On the way to preschool a few weeks ago my son and I got to talking about foreign species of animals and how destructive they are to the habitats they invade. In that rather complex conversation I realized my son knew a lot about habitats but there were some animals he simply said came from the zoo … it was time for some learning cloaked as a game. I finally got around to making this over the weekend and we had fun.
- Gather your materials. I used construction paper and scissors for the paper habitat mats I made, double stick tape and a glue stick. You will also need a marker and lots of animal toys. Some of ours are bath toys that weren’t all the way dry… oops.
- Start by cutting the sheets of construction paper in half , this size is perfect for the mats and then you can use the other half for the cut outs.
- Decide which habitats you will make. I decided on jungle, farm, antarctic, and forest because of the animals we had on hand. Remember to use the toys you have for learning, with some brain storming you can save money and play with all those extras that don’t get much use. My helper played with the animals while I brain stormed, with her goggles on of course.
- Create. I loved doing this. If you have older kids see if they want to create this for their younger sibling(s).
- Label them and call for someone to come play!
- With my five year old I let him sort and when he tried to put the raccoon in the jungle I asked ” Have you seen racoons around here? Do we live in the jungle?” and let him answer and adjust. Always ask why because sometimes they have a darn good reason that may only make sense to them but it will likely open up a teaching opportunity for you. Younger kids like my daughter can do an simplified version with only one mat and a simple yes or no sorting activity. I’d focus mostly on labeling the animals and their attributes at that age.
- After he sorted the rest I took some and placed them in the wrong place. Asking why a monkey couldn’t live in the antarctic, or why a whale wouldn’t enjoy swimming in the pond in a forest. This forced him to consider why animals live in specific places. We also touched on domestication and how farms and zoos are different. It was the best part of the lesson and wouldn’t have happened without the sorting game as an ice breaker.
The Next Step
These are my ideas for extending the activity for children who are ready for it . The next step for this would be to purposefully put an animal in the wrong habitat and ask your child to write down a list of things they would need to survive in the wrong habitat. For example a monkey in the antarctic would need warm clothing, fresh fruit delivered, a enclosure built off the ice, maybe even some snow boots! Let them make the list but make sure they answer why they need each item too!
A House for Hermit Crab is a book I have owned for many years. It offers so many learning opportunities for young readers and doesn’t loose any of the entertainment in trying to hard to teach. The hermit crab feels drab and each month he asks different sea creatures to help decorate his shell . As the shell is getting more and more beautiful it’s also getting more and more snug and almost time for the hermit crab to leave it behind and find a bigger one. The book teaches about sea creatures habitats, months of the year and moving. More than moving it teaches about change . Change is difficult for all of us but a little trickier for most preschoolers which makes this book so valuable.
I love rainbows. With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner rainbows have been popping up every time I sit down to brainstorm activities. This one was particularly fun because it used things I am cleaning out of my craft
dump closet , incorporates my son’s incredible love of pretend play ( he’s a garbage sorter) and most every preschooler’s desire to sort. You can do this in 2 parts sorting one day, making a rainbow the next or if I was still teaching I’d do this as a cooperative group project. My 4 year old did all the way up to putting the trash on then lost interest until I started putting some on and he ran back to the table saying he could do it better (is everything a competition in your house too? Sigh) so we did the gluing together.Make sure whatever materials you use that they are safe for the age/ ability of child you are doing this with.
- Gather your materials. You will need a large piece of paper ( I used a grocery bag cut open ), glue, scissors, colored pencils/markers , 7 small containers, small squares of paper in the colors of the rainbow, a mixed mess of “garbage ” -paper/ buttons/foam/plastic toys/ribbon in the colors of the rainbow.
- Start by putting the paper in the containers to sort the “garbage”
- Next fill a container up with all the “garbage”
- Start sorting.
- I was so pleased with how much he liked this part of the activity. It seemed to go on and on forever as he pretended to need a coffee break from his job at the garbage sorting factory. We are not short on imagination in this house.
- While he returned to work I made the rainbow with colored pencils.
- Time to add glue. We added two glue for a few colors at a time.
- Add the objects! We did this part together
- Add more glue.
- Add more objects.
- Let dry.
Duckie’s Rainbow by Frances Barry is a clever little book , you walk with her as she passes things like a yellow cornfield and blue pond until the pages above create a rainbow . I love the idea but reading it with my son ( who was 2 at the time) all he wanted to do was turn the pages as quickly as he could to make the rainbow. Not a big deal but this would make a better story time book then a bedtime one for that reason.
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Elhert is a wonderful book to use for teaching about flowers and colors. The illustrations are bold and bright, perfect for little curious minds. I have always liked this book because you can sit down and dive into it reading each flowers name on every page , or browse it more casually with a younger child simply noting the colors.
This project too complicated for your toddler? Yesterday in my Link &Learn weekly linky this awesome rainbow project from Toddler Approved was linked. When I saw it after writing this post I knew it would be a perfect link to share as an option for younger kids so I added it in .
I love using my son’s favorite toys for learning activities because he will incorporate the lessons into his every day play. This was one of his favorite activities of the year and we’ve made many versions of it, although this was the only time he rocked the headband while playing.
How do you use your children’s toys for learning?
I hate just recycling scrap wrapping paper after wrapping gifts. I’d much rather use it for crafts! I also like that this craft is a pretty fast one to set up and depending on your child’s abilities they can do this semi independently. I made lunch while my son did this , stopping only to take pictures and reign in his glue habit ( I would have used a glue stick if mine weren’t all dried up – must get some new ones). One other thing I’d do differently – I’d use a larger piece of paper ( or smaller trees) so you could also make the squares larger, the small ones were at some times tricky to match up.
- Gather your materials. You will need a large sheet of construction paper multiple scrap pieces of wrapping paper,a marker, scissors and glue.
- Start by cutting your wrapping paper into 3 different trees .
- cut the rest into square ‘gifts”
- Glue the trees onto the paper.
- Invite your child to sort and match!
- Glue them on. Like I said a glue stick would be ideal but white glue worked.
More Gift Wrap Crafts
There is no way I would have ever expected this game to be half as popular as it is with my son. He has always loved garbage and recycling, but he took what I thought would be a fun activity and made it something he uses with this other toys. Calling it his recycling depot he has plopped it down on our family room floor all weekend next to the lego fire station and ferry dock. Oh and he continues to sort and re sort the items too! He’s using his imagination, pre math skills and problem solving too!
- Gather your materials. You will need 2-3 containers, some card stock, magazines , scissors, and double stick tape.
- Start by cutting out different recyclable and non recyclable items. This is where they need to really stop and think . If you are doing this with a younger or easily frustrated kiddo do this step yourself and have the game ready for them to figure out. My son was reading when I did this step , it would have been too much for him to make and play the game.
- Tape them onto the card stock. I am using some of the 250 plus business cards that read notimeforflashcards,com <— did you catch the comma? I digress.
- Make simple recycle and garbage signs on some card stock and place in the containers.
- Ok time to play.
- Something I loved about this was how hard he thought about each picture. With the kleenex he said ” Well we throw away the tissue with boogers but recycle the box…” then thought for a while before deciding. After this super simple activity he has been asking ” Is this recyclable Mama? “About everything in our house!
The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling by Alison Inches is awesome! I only wish that my son was old enough to enjoy it as much as I did. It’s not aimed at 2 year olds at all, but he did like to open it to the page with the recycling truck and point out all the parts to me. The book itself takes the reader through the complete process from crude oil, to bottle and then to synthetic fleece. I am not too proud to admit I learned s a few new things and had a few good laughs along the way with the books little bits of humor too. I think most 5 year olds would enjoy this book, and it’s easy to break it down for those unable to sit for this much text. Also the book was printed on 100% post consumer waste paper.
Little Pirate: Why Do We Recycle? by Innovative Kids is a really fun book about recycling with a pirate theme. Yes a pirate theme. Readers learn about recycling, composting and garbage along with two young pirates who need to clean up their ship. The pirates ask questions about different waste and the wise parrot fills them into the facts like the best bag to use while shopping is a cloth one, and what happens to the metal, glass and paper after we put them in the recycle bin.
Trash And Recycling by Stephanie Turnball is a great book ! I learned more about garbage and the recycling process reading this to my son over lunch than I ever knew! He loved it and despite being a pretty sophisticated book for a 3 year old immediately asked to read it again as soon as I closed it. It explains the whole process from curbside pick up, land fills, incineration and recycling. The idea for today’s activity came from the sorting of recyclable garbage from this book!