Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Frogs and Toads - A Lesson in Differences

“What’s the difference between a frog and a toad?” my son asked me one day. I had to admit, I didn’t know.

Thankfully, one very smart author does. Mary Firestone wrote a wonderful book that’s full of great facts about these amphibians and, not only was it instrumental in answering my son’s question, but its painted illustrations captivated us both.

Reading Firestone’s book taught us the following:

  • Frogs have a slimmer body than toads.
  • Their legs are longer too.
  • Toads have bumpy skin, whereas a frog’s skin is smooth.
  • Frogs can be found in water, trees, and on land. Toads stick to the ground.
  • Some frogs have webbed toes on their back feet; toads don't.

After I finished reading to him, I handed my son some cardstock cut-outs and asked him to compare. Which body was fatter? Was that the frog or the toad then? Which legs were longer? Are they the frog’s or toad’s legs? (Download my templates here.)

Once he got it all straightened out, he painted each. To make the frog’s body slick, we covered it in packaging tape. To make the toad’s body wart-like, he sprinkled lentils over white school glue. The legs were attached with brads.

Lastly, I gave him two pieces of cardstock that said “A frog lives ….” and “A toad lives …” and asked him to finished the sentences. Then, he painted their habitats.

My son refused to glue down his frog and toad because “then they won’t be able to jump, Mom!” A sticky dot of Velcro behind each was the perfect solution!

When Daddy got home from work that night, my son showed him the pictures and pointed out all the differences between his frog and toad. Now no one in our family is clueless about what sets these two amphibians apart!

Monday, August 29, 2011

It’s a Stick Up! (Counting Money Role Play)

Lately, my son is fascinated with money. I know, you think I mean spending it, right? Nope. He wants to know who’s on each bill and loves the ‘secret’ watermarks you see when you hold the newly designed bills up to the light.

To give him a little practice counting bills, though, I decided to make some funny money for him. (I wasn’t about to risk him losing all of our Monopoly money.) 

I printed several sheets of each denomination (1s, 5s, 10s, 20s, 50s, and 100s) on cardstock.

Once I cut the bills apart, it was time I put on my acting hat. I admit; I was pretty rusty (the last time I acted was in an 8th-grade school play). Thankfully, my son isn’t a tough critic.

Download the clown-faced funny money here.
If you’d rather add your child’s picture to the bills like I did,
e-mail me and I’ll send you the Microsoft Publisher files to adapt.

I told him to pretend he worked at a bank and gave him a (shuffled) random amount of money. He needed to sort the funny money into piles and put the piles in order from smallest to largest denomination. Next, he counted each pile.

I made three columns in his notebook. Down the first column, I wrote each denomination. Over the second column, I wrote “how many?” And under the third column I wrote “how much $?” His task was to write down the number of bills he had in each pile and figure out how much money that amounted to (essentially how much money was “in the bank”). I added all his subtotals up for him.

Then, I held a stick up with a small toy squirt gun (don’t worry, it wasn’t loaded). My son thought I was being funny until I took some bills from each of his piles; then, his jaw dropped.

Now it was time to count the money again, recording the values once more in his notebook. After counting each denomination, he’d look at the previous numbers and tell me things like, “You took three ten-dollar bills.”

After he’d recounted his money, I told him that the police had caught the crook and recovered the money; however, he needed to count it to make sure that they got all the money back.

This was SO much fun that my son never complained about all the counting and subtracting. It really put his skip-counting skills to the test, too. Success!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Nuts and Bolts Game

Can you imagine asking a 6-year-old to pick up Cheerios one at a time and place them in a bowl? Me neither. I can just hear the “bbbboooooorrrrrriiiinnnnggg” coming out of his mouth. When my son’s perfectly delightful reading summer camp teacher told me this would be a great way to increase his fine motor skills for writing, I simply nodded. Then I went home and brainstormed. There had to be a more fun way to give him some fine motor practice, right?

That’s when I came up with the nuts and bolts game and ushered my husband off to the hardware store to pick up the necessary supplies.

8 1/2-inch x 2 1/2-inch carriage bolts
8 (or 16) 1/2-inch hex nuts (8 nuts for quick play; 16 for longer play)
Labels (download a PDF from Google Docs here)
Cards (download the front and back printables from Google Docs)
Sticker paper to print the labels on
Cardstock to print the cards on

How to Play
  1. Each child selects one bolt and draws a card.
  2. Depending on what that card says (either ‘rhyme,’ ‘opposite,’ or ‘shape’), he/she must look at the word/shape on the bolt and find the nut with the appropriate word on it and then screw it on.  For example, if a child picks the bolt with the word “head” on it and draws the “opposite” card, they must find the nut with the word “feet” on it. (The cards are color-coded to make this easier.)
  3. If the nut a child needs has already been used, he/she returns the bolt to the pile and play continues with the opponent taking a turn.
  4. The game ends when either all the bolts have been matched with nuts or no more can be matched.
This game is great for practicing rhyming, shape names, and opposites! To make it challenging, I purposely picked rhyming words which had different spellings (e.g., sun and done instead of sun and fun) and a few shapes I was sure my son wasn't familiar with, such as parallelogram and pentagon.

Note: The first time we played this, I only labeled eight of the "prolonged play" nuts. It was pretty discouraging when my son couldn’t make the matches from the cards he drew, because the nuts he needed were already used. Adding a second set fixed that and prolonged the game.

While these nuts and bolts are probably too big to technically give my son the fine-motor experience he needs, they definitely provided a little afternoon fun!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spinning a Spider Web

It’s late summer and the spiders are out in full force. To learn a little about these amazing eight-legged creepy crawlies, I hit the library and checked out Dana Meachen Rau’s Spin, Spider, Spin. This simple non-fiction book was a breeze for my son to read and taught us some interesting facts about arachnids (did you know they have eight legs AND eight eyes?!? YIKES!). After my son finished the book, I told him that it was time to spin his web.

I gathered the following supplies:
Old bulletin board (a few plies of corrugated cardboard would suffice)
Push pins
White school glue
Waxed paper
Print-out of a spider web (I used this one.)
2 Pipecleaners

I put the spiderweb print-out underneath a sheet of waxed paper on top of the bulletin board and told my son to add push pins wherever the lines intersected, but not push them down all the way.

Then I watered down some white school glue and dipped the yarn in it. Then he wound the sticky yarn around the pins in spiral. Lastly, we added straight pieces of gluey yarn radiating out from the center. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

The next morning, I removed the pins and used an aluminum grill spatula to gently detach the (now stiff) yarn from the waxed paper. Our web was complete!

Later that day, my son made a spider to go with his web out of two pipecleaners (I helped a little). We followed this amazing YouTube tutorial.

Now I have spiders outside and (one) inside the house, too!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Complete-A-Clock Printable

My son can count by fives, so why is it such a struggle for him to figure out the minutes on an analog clock, I wondered. To help practice telling time and reinforce counting in increments of five around a clock, I created a printable inspired by a wall clock arrangement that Mrs. Lemons posted on her blog, Step Into Second Grade (Isn't that clever?!).
Download a PDF of the Complete-A-Clock template here.

I laminated the Complete-A-Clock printable so my son could write on it with dry-erase markers. (I have a feeling this will get some heavy use throughout the year.)

For our first exercise using the blank clocks, I had my son read Is It Time Yet? by Lesley Jane. (Any children’s book with clocks would work great, such as Jenne Abramowitz’s adaptation of Hickory Dickory Dock or The Clock Struck One by Trudy Harris.) Before I handed over Jane’s book, though, I used small post-it notes to cover the clocks on each of the pages.

As he read sentences like, “Kelly woke up at 8 o’clock …” I had him write the time in the blank digital clock and then draw in the hands on the analog clock above it. When he’d read the whole page and filled in both clocks, he could remove the sticky note in the book to see if he got the time right. He was so excited with every clock he drew right and only made one error doing the whole book (that’s progress, for sure!).

When he has advanced past telling time on the hour and minutes on the fives, I’ll add some marks between each of the numbers and start challenging him with times like 8:23 or 11:47. Hopefully with enough practice, he’ll be ready for this sooner, rather than later.

Only time will tell ...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tornado in a Bottle

So far the tornado sirens have only gone off twice this Spring/Summer season. This is a reality of living in the Midwest; tornadoes are the worst kind of severe weather we experience here (although one could argue that flooding and copious amounts of snowfall are no picnic either).

To give my son the closest glimpse of a twister that I hope he’ll ever get, we decided to make our own tornado in a bottle out of two, 2-liter plastic soda bottles. This is a pretty popular science project and after doing it, we know why: it’s SO cool!

Simply fill one of the bottles two-thirds full with water. Add food coloring if desired. Place the second, empty bottle upside down atop the first and apply duct tape liberally to the neck of the bottles. Expect the bottles to leak some.

Once taped, flip the bottles and swirl them in a circular motion. Watch the water spiral from the top bottle to the bottom bottle in a tornado shape. (Even little brother thought this was awesome!)

After we finished, we read Charles and Debra Ghigna’s Step-Into-Reading fiction book Barn Storm. In this book, a twister moves farm animals to unexpected new homes. The cows now sleep in the children’s bedroom at night. Super silly!

Finally, my son watched a short montage of video footage of tornados on, the site with the tornado-in-a-bottle instructions we used.

Our conclusion … tornadoes are cool to make and cool to watch on video – but NOT so cool to experience.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Let Me Introduce the Grassheads Family

They come from humble beginnings – just trash and dirt and some old pantyhose. Oh, and grass seed too. I’ve been dying to blog about this activity for two weeks, but growing grass takes patience and until our family had enough hair, you just wouldn’t have gotten the full effect.

When I stumbled on Ms. White’s First Grade classroom blog and saw her class’ adorable grass-headed fellas, I e-mailed her straight away to find out how she’d done it. I knew my son would think this was cool. (He'd be crazy not to, right?!?) She kindly pointed me to Disney’s Family Fun site for instructions.

To teach my son about growing plants from seed, we read Joanna Cole’s book, The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds: A Book About How Living Things Grow. Then we got our hands dirty.

What you need:
Pantyhose foot (ones without reinforced toe would look better)
Soil (1 c. per grasshead)
Grass seed (2 tbsp. per grasshead)
Googly eyes
Recycled yogurt cups
Scrapbooking papers, embellishments
Double-sided tape
Permanent marker to draw a smile
School glue and/or glue stick

What you do:
Use double-sided tape to add decorative papers to your yogurt cups for “shirts.” Glue on additional embellishments.

Then cut the foot off of your panty hose (I found this to be quite liberating!). Fill the toe with 2 Tbsp. of grass seed. Top with 1 cup of soil. Tie the excess pantyhose in a knot and leave a 1-inch tail. Add a smile and glue on googly eyes.

Fill each cup half full with water. Set your grassheads on top of the yogurt cup shirts, making sure the pantyhose tail is dipped in the water (it will act as a wick and soak up the water).

Monitor your grassheads daily, adding water up to the half-full mark when needed. In seven days, you should see some grass beginning to sprout. After about 2 weeks, your grassheads will have a full head of “hair!”

These were just as much fun to make as they were to watch grow! Not only did my son learn about growing plants from seed, but he was responsible for checking them each day to see if they needed to be "watered."

Fun. Educational. And, pretty darn cute too, I'd say.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Under Construction (a Greater-Than Less-Than Game)

Rather than just doing drills to practice greater than and less than with two numbers, I thought I’d make a little construction game for my son. I was pretty sure that using LEGOs would add just the fun my son would need to be enticed to play learn. I was right.

I made three cards: two of a front-end loader whose scoop formed the < and > signs, and a truck whose grill made the =. (Download the cards I made here.) Then I created a game mat with two piles of dirt and space in the middle where one of the cards would be placed.

 To download this game mat, click here.

All that was left to do was grab a small bowl of LEGOs. Before my son played, I explained that some workers needed help constructing a building. Building blocks were being delivered to the construction site.

It was up to him to determine which pile of LEGO blocks was bigger; place the greater-than, less-than, or equal card in the middle; and if he added the correct card to the game mat, he could use the biggest pile of blocks to build with. If the piles were equal and he added the pick-up truck card, he could use both.

I explained that the front-end loader only wanted to pick up the biggest pile, so its scoop should be facing towards the largest number of blocks.

He grabbed a small handful of LEGOs and placed them on each of the piles of dirt. 

After tallying each pile and placing a card, I had him write the equation in his notebook. Then he could get building. He completed about a dozen problems. The last round of play, there were three LEGOs on one pile and none on the other.

My son LOVED this. When it was done he said, “Finally, you made an activity with LEGOs!” If only I’d thought of this sooner …

Check out other great math ideas and activities at Love2Learn2Day's Math Monday Blog Hop!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Word-Family Trees

We’ve been having so much fun with math and science, that a reading-related activity was LONG overdue. Identifying word families is a great way to advance your child’s reading. To practice these, I drew up a bare tree and added some word endings to the three main branches.

Then I used a big leaf-shaped punch to make small maple leaves, on which I wrote the beginning sounds. All that was left to do was have my son match up the letter leaves to the right word family!

My son concentrated so hard on matching up the beginning and ending sounds and would exclaim with excitement each time he made a word! I simply spread some Elmer’s glue on each branch and let him add the leaves. If children work on one word family at a time, you might want to make some extra leaves so the final family is still a challenge. (I neglected to do this and when the first two families were done, it was no work at all for my son to place the remaining six leaves on the last branch. Oops!)

For a little writing practice, I had my son write each word in his journal as a list.

I made five Word-Family Tree worksheets; download the free PDF via Google Docs here. A list of the word families is also available here.

Wouldn’t this be awesome to do with leaves punched from papers in fall colors? Or to make flowers with beginning sounds written on the petals, circular tentacles on an octopus … ok, ok, ok, I’m getting a little carried away. But, seriously, this idea could be repeated with SO MANY variations and if you’re a teacher, wouldn’t a forest of these trees hanging around your room or on your bulletin board be super cute?!?!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bird Feeder and DIY Printable Field Guide

We’ve seen some amazing birds lately – goldfinches, orioles, and doves to name a few. Each time, my son (who is constantly in motion and lips are always moving) has frozen in awe. So I knew when I happened upon Frank Mazzola, Jr.’s wonderful book “Counting is for the Birds” at the library, it was a must read.

This book has everything I love about children’s books rolled into one: Educational? Check. Rhymes? Check. Beautiful illustrations? Check. Naturally I headed straight for the “check out” counter with this treasure in hand. When I read it to my son, he loved it just as much as I did. I know this because when we were finished, he asked if we could keep it.

Banking on Mazzola’s book sparking my son’s interest, I had made a printable field guide for my son to color. The pages contain generic looking birds that my son could color to mimic the foul we see in our area. I pulled out a bird guide book from the library and asked him to tell me about some of the birds he remembered. He rattled off descriptions of a robin, cardinal, blue jay, etc.

I found pages in the book with photographs of these birds and handed my son a bunch of colored pencils. He colored the birds to match the pictures and wrote the names at the bottom. I was amazed at how much care he took with his coloring and how many birds he wanted to add to his book. (Download your own bird book pages here. Simply cut in half and staple along the left side.)

Next we transformed an empty soda bottle into a backyard bird feeder with instructions from Visit their website for complete instructions. While I did the cutting on the bottle, my son screwed in the eye hook and added the wooden spoons (purchased at a dollar store) where the birds can perch. We filled it up and hung it under a tree in our backyard.

Now the only thing left to do is wait for the birds … oh, and add any new visitors to my son’s bird book of course!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fireflies in a Jar (Glow-in-the-Dark Addition)

With more than a dozen plaster beetle shapes left over from our Friend vs. Foe Beetle Tic-Tac-Toe activity, I was determined to put them to use. Having bought some glow-in-the-dark acrylic paint for another activity, I channelled my inner Picasso to make 13 fireflies. I had saved the excess plastic laminate cut from the Nature Scavenger Hunt cards; On it I drew wings with a fine-tip Sharpie, cut them out, and super-glued them to the back of each firefly.

On their glowing lanterns, I used a permanent black marker to write the following numbers:
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 8, 9, 9, 10, 11, and 12. My husband cut me two, 2-inch wood cubes to use as dice. I painted these with the same glow-in-the-dark paint. For the dots, I printed a large black rectangle on sticker paper and used a paper-punch to make tiny circular stickers which I stuck on each side.

Lastly, I printed a jar shape on sticker paper and cut out the center. I measured the outside dimensions of a quart-sized freezer sandwich bag and cut the sticker paper slightly smaller. I peeled the backing and stuck it to the bag. Of course, you could use a real Mason jar but since I didn’t have one, I improvised. To download the jar graphic, click here.

Now it was time to play. My son rotated the dice under a lamp to “charge up” the photoluminescent paint. We placed the fireflies on a paper plate under a lamp for the same reason. Now it was time to head into a window-less room.

How to Play
The game is simple. And so clever. And so not my idea. I have to give credit where credit is due. This activity was inspired by Little Miss Kindergarten’s “Roll the Dice” printables (download them here).

To play, I had my son roll the two dice, add the numbers together, “catch” the firefly wearing that number, and put it in the jar (um … I mean bag). The point was to see how many fireflies my son could catch before the light from the paint faded (and, truthfully, to test my son’s addition in the dark when he wouldn’t be able to count on his fingers).

As you can imagine, capturing pictures of the game in the dark was impossible. The one you see here is lit by a flash and doesn't do justice to how fun (or cute) this activity was. My son loved it and did so much better adding in the dark than I’d imagined (Woo Hoo!).

To learn about fireflies, my son read the following two books:
Flash, Firefly, Flash! by Dana Meachen Rau
Fireflies by Cheryl Coughlan

Did you know fireflies are beetles? We didn’t. But we do now!

Like the game, NOT the craft?
The glowing insects are not necessary and DIY insects aren’t either. To simplify this activity, just buy one of those tubes filled with plastic bugs, stick number stickers on their backs and give your child two dice and a jar. Voila! It’s time to catch some bugs!

Find other great math activities, book suggestions, and ideas at Love2Learn2Days' Math Monday Blog Hop!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Making an Undiscovered Planet

If the Milky Way Galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies in outer space, it stands to reason that there are probably other planets out there somewhere just waiting to be discovered. Based on that notion, and my chiropractor’s account of this amazing craft her daughter did at the library’s story time, my son made his own planet.

Styrofoam ball
Old CD
Glue (white school glue; hot glue is optional)
Paint, glitter, etc.

I cut the ball in half and gave my son some acrylic paints to decorate the two halves. Then I inserted a toothpick in the center of one ball and had my son thread the CD through. Next, I added some hot glue and then topped the toothpick with the second half of the ball. All that was left to do was hand over some white glue and glitter. Once we had glue and glitter everywhere, our ringed planet was complete.

Now it was time to write about our new “discovery.” I created a short book with fill-in-the-blank sentences so my son could describe his planet. Download the “If I discovered a new planet …” book I made for free here.

Once we’d finished writing about (and drawing) the very cold and sometimes invisible “Planet Laser Gun,” I read my son an amazing National Geographic Kids book. When I say amazing, I mean it. A lot of the books at our library were WAY too detailed and scientific for my son’s understanding.

Becky Baines’ Every Planet Has a Place: A Book about Our Solar System provides text that is basic, but informative. The combination of real pictures with doodle-like art keeps the heavy subject-matter playful, too. It is a wonderful introduction for kindergarteners and first graders; check it out!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If I Was A Constellation

There’s something fascinating about the night sky. To help my son see more than just a sky full of “twinkle, twinkle little stars,” I checked out some great books on stars from our local library. First, we read Star Climbing, a fiction book by Lou Fancher. This dreamy book talks about a child who falls asleep imagining what it’s like to play among some of the most popular constellations.

When done, I opened Jessica Dowling’s Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations book to the page showing late summer star formations like Hercules, the Little Dipper, and Cygnus the Swan. We headed into a window-less room to see just what exactly these stars would look like in our night sky.

Finally, I handed my son a full-page photo that I’d snapped of him sprawled out on the floor the day before. I gave him another piece of plain white paper and told him it was time to turn himself into a constellation; he was intrigued.

Because we don’t have a light table, he put the plain paper atop the photo, paper clipped the two, and taped them to a window. Since the photo was printed on regular (i.e. thin) office paper, the sunlight shone through enough for him to make out his picture through the white paper covering it.

Like the constellations in Dowling’s book, he added star stickers to the main points on his body. Then we removed the tape and he used a ruler to draw a straight edge connecting the stars. The final result was awesome!

To wrap up our night sky-inspired activity, I gave my son a 100+ piece puzzle picturing constellations that glowed-in-the-dark. (I snagged this at Tuesday Morning for just $1.99!!) We love doing puzzles together!

Monday, August 1, 2011

10-Pin Addition (Math Bowling)

My mother-in-law served up Danimals Smoothies during a recent visit and my sons instantly fell in love with the little yogurty drinks. The next week when I hit the grocery store, I couldn’t resist buying a pack. 

It didn’t take very long before I came to admire the cute shape of the bottles and went to the recycling bin to rescue them. With a little red ribbon, a paper-maché Christmas ball, and a cardboard box, I was ready to make a math activity sure to bowl my son over. (ha ha)

I painted the Christmas ball with acrylic paint, clipped the hanging string off, and added three black dots to simulate the finger-holes in a bowling ball. This ball worked perfectly because, like a real bowling ball, it didn’t have much bounce.

Then I handed my son the 10 empty Danimals bottles and had him peel off the labels. I added a ring of ribbon with hot glue. Next, we placed some star stickers on the bottom of the shallow cardboard box where the pins should sit and cut one short side of the rectangular box off.

I gave my son a worksheet I’d made and let him bowl away. He rolled twice, recording the number of pins he knocked down each time. Then he added the numbers together to total the pins that he knocked down in the frame. Note: Someone will need to remove the knocked-over pins after each roll and reset them at the end of the frame. After six frames, he added the numbers together. (I gave him a 1-100 numbers grid for help.)
He played four games (whoa!) and asked to forego a new activity the following day to bowl some more. Thanks to this game, he’s getting better at bowling AND addition!

Download a blank score sheet here.

Find other great math ideas and activities at Love2Learn2Day's Math Monday Blog Hop!