## Friday, February 10, 2012

### Valentines Counting Game

Here's a standard math/counting game with a bit of a Valentine's Day twist to it.  I set up a laminated hundreds-board, a spinner from a different board game, and a jar with exactly 100 heart-shaped mini-erasers.  The way you play the game is to take turns spinning the spinner (you could also use dice) and to count out that number of hearts and place them on the board until it is completely covered.

It's a good way of reinforcing identification of digits and introducing higher-order numbers to 100.  Older kids can use this type of activity to work on addition as well as other skills (like discussing odd-even numbers and what happens when you add an odd number to an even number, etc,,,).  The girls played the 'game' for a couple turns, and the E just wanted to put all the hearts down on the board without using the spinner.  She did a great job and was really proud when the board was completely covered.  She removed the hearts in random order and I called out the name of each number she was uncovering, which she liked.

Then I used dry-erase crayons to make a pattern on the other side of the laminated hundreds board (which has blank squares, and L placed the hearts on them to make a pretty design:

This was such an easy activity to set up, and the girls loved using the hearts instead of their usual manipulatives.

### Military Play

Who says girls can't play with toy soldiers?  I found a cheap plastic military figure set at Target for \$1.50 (from the toys they couldn't sell at Christmas).  There are lots of opportunities for sorting and grouping the soldiers and vehicles by color, size, type, etc....  We use the fences to make different shapes.  The wheels come off all the trucks and planes, so it's a good fine motor activity to take them off and put them back on again.  It's pretty obvious that they're girls, though - they're very delicate with the soldiers and like to take the tops off the trucks to make beds and baths for them.

## Thursday, February 9, 2012

### Art Activity: "stained glass" lanterns

Here is a project I was planning for Christmas/Hanukkah, which slipped through the cracks, so we finally got to it just now.  I bought a bunch of plastic mason-style jars which we used for various gifts, and wanted to try making colorful lanterns out of them.  We used a mix of equal parts Elmer's glue and water to create a substance similar to Modge-Podge, which we spread all over the outside of the jars.  Then we stuck on pre-cut squares of colored tissue paper, followed by more glue.

It was messy (note all the glue on the table), but easy for the girls to do with very little direction.  The tissue paper strips don't have to line up perfectly - in fact, the overlapping creates a very neat effect.  Once these were dry, we put little battery-powered tea lights (which I got at a discount after Halloween):

Then we went into the closet to check them out in the dark... Pretty cool!

If I were to do this craft again, I would put the tissue paper on the inside of the jars so they look really pretty and shiny from the outside, or finish them with some type of glossy clear-coat.

### Over, Under, Around, and Through with Hairy Maclary's Bone

The girls love to mix literature with dramatic play.  One of our favorite stories for this is Hairy Maclary's Bone by Lynley Dodd.  I randomly stumbled upon her books while surfing Amazon - they are very popular in New Zealand and the UK.  We have a number of other books in her series, which follow the adventures of a little terrier, and they are all really cute.

The plot of the book is that Hairy Maclary gets a bone, and all the other neighborhood dogs follow him around.  The dogs go through a sign, under a hedge, around a boat yard, over a hill, and jump over a wall.  In each activity one dog gets left behind until Hairy Maclary gets to go home with the bone all by himself.  This book lends itself to a great discussion on words such as over, under, around, and through.  After reading each section, we demonstrate the action.  The girls navigate through some chairs, commando-crawl under the table, climb over the couch, run around the room, and jump off a stepstool...  basically turning our living room into a giant obstacle course!  We've been doing this activity a lot in the winter when it's too cold to go to the playground.  Here are some pictures of the fun:

Through.

Under.

Over.

Easy.  Physical.  Fun.

## Wednesday, February 8, 2012

### Phonics Game With Velcro Letters

I want to share this incredibly easy phonics game / learning tool that I made a couple weeks ago.  You need some craft sticks, a tub of cheap plastic letter tiles and a roll of velcro dots (they are pretty cheap if you buy them in bulk).  I put the velcro dots on the backs of the letter tiles as well as on the craft sticks.  Now the girls can get hands-on practice building C-V-C words.  We have some \$1 flashcards from Target that we use to copy words (I either pull out the letter they need or they ask for the letters one at a time - making them all available seems to be too distracting).  I also like to show them how with word families you can just change the first letter to make a new word.  Both girls (30 months old) are really getting the concept that letters are used to sound out words.  Sometimes they pick random letters, put them on the craft sticks and then sound out the "words" they've created.

### There Are Days Like This

Yesterday we learned French.  We took turns catching falling feathers.  We colored (almost) in between the lines.  We squeezed fresh orange juice.  We made animals and furniture out of pattern blocks.  We practiced yoga.

Today... well let's say it was one of those days that didn't go according to the schedule.

It all started with the moonlit snow.  My husband always complains about the fact that I close the shades at night, so I left them open.  The moonlight reflecting off the snow at 2 in the morning was beautiful, but it also confused Baby H.  When he woke up to nurse, he started talking to me and looking around.  He decided that he was up for the day and spent the next 4 hours making a variety of sounds from cooing to laughing to sucking on his fingers to crying (when I closed the shades), so I didn't sleep.

Then he went on a nursing strike.  Every time I'd try to breastfeed him, he would scream (the rest of the time he was smiling and laughing so it wasn't that something was wrong.  By 8am I resorted to feeding him from a bottle (which he only played with), and ended up being late to a meeting with an international client.  As soon as I remembered the meeting, I threw the girls in front of Barney, the baby in his Exersaucer, and ran out of the room hoping that my husband, who was in the living room with the kids, shared my sentiment that the girls should be watched so they don't unintentionally hurt the baby.

After my morning meeting was over and husband left for work, I had to prepare for my afternoon software demonstration.  H still hadn't had anything to drink since 2am and I was worried.  I gave the girls their doctor-kit and some stuffed animals to operate on and ran back to the other room (with the door open) to check work email and try to get H to nurse.  Success!  H was nursing and all was quiet in the house... a little bit too quiet...  Distressed by the sudden lack of screaming kids, I ran to the living room with H still latched on.  The girls were nowhere to be found.  Thankfully I taught them they need to answer when I call them and they immediately responded before I had a chance to get a full-blown panic-attack... from downstairs!  Their Dad forgot to lock the baby-gate at the top of the stairs when he left, so they went exploring (note - they never do this, so I had reason to freak out).   By this time, H had remembered that he was on a nursing-strike, stopped feeding, and started crying.  The (very sweet) girls came upstairs.  Note to self: never ever leave children unattended.. even for a minute!

Then I entertained all three kids in my bedroom where I could watch them while preparing for my afternoon call... working at home in my pajamas isn't always stress-free!  The girls finally went into their room to play, and baby H fell asleep.  About 30 minutes into my conference call, in the middle of my demo, he woke up screaming.  I assumed he was hungry but wasn't sure if he'd nurse.  Somehow the timing worked out just right that while other people were talking, I was able to press the mute button, pick him up, nurse him (whew!), and then manage to seamlessly continue the demonstration with one hand holding a phone, an elbow holding the baby, and my other hand navigating with the mouse and keyboard for the next 2 hours!

Let's just say I'm relieved that this day is almost over.  The funny thing is I don't think the kids felt neglected at all - they had a fun time watching videos and playing with each other.  It's just my Mommy-guilt - feeling that I have to fill their day with enriching activities.

Tonight:  the shades will be closed.

## Tuesday, February 7, 2012

### Homemade Math Manipulatives - Sorting Hearts

Here are some homemade math manipulatives I created for L and E (30 months old).

I've decided to use the RightStart Math curriculum for the girls.  It is based on hands-on learning using lots of math manipulatives (and an abacus, too!).  I'm really excited about this curriculum, but I'll talk more about that in another post.  Level A is supposed to be for Kindergarteners, but we've already done the first 3 lessons and the girls are really enjoying it and are grasping the concepts just fine.  A big part of the curriculum is to condition the brain to identify groups of objects instead of always count them.  I wanted to create some of my own manipulatives to help reinforce grouping and sorting concepts.

These little hearts are made from Crayola Model Magic.  It's an air-dry 'clay' that has the feel of foam when it is dry (and doesn't break if dropped).  We used the same technique to make Christmas ornaments a couple months ago.  I rolled the modeling compound out with a rolling pin and punched out shapes with a cookie cutter.  Then I pressed different numbers of 'gems' into each one:

Initially I wanted to use different shape and size cookie cutters, but in the end decided on a heart theme for Valentines Day.  I brushed a mixture of glue and water (equal parts of each) over them after they dried to make these more resistant to fingerprints.

The girls didn't help me with this project, but they had a good time making their own creations out of the modeling material:

These girls always impress me with their creativity (I think their project turned out cuter than mine)!

Back to the Math Hearts.  There's no correct way to play this 'game', but here are a couple things we did.  First I'd show them one heart and ask them how many jewels it has (without counting).  The girls are really good at identifying groups of 1-3, but still working on groups of 4 and 5 (with the RightStart Math program, everything is based on 5s and 10s, which is how Asians are taught to do math, so once we can identify groups up to 5, we can do all types of operations fairly quickly).  Then I put all the hearts down on the table and we sorted them in different ways - by heart color, by gem color, by gem shape, and by the number of gems.  After sorting them into groups I asked questions about which group had the most and least, how many are left if we take one away, etc..  In future play, we'll do some ordering and sequencing activities with these manipulative as well.  They are so versatile!  I have a feeling that the girls (especially E) will want to pretend they are cookies as well and feed them to their stuffed animals - which is fun too!

UPDATE: I was so inspired by how much my kids enjoyed playing "IQ 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!

Take a look at my sidebar (on the right) for all the great blog linky parties that I participate in.

### Sight Words Jump

A couple months ago when L and E were just a little over two years old, I purchased Meet the Sight Words just for fun to see if they'd pick anything up.  They both already knew the uppercase alphabet and most of the lowercase letters, as well as all the letter sounds (thanks to the Leapfrog Letter Factory video).  Both the girls (but especially L) have been displaying other signs of reading-readiness as well, but I didn't want to push anything.  To my surprise, thanks to the video series they now know approximately 40 sight words!  I'd love to take credit, but it really was all from the video..

To re-enforce the sight words they've learned, we do a variety of fun activities, most of which involve physical components like hitting sight words with fly swatters, running to the other side of the room to fetch sight words and then putting them into a box, or jumping over the sight words.  Here is Linnea demonstrating:

She doesn't get them all right, and some of her pronunciation is a bit off (I think she says 'hat' instead of 'had' and 'here' instead of 'her'), but it's a lot of fun.  Sometimes we put the flashcards in a big circle all around the house and the girls will go around and around jumping over them.

The best part about learning sight words is that now when I read stories to the girls, I can point at words that they know and they understand the context - that they haven't just memorized random patterns, but that they know words that will help them to read (and we LOVE reading).

We're also doing a lot of activities that involve phonics, identifying what letters words begin and end with, rhyming words, etc..  I have a feeling that over the next year as we continue into homeschool preschool, everything will just click and I'll have two very young readers seeking out new books to absorb...

## Monday, February 6, 2012

### Paper Bag Creative Challenge: Hungry Lion

Today we joined the fun of TinkerLab's Creative Challenge: Create something with a paper bag.  We made paper bag lions with big open mouths that can be fed.  I love art projects that you can play with when they are done!

This was a really easy project.  First we painted paper plates with yellow and orange paint:

Once the paint dried, we glued on googly-eyes, drew on a nose, and cut slits around the paper plate so we could ruffle his mane.  Then I cut holes in both the paper bag and the paper plate for the mouth.  Here are the girls' lions (L's is the one with the orange body and the other one is E's):

Aren't they cute?  Of course, Mommy had to make a lion too (did I mention that I love having kids because I get to play too?).

We looked at some photographs of lions, and practiced marching around the room and roaring.  Then it was feeding time..  What do lions eat?

"The lordly lion longs to sup
On living prey, and chew it up.
Try not to fall within his sight,
Lest he dispatch you, bite by bite."  -Jack Prelutsky (Carnival of the Animals)

I realize this poem is a bit dark for 2-year-olds, but L loves to recite it.

Our lions especially enjoy eating plastic monkeys... with a spoon!

Here's a link to the TinkerLab Paper Bag Challenge.  Be sure to check out all the other creative ideas, too.

## Sunday, February 5, 2012

### Art project: Colored Rice Mosaic

I wanted to try sand-art with the girls (30 months old), but after a salt-painting adventure that left our floor crunchy for a week, I decided it would just be too hard to clean up (maybe we'll do it on the deck in the Summer).  So we tried making mosaics with colored rice instead.  The results were fabulous, and we still have enough colored rice left for many other projects.

This was my first time coloring rice and I was genuinely surprised by how easy it was.  We used food coloring, vinegar, and white rice from our rice sensory box.

First the girls poured the rice into plastic bags, and then I added a cap-full of vinegar and a squirt of food coloring.  Then, making sure the bags were tightly closed we shook and squeezed the bags until the food coloring we evenly distributed.

I put the colored rice into tupperware to dry.  I love how vibrant these colors are!

I made the mosaic with E while L was napping.  It was definitely easier to manage the mess with only one girl, and E loved getting some special time with Mommy without her twin.  I took a very thick piece of paper and used Elmer's white glue to draw a design, one part at a time (I just did this freehand but you could print out a coloring page too).  Then I gave E one color at a time to sprinkle on the paper.  After each iteration, we shook the paper over the try and collected the rice that fell off.

Here is our finished masterpiece:

E was very proud of her artwork and her whole face glowed when she showed it to her sister.  When the girls are older we'll try this again and let them make their own designs with the glue.

### Blocks in Socks - Early Math Game

L and E are 30 months old.

Yesterday we tried an activity called "Blocks in Socks".  It was loosely inspired by an idea in this book, with a lot of my own variations:

First I put one, two, or three 1-cm unit blocks in a (clean) sock, and invited the girls to reach in the tell me how many blocks were in the sock.  They had fun guessing and subsequently pulling the blocks out to count them, but didn't get this one right.  I love that this was challenging for them and we can redo this activity later.

Then I filled four socks with different amount of blocks (I wanted there to be big differences so it was something like 5, 10, 20, and 30 blocks).  Then I asked the girls if they could feel the outside of the sock to determine which one had the most blocks and which had the least.  Then we lifted them out to see which was heaviest and which was lightest.  They really understood this concept well.

To check our answers, we emptied the contents of the socks into oversized test tubes, and discussed the differences between the amounts and how we can use visual discrimination to compare amounts instead of counting.

There were a lot of skills involved in this process including screwing the test tube lids on and off (L has been doing this for a while, but E is finally figuring it out), and figuring out how to transfer blocks from the socks into the test tubes without spilling them on the floor.  We also shook the test tubes and listened to the sound they made.  I got out the scale and we weighed the groups of blocks.  They understood the concept that the heavier side will be lower.  Then I let them play with the scale all on their own, and they had fun putting various objects in each side.  E really enjoyed putting objects in the little drawer too.

I'll definitely revisit this activity a couple more times as they get older, but overall it provided over an hour's worth of fun exploration, making it a success.

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!