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)

Rubber Duckie, You’re Number One!

Rubber Duckie, you’re the one, You make bathtime lots of fun,
Rubber Duckie, I’m awfully fond of you…

Whether you spell it “Ducky” or “Duckie” (as in the Sesame Street song), the rubber duck squeaked in to become a 2013 inductee into the Toy Hall of Fame (along with the ancient game of chess).  Officials at the National Toy Hall of Fame (located inside the The Strong—National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY) say anyone can nominate a toy and thousands of suggestions come in every year.  An internal committee of curators, educators and historians chooses the finalists and then a national selection committee votes for the winners.  Longevity is a key criterion for getting into the hall. Each toy must be widely recognized, foster learning, creativity or discovery through play, and endure in popularity over generations.

Rubber ducks have been recognized as the quintessential bathtub toy since 1970 when Ernie, the cheerful orange Muppet on Sesame Street, first sang the catchy ditty “Rubber Duckie” to his best bath buddy. The song rose to number 16 on Billboard’s chart of hit tunes and, 43 years later, kids still sing the praises of their water play pals.

Not only the bathtub but the water table is a natural place for rubber ducks to reside.  Excellerations™ Letter Learning Ducks from Discount School Supply® are a great play prop addition.  The product includes:

  • 26 plastic ducks—each with an upper and lowercase alphabet letter on the bottom
  • 26 alphabet duck-shaped cards—each with an upper and lowercase alphabet letter on one side of the card and a corresponding picture that begins with that letter on the opposite side
  • Mesh drawstring bag to store ducks
  • Activity guide filled with great game ideas for 2-7 year olds

Activity Ideas for 3-5 year olds

  • Fill the water table and place the Letter Learning Ducks in the water.  Encourage children to find the duck that has the first letter of their name.
  • Place the Alphabet Duck Cards on the floor or on a table with the letters facing up.  When a child finds the duck with the matching letter, have him place the duck next to the matching alphabet card.  After everything is matched, sing the alphabet song together.
  • Add some no tears bubble bath soap to the water and have the children stir up some bubble bath fun for the rubber ducks.

Objectives & Learning Outcomes

Physical Development:

  • Fine motor control—Muscle strength in the hands and fingers and coordination of the eyes and hands is promoted when children play with the ducks

Social & Emotional Development:

  • Playing cooperatively and sharing ducks
  • Explore social roles as they give the ducks a bath

Language Development:

  • Children discuss their observations and experimentation as they manipulate the ducks
  • Children expand their vocabularies as they learn words like sudsy, splash, bubble, pop

Cognitive Development:

  • Understand cause and effect relationships—predicting what will happen when soap is added to the water
  • Recognizing beginning letters in familiar words and names (preschool standard)
  • Matching words with the same beginning sounds (preschool standard)
  • Recognizing all upper and lowercase alphabet letters (kindergarten standard)

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Medium Best Value Sand and Water Activity Table (LWTAB)
Excellerations™ Letter Learning Ducks – set of 26 (LLDUCK)

Keep Cool! Ice Play In the Water Table

IceSculpture1

Materials Needed:
Ice—cubes, blocks, etc.
Table salt
Rock salt
Kosher salt (optional)
Eye droppers or pipettes
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ or food coloring (red, yellow, blue)
Sensory tub or water/sand table
Small containers/cups to hold the salt and coloring

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.
  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 Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ in tub.  Add a pipette or eye dropper to each cup.
  5. Have children sprinkle salt and rock salt on the ice shapes. Encourage them to add ice cubes to the larger ice shapes.  As the salt melts the ice, the ice cubes and ice pieces will stick to each other creating a unique “sculpture.”
  6. Children then use the pipettes to drop the Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ into the cracks and holes created by the rock salt and salt.
  7. Remember to take a photo of the ice sculpture before it melts away!

IceSculpture2

Learning Outcomes/Desired Results

  1. Cognitive Development–Science—Cause and Effect–as you discuss the chemical reaction that ice has when salt is sprinkled on it.  Salt lowers the freezing point of ice, causing it to melt.
  2. Cognitive Development–Science—Cause and Effect—solids transforming into liquids.
  3. Cognitive Development—Science—Cause and Effect—mixing primary colors  (red, yellow, blue) you make the secondary colors (orange, green, and purple).
  4. Physical Development—Fine Motor Skills—using small muscles (pincher grasp) in fingers to squeeze the bulb of the pipette or eye dropper and to pick up grains of salt and chunks of rock salt.
  5. Physical Development—Fine Motor Skills—hand-eye coordination—hands and eyes working together to accomplish a task—using fingers to manipulate pipette with color and squirting colors into salt crevices.
  6. Cognitive Development—Problem Solving and Critical Thinking—some children will have difficulty in figuring out how to get the color into the pipette 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.
  7. Language Development–Speaking–as children talk excitedly about what they see happening.
  8. Encourages creativity and persistence.
  9. Social/Emotional Development–is fostered as this is an open-ended activity with no right or wrong way to do this activity.  It promotes children’s self-esteem.

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ – set of 18 8 0z bottles (LW18)
Six Paint Cups in a Base (PNTCPS)
Super Safe Plastic Droppers (12SSD)
Plastic Eyedroppers – set of 12 (EYEDROP1)
Medium Best Value Sand & Water Activity Table (LWTAB)
Sand & Water Activity Tubs – set of 4 (TUBS)

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!