Creating Scenery and Costumes for First and Second Grade

The best way to study drama in my combined first and second grade was to visit a professional theatre, before simulating the whole process in our class. See my entry about creating and presenting these 3 plays:

While the plays were being printed and then given to the children to learn their parts, the week was spent making scenery and costumes. Initially, we made new scenery but as time went on we began to repaint the scenery from the previous year. Since the three plays were fairy tales, even if untraditional from the children’s imaginations, the same scenery was used for all three plays with just minor changes. There was always a castle on the left of the stage, several trees representing woods in the middle of the stage, and sometimes a small building on the right side. For instance, one time a play was called,A World of Magic”, the castle was the Kingdom of Glory, the woods were The Woods of Glory, and the second building was The Kingdom of Waralot.

The castle was made from a refrigerator box cut along one side, so it opened in four sections. The two middle sections were full size and each end section shorter. Turrets were cut along the top edge, a door opened and closed big enough for a child to pass through, and windows painted on. Trees, usually three, representing a forest were also made from a refrigerator box with the trunk and top all in one piece. If an additional building was required, it was made from a stove box.  So, for one week, each morning four or five volunteers at a time took turns painting.

Knights’ helmets, vests, shields, swords and lances, plus the crowns for queens, princesses and fairies were made in the afternoons during this first week.

Empty plastic ½ gallon milk cartons were brought in for knights’ helmets. The handle plus space for the face was cut off. These milk cartons seemed to fit each child’s head just fine. Sometimes the top was left but other times a cone was made from oak tag and then stapled on the top of the helmet. Sometimes circular pieces were cut out for each ear and sometimes left covering the ears. Helmets were sent home to be covered with aluminum foil. When returned, sometimes a plume was made by folding colored paper over and over, then strips cut and curled, and placed in a hole on top of the helmet and taped inside.

Knights’ vests were made from two pieces of oak tag, 12” x 18. A V was cut in the middle of the top of the two pieces. About three inches from the edge of the V’s at the shoulders, half heart shapes were cut to fit around each arm. Then the two pieces were taped together at the shoulders. The V was large enough to slip over a head. Two sets of holes were punched on each side for string ties. Vests were also sent home be covered with foil and ties attached. Of course if anyone had a problem with that, all was done in school.

Each knight made two identical shields, representing his crest. After spending time designing it, they were given two oak tag shields to paint. The main shield was about 9” x 12” with strips of oak tag stapled on the back to slip onto an arm and another one about 6” x 7” to be stapled onto the front of a vest.

Swords were cut from cardboard, and lances were made from wrapping paper tubes. After each hilt was decorated in school, they were also sent home for the blades and shafts to be covered with aluminum foil.

It was stressed to parents that costumes from home should be very simple. Knights usually wore a turtle neck shirt and tights borrowed from a sister or dark pants. A good queen, princess, or fairy costume was an adult nightgown. It seemed a shame for a mother to spend time sewing, when each play took about 10 minutes. And everyone seemed very pleased with their nightgown fancy dress. Sometimes fairy wings were made at home and sometimes from oak tag again at school.

Queens, princesses, and fairies had several styles of crowns to choose from made with oak tag. They were sprayed with gold paint and then decorated with various beads, buttons, glitter, etc.

Parents came in on some afternoons to help with making costumes.

See another entry about rehearsals:

Read more about programs, including the whole drama program, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Physical Science for First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade, physical science was one of the offerings for Choice Time – allowing participation and exploration while discussing and debating with their classmates. Children may learn as much from each other as they do from adults. Perhaps more. A center provides appropriate activities and materials to invite and nurture a child’s joy in discovery and excitement about learning.


pulleys, levers, and gears                       microscopes

magnets                                                       paper airplanes

magnifiers                                                   motors

electricity                                                    batteries

There was a science kit with pulleys, levers, and gears. The children experimented with various contraptions.

There was a collection of magnets, horseshoe magnets and different size and strengths of bar magnets, used with all kinds of projects. There was much experimentation, such as discovering the poles that would attract and those that repelled, making an electromagnet, finding what substances magnetism would and would not go through, and magnetizing a needle and a nail. They observed a magnetic field using iron filings.

Electricity was a big favorite. The class learned about circuits and knowledge was extended when they learned about lights in a series, those that were parallel, and short circuits. There were small motors that they found a variety of activities for.

Science provides opportunities for increasing their cognitive development. Concepts gained during science activities not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Read more about science and other programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on


Early Math Concepts for Young Children

In my combined first and second grade, activities during Choice Time provided children with opportunities to make discoveries and achieve mathematical understanding through play. In the Math Center, while constructing, playing games, and pondering puzzles they were problem solving, using logic, and gaining various concepts of number. The Art Center also provided opportunities for expanding math concepts through creating constructions, collages which involve sorting and classifying, and carrying out ideas for patterning. And throughout the year, there were studies and emphases on symmetry and patterning. These concepts are assets for good achievement, enabling children to fully understand their math. Plus, new math concepts in the district-required math books always involved concrete experiences and manipulatives. Lots of them in various forms. Yes, it’s possible for children to manage correct answers in their books without understanding, but that guarantees from about third grade on – huge difficulties. I always hoped that they would know how and why they arrived at their answers and see the purpose of learning math in their daily lives. Then good abstract math would follow.

The children also understood that there may not be only one right answer in all circumstances. They should think about it. You know, a three-year-old once taught me that 1 + 1 = 1. It was a beautiful day outside when he was concentrating upon pouring a heavy pail of water into his pail of sand. When he finished and looked down at his pail of sand he was shocked and asked, “Hey, what happened to my pail of water?” He found out that one pail of sand, plus one pail of water, equals one pail of wet sand. So, questioning results in class was encouraged, so that math could be fun and creative and encourage problem solving.

Learn more about the math program and Choice Time in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Animals and Natural Science in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade classes, children’s self-initiated learning took place during Choice Time. These concrete experiences served as a background for gaining new insights and understandings.

It isn’t important which things are offered but vital that science is a big part of young children’s lives. The resulted learning is immense. Science can promote curiosity, discovery, investigation, and experimentation resulting in extending children’s vocabulary, language, and concepts about their world. It offers opportunities to develop rational and critical thinking, and the skills of problem solving, comparing and contrasting, classification, and observation. There are also opportunities for significant reading and writing.


a terrarium                                                           birds’ nests

feathers                                                                   plants, seeds, and bulbs

collections: shells, stones and rocks,                toads and turtles

fossils, bark, fall seeds, fungi, acorns,

microscopes chestnuts,

everything blue, etc.                                     lizards

land crabs                                                                  slugs

pumpkins                                                                   monarch caterpillars and butterflies

cycle of mealworms                                                         and others, plus chrysalises and

fish and snails                                                           cocoons

slugs mice

pollywogs                                                                   spiders

live and dried insects                                             snakes

ants                                                                             molds

crayfish                                                                     parakeet

praying mantis                                                       science books

magnifying glasses

The collections and materials above found their way in our science center during each year. An exciting exhibit in the early fall was monarch caterpillars and chrysalises. Children were busy watching closely the sequence of the life span until finally – the butterfly

There was always a forest terrarium to house whatever might be brought to school. In the fall we had many creatures that grew in the area. Most we would keep for about a month and then let them go in a proper place. In the spring, we would have local creatures again. Other animals and reptiles found their way into our terrarium from parents or purchases from the pet store. We sometimes had a toad that lived in the terrarium all winter and seemed to become quite tame. There was a never-ending interest watching the toad whipping out its extended tongue to eat a mealworm. And then raising mealworms to feed the toad continued our study of life cycles. (Mealworms can be raised in a box of oatmeal containing cut-up potatoes.)

We accepted anything that we could properly care for and the children could hold and catch. There wasn’t often an aquarium because interest was high during the talks and preparation but waned after the fish were introduced. It happened with anything that could not be held.

There were also collections, such as shells, fall seeds, and birds’ nests and feathers. While some sorted and classified shells, others tried to guess what properties were involved. A big display of fall seeds emphasized life cycles and how they travel through wind, animals and people. We read a book about various birds’ nests to help in identification. Observing the various birds’ feathers, children tried to determine what parts of the bird the feathers had originated from and what purpose each had.

With the help of books in the afternoons, children learned more about the exhibits in the science center. For instance, books could be about the differences between various nests, a toad and a frog, a butterfly and a moth, a turtle and a tortoise; the differences between instinct and learned behavior.

For insect study, there was a chart showing the five parts – the head, the thorax, the abdomen, two sets of wings and six legs. Then we looked and searched for small things to see if they were insects or not. What a classification feat that was!

Raising mice each January, we became involved in a study about genes and heredity. It was most exciting each time we had a new litter – which was very often. We transferred the knowledge about the mouse genetics to other animals and people.

During the spring, a variety of seeds were planted from those found in fruits and vegetables, such as apple and melon seeds and the eyes of potatoes plus an assortment of bulbs and flower seeds.

Concepts gained during science activities not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Read more about Choice Time and the science program in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Create a “Model Town” to Teach Reading Skills

In my combined first and second grade classes, creating a town or a city provided the experiential learning and motivation for attaining the required reading skills. This began in January for the second half of the year. Each program was designed for children to participate at their own ability level. It was appropriate for gifted students, many of whom were in this class, and yet younger or less able students were able to participate with enthusiasm, while learning and progressing as well. There was a starting point for everyone but no limit or ceiling for achievement.

The study began with a field trip exploring the city of Syracuse, which was next to our town. Back in the classroom, after completing a list of Syracuse public buildings, city neighborhoods, parks, and ponds, children were ready to build their city.

After deciding upon a building, alone or with one or more partners, they searched through a collection of  boxes brought in, to design the structure of their building. A house was a ½ pint milk carton, and city buildings often started with a ½ gallon milk carton. If their choice was a house, a child had that alone, but if it was a city building, there could be two or three to one building. There wasn’t room for 25 buildings on the desktops that we used – a total of six desks, two sets of three forming an L-shape covered with linoleum. It was important for children to identify strongly with their buildings, so some important city buildings might not be there, such as a fire station, city hall, etc. They knew that their city was just one section of the whole city. There was always a downtown area, a residential neighborhood, and a park sometimes with a pond.

A request went home to parents asking all who could to come in and help create the buildings. This was not an art project. It was to create a realistic city, with lots of imagination at times, but an easily recognizable one. Each child or group of children knew what they wanted their building to look like but lacked the dexterity to finish it, cutting and covering the box structures. There were smaller boxes and oak tag for additions and fadeless colored papers in all colors to choose from. Parents were told that it was okay to make suggestions but the final decision was to be a child’s own. As each building was completed, it was placed on the desktops. Then streets were added, with stop signs, and a collection of bushes, trees, and flowers, etc. allowed all to landscape their lot.

Creating the program for each child, “ Facts and  Events About our City”, included choices from three lists – 1) city events, 2) types of writing and, 3) required reading skills. Each activity contained one city event, a type of writing, and one or more skills. The skills list was by far the longest, and all could not be incorporated in city activities that would finish by June. So, the first section of the program, was “Tools for Writing”, including some pages for instruction plus pages to be completed after a skill has been taught. For instance, teaching the page of Rules for Base Words might take many days, off and on, before the practice pages would be completed.

A child’s program contained three sections: Activity, Expectations, and Procedure. The Activity described what was occurring in the city with some explanation about the event, Expectations told what skills should be included, and the Procedure explained how to do it. Occasionally, when a new skill needed to be applied, following instruction there was a page to complete before beginning that event.

“Facts and Events About our City” might include different assignments. For instance, in alphabetizing the telephone directory, many children could manage a long list, but if that was too much for others, they could request or be offered to alphabetize a smaller amount. A young child with a house might just alphabetize the residential neighborhood and if paragraphs were expected, some would write many and others just one or two.

Each child received their program in an oak tag cover fastened together with three brass fasteners, ready to receive their second draft papers. The first two pages were blank and lined. Each child wrote Table of Contents at the top, ready to receive each new event upon completion. The first session was spent designing their covers along with Minicity, or whatever name had been voted upon, written at the top and their name at the bottom.

The first event was, “Who Lives in My Building?”

Their directions:

Who Lives in My Building?

Activity: Write a short report naming each person and pet that lives in your house/building. For each person, use a few      descriptive words telling about jobs or their ages. For instance:  Robert Grainer, the father, is a professor. Nicky, our dog, is the most active one in our family; or Maxi, the  daughter, is ten-years-old.

Expectations: Your sentence about each person will use commas of apposition.   (see page 12)

Procedure: 1)  Write a first draft.    2)  Revise.    3) Write your second draft.

Some children learned all individually, two children of equal ability might work together, others had adult help, and perhaps a few were assisted by an adult who explained each step while the child filled in the answers or one might dictate their piece. But all children participated with as much as they were capable of. Many children mastered the curriculum, while those who hadn’t reached that level were on a path towards the goal, while being exposed to all. And it didn’t matter that much was repeated from the previous year. The events were in a different place, a town one year and a city the next, and children were a year older. From their previous exposure the year before, their learning progressed with new ideas and more advanced ability.

All were engaged in discussion while continually exposed to various points of view – more opportunities for overcoming egocentrism. Children wrote the assigned writing independently, sometimes with a partner, assisted by an adult when needed, or with a few dictating their first drafts; however, all second drafts contained each child’s own ideas, and second drafts were kept in her own booklet. Finally when all was completed, on one afternoon each child read hers to the class.

Read about the complete procedure and program of Kiddiecity  in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where the programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Young Children’s Cogitive Gains Through Art

Art for young children entails an exploration of materials, a way of learning further about their world. When children are engaged with paper-cutting, gluing, constructing, coloring, designing, collaging or whatever, they should be able to participate at their own maturity level. Piaget believed that children need activities that they can relate to in their own past experiences and from there, will seek novelty. It’s this novelty that fosters a child’s growing intellect. Therefore, it’s important to offer as many different materials as possible to stimulate interest and provide opportunities for new and interesting creations. As they interact with old and new materials, to paste or construct or paint, each child is able to thrive and grow. It is the process of art that should be emphasized. When participating in art using their own ideas, children are learning a tremendous amount. They have opportunities to develop the very same cognitive traits necessary to succeed in academic areas.

In many art activities, there are possibilities for understanding transformations and reversibility. A child who doesn’t understand these characteristics while cleaning tables with sponges will squeeze the water out all over the table. Then he will saturate the sponge with that same water squeezing it out on the table and this is repeated over and over again – until finally realizing that the saturated sponge must be squeezed out in the sink. So, he has watched the water from a small sponge spread out over the table, a liquid being transformed, and then is able to soak up the same water into the sponge again, and see that same liquid reversed. Transformations are evident in all kinds of painting – brush painting, finger painting, ink blots, and string painting. Paper folding after cutting out designs for snowflakes shows transformations, and then reversibility is evident if after the paper is unfolded, it is re-folded to show the original state.

There are opportunities to become aware of similarities and differences by discovering objects that will print and not print, can be pasted or not pasted, can be taped or not taped and the possibilities of recognizing things that are larger or smaller, smoother or rougher, darker or lighter.

Similarities and differences plus transformations and reversibility are pre-requisites to understanding classification. This requires a recognition of the relationships between the parts to the whole – using separate paints to make one whole painting; the whole to the parts – a piece of paper cut into separate parts; and the parts to the parts – whenever engaged in making symmetrical designs.

There are numerous opportunities to aid in understanding conservation – the ability to recognize that different substances are the same amount no matter what types of transformations take place. This occurs when realizing, with that sponge full of water when it  spread all over the table, that the same amount of water can be contained within the sponge again, and understanding that one ball of clay or play dough made into many different shapes is the same amount when put back together again into one ball.

Overcoming egocentrism, the ability to understand other viewpoints than what is first observed, occurs when constructing with paper or boxes, or working with clay, or making mobiles. A child is looking at all sides and angles – offering the ability to see all aspects.

And through social interaction with others while listening to various viewpoints, there are chances for good logical thinking, and problem solving.

So, art activities for young  children keep their minds active in numerous ways and should always be an important part of the classroom.

Read more about Choice Time and the Art Center in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Also, see 7 reviews on

Children’s Explorations in an Art Center

In my combined first and second grade classes, children freely participated in the art center during Choice Time.

Readily available materials bought with school supply money included: all types of paper; scissors, pencils, crayons, and felt pens; masking tape and scotch tape; staplers; craft sticks; string and yarn; wallpaper books; paint; rulers; and plasticine. Then parents supplied a huge variety of junk materials.

It has been long understood that when children are participating in art, they are in a process that includes nourishing expression, an acuteness of the senses, experimentation and risk-taking, developing imagination, and creative development. However, in addition to these assets, it’s also another way of communicating.

Much of art for the young child involves exploring a wide range of materials. It should include the process that is emphasized. When children were given directions for making a product, like making a present for their parents, I didn’t consider it art. It may have been following directions and the product important, and it may have been very attractive and artistic and a valuable activity in itself – but it wasn’t art for young children. It wasn’t using materials creatively. One’s own creations allow a child to thrive and grow emotionally and cognitively.

Young children’s initial art experience is pure investigation, but as they grow older and have more involvement, the maturity of their art unfolds. With various materials, there were three stages while making collages, working with clay, and with different types of painting. At first there’s pure exploration with sometimes smearing and dabbling. Sometime in the middle of messing around, an idea begins to take place. This stage is finally replaced with attempts to replicate a preconceived idea.

When participating in art activities using their own ideas, children are learning a tremendous amount. Using many materials, they are learning about similarities and differences, transformations and reversibility, and opportunities for overcoming egocentricity during any type of construction, constantly seeing all sides of a structure. So, they have opportunities to develop the very same cognitive traits necessary to succeed in academic areas.

Read more about Choice Time and programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Constructing in the Math Center at Choice Time

In my combined first and second grade classes, children’s self-initiated learning took place during Choice Time. Much enthusiastic activities took place in the construction area of the Math Center. These concrete experiences serve as a background for gaining new insights and understandings – therefore, opportunities for increasing their cognitive development.

Materials supplied  for constructing were: 5 small paint buckets, each one ½  full of Cuisenaire Rods; 1 inch wooden colored cubes; dominoes; Base Ten Blocks; and Unifix Cubes.

Building all kinds of structures were most popular – buildings, towns, roadways, and towers, supplemented with various other materials such as 1 inch cubes, dominoes, pegboards, etc.

There were times when too many structures were knocked down because someone carelessly walked by. So there was an agreed upon class rule that excluded anyone from the math center for a few days if they knocked anything down – even if it was a complete accident. The number of days agreed upon varied with each class, but usually it was two or three days. No blame was attached, and it was amazing how carefully children walked through or by the buildings after that. From then on, there were few accidents.

Constructing allows opportunities for developing concepts necessary for good achievement in abstract math. A good math student is able to conserve, recognizing that two amounts are equal even though one is a different shape or size than another – that five Cuisenaire Rods or five rulers are five. Building in the math center, children constantly see various arrangements of numbers of objects.

It is also an opportunity for overcoming egocentrism. An egocentric child cannot see or understand another viewpoint. An aid to overcoming this is continually looking at all sides and angles of each structure built. Success in math requires a good mental image of numbers of objects in many different configurations including the various shapes, sizes, and dimensions of these objects.

Children must have concrete experiences before they can abstract. While children were constructing, they were constantly sorting and classifying while looking at balance, design, and structure. These were opportunities for developing seriation plus spatial and numerical relationships eventually leading to paper and pencil math, no longer needing objects.

Read more about the math program and the Math Center in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved