Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Creating a Model and Reenacting the story of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"

Preschoolers love role play. And I do mean love. 

Give them a costume, give them a puppet, get involved in a story with them, and they're off and running. They cannot get enough of pretend play. Which is why reenacting a story is such a natural way to draw preschoolers into narration.

The catch here is the getting-involved-in-the-story-yourself part. I have found that it doesn't take much to get my kids into reenactment, but it does take something. They need an example to follow. But once you give them that example, then they've got it - and it's so much fun!

This week, we're reading "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," loosely connecting it to letter B week. We've read this story so many times (and it's only Wednesday), and it's such a simple story, that it makes for a pretty great start to this kind of narration. 

I decided to start small, letting the kids reenact the story with character cards. Any kind of puppet would do. I found this awesome idea to recreate the setting of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" over at this website. But instead of cutting the pieces out of colored card stock, I wanted Daniel to actually paint the pieces of his model. 

Creating a Model and Reenacting the story of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"


2 pieces of white card stock
paint brush
tempera paints (we used blues, greens, yellows, oranges, and black)
black marker
character cards (I printed ours out from this website)


Before the project, cut out two wide strips from one of the pieces of card stock. One strip should be slightly wavy (this is the stream under the bridge). The other strip will end of being the wooden bridge. Look below for pictures to help explain.

Daniel started by painting the grass for the pastures. We didn't do this (hind sight is 20/20!), but afterwards I thought that a great extension for this project would be to go outside to do the painting. How fun would it be to go out and observe the colors of grass, water, and actual wooden bridges?

We just talked about those colors. Ah well. 

Here's Daniel working on the grass. Since this is a bird's eye view model, Daniel painted the entire page green.

After the grass, Daniel wanted to paint his bridge piece. We discussed the fact that it was probably a wooden bridge. I asked Daniel what color he thought it should be, and when he replied that it should be brown, we discovered that we had no brown paint in our stash! 

Time to mix some up. We tried yellow and orange first, but it was too light. Then I squirted in a little black, and that seemed to do the trick. Daniel had a lot of fun stirring it up! And painting, of course. 

Once painted, we set it aside and Daniel painted the stream. As before, we talked about the colors of water. 

We tried to come up with some things that you might find in the water that aren't blue, things like river grass and mud. We talked about what those colors might be.

Then it was time to let all the pieces dry.

Patience. We picked Natalie up from school. We ate lunch. They took a nap. Well, they had quiet time anyway. There was hardly any sleeping going on back there. 

After nap, it was time. 

Daniel glued the stream down first:

Then the bridge. Before we glued it down, I let Daniel use a Sharpie to mark off the wooden planks:

Gluing it down was tricky, and required some help from me. I folded each end under about half an inch, squirted some glue on the folded pieces and Daniel put them down.

Then it was time to play! By this time, Natalie was a full participant (so much so that after this, she wanted to make her own model, which she promptly did), and had also heard the story many times this week, so she was able to reenact with Daniel.

Here's a little Instagram action:

Before reenacting, I read the story to them. Then I closed the book and put it aside. I will say that they both looked at me, a little unsure of what to do first. So I played the part of Little Billy Goat Gruff. I acted out the part, saying things like,

"Oh, I would really like to cross that bridge and eat some juicy green grass! I wonder if that fearful troll is at home. Oh well, guess I'll just cross the bridge and see...trip trap, trip trap."

It didn't take long for the kids to get as into it as I was. Using all the different voices, they retold the story, in their own words, without the aid of the pictures in the book. Being such a simple story really helped. If you try this with your kiddos, I would encourage you to choose a very simple classic with a lot of repetition (Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, etc.). 

And have fun with it! Learning at this age should be mostly fun. If you have fun with all the different voices, your kids are likely to get into it, too ;)

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Collage in the Style of Eric Carle

Last week, as a part of Daniel's school, we read "The Very Busy Spider". On Monday I showed you the puppets I made to help Daniel narrate, or retell, the story in his own words. Since I introduced those puppets, he's pulled them off the shelf several times in order to tell me the story again. Yay! I love it when things are a hit. Much better than when things are a flop. You know what I'm talking about, right? The activities where you're kids just look at you like you're crazy. Or, even worse, when there's a whole lot of awkward silence while you try to figure out what to do next because you didn't really plan the activity that well to begin with. It's painful. But (yay!) the successes totally make up for the fails. 

We also began a multi-stage collage project last week and finished it up today. What Eric Carle unit is complete without a little Eric Carle style art?


card stock (we used white, but the color is up to you)
tempera paint
paint brushes
paint trays
play dough tools (or other small tools to make scratches into wet paint)


The project begins in the same way as the Sgraffito project we did last summer. The very first step is to let the kids color one piece of card stock. The darker the colors, the better. Also be sure to instruct them to color every last inch of the paper. This is the first step in several; the idea here is to color the paper, not to make a representational drawing. 

The next step is to paint over the crayon color. I squirted a little paint into a tray, gave each kid a brush, and told them to paint the entire paper. They were allowed to use whichever colors they wanted. Again, this is the next step in a multi-stage project; this is not the final piece. The purpose here, like before, is simply to add color. 

Even Silas got in on the act with this project! Although, he just painted...pretty much all his little toddler hands can handle. 

After painting, give your kiddos access to the play dough tools and let them make all kinds of different scratches in their wet paint. We used rollers, rolling pins, plastic knives and forks, and the ends of the paint brush. I didn't give the kids any instruction at this point. Just presented them with the tools and told them the basic idea. They loved it!

Here is Natalie's completed painted piece:

Let the pieces dry. Depending on how much paint your child uses, this could take 30 minutes or all morning. Be patient. You'll need a completely dry piece before moving on to the last step. 

Before starting the next step, we took a look at our story, "The Very Busy Spider". I pointed out a few illustrations, such as the fence posts,

and the rooster.

We talked about how each illustration was made by piecing together basic shapes. We noted that the fence was made out of long, thin rectangles and the rooster was made with a few different shapes, including circles and triangles. 

I then gave scrap paper to the kids and we drew an ice cream cone, a flower, a house, a person, and a tree using only basic shapes. Oh, and a fairy. Of course. 

I also told the kiddos to think about what they wanted their final picture to be. Did they want to make a flower? A tree? A person? We talked about how, sometimes, it's important to plan out and think about what you're going to do before you dive in and do it. 

Daniel decided he wanted to make a spider, inspired, I suppose, by the story. We talked about what kind of shapes he'd need to make a spider and (trust me, I had to really guide him here) came up with a circle for the spider's body and long thin pieces for the legs. 

With Daniel, I really had to help him out. I drew a circle and some lines on the back of his art and gave him a pair of safety scissors. While he cut, I helped him turn his paper so that he could cut out the general shape. 

He also did some cutting on his own ;)

Natalie decided that she would rather piece together a series of shapes to make an abstract collage. Not quite what I had intended for this project, but I decided to step aside and let her do her thing. I really didn't have to help her at all. She first drew some shapes on the back of her painted paper, and then got busy cutting.

They both turned out quite well! I was really proud of Natalie's fine motor skills in action. They've come a long way even since last spring.

Natalie, age 4

And I really loved Daniel's composition. What a great spider!

Daniel, age 3

And Silas, of course, finished his art. Kind of cool that I have three pieces to share with you today!

Silas, age 1

Thanks for reading! Hope you're feeling inspired to go create some beautiful Eric Carle style collage! Let me know if you blog about it - I'd love to see some finished pieces!

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Preschool Narration Ideas


I've been a bit MIA lately. Blogging, I've discovered, is like a snowball. In the beginning, you have all this momentum because you're excited about whatever it is that you want to say. Then you build even more as things go along. You get your first comment and it makes you hungry for more. So you write another post and another and check things obsessively to see if anyone's left you another comment. It's kind of amazing that people read your stuff and even more amazing that some of you liked it enough to say something about it. Everyone loves a little validation. 

And reach a plateau. Things stop building as quickly. You lose some of that initial excitement. Before you know it, you're only publishing two posts a week, and then only one. And then...none. It's like a snowball going in reverse. Then you don't even want to check the stats at all because you know you've only had 12 page views. And you also know that you didn't do the work to earn more. Ah, who cares? Anyone want to play a game of Scrabble?

So, anyway, this is my shame-faced apology. I am sorry that I've been so MIA. I do have a couple of reasonable excuses, besides the reverse-snowball effect.

1. I've been working really hard with Daniel. We started his school year last month, and things have been going along pretty well. So well, in fact, that I'm exhausted. Most afternoons during nap time, I just want to take a nap right along with the kids. And if I don't do that, then I try to use that time to clean the house. It's a little difficult, I've discovered, to juggle homeschool, daily chores, and blogging. How do you masters do it all?? I'm sort of at a loss.

2. I'm in the process of rethinking the blog a little bit. Up to this point, the ol' blog has been a little bit of a smorgasbord. A little of this, a little of that, and a personal story to spice things up. To be honest, I'm not really sure what kind of a blogger I am. I love art and I definitely want to keep Friday's Art Smarts going. And I'm getting so excited about the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling that I'm leaning toward taking this blog in that direction. I'll probably still throw in those personal reflections because it's a great outlet for me, but... I do think I want to bring some focus to the blog. Anyway, stay tuned. Things are in the works.

And, in the spirit of Charlotte Mason, I've got a few ideas for you moms of the preschool set. 

How About Narration?

Charlotte Mason was a big fan of narration, or (as I understand it) retelling a story or piece of information in your own words. Having been a teacher, I can tell you that narration is nothing new to mainstream education, either. It's everywhere, and for good reason. If you can narrate a story that you've heard, it shows that you've gained at least a basic understanding of it. If you can narrate a passage from a non-fiction book, it shows you've grasped the concepts, at least a little.   

According to Charlotte Mason, younger students shouldn't have to be so concerned with written narration, and instead should focus on retelling a story orally. 

Narration, with preschoolers, can happen almost without them realizing it if you choose the right kind of stories. Preschoolers love rhymes and repetition - use that! Preschoolers love to tell the story with you - encourage that! Find books chock full of rhymes and repetition and let them finish your sentences. Look for stories with a certain amount of predictability (counting stories are great for this). Before you know it, they'll be telling you the story! 

Preschoolers are also (usually) very visual and very concrete. They love props. It never hurts to add a few props to help preschool narration along. Here are a couple ideas.

Story Sticks (aka, puppets)

This doesn't have to be fancy, folks. I made these story sticks to go along with "The Very Busy Spider" in an hour. After reading the story once to Daniel, I brought out the sticks, and boy, was he excited!

We read the story a second time.

Sorry for the picture quality here...we were in the dining room to keep the story sticks out of the baby's reach and the lighting was terrible!

With the introduction of each new animal, Daniel grabbed the appropriate stick and "acted" out the part.

He made the animal sound, and by the end of the third reading, he was retelling some of the other parts as well (especially catching on to the repetition). 

And he wanted to do it over and over again. I'd call that a win.

The Felt Board

Do any of you guys own this fantabulous toy from Felt Creations? It's basically a felt board, but you can buy all sorts of story pieces to make your own scenes. We've got a couple of different sets, and the kids love to break it out every now and then and create these elaborate story scenes. What a great toy. 

But even if you don't own a felt board from Felt Creations, you could totally make your own. Hot glue a large piece of felt to a large piece of cardboard and you're in business. And you've got a whole world of possibilities. 

This week, Daniel and I are working on the letter L. To go along with that letter we're reading a story called "The Very Lazy Ladybug". This is a great book - very predictable and lends itself well to preschool narration. Last night I grabbed my basket of felt scraps and went through the book to recreate the main characters in the story:

This took me 30 minutes to an hour. Not too bad, especially since I did it while drinking coffee and listening to music. Not a bad way to end the evening. Later this week, after we've read the story once or twice, I'll let Daniel use the pieces to retell it (looking at the pages in the book if he needs help knowing what comes next). 

I've done this already with a couple of different stories and the kids love it. Something about creating scenes on a felt board, man. They're all over it. If you wanted to get really into it, you could also make plants and trees and rivers so the kids could go all out. 

I know what some of you are thinking. Some of you are shaking your head and saying to yourself that you could never draw all those animals. Well...I like to draw. And I freely admit it. But I also know that young kids are terribly forgiving. I've drawn some pretty horrible stuff (I'm thinking about a certain Tinkerbell) and they think it's the most amazing thing ever. Don't let that stop you - they'll love it!

All right. That's it. I'll be back on Friday with this week's installment of Friday's Art Smarts, I promise. Until then, thanks for reading and I hope you leave with some new ideas :)

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