Help children stay sharp this summer by using things already found in the home and backyard -- along with complimentary toys and games.
Katie Grafrath, a former 5th and 6th grade teacher from Glenview District 34 now using her educational knowledge and skills as a math and science product manager at Learning Resources. The Vernon Hills based educational manufacturer sells hands-on learning materials, toys and tools for schools and homes.
Ages 2-5 - Smart Snacks® Alpha Pops" (SRP: $17.99) snap together allowing children to match uppercase and lowercase letters. Also great for fine motor skills and imaginative play!
- At home, you can also turn real popsicles into learning treats:
- Get your kids to help you make your own popsicles! Use plastic molds and write letters on the bottom of the sticks before you make them (use permanent markers). Write an upper case letter on one stick, lower on another. Kids can eat their way through the popsicles, finding matches. Make sure they collect the sticks! Then they can work on letters throughout the summer. For example, have your child run through the house touching everything that starts with the letter on the stick.
- Another idea is to purchase popsicles from the store and write letters or numbers on the sticks before you give them out. Create a small opening in the popsicle packaging, slide the stick out and write on it. Then slip it back in and your child will have something to "discover" the next time she eats a popsicle!
Ages 3-7 - Froggy Feeding Fun" (SRP: $21.99) is a playful way for kids to strengthen the writing muscles in their hands! Children getting ready for preschool and kindergarten need to build these muscles to ensure a proper pencil grip and good handwriting. Just squeeze the frog to open its mouth and pick up flies. This set also develops number sense, counting and color recognition.
- Make your own hungry creature and build fine-motor muscles:
- Use a tennis ball, exacto knife and markers (or glue on a pair of googly eyes!). Cut a slit in the ball to make a mouth then have your child create any creature s/he likes! You'll need small objects for her to pick up (or feed to) the ball.
- A set of chopsticks, a turkey baster or salad tongs are just a few of the many things you may already have at home that will also help your child build fine-motor muscles.
Ages 3-8 - The Catch 'n' View" (SRP: $14.99) is a butterfly net and observation tent in one! It's a great tool for encouraging children to explore the world around them and take a closer look at the things they find.
In the summer, your backyard is their classroom so have your kids examine everything around them. Slow down and explore all opportunities, having them "take a closer look," from the texture and pattern of bark on different trees to the bugs living in gardens.
Ages 4-7 - Use the Primary Science Mix & Measure Set (SPR: $29.99) to compare measurements! Contoured for little hands, bowls, cups, and spoons are uniquely designed to help children visualize the relationships between measurements.
- Mix it up yourself at home by doing the following:
- When you are making something using a recipe, have your child help you measure ingredients. You can even begin basic exposure to fractions--- when the recipe calls for a cup of sugar, have your child build that cup using half cups and quarter cups. How many of each make a cup?
- Take kitchen measuring items outdoors too. Next time they're in the pool or playing with a water table, have them explore quantities and measurements just like you would when cooking or baking--only it's part of their outdoor play!
- Need bubble mix for the summer? Here's the recipe included in our set: Mix 1 cup of water, 2T of light corn syrup and 4T of dishwashing liquid. Stir well and play!
Ages 5-12 - Real World Folding Geometric Shapes" (SRP: $36.99) are perfect for helping kids relate 3-D geometric shapes to real-world objects! Use this set to explore 8 common shapes and their nets (the flat, unfolded version of the 3-D shape): cube, cylinder, hexagonal prism, rectangular prism, triangular prism, square pyramid and triangular pyramid.
- You can also help your kids find geometry in the world around them:
- Look around the house, open the pantry, raid your closets. Collect everyday objects of different shapes: a soup can, a party hat, a mac & cheese box, blocks etc.
- Carefully remove the label from the soup can to help your child see that a cylinder (the can) is composed of a rectangle (the flat label) and two circles (the top and bottom of the can). Do the same thing with a mac & cheese box. Cut it open to show how a 3-D object is constructed from something flat. Children are amazed to see the relationships between the 3D shapes and their net forms.
Ages 7-10 - Cash Bash® Electronic Flash Card" ($16.99) helps kids make sense of dollars and cents! Race the clock (60-second rounds) to practice simple addition while making change for up to twenty dollars!
- Money math happens every day so get your kids involved:
- Use grocery store receipts and real money to help children practice coin values and addition. Circle the total on the receipt. Ask your child how he would pay for it (which bills). Suggest certain payment amounts, and have him create change.
- Also, have them examine the receipt with you (hide the total!). What did you buy? Can they guess how much it all cost? Reveal the total and see the reaction you get! It's amazing how their perspective on money changes when they see how little (or how much) it can actually buy.
- Give your child two items, such as milk and gas, and tell him to keep track of their prices for three months. What is the price trend?
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