What is STEM and How Do I Teach it to my Kids?

STEM. This has caught a lot of attention. Do you know what it means?

– Science
– Technology
– Engineering
– Mathematics

Did you think it was exclusive to older children, or even adults? Not at all! These concepts are all part of children’s learning through exploration and discovery. 

Did you know all children are little scientists? Everything about their world is open for discovery. They want to know “why,” “what happens if I do this,” “where does it go,” “how did that happen.” Children will repeat actions such as building a tower over and over again even though it keeps falling apart. They want to learn how to make it more stable and  they want to build it taller. Have patience! Though they may get frustrated, they are learning a STEM concept! Encourage questions from your children by prompting them with questions of your own, such as, “why do you think the tower fell,” “should we try it again,” “what do you think will happen this time,” and “what should we do differently?”

Allowing children to experience concepts hands on—by creating a learning environment where they can touch, manipulate, and explore their surroundings—will benefit them far more than only reading a book about a topic or watching a video.

Try these activities at home:

SCIENCE: 
Little scientists investigating the natural world

GLOVE-garden

  • Try planting some seeds. Watching something grow from a seed can be exciting and doesn’t have to be done outdoors. You can start the growing season early by planting seeds indoors
  • You don’t have to start them in a pot or container either. Try using a plastic glove! Children can drop a moistened cotton ball into each finger length, add a seed and then hang it in the window
  • Discussion about what plants need to grow—sun, air, and water—can occur as you daily monitor the changes together as the roots begin to break free from the seed
  • Once the seed has sprouted, transplant it to a little pot with dirt and continue to watch it grow

TECHNOLOGY:
Exploring ways to use what they build for a purpose or action

Balloon Car2

  • Think “outside the box” and do activities that have less to do with an electronic device and more to do with hands on. There are plenty of apps available that offer activities related to technology, and children are getting more and more time on screens. Offer something new by taking the device out of technology
  • Use technology to “research” a project to make with your children
  • A project we like to make is a little car or boat that can be powered for simple movement. You only need common supplies such as cardboard, a couple of wooden skewers (sticks), milk jug tops for the wheels, some tape, a balloon, and a straw. After the car is built you blow the balloon up, and as the air escapes through the straw it propels the car forward. You can find complete instructions here http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Balloon-Car

ENGINEERING:
Using their knowledge of the world around them to build and create

Build-Engineer

  • Yes, build and create!
  • Make blanket forts
  • Build simple structures using toothpicks and mini marshmallows or small candies
  • Use building toys, such as stacking blocks
  • Make things from recycled materials

 


MATH
:
Increasing knowledge of counting, patterns, colours, and shapes to strengthen their ability to build and create with purpose

Color Mix

  • Get messy. Mix colours to learn about primary and secondary colours. Partly fill a sandwich bag with a small amount of shaving cream. Add a few drops from 2 different colours of food colouring. Have your children mix it all together to see what new colour is created. Have them predict ahead of time what will happen

  • Using different coloured recycled jug lids and stickers, make your own memory matching game
  • Create a container filled with random things you may find in a junk drawer (child safe of course), and have your children sort the things from smallest to biggest, or by colour or shape
  • Have fun with food! Break apart a chocolate chip cookie to count how many chocolate chips are in it. Estimate how many will be in each cookie, and compare the totals with the actual chocolate chip count

Looking for activities to do with your children, with STEM concepts in mind, can be a super way for you both to learn, be creative, get messy, and have fun!  

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

What is National Child Day?

iStock_read2You may have heard that National Child Day is approaching on November 20th, but do you know what it’s all about?

A Brief History

In 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first major international agreement on the basic principles of children’s rights: The Declaration of the Rights of the Child. On November 20th, 1989, the first international legally binding text to protect these rights was adopted: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. National Child Day is a way to celebrate these two events.

Principles of National Child Day include:

  • Acting in the best interests of the child
  • All children have the right to an adequate standard of living, health care and to play

Family is foundational to a sense of belonging and identity. Children feel like they belong when they have positive, loving relationships with the adults in their lives. This is actually needed for the development of skills such as communication, language, empathy, and cooperation to name a few.

There are many ways to celebrate National Child Day, and November 20th is as good a time as any to consider your child’s needs.

Family Activities

Songs, rhymes and books serve as a great way to bond with family. Singing together in particular can build that sense of closeness. Try singing The More We Get Together, a song many of us remember from our own childhood.

The More We Get Together

The more we get together,
together, together,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.

The more we play together,
together, together,
the more we play together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we play together,
the happier we’ll be.

The more we dance together,
together, together,
the more we dance together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we dance together,
the happier we’ll be.

The more we get together,
together, together,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.
The more we get together,
The happier we’ll be,
The more we get together,
The hap-pi-er we’ll be!

One by Kathryn Otoshi is a book that not only touches on numbers and colours, but also has something to say about acceptance and inclusion, and how it often takes just one voice to “make everyone count.” one2

“Blue is a quiet color. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count.”

Recommended for ages 4 – 8, there’s even a downloadable parent and teacher guide for the book on the KO Kids Books website.

I’m Here by Peter H. Reynolds is a book recommended for ages 4 – 8 with a theme of self-love from the perspective of a child who feels like an outsider. It’s a great book for building acceptance and empathy, and shows how one person can help a child to feel connected.

im-hereI’m here.
And you’re there.
And that’s okay.
But…
maybe there will be a gentle wind
that pulls us together.
And then I’ll be here
and you’ll be here, too. 

Family activities like these help to foster a sense of belonging, which, in turn, creates a strong foundation for learning and development that will take them through the rest of their lives.

Check out the official website of National Child Day and the  Public Health Agency of Canada, for more information, events and activity kits.

#NCD2020    

Tips for a Great Road Trip with Your Family!

For our vacation this summer, many of us will choose to hit the highways. I love road trips with my family—there are so many places and things to learn about. If you share your enthusiasm and find ways to use all of your senses while you travel, your kids will not only learn but will be happy too.

With children young or old, you can point out all that can be seen with their eyes. From mountains to waterfalls, rivers to forests, prairie lands to animals, both farm and wild. Show everyone where you are on a map. Point out signs. Visit historic sites. Learn about our past. Play I Spy. You can let your children use binoculars to help them search the land for scavenger hunt items, or try playing a variety of license plate games while on your road trip.

With digital cameras it is easy to allow your children to take as many photographs as they like (deleting ones that don’t make the final cut won’t disappoint them). You can see the world through their eyes, and you may be surprised by how great their photography skills can be. 

You can use your ears to hear things you may not hear if you are from a big city! Things such as quiet or animals in the forest. If you stop somewhere for a picnic, for stretching legs and relieving restlessness, you may hear a train travelling nearby. You might hear water rushing down a waterfall if you’re on a mountain escape. You can even hear insects buzzing around in summer; we don’t like them, but they are there! Is that a cow lowing in the distance? Talk about what farmers are doing this time of year.

How about singing to pass the time away? If you aren’t comfortable with your own voice leading the family choir, how about some family friendly music borrowed from your local library? There is so much more to children’s songs today than in the past. One of our favourites is a CD called “Snack Time” by the Bare Naked Ladies. My teenagers will still sing along! For lyrics that mom and dad can laugh at, and a very original version of “ABCs”, it’s a must have.

Smells! You cannot dismiss the power of your sense of smell. The air smells cleaner as we leave our city homes behind. We can point out smells our children may not be familiar with. There are plenty of smells that accompany any farm, whether grain, livestock, or vegetable and fruit. Find some flowers to sniff. Do trees have a scent? Sniff an evergreen! What about leaves or moss on the forest floor? The air by a stream? A factory?

Hands on! Why can’t a road trip be hands on? Have you ever stopped to see the monument that makes a town special? Plan your breaks for places with something interesting to see, do, and learn. Run, play, burn off some energy before the next leg of your trip. Collect post cards and things like kids’ paper menus (the kind kids can draw on if you stop for a restaurant meal), random memorabilia, or maybe a picked flower. I still have a little flower picked by my son almost 10 years ago. It has a story behind it of what lengths he and his dad went through to get that flower back to me. My son drew me a picture to go with the flower that helps tell the story. I will treasure it always.

Back in the car again, hand your child a pencil, maybe some crayons, and a sketchbook. Have them write or draw pictures about what they have learned along the way. It is easy to keep a little box of things needed for creativity in the vehicle. You can also find an assortment of lap trays (which resemble dining trays) to use on your trip. They are perfect for snacks, drawing, puzzles, and more. Prepared ahead of time, scavenger hunts are fun—check things off as they are found, or places discovered.

    

Try this website before you head out on your next Canadian road trip, www.bigthings.ca. There is a list by province of things to see! To me, finding some of these things is reason enough for a trip in the car!

Meaningful Mess

Spring. Get ready for puddles, mud, and messes! Thinking of a nice, clean house getting covered in puddles and grit, and having to start cleaning all over again, sends shivers down my spine. And what about the extra time it will take to bathe the kids and clean their clothes and shoes, with all the other errands we need to run. Just remember, it really is worth it!

As adults, we often forget the joys of playing in dirt and mud or just getting messy, of throwing away paint brushes and getting our hands dirty instead, of changing out of our good shoes and clothes and exploring without the concern of staying clean. We forget that the learning that happens during this kind of play outweighs the need to keep things tidy and orderly.

Children are messy by nature. It is critical to children’s development to be allowed to explore and interact with their world. Sometimes this means that we, as parents, need to take a deep breath and say “sure, you can play in the mud!” By allowing our children to get messy, we are fostering growth in all areas of their development. Messy play encompasses, but is not limited to:

  • Physical development: hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills
  • Emotional and social development: self-confidence and self-esteem, respect for themselves and others; can be an outlet for feelings, experiences, and thoughts
  • Intellectual development: problem solving, concentration, planning, grouping, matching, prediction, observation, and evaluation

Spring is the perfect time to allow our children to be messy while exploring the outside world. The weather is warming up, snow is gone, and all sorts of new life is happening. Being messy doesn’t mean allowing our children to run wild though. It is important that they are still dressed appropriately for outside weather, and monitored and guided through safe play. Here is a list of activities to do outside the house:

  • Playing in puddles: allow your children to explore puddles in the spring. See how high they can make the water splash as they jump in it. Can they make a boat that floats or float other objects in the puddle?
  • Mud pies: exploring mud is a great way to get creativity going. What can we create with the mud (castles, pies, pretend food)? What objects can we add to the mud (i.e. rocks, twigs, leaves, etc.)? What happens if we add more water? If we add more dirt?
  • Sidewalk chalk paint: take your cornstarch and water mixture outside! Add a few drops of food colouring and you have sidewalk chalk; the best part is no paint in the house!

Messy play isn’t only for outside, and can be done any time of year inside. Below is a list of fun, educational, and most importantly, messy activities to do inside with your children:

  • Shaving cream dough: try hand mixing equal parts of shaving cream and cornstarch together to make dough. Keep mixing, as it can take a while for the cornstarch to mix with the shaving cream
  • Cornstarch and water: see what happens when you mix cornstarch and water. This activity is a great way to explore ratios (how much of each ingredient to mix) and textures, and learn problem solving skills
  • Finger painting: learn all about colours and how to mix and match new ones, develop fine motor skills, language, and thinking skills

Remember that it is important for you to be messy too. Don’t forget to join in the fun and get your hands dirty! We, as adults, might be surprised by how much we can still learn from messy play, and there is nothing better than creating memories with your children.  They will remember the fun you all had long after you forget how messy everything was. If you would like to learn more about your children’s early learning and how to support literacy development, you might enjoy one of our family literacy programs. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information.

Family Literacy Day

Monday, January 27, 2020Board_game

Family Literacy Day — created by ABC Life Literacy Canada and held annually on January 27 — highlights the “importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.”

Literacy is the foundation for learning, and it begins at home. Family Literacy takes place during daily routines in life as parents, children, and family members use literacy at home and in their community. Research tells us that we can set kids up for success as learners when we engage them in conversations, read together regularly, provide meaningful writing experiences, and let them see us reading and learning too.

Positive parent-child interaction every day is key at every stage of a child’s language and literacy development. As a parent, grandparent, or caregiver, you’re likely already engaging the children in your life in meaningful family literacy activities.

Looking for fresh ideas? Inspired by ABC Life Literacy, here are 10 ways to engage your family in literacy and learning on Family Literacy Day, and every day:

  1. Start the day with a story. It beats the morning grumps every time.
  2. Write a note for another family member. Leave it somewhere you know they’ll find it – in their favourite box of cereal, their sock drawer or lunch box. (We know a mom who writes on bananas: “Have a great day! Now eat me.”)
  3. Search online for fun things to do. Plan your next family day.
  4. Hunt in the newspaper together for a “good news story,” enjoy the comics, or see how your favourite sports team is doing.
  5. Start a family communication book. Leave a blank notebook out in a common area where anyone can leave a message for other family members. Messages can range from “Thanks for tidying the play room” to “Remember to buy cheese!” In the short term, it can help with communication and increase family connectedness. In the long run, it might just become a family heirloom.
  6. Create a story with your family around the dinner table. Take turns writing one sentence at a time, then read the whole story aloud when you’re done. If you illustrate it, even the youngest can help.
  7. Older kids? Have a laugh with mad-libs. Use a published book or create your own!
  8. Driving? Try the alphabet game. Work together to find the letters of the alphabet — in order — on signs and license plates.
  9. Play a board game together.
  10. End the day with a new book or an old favourite.

Learning can happen at any time. “Practicing literacy together every day has tremendous benefits for both children and parents.” The possibilities are endless. Why not add a few  new activities from over 160 available on our Flit App to what you’re already doing as a family?    

7 Crazy Fun Family Games to Play Over the Holidays

Have you ever watched Minute to Win It types of games and thought it would be fun to play them with your family? Family games are a great way to bring everyone together over the holidays, or any time, to have a little fun! The games can be simple or complex, depending on the participants, and you can often use things you have around the house. Try to encourage all family members to play, no matter their age. Games are also a fun way to incorporate family literacy into your holiday activities by talking, following directions, counting, etc.
 
The Games:
 
Try to split everyone who would like to participate into two teams, trying to keep both sides as even as possible. The great thing about these games is that they only last for one minute, so participants only have to make it through 60 seconds.
 
img_2933-11. This first game involves stacking cups so they look like a tree. Remember you only have 60 seconds. To make this activity more difficult for adults, have them put one arm behind their back and use their non-dominant hand.

 

 

 

 
 

 

img_2936-22. This game requires mini marshmallows, straws, and cups (or other containers). Using the straw, you must get as many marshmallows into the cup as you can in one minute. To make this game harder for adults or older kids, do not allow them to hold the straw with their hands.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Our next game requires two pairs of pantyhose with the toes cut out and a hole for your face, as you will be making antlers on your head. This game takes great team effort as balloons are stuffed into the pantyhose legs. An option can be that the winner is whoever finishes first, instead of having a one minute time limit.

 

img_2945-3
img_2948-4

 

 
img_2955-94. This game is about making a Christmas Tree. We used long ribbon, however you could use toilet paper and make a snowman, or wrapping paper to wrap a present (the entire person). Once again you could time the teams or just judge them after the first one is done.

 

 

 

 
 

 

5. Starting to get hungry after all this work? How about a cookie challenge? Place a cookie over one eye and try to get it into your mouth. For the younger kids, if the cookie falls off they could pick it up and try again. For adults and older kids, I suggest no hands and if they fail then another player from their team has to try until at least one person is successful.
 
img_2956-5
img_2957-6

 

 
6. On to some full body movements you will need two more pairs of pantyhose without holes, two tennis balls (or heavy balls) and some targets to knock over. Putting the nylons on your head with the ball in each leg, try knocking down as many of the targets as you can. We used paper cups but water bottles or pop cans work too.
 img_2959-7

 

 
img_2969-87. Lastly we have the candy cane pick up. Stack up a bunch of candy canes, and putting one in your mouth, hook as many candy canes as you can and transfer them into a cup. For little fingers, just let them use their hands instead of putting the candy cane in their mouth.

 

 

 

 
These are just a few of the hundreds of games available on the internet, so grab your family and friends, be creative, and have a great time!
 
Find more game ideas, as I did, with these sites:
 
 
 
 

 

Colours, Counting, and Matching Fun

Have fun with early numeracy ideas in this game you can make and play together with your preschooler!

WHY?

Numbers are an important part of early math and numeracy and can be found all around us. Counting, sorting, and matching all help with learning math later.

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • Different coloured milk jug lids (or other big lids)
  • Stickers

  

WHAT TO DO:

  1. Choose two lids that are the same colour
  2. Choose two stickers that are the same and put one on each of the lids
  3. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the lids

 

DO IT TOGETHER! Make numbers and math fun by playing different games. You could count the lids, match the lid colours, match the stickers, or flip the lids over so you can’t see the sticker and play a game of memory.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

The Importance of Play

Parents do not always understand the importance of play, and, in today’s competitive world, the temptation is to have children stop “wasting time” and to put that time to what they believe is more constructive use.

But for a child, there is no more constructive activity than play. Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.

What do children learn from play? It allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development and paves the way for learning. Children who play regularly tend to perform better in mathematics and reading in comparison to those who have fewer opportunities to play.

Play helps children learn about the world in which they live. They can investigate and discover, test their theories, develop spatial relationships, and explore cause and effect, societal roles, and family values in a caring and safe environment.

Play builds self-esteem and social skills. Children will often play at something they know they can do well, at which they can be successful. They will begin with solitary play using inanimate objects like dolls, stuffed animals, trucks, and blocks. Later they will play with other children as they learn to share, negotiate, and cooperate.

Play with parents should not be underestimated as research has shown children whose parents play with them ultimately develop superior social skills. When parents play or join with their children in child-driven play, they are given a unique opportunity to see the world from their children’s vantage point. They learn to communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance.

Play helps with language development. Think of the vast number of words a child uses during play, many of them repeatedly, enhancing their language skills.

Consider the importance of pretend play in stimulating a child’s creativity and imagination. Making a castle in the sand, or a barn out of a shoe box, preparing dinner in their imaginary kitchen or playing dressing up allows children to stretch the limits of their world and experience the fun of make-believe. They are using imagination, storytelling, and problem solving skills that are the foundation of reading, writing, and communication.

Physical play provides various health benefits and promotes early brain development and learning in infants and young children. It helps a child to develop connections between the nerve cells and the brain. As these connections develop, a child’s motor skills, socialization, personal awareness, language, creativity, and problem solving are improved.

Quite simply, play is a cherished part of childhood that inspires fun and laughter and creates a happy family environment in which both children and adults thrive.

Pudding Patterns

This is a fun craft to build together and a different way to draw, scribble, and try out writing!

WHY?

Drawing and scribbles at a young age are the first steps to learning how to write later on.

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 1 large plastic zip lock bag
  • 1 package of instant pudding (made beforehand) or a can of shaving cream
  • Packing or duct tape (optional)

WHAT TO DO:

  • Put the pudding or shaving cream into the bag. Make sure not to fill it too full.
  • Finish by flattening all of the air out of the bag and close it tightly.
  • You may want to tape the top so it doesn’t pop open. Lay the bag on a flat surface and let the creativity begin!

DO IT TOGETHER!

Your toddler will enjoy squishing the mixture around making abstract patterns. If you have an older child, encourage them to make letters or draw pictures. Have some fun yourself by copying their designs and talk with them about what they are doing.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

What Do You Spy?

This game is a fun way to make the waiting or travelling go by more quickly, or when you just want to play a game. But it’s much more than that.

WHY?

“I Spy” gives your child a chance to think of words to describe what they see and also helps them sort objects into groups. They are learning to group by colours, numbers, shapes, and sizes, which helps develop their vocabulary and math skills.

HOW TO PLAY

Find something in clear view and say, “I spy with my little eye, something that is __________.” Fill in the blank with words that describe what you are looking at, like “round like a ball.”

Once your child has found the item you picked, switch roles and let them spy something for you. Take turns, and as the game progresses, you can add more detail to the object. For example, “I spy something that is round like a ball and has 4 legs.”

The whole family can play this  game. The first person that guesses correctly gets to “spy” the next object.

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.