Benefits of family games – Part 1

With the holidays so close I thought this would be a good time for a couple of posts on games!

Games are a huge part of our family and education. We have never forced the learning experience, but our children have faired well so far in educational development. I truly believe this is largely in part to the games we have played. It is well published that reading to your child helps them learn to read and be excited about reading. Less is said about games but I think it is equally important and certainly played a big part in our early readers. Both our girls were reading chapter books before they started Kindergarten. Often people asked how I did it! And I always said I didn’t ‘do’ anything. But we did play a lot of games!

Now, we probably have more games than your average family I admit. A quick count this morning,  just on the shelves, reached more than 150!

This review, Part 1, will be of our favourite preschool games to play together.

There are lots of games for younger children designed to help them work on skills alone, but I am looking at games you play together.  Even with a game they play alone I personally feel that it’s really important to be close by while they play. Sometimes a game can be frustrating and it’s important to be there to support them and ensure the experience is a positive one. I don’t mean do it for them! But observe and take note of how they are doing. It is important that the game is one in which the child can achieve success. If it seems too difficult for them, put it away for a while.

Here are just a few of our favourite preschool games, and what we learned from them.

 Prickly Pile-up by House of Marbles

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This was great for coordination and, surprisingly, imagination. Once we’d played a few rounds of stacking, the hedgehogs usually had a little adventure.

At a young age they could maybe only stack 2 high. We still play this now to see who can get the highest stack! I LOVE games that just keep on giving!

 Alphabet Lotto


Our version was from Usborne, a Farmyard Tales game. We played this so much in the preschool years. But it never grows old! We play it occasionally now for old times sake!

The boards are double sided. One side has pictures and words and the other side has just letters. I really appreciate games that grow.

Even before you think your child is reading they can match the pictures. And because they are seeing the word under the picture, it’s not long before they are recognizing the word too. They are hearing the beginning sound as they say it and associating it with the word below, learning sounds by association!

There are many letter bingo games available, but I also think the quality of the game adds to the enjoyment. This one is well made with lovely illustrations, tied in to the Usborne stories. A great opportunity to read some books that will tie in and then they will recognize the characters too!

 Sound Bingo

Our version was “What’s that Sound?” by Discovery Toys, but there are lots of versions of this game. Sitting quietly and listening is a skill kids need to learn and this was a big hit in our house.


We had a number of Discovery Toys games. Mainly because a friend became a consultant for them! You know how that goes! But I was really glad we found them. Some were not worth the money, but some got a lot of use.

Another one we played with extensively is ‘Playful Patterns’. Fine motor skills, shape recognition, color recognition and imagination. Again, it still comes out occasionally!

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Listening skills meets gross motor skills meets color and shape recognition! Lots of fun too!

Orchard games make amazing, affordable games! They might be our favourite game company. We brought a few with us from the UK but they are widely available in Canada now.

Our favourites are;

Tummy Ache. You pick ingredients out of the box to try and make a healthy meal, but watch out for some disgusting courses!

tummyache copy

The Shopping Game. Take cards from each others shopping bags to collect the ingredients for your recipe.

It seems this one is no long made, but there are a couple of others with the same principle.

Crazy Chefs and Lunchbox

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Insey Winsey Spider. Not my favourite, but the kids loved it. Shape and number recognition with a fun twist. If you spin the rain cloud you are washed back down to the beginning!

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There are many many more games made by orchard toys and their website is worth a look. I’m pretty sure any of their games woud be excellent.

Just playing together is a great opportunity to have fun while teaching through play!

Now…family game nights really took off in early elementary for us and our favourites follow!

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Helping teens feel valuable.


Having spoken yesterday about emotions in young children I thought I would address teen emotions.

OK…I hear you. There’s no way I can cover that in a blog post!

Obviously there is so much to discuss but I am just going to look at one suggestion.


I can hear you sigh. Because I know you can hear them sigh!

It has been proven that doing things for others makes us feel better about ourselves. I’ve read a paper or two, so it must be true! (You will soon gather from my posts that I read a lot of papers!)

The head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society, Dr Mark Snyder said “People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness,”

I am often mildly amused when people talk about volunteering. Most of the time people only think about it towards Christmas, and very often people mention to me they’re thinking about serving at the soup kitchen. It’s just the first thing people think of. Now of course that’s a fabulous place to volunteer, but it might not appeal to your teen.

My point is there are many places to volunteer. You just have to think outside the box a little.

First, think of your child’s interests.

This year my teen volunteered with a volleyball kids program and with a little ones music and movement class. She loved it! Of course this wouldn’t appeal to all teens, I realize. But for her it was the only days of the week she got out of bed without a fuss. She had a purpose and she felt responsible and needed. And, ipso facto, better about herself!

Here’s a few ideas:

Read to kids at the library,

Play cards with residents of a senior’s home

Help a kid in the neighborhood with their homework

Walk the dogs at the SPCA

Play a game with an only child

Help a younger child with homework

Help at the local science centre or aquarium

Volunteer at the local radio or public broadcast station

Bake treats for the local firemen!

Donate time with a non-profit organization they are interested in

OK.. you get the idea! 😀

It doesn’t have to be organized, although something regular is great.

Big or small, they will feel needed, valued and appreciated.

BUT…It might not work to sit them down and say, ‘right, now lets talk about volunteering’!

You might need to be more sneaky, just so they’ll hear you out!

Once you’ve thought about their interests try asking them to ‘help out’, rather than to volunteer! They might listen past the first sentence that way!

And lastly, remember, they’re not volunteering if you make them go!

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Get their emotions in check!


Dealing with emotions is hard for young children. They have so much to learn and it can be a confusing time for them. They are experiencing feelings that they often can’t explain or understand. And then they are confronted by other people’s emotions, which confuses them even more!

This is a game I made for a preschool music and drama class I was teaching and I thought I would share it.

At the beginning of the term the children struggled with expressing emotions when asked to, in a dramatic context. I started by just getting them to copy me, but by week 2 I wanted something more fun! So I made this extra large dice and drew faces on it, showing different emotions.

To make it I just took a box and cut and folded the sides to make it a square. This is important if you want it to roll evenly! Then I covered it in white paper. And drew the faces. Very easy! We used excited, happy, sad, scared, angry and tired.

Here are some more pictures.




How We Play :

The children rolled the big dice (which they loved) and then they had to imitate the face on the top.

To begin with we just made the face to express the emotion.

Then the next week we began saying phrases in a voice that showed that emotion. I used a whole bunch of different phrases like ‘It’s raining outside’ and ‘It’s nearly time for supper’, which is a particularly funny one when expressed in a ‘scared’ voice!

We then started walking around the room or did an action while expressing that feeling. We also did an emotion-action guessing game. They loved it!

After a few weeks we started to discuss what made us feel these emotions and how we dealt with them.

I felt we came a long way during the term.

It was even more beneficial than I thought it would be and I would highly recommend trying this at home or in a class.

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Back :-)

Well, after a long break for reflection (and travel!) I am back! Thank you for your patience! 😀


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Bringing Montessori Home


It’s 2013, I’ve completed my Montessori teaching diploma and I’m excited to see where Montessori takes me this year! I am well aware that this is just the start of my educational journey and I look forward to sharing insights, discoveries and yes, failures with you along the way!

For January I will start making Montessori-influenced materials and share them with you, with the goal of helping you bring Montessori to your home.

Before I start though I wanted to highlight a few of my favourite Montessori discoveries.

If you decide you like the Montessori approach and would like to start implementing some ideas at home, the amount of information available can be overwhelming. I suggest not trying to make big changes. Just start with one thing at a time.

My thoughts are that using the Montessori Methods is much more than the materials themselves. It is a way of thinking. A holistic approach. Yes, you can go and buy or make lots of the montessori materials but that isn’t what is at the heart of Montessori in my opinion. It’s about believing in your child as a capable, independent person. Here’s just a few thoughts.

1) Believe in your child. And let them know you believe in them by allowing them independence.
“ Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed”.
This was key for me, as you may have read in a previous post.

To make this work you have to allow your child to finish what they start, but  this also means you must give them materials to work with that they are able to complete. This leads to my second thought.

2) Observe your child. It’s really important to watch your child play and notice their interests and abilities and provide them with materials at a time they will be interested in them and able to work with them. For example, don’t give a child a puzzle with little knobs to lift the pieces out if they have not yet developed the fine motor skills to allow them to do so.

3) Let them have some play time without interruption. Allow them some time of discovery while you observe. This feels weird to an eager hands-on parent such as myself, but it’s very exciting to take the time to observe.

4) Model the behavior we wish our child to follow. This includes patience!

In a more practical way is is also helpful to organize your child’s work area to let the materials stand out. In a Montessori Prepared Environment the shelving and walls should be neutral. This allows the focus to be on the colourful materials and draws the child’s attention to them.

Also make sure the child’s materials are at their height and easily accessible so they are free to chose what interests them. Low open shelves, with each activity separate is ideal. In a Montessori Prepared Environment the materials will often have their own tray or basket so the child can remove them and carry them to a mat or small table to work with.

Here’s an image from Peaceful Pathways Montessori that illustrates how wonderful and appealing the materials look in a neutral environment. This can easily be scaled down to a corner of your house.


I can’t wait to start making some Montessori influenced materials and sharing them with you over the coming weeks!

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wonderful words

Studied all day and committed to not blogging!

But I did see this on ‘A mighty Girl’s Facebook page.

A mighty girl describes themselves as “the world’s largest collection of books and movies for parents, teachers, and others dedicated to raising smart, confident, and courageous girls”.

And I liked this that they shared. And obviously it’s relevant to boys too 🙂


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monster bookmark

Just a quick craft from my daughter today.

A super cute monster bookmark.

Just need 1 square of paper, 1 triangle of paper of the same size and a few small triangles for teeth!

Stick together along edges, as you see here, leaving a pocket. Then slip over the corner of your page!

Easy, Cute and unlimited creative potential! 






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Let there be a light table!

I officially have the best husband EVER!

He’s a physicist and, admittedly, probably excited by my new-found interest in lights and mirrors. It’s something i’ve been looking at a lot recently after being introduced to the Reggio Emilia approach to education. (Thanks Jill 🙂 JillyBeans Daycare)

Anyway… I’ve been wanting to explore the use of a light table. I found instructions from many people who’d made their own, but often using supplies we don’t have going spare around the home.

I like to make things from the materials available to me. Helps me justify my educational hobby 🙂

So my sci.guy built me one this evening, just like that!

And here goes a pictorial!

He used a paella plate. It has special value to us but is a little rusty so wasn’t being used.

Then he put led lights inside and stuck them down.


Next he found a piece of round safely glass I used as a table top for an exhibition I had. (Actually the glass was found first, hence the round paella dish!)

Then he cut a circle of parchment/baking paper and stuck it to the glass.


Then he clamped the glass to the dish and voila.

He rigged it to a 9v battery with a switch and hey presto we have ourselves a light table. And a round funky looking one too!




I can’t wait to explore this with the girls!

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Let’s talk dirty! Part 1.


So, anyone who knows me knows I don’t care what kind of mess the kids make in pursuit of art. Which is why people bring their kids to my house for messy stuff!

I’ve always exposed my own kids to a variety of sensory experiences from when they were babies. As I study more of the Montessori method I realise the importance of sensory activities for the developing child.

Research has confirmed the importance. Earlier this year, EduGuide, a nonprofit whose mission is to boost student achievement released this.

“Recent child development research suggests sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which helps the brain develop. These experiences are basically food for the brain. They lead to more complex learning tasks, so that children are able to do more complex learning,”

So I now feel even more justified in letting the kids get messy!

Not everyone wants paint and glitter and sand and clay all over their berber carpets, so here’s some ideas about sensory activities to enjoy with your kids that are little less messy (or at least easier to clean up!) I’ll post more ideas later, but today…

1) Let your kids play outside.

I don’t mean take their toys outside. I mean get them outside and get dirty.

-First of all, let your kids take off their shoes and feel the grass under their feet. That offers a wealth of sensory input.

-Plant some things. Let your children feel the earth. Grow some vegetables or fruit. Rhubarb is a fantastic fruit to grow as it’s easy to take care of and yummy! Growing and cooking and then eating rhubarb covers lots of the senses! Grow nice smelling flowers to stimulate smell while they play.

-Maybe have a sand box. This is wonderful sensory play and an outside box is less messy 🙂 Let them add water and make things. To clean sand off their feet before coming indoors – have a paintbrush outside. A great way to brush off! If you get the cheap wood handled ones they can even paint them first!

-An outside ‘kitchen’ space is also great! I LOVE the idea of a mud-pie kitchen, but it doesn’t have to be muddy just a place to make things with flowers and grass and stones is a great experience.

For those with older kids, we are thinking about making a ‘Potion lab’ outside. Along the lines of Harry Potter. Even my tween is excited about this. I see lots of spells in our future! With older kids you can use old glass jars for them to store things in, but to avoid glass in the garden cut the bottom off plastic bottles or use yogurt cartons for your potion jars! We’ll be making ours soon, so watch this space for a step-by-step guide!

Tomorrow I’ll come inside and offer suggestions on activities you can do together in the Kitchen.

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Let them believe in themselves


We know it’s important for our children to have self confidence, but how are we helping them with this?

So often we use excessive praise or praise unrelated to the effort, to congratulate children on completing a task. I always wondered how those children felt on the occasions where we’re busy with something, or distracted and don’t ‘over praise’ them this time? Do they then feel they didn’t do a good job?

This has always worried me.

Then there was reward charts and the dreaded punishment charts that I saw in school. I didn’t like what I was seeing and I really felt it wasn’t right.

Then I started studying the Montessori method. Having had our youngest attend a Montessori school I was familiar with the methods but little did I know that all I had been feeling over the years about the tendency to over praise children is also seen by Montessori as undesirable.

Telling our children how smart and talented they are all the time can actually send the wrong message. It can make our children afraid to try new things incase they fail.  They also may worry that they won’t meet our expectations.

In the Montessori approach we try to help children to do things for themselves. They gain self-confidence through the inner satisfaction they feel from achieving something.

On a similar point of developing independence in a child, I also had never thought before that if you always do something for a child, they may think that you are saying ‘I don’t think you can do it’.

This broke my heart.

So, I learn, they learn.

This weekend I strived to allow my youngest daughter, who’s 8, to do things I had previously done for her, because I thought that she couldn’t do them.

I showed her how to make her own grilled cheese sandwich, using a frying pan to cook it. She buttered, she even grated the cheese, something I’ve never wanted her to do before. She checked the underside and flipped it when it was brown. Although I watched, I said very little and just let her do it. The satisfaction I saw in HER face was the praise she needed.

As Maria Montessori said,

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

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