Starting with the activity and ending with the book in preschool

I have almost always started our day with circle time in preschool. I choose a great children’s book along with other conversation sparkers that ultimately branch out into a variety of other content areas like art, math, and so forth…

But lately, my three year old nephew, Wy, has been teaching me to rethink my approach a bit and to be more willing to “teach outside of the box”….

The other day, I posted a sweet little activity you can do with the book “The Mixed Up Chameleon” by Eric Carle. After preparing all my pieces, I set everything up and placed the book out on the carpet all ready to share with Wy. Wy had come to spend the night and I always prepare activities to do with him when I know he is coming over…

When Wy came into the preschool studio, he immediately started pointing at all the chameleons I had in the room. I invited Wy to come and sit with me so we could read about the Chameleons first but he was not interested. He ran from chameleon to chameleon and shouted, “Look!”…

So I just sat down on the carpet next to my book and went with it! As Wy pointed out all the chameleons, I played along and said things like “Oooh, you found a red chameleon!” Wy would run and bring me the Chameleon then I would say something like, “What happened to the chameleon? It isn’t red anymore!”

After Wy found most of the chameleons, he wanted to go outside so he picked up all the chameleons (scrunching them up in his arms) and took them outside…

After a bit, we brought the chameleons back inside and Wy began placing some of them on my little homemade easels….

And it was then that Wy discovered the book. He recognized the chameleon from his earlier play and sat down to explore the book. I sat down with Wy and together, we read the book and explored the mixed-up chameleon. We talked about how the chameleon changed color and how it was so hard to find a chameleon and how the chameleons all looked different when we moved them around the room…

All this is to say, that I am learning that there are definitely times when it is better to let children explore the materials first and then sit and read the story together. It is from the morning of discovery and play that Wy and I were now able to sit and have a meaningful conversation about the book – to have a meaningful “circle time” experience…

I thought I would use the book to introduce Wy to the concept of a chameleon and its changing colors but instead, Wy brought to circle time his own thoughts and understanding of chameleons that he had discovered through his morning time of play…

By |2011-06-27T07:00:24+00:00June 27th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Leeanne A June 27, 2011 at 7:35 am - Reply

    This is a must do – I really love this – what a great way to teach what a chameleon does! Awesome!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 7:46 am - Reply

      Since I don’t have a real chameleon, this was a great way to introduce one to Wy. I don’t think I will be rushing out to get a real chameleon any time soon:)

  2. Barbara Gini June 27, 2011 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Debra very thought provoking! I will definitely keep this in mind when I work with the younger children! Thanks for the post!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 7:44 am - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Barbara!

  3. Laura (The SEEDS Network) June 27, 2011 at 7:39 am - Reply

    That is lovely! It’s funny … because this year I was a special instructor for a 3 year old class, and a 4 year old class. I had always “planned” to read the story first and then do my activity to go with it. But, because of the times that I was a scheduled to go in … a lot of times I would do the activity FIRST in the 4 year old room, because they would be getting ready for lunch right after I would be leaving (so I would do my story with them on the rug while the other teachers got lunch setup).

    This did work out surprisingly well, and because we did the activity first, we could talk more about the experience during the story time. I still found most of the time with the 3 year olds, I fared better by reading the story first … but next school year I’ll try changing it up with that age group as well!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 7:44 am - Reply

      I like planning and having a routine so this is a stretch for me to rearrange but I am seeing value in being flexible in how I approach my day!

  4. Georgia June 27, 2011 at 7:47 am - Reply

    What a good message for me this morning! Nice to see that the approach can vary and we can still get a meaningful result! My 2 1/2 year old daughter has been trying to teach me this ALL summer 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 7:50 am - Reply

      If switching around your routine makes it more meaningful to you and your daughter – then definitely give yourself the flexibility to switch it up!

  5. JDaniel4's Mom June 27, 2011 at 8:39 am - Reply

    What a great way to retell and play with the ideas in a book. JDaniel would love this.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 9:14 am - Reply

      With many children – they just need something to draw them into the conversation first!

  6. Kristah June 27, 2011 at 8:39 am - Reply

    I’ve noticed things are different with just one child, too. The Preschool classroom is about schedule, with just one it’s about them. So, I guess just have fun. It looks like Wy did.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 9:10 am - Reply

      I agree – it is hard to be as flexible with the schedule in a classroom with a large number of children as it is with just one child. But perhaps you can keep this idea in mind and even if you have read the book earlier, still follow up with a second reading to build on the knowledge children gained during your centers and other activities throughout the day!

      Great comment and I am sure others are wondering the same thing but I want us all to stretch our thinking as to what works and what might just potentially work!

  7. shalini June 27, 2011 at 10:26 am - Reply

    oooo.. this is a wonderful idea! thanks Deborah for helping make life so wonderful for children!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your sweet comment Shalini!

  8. Erin @ Small Types June 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Great point! I love your activities, and this is a great reminder that we sometimes need more time and experiences to build prior knowledge before jumping in to reading/instruction.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      Especially when you are three:)

  9. Emilia Salmova September 7, 2011 at 2:41 am - Reply

    Brilliant example, explanation and activity idea! Great work on everything – noticing the child, following it, providing it with an engaging activity and discussion. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      Thank you Emilia!

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