Toddler Dumping Toys Equals Learning

Toddlers are small scientists. They love to push and pull, move things around, fill up and dump out.

Using a container filled with transportation vehicles,  a toddler uses his physical skills to explore. He uses his thinking skills to develop cognitive skills that are important for school success. This is an activity that for a toddler is a very real part of his school readiness.

IMG_4274 transportation bucket 

The first thing he does is dump the vehicles out of the container! No suprise here. He uses his strength and coordination to dump the toys and then experiment.

IMG_4272 transportation

As frustrating as it can be for adults come cleanup time, dumping is an important cognitive exercise. He realizes that one object, like a bucket, can hold another object. Now that he has discovered this he will want to dump the bucket often. Dumping the bucket is easier than filling it, so be patient. Celebrate that toddlers use their fine motor skills to dump and once it’s discovered he is likely to repeat it over and over again.

During the first few years, trillions of synapses are formed in response to learning experiences just like this! Celebrate and provide many more dumping out buckets experiences so more connections are made.

IMG_4271 transportation

Get ready ahead by setting up play areas with manageable activities. Taking objects out of a large box, pretend food out of a pan, toys out of a container, and  puzzle pieces out of a puzzle will keep a toddler developing and learning.



Posted in cognitive, Colors, kindergarten readiness, Motor Development, School readiness, Terrific Toddlers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Link and Learn

I love using  these 4-color links for sorting, patterning, counting, measurement, even graphing activities! These pliable links are easy for young children to connect and separate.

IMG_4302 links

After dumping the links out, the toddler started linking two links together using fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.


IMG_4304 links

With determination and persistence he was successfull in linking several together. We talked about the names of the colors of each of the links.



IMG_4308 links linked

What a great time we had counting the number of links. We measure to see how long the linked links were. This picutre shows how (with some help) a pattern was made for this length of links.

IMG_4307 links in color groups

After playing for a long time, the links were unlinked and then sorted by color. We counted together to see if each of the 4 piles of colors were the same or different.




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Sensory Play with Corn

We went to the fair! We found a wonderful sensory opportunity. This would be a wonderful experience to make quickly yourself.

IMG_4295 the corn

Use a container like a small wading pool to put in lots of corn kernels.


IMG_4290 corn sensorySensory experiences generally appeal to young children. Very little instruction is needed for a child to play with the materials. Just take off the shoes and step in!


IMG_4291 corn sensory

Children stregthen fine motor skills as they scoop the corn kernels up into the truck, push the truck, and wiggle fingers in the corn. Eye-hand coordination develops while working with the corn. Gross motor skills develop while walking through the corn and balancing.


IMG_4293corn sensory

Language develops more and vocabulary expands while they hear words like grainy, hard, pour, and push. Children ask questions and answer questions during play.

I observed children standing up for their rights during this sensory play with corn. Most of the children share the trucks and tools for scooping the corn. Good social emotional times.

Cause and effect happens as he figures out how to load the trucks, move them in the corn, and dump the corn.

The sensory experience happens through not only the fingers and hands but also the feet!

If you have not tried this yet, I think you will love it. The corn kernals are small so provide parental/adult supervision.




Posted in cognitive, Colors, dramatic play, Language, Motor Development, Observation, Outdoor Play, Self-Regulation, sensory, Super Science, Terrific Toddlers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Book for a Week

The library area can be the most popular area in a classroom AND story time can be the favorite time of day. A fun way to use a favorite book is to make it a book for a week. So instead of just reading it one time and putting it on the library shelf, use that book everyday for 5 days!

IMG_4309 book for a week

Whatever book you choose, practice reading the book aloud several times before presenting it to the child(ren). One day 1, introduce the book to the children. Talk about the author who is the adult who wrote the story so we can read them, the illustrator who draws or takes the pictures and the parts of the book: the front, the back, the spine, the pages, and the words.

Plan ahead for including the book into each day’s activities and routines. A few examples:


  • children could draw a picture of the main character in the book
  • decorate a paper bag to look like a character or a part of the story
  • fingerpaint a collage using the main colors in the book
  • design a mural to retell the story on paper

Dramatic Play:

  • include props that are in the story so children can pretend with them during the day/week
  • turn the Dramatic Play area into a representation of the story
  • paper sacks, sale signs, and baskets for recreating markets, harvest, and stores in the story
  • to role play clerks, cashiers and customers have shopping bags, note pads, pens, sales flyers, cash register


  • add a steering wheel when the story has a main vehicle in it
  • bring in empty boxes so children can create buildings and cars from the story


  • real or pretend money for stories that have money exchange in them
  • real tickets or paper to create tickets to show the amount for a bus ride or purchase
  • have sets of threes or fours to match the story: number of bowls, people, colors, mats, bears
  • alphabet letters or numbers to count and sequence


  • as a group or in small groups, write a new ending to the story


  • for stories with foods have a tasting event so children can taste a coconut, etc
  • make a food in the story: fruit salad, muffins


  • for stories that have lyrics, write the words and children can follow the words as they sing
  • make up a song for the book and write the words on a paper large enough for the group to see
  • march around the room like the character in the story

Water Table:

  • provide clothes for children to wash by hand
  • apples to wash before cooking
  • find objects in kernals of corn

After a couple days of reading, invite a dad or another person to come read the story.




Posted in Books, kindergarten readiness, Language, Lesson Plans, literacy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plunger Painting

For a new painting experience try “plunger painting”.

Just get a new plunger, some paint and paper. I like to pour the paint into a container that has a lip around the edge to keep the paint inside. This is a large muscle activity so it can be easier to do this painting outdoors.

IMG_4297 plunger paint


Before painting with the plunger,  introduce the plunger to children. Children can experience how a plunger works. Demonstrate how to push the plunger down and how to pick it up. Now, it is time to give the plungers a try on their own.

Each child gets to dip the plunger into the paint. Then a child sets the plunger on the paper that’s on the floor, ground, or sidewalk. The painted plunger can be set on the paper several times before more paint is needed.


IMG_4243 plunger painting


Remember the list of items to have to provide a variety of materials in the art center? Well, the plunger meets that need.

When finished, count the number of circles. How many circles are there? How can you tell? Are they all the same size, same color, or different?

It takes self-regulation to just dip the plunger one time and then set it on the paper several times before getting more paint.

The social-emotional skill of following directions is evident. Depending on the number of children, they take turns and cheer for other children enhancing that feeling of community!

Children use large muscles to do plunger painting. Back muscles, arms, shoulders and even legs get involved.

Language skills are enhances with new vocabulary words: plunger and suction.

This so simple but alot of fun!








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New Foods

Put a smile on when toddlers and preschoolers are offered healthy meals and snacks. We can’t go wrong when all the foods being offered are all healthy. But what if they won’t try it?

IMG_4261 eating

Young children will often try new foods in their own time – not ours! That time of trying out foods and finally eating the new food is often longer than what we adults want. Good research has shown that children naturally are not sure about a new food placed in front of them. Research also shows that children may need to see a new food more than eight times before they venture forth to taste it.

Does the environment make a difference? Yes! A relaxed environment with support from the adults does help. Toddlers and preschoolers do NOT want to feel pressure to try new foods. Children will feel more comfortable trying a new food when they see other children and adults eating the food.

While at the table, draw attention to the new food and suggest they try it. The conversation can include what kind of food is served, what color it is, if it’s hot or cold, how the food is prepared, if the child(ren) eat the food at home or other places, and where it comes from. Keep the table conversation child-directed and focused on the children’s interests. For one listening in, they will hear children talking more than adults.

Remember! Just like adults not every child likes the same foods.







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Collage With Cotton Balls

For a quick collage with cotton balls project you only need a tray, construction paper, cotton balls, and glue. Any color cotton balls will do.

IMG_4248cball art

There is no teacher direction as to where to glue the cotton balls on the paper (except to glue on the paper!). Children look at the paper and problem solve and plan how and where to place their cotton balls on their own paper.

IMG_4249 cottonb art

Adults/teachers/parents get to do 2 things in our role: observe and ask questions.

Observe during this activity to see if children:

  • glue one cotton ball at a time onto the paper
  • create patterns with the colored/white cotton balls
  • create shapes with the cotton balls
  • glue cotton balls on top of other cotton balls


Questions to encourage thinking:

  • How do the cotton balls feel?
  • What can you use besides glue to make the cotton balls stick?
  • How much glue does it take to make them stick?
  • When I cut the cotton ball in half, how many do I have? How do you know? Are you sure?

IMG_4250 cotton art

In addition, children may:

  • create a 3 dimensional form
  • explore the soft texture
  • arranging cotton balls
  • contrast
  • create patterns

So fun! I’d love to hear how you like and use this collage with cotton balls activity!





Posted in Art, cognitive, Colors, kindergarten readiness, Language, Math, Motor Development, School readiness, Self-Regulation, sensory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Green Zucchini Squash Pizza

Hurrah for zucchini time. Since there is so much zucchini in the garden, I brought some in for the young preschoolers and toddlers to make their own individual pizzas. We are making green zucchini squash pizza today.

IMG_4190zuccini slices

First thing is to wash and slice the zucchini. Washing the zucchini is a job the toddlers and preschoolers can do well. As they wash conversation is extended so we have back and forth discussions with me, the teacher, extending and questioning ideas. For example, I ask how many zucchini there are to wash. After the child answers I ask how do you know? And then, how many do you have washed so far? If you wash one more, how many will you have washed? This early mathematical language helps children build math competence.


IMG_4196 toppings


Now for the toppings. Meat, green peppers, cheese, onion, and cilantro are all available. Choose what you and the children like or you want the children to try.

We count how many pieces of cheese there are and then show that same number with our fingers. There are 2! This helps children to see multiple representations of the number 2.


Each child puts a zucchini slice, that is round, on the pan and choose what toppings they want on it. Making choices will help young children develop self-regulation and autonomy. Identifying what each food item is develops language and conversation is expanded to include classifying if it is meat, vegetable, or milk product.

IMG_4192 meat and cheese

A little cilantro is chosen for this zucchini pizza.

IMG_4194 with cilantro


After going in oven on broil for a few minutes, the cheese melts. Yummmmmm…..what a great smell! This melted goodness is enjoyed by each child.

IMG_4195 melted with cilantro


IMG_4197 cooked and yum


Because each child makes their own or several green zucchini squash pizza, they are more likely to eat it, too!  Clean up is easy, too.


What can be learned?

There has been opportunities for math, numbers, conversation, language, fine motor development, autonomy, and social skills.






Posted in cognitive, Colors, Inclusion, Language, Manners, Meal Time, sensory, Shapes, Super Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Zucchini Chips

I have some wonderful zucchini growing in the garden and thought I’d try a recipe a friend of mine shared and see if the preschool children would eat it. They are zucchini chips – instead of potato chips. It sounded so easy that I thought “I can do this!”

IMG_4189 zuccini

So, here is what I did. First I washed the zucchini. Children can wash zucchini. Another chance to play in the water, too.

Next, I sliced the zucchini in what I hoped were even thickness slices.

IMG_4190zuccini slices

Now I put them on the dryer and spritz a bit of olive oil and a bit of sea salt on top. It took about 6-8 hours to dry depending on how thick the slices were. I took them out when they were slightly crispy. I decided to try some other toppings so I tried garlic, then my own dehydrated onions and salt, and then one with a bit of taco seasoning.

IMG_4198 Zuccini chips

Good news! So far, most everyone from preschoolers to adults have liked them. I am thrilled! What a fun way to eat zucchini and it’s so easy that the preschoolers can help, too!

Enjoy making the zucchini chips!


Any learning?

  • fine motor skills when washing the zucchini
  • listening when being given guidance
  • social emotion when following directions
  • sorting the seasoned chips
  • eye-hand when sprinkling the seasoning on top
  • sensory experience when tasting along with language and vocabulary when describing how they taste
  • autonomy when doing their own special job
  • social when taking turns
  • cognitive when being persistent to finish the task
  • identifying the colors and shape
  • math – of course, we compared the sizes, tastes, and counted

(Thanks Karla for the idea!)




Posted in cognitive, Colors, Language, Manners, Math, Meal Time, Motor Development, School readiness, Self-Regulation, sensory, Shapes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Observing Trees

We have a huge tree outside and several more trees of different sizes. Young children love to look at the huge tree and feel it. Why not use the tree for observation and learning? This observation activity lasts for as long as wanted.

First, pick a tree to observe and notice what color is the bark. “Bark” is a new vocabulary word for some preschoolers. Does the tree have leaves today? What color are they? Are any leaves on the ground or just on the tree branches.  How do you know? “Branches” is a new vocabulary word also.

IMG_0007 trees blog

Someone has the idea to take a picture of the tree. I can put that picture on the laptop so the children can see it or print it off to hang in our room.

Another day, observing a tree involves putting paper on the trunk and using a crayon making a “rub” art of the bark on the tree. Now the art can be displayed in the room or hung on the fence.

IMG_4186 tree blog

During outdoor play, individual children will notice something about the tree and come to me with a comment or we’ll both go look at the tree together. Sometimes several children will join in. It could be a small insect or just the way the bark is shaped.

Still, another day, a few small twigs from a branch has fallen on the ground after a wind storm. We gather the twigs touching them and noticing how they feel. For this tree, they are smoother than the bark on the trunk. We measure them. Which one is big, which one is small. We put them in order from smallest to biggest. We vote on them to see which one we like the best.

On our last day of formally observing the tree, the children bring paper outside to draw a leaf or any part of the tree.

IMG_4187 tree blog

The preschool children have developed a better understanding of trees and especially a tree they see everyday. They also developed their observation skills, found other plants and insects, fine motor skills, language through conversation about the tree, vocabulary, compared and sorted, and did a community vote.

Do you have a tree in your playground or neighborhood to observe?




Posted in ABCs, Art, cognitive, Colors, For Teachers & Parents, Language, Lesson Plans, Observation, Outdoor Play, Super Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment