Color and ice.

We did a color and ice experiment. Or really, we played with tools, ice, and color.

Here's the bin before the kids started playing with the ice. Food coloring, water, pipe cleaners, and all our tools.

Here’s the bin before the kids started playing with the ice. Food coloring, water, pipe cleaners, and all our tools.

Here’s what we used:

  • A plastic bin to hold the ice
  • 2 plastic containers for water
  • Paint brushes
  • Food coloring
  • Knives and spoons
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Hammers (the ones we use with playdough)
  • Towels

All I had to do was put everything outside, and away they played. For 2 hours.

First, the kids grabbed the food coloring and made their water different colors. Then they dripped it on the ice. Then they rubbed the ice cubes together. They were shocked to find that the food coloring made the ice not stick together. They had previously made ice sculptures by using water to make the ice cubes stick to each other. But with the food coloring, the ice wasn’t sticking. Abby and Nicholas had a great conversation about it. I got to sit and listen to them. It went something like this:

N: Why won’t they stick together with food coloring? Mom?!

A: Maybe it’s too colored.

N: Maybe. Let’s see. Stuck two ice cubes together without food coloring. Then tried to stick two of the colored ice cubes together – and they didn’t stick.

A: See. I told you so.

N: Yeah. But I bet the colored water works.

A: No. Your colored water is too brown (Nicholas had made it all brown).

N: Tries with his colored water, and it worked. Ha Abby, I told you so.

A: Okay. But now my hands are all colored.

N: We can wash them later. Let’s smash ice cubes!

A: Okay. I get the pink ones.

N: They aren’t pink. They are just less red than some others.

Coloring the water and the ice was one of the first things they did.

Coloring the water and the ice was one of the first things they did.

I love listening to conversations like this. They have these amazing conversations where they are playing and discovering things, all without being led somewhere. They are simply exploring the world around them, and these lessons will stick with them better than any other lessons. When they do something that’s similar to this, they can simply flash back to the things they learned while playing. There’s a reason why kids learn best while playing, and why all we have to do – as parents – is present them with opportunities.

It’s really quite amazing to listen to the conversations that go on for hours about this. I imagine we will be discussing the ice activity as a favorite for days to come. My kids tend to get stuck on these things and request repeats. Next time, I think I’ll make ice cubes in different shapes and colors beforehand. Then I don’t have to give them food coloring and watch them color themselves, their clothes, and the patio.

So our AAR (after action report) went something like this (I ask the questions, and the kids give their responses):

What did we use?

  • Ice cubes
  • Hammers
  • Colors
  • Water
  • Paintbrushes
  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Knives
  • Sticks
  • Rocks (they found some in the back yard)
  • Leaves (they picked them off the plants and used them as decoration)

    Yes, we were in pajamas. No one wanted to get dressed. It's one of the great things about homeschooling -science and learning in pajamas.

    Yes, we were in pajamas. No one wanted to get dressed. It’s one of the great things about homeschooling -science and learning in pajamas.

  • Water

What did we do?

  • Played with ice
  • Made ice sculptures
  • Colored water
  • Painted ice
  • Smashed ice
  • Melted ice
  • Painted my feet (Abby)
  • Had fun
  • Mixed colors
  • Stuck ice together
  • Colored ice
  • Used a knife
  • Drilled holes

What did we learn?

  • Ice sticks with water.
  • Ice doesn’t stick with too much food coloring.
  • Red, yellow, and blue make brown.
  • Mixing colors makes other colors.
  • Colored ice melts into colored water.
  • Breaking ice is hard.
  • Smashing ice is fun.
  • Smashing smaller pieces of ice is easier than the big pieces.
  • Food coloring colors people too.
  • Water can melt ice in patterns.
  • Leaves can stick to ice.

What words describe our experience?

  • Fun
  • Smash
  • Color
  • Ice
  • Cold
  • Wet
  • Exciting
  • Loud
  • Crush
  • Drop
  • Multicolored
  • Friction
  • Melt

Free play: 7 skills you can learn with play dough

play dough as a learning tool

Abby and her play dough cakes.

Sometimes the best playtime is free time.

I’m working really hard this summer to let the kids have free time every day. Today that turned in play dough (and a huge mess).

I admit, I use the commercial play dough. Not because it’s cheaper – but because it’s already made. Plus I already have a ton and don’t feel like making any. It’s a mess to make, as well as a mess to clean up. Since I already have it made, when I use that it’s only half the mess (just the clean up mess, not the making mess). And it comes in really great colors. Bright, vibrant colors.

So they kids pulled out the play dough bin and got to work.

Here’s the 7 skills they learned and worked on with play dough:

  • Cooperation (they had to share the tools and the play dough)
  • Creativity and Art (you should see the things they come up with)
  • Physics (how high can you build something before it topples)
  • Sharing
  • Fine motor skills (cutting it with scissors)
  • Gross motor skills (making balls and rolling them on the floor)
  • Cleaning skills (they made the mess, they can help fix it).


It’s a messy free play activity – or it can be messy. With my kids it is certainly messy. But if you make them help you clean up, it reinforces some good habits (and gives you help cleaning).

Free play also allows the kids to express themselves. I got about 10 birthday cakes, 2 castles, 3 cars, and a whole host of animals (none of which I recognized and used the universal “ah, that’s nice” comment).

What was best about the whole thing is that the kids played together. I could hear the scuffles they had. But I sat in the kitchen, cleaning dishes, and refused to interfere. They made it through the scuffles with some serious negotiating skills (Abby got the pink play dough in return for giving Nicholas the knife and roller she was using).

Best of all, they worked all kinds of skills and had a bunch of fun without me having to “lead” them in any activity.

Happy summer!!!

Toddler Tuesday: The race track and numbers.

Learning math is fun for young kids when the learning is play.

Learning math can be fun. It is important – especially for the younger kids – that the learning they do be more fun than anything else. Otherwise, they will lose their love for learning because they will equate learning with work.

race tracks can be used to learn math.

We labeled the race track with two numbers. This version has 1 and 2. We also did 2 and 4, 7 and 8, 9 and 3.

We have been having a little trouble with learning numbers – well recognizing numbers. Abby can count to ten – accurately – with objects and her fingers. She can identify the number 1 and zero. She can write her numbers, if an example is placed before her (and she is using her purple pencil, otherwise all bets are off).

What she’s not good at is being shown a number and knowing what number it is. This is true for all numbers except 1 and zero.

So today we had a spare bit of time and I thought we would play with numbers for her – just a bit. As an added but of fun, she got to boss her brother around in this “lesson.”

First I made the race track. It’s a piece of shelving we aren’t currently using and some electrical tape. I ran a tape down the middle. Then  I put numbers with tape in the top two boxes (you can see the number one, but not the two, in the picture). We used the following sets of numbers:

  • 1 and 2
  • 2 and 4
  • 7 and 8
  • 9 and 3


I would’ve done more but it ran into dinner time. I was hungry even if the kids pretended they weren’t.

Abby told Nicholas which cars to put in which slot. She actually went into the toy bins and got a ton of cars out so she could have different colored cars each time (I made her tell me the colors of the cars too – just to make sure she was getting a good review). Then she had to tell Nicholas which car went into which lane.

I had to make sure Nicholas would only listen to her when she gave a number, not just pointed – and that was the hardest part of the lesson. He got the idea after a time or two, and she was forced to actually say the numbers.

I changed the number sets pretty often. I wanted to make sure she didn’t get to comfortable. We’d do about 5 races with one set of numbers, then switch. Then switch back, but put the numbers on the opposite sides of the track.

Abby was forced to recognize the numbers properly in order to get the cars going where she wanted them to go. She also got to be the “race starter” and call out “go!” Nicholas thought it was great fun to try and guess which one would win based on their velocity (mass times acceleration – and generally the heavier car won).

That was our number lesson for the day. It was a fun bit of inside play, since the weather wasn’t great, and it also covered a lesson without either of them realizing that they were doing school work.

After all, play is the best way to learn.

Toddler Tuesdays: Color matching.

I saw these great ideas for sensory bins over on Pintrest. I finally joined Pintrest (which is a HUGE time suck for me).

Our color sensory bin.

Our color sensory bin.

Now I find bunches of ideas there and can’t wait to do them all except…..well…..we don’t have time to do them all. I’ve decided I have to stay away from Pintrest unless I’m searching for something specific. At the end of the article, there will be links to several places to see what they use as sensory bins.

Abby is a little above the age for a strict sensory bin. So, instead, I made her one with a purpose.

Here’s what I used:

1. A tin casserole pan

2. Pompoms of various colors

3. Index cards and markers to write the color names

4. Tongs

Let’s talk about the tongs: Abby got to pick them out. Since I let them pick out their pencils, I decided to let her pick out her tongs because she’s going to have to use them. She picked out a super basic pair. She liked the shiny silver ones. So okay.

When we went to use them, she got frustrated easily. Tongs aren’t easy for kids to learn to use. It’s a new way to use their hands and focus on how to move their muscles. It’s weird, because she doesn’t get frustrated with scissors nearly as much. But the tongs frustrated her. So she used them for 5 minutes and then used her hand.

Here’s how it worked:

1. She had to get all the color cards out of the bin, say the name of the color as she pulled it out, and then we set them down on the floor next to her.

2. She used the tongs to pull out pompoms, and matched the pompom to the right card based on color.

3. Nicholas was a bit envious of her doing this, so he did it after her – but he did it in German and had to say not on the color, but whether it was a big, little, or medium pompom.

4. She wanted to do it again, but faster. So I started timing her. She wanted to beat her time each time she did it. Let’s just say, this took up a whole hour with her repeating the bin several times.

That’s how our hour went. It was a great hour for her because she got to do something fun, while learning, seeing how letters make words, and reviewing colors. She also got to use muscles she doesn’t normally use (with the tongs). It was a really good activity for her to do. It made me excited to make more bins. Plus, it was something just for her. it wasn’t something that Nicholas had done before, or that Nicholas was doing and she just got to do as well. Instead, it was focused just for her.

I put it away after two days of doing it. I figure two days is enough, and she can practice something else. Now to use all these wonderful links and make more sensory/learning bins.

Links to more articles on sensory bins

50 Sensory Bin Ideas

Play Create Explore Sensory Bins

7 Simple Sensory Bins

30 Sensory Bin Ideas


Building day.

Abby thought the bridge building looked like fun, so she got in to build her own bridge to span the gap between blocks.

Abby thought the bridge building looked like fun, so she got in to build her own bridge to span the gap between blocks.

Fridays tend to be more relaxed at our house. We are finishing up lessons, doing projects, and most of all – we spend a lot of time building.

We’ve been playing around with the West Point Bridge Designer software for a few weeks.  The software is part of a competition, but since Nicholas isn’t old enough for the competition, we just play with it at home.

This morning I decided to set Nicholas a challenge. I took the blocks out and set them up about 1.5 feet from each other. I asked him to build a bridge with his Legos that would go across the pan, without touching the ground, and hold 3 of this toy cars. It took him about 25 minutes, but he built one.

Then we moved the blocks farther apart. He decided it had to hold his army tanks too. So began a new challenge.

Nicholas was challenged to build a bridge between the two blocks that didn't touch the ground and could hold his cars. He managed it after a few false starts.

Nicholas was challenged to build a bridge between the two blocks that didn’t touch the ground and could hold his cars. He managed it after a few false starts.

Best of all, Abby got into the challenge too. She wanted my help to design a bridge that would hold her dolls. So we pulled out her Lego Duplo’s and built bridges too.

Nicholas got a little tired of building bridges, so he pulled out his new kit and built a hydraulic crane – it moves using water pressure through a series of tubes. Then he used the crane to help build another bridge.

I went to go grab some other things for Abby, and before I knew it he had some pipe cleaners out and was making a suspension bridge. He put one “pylon” down into the carpet because he says all suspension bridges have pylons into the water. Then he went on building suspension bridges with his crane, pipe cleaners, and Legos.

We did this for about 2 hours this morning, and it was great fun. I didn’t have to do anything except ask questions. My most used questions was, “Why do you think that didn’t work?” I don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer. Instead I have them think.

When kids are engaging in this type of play, they are learning critical thinking skills. They are presented with a problem, they have to solve the problem, and then evaluate their solution. It’s a great way of developing skills without workbooks.

I enjoy playing and building with my kids. And having them use and develop their critical thinking skills is a plus.



Today’s lesson was about dinosaurs. Nicholas got to choose between Ancient Egypt, Knights and castles, or dinosaurs for this week. He chose dinosaurs.

Our words for the day were: dinosaur, tyrannosaurs, carnivore, herbivore, Jurassic, and paws. We practiced those words and then did our lesson.

We did a puzzle for our lesson. It was a 2 foot by 3 foot puzzle of dinosaurs. The point of the lesson was less about dinosaurs and more about puzzle-solving. We did talk about dinosaurs as we did the puzzle and named them, talks about what they ate, and their relative sizes. But really I wanted to focus on puzzle solving.

Puzzle solving is a skill kids have to learn. It involves thinking things through and reasoning.

First we separated the pieces into edge and not-edge pieces. It’s amazing to see how difficult this is at first. By the end of sorting there were no problems.

Then I had him choose a corner piece and put it where he thought it would go. He had to look at the box and decide what hi piece looks like. It took 2 tries before he laid it on the proper spot. Then he had to build from there.

It was hard to let him do it an not jump in. I wanted, many times, to stop him and say “Does that piece really look like it goes there?” He didn’t always make the best matching choices. But he did it. It took an hour, but he did it.

By the end he was better about finding matching colors to help guide him. He also started judging relative sizes better for what pieces fit where.

But the best thing was seeing him undo the puzzle and do it again because “I like doing this.”

Park play day.


I’m a big fan of making play count. Sometimes we are outside all day during the summer and it is hard to do book learning. So instead we turn to a different type of lessons and skills.

Motor skills are important. For the young set, parks are a great place to develop gross motor skills. For older kids, parks are places to learn to play together, to use their imagination, and grow.

For me and mine, we also learn German at the park. My husband is fabulous and teaches me what I need to know the night before. I learned the commands for: go play, have fun, run more. I learned the words for different types of park equipment and things we might do at the park.

Then I made the park a German zone. I spoke only German to the kids and let them speak only German. It was a fun hour that we couldn’t do in rainy weather.




Play helps develop imagination. Toys that can be used for multiple purposes help kids learn to be creative and use the toys for many purposes.

We have Play-Doh at our house. Lots and lots. We got a Costco set 2 years ago and are just now running through it all. So what better way to play today than with Play-Doh?

I’m not a great artist so I have cookie cutters included in my Play-Doh toys. Plastic knives and spoons, clay working tools, and rollers are all part of our Play-Doh toys.

We make all kinds of things. Today we started with pretending the blue table was the ocean and we made fish and plants and sharks. Then we made an airport with planes and flew them around. We made letters and dragons and castles (not that thy looked like it).

But most of all we had fun as a family hanging out and playing. For 3 hours. It was a fun after lunch activity. And it made me remember how much fun my kids are to be around.


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.


Engineering experiments


Tinker toys are one of the best inventions ever. They help kids with their motor skills and lets them explore creativity, engineering, and various building principles.

Guided play doesn’t always have to be strictly guided; free play doesn’t alway mean free. Sometimes it is a matter of guiding by choosing toys and letting them free play with certain toys instead of simply giving the children free rein.

Our free play today involved tinker toys. And my budding engineer built his version of a fire engine.

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