OUTDOOR CLASSROOM LEARNING CENTERS—THE SKY’S THE LIMIT!

Open the door and turn your learning environment inside out.  Maximize outdoor play by moving learning centers outdoors, opening up new possibilities for stimulating children’s creativity, self-discovery, and imagination.  Children can do virtually anything outside that they can do inside—the sky’s the limit!  By providing outdoor learning centers, teachers can change materials and props depending on the interests and ideas that emerge from the children. Whether you have green space or not, here are some ideas of what centers you might include in your outdoor learning environment.

Science & Nature Center

Science comes alive as children explore nature and make first-hand observations.  Provide containers which children can use to collect their findings (i.e., leaves, sticks, rocks, mud) and a table where they can explore the items with all their senses.  (Provide tools for investigations: magnifying glasses, binoculars, bug jars, tweezers, rulers).

37259b

Sand & Water Center

Not every outdoor environment can have a sandbox but they can easily accommodate a sand and water table. This learning center is the best place for messy play as it is suitable for many sensory experiences.  Sand and water equal math and science learning! They alone or together provide opportunities for endless experimenting.

Dramatic Play Center

Set the stage to inspire children’s imagination through dramatic play outside.  Dramatic play allows children to make sense of the adult world in a child-friendly setting.  It also develops necessary skills in cooperation, language, role-plays, and leadership. Put an outdoor kitchen near the sand area and discover “what’s cooking.”  All that “good food” needs to be eaten. An outdoor picnic table just their size makes for family-style dining.

Art Center

Children who may not participate in art experiences indoors may join in willingly when art is presented in the familiar and comfortable territory of the outdoors. An easel (free standing or hanging easel) is a must to include.  If no easel, a wall, chain-link or wood fence and butcher paper provides many opportunities for children to work on vertical surfaces.

Block/Construction Center

Take block play to new heights by moving them outside.  Many engineering feats are possible with block play. The block construction area encourages language, social engagement, cooperation, problem-solving, creativity, imagination, and self-esteem. It can be taxing transporting those wooden indoor blocks outdoors. Foam blocks designed to look just like real cinder blocks, bricks, planks, and concrete pavers are lightweight.  Plan for them to have their own “home” outside, thus being available and accessible to the children. Children enjoy having accessories to use with block play.  Small cars, trucks, animals, people extend children’s ideas.

37333b

I’m not finished yet! Having been an Outdoor Teacher for 12 years, I’m looking forward to sharing a few more learning centers and many activities that you can include in your outdoor classroom. The sky’s the limit!

Recommended Products:

  • OUTSCI (Outdoor Learning Kit Science)
  • SENMIX (Outdoor Sensory Mixing Table)
  • OBSERVE (Nature Observation Set – 24 Pieces)
  • TOOLCHST (Science Exploration Kit – 72 Pieces)
  • XCSG60120 (Sandbox with Cover—5’ x 10’ x 10”)
  • SCLEAR (Sand and Water Activity Table)
  • MPC3006 (MyPerfectClassroom Double Sand and Water Table)
  • PLAYSAND (Sandtastik White Play Sand 25 lbs.)
  • OUTKIT (Outdoor Kitchen Set)
  • PICTAB (Outdoor Picnic Table)
  • MOBEASEL (Colorations Premium Mobile Storage Easel)
  • HDE (Hanging Easel)
  • 4018 (Butcher Roll—White, 18” Wide, 40 LB.)
  • ALLBUILD (Excellerations Jumbo Foam Construction Set)
  • OUTBLOCK (Outdoor Learning Kit Blocks)
  • PEEPSET (Excellerations Photo Block Play People)

 

To order any of the products listed above or to view our wide array of products, please visit our website at discountschoolsupply.com or contact our customer service department at 800-627-2829.

 

Advertisements

Frozen! Winter Art Activities

Yes, the children will let you know that the blockbuster Disney movie, Frozen, can be an inspiration for anything and everything cold and icy. You don’t need any cryokinetic powers to produce ice and snow. Depending on where you live, just venture outside or open the freezer. Most of these activities take little or no preparation…and remember, it’s the process, not the finished product…so “Let It Go” if you think the end result is for children to make something that looks like something recognizable (i.e., providing a pattern of a snowflake or snowman to use with the art medium).  Have fun discovering the science in these activities while exploring with art!  As Olaf said, “Some people are worth melting for.”  I think the children will agree.

frozen 1 frozen 2 Rainbow Snow Painting
Fill spray bottles half full with Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ (do not dilute the color by adding water). If you have snow, go outside and have fun spray-painting snow. If it gets too cold and fingers in mittens don’t work too well with the trigger sprayers (my favorite sprayers are the ones from Ace® Hardware), let the children scoop the snow in buckets and bring it inside to your water table. Spray away. Observe how the colors blend to make new colors. Way cool!frozen 8

Paintsicles
Squeeze Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ or BioColor® into ice cube trays. Cover trays with aluminum foil and insert craft sticks (poke through foil) into each cube. Place trays in freezer overnight. Pop paintsicles out of the trays. Provide heavy white paper or tagboard and using the craft stick as a handle, children paint the entire paper with bright blocks of color.

frozen 3

Ice Designs
Draw designs on heavy white paper with a washable marker. Using plain ice cubes, children “paint” over the designs and watch how the colors soften and blend..frozen 4Ice Castles
Materials Needed:
Ice—cubes, blocks, etc.
Table salt
Rock salt
Kosher salt (optional)
Eye droppers
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™
Sensory tub or water/sand table
Small containers/cups to hold the salt and Liquid Watercolor™

Procedure:

  1. Freeze water in a variety of sizes and shapes of empty containers—plastic bowls, jello molds, cardboard milk containers, ice cube trays, etc. In cold climates, children could put the containers of water outside to freeze.
  2. Empty the ice shapes and ice cubes into the sensory tub or water table.
  3. Place small cups of salt and rock salt in the tub.
  4. Place small cups of Liquid Watercolor™ in tub.  Add an eye dropper to each cup.
  5. Problem solve with the children how best to use the ice to form ice castles, deciding which blocks of ice would be best on the bottom and which would work better on the top.  Children can sprinkle the salt on top of each chunk of ice before adding another piece.  Talk with them about how the salt begins to melt the ice.  Then when another piece is added, the water refreezes and becomes part of the newly added piece of ice, helping it to stick together creating ice castles.
  6. Children then use the droppers to drop the Liquid Watercolor™ into the cracks and holes created by the rock salt and salt making a colorful kingdom.

Learning Outcomes/Desired Results:

    • Cognitive-Science – Cause and Effect: Discuss the chemical reaction that ice has when salt is sprinkled on it.  Salt lowers the freezing point of ice, causing it to melt.
    • Cognitive-Science – Cause and Effect: Solids transforming into liquids.
    • Cognitive-Science – Cause and Effect: Mixing primary colors (red, yellow and blue) you make the secondary colors (orange, green and purple).
    • Physical-Fine Motor Skills: Using small muscles (pincher grasp) in fingers to squeeze the bulb of the dropper and to pick up grains of salt and chunks of rock salt.
    • Physical-Fine Motor Skills – Eye-Hand Coordination: Hands and eyes working together to accomplish a task; using fingers to manipulate dropper with color and squirting colors into salt crevices.
    • Cognitive-Problem Solving and Critical Thinking: Some children will have difficulty in figuring out how to get the color into the dropper and then onto the ice. Handling the eye dropper will be a challenge, so they should be shown how to use it and encouraged to keep trying until they succeed.
    • Language Development: Children talk excitedly about what they see happening.
    • Encourages creativity and persistence.
    • Social/Emotional Development: Fostered as this is an open-ended activity with no right or wrong way to do this activity.  It promotes children’s self-esteem.

frozen 5 frozen 6 Nature’s Frozen Beauty
Freeze nature items (leaves, pine needles, flowers, berries, small rocks) in silicone cupcake liners or an aluminum or silicone cupcake/muffin tray. Let the children put items (flower, leaf, etc.) of their choice into each of the cupcake liners. Then fill them halfway with water. Before putting them into the freezer or outside, insert a paper clip (open half-way) into each cupcake liner that will be used to hang up the frozen decorations. Once frozen, pop them out of their mold (cupcake liner or tray) and decorate your outdoor environment by having the children hang them on tree branches, fences or whatever else will support the icy decoration. As the temperature warms up and the sun comes out, the children will observe and discover what happens to their once frozen beautiful decorations.frozen 7

Product Recommendations:
Ultimate BioColor® Creativity Kit (BCKIT3)
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ Classroom Favorites Pack (LWKIT4)
E-Z Pull Extra Large Clear Trigger Sprayers, 12 oz. – Set of 6 (TSBOT)
Super Safe Plastic Droppers – Set of 12 (12SSD)
6 Paint Cups in a Base (PNTCPS)
Best Value Sand & Water Activity Table – Medium (LWTAB)
Sand and Water Buckets  – Set of 6 (BUCKSET)
Indestructible Scoops – Set of 4 (SCOOP4)
Regular Craft Sticks – 100 Pieces (CRAF)
White Sulfite Paper – 500 Sheets ((A80SU)
Extra Sturdy Tagboard – 100 Sheets (9WT)
Colorations® Super Washable Chubby Markers (16CHB)

Sand & Water Fun for Infants and Toddlers

As an Early Care and Education Consultant and Trainer, I am asked to conduct workshops on a variety of topics for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  My main goal in presenting at conferences and trainings (and also in writing this blog) is to share ideas and activities to use with the children in your care.  I have been asked to present my workshop, “NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE! Extending the Curriculum Outdoors” for Infant and Toddler Teachers.  The program coordinator specifically asked me to focus on the sand and water table and the sensory materials that can be included for this age group.

Is your sand and water table buzzing with activity or is it stagnant like the water you always seem to have in it?  Perhaps your sand and water table is closed because you think it creates a mess.  Whether you need to rekindle interest in your sand and water table or remind yourself about the value of sensory play…read on to discover the sensory learning opportunities found in the sand and water table.

The sand and water table can be equipped with two basins or tubs side by side or it can be one large table.  Whatever the configuration, most of these tables can be used inside or outdoors. Sensory play, sometimes known as “messy play,” happens in the sand and water table.  It is a center for exploring with your senses, experimenting, scooping, and pouring, squeezing and smushing (building fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination for handwriting), sharing and turn taking.  Children can watch chemical reactions, mix colors, repeat observed phenomenon, and try new things.  Sensory play promotes spatial awareness, mathematical thinking, and scientific exploration and discovery.  It also is simply a great way for children to relieve their stress.  Sensory play can be very soothing and relaxing to a young child.

Ideally, the items in the sand and water table should be switched out every week, though there are some materials (i.e., water) that need to be emptied daily. What you can and cannot include in your sand and water table depends on the children and the different policies of your program about the use of food during play and explorations, as well as concerns about children’s food allergies and sanitation.  Some of the items listed may be problematic for toddlers and those children who insist on putting everything in their mouth, ears or nose.  Provide close supervision and use only larger items for the very young.

Materials, Ideas & Activities for the Sand & Water Table:

Depending on the contents of the sand and water table, add small shovels, rakes, sand and water mills, small watering cans, squeeze bottles, sifters, sand molds, buckets, plastic or rubber animals, small people, boats, vehicles, kitchen utensils (wire whisks, slotted spoons, scoops, tongs, tweezers, funnels, mixing cups, basters, ladles, muffin tins, plastic cookie cutters, ice cube trays, sieves) and a variety of containers to foster complex sensory play.

I think it’s important to have two sand and water tables—one for inside and one for outside.  That way, depending on the weather and your setup, some kind of sensory activity can be available for the children to explore.  Infants and toddlers rely on sensory input to learn about their environment. Sensory play helps build neural connections that support thought, learning, and creativity.  It supports language development, cognitive growth, fine/gross motor skills, problem solving/reasoning, and social interaction.  Sensory experiences are like food for the brain.  With a little bit of planning, sensory play in the sand and water table can happen everyday!

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Best Value Sand & Water Activity Table and Lid (SWTAB, SWTABL)
Neptune Sand and Water Table with Lid (NEPTUNE)
Sand & Water Buckets (BUCKSET)
32 Ounce Bubble Solution (BUB32)
Bubble Wands (BUBWNDS)
Small Shovels (SMSHOV24)
Watering Can (WCAN)
Colorations® Easy-Grip Dough Cutters (EGCUTTER)
Sand & Water Mills (MILLSET3)
Pour and Measure Play Set (POURPACK)
Funnels (FUNNELS)
Excellerations® Fun Foam Fishing Set (REELFUN)
Sailboats (SAILS)
Sturdy Scoops (FUNSCOOP)
Super Classroom Sand Set (SDSET)
Sandtastik® White Play Sand (PLAYSAND)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Sea Creatures (BABYSEA)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Wild Animals (BABYZOO)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Farm Animals (BABYFARM)
Soft Multicultural Career Figures (HELPER)
Small Multicultural Career Figures (PEOPLE)
Bathing Dolls (BATHSET)
Primary Toddler Dish Set (DISHSET)
Magic Nuudles™ (ALLNU)
Kinetic Sand ™ (KINSAND)
Colored Play Sand (CSANDALL)
Sparkling Sculpture Sand (BLINGSET)
Shape it!™ Sand (MOONSNST)
Small Gotcha Nets (NETS)
Gator Grabber Tweezers (GATGRABS)
Medium Insects & Spiders (INSECTS)
Foam Wooden Blocks (WDFMBLK)
Foam Tabletop Unit Blocks (FOBL)
Tree Blocks with Bark (TRBLK)
Tree Blocks without Bark (TRBLKNB)
Chubby Land, Sea & Air Vehicles (CHUBBY)
Fun Dough Scissors (DSCISSOR)
Colorations® Tissue Paper Grass (TGRASS)
Super Safe Plastic Droppers (12SSD)
Colorations®
Liquid Watercolor Classic Colors (13LW)
Colorations® No-Drip Foam Paint (BFP)
Colored Macaroni (SMAC)
Colored Rice (RRIC)
Colorations® Washable Finger Paint (CWFPS)
Colorations® Sensory Sand Finger Paint (SANSET)
Fabric Squares (FAB)
Jumbo 2” Pom-Poms (LGPOMS)
Craft Fluffs (FLUFFPK)
Wood Craft Rounds (WOOD50)

Alligator in the Swamp

Toddlers to preschoolers will enjoy letting their imaginations “run wild” as they take a trip over a bridge (carrying a baby doll, animal or other object) crossing a swamp where a hungry alligator lives. Children are to walk the beam and put the object they are holding into a basket at the other end of the beam. When crossing the “swamp” children chant, “I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking across the swamp. I hope that alligator doesn’t go chomp.” Explain that the alligator who lives in the swamp will not bother the children as long as they stay on the beam and don’t drop anything that they are carrying. If they do drop something or step off the beam, the alligator (you) will chase them until they deposit everything they are carrying in the basket. This is play with a purpose — promoting physical, cognitive and social emotional development. What fun…and learning!

Materials and Set Up:
1. Low Balance Beam (248) – a bridge over a swamp (floor) where a hungry alligator lives.
2. Variety of safe objects to carry—soft babies, plastic animals, beanbags, blocks, etc.
3. Basket or bucket placed at far end of balance beam.
4. Adult to role play alligator moving around in open space (swamp).

Lets Get Started:
1. Give child one object.
2. Ask child to walk (heel-toe) across the balance beam slowly carrying the soft object, chanting, “I’m walking, I’m walking, I’m walking across the swamp. I hope that alligator doesn’t go chomp.”
3. When child reaches end of the beam they are to toss or drop the object into the basket.
4. Explain to children that they should not step off the beam or drop anything into the swamp (floor) because the hungry alligator (adult with extended arms moving up and down like alligator’s jaws) will chase them until they put what they are carrying into the basket.

Furthermore:
1. Give children more things to carry each time they attempt to walk across the alligator swamp.
2. Ask children to carry beanbags balanced on their heads and shoulders.
3. Have children move across the balance beam using other modes of travel. Continue by interjecting other movements such as: “I’m swimming, I’m swimming, I’m swimming across the swamp. I hope that alligator doesn’t go chomp.” Can also do tip toeing, jumping etc.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes:
1. Gross motor coordination—using the trunk and large muscles and limbs of the body—to walk with legs and hold and toss items with arms and hands. Gross motor movement is the predecessor to fine motor skills that are required for formal school work.
2. Dynamic Balance—being able to hold the position of the body when the body is moving—walking across the balance beam. Self-control is important for learning.
3. Eye hand coordination—eyes and hands working together to toss the beanbag into the basket. Eyes and hands need to work together in order to write.
4. Imagery—formation of mental images by memory, imagination or fancy—pretending to cross a bridge over a swamp inhabited by an alligator. Imagination is the precursor to intellectual development.
5. Self-confidence—faith in oneself and one’s own abilities—children can cross balance beam and deliver the object without dropping it.

Product Recommendations:
Balance Beam (248)
Step-A-Logs (STEPLOG)
Beanbags (MEGABEAN and CBB)
Plastic Animals (BABYFARM and BABYZOO)
Multicultural Velour Soft Babies (ALL4BY)
Soft Velour Blocks (VLRBLK)
Willow Baskets (WILLOW)

Beat the HEAT with COOL Games

It’s summer time and in many places it’s hot, hot, hot! Don’t let the heat keep young children inside all day. A fun way to cool off is with some wet and wild water play—whether you’re 3 or 63 years old! Kids of all ages will enjoy these splashy summer games and activities that encourage movement, physical activity and cooperative play.

Drip, Drip… Drop!
Where:
Outdoors
Who:
Every participant in a swimsuit
What You Need:
Water source and a small plastic bucket or cup

How to Play:
1. The teacher, parent or caregiver has all the children sit in a circle
2. One child is chosen to be “IT” and leaves the circle
3. IT holds a bucket of water and stands outside of the circle
4. S(he) walks around the circle saying “drip, drip, drip…” as s(he) drips water
from hands and fingers onto the heads of the children sitting in the circle
5. When IT says “drop,” the entire bucket of remaining water is poured out onto one child
6. IT runs back to their place in the circle with the wet child running behind them.
7. The wet child is now IT and fills up the bucket to resume the game of
“drip, drip…drip…DROP!”

What if …
Children don’t want water on their heads? Designate another body part that IT can only drip or drop the water on (i.e., hands, shoulders, knees, etc.)

The game ends when everyone in the circle is wet.

It’s a cool way to end a hot day through fun and play!

Jump the Stream!
Where:
Outdoors
Who:
Children dressed to get wet, barefoot (or in shoes that can get wet) and a teacher/parent to hold the water hose
What You Need:
Water hose
How to Play:
1. The teacher, parent or caregiver has all the children stand in a circle
2. The adult squats down in the center of the circle holding the water hose
3. When the water is turned on the adult turns around slowly, keeping the steam of water from the hose close to the ground
4. When the stream of water gets close to the kids they are to jump over it to avoid getting wet
5. Each time the adult completes a full revolution, s(he) begins to turn a little bit faster and raises the stream slightly higher off the ground

While the object of the game appears to stay dry, young children often have the most fun getting squirted by the hose and, of course, getting very wet!

Waterlogged!
Where:
Outdoor playing area with designated boundaries
Who:
Children dressed to get wet
What You Need:
Foam ball, Plastic bucket of water, Cones to mark off boundaries
How to Play:
1. The children should be scattered around the playing area
2. One child is selected to be “IT”
3. IT is given a foam ball and soaks the foam ball in water.
4. The game begins with IT chasing the other children, trying to tag/touch them with the wet ball
5. When IT tags someone with the wet ball, that child becomes the new IT and the game starts again

Touched players are “waterlogged” and can be spotted very easily by the water dripping off the spot where they were touched.

Water Brigade!
Where:
Outdoors
Who:
Children dressed to get wet
What You Need:
Foam balls for each player, A water table or tubs filled with water, Buckets (one for each player)
How to Play:
1. Fill water table and/or one or more tubs with water
2. Set up empty buckets 10 (or more) feet from tubs/table
3. Give each child a foam ball
4. Children stand at water table/tubs with their foam ball
5. The game begins with each child thoroughly soaking the foam ball with water
6. Instruct the children to run to the buckets at the other end and squeeze the water out of their balls into the buckets
7. The game continues with the children running back to the water tubs, resoaking their foam balls and running to their bucket to wring it out and fill their bucket entirely.

This can easily turn into a fun summer team sport with partners at either end tossing the balls to each other for soaking and wringing. Being physically active with a purpose makes this game a real winner!