Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Duplos and more...

We dug out a box of Duplos (intermediate sized Legos for toddler size fingers and coordination) that were mine (holy cow?!) when I was a preschooler and bought a box to replace any missing or broken pieces which has been a popular item lately. So far the kids like to build towers, but S has started to build other things as well so I thought an activity with a hole punch and card stock might be in order.... (As seen at Filth Wizardry, what a fun idea!!)

I gave the kids (well, mostly Sophia, b/c Maggie is still struggling a bit to put together the Legos at all on her own, though she will happily take apart anything I put together for her...) some cut-out shapes with punch holes placed such that they can place them over the Lego "nubs" to build new structures or animals. We looked at this page  for some inspiration.

Unfortunately, once we got set up at the table with out card stock and hole punch (and bucket of Legos) we found that our standard old hole punch was just a bit too small to make properly sized holes for the Legos. sigh. In any case, mommy was able to rescue the day by jamming the paper over the Lego nubbies, but it was not really something S was going to manage on her own so we put everything away (except our marvellous tree of course, which became part of some sort of game involving a zebra, hippo, panda and a squeaky ball that took turns jumping onto the greenery...) to try again tomorrow, after an expedition to a craft store hunting for a larger than normal hole punch. I wonder what we will find? Will report back.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Zingo! (Bingo?)

Zingo! is another really surprisingly fun game we got this Christmas. Our new family tradition is to spend Christmas Eve together relaxing and playing games, so we let each of the kids open a gift from Mom & Dad that happened to be a game (rather than book or toy).

The idea behind Zingo! is basically bingo, but with a nifty little (durable) gadget that you slide back and forth to get tiles printed with pictures of objects (with their names printed below in nice clear block letters that little kids can associate with the object, and eventually sound out themselves).

When each set of 2 tiles slides out of the dispenser everyone around the table quickly looks at their game card/board and shouts out the object that matches one they need. There are variations to game play, like fill the entire card to win, fill just a row of 3 objects, a diagonal, etc, etc.... Also, each card has a red side and a green side, the green side is apparently easier for younger kids to win b/c the cards have fewer objects that coincide (leading to someone not getting their tile) but the red side is a bit more competitive and fun b/c you have to be fast and shout out for you tile before anyone else.

Even 21 month old M has gotten in on the fun by having her own board and getting tiles than no one else needs in exchange for telling us what she thinks the objects are. (The "CUP" is apparently "TEA", I wonder where she picked that

I am very impressed with the build quality of this game, all of it seems quite durable. We have played every single day since Christmas Eve, probably averaging 4 games a day, and there has been no hint of anything that might break any time soon, and, most important, it remains very fun. (Even for the grownups, which is, let me tell you, really saying something.)

Friday, December 25, 2009


One of the top items of Christmas 2009 at our home was this unassuming little box of blocks. Wedgits are appropriate for even much smaller siblings (no choking hazards!) and easy to put together into all kinds of fun and interesting towers and shapes. We also got a stack of cards with pictures showing structures to build in increasing levels of difficulty, rather like 3-D tangrams. S flew through the beginner levels, but I suspect that the more challenging ones will take some thought and perhaps parent assistance. Fun for everyone!

Also, judging from the "free play" that S has been doing with these all day they will be helpful in sequencing/size concepts as well as interesting balance/motor skills and spatial relations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Family Math

This summer my mom sent us a copy of Family Math, probably to alleviate my fears that S was not counting "properly" due to some sort of negligence on my part. When we tried the first "beginner" exercise in August it was a bit of a bust b/c we were still having a lot of trouble counting in sequence. I still don't quite understand why S had such trouble getting numbers in order, (letters did not seem to present the same difficulty) but seemingly overnight (maybe over a few days at most) she just "got it" even though we had pretty much stopped practicing or stressing about it at all, and now she can go past 10 (up to 17 I think now?) out of the blue. I had no idea she knew numbers in the teens! Anyway, during the summer we tried a couple of times to do "school" (S was antsy for school even then b/c some friends had been talking about pre-school and we visited one just to see) and opted for the "counting beans into an egg carton" activity, which did not go well. S got frustrated (I  got frustrated!) trying to count out beans and place them in the proper (labeled) cups in an egg carton. So we left it for a few months, and I just dug the book back out to flip through and see if there was anything more promising for us to try.

I am pleased with a few ideas for "beginners" and plan to implement them as we go along, but most of the book is geared toward older kids. A couple of things intended for more advanced levels actually may be interesting for us to try in a simplified way, I am pondering some ideas. (Venn diagrams for sorting shapes and colors?) We will for sure be using some of the handy graph paper with varying size grids to play with shape blocks and measuring areas/length. I was already planning on some activities with measuring/area using cuisenaire rods or pattern blocks and other objects, but this will add another dimension.

I also really like their suggestion of "Number Guess" which entails choosing a number between 1 and 10 (for beginners, choose a larger range for more advanced kids) and have them guess the number based on clues in your responses. ("too large/too small") You can print out a number line to help cement the concept of larger vs. smaller and number sequence, even use markers/objects to show areas that have been ruled out and narrow the field down.

Another activity that holds a lot of promise is the Animal Crossing game, though I think it will be even more fun to make our own board and movable "hazards" that Sophia and Maggie can both color in and help design, and maybe hunt down appropriate "tokens" in their bin of animals and other toys. This could be made more or less complicated as desired by expanding the board and adding extra hazards and maybe even areas that can be crossed if you choose but will require extra turns to do so, etc...I'll make a post with pictures whenever we get around to doing this one. (as well as a version of NIM with toothpicks...lots of logic games!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

4 First Games

S received a fantastic gift for her birthday of a Ravensburger games set called "4 First Games". I love how colorful the boards and cards/pieces are, and they seem to be of a nice quality which is a bit of a change from most small children's games and products. Each game has an objective that is quite basic so even a very young toddler can grasp the concept, and there are "versions" of rules which you can apply based on how advanced/quickly bored your particular little one gets during activities with waiting and repetition.The great thing about board games (or any interactive activity w/objects like dice and cards, etc...) is that you can alter game play to suit yourselves, and during your interaction you can learn a lot about how your child picks up skills and social interaction.Simply placing the cards on the board to set up is a lot of fun for S (maybe the "activity-ness" of the whole project?), I think it's good for fine motor skills as well.

In this set of games there are no pieces requiring reading or counting so it is perfect for kids who do not yet have these skills down, and it lets them achieve goals and participate fully just by rolling a die with colored sides and moving pieces around the boards, or picking up cards with pictures or colors to indicate their use.

The Bird's Nest is the quickest game board to get to the "finish line" on, and though it can be frustrating if you don't roll the proper color to move each turn we have gotten around this easily by just moving to whatever space is the color you roll even if it is not toward the "nest", and by playing in a sort of "co-op" mode (which works in almost all instances like this) where we are all trying to help the other players move their pieces forward, or pick up cards, or what have you. Rolling the die without really slamming it across (and off!) the table took some practice, but after a while it wasn't a problem. In the interim it was helpful to place a barrier (stack of puzzle and game boxes strategically set up around game play area) to the edge of the table.

Garden Party is a nice co-op appropriate game set up because each player can choose their own "garden plot" in which to place colored flower cards as they roll the appropriate color, or we can give each other flowers as we roll for them and help fill up all the flower beds.We also allow a re-roll of the die if you get green instead of losing your turn b/c there are no green colored blossoms. S gets frustrated if she loses turns much or otherwise is not making progress like other players are. This is another pretty quick game, but it occurred to me that it could last longer if we were to make an extra row of flowers to add on to the bottom of each garden and make extra flower cutouts. you could even add an extra die with other colors and alternative flower card choices...

King of the Castle seems like a simple and straightforward game, but S definitely had some trouble maintaining "forward" (clockwise) motion around the spiral, often skipping to a block of the correct color but many places ahead or behind of the block that was "next" in line. I didn't come up with a simple fix for this so we just gently corrected her placement, and are pretty much waiting on playing this more often until she gets a bit older. We also immediately altered the "landing on another player's square bumps them off of it" rule so as not to keep the (already much more involved than previous games) longer play from becoming more frustrating than fun.

Sizzling Sausages is my personal favorite, but it is still a bit difficult for S to keep up with. I did find that by gently reminding her or giving visual cues (putting my finger on the rows that were appropriate to choose movement on) she had pretty much "gotten" it by the end of the game. I don't know how much she will have retained by the next time we play though. At least she didn't find it frustrating (I did just a bit, having to keep showing her which directions she could choose from though...) and actually she had much better luck picking up cards, so of course winning was probably a part of her glee with this particular set up. I think thee concept of "choice" can be difficult depending on how mature your child is, so this could be a quite useful game for developing certain directional (spacial?) concepts and making decisions with "next moves" in mind, though not necessary at all to playing successfully.  I was very touched when at the end of the game (S won of course!) she insisted on sharing some of her sausages with me. You could probably work out a co-op mode based on this "sausage collection" procedure going toward some sort of communal plate or something. (I like the competitive possibilities, but lots of kids are not ready for that much frustration.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

100 easy lessons...

This week has been a bit hectic (harhar!) what with a stray who appears to be named Jake (as per Sophia's insistence) who needs serious medical care has chosen us for a family. We started "Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons" by Siegfried Engelman, and so far it appears to be a nice short structured lesson that S loves. I think that the writing exercises at the end of each lesson are not particularly helpful, but if your child is just starting letters they may not be a bad thing. In our case I find they confuse S because she is already using all capitals and is very proficient at writing them, so the lower case "sounds" are new. Another issue is that S knows the letters by their names and this book has us using only "sounds" which so far is ok, but I can see how it could be better if one introduces letters/sounds as such from the beginning. I am not sure how one would do this though, perhaps if you successfully avoid television?

We are still enjoying playing with pattern blocks, but there are some new games I want to try with cuisenaire rods and we are waiting on a back order from "ETACuisenaire". I am far from pleased with this company right now, they failed to state that there were items in my cart that were back ordered, and then without permission sent a partial order and will charge me more later to send the rest of it. I will be calling them soon to explain that if I had know about this I wouldn't have ordered from them at all and would instead have gotten the items from other sources. We could have had our blocks and cuisenaire rods already if I had just bid on that vintage set on ebay!

Speaking of cuisenaire rods, my mom has started a blog about math games and activities for little kids which I have found helpful in jogging my memory (of my own homeschooling), and I think she is putting new ideas on there as well. You can read it here:

Edit to add: ETACuisenaire has redeemed themselves more or less, turns out they just packaged up everything separately and things are arriving in drips and drabs. Not wonderful, and very unclear/badly communicated "bills" that keep arriving, but the products appear to be arriving in a timely manner over the course of a few days.  I am happy to not have to fight with a billing dept or wait 3 months for blocks or something.

Friday, November 13, 2009


S recently turned 4 and has expressed a growing wish to participate in more formal "school" activities, so I suppose it is time to start!

Thus far we have been playing and reading and doing artsy craftsy stuff, and cooking and exploring nature, but mostly just playing and enjoying being little. S has memorized several of her favorite books and likes to read them aloud to M (20 months) and knows all the letters by name from periodic viewings of Super Why and Sesame Street presumably (I haven't done any specific "alphabet learning" regimen other than singing it in the car and making the letter's sounds and so forth when she asks.) and asking to see her name printed often (and then copying the letters) so I do think that if she wants to learn to read formally that this is an appropriate time. I do not subscribe to the notion that making information available to children that enables them to learn reading or other skills before a certain age is necessarily pushing them or damaging per se.

Today we played with pattern blocks and picture boards which were a huge hit! S loved getting to sit together at the big table making shapes out of other shapes (how many green triangles does it take to make a trapezoid? And a hexagon? etc...) and placing the shapes on the wooden boards with pictures painted on them. I was surprised at how coordinated she was at placing the blocks on the slippery wood and how quickly she put everything together. I had dithered a bit about weather to buy the wooden set or the magnetic one since I have heard of many kids getting frustrated by the blocks slipping around and having to put the pictures away until they get a bit older.

I also started reading "The Three R's" by Ruth Beechick which I am enjoying. It talks about how play and basic phonics introduction can happen with little pressure and some practical ways to integrate sounding words out in the most efficient manner. IE, use "a" as the first vowel sound once the child knows a a few consonants and teach them the short "a" b/c it appears this way 70% of the time. Try games and books like "Cat in the Hat" for practicing blending these basic sounds. I am looking forward to trying some of these ideas with S. She already spots letter shapes several times per day and excitedly says "look, that's like an "S"! My names has an "S"! sssss, sssss, ssssnake!" for example, so I hope adding a single vowel sound that appears often will be a rewarding and motivating experience for her. I can imagine how excited she will be when she can start spotting words and reading them on her own.