Spinning Strands of Winter Fun

Whether this season means hulking snow drifts or just slightly cooler weather, the darker days of winter encourage us to come together and cozy up. Lately when my one-year-old wiggles his way into my lap, I’ve been reaching for one of my new favorite winter cuddling stories: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. This Caldecott Honor book follows the adventures of Annabelle and her dog as they travel through a dreary landscape frosted in white. When Annabelle discovers a box of colorful yarn in the snow, she begins using the vibrant strands to bring warmth and kindness to her community.

The book’s vivid illustrations inspire a variety of activities that extend and explore its rich narrative themes. Research tells us that children learn best when these activities are structured as “guided play”: an adult prepares an intentional and playful learning experience and then allows children to take the lead as they engage with the materials. An adult can support children’s playful learning through rich conversational back-and-forths that notice and expand on children’s interests. When appropriate, adults can encourage children to consider new ways of thinking and to make connections to the book and their previous experiences. Guided play is fun for children and adults alike, while supporting children’s cognitive abilities, from language and literacy to social-emotional skills.

Some of my favorite guided play activities with the book Extra Yarn are:

  • Yarn wrapping. Find some items to wrap in yarn, as Annabelle did. Go outside and find some interesting brown sticks and watch them transform, as Annabelle and her dog did on their walk through the woods. Or, draw shapes on a piece of cardboard and cut them out for yarn wrapping. Children might enjoy making a cardboard dog and wrapping it with yarn to make a cozy sweater. These cardboard creations can become cards by having the adult or child add a written message to it. Once the cards are complete, the child can deliver the notes to special people in their life and tell them about how and why they made their creation.
  • Yarn painting. Take a blank white piece of paper and imagine it is a bleak winter landscape. Let children saturate long pieces of yarn in washable tempura paint and make their own colorful paths across the snow. While children explore, ask them questions about where the yarn will go next and notice the colors that are created as the trails of paint intersect. As they tell stories about the yarn, write them down for children to remember later.
  • Yarn measuring. Think together about that long piece of yarn Annabelle used to do all her knitting. Gather a ball of yarn, a pair of scissors, a measuring tape, a piece of paper, and a marker. Start by measuring how long a piece of yarn would need to be to go from the child’s head to their toes. Cut or hold the piece of yarn and then work with the child to use the measuring tape to discover their height. Record the length of the child-sized yarn on the piece of paper next to the child’s name. Now go on an adventure to find other interesting items to measure inside or outside the home. Record the item and the length of yarn on the piece of paper. If the child is interested, they can try wrapping the yarn around items, such as a chair, a tree trunk, or a fence. After the child unwinds the yarn, notice how much more yarn is needed to wrap the item than to hold the yarn straight along the length.
  • Web of kindness. With friends or family form a “web of kindness” using a ball of yarn. Have everyone stand in a circle arm-to-arm. An adult begins by holding the end of the yarn and then looking at someone else in the circle and saying one kind thing about that person. Next, that person should toss or hand the ball of yarn to the person they complimented, while continuing to hold onto the end of the yarn. The next person will hold onto the yarn, choose another friend or family member, say a nice thing, and then pass the yarn along to them. Continue the game until everyone has received an appreciation, or the children lose interest. In a large group, this activity will make a colorful web; in a small group, it will make a thick cord of kindness.

We hope you enjoy this cozy tale and, like Annabelle, find some new ways to connect with others in your community this winter!

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