Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pom-Pom Party!

I was in charge of our pre-school co-op's lesson today, and the week's theme was to be Manipulables."  As the school-year is new, I was the first to teach in this provocatively entitled yet mysterious category.  Thankfully.  After some head scratching, I decided that a "Manipulable" was any item or group of items that could be stacked, built, created, sorted, arranged, or - in our case - thrown, blown, or raced. Eventually, I settled upon my favorite cheap toy for the big event: the humble pom-pom.
I devised three games and a set of informal activities appropriate to the wide age range in our group.

Game One: Pom-Pom Puff


  • 5 color-coded pom-poms per child
  • 1 large straw* per child 
  • Blue or standard masking tape
  • A square at least 8 ft per side of relatively obstruction-free floor space

* I purchased a bag of very small diameter straws from the Dollar Tree.  These proved impossible to use in Game 2, Pom-Pom Pick Up.  They also make this game harder.  Splurge on ones with the largest diameter you can find - like the ones used for drinking smoothies.

Up to four at a time

Set Up
Use the masking tape to create a square or circle on the floor in the center of your playing area approx. 1 ft in diameter.  This is your target.
Moving out 2 to 4 feet from the target, tape a straight line about 12 to 18 inches long.  This is your starting line.  Repeat on the other three sides of the target.

 Each player chooses a color of pom-pom and collects 5 of them.  Each player is also given a straw.
Assign each player a starting line. Line up the pom-poms behind the starting line, and have each player lay prone just behind his.  When the signal is given, each player blows through his or her straw at a pom-pom, driving it towards the target area.  As soon as it crosses into the target, he or she returns to the starting line for the next pom-pom.  The first player to "puff" all of his or her pom-poms into the target circle wins.

Age Variations
Our four and five year olds (we had just two today) were ready for the competitive aspect of this activity - although they did not demand that we declare a winner.
Our three-year-olds were more interested in simply blowing the pom-poms around, which is rather more difficult to do accurately than you may think.

Game Two: Pom-Pom Pick Up

This is a variation on "Pom-Pom Puff," but instead of blowing the pom-poms, players pick them up by "sucking" on the straws.  Then, on hands and knees, they carry them from the starting line to the target area.

Age Variations
Picking up the pom-poms by suction simply wasn't achievable by anyone but the oldest child present (5 1/2.)
Even I dropped the silly thing two or three times in the four feet between starting line and goal.  I had the three-year-olds try, but they found it frustrating and went back to either blowing or "golf" using the straws as clubs.

Game Three: Pom-Pom Pop


Each child uses the catapult to launch several pom-poms.  The one that lands farthest away wins.

Age variations:
At least in the form I built, using the launcher was right at the edge of our three-year-olds' abilities.

"Game" 4: Pom-Pom Play

In addition to our 3 to 5 year olds, we had four kids right around the age of 2.
We made no attempt to include these little guys in our organized games.  Instead, we provided them with a big ol' bag of pom-poms, adult supervision, and the following
  • Cup-cake tin
  • Straws
  • Several bowls with lids that had approx. pom-pom sized holes cut in them * 
  • If the kids hadn't stolen them, I would also have included a couple of those Munchkin snack bowls with "dilating" silicone tops. 
* I used Ikea Bowls and Yogurt Lids. Nice way to avoid sacrificing good Tupperware! (An Exacto would probably be ideal for making the hole, but I'm pretty sure I just bent the lid and used scissors. The plastic is very soft.)
I also cut out the screw top portion of an orange juice container and taped it onto a yogurt lid with a hole in it. I used a short length of yarn to tether the screw-top lid to the yogurt lid. (See photo below.) Not only was hole just right for pom-poms, but the kids were able to practice screwing and unscrewing.

All of the kids enjoyed poking the pom-poms into the small holes, taking them in and out of the muffin tin, or simply batting them around with a straw.
Some of them were also interested in blowing through the straws, although not with any goal in mind.

PS: Most of these ideas came from "As We Grow," where you will also find a collection of 30 activities for developing fine motor skills.

Field Observations
As is so often the case, I think the youngest and the oldest kids actually had the most fun.  The three-year-olds found themselves once again in that frustrating middle ground where they Want to do the older kids' activities, but aren't quite socially or mechanically ready.  I found them enjoying the babies' container play as well, and made no move to stop them.  I have to step back every now and then and remind myself not to push too hard for "cooperation" from this age group.  They're just beginning to feel their way into organized group play, and it's hard work.  My son especially is prone to wandering (running!) off and blowing off energy in some unrelated activity.  I wish he'd participate more fully, but I am often encouraged by observations or conversations well after the pre-school meetings that show he was absorbing quite a lot more than I'd believed.  

More Ideas
Finally, another game that I would have brought - except that the pieces are lost in the move - are the magnetic "marble runs" I describe here.  I would have been interested to see what a couple of pre-schoolers did with them working together.

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