Welcome to Paula's Primary Classroom! This blog is where I share ideas for teaching and learning with families, friends and other early childhood educators. Please don't use the photos or text of this blog without permission, but please do use any ideas you find useful. Thank you for stopping by!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What Can You Do With a Pumpkin? From Decoration to Dessert, and even Decomposition

What CAN you do with a pumpkin and some preschoolers?  The answer is, just about everything!  Science, math, literacy, sensory play, decoration... and don't forget our favorite part: eating!
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decompositionEvery fall I take the kiddos to our favorite pumpkin store, Green's Produce, to see the gourds.  It's a great field trip, with lots of hands on experiences for the children.  Check out the variety of sizes, shapes, textures and colors!  We sit in the straw and take cute fall photos and enjoy the cool air and fall scents.

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition
I took this photo to amuse myself: the sign says "knuckle head pumpkins".  Knuckle heads are a great source of entertainment!


What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition
Back at home we read about jack-o-lanterns, and decide how to carve ours.  We vote on facial features, and the kiddos help scoop the seeds and guts out.  Only the carving is an adult job.

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition
We take more cute photos, this time for the J page in our individual alphabet book/photo albums.

Our jack-o-lantern and other gourds decorate the door step for the rest of October.
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition
 They make a nice addition to our Halloween pictures!
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

 You might think that's about all a pumpkin is good for, but that's just the beginning!  We incorporate pumpkins into our fall sensory play.
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

We learn a lot about pumpkins, reading books about how they grow, and making this cute bracelet, which I adapted from an idea I saw at a library story time.  On a green pipe cleaner, the children make a pumpkin life cycle.  They thread a pierced pumpkin seed, a foam "leaf", a yellow "flower" bead, a tiny green "pumpkin", then larger "pumpkins" in yellow and orange, and finally the largest ripe orange "pumpkin."  The pipe cleaner is twisted around itself, and the ends are curled around a pencil to create "tendrils".
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

In early November I start roasting the pumpkins, so we can cook with them.  I halve the pumpkins, remove (and roast) the seeds, and cook the pumpkin halves at 350* for about an hour, until they are tender.  I scoop the cooked flesh out, and puree it.  The big red pumpkin you see on my doorstep cost $8, and yielded 30 cups!  That's only 27 cents per cup, for a super nutritious food.

According to http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2601/2, pumpkin "is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese."

The children help to cook pumpkin gingerbread muffins...
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition
 ...and eat them!  Here is my recipe.  

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

With more pumpkin puree than sugar in every batch of muffins, these are super healthy, almost half vegetable, but they taste like dessert.  We usually make 72 mini muffins at a time, and they magically disappear! 

 The week of Thanksgiving, the children each make a pumpkin pie, which they take home to share with their families.  The children are so proud to contribute to their family feast!
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

 While the pies are baking, we pretend to do more cooking, getting another use out of empty spice containers and a fine motor work out too.

You might think we've finally exhausted the learning from our pumpkins, but there is still more!  Jack-o-lantern pumpkins aren't so good to eat, and after carving, they start to decay.  What good is a slimy disintegrating mess?  Surely it is time to toss the last vestiges of Halloween into the trash can?!

Well, no. There is a cycle to life, one we are usually very disconnected from, and that most adults have learned to ignore.  Children are true scientists, interested in everything, wondering and observing and learning all the time, so we keep our jack-o-lantern pumpkins a little longer, in the fallow areas of the vegetable garden.
 We watch them as they rot, and mold, and disintegrate. This is composting in real time, and really visible.  We talk about how the pumpkin becomes soil again, and enriches the garden to help new plants grow next year.  Our regular compost bin isn't nearly as visible, but by watching our pumpkins the children learn why we compost, and how it works.
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition
 Hidden away inside those last pumpkins, tiny seeds are waiting, ready for spring.  Some of them will grow into new plants...
What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition
 Early next summer we'll see vines reach across the garden, and flowers bud, bloom, and wilt.  We'll taste the male flowers - they are good to eat too!  
Yes, pumpkins do have separate male and female flowers!  When there is a female flower growing, I show the children the difference, and teach them to put the stamen from the male flower into the female flower before we eat the petals.  We want those female flowers to grow us another pumpkin, so we can watch the whole life cycle again!

What can you do with a pumpkin? From decoration to dessert, and even decomposition

If you are looking for classroom ready pumpkin learning activities, please see these resources in my TeachersPayTeachers store:





Monday, November 25, 2013

How Do You Cook A Thanksgiving Turkey? Interviews with preschoolers

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
NP : I don’t know my mom and dad making a turkey, my mom and dad make a chicken.  They make a chicken for me.  
Tell me about how they make the turkey?  I don’t know. 
Are they going to do cooking for Thanksgiving?  Yeah.  My daddy’s going to buy a rice cake at my house. 
Will you have anything else for Thanksgiving, or is that all?  That’s all.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
AKP: I don’t know how to make one. 
How do you think they make one?  I have no idea. 
Where do they put it to cook it?  In the oven. 
How long for?  I don’t know. 
What are you going to eat for Thanksgiving with your turkey?  I don’t know.  What’s really good that I like is cranberry sauce.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
LM: Um, just kill it, and then cook it. 
Is that what you’re going to do?  I don’t like it, but that’s what you have to do, my daddy said.
So do you have a turkey?  My mommy just bought one. 
Alive?  No.  Some other people killed it and brought it to the store.   
Where does mommy put it to cook it?  In the oven. 
How long does she put it in the oven?  Maybe about 11 minutes.  I don’t know, maybe about 11.  I forgot.  Maybe it’s 11.  I think I’ll tell my mommy tomorrow, and then I’ll know.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
BM: Get a bone.  Get a turkey.  Then cook it. 
How should they cook it?  Uh, in the oven.
How hot?  Really hot. 
How long for?  How long do they cook it?  Twenty.  Twenty minutes. 
What do you do after that?  Eat it. 
Are you having anything else with your turkey?  Pumpkin pie. 
Anything else?  No.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
ES: They do cookies. 
Cookies? And I have a carrot.  And…chocolate to make the eyeballs.
How do they make the turkey?  The nose is the carrot, the cookie is the head…
And the chocolate is the eyeballs?  Yeah.
What else do you eat for Thanksgiving?  Noodles! 
So you have noodles and a cookie turkey?  And …like cookies.  I like cookies with them. Noodles and cookies.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
EF: I don’t know.
How do you think they cook a turkey?  I don’t know.  Do you know how?
I do.  Tell me. 
Well, where do you think we put the turkey to cook it?  Do we cut it? 
Yes.  Do we take the guts out? 
Yes.  What else do you think you have to do?  Cook it.
What else?  What do you do when it’s all cooked?  Eat it. 
What else do you eat for Thanksgiving?  What about forks or spoons. 
Do you eat those?  No, we just pick the food up. 
What’s your favorite food to eat for Thanksgiving?  Thanksgiving cookies.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?  Who cooks the turkey for Thanksgiving? 
RB: Daddy. 
How does he cook it?  Maybe in pie.
Have you seen him make it in a pie? Uh-huh.
How does he put it in a pie?  Like I can help him, I can help. 
How do you help?  Make lemons in there. 
Where does he put it to cook? In the oven, in the oven so it can be cooling down.
Then what happens after that?  Um, um, and put a candle on it. 
Do you sing a song then?  Um, happy birthday.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
ZD: Yes ma’am.  Cook them, cook them in the oven.
Then what happens?  Eating time.
How long do you have to cook it?  So you can eat it.  So you could watch t.v. 
Do you do anything else for cooking a turkey?  Cooking a turkey and eating food, and then go to school, and go to bed.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
CB:  Chicken.   Chicken?  Um-huh.   
Do you eat a chicken for Thanksgiving?  Yes, sometimes.  How do they cook it?  With chicken nuggets. 
What else do you eat for Thanksgiving?  Pizza. 
What kind of pizza?  Pizza. 
Who does the cooking at your house for Thanksgiving?  Daddy and Mommy. 
Do you want to tell me anything else about Thanksgiving?  Food.  Bye-bye.

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
JP: You can make sausages with it.  Or you can make bologna with it.  You can make salami.  You can make some pumpkin in it.
Who cooks the pumpkin at your house? Mommy and Daddy. 
How do they cook the turkey?  They cook it with meat.  Then they put the salami in, then they put the sausage, then the turkey, then the meat. 
Where do they put it in?  They put it in the oven to cook. 
How long do they cook it?  They cook it for me five minutes. 
What happens next?  You can celebrate it, and then when all your friends come, you can eat them. 

How do your Mommy and Daddy cook a Thanksgiving turkey at your house?
MC: Salt.  Pepper.  You get you have to have some, some spinach.  Um, um, you could get some cookies. 
Who’s going to cook the turkey?  Use the oven.  Get all the ingredients. 
How hot does he make the oven? She showed her fingers an inch apart, then 3 inches apart. 
How long does it go in the oven?  Ten minutes.
Then what happens?  Turkey.  Eat it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mmmm-mmmm Muffins! A Cooking Story

If you've visited this blog before, or if your child has been to my preschool, you probably already know that I think it is important to cook with children.  Cooking is so much more than a necessary chore!  Talking about ingredients and recipes, developing vocabulary, practicing measurement skills and counting, participating in the making of food and developing an appreciation for the effort and products of cooking... this is a terrific activity to involve your kiddos in!

This week we're focusing on the letter Mm, so we have to make muffins!  As usual, we started with a literacy connection, by reading If You Give A Moose A Muffin, by Laura Numeroff.  We also read a class book from a previous year, a variation on The Muffin Man nursery rhyme that the children illustrated.  We found pages created by some of our older siblings, from when they were little!  The children love having that family connection in our classroom, and sometimes kiss the pages their siblings made.

Then of course, we washed hands and started cooking!  I called the children 4 at a time, and each child put in an ingredient, and helped to stir.

 When it was time to add spices, we smelled each one first... mmmm... they said the spices smelled like pumpkin.  I think perhaps what they mean is, the spices smell like my pumpkin muffins, which they've enjoyed many times before!  If you'd like to make our yummy muffins, I have the recipe posted on my preschool website, at paulaspreschoolandkindergarten.webs.com.
 The kiddos don't always understand smelling. When I suggest smelling something, they usually blow out instead.  (Why is it that when we want them to blow their noses, they tend to sniff, but blow in the spice jar to "smell"?!).  To solve that problem, I had them "blow pretend bubbles onto their tummy", then slipped the spice under their nose as they breathed in afterwards.
 Look at all the different colors in our bowl!  Orange pumpkin, light brown flax and ginger, dark nutmeg, and lighter cloves and cinnamon. 
 It is important that I remind the children to stir slowly each time we cook, because they all want to go fast, which sloshes out of our very full bowl!  Each time, I tell them this story:

When I was a little girl, my mother could mix very fast, and I would watch her, and think that I would never be able to do it like that!  She told me that when I grew up, I would be able to, that I just needed lots of practice, like she had when she was little.   Still, her hands could do a really good job, and mine didn't work like that.  Now that I am grown, and have practiced so many times, I'm the mommy helping the children to cook, and telling them that one day their hands will be big, and fast, and clever.  One day, a long time from now, they will be the mommies and daddies, and it will be their job to teach their children how to cook.
 My mother just happens to be visiting us.  When we were all done, I caught her having a look at the muffin mix, and doing one more little stir.
What family traditions and skills and stories are meaningful to you?  What memories do you want your children to pass on?

In this holiday season, I hope you'll make time to cook up some memories with your children!  Enjoy!

Monday, November 18, 2013

L is lovely

It's fall, so of course we have to look at leaves!  We sorted them by color, and by size...
 We played in them outside both very actively...
 ...and calmly too.  The kiddos love to lay covered and almost hidden in the leaves.

We did lots of indoor activities for the letter Ll too, of course.  We started the week by pulling items that start with Ll from a Lion King bag.
Next we took turns laying on the floor next to lovely long lines of lace, to see which was longer.  Comparing is one of our kindergarten math skills, and what could be more fun to measure against than ourselves?
We continued comparing length on our field trip to the zoo.  We found life sized penguin illustrations at the zoo, and were surprised at how large they can be!
Of course, we also saw the lions! 
We made a class book, based on Mary Had a Little Lamb, substituting our own names.  Our lamb was very little! 
 I've made this same book several times over the years, illustrated either by the children or with their photos, so I pulled out our old versions to look at.  The children were very excited to see what their older siblings looked like when they were in preschool with me, and thrilled to see old friends who have since graduated to new schools.

As usual, we made a hand print for the letter we're focused on.  This week the children chose between lions and ladybugs.  If you'd like to make a hand and foot print alphabet book with your children, there are many awesome places to look for ideas.  I have pinned the ones I most like on my handprint-alphabet pinterest board.  I've found the most inspiration at redtedart.com

Our big art project this week was a guided drawing of a lion, which we outlined with crayon and painted.   Guided drawing really requires following directions carefully, and of course that is a skill worth learning!  I love seeing what an awesome job these young children can do when art is broken down into simple steps. 
 The artist who made this is only 3.5 years old!

Here's another of this week's activities, and something I'd really like to share.  We played a new board game, Going On A Bear Hunt, to follow up the story by the same name.  The kiddos used a spinner to see how many spaces to move, then had to count and move the correct number of spaces. 
I knew there would be some challenges for the kiddos.  Taking turns isn't always easy.  Waiting for, and perhaps asking for the previous player to pass the spinner isn't fun.  I anticipated those things, and sat with each group, helping them play for just those reasons.

I didn't expect that several students would pick up their playing piece and want to hold it in their hand each time it was their move.  In 3 year old logic, if it is mine, I'm going to hold it so no-one else can touch it.  Each time, I had to help them put it back, then count each jump to the next space as they moved.  The spinner was also a challenge.  Even five year old kiddos had trouble holding it with one hand, with their fingers out of the way, then spinning with the other hand. 

Coincidentally, one of the older siblings mentioned one day that they had game day at school the next day, and didn't know what to take, because it had to be a board game.  She wasn't sure if she had any.    That interaction has made me wonder, do families play board games together any more?  If not, why? 

Board games provide a tremendous number of learning opportunities for children, as well as special family time.  When they play games, children talk with the other players, and develop language skills.  Many games for preschoolers teach age appropriate skills: colors, numbers or letters for example.  Turn taking is practiced in a natural way when children play games.  Little hands strengthen and develop fine motor skills, and of course children practice 1-1 correspondence as they count and move their game pieces.

I'm going to make sure we include more board games in our play here at school.  I hope you'll make time to sit and play a board game with your child too!

Friday, November 8, 2013

K is okay!

 We had a powerful start to the week with everyone karate kicking for Kk! We had to follow that up with a small Kit Kat bar - and we kept the wrappers to put on our K pages.
This week I added a kennel full of kittens (and puppies) to our play area, as well as several koalas and kangaroos.

We read a lot of books about kangaroos and koalas this week, and sang along with songs about them on youtube.com.  You probably already knew that baby kangaroos are called joeys, but did you know baby koalas are too?  I grew up in Australia, and didn't know that koalas make a grunting sound - we learned about that here, and heard a kookaburra laughing here.

Kookaburras are a kind of kingfisher, and are mostly brown.  Other kingfishers are more colorful, so when we chose our hand print art, we made either colorful kingfishers, or koalas.  The children tore and glued paper to make trees for their animals, then the teachers painted and placed their hand prints.  The kiddos painted on heads, and added all the details, making some beautiful hand print art.

My hand print alphabet has been inspired by many many blogs and pins, all of which I have posted on this pinterest board.  I try to take everything a step further, find ways for the children to do their project, rather than a teacher doing everything for the child.  A child's hand print is cute, but if the child is only a passive item to be painted and printed, it isn't art.  I try to ensure that our projects are child directed as much as possible, and that my role is to help as needed.

One way we are working on making things more child directed, is to have the kiddos cut out their letter crafts if possible.  You can see the lines on our K crafts are kid cut.  Some children were able to manage independently, while others sat in my lap and used scissors with finger holes for a child and adult to work together.

 Here's another Kk activity: fruit kabobs.  We tried papaya for the first time on our kabobs.  One child loved it and had lots more, several ate it and said it was okay, and lots just tasted it and decided it wasn't for them.  That's okay - we won't know if we like it unless we try it and find out, and children often need to be exposed to a food 10 times before they'll even try it. 

 Our big art project this week was to do a guided drawing of koi fish, then do a crayon resist and water color wash to complete it.  We've fed the koi at the zoo, so the children are familiar with them.  We looked at photos and noticed the coloring of koi, then used crayons in those colors for our fish.
 The water color wash was made using dried up old markers.  You can see how to make it here.
 I think these fish are gorgeous!  These young artists are 3, 4 or 5 years old.  I found the idea here.

There were also a lot of interesting things this week that had nothing to do with the letter Kk, but everything to do with learning.  Check out this Tersa Sphinx moth caterpillar Mark found and showed us!  It was eating our pentas, before burrowing underground to transform into a moth!

One of our friends broke his arm over the weekend, and he invited everyone to write on his cast.

We enjoyed mini pumpkins and pine cones in our fall sensory box...
... and tasted the first clementines of the season from our little orange tree.  Yum!

We continued learning math concepts with a variety of manipulatives, sorting, patterning and developing our fine motor skills along the way.
Some of the older kiddos worked on making hexagons with pattern blocks.  We have played with pattern blocks countless times, just exploring, making patterns, or matching the shapes to a template to make pictures, so this is a familiar manipulative.  This time I guided their play, encouraging them to make hexagons with each of the six available shapes.  The first four worked just fine as they have common angles, but the square and the narrow diamonds do not.  I wanted the kiddos to figure that out for themselves, so I gave them each shape in turn, without letting on that it was, I thought, an impossible task.
 Surprise!  I was wrong.  I have over 20 years experience teaching young kiddos, using math manipulatives including pattern blocks, and "knew" that the orange squares don't make a hexagon shape.  Why did I never think to make it in negative space, the hole left when squares form the outside of the hexagon instead of the inside?
Next, this same child took 6 narrow brown diamonds, and joined them together to create a hexagon.  We counted sides, and found it had 12!  That's a dodecahedron.  Together we reevaluated, and used three narrow brown diamonds.  Yes!  It's not the same hexagon, because the angles truly are different, but a six sided shape nonetheless.  Another child realized the negative space inside his diamonds made a star!
The kiddos made hexagons in negative space using triangles too, and then, returning to the problem, finally achieved a hexagon in negative space with the narrow brown diamonds!  When I tell you that I am both teacher and learner in my classroom, this is what I mean.  How cool to find there is another way, and to learn something new!  I love young children!