Archive for the 'Activities' Category

Summer Reading Programs – Incentives and Rewards

July 2, 2009

Most experts agree that a child should read at least 20 minutes a day to foster a love for reading and learning. Its very easy to allow that time to slip away from us and with busy schedules it is far easier to keep the TV on and let the books collect dust. I know that I have strategically (and with guilt) used the television to give me free time for cooking, cleaning and business calls. Its an evil necessity at times but does not have to be a constant decision.

One of the best decisions I ever made was to stop giving away -free- television time and turn off the “idiot box”! Video Games, Movies and TV are earned in my house and are not a daily expectation. This was implemented before my daughter started kindergarten and we have a “No TV on School Nights” rule. Some of you may read this and scream. Most children hearing this would definitely scream. However, I find that the limited amount of TV for all of us has opened up the doorway to more enjoyable things and we have become a happier family as a result.

There are two reading incentives my seven year old daughter has right now; the local library Summer Reading Program and our own Book Token Reward system. Each day she reads for 20 minutes she gets to fill in a circle on her chart for the library and five days of this earns her a sticker and a free book! Our Book Token Reward system isn’t quite as simple! When she finishes a book that is more than twenty pages long I give her a book token. These are simply die cut pieces of paper in the shape of books that I picked up from the dollar store. I write the date, book title and number of pages on it and she likes to tape them to her door. If she decides to fill out a “Book Report” on the finished book she will get a star on her Book Token. The Book Report is five simple questions about the book and she has to answer with at least three sentences. A star earns her an additional point! Our rewards are constantly changing because this is a new system and we are really enjoying it! She can choose to “cash” in her book tokens for smaller prizes or save them up.

5 Book Token Rewards:

  • 15 minutes of computer games
  • 1 Age Appropriate Show
  • A Popsicle or Watermelon Banana Split (recipe to be added soon!)
  • A Mommy and Daughter Board Game Throw down (She gets to stay up after her brother goes to bed and we play a board game of her choice before she goes to bed.)

10 Book Token Rewards:

  • A Chapter Book
  • Two Coloring Books
  • One Kiddo Comic Book
  • 5$ to Spend on Choice (she has been picking hair accessories!)

15 Book Token Rewards

  • Movie and Popcorn
  • Picnic in the Park (she decides the menu)

20 Book Token Rewards

  • Lunch at Restaurant of Choice
  • Fun Family Outing of Choice (We have passes to Zoos and the Aquarium so its usually a choice between these places)

I usually do not reward with food however with this system I tried to pick rewards that would be more than just junk. We rarely do sweets or dine out so these rewards tend to be a pretty big deal.

We have added new rewards as they have come up and she can earn two a day if she really focuses on it (which she HAS been! Yay!). I am sure this will constantly change and evolve as her reading progresses. I currently stick to twenty pages in a chapter book so there is more reading and less pictures. Sometimes we compromise on books that are longer with more pictures but the amount of reading is about the same. It is a very loose system and I implement it solely as a positive. Book Tokens are -never- taken away and are never used in any negative. She is honestly quite proud when I fill these out and she puts them on her door!

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Sensory Table: Water Table on a Budget

June 25, 2009

water tableI love sand and water tables and I feel the store bought ones are much too expensive! So, I’ve created a simple solution for a hot summer day… a water table made from a 31 quart storage bin, placed on top of a child sized table and different cups, spoons and items from the house. It is simple really and extremely affordable. I chose this bin because it is clear, holds a good amount of water and is tall enough to keep most of the water in.

I use everyday items from the house for water tools for the kids to fill, dump, fill again and pour. A strainer will make fantastic rain. A funnel is great to fill bottles with and any empty containers or squeeze bottles will be put to good use. Measuring cups have multiple purposes. Oh and ever wonder what to do with left over plastic easter eggs? The possibilities are endless and you don’t have to break the bank!

funnel

Additional Ideas:

  • Add some liquid dish soap so the kids can make bubbles
  • A few drops of food coloring
  • Line the bottom of the storage bin with aluminum foil to make it shiny
  • Add a bag of clean aquarium gravel
  • Add a tray or two of ice cubes so the kids can watch them melt
  • Add sand and plastic gems. Give the kids spoons to use for shovels. Have them find the buried treasure!
  • Add sand and seashells and boats for an ocean theme
  • Cut out foam craft pieces into the shapes of lilypads, add corks and other items that float. Then add marbles, buttons and rocks. Discuss the difference between the objects

Want to clean up after fingerpaints? Have the kids use the water table so they can have fun while cleaning off! Today we decided to use the water table after we pulled a lot of weeds. The kids were very dirty and we were very hot so it was a perfect way to end the afternoon. Just remember to dump the water afterwards and you have clean kids and a dual activity!

Watching the Clouds

June 17, 2009

Cloud Watching

Have you ever watched the clouds with your kids? It seems so simple and primitive (okay, and seemingly BORING!) however, its actually pretty enjoyable. By the way, this was not my idea by a long shot! I was happily pulling weeds and sticking peppers and pole beans into the ground when my son yelled “Mommy! Lay-lown!”. He usually only says that when he is demanding I read a book to him so I couldn’t resist his smile when I turned around and saw him laying in the middle of a blanket in the yard. “Loo Mommy! Fluffy!” I called them fluffy clouds once and he only calls them fluffys! Yes, at that moment I groaned and really did think pulling weeds would be much more entertaining.

Happy Little Trees

In all reality we were staring at a big tree and two tiny clouds and our cat kept pouncing us because even he thought we were being boring. Does this sound awesome yet?

Unhappy Kitty

We had spent most of the day outside, running errands or painting. I felt like the day flew by so quickly and I started worrying about my lack of preparation for dinner. My seven year old daughter can’t pass up anything involving a good snuggle so she quickly came over and joined our cloud watching party. We talked about the clouds for only a few minutes since they quickly passed. We talked about the trees and what lives in there. When a flock of ducks flew overhead she reminded me about the time we were at the beach when a seagull pooped on my head. We laughed, had a tickle fight and continued to get a different perspective.

Taking the time to just do nothing is a rare moment for me and its something I really need to remember to do more often. I enjoyed over a half an hour of laughter without spending a dime. I relaxed with my kids and the breeze was amazing. I got to hear stories about how the tree was really fighting with the neighbors trees and thats why the branches were moving so fast. I also had my sunglasses stolen and didn’t have a reason to point out to my son that he had them on upside down. It wasn’t until that moment that I noticed how truly beautiful the day was.

So, maybe watching the clouds doesn’t seem as thrilling as a roller coaster. Its probably less entertaining than the latest kids flick. I know its not as educational as the library and definitely not as fun as the neighborhood park. But, the day was perfect simply because we stopped everything to watch two little clouds roll by.

Toddler Bubble Fun with a Fly Swatter

June 15, 2009

If I didn’t have bubbles on the brain when I went shopping with the kids I don’t think I would have considered a flyswatter for a bubble wand. I was standing in the cleaning aisle watching my son trying to grab the swatter and I thought, “Hmm.. why not?!” It just seemed like a great idea! All those tiny little holes, the long handle and the obvious interest my two year old son had in it seemed like the perfect, and inexpensive, toddler bubble wand.

So, there we were in our front yard with a big bowl of bubble solution and our flyswatters and we had so much fun! With one SWOOOSH we had hundreds of bubbles of all difference sizes! It was more enjoyable for my two year old to swing the swatter around than trying to dip a tiny wand in a bottle and mostly spit in his attemps to get any bubbles. We ran across the lawn and watched the bubbles trail behind us. Both of the kids took turns pretending the wands were wings and made “fairy bubbles” and they flew around the garden. The possibilities were endless, the investment was minimal and the laughter was constant.

Before trying this you have to accept that fact that the kids, yourself, possibly your neighbors cat and everything within your general area will get bubbled! But, that makes it even more fun! The bigger the swats the more bubbles made.

And of course I suggest you buy flyswatters specifically for bubble swatting and not for flies!

My Basic Bubble Solution:

1 cup of dishwashing liquid (Dawn or Joy)
4 cups of water
3 teaspoons of sugar or 4 tablespoons of glycerine

Cucumbers, Toddlers and Pickles

June 13, 2009

Do you love pickles? Do your kids? Grow some cucumbers and enjoy making homemade pickles with your kids! Kids always want to be entertained and that often makes us parents cringe because we will most likely be diving into our pockets. Why must entertainment and family activities cost so much? It doesn’t have to! Get back to basics with your kids! How about a little gardening? Oh sure, you might have a very reluctant black thumb but don’t let that stop you. Even a mistake in gardening can be a wonderful experience! You often won’t need much in the way of cost. Even if you don’t have a huge garden you can spend less than 10$, have a project for months and get a yummy treat at the end!

This year my daughter and I decided to grow six small pickling cucumber plants that we picked up from the local nursery with the intention of making pickles. She was focusing on the yummy result and I was thinking of all the little things she can learn from this project without knowing it!

Five of the plants were put in the ground in different areas in our front garden and one is in a pot. Okay so I admit we will never have the most beautifully landscaped garden on the block because of all of our random garden experiments, however, its our garden and I love it! Who says cucumbers don’t look right growing next to a Japanese maple or an azalea bush? Psh! Anyway, I chose to do this (knowing that some locations were not going to be ideal) because there are valuable lessons to be learned based on failed attempts in the garden. The idea is to observe the plants every week and tend to them all equally and discuss the differences. Kids are very perceptive and will often be quick to point out the noticeable differences! When the first blooms showed on the little guys my daughter made some interesting observations. This one in the pot is smaller than the ones in the ground. The other one in the shade has no flowers. The one in the hard soil is really yellow. I simply asked her questions as to why she thought all the plants that started out exactly the same are growing so differently. Her answers were mostly right on point however I didn’t agree with “The yellow plant is that color because our neighbors dog is using it as a toilet. So, lets not eat those.”

We planted our cucumbers very very early in the season and we are fortunate to be in Southern California and have a longer growing season so that means we already have cukes to harvest! The process of harvesting them was something we looked forward to every single day! Oh, and just remember that pickles are prickly so please wear gloves! Some were very short while others grew very crooked and we discussed the differences (and my daughter made her theories!). Some were consumed almost right away after a good scrubbing but most were put away for our original plan: Its Pickle Time!

I did most of the chopping and my daughter did most of the washing and we were both very eager to taste the end results. I wanted to use the easiest method for making pickles without having to deal with a lot of pots, wait time and mess. I found many ideas for “Microwave Pickles” and made my own that works for us! In about 15 minutes of wash, chop and nuke the cukes time we had our very own first jar of pickles! They were delicious!

The best thing about getting back to basics, including your kids in the process and having a delicious end result is that there is a lot to be enjoyed and learned along the way. My daughter isn’t too interested in cucumbers that we buy from the store but she wants an excuse to eat the homemade ones. Sure, she might not grow up to own her very own organic pickle company but she learns so much without even knowing it.

This is going to quickly become a regular project with my child care kids and we will easily be able to pick enough in one day to have for lunch. Even if you do not have a garden you can grow cukes in containers. You also don’t even have to grow your own to benefit from these ideas. Sometimes reading books about gardens and adding fun crafts can be enough! You can buy cucumbers and still have the kids learn how to turn them into pickles!

Below is a recipe for Microwave Pickles:

INGREDIENTS
5 – 8 small cucumbers.. slice them!
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
4 peeled garlic cloves *
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds *
1/4 teaspoon celery seed *
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric *

1.Mix all the ingredients and place them in a medium sized microwave safe bowl.
2.Microwave on high 7 to 8 minutes until cucumbers are tender and onion is translucent. I stop it every 2 – 3 minutes and give it a good stir!
3.Transfer to a sterile mason jar. Seal and chill in the refrigerator until serving.
* I find these ingredients to be optional and depends on what flavors you like. I personally just add the garlic and omit the rest. Its not that I don’t like the way it tastes with all the ingredients but I find that the kids all prefer it without them. So, use your own judgment! Plus, if you do not have all these ingredients you do not have to go out and buy them. They taste great without them!