What are some great learning activities you can do at home with a 4-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 9-year-old?

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Tommaso Lana, Education Consultant, Teacher Trainer, "Embodied Learning" Advocate

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It's spring, and your 4, 7 and 9 years old children are the perfect team to build their simple, zero budget and very effective outdoor playground. The goal is to foster creativity and social-emotional skills through motion & sensory perception and enjoy daylight exposure.

How about playing The Outline?

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You just need some rocks, but you can also use rolled up bags, socks or paper to give your children an opportunity to compare natural shapes with their own shape. Feeling comfortable in space is something children need to experience starting with their own proprioception. Learning in outdoor spaces allows them to explore how their body feels comfortable in relation to the earth and gravity.

They could also play Laundry!

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Your own childhood memories play a crucial role in designing the Laundry. Do you remember the fresh smell of clean laundry hung up to dry in the backyard or garden? Do you remember the sensation of the washing brushing against your skin as you walked through? Wasn’t it just wonderful and tempting to play among these clothes lines? And wasn’t it a shame that your parents wouldn’t allow it? Can you recall the stories, adventures and playful ideas that were born in this laundry landscape? What you need is a rope and some old bed sheets. Your children will enjoy discovering the benefits of slowing down and relax.

This is my favorite, The Humming Bucket!

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Remember Peek-a-boo? While the goal here is not to help kids grasp the concept of object permanence, the Humming Bucket does make use of the psychomotor basics of that game, alternating light and darkness, sight and invisibility, and presence and absence. Here’s how it works: a child starts out by observing a bucket sitting on a tree stump outside in the daylight. She then puts her head inside the bucket and begins humming or buzzing to herself, experimenting with her auditory perception and feeling her body’s vibrations. She might choose to close her eyes to “look at” or simply concentrate on herself. Afterwards she will experience the joy of “resurfacing” into the daylight. The “humming bucket” construction can also be used to improve children’s communication and language skills, and to help them find their way to resilience. All you need is a plastic bucket (or a large vase or soup pot) and a tree stump!

If you're interested in more suggestions, ideas and pedagogical explanations you can read Rediscovering Time Under the Open Sky and Why Children Need to Be Taught Outdoors and How to Do It. Have fun!

Yamini Pathak, Freelance Writer & Parent

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Some learning activities that have worked well with my kids are:

1. Creating a container garden. This is something you can do even in a small space and it has been a source of many practical science lessons in my family. You can grow plants from seed, and uproot a few seedlings to show kids the different parts of the plant. We have grown cherry tomatoes and basil in pots and made a meal out of it. Taking care of a plant also teaches kids responsibility.

2. Taking nature walks. You can have kids look out for specific leaves, birds, flowers etc. depending on the season. Have them make a scrapbook and label their finds.

3. Cooking with kids. This teaches kids an important life-skill and also helps them learn fractions and measurement, for e.g. the quantity of ingredients or temperature used in a recipe. You can start small and be on hand to help with riskier tasks like cutting, or using the stove. We started with grilled sandwiches, and omelettes. My ten year old can now bake blueberry muffins independently though I stick around to help him put in and take them out of the oven.

Hope this helps!

Jacqueline Reeve, Library Media Specialist, Writer, and Parent

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I love kitchen science experiments! Fill up a Pinterest board with ideas for density experiments using a variety of liquids in different colors and viscosities. Get some shaving cream, food coloring, and a big bin, let the kids squirt and squish to die the colors and have some good messy play.

We keep a set of squeeze bottles on hand to make "snow paint" in the winter--this is just food coloring and water mixed in a squeeze bottle. When it snows, you can squirt it all over the snow in different designs. In the warm months we mix homemade chalk paint in the same bottles to decorate our driveway and patio with different designs.

We love the book 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids. If you stock up on a few of the staple items from the book, you can whip them out for projects whenever.

I've also done photo scavenger hunts. These are better with younger kids unless you can get really creative with where you hide things. I hide little treasures and objects around the house and snap a quick picture of it up close with my iPhone. If the photo is a closeup, kids get a hint of where it's hidden but can't make out the room, or the piece of furniture it's under, etc. That's one of my rainy day go-tos.

Dylan Ferniany, Gifted and Talented Education Program Administrator

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I love all of the previous ideas! As a gifted education specialist, I love anything that enhances students' critical and creative thinking. My mom was a gifted education teacher so we were always doing creative activities as children.

I love the resource Mindware for interactive games and toys. You can search by age and subject. They have everything from butterfly gardens to puppet theaters, to dinosaur digs. They have games and puzzles that help enhance students' geography, mathematics, reasoning, and fine motor skills. When parents would ask me what to do to enhance students' critical and creative thinking at home, I would always point them to Mindware.

Barbara Spalding, Parent Resource & Coach for Education

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Some great ideas here... I've got a few more:

  1. Puppet show. Allow all the children to work together the design the story line and stage (even if just the back of a couch). The older children, can really work out the characters and story details, with each child having their own speaking part. For an expanded version... have the children create promotional material for their show, "charge" admission and hold an intermission with snacks for "purchase".

  2. Lemonade Stand. Again, time goes into preparing the stand and decided what (if anything else) is to be sold. Set up, clean up and holding down the fort are all very important jobs but the real learning comes into play with making change, setting a projected goal, adding up sales and determining a budget for profits. Profits can be donated to organizations like Alex's Lemonade.

  3. Interactive Storytime. Step 1 - build a reading fort (extra pillows on the couch, blanket forts with flashlights, tent beds, etc.). Step 2 - have at least 2 related stories. Step 3 - have related puzzle or craft activity. Step 4 - serve a themed snack (doesn't have to be a pinterest perfect creation... animal crackers, ants on a log, etc.). Step 5 - enjoy all the giggles and story fun.
  4. Make a mural. Grab a roll leftover Christmas wrapping paper. Lay out on the floor, securing the corners with tape. Together select a theme... under the sea, dinosaurs, etc. Color, paint, marker the scene. For extended fun... hang/tape mural on bottom portion of wall to create backdrop for interactive play scene. And/or allow children to take pictures to make a mini-movie of figures and toys.
Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

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I am a huge fan of reading and legos. Reading and math are the gatekeepers to a child academic success which will lead of career success. I would first suggest that you take time to read with them nightly.

Take them to the library weekly to check out books and see what activities are going on that are scheduled.

As far as the legos, there are many things to do with them. They can be used with math to represent fractions not to mention patterns and more. From an engineering process, students can follow the instructions and create some wonderful things from Star Wars to dinosaurs.

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