Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sand Sensory Play Challenge & Preschool Social Skills

If you have been following this blog for a while, you know I am a huge advocate of sensory experiences.  About six months ago we began to discover that one of my children has some sensory processing challenges, and I began to be even more deliberate in planning (and allowing spontaneous) sensory experiences.  Today we are joining in the monthly Sensory Bin Challenge hosted at Little Bins for Little Hands, and the theme is sand!

If you saw the Dirt Challenge, you may remember that the goal is to set out a designated sensory material and let your children choose the tools and direction for the experience.  I love this kind of activity for three reasons:  1- It is empowering for children to decide what they will do. 2- Children learn better when they are invested and in control of what they are doing. 3- It is super easy!!

So, I set out a bucket of sand:

They immediately dug in with their hands, a shovel (from their "digging spot"), and a paper towel tube that had managed to come outside with us.

It did not take long before we started having issues getting along:  "He bumped me!"  "She's taking my sand!" "I can't reach it with their arms there!"  I knew they would all enjoy the sand more if they could spread out a bit, so we dumped it into their dirt "digging spot."  It spread out quickly, and everyone could reach it better.

And apparently it screamed for bare feet.

The children quickly found more tools, and began to play games. They were sailors.  They were travelers.  They were animal rescuers.  The youngest just played with the sand.

We still had several opportunities to practice social skills.  It is amazing how often a preschooler thinks that every grain of sand (or any other sensory material) belongs exclusively to him or her.  We had one little girl very frustrated that anyone else was touching her sand.  Another child wanted the particular stick she saw her brother grab.

Shared sensory experiences provide a fabulous platform for experiencing and practicing social skills like sharing and taking turns.  At the same time, your children have a chance to engage their senses, explore and direct their learning, and embark on imaginative journeys of their choice!  Here are some tips for guiding social skill development:

1- Taking turns and sharing is a big deal for most preschoolers.  Be patient as you remind them that the sand is for everyone.

2- We have two rules:  1- If it is in someone's hand, it is their turn.  2- When you put it down, someone else can pick it up.  Your turn is over.

3- When someone attempts to violate one of the big rules, correct them by simply telling them the rule.  Try to keep it positive.  For example, instead of saying "Don't take Sally's stick," say "The stick is in Sally's hand.  It is her turn."

4-  Make sure you have plenty of sand and space for everyone!

Our crew flew to the sand pile like magnets to a metal door every time we went outside...for days.  They played in the sand pile for well over 30 minutes the first time and for hours over the course of a couple days.  Like the last sensory challenge, they loved it!

Sand is a particularly fabulous sensory tool because you can play with it plain, hide things in it, build with it, get it wet (which completely changes it!), pour it, mix it, and much more!  You can get 50 pounds for under $4, and only use a fraction of it at a time.

Check out the other Monthly Sensory Bin Challenge blogs to see what happened in their sand buckets!  You may get some fabulous ideas of props to provide your kiddos...or you may be inspired to try the challenge yourself and see what tools your own children want to grab!  It's totally worth the small clean up afterwards!  When you try it, be sure to snap a couple pictures...I'd love to see your adventure!

Monthly Sensory Bin Challenge Blogs:  

Little Bins for Little Hands

House of Burke

 Still Playing School

Stir the Wonder


Are you a fan of child-led learning?  Be sure to visit my How Do I Teach a Child-Led Curriculum series for loads of great ideas and resources!

I may share at any of these parties!

Monday, July 28, 2014

{FREE} Pirate Patterns Preschool Packet

I am excited to share this {FREE} Pirate Patterns Preschool Packet with you for this month's Poppins Book Nook!  

As you can tell, the theme this month is all about PIRATES!  To celebrate, you can download these pattern pages {FREE} at my Teachers Notebook shop!


These {FREE} printables can be used as a cut and paste activity where you child cuts the pictures out of the bottom row and glues the picture that comes next into the correct boxes.  Or, you can cut out the bottom row, laminate the pieces, and use them in a Montessori-style bin, as a center activity, or one-on-one with your child on different days!  Click here to get a copy of this {FREE} Pirate Patterns Preschool Packet! 

What else can you do with pirates?  Click here to see how we made pirate swords out of household materials!

One of my all-time favorite pirate-themed preschool (and older kids!) picture book is Dirty Joe, The Pirate by Bill Harley.  It combines fun rhythm, rhyme, a phenomenal story, and even a lesson in an attention-grabbing adventure!  You can click on the Amazon Affiliate link below to go to Amazon and actually see some of the pages inside the book.  You never pay more for purchasing through an affiliate link, but the small commission they give me for referring you helps pay for this blog and our homeschooling expenses.  :)

Amazon Affiliate link:

Who else is blogging about pirates?  Be sure to check out these blogs:  

Do you have a post about pirates?  Feel free to link it up here!

And be sure to visit Enchanted Homeschooling Mom to enter the giveaway for a {FREE} Pirate book!

I may share at any of these parties!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Frozen Water Magic Science

Frozen has been popular around here, so I've been working on my ice powers!  See this picture?  I made the water freeze into a pillar of ice...instantly!


Ever since I saw "The King of Random's" video about freezing water, I knew my kids would love it. (By the way, you should check out his channel here...he has loads of fun ideas!)  Now that it's summer and super hot outside, and my kids have been singing Frozen for months, ice activities are even more popular for our crew!  So, we set out to make water turn into ice!

And, since we've been playing with videos lately, I thought I'd share our experiment with you!  Detailed instructions are below.  If the video doesn't load, you can see it here.

You can also use cool ice powers to freeze water (just like Elsa!) by following these easy steps:

1- (Preparation) Place several water bottles in the freezer for about three hours.  You want the water to reach a freezing temperature, but not be frozen yet.  You can test a "tester" bottle by squeezing the water bottle very hard.  If ice begins to form in the middle of the bottle, you're ready!  If not, put it back in the freezer.  Ours were in the freezer for 3 hours and 15 minutes.

2- Fill a small glass bowl half full of ice.  Alternatively, you could place the bowl in the freezer too.  Crush a few cubes of ice with a hammer and place them in the bowl.  These will serve as "seeds" for the ice crystals to grow around.

3- Very slowly pour your super cold water onto the crushed ice, and watch your ice "frozen" towers grow!

What's going on?

As water gets very cold, ice crystals will form when one of two things happen:  1- Water molecules will form ice crystals by latching on to other ice crystals (or seeds) that have already formed or 2- Water molecules get close enough to each other that they arrange as a crystal and other water molecules attach to the first crystals.  The crushed ice serves as ice crystal seeds.  You are pouring water onto the seeds that is cold enough to just needs something to "grab" onto!

Extend the experiment!

How does spring water (which we used) behave differently than tap water?  Or filtered water?  What if you poured almost-frozen water into a chilled bowl and "planted" ice seeds in different spots?  What else could you try?

I may share at any of these parties!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Backyard Bugs: Roly Poly or Potato Bug or Pill Bug or Wood Lice...

Whatever you call them, roly polys (or potato bugs or pill bugs or wood lice...) are everywhere!  They are great to learn about and fun to carefully experiment with!  Warning: This post has close up pictures of pill bugs!


So what is the deal with pill bug names?!  It can definitely be a bit confusing.  I will be calling them pill bugs, but let's take just a quick moment and talk about names and classification.  Remember how living things are divided?

 Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

Pill Bugs are in the Animal Kingdom, Arthopod Phylum (which includes spiders, insects, and crabs), and the Order Isopoda.  Isopoda includes literally thousands of species that look very similar, but some live on land and some live in the ocean.  The pill bugs that we see all over the world on the land are all in the sub-order Oniscidea, which also includes literally thousands of species (about 5,000 known).  There is no real order to the common names...pill bugs and potato bugs and woodlice and roly polys are all often used interchangeably.  I even learned a new one, Kellerassel, when I asked my friends on Facebook!  (Thank you Maggy!)  Some people like to differentiate sow bugs as isopods that cannot roll up completely in a ball while pill bugs can, but there is no real difference--just different common names.  Most isopods, in fact, cannot roll up completely.  The most notable exception are the pill bugs in the genus Armadillidum, which can even tuck their head inside their shell when they roll up.

Enough with the crazy names!  Let's talk about these amazing little critters!

Pill bugs are found all over the world and are perfectly safe to carefully hold and examine.
Pill bugs are little herbivores and are not picky eaters.  They often live in their food.  You may see small holes in leaves or other decaying plant matter that they made as they ate their way through their home.

While small, they have amazing little bodies:


See if you can spot these body parts on your pill bugs:

1.  Thick protective cuticle.  

2.  Compound Eyes

3.  Long Antennae

4.  4 Pairs of chewing mouth parts

5.  7 pairs of walking legs (in adults) or 6 pairs of legs (in juveniles).  "Baby" pill bugs get their 7th pair of legs after their first molt.

6.  Pleopods and "feathery" gill-like lungs

7.  2 Uropods.  Male uropods are longer than female uropods.

8.  A female carries eggs around in an egg pouch in the middle of her tummy.  Can you find a "pregnant" pill bug?  Once the eggs hatch, she continues to carry the new pill bugs around for a few more days.  When they crawl out of her pouch it looks like they are born live!

More Pill Bug Fun Facts! 

1.  Pill bugs have blue most crustaceans!  This comes from having hemocyanin in their blood.

2.  Many pill bugs live 2-4 years!

3.  Pill bugs "molt" in two steps:  they shed the back half of their shell 2-3 days before the front half!

4.  Pill bugs can drink from their mouth and their anus!  Uropods can sweep water up into the pill bug if they need it!

5.  Pill bugs often eat their own poop to make sure they have enough copper in their body!

6.  Pill bugs need a moist environment.  They breathe through gill-like lungs on the outside of their body and will quickly die if they are not in a moist environment.

7.  Pill bugs are capable of parthenogenesis.

Try this at home or school!

1.  Raise pill bugs!  Set up a terrarium with dirt, leaves, branches, and water.  "Mist" it with a spray bottle if it starts to dry out.  

2.  Design an experiment to see whether pill bugs prefer light or dark habitats.  Hint: use white and black paper.

3.  Design an experiment to see what kinds of food your backyard pill bugs like best.

4.  Design an experiment to see what kinds of "homes" your backyard pill bugs like best.

5.  What else could you do to learn about pill bugs?

Remember to treat all living organisms with respect and care!

This post is part of my Backyard Bugs series!

Click here to learn more about Backyard Bugs!

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(You never pay more for using these links, but the small commission I get for referring you helps fund our school!)

I may share at any of these parties!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Squishy Bouncing Balls & 101 Kids Activities Giveaway!!

Making these squishy balls is an excellent fine motor and sensory activity.  When they're done, you can squish them, bounce them, or play tossing and target games with them.  They even work great as a stress ball or a distractor for a stressed out preschooler!

Making them is super easy and only requires three items:  balloons, flour, and scissors!  Now if you want to see how to use additional fun items (including how to make your balls bounce!), you'll have to grab a copy of the 101 Kids Activities...and it is so worth it!  More details about that are below!

Here's the easy how-to:

1.  Fill a balloon with flour.  We used about 1/4 cup of flour in our balloons.  Tie a knot to keep the flour inside.

2.  Take another balloon and cut a few small holes in it.

3.  Stretch the balloon with holes over the balloon with flour so you have two different colors on your stretchy balloon.  If you have preschoolers like mine, hold on to a few extra balloons to add to the ball when they tear the outside layer.  :)

4.  All done!  Time to play with it!  My kids favorite game was tossing them into a pack-n-play filled with stuffed animals that wanted to "catch" the squishy balls!

This super easy and very versatile project is one of hundreds of ideas in the new 101 Kids Activities book by Holly Homer and Rachel Miller from  (Amazon affiliate link below)

101 Kids Activities is a fabulous collection of "boredom busters, pranks, crafts, games, simple science experiments," and so much more!  The authors have been blogging about kids activities for years (and you'll want to check out their's amazing!!), and they have combined some of their best projects with loads of new ideas in a bright, colorful, and brilliant book.  

In addition to being a great resource for parents, this book can encourage your children to discover, explore, and exercise independence.  When my 7-year old saw the book, she picked it up, started perusing the pages, and then went and made a bunch of book marks to mark the activities she wanted to do first!  There are easily enough activities and extensions to keep you and your kids busy year round!

The book is divided into four sections:  Boredom Busters, Crafts, Games, and Simple Science.  It includes over 100 full color pictures, easy-to-follow step by step instructions, extension ideas, ideas for adjusting activities for older and younger children, clear supply lists, and a peek into the authors' lives as they share backgrounds on the activities and how they have used them.  Just reading the book is a delightful experience!

You can learn more about 101 Kids Activities on Amazon or on the website.  And to celebrate the book's launch this summer, they are giving away a copy here! Just enter below!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We are absolutely loving 101 Kids Activities, and I'm sure you will too!  So go on...take a peek!!  Let us know what you think!

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of 101 Kids Activities to facilitate this review.  All opinions are 100% mine and I only share products that I think you will love!

I may share at any of these parties!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Healthy Homemade Ice-cream Recipe

My preschoolers love sweet treats like ice-cream, but one of them has some serious sugar limitations.  I developed this ice-cream recipe so everyone can participate in the sweet fun...and everyone loves it!!

Letting your preschoolers help make the ice-cream gives you the opportunity to talk about things like solids, liquids, counting, colors, fractions, and more!  Cooking is excellent math time!


* 2 frozen bananas
* 8 frozen strawberries
* 1-1/4 cup almond milk
* (optional) small dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg

Easy How To:

1.  Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  I use the "ice crush" setting.

2.  If it is too thick to blend, add more milk.

3.  Serve and enjoy immediately!!


* Peel the bananas, cut them in half, and freeze the 4 halves in advance.  Then you can just pop them in the blender!
* Riper bananas are sweeter!
* This is best fresh--it can get way too frozen (or hard) when you freeze it!

This is a fabulous treat on a hot, summer day!  The best part is that it can double as a dessert or just a healthy snack!!

I may share at any of these parties!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

{FREE} Printable Game: Flower Hunt!!

This fun {FREE} printable game is perfect for helping preschoolers develop early math and reading skills!


Grid games give preschoolers the opportunity to practice counting and develop a concept of one-to-one relationships, which are important in learning to read.  Plus, the fun flowers and bees are loads of fun in the summer time!

To play, simply print one copy of the flower page and one copy of the bee page for each player:

Cut out the bees.  

Take turns rolling a die and covering up the indicated number of flowers with bees.  You "win" when all the flowers are covered.  Keep playing until all players win!

CLICK HERE to download your {FREE} copy of the Flower Hunt game!

Please note:  I am always thrilled to have you share this post and printable, but please do so by linking to this page, and not the actual file.  Thank you so much!! 

I may share at any of these parties!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Backyard Bugs: Cicadas

The next bug in our Backyard Bug series is the cicada!

What is that buzzing sound?  Oh!  It's a cicada!  

Every summer we notice the cicadas start "singing" about the beginning of June.  And while I know some people who find the sound obnoxious, I look forward to it...almost as much as I look forward to not having to wear a jacket!  

Cicadas are large (often 1" to 2" long) insects with wings that have very clear veins in them.  They have two easy-to-see eyes and three very small "ocelli."  There are about 2500 species of cicadas, and they are very common in warm tropical and subtropical areas. 

Ocelli: small eyes

Cicadas are often heard before they are seen: during the hottest part of the day they make a loud clicking sound by vibrating part of their abdomen like a drum...over and over very quickly!  They have been recorded "buzzing" at over 120 decibels!  And even though both males and females have the same structures, only the males have been recorded buzzing.

An adult female cicada will lay her eggs on a branch or stem that she splits open to make room for the eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the nymphs will drop to the ground and dig a tunnel where they will live for several months as they grow and molt.  Their underground homes are usually between one and eight feet deep.  While they live underground, they will eat sap from tree roots.

When the cicada is ready for its final molt, it will dig its way to the surface and find a branch or fence to hold on to while it climbs out of its exuvia, or old exoskeleton.

This series of photos by Jim Dewitt show the process of the cicada climbing out of its shell wonderfully!

Most cicadas complete the above life cycle in two to five years.  One bizarre exception is the genus Magicicada. These cicadas life cycles take 13 or 17 years!  Most of that time is spent underground as a nymph.  The final adult stage only lasts about two months!

Cicadas are eaten by birds, squirrels, and cicada-killer wasps.

If you find a cicada, it is probably safe to hold. They rarely bite, and probably will only do so after it has rested on a person and mistaken the person for a tree branch.  The bite may hurt, but is otherwise generally usually harmless.  The cicada exuvia are definitely safe to hold!

With Your Preschooler:

Catch a cicada and observe it in a bug observation container.  Can you see the ocelli?  Do you find the veins in its wings?  Each large vein has both a nerve and a trachea.  Why do you think this is?  (So the cicada can feel things touching the wing and get oxygen to the wing muscles.)  Remember to release your cicada when you're done observing it.

Find a cicada exuvia and examine it.  Remember it is from the cicada nymph right before the adult emerged.  How many body features can you find?  How many legs does an insect have?  Exuvia provide an excellent opportunity for dissection, as they are discarded from the insect but still have interesting features!

Some insects, like crickets, can make a sound by rubbing their legs together.  The cicada, however, makes its noise by expanding and contracting muscles in its beating a drum.  Make your own drum using an empty oatmeal canister!  

This post is part of the Backyard Bugs series!  Check out past bugs here and be sure to join us next week when we learn about fire ants!!

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I may share at any of these parties!
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Welcome! I'm so glad you're visiting! I am a public school teacher turned homeschooling mom who runs a small home daycare. I love to teach, create fun and exciting resources, and share the educational journey that we get to live!

This blog is full of ideas and resources for parents teaching preschoolers! One of my favorite things about blogging is getting to meet you all--be sure to say hi! You can always leave a comment or email me anytime at PreschoolPackets at gmail dot com!



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