Monday, October 31, 2011

Shut the Box Dice Game

I’d love to claim this idea as my own, after all its simplicity is brilliant and what it teaches is incredibly useful. But, alas, this game is not my brainchild. Disney’s FamilyFun magazine shared this idea in the November 2011 issue. My take on it follows.

Shut the Box is a great dice game that gets children thinking about different combinations of numbers that can be added to equal a sum.

Nine 3” x 4” toploading trading card sleeves (optional)
2 dice
Pencil and paper for score keeping

I designed a PDF of cards with each of the numbers 1-9 on them and printed the pages on cardstock. I flipped the pages over and printed Shut the Box graphics on the back so the cards would be double-sided. Then I cut out the cards and slid them into some trading card sleeves (while the sleeves are unnecessary, they make the cards more durable; lamination would serve the same purpose).

Then, I laid the cards out in order with the numbers face up on the table and handed my son two dice. He rolled the dice and added the two numbers together. Then it was up to my son to decide what two combination of numbers (that would add up to the sum) to flip over.

If he rolled a six and one, he added the numbers to get a sum of seven. He could flip over any two cards with numbers that added up to seven; for example, three and four, five and two, etc. Once the two cards were flipped (showing the Shut the Box graphic), he rolled the two dice again, continuing to flip over cards until he rolled a sum that could not be made with the existing cards. Play stopped and the remaining numbers were added together for his round 1 score.

Now it was my turn. We flipped over the cards so all the numbers were face up. I played until the sum I rolled could not be made with the remaining cards, added the numbers face-up, and we determined who won round 1. (He had a lower score than me.) We played three rounds and have played several times since that day.

We have yet to Shut the Box (getting ALL the cards turned over in one round). It sure is fun trying, though!

Click here for a 3-page PDF of the Shut the Box cards I made. Print pages 1-2; flip the pages over and print two copies of page 3 on the backs.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Snappy the Syllable Turtle [Board Game]

Now that my son has banged out some funky beats on his syllable drum, I thought he’d enjoy playing a syllable board game.

After seeing the most adorable snapping alligators people were making and sharing on the Internet (find one example here), I thought I’d try my hand at making a snapping turtle.

We affectionately named him Snappy.

How to Make a Snapping Syllable Turtle
Salvage some corrugated cardboard from your recycling bin (I used an empty box of diapers). You only need a small piece. Fold it in half and draw a turtle shape with the rear of the turtle shell on the fold. My turtle was nothing more than an oval with a smaller circle peeking out from one end. Cut it out.

Next glue two metal bottle caps on each side of the turtle inside so that when you pinch the turtle together it makes a snapping sound. I used super glue and held the caps in place with rubber bands until the glue had dried.

Next, decorate your turtle however you desire. My son painted his in a combination of greens and brown. I used a hair dryer to speed up the drying time and then added some details to the shell with a permanent marker; lastly, my son glued on some googly eyes.

While this activity is really about word work, I wanted to sneak in some science. We read two books to learn about turtles, one of the most interesting amphibians. I read the first book. My son read the second.

Play the Board Game
Download and print the game board (pictured below) and playing cards I made here.

Use something small as chips to move around the board (we used two different colored buttons). This two-player game is easy. Each player draws one card when it’s their turn, reads the word, and uses Snappy to snap the number of syllables in the word. Then they move their chip the same number as the syllables they counted. Play continues until one player finally reaches the finish and successfully helps Snappy return to his home in the lake.

Snapping the syllables with our homemade snapping turtle was so much fun for my son, he often did it for me when it was my turn!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Making a Picasso-inspired Guitar

To teach my son about Pablo Picasso, I decided not to focus on his role in the cubism movement, but rather on his remarkable painting The Old Guitarist

Since our last fine art lesson (on Van Gogh) taught us about the connection between color and emotion, this piece from Picasso's Blue Period was a nice segue.

To start, I gave my son a coloring page that I’d made based on the painting and asked him to follow the directions at the top of the page, considering what the man might be feeling/thinking and using colors to reflect that. (Download the coloring page I made here.)

Kids have THE best interpretations of art. My son thought the old man was thinking about his boy and imagining the two guitars he was going to make for him; that’s why his eyes were closed! The old man was excited about the project. I asked my son what color would show his excitement and he selected green.

When he was done coloring, we figured out how many years ago the original painting was made. Then, I showed him a print-out of Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, and shared the following:
  • For three years between 1901 and 1904, Pablo Picasso used mostly blue in his paintings. I asked, “Why do you think he used so much blue?” He was sad.
  • When a close friend of Pablo’s died, he painted LOTS of sad things like people who had no friends or money or were sick.
  • The Old Guitarist is a painting of an old blind man who has no money.

Then, my son made his own guitar.

Here’s the supply list: an empty tissue box, a paper towel tube, brown postal mailing paper, six rubberbands, a small piece of cardboard, and six brads. I traced the sides of the box onto the brown paper and my son cut them out. Then we glued them to the box (1).

Next I cut out a circle at the top of the box where the guitar’s neck would be attached (2). I used a glue gun to apply glue on the circle’s edge and we wedged the tube tightly in the cut-out hole (3). Then my son cut two slits in the top of the tube opposite each other (4) and we slid a trapezoid-shaped flat piece of cardboard into the slits. I applied a little glue to hold it in place.

My son added six rubberbands to the base of the guitar (5) and slid the brads into the cardboard edges of the trapezoid top (6).

When the guitar was made, I showed my son the two pictures of The Old Guitarist – his and Picasso’s. I asked him what kind of music he thought the two men were playing (was it fast or slow?) and had my son play his instrument the way they might.

When we were done, my son didn’t put his new guitar down for a whole hour. He even held it while watching a movie we rented. Maybe I’ve got a budding musician on my hands!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Unlocking the Keys to Simple Addition

Math might come pretty easily to my son but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need the practice. There are two main principles that guided the creation of this activity; I wanted:
  • to make a math game that could be changed with more difficult problems as my son’s proficiency grows.
  • a way that he could check his answers independently.

The result was Lock-and-Key Math.

You need 4 supplies for this activity:
Cardstock (print my 4-page PDF on it)
Thirteen 3” x 4” toploading trading card sleeves
dry-erase marker

Cut out the gray key silhouettes. Cut out each of the keys (yes, it’s a pain, but TOTALLY worth it). Take the keys to an office/copy shop to be laminated. Use thick lamination sheets and space the keys widely. Once laminated, line up the keys with each corresponding silhouette, using them as a guide for where to cut the lamination so the final result is a rectangle shape with the key floating inside it.
Put the silhouettes (or locks) inside the thirteen trading-card sleeves. Add addition problems to the keys with a fine-tip dry-erase marker. On the back of each key’s corresponding lock, write the answer on the sleeve with the marker.

Before my son played the Lock-and-Key Math game, we read Loreen Leedy’s Mission Addition. (I love Leedy’s books.) Because the book explains how to add numbers when they are stacked vertically (as opposed to 3 + 4 =), all the Lock-and-Key problems were written that way.

It’s time to play!

I put all the keys is a jumbled pile on the table and laid the locks face-down so the answers were visible. One by one my son picked a key, solved the addition problem, and found the sleeve with the answer. Then he flipped over the sleeve and slid the key into the lock. If he was right, the silhouette matched the key perfectly.

My son patiently and quietly worked through all 13 problems, matching each key to its respective lock. While I planned for him to play the game independently, I failed to consider how excited he’d be with each correct match!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Keyboard Codes (Spelling Practice with a Homemade Laptop)

My son LOVES the computer, so I’m constantly in search of great online (educational) games for him to play. When I saw Joyful Mama’s post on the felt laptop she made for her daughter, Sweatpea, it jumpstarted my creative juices.

Since we’re still working on spelling those word-wall words my son is bringing home from school (check out Roll & Write for some history on that), I thought a DIY laptop would be perfect!

I knew, though, that if I put a pretend laptop in front of my son and asked him to type the words he would lose interest quickly. To prevent that from happening, I created ciphers (each was a sight word from school) for him to decode using the keyboard. This was SO MUCH fun!

1. Make a DIY Laptop
Use a large flat, rectangular piece of corrugated cardboard (mine was the packaging that came with a 16x20 picture frame I bought recently). Score in the middle so you can fold your laptop. Cut the holes off of an 8 ½ x 11 plastic sheet protector. Use a glue gun to adhere the sleeve above the fold for your laptop’s monitor.

Download and print the keyboard I made (click here). Glue it to your cardboard laptop below the fold. If you want, draw a rectangle below the spacebar for a touchpad.

Next cut another piece of cardboard to make a kickstand to keep your laptop’s monitor from flopping over. Attach to the back of the “monitor” using a glue gun.

2. Read
I love to pair a great book with every activity, so for this one we read Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. It's hilarious!

3. Help Your Child Decipher Keyboard Codes
Pages 2-4 of the keyboard download have sight-word keyboard codes. Give one of these pages to your child along with the laptop.

The two-digit codes are numerical with the first number indicating the row and the second number representing the number of keys in that row that a child will count (from the left). For example, if the code is 33, a child will count down three rows and over three keys; hence, the letter is D.
4. Have Them Type the Sight Words
This was a lot of word work for my son. Once he completed decoding all 12 words from the first worksheet, I told him to find one 2-letter, 3-letter, and 4-letter word and circle each. Then I slipped his completed keyboard codes paper into the monitor’s plastic sleeve and he typed each of those three words.

When this was done, my son had loads of fun playing with his new “toy.” Since I had all the supplies for this activity on hand, I have no doubt that this is the cheapest computer I will ever buy him

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Making a Syllable Drum

Have I shared how much I love activities that combine multiple disciplines?!? This activity is all about music and language arts.

There are two parts of this activity: 1) making a drum and 2) reading and banging out the beats (aka syllables) on the instrument we'd crafted.

The drum can be made out of any recycled cylinder - the sturdier the better (I used an empty raisin container). Cut a piece of paper to fit around the drum’s exterior and ask your child to decorate it however they like. Use double-sided tape to attach.

Then cut two circles from any non-fraying material (I used vinyl leftover from a cowboy vest I made for Halloween a few years ago). The circles should be about ¾-inch wider all the way around your cylinder. We used a small bowl to trace the circle shape before cutting it out.

Use a paper punch to make holes in the circles about a ¼-inch in from the edge, roughly 1 ½ inches apart. Make sure both circles have the same number of punched holes.

Place one circle right-side down on the table. Add a bead of hot glue around the edge of the cylinder to hold it in place. Put the cylinder on top and add glue to the top of the cylinder, placing the other fabric circle over it. Now use a ridiculously long piece of yarn or other string to thread up and down through the holes, working your way around the drum. When you get back to where you began, tie the strings together. (NOTE: We neglected to use glue and our circles were constantly slipping as we threaded the yarn.)

With our drum made, it was time to read. Steve Webb’s Tanka Tanka Skunk is an awesome book for teaching syllables. An reviewer shared this little nugget and you know what? They were right.

Two lovable characters (Tanka, the elephant, and Skunka, the skunk) bang on their drums, drumming the beats of animal words (e.g. kan-ga-roo has 3 beats and cat-er-pil-lar has 4 beats). As I read the book, my son banged out the beats of the animal names on his new drum.

When he got confused (for example, trying to make fox into two beats), I reminded him that each syllable has just one vowel sound. Since there is only one vowel sound in fox, it has only one beat, or syllable.

This was SO MUCH fun! When he finished Webb’s book, he practiced lots of other words like the names of EVERYONE in our family and his teacher's name too. Then he asked if he could wear the drum; I tied a long ribbon around it so he could sling it over his shoulder and drum all over the house. My little drummer boy is learning syllables and drumming up some funky beats at the same time!

Now that’s music to my ears!

Monday, October 17, 2011

DIY Checkers (with Addition and Subtraction)

When my son’s math summer camp ended, the teacher told me about the games they had played in class. Games? Really? He showed me the games and explained how each of them taught math skills – even strategy. I had no idea that chess was a math game, but apparently it is.

Since neither my husband nor I know how to play chess or, truthfully, really want to learn, I thought checkers might be a more agreeable game for our family. To prove that playing checkers truly was educational, I did what every person does when they have an unanswered question – I Googled it.

According to Misty Karam on, checkers can teach important pre-math skills like sorting by color, directions (e.g. forward, backward, and diagonal), cause/effect, logical thinking, and reasoning. Cool, huh?

What you need:
  1. 24 plastic bottle caps (or 12 of one kind, and 12 of another; it helps if the lids will nest inside one another when stacked)
  2. Plain colored cardstock in two colors (if you plan to add math problems to your checkers board, make sure one of the papers is a light enough color that dry-erase ink will be legible)
  3. 1 sheet of posterboard measuring 14-inches square (or larger)
  4. 1 sheet of sticker paper (optional) or stickers
  5. Dry-Erase markers (optional, if you laminate your board)
To make our checkers board, I used my Fiskars paper cutter and cut out 32 squares (measuring 1 ¾-inches) in one color paper and 32 squares of the same size from another color of paper. Then one by one my son and I glued these down, alternating the colors, onto a 14-inch square piece of posterboard. (You’ll end up with an 8 by 8 grid of squares.) Then I took the “board” to a local office paper/copy shop to be laminated.

Since I had plans to work some addition and subtraction practice into our checkers game, I designed circular plus and minus stickers to print on sticker paper and cut them out with my Martha Stewart Punch All Over the Page™ 1 ½-inch circle punch. These fit perfectly on the 24 plastic Gatorade bottle lids I’d saved during the summer. (You can download my lid stickers here. Truthfully, though, you don’t need these stickers or a fancy punch. Simply add 12 of the same stickers to the tops of half the lids so that you can distinguish between the two opponents’ checkers.)

Before we started to play, I added some subtraction and addition problems with a dry-erase marker to the game board on colored squares we’d be playing on (on our board, we play on the gray squares). Every time that my son jumped one of my checkers, he had to answer the math problem underneath. (Need a refresher on how to play checkers? I did. Go here.)

My son has played this game every day since we made it. He even wrote and illustrated his own checkers rule book (his own idea!). The kid is going crazy for this game, which makes saving the lids and gluing all those squares totally worth it in my book!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Word-Family Tree: Bonus Halloween Version

Here's a little bonus! I revised our original Word-Family Tree activity so it was more in the spirit of the season. To download this spooktacular blank tree, click here

Grab some papers in autumn colors and a maple leaf shaped punch. Simply punch out the leaves, add letters to each, and let your child figure out which word family they belong to and glue them in place. 

This Halloween Word-Family Tree uses the same word families as the fourth worksheet I made in the earlier download:
 Enjoy! (I know my son did.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Trees Do You See?

With the leaves falling, it's the perfect time for a little lesson on trees.

To get some more information on trees big and small, my son and I read two children’s non-fiction books: “
Tell Me, Tree” by Gail Gibbons and “I Can Name 50 Trees Today!” by Bonnie Worth. The books taught us lots about trees including information about roots, seeds, and counting rings to tell the age of a tree.

Afterwards, we discussed the difference between 1) bushes and trees and 2) conifers and deciduous trees. I figured it would be easy for my son to tell the difference between the two main types of trees, given the fact that the broadleaf trees are losing their leaves.

When the rain kept us inside, he and I looked out windows on all sides of our house to count how many deciduous and conifer trees we could see in the neighborhood. When we saw two trees out one window and three out the next one, I asked him to add the numbers together.

He charted these numbers by coloring a box for each type of tree we could see on a worksheet that I designed. When it was done, we discovered that we can see 24 deciduous trees and only 16 conifers from the windows of our house.

If you'd like to repeat this activity with your child, download a PDF of the deciduous vs. conifers graphing worksheet here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making Shapes into an Owl (Art is a Whoot!)

Have you noticed that owls are everywhere?! They are all over adorable fabrics, being made into sweet felt pillows, and being crafted by little (and big) hands all over the Internet. When I saw Card a la Carte’s little pillow-box owls, I fell in love.

After taking a closer look and purchasing a few fun scrapbooking papers, I was determined to make these with my son on a larger scale. This was a great review of shapes, good practice cutting with scissors, and combined with a non-fiction book, a lesson in one of the most fascinating nocturnal animals.

For information on owls, we read Patricia Whitehouse’s book Barn Owls (What's Awake?). We learned that owls lay eggs, what they eat, where they nest, and that they can turn their heads to see what is behind them (whoa, that’s cool!).

Here’s a list of the shapes we used for each owl:
  • Rectangle – 1 for the body
  • Oval – 2 for each bird (in the same color as the body) for the wings
  • Big circle – 2 for each bird in white for the big curious eyes
  • Triangle – 1 cut from orange cardstock for the beak
  • Heart – 1 cut from orange cardstock for the feet
  • Small circle – 12, depending on the size, in printed scrapbooking paper for the body feathers (one of which you'll need to cut in half), plus 2 in black for the pupils. (We used my  Martha Stewart Punch All Over the Page™ 1 ½-inch circle punch.)

We attached the small circles on the body first with a gluestick, curling up the bottom of each to “fluff the feathers.” Then we added the eyes, wings, feet, and beak.

Let me introduce our new pet owls.

Lastly, my son recorded what he’d learned on an awesome free printable Erin from Eberhart’s Explorers shared on her blog. Visit her site for this amazing “Owls Are/Have/Can” chart.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fruit Fractions

Someone asked me once where I get the ideas for my son’s activities. I'm sure I sounded like Elmer Fudd answering them. Inspiration strikes me at the strangest places and times.

While shopping for bananas at the grocery store, I noticed the signage for their citrus fruits. It pictured the inside of a lemon all juicy and yellow. The sections inside the fruit reminded me of a circle cut into parts to demonstrate fractions. And so it began ...

Into the shopping cart went four fruits: lime, lemon, orange, and grapefruit. When I got home, I whipped up this little worksheet for my son to observe the fruit and write and draw fractions. (Download the worksheet I made here.)

When my son returned from school that day, he was VERY curious about what we were doing with these fruits, which I rarely buy. I cut the lime open and showed him how the fruit had wedges inside and asked him which fruit he thought would have the most. Then we started to count the lime’s wedges and complete the worksheet – one fruit at a time. I drew the lines on the circles to help him as he illustrated fractions like 1/9. While the lines I divided the circles into weren’t always equal-sized sections, during these early introductions to fractions, I didn’t mind.

This activity went exactly as planned. What surprised me, though, was how it evoked the senses. My son was curious about the feel of the fruit, the number of seeds, its color (our orange had a reddish-orange inside), and the smell.

When we finished I cut a slice of lemon and we enjoyed what my son called “grown-up water” with lemon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Headband Vowels (a Guessing Game)

Last month, several families met friends at a lake for the weekend. One of the moms brought the game Headbandz for Kids, which the tween girls had a blast with. Watching them play was a real inspiration.

I’ve been looking for a clever way to help my son practice vowels. The headbands were it!

For this activity you need three main supplies: cardstock, five square post-it notes, and five index cards (or cut up cardstock). You’ll also need a stapler and black marker.

Write each of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) on a post-it note; make sure the sticky part of the note is on the bottom. Stick these to the index cards.

Cut the card stock into strips (between an inch and 1 1/2-inches wide). Staple the strips of paper together to make a headband the size of your child’s head.

If your child does not know the vowels from memory, print them on a piece of paper so they can refer to it as they play.

Next hold the vowel cards and ask your child to select one without looking.

Peel off the sticky note and tack it to their headband. Provide clues like the sounds the vowels make (depending on your child’s knowledge of phonics, the short vowel sounds will be more challenging). Also say several words with the vowels in them. 

If your child is like mine, you can literally tell when the light bulb goes on. My son practically lit up when he'd figured out which vowel was on his headband. After each guess, I had him remove his headband to check his answer.

If through process of elimination your child guesses the last vowel, ask them to tell you what sounds that letter makes and what words it’s in.

This headband activity would be great to practice phonics too. Because sometimes the best way to get letters engrained in your child’s head, is to put them on their head.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Starry Night Printable Book & Art (Van Gogh Study)

I believe that some of the most open-minded individuals when it comes to art are children. And I believe that art is a means for expression, understanding and acceptance of other cultures, as well as a visual chronicle of history.

Now I have a confession to make.

I have been TERRIBLE at exposing my son to fine art. I have no excuses. I have a degree in art history. I worked in an art museum. Heck, I even gave tours there as a volunteer docent. I don’t know what my reservations have been, but it’s time to end the shame and begin sharing some of my dear friends – legendary artists from around the world – with my son. This is my first attempt.

It was inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting. I have seen pictures of it a thousand times and it still leaves me breathless. When I went to the library to look for children’s books about it and left empty-handed, I felt defeated. Not to be thwarted, I made my own book as an introduction to Vincent Van Gogh.

My son fell in love with making books when he was in kindergarten. He still loves it. As he read the Van Gogh book, he asked me, “Is this a library book?” Flattered, I answered “no.” He responded, “Good. I can keep it.” YEAH! My efforts were worth it! (To make your own copy of the book I made, download and print the first three pages, flip the stack of papers over and download and print the remaining pages on the back. Put the pages back in order, fold in the middle, and staple on the fold.)

I had a few goals with the book:

  • To show my son where Van Gogh lived (notice the small painting of Holland on page 2).
  • To explain why he painted the way he did (using color to portray emotion).
  • To get my son thinking about how colors can convey feelings.
  • To help my son recognize that there are many variations of each color (e.g. there are hundreds of yellow colors).

He read the book, completed the pages that required it, and then I showed him the painting that inspired our activity in a book I had. Next, he made his own starry night picture.

Marker/colored pencils
Dull lead pencil
Sytrofoam tray (think ground beef or chicken packaging)
Small rolling pin wrapped in cling wrap (or a brayer)
Acrylic paint
Aluminum foil
White paper

First I had my son draw a village, street, or city at the bottom of a piece of paper. Then I gave him the Styrofoam tray and told him to use the dull pencil to draw on it the night sky and how he felt about nighttime. (My son just learned about space in school so he is still full of awe.) His sky had many shapes. I had to admit, it wasn’t at all what I expected. He drew big circles for planets and asteroids. He even threw in a comet. It was space-tacular!

When he was done, we squirted some blue and black paint onto a sheet of aluminum foil and ran our covered rolling pin through it and then over the tray. When it was totally covered in paint, we flipped it over and pressed it onto white paper. It revealed a mirror image!

Then we cut out his streetscape and glued it below. Voila! My son’s own Starry Night was complete!

Want to explore the connection between color and emotion further? Share My Many Colored Days with your child. This untraditional Dr. Suess book is one of my absolute favorites for talking about feelings!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hunting for 3-D Shapes

My son has a good grasp on simple shapes like the circle, square, and rectangle. I wanted to kick things up a notch and introduce 3-D shapes to him. For a little help, I turned to Stuart J. Murphy's book Captain Invincible and the Space Shapes.

This book is part of the popular Math Start series. It's about a boy and his dog Comet who explore space and navigate their way home, despite encounters with numerous galactic obstacles. Captain Invincible uses 3-D shapes along the way to resolve the problems they face (for example, a cone filters poisonous gas by sucking it in through its circular base and sending out its point). I love the comic-book style of this book and how it pointed out each 3-D shape's form!

Books are great at teaching, but I've noticed what a powerful tool music can be in helping my son with memorization. I found this clever and very catchy video on YouTube and after listening ... okay, maybe there was a little dancing, too ... a few times, it was time to get on with our 3-D shapes hunt.

I gave my son four cards with the names and pictures of the 3-D shapes identified in the music video: the sphere, cylinder, cube, and cone. Then I asked him to explore the house and find two examples of each. Some shapes were easier than others to find. The cone was by far the hardest. I was surprised at how creative his 3-D shape finds were and excited to see him thinking about the differences between 3-D and 2-D (for example, why a circle was NOT a sphere).

I can tell that this song struck a chord with my son. The other night as we were waiting for our food at a local restaurant he started to sing the chorus (I hope the other patrons didn't mind a little lesson in geometry!). When he finished, we played the game "I Spy." The pendant lights were the shape of cones. The salt shakers were the shape of cylinders. 3-D shapes were everywhere!