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Blending Skills in an Arts-Integrated Learning Environment

Our amazing curriculum by ​Mother Goose Time is an arts-integrated curriculum that uses music, visual arts, dance, dramatic play, storytelling, engineering and construction to help children experience and learn about
our world. 

But what does that all mean? 

It means that the amazing Mother Goose Time staff is constantly working to create a curriculum that presents classical education concepts (abc’s and 123’s) as well as physical and social skills in a way that is engaging and fun. They provide intensive learning plus skill and character building activities that appeal to a young child’s natural instinct to play. This may look like all fun and games, but it’s also a complete curriculum!

All of those dots and stars are important skills, concepts and developmental goals. This is just ONE month in the Mother Goose Time curriculum. There are 33 skills that we work to cover, falling under these 7 categories: Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Language and Literacy, Mathematics and Reasoning, Social Studies, Science and Creative Development.

How do we accomplish all that in one month?

Many of the activities blend skills. If they aren’t specifically written that way, the open ended structure of the activities makes it easy to tie in a review of other skills. That’s the beauty of play based learning- flexibility! If you’re wondering what that looks like, here’s an example of just one activity.

First off, my kids love any excuse to play with water, so I knew this activity would hold thier attention for a while; allowing us to cover a variety of skills. We started this activity by scooping out and sorting the blocks for a fun color review and sensory activity.


Next he counted how many blocks of each color.

We followed up with more advanced math concepts- estimitating, greater or less than, compairing, adding and pattern making. Finally we ended with discussing the letter that each color starts with and what sound that makes.

So we blended fine motor, number concepts, colors, patterns, sorting, measurement and phonological awareness.

The best part is, he had a blast! No whinning, crying or difficulty. Just fun.

This style of teaching allows for frequent review of concepts presented in a variety of ways. Everyone learns differently, so this is a fabulous way to teach. 


If you’ve spent any time around kids this age, you know they’re always moving! Integrating dance, movement and dramatic play facilitates so much gross motor activity during our school time. Staggering active learning and more focused activities helps my children stay focused. I can’t imagine trying to get a 3 or 4 year old to stand still for an hour, nevermind actually learning anything!

Arguably one of the best aspects of this curriculum is the use of art. It provides a balanced mix of craft projects that can be used for creative and dramatic play (Make and Play Activities) and open ended art opportunities (Invitation to Create Activities). The value in these activities are truly endless. From fine motor work, cutting and pasting skills to pre-writing exercise through coloring. These activities blossom into creative play and allow for building vocabulary, communicating ideas, following directions and expressing themselves through the visual arts.

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Self Portrait

Today is our first day of MGT Art Studio and boy was it a success!!

X was immediately drawn to matching our daily job shapes to their correct spots on our poster. He was enthralled with the idea of earning his Fly Dollars which really helped keep him focused as we moved through lessons. He excitedly removed each shape as we finished that lesson and announced how many more “jobs” we had to do before he got paid. He listened so intently as we read Falco the Featherless Bird and learned about our first value: Discipline.

The highlight for me today was watching him create his self portrait. I arranged a large mirror in front of his table so he could look up for reference.

He’d study his face and then explain what he was drawing, why he chose that specific color and what shape he was using to represent the feature. This was the most self directed he’s ever been with a project and he is so proud of the outcome. I love seeing pride blossom in his young soul and, if I do say so myself, he did a pretty amazing job!

He also enjoyed our finger play for today. A fun little rhyme with hand motions about painting portraits. Often times it’s difficult to get him to participate in the songs and dances. Perhaps the confidence boost from his self portrait brought him out of his she’ll a little bit!

Lastly we worked on sizing from smallest to largest. X has been doing this successfully for quite a while, but I always love reviewing. So we discussed which continents were which, that we were learning about Europe this month, and which continent was North America. After I labeled the pieces of paper with the corresponding continents he decided to draw the land masses on them for me and did a little “writing” of his own.

This has been our most successful day of school yet, and that’s saying a lot because X loves school! We’really really digging the setup for this month and I LOVE that there is almost no setup for these awesome activities!

We can’t wait for more artistic fun tomorrow!

I received this month’s Mother Goose Time curriculum free of charge in exchange for sharing our experience and my opinions. All content and opinions are 100% mine and truly honest.

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Fall Sensory Table

It’s FINALLY starting to feel a little bit like fall here! Our days are in the mid 70s to low 80s and we can get outside without melting. For the past 2 months or so our sensory table has been used for its original purpose: water. I’ve been lazy and X loves water. This weekend I was ready to get back to some sensory play though!
Colored rice, fake leaves and gourds from Dollar Tree, a few scoops and a basket. X has been playing for over an hour and I’m writing my first ever blog post while he’s awake.
It was actually nice taking a break from our sensory table and seeing how his skills and interests have grown over the past few weeks. Today he was really into scooping and filling containers. He was decorating our patio with the gourds. He was playing with a purpose. Before he would just touch whatever material it was and then dump a bunch on the ground and get bored fairly quickly. While I realize these were still important experiences, it was kind of frustrating spending time, energy and creativity on projects that only briefly held his attention. Our fall sensory table was much more fulfilling for me. Though yes, I know it’s not about me 😉
This came together easily with a little planning. I colored the rice a few days ago because it needs time to dry. You could use plain rice if you’re short on time or do more then two colors if you have extra time (hahaha! What mom has EXTRA time?!?) other then the rice (which I buy in bulk) and the scoops and baskets I already had, this cost me $5 at Dollar Tree. NOT BAD! Who says sensory play has to be expensive?? Plus I plan to repurpose the silk leaves and gourds for color matching later this week. I bought 3 packages of gourds (red, yellow and green) and two packs of leaves (red/green and yellow/green). I was really excited that the color tones were the same for the gourds and leaves, I love anything I can use in multiple activities. Earlier in the season I looked at fake gourds in a craft shop and they were $6 a bag and didn’t have a variety of colors. I’m really happy I’m cheap and waited until I found a better deal.
What fun activities have your little ones been doing this fall?

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Play Dough The Trilogy: Why We Use it Everyday, Activities to Try and My Favorite Recipe (and Why I Don’t Use the “No Cook” Method)

Play Dough! It is one of our most beloved activities around here (as you can quickly tell when looking at our carpet). We play with it pretty much everyday. Here are a few of the reasons why:

Building Attention Span and Focus: It’s the single activity that holds X’s attention the longest. I try to find activities to help him build his attention span and play dough fits the bill. “Attention span? He’s 18 months!” you may say, but we are setting the foundation for his ability to focus the rest of his life. Believe it or not a child’s (and eventually adult) ability to focus is something that is established very young. Attention span is however similar to a muscle and can be repaired and built up later in life, but if you lay a great ground work early on you may be able to avoid a lot of behavioral and learning issues in the future. Now, when I’m talking about a toddler’s attention span I by no means hours spent on a single activity. There’s just too much going on in their busy little minds! X generally spends about 20 minutes using play dough in the morning and then revisits it for shorter spans through out the day. Other activities hold his attention for 10 minutes or less with the exception of larger arts and crafts projects. 

Building Muscle, Fine Motor Skills and Hand Eye Coordination: Using play dough works the muscles in the fingers, hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. Pushing, squishing, ripping… you name it! A lot of muscle toning is going on there! Using tools and some of the activities we do take great finger, hand and wrist control and really helps develop those fine motor skills as well as hand eye coordination. I try to create a variety of activities where X uses tools, but play dough is the easiest way to do that.

Inspiring Creativity and Imagination: Whether he’s creating patterns, burying and excavating farm animals or making sculptures those creative wheels are turning! It’s often hard to find creativity and imagination building activities for young toddlers. Their language skills and understanding of the world are somewhat limited so they’re not making up stories or playing house. Play dough is a great opportunity for them to express themselves and ideas.

Building Language: We talk about colors, shapes, textures and motions. “Squish the ball!” Mommy made a triangle” “This tool is blue” There are many opportunities with play dough to introduce words and explain concepts.

It’s Fun! Who doesn’t love play dough?

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Here are some simple activities that I incorporate into our play dough time:

  • Building shapes. I build different shapes (Cones, cubes, Spheres) and we talk about what they are
  • Building faces. I often make an oval and construct eyes, nose and mouth. X puts theme where they belong. He often helps me create and apply the hair. He loves naming and pointing to body parts, so this is a favorite of his.
  • Fine motor sorting. I flatten out a piece of dough and create small indentations with my pinky. Then I roll a bunch of small balls that will fit in the indentations. X places the balls in the holes. sometimes I do them in shapes or we count as he places them in the holes.
  • Big and small. This is a great way to introduce the concept of big and small.
  • Sculptures. X loves taking a mound of dough and making sculptures by sticking the tools in at different angles.
  • Textures. We use our tools to create different textures and patterns. I demonstrate how to make a texture and X copies. He’s also now starting to make his own textures and patterns.
  • Dough slicing. I flatten out long strips of dough and X uses our pizza cutter style tools to slice it. He has to focus at pushing the blade the full length of the dough. This also builds wrist strength and hand eye coordination.

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We use a variety of different tools. I bought a set of clay tools on Amazon, but most of the tools we use are things we’ve re-purposed. Sand toys, poker chips, sea shells, clothespin, farm animals (one of X’s favorites), old bubble wands, a guide to our set of hair clippers (the guide cuts much longer then we use and it makes some great textures and patterns!), straws, food pics, small wooden dowels, macaroni… The possibilities are endless. I’d also like to talk a little bit about our set up. The tools are kept on a tray on X’s art table. I used to keep them on his shelves but our shelves are super full right now and he often has trouble carrying a tray with so many items on it without spilling them. The dough I keep in plastic food container that is easy for X to open. The dough IS kept on his shelves. So when he wants to use his play dough, he carries the container to his art table, opens it, removes the dough and sets the container aside. Clean up consists of returning the dough to its container and the shelf and putting the tools back on the try. Generally I try to only give X two or three components or options so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed. But I’m really trying to foster his creative spirit, so I give him multiple tools unless I’m doing a theme (as seen above with the “sand dough” and shells). He always seems to know what he wants to do (which changes daily) and does not seemed overwhelmed by the plethora of tools. Here is what is currently in our tray:

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I have tried a variety of different recipes, but this is my go to. Sometimes I will try out others if I’m going for a different texture or theme, but this is the recipe I use most often. It lasts weeks, even when left out (Daddy tends to forget to help X put away the dough). Usually I get bored of whatever color we’re using before I actually need to make a new batch for any reason. This is a cooked play dough recipe. There are a lot of “no cook” recipes out there, but in the many I’ve tried I find them to be more time consuming and messy then my simple cooked version. The no cook recipes use boiling water (so you have to wait for the water to boil) then you mix the ingredients and have to wait for the dough to cool enough to be handled. Then you take the sticky mass and knead it until combined and smooth. It covers your hands and counters in sticky dough and takes just as many dishes as a cooked version. I just don’t understand the appeal. My cooked version takes 2 or 3 minutes tops with no mess. So without further ado:

Standard Homemade Play Dough:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Water
  • 2 teaspoons Cream of Tarter
  • 1/3 cup Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
  • a few drops Food Coloring

Equipment:

  • Non-stick Pot
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Measuring cups and spoons

Technique :

  • Combine all ingredients in the non-stick pot.
  • Cook and stir over medium heat (my stove top runs hot, so it may work quicker at med-high for some of you).
  • The dough will get slightly darker and have a rubbery (or finished play dough) look to it once it’s cooked enough. It really doesn’t take long at all.
  • Let cool.
  • Knead a few times to make sure it is well combined.
  • PLAY!
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Letting Go

Before I was a mom my house was spotless and meticulously decorated. I baked bread, I made gourmet desserts. I threw dinner and brunch and Christmas parties. I wore makeup, I accessorized; darn, who are we kidding, I got dressed every day. These things mattered to me. It’s amazing how quickly priorities change, whether by choice or by force.

Now, my house is clean but cluttered. There is always a toy to be tripped over or creatively placed clean diapers strewn across the floor (do all kids love throwing their clean diapers around?).  I work hard to get a healthy dinner on the table and trust me, it’s not gourmet. If company comes over I repeatedly apologize for my house being messy and the thought of having more then 2 people over at once, throws me into a panic. Some days yoga pants and the t shirt I wore yesterday is the best I can do.

Up until recently, I’ve struggled with this shift. I’ve always managed my time well and completed tasks quickly. I assumed I would be one of those moms who was immaculately dressed with makeup and baby in a homemade bow tie. That I would still have time to throw parties and make desserts and make cute craft projects in my spare time. But I’m not. X has always been a high needs kid. For the first 3 months he would only sleep if he was on top of me. After that he would only sleep if I was next to him. Baby cuddles and iphone games became a way of life for me.

Now, he untidies our home more quickly then I tidy it. He likes to have me sit near him or engage with him while he plays. My priorities now center around creating stimulating, skill building, Montessori based activities for him. Making sure he’s getting the very best food I can serve him. Simple, comfortable clothes are his wardrobe; they allow him to play and if they get muddy or covered in finger paint, I don’t care. In fact, the same goes for me. Simple and comfortable is my wardrobe as well because I’m chasing him around the playground and yogurt or almond butter invariably gets wiped on me at some point through out the day. Engaging him and his interests, spending quality time together and showing him the world are now my priorities. And to accomplish those, I need to let go of my previous priorities, and that’s ok. He’s a happy, well fed, smart, energetic, loving, curious, outgoing, beautiful child. And that is the best thing I could ever hope to accomplish.

But I need to remember myself, too. Doing things I love and relaxing are important too. I can’t completely loose myself and expect to be the best mom, wife and woman I can be. I forget this often. It’s ok to drink a cup of coffee and read a good book while X is napping. The dishes will still be there later, I can take a few moments to draw or sew or create in the few hours a day I have to myself. It’s ok to take a nap during the day when we’ve had back to back to back nights where X wakes every 15 minutes. WE are more important then a spotless home or fresh baked bread. 

And sometimes, a game of peek-a-boo under a blanket, is the most important thing in the world I could be doing.

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Toddler Sorting Activity for Early Math Skills

I think X is going through a “sensitive period” for order. Montessori speaks about children being more receptive to building different skills at certain times. She referred to these times as “sensitive periods”. If we as parents, teachers or care givers can observe when these periods are happening, we can provide tools and activities to maximize them. Forcing the Bloom made a great post here about observing our children. I have yet to take notes on my observations of X, but it’s a GREAT idea! I do however reflect on what I’ve noticed about his habits and play to better provide him with projects and Montessori inspired work.

This activity is one of those. X helps put away his toys and activities; if normal things in his environment are out of place he fixes them. I ask him to assist me in picking up, carrying in groceries and cleaning the house. He very obviously enjoys the meaningful work. Sorting items is not only supporting a need for order and fine motor development, but it is also early math work. Not only is it great for building skills, but it’s easy to set up and very inexpensive.

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I purchased this egg tray for a dollar. I pulled these wood pieces from a set of building blocks we have and VIOLA! 

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I encourage X to place the blocks in order as opposed to randomly. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. To further the math experience and add a language component, we count as we place each block in it’s spot. This could also be used as a great matching set up when he gets older. Colored dots, shapes or numbers could easily be applied to take this activity to the next level.

Stay tuned, I will be making a post later this week about the practical life activities we’ve been incorporating into our days!