Monday, February 28, 2011

What's for Lunch?

We have had great success with the kids bringing their lunches.  At every snack time someone still goes to their cubby and pulls out their lunch box because they are SO excited about it.

Sitting down and eating with the kids has brought some challenges to light.  Many of the kids still need some coaching on what to eat and how much of it.  For the most part, we want this to be as autonomous as possible.  We like the kids to independently open their lunch boxes and all the containers.  We trust that parents send healthy food items and let the kids choose what they want to eat and how much.  While we try to allow self-direction in the entire process of lunch, if we see a child packing up their lunch before they've tried anything then we intervene.

I've been unsure about how much to intervene in this situation.  As usual, there is no hard and fast answer.  It depends on the situation, the child, what they've eaten so far that day, how they are feeling that day, what they brought for lunch and whether or not they are in hurry to do something else instead (like ride the new bike in the yard).

A quick internet search provides lots of tips and advice.  I decided to go straight to the source, The USDA Food Pyramid and see what the actual guidelines are.

According to their website,, a 3 year old child who gets 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day (Beansprouts get more, of course) should eat the following:

Grains - 5 ounces
Vegetables - 1.5 cups
Fruit - 1.5 cups
Milk - 2 cups
Meat/Beans - 4 ounces

Total caloric intake about 1400 daily.

It's not easy to convert these serving sizes into what you actually put on a plate.  Most adults struggle to do this for themselves and putting together meals for picky preschoolers, who eat several times a day, can be even more difficult.  A quick scour of the internet turns up the following tips for serving sizes and feeding your toddler appropriate portions:
  • If you were to take all of the food your toddler needs in a day, it could easily fit on one plate.
  • At each meal, half of their plate should be fruit and/or veggies.
  • Juice and milk are very filling and can really pack in the calories.  
  • Serving suggestions
It can also help to avoid common mistakes, such as:
  • drinking more than 16-24 ounces of milk each day.
  • drinking more than 4-6 ounces of juice each day.
  • letting your child fill up on sweets and snacks.
  • forcing your child to eat when he isn't hungry.
  • giving servings that are too big. The average toddler serving is going to be about 1/4 of an adult serving size. Don't go by the serving size listed on nutrition labels, as these are mainly for older children and adults.

When it's all said and done, children are able to regulate their caloric intake naturally.  Our job is to make sure we are offering a variety of healthy choices and maybe learn to relax a little when it comes to just how much they eat.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Social development paves the way for academics

I may have posted on a similar topic before, but lately I've been amazed, yet again, as I watch children's social development really take the lead in their all-around development.
 Any seasoned preschool teacher who sees this picture knows what a socially complex dynamic is going on here.  Kids have to figure out how to get space for themselves without dominating someone's space, deciding who will be next to whom, primitive relationships being made through physical proximity and probably silliness (and the bigger question, who will push who first?).  But their desire to be in close physical proximity and connect with peers motivates them to utilize social skills and keep a harmonious environment.

In a typically developing child, a desire to connect with others emerges naturally, as naturally as crawling and talking.  (I may be posting more on this later as I begin to read Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships for a class I'm taking).  We saw this interest emerge as soon as the children, many of them still toddlers, started at Beansprouts.  Whether it was interest in interaction or interest in what others were using, a social awareness began to take the lead in children's development.

Over time, the kids' desire to make social connections evolved into a more intense need to connect and build friendships.  We are now seeing these relationships become more complex and specific, testing other children's tolerance for inclusion and rejection.  Relationships have more of a give-and-take value, sometimes requiring a child to make sacrifices or modify expectations in order to keep the game moving harmoniously.  What great practice for later in life!

Without a desire for friendships, what else would motivate us to build the skills that will eventually allow us to successfully function in a world full of other people?  Social development leads the way for very practical life skills.  Even academics.

Children designing the set for a puppet show...simple, on-the-fly activity, but great for building language and social skills (and using extra cardboard!).
I keep noting to parents and other teachers, "This is the most literacy-smart group of kids I've ever had!"  They are constantly keeping us on our toes and we've had to step it up to feed their strong interest in letters and words.  Sure, we have a language-rich environment, through stories, narrations by children, songs and games that trigger parts of the brain that build language.  But the pre-reading skills that have emerged in this particular group have arisen out of their interest in each other.  They point out the first letter in each others' names, they have been able to recognize each others' names for a while now, and have even asked us to write down all the kids names so they could copy them.  We finally just posted them on the wall near the art table so they could reference them as needed.
 Creating spaces that allow children to work together fosters social connections.  I've heard that rectangular tables are more conducive to kids' socializing because they allow them to be closer and face each other.  Circular tables, while they feel more spacious, spread kids out further, making it harder to connect.

We never made reading and writing or learning letters our own agenda.  All we had to do was wait for our cue.  This is the essence of a child-led curriculum.  When the brain is ready, it will seek information to fulfill that readiness, and an attentive teacher will respond by offering activities rich in literacy or math or science or whatever academic stimulation the brain is hungry for.  In this way we help the brain make neural connections on a path that has established its own momentum, allowing children to learn much more efficiently than rote learning via flash cards or computer games.  While social development paves the way for learning, the teacher's role is to feed the subsequent desire to learn.

However, look how beautifull they are using this round table!  Leslie gave them mirrors to give another dimension of book-reading.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Grating Chalk and a Treasure Hunt

Two activities that incorporate the element of water:

Painting with Grated Chalk
Adapted from "Chalk Float Design" (MaryAnn Kohl)

Materials needed:
cheese grater
sidewalk chalk
paint brush(es)
white construction paper (I suggest 12"x18")
spray bottle
patience to let the kids explore the materials the way they choose : )

Treasure Hunt
Brought to you by Jeanette at Barron Park Preschool!

Materials needed:
laminated charts
objects to hide in containers
container with water, a small scoop of flour and a little salt, and a squirt of water color
(variation: use bird seed or play sand in which case the charts don't need to be laminated)
tray for each station
rag or towel for drying hands and areas
willingness to have a messy table

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Day Wrap Up

All through our Valentine's Day celebrations yesterday I kept thinking about love at Beansprouts.  We take an approach to teaching where the solid relationship between teacher and child comes first and as a result our group feels very cohesive, with the words "I love you" often shared between children and teachers.  Valentine's Day is a perfect excuse to incorporate this love as a visible part of the curriculum.

love bug stations

We made "love bugs", inspired, again (!) by Frugal Family Fun blog.

 We had a stamping station where the kids could spell out the words "love" or "hug", or just do whatever they wanted and stamp all over the page.  Even some children who couldn't spell in the sequence made linear patterns, showing their understanding of at least one component of composing words from letters.

 I know that playdough looks orange but it was a beautiful bright pink.  Our secret for making brightly colored playdough is using food color gel like you use for frosting.  Adding just a smidge of royal blue turned it from light red to bright pink!
Now why does it look so orange?!?

Ro using the flower arrangement work.  Lots of silk flowers and some ceramic vases from the dollar bins at Michael's made for lots of Valentine's themed fun.  Thank you for the idea, Kim from Barron Park Preschool!

 In the afternoon, Leslie gave each child a wooden heart plaque with the first letter of their name that they painted with acrylic paints.

Leslie made this game for the kids where they shake the paper heart along the yarn (which is attached on one side to the gate) to help the heart travel to the end.

Cookie cutter/glue/ of my personal favorite activities

Glitter paint in squeeze bottles.

Heart collage with our friend's names. 

Snack time:
Our morning snack on Valentine's Day was nothing spectacular...I planned on making heart-shaped graham crackers with the children but with everything else going on it didn't really happen, so we had granola with pink almond milk...and it was a smash!
Afternoon snack was a huge success and lots of fun.

Valentine's Day Circle Time:
"Love Grows"
"Love is Something If You Give It Away"
The most emphatic and beautiful sung round of "Skidamarink" we've ever done
 We also did this new song that we found online somewhere:
(To the tune of "This Old Man")
Look who's coming down the walk
Mr. Mailman won't you stop
With a knock, knock, knock 
Is anybody home?
A Valentine for you has come

We added movements that go along with it to keep it engaging, and at the end, we open our hands as if we are opening a Valentine's Day card.  This triggers the kids to start calling out what their Valentine "says".  It's always something very Valentine-y, like "Mine says 'Happy Valentine's Day'!" or "Mine says 'I love lollipops!'".

And, of course, our usual rounds of "Rig-a-jig", where every chorus is free-dancing and every verse is directing the kids to do a particular movement or enactment, was filled with hugs and dancing together.  I noticed three kids sitting out for this song so I made one of the verses about pretending they were a kitty cat (the latest craze here at Beansprouts) and it got the rest of them to join in, so that when it was time to do free dancing, they participated in that, too!

By the end of the day, the kids' Valentine's Day mailboxes were brimming full of cards, notes, candy, cookies, and even a rose!  Maria made them each a felt heart-shaped beanbag that she hand stitched herself (they were so beautiful that I almost asked for one myself!).  So needless to say, the kids left feeling rich, their mailboxes overflowing with loot and their hearts overflowing with love!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Happy New Year!

I would start this post with a "better late than never" caveat...but then Leslie told me that Chinese New Year can last up to fifteen days!

On the first day of the new year, we celebrated with activities and food but the best part of all was when I was in the kitchen and overheard the children eating their longevity noodle snack and telling each other "These are for the Chinese New Year".  I just love hearing them reference holidays now that they sort of have a better understanding of them.

Before I even realized that it was Chinese New Year, Be suggested that we paint the big red hearts at our makeshift table easels with gold paint.  He was right on the money because when we looked it up, red and gold are very popular to decorate with on Chinese New Year!

 For this project, we mixed white glue, shaving cream, and gold liquid water colors.  The final result was not as golden as we were hoping, but turned out nice and puffy and silky smooth!  By the way, those five-minute makeshift table easels were made with folded cardboard taped to the table and clothespins taped to the cardboard.  A perfect way to bring a different dimension (vertical-ness) to a standard painting activity!  The shaving cream paint was the perfect drip-less formula for this upright art project.

We also decorated the classroom with red ornaments made from red circle-shaped paper that the kids punched holes in and hung with paper clips. 

 They liked this activity so much that it took them a long time before even noticing that there were other kids using drills in the classroom!

 Be walks off to hang an ornament..that blurry yellow thing is a paperclip!  Le concentrates in the background...her idea was also to put masking tape on the ornaments (of course this is no surprise...she likes to decorate everything with masking tape!)

 Since there is a shortage of places to hang ornaments in the classroom, the kids had to create little clotheslines from black yarn to have a place to hang the ornaments.  It was fun to watch where they hung them (on the front door, of course).  We also ended up with super long pieces of black yarn everywhere because that's part of the fun in using yarn to begin with : )

Outside, the kids made paper lanterns to hang out of red paper.  In the usual Beansprouts fashion, the kids' art was all very unique and wonderful and watching how engaged they were in their process was great. 
 I remember the days when staplers and hold punchers (even scissors) were much too dangerous for these they use them so well!

And since it is the Year of the Rabbit, Leslie pointed out the appropriateness of visiting Carrot, who always appreciates the attention he gets from the children.  He used to come and look for food, but now he comes looking for love!

In the afternoon, Leslie made longevity noodles for the kids.  These are a traditional food served for festive occasions in China.  The recipe was something like this one and we all enjoyed it!  By the way, we made ours vegan style with veggie broth and omitted the eggs.  We also used udon noodles instead of rice noodles.

It was fun to hear about the kids experiences with Chinese New Year.  Since we have Chinese ethnicity represented in two of our families it was that much more important to honor the holiday.

Wrestling is good for children.

Originally published Sept 2010 Many of our parents seemed shocked when they came to pick up their children from Beansprouts and found the...