Free: Monthly Independent Reading Log

Looking for a quick and fun way for kids to keep track of their independent reading? Try this free reading log. There is space for the title, a star rating, and three describing words.


50 Ways to Slow the Summer Slide

Those long, hot days of summer are loads of fun, but they can also be a brain drain for your kids. It has been well established that kids lose some of the skills they acquired during the school year over summer, mostly because they aren't using them. So, if you want to help slow what has been called the Summer Slide, you want to get your kids using those skills. 
Fortunately, you don't have to force your kid to spend hours with a workbook to accomplish this goal. There are many opportunities for learning in everyday life and better yet, most of them are fun! So try some of these ideas to keep your kids learning (and happy) over the summer months:
  1. Partner read with your child (take turns reading a sentence, paragraph or page).
  2. Find a project from the last school year and ask your child questions about it.
  3. Write letters or emails to friends and relatives.
  4. Play games in the car that reinforce skills (e.g.: the alphabet game with younger kids, the spelling game GHOST with older kids).
  5. Play board games that reinforce skills such as Yahtzee, Boggle, and SET.
  6. Go lots of places! The park, the zoo, the aquarium, the museum, even just a walk around the neighborhood. Kids learn by doing better than by watching, so also...
  7. Limit screen time.
  8. Use sidewalk chalk to your advantage. Math problems and word writing are more fun when they can be done big and colorful.
  9. While you are waiting in line at the store, amusement park etc., create story problems about what you see around you (e.g.: There are eight cars on the roller coaster and each car fits four people. How many people can ride at once?)
  10. Read the same book at your child. Discuss together. Here are some fun questions to try.
  11. I am not a huge fan of summer workbooks (unless you happen to have a kid that loves them), but if you must use them, do so sparingly and consider offering a reward of some sort for completing them. Also, try to do them first thing in the morning to get them done for the day.
  12. Have a lemonade stand - tons of math there with making the lemonade and counting money.
  13. Bake and cook, again a great opportunity for math.
  14. Go on a nature walk. Bring a local plant identification key along. Try and find a fairly simple one designed for kids.
  15. Have your child keep a summer journal, or try this Mix and Match approach for journaling fun. 
  16. Try writing partner stories with your child. Each of you start a story. Then after a set period of time (about 10 or 15 minutes) swap papers. Each of you must now continue the other's story. Continue swapping until both stories are done. 
  17. Do math at the grocery store. Figure out which buy is better. Estimate how much all of the groceries in the cart will cost. Find the difference between the estimate and the actual cost.
  18. Do math at the gas station. Round gas per gallon prices to the nearest tenth. Estimate how much filling your tank will cost. 
  19. Try a Nature Scavenger Hunt.
  20. Go to the library at least once a week. Be sure to check out the summer programs they offer. Many libraries now go way beyond the traditional story time.
  21. Explore an interest. Whether it is trains, martial arts, coin collecting, or Pokemon, summer is a great time to dig in. Kids can read and write about their interests and tell what they learned to family members.
  22. Do some science. This book is full of ideas for easy and fun experiments.
  23. Summer is a terrific time to improve reading fluency. Do this by allowing kids to read high-interest material. Don't worry that it is not "good literature." By letting them read comics, graphic novels, joke books, books with the word "underwear" or "butt" in the title and so forth, you are not only helping your child to become a fluent reader, but also fostering a love of reading. 
  24. On trips choose audio books over videos. 
  25. Go on an ABC Nature walk. Here is a free one to try.
  26. On vacation, learn about your destination. Have your child find out three facts about where you are going. Guidebooks can be a good resource.
  27. If you are going to a National Park, be sure to take advantage of the visitor center exhibits, ranger talks, and junior ranger programs. 
  28. The Treasure Hunt Book from Klutz makes scavenger hunts easy. The clues are already written out and all you have to is hide them. Not only that, the hunts themselves are really quite ingenious. 
  29. If your child is learning to tell time, get him or her an analog watch and ask what time it is frequently.
  30. Older children and teens may enjoy starting a blog. One of the easiest platforms is Blogger. Fonts, colors, and designs can be easily changed and you can make the blog private if you are worried about internet safety. 
  31. Puzzles are a great way to keep skills sharp. Consider Suduko, crosswords puzzles, word searches, logic puzzles etc. Here is one of my favorite puzzle books
  32. Plant something. Even beans in a plastic cup. Draw the plant at each stage of development. Measure it and chart its growth. 
  33. Set a reading goal for the summer. Try this free Reading Log to keep track of books read.
  34. Have your child make Top Ten lists. They are fun and motivating and can be about almost anything...songs, books, movies, summer activities, snacks, etc.
  35. Older kids will enjoy geocatching.
  36. There are tons of fun and educational Ipad apps. Just make sure that you are spending more time actually doing things than swiping a screen.
  37. Have your child read where every you go....signs and billboards, restaurant menus, food labels, etc.
  38. Expose your child to different cultures. Go to a cultural fair or celebration that is open to the public, try a new ethnic restaurant, explore your city's International District. And if you can afford it, visit another country.
  39. Set a reading goal for the summer. Try this free Reading Log to keep track of books read.
  40. For older children, this summer is good one to learn more about our election processes. In addition to understanding the electoral college, you could also discuss the campaigning techniques the two presidential candidates are using in terms of strategy, effectiveness, and ethics.
  41. Have your child write the shopping list.
  42. Whether you are going on vacation or not, summertime is a great time to explore maps. In a new city, let your child map out a route to the the next destination or calculate the miles between one place and another. In your own town, use a map to plan a route. On the road, your child can be the navigator. 
  43. Have your child make Top Ten lists. They are fun and motivating and can be about almost anything...songs, books, movies, summer activities, snacks, etc.
  44. Leave sticky-notes with fun little messages for your child to read. Encourage him or her to write back.
  45. For younger children, remember that classifying, sorting, and patterning are all part of learning math. Among other things, children can sort seashells, line up rocks by size, make patterned Froot Loop necklaces, etc. 
  46. On a rainy day, go bowling, but don't use the computer to score. Instead, have your child score manually using a score sheet that you print out
  47. Would your child enjoy writing a book over summer? You can make it simple with homemade covers and binding, or use one of the many online programs to get your child's book professionally bound. Makes a great gift for relatives as well - signed by the author!
  48. Play horseshoes, lawn darts (they make safe versions without the points), shuffleboard, or any other game that requires keeping a running total of points scored. 
  49. Start your day with one of these Creative Thinking "Thinkable" activities.
  50. Try answering some of your child's questions with, "What do you think?" You may find yourself amazed at what your child comes up with. 
Got more to add? Please comment.

Hands On Projects for Creative and Critical Thinking

Minds in Bloom is so very pleased to welcome Heidi Raki of Raki’s Rad Resources who will  share some terrific ideas for using hands-on projects to promote critical and creative thinking.

All too often, math and science concepts are taught from a book. Students read some words, look at some pictures, try some equations, and are expected to think about the problem at hand in critical and creative ways.  However, many of the students do not gain an understanding of the concept this way, and so they do not have the critical thinking going on to understand, let alone answer higher level thinking questions. 

One of the best ways to get students to tackle a concept is to let them actually get hands on, designing and creating.  Many teachers do not use these types of projects, because they take more time and effort than reading a book or watching a movie clip, but I argue that spending a lot of time to build a small understanding is better than spending a little time and not coming out with anything to show for the time spent.  However, I’m a teacher and I know we all have that curriculum to complete.  So, here are hands-on projects that might link with curriculum topics you are already working on, making that time extra well spent.
Design and create buildings  
We often think of “playing” with blocks as simply a Preschool activity.  However, older students love to build with blocks, legos, and other building materials – even non-traditional building materials like mini marshmallows and toothpicks or paper clips and q-tips.  If you set some guidelines for your students, building buildings can have a lot of educational benefits, and can increase their critical thinking skills.  
Some ways to tie creating buildings into your curriculum include: working on measurement (area, perimeter etc.)  working on place value (let them count out the right number of your base 10 blocks and then build the highest tower with it), physics, history (re-create or re-design important buildings from history), team building, writing (put 10 minutes on the clock, let them build for those 10 minutes and then write about the experience, or take a picture of what they built and let them write a creative story about who might live in their structure).
Design and create the vehicles
What kid doesn’t love to build a paper airplane?  Building planes, boats and cars are great ways for kids to get thinking about their own thinking.  For example, if you are making boats, and kids start making paper boats, it’s a good time to ask them, what happens to water when it gets wet?  These questions get kids to build meta-cognitive skills that will enhance their problem solving.  Building vehicles often means that at the end of the project, students have a race or a contest with their vehicles.  Be sure to take some time to talk about how great inventors must re-design their projects many times, so even if their design doesn’t work the first time, they may be able to tweak it to work better next time.
Some ways to tie creating vehicles into your curriculum include:  measurement (how far did the plane go, how long did the boat stay afloat etc.), famous inventors, physics, float vs. sink, aerodynamics, friction, simple machines etc.
Design and create new flavors
Kids love to cook, and we all know how great working on following a recipe is, but how about getting really creative with food.  Take plain frosting, pudding or yogurt and flavors to find the difference.  Once students are used to one flavor, try mixing two flavors.  Some items you could use to add flavors include: vanilla, rosewater, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, ground cloves, ground ginger, etc.  You could also have students add food coloring and see if the food coloring impacts the flavor (or if they can convince someone that it impacts the flavor, even if it doesn't.)
Some ways to tie creating flavors into your curriculum include: measurement (capacity, time – do flavors get stronger if they sit longer?), following a recipe, descriptive writing, persuasive writing (the nutmeg flavored yogurt is the best because…), comparing and contrasting, mixtures vs compounds, cultures of the world (what flavors are common in different countries/cultures).
Design and create new musical sounds: My personal children are constantly making my pots and pans into a rock band.  They love to talk about how the big pot makes a much different sound than that tiny pot, and how the metal pots make a better sound than the plastic posts.  By letting students create sounds, using household items (pots and pans, boxes, wood spoons, cups with water, etc.) they spend a lot of time listening for what sound is being made and then comparing and contrasting those sounds with other sounds, then figuring out why these two sounds are similar and those two aren't.
Some ways to tie creating instruments into your curriculum include:  measurement (capacity and length), sound waves, vibration, descriptive writing, process writing (what were the steps you needed to make that sound), comparing and contrasting, cultures of the world (what instruments are common in different countries/cultures).

I hope some of these ideas will help you encourage you to use hands-on projects while building up those critical thinking skills.  Thanks for the opportunity to guest blog here on Minds in Bloom.  I’d be honored if you stopped by Raki’s RadResources for more ideas you can use to increase critical thinking.
Heidi Raki teaches at an International School in Casablanca, Morocco.  In addition to being a teacher, she is also a mother of 3 young boys and the author of the blog Raki’s Rad Resources.  She believes in using quality teaching strategies and quality resources to create quality teaching moments that will resonate with her children, increasing understanding and a love of the learning experience.  

Have you done one of these projects with your kids? Have more ideas to add? Please comment!

Task Card Fun with Sticky Hands!

These ones are glittery!
I know what you are thinking. Sticky Hands, really? Seriously?Yes, it's true! Those sticky hands on a rubbery string that kids adore can be a valuable learning tool. Here is how:
  • In a small group, give each child a Sticky Hand.
  • Lay some laminated Task Cards on the floor or on a table face down. Ideally, these should be ones that can be answered with a short, verbal answer. 
  • Children take turns "casting" their sticky hands at the cards. When a child gets a card he or she uses the hand to lift it off the table. He or she reads the card out loud and then answers the question. 
This could also be played individually or in partners. I got this idea from my boyfriend's third grader who loves being allowed to play with sticky hands in class!

Looking for more ways to use Task Cards? Check out Totally Task Cards for ideas and freebies!

Free Summer Reading Log!

I am thrilled to be a guest blogger for three posts about Sidestepping the Summer Slide on Room Mom Spot!  This first post is about summer reading. Please check it out. I would love to hear your thoughts if you care to comment on the post.

Here is a free Summer Reading Log to help slow the slide!

Freebie Fridays

Flip Chute for Task Cards!

I saw this idea on Classroom DIY and thought it was so clever that I wanted to pass it along. When a kid puts a card in at the top, it flips over inside and comes out the bottom upside-down, revealing the answer. So, if you wanted to use this with Task Cards at a center, you could just write the answer on the back. If your cards are laminated, you could use a dry erase marker so that you could just wipe off the answer when you are done with the activity. This activity was posted by Julie at Make, Take & Teach (and used with her permission here). Check out her terrific video tutorial on how to make it.

If you have cards that are printed four to a page, this flip chute won't work because the cards will be too big. One thing you could do is reduce the size before you print. I could see this working really well with younger students.

Sidewalk Chalk: Ten Fun Ideas!

I LOVE sidewalk chalk! It's big, it's colorful, it's cheap, and if it comes in a bucket, it's portable too. There is sooooo much you can do with sidewalk chalk besides drawing pictures (though that is certainly an excellent use for it). Here are some ideas:
  1. Play Games: Hopscotch of course, but any game you can play with paper and pencil you can also play big on the sidewalk. How about Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe, or Dots (the game where you take turns drawing lines between dots to make boxes). You could also draw a target and toss stones to score points.

  2. Take it with You: Sidewalk chalk is instant entertainment whenever you are somewhere that has the potential for boredom. Want to visit your childless friend? Send your little ones out to the patio with a bucket of sidewalk chalk. Going car camping? Why not bring a bucket of chalk along and your kids can decorate your site. Waiting for a parade to start? Break out the sidewalk chalk and let your kids (and the ones sitting around you) add some art to the street before the parade begins. 

  3. Do Some Math: Keep your kids' skills fresh by writing math problems for them to solve really big in sidewalk chalk. Another idea is to draw a giant number line and have kids stand on their answers as you call out the problem. Much more fun than doing a workbook page. You could also practice spelling or forming letters this way.

  4. Make a Sundial: Stick a pencil in some play dough and choose place in the sun to put it with the pencil sticking straight up. Then use chalk to trace the shadow once every hour and label the line with the time. Do this all day and you've made a sundial!

  5. Surprise Someone: On a warm summer night, pay a secret visit to a friend or relative. Bring your bucket of chalk along and decorate their driveway. You could draw giant flowers, write them a nice note, or leave an encouraging quote with a picture. If you don't sign your name, your friend will have a fun mystery to solve!

  6. Make a Treasure Hunt: Use arrows and hints to create a giant treasure hunt. You could use a school playground or your whole neighborhood. 

  7. Make a Self-Portrait: Trace your child's body and let him or her fill in the details.

  8. Make a Road: Use sidewalk chalk to make roads for toy cars and trucks. You could even use boxes to add buildings and populate it with toy people and animals. 

  9. Create an Obstacle Course:  Use words, shapes, and arrows to make a challenging obstacle course. For example, you might draw a large square and write, "Do 10 Jumping Jacks" inside it. An arrow might point to a tree in the distance with the words, "Skip to the tree, run back."

  10. Make Some: Sidewalk chalk is easy to make. Just mix up some plaster of Paris and add powered tempera paint or food coloring to color it. The easiest thing is to use paper cups as molds, but you could also use any fun shape you can get a hold of. Homemade chalk makes a fun gift too!
Got more ideas? Please share with a comment.

Teaching Resources

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