Maxwell's Preschool: P is for Penguin

Mar 25, 2013

When I realized that my turn to teach Maxwell's preschool would fall on the letter P, I had a hard time deciding what to focus on. Puppies? But I did dogs when I taught the letter D. Pears? I didn't think I could plan an entire preschool around one piece of fruit. Planets? Would a three-year-old be able to grasp what a planet was?

I finally decided on penguins because then I could talk about Antarctica at the same time and easily incorporate some shapes and numbers activities.

I always like to use a book for the basis of my lesson plans. I read through a huge stack of penguin books before deciding on A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis (with a close runner-up in Penguin and Pinecone by Saline Yoon, which I also really love).

Edna is a penguin. Every day she sees lots of blue, black and white. While the other penguins enjoy swimming, sliding, and eating, Edna dreams of something more. What that is, she's not exactly sure, but she knows there has to be something besides blue, black, and white. Then one day, she sees it: a bright orange something flying in the sky. She follows it and discovers she was right! There is more than blue ocean, black night, and white snow. After visiting the orange scientists (for that is who was in the orange airplane), Edna continues wondering, "What else is there?"

I love this book because it teaches kids to ask questions and to look beyond their own sphere of knowledge. There is more to discover! More to learn! More to experience! The book doesn't encourage kids to be discontented but just to always be on the lookout for new things.

I also love the illustrations. They start out pretty neutral (blue, black, and white), so when the orange airplane enters, it really pops out of the page. The penguins are blocky and simple, and the detail is minimal. Also, the text, while expressing some pretty big ideas, is pretty sparse, leaving a lot up to implication and the reader's imagination.

So after I'd decided to use this book for preschool, I thought, Why not make it into a flannel board story? (You must remember how much I love cutting stuff out of felt.)

So I did, and even though it didn't translate to felt quite as well as I was hoping it would, I still used it with the kids, and they seemed to enjoy it.

First I created an entirely new back drop for my flanne lboard:

This involved a lot of cutting and piecing together (and sorry, I used some gray for the mountain, but the book used gray also, so I figured it was legal).

 Edna off looking for "something": she sees the orange plane.

Edna makes the long trek over the mountain and finds the camp of the scientists. She is mesmerized by all the orange. (I know the proportions are off, but I wanted to keep Edna as the star.)

Edna goes back home, gets a few friends (by necessity, they had to be small friends :-)) and brings them back. As the scientists pack up, one of them gives an orange glove to Edna to keep as a memento.  She likes to wear it on her head.

When she gets back home, she wonders what she might discover tomorrow (as a green ship begins making its way onto the page).

I don't know what it was that made me not love the way this turned out...maybe I tried to include too many details? or too few? or Edna was too big for the board? or the mountain took up too much room? It's maybe just one of those stories that isn't meant to be told on a flannel board.

At any rate, I read the book to the children first, then reenacted it with the board, each of them getting a turn to put on one of the pieces, and it was a fun way to remember the story.

After the story, we went downstairs where I'd set up an Iceberg Number Walk (or feel free to think up a different name, if you like). Besides the letter P, we were also focusing on the number 16. I've noticed that the children have a difficult time comprehending the bigger numbers ("bigger" meaning anything past 10).

So I was hoping that by spreading all the numbers out in a path across the floor, they would not only get a visual idea for how many 16 is, but also get some practice navigating the ever-troublesome "13, 14, 15."

The way we played was like this: I taped 16 icebergs to the floor with a number written on each one. Each child pretended he or she was a penguin and hopped or walked from iceberg to iceberg. We took turns, so while one child was walking, the other ones were chanting out the numbers.

To mix it up a little bit, I put a goldfish cracker on one of the numbers each time. This brought some individual attention to actual numbers, and the kids loved pretending they were penguins eating fish. (Yes, they ate their fish each time! I think it was clean enough!)

Next we had a snack. I couldn't come up with a good penguin snack, so I just went with the letter P, and we ate popcorn and pears. 

We did spend a little time talking about the kinds of food penguins eat, so we pretended the popcorn was krill and the pears were fish. 

After that, the kids made their own penguins. I found this adorable Circle Penguin Craft at Reading Confetti. (I think this is also where I first came across A Penguin Story since Lori paired this craft with that book. Two great finds!)

I cut out all of the circles ahead of time. But I wanted to give the kids a little bit of cutting practice, so I traced an extra circle onto a piece of paper for each of them. I figured if it turned out, they could use it in place of one of my circles, but if it didn't turn out, they would still have enough circles for the picture.

The kids loved gluing the circles onto the paper and watching the penguin take shape.

Since A Penguin Story focuses on the magic of color, as a personal touch I had each of the kids choose a favorite color. Then we cut out a circle out of that color, and they wrote the letter P in the middle of it. Then they glued it to the bottom corner of their picture.

I mentioned that part of the reason I chose penguins for our theme was so we could talk about Antarctica. We talked about it a little bit with the Iceberg Number Walk, but for our final activity, we talked about it some more. 

I saw this great idea for "Arctic Ice Sensory Play" at No Time For Flashcards. Unfortunately, my execution did not turn out as well as theirs. They took a tub of water, weighted down a smaller container in the tub, and then froze the whole thing. Once it was frozen, they took out the small container, filled up that space with water, and played with little plastic animals in the ice and water.

Well, we only have the freezer above our refrigerator, which definitely does not have enough space to freeze one, let alone two, tubs of water. (I thought to avoid conflict, I should have at least two containers so the kids weren't all crowded around the same one). Anyway, undaunted by our lack of freezer space, I thought it was plenty cold outside to do the job. 

Apparently, the temperature needs to be quite a bit below 32 degrees Fahrenheit to do an adequate job. I did get a thin sheet of ice across the top, but mostly it was just cold water.

But kids like playing in water, right? Undaunted once again, I scooped up some snow to add to the water and ice, gave the kids some penguins, seals, and other animals, and let them have at it.

They really did like it, but their poor fingers got very cold. Still, I was surprised with how long they stuck with it.

All in all, it was a really fun morning learning all about the letter P, Penguins, and the number 16.


  1. You are such a great mom! I love these activities you put together for your son and his friends. That flannel board is awfully cute, too. If I cut shapes out, they would look like blobs. :)

  2. Your flannel board pieces are adorable!

  3. Love love love!! I want you to be my mom! And friend!! We love penguins.

    1. Haha--that's so nice of you! I love penguins too, mostly because my mom has always loved them.

  4. These are adorable activities! Thanks for the link! :)

    1. Thank YOU for the great penguin activity idea! :-)

  5. These activities are adorable, esp. that flannel board (oh, you are so much more ambitious than I am!). I agree that this is a terrific book. Thanks for sharing at The Children's Bookshelf.

    1. Thanks! The flannel board was definitely an experiment! :-)


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