Friday, February 3, 2012

Magnet Activity Boards

L and E are 30 months old.

Sometimes I give the girls a big box of magnets to play with, but usually they just line them up on the cookie sheet or put them in containers (which is fun too), and ignore me when I try to make it into an organized activity. They do, however, love when I give them smaller-scale challenges on small magnet boards. I'll make up different tasks for them and keep it down to a reasonable size. For example, here's an activity I put together for matching upper case letters to lower case ones (the magnets are Mellisa and Doug):

If I tell them to match the uppercase to the lowercase letters they are not interested.  But if I tell them that the Mommy letters need to find their babies, then they enjoy this activity very much.  They'll even act out little scenarios -capital B says "Where's my baby?", lowercase b says "here I am." and then the Mommy and baby letters give each other kisses (they're only 2 years old, so this is about as involved as it gets). 

Here's another magnet activity board I put together, where the girls need to match each object to its beginning sound:

We're still working on beginning sounds, but they get the concept.  The other day, when L got out of the bath she said "I'm cold.. cccccc. Cold starts with 'c'".  These kids soak up new concepts like little sponges.

Anyway, these magnet activity boards are so easy to set up that it hardly takes any time at all to switch the activities around.  Since the boards are dry-erase in addition to being magnetic, I want to start having the girls draw lines from the objects on one side to those on the other side, but we're not ready for that quite yet.

$1 Plastic Mesh Baskets = Hours of Fun

Last weekend, I picked up two plastic baskets for the girls (30 months old) in the Target $1 section.  I couldn't have imagined how much fun we've had with these baskets.  They've been beds for stuffed animals.  They've been hats.  They've been props for an apple-picking adventure in our living room (with real apples!). 

We also came up with some great fine-motor activities with the baskets that I wanted to share.  You could also do these activities with Easter baskets, laundry baskets, or even plastic berry containers.

First we weaved ribbon through the holes of the basket:

Older kids could probably weave the ribbon going in-and-out on a single row at a time and make a really gorgeous basket.  We took a more free-form approach.

Next we put straws through the basket.  It took a lot of control to put the straw in one side and then get it to go through a hole on the other side without pushing so far that it would fall:

Finally, we hung some monkeys around the baskets:

L really loved these activities and did them over and over.  E wasn't as excited and preferred to use the baskets as beds for her 'babies'.  I'm sure we'll be coming up with a bunch more creative ways to use these baskets.  I love it when $1 finds end up being picked over expensive toys.

Click on the link party below to see the activities other kids are doing this week.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bumblebee Math Game

Here is a quick game I put together to help the twins (30 months) learn to identify numbers and to count.  It's a very basic concept so I'm sure I'm not inventing anything new.  I used silicone cupcake holders, and cut out cardstock circles to fit at the bottom of each cup.  Then I labeled them with the numbers from 1 to 6.  The bees came from another game we have (I think it's called Honey Bee Tree), and the foam dice came from a set of twelve we already had.  The game is to roll the die and then put that number of bees in the corresponding cups.

We usually play a bunch of variations of this game:

-Put each bee on a dot on the die and then buzz them to the flower one by one
-Instead of using dice, I call out a number for the bee to buzz to, or make up a rhyme that they have to complete like "Bee, bee, in the tree, fly to the number that says.... three!", and so on for all the numbers.
-Sometimes we just put random bees in the flowers and talk about the numbers.
-Mix up the flowers and then rearrange them in correct numerical order (the girls can't really do this one yet without lots of help)

Other activities we do when we take out this tray:
-Stack the flowers in each other and then unstack them
-Put one bee in our hands and sing "I'm bringing home a baby bumble bee".  After the "Ouch! It stung me" part we rub our hand, blow on it, and kiss it.
-Recite the poem:

The little bees buzz.  (bee buzzes around)
Buzz upon a flower.  (put bee on flower).
Buzz upon my nose. (put bee on nose).
Buzz upon my little knee (put bee on knee).
And buzz down to my toes (move bee down leg to the toes).

The girls are really good at counting, but still get 2 and 5 confused (and sometimes 1 and 7), so we'll probably be taking this activity out once a week for a while longer.

UPDATE: I was so inspired by how much my kids enjoyed early learning games that I created the La La Logic Critical Thinking Curriculum for 3-6 year olds, which includes online brain challenge games, printable worksheets, enrichment activities and more!

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Cooking with Kids: Banana Pops

L and E are 30 months.

I try to do a cooking/baking day with the twins once a week, which they love (what's not to like about wearing aprons and wielding knives!).  Today we made banana-pops out of banana slices, yogurt, and sprinkles.  I've seen a couple yogurt-dipped-fruit ideas floating around Pinterest, which gave me this idea.

First the girls peeled their bananas, and then cut them into smaller pieces with plastic kitchen knives:

(All the practice with cutting playdough is finally paying off).  Then we put little food picks in them and dipped them in yogurt.  If you try this at home I would use something other than these foodpicks / toothpicks because the banana pieces kept falling off and then at the end I removed them all for fear that they would snap in two while the girls were eating their pops.

Then we shook on some candy sprinkles ($1 at target) - I think the girls enjoyed this part the best.  You could probably also just dip them in the sprinkles for more consistent results.

Finally, I put them in the freezer for a tasty treat.  Putting them on wax/parchment paper is probably a good idea so you don't have to pry them off your plate when they're done like I did.  These were REALLY good - I had one or two (or five!) before L and E woke up from their naps.


UPDATE: I was so inspired by how much my kids enjoyed early learning games that I created the La La Logic Critical Thinking Curriculum for 3-6 year olds, which includes online brain challenge games, printable worksheets, enrichment activities and more!

Work-at-home Mom

I forgot to mention that I work from home full-time as a Senior Software Engineer for a really great, family-friendly software company.  This has both pros and cons.  The pros are obvious - getting to spend all day with my kids and getting to work at the same time is a dream for most Moms.  The con is that working from home means that I never get to leave work, so making a distinction between work time and family time is critical.

My work day starts early in the morning as I try to get as many things done before the family wakes up, and ends late in the day as I try to fit in any remaining work tasks after the kids have gone to bed.  My manager doesn't mind what schedule I work as long as I put on the calendar so others can schedule meetings around my availability.  I've found that blocking out specific hours during the day on my company calendar as 'unavailable' has helped me dedicate those blocks of time solely to homeschooling activities without drifting back to my computer to check email and get work done.  The girls are great at entertaining themselves (and each other) the rest of the workday (I LOVE having twins!).

So far the work-from-home thing has been working really well for us.  I get the occasional pangs of guilt that I should be spending ALL my time with the kids, but seeing all the creative games they come up with on their own is making me realize that the independent play is just as important for them.  I think having an intellectually-challenging job and other adults to talk to is keeping me sane.  Plus with a second income I don't have to feel guilty about buying all those educational toys and manipulatives I see on Amazon.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Welcome to Learners in Bloom

I'm going to take a stab at blogging.  Starting always seems to be the most awkward part...

My twin girls are 30 months old, and I'd like this blog to document all the fun things that I've been doing with my kids in the form of "homeschool preschool" (playing, learning, and exploring).

It's so much fun watching them absorb new experiences and come up with so many creative ways to play.

We also have a new addition to the family - baby H - who is 4 months old. Although I plan on focusing this blog around the activities I'm doing with my older kids, I'll start including him when he's ready for 'tot school'.