basement!  The front was just a fake door with neat hardware, the back had an upper door and a lower door.  I placed the castle so when I opened the back to get a puppet out the children could not see me or the puppet until I was ready!

The castle is tall but not large – I didn’t have enough floor space in my room – maybe 12-15 inches on each side.  My talented daughter in law Sheri, (mother of Owen and the new twins) painted nursery rhymes on plexiglass for the pretend stained glass windows on the sides.

Please don’t feel like you can’t use puppets well without a special place to keep them, or expensive puppets.  Joyce also glued jiggly eyes and yarn on wooden spoons and she made those simple puppets come alive!  I really did not like teaching about recycling – just didn’t find it fun, until I glued eyes on a metal can, milk jug, rolled up newspaper, etc.  It made it all so much more fun!  Stock up on jiggly eyes!  Joyce also showed how to take stuffing out of almost any stuffed animal and turn it into a puppet.

I learned that it is really helpful to create a unique personality for each puppet.  I practiced trying to do different voices, but really was not good at that – and it didn’t matter to my kids.  But I did find a way to make each puppet an individual with their own special personality.  I also used each puppet to teach a different skill.

Rosco was the first puppet I used during the school year, and he came to teach alphabet recognition.  As I talked to Rosco the first time I had him keep trying to lick my face.  He brought a paper letter for each child, and did a very short activity for the letter – we ate apples for A, bounced a ball for B, etc.  then he gave each child a paper letter and licked their cheek with his suede tongue.  If their name began with that letter he licked them twice.  I wrote out details in another blog entry if you are interested.  When I would go to get him out of the castle I would be very dramatic and kept telling the kids – “You won’t believe what he’s doing today!”  before they saw him.  The children really responded to Rosco, and wrote letters to him throughout the year – he had his own mailbox at the writing center.  It amazed me that they wrote to him all year, even though he usually only visited the first few weeks of the school year.

This is Erma Louise, she visited our room to teach Letter Sounds.  Erma has a speech problem – she stutters and repeats the beginning sound of some words – it helps the children realize that the first letter is an important clue when you are decoding a word – and helps them begin to stretch sounds.

Sally Snail was a bit shy, she would pull her head into her shell.  She also talked and moved VERY SLOWLY.  She talked so slowly that she stretched out the words so you could hear every sound, she helped teaching segmenting and blending.

Alpha the alligator loved to growl – he has a squeezie noise maker inside – and he would love to try to nibble the children.  He came to help teach the difference between beginning sounds and rhymes, and during the time we were learning to write using sounds.  He has his own song that we sang when he came to visit.  I will be including more details about many of these puppets in blogs about emergent reading and writing.

Kelby Kangaroo came to reinforce beginning sounds.  Each day she would have something in her pocket that begins with the sound we were studying.  The children would guess what it might be, she would respond – “That starts with B, but it’s not what is in my pocket!”   Finally she would give clues if they did not guess.

This is Archibald Bertram Cornelius – actually he has 26 names, one for every letter of the alphabet.  He is a vulture with a wonderful pointed nose that was terrific for pointing and tracing letters to show how to write them correctly.  Archibald taught the children that you always start at the TOP, he would point his nose toward the ceiling and say it joyfully!  It wasn’t long before the puppet began asking the children where to start writing a letter, they would point their little noses at the ceiling and sing out – At the top!!

This is Calvin, he helps teach sight words.  He has his own little backpack.  When he comes to visit he loves to talk about the subject we have been studying but he always makes mistakes – he will talk about the 4 senses, or make obvious mistakes that the children LOVE to correct.

This is Sam the Lamb, who helps to teach rhyming.  He brings a xylophone he calls the rhyme chime and rings it when he hears 2 words that rhyme.

This is Leroy, he helps teach 5 senses.  Each time he visited he could not use one of his body parts – eyes were covered, ear muffs, etc.

This is Roxie Heart, I actually bought her from Joyce Davis.  Roxie has a large wardrobe of dresses that go with different themes, and a purse to match each.  Roxie thinks she is the smartest kindergartner in the world and loves to come to tell children facts about a subject, then she shares the book that she read to learn the facts.  She always has something in her purse that goes along with the facts.  The little dresses were very simple to make, I will post more about them later.

I call this little critter Shape Monster.  He comes to talk about shapes, and the kids love to find things around the classroom that are a certain shape.  If they are the right shape he will eat them!

He has a little slit in the back of his mouth so he can really swallow!  If the kids are trying to fool him and give him a different shape he yells “Patooey!”

This is Grace Mulligan.  She LOVES to read, and comes to share reading strategies with the children.  She brings a purse and shows little props to help the children remember the reading strategies.

Another tip from Joyce was how much impact it has when you turn the puppet to look at you, and stroke it’s fur or hair.  I talk to the puppet directly, and then the puppet also turns to talk to the children.  The kids will talk back to the puppet too!  Sometimes I forget and try to answer a question, kids will say – “I wasn’t asking you!”

I have been asked where I get my puppets.  Many of them are Folkmanis Puppets – check out their website.  They are available at lots of toy stores and book stores too.  They used to offer a fundraiser sale, at my school teachers bought a lot at a reduced price, not to resell but just to use in our rooms.

I also met a lady at many craft shows, her name is Lucy Moore who sells wonderful animal puppets.  The best part of Lucy’s puppets is how well they fit on your arm, and how easily the mouths move, which is really important when you are talking about letters and sounds.  I think Lucy’s whole family is involved in the business, check out her website, search – Lucystoys.  Although the Moore’s live in Alabama they travel for craft shows – I have seen them at several different shows in Michigan.  The quality is great!

Some of my friends have gotten great deals on puppets through Craig’s list and Ebay.

I had another entire set of puppets in my classroom that the children were allowed to use.  These were not available until around October or November, I wanted the children to be excited about puppets because of the ones I used as teaching tools.  I had a puppet theater but did not get it out unless we were specifically retelling a story- or a child had “written” a story.  Most of the time the classroom puppets were friends that went with the children to different centers.  The only centers that banned puppets were art, sand and play dough – so they didn’t get too messy.  I found that the amount of oral language went up so much when the children took a puppet with them to the writing center, or the play house, or math center, etc.  They would talk with the puppet about what they were doing, a group of children would include the puppets in their play.  It was as if they each had a little friend with them, and they talked and talked!

Before I invited the children to use the classroom puppets I did some role playing about the right way to use puppets, they would never bite or yell or any behaviors that kindergartners would not do.  We also talked about treating the puppets nicely and the routine for getting them out, sharing and putting them away.

For storage of these classroom puppets some years I used a puppet tree.  Other times I used those hanging net type circular baskets from IKEA.  Then I found a castle type hanging basket from IKEA and I loved how it reminded the kids of my puppet castle.  Truthfully, a box or basket would work fine.

Working with puppets and children really is almost magical.  The kids pay attention, stay engaged, and interact more than with any other teaching technique I know.  They also make connections back to things we did with puppets all the time.  I would really like to encourage any of you who like puppets but haven’t made the plunge to give it a try!  The kids are totally non-judgmental and you will have so much fun!

I will add more details about how I used these puppets in upcoming blogs about sight words, reading strategies, etc.

Ugggh  – how could I have forgotten Count Hoppy Toad?  It was a toad puppet from Folkmanis, and I made a cape for him that was covered with felt numerals.  He came out to talk about numeral recognition, and the children loved counting – and hopping with him!  I don’t think I have a picture though!

And Zero the Hero!!  I took an old Grover stuffed animal and made a cape for him with a Zero on a superman type shield shape.  I will add a picture!

Try puppets – you will love it!