Maybe it’s the school teacher in me, but from the time my kids were small I tried to ‘sneak in’ learning activities. I knew they would truly learn in pre-K and beyond. I knew I wanted them to play and be kids until that time. But I also knew from years of teaching the importance of building and reinforcing educational skills.
Since I spent a decade in special education I had a lot of creative ways to teach kids using the various senses, such as touch and sight. I still enjoy making up ‘games’ with the kids or turning our homework now into creative learning experiences. For instance, if you visit us during multiplication fact memorization you’ll likely find post-it notes of varying colors plastered around the house displaying multiplication facts: on mirrors, walls, the bed pillows. Or you might be asked to sit down and play a fun multiplication game with the family, using a Candy Land board, of course!
Here are a few of our favorite ways to teach important learning skills with our kids. For the most part, they can be adapted for various skills and age levels. Have fun!
Shaving Cream. Grab a can of shaving cream, spray it on your table, and have fun spelling your weekly spelling words in the goo! Not there yet? Fine! Practice writing your name, the letters, or numbers. Practice drawing shapes. Practice adding one digit numbers. Kids love to get messy and this is a great way to do it in the name of learning!
Food. I don’t do a lot with sweets since we try not to eat a lot of sugar, but you can do a variety of learning activities with food like Cheerios, pretzels, orange slices, and so forth. Try adding or multiplying by setting the pieces of food in groups. Subtract by setting out a few and then eating a couple to figure out how many are left. Little kids might enjoy counting Cheerios and then eating them after. Beyond math, you can use food to spell out words (think: your name in Cheerios!). You can ‘draw’ shapes with the food items.
Songs for memorization. We do this all the time with facts for tests with my third grader. We incorporate movement as well. For instance, the vocabulary word might be erode. The definition – washing away of dirt and soil. We might make up a quick dance movement that ‘shows’ eroding and pair it with a song. The dance move might be my daughter standing in one spot and then jumping back a little at a time as the soil beneath her erodes. The words might be “Get back, Get back, The ground’s eroding today.” Something simple and easy to remember but creative enough to stick for test time. Little kids might like learning ABCs this way (which is why we have the ABC song!). Pair it with movement. “A is for alligator, chomp chomp!” and make arm movements.
Board games. This works well with older kids. Right now we are in the midst of preparing for the state standardized tests. Our teacher sent home a study packet, so we created a board game using poster board and game pieces. Cards have questions that relate to the testing questions. Make this a game everyone in the family can play by adding questions suitable for your other children. (For instance, my youngest is learning addition, so we are incorporating math facts and she has her own stack of cards).
Image via Flickr/PlaSmart Inc