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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

Farm Camp Play With Animals

Farm Camp Play With Animals


Animals bring the best out in children. Wonder, imagination, responsibility, joy, surprise, knowledge and love among other things.

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A heartfelt thank to Gail and Dan Stuart for sharing their Redstone Castle “Farm” with Ruth Washburn children this summer. Enjoy these photos from Farm Camp!

Sincerely, Sukie Jackson. Teacher.

IMG_1137 IMG_0885 IMG_0265 IMG_1525 IMG_1570 IMG_0921 IMG_1292 IMG_1172 IMG_1145 IMG_1122

Everyday Play with Four or Five Real Bandages

Everyday Play With Four or Five Real Bandages


Every Day Play with Four or Five Real Bandages

The Housekeeping Area is the part of the classroom that Ruth Washburn teachers transform into grocery stores, flower shops, beauty salons, bike repair shops and pizzerias (among other places!) allowing children many options for role playing. A favorite set up among teachers and children is the pediatric hospital. With some minor adaptations, a parent could easily create a hospital (or doctor’s office) environment at home to offer children the opportunity for rich, imaginative pay. Our Ruth Washburn pediatric hospital has these props:


  • “Open” and “Closed” and other signs for the office (these can be made by children).
  • Clipboard with a checklist and blank paper for writing prescriptions.
  • X-rays taped on windows.
  • Doctor’s Kits with stethoscopes, aspirators and blood pressure gauges.
  • Real bandages and gauze. Children love to bandage dolls, stuffed animals, themselves, friends and willing adults.
  • Facial tissues, tape, scraps of fabric and bandanas are other materials that can be used for bandaging.
  • A couch, long pillow or sheet on the floor works too.
  • Health and Human Body Books. The 610 section of your library will have many non-fiction books from which to choose. Don’t miss Tedd Arnold’s three humorous books, Parts, More Parts, and Even More Parts. Children seem to love these.

Bandages3 Thanks to the good imaginations of the children in the classroom, we improvise when it comes to props that we don’t have. Check out Haleyn’s makeshift crutches in the photo!

From my experience  every child has something to say about a time he or she was hurt or when he/she visited the doctor. The pretend pediatric hospital is the perfect setting in which a parent can talk to a child about doctor visits, injuries and/or the importance of good health. Bandages2

I’m all for simple.  While we have all many great props at our school for our pediatric hospital, all you need at home is a couch and four or five real bandages to inspire opportunities for role play.

Next time you are feeling exhausted, give your child four or five real bandages, lie down on the couch and tell your child that you need a doctor or a nurse! Let your child take care of you for a change. Well timed moans and groans and newly “hurting” body parts while acting as pretend patient can extend the play. If only you can keep from snoozing I’m pretty sure you are in for some fun!


Stay well. Sincerely,

Sukie Jackson, Older 4s teacher

Everyday Play with Baseball

Everyday Play With Baseball


These spring days remind me of Ava’s dad, Kevin, who as parent helper spent an entire outdoor play time pitching balls to the Older 4 children.

Kevin instinctively understood how to pitch so that each child holding the plastic bat had success. Baseball

  • For the children who already knew how to hold a bat and swing, Kevin took several steps back and pitched strikes. These children didn’t mind missing a few tosses. Kevin would pitch to them until they got a hit.
  • For those children who didn’t know how to hold a bat, Kevin would model a stance and grip. He would pitch from close enough so that these children also made contact with the ball. A hit!
  • And for the children for whom swinging a bat didn’t come naturally, Kevin basically aimed his pitch so that it would hit the bat wherever the bat happened to be.  Once again, success!

Kevin kindly responded to a child’s request to play. He welcomed both boys and girls. Kevin pitched until the last child tired of the activity. All children participating had great fun playing “baseball” and eagerly waited for his or her time at bat.  No one worried about rules or the formal game of baseball.

Ann Epstein in The Intentional Teacher writes “the development of these fundamental manipulative skills (including catching/collecting) is critical for children’s later participation in sports and games. Because some involve interacting with others, their mastery also opens a world of social relationships.” Kevin offered a perfect age-appropriate practice session!

For learning the “catch” part of baseball, I recommend beginning by tossing a large stuffed animal back and forth with a  young child. This game can be varied by increasing the distance between you and your child. Once he or she gets good at this, try some high throws, or throws to the right or left. And eventually you can work your way to playing catch with a ball. If you are lucky enough to have a child with a great imagination, use a winter glove for a mitt.

Kevin’s daughter Ava is now in kindergarten. We miss her but look forward to Kevin, his wife Amanda and their one-year-old slugger George at the school in the future. Thank you Kevin.

Batter up and play ball,

Sukie Jackson   Older 4s teacher


Everyday Play With Boxes

Everyday Play With Boxes


It’s Not A Cardboard Box.

Box1 Box2

It’s a….flying tent, an elevator, a book shelf, a doll’s bed,  a race car called “Thunderbolt,” a playhouse, a hospital, an airplane.

Box3 Box4

It’s a process to give a child a plain and simple cardboard box and offer him/her  the opportunity to use planning, imaginative, artistic and building skills to create his/her very own box project. The steps are simple for facilitating this activity.

  • Find an empty box, preferably one without writing and graphics leaving plenty of space for children’s decorations. A box big enough for the child to sit in is especially fun.
  • Brainstorm with your child some of the things the box could potentially become. By rotating the box into different positions you and your child can come up with a variety of possibilities. A jack-in-the-box, a vending machine, a pet’s cage, a cave, a table, a garbage truck and so on.
  • During this brainstorming session, show your child a variety of ways you can support this project.
    • An adult can cut a door, window, circle, coin slot, skylight, windshield or whatever might need cutting.
    • Fabric scraps can be supplied for possible use as carpeting, curtains, wallpaper, cushions, blankets, and more.
    • A supply of recycled items including plates, plastic lids, aluminum foil, colored paper and old CDs can be glued on as buttons, wheels, house siding , dashboards and other uses dreamed by a child.
    • Paint, markers, crayons and colored pencils can add details and “finishing touches” to  the box.
  • Give the child the box and support him/her with what he/she needs from you. Sometimes it’s as easy as cutting open a door or helping with glue. Children may want you want you to write a name or number on the box. I encourage children to do as much independently as they can.
  • Finally, enjoy watching a creative process at work. Your child will bring ideas and a plan to the project demonstrating his/her ability to think symbolically. And they will work to make their plan a reality.

“Tell me what you need,” “tell me about your plan,” and “tell me about your box” are perfect questions to support your child throughout the process.  Your children will enjoy reading the book It’s Not A Box, by Antoinette Portis before, during and after the process of making his/her own cardboard box project. Both the book and the activity are celebrations of children’s imaginations.

Not a Box

I’d love to hear about your child’s cardboard box creation.


Sukie  Jackson  04 Teacher

Help Your Child to Wonder

Help Your Child to Wonder


I have always loved an article written by environmentalist Rachel Wonder1 Carson entitled, “Help Your Child to Wonder” which tells about how Ms. Carson shared the beauty and mystery of life with her nephew.

“One stormy autumn night when my nephew Roger was about twenty months old, I wrapped him in blanket and carried him down to the beach in the rainy darkness. Out there, just at the edge of where-we-couldn’t-see, big waves were thundering in, dimly seen white shapes that boomed and shouted and threw great handfuls of froth at us. Together we laughed for pure joy….”

Wonder2 It was hardly a conventional way to entertain one so young, I suppose, but now with Roger a little past his fourth birthday, we are continuing that sharing of adventures in the world of nature that we began in his babyhood, and I think there results are good. That sharing includes nature in storm as well as calm, by night as well as day, and is based on having fun together rather than on teaching.”

The article inspired our family to take “night walks” each year in December (these are some of my children’s fondest memories from childhood) and make visits throughout the year to a shallow stream where bridge building, stick floating and river watercolor painting happened in a spontaneous way. Rachel Carson’s gift of a magnifying glass to her nephew broadened my thinking about age-appropriate gifts for children. Small tackle boxes for collecting natural treasures, folding shovels that invited digging projects, flashlights for indoor and outdoor exploration and  a simple pulley and rope set were gifts that encouraged involvement in the natural world.

I have also grown to appreciate that Rachel Carson based her adventures on “having fun together.” In this same article she writes “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.” Wonder3
If you are wondering about outdoor education at Ruth Washburn, please join us  on January 21 at 6:00 PM in Minnow’s Room for a presentation and discussion about Outdoors 4s and 5s, a new class that will be offered in the fall. We would love to hear your thoughts about sharing the outdoors with young children.


Sukie Jacksone, Older 4s teacher



Please welcome guest blogger Kristin Maida. Kristi teaches the Morning Mixed Age class. She is the mother of two Ruth Washburn graduates, Joey and Cole. You may look forward to cold days when you read some of her great ideas for indoor play! Snow Day

Here we are, knee-deep into fall and already have spent many days cooped-up inside our homes. If you are anything like me, you’ll be thinking right about now, “How much longer until winter is over?” I’m not a skier and really despise the cold, in general. With the risk of this sounding all too negative, I’d like to offer up a piece of hope that someone told me years ago: The days are long but the years are short. With that jolly, wisdom I’m offering up some practical ways to keep everyone sane and enjoying this time we have together. Also, if I have to play one more round of Trouble, I might lose my mind. (cont)

Ideas for Indoor Fun

  • Set up an indoor obstacle course. It can include things like walking around the table three times or jumping on a tile square four times. Chairs and masking tape will be your friends!
  • Paper airplane relays. Try to use various types of folds, paper and heights to race those planes across your home. Decorating a paper airplane can be fun, too.
  • Binocular Scavenger Hunt. Don’t spend a ton of money, but binoculars are sure fun for kids to play with! Look out the window and try to vary the items to be found. For example: Find a tiny tree with six leaves. Your neighbors might think you’re nosy, but keep in mind that they would be pretty desperate if they were trying to find ways to entertain children!
  • Balloon Tennis or volleyball. Create a net with chairs or tape. This activity is sure to help get some of those wiggles out! SnowDay
  • Living Room Camping. Get out those dusty sleeping bags, make a tent or pitch the good old one that was used when the weather was so kind. Camping is a lot of fun, especially in the comfort of one’s living room.
  • Mystery Box. Cut a hole in a box and put various items in the box. You can make this a clean up game or help get children interested in finding a place for various items. The children can also find items for you to guess!

Lastly, if possible, go outside! Bundle up, build a snowman, sled and enjoy the white stuff around us!

Winter Book Ideas

Old Bear by Kevin Henkes
Red Sled by Lita Judge
Frederick (my personal favorite!) by Leo Lionni Snow Music by Lynne Rae Perks
The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri




Everyday Play with Blocks



I forget about the blocks in our classroom sometimes. I shouldn’t. Anytime I find a way to encourage both boys and girls to engage in block play, the outcome is positive. Most recently Older 4 children built on a lesson about shapes to create imaginative and elaborate block structures. Here are just a few highlights of our Circle Time:

  • One crew made a construction site with a hemisphere shape as “a dome.” A member of this group thought long and hard about how to use the curve shaped blocks.  Blocks1 Eventually he created a road to the site with C-shaped blocks and a ramp.
  • Four children used block shapes to build a water park.  Blocks2 Triangular blocks were positioned upright as water slides and columns sprayed water.
  • One child built a pyramid into his structure to make a tower. Another opted to build a house. She persevered when her first attempt toppled over and built a second. The third child working in this area experimented with arches. Blocks3
  • All the children engaged in an impromptu show-and-tell. As we walked to see the three different areas where children worked, each individual child had something he/she wanted to say about their creation.
  • When it came time to clean up the blocks, groups worked as teams matching block with shape outlines on the shelves— a puzzle in itself.

There is no shortage on research about the benefits to block play. This excerpt from The Economist magazine in the article “How do unit blocks help children learn?” nicely summarizes the benefits of block play and what is meant by “unit” blocks.

“Theorists cite a laundry list of the benefits that children derive from playing with unit blocks… Co- Blocks4 operative building develops language and social skills. The “unit”-based measurements of halves, doubles and quadruples, combined with columns, ramps, curves, buttresses and other specialised shapes, lay the foundations for basic maths and geometry. Balance and collapse teach the nature of gravity. Ramps and columns can be used to make simple levers and fulcrums. The need to place blocks carefully develops hand-eye co-ordination. Does all this ascribe too much educational potential to simple chunks of wood? In fact, multiple studies over several decades back up these claims, with some finding that children who play with blocks significantly outperform those who do not, not just in infancy but over their entire academic careers.”

I find that simple questions and an interest in my part can encourage use of blocks by children. “What would you like to make?”  I wonder if you can build something tall?”  “Do the cars need a garage?”  “Could blocks be used to keep the farm animals separate?”  “Is there something you two could you build together?”  “What could this long block be used for?”

How can I forget about blocks? Special thanks to teacher Brenda Holmes-Stanciu who helps me remember!


Sukie Jackson          Older 4s teacher.



Everyday Play with an Apple Peeler

Everyday Play with an apple peeler



I have some investment advice for you. Invest in an apple peeler while your children are young. This is not your normal investment advice, I admit, but our family has gotten so much use out of our peeler over Apple Peeler the years, that I thought I’d better pass the secret along. Why invest in an apple peeler?

An apple is a nutritious food. As a Ruth Washburn parent I was so positively influenced by the school’s healthy snack policy, Snack Time At Ruth Washburn, that for all the years that my three children were in elementary school, I supplied apples and our apple peeler for holiday and birthday parties. Serving peeled, sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon on decorative napkins was an easy, healthy alternative to cupcakes. We have taken the peeler to athletic events, dinner parties, birthdays and pot-lucks. Everybody likes having a turn (literally a turn of the crank!). And everybody enjoys the resulting apple snack.
Ruth Washburn teachers find many creative, educational  ways to use apples and apple peelers in their classrooms. These are activities parents can also do at home with children:

Peeled Apples

  • Experiment with dehydrating peeled apples to make “apple chips.”
  • Introduce different apple varieties which have names with such personality—Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Jonathan, Gala and Honey Crisp.
  • Compare tastes of different varieties and and have children pick favorites.
  • Observe what is the same and what is different about apple varieties.
  • Excavate an apple half using a popsicle stick as a tool. Children can discover the stem, the core, the skin and count the number of seeds in their apple.
  • Cut an apple in half horizontally to discover the star.
  • Blend and cook apples to make applesauce.

Peeling Apples
While most children enjoy operating an apple peeler, there are some children who are curious about how this tool works. Educational websites describe an apple peeler as a compound machine. “Four different simple machines make up an apple peeler. The handle is a wheel and axle. The axle is also a screw that turns the apple. A wedge peels the apple’s skin. To hold the machine in place, a lever can be switched to engage a suction cup.” What a fantastic teaching tool!

An apple peeler makes a unique, durable gift. Children of all ages love peeling, coring, slicing…. and best of all eating apples. So invest now, and let us know what you like best about having your own apple peeler.



Sukie Jackson       Older 4s teacher

Everyday Play with September-May Baskets

Blog header

Everyday Play with september-may baskets

by Sukie Jackson

One cold September morning my four-year-old daughter Kimi had nothing to do. Her older siblings were happily occupied and I was happily reading. “Mom, there’s nothing to do,” Kimi said more than once.

I now know from experience that some of the best activities and ideas can come out of a time when there is “nothing to do.”  This was one of those times. Kimi came up with the idea herself to make a May Day basket.

Her brother and sister thought this plan was hilarious due to the cold weather and the fact that it was September. That didn’t stop  Kimi from getting large piece of pink construction paper. I helped to make a cone shape for the basket. She cut a paper strip for a handle and pushed the stapler to connect it to the basket.

Kimi put on her jacket, I got mine and outside we went. Still wishing I was back inside reading, I couldn’t help but notice how how good the cold wind felt.  My daughter made me laugh seeing her outside with her pink May Day basket. I sat on the steps and watched as she picked dried mint, pine needles, some of the last crab apples, pine cones and oregano.

Back inside Kimi showed her basket to her brother and sister who complimented her on the colors and the good smelling mint. She proudly hung it on her bedroom door knob and we decided to call it a September-May Day basket.

I remember this day fondly. I felt grateful that my daughter reminded me of the wonder, beauty and excitement in my own life with the activity of making a September May Day basket with her.

I will be the first to admit that not every time Kimi was “bored” (how do they learn that word so young?) or with nothing to do resulted in such a creative, constructive activity. But many times it did. I was delighted to support her efforts to help herself with her bored, nothing-to-do state.

In our Ruth Washburn garden, so lovingly tended for by Cecelia and the Garden Committee, Ruth Washburn is the perfect place for children to enjoy the opportunity to explore and gather treasures making September-May Day baskets. Give it a try at home or in a local park and send us a picture of your version of a September May-Day basket!

Kate and Lio

Lio and his mom Kate in the RW Garden


Sukie Jackson, Older 4s teacher

Note— Illustration by Karen Dugan from September-May Day Basket in Ladybug Magazine.

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