Get Smart: Fun Learning Activities

These educational games, crafts, and activities are easy ways to incorporate learning into everyday life.

Everything in this slideshow

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Photograph by Ryan Liebe

Sun Printing

A creative project helps children understand the awe-inspiring effects of the August sun. 

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Photograph by Julie Bidwell

Make it Rain!

Kids can create their own stormy weather -- and play with shaving cream -- doing this simple science experiment.

The Skills It Builds: lab techniques, fine motor control, earth science

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Photograph by Julie Bidwell

Bird Brainy

Help your kids learn about our feathered friends this winter by hanging our carton feeder in a window.

The Skills it Builds: nature science, classification, observation

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Photograph by William Geddes

Twist and Count!

Got an old Twister game in the closet? Give it a smart new lease on life by playing Twisted Math. Write numerals on sticky notes and set them on the dots at random. Call out a number (say, 24), then challenge kids to place their hands and feet on a set of numerals that can be made to equal that number using addition, subtraction, or multiplication (4 + 2 x 4). Players who make a math error or fall over are out. Last mathlete standing wins.

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Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Star Power

With their awesomely strange names -- we're talking to you, Cassiopeia! -- and back stories spun from myth and legend, constellations are a stellar way to spark an interest in astronomy. This simple viewer lets your child see "stars" by day (by peering through a cardboard tube) or at night (by using a flashlight to project formations on a wall). Make it to use this winter, then, come spring, head outdoors together and get starry-eyed for real.

The Skills it Builds: astronomy, cultural history, and observation

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Photograph by Allie Cottrill

Hook, Line, and Thinker

Let kids reel in the fun -- and catch on to numbers -- with this "math tub" game. To make a fish, sandwich a steel washer between strips of duct tape, then cut the tape into shape. Mark each with a digit from 0 to 9 and release them in a partially filled tub. Tie a string to a dowel, then sandwich magnets over the string's end to serve as a hook. To play, a young child can fish for a certain number; an older child can try to hook the answer to an equation.

(Remember to supervise children around water and when using small magnets.)

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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.

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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

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Photograph by Michael Piazza

Book Bonanza

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

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Alexandra Grablewski

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").

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Plaster Plaques

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Brent Hale

Calculator Hopscotch

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

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Ed Judice

Alphabet Museum

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

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Andrew Greto

Label Mapping

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.

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Rhyme and Reason Domino Game

Got a beginning reader? Dust off an old set of dominoes and transform it into a tool for mastering letter sounds. Opt for a set of 28 tiles, which will allow your child to learn up to 56 words in one go (and, thanks to colored masking tape, you can easily swap in new words). Choose rhymes from vocabulary lists sent home from school, or search online for rhyming-word lists targeted to your child's age and stage.

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Alexandra Grablewski

A Spool Speller

An easy-to-make spool speller helps kids expand their vocabulary.

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