Back-to-school tips

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Back to School Tips to Jog your Child's Brains Back into Action

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Back when I was a school teacher, I encountered the back-to -school daze. I looked into hundreds of little eyes throughout the years, fresh back at school after a long, hot, wonderfully fun, free summer - actually eager to learn, but a bit "dazed" and quite frankly, brain dead!

The three-month summer vacation from school originated in our farming heritage nearly a hundred years ago and it's current relevancy can be argued both ways, but, regardless, most of us still live with a really long summer break for our kids from schoolwork.

As we gear up for another academic year, I thought it would be fun to share some of my back-to-school tips and teacher tricks and activities that can jog those little brains back into action or can be used to keep them sharp throughout the year.

I've categorized these educational tips into subject areas. Try them at home for fun practice or if you're a home-schooler, add them to your bag of tricks.

Back to School Tip 1 - Beach Ball Fun Facts

This is a great, tried-and-true game to help kids practice their math facts. It works with multiplication or addition facts. The best part of this is it removes math facts from textbooks or worksheets and can be used for a minute or 10 minutes, or however long the kids want to play. Simply take a big ball, a beach ball or a playground ball will work great. Using a permanent marker, randomly write numbers around the ball. You can use numbers of the typical math facts, 1 - 10 or even up to 12, depending on the age of your children.

Here's how you play. Toss the ball to someone and the numbers closest to where their hands land are the two numbers they use to perform the math function. For example, you catch the ball and your hands land near a 6 and a 3. If you are working on addition you add them, if multiplication, you... that's right... multiply.It's random and fun and gives the kids some really casual math fact practice. I've tossed this ball around a classroom of kids and they start reacting like they're at an 80's rock concert bouncing around a balloon! But, quite honestly, they have no idea what a rock concert is actually like but I've fooled them countless times into thinking they're having fun while they're actually practicing math skills - and you can too!

Back to School Tip 2- Sight Words - Magic Words

This is great for preschoolers and beginning readers learning sight words. Sight words are those first words you learn to recognize before you learn phonetic strategies to help you really learn to read fluently. Words like dog, cat, door, toy - words in a child's word that they learn to recognize as a whole - on sight as the name implies.

Take a sheet of construction or any colored paper and secretly write some words that your child is beginning to learn, using a very closely colored ordinary crayon. It's very fun to write words of things in their "world" like doll, truck, etc. You'll see why in a moment.

Now, simply take any kid's poster paint, a paintbrush and let your child paint over the words you've written. The words will appear "magically" because the paint won't stick to the wax crayon. They can read the words as they appear and then if you want to take it a step farther, have them practice their scissoring skills and cut out the words and tape them around the room near the actual object. They'll read the words over and over and also have a fun, self-made organizational strategy to boot!

Back to School Tip 3 - Spelling Fun - Jello

Let's face it.Spelling is a drag! Why not practice spelling words in a fun way?

Simply grab a baking pan or dish or even your kitchen counter and spill a box of Jell-O into a fairly even layer. Then, toss your kid's some words at their reading level and have them use a finger to spell out the word in Jell-O. They'll want to lick their finger for a tasty, sweet treat after spelling each word. But, hey, that's the reward!

(If you want to eliminate the sugar temptation, try shaving cream instead, just let them know not to lick their fingers if you'r e doing it this way!)

Back to School Tip 4 - Punctuation - 3rd Grade Sticker Fun

Use any kind of leftover sticker material. I used some old label stock. Put a variety of punctuation marks on the sticker and cut them into little stickers. Question marks, periods, even exclamation points. Then on a separate piece of paper, write out sentences of each type. It's especially fun to use familiar names or experiences such as. Did you feed the dog, Max - make sure you leave off any ending punctuation.Your child will then pick a "sticker" to punctuate each sentence. Kids love stickers and it's a quick way to practice a routine skill.

This is so easy and just gives that simple twist to a routine, but important skill.Great for 2nd and 3rd graders learning the basics of punctuation. Trust me the kids practice this in very routine testing ways, so even this simple variation adds fun to this skill.

Back to School Tip 5 Science - Solar S'mores - Prediction

This is a great, end-of-summer activity, and still is HOT after all these years! Save an old pizza box, line it with aluminum foil, inside top and inside bottom where the pizza sits. Have the kids put in graham crackers, mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, layered like regular s'mores, close the lid and put it in the direct sun. Now as they wait for their treat, have them write or discuss some science thinking skills such as:

How long will it take the chocolate to melt in the sun?

Which will melt first, the marshmallows or the chocolate? Why?

Will the marshmallows actually melt?

Will they look like marshmallows cooked on a fire?

What does the aluminum foil do?

Is the foil necessary?

How can this experiment relate to solar energy we could use?

Can mommy have one? (Don't forget this one!)

Back to School Tip 6 - Science again!Chemical Reactions

Blow up a Balloon without a Breath

This is just plain fun, but gives another opportunity for you to get those critical thinking skills jogged in your summer dazed child. The result is a chemical reaction that results in a balloon being blown up without a single breath.

Here's what you'll need:

An empty, regular-sized water bottle

Household vinegar

Baking soda

A balloon

A small funnel helps a lot!

First, fill the water bottle about 1/4 to 1/3 full with vinegar. Using a funnel, place 3 teaspoons of baking soda into a balloon. Now put the balloon around the lip of the water bottle with out lifting it to dump the baking soda into the water bottle. Before the kids lift the balloon ask them what they think is about to happen.

As the balloon is lifted and the baking soda is spilled into the vinegar-filled bottle, the balloon will inflate by the gas created by the chemical reaction produced by the mixing of the vinegar and baking soda.

After all the "ohhs, ahhs and cools" ask your child to write down or tell you what happened and how that balloon blew up without a single breath of air.

Older kids can take it further and go online and research the actual chemical reaction and what type of gas is produced.

I must say. When mom becomes a science teacher - you've achieved coolness!

Back to School Tip 7 - Mental Math - 10 Out Card Game

This is a variation on the familiar Go Fish card game. But instead of matching numbers, have the kids think about addition math facts. You can play 10 Out, or 9 Out, or 8 Out, and on and on. Each player gets 10 cards. Just have the kids focus on pairs of numbers that add up to equal 10 or whatever addition fact they're working on. They ask the player to their left for needed cards and look at their deck for whatever numbers will add up to 10 with a card from their neighbor. If the other player doesn't have a needed number, they draw from the community deck. The player who gets rid of their cards first wins - and everyone wins at practicing some math without really knowing it.

So get ready. Summer is almost gone - and that means it's time to replace three months of "No-School Daze" with some simple "Cool School Ways" to jump start your child's success.

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