Want some activity ideas for your kiddos that will provide fun and education. Always! As a big fan of unschooling, even though my children are in public school, I am big on games, crafts, field trips, and activities that involve learning without really trying.
Enter Geology Lab for Kids – 52 Projects to explore rocks, gems, geodes, crystals, fossils, and other wonders of the earth’s surface. The book breaks up into 12 fun unit studies so this is really kind of perfect for homeschoolers and unschoolers who want to use it for some science learning and fun. It is a year’s worth of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) activities.
Here are a few of the fun things you will discover…
The first lab is on crystals and one of the first projects is how to make sugar crystals…we just happen to love to do. Learn about the science behind crystals and make rock candy. What kid will object to this unit study?
Lab five has a nifty unit for learning about crystal structure and you and your kids get to make a nest of needles.
Lab seven shows you how to make a cluster of geodes from common kitchen chemicals, like borax. This project also gives you a clever re-use idea for those leftover plastic easter eggs.
Lab 15 mimics what happens to lava flow when it cools and the project is super yummy…lava cakes!
Lab 39 encases a gummy bug or worm just like the way amber encases fossilized insects. Make a batch and watch Jurassic Park.
Lab 45 puts you on the hunt for micrometeorites.
Lab 48 includes a recipe for magnetic slime. Cool!
This book is quite literally a gem for curious mind. It provides many, many hours of educational and fun activities. Your kids might just be begging you to read this with them and try every single activity. Enjoy!
I wanted to share this counting app for either iPad or Android devices because it is free at the moment, possibly only for today. I downloaded it myself for my autistic seven year old and I was just so pleased with it I had to share this deal. My kiddo, while advanced in age, is still only in Kindergarten and he has been having great difficulty with much of what he is learning. It is going to be a very long road I imagine but one thing we have already identified that helps him is having a tablet. Other than me, he is the only one in the family that has their own tablet device and it has been such a blessing. We got him a relatively cheap Android 4.0 in case you are also looking. It works great and it is super affordable.
He can play video games on it and feel somewhat like other kids because game consoles and computer games are a bit beyond his capabilities. He needs that touch screen. I also download educational apps for him and to him they ARE video games. It makes learning fun.
Anyway the Very Hungry Caterpillar Counting App is based upon the artwork of Eric Carle. It is fantastic! It has 5 levels of difficulty and from what we have tried so far it is very high quality. Regular price is $2.99 and well worth double or triple that price in my opinion but you can’t beat free you happen to read this in time. Enjoy!
Get the counting app for iPad or iPhone
Get the Android counting app
More and more frequently I get comments on this blog or on Facebook about how I should be homeschooling. Many are well meaning. They think homeschool rocks and they want me to experience this bliss myself. A handful are a tad condescending. I do understand that many parents concerned with self sufficiency, natural learning and living, homesteading, minimalism, etc do opt to homeschool. I do not.
Here are some of the reasons why:
1. I do not want to spend every waking moment with my kids. Yeah I said it and yes I will OWN it. I have always been an attached parent. I became a work at home mom and built my own business so that I could be the primary caregiver for my kids. I breastfed on demand, tandem nursed, co-slept with all my babes, washed their nappies by hand, wore them in slings and carriers, and generally devoted myself to their care in their younger years. They never experienced daycare (aside from my oldest), nannies, or babysitters. I almost never spent an evening away from them or a day even since I was pretty much single parenting for 6ish years while my hubby had an over-the-road job. This took a toll on me and my marriage and I am now taking a look at other parenting philosophies that don’t put so much stress on mom to be all for her children, all the time. I may still sleep with a six year old wrapped around me at night like a pretzel but I also make sure that my husband and I are having our needs met for child-free time. Having our kids in public school creates a window of time for the adults, especially since my husband works second shift. I enjoy the time. I need the time.
2. I want my kids to be exposed to lots of different ideas and concepts, not just those I personally teach and endorse. On one hand I may tell you that I will happily “brainwash” my kids when it comes to my ideas about equality, sustainability, and some aspects of politics. I want them to believe what I believe. I am not going to be all militant if they choose to believe something else but I have no problems with my opinion being the one they hear most on some matters. On the other hand I don’t want them to take my word for it. I want them to be exposed to many different ideas and opinions so they can make up their own mind. I am agnostic for instance but I rarely talk about that at home because I want them to make up their own minds. I even sent one of my kids to a Christian preschool so that they would have exposure to religion that I am not willing to provide. My youngest would likely have gone to the same school if he had not required early intervention.
Many, many parents who homeschool (especially deeply religious families) homeschool to insulate their kids and keep them from being exposed to thoughts and ideas that conflict with what they are teaching at home. I want no part of that. This is not to say that I will not try to dissuade them from opinions and behavior that I strongly disagree with but how can we truly discuss things if they have no frame of reference?
3. I want my kids to experience lots of diversity. Homeschool groups often tend to have many of the same kind of kids and families in them. If you are homeschooling solo then trips to the zoo or the science museum do not qualify as exposure to diversity. In our local public schools there are kids of many different races and religions. There are kids with two parent families, single parent families, and families with parents of the same sex. There are children with special needs and handicaps. My oldest son’s school even has classrooms with varied age groups all lumped together so that he might be sitting next to an 11th grader and an 8th grader. It is important for my kids to see that not everyone looks, acts, and thinks like they do and that this should be accepted and celebrated.
4. We tried homeschool and it was not for us. I actually DID homeschool for 1.5 years of my oldest son’s school career and it was in reaction to issues he was having at public school. I feel that overall it was a big mistake. He has Asperger’s and ODD and was unwilling to do any sort of school at home. Unschooling, which we also tried, was no help either. When I took him to a public school to be tested when he should have been entering 4th grade I was shocked by the results and by how far behind he was. I had to admit to myself that not only did I not enjoy homeschooling, I am just not cut out for it AND my son did not respond well to his mom also being his teacher. The stuff that any teacher could get away with requesting or requiring was cruel and unusual punishment coming from mom. Also, I am not a patient person. I have to admit that my personality limits my effectiveness as a home educator.
But to those that DO homeschool…I salute you and very often over the years I have wished that I could be you.
5. We require interventions (aka care provided to improve a situation). Hubby and I have two autistic boys and this puts them several steps behind their peers academically and socially. With special assistance I have seen my oldest son catch up to and even surpass his peers, depending upon the subject. Instead of being distracted by all the kids in a classroom full of 30 kids, he is now in a classroom with only 3 others. He gets one on one instruction in areas where he needs it.
My youngest child is now entering Kindergarten after three years of public preschool and is still nowhere near ready for it. He is going to seriously struggle with the academics and he is going to need lots of resources and help that I would have difficulty providing for him on my own. I am amazed every day by what public school can do for special needs children. Admittedly it can be like pulling teeth to get them to acknowledge that there ARE special needs but once you do establish what you need to, it is a gift that keeps on giving. Need a private car service to transport your kid to school because he cannot handle the stimulation of all the kids on a bus? No problem. Need a classroom with only 2-3 other kids in it? No problem. Need a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech therapist (or perhaps all three)? No problem. We pay more taxes in our current district than anywhere else we have lived but how can I complain?
6. Public schooling won’t improve unless caring, motivated parents are there to encourage change. I have often accused public schooling of being cookie cutter education and I have my fair share of complaints (despite what I just said above). I get pretty mad when I think teachers are being inflexible and unreasonable. I get hoppin mad when one of my kids is afraid to voice their opinion to a teacher or administrator about something that concerns them because they feel they will be punished for dissent. I have concerns when too many of the songs in chorus are about Jesus since schools are supposed to honor a separation of church and state. I think they need to relax when it comes to homework and stop being so laid back about bullying. I have concerns. You have concerns. We can’t do anything about those concerns if we pull our kids out of that environment and school them at home. Who will fight for the kids and parents who don’t have that option?
When I pulled my oldest child out of public school I was essentially giving up. I felt they were doing wrong by him and I could not get them to change. Who benefited when I gave up? No one. My son slipped further behind because homeschooling was not a good fit for us and the school got to wipe their hands clean of him and his issues. I did them a favor. That all changed when I was introduced by chance to a lawyer and special education advocate. She heard my son’s experience and jumped at the chance to do right by him. If I had chosen to return him to his old school she would have helped to force them to acknowledge his special needs and then accommodate them as required by law. Instead I chose to put him in a school created especially for children with special needs.
Now I am starting this process all over again with my six year old. This time I am determined to be the advocate my child needs and the parent who works for change from the inside.
7. You can still have an active role in educating your child even if they ARE in public school. Public schooling does not mean lazy parenting. Well, it can mean that but it doesn’t have to. If your child is struggling to learn because their teacher is not willing or able to adapt lessons to their learning style then get creative and work on these issues at home. Help them with gaps. Have fun with “unschooling” nights and weekends by playing educational board games or taking them to museums. You can expose to them all sorts of wonderful opportunities and experiences. You are not limited just because they go to public school.
Have them complete their homework with you. Volunteer at their school and become informed of the issues and see what they are learning. Join the PTA. Get to know their teachers so well they are practically on speed dial. And I don’t mean come to them with bad stuff (ie complaints) all the time…build a positive relationship. Don’t feel as though you need to relinquish control of your child’s education…think of yourself as a partner in their education. Everyone wins.
8. Private schools are flippin expensive! They are not an option for us but even if they were I am not so sure we would utilize them. My limited experience with private schools left me feeling that they were just as likely to provide cookie cutter education. At the religious school where my daughter went there was entirely too much shaming going on as well. Not so much a fan of that. If we did private schooling it would likely be Montessori or similar.
So, time for you to weigh in. Agree or disagree. What have you chosen for your family?
It’s spring break around these parts and summer is not too far away now. I find that public schooling often feeds feelings of boredom because kids are super scheduled all day and when they come home they still want “activity”. Few of us though want that activity to revolve around video games and television so educational toys have become increasingly popular among parents in recent years. There are a couple of reasons for this. Some parents believe that educational toys will not only “jump-start” their children’s learning, it will also help them retain skills that might otherwise go unused when school is out. Homeschoolers use educational toys as part of the regular learning process because earning through play is an amazing thing. Also, parents with disabled children have found that some educational toys help their children in a number of different ways.
Below are a few examples of educational toys.
1. Puzzles – Yes, puzzles are considered to be educational because they help kids (and adults) improve their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and their problem-solving skills. It can be a great for learning and family bonding to work together on large puzzles. If you know of any other families in your area who are puzzle enthusiasts you can swap puzzles to keep costs down. Some good ones to try are Geo Puzzles that teach geography and 4D Human Anatomy Puzzles that teach anatomy.
2. Building Blocks – Of course you have the classic blocks that have letters of the alphabet on them as well as numbers, those are always educational. But playing with unmarked blocks helps young children learn about three-dimensional shapes, spatial relationships and what it takes to build something. Therefore, these toys are considered to be educational too. For a fun spin on this try a wood marble run. We also love Tegu Magnetic blocks.
3. Musical Instruments – Do your kids love music? Many children enjoy music and enjoy learning how to play various instruments so give them the opportunity if you can. Playing musical instruments helps children improve their memory skills, become better disciplined, develop a sense of achievement, and build confidence in their skills. You can often find affordable instruments on Craigslist and at yard sales and auctions. We found a gorgeous flute in a velvet lined box once for only $20 at a yard sale!
4. Model Toys – Many people, both young and old, enjoy putting together models (boats, cars, airplanes, etc.) and learn a lot in the process. Children who put these objects together learn about the object itself as well as how various pieces fit together. if you want to keep it green then go for wood models like this Titanic model (my oldest boy would love this!) or this 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer. You could also use materials you have around the house to make sailboats and then take the kids to a nearby creek to sail them. Educational and fun.
5. Science Toys – Science toys are great educational toys. It doesn’t matter if a child is learning how to build a motor, make a geode, or see how electricity works, these toys can help teach it all.
But what if you have young children? Below are some of the best educational toys for babies and toddlers.
1. Markers, Crayons, Paper, Etc. – Your toddler will learn a lot by playing with various types of art supplies. Other examples include watercolors and molding clay.
2. Activity Tables – You can make your own activity/sensory tables for toddlers and babies. They hold their attention and help them learn at the same time! Put out some paint colors for them to mix, sand for them to pour and play in, and beans/rice for them to sift through and find hidden items in.
4. Wooden Toys – The first benefit of wooden toys is that they are BPA free, unlike most plastic toys. The second advantage is that they are incredibly durable and have been shown to last decades! I love these wooden sailboats and pretty much anything by Plan Toys.
5. Sticks and Rocks – Nature’s toys are good toys. My own kiddos always find something to do with sticks and rocks including sword fighting and building little forts. Last week we even painted some of the ones in our yard so now we have rainbow rocks and sticks. Using one’s imagination exercises the brain.
What are your favorite educational toys for kids?
Attn: Giveaway at the bottom of this post
It’s what is on our mind this time of year… back to school, or back to homeschool… whatever the case may be. We start thinking about scheduling, curriculum, activities, new Fall clothes, ways to stay on budget, and much more. It is also the time of year when I get lots of school related gear to review as a blogger. Many products and pitches don’t make the cut but others I find really helpful and the above are some of the winners I spotted this year.
We are doing a mish mesh of schooling stuff this year. I have one child who will be home most of the time, minus therapy sessions at a public school. He started attending last year for speech and developmental delay issues and they helped him so much it just amazes me. He is now 5 and could technically enter Kindergarten but I opted to keep him home and send him to the special needs program again. He will be gone for about 2 hours a day.
My daughter is very much looking forward to returning to her public school. She thrives in this environment, just as I always did. The girl is much like me. Although I don’t recall asking my mom to do a photoshoot of me in all my back to school fashions. Whether it is new clothing or thrift store clothing, the girl loves fashion. Here are some of my fave shots from the fashion show…
Isn’t that no poo hair gorgeous?
My oldest boy was all set to be homeschooled for another year and then an amazing opportunity kind of fell in our lap. I met an amazing lady a few weeks back and spilled my guts to her about our horrific public school experience in regards to this particular child. This angel just happened to be a kick butt lawyer who then pulled some strings to get us the chance to enroll in a unique private school. Instead of an hourly requirement the kids earn credits and thus he will be at school for much less time than his sister in public school. The approach is similar to Montessori with all grades being intermingled and there is also one on one time with tutors from OSU. The meals (a catered breakfast and lunch) are designed to exceed the lax state standards and be extra nutritious. Instead of a bus with dozens of students, a private car service transports the kids to and from school. There are also uniforms, which I happen to think is a good idea. The school sounds amazing so we figured that it was definitely worth a try. So, that is what out school year is shaping up like. We needed a mix of supplies for 3 very different schooling approaches.
One of the best back to school finds for us was Naked Binder. They have binders and folders made from 100% Recycled materials and they are recyclable themselves. They make their binders, folders, and tabs in Des Moines, IA in the US of A out of FSC certified, 100% post-consumer waste binders board, 100% cotton cloth, a few FSC certified papers and metal rings. No plastics, vinyls or toxins. I like the natural and “naked” colors personally and they are super durable. Honestly my kids will be lucky to get any of the products sent to us for review because I want to snake them for my home office. They get an A++ from me as they are but if you want to personalize them for your kids I would suggest stickers.
And while we are on the subject of great green companies… Annie’s Homegrown, Stonyfield YoKids, Honest Kids, and Seventh Generation have teamed up to help families toss their brown bags this back-to-school season by offering a free Kids Konserve lunch sack with the purchase of participating products now through September 30, 2011. These re-useable lunch sacks are washable and made of recycled cotton and eliminate a great deal of waste that would otherwise occur from the use of daily paper or plastic lunch bags.
Consumers are invited to visit Annies.com/bts11, print out the form then mail in proof of purchase of all four brands. Eligible products include:
Any Annie’s Homegrown item
Stonyfield YoKids Organic Yogurt 6-packs or Squeezers
Honest Kids Organic Drinks 8-pack carton or 64-ounce bottle
Seventh Generation Disinfectants (sprays or wipes)
These could already be on your shopping list for school lunches or for school supplies (the wipes) so the bag is a nice bonus. A
I also found two books that mesh well with this time of year. The first is Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo. It is a clever children’s book that uses the idea of little monsters (which my 5 and 7 year old loved) to teach concepts like the alphabet. The professor is searching for the elusive Zipperump-a-Zoo but he doesn’t know what one looks like or where to find one since no one has ever seen one. The book is a lot of fun and the ending was laugh out loud funny. B+
And I already mentioned Playful Learning once but it deserves another mention. It could easily be incorporated into preschool or homeschool activities and curriculum and I would highly recommend that after having had some time to read through this amazing book. The idea that meaningful learning can be achieved through play is well documented. What better way is there to teach then by making it fun and relevant to kids? Kids are natural scientists, artists, authors, mathematicians, and scholars. It is a drive innate in them to make sense of their reality and parents can leverage that natural curiosity and playfulness and channel it into a love of learning. The book is broken up into several helpful sections:
Nurturing Young Authors
The Joy of Reading
Mathematics at Work
Exploration of Art and Artists
Raising Citizens of Tomorrow
Instead of sitting down and thinking about how you can teach math today you can pull out this book and identify which playful activity you think would best help them grasp certain math concepts on their own. Its a wonderful resource and even if your kids attend school away from home you can still do these activities during evening and weekends hours because it’s learning disguised as FUN. A++
Sooo… that brings me to the giveaway. The folks behind the Annie’s Homegrown back to school promo have offered to give away a Kids Konserve lunch sacks w/ coupons from all participating companies (seen above) to 4 of my readers. If you want one please leave a comment below and I will choose random winners next week. If you comment with your Facebook profile please be sure to include your email in the comment section so I can contact you. Good luck!