Monday, August 18, 2014

The Preschooler's Brain: How Young Children Learn

When a child is born, he has about 100 billion neurons.  Most of them are not connected at birth, but by the time he is three years old each neuron can have over ten thousand connections!  And it doesn't stop there.  The brain continues to wire and re-wire as your child grows.

As a new school year begins, I love the new book buying, new curriculum writing, new goal strategizing, and just the general back-to-school season.

I do not, however, love the pressure.

The pressure is everywhere...and it is worse every year.

The preschools want to make sure their kiddos are ready to read by kindergarten.  The homeschoolers want to make sure nobody thinks their kiddos are falling behind or missing out.  Almost every parent of a preschooler that I have watched wonders if their child "knows enough."

People!  The pressure has got to stop!  And not just because it isn't healthy for caregivers (which it's not!), but because this pressure ignores research about how preschoolers brains develop.

The wiring process for those hundred billion neurons has been studied and researched for years, and we have a lot of really good ideas about how children learn.  Unfortunately, most of that research gets tossed out the window when we start to stress about early learning.  I keep finding myself having the same conversations with parents and teachers about how kiddos learn, so I decided to share this information with everybody!

Today I'm going to share five facts about how preschoolers' brains develop, early learning, and essential things you should know as parents, teachers, and care-givers.  I could share a lot more, but these are some of what I feel are the most important concepts that can be easily implemented in any home or school...even though they are often overlooked.

#1.  Children learn best when they are interested!  If you are dragging your baby away from a train table to do alphabet flash cards, you are not doing him any favors.  Studies show that hormones produced when children are stressed actually destroy connections between neurons in their brain.  On the other hand, when children are in a good mood, well-fed, and well-rested, they learn better and faster.

 * Make sure your kiddos get enough sleep, food, and play before you expect them to sit still.
* If possible, try catering your lessons to their interests.  Let the 4-year old who loves trains learn to count while playing with his train sets.  Click here and here for more ideas about child-led education.

#2.  Children Develop at Different Rates!  Children learn to walk, jump, talk, and use the toilet at different times.  Likewise, different portions of their brains and synapses develop at different rates.  Even the folds inside the brain mature at different rates.  One child may be an early talker while another child may have amazing balance and coordination.  Similarly, one child may be ready to learn phonics months or even years before another.  There are many children who are simply not ready to learn to read until they are six or seven.  Pushing them before they are ready is stressful and deprives them of learning the things they are currently ready for.

* Learning should be a pleasure for preschoolers.  If they act stressed during school time, adapt the curriculum!  Make it simpler.
* If your child is struggling in one area, he may be excelling in another.  Find his strengths and let him build on those also!

#3.  Preschool is a Fabulous Time For Building "Frameworks!"  Our brains (and our children's brains) are not built to remember random bits of information.  Information is stored with other similar knowledge.  I like to imagine our brain as having lots of closets.  Each closet is a framework for a particular subject, and when we learn new things that fit inside that framework, we can hang the information up in that closet.  When new information has somewhere to "hang," it is much easier to remember it!  Many studies have emphasized the importance of prior knowledge when we are trying to learn new things.  Preschool years are a wonderful time to build new frameworks, or new ways of viewing and interpreting the world, through new experiences.  Every time your child touches something new, tastes something unexpected, feels a new texture, or visits a new building, he can expand his current frameworks to include the new knowledge or--when the experience does not fit his current frameworks--build a new paradigm for interpreting future experiences!

* Use a variety of activities in your preschool and/or homeschool time.
* Deliberately introduce a new experience, toy, object, animal, trip, craft, or idea at least once a week!

#4.  "The Other" Learning is Important Too!  We live in a culture that puts a very heavy emphasis on linear, logical, math and reading skills...and for good reason.  They are important.  However, non-linear, "whole-image," visual, artistic, and musical skills are also important.  There are many people who will get much more satisfaction out of creating a painting than solving a math problem (and the other way around, of course)!  Remember that children develop differently...sometimes children's brains are working on their "whole-image" creative processing skills when we want them to be identifying numbers.  Especially for our preschoolers, we need to step back and let them work at their own pace.  The creative skills are valuable in their own right, but it is also worth mentioning that they are not independent.  Your child's brain is interdependent, and strengthening creative skills also strengthens logic skills and prepares the brain to make learning leaps in those areas too.  Many studies are showing that children who take music lessons perform better in language and math than their peers.  This is one of the reasons why play is so critical.  Playing actually creates neural connections that speed mental processing and later learning!  Each neuron in a 3-year old can have 15,000 connections to other neurons!  These connections are literally built as the neurons are used, in play, in exploring, in learning, and in life! The brain is constantly re-wiring itself, and connections that are not used are lost...discarded by the brain in favor of connections that get used more frequently. Imagine which requires more thought (and more neural connections):  a worksheet where you circle pictures of words that start with B or a game where only toys that start with the letter B are allowed on a bridge across a volcano mountain created by a baby dragon?  Even just playing an imaginative game (without the letter aspect) requires many more neural connections than any worksheet.

* Plan at least one open-ended art project every week!
* Play with your children!  Create imaginary scenes where they can be the heroes and problem solvers.  Take them on wild adventures where they can do anything!  Just imagine all the synapses you're creating.  :)

#5.  Sensory Activities are Vital!  Sensory activities activate and grow different parts of your child's brain.  I have also observed that they have a tendency to calm children, redirect their energy, and help them focus.  New research also suggests that sensory input can activate parts of the brain that are critical for higher learning.  For example, olfactory (the sense of smell) stimulation uses neurons in the hippocampus--the same part of your brain responsible for forming and storing memory.

* Try using a sensory bin as a gathering activity, for a center, or during a transition.
* Incorporate a strong sensory activity each day.  Remember the less common senses like olfactory and vestibular.

Finally, I cannot end any suggestions for preschool without this note: read, read, read, READ!!  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Study after study confirms that the more children are read to, the more advantage they will have in their education.  Immerse your children in a literature-rich and language-rich environment.  Read to them.  Talk about what you read.  Make up stories. Talk in the car.  When your child is ready to read (and perform all the math tasks our society values so much), those skills will come easily because of the language-rich environment he has already experienced.

So, there you have it:  five critical notes about how your preschoolers' brains develop (and one vital tip!).  Use them!  Let those tens of thousands of synapses form while you watch!  These concepts can transform your preschool years into fun, educational, and exciting times for you and your kiddo(s) to grow together!

And please...let the pressure go!  You don't need it and your kiddos don't need it either.

Have you used these ideas, or similar ones?  I would love to hear about your experiences!  Feel free to leave a comment or post on our PreschoolPowolPackets Facebook page!

Additional Reading/Resources:

Research in Brain Function and Learning from the American Psychological Association

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor or a psychologist.  I am a licensed teacher with a science degree, loads of experience with children, and a passion for learning about human development.  This blog post, like all others, represents my experiences and opinions.  Hopefully you find it helpful.

I may share at any of these parties!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Elsa's Ice Castle Science Play

Those hot summer days are almost over, but this Ice Castle Science Play (inspired by Elsa, of course!) can also work wonderfully in an indoor tray!

Our kiddos had a fabulous time building their own ice castles out of real ice cubes and a secret ingredient that helped them stick together faster!  This science play takes almost zero prep time, is super easy to clean up, and appeals to a huge age range, making it the perfect group activity!

Some of the towers were simpler than others, but all the kiddos loved sticking the ice together and adding color!

You can make an ice castle too!  The ingredients are super simple:

lots of ice, salt, and liquid water colors (see note at bottom).

I also put out a big blue blanket for everyone to work on.  This helped the ice on the bottom of each tower hold still better and gave everything a cool blue tint!

Pour small piles of salt around the blanket.  To make the ice cubes stick together, generously dip one ice cube in salt, wait a second, and then place it on top of another ice cube.

When you're done, (or at any point in the middle!), add drops of liquid watercolors for an even more magical look!

This Ice Castle Science Play works as a science experiment, sensory play, and so much more!  You could do it with a construction unit, a discussion on states of matter, or just for fun!  

When you finish, use a garden hose to spray the color off of your blanket.  Or, if you're inside, just dump the colored water down the sink!  

What's going on?

Salt lowers the freezing point of water, which makes it melt faster.  When you dip (or sprinkle) the salt onto the ice, the ice touching the salt will melt faster than the rest of the cube, resulting in fascinating tunnels and caves throughout the ice cube.  The melted water is still so cold that it will temporarily re-freeze when you put it on top of another super cold ice cube, making it easier to build a "castle."  Of course, they still break easily and younger children may have even more fun sprinkling salt and coloring the tunnels!  My daughter, however, was very pleased with her ice castle and loved adding a stream of blue right down the middle:

Liquid Watercolors Note:  Liquid watercolors are absolutely amazing!  You can see how we make our own here, you can buy them on Amazon (I'd be so grateful if you used the affiliate link below!), or you can substitute food coloring!

Do your kids love Frozen-inspired activities?  If so, be sure to check out this experiment, where you can freeze water instantly!!

Amazon Affiliate Links:

I may share at any of these parties!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Apple Preschool Science Experiments

These apple science experiments are great for preschoolers and even older children too!

Last week we went to the grocery store and were blown away by all the varieties of apples coming into season!  No wonder everyone likes to do Apple themes in the fall for preschool!  Today, I'm sharing more than a dozen fun apple-y preschool science experiments that you can do with an Apple theme, or just for fun!  And if you'd like even more apple-themed ideas, including crafts and recipes, be sure to check out my Apple Fun Pinterest Board!

12+ Apple Preschool Science Experiments:

1.  Make fun and colorful eruptions flow from your apples!

2.  Learn how to make apple seeds bounce and jump by mixing a few common ingredients!

4.  Measure, predict, and record observations with apples!

5.  Use apples to see how cavities can grow in your teeth!

6.  Make an apple mummy!

7.  See how well you can balance and stack apples...and read a book to go with it!

8.  See how strongly your sense of smell affects taste!

9.  Discover how dramatically your sense of smell can change taste when you make an apple taste like something completely different!

10.  Dip apples in a secret ingredient to keep them perfectly shaped and colored (hint: it's not lemon)!

11.  Use apples to study the science of rotting food!

12.  Predict how many seeds you have and record your investigation on this {FREE} printable!

13.  Investigate an apple tree and discover when the fruit is ripe!

 I hope you have a fabulous fall!  And if you do any of these, I'd love to know!  You can share pictures or links on our Facebook page or here as a comment!

I may share at any of these parties!

Friday, August 8, 2014

8 Planets Preschool Science Experiment

Space is a super fun preschool theme, and I'm sharing a science experiment you can do with one of our preschoolers' favorite space books at Rainy Day Mum!  Be sure to hop over there and see how your preschoolers can combine art and science in this hands-on exploratory, sensory activity!  And while you're there, be sure to check out Rainy Day Mum's other Story Book Summer themes, like Dinosaurs, Bugs & Butterflies, and more!

I may share at any of these parties!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Fly Into the School Year With Owls!! & a HUGE Back To School Giveaway & MORE!!

It's Back to School Time!!  Fly back to school this year with this fun, free owl-y printable!

Do you love owls?  We do!  Here are some more great ideas and printables with owl themes:

* Egg Carton Owls from Life With Moore Babies
* Mix and Match Owls Felt Board Play from And Next Comes L
* Owl Paper Bag Puppets from Reading Confetti
* Paper Plate Owl Craft from Own a Day Care
* Owl Art Crafts from Deep Space Sparkle
* Owl Book Page Craft from 29 Black Street
* TP Roll Owls from Fresh and Fun
* Owl Themed Classroom Door Mrs. Lee's Kinder Kids
* Paper Plate Owl from Pure and Noble
* Loads of Owl and Letter O activities from Oopsey Daisy

AND, since it is Back to School time, I am joining with some of your favorite Kid Bloggers to bring you loads of fabulous Back to School ideas!  You will find everything from crafts to lunches on these blogs!  Be sure to check them out and pin your favorite ideas:

The Educators' Spin On It ~ All Done Monkey ~ Artsy Momma ~ Creekside Learning  ~ Crystal's Tiny Treasures ~ Fun-A-Day! ~ Fun Handprint Art ~ Growing Book by Book  ~ In The Playroom ~ Inspiration Laboratories ~ Inspiring NH Kids ~ Kids Yoga Stories ~ Kitchen Counter Chronicles ~ Lalymom ~ Learning to Walk ~ Lemon Lime Adventures ~ Life Over C's ~ Line upon Line Learning  ~ Little Bins For Little Hands  ~ Living Montessori Now  ~ Look! We're Learning!  ~ Mama Smiles  ~ Multicultural Kids Blogs  ~ Planet Smarty Pants  ~ Premeditated Leftovers  ~ Preschool Powol Packets  ~ She Lives Free  ~ Still Playing School  ~ The Connection We Share ~ The Jenny Evolution  ~ The Pleasantest Thing  ~ This Reading Mama  ~ Toddler Approved  ~ True Aim Education  ~ 3 Dinosaurs

Do you have a Back to School post to share?  This is the linky to do it at!  This annual Back to School with the Kid Blogger Network Linky Party features activities, crafts, supply ideas, recipes, organization, books, and MORE to get your family ready for the upcoming school year!  Link up your kid-friendly posts to have them featured on 35 blogs who are members of the Kid Blogger Network.  We invite you to visit the posts, leave a comment, and share on social media!  Thank you so much for sharing your Back to School resources!!  **By linking up, you agree to have your images shared with credit.**

AND, to make your Back to School even more exciting this year, we are hosting  a HUGE Back to School Giveaway!  

Giveaway Details:  Prizes are sponsored by Safari Ltd, Melissa and Dough, Trunki, Elmer's Early Learners, Discount School Supplies, and Squeazy Gear. PLUS, gift certificates are being donated by The Educators' Spin On It, 3 Dinosaurs, Preschool Powol Packets, Look! We're Learning, This Reading Mama, and Life Over C's!  All prizes will go to one winner.  Prizes can only be shipped to addresses in the continental United States.  To enter, just use the convenient Rafflecopter form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

LINKS TO SPONSORS!!  Be sure to visit these fabulous sites and see what Back to School sales they are offering!  Safari Ltd, Melissa and Doug, Trunki, Elmer's Glue, Discount School Supplies, Squeazy Gear.  Plus Gift Certificates were donated for Printable Packets and/or eBooks from The Educators' Spin On It , 3 Dinosaurs, Preschool Powol Packets, Look! We're Learning, This Reading Mama, & Life Over C's.   

I may share at any of these parties!

Monday, August 4, 2014

A New Science Project & How to Get a T. Rex Poster!

Who loves a new science project?  We do!  We do!

I am starting a new project...and it feels epic!

Today's post will be a different than normal.  Almost every other post I've ever put up on Preschool Powol Packets has ideas, activities, recipes, science projects, or printables that you can use--most of them immediately.  Today, I'm asking for a favor.  (Though I'm sharing amazing kid's science ideas too...just keep reading!)

I (Carla, the author of this blog) am starting a new business where I take science themed labs and parties into preschools, day-cares, and parties!  I'm super excited to share something that I'm passionate about with young children in our area!  The first theme I'm making available is Dinosaurs!, partly because I love it and partly because my own kids love it!

I already have many of the things I need for the parties, but there are a lot of start-up costs that I could really use help with.  I've started a campaign on Kickstarter to raise money to cover these initial costs.  Money raised over the initial goal will go towards purchasing supplies for the next theme!

AND I'm making some seriously fun rewards for all sponsors!  Anyone who donates anything will receive a printable poster of Tyrannosaurus Rex...a Cretaceous King!  (Check out the preview above!)  Some of the other fun rewards include magnets, stickers, fossils, and more!  Please check it out HERE, and if you cannot sponsor it, please share it on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else!  :)

In case you missed's the link!

Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!!

And, just because I really cannot put up a whole post without something for you to use immediately for free, I want to share hundreds awesome ideas for kids science with you!  Just click on the image below to go to my Kid's Science Board.  Seriously...hundreds of fabulous ideas!!

I may share at any of these parties!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sand Sensory Play Challenge & Preschool Social Skills

If you have been following this blog for a while, you know I am a huge advocate of sensory experiences.  About six months ago we began to discover that one of my children has some sensory processing challenges, and I began to be even more deliberate in planning (and allowing spontaneous) sensory experiences.  Today we are joining in the monthly Sensory Bin Challenge hosted at Little Bins for Little Hands, and the theme is sand!

If you saw the Dirt Challenge, you may remember that the goal is to set out a designated sensory material and let your children choose the tools and direction for the experience.  I love this kind of activity for three reasons:  1- It is empowering for children to decide what they will do. 2- Children learn better when they are invested and in control of what they are doing. 3- It is super easy!!

So, I set out a bucket of sand:

They immediately dug in with their hands, a shovel (from their "digging spot"), and a paper towel tube that had managed to come outside with us.

It did not take long before we started having issues getting along:  "He bumped me!"  "She's taking my sand!" "I can't reach it with their arms there!"  I knew they would all enjoy the sand more if they could spread out a bit, so we dumped it into their dirt "digging spot."  It spread out quickly, and everyone could reach it better.

And apparently it screamed for bare feet.

The children quickly found more tools, and began to play games. They were sailors.  They were travelers.  They were animal rescuers.  The youngest just played with the sand.

We still had several opportunities to practice social skills.  It is amazing how often a preschooler thinks that every grain of sand (or any other sensory material) belongs exclusively to him or her.  We had one little girl very frustrated that anyone else was touching her sand.  Another child wanted the particular stick she saw her brother grab.

Shared sensory experiences provide a fabulous platform for experiencing and practicing social skills like sharing and taking turns.  At the same time, your children have a chance to engage their senses, explore and direct their learning, and embark on imaginative journeys of their choice!  Here are some tips for guiding social skill development:

1- Taking turns and sharing is a big deal for most preschoolers.  Be patient as you remind them that the sand is for everyone.

2- We have two rules:  1- If it is in someone's hand, it is their turn.  2- When you put it down, someone else can pick it up.  Your turn is over.

3- When someone attempts to violate one of the big rules, correct them by simply telling them the rule.  Try to keep it positive.  For example, instead of saying "Don't take Sally's stick," say "The stick is in Sally's hand.  It is her turn."

4-  Make sure you have plenty of sand and space for everyone!

Our crew flew to the sand pile like magnets to a metal door every time we went outside...for days.  They played in the sand pile for well over 30 minutes the first time and for hours over the course of a couple days.  Like the last sensory challenge, they loved it!

Sand is a particularly fabulous sensory tool because you can play with it plain, hide things in it, build with it, get it wet (which completely changes it!), pour it, mix it, and much more!  You can get 50 pounds for under $4, and only use a fraction of it at a time.

Check out the other Monthly Sensory Bin Challenge blogs to see what happened in their sand buckets!  You may get some fabulous ideas of props to provide your kiddos...or you may be inspired to try the challenge yourself and see what tools your own children want to grab!  It's totally worth the small clean up afterwards!  When you try it, be sure to snap a couple pictures...I'd love to see your adventure!

Monthly Sensory Bin Challenge Blogs:  

Little Bins for Little Hands

House of Burke

 Still Playing School

Stir the Wonder


Are you a fan of child-led learning?  Be sure to visit my How Do I Teach a Child-Led Curriculum series for loads of great ideas and resources!

I may share at any of these parties!

Monday, July 28, 2014

{FREE} Pirate Patterns Preschool Packet

I am excited to share this {FREE} Pirate Patterns Preschool Packet with you for this month's Poppins Book Nook!  

As you can tell, the theme this month is all about PIRATES!  To celebrate, you can download these pattern pages {FREE} at my Teachers Notebook shop!


These {FREE} printables can be used as a cut and paste activity where you child cuts the pictures out of the bottom row and glues the picture that comes next into the correct boxes.  Or, you can cut out the bottom row, laminate the pieces, and use them in a Montessori-style bin, as a center activity, or one-on-one with your child on different days!  Click here to get a copy of this {FREE} Pirate Patterns Preschool Packet! 

What else can you do with pirates?  Click here to see how we made pirate swords out of household materials!

One of my all-time favorite pirate-themed preschool (and older kids!) picture book is Dirty Joe, The Pirate by Bill Harley.  It combines fun rhythm, rhyme, a phenomenal story, and even a lesson in an attention-grabbing adventure!  You can click on the Amazon Affiliate link below to go to Amazon and actually see some of the pages inside the book.  You never pay more for purchasing through an affiliate link, but the small commission they give me for referring you helps pay for this blog and our homeschooling expenses.  :)

Amazon Affiliate link:

Who else is blogging about pirates?  Be sure to check out these blogs:  

Do you have a post about pirates?  Feel free to link it up here!

And be sure to visit Enchanted Homeschooling Mom to enter the giveaway for a {FREE} Pirate book!

I may share at any of these parties!
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Welcome! I'm so glad you're visiting! I am a public school teacher turned homeschooling mom who runs a small home daycare. I love to teach, create fun and exciting resources, and share the educational journey that we get to live!

This blog is full of ideas and resources for parents teaching preschoolers! One of my favorite things about blogging is getting to meet you all--be sure to say hi! You can always leave a comment or email me anytime at PreschoolPackets at gmail dot com!



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