Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Building With Mud

Building with Mud - Making Adobe Mini-Bricks

Earth Play for Earth Day

It’s Earth Day today, and I decided to share an activity we did last week where we investigated soil properties in our garden and built mini adobe bricks. Of course, this project can be done on any day of the year and can be incorporated as part of ancient civilizations unit. In fact, our own adobe bricks were inspired by our ongoing Mexico geography and history unit and by our recent trip to Mexico where adobe bricks are still widely used in construction.


Investigate Soil Properties

Adobe bricks are made out of sand, clay, water, and some kind of organic material (straws, sticks, and/or manure). Our goal was to investigate which mud bricks will be stronger – made out of enriched soil, the ones from a dirt pile or the ones where plant material is added to dirt. Smarty also insisted on making mini-bricks  out of air dry clay for comparison purposes.

Set Up and Materials:

Mud Bricks Materials

All you need for this activity is water, mud and something to shape your bricks in. We are participating in the project Recycle and Create, and the theme for April is egg cartons. Egg cartons are perfect for making mini-bricks – they don’t come out perfectly square, but their shape offers opportunities for trying things out, and they dry out relatively quickly (we left ours outside for 2 days). I also threw in some perler beads to decorate our mini bricks, but Smarty didn’t want to use them on the bottoms of the egg carton, since she wanted to make patterns and pictures, not a random sprinkle of beads.


Selecting Soil for Mud Bricks

Smarty predicted that air dry bricks will be strongest, followed by enriched soil bricks, and that pure dirt bricks will be “the crumbliest”. She was a little disappointed that she was not allowed to add “manure” to her bricks.



Mud brick building occupied my 7 year old for good 2 hours. It was a deliciously dirty activity with a lot of mixing and picking the best place to dig. In the end, Smarty spent significant time arranging beads on her mud bricks – I hope you can see an American flag on one of her bricks Smile



Our bricks were quite ready by Saturday – perfect for trying to balance them, build small structures, and test an initial hypothesis. Unfortunately, Smarty took the bricks out and mixed them all together before we could discuss the differences, but she told me that her hypothesis was correct, and that “earth bricks” were the driest and the crumbliest. As expected, air dry clay bricks faired well, but enriched soil bricks turned out quite well too and already endured several play sessions.

Project Recycle and Create

Recycle and Create

Project: Recycle & Create is a group of bloggers who focus on a different material each month and see what kids can make with it. It's a celebration of creativity and recycling in one. This month is - you guessed it - egg cartons. Have a craft to share? Add it to the linky below or visit the main page to see how else you can participate! Happy creating!

Co-hosted by:

Powerful Mothering * Planet Smarty Pants * Widsom Knowledge Joy
There’s Just One Mommy * Lemon Lime Adventures * Sugar Aunts
Peakle Pie * Little Bins for Little Hands * Playtivities 
Danya Banya * Teach Me Mommy * Still Playing School 
Creative World of Varya * Mama Miss * Preschoolers Day by Day

We're celebrating imagination and creativity! This month is Egg Cartons. Add your link of things made with these materials - by, for or with children. Look around, be inspired and have fun! - Also check out our Pinterest board. *By linking up, you agree to have your images featured / shared with credit.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Celebrate Earth Day and After School Link Up

Celebrare Earth Day

Earth Day on Planet Smarty Pants

We live in Silicon Valley, and our garden is all planted and blooming after March rains. Next week Smarty school has several events to celebrate Earth day, but we were not doing much for it at home this year, since it comes so close to Easter, Passover, and our vacation. We believe in celebrating Earth every day by being mindful of what and how we consume, walking to school instead of driving and tending to our garden.

Earth Day Ideas From After School Link Up

Today I am featuring Earth Day ideas from After School Link Up. There were so many great posts last week on this topic that it’s hard for me to pick favorites. Instead I decided to group them into categories:

Earth Day Printables


  • Do-a-Dot Printables from Gift of Curiousity
  • Earth Day Learning Pack from 3 Dinosaurs
  • Earth Day Classroom Writing Freebie from Beach Bum Literacy Chick

    Earth Day Theme Units


    Earth Day Books

    Earth Day Books from Africa to America
    You can find more ideas for honoring Earth and recycling on my Earth Day Every Day Pinterest board.

    2014 After School Link Up Hosts

    We would love to have you link up your School-Age Post (Ages 5 and up) about your learning week after school including Crafts, Activities, Playtime and Adventures that you are doing to enrich your children's lives after their day at school, home school or on the weekend!
    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, April 19, 2014

    The Week In Review–April 19, 2014

    The last term of this school year started 2 days later for us, since Smarty came back from our vacation in Mexico quite sick with some sort of a stomach bug. Luckily, she recovered enough by Wednesday to go back to school and is now her normal cheerful self. This term seems to be quite heavy on writing – children are writing their “autobiographies” in school and work on a big project “Heritage Report” at home. We are way behind on that because of our travel and sickness, and will have to catch up this weekend. Smarty doesn’t resent writing as much as she used to, but her grip is incorrect and her neatness leaves something to be desired. I am somewhat frustrated with her K and 1st grade teacher for not correcting her grip, and now we do 10 minutes of writing in the evening focusing on proper pencil grip.
    After School
    While sick, Smarty spent all her time reading. We also read together every evening. On Wednesday afternoon we did a fun project that occupied her for 2 hours – I plan to write about it next week. We are looking forward to celebrating Passover and Easter this coming weekend!
    What My Child Is Reading

    Smarty’s reading speed always amazes us. She read all three books of The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan in about 4 days. She has good comprehension and asks interesting questions about the books. She also remembers enough details to earn points for the books she reads in her school’s Accelerated Reader program.
    Quote of the Week:
    • Me (responding to one of Smarty’s “want things just so” moments): You are so German!
    • Smarty: If I am so German, how come my desk looks like a hurricane threw up on it?
    Most Popular Post this Week:
    7 Strategies for Early Reading

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    6 Ways to Explore Quantity With Young Children

    Exploring quantity and numbers with kids through play and daily life

    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!

    Getting Started with Numbers

    My daughter is 7 now, and she really enjoys math. Her number sense is very strong, and she grasps math concepts easily and intuitively. How did we start with math? Read on to find out.

    Einstein Never Used Flash Cards

    Einstein Never Used Flashcards

    I highly recommend Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek to every parent of a young child. When I first heard of it, I thought that the book will be somewhat theoretical, but I really enjoyed reading it when my daughter was about 2. Einstein Never Used Flash Cards describes a lot of research on child development in the terms that are simple to understand. The main premise of the book is that children learn best through unstructured play and not through any kind of formal instruction with educational props. The book really spoke to our own approaches and also contained a lot of practical advice on what to do to encourage certain areas of development at certain ages.

    One of the first chapters talked about how children learn about numbers and quantity and I was amazed to discover how "on the spot" the authors were when describing the steps and mistakes on the path to mathematical awareness. Every chapter ends with Bringing the Lessons Home section summarizing the advice in it, and we used a lot of suggestions from those sections while guiding our daughter and helping her explore the world around it. Here are math strategies on quantity explorations that really worked for us (some are taken from Einstein Never Used Flash Cards and some are my own).

    1. Playing With Blocks


    The very best way to learn about numbers is to manipulate objects, line them up, compare sets, and so on. From early ages we encouraged our daughter to play with Duplo, wooden blocks, objects in the recycle box and talked about shapes, patterns, quantities and sizes.

    2. Hunting for Numbers


    You can find rectangles in buildings and hexagons in stop signs, but numbers will also appear when you look for them, especially in the places likes shops, gas stations, even toys. We are still looking for numbers when we go on hiking trips. This is the photo Smarty taken recently – alas, 4 is reversed!

    3. Play Board Games

    Hi_Ho-CherryOOur daughter loved board games from very early age. I would say that Hi-Ho Cherry-O is invaluable in introducing addition, subtraction, and concepts of more or less.

    4. Introduce Measuring Instruments


    Young children passionately want to be taken seriously and have access to “toys for adults”. Between ages of 2 and 3 our daughter was delighted to play with a kitchen timer, pitchers for liquid measurements, and with rulers. Of course, she was not able to use these instruments properly at the time, but I believe that this early exposure helped her grasp measuring very easily later when she was ready for it. And, yes, there is a story behind her extremely short bangs (her Papa got a little carried away cutting her hair, an example of misjudging quantity).

    5. Get Your Young Child In the Kitchen


    The next best thing to learning in play is learning while doing meaningful activities and watching parents measuring, dividing and adding ingredients. Even young kids can rise to the challenge of cutting as many cookies as possible from a piece of flattened dough.

    6. Read Books

    Anno Counting Book

    I estimate that we easily read a thousand books just in one year from age 2 and age 3 (before that age Smarty had a lot of favorites that she wanted to read over and over again). Many of those books introduced numbers, quantity, and counting in various ways. You can find a giant list of math books at Love2Learn2day, and I wrote a guest post about our favorite 10 math books for 10 years of life for This Reading Mama.

    Your Turn:

    Share your ways to explore quantity and numbers with young kids.

    More Preschool Math

    Follow my Pinterest board Preschool Math

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Passover Books for Kids of Different Ages

    Are you looking to introduce Passover to your children? I am sharing our favorite Passover books starting with books for young preschoolers going all the way up to upper elementary grades.
    Books and activities for Passover for kids
    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!

    Happy Passover!

    Yesterday the Jews all over the world sat down to the most important meal of Jewish year – the first Seder of Passover. We are not religious, and we chose to postpone Seder to Saturday, since our daughter is still fighting a stomach bug that she picked up somewhere on our cruise. But over years we read many books about Passover, and I want to share them today with my readers. They are arranged from the ones appropriate for the youngest audience to the ones better suited for older readers.

    Read About Passover

    Sammy Spider First Passover
    Sammy Spider’s First Passover by Sylvia A. Rouss is one of the books in a series about a young spider who lives with his Mom in a house of a Jewish family. This book gives a very basic introduction of Passover to young (think age 3 or 4) kids together with a lesson on shapes. Illustrations by Katherine Janus Khan reminded me a lot of Eric Carle’s style.
    Four Special Questions
    Four Special Questions by Johnny Zucker is also targeted to preschoolers and appropriate both for Jewish families and for children of different faiths. Despite its name, the book only mentions the ritual of four questions of Passover but doesn’t provide them. It focuses instead on special foods of Seder plate.
    Passover Celebrating Now Remembering Then
    Passover: Celebrating Now, Remembering Then by Harriet Ziefert will appeal both to younger and to older kids because of terrific illustrations by Karla Gudeon. The book doesn’t have a lot of text allowing the parents or child’s imagination to expand on the beautiful pictures. I love how every double spread pairs modern part of Passover ritual with the portion of Exodus that it is supposed to represent.
    A Picture Book of Passover
    A Picture Book of Passover by David Adler is more suitable for children 5+ (US kindergarten and older). This story is fairly detailed and retells the Biblical story including the plagues. It ends with the description of Passover Seder and explanation of major Passover symbols.
    The Matzah Man
    As you can imagine, The Matzah Man by Naomi Howland is a Passover version of The Gingerbread Man even though I am yet to see anyone making a man out of a fragile matzah dough. This book has little to do with an actual holiday, but will provide a great “compare and contrast” lesson for ages 5+ when read next to the original Gingerbread story.
    Rebecca Passover
    Rebecca’s Passover by Adele Geras illustrated by Sheila Moxley is Smarty’s favorite Passover book. A narrator is a modern 8 year old girl, and she explains how her family prepares for Seder. Smarty loves the additional excitement in the middle of the book when an unexpected visitor arrives to share Rebecca’s family celebration. We read this book for the first time when Smarty was in preschool, but I’d say that it’s targeted to children 7+, because it’s rather long.
    Kimmel Passover Companion
    Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion is certainly a book for older children (I agree with Amazon recommendation of grade 3-7). The book walks a reader through all components of Seder through short stories, poems, art and explanations. This thick book was a little too involved for my 7 year old to read cover-to-cover, but she enjoyed many stories from it.
    Seder Companion
    The Passover Journey by Barbara Diamond Godlin is a good “in-depth” book for older kids, especially if they are invited to Passover celebrations in more traditional households of their friends. This book starts with a detailed retelling of Exodus story, and then describes in detail every step of traditional Seder meal and a reason behind it. It proved to be too detailed for my 7 year old daughter at this stage, but I think she might enjoy it when she is older.

    Kids’ Activities for Passover

    More Great Books for Kids?

    Follow my Books Worth Reading Pinterest board!

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    After School Link Up–Spring Break Edition

    Spring Break on Planet Smarty Pants

    Mexico Cruise_084
    We have come back yesterday afternoon after a wonderful Internet-free spring break on board of Norwegian Star. It was the first cruise for our 7 year old Smarty, and she had a blast. According to her, it was “the best spring break ever”. She loved the ship with its many activities for kids and the stops in Mexican Riviera. Unfortunately, the last sea day of a cruise was ruined for her by high fever and by what looks like a stomach bug. We decided to keep her at home today, since she was still running a low-grade fever and having an upset stomach yesterday, but she is already lobbying for having another cruise vacation next spring.

    What Smarty Is Reading

    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!
    Kane Chronicles
    On the cruise Smarty quickly flew through Genius Files and finally got into The Kane Chronicles of Rick Riordan. She is already a huge fan of Percy Jackson’s books. She was begging for The Kane Chronicles for her 7th birthday, but, for whatever reason, dropped the first book after the first chapter saying that it’s too boring. Now she returned to it and was done with the first two books in the series by the end of our vacation. 

    2014 After School Link Up Hosts

    [Afterschool%255B8%255D.jpg] The Educators' Spin On It
  • Planet Smarty Pants
  • Boy Mama Teacher Mama
  • Coffee Cups and Crayons
  • Little Wonders' Days
  • Mama Smiles
  • Relentlessly Fun, Deceptively Educational
  • The Measured Mom
  • This Reading Mama
  • What Do We Do All Day

    Share Your After School Week

    We would love to have you link up your School-Age Post (Ages 5 and up) about your learning week after school including Crafts, Activities, Playtime and Adventures that you are doing to enrich your children's lives after their day at school, home school or on the weekend!
    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.
  • Wednesday, April 9, 2014

    Read and Learn About Mexico

    Books and Activities for Elementary School to Learn About Mexico
    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!

    Why Are We Learning About Mexico?

    1. Mexico is a US neighbor, and it’s interesting to see what is the same and difference between our countries.
    2. California’s culture and everyday life has significant Mexican influence. Smarty’s school has many kids with their roots in Mexico.
    3. We are spending our spring break this year on a cruise heading down to Mexico. It’s a great opportunity to learn about this country from first hand experience, not just from the books.

    Books about Mexico

    The books below are sorted from the ones appropriate for preschool and kindergarten to the ones better suited for older readers.
    Off we go to Mexico
    Off We Go to Mexico by Laurie Krebs illustrated by Christopher Corr is a Barefoot picture book. Barefoot Publishing is famous for high quality multicultural books, and this one is not an exception. It’s a book best suited for preschool and kindergarten kids, and it takes a very brief look at Mexico highlights, but one can use it as a starting point to learn more about Mexico culture and geography.
    What Can You Do with a Rebozo   What Can You Do With a Paleta
    What Can You Do With a Paleta by Carmen Tafolla illustrated by Magaly Morales and What Can You Do With a Rebozo by the same author but illustrated by Amy Cordova are “sister books”. Children, starting with young preK age, can easily identify themselves with Mexican narrators in the stories who talk about things they enjoy and use in everyday life.
    Book Fiesta
    Ironically while everyone in America (or at least in California) knows about Cinco de Mayo, it’s really not an important Mexican holiday. Mexico celebrates its Independence Day on September 16th. I chose to include a book about a holiday that celebrates children and books – Book Fiesta by Pat Mora. This book is gorgeously illustrated by Rafael Lopez and tells a story of Children’s Day and Books’ Day that both fall on the same day in Mexico – April 30th. An additional bonus of this book is that it is bilingual and celebrates reading both in English and in Spanish.
    P is for Pinata
    P is for Pinata by Tony Johnston is one of “two level” books from Discover the World series by Sleeping Bear Press. This book can work for young kids and for much older kids. Younger kids can read short verses for each letter and admire detailed and bright illustrations by John Parra. Older kids can read in-depth information included on every page about various Mexican highlights. Smarty was not interested in that level of information, but I read through details, found them fascinating and shared some with her.
    The Chocolate Tree
    My daughter loves myths and I am impatiently waiting for The Chocolate Tree to arrive to our library from an Interlibrary Loan system. I am also looking forward to indulge her love of all things chocolate as we learn more about the birthplace of chocolate.
    Aztec News
    Smarty really enjoyed Roman News and Greek News from the same series, so I am looking forward to arrival of Aztec News from the library loan system. This non-fictional series is very clever in wrapping up a lot of facts about ancient cultures in the format of the modern day news magazine. We read the first one when Smarty was in the first grade, but she is a very fluent reader with high degree of interest in history. Generally, I would align with Amazon recommendations for these books – 9 years and up.
    Mexico Activities and Crafts
    The last on my list in a non-fictional activities book: 40 Activities to Experience Mexico Past and Present  that would be good for someone planning a long unit study on Mexico. Some activities are very involved (3D map of Mexico!) and some are a lot more doable including several fun recipes. Smarty and I both looked through the book deciding what might be interesting to do for hands-on learning about Mexico.

    Hands-On Activities to Learn About Mexico

    • Chocolate! Hot chocolate, Mexican brownies, melt chocolates to make shapes (something that Smarty has been asking to do for a while).
    • Corn. Believe it or not, we have never made popcorn before. Mexico study seems to be a good opportunity to try it out.
    • Mud bricks. Another thing that Smarty wanted to do for a while.
    • Listen to mariachi bands (hopefully, live on our vacation in Mexico) + on YouTube.
    • Make a Mexican dish – we make fajitas quite often, but perhaps we will try something different this time around from Kid Friendly Mexican recipes
    • Make paletas (OK, it is, after all, a fancy name for a popsicle!)
    • Sombrero art project
    • Paint a wooden animal Oaxacan style
    • Mexican Metal Art

    Your Turn:

    I would love you to follow my new Mexico for Kids Pinterest board. I would also love for you to share your favorite resources about Mexico in the comments.

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