Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Neighborhood Clue Game with Rocks

Want something different to do on your next walk with your kids?  Try this clue game.  It’s especially fun with little ones who get very excited about finding the clue rocks.

Print out TWO copies of a map of your neighborhood.  I just went to and entered in my address.  Then I zoomed out as much as I wanted included in the map.
Think of locations or intersections where the clue rocks can be dropped.  Label these on your maps with symbols (I used colored shapes, such as a red triangle, a red square, a green triangle, a green square, etc.)  I’d suggest only having about six to nine total clue spots.  Be sure both maps end up with the same symbols at the same points—they need to be identical.
Draw the same symbols on rocks or other small objects (see picture below). 

How to Play
You will need two adults and at least one child.  Break off into teams, each with at least one adult.

The Hiders’ Job
The Hiders will secretly pick a spot on the map to begin the game.  They will then leave that clue at the house (we leave ours by the door).  They will take the rest of the rocks with them (we use the fun little pouch shown here), as well as one of the maps.  (I also recommend the adult brings a cell phone in case of rock-placement error.)
They then hurry to that first spot and leave their next clue rock.  We set ours along the edge of the sidewalk where the Seekers may need a minute to find it rather than in plain view.
They continue doing this at at least one other point on the map.  They will wait at the last point and watch for the other team to arrive.

The Seekers’ Job
The Seekers will stay at home until the Hiders have had a little bit of time for a head start.  I suggest five minutes.
Once five minutes is up, the Seekers pick up their first clue and head out to that clue spot.  They should bring with them the map and a small pouch to collect the rocks in.

At the first clue spot, they will search for their next clue rock.  Once they find that symbol on the map, they will go to find another clue.  They continue doing this until they end up locating the Hiders.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Alone Time for All

A couple of months ago, my four-year old stopped needing a nap.  Great.  Nap time was the only time during the day I had to myself to write and veg out a little (okay, and eat chocolate). 

Soon after, I was given a double-whammy: my two year-old also felt he could live off bedtime alone. 

I began scouring pages of Pinterest for activities they could do alone.  I went through my hoarder-style closet full of toys I bought for a rainy day but had never given them. 

As a former teacher, I thought it’d be best to create a calendar arranged by theme of what they could do in what I dubbed “Alone Time” while I continued on with my old routine.

I planned to have the kids work on math-related activities one day, art another, etc.  I created boxes with fun math things, brand new art ideas…


The activities and toys were so foreign, the kids had no idea what to do with them.  I was called in again and again to help them.  My son plain wasn’t interested in the toys he’d never seen before.  I didn’t get it: on Pinterest, these Alone Time bins worked like magic.

As I was rearranging toys in my bedroom, my daughter came in and began to play with something we had done together a bunch of times and then I had put away.  Well, what do you know: now she was ready for it to be played with solo.

And that’s when I realized something: we could still do the fun activities I had planned, but we’d need to do them together first.  They needed to explore them when I could answer questions and show them how fun they could be.

I needed to flip the toys in my house.  The toys that were in the living room that we played with together a million times could be used in their bedrooms for Alone Time.  The new toys would then go in the living room where the kids and I could play with them together.

The kids didn’t need to do art alone.  Instead, we can do art together—this also allowed for messy supplies and scissors.  The cool princess dice and graph paper with dry erase markers would also be fun to do together.  Once she gets it, then it can be an option for alone time.  And I didn't need to be all teacher-y and have a planned agenda.  It would require too much work on my part and not really matter to the kids that much.

I’m excited to try my new plan.  I’ll report back on how it went.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Anti-Crafting: Crafts That Don’t Use Paper, Scissors, Glue, or Tape: Graham Cracker Robots

If there’s one thing I learned having preschool-aged children is that just about every activity ends in a product. 

Don’t get me wrong—I love doing crafts of all sorts.  And Pinterest has really fun ones.  But I think I’m…over-
crafted at this point. 

Not only do I not know what to do with the finished product (I feel guilty getting rid of them when they turn out so cute), but my kids don’t really care about it either—they just enjoyed the process.  So why not focus on the process?

Lately, I’ve been trying to do more activities that don’t use traditional craft supplies, not even reused items such as toilet paper tubes, craft sticks, etc. 

Many of our projects have now been food related.  We make things out of yummy things, and then eat them.  This is good for three reasons: 1) the kids still are doing fun “crafts,” 2) they end up eating something they normally might not because they were distracted making the product, and 3) there’s no worrying about where to hang it or how to sneak it into the recycling bin—the kids munch it right up.

My four-year old's robot.
So, here is Project #1:

Graham Cracker Robots
  • graham crackers, broken into squares and the smaller rectangles
  • “glue”—we used cream cheese and sunflower butter, but you can also use peanut butter or frosting
  • small foods, such as small circular crackers, raisins, cut grapes, various kinds of cereals, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds

I got inspired to create robots after my kids and I read the book Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen.  My kids seemed interested in robots, so I thought they’d have fun making their own.  Instead of getting out paper, though, I showed them how we could use graham crackers to make a 2D robot.  I then gave them knives (they sell toddler knives, but my kids like my decorative appetizer knives which also are dull) and a muffin tray of fun things to attach as buttons and gadgets.  They used the cream cheese and sunflower butter as glue.

My kids had fun with this and ate all of their supplies—there was really little clean up with this.  It also was a good chance to talk about shapes with my little one, as well as give him practice in fine-motor skills. 

Stay tuned for other Anti-Craft Projects.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Scavenger Hunt Walks—Making the Most of Nature

Stop to smell the flowers.
My kids and I love going for walks around the neighborhood.  To me, it’s the perfect chance to teach them about their environment.

When we first started to look for items, we made a list of things we hoped to see and hear, such as a cat, a dog, things that are red, different kinds of wheels, and a panda bear (
my two-year-old’s suggestion). 

Since then, we’ve added natural things to look for:

If we find pinecones: Where is the pine tree? 

If we find helicopter seeds: Where is the maple tree?  (These seeds are fun to raise up over your head and drop, watching them propel back to the ground.)

Pointing out a maple tree.
If we see acorns: Where is the oak tree?  Are there any squirrels around?

If we hear birds: Do you know what kind they are?  I bring my smartphone with me—a great app with bird calls (at least for an iPhone) is BirdCaller.  Can you see the birds?  Be sure to check out my bird crafts, too: Bird Crafts

If we see ants: Is there an anthill nearby?  How many ants are there?

If we see yellow, blue, or purple flowers: Are there any bees in the flowers?  (Don’t get too close!)  Bees are attracted to these colors more than to others.

Do we see anything flying: What do we see?  Airplanes, birds, fluffy seeds?

If you walk after there’s been a storm: Are there any changes since the storm?  Puddles, large branches, bunches of leaves/seeds on the ground?  How about worms in the grass?

If we see an interesting-colored tree, bush, or flower: What would you call that color?  What other objects does that color resemble?

Look at the bark on different trees: How does it feel?

Can you find any leaves with munches in them?  Are there any creatures around that could have caused those munches?  (Remind them of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.)

Although wheels aren’t found in nature, we still like to look for them.  If we see anything with wheels: How many are there on the object?  How many different objects can we find with wheels (think wagons, bikes, garbage cans, cars, flatbeds, wheelbarrows—it’s surprising how many my kids can find.)

It’s also fun to collect things.  We sometimes bring a reclosable plastic bag with us on our walk to collect various nature objects, such a cool-looking leaves, acorns, sticks, and pinecones.  When we get back, we empty the bag, and the kids sort the items into piles, make a face with them, trade objects, etc.  What’s nice about doing this is that, once you’re done, you can just dump the items back outside and reuse the bag for next time.

Once you start pointing things out, it’s amazing all that your kids will notice.  Note: we're still waiting to see a polar bear..

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Picking Up the Play Room

If there’s one word that doesn't describe me, it’s neat.  I did find a way to make clean up less daunting: Clean Up Flashcards.  By concentrating on just a couple toys each, cleaning up the play room is much more manageable. 

About ten minutes before bedtime, the kids blindly pull three Clean Up cards to know what items they need to put away that night.  My husband and I also choose some, so it’s a family task to pick up.  Some days some of the toys aren't even pulled out, so you end up with a “freebie” card.  We also have a catch-all bin for items that don’t really belong in any category; I usually also put those items away.

Here are the steps to make your own Clean Up Flashcards—they’re super easy to make.

Step 1: Provide a container for each kind of toy: one for blocks, one for books, etc.  (Being into reducing waste, I use empty diaper boxes as bins for toys.  That way, it’s easy for each type of toy to have it’s own container).
Step 2: Take a picture of each of the bins of toys.  Print.
Step 3: Create flashcards (I used large index cards for mine), with a picture and label of each bin.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Break Activity: Whole House Zoo

Looking for a fun and easy activity to do on a rainy day or during spring break?  Turn your house into a zoo!  This activity can be altered to fit many different aged children.  Here’s what you can do with little ones:

Feeding the monkeys.

Gather all of the stuffed animals you can find in the house (we even included our dinosaurs!).
  1. Sort through them, putting like animals together (we also grouped all farm animals together).
  2. Decide which animals will be housed where—we put animals everywhere in the house—the kids’ bedrooms, under the dining room table, under the stairs…
  3. Sorting through our animals.
  4.  Put your animals in their enclosures.
  5. Create a placard for each enclosure with the animal's name and a picture.  (My preschooler got to practice trying to spell animal names, my toddler practiced drawing animals).
  6. Research what each animal eats and “feed” them with play food (or make out of paper, blocks, etc.)
  7. At night, have your child pick an animal to read to.  Your child can choose a book he or she thinks that animal would enjoy.  (The monkeys might enjoy Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed)
    We looked up what opossums eat.
Our pig placard.
We’ve had a lot of fun with this.  It’s been weeks since we set this up, and the kids still “clean out” an enclosure, check on the animals, show their zoo to guests, etc.  This week, my preschooler is playing veterinarian and helping all of our farm animals with various ailments.

There’s lots that can still be done with this activity.  Here are my other ideas:
  • Make map of the zoo
  • Measure the animals with a tape measure, paper clips, or Unifix cubes
  • Graph how many of our animals have four legs vs. two legs, wings vs. no wings, etc.
Our wild dog enclosure.  Note the real "wild dog" at the top of the stairs.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Making Science Juicy

My kids love Curious George;  I love science.  What can be more fun than combining the two?  One of our (okay, my) favorite Curious George episodes, “Juicy George,” is about George trying to recreate a juice recipe.  Afterward, there is a segment of real kids creating their own juice combinations.  I thought it would be fun to do the same.

We already had an assortment of juices in our house—the standard orange, apple, and cranberry, as well as tangerine juice that was on sale.  I wanted the kids to try vegetable juice as well, so I bought small bottles of a carrot-orange juice.  I also bought a bottle of blueberry-blackberry juice, since my daughter claims to not like blueberries, but I had a feeling she’d like the juice.

After the kids and I re-watched the episode, I poured a small amount of each of our juices into clear cups.  I put the bottle of each behind the cup so the kids would know what’s what.  My two kids took turns telling me what juices they wanted to combine.  We poured 1 tablespoon of that juice into a cup. 

They had a blast trying the different juice combinations, even liking the carrot juice.  It was a great way for them to get a variety of vitamins and try flavors they might not normally be willing to taste (did I mention that neither of my children like vegetables, and my daughter doesn't normal like/drink juice?).

I feared that trying too many combinations would cause one of them to get a stomachache, but all is well.  Sticking with 1 tbsp amounts seemed about right.  They each tried six or seven combinations. 

Next step: Learning more about what vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables can do for our body.  Stay tuned…