Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Website Review ~


Appropriate for ages: all ages

Helps with: Getting school supplies

Review: By now, I think we all know that you can buy things easily and safely from You can even order your toilet paper from them! They have everything. But, have you considered ordering your school supplies from Amazon? I suggest this for a few reasons:

  1. When you take kids to shop for school supplies, a lot of overpriced, unnecessary items catch their attention. You'll end up either fighting them off with a LOT of "no's" or you'll spend more money than you needed to spend. In this economy, that is probably not something you want to do. By ordering from Amazon, you can pick out school supplies when your kids are not around to drool over Hannah Montana notebooks and Transformer folders.
  2. You can find good deals on Amazon. Often even after you pay a shipping fee (or qualify for FREE shipping) you spent less than you would have at the store.
  3. It's convenient. We've all fought the crowds that surround the back to school section in stores. It's unbelievable! Avoid the crowds.
  4. It's easy. You can buy packs that are pre-assembled with everything that your child will need. For example, there is a Back to School Kit with Essential School Supplies that includes Fiskars scissors, an 8 pack of Crayola Markers, 4 oz. bottle of Elmer's glue, 24 count box of colored pencils, a pink pearl eraser, a spiral notebook, a 12 inch ruler, a box of Puffs tissues, a 2 pocket folder, a box of No. 2 pencils, a pack of Crayola crayons (16 count,) a glue stick, a pack of loose leaf paper, and a one inch three ring binder all for $22.52 (valued at $56.29). Sounds like the basic supply list for an elementary student, doesn't it? There is another elementary school pack called the Grade School Age Back to School Kit with Essential Supplies that includes most of the above plus an additional, glue stick, 300 more sheets of loose leaf paper, 3 extra spiral notebooks, a 12 pack of erasable ball point pens, a pencil sharpener, 2 more pink erasers, a canister of Clorox disinfecting wipes, and a pencil box. (This one does not include the Elmer's glue or the folder.) This one sells for $33.90 (valued at $84.69.) Of course you can also buy packs for middle school, high school, and even college aged kids as well as individual items in case you are missing an item or you really do want Hannah Montana notebooks and Transformer folders. To see all items click here.
  5. I know that most schools provide textbooks for the students to borrow during the year, but if by chance you go to a school where students must buy their own textbooks, or you home school and buy your own textbooks, Amazon is a great place to find those as well. Search for textbooks here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nature Identification Part 2

Growing up, my grandparents loved nature. They had books to help you identify different birds and flowers. I think they were in alphabetical order, and each kind had a picture so you could learn what they looked like. Sometimes, my grandparents would find a new kind of bird or flower and look in the book to see what kind they had found. Look at your library. They should have books like this as well as books on trees, leaves, bugs, and other things that your kids may like. Then come up with some activities to incorporate the books.

Some further ideas are:
  • Have some fun with photography. Kids love taking pictures, and now that most people have digital cameras, it is easier to let them take a lot of pictures. Go on a walk. Let your kids take pictures of flowers, trees, or birds that they see.
  • Make a collage of the pictures you take, and label them. You can even make a digital collage on your computer.
  • Catch different kinds of bugs to look at under a microscope or put into a bug box to observe.
  • Label or draw pictures of your bugs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nature Identification Part 1

Growing up, my grandparents loved nature. They had books to help you identify different birds and flowers. I think they were in alphabetical order, and each kind had a picture so you could learn what they looked like. Sometimes, my grandparents would find a new kind of bird or flower and look in the book to see what kind they had found. Look at your library. They should have books like this as well as books on trees, leaves, bugs, and other things that your kids may like. Then come up with some activities to incorporate the books.

Some ideas for leaves are:
  • Collect as many different kinds of leaves as you can find. When you get back identify them in a leaf/tree book.
  • Add to the activity by drawing pictures of the leaves you find and labeling them.
  • You could also make leaf rubbings by putting paper of the the leaves and rub a pencil across so the veins and shape of the leaf show in your pencil rubbing.
  • Another leaf activity for kids who like to be creative is to put your leaves in a book. Get page protector sleeves to drop the leaves into. Put in a piece of paper first with the name of the leaf on it. Then you can put a leaf on each side of the paper.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Penny Science Round 2

This is a fun experiment for kids to try. You will need, a penny, an eyedropper, and rubbing alcohol, and a cup of water. First, fill the eyedropper from the cup of water. See how many drops you can place on a dry penny before it spills off of the penny's side. (You will be surprised if you have never done this before. I usually get between 30 and 60 drops of water on a penny.) Next, repeat the experiment by dropping drops of rubbing alcohol from the eyedropper onto a dry penny. (You will only get around 10-20 drops.) Explain to your kids that the difference is that water is cohesive (bonds with itself) while rubbing alcohol is not. (In kid terms, "water wants to stick to other water like best friends. We call this cohesion. Rubbing alcohol does not do that because it is made of different stuff and it happens to not stick to other rubbing alcohol very well.")

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Goal of American Education

Recently I read an article about American society and how we view education. The article mentioned that we,as a society, push all kids to go to college and tend to look down on vocational training. If you want to read the article, click here. Of course I think that education is important, but he does have some good points. College may not be for everyone, and there should be no shame in vocational training. Those positions are necessary in our society, so we should appreciate the people who do these jobs.

I must admit my favorite part of the article was when he talked about parents not accepting their child's scholastic achievement level. He is exactly right. Most parents believe that their child is a genius, so if they do not understand they immediately blame the teacher. Of course we all want our children to be smart, but most children need extra practice at home in a few subjects to achieve their full potential.

I think it is still a good idea to push kids towards college for the most part, but there is nothing wrong with vocational training.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Penny Science

I learned about this from a child's magic book. It fascinated me quite a bit as a child, yet the science behind it can be quite an educational moment. You will need a few cups of different sizes and a large stack of pennies. Put the cups somewhere that is OK to get wet. (I did mine in the sink) Then, fill the first cup with water. It must be full to the point of spilling if one more drop was added. Then, rub your finger around the rim of the cup to make sure that the rim is dry. After that, slowly place pennies in the water (carefully so as not to make waves.) You will see the water level bubble up out of the cup eventually. (It should not take too long if you filled the cup enough.) Let the kids discuss why they think the water is bubbling over the top of the cup, but not spilling. If you want, you can use this chance to teach them about the cohesive (bonding) properties of water. (It bonds to other water molecules so it stays together instead of spilling - to a certain point.) When the water eventually spills over, you can count the number of pennies that you put in the cup before it spilled. Then, repeat with a different size cup. After doing this a few times compare the number of pennies you got into each cup. Did larger cups hold more pennies?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brain Tuner

For those of you that have an iPhone, your child must want to play on it all of the time, right? Let me suggest an application that will be great for your child ages 6 and up. It is called Brain Tuner. It gives your child basic math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and then asks them to select if the answer given was right or wrong. Kids can pick 20, 60, or 100 facts and compete against the clock to be the fastest one. I love this because it encourages kids to know their facts so well that they can do them quite quickly. Kids love to get a new speed record, and parents love that they are practicing their math facts. If your children are younger, you can touch the small "i" in the bottom right corner of the main menu. From there you can turn each opperation on or off. That way younger kids can do just addition or even addition and subtraction. Older kids can do all four, or just pick one or two they need extra practice with. Another nice option on that page is the review option. You can turn this on so it will review the ones that your child missed.

The best part is that the lite version is free. (I have not bought the full version, but it is only a couple dollars if you are interested.) I personally think that the lite version is enough. It lets kids practice their facts as much as they need to or would like to, but with the feel of a game.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Helping Hands

It is good for kids to learn to help out around the house. It teaches them responsibility as well as to take ownership. My mom used to make it fun for us to help around the house. Once in a while (usually on the BIG cleaning days) she would get out 2 plastic bowls. Then, while my brother and I were playing, she would cut paper into strips. On the papers she would write tasks for my brother and I. His tasks went into one bowl, and mine went into the other. Each of us would end up with around 15 strips of paper. 15 chores would probably overwhelm a child, but not all of our tasks were "work." For example, we might pick something like refold the clothes in your 2 messiest dresser drawers, but then the next task might be to give mom a hug. Often our chores would include dusting a room or two, picking up our own things, vacuuming, getting hugs, or maybe running around the house once. But it was more fun because you made it into a game. (We called it the cleaning game.) The idea of not knowing what will come next kept it exciting. Sometimes, when we were almost done, my mom would slip in a paper that said, "Go to Taco Bell for all of your hard work!) We would race to finish up everything from our bowls so we could go out for lunch! My mom got a lot of help out of us, and we enjoyed it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

11 Year Old College Graduate

Recently an 11 year old boy graduated from East Los Angeles College. I am including a link to the news story below. You would think that a boy who finishes college by 11 must not have any time for extracurricular activities, but he has won many national championships in martial arts as well. This article is a short interesting piece. I thought the end was interesting when he mentioned why he does not like to play video games.

To view the article click here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Take a Twist on Old Road Trip Games

We've all played games on long road trips like the alphabet game where you race to find the letters of the alphabet in order. But try a new twist, such as finding the numbers from 0-100. It can prove to change things up a bit.

Another game is where you think of names of things like animals or people then you try to come up with another name from the last letter of the previous one given. For example elephant - tiger - rhino, etc. Make it more interesting (and educational) by thinking of different categories like state names, cities, landmarks, things on a map, etc.

Many traditional car games can be spiced up without much extra effort. If you have any suggestions or ideas feel free to share them with others in the comments below.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Website Review ~


Appropriate for ages: all ages

Helps with: Learning American Sign Language

Review: Kids are interested in Sign Language. This is a great website to help them get started on the basics. It is not a website to take you from knowing nothing about Sign Language to being fluent in signs, but it will help you learn some signs that you can experiment with. When you first load the page, you will see an introduction. Scroll down; from there you will see links to area of the site. The site is grouped by categories of signs such as signs for babies, religious signs, conversational signs, etc. Click the link to start learning what you are interested in. Once you feel confident, you can even try to take a multi-choice quiz. The thing that I liked about this site is that it shows videos of each sign. This is much more effective for teaching signs than illustrations! Elementary age kids are often very interested in Sign Language. See if you can't experiment and learn a few.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sort it Out

Sorting can be such a good exercise for younger children. Everything from a stash of old buttons to a small pack of M&Ms can help a child learn organizing skills. Encourage your child to sort their toys when they put them away, or sort Legos as they build. Many items, like the Legos, can be sorted in many different ways. Suggest they try to sort them in different ways, such as by size and then by color later. If your child is not naturally an organizer, make it into a game or an art project by giving them a large handful of Fruit Loops and asking them to string them according to a pattern that they come up with. Another idea is something that my grandmother did for me. She collected old buttons and saved them in a box for me. Then when I came over, she let me string them or sew them onto an old washcloth. When I was done, we would usually cut the thread and dump the buttons back into the box, but it was a lot of fun trying to find matching buttons and make patterns on the string and washcloth.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Review ~ Worth

Title: Worth

Author: A. LaFaye

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 4 (worth 4 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 10-14

Movie Version Available: No

Review: This is a work of historical fiction that explores the feelings of belonging and fitting into a family. Nathaniel is working on his family's farm when he is involved in an accident. Due to this accident, he is no longer able to work on his family farm. An orphan train comes to town, and his family adopts an orphan boy to help with the tasks Nathaniel can no longer help with. Both boys have troubles adjusting to this new way of life. Nathaniel feels like he has been replaced, while John, the orphan boy, feels more like the help than a part of the family he longs for. The book follows the boys as they sort out their feelings and adjust to this new lifestyle. It is a nice book, and I think that kids can relate to feeling a little out of place and trying to find out how to fit in.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fun Sand Art

Kids of course, like sand art. Make your next vacation into a memory by incorporating it into the sand artwork. If you stop at a gas station for a drink, the bottle you get could become the container for the art project. If you stop at a beach, you could get the sand and some small shells from there. Incorporate many small items in your sand art instead of just layering sand.
Some examples could be:
  • dried flowers
  • special rocks
  • small souvenirs
  • shells
  • any thing from your trip or day at the beach that would fit in the bottle will work.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Summer Learning Calendar


Appropriate for ages: 5 - 11

Helps with: Summer Learning

Review: This is a calendar of small things to do every day for seven weeks of summer vacation. The calendar is designed to accommodate all elementary age children. Most of the activities are very simple and short. Quite often they are fun things that kids will enjoy doing. The activities are varied and cover reading, teaching, learning, culture, and even college.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Little Nature Trip

Many areas have orchards where you can go to pick strawberries, blueberries, etc. with your kids. Often they will let you eat as much as you want while you pick berries. Many places will let you buy the packages of berries that you pick at reduced prices. Or, if you don't want to keep them, some places will keep your berries and pay you for picking them.

This can be a great outing with your kids. They will get to see a farm/orchard in action. It is nice for kids to realize how we get our food. It is not as simple as going to the store. They will see how food is grown and picked. Also, it is a nice way to spend a day as a family, and kids will enjoy getting to eat as many berries as they want in the process.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Review ~ Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia

Title: Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia

Author: Barbara O'Connor

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 4 (worth 3 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 9 - 12

Movie Version Available: No

Review: This is a cute book about a friendship between two kids that both feel a little out of place. They bond while preparing for a Spelling Bee. The story starts a little slow, but I really enjoyed it. I read it to a class of fourth graders. They enjoyed the story as well. It is a nice little story about family, friends, trying to fit in, and hopes and dreams.

Also by Barbara O'Connor

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Easy "Painted" Artwork

Kids love to paint, but what a mess! This is an easy and simple way to make "painted" artwork without the mess. You will need coffee filters and markers. I think you need washable markers, but the other ones may work. Let your kids color the coffee filters so that the entire filter is covered. Usually you are going more for colors then an actual picture. Then, run water over the filter. The colors will bleed just a little to give a painted look to the artwork.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Website Review ~ Coloring Pages


Appropriate for ages: 8 and under

Helps with: Coloring

Review: There are many websites where you can get coloring pages. This is one of my favorites. There are quite a lot of different kinds of coloring pages. They are nice large patterns that are fun and easy to color. I also like how the site is pretty well organized. It is easy to find what you want.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Educational Leaf Art

One summer, while on a camping trip, I made some leaf art that was quite fun. We used muslin fabric (cheap off-white fabric) and put the leaves between two layers of muslin. The leaves need to be fresh green leaves. Then use a rubber mallet to hit the muslin (with the leaves in between.) The chlorophyll will come out leaving the imprint of the leaf on the muslin. It is a very pretty art project, and it also helps to show children what chlorophyll is.

I have not tried this with construction paper, but it MAY work as a substitute for the muslin.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review ~ The Westing Game

Title: The Westing Game

Author: Ellen Raskin

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 5 (worth 8 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 10 - adult

Movie Version Available: no

Review: This book took me a few chapters to get really in to it, but when I did, I couldn't put it down. It is a mystery, but it is feels more like a regular story than a mystery. The clues are given so that a young person could figure out parts of the mystery, yet even an advanced mystery reader will probably still find parts of the end surprising. I am not usually a big mystery fan, but I really liked this book. I think you will find it fun to read. The plot is full of exciting twists and turns.

Also by Ellen Raskin

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flower Art

What you need: Construction paper, crayons, muffin liners, pipe cleaners, cereal like fruit loops.

Glue a pipe cleaner to a sheet of construction paper (at the bottom.) Then glue the muffin liner at the top of the pipe cleaner to make a flower. Then let kids decorate with crayons and glue down fruit loops to the muffin liner to finish the flower.

Via I love that Teaching Idea.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Website Review ~ Family Fun


Appropriate for ages: 5-13

Helps with: Traveling

Review: This is a great site for more fun things to do in the car. You can print puzzles like mazes, word searches, find the differences, etc. Everything is really pretty and eye catching, but it may eat up some of your color ink in the process. Over all, I think it would be worth it.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Since we are focusing on more laid back topics for summer time, I thought I would write some character teaching ideas too. Any teacher can tell you that children who cannot be kind and respectful are almost impossible to teach. Learning basic character qualities will prove to be very helpful in the classroom for your child, not to mention help solve many friend issues that they may come upon.

Kids need to learn how to respect each other. We have all met a lot of adults who never learned this important quality. They are hard to be around, aren't they? Talk to your kids about how everyone is different, but still valuable. To help them understand here are a few ideas:
  • Think about the human body. Feet may not be your favorite part of your body, but try going without them. Even if your foot is just injured, it greatly impacts your whole body! Or maybe you don't really like the look of your ears or nose. Now try to think of what life would be like without one or both of them. People are the same. We are all different. We act different, we do different things, but every part is very important and all people deserve kindness and respect. If we were all the same it would be like having a whole body of just hands or eyes. It would not work!
  • Build a basic block house out of legos or building blocks. What if you took out a few bricks? The heat or cold would get in. It would not be a nice place to live. If you see a brick on the side of the road, it would not look too important, but imagine that was a brick from your house. You'd want it back! People are like that. You may look at one person and not see them as very important, but everyone is important. If they are not there the world would not be the same.
  • You can think of several other examples based on your kid's interests. Some could be: a sports team that is missing a member, a favorite toy with dead batteries, etc.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Book Review ~ Princess Academy

Title: Princess Academy

Author: Shannon Hale

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 6 (worth 10 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 10-13

Movie Version Available: no

Review: This is a cute book that girls will enjoy. It is about a poor neglected area in a kingdom. The next princess will be chosen from their area. Classes begin to train the girls how to become a fitting princess. Then the prince will choose a bride. Miri soon learns of plots that will endanger them. She must organize a way to save everyone. The story is cute, and I liked the ending. I think many young girls will enjoy this story.

Also by Shannon Hale

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Web Art

Spiders are not my favorite creatures, but spider webs can be a fun art project. Show your children some pictures of spider webs. Then give them some black construction paper and some Elmer's squeeze glue (not stick glue.) Let them create some spider webs of their own. You can even stick some plastic spiders in the glue webs as they dry to help with the effect. (Also good at keeping them out of your bed and shoes as practical jokes if they are stuck to art projects!) If you have learned about spiders in science class, let them write some facts about spiders on their art projects.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Website Review ~ String Figures


Appropriate for ages: 7-13

Helps with: Following Directions

Review: This is a site that teaches kids how to make shapes with string like Jacob's ladder, cup and saucer, crow's feet, etc. It also teaches how to play Cat's Cradle. I like this website because the illustrations are clear and simple to follow. I have seen many kids (girls especially) get so excited when they learn a new string trick. This may be a great activity to work on during a long road trip.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Get your kids excited about learning about the world around them by inventing. Here are some ideas:
  • Read Mistakes that Worked about how some mistakes have turned into our favorite inventions and creations.
  • Invent a new food. Start with something small like a new sandwich, cookie, or pizza. Maybe you could even try to make it!
  • Try to invent a new machine. Don't worry so much about the mechanics of it. Just try to get the imagination and creativity to come out. Have them draw a picture of their new invention.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review ~ Notes From a Liar and Her Dog

Title: Notes From a Liar and Her Dog

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (worth 7 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 9-14

Movie Version Available: no

Review: This book is about a girl named Ant who does not feel like she belongs in her family. She believes that her parents only love her two sisters and not her. She can only confide in her dog and her best friend Harrison. In the book she makes friends with her art teacher who is a bit meddlesome, but also somewhat helpful. Ant must face all of her lies and try to work with her family to find a place to belong. Overall I liked the plot of this book, however, a word of caution, Ant lies a lot and is often disrespectful to her parents. There are lessons learned about this, but in the book her parents are written to be as much as fault as she is. I didn't really appreciate that her attitude was not cast in a more negative light.

Also by Gennifer Choldenko

Friday, May 8, 2009

Think it Through

Summer is a great time to work on critical thinking. It's a life skill that comes in very handy in school, but it doesn't feel like school work. Here are some ideas:
  • Get your kids involved in puzzles. They are great for car rides, waiting at doctor appointments, or something to do at a house with no toys when you visit someone.
  • Puzzles that require logic are especially helpful. Let your kids try them. They may really like them.
  • Ask your kids to explain things to you. Ask them questions that can't be answered with a yes or no answer. If they make a value judgment (like choosing the park over a museum) ask why they chose that way. Keep trying to get them to think deeper on topics of interest.
  • Explain things to your kids. Kids are known for asking why. Instead of brushing them off, give them an opportunity to learn.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Website Review ~ Car Games

Website: Mom's Minivan Printable Games

Appropriate for ages: 5-14

Helps with: Traveling

This is a great site for finding games to play in the car. I am going to post the links to several printable games.

The Dot Game (Where you take turns drawing a line to make squares)

Tic Tac Toe

Car scavenger hunt for big kids

Car scavenger hunt for little kids

Battleship (with instructions)

Battleship (with more game boards instead of instructions)

List of states (to mark off which license plates you see)

Silly song lyrics

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Nature Walk

Most likely your kids are still in school, and they are probably having some severe cases of cabin fever from having to stay inside all day. Get out and take a walk with your kids! You'll enjoy it, and they will let out some cooped up energy. To make your walk a little more Scientific, turn it into a nature scavenger hunt. You can make up your own list if you want, but I am going to include some links to websites that have lists already prepared. (Scroll to the bottom) This is a really good one! It includes all of your senses by giving things to listen for, smell, etc! This one is a little more involved. It has activities and things to photograph as well. It would really be good to save for a camping trip.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Review ~ Pish Posh

Title: Pish Posh

Author: Ellen Potter

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 5 (worth 6 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 9-12

Movie Version Available: no

Review: At first I was not impressed with this book because the main character is a little girl who is entirely too stuck up. I stuck with it, however, and it was worth it. There was a nice sprinkling of humor throughout the book as well as a few much needed lessons. I think that young girls will enjoy this book because they can imagine living the dream life of Clara Frankofile. She gets to meet all kinds of rich and famous people, has quite possibly the coolest house in the history of the world, and gets to solve a light mystery to boot. Moms will like it because of the lesson that all people are of equal importance.

Also by Ellen Potter

Monday, May 4, 2009

Declutter the Fridge

Kid's artwork and school work can cover a refrigerator in no time. Here is a neat idea for an art project that will also help you to keep your fridge organized.

You will need:

A poster board



A Gallon size Ziploc Bag

Magnets (If you do not have any, you can use the ones people give you as a magnetic business card, etc. You will just have to cut them and hot glue them on.)

Decorating materials (crayons, stickers, glitter, etc.)


Have adults help with cutting, and hot gluing (if required.) Cut the poster board into 4 strips. The strips need to be cut so that they will make a frame around the gallon Ziploc bag (that will become the "glass" in your frame.) Once the poster board is cut, glue the corners together, and then tape the bag to the back side so that you do NOT see the Ziploc part at the top. (This will not need to be zipped so it is fine to tape it down.) Now you should have a frame made of poster board around "glass" that is made of a Ziploc bag. Let your child decorate the "frame." Then, stick magnets on the back. Now the frame is ready to go on the refrigerator. Tell your child that they can pick one thing to display in the frame. A few other favorites can be stored behind the one on display so the child can switch them out. The Ziploc frame should hold a standard size sheet of paper. Kids like it because the frame is a piece of their artwork, but it also helps them to understand that only one piece at a time can be displayed. Giving them the choice over what goes on display makes them feel like they have some control over it. They are less likely to be upset about not having ALL of their work up at the same time if they know they can have a piece framed and switch it whenever they want.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Just for Fun

During the months of May and June I will be focusing on activities, websites, and tips that are mostly just for fun. Some of them may be educational as well, but I would like to take a more relaxed approach as most people are off for the summer. Starting in July I will focus on back to school topics since many people start to buy supplies, meet the teacher, etc. in the end of July. If you have hints or tips to share please feel free to write me using the "Contact Us" area, or write it in the comment section of any post if it applies to that topic.

Website Review ~ Car Bingo

Website: Roadside Bingo
Car Bingo

Appropriate for ages: 5-14

Helps with: Traveling

I used these Bingo boards with teens on a 10 hour trip last summer. I think that they can be fun for all ages who want to play. The links include 2 kinds of bingo boards. The first one is things that you would see on the side of the road. The other is different kinds of vehicles you may see as you travel. It is a mess to use bingo chips, pennies, etc. to mark what you have found. I suggest you just print off enough that you can mark things off with a pencil or pen instead of trying to reuse boards.

Obviously, you don't want everyone to have identical boards. Each of these games comes with 4 kinds of boards. I have included the links to the first ones. When you open them, look way up at the top and you will see an arrow that says "Next Card" by it. Click there to find the other 3 boards. Make sure you print a variety. If you have more than 4 players, you can work as teams or give a couple people matching boards. Chances are they won't see things exactly the same way so it will not be a problem.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tour Your City

Many times people do not do the "touristy" things in their own city. Take a "vacation" in your own city this summer. Go to a welcome center to pick up brochures, and look on your city's website for more ideas. Visit museums, monuments, landmarks, festivals, zoos, science museums, etc. Most places have discounted prices for kids. Sometimes, you can even find places that are free or offer free times on off days (usually Monday - Thursday through the day.) You may be surprised by educational and cultural activities in your area!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Book Review ~ Amber Brown is not a Crayon

Title: Amber Brown is not a Crayon

Author: Paula Danzinger

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (worth 1 point)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 7-11

Movie Version Available: no

Review: This book is a bit predictable. It is made to be a beginner chapter book, so kids may not mind a predictable story. The plot line is simple with a few breaks in the main story for some humor attempts. As basic as this book is, I think that young kids may enjoy it.

Other Amber Brown books

Also by Paula Danzinger

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Check Out Your Library

Now is the time to find out what your library offers. The summer will be upon us soon! Many libraries offer programs that you may be interested in such as:
  • Summer Reading contests/programs
  • Kids' programs
  • Book Mobile - Some libraries offer a book mobile that travels around the area for people who cannot make it to the actual building. You can order books on-line and then pick up them up close to your house on the book mobile. You can also return books to the book mobile.
  • Movies - Many libraries are now loaning new movies. You usually can only keep them for a few days. (Think Block Bluster, but often it's free.)
  • Audio books - These could be an alternative to CONSTANT movie watching on a road trip.
For more information ask your librarian or look on their website to see what your library is offering this summer.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Website Review ~ NASA Kid’s Club


Appropriate for ages: 6-13

Helps with: Science

Review: This website has several games for kids. Many are educational. At the top you can click on the level you want to play on and it will scroll to the appropriate games. The bottom has games that are for all ages. Kids can play with Buzz Lightyear and learn space facts, and science skills, or dress up for space while learning about the parts of a space suit. There are quite a few game options.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Memorization Tip ~ Sing a Song

Learning a list to a simple tune can really help you recall the information. In fact, just this last Saturday, I was talking to a ninth grader from my church. He was telling me that he had to learn the list of prepositions to a tune. That reminded me of when I was in Junior High. I had to learn the list of prepositions too. I had used the tune to "10 Little Indians". Immediately they all cam back, "Aboard, about, above, across, after, against, along, amid..." I could remember them easily because I had learned them to a tune. Help your children come up with little songs to learn things. It will stick with them for a long time.

Also, along the lines of learning through songs, Animaniacs was a popular cartoon when I was in upper elementary school. I bought some of their tapes. They turned out to be very educational. They are not in print anymore, but you can find them on Amazon. They have songs that help you learn your states and capitals, the water cycle, how to say hello in several languages, islands of the world, countries of the world (probably somewhat out of date now,) the planets and their order, your senses, the U.S. presidents (through Clinton,) and many more. I to this day sing parts of these songs in my head to remember some of the more obscure presidents or state capitals. Upon meeting someone from another country, I can remind myself of a greeting in their language from "The Hello Song". They are pretty good CDs. Along with the educational stuff there are also several fun songs on each album, and in Animaniacs tradition, they are very silly and kid appropriate.

Yakko's World
Animaniacs Variety Pack

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Review ~ Cluck O’ Clock

Title: Cluck O' Clock

Author: Kes Gray

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 2 (worth a half point)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 7 and under

Movie Version Available: No

Review: This is a charming little picture book about a day in the life of a few hens that live together on a farm. The book is written in a lyrical rhyming form. I think it will really appeal to young readers/listeners. In my opinion, a good picture book must have good illustrations. The illustrations in this book are very cute. They are full of beautiful colors and attention to details. I love it when the pictures build on what the author writes to add further information. This book does a great job in that area. I enjoyed reading it, and I think that kids will enjoy it as well.

Also by Kes Gray

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Memorization Tip ~ Acrostics

Try to learn things by making an acrostic. When you have to learn a list of things, try to make a word out of the first letters. Some times this can be difficult, and you may have to tweak the words a little bit to make it fit, but if you can come up with an acrostic, it will help kids remember the list a lot better come test time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Website Review ~ National Library of Virtual Manipulatives

Appropriate for ages: 7-12
Helps with: math    

Review: This website has every kind of math manipulative imaginable. You can make charts, practice with money, work with base 10 blocks, try patterns, use number lines, and much more. This is great for practice. I think it also may help with homework. Often kids get to practice with these kinds of items in class, but most families do not have these kits at home. By using this website, kids can use familiar items to help them visualize homework problems.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Toy Spelling Bea

When I was young, my mom helped me learn my spelling list by putting on a Spelling Bea. I would get all my toys together and have them spell my words out. If "they" were wrong, they were out of the contest. Try starting with a set number of toys (like 5 or 10.) Go through the list of words 2 or 3 times. To make it fun you can set a reward for each toy who makes it through to the end. Keep it small; offer something like 3 Skittles or M&Ms per toy that "wins" the Spelling Bea.

As a side note... my husband and I have disagreed on if it is a Spelling Bea or a Spelling Bee. I googled it to find out. Apparently many people spell it both ways. This is what I came across...

"Yes, 'bee' was the first word in history to be misspelled. Someone spelled it 'B' trying to be cute in 1776.

In 1850 when they tried to correct their mistake, they tried, 'be'. But that was wrong.

A committee was formed in 1941 at the start of WWII and a competition was held. It was composed of all women, since the men had been drafted.

The female mastermind Bea Este Masters took home the prize of 50 jars of honey with her correct spelling of 'bee'. Hence, the 'Spelling Bea' was coined, named after her. And people have been misspelling the event ever since."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Review ~ Judy Moody

Title: Judy Moody was in a Mood. Not a Good Mood. A Bad Mood.

Author: Megan McDonald

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (worth 1 point)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 7 - 10

Movie Version Available: No

Review: This is a book in a series of books about Judy Moody. She is quite a fireball with big hopes, dreams, and criticisms. It is a good transition into chapter books because the print is large, and the book is not that long. Parts of the book are pretty funny. It is written to appeal to a child's sense of humor, frustration, etc.

Other Judy Moody books

Also by Megan McDonald

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Teachers often use rubrics (a written plan for how to grade something) when they are grading things like projects, speeches, writing papers, etc. Ask them ahead of time if you can get a copy. Keep it out so your child (and you) can refer to it as you work on these types of things. Teach your child how to make a plan to achieve the desired level. This is great practice for kids, and it teaches them that they can control the outcome of their grades.

I graded all of the students' writing papers this way. I tried to teach them these skills, but a little extra practice with it at home goes a long way to help "make it stick."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Website Review ~ RIF Reading Planet

Appropriate for ages: 7 and under    
Helps with: Reading

Review: This is a place where you can read books (picture books) on-line. The site will read out loud for the child, but words are also on the screen so kids can practice reading along. Several books are available.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Edible Geometry

When you start working with shapes and 3D figures, get some marshmallows and toothpicks. Poke the toothpicks into the marshmallows to make your figures. When you get to upper elementary and kids start learning about vertices, edges, and faces, this will also help. Marshmallows are vertices; toothpicks are edges; and faces are the open spaces in between.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Review ~ Silly Goose

Title: Silly Goose

Author: Marni McGee

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: N/A

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 8 and under

Movie Version Available: No

Review: The illustrations in this picture book are beautifully done. Kids will enjoy looking at this book as much as they enjoy the story. The book is about a fox who is trying to trick a goose into being his lunch. However, goose has some loyal friends who will try to help him out. The story is cute, and the entire book is adorable.

Also by Marni McGee

Friday, April 10, 2009

Homework Help ~ Motivation

It can be hard to motivate kids to do their homework. The younger they are, the easier it seems to be to motivate them. Often, the younger kids like doing their homework because it makes them feel grown up. However, as they get older and the homework starts to pile on, it starts to get old quick. Sometimes the only motivation that works is "no TV or video games till homework is done." If you are looking for other simple ideas some are listed below.
*Have special homework pencils or pens that are ONLY for homework. (For younger children, cartoon characters should work. Older kids may like a special color or grip.)
*Ask teachers if they mind homework being on special paper or done in special ink colors. Some teachers do mind, so check first, but I know that I never minded because it was something fun for kids. If teachers don't mind, you could let them use colored paper or green colored pencils. Getting to do something unconventional makes it a bit more fun.
*Let kids enjoy their afternoon snack during homework time. Obviously, this works best if the snack is something dry and not too messy.
*Let kids "get comfy" to do their homework. Sitting on a beanbag chair can be fun during homework time.

If you have ideas to add, please share them in the comments below.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Website Review ~ Language Adventure

Appropriate for ages: 5 and up
Helps with: Spanish Vocabulary         

Review: This website has categories of words (like food, verbs, etc.) After clicking on the category you will see pictures to illustrate different words. The Spanish word for that picture is underneath the graphic. If you click on the picture, the site will pronounce the word for you so that you can hear it. I noticed that I had to keep hitting the back button on my browser after listening to the pronunciation, however. This is a nice website, because kids absorb new languages so well. The optimal time to learn a new language has been reported to be 12 and under. Also, young children are interested in trying new languages, so this can be a good way to expose them to new words in Spanish. After kids have mastered the words, there is a link to try a few games. (You actually have to click on the description below the word games and not on the actual word "games.") Kids can try to play matching type games here to test out their new language skills.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Homework Help ~ Philosophy

Check with your child's teacher(s) to find out what his or her philosophy on homework is. Some teachers want homework to be done completely independently. They do not want parents to help because they plan on grading the work. Other teachers want parents to be partial participants, letting the kids do the work and the parents check it. Still others want parents to be highly involved. This is my personal preference. I want parents to re-teach anything that kids do not understand. I teach during class the way that I've found to work best for the majority of students. However, your child may not be in the majority. You as a parent can work with your child to find the style that works best for him. You can try different methods until he gets it down. Typically teachers will not want you to give the answers to your child, because that will not teach him how to do it. Teaching how to do it (without giving the answers away) is a whole different story. That is very helpful. Once the child understands how to do the work, make sure you give the child an opportunity to try some problems on his own. He needs that practice before he gets all the way to the test. I also wanted parents to check problems and have kids fix problems that were incorrect.

Talk to your teacher(s), and find out how they feel about homework. Then, coordinate your evening homework routine to fit that particular model.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Book Review ~ Molly and Her Dad

Title: Molly and Her Dad

Author: Jan Ormerod

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: I could not find an AR quiz currently available

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 4-8

Movie Version Available: No

Review: This is a picture book about a little girl named Molly who wants to know her father better. She doesn't know a lot about him, so she makes it all up in her mind. Then, he comes to visit for a week while her mom is out of town. The story is OK, but I think it would be nice to have just a few more details about his trip. It seems to be the focal point of the book, yet it rushes by quite quickly. It feels like Molly's dad is only there for 2 or 3 days instead of a week. The illustrations remind me a little bit of Ramona Quimby in the Beverly Cleary books. They seem to be done with chalks. While they are not particularly my style of art, some of them are pretty cute, and I love that they elaborate on the narrative. It's hard to grow up without a dad. Maybe this book could help.

Also by Jan Ormerod

Monday, April 6, 2009

Homework Help ~ Atmosphere

Homework needs to be done as far away from distractions as possible. The living room or the kitchen table can work (especially if you want to be around to help,) but only if you can keep siblings, pets, and general noise at bay. If that is not possible, their bedroom or a study will probably be your best bet. Distractions are not only extrinsic, however. Intrinsic distractions can be just as problematic. You don't have to be a parent too long to figure this out! Try to have the homework place set up so that these distractions are as limited as possible. For example, have a supply of pencils (to replace the one that will inevitably get broken,) plenty of paper, perhaps a drink of water, and anything else your child typically needs. This will help your child focus, and hopefully get through his homework quicker.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Website Review ~ Animal Corner

Appropriate for ages: 7-12
Helps with: Science, Research    

Review: This website is full of animal information. It's not the most kid friendly layout, but they will quickly figure it out. Kids might like to even just look around on the site just for fun, but I can see it being a big help if they have to write an animal report. Animals are categorized by where they live to help kids find what they are looking for.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


To practice synonyms, start out by having your child write a common kid's song or poem. For example, have him write "Shoo fly don't bother me." Then, have him change the lyrics to come up with as many synonyms as possible. The song could end up something like leave bug don't annoy me. It's not important that it fits with the tune anymore. Just focus on coming up with good synonyms.

Via, I Love that Teaching Idea

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Book Review ~ Charlie Hits it Big

Title: Charlie Hits it Big

Author: Deborah Blumenthal

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (worth a half point)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 10 and under

Movie Version Available: No

Review: This is a cute little book about a guinea pig that runs off to find fame and fortune in Hollywood. The little girl that takes care of him is quite distraught to find him missing, but Charlie leaves a note to tell her where he has gone. The illustrations are adorable; there are a couple that are quite humorous (Charlie flying on the airplane sitting on 3 pillows and his suitcase so he can reach his tray and Charlie getting his foot stepped on.) The story is also very charming. Charlie apparently does not realize that he is not a human! I think you will enjoy this little picture book.

Also by Deborah Blumenthal

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homework Help ~ Get a Routine

Homework will be most successful if you stick to a routine. Try to do homework in the same place and at the same time every day. This helps kids to get into the homework mode. Also, if there is a set routine it helps kids to know what is expected of them. With kid's schedules as busy as they are, it can be tough to stick to a routine, but really work on making it a priority. Try to create a routine that will work for your family, and then stick to it!

Some routine suggestions:

  • Don't put it off! Try to get it done as soon as you get home.
  • No TV, videogames, etc. until homework is done. If your children are able to come straight home from school, they may have a long enough evening that you could give them a half hour to unwind first. However, if children have daycare or after school activities, there may not be enough time to schedule in some down time before homework. It's nice to have time to relax before bedtime as well. That will help kids get to sleep better. If your evening does have enough time for relaxation before homework, consider outdoors time rather than TV and videogames. This is great for several reasons. First, TV leads from one show to another, and soon your schedule is shot or you are fighting with your child. Videogames can be the same way; ever heard, "I have to finish this level. I can't save it yet!"? Another point is that later on it will be too dark to go outdoors, so encourage it while it's still early.
  • If you break routine, determine to get right back on it the next day.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Website Review ~ A + Math

Appropriate for ages: 6 – 10    
Helps with: Math

Review: This website has math games, flashcards, worksheets, and help for homework. I like the home work helper because it allows kids to put in the problem along with their answer. Then, it tells them if it's correct or if they should give it another try. I like that feature because it does not just give kids the answers. It makes them figure it out for themselves. I think you will find quite a bit of math activities for your kids to experiment with.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Working with Dialogue

Practice the punctuation of dialogue by using comic strips. Have the child write the comic in paragraph form. This way he can focus on his punctuation instead of coming up with dialogue. It is a great way to practice, but kids enjoy it a bit more than usual because it involves comics.

Via I Love that Teaching Idea

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Review ~ Pirate Girl

Title: Pirate Girl

Author: Cornelia Funke

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (worth a half point)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 5-8

Movie Version Available: no

Review: This is a picture book. The author incorporates some larger words, which is a nice feature. Younger kids will be able to understand it, yet broaden their horizons at the same time. The book is a little quirky. That can be a good thing, but I didn't really care too much for this book. It is pretty hum-drum. It reminded me of the Pippi Longstocking books, but without the humor and with a less interesting plot. I think it was a bit too predictable, and I was not a fan of the illustrations. I like bold, colorful, cartoon-like pictures in a picture book. These illustrations reminded me more of The Farside comics, or a Shel Silverstein book. However, sometimes young children are far less critical. Maybe a young child would enjoy this story. I think the fact that it is a bout pirates should work in its favor.

Also by Cornelia Funke

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Math Dice

To practice addition, subtraction, or multiplication, get some dice! Have your child roll the dice then add, subtract, or multiply the 2 numbers shown. It's good practice, but children enjoy it a little more, because it feels more like a game. For older children, add more dice. They can either add 3-4 numbers, or they can use them in pairs to make two digit numbers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Website Review ~ Weather Eye

Appropriate for ages: 8 - 12
Helps with: Science     

Review: This website teaches kids how to predict the weather by looking at clouds. Then, it gives them a couple opportunities to try out their new skill. I think it will be interesting for kids, because it is something they can try in real life. After trying the little quiz, you can try wind forecasting if you like.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Predict the Future

When kids read, it is good to have them predict what will happen later on in the book. That keeps them engaged in the book. It also teaches them to pay attention to foreshadowing (clues the author leaves to hint about what will happen.) Any time you can get children to pay more attention to what they are reading, you are bound to improve comprehension. You should ask questions to children as you read about what will happen next. (Perhaps at the end of a chapter or an exciting point in the story would be a good time.) Later, talk about if the predictions were correct or not.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Book Review ~ The Boxcar Children Series

Title: The Boxcar Children series

Author: Gertrude Chandler Warner

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3-4 (worth 2-3 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 7-11

Movie Version Available: No

Review: These books were my first chapter books. I started reading them in first grade, and I was hooked on them. They are a little bit older, but I think kids will still enjoy them. The idea of being on your own as children is quite an adventure for little imaginations, and then the children find their grandfather, who turns out to be wealthy. It is quite an intriguing setting. I like several things about this series. For one, the books really promote good family relationships. The brothers and sisters are very kind to each other and they really look out for each other as well. Another nice thing about this series is the quality of the mysteries; they are challenging for young minds without being overly frightening. That can be a difficult balance to find in a child's mystery, but I think the Boxcar Children books have struck it perfectly.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Facts and Opinions

Next time you are watching TV with your kids, make the commercials into an educational time. Have your kids listen for facts and opinions in the commercials. List the facts and opinions that you noticed in the commercials verbally. See who can find more.

Via I Love that Teaching Idea!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Website Review ~ AAA Math

Appropriate for ages: 7-11
Helps with: math    

Review: This site is designed to help children practice writing numbers in expanded and standard forms. First you will see a brief description of how expanded form works. Scroll down and there is a box for practicing. You must push start. Then, the computer will give you three digit numbers written in expanded form. The child needs to write the number in standard form and push enter. I have noticed as a teacher, that some kids have a tough time grasping this concept. I think that if your child falls into that category, this would be excellent practice. It gives some easier and some tougher problems to help them practice on all kinds of numbers. The down side is that I did not find a place to practice going the other direction (turning standard form into expanded form.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Colorful Spelling Words

Writing spelling words can be monotonous practice. To make it more fun, have your child write them with crayons or colored pencils. There are several activities you can do with the crayons:

* Write your spelling words with two or three colors in your hand. Kids enjoy the way it looks, but make sure they work to keep the letters neat so it is readable as well.

* Pick one color for vowels and one for consonants. Write your spelling words using the two colors to distinguish between the two.

* Many spelling lists work on phonics, prefixes, suffixes, or a certain grammar rule. Highlight the featured rule(s) in a special color. For example, the list works with words that have double consonants like the word hitting. So, they would write the word hitting using a special color to write the "tt" part.

* Write each syllable in a different color. If they aren't sure, they can look up syllable divisions in a dictionary.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review ~ Duck

Title: Duck

Author: Randy Cecil

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (worth a half point)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 8 and under

Movie Version Available: no

Review: This is a picture book that is written by a man who is primarily an illustrator. The illustrations are too cute, and the story is charming. Duck is a carousel animal that lives quite a life on the side. He is full of hopes, dreams, and the ability to love. I thought it was a great little book, and my four month old seemed to enjoy it as well.

Also by Randy Cecil (some he authored and some he illustrated)

Friday, March 13, 2009

World Map Skills

This is an idea for working on world map skills. Get a copy of a world map (preferably one you can write on) or print one. (Click here if you need a map to print.) You will also need your local Yellow Pages. Have your child flip to the section where restaurants are listed. Then, have him map the restaurants matching them up with the country the food originates from. For example: In Italy you could write down Olive Garden, etc.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Website Review ~ Free Rice

Appropriate for ages: 8 and up
Helps with: math, vocabulary, foreign languages, geography

Review: This is a great site because children can practice scholastic skills and help fight hunger around the world at the same time. The idea is that you pick a subject and answer questions. For each question that you answer correctly, 10 grains of rice are donated to hungry people through the UN World Food Program. If you go to, it will automatically put you in the vocabulary section. But, if you go to the top of the page, you can click on the subjects tab. That will give you the option of answering questions about famous art, chemistry, English grammar or vocabulary, geography, foreign language, and math. Kids can pick a topic of interest and try their best to answer (learning new things at random,) or they can pick a topic like multiplication where even an upper elementary student could be successful. It is a great way to practice your multiplication facts while helping others at the same time. The nice thing about the site is that you can adjust the level of the questioning. Also, the site learns to adapt to your skill level. Questions get gradually tougher, but as you start to miss them, they start to ease up again. As you get questions correct, your bowl (on the right side of the page) will fill up with rice.