Babies in Nature!

Young children learn through their senses, which is why outdoor spaces are such good learning environments for them!  Outside they see trees and shadows, hear wind and bird song, smell flowers and rain, touch blades of grass and caterpillars, even taste – perhaps a raindrop.  All of this exposure and stimulation of the senses helps develop their perceptual abilities. It is important even for our infants to enjoy and learn from experiences to explore and interact first-hand with nature!

Of course the outdoors is also the best place for young children to practice and master emerging physical skills.  As you can see in the pictures, they are encouraged and aided by the climbing equipment, push toys, and low-walled structures, which are perfect for our little friends to practice pulling themselves up  This type of play helps focus their body awareness and develops a healthy self-image.

Playground time strongly promotes physical development, but it is not the only type of learning occurring.  Outside play provides an opportunity to learn new vocabulary words in a concrete way.  It provides mathematical learning in the form of patterns and science learning as children observe plants, animals, weather patterns, etc.  Outside play also provides an opportunity to expand imaginations of young children beyond the constraints of the classroom.

Too many children spend most of their time indoors. This can lead to a number of problems including childhood obesity.  There are so many benefits to outdoor play even for out littlest friends, including a reduction in stress now and for years to come, which is why we plan for outside play daily.  And outdoor play involves real learning!

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Butterfly Release!

Learning about the life cycle of butterflies fascinated our 3 year olds and gave us many opportunities to use our minds! Our caterpillars arrived in a small container and we used our math skills to count how many there were.

Every day we watched the caterpillars eat and get bigger and longer in length. During story time each day, we read about all the different kinds of butterflies. And after a week, our caterpillars climbed to the top of the container and attached themselves to the top of the cup. They formed themselves into a “J” shape, which the children noticed right away! They then shed their exoskeletons (which is one of the words we learned) and started to harden into chrysalises (another new word).

We had to wait about 3 days for the chrysalises to harden and then we moved them into our butterfly habitat. We watched them for another week without a lot of activity…..and then out popped butterflies! This prompted a lot of questions such as…. “What do they eat?” and “Why are the wings of the butterflies so crinkly and wet?“ There was plenty more to know and explore about these lovely creatures!

We made some sweetened sugar water and put an orange slice in the habitat. The butterflies flew back and forth nourishing themselves on the sweets. After a week, we took them outside so they could be free! Some of our butterflies decided to land on us as we were letting them go. Maybe they knew we didn’t want to see them leave, but we really were happy to see them fly freely in the sky!

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Water Play!

Water play is a favorite activity during the summer months! Children enjoy splashing, running through sprinklers, sliding, and giggling as they get wet in their fun! But water play is more than just plain fun. It offers children the opportunity to explore and learn in all developmental areas.

Water promotes relaxation and encourages children to release their emotions with every splash and swoosh. In dumping and pouring water, there is sharing of water tools and the use of words to express feelings and share conversation, which facilitates growth in social and emotional development.

Water also promotes children’s physical development by encouraging them to move freely in and out of the water. Creativity and imagination is encouraged as children love to pretend they are in wet places like the ocean or at a car wash!

Filling various sized containers with water teaches children lessons in math as they explore how many glasses it will take to fill a bucket. Children also learn about science while experimenting with objects that float and sink.

Enjoy these warm summer days with simple water play for fun and learning!

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Healthy Eating!

With fresh fruits and vegetables locally available this time of year, we have been sharing nutrition lessons in the classrooms.  Children who learn early how to make wise food choices, develop good eating habits, and have healthy attitudes about food will enjoy the benefits for  the rest of their lives! According to research, food preferences appear to be established by the age of two or three and change little over the next five years.  As many of our Care-a-lot children eat breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack at the center, we do our best to provide a variety of healthy foods with a number of components at each meal.

We start working on “5 a day” in the morning, usually a fruit at breakfast to accompany a whole grain and a serving of milk.  At lunch time we provide both a fruit and a vegetable, a protein, a complex carbohydrate, and milk.  At each meal we encourage children to listen to their own bodies and allow their appetites to govern how much they eat.  They may not eat everything.  They may only mouth it and spit it out or simply ignore it for the first five or ten times it is offered.  However, exposing children to a wide variety of foods is an important part of establishing healthy attitudes and knowledge about food and nutrition.

Another important aspect of childhood development and learning is play.  It is with this in mind that we provide age appropriate nutrition related activities in each of the classrooms.  In the pictures below, you can see a toddler classroom playing with a build-your-own-salad play set.  Children love to help “cook,” which is a great way to establish healthy eating habits.  Therefore we chose toys for the toddlers with loose parts, like the salad kit, to give the children a chance to practice making healthy food.

Familiarity breeds comfort, which we hope to encourage with repeated exposure to healthful foods both at the table and by reenforcing with mindful toys.  Encourage play with fruits and vegetables rather than the toy chips and colorful cupcakes that seem to be so popular in children’s play sets!

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Ocean Creations!

The Henrietta UPK class learned all about oceans and created a display to show some of the new information they collected!  In creating their own ocean view, the children painted glue over a star and then covered them with colored sand.  The starfish were then added to their ocean scene bulletin board.
What makes art such a great teaching tool? Art engages children’s senses in open-ended play and develops cognitive, social, emotional and sensori-motor skills. Art is a cooperative learning experience that provides pleasure, challenge, and a sense of mastery. Instruction in the arts is one of the best ways in which to involve the different modes of learning; through art, children learn complex thinking skills and master developmental objectives.
Art is an outstanding tool for teaching not only developmental skills, but also academic subjects such as math, science, and literacy. The most effective learning takes place when children do something related to the topic they are learning. When children study any given concept, they learn it better and retain it longer if they do an art activity that reinforces that learning.  The US Dept. of Labor recently puclished a report that concludes, “Arts education helps students develop skills needed for most jobs in later life, including creative thinking, problem solving, exercise of individual responsibilty, sociability and self-esteem.”  So, keep those crayons and paints avaiable for your child!
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