Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hands on Learning: Math

Now I have to admit that this is even a challenge for me. Math is not my forte and I tend to stick to traditional methods. But I accepted the challenge & here's what I found.

Preschoolers and Kindergarteners:

Again this is easiest. Clearly counting and number recognition can be done through play. Use blocks, manipulatives, number magnets, etc.

Play number recognition hopscotch. Instead of playing hopscotch the regular way, have your children jump to the number you call out. To up the ante, turn it into addition or subtraction hopscotch. For older children, multiplication or division hopscotch. The possibilities are endless!

SNATCH! As mention in previous blogs, SNATCH can be used for anything. Number recognition, computation facts, fractions....

Use m&m's or another special treat to do addition and subtraction. Give them 10 m&m's, tell them to 'take away' or subtract 4 (they get to eat them to subtract) and what is left? I'm sure this will motivate the biggest hater of math!

First and Second Graders:

Teach money skills by setting up your own store. Or take them out to a real store. Practicing with real money is the best way to teach them this! Maybe start giving them an allowance. They will appreciate the value of money more when it is their own and they have to choose. "Do I really want this dollar store bear right now or do I want to save for that Barbie?"

Telling Time: Make a cardboard clock with a digital clock below it (see directions in Teaching Tips on the website). Practice by the hour at first, then the half hour, 15 minutes and 10 minutes and then single minutes.

Third & Fourth Graders:

Place value: Put out labels on the floor - hundreds, tens, ones. Give 3 children a number and have them stand by each label (or just put the numbers by the label if you do not have a group). Ask what number is this? What is in the hundreds place? Tens? What is we switch it around? What is the smallest number possible using these 3 numbers? The largest? What happens if we add a decimal point?

Estimation: Play the famous 'How many in the Jar' game. Estimate how many children are needed (laying down toe to head) to measure the length of the room?  Estimate the height of the ceiling. Now give them the actual dimensions and see how close they came with their estimations.

Probability: You could sit at a table and roll dice and/or flip coins & this would be fun. But how about making giant dice out of appliance boxes & rolling those around the room?

Again this is just a drop in the bucket. There are so many ways to make Math fun! Even for me!!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hands on Learning: Science

Science is probably one of the easiest, because it is set up to be hands on and exploratory. Everything about science screams: Get Dirty! So try some of these activities on for size!

Grow Something!

Nothing teaches kids about the parts of a plant, the life cycle of a plant better than actually growing it yourself. It can be simple like a lima bean & a wet paper towel in a ziploc taped to a window. Or a carrot top cut off & replanted. Or a potato suspended by toothpics with one end in water in a cup. Also try paperwhite flowers in water with food coloring. It changes to flower's color!

Or you could get more complicated with a house plant or even growing vegetables. What a great way to make them better eaters!

Get A Pet

I know, I know - we all need something ELSE to do! But there are so many low maintenance pets out there, anyone can do this. Get a lizard, a hamster, a pet snake, even a hermit crab. Setting up a correct habitat for that pet teaches them about climate, geographical areas, and the responsibility that comes from caring for a pet is second to none! Have your child research the pet, what it eats, what kind of climate/geographical area it is from. Can salamanders live in the desert? Can a hamster live in water? It sounds silly but so much learning happens here. DO IT! Don't be scared. It will be okay!

The Water Cycle

Make a soda Bottle Terrarium!! Super easy & shows the water cycle up close & personal. Great science fair project too! (Directions on website under teaching tips) 

Squishy Egg Experiment

One raw egg 
Large bowl


Put a raw egg (in its shell) into a bowl and cover it completely with vinegar. Wait two days, then drain off the vinegar. When you touch the egg, it will feel rubbery. Be careful not to break the membrane, and wash your hands after you touch the egg. (Throw it away after a few days.)


Vinegar, an acid, dissolves the calcium in the eggshell. It's calcium that makes the shell hard. But a thin, flexible membrane just under the shell still holds the egg's shape. 

Make A Volcano 

Baking soda
a container for the mixture (water bottle)
A container to hold everything (box or rubbermaid container)
paper towels

Put the vinegar and baking soda into the small container (water bottle)
watch the reaction that takes place

The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a base while the vinegar (acetic acid) is an acid. When they react together they form carbonic acid which is very unstable, it instantly breaks apart into water and carbon dioxide, which creates all the fizzing as it escapes the solution.
For extra effect you can make a realistic looking volcano. It takes some craft skills but it will make your vinegar and baking soda eruptions will look even more impressive!

There are a million ways to make science hands on, creative & fun. Do a google search for science experiments. You could do one every day for a year!!!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hands on Learning: Reading & Letter Knowledge

This seems to be a big one for everyone so I thought I would start here. Most traditional learning centered around letters and reading heavily involves paper and pencil tasks. Clearly, as they get older, reading involves paper. But teaching reading and teaching writing and teaching letters can be multi-sensory...I SWEAR! And if you try some of these activities, I bet your struggling reader will stop shutting down, be interested in reading again, and be willing to try (which is half the battle). The greatest thing about multi-sensory learning is that it is so different from what they are doing in school, they do not see it as work.

Preschoolers & Kindergarteners:

This is the easy part, although I do not advocate for teaching letters to preschoolers or kindergarteners. I truly believe, and have witnessed as a preschool teacher and as a mom, that children offered a literature-rich environment will learn their letters (and how to read for that matter). So first and foremost READ to your kids! Trace your finger under the words as you read them to show the left to right progression.

Secondly, do a picture walk with them. A picture walk is when you  (or actually they) 'read' the book by discussing the pictures. Studies have shown that this method actually increases vocabulary and language in preschoolers with language delays BETTER than read alouds!! (Yup did my masters thesis on this very thing).

Use environmental print! Your kids already KNOW how to read. I bet they can read the stop sign, an exit sign, a Dunkin Donuts sign, a cheerios box....the list goes on & on. So set them up for success and show them that they are already readers!! Maybe make an environmental print book. When I was a classroom teacher I had an environmental print word wall.

And if you MUST teach letters - do so without a pencil - use magnet letters, fingerpaint, shaving cream in the tub, stamps, stickers, do a letter scavenger hunt, write them with a stick in the dirt/sand, do sand paper letter rubs (in teaching tips on my website). Developmentally, children up to age 5 are not ready to use a pencil for writing. By offering them dotted letters to trace on paper, you are adding stress that is not needed to this process.

1st & 2nd Graders:

This age group should know a bunch of sight words and be able to sound out words, blends, digraphs, and write these in full sentences and paragraphs. Yes this can be done in a fun way, although admittedly it will involve more paper/pencil tasks...

Our FAVORITE game: SNATCH! You can play this with just about anything - letters, numbers, words, math facts....all that you need is a marker and some card stock. (directions on my website under teaching tips) Kids just LOVE snatching someone else's cards. Not only is it allowed, this game ENCOURAGES it!

Use the same card stock to make memory match games. You can also make word races. At one end of the room put 4-5 large pieces of paper with word families or blends on them (-ill, -ick, -ing). Then make a bunch of 'flash cards' with corresponding words (sill, mill, stick, flick, fling, bring). Get a timer & have a race to see who can run across the room with each word and match it to it's corresponding word family. Even if you are working with 1 child, they will love to try to beat their own times!

For sight words, do a sight word scavenger hunt. Put sight words on index cards & hide them. Then give the children a list. The first person to find their list wins! (They also have to read them)

Silly sentences - have a pile of nouns and a pile of verbs. Each child has to pick 1 noun and 1 verb and write a sentence. They get such a kick out of this because it's SILLY. So YES a sentence that reads "The chair ate my salami sandwich' is not only okay, it's GREAT!

3rd & 4th Graders:

This age is really focusing on writing a complete story - characters, setting, conflict, solution, main idea.......They are also focusing on reading comprehension, going back to the text to find answers. Being able to answer questions about the text, to make inferences.

Try story starters. To encourage creative writing, on sentence strips write a bunch of silly story starters. (examples on my website under teacher tips) They pick a story starter out of a pile or jar and have to write a complete story that includes a main character, supporting characters, setting, plot, conflict, solution etc.

A big problem that kids this age have is to skip over words when reading, or substitute words that are not there. This is a habit you want to BREAK as soon as you see it. When they are younger, it doesn't really affect story meaning. But as they get older it will, especially on those standardized tests! A great way to do this is to have them CATCH YOU making mistakes! Take turns reading a passage or story aloud with each other. Tell them that the idea is to try to catch the other person making mistakes. They will feel less self-conscious if you make mistakes too. Afterwards, discuss how omitting words or substituting words could change the meaning and result in wrong answers on a test or homework.

Making inferences. The What If game: Take a favorite story & change the ending, change a character, extend the ending. This could be a writing project as well. Children will have fun creating their own version of the story!

This is really just a drop in the bucket. And I did not invent these ideas. These are ideas I've seen others use over the years, ideas that I've used, ideas I've found on the internet. So even if your child goes to traditional school, you can supplement with these activities. They are fun for everyone but will especially help that struggling reader in your life!

Hands on Learning: The series

So I know you've heard it from me before, but I am all about hands on, multi-sensory learning! Learning should be fun, exploratory, child led and get you a little dirty at times! So in the interest of this, I've decided to post ideas on how to teach things in a hands on, multi-sensory way.

If you are not sure what I mean by multi-sensory, let me explain. Multi-sensory is simply learning through the senses - touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. This is how children learn best. Actually it's how we ALL learn best. It is the most meaningful to them when they explore their worlds. So instead of learning letters by tracing them on a worksheet, kids can learn letters by fingerpainting them, writing their name with magnet letters, doing a rubbing of sandpaper letters, stamping letters, seeing them in environmental print, etc.

So if you would like ideas for a particular age group or subject, please let me know. I will post these by subject area and try to address multiple age levels. If you have ideas of your own, please share!If you know a parent or a teacher who might like these ideas, please share this with them! Please feel free to comment if you try these ideas too!