Thinking OUTSIDE the School Desk

There is just something about 6 year old little boys, or at least my 6 year old little boys…  They have a high desire to practice their spelling and improve their reading skills, but very little desire to pick up that little pencil.  The desire is especially potent right now because my middle son wants to join his big brother in playing Ticket to Ride.  But his reading skills need to improve a bit more before he can play completely on his own without help…

So penmanship practice took place largely outdoors this summer – even in our intense summer heat.  ICE kept us cool for about 15 minutes before we meandered back indoors, leaving our words to quickly fade away.  Even the 8 year old begged to do his spelling words outside too afterwards!  The four year old lasted a couple of minutes before abandoning ice in favor of his stick horse and some far-off battle.  And of course Greta is pleased to be wherever we are and happily played next to us…

The beauty of homeschooling is that you don’t have to be tethered to a desk.  We can go outside, write with ice-cubes, spray messages with squirt bottles and take advantage of any and every location imaginable!

Have you taken your learning adventures into any new venues lately?

Bean Bag and Balloon Olympics

With the arrival of the Olympics, my boys are in an especially competitive mood, eagerly desiring to showcase their athletic prowess!  But the heat this last week has been I.N.T.E.N.S.E!  I think I may have chosen one of the hottest days of the year to run errands in the middle of the afternoon. ugh.

So in light of the heat, we decided to do an {indoor} Balloon and Bean Bag Olympics.  The beauty of many of these activities is that they are a means of getting active, burning some of that boundless boy energy and activating their little brains to learn.

I’ve mentioned it in my last two posts, but I cannot emphasize enough how important MOVEMENT is to wiring the brain to learn.  So with that in mind, here are several fun activities that will help increase oxygen flow to the brain, stimulate the vestibular system and increase bilateral integration – all vitally important to the learning process!

Let the games begin!

Balloon Events

1. Balloon Tap Race ~ Pick the longest open stretch in your home and stage a relay race where you tap the balloon in the air to one end and back! Be sure to cheer on your teammates in the process!

2. Balloon Face Race ~ Repeat the relay but this time, get on your hands and knees and push the balloon with your face!

3. Volleyball ~ This started just as a tapping back and forth with my youngest, but soon morphed into a more nuanced volleyball match. Chairs can be lined up to act as the net. You can play to see who can keep it afloat on their side of the ‘net’. We ended up instituting a ‘no spike’ rule.

4. Foot Volleyball ~ This is the activity that sparked the whole idea of our Balloon Olympics when I saw it on pinterest! As a team see how long you can keep a balloon in the air using only your feet.

5. Stationary Tap ~ With feet glued to the floor, see how long they can tap the balloon in the air with one finger!

Bean-Bag Events

1. Head Relay ~ Classic balance game.  We raced the longest indoor length in our home several times.  This is a great way to learn that accuracy and balance makes for faster race times than speed alone. 

2. Bean Bag Crossover ~ This great game requires balance.  While sitting on a ball and one hand held behind your back take the opposite arm and cross over to grab one bean bag at a time and move to the opposite bucket.  Each of the boys biffed it several times and we couldn’t contain the giggles that this challenge induced!

3. Hit the Square ~ Tape a square on the floor and see how many bean bags you can toss into the target.  Beware of the baby.  Tape on carpet is quite alluring!

4. Toe-to-Toe Relay ~ Conduct a relay race where you balance a beanbag on top of each foot. See how long it takes you to devise a strategy to keep them there!

5. Bean Bag Balance Beam ~ We set up wooden blocks for our balance beam and set out to see what kinds of ‘tricks’ we could do while maintaining balance!

Olympic Play

I love the creativity that the Olympics brings out in children.  When we were little, my sisters and I would race out to our pool and try all kinds of creative dives and then critique and inspire each other to try new tricks!  Or we would set up a track and field match in the backyard with the neighborhood kids. Or I would try balance beam tricks on top of our backyard fence before my mom could catch me… {I have a few scars from that little adventure.}

So it is with great delight that I watch my boys do the same thing. I mentioned their imaginative play with the winter Olympics.

This week, they’ve been all about volleyball.  Note their {lovely} winter sweater vests paired with pj bottoms that stand in for volleyball uniforms.  I can’t decide whether to laugh or cringe.  Regardless, I do marvel at their creativity.

And while he hasn’t sat still long enough to catch any of the big swimmers names, I think Treyton is pretty sure he will be the next Michael Phelps as he jumped off every surface possible in our home to dive into his carpet pool and take off with the butterfly stroke or those ice scream scoops {aka freestyle} that he learned in swim lessons this summer.

So while we are breaking our typical little-to-no screen time rule in a major way this week, I couldn’t be happier as I watch their creativity and drive to excel soar!

And seriously, all of this crazy movement has got to be working wonders on that bilateral integration and *vestibular stimulation that is so critical in wiring the brain to learn, right? 

*In addition to helping maintain balance, the vestibular system is the entryway to the brain for the senses and is activated/strengthened thru movement.

I wonder what they’ll come up with tomorrow?  Maybe a way to simulate synchronized diving. {Sorry, I won’t be posting pictures of them in their undies doing that.}

We will be back, however, with our Balloon and BeanBag Olympics soon!

 Do your kids imitate Olympic events?  Did you as a child? I thought this was a pretty normal childhood activity, but a friend of mine never did this as a kid.  We can’t decide who is the weird one…

If You Can’t Beat It, Utilize It!

Harnesing the power of the sun to make new crayons!  If you can't beat the heat, utilize it. @CultivatedLivesIt’s been hot around here.  As I type this, it is 9pm and still around 108 degrees F outside…

Of course this has meant that outdoor time, aside from being in a pool, is not as compelling as it usually is.  But we’ve decided to make the best of it and braved the ‘heat of the day’ to conduct two experiments.

Experiment #1 ~ Making Block Crayons

Over the years I’ve seen others using bits of broken crayons and muffin molds to make new multi-colored crayons. So we decided to take our baggie of broken crayons and see how long it would take to let the heat outside melt them.  The idea of turning on my oven this time of year is just not appealing…

The boys enjoyed taking the paper off of the crayons.  I found this to be a great fine-motor activity for my preschooler!  He’s quite a busy fellow and this kept him mesmerized for quite a while!  Then they had fun placing colored bits in our silicone muffin forms.

Next up, we took our molds outside and started forming hypotheses on how long they would take to melt.  I had no idea since many of the ‘recipes’ found online obviously utilized temperatures far warmer than ours.  Oldest guessed an hour, Second born guessed two and my crazy four year old guessed 9 hours!

The older boys were bummed that there was no clear winner.  When we thought to go back outside an hour and a half later, they were mostly melted so I called it a tie!  I can’t imagine how quickly these would have melted if we had tried this in the afternoon instead of mid-morning!

Because we had some dirt cheap crayons in there, the colors weren’t that great when we went to color with them, but the boys were thrilled anyways because they made them – with the sun’s help!

Experiment #2 ~ Baking an Egg on the Sidewalk!

Over 30 years living here in the hot, hot desert and I’ve never tried this…  until now.  Every summer, you’ll hear about the toddler that fell on the sidewalk and severely burning his skin.  And of course, there will be talk about it being so hot you can cook an egg on the sidewalk.

We decided to give it a try!  Again we made guesses on whether it would actually work or not and how long it would take to cook an egg on the sidewalk.  See, I even took out some cooking spray for easy clean-up afterwards.

An hour and a half in to our experiment the yolk was all bulgy, but the whites hadn’t cooked at all.   I would love to be able to report further on our little experiment, but we simply don’t know as a certain four year old found it and decided to kick that irresistible little golden ‘ball’.  I’m skeptical on if this even works…  But I think we’ll go ahead and try it again on a warmer day since it was merely 109 that day.  We’ll also  shoot for the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead.

Has anyone else tried to ‘cook’ foot on the sidewalk before?  I’m thinking that this will not be the end of our summer heat experiments!

As for the rest of the days, we’ve been focusing on swimming and water play.  My middle guy still doesn’t know how to swim.  Yes, we live in Arizona, he’s almost 6 and STILL doesn’t know how to swim.   He had a pretty traumatic experience 2 years ago when a man he didn’t know threw him into a pool at a party and has resisted learning how to swim ever since.  I’m working on trying to get him comfortable this year so that we can proceed with actually learning how to swim.  Anyone have any ideas???

What have you all been up to outside?  I’d love to hear of your adventures in being intentional to spend time outdoors WITH your children.

The Daily Outdoor Challenge @Heather{CultivatedLives}

Taking a Snow Day!

We don’t get those here in the Arizona desert, so we decided to create our own – using shaving cream!
I usually teach to the oldest and let the youngers pick up what they pick up (which is usually a surprising amount).  But sometimes I like to ‘take the day off’ from our normal routine and just have some good ol’ open-ended play specifically geared towards my youngest! 
The Snowy Day
So after piling on the couch and reading classic kids book, The Snowy Day we made our way to the dining room table to play with shaving cream.  I let the kids pick out toys that they wanted to bring to our ‘snow play’ and turned them loose.
Sensory activities are so important for little ones.  Exploring new sensations teaches kids a lot about how materials work and sharpens observation skills.  It is amazing how long they will focus and play when there are no expectations and their imaginations can run wild.  These kinds of open-ended imagination inspiring activities are essential and I love incorporating them into our days…
The older boys enjoyed spreading out the cream thin and tracing designs.
Driving thru this kind of snow proved to be a favorite activity…
While it looks messy, it was surprisingly not!  The clean-up was considerably easier than paints or playdough.  Now I just need to make it to the store and stock up again…
Looking for some other fun sensory play ideas?  Check out this link for inspiration!
Linking up with:

Spoonful of Imagination

Quarter Tap’n

One of my favorite movies of all time, Singing in the Rain, is coming to life in my home!

It all started with combining these:

Four quarters secured with packing tape to shoes and he’s off tap’n!  Thanks to the introduction in his kindermusik class, Xander was hooked!  His enthusiasm was contagious and before I knew it the four year old was begging for tap shoes too!

So naturally, I introduced them to the greatest tap dancer of all time!  Need a fix?  You Tube can help with that: Make ‘Em Laugh, Moses Supposes and of course the Singing in the Rain sequence. 

May I introduce the next generation of Gene Kelly’s…

When I suggested a Shirley Temple movie to them, they promptly refused. 
And Daddy breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I think I’m going to file this idea away for those hot summer months when we are home bound next year.  Maybe we’ll balance things out then and alert them to the existence Fred Astaire too…

Quiet Sorting

Beads are amazing.  I remembered that I had this big bag of them and pulled them out the other day to play a sorting game with my two year old.  He had been trying to get up on the stools with the bigger boys, so I pulled him aside to do something special with him and let the older boys continue playing.
As he picked up a bead, I’d tell him the color.  Then we would put it in a muffin space.  Pretty soon, Treyton was on a roll sorting the beads by color and jabbering about the shapes (balls, dolphins, lions, various fruit, loop beads, etc.)
Now a week later, he is shouting out his colors (in his own, mostly incoherent way) and sorting without my help, although I do still supervise since he’s prone to throwing beads as if they were baseballs…
This was also a great activity to develop the pincer grasp which is an essential fine-motor skill needed for holding a pencil properly.  This is important “because the more these muscles are tuned, the easier it will be for the child to learn to write.”  For more, read here.

But Treyton wasn’t the only one fascinated with the beads.  Both of my bigger boys ended up begging to play with them and peacefully sorted beads for almost an hour.  (Hurray, time to straighten up the kitchen!)
Since they have mastery of colors, we could also use them to naturally go over concepts like:
more than/less then
(Are there more red beads or blue beads?)
simple addition
(If Xander has __ green beads and Keegan has __ green beads, how many would you have if you combined them?)
(You had 15 beads, but Treyton just swiped 6 of them, how many do you have left?)
different shades of the same main color

living vs non living
(ball-shaped beads vs. animal/plant shaped beads)

playing I-Spy 
independant exploration/play
This activity could not have come at a better time since we are getting set to head into super hot weather soon!


When it’s really hot outside, we take hints from those that are homebound because of the cold…

And put puzzles together!

Bear-ing It!

On a recent trip to the zoo with a good friend and his daughter, Treyton decided to embrace some freedom…
After removing a super soggy diaper, he ran back for more fun in the water before I could get something else on him…

Popsicle Fun!

Popsicles make us very happy! Even Mommy’s healthy carrot/apple juice combo or the fruit/spinach smoothie yogurt pops! To end the summer, I guess I’ll be nice and introduce them to the yummy goodness of a fudgesicle…
Popsicles put us in a sharing mood!
Happy, generous, thankful. What more could you ask for?!?!?