Halloween Fun

Halloween is almost here. The following ideas are great for simple, last minute learning activities.

Get the party started by making your own pin the nose on the Jack o’ lantern game.


OR..make a jack o’ lantern design game, where you can create a variety of different noses, eyes, mouths..etc  to experiment with.  Seize a teaching opportunity by describing the faces and making comments like, “This face looks surprised now that we have changed the eyes” or “This face looks worried now that we changed the mouth.”


And a few crafts from the Lakeshore Learning teachers corner:  Milk Jug Monsters and Paper bag scarecrows.  (click on pdf directions below)

Paper Bag Scarecrows at Lakeshore Learning

Milk Jug Monsters at Lakeshore Learning

Image  Image

Don’t forget to peek at my posts from October of last year to see how to make Flap-jack o ‘lanterns (pumpkin pancakes) and find more great craft ideas. Happy Halloween!


Tots in the Kitchen: No-Bake Cookies For Any Type of Diet

For some of you lucky ducks cool Autumn weather is creeping in, but for those of us still enduring 100 degree weather, firing up the oven is not an attractive prospect.  Simple no-bake cookies are a fun learning activity for kids.  Allow them to measure, pour, stir, and roll out/scoop/spread the cookies on their own if they are willing, and when the cookies are ready they might serve them up to family or friends on a tray to receive a bit of praise for their good work. Here are a few favorite no-bake recipes for any type of diet:


1 cup butter, melted

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 cup peanut butter

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (to melt) and 4 tablespoons peanut butter

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter or margarine, graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar, and 1 cup peanut butter until well blended. Press evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a metal bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave, melt the chocolate chips with the peanut butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Spread over the prepared crust. Refrigerate for at least two hours before cutting into squares.


3 cups gluten-free quick cooking oats

2 cups sugar

4 Tbsp. cocoa powder

8 Tbsp. Earth Balance

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 cup peanut butter

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Line baking sheets with waxed paper and set aside. In a heavy saucepan bring the sugar, cocoa, earth balance, and coconut milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Let boil for 1 minute add the peanut butter, vanilla extract and oatmeal stirring well to combine. Remove from the heat and drop the mixture by tablespoonful’s onto the wax paper. Allow to cool and harden then store in an airtight container.

If you are allergic to or do not prefer Peanut Butter, try this similar vegan and dairy-free recipe that uses bananas instead (and look for chocolate chips that are non-dairy and soy free if you are a vegan purist). It is from the lifestyle website backtoherroots.com

Ingredients (18 cookies)
2 medium bananas, cut into chunks
1 cup soy­free, dairy­free chocolate chips
1/4 cup almond butter
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup non­dairy milk
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups rolled gluten­free oats

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine banana chunks, chocolate chips, almond butter, chia seeds, cocoa power, milk and salt. Heat for 2­3 minutes or until just beginning to bubble. Using a potato masher or fork, mash the bananas in chocolate mixture until smooth. Bring mixture to a boil and boil for 2­3 minutes. Remove from heat, stick in vanilla.
Stir in oats until well­coated. Spoon rounded tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper and let cool. Chill in fridge or freezer for at least one hour for a more solid cookie.

Learning About Insects!

Many children are fascinated by insects, and learning about the role they play in nature can make them less intimidating and even endearing.  Recently, the Museum of Natural History here in LA held their annual Bug Fair. There were people dressed in giant insect costumes, bug candy, bug crafts, bug stickers, and even some real bugs for eating (my daughter was surprised that bugs are food for people in some cultures).  Here are a few activities you might try if your child is interested in learning about insects this summer:

1.Field Journal:  Get a blank notebook or sketchbook, and hunt for bugs in your yard, at the park or wherever you go.  You can fill the notebook with drawings, facts, photos, and help your child write tidbits about insects.  You can look through and review entries with your little entomologist.  Learning the word Entomology (the scientific study of insects) would surely impress their pals.

2. Insect Du Jour:  Notice one insect each day and look up facts about it on the internet or get some bug books from the library, and learn about one each day while you keep your eyes open for it.  My daughter enjoys coloring a picture from her Bugs from A to Z coloring book and we peek at the species she is coloring on the internet and look at it in photos.

3. Insect crafts/activities: Decorating a butterfly with melted crayon, making your own antennae with pipe cleaners and a plastic headband, pompom caterpillars or making a ladybug with construction paper, goggly eyes and paper plates.

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I leave you with this charming poem entitled Praying Mantis

That praying mantis over there
Is really not engaged in prayer.
That praying mantis that you see
Is really preying (with an e).
It preys upon the garter snake.
It preys upon the bumble bee.
It preys upon the cabbage worm,
The wasp, the fly, the moth, the flea.
(And even sometimes, if its need is great,
It even preys upon its mate.)

With prey and preying both so endless
It tends to end up rather friendless
And seldom is commended much
Except by gardeners and such.

Mary Ann Hoberman

Simple and Festive 4th of July Sweets

Kids look forward to the 4th of July for so many reasons. Festive treats for them to participate in making could become a fun tradition in your home.  Here are a few simple ideas to consider adding to your 4th of July fare:

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If you are feeling a bit more daring, and are looking for some wow-factor, you might try this beautiful and tasty looking cake from Betty Crocker.  I would love to try this myself, when I am not nearly 40 weeks pregnant and chasing two young children  : )

Here is a link to the recipe and instructions:


Red White and Blue Layered Cake from Betty Crocker

School is out! (Let the learning begin..)

My daughter recently finished up her parent-led preschool co-op group with a graduation party.  As we watched the kids play in the little pool together I thought about all the great things I learned as a kid during the summer. During summer months, I think it is a healthy thing to ease up on structured academics, and learn in a different and very important way. Summer is the perfect time to explore the natural world, gain confidence by trying new things, build social and familial relationships and let imaginations run wild. Trips to visit relatives, swimming and sports activities, camping trips, nature walks and beach days, bug hunting or bird-watching at the park, learning a new skill or game, picnics, visiting a Zoo or Aquarium, and also important — combining the fresh knowledge from these new experiences together with imagination during play time. All of these things make summer a learning hot-house. As a child I liked collecting interesting rocks and putting them in cleaned out empty egg cartons.  My mother would help me break some of them open with a large and heavy rock to see what the inside of the rock looked like, and many of them were very pretty.  This led to me pretending I was an archeologist while digging in the dirt on the side of my parent’s home.  I really hoped I would find some ancient bones! My daughter loves collecting shells when we go to the beach (we were warned by a ranger against collecting the enclosed type of shells that hermit crabs need for their homes, so now we stick to the flat and open shells).

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Lots of great resources for parents and kids are available in most communities, such as summer reading programs through Public Libraries that offer prizes and incentives (yes, even for kids who are not yet reading, but are read to by parents), inexpensive activities or classes through City Recreation programs, and many communities have free outdoor concerts and performances for children during the summer.  Calling the Parks and Recreation department in your community might give you some fun ideas. Just for fun, I will post a picture of myself as a young girl (I think about 7 years old) posing in my drill team outfit just before we walked /performed in our city’s 4th of July parade.  This may not seem very educational to some parents, but hey — dancing in that parade in front of all those people took guts and lots of practice.  ☺

I wish you and your tots a fun-filled summer of new experiences and happy memories.

Easter Candy and Early Math Skills

What to do with all those easter jelly beans?  If you are heading out to an easter egg hunt today, as we are — you are likely to come home with an ample supply of jelly beans.  If your child can still think straight after that sugar rush (or better yet, before they indulge), you can use the jelly beans to exercise early math skills. Here is a fun activity called “Jelly Bean Math” found at the teachers corner on the Lakeshore Learning website:

Print Worksheet from PDF here: JellyBeanTemplate

Sorting and Graphing Directions

  1. Put jelly beans in a cup or sandwich bag for each student.
  2. Give each student a copy of the Jelly Bean Graphing Sheet. Ask students to sort the jelly beans by color onto the sheet.
  3. Once the students are finished, ask questions like:
    – What color did you have the most of?
    – What color did you have the least of?
    – How many more (color) did you have than (another color)?
    – How many jelly beans did you have altogether?
  4. For older students (1st-2nd grade), ask them to remove their jelly beans from the sheet and color in the graph to show how many jelly beans they had of each color. Label the colors along the bottom of the graph. Collect and post on a bulletin board.
  5. Now students can eat their jelly beans!

Estimating Directions

  1. Extend your “jelly bean math” by placing an amount of jelly beans in a jar.
  2. Ask students to estimate how many jelly beans are in the jar.
  3. Record their answers on chart paper with a marker.
  4. Together, open the jar and place the jelly beans in piles of 10. Use these piles to count the total number of jelly beans. (Ex: 10, 20, 21, 22, 23)
  5. Which student’s estimate was closest? How close was it?
  6. Repeat over several weeks, allowing students to use what they know about the number of jelly beans in the previous week’s jar to help them estimate the number of jelly beans in the current week’s jar.

Preschool Play-dates/Home Preschool

Hosting a preschool play-date is a great way to meet new parents and give your child a fun opportunity socialize and prepare for school in a comfortable environment.  Who knows, if it goes well, it might even turn into a regular event or lead to a parent-led preschool co-op group as we have done.  Admittedly, this can be a lot of effort, but worth it without a doubt. There is no one right way to do this, except perhaps to do it in the way you feel works best for you and your group of children/parents. It might be as often as twice a week, or maybe just once a month.  Regardless, it is fun and beneficial.


One way to possibly get  this going is to start things off by hosting a preschool play-date yourself, and plan activities for the kids/parents you invite such as crafts, snacks, stories, music/songs and simple learning exercises or games in a theme for that day.  If everyone enjoys themselves, you could discuss a plan for the future and come up with a schedule and discuss lesson-plan ideas.  Some groups use manuals, subscribe to on-line preschool curriculum programs, or simply discuss resources and come up with their own lesson plans.  Some parents might have experience or talents in certain areas that would be great to share with the kids such as yoga, playing a musical instrument, drama or learning a useful skill. Whatever works best for your group and is realistic will be great for the kids.  Our group meets twice a week, rotates hosting, and made a list of materials to make/purchase then split the cost between the parents.  We put all the supplies in a plastic bin, and we pass the bin on to whomever will be the next host/hostess. Even if you do not participate in regular meetings, you can consider hosting the preschool play-dates yourself once a month or every six weeks, if it is something you really want to do on your own.  The children will love you for it.  You can find additional resources on-line, from this and other preschool blogs, visiting your local library for books and finding preschool publications at Amazon.com or other book sellers..and of course using your own ideas and creativity will make it fun your you. Now get planning and start learning and having fun together with your tot!