Thursday, February 28, 2013

Animal Tracks Match-Up

Ever since the groundhog announced that Spring would come early, we've been seeing a lot more snowfall. While I'm beyond ready for our thaw to begin and temps to rise, I have to admit, there's something magical about animal tracks in a newly fallen snow.

Mostly we just have rabbit and dog tracks around here, but I thought it'd be fun to explore other types of animal footprints. I was hoping my own curiosity would be echoed by my oldest son; it was!

"What are you making, Mom?" he asked numerous times, cranning his neck to see my laptop when I was designing this animal tracks game.

Playing is easy. Simply print the four-page PDF and cut the cards on the first three pages out. Now scramble them and put them in front of a child.

(Download the Animal Track Match-Up game cards and Answer Sheet here.)

One by one, by son lined them up to match the animal with its correct tracks. "Did I get them right?" he asked.

"You have two wrong."

"Which two?" he inquired.

"You'll have to figure that out on your own," I replied.

He switched two cards and looked at me with questioning eyes.

"You have four wrong now."

The two cards were switched back and he went back to work trying to find the misplaced matches. In a matter of minutes he was ready with his "final answer."

I handed him the answer sheet and asked him to double check his work. They were all right!

We concluded our afterschool activity with a great book about the different types of footprints (and signs) animals make. My son had loads of fun with Arthur Dorros' book. 

Much of the story gives readers clues and pictures but doesn't reveal the animal that left the tracks until the page is turned. My son really had fun trying to guess which animal left what tracks. I'm so glad this book is part of our at-home library!

The fun doesn't have to stop here. Why not try the following extension ideas?
No. 1
Take the Animal Tracks "answer sheet" and go exploring for animal tracks with your kids!

No. 2
Have kids play memory with these cards, matching the correct animal with the right tracks (let them use the answer sheet if they aren't sure or print two of the answer sheet and cut out cards from that).

Monday, February 25, 2013

Leprechaun's Luck Multiplication Game

Have you seen those gold plastic shamrock coins they sell at the craft stores?

I've been wracking my brain since last year to come up with some kind of game to play with them.

I dusted off the packages I bought last year, and bought three more when the craft store had a 50-percent off sale (woo hoo!).

Then I made some multiplication fact cards. 

On each is printed a shamrock with a 1, 2, or 3 printed on it; this is the number of leprechaun's gold pieces a player gets if they answer the multiplication fact correct.

The deck of cards also has three other kind of cards as well.

Once the cards were printed on cardstock, I spray glued some green office paper to the back before cutting them out. This gave the cards some weight. Download the cards here.

When my son got home from school, I had everything we needed to play: the deck of cards, the gold shamrock coins, and a multiplication table to help him with the especially hard problems.

I put the coins on the table in a small box with the deck of cards face-down.

Playing was easy. One by one, we took turns drawing cards, solving the problems, grabbing coins from the box with each right answer, putting them back and taking from each other's pile of gold coins as the special cards instructed. If we missed the problem, no coins were awarded.

I had set the timer on our microwave for ten minutes. When time was up, we counted our coins to see who had the most leprechaun gold.

This was simple and a much more fun way to practice multiplication facts than flash cards. My son agreed!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

DIY George Washington Wig

What is it about dress-up that kids love so much? My oldest son STILL hasn't outgrown the fun of donning a costume, which is probably why he loved this project so much.

In honor of George Washington's birthday (February 22), we made a wig to replicate his signature grey locks.

1 paper grocery bag
cotton balls (you'll need a lot!)
low-temp glue gun and glue sticks

How To
I carefully cut the bag to fit my son's head, trimming off excess and gluing folds in places to make the bag smaller and less boxy.

I did my best to cut around his ears and left a tail at the back for George's ponytail.

Now it was time to add "hair." I grabbed a bag of cotton balls from my toiletries and my son began gluing the balls to our paper bag. 

When it was done, he added a bow at the back.

He was so proud of his George Washington wig that he wore it while we read a great book by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, and even quizzed his Dad when he came home from work; he asked "Who am I?" before my husband had even time to take his coat off!

George Did It! is a great book about our first, somewhat hesitant, president. The book sheds light on the notion that George wasn't exactly excited to be our nation's first leader - in fact, he was downright nervous about disappointing everyone. Painting an emotional account of his worries makes Washington so much more relatable for kids today.

Interested in doing more great George Washington projects? Check out Carla Mooney's George Washington: 25 Great Projects You Can Build Yourself. Our George Washington wig project came straight from the pages of Mooney's book!

Monday, February 18, 2013

DIY Craft Stick Piano

My two boys and I had SO much fun with our DIY piano. It came together in 5 minutes and kept them occupied while my husband and I prepped lunch last weekend (unfortunately, they still wanted to pluck a tune when it was time to eat). If it's more fun than eating, it's a success though, right?!?

This amazing idea came from a clever book I picked up during my last trip to our public library. Sound Projects with a Music Lab You Can Build by Robert Gardner is packed with one idea after the next to encourage kids to understand the science of noise and make their own DIY experiments and instruments.

Some require construction experience but the piano we made was simple enough for my oldest son and I to undertake (my husband raided the garage to find some of the supplies we needed).

What You Need
8 jumbo craft sticks
1 wooden board
2 C-clamps
8 dot stickers labeled do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do (optional)

First, my oldest son added the dot stickers to the sticks and lined them up in order.

To assemble, he lined up the craft sticks so each would stick off the edge of our table. The first stick (on the far left) stuck out the farthest, with each stick protruding off the table less and less. We placed the board on top of the sticks, lining it up with the edge of the table.

Next we added our C-clamps, tightening them so the sticks were tightly sandwiched between the top of the table and the wooden board. NOTE: Your sticks should be close together but not touching and the clamps should be placed immediately before and after. The farther away they are, the looser some of your middle sticks will be.

Now, they plucked the keys, and we made subtle adjustments to the distance the sticks protruded from the table to tune. Then my oldest played a song! 

Can you guess what this one is?

mi re do re mi mi mi___ re re re___ mi so so___
mi re do re mi mi mi mi re re mi re do_________

That's right! It's Mary Had a Little Lamb!!

Oh boy, was this fun for my two boys ... and their dad too; he was caught jamming out on our DIY piano as well!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Presidential Paint Stick Timelines

When I saw For the Love of Math's use of velcro-covered paint stir sticks to order fractions, I was excited. To encourage my son's love for presidential history, and learn a little about two of our country's most beloved leaders, I ran to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy two 5-gallon paint sticks (WHOA, they're big!) and some velcro.

While I printed, cut out, and laminated (with packing tape for durability) pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and 14 milestones from their lives, my son read some great graphic novels about their lives.

I was so glad to find these at our library. The comic book presentation of the milestones in each of these gentlemen's lives made their history seem more contemporary (translation: less yawn, more cool). My son went into a reading comma with these two bio-graphics books! Mission accomplished.

When he was done, I handed him the two paint sticks covered in a strip of velcro (I put the soft side on the stick). At the top was velcroed the heads of Washington and Lincoln. (Download and print the timeline milestones I made here.)

Our milestone markers were all ready to be put in the proper order. No instruction was required. "AHHHH, timelines?!?! I hate timelines," he says. (sigh)

So I explained: "Decide which events belong to which president. Put them in order. Show me, and I'll tell you how many are wrong. But I won't tell you which ones were wrong."

[ZING] (That's the sound of the lightbulb going on.) Suddenly, these boring timelines were a game. He was in.

My son used what he'd learned to deduce which events belonged on the appropriate timeline. Then, I piped up with some questions to ignite the critical thinking more, asking questions like, "Lincoln was our 16th president. Do you think the country's states would have all been established by then?"

Even I have to admit this little activity was more fun than I'd imagined. I can't wait to use our velcro-covered paint sticks for other activities!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Presidential 4-in-a-Row Board Game

My son thinks our nation's presidential legacy is fascinating. And since President's Day is this month, I cooked up a fun game to help us celebrate.

If you've played Sequence for Kids, you'll recognize the rules. The game board and cards feature 19 of the most "famous" presidents in U.S. history. Each card features:
  1. A star with a number; that number indicates where in the lineage of presidents he served (i.e. Richard Nixon's card says 37, because he was our nation's 37th president).
  2. The president's political party affiliation.
  3. A quick fact about their life and/or their presidency.

Here's What You Need
The game board (download a 4-page PDF here, print, and tape together)
Game cards (download a 6-page PDF here, print on cardstock, and cut apart)
Game pieces that are a different color for each player (we use poker chips)

The Objective
The first player to get four of their own game pieces on the game board in a row (horizontally or vertically) wins.

How to Play
Each player is dealt three cards and looks at their hand. The remaining card deck is the draw pile.

Players can place a game piece on any president they have a card for in their hand. One game piece is placed on the board per turn. 

The card played is placed in a discard pile and the player draws a new card. Players should always have three cards in their hand.

Special Cards There are two kinds of special cards in the deck: one where the player can place a game piece on ANY open space and another where the player can remove an opponent's game piece from anywhere.

The player discards the special card, and in the case of the "remove an opponent's game piece," they cannot place their own game piece in its place until their next turn.

Star Spaces The four corners of the game board are free spaces. A player can use one of these spaces as one of their four-in-a-row. These are the only four spaces on the board that more than one player can place a game piece on.

Personal note: I tried my best to make sure there were no errors (it was a lot of facts to keep straight). If you spot one, please let me know!

Looking for a fun book to pair with this activity? I've got a great one. We LOVE Judith St. George's book So You Want to Be President?. It's such a clever way to learn about the country's past presidents. My son took this to school when it was his week to share his favorite book with the class.

CREDIT: This activity would not have been possible without the amazing free clipart of the presidents, available at WPClipart.