Literature Baskets Make Learning Fun

At the beginning of each school day, our students are invited to play. They choose from several activities that rotate on a weekly basis depending on the concept we are teaching. Students can stay on one task, or they may rotate to all of the stations as they wish. Some days, all of the children work on something together, and other days, they work individually.

ImageA staple of our morning invitation to play is our literature basket, which is simply a laundry basket with a book, a pillow, and some related items inside. It’s a cozy place for a student to curl up with a good book. This special, unique place encourages reading because the students are eager to explore the basket and settle in. It’s perfect for a time when a child just wants to relax, have fun, and experience literature in a whole new way.

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The Importance of Early Childhood Nutrition

About our contributor, Christine Reese, MS, RD: Christine has a Masters in Nutrition and has been a Registered Dietitian for 8 years. Although she is vegan and cooks accordingly, her 3-year-old son eats an omnivorous diet. Her background includes counseling on weight loss, diabetes, and kidney disease in adults. She loves talking about all things nutrition. 

 In the early days of U.S. nutrition goal setting, scientists and experts focused on preventing deficiencies and undernutrition. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, these remain important problems for children. Here at home, however, we are faced with different nutritional problems; problems that stem from too much junk food, available 24 hours a day, and available incredibly cheap.

More and more the evidence is mounting that what our preschoolers eat has a great impact on their cognitive development, physical growth, immunity, and even emotional well being. Depending on what our children eat, that impact can be positive or negative.

I believe I speak for all of us parents in that we want our children to be successful, now and throughout all their life stages. In order to stack the odds, we need to properly nourish them to provide for optimal cognitive development. Cognitive development encompasses brain growth related to learning, memory, perception, attention, thinking, and decision-making. Brain development happens rapidly during these preschool years, and what we feed our children has a direct influence.

Nutrients important for optimal cognitive development include iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-complex, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grain carbohydrates, and protein. What foods contain these nutrients? Foods higher in protein also tend to contain iron and zinc, and these comprise meat, poultry, fish, as well as the non-animal options legumes (peas, lentils, beans, peanuts/peanut butter), nuts, and seeds. Whole grain carbohydrates are good sources of B vitamins, and include whole grain rice, pasta, bread, quinoa, and oats. The one exception to this is vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods and fortified plant foods. Thus, if your child doesn’t eat animal products regularly, you will want to supplement his/her diet with an age-appropriate B12 vitamin. Vitamins A and C, to a certain extent vitamin E, as well as a host of numerous phytochemicals (chemicals produced by plants that affect health), fiber, and other vitamins and minerals are to be found in fruit and vegetables. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, and many vegetable oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in some fish, as well as walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, soybean foods, ground flax seeds, and chia seeds.

In order for our children’s learning capacities to be at their highest, breakfast is a must, and breakfast is a great way to incorporate protein, whole grains, fruit, and possibly nuts. For example, old-fashioned oatmeal made with milk or fortified soymilk (vanilla flavor is really yummy), topped with chopped nuts and/or dried fruit, and served with 100% juice provides a growing brain with protein, whole grains, nuts, and fruit, along with all the accompanying vitamins and minerals.

As a side note, although cow’s milk contains protein, calcium, and vitamin B12, it is a poor source of iron; if consumed in excess, it can actually inhibit iron absorption. Fortified soymilk, on the other hand, also contains protein, calcium, and vitamin B12; however, it does provide iron (and some omega-3 fatty acids).

Perhaps some of our children are not adventurous eaters. Perhaps they reject many of the foods that are best for cognitive development. In my next post, I’ll discuss ways we can help our preschoolers eat nutritious, brain and body boosting foods.

 

(1)Nyaradi, A., et al. The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013; 7: 97. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3607807/

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognition

(3) Ross, A. Nutrition and its effects on academic performance. How can our schools improve? http://www.nmu.edu/sites/DrupalEducation/files/UserFiles/Files/Pre-Drupal/SiteSections/Students/GradPapers/Projects/Ross_Amy_MP.pdf

(4) Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: Phytochemicals http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals.html

Balloon Ice Art

ImageOur students had a fantastic time making balloon ice art last week! It was a perfect activity to reinforce learning about the letter “B” and the color “orange” (until we decided to go wild with the colors). We loved this project so much because it was artistic, scientific, showed cause and effect, allowed the students to use patience and follow step-by-step directions, gave us an opportunity to work on fine motor skills, and make predictions, observations, and conclusions. WHEW! Oh, and it was also really fun. So fun, the students wanted to do it twice–so we did!

To make your own balloon ice art:

1. fill water balloons with water and measure around the balloon

2. freeze overnight

3. retrieve frozen balloons and predict if they will have expanded or contracted, then measure to see for sure

4. put frozen balloons on a tray and peel the balloon off of the ice (safely use scissors to get the balloon started)

5. rub salt onto the ice balloon to create craters and talk about what is happening

6. drip food coloring onto the ice balloon and watch it flow into and around the craters

7. set it aside and watch how it changes over the next few hours (just make sure your pan/tray is large enough to hold the ice melt!)

Thanks to Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas for the great idea!

A Snack is More Than Just a Snack

Snack time is very important at preschool. It helps keep active youngsters moving, allows them to focus, and is a nice break so they have the opportunity to relax and chat with their friends.

Square Roots takes snack time a bit further. We make sure that our snacks are organic and locally grown whenever possible and always healthy. While the students are eating, Ms. Taryn asks them about why they think the food they are eating is healthy and what it does to help their bodies grow big and strong. The kids really enjoy expressing their ideas about how a particular food is healthy, and Ms. Taryn guides them in the right direction, making snack time fun, nourishing, and educational.

Since we are studying the letter “B” this week, we enjoyed bananas and blueberry yogurt!

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Creativity, Structure, and the Play-based Curriculum

Square Roots employs a play-based curriculum because we believe children learn best through play. Our day is not all chaos as it might sound. Our students are given opportunities to be creative and think freely, all in the framework of the lesson structure Ms. Taryn provides. There is always a goal to our play, and there is always a concept, but we allow the children to explore and create and draw conclusions within that framework. We came across a great article addressing how beneficial this type of learning environment can be for children even as they grow older. Please check out The Role of Structure in Creative Free Thinking.

This week we learned about the letter “B” and the color “orange.” Check out how our students used creativity within the framework of the lesson:Image

Keeping Things Clean the Safe Way

Most preschools use bleach to disinfect classroom surfaces. Effective? Yes.

Unfortunately, bleach is also toxic. It is a known carcinogen, and it can actually be quite dangerous to use.

SolUGuardAt Square Roots, we use a botanical disinfectant called Sol-U-Guard, made by Melaleuca. It is a safe, equally-effective bleach alternative that kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, including staph, E-coli, salmonella, strep, Poliovirus type1, Influenza A, and Rhinovirus type 37. Sol-U-Guard meets state requirements for disinfecting surfaces and is EPA-certified.

The patented, all-natural formula uses thyme-oil and citric acid. It has a wonderful herbal scent that is much less invasive than bleach or other chemical cleaners. We feel good that even if a toy at the preschool is inserted into the mouth of a child, the Sol-U-Guard used to clean it will do no harm. It’s so safe, our students can even help with cleaning!

StudentCleaning

National Smile Week :)

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CHEESE!

We were all smiles this week! We had a great start to the school year, and we celebrated National Smile Week! It wasn’t difficult to capture our students with big grins. We took photos all of their smiles and created a homework sheet for them to match the smile to their friends’ names. It was a fun way to reinforce letter and name recognition as well as get to know each other better. Happy National Smile Week!