Invitation to Create - The First 15 Days

This month The Art Pantry is hosting a 30 day invitation to create challenge.  The challenge is simple enough - to set up different art materials daily for your children to explore.  They're also send out ideas weekly along with offering information and tips via their Facebook page.  There's more information about the challenge here.

It was the start of our school holidays here so I signed up.  This is what we've been up to so far.  Towards the end of our first 15 days we were away from home so art materials turned into broader invitations to play instead.  A while back The Imagination Tree posted a how to guide in creating invitations to play.

Day #1 - Our first invitation came courtesy of a garage sale.  We'd been cleaning out my Mum's house and one of her neighbours gave this old electric typewriter to the kids to play with.  They loved it and were busy creating notes for each other all day when we turned it on.

Day #2 - I have a lot of different manipulatives for class so today I pulled some different coloured buttons out and placed them with some recycled plastic trays.  This smaller one was turned into a game of noughts and crosses.

Day #3 - We also have a lot of different art supplies.  These small stackable mini palettes are great for travelling and offer a nice range of colours.

Day #4 - This invitation comes straight from a post by Munchkin and Bean.  So much greatness about this post, I had to copy it at our house.

Day #5 - I'm sick during the school holidays no less!  Thankfully my eldest child had been asking to recreate a recipe she had cooked in the school's kitchen (my children are lucky enough to attend a school that takes part in the Stephanie Alexander School Kitchen Garden Program - you can read more  about the program here).  I set out the ingredients and just showed her how to mix the pasta without a bowl and to work out how much pasta to make for five.  Her younger sister made a simple tomato sauce to go with the pasta and the youngest got to grate the cheese using this fantastic grater they were given by the same man who gave them the electric typewriter at the garage sale.

The vintage cheese grater

Day #6 - This week the local show is on in town and the kids, at least the older two, have entered things in past years.  This year our youngest is old enough to make a few things too.  I've written about her reluctance to get her hands dirty previously but when it came to squishing peanut butter into the pine cone, she didn't hesitate.  Winning!  Oh, and then she took out first prize with her creation :)

Our dog was pretty taken with them too - making the most of his opportunity while I was trying to take a photo of them all.

Day #7 - My Mum was a teacher and even though she retired years ago, she still has all this great stuff hiding in cupboards.  These transparent clear sheets were made for using on overhead projectors.  The box states they can be printed on too but I have another idea to try that.  These pictures look great on the window with the sun behind them.

Day #8 - Wet and dry chalk drawings on black card.  It doesn't get any quicker to set up than this.

Day #9 - We're heading away for some of the holidays so the kids experimented with some colour mixing using liquid watercolours while I packed the car.  I love these small palettes.  They're great for mixing and are so easy to clean while the pipettes are perfect for fine motor strengthening.

Day #10 - A real art supply shop!! Woohoo!!  Needless to say, we did not leave empty handed.  Another simple one while we're away - a choice of foil, baking paper or mini canvas + sharpies.  Who doesn't love Sharpies?!

Day #11 - While I like the peg dolls blank, I thought we could decorate some too (that and they didn't take up much room in our suitcases).  I admit I love the way they turned out and the girls enjoyed lots of play afterwards with these.

Day #12 - We're off to the beach.  I admit I'm kind of cheating with the next couple of posts but given the closest beach is nearly 3 hours drive from us now, exploring both sand and surf is a huge invitation to play for us all.

Day #13 - It's raining, we're still away from home, I need to pack the car (again) and given my 4 year old did not believe me when I suggested a square can also look like a diamond, playing with these puzzles could not be more timely.  It also resulted in a post reflecting on how shapes are taught in Early Childhood settings.  You can read that here.

Day #14 - It's back to school and kindergarten today for my children (sigh).  Woolworths Australia had produced these Australian Animal cards to collect recently and after getting some more while in Adelaide, they could do nothing else but sort them out and enter them in their (one) book after school.  One of their teachers has even arranged a swap day at school for all the kids.  I can genuinely say I was surprised by how engaged each of my children have been by these cards.  They've been quoting animal facts from them, knew which habitat they were missing cards from and could remember (from over 100 cards) which ones they already had.  Given the trading of cards in different FB circles of late, I know I'm not alone in this.

Day #15 - The half way mark.  Today I realised that I don't think that I've ever bought play dough for my youngest child which means she has not had the opportunity to create quite like the others.  She's had plenty of opportunities to play but usually it's a single colour or maybe two or three.

Using Creative Play Central's play dough pictures as our inspiration, today's invitation to create involved lots of different coloured play dough (that she helped me measure, cook and then mix with dyes), generous amounts of sparkly bits and pieces, sticks and then even more sticks.

On reflection, it has been harder to squeeze an invitation into each day than I would have thought and a lot less of them were based around experimenting with just art materials but it's such a useful exercise to photograph each invitation so as to be able to look back.  I'm really looking forward to the next 15 days and seeing how the kids like the next lot of invites.  During that time I'll be sharing the invitations on my Facebook page - youclevermonkey

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Teaching Shapes in Early Childhood

Recently a colleague of mine posed the question 'How do you teach shapes?' to me.

It's an interesting question, don't you think?

Earlier in the year I had attended a Maths workshop and the presenter made, what I thought was, an interesting point.  That we are teaching shapes to children (particularly in the early years) the wrong way.  I'll leave that thought for a moment...

Are you following me on Pinterest?Teaching shapes in early childhood.  Are we teaching them the right way?  For teaching suggestions, visit

Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies - Visualising

In an earlier post, you can read it here, I started talking about reading comprehension strategies and the book 'Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies' by Sheena Cameron which has been very popular amongst South Australian schools of late.
There is no suggested order in which to teach reading strategies although research suggests students are 'cognitively ready to receive information on reading strategies when they are around 7 years of age. Students younger than this tend to have trouble thinking multidimensionally and also have difficulty in retaining strategies' (Cameron, 2009, p.21).
I've found that visualising is one of the easiest strategies to teach as children are usually doing it already as they read.  I'm just helping them name it and identify why it's important in helping them build an understanding of a text.  It is also important to help students understand that we all have our own unique way of seeing, influenced by our own experiences and prior knowledge.  There is no right or wrong, as the way I might connect to a text could be different from another person's because of our prior understanding and experiences. 

Visualising can be a very sensory experience.  The language used is similar.  Examples from the Cameron text (p.88) include -
'In my mind I can see ......
I can imagine .....
I can just taste the ......
I can feel the .....
I can hear the ......
I can smell the ......' 

Children who had been able to experience a variety of sensory play in early childhood will bring a rich vocabulary with them to school.  This is also why I think it is important that such play continues in school.

One activity I've used in class to teach visualising is to use these clue cards I'd collected from a Professional Development day.  They're not from the Cameron text which is good as a class might not have already used them but the source is unknown as it was just a photocopied sheet.  I love to know where they came from if anyone recognises them.  They're a great prompt but it would be easy to find other objects/animals to build clues around too.
Essentially the way this works is to provide the blank sheet to each student then read one clue.  You can find a copy of this template here.  Sorry I had to save it as a PDF rather than a Word doc.  It works best copied on to A3 paper. 
Have the students draw what they think it is in the first box on the left side of the page then read the second clue.  Do they still think it's the same thing or have they changed their minds?  Have them draw again then read the third clue.  Allow them enough time to draw again before then hand each student the picture card to stick in next to their work.

Here are some examples from the last class I did this with.  

There are seven different activites in the Cameron text.  One which is suitable for younger age groups is also available on her website'What is a nogard?'  takes you through a series of clues which the listener is meant to draw as they go. 

The description in The Gruffalo also works well if you mix it up a little. 

Next up in this series - activating prior knowledge.

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And the train goes... Treasure Hunting

I think it's fair to say that everyone loves a treasure hunt. I know my kids do and were asking to do one today but I've been sick much of this week. Nothing serious but it has put a dent in my enthusiasm for most things but then I remembered this and I thought I'd share.

I bought this book, And the Train Goes..., goes a few years ago because I loved the detailed and yet simply coloured illustrations. I love it now because it's both a great read aloud book and a book to enjoy just by yourself or with a friend. 

And the train goes - using the picture book as a prompt for play