Category: Learning At Home

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”
“Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock…”
“I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh!”

Christmas is on its way, and our toddlers and preschoolers could not be more excited! But trying to keep their little hands away from the Christmas tree might be a full-time job, and that’s why I love bringing out engaging activities like playdough and sensory bins. This jingle bell sensory bin has been a big hit at our house, and it might be simpler than you might think.

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas | Christmas Sensory Play Ideas, Tactile Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers, Learning Through Play

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you.You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

As I mentioned in this post about sensory bin storage, we keep a big basket down in our basement with all of our sensory bin materials: dried corn, peas, and beans, uncooked popcorn, and various shades of rice and noodles. (You can click here for instant access to our favorite tutorials about dyeing rice and noodles.) 

I had dyed a bunch of noodles green for St. Patrick’s Day. The variety of textures between the wagon wheels, rotini noodles, and shells is a lot of fun for tactile play. I thought it would make the perfect base for this new jingle bell sensory bin. (And noodles are a LOT easier to clean up than rice, which was the base of our last sensory bin!)

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas | Christmas Sensory Play Ideas, Tactile Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers, Learning Through Play

We have a set of multicolored bells (similar) that are a great size for my 6-year-old’s hands. I also added a few extra accessories to the bin:

  • green and red cups (these are our favorite)
  • ice cube trays
  • a plastic tablespoon
  • and a jar (glass or plastic, whatever your kids can handle)

You can also work on patterning and fine motor skills with this sensory bin! Place the bells in the ice cube tray (use tweezers, if you like), and then lace the bells on a shoelace or pipe cleaner.

 

If you try this jingle bell sensory bin, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


30 Winter Activities | Free School Holiday Survival Guide {flourishwithyourfamily.com}

While your kids are home from school this winter, try out this list of 30 “boredom-busting” activities for the whole family!

Here’s what’s included:

  • a weekly calendar template with tips for creating a flexible family schedule
  • a “menu” of more than 20 low-prep activities to keep your children happily engaged
  • lists of recommended seasonal books to grab at the library
  • a family reading log
  • our favorite resources for learning at home
  • AND 30 winter boredom busters!
Math Apps for Kids: Smartick

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick

About a month ago, Smartick reached out to me to try their math app with my kids in exchange for a review. Since we are always on the lookout for great educational experiences for our girls, I agreed! If you are interested in math apps for your elementary and middle school students, keep reading. (No affiliate links are used in this blog post.)

How Smartick works:

15 minutes a day approach: short daily sessions at maximum concentration. This helps create a study habit and routine, it avoids burnout and keep children motivated and coming back for more. Smartick recommendation is that children do their session at least 5 days a week to truly experience the benefits of the program.

Smartick is available to use with a computer or on an Apple/Android device. I set up our account on the laptop and then downloaded the app to our iPad mini.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Children can customize their avatar on Smartick. My girls also loved buying additional gifts (virtual clothing, typically) for each other using the rewards their earned doing their math exercises.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Addie saved up her rewards to buy this little dog she named Riley. The dog stayed healthy and happy as long as she was logging on regularly and playing her games.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

The game monitors both time left (upper right) and progress (left). Children choose their answer and then press the blue button to submit it. This is an example from my fourth grader’s session.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}   After completing the session, children have the chance to make corrections. What a great opportunity to reinforce to new skills!

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Here, you can see that Addie got 99 questions correct, missed 8, corrected 4, and earned 14 “ticks” (rewards). Smartick also offers bonus ticks for playing consistently. By pushing the blue house, you can enter the virtual world.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}Both girls enjoyed accessing their Smart Club treehouse. They could write notes to each other and buy each other gifts. (I did not allow them to “friend” other children through the game.) Saving their “ticks” for animals and clothing gave them a goal to work toward and motivation to keep playing daily.


A Tale of Two Sisters:

  • Katie LOVES math and has enjoyed another (free) math app occasionally when the mood strikes her. I fully expected her to LOVE Smartick.
  • Addie is more reluctant when it comes to math, but she does love her screen time! I thought having a new game on the ipad would be motivating for her.

After explaining the Smartick process, I told my girls we would commit to playing for 15 days before deciding if we wanted to continue. They both agreed, and we got started with their first day.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}


Using Math Apps: Our Smartick Experience

Addie went first and struggled a bit as the session included concepts we hadn’t yet covered in her math lessons. As a perfectionist, she hates getting things wrong. I sat next to her and encouraged her to do her best. If she got a question wrong, the app showed her the correct answer and the reasoning behind it. Once she finished, she had the opportunity to go back and correct those missed questions for one additional “tick.”

Once her session was finished, she got to explore her virtual world and set up her avatar. Katie was immediately interested in all the options and asked for her turn with the game.

We logged Katie in under her account and got started with her first session. I was surprised to see my ultra-confident “math kid” immediately panic with the timer. She frantically pressed the “I don’t know” answer for each question. We paused the game and talked through her feelings, and she told me she was worried she would push the wrong button. I showed her the double check feature: choose the answer first and then “submit” it when she’s ready.

After her session, Katie also enjoyed setting up her virtual world and visiting the clubhouse with her sister. With both girls, I had to set a secondary timer to tell them when their “extra” time was up, or they would have continued for more than an hour.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}


Smartick Pros:

  • I LOVED that the girls had to do their math session before they could play in their virtual world. It was a strong motivator to get them interested in playing each day. Since Smartick is built on consistency, I appreciated this!  
  • The parental controls were easy to set up. I let my girls “friend” each other but no one else. I could see that it would be fun to trade gifts and communicate with classmates or cousins who were also using the app.
  • I was glad to see a variety of skills covered in each session (and in the tutorial section as well), including concepts not covered in our curriculum. Addie loved the problem-solving questions presented at the end of her turn. For a child who leans toward not liking math, she certainly enjoyed watching the extra tutorials and playing math games after completing her main lesson.
  • Smartick’s communication is top-notch. I received an immediate e-mail after each girl’s session with feedback about speed and accuracy. They also have a support team available via their website. It’s clear to me that the founders have a desire to see children be successful with the app and fall in love with math.

Smartick Concerns:

  • I’m going to be honest with you–Smartick is not cheap. Subscriptions start at $34.99 per month and go up from there. Realistically, that’s more than our budget can afford as a regular expense. However:
    • Smartick does offer a FREE 15-day trial. It’s a very generous opportunity to see how your children will benefit from the technology before making a commitment.
    • Smartick is built on the idea of consistency. If one of your children uses the program five days a week, the cost comes down to less than $2 per use, which is cheaper than other similar games.
    • Smartick offers a wonderful referral program. You can save $27 by referring a new customer, and your friend saves too!  

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Gamification elements keep children engaged and improve concentration levels. All games in Smartick and scientifically designed to reinforce cognitive skills: perception, attention, memory and logical reasoning.

  • Another concern:
    My children were tempted to rush through their session (which is timed) in order to get to play in their virtual world. Since neither  girl had a particularly “bad” day , I’m  honestly not sure if children have to perform at a certain level to unlock the fun games and activities. On a few days, I had to chat with one of my girls about doing her best work after getting her status email from Smartick.

Final Thoughts

Smartick is a wonderful program. The technology is top-notch, and my children enjoyed their experiences. Overall, I feel the cost is prohibitive for our family, but I the value is comparable to a tutoring center for remedial support or enrichment for an asynchronous child needing more challenge in math. I would suggest trying the free 15-day trial to see if it’s a good fit for your family!

Does your family use math apps at home?

Teaching Kids About Money: Setting A Solid Foundation

Teaching Kids About Money: Setting A Solid Foundation

One of the things that surprised me most about parenting is how many life skills need to be taught directly. Of course, we teach our children to use the bathroom independently and tie their shoes, but we also teach them how to resolve conflicts and help in the kitchen. One of the most important jobs of parenting (in my opinion) is teaching kids about money. I reached out to my friend Heather Farris from The Balanced Mamas to share her best tips with us!

Teaching Kids About Money: Setting A Solid Foundation | teaching kids about money management, teaching kids money learning, learning money management

Money is a tough subject to talk about in some family homes. In fact I came from a home where money wasn’t plentiful. My parents worked hard but they weren’t the best at teaching the kids about money.

I’ve grown up thinking I had to hang on to everything I earn and work myself to death to get it.

That’s not what I wanted for my children. I wanted to teach my children about money in a way that would provide a healthy foundation while still instilling the importance of it.

Money is simply a tool in our household. Teaching kids about money is an important lesson and as parents we get to choose how to do it.

FOUNDATIONS OF TEACHING KIDS ABOUT MONEY 

Teaching kids about money can start at a young age. You can start with projects, looking at coins and talking about what they are. Point out the differences in them and have your toddler repeat it back to you. Make it fun and they will play along.

Ages 2-3

When my first daughter was 2 I went out and bought a piggy bank that she could play with. She was obsessed with our coins and I didn’t want to make it something she couldn’t have because that leads to power struggles.

So I bought the piggy bank, filled it with coins and showed her how to take the bottom off of it. For weeks she would fill it up, take the bottom out and let all of the coins fall all over her legs.

Ages 4-5

Then she got to the point of understanding that when I give people those coins they would give me something in return.

At around 4 she started paying close attention when we would go grocery shopping.

Teaching Kids About Money: Setting A Solid Foundation | teaching kids about money management, teaching kids money learning, learning money management

Learning Activities for Preschoolers

Empty the piggy bank and set a savings goal for the family. Choose what you will spend it on together and get started. Everyone can add to it and you can count how much is in the bank as you add to it. Keep a running tally and let them help with the counting.

Once you reach your goal then head out to spend your money on your prize.

By doing this you’re teaching them the value of money. They will have a certain amount to spend and once it’s gone it’s gone.

Take Them Shopping

One of my favorite activities when I was shopping with my daughter was to take her grocery shopping. I know I’m a little nutty but we made it a thing and she was well behaved.

So as we made our way through the store I would hand her items to hold and feel. I would tell her the item name, color and price. Eventually, she got to where she knew the prices and what was what as I placed it in the cart.

Have Them Pay

Your kids will undoubtedly get cash for their birthdays or other holidays. This is a good time to teach them that what they are asking for costs money. So have them pay for their toys or ice cream.

Teach Them About Work

This could be simply having them do a chore around the house. Kids are funny in they are always wanting to buy something. Instead of telling them no and ending the conversation tell them they have to pay for it once they have earned enough.

Teaching Them Wants Vs Needs 

This can be a difficult topic for preschoolers to understand because they are just learning the concept of buying things that could be considered a want.

For the school-aged kids though this is a great lesson.

Start at the store when you’re out grocery shopping. As you place things in your cart explain to them why you’re buying it.

While mom’s special chocolate that she doesn’t have to share could be considered a need you can take the opportunity to explain why you want it.

Have them help you as you go through the store distinguish what is a want and a need.

Don’t Tell Fibs About Money

Kids respect honesty as much as adults do. If they are at the store and ask for something you don’t want to buy them don’t just simply tell them no because you can’t afford it. Explain to them that you have a budget for toys and it’s not in the budget right now.

They will move on quicker with this tactic than if you simply say no.

Talking to your kids about budgeting will bring awareness that money doesn’t just come and go freely.


Click here to read more of Heather’s posts about money!

Teaching Kids About Money: Setting A Solid Foundation | teaching kids about money management, teaching kids money learning, learning money management


Final Thoughts

Teaching kids about money can be fun if we as parents make it fun for them.

Treat these conversations about money as a teachable moment. Their little brains are soaking up so much knowledge everyday. If you take the time to start them young with healthy money conversations then you will give them that solid foundation they need.

But wait! Money conversations don’t just happen once or twice and that’s it. Continue the conversation as they get older.

Build your bookshelf with books that include subjects around money. (The Intentional Book Club is a great place to go for book recommendations! You can click my referral link and try it free for seven days.)

Continue the conversation and get them involved! 

How are you teaching your kids about money?


Teaching Kids About Money | A Guest Post from Heather of The Balanced Mamas

Heather is an entrepreneur, blogger, and mom of two. She and her husband live in the Midwest where he is stationed in the Air Force. On her blog, TheBalancedMamas.com, Heather helps other moms build a balanced home and enjoy more quality time with their families by building systems and routines. She does this by providing practical solutions that moms can implement quickly so they can get back to spending quality time with their family.