Five Free (Summer) Field Trips

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1.  Spraygrounds- Called spraygrounds or splash parks, these free fountains are always a kid favorite.  Who doesn’t want to play in the water on a hot day?  I was especially grateful for spraygrounds when I had a baby and a toddler.  Take them both to the swimming pool by myself? A nightmare.  But watch my oldest run through the fountains while my baby sits and splashes?  Very doable.

2.  Bowling Alley– Kids can get two free games of bowling every day, all summer long!  Check out kidsbowlfree.com to see if a bowling alley in your area participates.  We did this last year and loved it!

3.  Concerts– Lots of shopping centers, communities, parks, and churches do free summer concerts in the evenings.  What better way to spend a summer night?  Just do a search for “free summer concert (your city name here)” and see what you can find.

4.  Art Fairs- Hands down my favorite activity.  We have already been to two this summer!  Although taking toddlers to a place with large groups of people and very expensive objects is not for a the faint of heart.  Wearable babies or older kids make the best art viewers (in my experience).

5.  Public School Playgrounds-  The schools are out and the playgrounds are open!  Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon “at recess.”  Just make sure to check the signage to make sure it is open to the public.

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Math at the Dinner Table

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We want the girls to sit at the table until everyone is finished eating (or at least wait for each other).  So after talking about the activities of the day, we get a little creative to keep them in their seats.  And so “dinner math” was born.  There are plenty of things around the table to show math “in the real world” plus they are a captive audience. 🙂  I realize it’s probably not the best table manners to turn dinner time into a math game, so feel free to ignore this if it doesn’t fit with your family.

Some ideas….

Babies

  • Count the pieces of food on her tray.
  • Count the number of bites while you spoon-feed her.
  • Talk about the shapes of the food.
  • Use words to compare amounts such as “There are more banana slices than crackers on your plate.”

Toddler/Preschooler

  • Identify 2D and 3D shapes of the food, plates, cups, and even the table itself.  “Can you find a circle?  How about a cylinder?”
  • Count items on the table.  “How many plates are on the table?  How many forks?”
  • Use items on the table for simple addition problems.  If they are stumped, help them count the items.  “I see two forks and two spoons.  How many pieces of silverware in all?”
  • Compare numbers.  “Do you have more apple slices or carrots on your plate?”

Elementary

  • Use table items or food for addition and subtraction problems.  “How many forks + spoons + bowls are on the table?”
  • Ask problems where you can’t count items on the table to find the answer. “I bought fifteen potatoes and cooked six of them for dinner.  How many are still in the bag?”
  • Skip count using table items.  “Each person has a cup and a plate.  Count by twos to find how many there are in all.”
  • Estimate and count to find out how many.  “How many green beans do you think are on your plate?”
  • Eat in a pattern.  Take a bite of one thing, then two bites of another food, and see if they can continue the pattern!
  • Talk about fractions.  “Please eat at least half of your dinner. ”  🙂
  • Ask random addition, subtraction, or multiplication facts.  But don’t stop there!*

*Some kids love getting quizzed on math facts.  So, if your kids enjoy it- go ahead!  Drill and practice of facts WILL make math easier for them.  But don’t forget to talk about the “why” behind the answer.  Talking about the process of solving a problem helps kids develop logical thinking and better number sense.  They will use those skills as the math gets more complex.  So after you ask “What’s 6 +7?” ask “How did you figure that out?” or How do you know that is the correct answer?”  Usually kids will say, “I just knew it.”  Talk through some ideas like “Well, 6+6=12 and 7 is one more than 6.  So the answer to 6+7 is one more than 12.”  Or maybe you know the fact 7+7=14 so 6+7 is one less.  Or maybe you break apart the 7 into 3+4 and you know 6+4=10, then it is easy to add on 3 more to make 13.  Explaining mathematical thinking will benefit kids even more than memorization.  Besides, what else are you going to do while you wait for them to eat their peas?

Five Free (Indoor) Field Trips

I go a little stir-crazy around the house in the winter.  We try to go outside for a little bit to get some fresh air.  But it’s so cold!!  The kids and I have to get out of the house, explore the world, and….see other people.  Oh yeah, I also don’t like to spend money.  Where can you go to entertain the kids that doesn’t cost anything?

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1.  pet store- It’s like going to the zoo…only free!  Oh yeah, it also has a little smaller animals.  No problem.  Small animals are great for small kids!  Hear birds squawking.  Watch fish swimming.   Maybe you’ll even get to touch a few rabbits.   The kids will love it!  Just don’t walk away with another pet.

2. library- Most libraries have a story time, but some go above and beyond with book chats, speakers, Mother Goose time and the list goes on.  We’ve even gone to a “preschool disco” at our library!  Check with your local library for a schedule of events.  Even if there isn’t a special program, a trip to the library is always worth it.  Grab some books, DVDs, and CDs to keep the kids entertained when you are stuck at home.

3.  toy store-  This can be tricky.  Only attempt it if you know there won’t be an ugly melt-down when the kids realize you aren’t buying anything  (i.e.- you don’t have a two-year-old).  However, some toy stores have LOTS of toys on display that the kids can try out.  We have successfully gone to toy stores, played, and walked out empty-handed.  Try giving older kids a pencil and paper to make a wishlist for their birthday.

4.  art museum- This is one of my personal favorite field trips.  Some art museums do charge admission, so try out free galleries or even local art displays in malls or civic centers.  Make up an art scavenger hunt before you go to have even more fun!

5. mall- Let’s go the mall, today!  Or just go to the mall indoor playground!  It’s a win-win.  You get to people watch.  The kids get to play and get infected with all sorts of germs.  Wait.  Make sure you have some hand sanitizer in your purse.  Also, never tell the kids that those ride-on machines take money.  My kids were not aware that they moved (and still happily sat, pushed buttons, and pretended)…until granny ruined my secret!

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If you are interested in more:  Five Free (Fall) Field Trips

Four Ways to Make Art with Packing Paper

Packing paper is big, easy to clean up, and free.  Perfect material for kid art.  Now what can you do with it?

1.  Cover the table.  Put packing paper over a table (it completely covered our kid table) and let them finger paint all over it.  Give them some primary colors and let them mix it by hand to make secondary colors.  The best way to learn is by doing, so let them get messy.  Not feeling the paint?  Give them crayons and markers and let them draw on the table while you make dinner.

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2. Hang it on the wall.  Tape up the packing paper to a long wall and let them create a mural.

3.  Lay it out on the floor.  The floor is the perfect place for sitting babies that haven’t mastered walking.  Plop them in the middle of the packing paper and let them go to town.  Have older kids lay down on the paper and trace around them.  Then they can color themselves and design an outfit with paint, markers, or chalk.

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4.  Take it outside.  On a nice day, put packing paper down on the driveway, deck, or sidewalk.  Take off those shoes and make paint footprints!

Learning in the Car

Driving in the car is a chore we do every day.  It’s a great time to interact with your kiddo since they are a captive audience. 🙂  Of course, there is a lot to be said for a few minutes of silence.  But if you get bored of the quiet (or it is not quiet at all because the natives are getting restless), here are a few ideas…

Babies

  • Talk out loud about….anything!  Provide a running commentary about what is out the window, what streets you are on, where you are going, or what you’d like to eat for lunch.
  • Sing familiar songs: Mary Had a Little Lamb, ABCs, etc.
  • Talk out loud about….anything!  Provide a running commentary about what is out the window, what streets you are on, where you are going, or what you’d like to eat for lunch.
  • Call attention to when the car stops and when it moves.  Talk about red and green lights.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Talk about….anything!  Ask them questions about their day or where you are going.  Try to ask them questions that will start a conversation and not just a “no” or “yes.”
  • Sing familiar songs, but change some words and see if they notice.  Mary Had a Little Lion.  Kids think this is hilarious!
  • Talk about driving rules and signs.  What does a yellow light mean?  Why are their lines on the road?  What does a red sign mean?
  • Play “I Spy a Color.”  See if they can find something red out the window or in the car.  Once they find something, change the color.
  • Play “I’m Thinking of an Animal.”  Traditionally you ask yes or no questions to figure out the animal.  (Does the animal live on a farm?  Does the animal fly?)  For this age, giving those clues first and then allowing guessing works best. (I’m thinking of an animal that has wings and lives on a farm.  Can you guess what it is?)
  • Ask some simple addition and subtraction math problems related to driving.  (There are 3 people in the car now.  After we pick up brother from school, how many will be in the car then?)
  • Count something together for the length of the (short) trip: the number of trucks you see, how many times you have to stop at a red light, the number of bicyclists on the road
  • Come up with as many rhymes as you can for a given word.  Teach them how to go through the alphabet and rhyme: at, bat, cat, dat (no, that’s not a word)

Elementary

  • Talk about…anything!  Driving is a great time to catch up and ask them about school, friends, sports, or hobbies.
  • Talk about driving.  Why are steering wheels on the left side of the car?  What does “miles per hour” mean?  Why are speed limits important?
  • Ask “If you could be a _____________ what would you be and why?”  Fill in the blank with animal, item in your classroom, food, plant, etc.  Make sure you play, too!
  • Create an addition and subtraction game related to driving.  Let the kids come up with rules.  Maybe for every truck you get 2 points for every green light you pass and subtract a point for every red light.  This is great mental math practice!  You can always make the game easier or more difficult by changing the objects or point values.
  • Play “I’m Thinking of an Animal” the traditional way by asking yes or no questions to figure out the animal.  Vary the game by playing “I’m Thinking of a Sport” or “I’m Thinking of a Number between 1 and 100” or “I’m Thinking of a Book.”
  • Play “I Spy something that starts with the letter _____”
  • Practice spelling words by taking turns saying the letters.
  • Take turns thinking of as many things that starts with a certain letter.
  • Choose a category of things (for example: food).  Name something in that category (pizza).  Then the next person has to name something that starts with the last letter of the item (a- apple…and then e- enchilada)

This One Goes Out to All the New Mothers Out There

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was watching moms push strollers with their cute little babies and I would think “someday.”  Now with a four-year-old and two-year-old my stroller days are almost behind me.  But I still remember what is was like to be a new mother.  Well, to be honest, I don’t remember that much.  As with any catastrophic event, your brain doesn’t let you remember all the gory details.

Legend has it that sometime after giving birth to my first little miracle I called a fellow mother friend and shouted, “You didn’t tell me it was going to be like this!” as soon as she picked up the phone.  I say it is a legend because as I mentioned before…I have no memory of this but it has been told to me.   That statement pretty much sums up what I felt about the first few months of motherhood.  Yeah, I knew what moms do- feeding, changing diapers, and cuddling.  But I didn’t know that feeding really meant latching issues, sore breasts, and lots of crying in frustration (from both of us).   Changing diapers meant poop blow ups that soaked through the onesie, your clothes, and maybe the couch.  My daughter probably went through five outfits a day.  And there was lots of cuddling because she decided the next best thing to being inside her mama was being on top of her mama ALL DAY AND NIGHT.  I learned to sleep, cook, eat, and yes, even shower with a newborn in my arms.  All of this is to say:  those first few months were not the blissful maternity leave I was expecting.   Nobody told me what it was really going to be like.

My daughter nursed 12 times a day…and that was when she was over two months old.  When she wasn’t nursing or being held by me she was crying.  I slept in 2-3 hour increments at the most.  My brain felt like those “this is your brain on drugs” commercials with the fried egg.  Remember those?  I had fights with my husband because he just couldn’t understand how nothing got done during the day.  I began to doubt if things would ever get better.  Would there be a time in the future when she slept through the night?  Could we ever eat in a restaurant again?  Will she ever stop CRYING?!  It didn’t seem very likely.

After a particularly difficult night, I took my crying daughter to her well-check at the pediatrician.  With dark circles under my eyes, I watched another mother play with her older baby while she giggled and cooed.  She must have seen my desperation because she said, “It will get better.”  And she told me how the first 3 months are the worst, then it starts to get better.  Then at 6 months it gets easier again, then at 9, then by one year you will hardly believe it is the same baby.  It gave me hope.  Although when you are in the thick of it, a month seems like an eternity.  Even a day seems unbearable.

Am I overplaying this?  Okay.  I don’t want to scare anyone into not having children.  I like to think that I’m doing a public service and telling other women what it is like to be in the motherhood trenches.  I would have liked someone to tell me (although of course I could have never believed such horrors).  Isn’t it better to be fully prepared with the worst case scenario?

So if you are a new mom, hang in there.  Even if you have to dig out poop under your fingernails (I’ll plead the 5th), or walk around like the living dead with 2 hours of sleep, or (gasp) bottle feed because breastfeeding just isn’t working.  Motherhood might not be what you thought it would be, but it will get better and then it will get amazing.  Yes, you did give up your former care-free life to be a slave to an angry little person who can’t even say thank you.  But it is totally worth it.  You’ll see.  Just wait a few months.  And while you are waiting, call your mom and tell her thank you.

Learning with Chalk

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Drawing with sidewalk chalk is a great summer activity.  It’s cheap, easily washable, and gets kids outside enjoying the sunshine.  Encourage your kids to do lots of free drawing, but also try out some of these ideas.  Don’t overload them….just one or two ideas per chalk session.

(Common Core Standards appear in italics.  They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels.  These standards are used in almost every school in the country.  Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)

Babies

  • Let them feel the chalk and try to make marks on different surfaces
  • Color in one spot so there is a lot of chalk dust.  Put baby’s hands in it and see if you can help them make hand prints on the pavement.  Messy, but fun!

Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Draw different colored shapes a few feet apart.  Play a game and ask them to stand on the blue circle.  Then walk (or run, skip, hop, etc.) to the purple rectangle.  (kindergarten-Identify and describe shapes)
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  • Big sidewalk chalk is perfect beginning writers.  Draw dotted lines of shapes, letters, or numbers and see if they can trace it.  Or write a letter first and see if they can copy it. (kindergarten- Print many upper- and lowercase letters)
  • Write their name in REALLY big letters and have them walk the letters of their name.
  • Write numbers in order.  Let kids hop from number to number counting as they go.  (kindergarten- Know the number names and count sequence)IMG_6338
  • Draw a path for kiddos to use with their tricycle or bicycle.
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Elementary

  • Make a Twister board with chalk and call out directions if you don’t have a spinner.
  • Trace around your kiddo and then have him design and color the clothing.  Or he could draw the organs (heart, brain, lungs, etc.) in their proper spot.
  • Make a large grid.  Work together to make a different pattern in each square of the grid.
  • Tell addition stories and have your child draw to solve the problem.  For example, “I have 3 apples.  Then I buy 4 more.  How many apples do I have now?”   (grades 1 and 2- Represent and solve problems using addition and subtraction)
  • Write numbers in order, but leave some out and have your kiddo fill in the missing numbers.  Then have them skip count and hop to the different numbers.
  • Kids write out the alphabet in big letters.  Then say a word and they run from letter to letter to spell it.   (grades K-6- Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing)
  • Write out a silly sentence incorrectly (no capitalization or punctuation) and have kids correct your mistakes.  (grades K-6- Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing)
  • Ask kids to draw shapes and then divide them into equal parts to make fractions.  (grades 1,2,3- Reasons with shapes and their attributes)