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Houses: Activities for exploration


A web is a house for a spider.
A bird builds its nest in a tree.
There is nothing so snug
as a bug in a rug.
And a house is a house for me!


Mary Ann Hoberman’s verse in A House Is a House for Me (1978) has been celebrated for decades and holds an invitation for a near-endless list of hands-on activities. After all, everything lives somewhere, and young children are hard-wired to explore the where, why, and how of mouse holes, dog kennels, anthills, and pea pods.

Use Hoberman’s book—and the other classics listed in the resources—and the activities below to open doors of curiosity, discovery, and exploration.


Large group activities: Indoors and out
Activities with simple, expansive movements are well suited for large groups of seven or more children. Such activities allow children to display a range of physical abilities while cooperating with others and learning by imitation.


Where do they live?
Use this rhyme to introduce conversations about houses—for people and for animals.


Birds live in nests. (Form small circle with hands)
Fish live in bowls. (Form larger circle with arms)
Bats live in caves. (Form larger circle with arms overhead)
Mice live in holes. (Form tiny circle with fingers)


Chicks live in coops. (Bend elbows; hold palms flat, shoulders high)
Pigs live in pens. (Move hands further apart)
Cows live in barns. (Move hands further apart)
Bears live in dens. (Form large circle overhead with arms)


Animal houses,
Some big and some small, (Spread arms wide and then bring hands close)
For all kinds of animals:
Short, big, or small. (Squat, stand with arms high, crouch with tight body)


Animal invaders
Start this rhyme as a story and encourage children to sing along, with actions, as the refrain becomes familiar.


Once upon a time, there was a house. The people who lived in the house had to go away, but they forgot to close the back door. While the people were away, a bunch of animals got together and said, “Let’s have some fun.”


In came a skunk (Hold nose)
With a pile of junk (Arms outstretched)
And moved into that house that wintery day
When the owners were far away.


In came a pig (Puff out cheeks)
With a bag this big. (Curl arms around a huge bag)
In came a skunk (Hold nose)
With a pile of junk (Arms outstretched)
And moved into that house that wintery day
When the owners were far away.


In came a fox (Tap nose)
With a heavy box. (Lower arms and grunt to lift)
In came a pig (Puff out cheeks)
With a bag this big. (Curl arms around a huge bag)
In came a skunk (Hold nose)
With a pile of junk (Arms outstretched)
And moved into that house that wintery day
When the owners were far away.


In came a toad (Stick out tongue several times)
With another load. (Throw package over back)
In came a fox (Tap nose)
With a heavy box. (Lower arms and grunt to lift)
In came a pig (Puff out cheeks)
With a bag this big. (Curl arms around a huge bag)
In came a skunk (Hold nose)
With a pile of junk (Arms outstretched)
And moved into that house that wintery day
When the owners were far away.


Last said the ape, (Flex muscles)
“It’s time to escape.” (Look around and beckon to come)
So out went the toad (Stick out tongue several times)
With another load. (Throw package over back)
Out went the fox (Tap nose)
With a heavy box. (Lower arms and grunt to lift)
Out went the pig (Puff out cheeks)
With a bag this big. (Curl arms around a huge bag)
Out went the skunk (Hold nose)
With a pile of junk (Arms outstretched)
And moved out of that house that wintery day
When the owners were soooo far away. (Emphasize so)


Farmer Says
Play this variation of Simon Says in which children pretend to make a sound or move like the animal named. Remember, no one moves unless the direction is preceded by the words “Farmer says.” Add animals and actions for as long as the game holds the children’s interest.


Farmer says all cows move out to the pasture.
Farmer says all cows graze in the pasture.
All cows go home.
Farmer says all cows go into the barn.


Farmer says all pigs go to the pigpen.
Farmer says all pigs move two spaces to the trough.


Farmer says all goats take one big leap to the goat shed.
Go to the feed trough.
Farmer says all goats eat hay.


All chickens fly into the coop.
Farmer says all chickens fly into the coop.
Scratch for feed.
Farmer says all chickens roost and lay eggs.


All horses gallop to the corral.
Farmer says all horses trot to the corral.
Farmer says all horses eat an apple.
All horses neigh and shake their heads.


Rooms in a House
Clap out the rhythm of this chant, encouraging children to add to the list of rooms. Use the chant as an opportunity to introduce new vocabulary like conservatory, sun porch, and tool shed.


Upstairs, downstairs, let’s take a look.
We’ll name some rooms, every little nook.


Bathroom, bedroom,
Family room, den.


Living room, parlor,
Basement, kitchen.


Playroom, attic,
Porch, hall, shed.


Library, dining room,
Shower room, pool.


With all these varied spaces,
Where did I leave my tools?


My House

Here is a nest for the robin. (Cup both hands)
Here is a hive for the bee. (Fold hands into fists)
Here is a hole for the bunny (Open fists with hole)
And here is a house for me. (Open hands with fingertips touching as a roof)


Grab Your Cap
Use this rhyme as a transition for going outdoors. Use knit caps in winter, sun hats in summer, and pretend caps in mild weather.


One and two and three and four, (Hold up one finger at a time)
Who’s that sitting on the floor? (Shade eyes with hand and look around)
(Child’s name)’s waiting on the mat. (Point to child)
Come on over and grab your cap. (Beckon with arm and touch head)


Small group or solitary activities
Some activities require quiet, reflective actions best done by individuals or in a small group of two or three children. Such activities are easier to manage and give each child some time in the spotlight.


Animal House
Explore basic consonant sounds with this verse.


Come to my animal house.
See the animals there.
There’s a cat caught in the kitchen.
What else do you see there?


Invite—and prompt—children to vary the third line of the verse to name an animal, an action, and the room, all beginning with the same sound. Expect silliness when you hear baboons babbling in bathrooms, dogs dreaming in dens, and hyenas howling in halls.


Write about my house
Make A-frame-shaped house books and invite children to draw or write stories about the people, areas, or activities that take place in the house.


Here’s what you need:
colored construction paper
plain or lined paper


1. Cut or fold the paper into uniform sizes. The simplest is to fold an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper in half. Use two or three sheets per book.
2. Cut or fold the construction paper to make a cover for the book.
3. Staple the papers together along the left side.
4. Make two diagonal cuts along the top of the book to make a peaked roofline.
5. Encourage children to draw features on the front and back covers. Invite them to draw furnishings on the inside pages, or use photos cut from magazines.
6. Store the house books together in the class library and invite the children to read the books to each other.


Like the artist
Books by Leo Lionni and Eric Carle invite style imitation. Share the books and encourage the children to notice the illustrations, especially the texture, color, scale, and translucency.


Here’s what you need:
sheets of freezer paper
finger paint
tissue paper


1. Follow up a reading activity with art in the style of these noted collage makers. Many illustrations by Lionni and Carle depict scenes under water. Compare these with above-ground pictures. Help children notice details and moods to mimic.
2. Invite the children to make finger paint art on the freezer paper. The finger paint design will be the background of the picture.
3. When the paint has dried, talk with children about how they would like to enhance the picture.
4. Offer scissors, tissue paper, and glue. Talk about the translucency of the tissue—that is, you can see an image underneath but the light is diffused. Compare with the transparency of plastic wrap or cellophane, which allows you to see the image clearly.
5. Experiment with torn rather than cut paper.


Frog puppet
Make frog puppets to accompany finger plays, books, and action rhymes. Consider using the puppets with Five Green and Speckled Frogs, I’m a Little Green Frog, and any of the Froggy books by Jonathan London.


Here’s what you need:
paper plates
construction paper


1. Cut one paper plate in half. Fold a second plate in half.
2. Staple the halves around the edges of the second plate so that there is an opening for a hand.
3. Make a cardboard template of the frog’s face—use this illustration to guide you. Help the children trace the face onto construction paper. Cut out large eye circles from construction paper and glue to the face. Decorate with markers.
4. Glue the face to the top half of the plate puppet.


Display board house sort
Introduce this activity with the Rooms in a House chant above. Adapt this game to the space you have. It’s most fun on a large display board but also works as a folder or table game.


Here’s what you need:
discarded magazines with household pictures
wall space
mural paper
double-sided removable tape
storage box


1. Cut a long sheet of mural paper. Draw vertical columns, and at the top of each write the name of the room you’d like to feature. Be sure to include kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living room.
2. Attach the paper to a wall. Make sure the children can reach all areas of the paper.
3. Cut out sample pictures—beds, cooking spoons, toilet tissue, shampoo, books, television set, and dinner plates, for example—from old magazines. Place the pictures in a storage box near the board.
4. Make magazines and scissors available to children and encourage them to find photos to add to the box.
5. Give a lesson on the use of double-sided tape.
6. Talk with the children about the rooms you’ve identified and ask them to describe the rooms in their own houses.
7. Invite the children to match the pictures with the proper room, taping the picture in the correct column. Encourage the children to move pictures from room to room as they see fit. For example, many homes have books in all rooms.

Adaptation: Make a similar game featuring animals and the attributes of their natural homes. For example, under a “Squirrel” column heading, children might tape pictures of pecans and trees.


Classic picture books about houses
Bang, Molly. 1983. Ten, Nine, Eight. New York: Greenwillow.
Barrett, Judi. 1968. Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House. New York: Atheneum.
Carle, Eric. 1987. A House for a Hermit Crab. New York: Picture Book Studio.
Fleming, Denise. 1991. In the Tall, Tall Grass. New York: Holt.
Galdone, Paul. 1971. The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1978. A House Is a House for Me. New York: Viking.
Keats, Ezra Jack. 1967. Peter’s Chair. New York: Harper & Row.
Kent, Jack. 1984. Joey. New York: Prentice-Hall.
Lionni, Leo. 1968. The Biggest House in the World. New York, Pantheon.
London, Jonathan. 1992. Froggy Gets Dressed. New York: Viking.
McCloskey, Robert. 1941. Make Way for Ducklings. New York: Viking.
McDonald, Megan. 1990. Is This a House for a Hermit Crab? New York: Watts.
Sendak, Maurice. 1970. In the Night Kitchen. New York: Harper & Row.
Waber, Bernard. 1972. Ira Sleeps Over. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Wildsmith, Brian. 1980. Animal Homes. New York: Oxford University Press.
Williams, Vera. 1982. A Chair for My Mother. New York: Greenwillow.


Irving, J. and R. Currie. 1991. Raising the Roof: Children’s Stories and Activities on Houses. Englewood Co.: Teacher Ideas Press.
Maddigan, B., S. Drennan, and R. E. Thompson. 2005. The Big Book of Reading, Rhyming, and Resources: Programs for Children Ages 4 - 8. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.
Opitz, M. and M. F. Opitz. 2000. Rhymes and Reasons: Literature and Language Play for Phonological Awareness. New York: Heinemann.
Raines, Shirley C. and R. J. Canady. 1989. Story Stretchers: Activities to Expand Children’s Favorite Books. Beltsville, Md.: Gryphon House.