I really love the Busy Bag exchange! Getting a bag full of age-appropriate activities is exciting, but, it helps to have some direction. A bag of activities will only take your little one as far as you LEAD them.
There might be instructions on some of the activities, but I wanted to add my step-by-step teaching tips because otherwise your little one simply has something to occupy their time (which isn’t all bad! I am a mommy too remember?) BUT you also have a great teaching opportunity….to meet your little one in his/her zone of proximal development. Wait what? Basically….a chance to tap into their prior understandings, engage with their working memory, and BUILD onto what they already know.
I joked with my girlfriends the other night at dinner about one of the activities in the mix because it seemed almost too open-ended to even figure out what it’s purpose was. But open-ended materials can leave room for some of the most organic learning experiences, and it has many purposes for more ages than the suggested age.
1) I started by letting my little one investigate on his own so I could observe what observations he was making and so he could just get his curiousity out before I started something slightly more structured.
2) We talked about the colors (sorting them into groups for a better visual). We talked about how soft they were (texture). We talked about how they were little (size). We talked about how there were a lot of pom poms and tried to count them (one by one correspondence) as we put them inside the tupperware.
3) We pretended we were little crawfish and used our pinchers to pick up the pom poms. “Oooh, lets put the red ones in first!” (Pre-writing in mind….proper pencil grip!)
4) We practiced pushing them the pom poms in the hole with just our “pointer finger” and then just our “thumb” and later we were silly trying to push it in with our pinky finger.
5) Finally, we practiced taking turns and Sean Patrick had a blast racing me to push my pom pom in on my turn.
If you have older ones….accommodate and adapt the activity to fit what your little one is working on….estimation, graphing, or adding. You probably have the materials just lying around your house so it is too easy not to get it together.
So, my encouragement is not to take activities at face value EVEN IF the picture of the activity SEEMS self-explanitory.
After being introduced to Second Story Window’s Busy Bag Exchange concept, there is so much to share that I am going to try my best to compartmentalize my efforts. So, here is “take one” of the busy bag adventure.
Though I read a low-rating review from a blogger who has a toddler blog (a blog that I like a lot though), I chose the activity intentionally because it is a GREAT activity to teach and to experiment with fine motor and sensory development. This activity is not going to reap the same outcome as it would for a five year old, however, it is still a busy bag that I want at my toddler’s fingertips. AND it can be adapted for preschool, pre-k, and even kindergarten use!
In order to make the materials, my awesome husband and brother-in-law helped me cut up pampers boxes using a razor and scissors (and by helped me I mean that they did this part for me :). Then I drew shapes onto the cardboard squares and traced over the self-made stencil with hot glue. This was NOT difficult at all….but, it was time-consuming because I was making SO many of them for the exchange.
But I don’t want to neglect the how-to! A lot of sites give you “instructions” for activity ideas but this can incidentally shotgun mommies into lessons without much guidance. So, Here is one means of carrying out this activity with a little more umph! (varying depending on the prior understandings of each child):
1) Start with one shape, unless your little one already knows all their shapes….in that case, review the shapes.
2) Talk about the shape (round, lines, what it looks like, where we see the faces of shapes like a square on a box, etc)
3) Place a piece of paper over a flat surface and color, explaining that because we are coloring on a flat surface the picture comes out a lot like I imagined it would in my mind.
4) Place the shape under the paper (emphasize over, under, and on top), and as you are making strokes back and forth with your crayon talk about the amount of pressure you are placing on the crayon (“I’m not pushing hard with my crayon, I am coloring soft”).
The triangle on the left was what appeared when I held my little one's hand to color.
5) Take your little one’s hand and demonstrate using the same shape but a new piece of paper.
6) Have your little one try it by himself/herself.
7) Talk about why it might have come out different than the first two or why the shape appears because the image underneath is raised.
And a few more thoughts:
This activity allows little ones to explorewith sensory development: texture, touch, etc. and use the little muscles in their hands to develop fine motor skills as well as the scientific observation of cause and effect due to changing the materials to produce a different outcome.
For children who need more of a challenge: This activity can be used to make tangrams (pictures made out of combining shapes). Tangrams are great for developing spatial skills!
I was following “Mekmommy” on Instagram and saw this fun, illustrated picture:
The Mommy Teacher that I am had to know the play-by-play and story behind this authentic, on-the-spot mini lesson. Krista (this particular mommy teacher) is a mommy of three and the blogger behind “The Mommy Calling.”
So, here is the story shared by Krista that I hope inspires you the way that it inspired me:
“It all started b/c Maddox ran inside freaking out because our yard was full of spider webs. Of course, living in the country cobwebs will always be there, so I had to figure out a way to help him understand. It actually turned into a lesson about counting, adding, habitats, the food chain, a ton of things!
I tore some paper off of the butcher roll and drew a spider. As I drew it, we talked about how it has 2 parts to its body, the head and the body, setting up for a later conversation about the difference between insects and arachnids. Then we counted out the 8 legs as I drew them and talked about how there are 4 on each side and how 4+4=8.
I used a different color crayon to draw the “silk”. I drew some in the spider’s belly, and drew a line coming from the spider and as I drew a random “web” pattern I explained that as the spider moves with the silk behind him it makes the web. After I drew the web I talked about the uses of the web. I broke it down by first drawing the spider in the web telling Maddox that the spider lives in his web. Then I drew an egg sac and explained that this is where the spider lays its eggs and they hatch. I drew a bug flying on the outside of the web and a dotted line leading to the web explaining that as the bug is flying it gets caught in the web because it is so sticky. I explained that the sticky web is how the spiders catch their food to eat. I drew an arrow from the spider to the bug and explained how the spider will then eat the bug. I then asked him if he remembered what the web was for and we broke it down into living, laying eggs, and eating.
Maddox then got his own crayon to copy what I drew and he explained it back to me while I reinforced that there were 2 body parts and counting and adding of the legs (making sure he drew 4 on each side rather than just drawing out 8 random legs so he could visually see the 4+4=8). We didn’t go into the details of the web again, but again we discussed the live, lay eggs, eat. All-in-all it was about 15 minutes and he was so proud that he spent the next 15 minutes talking about it over and over and hung his picture up and called his daddy to tell him about it. In 30 minutes he learned so much about so many things. And it wasn’t anything that was hard to explain or too over his head. It was such a great reminder of how many important things they can learn without a classroom and without making it a boring ‘lesson.'”
I have always loved watching home videos. It is fun to re-live memories and I think deep down inside it is kind of fun to sit back and observe yourself the way that others might. Well, I am really going to embarass myself today with a “home video.”
Sean Patrick LOVES to watch himself over and over again, the same videos repeated so many times I can’t even stand it after a while haha.
For that reason, I started to integrate videos that taught him things that I wanted him to learn, like the ABC’s, Counting, Letters in his name, variations to head-shoulders-knees and toes, etc. I filmed these things while he was next to me or singing along so he could see himself and would actually want to watch them, and it worked….maybe he also just liked to watch mommy sing while looking and sounding ridiculous. Don’t torture yourself by watching it more than once…unless for some reason your little one finds it amusing haha:
For older kids, help them come up with a skit that teaches them about whatever topic you are learning and their “lines” can teach them more details about their subject. As they learn their lines, say them, watch those videos they will storing the facts in their brain so naturally.
There are A LOT of websites that give activity ideas for little ones, but my goal is to make teaching your little one such a natural part of your everyday routine….. and it helps to have some insight into the best teaching techniques.
Most parents who are “teaching” their little one spend more time “drilling” our kiddos (flash card style) than actually teaching them. This isn’t ALL bad and trust me, I am guilty of this at times!
We get very caught up in the idea that if our child has learned a skill (like letter naming) then we need to constantly ask them “What letter is this?” and then wait for their answer. Don’t get me wrong….this is a GOOD thing. You are helping your little one to recall the information repetitively for recognition and fluency’s sake! But I want to ADD that YOU still need to be reinforcing what your little one knows and not just leaving it up to them.
Here is my example of what I am trying to incorporate at home:
Sometimes when I am grocery shopping I see underlying learning opportunities in the products I buy (Alphabits, Fruit Loops for sorting or patterning, Familiar Print, etc.). But when I was picking up a box of waffles, I saw the opportunity to reinforce teaching shapes by buying a box of circular shaped waffles AND a box of square shaped waffles.
Instead of asking Sean Patrick, “Do you want the waffle that is a square or a circle?” (because I know that he knows his shapes), I talk more about it more to reinforce his familiarity with the shape vocabulary and help him make connections. “LooK! This waffle is shaped like a circle!” I said this as I held up a strawberry Eggo waffle. “It goes round and round and round like the wheels on the bus!” (I made it turn in circles just so that he would make a connection of another circular-shaped object) “And this waffle” (holding up the cinnamon toast waffle) “is shaped like a square. It has FOUR sides. One, two, three, four like a square on the floor!” Then I bent down and traced my finger on the outline of the square counting the sides. “Do you want the circle waffle? or the square waffle?”
He chose the “circle!” and he proceeded to tell me about it while he ate “I bite a circle. I bite a round and round” haha – I think he gets it.
Ignore the fact that his diaper is coming apart at the moment, we need to move into pull-ups because of all the “false alarms” that come with potty training. He cracks me up!