Blog by Jackie, your go to girl for early childhood ideas and inspiration. Passion is to inspire you with play based activates, themed centers, and supports that nurture and challenge little learners. And to help you find ways to embed character (aka social skills) throughout your day.
Transform the dramatic play center into a BEACH for a summer theme, ocean theme, or a beach theme! Your students will LOVE to play at the pretend beach and you will love it because you can sneak in tons of literacy, math, and STEM learning opportunities. Learning through play is powerful so grab your lesson planner because I’m going to give you tons of ideas for your pretend beach.
One of the first things students can pretend to do is put on sunscreen and it’s an easy way to teach and practice sun safety. Gran empty bottle and place a sunscreen label on it and you now have pretend sunscreen.
Create a lifeguard stand with a plastic red chair (this one I found at Walmart). Tape a long cardboard tube to it (like the tube from wrapping paper) and you now have a flag pole. The lifeguard can change the flags based on the ocean conditions (safe to swim, dangerous to swim, or animals in the water). This is another important life skill especially if your students visit the beach. Students need to know to check if the ocean is safe BEFORE they get in it.
If you have a beach you have to build sand castles and collect shells. Place kinetic sand, sand castle toys, and shells in a plastic tub. I use kinetic sand just because it is easier to clean up than loose sand. It’s a great sensory experience and fine motor activity too.
If you want to integrate STEM, place Sand Castle blueprint paper and measuring cubes (Unfix cubes) next to the sand for students to plan, design, and measure their sand castle.
To transform the center into a beach, I covered the wall with blue butcher paper. Students painted fish all over it and I taped some of the ocean animal crafts they made in art onto it as well. I also taped some blue butcher paper to the ground so students could pretend to swim, float, and surf in the “ocean”. The tubes, rafts, and surfboards are from the Dollar Tree.
Life jackets! Place life jackets in the center so students can practice putting them on (fabulous fine motor work). Water can be deadly for young kiddos so teach them the importance of wearing a life jacket when you play in the water. If you don’t have any life jackets, ask families if they have any extra you can borrow for the unit.
Let students pretend to go fishing at the beach so you can sneak in sorting into the dramatic play center. Make fish different sizes and colors so students can sort the fish they catch. I made fishing poles with doll rods, plastic string, and a magnet then I placed paper clips on the end of each fish. Students will be sorting and using math vocabulary during play! Getting hungry? Make a snack shop. This is a grocery store stand that I transformed into the snack shop stand by taking the awning off and taping a plastic table cloth to the front. Then I added signs, menus, rental agreements, and order forms for environmental print and writing opportunities. Beachgoers have to “read” the signs (aka read the pictures) and order items from the menu.
Students made these pretend popsicles with Model Magic by rolling the Model Magic around the popsicle stick. Once it was dry they painted it and placed it in a real popsicle box. We also made cookies with Model Magic, made chips with yellow paper, and made snow cones with tissue paper. Friends, you can totally make pretend props instead of buying all the fancy ones from the store.
It’s time for a fairy tales theme so bring on all the princess, princes, castles, jewels, bears, billy goats, giants, golden eggs, and dragons! There are endless fairy tale books you can use which means endless learning activities you can plan. I’m here to share my favorite, go to fairy tales activities my preschool and pre-k students want to play again and again. Make sure you grab the shape crown craft FREEBIE next in this post.
Let’s start out with a fun Shape Crown FREEBIE! The first thing you think of when someone says fairy tales is what? A princess and prince right! Print the page on yellow paper and set out a tray of paper or foam shapes. I also put out these fancy rhinestone stickers I had (Walmart find) to make the crowns extra sparkly. It’s a fun craft to learn about shapes and strengthen those scissor skills. << Grab the Shape FREEBIE HERE >>
Princess and the Pea Patterns! Cut up pipe cleaners and make giant patterns. Pretend the pipe cleaners are mattresses for the princess and the pea.
Rapunzel Measure! Make braids using various colored yarn. I don’t know why but the brown yarn in my photo below looks black so know I did include beautiful brown braids! Use colored cubes or any math manipulative to measure the braids and compare the length (non-standard measurement oh yeah).
Beanstalk Number Match! Jack and the Beanstalk is a favorite every year so make it into a math game. Students can count and match quantities and numbers that are represented in different ways. I added green gems and gold magic beans (not pictured) for added fun. To make gold magic beans simply paint lima beans with gold acrylic paint.
Fairy Tales Blocks and STEM Ideas! Take the fairy tales theme to the blocks center with my Fairy Tales STEM I Can Build. Add gold cups to build castles with (Party City), moss rocks (Dollar Tree), unicorns or ponies (Dollar Tree), dragons and knights (Toobs figures from Michaels), colored felt, cut up necklaces, tree logs (Discount School Supply), and mini crowns (party crowns I cut in half from Target), and fake leaves (Dollar Tree). You will be amazed at how excited and engaged your little builders will be with fancy new props for your fairy tale theme.
Ok teacher friends, I need to prep for Facebook live tonight. Later tonight I’ll come back and add all the details for each activity, I promise. I did add the photos so you can see the ideas I’m going to share tonight! See you tonight at 7pm (central time) on my Pocket of Preschool Facebook Page.
I promise after tonight’s Facebook Live I will finish this blog post for you and add all the details for each activity! Makes sure you grab the shape crown freebie at the top of this post!
Now if you want to grab my fairy tales printables here are all the links you will need!
It is finally spring which means it’s time for a weather theme! The weather is always changing and different from day to day in the spring. Grab your lesson plan book because I’m sharing all my favorite weather themed activities designed for preschool, pre-k, and kindergarten kiddos. There is even a Weather STEM FREEBIE later in this post so be sure to grab that.
Sky Cup Snack! I mean how cute would this be for fun food Friday. Make blue Jello in clear cups for the sky then place whip cream on the top for clouds. Then sprinkle rainbow sour candies on top. Yum!
Weather Books! On the bookshelf are tons of weather themed books about clouds, wind, sun, rain, storms, flying kites, water, and snow. My favorite weather book has got to be The Big Umbrella which is about accepting and making room for everyone!
Cloud Writing! Fill a tray with shaving cream (use hair conditioner if you can’t use shaving cream) so students can write letters, numbers, shapes, sight words, or names in the clouds. It’s an easy way to make word work or handwriting FUN! Sprinkle in glitter and pretend it’s raining or snowing!
Raindrop Letters and Sounds! Students match the uppercase, lowercase, and beginning sounds cards. If you want to make raindrop manipulatives, just write letters on the top of blue glass gems with a Sharpie marker.
Rain Name Craft! My kiddos are loving name crafts right now plus they make a super cute bulletin board. Students cut out the cloud and the raindrops for some fun scissor skill work. Then students write their name on the cloud and individual letters on the raindrops.
Rainbow Sight Words! Learning sight words can be fun with a rainbow twist. First, students pick a sight word card and read the word, rainbow write it, and build it with the rainbow letter cards.
If you have younger students have them read, write, build letters or student names.
Weather Writing Table! Pack the writing table with weather themed word cards, stickers, tracing mats, and paper.
Tornado Rhymes! Fill a tray black beans to create the “tornado” and place half of the rhyme cards in it. Students pick a card and find the matching rhyme.
Weather Sensory Bin! Fill the table with blue rice, blue sequins, and blue gems. Add clouds (cotton balls), rainbows (mini erasers or rainbow pom poms), rain (blue glass gems), lightning (yellow foam cut in the shape of lightning bolts), small scoops, and rainbow pill jas (from Dollar Tree).
Rainbow Play Dough Tray! This play dough tray is one of my favorites to date. Make or buy white play dough for clouds. Fill the tray with rainbow beads, rainbow buttons, rainbow pom poms, rainbow pipe cleaners, rainbow match sticks, and large glass gems. Students can sculpt and create rainbows so many different ways all while strengthing those little fine motor muscles.
Cloud Count! Draw clouds on a large piece of butcher paper using India Ink in a bingo dauber or with a black marker. Students count out the corresponding number of cotton balls and place them on each cloud. Then match the cloud numbers. To make cloud number gems, use the large glass gems from the Dollar Tree and write a number on each with a Sharpie for students to match as well. This would be perfect for a morning table time activity.
Cloud Shape Cover Up! To keep going with the cloud theme, play shape cloud cover up for small group.
Weather Forecast Count! Students can pretend to be a meteorologist and create weather forecasts. Students pick a card and create the weather based on the forecast. If counting is too simple for your kiddos, have them pick two cards using the addition weather forecast math math (not pictured).
Sunshine Patterns! Cut up some pipe cleaners and make sunshine patterns. Sometimes it’s the simplest activity that gets students excited. This activity is a perfect example of just that.
Wind Blowing Painting! If you look closely you will see that students drew the wind by making curvy, swirly lines with a black Sharpie marker. Then they dropped liquid watercolor on the paper using a pipette (yep, more fine motor work). Last they used a straw to blow the paint just like the wind blows leaves.
Rainbow Windsock! Windsocks are super easy to make. We had students paint a rainbow a piece of paper but you can have them just paint a fabulous design as well if you want it to be more open-ended. Once it’s dry glue or staple the sides of the paper together to make a cylinder shape. Tape a piece of string to the top for a handle. Students can cut crepe paper and glue it to the bottom. Now don’t forget to take them outside for students to observe how the wind blows!
Weather Themed Blocks Center! In the blocks center (or STEM center), put weather themed STEM challenge cards on the board to inspire your little builders to build something new that’s related to weather. Some fun props you can add are:
Weather Science! Make weather sensory bottles, create weather sorting cards, explore the capacity of different sized raindrops, and explore and create different kinds of clouds at the science table.
How to make Weather Sensory Bottles:
sunny: blue water and a yellow pom pom
cloudy: blue water and cotton balls
rainy: blue water and blue glitter
stormy: grey water, cotton balls, blue glitter, and foam lightning blots
Learning letters is HARD because there are just so many of them and they look similar. I’m always looking for new, fun, and most importantly hands-on letter activities and games I can use in the classroom with my preschool friends.
My students LOVE dot it makers so I thought why not make a giant letter dot it board. It was super simple to prep and students LOVED it. In fact they loved it so much they begged me to make another one for the next day!
Now how to prep it:
get a big piece of butcher paper (if you don’t have this giant butcher paper just use that paper roll you can use for art easels)
write letters all over it with a Sharpie
put it on the floor to tape it to the wall
That’s it! Super simple right!
I wrote letters on the paper but you can make a giant dot it game to practice other things too!
Giant Dot It Board Ideas
types of lines
We played this for inside recess in the middle of winter as a fun way to get them up moving and learning at the same time! You do not need worksheets to teach letters as long as you give your students engaging letter games and activities!
Do you see the letters at the top? Students had to reach, stretch, and move their bodies to dot the letters. As they played this game they were also strengthing their core, upper arms, and shoulders. As we all know, we have to make sure the big muscles are strong (arms, shoulders, core) in order for the smaller muscles to be strong (fingers, hands, wrists).
I also want to add they were talking about letters, letter sounds, sharing words with that beginning sound, and talking about the letters in their names and their friends’ names! It was a proud teacher moment for me to sit back, observe, and just listen to their letter conversations!
This was the letter board when they first started. Once they dotted all the letters, they asked me to make MORE letters for them to dot! Did you hear that they asked for MORE letters! You know a game is fun when they want to do it longer! They dotted letters for over 25 minutes and the only reason they stopped was that inside recess was over.
If you try it in your classroom, make sure you tag me on social media! I LOVE seeing what you do in your classrooms.
Explore the wonderful world of colors and color mixing with this giant book list just for little learners! Discovering the rainbow is one of my FAVORITE things to do with my class. There is so much to see! From the colorful gardens to art projects. All little learners deserve a colorful world, let’s give it to them!
Pete the Cat for the win with his white shoes! This book series is the perfect book to read to your little learners thanks to the easy to read words and fun stories. It’s also a great book to teach kiddos about not letting the little things bother you and how to be “all good”.
This book is full of laughs as a chameleon learns to come into his own by discovering his true colors. It’s written and illustrated by the amazing Eric Carle so you know the illustrations are just breathtaking!
Let’s explore the fascinating, cold, and icy environment with a few polar animals books. In a world where you think life would be scarce, you will find that it is full of life! From narwhals to penguins and more, there are so many polar animals to explore. You will also find that this is the perfect opportunity to introduce the science of snow! This Post Contains Affiliate Links
If you have read Goldilocks and the Three Bears to your little learners, then it’s time to introduce them to the Three Snow Bears. This kid’s book is a combination of one of my favorite fairy tales and polar animals! It all starts with a little girl, Aloo-ki, who wonders into an igloo.
We can get away with teaching some manners with this adorable book about a polar bear who says thank you to his mama for helping him with his school project. I love this series that teaches social skill in a fun way!
A little polar bear gets lonely so he heads out to find a friend. When he doesn’t find one right away, a snow cloud tries to make him happy by creating animal shapes with the falling snowflakes. A sweet tale about friendship.
This is quite a book! The author has taken photographs of penguins and created a book where they waddle amongst the ABC’s! The pictures will grab the readers attention and they won’t even know that they are learning!
The perfect way to get your little learners excited about reading. It only takes a little bit of rhyming and some fantastic pictures. It’s a book with repeated text they can “read” and read over and over!
A huge perk about teaching your students about polar animals is that you can also teach them about snow! This book features real photographs of snowflakes as well as scientific facts about this fun, cold, phenomenon. My students absolutelty LOVED this book!
We can’t forget about this incredible animal. Although the fox can be elusive, this book captures perfect photos and gives us the opportunity to teach those little learners about the arctic fox and their habitat.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! Especially when it comes to these ice cream books! They are delicious little morsels will have you thinking of those warm summer afternoons and ice cream dripping from the end of your ice cream cone. Learning can be delicious, but only with a yummy frozen treat… ice cream!
This book takes the imagination of a child and their love of ice cream to make one yummy tale. After reading this book to your little learners, give them a chance to tell you about their ice cream paradise.
Get your little learners excited about history with some help from ice cream. One of the authors of this ice cream book is none other than the Smithsonian! Fantastic pictures and cool history tidbits make this ice cream book a must-read.
Splat the Cat goes on a field trip with his class to the local ice cream factory! What a sweet treat! Do you have an ice cream factory near you? It might make for one yummy field trip idea with your own classroom.
Are you all screaming for ice cream yet! This is a great theme for summertime, but it also helps shake things up during the winter too. Nothing beats ice cream on a hot summer day, as well as on a cold day when you can snuggle up under a blanket!
If you need Ice Cream Math and Literacy Centers that are hands-on and fun, click HERE to grab my Ice Cream Math and Literacy Centers!
Love these books? Pin this image!
Want to check out more of my favorite books for little learners? Check out my Book List Blog Series with over 33 different themed book lists (and growing)! If there is a book list for a theme you need just let us know so we can create it for you.
Summer is the perfect time to devour a pile of books. It also helps keep those little learners, learning! Take a look at some of my summer themed book list to add to your library. As you probably already know, reading books takes you on a bunch of different adventures. Since our little learners have time to fill during summer, why not give them the world with a stack of fantastic summer books to read?
For all those teachers that work during the summer months, this list will also come in handy!
Explore the animals and habitats that fill the rivers around North America. Learn about otters and blue herons! All of these locations have something in common, they connect to the oceans. This makes for a very interesting place to explore.
An adorable summer book that keeps little learners moving! I’m sure you remember the Hokey pokey… let’s get those kiddos in on the fun with a little help from the frogs down at the pond. A must-have for every little learner’s library.
One of the BEST thrills of summer! If you are ready for your little learner to take the plunge and ride on a roller coaster, this book is the perfect way to introduce them to one of the best rides of summer.
Taking a road trip to the beach is quite necessary during the summer. But what do we do to keep ourselves busy during the long drive? Tally up anything and everything you see. From gray cars to green shirts. This summer book is a great way to get your little learners excited about math.
One of my all-time favorite songs wrapped up nicely into a children’s book. I love this book because it teaches little learners how to observe and appreciate the dazzling stars in the sky. The perfect summer activity.
Penguin has had enough of the cold weather so he decides to take a vacation. Once he realizes that skiing isn’t fun in the sand, he gets discouraged about his vacation. Will he be able to have fun while vacationing at the beach?
The hustle and bustle on the night before summer vacation can be exciting. Everyone is packing and getting ready for their trip. There’s a funny surprise at the end of this book that will make your little learners laugh out loud.
When the bridge is up the bus can’t go! But the ships can make their way through the river. A fantastic book that will grab your little learner’s attention when they see who lines up to wait and cross the bridge.
This book has always been a favorite of my little learners. It starts with a little mouse who has a very ripe strawberry. The little mouse does everything he can to keep it away from the bear, and even offers the juicy fruit to the readers of the book. Adorable!
Friends I’m over the moon excited to share with how to set up a Post Office in the dramatic play or pretend center. It’s inexpensive to set up and the best part is that it gets students WRITING during play! I’m going to tell you easy ways you can embed a ton of writing, reading, and math into their play at the Post Office. Set up a Post Office for a Valentine’s Day theme or a Community Helper theme.
If you look at our Post Office in the photo above you can see most of our Post Office! We have our packages, envelopes, scale, and mailboxes on the shelf to the right with the checkout stand and the writing table in the middle. There is another shelf on the left side which I’ll show you in a bit.
This shelf the envelopes and boxes sorted by size to get students sorting by size and using math vocabulary during play. The small and medium boxes I purchased at Walmart and the envelopes were from the Dollar Tree. Students can weigh the mail using the scale (yep, more math)!
There are student mailboxes and a large post office mailbox as well. The customers put their mail in the big box and the clerks sort the mail into the student mailboxes. By adding student names, students are developing their letter and sound knowledge!
I’m sure you want to know how I made the big mailbox, right. I took a big box and cut off the top flaps. Then I spray painted it blue and put a red stripe around it with Duck tape. To make the top I cut a piece of blue poster board the made length as the box and attached the poster board to the top of the box creating an upside down U shape. Last I added signs to each side. Super simple!
Student mailboxes! These are absolutely AMAZING and my students LOVE them. It gets even my reluctant writers writing with no prompting from me. I made the mailboxes with cardboard soda boxes so start collecting soda boxes teacher friends. To make the mailboxes, tape together the cardboard soda cases one row at a time. Once you have each row taped together, tape the rows together. If you don’t like how crazy the outside looks, cover it with duck tape or spray paint the mailbox (totally optional). Last, make student name tags for the front and tape to the top of each box. Add photos to help younger students recognize the names of their friends.
When I taught full-day preschool, some years I had 23 kids total so I made a giant set of student mailboxes with 25 slots! It lasted about 5 years. Now I didn’t have it out all year, each year. I would put it out in the library center around Valentine’s Day and it would stay in the classroom for the rest of the year. You can’t have a Post Office without a mail truck so make one with a shopping cart! The mail carrier can deliver the mail to their friends as they play in other centers.
Dramatic play clothes can be super expensive. Purchase inexpensive blue child size x-large t-shirts from Walmart or Target and place a U.S. Post Office tag on it. Each shirt only cost me about $4 and my students loved them.
Remember how I said there was a shelf on the left side of our Post Office? Well, this is it! It’s packed with various kinds of writing templates (cards, letters, postcards), purses, wallets, and stamps for customers to use during play.
There is also a “take a number” sign so students have to practice waiting their turn to check out. It’s a simple way to sneak even more socail skills into their play because let’s be real, pretend play is packed with social skills activities! Students have to share, take turns, wait, solve problems, role play, and interact with their peers. Check out these two writing mail using the word cards for support! Now that is a meaningful reason to write and draw. Once the customer is finished writing their mail and placing it in an envelope, it’s time for a stamp! I created colored stamps to sneak in more math so now students are sorting the stamps by color. Put scissors and masking tape in a bucket near the stamps so they can attach it with tape. Why tape you ask? Students LOVE tape and it’s great fine motor work. Put a scale next to the mailbox so students can weigh their mail which is a fun way to use measurement tools. The last thing a customer has to do is check out. I’m always looking for meaningful reasons for students to write his or her name so I added a “sign here” space on the Post Office order form.
I hope your mind is racing with ideas on how to set up a Post Office in your own classroom after reading about mine.