Friday, September 30, 2011

Roll & Write (with a DIY Dry-Erase Die)

It’s happening – homework! Soon after my son began first grade, he started toting home a list of five words each week. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. After all, my son could read them without any difficulty and so I just tossed the lists in our mail/bills/household paperwork pile (please tell me we’re not the only family with one of those).

Then a friend whose boy is my son’s best friend enlightened me. Just because my son could read those word-wall words, doesn’t mean he could spell them. Yikes! After mentally beating myself up for a few days, I came up with this little “reusable” activity so those weekly words could get practiced.

First, I made a dry-erase die. To do this, I created a template with squares the same width (2 inches) as Scotch brand packaging tape. I printed it on sticker paper. Then I used post-it notes to mask off the flaps where I’d be gluing the little box together (I didn't think the glue would stay adhered to the slick tape). I added the packaging tape and anywhere that the tape overlapped a sticky note, I carefully lifted the edge of the note and cut along the edge with an Exacto knife.

Afterwards, I peeled the sticker paper's backing off, and stuck the template to the brown side of an empty cereal box I used for sturdiness. Then I cut the whole template out with that same Exacto knife, using a ruler as a straight edge and a cutting board underneath to protect my work surface. 

Once it was cut out, I turned it over and used a ruler and the backside of a butter knife to score the cardboard wherever folding was necessary. Lastly I used my hot glue gun to glue the flaps one or two at a time and folded the box together until the template became a cube. Voila! The tape makes a perfect dry-erase surface!

Next, I used Microsoft Publisher to create a worksheet that has a grid where my son would record the words he rolled.

When my son got home from school, I wrote the words from the list plus one more (die have six sides and I only had 5 words) with a fine-tip dry-erase marker on the die. I also added the words across the top of the worksheet. 

Now all that was left to do was hand it over to my son.

Every time he rolled a word, he wrote it in the appropriate column. When any one column was completely full, he was done. Surprisingly the dry-erase words held up well, without much smearing.  

Download the die template and Roll & Write worksheet here.

My son had loads of fun with this and enjoyed predicting which word he would roll the most times. Whew! Now I can look his teacher in the eye!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pretzel Rod "Log" Cabin

Have you ever noticed that those long pretzel rods kind of look like logs? I did and I couldn't let that little discovery be wasted. Knowing how my son loves building stuff out of LEGOs, Fisher-Price TRIO blocks, etc., I knew that this little construction project would be a big hit.

While he was at school I rescued a cardboard box from the recycling bin and cut it into a base, onto which we'd be gluing our logs (aka pretzel rods) to build a "log" cabin. Here are the dimensions I used (click on the picture to enlarge):
The only dimension that's truly important is the length of your log cabin's long sides. To save yourself the trouble of splitting your logs, it's easier to make this the same length of the pretzel rods.

You'll also want to cut another piece of cardboard the same length as your long walls (7 3/4 inches if you're using my measurements) or slightly longer by 4 or 5 inches wide for the roof. (You can cut this in two and tape back together or crease it heavily in half to make the roof.)

After school, I handed my son a book by Dana Meachen Rau about log cabins to read. Not only did he discover that log logs go on each side of the cabin with shorter logs used on the ends, but he also expanded his vocabulary learning words like "notches" and "shingles."

When we finished the book, I gave my son the cardboard and a small low-temp glue gun. After lecturing him that he needed to be careful, my son glued the small 2-inch flap to enclose the house. Then he peeled the backing off a green piece of felt and stuck it to a flat rectangle of cardboard I had leftover from the box I used. He glued around the bottom of the cardboard cabin and placed it on top of our "grass." Now it was time to get building.

While the traditional approach to log-cabin building requires that the logs be notched, we skipped that step and just got busy gluing the long pretzel rods up the side of our log cabin. When we did the short sides, he just broke the pieces to the approximate length. Be warned, there'll be LOADS of sawdust (aka crumbs) on the construction site.

If you like pretzels like we do, plan ahead and buy two bags of pretzel rods (we ate too many and ran out!). Get creative with what you shingle your roof with. I had plans to use Wheat Thins, but when I went to get them from the pantry, there were only five or six left in the box (apparently they make an even better snack than a roof). Instead we used rectangles cut from brown craft foam that we overlapped.

Since I knew the log cabin would get played with a lot, we didn't glue the roof down. Sure enough, as soon as we were done, my son was off to get some of his Imaginext figures and dinosaurs (which perplexed me) to play in and around the cabin.

As I tidied up, my son asked for some paper. Of course, I obliged. I nearly fell over when I saw what he did next: he wrote a story about the dinosaurs wanting to go in the cabin and the Imaginext dude hiding there!

That story made cleaning up all those crumbs and gluey strings worth it for sure!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Milk Chocolate Multiplication

Can a first-grader really do multiplication? I thought I’d find out. My son loves math, candy, and books so this activity was right up his alley.

If you recreate this activity with your child, you need three things:

#1 The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Multiplication Book by Jerry Pallotta.

#2 A Hershey’s bar or two.

#3 The “Draw it, Count it, Multiply it” worksheet I made (download it here).

Pallotta’s book served as a great way to expose my son to an entirely new kind of math sentence, using rows of the candy bar’s sections to illustrate multiplication. After we’d finished the book, I opened our candy bar and asked my son what the multiplication problem would be: 3 (rows) x 4 (columns). Then he counted the sections for the answer: 12. I broke off some rows and we continued to identify the multiplication problem our now smaller candy bar provided us.

I’m not going to lie, we both ate a fair amount of chocolate doing this activity (MMMMmmmm).

After doing this for awhile, we flipped over the laminated worksheet I’d made. I used a fine-tip dry-erase marker to fill in the boxes at the top and asked him to make that number of squares across and down and complete all the boxes in between. When he’d done this I asked him to complete the multiplication sentence at the bottom of the page and reminded him about what he’d drawn (e.g. 3 rows of 5 squares equals how many squares altogether?). We did about 5 problems before quitting for the day.

TIP:  Avoid using a black dry-erase marker. Ours made it difficult to distinguish where the dots were and make the squares. After discovering this, we switched to a lighter color marker.

Even if it was a little advanced for a six-year-old, my son loved this introduction to multiplication (it wasn’t just the chocolate he enjoyed, I swear!). This is a skill we can easily build on and, by laminating the worksheet, we can just wipe it clean to practice over and over!

In the future, I think I'll use a die to help us decide which numbers to multiply. Since this is new to my son, keeping both numbers below six will work great.

Friday, September 23, 2011

United States BINGO Game

Just last week my son said to me, “Mom, I know all the news.” Before I could ask him what he was talking about, he rattled off, “New Hamster, New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico.” These kind of unsolicited comments make me smile. Why? 1) Because of his mispronunciation of New Hampshire. 2) Because he’s obviously interested in (and learning about) the states of our great country.

It’s been awhile since we pulled out our Scrambled States Memory Game and although I love it, I wanted to do something new with the states shapes I’d made. Since my son loves playing any BINGO game that I throw at him, I thought it was time to make a version with the states.

Before we got to playing, though, we read Loreen Leedy’s book, Celebrate the 50 States! I was lucky to snag this book at a yard sale and consider it one of the gems of our home library.

I let my son pick his BINGO card and cover the FREE space in the center. Then, one by one I selected a state from a pile of cut-up call cards. I called out the states, he searched his card, and, if he found it, covered it with a coin. Like typical BINGO games, when he had five in a row (across, down, or diagonal), he called out "BINGO!" rather excitedly. FUN! 

Until my son learns the states better, I’ll show him the call cards so he can see the color and shape of the state. Using coins as BINGO markers worked perfectly. Download a set of six game cards here and a PDF of all 50 states to cut up as call cards here. Enjoy!

Update: Want more than six game cards? Click here for my teacher's edition!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Making Bird & Butterfly Masks

Lately my 6-year-old son can’t get enough of the Kratt brothers’ animal adventures on the PBS show Wild Kratts. This animated show has taught my son a bounty of facts about animals such as the Draco Lizard, Kangaroo, and Large-Mouth Bass. His favorite episodes, though, have got to be the two that focused on the Monarch Butterfly and Peregrine Falcon.

To capitalize on my son’s interest in these two amazing creatures, I created some eye-mask templates for him to decorate. I printed these on white cardstock. To create holes for the eyes, I used my Martha Stewart Punch All Over the Page™ 1 ½-inch circle punch. If you don’t have a punch, the circles can simply be cut with scissors.

Download the following eye-mask templates here:

I bought an assortment of feathers at our local craft store (I couldn’t resist buying some bright ones as well as the more typical brown/grey/white packages). My son applied white school glue all over the mask and placed feathers atop the glue, being careful not to cover the eye holes. Then we glued a 1 ¼-inch strip of cardstock to the middle of the back of the mask above the eye holes; about a two-inch long line of glue will do.

Once the glue was dry, I trimmed excess feathers around the eye holes and nose area (my son said it kept tickling him) and stapled another 1 ¼-inch strip of cardstock to the other strip, measuring the distance around my son’s forehead to make the headband fit properly.

Little brother was dying to get in on the action when he saw his brother’s falcon mask. I folded the printed butterfly template in half and taped it down. I gave my 2-year-old some fingerpaints and encouraged him to unleash his inner artist. 

When he was done, I removed the tape, and folded the paper back in on itself so the mirror image of his painting would appear on the other wing of the butterfly. Then we let it dry.

Both boys then used watered-down craft acrylics to paint the monarch butterfly templates I printed. 

When the paint was dry, I used the generic butterfly template to draw circles on the back so I knew where to punch the eye holes out at. Then we attached the butterfly bodies, which were either painted in alternate colors or cut from construction paper. The googly eyes, pipecleaner antennae, and smile are optional. Let your child decide!

Simply glue on a 1 ¼-inch cardstock strip, stapling another strip to it once dried for added length and fit to your child’s head.

And then let your bird and butterfly girls and boys fly free!

Monday, September 19, 2011

GO NUTS! (Mixed Nuts Sort, Tally, & Taste)

This activity is near and dear to my heart. My grandfather was a nut grower. I remember playing in the basement of his home with a variety of small metal nut-cracking devices of various sizes; I was in awe of their mechanical inner-workings.

There were always nuts at my grandma and grandpa’s house. Now that I’m grown up, nuts are a pantry staple at my house too. Both my sons (and husband) love them. To make snack time into math time, I created an activity with a can of Planter’s mixed nuts.

1. Alphabetize names of nuts.
First, I gave my son six identification cards with photos and pictures of each variety of nut from the mix. I asked him to put the cards in order, alphabetizing them by the names of the nuts. (Download the nut ID cards I made here.)

2. Sort nuts.
Then I put a ½ cup of mixed nuts on a plate and told my son to sort the nuts, putting each nut in the little bowls I’d placed on top of the ID cards.

3. Tally each kind of nut. Skip count the tally marks.
Next, I poured each type of nut out and then dropped it back into its bowl, while my son made tally marks on his worksheet. To help him I counted, “I, 2, 3, 4, cross through on 5.” When done making tally marks, he skip counted by 5s to determine how many nuts of that kind there were and recorded the number on his worksheet, answering “how many?” for each type of nut.

4. Write the names of nuts in order from greatest to least number of nuts.

5. Taste each. Write the names of nuts in order from yummiest to yuckiest.
My son took his time tasting each and judged their flavor critically; I was shocked at how insistent he was in getting the order right (NOTE: at this point I was thinking, "oh goody, all the brazil nuts are mine, mine, mine!").

When he had completed the activity, he looked at me matter-of-factly and told me that when his little brother got old enough, I should do this activity with him; it was THAT cool!

Download the answer sheet I made here and watch your kid(s) GO NUTS!

WARNING: Obviously, if you child has a nut allergy, this activity should be avoided.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Learning About Nouns with Noun Clown

My son brought home worksheets from his reading/writing summer camp on the parts of speech. I must admit, his grasp of nouns, verbs, and adjectives made this Mama-With-An-English-Degree cringe a bit. I quickly reminded myself that he’s only six and until someone TEACHES him the differences, he’s not libel to just figure it out. This activity is my attempt at making learning about nouns fun.

To start, we read Brian P. Cleary’s hilarious book, A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What is a Noun? If you’re exploring parts of speech with your child, I highly recommend putting his "Words are CATegorical" series in your library cue.

This book had me after its first three sentences: “Hill is a noun. Mill is a noun. Even Uncle Bill is a noun.” Not only does the cadence of the rhyming text beg to be read aloud, but the illustrations are whimsical and silly.

After reading, I wrote four words on a post-it note:

Then I gave my son the laminated Noun Clown. Covering all the polka dots and juggling balls were ¾-inch sticker dots with words on them. Six contained nouns; the rest were adjectives. The noun stickers covered circles with stars in them. The other circles (with adjectives written on the stickers covering them) were empty.

My son’s task was to read the words and determine if the word was a person, animal, place, or thing (i.e., a noun). If he thought it was, he peeled the sticker back. If a star was revealed, he’d guessed right and could place the sticker at the bottom of the page under the “Nouns I Found” heading.

My son had a few wrong guesses but overall did great and loved peeling back the stickers to look for stars. The more we work with Noun Clown, the better he'll get; I'm sure of it.

I made six templates, moving the stars around so we could practice this multiple times. Download the Noun Clowns here.
NOTE: This is not an activity to do just after you’ve trimmed your child’s fingernails. Avery Color Coding Labels (¾-inch diameter) pulled away much easier than Target’s UP & UP brand and the darker dots work best since the stars don’t show through.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bees, Hexagons, and a Honeycomb

Cardboard rolls make an awesome art supply. You can do SO much with them, including making a honeycomb. Here’s how we did it. Oh, and just because I like to be sneaky (which you probably deduced from the name of this blog), I didn’t tell my son what we were making; the suspense nearly killed him [hee hee].

Make marks to divide two paper towel rolls in thirds and using a pencil and ruler, draw two straight lines down the length of each roll. Then measure down the rolls every 2 centimeters, drawing lines across the width of the rolls.

Cut the rolls on these lines. Now, you’ll have tons of flattened football shapes. Fold each strip on the lines. We folded one forward and other backward, so our strips resembled the letter z. Make sure each of the folds is creased well.

Open up the z-shapes and form into hexagons. (This is when my son guessed what we were making.) When finished, begin gluing these hexagons together, adding a paper clip to secure the glued sides until dry. You’ll need LOADS of paper clips.

When this was done, we read The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre. It taught us all about the queen bee and her colony. I’m not sure who learned more – me or my son!

Of course, with our honeycomb complete, it was time to make a queen. We used a mini clothes pin, stiffened yellow felt, black ribbon for stripes, googly eyes and a black pom pom for the head. I shaped two wings from silver pipe cleaners in the shape of the capital letter B. We used LOADS of white glue to adhere the wings and gave our bee lots of drying time.

To finish up the activity, my son read Dana Meachen Rau’s book Guess Who Stings, which taught us that a honeybee actually has five eyes (oops, our queen only has two!).

What a fun way to learn about bees, repurpose a few empty cardboard rolls, and discover that a hexagon has six sides!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Measuring with Paper Clips

WHOA! I just looked back in my archives and realized that my son hasn't practiced measuring since July. Shame on me! And after heeding the reading summer camp teacher's advice and making the nuts and bolts game, I wanted another fun way to exercise my son's fine motor skills too. This activity combines both fine motor and measuring.

All you need are paper clips ... lots and lots of paper clips of the same size. Did I mention you need paper clips? I think you get the point.

I gave my son a worksheet I'd cooked up to get him started. While I don't want to overwhelm my son with worksheets, I do like that they sneak in extra reading practice and help me gauge how well he does following directions. (Download the worksheet I made here.)

The purpose of this activity is simple - to string paper clips to measure various items, such as:
the worksheet,

the chair he was sitting in,

and his pencil.

After measuring these (plus his foot and a book) he needed to review the number of paper clips each required and put them in order from greatest to least.

Stringing paper clips was a bit of a struggle for my son at first but, with some serious concentration and a whole heap of determination, he caught on.

We'll be doing this activity again, I'm sure!

Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Make a Thunderstorm

When a follower e-mailed and told me that her son was fearful during thunderstorms, I was inspired to help. Most of my fears as a child stemmed from the unknown. And with all the mystery surrounding the weather, it’s no wonder so many kids are scared. These activities, as well as the others featured this week on clouds and the water cycle, are meant to demystify the weather. The following are three ways my son and I tried to replicate what goes on in a thunderstorm.

Our experiment started with a clay monster. A house made out of modeling clay would probably have made more sense. (But that’s what I get for giving a 6-year-old choices.) We attached several 'lightning rods' (paper clips or safety pins) as hair. Then, I blew up a balloon, grabbed a wool coat, and we headed into a windowless room.

After vigorously rubbing the balloon against the wool (roughly 30 seconds), I held the balloon near the monster’s hair and, after several tries, we not only heard the crackle of our lightning, but saw it jump from the balloon to the metal. It was SO cool!!

I found the directions for homemade lightning on the Disney Family Fun site. TIP: Don’t blow the balloon up too full; a smaller balloon is easier to hold.

While I typically like to make popcorn the way my grandparents did on the stovetop crankin’ a handle until the pops have stopped, a microwave is a quicker way to ‘make thunder.’ Before I nuked a bag of unpopped popcorn, I explained to my son what happens during a storm. The following is an excerpt from Darice Bailer’s book Why Does it Thunder and Lightning? It seemed like a perfectly simple explanation for thunder:

The electric current that flows through the sky heats the air so fast that the air explodes. The explosion causes a rumbling or a loud BOOM in the sky.

I told my son that the microwave was going to make an electric current, similar to the one flowing through the sky during a storm. Then we listened for the noise created when the air inside the microwave was heated up quickly.

It wasn’t long before we heard our ‘thunder’ (the popcorn popping). What a yummy lesson!

Making rain inside of a jar was a simple extension of the condensation experiment we did during our water cycle lesson. I first read about this experiment on I Can Teach My Child, one of my favorite blogs. It's pretty simple. 

Heat water until it's almost boiling. Pour some of the water into a clear glass jar. Put a plate on top of the jar and add ice cubes to the plate. Wait a few minutes and then watch inside as the condensation builds and streaks of water pour down the sides of the jar. It’s raining in there!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cloud Identification Mobile

Since my son learned about clouds during our water cycle activity, I figured a more in-depth exploration of those fluffy beautiful (and sometimes ominous) sky shapes was in order.

Unfortunately, the day we did this activity there was ZERO clouds in the sky outside.
Bummer, eh? The good news, though, is that my son’s new Cloud Identification Mobile will help him ID them tomorrow.

Before we began this craft, we read a great book about clouds. It’s another Rena Korb masterpiece (we read Wild about the Water Cycle for our previous weather activity). This Science Rocks series is a perfect introduction to scientific investigation and comes with simple explanations and fun cartoon-like graphics that remind me of the PBS show “Word Girl.”

After reading, my son had a basic understanding of four types of clouds: Stratus, Cirrus, Cumulus, and Cumulonimbus. I gave my son four oval shapes that had a hole punched in them and asked him to draw each cloud type. Once he’d put his cloud shapes on the front, I wrote the name on the back along with a few of the facts noted in Korb’s book.

Then I cut strips of yarn and we worked together to tie them to each. We referred to Web Weather for Kids’ site, where a cloud diagram showed us where each cloud typically resides in the troposphere. My son positioned the cloud drawings accordingly (for example, we made the stratus clouds hang the lowest, since they are typically a low-lying cloud). I tied on a “clouds” label inside the hanger (I traced the hanger's shape on the paper before I cut it out).

How do I know my son loved this? When his father came home, the first words out of his mouth were, “Did you know there are different kinds of clouds, Dad?” Off to his room they went to look at the mobile. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Water Cycle Puzzle

What are clouds? Why does it rain? Where do the puddles go? To make understanding the water cycle easier, I designed a puzzle for my son to complete.

First, though, we learned a little from some amazing books.

Evaporation and condensation are tough to explain to a 6 year old. To help him “see” evaporation, we filled a transparent glass half full of water and I cut a strip from the sticky part of a post-it note to mark where the water line was. We’ll be observing it all week to see how much water evaporates.
UPDATE: After one week, 1 1/2 centimeters of water had evaporated from our glass.
To illustrate condensation, I filled a glass mason jar two-thirds full with warm water and screwed the lid on. It didn’t take long before the jar’s sides above the water line steamed over and beads of condensation formed.

Afterwards, I gave my son the puzzle and asked him to put the pieces and arrows in the right order. When my son wasn’t sure, I told him to turn the pictures over and read the back. 
Before long, he had all the pieces in place. We turned the oval pictures over to double check. He was SO excited to get it right!

To make your own Water Cycle Puzzle, you need:
1 large, empty cereal box
2 pieces of sticker paper
Water Cycle Puzzle template (download a 2-page PDF here)
An exacto knife

Cut the cereal box and save the two largest rectangles; recycle the rest. Print both pages of the Water Cycle Puzzle PDF onto sticker paper. Peel off the backing from the first page (the one with the large pictures). Adhere this (centering it) to the plain brown side of one of the cereal box rectangles. Cut off any excess. Carefully use an exacto knife to cut out the ovals and circles (put a cutting board or cardboard underneath to protect your work surface).

Use scissors to cut out the ovals and circles on the second Water Cycle Puzzle page. Peel off the backing and adhere these stickers to the back of the shapes you just cut out. Glue the cardboard Water Cycle page with holes to the other cereal box rectangle (brown side up). Let dry. 

Then, get ready for some puzzle fun.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Count and Stamp with LEGOs

My son’s favorite toy is LEGOs. (Who am I kidding? They’re probably my favorite toy too.) They are great fine motor practice, encourage creativity and role play, don’t require batteries, and don’t make noise. To work on counting with my son, I created this LEGO math activity.

What you need:
LEGO stamping answer sheet and number cards
Washable ink stamp pad
LEGO blocks (no flat ones or one-dot blocks)
A few plies of paper towel or a piece of craft foam
Plastic hollow popsicle stick (mine came in Wilton’s Lollipop Wrapping Kit)

Download the answer sheet and printable number cards from Google Docs here.
What he did:
My son drew a card and wrote the numeral on his answer sheet. Then he dug through the bowl of LEGOs to find blocks which had dots that added up to the number on his card. Insert the popsicle stick into the back of the block (it won’t fit inside the circles, but rather between the side of the block and the center circles). 

Press into the ink and stamp in the box on the answer sheet next to the printed numeral. Note: place paper towels or foam sheet under the paper so the imprints are more visible.

Voila, math with LEGOs!

PS – Like the LEGO number cards I made? Make your own LEGO numbers using instructions from the LEGO website. My son LOVED doing this!