Archive for category: 5-min. ideas

Must Pop Words – great game for literacy, typing skills

must pop words enterHere’s a smart, fun game that’s great for literacy and for improving typing skills.

In Must Pop Words, letters – inside bouncy balls – fall down and accumulate at the bottom of the page.

You have to type words using the letters. Every word you type erases those letters. If the letters pile up to the top of the page (which they will inevitably do) you lose.

Little tasks like, “create a word ending with e” or “create a six-letter word” let you earn extra points.

The balls bouncing around and the cute penguin who sticks his head in every once in awhile make this a signature Bart Bonte game – one of a series of elegant, fun games you can find on his website. (In my opinion, Bonte is the best casual game designer on the Internet.) Enjoy!

Play Must Pop Words here.

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Rory’s Story Cubes – simple, elegant literacy fun

Rory Story CubesHere is a simple, elegant, wonderful game that’s great for:

• Story-building
• Fostering imagination
• Putting events in sequence
• Inspiration for writing a story
• Staving off boredom while you’re waiting at a restaurant
• General all-round silliness.

There are nine dice. Each one has six simple pictures. For instance, a happy face, a magic wand, a tree.

You use the nine images to build a story.

For instance:

I was happy when I found a magical tree.


The magician used a tree to make his wand. It was a happiness wand.


I “wand-ered” over to a tree, where I stopped and smiled at my own pun.

The great thing is that there are no wrong answers. And all kinds of possibilities.

Rorys Story Cubes box

Rory's Story Cubes come in a compact, efficient little magnetic box.

You can use as many or as few dice as you want. You can ignore some. You can make the images mean just what you want—even if that wouldn’t be someone else’s interpretation of the picture.

And you can get as silly as you want.

Rory’s Story Cubes are portable and stored in an elegant little magnetic-closure case. We bring them to restaurants and roll them while we’re waiting for the food to come.

Rorys Story Cubes app

The app sells for $1.99.

If you’ve got a few kids in your group—even if they’re very diverse in terms of age or interests—it’s a great way to keep them occupied. And laughing.

There’s a great back-story to this game. Rory originally invented his cube game for companies to foster creativity and teamwork. He has since come up with a number of different versions, including a version with just “action” pictures (verbs), one that’s about voyages, and a smart phone app.

Rory’s story cubes sell for about $15 and they’re available at most toy stores or online at the Rory’s Story Cubes website.

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Fun online Hallowe’en “differences” game

Terrific Hallowe'en - differences gameTerrific Hallowe’en is an easy, fun and speedy online game.

The goal is to find the differences between the two, similar-looking pictures.

You click on each thing that’s different. It might be a missing leaf on a tree, a missing house in the background, or a different-coloured tie.

When you spot the five differences, you get a new pair of images. There are three levels: Easy, Medium and Hard (which you can’t unlock until after you’ve finished Medium).

The game is timed, so you can’t just sit there staring. However, if you do take too long it flashes you a hint – well, it shows you a difference. Not really a hint.

It’s a good way for kids to really look at an image, and think about “same” and “different.” It’s also good for hand-eye co-ordination, since you have to click right on the difference.

Small kids can play it with an adult, by just pointing to the screen with their finger. And the Hard level is perfect for older kids, who won’t be bored.

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Fun online spelling bee

Oxford Spelling BeeThis one’s for kids who are already good spellers and who think spelling is fun. (To me it’s a no-brainer, but I have to remember that not everyone reads the dictionary for fun.)

Anyway, that kid will appreciate this great online spelling bee from Oxford. It’s fast and it’s fun – and it’s challenging.

Go to the Oxford Spelling Bee site.

Choose British English or US English. Then choose your level, from Tricky to Fiendish, and then click Start.

Warning – Fiendish will require you to spell words like gymkhana and belligerent, one of which I got wrong (Does the word not look better to you with one l? Look: beligerent. Oh. OK, that looks wrong.)

The website reads the word in a lovely British accent, so make sure your computer sound is turned well up. You can hear the word again if you want before you try to spell it. If you get it wrong, you get an X. If you get it right, you get a checkmark. Each category goes up to 15, and at the end you get your score.

I love that they start with “Tricky” as the lowest level which implies that if you get one wrong in that category, well, it was tricky. (It’s not you, it’s me, Oxford is saying.)

You can work your way through the levels, and you can do a level again to try to get a better score. When you do that, the words change so you can keep playing over and over again.

Now I’m feeling a bit belligerent about my score so I think I’ll go work out in my local gymkhana. Wait – with my horse. (I just looked it up.)

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Literacy opportunities are everywhere

Mandarin oranges signYou don’t always need books to help your kid read better.

When my son and I go for a walk, there’s always something weird, funny or unintelligible to read, correct or figure out.

Example. We went on vacation and on the buffet we saw this sign. (Click on the picture for a larger image.) I called my son over and showed it to him – I didn’t say anything. He said, “hey,  that should be Mandarin!” And together, we showed the buffet lady and we all laughed about it.*

It was a great opportunity to get a bit playful with words, while at the same time showing my son the way to approach typos (and the people who make ’em) – while it can be helpful to point out someone’s typo,  it’s not cool to be judgmental or become some kind of self-appointed “grammar cop.”

Another time we were playing some miniature golf. As you go around the course, sometimes you have to wait for others to finish their hole. Rather than just wait, I would point to a sign and ask my son to rearrange the letters in the sign to form new words.

OK, it sounds nerdy, but it’s actually a pretty funny game because you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff kids come up with! There are no “rules” to the game – you can use all the letters, or just some of the letters – you can even add some letters if you see a phrase you’d like to create.Mini golf sign

The idea is just to take signs that you otherwise might not pay any attention to, and create new meaning from them

The next time you’re out with your kid, even if it’s just walking to school, take a look around you at all the reading possibilities. Every little bit helps.

*If you have a kid like mine, you’ll know immediately why a sign that says “mandrain” is hilarious. Even the buffet lady thought that one was funny – and then she immediately removed the sign.

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QR codes – reading fun for the whole (nerdy) family

QR code GKreadingOK, this is a great tip but it might be a bit… er… nerdy. But then, so am I. And so is my kid, who wears it like a badge of honour.

You’ve seen these QR codes, right? They’re on ads, posters, marketing material. Maybe you never knew what they were.

They’re like bar codes, but readable by anyone with a cellphone. You take an app like RedLaser (iPhone or Android) and scan the QR code, which reveals a hidden message, website, phone number, URL, etc.

So I was thinking it would make an excellent scavenger hunt to get kids reading.

You create some goofy, fun, positive or even utterly meaningless messages and print them out. Then you hide them around the house and give your kid your phone. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity – but certainly reading.

One scavenger hunt game could include messages like, “Look under the couch” and then the QR code hidden under the couch would read, “Look in your left shoe by the door,” and so on until the kid finds a new book on his pillow or something.

Or you could print one up and stick it in your kid’s lunchbox (his friend has a phone, you know he does). Now your kids kind of cool and you’re the cool mom who know about technology.

If you’ve never tried reading a QR code before, download the app and try this one I just made up:


You can make up your own QR codes at Kaywa. Or even better, have your kid make some up.

The idea for this post came from this smart and funny blog I’ve been following for years, Ironic Sans (if you know your typography, the title is funny).

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The news, in kid-friendly language

TitanicKids love reading about what’s happening in their world.

But so often, the newspaper is full of inappropriate and difficult articles.

Teaching Kids News (TKN) is a sister website to Getting Kids Reading. We offer kid-friendly news articles, taken from the headlines of real newspapers.

One of the great things about TKN is that kids can read the articles themselves and parents don’t have to worry that they’ll be exposed to scary stories or inappropriate language. However, TKN doesn’t shy away from the hard news. We covered the Japan earthquake, the ousters in the Middle East and hockey violence. Of course, we’ve also presented stories on undiscovered tribes, Justin Bieber and Harry Potter.

TKN uses kid-friendly language and a ton of context to explain ideas that adults tend to know automatically, but which would be new to most kids.

Thousands of teachers and home-schoolers use TKN every day because each article includes “curriculum connections” to create an instant lesson plan.

During the school year TKN offers daily news articles; in the summer we present weekly articles and there are more than 150 great articles in our archives.

This week’s article is about some new 3-D photos of the Titanic. Very cool.

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Five minutes to bridge the racial achievement gap

Choke by Sian BeilockI’ve been reading this book – Choke. (Because I tend to choke at tennis, that’s why.)

But it’s got some really interesting things to say that will help your kid with test anxiety.

Researchers were studying what happens to African-Americans, for instance, who experience racism throughout their life. These students can have something called “stereotype threat,” which is where students “underperform relative to their potential merely because these students feel discouraged about their ability to succeed.”

They may underperform simply because they are aware of stereotypes about their sex, race or ethnic group that pertain to intelligence.

Researchers wanted to see if they could intervene to subvert the “racial achievement gap” in a school in the Northeastern U.S.

What they did was simple, and brilliant – and it could be done with your child, whether or not he underperforms currently, whether or not he is a minority.

They had half the students respond to a question asking them what their most important value was, and write a brief paragraph explaining why it was important. In the second group – a control group – they had students write about their least important value.

At the end of the school year, they compared the kids. The ones who had – just once in the year, remember – taken the time to consider and think about, and write about, their most important value did better than the other students. The researchers later repeated the experiment, with the same results.

What happened? The students had written about qualities that were important to them. This enhanced their self-worth, even in the face of negative racial stereotypes. It created a “buffer against negative expectations and their consequences,” says the author of Choke, Sean Beilock.

Students who thought about their own good qualities, the things they value, did better at school because they reminded themselves that they could.

It seems that writing is key here. The kids have to take five minutes or so and write down their thoughts about their most important value. And not only did they perform better on that one test, in that one semester, but the research suggests there has been a life-long benefit for many of them.

If your kid says “I can’t do it,” help him remember that in fact, he can.

And by the way, just this afternoon I tried it before I got on the tennis court… 6-2, thank you very much!

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One-sentence journal is perfect for kids

Kid Zombie journal from guess the idea of a one-sentence journal isn’t new. But I’d never heard of it before I read about it on Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog.

She started a one-sentence journal because she wanted to jot down happy memories but knows she could never sustain keeping a normal journal for any length of time.

I thought: What a great idea for kids. Every day, all you have to write is one sentence. (Or draw a picture – or even take a photograph, for that matter).

That’s it – just one sentence. You put the date, and under it your write whatever comes to your mind when you think back on your day. Maybe it was something that made you happy (or sad or excited). Or maybe it was someone you saw or talked to, or something you did that was a little different.

Or maybe something you learned. A life lesson! Imagine being 30 or 40 years old and being able to look back at your top-of-mind thoughts from when you were a kid, all the things you learned? That would be pretty cool.

Kids would get lots out of keeping a one-sentence journal. For one thing, boys especially often don’t get enough opportunities to express their emotions and a one-sentence journal is a great place to do that. And if your kid is like mine maybe his or her fine motor skills aren’t great, so writing is sometimes a chore. But they can write one sentence a day.

Or, they can type their journal on the computer. My son doesn’t get weekday video or computer time, but I’d make this an exception each evening. He’d like that.

Since I read Gretchen Rubin’s post, I’ve been keeping my own one-sentence journal. So far I’ve got some pretty fun stuff — and we’re only on day two (but to be fair, one of the days was April Fool’s Day so that’s automatically going to be a juicy one). I can’t wait until I can look back at a month’s worth of one-sentencing.

I’m also going to start my son on a one-sentence journal. And we won’t wait too long before we go back and read the entries, so he’ll have some supporting gratification right away, for having done it.

And you know, it occurs to me now that not only is one sentence a day a “doable” amount to write–but it’ll also be a reasonable amount for kids to read, as well. A one-sentence journal is a great way to get your kid writing – and reading.

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Children’s book apps for your cell phone

Children's book apps; image: 2.bp.blogspot.comChildren’s book publishers are creating cell phone apps for books like The Velveteen Rabbit and The Cat in the Hat.

Kids can read the book on their parent’s phone and enjoy some interactive features. For instance, they can touch a word they don’t know and hear it or touch the picture of a bird to see the word “bird.”

As the app reads the book out loud, each word is highlighted so the child can follow along. Some books are read by the author and others are ready by celebrities including Meryl Streep and Robin Williams.

Books apps for children aren’t really new. Readers of this blog know that I have long loved the LeapFrog book readers, and these apps are essentially the same thing—albeit a souped-up version. And without the physical book. So, erm, that’s quite different, then. But, same idea.

Some book apps also pronounce the words in other languages so kids can hear a second language while they’re enjoying the book.

Critics of the apps say that with a book the child is in the driver’s seat but with an app the book content is leading the learning. Not sure if I agree with that, especially harkening back to the LeapFrog reader–of which my child was definitely in control, and not the other way around. Perhaps a more pointed criticism is the fact that apps aren’t books. Beautiful, tactile, sometimes dog-eared, sometimes unwieldy, delicious books. But I digress.

The information in this article was taken from an article on The article points out that, while book apps won’t replace children’s books… at least they’re better for your kid than Angry Bird. Now that’s a good point.

Ruckus Media produces many of the apps; you can buy them for about $3.99 per app.
There are a bunch listed on Ruckus’s website.

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