Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Silly Putty Turned Serious Learning!

It's raining here and we're stuck inside.  No problem -- time for some indoor fun (and learning).

Today, my 2 year old and I were exploring the magic of Silly Putty, and I saw a perfect opportunity to practice our shapes, numbers and letters, while (you guessed it) having fun!   We took turns the rolling the Silly Putty into "sticks", that we then shaped into different letters, numbers and geometric shapes.  The best part was "sticking" them to the front of our cabinet doors in the kitchen.  I have to admit that it wasn't just my 2 year old who was loving this.

We even got the 6 month old involved when we made a Silly Putty "stick figure" and started introducing Stickman's ears, nose, mouth, etc to her.

If you don't have Silly Putty, any sort of play dough (homemade or store bought) or clay should produce the same effect!

If you have older kids, have them sound out new words that you make out of the Silly Putty, or have them practice their latest math concepts.  This tactile form of learning is a great way to make old (dare I say "boring") concepts seem fun and exciting!

Going on a road trip? Let them bring a hardback book as their "desk" and roll out the Silly Putty right in their laps!

Silly Putty turned serious learning!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When it Comes to Questions for Kids, Open Up!

The more we get kids to talk about the things that are important to them, the more we are helping the - intellectually and in self-confidence.   One way to get kids talking is to simply rephrase your question from "closed" to "open".  It's simple, and takes no time at all.  With just a quick change to the type of question we pose, we're telling our kids that we are really interested in what they have to say.

For instance, if you want your child to tell you about his day at school, a closed question would be something like, "Did you have a good day at school?"  or "It looks like you had a great day, right?" Those are "closed" because the child can answer the question with a simple, "Yes" or "No", and go right back to watching TV.  "Do you feel like this book is hard or easy?" is another closed question because the child can answer the question with one word -- "hard", or "easy".

"Open" versions of the first questions are, "Tell me about your day today in school?" or "What are 3 things that happened today that were good or bad."  The "open" questions are going to elicit much more detail, time and thought from your child.
An "open" version of the second question might be, "What is this book about?" or "What is your (least) favorite part of this book?"

Get kids talking to get kids thinking!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beneficial Buddy Reading

When I taught 5th grade, one of the activities that we used to do quite a bit was "Buddy Reading" to the kindergarten kids.  It truly was a mutually beneficial (symbiotic, anyone?) relationship between the two vastly differently-aged kids...and something I highly recommend for parents with kids of multiple ages.  It's as easy as asking the older child to "be the teacher" to the younger child.  The older child (OC) will most likely love having the responsibility of being "in charge" of the younger child(ren) (YC), and will take his role very seriously.  The YC will love this because chances are good she looks up to her big brother and wants to be just like him.  (Added bonus is that it buys you 5 minutes to load the dishwasher!)

If your older child is not quite old enough to read the story, he can still teach the younger child by pointing out colors and identifying animals, cars, trucks, trees in the book.  If you only have one child, let her be the teacher to your pet dog or cat, or even a stuffed animal.

Changing up normal reading time makes it that much more exciting, and letting your child be the teacher will add even more fun to reading.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bringing Math into March Madness

Never mind the complicated algorithms needed to get team seeds and brackets, here's a great way to sneak in a little math with your kids while rooting for your favorite teams.  Give your kids a possible score (let's say 14) and ask them to figure out different ways the team could have reached a total of 14 points (i.e. 2 points + 2 points + 2 points + 2 points + 2 points + 2 points + 2 points). Then follow up with, "Hey, that's 7 groups of 2 point shots, [7 x 2]..."  What a beautiful way to bring multiplication in!  Next, ask if there is another way the team could have gotten to 14?" (i.e. 3 points + 3 points + 3 points + 3 points + 2 points)

Simplify it a bit by saying that your team has, say, 6 points.  Then ask how many more points the team needs to get to reach 10 points.  Or, compare your teams score (let's say 10) with the opponent's score (let's say 15).  How many MORE points does your team need to score to beat the opponent?

Complicate it a bit by asking questions like, how many groups of 2 point shots did our team get if it has a score of 42?  How many 3 point shots did we get if the team has a score of 42?

Let the Madness be an inspiration for more Math!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two Gorillas: One Gigantic and the Other "Teensy Tiny"

We went to the zoo this morning.  It was a blast.  My 2 year old can't get enough of the gorillas, snakes and turtles...but really, we find ourselves back to the gorillas multiple times per visit.  There's more to learn at the zoo than I could possibly begin to share, but I distinctly heard my 2 year old use the word "gigantic" to describe one of the gorillas (the "Grandpa").  She then told me that the baby gorilla is "teensy tiny".

While I'm not sure you'll find teensy tiny in the dictionary, per se, I am sure that my daughter is ready for words other than big and little, and chances are, so is yours!  Instead of using the same words over and over again to describe the size of things, try expanding your child's vocabulary with synonyms.  For instance, you could say, "Wow, Katie! That Grandpa gorilla is so big.  He is gigantic." I know Katie already knows that "big" means, so using it in context, along with having the giant gorilla right there helps her figure out that "gigantic" means "extremely big".  Contrast it with, "Look, Katie, that baby gorilla is so little next to his Grandpa.  He is tiny/small/teeny/miniature."  Kids will have a blast using the new words, and because it is such a natural integration into their vocabulary, it doesn't feel forced or stressful.

Now, of course, you don't have to be at the zoo to introduce new words to your kids.  You could just as easily use a "gigantic bus" and a "tiny ant".  Try using words like "gorgeous" instead of "pretty", and "delicious" instead of "good" (when describing food).  For older kids, see if they can come up with their own synonyms for familiar and overused words.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring has Sprung -- Make it Meaningful and Measureful

If Spring has sprung in your neck of the woods, turn the glorious outside weather into an authentic learning universe! One ever-so-helpful activity that you can encourage your kids to do is measuring different plants and flower growth.  Measurement is notoriously tough for kids of all ages, so the more practice they can get, the better off they'll be.
It's sometimes tough to measure flora with a regular ruler, so let your kids pick a favorite ribbon or piece of string as their nonstandard measuring tool.  [This is also handy because they can measure the circumference of trees (the length around the tree) using the ribbon or string.]

Let your child pick what he wants to measure.  Is it the new dandelion emerging from the ground or a blade of grassing poking up through the crack in the sidewalk, or is it a bunch of different plants around the yard? Again, let your child choose!  Once your kiddo has picked what he wants to measure help him hold the string along the plant (or around the plant) and keep fingers on the two ends.  Lay the string or ribbon down next to a standard ruler, again keeping tabs on the two endpoints and help your child read the length of your specimen.  Depending on the age of your child, you may need to round to the nearest inch, 1/2 inch, 1/4 inch, etc.  This is also a great time to talk about the metric side of the ruler and how the lengths are the same, but the systems are just different.
Don't forget to record your child's findings (or let him do it!) and revisit the plant once a week/month to chart its growth!
Happy Measuring!! ;)

Mini Card and Note Cards are Here!

You asked for it, and we delivered.  We now offer note cards (traceable message on front and blank on the back for drawings and additional messages) and mini cards (a 5.5" x 4.25" version of our greeting cards).   Take a look for yourself!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rainy Day Means Inside Play!

More rain today, which means more crazy kids today.  One way to keep kids engaged indoors is to challenge them to build a marshmallow tower.  Give you kids a stack of toothpicks (don't forget to have a quick safety chat with them about not poking their sister in the arm, ear, eye, etc) and a handful of marshmallows (minis or regular sized) and let them build away.  Tell them you want the highest tower they can build, or the longest bridge, or the  strongest structure. Challenge them to get build a tower that can hold a stuffed animal or that can withstand an "earthquake" (them stomping on the floor beside the tower).  Be creative with what you ask your kids to be creative with!
If you have a couple kids, have them work on team building by collaborating on the challenge.  They're having fun while building spatial ability and teamwork.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The ABCs of Making Alphabetizing Fun!

Want to get your kids excited about alphabetizing? I know, I know...excited about alphabetizing? There's nothing exciting about it, right? WRONG!! When you're a kid, anything can be exciting (yes, even alphabetizing) if the subject matter is of interest to you!

Here's the trick to make something so, so very boring (like alphabetizing) fun for your kids.  Ask your child to list his 3 favorite TV shows (or PlayStation games or sports or Dora the Explorer characters or books or whatever he's interested in), and then alphabetize those!  You'll be amazed how much more "fun" this is, when 1. he gets to pick what's being alphabetized, and 2. it's a subject that he's really into.

Make it harder or more older-kid-appropriate by having your kiddo list 5 or 7 or 10 items, or make it more interactive by having him list 3 and you list 2.

Every child is interested in something - figure out what it is and use that to your (and your child's educational) benefit!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pucker Up, We're Counting Kisses

Pucker up, Buttercup!  Valentine's Day may have come and gone (I think many of us may be a little thrilled by that), but 'tis always the season for kisses! A simple, fun and loving way to practice counting with your little ones is with kisses.  I tell Katie that she is going to 5 kisses and then we count each one as I give them to her.  Other times, she gets 10 kisses.  She loves getting the kisses and tries to "top" the number that I gave her by giving me one ore kiss.  So simple, and yet so effective!
For older kids, try counting your kisses by 2s, 3s, 5s, or ask your child to figure out how many kisses he will get by solving the expression you give him (I'm going to give you 4 kisses plus 2 kisses...how many kisses is that?)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Offering Choices to Kiddos...Is it Smart, or is it Not Unwise?

Funny mom, Sarah Maizes, just posted a blog pondering, "Is Yelling the New Spanking?"  http://www.mommyliteonline.com/2012/02/is-yelling-new-spanking.html I think most moms (and dads) can relate to her frustrations related to getting kids out the door on time, with homework and lunches complete.  I've copied my response to her below because I think it's applicable to all parents out there! What do you think?

Great post because every parent struggles with this -- getting kids to do exactly what we want when we want them to and not freaking out when they don't, that is. I learned very quickly that so much of what worked when I was teaching kids works on my own kids, which is so weird because I thought my students were such little aliens. Anyway, one key takeaway was offering choices, one of which is a miserable choice and the other of which is the one you want the kid to choose. (i.e. do you want this peanut butter sandwich that I just made or do you want to make your own lunch with the leftover Brussels sprouts?) Kids like to feel empowered no matter what age so giving them the choice is a true win-win! Hope this helps! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sing (and Type) the ABCs

If you're reading this blog, chances are you've got a computer.  Great!  Have you thought about using it to help your child learn her ABCs?  I'm not talking about video games or YouTube videos (though there are some really great, albeit additive, ones out there), I'm suggesting a more interactive "game" between you and your child (and your keyboard.
Simply open up a blank Word doc, enlarge the font and start asking your child to type the different letters.  Katie, my 2-year-old, absolutely LOVES this "game".  She sees me typing away and this gives her the feeling that she's doing the same thing.  I have her sit on my lap with my laptop on a lap board on top and ask her to type "B, for baby" or "C, for Charlie".  She really gets a kick out of seeing the letters she's typed appear on the screen and again, she's having so much fun that she has no idea that she's learning.  We stick with "caps lock" on as she's just beginning to identify letters, but soon enough I'll have her type in lowercase letters as well.

We play this splendid game with numbers, too.  Again, there's no reason you couldn't extend this activity to include spelling practice (type in the word, "bat") rhyming words (type in a word that rhymes with "bat", sums (type in the sum of 3 and 9) and differences (type in the answer to 10 minus 8), and so on.

Keep kids laughing and enjoying themselves, and you'll keep them open to learning endless amounts of things!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Math? Hop to It!

This "winter" has been incredibly warm of late so my 2-year-old and I were outside yesterday playing with sidewalk chalk.  After we had drawn our umpteenth star, flower and family portrait, I decided to make things a little more educational.  So, I took a second to write various letters and numbers all over the sidewalk in no particular order or spacing.  Then, her job was to run and jump on whatever letter or number I called out.  Simple as it may sound, she absolutely loved this "game".  She couldn't get enough of scouting out the 3 or the K or the M.  I made sure to only write the letters and numbers that she is familiar with, so it wasn't overwhelming, but rather good practice.
I got to thinking that this could easily be extended to kids of all ages.  The youngest kiddos, like mine, should just stick to basic identification.  Kids who need a bit more of a challenge, though, could be asked to find sums or differences, or products and quotients.  For instance, if you wrote a 6, 10, 12, 16, 18, and 20, you could ask your child to find and jump on:
- the sum of 4 and 2
- the difference between 12 and 2
- the product of 3 times 4
- the quotient of 40 divided by 2, and so on.

You can cater this to kids of all ages and abilities.  Again, the possibilities are endless, and kids have a blast because they think it's a game more than anything else.  The physical part of running and jumping on the letters and numbers make it more fun than seeing the numbers written on paper and chalkboards.  What do you think?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Homemade Number Cards

I was at Target earlier this morning and was so close to buying a pack of "Number Cards" for my 2 year old, since she is really getting into number identification and counting.  Luckily, before I checked out, I realized that I could save myself a few bucks and make math so much more meaningful just by making my own.  Do I really think she is going to know/care about the difference between factory-made and mom-made? I think not.  Rather than spend the $4.99 on the pre-made cards, I got a pack of blank 3 x 5" index cards.  All I need now is a Sharpie.  The nice thing about making these homemade cards is that I can:

1. go up to whatever value I want (we're at 30 right now),
2. decide if I want to write only numerals, or words and numerals, or even add pictures (see #3)
3. draw pictures of things that I know she will love! (right now she's in love with Max and Ruby, so I can draw 10 bunnies or 15 carrots or whatever)  The fact that the pictures will relate to something she loves will make the cards a positive thing that she really enjoys, as opposed to an isolated math threat.

The possibilities of these cards are truly endless.  We'll start with identifying and ordering from least to greatest, but from there, we could do so many different FUN (and educational) things with these cards -- all for the cost of a pack of index cards!

Remember, kids need to make connections to really make learning meaningful.  What does your child love? Find out and use that as the base for any learning opportunity!

Happy Educating!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is Finger-Counting OK?

The question, "Is it OK for a child to count on his fingers?" came up recently.
My thoughts below...
In a word, YES!  When a child is just learning about the concept of numbers, it is fine for her to use her fingers. The keywords here, though, are " just learning".  

Young children do not have a grasp of the abstract value of numbers and their representation in symbols.  It is a very tough concept when you stop to think about it.  When kids are just learning, we try to encourage them to relate physical objects to the symbolic numbers.  As they mature, kids' minds can comprehend that the symbol for 2 (what we think of as the number 2) is really representing 2 objects (whatever they may be).  

-Why do some kids use their fingers when learning how to count while others don't?

Some kids use their fingers while others don't for a variety of reasons.  If the child was taught to count by only seeing her parents use their fingers, that child probably doesn't have many other frames of reference for what numbers can symbolize.  As a parent, we can certainly use fingers to count with our children, but we also need to make sure we count using books, toys, crackers, blocks, etc. so children see that numbers represent many different types of objects, not just fingers.

- Is a child who depends on finger counting at a disadvantage when it comes to mastering mathematical concepts? Why or why not? 

A young child who relies on finger counting is only at a disadvantage if he doesn't make the leap to the abstract.  If he cannot comprehend that numbers are used to count multiple items, he may struggle with higher level math skills.  We should strive to use finger counting in the most basic of math foundation building and then stretch our kids in other ways.  We certainly don't want children to think numbers "stop" at 10, (or 20 if they count their toes).  

- What suggestions can you give a parent who wants to help their child improve their math skills and lessen their dependence on finger counting? 

Try having kids count a variety of objects.  Start by counting fingers 1-10, and then repeat the process with blocks, books, toys, etc.  With the new objects (not fingers), introduce numbers 11-20).  Move slowly from 3D objects to 2D objects to see if your child can still count things that he cannot hold in his hand (but can still point to).  After that, have kids try to simply look at small numbers of things and "know" that there are 2 balls (instead of having to touch and count each one individually).  

Most importantly, exude the idea to your child that math is fun! A positive attitude about math, whether real or feigned, from a parent goes a long way in the long run.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sharing Isn't as Simple as it Used to Be....What do you do?

This is more about parenting and less about teaching and education, and I want to hear your thoughts. 

When did sharing and playdates get so complicated?
I've recently found myself in situations where my 2 year old is playing with friends' children, and I disagree with how the other childrens' parents discipline (or don't discipline).  For example, Katie (she's mine) was playing with a puzzle and her friend just up and took the puzzle from her.  Katie, nonagressive as she is, just looked baffled and shocked.  The friend's mom looked at me and said, "X is the 3rd child; she has learned how to fend for herself and get what she wants."  I'm sorry, what?  If the shoe had been on the other foot, I would have insisted Katie return the puzzle to X, along with an apology.  So, what do you do in a situation like that?

What's worse, what if your own child starts acting noticeably different after a playdate with such a friend?  Katie is really good about saying please, thank you, waiting her turn, etc., but after playing with some of my friends' kids, she seems to "forget" how to do these things.  Granted, it is a temporary amnesia, but I don't like it (enough so that I have considered not allowing Katie to play with these kids on a regular basis).  [Yes, I know this sounds really over-the-top, so keep me in check here].

I guess the bottom line question is...is it OK to discipline someone else's kids?  I feel like it's not really my place to talk to other parents' kids about sharing, but I don't want to give my own daughter the impression that it's OK, either.  I think I can honestly say that I'd want the other parent to warmly, but sternly correct my child if she were the one who was not sharing/hitting, etc.  I'm not fooling myself into thinking Katie hasn't done some of these things on occasion; I just think I'm usually there to correct her on the spot.

As a teacher, I was able to be unbiased, so I could correct kids without thinking twice about it.  But now that it's my own child and someone else's, I'm stuck. 

Thanks for sharing! I'm dying to hear how you handle these situations!