Maps, Mazes, Music and Mad Libs: Learning Together on the Go, Part 4

Maps

Maps are great discussion starter for kids. In my post The Kids Are Planning Our Next Vacation, I mentioned the Dino’s Illustrated Maps that you can get from Amazon and put over your kitchen table to stimulate discussion about places. There are also many varieties of children’s maps, atlases and coloring books that are terrific for road trips. (Shop my Amazon link here;)

The possibilities for learning and discussion are endless: landmarks, mountain ranges, weather patterns, types of roads. For very little children, just understanding their directions: North, East, South, West, can be a kind of game.

Puzzles of the United States (or other countries) make a good activity to learn maps. What about putting magnetic strips on the back of the pieces (this is for parents who have a little time) and then using a small cookie sheet to stick them to in the car? This way pieces don’t get lost as easily. A good activity for children ages 4-7.

Mazes

My four year old loves the oversize maze books by Usborne (check it out at my Usborne link here;) Colorful, interesting mazes with all different characters and themes work great with my little boy. He may not get the right answers all the time, but he is using logic to get from here to there– and that’s a great skill to develop!

Here are some ways to make mazes go further with young children:

  • Interact and help them a little, but not too much. It’s fun for adults too!

  • Laminate them with the cut out the answer on the back, so they can use it over and over with a dry erase marker. Putting the answer on the back of each one lets them self-correct!

  • If you can’t laminate them, let your child use a miniature toy car or doll to travel the maze rather than using a pencil. That way mazes can be used again without being scribbled over!

Music

In a prior post I wrote about music in the car. I mentioned classical music and foreign language CDs from the library. Folk music and world music are some other options.

Folk music is great for traveling because of the stories you will hear, especially if they are stories from other cultures or very old stories. It really teaches us to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of life’s experiences. Everyone has a story to tell, so don’t be afraid to tell stories as a family. You can even make up silly stories or poems.

Likewise with world music— much more interesting than ordinary stuff on the radio. When I was growing up my Dad had a very eclectic music collection, and still does– though now it’s all digital of course. I remember one year driving to Michigan at Christmas time, we hit a blizzard and we were listening to “Sail Away’ by Enya as the snow pelted our windshield. We couldn’t see the road in front of us, and what did my Dad do? He turned the music up! It made for a very intense ride, as I thought we might “sail” right off the road into a sea of snow! It doesn’t have to be that intense, but at least make it memorable!

Mad Libs

They’re hilarious. Use them to teach language skills such as parts of speech. I’ve used these with children as young as six. Adults and children love the silly stories they can make. I’ve heard parents exclaim, “my child’s not reading yet,” or “my child doesn’t know what an adverb is yet!” Great– teach them early! What better way to remember what they are than by making silly stories out of them! Here are some Mad Libs on Amazon.

Learning Together on the Go: Part 3 Memories

In a world where everything is changing, and convenience is king, I hear many parents who look at car trips as a headache rather than an adventure. They’re afraid their children will be hungry and whiny and have to stop for the bathroom constantly– which are all just as much a reality at home. In “continuation of the Learning Together on the Go series”, here are some more ideas to make your car rides exciting!

Memories:

Traveling is a great time to reflect on places you have been, and to tell stories of where you went as a child. It’s hard nowadays to be all together– parents working different shifts, kids in daycare. Make the most of family trips– they’ll never forget it! These lyrics of “Galway and Mayo” by Irish band Saw Doctors speaks to that:

“We used to go out driving
We’d travel near and far
Nearly every Sunday in me
Father’s oul’ ford car
He’d be pointing out the landmarks
Everywhere we’d go, through the
Twistings , turning , winding roads
Of Galway and Mayo

Me mother in the front seat
Children in the back
We’d be imagining Indians in the
Fields waiting to attack”

Last spring we were able to take a trip to Pennsylvania where both my Dad and Grandma grew up. My mother grew up nearby in Maryland, and her mother’s childhood home– built by her father– still stands. My Dad was along with us and it was neat being able to show the kids the landmarks I remember visiting as a child. After careening down a narrow mountain road that I remember very well, we were able to stop at Summit Diner– a place I remember eating banana cream pie with my Mom and Grandma when they were alive. We had to use the GPS to find it. It’s really amazing and comforting to find places that haven’t changed!

Kids too, have memories to reflect on. In their short lives, a trip you took six months ago– relatively speaking– is like me remembering the last time I was in PA– twenty years ago. There’s always something to talk about on a trip, and very little need for kids to be watching movies or playing video games in the car. My Dad shared a story about being stuck on a mountain road after a ski trip. The road was closed down due to a blizzard and they just made it into a nearby town before the road was closed off. The visibility was so bad that my Dad and Uncle had to walk in front shoveling while my Mom drove the few miles into town. What a memory! I’m so glad the kids got to hear it, although I need to write these things down and retell them.

Kids may feel bored at times covering a vast expanse of land, but without driving all those miles, how would they know just how big the world is? When we drove from Tennessee to Arizona, my kids got to experience how big Texas is. They got to see the change in landscape from trees to ranches to cacti. No only can we appreciate the variations in landscape along the way, but things that we see jog our memories. Passing through a military base in New Mexico got my husband talking about his time at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Although we came to Arizona to see Tuscon and the Sonora Desert, flying in to our destination would have excluded other opportunities for views of the landscape and family memories.

And don’t forget those stickers and passports I wrote about in Learning Together on the Go part 1. Keeping a record of states traveled and routes will help them keep it all in context for years to come!

Children’s literature: Mom and Daughter Relive Costa Rica via Scrapbook

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“Mom, we have to find a picture for Daddy to paint– somewhere cool that I’ve been to!” Sophia exclaimed, the next morning.

Sophia’s little brother was still sleeping, so mom and daughter sat on the couch to look at the family scrapbooks.

Sophia goes through her baby pictures. “Am I still that cute, Mama?” she asks. “You are even more beautiful now.” her mama says.

Sophia reads a caption on the page: “I never tried to squeeze my baby’s feet into shoes before– her feet get stronger without them. But now that she’s walking outdoors, I emptied the bag of hand- me- down baby shoes that Karla gave us, and found two pairs that fit her. Here’s Sophia in her first shoes!

“Wait, Mama!” Sophia said. Karla gave us used baby shoes?”

“Yes, what’s wrong with that?” asked Mama.

“Karla the airline stewardess?! I got my shoes from someone who had traveled all over the world? No wonder I’ve been to so many places already– I’m wearing someone else’s shoes! I bet her daughter traveled with her in these shoes, and now I am traveling! See Mama, shoes do take you places!”

Mama just smiled. “Let’s look at your pictures in Costa Rica. You were only 1 and 1/2 years old then. Your first trip overseas.”

Turning the page, Sophia saw that Mama had embellished it with detailed journal entries. Now that she was old enough to read, Sophia found herself delighted at what she was learning!

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Here’s Sophia at 4:00 a.m. ready and waiting to go to Chicago O’Hare airport. minus 13 degrees outside– January in Chicago! Hard to believe Central America is only four hours away by plane!  It’s winter here, but Costa Rica will still be having their summer. Wonder how hot it will be and how many bugs? Part of our time we’ll be up in the mountains, so we’ll keep some sweaters and rain jackets, but leave most of this winter clothing behind once we get to the airport. Hard to believe Central America is only four hours away by plane! Costa Rica, here we come!

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When we first arrived, the sky was clear but the wind was blustery. We were told that the wind gusts were unusual and had to to with Mount Turrialba volcano having erupted on January 5, 2010– one week earlier. Vocanoes can send ash far up into the stratosphere and this can continue affecting weather for quite a while. High winds and even rain and thunder in the sky can result from a volcanic eruption. No one was hurt in the volcano that year, but everyone felt the high winds were very unusual for such a mild climate.

Our trip started and ended with San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. San Jose is packed with cars. Only ten years ago, people mostly took buses or rode bicycles. But then people started being able to afford cars. There are so many cars that the city of San Jose made a law that people can only drive their car one day a week, and on the weekend. Some people may drive on Mondays, other people on Tuesdays, etc! So people still have to take buses or share their car with someone else. It did take us incredibly long to get to our hotel!

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In Costa Rica, coffee beans grow. They have the best tasting coffee in the world! And guess what? Mommy never cared for coffee before– until she had to start chasing little Sophia around! Yep, we had to put you on a little harness sometimes!

You ran all over in those little sandals. We put them on you in San Jose and you wore them the entire trip, until we returned to San Jose, and you lost one of them at a concert and cried for two days. We never found the missing sandal. It seems that it wanted to stay in Costa Rica. Funny to think of it, we got those sandals and summer clothes from a friend who had taken her kids to Puerto Rico. Her little girl is only a little older than you and they are part Peurto Rican– like you and Daddy. I think that sandal wanted to stay near the Carribean. I can’t blame it– sandals don’t like Chicago winters!

Children’s Literature: an aside for the reader:

A brief note to blog followers: I recently started training for a new position and am traveling all over for training. My family and I have been adjusting to the new routines, and additionally, we lost a very dear family friend to cancer last week. I intend to keep going with my blog plan and children’s story, but I apologize for the inconsistency these last couple weeks!

I need to backtrack in my story a little bit. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that its a rough draft– but if you’re new to this blog  you may want to take note: the story will come together and make sense in the end! Its about a little girl that wants to write her travel memoirs, and turn them into a story so she can win a writing contest and use the prize money to go to Italy. Her parents teach her to be grateful for all the places she has been already and to use those places as inspiration. Each post is a vignette for the book, and being a picture book it will have to be simplified into shorter, less descriptive stories put together as a series. Each book in the series will end with the girl having learned not only new facts about the places she’s been, but having a fuller understanding of the creative process of making a story, and lastly, each book will end with her family being inspired by her and drawing closer together.

Having said that, I now go back to a couple posts ago when I mentioned mother and daughter looking at the family scrapbook together. Mother has written vignettes, or memoirs about the places underneath the photos. The first place they look at is Costa Rica– having been the girl’s first trip outside the U.S. As a writer, I wrestled with moving forward with the plot, versus spending time on detail. I now see that this will work itself out if I end the first book with the girl reading her mother’s descriptions in the scrapbook, comprehending the definition of “Memoirs” and desiring to write her own memoirs. In this way, the first book encompasses the desire to go to Italy, introduces the challenge into the plot, requires a change in the main character’s perspective, brings her closer to her mom through the scrapbook, gives her a clue about the role her shoes played in this adventure, and deepens her mental image through both facts and feelings of a place she has been: Costa Rica.

Learning Together on the Go: Part 2

by Wendy Kullman

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Devise a strategy not to use your “devices” on the trip! How do you feel after a day of working on the computer? Why subject your child to that?

Normally family schedules make it hard to sit down and tutor your kids, but car rides are a great time to make up for that!  A family vacation, or any trip together can be seen as a time for developing deeper family relationships. Make it happen!

Here are some strategies that I hope will accomplish both learning and togetherness– MISC. as in miscellaneous (with lots of m’s): Manipulatives, Math, Music, Manners, Memories, Imaginative play, Stories, Cards.

Manipulatives:

Here are some fun, non-messy hands-on activities your children can be doing while you’re on the road:

Travel Tangoes: These are magnets shapes that can be made into all different animals or other patterns. They come with only a small number of peices (only about 6 per set) and a magnetic board with flaps that show different patterns to create. The answers are on the back of each flap. These have kept our children entertained quietly in the car, and we have also brought them to a wedding reception and a concert. We were able to interact quietly, helping our kids, while stimulating our brains and theirs! Really works well for all ages! (Except children who are young enough to put them in mouth.)

Magnet letters: bring your refrigerator magnet letters and an old square shaped cookie tin. Keep the letters in the tin, and children can use them to practice sounds with you or write messages with them. Not good for children under three of course.

Learning Palette: This manipulative “toy” by Usborne  is the FUN, HANDS ON, SELF-CORRECTING learning game that teaches essential grade-appropriate skills without batteries or electricity. Covering addition all the way to algebra, it meets the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards. Each card is self-correcting. You can buy sets for reading or math skills. You really have to see it to believe it– click here for demonstration!

Interactive Math:

When I was growing up, my uncle would always quiz my cousin and I on math facts in the car. I was always inclined to write down the problems, but now with the Singapore method used in many schools, children can learn to solve problems in their head much more reliably. We always did counting with our two year old in the car– it was a good time to work on memorization of any kind. Normally family schedules make it hard to sit down and tutor your kids, but car rides are a great time to make up for that! Flashcards can help too.

Music:

You don’t want to be singing “Old Mac Donald” over and over again. Nor is resorting to the radio a good idea. So plan ahead! Go to your library and check out a bunch of children’s CDs, classical music, and songs you all can learn from. I always enjoy getting foreign language CDs designed for learning, because we can all practice together, and sing together!

My advice is to intersperse music with other interactive games and learning activities, so that you’re not relying on music and get some peace and quiet. There are times when children just need to let it out, so use those times to introduce new music!

If your child plays an instrument, make them practice at intervals during the trip. We take my daughter’s violin and have her play for relatives; but we’ve also had her play at an outdoor picnic area at a rest stop, and at the oil change place while waiting. These kind of situations challenge the child to recall and utilize their skills in interesting situations. It’s refreshing to hear music in these otherwise boring places, and we always get applause!

More M’s to follow!

“Are We There Yet” Prevention, Learning on the Go! Part One

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“Are we there yet?” are four words that parent’s ears should not have to deal with when traveling. And likewise, day trips to museums and cultural places should be filled with excitement and anticipation! Read on to see how to make these statements as reality in your family!

Stamps, stickers and passports:

Kids love to feel like grown-ups! Just like us, they love rewards and a sense of completion. These rewards should not be treats or toys; they should be acknowledgements. In fact, it makes sense to reward them for achievements outside of school; this way they understand that focus and discipline can help us in every day life!

When Sophia was at White Pine Montessori school her first year of preschool, they made a mock passport with her photo in it. I never dreamed how handy something like that can be! Here are some new ways you can use this idea:

  • For each trip you go on, whether its abroad or near home, make a mock passport.
  • for a long car trip, give them a sticker or stamp for each hour spent reading or learning in the car. (More tips on car learning time to follow)
  • Use rubber stamps or stickers to represent places they go. Some museums might use stamps or stickers for admission. You can ask someone to stamp their “passport”– they’ll probably be delighted to!
  • If you go to a cultural event, find a stamp or sticker that would represent that country. For instance, our 4 H group hosted an international night, and each child had a mock passport. Our group represented the Netherlands, so we used a windmill stamp.
  • If you can’t afford stamps, why not write something like “Hello” or “Welcome” in that language on their passport along with the name of the country.
  • Not traveling abroad? Get stickers of all 50 states, and use them, whether you’re on an adventure or just visiting the grandparents. I would love to have an accurate record of all the states I’ve been to throughout my life!

Learning Toys:

If you’re going to reward them for learning in the car, on a camping trip, or on the way back from a day trip, you need to provide them something to work with! My next post will continue this theme with some good suggestions for learning toys!

Children’s Literature: Chapter 6: Memories

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As they sat down at the outdoor cafe to eat lunch, Sophia pulled out a notebook and began writing. “Mamma,” she said, “I’m writing down things I remember. My scrapbooks helped, and even my dreams last night helped me remember places I’ve been. It was so fun looking at the scrapbooks with you yesterday!”

“I remember eating outdoors at a cafe like this when we lived out West. Daddy did a painting of me outside the little ice cream shop there. And we went to a children’s store nearby where we got little purple and yellow boots for me. You even wrote something in the scrapbook about those shoes being from France. And I remember that little French girl wearing a beret. She had to have been the owner of my old shoes– she must have brought them to the consignment store. After all, they were French shoes. I remember playing with her and looking at musical instruments at one of the stores. And eating ice cream outside with her. Her mom was looking at Daddy’s art work.”

“Hmm… all those memories are from when Daddy worked in Pullman, Washington. I think you remember more than I do,” Mamma said. “Or you are just imagining it. But I was three when my parents took me to France on a business trip, and I remember a lot too.” Mamma said

“You’ll have to tell me all about it,” Sophia said. “I want to write a story about the little French girl, so I need to know more about France!”

“What about Italy?” Mamma asked?

“It’s just like you said, Mamma. I need to start with something familiar. You were in France, and I got to meet a girl from France. There’s a story here and I am going to write it!”

Thermal Cooker: Energy Efficient Slow Cooking– At Home, Traveling, or Camping!

Wow! I keep seeing all the face book pictures of children going back to school (I actually get teary eyed looking at other people’s kids starting a new year of school!) Here in Illinois, the weather went from hot and sticky, to cold and rainy overnight. First, you wish summer would last forever, then you get the urge to go apple picking, and next you’re craving heartier meals and thinking about your favorite fall recipes. At least that’s how I am. Our bodies do need a little more sustenance as the weather changes, and most people spend  more time in the kitchen– which adds to the electric bill. My husband and I discovered thermal cookers (non-electric slow cookers) about eight years ago, and it’s a great way to save energy, and perfect for taking on the road, or even just to visit friends for dinner! Here’s an example of one: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

Primitive societies discovered how to get a pot of food boiling over a fire, then place a lid on it and bury it underground, where the temperature is retained and it continued to cook. Go into an Asian store and you can usually find a modern thermal cooking system. It’s an inner pot that fits into an outer thermos with a handle. Essentially, a slow cooker that doesn’t need electricity!

We’ve brought our “Cook and Carry” with us to friend’s houses, pot lucks, concerts in the park, and of course, camping! People always ask me, “how long does it keep things warm?” I always smile because that’s not the right question to ask! “No,” I say, ” We actually cook our food in this. Then we bring it with us. It is not just staying warm, it’s cooking. When it’s ready, we eat it!”

Yes, you can take a small chicken, throw some onions, carrots and rosemary or tarragon (love it!) on top, fill it with water up over the food, bring it to a soft boil, put the lid on. Take it off the stove after it has reached the soft boil, and put it into the outer container, flip the lid, and voila! Six hours later, you have a finished meal! If you’re skeptical, bring a thermometer and check the meat temperature! Be sure to bring a stainless steel ladle too– I’ve ended up somewhere with plastic silverware and paper plates, but nothing to serve the food with. Be sure to bring bowls too; we usually take stainless steel bowls for camping and other activities. You will want to enjoy the broth from the food along with it, and paper plates just don’t work for that!

If you’re at a campground, you can use the thermal cooker over a propane stove. You can start oatmeal the night before and have it ready the next morning! You can start lunch before you leave for the day’s activities and leave it in your tent (it’s sealed) to come back to. Or you can bring it with in the car.

Or you can start it on your stove at home– it makes preparation easy if you’re invited for dinner. (I can actually get the kids ready, clean the house, or get myself ready without having to keep an eye on the stove.) I don’t have to worry about transferring it into another dish to bring, because it just stays in the pot. By the time we drive to our destination, socialize for a while, and sit down to eat, it’s ready! You can make side dishes or main courses– I will include some recipe ideas next time!

Here are some new thermal slow cookers I would like to purchase, although our old one still works fine, I like the innovations of these newer ones!

I like this one, not just for the color, but the size of it, and the great reviews it got (five stars), and the cost. It’s made by Thermos, the same brand as my first one: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

It comes in a smaller size too, and is very economical compared to some of the other brands listed on Amazon. Here is a link to some other brands available: non-electric slow cookers

Stay tuned for those fall recipes!!!

Camping with Little Ones: What to Bring for Bugs

Camping always brings a sigh of relief for me. Living outdoors is refreshing. We’ve taken both our children camping when they were just four months old. I think that the biggest challenge is figuring out what to bring and getting into the car. Children always seem to sleep soundly outdoors, as I mentioned before– which was a big plus for me! And they are just fascinated with natural things; especially textures like rocks, sand, pine cones, feathers. They seem happier than ever to be outdoors, and that gives parents what they most need too– a carefree feeling!

Since the biggest hassle is what to bring and what to leave behind, I’ll have some recommendations for cooking, bug repellent, sleeping arrangements, and baby gear.

Bugs!

We’ve only had one tick in on a family member in all our years of outdoor activities: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees. Ticks are gross and a little freaky, but you’re far more likely to find them on a nature trail or in your back yard. The internet seems to say that ticks do not jump down from trees, but every doctor I’ve spoken to says they do. They can also jump up from tall grass–  but a campsite offers tick protection: frequent camp fires, shorter grass, usually away from trees. Just be informed, and you’ll be O.K. See below for more suggestions.

  • If you’re worried about bugs, don’t go camping during the hot, humid season. Why add complications? May/ June, or September/ October are better times to go camping in my opinion. Days are a more comfortable temperature, and cool nights can be good for sleeping. Most campgrounds open in April and stay open through October. Here is a good website to help plan for trips: http://www.allcampgrounds.com/articles.
  • Inspect your tent for small holes or places that don’t zip. Be sure to repair these areas.
  • Don’t put your tent near standing water, trees or light poles, as these things attract bugs.
  • Keep lanterns and flashlights away from the entrance to the tent, so as not to attract bugs. If possible get into and out of your tent before turning on the flashlight, or have a tiny pen-light for this purpose if you need it. We always hang a lantern inside the center of the tent if we plan on staying awake, but make sure everyone is in first.
  • Don’t eat or drink inside the tent or near it, so as not to attract bugs. You can store sealed food inside your tent.
  • A campfire or citronella candles don’t completely keep bugs away, but they do help.
  • You are no more likely to get ticks at a campground than anywhere else. The grass at a campsite is short so its more likely to get them on a nature trail or just playing outdoors. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to check around in your tent and on yourselves before going to bed, especially if you’ve been hiking that day.
  • We’ve had success removing a tick with a tick key. Here is a link to Amazon’s tick removal section: tick remover We’ve only had one tick in our family in our lives: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees.
  • Carry activated charcoal with you for tick or bug bites. You will want to put it on dry and not diluted. It is helpful to remove toxins through the skin. It relieves itching from mosquito bites by pulling the toxins out. It is a good first aid for tick bites, once the tick has been carefully removed (you will want to read up on tick removal). Drawing any toxins out immediately removes a lot of fear and concern. Of course, first aid is first aid. You will probably want to follow up with doctor after a tick bite, especially if you see a rash. Be informed.
  • Bug repellents have various levels of effectiveness. We prefer natural ones, but have not found any type that works perfectly. Feel free to comment if you know of a good one!
  • If you still want to take some extra steps, here are some good baby bug products: Natural Repellent bracelet for babies All natural mosquito repellent bracelets (10 pack) for kids, Z Show pop up mosquito net tent for baby

As you can imagine, we were not quite this obsessive; ) and everything turned out fine : )