Category: Learning At Home

Make Learning Fun … at Home!

Make Learning Fun … at Home!

Yesterday (September 19th) was Talk Like a Pirate Day. We celebrated with costumes, a reading of Tough Boris, and a trip to our local bakery for a donut. (Don’t all pirates eat donuts?) As I planned this goofy little break in our daily routine, I though about each of YOU and your children.

It seems like the current state of education has become overwhelming for us and for our children: homework, standardized testing, getting into a good college (and figuring out how to pay for it). I wanted to share how we–parents–can make learning fun at home for our children! 

I am a BIG believer that education SHOULD be a joyful experience for our children. It breaks my heart when I hear kids says, “I don’t like school,” or “Reading is boring!” In fact, one of my major goals for Rolling Prairie Readers is to help all parents (including myself) re-think about our attitudes and actions about learning. When we say, “I don’t like math,” or “I’m not good at art,” we are impacting the way our children think about the world!

Make learning fun at home! Read good books, learn through play, go on family adventures, and talk positively about school and books with your children.

So, what are some ways we can make learning fun at home?

  1. Talk positively about learning. Our children will be in school for at least 13 years (not counting college), so it’s important that we are strong supporters of our schools, teachers, libraries, and education in general. Make a point to stop negative talk early, and reframe our children’s frustrations as much as possible. (“I can’t do it,” becomes “I can’t do it yet, and that’s okay!”)
  2. Make GOOD books a part of your family’s culture. Visit the library often. Buy books for gifts. Read aloud to your children even after they can read to themselves. Listen to audiobooks on long trips. (You can click here to read 12 Ways to Incorporate Reading into Your Daily Routine.)
  3. Offer your child several opportunities to learn through play each day. Consider how your child learns best, and add in more music, videos, or sensory bins. I have several seasonal “invitations to play” here on the blog for FREE. You can also browse my Pinterest boards for more ideas!
  4. Chase adventures together. It doesn’t matter if you travel near or far, there is much to be learned from this big world of ours!

Imagine that your’s child learning journey is a hunt for treasure. You have been given the map to guide your child through dangerous and wild lands, past hard times and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Hopefully along the way, your child will learn that the real treasure is a life of learning…with you!

Sign up for a FREE mini-plan! Our mini-plan gives you a sneak peek at the planning process and includes 3 custom activities for your toddler/preschooler.

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills

When it comes to the main things I want my girls to learn in their childhoods, problem solving skills would definitely be at the top of the list (along with kindness, respect, perseverance, and integrity).

In the past year, our family has gotten bolder with our outdoor adventures, but we still have plenty of room to grow. Today, I am excited to share this helpful guest post and freebie from Isaac and Stephanie Ashby at Tyee Outdoor Experience.  As Isaac explains on their blog, “As a child, adventure was my passion, and wilderness was my medium.” Read on to learn how we can present our children with opportunities for learning problem solving skills!

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill


Me: Siri, why is my VCR not working?

Siri: Did you try throwing it away and going digital?

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Maybe I’ll try Google.

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Me: Google, why won’t my VCR work?

Google: Because you are stuck in the 80’s.  Try Netflix or Amazon.

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Fine, I’ll ask Mom and Dad.

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Me: Mom, I can’t get my VCR to work.  

Mom: Oh sweetheart, you’re using a VCR?  Why didn’t you tell us the world was crumbling around you?

Me: But Mom…

Mom: Don’t “but mom” me, I’m you mother.  I know you’re 40 years old but that doesn’t mean I can’t baby you.  Now are you hungry?  As soon as your father finishes outside, I will have him fix your VCR.


While this sequence of events is hilarious, it is becoming much more common.  Why?  Because kids growing up in this age have smartphones and easy internet access with a built-in answering service.  We rarely solve problems on their own anymore!  And there are a lot of problems electronic devices just cannot solve.

Not-so-little-known-fact: Problem solving is an essential skill that employers look for when hiring new employees.  It’s a disappearing art form these days!  

So how do parents teach their kids problem solving skills without merely looking it up on your favorite search engine?

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You: Siri, how do I teach my kids problem solving skills?

Siri:  Keep reading this article.  Tyee Outdoor Experience is the best!

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If you’ve made it this far, I assume you are interested in teaching your children how to solve problems…

Well, here… we… go…

The best way to learn problem solving skills is to practice.  

Practice, practice, practice!  If your kids encounter a problem, make them solve it without electronics.  And let them struggle with it.  Don’t swoop in like the helicopter parent and solve everything.  Make them work for it.

Because I run a perfect household and there are never problems for my kids to practice on (I’m sure you are all the same), here is a strategy to choose a problem and practice these skills.

Step 1: Choose a task or problem for the kids to solve. 

We recommend they do this outside to get them active, out in the fresh air and sunlight.  As well as a billion other reasons for going outside.

Open ended problems with a variety of solutions and make them fun!  Problem solving skills sounds very formal and dull but coming up with fun problems will go over much better.

Here are just a few open-ended, outdoor problems to get you started.  We have even 20 ideas in the Problem Solving Practice Guide printable.

  • Building a bridge that will hold your weight
  • Collecting rain water
  • Build an igloo with snow
  • Dig a hole without a shovel

Step 2: Print the problem solving skills worksheet found here.  

The worksheet is optional but I recommend using it the first couple of times to teach the kids an organized way to solve problems.  It also includes more outdoor example problems and tips.

Step 3: Introduce the task.  

Tell the kids the problem, the boundaries or limits (space, time, necessary conditions) and what they have to work with.  Like Iron Chef but not cooking.  Today’s ingredient is mud!

Step 4: Let them get to work!  

Try not to hover but provide supervision for safety.

As the kids work, resist the urge to give tips, hints, or help.  If they can’t figure it out for themselves, the problem is too hard.  They must learn to do it on their own.

If the task is too hard for them, don’t tell them the solution.  Put the task on hold and give them an easier task.

Step 5: When the kids find a solution, have them talk you through their thinking process.  

It’s important to understand what parts of the process they are good at and what parts they need work on.

Ok now you may be saying this is too easy or obvious but give it a try.  Sometimes we overlook the obvious so think of it as a good skills assessment.

Teaching Kids Problem Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill

Strategies for tough problems and brain farts

In solving problems, we all hit those walls of “I don’t know how”, “I can’t do it”, [insert whining excuse of choice here].  Therefore, TA DA, we give you strategies to break out of those tough problems and brain fog.

1 – Work backwards.  This can seriously open up the mind to new ideas.

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Me: Siri, how do I work backwards if I don’t have a solution to work backwards from?

Siri: Ask Google.  That question just fried my circuits.

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To work backwards without a solution, clearly identify the conditions you want your eventual solution to fulfill.   Then think of how you can make these conditions happen.

2 – Brainstorm the WORST possible solutions to the problem, go through them, and see if any might be a good place to start or at least spark a new (and hopefully better) idea.

Example: Task is getting Frisbee off the roof without getting on the roof.

Worst solutions: Throw a piece of meat up and a vulture will come to knock it off, pay the Air Force to retrieve it, build a go-go gadget arm to grab it, convince it to come down with loving words, etc.  

See why we call them the worst solutions?  But maybe the gadget arm idea sparks another idea for some kind of reaching device.  You never know when inspiration will hit.

3 – Just start messing around and playing with available tools and supplies.  Touching and playing with stuff is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

And there you have it!  Do you feel the little grey brain cells moving yet?  Problem solving skills are probably not at the top of your to-do list but they are a hidden gem and worth the time to help our kids develop.  Plus, it’s fun get out there and solve some problems together!

See you outside!

Teaching Kids Problem-Solving Skills | critical thinking, problem solving activities for kids, fun challenges, free printable, child development, life skill

Hey there! This is Isaac and Stephanie Ashby from Tyee Outdoor Experience and we get families OUTSIDE. Lessons, games, resources, and activities that pull you outside every day because you enjoy it, not because it is a box to check off on a list of things you “should be doing”. Throw out inconvenient, boring, or expensive. We know you’ve got this!

Best Apple Books for Kids

Best Apple Books for Kids

September is here, and we are starting our family apple unit study!

Best Apple Books for Kids | picture book recommendations, apple books for toddlers, apple books preschool, apple unit study

I love this time of year. We are entering our sixth year of homeschooling, and every year we start with our apple activities. Now that we live in the Midwest, we even get to take a family field trip to the apple orchard later this month!

(Did you get your FREE apple-themed invitations to play download?)

Before we kick off any unit of study, I always like to begin with a big stack of picture books. I place them all in a basket in the living room, near the couch. The girls browse through them often throughout the day, and make a list of activity ideas for later in the month.

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you.)

Our all-time favorite apple book is Secrets of the Apple Tree from Usborne Books and More. I love the interactive aspect of the book, as well as all the science information! The girls love using a flashlight to find all the hidden pictures. Secrets of the Apple Tree is definitely the BEST of the best apple books for kids. (Learn more about the book here in my UBAM store.)

Best Apple Books for Kids | picture book recommendations, apple books for toddlers, apple books preschool, apple unit study

Best Apple Books: Fiction

One book we love is Apples, Apples, Apples by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. The end pages feature illustrations of the apple tree in all four seasons. The book features a family of rabbits who go to the orchard. Throughout the book, there are lots of opportunities for discussion and learning, including:

  • a chart of different varieties of apples, their attributes, and uses
  • a diagram of the different parts of an apple
  • recipes
  • an art project
  • and even an apple song (with sheet music!)

Our friend Vicki at Babies to Bookworms recommended The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall. It tells the story of an apple tree throughout all four seasons through the eyes of two young children. (And the last page of the book includes more details about the pollination process and a recipe for apple pie!) Be sure to visit Vicki’s site for activity ideas for this great book.

With a first grader in the family this year, I also checked out Fancy Nancy: Apples Galore. Nancy’s class takes a trip to the apple orchard and learns a lesson about following directions and friendship. As always, this Fancy Nancy book introduces lots of excellent new vocabulary words!


Best Apple Books for Kids | picture book recommendations, apple books for toddlers, apple books preschool, apple unit study

Best Apple Books: Non-Fiction 

While my girls love reading fiction, I think it’s important to include non-fiction text as well. Julie Murray’s Apples features a table of contents, a glossary, and an index. The pictures are bright and colorful, and the text is just right for 2nd and 3rd grade readers (and for family read-aloud time)!

How Do Apples Grow? by Betsy Maestro is a terrific overview of the pollination process for elementary students and preschoolers with a longer attention span. We will definitely use this one for our science lessons this year!

Gail Gibbons is one of our family’s favorites authors, so of course we grabbed her Apples book. This book includes a little of the history of apples in the United States, including a brief mention of Johnny Appleseed. (If you have elementary-age children, they might enjoy Who Was Johnny Appleseed?, a longer biography about John Chapman.)


Shop the Best Apple Books for Kids:


As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, we like to store our unit books in an obvious, can’t-miss spot in the living room. Since we homeschool, we often use picture books instead of a textbook for science and history studies–but many of these books can also be enjoyed during family read-aloud time.

Check out 12 Ways to Incorporate Reading Into Your Day!

Did I miss any of the best apple books? Share your recommendation below!

Best Apple Books for Kids | picture book recommendations, apple books for toddlers, apple books preschool, apple unit study