Celebrate Learning!

The long, lazy days of summer are definitely here.  Have the kids come to you yet with the refrain of “I’m BORED!  There’s nothing to DOOO-OOOO”?  I know at our house those words started popping out of mouths about a week after the end of the school routine.

Liven up a dull summer day with a celebration!  You can design an entire learning theme around a holiday or commemorative day and keep the kids occupied for hours dreaming up parties, competitions, or other projects.  Where to get ideas for the fun?  Well, you can either pick a favorite holiday and celebrate it just like you do when the real date rolls around, or you can check out some of the really goofy events days that pepper our calendar and discover a new way to learn.

  • Christmas:  Yes, I said Christmas.  Pull out some of the favorite decorations, make a few presents for loved ones, get out the Christmas books and bake some Christmas cookies.  Christmas is such a beloved holiday in so many households that it’s a shame to limit it to one day each year.  If you’d like to add some educational fun to your summer celebration, try having the kids retell their favorite stories, make a memory book of family Christmases, write a story about what happened the year that Christmas didn’t happen or was really moved to summer, or turn their favorite Christmas story into a play.  You don’t *really* have to get the decorations out of the attic, though.  Many kids will love making paper Christmas chains, stringing popcorn (you can put it out for the birds), making newspaper wrapping paper, and baking with the Christmas recipes.
  • Halloween:  Another family favorite that many will enjoy celebrating for an extra day.  Design a “haunted house,” make costumes out of household stuff like toilet paper and foil, make a scarecrow from stuffing old clothing, write a Halloween story or two, read a few scary stories, and create a few Halloween kitchen treats.  Don’t do Halloween at your house?  Try having an out-of-time Harvest Festival or Fall Festival instead!
  • Thanksgiving: It’s a great excuse to review the history lessons that go with the holiday and learn more about the first settlers in the United States as well as Native Americans.  Make a museum that shows the world what the kids understand about the holiday and the history.  Put on a play or write a story about it.  Make up a story about people who settle on a whole new planet and have a Thanksgiving of their own.  Plan a Thanksgiving dinner and use newspaper advertisements to calculate the cost for the family.  Do some cooking and make a few Thanksgiving traditional treats or try Thanksgiving foods that you don’t normally serve at your house.
  • Valentine’s Day: Lots of crafty activities will come to mind for this out-of-time celebration.  You can also use this as an excuse to create remembrances for far away loved ones or volunteer to brighten people’s days in nursing homes or local hospitals by making tray favors or cards.  Research the history of Valentine’s Day and find out how the holiday got its start, and learn about Cupid and other mythical beings from our shared cultural past.
  • Check out Bizarre and Fun Holidays to discover the goofy holidays coming up this month and every month.  Every day is a celebration, and the site gives you many, many more ideas to make the learning fun each and every day!

*****************

Remember that I love to hear from YOU!  Leave me a comment or a question and I’ll get right back to you.  Looking for an idea or help with a particular learning issue?  Just let me know!

Cooking Up Some Fun

Did you know that cooking experiences support a host of learning and academic goals?  Grab the kids and head into the kitchen for some fun, because you will also be helping them become more successful in school and life.  Cooking together builds teamwork, cooperation and initiative.  It helps children develop the ability to follow directions and do tasks in sequence.  Cooking builds reading and math skills, too!  With just a little bit of effort, you can reap all of these benefits and more for your children each time you enter the kitchen together.

This month, we’ll break away from traditional cooking, though.  You can make a wealth of kid-pleasing recipes with products that can be played with AND eaten.  There are science experiments, recipes for common children’s playthings and a few treats with twists.  Enjoy!

PLAY DOUGH RECIPES

Some of the first recipes that children can enjoy are those for various kinds of play dough.  The soft dough is easy for young hands to form into a wide array of shapes, and it nurtures a ton of important skills.  Molding play dough builds imaginative thinking.  As children make simple forms to represent things in their environment or that they have experienced, they are taking their first steps to understanding that one thing can represent another.  Three balls stacked on top of one another become a snowman, even though they aren’t made of snow, and often aren’t even white.  This is a huge development, intellectually speaking, and it actually lays the groundwork for later reading comprehension.  It’s a short hop from those play dough ball snowmen to words that represent ideas in that way.

Working with play dough also builds muscle control and strength.  As kids squeeze, roll and poke their dough, they are exercising fingers, hands and arms in a way that will help them guide pencils, crayons and scissors down the road.  Use the dough to build those all-important fine motor skills.

And do you know what else?  Play dough is an outstandingly interesting medium to focus attention on real academic skills for little children.  Roll it into long, skinny snakes and form letters or numbers.  Roll it into balls and use them for counting chips.  If you’re using a variety that will harden, form words and glue them onto a backing.

Older students also benefit from play dough activities, so as long as they are interested, you can tap into the fun with your kids.  Older students can work with fractions (find out how much is a half, a third or a fourth), try experiments with weight, or mix colors to create new shades of dough.  Is there a difference between mixing dough of two colors and mixing the food coloring ahead of time to produce the same color, then putting it into white dough?

Here are some great recipes to get you started.  Remember that you can store most homemade doughs in the refrigerator for a week or two as long as you keep them in an airtight container.

Non-Edible Play Dough Recipe

  • 2 Tablespoons of alum
  • 2 Cups flour
  • 1 Cup salt
  • 1 Cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • Food coloring

Mix the alum, flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add the water, oil and food coloring at the same time.  Mix the dough by squeezing it with your hands until it is a smooth and doughy consistency.

Cooked Dough Recipe

  • 2 Cups flour
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 Teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 Cups water
  • 1 Cup salt
  • Food coloring

Put the food coloring into the water, then mix all ingredients in a large pan.  Cook and stir over medium heat until the dough gets thick.

Peanut Butter Dough Recipe (Not advised for children under one year of age)

  • 3 1/2 Cups peanut butter
  • 4 Cups powdered milk
  • 4 Cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 Cups honey

Stir peanut butter and sugar together in a large bowl.  Beat in the honey and powdered milk with a mixer.  It’s ready when it’s smooth and dough-like.

FINGER PAINT RECIPES

Finger painting is an experience that every child should have.  Like most traditional play activities, it also supports an array of learning.  Finger painting allows children to develop both large and small muscle strength and control, as they learn to use big arm motions and small finger-tip movements to create the effects they desire.  It develops eye-hand coordination and encourages representative thinking.  Playing with finger paint can also help your child learn to accept different textures and sensations.  Build vocabulary by describing the feelings with your children: The paint might feel cold, gooey, squishy, runny, drippy, and so on.  Older children will enjoy setting up experiments with paint.  What changes to the recipe will modify the outcome?  Why are specific ingredients being used?  What happens when you try to use finger paint on different types of paper?

Simplest Finger Paint:

Vanilla pudding.  That’s right, vanilla pudding.  Just grab your favorite pudding mix and finish it off according to directions.  Add some food coloring and you’re done!

Cornstarch Finger Paint

  • 1 Cup cornstarch
  • 3 Cups water
  • Food coloring
  • Optional glycerin

Bring water to a boil.  Mix the cornstarch with a small amount of water in a similar fashion to making gravy thickener.  Add the cornstarch and water mixture to the boiling water and continue to boil until the mixture becomes clear.  Divide into bowls and add food coloring as desired.  Adding glycerin at this step will make the paint more glossy and shiny.

Flour Finger Paint

  • 2 Cups cold water
  • 2 Cups flour
  • Food coloring

Put the water in a bowl and add the flour slowly, while stirring continuously.  Add food coloring to get the desired tints.

 MAKE YOUR OWN CHALK

Sure, chalk is cheap, but there’s something about the experience of making your own chalk that has a lot to recommend it.  This project is wonderful for older children, especially when it’s coupled with a bit of research to understand how chalk is made commercially and why the different ingredients are a part of the recipes.

For children of all ages, chalk is a wonderful medium for self-expression.  Draw on nearly any outdoor hard surface, because the next rainstorm will wash away all evidence.  Chalk on pavement also allows children freedom to create in big ways.  Without the limitations of paper size, some will enjoy creating gigantic works of art.

Eggshell Chalk

  •  Eggshells (from about six eggs)
  • 1 Teaspoon flour
  • 1 Teaspoon extremely hot water

Wash and dry the egg shells thoroughly.  There can be no dirt, leftover egg or other impurities left in them.  Grind the shells up into a fine powder.  You can use a mortar and pestle, or crunch them with a large rock into a box.  It takes approximately one tablespoon of eggshell powder to make a stick of chalk.  Be sure to remove any larger bits of eggshell from the powder.  Use only finely ground shells.

Stir the flour and very hot water together to make a paste.  Mix in the eggshell powder.  Shape your mixture into a stick and roll tightly in a paper towel.  Allow it to dry for several days.  Use this chalk only on pavement or other outdoor settings-it can damage chalkboards.

Sidewalk Chalk Recipe

  • 1 Cup plaster of Paris
  • 3/4 Cup water
  • Powdered tempera paint

You will need a mold for this chalk.  A toilet tissue roll can work well.  Larger molds will take longer to dry.

Mix the plaster of Paris and the water in a large, old bowl.  Add the paint to make the desired colors.  You might be able to mix the paint, swirl it, or make stripes.  Pour the mixture into molds and let it dry completely.  Remove it from the molds and allow to dry for at least another twenty-four hours.  Use the chalk outdoors only, not on chalkboards.

Here’s wishing you great Learning Fun!

**********************

Don’t forget that you can leave educational questions, ideas for future posts, or just a “howdy” in the comments section below!  I’m looking forward to hearing from you!