Beach Story Using Collective Nouns

Collective nouns at the beach!

While we’re on a theme of “summer” topics, here’s a fun exercise I created the other day on Quora. It’s a beach story using collective nouns. Why not sit down together as a family and see how many collective nouns you can discover in this story? A couple of them are a bit tricky!

Here’s the collective nouns story!

In the summer we like to go the beach. It’s a great place to people watch. We’ll almost certainly see a flock of tourists enjoying the sun and sand, and we’re likely to see a class of students from the Community Rec Program learning about the flora and fauna of the beach and lake. We’ll see a crew of sailors waving at us as they pass in their sailboat. Sometimes a troupe of dancers or actors will come to the beach gazebo and entertain the crowd of spectators. While we love our beaches, you might need to watch out–there is a small pack of petty thieves who like to grab any valuables they see lying around. A staff of employees from the city’s summer youth workers program watch out for them, though, so it’s pretty safe. We might join an audience of listeners sitting around enjoying the music of a band of musicians or a busker or two. Occasionally, a panel of experts will wander along the beach, discussing ideas for new walkways, boat launches or

While we love our beaches, you might need to watch out–there is a small pack of petty thieves who like to grab any valuables they see lying around. A staff of employees from the city’s summer youth workers program watch out for them, though, so it’s pretty safe. We might join an audience of listeners sitting around enjoying the music of a band of musicians or a busker or two. Occasionally, a panel of experts will wander along the beach, discussing ideas for new walkways, boat launches or piers, and their possible environmental impact. If the experts have already given the go-ahead, we might instead see a gang of labourers putting those ideas into action.

Another fun thing to do at the beach is watching the birds and animals. We’re certain to see a flock of seagulls swooping over the beach looking for picnic scraps, while sometimes we’ll see a flight of geese overhead heading north or south on their migratory routes, depending on what end of summer it is. In midsummer, we’ll see gaggles of geese pecking at seeds in the grass. We will certainly see a raft of ducks paddling in the water, and sometimes a game of swans. You might even spot a murder of crows, or more likely, hear them squawking from the trees. Sometimes the sky will suddenly be filled with a murmuration of starlings startled out of their hiding places.

If we walk out on the pier and look down into the deeper water there, we might see a shoal of fish, and sometimes there’ll be someone reeling them in with a rod and then heading off home with a catch of fish. Be careful where you spread your beach towel and lay down–you don’t want to set it by an ant hill and encounter an army of ants. And don’t get too close to a pool of still water or a marshy spot–you’ll soon be surrounded by a swarm of flies, mosquitoes, or

If we walk out on the pier and look down into the deeper water there, we might see a shoal of fish, and sometimes there’ll be someone reeling them in with a rod and then heading off home with a catch of fish. Be careful where you spread your beach towel and lay down–you don’t want to set it by an ant hill and encounter an army of ants. And don’t get too close to a pool of still water or a marshy spot–you’ll soon be surrounded by a swarm of flies, mosquitoes, or

Be careful where you spread your beach towel and lay down–you don’t want to set it by an ant hill and encounter an army of ants. And don’t get too close to a pool of still water or a marshy spot–you’ll soon be surrounded by a swarm of flies, mosquitoes, or dragonflies. Watch out! In some spots, there might be a swarm of wasps, attracted by colourful flower gardens or by the smell of sweet summer treats brought by beach goers.

We might even see a herd of urban deer nibbling the flowers from the carefully designed gardens in the park next to the beach. At some of our beaches, we’ll see teams of horses go by on the street, pulling tourists in buggies on tours of the city. Once in a while, someone will come by with a litter of kittens or puppies in a box, hoping to sell them or give them away.

Part of the pleasure of going to the beach is enjoying nature. While most people go during the day, some prefer to go in the evening, bringing along a stack of wood, then sit around a campfire watching the waves and roasting marshmallows. When the fire dies down, they will lay on the sand and look up into the night sky, gazing at galaxies of stars. Lowering their gaze just a tad, they’ll see the saw-like tips of a forest of trees on the tops of nearby mountain ranges, black against the moonlit sky. In the daytime, we’ll sometimes see a fleet of sailboats skimming along the gentle waves of the lake, although we’ll see them return to the marina when a towering cumulonimbus of clouds along with clouds of dust whipping up from the sand indicate an afternoon

In the daytime, we’ll sometimes see a fleet of sailboats skimming along the gentle waves of the lake, although we’ll see them return to the marina when a towering cumulonimbus of clouds along with clouds of dust whipping up from the sand indicate an afternoon thunderstorm is approaching. We’ll quickly gather up our loose beach items and stash them in the trunk of the car so they don’t blow away; then from a safe spot, we’ll watch the storm come in, waves crashing on the beach and cascades of brilliant thunderbolts lighting up the sky, followed by downpours of rain. We might snap lots of pictures in hopes of getting some good ones for our album of photos.

On a sunny day at the beach, we’ll either slather on sunscreen or we’ll search for a shady spot to relax, perhaps in the shadow of a hedge of bushes or under a grove of trees. We’ll probably take along with us a basket of fruit just picked fresh from our famous orchards, along with other picnic foods and utensils. If we don’t bring our lunch with us, we’ll have to buy snacks from one of the beach vendors, and that will require a wad of bills! If we’re going to stay at the beach for the day, we’ll bring swimsuits and towels, a pack of cards, a collection of books, or for the more lively folks among us, a wagon-load of pails and shovels or beach toys like frisbees and beach balls. If we’ve driven to the beach, we’ll be careful to take care of our bunch of car keys as they are so easily lost in the sand. We’ll keep an eye on the little folks, as they’re just apt to wander off to the city’s flower beds and pick a big bouquet of flowers for mommy, much to the dismay of the gardeners chasing after them. If we get bored, the fishers among us will start telling fish stories, most of which will be a pack of lies.

If we’re going to stay at the beach for the day, we’ll bring swimsuits and towels, a pack of cards, a collection of books, or for the more lively folks among us, a wagon-load of pails and shovels or beach toys like frisbees and beach balls. If we’ve driven to the beach, we’ll be careful to take care of our bunch of car keys as they are so easily lost in the sand. We’ll keep an eye on the little folks, as they’re just apt to wander off to the city’s flower beds and pick a big bouquet of flowers for mommy, much to the dismay of the gardeners chasing after them. If we get bored, the fishers among us will start telling fish stories, most of which will be a pack of lies.

Finally, at the end of a wonderful day at the beach, we will wearily pack up and head home, where we’ll gratefully sink into our beds for a good night’s sleep, dreaming of beaches and all the collections of things we find there.

How did you do?

How many collective nouns did you find? Share your score in the comments!

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Summer Reading and Book Reports

Some twenty years ago or so, while I was homeschooling my children, I wrote an article about “Creative Alternatives to Book Reports.” With summer coming, encouraging your children to read a wide variety of books is a great way to avoid the “boring summer day blahs.”

Now you can of course just let them read the books–or you might want to have them do a book report. A book report? In summer? Why, oh why? Well, if you’re talking about traditional book reports, I’d have to agree. But there are so many fun activities that children can do during or after reading a book, that could make that summer reading even more adventuresome. In fact, these ideas are great activities year-round!

This popular article has been posted before in another of my blogs and in homeschool newsletters, is available as a booklet with extra ideas, and has even been translated into Dutch and published in a Dutch educational magazine! Since summer holidays are almost here (or maybe have arrived already where you live), this might be a good time to check out all these entertaining alternatives to book reports, which make fun summer learning activities.

Creative Alternatives to Book Reports

Halfway through grade one, my adored, grandmotherly teacher saw fit to promote me, in one dizzying moment, from a member of the earth-bound Turtles Reading Group, past the Bluebirds in the treetops, to join the soaring Eagles. It was an epiphany! I could read! And from that moment I loved books. Every new book was an adventure, filled with anticipation, excitement, joy. Until one day, a dark shadow fell. Another teacher, more Draconian, assigned my first Book Report.

Now theoretically, The Book Report is supposed to be a wonderful educational device. The eager Book Reporter displays reading ability, comprehension of plot (both action and literary development), recognition of theme, understanding of vocabulary, knowledge of literary devices, understanding of characterization, ability to compare the book to other literary works, and of course critical thinking skills. (Often most importantly, The Book Report also proves that the teacher assigned the curricular reading requirements!).

Some children, blessed with a learning style and upbringing conducive to the traditional classroom, gamely plough through the book and produce the required composition. Yet despite a good mark, the drudgery and dread of the Book Report often manage to destroy the joy of reading.

Unfortunately, for many children, even the glory of a good mark is often unattainable. Most resort to a thinly disguised plagiarism of the cover blurb or introduction; a few energetic souls even go so far as to borrow from Coles Notes. Some watch the movie version, but the teacher is almost sure to catch on, as the movie is rarely the same as the book. And then there are those who simply give up, whose learning styles, or reading level, or fear, make the Book Report an impossible goal. And the inevitable long-term result, for many, is not only a dread of Book Reports but a life-long avoidance of reading books.

Still, assuming that Book Report skills are important (some disagree), what alternatives are there? Should we simply encourage our children to read for enjoyment, and hope they develop those skills as they read? Should we use an oral discussion approach? What about children whose learning styles, interest areas, and natural abilities are radically different from those inherent in the Book Report approach? Does the purpose for reading a particular book affect the need for analysis? Can we learn and demonstrate reading skills in other ways? Do we really need to test such skills at all?

For now, let’s assume you do want to help develop, or test, your child’s reading skills (or perhaps you are required to provide “evidence” to your educational authority). You, as a parent, know your child better than anyone else. You know their interests, their learning styles, their reading and writing ability, their special talents. Now it is time for you to think creatively. What methods can you use (or, better yet, let your child choose) to develop or test reading skills? Below I have listed a wide variety of suggestions. I have given just a brief description of each; it is up to you and your child to choose what is interesting and will work for you both. The most important thing is to have FUN with the approach you choose, so that your child never loses the joy of reading!

Alternative Book Report Ideas

  • Draw an action illustration, paint a mural, or create a comic strip, of a key event in the book.
  • Create a book jacket or design a poster, with illustrations and blurbs, to advertise the book.
  • Make a carving, sculpture, or another type of model of an event or person in the book.
  • Design a coat of arms or a pennant to symbolise the main elements of the book.
  • Use a collage of words, colours, and pictures to describe the book.
  • Make a diorama, create a graph, or draw a map to show the time and setting of the book.
  • Create an interesting title page to introduce the book.
  • Create a photo album of pictures relating to the novel and/or make a travel brochure.
  • Make a diorama, mobile, or a set of postcards relating to the book.
  • Create a bulletin board display.
  • Design a secret code to tell about an important part of the book.
  • Make baseball cards to identify characters and their “stats”.
  • Make an activity book with games, puzzles, jokes, riddles, etc.
  • Practice and videotape a dramatic reading of part of the book.
  • Design a game (board game, Trivial Pursuit type game, card game, game show, etc).
  • Convert a scene in the book into a puppet show, pantomime, skit, radio play, or drama; create the props, sound effects, etc, and perform the show.
  • Create and tape a television talk show segment to interview a character from the book or an actor/actress from the movie version.
  • Adapt a song to become a theme song for your book.
  • Make a movie ad campaign with magazines, posters, toys, etc.
  • Invent new words for vocabulary in the book (example: cat=purr pet, book=looker).
  • Pretend you are a creature from the book; act like the creature; make up conversations that would be of interest to that creature.
  • Change sentences or lines of conversations in the book into rhymes.
  • Design a web showing a biographical sketch of one or more characters.
  • Choose a cast, of modern day actors and actresses, or of people you know, for a movie version of the novel; including photos or sketches, and tell why each is perfect for the part.
  • Make a character sketch chart, including a sketch of the character, relationship to other characters, personality, favourite things, sports, hobbies, pet peeves, etc. (Or make a “magazine” featuring the characters).
  • Write a letter to the author (or the main character) about the book.
  • Invent a new adventure for the characters, or write a new ending.
  • Do a “You are there” newspaper story of a particular event.
  • Create two or more different kinds of poems about characters, events, setting, etc in the book.
  • Write a promotional, press conference, or radio announcement to publicise the book.
  • Write a review of the novel for the book section of the newspaper.
  • Devise riddles, a crossword, or a word search of important events, characters, and objects in the book.
  • Compose a telegram about the novel, with a 20-word limit.
  • Construct a timeline to illustrate events in the book (for a challenge, make it 3D).
  • Make a cookbook of recipes from the time and place of the book; cook some of the foods.
  • Create costumes from the time and place of the book.
  • Conduct a survey and share the results.
  • Make a collection of personal items one of the characters might have owned, and share the significance of each item.
  • Using the information in the book about a character, write a biography, using your own creative ideas to “fill in the blanks”.
  • Choose one or more objects (real or imaginary) mentioned in the book, and describe them in more detail, including appearance, function, size, materials, etc.
  • Imagine and write about, or act out, what might have happened if a character in the book had made a different decision or choice.

What other great ideas do you have for activities that can be used alongside reading? Why not share them in the comments? Thank you!

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Summer Tutoring Ideas

Should you consider tutoring for your child in the summer? Here are some thoughts:

Why are you considering tutoring?

  • Report Card Shock: Did your child’s final report card shake you up and you believe only a tutor can rescue your youngster? Will tutoring during all or part of the summer holidays actually help and encourage your child, or will it make her even more antagonistic toward learning? Figure out with your child the reasons for being behind before you decide upon tutoring or another solution to the problem.
  • Summer Learning Loss: Are you afraid your child will “lose what he’s just learned” over the next couple months? September classes are usually mainly review, so unless your child was already behind, there may be better summer alternatives than tutoring. If you do want review, consider the 2 to 3 weeks before school starts again, rather than early summer).
  • “I’m so bored!” Do you dread hearing those words? If so, will tutoring be the best way to keep your child occupied?
  • Punishment: Are you punishing your child by threatening him with summer tutoring? If so, what might be the long-term results for his attitude to learning and education?
  • Your child loves school and/or learning: Does your child miss school during the summer? Is it studying she misses or is it other aspects like time with friends or fine arts or similar classes? Is there a particular subject (or topic) she’d love to dive into or just a “buffet selection” of different subjects?
  • Babysitting: Are you thinking of tutoring as a method of “babysitting” while you’re at work, when summer camps and visits to the grandparents don’t fill up the schedule?

Would tutoring or some other solution be best for your child? What kinds of tutoring are best during summer holidays?

  • Students need a change of pace. They have been in school for nine to ten months and are looking forward to a holiday. Check around and see what kinds of learning alternatives different tutors offer. Standard tutoring sessions just like during the school year? Or…
  • Educational “day camps” offered by local colleges or community recreation programs? Or residential camps that include learning options?
  • Summer school programs offered by the local school district–or by private tutoring companies or even by individual tutors. These are usually offered as half-day or full-day programs running for at least a week at a time, and often up to a month or more. Unlike traditional tutoring, these are generally group programs–and while your child may not get quite as focused one-on-one attention, the longer hours and continuous days/weeks will provide just as strong a program. And because you’re sharing the cost with other group members, the hourly rate will probably be lower, or you may be offered a flat rate for the program (don’t expect refunds for days missed, though).
  • Outdoor learning: In pleasant climates, tutors may be willing to teach your child outdoors in a park or similar location, which may make it more palatable for a child who is really opposed to summertime tutoring.
  • Interests and passions: Seeing as it’s summer, consider a different approach. Does your child have a special interest, even passion? Can you find a tutor (or perhaps even become your own child’s best tutor) who will take that interest or passion and develop it into a study that involves all kinds of “subjects” that are wrapped up in that topic? Every topic in some way involves math, reading, writing–and even science, social studies, fine arts, physical education, languages, and more. It may involve more planning than ordinary tutoring (and therefore an extra cost) but it may also be the perfect way to introduce your child to the joy of life-long learning, and provide a positive attitude and self-motivation to continue learning. If you can find another child who could take this path with your child (a good friend, perhaps), the cost could be shared. A wonderful way to spend the summer learning!
  • Group sessions: Even traditional tutoring can be more fun and acceptable in summer if your child can participate in group sessions. Ask your tutor if he or she offers group sessions your child can join, or if you know of other children who your child would enjoy working with, see if your tutor would be willing to take on a group (with the costs shared among the group members–a larger group will have a higher overall cost, but divided up could be considerably less than individual hourly rates). If you have more than one child requiring tutoring, the tutor might be willing to work with them at the same time, for a reduced price per child (for example $30 per hour per child, or $45 per hour for 2 children–depending on the tutor’s usual rates).
  • Family holidays:  Consider finding ways to make your family vacation, and indeed your entire summer, into a learning experience while still being fun. (See this post for some great specific examples!). And when you’re looking around town for things to do with the family at home, choose activities that are not only fun but have learning opportunities.

If you decide on tutoring, how should you prepare?

  • Talk it over with your child. Discuss the reasons tutoring is needed, or what alternatives might be better. Even with tutoring, what type will be best?
  • Subjects and/or topics: Decide what specific subject(s) or topic(s) the tutoring should focus on. Better to start with something that is really vital; you can always work on other things later.
  • Documents: Don’t let the kids toss out their school work if they’re going to have tutoring; bring it to the first tutoring session, along with report cards and other relevant documents such as psychoeducational assessments, related medical information and IEPs (Individual Learning Plans).
  • Travel/transportation: Will the tutor come to your home, or will you need to plan your child’s transportation to the tutor’s office or other location?
  • Insurance and contracts: Tutors usually require clients to sign contracts laying out the plans, costs, times, location, etc. If you want “extras” such as having the tutor travel to your home, or if you want the tutor to take your child on summer “field trips” you will need to sign a form agreeing not to hold the tutor responsible for any accidents, etc. Extra travel or requirements for extra insurance may increase your tutoring cost.
  • Missing appointments: Summer schedules can easily be more interrupted than the rest of the year. Be aware that if you miss tutoring appointments, you will likely still have to pay. Some tutors charge ahead in the summer for this reason. Plan carefully so you won’t miss appointments.
  • Tutors need holidays too: Be aware that tutors need holidays, too. They’ve been working steadily during the school year (quite often during winter and spring breaks as well) and they have a right to take summer holidays. Ask if there are times when the tutor is not available and plan alternatives for those times.
  • All-day tutoring: If you are hoping for all-day tutoring, or even half-day tutoring daily for a week or more, plan well ahead. Tutor schedules for summer start filling up in the spring, so if you have requests like this, make sure you make reservations well ahead.
  • Week or month-long all-day programs: Make sure you are clear on requirements for lunches, snacks, etc.

What are your summer plans? If you want more suggestions or are looking for summer tutoring in the Penticton area, please feel free to contact me. Let’s chat!

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Posted in family learning, life-long learning, parent-tutoring, passions and interests, summer tutoring, tutoring, tutoring costs, unit studies | Leave a comment

Home Math Tips: Unit Studies

Summer is coming and most children are delighted to escape all that September to June learning–and some especially are happy to escape math! (And even in you are reading this in the middle of the “school year” and you are hearing those “math moans and groans,” you’ll want to read this, too, because it can be used anytime.)

Maybe you as a parent are happy to escape math, too–or…. on the other hand, maybe you’re worried that your child will forget all the math learned in the last months, or maybe you’re wondering how you can help your child upgrade math skills without all that moaning and groaning. Whatever your situation…

Unit studies might be the perfect way to make math fun, useful and exciting for little scholars … and for parents, too!

What is a unit study? Basically, it’s when you take an activity or topic–ideally, one of personal interest to your child–and you explore it broadly, bringing in all kinds of related “subjects” instead of the usual teaching method of focusing on one subject at a time. So if your child (and maybe you) are “allergic” to the word “math,” you can use unit studies to pursue math without even using that dreadful term!

How might a unit study incorporating math work? Here is an example unit study activity perfect for summer to show you how to start; you can use it as inspiration to create unit studies on topics or activities that your child really enjoys.

  • Camping and road trips! Is your family going on a camping trip this summer? How could you “sneak” math into camping? Here are some possibilities:
    • Planning the trip: get out the map and together plan the road trip.
      • How far is it from home to the camping spot?
      • What are the distances between places along the way?
      • How long will it take if you assume an average 80 km per hour?
      • Does Google Maps’ estimate agree with yours?
      • What if you decided to take some side trips or a less-traveled route?
      • What if there is road construction; how much will that slow you down?
    • Costs for supplies before and during the trip:
      • What camping supplies will you need to buy before you leave? How much do they cost?
      • Check out flyers for sale prices. How much money can you save if you shop the sales?
      • What will be the difference in costs if you make sandwiches at home before you leave, or buy lunch at a fast food joint along the way–or at a nice restaurant?
      • What is the difference in price between buying sunscreen (or any other product, for that matter) at a big box store at home before you leave, or forgetting about it and having to buy it at the campground canteen/convenience store?
    • Along the road: Camping is a great time to leave those electronic games and devices behind–but what will the kids do on that boring road trip on the way to the camping ground?
      • You’ve already done that planning map work–now watch for road signs telling how much farther to the location: then calculate how far you’ve already come.
      • Before you start, check the mileage on the car; now compare your calculation with the car’s calculation. Are they the same or different? What might account for differences?
      • Bring along a road map of Canada or both Canada and United States. Watch for car licence plates from different provinces and states. Locate them on the map. Using the map scale and a ruler, figure out how far that province/state is from your location “as the eagle flys.” Then figure out how far it is by road. What is the difference? Why does that happen?
      • When you stop at gas stations, note the differences in the cost of gas in different locations. Where does it cost most? Least? Why does that happen?
      • Have the kids watch for signs with numbers on them and write down the numbers. Who has the largest number? The smallest number? Watch for buildings and count the number of stories. Make up other number games like this. (Just remember–don’t mention “math!”)
      • What other road trip ideas can you think of?
    • At the campground: 
      • Which campsite is the best size and shape for your needs? Will a site fit your tent and car or camper? Not sure? Take out a tape measure (you brought one, right?) and do some measurements to figure out the best layout for your equipment.
      • You’ve brought a 20-foot rope to use for a clothesline. There are 4 trees in and around your campsite. Which 2 trees should you hang it from? Use the tape measure to figure out the best choice.
      • Bring a thermometer along, too. Check the temperature at various times of the day and decide, based on temperature, what would be the best time of day to do various activities.
      • What kinds of trees are found in the camping area? Not sure? Get out the guide book of trees and plants you’ve brought along and identify the trees. Measure the circumference of the tree and compare it to the averages listed in the guide.
      • Then it’s breakfast time. How many eggs and sausages do you need to take out of the cooler to make breakfast? Or if you’re making pancakes and you forgot the measuring cup for the ingredients, how else could you measure successfully?
      • Did you notice that sometimes the shadow of your tent or camper is large and other times it is smaller? Why not do some measurements (height of the tent/camper, length of the shadow) and use the Pythagorean theorem to determine the other “side of the triangle.” Check with your tape measure and/or a rope. While you’re at it, why not figure out the angles? Cool! Geometry is fun! (Just don’t mention it’s math!).
      • Going fishing? Weigh those fish, measure their length, record the information–and have a contest to see who gets the biggest one. While you’re at it, use your fishing guidebook to learn more about the fish, and maybe even do a “dissection” (Exciting!).
      • Swimming in the lake or river? Bring along a suitable thermometer and check the water temperature at different times of day and in different locations to decide the best times and places to swim.
      • What else can you think of?
  • Congratulations! Like all good unit studies, on your camping trip, you’ve not only studied math, but you’ve dipped into nutrition, economics, ecology, geography, language arts, biology, exercise…. Way to go! Lifelong learning!

So what if you’re not going camping? What else will you be doing as a family? What are your child’s biggest interests? Much as I hate to say it, even electronic devices have tons of mathematical connections (beyond just playing the games themselves or watching videos)–though I think summer (or any other time of the year, for that matter) is a perfect time to do other things, right? What about sports, animals, home-built rockets, mechanics, cooking and baking, art?

We live in such an amazing world, and with a little imagination, I’m sure that you can easily envision all kinds of ways to take your child’s favourite activities and topics and secretly mine them for all kinds of mathematical concepts and practical applications–as well as their connections to all kinds of other “subjects”!

What other unit study ideas can you suggest for exploring math? Please share them in the comments! Thank you!

Other posts in this series:

Games and family fun
Manipulatives
Charts and tables
Books and workbooks
Online sites
Tips for kinesthetic learners
Unit studies

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Posted in life-long learning, math, math games and activities, passions and interests, unit studies | Leave a comment

Home Math Tips: For Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learning (aka tactile, physical, hands-on or skill learning) involves students learning by doing physical activities rather than just listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations or reading and writing about the topic. Kinesthetic learning activities involve students using body movement to explore concepts and then explaining, in their own words, how those body movements explain and are related to the concept. A good basic explanation of kinesthetic learning can be found on Wikipedia. At one time, it was thought that different children had different “learning styles”–including kinesthetic learning–and that finding and focusing on the individual child’s “style” would produce better learning. However

What about “Learning Styles”? At one time, it was thought that different children had different “learning styles”–including kinesthetic learning–and that finding and focusing on the individual child’s “style” would produce better learning. However, evidence now suggests that “mixed modality” learning–using a variety of learning styles/approaches, including auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.–is best to improve learning. At the same time, for children who have difficulty focusing on traditional approaches such as lectures or reading and writing, or are naturally very active, kinesthetic techniques can be very helpful.

Kinesthetic memory: Another advantage of these kinds of activities is that they help move the traditional learning of new concepts from short-term memory into long-term memory. This involves the effect of positive emotions associated with physical activity such as excitement and curiosity.

Sample Activities: Here are a few examples of activities which have worked well with my tutoring students; you can use these as starter ideas to develop your own activities for/with your children:

  • For learning numbers: With your finger, “draw” numbers on the child’s back or on the palm of his hand (with the child not looking) and have the child identify the number; have the child “draw” numbers in the air with his arm; step on sidewalk blocks or a hopscotch court, counting aloud (or simply count steps while walking); count steps while climbing stairs
  • For practising number skills (and writing!), large writing tools and textured surfaces can be helpful. For example: have the child write with large pieces of chalk on sidewalk; or write with her finger on a table with a textured fabric cloth or in sand or whip cream or finger paints
  • For memorising math facts: bounce a ball or jump up stairs or skip rope or jump on trampoline while reciting math facts
  • Learning odd and even numbers: toss ball back and forth (odds and evens); set out number cards on floor, step from card to card, looking at each and saying the number–then repeat, skipping numbers to practice skip-counting by 2s and 3s
  • Practical math (and reading/writing): Using grocery flyers, look at the pictures and record items for a grocery list (for children with difficulty writing, cut out the pictures of the items and glue them onto a “grocery list” paper), use a calculator to add up the prices, go to the bank and take out the money, then go to the store and shop for the items, comparing the words on the list with the words on the items, and finally, pay cash for the groceries, counting out the money. At home, put the groceries away, checking off each item on the list as it is removed from the bag.

Practical, hands-on, physical activities like these can really enhance the learning of a child who is struggling with “theoretical” or “paperwork” learning methods. It is most helpful if the child explains afterwards, in his/her own words, the concept(s) learned.

Other kinds of kinesthetic activities include doodling, creating graphics, painting, mind-mapping, webbing, etc.; modelling and building with clay, wood and other materials; role-playing, drama, and dance; sports activities and gymnastics (applying concepts such as physics, measurements, following directions, etc.); hands-on “science experiments”; use of manipulatives; musical theatre and/or playing instruments; outdoors exploration of the environment; and physical games such as charades. Note that many of these activities can be done in groups as well as individually.

Oh! And these activities are also a great way to distract children from those electronic devices 🙂

What kinds of kinesthetic activities have worked well for your children? Please share your experiences in the comments. Thank you!

Other posts in this series:
Games and family fun
Manipulatives
Charts and tables
Books and workbooks
Online sites
Tips for kinesthetic learners
Unit studies

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Home Math Tips: Online Sites

While we’ve been suggesting lots of different math learning tips ranging from games and hands-on manipulatives to charts and books, there are also, of course, many useful software programs/apps online. Many of them are free, and a lot of them are fun and entertaining as well as being good learning experiences. Here are a few I’ve found very useful for my students:

Online apps:
BC Exam Bank: This site is based on the British Columbia curriculum and provides exams in a variety of academic subjects from grades Kindergarten through 12. It’s a good way to discover gaps in learning–then you can use some of these other sites to fill in those gaps!
Touch Math: Touch Math is a useful way for students who have difficulty with memorization to still be able to quickly and easily do computations without using a calculator.
Mathletics: This program is used successfully by many schools. Check with your child’s school to see if they have it available.
Math U See: Math-U-See is a popular program both in schools and for homeschool families. As its name suggests, it makes strong use of manipulatives and more recently has added a strong online capacity as well.
Discovery Education: Discovery Education uses digital textbooks. It has an emphasis on community involvement, critical thinking, and questioning.
Power of Ten: uses cards to learn basic math facts in a fun, easy way. It focuses on developing pattern recognition and a problem-solving mindset.
MathATube: This is a fun site for students to practice their math skills at all public school levels.

What online math sites does your family like using? Please share in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks!

Games and family fun
Manipulatives
Charts and tables
Books and workbooks
Online sites
Tips for kinesthetic learners
Unit studies

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Home Math Tips: Books and workbooks

Do you recognise these painful wails?

  • From children: “Mom! Dad! I just don’t get math! It’s boring! The teacher doesn’t explain it right! Why do I need to do this? What do algebra and trigonometry have to do with real life? These word problems are so stupid! Why do I have to memorise these dumb times tables? Why can’t I just use a calculator?”
  • And from parents: “What’s with this ‘new math’ anyway? It seems like math changes every year or two! It doesn’t look like anything I ever studied in school! How am I supposed to help my child with math when it’s changed so much? Why can’t we do it the good old-fashioned way? I was never good at math myself! Help! What should I do?”

What should you do indeed? Ask the teacher (if your child attends school) to provide extra individual help for your child before or after school, at recess or lunch? (If the teacher even has time–and your child is willing to cooperate?) Hire a tutor (A good idea, if you can arrange times that work for your family and you can afford)? Find a community group that offers free or low-cost “homework help” sessions outside school time? Or….

Aha! What about those handy-dandy workbooks at the local bookstore? Or maybe borrow textbooks from the school? Or how about trying out those fun, alternative math books someone was raving about at the homeschool support group or on Facebook? Well, what about them? Here are some suggestions to help you make up your mind about how to use math books and workbooks to help solve the “math problem”:

  • It’s true! There are lots of books with fun, alternative approaches to math. They’ve been created to make math accessible and even entertaining for folks–children and adults both–who struggle with math or just find it boring. And these books include lots of different approaches since we all learn in somewhat different ways. So the trick is to find books that suit your child’s (and your) learning styles and needs. Therefore, you might want to borrow a variety of such books (from the library or from friends) and try them out. Then, when you’ve found some that really works for you, consider purchasing those titles. Some examples:
    •  Scholastic Explains Math Homework – specifically written to explain to parents the math being done in the school classroom, and tips on how they can help their child with the related homework.
    • Childcraft Mathmagic – Introduces the history of math, how math is used in real life, amazing mathematical ideas, and hands-on fun math projects.
    • Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and similar fun-to-read books that prepare the child to expect to enjoy math and introduce it as a real part of life. Help your child develop a pro-math attitude while still at an early pre-school age.
    • Whodunit Math Puzzles; Tricks Riddles Games Amazing Math; Math Magic; Calculator Riddles – Titles like these not only make math “fun,” but they also appeal to kids with particular personal interests, such as a love of puzzles, tricks, calculator use, and even, yes, magic! While these titles don’t usually “teach basic math concepts,” they can change your child’s attitude toward math, and that can make a positive difference in learning those math basics.
    • Math For Smarty Pants – Books like this are aimed particularly for children who find the basics of math easy and boring. These titles encourage kids to explore math more deeply and challenge themselves in mathematical ways.
    • Textbooks – If you just want a standard “textbook” type approach, there are many to choose from. But be aware: first of all, textbooks tend to be expensive. So you’ll want to try them out first (many textbook companies offer “sample downloads” which you can print out from their website and try out with your child–or borrow a copy from someone or see if you can get an inexpensive used copy). Also, most textbooks take a particular approach. For example, the Saxon textbooks take a “spiral” approach, gradually introducing new concepts step-by-small-step, while constantly reviewing the concepts learned previously, and every lesson offers lots of practice exercises. They are text-heavy, with few illustrations. And they really do work well–for some kids. In our family, they were wonderful for two of our children, but a real struggle for the other three. Other textbooks are very colourful and tend to be hands-on, project-based, which some children love, especially those who enjoy exploring and figuring things out themselves by “doing.” These books often expect you will have a good supply of commercially-produced “math manipulatives” on hand for the children to do the hands-on activities. Still other textbooks are designed for classroom use and have a lot of “group” activities, so that kind might not be suited for your individual child’s use.  And some textbooks are actually “teacher books” and you’ll discover that you’ll be expected to also purchase a series of workbooks for the child to use. While textbooks can be helpful, really check them out first and be sure that the one(s) you choose will be worth the investment.
  • When you are deciding what kind of book might work for your child, here are some questions to ask yourself:
    • Will this book suit my child’s learning style(s) and personal interests?
    • Will this book line up with my child’s math learning at school? (If your child attends school or works with a tutor, it is a wise idea to discuss with the teacher or tutor what topics and methods will be used there, so you can provide support for those learning experiences, while also introducing other more individualised approaches for your child)
    • What are my child’s needs? For example, does my child need to learn math basics and/or particular concepts, or does my child have negative attitudes to math that a fun approach would change, or is my child bored with simple basics and needs a challenge?
    • How much can I afford to invest? Will this book be only for one child in the family, or is it a book the younger children will be able to use in their turn? Can I find access to a group where I can sell or swap it with other parents (many online homeschool groups, such as on Facebook, have excellent shop-and-swap groups)? Could I borrow the book from the school or library or friends?
    • Will I be helping my child work through the book, or does my child prefer to work independently? If I will be helping, how much time can I devote? Does the book’s approach fit with that? Do I even understand the approach of this particular book, or should I try to find another book that works better? Or should I hire a tutor–or perhaps take a couple tutoring lessons myself before trying to help my child?
    • Is this book “hands-on” or “academic”? Does it provide lots of practice questions and examples? Will I need to purchase extras like workbooks or math manipulatives (or create my own manipulatives)? Will these aspects work for us?
    • Where should I shop for these kinds of books? Is there a local bookstore with a knowledgeable staff? What about an education supplies outlet in your area? Online–and if so, should I check out a general bookstore like Amazon, or go to the websites of particular publishers, or check out homeschool sites or other educational sites? What about asking advice of other homeschoolers or parents of other school children? Should I borrow from the library or school or other people first, and then make a buying decision? What about second-hand bookstores or thrift shops? All these different options have pros and cons. I highly recommend comparing prices and checking out your alternatives before purchasing; reading reviews (and make sure those reviews aren’t ones written by the company selling the book 🙂 ); asking advice of people who’ve already gone down this same path and have experience and wisdom (and perhaps have used copies you can borrow or purchase from them); and if you’re working alongside a teacher or tutor, ask for their input, too.
  • And what about workbooks? There are so many workbook alternatives out there, it can be overwhelming to think about which (if any) would be useful. In addition to the questions we’ve discussed about purchasing books, here are some specific considerations regarding workbooks:
    • What is your purpose for a workbook? Is it to actually teach your child concepts, and then provide practice? Or is it just for extra practice beyond regular homework assignments or what your child is doing in their math class in school? Or maybe just for fun because your child likes doing workbook exercises? Which workbook would work best for your purposes?
    • Is the workbook grade specific (for example, is it for grade 1 or grade 8 or whatever), or is it topic specific (perhaps it focuses on basic math facts–addition, subtraction, multiplication, division–or perhaps it focuses on fractions or algebra or geometry)? Which would be most helpful? If your child only has problems with one aspect of math, you might want a topic-focused workbook, for example.
    • Has the workbook been designed for a particular country or province or state? Will a workbook with American coins and bills, and word problems that relate to American places and situations, be helpful to your child in another country? How closely does the curriculum in the workbook relate to the school your child attends?
    • How much does the workbook cost? Is that investment worth what the workbook contains? Can you photocopy the pages your child needs, and then be able to reuse the book with your next child? Or perhaps have your child write answers in a notebook so you can use the workbook with other children in your family? How about checking out “wipe-off” workbooks?
    • Maybe your child has underlying math issues such as perceptual difficulties? There are workbooks (and books) for things like that, too … and sometimes dealing with those issues first before dealing directly with math is a good idea. Also, sometimes children like “fun” math-related workbooks, which provide a positive attitude boost–consider colour by number workbooks, dot-to-dot notebooks, math game workbooks, and maze workbooks, for example.
  • What about books that help parents help their children with math? Those can be very helpful too! In fact, I have developed a series of great little booklets, ranging in price from free to just a couple dollars, at my Teachers Pay Teachers site. You’ll find super-helpful and practical tips on topics like math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, memorization tips and learning strategies, and arithmetic tips and tricks–as well as lots of useful booklets for language arts.

What advice and tips do you have about math books and workbooks? What are your favourites? Are there any you don’t like, and why? Do share your thoughts in the comments, please. Thank you!

More “Home Math Tips” posts:
Games and family fun
Manipulatives
Charts and tables
Books and workbooks
Online sites
Tips for kinesthetic learners
Unit studies

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Posted in homeschooling, homework tips, learning resources, math, math books and workbooks, penandpapermama products | Leave a comment