Friday, July 19, 2013

Ready to Write?

"My 3 year old is learning her letters and numbers, 
is she ready to begin writing?"

My response, links in green:

If you can answer YES to all of the questions above, then your child has the ABILITY to begin writing.

Fine motor coordination/ability often develops much later than cognitive ability. A child's brain will work on building one skill set at a time. Their focus of learning vacillates between cognitive and motor skills. 

Gross motor ability is often mistaken for being an indicator of fine motor skill. This is simply not so. A child may be able to throw a ball with accuracy, but still not be able to feed themselves without dropping food all over the place.

Here is an excellent visual of the 12 stages of Developmental Progression in Children's Writing by Heidi Butkus. I couldn't have done it better, so I'm just linking to her's. I have this laminated on the wall above my desk.

Next to it, I have this Drawing Development in Children chart beautiful illustrated by Susan Donley.

My Miss B's drawing at 3 3/4 years.
Click to open larger for detail

Prior to any type of formal writing, a child must develop upper body muscle strength, trunk stability and gain some mastery of his fine motor skills. Developing the muscles is necessary prior to even picking up a crayon, let alone attempting to write with any accuracy. Much of the necessary development occurs during crawling. 

[Often older children, kindergarten and even higher, who lack upper body muscle, fine motor, trunk stability and crossing-the-midline development, will be instructed to crawl around.]

If the motor skills are in place, then they must still learn the conventions of how to hold on to the writing utensil, apply enough pressure to produce the desired effect, and get it to move in the desired way. All of this takes practice.

good visual to aid understanding of the writing process and fine motor development. - Re-pinned by #PediaStaff.  Visit for all our pediatric therapy pins
[Unable to follow this image to its original source. Link attached to image.]

Even at 1, these two are already using a modified tripod grasp. 
No instruction necessary.
Worksheets are not developmentally appropriate for children under the age of seven. YES, the school districts use them, but it is for convenience and assessment, not because it's right. Worksheets are not engaging, require too fine of dexterity for a child to be successful, and have a right/wrong outcome which can cause a child needing more muscle control to lose interest to the point of shutting down on doing any writing activity. 

'You need to work at staying on [in] the line better,' will shut a child down from wanting to learn how to write. 

Engaging alternatives include:
  • Salt/sand writing
  • Shaving cream writing
  • Paint/gel bag writing
  • Drawing with colored ice cubes
  • Drawing with sticks in the dirt
  • Finger painting
  • Drawing with pencils, crayons, chalk, etc. on a variety of materials/surfaces
  • Painting of any kind
  • Having the child trace with a wet Q-tip over letters or words written on a chalkboard
  • Tracing large letters, sandpaper letters, etc. with a finger
I have salt writing, paint bags, pencils, crayons, chalk and chalk boards inside and outside, Magna Doodles, and white boards readily available for the children to use as they will. They are encouraged to write in some manner all the time, and DO. It's not a curriculum, as much as a way of life, learning through play opportunities.

Frisbee, salt, unsharpened pencil, shape cards
Cards available with my Shape set $1.50 on TPT
During circle time, with the older preschoolers, we have a 5 minute writing time [child-led, so can go on for an hour if they want.] I encourage them to write their name on whichever media they choose, or at least one of the letters. We also have our number and word of the day, and it's a given that these are options as well. 

I do not MAKE them participate, however they are not suppose to randomly scribble. They may DRAW whatever they wish, even if they choose to DRAW a scribble. There is a difference.

I have three early learning goals that I begin upon as soon as a child is old enough to communicate.
  1. The understanding that they should have a purpose every time they pick up a pencil, pen, crayon, paint brush, etc. What are you going to draw? What are you drawing? What did you draw? Usually I will get three different answers on the same drawing until about age 5, which is fine. The goal is to get them THINKING about their PURPOSE. 
  2. The understanding that they have something worthwhile to communicate, that anything they write or draw has meaning. "Tell me about your drawing. May I write this down?" 
  3. The understanding that written words have power. They can tell a story, organize a list, advertise products, provide information, convey meaning, and most importantly, immortalize the child's thoughts.
  • Do they like to draw?
  • Do they ask for you to help them write their name?
  • Do they inquire about print?
  • Do they attempt to write lists, books, menus, etc. during play?
  • Do they ask you to write for them?
  • Do they have stories to tell about their pictures rather than just a statement?

Fine motor tasks can be very frustrating for young children. The success of any new skill set is dependent upon the child's interest and motivation. 

Usually, the first thing a child wants to learn to write is their name. By picking a single letter, the simplest one, to begin upon, you increase the chance of the child's success and interest.


When we begin writing, once I begin to see the indicators listed, then we start with sticks and balls. A, C, E, F, H, I, L, O, P, Q, T, a, b c, d, e, i, l, o, p, q, t, are all letters that can be made with sticks and balls with no cross-overs or looping. 

Q they usually make in the beginning with the line going straight down. It gradually moves to a diagonal, and that's when I know to begin on the cross-over letters and loops.  

Sticks and balls heads outside with us, where it often becomes sticks and rocks, string and leaves, shoes and saucers, etc.. You'd be surprised how many play items can be utilized to create stick and ball/line and circle letters.


Each child is vastly different in temperament, motor skills, cognitive skills and interests. I am not looking for them to reach specific levels of progress within a specific time frame. I simply look for some indication of forward progression. 

That is not to say, however, that skills won't take a backward turn. This is especially true when life upheavals or new paradigm shifts take place for the child. I always work from the place the child is at currently, rather than looking to where they have been, when there is regression, or create any pre-conceived idea of where they SHOULD be. 

None of that matters. 

As with any education, it matters only where the child is AT and where the specific child is currently heading.

If your child IS ready to write, you may be interested in my blog post on Teaching Penmanship.

Tags: writing, fine motor, child, motor, tripod, grasp, drawing, coloring, art, craft, instruction, early, age, progression, pre-writing, write, name,
 letters, formation, letter, number, 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tape Resist Letter Canvases

I totally dropped the ball on Mother's Day and Father's Day gifts this year, since we were spending all of our time outside this spring, so I've been wanting to do an art project that was more a keepsake than our normal process masterpieces.

I think we nailed it! While this is still basically our normal process piece, on canvas, with the first letter of their name resist, makes it a frameable and displayable art work.

I bought the 11 inch x 14 inch canvases at Walmart for $4.97 for a 3 pack. They also had 8 x 10, 12 x 12 and 12 x 16 sizes.

I've been wanting to try the new Frogtape, which is coated with a gel that supposedly won't let the paint seep underneath like the blue painter's tape often will. It caught my curiosity. Since my dad had a commercial painting company I worked at when I was right out of highschool, I knew the limitations of the blue tape and was not a fan.

Most of our activities are process-oriented, and I really didn't hold out much hope that this one would turn out well. However, the Frogtape did an excellent job, even with the children running trucks over it and mushing paint all over.

I used a 2 inch top and bottom margin and 1 1/2 inch side margins to space out the letters and used a craft knife to cut the tape cleanly with a metal straight edge. 

Since I didn't want these to be a mass of gray and brown, we did color mixing in batches. They first painted red, then blue, mixing into purple. I cleaned all the tools, and even took a blowdrier to the paintings to "set" the colors.

Then we moved on to yellow/blue/green after which I cleaned the tools and dried them once again. Then on to red/yellow/orange.

Even the littlest ones participated, but their attention spans only made it through the first set of colors. We will be going back to add the rest of the colors and finish theirs through the week.

The children were asked to choose a different texture tool for each color, but of course kept coming back to their favorites. They did well at sharing between them.

 They were encouraged to work in the white spaces and to cover the canvas, only not all at once with the same color.

The next day, we came back and the children removed the tape. It was a wonderful surprise for them, as we had not done this before. The first question, of course, was if they got to paint inside the letter now. That would be a "no!"

To ensure the white stays white, I sprayed each canvas with clear lacquer 

and added a sawtooth hanger, centered and about an inch down, to the back with super glue.

This was a great activity with a great result.

Tags: painting, art, canvas, preschool, pre-k, daycare, child, care, homeschool, tape, resist, letter, alphabet, process, product, name, mother's day, father's day, grandparent's day, christmas, present 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Our Preschool Art Studio

After years of having art and craft supplies strung throughout the house, this year I took the ground floor spare bedroom and made it into our art studio. It not only serves my students, it serves my own creative endeavors as well.

I can't describe how wonderful it is to have a child suddenly ask, "Can I add glitter to this?" and be able to simply ask, "What color do you want?," reach behind me, and present them with the necessary supply to enhance their creative vision. Every time it happens, I smile and sigh.

This is a LONG posts, so skim it as you will as I have gone over EVERYTHING! If an item is in a different color, it is linked to a project on this blog. 

Most of our projects do not get on here, though.

Let's take a tour...

When you first walk in, the children's art smocks [children's size small/6-8 t-shirts] are hanging on an accordion cup rack. They know to grab one and find a seat, putting on their smocks first thing. Even the littlest ones grab one on their own.

Above that is our sign. The letters are easily removable if I ever decide to change them.

And above that is our dedication space. A lot of people have donated products, materials, and money that have gone into this space, and I wanted to acknowledge their contributions. These are printed out, laminated, and adhered to the wall with spray adhesive.

Our activity table is the top from a dining room set I purchased 20 years ago. It was scratched and well loved, so I sanded, primed and painted it. The chairs were donated by my friend Ledonna Woolsey who went to home care from running a center. 

The two barstools were donated by my clients Heather and Steven Hunt. If the activity is process oriented, then I simply sit back and let them at it. If it is really messy or very involved, then I have my son Jacob sit in with me to assist with keeping an eye on, and helping, the littler ones.

To the left side of the door, I have two of my craft carts that I got at Sam's Club for $30 each. It was a deal, as they usually go for twice that anywhere else.

I plan to get a cabinet or shelving to go above it. On top it holds a container that has tubes - toilet paper, paper towel, etc. and another with our Frisbees that we use as holders for craft items that may roll off the table and for salt writing.  Another gets everything thrown into it that I don't have time to put away properly when I get it. Parents drop off items and I put them in here until I can properly put them away.

  • Bling: glitter, jewels, sequins
  • Cotton Balls: large and small
  • Lids: moved to larger bin
  • Paper Die Cuts
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Pom Poms
  • Silk Flowers & leaves
  • Stickers
  • Straws
  • Holiday Items [new]
  • Cards: fronts of holiday and occasion cards
  • Clothes Pins: various sizes & types
  • Corks: moved to larger bin
  • Doilies: various sizes of Valentine hearts and white ones
  • Packing Peanuts
  • Pinecones: big
  • Pinecones: small
  • Plastic: salvaged from misc. food and product packaging
  • Styrofoam: pieces and foam packaging
  • Styrofoam: chunk pieces
Next to these are a china hutch I received from my friend/quasi-SIL Tracy Simons. It holds:

My collection of foamies on the top left shelf:

Misc. Storage containers not in use at the moment on the second shelf, and the yarn bin, and some scrapbooking shape templates on the lower one.

Below those are my bin of tissue paper salvaged from every holiday and birthday party, especially by Miss A's grandma, Mrs. Truta, and a bin of scrapbooking paper, some of which has been donated by my cousin Julie Stokes.

The top middle has doors with handles that can hold a strap lock, so within here I store my adhesives, craft knives, spice/rice grinder, and concoction ingredients such as corn starch, Borax, flour, cream of tartar, food coloring, Koolaid packets, spices, salt, Epsom salt... and my own PERSONAL box of 64 crayons that I DO NOT SHARE.

Below is an open space where I have put up tension rods to hold up rolls of foil, wax paper, cling wrap, parchment paper and freezer paper. The last two I am currently out of. I have a metal strip from a foil container attached inside the doors above, so that I can pull the roll items up and cut them cleanly, without having to have anything sharp out around the children. I have my crepe paper just stacked in here, which needs a large bin. I also have CD cases and a couple of drawing instruction books.

In the doors below, I have my book binder and rice storage. I buy 50 pound bags of it at Sam's Club for crafts, bean bags [non choking hazard if they get ripped!] and heating pads.

The right side on the top shelf contains plastic cups of various sizes, foam bowls, large and small paper plates, paper condiment cups, white scratcher pads, envelopes, white and brown sandwich bags, cupcake liners and coffee liners.

Below that are some of my stamps and stamp pads. Some of those are still in the basement. The bottom shelf holds a materials tray, the book 1001 Paintings to See Before You Die, and a bin with a collection of previous craft activities that either need displayed or deconstructed and the items stored.

Next to this I have my bulletin board edges and some cardboard crowns stored on the wall by using binder clips and thumb tacks. On the floor in the corner are larger tubes from wrapping paper, etc. and rolls of wallpaper.

On the bottom is a bin of shredded filler of every color and type imaginable, various bubble wrap, and our cutting practice bin. Many of the fillers and yarns were bought at the Salvation Army and garage sales.

On top of this cabinet, I store pop bottles, bins of items such as corks, and our sensory bin fillers such as blue gravel, oats, hay, beans, birdseed, etc.

On the back wall,

I have two more craft carts and two paper sorters. I got the paper sorters a long time ago at Sam's Club for $20 each. On the top of the left craft cart is a bin of glue, glue sticks and Scotch tape and our bin of scissors, including teacher-assist, safety, and scrapbooking edgers.

The middle bins are FULL of crayons and markers. The paper sorters hold our construction and colored paper by color, along with tag board, corrugated cardboard, cardstock, specialty papers, and some specialty binding covers donated by my first client, Deidre Laughlin.

On top of the right side is a bin of ribbon reels and pieces and a bin of string & twine rolls, which are currently outside for projects there.

The two craft carts contain:

  • Beads
  • Beads [more]
  • Cording
  • Jewelry
  • Jingle Bells
  • Magnets
  • Puzzle Pieces
  • Shells
  • Tape: painters, masking, printed duct
  • Wooden Cut Outs
  • Buttons
  • Elastic
  • Fasteners
  • Lace
  • Patterns
  • Thread
  • Netting [new]: fabric and net grocery bags like from avacados
  • Trims
  • Trims
  • Velcro
I was lucky to happen upon a going-out-of-business sale for a pharmacy store, and bought these commercial shelving units for $30. The top holds miscellaneous small items such as containers of google eyes, brass brads, paint chips, colored pencils, dried lavender & chamomile, eye droppers, oil pastels, paint brushes and toothbrushes for crafts. The bottom holds our larger papers, poster boards, craft mats, and acts as a drying rack for our larger projects.

Above it, our art posters are out of their monthly and thematic file folders and out for daily viewing. These are up using sticky tack, so they are easily taken down for observation or instructional purposes. This isn't all of them, as we go through our 3-year rotating curriculum, I come across them and put them up. Not all artists are represented on the wall, as we have our art books to reference as well.

In the back corner is another china hutch that I painted white and covered the back in fabric with spray adhesive. This one was salvaged during our city's large item pick up.

The top shelf is crammed with paint of every kind.

The middle shelf holds:

  • Craft Sticks: small and large, colored and plain [donated by Nancy Ringle]
  • Colored rice
  • Colored tube pasta
  • Raffia
  • Modeling Clay
  • Beans
  • Sand and Gravel collection
  • Feathers
  • Cookie Cutters: misc. and alphabet
  • Foam Trays
  • Pie Tins
  • Plastic Trays
In the drawers and cabinets below are fabrics, including plastic, vinyl, fur, satins, velvet, etc., a drawer of felt,

and the sewing machine, iron and sewing box.

On the side I have hooks that hold our fly swatters and my cutting mats.

Above the side table are our art books, and below are 3 large bins that hold large foam sheets, plastic lids of all sizes [mostly donated by Jen Beutel and Tracy Simons], and fuse beads. At that same commercial sale, I got this small fridge for $25 to hold our homemade play dough. The bin on the left holds our painting tools and the one on the right holds some of our play dough tools/toys.

Our large roll of butcher paper sits atop the mini-fridge, comes over the back of the table, and under a straight edge used for cutting it to length. The table usually holds our sensory bin.

Next to these is a small, moveable sewing table with my Cricut on it. Which I have yet to use. 

Under the craft table in the middle of the room, are two paper sorters. One I salvaged, again, from large-item-pick-up and the other I got at a thrift store for $10.

The first one holds a collection of sandpapers, cardboard scraps, cork flooring, flooring samples we use as textures for rubbings along with a piece of plastic light diffuser, paper grocery bags, and craft paper pieces.

The other side holds a collection of professional paint chip samples donated by Deidre, thin craft paper, misc. notebooks and old letterhead made of great quality paper with high cotton content we cut up and use.

Next to the entry way, I have melamine tray that I got on clearance at Walmart last fall that I use as a dry erase board for our art curriculum. Under that is a chalkboard donated by the Hunts. If the children finish early, they have the option of free drawing or using the chalkboard until the others finish.

And that's it...oh, wait, I forgot the closet...nevermind! [baby food jars, canvases, frames, cork, tiles & grout, salad spinner, heat guns...]  

The absolute BEST thing about this room, though, is that we can CLOSE THE DOOR and just LEAVE projects at any time to come back to later or to finish drying in place. No more shuffling around on table tops and counters when we try to do other things, or HAVING to put supplies away to clear for a meal or other activity.

It's one of the best uses of space I have ever made.

Follow Connie -'s board Art Ideas on Pinterest.
Tags: art, craft, room, preschool, home child care, daycare, home, child care, pre-k, arts & crafts, toddler, children's, kid's, class, classroom
Little Stars Learning

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Removable Fabric Wall Art

To make:

100% cotton fabric works best
  • Fuse double-faced interfacing to the back of the fabric according to directions, NO STEAM!
  • Print out letters in desired font and size

  • Lay letters on top of fused fabric, pinning if necessary to hold position
  • Cut around letters
  • Create a level line on the wall
  • Dry fit your letters on the wall, starting from center
  • Remove interfacing backing
  • Iron the letters to the wall at the recommended heat setting for the interfacing, making sure not to burn your fingers!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Outside Abacus

If you are following, you know that we are all about early math instruction right now. Since I have an indoor/outdoor learning philosophy, I'm always looking for ways to move learning OUTSIDE. 

I've seen some token outdoor abaci/abacuses, but not any with a full 100 units set up for actual mathematical manipulation. It is a pretty cheap addition to our outdoor classroom. I will be adding a chalkboard to the side of this specifically for writing equations.

While this is a manipulative, self-directed learning activity, and available for play, by the children of every age, since it is an awesome gross and fine motor activity, color learning activity and early counting activity...

Fine and Gross Motor, moving and twirling
it's goal is ultimately to act AS AN ABACUS
Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.

And that's exactly how the preschoolers chose to immediately use it. Although, they have had previous experience with our classroom abacus, so it was an easy transition.

Counting by 5's

I found a post from Happy Hooligans, after creating my abacus, in which she used pool noodles for a similar project. Even though my project was not influenced by hers, she still did it first and I acknowledge that. 

  • Serrated Knife
  • Tape Measure
  • Scissors
  • Lighter
  • $5.00     (5) Pool Noodles                 
  • $2.50     50 Feet 75 Pound Rope 
  • $3.00     (10)  #208 or #210 Eye Hooks   
Total $10.50 

I bought 5 pool noodles at Dollar Tree. These were about 2 1/4 inches wide when the tape measure was pulled tight against them. I went with the smaller diameter noodles to ensure that my young students would have plenty of space to manipulate the pool noodle "beads."

I cut them the same length as their diameter, easily getting the 20 beads out of each pool noodle that I needed. A serrated bread knife easily cuts them.

Since we already have pool noodle "blocks" both inside and outside, these could be dedicated to this purpose. To make them removable, cut a slit through the side.

To ensure the children could easily reach and manipulate the beads, I decided to do 5 lines of 20 across, rather than 10 lines of 10, like a normal abacus. To make the distinction between the two sides, I ensured that the colors of the noodles were offset. 

I had the child with the average height raise her arms to determine the best height for the top string. For my students, that was 43 inches.

Since the noodles are 2 1/4 inches wide, I made the distance between the strings 6 inches.

I inserted the ten #208 screw eyes into the middle of each fence post, starting from the top measurement of 43 inches up from the ground. #210 eye screws are probably strong enough for most applications. I went a little heavier since I want this to last for years.

Since my ground was uneven, but my fence was level, for the second post I measured DOWN the same distance as the first post to where I had placed the top eye hook to ensure the string lines would be level. You could also just put a string level on it. 

If the string isn't level, it will be more difficult for the children to manipulate the blocks, and they may constantly slide to one side. If you are just having this for play it may not be so important, but for use as an abacus, level is necessary.

I bought 50 feet of 75 lb twisted poly rope from Walmart. It came in different colors. I used around 42 feet for this project: (5) 8 foot lengths, (4) 5" risers, plus tie off lengths.

I tied it off on the top left eye, threaded 10 each of two colors onto the string, wove the loose end through the opposite eye front to back, down and through the next eye down back to front, then repeated threading on 10 each of two colors of noodle beads, continuing until I reached the last eye. I cut the rope, tied it off, leaving a tail about 4 inches long, in case I need to untie it for tightening later, and sealed the end of the rope with an aim-a-flame/lighter.

Threading it produces much tighter string lines over all than doing them individually, which is important. The children are NOT nice with these. They pull on the lines, hang on them, etc., so it was very important that they be as taught as possible to begin with.

Wire could be used, but up against a fence I needed to ensure that the lines were not SO secure and tight that they could be used for climbing. These are not. Not that I don't have some monkeys, but there's just no way they can even get a foot hold on the thin line.

I purposefully used 10 of 2 different colors on each line so that the units of 10 were very apparent for skip counting by 10s. Also, when doing addition on each line, they can easily differentiate the two sides of their equation, and easily subtract one portion away for cross-learning.

These are a great visual and manipulative for skip counting.

Mr. G: "Nine and one is TEN!"
Me: "Yep, and if you slide the blue ones over, that's another TEN, and then you'll have ten plus ten which is TWENTY!"
Mr.G: [sliding the blue ones over then counting 1-20, looks up at me with wonder] "You are REALLY good at this game!"
Me: [laughing] "I've had a LOT of practice, buddy."
Tags: outdoor, outside, abacus, math, pool noodle, bead, manipulative, play, playground, preschool, pre-k, kindergarten, outdoor abacus, outside abacus, environment, gross motor, fine motor, toddler,