Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Boppin’ on DIY Bongo Drums

Our musical instrument projects have been a HUGE hit. Just the other day, my sons put on a music concert for me. The toddler played the rainstick, while my oldest treated me to the musical stylings of his pan flute and palm pipes. It was one of those moments as a mother you hope you never forget.

At the library I found a fun book about children who form a band of drummers, using all sorts of unconventional materials to drum on. Drum City was a real treat!

When my son had finished reading, I gave him:
Two sturdy empty canisters of the same width but different height
Two medium-sized balloons (not inflated)
Fun duct tape
A long rubberband

He cut the “necks” off of the two balloons and with a little bit of effort, we stretched them over the open end of our canisters. Then we used some fun duct tape to wrap around the cans and the excess balloon, sealing it in place.

I barely stretched a long rubberband around the two drums, before my son had begun tapping on them. He immediately noticed that because of their height differences, one had a lower sound; no doubt a hypothesis he formed from experiences with his other homemade instruments.

Bum. Bum. Bum. Bum. Now that’s the sound of fun!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Moving Decimal (A Money Exercise)

In the process of brainstorming a place value activity, this little exercise was born. It’s simple and fun and takes next to no prep.

Just find the following:
A small black button, pom-pom, or a magnet (what we used)
Funny money (download some here if you don’t have any)
A bunch of coins
A deck of cards with only the face cards (just two through nine)
(I made some zero cards, although they’re not necessary.)

How to play
The child draws two cards.

Put the ‘decimal’ in front of him/her. How much money is that? Have the child use the coins to count it out.

The child draws another card. It is placed behind the other two and the decimal is moved behind the first card. Now how much money is that? Let the child use coins and funny money bills to show you.

The activity continues until five cards are on the table. Then you’re done or you’re starting over. You choose!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shooting (Adjective) Hoops

We’re a college ball kinda family; there’s not too much NBA on at our house. Despite this, my son found out about the legendary Michael Jordan at school and has name dropped more than a few times how cool he is. When I read the review of Salt in His Shoes on Books 4 Learning, I knew I HAD to find a way to bring Michael Jordan and the book written by his mother and sister into our afterschool learning.

To reinforce parts of speech, I told my son to find adjectives in the story as I read Deloris and Roslyn Jordan’s book aloud. I gave him some orange slips of paper, each printed with a basketball. (Click the image below to download this PDF.)

When he heard a descriptive word, I stopped reading and he wrote the adjective on a basketball.

Finishing the story, I explained that each basketball was already worth one point. If he could wad up the paper and toss the adjective into the hoop (a bucket on the table), it would be worth another point. He had 12 points (the number of describing words he found) before he starting 'shooting hoops' with the adjectives. He finished the game with 15 points!

He had so much fun, he gathered the papers and bucket for another round. Could I have a little Michael Jordan on my hands, I wondered.

Maybe I should go sprinkle some salt in his shoes!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jellyfish Art & Write

My son’s fascination with jellies hasn’t waned since we did our first jellyfish activity (check out the awesome tunnel book we made here). When I picked up Bob Barner’s book Fish Wish at the library for our youngest boy, I marveled at the amazing art – especially the two pages full of floating jellyfish. Barner’s book was the inspiration for this art project.

1 sheet of thin white gift wrap tissue paper (or perhaps used dryer sheets?)
1 piece of blue paper
Grey yarn
Glue stick
White glue
Jellyfish body patterns (download the ones we used here)

Before we created our own mixed-media jellyfish art, we read a wonderful book by Twig C. George.

What I loved about Jellies: The Life of Jellyfish is that it was written with a child in mind. (It starts “If you were a jellyfish …”.) It was hard to imagine a “bump and sting” lifestyle, but that’s precisely what George’s book had us doing. Seventeen kinds of jellies were pictured and identified, giving my son and I plenty to discuss about their similarities and differences. This book is, of course, non-fiction, but it read like a wonderful fiction adventure in which we both pondered living as a jellyfish would!

When we were done reading, we put the book aside, and I gave my son some jellyfish writing paper to record five facts he’d learned. (Writing is my son’s achilles heel, so whenever I can sucker him into doing it, I will.)

Download this writing paper here.

Now it was time to make our ‘underwater’ masterpiece. I gave my son the patterns and showed him how they’d be put together.

Download a PDF of the patterns (top) here.

It was up to him to decide which jellies to make and how many. Now he traced the patterns onto the thin tissue paper and cut them out. (Cut carefully, the paper tears easily!) Note: In order to make it to swimming lessons in time, I helped with the cutting.

Once cut, we used a gluestick and layered the tissue onto the blue paper to make the jellyfish.

Lastly, he cut and attached random lengths of grey yarn at the bottom of each jelly as stingers. Some dots of white school glue did the trick.

The final result was amazing!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ruler of the Ruler (A Measuring Activity)

To have a little fun with measuring, I turned my son into the Ruler of the Ruler, complete with a crown too!

To start our activity, we read Brian P. Cleary’s book How Long or How Wide?: A Measuring Guide (it was my inspiration). If you’re a regular reader than just skip this part; you’ve already heard me gush about Cleary’s books.

This book provided my son some great background on millimeters, inches, centimeters, feet, and yards. After reading the book front to back, my son wanted to go back through and even asked if we could replicate a “12 inches = 1 foot and 3 feet = 1 yard” graphic as an activity. (Whoa, now my son is coming up with his own ideas for activities? My job as a parent just got easier!)

Before I handed him the ruler, I gave him a piece of cardstock to make his Ruler of the Ruler crown.

Download a PDF of the ruler crown here.
Print on heavyweight cardstock, cut along the middle line, and staple or tape together to fit.

When I finally pulled him away from the book, I gave him a ruler and recording sheet. (Click on the picture below to download a PDF.)

His job was to find six things shorter than 12 inches and six things longer than 12 inches. He measured each of them.

Then, he wrote the objects and their measurements on the worksheet to form six 'greater than' math sentences (for example, the table at 56 inches is greater than the book that is only 7 inches).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Go Birdwatching! [Printable Game]

NOTE: This freebie is no longer available for download because iStockphoto limits the number of printable impressions.

If you’ve been following for awhile, you know that my son has a fascination with birds. (Is he the only kid to use spy gear binoculars to birdwatch?)

When he noticed recently in our bird book that many species of birds were dimorphic (the male and female birds look different), I got the idea to make a fun card game to help him recognize these feathered friends as they stopped at our feeder.

Thanks to the recommendation from a blog follower who turned me on to iStockPhoto, and Curt from client relations who assured me giving away this game wouldn’t be a violation of their copyright, I was able to bring this idea to life!

Before we played, we reread my favorite children’s bird book, which I broke down and bought after we were fined by the library for keeping it so long (oops!). To read my glowing review of Frank Mazzola’s book Counting is for the Birds, click here.

The cards I made were to be played like “Go Fish.” Five cards are dealt to each player. Play alternates between players with each looking at the cards in their hand and asking their opponents for the same species of birds as the cards they were holding. A match consists of four cards – two males and two females of the same species.

After reviewing their cards and seeing two cardinals in their hand, a player would ask an opponent, “Do you have any cardinals?” If the opponent does, they must surrender ALL of their cardinal cards. If they don’t, they say, “Go birdwatching!” At which time, the opponent will pull a card from those that remained after cards were dealt, which are spread out facedown between the players.
The individual with the most matches when one player runs out of cards wins. (As you can probably tell from the picture below of my son's matches, I was easily defeated during our first round of play.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Engineering a Bridge

After I attended a Mom’s Night Out for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) event, I realized that our afterschool curriculum was void of any engineering-related activities. I know what you’re thinking. Engineering for a six-year old?!?

My answer to that is … YES!

We read a fantastic book by Philemon Sturges that highlighted great bridges from around the world. Through the pictures and the words, we were able to take a trip across the globe and explore feats in bridge engineering. By far, the most impressive in the book was a bridge that holds water for boats to travel on. “Say what?!?” Yep, it’s absolutely real. Both my son and I had to pick our jaws up off the table.

Now, I grabbed some straws and paperclips. And we began building. The paperclips easily slipped into the ends of the straws and could be connected together.

It didn’t take long before we’d built the bottom and sides to a bridge. We added more straws to make the top and connected it all together.

Let’s just say, the bridge was a flop. I don’t mean a failure. I mean ... well ... floppy. My son and I were bummed.

our floppy bridge

Then I asked him, “What’s wrong with it? Let’s think like engineers.” And so it was that we decided to stabilize our bridge by reinforcing the paperclip joints with thin strips of duct tape.

Before we taped heavyweight cardstock to the bottom of the bridge (so my son’s Hot Wheels cars could drive over it), we added a few more straws as crossbars for extra support.

The bridge was a HUGE success. It was as much an exercise in engineering as it was problem solving. And my son L-O-V-E-D driving his cars over it. This activity was fun during and fun after – what could be better?!?

NOTE: I think I'll try to find straws that don't bend for our next bridge.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Symmetry is All Around Me

It’s amazing how much in our world is symmetrical. Once you start looking, you find symmetry (both occurring naturally and man-made) everywhere!

Walking around saying “see” and “look at this” didn’t really seem like the best way to explain symmetry so I turned to Loreen Leedy for help. Her book Seeing Symmetry is wildly fun.

The graphics are bold and the explanation ever so helpful. It has TONS of examples of symmetry (whales, beetles, airplanes, the human body, certain letters of the alphabet, etc.).

The book explained vertical and horizontal lines of symmetry and even demonstrated rotational symmetry (think bicycle wheel or helicopter blade).

After reading, I handed my son his camera (our half broken old one) and told him to find at least a dozen symmetrical things and take pictures of them. He didn’t even have to leave his seat at the kitchen table to find the first one – the sunglasses perched on my head!

Soon, he was off snapping pictures everywhere in the house (it was threatening rain outside so our symmetry hunt was confined to indoors).
He was ecstatic to find an example of rotational symmetry in his bedroom: his ceiling fan!

With his pictures taken, I quick loaded them onto my computer and printed nine wallet size. Then I cut them out and handed them to him with a red colored pencil and a ruler. It was time to draw each item’s line of symmetry!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Finding Friends on the Map [Cardinal Directions]

When we’re in the car, my son thinks going straight means we’re going north. Um … not quite. To help him understand cardinal directions, I decided he should use a compass and practice locating things on a map.

We don’t have a compass, so he made one! We followed the same directions that are posted here

All you need is a cork, shallow dish/bowl, needle, water, and a magnet. This was surprisingly easy and fun, too!

My son kept moving the cork to watch the needle spin right back and point north again. Never having worked with a compass before, he was curious to see that it always pointed north.

He thought that it would point in whatever direction you were heading. I explained how once you knew which way was north, you could figure out the rest of the directions.

After our compass was made, I gave him a little activity I’d worked up to practice directions. Before he started, though, I pointed out two things on the makeshift map I’d made: the compass rose and the map scale.

Download a PDF of this map and directions to find friends' locations here.

Next, he read directions and followed them to find friends on the map (an example is below), either beginning at the start or using the clue in the first direction to determine the starting point.

After all eight friends were located, he picked the place he’d want to go and wrote the directions to it.

Of course, my son picked the ice cream shop (like father, like son)!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

DIY Palm Pipes

The drinking straw flute was such a success, I was anxious for my son to make another instrument. When I found instructions to make palm pipes out of PVC, I knew my son would be psyched.

We started with one 5-foot length of ½-inch cold water PVC pipe (price: less than $2). My husband cut it into the following lengths:
23.6 cm (F)
21.0 cm (G)
18.75 cm (A)
17.5 cm (B flat)
15.8 cm (C)
14 cm (D)
12.5 cm (E)
11.8 cm (F)
With some fine-grit sandpaper, we smoothed the edges a bit.

When my son came home from school, we read a whimsical book by Steven Kellogg. His account of the Pied Piper’s journey and magical flute was wonderful with playful illustrations that added to our enjoyment of the story.

Now it was time to make some beautiful music of our own. When my son saw the lengths of pipe I put on the table, I could see the wheels in his brain turning. He thought we should tap them together to make music. I explained that these were pipes. When he lined them up longest to shortest, he figured we were just making another pan pipe to blow into. All good conclusions … but wrong.

Before I revealed how to play these pipes, we ran a few pieces of painters tape around each and used different colored permanent markers to add stripes in different colors.

Then I told him to place letter stickers on each and told him the order of the letters. These letters were the music notes each pipe would play.

With our pipes colored and labeled, there was nothing left to do but play them. That’s when I told my son to pick a pipe and tap one end of it against the palm of his hand. WHOA! The sound plays a music note, with each pipe being tuned according to their lengths.

“Do  Re  Mi  Fa  Sol  La  Ti  Do” he played. To keep our pipes from rolling all over the table, I placed a kitchen towel underneath them. Then he tried his hand (literally) at “My Country Tis of Thee” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” using the notes included with the instructions I used.

This was a riot!! Our toddler had fun with them. My husband had fun with them (tapping them in syncopated rhythm against his thighs). And that night before reading with my son, I had fun with them too, using them to make sound effects to accompany an impromptu poem about a leaky faucet, light and heavy rain, etc. These are a blast!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Yard Sale Board Game [Counting Money]

It’s yard sale season, which is a wonderful time to work on counting money! I drummed up a game to play with my son that works on the following:
  1. Spending your money wisely (e.g. if you have $0.30, you can buy one thing for $0.30 or three things for $0.10).
  2. Saving your money to buy bigger ticket items.
  3. Exchanging money (e.g. ten dimes can be exchanged for $1.00).
  4. Making change (e.g. you buy something that costs $0.75 and pay with a one dollar bill; how much change do you get back?).

What you need to play:
Poker chips (each player uses a different color as gamepieces)
The game board and money cards (download a PDF here)
Funny money in $1.00, $5.00, and $10.00 increments (you can download some here)
Lots of U.S. coins
Yard sale pricing stickers

Once you’ve taped the game board together and cut apart the money cards, stick one yard sale pricing sticker on each item on the board (use only a few $5 and $10 stickers).

Buy as many items as you can. The player with the most items purchased (i.e. poker chips on the board) when the entire board is filled is the winner.

Play alternates between players. We played with two players, but I think you can play with as many as four. Each player gets $1.00 in funny money to start. Then, they draw from the pile of cards.

Whatever amount of money on the card is given to the player and he/she can purchase as many items as they’d like until they are out of money. A gamepiece (i.e. poker chip) is placed on all of the items that are purchased.

A purchase should be made during each turn, unless the player does not have enough money to buy any of the remaining items on the board, or they get the “Oh No” card. In which case, a gamepiece is removed and play resumes with the next player drawing a card from the draw pile.

Before we played, we read a great Mercer Mayer book. This got my son in the spirit of yard saling!

Then we both put on our game faces and raided my husband’s bowl of pocket change. It was a buying frenzy at first, but as the low-ticket items were purchased, the pace slowed. Now, we forced to “save” our money to see who would get the remaining few $5 and $10 items. This was a lot of fun and although it was intended just to work on counting money, there were loads of other lessons built right in.

I think we’re both in the mood to bargain hunt at next weekend’s yard sales now!

CREDIT: I downloaded the currency clip art from

Friday, May 4, 2012

Proofreading Police

My son’s first-grade teacher is working hard to help the students, my son included, understand the writing process and the importance of proofreading. To reinforce her efforts, I created a fun activity to give my son some practice editing.

Having spent much of my professional career as a writer and editor, this activity is close to my heart.

To start, we read a book from the Grammar Tales series. Francine Fribble, Proofreading Policewoman by Justin Martin was the perfect book to illustrate just how important proofreading is.

The story follows Francine on her beat as she heads through town correcting bad grammar (improper or forgotten capitalization, bad spelling, and lack of apostrophes and other punctuation). My son loved it!

When he was done, I told him it was time for him to join the proofreading police squad. He was excited!

I gave him four cases to review. Each profiled one kid (Too Busy Tina, Careless Kyle, Unsure Ursula, and Forgetful Frank). Download them here.

It was up to him to review their crimes against grammar and help correct the errors (i.e. to proofread)!

He did a wonderful job (this mama-writer was SO proud!), missing a few of the edits and struggling a bit with the use of the apostrophe, but was eager to get through all the “evidence.”