The ‘Magic 8’ for Preschool

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Font” by Prawny is licensed under CC by 2.0

What are the characteristics that distinguish a mediocre preschool classroom from an excellent one? The prestigious Child Development journal that covers developmental psychology of children from their early years in the womb right up to adolescence has come out with a new study in this regard. This was carried out by a team from Vanderbilt University over a period of two years.

Researchers have come up with a list called ‘The Magic 8’ – eight classroom actions that can determine a student’s success in the preschool years.

  1. Reduce time spent in transition – from one activity to another, since preschoolers aren’t gainfully occupied during the transition phase.
  2. Improve level of instruction – through open ended questions to gauge what they’ve learned.
  3. Create a positive climate – using positive, encouraging language.
  4. Increase time teachers listen to children – which will also help preschoolers speak and open up more frequently.
  5. Plan sequential activities – like completing a puzzle.
  6. Promote cooperative interactions between children – to encourage them to learn along with their peers and know what teamwork is all about.
  7. Foster high levels of child involvement – by asking questions, answering them and talking out everything.
  8. Provide math opportunities – for better grasp of the basics of math from an early age.

The basic goal is to get preschoolers to interact more with their teachers and/or guardians in an open environment. This would foster creativity, help their inquisitive minds to ask more questions and thus make for a better learning environment. (Read the full report here.)

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2 Quiet Time Activities for Preschoolers

Parents and teachers of preschoolers are well aware of the fact that the terms ‘preschoolers’ and ‘relaxation’ have nothing in common and can’t go together. Neither do those little tykes relax for a minute, nor do they let their exhausted parents catch a shut eye any time of the day. What’s more, if and when they do relax, it’s always right in the middle of the day when the parents’ are right in the midst of their chores and can’t afford to rest.

Not many know (neither did I) that August 15 was National Relaxation Day; a simple excuse to take a deep breath, put your feet up and just relax (or at least make an attempt to). Made me think up of a couple of hands-on activities apart from the usual online games to try and keep your hyperactive preschooler gainfully occupied for a while. Here you go.

Fidget spinners

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Hand” by Devolk is licensed under CC by 2.0

As of May 2017, each one of the top 10 best-selling toys on a leading e-commerce website was something that could be held in the hand, spun or simply fidgeted around with. And now, small, colorful, ball-bearing devices called fidget spinners seem to have taken the world by storm quite suddenly. Originally meant to act as an antidote for nervousness or an outlet for fidgety people to keep their hands and mind temporarily occupied, these spinners have become popular with kids as well. Why? Well, they are funky to look at, can be spun around, pressed or rattled in various ways and makes sounds at times. Kids get to keep both their hands occupied with the toy and it manages to hold their attention, if only for a short while at least.

Though some schools are already considering banning the toy since it is a ‘disruptive distraction’ of sorts, the pluses and minuses of using it aren’t evident since there hasn’t been specific scientific research on the subject yet. Why it could work for you? Well, young kids have a lot of energy which needs to be let out. Talk of killing two birds with one stone – kids will hopefully keep busy fidgeting, while you could get a breather of sorts.

Play dough

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Children” by elkimmelito is licensed under CC by 2.0

I came across this quote somewhere and it rings very true – Kindergarten kids are like little tubs of play dough; open up the lids, add a pinch of imagination and just watch what they become! Perhaps that’s why preschoolers and kindergarten kids love to get their hands messy with this material that can be molded into so many different shapes, sizes and creatures.

Play dough is the perfect example of tactile learning; as kids squeeze and squash, poke through with a blunt plastic knife or pat and roll the dough into a flat shape, all these activities help in the building up of fine motor skills in young minds and improve hand-eye coordination as well. There is no right or wrong way to play with play dough – this open ended toy has endless possibilities and can keep preschoolers happily squishing and squashing for hours at a time!

Do you have any quiet time activities that keep your preschooler busy? Our readers would love to know about more fun activities that your kids enjoy.

3 Fun Summer Story Books for Preschoolers

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Cartoon” by Prawny is licensed under CC by 2.0

Mama, Is It Summer Yet? (by Nikki McClure)

A long winter, then the onset of spring and finally the warm summer days – flowering trees, nesting squirrels, ducklings and swallows all around – all these and more paint a pretty picture in this cut-paper art book, ideal for preschoolers and kindergarten kids. This is the story of a little boy who keeps asking his mother time and again: ‘Mama, Is It Summer Yet?’ with the gradual unfolding of the seasons.

Sea, Sand, Me! (by Patricia Hubbell)

If you’re heading to a beach vacation this summer, this is the ideal book to carry along for your preschooler. It talks about simple pleasures like collecting fascinating seashells, playing about in the waves and building sandcastles with new-found friends on the beach. Splashed with lots of color and rhymes on its pages, this is what the perfect sunny summer day looks like in the format of a book.

Dear Zoo (by Rod Campbell)

A captivating read for preschoolers, this picture book has pets of all shapes and sizes hiding beneath the flaps on its pages. The kids will love peeking at the lions and elephants hiding behind the flaps opening in all directions – up, down or side to side. Because isn’t summer all about fun things to do like going for a visit to the zoo?

Picture Books: Yay or Nay?

A picture book is a story book meant primarily for younger kids, in which the illustrations take up as much (if not more) importance than the pictures do. Introducing children to the wonderful world of reading and story-telling, even if they aren’t ready to comprehend letters and words yet, are the primary goals of picture books.

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Picture” by WokinghamLibraries is licensed under CC by 2.0

A good number of them line up our bookshelves at home too. There’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle which introduces kids to colors and counting while narrating the story of a fruit-eating caterpillar; then there’s The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton with beautiful drawings and my favorite The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.

A recent study by a group of psychologists from the University of Sussex came to the conclusion that more than one illustration per page in a picture book could result in poorer word learning among preschoolers. Co-author of the study Zoe Flack had this to say: “Luckily, children like hearing stories, and adults like reading them to children. But children who are too young to read themselves don’t know where to look because they are not following the text. This has a dramatic impact on how well they learn words from new stories.”

The study was undertaken on three-year olds divided into two groups. One group was read out stories from books that contained one illustration per page at a time, while another group had illustrations on both pages from the book they were read out from. The former group turned out to eventually learn twice as many words as the latter group did.

I, on the contrary, tend to think otherwise. Say, your child loves playing these dragon games online. That will not mean they are ready to pick up and read Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon from cover to cover, does it? It’ll take time till they reach that stage and picture books pave the way. These story books can be interactive in more ways than one and tend to pique the child’s curiosity in many ways. I remember reading out ‘Begin Smart, Who Am I?’ to my little one a couple of weeks ago. It’s a fascinating mask-cum-picture book with animal faces on each page and holes punched in through the eyes. So we would open it and hold up a page, while my naughty little tyke would try to emit sounds of that particular animal, peek through the pages and ask me, ‘Who am I?’, accompanied by much laughter.

Take another example. Alphabet by Matthew Van Fleet is another brilliantly interactive book. It takes the kids on an exciting wildlife safari as it traverses the alphabet from A to Z. Kids can pull-up tabs, open flaps and even scratch and sniff select pages to get a sensory feel of the story. According to me, these books pave the way for a kid to turn into a better reader in future. One, the pictures help young minds analyze the story being narrated better. Two, kids love drawing, coloring, painting and anything that is vivid or bright and pleases their eyes. Picture books work precisely in that direction. Three, read-alouds are very effective in children learning words more easily as they can comprehend them better when they hear them being spoken out loud. And this is speaking from personal experience. Last but not the least, the ‘fun’ factor is what eventually matters with preschoolers, right?

For those of you who are saying ‘yay’ and nodding their heads vigorously as they read this, here is a list of the Top 100 Picture Books for Kids in the 21st century – take your pick. Picture books or not, my kids will (fingers crossed) turn out to be passionate readers as they grow up. After all, I assume it’s in their genes!

Preschoolers and Pre-Math

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Numbers” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is licensed under CC by 2.0

Did you know that the basic math we introduce our preschoolers to has a corresponding name of its own? It is known as ‘pre-math’. Pre-math refers to  introductory math, such as counting numbers from 1 to 10, learning to differentiate between the sizes (big and small) of similar shapes, determining which number comes before/after another and also being able to pronounce the number names correctly.

I recently came across the results of a study published in the Journal of Experimental and Child Psychology, which evaluated the math skills of 112 preschool kids ranging between the ages of 3-5 years. The difference in their math skill set upon entering and leaving preschool was studied and psychologist Dave Geary had this to say:

“What we found was that kids who were a little bit delayed in the learning of the meaning of these number words really weren’t very fluent at processing numbers when they hit kindergarten.”

To put it in a nutshell, there was higher probability of preschoolers doing well in math if they entered kindergarten after grasping two basic concepts – words that are associated with numbers along with the quantities they represent. For instance, the term ‘two’ would mean a pair of things, such as their shoes. The key here is to begin with very few items so that preschoolers comprehend numbers easily; for instance, according to Geary:

“So you start with one and you add one more – how many is that? Or you start with three and you take away two, how many is that?”

Sounds pretty straightforward? Well, it may or may not be, depending on the attention span of your preschooler. In the following weeks, let’s talk about fun ways to introduce preschoolers to ‘pre-math’.

May Day Flower Crafts for Preschoolers

May Day has always been synonymous with the spring season. Legend has it that in olden times, children used to dance in the moonlit woods a day before May Day to celebrate the onset of spring. Why not let your preschooler have some fun with some spring crafts to celebrate the season of sun and daisies?

Flower Crown

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Summer Crown” by Katia_M is licensed under CC by 2.0

This activity can be carried out both with real as well as artificial flowers, the former being preferable (and prettier too). Here’s how you go about it: To measure the circumference of your child’s head, wrap a piece of twine around once (not too tight), add about two and a half inches to the length measured and doubling the twine over once, tie a tight knot to it.

Now ask your little one to pick the flowers of her choice from the garden; it’ll be perfect if you have relatively small flowers in white or pink or even yellow – any color would do though. Or else, bigger flowers with stalks would be easy to work with. Simply overlap the stalks with each other such that they are each an inch ahead of the one previous to it and tie them up to the twine/wire. Ask your child whether she wants to have just one color or many colors. And then all you’ve got to do is watch with glee as she preens like a fairy princess in front of the mirror!

Flower Mask

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Cartoon” by OpenClipart-Vectors is licensed under CC by 2.0

Back in my childhood days, I remember I participated in a school play once. Participated as in I was supposed to be a tree. I recall being thrilled at the prospect of standing right at the back of the stage with my nose and cheeks painted brown to merge in with the brown of the tree trunk made from cardboard, with green foliage as my cap. Not sure why exactly I was so ecstatic with such a nondescript part, but I guess the fascination of simply standing on the school stage in front of a large audience was one of the factors responsible for the grin plastered on my face throughout.

Cut to the present. I’m sure your preschoolers would be thrilled to bits too, if you suggested them enacting the part of, say, a sunflower or a daisy and prancing around in their ‘costume’. You’ll require some big pieces of cardboard; opened out cereal boxes should work well. Put a small quarter plate upside down over it and trace it with a pencil. Now place a larger plate upside down using the same center and trace another bigger circle outside the one drawn earlier, such that you’ve traced out a shape akin to that of a doughnut. Cut out the center carefully. Ask your little one to trace out flower petals (of the corresponding size) from the cardboard too. You could stick white paper over the cut-out petals and allow your children to color them in their favorite shades. Now, all you’ve got to do is glue the petals a tad symmetrically around the edge of your cut-out circle (here’s an easy tutorial demonstrating how it is done). For the finishing touch, either add a cardboard green-colored stalk at the bottom which the child can hold while poking their face through the center of the flower or else attach a ribbon on both sides to be tied at the back of the head. Done!

Help your kids create something beautiful this May Day!

4 Fun April Fool’s Day Tricks to Play on Your Preschooler

When it comes to your preschoolers, April Fool’s Day should be all about happiness, silliness and lots of fun. And with a couple of simple ideas, it can be pretty easy to do so too. Here are four fun trick ideas you can try out on your little one this April 1.

Lots & lots of balloons!

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Balloons” by Pexels is licensed under CC by 2.0

This needs to be done while your preschooler is fast asleep in her room. Simply blow up a whole lot of balloons once she has gone to bed, and usher them all into her room so that the floor, carpet, table, chair – everything but her bed is filled up with bright, colorful balloons. Helium balloons could be a good choice for this too. Just make sure you are there in her room to capture her expression of awe and wonder once she opens her eyes.

Frozen breakfast or Sunny-side-up eggs?

If your kid’s usual breakfast is a bowl of cereal, this idea could be a good one. A bowl of cereal and milk needs to be frozen overnight in the freezer and ultimately placed in front of your child on the dining table as usual (Make sure you add a little bit of fresh milk on the frozen stuff before putting it in front of him). Several unsuccessful attempts at digging into the unusual breakfast are bound to follow. However, in case your kids like to have eggs for breakfast, here’s another idea you can try out. Add a dash of yoghurt to a flat bowl and top it up with half a peeled peach (round side on the top). Sunny-side-up eggs, anyone?!

Upside down & Inside out!

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Pocket” by congerdesign is licensed under CC by 2.0

This one is perfect to leave your kids all puzzled. Turn everything you can upside down – photo frames on the mantelpiece, plates and cups on the kitchen shelves, the pen stand on her study table, her favorite soft toys (they could be positioned to stand on their heads), the toothbrush stand in the bathroom, the tablet which she uses to play her online games face down, the pillows arranged at the foot end of the bed; her socks and t-shirts could be turned inside out and folded neatly in piles in the way it generally is stored, and the like. After a few confused looks and some figuring out, it can be a fun task to go about setting everything the right way again.

Eating your way backwards

Given a choice, who wouldn’t like to have dessert first, at the beginning of the meal? Well, just for a day, actually do it. Have the apple pie and ice cream or chocolate pudding first to begin with, followed by the lasagna and sandwiches and finally the grilled chicken (which was initially supposed to be the appetizer) to wind up. Needless to say, there’ll be a lot of happy faces (including yours!) at the dinner table on April Fool’s day.

Any other ideas to add to this list?

3 Ways Poems & Rhymes Help Kids in Learning

When I try to recall my earliest memory, this is what comes up – me as a four-year-old, standing on the school stage amongst a group of kids all belonging to my age group, with all of us acting out the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star playing backstage with music. I vividly remember the simple steps even today. I also recall that we were all dressed in blue – girls in sky blue dresses and boys in sky blue shirts and dark blue trousers.

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Stars” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is licensed under CC by 2.0

So today, when I came across an article on the importance of nursery rhymes and poems in the overall development of a child starting from as young as preschool, I realized I had never looked at it from that perspective. Hence, it seemed an interesting subject to share with like-minded parents here. Leave alone just worksheets, studies and online games that are educational, here is how poems and nursery rhymes too are helpful for our children.

Nursery rhymes narrate a story with rhythm

Mary had a little lamb, little lamb,
little lamb, Mary had a little lamb
whose fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went
Mary went, Mary went, everywhere
that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

Remember this evergreen rhyme which talks about Mary and her little lamb? It has a musical lilt to it, with several words being repeated time and again to aid in the child’s memory development, and the story progressing to how her little white lamb follows her to school and makes the children laugh and play. This is a tale in itself which is sure to capture a young kid’s imagination. Add to it actions or motions and it becomes a fun activity for kids to incorporate movement into the musical story. Preschoolers may not understand each word of a poem, but they will definitely take to the musical beat and sing or act along.

Poems help to build vocabulary

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Boy” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is licensed under CC by 2.0

Chubby cheeks, dimple chin
Rosy lips, teeth within
Curly hair, very fair
Eyes are blue – lovely too.
Teachers pet, is that you?
Yes, Yes, Yes!

Not many preschoolers will know what ‘chubby’ or ‘dimple’ means. However, if you act out the above verses with them, pointing to each part of the body mentioned in the lines, it serves a double purpose – one, kids get to learn about the different parts of their body; two, new words are introduced into their world, which they have not come across earlier. They are very unlikely to forget these easily, since the nursery rhymes learnt in the early years more often than not manage to stay with us throughout our lives. A catchy rhyme does the trick in helping kids remember words easily, thus helping them develop memorization skills too.

Rhymes make dry facts colorful

One, two
Buckle my shoe,
Three, four
Open on the door,
Five, six
Pick up sticks,
Seven, eight
Lay them straight,
Nine, ten
A good fat hen,
Eleven, twelve
Dig and delve,
Thirteen, fourteen
Maids a-courting,
Fifteen, sixteen
Maids in the kitchen,
Seventeen, eighteen
Maids a-waiting,
Nineteen, twenty
My plate’s empty.

Simply counting down from 1 to 20 can be a pretty dry exercise. Making that same counting turn into a nursery rhyme will have kids captivated, especially if they act it out, as in One Two Buckle My Shoe. Another similar instance is the traditional poem called Thirty Days Hath September to remember the number of days in the months of the Gregorian calendar. This way it’s a win-win situation all along, with children learning new words, important facts and having fun all the while too.

Feeling a sense of nostalgia after all these years? Just hum along with these popular nursery rhymes all of us sang and danced to as kids. Each one of them brought a smile to my face!

Fun January Activities for Preschoolers

Okay, so the New Year is upon us and we’re more than halfway through January already. Most of us have probably already given up on our New Year resolutions too. Down in the doldrums? Well, apparently, it’s not all your fault. January 17 is (officially) celebrated as ‘Ditch New Year Resolutions Day’. So there.

Well, talking about days to celebrate in January, I ran a search and found some pretty fascinating results. Here’s how you can find several excuses to make January one of the most enjoyable months of the year, both for you and your little ones. Talk about beginning the New Year with a bang!

‘We didn’t realize we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.’

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Pooh” by Wetmount is licensed under CC by 2.0

Come January 18 and cartoon lovers the world over celebrate ‘National Winnie the Pooh day’. Celebrated author A.A. Milne’s birthday falls on this day. My daughter absolutely adores her lovable Pooh bear, so much so that she’s been sleeping with a cuddly, stuffed toy version of it from as far back as I can remember! How to celebrate the occasion? Well, add a bit of honey to every meal to make it sweeter; Pooh loves honey. The more adventurous ones can whip up a honey-sweetened dessert or two (read: scrumptious honey cupcakes). Read aloud Winnie the Pooh stories to your preschooler from colorful story books. Or else, if you don’t already have one, buy a Winnie the Pooh soft toy for your home. It sure adds color and cheer to the room!

‘Winter – you’ll miss it when it’s gone.’

No one knows how and why this day came into being, but January 22 has its own name – ‘Come in from the Cold Day. I feel there are both pros and cons of the winter with the pros far outweighing the cons; the only con being it’s difficult to go out of the front door. Apart from that, it’s all pros – hot chocolate at any time of the day and night is acceptable, the best feeling in the world is snuggling in front of the fireplace with your favorite book or in my kids’ case, with their favorite virtual games on the tablet, and the aromas of hot sauces simmering on the stove accompanied with chicken lasagna, sausages and apple pie. A win-win situation for kids and adults alike!

‘It’s always the small pieces that make the big picture.’

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Puzzle” by LeoNeoBoy is licensed under CC by 2.0

Puzzles are for everyone, irrespective of age. Right from basic jigsaw puzzles for young children to their advanced versions for adults, putting together a jigsaw puzzle can be an engrossing activity. What’s more, the earlier kids get into the habit of solving jigsaw puzzles, the better. From developing hand-eye coordination at a young age to fine-tuning their fine as well as gross motor skills, from getting to recognize basic shapes and colors to learning how to be patient while solving a problem, a jigsaw puzzle does wonders to young, inquisitive minds. Not into jigsaw puzzles yourself? Try your hand at crossword puzzles in the newspaper instead, or number Sudoku puzzles. Oh, and we’re talking about puzzles here since January 29 is designated as National Puzzle Day.

To put it in a nutshell, January is much more than just about making and keeping resolutions – it’s about friendly, cuddly, honey-loving bears which give you a whole lot of good advice from time to time; it’s about sugar and spice and everything hot and nice in the wintry weather; it’s about spending quality time together as a family poring over a jigsaw puzzle with the crackling sound from the fireplace that keeps you warm. Have a wonderful start to the New Year!