Kids Kindness Project + Picture Book

I had the opportunity to meet art director and author/illustrator Ann Koffsky when I attended Highlights Foundation “Jewish Symposium 2022: An In-Community Experience for Jewish Creatives” in October. She wrote the adorable picture book What’s In Tuli’s Box? When I read it, I knew just how I wanted to tie it in with a preschool class project.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, our theme was Kindness. Our project? Tzedakah boxes! Prevalent in Jewish homes, Tzedakah boxes collect extra coins to be donated to those in need. What an important lesson, in addition to a hands-on, tactile activity, for preschoolers.

The children painted glue on containers, chose colors of tissue paper, and stuck the tissue paper to the gluey containers. They practiced dropping coins in the coin slots, listened it jingle, and discussed the kind acts that they–even as young as they are–can do.

Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for philanthropy and charity. It is a form of social justice in which donors benefit from giving as much or more than the recipients. So much more than a financial transaction, tzedakah builds trusting relationships and includes contributions of time, effort, and insight.

Learning to Give

Review of What’s In Tuli’s Box

In this charm­ing pic­ture book for young chil­dren, Ann D. Koff­sky presents the con­cept of tzedakah through the char­ac­ters of a kit­ten and her moth­er. With kinet­ic images and bright col­ors, chil­dren learn that a sim­ple box pro­vides not only an oppor­tu­ni­ty to climb and play, but is also a means to con­tribute to char­i­ty. The book’s sim­ple text mim­ics the way a child learns from her par­ents about an impor­tant mitzvah.

For par­ents and care­givers con­sid­er­ing the most effec­tive way to intro­duce the con­cept, Tuli the kit­ten pro­vides one answer: con­crete expe­ri­ences and few abstrac­tions. Tuli is as active as a tod­dler, and just as focused on explor­ing her world. Koff­sky begins with Tuli becom­ing inter­est­ed in a box labeled tzedakah. Nei­ther this nor its slit for deposit­ing a coin means any­thing to her. Through touch­ing, push­ing, and lis­ten­ing, she dis­cov­ers the box’s phys­i­cal qual­i­ties, while her moth­er offers more infor­ma­tion. The box is not a toy, she comes to find, although the clink­ing sound of a coin drop­ping would seem to sug­gest that it is.

Koff­sky com­bines feline and human char­ac­ter­is­tics with sub­tle humor. While the char­ac­ters look like real cats, their facial expres­sions of curios­i­ty and affec­tion, cou­pled with the mother’s pur­ple pock­et­book, add a dif­fer­ent visu­al ele­ment to the sto­ry. Gen­tle expla­na­tions from Tuli’s moth­er con­firm what the kit­ten has learned, but also extend the pos­si­bil­i­ties. Tuli is final­ly ready to hear that the coins are meant to help those in need. As moth­er and child rest their heads against one anoth­er, young read­ers fin­ish the book with a sense of sat­is­fac­tion. Tuli’s ener­getic activ­i­ty has become a path to empa­thy, and to the reward of her mother’s pride and love.

Emily Schneider for The Jewish Book Council
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Easy DIY Kids Activity in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Image source: thespruce.com

Last year, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my preschool class created Cheerios Birdfeeders. The kids enjoyed stringing Cheerios on pipe cleaners, hanging them up outside of our classroom, and watching for birds, but guess what? The birds didn’t eat them! (Maybe we should have used Honeynut Cheerios?–lol)

Instead, this week with Kindness as our theme, we’re going to create a different DIY Kids Activity–Pine Cone Birdfeeders.

Texture, scent, math, and fine motor skills were explored with the pinecones I collected in the Fall. You know what’s fun? Making pinecone prints by covering them in paint and then rolling them on paper. You never know what patterns will emerge.

Steps to Make Pinecone Birdfeeders:

1) Tie yarn or twine around pinecones.

2) Spread Sunbutter over pinecones (no peanut butter allowed in school, although pb, almond butter, or similar will do).

3) Roll sticky pinecones in pumpkin seeds (birdseed, sunflower seeds, etc. can be used).

4) Hang in bushes and trees.

5) Wash hands!

Tips on creating Pinecone Birdfeeders from The Spruce:

  • Work seeds in between the rows of scales.
  • Hang in cool, shaded area so peanut butter (or whichever butter is used–sun, almond, etc) doesn’t melt.
  • “If you want to make multiple pine cone bird feeders at once but don’t want to hang them out simultaneously, they can easily be frozen for several weeks. The feeders do not need to be thawed before hanging, and freezing them first can help them stay firm in warmer temperatures.”

I’ll let you know what the birds think of them!

Pinecone birdfeeder made by a preschooler.
Image source, BBSMI

This poem by Edgar Albert Guest is thought-provoking and meaningful.

Chanukah Menorahs, DIY Kids Crafts for Preschoolers

Aren’t these DIY Kids Craft menorahs adorable?

Shout out to my co-teacher Hannah who found inspiration for our Doodlebugs (a little younger than 2 yo’s) and Seedlings (2 yo’s) classes on Pinterest.

The Doodlebugs made Paper Plate Menorahs by painting paper plates gold, painting a big piece of paper blue (which we cut into candles), and scrunching orange tissue paper to make flames. We stapled the flames and candles to the paper plates and added yarn for hanging.

Yarn Wrapped Menorahs required hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. The Seedlings wrapped yarn around popsicle sticks to make candles, painted cardboard gold to make menorah bases, brushed glue on flames, and sprinkled glitter on the glue. You know what we found out? Covering glitter with Modge Podge cuts down on glitter shed. Yay!

If you think math is too told for preschoolers, think again! We spent the last few weeks counting candles and flames in addition to going over the calendar and days of the month. When you get to the end of a month, there are a lot of numbers to count. Our little sweethearts are wide-eyed and enthusiastic about the calendar and the songs that go with it.

Preschool is on break for now. When we come back we’ll transition to all-things-winter.

Happy Chanukah!

Pre-Schoolers & Pumpkins, Roasted Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Seeds

Scooping out the insides of a pumpkin with my 2021-2022 co-teacher, Hannah.

Autumn Exploration

Carving out the insides of a pumpkin with an audience of little onlookers is fun. Inviting the kids to explore its’ texture is funny. Some are game and some are not! A few reluctant kids change their minds when they see others touching the orange, wet, and stringy pulp and seeds. One girl tasted the pulp and seeds. I know who’ll be a fan of pumpkin lattes!

At the end of the school day, I collected the seeds and, hon, you know what came next. I made Roasted Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Seeds (recipe below) and brought them in for the kids to try. Yum!

We also painted mini-pumpkins, crinkled leaves to decorate paper trees, and explored a texture tray filled with smooth acorns, bumpy pinecones, and itty-bitty pumpkins snipped off of Pumpkin Tree branches. We rolled pinecones in paint and then rolled the paint-covered pinecones on blank paper to create original prints.

Hands-on learning!

Image soure: Joy Food Sunshine

Roasted Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Seeds

Tips Before Roasting Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds must dry completely before roasting. Remove the seeds from pumpkins and rinse thoroughly, discarding any stringy orange pieces. Drain seeds by lining a large baking pan with paper towels, spreading seeds evenly in a layer, and letting sit for 24 hours. At the 12 hour mark, change damp paper towels for dry ones, stir to air out pumpkin seeds.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups pumpkin seeds dried for at least 24 hours
  • 3 Tablespoons coconut oil or butter (or vegan butter)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 Tablespoons granulated sugar (or coconut sugar to make paleo)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Very lightly grease a large baking pan, set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Melt coconut oil or butter in a large microwave safe bowl or on the stovetop in a 4-quart pot.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
  5. Mix in pumpkin seeds until they are all evenly coated.
  6. Add dry ingredients to the pumpkin seeds and mix until all they are evenly coated.
  7. Spread pumpkin seeds on your prepared baking pan in single layer.
  8. Bake for 25-35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. They are done when they start to brown.
  9. To test for doneness: remove a few seeds from the pan and let sit on the counter to cool. If they harden up the seeds are done. If they remain soft, return to the oven, checking them after 5 minutes. Continue baking in 5 minute intervals until done.
  10. Once seeds are done, transfer them from the warm pan to another pan lined with parchment paper to let cool.

Yield: 3 cups

Store pumpkin seeds in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Pre-School Play (Dough)

New pre-school year = new batch of DIY play dough.

The kids love its’ texture and elasticity, and so do I. (Is that a surprise, coming from a potter?) Sure, name-brand, non-toxic Play-Doh can be purchased, but I find the substance I make handles better and doesn’t dry out as quickly.

The easy recipe from The Best Ideas for Kids is made with only a few ingredients: flour, cream of tartar, salt, vegetable oil, and water. This year, I added yellow food coloring and vanilla flavor.

Whenever the kids play with play dough–and I mean, every single time, all year long–this is the conversation:

Another Adult: “What will happen if they eat it?”

Me: “Don’t worry, it’s non-toxic.”

Another Adult: “Seriously, will the kids get sick?”

Me: “We could make cookies out of this stuff!”

Hon, do you think this year I should make a sign that says “Add eggs and bake!“?

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • food coloring

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and cream of tartar. Mix well.
  2. In a separate bowl, add food coloring to the water. Then add the colored water and vegetable oil to a large pot. Mix together.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to your pot and mix.
  4. Cook over low to medium heat until the dough starts to form and becomes drier, stirring often.
  5. Once the mixture starts to form a body and looks fully cooked, take it off the heat. (Tip: Spoon it onto a plate or surface to cool.) Let the dough cool first before touching. 
  6. Once cool, knead the dough for 5 minutes to make the dough soft. If your dough is not soft, continue kneading for another 5 minutes. If you find it is still too dry add a little bit more oil and knead in.

Tips from The Best Ideas for Kids:

How to Keep Playdough Soft

First wrap your playdough in saran wrap then store in an air-tight container. You’ll notice that playdough will go hard if left out – so the less air that can get to the playdough when storing, the longer it will last!

How Do I Make Playdough Soft Again?

If your playdough dries out and turns out to be a little dry after making it, try adding in a little more oil first. You can knead the oil in with your hands. You can also knead in a little bit of water.

Easy DIY Kids Crafts: Father’s Day Cards Made by Little Feet

Little Feet Leave a Big Message!

One of my preschool classes made Father’s Day cards with handprints, while the other made Father’s Day cards with footprints. This Easy DIY Kids Craft is a homemade greeting card is so cute for preschoolers and elementary age children.

The footprints were a challenge. When the kids stepped on the paper without assistance, their feet slid. When I held the paper to their feet, the print didn’t get their toes. What worked? Making sure paint was evenly distributed (it tickled!) and guiding each child’s foot to the paper to make a quick print. Whew!

If you have texture mats (as a potter, I have a collection of them) kids can make impressions of bricks or pebbles. If not, they can draw or color a path to be cut out and placed next to the footprint.

Add the message, “Thanks for making a path for me to follow” and “Happy Father’s Day,” sign name and date and the card is ready to go!

Sweet Feet!

Supplies:

  • construction or cardstock paper in white and another color
  • paint and paintbrush
  • magic markers, colored pencil or crayons
  • glue or double-stick tape
  • optional: brick or pebbles texture mat

Directions:

  1. Using paintbrush, paint foot. Make footprint on white paper. Let dry. (Note–it may take several tries to get a full footprint.)
  2. optional: using colored pencil and texture mat, create a brick or pebbles impression. OR, draw or color a path.
  3. Cut a strip out of path. Glue or tape path by footprint.
  4. Write or print out, “Thanks for making a path for me to follow” and “Happy Father’s Day!”
  5. Write child’s name and year.
  6. Glue white paper on to background paper.

Easy DIY Kids Crafts: Father’s Day Cards Made With Little Hands

Easy DIY Father’s Day Cards!

Preschool may have ended, but my students still have a present to give–adorable, easy DIY Father’s Day cards where their handprints transform into leaves on a tree. This idea is fun for preschoolers and elementary age children. I think my students’ dads will like the message, “No matter how tall I grow, I will always look up to you.” Sweet!

Supplies:

  • construction or cardstock paper in white and another color
  • green paint and paintbrush
  • magic markers, brown and other colors
  • scissors
  • glue or double-stick tape

Directions:

  1. Using paintbrush, paint child’s palm green. Make two handprints on white paper. (Note-it may take a few tries to get a good print.) Let dry.
  2. With brown marker, draw tree trunk and branches.
  3. Add “No matter how tall I grow, I will always look up to you.” Write child’s name and year.
  4. Glue or tape white paper onto background paper.
  5. Write or print out “Happy Father’s Day!”

Easy Preschool Project for Mother’s Day

Sweet Sentiments

The Mother’s Day cards my preschoolers made are sooooo cute! One class decorated their cards with flowers and the other with hearts. Although me and my co-teacher assembled the cards, the two and three year-olds participated by painting, coloring and letting us know what they love most about their moms. These Mother’s Day cards are quick and easy to create, and they translate easily into cards for other people and holidays–think Father’s Day, grandparents, note to teachers, caregivers, etc.

Flower Card Supplies:

  • construction paper
  • non-toxic paint in two colors–green and whatever color the flower will be
  • paintbrush
  • markers
  • scissors
  • crayons

Flower Cards Directions:

  1. Fold construction paper in half. Inside, write personalized note in marker. Child colors inside of note with crayons.
  2. Paint child’s hand the flower color. Make a handprint on front of card. Wash hand.
  3. Paint a separate piece of paper green. Let dry.
  4. When green paper is dry, cut out two leaves. Draw stem. Glue leaves to base of stem.
  5. Write or print out, “Your love and care helps me bloom.”

Heart Card Supplies:

  • construction paper in two colors
  • scissors
  • markers
  • crayons
  • glue

Heart Card Directions:

  1. Fold construction paper in half. Inside, write personalized note in marker. Child colors inside of note with crayons.
  2. Cut a heart out of contrasting construction paper. Child color with markers.
  3. Glue heart to front of card.
  4. Write or print out, “I love you with all my heart.”

Easy DIY Kids Craft: Rainy Day Spring Scene

At preschool, we were asked to come up with an Easy DIY Kids Craft or Activity using only supplies found at home. Our ideas were compiled into a “Cooped-Up Activities” resource for parents.

Hon, hoping Spring blooms very soon.

RAINY DAY SPRING SCENE

Supplies:

  • paper
  • aluminum foil
  • cotton balls
  • baking cup
  • markers
  • scissors
  • glue

Directions:

  1. To make a grey sky, cut aluminum foil and glue to top of paper.
  2. To make rain clouds, glue cotton balls on top of and below grey sky.
  3. To make an umbrella, fold baking cup in half and glue together. Place umbrella on paper and glue down. Count to 20 while pressing so umbrella sticks to paper.
  4. Draw outline of umbrella handle and color in.
  5. Cut raindrops out of aluminum foil. (This is challenging as they are small and stick to fingers.) Glue raindrops under clouds.

Easy DIY Kids Activity: Ice Painting

Winter Lessons, Exploring Ice

Both my two year-old class and not-quite-two kiddos loved exploring ice. Some were tentative about touching it and some reached right in. Each child had his/her own tray of ice in addition to the large tray. What does it feel like? What does it do when it’s being held? What’s dripping on the floor? Is it hard or soft? And what sound does it make when you shake the tray? So fun!

Directly related to exploring ice is Ice Painting. Though Ice Painting may seem like a winter-only Easy DIY Kids Activity, it’s a great science-related lesson any time of year–think water/ice, liquid/solid, and hot/cold. Here’s what you need:

Supplies:

  • ice tray
  • craft sticks
  • water
  • watercolor paints or food coloring
  • paper

Directions:

  1. Add either watercolor paint or food coloring to water and stir.
  2. Pour colored water into ice tray. Set craft sticks in ice tray sections. Freeze.
  3. Pop sections out of ice tray and paint with “ice paint.”

Note: Ice paint will melt as it’s being used which adds to the experience. Partly used sections may be re-frozen and used again.