Jessica Ralli
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Activities

 

Hands-On Learning for Young Children

These are some of my favorite hands-on learning experiences for children 0-5. I’ve added suggestions for how to add rich language to these activities to encourage early literacy and brain building.

 
NATURE LOOSE PARTS PLAY  Materials: collected natural materials such as pinecones, shells, sticks, mixed with wood, cork, craft puffs, craft sticks (glue or play dough optional)  Process: Allow children to explore the materials. They may choose to combine or bind them, build with them, or just explore their properties.  Words: color words, descriptive words, texture, combine, build  Questions: What if we… What did you make? How does it feel?

NATURE LOOSE PARTS PLAY

Materials: collected natural materials such as pinecones, shells, sticks, mixed with wood, cork, craft puffs, craft sticks (glue or play dough optional)

Process: Allow children to explore the materials. They may choose to combine or bind them, build with them, or just explore their properties.

Words: color words, descriptive words, texture, combine, build

Questions: What if we… What did you make? How does it feel?

OUTDOOR SCAVENGER HUNT  Materials:  Scavenger hunt cards  (which you can  print  or DIY), the great outdoors, small prizes  Process: Encourage exploration and hone observation skills by playing an outdoor scavenger hunt game! You can offer small prizes but the reward is usually in the hunt itself! Encourage children to describe what they saw and what they found.  Words: adjectives of all kinds, hunt, discover, search, positional words (over, under, behind)  Questions: Where might that be? What did you find? Who might be able to help? I wonder…

OUTDOOR SCAVENGER HUNT

Materials: Scavenger hunt cards (which you can print or DIY), the great outdoors, small prizes

Process: Encourage exploration and hone observation skills by playing an outdoor scavenger hunt game! You can offer small prizes but the reward is usually in the hunt itself! Encourage children to describe what they saw and what they found.

Words: adjectives of all kinds, hunt, discover, search, positional words (over, under, behind)

Questions: Where might that be? What did you find? Who might be able to help? I wonder…

OPEN-ENDED CONNECT THE DOTS  Materials: paper, crayons or file label stickers  Process: Draw dots in a random formation on a page, and let your child connect them in any shape they would like  Words: connect, shape words, color words  Questions: What did you make? Where will you go next? What does it look like?

OPEN-ENDED CONNECT THE DOTS

Materials: paper, crayons or file label stickers

Process: Draw dots in a random formation on a page, and let your child connect them in any shape they would like

Words: connect, shape words, color words

Questions: What did you make? Where will you go next? What does it look like?

TIE-DYE PAPER TOWEL  Materials: paper towels, pipettes, food coloring or liquid watercolor (preferred because it stains the hands less)  Process: Fold the paper towel square or rectangle into as small a triangle as you can. Drop different colors on each side of the paper towel, flip over and do the same. Once it is saturated (not too much) open! Dry on a line or flat surface.  Words: color words, absorb, mix, combine, fade, bright, dark, wet, dry.  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? What does it look like?

TIE-DYE PAPER TOWEL

Materials: paper towels, pipettes, food coloring or liquid watercolor (preferred because it stains the hands less)

Process: Fold the paper towel square or rectangle into as small a triangle as you can. Drop different colors on each side of the paper towel, flip over and do the same. Once it is saturated (not too much) open! Dry on a line or flat surface.

Words: color words, absorb, mix, combine, fade, bright, dark, wet, dry.

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? What does it look like?

CREATE CRATE  Materials: tape, glue, string, cut cardboard, balsa wood, egg cartons, model magic, bubble wrap, interesting paper,  low-heat glue gun.   Process: Let children explore the materials. Discuss ideas for what you may want to create. For children 4 and up, try drawing a picture of your ideas first, or after they are done. Always supervise when children are using glue gun and/or scissors.  Words: build, fasten, texture, strong, balance, color words, shape words  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? What does it do? What is it called?

CREATE CRATE

Materials: tape, glue, string, cut cardboard, balsa wood, egg cartons, model magic, bubble wrap, interesting paper, low-heat glue gun.

Process: Let children explore the materials. Discuss ideas for what you may want to create. For children 4 and up, try drawing a picture of your ideas first, or after they are done. Always supervise when children are using glue gun and/or scissors.

Words: build, fasten, texture, strong, balance, color words, shape words

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? What does it do? What is it called?


YOGURT PAINT  Materials: Plain yogurt, food coloring, brushes,  scrapers,  clean surface  Process: Mix a tiny drop of food coloring (at least two different colors) into a few spoonfuls of yogurt. Spread each color around a clean surface and let your baby explore the paint with brushes, scrapers, spoons, and more! Encourage color mixing and exploring the texture with their hands.  Words: color words, mix, combine, squishy, soft, shape words  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder…?

YOGURT PAINT

Materials: Plain yogurt, food coloring, brushes, scrapers, clean surface

Process: Mix a tiny drop of food coloring (at least two different colors) into a few spoonfuls of yogurt. Spread each color around a clean surface and let your baby explore the paint with brushes, scrapers, spoons, and more! Encourage color mixing and exploring the texture with their hands.

Words: color words, mix, combine, squishy, soft, shape words

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder…?


BLOCK PAINTING  Materials:  Plain wood blocks  of any size or shape  Process: Using  Mala paint from Ikea  (my fave) or paint markers, allow children to decorate blocks. Older children may want to add letters or simple pictures.  Words: build, shape words, color words, three dimensional, alphabet  Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…

BLOCK PAINTING

Materials: Plain wood blocks of any size or shape

Process: Using Mala paint from Ikea (my fave) or paint markers, allow children to decorate blocks. Older children may want to add letters or simple pictures.

Words: build, shape words, color words, three dimensional, alphabet

Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…


COLANDER SCULPTURE  Materials: colander, pipe cleaners  Process: Encourage your child to stick pipe cleaners through the small holes in the colander. This  Words: through, in, out, pull, push  Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…

COLANDER SCULPTURE

Materials: colander, pipe cleaners

Process: Encourage your child to stick pipe cleaners through the small holes in the colander. This

Words: through, in, out, pull, push

Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…


FINE MOTOR BIN  Materials: Colander, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, scissors, droppers, beads, yarn, dry erase or magna doodle, hole punch, paper, tape, clothespins, stickers  Process: Create a bin with pre-writing materials that can either be set up as activities or explored in a self-directed way.  Words: pinch, push, squeeze, poke, place, cut, straight, squiggly, shape words, ABC’s  Questions: What can you make? What did you try? I wonder if?

FINE MOTOR BIN

Materials: Colander, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, scissors, droppers, beads, yarn, dry erase or magna doodle, hole punch, paper, tape, clothespins, stickers

Process: Create a bin with pre-writing materials that can either be set up as activities or explored in a self-directed way.

Words: pinch, push, squeeze, poke, place, cut, straight, squiggly, shape words, ABC’s

Questions: What can you make? What did you try? I wonder if?

STICKY WALL  Materials: flannel or felt, curlers, velcro  Process: Stretch a large piece of flannel over a piece of foam core or wood and affix with staples, glue or nails. You can also just tape the flannel to an easel or the wall. Experiment with things that stick to flannel—like other flannel pieces, velcro, and curlers!  Words: stick, fall, gravity, shape words, texture words  Questions: What will happen next? What if we…? Why does it stick?

STICKY WALL

Materials: flannel or felt, curlers, velcro

Process: Stretch a large piece of flannel over a piece of foam core or wood and affix with staples, glue or nails. You can also just tape the flannel to an easel or the wall. Experiment with things that stick to flannel—like other flannel pieces, velcro, and curlers!

Words: stick, fall, gravity, shape words, texture words

Questions: What will happen next? What if we…? Why does it stick?

POTATO PRINTING  Materials: raw potatoes, sharp knife, small cookie cutters  Process: Adults can create the print making implements using the tools above. Children can experiment with pressing the potatoes into pigment and onto paper.  Words: color words, press, layer, create  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

POTATO PRINTING

Materials: raw potatoes, sharp knife, small cookie cutters

Process: Adults can create the print making implements using the tools above. Children can experiment with pressing the potatoes into pigment and onto paper.

Words: color words, press, layer, create

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

Experience precedes understanding.
— Jean Piaget
NOT A BOX  Materials: cardboard box, string, stickers, other decorations  Process: Make a fort, boat, car or anything you want out of a big cardboard box. Make doors and windows for lots of peek-a-boo opportunities. Lay a rug or blanket inside for coziness.  Words: color words, texture, build, break, hide, find.  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

NOT A BOX

Materials: cardboard box, string, stickers, other decorations

Process: Make a fort, boat, car or anything you want out of a big cardboard box. Make doors and windows for lots of peek-a-boo opportunities. Lay a rug or blanket inside for coziness.

Words: color words, texture, build, break, hide, find.

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

SALAD SPINNER ART  Materials: salad spinner, squeeze paint ( MALA from Ikea works well ), paper cut into squares or rectangles that fit at the bottom of the salad spinner.  Process: Place a piece of paper in the bottom of the salad spinner (you can even tape it down). Let the child squeeze paint onto the surface of the paper (2-5 colors work best). Close, spin, and reveal!  Words: spin, inertia, squeeze, color words, spread, splatter  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What does your picture look like? What happened?

SALAD SPINNER ART

Materials: salad spinner, squeeze paint (MALA from Ikea works well), paper cut into squares or rectangles that fit at the bottom of the salad spinner.

Process: Place a piece of paper in the bottom of the salad spinner (you can even tape it down). Let the child squeeze paint onto the surface of the paper (2-5 colors work best). Close, spin, and reveal!

Words: spin, inertia, squeeze, color words, spread, splatter

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What does your picture look like? What happened?

DIY LIGHT TABLE  Materials: clear box,  battery LED lights , duct tape, clear colored cellophane, magna tiles, translucent objects.  Process: Let children explore the light table. Encourage them to stack different translucent objects on the light table.  Words: light, dark, transparent, translucent, color words, shape words  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What do you see? What do you notice? I wonder…?

DIY LIGHT TABLE

Materials: clear box, battery LED lights, duct tape, clear colored cellophane, magna tiles, translucent objects.

Process: Let children explore the light table. Encourage them to stack different translucent objects on the light table.

Words: light, dark, transparent, translucent, color words, shape words

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What do you see? What do you notice? I wonder…?

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.
— Fred Rogers
OUTDOOR EASEL  Materials: Piece of  clear Plexiglas  affixed to a fence or other outdoor surface (we drilled holes and used wire), window box planter (for paint storage), cups for paint, brushes, sponges, hose or water source.  Process: Painting outdoors is a wonderful sensory experience! Encourage children to get messy, and paint what they see and hear. Make clean-up part of the fun by encouraging them to sponge off their creations.  Words: abstract, realist, landscape, still life, color words, movement  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? How can you? How did you?

OUTDOOR EASEL

Materials: Piece of clear Plexiglas affixed to a fence or other outdoor surface (we drilled holes and used wire), window box planter (for paint storage), cups for paint, brushes, sponges, hose or water source.

Process: Painting outdoors is a wonderful sensory experience! Encourage children to get messy, and paint what they see and hear. Make clean-up part of the fun by encouraging them to sponge off their creations.

Words: abstract, realist, landscape, still life, color words, movement

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? How can you? How did you?


OUTDOOR BLOCKS  Materials: large, thick branches cut into stumps and sanded, 2X4’s cut and sanded (they will do this for you at Home Depot), non-toxic outdoor wood stain. You can also buy  some pre-made ones!   Process: If you have power tools, this is an easy project to do at home—otherwise enlist your favorite contractor or handy friend to make these simple blocks for you. Store in a bin outdoors where water won’t collect. Use for outdoor building projects or to decorate a garden together.  Words: stack, balance, build, fall, shape words, ramp  Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…

OUTDOOR BLOCKS

Materials: large, thick branches cut into stumps and sanded, 2X4’s cut and sanded (they will do this for you at Home Depot), non-toxic outdoor wood stain. You can also buy some pre-made ones!

Process: If you have power tools, this is an easy project to do at home—otherwise enlist your favorite contractor or handy friend to make these simple blocks for you. Store in a bin outdoors where water won’t collect. Use for outdoor building projects or to decorate a garden together.

Words: stack, balance, build, fall, shape words, ramp

Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…

If it hasn’t been in the hand and the body, it can’t be in the brain!”
— Bev Boss
STICKY WALL  Materials: Flannel stretched over canvas or cardboard, hair curlers, pieces of cut flannel, velcro  Process: Explore what sticks, how strong it is, and for how long it stays. Build shapes and stories with the different textured objects as they stick to the large flannel sheet.  Words: stick, fall, gravity, shape words, color words  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What do you notice? What did you make?

STICKY WALL

Materials: Flannel stretched over canvas or cardboard, hair curlers, pieces of cut flannel, velcro

Process: Explore what sticks, how strong it is, and for how long it stays. Build shapes and stories with the different textured objects as they stick to the large flannel sheet.

Words: stick, fall, gravity, shape words, color words

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What do you notice? What did you make?

Play is the work of childhood.
— Jean Piaget

SHAVING CREAM  Materials: Shaving cream, low baking sheet or tray  Process: Allow children to explore the texture and feel of the shaving cream and encourage them to create shapes with their fingers. Older children can practice writing their name, which helps them form letters in later writing.  Words: ABC’s, push, squiggle, stretch, shape words  Questions: What can you make? What did you try? I wonder if?

SHAVING CREAM

Materials: Shaving cream, low baking sheet or tray

Process: Allow children to explore the texture and feel of the shaving cream and encourage them to create shapes with their fingers. Older children can practice writing their name, which helps them form letters in later writing.

Words: ABC’s, push, squiggle, stretch, shape words

Questions: What can you make? What did you try? I wonder if?

FREE BUILDING WITH PATTERN BLOCKS  Materials: wood or plastic pattern blocks  Process: Instead of matching pattern blocks to a pre-determined pattern, allow children to explore how the shapes relate to each other by placing them side by side, building them up or across, and matching or fitting them to shapes they create on paper.   Words: color words, shape words, prepositions  Questions: What did you make?  What do you see?  What do you notice?

FREE BUILDING WITH PATTERN BLOCKS

Materials: wood or plastic pattern blocks

Process: Instead of matching pattern blocks to a pre-determined pattern, allow children to explore how the shapes relate to each other by placing them side by side, building them up or across, and matching or fitting them to shapes they create on paper.

Words: color words, shape words, prepositions

Questions: What did you make? What do you see? What do you notice?

DIY STORY CUBES  Materials:  plain blocks , sharpie, imagination  Process: Adults can create the images on each side of at least 3 wooden cubes (ask your child for simple ideas like a rainbow, sun, castle, person, animal). Take turns tossing the cube and tell a story prompted by the image. You can start with “Once upon a time” and end with “The End” to teach the parts of a story and help develop narrative skills.  Words: color words, descriptive words  Questions: What will happen next? What should we say? I wonder…

DIY STORY CUBES

Materials: plain blocks, sharpie, imagination

Process: Adults can create the images on each side of at least 3 wooden cubes (ask your child for simple ideas like a rainbow, sun, castle, person, animal). Take turns tossing the cube and tell a story prompted by the image. You can start with “Once upon a time” and end with “The End” to teach the parts of a story and help develop narrative skills.

Words: color words, descriptive words

Questions: What will happen next? What should we say? I wonder…

TEMPERA PAINTING  Materials: tempera cakes, paper, brushes, water  Process: Tempera can be messy, but not in cake form! These work like watercolors, but are more vibrant and can be used to paint on canvas, paint wood and other materials, or just on paper. They are great for color mixing too!  Words: color words, mix, combine, create  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

TEMPERA PAINTING

Materials: tempera cakes, paper, brushes, water

Process: Tempera can be messy, but not in cake form! These work like watercolors, but are more vibrant and can be used to paint on canvas, paint wood and other materials, or just on paper. They are great for color mixing too!

Words: color words, mix, combine, create

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

BATHTUB BLOCKS + SHAVING CREAM  Materials: foam cube blocks, unscented shaving cream, bathtub  Process: Using the shaving cream as mortar, encourage building projects in the bath!  Words: color words, texture, soft, squeeze, tall, fall, tower, bridge, build, break, create  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

BATHTUB BLOCKS + SHAVING CREAM

Materials: foam cube blocks, unscented shaving cream, bathtub

Process: Using the shaving cream as mortar, encourage building projects in the bath!

Words: color words, texture, soft, squeeze, tall, fall, tower, bridge, build, break, create

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? I wonder what would happen if?

TINKER TRAY  Materials: assorted loose parts such as corks, shells, string, toilet rolls, toothpicks, and shells; fasteners like glue, tape or string. Store them in a sectional tray or  shadow box with compartments (pictured).   Process: Let children explore the materials. Discuss ideas for what you may want to create. For children 4 and up, try drawing a picture of your ideas first, or after they are done. Always supervise when children are using glue gun and/or scissors. Use with other materials such as cardboard, wood pieces, play-dough and more!  Words: build, fasten, texture, strong, balance, color words, shape words  Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? What does it do? What is it called?

TINKER TRAY

Materials: assorted loose parts such as corks, shells, string, toilet rolls, toothpicks, and shells; fasteners like glue, tape or string. Store them in a sectional tray or shadow box with compartments (pictured).

Process: Let children explore the materials. Discuss ideas for what you may want to create. For children 4 and up, try drawing a picture of your ideas first, or after they are done. Always supervise when children are using glue gun and/or scissors. Use with other materials such as cardboard, wood pieces, play-dough and more!

Words: build, fasten, texture, strong, balance, color words, shape words

Questions: What do you think will happen if? What did you make? What does it do? What is it called?


DIY FACE-PAINT  Materials:  Kids face-paint set , tabletop mirror  Process: Why stop at drawing on paper! Allow children to use kid-friendly, washable face-paint while looking in a mirror. Encourage them to create a character.  Words: parts of the face words, color words, shape words, animal words, character words  Questions: Who are you? What are you drawing? What is your character name? What do your colors mean?

DIY FACE-PAINT

Materials: Kids face-paint set, tabletop mirror

Process: Why stop at drawing on paper! Allow children to use kid-friendly, washable face-paint while looking in a mirror. Encourage them to create a character.

Words: parts of the face words, color words, shape words, animal words, character words

Questions: Who are you? What are you drawing? What is your character name? What do your colors mean?


BUBBLE WRAP PAINTING  Materials: Bubble wrap and washable non-toxic paint  Process: Using  Mala paint from Ikea  (my fave) or any washable paint, allow children to spread paint over bubble wrap (wrap it around a tree outside for additional sensory fun). They can use their hands or wide brushes. You can press paper down onto the bubble wrap to create prints.  Words: color words, texture, bumpy, print, color mixing, squeeze  Questions: How does it feel? What do you see? What do you notice?

BUBBLE WRAP PAINTING

Materials: Bubble wrap and washable non-toxic paint

Process: Using Mala paint from Ikea (my fave) or any washable paint, allow children to spread paint over bubble wrap (wrap it around a tree outside for additional sensory fun). They can use their hands or wide brushes. You can press paper down onto the bubble wrap to create prints.

Words: color words, texture, bumpy, print, color mixing, squeeze

Questions: How does it feel? What do you see? What do you notice?


OUTDOOR BOX PAINTING  Materials: A large box, Mala paint from Ikea, brushes, drop cloth, good music  Process: Let kids free paint a huge box, inside and out. Play some awesome music. Best to do this activity in warm weather. Add tape, texture, and collage materials if you like!  Words: color words, shape words, size words, abstract, constructing  Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…

OUTDOOR BOX PAINTING

Materials: A large box, Mala paint from Ikea, brushes, drop cloth, good music

Process: Let kids free paint a huge box, inside and out. Play some awesome music. Best to do this activity in warm weather. Add tape, texture, and collage materials if you like!

Words: color words, shape words, size words, abstract, constructing

Questions: What did you make? Tell me about…. I wonder if? What if we…

EARLY WRITING BIN  Materials: Short crayons and chalk bits from  Handwriting Without Tears , index cards, whole punch,  Montessori sandpaper letters,  chalkboard, small  Muji  markers  Process: Create a bin with early writing supplies. Little hands write better with short pencils, chalk bits, and little markers ( Crayola makes them too ). Keep this accessible and let children self direct.  Words: ABC’s, pinch, squeeze, trace, twist  Questions: What can you make? What did you try? I wonder if? What can you try to do?

EARLY WRITING BIN

Materials: Short crayons and chalk bits from Handwriting Without Tears, index cards, whole punch, Montessori sandpaper letters, chalkboard, small Muji markers

Process: Create a bin with early writing supplies. Little hands write better with short pencils, chalk bits, and little markers (Crayola makes them too). Keep this accessible and let children self direct.

Words: ABC’s, pinch, squeeze, trace, twist

Questions: What can you make? What did you try? I wonder if? What can you try to do?