Our expert this month is early childhood education specialist Debra Weller. Debra taught kindergarten and transitional kindergarten for 40 years and served on the board of directors of the California Kindergarten Association for 15 years, with two terms as president. Debra is also a professional storyteller. She is based in St. Augustine, Florida.
At a Glance
Below you will find three activities Debra uses to help her four- and five-year-old students prepare for kindergarten.
- To enhance children’s study of science, Debra uses art and books to discuss earth science and the structures of plants.
- Debra acts out stories with playful activities to reinforce children’s understanding of the books they read together.
- Debra teaches her students body awareness and the structure of the human body with a drawing exercise.
Spring Flower Study
This activity is a great way to combine art and science for early learners. You begin by reading a book together, then you teach the children about flowers and plants, and have them solidify their learning by making a picture.
- The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller
- Slides or Books that highlight flowers painted by master artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Degas, and Van Gogh
- White Drawing Paper
- 9×12 construction paper folded length-wise and cut in half
- Glue Stick
- Oil Pastels (This can also work using markers or watercolors.)
- Read the books to the children.
- Talk about how the artist drew the flowers.
- Provide real flowers for the children to touch and feel.
- Encourage the children to identify the parts of the flowers: stems, sepal, petals, pollen.
- Invite the children to draw half a vase shape on half of the folded paper. The teacher may prepare the shapes ahead of time. Make the shapes different to create a variety of vases.
- Have the children cut out the vases and glue them onto the white drawing paper.
- Discuss with the students what type of flower they might want to draw. I like to tape up many photos I have gathered from magazines so they can note the variety of petal and leaf shapes.
- Instruct the children to use the oil pastels, and how to avoid smearing.
- Encourage the children to draw the stems first, followed by leaves and petals.
- Encourage the children to draw patterns on the vase.
Sensory Play and Literacy
Another great way to round out children’s literacy and ensure they absorb as much information as possible from their reading experience is by acting out the story with playful activities. For children who do not experience snow during the winter, Katy and the Big Snow tells the story of a town digging out their snowplow after a blizzard.
Always remind the children of safety issues: no touching a friend or your eyes or mouth with shaving cream on your hands and keep your hands on the table.
- Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
- Metal or Plastic Vehicles
- A Table Surface
- Shaving Cream
- Paper Towels or Damp Sponges
- Read the story.
- Discuss the sequence of the story.
- Draw a map of the city.
- Invite children to play in the shaving cream snow with vehicles. Shaving cream goes a long way, so a tennis-ball sized pouf is enough.
- Cleanup is simple. Show children how to rub the shaving cream very fast to make it disappear. Give them paper towels and damp sponges for cleanup. The cars can be placed in a dish pans for cleaning and drying.
Drawing The Body
It is important to teach body awareness and the structure of the human body in an early childhood classroom. With the five-year-olds in my classroom, I begin by showing the children how to move from drawing stick figures with arms and legs coming from the head (amoeba people!), to understanding how our bodies are shaped. I encourage them to be artists. Black markers are a quality drawing tool. The drawings come out crisp and do not fade when color is added.
- White paper
- Black Felt-Tip Pen
- Provide white paper and a pencil to the children.
- Practice drawing the body using the pointer finger on paper to trace the shape of our heads, necks, torso, arms, legs, fingers and shoes. By first tracing with their fingers, the children have a total physical response to learning body awareness.
- Guide the children to begin drawing with a pencil. Begin with the head, followed by the neck. Encourage them to create a rectangle for the torso, rectangles for the arms (remind the children that arms do not come from the head), and finally rectangles for the legs. Details are not necessary in practice.
- When they show confidence after several practices, move to a final drawing with a black felt-tip pen.
- Direct the children to draw the basic shape of the body they have practiced with the black pen.
- Invite the children to look in a mirror to see the details of their facial features, including hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and clothing. Encourage the children to add these details.
- When their drawing is complete, invite the children to a sitting circle on the floor.
- Give each child a chance to share their image and tells a story about the drawing.
About the Author
Debra Weller has been an educator for forty years, specializing in early childhood education. In June 2018, she retired from Capistrano Unified School District in Mission Viejo, CA, where she taught kindergarten and transitional kindergarten at Bathgate Elementary School. For fifteen years she has served on the Board of Directors of the California Kindergarten Association, with two terms as president. Debra also performs internationally and in the USA as a professional storyteller. She is president of the Tale Tellers of St. Augustine and serves on the Board of Directors of the Florida Storytelling Association.
This Best in Class blog shares simple-to-do best practices straight from early learning educators. We hope these tips are useful for educators and parents who want to use best teaching practices with their children.