By Cassie Camara who is the mama behind @camara.crew on Instagram and click here for her blog Camara Crew.
I have three kiddos under the age of 4. Our oldest daughter will be 4 in July and is supposed to go to school in September. Being a mom to 3-pre K toddlers can be extremely busy but we do our best to try to implement various learning opportunities at home for all of them. Each time they can look very different but as long as our kids are having fun and learning something new in the process that is all that matters to us.
A lot of the time the focus for structured activities is on our 3.5 year old daughter. We are trying to prepare her for starting JK in September. She is starting to ask a lot of questions about going to school and they mostly are about what the day is going to look like and those common fears about being away from mommy and daddy. So a lot of our preparation right now is being led by her and her questions. We don’t want to force activities on her, she will learn when she is ready to and we have found forcing her to do learning activities can sometimes increase her anxiety about going to school and results in less participation. By letting her lead the activities and questions we have found our daughter has opened up to us more, asked more questions and participated in activities about learning more.
We’ve been using books to help prepare her for what school is going to look like. Our favourite right now is from Usborne Books “All You Need to Know Before you Start School". Click here.
This book is great for learning what a day at school would look like and also has some activities you can do throughout it. Another favourite is the dry erase books from Usborne which you can find here.
They have a great variety in their wipe clean books and I find Lily enjoys doing these most. It is a great quiet activity for her to sit and practice writing her letters and numbers. I love that there is no pressure if she makes a mistake she can just wipe it clean and start over again. We can also give our 18 month old one to scribble in to be just like his big sister. I find that when we set up an activity for our daughter our 18 month old son typically shows interest in what she is doing. It may just be watching her but it could be copying what she is doing also. I find that by encouraging them to do an activity together it helps teach them to share, be patient and work with others.
The other activity we do often is sensory activities in our Active World Tray from Scholars Choice. This has probably been one of our best purchases. What I love about this tray is it is great for setting up activities, keeping it contained and encouraging our kids to explore their senses. We’ve been using this tray for years and had so much fun playing in it. Whether it is through making a volcano, setting up a farm, a car wash station or some paint the kids love to explore together or individually. We often will set up an activity in the tray and leave it over a period of time for them to go back and forth to. It usually results in lots of imaginative play and some questions about the topic of the day.
Ultimately I find learning at home for us right now is a lot about play and exploration. By getting down on the floor with our kids and playing with them we have learned so much from them. Also by letting them help us with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, organizing and taking care of a newborn. We are able to implement so many learning opportunities such as patience, sharing, cooking (numbers and food groups) and so much more. I find we see what they’ve learned already coming out through their play. Oftentimes in Lily’s play she will start asking questions through her dolls or we play school and it's a great opportunity for us to answer her questions in a normalized way for her. It doesn’t always have to be in a structured sit down activity. It is amazing what children will pick up through the use of play and their imagination.
We are working on some new content about helping prepare your children for school and would love it if you followed along and shared how you are helping your kids prepare for school too.
By Julie Diamond
Does your child understand the book they’re reading? Here are some ways to check:
1. Answer questions: Read the back of the book or skim a few pages then ask your child questions.
2. Make connections: “This character reminds me of…”, “When _________it was the same as this other book I read when they did ___________” or “When the family was stuck in their house it’s similar to us being stuck inside now.” If your child is able to put themselves in the character’s shoes and compare it to things, events and people they know, they understand.
3. See what you read: Get your child to describe what they see when they read. Encourage them to make a movie in their mind and use their senses to experience the story.
4. Be curious and ask questions: Good readers are curious and ask questions which help make predictions. “I wonder…”, “Why did that happen?” or “Maybe the character felt this way because…”
5. Make inferences together: An inference is when you predict what will happen based on what is implied in the story. Look for hints. “I think _______ will happen because the author wrote _______.” For example, if your child read about a character who has a diaper in her hand, spit-up on her shirt, and a bottle warming on the counter you could infer the character is a mother.
Some readers don't know what to do when they are confused so they continue reading. However, there are things you can teach your child to do when they don't understand a book. For example, they could:
1. Go back and start at the beginning of the page or chapter.
2. Stop reading and use a reading strategy listed above.
3. Ask for guidance from an adult and/or someone who has read the book. They can see how much they have understood so far.
4. If none of the above seem to help, they may want to decide whether or not this book is above their reading level. Do they understand the vocabulary? Are they familiar/comfortable with this author's writing style? If not, then they might want to choose another book.
The best way to introduce these strategies to your child is to model them yourself. Start with one strategy at a time while you’re reading a book together and build from there.
Guest Post by: Afraz Syed (PhD in Artificial Intelligence) who is a computer science professor at Mohawk College. She is the founder of LET’S Create Academy (https://www.letscreateacademy.com/), which offers STEM based programs.
As we are moving forward towards a more digitally dependent and automated society, our kids’ learning characteristics and needs are changing accordingly. They are using technology in all aspects of life from socializing to playing and schooling.
They understand what technology options they have and how these options work, even sometimes better than us, adults. The next step is to involve them in creating this technology. Coding is one of the pivot aspects to develop tools, apps and technology.
Teaching how to code at an early age can truly set up the young minds for a lifetime of achievement. Even if they don’t pursue an exact computer science-related field, it gives them an advantage in almost every modern industry.
Fortunately, there are several easy ways to learn coding languages. Some of them are discussed below:
Scratch: Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is available for free as a coding tool and an online community at https://scratch.mit.edu/.
It is a visual programming language with a block-based, drag and drop interface. Kids can make their games, animations and interactive stories, and share with others in the online community. They can start scratch coding as early as 7 years of age.
Alice: Alice programming tool is a research project of Carnegie Mellon University, the latest version; Alice 3 is free to download from https://www.alice.org/.
Alice uses block-based, drag and drop interface, which makes it easy to create interactive narratives, animations and simple games in 3D. Kids can start developing their skills in object-oriented programming using Alice. The recommended age to start Alce is 7-8 years. One great advantage of learning Alice is its gradually incremented complexity for different ages and finally transformation to an advanced and rather difficult programming language “Java”.
Python: Python can be a good choice for pre-teen to teen coders. This is a high level, general-purpose programming language. The popularity of python programming is growing because of its simple syntax yet suitability for powerful applications. The latest version of python is free to download from the official website https://www.python.org/.
HTML and CSS: HTML and CSS is a great combo for developing websites. HTML is a markup language used to define the structure of the webpages, whereas CSS is used to style those pages. Both are pretty easy to learn for ages 11 and up. There are several source code editors and tools for HTML and CSS. One of the most popular is Notepad++. It is free to download from https://notepad-plus-plus.org/.
By Julie Diamond
Being well into the second month of quarantine, it can be challenging to keep track of the days. May is upon us which means Mother’s Day is approaching quickly (May 10th). Since the kids are not in school, Mother’s Day art or poetry will not be coming home this week. Here are some ideas to make thoughtful gifts with the kids at home (and also creative ways to teach them art, math, and literacy too):
1. Painted Print: Commemorate your year with a footprint or handprint painted art. Be sure to list your child’s age and year.
2. Popcorn: Make a batch of this caramel or cheesy popcorn then put it in a nicely decorated gift bag: http://www.designsponge.com/2016/10/in-the-kitchen-with-butter-scotchs-dark-stormy-caramel-corn.html
3. Letter with Picture: Get your child to write Mom a personal letter including stories and words about why they think she is special. For a finishing touch, add a picture of your child to the letter.
4. Homemade Sweets & Handwritten Note: Make a cake using cake mix from a box if you are not comfortable with baking. Or try your hand at these amazing cookies and use some math with your child and double the recipe. Trust me you will want extras!
Then have your child write a sweet note or poem to pair with the baked good.
5. Crochet/Knit a Scarf: Teaching your child and/or yourself how to crochet or knit is a great lesson about patience, making mistakes and persistence.
6. Colourful Bobby Pins: Have your child use nail polish to paint a few booby pins and use glitter to make it even fancier.
7. Painted Jar & Flowers: With a mason jar, some paint and flowers from the backyard or home garden centres (which open today in many cities) you can have a beautiful gift for spring. You can create an ombre look with spray paint or do a checkered pattern.
As an extension, buy a plant (instead of cut flowers) and record the growth over the month. You can keep a journal and make it a special project you and work on together as a family.
8. Ten Things I Love About You Book: Show Mom all the reasons why you love her! Make a book of coupons to show your affection or make a book with each page listing something you love about her. This idea is sure to be a keepsake Mom will keep for a long time.
Note: If Mother’s Day is a tough day for your family because of the absence of a mother or grandmother, you can plan the day doing something special together and/or make many of these gifts for each other.
Earth Day is meant to show support for the many environmental concerns and initiatives to keep our Earth clean and healthy. Here are some ways to teach your child about Earth Day:
By Julie Diamond
Words are empowering. Expanding your child’s vocabulary can help them express themselves more clearly, build better relationships and make sense of the world. How do we as parents help our children expand their vocabulary?
Read Together: Set aside 20 minutes a day to read with your child. Reading introduces your child to new words and the context of how the word can be used. Read aloud to your child even when they can read independently. This way you can build their vocabulary by choosing books that might be too difficult for them to read themselves. Also, make sure to read a wide range of books including: non-fiction, fiction, graphic novels, and newspapers so they are exposed to a variety of different words.
Label Objects Around the House: When your child is a beginner reader, label objects in your home to help them read new words. Try using adjectives as they develop their vocabulary by labelling it as ‘glass table.’
Don’t Use Baby Talk: Try not to oversimplify the way you speak to your child. While your child may not be using an extensive vocabulary yet, they are sponges and soak in their surroundings. A child understands much more than they articulate. Many need to hear a word several times before they really understand it.
Create a Word Wall: A word wall helps new words sink in. Write each new word on a sticky note and put it on a wall in their room. Use this in tandem with a Word of the Day to encourage them to try to use the word in their speaking or writing.
Positive Reinforcement: Encouraging your child gets them excited to learn. Making a big deal of new words that your child uses will get them excited.
How do you help your child with their vocabulary at home? Share your experiences below.
By Jenna Srigley
Social interactions with others are an important part of growing up. It’s a big part of the school day. Schools teach children many social skills such as: how to share, show empathy, be polite, cooperate and communicate together. As we grow up, we as humans crave social relationships with others. We need that social aspect throughout the different stages of our lives as we grow. These past few weeks have been a grieving process. We miss our social interactions as adults and so do our children.
I noticed a shift in my kids’ behavior after just a few days of not getting together with their friends. They were very upset, frustrated and didn’t really understand why they couldn’t see their friends. We had a long discussion as a family where we explained the current public health situation and the reasons why they need to stay at home. My husband and I listened to their concerns too. We realized how important it was for their mental well beings that we focus on maintaining their social relationships just as much as their academics. As a result, we made some adjustments to our daily schedules and house rules. We have extended the time allowed for gaming, phone calls and texting in the evenings. We have still designated the mornings for academics and the early afternoons for exercise but after that we’ve been pretty flexible with how they spend their evenings with their friends virtually.
Since being more lenient with these rules, our kids seem to be having a bit of an easier time dealing with this stressful situation. Though every family is different so the changes we made to our routines might not be best for yours. My kids are a bit older so they were able to express their concerns and needs to us and these were the changes we decided on together. How are you maintaining your child’s social relationships while staying at home? Share with us in the comments.
Written by Jenna Srigley with contributions from Julie Diamond
Why not start off by having a family meeting? You can all share your feelings, thoughts and ideas on what you all would like to accomplish during this time off. Giving your kids their own voice to suggest things, and share their thoughts, makes them feel that their opinions are valued. You are working together as a family to help each other accomplish things and create structure for everyone. I like to create daily routines as I find it helps things run smoothly. However, I have learned to accept that things will not always go smoothly especially if everyone is at home and/or feeling anxious. Talk about potential conflicts and discuss ways to communicate and solve them as a family. Here is the schedule that my family and I decided on that might be a useful guide for you over this break:
Have everyone dressed and ready for the day no later than 10am. I know this may seem late but giving your kids that time to ease into the day makes the day go smoother. Your kids may likely be feeling a lot of mixed emotions given the current pandemic so it’s important to give them this time to relax, sleep in and, if they want, some alone time.
10am-12 Learning Time - Use this time to focus on learning. Independent projects on things they are interested in keep them engaged. I had my 12-year-old start a Science project on video games. This link gave me some ideas:
Here are some other resources:
The new website released today by the Ontario government
(for those parents in Ontario): https://www.ontario.ca/page/learn-at-home
12:00-1:00 Lunch - Eat together as a family. Cooking and eating together can be a great opportunity to check in and bond.
1:00-1:30 Get Active - This is super important! Get up and do a workout using YouTube. There are loads of workout for kids. My family and I also use Nike Training App which is a great workout for teens and adults. Or when the weather cooperates, we opt to go for a walk. Break a sweat together and have fun.
1:30:2:00 Mindfulness - Try some activities to ease them into the afternoon after lunch which is an effective way to transition you and your kids into the afternoon. Doing these activities daily, even just 10 minutes, can help your child in so many ways. It teaches them ways to slow down and focus. You can see Julie’s blog below: "The Benefits of Mindfulness and Tips to Teach Your Child at Home" for some ideas. Here is another great link I like to use with my kids:
2:00-2:30pm Writing – This gives them the freedom to have an outlet to let it out. Depending on your child’s interests, you can opt for them to write (I’m currently teaching my kids cursive writing!) or incorporate art into it. Here are some creative journal prompts from Write Shop that I use:
It’s important to incorporate your child’s interests into the activities. My kids love video games (as so many other kids these days) so I had them create their own video game and they made the instructions booklet.
2:30-3:00 Snack - Take a break and fuel up!
3:00-3:30 Chores - My family and I have a chore wheel which switches up the chores and makes it fair across the board. This prevents any arguing.
3:30-4:30 Reading - Wrap up the day by reading a book of their choice. Depending on their ages, you may want to switch up with you reading together, taking turns reading (we like to use different voices), or independent reading. Here is a list of books for different ages: https://k-12readinglist.com/
In the evenings, we have been trying an hour without any devices and playing board games and/or doing other things together. I’ll admit it’s challenging not to look at my phone for a whole hour but I do recommend giving it a try! An hour without checking the news, especially nowadays, has been refreshing.
These are just some examples to ensure this time at home is positive. Creating a routine focused on mental and physical health can go a long way in keeping everyone calm, happy and stress free.
Share in the comments what you’re doing with your kids at home.
by Jenna Srigley, Adminstrative Assistant at Teachers to Go & mom of 2
March break already? What am I supposed to do with the kids to keep them busy? If you’ve opted to have a staycation this March Break, don’t worry we have you covered. Here are some fun and educational ideas to keep everyone happy during this upcoming week:
1. A visit to the sugar bush- If the weather cooperates this is a great way to educate the kids and yourself about how maple syrup is made. They will show you how they tap the trees and collect the syrup. It will get the kids moving and outside for some fresh air.
Maple syrup is a Canadian staple and a tasty part of our history. Check out this resource https://thecanadianhomeschooler.com/maple-syrup/ for some history to teach your kids about maple syrup from the Objiwe and Metis perspectives, fun songs about maple syrup for your little ones, along with maple recipes to use for #2.
2. Baking - They will be measuring, counting and following recipes. Have them double or half the recipe so they have to do a little Math to add, subtract, and divide. Be sure to let them assist in choosing what to bake so it keeps them interested. They will look forward to enjoying the treat after their hard work. Even if the end result is not so tasty, reflect and have a conversation with them about what happened and what they could do differently next time. We learn from our mistakes!
3. Scavenger Hunt - Make a list of things (with visuals for younger children) for them to search for on your nature walk. When creating this checklist, consider all 5 senses. Do they hear birds chirping? Do they smell snow/rain? Do they feel the bark? Do they see maple or pine trees? Do they taste snow?
4. Nature Art – Taking inspiration from your nature walk, such as fallen leaves, twigs or acorns, have your child create an art piece using these materials. You can even schedule an art gallery walk with the family to showcase your child’s masterpiece.
These are just a few ideas for March Break activities that are inexpensive. As a mom of teens, I know it can be stressful trying to keep them busy at any age but, if you plan and organize, you can have a great week. That is if they aren’t too cool to hang out with you yet!
International Women’s Day is on Sunday. It’s a day that celebrates the many talents and strengths of women. In celebration, we have rounded up some tips to raise an empowered girl. I know we’ve likely missed some points so let us know your experiences and opinions in the comments. Here is our list:
1. Encourage her to voice her opinion and speak for herself. From an early age, it’s important to give your daughter the opportunities to speak about her opinions and feelings. Listen and show her that her opinion is valued. Let your daughter debate hot topics with the adults and, leading by example, teach her how to be assertive in a respectful way.
2. Help her build positive relationships. Disagreements with friends are a normal part of friendships but there is a huge difference between disagreements and verbal abuse. Girls are often taught to be nice, apologize, and consider others first. But it’s important to be kind AND have a strong voice and boundaries. Teach her how to express and own her emotions using certain vocabulary like ‘When you said this it made me feel this way.”
3. Have conversations about body image. This conversation is imperative because society still puts a huge emphasis on how girls look. Instead of commenting on your daughter’s appearance, make one about how she uses her body as an instrument to conquer achievements. ‘Wow, you held that handstand for a long time. You’re so strong.” Also, show her the importance of taking care of her body and being healthy mentally and physically. Take her to a yoga class. Try meditation.
There’s also nothing wrong with make-up and dressing up! But if/when your daughter experiments with fashion, rather than saying ‘You look pretty” try “You are really talented with the eye shadow. You can braid hair really well.” It’s then an expression of their creative side rather than as a tool to enhance their looks. Be mindful of the conversations you have about your body image as well. As parents, make sure you model positive discussions about your body and do not place emphasis on your appearance being the most important thing.
4. Buy her toys that make her think. Embrace the brain teasers and board games, the medical and scientific experiments, things to build towers and locomotives. Give her the tools to explore, think, tinker as well as dress up. Her toys get her thinking and believing in all the possibilities the world has to offer her.
5. Female role models. Learn something new. Make a new friend. Be assertive. Foster positive relationships and a healthy body image. Be the empowered woman you want your daughter to strive to be. Or perhaps you or your partner have females in your families who your daughter could look up to as well. The more examples of strong female role models in her life the more likely she’ll believe in the reality of achieving her goals.
Julie Diamond is a certified teacher in Canada and the founder of Teachers to Go.