Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pattern Blocks for Christmas

Pattern blocks are a type of math manipulative that you commonly find in primary grade classrooms and beyond. They are great for learning geometry and a fun way to build spacial awareness as well. I blogged about pattern blocks back in the summer - here

Pattern blocks are a great teaching tool to have at home for your children to play and learn with. I started this post as a way to share this link for making Christmas themed pictures using pattern blocks:  
(That should be where I stopped typing but instead...I wrote a short dissertation. Clearly I'm stalling on my holiday to-do list!)

I thought I'd re-cap some of the toys that we play with at our house that use pattern blocks and offer a couple good websites for free printables of templates for pattern blocks. All of the products listed can be bought at or locally at most toy stores. It's actually quite amazing the selection of pattern blocks that you can buy at Amazon - wood, foam, see-through, magnetic, template sets, kits, etc. (Hop over there if you aren't familiar with what pattern blocks are!)

Melissa and Doug makes a wooden set - "Pattern Blocks & Boards" which has pre-printed images that the child lays the blocks onto. This has been a favorite toy for years! To extend my kindergartners learning with this I have him record the number of each of the shapes that he uses to create the picture.

Melissa and Doug also makes a toy for younger children (2+) called Beginner Pattern Blocks. These are great for wee little ones because the blocks fit into place and do not slide around. Each pictures requires less tiles and they are simple to solve. My daughter is an expert at this and loves to sit and play with it. The other set is still a bit frustrating because the tiles slide but she plays with both now.
Mightymind Set - is a activity set that has 32 colorful design tiles that store in a plastic tray. It has  sequentially numbered puzzle cards for the child to build increasingly difficult pictures. Clearly people have known about this toy for some time since "over 3 million sets have been sold in 20 countries around the world" but I just discovered it this past fall. It's marketed for ages 3-8 but my 2.5 year old enjoys it and my six year old finished it quickly. I like that it gets increasingly more difficult as they take the color and outline supports out from the cards as they get progressively more challenging. The brochure for the product states, "MightyMind encourages and entices a child to think, explore and discover the fascinating way simple shapes can be combined to form intricate delightful pictures and designs. Children learn to solve puzzles without assistance. No language or reading is required."  I think this is a great set to buy but the blocks are smaller than free templates that I found online. The tiles are plastic and I prefer the M&D wood ones, but this company also offers a magnetic set which would be fun on the go.

Another choice is make paper pattern blocks using card stock. The drawback is the paper ones shift when making patterns and they don't have the same feel as wood one.
The paper ones do make fun craft projects, though I'd advise an adult precuting the shapes so building with them comes out symmetrical. Here's a site for paper pattern blocks.

Also check out Heidi's blog post about using pattern blocks to build letters -

Other good sites for free pattern block templates:

One of my favorite preschool websites has a wealth of pattern block templates:   (These come in both color and black and white so you can offer differing amounts of support.)
One of my favorite Kindergarten bloggers Mrs. Wills has free pattern block templates. Just click on the picture and it takes you to her Goggle docs for free. These are smaller than the pattern blocks that I own but I love that it challenges my son to 'free build' using the template as a guide. It doesn't allow him to just lay the tiles on tops of the template so his mind is working at another level!

This site is geared for slightly older children but lovely designs.

Links to other learning using pattern blocks -- quilting, snowflakes, symmetrical building, art

Of my....I think I will be spending more time with pattern blocks this winter! But back now to my holiday to-do list!
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Animal Tracks

Introducing the Theme
The term 'tracks' may be new to some children so begin by explaining that 'tracks' are like saying "footprints". Tracks are the footprints that are left by animals feet when they walk.

Get the children thinking by asking, "When are some other times that you have made footprints? If you walk on plain grass do you leave footprints? How do we make footprints?" (walking in mud, on the sand at the beach, playing in snow, doing a craft when are feet are painted, or walking after we have mud or dirt on our shoes.)

Read aloud - Footprints in the Snow. This is a simple text and  is a great introduction to animal tracks for preschoolers.

Another excellent read aloud for preschools is Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Yee

After reading, explain to the children that in the winter, snow makes it very easy to see what animals have been walking around. The animals feet leave a 'footprint' or 'track' and that track is often frozen so you can examine even days after it is made.

Outdoor activities:

* Winter Walk: Taking a winter walk looking for animal tracks can be quite the adventure for young children. Explain that in addition to tracks people also look for tree scarring and scat (animal droppings). Look for real animal tracks (even cat tracks are fun to find). Any time that tracks are found look around the area closely without disturbing the tracks. Take a photograph of the tracks so that you can print and make a book of your discoveries. Look for other signs of animal activity - chewed acorn shells, scat, and scratches in bark.

* Give each child their own 'Animal Track Pattern Cards' to wear as necklace. ( used to have one from Curious George but the link is no longer active. Another printable version can be found in the Project Season book from Shelburne Farms. If I find a good free printable I will come back to link to it.)

*Follow the Footprints activity: Make animal footprints that are to scale of the actual size of the animal. (I am using Deer & Moose this year.) Laminate the sheets for durability. Before the students arrive, put the footprints out in the outdoor space. Then have the children track the prints down and follow the animal. {If there is snow on the ground, stomp out human footprints in various sized boots instead.}

Indoor Activities:
Water Table - put a thin layer of real snow in the water table. Add a few plastic toys encourage kids to make tracks in the snow. (If no snow is available use a thin layer of flour in a shallow pan, placed inside the water table to catch most of the spills.)

Play dough - make a batch of homemade play dough and leave plain white. Put a variety to plastic animals at the play dough table and encourage the students to make tracks in their dough.

Kid Tracks - roll out 8 feet of easel paper on the ground. Paint the children's feet have them walk the length of the paper. Have 3-4 kids on one sheet, using different colored paints. Display the easel paper in the classroom.

Blocks - add white cotton batting as pretend snow, pretend woodland animals

Sensory Table - bring a bit of the forest into the classroom by having a wide selection of natural materials  (pine branches, pine cones, small branches, dried plants, etc.) Possibly hide some woodland animals amongst the branches.

Science Center- display an animal track identification poster on the wall, have a tracking manual, small tracking cards, and other animal resource books. Animal Tracks matching cards that are age appropriate can be found at -
Writing Center - have a photocopy sheet of a simple landscape and small rubber stamps of animal tracks. Encourage the kids to make tracks in the 'snow' since the paper is white.

Actual Size Rubber Stamps - trace animal tracks onto black foam that has an adhesive back. Cut out the shape and mount onto a scrap piece of 2x4 or small lumber. (Be sure to sand any rough edges.) Assist the kids in using ink pads to create tracks onto paper. I made moose and deer prints in actual size to show the size difference.

Book Center - have a variety of winter themed books including age appropriate books about tracks:
Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints by Millicent E. Selsam; Who’s Been Here?: A Tale in Tracks by Fran Hodgkins, Footprints in the Snow by Cynthia Benjamin.  

Additional Resources:
Online Animal Tracks game -
Online Animals in the Forest counting game -