an early education learning space ~ where play equals learning

November 13, 2015
by countryfun

Quick Fish Chowder or Soup

The lunches here are planned to be enjoyed by the children while offering good nutrition. Throughout meal planning I do my best to provide multiple opportunities to explore new foods or old foods prepared in a new way. We eat family style and sometimes I need to make a meal thinking about my need for a comfort food. Dealing with a child shared cold this week, I knew I’d be wanting a favorite comfort food for a meal this week.

I believe in having a good supplied pantry, so I can pull together meals easily. It also means I do not need to plan the week out ahead, but can fit the meal to what is happening in the day, as well as take advantage of sales. I encourage families to really look at developing a food pantry to help with the food budget and overall nutrition.

Today’s lunch made good use of the pantry after finding the chowder mix at our local store was all haddock, on sale and just happens to be an all-time comfort food for me. Also know fish is not a steady part of many families evening meals, so good to offer here. Warning!!! This is not a traditional chowder, think creamy fish soup :)soup
Start with pantry supplies: chicken broth, evaporated milk, carrots, onions, potatoes, herbs

Purchased for meal: 1 lb chowder mix

Add from what’s on hand: red bell pepper, cauliflower
I sautèed  about 1 C onion, 4 med. carrots and 1 red bell pepper (all chopped) in olive oil and a bit of butter (about 1T of each). Once tender I added in 4 C broth, 1 C chopped cauliflower and 2 good size potatoes cut into 1/2″ cubes (child friendly size, as well as quicker cooking). Added in fresh herbs as they are still growing in the garden – today was thyme, oregano, parsley. Added a bay leaf. Brought this soup base to boil then simmered for 15 minutes. I then covered, took off heat and placed in refrig. while we headed out for a morning of play. Could have continued to make up, but being able to prep early morning and set aside to just finish for lunch makes it easier to pull good lunches together. This can also be done night before.

When ready for lunch I added in evaporated milk, dried seaweed and the fish (cut into 2″ chunks). Brought to low boil, lowered heat, covered and cooked 15 minutes until fish done.

All flavoring is done to taste and here that means low salt, no pepper and not much spicy heat.

This chowder is so adaptable and quick to make. Better yet is it reheats well.

Served with a slice of toasted homemade multi-grain bread and sliced fruit this lunch was well eaten by the children and I got to enjoy a comfort food at the end of a busy week.

November 11, 2015
by countryfun

Supporting STEM with PVC Pipe

I love having a good variety of items available to build with within our space. Blocks offer incredible opportunities for learning.

DSC07099Today I brought our pvc pipe connector set inside to have available for indoor play during the winter. Of course, as soon as brought in, interested hands began to explore. For the youngest it was about taking in and out of the container. For the school-age it was about building a fort. (Interesting how inside and outside usage is different.)

DSC07101My challenge was to get the school-age to work through it not being about building the fort quickly, but to think/plan/try and solve. That means encouragement, guidance and keeping busy enough to not be able to place my hands on directly. Those clues or guidance were heard and the materials were organized/sorted to make easier to use.

DSC07102Then the first side was used to model the second.






Solved that one cross brace would not hold the fort up or the structure together.  Needed 2.

Then how to move into place?  DSC07104



After fell apart when tried to move alone, asked directly for help as realized 1 on each side working together would move it in one piece.



Covered DSC07105 and using.DSC07106 Shortly joined by others.

This pvc connector set was low cost, easy to make, and offers great learning opportunities only limited by imaginations. I used 1″ pipe for strength. If making a set like this I strongly suggest purchasing a ratcheting pvc pipe cutting tool (under$15).

November 9, 2015
by countryfun

Books of Fall

There are so many fun books to read during the Fall season. Having a yard full of Maple trees we have an abundance of leaves on the ground awaiting children and their imaginations this time of year. I have a good mix of books about the different seasons and the changes that occur, but I made sure to have books about Fall leaves because every group has a connection to them. It doesn’t seem to matter the make-up of the group, all children enjoying playing in piles of leaves. Here are four that seem to get read each year:

The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger

The story focuses on a single leaf that is not ready to leave the branch of its great oak tree. All the other leaves swirl down to the ground, apples grew musky, pumpkins heavy, and flocks of geese took wing, but yellow leaf holds on. Now it’s winter and yellow leaf is alone in the tree, until it sees a scarlet flash. Through agreement they let go together and soar off through the skies together.

Who would think that a story about Fall leaves would support working on friendship, being afraid of new things/the unknown?

The illustrations are different and can be a little hard for younger readers to connect with, but it’s important for children to be exposed to variety in both language style and visual images.

Extension Activities:

  1. Movement activity of chasing, swirling, soaring, dancing like the leaves.
  2. Nature watch – check out the trees around you for leaves that may still be in them. Rake up the fallen leaves and play in.


Fall Leaves Fall! by Zoe HAll

When fall comes, two brothers enjoy their favorite time of year, by catching the falling leaves, stomping on them, kicking them, jumping in piles of them, and using them to make pictures.

Extension Activities:

  1. Get out and play in the leaves.
  2. Make pictures from different leaves.


It’s Fall by Linda Glaser

A young boy describes what happens to animals, plants, and people in the autumn while he enjoys the leaves.

This book opens up discussions about more than just the changes to the leaves. Getting the bird feeders ready for our winter friends and watching the Canadian geese and crows fly in large groups overhead we can explore migration and hibernation.

Love the large cut-paper illustrations of this book. They have a strong realistic appearance.

Extension Activities:

  1. Great listing of activities to pull ideas from at end of book.
  2. Rake a pile of leaves to hide in and pop out of. Talk about what the leaves in the pile smell like, feel like and sound like.


We enjoy finger plays and rhyming songs. An old-time favorite is ~ We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Having a book that connects by following the same pattern opens up different experiences.

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt by Steve Metzger

Three friends are going on a hunt for leaves. They go over a mountain and through a forest to collect leaves of all kinds and colors. Then through a waterfall and across a lake. Something black and white sends them quickly home.

Extension Activities:

  1. Go on your own leaf hunt. Count your leaves. Compare them. Make leaf rubbings.
  2. Make leaf pictures. Preserve your leaves.
  3. Add actions and then act out the story.


November 4, 2015
by countryfun

It’s 60+ Out!

We spend a good portion of our days outside, but when it’s November, blue skies and over 60 degrees, we are totally outside except for lunch and rest time.

Our outside play supports creativity, fine and gross motor skills, social interactions, math, science and language development.

22164363383_a15d0ca84f_o 22162745334_5b511e6a0b_o

22771981822_d23ef7cf95_o 22796731711_ba41d127d5_o

How Does It Work? from Country Fun Child Care on Vimeo.

300+ crows flying over head will definitely get a WOW! An unexpected lesson on migration, listening for “caws”, labeling parts of a bird compared to ourselves, new words, and lots of movement flapping our wings as we flew around the yard 22162728764_bab836e197_o

IMG_0615 from Country Fun Child Care on Vimeo.
Leaf play is daily occurrence around here in the Fall and some good exercise for the raker (me).

IMG_0641 from Country Fun Child Care on Vimeo.
First time using the walking toy outside here.

IMG_0638 from Country Fun Child Care on Vimeo.

October 28, 2015
by countryfun

Homemade Finger Paint Fun!

Providing fun opportunities for creative exploration for children does not have to be expensive or time consuming. It does often get messy, but that’s an important part of the experience. :)

Today we got a little messy with a sensory experience using homemade finger paint.


  • large sheets of white paper
  • homemade finger paint
  • food coloring to make super dark blue or black (think night)
  • lots of little hands

Put it all together with some Halloween stories and talking about night and how its getting darker while we are out playing now. Perfect time to explore making a dark colored finger paint. What you have is a sensory experience that includes color theory, science, math and language.

We started by exploring the feel of cornstarch and the feel then taste of sugar. We followed the written recipe, counting out parts, exploring what happened when water added to solids and then set the timer for 5 minutes.


This finger paint will pull together in 5 to 10 minutes depending on heat level and recipe size. It didn’t make sense to have the children just standing around while I stirred over the heat source. With the timer they get to play until set time has past, learning about the timer as a tool and building on idea of time.

Once finger paint formed we did a visual exploration of the change in texture and watched the steam, as I continued to whip to speed cooling. Then it was time to add the color.

We worked to a deep blue than in went yellow and red. We have been learning that all 3 primary colors give us a black/brown color. Today we learned that with more blue we went to the blacker side. (Be prepared – heavy food coloring will definitely color hands.) 

Then it was time to suit up with paint shirts, find a place to work, and start exploring this finger paint.


This hands-on exploration of our “night paint” went on for over 20 minutes. Lots of excited talking and exploration around how movement of hands and fingers changed the paint on the paper, besides just the sensory of it on our hands and a taste or two.


I’ve included 2 simple homemade finger paint recipes here which I have used many times over my years of teaching. Both work, but I usually go to the cooked version. An extra benefit with the cooked is that it is gluten-free, so all children can be involved without concern.

Homemade Finger Paint:

1) How easy is this! Take 2 cups of any kind of flour you have, add COLD water until it forms a fairly smooth paste free of any big lumps. Now slowly add BOILING water, stirring constantly until it forms the right consistency. Add food coloring for an edible finger paint, or tempera paint.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

2) A Cooked Finger Paint (This size batch usually has little left to store.)

  • 1/2 cup of cornstarch OR 1 cup of flour (I like using cornstarch – seems smoother.)
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 cups of cold water
  • Food coloring
  • Pinch of Salt

Mix all of the ingredients, except the food coloring, together in a medium pan. Cook over a med/low heat, stirring the mixture until it is smooth and thick. Takes 10 minutes or so. It thickens quickly at the end. Once it has thickened turn the burner off and let it cool. After cooling divide the finger paint into separate storage containers and add food coloring. Make sure the lids are on tight while storing so it doesn’t dry out.

I like to keep it uncolored to start adding coloring as needed for use. It’s easy to mix a few drops of food coloring into a small amount just before using.

October 22, 2015
by countryfun

General Apps We Continue to Find Value In

It’s important to know your children and their developmental levels as with any teaching tool you use. It’s important to be engaged with children as they are using, as with any activity they are doing. IPad apps are only as good as the intention that they are used with. I believe this is true whether used in a classroom or at home.

I have downloaded too many apps to count over the past few years looking for ones that cover all the early learning skills and support developing ones for early elementary. I learned early that paying a small amount (usually around $2) really turned out to be pennies in the big picture. I spent more than pennies on paper for creative drawing and writing practice alone. I also learned that I do not like apps that required in-app purchases and now avoid them right from the start. I also prefer apps without ads.

I have a mix of general apps and skill specific apps up at all times, but I do not have more than 2 pages active at any time and no folders.  I have the front page for the 12- 15 learning play apps and the second page for the 6 ebooks. I have found the smaller number is less distracting for the children. They learn the app images and quickly navigate each page. I also use guided access to be sure they remain engaged with purpose and are not just jumping from activity to activity. The iPad is used here to support all the other learning that we are doing in our daily activities. It is another tool and experience.

As others are considering bringing touch technology into their programs and parents are looking for appropriate materials, I often get asked about the apps I use. This post is what I consider the general apps that continue to remain on the iPads. These apps are used across the ages here. In a mixed ages program that is important.

Cookie Doodle Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 10.45.43 AM $.99

I have found that children love to bake for real and playing kitchen is a favorite dramatic play activity. This app is an extension of these activities that all the ages love. Most often a group works together when using this app which supports development of social skills and language.

I originally purchased the app to support: 1)Fine Motor Skills: dough making involves tapping, pinching, tilting, twisting, shaking, and stirring; 2) Sequencing: Each recipe has sequential steps required to make a cookie that differ in complexity depending on the cookie type selected; 3) Artistic Creativity: Explore color, shape, and design. With working being able to be saved and shared; and 4) Reading and pre-reading: Ingredients text and images are both shown. As ingredients are added to the recipe, they are checked off furthering word-picture association.

A-Z Music Videos Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.15.15 AM Free

Many think there is cost for this app or that you need to subscribe to ABC Mouse. Neither is the case. The app provides 3 unlocked videos (A-C). By watching the videos you earn tickets. Through these tickets you can then open (purchase) additional letters in any order you want. It took us no time to open all the letters. We opened the letters for our names first. (We are still earning tickets, just have no place to use them.) The children are not stationary when using this app. They are dancing and singing (think dance party).

The videos are developed from a variety of music genres. The animated images are appealing in form and color. The letter songs are fun and around here get sung often when the videos are not being watched. I like how the letter and words starting with it are incorporated in text form into the videos.

I’ve found this app supports:

  • Uppercase and lowercase letter recognition for all 26 letters
  • Phonemic awareness
  • New vocabulary words

Leo’s Pad Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.28.25 AM Free (1st chapter)

Upon opening the app you join a young Leonardo da Vinci and his friends on adventures. The adventures are a mix of story line and games built to support the whole child. The activities adjust to individual skill levels as played. To many skills are supported to list here. What I like is the ability to have the app set up for each child individually. (For family use you can connect to a Learning Mosaic for Parents for free where you get information about your child’s development as indicated through their usage.)

This app is really a group of chapters that need to be unlocked after the first chapter which you get free. We got the app early in development and have been able to unlock them through our usage, but you now purchase by complete package or individual chapters.

Spot the Dot Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.04.29 PM $2.99

We love “I Spy” books here and this app is in that style. Again a great app to use in a group. I purchased primarily as support for learning colors, problem solving, and lengthening engagement even while experiencing frustration.

Children’s author, David A. Carter, adapted his work to create this app. It’s a colorful appealing app that is totally interactive. Users are asked to “Find the —- dot” on pages that change for each search. The location of each dot you are searching for changes each time you engage a page anew. The colors searched for are the colors all children need to learn. The dot is hidden under objects and patterns that move and shift as the screen is tapped.

I also found it very easy to expand learning on shapes and counting (there are suggestions provided).

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.22.08 PMTo many apps to list out separately. I have also found that purchasing in packages is much better for price point.

I do not have all the Toca Boca apps on the iPad at the same time – usually only 2 at a time.

Draw and Tell Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.26.40 PM $1.99

I love Duck, Duck Moose apps and have many of them. (Another company I buy apps in packages from for best price point.) I also have a variety of drawing apps, but this is the one everyone seems to be able to easily use and can get as creative as desired with. Not only can you draw and color, but you can add your oral story.  (I actually use this app for assessment because of the recording option.)

Zuzu’s Bananas Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.43.11 PM $1.99

This was not an app that initially appealed to me, but the children couldn’t get enough of it. It came from a review site I value, so I watched them engage and them spent time on it myself. I’ve learned that the apps I like initially are not always the best for the children, so I do not do as much previewing as I used to. Now we are more likely to explore together and then figure out if it’s one to keep or store.

This app allows for some parental control that means I can easily adjust for skill level as setting up to use.

The fun, colorful games are based on concepts such as pattern recognition, object permanence, and executive functioning. I also found that there is a good bit of problem solving to even figure out what needs to happen in the game. There are no real directions. It’s a good app for group engagement and I have seen many times where they are explaining what needs to happen to earn those bananas.


Technology Evaluation Toolkits” are available from many resources, so I have grabbed bits and pieces that work for my purpose, realizing my usage may be different than others.

I started here:

  • the ease of use
  • how it engaged a child
  • did it support learning goals (K Readiness and Maine Early Learning Developmental Standards)
  • does it offer custom settings or different levels
  • feedback – encouraging, appropriate for child’s age, how it corrects
  • information is correct

Here is what I have added:

  • approaches to learning (attention, flexible thinking, persistence)
  • Social-Emotional (cooperation, collaboration)
  • appropriate cognitive skills
  • usable by non/pre-readers
  • bias free / gender neutral
  • clear choices and ease of navigating, independent usage after introduction by adult
  • skills build as develop competency
  • support creativity
  • content and graphics appealing to children
  • activities match appropriate attention span levels
  • ability to have multiple players
  • adds to variety of apps
  • no to limited in-app purchases




October 16, 2015
by countryfun

Importance of Reading

“You became a reader because you saw and heard someone you admired enjoying the experience, someone led you to the world of books even before you could read, let you taste the magic of stories, took you to the library, and allowed you to stay up later at night to read in bed.”  (Jim Trelease -The New Read-Aloud Handbook)

DSC07004Everyone knows how important it is to read to our children. Whether at home or at school, most of us try very hard to include reading as part of our daily routine with our children. When you step back it’s surprising how often it’s the reading that gets set aside when time gets tight, behaviors get in the way, or our interest just isn’t there. We think it’s ok to skip reading this once where we do it all the time.

“When stories are part of children’s lives from birth, the children benefit in three important ways. Overlapping considerably these benefits are that stories enrich children’s lives, strengthen relationships, and support their emerging literacy.” (Birckmayer, Kennedy and Stonehouse, 2007)

At times I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. What’s important is that when I see this happening I refocus my efforts on reading to and with the children in my care each day they are with me. This is beyond all the free access they have to books to explore themselves.

To help with this I access information from the Raising Readers Program – This is a free family health and literacy program for children ages birth to 5.

“Research shows that babies who are read to in the first nine months of their lives are better prepared for school than babies who had little interaction with books.”  (Association of Library Services for Children)


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