The fondest childhood memories of pizza I have are from Chuck-E-Cheese. The grease, the tokens, the religious fervor with which I worshipped that weird rodent mascot; it all brings back the first moment of bliss in which pizza is distilled into a child’s life. The pacifying qualities of pizza in a busy home on a week night is without question.
That diatribe aside, what I mean to suggest is this: talking to children about maintaining a healthy diet and eating a colorful, well-rounded meal is essential to the growth of educated, forward-thinking, diabetes-preventing humans. Learning good habits early on will help make healthy habits come naturally. However, kids like pizza. Adults like pizza. Humans like pizza, and so do raccoons, and bears, and ants. We want our literacy efforts to be paired with things that children like, which is why story times have themes in the first place. What will catch a child’s eye, so that they will pay rapt attention, follow along, work on memorization, and engage their imaginations?
Yes–there are a thousand reasons why having a Pizza, Please! story time could be perceived as touting the wrong diet–why not a Salad, Please! story time or a Pita, Please! story time or a Fruits & Veggies & Playing Outside, Please! story time? There’s plenty of room throughout the year to have all these story times and more about maintaining healthy principles and regularly eating all the colors of the rainbow, but let’s live in reality a moment here: berating your children about the moral equivalency of healthy eating, but also ordering a pizza on a busy night, is sending some mixed signals. Let’s not shame food, or purport self-inflicted dietary restrictions to sainthood. Let’s let a kid have a slice of pizza, and then let’s go for a walk as a family to the park. Everything in moderation.
And Pizza is the PERFECT theme to work on imaginative play, an early literacy skill that is often overlooked. When children use pretend to extrapolate real life scenarios, such as pretending their doll is their baby, playing chef in the kitchen next to dad, using fake money to run a grocery store, they are using imaginative play to learn social, emotional, language and behavioral skills. Participating in your child’s imaginative play makes it even more beneficial–you’ll be using words they don’t often get to hear, building their vocabulary, and providing them with abstract learning situations. From Psychology today:
“Actual studies [of children using imaginative play] have demonstrated cognitive benefits such as increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives. The important concept of ‘theory of mind,’ an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to imaginative play” (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).
Safe to say, when you’re pretending you work at a pizzeria with your child, you’re working on a dozen important literacy skills. So knead the pretend dough, bake a pretend pie, and serve it up to customers before dinner–then maybe have a real slice.
Pizza, Please! Story Time
Books to Read:
Secret Pizza Party by Adam Rubin
Raccoon really, really loves pizza. But nobody wants to eat pizza with a raccoon! He keeps getting shooed away with brooms, so what’s a raccoon to do? Throw a secret pizza party.
A fun, irreverent picture book that really made the kids laugh.
A good segue to talking about what a secret is, and why raccoon is not good at keeping them.
Pizza at Sally’s by Monica Wellington
Sally shows us what it takes to make a great pizza, starting with visiting a farmers market for tomatoes, an artisan for cheese, and a wheat farm for flour to make dough.
I love that this book is so simple, includes illustrations as well as small snippets of photography (showing real tomatoes, real cheese brands, etc), and uses great motion words (knead, punch, roll).
As Sally made the dough, added sauce, and put the pizza in the oven, I would have the kids pantomime each move for motor skills. This was definitely their favorite book.
The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) by Philomen Sturges
This is MY favorite pizza book, hands down. I love the story of the Little Red Hen in all its iterations, but this one is the best.
Little Red Hen is making a pizza! But will her friends help her? (I’m guessing no.)
The kids really respond to the “Put in effort, reap the rewards” message of the Little Red Hen. They enjoyed interacting with the book by imitating the cat, dog and duck, shouting “Not I!” when the Hen would ask for help.
The happy Hen gets ALL the pizza. Moral of the story? Help your designated parent or guardian around the house, will you?
Songs, Rhymes & Activities:
Pizza Felt Pieces
So I made these pizza felt pieces I’m pretty into. I drew a circle out of thick paper and then divided that circle into five slices, cut those slices out and used them as templates so that all my pizza pieces fit snug into one pie.
I first asked the kids what they thought the flavors were for each piece. They actually got them all dead right the first try, which truly surprised me because I had some off the wall flavors for my Z’s.
“P” is Pepperoni, “I” is Veggie Lovers, “Z” is Blueberry, other “Z” is Cotton Candy, and “A” is Extra Cheesy
Song: Oh, I Wish I Was A (Pepperoni)Pizza!
Sung to the Oscar Meyer Wiener tune
Oh I wish I was a Pepperoni Pizza
That is what I’d truly like to be
For If I was a Pepperoni Pizza
Everyone would be in love with me!
(Repeat for each type of pizza in the felt arrangement)
Song:P I Z Z A (Inspired by the ever awesome JBrary)
Sung to the tune of BINGO
There is a food I love to eat and Pizza is its name-o
P I Z Z A, P I Z Z A, P I Z Z A and PIZZA is its name-o
(Remove the last slice from the board and clap at the missing letter)
Rhyme: Pizza Subtraction
I love pizza, yes I do,
I love pizza, how bout you?
One for ME, and (four) for you!
One more for ME, and (three) for you!
(Have the kids shout out and count the remaining pieces of pizza until..)
Another one for ME, and….NONE for you? Soooorrrrryyyyyy!
Activity: Pizza Fractions
For this activity, I have a story time kid come to the board and “eat” a slice of pizza of their choosing. Once a slice is gone, we count how many out of FIVE SLICES are remaining. I write the fraction on the white board next to the felt pieces as a correlating visual. We count as a group “One, two, three, FOUR. FOUR out of FIVE SLICES are left!” Another kid comes to the board and grabs another slice. “One, two, THREE! THREE out of FIVE slices are left!”
Fractions are pretty abstract for this age, and I explain that to the parents, but any foothold they have in making math a visual experience is helpful as they get older.
Craft: Paper Plate Pizza with shapes & colors toppings
For this craft, I used my handy dandy Cricut machine to cut out a lot of red circles, green triangles, brown hearts, yellow rectangles, etc., so we could make paper plate pizzas. The template is simple. Give the children some white paper plates and have them color on some sauce of their choosing. Then offer them a platter of “toppings.”
I used some purple swirls so they could make cotton candy pizza, and some weird shapes and colors so they could really use their imagination when they piled and glued on the toppings. Then we took turns serving up the pizza and offering slices to friends.
I urged the parents at home to take some scissors and slice up the paper plate pizzas–they make great puzzles, and that way the children can work on simple math and imaginative play at home.
Our pizzeria was a big success, and I think we got some really positive Yelp reviews. 😉