Do You Also Hyper-Focus On Your Child’s Ability To Retain Rote Memorization?

The pressure of learning in early childhood is real and unnecessary. I’ve written articles on this exact topic and I’ve done my own research on it as well! But still… it’s real. It’s there. The ideology that children should be able to name colors, shapes, numbers, letters and more all before Kindergarten seems wild and academic-minded instead of development-minded. However, even I have fallen into the trap of this thought process!

We were wrestling with the decision of sending my daughter to Kindergarten the year she met the cut-off or holding her back one year. The idea of sending her the year-earlier came up and my first questions were,

Does she know all of her letters though?
I know for a fact that she doesn’t know all of their sounds yet.
She’s pretty good at the numbers 1-10, but what about 11+?
How is she supposed to be reading if she doesn’t know her letter sounds?

I quickly fell into the trap of “kindergarten readiness” and thought that my daughter wasn’t going to be ready in time because she didn’t know enough yet. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s currently November 2021 and she won’t even start kinder until September 2022!!

Once I took a deep breath and realized what I was doing, I pulled up an old post that Mary write about kindergarten prep and a list of what you truly should be focused on when deciding if a child is ready for school or not:

  • Feel capable and confident, and tackle new demands with an “I can do it” attitude.
    Check.
  • Have an open, curious attitude toward new experiences
    Absolutley she does.
  • Enjoy being with other children.
    YES. It fuels her extroverted soul.
  • Can establish a trusting relationship with adults other than parents.
    Check. Again, I’ve got an extrovert on my hands.
  • Can engage in physical activity such as walk, run, climb (children with handicaps can have a fine time in kindergarten if school and parents work cooperatively on necessary special arrangements).
    All day every day.
  • Take care of their own basic needs, such as dressing, eating, and toileting.
    The most independent soul I know.
  • Have had experience with small toys, such as puzzles and crayons.
    Yes.
  • Express themselves clearly in conversation.
    Yes, well enough for a 4 year old.
  • Understand that symbols (such as a stop sign) are used to provide useful information.
    Check.
  • Love books, stories and songs and can sit still to listen.
    Oh, yes.

So when you also inevitably find yourself getting caught up with your child’s knowledge on rote memorization (yes, that’s all learning letters, shapes, etc is.), take a deep breath. Realize that it’s normal to have this thought process, but there is more to it. And then come back to this list and remember the important things that your child really needs to know when they go to school.

Making Kindergarten Decisions

kindergarten decisions

Late last winter I wrote a post about when I should send my late summer birthday daughter to Kindergarten and how hard the decision was for us. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a fairly common debate parents have when their children are late-summer birthdays. One of the hardest parts is that there are so many pros and cons that go into the two different options, and you never will be able to know what the better decision is because you can’t choose them both and compare and contrast the situations. You just have to dive right in with what you feel is best and go with it! 

It was one day after my daughter came home from preschool with a few extra letter activities from the days she missed school that my husband and I really started talking about it. We had participated in plenty of discussions up until that point, but watching her sit there and carry out what she was excited to call “homework” as she wrote her letters to the best of her ability, really made us dig deep to discuss it. 

I had always been leaning towards holding her back and instead of sending her to kindergarten, filling her days with other enriching activities like preschool and tumbling classes during that year instead. However, after seeing her excitement and love for learning, it helped me feel better about placing her in a classroom a little sooner. My husband had always leaned towards the same as I, but I think his perspective was changed as well at that moment. 

Another hard part of the decision-making process was that she is our first child, and we have other children with late summer birthdays in our family to consider as well. If we sent her next year to kindergarten but ended up holding our son back a year from school, it would make them 3 grades apart in school, but only 2 years apart in age! There are just way too many factors to take into consideration! It’s stressful! 

And my last biggest worry was…. Will she be ready for kindergarten next year? 

Both Mary and I have written multiple articles on kindergarten prep and why we need to stop buying into the idea that our kids aren’t ready because they aren’t ready academically. I’ll link a few. 

How Kindergarten Prep Frenzy Changed My Teaching Perspective

10 Signs That Your Child Is More Ready for Kindergarten Than You Might Think Spoiler alert: none of these have to do with letters, numbers, or writing their name! 

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

However, even though I know this information is out there and the research behind it stands strong about how our children should be learning and growing at this age, I still have that parent guilt that I’ve bought into. The second the possibility of my child attending kindergarten near year came up, my first thoughts turned to letters. She can name the majority of the letters, but not all. And as far as what sounds they make… yeesh. Not sure about that! Also, she has a LONG name and she can only write the first half of her name unassisted! And what about numbers? I actually don’t even know if she can identify her numbers… Is she even going to be ready?! 

Okay, deep breaths. 

First, it is currently November, meaning the school year is not even halfway over yet. She still has so much time to continue learning and growing in preschool. And on top of that, she can still go into kindergarten with the knowledge she currently has academically, because her social/emotional skills are there. Her ability to play with others and independently is where it needs to be. She knows how to pick up a book and turn the pages the correct way, even if she can’t read it yet. She can get her shoes on and off by herself, use the bathroom on her own, take care of her own jacket and backpack, and more. She’s more ready than I will EVER give her credit for. 

I’ve said from the day she was born, “If there’s any child that’s going to walk early, it will be her.” and when she took her first steps at 9 months old, walking independently by 10 months old, she proved me right. 

“If there’s any child that is going to ride her bike early, it’s going to be her.” and just a few weeks shy of her 4th birthday, she was taking off on her two-wheeler! 

“If there’s any kid that is going to excel and do great at kindergarten, regardless of her age, it’s going to be her.” and I absolutely know that to be true. So at last, we have come to a decision. Our daughter will be starting her journey to school in the 2022-23 school year, and she’s going to do amazing. I can already tell. Even if she doesn’t know all of her letters and numbers yet. 

A List Of Our Favorite Toys

Toys are an important part of childhood. They may create clutter and stress in our lives as parents and teachers, but the truth is, they can be essential to our kid’s childhood. They don’t have to be noisy and there doesn’t have to be a lot of them, as long as they are intentional. Here are our favorite toys we keep at our house. In fact, the less noisy and flashy they are, the better development wise. 

Magnet tiles- Learning more about magnets AND the ability to build various structures. They are also an easy add-to collection. Where we can continue to purchase more as gifts to my kids, but our abundance of toys doesn’t feel overrun. 

Wooden blocks- Again, building! Imagination! And sustainable materials. 

Kitchen set with food and dishes- More pretend play has happened in our play kitchen (both outdoor and indoor) than anywhere else in our house. 

Pop open tent- I’m a big fan of these because they fold flat for easy storage behind or under the couch. Our next purchase will be a pop up tunnel. 

Baby dolls- Both my son and daughter love playing pretend with our collection of baby dolls. None of them are very fancy and we’ve thrifted the majority of them. 

Outdoor kitchen with real pots and pans- I spent a weekend thrifting old pots, pans, silverware, and other kitchen dishes that we’ve put into our little playhouse in the backyard. These combined with some dirt and water seem to be our most popular toy! 

The toys you choose to have in your home for your kids don’t have to be extravagant and don’t have to be flashy. In fact, the less batteries required, the better! The more work your child has to do in order to play with the toy, the more learning and growing that is happening. 

What are some of the favorite toys in your house? 

Late Summer Birthdays: Hold Back Or Send To Kindergarten?

Even though my daughter is only 3.5 years old, I’ve been having a debate in my mind lately about kindergarten. Her birthday is late in July, so I’ve come to the tough decision that most parents of late summer birthday kids face. Send them to school when you’re supposed to so they are younger for their grade? Or hold them back a year from school and they are the oldest for their grade? 

I’ve been wrestling with a decision for quite some time now, listing out pros and cons. Sending your kids to school earlier when they will be younger for the age means they are out of the house earlier and accustomed to school sooner. Sending them later so they are older means they have more time to be a kid and don’t have the pressures of going to school placed on them so fast. 

The pros and cons lists are endless, I’ve been making them for about a year now! And beyond that, it’s so situational depending on each child individually, and their external circumstances. It is nearly impossible to know what the best situation is without doing an entire scientific experiment and analyzing both situations. But that is impossible to do! 

Here is where I am finding comfort- Kids thrive in whatever situation they are placed in. 

Sure, each child will have their struggles in school. Some may fall behind because they are younger for their grade and cannot keep up academically. Others may stick out and get made fun of because they are taller or bigger for their grade. 

Regardless, they will have successes too. They will find happiness and thriving whether you place them in kindergarten this year, or the next. 

We have yet to choose if my daughter will be attending kindergarten in 2022 or 2023, but once we do, you bet you guys will hear about our decision and the entire thought process that will go into it! 

Is this a decision weighing on you right now too? Which way are you leaning? 

Rice Sensory Bin Tips

Hello, early educators and parents of littles who are ready to dive deep into the sensory bin world! Sensory bins can be daunting given the mess that can come with it. But I’m here to help ease your fears and bring more sensory play into the world. First, a few other resources for articles: 

One Big List Of Sensory Bin Fillers

Tips For Sensory Play In General

Here are my tips specifically for RICE sensory bins. 

SET BOUNDARIES: Before you even begin, set boundaries. Our number one rule is to keep the rice and tools inside the bin. This idea of rice in a bin to play with can be new for the majority of kids and we can’t just assume they know to keep the rice nicely in the bin. Give them good boundaries BEFORE you give them the materials. 

SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS: One thing I firmly believe is that we have to set kids up for success before we expect them to perform the way we want and expect them to. Even if you set them up for success, accidents still happen. The best solution I have found for keeping rice contained is to put the sensory bin on top of a quilt or rug. Then it can easily be shaken off outside or vacuumed up when you’re done!

KEEP THE BOUNDARIES: When lines are crossed, don’t be afraid to take a break from the rice. Separate the child and the bin however you can, take a minute for a break, and come back to try again for success when you feel the child is ready. 

FIND THE RIGHT TOOLS: Too many tools, not enough tools, or the wrong tools can make or break the sensory bin experience. We’ve done our fair share of experimenting with tools and here are our favorites. 

  1. Scoops and spoons 
  2. Small bowls 
  3. Ice cube trays
  4. Small people or animals for pretend play 
  5. Holiday-themed toys (usually from the dollar store) 
  6. Puzzle pieces for a puzzle find. Expect this to be messier because they’ll be pulling pieces out of the bin. 

PRAISE THE POSITIVE: Applaud and praise the correct behaviors. 
“I love how you’re sharing so nicely with your friend!” 
“You are keeping the rice in the bin so well. I am proud of you!”  

TASTE SAFE IS NOT AN AFTERNOON SNACK: Dyed rice is typically made taste safe (recipe coming soon!). Just because it’s taste safe doesn’t mean it should be eaten. It means you don’t need to call poison control if it ends up in their mouth at some point. With diligent supervision and boundary setting, babies as young as a year old can play with sensory bins full of rice. More on that in the next point. 

The first experience of a sensory bin looks like sitting right next to the child, helping them scoop and play. When rice is inevitably put in their mouth respond with, “Yucky! No no!” and help them spit it out. Repeat over and over. It takes multiple times to remind them and in multiple settings! Be diligent and they’ll understand. Take it away if you need to. 

IT TAKES TIME FOR RICE TO BE AN INDEPENDENT ACTIVITY: To go along with the last point, it takes time for any sensory bin to be an independent activity! If you’re a parent, handing your child a rice bin with toys and tools for the first time so you can make dinner isn’t setting them up for success. Rice bins are a side-by-side activity to teach your child self-control and pretend play. 

In an early childhood educational setting- model, model, MODEL how to play with any sensory activity. Set a responsible adult next to the bin with a handful of kids to monitor and keep the boundaries. 

Given time, independent play with rice is possible! 

Do you have any tips for rice sensory play you can add to this list? 

One Big List Of Sensory Bin Fillers

To all of the educators out there teaching in early childhood- the daycare workers, the preschool and kindergarten teachers, even up into first and second grade, this post is for you. First, to salute you for your noble work. Teaching littles can be difficult, emotions run high and logic doesn’t always seem to follow. But at the end of the day, we all know the work we are doing is worth it for those little brains to learn and grow. 

Here’s a tool for my fellow sensory bin lovers, something I’ve searched the internet, Pinterest, and Instagram for a few years now, and I am ready to share my findings with you. My best list of sensory bin fillers!

  • Good old fashioned rice- Fairly common, but always a hit. Dye the rice fun colors for an added twist. 
  • Shaving cream or
  • Whipped cream- make sure your students know which one is edible! 
  • Pom-poms 
  • Cardboard pieces cut up smaller 
  • Water with scoops and cups
  • Ice
  • Playdough 
  • Tissue paper
  • Water beads
  • Shredded paper 
  • Dried noodles 
  • Cooked noodles 
  • Foam packing peanuts 
  • Bubble wrap 
  • Cotton balls as pretend snow
  • A big bucket of snow! What’s more fun than snow indoors for littles? 
  • Dried corn for those fall months 
  • Straw or hay 
  • Fake grass (usually made for Easter baskets) 
  • REAL grass! 
  • Legos
  • Bubble Foam
  • Sand or moon sand 
  • Rocks 
  • Leaves 
  • Buttons 
  • If you’re feeling like you’re ready for a really messy day- Dirt!
  • Feathers 
  • Flower petals/ flowers- either real or fake 
  • Fabric pieces 
  • Beads 

The possibilities are endless! We have had so many successes and failures in our sensory bin activities. Some I find are not interesting right away, but left out can facilitate great play. This list is just a start to items you can find in a sensory table, but my hope is that it can get your gears turning for some fun, imaginative play for littles. 

What are some of your go-to sensory bin activities? What has worked for you in the past? Is there something new on this list that you are going to try in your classroom? 

A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has aquired.

Vgotsky

Do You Teach Early Childhood Ages? This List Is For You

Around the time my daughter was 18 months old, I had an epiphany moment. I was a full-time stay at home mom. The majority of my focus was on raising and teaching her, so I needed to treat it more like it was at least my part-time job. I spent my day running my own errands, dragging her around with me, and when I needed to accomplish tasks around the house I would try to pawn her off to her room to play with her toys. 

Well, her toys eventually were boring to her and she spent more time clinging to me than ever before. That’s when I realized something needed to change. If my job was to raise and teach her, then that’s where I needed to shift my focus. 

I researched age-appropriate, educational activities for her, built up a good stash of supplies, and got to work. In the year I have been doing these with her, I have also come up with a decent list of tips that I believe can benefit everyone, whether you’re also a stay at home mom like me, a working mom, or a teacher of littles. 

Without further ado, here are the crucial tips I’ve learned. 

1. Everything can and will be cleaned up- Sensory bins are messy. Painting for the first ten times is messy. Even playing with stickers can be messy. This was so hard for me and I would have to just take a deep breath and remind myself that it will be cleaned up, but for now, she’s learning. 

2. Cleaning is fun for toddlers, take advantage of that- My daughter LOVED wiping up the table after a small sensory activity. She’s two years old now and still loves it. I’m taking full advantage of her help for as long as possible. It’s also teaching her some cleaning skills. Double win!  

3. Don’t overfill the sensory bin with too many tools- The first sensory bin I did with my daughter was a giant bust. I filled it full of fun tools she could use to play in the water. Right away she became overwhelmed with the number of things in front of her and refused to play with it. Too many options and information can overwhelm any child, even into kinder and first grade.

4. Just because they weren’t very good at a certain activity or bin the first time, doesn’t mean it’s a bust. They’ll get better and have more fun every time you pull it out.  

5. “Taste Safe” does not mean it’s an afternoon snack. It means you don’t need to try poison control when it’s put in their mouths- Especially small kids are notorious for eating EVERYTHING. So taste safe can be best, sometimes even into Kindergarten, because five-year-olds are just as guilty at placing anything in mouths, noses, and ears! This doesn’t mean they have free reign to eat cornmeal. It just means you don’t need to worry when it’s in their mouth, you just need to respond with, “yuck!” so it doesn’t continue happening.  

6. Don’t underestimate their abilities. 

7. Messes mean their learning. It’s hard, but it’s true.  

8. They don’t have to do an activity exactly how you envisioned for it still to be fun for them.

9. Some activities are a bust, and that’s okay. Try again later. 

11. Tape. Construction paper. Markers. You don’t need a lot of supplies, or even expensive supplies to make it fun and educational. In fact, the activity on repeat in our house is painting with water on construction paper. This takes construction paper, some sort of paintbrush, and a cup to hold water. So. Easy.

12. 1-2 drops of food coloring is all you need. 

13. Water play is the cleanest play. Nervous about sensory bins in your house or classroom because they are notorious for being messy? You’re not alone. If you have access to a non-carpeted area, water sensory bins are great because they can only do the floors a favor when all it needs is a good mopping when it’s over. 

14. They’ll never learn the responsibility of playing in a sensory bin or with messy activities if you never give them the opportunity to. 

15. You don’t have to understand what concepts they are learning, you just have to understand that it’s important that they really play. I used to be nervous about making hands-on activities for my daughter because I wasn’t exactly sure what she was learning or how to explain it to her. The good news is- you don’t need to either. In this photo, my daughter is experimenting with baking soda and vinegar. She doesn’t need to know that what’s happening are the hydrogen ions within the vinegar react with the bicarbonate in the baking soda, causing a reaction, creating new chemicals, which lead to a second reaction. All she needs to know is that when the vinegar hits the baking soda, it makes bubbles. Don’t feel daunted by the minute details. Just let them play.