15 Ways to Learn with Play Food

learning with play food

So you’ve got a little kitchen set for your kiddo.  Here are some ways to learn with all that plastic food (you know, instead of just tripping over it)….

  1. See if your child can name all the pieces of food.
  2. Select food and have a pretend picnic.
  3. Set up a pretend restaurant.  Take turns being the customer and waiter/waitress and cook.
  4. Arrange food in rows and go shopping with a basket.  Pretend to check-out and use real money.
  5. Sort food by color.
  6. Sort food by food group.
  7. Pick out two or more foods that start with the same letter.
  8. Look for shapes.  Which foods are spheres?  Are any flat like a circle?  What about a cylinder?
  9. Find and count certain foods.  How many eggs are there?  How many oranges?
  10. Compare quantities.  Are there more yellow foods or green foods?  How many more lemons than tomatoes?
  11. Use food to represent addition or subtraction problems.  I have four apples, then I give two to you.  How many do I have now?
  12. Play “I’m thinking of a food.”  Use adjectives to describe a piece of food to each other and take turns guessing.
  13. Play a memory game.  Place a few foods in front of your child.  Then have her close her eyes and take a food away.  Ask which one was removed.
  14. Put a food in a sack and see if you can guess what it is just by touch.
  15. Go on a food scavenger hunt.  Write down a list of foods to find (something to eat for breakfast, a vegetable, a food that starts with the letter B, etc.) and then see if your child can find them all!

Ten Ways to Learn with Cardboard Boxes

building with boxes

If you can learn with cans, why not boxes?  We collected empty cardboard boxes for a few weeks to make “box blocks.”  For boxes that didn’t close on their own, I taped them shut.  The kids really got excited about adding to our box collection.  And we were able to see just how many boxes our family uses…and have a talk about the importance of recycling!  That is a learning experience in itself, but here are some other things you can teach with boxes…

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Common Core Standards appear in italics.  They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels.  These standards are used in almost every school in the country.  Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)

  1. Colors- Talk about the different colors on the boxes, then divide them into groups or make a rainbow.
  2. Size- Compare sizes of boxes.  Put them in order from smallest to biggest.
  3. Counting– How many boxes in all?  Count how many you can stack in a tower.
  4. Addition and Subtraction– How many cereal boxes plus fruit snack boxes do we have? (first grade- Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction)
  5. Geometry- Talk about 2D vs 3D.  Use the word rectangular prism.  How many rectangles make up a box?   (kindergarten- Identify shapes as two-dimensional or three-dimensional)
  6. Measurement- Use a ruler to measure boxes length, width, and depth. (second grade- Measure and estimate lengths in standard units)
  7. Classification- Sort the boxes into groups based on color, size, or type of food.   (kindergarten- Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count)
  8. Reading– Beginning readers might be able to read some of the labels using the picture as a clue.  If they know it is a pizza box, see if they can pick out the word “pizza.”
  9. Letters- Try to make letters or even words out of the small boxes.
  10. Creative building– Design your own sculpture with box blocks!

Or combine all the above into a scavenger hunt.  Scatter the boxes around the room and then shout out things to find.  “Find a green box and bring it to me.  Which box would we use to eat breakfast?  Find the largest box.  Can you find the letter T on a box?”  This is great way to get kids moving and learning at the same time.

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Preschool Author Study

Eric Carle author study

So you’ve got a kid who likes a book.  Awesome!  Now go to the library and check out three (or five or ten) more books by the same author.  BAM!  You are doing an author study.  That was easy.

Author studies are great because if you are choosing books by an author your child already likes, so he will probably discover MORE favorite books.  You are encouraging a deeper connection attachment to reading. By discussing and comparing the books, you build critical thinking skills.  At the very least you are reading and learning an author’s name.  🙂

We chose Eric Carle because we were going to a Very Hungry Caterpillar puppet show.  Eric Carle is a familiar author, but I still found lots of books that I had never read before.  I think it is a good idea to chose an author/illustrator for preschoolers since it is so easy to see how the pictures are all in the same style.  Some other favorite preschool author/illustrators are Lois Ehlert, Donald Crews, David Shannon, and Sandra Boynton.

Obviously an author study for the under 5 set is going to look a little different than with school age kids.  You won’t be discussing the author’s use of imagery in his writing style.  Well, maybe you can.  Here are some preschool-appropriate ideas to try with your author study:

  • Talk about the jobs of author and illustrator.  Point out the author and illustrator’s names on the cover and title page.
  • Go to the author’s website to see a picture or video of the author.
  • Talk, talk, talk about books.  Which one is your favorite and why?  How are the books alike?  Are there any characters that appear in multiple books?
  • Write a letter or draw a picture to send to the author. (Your preschooler can dictate the letter and you do the writing)
  • Act out your favorite book with puppets.
  • Write your own book in the author’s style.  Use the same characters or setting, or continue the story of a favorite book.  (Again, you’ll have to do the actual writing)
  • Draw or paint or picture inspired by the illustrations.
  • Make a chart to compare the books.  We did an easy checklist that asked- Were there people in the story?  Animals?  Was there a problem in the story?  Did you like the book?

Rooster’s Off to See the World- Activities

Rooster's off to see the world activitiesRooster’s Off to See the World by Eric Carle is a second-grade reading level book.  It is a wonderful read aloud to younger kids, especially when read with other Eric Carle favorites.  It tells the story of a rooster who wants to travel and asks several animals to come along with him.

(Common Core Standards appear in italics.  They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels.  These standards are used in almost every school in the country.  Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)

  • Practice math- Do verbal or written story problems following along with the story.  1 rooster + 2 cats+ 2 frogs+ 4 turtles+ 5 fish = how many animals in all?  When the animals leave, write the subtraction problems.  (first grade- Solve word problems that call for addition of three whole numbers whose sum is less than or equal to 20)
  • Read with voice- This book makes a great read aloud.  Try out different voices for each of the animals.  Pay attention to words the author uses such as purred, snapped, or complained.  (second grade-Acknowledge differences in the points of view of characters, including by speaking in a different voice for each character when reading dialogue aloud.)
  • Alternatives to said– This activity goes along with reading with voice.  Make a list of all the words used instead of “said.”  Talk about why the author used these different words.  See if your child can use some of the new words in her writing.
  • Act it out- Use puppets or yourself to act out the story.  Maybe you could be the rooster and your child play the part of the other animals.
  • Write the sequel– The story ends with rooster dreaming about a trip around the world.  Where would he go?  What would he do?  Have your child make up the rest of the story and you can write it down.
  • Text to self connection- Ask your child to explain when he has felt like the characters in the story- excited for a trip, lonely, or homesick.  (first grade- Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly)

Great Day for Up- Activities

Great Day for Up activities

Great Day for Up by Dr. Seuss has a kindergarten reading level.  It has short sentences with lots of repeated words and picture cues.  Reading it to babies and toddlers will introduce lots of new vocabulary.  Preschoolers, kindergartners, and first-graders will appreciate the humor at the end of the book.  Here are some activities that go along with Great Day for Up

(Common Core Standards appear in italics.  They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels.  These standards are used in almost every school in the country.  Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)

  • Go on a sight word hunt–  Of course this book is a great way to introduce and practice the word “up,” but there are other sight words repeated in the book.  Find the words and, for, on, great, and day.  (kindergarten- Read common high-frequency words by sight)
  • Count the “up”s– Every time you read “up”, make a tally mark.  Then count them up by practicing skip counting by 5’s.
  • Make flashcards- Pick out the more difficult words in the story and make quick flashcards.  Go over these words before you read and hopefully, they will be able to read them in the story.  I wrote a word and a picture to illustrate it on a small piece of typing paper.  If I did this for my classroom, I would use cardstock and clipart.
  • Sort the words- Using the word flashcards, ask your kiddo to put them into groups.  What things go together?  Maybe there is a group of animals, sports, or people.  You’ll be surprised at kids’ creativity.
  • Explain exclamation points-  This book would be a good introduction to exclamation points since there is at least one on each page.  Point them out and talk about why the author would use them in this book.  Practice writing them.  (kindergarten- Recognize and name end punctuation)
  • Make plurals-  Show how adding -s  or -es to the end of a word means more than one.  Make a list of plurals in the book.  Make plurals out of singular words in the story like “wire” or “pup.”(kindergarten- Form regular plural nouns orally by adding /s/ or /es/)
  • Find the rhymes-  Can they identify the rhyming words on each page?  Take a close look at words that rhyme, but have different spellings like  “wire” and “higher” or “waiters” and “alligators.”  (kindergarten- Recognize and produce rhyming words)
  • Make your own “up” book–  Brainstorm things that go up.  Make a book together by writing a word on each page and illustrating it.  Depending on the age of your child, she can color the pictures, come up with the “up” words, or even write it all herself!

Letter Flashcard Path

Little Sis is learning her letters.  We have several packs of alphabet flashcards that people have given us, but going through flashcards is not her (or most kids’) idea of a fun time.  I don’t think flashcard memorization is the best way to learn letters.  However, I do like flashcards as a quick assessment tool.

I wanted to see which letters she knew, so I laid the flashcards down in a path for her to jump on.  We started with them in alphabetical order so she could sing the ABCs.  Then I made a new path with the letters out of order.  To jump to the next card, she had to say the letter name.  If she didn’t know it, I told her and then took the flashcard after she hopped to the next one.  We finished with a path of letters that she knew, and a stack in my hand of letters that she needed to work on.

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Other ideas to try:

  • making the path a zig-zag line, circle, or different shape
  • spreading the letters out to cover a whole level of your house…or even up the stairs!
  • jumping, hopping, skipping, tiptoeing, walking backwards to the next letter
  • building the path as you go (the kiddo says a letter and puts it on the floor to step on and builds her own path)

CANstruction- Learning with Cans

Our local food pantry, Harvesters, does a yearly competition where businesses build structures out of cans.  Then when the competition is over, all the cans are donated to Harvesters to feed those in need.  The designs are on display at the mall for about a month.

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IMG_4765We got inspired to make our own CANstruction at home!  Can you tell what we made?  (ha- unintentionally pun)

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Did you guess?  It was a giraffe, rainbow, and castle.  Constructing with cans was free, fun, and (bonus!) I had an organized pantry when we were all done.  It would be a great activity for the kids while you put away groceries.  And of course there is all sorts of learning that can be done with cans…

(Common Core Standards appear in italics.  They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels.  These standards are used in almost every school in the country.  Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)

  • Colors- Talk about the different colors on the cans, then divide them into groups or make a rainbow.
  • Size- Compare sizes of cans.  Find all the cans that are the same size.  What happens when you stack a large can on a small one?
  • Counting– How many cans in all?  Count how many you can stack in a tower.
  • Addition and Subtraction– How many bean cans plus tuna cans do we have? (first grade- Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction)
  • Geometry- Talk about 2D vs 3D.  Use the word cylinder.  Point out the circles on top and bottom of a cylinder.   (kindergarten- Identify shapes as two-dimensional or three-dimensional)
  • Measurement–  Measure things around the room with cans.  How many cans long is the couch?  (first grade- Express the length of an object as a whole number of length units, by laying multiple copies of a shorter object end to end)
  • Classification- Sort the cans into groups based on color, size, or type of food.   (kindergarten- Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count)
  • Reading– Beginning readers might be able to read some of the labels using the picture as a clue.  If they know it is a can of corn, see if they can pick out the word “corn” on the can.
  • Letters- Try to make letters or even words out of the cans.
  • Creative building– And the most fun, building!

Basic Sight Word Game

Some kids don’t like practicing sight words.  Maybe they think it is boring.  Or maybe they just learn words better in context.  If they hate it, don’t push it.  There are lots of ways to learn words.  Sight word flashcards are just one way to help your child read.  If they are willing, I think looking at flashcards is great for beginning readers to memorize words and feel more confident about reading.  Flashcards are also a good pre-reading activity for any reader with a difficult book.  Pick out words you think your child might not know in the book plus some that they DO know, make some flashcards, and then do this activity.  (Psst: here’s how I made my own sight words, but you could also buy some flashcards or just write words on notecards.)

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1.  Pick out 9 or 12 sight word flashcards and lay them face up on a table.

2. Ask your child to pick up any word they know and say it aloud.  If they are right, they keep it in a pile.  If not, say the word for them and they try again.

3.  Replace the missing flashcard with a new one (or not if you want a shorter game).

4.  Repeat until your child has found all the words she can name.

5.  Then say, “Pick up the word ________” and you name the word.  It is easier for kids to recognize words than naming the word themselves, so they should be able to pick up a few more this way.  If they can identify the word, it goes in the pile.  If not, say the word and ask for it again later.

6.  When all of the cards in the pile, count them up and celebrate their success!  Now those words will be fresh in their mind when they read the story.

Click on “Sight Words” on the right to see more games and activities.

(Common Core kindergarten standard: Read common high-frequency words by sight )

More Snow Books

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These are some of our favorite snow books…

The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett- This is a fun Goldilocks story, except set in the far north.  This time the bears are polar bears!  Kids will love the gorgeous pictures.  Jan Brett is known for her beautiful illustrations, with sidebars showing even more of the story.  While you are reading, compare/contrast this story with the traditional Goldilocks.

Snow by Uri Shulevitz-  Caldecott Award-winning illustrations and simple sentences tell the story of a boy’s excitement as snow starts to fall.  This is a good book for beginning readers.

Snowy, Blowy, Winter by Bob Raczka- This is a quick, fun read with lots of rhyming with words that end in ‘y’.  See if you can come up with some more snowy words while you read!

Snow Happy! by Patricia Hubbell- This book has cute watercolor illustrations and fun rhyming words to tell what one family does out in the snow.

Winter is for Snow by Robert Neubecker- In this a boy describes his love of snow (in blue print) and his sister tells why she doesn’t like snow (in red print).  It would be fun to read this together with your child reading one part and you reading another.  Or read it yourself in two different voices.

Snow by Cynthia Rylant-  It is a very sweet story of a girl excited about snow.  She tells about how she feels and what she will do in outside in the snow.

Marco Flamingo by Sheila Jarkins- Marco is the only flamingo that wants to go north to see the snow.  The story is told in both English and Spanish, so it would be great exposure to another language.  It also has a large section with no words, just pictures of Marco’s activities in the snow.  See if your kiddo can use their own words to tell that part of the story!

Non-fiction Snow Books

Sometimes it is difficult to find good non-fiction books for kids.  These are all packed with information about snow AND have engaging pictures that kids will love.  Even adults will learn something new!  Read one of these books, and then go out in the snow and experience it up close!

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Who Likes the Snow? by Etta Kaner– This book asks questions about snow and then a fold-out flap reveals the answer with a scientific explanation.  Curious kiddos who ask lots of questions will love this book!  I think the illustrations and fold-out flaps make it most suitable for younger readers (preschool- grade 2).

The Story of Snow- The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.- I like this book because it has one sentence in large print on each page and also a small paragraph with further explanation.  You can just read the one sentence for toddlers or preschoolers.   Older elementary kids will appreciate all the extra information.  The beautiful photographs of snow crystals are amazing.  This book can be used with kids of all ages!

It’s Snowing by Gail Gibbons– This book explains how snowflakes are formed, types of precipitation, and snow activities.  I especially like how it references different countries and continents around the world.  It would be great to read with a map or globe nearby.  It also has extra snow facts on the last page.  This is a great reference book for elementary (grades 1-4).