Learn, Create and Explore—7 Easy Springtime Activities

Guest Blog by Lindsay | Blogger from My Creative Days

Hello, Lakeshore readers! It’s Lindsay from mycreativedays.com. I’m here to share seven spring activities I use to get my kids learning, creating and exploring. Try these activities outside to soak up the spring sun, or save them for indoor play on a rainy day.

Activity 1: Make and share mini treat baskets.

My kids love making these baskets and sharing them with friends, family and neighbors. Lakeshore’s All-In-One Craft Tub, Collage Pots, Collage Flowers and Brush-On Washable Painters are perfect for this activity. Since the Collage Pots are not too big or too small, they’re easy to decorate, and they hold just the right amount of goodies.

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The kids painted the pots with Brush-On Washable Painters. These painters were a huge hit with the kids. They loved how the paint came right out of the brushes, and I loved how we weren’t wasting paint since the kids could squeeze it out as needed. (My kids usually pour way too much paint when preparing for a project, and most of it gets wasted.)

Then the kids added Collage Flowers, Wooden Collage Letters and other embellishments from the All-In-One Craft Tub. We glued chenille stems to the inside of each pot to make handles.

These baskets are going to make our friends and neighbors very happy this spring! We plan to hang them on doorknobs and put them on teachers’ desks.

Activity 2: Craft a carrot garland.

My kids swell with pride when they see their handiwork displayed in the house. When I told the kids I needed a spring garland to hang on the wall above our entry table, my daughter thought a carrot garland would be perfect because we already have a bunny “wreath” hanging on the wall.

To make the garland, I folded a piece of orange construction paper into eight rectangles.

Then my daughter drew a carrot on one of the rectangles.

She then refolded the paper so she could cut out a bunch of carrots at once. Next, we punched a hole in the top of each and made carrot tops using green chenille stems from the All-In-One Craft Tub.

Finally, we strung up the carrots to make the perfect garland to complete our spring entry table!

Activity 3: Use STEAM skills to design floating boats.

This Design & Play STEAM Boats Kit is perfect for hosting an all-day playdate, which we did at my house. The kids colored and designed for hours.

The Design & Play STEAM Boats Kit comes with everything kids need to put a boat together. Some of the kids looked at the pictures on the box to get ideas, while others decided to wing it.

After the boats are completed, kids can take them to a sink or tub to see if they float. But since we have a creek at the end of our street, we were able to turn the activity into an outing. I packed a snack while the kids designed and decorated. When they were done, we grabbed our picnic blankets and went down to the creek. I set up the blankets and the snacks while the kids tried to float their boats. They had a blast watching their boats sail down the creek. They also got to see fish and frogs, skip rocks and climb around until they were tired. Talk about the perfect day!

Any activity that lasts more than a few minutes is a favorite in my book! I’m dreaming about using the Design & Play STEAM Boats Kit at our next birthday party. We could all design our own boats and eat cupcakes as we watch them float.

Activity 4: Explore textures on paper eggs.

Exploring and playing with textures is fun at any age! We cut out big eggs using construction paper from the All-In-One Craft Tub. Then we created cool designs on each egg using washable paint and sponges in different shapes and textures from the Big Barrel of Art Sponges.

My daughter loved testing out the different sponges. She manipulated them to produce cool effects. I think she ended up decorating at least six eggs. They make our refrigerator bright and happy for spring!

Activity 5: Plant seeds and watch them grow.

Planting is one of our favorite things to do in spring and summer. Not only is it fun, but it also teaches kids patience as they learn that seeds need time and care to grow. Planting is a full-circle activity that truly produces something in the end—in the ground and in kids’ minds.

Ever since we added an outdoor kitchen to our backyard, our daughter has been all about dirt. When she saw Lakeshore’s Watch & Record Plant Lab, she was excited to plant some seeds. The Watch & Record Plant Lab is amazing, because it shows kids how the growing process works as it happens. It includes heavy-duty bags that don’t rip as kids handle them. This is a major plus when kids are working with dirt!

Activity 6: Create chicks in nests.

A list of seven spring activities would not be complete without a chick craft! This craft can be customized to any learning level. If you have young children, help them out by preparing all the pieces. If you have older children, they can work independently.

The All-In-One Craft Tub had everything we needed for this craft. We used construction paper, feathers, glue, markers and wiggly eyes. We cut out circles to make the chicks. Then we cut out orange triangles for the beaks. We glued colorful feathers on each chick and added wiggly eyes. The older kids added “twigs” to the nest with the brown marker.

Simple crafts like these are easy to pull together to keep kids busy while you do other things. I always have ideas and materials stashed away so I can grab them in a pinch.

Activity 7: Color a rainbow!

The All-In-One Craft Tub has a lot of pieces that are perfect for crafting and learning. When I was thinking about a spring activity that would incorporate learning, I thought a rainbow would do the trick. For this activity, we cut a cloud from white paper and glued cotton balls all over it. Then we counted and sorted craft sticks to make the rainbow.

I wrote numbers on the bottom of each wooden stick, and the kids counted and glued foam squares from the All-In-One Craft Tub on the rays. This got them categorizing colors and counting.

The rainbow is so pretty and colorful! Keep this craft in mind when you want kids to create and learn during the same activity.

I hope these activities help you integrate lots of creative fun into your spring!

If you liked this post, come over to My Creative Days and say hello! I am always creating something, and I would love to have you visit my project today.

Creative Days Blogg

4 Tips for an Engaging Toddler Learning Environment

by Ron Mohl | Lakeshore Lead Educational Presenter

Toddlers make new discoveries everywhere—especially in their own learning environments! When you create a nurturing space filled with excitement and wonder, you can help toddlers develop social-emotional, language, motor and cognitive skills. Follow these four tips to create an engaging learning environment that sets toddlers up for success through play.

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Tip 1: Encourage choices to foster independence.

Furniture can be especially helpful to toddlers’ physical development. Toddlers might try standing and walking at any moment. Support their curiosity and independence by filling your environment with super-sturdy units with rails, like our First Steps® Double-Duty Storage Center. Toddlers can use the furniture to pull themselves up and maintain balance during their first steps.

Keep your space stocked with safe materials toddlers can easily grab and use. For example, our Soft Seats make it easy for little ones to choose where they want to sit in a play area.

Tip 2: Help toddlers soothe themselves.

The ability to self-soothe is important to the social-emotional development of toddlers. Make sure your environment includes areas where toddlers can get some privacy while remaining in view, like our Toddler Treehouse Hideaway. Areas like this help toddlers soothe themselves until they’re ready to play with others.

Tip 3: Facilitate sensory learning.

Sensory exploration helps toddlers engage with their environment and connect to learning. Look for sensory materials that make sounds, look stimulating and feel interesting and inviting. Here are some examples:

Tip 4: Be a play partner!

Increase the value of play by getting involved! Join children on the floor and describe actions and objects to help build vocabulary. You can even make the experience more comfortable with our Backpatter’s Seat.

As toddlers play, ask open-ended questions. If they’re using our Community Play Carpet, you might ask:

  • Where in town can we park our cars?
  • Where in town do you want to work?

Allow for conversations that have back-and-forth exchanges. Even if you get a simple coo or goo in response to a question, show respect by following up with a reply.

Perfect your learning environment! Check out our new catalog to find developmentally appropriate materials for infants and toddlers.

Lucky Day Sight-Word Game

by Jennifer Corrado | Lakeshore Marketing

This easy-to-make St. Patrick’s Day game lets kids follow lucky horseshoes to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But there’s an educational twist! Kids need to use sight-word skills to reach the prize.

Note: This craft can also be adapted for use in the classroom—just print out multiple templates and add more supplies!

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You will need:

Directions:

  1. Match each player with a partner.
  2. Give each pair a Lucky Day game board and a set of shamrock sight-word cards. Invite players to get creative and color both items.
  3. Give each player a leprechaun to color, cut out and use as a game marker.
  4. Explain that the object of the game is to follow the path of lucky horseshoes to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
  5. Have players place the shamrock sight-word cards facedown in a deck. Then have them take turns selecting a card and reading the sight-word.
  6. Players advance their leprechaun marker to the next horseshoe when they read words correctly.
  7. The partner whose leprechaun marker reaches the pot of gold first wins!

Variation:
To modify this game and practice newly acquired vocabulary words or more difficult sight-words, simply print out the blank cards and write in your own words. Then make as many copies as needed.

Product Spotlight: Design & Play STEAM Kits

by Kirk Iwasaki | Lakeshore Senior Product Designer

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. It’s where STEM concepts, like critical thinking and engineering, meet the creativity of art. Our Design & Play STEAM Kits help kids integrate artistic flair and STEM knowledge to create vehicles with the perfect balance of good looks and functionality.

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How do kids use the Design & Play STEAM Kits?

Kids use the kits to design and create real-working cars, boats and planes.

They grab their own arts and crafts materials to decorate and add custom details to the precut pieces. Once they’ve built their vehicles, they can add finishing touches.

Next, they test their creations. They might discover that improperly aligned wheels make a car wobble or that acrylic gemstones make a plane too heavy to soar. Kids fine-tune and test their vehicles until they discover an ideal combination of engineering and design.

What will children learn?

Since these kits are open-ended, they cover a variety of concepts. For example, children could learn about:

  • Problem solving—as they troubleshoot through the design process to build their vehicles
  • Cause and effect—as they test and adjust their vehicles
  • Natural forces, such as gravity, motion and buoyancy—as they create flying planes, racing cars and floating boats
  • Communication—as they design with partners

Kids will also learn how to use creativity and perseverance (a key 21st-century skill) to create something unique. That’s what kids love most—creating a one-of-a-kind vehicle that looks and works just the way they like!

5 Ways to Enhance Dramatic Play Through Family Engagement

by Ron Mohl | Lakeshore Lead Educational Presenter

Have you heard the term “family engagement” lately? It might make you think of conversations around the dinner table, game nights or even park outings, but there’s a little more to it! Family engagement refers to the practice of families participating in activities with children to maximize learning. One way you can work family engagement into existing routines is by using it to enhance dramatic play.

The five ideas below pair family engagement with dramatic play to help children have fun while developing practical skills in literacy, math and more!

Idea 1: Take a walk in someone else's shoes!

Dressing up is an important part of dramatic play. As children pretend to be construction workers, firefighters or nurses, discuss what these community helpers wear and why to familiarize kids with the real-life careers their costumes represent. For example, you could talk about the helmets, bright colored vests and traffic signs included in construction-worker costumes. Ask children why they think real construction workers wear these items so they can take away a deeper understanding of protective clothing worn in the real world.

You can even turn every errand into an eye-spy game to find dress-up ideas! When you go to the grocery store or post office, ask kids to observe what people wear. When it’s time to play dress-up again, kids can recreate the wardrobes they saw in real life.

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Idea 2: Tool around.

Dramatic play encourages children to act out different professions by using tools of the trade, such as a doctor’s stethoscope, chef’s utensils or cashier’s register. Playing with tools helps children boost fine motor and problem-solving skills as they figure out how to accomplish specific tasks. As children play, consider asking them these questions.

  • What could a fisherman use to catch fish?
  • What would an astronaut need to explore space?
  • What does a firefighter need to fight fire?

Asking questions will inspire kids to invent their own tools, leading to a fun-filled family weekend of designing and building dramatic play accessories.

Idea 3: Put on a show.

Create an experience everyone can share! Dream up a circus act complete with a ringmaster and clowns, start a rock band using cardboard instruments or put on a puppet show. The whole family will have fun, plus there’s learning in every aspect of planning. For example, creating flyers incorporates literacy…and setting up a stage requires math skills and spatial awareness. Everyone in the family will enjoy the planning process as much as the final presentation!

Idea 4: Respect traffic patterns together.

Trucks, cars and trains have a way of revving up kids’ imaginations! Have you ever noticed kids pretending to be different vehicles as they walk, run or ride trikes? Give their play an educational boost by placing traffic signs around the house or in the yard so they can practice following traffic patterns. When you go on walks or rides in the car, ask children to identify traffic signs and signals. You’ll be amazed at the transfer of understanding from play to real life!

Idea 5: Work STEM into dramatic play!

STEM (the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) helps children solve problems using a simple design process that involves planning, creating and testing. It’s easy to work these steps into dramatic play! For example, as kids pretend to be construction workers making cardboard forts, they’ll plan what materials, sizes and shapes to use; create the structure; then test it to make sure it stands upright. For an activity that incorporates STEM, dramatic play and family engagement, simply work as a family while asking kids thought-provoking questions about their building plans.

9 Tips for Encouraging Kindness in the Digital Age

by Marianne Kelley | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist 

All babies are born with the capacity for empathy. However, spending too much time using devices such as smartphones, tablets and TVs can weaken this skill. That’s why it’s important to help children practice kindness and caring from an early age, especially in our constantly connected world.

Now this doesn’t mean we should block kids completely from using technology! To encourage kindness in our digital world, we adults simply need to set rules for media usage, monitor kids’ online interactions, use parental controls and, most importantly, set a good example.

We hope these tips will help you find new ways to nurture empathy.

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Tip 1: Build a vocabulary of words that describe feelings.  

  • Use simple words to describe the emotions of others. (Look at that lady’s beautiful smile; she must be very happy!)
  • Label your feelings and ask children to do the same.
  • Act out different scenarios and discuss how the people involved might be feeling.

Tip 2: Decode nonverbal cues by reading facial expressions and body language.

  • Help children learn to read nonverbal cues by pointing out specific examples. Ask kids how someone who is crying might be feeling, and encourage them to think of ways they might help.

Tip 3: Work emotional words into everyday life.

  • Work more emotional words into your discussions with children. (I’m so happy to see your smiling faces today!)
  • Encourage children to use more emotional words each day. They can even practice identifying emotions in themselves using our Moods & Emotions Mirrors.

Tip 4: Watch movies without sound.

  • As you watch, ask kids to guess the characters’ feelings based on their facial expressions, movements and more.

Tip 5: Read!

Tip 6: Model empathetic behavior. 

  • Start volunteering, and be sure to discuss your experiences with children.
  • When you’re upset, happy, sad, mad, etc., label and explain your feelings. If you’re uncomfortable sharing your own feelings, model emotions with our Feelings & Emotions Washable Dolls. Use them to act out scenarios that will help children understand different emotions.

Tip 7: Incorporate empathy into your discipline style.

  • When children require discipline, prompt them to consider how their actions affect others. For example, if the negative behavior involved pushing, ask the child how it feels to be pushed.

Tip 8: Give back.  

  • As a group or team, collect toys and clothing to give to shelters or charities.
  • Ask kids to share their ideas for helping the community.

Tip 9: Follow the golden rule.

  • Treat others (and animals) as you want to be treated—all day, every day.
  • Give kids specific examples of the golden rule in action with our Learning to Get Along Book Set. These books walk kids through sharing, listening, resolving conflicts and more.

And never forget the best way to inspire kindness in children—getting involved and showing them you care!

Valentine Tic-Tac-Toe

by Chelsea Guerrero | Lakeshore Marketing

This Valentine’s Day, I’m helping kids to give tic-tac-toe a makeover! I know they’ll love decorating these reusable boards and thinking up kind phrases to write on the heart-shaped game pieces.

Note: This craft can also be adapted for use in the classroom—just print out multiple templates and add more supplies!

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You will need:

Preparation:

  1. Cut the foam sheets into six-inch squares. You’ll need one for each crafter.
  2. Photocopy the Heart Shapes template onto white construction paper. Or you can provide foam sheets for kids to trace the shapes onto. (Each game board requires two sets of five hearts.)

Directions:

  1. Provide each kid with a foam square.
  2. Have kids share Glitter Glue Painters to make wavy lines on the foam to create their tic-tac-toe boards. Tell them each space on the game board should be about the same size.
  3. Give each kid a copy of the Heart Shapes template. Have them color in five of the hearts so they can easily see the difference between Player 1 and Player 2.
  4. Ask kids to cut out all 10 hearts to use as game pieces. Or instruct them to trace the hearts onto foam sheets and cut them out.
  5. Now have kids write kind words or phrases such as “Love,” “Be thankful” and “Make friends” on each game piece.
  6. After the game boards have dried, invite kids to play Valentine Tic–Tac–Toe with a partner!

Extension:
Remind kids that tic-tac-toe is more than just a game of chance. Invite them to share their strategies for thinking ahead and winning the game! Will any moves ensure a win? Are there ways to predict what their opponent will do? What moves might block their opponent from winning?

If your kids love Valentine’s Day crafts, join us on Saturday, February 11, for a free in-store event! Click on the banner below for more information.

Classroom Decorating Ideas for the New Year

by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

Are you ready for a classroom refresh to help you take on the new year? You don’t have to undergo a total overhaul to keep students smiling—simply making a few small changes to your bulletin board or reading corner might help energize your classroom!

Keep reading for some decorating inspiration—then visit our stores to browse over 40 different collections and find the perfect look for your 2017 classroom.


Dr. Seuss Collection

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Decorating Tips:

  • Repurpose accents to make teaching aids. We wrote “silent reading” and “quiet time” on two Dr. Seuss hats, then attached each to a wooden dowel.
  • Pair solid and print borders to create a pop of color and add a stylish “framed” look to your board. We paired the Dr. Seuss ABC Deco Border  with solid red trimmer. And don’t let extra borders go to waste—use them to tie the whole look together by framing posters around the classroom.

  • Take inspiration from posters to design new learning activities. Consider placing the Dr. Seuss Try Something New Poster  above a storage box filled with a variety of “new” activities. Each week, have one student pull out an activity for the class to try.


Painted Palette Collection

Decorating Tips:

  • Play with color! We love how this rainbow border looks with light blue fadeless paper.
  • Encourage positive behavior! We put students’ names on clothespins and clipped them to bulletin board aids (BBAs) with encouraging behavioral messages.
  • Display an example of your craft of the week (or month) to get students excited about upcoming creative projects.

  • Choose organizational elements in neutral colors so they’ll complement your décor. These baskets are a lightweight, dishwasher-safe alternative to the traditional woven kind.
  • Mix in items from other collections to highlight parts of your board. Our board includes Chevron Frame Accents with sketches of winter clothing to draw kids’ attention to a weekly discussion question about cold-weather dressing.


Black & White Collection

Decorating Tips:

  • Feature your favorite color. We added violet fadeless paper to black-and-white accents for just a touch of color.
  • Display outstanding work! For example, a star theme will encourage students to reach for the stars.
  • Mix up your patterns. Combining dots and doodles creates a unique look. Break all the rules to find your own style.
  • Display your calendar at eye level to make it easy to review with students. You can even add borders left over from your bulletin board to fill in the empty spaces.

Visit your local Lakeshore Learning Store for these collections—and more!

Spark Young Imaginations with Space-Themed Activities

by Toisha Burns | Lakeshore Marketing

A fresh new year calls for new adventures! And to help guide you toward them, Lakeshore offers FREE teacher workshops at our stores nationwide. Our Shoot for the Stars! Workshop is a great place to start. From creating a mission control center to forming letters in “moon sand” and more, you’ll discover fun ways to help kids explore new horizons―even when chilly weather has trapped them indoors. It will be a blast! Here’s a sneak peek…

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Activity 1: Mission Control to Lakeshore

Transform your dramatic play area into NASA headquarters! Share with children pictures from space missions, space shuttles, Mission Control, the moon landing, etc. Once you’ve looked over and discussed what the children saw in the photos, decide what you want to include in your own “Mission Control.” Provide children with art materials in order to create different parts of “NASA” in the dramatic play area. You may want to provide them with some basic pieces they can build upon (e.g., the outline of a space rocket, the area dedicated for Mission Control, pictures of space, etc.).

Extension:
Create a Mission Control panel and headset. For the panel, use a presentation board (the board in the photograph uses only half a board), assorted arts and crafts materials and a variety of reusable materials, such as empty tissue boxes, different bottle and jar tops, etc. For the headset, use craft cups, Pipe Stems, Pom-Poms and a yarn lace.

If you are able to create a space shuttle, discuss what types of things you need to complete your rocket (e.g., a steering wheel, windows, chairs, control buttons, etc.). Line up chairs “within” the shuttle so children can pretend to take off for the moon.

Activity 2: If I Were an Astronaut

Brainstorm as a class what you all might encounter if you were in space. What might it look like? How might it feel? What might you do while in space?

Provide students with a sheet of picture story paper and ask them to write about or draw something they would do or experience if they were an astronaut in space. They can either try writing the words themselves or you can provide them with a writing prompt like, “If I were an astronaut, __________.” Once everyone is done, have each child share what their experience would be.

Invite the class to pretend to be astronauts. What do astronauts wear? Explain that in order for them to breathe outside of the spaceship, they wear a space suit and helmet. The suit and helmet provide them with the oxygen they need to breathe while in space. Share pictures of present-day space helmets and suits.

Extension:
As a class, create your own astronaut helmets. Assist students in taking a large, brown paper bag and cutting a circle or square on the face of the bag. Then provide the class with arts and crafts materials to finish decorating the helmet. Encourage students to add “dials,” NASA markings, “tubes,” etc. Have children bring their helmets to the dramatic play area.

Activity 3: To the Moon and Back

This next activity creates a hands-on, sensory experience that encourages letter recognition and helps develop early writing skills.

Create “moon dust” by taking regular sand and mixing in a little black liquid watercolor or black food coloring. Once it dries, add a thin layer of it to a tray. The tray should be shallow enough for children to easily reach inside. Clip an alphabet card to the tray or set the card next to it so children can easily reference it as they practice writing in the moon dust.

Extensions:
1. Create a sensory area with a space-themed twist. Add stars, figures, and flags to the sensory tub. Children can act out a scene using the astronaut figures. Encourage them to create craters or set up a colony on this new, strange “planet.” Provide a shoe with a rugged sole to make imprints on the surface of the “planet.”

2. Give each child a sheet of aluminum foil. Have them crumple their pieces of foil into different-sized “moon rocks.” Set out a bucket and have the children practice tossing the “moon rocks” into the bucket from different distances.

Take a look at the other upcoming workshops we offer—all jam-packed with ideas for exciting educational activities like these!

Make Your Own Gift Wrap & Tags for the Holidays

by Marni Hughes | Lakeshore Marketing Operations Manager

Nothing warms my heart like having my kids help me prepare for the holidays! This year, we’re celebrating the spirit of giving by making our own colorful wrapping paper and holiday gift tags. My kids certainly can’t wait to get creative and add their own special touches to gifts for family and friends. Just follow these simple instructions to see what your little helpers come up with!

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Handmade Gift Wrap

You will need:

Directions:

  1. Cut a large sheet of butcher paper.
  2. Invite your kids to create handprints all over the paper using the ink pads.
  3. Decorate with collage materials.
  4. Wrap gifts any time of the year with one-of-a-kind wrapping paper!

Decorative Gift Tags

You will need:

Directions:

  1. Provide your kids with plenty of construction paper in a variety of colors. Either set out some paper that is precut into various shapes (e.g., ovals, squares, rectangles, trees, bells, candles) or encourage your kids to use the Crinkle-Cut Craft Scissors to cut their own gift tag shapes.
  2. Next, have your kids decorate the tags with a variety of collage materials and use the markers to write holiday messages, such as “Happy Hanukkah,” “Season’s Greetings” or “Celebrate Kwanzaa!”
  3. If desired, punch a hole near the edge of the tag and thread a length of ribbon or string through the tag, or use tape to attach the tag to a holiday gift.

Want more holiday craft ideas? Visit www.lakeshorelearning.com and click on “craft ideas & activities” under resources. Or drop by any Lakeshore Learning Store for Free Crafts for Kids every Saturday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.