Valentine’s Day Lego Challenge For Girls and Boys

lego challenge for girls Lego Challenges have become a great way for me to get a few minutes to check email while completely thrilling my daughter. She loves these simple challenges and for good reason, she is really good at it, and it gives her such confidence to complete the creations without any help. I love how deeply she concentrates and that I can do this with her pretty much anywhere in our house. She liked being close to me and I can set this up in the kitchen if I am prepping dinner like in this post, in the family room if I am reading or on my office floor if I am on a conference call. These are not only easy to set up they are fun, I love creating the shapes and don’t worry you don’t have to make specific items you can do super simple ones like these in our first Lego Challenge post. Here is how we made our Valentine’s Day Lego challenge for girls and boys.

Gather your materials. You will need some Lego bricks ( just make sure you have two of each that you need) , and some sort of tray to contain the bricks. I used a cookie sheet from the dollar store.

Sit down and create some shapes or you could do a pink heart, arrow, rose and red heart like I did for a Valentine’s Day theme. When I make these challenges I always make two exact items then take one apart to make sure I have all the right pieces.lego activities for girls

Pop all the guides and the pieces on a tray and invite your master builder to come and get challenged!

She dove right into the challenge! lego challenge for preschool heart

Challenges like these aren’t just great for fine motor skills and building confidence they are also working the same pathways as puzzles. valentine's day lego challenge buildKids tap into their spacial skills, Lego is a great way to build these skills that are used for daily tasks for our children like packing a lunch box and more far off endeavors like computer engineering and other STEM jobs they may one day have. It’s no surprise that we call my daughter our ” Little Engineer”. lego challenge roses

I loved to see how she lined her roses up to see if they were matching.

fini lego challenge pour sainte valentines

After she was done with the challenge she starting taking it apart to do it all again!

Chocolate Gluten Free Play Dough

gluten free chocolate play dough recipe

Cooking together is one of my daughter’s absolute favorite activities and the only thing that makes it better is to cook play dough we can play with after! This chocolate gluten free play dough recipe was a bit of an experiment because our tried and true Bisquick play dough recipe needs a microwave and we don’t have one. So we changed it a little and the end result was a yummy smelling , soft , and gluten free.  While we don’t have any issues with wheat or gluten many kids do so we wanted to create a fun and easy recipe for everyone.  After making the dough play with it – have some fun chocolate themed tools and materials ready to play.

gluten free playdough recipe

Gather your materials. You will need Gluten Free Bisquick, cooking oil, salt, unsweetened cocoa powder, and water. You will also need a cooking pot, spoon, and all your accessories for playing like some mini cupcake liners, sprinkles, a mini rolling pin, cookie cutters, and empty chocolate boxes.

Recipe :

1 1/2 cups of Gluten Free Bisquick
1/2 cup of salt
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of oil

gluten free playdough recipe for kids

Start by reading the recipe and measuring out the ingredients with your child. I can’t do this AND take her photo so we measured them out together and then she patiently waited for me to scurry around the island and grab my camera.

homemade gluten free playdough

Add the Bisquick, salt, and water together in the pot and let your child mix it until it’s thick. Add in the oil and cocoa powder.stiring play dough gluten free play dough

Pop it in the stove on medium low and mix. It’s ready to come off the stove when it forms into a ball.chocolate gluten free playdough

Time to knead it. We added a little more Bisquick and oil as we kneaded it. It smelled SO good!kneading play dough choclate factory

Then it was time time to play. chocolate gluten free play dough candy factoryShe made me some cookies, chocolates for Valentine’s Day, and more with the play dough SHE made. chocolate gluten free playdough recipe

What Do Teachers Do During Free Choice?

free choice in preschool
Facebook… sometimes Pinterest if the students are playing well.

I am kidding.

Yesterday I published a post listing some of my favorite free choice activities and it naturally lead me to wanting to share what exactly I { and other preschool teachers } do while our students are exploring. The most honest answer is it’s changes daily. I see free choice as the time for me to :

  • Connect with my students. If my students do not feel connected to me, to the class, or the school environment they won’t feel comfortable to explore. I try hard to connect to them by playing with them. Following their lead and addressing questions as they come up. Some days that might mean talking in depth about Elsa and Anna, about something going on at home, or their imaginary friends. All of this matters. No matter how silly it might be, follow along and get connected. Everything is easier with a connected class.
  • Work on specific learning goals. I work with students on developing literacy and math concepts , language… whatever skill it is that I have noticed they are in the midst of developing. Having a great co-teacher makes this much easier. Talk about what you have both noticed the children developing ” Did you see Suzie can count to 25?! ” When you share that info you can act on it. Now you can work on counting to 30 with Suzie while you play with pom poms in the sensory table… This is not high pressure learning. It takes time to get to know your students because this shouldn’t be quizzing, just scaffolding.
  • Work on supporting friendships and modeling social skills. The same way that you take note of your students learning you can also take time to observe their social development and work on specific goals for each child instead of only addressing social skills focused on the whole class.
  • Play because through play I can do the other three much better than through direct instruction.

So yes I do get to play when I go to work, no wonder I love it!

Here are some more specific examples of what you can do during free choice of you are a teacher or parent in the classroom:

Sitting with children playing play dough you might mention how the play dough feels on your hands, you might tell them that you are making pizza dough and ask them if they like pizza, you could make lots of small balls and squish each one while counting. You don’t need to tell the child what to do just model all different ways to use the material and offer opportunities to connect by learning more about each other.

At the sensory table you can fill up cups wondering out loud if you can fit two full cups of the filler into the bigger jar. You can say that you want all the yellow pom poms on this side and the red ones on the other and then wonder out loud how many there are.

At the kitchen area you can sit down at the play table and ask a child what they are cooking you or ask them what they feel like having for dinner.

If you notice the book nook being neglected sit down and start reading silently. I am not sure I have ever done this and not had a child land in my lap and ask me to start the book again.

These are just some examples that have popped into my head. The reality is that you don’t have to say anything 99% of the time. Start playing next to your students and the learning opportunities will flow. As a new teacher I always wanted to quiz and tell ” What color is that play dough you are using Johnny?” ” Yes it’s red.” or ” No, it’s red!” this isn’t an effective way to engage young kids. Let them explore and as you get to know them you will be able to work in some targeted learning goals naturally. Forcing it turns an engaging classroom into a quiz show and that’s not very inviting. My overall goal as a preschool teacher is to make school a safe and happy place to be. My classroom is one of my students’ first experiences with school and I want to make a lasting impression that learning is fun.

Now I ask all of you teachers and homeschooling parents – What do YOU do during free choice?

45 Great Free Choice Activities For Preschool { Use At Home Too }

free choice activities for preschoolWay back when my son was tiny and just starting preschool I was waiting to pick him up when another parent who wasn’t familiar with the class ( a co-op preschool ) was expressing their dismay about the amount of free choice time the 2 hour class had. ” They are just playing!” Well yes they are, but they are learning too. After spending some time in the class with the amazing teachers and parent volunteers he came to understand that learning through play at school isn’t the same as what they do at home although both are equally valuable.

In that class as well as my classroom { and many others) teachers carefully set up learning environments so that it’s fun, playful, and there are all different kinds of learning to try every time the children come to school. There are many great ways to parent and there are many great ways to teach but I thought today I would share with you some of my favorite free choice activities grouped in their areas of learning you can set up in your class or at home. I did many of these activities with my kids at home during my hiatus from teaching and they work wonderfully as activities at the kitchen table or family room floor.

I try hard to include all of these areas of learning every day. Some days we skip one area especially if their interest in another is high at the time, or we might have a science activity planned for outside and skip setting something out for free choice. Do what works for your class with the goal of hitting all areas most days. Above all else use your child’s or students’ interests and abilities to guide activities.

So what do teachers do during free play? I’ll tackle that question tomorrow!

 

Art

free choice activities for preschool

# 1 Cover a table with butcher paper and add one or more of the following :
crayons
markers
stamps and stamp pads
high lighters
stickers
band-aids

#2 Sticker mural like this Sticker Station

#3 Paint at the easel (if you are concerned about mess try watercolors)

#3 Chalk at the easel

#4 Chalk on black paper taped to a table

 

Fine Motor

cutting station

#5 Ripping paper ( cut scrap paper into strips and pop it in a bowl)

#6 Cutting Play dough with scissors ( play dough in general is great for fine motor and hand strength)

#7 Lacing Beads – big wooden ones for beginners, pipe cleaners and pony beads for older kids. Making cheerio or fruit loop towers is a wonderful option as well.

#8 Play dough with rolling pins they need to hold both sides to work.

#9 Buttons ( or other small treasures) hidden in play dough to find.

#10 Sorting with tongs or tweezers. We like to sort pom poms by color, and/or  size into egg cartons or other containers)

#11 Cutting station – my students loved cutting hay!

 

Gross Motor

homemade balance beam

#12 A small balance beam – you can make one like this.

#13 Sit and spin. This takes a lot of upper body strength.

#14 Tunnels to crawl through.

#15 Baby buggies, shopping carts, and strollers to push around the class.

 

Sensory

free choice activities for preschool

#16  Sensory Bin with contents that change with the theme or periodically. My favorites are dyed dried beans, corn meal, pom poms, ice, and kinetic sand. I love to use coffee scoops from the dollar store because they are perfect for little hands. We allow our students to add things to the sensory bin, the construction vehicles live in ours now.

#17  Play dough! It’s a bonus if your students can help you make it.  Add in things like :

  • cookie cutters
  • popscicle sticks
  • plastic knives
  • scissors
  • garlic press
  • stamps
  • big googly eyes
  • plastic animals to make tracks

#18  Texture Box – you can see how I made a simple one here.

#19 Musical instruments

Literacy

alphabet for starters

#20 Letter Magnets on magnetic board or cookie sheet. Children will sort them, find favorites, and count the letters.

#21 Letter fishing game.

#22 Letter matching tray activities like this leaf themed one.

#23 Play phones for children to “talk” to mom, dad, each other. My students order pizza for me a lot.

#24 Felt board with story pieces to encourage storytelling.

#25 Letter stamps/ letter cookie cutters with play dough. I always make sure to have my students initials available because they grab for those first.

#26 Paper / envelopes/ writing pads and writing utensils to write even if your students are years away from legible handwriting.

#27 Small chalkboards to write and draw with.

#28 Plexiglass document stands with dry erase markers.

 Math & Science

free choice activities

# 29 Shape, color, and size sorting trays like this one we made with butterflies or this matching activity with play dough.

#30 Discovery or sensory bottles to explore – these magnetic sensory bottles allowed for safe magnetic play during free choice in my class.

#31 Scoops and containers in the sensory table to prompt natural play with measurement.

#32 Shape puzzles like this easy DIY one.

#33 Number magnets & puzzles

#34 Nature table or tray with a magnifying glass to investigate. This nature table from Imagination Tree is wonderful.

Pretend Play & Practical Life

theme dress up

#35 Kitchen area ( I really think this is a must for all classrooms) with food and a table.

#36 Baby care area.

#37  Tool box / Tool bench

#38 Cash register to turn the play table into any kind of store.

#39 Puppets or plush toys.

#40 Dress up – No room for full costumes? Get a box for hats and accessories like gloves, necklaces, glasses, and goggles.

Block Play

free choice activities preschool

#41 Interlocking blocks with  simple pattern cards available like these.

#42 Wooden Blocks

#43 Trains ( love to combine these with blocks).

#44  Famous Buildings Book ( I am in the process of making this for my class! )

#45  Big Cardboard Blocks

 

The other thing that I haven’t included in this list but is paramount is the making sure that your students feel like they belong. Having students’ photo somewhere in the class where they can see it, having their art work displayed, and making sure that you have welcomed each child into the class helps the children feel more engaged and comfortable which benefits their play and learning.

What is YOUR favorite free choice activity?