S. J. Little reviews 7 animal preschool books that engage children through guessing.

The following are some of my favourite animal picture books that get children interacting at storytime. These guessing books for preschoolers give clues, whether visual or through words, about what animal may be hiding on the next page or under the flap. Especially at the beginning of the school year, I find these books intrigue youngsters who are otherwise unwilling to sit for stories.

1. Are You My Mommy?

(Lift the flap)

Written and Illustrated by Mary MurphyAre You My Mommy? by Mary Murphy - review by S J Little

This is currently one of my absolute favourite preschool books. The storyline – a puppy looking for his mommy – is simple enough for my two year old class to follow and enjoy. As the puppy asks each hidden animal if they are his mommy, the children try to guess the animal based on visible clues. My two year olds enjoyed naming each farm animal after I opened the flap, while my three year olds were typically able to guess the animal before I opened it. Now here’s the part that makes this little board book so fantastic. I found that most of my three year olds were well versed in, and becoming bored of, the typical farm animal names: horse, cow, pig… In fact, many of my two year olds knew them all. Mary Murphy doesn’t stop with just the standard farm animals. Instead, under each flap is a baby to go with the mommy. These baby animal names were brand new for my three year olds. They hadn’t heard of ducklings, piglets, and calves before. This kept my advanced students engaged and learning while still providing review of the standard animal names for my children who were newer to learning English.

Reading tips:

  • By using identical phrasing on each page you can invite your children to say it with you: “Are you my mommy?” “No, I’m a ___(allow children to name the animal)__, and this is my baby calf.”
  • I like to use a different voice for each animal. It helps the children stay attentive.
  • Because this book is, to my knowledge, only available as a small board book, some older preschoolers may scoff at it as being for babies. Therefore, how you introduce this book is important. I like to tell the children I need their help naming the animals. Also, because the baby animal names were new to my class, I decided to read it on two days during our farm week. To prepare the children for this, I told them I was going to read the book today, and then a different day I would read it to them again to see if they remembered it. This way I didn’t get any “we already read that” complaints when I pulled the book out the second day.

2. Peek-a-Boo! Ocean

(Lift the flap)

Written and Illustrated by Jess StockhamPeek a Boo! Ocean and Peek a Boo! Safari by Jess Stockham

This series of books is right up there among my favourites. They are good-sized board books with only 5 page spreads each. The sad thing about these books, however, is that, to my knowledge, they are no longer in print. Also, since children are often rough on lift the flap books, they are quickly disappearing from my local library.

As a preschool teacher, I find that many children have trouble settling into our circle time routine during the first number of classes. Especially with my two year olds, I find it works best to start with songs for the first few weeks, then slowly transition to adding some books in those times of singing. These Peek-a-Boo books are excellent first books for circle time during that transition. With my two year olds, I might wait a month before beginning to introduce these books and then moving to other books, while for the three year olds I’d start with these books in the first week or two.

What’s so great about these books? Let me tell you. My favourite part is the way Jess Stockham has left little clues visible so the children can try to guess which animal is hiding behind the flap. For example, the children might be able to see the animal’s tail or ear. Another thing I appreciate about this book is how bold and simple the pictures are. On top of that, the flaps are large, nearly as large as the book.

Reading tips:

  • When you read the words, such as “Who’s ear is this?” Point to the place where you see the ear peeking out from behind the flap.
  • After opening the flap, your children might enjoy it if you tell them something about the animal, such as the sound it makes or where it lives, for example: “The polar bear lives at the North Pole where it is really cold.”

Other titles in this series include:

  • Peek-a-Boo! Safari
  • Peek-a-Boo! Forest
  • Peek-a-Boo! Jungle

3. Do You Want to Be My Friend?

Written and Illustrated by Eric CarleDo You Want To Be My Friend? by Eric Carle - review by S J Little

This nearly wordless picture book is a lot of fun for 3-4 year olds. Each page shows the tail of the animal you will see when you turn the next page. Children enjoy trying to guess which animal each tail belongs to. The book includes a wide variety of animals some of which my three year olds were not familiar with. The variety of animals would fit well with a zoo theme. When I tried this book with my two year olds, it seemed too long and the animals and their tails too tricky for guessing. Therefore, I’d recommend this one for 3-4 year olds.

Reading tips:

  • Only two of the pages have words on them. I typically end up repeating the same phrase on every page: “Do you want to be my friend?”
  • Wait a moment before turning the page and encourage the children to guess.

4. My First Peek-a-boo Animals

(Lift the flap)

Written and Illustrated by Eric CarleMy First Peek-a-boo Animals by Eric Carle - review by S J Little

This short book is unique. Each page has a four line poem giving clues to what animal might be hiding behind the flaps. The large flaps do not cover the entire animal leaving toes, tails, and maybe a nose sticking out. 2-4 year olds can enjoy this book, however, I would say that my two year olds were not able to guess based on the poems. Also, as a teacher at a preschool that uses typical themes, I find it hard to know which theme to use this book in. It has a random combobulation of animals from a lion, to a horse, to a butterfly, to a turtle, to an elephant and more. Still, regardless of what theme you put it under, this is an engaging book for preschoolers.

Reading tips:

  • Based on the age and development level of your children decide whether or not to read the poems. If you wanted, you could encourage the children to guess simply based on the visual clues sticking out from under the flap and read the poem after you’ve revealed the animal.

5. Dear Zoo

(Lift the flap or pop-up version)

Written and Illustrated by Rod Campbell

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

The simple repetitive words and basic storyline of this classic book make it excellent for youngsters. Only a couple of the pages have visual clues as to what animal is hiding making them hard to guess. Each animal has a description word, such as big, fierce, scary, jumpy, etc. These words could be used as clues to encourage guessing. They also enhance the learning side of this book as the children may not be familiar with some of the description words.

Reading Tips:

  • I highly recommend the pop-up version rather than the lift-the-flap as the pop-ups add tremendously to the excitement and engagement factor. However, note that the pop-up version is more likely to rip if left unsupervised in little hands.
  • One small group of 3-4 year olds I read this book to, enjoyed it so much that we read it several times in the first sitting. By the third or fourth time through, the children had memorized most of the animals and description words. They loved being able to fill in the words rather than hearing me read it.

6. Bugs From Head to Tail

Written by Stacey Roderick

Bugs From Head to Tail and other books in the series Written by Stacey Roderick, Illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya

Illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya

I highly recommend the Bugs and Ocean Animals books of this fairly recent series. Both books have a wide variety of animals some of which are familiar to most preschoolers and some of which will be new to them. While these books do not have flaps to lift, the pages have been cleverly designed so that on one page you see a part of an animal as a clue, such as their feet or tail, etc. Then you turn the page to find out what animal it is.

While I really enjoy the Bird book, most of the birds are far too specific for 2-3 year olds, unless the children have a specific interest in knowing unique animal names.

Reading Tips:

  • On the page that reveals which animal it is, the animal name is given as well as a lengthy blurb about that animal. The details in the blurb are targeted for a much older age group, therefore I entirely skip them. (Also, the dinosaur book’s blurbs are primarily based on speculations about the dinosaurs’ behaviours, not known facts, so I don’t read them.)

Other titles in this series include:

  • Dinosaurs From Head to Tail
  • Birds From Head to Tail
  • Ocean Animals From Head to Tail

7. I Spy Under the Sea

Written and Illustrated by Edward GibbsI Spy kid's guessing book series by Edward Gibbs

I was surprised how much my wiggly three year old class enjoyed this book! First, we look through a spy hole to see what’s on the next page. I read the clues, such as “my arms are called tentacles.” Then the children try to guess what animal it might be before I turn the page. My class guessed some of the animals easily while others they’d never heard of which kept the book from being boring for my more advanced children. While the artsy illustration style is not my favourite, my class had no problem with it.

To my knowledge, this series is available as hardback and board book.

Reading Tips:

  • Encourage the children to try guessing even if they’ve never heard of the animal. Be sure your response to their guesses is encouraging. Especially with the quieter children, when they gather the courage to voice a guess, be careful not to turn them off by laughing at their guess.
  • Read the book ahead of time so that you know what’s coming. That way you can provide extra clues. For example, when I read the Under the Sea book to my class, we’d seen clownfish on our field trip the week before which I was able to use as an added clue.

Other titles in this series include: (Each focuses on various preschool topics as listed below.)

  • I Spy With My Little Eye (colours and clues)
  • I Spy Under the Sea (clues and numbers)
  • I Spy Pets (food and clues)
  • I Spy in the Sky (colours, big/small describers, and clues)
  • I Spy on the Farm (colours, first letters, and animal sounds)

What other animal guessing books for preschoolers would you recommend?

7 Simple Christian Songs for Preschoolers by S. J. Little - these songs instill timeless truths about who God is to help build a strong foundation for your child's faith.

 

Recently, I’ve had a couple of people ask me about simple Christian songs to sing with preschoolers. Songs that don’t need a CD player, or a major in music, to sing.

Having taught Sunday school for many years and having been a teacher at two Christian preschools, I have gathered a number of solid Christian songs with great actions for engaging children.

These songs work excellent for transitions, such as moving from play time to story time, or if your children have to wait. Children 1-6 years old are likely to appreciate these songs. Some of them are best sung standing up, providing an opportunity to get some wiggles out, while others help calm and settle the class.

Beyond that, these songs are excellent teaching tools for hiding timeless truths in children’s hearts. While I don’t remember the stories I was taught in Sunday school when I was 4, I still remember the songs, several of which are on this list.

Please note: The sample videos I have included links to were chosen for the clarity of the song and actions. I am not associated with any of them and have not done extensive research into the groups who posted them. Also, while I tried to find videos similar to how I prefer to sing these songs, some actions and/or words may vary from the versions I have recommended for you.

 

1. Read Your Bible, Pray Every Day

(Tune: I Will Make You Fishers of Men)

A great energy outlet song. Children stand up and crouch down and stretch super high! While there are other verses for this song, I prefer to only use the words I have included below and then sing the song again faster, and faster!

Sample video: (this video has additional verses which I typically do not use. To match the words below, stop the video at 31 sec.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyO5jOIVTW0

 

Read your Bible, pray every day,7 Simple Christian Songs for Preschoolers - Read Your Bible Pray Every Day - S. J. Little

Pray every day, pray every day.

Read your Bible, pray every day,

And you’ll grow, grow, grow,

And you’ll grow, grow, grow,

And you’ll grow, grow, grow,

Read your Bible, pray every day,

And you’ll grow, grow, grow,

 

Actions:

Read your Bible – Hold hands together, then open like book

Pray every day – clasp hands in praying posture

Grow – Start very low, then become a little taller each time you say “grow”. For the last time you say “grow” stretch on tippy toes with arms extended above head.

2. Happy All The Time (Inright, Outright)

Another excellent stand up song. I heard this song in grade 10, when helping with a kid’s program, and knew I’d heard it before. I finally remembered I’d learned it in Sunday school when I was 4 years old. It was one of my favourites.

Sample video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zegRF9ZA2dc

 

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright,

Happy all the time.

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright,

Happy all the time.

Since Jesus Christ came in, and cleansed my heart from sin,

I’m inright, outright, upright, downright,

Happy all the time.

 

Actions:

Inright, outright, upright, downright – Point in each direction as you say it.

Happy all the time – Clap on every other beat (happy all the time)

Jesus Christ came in – Point to sky, then point to self

Cleansed my heart from sin – motion with both hands as though swatting something away

3. My God is so Big

This classic song includes simple truths children can begin to grasp, yet such profound truths that even as an adult I cannot fully wrap my mind around them. Depending on how you sing it, this song can be an active, shake-some-wiggles-out song or a quieter sit down song.

Sample video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-3Ih-FOv1g 

 

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,

There’s nothing my God cannot do.

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,

There’s nothing my God cannot do.

 

The mountains are His, the rivers are His,

The stars are His handy work too.

 

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,

There’s nothing my God cannot do.

(optional) For you!

 

Actions:

God – point up

Big – spread arms wide (optional: do a star jump, then jump back in when doing “strong”)

Strong – make muscles with both arms up

Mighty – make muscles with one arm up and one arm down

Nothing my God cannot do – wag finger to say “no”

Mountains – touch fingers together above head making triangular point

Rivers – move hands back and forth wiggling fingers

Stars – alternate opening and closing hands

For you – point to someone

4. God Made Me

I saw another preschool teacher using this song and enjoyed it so much I wanted to do it with my own class. This is a quieter song with powerful truths simply told.

Sample video: (actions are not clear in video. See suggested actions below) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoVfIBzCapU 

 

God made me, God made me,

In my Bible book, it says that,

God made me.

 

God loves me, God loves me,

In my Bible book, it says that,

God loves me.

 

Other verses:

God helps me

God keeps me

 

Actions:

God – point up

Me – point to self

Bible – hold hands together and open like a book

Made – stack fists on top of each other (resembling sign language “make”)

Loves – make heart with hands

Helps –  cup hands as though receiving something

Keeps – hug self

5. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands 

Another timeless classic. What a beautiful reminder that God is in control. Pick and choose which verses you want to use, or make up your own.

Sample video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cfJSSJUHaU

 

He’s got the whole world in His hands,

He’s got the whole wide world in His hands,

He’s got the whole wide world in His hands,

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

 

He’s got the itty bitty baby in His hands,

He’s got the itty bitty baby in His hands,

He’s got the itty bitty baby in His hands,

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

 

Actions:

Whole World – start with both hands at top, bring down tracing a large circle

In His hands – cup hands in front of self

Itty bitty baby – pretend to hold baby and rock from side to side

 

There are endless other verses including:

The wind and the rain… (Sweep hands from side to side, then move hands up and wiggle fingers while moving hands down)

The sun and the moon…   (hold arms above head in circle, then twist arms into crescent)

You and me, brother…   (point to boys)

You and me, sister…   (point to girls)

The Mommies and the Daddies…   (point to parents)

Everybody here…  (motion to everyone)

6. The B-I-B-L-E

One teacher I knew always sang this song with the kids before reading a Bible story. It showed that this isn’t just another storybook.

Sample video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6Ixfrs2cls

 

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God,

The B-I-B-L-E

Bible!

 

Actions:

B-I-B-L-E – open hands like book (could also nod the beat)

Yes – nod head and do sign language “yes”

For me – point to self

I stand alone on the Word of God – stomp

7. I’m in the Lord’s Army 

Little boys love this action song, as do little girls. I remember this being one of my favourites when I was young. I encourage you to explain to your children what it means to be in the Lord’s army. Our life has purpose.

Sample video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA4I_Yl5ZPY

 

7 Simple Christian Songs for Preschoolers - I'm in the Lord's Army - S. J. Little

I may never march in the Infantry,

Ride in the cavalry,

Shoot the artillery.

I may never fly o’er the enemy,  

But I’m in the Lord’s Army. Yes, sir!

 

I’m in the Lord’s Army. Yes, sir!

I’m in the Lord’s Army. Yes, sir!

 

I may never march in the Infantry,

Ride in the cavalry,

Shoot the artillery.

I may never fly o’er the enemy,

But I’m in the Lord’s Army. Yes, sir!

 

Actions:

March – march in place

Ride – pretend to ride a horse

Shoot – start with one hand at hip and other up high, clap, put hands in opposite positions

Fly – move arms wide and lean side to side as though flying

I’m – point to self

Lord’s army – point up

Yes, sir! – stand straight and salute

 

If you doubt whether kids enjoy this sing, watch this cute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Qao6u0A-k4

Bonus:

He Died Upon the Cross by Colin Buchanan

This is one of my favourite preschool kids songs, however, it doesn’t sound as good without instruments. Thankfully the song can be bought online as an mp3 file. I highly recommend you buy it and sing it with your children as this song captures the very core of Christianity as seen in 1 Cor. 1:3-4.

The song is available for purchase here (you can choose to only purchase this song #33, or buy the whole CD) https://colinbuchanan.com.au/products/practise-being-godly-cd-mp3-album  (Note: prices on website are in Australian dollars. This is not an affiliate link, I just like the song so much!)

Sample video: (has no actions) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIkFSZP89Ng

 

He died upon the cross.

He died upon the cross.

He died upon the cross,

For me, for me, for just for me.

 

One day when I was lost,

He died upon the cross.

He died upon the cross,

For me, for me, for just for me.

 

Additional verses: (Repeat “One day when I was lost” chorus after every verse)

They laid Him in the grave.

He rose up from the dead.

He’s coming back again.

 

Actions:

For – hold up four fingers

Me – point to self

Just – (optional for older kids) make “j” with pointer finger and thumb

One day when I was lost – point to self, then tilt head back and put back of hand to forehead as though tired and hopeless

He died upon the cross – point up, then spread arms wide like the cross and let head hang forward

They laid Him in the grave – move both arms downward as though laying something down

He rose up from the dead – move arms upward with hands outstretched

He’s coming back again – motion as though for someone to come closer

What are your favourite simple Christian songs to sing with your kids?

Teaching ABCs by S. J. Little with picture of alphabet puzzle

9 unique techniques to keep your class engaged in learning the alphabet

 

With spring comes wiggly children. Keeping the attention of a class full of preschoolers this time of year is challenging. Sometimes changing up your methods for teaching the ABCs can regain their enthusiasm for learning letters.

Below I have collected 9 unique techniques for teaching the ABCs at circle time.

  1. Letter posters

Many teachers use a set of posters with one poster per letter. Typically these include the letter and pictures of one or more items starting with that letter. Each week the poster for the letter of that week will be displayed. Then during circle time the teacher points to the poster and asks the children if anyone knows what letter it is and what the objects are.

  1. Singing

Many songs exist for helping children learn about letters. One that I’ve used is:

Letter “A” says a (tune: Farmer in the Dell)

Letter “A” says a,

Letter “A” says a,

Every letter makes a sound,

Letter “A” says a.

If you use the same song every week the children will be able to focus on the letter and sound rather than the tune of the song, however, changing it up may keep their attention better.

  1. Air tracing

For children who learn best through large body movements, this technique is wonderful. As you tell the class the letter, use your whole arm to trace the letter in the air in front of you. Encourage the children to copy you. You could also have them trace it in the ground with their finger (or foot). Alternatively, have them shape their whole body into the letter. For example, for letter t they can stand straight with their arms perpendicular to their sides. Get creative and have some fun.

  1. Letter box

Items to put in a letter box for letter "P" - pig, police, pencil, pineapple, pink heart, purple P

Prior to class fill a small box with four or five items beginning with the letter of the week. Look through your toy bins, puzzles and playdough cookie cutters. I also like to include the letter itself whether on a puzzle piece, or block, or magnet.

At circle time, I show the children the box and have them chant with me while tapping the beat:

Open up the box

Open up the box

Open, open, open, open

Open up the box.

I then bring out one item at a time, asking if they know what each is and discussing how each relates to the letter. This adds excitement and mystery to learning about the letter.

  1. Mystery item

A little different from the letter box, this activity works best when at least a handful of children in the class already have a good sense of the alphabet.

Toy dog peeking out of boxPrior to class, find an item starting with the letter of the week. Place that item in a box as the mystery item. Show the children the box telling them that something is hiding inside it. Inform them that the item starts with the letter of the week. Review with them what sound the letter makes.

Ask the children to guess what item may be inside the box. Be gentle and encouraging with those who guess items starting with the wrong sound, otherwise, they may not be willing to guess next time. For any guesses that are the right sound, you could answer, “maybe…” Then ask for a few more guesses before revealing the item.

  1. Popsicle stick letters

This is another good one for hands-on learners, however, this technique only works with certain letters.

When the letter of the week is one with no curves, you could try this technique. Prior to class, determine how many popsicle sticks you will need to make the letter. Also, ensure you have enough for every child to make their own letter.

At circle time, use the sticks to show the children how to make the letter.Popsicle sticks can be used to form letters Then hand out enough popsicle sticks to every child. (You could make this a game by handing too many or too few sticks to some of the children and having them count to tell you if they have the wrong number.)

Once every child has the correct number of sticks, show them again how to form the letter by placing the popsicle sticks on the ground in the correct shape.

Be encouraging as this is very tricky for children the first few times they do it. You may have to show several of them one on one. You could also encourage more advanced children to help those who are struggling. Once you’ve done this a few times the children will catch on better.

  1. Draw on a whiteboard/chalkboard

Another hands-on way to learn letters and develop writing skills is to have each child write the letter at circle time. This can be done one at a time or all at once depending on the materials available to you.

One at a time:

On the bulletin board, securely attach a larger writing surface whether a chalkboard, whiteboard, or large laminated poster to be used as a whiteboard.

One at a time, invite each child to come up and try writing the letter of the week on the board. Be sure to write it first so they have something to copy. Be encouraging as not only are they being courageous to try writing the letter, they are also practicing being comfortable in front of a crowd which does not come easily for some children.The letters ABC written on a whiteboard

All at once:

Pass out individual whiteboards or chalkboards to each child. On your own whiteboard or chalkboard demonstrate writing the letter, then encourage each child to try it on their boards. Some children may need one on one help with this.

  1. While taking attendance

Some teachers take attendance during circle time by calling the children one at a time. Rather than just having the children say “here” why not use this time to help them learn their letter?

Before taking attendance, discuss the letter of the week with the children and mention some things that start with that letter.

Next, instruct the children that when you call their name, you want them to say something that starts with the letter of the week. Ideally, have some visual reminder of words starting with that letter. Most likely several of the children will say the same thing. That’s okay.

  1. Alphabet Videos

Something I have not tried but believe could work well is using videos. Youtube has a wide range of short films, often including songs, about learning letters. These could be integrated into the circle time routine.

What other strategies have you found effective for teaching the ABCs at circle time?