Saturday, May 28, 2011


Last weekend we went to the National Zoo! In conjunction with our field trip we did zoo-themed bookworm activities this week.

Baby likes Dear Zoo: A Lift-The-Flap Book, a cute rhyming tale that helps teach adjectives.

Eric Carle's 1-2-3 to the Zoo is great counting fun for toddlers.

Class Two at the Zoo is always good for a laugh-- the students and teacher get eaten, one by one, by an anaconda.   Of course they're saved in the end, but the clever rhymes for anaconda are worth the read by themselves.

We have a great recurring dramatic play game wherein we build a giant train track and put a zoo in the middle and sometimes all around it.  There may be zookeepers and visitors and train passengers, and occasionally escapees or animal dramas, but always there is a lot of fun. 

My favorite zoo action rhyme came from Preschool Rainbow:

The Zoo

At the zoo we saw a bear, he had long, dark fuzzy hair (Pretend to walk like a bear)
We saw a lion in a cage, he was in an awful rage. (pretend to be an angry lion)

We saw the big, long-necked giraffe, and the silly monkeys made us laugh. (everybody laugh)
But my favorite animal at the zoo is the elephant-- how about you?

The Wee Sing CD, Animals, Animals, Animals has two zoo songs on it, "At the Zoo," and "Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo."  Well, technically the first one is a poem, but who's keeping track.

Another good activity is the Usborne spotter cards, 100 Animals to Spot at the Zoo.  I learned the hard way that this is not a good one to do during an actual trip, since there are signs and live animals there and the text on the cards is pretty detailed.  However, it's great for before (look up the zoo online to see what animals you might see there) and after (find some of your favorites from the trip and read about them).  These cards are full of great information about the animals.

I also found a cute sticker book on Amazon that might be useful for our next long car trip, but at $7 is a tad pricey for my tastes.

A much cheaper (though more labor-intensive) option was our craft project for the week: cutting out animals from magazines and gluing them onto large sheets of colored paper to make our own individual zoos.  The kids really got a kick out of this one, and T was able to do his own cutting, which always makes it easier.  Using foam sticky animals would make it an even easier activity for the tiniest crafters.

T made a "Night Zoo" because he still remembers when we went to the very cool Night Safari in Singapore last year.  "Only animals that come out at night will be in my zoo, Mama," he said.

If you're up for a more involved project, check out this Shoebox Zoo you can make using instructions at

We had lots of fun with our zoo theme.  Please share your other ideas for zoo fun, and be sure to come back next week for train madness!

Monday, May 23, 2011


This week I have some catching up to do, so I'll post on a continuing theme at our house: Dinosaurs!  Some of our favorite dino books include the "How do Dinosaurs..." series, especially How do Dinosaurs Eat their Food.  We also very much like When Dinosaurs Came with Everything.
When I asked S what his favorite dino book was, he said Ten Terrible Dinosaurs.  T, my budding reader, answered with the gruesome Day the Dinosaurs Died.
Baby likes the Usborne book, That's not my Dinosaur, because it's so touchy-feely.

Bonus chapter book for young readers or for read-aloud:  Magic Treehouse number 1, Dinosaurs before Dusk! 

I know there are tons of awesome dinosaur books out there, and we've barely scratched the surface with this selection.  Do share your own favorites in the comments section.

Since the boys are such huge dinosaur enthusiasts, I looked into getting a playmat for their plastic toys. The prices were enough to blow a meteor-sized hole in my budget, so T helped me make a felt one instead.  It was lots of fun, except that he had lots of demands to include mountains, dinosaur bones, a lake, and something called the "mysterious beyond."  The whole project was challenging at first, when I was trying to sew it, but when I discovered wonder under and ironed all the stuff on instead, it became a breeze.  Next on tap is a car playmat!

My favorite dinosaur fingerplay came from Yakaberry:

Dinosaurs lived long ago.
Some walked (stomp in place)
Some swam (pretend to swim)
Some flew, you know! (flap arms at sides)
Some were big (hold hands high)
Some were small (hold hands low)
Some were gigantic--(stretch arms out wide)
V-e-r-y tall! (stretch arms up high)

We also enjoy Laurie Berkner's song, We Are the Dinosaurs, which lends itself well to dancing.  Buy the album or just the MP3 at Amazon.

 There's also a cute song called Dinosaur Round on Sandra Boynton's album, "Rhinoceros Tap."

Last year we even had a dino birthday party.  I'll share a few of our activities.

Painting wooden dinosaurs from Oriental Trading:

Digging for dinosaurs in the colored-rice sensory bin (you could use a sandbox for this, too).  Got the dinos from Oriental Trading, too.

And this was my T-rex cake.  It will come as no surprise that I'm no cake decorator, but with the help of some laffy taffy, candy corn and gummy life savers I did what I could.

I have lots of other dinosaur activities and books and fun times, but they'll have to wait for a later post because it's time to get cracking on this week's theme:  Zoo!  See you in a few days...

Saturday, May 14, 2011


It's strawberry picking time here in central Virginia, and even though taking young kids to the berry patch is not quite as romantic as it sounds, we braved it.  I'm glad of it, too.  The boys had a blast, and they were even pretty good and picking mostly ripe ones.

We found some good books at the library to go along with our strawberry theme.  The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story introduces kids to Native American mythology and warns them of how powerfully angry women can become. 

An older book (1989), Strawberry, was nonetheless extremely informative on the growth of strawberry plants.  I learned a few things from it, anyway. 

Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher is a wordless Caldecott Honor book by Molly Bang that received great editorial reviews.  I find the pictures very creepy-- frightening, in fact, but my boys are not so disturbed by them.  In fact, they like the book.  Kids.

Jamberry and The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear were fun even for Baby.
In addition to the strawberry picking, I found an awesome sensory experience in this recipe for strawberry-scented play dough.  In the past I've struggled to make good play dough, so I was extra careful this time, using the whisk in the beginning to avoid sticking and, later, the silicone spatula.  One neat facet of this was the possibility of using the dough while it was still warm-- very soothing for overstimulated kids and adults.

Our art project came from activity village and is a cute handprint strawberry.  I love handprint art!

 The leaves are pinky fingers painted green, and the black dots are fingerprints.

One of my artists was unsatisfied with the resulting strawberry and painted over it to get a "better" product.  The black dots outside are bugs.

At the u-pick strawberry farm we bought a coloring book for 50 cents that told the tale of strawberry plant life cycles.  T colored it almost obsessively for two days.

Below is my favorite strawberry song, which I found at Step by Step.  They have tons of other strawberry snacks, songs, and activities there for further exploration.

Anyway, I sang this so many times this week that I started dreaming with it as a soundtrack.

Picked a Strawberry - sung to "Clementine"
Picked a strawberry,
Picked a strawberry
That was growing
In the sun.
Then I washed it,
And I ate it,
And I picked another one.

Like felt food and have some time on your hands?  You can make your own felt food strawberry following this free tutorial.  

We love felt food around here but it'll take me a while to get around to the strawberry pattern.  Maybe in time for T's graduation from high school. 

Check out what I did make time for, though.  Strawberry shortcake and strawberry milkshakes.  Yummy!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Salamanders and Newts

I thought this week we would read books about Mamas, make flowers and cards, and do other sweet Mother's Day stuff.   Instead, though, I couldn't resist indulging my son's latest craze: salamanders.  He's been finding baby salamanders under various rocks in our yard, and though they creep me out a little (think black earthworm-like creature with four tiny legs) I try not to show it.  Maybe next year we'll do the mushy mother's day projects.

Surprisingly, picture books on salamanders are not too abundant at our library, so I've done a 2-for-1 combo of salamanders and their close cousins, newts.

The Salamander Room is my boys' dream come true.  They find the idea of bringing all sorts of critters inside and turning their room into a miniature forest captivating.
Newt was good for my developing reader, with 3 small chapters of easy words (Reading level 2).
Finally, a sweet story about friendship in the swamp, What Newt Could Do for Turtle had everyone holding their breath when the critters found themselves in all manner of mortal peril.
I include DK's Amazing Poisonous Animals here because of this great 2-page spread on salamanders.  T was riveted.

For our craft this week I did a variation on a fish project from my childhood.  Using our new watercolor paper from Discount School Supply, I had T draw a salamander while I drew S's for him.  Then (and I ALWAYS do this) I forgot to cut them out first, so we had trouble later finding the lines.   Cut it out before painting! 

They were supposed to paint the salamanders yellow, but T preferred to use crayon.  I tried not to be cranky about the wasted watercolor paper.

Then S and I dripped wax from a candle onto the yellow salamander, and when it was dry I encouraged S to repaint the salamander orange.  He preferred to make it black, though.

Then I put a few paper towels over the critter and, using a very low temp, ironed up the wax bits.  Voila!  Spotted Salamander.

In retrospect, I wonder if the iron was necessary.  See the spots on the neck?  for those I just picked the wax off by hand.  The others kind of bled with the iron, so... maybe it would have been better without.  Anyway, we'll be adding a googly eye and maybe a mouth or something later, but he's run off to other endeavors for now.

Listen to this great song, "The Forest is a Wonderful Place" by Steve Schuch at his website:  Night Heron

(to the tune of “Heaven is a Wonderful Place”)
The forest is a wonderful place
Filled with frogs and snakes
I want to see a salamander’s face
The forest is a wonderful place (I want to go there...)

Unbelievably, I also found an easy salamander poem at Child Fun:

A Salamander
I saw a little creature that was slimy, smooth, and wet.
I thought it was the oddest thing that I had ever met.
It was something like a lizard, but it had no scales at all.
It was something like a frog, but it didn't hop- it crawled.
So I took it to my teacher and she told me right away,
" I see you brought a salamander into class today."

There are a ton of free coloring sheets online; google "Salamander color sheet," and use the image search for best results.  Here is one of our favorites.  T LOVES to color salamanders and dinosaurs, so we use lots of free coloring sheets.

Another cool find were the Kindergarten math worksheets and dot-to-dots at Math Salamanders .  

All in all I was surprised and delighted at all the newt/ salamander books, activities, music and poetry I found.  Please share if you have others!  I hope you enjoyed our Mother's Day activities.  :)  It looks like we're mighty close to 50 followers... come back and see next week if we hit the goal, because I'll have a give-away!  Until then, friends.