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).

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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.

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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.

 

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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)

Excellerations™ Get Up and Go! Dice

I am passionate about putting into teacher’s and children’s hands materials that promote physical activity and learning.  Excellerations™ Get Up and Go! Dice does just that and is a quality product from Discount School Supply®.

The Excellerations™ Get Up and Go! Dice set includes:

  • 2 dice with pockets on all sides
  • 20 different movement activity cards
  • 12 numeral cards (2 each of the numbers 1-6)
  • 12 dice dot cards (2 each of the dots numbering 1-6)
  • 12 blank cards

The two large seven-inch vinyl-covered foam dice have pockets on all six sides that hold activity and number cards.  Insert six different activity cards in each of the pockets on one die.  On the other die put the numeral cards, either showing the dots or the numeral.  Depending on the developmental skills level of the children, I use the numeral cards for numbers 1, 2, and 3 and the dot cards for numbers 4, 5, and 6.  Young children may not recognize the larger numerals, but they are usually able to count the dots or “pips.”  Did you know that the dots on dice are called “pips?”  The word “pip” commonly means a “spot” or a “speck,” and perhaps that’s why the dots on dice, as well as dominoes, are called pips.  Don’t shy away from the big word, i.e., “pips” for “dots.”  It is very common for adults to simplify their language when talking to young children.  Throwing in a new word now and then is a great opportunity to build vocabulary! If you’re going to explain what something is, you might as well use the proper word the first time. Children may not always pick up on those big words, but they certainly won’t if they don’t ever hear them.  So go ahead, use words like “identical” instead of “same” and “pips” instead of “dots.” You’ll be surprised at what the children will pick up on when you give them the chance!

kids stretching

Here is a fun favorite activity that I like to play indoors or outside.  You’ll find more ideas in the Activity Guide that comes with it.

Roll the Dice for Exercise

How to play:

  1. Sit children in a large circle.
  2. One child is chosen to roll the dice.
  3. Child with dice stands up and rolls the dice into the middle of the circle.
  4. The child identifies the activity to be performed and the number of times to perform the activity by counting the pips or stating the number shown on the die.
  5. All children in the circle stand up and perform the activity that is lead by the child who rolled the dice.  All the children are to count as they perform the movement.
  6. When finished, the child who had rolled the dice gives it to another child who continues the game by rolling the dice and leading the group in the movement activity that is shown on the movement die and counting the number of times they are to do the activity (as shown on the number die).
  7. The game ends when every child has had a chance to “Roll the Dice for Exercise.”

Suggestions & Variations:

  • If the child who rolled the die has difficulty counting, let the group count the dots or pips out loud on the number die, as the child points to them.
  • Take pictures of the children doing a favorite movement activity (i.e., jumping jacks, jogging in place, etc.) and adhere it to a blank card.  This personalizes it to the group of children in your classroom.
  • This activity is also a great one to use when children are in transition –i.e., waiting for the bus or their group’s turn, etc.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes:

  1. Physical activity: any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure
  2. Gross motor skills: using the large muscles of the arms, legs and trunk
  3. Cooperative play: games and activities that the participants play together rather than against one another
  4. Listening skills: ability to follow verbal directions
  5. Language development: speaking, communicating
  6. Mathematics: number sense of quantity and counting; one-to-one correspondence
  7. Social emotional development: taking turns; promotes children’s self-esteem and confidence

Get active, get moving, get healthy…and start rolling the Excellerations™ Get Up and Go! Dice.  Everyone will be a winner!

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything!

I’m putting together a list of “Books That Move You” for an upcoming presentation I will be doing for the California Library Association State Conference in November (I’ll make sure to share that list in a future post).  The title of this blog is the title of a really great and interactive book I’ve read to my preschoolers every October.  It’s become a Halloween classic, though the word “Halloween” never even enters the text.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, by Linda Williams and illustrated by Megan Lloyd is about a little old lady who goes out into the woods to get some herbs, spices, nuts and seeds, but stays out until nightfall. Walking home she meets a pair of shoes that go CLOMP! CLOMP!  “Get out of my way, you two big shoes! I’m not afraid of you,” she said.  She kept on walking down the path, but the shoes clomp-clomped behind her. She meets more clothing: a pair of pants that go WIGGLE, WIGGLE, a shirt that goes SHAKE, SHAKE, two gloves that go CLAP, CLAP, and a hat that went NOD, NOD. She tells each one “Get out of my way! I’m not afraid of you,” but they all follow her, making their noises.  When she got near her cottage, the Little Old Lady encounters a very huge, very scary pumpkin head that goes BOO! BOO! The Little Old Lady runs home, hearing all those sounds behind her.  When she’s back inside her cottage, a KNOCK, KNOCK, challenges her to open her door. Again, the shoes, pants, shirt, gloves, hat and pumpkin head try to scare her.  When she bravely proclaimed, “You can’t scare me,” the unhappy pumpkin head asks, “What shall become of us?”  But she had an idea.  The little old lady gives them all something useful to do.  She found a place for them in her garden, as a scarecrow, where they could scare all the birds away.

Students can participate in the reading by getting up and moving to the words. I encourage them to:

“Stomp their feet” like the two shoes that went CLOMP, CLOMP

“Wiggle their legs” like the pair of pants that went WIGGLE, WIGGLE

“Shake their shoulders” like the shirt that went SHAKE, SHAKE

“Clap their hands” like the two gloves that went CLAP, CLAP

“Move their head up and down” like the hat that went NOD, NOD

“Say “Boo, Boo!”” like the scary pumpkin head that went BOO, BOO!

We also act this out as a play with used children’s clothes that I find at the local thrift shop–a pair of hiking boots, a white shirt, a black top hat, a pair of white gloves and a plastic Halloween trick or treat pumpkin (jack-o-lantern) bucket. Don’t forget the little old lady props–a hat, shawl, apron, and a small basket with a handle.  Each of the seven children in the play gets the appropriate prop(s) for their part.  The remainder of the children in the group who are not in the play, but watching the play, participate by chanting and acting out the story with their body parts. The little old lady dresses up in her clothes.  The child who is the pair of shoes, holds the small pair of hiking boots (one in each hand) and stomps them on the ground when he hears his part CLOMP, CLOMP; the child who is the pair of pants holds the pants with two hands and WIGGLE, WIGGLES them from side to side; the child who is the shirt holds the shirt with two hands and SHAKE, SHAKES it up and down; the child who is the pair of gloves puts them on his hands and claps them together when he hears his part CLAP, CLAP; the child who is the hat puts it on his head and moves his head up and down with a NOD, NOD; the child who is the pumpkin head holds the jack-o-lantern bucket and moves it back and forth in front of his face saying, BOO, BOO!  In the story when the little old lady is sleeping (actor who is little old lady pretends to sleep), the children place the items on a children’s coat rack or clothes tree to make the scarecrow.  If you do not have a small clothes tree (I used one I had in the Dramatic Play Area), lay the clothing on the floor to make the scarecrow.

The children love this story and can’t wait to have a part in the play.  We read it over and over again. It is both scary and fun!  The text has lots of repetition and sounds/actions, making it a perfect cumulative story for an interactive read-aloud.

The Mirror Game!

sharron mirror game 1

Why It’s a Great Game!

Objectives & Learning Outcomes

Social Emotional Development:

  • Learning to cooperate
  • Accepting others’ ideas
  • Taking turns

Cognitive Development:

  • Replicating physically what the eyes see (developing visual sensitivity to change)
  • Developing focus, attention, and concentration
  • Learning about the concept of mirror reflection

Physical Development:

  • Practicing a variety of nonlocomotor movements
  • Developing spatial awareness (an awareness of space, relative distance, and relationships with space–experiencing personal space)

sharron mirror game 2

How to Play

Set Up and Materials

  • Available indoor or outdoor space
  • Children paired up and scattered in the space
  • Music
  • If desired, demonstrate the concept of reflection using a mirror

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Directions

  1. Partners face each other at arm’s distance apart.
  2. Ask one child to be the “leader” and perform simple movements in place and his partner (the second child) to imitate the leader as a mirror reflection.  For example, if the leader  waves his right arm, the “mirror” waves his left arm in the same way, duplicating the movement as if he is looking into a mirror.
  3. Start the music–fast or slow.  The use of slow background music might help keep the partners moving slowly at first.
  4. Go from simple (only one body part moving) to complex (more than one body part moving at the same time).
  5. When the music stops, partners change roles, with the leader becoming the mirror and the mirror becoming the leader.

Suggestions & Variations

  • Children will mirror better if they watch each other’s eyes rather than extremities.
  • Ask the leader to move slowly enough so the mirror can follow.
  • Have the players do the activity while sitting.
  • Combine the activity with streamers or scarves.

sharron mirror game 4

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Rainbow Dancing Wrist Bands (RNBW)
Juggling Scarves (JUGGLE)
Daily Fitness 4 CD Set (MOVEMENT)
Circle Time Fun Set – 3 CDs (CTIMEFUN)
Hamilton™ AM/FM CD Player (BOOMBOX)
Look At Me Mirror Kit (LOOKATME)

Physical Activity for Children with Special Needs

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A child with special needs is one who requires some form of special care due to physical, mental, emotional or health reasons. Children with special needs are also commonly referred to as children with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a child with a disability more specifically as one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits the child’s ability to care for herself or himself, perform manual tasks, or engage in any other “major life activity,” such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, or learning, in an age-appropriate manner.

Children with disabilities are more similar than different from other children.  Avoid becoming too focused on a child’s disability.  Treat each child as a whole person.  Every child needs to feel successful and capable. Children with Aspergers, autism or attention deficit hyperactive disorder often have the uncontrollable need to move and physical activity can help them learn to do so appropriately.  Most young children need to and want to move frequently and all children benefit while promoting physical fitness (muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility), developing motor skills  (run, jump, hop, walk, gallop, skip, throw, catch, kick, bounce, strike, stretch, bend, twist, turn, balance), improving coordination, and building self-confidence.  The ways you include a child with physical differences or impairments will benefit all the children in your care.  Here are some strategies for inclusion.

  • Modify the environment
  • Modify the task for the individual
  • Use safe, soft objects
  • Simplify instructions
  • Give visual, oral, and kinesthetic cues
  • Provide plenty of repetition
  • Have role models
  • Use communication systems
  • Eliminate elimination games
  • Minimize waiting time

The primary reason that children participate in active play is to have fun, and the key reason they quit is a lack of fun.  With that being said, here is an activity that everyone can get in on the fun!

 Constructors & Destroyers

What:

20-30 Colored Cones
Portable iPod/CD Player
Music Suggestions: Taking Care of Business by Randy Bachman, Barefootin’ by Jimmy Buffett, Footloose by Kenny Loggins

Where:

Outdoor space (grass area or playground, etc.) or large indoor space (gym, multi-purpose room, etc.)

Who:

Children who want to move and play!

How:

  1. Set up the cones randomly spaced about 4-6 feet from each other.
  2. Knock over about one-third of those cones.  Space out those that are upright and those that are on their side.
  3. Organize the children into two groups.  One group is designated as the Constructors and the other group is designated as the Destroyers.  It is better to have a few more Constructors than Destroyers!
  4. The Constructors “job” is to stand up all the cones that were knocked over.
  5. The Destroyers “job” is to GENTLY tip over the cones that are standing up.  Make sure to remind the children to be gentle and only use the palms of their hands to touch the cones.  No kicking or throwing of the cones is allowed.
  6. The game begins (players move through the space doing their job) when the music starts and ends when the music stops.
  7. When the music stops, begin the game again but this time let the Constructors be Destroyers and Destroyers become the Constructors.

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Colored Cones – set of 10 (SETC – $16.99)
Hamilton® AM/FM, CD and MP3 Player (BEATBOX – $158.99)

Pop-Up Puppets = Hands-On Learning!

I have been using Discount School Supply’s Counting Pop-Up Puppets with great success in introducing math and science concepts, supporting literacy skills and dramatic play, as well as promoting movement and physical activity.  This set of 5 hand puppets include: 1 flower in a flowerpot, 2 penguins on an iceberg, 3 birds in a nest, 4 ladybugs on a leaf, and 5 green and speckled frogs on an old brown log.  Each puppet has a flap with the numeral under it matching the number of items on the glove, i.e. the numeral 3 is under the flap of the 3 birds in the nest.  Using the 5 puppets helps you teach numbers 1-5, one-to-one correspondence, numeral recognition, ordering and matching, addition and subtraction. Reinforce ordinal numbers by asking the children which puppet is first, last; first, second, third.  Cardinality is addressed when the last number named is the quantity of object counted–tells “how many.”  Life science includes the study of plants and animals and the puppets show their habitats.  I’ve listed below an activity–song, dramatic play, dance, movement–to use with each puppet.  Let the children put the puppets on their hands and stage a play!  Puppets are a great tool to use in engaging children in the learning process.

 

The Little Flower (1 Flower)
In the heart of a seed,
Buried deep so deep,
A tiny flower
Lay fast asleep.
“Wake,” said the sunshine,
“And creep to the light.”
“Wake,” said the voice
Of the raindrops bright.
The little flower heard
And it rose to see,
What the wonderful,
Outside world might be.

Act out this poem by having the children crouch down low to the floor and pretend they are seeds sleeping.  Then encourage them to stand up slowly until they are fully extended as the seeds sprouted (with the help of the sun and the rain) to become beautiful flowers.

Penguin Dance Chant by Jack Hartmann (2 Penguins)

Chorus:
Have you ever seen a penguin come to tea
When you look at me a penguin you will see
Penguins attention, penguins begin

Right flipper (move right arm up and down)
(Chorus)
Right flipper, Left flipper (move right and left arm up and down)
(Chorus)
Right flipper, Left flipper, Right leg
(Chorus)
Right flipper, Left flipper, Right leg, Left leg
(Chorus)
Right flipper, Left flipper, Right leg, Left leg, Head
Chorus
Right flipper, Left flipper, Right leg, Left leg, Head, Turn around
(Chorus)
Right flipper, Left flipper, Right leg, Left leg, Head, Turn around, Penguin sound (caw, caw, caw, caw, caw)
(Chorus)

Penguins Attention!

Little Birdies Song (3 Blue Birds)
Way up in the sky (jump high)
The little birds fly (flap arms)
While down in the nest (form nest with arms)
The little birds rest (hands next to head like napping)
Shhh! They’re sleeping. (stage whisper shh! say quietly they’re sleeping)
With a wing on the left (fold left arm under)
And a wing on the right (fold right arm under)
The little birds sleep (hands next to head like napping)
All through the night.
Shhh! They’re sleeping. (stage whisper shh! say quietly they’re sleeping)
The BRIGHT SUN COMES UP! (yell it out and jump high with arms above head)
The dew goes away (hands like banging on a keyboard)
Good morning, good morning, the little birds say (raise arms up and down)

Four Red Ladybugs (4 Ladybugs)
Four red ladybugs sitting on a leaf.
They sit on a leaf on a tree.
And as they sit on that little green leaf,
There are so many friends to see!
With puppet on hand, point or “fly around” to all the children and say each one’s name…
“I see Jack, and Sophia, and Mark, and Sally…”
When the child hears their name they wave their hand in greeting.

Five Green and Speckled Frogs (5 Green Frogs)
Five green and speckled frogs,
Sitting on an old brown log,
Eating some most delicious bugs — YUM! YUM!
One jumped into the pool,
Where it was nice and cool,
Then there are four green and speckled frogs. RIBBITT! RIBBITT! RIBBITT! RIBBITT!
Continue count down until…
Now there are no green and speckled frogs.