Toddler Tuesdays: Shape puzzles


We have these shape puzzles. They are wooden and come with shapes of various colors and sizes. The puzzles boards have holes for the shapes that the kids have to fill in. The puzzles are basic things like birds and planes, trains and cars.

They are a great activity to do all together. They help my youngest learn her shapes and colors. She has to put the right shape of the right color in the right spot in order to make the complete puzzle. Nicholas gets the experience of learning to teach her. There is something very rewarding about watching him patiently show her where the green circle is and pointing to where it goes in the puzzle.

But we can also use this as German time. In addition to doing the colors and shapes in English, we do then in German. When I ask Abby what shape and color she needs for a puzzle, and Nicholas responds in English, I then ask the question in German and get a German answer.

Differentiated learning, where you teach children of different levels in one setting or lesson, is difficult but not impossible. Part of differentiated learning is letting the more advanced children teach. Teaching reinforces knowledge and doesn’t require a child to engage in pointless repetition. Another part of differentiated learning is finding a way of using the basics to teach a new lesson – in this case German.

Regardless, it is a blast for all concerned.



Play with cardboard.


Not all learning is formal. Kids learn as much about gravity from falling and play structures as they do from formal lessons. They learn about building from blocks and Legos.

More and more educational theorists are saying that play is as important as formal lessons.

So we play.

In our house we always repurpose boxes. Whatever their size, we find a new use for them before recycling.

This time, I cut them up into a few different sizes an gave my son the different sized pieces of cardboard and some tape. And look what he created. It was a racetrack for his cars.

Abby got a box and she decided it would be a good place to play hide and seek with. Then it became the place she say and took her books to read.

Even boxes can be great toys.


Water balloon fun.


The great thing about learning is that it comes in many forms.

Today’s lesson came outside. It has been great weather do we went outside and filled up water balloons.

The filling of the balloons is a great time to talk about tension of the balloon and how things stretch to a snapping point. Even better is when the inept parent – me – breaks several balloons to show the point. Eventually we filled a whole bucket. I figured 30 was enough for the afternoon (I was wrong. They lasted about 10 minutes).

We then talked about force and velocity. Velocity is how fast something travels. Force is the effort we put into throwing the balloon. We then practiced throwing them at various targets I had drawn on our fence. While we were throwing Made sure to point out when we made bigger splashes or louder sounds and how those throws differed.

Then we paused while I filled up more balloons.

Next came our fun. Who can stomp on the balloon? Have you tried stomping on a water balloon lately? The small ones filled with lots of water just wiggle and roll away if you are too gentle. So it took an application of force and a lot of hand-foot coordination, but we stomped a bunch.

Then we had fun throwing them at each others’ feet. It was a fun hour outside. Both my kids had a blast with water balloons. Less fun – according to them – was picking up all the broken balloons. But when you mess it up you clean it up.


Presidents: Abraham Lincoln

Here’s our lesson on Abraham Lincoln. I was a bit nervous about doing this lesson because the slavery issue is a little too mature for a 4 year old. However, we overcame that and had a lot of fun.

The first thing we did was read a book about the life of Abraham Lincoln. We stopped and drew picture at important points. The timeline I used included the following points:

1. His childhood.

2. What he did as a young adult.

3. Things he studied.

4. His first job in politics.

5. Running for President.

6. What he did as President.

7. His death.

We drew pictures for each of these things and then made a timeline out of them and recited our abbreviated  version of his life. 

I chose to emphasize that Lincoln wanted to free the slaves and that it started a war. We read the Gettysburg Address and talked about what it meant. The language it was written in fascinated my son. I got to spend the rest of the day hearing, before every pronouncement, “Four score and some years ago I decided I wanted….” It’s not technically correct, but he got the right idea.

Then we made a pretzel, marshmallow, and banana log cabin. We used the pretzels to be the logs and the marshmallows and bananas to hold the whole thing together. Yes, we did eat it.

Finally, we spent time on the National Parks webpage looking at the Lincoln Monument – which we will be visiting soon.

It was a fun lesson. 

Critical thinking skills: Mind benders

I really enjoy finding new ways to help my kids develop their thinking skills. Critical thinking is an essential skill and it’s hard to teach. It is something that needs practice and development. I found this book –Mind Benders Beginning Book 1 (PreK-K) – at our local homeschool store. I thought it might be fun.

We are having a ton of fun doing these puzzles. We sat down and did 1o of them at once! I had to make him stop or else we would’ve gone through the whole book today. It took Nicholas – who is 4 – three puzzles to get the hang of how they work. Now he can do them on his own if I’m there to help him read the clues.

I really like it. The puzzles are short and start out very, very easy. The clues are short and don’t have too many clues. The clues stick to concepts that young children will know – smallest, biggest, widest, tallest – and don’t require that they rank the options (Mary has a fish that is smaller than Joan’s, who has a fish smaller than Mark’s). Instead they are one step clues that help them learn how to process things. The pictures are silly, but they are clear about what is what. Nothing is confusing. The pictures, instead of words, on the logic charts make it so the children can do their own markings once they have help with the clues.

You can get the book with the link below (or above).

Mind Benders Beginning Book 1 (PreK-K)

Ice lessons


We love to play outside and today I also needed to clean out the ice machine in my freezer. So I took the I e outside and we played.

We learned:

1. Ice melts when you hold the hose onto it. This is because the water from the hose is warmer than the ice. We also learned that Abby likes to drink from the hose.

2. Friction creates heat which melts the ice and let’s you draw pictures with ice on the cement

3. The ice pictures evaporate when the sun dries up the water.

4. We covered evaporation, melting, and how water changes states. We learned about the 3 states of matter.

So we covered friction, heat, the three states of matter as exemplified by water/ice/evaporation, and how matter transforms.

It was fun and we got to play! Thank goodness for hot weather.


A sample schedule

A few people have asked me what our daily schedule is like, so here’s an example:

Both kid are up by 6:30am on a normal basis.

We spend until about 7:30 getting everyone ready, dressed, fed, and watching some tv. PBSKids is a favorite.

Then we do our letter practice and math worksheets. We are working on addition and basic letter writing.

About 8 or so we leave for the gym where I work out and the kids go bonkers playing with all the other kids.

We come home, play outside or inside, do art, have lunch, read, and do our lesson for the day. Sometimes we get part of the lesson in before the gym and sometimes we break the lesson up for before and after lunch.

The afternoons are filled with play, errands I we need them, time at the park or in nature somewhere, visiting friends, or classes. At the moment we spend our late afternoons in the pool with swim lessons and play.

Our evenings have a review of our lesson, dinner, music time, and family fun time.

Then it is bed time for the youngest. When she’s asleep we play board games as a family or do family chores – or both.

Then bed time for the oldest. Then it’s time for the adults to relax and go to bed because before you know it 6am is here again and our day starts all over.

Dinosaurs – plant eater or meat eater?

Here’s another great dinosaur lesson. It takes less time than some of the other ones, but it is just as fun.

Animals can be classified by the food they eat. 

Carnivores: eat mostly meat.

Herbivores: eat mostly plants.

Omnivores: eat both plants and meat.

What kind of eaters are people? We are omnivores (sometimes carnivores in our house).

Then we placed our index cards with each word (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore) on the ground. I had cut out pictures of food, leaves, plants, and small animals (the coupon section of the newspaper is a great place to cut out pictures for this) and had Nicholas put each item on the correct card. Once again, so long as he knew what the item that he was placing was called and why he was placing it on the card, that was the important goal of this activity.

Then we pulled out our wooden blocks. We pulled out the sharp triangle blocks and called them the sharp teeth. We pulled out he cube blocks and called them the mashing teeth.

We went through the book of dinosaurs that we have. When we came to what they ate, I listed what they ate. Nicholas classified them as an herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore, and then grabbed the correct teeth for that type of an animal.

We also did some dinosaur mazes – not because the mazes teach about dinosaurs, but because mazes help teach reasoning, logic, and problem solving and keeping the dinosaur theme kept the lesson going.

We then got out our snack – one thing for each classification of animal eaters. We had lettuce leaves for our herbivore snack, beef jerky for the carnivore snack, and crackers for our omnivore snack (he couldn’t figure out which classification at breads, so we gave it to the omnivores since they eat everything).

Nimbus fish hatchery.


Nimbus fish hatchery started a new program for May and June called “Toddler Time.”

What they do is invite everyone and they read a story, teach about a topic (yesterday’s was “What is a fish?”) and teach a song. Then they take the kids out to the fish runs and give them fish food and let them feed the fish. They said it was geared for 3-4 year olds; I would put the age down to 2. My children really enjoyed it.

The warden did a great job explaining what a fish was. Then she compared and contrasted fish to humans; she had the kids look at a giant stuffed fish and touch their eyes and then asked if the fish had eyes. Then she explained why the fish eyes were different and why they were on the side. She went through a bunch of differences for the kids.

Feeding the fish was a great experience. The rainbow trout are currently in the fish runs and we fed them. They fish jump all over each other scrambling for the food and making big splashes. It creates a lot of excitement for the kids to see it. If you take nickles, you can feed the fish even more. Although the wardens were great and gave my kids tons of fish food – we fed fish for almost 30 minutes.

Another great thing was that we got there early and went through the Visitor’s Center. We learned a lot about salmon and trout. They have a display of stuffed fish – real ones that are dead and preserved – and a board next to the display with the names and silhouettes. On the dead fish they also have the names pinned. Nicholas went through the board and accurately matched each silhouette to the fish.

We did the 1/4 mile nature walk and then ate lunch in their shaded picnic area with the really big fish. It is a fish they can crawl on and play in. We also spent some time walking on the American River Trail.

It was a really great activity and we learned a lot about fish.

I used it as our ocean activity for the day. We also worked on writing the word fish, our math, and our rhyming words.



Rocks and minerals – porous and impervious.


Our rock cards. I wrote the name of the rock and the characteristics. Nicholas had to glue the correct pictures onto each card and classify them as porous or impervious.

Today’s lesson was the second time around on rocks and minerals. Last time we covered the three types of rocks. Today we covered two characteristics of rocks, uses or rocks and minerals, and went on a rock scavenger hunt. We also “made” a rock treat.

Two characteristics of rocks

After a review of the three types of rock and how they are made (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary),  and reviewing the rock cycle, we moved onto two characteristics of rocks: Porous and impervious. 

Porous rocks (like chalk) let water soak through them. Impervious rocks (like granite and slate) let water roll off them. 

I had cut out pictures of some rocks (slate, granite, marble, and chalk) and a picture of what the rock was used for. On 1/2 a sheet of paper, I wrote the name of the rock and a description. Nicholas had to, based on the description, glue the correct pictures onto the paper and then classify each one as porous or impervious. Once again, he had to tell me why he thought the rock was  in each classification. It is neat to hear him say, “Slate must be impervious if it is used for roofs. Otherwise people would get all wet and that would be silly.” Nice reasoning!

Uses of rocks and minerals

It is important to cover what rocks and minerals are used for. We talked about how rocks can be used in gardening, for decorating, to find minerals, to make markers so you don’t get lost on a hiking trail. It was equally important to cover what rocks don’t make – cars, boats, stuffed animals. At the end of the lesson he had grasped that just because something is hard like a rock doesn’t mean it is a rock.

Rock scavenger hunt

Just to make sure we were on the same page about the uses of rocks and minerals, I had Nicholas do a hunt around the house and yard for 5 things made of rock. He had to draw pictures of those 5 things. I had drawn 5 boxes on a piece of paper and in each box he drew a picture. It didn’t matter what the picture looked like, so long as it was something he could describe. He did quite well.

Rock treats

To reinforce our lesson, we made porous and impervious rock treats. Our porous rock treats were Rice Krispies. To make the Rice Krispies impervious, we covered them in chocolate. Then we ate!


We also played some great online games and clicked through more things about rocks.

Mineralogy 4 Kids

BBC Kids – we did the soil and states of matter activities.

ASU’s rock page

Kid’s Geo

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