Everyday Play with Playdough

Everyday Play with Playdough (and Annie!)

Our childhood friend/neighbor is Ruth Washburn graduate Mattie Schwall (2001). When Mattie comes home for holidays all of our family members look forward to seeing her.

Mattie is pursuing a PhD in molecular biology and genetics at Louisiana State University. We are both proud of and interested in Mattie and her work. But quite honestly, we are even more excited to see Mattie’s two-year-old daughter Annie!

With COVID-19 preventing us from giving Annie hugs and in-person attention I decided this year to make playdough for Mattie, a skill learned as a teacher and parent at Ruth Washburn.

What is so great about playdough? The NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) article “Playdough Power” nicely summarizes the value of this material for play.

“This simple preschool staple lets children use their imaginations and strengthen the small muscles in their fingers—the same muscles they will one day use to hold a pencil and write. Using playdough with you, a friend, or siblings supports your child’s social skills such as sharing, taking turns, and enjoying being with other people. Playdough also encourages children’s language and literacy, science, and math skills—all at the same time!”

In normal years Ruth Washburn classrooms have homemade play dough available to children every day during preschool. Here is the tried-and-true Ruth Washburn recipe for play dough if you would like to give it a try at home:


(makes enough for 3 children) 1 cup flour

1 Tablespoon cooking oil 1 cup water

1/4 cup salt

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

food coloring (optional)







If using food coloring, put it in water. Combine all ingredients and cook over medium heat. Stir constantly until ball forms. Remove from heat. Knead ball of dough until smooth. Store in airtight container. The recipe may be doubled or even quadrupled.





Sincerely, Sukie Jackson

Everyday Play with Music

Everyday Play with Music

While Mozart composed a delightful series of 12 variations on the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, our Ruth Washburn children inspired many more variations on the song “Pop Goes the Weasel”.

The set up was very simple. It involved a cardboard box large enough for a five-year-old child to climb into and a musician (cutting a child-size door into the side of the box made for easy entrance and exit). Our musician was RW alumna Mari with her clarinet. During free play Mari sat beside the box and anytime a child climbed in, she played the song “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

“All around the cobbler’s bench The monkey chased the weasel The monkey thought ’twas all in fun Pop! Goes the Weasel.”

Children took turns climbing into the box and popping out in tune with the “pop” of the music. This was great fun both for the child in the box and the children watching. It became more fun and funnier when a child decided not to “pop” when the music indicated “pop” requiring Mari to play “pop” multiple times until the child’s head finally appeared.  Another trend that started was popping earlier than the “pop.”

Mari played the familiar tune over and over again. The children who did the activity several times experimented with tempo. Logan requested that Mari play the song slowly so that he had a longer turn. Emmy on the other hand tested her ability to time the “pop” right when the song was played faster. Lucas popped with his foot. Three children climbed into the box to pop together. Over the course of an hour of free play almost every child in the class participated in the popping fun. The time was filled with smiles, surprise, laughter and joy throughout this musical activity.

My only concern was for the musician. Mari estimated that she played “Pop Goes the Weasel” between 40 and 50 times. Maybe next time we’ll try just 12 variations of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Thank you Mari!


Sukie Jackson , Ruth Washburn Alum Teacher, Director and Parent

Everyday Play with a snake

Everyday Play with a Snake

We happened upon a snake in our Outdoor Class one day. Encouraged by  five-year-old Calvin, I managed to capture a part of the experience on video. The following video can be one or all of the following:

  • a demonstration of children’s natural curiosity
  • a sample of age-appropriate use of technology in the classroom
  • an example for the spontaneous learning that happens outdoors with children


Not only do I love the video, but I love all of the children’s comments overheard while they observed the snake.

“Does it leave a trail?”

“There’s the head.”

“I see its tongue.”

“It’s camouflaged.”

“Where is it?”

“Take a video.”

“Can you zoom in?”

“Make sure to see it moving.”

After the snake had slithered away, Calvin asked if I would be sure to send “it” to his mom. I assumed that he meant the video but I couldn’t resist asking him if he meant for me to send the snake. We both got a good laugh out of that joke and then we carried on with our day.



Sukie Jackson

Everyday Play With Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig

There is so much potential for playful interactions with your child based on William Steig’s book Pete’s A Pizza.

A short review from Publisher’s Weekly summarizes the book.“Mr. Steig introduces a game guaranteed to produce a good mood. On a rainy day, title character Pete flops down on the couch in an attitude of despair. His father notices, and “he thinks it might cheer Pete up to be made into a pizza.” Pete allows himself to be carried into the kitchen, where he is kneaded and tossed like dough. “Next, some oil is generously applied. (It’s really water.)… And then some tomatoes. (They’re really checkers.)” Pizza-Pete bakes on the couch, (a.k.a. the pizza oven), but when it’s time to cut slices (with a karate-chop gesture), “”the pizza runs away and the pizza-maker chases him.”



Here are some variations on“reading” the book with your child.

1) Simply read this book aloud.The book begins with Pete in a bad mood. What is a bad mood? Have you ever been in a bad mood? This is a great topic to share with your child!

2) Gently “knead”and  “stretch” the child’s arms and legs as you read with your child on your lap or beside you. Pretend to whirl and twirl and sprinkle on ingredients. And give a gentle tickle when “Pete the Pizza” laughs.

3) Put a blanket on the floor and when Pete gets made into a pizza, do the same actions with your child including “whirling” and “twirling” your child in the air. When it’s time to cook the pizza put him/her onto the sofa. Encourage the child to run away before being sliced! And don’t forget the best part, give the child a hug at the end.

4) Use a recycled pizza box to make props for pizza making. Torn paper strips make great “cheese” and “pepperoni”. Do you have anything that could be used for powder? Water in a spray bottle could be oil. Or water in a small bowl could be sprinkled. Your child can help you create this Pete’s A Pizza activity box. You and your child can take turns being the pizza maker and the pizza.

5) Make real pizza with your child. There are so many variations from easy (melted cheese on an English muffin)  to more involved (making homemade dough offers children the wonderful opportunity to knead and stretch real dough).

I enjoy reading this book with children outdoors. When the pizza runs away, off the children go! We have the fun of corralling them back to our reading blanket and the joy of giving the “pizza’s” a hug at the end. Give this book a try!


Sukie Jackson  Teacher


Everyday Play with a Stump

Everyday Play with a Stump In Your Backyard

Are you stumped about why a stump is recommended as great addition to a child-friendly backyard? A stump can be a lot of things. A chair, a table or best yet, a woodworking center. 

With a stump, some basic tools and Ruth Washburn woodworking centers as inspiration here are some ideas for using a stump to stage a variety of activities. Before introducing the stump as a woodworking area, be sure to provide safety goggles or glasses for your child. Children will need adult supervision while working with tools.

Practice hammering! Begin by introducing the parts of a hammer. Children can usually guess which part is the claw. Introduce the face, the head and the handle. Hold the hammer near the head and demonstrate “tap, tap, tapping” a nail to get it started. Move your hand down the handle of the hammer and “pound, pound, pound” until the nail is driven into the soft surface of the log. Children will love to tap, tap, tap and pound, pound pound.  A gentle way to begin hammering is by using golf tees, a wooden mallet and stiff styrofoam.

Children can learn that a nail can be used to attach two things together. Have available bottle caps, paint strip samples, pieces of cardboard or cloth squares to hammer onto the log.

Pumpkins provide a very easy surface for hammering. Once children can drive a nail into the stump, they may want to practice hammering wood scraps. And then hammering wood scraps together. At this point they have begun to build. Have plenty of wood scraps available. Our family still has the wood sculpture (doorstop!) our now twenty-nine-year-old son made at Ruth Washburn as a four-year-old.


Once in a while, after all this hammering, you may want to introduce the claw and it’s function to remove nails and hammered items to keep the surface of the log clear.

Provide wood glue, wood scraps and a glue brush. Children can glue together wood pieces to make imaginative sculptures. These will become castles, “the tallest sculpture in the world”, a playground, a boat. Build on your child’s creations by providing paint a second day and more wood glue and decorations of recycled materials including corks, plastic lids and natural items such as leaves collected by your child. “Tree cookies” make great bases for wood sculptures!

Your stump can be used as a table for art projects. Or cover your stump with a table cloth, invite all your favorite dinosaurs and have a picnic! A stump can be rolled from place to place. Tools other than hammers can be used on the stump. Introduce Phillips and flat he ad screwdrivers and screws. Cardboard pieces work well for a child to practice attaching with screw drivers and screws. Use a hand drill to make wooden beads.

Children can be taught to use a saw under watchful supervision of an adult. Try sawing corn stalks or branches. Together with your child you can make a set of natural blocks.

I am just sure your child will come up with his or her own original ideas for using a stump in the backyard. Happy hammering!


Sukie Jackson   Teacher



Everyday Play Outdoors!

Everyday Play with Sleds and Snow at Ruth Washburn

Several children try sledding for the first time!

Many children sled which involves serious negotiating at the top of the hill about who gets which sled, decision-making about whether or not to ride in the front or the back, taking turns and the thrill of pushing off the hill to slide down.

So much experimenting happens as children’s sleds veer to the side, turn over or slide faster or slower. Some children discover that they can spin in the “flying saucer” sled.

And who needs sleds? Given cardboard pieces of various sizes, plastic sheets and metal trays children have great fun sliding on the Prairie paths using these recycled materials.

Children exercise their bodies carrying sleds up the hill to come down again and again.

We read the book Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Inspired by this book, children make tracks, knock snow off the trees with a stick, make snow angels, and discover the fun of climbing up the Prairie path and tumbling/sliding down in the snow and ice.

One child discovers that she can draw circles in the snow with a stick. Another child squeezes snow with her mitten to make ice. Several children squeeze snow in their hand to make snowballs. The outdoor easel makes a good target and they practice their throws.

One child lifts large chunks of snow from piles that have been shoveled. He enjoys watching these chunks break up when they crash to the ground.

Children come down the slides and wonder why the slides are faster on such a cold day.

Reflecting on our busy day of experiencing the snow with all of our senses (several children couldn’t resist tasting the fresh snow!) the only thing the children didn’t notice was the cold temperature.

Special thanks to our student teacher Colby Adams and teacher Britnni Caldwell for helping facilitate such fun outdoors.



Sukie Jackson, Teacher




Everyday Play with Stone Soup

There are many great ways to share the folktale Stone Soup with preschool age children. Reading the Caldecott award-winning book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown is one. This story begins with three soldiers “trudging down a road in a strange country. They were on the way home from wars. Besides being tired, they were hungry.”

A second book version is Jon J. Muth’s Stone Soup. As Muth explains in his author’s note “In this retelling, I took the traditional form of the Stone Soup and set it in China. I also used the Buddha story tradition, where tricksters spread enlightenment rather than seeking gain for themselves.”  I love the question posed in this version— “what makes one happy?”

I highly recommend cooking Stone Soup with children. A home version could involve a child helping to cube just one or two favorite vegetables and searching for and washing the stone. Or a family could take a trip to the grocery store together where each family member picks one or two vegetables for more variety.

Here’s how we made stone soup at school:

We asked each child to bring a vegetable.  Teachers provided child-safe knives, cutting boards and plenty of supervision. This year the combination of vegetables brought in by the children was a wonderful mix. Temo brought kale. Arlo provided a parsnip, Italian parsley, two carrots and a sprig of sage from his family’s garden. Kinsley and Avery brought celery. We had two zucchinis, one from Lucy and one from Cohen. Audrey provided a yellow onion. Our soup had scallions and carrots brought by Aidan. Lena surprised us all with her kohlrabi. Eli shared cauliflower and snap peas. Jude cubed potato slices to add to the mix. Calvin contributed asparagus. He and Lucy found the stone we added to the pot. We even had a bright red beet from George’s garden where we had visited on a field trip.

We simply added water (vegetable or chicken broth are both tasty options), salt and pepper, and boiled until the vegetables they were soft.

We served and enjoyed eating our soup!

Being the book lover that I am, I couldn’t resist taking photos and creating a homemade book of our classroom Stone Soup experience to read and share with the class. After reading our homemade book (about our homemade soup!) children expressed their opinions about their favorite Stone Soup story by voting—with stones of course!

Happy cooking,

Sukie Jackson, Teacher

Everyday Sharing on Friday Afternoons

Ida and Sheli set up the West Classroom

Not only do Ruth Washburn teachers help children learn about and practice social skills such as sharing, but we share with each other which makes us all better teachers. Friday afternoons from 12:15 PM to 3:15 PM teachers meet for professional development and to set up our classrooms for the following week.  Here are just a few examples of how sharing happens formally and informally during this precious time:

Lori (Young 3s) magically transforms her housekeeping area into the “Ruth Washburn Apple Market” and Jordan (Afternoon Explorers) creatively uses props to make a Farmer’s Market in the North Classroom. It is most inspiring to see the many ways all teachers prepare engaging, inviting classroom environments each week and these set-ups are often shared from one classroom to another.

Ida (Young 4s) tells us about how she presents the parent-helping child with a sheet of written compliments at Circle Time including a compliment from her, one from the teaching assistant, one from her puppet Twiggle, and one from the child’s parent. This is such a great idea that some of us can’t resist “borrowing” this idea and using it in our own classrooms.

Katherine (Older 2s) buys pizza for the entire staff one day, choosing this way to celebrate with us an occasion in her personal life.

Our Executive and Education Directors Jen and Stacy present an article about self-regulation. In the process of discussing and better understanding this idea, teachers share examples of children (not by name) “under” and “over” regulating their emotions.

Cecelia (Young 5s) plants Indian Corn with her class. She not only gives tips on how to successfully do this experiment but she prepares cups with holes in the bottom for planting so other teachers can try this experiment with their classes also.

Sheli (Middle 3s) brings armloads of sunflowers to the school which brings science and the outdoors into each classroom. Sheli also finds many ways to share her expertise in nutrition with colleagues and parents.

Mary Jean (Older 3s) has a green thumb and anytime teachers have garden or plant-related questions we can always go to her. She generously shares flowers from her home garden to be used for art and woodworking projects.

One of our first-year teachers Mahala (Morning Mixed Ages) always has a warm and sincere smile and tells us how happy she is to be teaching at Ruth Washburn.  This reminds us of how fortunate we are too.

Taylor (Older 4s) openly shares her wonderful sense of humor. Comparing notes about a frustrating online training course, we laugh hysterically at ourselves which is so much healthier than what we might be feeling (or doing!).

Britnni (Middle 4s ) is wise and calm.  When meeting with Britnni early this year, I confessed to her my hope that every day and every Circle Time go perfectly and my frustration with myself when things don’t go just right. “How can I support you with this,” Britnni asked, and support me she does every day as we share teaching the Outdoor Class together.

It is a privilege to work with such a giving and accomplished staff. It is wonderful that the Ruth Washburn tradition of closing the school Friday afternoons to allow teachers and administrators this important time together continues.


Sukie Jackson,  Teacher

Everyday Play With An Apple Party

Why an apple party? For children to learn and develop, they need to be able to see, hear, smell, taste and touch things, and those things need to fit with their interests, abilities and experiences. In the words of Linda Crissey, former RW school director, speaking to a group of adults:

“To give an example of real-life experiences, let me show you these three things: a real apple, a plastic apple, and picture of an apple. Now suppose you had never heard of an apple and I gave one group of you the real apple, another the plastic apple, and another a picture of an apple. Which group do you think would have the best understanding of the word apple? And suppose I showed you a real apple but didn’t let you touch it or smell it or lift it. Wouldn’t that change how much you learned or understood about an apple?”

We are extremely lucky that on our Farm playground, we have an actual apple tree so the learning extends from the apple itself to where an apple grows and in some cases children discover the worm inside the apple!

How an apple party happens at our cooperative nursery school.

Temo and his family go apple picking and they donate a bag of apples to our school. Teachers gather a table, tablecloth, a child-friendly knife and apple-related books and to set under the school’s apple tree. When children arrive, they are encouraged to dress up and attend the apple party at some point during the afternoon.

What do you do at an apple party?

Under the supervision of RW teachers, and Eli’s mom Filia and his aunt Fiona, children cut an apple slice to snack on, enjoy apple stories under the tree, and try climbing the apple tree.

Children’s question about the apple party at the end of the day.

Can we have another apple party tomorrow?

Happy Fall!


Sukie Jackson

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