Starting School: Tips for a Successful Transition

by Jenna Sekerak | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist

People have always said that kids grow up fast, but the idea really hits home when it’s time for kindergarten. The first days—and even months—of school can be hard. Parents struggle with seeing their babies growing up, while children worry about navigating their new lives as students.

During this emotional time, children look to their parents for comfort. Luckily, there are plenty of ways parents can ease kids’ fears! Here are some of our favorite tips for making the transition to kindergarten as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

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Before Kindergarten Begins

Get to know the unknown.
Visit school before the first day. Be sure to meet the teacher, see the classroom and walk around to help kids get to know their new surroundings. If you’re lucky enough to meet other families, we recommend setting up playdates. Allowing kids to establish friendships with classmates will help them feel a sense of belonging.

Establish a routine.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children suggests starting a school routine early to ease the transition from free summer days to jam-packed school schedules.

Before the first day of school, do a practice run to see exactly how much time kids will need for each step of the routine. Watch for areas where kids need more support or practice, such as getting dressed and tying shoes.

Start a storytime tradition!
Read a story every night to comfort children with happy thoughts, soothe them to sleep and help them adapt to an early bedtime. You can even use Lakeshore’s Story Wands to initiate engaging conversations and increase listening comprehension.

Story Wands

Prepare for school with educational games.
Playing educational games as a family helps kids get ready for school, and it proves that education is important to you! Lakeshore’s Are You Ready for Kindergarten? Game Show® covers all the bases. Kids get to become game-show contestants and win pretend cash when they answer questions correctly. When you’re done playing, you can enter the results online to get an assessment and free activities to help kids build skills where needed.

Another great resource to help children develop skills for kindergarten is Lakeshore’s Transition to School Backpack. It features a three-month calendar filled with skill-building activities!

Transition to School Backpack

At the Beginning of the Year

Engage in conversations.
Ask children about their days and have them share what they learned in school. To get more than a one-word response, ask children open-ended questions that begin with “how” or “what.” If children respond with a short answer, follow up with another question, or use a teacher’s favorite prompt: “Tell me more about that.”

For example, if your son or daughter tells you their day was “fine,” keep pressing and ask them to share their favorite part of the day. This will demonstrate your sincere interest in hearing about school!

Throughout the Year

Establish—and stick to—an after school routine.
Once school is in session, it’s important to establish an after school routine. Check kids’ backpacks and school folders each day for communication from the teacher and for papers that need to be signed and returned.

Help children grow accustomed to nightly homework by setting up a dedicated work space. If children don’t have any assignments, reinforce what they learned in school with our Family Engagement Packs. Each pack includes easy-to-follow instructions and materials for hands-on games that get parents involved with the learning process. This kind of at-home family participation can have a positive impact on student achievement!

Family Engagement Language Packs – Preschool-Kindergarten – Complete Set

We hope these tips help make the transition to school easy! Don’t forget to encourage children to share ideas, ask questions and try new things! And most of all, don’t forget to enjoy watching your young students flourish!

References:

  1. Strasser, Janis, “Transitioning to Kindergarten,” National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Accessed August 2017, https://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/child-development/transitioning-kindergarten
  2. “Saying Goodbye to Preschool and Hello to Kindergarten,” National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Accessed August 2017, https://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/child-development/saying-goodbye-preschool-and-hello-kindergarten
  3. “Twenty Ways You Can Help Your Children Succeed at School,” Colorín Colorado. Accessed August 2017, http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/twenty-ways-you-can-help-your-children-succeed-school

Four Ways to Implement Cross-Curricular Instruction

by Jenna Sekerak | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist 

The climate of education is changing. Facing demands from rigorous state standards and high-stakes testing, teachers nationwide are racing to cover more subjects and skills than ever to help students succeed in school and in life. Today’s students are expected to master good old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic while also developing 21st-century skills in critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.

How can teachers hope to cover all these standards, subjects and skills, you ask? Through cross-curricular instruction!

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According to a long-standing definition from Heidi Jacobs, cross-curricular instruction is “a conscious effort to apply knowledge, principles and/or values to more than one academic discipline simultaneously. The disciplines may be related through a central theme, issue, problem, process, topic or experience.”

The demand for cross-curricular instruction signals the end of subject compartmentalization (for example, spending 15 minutes on history and then 30 minutes on math) and calls for lessons that let students think critically across multiple disciplines. After all, to meet 21st-century demands, we must plan 21st-century lessons!

But don’t worry—it’s not as hard as it sounds! Here are four ways you can easily use cross-curricular instruction in your classroom—and get students building important 21st-century skills!

1: Start with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)!

Get started with cross-curricular instruction by encouraging students to use skills in four different subjects—science, technology, engineering and math—to solve problems and develop critical thinking with Lakeshore’s Real-World STEM Challenge Kits. In addition to covering multiple disciplines, the kits take the tedious planning and preparation out of whole-class cross-curricular instruction. Teachers don’t even need to decide where to start or figure out what materials to gather—each kit comes packed with everything students need to complete the challenges. Plus, detailed lesson plans make it easy to focus students’ learning and explain the STEM concepts behind each challenge.

Real-World STEM Challenge Kit – K–Gr. 1

As an added bonus, each kit includes careers cards that help kids connect what they learned during the challenges to the real world. The cards might even inspire kids to consider studying STEM disciplines as they move through school and life! This is important because the U.S. Department of Commerce expects STEM occupations to grow at a higher rate than other positions in the future.

2: Graduate to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).

Integrate even more focus areas—including art, STEM, literacy, creative expression and social-emotional development—into your cross-curricular instruction with a comprehensive STEAM kit from Lakeshore. Our Fairy Tales STEAM Kit combines classic stories with hands-on STEM and literacy activities that students are sure to love! Students read the stories, animate the puppets, answer questions and complete each STEM challenge—building language, creativity and even engineering skills as they go.

Fairy Tales STEAM Kit

3: Try project-based learning.

Project-based learning is another great way to get students using skills from multiple subject areas. I love this type of learning because it provides hands-on, relevant learning that doesn’t feel like just another assignment—and it benefits students at all levels. According to research from the Buck Institute for Education, project-based learning helps students boost important critical-thinking skills, including synthesizing and evaluating information.

Lakeshore’s ready-to-use Whole-Class Project-Based Learning Kits allow the entire class to dive right into meaningful, real-world projects. Teachers simply introduce a topic to the class by posing a question about a real-world problem. Then students conduct research and apply what they learn to create a project, such as a digital slide presentation or a newsletter. And a one-of-a-kind project isn’t all students have to show for their work! As they complete projects, students develop skills in researching, reading informational text, writing using evidence and working with peers!

Whole-Class Project-Based Learning Kit – Gr. 1

4: Combine STEM and project-based learning.

Once you’ve implemented a few separate STEM and project-based learning lessons, why not try combining the two? It’s easy with our Global Challenges Project-Based STEM Kits! The kits help students develop skills in many content areas—college and career readiness, digital literacy, technology, science and engineering practices. That may seem like a lot to absorb, but a project-based approach could actually make information easier to understand and remember—studies have shown that project-based learning boosts students’ performance on content knowledge assessments.

Each kit includes an attention-grabbing card that introduces a modern-day problem. Students have to use STEM and research skills to create a meaningful project designed to solve the problem. As students work through each kit, they’ll build and test a model home that runs on solar power, create a working solar still to desalinate water and build a working oil containment boom.

Global Challenges Project-Based STEM Kits

We hope these ideas take some of the stress out of implementing cross-curricular instruction this year—and we know your students will love these engaging new ways to learn!

References:

  1. “Cross-Curricular Connections in Instruction: Four Ways to Integrate Lessons,” by Melissa Kelly, last modified March 31, 2017, https://www.thoughtco.com/cross-curricular-connections-7791
  2. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future,” by David Langdon, George McKittrick, David Beede, Beethika Khan, and Mark Doms, Issue Brief #03-11, Economics and Statistics Administration (Washington, D.C., 2011), http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/stemfinalyjuly14_1.pdf
  3. “Summary of Research on Project-Based Learning,” University of Indianapolis: Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (2009). Accessed July 2017, https://www.bie.org/object/document/summary_of_research_on_pbl

Classroom Organization: Tips & Tricks from Real Teachers

Posted by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

Have you started thinking about organizing your classroom for the new school year? It’s hard not to during back-to-school season, right?

To help you set up the best classroom ever, we reached out to a few of our teacher friends in the hopes that they’d share some insider secrets. We hope you find these tips and tricks as helpful as we did!

Michaela, Especially Education

I’ve always dreamed of turning my small special education classroom into the Pinterest-worthy learning space of my dreams, so I was thrilled to discover that my Lakeshore Learning Store had plenty of resources to help me best use my space. It took lots of work (and rearranging), but now my classroom is just right. Here are some tips I learned during my organizing adventures:

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Tip 1: Segment small spaces with room dividers.
On Instagram, I field tons of questions about my Easy-Clean Room Dividers! They keep distractions to a minimum and help segment my small, boxy classroom. Our dividers have endured quite a bit of wear and tear since we purchased them, but they’re still in excellent condition. (They may be lightweight, but they’re also tough!)

These are an absolute must in any special education classroom! They even come in Calming Colors®.

Tip 2: Make storage bins your friends!
One of the easiest ways to bring organization into the classroom is with storage bins. I use bins for just about everything: storing picture books, individualizing independent work, organizing completed work and more. I always consider durability when I purchase classroom items, so Lakeshore bins are the only bins I buy.

Tip 3: Choose fade-resistant paper.
I love bulletin boards, but I despise setting them up. Butcher paper is my archnemesis!

I used Fadeless Paper® back in August, and it lasted all year—so I only had to set up my board once.

And why stop at bulletin boards? I also use Fadeless Paper to hang window banners and decorate my classroom door.

Tip 4: Save time with magnetic letters.
When I discovered this Classroom Magnetic Letters Kit, I knew I had to have it. I love everything about this set: the red vowels, blue consonants, easy-access storage box—and multiples of each letter.

These have saved me so much time—and stress—during small-group instruction since I don’t have to search through a bucket full of jumbled letters.

Marine, Tales from a Very Busy Teacher

A teacher’s work is never done! Even during summer break, I am constantly thinking about ways to rework my classroom. This summer, I’m rethinking my classroom organization with some of my favorite Lakeshore products—and these clever strategies:

Tip 1: Use clear boxes to create classroom centers.
Centers help me keep my classroom routine running smoothly! To create them, I simply label clear bins, fill them with supplies and place them in my classroom library for students to access at any time.

I even have some centers prepped and stored so it will be easy to switch things out as my units change!

Tip 2: Brighten up with neon book bins.
When I saw these Neon Connect & Store Book Bins, my teacher’s heart was so happy. These colors fit my classroom theme and provide a bright feel, and the interchangeable labels make organization easy. They’re also incredibly versatile.

Tip 3: Organize technology with pocket charts.
I love using pocket charts for more than managing assignments! I use the Polka Dots Storage Pocket Chart* to organize classroom technology, including headphones, headphone splitters and more. I even label each pouch so students know exactly where to find materials.

Tip 4: Organize data with pocket charts.
I love using the Chalkboard Brights Pocket Chart* to organize classroom data on an informal level. The chart is my “ticket out the door” system for formative assessments. I set up the pocket chart in an easily accessible location and record the day’s lesson objective in the top space. Then I use bright sentence strips to write those objectives in the form of a question and have students record answers on smaller sentence strips that can be placed right in the chart.

Jodi, Clutter-Free Classroom

To succeed in the classroom and enjoy my work, I seek out ways to save time and get organized! Here are some tried-and-true organization methods that worked well for me as an elementary teacher and continue to make my teaching days run smoothly as a homeschool mom.

Tip 1: Simplify the distribution of materials with supply caddies.
With handy compartments and built-in handles, these caddies make it easy to give students what they need—whether they’re working on the floor, at a desk or at a table. Using caddies is so much easier and faster than having students find and gather items themselves!

Having everything ready and organized will even decrease off-task behaviors and distractions—and increase student engagement and success.

Tip 2: Set up project centers and workstations.
Many teachers think they don’t have the space for project centers and workstations, but Lakeshore’s Heavy-Duty Paper Trays & Lids make organizing and managing centers easy in classrooms where space is limited. Each stackable plastic tray holds papers and supplies, and the lids are perfect for keeping materials contained and organized. I even have my children use the sturdy lids as work mats.

Tip 3: Practice color-coding!
Color can be much more than a decorative touch! Color-coding is a proven method of organization; it makes it easy to find things students need quickly. Here are some color-coding tips:

• Use colored tape on the spines of books and journals.
• Coordinate notebooks, folders and binders to match your color system.
• Use color-coded containers for storage, collecting work and housing related materials.

Who’s ready to start organizing? Click here to find a store near you and plan your visit.

*Available in stores only.

Create the Perfect Environment for Social-Emotional Learning

by Jenna Sekerak | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist 

Children need strong social-emotional skills to thrive in school—especially during critical early years.

However, many children enter kindergarten without essential social-emotional skills. In order to gain a better understanding of this problem, researchers Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta and Cox surveyed more than 3,500 kindergarten teachers. The findings were startling, with teachers citing that many students had difficulty following directions, struggled to work in groups, possessed poor social skills and experienced trouble communicating.

These skills, while nonacademic, impact a child’s school readiness. Children with challenging behaviors are more likely to struggle in school, while children who are emotionally adjusted have a greater chance of early school success.

What does all this mean? It’s important to foster the development of social-emotional skills to help students succeed not only in school, but also in life! These tips will help you embed social-emotional learning into your instruction.

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Tip 1: Create a calm, organized atmosphere.

According to teacher and education expert Megan Dredge, “Your classroom environment speaks to your students before you utter a single word. What is your classroom saying?”

Don’t underestimate the power of your classroom environment! Your space needs to welcome students, keep them engaged and get them excited to learn. If your classroom or schedule is disorganized and chaotic, your students will respond accordingly.

Create a classroom environment that is calm, organized and predictable by developing consistent routines and procedures that produce stability in the classroom. Doing this helps students know what to expect and how to prepare. I love using charts to establish routines. Some of my favorites are Lakeshore’s Daily Schedule Chart and Literacy Centers Management Chart.

It’s also important to organize materials where students can access them and put them away. Resources like the At-Your-Seat Storage Sack and Classroom Supply Caddies are perfect for ensuring that students’ supplies are always within reach.

Tip 2: Develop and model rules and expectations.

As you set clear rules and expectations, involve children in the process to help them better understand the rules and why they are important. Keep the rules simple, clear and positive. I recommend setting no more than five rules—sometimes less is more!

No one likes to be told what not to do! Instead of creating a list of don’t rules, find a positive directive that achieves the same result. Consider the difference between “Don’t talk out of turn” and “Raise your hand to talk.”

To help children master the rules, make sure they are clearly displayed on a bulletin board or chart, such as the News & Rules Charts.

Tip 3: Provide opportunities for children to build relationships.

Communication and collaboration are crucial 21st-century skills, but they don’t develop automatically. Help children strengthen these skills by modeling clear communication, demonstrating positive collaboration and providing opportunities for interaction. Get started by setting the tone for your students and providing examples for how they should behave.

After you’ve set clear expectations, give children the chance to practice their communication and collaboration skills! Pair children up and model proper greeting techniques and good listening skills—including making eye contact, smiling, nodding to show understanding and asking follow-up questions.

Sentence stems provide support for students starting a discussion or responding to a partner. Pick up some Accountable Talk Reading Discussion Starters and a Let’s Get Talking! Prompt Box to help students enjoy enriching conversations!

Tip 4: Teach students conflict resolution skills.

In many cases, students lack the skills to resolve conflicts with others. In fact, many student conflicts that could be solved independently end up requiring teacher intervention and interrupting valuable instruction time. Teaching students about conflict resolution enriches their social skills and saves time in the long run!

KidsHealth®, a top provider of physician-reviewed content on children’s health, recommends discussing potential conflicts in everyday events and allowing students to explain how different reactions can de-escalate the conflict or make it worse. This will help kids make better choices when real conflicts come up!

Plus, there are plenty of products that make it easy to teach social-emotional skills. Lakeshore’s Social-Emotional Learning Kit for Kindergarten-Grade 1 is a great way to help children understand emotions, relationships and conflicts. The Social Studies Leveled Readers help students learn about fairness and following rules. There are even Moods & Emotions Mirrors and a Moods & Emotions Poster Pack to help students understand what different emotions look like.

We hope you’re excited to set students up for future success by establishing a classroom focused on developing social-emotional and behavioral competence. Just remember to be explicit in your teaching, patient and positive—and continue to model, model, model!

References:

  1. Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Pianta, R. C., & Cox, M. J., “Teachers’ judgments of problems in the transition to school,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly (2000): 15(2), 147-166. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222299485_Teachers’_judgments_of_problems_in_the_transition_to_school
  2. “Facts About Young Children with Challenging Behaviors,” Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior (2003). Accessed June 2017, www.challengingbehavior.org
  3. Raver, C., “Emotions Matter: Making the Case for the Role of Young Children’s Emotional Development for Early School Readiness,” Social Policy Report of the Society for Research in Child Development (2002): 16(3), 1-20. https://www.cde.state.co.us/cpp/emotionsmatter
  4. “Cool Teaching Quotes by Yours Truly,” last modified April 13, 2013, http://www.megandredge.com/cool-teaching-quotes-by-yours-truly/
  5. “PreK to Grade 2: Conflict Resolution,” KidsHealth® in the Classroom (2016). Accessed June 2017, http://classroom.kidshealth.org/prekto2/personal/growing/conflict_resolution.pdf

Lakeshore Staff Picks—Summer Reading for Kids

Posted by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

Summer is a great time to get little ones reading! Lakeshore’s Research & Development Team has specially selected each title to appeal to children just beginning to discover the wonder of reading. And our experts should know—they are former teachers with years of classroom experience! Each book they chose helps develop and nurture essential skills in children—from early literacy and reading skills to social-emotional lessons on empathy, kindness and perseverance. Read on to learn what books they recommend and why!

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (24 months to 7 years)

Recommended by Meghan Bruggeman

Children splash through a river, cross a tall field of grass and more in this exciting adventure featuring alliteration, word repetition and bouncy illustrations inspired by nature!

Why I Love It: This book is filled with predictable text, so it’s super-fun to read aloud. The repetitive language allows children to easily join in and “read,” even if they are not yet fluent readers.

Children can even act out the characters’ actions as they face obstacles throughout the book, such as walking through “thick oozy mud.” Engaging in a story this way really brings it to life! Plus, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt touches on story sequencing, vocabulary and descriptive words. It’s packed with educational value!


Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Parker Swanson

Children will love this heartwarming tale of Gerald the Giraffe, who thinks he can’t dance—until he listens to his own unique song!

Why I Love It: The excellent rhythm of Giraffes Can’t Dance makes it read like a long, playful poem. Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees take kids through a range of emotions as they get to know Gerald the Giraffe.

The book provides the perfect opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions with kids. It even helps kids develop empathy! When poor Gerald is teased for his lack of dancing skills, he is never alone—my students would be right there, compassionately sharing his distress. And near the end of the book, when Gerald starts dancing, my students would jump with excitement. I loved seeing how this story helped my students truly feel what the protagonist feels! This book is also great for discussing how teasing and bullying make others feel.


How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends?* by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Bethany Hernandez

Dinosaurs are the perfect way to capture children’s attention! In this story, charming dinosaurs help kids connect with the text as they explore the book’s message about friendship.

Why I Love It: Young children may not know how friends should behave with each other or why certain behaviors are inappropriate or hurtful. How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? makes these concepts easy for kids to understand and apply to their own relationships!

It’s my go-to book for encouraging social-emotional expression and interaction!


The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Alison Glaser

An encouraging and reassuring book to comfort little ones headed off to school, camp…or any place that’s unfamiliar and scary.

Why I Love It: The Kissing Hand is a heartwarming, beautifully illustrated story. I used to read it to my own children when I had to be away from them. I kissed their hands and reminded them that they always carry my love—even when I’m not around.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Eric Chyo

The easy-to-follow rhyming text has a pleasant pace that captivates children—and encourages them to wonder what they’ll see next!

Why I Love It: Eric Carle’s artwork is a visual treat! I love observing the details up close, seeing the thick brushstrokes and layered shapes that form recognizable animals. Plus, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? has a strong rhythm, with the words following a musical, repetitive pattern.

As my sons grew older and started decoding words, they loved reading this book independently because they already knew the rhythm and pattern of the story. I have great memories of my boys exuding confidence as they read the book aloud without any help!


The Day the Crayons Quit* by Drew Daywalt (3 to 7 years)

Recommended by Emily McGowan 

When Duncan opens his box of crayons to discover letters accusing him of not using the crayons correctly—all written by the crayons themselves—Duncan has to figure out what he can do to make everyone happy.

Why I Love It: This book is full of humor and emotion! I love reading it with my kids—they laugh so hard at the idea of their crayons being alive!

Every time I read The Day the Crayons Quit, I’m struck by its powerful message of empathy and treating others with care. It helps little ones understand their emotions and discuss them in a safe way. I can’t think of a more valuable lesson!


Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts (4 to 8 years)

Recommended by Juliana Born

This inspiring book tells the story of engineer-extraordinaire Rosie—and her never-give-up attitude!

Why I Love It: This book gets kids excited to build their own inventions! After reading Rosie Revere, Engineer, your kids might start rummaging through your junk drawers to find materials for their creations. But Rosie Revere, Engineer does more than just inspire creativity. It teaches kids that failure is a part of learning—an important message for little (and big) perfectionists everywhere!


We hope your kids enjoy these educational summer reads! Find a Lakeshore Learning Store near you to stock up for a summer of reading.

*Available in stores only.

Summer Learning Through Sand & Water Play

Guest Blog by Danielle | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Mom Inspired Life

My kids love sand and water play, so I’m always brainstorming activities that inspire joy and learning. These sand and water activities did not disappoint! In fact, they were a huge hit—they kept my kids engaged and learning for hours.

I hope your kids enjoy these summer learning activities as much as mine did!

Activity 1: Scoop Up Kinetic Sensory Sand Ice Cream!

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My four-year-old daughter loves using her Sensory Sand Ice Cream Set to pretend she’s working at an ice cream shop! I love how the set helps her develop fine motor skills and practice social and emotional skills like sharing, cooperation and communication as she serves “ice cream” to others. It’s also perfect for dramatic play. My daughter has been getting super-creative with the invisible toppings she offers. Anyone want some sweet “rainbow syrup”?

Activity 2: Make Kinetic Sensory Sand Cupcakes!

For this pretend-play activity, you’ll need some Kinetic Sensory Sand, a cupcake pan, cupcake liners and candles. Tell your kids to pretend they own a cupcake shop, and ask them to bake some colorful treats. Your kids will have a blast! Up the fun factor by adding some candles to the cupcakes and hosting a pretend birthday party.

Activity 3: Explore “Sink or Float” with the Water Exploration Station!

The Water Exploration Station makes it easy to do a variety of activities with kids. We used it to explore whether items sink or float in water. My kids went around our yard collecting items to test—rocks, sticks, leaves, flowers, mulch, seeds and more. Then we made predictions about whether each item would sink or float.

I invited my kids to drop items into the tubes to test their predictions. My daughter was mesmerized. She was excited every time she dropped a flower or stick into the tube. After we tested all the items, my daughter continued to search the yard for other things to test. She absolutely loved it…and she caught on to the science part of it. It took her only a few tests to realize that heavy items sink and light items float.

My six-year-old son got great satisfaction from correctly predicting many of the outcomes. But there was still an item or two that surprised him. This led to great discussions about why those items didn’t behave in the way he expected.

Activity 4: Cook Up Pretend Soup!

My kids couldn’t get enough of this activity!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Large pot
  • Ladles/spoons
  • Measuring cups and spoons (I put water in a watering can so my kids could pour it into the measuring cups.)
  • Plastic saltshaker
  • Bowls
  • Sand (I added some sand to a plastic saltshaker so the kids could pretend to add seasonings to their soup.)

My kids started by adding water to the pot with measuring cups and spoons. Then they added lots of “seasonings.” They also used the measuring cups and spoons to scoop in sand as if it were sugar or flour.

After they stirred and stirred (great gross motor practice), the kids looked for other things to add to the soup. My son added some grass to look like fresh herbs. My daughter added some rocks—they looked just like potatoes!

As the little chefs worked, they had some squabbles over who could use the ladle to stir the soup and who could use the saltshaker. This gave them the chance to develop social skills—to work through issues and practice sharing, cooperating and communicating effectively. Did they do this perfectly? Absolutely not! They needed guidance from me, but that is to be expected. When all was said and done, though, my kids were extremely proud of their “soup”!

We are definitely going to do these sand and water activities again and again this summer! Not only are they a total blast, but they’re also a fantastic way to build skills. Enjoy!

Outdoor Activities to Boost Math Skills

by Ron Mohl | Lakeshore Lead Educational Presenter

For kids, outdoor play is a nonstop adventure! As they frolic in the fresh air, their senses are heightened and their attention is sharp—they open up to new experiences. That’s why engaging outdoor moments provide a golden opportunity for helping kids build a stronger relationship with math. Here are some skill-building math activities kids can enjoy while having fun outside.

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Let's Predict!

Kids make an immediate and personal connection to learning when they guess what might happen during an upcoming activity. Guessing also helps kids become persistent explorers and problem solvers. Before kids head outside, have them make predictions they can test as they play. Try out these questions to get started:

How many animals/bugs will you see?
Kids can use binoculars to find birds and magnifiers to search for bugs in the grass or garden.

How many bubbles can you make?
Using the Lakeshore Big Bubbles Kit, encourage children to estimate the number of bubbles they can make each time they blow through or wave a bubble wand. Ask kids if they think they can make more bubbles on the next try by changing their technique. You can even have them predict the size of the biggest bubble they can blow.

How long will it take to dry?
Spray water on concrete, a sidewalk or a wall. Set a sand timer and have kids guess if the wet area will dry before or after time runs out. Try a variety of time increments to mix things up!

Measure It!

Kids get plenty of practice using rulers and other standard measuring tools in school. They can practice nonstandard measurement while having fun outside!

What’s the measurement?
This activity works with any nonstandard measuring tool. I personally love starting with feet—the kind with toes! Have children use the length of their feet to measure something outside by counting the number of toe-to-toe steps it takes to go along a fence, around a tree or around other landmarks outside. They can also measure using household items, like a ladle or paper towel roll.

How many claps from here to there?
Have kids count handclaps to measure how long it takes to run, skip, leap or gallop from one point to another. Ask them what they reach faster—the swing set or the basketball court. (Remind them that fewer claps indicate a faster journey!) Tip: Set the pace of the clapping to help children stay consistent.

Game-Hoop Sorting

Finding and gathering items in nature is the perfect way to introduce classification and sequencing. Have kids start by gathering items like leaves, rocks and pinecones. Then extend their play with these math ideas:

How would you classify these items?
Lay a game hoop on concrete pavement. Then use chalk to divide the inside area into “pizza slices.” Have kids use each “slice” to sort nature items into different groups by size, color, texture, etc.

How should we arrange these items?
Next, draw a line on the pavement and have kids sort their items from large to small, soft to hard or light to dark. This form of organizing helps kids work on their ability to put items in order.

 Get Moving with Math!

It’s easy to enrich gross motor activities, like jumping and leaping, with math practice to help kids build balance, muscle and math skills at the same time. Here are some ways to get kids moving:

What’s your next move?
Create an obstacle course! Put up signs to prompt kids to repeat a physical pattern (touch your toes, hop, crawl, touch your toes, hop, crawl, and so on) as they move between two different points outside. Test children’s recall by using a game hoop or other marker to replace one of the movement prompts to see if they can remember the missing move.

How do you do that move?
Break down any move—like a jump, hop or leap—into its separate sequential moves while modeling ordinal counting with children. For example:

Jumping
1. Bend your knees.
2. Blast off with both feet to go up.
3. Land on both feet.

Leaping
1. Stand on one foot.
2. Thrust forward, leading with the foot in the air.
3. Land on the foot that was in the air.

How long is our train?
Have children create human trains by lining up together based on characteristics you call out. You might say, “Line up if you’re wearing blue…if you’re a girl…or if you have buttons on your clothes!” Then have kids count off how many of them are in the train.

As the weather warms up, try any—or all—of these activities! Children will never look at math practice the same way again. Have fun!

References:
1. Angela Oswalt, “Cognitive Development: Piaget Part III,” MentalHelp.Net, last modified June 9, 2010, https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/cognitive-development-piaget-part-iii/.

Learn Through Play All Summer Long

by Clara Lauwers | Lakeshore Marketing

Do you want to know the secret to organizing educational summer activities kids will love? Get them involved in the planning process! And here’s another tip: It’s easy with Lakeshore’s free, downloadable summer learning calendars.

Packed with two full months of activities, these calendars are my go-to resource for activities to keep my 3-year-old son, Lucas, busy and learning all summer long. I let him pick the activities he wants to try, so I know he’s just as pumped for his summer of learning as I am.

Here are just a few of the many activities he can’t wait to try:

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Sunday, June 11: Eat breakfast outside.

Breakfast, sunshine and cooking are a few of my son’s favorite things, so this activity caught his eye immediately. We’re going to make French toast, his favorite morning meal, and take it outside for a family picnic. I’m excited (nervous) to see how sticky we all get from the maple syrup!

Wednesday, June 21: Have a slice of watermelon and count the seeds.

Lucas is obsessed with watermelon. I love watching his little face disappear as he digs in! I’m so glad he’ll get to enjoy his favorite warm-weather snack while practicing his counting skills.

Thursday, July 6: Go outside and find pictures in the clouds.

This creative exercise requires no materials…and no preparation! Lucas already loves looking up at the clouds, so I’ll just ask him to describe what he sees. We’ll be on vacation on July 6, but it’s no problem since we can do this activity anywhere.

Thursday, July 13: Use chalk to make a racetrack on your driveway. Race toy cars on the track.

When my son sees a toy car, he just has to race it. (Or drive it over all our furniture!) Chalk is an inexpensive and easy way to create a huge racetrack outside in seconds. Lucas and his dad are already busy planning an epic track that will take up the entire driveway.

Tuesday, July 18: Make up dance moves to your favorite song.

My little one loves moving and dancing, which is fine by me! It’s a great way for him to burn off some of his energy. We’re going to double the fun by inviting a friend over to dance with us.

Thursday, July 27: Go on a “listening walk” with your child. What does he or she hear?

My family of hikers can’t wait to do this activity multiple times! It’s important for young minds to take time out and listen to nature sounds…and even neighborhood sounds, like driving cars, chirping birds and barking dogs. This activity is also perfect for staying active while learning.

Free Crafts for Kids

Lucas loves going to Free Crafts for Kids at our local Lakeshore store. He can’t wait to make a Dad’s Day Craft-Stick Card on June 17, and he really can’t wait to give it to his dad on Father’s Day. We also plan to make Sail Away STEAM Boats on July 15. Lucas is already scouting out places where he can see how well his boat floats!

To discover more ways kids can learn through play this summer, visit our Summer Learning Guide.

Color Mixing with Bubbles! Lesson Plan

by Emily McGowan | Lakeshore Early Childhood Product Development Manager


Forget everything you thought you knew about blowing bubbles! We’ve come up with a way to add educational value to this carefree outdoor activity. Use this lesson plan to let kids blow bubbles and learn all about color mixing at the same time.

Note: This lesson is designed for preschool–kindergarten. While this lesson plan was created for the classroom, it’s also a fun activity to try at home!

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Objectives:

  • Kids will identify red, yellow and blue as primary colors.
  • Kids will learn how primary colors combine to create secondary colors.

You will need:

Directions:

  1. Read aloud Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh.
  2. Ask kids to recall the three colors of paint the mice jumped into in Mouse Paint (red, yellow and blue). Explain that the colors red, yellow and blue are called primary colors.
  3. Encourage kids to share what they learned about mixing these primary colors together. (They will make new colors!)
  4. Pour some clear bubble solution into two different trays. Add a few drops of blue food coloring to one tray and yellow food coloring to the other.
  5. Ask a volunteer to blow blue and yellow bubbles onto a sheet of white chart paper or butcher paper. Ask kids to observe what happens when the two colors mix on the paper. (Yellow and blue make green.)
  6. Remind kids that mixing two primary colors together will make a secondary color, like green.

Guided Practice:

  1. Pair up the kids and take them outside for this activity. Give each pair two trays of clear bubble solution, a bubble wand and a sheet of white paper.
  2. Have each pair select two primary colors (red, yellow and/or blue). Help kids add a few drops of one food coloring to the first tray and a few drops of the other food coloring to the second tray.
  3. Encourage the partners to take turns blowing bubbles onto the paper, mixing their two primary colors together to discover what new color they can make.
  4. Allow the paper to dry and display the colorful bubble creations on a bulletin board or refrigerator. Invite kids to share what they discovered. (Red and blue = purple; yellow and blue = green; and yellow and red = orange.)

Download this lesson plan.

Get Kids Moving: 6 Ideas for Active Play

Guest Blog by Clarissa | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Munchkins and Moms

Active play is not just an important piece of all our homeschool days—it’s a vital part!

As kids move their bodies through play, they are not only improving their health but are also developing a sense of self and space. They are physically internalizing the concepts of left and right, above and below, forward and backward, etc. These are important prerequisites for reading (left-to-right, top-to-bottom progression), math (moving forward and backward on a number line) and so much more!

On warm, sunny days, it’s easy to get outside and play…but staying active when stuck indoors can be a bit more of a challenge. That’s why we’ve added a few new versatile toys and games to our home. They can be used outdoors in the beautiful spring weather, or they can be brought indoors when it’s rainy. Either way, we are prepared for fun and active play this spring!

Here are a few of our favorite ways to keep our minds and bodies active:

Idea 1: Go “alphabet” bowling.

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This isn’t your average bowling set! The Alphabet Bowling set from Lakeshore Learning comes with every letter of the alphabet and a foam “bowling” ball. We couldn’t wait to set it up!

We played this game both inside and outside for the chance to compare and contrast how the ball rolls on different surfaces. Bowling is also a great way to work on eye/hand coordination and practice friendly competition.

Here are some more ways we plan to use the game:

  • Spell words (sight-words, kids’ names, etc.) to knock down using the ball.
  • Use the foam letters in a seek-and-find game.
  • Stack the letters to form alphabet towers.

Idea 2: Skip, hop and jump to boost math and reading skills.

We’ve discovered hours of learning fun using a sidewalk and some chalk.

To practice reading skills, we draw a 5′ x 5′ grid on the sidewalk and write a letter in each square. Then we call out simple words, and the boys hop on the letters that spell each word.

We use the same simple grid for a math maze by erasing the letters and replacing them with numbers. The boys love counting from 1 to 20 or skip-counting by 2s, 5s, 10s or 100s as they hop around the grid.

Next time, we plan to draw an out-of-order number sequence grid on the sidewalk and have the boys hop and skip over the squares to count in the correct order. When it’s time to learn multiplication, we’ll shout out numbers and have the boys jump on the two factors.

Idea 3: Play ball!

We love playing with lots of different balls—footballs, soccer balls and baseballs are some solid favorites. Playing ball is great for eye/hand coordination and promoting cooperative play skills. Our new favorite balls are these rainbow-colored, Soft & Safe Comet Balls from Lakeshore. They are unique and completely irresistible to kids!

The balls come in a rainbow of colors, and they’re so fun to throw! The ball portion is made from a soft, easy-grip material that won’t hurt other kids (or break windows).

My boys didn’t limit themselves to tossing from the head of the comet. They gleefully spun the ball from the tail and sent it flying sky-high, too! You can use these balls for countless games, such as:

  • Comet tag. Simply toss the ball to tag a friend.
  • Target practice. Aim balls at a chalk target on the sidewalk.

We took out a bucket and practiced making comet baskets for a fun twist on a classic activity. This game can also be taken indoors on rainy spring days!

Idea 4: Enjoy leapfrog (and other classic childhood games)!

Leapfrog, hopscotch, jump rope—these are some of the classic childhood games my kids and I enjoy together! The games only require a few supplies (or no supplies at all) for fun and active play and can be modified for both indoor and outdoor use. For example, use painter’s tape (instead of chalk) to make an indoor hopscotch game.

Leapfrog, hopscotch, and jump rope all provide great opportunities for kids to improve balance and coordination while having fun. As kids go through childhood growth spurts, their center of gravity shifts, so it’s important to play these types of games often! Their little bodies need the physical feedback this type of play provides to stay confident in their abilities.

Playing classic games is also a great way to connect and reminisce with your kids about your own childhood. (“I used to play hopscotch like this when I was a kid!”) Recalling a story from your past provides a great framework for teaching retelling skills, an important literacy skill in early childhood education.

Idea 5: Take aim with Lakeshore’s Indoor/Outdoor Kids’ Croquet.

Croquet is a classic game that I enjoyed playing as a kid, so I couldn’t wait to share it with my boys!

This set is unique because it can be played both indoors and outdoors. We played on grass and carpet—and had fun both ways!

Playing croquet develops eye/hand coordination, promotes good sportsmanship, improves muscle control and much more! It has been one of our favorite games to play this spring.

Here are some other ways to enjoy croquet with friends:

  • Take a field trip to a senior home and invite the residents to play a game of croquet with the kids.
  • Hold a neighborhood croquet tournament. If there are more than four players, create teams of two for more fun!

Idea 6: Go for a good old-fashioned run.

When it comes to active play, running is about as classic as it gets. Whether they’re running down grassy hills or racing against one another, kids always enjoy a good run! If you want to mix things up a little bit, here are some fun variations to include in your kids’ run game:

  • Use a stopwatch to time their runs. Encourage them to beat their last times!
  • Challenge them to change direction mid-run by calling out “left” and “right” at random intervals.
  • Have them run while holding streamers behind them. (This is fun to do on a breezy day!)

There are countless ways to include running in your kids’ playtime activities! It is one of the most basic gross motor skills kids develop throughout childhood, and helping kids enjoy it offers long-term benefits.

There are so many ways to play and stay active this spring. These great games can all be taken outdoors for fun in the sun…or brought inside on rainy days. Enjoy!