“What’s Missing?”: A Pre-reading Game

To learn to read, children need discrimination skills and a good memory. Playing memory games with your preschooler is a great way to develop these pre-reading skills.

“What’s Missing?” is a fun game that you can do with everyday objects in a variety of places. First, put a few toys or objects out in a designated area. Ask your child to study what is there and try to remember what she sees. Ask her to close her eyes. While her eyes are closed, take one item away, then have her open her eyes.

Ask, “which item is missing?” Did she remember what was there that has been removed?

This game can be fun at an early age or for beginners with only two objects. She’ll likely know right away what is missing, and this early success will build confidence. Gradually increase the number of objects as your child’s skill level increases.

This game can be done in a restaurant with objects on the table or in the bathtub. As your child grows older, this game can be played with similar objects such as coins, which will help your child learn the names and differences in the coins. For another variation, paint popsicle sticks all different colors and ask your child which color is missing. There are lots of possibilities!

What Doesn’t Belong? Learning Classification

Children learn to classify objects by understanding the attributes of objects, being able to identify them, and knowing the vocabulary to vocalize their thoughts. “What Doesn’t Belong?” is a fun, simple game to help build the concept of classification. It involves learning about similarities and differences, vocabulary development, observation, and abstract thinking.

In order to play, name three items for your child, two alike and one different. For example, you might say “t-shirt, skirt, bike” or “apple, banana, broccoli.” Ask your child which “doesn’t belong.” It’s important to ask the child “why” he chose a particular object so he can practice verbalizing his reasons.

“What Doesn’t Belong?” can be played at home using actual objects and observation, or can be done anywhere without tangible objects, requiring the child to picture the items in her head.

To take it to the next level, name critical attributes of an object and have your child name the object. You might say big, small, yummy, stinky, slow, squishy, and so on. To make it easier, use just one critical attribute, such as “big.” Your child can name anything big. To make it more complicated, name two or three attributes of a particular object and see if she can guess what you’re thinking of. “Name something big and gray.” Your child might say “elephant.”

These games are great to play in the car or while waiting for your food at a restaurant.

learning one-to-one correspondence

Children may learn to count, say, to ten at a very young age, which is a wonderful skill to have. They have memorized the numbers in the proper order, and can recite them reliably. Memorization is also a valuable skill. This counting they do is much like learning a song. They learn the proper sounds to make in the proper order. But does the counting have meaning to the child?

Often times, not at first. Learning one-to-one correspondence is a bit trickier.

But what is one-to-one correspondence?

One-to-one correspondence means that we understand one number represents one object. This is something that adults–and even older children–can take for granted. A child who does not yet understand one-to-one correspondence may keep counting past the number of objects that are actually there, or may point to objects faster or slower than they are counting. For example, if there are four apples, the child may know to count the apples, but may not understand that each apple equals “one.” They may point to the apples and count “one, two, three, four, (then back to the first apple or in a different pattern), five, six…” But, wait. There were only four apples.

So how do we teach this one-to-one correspondence to our preschoolers?

At Square Roots Preschool, we take a hands-on approach, making sure students count by touching, and we help them, sometimes by guiding their fingers and helping them adjust the pace of their counting to correspond to the objects in front of them. We do this throughout the day here and there, and we also have a specific time each day that we work on this concept during circle time. Each week, we focus on a number. We count to that number and point to corresponding objects in English and in Spanish. We point to the days on the calendar as we talk about the date, counting each one as we go. We point to tally marks and stickers. We also place objects in compartments to better illustrate how each number is its own. In art, we can use paint dotters to count. The variety of objects helps keep things fun for the students.

Crawling is Not Just for Babies

crawling

Crawling is typically the first means of locomotion that babies learn and master. By the time a child begins preschool, however, walking is probably his main mode of getting from point A to point B. Still, crawling plays an important role in a preschooler’s development.

Crawling helps with trunk strength. Preschool is likely a child’s first opportunity to learn to sit still for any length of time. Though those periods are typically much shorter than will be asked of a child in kindergarten or elementary school, sitting in preschool is vital to prepare them for longer periods of sitting during their approaching school years. It is common for preschoolers to wiggle a lot during these times of sitting, and we usually chalk it up to limited attention span. That is partially true, but another reason it is difficult for them to sit still is because their trunk strength is still developing. It may be simply uncomfortable for a child to sit up straight for more than brief periods. Crawling helps strengthen a child’s core muscles, those muscles that stabilize the shoulders, girdle, spine, and pelvis. If these core muscles are not developed well, a child may have difficulty sitting upright at a desk because the muscles will fatigue easily.

Crawling is a gross motor skill that helps develop fine motor skills. When a child has a stable trunk and is able to sit, his hands are then free to practice desktop skills, such as writing and cutting. When the foundation is strong, more can be built upon it. This trunk stability makes the shoulders and arms stronger, which is necessary to strengthen the wrists and fingers. The development of all of these components is vital to master fine motor skills that require finger strength.

Crawling gives the brain a workout. It requires that the child use alternating sides of the body at the same time (right arm/left leg and left arm/right leg), which is important to brain development. The movement of crawling helps to increase communication between the two sides of the brain. In order to have the physical coordination that crawling requires, the two sides of the brain are forced to communicate, strengthening pathways that link the brain. Building and strengthening these pathways is important for young children because as they learn to read and write, crossing between the two sides of the brain is required to move smoothly from one side of the paper to the other.

There are a variety of activities that encourage crawling in preschool. At Square Roots Preschool, we play in the following ways:

• Floor activities: We set out a variety of activities on mats on the floor. Children crawl around the mats to access different aspects of the activity, and since the activities are placed close together, the students often crawl between activities.

• Tunnels: Crawl-through tunnels are inviting and fun. They require that children crawl to get from one end to another. A cardboard box “obstacle course” or “fort” works well, too.

• Make-believe: Preschool-aged children love to pretend to be animals. This activity often demands crawling on all fours.

It’s amazing that one activity can do so much for physical and cognitive development. Crawl on, preschoolers!

Not Just Scribbles

Scribbles done by a young child may seem to be senseless and unimportant, but they are so much more. The first mark your child makes on paper will likely be a scribble of some sort, and when your child enters preschool, he or she will likely create may “scribbly” masterpieces.

The act of scribbling, itself, helps build the muscles in the hand that make writing possible. As your child gains more and more control over the scribbling, fine motor skills develop.

You’ll notice your child pointing to their scribbles and declaring what they are, often in great detail. The scribble likely looks nothing like what she is describing, but her words will let you know what she intended–the picture she had in her head. The act of describing the scribble helps build imagination and encourages thoughtful drawing. As her skills develop, the objects she intended will become more recognizable. As real shapes start to appear in your child’s drawings, your preschooler will build confidence and become excited about drawing and writing things that can be recognized by others, all the while, refining fine motor skills.

It is important to help your child learn to hold their writing instrument properly so that he can develop muscle memory for proper writing and drawing right from the start. Small children will likely first grip the writing instrument in a fist-like position. An early transition to the proper position is important for developing writing skills.

At Square Roots Preschool, we practice proper pencil holding. Our younger children create lots of scribbles. We ask them what they draw, and they give us lengthy explanations. We help them label their drawings so everyone can enjoy what they intended. We also work on tracing our names each day. In addition to the parent sign-in book, we have a child sign-in book. The youngest students start out scribbling on the sheet. Then the markings become more localized, and then the name appears! It’s a progression, all stemming from those first scribbles.

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It’s the Journey, Not the Destination: Learning to Write Your Name

When a child learns to write his or her name, it is a huge milestone. This achievement often happens during the preschool years. We often focus singularly on the end product without realizing all that is involved. Learning to write your name takes a lot of developmental skills working together, all at the same time–skills, for a preschooler, that have only just been learned or may still be in process.

In order to write his name, a preschooler has to have the fine motor skills and hand muscle strength to hold the pencil, have hand-eye coordination to put pencil to paper, make a brain-to-hand connection, and be able to recognize and write the individual letters in his name in the correct order. Whew! That’s a lot of work!

In order for all of this to happen together, each individual skill must be introduced, practiced, and developed. Various activities throughout our day at Square Roots Preschool help us develop these skills. For example:

• An art project that requires students to glue small objects onto paper works helps develop the pincher grasp, a fine motor skill important to holding a pencil.

• Practicing with scissors builds hand-eye coordination and also hand muscle strength, both essential to the writing process.

• Working on letter recognition in a variety of ways, including art projects, songs, and sound repetition all leads to letter recognition and, thus, execution.

• Before a child can form letters, he forms pictures, and before he forms pictures, he forms scribbles. Scribbling is important, and young preschoolers in our class do a lot of it!

• Playing catch during outside exploration time helps develop hand-eye coordination, a skill critical to writing.

• Crawling, for both babies and preschoolers, helps build upper body strength and wrist strength, which is essential to writing.

So there are many activities that seem completely unrelated to writing but are critical to developing writing skills. By encouraging our preschoolers to build writing skills in a variety of pre-writing activities, we keep them engaged and interested so that they come to the table with a solid foundation, ready to write their names for the first time.

Learning About Anti-oxidants

We always incorporate a nutrition discussion during snack time, and we are lucky that one of our parents is a registered dietician. Christine Reese, MS, RD, comes to the classroom about once a month and speaks to the students about an aspect of nutrition. Some of the concepts can be quite complicated, so Ms. Reese simplifies the lesson and provides colorful, interactive visuals to help the students retain the information. The children look forward to her talks and to the delicious snacks she brings! Ms. Reese sends home a handout filled with detailed information for the parents.

One of our students moves the skeleton's joints, helping to understand that anti-oxidants help our joints.

One of our students moves the skeleton’s joints, helping to understand that anti-oxidants help our joints.

Our letter of the week was “Oo,” so Ms. Reese discussed anti-“O”xidants. She provided us with valuable information:

Anti-oxidants are substances that help fight free radicals. Free radicals are elements produced in our bodies every day, for a variety of reasons. Normal bodily functions, such as breathing and generating energy; lifestyle choices, like smoking, excessive drinking, and even exercise; and external factors like environmental pollutants, pesticides, and x-rays, all create free radicals. If these free radicals are left alone, they attack healthy cells and cause damage to DNA, blood vessels and other tissues, leading to conditions such as early aging, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, arthritis, loss of cognitive function, and even cancer. This is a process called oxidation, and anti-oxidants protect healthy cells by binding and neutralizing the free radicals. For example, when you slice an apple, oxidation causes the apple slices to turn brown. However, rubbing the slices with lemon juice prevents oxidation from occurring, and hence prevents the browning/damage.

Fortunately for our preschoolers and us, nature provides numerous anti-oxidants:

Vitamin C–Necessary for growth and repair of body tissues; important to collagen formation, which is a protein found in skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels; helps regenerate vitamin E. Can be found in strawberries, peaches, kiwi fruit, citrus fruit, bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes

Vitamin E–Stops the formation of free radicals when fat cells are oxidized; prevents blood from clotting within blood vessels. Can be found in nuts, seeds, oils, spinach, wheat germ, peanut butter

Carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeanxanthan)–Protect vision and eye health; maintain skin health. Can be found in tomatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash (acorn, butternut), carrots, watermelon, guava, mango

Glucosinolates–supports liver in detoxfying cancer-causing chemicals. Can be found in brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, kale, collards, bok choy

Catechins–Aid in the repair of damaged DNA; inhibit oxidation of LDL-cholesterol. Can be found in tea, dark chocolate, apple, grapes, raspberries, avocados.

Anthocyanins–Modulate cellular pathways and signaling, which may prevent cancerous cells from forming or growing. Can be found in purple or concord grapes, purple onions and cabbage; purple peppers and potatoes; eggplant; blueberries and blackberries.

Ms. Reese talks to the class about anti-oxidants while Ms. Taryn helps with the visual aid.

Ms. Reese talks to the class about anti-oxidants while Ms. Taryn helps with the visual aid.

Something else anti-oxidants have in common is that they are mainly found in plant foods, especially colorful produce, and is why nutrition experts often tell us to feed our kids a rainbow of foods every day. There are no specific daily requirements at this time, perhaps because researchers are still learning about them, but also because there are so many. When it comes to actual food, you cannot eat too many anti-oxidants, however, it is possible in some cases to consume too much in the form of supplements. Therefore, at this time, it is best to get anti-oxidants from food, especially because they appear to work best when they come from food. For example, anti-oxidants and other food constituents work synergistically to protect healthy cells and fight damaging free radicals, whereas supplements taken alone do not have the other food constituents in the just the right amounts to help them out, and can easy overwhelm our cells. In addition, no single anti-oxidant can offer the protection of anti-oxidants working together, and typically more than one anti-oxidant is found in each plant food.

Ultimately, the “more matters” slogan for fruit and vegetables is applicable for a variety of reasons, one being to ensure adequate anti-oxidant consumption for better long-term health, and as parents and educators, we can plant the seed for preschoolers now.

Small Preschool Classes: What are the Benefits?

Preschool is often a child’s first real experience with peer socialization, a fun, yet possibly overwhelming time. Research shows that smaller class sizes with a lower student/teacher ratio are better for young children because each student gets more individual attention. We feel that a smaller class size is a more comfortable transition from home to the elementary school years for most children. What are some of the benefits of a small preschool class size, and why is individual attention so important during the preschool years?

• Teachers are better able to identify a student’s strengths and areas where improvement is needed, so they can help address the needs of each individual in the class.

•  Smaller classes are usually less stressful, as fewer conflicts arise.

• Children in smaller classes tend to work well as a group and bond closely to one another, which makes for a secure environment.

• Smaller preschool classes are of benefit to a less-confident child who may get lost in the shuffle of a larger class.

• Children in small classes don’t get sick as often because there are fewer children spreading germs.

• Smaller class sizes offer more individual teacher/student interaction.

• Teachers who instruct fewer children can better-tailor lesson plans to meet the needs of the students and may even provide some individual lesson plans for students who are excelling or need more work in a particular area.

• Having fewer children in a classroom allows the teacher to better determine each individual student’s learning style.

• Smaller class size allows for more hands-on learning, as these activities require more attention from the teacher.

• Smaller classes offer deeper language development because the teacher can more closely monitor social interactions.

The National Institute for Early Education Research states that

When groups are smaller and staff-child ratios are higher, teachers provide more stimulating, responsive, warm, and supportive interactions. They also provide more individualized attention, engage in more dialogues with children, and spend less time managing children and more time in educational activities. Studies also provide evidence of a link between class size and overall quality of the classroom.

At Square Roots Preschool, we never have more than six students in a class, well below the minimum staff child ratio of 1:13 for three-year-olds and 1:15 for four-year-olds. We feel that our small class sizes not only offer educational benefits, but also a family-like, close-knit environment for our students.

More information on the benefits of smaller class sizes for preschoolers:

NIEER Preschool Policy Matters: Class Size: What’s the Best Fit? 

13 Indicators of Quality Child Care, Staff Child Ratio and Group Size Indicator

High-Quality Preschool: Why We Need it and What it Looks Like

Music as a Learning Tool

MusicWe all know how that commercial jingle gets stuck in our heads. Well, those of us who are old enough to remember a time before we could fast-forward the DVR through the commercials know what it’s like. Would we be able to recall that information about the carpet cleaner so easily if it hadn’t been set to music? Likely not. (Go ahead…take a break and sing that jingle that just popped into your head. We’ll wait).

Researchers believe that when young children listen to music, it forms pathways between cells in their brains. When children actively participate in the musical experience, the pathways can make their strongest connections. Not only does music makes our brains grow; it is liked by nearly everyone on the planet, and it is a primary learning tool for preschool-aged children.

Children between the ages of two and five are making their way in the world in countless ways, one of which is memorizing some basic facts of life, such as the months of the year, the days of the week, or how many sides a square has. Memorizing these facts by rote can be laborious and not very exciting. Instead, spicing it up with songs that young students can participate in make things more fun and speed up the memorization process.

At Square Roots Preschool, we have a song for just about everything: welcome to school (introduces the kids in class), months of the year, days of the week, snack time (helps us have patience and be polite), shapes, colors, letters, numbers, clean up time and lining up. Some of the songs help us memorize basic facts, and some help us remember the rules. In either case, music supports what we need to learn.

Some of the younger students may not be able to pronounce all the words, but the message sinks in. Parents ask “is there a song you sing about ‘up and down’? Johnny sings this whole long song, and all I can make out is ‘up and down.'” Well, yes, we do! And even though Johnny’s words may not be clear when he sings the words at home, he’s learned which way is up and which way is down. And he’ll get all the words soon enough.

We also use instruments in our classroom. Each day, each child gets to hold and pat the tambourine during the part of the song when we are welcoming him or her. There are other opportunities during our lessons and during play time for the students to explore a variety of instruments and songs, helping forge those important connections in the brain. And we have so much fun!

So, don’t be shy! Turn up the volume with your little learner!

Thank You to Our Supporters!

Square Roots Preschool would like to thank the businesses who have supported us by providing services or helping to spread the word about us! Please check out our “Supporters” page. If you would like to help spread the word about our school, we would be happy to add your family-friendly business to our supporters page. Please contact us for more information.