21 October 2014

You know how every now and then you see an idea that makes you stop and say 'I must do that'.  Well this post is about one of those moments.  My friend Rachel over at Racheous - Lovable Learning had shared a collection of rock provocations including this one from Creative Star Learning.  It was such a simple idea but I saw so many different ways these rocks with their hand drawn lines could be used by young children.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.



As with the original post, these rocks with lines will be perfect for exploring shapes. I've created rocks with straight lines, right angles as well as acute and obtuse angles to allow many different shapes to be made. 

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

To draw the lines I used a Liquid Chalk marker (you can buy a 4 pack of these Liquid Chalk Markers for only slightly more than I paid for one UniBall pen).  Alternatively this MEGA 10Pk of Chalk Markers is great value if you want other colours too.  I'm counting on the rocks being porous and then the lines will remain longer than if used on chalkboards.  If not, I can simply retrace them or use these Giotto Permanent Pens that I used to create our DIY Frozen peg people with.  I bought the rocks from the garden section of our local hardware store.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

I also created a number of rocks with curved lines and some with both curved and straight lines with the intention of using them to explore lines. I'm using them with the preschoolers I work with during our intentional teaching time this week to look at correct letter formation and start introducing the sort of language they will expect to hear next year when they start school.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

The largest school locally uses the WRAP for their school wide approach to literacy. I've completed the first 3 day WRAP training (or in the US it's more commonly referred to the Spalding method I believe) so I use this language when teaching formal handwriting lessons and believe the same language can be used here with pre-writers.  Balls and sticks are out, straight lines along with round and curved lines are used to make tall and short letters, those that sit on the baseline and those that go below.

When introducing them to the children I started with a selection of rocks with both straight lines, curved lines and the combination of curved and straight lines in front of us. What do we notice? 'They're different.' Can we sort them and how shall we sort them? 

A simply drawn venn diagram can help create a suitable framework for sorting the rocks or a pair of hula hoops would work just as well.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

I then gave each child a lower-case letter and we discussed what we could see. Could we see straight lines? Curved lines? Or a little of each?

Can we sort them like we sorted our rocks? Yes, we can.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

I also tried the same exercise at home with my five year old and numbers thinking it can be used to explore number the same way.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.

How else would you use these rocks?

Exploring lines: using hand drawn lines on rocks for play. Challenging pre-writers to distinguish between straight and curved lines to help build their understanding of shape and help establish correct letter and number formation later. Visit http://youclevermonkey.com for more.


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16 October 2014

A few years ago I made my first batch of coloured rice for play. It was every colour of the rainbow and we have not stopped playing with rice since. I shared some of the ways we play with rice in a guest post over at Building Blocks and Acorns as their Blog of the Week. One idea I hadn't shared was these Rainbow I-Spy we made with some of our coloured rice from a recycled plastic bottle and some small alphabet beads.


Make your own Rainbow Rice I-Spy bottle to practice early literacy skills.  See more at http://youclevermonkey.com

How to colour rice

We use cheap alcohol-based hand sanitiser and food colour pastes(affiliate link) for more vibrant colours (and we use less than liquid food colour). I've found with some experimentation that you're better to add your colour to your hand sanitiser before adding the rice as it then gives you a more even colour and it coats the rice quickly. The kids can help - mine love watching the rice change colour then it lay flat on a tray to dry for a while. Repeat with all the other colours you want. 

Letter recognition

We first started using them at home to help develop name recognition.  I laminated their first name and the kids were invited to find the letters in their name and cross them off the card as they found them. Once they could do that, I made another card with both their first and last names. You notice that all the letters in the bottle are capitals meaning the child has to have a reasonable awareness of the difference in upper and lower case letter formation to play this game. I also made a whole alphabet card for them to find all the letters. This game was perfect for in the car pre-iPods!


Make your own Rainbow Rice I-Spy bottle to practice early literacy skills.  See more at http://youclevermonkey.com

Word building

Around the same time I made this flip book for making simple words.  We've also used it with our rainbow I-Spy bottles to make new words.  Once we'd flipped over each section of the page to the found letter we had to decide if the word was real...

Make your own Rainbow Rice I-Spy bottle to practice early literacy skills.  See more at http://youclevermonkey.com

Or not-a-word at all! It's a silly word game and kids love it!  

Make your own Rainbow Rice I-Spy bottle to practice early literacy skills.  See more at http://youclevermonkey.com

Sight words

More recently with my youngest starting school, we've been using our I-Spy bottles to practice sight words. Here she was using some of our mini magnetic blocks to mark off the letters as she found them.

Make your own Rainbow Rice I-Spy bottle to practice early literacy skills.  See more at http://youclevermonkey.com



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12 October 2014

The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak has certainly been responsible for a great number of laugh-out-loud moments these past couple of weeks.  It's a book that is meant to be read aloud and in contrast to the wonderful wordless books I shared, it's story comes from the play on words and words alone. 


The Book with No Pictures has been added to most people's shopping baskets recently but what other books are about words and how they work to bring meaning to a story?  Visit http://youclevermonkey.com to read more.


If you haven't already seen it, this short clip will explain why I ordered my copy straight after viewing it.




(This post includes some affiliate links - please visit my 'About Me' page to read the full disclosure policy)

But how many other picture books rely on words rather than illustrations to bring meaning to the story? Here's a few picture books about words that I've used:

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni is about a tree of letters who lived a happy life hopping from leaf to leaf until one windy day when some of them were blown away.  With some friendly advice, they realise that if they join together and make words, they can be incredibly powerful.

Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nicola O'Byrne is a very funny book.  We like to try and match each page to other books it reminds us of.  The story starts as a telling of The Ugly Duckling but something is there that shouldn't be (like The Wrong Book).  It's a very large crocodile - a really big scary one! And very soon, he's eating his favourite letters right off the page!  My five year old loves this book and like The Book with No Pictures, it's meant to be read aloud.

Perhaps no-one uses different fonts and positions words for greatest effect better than Lauren Child and her book, Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? is a perfect example of this. We love this book! It's about a boy called Herb who goes to sleep on a book of fairy tales and falls into the story - straight into the bedroom of the three bears. After running from the shrieking Goldilocks, Herb eventually escapes the book by using the text as a ladder. He grabs hold of the letters, scrabbles up the sentences, stepping on the words to climb out of the book. 

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub is another book as you can probably guess that borrows heavily from a well known fairy tale (I love fractured fairy tales as much as alphabet books).  In this telling, Little Red along with the rest of her classmates are tasked with writing a story.  It's a better book for older students who are more familiar with the different parts of speech as the book includes references to nouns, adjectives, verbs, conjunctions (or their overuse), adverbs.  Punctuation, onomatopoeia and sentence structure also get a mention.  It's fun comic book layout will also appeal to older readers.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld do funny books really well (remember Duck! Rabbit!) and their book, Exclamation Mark, is another book that uses the features of text well to bring meaning to the story.  Perfect for teaching grammar, Exclamation Mark follows the story of ! as he tries very hard to fit in until he realises that he is important. The illustrations are simple but so appealing and humorous especially to readers in the junior school learning about punctuation.






Outside the US? Try searching The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository


What other books can you think of that use words as part of the story?  I'd love to hear your suggestions.

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11 October 2014

For as long as I can remember, I've always liked to garden and I feel very strongly about the value an edible garden has, how important it is for children be involved in gardening and know how to grow some of their own food. 

A few years ago when my eldest child started school, I helped establish a kitchen garden program at her new school and I can proudly say that the kitchen garden has become an important part of their curriculum and a valuable teaching resource for the whole school. It was because of this involvement that I decided to return to university and pursue a teaching career. 

Fast forward to now, I blog because I'm a teacher and parent and through blogging I have been lucky enough to find other people who share my passion. I was thrilled when Louise of Building Blocks and Acorns suggested we guest post for each other. Having seen how much she values outdoor play for children, I asked if she would like to write about gardening with children as the perfect time to get gardening with your kids is now.  


Hi! I'm Louise from Building Blocks and Acorns. It's wonderful to guest-post for 'You Clever Monkey!' Here in the UK, autumn has well and truly set in. With the change in season, I have been reflecting upon our year of gardening on our vegetable plot with our toddler (who has just turned two.) Gardening with a little one in tow can be challenging, but above all, it can be hugely rewarding. It is a bonding experience, a healthy activity and teaches them about how to be close with nature and live a healthy lifestyle. What a great thing to do with little ones… so start them young! I’ve put together a few tips for gardening with children, for those contemplating the new growing season ahead…



Get crafty! Creating things with your child for your garden, means that your child will want to get out and visit it! It helps them see the space as something they can have a positive impact on. This could be a garden sculpture, a string of old CDs to discourage birds, or even a scarecrow!

Take care with the language you use around your child outdoors… nature is not ‘dirty.’ Encourage your child to explore their surroundings, whilst keeping safe by getting them to wash their hands afterwards. By using positive language like ‘why don’t you feel how soft that moss is? We can wash our hands later…’ children are free to explore safely. Remind them of the importance not to touch eyes or mouths before they have washed their hands properly, whilst allowing them the freedom to get ‘stuck in’ with nature!



Don’t give the weeds any space… plant flowers with your vegetables to encourage beneficial insects to your garden, as well as making it look bright and vibrant for everyone to enjoy. Having a little one is time consuming enough, without having to worry about weeding, too!



Using old hula-hoops creates a frame to grow your plants up, as well as looking bright and cheerful in all seasons.


Tall archways are so inviting… but when you’re a small person, small archways are even more so! Try sectioning off a section of your land to create a magical area you are drawn to explore!

Raised beds mean everything is easily accessible for little green fingers, whilst your precious crops are kept footprint-free!



Create a bean-tipi! (Or any other climbing plant, such as sunflower etc.) By creating a tipi shape with garden canes, leaving an opening for an 'entrance' and weaving string around for added support, this is a fabulous den for any child! My little boy (lovingly known as 'Darth' on Building Blocks and Acorns, thanks to my husbands love of all things Star-Wars,) goes crazy for the beans that are STILL growing on this tipi right now!!

Other Top-Tips

  • Give the bugs a home. Children are so inquisitive about the world around them. Teach them about bugs whilst helping to create a habitat for a huge range of helpful little creatures! Your little one will want to come out and check on their little friends (although do try not to disturb any habitat you create to prevent the bugs from leaving and finding somewhere else to live!)
  • Put netting over any open earth, to prevent cats (and other animals,) using it as a litter tray.
  • Have a compost bin… teach your child the importance of reducing, re-using and recycling and get them putting those scraps on the heap! They can then use the compost they have created, to grow more plants next year… they’ll be amazed!
  • Read books about nature! You can read a recommended reading list over on my ‘V is for Vegetables’ post, but this Garden First Sticker Book is currently a huge hit with my two year old 'Darth' and is suitable for older children, too.
  • If you can, keep chickens! We got ours earlier in the year and haven’t looked back since… it’s been such a rewarding experience and the chickens are fantastic for clearing patches of land for us! These are our three beautiful 'Rhode Rock' hens.




Finally, there are times when you just need to get some hard work done in the garden and really don't want little fingers interfering! Take a look at this nature-inspired play pit, and this nature-inspired play space for ideas on spaces you can easily create to keep your little one entertained!

Happy gardening!
Louise, from Building Blocks and Acorns.
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27 September 2014

Looking for an easy art activity different aged children can do together? School holidays are upon us again so today I wanted to share with you all an art activity I did with my three children recently.  I know how hard it can be to find an activity that caters for multi-aged children but this is one they all enjoyed and has a certain amount of wonder built in to keep everyone engaged.  Easy to set-up with materials most people have at home and quick to clean up.  


Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!




It started after we walked through our too-long spring grass and past some clover flowers sitting up above it all.  So we picked some and brought them inside to paint with but they held a lot of paint (we were using liquid watercolours to start with) and the paper we were using wasn't very absorbent leaving the paint sitting on the surface, mixing slightly.  I suggested using paper towels knowing from past experience that this will soon get very messy.


Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!

 Now most people have done drip painting onto paper towel.  My kids love it and it remains a great way to explore primary colours and how they make other colours.  

Last year I wrote about teaching shapes in early childhood and how paper folding can be used to explore shape.  So I showed my children a technique I had used at preschool earlier in the year.  Instead of painting on the square shaped paper towel we folded it over and over on itself until it was a fraction of the original size before dipping a corner at a time into the paint.

Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!

Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!

The watery paint is quickly absorbed by the paper towel and where the colours meet, new colours form just as they do when you're drip painting.

Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!

The wow moment comes when you unfold the paper towel and you see the patterns formed by the paint because of the folds in the towel.  Very kaleidoscope!


Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!

Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!

Depending on how you fold your paper towel, different shapes and patterns appear which lead to much exploration.  All triangular or mix it up with some squares then triangles.  Try bigger and smaller or concertina for a rainbow effect like my 8yr old did. 

After using up the liquid water colours we already had out, we changed to water coloured with food colouring so you can easily do this activity at home yourself and the colours are just as vibrant as the paint versions.
Dip Dying Art - a perfect multi-age art activity for children from materials easily found at home!


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