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Encouraging Writing through Word Games

Do you remember decoding secret messages that were on the backs of cereal boxes as a kid and the secret decoder ring inside (or am I just dating myself?) You know, where a symbol represents a letter, or the letters are represented by numbers or some such thing?

A few weeks ago I made a secret decoder chart for 6 year old Cutie Pie and gave him a few pages of two to three words, with simple images placed above empty lines. Phrases like ‘I love you’, ‘You are smart’ ‘Dinosaurs are cool.’ (Yes, my Dino-lover recognizes that word!)

When I first gave him this activity I sat down with him and we decoded the secret message together. I thought aloud as I did it with him, saying things like ‘Let’s look at the picture above the first line and find it on our chart. Now, let’s write the letter on the line. OK, now on to the next line…’ I was intentional with sharing the thought process I used making sure it was clear how to discover the message. When all the spaces were filled in we read it together. He loved it!

Cutie Pie loved this so much that after a few tries he didn’t need my help or reminders of what to do. He came back a few days later asking if I had made any more! I actually haven’t done this with him for a week or so, but plan to. I think this time I will make messages that are clues leading him to something!

This is a great sneaky learning word game to get Cutie Pie writing. What fun ways have you encouraged your kiddos writing?

Waiting

How often do your kiddos have to wait for something to happen? My dad and his girlfriend came out to visit this weekend and to my boys I think it felt like an eternity from the time they woke up until the car pulled in the driveway. I have to say, they played rather nicely while waiting, but for 4 year old Sweet Pea we could see it get increasingly harder for him to wait!

We tried to distract them with a little trip to the Farmer’s Market (free samples!) and a run to the store for some special treats for later in the day, but it was so hard to avoid the constant question of ‘when will they get here?’

Do you have a secret something you pull out when this happens with your kiddos? Please share!

About the Absence

Did you wonder where I was for those few weeks? Even a little bit curious?

Well, back in the beginning of March my knee began to be pretty painful to the point that I couldn’t work out or run and play with the kiddos due to the pain. I went to the Dr., was dutiful and went to PT twice a week for about 5 weeks, had my MRI and was found to have a small meniscal tear and was told my femur is rubbing against the (rough) underside of my patella. I’m not in pain now, thanks to a very painful cortisone shot – I did not respond well to it at first – but I’m at about 99% now and doing a lot of strength training which will hopefully do the trick to ‘undo’ the problem and avoid another cortisone shot!

I’m not sharing this for a pity story, rather to explain why I took a little breather and to give a friendly gentle poke to go to the Dr. if you have pain in any of your joints. It could help avoid major work down the road. (I’m now looking at a knee replacement in about 20 years. Yick!)

Anyway, the oddly positive thing about PT was getting the ice for 10 minutes at the end of each session. The first time I laid there wondering what to think about. Isn’t that crazy? I mean, when do I have time to just think outside of my own home, to let my mind wander to things other than what around me needs to be ‘done’?! I actually was wondering what to wonder about!

I loved it, however, I realized I kept thinking about my kiddos and how quickly they have changed this past year. Time to think made me realize I needed to take time to just ‘be’ with my kiddos, drinking them in before they change too much.

So there you have it. A gentle nudge to get that little pain you’ve been consistently experiencing checked out and a gentle reminder to sit back every once in a while and truly drink in the joy of your kids. They grow up so quickly!

Balancing Act

I decided to post this right after yesterday’s post of Balancing and Coordination Exercises, even though it’s not a suggested activity since it involves a lot of coordination and balance!

Sweet Pea loves walking around with his lovies on his head. (I know, sounds silly, right?) When he first started this his lovies spent a lot of time on the floor. I was just noticing today they haven’t been down there that often lately!


Have you ever thought about what goes into balancing something on your head? I mean, for a lot of us just walking a straight line is difficult! You’ve got to be holding your head steady (neck muscles) your back straight (core) your legs steady….so much gross motor control and so many muscles working together!

At first Sweet Pea’s hands were held up by the side of his head ready to catch his precious animal. As he did this more often his arms lowered out to his sides, like he was walking a tightrope. You could see his coordination improving minute by minute, day by day. And his balance…he hardly wobbles from side to side, just practically runs along!

Encourage Writing – Balance and coordination activities

I took my little break before realizing I never posted this. I am so sorry if you were following along every Monday, but here’s another post about Encouraging Writing (and sorry it’s on Tuesday this week)!

Balancing and coordination activities help with early childhood writing abilities by way of the trickle down effect (gross motor enabling greater control of fine motor muscles), but they also can be just plain fun for kids!

The suggested ‘exercises’ included in the OT packet I received to help Cutie Pie with his writing are great outdoor chalk activities, which we love!

1. Make several lines with chalk – straight, curvy, jagged. Practice walking forward on the lines keeping balanced. Then, walk sideways or backwards along the same lines!

2. Draw different shapes a few inches apart and practice jumping into the shapes. As this gets easier, draw the shapes farther apart, or jump sideways or backwards.

3. Play hopscotch! Practicing holding an adult’s hand may be needed at first! This is also sneaky number practice!

Of course, to make this more challenging for your beginner reader you can use letters instead of shapes and numbers, similar to the Basketball Alphabet Game.

For other posts in this series check out:

Encouraging Writing – Gross Motor Vision activities
Some Simple Ideas to Encourage Writing
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Prayer Box (or a great idea for a visual wish list)


Encourage Writing – Balance and coordination activities

I took my little break before realizing I never posted this. I am so sorry if you were following along every Monday, but here’s another post about Encouraging Writing (and sorry it’s on Tuesday this week)!

Balancing and coordination activities help with early childhood writing abilities by way of the trickle down effect (gross motor enabling greater control of fine motor muscles), but they also can be just plain fun for kids!

The suggested ‘exercises’ included in the OT packet I received to help Cutie Pie with his writing are great outdoor chalk activities, which we love!

1. Make several lines with chalk – straight, curvy, jagged. Practice walking forward on the lines keeping balanced. Then, walk sideways or backwards along the same lines!

2. Draw different shapes a few inches apart and practice jumping into the shapes. As this gets easier, draw the shapes farther apart, or jump sideways or backwards.

3. Play hopscotch! Practicing holding an adult’s hand may be needed at first! This is also sneaky number practice!

Of course, to make this more challenging for your beginner reader you can use letters instead of shapes and numbers, similar to the Basketball Alphabet Game.

For other posts in this series check out:

Encouraging Writing – Gross Motor Vision activities
Some Simple Ideas to Encourage Writing
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Prayer Box (or a great idea for a visual wish list)

Excuse this absence

I have been doing a lot of watching lately…watching my boys change little by little every day…watching words grow into more intricate conversations…watching independence develop…watching legs grow longer…watching interests change with new activities attempted…

These past several days I’ve found a longing into my heart to take a step back every once in a while and instead of writing about what we are doing, to actually enjoy the process of doing without having the thought of a blog post in the back of my head. So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Please excuse the short absence. I’m taking a short step back and enjoying my kiddos!

Encouraging Writing – Vision Gross Motor fun

young child laying on floor drawing and writing
Encouraging Writing

Vision gross motor fun is pretty much typical play for seeing children, especially when it is play that takes coordination of their limbs to accomplish something fun.

With the warmer weather finally arriving we’ve been playing outside more. One thing 6 year old Cutie Pie loves to do is pop bubbles. He will pop them with his fingers, punching at them, hitting them with a bat, squirting at them with a squirt gun, you name it! This is great at building coordination between his eyes and his arms and fingers.
Another thing Cutie Pie loves to do is pour, although he doesn’t love it nearly as much as 4 year old Sweet Pea! Cutie Pie makes much less of a mess than Sweet Pea, which shows me his eye hand coordination is better and improving! It’s another activity my boys love to do outside, where the mess isn’t even considered a mess!
These are just a few of my kiddos’ favorites for you to try to help your child gain greater coordination, which will ultimately help with their writing.

For other posts in this series check out:

Encouraging Writing – Gross Motor Vision activities
Some Simple Ideas to Encourage Writing
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Prayer Box (or a great idea for a visual wish list)

Encouraging Writing – Vision Activities Gross Motor

*Disclaimer: These ideas are not totally my own. I have been given some resources by the Occupational Therapists at my child’s school to help with his handwriting at home, unfortunately not all came with sources attached. I’m simply sharing these ideas in hopes that by seeing how they are helping my child they can help you or encourage you to seek help if you feel it is needed for your child.

I have previously posted about fine-motor visual activities. These are activities that require coordination between the eyes and fingers in order to accomplish a fun task.


OT has also suggested activities requiring coordination of the eyes and gross motor muscles as well. As we’ve all learned elsewhere, gross motor muscles are the first to develop and play a large role in developing fine movements.

Some of the suggested visual motor activities on the gross-motor end of things are:

  • Popping bubbles
  • Balloon volleyball
  • Flash light tag
  • Water balloon catch
  • Practice pouring water
My kiddos love doing all of these, so it’s been very easy to incorporate gross-motor visual activities around here! Especially with the warmer weather it’ll be easy to include more activities like this in our daily routine.

For more ideas to encourage writing, check out these past posts:

Encourage Writing – Sensory Motor activities

*Disclaimer: These ideas are not totally my own. I have been given some resources by the Occupational Therapists at my child’s school to help with his handwriting at home, unfortunately not all came with sources attached. I’m simply sharing these ideas in hopes that by seeing how they are helping my child they can help you or encourage you to seek help if you feel it is needed for your child.

For the past several Mondays I’ve been posting about the materials/ideas sent home by the Occupational Therapists at 6 year old Cutie Pie’s school to help with his handwriting here at home.

Today I’ll be sharing some items from their list of Sensory-Motor activities:

  • Play in wet sand (bury and find objects)
  • Fingerpaint
  • Trace sandpaper letters
  • Practice air writing
  • Practice writing on a vertical surface, like an easel or in shaving cream on the tub wall
  • Wheelbarrow walking
  • Crab walk/Bear Walk
  • Blow and pop bubbles (use fingers only or clapping hands)
  • Ball games

As you can tell a lot of these games increase coordination at the gross motor level, but all contribute to the overall coordination of a child’s body, including the finer movements like forming a pincer grasp.

If you like this, you might want to check out other Encouraging Writing posts for more ideas!

Some Simple Ideas to Encourage Writing
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities
Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Activities We Like
Encourage Writing – Prayer Box (or a great idea for a visual wish list)

Encouraging Writing – fine motor visual motor activities we like

As I posted yesterday about the fine motor visual motor activities suggested by 6 year old Cutie Pie’s OT, today I’m sharing the fun ‘Vision Activities’ suggested.

Pop balloons
Balloon volleyball
Flashlight tag (catching each others circle of light)
Flashlight object search
Water balloon catch
Pouring water back and forth using containers with different size mouths
Play high five while looking into each others eyes, not at the hands

Cutie Pie’s favorites from this list are pouring water and flashlight tag (catching each others light circles) the best.

*Disclaimer: These ideas are not totally my own. I have been given some resources by the Occupational Therapists at my child’s school to help with his handwriting at home, unfortunately not all came with sources attached. I’m simply sharing these ideas in hopes that by seeing how they are helping my child they can help you or encourage you to seek help if you feel it is needed for your child.

Encourage Writing – Fine Motor Visual Motor Activities

*Disclaimer: These ideas are not totally my own. I have been given some resources by the Occupational Therapists at my child’s school to help with his handwriting at home, unfortunately not all came with sources attached. I’m simply sharing these ideas in hopes that by seeing how they are helping my child they can help you or encourage you to seek help if you feel it is needed for your child.

The occupational therapist at Cutie Pie’s school sent home a summer kit meant to keep kiddos working on their OT and writing skills throughout the summer.


These tools were meant to give me tools to work with him at home to improve his writing. He tends to hold the pencil with three fingers and his thumb, which seems to cause difficulty in forming letters and slows down his work pace, both of which will cause more difficulties when it comes to writing tasks in older grades.

Some visual fine-motor activities suggested are:
Cutting with scissors
Coloring, painting, writing with chalk
Drawing
Dot to dots
Mazes
Puzzles, hidden object seeking
Tracing

Each of these activities are focused on connecting what you are doing with your hands to what you are seeing. I think as adults we sometimes take for granted that everyone can do this easily. Kids really need to practice this eye-hand coordination, not just in a gross-motor way (like sports) but for writing as well.

Encouraging Writing – Fine Motor Activities We Like

Over the past two weeks I’ve been posting about encouraging Cutie Pie to write as well as ways to help him get better at it. Today I’m sharing some ways he’s working on his fine motor skills, ways he doesn’t realize he’s learning and developing skills.

Cutie Pie loves to draw, so we’ve been doing a lot of drawing on paper together, as well as coloring. We’ve gotten some How to Draw books out of the library, which Hubby and I have noticed have given Cutie Pie more confidence in drawing. This has seemed to help get him to draw even more than before, which helps (in theory) to get him using the pencil the correct way more often!


We have also gotten him some dinosaur dot to dot books. Getting something he is interested in encourages him to actually complete them. The books we have also tell about the dinosaurs, so we get some reading in there, too.

Cutie Pie loves to do mazes, whether on paper or on my iPad. Of course, dinosaur themed mazes catch his attention the most! There are some letter formation apps available for the iPad as well, but as I have stated before, Cutie Pie doesn’t seem to like learning using methods that appear as learning, and most of the letter forming apps we have found are of no interest to him.

He does, however, love finding hidden objects, and so does Sweet Pea! I found a neat free app, called ABCMysteriez, which is all about finding letters in the picture. (As for most products, to get to higher levels you will have to purchase the full game, but my kids love what is available on the free app.) This reinforces letter recognition, too! I love sneaky learning!

We started this whole endeavor with a strong interest in playing with stickers, so the first thing we did was get a dinosaur sticker book, called Dinosaurs, Sticker Encyclopedia (more than 600 stickers), which he loved and we could see that it definitely helped with his fine motor coordination!

Now it’s your turn. How do you encourage your kiddos to write? What fun ways are they gaining control over their fine motor skills?

Encourage Writing in Young Children

I personally love to download different fonts for projects from the computer. There are so many different handwriting fonts that I’m seeing. This got me to thinking that everyone writes differently.

I think sometimes we perceive our children learning to write through the same method, be it handwriting without tears or another means, with the end result being everyone writing the same at the same ability in the same timeframe. We know that as adults our handwriting is completely different from one another’s and also that children progress in abilities and skills at different rates. So why should children’s handwriting be the same and progress the same?
While our children may not acquire skills or abilities at the same age, it is still very important for the encouragement of the development of social and academic skills to be taking place, not just from teachers, but from parents as well.

Many children learn the same way. However, there are others than need to use their senses in different ways to learn the same thing. I think it is important that we, as parents, do our best to not only help our children learn what they should, but discover how it is they learn best to further the teaching at home.

Think about it in these terms:

  • Fine Motor activities – strengthen their fingers (to promote a better pencil grip)
  • Visual Motor activities – connecting eye-sight to hand/finger (greater pencil control)
  • Sensory Motor activities – learning through all senses
  • Gross Motor activities – improve balance and coordination on the large scale with can trickle down to improved hand and finger control
I will share examples (ones we use) in future posts. It is my hope that sharing this information will help you discover new (to you) ways of helping your child love to write!

*Disclaimer: These ideas are not totally my own. I have been given some resources by the Occupational Therapists at my child’s school to help with his handwriting at home, unfortunately not all came with sources attached. I’m simply sharing these ideas along with my observations in hopes that by seeing how they are helping my child they can help you or encourage you to seek help if you feel it is needed for your child.

Encourage Writing – Prayer Box

Do you pray with your child and record their requests?

Six year old Cutie Pie’s Sunday School teacher gave him a box, originally for writing down prayer requests. At night when we pray he now draws his prayer requests rather than writing them since drawing is something he loves to do. A prayer box is so simple an idea, one I had thought of for me, but not for my kiddos before. (I’m not sharing a pic because this is something personal to Cutie Pie and out of respect for him I have chosen not to share it.)

Making a prayer box is a very simple (family) project if you’d like to make one with your kids (any age) and help them keep track of their prayer requests and answers to prayer!

What you’ll need:

  • index cards
  • box (small shoebox is great if you don’t have an index card box)
  • pencils or crayons
  • stickers or other materials to decorate the box

Simply have your child decorate the box in whatever form they wish. Insert the index cards, possibly making dividers by month if you want to get detailed and leave near the place you usually pray! (coordination, fine motor)

It’s pretty simple to use, and can be something very personal for your child, or something you do together. It can be a great encouragement for your child to write if praying for others is their gift. Your and/or your child can use it in a way that fits them best, drawing requests, writing them, daily, nightly, recording their thoughts about Bible Stories they’re learning, whatever. The project is completely personalize-able!

When Cutie Pie draws a request we date it. At first this was just to be able to keep some order to the requests, but it turns out this has allowed us to see improvement in his drawing skills over a period of time.

We can also review his prayer requests with him periodically to see if any have been answered, although we haven’t done this with him yet.

We are involving him in nightly prayers, even though he doesn’t always say them. He’s learning to pray for others and to be thankful for what he has. Whether you are a praying family or not thinking of others and being thankful are two great personality characteristics!

Encourage Writing – about their day

In the beginning of the year when Cutie Pie came home from morning kindergarten he’d find a School Notes sheet to fill out while he waited for his lunch. It had a pretty large place for him to draw a picture of something that happened throughout the day as well as had a place to write the names of other kids he played with. (I’m so thankful for Living Locurto! Some really neat ideas over there – you’ve gotta check that site out!)

While this idea has been great for us because it gives me a place to start talking with my kiddo about his day, it has also has proven to show a progression in his drawing skills when I look back through them. (I haven’t used this with my 4 year old because he simply does not want to do it, but responds to questions and more readily offers information about his day, but I think you could!)

Why not take this a step further for older kids? For those who can write? Have them write a sentence or two, or paragraph or two for even older kids, about their day. It can serve as a journal of sorts, but also serve to show you progression in their writing skills. Plus, if school is like it was when I was younger, sometimes you only see one or two words in their writing coming home from school with the longer writing samples being sent home later in the year. (Is school still like this? I have a kindergartener, so I’m not really sure!)

Take an interest in your kids’ writing, by taking an interest in their day by way of what they choose to write about.

Pet Helper

Remember a bit ago I posted about the family now having a fish tank? Cutie Pie’s science interest has really been fueled, so much that he even likes to help clean the tank!

I love that his interest in animals has carried over to the aquarium and all that it entails. He’s learning about responsibility, the species of fish we have, paying attention to another living being’s need for food and a clean habitat and even following specific directions while helping.

Growing up in the country my family had many barn cats make a home under our porch. Some were more pets than my dad would have liked, with us feeding and playing with them, crying when they were killed by passing cars. (In the country this was really common, sad, but common.)

Hubby grew up with a basset hound. Taking her for walks, helping to feed her and train her to stay in the kitchen when the family was eating. Hubby and I aren’t quite there with the desire for a four-legged pet, but after seeing how much Cutie Pie likes caring for the fish I can see ourselves there someday.

What animals do you have in your home and how involved are your kiddos in caring for them?

Glow Board Reading

Hubby spends more time with Cutie Pie at nighttime than I do, I admit it. Cutie Pie wants me to do shadow puppet shows against the wall with him and they just are, well, shorter than what Hubby does. I’m pretty sure it’s because my drawing skills are not good enough for him and Hubby is a great draw-er.

I know there are a lot of ideas out there for teaching kiddos to read, but my kids aren’t drawn to many of them. Are yours? (Sounds like I’m talking about two separate ideas in this post doesn’t it? Keep reading!)

A few years ago Cutie Pie was given this glow board and we have been drawing on it almost nightly ever since. At first it started out with us drawing pictures for him, then letters of the alphabet, then he tried his hand at drawing and writing letters. Now it’s a combination of drawing and writing done by Hubby. Let me tell you it’s been a great tool in helping Cutie Pie get better at reading!

Hubby sometimes writes what Cutie Pie requests be written. It can be a nonsense word, a silly word, whatever, and Hubby will write it so Cutie Pie can make the connection. Other times Hubby will draw something and then label it, be it a silly name for a drawing of a silly man or some such thing that will inevitably make Cutie Pie squeal with laughter.

Making learning fun seems to be one of the ways Cutie Pie absorbs and excels in the learning area. How do you make learning to read fun? I’d love to try other methods!

Tape Resist Painting

In what ways are your kiddos creative? Do you have to reel them in by setting something up for them, even if it is an open-ended activity?

I set out some painting materials last week to see if I could draw the boys’ interest. Cutie Pie came over almost immediately, and tried his hand at painting dinosaurs and dragons. It took a bit, but Sweet Pea joined in, too.


After a few minutes I set out some painters tape. They were both curious as to why. I began placing strips of it on a new piece of card stock and encouraged them to paint it.

Sweet Pea loves to mix his colors and see what shades of brown he can make and Cutie Pie found the end result cool, but was more interested in creating his dragons and dinosaurs, so I made my own little creation. Do you like the pic I made with it for the blog post?

Interested in doing this with your kiddos? Simply start with a clean piece of paper, card stock or canvas. Place strips of tape as you please on your painting surface, then paint as desired. Once dry carefully remove the tape.

To make something a little more interesting (for any age) you can continue to layer the tape over dry paint and repeat as many times as you like, maybe over the course of a few days. Be very careful when removing the tape using this method as the paint with be thicker and will tend to peel off a bit. You could also use this method on a large piece of paper and watch your child use their gross motor skills to cover the paper with paint!

Cutie Pie asked to do this again another day and that time we painted on canvas with the tape placed right on the canvas making white lines. He added dinosaurs to the white lines using different colored crayons.

My boys aren’t necessarily into making crafts, but when they find a creative activity they like they tend to ask for it again and again!

What was your kiddos’ most recent creation?

Winter Letters

Sweet Pea, my 4 year old, has been learning his letters in preschool. Many times he’ll come home and write them in the air with his finger for me when I call out a letter which I know he knows.

The other day we had just enough snow to cover the driveway, so while we were playing outside I decided to see if he truly recognizes his letters!

This could very easily be done with numbers and lower case letters, too, and for any age that needs some letter recognition practice. It is also a short enough activity to do with younger kids, as once the snow is gone it would be quite hard to replace to shovel again. (Unless it’s snowing!)

This would be great gross motor practice for the older kiddos to do it themselves, and you could also practice name recognition if your child’s name is short enough to fit on your driveway! You just need snow! (But now the snow can go away, I mean, it’s almost April – we did this on March 24th!)

Jack Wax How to

Monday I told you about our trip to a Maple Sugaring Festival. They told us about a treat the Native Indian and early American children used to have during maple sugaring time. They would take a bowl of snow and drizzle the boiling syrup over it to create a toffee or hard treat (think hard like peanut-brittle).

As a child my dad used to give us a bowl of snow with nice warm pure maple syrup over it. I don’t remember it getting stretchy like taffy or hard like peanut brittle, but I remember it being a delicious slushy treat. I think the trick for it to become true Jack Wax is to get the pure maple syrup to the ‘soft ball’ candy stage, if I remember what they told us yesterday correctly.

If you don’t have snow around you, maybe try this with finely chopped ice? If you try it please let me know how you liked it! I’d be interested in seeing what your kids think the science is behind it!

Maple Sugaring Festival

Cutie Pie and Hubby trying to tap a log

Do you live in an area where there are maple trees and maple sugaring festivals?

Maple Syrup and sugar is made from the sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees in colder climates, which store starch in their trunks and roots before winter. This rises in the sap in the spring, providing nutrients for new leaves. Sap can be harvested from the trees at this time by boring holes in the trees to collect the sap (called tapping), which is then boiled down leaving the maple syrup!

Listening to a description of how sap
was collected in hollowed
out logs while the sap boils behind us.
Cutie Pie experiencing how kids his age helped collect the sap

The Native Indians and early Americans in the colder North American areas used to boil this down even further creating maple sugar (hence the name Maple Sugaring Festival) which was used in trading as it was very valuable. Since the maple sugar was the only sweetener, and therefore very valuable on it’s own, tapping trees and collecting sap to make maple sugar was a major family project and very important to their welfare. We were told approximately 16 gallons of sap turns into 1 gallon of maple syrup, so it was also a very large project!

How do I know all of this? We live in central New York, where maple sugaring, as it is called, is common in early spring, and so are Maple Sugar Festivals. We spent Saturday about an hour away at Cumming Nature Center (an extension of Rochester Museum and Science Center) for their festival, where we enjoyed a delicious pancake breakfast, learned about the maple syrup making process, a treat called Jack Wax, walked the snow-covered trails, found lots of animal tracks and picked up lots of ‘specimens’ (read ‘twigs’). A perfect way to spend the day as a family! It was a bit nippy, too cold for the sap to be flowing, but truly fun learning history and how pure maple syrup was and is now made. The free samples weren’t bad either!

If you live in this area, you’ll have to watch for the Maple Sugaring Festivals next year, or possibly there will be some in the coming weeks during the thaw. It is a great opportunity to learn and to get outside and into nature!

Ask the right questions

We gave ourselves a family gift at Christmas. A fish tank. We’ve been trying to teach our boys responsibility with it, as well as just enjoying watching the fish – relaxing! It’s been interesting to say the least!

Unfortunately, the first fish that Cutie Pie named (Big Foot) died about 3 weeks after we got him. Then slowly the next 3 fish died one by one. We discovered we were teaching our boys about death of pets instead. (I would post a pic, but the only one we have that has come out well is of Big Foot and that seems sort of disrespectful in a way, even though he was just a fish.)

We visited the store, asked questions, tried getting our new fish from another store. After much research, a phone call and trial and error, Hubby visited the store once more with a water sample. He talked with yet another person and just happened to phrase an answer to a question just enough different to make this person ask another question which led to the great discovery. We now have healthy fish.

It’s funny how asking the right questions leads to more questions and ultimately the answer that fixes everything. I find often that it is just the same with my boys. We can go around in circles with our conversations, until just the right thing is said and we make the great discovery! (Then I usually do a victory dance….)

Listening to Patterns

The boys love to sit with their daddy after dinner and take turns drumming out patterns and copying what their daddy plays. We used to do this with our fingers on the edge of the table or on our knees, but it’s more fun with our drums!

This is something we all love, sort of a family music activity. I love listening. Daddy loves playing – both with the drums and with the boys. The boys love drumming, copying their daddy and their daddy copying them!

You can do this, too, no matter what the age of your kids! Simply by drum on the table or floor with your hands or play patterns with toy drums, a xylophone, spoons, really anything you can use to thump out a noise!

What they are learning: patterning, listening skills, drumming skills, coordination, steady beat, counting

In a future post I’d like to discuss patterns a little more in depth. In the meantime check out this great, simple resource about patterns.

5 Senses Experiment – Sense of Touch

I remember being in Earth Science class in High School having to reach into a box and determine what kind of rock I was touching. I put together a simple sense of touch experiment for the boys based on this very thing, but I made it much more simple and you can do it too (and for a big range of ages)! I apologize for the lack of a picture, it was hard to get one and keep them from cheating by peeking!


Simply take your pillowcases or paper bags and fill them with items found around the house (or outside of you don’t mind them getting a little dirty.) Twist the ends closed and blindfold your kiddos, or hold your hands over their eyes. Let them put their hands into the bag and guess whats inside! If you are doing this with several kiddos you might want to record their answers to compare, and make sure to only have one child in the room at a time!

The boys loved this little guessing game. After we compared their guesses we opened the pillowcases and determined if their guesses were correct. We also talked a little about how they knew what each item was. I did the experiment in this order because I wanted to see if they knew that touching was one of our senses! They got it!

We actually didn’t get to an experiment for the sense of smell because the boys came down with colds before we could get to it and I didn’t think it would be much fun to do a smelly experiment if they couldn’t sniff! I’ll be posting about that in another week or so. I can tell you it involves baking ingredients!

If you go ahead and complete your week with a sense of smell experiment please share!

5 Senses – Sense of Taste Experiment

To continue on with the 5 sense experiments theme, today I’ll share about our little taste experiment. (sense of taste, coordination, science) This was also very easy to set up, and I’m sure you have items in your kitchen that you could grab to pull this off quickly. (Very easy to adjust for different ages, ingredients.)

I remembered once a long time ago hearing that different parts of your tongue could detect certain tastes like bitter and sweet. I also remembered hearing this wasn’t true. I, of course, only told them the first part thinking the ‘real’ experiment would be to see if they thought it was indeed true by tasting bitter and sweet things on different parts of their own tongues.
Here’s what we did:

Taste Experiment

Materials needed:
small bowls
sugar
salt
lime, lemon or orange slices
marshmallows (or something sweet, we used M&Ms too)
we also used raisins and Craisins to see if they could taste the difference

First, I explained that they would be able to taste different items on different areas of their tongues and showed them a diagram I found on the internet which shows you taste bitterness at the back of the tongue, sour on each side, and salty/sweet on the tip, with little tasted in the center.

I let them each pick up a tiny bit of sugar, asking them to put it only on the very tip of their tongue, then again on the back of their tongues. I asked them if it tasted different in each area. We repeated this with the salt, with me not telling them beforehand which was salt and which was sugar.

I placed either a raisin or Craisin in their hands and asked if they could taste the difference.

They each tasted an orange slice and told me if it was sour or sweet.

Finally, I asked them to eat a marshmallow then an M&M, then taste the orange slice again and asked if the taste was sweeter or more sour. (For one it was, the other it wasn’t.)

They both loved the little tastings, but didn’t seem to notice they tasted everything no matter where they put it on their tongues. An hour or so later, though, Cutie Pie came back to me and mentioned it. I thought it was funny it took him that long!

I’d be interested in knowing (if you try this with your kiddos) if they taste more strongly in different areas of their tongues and whether the sweet treats intensified the taste of other foods. Please share!

5 Senses – Sight Experiment

Next in our week of 5 Senses Experiments we experimented with our sense of sight. (Remember yesterday I posted about our sense of hearing experiment?)

In preparation for our sight experiment I got out just a couple of things: old pairs of glasses, some pictures that included dark outlines.

Sense of sight experiment
Glasses for the experiment

First we closed our eyes and tried to make our way around a room that I led the boys to. I wanted them to see what it was like to not see, if only for a few minutes. (Wearing blindfolds would not have worked with these boys…) And we talked about what things we noticed using our other senses.

Then Cutie Pie and Sweet Pea each put on a pair of my old glasses and I asked them to tell me what they could see around the room and then right in front of them. I also gave them a picture with bold outlines to look at close up and then across the room. They found this pretty humorous.

I explained to them that I see things blurry without my glasses or contacts, just like they see things blurry with my glasses on. We talked a little about how not seeing clearly could be a difficult thing, even though in this experiment it was pretty funny.

They had a really good time going around the house with my glasses on, then taking them off while looking at things. For a few minutes just one day it won’t damage their sight.

Later in the day I did a couple of other fun things with them for sight, but that’s to be shared in another post.

5 Senses – hearing experiment

Cutie Pie’s class recently learned about the 5 senses, so we thought it would be fun to do a simple experiment for each of the senses over the course of a week.

The first day was all about our sense of hearing. After being quiet for a minute or so and then talking about what we each could hear in the silence, we did a simple experiment I had put together on the fly and the boys loved it. You can do it to!

The ‘What’s Inside?’ Experiment

  • First, fill several cups with different items and cover them with paper and tape. You don’t want anyone taking a peek!
  • Then mark each cup with a number. (There is no need to keep track of what is in each cup.)
  • Take turns shaking the cups and guessing what’s inside. 

We made a list of our guesses for each cup. I used a simple sheet of paper with numbers down the side matching the numbers on the cups and made two columns – guess and actual. I filled in the columns as they guessed. (The kiddos can help with this part easily according to their abilities! writing, counting)

Then we opened each and discovered whether we were right or not! We wrote down what was actually in the cup and compared the guess with the actual item, discovering how they were similar and different.

The boys loved this and were totally intrigued. It was so fun hearing their guesses, since I didn’t give them any clues whatsoever!

Density Experiment

Our liquid density tower

Over the past few weeks we’ve done a few experiments, but it’s taken me a while to get the pics onto the computer. I’ve seen this density experiment in many places, several books I have as well as several blogs.

I’m posting about it simply because it was fun, but also to show you can do this with several difference liquids, not necessarily needing to go by an official experiment ‘recipe’. (Just make sure the liquids you are using are safe to be used together as well as safe for your child.)

Density Experiment

Experiment Liquids: olive oil, dish soap, water,
vegetable oil, food coloring

What we used: 

the same amount of olive oil, dish soap, water, and vegetable oil, a drop of food coloring, clean glass jar

What we did: 

I asked the boys if they thought the liquids they had in front of them weighed the same.

One by one I slowly poured the liquids into the jar, letting them dribble down the side rather than pouring into the middle of the jar. (I dyed the water red so we could see it more easily.)

Final density tower with items at each level

What we observed:

The liquids formed layers. (Cutie Pie loved this as he’d been learning about strata!)

It did not matter what order we poured the liquids. If a heavier liquid was added after a lighter one, it settled under the lighter one.

What we learned:

The liquids have different densities (or weights) and therefore do not lie in the same layer.

Further investigation:

After letting our density tower sit for a while to make sure the layers weren’t going to combine on their own, we gathered a few small items and carefully dropped them into the jar. It was interesting to see where they settled. We used a small LEGO, a toothpick, a raisin, and a small stone.

Cutie Pie had fun with this experiment, trying to guess which liquid would be lighter and therefore higher in our final tower. He also had a lot of fun coming up with the items to drop into our final tower and guessing where they would settle!

When you try this experiment please let us know what results you came up with!

Fine Motor Play

Fine Motor PlayWhile on the subject of some fine motor play with the goeboard and shaving cream play posts, I thought I’d share about Sweet Pea’s interest in K’NEX.

Rochester Museum and Science Center has an area set up with every piece of K’NEX you can dream of and Sweet Pea will sit himself at one of the tables for such a long time. If you’ve read my blog you know this is a big deal since he doesn’t like to sit still much!

On a recent visit he created this ‘wheel’ all by himself! Of course, he’ll play with LEGOs and Trios, too, but there is something about these tiny little pieces that you have to clip together just so, but that fit together so many ways (coordination, processes, creativity, fine motor)….he’s well on his way to learning to write strengthening his grip!

Color Mixing (more fine motor play)

“Mommy, this is a really cool experiment!” I love hearing this!

I was on the computer checking out a couple of blogs when I came across this little project. Little did I know it would be the perfect sensory activity to settle my boys down before dinner! It’s also a fun little way to strengthen those fingers for holding a pencil or crayon! (read fine motor)


I happened upon Dilly Dali Art’s No Mess Color Mixing post. It is so simple and my boys were in love with it immediately!

Simply take contact paper, squirt some paint in the center of a square, then place another layer of contact paper over that and press down on the edges (and add tape if you’re worried about leaks). The kiddos will enjoy mixing the color without the mess, just like the post is called!

Modification: Tape the whole thing to a window to be squished for an added sensory experience! Write numbers or letters or make shapes.

It’s one of those “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?” things. Actually, come to think of it, we might have tried mixing colors in a baggie before, but for some reason this just sticks out in my memory!

(Sorry there were no pictures…dinner preparation took priority on this one.)

Shaving cream play

Friday I posted about revisiting the geoboard with Sweet Pea after Cutie Pie had set it aside for some time. Another activity I decided to revisit recently was shaving cream play, although this time I re-introduced it to both boys after trying it here about a year and a half ago. (fine motor, sensory play)


Sweet Pea loved it! At first there was no color, I just let him feel it with his hands, but after I added color he really loved it! His tray of shaving cream was used as a road for his monster truck, a writing tablet which he used to make O’s and L’s as well as lots of swirls and curly-q’s and quickly became brown!

He wasn’t afraid of getting his hands ‘yucky’ at all! I actually think he had as much fun washing everything off after his playtime as he did during it!

Cutie Pie never really liked getting his hands ‘messy’ unless there was a purpose behind it. To just sit and play in a tray of shaving cream never went over well with him when I first introduced him to this. This time, however, he really got into it. I think having done some shaving cream writing practice in UPK last year helped!

He didn’t just drive his cars and trucks through it, make designs, swirl colors and make hills, we also tried a game of tic tac toe and made shaving cream cards. He was actually pretty good at tic tac toe!

Next time I will get out some kitchen utensils to run through and fill up with shaving cream as well as try painting with it on the easel, or maybe even just use it to create a cloud in a jar!

Be Safe: If you introduce shaving cream play to your kiddos please be safe and don’t let them put it in their mouths or eyes.

Geoboard Revisited

As I posted here, I’m revisiting some activities I originally did with Cutie Pie and am having fun introducing them to Sweet Pea!

One such thing is the Geoboard, which I originally posted about here. Great fine motor and coordination manipulative! It also makes a nice quiet time activity or ‘busy bag’.

Cutie Pie really liked this at first, but slowly his interest waned. I set it aside and it occasionally made an appearance, but not until recently was it met with enthusiasm. Sweet Pea can’t get enough of it!

He is enjoying making shapes, trying to create pretend scenes (making a square and saying it’s a train wheel or house) and counting how many bands he can attach to the board. Basically, he LOVES it!

If you haven’t already made one for your kiddo, I encourage you to. It’s cheap and easy to make! If your child loves it as much as Sweet Pea, it’ll be totally worth it! I think I might be making a larger one with nails instead of tacks, and maybe even elicit Sweet Pea’s help!

Money Exercise

Sweet Pea was a little jealous of Cutie Pie today…Cutie Pie found a penny. Since he doesn’t really have a concept of the value of money, he thought Cutie Pie was pretty rich.

I pulled out our smaller change bucket and let Sweet Pea put several coins into his piggy bank, which he counted as he inserted each into the slot. It was a great little lesson on saving and also great fine motor work! He loved it and later in the day came back requesting to do it again!

(This is actually a great fine motor exercise that I’ve seen on some occupational therapists web sites!)

Dinosaur Skeleton Experiment

Thursday I posted about this great book we discovered at the library, Dinosaur Discovery. (I meant to post this on Friday, but got caught up in making a really fun LEGO/dinosaur party come together for Cutie Pie’s 6th birthday…sorry!) This great book contains a lot of dinosaur information that we haven’t come across in other books about dinosaurs, or perhaps just not in such a simple and attractive way. As I shared yesterday, this book also contains some really neat experiments! (Simple enough to do with a preschooler on up!)

Sweet Pea, Cutie Pie and I tried the ‘Standing Up to Force’ experiment about skeletons being built “to take the forces pushing and pulling against them, without breaking.” The experiment describes sitting on a table because it has legs positioned strategically to support the force of the tabletop pushing down on it. The bones in dinosaurs are no different.

Quite simply, take two toilet paper rolls, stand one up in its end. Carefully set one book at a time on the roll that’s standing up, balancing them with your hand if necessary. How many can it hold before collapsing?

Now take the other roll and set it on its side. Stack the books on it one at a time, holding the bottom book to keep it in place. How many can this one hold?

Why?

What is the difference between the two?

Can you figure out how dinosaur bones are similar to the toilet paper roll standing up?

See, isn’t this so simple and fun? For more really fun experiments check out the book!

According to Cutie Pie the T-Rex rules the roll

The link contained in this post is an affiliate link that I may or may not receive payment from, however, I would not post about any product I didn’t wholeheartedly want to share with you. My just about 6 year old wants me to share this book with you, too!