Friday, November 30, 2012

Elementary Activities: Practicing Honesty When Receiving Gifts

By Tiffany Rudd
If you read our posts here and here about lying, you know that we've really tried to teach our kids to be honest and create an environment where they are free to tell the truth. This does, however, sometimes cause a slight problem when it comes to the holidays and gift receiving. 

A few years ago my sweet, talkative and usually very honest son, was constantly creating awkward moments with his unintentionally unkind reactions to presents. Responses like "I already have one of these!" or "This isn't really what I wanted," were pretty embarrassing. 

I remember debating what to do and being stumped, because, really, teaching him to tell a lie like, "This is the best gift I've ever gotten!" wouldn't exactly teach a life lesson I was happy about.

 Luckily, I read an article about teaching kids how to receive gifts (maybe in Family Fun?) and realized that cringe worthy honesty and lying weren't the only two options. The next day our annual "Gift Receiving Practice Night" was born. I gathered a gift bag for each member of the family and instructed everyone to run around the house and choose any object to "give" as a gift. Then we traded bags and took turns opening them up. We talked about looking for honestly kind things we could say about each item and the right way to say thank you. For example, when you open up a dish towel, you don't mention how boring it may be, but you don't lie and say you'll have fun playing with it either. You may comment on how much you love the color or how soft it feels, or how great it will be for drying the dishes. Anything positive but still honest. 
It turned about to be incredibly fun and it is still one of our favorite holiday kick-off traditions. The kids have fun picking items, like toothbrushes, that they know will be tricky to be positive about and we always get a good laugh out of some silly comments. But, the best part is, we haven't had an embarrassing response to a gift since our first practice night!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Preschool Activities: Letter of the Week {Ff}

By Tiffany Rudd
Snack Ideas:
      * Fruit Faces: I found the idea for these fruit faces here. Both Brooklyn and Anniston love these and Brooklyn loves to help make them. Since kids eat fun food so much quicker, I've started including vegetable faces with lunch too. Even they have been a hit.
Favorite Books:
      * The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister - This is one of my favorite books to read aloud to my kids and my preschoolers. It is such a cute story that also teaches an important lesson on friendship. With my preschool class we usually color or paint a rainbow fish like this one and add glitter paint. I just saw the idea for this one made out an old CD on pinterest and I think I'll have to try this one next year. Super cute.
      * The Foot Book by Dr Seuss
      * Paper Plate Frogs - All you need for this fun craft is a paper plate, some markers or paint (unless you happen to have a green paper plate), a little construction paper and a red party blower. First cut a hole big enough for the blower in the middle of the plate. Then just have your preschooler paint or color one side of the plate green and the other red. Add pop-up construction paper eyes and the red party blower and you have a super cute and fun frog.
      * Footy Fish - I just saw this super cute idea over at Happy Day Preschool. Just a simple footprint turned into a fun and cute fish.
      * I also love this Feather Cover Letter F Craft. If you don't have any, you can buy cheap feathers at Oriental Trading. There are so many fun educational activities with feathers, one of these days I'll have to do a separate post.
      * Fish Pond - Deb posted this fun activity last summer. It is always a favorite and it a great way to review shapes, colors and numbers. You can also print out these alphabet fish to review the letters and their sounds. Click on the photo below to read the whole post.
      * Click on the photos to print out your Ff Flash Card and Writing Practice Worksheet
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Toddler Activities: Santa Countdown Calendar

By Deborah Pace Rowley

It is so fun to share the Christmas season with toddlers who are just starting to understand the whole magical event. This can also challenging because they want to participate in all aspects of the holiday but many things are too fragile and too breakable for little hands. I have always tried to have a toddler-friendly advent calendar that was just for the youngest children in our family. This kept them excited and involved and kept me from worrying about our fancier advent tree with heirloom ornaments.

The easiest type of advent calendar for toddlers involves cotton balls that can be glued onto Santa's beard-- one for each day. This is an example of a calendar I used with Melissa and Shannon.

For their calendar I had placed a heart around every third or fourth day. For example--- there was a heart around the 4th, 7th, 11th, 14th, 18th and 21st. On the days that had a heart, we did something special such as going to see Santa at the mall or shopping for a present for Daddy. Sometimes I had wrapped a new Christmas coloring book or a new Christmas DVD that they could open on the day with the heart. Spacing out the celebration by adding hearts to the calendar helped make the long wait until Santa arrived a little bit easier.

I have included a printable Santa Countdown Calendar for you here.  All you need to do if you want to add mini celebrations is choose 6 dates spaced throughout the month and draw a heart around those dates on the calendar. Check your schedule and choose dates that are relatively free if you are planning an outing. Visit the dollar store and wrap up 6 small gifts if you prefer that option or choose a combination of the two.

Now all you need are cotton balls and a glue stick. Put up the calendar at toddler eye level and help your child stick on one cotton ball first thing each morning as her or she gets out of bed. This is a great time to practice numbers. You can also help your toddler count how many days are left before Christmas or the next heart. Hopefully this calendar will help the days fly by! Christmas will be here before they know it. (Isn't that right, Moms.....?!*&#)

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Elementary Activities: Squeak, Piggy, Squeak

By Deborah Pace Rowley
One of our favorite games to play around the holidays is "Squeak, Piggy, Squeak. This was another fun game that I discovered in Family Fun magazine. We like to play this game after a family dinner when we have lots of victims and all the adults are in the mood to relax on the couch but the kids still need to be entertained. Once again, games like this are great teaching tools. This game particularly can help shy children become more comfortable in awkward social settings. Then of course, there is the lesson on how to disguise your voice. That skill that will be valuable for......prank calling? Oh, never mind!
All you need is a blindfold and a couch cushion. Blindfold one person. Once It is blindfolded, have family members switch seats and move around on the couch or on chairs that have been set in a circle. Give It a pillow and gently lead him or her over to the edge of the couch. He or she must move down the couch and use the pillow to sit on someone's lap. (The pillow is in place so that you can't tell who you are sitting on based on the size or shape of the lap.) Once It has sat down, he says, "Squeak, Piggy, Squeak!" The person he is sitting on then must make a pig noise that is designed to be as deceptive as possible and disguise his or her voice. It then tries to guess who the pig is. If It guesses correctly, then the person he guessed becomes it. If It guesses incorrectly, he must move on to another lap and try again.
The funniest thing about this game is how hard it is to keep from laughing while you try to squeak. Invariably we give ourselves away by the giggle and the oink! Try it this Thanksgiving with your family and see.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Preschool Activities: Our Top 10 Favorite Educational Gifts {For Preschoolers}

By Tiffany Rudd
Now that we've posted our favorite educational gifts for elementary age kids and toddlers, it's time for preschoolers!! Obviously, as a preschool teacher, 3 & 4 year olds are special to me. There are so many fun and educational toys for this age, I'm excited to share my favorites with you.

1. Pretend Play Cash Register and Play Money: These are hands down the most used toys in my preschool. My kids love and use them a lot too. I love how good they are at encouraging imaginative play, which is so important at this age. We've had stores, ice cream shops, restaurants, garage sales and even an animal hospital using these fun toys.

2. Play Kitchen: You'll notice that there are quite a few toys on my list that encourage imaginative play. I've read study after study showing the benefits of creative play. Our play kitchen is another toy that encourages imagination and gets a lot of use at our house. And, it doesn't have to be a super expensive version to be fun. We own this American Plastics Homestyle Kitchen which is $30 at Walmart and has worked great.
3. Letter Factory Phonics: I've mentioned in the past how much I love the LeapFrog Letter Factory movie. We own the Fridge Phonics set that goes with it and love it just as much. We use them constantly to practice letters and their sounds, build words, and practice alphabetical order. Brooklyn asks to play with them alone a lot too. They also have a set called Letter Factory Phonics that isn't magnetic.
4. Butterfly Garden: I promise your child will absolutely love watching caterpillars grow and then turn into butterflies in this super fun toy. We've re-ordered caterpillars 3 times now and it is always a hit!
5. Games: Games are fantastic for learning while having fun and practicing social skills. Zingo, Sequence for Kids, and Uno Moo are a few of the favorites at my house.
6. Lacing Beads: Lacing is a great way for preschoolers to develop the fine motor skills needed for cutting and holding a pencil correctly. We have a cute Melissa & Doug Set similar to these Lacing Beads in a Box that get used constantly. This Wooden Bead Set and these Lacing Cards would be great too.
7. See & Spell: Brooklyn is just starting to sound out and show interest in writing. We have an old set of these spelling cards that she asks to play with quite a bit. It's fun to see her skills improving.
8. Pattern Blocks: This is yet another classic that is always popular with my preschoolers. You can even print out and laminate new cards to go with them for free here.
9. Pretend Play School Kit: Playing school is a favorite at our house. We have this School Set and it has been loved and well worn.
10. Pretend Play Dr Kit: Okay, just one more imaginative play toy, I promise. :) We got this inexpensive Fisher Price Medical Kit when our oldest was 3 or 4 and it still gets constant use. Like I keep saying, the classics are classic for a reason. If your looking for a little bigger set, this one from Learning Resources looks super cute.
Well, I hope these lists help with your Christmas shopping this year. Happy Thanksgiving and happy shopping! :)
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Toddler Activities: Our Top 10 Favorite Educational Gifts {For Toddlers}

By Tiffany Rudd
On Friday, I listed our Top 10 Favorite Educational Gifts for elementary age kids. Today I'm super excited to list our favorite educational gifts for toddlers! I know they call it the terrible twos, but this is one of my favorite ages. It is so fun to watch Anniston explore and learn new things every day. She is so inquisitive, her vocabulary is expanding constantly, and she is enthralled by even the simplest of toys. So, here are 10 toys that will keep your toddler learning and exploring this year.

1. Shape Sorting Blocks: You'll notice that this list will be missing anything computerized or really even requiring batteries. Not that our kids don't ever use those things, we just both believe that they aren't usually the best educational toys. This is another situation where you realize that the "classics" are just that for a reason. Most of these toys have been around for generations because they really are the best at helping develop little minds and imaginations. I've had these Fisher Price sorting blocks since Cameron was a baby. All of my toddlers have loved them! Right now Anniston just loves to dump them out and then fit them back into the right holes. As the kids have gotten older we've created games where I call out colors or shapes for them to add to the box, or they instruct me. They have definitely been well worth the $10 I spent on them 6 years ago. If you are looking for a wooden version Melissa & Doug makes a cute one. They also make a Stack & Sort Board that is similar.
2. Ring Stacker: This is another "classic" that I bought when my oldest was little. The rings have been bracelets, anklets and even baby teethers (and therefore have also been disinfected plenty), and they are still going strong. This is great for fine motor development, sorting skills, and color recognition.
3. Peg Puzzles: Children can often do peg puzzles as early as 18 months and they are great for hand-eye coordination and fine motor development. This Animal Sounds Puzzle from Melissa & Doug has been a favorite with all of my toddlers. Oops, I guess this one does require batteries. :)
4. Blocks: All of my toddlers have loved blocks and being able to stack blocks is considered an important developmental milestone. Most kids should be able to stack a tower of 5 or 6 blocks by 18 months. This ABC Block Cart from Melissa & Doug is super cute. Although, I prefer soft blocks like these Squeeze Blocks since toddlers will pretty much throw anything. :)

5. Caterpillar Gears: Anniston was given this cute Caterpillar Gears board for her 1st Birthday and even I have been surprised at how often she plays with it. It has color coordinated pegs so she is practicing color recognition and matching, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and basic cause and effect.
6. Farm and Animals: This is another classic that each of my kids have loved from 18 months all the way to 5-6. Sets like this are perfect for developing little imaginations. Our set is the Fisher Price Little People Farm, but Melissa & Doug also makes a super cute wooden set.
7. Age Appropriate Art Supplies: There isn't much better for developing creativity and fine motor skills than a blank piece of paper and some art supplies. Oversized paper like this Big Drawing Paper Pad is best for little hands because it stays put a little better. We've gone through a few sets of these Triangle Crayons by Melissa & Doug. They are perfect for little hands, help encourage correct "pencil hold" and don't roll away like regular crayons. Crayola also makes a set. I've never actually used these Do-A-Dot Markers, but have always wanted a set and am thinking about getting some for Anniston this Christmas. Any opinions?
8. Bilibo: I'm thinking about one of these for Anniston this year as well. It's really just a rounded piece of plastic, but I love the though of it being a totally open-ended "toy." If you have one I'd definitely love to hear what you think!
9. Learn To Dress Animals: We have an ancient stuffed animal similar (but not quite as cute) as these and I'm thinking he needs replaced this year. It has gotten so much use over the years and it's zippers, buttons and ties are nearly worn out.
10. Fabric Books: We obviously love books and although I love board books for little ones, I think fabric is even better! The textures and movement of fabric books are perfect for little toddler hands and more durable. Anniston has a fabric bunny book that is her absolute favorite and gets carried around the house all day long. It is starting to look worn, so I'm thinking about this cute Peek A Baby book and this Fishy Tails book for her stocking this year.
I hope this list gives you some ideas. Happy Shopping! :)
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Elementary Activities: Our Top 10 Favorite Educational Gifts {For Elementary Age Kids}

By: Tiffany Rudd

If you're like me, Thanksgiving doesn't just mean turkey and pie, it also means the beginning of Christmas shopping. With Black Friday and, my preferred, Cyber Monday just around the corner it's time to get going!

Since we have 9 kids between us and a few Christmases of experience, we thought we'd share a list of our favorite educational gifts for each age group. Some of these are favorites from the past, some of them are favorites right now, and some of them are on our wish lists for this year. Hopefully you'll find one or two that will get your elementary age child excited about learning this year!

1. Books! Of course, we have to start with our all time favorite gift...The Knights of Right book series by M'Lin Rowley (Deborah's daughter). Whether you have an avid reader, or a struggling reader, there is nothing better than a book series to keep a child reading. These books are entertaining and teach important life lessons at the same time.
2. Mind Games: My son loves games, so I'm always looking to find games that are fun but also stretch and challenge his mind. Two of his favorites right now are Spot It! and Hoppers Jr.
He's loved the Hoppers game so much that this year, I'm considering getting him this Rush Hour game. Deborah's two youngest also love to play Chess together. This No Stress Chess set would be perfect for a beginner.
3. Science Kits: If your child is interested in science, there are so many fun kits to get him/her experimenting. This year I've been eyeing this Big Bag of Science by Steve Spangler and this Pop Bottle Science kit. These Scientific Explorer Kits are especially fun! They have Disgusting Science, Spa Science, Tasty Science, and even Magnificent Manicure Science. Brooklyn is my experimenter, so she'll definitely be getting some of these in the future.
4. Craft Kits: A few years ago when Brooklyn was born Deborah's girls had gotten a knitting kit for Christmas. I got the funnest packages in the mail and my baby girl had the cutest knit hats. There are so many fun craft kit options like Knot a Quilt, Crochet Art, a Friendship Bracelet Kit, or even Shrinky Dinks Deluxe. Shrinky Dinks were a huge hit with Deborah's 10 year old last Christmas.
5. Fashion Design Kits: Deborah's daughter Shannon loved anything to do with fashion design growing up. Here favorite gift was one similar to this Fashion Studio. The Melissa & Doug Fashion Design Activity Kit is one of Brooklyn's favorite activities.
6. Art Kits: Sometimes the best gifts encourage open-ended creativity like this Art Supply Set or Crayola's Model Magic Set.
7. Mystery Games: Cameron loves clues and mysteries, so I know one day he will love Benjamin's Mystery Deck, this TriTective Game, or these Choose Your Own Adventure books (I loved these growing up!). They also make Bella's Mystery Deck for girls.
8. Word Games: I already mentioned that Cameron is into basically any game. Since his reading and writing is getting better and better, I'm looking for fun word games this year. I've heard great things about Bananagrams and this HedBanz Game.
9. Cooking Sets: Deborah's daughter Natalie has always been into cooking and baking, so her favorite gifts growing up were cooking sets like this Curious Chef Cupcake Set, or this My Chocolate Boutique.
10. Building Sets: I know they are old-school, but Lego and Erector Sets are classics for a reason! :) And, now that Lego finally clued in and made their Lego Friends sets they are even more accessible to boys and girls.

Okay, so technically that was a few more than 10! :) In creating this list, we came to the conclusion that the key to picking an educational gift for older kids is finding things that fit their interests. As a parent it doesn't get much better than finding a gift that gets loved and played with and also helps your child learn and grow!

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