Don’t Forget to Plug In this Family Day Weekend!

placeit (1)You may say “Hey Kim, last year you told us to unplug! You told us that we should unplug and get out as a family! What’s going on?”

That’s all very true, but I’ve got a good reason to change my mind this year. I’d like to ask you to plug in, just for a bit, to download flit, our new Family Literacy app. On it, you’ll find some great activity ideas to try with your family—then unplug and have fun!

You might say we are more than a little excited about our venture into the app world. Families Learning and Interacting Together, or flit, is perfect for your unplugged Family Day.

The activities and information are divided into eight categories—each one supporting an aspect of literacy and numeracy development in an easy and fun way. Best of all, you can do them all as a family and work them into your daily routine!

APP-web 400pxThe activities are also divided into age groups for zero to five year olds, and really are directed at those ages. However I experimented with my own children (who are 10 and 12 years) to see how they would like the activities, and I’m pretty sure they had fun with many of the games, cooking, and craft activities even at their age (with a few suggestions for changes).

My kids’ favourite is the fry-bread activity. We use it as a base for tacos and they are delicious! Download the app, and check out this recipe, along with the book Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Let me know how it goes!

See a demo of the flit App

Android users—please ask your Apple friends to like and rate our app—it could help us get funding to create a version for you too!

Do you think we should develop flit for Android? Take the short survey!

More about the Centre for Family Literacy at www.famlit.ca

Get Moooving and Learning!

Child-Play

You may have read the recent article in the Edmonton Journal about the effects of electronic devices on early childhood development. The conclusion was that time spent in front of screens doesn’t really help the brain development of preschoolers, and that screen time can be offset with physical activity.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there are 80,000+ apps labelled as “educational”. Unfortunately, just because something has been labelled as such, doesn’t make it so. Brain connections are built on a foundation of “serve and return”—healthy interaction that goes both ways. Most screen time is passive not active, and involves listening or one-way interaction with a screen.

Some products say they are “interactive,” but as the AAP points out, in order to be truly interactive there needs to be more than “pushing and swiping.” They recommend Common Sense Media to help you decide what’s appropriate.

So, what’s the number one source for physical activity? Interactive play! This gets kids moving, engaging all areas of the brain while increasing blood flow, making learning easier —not to mention fun!

Here are some ideas:

  • Go on a nature walk and scavenger hunt. Put together a list of treasures found in nature, using words and pictures for your checklist. Take pictures and write a story about your scavenger hunt for a scrapbook!
  • Do some gardening together; it’s a fun and multi-sensory way to work on numeracy and literacy skills. Kids can help with counting rows and seeds.
  • Go on a treasure hunt for familiar words using environmental print like magazines, food labels and flyers. Collecting is fun, and this will motivate them to learn new words. Clip out the words and collect them in a newly decorated box!
  • Play with sidewalk chalk. Write letters, numbers or shapes in chalk for your child to run to or jump on when called out. If you’re using numbers, you could try simple addition: One! (Jump to the 1), plus three! (Jump to the 3), equals four! (Jump to the 4).
  • Dig for the alphabet, numbers or sight words. You will need an orange sponge or foam (like a pool noodle or dish sponge), and ribbon for the vegetable tops. Slice the foam into pieces and write letters, numbers or words on them with a marker. “Plant” them in the soil. After digging in your garden, you can even pair the activity with a book about food. On the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus, we like “Rah, Rah, Radishes!” by April Pulley Sayre.

Rah, rah, radishes, red and white!
Carrots are calling. Take a bite!
Oh boy, bok choy, brussels sprout.
Broccoli! Cauliflower! Shout it out!”

  • A great way to incorporate digital technology in an interactive way is to go on a photo hunt for colours. Go for a walk with your smart phone and as you walk, have your child find a colour. Then you can help them take a picture of the item with your phone.

Sound Collection

  • Collect sounds together. Make a checklist for commonly heard sounds and leave a blank space to check off with stickers. Examples of sounds you can search for are: barking dogs, meowing cats, sirens, singing birds, cars honking, or people talking.
  • Make an outdoor obstacle course using whatever you can find around the yard. You might try tires, playground equipment, safety cones, jump rope, beach balls, hopscotch or a broom for limbo. The possibilities are endless!

While we don’t want to rule out all digital fun for kids, it is important to remember the research: physical movement and one-on-one time with parents or caregivers is what feeds our brain and develops oral language. So go play!

Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus information and schedule

Alberta Prairie C.O.W. newsletters (with more crafts to do with your children)

hashtag: #ab_cow

 

 

Search and Find Activities – More Than Just Fun and Games

Hidden-object

Search and find activities are good for children because they help to build vocabulary, and they develop cognitive skills such as the ability to search and locate. There are many books on the market that fall into this category, such as the I Spy series or Where’s Waldo?, but you can also create your own custom search and find game or book. They are easy to make and take very little in terms of supplies.

We have a few examples of how to make your own on the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus. Why not try one of these?

I Spy bottle

You’ll need:

  • empty pop bottle
  • rice, sand or couscous
  • reliable glue
  • small objects found around the house or yard such as figurines/toys, game pieces, feathers, and other odds and ends that can fit through a bottle top

This can also be a good way to explore items that might not otherwise be safe to handle, such as tacks and other sharp objects. Be sure to use hot glue, or something similar, to effectively seal the cap onto the bottle in order to avoid spills and choking hazards.

Keep a list of what’s inside, and play a game of “I Spy” with your child. You can focus on colours, (I spy something that is green), or numbers (I spy four marbles, or something with eight legs), or anything else you like (I spy something that goes “ribbit”).

Use this opportunity to talk about the object. (How do you think this marble feels? Is it smooth or rough? What shape is the marble? Is it round or flat? What could this object be used for? Have you ever seen a bird with feathers like this one?)

Homemade Search and Find Book

You’ll need:

  • Colouring book
  • Markers or pencil crayons
  • Three-hole punch
  • Binder, Duo-Tang or three key rings
  • Packing tape, transparent –self-adhesive paper or lamination

You can use a sheet from any colouring book that has some detail. Colour it in and then write a list of objects to find in the picture. Make several of these pages and seal them with self-adhesive paper, packing tape or lamination. Three-hole punch them and bind in a binder, a Duo-tang, or use three key rings.

Another option is to find objects in your house or yard that would be fun to see in a search and find book, (grapes, marbles, lego, dice etc.), and spread them out on the floor, so they are crowded but still visible. Snap some photos and either print them letter size from a computer or head to your local photo lab and print them 8 x 10″. You can then seal them by the same method as above, three-hole punch and bind. Make a list of the items and there you have it: your very own real-to-your-life hidden-object book!

 

Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus information and schedule

Alberta Prairie C.O.W. newsletters (with more crafts to do with your children)

hashtag: #ab_cow

 

“O Canada, our home and native land…”

CanadaDay1As Canada Day approaches, many families are gearing up to celebrate. They are stocking up on red and white decorations and Canadian flags, making plans to participate in local festivities, and planning get-together barbeques. These are just a few ways to mark the day.

Here are some different activities to try with your family this Canada day:

Make your Own Flag

  1. Take a large piece of white paper and paint the two sides red.
  2. Put red paint on your child’s hand and make a print in the middle of the paper as the maple leaf.

Make a Canada Flag Cake

CanadaDay2

  1. Choose a cake mix (I like white for this one) and follow the directions on the box (or use your own recipe). Read the steps out loud and let your kids add the ingredients.
  2. After the cake is baked and cooled, spread whipped cream over the top as icing.
  3. Let your kids use sliced strawberries to create the flag on the cake by putting them on the sides and in the middle.

Sing a Canadian Song

  1. Make one up using a tune you know, like this one (http://www.dltk-kids.com/canada/songs/ourcountry.html) sung to the tune of “The Muffin Man.”

Do you know our country’s name,
our country’s name, our country’s name.
Do you know our country’s name.
C-A-N-A-D-A!

2.   Another favourite song for this special day is, of course, our national anthem. I love hearing the random outbursts of it everywhere. Each time I hear it, I’m reminded of a story from our Rhymes that Bind program.

A parent came to the program worried because she knew it was really important to sing to her baby, but she only knew one song. I asked which song she had been singing and she sheepishly confessed it was “O Canada.” After reassuring her that her baby loved hearing her voice, no matter what song she sang, we supported her goal of learning more songs to share with her baby.

You and your children will treasure the memories made, not only on these special days but all the time. Sing anything, anytime, but sing our anthem especially loud this Canada Day – I’ll be waiting for it!

 

2 Easter Egg-tivities, a Song and a Book

“See the bunnies sleeping, ‘til it’s nearly noon
Shall we awake them with a merry tune
Oh so still. Are the bunnies ill? Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,
Wake up little bunnies, hop, hop, hop!
Wake up little bunnies, hop, hop, hop!
Wake up little bunnies, hop, hop, hop and GO!”

Usually we end this song with “stop” so our little bunnies will pretend to go back to sleep for another round of the song. For Easter, it’s only fitting that we use this song as is to start the morning or the egg hunt. If your kids are anything like mine at Easter, you probably don’t have to wake them up!

Easter for us means a family get-together, good food, and many different activities. Colouring eggs is a big part of our traditions, but we like to try something new each year – sometimes it doesn’t even involve dye!

“Mod Podge Egg” was a hit last year, providing many opportunities to talk about colours and shapes, and to just have fun.

mod-podge

Mod Podge Egg

You need:

  • Egg (boiled, or blown out if you want to keep it)
  • Tissue paper (many colours)
  • Mod Podge (a sealer – like glue, but it hardens and keeps the egg strong)
  • Paint brush

 What to do:

  1. Tear or cut up the tissue paper into different shapes and sizes.
  2. Spread Mod Podge on the egg and put tissue paper all over.
  3. Spread another layer of Mod Podge over the tissue paper on the egg, and add more tissue paper until you’re happy.
  4. Add one last layer of Mod Podge to seal it completely.

Another Easter favourite for our family is the great Easter Egg hunt. It gets more complicated every year, and sometimes we like to add a little variety to what the Easter Bunny brings.

One year we made “goldfish carrots.” The kids had so much fun pulling them out of our pretend garden.

carrots

Goldfish Carrots

You need:

  • Goldfish crackers (or something else orange)
  • Clear disposable icing bags (not cut)
  • Green ribbon

What to do:

  1. Fill the icing bag with the goldfish so the pointy end is down.
  2. Tie the ribbon around the top of the bag when you get the size of carrot you want.
  3. Hide them in a houseplant or make your own “garden”.

Finally, what is Easter without a good book? For some bunny-themed books, scroll down to Darren Hinger’s blog, “Babies Touching Books… with Bunnies.” A great Easter themed book is Duck and Goose: Here comes the Easter Bunny by Tad Hill. It’s about two little birds trying to find a hiding place so they can see the Easter Bunny. It’s perfect for bedtime the night before the big day.

There are many fun Easter activities. Does your family have Easter traditions you would like to share? We would love to hear about them!

 

Digital Technology

technology

“…New digital technologies have entered every aspect of our reality, including families and the lives of young people. They have already affected preschool children’s play and learning as well.”

UNESCO (2010)

I recently did a presentation on technology at the Alberta Early Years conference. I opened the session with a confession – I am not a technology expert and I have been a reluctant user of new technologies.

However, as the above quote from UNESCO states, technology is in every aspect of our lives. Families are using technology, and in family literacy we work with the strengths and tools that families are bringing. So the debate is no longer “do we use it,” it is “how do we use it.”

Major studies (“Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers” – Kaiser Family Foundation Report – 2006, American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Paediatric Society) have advised that 0-2 year olds should not have any “screen time” at all and it should be limited for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

In my session, we discussed the research versus the reality. Like anything, there has to be balance – between the use of technology (by both parents and children) and meaningful interactions (that promote positive family relationships and healthy development). I challenged participants to pick their favourite app, perhaps one they thought families would be using at home, and answer the following questions:

  1. Why are we using this technology or app? Is it for fun, for learning, or for some other purpose?
  1. What kind of time is being spent with it? Is it high quality and interactive (e.g. can we use the technology as we would use a board game) or is it time being spent alone?
  1. Is what we are doing developmentally appropriate for children?
  1. Do we have guidelines/rules about when and how long it’s used (for parents and children)? Do you have technology-free zones or times?
  1. What are we modelling? What are our children and families seeing?

There’s no “right” answer to any of these questions, but perhaps they can help us think more critically about our use of technology, both personally and professionally.

Ending the session, we talked about how it can be a challenge to start the discussion about technology use. Here are some great books that could help break the ice. Enjoy them and have fun as you explore how you are using technology!

Goodnight IPad by Ann Droyd

Hello, Hello by Matthew Cordell

Building Their Way, Their Rules

bird_feeder1     bird_feeder2

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you let your child loose in a pile of recycled materials without rules or instructions? Throw in a couple of rolls of duct tape, masking tape, scotch tape, a few markers, and maybe some scissors.

Too often these days we are rushing from activity to activity, with tight schedules between daycare and after school to get to sports, music lessons, or play dates. More time than ever before is spent in transportation to and from all the places we need to be.

There is a lot of structure to being a child in the modern world. It can seem in a child’s eyes that they are too often told what to do, perhaps even how to do it. In our mission to make sure we provide the best we can for our kids, sometimes we miss out on opportunities for them to just be kids, to create in their own way, to learn about their world with their own two hands.

A great way to keep kids happy and focused for a long period of time is to give them the opportunity for free play. No rules or instructions, just a whole lot of loose parts. Recycle bins in your home are a great place to start. Anything that is not dangerous is free game. Leftover fabric, yarn, wool, wrapping paper – you cannot get a lower cost activity than this. My kids and their friends build amazing towers, leprechaun traps, hamster mazes, fairy homes, bridges, even an island oasis and toys with working parts, vending machines and clocks. I love that they come up with so many ideas on their own. If your home is like mine, there is never a shortage of supplies. My daughter is always declaring which box, container or paper is for her, “save this for me mom, this would make a great…!”

There are far more benefits than just to provide the kids with an activity to keep them busy: they develop hand eye coordination, practice print skills (if they use markers to draw), maybe learn about gravity or how to balance things, and develop motor skills both large and small to name a few. The creative process builds executive function and promotes physical and spatial development. They have to visualize, plan ahead, and learn the process of outcomes and the consequences of each action. There are numerous other benefits but the most important is the fun they have! I also enjoy a keen glimpse at what interests my child.

You might itch to help out. With your experience you clearly know better, but let them learn from their own experience. Let them feel disappointment when their tower breaks or their bridge won’t hold weight. They learn from their own successes and the accomplishments they achieve are truly their own.

To tie in a few great books with this activity, visit your local library and look for:

Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

Not A Stick by Antoinette Portis

The Dot by Peter H Reynolds

Ish by Peter H Reynolds

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Boy and Bot by Ame Dyckman

 

What I Wish We had Done on our Summer Vacations

School is almost over, milestones have been celebrated, the last sport tournament is just around the corner, and thoughts turn to summer vacation – where to go, what to do, and how to fill the time between visits with family and friends. It is also important to think of ways to ensure that during this two-month break our children don’t forget everything they have learned in school.

When my girls were little, we always tried to take advantage of the many free and child friendly activities that happened over the summer. We:

  • joined the Summer Reading Club at the library. The girls picked up a week’s worth of books and rushed home to read them so they could be finished before we headed back to get the next week’s stickers
  • took the train downtown to the Street Performers Festival or the Klondike Days Parade
  • watched the Canada Day fireworks after spending most of the day at the Legislative grounds
  • planned the bus trip to Heritage Days and each of the girls chose what food item they wanted to bring for the Food Bank.

We often wondered through our neighbourhood with no specific destination in mind. It was a way to get out of the house and keep the kids active, but those walks would have been a perfect opportunity to practice their literacy skills without them even knowing. I wish I knew then what I know now. We could have:

  • played a game of street sign bingo – how many stop signs could they count on the way to the park or yield signs on the way to a play date, or what was the most unique sign found
  • searched for all the letters in their names on street or business signs
  • looked for all the numbers from one to ten, or the numbers in our phone number, in the numbers on the houses
  • sung a song about all the colours of the rainbow and looked for them in the beautiful flower gardens we passed along the way
  • planned ahead to make it to our local spray park before the mad lunch rush
  • discussed all the different shapes we could find like the octagon in the stop sign, the triangle in the giant slide, the rectangles made by doors, or the circles in the playground
  • named all the different animals we could see as the clouds passed by in the sky
  • counted how many steps it took to walk to the mailbox and back.

We also could have done more literacy activities at home. We could have:

  • used sidewalk chalk to encourage the kids to write and illustrate their own stories – each square in front of the house another page in their book
  • researched what flowers or veggies grow best in our area, then they could have planted their own to take care of over the summer
  • planned a back yard pool and sprinkler party and sent invitations to their friends
  • read the comics and then created our own.

There are so many opportunities at our fingertips to support and build on our children’s literacy skills – we just need to look at things with a different mindset. The next time you see a child scribbling on your sidewalk, take a minute to ask them about the story they are trying to tell.

 

Get Ready, Get Set, Go Hunting!

At this time every year families are gearing up for Easter – buying and decorating eggs, planning a big family meal, and creating a fun filled Easter Egg Hunt. However along with the fun can come some tricky challenges!

I have never had the privilege of hosting Easter dinner. But I have organized the Easter Egg Hunt. The first time I did, I was surprised at how time consuming it could be – especially if you have multiple families coming over. When there are two or more children it can be hard to create equality in the Easter Egg Hunt. Watching my nieces and nephews find and argue over eggs completely took me back to when I was a kid at Easter. My parents had to deal with the same thing – my younger sister never found as many goodies as my older sister and I.

A few years ago I found the solution – colour-code the Easter Eggs! Each child is given a colour specific to them – the only eggs they can collect are of that colour. It’s a great way to introduce learning colours (for the younger children) while keeping things fun and fair.  An unexpected bonus is that the Hunt changes from a competition into the fun event you planned!

If you are hosting Easter dinner, why not incorporate decorating the eggs into the party? While dinner is cooking, have the adults sit and help the children create some wonderfully colourful eggs. It’s a great way to spend some quality time together. It’s also a great way to incorporate some early literacy – by talking about the colours they are using and about how they are creating their designs. For those families that thrive on competition, the prize for the winning decorated egg can be getting out of washing the dishes after dinner!

Good Luck Hunting and have a Happy Easter!

 

The First Day of Spring – In Alberta

I sat for a while trying to decide what to write for this blog. Many of the topics I thought I might discuss have been done in the last few weeks, so what to do? Then I looked out the window and inspiration struck! I would do a blog on… wait for it…. SNOW!

It really makes sense that a blog posted on the first day of spring should be about snow. Not just any snow – cold, swirling, biting snow – at least at my house. My dogs are shivering outside, trying to understand what has happened to them after such a wonderful, teasing taste of spring, as I’m sure we all are.

Let’s be honest though. Do we really expect anything else living in Alberta? Where at some point we have had snow in every month of the year? Why would we be surprised? In fact, I laughed as one of my team members, who moved here from Ontario in the fall, naively asked if the snow would be gone by Easter.

So what to do? Well, I say lets embrace our unpredictable – but not unexpected – weather and do something fun!

Why not mix food colouring in water and put it in a spray bottle. Take it outside and write or draw, or play a game of tic-tac-toe in the snow. You can talk about colours and what happens when they mix, why the snow melts a little when it gets sprayed, and what patterns you see.

Capture a snowflake and preserve it forever in super glue. This neat little experiment lets you see snowflakes up close (but definitely requires adult help): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OVUzKcLUjQ

Go have a snow or snowball fight. Make your fight into a game – tell the kids to play snow tag and see what that means to them. I always love the games my kids come up with – at least for their creativity if not for all the rules that tend to accompany it.

You know this weather isn’t going to last forever. We have seen the signs of spring around us and can gain strength and hope that it won’t be here much longer. Do not despair!

If you are one who doesn’t want to even look outside, let alone go and play in this crazy white stuff, then curl up and read a good book with your kids. Read one about spring like Spring is Here, by Taro Gomi. Just remember to add the word “almost” to the title and you’ll be fine.

Happy first day of spring everyone!