Thursday, December 22, 2011

Some Fun Holiday Ideas

It's that time of year when adults are busy making preparations, and children are excited about the upcoming holidays.  Here are a few cute, fun, and educational ideas we found that would be great to do in the next couple of days with the children in your care.

One of our accreditation facilitation programs was making these ornaments as gifts for families this month.  Instructions are also available at All Free Crafts.  This dough is non-toxic, and it smells wonderful!

Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments

apple sauce
craft glue
cookie cutters (or cut by hand using plastic knives if you like)
ribbon or yarn
plastic drinking straw
Additional materials for decorations such as glue, paint, pipe cleaners, buttons, beads, etc...

Mix equal amounts of apple sauce and cinnamon and add 1 teaspoon of craft glue for every cup of applesauce.  Nutmeg or ground cloves can also be added if desired.  Let the children take turns measuring and stirring the ingredients.  Note that the dough may be too sticky, and you may need to add more cinnamon until the dough is easy to work with by hand.

Give each child a lump of dough to work with.  Roll or press dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut shapes with cookie cutters or shape freehand. Use the straw to poke a hole at the top of each ornament. (Adult may have to help with this.)  Place ornaments on a cooling rack or tray to dry completely. Depending on how large your ornaments are, drying could take a couple of days.  You can also put the ornaments on a cookie sheet and place in a 200 degree oven until dry.
Once your ornaments are dry, tie a ribbon or yarn through the hole and, if you like, you can paint these ornaments or add other decorations.

These fun and educational snowmen are from Teach Preschool.  Check out the site for lots of great photos and details about how they did the project.

Five Senses Snowmen

construction paper
wiggle eyes
small candy canes
jingle bells

During group time, discuss the five senses, sharing materials as examples of things that use each sense.  We can see the paper and wiggle eyes.  We can taste the candy canes (though these aren't for eating!  Consider having some the children may eat on hand.)  We can smell the cinnamon, hear the bells, and feel the sandpaper.  Share some photos of snowmen as well, and place the materials in the art center, encouraging children to create a snowman using the materials.  Let them be creative!  The idea is to use the materials as they wish and to stimulate the five senses.  The goal is not to have a classroom full of identical snowmen.

For a tasty, healthy snack the children can help prepare, this cute idea from Little Wonders Days is fabulous.

Christmas Tree Fruit Salad

green grapes
other small fruits such as red grapes, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, mandarin oranges, star fruit, or cut up kiwi.

This program used a tree-shaped tray, filled it with grapes, then used the other fruits to "decorate" the tree, placing a slice of star fruit at the top.  Look at this great photo!  Other ideas, in case you don't have such a tray, include using icing or cream cheese to stick fruits in a tree shape on a cookie sheet or plate, or simply allowing kids to enjoy the festive holiday colors as they create and eat their fruit salad.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reducing Stress in Child Care Providers

It is that time of year when teachers, children and families all experience an increase in stress levels. Whether it is from holidays, traveling or extra guests, or just because the weather is frigid and the outside time is shortened, this stress can cause some increased behavior issues in your classroom. The following are some simple strategies to reduce children’s stress, and as a happy consequence, reduce your stress levels and the families’ also!

1. Make changes or add materials to your program gradually. Children are sometimes stressed by novelty and change. Add items a few at a time or make slight changes over a period of several days or even weeks. Be sure to talk about the changes or additions ahead of time. You could add envelopes and “junk” mail to your writing area on one day; wait a few days to add stickers, and few more days to add the mailbox.

2. Set up several or related new activities at the same time, especially if the new area is likely to draw a lot of interest. For example, you can cut down on the competition and stress for the new workbench that only has space for two children, by adding Styrofoam and golf tees to the art area, and by putting tape measures and books about building in the block area.

3. Give children enough time to thoroughly explore materials and work at their own pace. Challenging behavior can be caused by the stress of expectations to finish or leave a project based on someone else’s timetable.

4. Arrange for children to move to a new activity in small clusters. For example, tell them “if you have shoes that tie . . . “ Avoid having everyone change activities at the same time. This promotes running and competition for favorite areas. Also, avoid sending children to a new activity one at a time. This only increases “wait” time and the possibility of challenging behavior.

The bottom line: what is peaceful for the children, is also peaceful for you!

Written by: Barb Vigil, Early Childhood Specialist
Adapted from Child Care Plus+ Newsletter , Spring 2006

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Healthy Holiday Snack Ideas

You can provide holiday themed snacks without overloading preschool children on sugar.  These ideas even allow the children the learning experience of helping to cook the recipes!

Crescent Roll Ornaments

1 can crescent roll dough
1 small container spreadable cream cheese
1 small container sour cream
Small pieces of chopped vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and red (or green or yellow) pepper

Unroll the crescent roll dough and use cookie cutters to cut ornament shapes. Or use the pre-cut triangles as "trees."  Bake the dough at the temperature on the package until light brown.  In a bowl, mix the cream cheese and sour cream.  Once ornaments/trees cool, allow the children to spread the "icing" on their shapes, then top with the vegetables.

Idea borrowed from Perpetual Preschool.

Holiday Snack Mix

A variety of healthy, bite size snack items.  Try whole wheat cereal, whole wheat pretzels or snack crackers, air popped popcorn, nuts, or dried fruit.
A small amount of holiday themed snacks, such as red and green candies, chocolate dipped pretzels, or caramel popcorn.

Let the kids make their own snack mixes as desired, but limit the amount of sugary snacks allowed.  Try providing larger bowls of healthier items and larger scoops in those bowls.  Or tell children they get 5 scoops of these items and one scoop of these items, separating healthy options from the candy.

Idea borrowed from Little Wonders' Days.

Healthy Gingerbread Men

Slices of whole wheat bread
Peanut butter (or spreadable cream cheese)
Raisins or other dried fruit

Give each child a slice of bread, and have children use cookie cutters to make gingerbread man shapes.  Allow children to spread the topping with a plastic knife, then have children decorate their "gingerbread men" using the dried fruit.