Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Poetry Writing for Kids – Sensory Poems

When our children are in elementary school, it’s incredibly exciting and rewarding to see them emerge as writers tackling more challenging creative writing assignments. I enjoyed watching my daughter work on her first “real” sensory poem.
Poetry Writing for Kids: How to write sensory poems.

What Is a Sensory Poem?

A sensory poem is a good way for kids to get started in poetry. The goal for this poem is not to rhyme, but to be as descriptive of a subject as possible. The subject is described using 5 senses, and the third grade students in my daughter’s class were expected to take their poem from a rough draft to a finished and illustrated final copy in 3 or 4 sessions this past week.

Getting Started with a Sensory Poem

Smarty brought home her rough draft, and I could see how students first used a graphic organizer to capture verbs and adjectives for each of the senses and then wrote their sentences. I couldn’t find a free version of the organizer that Smarty’s teacher was using, but it’s similar to this free printable sensory images template, except that in hers the senses were horizontal, which left more space for writing.

Five Senses Organizer Creating Memories

Smarty was so proud of her poem that she asked for extra computer time over the weekend to type it in. I printed it for her, and she decorated it. I scanned her finished poem and added it as “entry #3” to her Books of Poems and Silly Rhymes that she started in preschool. It will certainly be interesting to see how her sense of language develops over time. I am hoping to add a Halloween poem to this book this year :)

More Ideas for Writing With Kids?

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Your Turn

Have your kids tried their hand at poetry yet?

2014 After School Link Up Hosts

Share Your Learning Week

We would love to have you link up your School-Age Post (Ages 5 and up) about your after school activities with kids age 5+ including Crafts, Activities, Playtime and Adventures. When linking up, please take a moment to comment on at least one post linked up before yours and grab our after school button to include a link on your post or site! By linking up you're giving permission for us to share on our After School Pinterest Board or feature on our After School Party in the upcoming weeks! Don't forget to follow along and join our After School Enrichment Community.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Advocating for Gifted Children for Beginners

Do gifted kids need help in school? Of course, they do! In this post I am going to share how we worked with school last year, what worked, and what did not work.
How to Advocate for Gfted Children

Why Advocate For Gifted Children?

Let’s start with definition of advocacy. Advocacy is defined as any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. Some parents (ourselves included) feel sort of awkward asking for “special services” for their children. After all, here in America, where we so value our individuality, we send our children to schools where they are all expected to be educated the same. It’s funny to see how we single out and support talented athletes or singers, while it’s completely OK to let a talented young writer “write a paragraph” or to have a talented mathematician do boring math facts. It’s mostly up to a teacher to provide “differentiation in the classroom” and let’s just say that some teachers are better at that than others. This is why parents need to speak up – first to the teacher, and then go higher. Where do you start? I wrote a post What to Do When You Child Is Bored in School? last year for The Imagination Soup, and I will summarize the main points here, since now we have some distance between events and see better what worked and what didn’t.

Calm Down

C – Craft your desired outcome. One mistake that we did early in our advocacy efforts was not being clear with the second grade teacher about what it was that we wanted. So she went with an “interesting” approach to differentiation. She told Smarty and another gifted boy in her class that they could no longer read after finishing their regular second grade tasks early. Instead, they had to choose harder worksheets that appeared very random. We certainly learned from this experience to ask for more specific things in the future.
A – Assemble your evidence. We did not do a private testing for our daughter, but our school uses STAR testing to assess students’ reading skills, and we were given results showing that our second grader is reading on the level of 10th grade. We also asked school to test her specifically in her math knowledge, because we knew that she was significantly ahead of second grade. Unfortunately that took forever (2 months to “find time” to give her these tests), and she ended up with “advanced knowledge” for fourth grade math while she was still in the middle of second grade. These efforts were not in vain – when we finally met with our school principal, she was very honest with us and said, I had no idea previously that your daughter was so advanced. I admit that I felt somewhat betrayed at that point by our K-1 teacher who was wonderful and was “getting” Smarty, but clearly failed to communicate her knowledge to the next grade teacher or to school administration. So, in other words, I do recommend testing your child if you think it will make a difference in the services available to him or her. I am still not recommending testing just for the sake to get a “gifted crown”, but it’s the subject for another post.
L – Learn your rights and consider your options. My parents had it easy. The former Soviet Union understood that it’s important to support academically strong students, and we had many schools in my city of birth Minsk which had “focus” on specific subjects. I spent all my school years in a school for mathematically gifted. Alas, here in US every state and sometimes every school district have their own policy for supporting gifted students. Check out yours in Gifted Educational Policies database.
M – Meet with your teacher first. It’s a common courtesy and, if you are lucky, you don’t need to take your advocacy further unless you want some serious changes in the way gifted education is handled in your district.
D – Don’t wait. That was another mistake that we made last year – waiting for three months before we started bringing up our concerns. The last straw was when our 7 year old daughter said one day, I am now like everyone else. I don’t like school and can’t wait for summer break.
O – Offer help. Last year I ended up having a small math group for several kids in Smarty’s class once a week, but only after I have spent the other 7 months of volunteering passing papers. I certainly wish that I were braver last year offering to do something more meaningful earlier. I really like how our third grade teacher uses parental help this year – we supervise and check independent work and help kids who need help in their tasks. Volunteering in the classroom is a great way to get a better perspective of your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses and of group dynamics, so you can help your child with any social or academic challenges he or she might have.
W – Write everything down. If you meet with a teacher or with a school administrator, it helps to follow up with an email outlining the summary of the discussion and finishing up with…
N – Next steps. All our conversations in school were positive, but the weakness was in the “follow up”, which our second grade teacher was unable or unwilling to do. Unfortunately, by the time we got to actionable next steps, we only had about two months of a school year left anyway. Just as in work projects, it really helps when all “stakeholders” are clear on “what, where, when” steps on the road to a better academic experience for our children.
Advocacy for gifted students

Did Our Advocacy Work?

I admit that last year we were really frustrated with the situation, but in one of the comments in my original post a more experienced parent had recommended to keep talking to school administration and not to lose hope. She was right. We discussed several options with a principal and were offered a grade skip. My husband and I discussed it at length and decided against it, because we want Smarty to enjoy her childhood longer. This year she is in the stronger third grade class with a wonderful teacher who seems quite adept in differentiating students. She is also involved in a number of extra-curricular activities (sports and music) that challenge her in a different way, and she appears to be recovering her love of learning and her natural curiosity. Moreover, other students are benefiting too from a “gifted cluster” where stronger students can work in groups and take on more challenging tasks. I am hoping for a great third grade, but I am not under an illusion that I won’t have to advocate for my daughter and for other gifted learners again. I think Intermediate Course in advocacy for gifted is just around the corner.

Your Turn

Did you advocate for your child in school?

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Week in Review – September 27, 2014

Highlights of the Week


  1. My husband’s brother is on a business trip to LA, and last weekend he flew in to visit us. Smarty was delighted to see him, and was sad to see him go. He will come again this weekend, and then they will meet up in Florida in November for our annual reunion.
  2. We have a big reorganization at work, and I’ve been crazy busy. As always during these times, there is a lot of uncertainty, but I am not too worried at this point of time.
  3. Smarty is suddenly playing more with dolls even though she specifically instructed me not to give her dolls for her birthday and to let anyone know that she is not interested in any Frozen merchandise.


MathAtHome School is going well. This week fourth and fifth graders were running for School Council, and Smarty can’t wait to be able to run too. She is certainly not a “wall flower” when it comes to any extracurricular activity. If anything, she overestimates her abilities, but I am glad she is so enthusiastic about everything happening in school outside her classroom. At home we are doing a lot of math to go beyond the math curriculum. This is a problem that I gave Smarty one evening – You have 25 coins, and together they make $1.00. Which coins do you have?

What My Child Is Reading

This week I actually read aloud to Smarty while she was playing with dolls. We haven’t done it in a long time, and it was very relaxing for to do so in the middle of my “busyness”. I am reading to her Don’t Know Much About Space and discovering that she, in fact, knows quite a lot of facts which she usually considers too “boring” to reveal. I placed her other library picks in Amazon Associates widget:

Places We Are Going

Exploratorium Last Sunday we took my brother-in-law to The Exploratorium in San Francisco. It was less crowded in comparison to our previous visits, and Smarty had a blast with all hands-on exhibits. My favorite was a demonstration on how water can freeze at room temperature in “near vacuum”. She loved the dry ice exhibit where small pieces of dry ice were melting in a pool of water. This moveable Golden Gate bridge was quite a hit too.

Favorite Memory of the Week

Soccer Smarty really enjoyed having her uncle here. They spent some time outside bonding through playing soccer. My brother-in-law and his wife live in Germany, but his English is very good, so there is no language barrier. I think he also really appreciated this extra time with his only niece.

Most Popular Post of the Week

This week it’s a “popularity tie” between 12 Amazing Engineering Projects for Kids and Halloween Chemistry Ideas.


Your Turn

How was your week?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

6 October Books for 5 Year Olds

This post is part of the series in Book Recommendations for Kids by Age and Month of the Year. It has October book recommendations for children who are about 5 years old. Each book is paired up with additional resources that you can use to extend the story further.
October Books for 5 Year Olds with Extension Activities My daughter is now 7 year old and a very fluent reader. Very often I hear the same question, What did you do with her when she was little? Well, we read a lot, and I maintained a diary of our reading activities in weekly What My Child Is Reading entries in my blog. I decided to make these reading diaries more useful and create a new series on my blog where I will share our best books for each month for ages 3, 4, 5, and 6. Moreover, I will pair each book with an extension activity – sometimes with ours and sometimes with activities from my creative friends from Kid Blogger Network. In this post I am featuring books that we read when Smarty was approaching 5.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

1. The Pumpkin Fair

The Pumpkin Fair The Pumpkin Fair by Eve Bunting celebrates the queen of Halloween without ever mentioning Halloween. When my daughter was a preschooler, she certainly enjoyed visits to a local pumpkin patch and pumpkin decorations a lot more than scary costumes and spooky sounds of Halloween nights, and this story told in rhyme was one of her Halloween favorites for several years. In the story a young girl visits a pumpkin festival and enjoys every step of this visit. For years now I dream of taking Smarty to a festival like that, but they tend to be ridiculously crowded in our suburban area. Perhaps we can organize our own pumpkin patch small world play instead – I love this fall invitation to play from Buggy and Buddy.
Pumpkin Patch Sensory Play from Buggy and Buddy

2. Ghosts in the House

Ghosts in the House
Now at almost 8, my daughter is eagerly looking forward to Halloween, but she was not always enjoying this holiday. I have just refreshed my old post on how we helped her overcome her Halloween fears, and part of our approach was reading “non-scary” books with “scary” characters. Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara is a beautifully illustrated book with an entertaining story, and I highly recommend it for Halloween time. Are your kids worried about Halloween?

3. Follow the Line

Follow the Line
I stumbled upon Follow the Line Around the World by Laura Ljungkvist by accident in the library and was blown away by the concept of drawing the whole book with one continuous line. I discovered later that it’s one of several books in Follow the Line series, but both Smarty and I still like this one best. The continuous line takes the reader to many well known and unexpected places around the world and even to space. Any hands-on geography idea will work with this book, or your kids can test their own creativity by trying to create an image with one continuous line like in this drawing game from Childhood 101.
One Line Drawing Game from Childhood 101

4. Matthew’s Dream

Mathew Dream
Almost everyone knows Swimmy book by Leo Lionni or Little Yellow and Little Blue. Matthew’s Dream is one of his less known books, but it’s absolutely brilliant. A little mouse lives in poverty, but his parents have high hopes for him. One day Matthew goes to the museum with his class, discovers his true calling and transform his world. It’s such a positive book with a message about the power of art. I don’t want to give away a plot, but a perfect art extension for this book would be making magazine collage picture frames like these ones from The Imagination Tree
Magazine Collage Picture Frames - Imagination Tree

5. Bridges Are to Cross

Bridges are to cross
I have to admit that I liked Bridges Are to Cross by Philomen Sturges more than my 5 year old who was (and still is) on I don’t like non-fiction kick. She only likes non-fiction when it’s wrapped into a story, and in this book every double spread gorgeously illustrated by Giles Laroche takes the reader to different bridges around the world explaining a little bit about each of them. I am thinking that many kids 5+ will enjoy discovering different bridge structures, and some (with their parents) might even decide to make their own bridge – this suspension bridge from recycled materials from Left Brain, Craft Brain is lovely and comes with a detailed tutorial.
DIY Recycled Suspension Bridge - Left Brain Craft Brain

6. Class Worms

Class Worms
Since my daughter was still getting used to her new school life, she loved books set in school. Class Worms by Barry Gott has simple text perfect for new readers and introduces an interesting science lesson on worms. If worms are still active where you live, you can catch a couple and make your own wormery or you can surprise your family or your child’s classroom with these scary looking but perfectly edible blood worms.

More October Books Recommendations

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Your Turn

Do you have a favorite Halloween recipe?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Beyond Common Core – Math for Advanced Learners

Our 7 year old daughter has demonstrated high aptitude for math since she was a preschooler. In this post I would like to share how we help her go beyond her school curriculum in math.
How to challenge advanced math learners at home or in the classroomDisclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

Is Common Core Math Bad?

We live in California, and we got lucky because our district started transitioning to Common Core when our daughter was in kindergarten. At least she didn’t have to go from one system of learning to another. While I certainly heard a lot of arguments against Common Core math, I personally don’t think it’s inherently bad. In fact, in many ways Common Core is closer to “European math” both my husband and I learned in our schools. At least "in theory" of Common Core, math is not supposed to be treated not as a collection of recipes which you need to follow just so to arrive to the result. Instead, the goal is to teach you to cook “from scratch” fully understanding “ingredients” that go into formulas and calculations. We also like the focus on proving your work. The challenge, however, that many interpretations of Common Core (and our language-focused second grade teacher) think that proving your work means writing an essay about your thinking every time the proof is required. Luckily, in the first grade and now in the third grade we were blessed with better math teachers, and, after all, any curriculum only as good as the teacher who teaches it.
There is one thing, however, that worries me somewhat about Common Core math – a lack of differentiation between stronger and weaker students. Last year our Common Core-obsessed second grade teacher told us that Common Core is able to support differentiation for the strongest with different level of tasks, but we haven’t seen it at all. This year we see it more – again, I think ability to differentiate depends more on the teacher and on their stash of materials than on particular curriculum. Anyway, we learned from our last year's experience not to rely too much on school to challenge our little mathematician, and here is what we are doing at home to take math deeper and further.

Going Further in Math

It is used to be that you would need to evaluate and buy expensive curriculum if you wanted to accelerate your children in any subjects. Online learning changed our lives in a major way. When our daughter was younger, she really benefited from Dreambox with its online manipulatives and a unique reward system. Unfortunately, their reward area changes as tasks progress to about third grade, and our then 6 year old Smarty did not like the rewards designed for older students, so we discontinued Dreambox then and switched last year to Khan Academy. I wrote about many reasons we love Khan Academy – it fit my daughter’s self-directed learning style perfectly while giving me both visibility and control over what she is doing. Smarty has just officially finished 4th grade of Khan Academy math and already itching to start the fifth grade exercises.
Why We Love Khan Academy

Going Deeper in Math

Even though our daughter “works ahead” in math, we are not on a mission to accelerate her, because we want her to enjoy her childhood. This is why we want to “slow her down” in terms of getting into more and more complex math topics and go deeper instead strengthening her ability to think logically, apply creativity to math challenges, and solve multi-step problems. Here are a few resources to do that:

Math Books

Books for Advanced Math LearnersThere are workbooks, and then there are “math books”. The big difference between those is if the focus is on repetition or on challenging students to go deeper in their understanding of math concepts. Here are a few math books that I particularly liked.
Math Detectivea book that exercises reading comprehension, logic, and math. Every long word problem is presented in a story and then a set of questions is given to a student. Smarty did this particular book (it's a series) in grades 1 and 2, but it's targeted towards 3 and 4.
Think a Minute. I love this one, because the tasks require creative and lateral thinking and also challenge spatial skills. The one we have (B1) is for grades 4-5 and most tasks are “appropriately hard” for our third grader.
Mind BendersClassic logic word problems which already come “prewired” with “logic matrix” that we eventually learned to construct for logic problems in grade 8 or so. Smarty really enjoys them but requires a bit of handholding/scaffolding to help her reason out the answers.
Primary Grade Challenge MathI’d say that this one is my favorite, because every chapter introduces a way to solve the problems presented later in a chapter, and each chapter has 4 levels of difficulty, so the book is appropriate for students of different strengths. We are finishing this book now, and I am getting ready to get the next one in the series – Upper Elementary Challenge Math.

Math Games

Math is not only about solving problems on paper. Many board games really hone “think ahead” skills needed for math. Check out my post Board Games for Brainy Kids for our favorite math games.
Other great recommendations for board games:

Computer Animation

Another way to deepen your child’s dive into math, especially into geometry, is getting them interested in computer animation and game design. Both of these things require a lot of math and spatial skills. We tried to get our 7 year old into learning some computer animation through Khan Academy that teaches computer animation principles with JavaScript-like language, but so far this proved to be too hard for her. We might revisit our approach with a different online learning tool during winter break - some of the options listed in 15 ways teaching students to code might work better for Smarty.

Your Turn

Have a favorite math resource to share? Please feel free to recommend it in the comments.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

10+ Ways to Learn With Pumpkins

Fall is coming, and we welcome leaves, apples, and pumpkins into our homes. Today I am sharing learning activities with pumpkin theme for kids age 4-10.

Pumpkins on Planet Smarty Pants

Geo Pumpkin
To be honest, we keep pumpkins to October in our house, but then we have a lot of fun with them. Last year this pumpkin geoboard activity was quite popular with my almost 7 year old. It’s quite a workout for little fingers to get pins into a pumpkin! But while we are waiting until October, many of After School Link Up participants were ready to share their pumpkin ideas in the first few weeks of September. Here are many different ways you can learn with pumpkins.

Pumpkin Ideas for After School Times

Read a Book

Pumpkin book for kids from KC Edventures

Pumpkin Math


Pumpkins in the Kitchen

Pumpkin Soup from Child Led Life

Language Arts for Pumpkin Theme

Pumpkin Poetry from Boy Mama Teacher Mama

Pumpkin Science


Pumpkin Art

Textured Pumpkin from Buggy & Buddy

More Fall Activities for Kids

Follow my Pinterest board Fall Activities for Kids

Your Turn

What’s your favorite pumpkin activity or a pumpkin recipe?

2014 After School Link Up Hosts

Share Your Learning Week

We would love to have you link up your School-Age Post (Ages 5 and up) about your after school activities with kids age 5+ including Crafts, Activities, Playtime and Adventures. When linking up, please take a moment to comment on at least one post linked up before yours and grab our after school button to include a link on your post or site! By linking up you're giving permission for us to share on our After School Pinterest Board or feature on our After School Party in the upcoming weeks! Don't forget to follow along and join our After School Enrichment Community.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Week In Review – September 20, 2014

Highlights of the Week

Mad Science
  1. Smarty loves all her after school classes, especially Mad Science when she gets to take little science-related kits home. This “decorate a beaker” kit was a big hit!
  2. Lowlight: I got a very painful sore in my mouth that I just can’t seem to get rid of. Any tips?
  3. My husband’s brother is on a business trip to US and is coming to spend this weekend and the next weekend with us. Smarty is excited, and so am I, since I didn’t see my brother-in-law for 6 years!
  4. Smarty finished 4th grade in math in Khan Academy and already has 35% of skills covered for the fifth grade. We are taking a short break to celebrate this milestone.


The honeymoon is still going strong here. Smarty seems to love everything about her class this year. She enjoyed being a lunch helper this week and is looking forward to her turn of being a preschool buddy. We are impressed with how well this teacher manages to challenge stronger kids – Smarty was showing us the formula she developed for calculating the number of toothpicks needed to construct n triangles if the sequence below just keeps growing. She is also challenged in writing (she is working on “a diary of an allosaurus” story in class) and in spelling. We also love that her homework remains minimal leaving enough time for her many after school adventures and for playing.

Places We Are Going

Pony-Riding Our camping trip last weekend was a lot of fun with a lot of first experiences including the first night in a tent, the first smore, and the first pony ride!

What My Child Is Reading

It’s hard to keep an overview nowadays, since Smarty is rarely interested in me reading anything to her or in joint reading. She brought two books from a school library – both from her favorite series (affiliate links): Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and Amelia Works It Out. She was also rereading From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs E. Frankweiler from our home library.

Best Memory of the Week

Smarty: You know, Mama, I don’t want to buy lottery tickets. If we win, our life will change, and I don’t want it to change. Out life is perfect.

Post of the Week

As usual 12 Amazing Engineering Projects leads the traffic, but my second popular is October Books for 2 and 3 year olds.

Your Turn

How was your week?

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