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Big, bigger, biggest. Small, smaller, smallest. Concepts are so fun – big::small; tall::short; full::empty; up::down; hot::cold – too name a few! Basic concepts are words that characterize numbers, time, descriptions, location, and feelings. Children learn concepts through reading, daily conversation, and planned activities. Understanding basic concepts helps strengthen a child’s vocabulary and builds early mathematical skills. Let’s begin our teaching concepts series with pre number concepts, discussing the differences between big and small. Instead of using traditional paper and pencil, let’s combine sensory materials with a fun twist – squishy toys and glowing neon paint! We love painting activities at Crayon Box Chronicles, especially the messy kind! You’ll need the following material to get started:
- Squiggle Rings, Worms, or Balls
- Washable Neon Paint
- Foam Board
- Large Tub or Tarp
- Scissors or Circle Punches, 3 Sizes
- Glue Stick
Aren’t these squishy toys so fun! Encourage your child to squeeze, pull, wrap, wiggle, and stretch these funny characters!
First, cut or punch three shapes in varying sizes. We used 3″, 2″, and 1″ circle punches with rocket-ship scrapbook paper. Next, encourage your child to glue the circles or whatever shape you choose on the foam board at different heights. While C was gluing we discussed the differences between the circles. What shape is it? C, yelled, “Circle Mommy! It’s a rocket ship circle.” Is this rocket ship smaller or bigger than this one?
Next, C identified each color, then poured the paint into the bowls. He was particularly fascinated with squishy worm. He said, ” Mommy, the worm goes wiggle, wiggle into the yellow bowl!” Once your materials are all prepped, hang your foam board outside with a long tub or tarp underneath. We used a large piece of plywood under our bowls of paint. Let’s get messy!
Begin by asking questions. After each answer hit the circle in question with the painted squishy toys! This fun activity challenges motor skills too.
- Which rocket ship is the biggest?
- Which rocket ship is the smallest?
- Which circle is bigger than this circle?
- Which circle is smaller than this circle?
C wanted to answer first, so after each question he pointed to the circle, then threw the toy. He understands basic concepts, so I challenged him by asking NOT questions. This concept is much harder for C to grasp. We threw in colors too. Although the questions were harder, he still loved the NOT questions because he was able to hit 2 circles at the same time.
- Which one is NOT the smallest?
- Which one is NOT the biggest?
- Which rocket ship is NOT yellow?
- Which circle is NOT green?
Ready, set, go! He was giggling so hard after the first SPLAT!
Here’s Ms. Pinkie flying through the air at the biggest circle. We ended up taking the board down and resting it inside the tub. It works just as well.
Here’s an up-close and personal shot with Mr. Green squishy ring! I continued to ask questions and he practiced his aim! I even joined in the messy fun.
In the end, he just loved all the sounds that the squishy toys made and the silky textures. These fun sensory toys will be used in his daily play time routine.
Additional activities to help teach pre number concepts:
- Read a colorful book discussing bigger and smaller (we love It’s Not Easy Being Big, Dr. Seuss Beginning Readers Collection.)
- Use household objects to compare sizes.
- Take a trip to the grocery store and point out shapes, sizes, and colors.
- Enjoy a nature walk and discuss the similarities and differences between objects.
Worried about the mess? Another simple option is to place a tarp under the foam board on the ground or table and have your child drop the squishy toy or simply press it down over the circles. Encourage your child to move them around and explore messy play. For imaginative and sensory play, see our small world play.
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Heather is a former creative director and stylist from the Big Apple. See more on her blog, Crayon Box Chronicles, where she explores creative messy play, recycled art activities, and sensory play with her son.