an early education learning space ~ where play equals learning

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.


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)

October 15, 2015
by countryfun

Combining Our Movement Sticks and Books

With young children we know it is of benefit to have activities that will support them in getting their bodies moving and they need to be read to daily. There are a good number of books that have a movement component to them that allow for creative expansion activities.

Here are my go to books that have a movement component to them:


  • Wriggly Pig by Jon Blake
  • Tumble Bumble by felicia Bond
  • Silly Sally by Audrey Wood
  • Clap Your Hands by Lorinda Bryan Cauley
  • Shake My Sillies Out by Raffi


Activities can be as simple as acting out the characters’ movements to using something like our Movement Sticks. These also make a great 5-10 minute movement activity that helps break up more structured activities, works for transition time and just for the fun of doing.

The Movement Sticks are simple and low cost. Take colored jumbo craft sticks and glue movement idea strips to them.

You can pre-make or have the children provide the movement ideas and help to glue up the sticks. You could also write them out, but I’ve found printed out and glued stay clearer longer. Ideas can also be added as favorite actions change with the group.

Following are the movement ideas from our sticks:

  • pretend hula hooping
  • walk backwards
  • jump backwardsDSC03730
  • frog jumps
  • wiggle worm
  • highest leap
  • helicopters
  • jump sideways
  • ants in your pants
  • walk sideways
  • twisting toe touch
  • hop one foot then other
  • silly walk
  • jumping jacks
  • tree in a stormy wind
  • giant steps
  • head, shoulders, knees, toes
  • jump in a circle
  • two foot jumps
  • pretend on balance beam
  • pretend to pedal a bike
  • egg rock and roll
  • side stretches
  • jack in the box
  • run in place
  • tree in a breeze
  • dance
  • pretend climbing stairs
  • leg swing right, then left
  • pretend bowling
  • hop like a rabbit
  • touch your toes

For a printable list click this link.

October 15, 2015
by countryfun

Farm & Barnyard Books

This Fall found my very young group spending lots of play time with our farm/barn small world structure and critters, so I’ve started off our book selection with anything barn/farm animal related. These four books from my personal library offer a chance to work with colors, shapes, counting, alphabet, animal sounds, and animal movements before we even think about expanding the learning.

DSC06990 Let’s start with Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming.

I love sharing this book with children for many reasons: colorful illustrations, author that I have others books by, written language of the book, the ability to expand the learning in a variety of directions

Children in our area have a strong understanding of what many think of a standard farm animals, but this book opens up the understanding that there are other animals one might find on a farm. This also offers the opportunity to increase our exposure to new animal sounds. I often find that opening up this learning experience send us into all kinds of animals and we begin classifying them as to where their might live (ie. zoo, jungle, forest, farm, house).

I also wait to see if any of the children will notice the reoccurring character on each page and figure out what they are doing. With my very young I often have to introduce this after our initial reading. Once I point our goose the children are searching each page to find it. This often brings the book to the floor and allows for strong engagement with the pages. At this point the reading of the written words seems to stop and we start telling the story from the illustrations.

Any time I have large print in a story we point out “our letter” or a friend’s “letter”- this is the letter that starts our first name. I have found this a great way to get a strong start in learning the letters of the alphabet.

DSC06993 I think it’s important to have books that are more science or factually based as part of our selection. Gail Gibbons is a go to for that type of book for me. I have found her books are usable across the mix of ages I usually have in care, whether reading all the detail or using just the illustrations and adding my own information.

Between having our own good size garden and being surrounded by fields worked by a local dairy farmer the children here have good exposure to tractors, can can relate very easily to some of the information in this book.

I also like that Farming covers the changes to the farm throughout the seasons. As we also experience 4 seasons again the children can relate to the changes and compare with their experiences.

The story also shows the work that people need to done on a working farm. This opens up lessons about other community workers, parents’ jobs, chores, jobs that the children can do at home and while in care.


Night in the Country by Cynthia Rylant might seem like a strange choice if I’m only doing a few books around an area of interest. I have this in my collection because it covers the concept of night with illustrations that are life-like, but in a style different from many children’s book. To me they have a sketched quality in deep, vibrant color. I think it’s important for children to be exposed to a variety of illustration styles.

There is a softness to the written word as we are taken through the country setting exploring what is to be found there at night. This opens up lessons on nocturnal animals, comparing daytime evens to nighttime events. For some groups we expand to the sun and the moon and stars. We have charted what each child hears at their home in the night. We have done daytime listening laying outside here with eyes closed as saying what we here then going inside and doing the same.

DSC06992 I love having story versions of childhood songs and rhymes. I like this version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm illustrated by Carol Jones because it had a cut-out on each page that provides the child with a chance to predict what animal we will be singing about next.

The pen and ink illustrations are life-like while offering another illustration style. In the illustrations we also see the life of the animals we are singing about as well as other animals on the farm.

This is another good book for what I think of as floor exploration. There is so much detail on each page that they can stand alone providing a chance to expand language as we describe what we see happening on each page.

Music is so important in the strong development of children’s language and we often use the book as the starting place adding whatever other animal we can think of following the pattern of the song. We’ve been known to switch it up, expand on classifying again and go to the zoo, or circus, or woods if the animals being called out are more appropriate there.


April 13, 2015
by countryfun

3rd Booking Across the USA for Us

Booking-Across-the-USA-Trip-3-300x300So glad we got involved in this book project the first year out. It has opened us up to so many interesting books and activities.

This year the 3rd Annual Booking Across the USA hosted by Jodie at Growing Book by Book is about choosing a children’s author or illustrator that was born in, lived in or currently lives in your state. After reading a book of theirs we are to create an activity or craft to compliment it

Our state is Maine and we are so lucky to have connections to many wonderful authors and illustrators of children’s books. Many of these books are enjoyed on a regular basis in our shared reading times.

For this activity I decided to look for an author I had not read with the children as often. Chris Van Dusen caught my attention when I saw the title: The Circus Ship. Last year in our study of Maine and reading about the islands off our coastline there was a story about a circus ship catching fire off an island. I wondered if there might be a connection. There was! In looking farther into his books I found many would also fit nicely into the focus on rhyming books we had in March.  The children really enjoyed the Mr Magee books: Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee and Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee. They were silly and based on experiences many of them are aware of or have done.

Chris Van Dusen was born in Portland, Maine, 3/16/1960. As a child, he would spend hours drawing with his brothers. He loved the work of Dr. Seuss for the rhythm of the words and Robert McCloskey’s (who also lived in Maine) detailed illustrations.

After college Chris started drawing cartoons and illustrations for a magazine for teenagers. He worked as a freelance illustrator for 10 years specializing in art for kids with work appearing in magazines like Nickelodeon, Family Fun and Disney Adventures. His first book, “Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee” was published in 2000 and he has been busy writing and illustrating children’s books since.

Chris lives in a town on the coast of Maine with his wife and two sons. Many of his books are pulled from his experiences in Maine.

Chris has a really nice website with links to his books, bio informaton, and a blog. It is worth checking out especially if you are going to share some of his books with young children. I’ve always found children love learning more about the authors and illustrators of books shared with them. We enjoyed the FAQ sections where we found out the idea for The Circus Ship came from a magazine article he read. The book was inspired by the historic event of the wreckage of The Royal Tar, which sank off the coast of Maine in 1836.

Now for more on The Circus ShipDSC06286

  • 2009 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award Winner
  • 2009 Lupine Award Winner
  • 2009 Minnesota State University Moorhead Comstock Honor Book
  • 2010 Read With ME book

A circus ship on it’s way to Boston for a show runs into some bad weather and runs aground off the coast of Maine. The circus owner (Mr. Paine) and ship’s captain row to safety on the mainland, but the circus animals are left behind. They make their own way to shore on an island. The local islanders were not sure what to make of the circus animals viewing them with suspicion. Somethng happens to change that and the islanders help the animals in return.

When I preread the book I realized this was going to be an interactive book for my current group of puzzle lovers. We do lots of puzzles, mazes and I Spy activities here and there is one section of the book when it is open which works perfectly for an I Spy activity. I had a pile of unifix cubes on hand and when I got to the correct page I asked the children to count out the animals using their fingers as I read the story. I then stopped and we counted out the right number of unifix cubes. Now it was time for the children to find the animals that the island locals had helped to hide on the island when Mr. Paine returned to claim them.

DSC06374 The children placed a cube wherever they found a hidden circus animal. We then got to practice our counting again as we uncovered the animals and put the cubes away. Can you make out the camel in the hay field, bear on the bike and giraffe as a flag pole?


After finishing the story we talked about what you might see at a circus. Popcorn was mentioned a couple of times and I took that into a rhyming activity for another day.

Using rectangles of read construction paper and gluing on strips of white I made a popcorn box.DSC06353 I added labels that had worked with word families we have been doing other activities around.

DSC06354 Then it was just a matter of using yellow scrap paper for cut out popcorn kernels and writing letters on them that the children could pull from a bowl and make a word with. Once used the kernel was placed with it’s container. At the end we had groups of rhyming words.

I later made more kernels and wrote out words for different word families. This allowed the children to sort out the words to the right popcorn box. For one of my children who is really into words this was a nice extension and had her reading.

The book is back to the library and the popcorn boxes and kernels are into our activity drawers for free play choice.

February 23, 2015
by countryfun

Another Snow Problem

It’s getting harder and harder to have all this snow (problem 1), yet it’s too cold (problem 2) day after day to spend much time outside playing in it. Winter kids want to play in the snow……….

Need to solve the “no playing in the snow” problem.

Solution: bring inside

Click to play this Smilebox photo album
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Another photo album by Smilebox

Follow up with our poem app for a poem about out inside snow experience.

January 14, 2015
by countryfun
1 Comment

Making Our Own Body Part Game

I’m always on the look out for sites that will support the development of learning materials I can use with the children in my program. I do not purchase a curriculum, but prefer to construct my own around the interests and needed skill set of the children currently in care. My two go to sites are: 1) Pinterest – great resource for free and low cost materials and ideas, and 2) TeachersPayTeachers  where I continue to find free and low cost materials I can use as is.

Google Drive is my on-line depository for most of my curriculum materials – copy, store and print as need. Not only easy to use, but quicker and less physical storage space needed. Also great for sharing with parents and other early childhood educators.

Every now and then I have to do a wider on-line search to find the resources I need to complete an ideas for a lesson. Yesterday, I wanted an active body part game, but didn’t want to hand draw body parts and have no available flash cards. I found a site that let me pull pictures and print out a sheet/picture. I then copied the sheet, cut up the images and made 3″x3″ flipcards. I labeled each image (of course with help). Having the preschooler help with the labeling allowed her to see the connection between letters, words, writing, and language. Laminate the cards and we were ready to play.


The first way we played was to chose an image on the sheet and then flip a card. You had to try to connect the 2 body parts picked. On the ones that we could not directly connect the children started to find other ways like touching a friend or placing hands on the 2 parts. Lots of  up and down moving, wiggling and laughing.

DSC06078 DSC06079

The next game try was to just flip 2 cards and try to connect the body parts. School-age involved now so even more movement. Lots of laughs when the younger remembered and solved one set by placing hands on the 2 body parts and standing there staring at the older ones twisting themselves around without success, until they saw her:)


The new site I just chanced upon in a search for images of body parts to make a game is: LessonPix. I’m exploring with a free trial, before I spend $36 for annual membership. The site was developed by a special ed teacher and her husband with IT background.

  • Create custom materials such as Bingo, picture cards, coloring sheets, etc.
  • Clip art library with 1000’s of pictures
  • Use your own clip art or photos for custom materials
  • Download our clip art for your personal use in Word Documents, PowerPoint, etc.
  • Ideas on how to use LessonPix at home, in the classroom
  • Request pictures not available in picture library.



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