Photograph by Tim MacKay
Teaching Kids to Know Their Trees
Here's a clever way to teach basic concepts of natural science and mapping right in your own backyard. Using simple supplies, kids can figure out what trees are around their home, then document their findings, charting the grounds and creating a lovely keepsake. It's a perfect project for introducing dendrology -- the study of trees -- to a budding naturalist.
The Skills It Builds: botany, observation, and mapping.
Originally published in the October 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.
Photograph by Jennifer May
Simple Science Experiment: Egg in a Bottle
A boiled egg may seem unassuming, but under the right conditions, it can be a powerful thing. In this classic demonstration of how a vacuum must be filled, the egg withstands a mighty force of nature (at least for a little while), until the experiment's surprising -- and kid-pleasing! -- conclusion.
The Skills It Builds: physics, earth science, observation
Originally published in the September 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.
Photograph by Michael Piazza
Here's a surefire way to build excitement around the written word. Inspired by book-bingo handouts used by librarians, we designed a treat-packed home version that rewards frequent and wide-ranging reading. Whether your kids are born bookworms or reluctant readers, they'll get a kick out of earning prizes through their bookish pursuits -- and never suspect that they're also boosting their literacy skills.
The Skills It Builds: reading, vocabulary, library skills
Originally published in the June/July 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.
Teach Math With Fun 3-D Shapes
Sometimes the simplest projects can demonstrate the most profound ideas. Using humble materials to build a 3-D shape, kids can begin to understand how the things around them -- from soccer balls to supermarkets -- are made of forms mathematicians call polyhedra (Greek for "many faces").
Originally published in the April 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.
Photograph by Joe Polillio
Backyard Spelling Game
Spell it out, outside! This game puts a super-size spin on an old classic -- and boosts basic literacy skills -- by transforming word-building into an active learning challenge.
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.
Photograph by Andrew Greto
Teach About Weather With This Science Craft
Those friendly folks on the weather broadcasts often talk about how high- and low-pressure systems affect the daily forecast. This simple gizmo lets kids observe changes in air (or barometric) pressure and make some weather predictions of their own.
The Skills It Builds: earth science, observation
Originally published in the June/July 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine.
Photograph by Kinzie & Riehm
A Jump-Rope Spelling Game
Kids in the elementary grades almost always have spelling lists to memorize and energy to burn. That's why this game is such a brilliant idea. Next time your child comes home with a list to learn, head for the driveway or sidewalk and get a jump on it.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of FamilyFun
Photograph by Andrew Greto
Bulb Growth Charts
This project gives kids some practice in working with numbers -- and a close-up view of spring's arrival. Inspired by the wall markings used to track kids' height, these simple bulb growth charts let young ones adopt a bulb and track its progress. They'll hardly notice they're learning math and science along the way.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of FamilyFun
We all know that exercise is good for kids' health, but according to a growing body of evidence, it can also improve their academic performance. Schools are experimenting with incorporating movement into classroom lessons, so why not try a little active learning at home? This brainy variation on a blacktop fave will help your kids get a jump on arithmetic -- and it's a blast!
Set It Up
Using sidewalk chalk, draw the calculator hopscotch board (Link to diagram below) with boxes about 1 foot square (skip the multiplication and division signs for younger kids). Jumping can be done with one foot (trickier) or two feet.
The Skills It Builds: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
Here's a hands-on way to boost early literacy skills and get your child ready for a lifetime of reading adventures. Inspired by the alphabet boxes often used in Montessori classrooms, this easy-to-assemble play station will familiarize your child with letters and letter sounds. Simply raid your pantry for boxes, line them with colorful printouts on card stock, and start playing!
Set It Up
Cut a front or side panel from each of 24 to 26 small boxes. Starting at the bottom, arrange them in rows as desired, fastening them together with mini binder clips. Print letters on card stock, then trim each to fit in a box. Secure them with a glue stick.
The Skills It Builds: letter recognition, reading readiness
When my son, Joe, was in second grade, his very clever teacher introduced the concept of international trade by having students stand in a line, then check the tags in each other's collars and call out where each shirt came from. Our project takes this idea a step further by placing the labels -- as well as those for produce and other items your family buys -- on a map, but both exercises result in spirited discussions about how and why we're all connected to the wider world.
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of FamilyFun