Thursday, December 19, 2013

Simplify Preschool: Math

The Montessori mathematics materials are typically not used until around age four. According to the Montessori Primary Guide, "Arithmetic deals with shape, space, numbers, and their relationships and attributes by the use of numbers and symbols. It is a study of the science of pattern and includes patterns of all kinds, such as numerical patterns, abstract patterns, patterns of shape and motion." I think the Golden Beads are really neat, but cost to purchase or the time required to make a set is a little overwhelming. At this point, we are focusing on basic math lessons that can be learned with existing materials.


We count things all the time - M does it naturally now. I was excited when we visited the Christmas display for the new train museum and they gave us a scavenger hunt that included counting the number of trains on the display. They also had characters from the Ruldolph movie and Charlie Brown hidden throughout the display for us to find.

Number Recognition

Our advent calendar has been a big help with number recognition this month. Puck, our elf, filled the advent calendar with candy, stickers, stamps and other small treats for us to enjoy each day as we count down to Christmas. The numbers on our calendar do not go in order, so M helps me find the number that corresponds to the date each morning. She can recognize most of the numbers up to 10 now, and I help her with larger numbers by telling her the combination of numerals to look for (so for the 19th I'll tell her to look for a one and a nine together).

I think this will lead us into more calendar activities at the start of the New Year. We started doing some basic review of the days of the week and months of the year, as well as putting the numbers on her magnetic calendar, but that kind of tapered off. I'd like to get back into that in January when we start some more structured activities as well.

Comparing Quantities (more/less)

We volunteer with a local middle school robotics team once a week. Since I taught high school engineering classes, I am familiar with how to program the robots and can help the students write code to control their robots. We recently attended the team's first competition, and M had a lot of fun watching the robots compete. Each competition involves a "game" in which the students compete in teams to score points. In this game, the students had to use their robots to move different colored balls around the field to score points. Different zones on the field were worth different numbers of points, and the larger balls scored more points than the smaller balls. (If you're interested, you can see the full game rules here.)

Aside from the fact that she was being exposed to robotics, team competition, construction, and computer programming, she also learned more directly about comparing quantities through the scoring system. At the end of each match we would count the number of balls of each color that landed in the highest scoring zone to figure out which team scored more points. We also talked about how the larger balls were worth more points than the smaller balls.

In addition, the competition was set up as a tournament. The teams played preliminary matches in the morning and their record determined their ranking for the elimination portion of the competition. They had a screen that showed the current rankings as the competition progressed, and we talked about which team was in first place, second place, and so on.

Obviously not everyone is involved in robotics competitions (although you could be!), but the same concepts could be discussed at almost any sporting event or competition. For example, you could easily discuss how football or basketball teams score points, and how they can score more or less points depending on the situation. Just looking at the score of a game to compare which team scored more points would help with number comparisons.


M knows the names of most common shapes, and likes to find examples of different shapes when we are out. They have a neat Clifford exhibit at the Children's Museum right now that includes this dog house shape sorter.

Here is one of M's favorite games when we are walking downtown - jump on the shapes! She jumped on this row of circles (while I counted) over and over and over. She even received applause from a group of passersby who told her she was "the best jumper they'd ever seen." Wow!


M is a big fan of measuring things. She has her own tape measure that she uses quite a bit, and she also likes to help with measuring cups and spoons while we cook. I bought a postal scale about a year ago so I could weigh and mail packages from home, and M likes to compare the weight of different objects when I leave it out. I like to look at the numbers (weights) with her to compare which number is bigger, and then also have her hold the objects in her hands to feel which object is heavier or lighter.


M is really interested in patterns right now. I made these pattern cards that correspond with her toy cars (I originally made a set as part of a friend's birthday box). This is more of a matching game, but it helps her to practice colors, attention to detail, and checking her work.

We also received this set of foam pattern blocks and cards from M's grandma. She likes finding the matching shapes to create the images on the pattern cards, but really likes just playing around with the different shapes and making her own designs.

We use stamps (below) and stickers to create simple patterns on paper. Sometimes I will start a pattern and see if M can finish it. Other times we will work together to create a pattern. For example, I will take a blue stamp and she takes a green stamp. I will stamp once, then she stamps twice, then we repeat to create the pattern. She seems to understand this idea of "taking turns" to create a repetitive pattern.


We have been using the new pattern blocks to talk about fractions. M likes to use the smaller pattern blocks to make larger shapes. We talked about all of the different ways we could make circles or triangles or squares, and how they used different numbers of parts but all created a final "whole" of the same size. One whole square, two rectangles (halves), or four small squares (quarters) are all equal to each other. This is an easy way to introduce basic fractions in a very visual, hands-on way.

Find more ideas for Unplanned Math Activities here, and don't forget to check out the rest of the Simplify Preschool Series!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Simplify Preschool: Language

Can your child learn to read and write if you don't sit them down with a stack of worksheets and flashcards and early reader primers? I think so. And chances are, they can learn to enjoy reading too! I think the best way to teach reading is to get a child excited about books. When they love books and want to learn to read, then the task of reading becomes relevant. I know I learn skills much faster and more thoroughly when I am choosing to learn the skill rather than being told it is something I have to learn. I am also more determined and willing to overcome challenges when the decisions are in my hands.

I use this same philosophy when it comes to passing on a love of language to my daughter. I want her to choose to read and write because she sees the purpose and finds joy in these activities, not because she feels it is something she is forced to do. We work with letters and letter sounds and read books as long as she is interested, and we take a break when she's not. If she wants to trace letters and make her own books we do that too; if she doesn't, we don't.

Most of our language activities from the past couple of months can be found on these two recent posts:

I don't want to repeat what I've already posted, so instead, I'll give a list of some times and places  when we integrate language games and activties.

Eating Meals

Food packages are covered with words. It's a great opportunity to look for letters or practice sight vocabulary. M recognizes a lot of words from the font or logo on the packaging.

I have also done some letter themed meals. During our B Week, we ate bear-shaped sandwiches, blueberries, and blue milk for lunch.

Driving in the Car

I usually leave the radio off in the car when we are driving. It's one of my favorite times to have conversations with M. She seems to do some of her best thinking while we're driving. She notices things outside, thinks about where we're going or where we've been, or starts some seemingly random conversation. A lot of our past themes have come about because of conversations we had in the car.

I use these opportunities to answer her questions, build her vocabulary, and talk about her interests. In any downtime, we play I Spy games or sing songs.

At the Playground (or anywhere in nature)

M has been really interested in letters lately. She has started seeing letters everywhere - some real letters, and some things that just look like letters. She found round acorns that looked like the letter "o" and sticks in the shape of a "t" or an "x." We also use sticks to write letters or words (like her name) in the dirt.

In a Store (or anywhere with signs)

M has started recognizing the names of different stores that we visit frequently. She also looks for letters on signs. When we were playing downtown recently, she saw some construction signs and said, "Look! A diamond with letters on it! Read it to me!"

The grocery store is a great place to look for letters and words. I point out signs over the aisles, product names on the shelves, and we work together to find items on my shopping list.

Print Materials

Aside from books, there are tons of materials that contain print. Newspapers, magazines, the brochure from the train museum, the program at the Rudolph play, and junk mail that fills our mailbox daily. I try to show M as much as possible so she can see the importance of being able to read and interpret the written word.

Cooking Dinner

M loves to help me cook. I can't cook without a recipe, so she sees me reading cookbooks all the time. I try to show her the format of recipes so she can see different types of writing. She helps me round up all of the ingredients, and I read the recipes to her so she can help me follow the directions.

We also keep a set of magnetic letters and the LeapFrog word builder on the fridge for her to play with while I cook. She can recognize most of the letters and knows most of their sounds. She asks me to spell words for her so she can "write" them on the fridge.

In the Bathtub

I think most people have foam letters and numbers in their bathtubs. It's another great opportunity to practice letter recognition (where did the "G" go?) or to write words on the walls of the tub. We also have some bath books that M likes to "read" (often to her other bath toys).



M looks forward to reading stories at bedtime every night. Of course it's not the only time we read, but it's a reliable part of our day that she looks forward to. She chooses whatever three (or sometimes four) books she wants to read. She sometimes chooses books that she has heard many times and asks to read to me. I try to have a variety of books available for her to choose from, so we have grown a fairly large collection of children's books in addition to the books we borrow from the library.

Most of M's books are stored on the lower shelves of the bookcase in her room so she can access them herself. As an added bonus, she has started choosing books to look at in the morning when she wakes up, allowing me to sleep in a little later!

Check out the rest of the Simplify Preschool series here!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Simplify Preschool: Sensorial

Sensorial activities help children explore and make observations in their environment by using their senses. Children (and all people) do this naturally as they learn about their surroundings. In the past I have created sensory bins (like this transportation bin or these space-themed bins), but there are so many opportunities to make use of the everyday objects around you as well. To continue the "Simplify Preschool" theme, here are some unplanned sensorial activities.


There is so much to see around us! Colors, shapes, patterns...I find that just taking the time to slow down and give M time to make observations is so helpful. She comes up with some amazing questions when she has time to watch what's happening around her. Fall is a great time to go outside and look at the changing colors of leaves or watch the birds, squirrels and other woodland creatures that are more visible as the leaves fall from the trees. We also took a visit to the Museum of Art to look at their collections. M was especially interested in the sculptures, and enjoyed looking at the different shapes and colors in the artwork.

Above: Watching water drip at The Children's Museum, painting with golf balls at Creating Artists for Tomorrow, exploring the colors and sounds of fall at Paris Mountain State Park, and watching the colored fountains at Falls Park

Below: Exploring colors of the rainbow


I cringe when I hear people telling their kids "Don't Touch!" all the time. Sure, there are certainly things that kids don't need to be touching, but I feel like it's so important to create an environment that minimizes things that are off limits. I like to purposely put out objects that M will enjoy exploring - different textures and materials for her to feel. There are also so many things in nature to touch, like the different types of bark on trees, hard rocks, soft moss, crunchy leaves, pointy pine cones.

Art projects that involve different textures and materials are a great way to let kids explore their sense of touch. Below you can see M squishing paint under pieces of plastic, painting on bubble wrap, painting on a tree (at Creating Artists for Tomorrow), finger painting, sculpting with play-doh and miscellaneous materials (candles, pipe cleaners, beads, marbles), creating art with natural materials, and sculpting with pipe cleaners on a colander.

Aside from art, it's fun to just take time to explore materials. Below are pictures of M popping bubble wrap with her feet, feeling the breeze in a wind tunnel and on a swing, feeling soft decaying pumpkins, and playing and splashing at a water table.


Taste is one of the more difficult senses to explore right now because M has become really picky with the types of foods she is willing to try. I don't force her to eat anything that she doesn't want to eat, but I do offer lots of different types of foods and suggest that she take at least one bite of each food to determine what she likes and doesn't like. M is more of a grazer when it comes to eating, so I try to offer small bites of different foods for her to snack on throughout the day.

M is a huge fan of smoothies, so she now helps to choose what kinds of fruit we will add. Halloween was also a fun time to compare the taste of different types of candy - sweet, sour, hard, chewy, minty, crunchy. 


I typically think of cooking when I think of smells, and I try to include M in as much cooking as possible. She smells the herbs and spices as we add them to meals, and smells (and tastes) foods as we cook them.

We also try to take time to appreciate the scents in nature - flowers, pine trees, freshly cut grass. (Apparently I don't take pictures of her smelling things... go figure.)


The sense of sound. Birds chirping, airplanes flying overhead, music that makes you want to dance. We do a lot of singing, dancing and playing instruments at our house. We have "dance parties" at least once a day, and play "marching band" several times per week. M especially enjoys recruiting house guests to join her marching bands as she leads them in circles around our house. We like to borrow CDs from the library, and M especially enjoyed Elmo & The Orchestra (check for the mp3 songs for a cheaper option). I liked how they highlighted the different sections of the orchestra as well as introducing several well known symphonies.

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Check out the rest of the Simplify Preschool series here!