Sunday, July 31, 2011

Never-ending Endings

Kids of all ages love hearing stories.  They also love making up their own stories.  Tonight, for a quick and easy change of pace, read just half a book/story to your child and challenge him to come up with his own ending for the story.  It doesn't matter if it's a new book that you've never read, or an old favorite, your child will (most likely) love coming up with his own sequence of events.  More than just fun, this piques children's imagination and keeps them excited about reading.  There are literally endless possibilities, and you can take turns coming up with alternate endings.  Your child will love hearing what kooky new twist you come up with and will no doubt have critiques on how it could be better.  Instead of the Brown Bear seeing the Red Bird, let your 4 year old throw in a pink polk-a-dotted parakeet.  Instead of the Three Little Bears scaring Goldilocks when she wakes up, have them invite her to stay for more porridge, fall in love with Baby Bear's neighbor friend who stops by to play and live happily ever after.  Whatever you do, make reading an adventure.  Make it fun and once your child sees how much fun you're having, he's sure to jump right in!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Statue of Sanity

Kids driving you a little nuts already this summer? Maybe the idea of a road trip send shivers down your spine because your angels mysteriously turn into something else about 2 blocks from your house?  Here's a no-materials, no-mess game that I used to have my students play while they waited in line.  It's in a similar vein to "The Silent Game" except the kids are supposed to be as still as statues.  That's it.  You, or one of your kids is designated "Statue Master" and gives the rest of the crew a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown (during which time the "statues" get all of their wiggles out).  Once they hear "1", though, they have to freeze and be perfectly still.  The Statue Master observes and eliminates anybody who moves.  Simple? Yes.  A great way to get your kids to stop fighting or calm down or do whatever it is you need them to do? Yes!  Enjoy, fellow Statue Masters!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Turn the Sunshine into a Science Lesson

It is so hot.  It's hot in the sun, it's even hot in the shade.  We hear repeatedly that we need to help our little Ones stay cool by dressing them wisely in light-colored clothing, but why not let them explore the "why" behind that idea?  In other words, turn the daily clothing battle into a learning experience that's meaningful to them.

Here's what you can do. Have your kiddos grab one black (or dark) sock and one white sock.  Ask them to make a hypothesis (prediction) about which sock will be hotter, when left in the sun.   (And, yes, use the word, "hypothesis" -- they can handle it).  Ask them why they predicted what they did.  Put the socks side-by-side in the sun and place a thermometer inside each one (use outdoor thermometer or regular household thermometers).  Have your child check the temperatures of the socks periodically (they may need help reading the thermometer, so keep that in mind as another valuable life lesson).  They should see that the dark sock is significantly hotter than the light/white sock.  Now ask them if they'd rather wear light-colored clothing on a hot day or dark clothes.  With any luck, the experiment's results will transfer and they'll realize that white is much better.

In a nutshell, the reason for this is that dark colored clothes ABSORB light/heat which make the person even warmer.  Light/white clothes REFLECT light/heat and therefore keep a person feeling relatively cooler. 

Now, see if your child really gets it by asking him which color clothing he should wear outside in the winter!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bubble Geometry

What kid doesn't like blowing bubbles? What teacher doesn't love it too?  Why? Because there is so much math embedded in this seemingly fun-only activity.  We all know kids learn more when they're having fun, so throw in this secret geometry lesson while your kids are blowing their hearts out!!

The object, of course, is to blow the biggest bubble.  Let your kids experiment with different shaped bubble-makers (homemade or store bought).  They can use wire coat hangers, string, or the wands that come with the bubble solution.  Here's the math part.  Once the bubbles pop, use the bubble ring that's left on the sidewalk and have a quick talk with your kids about the diameter, radius and circumference.  (See the definitions below for your refresher course.)  Get the rulers out and have your kids measure each of the three for each bubble they blow.  Have them make their own data sheets to keep the records straight. 

If you have multiple kids, you can make it a competition or have them work together in a team effort (which life lesson will you choose today?); if you have one child, see if he can "beat" his record with each successive bubble.  What improvements can your kids add to increase the size of their bubbles?

Your kids' math teachers will love you and your kids will be having so much fun, they'll do all the math you want just to keep making the biggest bubble! It's most definitely a win-win!

DIAMETER:    any straight line segment that passes through the center of the circle and whose endpoints are on the circle  (remember, the line segment has to start and end on the circle AND PASS THROUGH THE CENTER POINT)

RADIUS:  any line segment from its center or axis of symmetry to its perimeter  (think of this like a spoke on a wheel; the line segment has to have one end point on the center of the circle and one endpoint on the circle itself)

CIRCUMFERENCE: the perimeter (or distance) around the circle; you calculate this by (C=πd) OR (C=2*π*r)     (π = 3.1415)

Other ways you can embed math in this lesson:
- have your kids measure in centimeters and inches
- have your kids find the difference between each bubble's measurements
- have your kids research WHY bubbles are always spherical no matter what shape the wand is

Happy blowing!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lay or Lie? -- or Just Losing my Mind!?

This has been driving me nuts for years.  Before reading any further, ask yourself, "Do I really know the difference between the words lay and lie?"  If you're like me, laying/lying (?) in bed, having trouble sleeping at night, not knowing if you are using the words properly, prepare to get a good night's rest.  Here's the story that I learned after doing a little research.

"Lay" is a transitive verb.  That means it must have some sort of action and is always followed by an object which receives the action.  "Lay" means to place something.  I lay my bag on the table.  (The action is me placing, and the object is my bag.)  If you did it yesterday, you laid your bag on the table.  You may also have laid many bags on many tables.

"Lie" is intransitive and means to recline.  It doesn't need an object to receive the action.  The boy lies down.  (The boy is the subject, and he's reclining, but there's no object receiving anything.)  Here's where it get confusing: the past tense of lie is lay.  So, the boy lay down yesterday.  He has lain down each day this week.

Try to fill in the blanks with either: lay, laid, lie, lay or lain.
1.  I was exhausted last night, so I ______ down for a quick nap.
2.  She ______ the baby in the crib each evening.
3.  Every morning this week, the dog has _____ on the concrete floor to cool off.
4.  My mom _______ the cards on the table.
5.  The cat _______ still waiting for the mouse to move.

1.  lay
2.  lay(s)
3.  lain
4.  laid
5.  lie(s)

How'd you do?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Keeping Your Sanity During Long Car Rides: Game Ideas

Summer is the time for long road trips.  Who wants to fly and get there in 3 hours, when you can drive in just 23?  My family of 6 used to pile in a full-sized van and drive from Houston, TX to Buffalo, NY in one shot.  I should clarify by saying that my 2 parents would drive us from Houston to Buffalo.  All 28 hours.  No hotels.  No stops longer than pee breaks and gas fill-ups.  Needless to say, my sibs and I got really good at keeping ourselves occupied in the car.  I'm not advocating you be quite so crazy, but should you find yourself packing the car with a rising blood pressure, here's a list of 10 things to try with your little Ones in the car to keep them happy and learning.  (Some work better for older kids, some better for younger munchkins.  You know your kiddos best.)

1.  Take turns making up one cohesive story, alternating one sentence at a time.  You start with something like, "Once there was a little boy who loved to make pancakes."  Then your child has to incorporate that into the next part of the story.  "He woke up on Sunday morning and found that his stove was missing."   Now, it's your turn.  "When he asked his mom about the stove, she mysteriously whispered, 'I saw three elves snooping around the yard last night..."  And so on, and so forth.  The story will go in places you never imagined!
2.  Blast the radio. 
3.  Give her a book to read.
4.  Come prepared with snacks.  Lots of snacks.  Let your kids describe their ultimate dream snack while they munch (e.g. a large vanilla sundae topped with cheetos and smothered in barbecue sauce)
5.  Play "buzz".  This is a great game to help slightly older kids learn their multiples.  See our previous blog entry for details.
6.  Play the State capitals game.  This requires you to know your states (and their respective capital cities), or at least have a navigator with an atlas who can look this up.
7.  Go through each letter of the alphabet, describing one fruit/song/artist/actor whose name begins with that particular letter.
8.  Sing a song.  Can't carry a tune in a bucket? Simon Cowell, your child is not.  She doesn't care.  Just sing.  Get that imagination going by making up your own silly lyrics and tunes, or by trying to sing one song to another's tune.  Make it a contest to see who can hold out laughing the longest.
9.  If your child is old enough, bring along a children's dictionary.  Take turns picking random page numbers and places on the page to learn new words.  (For instance, "Mary, turn to page 138, and let's learn what the 7th word on the left side of the left column means).  Or, turn it into a game and have your child try to find words that will stump you.  1 point to you for each word you know, 1 point to him for each word she stumps you with.
10.  Keep that dictionary handy and play simple version of Balderdash.  Your child picks a word and then gives you 3-4 definition.  1 definition is the correct one, and 3 are definitions of other words.  You have to determine which definition truly matches the given word.

Got other suggestions for keeping your sanity in the car? Share them below!

Happy Travels!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Buzz about Buzz!

Don't worry about getting stung! This has nothing to do with those pesky pollinators in your garden.  Rather, this is a game that school-aged kids absolutely love (and there's even a bunch of math hidden in it).  The rules of the game are simple and flexible.  You (or your child[ren]) determine which number's multiples you want to focus on.  Let's say you pick the number 3.  Start counting and alternate between you and your child.  If there are more kids, even better.  Each person takes a turn.  You start by saying, "1".  Your child says "2".  Then, instead of you saying, "3", you say "BUZZ!"  This is because the object of the game is to say, "BUZZ" rather than the multiple of the chosen number and 3 x 1 = 3.  Now back to your kiddo who says, "4".  You say, "5".  Your child does not say "6", but rather "BUZZ" (because 3 x 2 = 6, meaning 6 is a multiple of 3).  Play continues.  You say, "7", your child says, "8", you say, "BUZZ" [not 9, since 3 x 3 = 9].  If someone misses their opportunity and says the multiple instead of BUZZ, they have lost.  You can play to a certain number, change the object number, count down instead of up, or even play in a different language.

Here's another sample round:
Parent: "Let's play Buzz!  The number is 5.  I'll start.  1."
Child 1: "2"
Child 2: "3"
Parent: "4"
Child 1: "BUZZ!"
Child 2: "6"
Parent: "7"
Child 1: "8"
Child 2: "9"
Parent: "BUZZ!"
Child 1: "11"
Child 2: "12"
Parent: "13"
Child 1: "14"
Child 2: "15" 
Parent: "Oh no! You should have said, BUZZ! because 5 x 3 = 15, so 15 is a multiple of 5.  Child 2, you are out this round, so now Child 1 and I will continue until one of us makes a mistake.  Keep listening to make sure you keep track of who says what!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring....It's Math Time

It's raining here with no signs of letting up -- what a perfect day to do some math! As a teacher, I absolutely love(d) the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) website called Illuminations.  This site is full (absolutely exploding) with math games, ideas, objectives, activities for all ages and all math strands.  If your child needs extra help in algebra, there's a game/activity.  If geometry stumps your child, no problem -- they've got you covered.  And, when I say all ages, I truly mean, all ages.  We tend to think of Pythagorean theorem when we hear geometry, but don't forget that even preschoolers are practicing their geometry skills when they sort shapes and put them into patterns.  I highly, highly recommend this site to fellow moms, dads, teachers, whomever.  It's safe, free and educational.

Here's a screen shot of just one of the many activities: "Pan Balance - Shapes" -- a wonderfully rich activity that introduces kids to algebraic thinking without them even knowing it!  You definitely want to read each activities rules and explanations before playing and as always, you want to make sure your child is properly supervised.  This game's gist is as follows:  I learn that 2 red squares are the same "weight" as 1 blue circle.  In the next round, I learn that 2 red squares and 1 purple triangle are equivalent to 1 blue circle and 3 yellow diamonds.  From there, I can continue to figure out the value of each shape. I get to pick which shapes I place on which of the two balances and deduce their values from the results.  Amazing, isn't it?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Have you heard about Alice?

Am I just super out of the loop or does no one else know about this super fab website called

I feel like such a loser for having not known about this earlier.  But, in the event that I'm not the only one living under a rock, I'll share the good news! I was looking for some Happy Tot fruit/veggie pouches for Katie and found them here for right around a buck a piece.  With free shipping, I went a little crazy, and we can now feed each child in the greater DC area Happy-Tot-centered meals for the next 20 years.  Anyway, I also threw in some toiletries, office supplies and loved seeing the $0.00 shipping costs! also remembers your orders and give you the option of doing repeat orders.  They also automatically find and use manufacturers' coupons to increase the savings.  Whatever makes life easier (and cheaper) is A-OK with me!
Just wanted to pass this great site along for you fellow bargain hunters!  What do you think?