Mothers Day activity for Kids. Art and Literacy combined

Apr 26, 2016

With Mother's Day coming up for another year, we took advantage of the opportunity to delve into some language learning and make a special keepsake for Mum at the same time.

(I did find doing this activity a little amusing as I was doing it with my own children. We used the word Mum in the example but talked about how we could substitute in "Nana" or "Grandma" and make a gift for them).

To start the activity we had a brainstorm of all the different words that came to mind when we heard the word, "mum."

This was great for developing language and increasing our vocabulary. Many words made us think about other related words and we took the opportunity to learn more about grammar as we discussed whether the words were nouns, verbs or adjectives (best for ages 6-7+).

For example:

Nouns (people, place, thing, event, object): Mother, family, friend, nurse, driver, Super Mum, Mama, role model, etc.

Adjectives (descriptive words): strong, beautiful, brave, loving, amazing, cool, funny, etc.

Verbs (actions or “doing” words): love, help, kiss, trust, hug, teach, etc.

We found that the majority of the words that were thought of were adjectives, especially when considering the sentence, "My Mum is..." which can be a good starting point if children are stuck. 

We also discovered that many words can be altered slightly to change a verb into an adjective, such as love & loving, help & helpful, etc.

Brainstorming and writing the words together on a whiteboard gave us the opportunity to work on spelling and handwriting (with my 7y/o) and letter sounds and letter recognition (with my 4y/o).

When we had enough words, we decided to turn these words (or our favourites) into a keepsake, using a favourite art method, oil pastel and water-colour resist.

  • Watercolour paper (for best results - otherwise regular thicker paper will work too)
  • Watercolour paints
  • Oil pastel (we used white which provides an extra challenge. You can use any colour)
  • Water and brushes

Start by writing the word "MUM" (or Nanna, Grandma, etc.) in the centre of your piece of paper, using your oil pastel. We loved the surprise reveal by using the white oil pastel but some children may find it too frustrating or difficult to write without seeing clearly what they are writing. Any oil pastel colour you use will repel the watercolour paint over the top. You could use a variety of different colours. Let the children decide for themselves.

When you've finished writing your words about mum, paint over the top with watercolour paint. You may need to go over it  couple of times to get the vibrancy that you want. (The more water you use, the less vibrant it will be. The less water you use, the more vibrant the colour will be). You can use a watercolour pallet, liquid watercolours or even just some food colour in water.

We found that the more vibrant the colours, the more the words stood out on the page. Let your creation dry and then pop it in a frame for a beautiful creative and personalised gift for mum (or grandma).

Handy Tips:

Simplify for younger children by only focusing their artwork on one word from their brainstormed list, along with the word, Mum (or Mother/Grandmother etc.) Assist them to write the word where needed or instead try a sticker-resist painting by sticking letter stickers of their chosen word/s on paper or canvas, painting over with water-colour and then carefully peeling the stickers off.

Extend this activity by:
  •  Encouraging children to sound-out and spell the words themselves. If they can't figure out how to spell them, where can they look? (Hint: the dictionary!)
  • Using a thesaurus to look up synonyms to further the brainstormed list and extend their vocabulary 
  • Attempting to think up a word for each letter of the alphabet.

Mix it up by:
  • Painting on canvas instead of paper
  • Using coloured chalks and pastel on black paper
  • Writing huge "bubble" type letters for "MUM" using the whole page and then writing your chosen words inside
  • Using different styles and fonts for the words on your masterpiece

- Check out more ideas for Mother's Day below

- Buy a special gift for mum and support childhood literacy at the same time!

As someone passionate about education for all, I'm honoured to be an Ambassador for the Ardoch Youth Foundation's Own A Word campaign.  For just $25 you can buy your Mum or Grandma one of your favourite words that best describes her or how you feel about her, giving her something really unique whilst at the same time helping provide support for childhood literacy and language development in some of Australia’s most disadvantaged communities.

Happy playing,
Debs :)

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SumBlox. Amazing hands-on maths tool for kids

Mar 1, 2016

Introducing, SumBlox! The beautifully designed and crafted wooden block set that allows children to explore and learn more about numbers and their relationships in a hands-on, concrete (and most importantly, fun) way.

It is safe to say that as a teacher, great resources that help and encourage children to learn through play, excite me greatly. When I first laid my eyes on SumBlox, (which have only recently been introduced to the Australian market) I was immediately drawn to the incredibly clever, yet simple concept, that combines children's love of building and physically manipulating materials, with a number of different mathematical concepts. What a fabulous maths teaching tool!

Included in the set, are 43 beautifully crafted hardwood blocks, featuring the numbers 1 to 10, that increase in size as the value of the number increases. The most wonderful thing about these blocks is that they have been designed specifically to be able to stack on top of one another and equal one another in both size and value exactly. So, the 5 block is exactly half the size of the 10 block and if you stacked a 2 block and a 3 block together, they equal the same height as the number 5 block. Clever!

As demonstrated above, 6 and 3 together are equal to (or, the same as) 9. This is where simple concepts of maths, from addition and subtraction, through to multiplication, division and even fractions can be explored in this both visual and tactile way.

Beginning with the basics for younger children. 

SumBlox are great for helping children with identifying and recognising numbers. The smooth, solid wooden blocks feel great to manipulate and hold and are perfect for grouping/sorting/classifying and ordering.

With my 4 year old, we explored which number block represented which value. He kept turning the 9 upside down and telling me it was a 6. This allowed us to take a better look at the size of the two similar shaped blocks and talk about one being a "bigger" number than the other (both in physical size in this sense and in terms of representing a larger amount). To further demonstrate this, we counted out 6 little lego squares and built a tower. We then did the same with 9 lego squares and talked about which was bigger. This helped us to identify which block represented which number (and value).

At this younger age, as well as number recognition, counting, sorting/classifying and informal measurement, I would focus more on building and general play with the blocks. Allow children to develop a natural curiosity about what the blocks symbolise and to start to make their own realisations such as, the bigger the block gets, the larger value it represents and combining certain blocks makes the size (and therefore value) equal to one another. eg. a 2 block stacked on a 3 block is the same size as a 5 block.

Further learning/teaching opportunities

Older children who are already familiar with and can recognise numbers can build upon their existing knowledge and test out what they know in a physical, hands-on way.
For addition, children can build and experiment with combinations and then record their findings. My 7 year old was all over this without any instruction!

Learning and understanding the combination of numbers that make up to 10 is important for children and the SumBlox are just brilliant for this. The skill to "make to ten" helps children to understand our Base 10 Decimal System and aids with mental addition, subtraction and further mathematical concepts down the track.

Exploring fact families. 8 + 1 = 9 , 4 + 5 = 9 , 6 + 3 = 9 , 9 - 3 = 6 , 9 - 6 = 3 , 9 - 4 = 5 and so on.
 Often our buildings ended up very symmetrical which was interesting to talk about.
Building Games: 
  • How tall can you build with them? 
  • Can you add up all the numbers to find the total value of your construction? 
  • What's the highest value tower you can build? 
  • What is the lowest/least value tower you can build that is equal to your height? etc.

  • Challenge children to build a tower of a certain value! (eg, a building that had a value of 30)
  • Or with every level equalling 10. etc.

For multiplication, the SumBlox are fabulous for demonstrating how groups of numbers work and how many of each number is required to make a certain value. You can quickly see that things like 2 groups of 3 (or 2 x 3 or two "3's") is equal in value (and height) to 3 groups of 2 (or 3 x 2 or three "2's") and that both are just repeated addition, equalling 6. This goes hand-in-hand with concepts of division where children can see that (in the above example) 6 divided by 3 is 2 and that 6 divided by 3 is 2.

We've not used the SumBlox for fractions yet (as we're not quite at that stage) and whilst I can see that they could be good for helping children to see what needs to be done in order to obtain a common denominator (which is needed in order to add fractions together), and to demonstrate that whatever you do to the bottom number (the denominator), you have to do the same to the top number (the numerator) in order to retain the same value, I'm not totally convinced (yet) that this is the best way to explore fractions. It feels a little clunky and potentially confusing, however, once children are at the stage of understanding fractions enough to start adding together fractions without a common denominator, then it's likely that this different approach to manipulating the numbers could well help some children with understanding the concept. I think it would go hand in hand with demonstrating how it's traditionally done on paper.

To see more of our adventures with SumBlox as well as other ways we play and learn, follow us on Instagram

To purchase your set of SumBlox, head to Finlee and Me. These really are an incredible resource for teachers and homeschoolers that allow children to truly play with and understand numbers and their relationships like never before.

Happy playing,
Debs :)

{Disclosure: I was sent a set of SumBlox by Finlee and Me in order to review them. I was not paid to write this post and all opinions are my own or my childrens'.}

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10 Awesome Free Printables for Kids at home and in the classroom

Feb 22, 2016

I love printables, especially FREE ones! It's amazing the fun, games, learning, organising and/or decorating that can be had from something that starts as a simple piece of paper with some ink on it.

This product talk is brought to you by Nuffnang and Epson

I have an awesome Free Printable Pinterest board, (followed by over 91,000 people!) which is full of fabulous free printable ideas from learning games and clever crafts to wall art and kids birthday supplies. There's something for everyone! To save you a bit of time going through the 6,000+ free printables collected on the board, here's a list of 10 of my very favourites! (You will find that most of these sites have other fabulous free printables that you'll want to check out too!)

Free room art printable from Chickadee Art and Co

10 favourite free printables for kids

1) Free Room-Art Printables for kids from Chickadee Art and Co

These guys have a gorgeous range of printables and many lovely free designs! I love including extra words and pictures in my children's rooms and in the classroom to help promote a print rich environment. Click over and find your favourites here.

2) Free Printable Writing Prompts for kids from Picklebums

Not all children have a great desire to write. In fact, for some children, it can be difficult to persuade them to want to write at all, and we're all well aware that in order to become accomplished at a task, we need to practice! Sometimes, writing prompts can be a great way to get a reluctant child to give writing a go, or even just to give fresh ideas to keen writers. I love these printable writing prompts from Picklebums. Don't forget to check out their other great printable designs when you pop over. There are tons!

3) Fairytale Pretend Play Signs from Doodles and Jots

Imaginary play is important for children and I know that the kids at my daughter's play-based curriculum primary school, would enjoy helping make these adorable little signs to add to some of their play areas. Print out a free copy here and use the ideas to inspire more play! What other road signs could you make?

4) Free printable Road-Trip games from Learn with Play at Home (that's us)

Keep the kids entertained in the car with these free printable Road Sign Bingo or Alphabet Eye Spy cheat sheets. These are also fun for on the school bus on the way to various events or camps.

5) 20 Free Printable Busy Bags from Coffee Cups and Crayons

Busy Bags are a fun idea to have on hand for toddlers or preschoolers, for when you need a bit of quiet time or something to keep them busy for a little while. Print and assemble these busy bags before time and then pull out when needed! At home, these are great for using in the car or while you're cooking dinner or talking on the phone. In the early years classroom, bags can be made up and made available for children to use as they like.

6) Free printable Fruit and Vegetable cards from You Clever Monkey

"Flash cards" don't have to be used purely for "flashing" in front of children's eyes so that they learn to read and recognise a word over time. There are many uses for cards like these. I mainly enjoy having them as another way to provide a print-rich environment and be able to use them to compliment other activities (such as pretend shop play or pretend cooking school). You can print out 2 copies and use them for memory match games, or make a healthy eating display in your house or classroom. Plenty of uses beyond "flashing" them. Get your free copy here.

7) Managing Big Emotions free printable from Childhood 101

Here is a great free printable to help give children a visual reminder of how to help themselves calm down. Managing big emotions isn't easy, even for us big folks, so giving children a strategy and ideas for how they can help themselves to manage their emotions is a great idea. There are even more posters in this range from Childhood 101 that you should also look at and would be great printed out at home or in the classroom.

8) Printable Time Telling Game from Easy Peasy and Fun

Telling the time on an analogue clock can be tricky for some children and usually takes a bit of time to master. Help them learn to tell the time with this fun and simple game. Download the free clock template, grab some dice and you're ready to go!

9) Free Printable Lunch-Box Notes from Skip to My Lou

Print out these free lunch-box notes, cut them out individually and then pop in the kids lunchboxes for a sweet surprise when they open their lunch. Get your copy here.

10) Printable "BORED" poster from Modern Parents Messy Kids

"I'm bored" is a phrase that everyone has groaned at some point. I actually quite like it when my children decide they are bored, as it means they need to use their brain to come up with something to do! For those kids that struggle to think of anything, this great poster might be just what you need. Download your copy here and be sure to read the rest of their post for plenty of suggested activities.

More free printables ideas:

Epson EcoTank WorkForce ET- 4550 Printer Review.

Printing the free fairytale pretend play signs from Doodles and Jots on the Epson EcoTank Workforce

I do love finding these great resources and being able to have them printed at the touch of a button. As a classroom teacher, printing and photocopying was something I did very often and since being on leave, I've only had access to our home printer. This is where I've had problems though. In the past, I've had a couple of different printers, all that have worked and printed beautifully or as expected, but had one main flaw, the ink! I seemed to go through ink cartridges much quicker than I could have expected and the cost was actually starting to get too much! The printer may not have cost me a huge amount in the first place, but buying the ink to keep the printer topped up and ready to be able to print whenever I wanted, was very costly! It got to the point where it felt like every time I desperately needed one print of something, the ink was always out or low and I'd end up with terrible quality prints (or no prints at all).

When I was offered the opportunity to test-drive one of Epson's new EcoTank Printer range, I jumped at the chance! Hooray! Finally a printer that I could set and forget for up to two years before having to replace the ink! Yes, that's right, the EcoTank printers come with up to 2 years worth of ink included and when you eventually get to point of needing to refill the ink, the refill bottles are actually really cheap! (For my model, the replacement black ink bottle will cost RRP $24.99 and the coloured inks are $16.99 each. For ink that will last me up to 2 years, I think this is a really good price.)

The EcoTank Printer range start at RRP $449 up to $699. I was sent the WorkForce ET - 4550 (RRP: $699) which is a wireless and compact all-in-one, which boasts the ability to print up to 11,000 pages in black and 8,500 pages in colour included in the printer bundle! It comes with a 30 page Automatic Document Feeder for quickly scanning, copying and faxing a lot of original documents. It also has a 150 page front fed paper capacity and an automatic 2-sided printing feature! (I've never had this in a home printer before!) The 2.2” LCD makes it easy to setup and navigate the printer at all times, making pairing with smartphones and tablets simple and quick.

We found that set-up wasn't difficult however it will take about 20 mins once you've first put in the ink for it all to be charged and ready to go, so allow yourself at least 30 minutes to setup in advance before needing to quickly print a document. Once it's done though, you can just set and forget. I am LOVING having the freedom to just print!

The Epson Eco Tank printers are available at major retails and in their online store.

Happy printing,
Debs :)

{Disclosure: I was gifted this printer for the purpose of reviewing it but was not paid to write this post. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.}

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Help your child learn to read in 4 weeks for free!

Feb 4, 2016

This post is sponsored by ABC Reading Eggs and Nuffnang

For children to learn to read, they need to do just that. Read! They should be read with and to every single day. In addition to reading stories and words that we see in everyday life, there are numerous activities and games that children can play, in order to help further develop the essential keys to reading success;

  • phonemic awareness - hearing and manipulating different sounds in words
  • phonics - recognising the connection between letters and the sounds they make
  • vocabulary - understanding the meaning of words, their definitions and context
  • reading comprehension - understanding the meaning in text, and 
  • fluency - reading aloud with speed, understanding and accuracy. 

ABC Reading Eggs – a favourite reading program of ours – helps children achieve this. The online program covers all five keys to reading success through fun games, interactive lessons, and books. And right now, they’re offering a FREE 4 week trial that parents can take advantage of here.

With both myself and my husband working regularly on computers, it is no wonder that of course my children want to get on computers themselves. In fact, technology is such an everyday part of our modern societies' way of life, that it is only natural that children want to be a part of this world as well. When it comes to screen time, I believe there needs to be limits for children. If I let him, my son (4 years old), would probably sit staring at screens for the better part of a day. He loves sensory play and construction but is also a very visual learner and gets very drawn in to focusing on what is going on before his eyes. Whilst my daughter (aged 7) isn't quite as obsessed with all things technological, she does very much enjoy using a computer or tablet when she gets the chance!
I don't mind my children having a certain amount of screen time daily, but I am very picky when it comes to what that screen time entails. If they're going to be on a computer or tablet, then I want to know that they are gaining something from that time, which is why there are set programs or apps that my children have access to.

ABC Reading Eggs is the perfect way to ensure my children are benefitting from valuable educational screen time. The multi-award winning educational program was created for children aged 3-13 years, by a highly experienced team of Australian primary school teachers, writers and developers, in order to assist children to become fluent and proficient readers. The games and activities throughout the program have been designed in a way that is self motivating, self-paced, entertaining and fun - and the program can be used on a desktop, iPad and most other tablet devices. This combination is what motivates children to want to play, which in turn helps them to develop and consolidate their reading skills. It is also used in more than 5,000 schools throughout Australia and is a program I've used previously with students I've taught.

ABC Reading Eggs program features:

  • My Lesson: 120 guided and interactive reading lessons

  • Skills Bank: 96 carefully graded spelling lessons

  • Driving Tests: 45 literacy tests that assess sight words, phonics skills, and vocabulary, and award children with fun racing car games.

  • Story Factory: provides a step-by-step guide to writing a story. Children can choose illustrations and access word and sentence suggestions to craft an original story.

  • Storylands: opens after lesson 60 and contains 20 new lessons that build young children’s comprehension and vocabulary skills. 

  • ABC Reading Eggspress Library: over 2000 e-books sorted by age level and Lexile level, including fiction and informational texts. The library also includes read aloud options for beginner readers. Each book ends with a comprehension quiz to assess children’s understanding.

  • Rewards-based areas: ABC Reading Eggs is designed to reward children for their achievements to motivate them to keep learning. The program includes multiple rewards-based areas, like Reggie’s Shop and the Arcade, where children can buy items and games with the golden eggs they earn.

  • Parent dashboard: Parents have access to detailed progress reports and hundreds of full-colour activity sheets that correspond with the lessons in the program. Parents can also print out a certificate for their child after they complete each map.

  • ABC Reading Eggspress (7-13 years) is included with the ABC Reading Eggs subscription and focuses on more advanced literacy skills such as spelling, comprehension, vocabulary and grammar skills.

Get your Free 4 Week Trial

ABC Reading Eggs is offering a free 4-week trial of their multi-award winning program for new customers. You can trial this program for no upfront costs and without needing to put in any credit card details. It's also really quick and easy to set up and, as I mentioned before, you can use it on your computer or supported devices, like your iPad.

Join over 3.4 million users worldwide and start your FREE 4-WEEK trial today.

During your free trial, you will also have access to ABC Reading Eggspress (for ages 7-13) and ABC Mathseeds (their maths program for children aged 3-8).

If you wish to continue using ABC Reading Eggs after your four weeks is up, parents have the option to purchase a 12 month or 6 month subscription OR a combined subscription which also includes ABC Mathseeds. You can purchase a 6 month subscription online for $59.95 or a 12 month subscription for $79.95.

The best part about it, according to my kids, is that it's fun!

Happy playing,
Debs :)

{Disclosure: this is a paid post for ABC Reading Eggs sponsored by Nuffnang. As always, opinions expressed in this post are my own and my children's.}

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