Friday, March 30, 2012

How Big Were the Dinosaurs?

Some books are instant favorites. Dinosaur Roar! by Paul Stickland is one of those books for my boys. While my oldest son has since moved on to enjoy more elaborate storylines, the tattered pages of the book he’s now passed down to his little brother are evidence that it was well-loved.

So when I stumbled on Dinosaur More! by Henrietta Stickland, I was thrilled. It contains tons of great dinosaur facts, like the meaning of their names, defenses, diet, and a small scale drawing showing how big each dinosaur is compared to a grown-up.

This little drawing and a recent post on All Things Beautiful provided the inspiration for this math and science activity.

Not to be discouraged when the rain kept us indoors, I put away the sidewalk chalk and grabbed a roll of toilet paper to use to “graph” dinosaur heights.

Step 1:

Step 2: Use a measuring tape to figure out the height of each dinosaur using the “See How Big I Am” chart in Stickland’s book.

Step 3: Roll the toilet paper out to that length and tear off.

Step 4: Write the dinosaur’s name on a post-it note and attach to the strip of toilet paper.

It was so much fun to compare how big the dinosaurs were! My son was SUPER excited to discover that he is taller than Velociraptors!

When we ran out of toilet paper (I’m too cheap to waste more than one roll), I gave my son some cards I’d printed with the names of all the dinosaurs in the book.

He looked at the chart on each spread, wrote the height on the back of the card, and then put them in order from smallest to biggest. Then he flipped over the cards. The T-Rex was the biggest prehistoric lizard we learned about!

Have a child that loves dinosaurs? Check out a few of these other dinosaur-related deceptively educational activities!

Hunt for dinosaurs
Make and hatch a dinosaur egg
Dinosaur counting and measuring 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alexander Calder-inspired Mobile

Nobody understood balance better. Nobody appreciated the beauty of a breeze and could make a physical object look more weightless. 

I’m talking about American artist Alexander (aka Sandy) Calder, of course. 

His mobiles can send you into a trance, just watching the way the tiny wire arms carry bold organic shapes through the air. Even his static sculptures (often referred to as stabiles) convey motion despite their stationery forms. I am a fan of his work (can you tell?) and shamelessly want my boys to grow up to be as well.

To give my oldest son a fun, hands-on art appreciation lesson, I grabbed some supplies:

12-gauge aluminum wire (I used a little more than a yard)
Craft foam sheets in assorted colors
Low-temp glue gun and glue sticks
Wire cutters and needle-nose pliers
Ballpoint pen

Before we embarked on our craft, we read a wonderful book which positively captivated my son. Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone tells the story of Calder’s journey from crafty kid to engineering student, fireman on a ship, art school student, working artist, and lastly, a sculptor. My son was brimming over with excitement when the book was done.

“What are we making, Mom?” he asked overflowing with curiosity.

Since Calder’s circus, made from found objects and set into motion, was what eventually inspired his mobiles, I told my son we were going to make our own mobile. I cut a large piece of wire, folded it in half, made a loop and twisted it (sort of like a coat hanger without the hook and flat bottom).

Then I gave my son the craft foam and had him pick a color and shape. Blue circle, he decided. He used a small dessert plate as a template and cut out two circles.

On one end of the wire I’d cut, I bent it into a large loop. He placed one of the circles underneath it and loaded the center with low-temp glue from the glue gun. Then we added the second shape on top.

On the other end of the wire, I made a smaller loop and attached another piece of looped wire, per his instruction. He cut out more shapes. We built on the mobile until all the wire arms had shapes or more wire brackets attached.

We held it up. Hmmmmm. One side was so heavy, the other side tipped way up in the air.

To weigh it down some, my son added glue to the perimeter of the shape, leaving one area unglued, and he stuffed paperclips inside for added weight.

I love the final result and so does my son. It’s proudly hanging from the ceiling-mounted light fixture in his room. I have no doubt he fell asleep last night watching it dance by the glow of his night light.

Note: This wire is REALLY malleable. If I did this activity again, I’d make our foam shapes smaller or use a stiffer wire. The sheer size of the foam weighed our wire form down quite a bit.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Brain Bender Subtraction Puzzles

My mother-in-law bought my son a Scramble Squares puzzle. It has challenged all of us to no avail. It’s certainly been fun, though! Watching my son play with it gave me the idea to make a brain bender math puzzle!

Since my son's teacher told us at his parent-teacher conference that his addition skills were stronger than his subtraction, I thought this would be a good chance to give him more practice.

I made two puzzles of varying difficulty.
Download a PDF of these puzzles here.

I printed each on sticker paper and attached them to an empty cereal box (like I did for both the magic squares and letter magnets I made in the past). I cut them out, attached magnet tape to the back, and handed the easier of the two puzzles (blue) over to my son with a small magnetic board. 

I told him that all the pieces needed to form the shape of one large triangle. He needed to position each triangle magnet so every problem was adjacent to the corresponding answer.

He struggled at first. Before he got too frustrated, I put the top most triangle on the board and told him to work off of that. In no time, the whole triangle was put together!

NOTE: Depending on how saturated the ink is on the paper when you print the blue puzzle, you may need to draw a line under the numbers 6 and 9 on the answer triangles so they are not confused. While this was part of the original design, I found that the ink bled when I printed them and needed to redraw the lines.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Adjective Detective [Hunt & Seek]

After playing the nouns, verbs, adjectives board game I made with my son several times, I realized he needed other great ways to practice the parts of speech. Language arts just doesn’t “stick” with my son like math.

He has suddenly developed an affinity for mysteries (we’ve been reading the Hardy Boys Secret Files books to him at night and he’s been reading James Skofield’s Detective Dinosaur books to us). The following two activities capitalize on his newfound interest.

Download this Adjective Detective magnifying glass here.

I designed a magnifying glass for my son to use when he played. (To make one, simply cut it out [including the center] and laminate with heavyweight laminate.) Voila! Now he had a spy glass to remind him of what adjectives tell you (e.g. weather, sound, shapes, etc.).

Adjective Detective Hunt
Before my son came home from school, I picked out five objects to describe and wrote adjectives (five each) that describe each on a sticky note. When he walked in the door, I told him that he (aka Adjective Detective) had a mystery to solve.

He needed to use the adjective clues on the first sticky note (black, white, round, hard, fun) to find the object it described (his soccer ball). On that object was tacked another sticky note with five more adjectives (white, creamy, refreshing, smooth, cool). He used his super sleuthing mind to deduce that what those adjectives were describing was none other than milk! There he found another sticky note with five adjectives.

One by one, the adjective clues led him from object to object, until he was rewarded by finding the final object (his colored pencils), which also had a congratulatory note and a sweet treat as a reward.

Adjective Detective Seek
Another day, I decided that it was time for my son to find some adjectives of his own. I gave my little Adjective Detective a story that I wrote. Each sentence of the story has one adjective (hopefully, I tried to be careful to not include any others). 

Download this story here.

The story is about Detective Dog who works so hard to welcome new teddy bears to the force by bringing in assorted foods each day. Unfortunately, the bears never touch his homemade goodies.

After my son read the story all the way through (I helped him with some of the tough words), I told him that in order to find out why the teddy bears never eat, he’d have to find the adjective in each sentence. He circled it and wrote the first letter of the adjective down below. All of these adjectives (and their letters) were clues to solve the mystery.

So, why do the teddy bears never eat, you’re wondering, right? Because they are always stuffed!!

My son demonstrated some real patience with this activity, carefully looking for the adjectives and being excited as the answer to the mystery began to reveal itself. It was a lot of reading but I was so encouraged to hear him say “Yes, I knew it!” when he correctly identified the adjectives!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Origami Bats

Neither my son nor I have ever done origami … at least before this activity. Making paper bats seemed like a great craft to accompany a lesson on the only mammals that fly.

We started reading a couple of great books. I read the first book; my son read the second.

Then I grabbed some black and brown construction paper and cut it into a square – 8 inches and 6 inches. Now we got folding. Here are the step-by-step instructions.

  1. Take your paper square and bring two opposing points together and fold.
  2. Pull the triangle’s point over the fold and crease about an inch or inch-and-a-half down from the fold.
  3. What you’ll have now sort of looks like a boat.
  4. Flip the boat over so your paper is flat and the small triangle at the top of the boat is peeking out over the top from behind.
  5. Make two creases on a slight diagonal close to the center (with only an inch between them), folding in the large flaps on either side on either side.
  6. The flaps will now be sticking up.
  7. Fold one flap across the body of the bat and fold it back on a diagonal.
  8. Repeat with the other side.
  9. Flip your paper over.
  10. Fold and crease the tips of the wings in and down toward the center.
  11. Flip the paper over once again. Draw lines to cut out the bat’s ears from the flat side of the bat’s head.
  12. Cut along your lines. Lastly, add two googly eyes!

Once my son and I had both made our bats, he wrote down some of what he’d learned on a recording sheet I’d made. Download it here

Monday, March 19, 2012

How to Make Writing a Letter Fun

Last week was my son's spring break and since he spent a fair amount of the week with his grandparents, there were few deceptively educational activities happening at my house. So I'm finally getting around to publishing this old blog post about how I enticed my son into writing his kindergarten teacher a letter last summer.

It's perfect for a hesitant writer or a child that needs a jump start writing.

8 months ago ...

I knew getting a soon-to-be first-grader to write a letter without a major meltdown or cascades of “I can’t do it” was going to take nothing short of magic.

Instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, though, I typed up a series of sentence starters for a letter to his kindergarten teacher and threw them in one of my son's play hats. A few examples follow:

I had so much fun when we ___________.
I will miss ____________.
This summer, I am __________.
I hope I don’t forget __________________.
I am glad you were my teacher because _____________.
You are a good teacher because _____________.
I am ____________ about 1st grade.

All my son had to do was pull one out, copy it down, and finish the sentence. Little by little, a letter was written. His teacher had worked so hard to teach him to read and write this past year, it’s only fitting that my son show off his new-found skills in a letter to her. (Plus, she gave the students her mailing address at the end of the year with a promise to write back.)

I cannot say enough about how blessed we were that Mrs. E was our son’s first school teacher. There are simply no words that even begin to explain how wonderful she is.

My son gave it a pretty good shot, though.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spelling (and Basketball) Practice

Last week my son wore out his Nerf over-the-door basketball hoop. I kid you not. When we replaced it with a sturdier version of the same thing, it dawned on me that I should work a little harder to get my money’s worth out of that toy.

Why not combine spelling practice with shooting hoops?

I quick whipped together a score card and grabbed the list of eight spelling words my son’s teacher sent home in his backpack.

Download this PDF scorecard for free here.

Step 1
I read the word and he wrote it down.

Step 2: Did you use the right number of letters?
I counted the letters in the word and told him how many there were. He had to count the letters in the word he’d written. If his word had the same number of letters, he added a “1” to that column of the scorecard.

Step 3: Did you use the right letters?
I scrambled the letters and told them to him. If all the letters I read were in his word, he put a “1” in the next column on the scorecard. NOTE: if extra letters were also in his word, he still got a “1.”

Step 4: Is the word spelled right?
I told him the correct spelling and he checked his work. If it was right, he added a third “1” to his worksheet.

Step 5
He added the numbers together. This subtotal was recorded in the “points possible” column.

Step 6
My son grabbed the basketball (unless there was a zero in the “points possible” column). I gave him three tries to make a basket. If he did, the earned the number of points listed in the “points possible” column.

This got my son’s brain working and blood pumping. He was SUPER bummed to spell grape wrong (darn silent e) and disappointed when even after three tries, he still didn’t make a basket, but he tried really hard to both spell words right AND sink some shots.

After his eight words were spelled, he totaled the score. 12 points!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Teaspoons, Tablespoons, Cups, & Gallons

How many parts make a whole? Cooking measurements were a great way to help my son answer that question. This was a simple activity that he found surprisingly interesting. When it was done, he asked if there was more he could measure!

What we used:
4-cup liquid measuring cup
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Empty gallon-sized milk jug
Tap water
Funnel (optional)
Worksheet of measuring questions (download the one I made here)

Before we got started pouring and measuring, we read Stuart J. Murphy’s Room for Ripley, a Level 3 MathStart Capacity book. In the book, Carlos is super excited to buy his first fish. As he prepares the fish bowl with water, he learns all about just how much water it’ll take to make a nice home for his new guppy. One cup is not enough! 2 cups (or 1 pint) is not enough! As he continues to add more and more water, he learns how many pints are in a quart, and how many quarts are in half gallon, etc.

When we finished reading about Carlos’ new pet, I had my son using the measuring spoons, cups, and 2-cup measuring cup to complete a worksheet of math (measuring) questions.

This was great fraction practice. I was thrilled to hear his hypothesis that three 1/3-cups would equal 1 cup!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Race Around the Nouns, Verbs, & Adjectives [Game]

I’m hoping repetition will help my son memorize the differences between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The board game I cooked up to practice these parts of speech was SO much fun, my son didn’t have a clue he was actually learning!!  (insert evil laugh here)

Before we started playing, I gave him a cheat sheet that defined what nouns, verbs, and adjectives are. Click the picture below to download it.

We reviewed these briefly and grabbed two small buttons for game pieces. Then, I grabbed my DIY dry-erase die (instructions to make one are here) and wrote each word (noun, verb, and adjective) on the dice twice with a fine-tip dry-erase marker.

Now it was time to get our engines revved up and get rolling! My son was ready to race around the nouns, verbs, and adjectives on the homemade game board I made. (Download it here.)

How to Play
This game is super simple. Both players put their game pieces on the starting flag. The youngest player goes first, rolling the noun/verb/adjective die. Whatever is on top of the die when it stops rolling, is the type of word that the player must move their game piece to on the board. The next player rolls next, doing the same thing.

Play continues until the players reach the winner’s trophy. The first player to roll the die and move to the final circle (i.e. roll “adjective” and land on “big”) wins!

My son needed LOTS of reminders and referred to the cheat sheet a lot, which tells me this fun way to practice is exactly what he needs. When we were done, my son asked to play again … and again. Unfortunately, dinner put a stop to our “play” time. There's always tomorrow, though!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Toilet Paper Tube Snake [Craft & Write]

My son is totally into LEGO Ninjago lately and since snakes are an arch enemy of the four ninjas, I knew this activity would be a hit. Although my son learned some about snakes when we made our reptile bookmarks, this activity taught us even more about these slithery animals.

To start we read two great books. My son read Snakes and I read through many of the questions in What’s Inside a Rattlesnake’s Rattle. Both taught us loads about snakes! Did you know that some snakes don’t hatch from eggs and that the more a snake eats, the more often it sheds its skin? Cool!

When we were done reading, I got out some paint, empty toilet paper tubes I’d been saving, a piece of red craft foam, and some brads. It was time to make our own slithering snake!

First, my son cut V shapes on each end of the tubes, except for on one tube, which we used as the tail. Then, my son painted the tubes.

He cut out a forked tongue shape from craft foam and we stapled it one of the tubes and glued on two googly eyes.

Then, my son used a paper punch to make two holes in the tops of each tube (my son didn’t paint the bottom of the tubes). Now we layered the holes one on top of the other, connecting the tubes together on top one at a time with brads. Lastly, we connected the tail (the one tube that still had a blunt end).

Isn’t my son’s snake “SSSSSSssssss”super?

When he was done, I gave him some snake-themed writing paper and asked him to write three sentences about his snake. (Download the snake paper I made here.)

I got the idea for this wonderful craft from Odds ‘N’ Ends Art and adapted the directions to use toilet paper tubes.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Magic Squares = Magic Math

I found a wonderful little book at the library about magic squares. Magic AND math? Really? What could be better?!?!

A magic square is a square grid of different numbers. When you add the numbers across, down, and diagonal, they all add up to the same number!

My son and I read the beginning of Colleen Adams' book, which explained magic squares and shared the ancient tale of a tortoise in China whose shell had dots that formed a magic square.

The book also shared the engraving by German artist Albrecht Durer from 1514 that contained a magic square that added to 34.

To give my son a little math practice, I made some number magnets 1-9, using the same process as the alphabet magnets I’ve made in the past. Then, I gave him a small magnetic board and arranged several of the magnets, leaving four or five off. It was up to him to figure out where to place the remaining magnets to equal 15 in every row, column, and diagonal.

He needed to use both addition AND subtraction to complete the magic square! What fun!

Download the number magnets I made, as well as four configurations of magic squares that add to 15 here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Learning Tricky Plurals with a Prize Wheel

The other night we had the TV on during dinner and “Wheel of Fortune” came on. Since I consider dinner our special time to share news about each other’s day, this is VERY rare.

My son has seen the show a few other times (probably at Grandma’s house) and excitedly exclaimed, “Oh, I loooooove this show! It’s my favorite grown-up show!”

While he most certainly can’t solve the puzzles, the sheer idea of trying to guess the words, spinning a prize wheel, and winning money seem pretty darn awesome to my 6-year-old. “Wheel of Fortune” was part of the inspiration for this activity.

The rest of the inspiration came the following day, when we were getting ready and on our way to my son’s school music program. As I helped him put his ears on (he played a mouse), he danced around saying, “I’m a mice. I’m a mice!” Last I checked there was only one of him, so I explained that he was a mouse, not a mice.

On our drive to the school, some geese flew overhead and as he caught sight of them, he said, “You know what gooses do when they fly?” Oh boy! “It’s GEESE, not gooses,” I corrected him.

What are tricky plurals?
Those words that either change drastically (i.e. the plural version of the word is not the same as the singular version with an s on the end) or don’t change at all when they become plural (e.g. deer, glasses, etc.) are tricky for children to learn. This activity is meant to help kids (namely, my son) use those words correctly.

How to Play
I made 16 cards with tricky plurals on them. The cards show a single object with the plural version of the word under a folded section. (Download an 8-page PDF here, print them on heavyweight cardstock, cut them out, fold on the dotted line, and use an Exacto craft knife to carefully cut a V shape to tuck the folded flap under.)

I fanned the cards out in my hand and my son drew one.

Then he thought hard about what the plural version would be. If he knew it, he said it out loud (and sometimes spelled it, in the case of babies). Next, he opened the card’s flap to reveal the plural.

If he had guessed right, he got to flick the spinner on the Pretend Prize Wheel I made. I explained that he wasn’t winning real money. He was still thrilled. 

Download the prize wheel PDF here, print it on sticker paper, adhere to an empty cereal box for sturdiness, cut it out, punch holes in the wheel and spinner, and attach together in the center with a brad.

With each spin, he added the new prize money to his winnings. Beware of the “You are bankrupt!” And good luck getting the spinner to stop on “Double It!”

When the game was over, his pretend “winnings” totaled $3.05. Before we finished up, he read a simple book filled with tricky plurals: One Foot, Two Feet: an EXCEPTIONAL counting book.