Tag Archives: children’s books

Going to the Zoo Through Play and Books

Our play zoo!

My little gal V has a stuffed animal collection that I’ve worked to limit since she joined our family a little over two years ago.  I have put out the word to curtail gift giving of fluffy friends since year one.  Still, in addition to the 10 or so that accompany her to bed every night, we have a pet net (remember these from the 80’s…I saved mine) and a large Rubbermaid bin full of the little friends.

So it came to me one day that we had a full-on menagerie living in our house and we might introduce that element into some pretend play.  In a bored moment, V and I pulled out all the stuffed friends and decided to make a zoo.

We grouped the animals into area by type (birds, bugs, jungle animals, farm animals, dogs, elephants, etc.).  It came to me that this activity actually is a great one for helping kids sort and categorize objects by similarities or differences (kind of like the Sesame Street activity:  “One of these things is not like the other; one of these things doesn’t belong.  Can you guess which thing is not like the other before I finish this song…”).

Sitting amidst our pretend zoo, we decided to read some zoo related stories which I’ve listed for you below.  I know this is a simple activity, but it’s something to take up some time on a rainy fall day when you are at a loss for what might keep your toddler/preschooler occupied.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle:  This book involves physical motion that is sure to get your little one moving and mimicking animal actions.

123 to the Zoo by Eric Carle:  This is a wordless counting book; your little ones can practice their animal identification and counting skills as they look at the colorful illustrations.

Zoo Parade by Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback:  This rhythmic story has been a favorite in our house for a while.  We used to use animal puppets while reading it aloud.  The rhymes and sounds of the story will have you chanting along…”What kind of walking will you do today?”  V loves this one and so do I; I think I have much of it committed to memory!

And to bring a little fun sing-a-long into your play, remember you can always sing “Mama’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow” with Raffi!

Enjoy your zoo play and make good use of the mountain of stuffed animals in your home!


The Ants Go Marching and Other Bug Related Fun for Kids

(photo by PML)

My little gal, V, has shown an utter fascination with the small creatures of the world lately.  From slugs to ants, bugs have been on her curious brain!  She enthuses over them, cautiously and gingerly touches them with exclamations of pride, and points them out everywhere we go.  So I have become a mom that pets ants outside of the strip mall smoothie place and one who carts slugs on mulch pieces to somewhere other than our vegetable garden.  It’s been real…

Not wanting my ant-induced itching inclinations to impact my girl’s passion for the little critters, we went to the library to stock up on all items bug related for some fun theme reading.  Here are some selected choices for your insect explorations:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle:  We own two copies of this (board and hard cover) as it has been a favorite of V’s since she was quite small.  She has always enjoys the part where I exhaustedly and speedily read all of the crazy foods that caterpillar eats on Saturday!

Miss Spider’s ABC’s by David Kirk:  The brilliantly colored illustrations make this book so appealing to little ones.  They can learn about all types of bugs that come to the surprise party for Miss Spider while learning their ABC’s!

The Eensy Weensy Spider by Mary Ann Hoberman:  The classic song is told as an extended version with lovely illustrations; you can use this in combination with some music time for your little one.

Chirping Crickets by Melvin Berger:  This non-fiction title for kids is very informative and even includes a craft and other activities on the back page!

Thinking About Ants by Barbara Brenner: What a fabulous book!  It takes the perspective of an ant and has interactive questions that really draw kids into learning about ants.  Using the questions as prompts, V has decided that she is a purple ant, I am a blue ant, and Daddy can be a red ant and that we all have matching antennae, abdomens, and food!  The stories she is coming up with after reading this title are hilarious and hearing a two year old pronounce “antennae” and “abdomens” is darn cute.  There is a reference in the back to help parents talk about the types of ants depicted in the illustrations.

About Insects:  A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill:  This simple book describes characteristics of insects using illustrations of different bugs.  It is almost like a very elementary field guide and overview of the insect world.  V loved using it as a reference for the bug movie we watched: MicroCosmos.

If you want to go beyond the page and the species found in your own front yard, I recommend checking out MicroCosmos.  It is a quiet (with the exception of some rousing musical accompaniment) documentary about bugs from the perspective of a bug.  Kind of like a real-life “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” experience from the bug side of things.

MicroCosmos is rated G, but be aware there are some real life “ahem” bonding moments that occur between some of the bug friends. They get really natural so you may have some explaining to do with older children. We like to call it “the bugs dancing” in our house.  Overall, though it was a wonderful viewing experience and V kept excitedly pointing out things to us, “Wow!”  “Daddy, LOOK at that guy!”  “What IS that guy?”

I found it helpful to have our bug books on hand so we could look up some of the species as we watched, so it might be useful to have some kind of field guide handy to help answer the questions of curious minded kiddos (for those of us parents who aren’t entomologists)!

Finally, I invite you to do what we do:  go on a nature walk and look at all the bugs you can find.  Talk about them, point out features and share your knowledge.  Most of my bug knowledge was acquired informally, through hearing adults share what they knew about bugs.  Sing “The Ants Go Marching” or “The Eensy Weensy Spider” on your walk.  Check out Pinterest bug activities (we like making bugs out of colored cotton balls, google eyes and pipe cleaners and putting them in glass pickle jars).  There is no end to the fun you can have with bugs.

On a more challenging note; we may have become known as a too friendly to bugs household this week.  We have begun facing off an ant invasion (they were coming in under our front door and running their tiny bodies ALL along the molding from the front to back of our house…).  I’m convinced we’ll win the battle with our liquid ant traps in and outside the house, but for a pesticide-phobic person like me, I really prefer when the bugs keep to their habitat and us to ours!  Keep your fingers crossed that V’s cries of “Get him!  Smash him!” regarding the ants don’t infringe on the awe and respect we are currently forming for our bug friends!  I’m hoping that my explanations of “Bugs are fine outside the house but not inside,” will suffice, but after she’s watched my smash and stomp routine this week, I feel like there’s some mixed messages going on in our home about the presence of wildlife.  She did enjoy watching the ants marching in line from our front door to the ant trap and kept asking me to “Come on Mommy!  Let’s go watch the ants!”  I felt a little guilty knowing that they were in reality marching to their doom…

Anyway, get out there, get itchy and squirmy and check out the species in your front yard!  What are some of the bug friends that your children love?

A Fairy Good Time

An attentive purple fairy at the library program (photo by PML)

We recently have enjoyed some fairy themed projects and excursions. V and I went in full fairy regalia to a fairy themed summer reading program at our local library.

Mama and V fairies at the library program (photo by MEL)

There, we listened to fairy stories, made fairy dolls, magic wands, crowns, and participated in other fairy activities.

To continue our adventure into fairy land, we have been reading the following titles:

A Fairy Went A-Marketing by Rose Fyleman: A sweet story about a little fairy who releases captive animals back into the wild.

Fairy Tea Part by Jamie Michalak:  A sweet little story that helps children learn colors in the context of a fairy tea party.

Usborne 1001 Things to Spot in Fairyland:  V has been loving look and find books and this one on fairyland is delightful!

Talking to Fairies by Sheila Jeffries: While the writing is a little amateurish, the stories and fairy facts are fun. And the quotes about fairies by young children are just plain adorable! I plan to check out some of the titles mentioned in her book for additional reading with V.

Ann Arbor’s Fairy Village (photo by PML)

Enchanted Village (photo by PML)










On our family excursion to Michigan this summer, we enjoyed additional fairy activities with Grammy and Uncle J.  First, we went on a tour of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s fairy doors.  If you haven’t been on this walk, I recommend it (although it’s probably a bit more enjoyable in cooler weather…we went in 90+ degree heat!).  I lived in Ann Arbor for three years and never heard of the fairy doors until my mother told me about them this year.

(photo by PML)

(photo by PML)

We started out checking out the fairy village, then rambled about exploring fairy doors throughout the downtown area.  In the participating key shop, V was given a special Yoda key, which she then used to try to unlock all the subsequent fairy doors.  The walk was enchanting and reminded me of all I love and miss about Ann Arbor.

(photo by PML)

The keys to fairyland…(photo by PML)

A lush fairy garden home (photo by PML)

M & V on a fairy door walk

During our visit, V and Uncle J and I made some fairy houses based on a wonderful house shown by local artist, Diana Gorham of Craftworks, during the library reading program.  Her fairy house was absolutely gorgeous and delightful; it inspired me to give it a go.

V’s fairy A-frame complete with bling: a moss carpet, a stone table and stone chair! (photo by PML)

After a severe thunderstorm gifted us with many loose branches and bark scraps, we went on a nature walk to gather fallen items.  If you do this activity, make sure you aren’t violating any park laws by scavenging where and what you shouldn’t…

The back view of V’s fairy house complete with glitter, beads, and lichen
(photo by PML)

Our rule was to take what was fallen, although I admit to pirating a small scrap of moss from the next door outlet.  Here is what we came up with using twigs, bark, stones, moss, hot glue, craft sticks, beads, pipe cleaners, and glitter:

Front view of J’s fairy summer cottage (interior included Adirondack chair and table designed by J); note the festive flag pole!

Even 10 year old J was enthralled by his fairy house.

Side view of the summer cottage including a stone fireplace, moss garden and pine cone trees (photo by PML)

It was a wonderful way to pass a sweltering afternoon while keeping two children occupied.  My husband M, V, and I have plans to construct additional fairy dwellings over the years; we just love the idea so much!  (And sorry, Mom, I forgot the extra bark I gathered in your car…yep, even big kids still leave car messes!)

A rare view of the ‘secret’ goblin house on our fairy door tour… (photo by MEL)

Celebrating America’s Independence: Flags, Fireworks and Reading Fun for Toddlers

Hot summer days are officially here.  With the temperature soaring to the upper 90’s today and the 4th of July approaching, I decided that it would be a great day to teach V about America’s Independence Day celebration.  Together, we read some stories and created some simple, kid-friendly crafts to celebrate the 4th of July holiday.

Two books that guided our learning experience are:

The Story of America’s Birthday by Patricia A. Pingry


The Story of The Star-Spangled Banner by Patricia A. Pingry

American Flag Craft

Together we made an American flag out of paper and paints.


Red, white, and blue construction paper, scissors, Elmer’s Glue, white tempura paint, paintbrushes


I cut 6 strips of white construction paper and a blue rectangle of construction paper in advance.  I also lined them up in proper American flag order with the red stripe starting at the top of the flag and thirteen stripes total showing.  Line up the white stripes on a piece of red construction paper, creating alternating stripes starting and ending with red and having approximately equal spacing.  Have your child apply Elmer’s glue and affix the stripes to the construction paper.  Then, have your child glue the blue rectangle in the upper left corner of your flag.  Let them create white stars on the blue corner with white tempura paint.  Another option is to have them use silver foil star stickers (the kind that teachers use for grading) and apply them to the blue rectangle.

Firework Paintings


Red, white, blue, yellow (and any other color) tempera paints,  (We especially like to use sparkly ones!)  paintbrushes, and black construction paper.


Let your child free paint their version of sparkly fireworks on the paper.  Allow to dry and display!  We practiced color mixing while we painted our fireworks (V learned to mix purple, green, and brown colors from primary colored paints).

Mama's Version for Demonstration

4th of July themed Nature Table/Tray 

This Montessori/Waldorf concept can be adapted so many different ways.  There are a ton of websites that give examples of nature trays for you to explore as a reference. We like to make learning our own in our home so this is what I came up with and what V added.

Our Nature Tray

Materials and Instructions:

Take a small wooden tray (you can find them at a craft store).  I lined ours with blue sparkly felt for the season.  Our nature tray contains red stars, red and white “jewels”, sparkly star stickers, shells, sticks and rocks that V recently collected on outside excursions, fish, frog, flower, and bug stickers for some interactive seasonal fun, shells and a fossilized fish skin we found when visiting my dad in Florida.  We will add items as the weeks progress, and change out the 4th of July theme following the holiday.  We keep our tray on a little table near the entrance to our house so V can easily add to her collection.

(As with all crafts/activities posted here, neither this blog or the author accept liability for related injuries.  Please be responsible and provide proper supervision and use discretion when determining whether your child is old enough to complete the above projects, especially with children under the age of 3, for whom small objects might pose a choking hazard.)

Books I Love: Stories for Young Children to Learn Life Lessons

V, at age one, pouring over some of her favorite titles

I LOVE reading and my husband, M, and I love to collect books.  I collect some mysteries, classics, poetry, and children’s books.  I started collecting children’s books before we had our daughter, V.  Board books, picture books, intermediate level and young adult books left over from my childhood… I plan to share some of my favorites over the course of several posts this upcoming year.

The list I am sharing today includes my favorite titles for teaching young children about topics ranging from God, to thankfulness, death, love, and physical development.  I’ve collected these books with the intent to share them with my little one and I hope you find something new and interesting in the selection below!

Be Happy: (ISBN  978-1-4424-0676-6)   A board book by Monica Sheehan

A lovely book of spirit-filled wishes for a small child

Grateful:  A Song of Giving Thanks: (ISBN-13  978-0-06-051635-2)by John Bucchino

A poignant song of thankfulness with bold, bright images

What Is God?:  (ISBN  0-920668-88-7)  by Etan Boritzer

A non-denominational book that explores and explains in simple terms an overview of the concept of God as understood by the world’s religions.

The Three Questions:  (ISBN  0-545-16756-6) by Jon Muth

The pictures have an ethereal quality to them and the gentle story guides the reader to live in the moment.

The Next Place: (ISBN  0-931674-32-8)  by Warren Hanson

A beautiful, grace-filled story that discusses “the next place “; an ecumenical picture of heaven that is breathtaking from words to pictures.

On The Day You Were Born:  (ISBN 0-15-257995-8) by Debra Frasier

A gorgeous story with brilliant illustrations that describes the miraculous events in nature that take place on the day of a child’s birth.

So Few of Me:  (ISBN  076362623-6)  by Peter H. Reynolds

A story for perfectionistic children and adults; talks about letting go of some of the stress to embrace life.

Is There Really a Human Race:  (ISBN-13  978-0-06-075346-7) by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell

A story that questions the striving, competitive lifestyle so many people live…

It’s Not the Stork:  A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends: by Robie H. Harris (ISBN 076360047-4)

A very developmentally appropriate, straightforward explanation of human physical development for kids ages 4 and older.

The Family Book: (ISBN-13 978-0316070409  )  by Todd Parr

A wonderful book that introduces children to different family compositions with primary colored, stick figure type illustrations.  I love just about everything that Todd Parr writes!

I Love You:  (ISBN13 978-0316019859) by Todd Parr

This one will pull on your heartstrings, but not in an over the top way; it communicates the concept of acceptance and unconditional love to children.  My daughter wanted to read it over and over again at the first reading; so many of the situations depicted in the book were relatable to her!

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