Little Ones Learning: Fall Playtime

Monday, September 30, 2013

There are SO many great ways to play in fall.  First, the obvious:  rake leaves and play in them!  Kids of all ages love to play in leaves.  Here are a few other fall-themed play ideas for your little ones!

Autumn sensory jar

Fall sensory jar from Fun Things To Do With Ur Kidz

Fall sensory bin

For our sensory bin, I used the items that the kiddos collected at the park and the yard, like leaves, acorns, sticks, and pine cones.  I also put in some fake leaves, felt leaves, brown pipe cleaners, pom poms, and the same green and white Easter grass that we used for the farm sensory bin.  Just like last time, we also had measuring cups and spoons in the bin.

You can tell from the pictures why we explored in the sensory bin outside.  The kids really enjoyed this one.  Ada took a liking to the pom poms and was searching around for those, while Grace made "acorns" out of the pipe cleaners.  And Lucas loved throwing around the leaves and grass.  After about 20 minutes, Grace decided that they should try crunching up all the leaves, so they started gathering leaves from the bin and the deck for a leaf crushing party.

Good times!  Here are some other ideas for fall sensory bins:

from Mama Bee From the Hive

from Finding the Teachable Moments

from Stir the Wonder

from Happy Hooligans

sensory activities for kids
from Blog Me Mom

Fall play-dough playtime

My three little friends LOVE play dough.  I'm not sure my carpet loves it as much, but that's how it goes.  Right?  The weather has been gorgeous, so we took it outside.

To make some homemade play-dough, follow this recipe, and for fall-themed play dough, you can add food coloring (orange, red, yellow, or brown) and a spice, like cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg.  

For our fall play-dough fun, we used the apple cinnamon play dough from our apple unit.  I just don't quite have it together enough to make a variety of fall play dough.  Maybe someday!  I set out leaves, pine cones, pipe cleaners, leaf-shaped cookie cutters, and some other fun play dough tools.  The kids had a ball!  They made mini-trees, cookies, and just smashed and poked.  I'd say it was a success!

MORE fall music!

To add to our collection of fall-themed music, my very talented and awesome brother-in-law Bryan created a song just for us.  It's called Autumn Leaves!  

Also, check out his page on Sound Cloud!

Hope your little one enjoys these fun fall playtime activities as much as mine did!

Thanks for stopping by and God Bless!
- Jessica

Little Ones Learning - Fall Unit

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's that time of year when the air is cool and the leaves start changing colors.  My favorite!  At my house we are going to be learning about fall and its changing leaves.  It's still pretty early in the season, but I figured I'd get this unit out so you can do it in fall prime-time.   So I took my crew to a local park with lots of woods for some good fall observation.

Gorgeous day, right?!  And great company!  After our little picnic (during which my two toddler friends, who look so cute right here, were running all over the place, not picnicking) we went...

Collect fall objects

Of course, no study of fall can be done without actually touching real-life items that can be found in fall.  Go for a fall item hunt.  I gave each of my little friends a bucket and we went for a nice, leisurely walk at the park.  On our search we found a variety of leaves, acorns, pine cones, sticks, and bark. 

Grace was really engaged in the hunt, and she was excited each time she found something new or a leaf that was a different type. We talked about how God created all of these natural objects, and that He created them all for a purpose.  We talked about the different types of trees that the leaves come from, how acorns grow new oak trees and are food for animals, and why different leaves are different colors.  The little ones were a little less focused (understandably so), as the buckets were soooo exciting.  They still had a great time though.

Explore and sort

After collecting our fall items, we started analyzing them with our senses.  I made sure to talk a lot about what we notice because that helps build their vocabularies.  The more you talk to them, the better!

  • How do they lookWhat colors are they?  What sizes are they?  What parts do you notice?
  • How do they feel?  Are they rough or smooth?  Hard or soft?  
  • Do they make a sound when you move or squish them?  What sounds do they make?
  • How do they smell?

After examining the fall items, sort them.  There are many ways you can sort them, and how you do it might depend on the age of your child.  Let them lead.  Learning how to sort with their own ideas will help build critical thinking skills.   Here are a few ways your child could try sorting:

  1. Item-type:  a pile of leaves, acorns, sticks, flowers, berries, etc.
  2. Size: Sort the items into piles of small, medium, and large or short, medium, long.  You can sort across items (ie. including leaves, acorns, etc in the sorting) or sort by specific items (ie. sort just leaves)
  3. Colors: Sort the items into color piles (ie. red, brown, green, yellow, orange)
  4. Hardness: Sort items into piles by how hard they are or sort them into a continuum from softest to hardest.
  5. Origin:  Discuss where the different items come from and sort them into piles accordingly.  (ie. things from trees, from plants, from the ground).  It might be interesting for your child to note that many fall items come from trees.

Read fall books!

There are so many great fall/autumn books.  The trick is finding them.  When I looked recently to check out some from the public library, most of them were on hold :(.  Luckily, as a former teacher, I have several in my own collection.  Next year I will have to put them on hold a little earlier.  Here is a collection others have put together of great fall books for kids:

Fall Books for Kids from Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas

Listen to fall music


Classical music is a great way to teach kids music appreciation, and it has many benefits for both yourself and your kids.  Did you read the ones about reducing stress and calming babies?  I'll take it!

"Autumn" by Vivaldi

"Autumn" by Vivaldi is a great fall-inspired classical piece.  You could play just the music or show your kids the video with the music accompanied by autumn scenes.  

Songs for kids

My very talented and awesome brother-in-law Bryan created two songs just for us.  The first is called Autumn Leaves!  

Here is Leaves and Pinecones!  It's catchy and has a positive message.

Check out Bryan's page on Sound Cloud!

The kids always enjoy simple sing along songs (wow, say that 3 times fast).  Here are a few that have videos to go with!

"Autumn Leaves Song" by Silly Bus 

"All the Leaves are Falling Down" by Appuseries

And that trippy toddler-favorite, Yo Gabba Gabba.

"The Leaves are Falling Down" by  by Yo Gabba Gabba

Make connections

If you have read some books about fall, watched videos, or listened to autumn songs, try making some connections to real life and your family's fall collection.  They might notice their leaf looks just like one in a book.  Or maybe your child notices that the leaves he/she collected are the orange, yellow, green, and brown, like in the "All the Leaves are Falling Down" song by Appuseries.  The connections they make will help them build a better understanding of autumn.

Coming up next is fall-themed play!  

Thanks for reading and may God bless you and your family!

Little Ones Learning - Apple Unit

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

This week the little ones and I are going to be exploring apples!  This is a great time of year for it, as it's the season for apple picking and apple-scented everything.

Get Apples!

With this unit, it is important to have real apples on hand.  This is a great time of year to get a variety of apples at the grocery store, farm stand, or orchards.  It is important for children to have a hands-on experience to really learn about them.  If possible, you want to try to have a variety of the different kinds, as well.  But when you pick up your apples, keep it secret because you can start off with a guess box!

Starting Off With a Guess Box

A great way to start off a unit of study is with a guess box.  I learned about this strategy as a teacher, and it is one of my favorites!  A guess box works best for kids 3 and up.  As you'll see in the explanation, younger kids will need more guidance and clues in order to be successful.  The purpose of a guess box is to promote deductive reasoning in kids.  Don't tell the kid(s) what is in the guess box!  They are going to be asking questions and using clues to figure it out.


  1. Put the apple (or whatever object you might use) in the guess box or bag.  It is important that you cannot see the object.  
That's it!  Now you're ready!

Here is a link to a short video explaining the Guess Box strategy:  Explanation of Guess Box Strategy It is definitely worth the 2 minutes and 25 seconds!

Guess Box Steps for an apple:

1.  Show the child the guess box and explain that there is something inside, and it is his/her job to figure out what it is!

2.  Tell him/her that the rules are:

  1. You can only ask yes or no questions.
  2. If you think you know what it is tap on your brain to let me know.  Don't guess out loud.  (This is mainly important if there is more than one child.  Not a big deal if only 1)
3.  Give a clue, like:  "It is something you can eat."

4.  Guide your child in asking questions.  You can prompt them with a sentence starters, like: "Does it have...." or "Is it..." to help them get started.   

5.  For younger children, this is a challenge, so provide them with ideas of questions to ask.  Maybe about how it tastes, what it looks like, and where it comes from.  For example,  "Is it red?" "Is it a fruit?"  "Does it have leaves?"

6.  If you want, you can record the "yes" clues on a white board or paper.  Even if your child cannot read, this builds early literacy skills.

7.  If he/she gets stuck, review the "yes" responses you've written so far and give another clue.  For example, "it grows on trees" or "some of them are red"

7.  If your child is able to hold off on guessing (which is so hard and no typically the case!), and shows that he/she thinks they know what it is, see if they can ask any more questions about it.  This will give you a good idea of what he/she already knows about apples.  

8.  When you think they have shared all they know say, "On the count of 3 whisper to me what you think is in the guess box." Then count to 3 and see if he/she is right.  If not, guide him/her to figure out that it is an apple.  

8.  After figuring it out, ask the child to figure out the 3 best clues.  I like to say, "When Daddy comes home we are going to give him 3 clues about what was in the guess box and we want him to be able to figure it out.  What 3 should we tell him?" 

The best clues for an apple might be something like this:
   1.  It is red.
   2.  It is a fruit.
   3.  It is used to make pies and juice.

Hopefully your child had fun with this activity, and now you have an idea of what your child knows!  I love guess boxes because you can use them with pretty much any topic!

Books About Apples:

I still have to take a journey to the library for some apple books, but here are some picture books to look for about apples:

Books about apples for kids!
Books About Apples for Kids via No Time for Flash Cards

Hands-on Apple Exploration

One of the best ways for kids to learn about any topic is to see the real thing.  Apples are so easy to do this with!  Let your child explore apples.  Talk about how they look, smell, and feel.  Kids soak up the language you use, so talk away!  

Cut an apple open and do some taste testing.  If you have several kinds, compare the different apples on the inside and outside.  

With a cut-open apple, investigate the inside.  Preschoolers can do the exploring on their own, as they are not going to eat the seeds or core.  For smaller children, like Ada and Lucas, I showed them the parts of the apple, but I knew they would try eating those seeds!  Be sure to talk about the parts of an apple and their purposes. 


Apple Songs

A variety of fun and educational apple songs can be found at Everything Preschool.  I especially like the ones that teach about the life cycle of apples or counting.

Printable Apples Book

apples mini book
Print out this FREE Apples mini-book from DLTK.  There are two versions of the book; a simpler one and more challenging one.  Both books have simple illustrations and tell information about apples and how an apple tree grows.  If you print it in black-and-white, your child can color it too!

Here's Grace coloring her Apples book.

Disney's Johnny Appleseed Video

Johnny Appleseed-1948 by Kanker76

Have your child watch this short, 17 minute, Disney video: The Legend of Johnny Appleseed.  Like all Disney movies, it has fun songs and great animation.  It's great for the apple unit because it focuses a lot on apples and tells about the legend of Johnny Appleseed, who was a real person named John Chapman. It also shows how important apples are because of their many uses.  Grace loved it, and kept asking to watch it again and again!

Apple Play Dough

Here is a simple recipe for homemade play dough:

playdough recipe
Homemade play dough recipe from Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

To make apple cinnamon play dough, simply add red or green food dye and apple pie spice or cinnamon to your play dough.  Knead it together, and then it's play time!  As you can see, I made ours green.  Apparently I had used up all the red food dye.  Oops! :)  Fortunately, the kids loved it anyway!

I put down a plastic drop cloth on the kitchen floor for the kids to play on.  We put out the farm toys, as well as some pots, plates, and utensils.  They played for over 45 minutes with the play dough, and surprisingly,  it was only tasted once!   This picture shows how much the recipe made:

Each of the three little ones had their own sandwich bag of apple play dough to keep!

Apple Cloud Dough

I am new to the world of cloud dough, but it looks awesome.  Here is the simplest recipe I've found:

Flour + Baby Oil = Cloud Dough
Cloud dough recipe from Kiwi Crate

Just like the play dough, adding some red food coloring and apple pie spice or cinnamon to this recipe makes it apple cloud dough

Unlike the play dough, this recipe for cloud dough has baby oil, so it is not edible.  I wouldn't recommend using cloud dough with very young children, unless you know they will not try to eat it.

Apple Stamping

Terri from Creative Family Fun shows how to do apple stamping with some basic supplies.  Looks easy enough!  When we do this, I plan on using red, yellow, and green paint for the various colors of apples. 

Apple Stamping from Creative Family Fun

Terri also suggests covering the apple-printed papers with contact paper for fall place mats.  Such a cute idea!

Apple Foods!

Photos from What Megan's MakingSimply at Home Mom, and The Frugal Girls

What better way to teach your little one about the many uses of apples than to make some apple foods!  Here are some of awesome apple recipes that I'm sure kids and adults will love!:

Crockpot Applesauce fromWhat Megan's Making

Grace and I made this applesauce yesterday, and it was delicious!  The peeling and coring of the apples took a little time, but otherwise it was super easy.  I didn't have any apple cider or juice, so I just used water, and it worked out great.  We cooked in the crockpot for 4 hours, and it smelled so good!

Apple Tart from What Megan's Making

Yesterday was a busy apple cooking day, and I made this apple tart for dessert.  It was moderately easy and quite good!  I used the directions linked to Pioneer Woman Cooks (she's awesome!) because she has lots of pictures of the steps.  I tend to only skim directions, which can be a bad thing sometimes.  I missed the part about the brown sugar/lemon mixture running a little, so my house smelled like burnt sugar for awhile!  Oops!  Definitely use a baking sheet with a lip :).

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes from What Megan's Making

If you're not into cooking from scratch, a really easy version of this would be to mix in some cut up apples, applesauce, brown sugar, and cinnamon into pancake mix. Or maybe just pick a couple of those if you're short on ingredients.

These recipes I'll be trying later this week:

Apple Bread from Simply at Home Mom

Apple Spice Muffins from What Megan's Making

Easy Crockpot Apple Cider from The Frugal Girls

The apple cider in the crock put is supposed to make the house smell AMAZING!

Of course, it doesn't have to be complicated.  Here is an apple snack Grace saw in a book and was begging me to make.  How could I say no?  It was super easy.

If even that is too much for you, just eat your apples with some peanut butter!  The kids will appreciate even the simplest apple snack.

A study of apples wouldn't be complete without picking apples.  I took my three little friends to Baugher's Orchard in Westminster, Maryland for a little apple picking adventure.

Introduce apple picking with a picture interpretation.

I chose not to tell Grace in advance that we were going apple picking.  (I didn't tell Ada or Lucas either, but they have no idea what that means ;).  Instead, we did a picture interpretation to get her thinking about the experience.  Like a guess box, a picture interpretation is a teaching strategy that promotes critical thinking and analytic skills.  
(The following picture interpretation is paraphrased from MCPS  PADI - Ricci 2007, 2010 resources.)

1.  Choose a picture that links to the topic.  

Here are a couple of paintings I found that have to do with apple picking:

"Apple Picking" by Stina Sunesson 
Found at Postcrossing

"Apple Picking Time" by Sandie Keyser
Found at Fine Art America

You could either print out the picture or just show it on the screen.  I will use the first picture, "Apple Picking" by Stina Sunnesson to give examples of what questions to ask. 

2.  Discuss the painting with your child.  

To incorporate the critical thinking skills, you want to ask varying levels of questions, starting from basic and increasing to abstract.

Start by asking your child to identify what is in the picture with questions, like "what do you see?"

Next, move to describing the things that are in the picture.  For example, "tell me about the tree" or "what do you notice about the leaves?"

After that, ask your child to interpret the painting.   This stage leads to higher-level thinking and inferencing.  Ask questions, like "Where does this take place?" What do you think the people are doing?"  "What season is it?"  "What might the people be saying to each other?"

Finally, extrapolate (what does that mean?!) and have your child draw conclusions about what might be For example, ask "What would it be like if you were in the picture?" "What do you think the people in the picture will do after this?" "What if this picture was in the winter, what would be different?" 

Depending on your child's age and stage of development, you may have to alter the questions a little or rely mainly on concrete questions.  But the more you do this type of activity with your child, he/she will get better at it.

3.  Make a connection between the picture interpretation and the topic.  

Explain to your child why the picture is relevant, or say, "can you figure out what we are going to do tomorrow?"  This is a good way to get your child relating all that thinking they just did with an upcoming trip to the apple orchard.

I did this picture interpretation with Grace and she actually showed me she knew a lot more about apple picking than I expected.  She also enjoyed the challenge of answering my questions.

Go to an apple orchard!

If you can, pick your own apples!  The cool thing about doing this, besides spending a day outside in beautiful fall weather, is that it shows REAL apples and REAL apple trees.  It also gives kids an idea of how we get our food, and they can add to their understanding of farms!  Plus, they get to see some rotting apples on the ground, which can spark a discussion about the life cycle of an apple tree.

We had a GORGEOUS day for our apple picking adventure, and thankfully my hubby, Matt, was able to come along!  This is definitely a two-man job for this little gang of 3.  

Ada hoarding the apples

Trying to keep Lucas from early tasting
Baugher's Orchard has a great country store, where you can pick up a tractor ride to the apple fields.  They also have a picnicking area and a fun, little playground that the kids LOVED.


We got some apples from the fields and peaches, mums, and a peach pie from the store!  I'd say it was a success!