Encouraging Young Writers: Make a Writing Caddy

by Valancy

Whenever I am writing a grocery list, my kids love to highjack my pen and paper and fill the page with their own scribbles. My son, who is four, enjoys making his own lists and telling me what each scribble means (usually his favourite foods that he wants to buy at the store). My daughter, who has just turned two, specializes in covering up my own words with ink first, and then filling the rest of the page with loops or a series of vertical lines.

I know that this enthusiasm for making their own marks is an important precursor to literacy and writing skills, and I’ve read the expert advice that says to encourage these developing skills by making writing materials readily available. The thought of toddlers and preschoolers with free access to Crayola can strike fear in the hearts of parents. Especially those with white couches. I had never really shared that worry when firstborn my son was younger, as he was naturally cautious and was very good about keeping his art more or less on the paper. His younger sister, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more carefree and experimental. I have to admit that over the past year or so I’ve reserved crayons and markers for supervised craft time exclusively, and then only in locations with surfaces from which crayon and maker are easily washed off.

However, now that my two-year-old daughter can (usually) be trusted not to draw on the walls and the furniture, I figure it is time to have some writing and drawing materials available whenever the kids wanted to use them. Looking around the internet for some inspiration on how to best organize the supplies and make them easy to access for the kids, I discovered this lovely writing caddy from PlayfulLearning.com

I love the fact that everything is neatly contained and organized, and the caddy is portable, so the kids could use it wherever they were inspired to write – at their own kid table in the family room, the coffee table in the living room, the kitchen counter, etc.

While you can buy this caddy, stocked or empty, directly from PlayfulLearning.com, it is a bit out of my budget. As a more affordable alternative, I bought an inexpensive cutlery caddy, and stocked it with art supplies that I already had on hand. I found this great bamboo caddy on Amazon.ca, which was perfect because it had one long cubby that is perfect for storing paper.  (Tip: if looking online try searching for “cutlery” or “flatware” caddy.)

I did splurge and purchased some high quality children’s pencil crayons. These Lyra Ferby pencil crayons are short and fat, which makes them easy for small hands to grab, and the triangular shape is recommended by preschool and kindergarten teachers to encourage the development of the proper pincer grip. According to the manufacturer, these pencil crayons are also supposed to have rich colour lay-down and be resistant to breaking, and so far they’ve been living up to those promises. They really are lovely to draw with; they feel so silky on the page. I ordered mine online, but you can also find them locally in Ottawa at 3 Little Monkeys .

I also stocked the caddy with some small empty notebooks, loose paper, envelopes, old Easter Seals and World Wildlife Fund stamps, and other “treasures” from my stationary drawer. To help my son, who is starting junior kindergarten this year, practice his letters, I also found some free letter sheet printables online. (See below for links.)

Both kids loved their new writing caddy right away, and have been using it regularly since.  Even my 26-month old will pull it off the shelf herself when she wants to draw, and both she and her big brother have been surprising good about returning the crayons and markers to the caddy after using them. There have been a few incidents with an uncapped marker too near the couch, but it really has been only a few times. Thank goodness for washable markers and easy to clean microfiber!

Free alphabet printables:

Uppercase & alphabet charts at PlayfulLearning.net: http://www.playfulearning.com/Playful_Learning/Writing_Playful_Learning_Experiences.html

Learning ABC’s worksheets from Classroomjr.com: http://www.classroomjr.com/learning-abc/

Individual letter alphabet handwriting practice sheets from Mywaytoo.com: http://www.mywaytoo.com/Pages/alphabet.html

Block printing alphabet practice worksheets from k12reader.com: http://www.k12reader.com/handwriting-practice-worksheets-block-style-print/

Traceable alphabet worksheets for preschoolers from Kidslearningstation.com: http://www.kidslearningstation.com/preschool/teach-printing.asp

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Tea for Two

by Josée B.G. and I wanted to do something crafty the other day, but our craft supplies were low. We decided to make some paper placemats that would be perfect for playing tea party. The only supplies required are two pieces of cardboard per placemat, scissors, glue, and something to decorate the placemats with.  If you like perfectly straight lines you'll also need a ruler.

We started by drawing designs on our cardboard. You can get really creative here, just keep in mind that you'll be cutting both pieces of cardboard.

I then used a ruler to draw parallel lines along the width of the first piece of cardboard, stopping the lines about 1" from either edge:

B.G. was able to cut along the lines once I started her off. Make sure not to cut right to the edge of the paper or you'll have to do a bit of a fix with some tape!

Cut the second piece of cardboard lenghtwise into strips. I didn't bother drawing lines for B.G. to follow; curvy strips actually create a nice effect, and you won't need every strip for the finished placemat, so there's room for error.

Using a basket-weave pattern, weave the strips into the first piece of cardboard:

We used glue to glue down the end pieces on both sides of the placemat, but tape would work equally well.

Once the glue dries, you've got colorful placemats for tea time!

Josée is mom to four-year old daughter B.G., and two-year old son Bonhomme.  She is always searching for fun and frugal Ottawa events and activities, and puts her research to good use at her website, www.frugalfunottawa.ca.

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Little Scientists

This post is from our friends at the Calgary based blog Kids in Cowtown. by Danielle

With the cold weather we’ve had to find endless indoor activities to fill the days.  I pulled out the old science experiments for kids books I had lying around.  I found them at book sales and from my mother (who likely found them at book sales).  They never out date themselves so it’s the best kind of book to scout out at sales.  I consider this to be a free activity since it was with supplies found around our house.

We decided to be scientists for the day and picked out 3 experiments to run.

Experiment 1 – environment

supplies: clear bowl, water, oil, washing soda

Fill clear bowl with water.  Have your child add the oil and ask them to observe whether it floats or sinks.  Birds feather have some oil on them which help them from sinking.

Have them add the washing soda and observe what happens to the oil.  Adding detergents to the rivers etc keeps birds from being able to float properly.

Experiment 2 – magnets

supplies: cardstock, paperclip, cardboard, strong magnet

Fold cardstock and cut out paper dolls using a tutorial such as this one.  Tape dolls together to form a circle.  Tape a paperclip to one doll’s foot and sit circle on the cardboard.  Hang the cardboard over the edge of a table and place magnet underneath moving it from side to side.  Watch the dolls dance.

Experiment 3 - forensics

supplies: graphite pencil, paper, clear tape

Rub the graphite pencil on a piece of paper.  Firmly press a finger onto the rubbing.  Take a piece of clear tape and place on fingertip.  Remove and stick onto paper.  Have the child look closely at their fingerprints and compare others.

(my daughter loved this one and did her brother’s prints. We then labeled the fingers above the prints.  This is also a great way to have a record of your child’s fingerprints!)

For some more ideas here’s a great site that will help you start science at home.

Danielle is mom to a 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son and always looking for fun things to do with the kids.  She blogs over at fourdayshome.

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Turning books into art

by Lara Lately I've felt like my creativity for crafts and indoor activities with the kids has been a bit....  lacking.  But with March break and a whole week of Kiernan around all afternoon, being inclined to mostly watch tv and play video games were I to allow him to, I needed to be creative.

My mother brought us home some huge rolls of paper that were from some work printer that was no longer.  The huge paper isn't a necessity to this activity, but I think it helped.

I got out the paint and instead of the usual "I don't know WHAT to paint, I don't know HOW to paint!" I suggested we take inspiration from some of the zillions of books we have, and I got down on the floor and took part in the activity.

Sometimes I did the main painting and Kiernan helped me paint them in, and sometimes he did it all on his own.  In the end, we got some super fun paintings that are decorating our playroom wall, and it was a fun and easy way to spend an afternoon indoors!

Lara is mom to 4 year old Kiernan and 1 year old twins Quinn and Juliette. You can read her blog at Gliding Through Motherhood.

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