Rainbow Water Beads {fun & fail}

A few days ago, my son & I made up a tray of rainbow water beads to play in. Since I only had clear water beads, we attempt to color them - which was met with some success & some failure - but lots of fun too!

First, we tried coloring the beads with Kool-Aid (see our other Kool-Aid endeavors) - the idea of scented & colored water beads was enticing, but didn't work out... We tried to soak a teaspoon of clear water beads in water with two packs of lime Kool-Aid. We ended up with just slightly hydrated, sticky little green orbs ...

They never did get any larger than this... so we threw them out. With an older child... this might have been a great intro into a fun science experiment with the water beads (i.e. what happens to the water beads when we use different liquids to hydrate?) I'm pretty curious myself... so I might just do the experiment with my 3 year old anyway...

Instead of Kool-Aid, we resorted to traditional food coloring gels, hot water and ziplock bags. We hydrated a tablespoon of beads with several cups of water & a generous addition of food coloring for several hours. Then, I rinsed the beads in a colander before pouring them into our pan for play.  Initially they looked beautiful....

And my son had a great time playing in them....

But after a day or two, the colors faded and the whole bin was a drab shade of greenish-grey...

The moral of the story is... if you want rainbow water beads, buy the rainbow water beads that are already colored...  even though our colors faded, the beads were still quite fun!

DIY Tabletop Light Box {3 Simple Steps!}

(This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.)

So I've been wanting this Table Top Light Box for ages...

Unfortunately, the price tag has been a bit prohibitive... We have a larger DIY light table made from an Underbed Storage Box that works pretty good -- we followed the general directions for the spray paint method over at Teach Preschool for the first light box... my son plays with it nearly everyday!

A few tips on making a larger version w/ spray paint:
  1. The plastic primer is NOT optional - you must use it in order for the other paint to stick to the plastic.
  2. Scuff & clean the surface of the plastic bin with sandpaper before priming! We learned this the hard way actually... even with the primer, we had blotches of paint flake off -- especially places where my son put heavy items or tried to sit/stand on the bin :(
  3. Buy a big enough light for inside - we used a corded 18-Inch Fluorescent Light from the hardware store - it works pretty well! the smaller battery operated lights didn't seem to give off enough light for the price (+ the cost of batteries!) 
So... on to our DIY table top light box!

The other day I saw these 12"x12" plastic Scrapbook Paper Boxes at our local craft store for 40% off & I thought -- "Whoa! That would make a great mini-light box!" i.e. half the size of that tabletop box above... but for a fraction of the cost! I went ahead and purchased the plastic container and a set of White LED Lights. Since I used a 50% off coupon for the lights, the bulk of the materials for our table top light box cost less than $20!

I used a quick method for this version of a light box - also based on info over at Teach Preschool! Just 3 easy steps and your little one will be enjoying their very own light box in no time!

You need: 
A 12"x12" clear plastic Scrapbook Paper Box
A string of 50-100 White LED Lights
Aluminum foil
Wax paper or Parchment paper
Clear tape

1. Cut a piece of wax paper or parchment paper to fit inside the BOTTOM of the box. Then tape around the edges to hold it in place.

2. Cover the inside of the box (i.e. the top & sides) with aluminum foil & tape the edges to keep in place - make sure the shiny side faces inside the box for the light to reflect off of!

3. Arrange the LED lights on the LID of the box in a 'coil' of sorts & tape the cord down. You can drill a hole in the box for the cord if you want.

4. Then you're ready to go!

Overall, this quick method took about 20 minutes total & the result was pretty good! While I think that I prefer the 'spray paint' method mentioned above, this method allows for me to use the plastic box for something else later if my son completely loses interest in the light box (which is highly unlikely!)

I'd love to hear about your own DIY light box and light table ideas... please share!

Project Motherhood

Baby Dolls & Hearing Aids {Peek @ the Week}

I finally got around to adding hearing aids to all of our classroom dolls...

Some of our dolls already had hearing equipment, but they needed a little fixing up and newer dolls needed devices added... 

It was mostly a simple process  - just a little fabric paint in the shape of a hearing aid and/or cochlear implant on the dolls' ear(s) left to dry overnight. And a piece of felt, some hot glue & some craft foam to make the BAHA hearing aid. The kids LOVE the addition & were completely amazed that the dolls are the same as they are!

Do your dolls have any adaptations to match your students?

Spring Cleaning {Taming the Toys}

Earlier this week I wrote about how I got my spring-cleaning started this year – if you didn’t read my last post click here. It can most simply be summed up like this: I needed sleep, but instead I started browsing Amazon eBooks. I found "Clutterfree with Kids" and stayed up reading (while I should have been sleeping)… then I heard about 40 Bags in 40 Days… the rest is history and so are about 15 boxes of our old stuff! 

I was telling a friend about our de-clutteing experiment the other day & she expressed difficulty weeding out her kids’ toys, which got me thinking about how I reduced our toys at home (and subsequently, at school). She mentioned that she was focusing on getting rid of all the ‘plastic crap’ and keeping only wooden toys. In the moment of tossing toys, I didn’t think too hard about what toys to get rid of and what toys to keep… but there were a few guidelines that I was subconsciously sticking to. And it’s definitely more difficult than just plastic vs. wood toys.

After some thought, here are my guidelines for cleaning out the toy box (or for purchasing new toys):

1. Most importantly – do the kids like them? Duh! If the kids don’t like the toys, then why keep them? And absolutely don’t throw out your child’s favorite toy simply because it’s a cheap piece of crap… time will surely take care of toys like that. We have to remember that toys are a central part of a child’s daily work – otherwise known as PLAY. We know with certainty that kids will find things to play with even when there aren’t toys around (remember that time that your toddler played with the box that his new toy came in?) but a carefully selected collection of appropriate & stimulating toys adds to the fun!    

2. Are they high quality or crap? – The toys that were allowed to remain in our home were those that were durable & sturdy. This didn’t mean that plastic toys were vetoed in favor of wooden toys – but it did mean any cheaply made toys were destined for the donate bag unless they were a favorite (see rule #1)

3. Is there more than one way to play?  – Versatile toys that boast many ways to play, use across wide age spans, seasons, genders etc. were likely to receive a pardon from the donate bag. But, toys that could only be enjoyed for a short time, during a single season or by only one child at a time mostly ended up getting the boot!

4. Do the kids have to think or create?  - Next I considered whether a toy promoted thinking or creative skills during play. There were a handful of toys that didn’t pass both the quality vs. crap and versatility tests (see rules 2 & 3), but offered plenty of opportunities for students to think creatively – (e.g. Legos, dollhouse). 

5. Lastly, are the toys on YOUR 'blacklist'? Just admit it... there are certain toys that you just can't stand! I've dubbed these toys the 'blacklist.' And unless they're your child's favorite,  this is quite possibly a perfect opportunity to rid your home of them once & for all!  My 'list' includes most things with batteries, toys that make noise and most toys with characters on them (although I've come to accept superhero & Elmo items -- see rule #1 again)

I know that my rules seem overly simplistic, but really, I can think of very few toys in my house or classroom that don’t pass most of these rules. And now when I purchase new toys, we follow these rules and of course the One-for-One rule. Ultimately, we have to consider a wide range of factors when paring down toys - especially when we do so in the classroom and have an entire classroom of students to keep satisfied (see this post for more about Simplicity in the Classroom).

Another Rainbow Bin {Alphabet Pasta}

All of the amazing rainbow inspired crafts & sensory bin activities that are popping up over on Pinterest have really given me spring fever! Unfortunately, winter has other ideas... primarily that he's never leaving & spring will never arrive!

Yesterday, while waiting for the snow to melt on yet another snowday, I made these fun rainbow alphabets for our sensory bin.

I love using Kool-aid for dyeing things (check out this recent post for more Kool-aid fun!) It always smells so yummy and the colors always come out beautiful. I used pretty much the same recipe and process that I used for dying the beans a couple of weeks ago.

Here's what you'll need:
6 boxes of alphabet pasta (my boxes were 12 oz each)
2 packs of Kool-aid for each box of pasta you intend to dye
extra food coloring for more vivid colors
1/8 c. rubbing alcohol per box of pasta
1/8 c. of very hot water per box.
Large Zipock baggies

How to:
1. Pour hot water, alcohol, Kool-aid & extra food coloring into baggie. Seal & shake until Kool-aid is dissolved.
2. Add pasta to colored liquid, seal & shake until coated. Only leave the pasta sit in the liquid for a short time -- less than 5 minutes preferrably as the tiny pasta begins to soften quickly & will start to stick together easily.
3. Pour pasta out on cookie sheet to dry. Allow to air dry for several hours stirring frequently to prevent pasta from sticking together.

We put ours in the oven to dry the rest of the way over night - CAUTION: Do not put pasta directly into oven, as the rubbing alcohol is very flammable!

It didn't seem to take very long to dry, but we did get some pasta clumps because I didn't stir frequently enough during the drying. I imagine if I did less pasta at a time, this clumping problem wouldn't have been as bad. When making sensory bin materials, I'm always making large quantities so that I can take them to school for my students when my son is finished exploring them... so a cup of each color just won't cut it around here! 

Here's the lovely alphabet bin that I made with the finished pasta. It reminds me of fruity pebbles in both look & smell.

I think that we'll pair this bin with Dr. Seuss's ABC book or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom sometime in the coming weeks!

Spring Cleaning {Decluttering @ Home & School}

A few weeks back, I came across Joshua Becker’s "Clutterfree with Kids" eBook on Amazon during some late night surfing – frankly, I think that I must have been delirious at the time, because I purchased it & started reading it that night.

The thing that makes my eBook purchase so strange is the fact that I have serious pack-rat problem! As a child, I was the kid with collections of everything – rocks, baseball cards, drawings, books, Barbies etc. As I grew older, I kept my old collections and moved on to new collections. Now as an adult, I still have some of my childhood collections and I have a bad habit of keeping things that I think I might be able to use in my classroom. So far, watching episodes of “Hoarders” has kept my mess in-check… which leads me to...

I am, and always have been, terrible at cleaning & organizing. And frankly, cleaning & organizing useless crap takes lots of time – time that I don’t have. Between my two teaching jobs, being a mom and a wife… I just don’t have the time for all this stuff in my life!

I’m not going to go into an all out book review, but simply, the book is helpful and full of simple suggestions for de-cluttering different parts of ‘life with kids.’ When I start slowing down or questioning my desire to simplify, I go back and read a few pages to get my head back in the game – good, simple motivation and guidance.

It also happens that my de-cluttering mission coincides with this year’s “40 Bags in 40 Days” event over at White House Black Shutters – a friend of mine told me about this, after I mentioned my recent eBook read…  I’m beginning to think that simplifying & de-cluttering is really meant to be this year!  I’ve been more successful during the last 12 days than I’ve ever been at getting rid of things – I even hesitated to write about my quest because I wasn’t sure that I could maintain my momentum. So far so good… and now the world knows so I can’t quit now! 

So how’s a pack-rat to simplify? Well, it’s complicated… here are just a few things that I’ve tried to keep in mind as I continue on this journey…
1. Go Slowly  - I think that this is the most important part… Don’t do too much all at once! I try to remember that it took me (& my family) years to collect all this junk – it can’t just be cleared out in a weekend…  One box (or bag) at a time!

2. Remember: It’s all just stuff! Surprisingly, letting go of emotional attachments hasn’t been as challenging as I had expected. I did a quick little mental exercise where I thought about the things that I would want to save if there was a fire – a terrible situation that I hope that I never have to face—and I quickly realized that there isn’t much that I actually NEED.

3. Talk about your mission - I think that I got this idea from a workout magazine or something -- basically, telling others should help hold you accountable for working towards your goal. I've told my husband & a few coworkers -- we have regular conversations about what I've purged from my home & classroom and it helps keep me motivated. Others know not to give me things that I don't need and I feel less ungrateful when I turn things down. 

4. Establish new 'house rules.' Since beginning this simplification quest, I've established a 'One for One' rule at our house -- in order to bring a new item into the house, an item of equal size must leave the house. My hope is that this will keep clutter from re-accumulating as I continue to work on reducing the mess. I recently had to explain this concept to my three-year-old and he surprisingly did OK with it, giving me a toy to get rid of for the new car he wanted. While I don't think that he completely understands the idea, he seemed to get the gist for the moment and it's an opportunity to teach him about needs vs. wants and giving to others. 

I hope to write more about how the process evolves as I keep going... check back for more updates in the coming weeks.

Green Eggs, Rainbow Beans & other colorful stuff {Peek @ the Week}

Life has been crazy lately & I haven't had nearly enough time to write about all of the exciting happenings in the classroom & at home. Here a just a few of the things that we've been up to!

Last week, we made Green Eggs to go with Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham." They look gross, but really tasted fine. Surprisingly, my student's all liked them!

My son has been enjoying the Rainbow Bean bin that I wrote about last week... here he is playing with them! He had fun mixing all the colors together. Now they remind me of jelly beans -- perfect for Easter!

Something else that we've been playing with lots lately has been our homemade light box. I had to fix it up a bit last weekend because some of the paint was coming off of the inside - I'm working on details about how we made our inexpensive version! We found these fun drink stirrers at the grocery store a while back and they look awesome with the light coming through!

Here are some of the other items that my son likes to use on the light table:

What kinds of colorful spring activities have you been up to with your little ones?

Rainbow Beans {How To}

I want to start off by saying that I LOVE using kool-aid in my preschool classroom - but not for eating or drinking - only for arts and crafts. In the past, we've made kool-aid dough & paint and dyed silk scarves & noodles for play activities. I find the combination of their vivid colors and fruity smells to be a wonderful sensory addition to our activities. Now on to yesterday's shenanigans:

During yesterday's snowday, my son and I made a batch of Kool-Aid dyed beans for our sensory bin. I hadn't tried dying beans previously and it didn't actually occur to me that it would be all that different, so I didn't bother to research the idea at all... Overall it was a success, but after the fact, I realize that there may have been better methods.

We used the following items:
  • 6 one pound bags of navy beans (I bet that any kind of white bean would work)
  • 6-8 packs of Kook-Aid (one packet+ for each bag of beans)
  • Food coloring 
  • Rubbing Alcohol 
  • Ziplock bags (use the freezer kind so they don't break!) 

  1. We poured one packed of Kool-Aid into each bag (two for purple because I couldn't find grape Kool-Aid), a 'squirt' or two of food coloring (more for brighter beans, less for pastels), about 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol & 2 tablespoons of VERY hot water into each bag (my thought is that the hot water helps the Kool-Aid dissolve & the beans soak up the color more quickly). 
  2. Seal bags and shake until Kool-Aid is dissolved, then pour 1 pound of beans in each bag. 
  3. Reseal & shake again until beans are coated. 
  4. We left the beans sit for about 15 minutes, shaking/rotating the bag periodically. 
We did one color at a time - I suggest starting with yellow because it seemed to take the longest to soak in.

The beans almost immediately started soaking up the solution & the skins started to wrinkle a bit - that's when we poured them out onto a cookie sheet covered with paper towels & tinfoil (to minimize cleanup). My thoughts were to stop soaking he beans before the skins totally came off.

I let them sit out in the kitchen for an hour or two so that most of the alcohol could evaporate, then I preheated my oven to 175 degrees and turned it off. Then I put the trays of beans in the oven overnight. CAUTION: do not put the beans directly in the oven because the rubbing alcohol is VERY flammable!

In the morning, they were still a bit damp, so I carefully took the paper towels out from under them, reheated the oven to 175 and let them 'bake' in a warm oven for a couple of hours to fully dry them.

The colors came out somewhere between pastes & brights -- and the coloring was a bit uneven. The wrinkly skins dried back out smooth and they have a nice light fruity scent. Next time, I 'll add more Kool-Aid packs per pound of beans -- maybe 2-3 packs to make the scents & colors more vivid.

Overall, I'm pleased with them and my three-year-old is begging to play with them!  I think we'll play with them at home for a while, then I'll take them to preschool next week for St. Patrick's Day rainbow activities or Jack and the Beanstalk story extension activities this spring!

Listen! I hear audiobooks...

Over the last couple of months, I've purchased quite a few audiobooks through our school's Scholastic book orders and have been trying to figure out how to best set up a listening center for my preschool students who have varying degrees of hearing loss AND different amplification devices. Some of the audiobooks have been pretty good, with music and/or sound effects that compliment the story while others, have been awful renditions! Here's what I came up with so far:

I dug out my old iPhone, cleared off the content & set it up with some of the audiobook mp3 files. Since it was an old iPhone 3, I was unable to upgrade to the newest operating system, so I moved all of the icons except for the 'music' icon off to the 2nd and 3rd screen (on newer devices, you can 'drag them on top' of each other to put them into other 'folders.') I also went into settings & restricted internet, email & camera access to make the phone less functional - so my kids could only use it for the purpose intended. This is much easier on newer devices and can easily be set under the accessibility menu to only grant access to a single function at a time. I used the internet to add cover art to each of the audio tracks so that my non-reading Prek students could easily figure out which audio file matched the book they wanted to read.

With the help of our audiologist, I collected audio accessory cables & other connectors for the array of hearing aids that my students have including Phonak, Oticon & Cochlear Ltd. products. I also had to get a headphone jack adapter because of the recessed headphone jack in the old iPhone made it impossible to plug in the audio cords - my techie husband helped me out with this! Here's a picture of all of the listening center supplies in their box (I found these great Lego storage boxes on clearance at my local Walmart - they're just the right size for a bunch of books!)

We've experimented with the audio cables for direct input - which has been interesting. Some of the kids like the direct input, while others seem to prefer to hold them up to their 'ear' like a telephone. Some students have even quite accurately named this activity the 'book phone.'

I was a bit surprised by how much my students engaged with this activity! Most of my students are doing very well with it & find it fun - however, I think that it's worth noting that all of the students who have found it enjoyable also have pretty good auditory comprehension & receptive language skills - but not necessarily 'mild' hearing loss; some of the students that like this the most actually have a severe-profound loss & have to work VERY hard to understand what they're hearing! For students who have lower receptive language skills, I think that I will be working on recording alternates with simplified language, no sound effects & integration of learning to listen sounds/simple songs.

I also MUST mention that listening activities like this are absolutely NOT a substitute for having high quality conversations & interactions with young children who have hearing loss. The use of these audiobooks isn't necessarily intended to improve their language skills, but rather provide an interesting opportunity to engage with technology in a way similar to my students' hearing peers. I'd venture to guess that most preschoolers have probably played a game on a caregiver's phone or tablet from time to time - but my students, while they've all likely engaged with technology, have probably missed out on a significant portion of the music and sound effects that go with it. Listening centers are a way for my students who have hearing loss to engage in experience with technology more like their hearing peers do - and if we end up working on language skills - great!

Since setting up the first listening center, I've located two additional older iPhones from family & friends and I'm working on also setting them up for use in my classroom!  This is definitely something that we'll continue to explore in the classroom... check back for more of our experiences with these listening centers.