DIY Tutorial: Magnetic Fishing Game

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I love a project that uses up fabric scraps and recycles odds and ends from around the house. I also love to make toys using natural materials. This is one of our new favorites. I didn’t have to buy a single thing, and I was able to make it using some simple sewing in just a couple of hours.

One nice thing about this game is that it allows for versatile play and can grow with a child. For now, we just set it up and try to hook the fish, and have some fun developing both fine and gross motor skills, and engaging in dramatic play. I plan to make another pole and about a dozen fish total. That way it can be played with a friend and is a way to play cooperatively and share. Later, it can be a prop for more complex games. My mom, who is also a career preschool teacher, uses a similar fishing game with her pre-k students. She sticks letters, numbers, or words to the fish and uses the game to work on recognition, reading, and math skills. Go fish!

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Materials:

A stick or dowel

Twine

A small hanging hook or carabiner that is free of sharp edges

Twine

Strong magnet

Washers

Ribbon

Fabric scraps to make the worm and fish

Stuffing, such as cotton, wool, or polyfill

Instructions:

To make the pole I cut a birch branch, added some twine, and tied a hook on the end. For some reason the previous owners of our house loved hanging things from the ceiling, so we removed several dozen little hooks and just had them in a jar. They can be purchased at any hardware store.

For the worm, I set the magnet on top of some pink corduroy fabric (the perfect material for a worm!) and free handed a cut that allowed room for the magnet to fit inside of the “head” and looked somewhat worm-ish. I left about a quarter inch seam allowance. I turned the front sides in, and inserted a small loop of ribbon at one end of the worm. I used a straight stitch on my sewing machine to do the seams on the worm and fish, but this would not take long to sew by hand. I started stitching near the loop, securing it in place, and continued to stitch around the edges, leaving an opening of about an inch and a half near the head so that I could flip the worm right-side out, and insert the magnet. I put a small bit of stuffing into the worm tail and hand stitched the opening shut.

For the fish, I used some cute and colorful fabric, which I set right-side (pattern side) facing inward, and cut some free hand fish. Again I cut the shapes a bit fatter to allow for a quarter inch seam. I looped some ribbon through a washer. I lined it up so that the washer and a loop of ribbon were between the two layers of fabric, and would be sewn so that they were coming out of the fish mouth when the fish was turned right-side out. If using a sewing machine take care to avoid the washer and don’t let it get underneath the presser foot or needle where it could damage the machine. Sew in the same way as the worm- leaving a small opening that is large enough to accommodate the washer and turn the fish right-side-out.

Make as many fish as you please. When you are finished you should have a little worm that you can loop onto your hook, and a set of fish that will snap neatly onto the “hook” when the magnetic worm touches the washer.

A blue blanket or play silk makes a perfect “pond” for your fish, and we found our couch to be the perfect fishing spot.

I just happened to have enough scrap burlap and canvas to make a simple bag, with a ribbon strap, to carry the fishing game. My toddler likes purses and my inner preschool teacher likes each of her toys, jobs, and games to be stored neatly, in a predictable place, with all of the pieces together.

We like to sing songs about fish while we are fishing. Our two favorites (which you can find the tunes for on Youtube) are “slippery fish” (the Octopus song), and the folk song “You get a line, I’ll get a pole”. I’ve included the lyrics to that one below. Happy Fishing!

The Crawdad Song

You get a line and I’ll get a pole, Honey,
You get a line and I’ll get a pole, Babe.
You get a line and I’ll get a pole,
We’ll go fishin’ in the crawdad hole,
Honey, Baby mine.

Sittin’ on the bank ’til my feet get cold, Honey,
Sittin’ on the bank ’til my feet get cold, Babe,
Sittin’ on the bank ’til my feet get cold,
Lookin’ down that crawdad hole,
Honey, Baby mine.

Yonder comes a man with a sack on his back, Honey,
Yonder comes a man with a sack on his back, Babe,
Yonder comes a man with a sack on his back,
Packin’ all the crawdads he can pack,
Honey, Baby mine.

The man fell down and he broke that sack, Honey,
The man fell down and he broke that sack, Babe,
The man fell down and he broke that sack,
See those crawdads backing back,
Honey, Baby mine.

I heard the duck say to the drake, Honey,
I heard the duck say to the drake, Babe,
I heard the duck say to the drake,
There ain’t no crawdads in this lake,
Honey, Baby mine.

How real food, and the way we eat it, has the power to change the way children think, learn, feel, and live

Eating and trying new foods, much like having an adventure in the woods, is an opportunity for children and adults alike to explore, share, and have new sensory experiences while nourishing our bodies and our minds. Studies on emotion and neuroplasticity continue to show that new and novel experiences, including time spent outdoors and in nature, allow us to release serotonin and dopamine, combat depression, and be happier individuals. By encouraging our children, at a young age, to engage in health positive behaviors, to move more, to eat better, to be outside and connect with their communities and their food sources, we are healing our entire community and helping them to be healthy in a way that is much more balanced and significant than their BMI could possibly indicate. When we move beyond seeing snack time as a time to reach for a box of crackers and satiate until the next time we eat, and view meals as opportunities to learn and experience and participate in the world, we move beyond encouraging physical health, and set our children up to be healthy on an emotional and cognitive level as well.

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This is a photo of  the meals I pack for my one year old daughter to eat during the daytime while I teach. I would expect this to last for 3-4 days. From left to right, top row: tuna and broccoli pasta with garlic and goat’s milk; pasta with tomato basil sauce. middle row: vanilla yogurt; apple slices; blackberries and pomegranate seeds; fresh mozzarella; seasoned firm tofu; seaweed; peas and carrot bites. Bottom row: raspberry yogurt; shredded chicken breast; peas and carrot bites; blackberries and pomegranate; lentils; wild blueberries; mushrooms and asparagus in garlic butter. I will be posting lunch and snack ideas and recipes regularly, as well as tips for feeding kids and families.

When working with children how can we help encourage healthy attitudes about exercise, food, and body image?

I will never encourage a child (or an adult for that matter) to move around to burn calories,  to lose weight, or to “earn” permission to eat treats. I will encourage a child to move to express joy, to feel strong and competent, to develop new skills and gain physical strength. I will encourage them to move so that they can celebrate the amazing things their body can do and the blessing of having functional limbs, and so that they will know the exhilarating joy of sharing experiences like dancing, running, and playing with their friends. I will encourage them to move around outdoors because our world is an amazing place, and they will not be able to fully understand that, or be in awe of our planet and nature, or  inspired to study it, or protect it, until they have first experienced it.

I will never use food as a reward for behavior. I will never encourage a child to “trade” “healthy” foods such as vegetables for “unhealthy” foods such as desserts, to count calories, to watch their carbohydrate or fat intake, or to deprive themselves of foods they love. As long as children play and move and do not have underlying health issues, if they have access to a variety of good food choices- nutritious whole foods, they are naturally good at eating what they need.  I encourage them to try new foods because it is exciting and fun to try new things. I talk with them about what they are eating and where their food comes from. How they feel about it and how it tastes.  I encourage children to learn where their food comes from, and then go a step further and plant the seeds, to grow the vegetables, to participate in cooking their favorite meals. I encourage children to eat because sharing meals with friends promotes meaningful conversation and relationships. I encourage them to eat because they love the sensory experience and taste of the foods in front of them. I will encourage them to think about how what they are eating affects the way their bodies feel. I  will give them more when they ask for it, and trust that they know their limits, are done when they say so or walk away, and never force them to eat food or clear their plate.

I teach the preschoolers to look at their food and think about the ingredients, to know where it came from and how it is connected to the earth. Yes, that is string cheese. But how did it get to your lunch box? An amazing number of children will tell me that it “comes from my refrigerator” or it “comes from the store”. How can we expect children to care about what they put into their bodies, and care about animals, and care about the earth, if they don’t see how these things are all connected? I want them to know that the little things like sunflower seeds, and blueberries, and water drops, and the big things like mountains, and forests, and cities are all part of cycles that affect one another, and give and take energy, and I want the children to understand that they are part of those systems too.

Making meals an adventure helps underscore a broader message that life is full of opportunities to explore, to be flexible, and to celebrate and feel grateful for the simple joys in life.

My goal, when feeding my daughter or sharing food with the people in my life- children and adults, is to be intentional in the choices I make. To create opportunities to eat a wide variety of whole foods (as few ingredients as possible, as close to their natural form as possible). I try to offer different colors and textures and types of flavors, and make each meal a sensory experience. At the same time, I try to support my values by shopping as locally and organically as possible, and support my family by doing it as an economical a way as I can.

This week we had some encouraging local news about children’s health. Too often we are told what we are doing wrong, and given a gloomy picture of the ills in society. It’s nice to pass on a story that is hopeful and encouraging, and share some useful tips about what we CAN do to make a positive difference for our kids and our world.

One important side note to this story, if you can’t already guess from my previous statements, is that I don’t believe talking about obesity and focusing on BMI and caloric intake and weight is a useful way to encourage health among children. It is a data point that can be tracked and measured which makes it useful to administrators and organizations when looking at the impact of this grant program.

Both the Seattle Times and NPR reported a drop in obesity rates of 17% among high school students in King County. Overall, for Washington State and for our country as a whole, obesity rates remain stable or are on the increase. This change seems to indicate that we can have a positive impact and change outcomes for children and young adults on a broad scale. (here is the original article: (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022957941_obesitydownxml.html) The children being tracked in this study are generally from low income school districts, and participated in a grant program designed to promote healthy lives among youth. This grant program took a holistic approach at promoting health. From the article:

“The 41 grant recipients were asked to focus on goals such as creating safe, walkable and bikeable communities, reducing consumption of sugary beverages, and supporting farm-to-school programs, low-income immigrant urban farmers and small retailers seeking to provide healthful options.”

I’m so encouraged that this program took a look at the school and citizens within the context of a community. It recognizes that time outdoors, and community connections, and fresh produce and whole foods are all interconnected components in creating a healthy life for our children. And the proof that this approach works seems to be evident in the numbers. My hope is that parents and school districts and legislators can take this evidence and use it to affect change in our schools across the state and country. Investing in our children’s health is an investment in their future and an investment in their ability to learn and thrive in the classroom environment. Children who are hungry, sick, tired, poorly nourished, and deprived of time outdoors playing, exploring, and moving, cannot be effective learners. As a nation we all need to do the same thing that I encourage my preschoolers do. And we need to make sure these opportunities are accessible regardless of where children live and go to school. Go outside. Move. Play. Explore. Eat real food. Be happy and grateful and responsible. Every. Single. Day.

A Pre-K Manifesto

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The other day I stumbled upon a washington post article, titled “A Really Scary Headline About Kindergarteners” ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/06/a-really-scary-headline-about-kindergarteners/ ). I encourage everyone to check it out for themselves. It shines a spotlight on the trickle-down effect standardized testing is having on early childhood education. I frankly found it to be pretty heartbreaking. As I read, I thought to a recent information night that I hosted for the preschool program where I teach. We are lucky to be located on a 68 acre park and farm, which pairs nicely with my personal philosophy of “real” education- facilitating an experience based, play based program focused on exploration, creativity, and going OUTSIDE!!!!

I irritated a prospective parent at our preschool open house when I couldn’t guarantee her child would be writing and reading at the end of pre-K. I told her: “my goal is that your child will know the way the stream changes throughout the s…easons- after a heavy rain, in a drought, when the salmon run. She will feel confident and strong when she hikes through the woods and know the names of the trees and birds and plants. She will have access to countless amazing books and know the meaning of words like author, illustrator, fiction, and non fiction, and the joy of reading and writing and telling stories . She will have access to free art and glue and scissors and glitter every day. She will learn that when she talks, teachers will listen, because she is important. She will learn to be a responsible friend with the words to resolve peer conflicts and ask for help. She will feel empowered as a steward of our earth and the people and animals who live here. She will never get in trouble for making messes and she will learn to clean them up herself. She will explore and create and find joy and be loved every time she comes here.” She said “if my child can’t read by the time kindergarten starts it will be a disaster she will never academically recover from.” (Apparently this was my responsibility to fully undertake- not hers). Anyhow, she didn’t enroll. I feel heart pain for the pressure her four year old faces next year. I hope she finds this article. This lines up with my feelings, my apprehension about the direction public education is heading and Richard Louvs points in Last Child in the Woods.

Most of my pre-k class can recognize, write, and read the letters. Some can read books. They all WANT to- not because it is required be a test or a school, but because they are excited to learn and see the power and beauty and adventure of literacy. I believe in setting up an environment full of rich experiences and opportunities for creativity and discovery, and giving support or encouragement when it’s needed and requested. The kids can do the rest. I think most teachers get into education because they love children and learning, and most burn out early because of paperwork an politics and standards and tests, and not being allowed and supported to do what they can and want to do. The memories I retain from elementary school and high school, te ones that will be with me for life, are not of teachers standing at whiteboards or of textbooks. They are memories of experiences – learning to make artificial flavors in chemistry class, going on field trips to the beach for biology, writing stories, creating art, playing games in class, singing.

I also know that I speak from a place of privilege, where most of my students have highly supportive families who provide time at home full of enrichment and books, and we live in an area where it is generally very safe to go outside. If Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs- food safety security, etc, are not met then kids can’t really learn. That is another broad and multifaceted social issue.

I try to reassure parents that the social behaviors are the biggest gift to the kinder teachers- I think K teachers have the hardest job in public school because they have a bunch of wild cards as far as student background, previous experiences with school, parent involvement, etc and it’s often their job to talk with parents about challenges for the first time.

It’s so hard for the K teachers and for the kids because this is not a one size fits all type of world, and not every teacher or style of learning is going to work for every student. Learning flexibility and how to do things you don’t feel like doing, yes there is value in that. But teachers have the flexibility to create or extend projects more often and meet and celebrate the children where they already are, so that they can grow with confidence, we need that more than we need rigorous testing in the early grades. Yes, some evaluation so that teachers know where students are and admin can see where teachers might need to improve, but it should be a side note not the focus. Some children are not developmentally ready to hold a pencil or read until they are six or seven. It’s a shame our system makes them feel like failures. I will say that of our fifty kids this year- some of them never choose to play blocks, some of them never choose to do the organized project, some of them never choose to dance- but every single one of them enjoys outside time and never ever complains, no matter what the weather is. I know many adults who won’t go out in the rain or the cold or the snow or the heat. When does this change? I hope, for these kids, it never does.

UPDATE:

I have a very open dialogue with the families in my program, and a few of them passed my thoughts on to a local magazine, called Parent Map www.parentmap.com. Well, they re-printed my quotation, and so far (in less than 24 hours) it has been liked by 500 people. It has been re-shared 140 times, and gained 65 comments. Originally I actually thought twice about sharing my feelings about this topic, and now I am so glad I did. And so glad that I live in a community where these values resonate. I have been keeping this blog close to my chest until I had the time to really “launch” it and write regualarly, but after many e-mails and words of encouragement from parents of small children I have decided I should delay it no longer. Thanks Parent Map and everyone who helped spread the word. Here is a link to their facebook post, where they shared my quote: