Healthy Me: Exploring Nutrition and the Body

Healthy eating habits are a great topic of exploration around the holidays, where food is at the center of most celebrations. Along with nutrition, I also like to include activities related to the body to round out my monthly preschool science and math program.

Great folktales and picture books about food abound in children’s literature, so it was easy to plan my story time. Along with my old stand-bys (telling “The Enormous Turnip” on the felt board and the Very Hungry Caterpillar with props) I added some new favorites:  Rah, Rah, Radishes: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre.

Also a newish title from the wonderful George Shannon, which relates all the human effort it takes to make ingredients to bake cookies and bring them to market – from farmers, to metal-smiths, to truck drivers.

The science and math activities following were mostly based on nutrition, digestion and other aspects of the body.



The Stomach

This activity appeals to preschoolers’ love of squishing things! I placed a few slices of banana and some saltines into a plastic bag. Preschoolers were invited to squish the food in the baggies using their hands. While they did so, I invited conversations about how our body smashes food together so that it can be digested. *I have tried leaving food out to let them make their own, but the bananas were too tempting!



Comparing the Large and Small Intestine

I was inspired to create this activity after my visit to CMOE, a hands-on science museum in Evansville, Indiana. I re-purposed some coffee cans with removable plastic lids to help demonstrate the average size of the large and small intestine in humans, 5 feet and 22 feet, respectively. The cans were easy to make – just poke a hole in the lid, affix desired length of yarn to the bottom of the can, put clear tape on the edge of the yarn so that it will go through the lid.


Exploring Bones

This large foam floor puzzle of the human skeleton (purchased through Discount School Supply) was a good way for older preschoolers to explore the structure of the body.


The Heart

At this station, I encouraged parents and children to take turns using a stethoscope. The activity I proposed was to listen to the heart when the person was at rest. Then, listen to the heart after that person did 10 jumping jacks! Yet another way to put real equipment into kids’ hands.


The Healthy Eating Plate

A perennial favorite – children are asked to sort through photos cut from grocery store ads (or provided materials to draw or write) and apply them to portions on the Healthy Eating plate. What I like about this exercise is that along with the fact children are compelled to sort, classify, and quantify data, I often hear wonderful conversations about food choices.

Activities exploring the body are typically a great hit with young children. Stay tuned for more ideas!

Winter Treasures – Preschool Science and Math Storytime

Winter is upon us. This month in Preschool Science and Math, we explored properties of matter, shapes, life science – all inspired by the cold months ahead. First we started with books and stories. I always begin with non-fiction. I love books in the Acorn series.

We talked about how no two snowflakes are alike. Before reading, I showed photos of snowflakes taken by a scientist at Cal Tech. We talked about how the snowflakes were alike (six sides, made of water) and different. Then we read this very sweet book:

After talking about the properties of snow, we engaged with a felt activity where we built a snowman. We talked about the order of the snowballs (would the little one be able to hold up all the rest?)

Later, I asked the children if they knew the pattern of the seasons. After a lively discussion we had fun using our imaginations when we read, where the magical character “Jack Frost” disappears the moment the boy mentions “spring.”

We told more stories and wrapped it up by acting out the story of “The Mitten.” Children had fun pretending to be animals, snuggling together under a big white “mitten” (actually a blanket) When the “bear” sneezes I lift up the blanket and the kids go scattering.

Now for science and math!

The biggest hit by far was the experiment in which children were encouraged to predict which would melt ice faster: rock salt, salt water, or water. I had these materials on hand, along with pipettes so children could experiment with this tool as well. I’ve done this experiment before, but this time I made it a little more interesting by freezing plastic dinosaurs in the ice. (I just placed them in cake pans of various sizes and put them in the freezer for a few days) I also provided plastic toys shaped like hammers, screwdrivers, as well as ice crushers for cocktails 🙂

I love creating group art inspired by science and math concepts. This time we created snow creatures using pre-cut shapes: circles, rectangles, squares, triangles. (thank you Ellison die cut machine!) I encouraged parents to talk with their children about the shapes they were using, noticing how many circles they use, squares, etc. I also provided materials for children to make the six-sided snowflakes discussed earlier in story time. (It helped that I folded the circles ahead of time: fold each circle in half,

then in thirds.)


With some end-of-year friends of the library money, I was able to purchase a most wonderful set of thermometers. I love to put real scientific tools into children’s hands. For this activity, I filled two balloons with water and stuck them in the freezer for a couple of days – until they were completely solid. On the day of the program, I filled two balloons with cold water and rested them in a bowl of ice. I filled two more balloons with warm water. (It’s important to fill them up just about halfway so they don’t burst when little hands play with them) The children had fun watching the thermometer go up and down as they measure the temperature of each balloon.

Finally, I revisited my interactive display, where children use puppets to find where animals live in winter. (See earlier post)

Preschool Science and Math: Sound Investigations

Exploring the world of sound with preschoolers presents an interesting challenge: how to make an intangible concept hands-on. Our talented intern, Ginny Hosler, was up to the task! We hope you like the activities we offered to investigate sound.

First, I began with a half hour story program. This allows children time to build a vocabulary about a particular concept prior to exploration. At the top of the program, I always begin with open-ended questions to get kids talking and thinking. Then, I follow with non-fiction picture book. I love using books in the Acorn series. This one worked especially well:

Along the way I shared stories related to sounds and music. By far, the biggest hit of the program was my telling “The Gunniwolf” with puppets. The idea that music calms the savage beast is so hilarious.

Once stories have been told, we set up the room for kids to explore the world of sound.

Sound Garden


This is an activity inspired by Teacher Tom, where various instruments are suspended from a PVC structure. Children were encouraged to walk through the structure and experiment with different materials (wood, metal, plastic) in the production of sound. I like the immersive quality of this activity.


Draw to Music

Ginny put together a playlist that included various genres of music: pop, jazz, classical, etc. Then, we set out paint and encouraged our young artists to let the music inspire them.


Making Waves

This simple experiment illustrates how sound travels in waves. Using the eyedropper provided, children drew water from the cup and dropped it into the clear plastic bowl. Parents were encouraged to talk to their child about how the drop causes a ripple effect in the water – similar to that of sound waves travelling through air.


Playing around with sound

Preschoolers need lots of opportunity to explore through play. So, I typically designate a corner of the room as an unstructured play area. In this area for Sound Investigations, I placed plastic tubes that play a particular note when it is struck. I also had instruments and a sorting set, where children sort objects by the sound they make when shaken.


Make your tambourine

I love having children leave my program with something they can use to continue their explorations after they leave the library. For sound investigations, children made simple tambourines out of paper plates with pasta inside.


I will definitely revisit this program again. We all had a great time with our Sound Investigations!


Early Literacy Spots in the Wild

In spring, we are wild about our new early literacy spots. These displays help promote language and learning, and transform the library into a learning environment.


One of our more popular spots is a column that acts as a giant ruler. This spot encourages children to use a tool of measurement and to evaluate relative sizes.  Each season we come up with different objects against which children can compare their size. This spring we chose pictures of wild animals. We used:  an ostrich (8’), yak (7’), bison (6’), polar bear (5’), lion (4’), komodo dragon (3’), coyote (2’), and a fox (1’)


Need a captive audience? There’s no better place than the bathrooms! We have two family bathrooms in the children’s department. While little ones are squirming or waiting for their siblings to finish, I created two displays to get kids and grown-ups talking and thinking.


Over in the Meadow

I love imbuing the environment with text. In this spot, I simply placed a stanza of the traditional rhyme, “Over in the Meadow,” with a photo of the animal appearing in that particular verse. I chose photos over illustrations to help children connect the natural world to the story.


Animal Homes

This is a simple matching game where children are encouraged to identify which animal belongs in a particular animal home: a tree, cave, or burrow. I included pictures of a bat, bear, rabbit, gopher, monkey and a squirrel. My hope is to encourage dialogue between children and adults about animals and the world in which they live.

Light and Shadow: Preschool Science and Math


Groundhog’s Day has come and gone, but the shadow of its promise of longer, warmer days lingers! For preschool science in February, we explored the world of light, reflection, and shadow. These activities are meant to promote lively discussions between children and their adult partners, which builds vocabulary and knowledge of the world.


Shadow Mural

Children stood in front of light from an overhead projector and observed their shadows. During this open-ended activity, children and their grown-up partners had the opportunity to talk about how shadows change as the object is moves. Then, the children posed as their grown-up traced their shadow on paper with chalk. Children added words, labels, and even some made-up shadow shapes to complete the mural.



Create a Shadow Puppet

Children cut out and decorated shapes, which they attached to a craft stick. This simple, open-ended craft, allowed children to explore shapes and the shadows they create.


Guess My Name

Secret, shadow boxes sat on a table alongside a bucket full of plastic animals. The grown-up placed an animal in the box, without letting the child see. Children shone a flashlight through the hole and tried to guess the animal based on the shadow projected on the wall.



Catch a Shadow

Bugs hung, suspended in the air, waiting for their shadow to be caught. Children could catch a shadow on a piece of paper and trace the shape, or simply catch it in their hands.


Night and Day

In this activity, children could explore the relationship between the sun and earth regarding night and day. A floor lamp was stationed in the corner, next to inflatable globes.


Children and grown-ups had fun exploring reflection using mirrors, flashlights, and a disco mirror ball.

This program took awhile to think through, but has become one of my favorites. Stay tuned for the results of my weather program!

I Spy with My Winter Eye…Early Literacy Spots

ImageHow do you promote early literacy without saying a word? Early literacy spots! At MCPL, we create interactive displays, “early literacy spots,” designed to promote language and knowledge for preschool children. I try to rotate the spots seasonally. Here’s what I came up for winter:

One of our lovely interns, Angela Hircock, transformed one of our columns into a giant ruler. This unassuming column has become an important destination to our young patrons. It also effectively encourages children to use a tool of measurement and to evaluate relative sizes.  Each season we come up with different objects against which children can compare their size. This winter we chose pictures of objects and with the help of yet another shining intern, Maggie Block, we arranged them according to size.  The objects included:

Evergreen tree 8′; Zamboni machine 7′; Ski: 6′; Snowboard: 5′; Shovel: 4.25′; Sled: 3.33′; Snowshoes: 2′; Ice skate blade: 1′; Large mittens: 8.44″; Cup of Coco: 4.5″

Early Literacy spots in Unlikely Places

Need a captive audience? There’s no better place than the bathrooms! We have two family bathrooms in the children’s department. While little ones are squirming or waiting for their siblings to finish, I created two displays to get kids and grown-ups talking and thinking.

 Whose Boots?

This is a simple matching game, where children are encouraged to match the photo of boots to their most likely owner. I found some lovely photos from the Microsoft office image collection: a cowgirl, hiker, firefighter, young person in a snowsuit, and a skier – all with boots to match. This display encourages speaking vocabulary and knowledge building, in that children are asked to name and describe the people and potential uses of their boots.

ImageThree Little Kittens Mitten Count

Alongside the traditional “Three Little Kittens” rhyme, I placed a number of red, yellow, and blue mittens. Children are encouraged to count how many of each colored mitten they can find. This activity helps to foster one-to-one counting (where each object is counted only once), as well as classifying objects based on an observable characteristic.



Preschool Science: Animals in Winter (part two)

Fat? Feathers? Sweaters? Which is the Best Insulator?


This activity never fails to attract a crowd.  Prior to the program, I create a set of Ziploc bags that contain yarn, vegetable shortening, and feathers. I prepare the bags so that children can place their hands inside.  Then, I place two over-sized Post-It papers on an adjacent wall. One sheet invites children to predict which insulator will keep their hands the warmest. The other asks children to document which insulator was best after experimentation and observation. Finally, I set two large bowls of ice in which children can test each insulator. This simple experiment provides a great introduction to the scientific method.

Guess the Hibernating Animal.


One of my primary goals for all activities I present to preschoolers is to encourage meaningful discussion between adults and children. This simple game gets people asking questions and using descriptive words.

Prior to the program, I cut out peepholes in sturdy cardboard squares. On one side I glued a Velcro strip. Then, I printed out and laminated photos of animals that hibernate in winter. I chose a frog, turtle, and a snake. (best to use animals that are distinct and common) During the program, I invited the children to select a photo – without their grown-up partner peeking. The child places the photo on the cardboard, while the adult peers through the hole. The adult proceeds to ask the child questions about the animal until they are able to guess the correct one. This is your basic “20 questions” with a scientific twist.

Wild Bird Feeder


I found this simple bird feeder that preschoolers can assemble fairly quickly – and should stay useful if it is under cover. The bird feeder will hopefully provide an opportunity for the children to continue their observation of animals in winter at home.

Prior to the program, we cut two semi-circles out of the bottom of a cardboard tube. Then, we punched four holes in the top. Finally, we painted the tubes a cheerful shade of red. I set out colorful duct tape to affix the tubes to small plastic plates, and festive curling ribbon to string through the holes in the top so that the feeder might hang on a tree or a hook. We sent small bags of birdseed home with the families to help them get started with their backyard bird observation.

Hibernation Station


A couple years ago, I created a large interactive display to illustrate where animals live in the winter. I created a tree, a cloud, a patch of ground, and a partial lake. Each element has a flap that reveals which animal lives in that particular habitat in winter. I pin the pieces to the wall and set out puppets. Children use the puppets to find their animal’s home. This activity appeals to the kinesthetic learner, as they move about searching with their puppet.

Preschool Science: Animals in Winter (part one)


When the weather turns cold, I turn to one of my favorite themes for preschool science: Animals in Winter. I remember as a young child wondering and worrying about how animals survive in frosty weather. Over time, I came up with a group of stories and activities that our families seem to enjoy.

Prior to Preschool Science, I present a traditional preschool storytime, which includes a mix of fiction, non-fiction and folklore. This helps my young patrons get their minds focused on our topic of exploration. This month I shared:

  • Animals in Winter, by Martha Rustad
  • Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson (big book version)
  • The Hat, by Jan Brett (big book version)
  • Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit, by Il Sung Na
  • Rabbit’s Gift, retold by George Shannon (oral telling with feltboard)

Then Preschool Science begins!

Dressed for Winter


This activity tied-in nicely with Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit. Using a projector, I traced the outline of an Arctic Fox, Snowshoe Hare, and a weasel on brown paper. I pinned the shapes onto the wall and set out glue and cotton balls. During the program the children were invited to “dress the animals for winter” by gluing the cotton balls onto the animal shapes. This activity helps to illustrate an animal adaptation, where brown fur changes to white so that the animals are better camouflaged in the snow.

Animal Tracks


This activity went through a few cycles before I came up with one that worked. First, I cut stencils out of thin craft foam of bear, dear, bird, and fox tracks. Then, I taped white paper to a table. During the program, children created a jumble of tracks in the snow. In order to create an opportunity for writing, I encouraged the children to label the tracks.

See Part Two for more

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Abby the Librarian

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Steve Spangler

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School Matters

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