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Now that we’ve decided to homeschool our kids for the year, I have started scrambling to get supplies to keep our space organized, functional, and to promote enjoyable learning. I already feel like I’m one step behind, as things are more expensive than usual or only bulk quantities are available. The new chapter of pandemic shopping has arrived.
I have a bunch of friends who are also working to prepare their space for kids learning at home, and I thought it could be helpful to throw together a quick list of recommended supplies to have on hand at home. Here’s a collection of supplies I think can help keep your space organized, kids focused, and everyone a little more sane this year as we bunker down and get learning!
I’m assuming most kids will be starting off with distance learning (vs. homeschooling, where the parent is the main teacher), so this list is adjusted for that. If you’re on a tighter budget or short on space, I’ve suggested alternatives that can still help make things more functional without breaking the bank. Of course when it really comes down to it, the main must-have is probably the technology required to connect to the teacher and do the assignments, and I hope your school districts can provide that for you if needed! Here are more items that can help things run more smoothly at home.
Keeping the space organized
Rolling Utility Cart: This cart is key to clearing up valuable surface area on our shared desk and keeping our space feeling (more) zen. I also got a bunch of 4″ plant pots from IKEA and filled them with supplies. The top level holds our most frequently-accessed supplies: sharpened pencils, sharpies, paint brushes, colored pencils, crayons, markers. The lower levels hold other tools and supplies that we want handy: scissors, rulers, glue sticks, glue, stamp markers, etc.
A good alternative to a rolling cart is a desk caddy, like this one that is currently still available for $1.99 at Target! By the way, if you haven’t stocked up yet, Target is currently having their annual back to school sale, where you can get basic supplies like 2-prong folders, markers and glue for just $0.50!
Individual whiteboard: This is super handy to give kids a chance to practice writing words or math problems in a fun way (what kid doesn’t love writing on a whiteboard?) and keeps you from stressing out about them wasting paper. If you’re feeling fancy, there are magnetic boards with lined sides for younger kids. If you’re feeling super fancy, these Boogie Boards have been a hit with my kids (Christmas might be a good time to throw something novel into the mix)!
Clear pocket sleeves: These are related to whiteboards, but more versatile! You can stick a sheet of white paper inside and have a functional whiteboard. For a more budget-friendly option, just use a glossy sheet protector. I use these in addition to whiteboards because you can put in worksheets you plan to use over and over (100’s chart, multiplication problems, math templates, etc.) and save on paper and printing.
Book Bins: Give each child their own place to store their folders, writing, handouts, etc. A book bin is a super handy way to keep things together without having them flopping all about in a frustrating dumpy heap. Since I’ll be sharing the homeschool space with the kids this year, I also got this pretty one for myself to keep my frequently used teaching books and papers close by and organized. It also conveniently fits in our cube storage shelf (which I LOVE).
Paper organizer: This is definitely a “nice to have” item, and we survived just fine without it before we got one. But it makes paper organization soo nice! It’s important for kids to have easy access to basic, frequently used supplies like paper, sharpened pencils, erasers, etc. so this definitely helps with the flow throughout the school day. If this one is too big or you don’t anticipate using construction paper too often, a smaller tray organizer is great for the two basics: lined paper and white computer paper.
Pencil sharpener: We have a jar of sharpened pencils always at the ready. I got an electric pencil sharpener a while back and it’s still going strong, but can’t find it on Amazon anymore so I linked one that looks pretty similar. I like that it has a small footprint and that it comes with a replacement blade! For a less expensive alternative, I also specifically like these manual pencil sharpeners, which are currently $0.50 at Target!
Materials that directly support learning
If you plan to spend more time working on academic content alongside your child, here are some supplies you might like:
Base 10 Blocks (K-5): Remember these from elementary school? They are such a useful hands-on way for kids to understand place value and how numbers are built. I like how this set includes a thousands block. If you’re on a budget, this set will also do the job.
Gear Clock (K-5): When I taught fourth grade, I was always a little appalled to see how many students still struggled to understand how to read an analog clock. I mean, it is hard, and I’ve known grownups who still struggled to read clocks. So I’ve taken it upon myself to start teaching my kids how to read the clock, because two lessons in a math workbook over the course of the year are not enough to help them really get how it all comes together. This gear clock is a great tool since it directly shows the relationship between the minute hand progressing and the smaller but important movements of the hour hand.
Blank Hardcover Book (K-5): One of my favorite items to buy for my students each year were these blank hardcover books. They would pick their favorite published narrative story and we’d walk through the steps of getting the story from their lined paper and into this blank book. It took some planning, but the end result was always such a hit! Students were so proud of their final, hardcover products, and it was so much more exciting than stapling sheets of paper together. I think kids feel a lot more excited to write when they feel like they have an audience, and publishing their work in a book like this really makes them feel like “real” authors who are writing for others.
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (PreK+): I’ve blogged about this book before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again at this time. If you’re the parent of a kindergarten or first grade student, the main thing they *really* need to know by June is how to read. It is so foundational to everything else they will encounter at school that if I could only recommend one thing to a homeschooling parent concerned about kindergarten, it would be this book. More info in the blog post!
Other supplies I’ve gotten to support learning
So the following items are items I got for our family. I wouldn’t necessarily offer them as a blanket recommendation, since they are specific to the ways I want to teach and may not be relevant for your child’s stage of learning. But, feel free to peruse and check it out! I always like to see other people’s supply lists (the FOMO is strong haha) so now you can spy mine. I put an asterisk by the ones I am an especially big fan of.
*Toy Register (PreK-5): Kids can stare at pictures of money all day long, but give them some play money and let them practice buying things and it will be so much more meaningful. I also set up a poster the other night to help my kids see the relationship between the various coins and the dollar bill and I am weirdly excited to walk them through it and help them make “cents” of money. 😀
*Tangrams (K-5): These are great to improve spatial visualization, familiarity with shapes, comparing skills, and understanding of fractions. I used to do these in my mom’s classroom all the time, and it probably built up persistence and grit, too, since some of those puzzles were really hard for me to solve as a little kid.
*Geoboard (K-5): This is great for teaching shapes, symmetry, angles, fractions, and area.
Counting bears (Pre-K-1): For pre-k and primary kids. Useful to help with counting, comparing, making patterns, etc.
*Pattern Blocks (PreK-5): Great for developing familiarity with shapes, area, symmetry, and just good old fun designing.
*Fraction tiles and circles (1-5): I like to do the construction paper cutting version of these the first time around where the kids have a set of rainbow paper strips and we fold and cut them down, labeling each segment. However, for continued play I think these will be so much easier to manipulate. I made several magnetic sets of the circle ones when I was a teacher, and just ordered a rectangular set.
Hands-on Equations (3-5): My students always had fun “playing” with these sets and I have a feeling my kids will really enjoy figuring these out. It’s basically hands-on algebra, and even though it took a pandemic for me to pull the trigger on buying my own set, I’m really excited to teach it now!
Abacus (1-5): I watched a video on how to use an abacus and it looks really fun! I wanted to buy the pretty one from IKEA but they’re all sold out 🙁 My little cousin is an abacus whiz so maybe one day he can show my kids something cool.
Montessori Beads (preK-2): This is a very specific set of materials that honestly, I haven’t spent that much time figuring out how to use yet. But another teacher friend of mine loves them for her little one, so I thought I’d try them out. Will report back if they skyrocket to the top of my list this year!
I have other supplies here and there but they are very specific and these are the ones I wanted to highlight. Share this list with friends who are scrambling to buy school supplies and maybe the few of you can buy in bulk and save together! Or, take the extras (even I can’t imagine a use for six whiteboards) and make sweet back-to-school kits for your neighbors’ kids.
Regardless of how you and your family are doing school this year, I wish you the best and hope somehow we can all look back on this time and have fond, happy memories to recollect. I especially feel for the working parents who have to figure out how to juggle… everything. I honestly can’t even begin to imagine, and I am saying a general prayer for you all right now <3.
Like I mentioned earlier, I love to see what other people are getting, so do me a favor and drop a link to some of your favorite supplies or something you’re thinking of getting!
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“How was your day?”
“Did you… hang out with Nathan today?”
“What’d you have for lunch?”
Ok, this isn’t my reality yet, but I’ve been kind of dreading the likely day when it will be. While my kids are still 100% at the WE LOVE MOMMYYYYY!!! phase of childhood, bless their little hearts, I remember all too well the distanced teen I was to my own parents, and have already tried to brace Future Me for the inevitable emotional distance that older kids can bring.
But maybe there are ways to make that time a little better. Heck, there are days even now when the kids don’t have a lot to say about their days, even when I know exactly what to ask because I’m there for pretty much all of it, whether I really prefer that or not. Sometimes, I think it’s less an issue of unwillingness to talk as it is being out of practice.
Knowing how to share meaningful tidbits is like using various muscles: As a P.E. teacher, you wouldn’t only work with your kids on the the sit-and-reach all year and then expect them to excel at running the mile, sit-ups, and pull-ups during the testing. In the same way, if we keep asking kids the same question about their days, you can’t expect them to produce the really well-rounded, telling glimpses into their minds and hearts that you’re hoping for.
Can’t I just ask my kid a bunch of different questions, then?
I remember a while back my Pinterest feed was flooded with lists of alternative questions to ask kids at pick-up: What is something that made you laugh today? Who is someone that made you smile? Who did you sit next to during lunch time? What did you play during recess? Did anything make you feel scared today? Brilliant! I thought, Surely these will tease some more interesting answers out of my child. Maybe it’s just me, but I found that my daughter’s responses still bordered on half-hearted and uninterested. I just need to think of the right question, I would think, as I tried to probe and sniff around any possible topic of interest. Most of the time, I didn’t get much.
Now, I look at those questions, and I see that they are shots in the dark. The direct question, “Did anything make you feel scared today?” might be exactly the right question if you ask it on the day when your daughter got bullied during recess. Or, you could have asked it yesterday (and therefore skipped it today)… and instead asked about the contents of her school lunch, completely missing the opportunity to hear about something you’d really want to know about. Just because you asked the right question on the wrong day.
Teach your child to SIFT through their day
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to give your children the opportunity to sift through their brains and give interesting, nuanced, and unexpected pieces of information about the things they experienced and thought about during the day? An open-ended prompt instead of a yes/no or short-answer response? A response that paved the way for natural conversation and follow-up questions that your child would be eager to discuss more together?
So, even though it seemed a tad bit too good to be true, I was pretty excited when I came across a new idea in The Whole Brain Child, a book my friend had recommended. First of all, this book was super interesting and completely worth the read. It gave me another framework from which to understand my child, my child’s tantrums, emotional outbursts, and intellectual development.
One idea from the book that has really stuck in our family is the practice of SIFT-ing through our days. This is a time when we all pause and think back on our days and SIFT through all the Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts that took place. When we are through, we have each learned something interesting and oftentimes unexpected about each family members’ day. I love it.
So how, exactly, do you SIFT through your day?
We start by sharing a sensation we can remember from the day. I tell my kids that a sensation is a “body feeling,” or something that happens in or to your body, such as feeling the wind blowing, getting really hot and sweaty, getting a paper cut, or feeling your stomach rumble when you are hungry.
By paying attention to their physical sensations, for example, children can become much more aware of what’s going on inside their bodies. They can learn to recognize stomach butterflies as markers of anxiety, a desire to hit as anger or frustration, heavy shoulders as sadness, and so on… Simply recognizing different sensations like hunger, tiredness, excitement, and grumpiness can give children a great deal of understanding and ultimately influence over their feelings.– Siegel and Bryson, The Whole Brain Child
Asking about sensations has given me insight into annoyances like a new bug bite, risk-taking moments like climbing that big hill, and stamina-building decisions like building calluses from the monkey bars. I’ve been given access to sweet treasures like knowing my son likes to rub the smooth, satiny part of his Bear-Bear’s belly, and that my daughter really, really enjoyed the lemonade I made for her.
After sharing our sensations, we share images that we remember from our day. These can involve imaginary images (like a nightmare they had) or real ones (seeing a friend get a bloody nose at school). The authors elaborate, “When a child becomes aware of the images that are active in his mind, he can use his mindsight to take control of those images and greatly diminish the power they have over him.”
Next we SIFT for feelings we have experienced. My kids still need a good amount of coaching on this one, but being home together all the time has given me lots of fodder for “feeling” lessons. For example, my husband described to me how scared my son felt while climbing up a hill earlier that day at the park, and later we were able to recall that moment with him and help him recognize and name that feeling. We were also able to describe the triumphant feeling he had after conquering his fears! I hope someday when he is off at school, he will be able to recognize these feelings and be able to name and have more power over them. I would also love if he could remember and name his feelings so he can share about those difficult or celebratory parts of his day with us!
Finally, we share a thought that we had during the day. The authors explain, “They are what we think about, what we tell ourselves, and how we narrate the story of our own lives, using words.” For young kids, this can be something as simple as, “I thought about how to build my Lego creation,” to random, profound thoughts that cause you to exchange that raised-eyebrow look with your spouse.
In our family, we go round-robin, one letter at a time. I’ll be honest, until fairly recently, my four year old would harumph and pout when I said, “Let’s SIFT through our days!” I think the process of reflecting and really combing through his day was still very challenging for him. But remember, consistency is key! The more we kept at it, the less he grumbled, and almost every time, we ended up having interesting chats about the things that took place in his mind and heart and body that day. These days, he’s the one who remembers first and exclaims, “Let’s SIFT!!!” at the dinner table, and everyone enthusiastically joins in. I dunno how long that peppy attitude will last, but I’m loving it right now!
Back when school was still in session, I got angles into their school and social life I could never have asked my way into. It took a very specific path to very specific parts of their inner workings–their sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts–to learn about specific moments in their days I could never have known to ask about otherwise. It’s an excellent acronym, as the action of sifting through their brains is a great verb to describe it, and yet each of the letters stands for a truly interesting and unique aspect of their experience that I want to hear about.
My hope is that my kids will not only be willing to share about their days, but that they would have the words and ability to access the big and seemingly small moments that make up their day. I don’t need to know everything, but I love getting glimpses of these moments that made their days, whether happy or unpleasant.
This post is part of a series where I’ll be sharing “bite-sized” ideas and activities for parents to try with their kids. I hope to offer easy, economical, educational, and engaging ideas you can feel good about your kids doing, while buying you some down time. This content may use referral links. Read my disclosure policy for more info.
Last week feels like another life: school was still in session, stores had milk, the weather hit the mid 70’s, and it almost felt like summer. We were out at a creek with a bunch of other kids (another occurrence unique to last week) and the kids were given little plastic jars with a magnifying lid viewer: Bug catchers!
The kids ran to the other side of the creek, which was teeming with these bugs (beetles?). Normally, I’d be totally squeamish about seeing so many of them flit about in the hundreds, and so would the kids. But something about holding a bug catcher empowered and excited them. They fearlessly approached the beetles and tried to catch them in the clear jars. Sometimes, they would catch two at the same time!
It was a simple and fun activity. They searched and explored their outdoor surrounding with fresh eyes, scanning for movement and detail in a way they never had before. They approached the creatures with a new confidence and excitement, and they were so proud when they successfully caught something. They felt safe holding it close in the jar and examining it closely, and were able to see details they had never been able to see before. Of course we freed all of the bugs in the end.
The whole process of searching, capturing, and observing was a really fun way for them to interact with the outdoors and the creatures living in it. I imagine this would completely change the way they see and approach bugs inside the house (hello, spiders) and give them a nice outdoor activity to do in the backyard during this unprecedented and long “shelter in place” period. I just ordered two of these bug viewer boxes for the kids:
My plan is to take them out for a walk or send them to the backyard to hunt for bugs (or snails or worms–it’s been raining over here!) and try to catch one. If I’m feeling teacher-y, then we can extend the activity and record observations in their science journals (i.e. 10 pieces of computer paper that I folded in half and stapled together), draw pictures, count the number of bugs caught and make graphs, etc.
Or, we can just let the bugs go and do it all over again and again.
It’s easy, economical (you can get the same one we did for $6.58, or get an 8-pack of smaller ones for about the same price!), engaging (hopefully!), and educational. It can be a nice break from the screens, and give them a chance to run, stoop, jump, and play outside in a new way. And maybe, just maybe, if they are busy catching bugs, then they won’t bug you for a few minutes while you get some work done!
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I was meeting with some moms one night and couldn’t help but gush over the book I had just started, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen. These were the same authors who had penned my recent parenting favorite, Siblings Without Rivalry, so I knew they would have practical, doable, and effective parenting strategies. I had only read one chapter, but there was already so much to digest I had to put the book down to give myself a chance to process and practice it before moving on.
“Ok, so what’s ONE thing you got from it so far?” asked the mom to my right.
“Hmm… well, my biggest personal takeaway so far has been empathy. Mostly because I’m so bad at it. But even saying something as simple as, ‘You’re very upset that your brother isn’t sharing well. That’s frustrating!’ can go a long way in helping her process her emotions and move forward, without much or any further intervention from me,” I replied.
This wasn’t the first time the authors had emphasized the importance of empathy. The first book I read from them also had a lot to say about this, which I shared about last week, but clearly I needed to hear it again.
“But that was just one of the four strategies they presented in the first chapter! I was a little skeptical when reading some of the other ones at first–some sounded pretty bizarre–but as I finished looking through the examples I realized it did make sense and probably would help them feel better. I just would never ever have thought of it myself,” I continued.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Hm… like, giving kids what they want… in fantasy,” I said. I waited for the weirdness of this statement to sink in.
My daughter had only recently graduated from stick figures to drawings with some real weight on them, so when she presented me with this exquisite drawing of Elmer the Elephant, I knew it was something special. It was one of the most detailed and complete drawings she had ever made of an animal! Little did I know that in a few weeks, a magical elf would transform this drawing and bring it to life!
Isn’t this amazing?! When she opened her eyes and discovered that her special drawing was transformed into a real, squishy, squeezable friend to have and to hold, she hardly had words. Her shining eyes said everything, and I knew it would be one of the most treasured and special stuffed animals she’d ever have!
The “magical elf” is actually a company named Budsies, and they are amazing! They can take ANY artwork and turn it into a REAL PLUSHIE!! I first heard about them when my friend Kristen sent me this adorable photo of her niece holding a cute drawing of a smiling rainbow with a crown and wings in one hand, and a GIANT adorable plushie version of her drawing in the other. My heart skipped a beat. Wait… a drawing… turned into a real-life, huggable creation?! NO WAY. That was too good to be true! Kristen shared, “My sister and I gifted it to her for Christmas and she’s slept with it every night since she got it :)” I don’t blame her, it was the most adorable rainbow I have ever seen!
My daughter started writing stories recently. I worked with her individually to teach her to read, but I’ve more or less left her on her own for writing. She likes to go to the paper shelf, grab the first sheet of paper she could find, and then start: Onc upon a time…
I love her stories. I love that she even likes to write, and I love gushing over them. But I have to admit, I get kind of annoyed when I find loose sheets of construction paper scattered all over the house. The construction paper is arranged in the order of the rainbow, and she has systematically worked her way down the colors and now we don’t have any red, orange, or yellow paper left. Also, she’s been into gel pens lately, but since I bought a cheap set from Costco, you can hardly even make out the glittery words, especially when she uses her favorite shimmery gold pen on a yellow sheet of paper. They’re not very pigmented, so even when she uses it on pink or blue, it barely shows up!
Here is an example of her glitter pen + construction paper combination. Her little brother was sad that there were no new episodes of his favorite TV show, Stinky and Dirty, so she took it upon herself to ask them to make more. SO PRECIOUS. But man it was hard to read! It took a few tries but at the right angle with the right light, I was able to capture this gem before mailing it off:
To: Stinky and Dirty, Dear Stinky and Dirty, My brother would love if you made my brother a new Stinky and Dirty [episode].
Love you Love you Love you Love you Love you Love you Love you
I realized she was going to keep writing. But I needed her to use white computer paper. And I wanted it all in one place.
Not only did I want her to have a place to collect her stories, but she struggled to write in a straight line and she would often have to draw her pictures on the back of the sheet. Which is fine. But all of this could be solved with a simple sheet of lined paper made for preschool and kindergarten sized letters! I went online to quickly purchase a notebook for preschoolers, but at nearly $10, I figured I could just print up some pages myself! But when I searched for templates, I came across a few obstacles. For example, I would have to pay for the download. Or I had to create an account before I could download it. Or it didn’t have the space for a picture, or it didn’t have a line at the top for a title. Too many lines. Too few. Why doesn’t anyone just offer a simple FREE sheet of dotted lined paper for big letters and space for a picture? C’mon Internet you should have been on this years ago.
Okay maybe there is a lot available and I’m just really
picky specific. Well, I’m going to tell myself that maybe you are picky in exactly the same way as me and now I am providing the perfect solution for us. You’re welcome.
So I remembered I am part of the Internet so I decided to add this to the www mix. Here ya go. Story templates for preschoolers, for those in kindergarten and first grade… paper for grown-ups who want to make cute stories for their kids :). Just print up 50 of them, punch holes, and put them into a folder with fasteners, like this one:
Before long, your little writer will be drawing pictures of pumpkins and writing sweet thank you notes to family members (okay it was once, but I’m so glad the precious note is saved in this makeshift notebook!!).
Dear Daddy, I am so thankful that you always go to work. Love (daughter). Dear (brother), I love how whenever I ask for something you always give it to me. Love (sister). *heart* *star* *smiley face*
And here is the four year old dropping some informational writing, y’all!!
Yes, I am a proud mama 😀 Though I’m not sure about that pumpkin cider…
It was a innocent mistake. She was having too much fun playing with her cousin and then *crash* the water glass full of chocolate milk tipped over and went all over her dinner… and her daddy.
Her adorable tutu skirt had gotten wet, but the milk had soaked through Ben’s suit. He was not pleased.
She froze, and then immediately tried to hide her face as everyone looked on. She was embarrassed, scared, full of regret and doing everything she could not to start bawling at the wedding. I quickly pulled her away to give her some space, and also to clean her up. I wanted to give her a safe space to cry–something I’m not super familiar with, as I grew up trying hard not to cry much myself–but she kept working to hold it in despite my encouragement to let her feelings out.
Finally, she said she wanted to go home, so I started walking her back to the table. We were passing the photo booth on the way over and she seemed interested, yet not quite in the mood. I wasn’t going to push it. But later, her cousin went over to take pictures, and she wanted to join in. Sort of. But not really. But really, she did. But she was still sad.
We decided to wait in line to see if her mood would improve, but she continued to hold a long face and wouldn’t make eye contact with anybody. They say the best way to get a kid out of a mood like this is to distract them. I tried to joke with her. Then I tried telling her a story. She just turned her face away from me. I tried to reason with her (hah!). Then I tried a little trick that worked really well just earlier that week, with a different group of young kids:
“Hmm… well, let’s get ready for pictures, girls!” I called out. The girls looked at me curiously.
“Puttttttttt your fingerrrrrr onnnnnnnnn youuuuuuuuuurrrrr… NOSE!” I cried out, while proudly sticking my finger on my forehead.
“HEYYYYY,” they giggled, “THAT’S NOT YOUR NOSE!!”
“Yes! I said NOSE! See, this is my NO–waiiiiiiit a second!” I cried, in mock disbelief, “I meant… my… NOSE!” I said, pocking my chin.
“NOOOOO!!” they shouted out gleefully, “THAT’S YOUR CHIN!!!”
“Ohhhh. Right, right. Here is my nose!” I continued, finally placing my finger on the right spot. “Now, stiiiiick your finnnnngerrr onnnn…”
They waited, giggling in anticipation.
“Onnn… yourrr…. EAR!” I called out, stabbing my closed eye with my finger.
“MOOOMMMMMMYYYY THAT’S YOUR EYE!!” my daughter cackled.
“No, of course not! It’s my EAR–WAIIIIITT a second!!” I said, confusedly, “That ISSSS my eye!!”
Well, you get the idea. I did it a couple more times and then moved on to jumping with your hands in the air. For some reason, kids can’t seem to jump without smiling, so it was an easy way to segue from a lifted mood to sheer happiness as we moved forward in the photobooth line. By the time it was our turn, the girls were both all smiles and ready to ham it up for the camera.
It’s a trick I use all the time. The week before, I was asked to substitute for a group of five and six year old kids. When I could feel myself losing their attention, I started doing this little trick and it was a quick, fun, and easy way to grab the attention of even the most antsy child. They giggled, they laughed, and we got a little bit of our wiggles out. It works best with kids who already know their body parts who also are starting to understand jokes. I’d say ages 3-6. If the kids really like you, you might even be able to pull it off with slightly older kids! Have fun and try it out sometime!
How about you? What’s in your bag of tricks for nudging a child from moodiness to smiles? I am always looking for fresh ideas!
Fun ways to involve your young children at every age!
I love to bake. I love my kids. I always daydreamed about the day I would bake with my kids. It would be perfection: We would laugh and smile and get flour in our hair and have chocolate smeared around our mouths. They would take turns cracking eggs and I’d show them how to fish the shells out using bigger shell pieces. They would sit on the counter and turn on the mixer and be amazed as liquid cream whipped up into mounds of fluffy, sweetened clouds of bliss.
It was going to be magical. I could not wait.
Baking is therapeutic to me. I love the quiet rhythm of scooping flour and sometimes sinking my hands into the flour bin and squeezing fistful of the soft powder just for fun. I didn’t know it was “sensory play” at the time, but as a kid I used to love dunking my hands into the huge bin of flour and indulging in the cool, soft, light and almost liquidy sensation it gave. I love the warm smell of cocoa powder and the stress-relieving powers of kneading a smooth dough under my palms (and the amazing smell of fresh bread baking in the house!). It calms me.
Baking with kids is not therapeutic to me. It can actually be pretty stressful. They get eggs everywhere, then lick it off their fingers (ACK! NO!!). They scoop flour, then spill it (ugh). They stir a batter, then tip over the bowl (nooo!!). They constantly beg, “MOMMY CAN I DO THAT MOMMY IT’S MY TURN MOMMY I WANT TO DO THAT!” They sneak bites of chocolate (mmMMmMMMmmm). They sniff at everything (ahhHHHhhHhhH). They squeal with delight when I let them lick freshly churned ice cream off the paddle (which also makes for the cutest chocolate-covered smiling faces!). They smile with closed eyes and then stop talking altogether when they finally get to bite into the freshly-baked cookies they’ve been smelling for the last fifteen minutes.
…Like the ones we had tonight. We used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and somehow it came out wrong. Maybe I made a measurement error while doubling the recipe (I should not have–it already makes a generous amount!). Maybe it was baking with a 2- and 4- year old. Maybe my daughter counted the wrong number of scoops of flour. Whatever the case, the cookies rose too much and were more cakey than chewy. Even as I scooped out hunks of dough to form into logs for freezing, I realized that some logs were really thick and meaty, and some were goopy and weak. They had not been mixed evenly, and now I had seven failed logs of cookie dough (!) to go through before I could make a proper batch again.
But the kids didn’t seem to notice, and Ben didn’t mind at all. When we sat down to milk and cookies, everyone smiled their contented, closed-eyes smiles and there was a chorus of “mmMMm” and “yummMmm” and “Mm, not bad!” around the table. Because really, who’s going to complain about fresh-baked cookies on a rainy day?
And this is always when I start again through the amnesia cycle and think to myself, “Wasn’t that fun? Let’s do it again!” And you know, it IS fun. For the kids. And I know they can’t wait to do it again. There is so much to experience even in cracking an egg. They’ve seen plenty of pictures of eggs, but to hold the cool egg in their palms and tap-tap-tap it against a bowl to crack-CRACK it is another thing. To feel the slimy egg goop on their hands and then watch it blend and disappear into the other ingredients is truly a unique experience. They are seeing, smelling, touching, hearing (and, unfortunately sometimes tasting… bleh!) all in one small little baking task. Baking is such a multi-sensory experience for kids, and one they can actually eventually EAT. There is a special satisfaction that comes with making your own food, and it is such a wonderful thing for kids to create and enjoy the work of their hands.
There is also a ton of practical learning that can take place during a baking session with kids. There are endless opportunities to weave math skills in, such as counting, measuring (fractions!), weighing (units of measure), doubling recipes (multiplication, fractions), measuring time. There is also so much opportunity to introduce rich vocabulary as you describe the smells, textures, tastes, and sounds you hear. They will understand these words in a totally different way when they are actually engaged in hands-on, multi-sensory experiences where they apply. There is plenty of social learning, from taking turns (especially when siblings are involved) to cleanliness (wash yo hands!) to kindness, thoughtfulness, and sharing (cookies for all!). They practice self-control when you tell them not to lick the brownie batter with raw eggs in it, and they have plenty of opportunity practice taking things slowly and cleaning up after themselves.
Sure, JoEllen, that all sounds good, but my kid is only one. Is there really much he can do in the kitchen right now? Why, yes! Yes! There is! And there are plenty of ways to involve toddlers and preschoolers, too. So many that I made lists for you of ways to involve your 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5- year olds in the baking fun! If you don’t bake as often or can’t think of a single task that would seem successful with your child, then start at the ideas for one-year old children and slowly work your way up as your child proves herself more capable. For example, anyone can take a ripe, browned banana and squish it up in its own skin for banana bread! Fair warning, there’s a decent chance it will burst out of its skin and make a mess, but that’s part of the fun, too (for your kid, at least).
Please note that all of the suggested activities are really just suggestions and ideas based on what has worked for me and my kids. They might not be appropriate for the child(ren) you are working with, so please use your own discretion and knowledge of the child(ren) and their abilities to decide if it is an appropriate activity and adjust the activities as needed. Parents should be nearby and supervise all tasks closely!
If the idea of bringing your young child into the kitchen to bake with you seems daunting, you are not alone. I still shy away from baking with my kids sometimes because of all the potential mess and hazards, but I ultimately choose to do it because I think it is so beneficial and fun. I make it more manageable by choosing age-appropriate tasks for them to participate through. You might be surprised at how much they can do! I know I was tinkering away in the kitchen on my own when I was nine, and I hope to give my kids the same freedom when they get older. Until then, I’ll be here to guide them through the kitchen and hope to make great memories through it!
HAPPY SPRING! I am so ready for a new season. This last month concluded with my toddler in a full-arm cast (wrist fracture from a spill at the playground), me in an ankle brace (sprained ankle from volleyball), and my husband in a sling (dislocated shoulder while working out)! It’s been a little crazy here, but we are all moving forward and I am SO HAPPY ABOUT THAT. My son is back in the sand and dirt and water… and I am back on the court. Full speed ahead!
I wanted to share some material I’ve been working on for a local Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group that I’ve been part of. It’s a wonderful group of moms that meets every other Friday to share life and motherhood and coffee together- there is always coffee. A few weeks ago, they were looking for someone to teach something craftsy to the group for a fun artsy morning they were planning. I’m not particularly crafty, so it wasn’t until some of the ladies at my tables remarked about my calligraphy and lettering that I realized I had something to offer!
You might remember that a couple years ago, I picked up brush calligraphy as a nice
stuckstay-at-home mom hobby. Since I was still nursing, many of my fun activities were limited to things that were nearby, easy to start/stop, and not easily ruined by a curious toddler (who is now FOUR… when did that happen?!?!). That’s when I decided to learn brush lettering, which is a branch of hand lettering and modern calligraphy. I got better at it (I can write in a straight line now!) and even taught a brush lettering workshop for a church fundraiser last year. So when the ladies at my table were so encouraging about my lettering (someone even guessed I was a designer based on my lettering! I was so flattered- art has never been my thing haha), I decided to offer to teach the whole group some brush lettering basics.
Since this was a group of “Mothers of Preschoolers,” I thought it would be so cute and appropriate to teach using Crayola markers! They’re such a great tool for learning brush lettering since they are easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and very forgiving for lettering! I figured most of the moms would have a pack handy and it would be a fun and easy thing to practice and doodle with alongside their emerging little artists at home.
So I created these drills, and worksheets just for them:
Someone mentioned that the moms would probably appreciate having access to the videos at home, so I decided to create and upload it all here to share with everybody:
This first video is the starting point for most brush lettering and calligraphy. The basic idea behind calligraphy is to create a contrast between thick lines going down and thin lines going up. When done right, the words come out looking artistic and beautiful. Each letter is made from a series of basic strokes, which you can learn in the first “Drills” video.
Now for actual words. Have you ever tried applying the “heavy downstrokes and light upstrokes” method to the cursive that you learned in third grade, and found that it just didn’t look quite the way you’d hoped? That’s because in modern calligraphy, letters are not formed the same way you learned to write cursive in elementary school. There are different ways to form letters that maximize the beauty of a letter and eventually a word. See the letter “b” in the lowercase alphabet video below for a good example. Realizing that there is a completely different way to form individual letters was the turning point for me in figuring out how to make beautiful brush lettering.
I stood on the side of the playground chatting away with other parents while our young kids roamed freely about the playground. Church service had just let out and we were enjoying the enclosed play space which allowed us to watch our kids while catching up with each other. I kept an eye on my daughter as she climbed about the play structure in all the “wrong” ways. She had recently started imitating the daring moves of an adventurous 5-year old girl at church, which included finding… creative ways to climb about the playground.
While I was okay with her pushing the limits a bit, I could tell it made other parents (who mostly had even younger kids) a bit uneasy. And… maybe it wasn’t the best example for the toddlers who were apt to imitate without having the same strength or command of their limbs. I kept a close eye as she began to proceed over the high tunnel instead of through it like she probably should.
The father I was chatting with watched with growing alarm as she started to climb up and over. When it was apparent that she meant to cross the tunnel by climbing over it, he hesitated, “Uh, Jo, I think she’s going to climb over…!”
“Sweetie, please come down,” I called out to her. She froze for a moment. I imagine she was trying to decide whether to come down or pretend that she didn’t hear me. She started forward again- it appears she chose the latter.
“That’s one,” I called out, matter of factly.
She scampered down in a flash.
I turned to pick up our conversation again but the father looked at me, wide-eyed, “Is that from… 1-2-3 Magic?” he asked, a little wonderingly.
“Yeah! Have you tried it?”
“I’ve read some of it, but we haven’t really gotten too far in it,” he said, “It seems to be working really well for you!”
And thus began yet another animated conversation about the “1-2-3 Magic” program which we had been using for the last couple of years with great success. I figure it’s about time I shared it with you, too!