Posts filed under ‘Play’

Storytelling Workshop Activity for Children

A student works on writing her own story in the Storyteller Workshop.

This summer, ReadBoston has been experimenting with new supplemental literacy activities in a pilot program at several Storymobile sites. In an effort to design a more comprehensive literacy curriculum to accompany the Storymobile program, we have been developing new activities and leading workshops on some new ideas to accompany our Storymobile program.
This activity, introduced by one of ReadBoston’s summer staffers, has proved to be a favorite with children of many age groups! Called the “Storytelling Workshop,” the activity complements the storytelling theme already present in the Storymobile programming and encourages children to be creative while practicing many skills that are important to improving literacy. The group conversation time at the beginning reinforces new vocabulary and verbal communication, while the storytelling aspect helps to develop memory and critical thinking. Though the individual writing component itself has obvious benefits, the focus of this exercise is on developing ideas rather than on grammar and spelling. Sometimes, a fear of being wrong can discourage children from even trying to write. However, by emphasizing the importance of creativity, children are free to practice without fear of making mistakes.

The activity is fairly straightforward and easy to do with any number of students: together, kids and their teacher come up with the beginning of an original storyline with fully developed characters, setting, and conflict. Together, the class composes sentences and begins to tell the story. However, when the story reaches its climax, students break off to write their own creative endings. Once finished, these stories can be copied and made into books!

All you need is paper and colored pens. It can be good to set up larger sheets of paper on the walls so everyone can see what the group is brainstorming (or you can use a whiteboard if you have access to one). You can start by talking about components of the story, like characters, plot, setting, dialogue, and conflict. For more advanced children, this conversation can be more in depth and include complex ideas like themes, points of view, and climax. Then, once the kids have an understanding of the story components, start to develop your own story by asking them questions about your main characters, the setting, and the plot. The more detail the better, so ask them to be specific! As you work together, you can start writing the story out as the students describe it.
Once the story gets to an exciting cliffhanger—with lots of questions, split up the kids to write their own endings. Supply them with paper and colored pens or crayons and encourage them to use the tools you talked about to finish the story in their own creative way. If students don’t feel comfortable writing, they can draw pictures to express their ideas. Once they’re finished, you can turn their endings into individual books by adding the beginning section you wrote together, making front and back covers, and binding the pages to each other.
This project can be as elaborate and advanced as you’d like depending on how much time you have and the reading experience of the children. Practicing storytelling in this way can strengthen literacy skills of all kinds while reinforcing the natural creativity of the students.


August 9, 2012 at 1:27 PM Leave a comment

“Pressure-cooker Kindergarten” – Where are we now?

In 2009, The Boston Globe took a look at a trend of increasing academic demands on our youngest students, their teachers, and families. Even in kindergarten, children and their educators are being subjected to tests and standards “that early childhood researchers agree are developmentally inappropriate, even potentially damaging.” These new expectations arose out of concern for the achievement gap between white students and minorities; mandatory standardized testing was meant to hold schools accountable for all their students. According to Globe, accountability has come at the cost of play time and other activities critical to early brain development. Their special report featured the experiences of educators and experts struggling with the balance between accountability and best practices – many of whom work in the Boston area.

Three years later, what are the academic pressures of the kindergarten classroom? Do the experiences of the teachers in this piece reflect your own? How do you balance accountability with play? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? Where do you think we should go from here?

Continue Reading April 23, 2012 at 1:22 PM Leave a comment

Book Spotlight: Gilberto and the Wind

Jumpstart’s sessions and its activities are inspired by 20 books, which we call core storybooks. Every session revolves around these books. They contain great vocabulary and there are many opportunities to apply to concepts in the books to learning that is happening in the classroom. I wanted to highlight one of my favorites today (along with some ideas for how to bring the book to life)!

Title: Gilberto and the Wind
Author: Marie Hall Ets
In this book Gilberto hears the wind whispering at the door and runs out to play. The wind teases Gilberto by carrying his balloon away and breaking his umbrella. The wind is playful too, racing Gilberto, lifting his soap bubbles, knocking down an apple for him to eat, and gently lulling him to sleep.

blur: something you cannot see clearly
clothespins: clips for hanging wash on a line
soft, mild, kind
making a long, loud cry like a wolf
a sudden tug
a toy that flies in the air, lifted by wind
a toy that spins in the wind
ready to eat
a cloth attached to the mast of a boat that the wind pushes along
not fastened, unlocked
speaking softly

Dramatic Play: Playing House
: Children can use vocabulary and comprehension as they engage in play about doing laundry, especially hanging clothes outside to dry in the wind.

Materials: Basic house-play materials including clothesline, clothespins, pillowcases, doll clothes and chairs to hang clothesline (if possible)


  • Observe children as they play and comment on their actions using rich vocabulary.
    • “Look at all the clothes on the clothesline! I wonder if they are going to fit on the clothesline. Do you have enough clothespins?”
    • “I notice you have washed the pillowcases and the apron and hung them up just as they were in the book about Gilberto.”

*NOTE: It can be helpful to string the clothesline between two childsize chairs so that the line is within easy reach of children.

Science: What Can Air Move?
Purpose: Children develop vocabulary and comprehension as they begin to understand that it is possible to investigate air and classify the results; observe an experiment and make predictions about the results, like similarities and differences.

Materials: Hair dryer (and extension cord if necessary); 3 shoeboxes with signs attached (Moved Easily, Moved at a Higher Speed, Did Not Move); Various objects to test


  • Use suggested vocabulary during discussion in ways that make their meanings clear: breeze, speed, wind, heavy, light, strong, weak.
  • Show children the hair dryer and turn it on the lowest speed to create a breeze. Tell the children that you will do an experiment together to test which objects the air from the hair dryer will move.
  • Read the signs on the shoeboxes and show children the collection of objects. Together, name each object you will test.
  • As you test each object, use rich vocabulary and make connections to Gilberto and the Wind when possible.
  • Have children select an object to test. Ask children to predict whether or not the object will move.
  • Place the object on the table in the path of the hair dryer.
  • For safety reasons only Corps members should use the hair dryer. Test at a low speed, then at higher speeds if necessary. Talk about what happens.
  • Have children place the object in the correct box.
  • Talk about how the objects in the same box are alike.

These are just a few of the possible activities that you could use with this book. Grab a copy…I’m sure you can find many more!

February 28, 2012 at 9:04 AM Leave a comment

Show Love, Develop Fine Motor Skills

Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity for both parents and childcare providers to engage children in activities that will improve their fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscle movements which occur e.g., in the fingers, usually in coordination with the eyes. These skills are vital to our everyday life and impact our ability to do all sorts of things ranging from being able to pick up small items, being able to button a shirt to drawing and writing in the classroom. However, these skills are not innate to humans and need to be developed over time and craft projects are an excellent way to do so.

Drawing and Tracing: If your program will be celebrating Valentines’ Day try creating “mailboxes” for each child made of cardstock, brown paper bags, or recycled boxes. Have the children decorate their mailbox with crayons, colored pencils, markers, or even paint. Provide stencils for them to trace hearts, flowers or other shapes onto the mailbox.

Using tools:  Have children make their own Valentines to give away with colorful construction paper and safety scissors. Encourage the children to decorate their Valentines with glitter, stickers, stamps or paint.  This would be a great opportunity for children to practice picking up and manipulating small objects.

The basic arts and crafts of Valentine’s Day offer great fine motor skills practice to children and a lot of fun at the same time! While they create their tokens of affection, you can show your care by encouraging them to develop the skills they need for the rest of their lives.

February 9, 2012 at 2:38 PM Leave a comment

Talk, Read, Play Day!

Mayor Thomas Menino kicked off Talk Read Play Day by flipping the switch and illuminating the TD Garden with the Talk Read Play logo. In the photo, left to right: Dr. Carol Johnson, Supt. of Boston Public Schools, Mike Durkin, President of United Way, Mayor Thomas Menino, Joe Blumenfeld, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lisa Hughes, WBZTV and Curious George.

On Tuesday, April 12, thousands of volunteers and early childhood educators donned brightly colored teal shirts emblazoned with a simple statement: Talk, Read, Play. The t-shirts commemorated “Talk Read Play Day,” a citywide effort that aims to create awareness of the need for parents to actively engage verbally with their infants, toddlers and young children. Across the city and throughout the day, sponsors, volunteers and early educators helped promote the program’s message through conversations with parents and story time activities with children. In addition, families received tips on how to talk, read and play at home, along with a goodie bags filled with crayons and stencils and a brand new Curious George book to keep, thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This citywide visibility effort reached more than 10,000 parents and children. 

The Talk, Read, Play campaign is a comprehensive reminder of the simple but sometimes overlooked steps that lead to a child’s healthy development:

  • Talking to a child from birth is one of the most important things that a parent can do to foster vocabulary, critical to the future

    Curious George helps celebrate Talk Read Play Day at the Mattapan Head Start.

    development of reading and writing abilities.

  • Reading with infants and toddlers helps them develop a longer attention span, a larger vocabulary, an eagerness to read, the ability to predict a storyline, and book-handling skills, all of which will help with learning to read later.
  • Playing exposes children to essential social interactions that help to develop creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills. This interaction also prepares them emotionally for the classroom setting.

 “Talk, Read, Play” is a collaboration between ReadBoston and Countdown to Kindergarten. The message of the campaign is to promote parents as their child’s first and most important teachers. The campaign provides critical information and resources to support parents in educating their young children. 

To learn more, visit

April 14, 2011 at 10:54 AM Leave a comment

The Value of Play

Play is one of the most important aspects of childhood. It is through playing that children learn about their surroundings and how to interact with others. As part of Countdown to Kindergarten’s mission to enhance early learning opportunities for the children of Boston, we offer FREE Play to Learn groups. Our playgroups bring together parents, children and an early childhood professional to build a community of peers for support, to foster nurturing behaviors, to help families access other needed services and to model developmentally appropriate practice.

Families have the opportunity to join one of two hour weekly playgroups at any of our nine sites. We are currently looking for participants for the Trotter and  the Holmes Elementary Schools and for the Saturday group at the Tobin Community Center.

Each of playgroups sessions includes:

  • Educational play
  • Circle time
  • Snack
  • Information and resource sharing
  • Gross motor and sensory play
  • Goodbye circle
  • ReadBoston’s Reading Trail lending library

Our playgrops have proven to offer an enriching early learning enviorment, provide a positive “first school” experience, empower parents to be teachers and foster realtionships that build community. If you have a family or a small group who may be interested in participating, please refer them to our schedule and let them know they can register by contacting Rosa Inniss at 617-635-9288.

March 2, 2011 at 10:36 AM 1 comment

Let it snow, let it snow…and snow and snow!!

This winter has certainly been one of the snowiest in recent memory and with more storms approaching and more possible snow days on the way, I wanted to share some of my favorite snowy day activities with all of you!

Snowflake Art: Get out the paper or coffee filters and don’t forget the glitter or glitter glue and make snowflakes of your own. Make a circle and then fold it into fourths. Cut small shapes from the folds and then reveal what has been created. Hang them in the windows and from the ceiling.

Freeze Dance: Put on some music and let the kids get some energy out by dancing. You take turns playing DJ on the iPod or radio. When the music stops, they have to freeze in place. Anyone who moves while frozen is out. The winner is the last person dancing.

Snow Painting: Science is all around us! You can fill spray bottles with a few drops of food coloring and water. Bundle up the kids and let them experiment on the fresh canvas of snow. Talk about how the colors blend to make new colors and what happens when the colored mixture hits the snow. This activity is a fun art and science project rolled into one.

Group Read: Have a couple of books stashed away, so you can take some quiet time to remember a favorite snowy day classic. Everyone can take turns reading to each other or even creating your own snowy day stories together. Check out our “Resources” page for lots of great suggestions.

Indoor Scavenger Hunt: This requires very little preparation, but it can provide tons of entertainment. First, you’ll need to make a list of common household items. Then, give each child a list. Set a timer, and then send the kids on their hunt. The first one to complete their list in the allotted time wins a small prize. While the kids are on their hunt, you can take that opportunity to create the next scavenger hunt list for them.

Blanket Fort: Use the chairs, table, blankets and pillows to make a hideaway. Kids can let their imagination run wild, read, or play in there all day. Stocked with snacks, crayons, books and toys from around the house, the adventures to come are limitless.

Snow days can sometimes be stressful and difficult to plan  – its messy and they usually sneak up on you, but a little imagination can end up going a long way. Before you know it,  the snow days are a great learning opportunity filled with all kinds of fun, new activities!

February 4, 2011 at 6:33 PM Leave a comment

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