Thursday, June 25, 2009

Video of Fun Room FILLED with Hands-On Learning Tools!

Do I have a fun job or what? Get an inside look at Learning Resources headquarters!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Help Your Kids KNOW They are Capable of Greatness

Lift them up. Make them feel they can do anything. Video:

Oh, and please look past the fact that the video is from Budweiser, who also makes non-alcoholic beer, BTW. ;)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

10 Ways to Improve a Child's Handwriting

Many educators no longer consider handwriting a crucial skill because technology has changed our world. (When’s the last time you wrote a letter by hand? So, keep this skill in perspective.) Most of us, even kids, can communicate faster using a keyboard/keypad rather than with handwriting. (My cousin’s 12-year old scored 88 WPM on one of those just-for-fun typing quizzes on Facebook!)

Nonetheless, the skill of handwriting is still somewhat important. There’s evidence that children who write better and faster get better grades. However, remember that good handwriting is not an indicator of success. Look at your doctor’s handwriting!

Before trying to help a child who’s experiencing handwriting difficulties, determine if the issue’s physical or cognitive. If the child struggles with fine motor skills or forming letters, the problem is likely physical. If the child can’t remember how to form a letter of the alphabet or takes too long deciding what to write, there could be a cognitive issue.

Most handwriting problems are physical. Fine motor practice helps, but gross motor play is equally important. After all, many experts believe the increase in handwriting problems (1 in 3 kids struggle now) is tied to the decreased physical activity of today’s children. Handwriting involves body posture, and proper use of hands, arms, head, and eyes! If you suspect your child is having physical difficulties, try these activities:

1. Bilateral, outdoor play activities
Reduce time in front of the computer and video games in favor of outdoor play! Playing “human wheelbarrow”, crawling, and climbing help connect the motor-neural pathways needed for handwriting.

2. Game time & clap songs!
Engage kids in games that require hand-eye coordination such as Operation (tweezer games), Skeletons in the Closet, badminton, tennis, baseball, or go “old-school” with pick-up sticks, jacks, and marbles. Betcha your little ones know these fun clap songs too: Miss Mary Mack and Down, Down Baby (…down by the rollercoaster…)

3. Lil’ “Iron Chefs”
Cook with your kids. Let them knead dough, roll it out, cut it with cookie cutters, and pick up food with tongs. On days when you don’t want to deal with the mess, kids can use a pretend baking set.

4. Artsy fartsy
Creative activities that involve paper cutting, folding (origami), gluing, and drawing hardly feel like fine motor practice! Give them lots of opportunities to draw with various instruments—pencils, colored pencils, markers, gel pens, crayons, pastels, and calligraphy pens. Sculpting with play dough or clay is also good (kneading, pushing, pulling, and cutting).

5. Civilized diners
Make it a house rule to use silverware at every meal. Yes, the family will look very sophisticated on pizza or burger night. ;) Also try chopsticks some nights!

6. Dressing skills
Lacing, tying, buttoning and snapping are important life skills that can help strengthen some of the same muscles used for handwriting. Use clothes, shoes, or doll clothes for these activities, or entice kids with fun toys that teach the same skills.

7. Finger writing
Have kids practice writing with their fingers in, or on, different textures—shaving cream smeared on the table, play dough, clay, or sand. (For extra help, they can use letter molds as a starting point or trace their fingers over magnetic letters.)

8. The “write” environment
Make sure your child has a good chair and table at the right height for comfortable writing. Demonstrate how to sit with correct posture, rest your arms on the table, hold the writing instrument, and keep your torso in the right position.

9. “Uh, thank ya, thank ya very much.” (Elvis voice)
Get kids into a habit of writing handwritten thank you cards for gifts they receive.

10. Explicit handwriting practice
Help kids learn to write both legibly and quickly (handwriting fluency) with repeated practice using different kinds of pencils (different thicknesses and grips). Letter stamps and line-ruled paper, journals, or dry-erase boards can offer even more support.

If you try these techniques without success, consult a professional—your child’s teacher, school reading specialist, and/or an occupational therapist. Your child may need physical therapy or help overcoming a learning disability which is causing cognitive difficulties.

Just remember that not all cognitive issues indicate a learning disability. Sometimes kids simply have trouble remembering letter shapes, deciding what to write about, or taking too long to include too many details when they write. Your child’s teacher can give you some simple ways to tackle these cognitive issues.

Whatever your child’s struggles with handwriting, help her to not be self-conscious about it. People tend to think of handwriting as reflections of themselves. Help your child realize that she will get better with practice (and probably with age), and that it’s okay that her writing isn’t a masterpiece now!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

5 Recycled Multisensory Learning Games

1. Talk Box (ages 2-6)
Make It: Get crafty and glam up the outside of an old tissue box. Then, make picture cards by pasting magazine photos on index cards cut in half. Use a mix of photos--some objects and some activities (a family eating dinner, kids playing ball, girl brushing her teeth, etc.) Place one photo on each side of the cards. (Hint: make them double sided for even more game possibilities.)

Play It: Kids draw 2-3 pics from the box and must tell a story using them all. The idea is to get kids to develop oral language skills (talking and listening), but they could write their stories instead. Award points for originality and inclusion of all objects into the story. The highest-scoring storyteller wins! Younger children or low-profiency English language learners can practice vocabulary by identifying pictures or matching like objects. Students with special needs, such as autism, can use the cards for communication purposes. (You can lay out the pictures and allow a child to point to what he/she is trying to tell you rather than vocalizing it.)

2. Mystery Reading Treasure Chest (ages 3-10)
Make It: Secretly select a book you'd like to read with your children. Familiarize yourself with it and collect clues (objects) you feel represent the story well. For example, for Charlotte's Web, you might gather a plastic spider ring, plush pig and a picture of a farm cut out of a magazine. Place the objects in a shoe box with the lid shut tight until it's time to play! For added effect, decorate the "treasure chest" beforehand with paint, glitter and jewels.

Play It: Let children remove one clue from the treasure chest without peeking at the other contents. Discuss what everyone already knows about the object (prior experiences, etc.) Repeat this for all clues, one by one. Next, see if kids can predict which title they're about to read or what the story will be about. (If a child guesses the book's title, he/she can select the book to read next time and bring in some clues from home to put in the treasure chest.) Only one thing left to do now--reveal the mystery title and read it together! Variation: have kids write their own stories to be featured.

3. Shake the Can Math Game
(ages 5-12)
Make It: Using construction paper and markers, decorate an empty oatmeal container. Wipe out the inside and toss in some dominoes (or dice).

Play It: Kids shake the can, dump out some dominoes and do math problems with the numbers they toss. Advanced kids can multiply and divide, while younger kids can add, subtract or simply count! For added reinforcement and challenge, have children write their equations on paper or see how many equations they can create and solve in only 2 minutes (get out a kitchen timer). This is a great way to make otherwise boring math drills much more multisensory!

4. Tater Toss Word Game (ages 5-12)
Make It: Use a slightly damp and soapy cloth to gently clean the inside of an empty potato chip cannister (the cylindrical ones that hold evil tasty taters you should enjoy only in moderation). After you've wiped off the greasiness, run around the block 8 times to remove the grease from inside your arteries! Now back to the game...use craft paint and stickers to decorate the cannister. Throw in word tiles from a game you already have (Scrabble, Upwords) or even magnetic letters.

Play It: Kids take turns tossing the "taters" and making words with the letters they roll. Many ability-levels can play together since each individual child can build words at his/her own level. Pre-readers can simply say aloud the names of the letters or pronounce the sounds each letter makes instead. So you see, this spud game teaches the alphabet, phonics, word building and spelling all in one!

5. Touchy Feely Box (ages 3-8)
Make It: Decorate an empty tissue box any way you'd like. Go on an exploration and gather nature souveniers from your trip--leaves, rocks, pine cones, wild flowers, etc. Place all your souveniers in the box.

Play It: This one is real simple. Kids reach in and try to guess what the object is that they grab. They can describe what they feel first or ask you 20 questions and hope that the answers they get help them make a more educated guess! Sensory activities are beneficial and fun for all kids but especially for early learners and those who may have special needs.