Thursday, February 7, 2013

Melted Crayon Valentine's Day Cards

Because of an abundance of broken crayons in the resource room at work and after friendly encouragement from the resource room manager to do something with those crayons I decided to make melted crayons and give them away as gifts to my students for Valentine's Day.  Easy enough, right?

With a large bucket of broken crayons in hand and a mold with 15 small hearts on it (given to me by a co-worker) I got to work.  Let me just say that if you have never sat and peeled crayons it is a very tedious project that requires lots of patience and more time than you might plan for that activity but oddly, a mind settling activity that I whole heatedly embraced.

Once I peeled a sufficient amount of crayons I set out on the task of breaking them into small pieces to fit into the small hearts on the mold.  Breaking them one at a time was going to take way too long so I chopped them up using a bread knife.  This knife has a serrated edge and is flat so it worked best with the crayons (yes, I tried all of my that you wouldn't have to).  I cut them into small pieces a few crayons at a time.  Again, not hard but definitely took longer than I thought it would.   At this point I was committed to the task and wanted to see the project through to fruition!  After all, I had a vision of a Valentine's Day card that was full of love and inspired creativity!

I put them in the oven at 250 degrees for 5 minutes.  The crayons were not quite melted all the way.  So, I left them in for another five minutes.  Ding!  Pulled them out, let them cool and tried peeling them out of the mold.  To my dismay they stuck to the mold!  Boo!  I generously sprayed it with Pam, used a very low temp on the oven but it was obvious the mold was not going to make it for another batch.  I salvaged the crayons and they do look very cute but I needed to make 31 crayons for my preschool students and 24 crayons for my son's Kindergarten class.  That's a whole lot of melted crayons!

So...I did some research and went to the craft store in search of a new mold.  Come to find out, the heart shape mold is actually a rubber ice cube tray that is NOT OVEN SAFE.  Well, that solves the mystery of the mold sticking to the crayons.  I ended up purchasing a 24-Cavity Silicone Brownie Squares Baking Mold by Wilton, which is oven safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The mold worked like a charm and it was easy sailing from then on out!  I made 3 batches in a matter of an hour.  I baked the crayons in the mold on a cookie sheet at 250 for 10 minutes and then cooled them in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.  They easily popped right out of the mold and were ready for mounting onto the Valentine's Day cards.

I used a free template I found at for the Valentine's Day card and printed them off on vanilla card stock in color.  Here is the link to the template:

I used foam adhesive circles to attach the melted crayon to the card stock.

 Here is the final product!  Hope you love it and have learned from my mistakes so you can make awesome, colorful melted crayon Valentine's Day cards for your special little people too!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter Theme Snowman Exploration

Science & Sensory

Our exploration of melting snowmen began with snow dough.  Each child was given a container of baking soda and shaving cream, a polar animal (which acted as a transitional tool for those not wanting to get their hands too messy), and a small bowl of materials for building a snowman should they choose to make one.  I used small pieces of brown & orange pipe cleaners for the arms and carrot nose, miscellaneous buttons, and fabric for a scarf.

The purpose of this activity is mostly science and sensory but can be considered creative art as well.  The children were immediately interested in the materials upon arriving and cautiously explored the ingredients in the container until Miss Niki (that's me) came over and got messy and mixed it all together and squished it, mashed it, and talked about how it felt.  Then...the fun began!  I did not pre-mix the ingredients in the containers so that the children could explore taking two ingredients and mixing them together to form a new texture and material.  I also did not tell the children what to do with the materials, I simply guided exploration by talking about what I was doing then left the rest up to them.  This activity was available throughout the day and children revisited often.  Here are a few pictures of the project for inspiration!

Music & Movement
At circle time we practiced a new snowman song with the actions that follow.  The children love the rhyme and repetition as well as the gross motor movements.  I love that it helps the children practice their counting skills from one to five!  Here is the song with a link back to the original source:

Five little snowmen sitting on the ground, (stomp feet on floor) 
The first one said; 'oh my aren't we round' (make circle with arms) 
The second one said; "'there are snowflakes in the air"(point and wiggle fingers) 
The third one said; "but we don't care." (shrug shoulders) 
The fourth one said; "lets run and run and run. (Run in place) 
The fifth one said; "I'm ready for some fun." (Smile Big) 
Whew went the wind (blow) and out came the sun (point) 
And the five little snowman knew their fun was done. (Hang head sadly)

Language & Literacy
We explored the story Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner.  This is a very fun book which explores a child's idea of what snowmen do at night while he is sleeping after discovering his snowman in a droopy, dreary state in the morning after he built it.  We wrapped up the story by making pretend snow angels on the floor!

Creative Art

Creative Expression
To compliment this story we followed up with a melting snowman creative art project using clear contact paper, opal glitter, and construction paper snowman collage parts.  I set up stations for the children at the art table 
for the children to make their "melting" snowman.  Set the contact paper 
sticky side up on the table and provide each child with a selection of snowman collage materials.  Once the child is finished seal it with another piece of contact paper.  I hung ours from the window in the classroom to display.  The opal glitter looked a little pink hanging in the sun so you may want to use another material that is only white like clear glitter.  Don't use powder-like materials though or the contact paper won't seal properly.  

The children explored and learned about the properties of snow through the variety of multi-sensory activities that spanned across the curriculum.  

For more fun preschool ideas please visit my board on Pinterest and subscribe to my blog.    

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Meaningless Work of a Kindergartener

January 22, 2013

"Memorize these words but don’t ask me what they mean." 

Creativity needs to be nurtured & protected!
Spelling words: lad, fad, cad, tad, had, rad, mad, bad, sad, dad…Sentences to memorize and write: I am sad.  I see my mad dad.  Hard to be on board with my 6 year old son having to memorize a list of spelling words, learn their sounds, and write them over and over again so he can pass a test when 40% of these spelling words have absolutely NO meaning to him and teaching these meanings is not part of the curriculum. Also, what kind of message are those spelling word sentences sending to our children?  

It does not sit well with me, an early childhood educator, that my son and his classmates are administered tests which assess concepts that require the skill of independent reading and comprehension in order to know what is being asked when only two people know how to read in his class: the teacher, and one student who has been given the task of making sure the kids know what the questions on the test are and what they mean. This student is 6. At no point is any individual student asked to explain their answers to see why they answer the way that they do. If the answer does not match the key it is wrong and a sheet is printed out that simply gives a percent correct for that objective. This is totally ludicrous if you ask me. After one second spent with my non-reading child (other than beginning sight words and one syllable words) to assess his understanding I can see that he does indeed have a firm grasp of the concept of same and different.  However, he can't read the question himself to determine if he is to identify what is the same in the picture or what is different. And honestly, if he has to do one more meaningless, context-less ditto I think I'll cry for the sake of education.  

It is completely meaningless to me that my child has an overall grade of 88% on this “Accelerated Math” test because it is not a true reflection of what any child knows and certainly not any indication of whether or not the children understand the concepts being tested.  I am honestly more concerned with my child’s ability to learn math processes and solve problems by thinking of ways to reach a solution to a given problem rather than produce correct answers to pass a test and get a good grade.  Of course I agree that we need to teach children how to recognize letters and put sounds together to make words. However, words and sounds without meaning are just that, meaningless.  It is also important that children learn that some problems have only one correct answer such as 1 + 1 = 2, but I argue that children need to first learn how to do the problem and why it is done that way so that they can get the correct answer as a result of mastering the process involved in the concepts being taught.   

In this situation, grades no longer truly reflect what young children know and understand because they are solely based on Scantron type test results.  Children need to be assessed in a variety of ways to ensure that they are able to accurately communicate what they know.  While I don’t think that the teacher is necessarily the culprit in this problem, I acknowledge that she could do more to ensure and protect the learning process of the children in her class.  Rather, I look to the educational system, which requires this type of testing and results only evaluation of children’s learning.  

I say, stop drowning our kid’s days with context-less dittos and worksheets and start teaching kids how to learn and let them get involved in their learning.  In my experience working with young children, I know that children are curious by nature and have a desire to understand the world around them and be challenged to learn new things.  This is a natural part of childhood, which is being robbed from young children in this type of educational system.  How can we bring learning back to life in our public school system with this type of educational model?  How can we inspire lifelong learners who think critically and solve tomorrow’s problems with zest and enthusiasm when we are teaching from day one in Kindergarten that there is only one right answer to a problem and that the process of solving problems should be memorized instead of understood?  

I will take the time to teach my child the meaning of these words he has to memorize by Friday for his spelling test so that these words have some meaning and purpose and can be used again someday.  However, I will not encourage him to memorize sentences with such negative messages and will ask the teacher to reconsider the selection to reflect more positive thinking about one’s self and their dad’s.  In addition, I will be assessing my child’s understanding of required concepts and providing him with real world, concrete opportunities to apply those concepts so that they too have a purpose and meaning beyond this week’s spelling and Accelerated Math tests.  At a ripe age of six years old, after spending almost 6 hours at school each day, you can imagine that having to come home and do more meaningless work is not on the top of my Kindergartner's list.  However, after we "get through" the homework dittos (after all he needs to have a healthy respect for responsibility) I will begin to ensure that my child learns how and why he does what he does at school each day and to turn that into a real working knowledge with purpose and meaning.  It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.  And until I can do more than that which I have committed to do after he gets home from school, my attempts to bring meaning to his education will have to suffice for now.  I don’t want my child to “get through” school.  I want my child be actively engaged in his learning process, develop working knowledge, and enjoy the gift of education.  Is that so much to ask?