Tuesday, March 29, 2011

grocery store schooling

Not everyone has the time and money to take kids to museums or enroll them in extracurricular enrichment classes.  Luckily there are ways to enhance learning outside the classroom that don't cost extra and won't take any time out of your regular routine.  If you take a moment to think about it, you turn almost every outing into an educational experience.  A prime example of this is a trip to the grocery store.  The grocery store is a rich learning environment, full of stuff to sort, match, count, add, subtract, etc.  It's a language rich environment with plenty of opportunities to identify letters, sound out words, and practice reading.  It also hosts goods and products that can spark conversations about culture, geography, nutrition, agriculture, consumerism, marketing, and more...

One way to turn the average shopping trip into a fun learning experience is to play I Spy:
For younger kids this can be as simple as asking them to identify basic shapes, colors, letters and numbers in whatever aisle you are in.   For example,  you could say, "I spy something that is red."  Your child will look for something red such as an apple or spaghetti sauce.  Or, "I spy the letter 'A'."  Your child will look at packaging and price tags in search of the letter 'A.'   Older kids can look for goods that contain certain ingredients or are popular in certain cultures or geographical locations.  For example, "I spy a food that is popular in Mexico."  Your child will look for foods that are popular in Mexico such as tortillas or jalapenos.  To incorporate lessons on nutrition, you may have your children look for foods that are protein rich or foods that are high in carbs, etc.

The produce aisle is a great place to talk about seasons, and locally grown food versus imported food.  Ask your kids to determine which produce is in season in your area by looking at where the produce is from.

In the cereal aisle you might ask your kids to pick out their favorite cereal box and ask them why they chose it.  What do they like about it?  Is it the colors on the box?  The cartoon character that endorses the brand?  This is a good way to provoke thinking about marketing and raise savvy consumers.

For a finance lesson, you can give your kids a budget and ask them to find as many items on your list as possible without going over budget.  This will encourage price comparisons and addition/subtraction skills.  And the checkout line is a good place for money counting if you are paying with cash.

These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling.  I'm sure once you start to think about it you'll come up with even more ways to turn your ordinary grocery trip into a learning adventure.  Happy shopping!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

50 simple things kids can do to save the earth

Earth Day is still a month away, but let's start the party early.   Let's teach kids about the environment NOW!  There are a bunch of great resources for teaching kids how to play their part in taking care of our planet.  My recommendation is The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by the Earth Works Group.  It's an excellent book for parents and teachers to use to help kids understand what is going on with the earth and why it needs our help.  The book lists tons of practical ways kids can chip in to make a positive impact on the environment in their daily lives.  The Earthworks Group also has a great website with environmental facts, weekly challenges, and activities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"can we build it?"

"Yes we can!" ...Sorry I couldn't resist the Bob the Builder quote ;)   

Did you know there are free "How-to" workshops for kids ages 5-12 at all Home Depot locations the first Saturday of each month?  Woodcrafting is a fun way to encourage problem solving and the development of fine motor skills.  Upon completing a project at the workshop, your kids will walk away with a new toy and a sense of accomplishment...can't you already hear them shouting, "Look what I made!"?

Monday, March 21, 2011

why i heart play dough

Why is play dough the most magnificent early childhood toy of all time?  Several reasons:
  • It's open-ended, fostering creativity.  
  • It's a sensory experience.
  • It helps to develop small muscles in the hands, leading to improved fine motor control.
  • It can encourage dramatic play ("Look, I made a pizza!  Would you like a bite of my pizza?"), which is an important aspect of social and emotional development.
  • It's easy to make at home!
There are a zillion play dough recipes online.  I've tried several of them and I like this one the best:

Ingredients: Flour, Water, Salt, Cream of Tartar, Oil (any kind is fine), and Food Coloring

Step 1:  Measure ingredients and pour into pot.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • food coloring (as much as you'd like depending on the shade you're going for)

Step 2: Stir continuously over medium heat until the play dough begins to thicken (usually about 3-5 minutes)

Step 3:  Scoop the playdough onto a lightly floured surface and kneed the flour into the dough until you reach your desired consistency.

Step 4: Play! Touch, poke, pull, squeeze, roll, create!

Step 5:  Store your playdough in an airtight container (such as tupperware or a zip lock bag).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

play around the bay

Keep this book in your glove compartment.  Play Around the Bay covers every play space in the San Francisco Bay area...playgrounds, zoos, children's museums, etc.  It's written by moms who've personally tested each place out so you'll know what you're getting into before you arrive.  The writers have summarized the play spaces and included a quick reference for all the logistical things caregivers want to know:  Is there parking?  Bathrooms?  A fenced in play area?  Room for strollers?  Cost?  Hours?

If a real live book with paper pages feels a little old fashioned for you, try Kaboom's online Playspace Finder.  It's less thorough than the book, but a great way to locate playgrounds on the go without leaving the comfort of your smartphone.

Kaboom's Playspace Finder and Play Around the Bay also work well as a team...check out the playgrounds listed on the Kaboom's map to see what is near you, then look up the local spots in Play Around the Bay for playground summaries.

Now GO PLAY!  According to the 10-day forecast, this could be the last nice day we see for a while.  Get outside and soak it up!

Friday, March 11, 2011

talking to your kids about the earthquake in japan

My heart goes out to Japan and to everyone affected by the devastating quake.  When such a far-reaching tragedy occurs, kids are going to hear about it, and they're bound to have questions.  Here are some good articles on talking to your kids about the earthquake in Japan:  
Sending lots of love across the pacific...

puppy play

This morning I had the pleasure of dogsitting the cutest little, sweetest little puppy in all of SF!  It was a beautiful day, so we took a long walk down by Crissy Field.  Tillie wanted to play with everyone she saw.  She stopped to mingle with other dogs, chased after joggers, and came to a screeching halt every time we walked past a parent pushing a stroller.    She especially likes kids and desperately wanted to play with every kid we came across.  Some of the children she met seemed comfortable with dogs, and others were a bit more reserved.  It got me thinking...have you talked to your children about how to interact with dogs? 

Tillie is a very sweet and mild-mannered puppy and I had a close eye on her... but not all dogs are so gentle.  It's important to teach kids what is safe and appropriate when interacting with other people's pets.  Here is some basic advice to offer your children:
  • If a strange dog is off leash and running towards you, don't run away.  The dog will think you are playing and continue to chase after you.  Instead, stand very still and quiet and let the dog sniff you.  The dog will likely get bored and leave you alone.
  • If you'd like to pet somebody else's dog, first ask the owner if it's okay.
  • If the owner says it's ok to pet the dog, let the dog sniff you before you pet.
  • Remember to pet gently.  Never poke or pull or tease a dog.
  • Do not try to pet a dog while she's eating or sleeping.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

helping children cope with death

I received some devastating news this week.  A child I knew passed away.  He was in kindergarten.  His death is beyond my comprehension-- he was so young and full of life.  For being such a small child, he made a huge impact on his community.  He was loved by many and will be missed by the children and families whose lives he touched.

Death is hard enough for us to understand as adults, especially when it occurs suddenly --  how can we possibly explain it to young children?  NAEYC offers a list of resources for teachers and parents which address how to discuss death with children.  Kids Health also offers some good, basic advice  on their website about helping kids deal with death.  We need to make kids feel safe and protected, but we also need to talk to them and help them process death in a way that is approachable to them.

I'm sorry this isn't an uplifting post, but it's been weighing heavily on my heart today.  I hope you don't have to talk about death with your children or students anytime soon, but if you do, there are some good resources out there to support you.  And as I've said before, remember to look out for yourself.  Grown-ups need to grieve too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

st. patrick's day by the bay

St. Patrick's Day is coming up.  Do you have anything planned for your family?  Red Tricycle just came out with a list of family-friendly St. Patty's Day events in and around San Francisco.  Check it out!  It looks like there's plenty of fun to be had this year.

If you prefer to stay home, I recommend a treasure hunt in the house or backyard.  Pretend a leprechaun lost his pot of gold and hide his "gold" around the house or yard.  You can use anything to symbolize gold...play money, little circles cut out of yellow construction paper, candy (if you dare!), or whatever else you can come up with.  Have your kids search the house to help the leprechaun find his gold!

Here's how to sneak some math into the game:  Once your children have found all of the gold, have them count it and tally up how many pieces of gold each child found.  You can also use the gold in addition and subtraction word problems-- for example, "If the leprechaun lost 100 pieces of gold and you found 20 pieces, how many pieces are still missing?"

If you'd like to incorporate map skills, have your kids draw a map of the house or yard.  Each time they find a piece of gold, have them mark on the map where they found it. 

Teachers: this can be done at school, too.  I used to hide gold on the playground for our St. Patrick's Day party and my class loved sifting through the wood chips to find all the little gold pieces!

Monday, March 7, 2011

adora svitak: what adults can learn from kids

super sculpey

While nothing beats the look and feel of natural clay, most of us don't have easy access to a kiln.  Super Sculpey is a nice alternative.  When I worked at Disney,  I sculpted Maquettes on my lunch breaks with the uber talented Kenny Thompkins.  We used Super Sculpey to create the maquettes.  Sculpey is awesome because it doesn't dry out or require special tools or glaze.  When you're ready to finish your Sculpey project, you simply bake it in your oven, sand it with sand paper (if necessary), and paint it with acrylic paint.

Here is a maquette I made of Mr. Smee.  I started with a wire base and attached bits of clay to the wire.  Kenny taught me to focus on building the basic shapes (mostly spheres and cylinders) and to worry about the details at the end.

Your kids can use Sculpey to sculpt little statues like this.   It can also be used to make beads, bracelets, and other objects like cars, animals, model buildings...whatever your children are interested in.  Let them do their thing with the clay, pop their creations in the oven, and give them some acrylic paint to finish them off! It's a nice material to have on hand in your home or school art studio.  It doesn't dry on it's own, so you can leave works in progress out for as long as you'd like.  This allows kids to take their time on projects and revisit them over several days, weeks, or even months.

Friday, March 4, 2011

it's an app world

The other day I watched a two year old take his mom's iphone out of her purse, open a game, and play it.  Two years old!  There is no question apps are changing the way kids play and learn.  In my perfect world, kids would spend their entire early childhood climbing trees and building forts and picking flowers and painting and drawing and sculpting and socializing... but it's 2011.  Kids are playing with apps.

When I entered grad school as a naive 23 year old with no children of my own, I wasn't interested in working in children's television because I felt strongly that kids shouldn't watch too much TV.  But then I met a wise woman who challenged my thinking.  She convinced me that whether I like it or not, kids ARE watching TV.  A LOT of TV.  So why not work to make quality content for them to watch?  Why not make TV educational?

Now it's all about apps, and I think the same principal applies...kids are using apps, so let's make sure they're using good ones.  As parents and educators, the amount of apps on the market can be overwhelming.  App development is exploding, and with so many apps to choose from, it's nice to have a little guidance.   One of my favorite websites for kids' app coverage is Moms with Apps.  They are a group of parents who strive to develop quality apps for children -- and on App Fridays they offer a free or discounted kids' app.  If you're looking for book apps, my friends at Electric Eggplant told me about Digital Storytime, which is a good review site for kids' book apps.

There are a bunch of other review sites, too.  Here are links to a few of them:
Common Sense Media
Kids iPhone App Review
Fun Educational Apps
Best Kids Apps

These sites will give you an idea of what's out there.  A lot of apps have a free or lite version that you can try before you buy.  Test them out for a few minutes before you buy the full version for your kids -- not only will it make you feel more comfortable knowing what they're playing, it will give you something to talk about with them!  Which apps are popular in your family?  Let us know!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

summer sailing camps

It's time to start thinking about summer camps!  Have you considered sailing camp for your kids?  Sailing is a special sport.  It's physical, mental, and for some, spiritual.  It fosters an understanding and respect for the elements of nature.  It encourages self-confidence and teamwork.  And on top of all that, it's FUN!

Many of the bay area yacht clubs run summer sailing camps that are open to non-members.   Prices range from around $200 to $400 for a 5-day session.  Although summer seems a long way off,  it might be worth registering now because a few clubs offer significant discounts for early registration.

If the cost still seems prohibitive, look into scholarships!  Some clubs offer need-based scholarships for families that don't have camp in the budget this year.  There is also a non-profit called Sailing Education Adventures, which raises money to provide sailing experiences to kids that otherwise could not afford them.

Minimum age for enrollment in sailing camp is generally 8, but it varies from program to program.  Here is a list of links to youth sailing programs at yacht clubs in the bay area:  

North Bay
Benicia Yacht Club
Marin Yacht Club
San Francisco Yacht Club
Sausalito Yacht Club
St. Francis Yacht Club

East Bay
Encinal Yacht Club
Richmond Yacht Club
Spinnaker Yacht Club 

South Bay
Coyote Point Yacht Club
Half Moon Bay Yacht Club
Sequoia Yacht Club
South Beach Yacht Club 

I hate to be cheesy, but...(no I don't, I love it!) ...here is my slice of cheese for the day -- a quote from Mark Twain:

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed
by the things you did not do than by the things you did do.
So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

lego poetry

This is so fun!  Lego Poetry is a blog featuring poems made out of legos...what a cool idea! You can adapt this idea to make literacy fun at home and in the classroom.  Here's how: make words with a label maker (using clear label tape) and stick them on legos.  Then let your kids go nuts building phrases, sentences, poems, and stories with their legos!  To make the activity extra enticing, I recommend including plenty of silly words such as stinky.  And to boost vocabulary, be sure to include some challenging words like preposterous!

You can use Duplos, too!

happy birthday dr. suess

Today is Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Suess' birthday.  Celebrate by reading to your kids!   And maybe swing by Suessville for some free online games and activities.  Happy reading :)