Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Election Predictions (Count & Recount)


We’re getting hammered with phone calls playing automated messages, tired of door-knockin’ campaigners, and are DVRing our shows to fast forward through political commercials. Despite all this, I find the opportunity to vote to be absolutely exhilarating. My son has started to catch the fever too.

The first time he tagged along to a polling location, he told me that the barrier blocking fellow voters from seeing my ballot was "really there so people don’t cheat.” That still cracks me up.

I find my son’s love of our country’s presidential legacy endearing. So when he began asking questions about the voting process, I wanted to find a way for us to hold a mock election.

I made a political party die and explained to him that the donkey is a sign of the Democratic Party and the elephant is a symbol of the Republican Party.

Download this PDF here.

Then we read a great piece of children’s literature by Eileen Christelow. Vote! Is a wonderful account of two candidates running for mayor and the voting process. My son was surprised to read that not everyone was allowed to vote until the constitution was amended. (We especially loved the commentary by the book’s two dogs.)



When we were done with the book. I told my son to roll the die and fill in a box, representing one vote, for each roll. When one column was full, the polls closed.

My son loved this neck-and-neck political race. When done, he counted the votes for each party. I told him that the losing party questioned the accuracy of his math; a recount was in order!


It was one tight race and a seriously fun beginner’s lesson in the election process.

I am a deceptive mom and I approved this message. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Word Dominoes [Practicing Parts of Speech]


I love words. I love my son. So, of course, I love doing language arts games with him. He thinks we’re playing. I know he’s learning.

That totally fills my cup.

Last summer at summer camp, my son played a wonderful game with dominoes that were imprinted with subtraction problems and answers. I decided it could easily be replicated with parts of speech. I was right.

I made four pages of dominoes imprinted with the names of four types of speech: adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and verbs and those types of words.

Make the Dominoes
I printed them on heavyweight cardstock, cut them out, and glued half of them to two sheets of 6mm craft foam. Using a craft knife and a ruler as a straight edge, I cut them out when they were dry. Then I glued the rest of the cut-outs to the back.

Download a 4-page PDF of word dominoes here.

Now, it was time for the fun!

Time to Play
With the glue dried, I dumped the dominoes in a small plastic tub. When my son came home, we reviewed what makes a:
1. pronoun (e.g. he, her, us, we, they, etc. and replaces nouns)
2. noun (a person, place, animal, or thing)
3. verb (action word)
4. adjective (describing word).

Then, he took one domino out of the tub. I told him to look at the domino. On one end (in a colored box) was a type of word (e.g. noun, adjective, etc.). The other end was a word (e.g. school, jump, she, etc.). His job was to place another domino perpendicular to that one that matched with either end.

For example, if his domino said verb and dog, he needed to find a domino that either had a verb on it (like jump) or the word noun, since the word dog is a noun.


One by one, my son pulled the dominoes out of the tub and arranged them on the table adjacent to others.

He wanted to close up the shape that was evolving on the table, so he often moved and replaced dominoes. This was great practice and a lot of fun, too.

I can’t wait until we play this again!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Leaf Rubbing Book: Exploring Types of Trees


A few blocks from our house is an amazing nature trail. It’s lightly wooded and heavily trafficked by cyclists, families strolling, and running enthusiasts. It’s one of the many things I love about our neighborhood. We have made so many good memories there exploring.

Last weekend, we took a walk there as a family; before we did I prepared a little leaf hunt for my oldest son. Download the PDF I made here.

Print on standard paper, cut, staple, and attach to a small clipboard.
Peel the paper from a few crayons and you’re set.

My son was careful to only collect leaves that were on the ground.


We wandered quite a ways down the trail looking for the specific shapes shown in the homemade book.

Is this leaf a maple or an oak?

Could that be a hickory or an ash?

This truly exercised my son’s observation skills. When he noticed a leaf on the ground, he looked at the tree it fell from, and began to notice differences in the bark and branches too.


Once the leaf he’d found was matched to the leaf shapes in the book, we carefully placed the leaf behind its designated page, and rubbed the side of the crayon over the paper to create a rubbing. 


Now it was time to return the leaf to nature.

He put an X through the leaf shapes on the book's cover as he found them (note: some are featured twice).


That night when Grandma called, he asked her if she had a Tulip tree (one of the leaves we failed to identify on our walk). Clearly, this activity had made a lasting impression!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Talking Stick [Craft for an Overly Chatty Child]


Our oldest son talks ALL. THE. TIME. Even in his sleep. I kid you not.

So when our younger son wasn’t developing language skills and hitting all the “normal” milestones, I worried. His daycare teachers did too. They suggested some help from a free speech pathology service through our area education agency. I jumped at the opportunity.

What we found is not that my precious youngest son couldn’t talk, but rather that he needed to be encouraged to and we need to provide him the opportunity to. You see, he’d learned that older brother’s role was to be the talker, and his role … well … wasn’t. This exploration into bringing out the “chatty Kathy” in our little boy was thrilling.

What is a talking stick? How does it work?
During one of the visits with Miss Anne, she also suggested a way to help our oldest son learn balance in conversation, stop interrupting, and “share the floor” with other family members: a talking stick!

The basic principle is simple. Whoever has the stick talks. It’s his/her turn. Then, it’s passed to another person to share. Don’t have the stick? Bite your tongue.

The Perfect Book
Before my son and I made our talking stick, we read a wonderful book that must surely have been written by a mom with a child just like my oldest son.


My Mouth is a Volcano is an amazing piece of children’s fiction that tells the story of a boy who cannot stop the words from erupting right out of him. He doesn’t understand the impact his volcano mouth has on people until he’s the victim of others’ eruptions. It’s a great book to read to help kids understand why it’s important to have control over when you use your voice.

Once my son finished reading the book, I grabbed a wooden dowel rod my husband had purchased and cut down to a little more than 12 inches long. I explained what we were making and we raided the art supply cabinet and decorated our stick. There’s no rules. In fact, you probably don’t even NEED to decorate it. But I knew my son would like the chance to get crafty.

Making our Talking Stick
He painted. He glued on glittery foam strips. And then we stuck on star stickers and letters to identify what our stick was. To seal our stickers on, we coated the stick with a layer of Mod Podge.


When it was dry, it was ready to put into action.

Did it work? You betcha!
The next night at dinner, the stick found a place in front of each of our plates. (I love it when we share our favorite parts of the day!)  My oldest son interrupted my youngest twice but we were quick to point out who had the stick, and immediately his lips were zipped. Our little guy was chattier than usual that night.

Teaching our oldest son to respect others by not interrupting and giving our youngest boy the chance to share how fun playing at preschool is was a real win-win. The talking stick has been just as successful ever since.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Spelling with Mr. Potato Head


On the fourth day of second grade, my son toted home a list of 18 spelling words. Already?!?! Yikes.

While I knew they’d be coming, I wasn’t armed with any creative ideas to get my boy excited about practicing them. That first week, I resorted to the proverbial “I say it, you write it” method. How’d that go, you ask. Not well. [insert the sound of seven year old groaning]

I needed to step up my game. When sorting through all the toys we had stored during our basement remodel, I found an old friend: Mr. Potato Head.

Voila! An idea was born.

When my son came home with a new list of words, we (Mr. Potato Head and I) were ready. I told my son to put him together.


Then I gave him a pencil and paper. I had him write each word after I recited it. If there were errors, poor Mr. Potato Head would lose an accessory (hat, glasses, etc.). Keep making errors and more vital body parts (eyes, nose, etc.) would be removed.

The object was to keep our friend intact as much as possible by spelling correctly.


If only the word telephone wasn’t among this week’s challenge words; poor guy lost both arms over those spelling errors.

How do I know this was fun? My son was disappointed when he was out of spelling words to practice!
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