The Children's Busy Book: 365 Creative Learning Games and Activities to Keep Your 6- to 10-Year-Old Busy

CHAPTER 6

Homework Helpers

Education commences at the mother’s knee, and every word spoken within the hearing of little children tends toward the formation of character.

—Hosea Ballou

From the day your child was born, you’ve been his most important teacher. And when your child starts school, your help is still important. To help your child learn, make sure he eats healthy meals and gets enough rest, free time, fresh air, and quiet time for homework and reading. Limit passive activities like watching TV. Read to him each day and let him see you reading for pleasure.

You can also do activities that help your child develop basic learning skills. For example, word games strengthen memory, spelling, and vocabulary. Journaling develops writing and organizational skills. Laundry and cooking develop skills like sorting, estimating, and measuring. Have fun with these activities! Kids won’t be thrilled about doing extra “school,” but they’ll enjoy doubling a cookie recipe or blowing giant bubbles. As former U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said, “The first teachers are the parents, both by example and conversation. But don’t think of it as teaching. Think of it as fun.”

FUN WITH WORDS

Word games can be played almost anywhere, anytime—while you’re traveling, doing chores, waiting in a doctor’s office, taking a walk, and so on. They don’t require any special equipment, although pencil and paper may come in handy.

These activities help strengthen your child’s auditory memory and spelling, reading, and vocabulary skills, but remember to approach them as games. Keep them fun for your child, or he won’t want to play.

Anagrams

Anagrams are pairs or groups of words that use exactly the same letters in different order, for example: pills/spill and eat/tea. The following games are fun ways to play with anagrams. They may be tough for beginning readers, but independent readers will enjoy them.

• Grab a pencil and paper and brainstorm a list of anagrams with your child.

• Write a list of words on a sheet of paper. Challenge your child to write an anagram for each. Or if you like, list the words and their anagrams in two separate columns and in different order, then ask your child to match the anagrams by drawing a line between each pair. Here are some anagrams to get you started: lemon/melon, rats/star, cloud/could, flow/wolf, dice/iced, race/care, bread/beard, but/tub, stop/post, step/pest.

• After playing with anagrams a bit, you’ll enjoy making up anagram riddles like Q: What do you call a bothersome thing on the stairs? A: A step pest.

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Which Is Different?

Think of a category, such as animals, food, or household objects. Name four objects within the chosen category, three of which begin with the same sound. For example, if the category is food, you could say, “Chocolate, cheese, apple, chips.” Challenge your child to tell you which word begins with a different sound from the other three. Trade places and let your child think of four words for you.

Rhyme Time

• Ask your child simple rhyming riddles like Q: What month rhymes with spoon? A: June.

• Challenge your child to think of as many rhymes as he can for a particular word. If multiple children are playing, have them write their answers down and see who can think of the most words within a certain time.

• Write a word like hat on a sheet of paper. Ask your child how many new words he can make by changing the first letter, for example: bat, cat, fat, and so on.

• Make up riddles that have rhyming words as answers, such as Q: What’s a large hog? A: A big pig.

Word Chain

This game requires two or more players. Think of a category, such as animals. The first player says a word that fits the category, such as cat. The next player says another animal name that begins with the last letter of the first player’s word, such as tiger. The next word would then begin with r, and so on. End the game when players begin to repeat words.

Word Scramble

Pencil and paper

Scramble up some common words and challenge your child to unscramble them. For beginning readers, use three- and four-letter words and provide a definition for each scrambled word. For example, you might tell your child that rac is something you drive or dirb is something that flies. For independent readers, scramble longer words and/or skip the definitions. If you like, scramble words in categories, such as animals, musical instruments, fruits, and so on.

For two or more players, make a list of scrambled words and give a copy to each player. See who can unscramble all the words first.

Homophone Fun

Learning about language doesn’t have to be boring. Playing games with homophones is a fun way to strengthen your child’s vocabulary skills. Homophones are pairs or groups of words that sound alike but have different meanings, for example: heir/air and nose/knows. Homophones may be spelled differently or alike, so the words fast (quick) and fast (abstain from eating) are also homophones.

Pencils and paper (optional)

• Ask your child to tell you any homophones he can think of. Ask him to tell you their meanings, too. He might, for ex-ample, say, “A board is a piece of wood, and bored is how you feel when there’s nothing to do.” If two or more children are playing, have them write down their homophones on paper.

• Make up riddles that have homophones as answers, such as Q: What do you call a teddy with no clothes? A: A bare bear.

Nym-ble Noggin

Exercise your brains with the synonym and antonym games described below. Synonyms are pairs or groups of words with the same or similar meanings, for example: nice/kind and big/large. Antonyms are pairs or groups of words with opposite meanings, for example: hot/cold and tall/short.

Pencil and paper

Children’s thesaurus

• Brainstorm the synonyms of various words. (Adjectives—words, such as pretty, that describe people, places, and things—are the easiest words to use.) For example, synonyms of pretty include gorgeous, beautiful, lovely, attractive, and cute.

• Think of a word, give your child a pencil and a sheet of paper, and challenge him to write down as many synonyms for the chosen word as he can.

• Brainstorm the antonyms of various words. (Verbs—action words, such as stop—and adjectives are the easiest words to use.) For example, antonyms of stop include go and start; antonyms of prettyinclude ugly, hideous, and unattractive.

• If you like, show your child how to use a thesaurus (a book of synonyms). A children’s thesaurus is very handy when your child is doing creative writing.

Funny Sayings

Every culture has sayings that, taken literally, are very silly or make no sense at all. We rarely stop to question the meanings of such sayings, and children who hear them usually understand them just by the context in which they’re used.

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Think of some funny sayings your child knows, like Two heads are better than one or It’s raining cats and dogs. Perhaps your family has its own funny sayings that are meaningless to outsiders but loaded with significance to you. Or perhaps a saying has crept into your family’s vocabulary after reading a certain book. For example, when one can’t find an item in our house, it’s a sure thing that the Borrowers have taken it. Talk with your child about what these sayings mean, both literally and figuratively, and discuss whether they’re true. If you’d like to read more about American English sayings, read What Your First Grader Needs to Know and What Your Second Grader Needs to Know by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

Backwords

My daughter Andria “made up” this game when she was about five years old. (It has surely been played by many other families, but I’ll always think of it as Andria’s game.)

Choose a word, then challenge your child to reverse the letters of the word (in his head or on paper) and say it backward. For example, tree becomes eert, car becomes rac, and so on. If you like, start with simple one-syllable words. As your child becomes more skilled at this game, challenge him to reverse words with digraphs (pairs of letters, such as sh, that each represent a single sound), words with silent letters, multisyllabic words, and complete sentences.

Palindromes

A palindrome is a word, phrase, or sentence that reads the same backward and forward, such as dad, evil olive, and Madam, I’m Adam. How many palindromes can you and your child think of? If you like, make up riddles with palindromes as answers, for example: Q: What do you say when something amazes you? A: Wow!

READING AND WRITING

My daughter Andria was about six years old when she began reading fluently. One day, when my sister complimented her on her reading, Andria replied with a sigh, “Yes, it’s opened up a whole new world to me!” My sister thought this statement was hilarious coming from a child, but I recognized it as one of the carrots I’d dangled before Andria as encouragement. And it’s true! When parents help their children learn to read, they help open the door to a new world. A child’s world is forever expanded and enriched when he becomes a reader.

The home environment powerfully influences a child’s reading development. Children who read well come from homes where there are plenty of books, magazines, and newspapers and where everyone reads. Children who read well have parents who encourage reading and make time for it—who read aloud to them, talk to them about their ideas and experiences, take them places, limit their TV viewing, and take an interest in their reading progress.

Games and activities like those that follow will help develop your child’s reading and writing skills, but remember that there’s no better way to help your child succeed as a reader than reading aloud together. Take the time to read to your child every day. Even fluent readers enjoy and benefit from hearing good books read aloud.

World of Words

The following ideas are adapted from the U.S. Department of Education booklet Helping Your Child Become a Reader.

• Point out letters and challenge your child to find and name specific letters in signs, billboards, posters, product packaging, books, and magazines.

• On each page of a blank notebook or scrapbook, have your child draw or glue a picture representing one letter of the alphabet. Help him label each picture with the appropriate letter.

• Let your child decorate a box or shelf to hold his books. Help him arrange his books in any order he likes.

• Ask your child to act out a line or two of his favorite poem, rhyme, or song.

• Make a travel journal with your child. Each evening, write in a blank notebook or scrapbook about the day’s special event. Later, glue in photos.

• Hang a message board in your kitchen. Leave simple notes there for your child and encourage him to leave notes there, too.

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Notes and Lists

Pencil and paper

To help your child practice his writing skills and be more observant and organized, try these activities:

• Encourage your child to take notes describing what he sees on trips and outings.

• Encourage your child take to notes on a TV program, then write and illustrate a paragraph about it.

• Encourage your child to make lists of his belongings, items he’d like to buy, things he’d like to do, homework assignments, test dates, and social events.

Label the Fable

Book of fables, such as Aesop’s Fables

A fable is a story that teaches a lesson. Read a fable to your child, then do the activities below to exercise your child’s comprehension, reasoning, and critical thinking skills.

• Have your child explain the moral of the story in his own words. Or if you like, give your child three morals and ask him which moral matches the fable.

• Talk about situations in your child’s life where the moral of the story might apply.

Crazy Captions

This activity is fun for prereaders, beginning readers, and independent readers. Adapt it to your child’s ability.

Family photos or photos from old magazines or catalogs

Glue

Small notebook, sheet of poster board, or several sheets of plain paper plus construction paper and stapler

Pencil, pen, colored pencils, or markers

Give your child some family photos or old magazines or catalogs to look through for photos. Let him glue several photos that interest him into a small notebook or onto a sheet of poster board or several sheets of plain paper.

Encourage your child to think of a descriptive, funny, or just plain crazy caption for each photo. Have your child write the caption below the photo. If you like, write the caption faintly in pencil and let your child trace it, or write the caption on scrap paper and let your child copy it. If you’ve used plain paper, assemble the pages into a booklet by adding a construction paper cover and stapling the pages together.

Word-Tracing Game

Homemade or store-bought picture cards showing things that represent simple words like hat, pig, and doll

Pencil

One sheet of paper per player

One marker per player

Divide the cards into as many equal sets as there are players. For each set, print the corresponding words faintly in pencil on a sheet of paper. Give one list to each player. Shuffle all the cards together and put them facedown in a pile. The first player draws a card, identifies the picture, then looks for the word on his list. If he finds it, he traces it with a marker. If he doesn’t, he discards the card. The next player does the same, and the players take turns until there are no more cards in the pile. The player who has traced the most words at this point is the winner. A child playing alone can make a game of simply identifying the pictures, finding the words, and tracing the words.

Variation

If all the players are independent readers, turn this into a spelling game. For this variation, you needn’t make lists. When a player draws a card, he simply writes the word on a sheet of paper. When there are no cards left in the pile, the player who has spelled the most words correctly is the winner.

Just Jokes

Small notebook

Pencil, pen, colored pencils, and/or markers

Have your child write his favorite jokes and/or riddles in a small notebook. If you like, print the jokes faintly in pencil and let your child trace them, print them on scrap paper and let your child copy them, or simply print the jokes yourself. Have your child illustrate each joke.

Reading Journal

This activity is a great way for your child to practice writing and remember the books and authors he likes.

Small notebook

Pen, pencil, crayons, and/or markers

When your child finishes a book, encourage him to make an entry in his journal. He can use a separate page for each book and note its title, author, and illustrator; the date he read it; why he liked or disliked it; whether he would recommend it to others; and whether he would look for other books by that author or illustrator. Have your child illustrate the entry.

Nonsense Book

Ten or more index cards

Small notebook

Pencils, crayons, colored pencils, or markers

Divide the cards into two sets. On each card in one set, write a sentence subject like Dad, Justin, The cat, The hat, and so on. On each card in the other set, write a predicate like has a bat, is tired, has a bib, is in bed, and so on. If you like, write in one color for subjects and one for predicates.

Let your child pick a subject card and a predicate card and join them to form a sentence, for example: The hat has a bib or The cat is in bed. Have your child read the sentence aloud, or read the sentence for him. Then have your child print the sentence at the bottom of one page of the notebook (or print it for him). Let your child illustrate the sentence. Repeat this process several times to make a nonsense book.

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Free Samples for Kids

Writing away for free or nearly free items gives kids valuable practice at reading and following directions, writing letters, and addressing envelopes and postcards.

Writing paper

Postcards

Ten-inch envelopes

Pencil or pen

First-class and postcard stamps

Money (optional)

Companies often offer free samples to consumers who write letters or e-mails to request them.

Check web sites such as Free Stuff 4 Kids (www.freestuff4kids.net) and Freebies (www.freebies.com) with your child to find items he’d like to request. Help him follow the intructions carefully to prevent disappointment.

Address Book

Keeping track of the addresses of friends and family members helps your child practice his writing skills, learn about alphabetical order, and learn how to write addresses correctly.

Pencil, pen, or marker

Index cards

Ruled paper

Blank address book or small notebook

Stationery and postage stamps (optional)

Tell your child that an address book organizes information alphabetically by last name. Write the names and addresses of friends and family members on index cards. Have your child organize the cards in alphabetical order.

Next, show your child the correct format for writing an address. Let him practice writing his own name and address on ruled paper.

Have your child copy the names and addresses on the index cards into a blank address book or a small notebook. If you’re using a notebook, label the pages alphabetically.

Encourage your child to use his address book when sending letters, greeting cards, and thank-you cards to friends and family. If you like, give him a supply of stationery and postage stamps.

MATH

The word math often conjures up images of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. Those basic math skills are as necessary today as ever, but children need more than the ability to compute in order to successfully navigate their world. They need to understand various technologies, solve problems, examine relationships, and make sense of the world around them. They need realistic problem-solving practice and activities that challenge them to investigate, conjecture, and justify.

To succeed in math, a child needs good instruction and encouragement. Just as reading with your child helps build his interest in reading, doing math with him fosters his interest in math. This doesn’t mean just drilling your child or doing work sheets together. Math incorporates not only numbers, but also shapes, patterns, logic, direction, time, estimation, measurement, and classification. Doing math means asking questions and playing games that encourage your child to think in these terms.

A good way to build your child’s math skills is to teach him that math is a part of the real world. Shopping, traveling, gardening, meal planning, cooking, eating, and even laundry all involve math. The following activities will also help you show your child that math is fun and useful. If you’re looking for even more math fun, check out Family Math by Jean Kerr Stanmark, Virginia Thompson, and Ruth Cossey. It’s an excellent book packed with fun math activities for the whole family.

Name That Coin

This guessing game will help your child learn to recognize coins and will develop his problem-solving and higher level–thinking skills.

Variety of coins

Set out one of each kind of coin. Think of a coin and give your child hints to help him figure out which coin it is. For younger kids, give simple hints like My coin has a man on one side and a building on the other. For older kids, give harder hints like Ten of these coins equal one dime. Keep giving hints until your child guesses the coin. Take turns with your child giving hints and guessing coins.

Once your child knows the various coins well, practice making trades. For example, you might ask your child how many pennies he’ll give you for a nickel and a dime, or you might say that you’ll give him twenty pennies for a quarter and ask him if that’s fair.

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Real-World Math

The following activities will help your child make the connection between math and the real world.

• Let your child help with the grocery shopping. Check and compare prices, weights, and quantities together. Let him use a calculator to keep track of the cost of what you’ve bought, to compare prices, to calculate cost per ounce, and so on.

• Point out speed limits and distances between towns. Talk about the time it takes to get from one town to another when you drive at different speeds.

• When you’re gardening, have your child count the number of plants and measure the distance between them, their heights, and calculate the perimeter and/or area of the garden.

• Let your child help with the cooking by measuring ingredients and checking cooking times and temperatures.

• Keep a height and weight record for your child.

• Encourage your child to play games and do activities that involve counting, finding patterns, and solving problems. Tick-tack-toe, checkers, and chess are all good games for learning math. Doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles and playing music are also great math activities!

Treasure Hunt

This activity is adapted from the U.S. Department of Education publication Helping Your Child Learn Math.

Small household treasures like buttons, screws, bottle caps, and old keys

Container big enough to hold treasures

Hunt for an assortment of small household treasures. Then use them for the following math activities:

• Sort and classify the treasures. Compare their sizes and discuss how they’re alike and different.

• Use the treasures to invent and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division story problems. For example, if you share seventeen buttons among three people, how many buttons will each person get? Will there be any buttons left over? Or if three shirts need six buttons each, do you have enough buttons?

• Choose one type of treasure, such as screws. Lay all the screws side by side. Compare, contrast, and count the screws. For example, there may be three short screws, seven long screws, and eleven medium screws. There are four more medium screws than long ones. Older children can also use this opportunity to talk about fractions. For example, one-third of the screws are long.

Estimating

Estimating is an important everyday skill. And when a child estimates the answer to a math problem, he understands the problem better and solves it more easily. Use the following activities to help your child practice estimating.

• Fill a small jar with small treats. Challenge your child to estimate how many items are in the jar. If you like, have a weekly contest with the winner receiving the contents of the jar. Compare how many pieces of various treats fit in the same jar.

• Estimate things like how many times the refrigerator door is opened in a day, how many windows your house has, or how many cans of food are in your cupboards.

• Ask your child questions like If I had two dimes, three nickels, and four pennies in my pocket, about how much money would I have? or If I buy three bottles of juice for ninety-eight cents each, about how much money will they cost me altogether?

• Estimate things like which book you own is the heaviest, how long a line of ten paper clips is, or the difference in height between people in your household.

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Guess My Number

My kids love to play this game anytime, anywhere. They don’t think about the skills they’re building, but asking and answering questions about numbers helps them understand the characteristics and meanings of numbers.

Let your child think of a number. Then try to guess it by asking questions. Here’s a sample conversation:

Child: I’m thinking of a number between one and a hundred.

Parent: Is it odd or even?

Child: Even.

Parent: Is it more than fifty?

Child: Yes.

Parent: Is it more than seventy-five?

Child: Yes.

Parent: Can you divide this number into four equal parts?

(and so on)

After you guess the number, let your child take a turn as the guesser. For younger children, start with a lower range of numbers, such as one to twenty or one to fifty.

Variation

Limit the number of questions the guesser may ask. This will encourage your child to exercise reasoning and judgment. For example, if the number is greater than fifty, it’s better to ask whether the number is greater than seventy-five than whether it’s between fifty and sixty.

Just the Facts

Knowing basic arithmetic facts is crucial to math success. Only your child can memorize them, but you can help by stressing their importance and playing games with them.

• When you’re playing board or card games, have each player read a math problem from a flash card and give the correct answer before taking his turn.

• Practice a fact each day. For example, repeat the fact five plus three equals eight whenever you can all day long. Sing it, say it in funny voices, shout it, and whisper it. Your child will have it down by bedtime!

• Look at a fact table and cross out all the ones your child already knows. Among those remaining, cross out duplicates. Show your child how much he already knows, and what’s left will seem less daunting to him.

• Play math bingo. Draw a grid and write a number in each square. Draw flash cards one at a time and have your child cover up the squares that show the answers. Use small treats as markers. When a game is over, let your child eat his used markers, then start a new game.

• Play math concentration. Make several pairs of cards, one card showing a problem and the other card showing the answer. Spread out all the cards facedown and take turns turning over two at a time. If they make a pair, the player keeps them and takes another turn. If they don’t make a pair, the next player gets a turn.

Calendar Math

Calendar

• Read the calendar with your child daily. Say the day of the week, the month, the date, and the year. Ask your child what yesterday’s and tomorrow’s dates are.

• Teach your child this rhyme to help him remember the number of days in each month:

Thirty days has September,

April, June, and November.

All the rest have thirty-one,

Save February, which alone

Has twenty-eight, and one day more

We add to it one year in four.

• Talk about calendar patterns. For example, why might there be five Sundays in a month but only four Mondays? If the first Tuesday of the month is the fifth, what will the second and third Tuesdays be?

• Make a blank calendar grid. Find out what day of the week the first of next month will be, then make a calendar for that month with your child. Write the days of the week across the top of the calendar. Write the date in the upper right corner of each square. Mark holidays, birthdays, and other special days with stickers or pictures.

Roman Numerals

Pencil

Paper

Explain to your child that the number symbols we use every day came from Arabia and are called Arabic numerals. A different system was used in ancient Rome. We call these symbols Roman numerals. The Roman numeral system uses six basic symbols: I (one), V (five), X (ten), L (fifty), C (one hundred), and M (one thousand). There are two rules for writing Roman numerals:

• Putting a numeral of lesser value before a numeral of greater value decreases the second numeral by the amount of the first. Thus IV equals four because V (five) is decreased by I (one).

• Putting a numeral of lesser value after a numeral of greater value increases the first numeral by the amount of the second. Thus VI equals six because V (five) is increased by I (one).

Write some Roman numerals on a sheet of paper and challenge your child to figure out what numbers they represent. Start with easy ones, such as I (one), II (two), III (three), IV (four), V (five), VI (six), VII (seven), VIII (eight), IX (nine), and X (ten). When your child masters these numbers, try more difficult ones, such as XL (forty), LX (sixty), XC (ninety), and so on. Take turns writing and interpreting Roman numerals.

Clock Arithmetic

The following activities will help your child learn to tell time and understand the passage of time.

Clocks (standard and digital)

Old clock or play clock

• Set a standard clock and a digital clock next to each other. Have your child look at the clocks whenever he goes outdoors, comes indoors, has a meal, and so on.

• Find an old clock or make a play clock by attaching construction paper hands to a paper plate with a brass fastener. Ask questions like If it’s six o’clock now, what time will it be in two hours? Help your child move the hands to figure out the answers to your questions.

• See how many times your child can do something within a given time. For example, how many times can he jump up and down in a minute?

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Skip-Counting Game

Learning to count by twos, fives, tens, fifties, and hundreds will make basic arithmetic easier for your child. Before you begin playing, learn the skip-counting jingle and its rhythmic accompaniment:

(slap knees)

(clap hands)

(snap left hand)

(snap right hand)

Counting,

counting,

1, 2,

3.

That’s too

easy,

can’t you

see?

Count in-

stead by

twos or

threes, or

By the

number

named by

me.

The players sit in a circle on the floor. To begin, they recite the jingle together while slapping, clapping, and snapping as shown above. All the players continue to slap, clap, and snap as the first player declares a number to count by (for example, ten). The player to his left then must say the next number in the series (in this case, twenty). Play continues around the circle. Each player must say the next number in the series during one slap-clap-snap-snap pattern. If a player is stumped or says the wrong number, he must drop out. To resume the game, the remaining players recite the jingle again and declare a new number. The last player remaining after all the others have dropped out is the winner.

SCIENCE

Isaac Asimov said, “Science can be introduced to children well or poorly. If poorly, children can . . . develop a lifelong antipathy; they will be in a far worse condition than if they had never been introduced to science at all.” Asimov’s words ring true with me. Thanks to one boring teacher, I grew up hating science, thinking it was dull and difficult.

As a home-schooling parent I almost made the same mistake. One year I decided we really should be “doing science,” so I tried to teach it from a third-grade textbook. We all hated it, and soon we were coming up with daily excuses to avoid doing science. About halfway through the year I closed the book on our formal study of science.

Since then we’ve learned that science is anything but boring. It’s in everything we do—from watching the phases of the moon to building sandcastles to blowing bubbles to collecting daddy-longlegs to baking cookies. Books like David Macaulay’s The New Way Things Work, TV programs like The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy (available on DVD), and places like Vancouver’s Science World make our world come alive.

The following activities will help your child learn about the world around him by doing. If you like to read to your child, you might also consider reading biographies of Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, or Galileo Galilei. There are also great picture books about scientists, such as The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky and Benjamin Franklin by Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire.

Float an Egg

This activity will help your child understand the concept of density and learn why objects sink or float.

2 clear drinking glasses

Water

Marker

Teaspoon

Salt

2 eggs

Fill one glass half-full of water. Mark the water level on the glass. Add salt a spoonful at a time and stir it into the water until it dissolves. Stop adding salt when it won’t dissolve anymore. Notice what happens to the water level as you add salt. The level shouldn’t rise; instead, the water gets denser as it becomes saturated with salt. When you dissolve salt in water, you cram more molecules into the water without making the water take up any more space. Fill the other glass half-full of plain water. Gently put an egg in each glass. The egg in the saltwater should float, and the egg in the freshwater should sink. The saltwater is denser than the egg, so it holds up the egg, causing it to float. The freshwater is less dense than the egg, so it can’t hold up the egg, and the egg sinks.

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Make a Fossil

Most fossils form this way: A living thing decays and leaves a mold in its own shape behind in the earth. Then rock forms inside the mold, creating a copy of the living thing. This activity will help your child understand how fossils form.

4 cups plaster of Paris

21/2 cups water

Disposable container

Old or disposable small baking pan

Petroleum jelly

Mix 2 cups of plaster of Paris with 11/4 cups of water in a disposable container. Spread the plaster in the bottom of an old or disposable small baking pan to a thickness of about 1 inch. Wait about 2 minutes until the plaster begins to set.

Coat your child’s hand with petroleum jelly. Gently press his hand into the plaster just enough to dent the surface. Hold his hand in place for a few minutes, then remove it and let the plaster set until it’s completely hard.

Coat the hand-shaped mold with petroleum jelly. Mix up another batch of plaster and pour it into the mold. Let the plaster harden, then gently separate the “fossil” from the mold. If they don’t separate easily, hold the pan upright and tap it lightly with a hammer.

Homemade Hand Lotion

Does your child know that cosmetics like shampoo, soap, and hand lotion are created by scientists? This activity will help your child understand how it’s done.

2 cups water

1 packet unflavored gelatin

4 tablespoons glycerin

Few drops of perfume or cologne

1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol

Heat 1 cup of water to nearly boiling. Stir in the gelatin, then stir in 1 cup of cold water. Let the mixture cool until it’s just warm. Add the glycerin, perfume or cologne, and rubbing alcohol and mix well. Put the mixture in the refrigerator.

Stir the mixture every 15 minutes or so. In 1 hour, it should have the consistency of loose Jell-O. Take it out of the refrigerator and whip it with a fork or an eggbeater. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. If it’s too thick, add water until it’s thin enough to pour.

Homemade hand lotion makes a great gift. To package it, pour it into a clean baby food jar or other small jar. Tie a circle of fabric over the jar lid with a ribbon and label the jar however you like.

Amazing Inflating Balloon

Both chemistry and cooking are about combining ingredients to create something completely different. In cooking, certain ingredients, such as yeast and sugar, are vital to the finished product because of the chemical reaction they produce when they’re combined. This activity demonstrates how yeast works.

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup warm water

3 small packages active dry yeast

One empty 1-quart soda or juice bottle

Balloon

Rubber band

Have your child dissolve the sugar in the water. Stir in the yeast, then pour the mixture into the bottle. Stretch the open-ing of the balloon over the mouth of the bottle and secure it with the rubber band. Set the bottle in a warm place, such as on top of your refrigerator. In a while, the balloon will inflate. Why?

The yeast cells are eating the sugar, and as they do so, they produce a gas called carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen, so it pushes the oxygen in the bottle up and into the balloon. The same happens with yeast used in cooking. In that case, the release of carbon dioxide helps dough rise.

Invisible Ink

This activity uses iodine, which is poisonous, so please supervise it carefully.

1/2 teaspoon iodine

4–5 teaspoons water

Empty film canister or pill bottle

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 cup cold water

Small microwaveable container

Toothpick

Sheet of paper

Small sponge

Mix the iodine and 4–5 teaspoons of water in the empty canister or bottle to make a tan-colored solution. Label the canister or bottle with the word poison and keep it out of reach of small children.

Have your child mix the cornstarch and cold water in a microwaveable container until they’re smooth. Microwave the mixture on high for 15 seconds. Stir it, then heat it on high for another 45 seconds. Dip a toothpick into the mixture and write with it on a sheet of paper.

To read the invisible message, dip a small sponge into the iodine solution and spread it lightly over the message. As the iodine mixes with the starch, the starch turns blue, and the message appears!

Copper Nail

Here’s another activity that demonstrates how chemicals change when they’re combined.

1/4 cup vinegar

Glass jar

Pinch of salt

10–20 copper pennies

Iron nail

Scouring powder

Have your child pour the vinegar into the jar. Add a pinch of salt. Put the copper pennies in the vinegar and let them stand for a few minutes. Clean the iron nail with scouring powder and rinse it thoroughly. Drop the nail into the vinegar with the pennies and let them sit for about 15 minutes. What happens to the nail? What happens to the pennies?

After about 15 minutes, you’ll notice that the iron nail is coated with copper and the pennies are bright and clean. The acid in the vinegar cleaned the pennies. It also combined with the copper to form a compound called copper acetate. The copper in the copper acetate is what covered the iron nail.

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Rock Candy Crystals

21/2 cups sugar

1 cup water

Medium saucepan

String

Button with large holes

Pencil

Drinking glass or glass jar

Help your child mix the sugar and water in the saucepan and cook the syrup over medium heat until it boils. Let it boil for 4 minutes without stirring it, then remove it from the heat and let it cool for a minute.

Thread the string through the button and tie it securely. Tie the other end of the string to the pencil. Leave several inches of string between the button and pencil.

Pour the syrup into the glass. Don’t touch the glass after you’ve poured in the syrup; it will be very hot. Set the pencil across the top of the glass or jar. The button should hang suspended in the syrup. When the glass is cool enough to touch, move it to a place where it’ll be easy to see but be undisturbed for a week or so.

Look at your syrup from time to time. First you’ll see small crystals forming on the string. Eventually these will become larger chunks that can be broken off and eaten.

Rubber Egg

Chemical reactions occur inside our bodies all the time. If your child has trouble remembering to brush his teeth, this activity is a great way to show him how cavities form.

Egg

Small container

Vinegar

Chicken bone

Have your child place an egg in a small container and cover it with vinegar. Set the container aside for 24 hours. Pour out the vinegar and gently pick up the egg. Squeeze it. The acid in the vinegar will have dissolved the minerals in the eggshell so that it’s now soft and rubbery.

Repeat the experiment with a chicken bone. In 3–4 days, the bone will be rubbery.

The bacteria in your mouth produce acid that dissolves the enamel on your teeth in the same way that the acid in the vinegar dissolved the minerals in the eggshell and chicken bone. Remind your children to brush their teeth often to remove bacteria and keep their teeth healthy and strong.

Electric Lemon

This activity demonstrates how batteries generate electricity.

Metal paper clip

Lemon

Length of copper wire

Have your child straighten the paper clip and insert one end into the lemon. Remove any insulation from both ends of the copper wire and insert one end into the lemon. Hold the exposed ends of the paper clip and the wire and touch both of them to your tongue at the same time. You’ll feel a tingling sensation caused by electricity.

How does this work? You’ve created an electric battery. A battery needs two kinds of metal plus an acid. The paper clip and wire provide the metals, and the lemon provides citric acid. Water conducts electricity, so your wet tongue completes the electric circuit when you touch the wires to it.

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Fireplace Colors

This activity shows how different chemicals produce different-colored flames. Be sure to supervise it carefully.

2 gallons water

2 plastic pails

1 pound copper sulfate (available at a hardware store or garden center)

1/2 pound boric acid (available at a drugstore)

2 large mesh bags (laundry or onion bags)

Pine cones (enough to fill both mesh bags)

Rocks (optional)

Have your child measure 1 gallon of water into each pail. Mix the copper sulfate into one pail and the boric acid into the other. Fill each mesh bag with half the pine cones. Place one bag in the copper sulfate and the other in the boric acid. If the bags float, weigh them down with rocks. Let the pine cones soak for 3–4 days, then remove them and let them dry completely. To use the pine cones, toss them into a lit fireplace. The copper sulfate cones will burn green, and the boric acid cones will burn blue-green. To make cones that burn orange-red, use calcium chloride. For violet flames, use potassium chloride. Calcium chloride and potassium chloride may be available at your local hardware store, garden center, or drugstore. You can also check the Internet for chemical supply and scientific supply companies.

GEOGRAPHY

Geography is the study of Earth. It’s divided into five major themes: location (where things and people are); place (what makes a location special, both physically and culturally); interaction (between people and the environment); movement (of people, products, and information); and regions (areas defined by distinctive characteristics).

Children are naturally curious, and you can do a lot to steer your child’s curiosity toward geography. Prompt him to ask questions about his surroundings. Expose him to lots of maps and let him see you using maps regularly. To help him think geographically and build precise mental images, try to use basic geographical terms (north, south, climate, highway, river, and so on) whenever possible. Play games like Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? that teach your child how to ask questions about geography and use maps.

The following activities are only a few examples of the many ways your child can learn geography. They’re informal and easy, but they’ll help lay a solid foundation for your child’s academic ventures into geography.

My Town

The following activities will help your child discover the personality of your city or town.

• Take a walk through your neighborhood and talk about what makes it unique. How is it similar to other places and how is it different? Talk about what the buildings are used for and notice features built to conform to the weather or topography. A visiting Swiss friend once pointed out to us that the homes in our neighborhood would never withstand the weight of the snow that falls in her mountain village.

• Study the weather. Weather can have a strong effect on the character of a place. Listen to a TV or radio forecast or read the weather map in the newspaper. Track the high and low temperatures of cities across the country and around the world. Watch cloud formations and forecast your neighborhood’s weather.

• Ask your child, “Is what we eat affected by where we live?” Perhaps you live near the sea and eat a lot of seafood. If you live near an orchard, fresh fruit may be an important part of your diet. Farm families may eat lots of dairy, poultry, beef, and so on. If you like, go to various ethnic restaurants and talk about what ingredients are commonly used in certain areas.

People and Places

How do people adjust to their environment? What are the relationships between people and places? How do people change their environment to suit their needs? The following activities will help your child understand the interaction between people and their environment.

• Talk with your child about what would happen if you didn’t change the natural environment of your yard by mowing grass, raking leaves, or watering.

• Go on a neighborhood litter patrol with your child. Wear gloves and/or use a pointed stick to pick up the litter. Talk about how we can help take care of our environment by controlling garbage and recycling.

• Notice how people sometimes adapt to their environment instead of changing their environment to suit them. For example, you might ask your child, “Why do people in hot countries wear long, loose clothes? Why do low-lying communities build dikes? Why are beach houses sometimes built on stilts?”

Maps

Maps help kids understand the concept of location. These activities will help your child practice making and reading maps.

• Help your child draw a simple map of his bedroom, house, yard, or neighborhood. Make a map leading your child to hidden treasures in your home or yard.

• To help your child understand direction (north, south, east, and west), use your home as a reference point, showing the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Point out geographical features to the north and south. Ask your child questions like What direction are you facing if the setting sun is on your right?

• Find your city or town on a map. Point out familiar locations like friends’ homes and your child’s school. Discuss the purpose of a legend on a map.

• Hang a map of North America or the world on a wall. Use it to locate places you read or hear about.

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Here to There

Most people interact with places other than the places they’re in almost every day—whether they’re eating food or wearing clothes produced in another region or sharing information via telephone, newspaper, radio, TV, or Internet. The following activities are fun ways to learn about how people, products, and information move.

• Travel in as many different ways as you can: by foot, bicycle, car, bus, subway, train, airplane, ferry, and so on. Talk about the different routes each method of transportation takes. For example, ask your child how the walking route to his school differs from the driving route.

• Look around your house and find the origins of various objects. Look at clothing labels to learn where your clothes were made and think about where your food was produced. Ask your child questions like Why are bananas grown in Central America? and Why does our milk come from a local dairy?

• Talk about different ways people communicate with each other. Ask your child, “When would you use a phone? When would you write a letter? When would you send an e-mail?”

Divided Earth

Earth’s regions can be defined by physical elements like land-forms, climate, and soil or by cultural differences like politics, economics, religion, and so on. The following activities will help your child understand regions.

• With your child, look at the physical regions in your home. Ask him, “Is there a sleeping region? An eating region? What other regions can you describe?”

• Take your child to plays, movies, and puppet shows about people from other countries. Read picture books, novels, and nonfiction about other countries. Listen to music from other countries. If possible, wear clothing and buy or make food typical of other countries. Learn simple words and phrases in another language.

• Have your child compare coins and stamps from various countries. Coins and stamps tell many things about a country, such as its political leaders, wildlife, history, sports, and so on.

FINE ARTS

The fine arts include visual arts, music, dance, and drama. Just as reading good books to children helps instill values, observing and participating in fine arts can help develop a child’s artistic sensibilities and fill his mind with examples of beauty. And just as a child’s early experiences with good books help him develop a lifelong habit of reading for pleasure, a child’s early experiences with fine arts can give him a lifelong appreciation of the arts.

Fortunately, most elementary schools recognize the importance of fine arts and stress them even in the earliest grades. So do many parents. Those who are financially able may supplement their children’s school experiences with music lessons, drama groups, or art classes. Parents can also provide many informal fine arts experiences, such as singing, playing, and listening to music as a family; attending music, drama, or dance performances; visiting art galleries and museums; looking at prints or books about famous works of art; acting out familiar stories; and so on.

The following activities are some fun and informal ways you and your child can experience the fine arts together.

Art Book

Your child can learn a lot about art just by looking at it, noticing details, and enjoying it. This activity will help your child do just that.

Scissors

Old magazines, newspapers, gallery catalogs, calendars, and fine-art greeting cards and postcards

Glue or tape

Large scrapbook

Have your child cut out pictures of art from magazines and so on and glue or tape the pictures into a scrapbook. Encourage him to jot notes telling what he knows about the artworks and artists and describing his thoughts about the artworks. Your child will enjoy looking at his art book and sharing it with others.

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Instrument Dictionary

Making a musical instrument dictionary is a great way to introduce children to a variety of instruments.

Twenty-six sheets of paper

Two sheets of construction paper

Stapler

Old magazines, catalogs, books, calendars, and so on

Scissors

Markers

Glue

Stack the paper between the sheets of construction paper and staple the stack together along one edge. You now have a blank booklet with twenty-six leaves. On the front of each leaf have your child write one letter of the alphabet.

With your child, look through old magazines, catalogs, books, calendars, and so on for pictures of musical instruments that he can cut out or trace. You might also print pictures off the Internet. Read a little about each instrument you find.

Glue each picture onto the appropriate page in your booklet. For example, your A page may show an accordion, your B page may show a bassoon, and so on. Have your child write the instrument’s name next to each picture and include any other information he finds interesting.

Artist of the Month

Declaring an artist or composer of the month is a fun way to learn about visual art and music.

Art prints

CDs or digital audio files

Simple biographies of visual artists and composers

Decide ahead of time which artists or composers you will feature. Look at your local library, on the Internet, or in an encyclopedia for some information on each. Find a few prints of each visual artist’s work or a CD of each composer’s work. You may want to base your choices on the seasons; for example, December is the perfect time to feature Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker.

In a prominent place, post the name and, if possible, a picture of the artist or composer for the current month. Display the artist’s prints or spend some quiet time listening to the composer’s music. If possible, attend an exhibit or concert that features the artist’s or composer’s work. Ask your child what he likes and/or dislikes about each work. Read a short biography of the artist or composer or simply share the interesting things you’ve learned about his or her life. Have a few books available for your child to read or leaf through. At the end of the month, change your display.

Act It Out

For most children, drama begins informally at a very young age. Playing with dolls is drama; playing store or hospital is drama; and playing cops and robbers is drama. Children also observe drama on TV, in movies, and onstage. This activity gives children an opportunity to participate in drama in a more structured and intentional way.

Choose a story your child is familiar with, such as The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, or a favorite picture book. The Bible is also a great source of stories; try the story of Moses parting the Red Sea or the story of the birth of Jesus.

To dramatize a story, your child can say the dialogue while performing the actions or simply perform the actions as you narrate the story. Costumes and props can be elaborate, simple, or nonexistent. Productions can be either impromptu or rehearsed and presented to friends and family members.

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Write a Play

Pencil or pen

Paper

Encourage your child to write an original play. He may want to base his play on something that has happened to him, such as winning a special award or the birth of a new sibling. If he doesn’t know where to begin, use a familiar nursery rhyme, song, or story as a starting point.

Explain to your child that a play includes more than just the words spoken by the actors. A play also includes set information, which tells about the scenery where the play takes place, and stage directions, which tell the actors what they should be doing as they say their lines. To distinguish stage directions from the actor’s lines, have your child enclose stage directions in parentheses and underline them (like this).

Your child’s play can be as simple or elaborate as he wishes to make it. The finished play can be read aloud or acted out complete with cast, costumes, and a set. This activity will probably require a lot of parental involvement, so be prepared to help your child as much as needed.