EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: EGG DECORATING.

IMG_0253Happy Easter holidays! Here’s a lovely little activity to do for Good Friday (durable for the whole family, and no shopping required, all you need is an egg, a pin and some paint – or pens etc).

Firstly make a pin hole in the top of your egg, and a slightly larger hole in the base of your egg (by poking the pin in a few times). Also poke the yoke inside your egg so it is broken.
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Now for the fun part! Hold the egg to your mouth and blow into the smaller top hole, holding the larger bottom hole over a bowl so you catch the egg that will come out! This will likely get a few little shrieks of delight. (If it is too hard to blow, simply make the bottom hole a little bigger.)
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Yay! You now have a blown egg! (At this point it is a good idea to rinse your egg out to prevent later smell!) Now you can decorate as you wish, we used paints – though pens, or glitter, or even melted crayons also work a treat. (To help hold the egg while painting we ‘mounted’ our creations on a sick over a small bowl. This allowed the children to turn the egg without smearing their creations.)
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The youngest member of our group to blow out their egg was 3yo, though the egg is surprisingly strong while being blown so I suspect younger children would also enjoy doing it with a little help. I am certain that older siblings (and indeed adults!) would excel at decorating a more elaborate egg for decoration.
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Once finished (and dry!) you can thread up your egg with beads to make a beautiful hanging decoration. Happy easter everyone!
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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: KIDS FOLD AN ORIGAMI PENGUIN COLONY

Now, I’m no origami buff (I’ve never even made the classic bird!) but this little penguin was easy enough for all of us to make (the 5yo was rather capable of making her own, the 4yo needed some assistance!)

To make the photo instructions easier for you to read I made a penguin myself with 2 colours (so you can see the folds easier, and also see where the folds are intended to fall – my kids folds may were a little less accurate, but work just fine if they are close to the intended position!)

All you will need to make this little guy is a square of paper. Fold it into a triangle as below (to make a centre line) then open it out again.

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Fold the two top corners of your diamond into the centre, as below.

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Now turn the diamond over and fold in half (as below).

Fold the top point on an angle as shown. Then fold it to the other side, and back again, and again. (basically we just want the paper to fold at this point in the next step so you are reminding it where it should fold!)

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Open your diamond back up (with the point you were just folding pointing up) and then fold it in half again, this time ensuring that the point you had been folding bends over to form our beak. This sound a little complicated, but is easy to do once you have the paper in your hand. it should look like this:

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Now fold back your wings (on both sides)

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And fold up that long pointy tummy. Do the fold back and forth thing again (to remind it where to bend for the next step)

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Now open your penguin a little so you can tuck under that tummy you have just been folding backwards and forwards, this is even easier to do than the beak, and should look a little like this:

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Now those little points at the bottom of your penguin are not very good for balancing on, so fold then out for some little waddling feet.

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Add an eye, and any extra decoration you desire.

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Now you can add your little penguin to his colony for a play. Anica (5yo) loved following the instructions to make these, and only needed a little assistance (you can see her pink ones here turned out rather well, and fortunately with this design even if the folds are not accurate the penguin still functions very well!) Elka was less interested in the making, and more interested in the playing afterwards. These penguins were a lovely way to add a little Antarctica to our play, without having to expand our permanent toy collection!

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WORKSHEETS: LIMITING CREATIVITY OR PROVIDING A FRAMEWORK?

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There are lots of ways to learn your  letters, and different things will work for different children.

My oldest child knew all the shapes and the names of the letters long before she had a grasp of their use or sound. My youngest is the opposite and can sound out any word and tell you the letters, but can not recognise (or form) many letters. Each child benefits from different learning methods (and indeed enjoys different styles of learning.)

In our house, with learners on different ends of the letter learning spectrum, we are going for a bit of an immersion style of learning environment focusing on each letter (yes, learning about P means we had pumpkin soup for dinner, then pomegranate for desert!) and this is wonderful to encourage the recognition of sounds (something Anica is learning fast and seems to come very naturally to Elkas learning style).

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This is fun, but doesn’t teach the formation of the letters (in Anica’s case to improve her hand writing, and in Elkas case to recognise and form the letters). For this we have a series of worksheets (enjoyed most by Anica as it appeals to her learning style, but perhaps of the most obvious benefit to Elka as she links the sounds she knows with the formation of letters.)

Of course worksheets are not the only solution. We’ve talked before about ‘finding the o‘ or ‘sparkle writing‘, forming letters on the screen… and indeed we write letters on each other’s skin, in the sand, have them on the fridge, in the bath and so on… But for Elka in particular it seems that these worksheets have the most direct improvement on her ability to recognise letters.

Perhaps it is the repetition of the letters, or the novelty of the formal learning style, but I wanted to test what seems to be a very effective way for my children to supplement their learning: Half way through our work on P (before we had done the worksheet, but had done a number of other activities), I asked Elka a series of questions about the letters we’d been working on. The only letter that she knew but still couldn’t form was P (having already completed the other letters). Immediately after the worksheets (and then again a couple of days after) she could then form the letter P to complete her knowledge of the letter (adding to what sound it makes, what words it starts etc – i.e. this image below is Elka realising that ‘pen’ starts with ‘P’ and she was writing P’s with a Pen – hilarious!) While printable worksheets are not always appropriate, as a small dose for my family they are working very well.

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If you are new to the site and want to re-visit the post where I detail all the free printable that we are working from then head back to: Setting up for simple success.

CONFESSIONS OF A CRAZY PARTY MUM (AND WHY WE CHOOSE TO CELEBRATE BIG).

When I first had my children I was among those who openly looked down on those talked about ‘party mums’, believing that the party was more about their own status as a mother rather than the child. I would joke about people who hired an entertainer and a pony for a first birthday etc!

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But as my children have grown I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that most people probably see me as one of ‘those party mums’ and to embrace the role without feeling shame. I have grown to love kids parties more than is normal.

Ridiculously, we start preparing for parties about a month in advance, my kids and I work on costumes, decorations, games, gifts, invites. It is a whole family affair and the sibling of the birthday girl is just as active in party-mania as their sister. We make most of it ourselves and our life just becomes a little world of whatever theme they have chosen. We’ve had Bugs, Dinosaurs, Monsters, Princesses, Fairies, Circus, Solar System, and Beatrice Potter Parties. This year Elka wanted Under the Sea, so we made jelly fish, and mermaids, and sea stars, and pirate ships, and transformed our lounge room into an ocean with shiny blue streamers and LOTS of sticky tape.

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We collected shells so our friends could make mobiles and necklaces, we gathered driftwood, we sewed (and glued) fish for print making kites. I honestly think that the preparations are probably enjoyed more than the actual party itself. But what is this doing to my children?

Sure, they are learning during the preparation process (I don’t mean about how to host a party, but about their chosen theme and a range of practical hands on maker skills). But what is it doing to their sense of celebration, and indeed their expectations of what birthdays are about?

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When I first had children and criticised those vain party mums for spoiling their children and making the party into an event rather than a celebration of the child’s birthday – I used to think that it was better for the child to have a quitter birthday that was more focused on them.

Now I see my children planning a party for their friends. Their birthday is, in many ways, about their friends more than it is about them. They think about what games their friends will like to play, they make things for their friends to take home. They actually think very little about what they will receive for their birthday, because they are so excited about the party we are throwing together. I have come to think that this is healthy for my children. I wish I could install the same philosophy about christmas (but this involves a larger cultural shift that I have less power over!)

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I might be growing children who are disappointed later in life that celebrations are not as overt as they were in their childhood, but instead I hope that they continue this playful giving nature around their own life celebrations. That they are able to share their future milestones with their friends, with out feeling self-conscious about celebrating their own life.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: PAPER PLATE POLAR BEAR.

This simple paper plate polar bear only takes a moment to make (in our case before school one morning) and is a fun way to add a little Arctic into your play space.

Send your little hunters to gather your supplies:

  • Paper plate
  • Pencil
  • Cotton balls
  • Scissors
  • Eyes (optional)

First fold your plate in half and draw on your polar bear – ensuring that the back is along the fold. (Anica drew her own bear but this ‘back along the fold was a tad tricky for Elka to grasp with her current stage of drawing – so while I usually avoid ‘tracing’ type activities, Elka had a template to work form so her bear would stand up at the end!)

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Cut your bear out.

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Dismantle a few cotton balls (this is always a fun thing to do, regardless of your age!)

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Glue your fur to your bear (as you might have read when we were talking about Polar Bears, their skin is actually black, and their fur is acutlay clear, so feel free to substitute or paint for a more accurate representation, in our case we were happy to just use what we happened to have on hand!)

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Add some eyes (or draw them on).

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TA DA! You have polar bear playmate for the rest of the morning… he can even go to tea at the dolls house and terrorise everyone inside… Have fun!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: TURN A STORY INTO ART.

Peter Pan is a delightfully whimsical tale (and for those adults who want a little whimsy in their life “Finding Neverland” is a movie worth watching). My children somehow do not scare when they fall asleep listening to tales of pirates and man eating crocodiles, and I hope that the portrayal of female characters is not effecting their subconscious. For a bonus activity here is a little pirate adventure.

FullSizeRenderSimply read your favourite pirate story (or in our case we have an audio book of petter pan that the children love) and give them a large piece of paper with the instructions to create a pirate ship. Our pirate ship contained some dialogue from the story, and a second ship was needed in order to continue the narrative.

The activity did not take any adult preparation (other than setting up a story and getting the pens out) and yet was enjoyed immensely as a perfect quite time activity. Imaginations fired, little hands worked hard to craft their vision and at the end we had a beautifully imagined pirate vessel to hang on our wall as part of our ocean themed lounge room!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PENGUIN PRINTABLE.

This week we’ve got a little reader book for your young tots to colour (it’s a free download, but you will need to sign up to the free membership for Teachers Pay Teachers – I signed up myself and have not regretted it.)

Sample of the work found in the full pack of penguin printables made by teacher Jennifer Drake of Crayons and Cuties in Kindergarten.

This download is great for learning the different penguins and also early readers. Because my oldest is right at the transition into independent reading I splashed out the $10 and downloaded the full set of penguins for us to carry with us on our travels. You can see what is included at the creators blog. The books don’t just give an opportunity to colour, but also give great facts about the different types of penguins, their environments and what similarities and differences there are between the different species!

THINGS TO SEE AND DO: MAKE A GIANT SAND OCTOPUS.

IMG_4963 We have built large sand sculptures before, and they are a great hit for the young construction workers. This time however we had a change in focus beyond a simple sculpture, we want to talk a bit about camouflage.

We chose an appropriate spot and drew a large circle in the sand (for the body). Each child took control of one tentacle (mapping it out and digging around their shape to pile it up as a long 3d sand arm).

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We didn’t have 8 children building tentacles at once so this allowed for some great maths questions during construction; how many have we made now? How many do octopuses have? How many more do we need to make?

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As the tentacles shaped up the kids moved on and created the body and eyes in the centre, decorating with shells. The small group used great negotiation techniques throughout the process to organise themselves to finish the octopus, helping each other when they needed it, and collectively deciding on plans.

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Now, that’s a great physical project, but it was not our focus as we built. We wanted to talk as much as we could while building – What do the kids know about octopuses? (They take a long time to have their babies, they live in the water, they shoot ink at predators, they have no bones – these were the things the kids collectively knew about octopuses and it was a delight watching them inform each other and add to the knowledge that the other children were sharing.)

When we came to the idea of camouflage we stayed on the topic for a little longer. We talked about what would be good camouflage for an octopus, and how it can manipulate the shape of it’s skin to form different textures. It can change the shape of it’s body to mimic other creatures, and can even change the colour of it’s skin to form different patterns to blend into it’s surroundings! No other creature has all these camouflage skills.

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In our case we talked about our octopus being ‘camouflaged’ in the sand around it, but over the next couple of days we will revisit the concept as the opportunities present themselves. (See how that bird blends into it’s background? Why do you think that tiger in the book has stripes? What makes good camouflage? Why is it important for each of these animals to be able to hide?) Camouflage is a topic that is of great interest when learning about animals and it will come up time and time again as we work our way through the year, and a physically active project of building a sand sculpture is a fun way to introduce it!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: OCTOPUS OUT OF A GUM NUT.

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At a recent beach trip we had some craft supplies and these delightfully simple Gumnut Octopus proved to be a very easy and fun activity.

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Firstly gather some gumnuts (there is a large gumtree in the middle of Kingston Beach if you are keen to combine gumnut hunting with a beach octopus adventure.)

Choose your favourite gumnut and cut 4 lengths of string. (at this point your intelligent little marine biologist is almost certainly going to correct you – everyone knows octopuses have 8 tentacles, not 4!)

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Tie a knot in the middle of your 4 lengths of string (so all 4 are joined, leaving 8 ends hanging from your knot)IMG_0129

Insert the knot into the hole of the gumnut (depending on the size of your gumnut and the thickness of your string you may need to tie a double knot to make it the right size to stay, we found 1 knot suited some gumnuts, 2 knots worked better for others.)

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Simply attach some eyes and you have your little critter ready for his ocean adventure.

This activity was a winner for Anica (5yo with arthritis) as her knees were not on their best behaviour on this particular day and it gave her the chance to do something special while her friends ran and played in the sand. Later the other children came to investigate what we were doing and created their own creatures, but Anica is developing a real sense of ownership and accomplishment for these type of activities that let her quietly distract herself from more challenging things in her world at this time. She has even written her own blog on how to make a wombat, which I’ll post with her help shortly.