Rain Sticks

The easiest way to make rain stick is to use paper towel tubes, rice and tape, but if you want to create rain sticks that really sound like falling rain, try this.

Rain Sticks

Materials Needed:

Paper towel tubes (1 per child)

Corrugated Cardboard (enough to fill each tube)

rice (the lease expensive possible)

Small cups to distribute the rice

Supplies for decorations (paint and markers keep it simple)


  1. Before presenting the activity to the children, prepare the materials.  Cut the corrugated cardboard so that when it is rolled up it slides easily into the paper towel tube.  Make sure that it is a little shorter than the tube.
  2. As each child comes over to take a turn, give him/her one paper towel tube and one piece of precut cardboard.  Show the children how they can roll up the cardboard and slide it into the tube.  Once they have that step complete, tape a piece of cardboard over one end of the tube.
  3. Next, give each child a small cup with rice.  Have them pour the rice into the open one of the tube.  Since the cardboard is inside, it won’t simply pour in.  They may have to work the rice in a bit, but it is this tightness that slows down the rice and makes it really sound like rain.
  4.  After the children have their rice inside, tape (or wrap) another piece of cardboard to the open end.  The children are now free to decorate it in any way they like.

Send out a message to parents that you are making rain sticks with the children and you need paper towel tubes, and corrugated cardboard.  You may be surprised by how many parents have these things laying around the house and are happy to donate them to the classroom.

The trick to making rain sticks that sound like rain, is to slow the rice down inside the tube.  There are all sorts of activity plans available that ask you to put nails or toothpicks in the cardboard, but I have found that the corrugated cardboard works best.  The children will love this.

Thunder and Lightning

thunder and lightningThis one requires a really big storm one with thunder and lightning but it is a nice way for the children to think about “how far” the storm is.

If you are inside and the skies get very dark and the rain is coming down hard, bring the children to the window to look for lightning.  You can explain that lightning is a loud noise caused by electricity in the clouds.  Once the children see the lightning, have them count slowly until they hear the thunder.  It takes about 5 seconds for the sound of thunder to travel one mile so the higher the number the farther away the storm is.  Repeat this each time you see lightning. They can then figure out if the storm is coming closer or if it is moving away.

This is a great way for the children to think about storms, to work through their fears about the loud noises thunder makes, and to use their counting skills for something that connects to their lives.

April Showers Mean….

I’m sitting at my dining room table watching the rain pour down so hard that I can’t see out of my windows and although it is 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the sky is as black as the night.  My kids used to love to play in the warm rain and they especially loved to play in a sun shower.  We ran outside and splashed in the puddles and if it rained enough, we brought out the shampoo and washed our hair.  Inevitably, the rain would subside just enough that we could never get the soap out of our hair, but it was totally worth it.

These memories remind me that rain, just like the snow, is one of nature’s ways of providing us with an interesting topic to explore.  How can we create curriculum using the spring rains and support mathematical understandings in meaningful ways with young children?  I usually see preschoolers talk about the weather during circle time.  One of the children is a weather person. S/he walks over to the window and reports the day’s weather and sometimes s/he gets to mark the weather on a graph or the calendar.  Most often, it is an unremarkable part of the morning circle.

If we get a good amount of spring rains this month, how about shaking it up and creating an opportunity for a real exploration of rain?  If it is warm (and there isn’t any thunder and lightning) take the children outside to play in the rain. This will require some planning in terms of rain coats, rubber boots, and extra sets of clothes.  I guarantee the children will find new ways of exploring the same old space.

It might also be interesting to place different sized receptacles outside and near a window so the children can watch the rain accumulate.  You can create a graph so they can mark “how much” rain is in each container throughout the day.  This will also allow them to see that even though the rain is falling into the containers in the same way, the different sizes and shapes of the containers will make a difference about how high the water rises.

Next week, I will write about another exploration of rain that you can try this month.  Let us know what you think or if you have another idea about rain and math.


Books that Support Math with Rhythm and Rhyme

How is rhythm and rhyme connected to early math learning?

Chicka Chick Boom Boom

Our favorite rhythmic book, when the boys were little, was Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  I read that book so many times that I know every word by heart.  We purchased several copies over those early years, since they did get a little worn out from overuse.  We had the large version, the hardback version, the small board book version, the paperback version, and we even had a copy of Bill Cosby reading it on cassette tape (remember cassette tapes?).

Predictability and sequencing are early math skills.  As children begin to familiarize themselves with a book, they begin to expect the sequence of words in a set order.  This is one important reason that we should never skip pages, as they will be let down that the book does not follow the pattern that they have come to expect.

In Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, there are several sets of predictable events.  The first is that the letters appear in alphabetical order.  Many young children are beginning to learn their ABCs in the order of the alphabet.  This is a much more specific skill than learning the ABC song.  (Knowing this song is often confused as knowing the alphabet).  Therefore, the fact that “A told B and B told C” makes logical sense to children.  This relationship of the letters to one another is fundamentally mathematical.

Next, there is a logical rhyming sequence to the words.  The rhymes are sing-song and make sense when read aloud.  In addition, completing the rhymes with a repetitive sentence, reinforces the predictability, the rhyming pattern and the sense of story.  “I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree” repeats throughout the book so that children come to expect it.  What can I say.  The whole thing works.

This crossover between literacy and math is central to the idea of an integrated curriculum.  Yes, reading books is a language-based activity focused on language learning, reading and writing. But recognizing that books can support other cognitive areas of development makes reading them a whole lot more interesting.

Dr. Seuss- Great Books for Math Learning

Seuss StampEverything about Dr. Seuss brings a smile to my face, from the rhyming sequences to the nonsensical words.  The drawings are so lively and so engaging-you don’t know where to look first.

If we begin at the beginning  – the first book that comes to mind is The Cat in the Hat.  There are so many  mathematical concepts woven through the entire story that it would be impossible to read it without reinforcing the math.  By the time we meet Thing 1 and Thing 2, we have rhymed, predicted, repeated, and sequenced.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 are icing on the cake.

When I was little, my dad used to read Horton Hatches the Egg just before we went to sleep.  He would bring up carrot sticks and salt and fill our belly buttons with salt and we would dip our carrot sticks in the salt and munch away while he read.  I never knew how much that book stuck with me until years later when I saw a copy and I realized that I knew every word by heart.  I guess he read it a LOT.

Most of us have a Dr. Seuss memory. What is yours?

Mittens, Hats, and Scarves – Oh My!

The multicolored layers of puffy winter wear that are required to keep a small child warm during February in Illinois provide endless opportunities for exhausting trips outdoors.  It often takes an equal amount of time to get everyone dressed as  it does to actually be outside.  Snow pants, zippers, scarves, gloves, hats, and coats require dexterity and patience to get assembled and on, two qualities that are only beginning to emerge in the preschool child.

That said, all of these fun winter clothes are a great resource for sorting and graphing as a large group.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture shows a large graphing floor mat that is so perfect for preschool children.  They can put their own hats or mittens in the squares (rather than having a teacher do so on a piece of tag board).  This simple physical involvement will make the activity so much more interesting for the children.  Once they have put their items in the separate squares, they are easy to count and provide appropriate visual cues so the children can “see” which has “more” and which has “less”.

I would start with Mittens vs. Gloves and see where it goes!

Winter Means Snow

I am married to a snow guy.  He loves the snow.  He loves the cold.  He loves the short grey days and the anticipation of a huge winter storm.  I am the exact opposite.  I find the winter very hard and unpleasant.  The cold enters my bones somewhere around the new year and doesn’t exit until sometime in June.

I did find more enjoyment in winter days when my kids were small.  There was something delightful about their sheer joy in playing in a newly fallen snow, tobogganing on a local hill, and having a gigantic snowball fight.  I love when little children are tightly wrapped in their snowsuits and they appear as wide as they are tall.  They look like Teletubbies!

The winter is a great source of curriculum in the early childhood world.  This month, we are going to look at the winter and all of its joys.  Try and think of each snowfall as a new and exciting opportunity to explore mathematical concepts with children.

Next time the snow comes, and it will, bring in a few bucketfuls and put it into the water table.  Using the sand table equipment (shovels and buckets), allow the children to explore the snow.  You can talk about how the snow is “heavy” but each snowflake is “light.” You can even incorporate the bucket balance into the play, so the children can weigh the snow.  Make sure that they wear mittens while they play and remember to put them on the heater when they are finished so they can dry out.

Symmetry and Snowflakes

Do you remember the day you were told that each and every snowflake in the entire world is unique and that no two snowflakes are alike?  The idea of infinite possibilities still rattles my brain.  How can each of the billions and billions of snowflakes be unique?

Spatial awareness or concepts about space and shape, are pretty interesting to young children.  Snowflakes are one way to explore shape in an engaging and meaningful way, especially if you live in a part of the world that is filled with the cold, white stuff a good part of the year.  Also, as children begin working on their cutting-with-scissors skills, creating snowflakes is great way to practice.  Some kinds of paper are harder to cut than others but the easiest paper to cut is also the most likely to tear.  I like simple copy paper for snowflakes as it is sturdy enough to withstand some three-year old torture, but light enough to cut easily with children’s scissors.

Begin by folding the paper in half and then in half again.  018The difficulty in cutting increases with the number of folds, so fold the paper to meet each child’s individual developmental needs.  One fold reveals the least interesting patterns and more folds reveals more complicated designs.  Ask the children about the shapes they have created.  Show them that they can fold the paper back up and continue cutting, if they so choose.  The snowflakes will just become more interesting.

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If you want them to look more like snowflakes, and you think the children may enjoy it, you can begin with circular paper.  Again, fold at will, but the thicker the folded paper is, the more difficult it is to cut. 023 024





If you are working with older children, snowflakes are also a great place to discuss symmetry.  They provide concrete examples of “mirror images” that are easily (maybe not easily) seen. Notice how unique and distinct each of the children’s snowflakes are. No two are alike and that is what makes them special.

Indoor Obstacle Course

Have you ever considered making a really fun indoor obstacle course in your classroom or gross motor space so that the children can try something new and different and that challenges them physically and cognitively?

When I was little, my big sister set up the basement so we had to follow an obstacle course that kept us moving over and around the furniture.  The big motivator to keep us on course was that she told us there were “crocodiles” in the carpet and if we touched it we would get eaten.  Big sister fear is a REAL thing.

I like the idea of setting up each part of the course with open-ended options for the children.  Since development is bumpy, some children may want to jump on two feet, while others are working on hopping on one.  You can place paper plates on the rug with numbers on them and have the children move from 1 to 2 to 3, etc.  After that, they must move to a table and crawl under it (use an arrow to indicate where to go) and then over to a block balance beam.  Once they’ve completed the balance beam obstacle, they can go over to a table where they have to put 4 Legos together before they move on.

These are simple ideas that may encourage children to try new things, follow simple directions and then make personal choices about how to complete the tasks.  Try and develop a few obstacles that encourage mathematical thinking and spatial awareness.

This is another way to keep everyone moving during these very cold winter days.

Hopscotch – It’s Not Just For Sidewalks

Hopscotch is one of those games that grows up with children.  They start out jumping on two feet from square to square, simply trying to get from one end to the other, and eventually learn a much more sophisticated game that includes one-footed tricks, spinning  around, and tossing rocks into very small spaces.

I’ve written about hopscotch over the past few years (try here and here) as there are often very good examples of complicated and unusual formats on the sidewalks near my house.  I like the idea of creating a hopscotch game in the classroom using tape for the outline and bean bags for the toss.  I once used masking tape but it was a nightmare to get off, so try using painter’s tape, as it is designed for easy removal.

Start simple.  Use the tape to create 5 spaces and once the children become comfortable with this, you can add more.

hopscotch through 5

At first, encourage the children to jump with both feet in each space as they might be working on this skill before they are ready to hop on one foot and skip spaces.  They can play cooperatively before they play competitively, simply taking turns tossing their bean bags and jumping or hopping through the course.  There is plenty of time for complicated and cut-throat games of hopscotch later.  For now, use this indoor version as gross motor opportunity that encourages number recognition, turn-taking, following directions, spatial relations, body awareness, and gross motor skill-building.