Saturday, January 31, 2015

Take 5 --- Just 5 Minutes to Connect

About two years ago, we added a new component to some of our focused learning modules in our program for family child care providers. Focused learning modules are a set of lesson plans for both our mentors and the providers to use to address specific issues in an intentional manner within each program. We have done modules on math, science, music, art, dance, and some specific for doing science and enhancing brain development with infants and toddlers. The new component added was titled "Take 5."

Take 5 activities are basically one simple activity for parents to do with their children in the childcare setting that take just five minutes. These activities are a modification of what the children have been doing with the caregiver during the day and serve to engage parents and extend the learning.

A tremendous amount of resistance was reported back to our office. Providers said the parents wouldn't come in and do things with their kids. We heard things like "My parents don't have time for this," and "My parents told me that they pay me to take care of their kids and I shouldn't be giving them homework." Other providers have said these same parents are often the ones wondering what the providers were doing to prepare their children for school.

For my post today, I've included the Take 5 Activity Instructions given to the providers and two sample activities. I still believe this is an appropriate and effective way to engage parents in the learning process and is a stepping stone to homework activities that will be part of a family's "big school" experience. Perhaps some of you reading this blog will be able to implement Take 5 activities in your preschool programs and school programs can utilize the concept to begin the bridge of learning from school to home.

Take 5 Activity Instructions (given to providers)

     Parent engagement is an important feature of high quality childcare programs and children's success in school. These "Take 5" activities are designed to engage parents (or guardians) through learning activities that you have been doing with the children. They will support parents in being active partners in their children's education process.

Materials for each Take 5 activity: (each provider was given these materials)
  • 1 laminated sign for your parent information board (entry door, sign in sheet area, etc.)
  • 1 instruction sheet for parents/guardians
  • Data collection sheet(s) 
  • Reporting form
  • Information sheet for parents
How it Works:
     Do the activate for the Take 5 with the children in advance.
     Leave the materials for the activity out in the appropriate play space so that parents can easily access it.
     Post the Take 5 sign where parents can see it as they drop off or pick up children.
     Encourage parents to take five minutes and complete the activity and data collection sheet with their child(ten).
     If parents are not used to learning through play with their children or they have very young children, you may need to be nearby and available to provide support.
     Make notes on the Take 5 reporting form. 


Innovative Measuring – Explore different ways to measure how tall you and your child are in our math center! Please make notes on the data recording sheet for our discussion times.

What you see above is the "laminated sign." An instruction sheet, measuring materials, and the data recording sheet were to be displayed  for parents. Parents could then use a ruler or pencil or crayon or hand to measure themselves, objects in the room, or their child. They were asked to write down the date, what they learned, and sign it. Example:
     Sue Smith   1/15/15   child is 36" tall; 16 pencils tall; 25 hands high; my foot is 1 pencil long; Tim's foot is 1/2 a pencil long

I Spy. Play a game of I Spy with My Little Eye with your little one. 
Locate an object in the room such as a red ball, and say, “I Spy with my little eye something that bounces. I spy something that bounces and is red.” Let your child guess. Take turns letting your child choose an item and you guess. Ask your family child care provider for support if you need to make the activity easier for infants.  

Please sign the sheet noting your participation!

The data collection sheet in this case would simple show the parent's name, date, and items "spied."
Example:  Mary Turner  1/14/15  red ball, purple dinosaur, yellow curtains.

Sing a Song Together – Choose one of the three songs to sing and play with your child. Remember to do the motions as you sing!
Notecards with song lyrics and hand motions were made available to the parents. Additional cards were available if parents wished to take the activity home with them to do later. If parents were not familiar with the song or motions, caregivers were available to demonstrate. 
Parents were asked to write down the date, what song they sang, and sign it. 
Example:  Paul Rogers   1/16/15   Itsy Bitsy Spider

 I look forward to hearing how you engage parents in the learning process as well as whether or not you made the Take 5 concept work for you!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bean Bags & A Song

Who doesn't like a bean bag?  Even as an adult, you get one in your hand and you begin squishing it.  They feel so....interesting.

Bean bags are one of the many things in early childhood that are thought of as 'toys' and yet they are so much more than that.  It's almost as if 'toy' is a bad word, like there is no time for toys in early childhood.  We must help children get ready for school, not be treating them as if they are already there! (Remember?  It's called "Preschool".)  Toys are the tools of childhood.  It is with toys that many skills are developed because it is through play we learn how to navigate the world.  Bean bags are fun toys.  Let's break down the things that are learned when playing with bean bags.

The first aspect is tactile.  Children are feeling them.  Squishing them.  Poking them. This helps to develop the FINE MOTOR SKILLS of the fingers.  When they push down on the beans in the middlle and they move, that's SCIENCE!  They are learning displacement. When they toss a bean bag up in the air and it comes down, that's gravity.  None of these concepts need to be named.  They can just happen while children's brains get wired for understanding the concept when the time comes.

Another fun thing to do with bean bags is walk and balance with one on your head, foot or shoulder. This is important for VESTIBULAR strengthening.  By taking the bean bag and placing it on different parts of the body, children are learning body parts - LANGUAGE.  

When using bean bags with children, I encourage them to 'try what I'm doing' and 'show me what you're doing'.  This allows for you to show them ideas and acknowledges they, too, can think of things to do.  CREATIVE THINKING as well as CONFIDENCE.  I also ask them to share with a friend and trade bean bags.  SOCIAL INTERACTION.

There are many songs using bean bags.  (I, myself, have composed a few.)  The combination of music with the bean bag activities intensifies the learning experience.  Music helps the children utilize the bean bags in a constructive way while making it easier to understand.  Because of music, they will retain what they've learned a bit longer as well because the music will get more areas of the brain involved in what could have been just mostly a motor movement activity.

If you haven't used bean bags in a while, it is time to revisit them.  Here is a link to quality bean bags made in the USA.   Bear Paw Creek Bean Bags   
To get a 10% discount, use code : Musicwithmar

If you are using bean bags, YAY!  Either way, here is a free song download for you.  Get out those bean bags and do the "Bean Bag Groove".  
Download here : BEANS  And use the word BEANS for the code.  
(Offer valid until Jan 31, 2015)

For daily brain facts, please visit Music with Mar. Brain Facts Page
Music with Mar. Website
Maryann “Mar.” Harman
BA Music / MA Education
Founder of Music with Mar.

Friday, January 23, 2015

All Wrapped Up

Hi! It's Scott from Brick by Brick. I love to repurpose materials—use materials in ways different from their intended use.

Well, this time I'm using "repurpose" in a little different way. Recently I was reminded that kids can use materials in ways they were intended, materials that are usually not used by kids but by adults.

We had a "gift wrapping" experience recently in my class. Kids got to use tissue paper and clear tape. These materials are things I would use to wrap gifts myself.

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

Kids often do not get to explore these types of items. So, my kids wrapped and wrapped. They would bring me a "gift," I would unwrap and appreciate the gift, they would wrap it up again.

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

What did they wrap? Food boxes that had been stuffed with newspaper; a few wooden blocks; a couple of homemade Velcro blocks. You could give them whatever was on hand. 

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

I like using tissue paper because it is easier to fold and handle than wrapping paper. And it's much cheaper. (Don't use that expensive art tissue; get the gift wrap kind from the dollar store!)

Gift Wrapping (Brick by Brick)

You can save the tissue if you want for later collage projects. We just tossed it after our exploration was a wrap.

Think of ways you can give kids adult tools or materials that they can explore and use themselves. I posted about glue guns and staplers in the past. Kids could use screwdrivers or hand drills, mixing bowls and whisks, spray bottles and dish cloths. We have even used a drying rack when we washed our play dishes

Look around the house. Walk through the store. Kids love to use those adult materials. What can you explore?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Nurturing Future Arts Lovers

Best Wishes for 2015!

Most of my writing about movement has focused on the importance of providing children opportunities to participate in the arts.  Today I am writing about nurturing engaged and interested arts audience members.

An important part of learning to appreciate dance, music, theater and other arts is to learn how to be an attentive and courteous audience member.    
We can do that with young children in the classroom by dividing the class into two or more groups and allowing each group to show, describe, perform, etc., whatever artistic endeavor they happen to be exploring.  The non-performing group or groups in this case becomes the audience.  I like to use this opportunity to explain what it means to be a polite audience member.  First of all, of course, I remind them that this is the other children's chance to perform, and the audience must be respectful of them and give them their full attention.  For very young children, I give them a task while they are watching, which becomes their focus and helps them to concentrate.

For example, let's say we are playing a movement game about making snowflake shapes.  

Making a snowflake shape!
Another snowflake shape!

Another snowflake shape!
I give the audience group a "watching task" such as:  "Watch the other children and see if you will see someone making a pointy snowflake shape, and also watch for a curvy snowflake shape!"  Before you change groups and it is their turn to "perform," follow up by asking them what they saw, and allow them to offer other ideas about what they noticed the other children doing.  They may also want to tell you what they are going to try when it is their turn to dance.  This has the added benefit of stimulating ideas for all of the children as they explore the movement game.  

I give a similar but different set of tasks when it is the other group's chance to "perform." ("Watch for a snowflake shape that is turning!" "Watch for one that is low to the ground!").  If I do this exercise periodically over the course of the year, the children become more comfortable waiting for their turns, and also are more involved in the whole activity of the group.  It has the added benefit of adding to a child's excitement to perform when it is his or her opportunity to shine.  These are all positive outcomes for an activity that on its face is passive (watching other children while waiting their turns), but it is not difficult to turn it into one that is engaging for the children.  

Most communities offer concerts, performances, museum exhibits, and other art events that are geared toward children.  Another suggestion I would make is to look for opportunities to attend dress rehearsals which are often open to the public and have a more informal atmosphere than the actual performance.  I obtained permission from the Cincinnati Ballet to bring my granddaughter to a dress rehearsal of Peter Pan.  She had just turned one, so my daughter-in-law and I didn't know what to expect.  It turned out that my granddaughter sat quietly for about a half hour, completely enraptured by the music and dance.  And, because it was a less formal setting than if we had taken her to see the full-length ballet, we could leave quietly when she was ready to go, without disturbing anyone.  

Other quick tips for taking children to and getting the most out of arts events, include checking the arts organization's website for educational enrichment related to the presentation, making sure to arrive with plenty of time for the children to become accustomed to the space, and checking for opportunities to meet the performers after the show.

In addition to introducing children to many different art forms and ways of looking at the world, you will help to foster lifelong appreciation in the delights of art, theater, and dance.

Keep on dancin' in 2015,


Sunday, January 18, 2015


#ReadYourWorld: Celebrating Children, Diversity and Humanity

“Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Hello, everyone. Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL. Thank you for joining me. I’m starting off 2015 by promoting books and multicultural literacy through the 2nd annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD), #ReadYourWorld.

Co-founders Valerie Budayr from Jump Into a Book, and Mia Wenjen, from Pragmatic Mom write, “Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. (We’re) on a mission to change all of that….to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries....Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book.” 

Young readers won’t find access to these books, however without adult help – from parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and booklovers - and bloggers! That’s where I come in. I’m one of over 150 bloggers writing posts on a multicultural book this month! On January 27, 2015, all contributing bloggers – and their book reviews – will be linked together on the MCCBD site for a multi-faceted gala reveal.

MCCBD is also partnering with First Book to create a Virtual Book Drive for the event, and with The Children’s Book Council to offer readers quality resources. Be there or be ☐. No worries, however, the resource will be archived on the MCCBD website for all eternity…or until the internet ends, whichever comes first!

I was delighted to be matched with Meera Sriram, an author born and raised in India, now living in the U.S. In our introductory emails, Meera wrote, “When I decided to follow my heart and start writing for children, I really wanted to address the void in the children's literature scene in India. I now have four books published in India.” The book she chose to share was Dinaben and the Lions of Gir, co-authored by Praba Ram.

The book opens a window into the world of the Maldhari community of Gujarat, India, some of who live in the Gir Forest. A bit of backstory may be helpful: The Gir Forest is famous for being sole remaining habitat for the Asiatic lion, and the Gir Forest National Park  and Wildlife Sanctuary were established for their protection. No human activity is allowed in the National Park, and only the Maldhari, famous for their dairy farming, are allowed to graze their cattle in the adjacent Wildlife Sanctuary. The Maldhari and the lions have coexisted for centuries, but the existence of both is challenged by other complex issues. 

In the first part of the book, the reader is introduced to Dinaben and the world she occupies. Standing in her house between suspended silver-colored water vessels, the richness of her clothing, and the textiles of other Maldharis shown on the next page, stands in stark contrast to a modest way of life.

Dinaben’s village is in the middle of the Gir Forest, home to a vast array of plants, birds and animals – including lions! The domestic cows and buffalos of the villagers also graze in the Gir. This can cause problems: “Sometimes, there are accidents among animals and humans. Generally, the Maldharis do not trouble the animals in the forest. They are busy with their work.”

The last part of the book looks closer at what Dinaben does during her day whlle her husband is busy with their cattle.  

Dinaben also is responsible for churning butter, making curd from milk, and making ghee, similar to clarified butter.  Her husband, as is the custom, takes these products to sell.  The book ends, "The Gir is Dinaben's home. It also belongs to the lions. So, let us help protect the forest."

What I liked:
-The book sheds light on a part of the world and a way of life very different than what is generally known in the U.S. It is also shows how rural people live and work (dairy farming) in relatable terms for young children – with the additional bonus of lions in the neighborhood! 

-The book’s photos document a wide variety of animals and birds, most of them uncommon to North America.
-Text is straight-forward and bi-lingual. The book I received had Tamil and English text, but is available in multiple languages, including Hindi, Telugu, Gujarati, and others.
-Many pages include a charming line drawing of a playful young lion, which adds a touch of whimsy to an otherwise strict, non-fiction presentation.
-The “More about lions” at the end of the book, offers kid-friendly information on lions in general, and clearly describes the differences between Asiatic and African Lions.

What I would have liked:
-More connection between the two stories.
-The development of a clearer message. The ending, “….let us help protect the forest.” gives no clear directive or action plan.
-People-animal conflict is alluded to, but in vague terms. The photos could better support the text, “Sometimes, there are accidents among animals and humans.” I can imagine the authors wanting to be sensitive on this subject, given that the book is written for children 4+-6 years old. More information for the adult reader (me) would have been helpful, perhaps as an afterword. That being said, the book is written for children living in India, so perhaps the adults reading it there are already well informed about Gir, the lions, and the Maldhari, in a way that I wasn’t.
-More, and larger photos of Dinaben and Maldhari life. Captions of what is portrayed would have been helpful.  
-I would like to know more about Dinaben – how she felt about her life, the lions, or what gave her pleasure.

After I finished reading the book, I wondered about what Dinaben wondered, e.g., what did she think about her family, her life, and the lions. What inspired her exquisite textile work? It also made me curious about the Asiatic lions, the Maldhari, and the resettlement of families that took place when the preserve was created. I spent hours searching the internet for articles and images on both subjects. Final verdict: The book made me care about Dinaben and prompted me to go on a further journey. I would share it with young children.

Many ideas for pre-K and K family and classroom connections come to mind. Some of the following activities were suggested by my friend, Allison Ashley, who teaches at Covenant Nursery School.
1.    Make butter.
2.    Bring in ghee – widely available in grocery stores – and serve it with crackers.
3.    Explore lion lore, using the book’s  “More about lions” pages. Play Saint Saen’s “The Royal March of the Lion”  from Carnival of the Animals, and invite the children to move like lions, with the occasional “roar” thrown in.
4.    Provide paper, glue, and brightly colored tissue paper for children to make their own artwork inspired by Dinaben’s appliqué and stitched textile. Talk about geometric and organic shapes, repeated patterns. Invite the children to include family pets in their compositions.
5.    Share Indian “nursery rhymes” or simple songs. Mama Lisa’s World is a great place to start.

Day by day, more bloggers are publishing their reviews, which can be found on MCCBD ‘s Twitter ( or Facebook page ( These links will not work if you do not have an account. More information can be found on MCCBD’s,, an intriguing, new (yes, another new thing) social media platform.

Multicultural Children’s Books Day would not be possible without the help of MCCBD’s 2015 Sponsors:                                                                                          

I am continually inspired by The Children’s Music Network (CMN) community. an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.” Please visit CMN, and find a gathering in your region.

©2015 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *

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