“If I Built a House” Preschool STEM Activity


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I LOVE reading to my kids, both at home and at school. My favorite children’s books are ones that broaden kids imaginations, and challenge them to stretch their mind. But when teaching 2 year olds, stretching and challenging young minds looks a little bit different than the latter years of preschool. Right now my co-teacher and I are working on getting our kids to listen to longer stories. You may think (as I did before teaching preschool) that if a story is interesting enough, then kids will sit and listen. What I’ve come to realize is listening to a story is a learned skill. One that requires sitting still, focusing, and actively listening, all challenging things for little ones to do! So when I found Chris Van Dusen’s book “If I Built a House”, I came up with a preschool STEM activity to help all my kids engage with the story!

A fun preschool STEM activity, inspired by Chris Van Dusen's "If I Built a House". After reading the story, our preschool class built our own house using a cardboard box!

“If I Built a House” inspired Preschool STEM Activity

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I first found “If I Built a House” at our local library. After reading it to my kindergartner once, I knew we needed to add it to our personal library! During “H” week at preschool, I thought the book would be a great story to feature the letter “H”.

I recently took a course about enhancing verbal skills in young children. The biggest, over-arching recommendation was to read to young kids often, and with a lot of expression. Another, more specific suggestion was to work on vocabulary groups. For example, if you’re talking about a zoo, talk to the children about if they’ve been to a zoo, what was at the zoo, and what kinds of animals were at the zoo. So, I decided our new book would be a great way for us to increase our kids’ vocabulary about a house!

Preschool STEM Activity: Building our own House

1. Read “If I Built a House” by Chris Van Dusen.

Using my best preschool teacher expressions and voices, I read the story in a way the children would engage with the story.

2. Build a house out of a cardboard box.

My two oldest sons had just completed their Cub Scout popcorn sale fundraiser, so we had a lot of extra cardboard boxes at home.

I told the children in our class we were going to build our own house, just like in the story! “First we need a foundation for our box” I said, and I taped the bottom of the box. Next I asked one of my more verbal kids “What goes on the top of a house”, and they excitedly said “A roof!”. So, I folded the shorter flaps of the box into triangles, then taped the longer two flaps to the triangles. I asked each child (one at a time) to come up and add a piece of tape to our house. Taping the roof of the house was a great fine motor activity for our kids! In order to place the tape on our house, they had to use their pointer and thumb together!

After our house was built, I asked each child what else we needed to add to our house. After each response I added the item to our house. Our class came up with a front door, garage, and windows. Some repeated another child’s answer, but that was ok! I simply responded with “You’re right! A house does have (whatever they said)”. The activity wasn’t about them coming up with a new idea, but about each child becoming familiar with words associated with a house.

Our finished house!
The kids wanted to include a garage on our house.

3. Add creative ideas to the house.

The last part of the activity was a fun, creative exercise. I asked each child what they would like to add to our house. After they said their answer, they “pulled” the idea out of their head, and put it in the box. I demonstrated first, and then all the children caught on fast. I loved hearing their ideas!

We kept our cardboard house in the class for the rest of the day. Throughout the day, the kids stopped by, and admired the house they had built!

We had so much fun building our own house as a class, and adding our own ideas to the house. How about you? If you built a house, what special rooms would you add?

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