Monday, February 20, 2012

Handmade Learning Tools for Toddlers from Etsy

Being a buyer and seller on Etsy I often come across wonderful, handmade learning resources for my girls.  I have compiled a treasury of wonderful items from talented artisans on Etsy.  The items I have chosen are great for sensory development, learning simple concepts and pretend play. Click the link below (Handmade Learning on Etsy) to view the entire treasury of fabulous finds.  I encourage you to visit their online shops as these sellers have great items you might find useful.  Trust me, you wont be disappointed. 

I have selected a couple shops to showcase along with a link to their store fronts.
A great store with creative and wonderful learning resources.  Perfect for the teacher and parent.  The owner is very friendly and has great reviews on her products.  

Lots of hands-on learning toys that promote fine motor skills and sensory development.  Natural and Eco-friendly toys. The owner of this shop is very courteous and also has wonderful reviews on her products.

I would like to thank all of the featured artists from Etsy

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Learning with Playdough

Going beyond rolling balls and strips and using the rolling pin.  My hope is that you find some great ideas  for your child and continue to explore and hopefully join Operaton Connect. 

Hide small objects into the playdough and have your child seek through it to find them.  This is fun and gets your childs hands moving.  Great exercise.  Use coins, beads, buttons, broken crayon pieces, paper clips, But DON"T hid any sharp or pointy objects.  My husband hid my daughter's name using alpha-beads in the dough.  Once she found all the letters they worked together to put them in the correct order and then stamped each bead into the playdough as pictured above.

Have your child practice pushing an object into the playdough to help build their pincer grasp.  If the pipe cleaner is too difficult try using toothpicks (with sharp ends removed), paper clips or short straws.

Using scissors can be a very difficult skill to learn.  My girls have benefitted greatly from having adapted scissors.  Now they love to cut things. Over time I was losing alot of paper and constantly sweeping up little pieces of paper.  So I decided to have my child flatten out a piece of playdough and cut it.  It presented them with a challenge and me with less of a mess and paper saved.  Plus I think playdough is more fun for them to cut than paper.  They seem to prefer it now.

Squeezing is a very tough fine motor concept for my girls.  I am finding that this is really testing the strength in their little hands and this provides them with good exercise.  You could use any household object to stick into the playdough such as coins, game pieces rubber bands.  You can also opt for small tongs or kids tweezers to better modify for your child's specific learning needs. if getting a hold of the items as they lay flat is too dificult, sit the objects upright in the playdough your child can get a better grasp on he object.

A favorite for my girls.  The pony beads were to easy of a target so I got the buttons back out and that was a bigger, but attainable challenge for them.  Please rememer the clip of the sharp ends of your toothpicks before letting your child learn with them.

Help your child roll a large chunk of playdough into a ball (this was one Play-Doh jar).  Then stick a narrow dowel or skewer (with the sharp pount clipped off) in the center and begin stacking.  I used fruit loops to stack but you could used any looped objects: Cheeries, Apple Jacks, Pony Beads

Another fun and challenging activity.  Stick paper clips upright into the playdough and create a quick hook.  I used wire and a clothes pin.  I found that the clothes pin was thicker and easier for my girls to hold onto than a wire attached to a pencil.  Nevertheless, the pencil does work. Wire was a great place to start because it does not move.  I will soon modify this by using a string versus a wire so that my girls have to work harder at hooking the pins.

Create small dot pictures on scraps of regular printer paper.  Then have your child flatten out a piece of playdough and firmly press the dotted paper onto the playdough.  Have your child poke through the paper on each dot.  When finished pull the paper back to see the design let on the playdough.  My daughter is using a tiny screw driver to poke holes but you could also use a long nail, sharpened pencil, pen or dulled toothpick.  TIP:  When creating the dot designs for your child keep your dots about an inch from the edges of the scrap paper.  Also, don't put the dots to close together, not only does the paper not hold up very well but it has proven to be frustrating for my children when they are doing the design.  I would say keep the dots about 1/4 inches apart.

Links to Products
Alpha Beads:     I have also found these at Craft stores in smaller quantities.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

DIY Button Magnets & Learning Activities

What you will need
Various Large Buttons
Round Magnets
Glue (I used E-6000 glue I got at Walmart but a hot glue gun or Elmers might work)
Baking Sheet or a Magnetic Surface

Learning Activities 
Building the Concept of OFF & ON
Start with some button magnets on the pan and others off. Then begin to ask your child questions that require them to take OFF or put ON buttons… You can also practice off and on by using a light switch with your child
Examples: Put ON a purple button or “purple ON”
Take OFF 3 buttons or “3 buttons OFF”
Make math hands on and fun for your child. For many children math can be difficult because they can not visualize it. Using the buttons will give them a visual aid to help.
Make it fun and relatable for them. Make the math problem a story that connects to their interests. For example, if your child likes frogs than you might pose a question like this. ..
Mr. Green Frog has a jacket with 4 buttons, but when he jumped to the lily pads 1 fell off. Now how many are on Mr. Green Frog’s jacket.
Building COUNTING Skills
Count by placing the button magnets on the pan or by taking them off. Great for clean up time when you are finished playing with the buttons. Count one by one as you put them away.
Teaching COLORS
Help your child learn colors by asking them to take a specific color ON or OFF the pan. You can also have your child classify the colors into piles on the pan.
If you have some matching buttons you can set up a matching game. The parent has one side of the pair while the match in ON the pan. The parent will hold up the button magnet they have and ask the child to seek for the match on the pan.


Keeping Organized

With two kids and lots to balance, keeping our schedule and appointments organized is a must.  I am sharing our daily organizer which I was able to create for just under $10.00.  Since we started using this a month ago we have been able to chart vitamin and medicine schedules, My husband's work schedule, school activities etc.  It has been a big help. I don't know why I went so long without one.

1 Dowel (found one for just under $1.00 at Joanns Crafts Store and I cut it to the length I needed)
7 Plastic Frames in 4x6 size (found at Walmart for $1.00 each and they have magnets on the back)
Scrapbook paper
        I had some papers at home from previous projects, I cut them to size and slid them into each frame.  I also printed the days of the week onto a paper, printed it , cut them out and glued them to each.  This part cost me nothing :)  The bottom of the frame is open so I used a small piece of clear scotch tape to secure the paper from falling out of the frame.
String or Twine
        I also used to raffia I had at home so this didn't add a cost to the project either.  On the frames one end shoud be closed so you can thread the string through and tie it at the top giving you a hanger.  Make sure that the length of each string (7 total) are the same so they all hang at the same length.  You can also do varying lengths if that is the look you prefer. See pictures below.
2 Small hooks (I found 2 of the screw in type hooks at my local hardware store for under .25 each)
Dry Erase Marker (I used an old one I had around the house but I imagine you could find one at any office or craft supply store or section).


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Smarty Sticks and Pincer Grasp Exercises

       Building fine motor skills and strengthening hand muscles are exercises that are very beneficial for my girls.  Pincer grasp (pinching) and squeezing objects can be a tough struggle for them.  My girls are also struggling to talk, so when I ask them to find 6 on the number stick they can non verbally identify it while exercising their fine motor skills.  Yea!!
      My kiddos are getting very good at identifying colors and numbers so I want to keep reinforcing that as well.  So I came up with Smarty Sticks. What I love about this idea is it is hands-on learning.  Another perk is that you can customize and modify this activity in any way you want.   As you can see in the pics below I have incorporated matching on the Identifying Color.  If your child is struggling with addition, ask them what 2+2 is and they would answer by putting the pin on 4.  The sky is the limit with this idea.  Think about the concepts your child is struggling with and be creative with it. 

Model the pinching motion and finger placement for your child.

Materials I used...
1.  Strips of wood (may also use cardboard).  1/8 inch thick by 16 inches long.
      Note: You may customize the size of the wood as you like just remember that thicker strips require more strength to open the clothes pin wider.
2.  Clothes Pins (regular and/or small sizes)
      Note:  I found smaller clothes pins at Walmart and Joann's. They are easier to open than the regular sized and are great for beginners who can't quite get the bigger ones open
3.  Paint, Crayons and/or Markers (Sharpie worked great)
4. Ribbon or string to hang (optional)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Great Products for Children on the Autism Spectrum
I have provided a list of items that I have found to be very helpful in connecting with my children and providing appropriate and engaging learning experiences for them.  This list has items that I have discovered, products used in their school and at occupational and speech therapies.  Please keep in mind that each child's needs are unique.  So what may be appropriate for my girls may not be for your child.  My hope is that you will discover a product or two that will help you and your child connect and grow together. Happy Exploring!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Discovery Can

Note: Arrow should be pointing to the center of the lid on the image above
Identifying letters and numbers are top on the list of concepts to master for my girls right now.  Unfortunately, flash cards aren't connecting with them.  But, hands on activities are.  I also added the element of surprise to make identifying a color a letter a bit more engaging by placing the lid on the can. When cutting the lid please remember to round off the points so that your child does not get poked or scratched (see image above).

After your child has correctly identified the letter/number/color they pulled out, provide them with positive comments and have them place it in another container (ziplock bag or bowl).  If they dont know, tell them what it is and prompt them to say it with you.  It's good to be repetitive and say what it is more than once. The more input the better. Then have them put the object back inside the Discovery Can.

The sky is the limit with this activity.  There are many other concepts you can work on with your child such as animals and shapes.  The Dollar Tree can be a great resource for concept objects; small animals, pom pom balls, etc.

1. Coffee can or any medium to large canister with a plastic lid
    Note: You must be able to cut the lid and the canister must be large enough for your
             child's hand to get in and out while grasping an object.
2. Decorative paper to decorate can with (wrapping or scrapbooking paper)
3. Glue
4. Scissors
5. Box Cutter
6. Permanent marker (to sketch your lines to cut on lid)
7. Small objects with colors, letters or numbers (concept you are teaching)

Many items around the home were perfect for putting inside the can. Here are some ideas...
Pom Pom Balls
Fruit Loops Cereal
Hair ties/rubberbands
Counting Bears
Letters & Numbers
Magnetic Numbers and/or Letters
Number and/or Letter Beads
Rocks with Number/Letter written on them
Puzzle Pieces
Scrabble or Bananagram Tiles

Feel free to share your Discovery Object ideas in the comment section of this post.