Friday, February 27, 2015

Flannel Friday: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

I know this is a classic and that everyone probably already has a flannel version of this, but I really love telling this story with a flannelboard, so here is my version.

I made all the pieces which, while time consuming, was not impossible.

When I gauge that I have the right crowd, I hand out the pieces of what he ate to various kids and call them up to the flannelboard at the appropriate times. ("He ate FOUR STRAWBERRIES! Who has four strawberries?")

The kids love the part where he becomes a big fat caterpillar, and the butterfly always gets some "ooooohs".

While I'm on this, though, does it bother anyone else that the butterfly comes out of a cocoon? I always want to say chrysalis at that point...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Preschool Science: Shapes

For this Preschool Lab, we tackled shapes. It's not exactly science, but it's definitely early math, so I figure that falls firmly into STEAM.

First we talked about different shapes. I cut two of the same shapes out of felt and I handed out the partners to the kids. I started with "I'm thinking of a shape that has three sides and three points..." and then I would pull out my shape and ask who had a shape like that. The kids were happy to bring their piece up to the flannel board.

The Stations:

1 - Foam Shapes

I remember loving these wooden shapes as a kid - you know, the ones that had the squares and the triangles and the hexagons and you could make stuff out of them. I thought they would make a great station. I was not wrong.

I didn't have the wooden shapes, though, and while I could probably have bought them, I was finishing the planning for this program the day before it happened (what? you've never done that?) so it was too late to order them. Also: money. So I took home some foam sheets and spent the evening cutting out my own shapes. Worth it.

The figure templates, by the way, which I printed out and laminated, were found here.

2 - Shape Matching

My predecessor left a whole bunch of small laminated clip art images for me when she left. I'm not sure what she used them for, but they were definitely useful for this program. I put magnets on the back and put them on our magnet board. At the top of the magnet board, I put some shape samples (you can see the square, circle, etc. up at the top). I asked the children to match the picture to a shape. I very clearly stated that there weren't necessarily wrong answers and I encouraged them to explain why they put that picture with that shape.  A pizza could be a circle, for example, or a pizza slice could be a triangle. I love how this encouraged dialogue.

3 - Rubber Band Boards

This is what I was making when I should have been buying foam shapes! (HA!) I had an old board in my basement and I asked my husband to cut it into square-ish shapes. He was kind enough to do so and then I spent an hour hammering nails into the board in a nice square pattern. (I also put duct tape over the rough edges, which made them less annoying to handle and much more beautifuller). The kids were then given rubber bands with which to create shapes. Just hook the rubber band over the nails. This one was a lot of fun.

4 - Shape Printing 

I had a sturdy box of Ritz crackers, which I cut into strips, folded those strips into various shapes, and taped them so they would hold their form. These were for print painting. 

The kids really got in to this one. 

I also had a display of books about shapes, which sadly did not really check out. But the program was fun, so that's something.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Works for Me: Cooking with Kids

Several years ago, I found myself having to come up with an afternoon program every day after school. I did pretty much every program I could think of, and eventually started cooking with the kids. It was a smash hit and has been ever since. I've done various iterations of the same idea over the years, and here's what I've learned. 

In my original library, I didn't register the kids because it would have been a disaster. The registered ones wouldn't come and the one who were there would want to participate and I would have ended up with an empty program and crying children. Instead, I welcomed anyone in. This is risky, of course, since I was never sure how many kids would show up. I found that planning for about 45 kids worked out well (yes, it was chaos... why do you ask? Some day I'll tell you about the time we made egg sandwiches and I bought 96 eggs and had to turn kids away at the door because I had run out of eggs). This method mostly worked out well for everyone.

At another library, however, I did this program without registration and ended up having to cancel the program when a mother (who had sent her child to the library on his own) called to complain that he was lactose intolerant.

Now, I register everyone and require an email address. The day before the program, I email all the parents explaining what we are making and listing the ingredients, making sure parents know exactly what is going in the food. This works well in my current community and we have had no troubles.

I have tried this several ways. When I had the huge number of kids, I had three volunteers who would run three other stations and we ran four concurrent stations, each doing the same recipe. Of course, this meant I needed four of each appliance (more on these in a minute). And four volunteers.

Right now, I am running four sections over two hours with up to twelve kids in each section. This means I only need one of each appliance, but I also need a volunteer who helps me clean things between each group.

All my recipes can be made either without heating, in the microwave, in a toaster over, or in a skillet like this one:
Recently, I've grown disenchanted with my toaster oven. It doesn't seem to heat things very quickly or very well and the oven part is definitely kaput (none of the recipes can require baking). So everything has been made in the skillet - even the bagel pizzas turned out well in there.

This can be the trickiest part of all. I look for things that have some personalization potential (bagel pizzas, quesadillas, pancakes), can be made with the appliances described above, take less than half an hour to make, and that have kid appeal (dirt cake, pudding parfaits, fudge).

I also want things that the kids can actually do themselves with supervision. So they measure, mix, stir, melt, and flip their own creations.

The Program:
I set up the necessary appliance and the ingredients on a long table. I stand on one side of the table and the kids stand in a circle around the table. Everyone gets to participate in whatever we are making. If we are making a group snack, then everyone gets to measure something and everyone gets a chance to stir or mix. For rice krispie treats, for example, once child measures the chocolate, one measures the butter, we all take turns stirring as it melts, and then one child measures out the cereal. If I have more children, I split each ingredient (three kids put in one cup or cereal each, for example).

It's very important to me that the kids actually do the cooking themselves as much as possible. Otherwise, I might as well just bring them something I made from home!

I am lucky to have a budget that can accommodate this program once a month. After the initial investment in the skillet and the toaster oven (never again! Curse you, toaster oven!), I just need to buy ingredients. A Costco membership (my own personal one) has been very helpful. I also try to find recipes that don't include very many ingredients or that have cheap ingredients (or, if I'm lucky, both!). It costs somewhere between $20 and $50 a program, a cost that I can justify by how quickly the sessions fill up and how much fun the kids have when they come. This program is one of the most consistent and well-attended programs for afterschool kids that I have ever done. If it costs me $200 to do it four times, that's almost 200 kids who can (and desperately want!) to participate. That's good math for me.

I've done lots of recipes, but since my blog is very new, I've only got two posts for linking. There will be more soon!
Cinnamon Tortilla Chips and Fruit Salsa
Ice Cream

Have you ever tried cooking with kids? What have you learned?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Preschool Science: Snow

Last week, we had a blizzard that wasn't (and we were all disappointed), but this week we actually had a snow day (though it wasn't the worst snow storm ever) so there was a lot of snow on the ground. I decided to capitalize on that fact to learn more about it.

I started with reading "Red Sled" by Lita Judge and then read some of the text from "The Story of Snow" by Mark Cassino. The snowflake pictures in this book are quite beautiful and the text lends itself to reading it at different levels (there is one large sentence and then supporting information in smaller font).

Before heading off to the stations, we created a "Snowstorm in a Jar" together based on this idea.

Relatively calm between alkaseltzer drops.
Snowstorm! Blizzard! Flurries!
I didn't want to waste baby oil, so I didn't try it first (GASP! I live so dangerously!!), but thank GOD it worked out great. I didn't have a jar, so I just cut the top off of a water bottle and that was a fine substitute, especially since the kids didn't touch this experiment.

Once the kids were having fun at the stations, I sat down nearby and let them drop alkaseltzer one by one in the bottle a little piece at a time. We would watch the resulting storm and then wait for everything to settle before having someone else drop alkaseltzer in. It worked very well and it kept working for each child who wanted to play with it.

Here's a video I took:

Now: the stations! I have been seeing lots of fun stations for snow-related things, so this group of stations was relatively simple to plan.

1 - Matching Snowflakes

I printed Snowflake Bentley original photos (found here) then cut them in half and laminated them. I thought the kids might find this boring (especially with the other possibilities) but they had a great time here and were quite proud of themselves when they matched the snowflakes correctly.

2 - Design a Snowflake

I got this idea from here. In the intro part, I showed the kids photos of the snowflakes, so at this station they were encouraged to create snowflakes on black felt using the sparkly materials provided. These were only to see, not to keep. There was no glue or anything provided to make these permanent. My sign says "snowflakes were meant to be beautiful, not to last forever!".

3 - Snow Painting

I got this idea from the amazing Storytime Katie (I urge you to check the link for more snow stuff, too!). I put out paper, watercolors, paintbrushes, and a plastic tub with snow. The children used the snow to paint with the watercolors and also enjoyed just plain painting the snow. The adults got in to this one, too. 

4 - Snow Dough

I know most people make snow dough with cornstarch and baby oil, but I didn't want to spend so much money on so much baby oil, so instead I tried this recipe. I was surprised at how quickly the adults dove in while some of the children were uneasy about getting their hands dirty. In the end, it smelled really good and the kids enjoyed playing with it, too, once their parents started having fun.

This Preschool Lab was relatively easy to plan and execute and cost me only in baby oil, baking soda, and shaving cream. I'll be doing this one again next year.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sweet Snacks: Cinnamon Tortilla Chips and Fruit Salsa

One of the most popular afterschool-programs I run is Sweet Snacks, a cooking program where the kids make their own snacks (sometimes salty, sometimes sweet). This time, we made Cinnamon Crunch Tortilla Chips and Fruit Salsa. 

Usually everyone makes their own individual snacks (even pudding parfaits and dirt cake!) but this time everyone pitched in to make a big batch and we all shared. 

I got the recipe from this book:

Ingredients for the chips:
small flour tortillas
vegetable spray

Some of the kids were the chip makers. I gave them flour tortillas and plastic knives and asked them to cut the tortillas in to triangles. 

We then made cinnamon sugar by pouring sugar into a container, sprinkling it with cinnamon, closing the lid and shaking it up. You can also buy cinnamon sugar already made, but my philosophy with this class is to make as much as possible with the kids since the idea is to be hands-on with what they are eating. 

We sprayed both sides of the triangles with vegetable spray, sprinkled (ok, more like doused) them with cinnamon sugar and put them in the toaster over to toast up. 

In the interest of full disclosure: I do this program twice in a row to accommodate the number of kids who wish to attend. The first group was perfectly happy with the chips as they came out of the oven, but I found they took waaaaay too long to bake and they were still soggy. For the second group, I fried the triangles (far far away from the kids) and then had them sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar after they were brown. These were much crispier. 

The Fruit Salsa

On the other end of our long tables, I set out ingredients for the fruit salsa. 

The book recommends the following ingredients: 
lemon juice

Since not everything was available at my grocery store, I ended up picking fruit that the kids could do something to: cut it, slice it, etc. 

We had kiwis, bananas, canned pineapple, apple slices, mango slices, and pears. I put these out with plates and plastic knives and everyone picked a piece of fruit, sliced or cut it up, and placed it in the big bowls. 

I also put two girls in charge of squeezing lemons for the juice. 

Once all the fruit was ready, we poured the lemon juice over it, sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar (that the tortilla group had made) and mixed it all up. 

Each child was given a fresh plate, some fruit salsa, and some chips. Delicious!

I really enjoyed the collaborative nature of this recipe and the kids loved the results. One mom told me that her son would NOT eat kiwis at home, but he was very much enjoying them in the salsa.

Having fun, trying new things, deliciousness.... Win-win-win.
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