Story Cubes – Different ways to play

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Available at Amazon.com

Story Cubes are awesome for teaching English. Great conversation starters. But opening the box and looking at your student and telling them, Tell Me a STORY is a bit overwhelming.

I haven’t had a student that felt comfortable which such a big task. So here are some alternative ways to play with the cubes.

Pick 2

Roll any two dice and have the student say Which one is better and why?

Roll any two dice and say how they are same or different?

Roll All of Them

Reverse Scattegories – pick a letter and find words that start with the letter that match the cube. Can be the name of the thing, or an adjective that describes it.

20 Questions – using all the cubes on the table, pick one and let your partner guess what you have picked by asking 20 yes or no questions.

Put them in order – put all the dice in order of size, beauty, weight, and danger and ask why along the way.

What ways have you found to play with Story Cubes?

 

 

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Grammar Games

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This comes from psychowith6.com

Nouns Basketball Pronoun Game – basketball-themed board game teaching he and she pronouns to young or special needs learners.

Make it Plural! – Students have to give the plural form of nouns in this board game.

Post It Note Noun Hunt – Players find Post It Note nouns and sort them into person, place, and thing categories.

I Have…Who Has? Plural Nouns Game – This game is played like Go Fish.

Irregular Plurals Card Game – This game is played like Go Fish. Students ask if the other players have the singular or plural form of the noun to make a match.

Grammar Game for Plurals and Possessive Nouns – Students compete with different colored markers on a dry erase board to write the most plurals and possessives in categories.

This is just a sample of the long list of games she has gathered on her homeschooling blog.

Toy buying guide – buy this, not that

I spend a lot of time with children. I have play tested all of toys on the market and I have my favorites. Often times I find parents want to buy the biggest, coolest looking thing for their child, only to find it gathering dust the next week. These are my alternate suggestions to toys that are bought with good intentions.

1. Lego blocks set vs. Lego kit

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Ages: 4-14

Legos are awesome. Lego kits are awesome.  I wish I had a Star Wars Death Star. But I’m an adult who has patience and can sit still for more than 5 minutes.

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Retail Value – $399.99

 

I’m not saying that Lego kits aren’t amazing. It’s unbelievable what’s available. Also, there is value in child being able to follow directions and recreate something. The books have no words and the pictures are clear. They dumb it down as much as possible.  And that’s my point. It’s simple direction following. It doesn’t  inspire or develop imagination.
Free play with Legos means a child can create his own inventions, instead of recreating someone else’s. There is experimenting with form and function with a real tactile experience. The replayability is truly endless. When they are young it might be just a garage or house. As they get older they experiment with more complex forms like cars and rockets.

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Actual Lego instructions from way-back-when

 

2. Plastic fruit vs. Plastic kitchen

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Ages: 2-6

 

Kitchen playsets are adorable. The are mini versions of our adult dream kitchens. They are toys for us adults to buy to dream of what we want. They are fun for children, but they don’t see them with the same eyes as we do. They like to open the drawers and hide stuff inside. They use the table tops, but often times it’s for any and all of their toys. It stops being a kitchen and becomes a small surface to gather junk.

I prefer the cheap plastic food sets like fruit. For younger ages, they are great for learning letters (a is for apple). They can make their own kitchen with they toys they already have or even just the couch. You can make a market out of blocks and use play money to teach about buying and selling. Children’s imaginations are made to fill in the gaps. They don’t need literal representations of things to play. A pen can be an airplane, and a bed can be a fort. But a plastic kitchen, will always be a plastic kitchen.

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Play on, future consumer!

 

3. Soft blocks vs. alphablocks

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Ages: 1-4

 

There is a rush to get children reading and writing, as if their success in adulthood is dependent on a child learning to read at age 2. Parents buy wooden blocks (or practically anything) with letters on them in hopes that this subtle exposure will give their child a head start in learning. IT DOES NOT. There is no shortcut to teaching your child to read and write.

So instead, buy what children really want. For the first few years, what they want is to destroy. The only reason for building a tower is so you can knock it down. Why fight it? It’s a fun game that honestly, I kind of enjoy too. I like the soft blocks because they are house / baby / mom – proof. They are practically weightless. You can throw them right at your child’s face and they will just giggle. They won’t break lamps or leave scratches. They squish and are easy for little hands to grab. They are great for stacking to make big towers that topple down. And they’ve got pictures of stuff on them so you can use them to teach when your child is actually paying attention.

4. Balls vs.  Baby play sets

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Ages: 0-3

 

Baby sets that have bright colors and things that click and crunch and ding are awesome. Look at all the stuff my baby can do. So you spend a lot of money, come home, and leave the baby in front of it and walk away. Your baby doesn’t touch it. She just watches you and cries for you to come back.  When you sit and play with her, the toys come alive. She squeals and glees at all the different sounds you make. You feel happy and walk away. Baby cries for you to come back.

The moral of the story is: you are a baby’s best toy. Toys are just ways you play with baby.

The best baby playset in the world still cannot do all the things a ball can do. You can roll a ball, bounce a ball, throw a ball. There are small balls that bounce off of ceilings and walls, bunches of little balls to roll around in, big rubber balls that you can slap with your hand, footballs that roll on the floor. Textured balls are great for rolling under your feet. You can catch a ball with your hands or you can catch it with your feet. You can kick it. You can hit it. And you can do it all with Mom and Dad.

5. Play Doh vs. Art kits

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Ages: 2-13

 

The big art sets are eye catching. So many colors, and in every medium. 100+ pieces! Every tool you’d ever need to be the most talent artist ever. All in a convenient travel case to carry with you on your world adventures.

The reality is you get a cheap, poorly made case. The crayons, pencils, and paint are worse quality than anything you could buy separately. Chances are you already have crayons, pencils and paint of better quality and variety. When you open the case everything either falls out or is permanently encased in a cheap plastic mould. All aspirations of being the next great artist are dashed when you realize you can’t buy talent.

If you want to inspire a child artistically, I recommend Play-Doh, the Legos of squishy material. I don’t mean a Play-Doh like substance like plasticine that is hard for small fingers to manipulate or organic green-Earth all natural material play substance that smells like compost. I mean Play-Doh, the non-toxic toy that comes in every color imaginable and has its own perfume.

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Please don’t buy this.

 

Kids can smash it, roll it out, mix it, make spaghetti and snowmen. They can share with mom and trade cutting tools. They can make a mess and clean it up. They can accidentally leave it out to dry and learn the lesson of taking care of their toys. Then you can buy some more.

6. Pots, pans, and spoons vs. Music sets

music

Ages: 0-3

 

There are some neat music sets for children that include tambourines, recorders, castanets, and xylophones. I plan on owning all of them. But I’m not going to start with them. Before I teach about musical instruments, I like to show there are sounds all around us. There is so much to be learned by banging a wooden spoon on everything in the house. Or beating two metal spoons together. Or blowing on bottles.

Your world is already full of interesting and new things that your child doesn’t know about. Pots and pans, empty jars and cans. Glass, metal and wood all sound different. Don’t rob them of the experience of discovery by making a beeline straight for the musical instruments.

For everything else

The best toys are the ones that engage you and your child. They inspire and enrich the imagination. If a toy is highly detailed or movie licensed, there’s not much room for your child’s imagination to grow. Toys that are multipurpose have the highest replay value. Be wary of sets – it’s how manufacturers hide shoddy products. Remember, you are buying for your child, not for you. Most of the time.

Don’t Say Yes or No – Game

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I have played a lot of games in my life. It’s been a vital part of my work and play for a very long time. There are few games that have had the replay-ablility like this game. The concept of the game is simple. You read questions off a card in the hopes of making your opponent say YES or NO. If they say one these forbidden words you hit the bell and laugh at them.

Example Card:

  1. Can I start now?
  2. Did you say Yes?
  3. Do you like apples?
  4. Do you like any other fruit?
  5. Name a red fruit.
  6. Do they serve strawberries at Wimbleton?
  7. With cream?
  8. Do YOU like cream?
  9. On strawberries?
  10. You just said yes, didn’t you?

I played this game with one of my students for years. There aren’t that many cards in the box and we memorized them all, and we lost the bell a long time ago. But we kept playing. We made up our own questions, trickier than the ones above. We’d do anything to trip each other up.  The trick, by the way, is to answer a question with another question. To this day, she still won’t answer me directly because she rightfully assumes we are still playing.

This is a great ESL game / conversation for intermediate levels or higher. It takes a wide vocabulary to circumvent the words Yes and No.

Muzzy – Vowels

 

This actually sweet song is a great song for learning the names of the vowels. Teaching children English has its unique difficulty of how to teach the alphabet. The way I learned was by the ABC song. First I learned the names of the letters, then learned their sounds… which can be completely different. Another way to is to learn the alphabet by phonics through a program like Jolly Phonics or Hooked on Phonics, and then later teach the names of the letters. Either way presents its own benefits and pitfalls. I don’t know which way is better, but I do know, at some point you will have to bridge the learning. It becomes very difficult, especially with the vowels. There are the soft sounds, hard sounds, and diphthongs. Even if your child is learning to speak, not read, these sounds present pronunciation problems, being unique to English and not their native language.

vowels

This song is a great introduction to the English vowels. The song is catchy and sweet. Among my few toys I have bought, I have a bucket of wooden cubes. Some are colored, some are natural. I use them for free play, for counting, for colors, and occasionally for creating dice. Here I wrote one vowel per block, both in lower case and capital form. The child rolls the dice and then has to say the name of each vowel in the order they were rolled.

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It’s easy to recite the muzzy song, even in its jumbled up order. However, recital is not learning. This exercise reinforces the learning and tests their ability to identify the different sounds. Later these blocks can be used to identify the sounds of the vowels, not just their names.

 

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