Storytelling with Stones

This idea is an extension of my previous post on drawing on pebbles.

When I was teaching creative storytelling and writing in primary school, I used to put different picture cards in a mystery bag, and ask children in small groups to pick out a card and each child must contribute a line to the story based on the picture shown on the card. Collectively, the children get to weave together a plot, which often ends up with hilarious outcomes and twists in this creative storytelling process! It also evolved into book-making projects of documenting their stories with drawn illustrations on paper.

With my younger 32 month old, I decided to try out this creative storytelling approach, using pebbles! I drew some pictures on the pebbles with my chalk markers, things that are Rae’s favourite things to talk about; like butterfly. girl, house, flower, whale, etc. Instead of a mystery bag, I recycled a used tissue box instead. The hole on top of the tissue box is perfect for their little hands to reach in for the pebbles, and the plastic sheet prevents the pebbles from falling out. Just put a label like “Storytelling With Stones”, and you are ready to tell a story with your child!

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To demonstrate the storytelling process, I asked Rae to take out one pebble at a time from the tissue box. For each pebble, I continued the story with a line created from the picture on each pebble. For example, from the pictures below, I created a simple story like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful butterfly. It likes to fly to the beautiful princess, RaeAnne everyday. They both like to play around the tree.. that stood in front of the house…”

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Rae was so absorbed with the storytelling that she wanted to have a go almost immediately after the fifth stone. As she reached in for the sixth pebble, she identified the picture as a bird, and continued the story with ” they have a bird too!”. And the magical story evolved in a magical fairytale involving a prince who has a sword to protect the princess from the whale. And they fell in love and lived happily ever after (how else to end a story?! 🙂

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Remember to give lots of encouragement and praise for your child’s attempts to tell their story. Even if your preschooler just shows emergent speaking skills in the form of a word or phrase, you can build up their ideas by echoing their ideas back to them in complete sentences. That way, you are showing value in their contribution to the story, as well as modeling good sentence construction for your child.

For older children, you can arrange the pebbles he or she has picked out in sequence, and it becomes like a story map for your child to write his story on. You can encourage your child to give it more details and descriptions to make the story come alive!

This play-based approach to storytelling and writing taps on your child’s imagination and develops their creative thinking and writing skills. It is fun, hands-on and makes for great collaborative learning in a group of children as well!

Where to buy pebbles:
You can get pebbles at the gardening section in Daiso! Or any plant nursery! 🙂

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Zoo Animals Picture Books

Children have such a fascination with animals. One of the reasons can be that animals are living creatures just like us, and there is so much about animals to learn about; their physical attributes, their special abilities and their habitats. Animals inspire so much wonder and curiosity in children who are discovering so much about the world around them!

Below are some of my personal favourites when it comes to introducing young children to zoo animals!

1. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do you hear? (Eric Carle)

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Eric Carle needs no introduction. He is one of the greatest children’s book writers in our time. He illustrates colourful, captivating characters that makes it so easy for children fall in love with. He is renowned for turning a simple plot into a magical experience for children. In this book, he takes children in this exploration about the sounds that zoo animals make. In terms of language, the repetitive lines in the book makes it easy for children to pick up chunk language or phrases, that can be used in their daily speech. It is also a great book to pick up new vocabulary such as zoo animals, and the sounds they make. You can use this anytime as a read-aloud book, and mimic the sounds that the animals make to make the book come alive!

2. From Head to Toe (Eric Carle)

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This is another great Eric Carle classic! From head to toe is a simple story about how a boy imitates the movement of the different zoo animals such as turning his head like a penguin,bending his neck like a giraffe, and stomping his feet like an elephant! Rae loved it when I first introduced this book to her at 14 months old. I will follow the pages and model the animal actions for her, and she loved imitating it back to me (which was hilarious!). This is one reading activity that is irresistible to any child!

3. Edward the Emu (Sheena Knowles, illustrated by Rod Clement)

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I used this book a lot when I was teaching the 4 to 6 six year olds! It is a heartwarming story about how an emu didn’t like being an emu, and thought he would be happy if he could be like the other animals in the zoo. He pretended to be a seal, a lion, and a snake, and later realised that others loved him just as he was. The story teaches self-esteem, and children loved it for the humor presented in how the emu ended up looking silly when he tried to be like the other zoo animals. The text is made up of rhymes, which is great for children to enjoy!

5. Possum Magic (by Mem fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas)

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Mem Fox is a very popular Australian children’s books writer (one of my all-time favourites for sure!). Possum Magic is such a whimsical story that tells of the adventures of a possum who became invisible under the magic spell of her grandmother, and wanted so badly to be visible again that they embarked on a journey through the different Australian cities in search of the ‘food’ that could break the spell. Children reading this book will encounter Australian zoo animals such as the Koala bears, the kangaroos, as well as the boa constrictors.

6. ZZZZZ…. A Book Of Sleep (By Ill Sung Na)

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I stumbled upon this book in a book sale when I was travelling in Perth with my then toddler. She was immediately drawn to this book because of the cute cover of the owl. Upon reading just a few pages with Rae at the store, I knew this will become one of our family favourites! It is an interesting book about how different zoo animals sleep! The koala bears sleep in peace and quiet, while the elephants make a lot of noise! The horses sleep standing up, the whales sleep on the move, the giraffes sleep alone while the penguins like to huddle close together! Rae learnt so much about the sleeping habits of these animals in a simple, yet amazingly interesting book! Part of enjoying the illustrations in the book is spotting the owl hidden in every page, like playing hide and seek!

Hope you will pick some of these books in the library or bookstores, and enjoy learning more about zoo animals with your child!

I will be putting up a post for an activity about zoo animals! Stay tuned!

Drawing on Pebbles!

Did I tell you that my girl loves pebbles? Eversince she was a toddler, in our garden walks, she always picks up pebbles and without fail starts to meddle with them. She will sometimes stack them up and see which one will topple the stack, lay them out in a straight line, throw them onto different surfaces to hear the sounds made, or pretend to use them as ingredients to cook a meal for me. These pebbles are just the right size for their small palms to grasp, and it is round edged so it is not dangerous. Her obsession with these pebbles always had me brewing up different ideas of using these pebbles for play and explorative activities.

One of the ideas that came up is using markers to draw on the pebbles. I presented the pebbles in a basket, and some chalk markers (from Daiso). Chalk markers are water-based markers which makes the ink washable. It becomes an open-ended art activity that allows Rae to use her imagination and creativity to make marks on the pebbles. You can also use these beautifully drawn pebbles as paper weights in your office!

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Learning Points from this Art Activity

Making marks on the pebbles was an extremely engaging activity for Rae. She started choosing different coloured markers and labeled them as ‘orange’, ‘purple’,’pink’ and so on. Feeling the different shapes & sizes of the pebbles with her fingers, she also used comparative terms like “big”, “small” and adjectives like ” smooth”, “dirty” to describe the pebbles. It is so evident to me that when a child’s senses are stimulated, discovery learning takes place naturally. Drawing on concrete objects like pebbles was a different sensory experience compared to her usual activity of drawing on paper. It is a different level of mastery when making marks on three-dimensional objects like pebbles. She has to exercise tighter finger grip, and with more intense concentration to prevent the markers from slipping off the surface, and the lines from deviating. While drawing, she will probably derive simple conclusions that it is easier to draw on flat, and not curved surfaces. This can also be a pre-writing activity for children to learn mark-making.

Check out Rae’s mark-making on the pebbles.. From extreme left, she drew a snake, and the middle pebble is a bird who tries to eat up the snake! The pebble on the extreme right is the flower that is the bird’s favourite hiding place. From this little open-ended activity, I can clearly see Rae’s imagination at work, and drawing becomes her medium of expressing her ideas and creativity.

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Such open-ended activities allow your child to be free with her art expressions. Its perfectly alright for the child to draw the way she likes it, and use her markings to symbolise her ideas. Encourage her to expand her thoughts by prompting her with questions. Ask her to express and describe what she is drawing. Value her artwork and show interest in what she is drawing. Remember that the process of creating is more important than the finished product to a child.

Great Art Activity for Playdates!

For one of the playdates, I decided to let some children try this activity together! They were so engrossed in drawing on the pebbles, that I ran out of pebbles in no time! Try it out sometime, if you need a filler activity to occupy the children!

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Have fun drawing on pebbles, we did!! 🙂

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Animal Figurines- Teach New Words

Ever thought what you can do with animal figurines? You can use them to teach new words! Children love learning with such concrete, three-dimensional objects, and using these toy-like materials make learning a lot more fun and interactive!

For this post, I am teaching Rae zoo animals. To introduce your child to zoo animals, you can choose a few picture books that feature such animals. You can read up on  my book picks in this previous post.

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Matching Animal Figurines to the New Words

For this activity, I first read the sight words to Rae, and demonstrated how to match the animal figurines to the sight words. I started with 3 animals, and gradually progressed to 6, then 8 animals in the next consecutive days. To help her to recognise the words, I also sounded the beginning sound of the words, like /z/, Zebra (Since she knows her phonics sounds). This also helps her practice using her phonics skills to decode the words for reading.

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Rae takes a keen interest in learning the new words, because the figurines help her visualise, and internalize the new vocabulary. Whenever I find ways to tap on her interest, she is able to learn new things quickly.  In a matter of two days, she is able to recognise and does the matching herself. The process of learning is just as, if not even more important than the product.

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Book-based Activity: Arranging the Zoo Animals In Sequence

This also evolved into a follow-up activity to the thematic picture books on zoo animals that I had previously read to her. I read “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear” again with Rae.

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While re-reading the book, we arranged the animal figurines in sequence, first the lion polar bear, then the lion.. Rae had so much fun picking up the next animal and lining them up in the correct order. When it came to the last character in the story which was the zoo-keeper, Rae immediately sprang into action to get her Lego figurine from the Duplo box in excitement! Ah… now the story is complete! 🙂

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There are many categories of figurines out at the stores; farm animals, vehicles, insects, birds, and so on. Try this play-based approach to teaching new words to your child!

10 Great Ideas For Mark-making

Following up on our previous post on mark-making, you can try out some of these great ideas to encourage your child to do mark-making, to hone her pre-writing skills.

1. Paint on the sidewalk with water.

2. Draw shapes in the air with s stick.

3. Use a long ribbon or crepe paper strips to make dance movements

4. Put up paper on an easel and paint

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5. Write on sidewalks with a thick chalk

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6. Do finger painting on paper, with some imagination!

7. Make prints on dough

8. Make marks on sand, flour or salt on a tray.

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9. Make strokes on 3 dimensional objects like rocks, boxes or balls with paint.

10. Make art using glitter glue on paper.

National Day Flag

Rae came home early this week and informed me she can bring a Singapore Flag the next day to do show and tell on it! I immediately thought of making our national flag with her 🙂

We started our little project by decorating half of the drawing paper red, using red ice-cream sticks, and colouring it red with crayons. I seized the teaching moment to ask her about the colours in our national flag.

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Next, I cut some red paper and had Rae paste them on the red coloured portion. She was happily occupied for 15 mins! Pasting paper seems to be her new favourite art interest for now.

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To complete the national flag, Daddy painstakingly cut out a crescent moon and five small stars. He then showed Rae a photo of Singapore flag and guided her where to position the moon and stars accordingly. In the process, Rae learnt to count the number of moon and stars, as well point to the left, right, top, bottom parts of the flag.

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To showcase her flag, we used clothes hanger, which makes it easy for display at the door knob or hook! Rae was so happy with her finished product. Now she’s ready for her show and tell!

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Mark making- Sensory Writing Tray with Flour

Mark-Making

Mark making is an important pre-writing skill for young toddlers. Too often, parents make the mistake of giving their children writing tools too early in their development in hope that they will pick up writing as soon as possible. Children between 2 to 4 years need lots of pre-writing activities to hone their fine motor skills, finger dexterity (how well we handle small objects with our fingers) and lots of mark-making activities to prepare them amply for formal writing.

What is mark making? It is the process where children make early scribblings, often imitating the way adults write, and learn to assign meanings to the marks they make on paper, or any writing surface. For example, you often observe toddlers doodling on paper, and they are able to tell it represents (though you can’t make it out!).

Good sensory information is important for hand skills, especially for young children, as their brains take in these input and stimulate their hands for coordination and precise control. Making marks with their fingers also develops their wrist control and directionality of their writing. For the beginning stage of mark-making, it is a physical activity of engaging the concrete materials with their hands, and it progresses gradually to making more definite, precise, resembling recognizable letters when their muscle control gets more developed.

For young toddlers who are not ready to do formal writing, encourage them to do mark-making with their fingers on the sensory tray. You can use:

1. Sand or coloured sand dust

2. Flour

3. Salt

4. Dough

5. Small beans

6. Shaving cream

Rae’s Mark-Making

Here you see Rae having fun doing mark-making in her sensory tray with flour. She draws lines to show directional marks, with continuous movement of the hand. Making curves and enclosures are important pre-requisites for forming letters and numbers. She also creates dots to make symbols and representations of abstract ideas.

Here I asked her what her initial marks represents, and she exclaimed, ” A snake is moving in the grass!”. To encourage her to make more marks, I prompted her further by asking her, “is it just one snake?” She said her snake friends are coming, and she quickly represented that idea by drawing another few more lines. I then asked, “Besides snakes, who else are her friends?”. She then added another mark signifying a bird in the sky who had flown in to join her snake friends on the grass!

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Hence you can see from Rae’s example, her scribblings are her way of communicating meaning and sharing her ideas with others ( which is the purpose for writing). We can help our children develop an interest for writing by encouraging, praising and valuing their ideas expressed through mark-making!