Preschool Ocean Learning Activity

My children are enthralled by the felt board that our children’s librarian uses each week during story time. So when I came across some colorful felt at the dollar store a couple weeks ago, I picked them up in hopes of creating some fun learning activities for our girls.

Inspiration struck when we were reading aloud the cheerfully illustrated Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins…. We could make felt ocean scenes!


I got out the felt pieces, scissors and a Sharpie, and before long I had made a basic felt ocean scene. For those of you who are more artistically talented than I am, you could let your imagination run wild in creating a more elaborate ocean scene!


After showing my daughters the felt ocean cutouts, they had a bit of free play with them. My preschooler said, “Mom, look how these stick! What makes them stick? There’s no glue.” And my two-year old said, “So cool!”


Then we sat at the table together to re-read the book Hooray for Fish! The girls each had their own ocean felt scene in front of them. At 3 points, I used the text to interact with the felt pieces together:

  1. “Shy fish” – we hid our felt fish behind the seaweed
  2. “Upside down” – we made all of our fish swim upside down, too! (this elicited lots of laughs)
  3. “Kiss, kiss, kiss” – we made our mommy and baby fish kiss

We read the book and used our ocean scenes multiple times because my children got such a kick out of it. For the rest of the day, my preschooler repeatedly pulled out her ocean felt scene and re-enacted the story from the book. That made me smile. 🙂

So check out the book today and create your own ocean scene!

Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten

Veterans Day Read-Aloud

As Veterans Day approaches on November 11th in the States, I consider the many people in my own life who have served our country. My father, both grandfathers, paternal grandmother (a Marine in the late 1950s!) and numerous uncles are veterans. One of my cousins is still actively serving abroad while his brother recently ended his time in the army and is in the police academy. A dear friend’s husband served two long tours in Kuwait and Afghanistan at the peak of the war initiated by terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Simply writing this out is a sobering reality of the world we live in and the sacrifices people make to defend freedom. My husband and I have had deep conversations about the tension between the Biblical command to love your enemy and the need to take a stance against evil. Even the thought of pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer participating in a secret plot to assassinate Hitler causes conflicting feelings within me.

Regardless of my shifting feelings as I consider these issues – and whatever your personal stance on the military – I strongly believe that veterans and those choosing to serve our country deserve our respect. And the book Brave Like Me by Barbara Kerley wonderfully and tactfully explains the feelings and thoughts of children who miss their parents while they are gone, ranging from fear to sadness to anger. If you know a child whose parent is actively serving in the military, I believe this will book be a helpful resource for you.

Note: Many of the stunning and touching photos for the book are of real military families and there is one photo of active-duty soldiers with weapons. Please use take a look at the book in advance to determine whether or not the images are appropriate for you classroom or family use.

Best Ages: kindergarten & up

The Influence of Parents and Teachers

Parents and teachers have an enormous influence on the lives of children – and some people overlap these roles as homeschooling parents. (Kudos to those of you who are doing or have done this!)

When my children and I recently read the book Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist by Lois Ehlert, I thought again of the powerful influence parents have on a child’s life. The author/illustrator shares from a child’s perspective how her own parents encouraged her to grow in her artistic talents, going so far as setting up a table for her in her mother’s sewing area so that Lois would have a place to complete her own projects (a lovely example of encouragement that ties to my previous post Encouraging Your Child’s Abilities). Lois also beautifully describes how she witnessed her parents using their hands to create, cultivate and care for their home and world. Their own modeling of creating and support for Lois’ budding talent is inspiring.

My children loved the outstanding illustrations of this book with unique page layouts. (Lois Ehlert has received the Caldecott Honor for illustrating other children’s books.) I hope that you are able to check out Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist and see the pictures and pages for yourself!

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Think of what your family does with their hands. From raking leaves to baking, find an activity to do tighter with your child this week. Remind him/her of the book Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist and discuss what you used your hands to create together.

For Teachers:

  • Using fabric scraps or felt, cut out gloves like the illustrated pages in the book. Allow students to decorate their gloves. Point out that they are using their hands right now to create! (Coordinate with the art teacher for materials or reach out to parents for donations if necessary.)
  • Show students this wonderful video interview with the author/illustrator, Lois Ehlert.

Learning About Rainforest Animals

As I’ve written previously, my children love animals of any kind and are very interested in rainforest animals. They thoroughly enjoyed reading the book Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme by Marianne Berkes. In particular, they liked finding the 10 different animals in a two-page spread at the end of the book. Personally, I was amazed by the bright illustrations consisting of detailed artwork formed with polymer clay and later photographed for the book.

A bonus to this book is the pages of information at the back of the book about the size of animal families, the rainforest community and details regarding each of the 10 animals featured in the story line. A great resource for parents and educators!

For further rainforest/jungle reading, check out my earlier post titled Rainforest Exploration!

You may also be interested in my post on Over in the Meadowwhich provided the inspiration for this book.

Happy reading! 🙂

Best Ages: pre-k to 1st grade

Activity Ideas:

  • One of the lesser-known animals included in Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme is the omelet. Visit the National Geographic Kids website to learn more about ocelots! You can also vote on where you’d like to see a large cat and watch a video of an ocelot on the hunt.
  • Print out and color in these (free!) realistic printables of rainforest wildlife.
  • Go online to explore the rainforest through the interactive children’s activities found on the Rainforest Alliance’s website.
  • Practice counting to 10 by writing out the numbers 1-10 on a brightly colored paper. Allow your child/students to use stickers or dot markers to mark next to the numeral.

Animal Hibernation

Isn’t it fascinating that animals are able to hibernate for weeks on end, sleeping through the coldest and most miserable weather? Depending upon where you live, you might wish for this ability sometimes!

My daughters and I have found a book illustrated with muted oil paintings that display the wonders of nature throughout the seasons, focusing on when bears hibernate for the winter. David Martin’s Shh! Bears Sleeping is a recent favorite read-aloud in our house! While reading it, my preschooler interrupted me at one point to say, “Those words rhyme – bees, trees.” I was so proud of her for recognizing that when I hadn’t pointed it out to her! The rhyming text found in this book is a great addition to a rhyming or poetry exploration in class.

I hope that you and your child/students are able to enjoy this book as fall deepens and winter approaches.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Point out rhyming words in the text. Chant with your child pairs of rhyming words from the text (“Day, play, those words rhyme!”)
  • For young children, play the video and song “Where is bear?”

For Teachers:

  • Explain what hibernation is to students. If desired, refer to the information in the back of the book.
  • Have a “hibernation” walk with students in your classroom. Print off pictures of 10 hibernating animals on the outside of a flap, then tape the name of the animal underneath. See if students are able to guess all 10 animals based on their picture. Did they already know that these animals hibernate?
  • Play The Learning Station’s “Science Song”  that includes information about hibernation as well as migration, evaporation and metamorphisis. (Stop at 1:47 if you only want to cover hibernation.)


5 Benefits of Reading Aloud

There are so many wonderful benefits of reading aloud to your children when they are young. Of the many benefits I’ve considered over the years as an educator and a parent, here are my top 5 benefits of reading aloud (in no particular order):

  1. Bonding. Snuggling up with your little one to read aloud can provide loving physical touch, the joy and security of hearing your voice and simply having some time in the day to be together!
  2. Increased communication skills. Reading aloud helps children acquire vocabulary, learn sentence structure and practice listening. They will also begin to comprehend cause and effect, sequencing and dialogue.
  3. New experiences. Selecting a variety of books helps you to expose your child to different concepts, cultures, places and more. (Click the “Follow” button on the right side to receive emails of the latest Sunshine Readers posts for some fresh reads!)
  4. Fundamentals for literacy. Reading the title, turning the pages and saying “The End” when you finish, will teach your child the consistent order of reading a book. You can also follow along with your finger as you read to teach your child that text goes from left to right in English.
  5. The desire to read. When you read with your child, you show your desire to read and begin to build a desire for them to read! Regularly visiting the library can be an easy and fun way to pick out books together to read at home.

Your child will hopefully develop a long-term love of reading and learning if it is built in from the start. Not quite in the habit of reading aloud with your child? You can start today! For ideas on board books to read with your baby or toddler, check out my recent post 12 Must-Read Board Books. For a fun picture book read-aloud, check out The Watermelon Seed or Everybody Loves Bacon.

For those of you who are already in this habit, please take a moment to share the benefits YOU experience from reading aloud. 🙂

Musical Styles & Instruments

Music is such an integral part of each culture across time and place. It has been called the “language of the soul” and for the hearing world, music can communicate beyond spoken words. Music and innate musical ability is prominent enough that developmental psychologist Howard Gardner considers it to be 1 of 9 multiple intelligences outlined in his theory of the unique abilities each individual has at birth.

I look back fondly on my days playing in middle school and high school band – even one semester of university band. Being involved in music for eight years rounded out my educational experience and allowed me to develop wonderful friendships with other music students. Participating in concerts, competition festivals and other events gave me perspective on how to perform publicly and appreciate other performances as a member of the audience.

One of my hopes for my children is to allow them to experience various musical styles and instruments as they are growing up. My husband and I plan to start our children in piano lessons around the time they start kindergarten as a gateway to understanding and appreciating music.

And we recently found a terrific book to expose children to many styles of music and instruments: My Family Plays Music by Judy Cox. The child and narrator of the story shares how each of her family members play a specific genre of music, and the percussion instrument she enjoys playing with them when she listens. My preschooler really likes this story! It also has bright and colorful illustrations. I highly recommend it to parents and teachers.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Is there anyone in your family who plays music? (Or do you?) Ask that person to play something for your child and perhaps allow them to hold or play the instrument.
  • Play a few of your favorite songs for your child. Dance together or listen to it while you play. Ask what your child thinks of that style of music.
  • Print off and color in the instruments you saw in the book or that most interested your child. Listen to the instrument at this wonderful children’s music site.

For Teachers:

  • Arrange for a staff member or parent to visit your class and play a musical instrument. Remind students of best listening practices (body is still, eyes are watching, mouth is closed, ears are listening).
  • Make copies of musical instrument printables and allow students to choose one that they liked most in the book. Ask volunteers to share which ones they liked best, then listen to each instrument they colored in at this wonderful children’s music site.
  • Set up a percussion instrument learning center. Coordinate with the music teacher in your school or other staff members to borrow items such as mini cymbals, maracas, wood blocks, and more. Add other music books from the school or classroom library for students to peruse.

My First Little House Books

Generations of families have enjoyed reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I grew up reading these books and also watching the re-runs of the television show starring Michael Landon. I still re-read the series once a year and the older I get, the more I appreciate the hard work and family values the Ingalls maintained. As my husband and I have moved 6 times in 7 years of marriage, I also value grace and strength the mother, Caroline Ingalls, displayed as she helped smooth the transitions from one place to another for her children.

If you also grew up reading and/or watching the show, or if you are interested in United States history, the “My First Little House Books” will be a wonderful addition to your child’s, classroom or family reading list. These books provide a perspective of life in a less modernized time and show children that there are some basic similarities among children and families across history.

Our favorite picture book in this adapted series for young readers is Summertime in the Big Woods. It shows the many activities Laura and her family enjoyed during the summer seasons including playing with friends who visit, feeding farm animals and making cheese with their mother. We have also enjoyed reading Dance at Grandpa’s and Going to Town.

Best Ages: pre-k to 2nd Grade

For Parents:

  • Have a conversation about with your child about how you have experienced similar activities to the ones Laura describes in the book. How are things similar and how are they different because of the time period we live in?
  • Find Wisconsin on a map and then find where your family lives. Laura’s family traveled by foot or horse and wagon. How would you travel from your home to Wisconsin today?

For Teachers:

  • Create a T-chart with “Laura’s Life” and “Our Life.” Ask students to describe what they recall from the book that occurred during Laura’s life. Then ask what they do for fun, transportation, obtaining food, etc. (Depending on which book in the series you read.) Compare and contrast.
  • Use a map to find all the places where Laura lived throughout her lifetime. Have students color in the states on a blank map of the U.S.

Poetry for Children

I have always loved to read many genres but poetry has often intimidated me. In all honesty, poetry can also make me feel uncomfortable.

But as an adult, I started to dip my toe into poetry. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I started with two anthologies: Poems that Touch the Heart (compiled by A.L. Alexander) and From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology Across the Americas, 1900-2002 (edited by Ishmael Reed). If I got confused by a poem, I moved on to another. And I enjoyed making connections to many of the poems I read. I will admit that poetry is still not my true love, but I do have more appreciation for it now.

As I grew into poetry, I began to look for poetry or lyrical language in children’s literature. When I found good examples, I shared them with my students. Now, as a stay at home mom, I share those examples with my children as we read together. They are too young to understand the difference between poetry and prose, but I hope that poetry will be more accessible and enjoyable to them as they grow older.

If you would like to start reading some poetic literature with your children or students, I recommend Rise the Moon by Eileen Spinelli. This whimsical bedtime story describes in poetic form how various people in a town take delight in the moon’s appearance at night. My daughters loved the illustrations, too! This is a great bedtime read-aloud but could also be incorporated in a simple science lesson on the lunar phases.

Best Ages: pre-k to 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Chant some of the words that rhyme in the poems that make up Rise the Moon. (Example: “Night, Light, those words rhyme!”)
  • Talk about what you do at bedtime in the evening. Look outside the window to see if the moon is visible tonight.

For Teachers:

  • Place sets of rhyming words on the board or in a word chart sorter for students to see. Practice reading and repeating each word. Then find the match of rhyming words (use examples from the book or other high-frequency words).
  • Check out and select an appropriate activity to teach the lunar phases to your child/students (here are  21 ideas!).

Mighty Dads

I believe that any time is a good time to show love and support for our dads and other wonderful male figures in our children’s lives. So when I saw the book Mighty Dads by Joan Holub at the library, I grabbed it!

Our oldest daughter has really loved reading Mighty Dads – and it has stayed at home for three weeks now without being returned to the library. (Hmm, that’s a good reminder to me to either renew it or make sure it goes back this week to avoid a fine!) Our loving girl has read it several times with Daddy and countless times to herself. The book shows heavy construction equipment in father-child pairs who work together, with the fathers striving to “keep them safe and bolted tight and show them how to build things right.”

The text is endearing and the illustrations are playful and bright. And I think that our family has proven that it is a good read for boys or girls. 😉

I got a kick out of hearing my daughter say, “There’s little Roller!” when we passed a crew smoothing out a new road in our area. She was referring to one of the characters in Mighty Dads, connecting what she read in a book to the real world. She has also talked with me about the special things she does with her own dad and what he helps her to do.

You may also like this fabulous book about the relationship between mother and child.

Best Ages: pre-k to 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Discuss the fun activities your child enjoys doing with Dad (or another special male figure). Plan an outing with that person sometime soon! It doesn’t have to be extravagant: our girls like daddy-daughter dates to the local bookstore, park, library and ice cream parlor.
  • Make a “Mighty Dad” banner/poster and decorate it together. Hang it up somewhere in the house to surprise Dad when he comes home or put in the car so he will see it when he leaves in the morning. Include photos, handprints or little notes of love depending on the age and number of children at home.
  • Print out and play with this free matching game for heavy equipment and trucks from Teachers Pay Teachers!

For Teachers:

  • After reading Mighty Dads, show photos of heavy equipment and ask students to identify how the equipment works to build something.
  • Play the Get Working Song from Terrific Trucks. It is rock-n-roll style with great visuals of construction vehicles at work.
  • Set up a construction vehicle learning station. Include toy trucks, dress-up items such as hard hats and this free matching game from Teachers Pay Teachers (easily laminated for long-term use).