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Friday Five: Death

I am part of a group on Facebook that is for a bunch of moms (and a few dads). We ask all kinds of questions about kids and about life and use the hive mind to help us through parenting. One question that has come up at least three times are picture books that deal with the subject of death. Here are five books that can help you talk with your child about death, plus three bonus books since I feel like you can’t have too many in the arsenal to help you through a difficult discussion. Plus there is bound to be one that will work for your family.

Hugs on the Wind1. Hugs on the Wind wirtten by Marsha Diane Arnold and Vernise Elaine Pelzel, illustrated by Elsa Warnick

In this book a small bunny and his mother spend the day together in a field. As they go about their day the little bunny expresses sadness over missing his grandfather. His mother helps him see that he can send his grandfather hugs and thoughts through the wind, the stream, and the grass. It isn’t stated if the grandfather has moved away or if he died, but it certainly works in either case. The soft pastel illustrations reinforce the gentle tone of the book.



My Father's Arms2. My Father’s Arms Are a Boat written by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Oyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson

A small boy tosses and turns in his bed after being tucked in by his father. The boy returns to the living room to find his father also struggling to sleep. The two discuss the birds outside and the foxes. Then, tentatively, the boy asks if his mother is also asleep and will never wake. After confirming the truth, the father gathers the boy up in his arm and carries him outside for the two to enjoy a few minutes outside in the cold night. Then they come in and curl up together.

The black background and small, subtle color accents in the cut-paper diorama illustrations create a sombre tone in the story. The slumped posture of the father and the gently closed eyes drawn on their faces give the reader a sense of the weight of the death. The book is not flashy or obvious, in fact it’s quite contemplative. I think My Father’s Arms does a really lovely job of showing how grief can be shared between loved ones and celebrates the simplicity of a child’s understanding of death. 

Duck, Death and the Tulip3. Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch 

This book is particularly philosophical. Death appears one day behind Duck. Death is a charming small child-like body with a skull for a head and face wearing a checkered robe and skirt, black slippers and carrying a black tulip in it’s black hands. At first Duck is leery of Death, but slowly she comes to accept Death’s presence and discovers Death is not frightening. The two talk and visit the pond. Duck even offers Death a kindness and warms him. The two discuss what might happen after death. As summer comes to a close Duck begins to feel cold and asks Death to return her favor and keep her warm. In a moment Duck has passed. Death gently carries her to the river, places the tulip oh her breast and pushes her down the river. As Death watches Duck disappear he muses “But that’s life”. So true. The illustrations have few embellishments and feature the Duck and Death very prominently. Erlbruch does an incredible job showing emotion and expression on the faces of the their faces considering they have few facial features and change very little from one page to the next. 

Cry Heart4. Cry, Heart, But Never Break written by Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi

Along the same lines as Duck, Death and the Tulip is Cry, Heart, But Never Break. In this story three children are living in a house with their elderly grandmother. Death arrives on their door step one evening and in an attempt to prevent him from taking their beloved grandmother they try to keep death awake all night with tea. The soft watercolor illustrations are washes of grey, black and small pops of color. This soft palette and the flowing lines of the paint set a quiet, thoughtful mood for the book. Death, knowing the children are stalling, tells them a parable to help them understand that without death life has very little meaning. As the children grasp his meaning they allow him to take their grandmother. 

This is such an amazing book. It does such a good job of explaining why death is a necessary part of life and why life should be celebrated when we have it. It also encourages readers to mourn for their loss, but not to be consumed by it. 

Rabbityness5. Rabbityness written and illustrated by Jo Empson

In this book Rabbit is loved by all his friends. He is creative and fun. But one day he just isn’t there. The rabbits mourn for their loss of their friend, but realize he has left them with the gift of creativity in their hearts and they feel close to him despite his absence. The bright splashy illustrations match the upbeat presentation of death. 



Bonus books:

Sonya's ChickensSonya’s Chickens written and illustrated by Pheobe Wahl

A newer book about a girl who raises chickens from chicks. One night a fox sneaks into the coop and takes a chicken. Sonya is devastated until her father explains that the chicken nourished the fox and his family. It’s all in how you think about death in nature. 


Boats for PapaBoats for Papa written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley

This is a story where it isn’t apparent that the father is dead. A little beaver send boats he has made out to sea for his papa to find. He believes that if the boat does not return to shore by morning it means his father has found them at sea and kept them. Over the course of a year he sends many out until one day he discovers his mother has been collecting them off the beach and stashing them. From this the beaver makes new meaning realizing that while he misses his papa he is grateful for his mother who has supported him and created a loving home. 

Hundred Languages Read Along: Introduction

Hundre LanguagesIntroduction

I don’t usually read introductions. They tend to summarize what’s going to be discussed in each chapter and if I’m going to read the book, I can discover that for myself. The introduction here literally introduced the reader to Reggio Emilia, the city, and the surrounding area. It also did what introductions do and summarize each of the chapters. I did see how, if you did not plan on reading the book in its entirety, that could be useful. More information was provided than the chapter title so it would be easy to use this as a gauge for which portions would be most relevant and useful to you. They also explained why several of the chapters take the format they do, specifically why they are in interview form.

The chapter does go into a bit of detail about the title of the book, which stems from the famous exhibit that has been traveling the US for decades now. (Sadly I missed it when it was in a city a few hours south from where I live when Cam was tiny.) The authors wanted, after the exhibit opened, to elaborate on it and study it more fully. This was simply not possible in the exhibit format so they decided on a book. 

While all this information was interesting and marginally relevant, the introduction really shone in the last 8 pages or so where it gives an excellent historical overview of the educational and child care system in Italy.(They have high quality, state funded child care available to families from four months up! The US needs something like that.) It starts in the early 19th century, and without getting too dry and involved, covers political and social movements and reforms that shaped the system and allowed the Reggio Emilia approach to emerge and flourish. This was absolutely fascinating, but again not essential to understanding how the approach works or how to apply it (although I think they would argue differently). Certainly it gives a great foundation and at under ten pages it’s well worth reading. 

I do wish I could find an overview like that about American education. I think it would be very informative and would allow educators both a sense of how all the pieces of our educational system fit together and how to go about changing them for the better and adapting something like the Reggio Emilia approach to our schooling. In my own research I have come across the idea that our idea of school comes from an imagined ideal of the 1950s and it would be interesting to see both how that emerged and how it is changing. 

One last thought, I have an older edition (I believe the third edition is out now. It has a green cover.) which makes this one a bit dated. I suspect with the much more recent economic downturn and European economic crisis things have changed more, at least on an administrative level, and I would be extremely curious to know how that has impacted these schools and the services available to families. 

For Your Bookshelf: Loose Parts by Lisa Daly & Miriam Beloglovsky

Loose PartsLoose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky, photographs by Jenna Daly

From GoodReads: Loose parts are natural or synthetic found, bought, or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change within their play. Alluring and captivating, they capture children’s curiosity, give free reign to their imagination, and motivate learning.

The hundreds of inspiring photographs showcase an array of loose parts in real early childhood settings. And the overviews of concepts children can learn when using loose parts provide the foundation for incorporating loose parts into your teaching to enhance play and empower children. The possibilities are truly endless.

I came across this book through a couple of Australian blogs that I follow. I had recently read Beautiful Stuff and wanted to learn more about how to employ the loose parts theory. I was surprised to find, once I got a copy of the book, that it was written by two professors here in Sacramento. They used the child care center out at the community college in Fairfield. Small world. 

The book was incredibly inspiring and had tons and tons of high quality pictures. The text is short, but deals with the theory of loose parts and then discusses different areas that are developed by using them, i.e. sound, creativity, and action. It’s easy to read and understand and doesn’t have a lot of jargon or overly academic language. I know right now I appreciate that in a book. I just don’t have the mental capacity to read something dry and technical at the end of the day.  

I did keep going back and forth wishing there was a bit more writing and discussing of the theory of loose parts and simply appreciating that there wasn’t much direction. I think I was hoping the pictures would be more like a documentation panel. I struggle getting Cam to engage with the materials. They can sit out for months and she won’t touch them. Then one day she’ll pick them up and find something to do with them or I’ll need to direct her. And I don’t want to direct her, I want it to come from her. On the other hand, having too rigid a set of documentation might not have helped me find good materials and set ups. Part of the point of loose parts is that they can be used in open ended ways and should be tailored to the interests of the child and to the environment. And often the pictures spoke for themselves. 

All in all, this is a worthwhile book both for the information on loose parts and why you should use them and for the pictures that will give you unlimited inspiration for materials to try out and how to set them up in provocative ways. My copy is riddled with sticky notes directing me to provocations and to loose parts I want to set out. I think a second reading of the book is in order to review the theory behind the materials. 

Decolonize Your Bookshelf: Puppets and Blocks

Decolonize Your Bookshelf

The two books I have to share this month are STEAM related, meaning they tap into art and science themes, concepts, and ideas. They are less about explicit diversity, but are excellent examples of incidental diversity, where they feature diversity without focusing on it. 

I would also like to mention that Lee & Low Books, a publisher that puts out high quality, diverse children’s books, is compiling monthly lists of diverse children’s literature for each month. Here is the link to the January list, it includes books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and diverse titles for National Hobby Month. It’s a really fantastic list and highly recommend checking it out. 

 PuppetsAshley Bryan’s Puppets by Ashely Bryan, pictures edited by Rich Entel

Ashely Bryan’s Puppets is a collection of poems Bryan wrote to accompany the puppets he creates from beach trash. Bryan combs the beaches near his house for bits of natural and manmade garbage- from cloth to bones to shells to glass- and then uses them to create these amazing puppets. He gives each one a name and has written a poem that both addresses what their components are, their personality, and their story. Names are all of African origin and there is a list at the end where he talks about what the words mean and which language and people they are from. 

This book has a lot of directions it could be taken in with provocations. Cam is really interested in using recycled materials to make our own puppets and using the book as a model and inspiration for our project.Puupets 2 There is also the them of ocean pollution (for older children see the Scientists In the Field book Tracking Trash), ocean currents and how they push trash around, and ocean clean-up. The book could also lead to exploration of African folklore, culture, and diversity on the continent. And of course there is the poetry. 

The book is laid out with two page spreads that feature a group portrait of a handful of puppets. These spreads are followed by individual portraits and their corresponding poems. Bryan has intentionally included two or three puppets that do not have names or poems to encourage readers to write their own. Bryan’s poems are simple yet powerful and they give a lot to talk about. Through descriptive, symbolic language he links the pieces that compose the puppets to their personality and invented histories. There is plenty to talk about with the use of language and symbolism in these poems, yet they are simple enough that young readers can connect with and understand them. 

An outstanding book. 

Dreaming UpDreaming Up: A Celebration of Building written & illustrated by Christy Hale

Dreaming Up is another amazing poetry book. This one pairs illustrations of children playing with traditional toys (blocks, stacking rings, sticks, sand) and a picture of a famous building. The pictures are paired with a shape poem about the building the children are doing, meaning each poem is shaped like the building or toy. 

Again you could place this book out with some sort of provocation to play with blocks or toothpicks and gumdrops or even a basket full of sticks. Seeing the interplay between children’s play and adult work, as well as the inspiration they can give each other, is quite powerful. 

Of course the book could, with slightly older children, make a great poetry study. The poems take different forms in regard to rhythm and rhyme, but there is also the physical form of them to pore over. Placing this book out with transparency sheets, pictures or other notable architecture, and pens might invite budding poets to create their own shape poems. 

The end of the book features information about all the buildings seen in the book and about their architects. The list of architects is surprisingly diverse as well with only a few white male architects. These brief biographies may serve as jumping off points for children interested in learning more about the field of architecture. Dreaming Up 2

The children and their quiet play scenes in the illustrations remind me a lot of the scenes in Greda Muller’s seasons books with the exception that these children come in all different colors. 

Another excellent addition to children’s bookshelves.  

Series Reboot in 2015: The Diverse Bookshelf

Once again I’m shaking up my series where I share book titles on the blog. This year I am making a concerted effort to be reading, reviewing, and buying books that feature diversity. There was a big campaign last year called #weneeddiversebooks that really brought a lot of attention to the lack of diversity seen in children’s publishing. If you haven’t heard of this I highly recommend you visit their site and read their mission and about why they got started.

The long and the short of it is that children deserve both windows and mirrors when they read. They deserve to see themselves and see people who are different from them. Sadly this is not happening largely because publishers claim that people won’t buy those books. While the U.S. (and the world) is getting more and more diverse children’s publishing, already low on representation, is staying the same. Here is an infographic put together by the fabulous publisher Lee & Low who does champion diversity that hits home this point:

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

Now, diversity doesn’t necessarily mean race. It can be gender, sexuality (although this is primarily an issue in literature for older kids), family structure (single parents, two moms, two dads, etc.), disability, and a lot more. It also means showing diversity as incidental. Not all books with African-Americans in them should be about the slave experience. Not all books with Japanese should be about the internment during WWII. Those books are important, and there are a lot of good ones out there, but diversity is all around our kids. Cam is the only fully white kid on our street. There are four other kids who live on our block and they all are all mixed race. Her world doesn’t look like the homogenous world of most children’s books. 

Diversity in publishing also doesn’t have to mean diverse characters. There is a push to publish more diverse authors and to get some diversity into the actual publishing industry. Both of these would make it more likely that diverse characters appear in books without them being flat, stereotypical or tokenistic. 

I really agree with this movement both as an educator and as parent. We are lucky to be white middle class because of the inherent privilege that comes with that and I don’t want Cam to be unaware of that privilege like I was. I want her to see the world as it is instead of defaulting to seeing it as white and I think one way to do that is put books in her hands that reflect the world she lives in and to talk to her about it when they don’t or when the representation is problematic.

I’m making a commitment to be sure that I am supporting diverse books when and where I can and one great place I can do that is here on the blog. I’ll be using this series to review and feature diverse titles that we love (I’ll still share our provocations, but they’ll be in the first week of the month). I’m going to try and have new titles in the column, but I am at the mercy of what is in at the library so I may have to look at some older titles.

I may not buy enough books to make difference and I may not have a loud voice, but I want to use the voice I have to say that #weneeddiversebooks.  

For Your Bookshelf: Beautiful Stuff by Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini

Beautiful StuffBeautiful Stuff: Learning Wtih Found Materials by Cathy Topal and Lella Gandini

From GoodReads: Encourage your kids to express their creativity as they discover, collect, sort, arrange, experiment, and think with found and recyclable “stuff.” The real-life experiences of teachers and children will inspire ideas that you can try at home: choose objects and turn them into a display, transform materials into a face, build and glue wood scraps to make constructions. Appropriate for children four years of age and older.

At it’s heart Beautiful Stuff is a piece of documentation. The teachers at XX began by having students collect a small bag of materials at home and bring them in. They suggested recycled materials, broken jewelry and anything the kids were drawn to.

After bringing their bags to the classroom, the kids were invited to sort the materials. This went on for some time as they sorted by color, type, and various other attributes. It was incredibly fascinating to see how the kids viewed the materials and chose to sort them. Some of their distinctions were quite impressive. Shiny objects sorted out when sorting by color, for example.

After finding a good place to scale back on sorting activities, the materials were placed in a creation corner of the room. Sorting was allowed to continue, but not as a whole class project. The class went on to make several art pieces with the materials, self portraits and wooden structures. While working on these projects they moved from one language, or medium, to another, making a line drawing of their wooden structure for example. This really got the kids to think about their process and look closely at their work. 

The book details the process and thoughts of the children and teachers. The teachers offer thoughts on what they did right, what didn’t go as they planned, and how the project evolved over the year. There are pictures of the children working, the teachers interacting, and the creations of the children. And there are plenty of quotes and summaries of what the kids said. Each chapter ends with reflection of the teachers, their thoughts on what the kids learned and what they did. 

This could certainly serve as an introduction to what project-based, Reggio-style learning looks like and how it unfolds. It can also be a manual for how to do this specific project, although I would say you may have to tweak it for your child or particular group of children. I think this is a particularly good example of how Reggio teachers introduce topics to the kids and still let them run with where the project will go. Sometimes it can seem that Reggio has no curriculum and is completely student driven, which isn’t exactly the case. 

My only complaint is that the production quality of the book is so-so. I could have stood to have better design. Some captions and text blocks were, not exactly confusing, but distracting in their placement and didn’t help the flow of the text. The pictures were clearly all taken with a flash and were often grainy and dark. It think this was in part due to the fact that they were taken on film, but I think it speaks to the importance of taking better pictures. All in all, though, this was minor and the content was so overwhelmingly excellent.  Highly recommended as a guide and as an example. 

Cool Stuff Vol. 1, Issue 6

Last weekend I attended an awesome blogging conference for people passionate about children’s literature (KidLitCon). I was fortunate that it was here in town this year which made travel costs non-existent. The theme was diversity in children’s literature which is something I have been becoming aware of and have been trying very hard to incorporate here in our home and push for in the library and beyond that into the curriculum.  

After subscribing to a bunch of new blogs and Twitter feeds I also found a few new boards to follow on Pinterest, which led me to this article on building a home library with diversity in it. It’s not terribly long, but features a ton of book recommendations to get you started. Diverse Books in Your Home Library: Parenting Global Kids

Cool Stuff Vol. 1, Issue 5

A couple links today:

I found are really amazing kindergarten blog called The Curious Kindergarten. It details the Reggio-inspired activities and provocations she has set up for her students. The pictures are good and it’s all very inspiring. She hasn’t posted since May, but I’m hoping she’ll be back. In the meantime you can cruise through the archives. 

I also came across a great list of Halloween books on the blog No Time For Flashcards. I’m familiar with a lot of the books, but not all of them. There are others I would add, but it’s pretty comprehensive. If you want to see some of my suggestions see this post: Eight Great Books for Autumn.



For Your Bookshelf: Bees!

Since there’s an extra week in here with September ending and October beginning I thought I’d thrown in a bonus post that goes back to the For Your Bookshelf theme. Today it’s all about books about bees as our hive gets itself ready to turn inward for the winter. For Your Bookshelf Banner

The Honeybee Man by Leyla Nargi and Kyrsten Brooker

This is a fabulous book about a man who keeps beehives on the roof of his apartment building. The story takes you through his summer as a beekeeper and provides some insight into what’s involved with keeping bees. The best part is the ending where he shares the honey he has harvested with his neighbors creating a community around the bees. 

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre

A factual book for those kids who like nonfiction. The Bumblebee Queen focuses not on honeybees, but on bumblebees and their life cycle. It’s still told in a story-like format following the queen as she emerges in the spring, makes a hive, produces workers and princesses and then dies in the late fall. The text is simple, but complete and features asides and tidbits on many of the pages for when your child wants more information.

Bee BooksBeekeepers by Linda Oatman High

A pitch perfect book about a grandfather and granddaughter who tend their hives together. The story is told in free verse that makes the story digestible even for very young audiences. Again, you get some insight into beekeeping and the tasks that are involved. The illustrations are also lovely and evocative and I think they match the language very beautifully. 


The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco

Mary Ellen is struggling with reading and when she gives up from fatigue and frustration her grandfather takes her on a bee tree hunt. They catch a couple bees in a jar and slowly release then follow them back to their hive. Along the way they pick up a bunch of neighbors who see them chasing after the bees. This is a story as much about community as about bees and it uses the honey as a metaphor for the sweetness of knowledge as Mary Ellen’s grandfather explains at the very end when he encourages her not to give up on reading. 

The BeeThe Bee (First Discoveries)

Cam loves these books. We have a ton of them. They feature these clear pages with pictures printed on them that you can flip over to give you another perspective on the illustration, often a peek inside something. In The Bee you get to see a swarm move, see inside the hive, and a few other things. The text features larger more prominent information that pairs with the picture and usually there is smaller text that you can skip or read depending on the mood of your audience. This is a great book for information about bees themselves and their behavior. 

The Honey Makers by Gail Gibbons

I am a huge fan of Gail Gibbons. She writes very matter-of-fact factual books for kids that answer all those burning questions they have about the world. The Honey Makers is a fabulous selection from her backlist. As the title indicates it is about honey bees and is filled with all kinds of information from the life cycle to how they make honey. The illustrations in it are good, although not especially detailed which is typical of her style. The sheer amount of information here makes this book best for breaking up or reading selections from. Don’t be afraid to read the information and paraphrase it for younger children using the pictures for support. 

Berlioz the Bear by Jan Brett

All I want to say about this one is that it’s a funny story where a bee plays a vital role. 🙂 As with all Jan Brett books the illustrations are incredible and the frames around the main pictures feature a side story.  


For Your Classroom: Shapes

I had a small provocation set out all summer. It was a box of pattern blocks and the books Color Farm and Color Zoo. It took months for Cam to pick up the books, but she finally did and she has also begun to engage with the pattern blocks. I’m surprised it took so long as she’s played with the Mighty Mind for awhile now and is good at making most of the pictures. She is also very much a puzzle fan.

Shapes are something many kids learn to identify early. We point them out in our house, in books, on their clothes. Shapes are everywhere, so it makes sense that children would learn them. Shapes are an early math concept and with such an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in the media lately I thought I would share how we have approached shapes and a few other shape resources.

Shapes: Ages 1-4


Of course we always read books. There are a lot of shape books out there. I chose these particular titles because they are more engaging for toddlers and young children. Some even base a plot around shapes.

Color Zoo & Color Farm by Lois Ehlert: I love these books by Lois Ehlert. I think it’s an engaging way to show children how you can use simple shapes to create pictures. I think they go along well with a material like pattern blocks or shape cutouts. There isn’t a story here exactly but your child could make one up using the various animals included. Beware, if you have very young children and end up with a paper copy of this (as opposed to the board book), tears of the pages may happen!

Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh: This one does have a plot. Three mice are running away from a cat when they stumble upon a pile of shapes. They use the shapes to create a little world for an imaginary mouse. This does a good job of demonstrating how to use shapes to make pictures.

Shapes, Shapes, Shapes by Tana Hoban: I remember loving Tana Hoban’s books growing up. The large pictures with colors to highlight whatever concept she was illustrating were just so pleasing. Shapes, Shapes, Shapes shows children shapes in everyday life. You could use this as a jumping off point for the shape search activity below.

Away We Go! by Chieu Anh Urban: This one is a shape book for the transportation fans and for younger audiences. As with Color Zoo and Color Farm it features die cut shapes on the pages, a feature kids seem to like to use to turn the pages. 🙂


I know there has been a lot of upset over using television or video with kids. However, I think it’s fine to include a variety of media when teaching children. The most important part is to watch with your child and discuss what they have seen to help them to process and internalize it. The research backs this up as the most effective method for watching videos with an educational intent.

Sesame Street: Shapes I loved Sesame Street as a kid. Didn’t everyone? The Sesame Street website has several topics you can select where they have aggregated a number of video clips from episodes of the show (as opposed to having to watch through the entire episode) that pertain to the topic.

Songs & Poems

Poems About Shapes I couldn’t think of any traditional finger plays or nursery rhymes that were specifically about shapes, but I did find this huge list of poems, finger plays, and songs about shapes. Toddlers are especially fond of singing, or at least mine is, so bonus points there!

Barney’s “We Like the Shapes” A cute little song about squares, circles, and triangles and the number of sides they have. I know these kids songs can seem really hokey, but most kids really enjoy them.


On the simplest level you can cut out a variety of shapes and sizes of shapes from colored paper or craft foam. This was probably the place we talked about shapes the most, aside from pointing them out in our house and around the neighborhood. Just as a side note, I don’t get a commission from you buying any of these things. In fact I don’t necessarily endorse any one brand. We’ve had good luck with some and been happy with the quality but not with others. But there isn’t really a rhyme or reason to which and quality seems to vary between products within a brand.

Shape ToysPattern Blocks This is a material that should have longevity. Kids like to rearrange them to form pictures, patterns, and geometric designs for years. You might even discover that you like them. They make a good quiet time activity for those non-nappers. You can also use them to study symmetry later on, just throw in a mirror to build against.

Shape sorter There are a lot of shape sorters out there. You can pick one based on what you can afford, your aesthetic preferences, even sustainability. Cam has not be interested in the larger one we had, however when she was about 16-18 months I bought a sorter that had only three shapes. This seemed to be about her speed at that age. If you are so inclined, here is a DIY version. 

Peg puzzle These can double as something to trace when they are a bit older, rather like the Montessori geometric cabinet. Again we started with a small four-shape peg puzzle and moved up to one with 7 or 8 pieces.

Poch Poch These are essentially pattern blocks, but they have a little hole for a tiny nail to go through and a hammer to bang the nail into a cork board. You actually hit (no pun intended) a lot of skills with this one, especially fine motor control and spacial sense. My daughter at three is just getting the hang of it, but really it’s designed for the fours and fives or even older. Keep your eye out in thrift shops for this one, it does turn up occasionally.

Colorforms Admittedly, these last two are brand name items, but they are pretty good so I don’t feel too bad suggesting something specific. Colorforms are rather like pattern blocks but with curves and lots of colors. They have made various sets over the years, but the basic idea is they are made from a clingy plastic and come with a board that you place them on. They are kind of tiny so they aren’t great for little ones, but you could, in theory, use them in the car depending on your child. I found our set in the thrift shop for a couple dollars.

DIY & Activities

If you don’t want to buy more toys (I totally understand!) the following are a few ideas for making some games that you can then play with your child to reinforce the concept of shapes.

Popsicle stick shape puzzle The basic idea here is that you paint popsicle sticks in matching colors for the sides of shapes, so four green popsicle sticks for the square. Your child then matches the color and creates the shape. The blog simply shows a picture of what they have done, no instructions, but it’s basic enough I think it’s easy to recreate. (Source: ABeeC Preschool Blog)

Memory game with shapes I think we’ve all played memory before. Here is a DIY version that uses shapes instead of pictures. (Source: Dandee Designs)

Shape sort Shape sorting/matching. If you make the memory game above, you could reuse the cards/chips and an egg carton to create this game. (Source: Mess for Less)

Stamps & stencils Both of these also give children the opportunity to practice their fine motor skills. Most kids can handle stamps, but they can get messy and they aren’t always super accurate. As for stencils, this is a hard skill but you could also have your child run their finger around the stencil to feel the shape.

Shape Search Walk around your house or neighborhood with your child. As you go, look for shapes in the everyday objects around the house. You can pick them up and place them in piles, you could keep a list of the objects grouped by shape, you could take photographs or draw little pictures. The purpose is to begin seeing and identifying shapes all around. You could even turn this into a car game where you call out the object and shape. You can use the Tana Hoban book Shapes, Shapes, Shapes as a starting point for this activity. This blog has a creative idea, using painter’s tape to create large outlines of various shapes on the carpet. As you collect items from around your house you place them within the corresponding outline.