Category Archives: learning at home

Strengthening Scissor Skills with Play Dough

Strengthening Scissor Skills with Play Dough | Mama Papa BubbaOne of the things I’ve always loved doing with students who’ve found using scissors challenging is pairing them with play dough instead of paper.  Let’s face it – learning to use scissors properly is tricky!  First there’s figuring out which fingers go where, plus there’s finding the hand strength and coordination to open and close them, and then there’s also guiding them in the direction you want them to go… Certainly no easy task!  The reason I love play dough is that although many kids come to Kindergarten not all that familiar with using ‘school tools’ like scissors, almost all kids come to school having played with play dough.  And not only are they familiar with it, but they love it.  And because it’s fun and non-intimidating, plus soft and easy to cut, it’s a perfect starting point, even for reluctant munchkins.  

IMG 0190I’ve done this activity with Gracen many times, and although she’s already very comfortable using scissors with paper and cutting on pre-determined lines, she still loves cutting play dough.  It’s an easy activity to put together and I’d rather smush together bits of play dough than pick up tiny shards of paper any day of the week. When I set it up, I usually create both play dough ‘pancakes’ and ‘worms’ and then let her go to town, but anything goes.  Today after quickly preparing the play dough shapes, she used them to create a daisy and a stem. ☺

IMG 0192Then it was time to cut!

IMG 0194Two things I like to reinforce during the cutting process are one, being mindful of where your ‘holding fingers’ are and two, positioning your scissors so they’re pointing away from your body.

IMG 0199During the process Grae almost always asks for a bowl to put her ‘food’ in, which makes the activity that much more fun and adds in an element of pretend play.

IMG 0206Today’s food was for kitties only. ☺


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Building Beaded Pattern Sticks

Building Beaded Pattern Sticks | Mama Papa BubbaIMG 8945The other day while picking up a few craft supplies, Miss G absolutely fell in love with these heart-shaped pony beads.  Next to them, we found tiny little wooden dowels that the beads fit onto perfectly.  At the time, I really had no idea what we’d do with the pair, but I knew we’d figure something out.  

IMG 8940Turns out, the answer was play with patterns!  I was quite surprised by how early on Miss G grasped the concept of patterns…  I remember being in the kitchen cooking dinner one night long ago and hearing Brad ask Grae about a pattern out in the living room.  I thought to myself, ‘she’s way too young to know what he’s talking about’, but sure enough she proved me wrong on the spot.  So since we really haven’t explored them all that much, I decided our beads and dowels would be perfect for it.  While Miss G napped today, I spent a little bit of time catching up on my RSS feed while colouring pattern stripes on the dowels with markers.  This time around, I chose to pattern the entire dowel, but next time around I’d probably just start the patterns in order to let her complete them on her own.

IMG 8943With my patterned sticks complete, I knew I wanted to stand them upright somehow.  Out came some homemade lemony play dough and the little pots we used for our flower garden yogurt parfaits, and voila.  Mission accomplished. 

IMG 8948When Gracen woke up, she immediately saw the little station I’d set out and was thrilled.  After a squeal and cheer, the first thing’Mama, I want you to tell me what to do’, but when I asked if she really wanted me to tell her what to do or if she wanted to just play, she decided she was happy to just play.

IMG 8949Of course she immediately realized that the colours on the dowels coordinated with the bead colours and began matching them up. (Just look at that little face… Makes me melt!)

IMG 8953Shortly after beginning the activity, I realized that the dough-filled pots allowed the dowels to sink down as she added beads, so I changed things up a little bit and just used a play dough pancake to hold the sticks up instead.  She realized that the stripes in fact made patterns, and ‘read’ each one out to me.

IMG 8955Not only has this activity been fun and great for discussing colours and patterns, but it’s also great fine motor practice too!  Fitting the tiny beads onto the tiny dowels requires some serious concentration.

IMG 8992This activity has been out for several days now, is still out currently (dried up play dough and all), and gets some decent attention each day…  A hit in my books. ☺


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Miss G Learns her Name… The FUN Way!

FUN Ways to Teach Kids to Spell  Write their Names | Mama Papa BubbaIt may sound sort of strange seeing as I spent 7 years teaching kindergarten and grade one before Miss G was born, but very rarely do I sit down with Gracen with the intention of teaching her something specific.  At 2 and 3/4 years old, I truly believe that she does all of the learning she needs {for now} through playing, going on adventures, and reading books. The exception to this is when Grae takes the lead…  In that case, I’m more than happy to follow along.

Recently, she’s become very interested in “drawing words”.  It started off with random words like ‘swing’ and ‘tall’, and then it became focused solely on her name.  There’s been a whole lot of ‘How do you draw my name again, Mama?’ and ‘Mama, can we play another name game today?’ this past week, so that’s just what we’ve been doing… Exploring her name in fun, hands-on ways.  All of these simple activities are things I’ve done with my students in the past and Grae has thoroughly enjoyed each one.

IMG 8840Stamping – We are lucky to have alphabet stamps, but you can easily make your own by adhering foam letter stickers onto cork tops or bottle caps.  Right now, I set out only the letters needed for her name {along with a piece of paper and stamp pad}, but to make the activity a little more challenging, you can include extra stamps too.

IMG 8863Magnetic Letters – I particularly like these wooden ones by Melissa & Doug, especially because the set includes both upper and lowercase letters, but any sort of alphabet magnets will do (you can even make some using scrabble tiles or foam letters).  I simply set out the required letters in a bowl next to a magnetic board, and let Miss G play.

IMG 8857Computer Typing – This activity is extra special in our house since we really don’t let Gracen use our computers yet.  I simply open up a blank word document, select a good clear font, make it nice and big, and let Miss G choose the colour.  Then she goes ahead and searches out each letter on the keyboard.  Today as she was about to hit the ‘G’, she asked, “But Mama, is this going to be a capital G? Because my name needs a capital G.’  After getting over my surprise, I taught her how to use the shift key and that was that.

IMG 8853Felt Board Name Game – Since my days in elementary school, I’ve always loved felt boards and felt board games.  Though you can purchase pre-made felt boards and felt alphabet pieces online, you can very easily and inexpensively make your own.  Here is my felt board tutorial and my felt name game tutorial {along with a collection of my very favourite fonts}.

IMG 8847Duplo / Lego Stacking – Depending on the size of your collection, you may want to write the letters of your child’s name straight onto your Lego or Duplo to create a permanent and lasting game.  Or, if you’re like us, you can print the letters on sticker dots or labels and then attach them to the pieces.  This activity is always a huge hit and I especially like it because it can be done both horizontally and vertically.

IMG 8845Salt Printing – This one is one of my absolute favourite ways to have kids practice their printing.  In the classroom, I always keep a stack of colourful plastic plates filled with a layer of salt for practicing printing.  The students use their finger as a pencil, then simply give the plate a little shake to erase the letter and practice again.  In this case, I used a rectangular serving tray and provided Gracen with an example of her name on card stock in front of her. (P.S. How amazing is that bed head?!)

IMG 8842Chalkboard Water Painting – If asked, I have a feeling that Gracen may say this is her favourite name game to date.  To set it up, simply print the name on a chalkboard (using chalk of course), and give your wee one a paintbrush and some water to paint on top of the lines.  As he or she paints the letters, they will ‘disappear’, which is always fun!

IMG 8807Highlighter Tracing – This is probably the simplest of the bunch.  I print Gracen’s name and she traces over it using a darker marker or pencil.  We pretend the highlighter lines are the road (or racetrack) and the marker is the car, and of course you want to keep your car on the road!

IMG 8783Letter boxes – While I prefer to teach beginners how to print their names on plain, unlined paper, some munchkins, Miss G included, enjoy having a little more structure than that. Creating two sets of boxes, your sample letters on top and blank ones directly below, gives many the ability to focus on one letter at a time with the goal of filling up all of the boxes by the end.

 So that’s that!  Gracen’s been enjoying these name activities so much that we’ve done almost all of them multiple times.  I know I’ll be asked for new ones in the very near future, so as of now, I’ve got ideas that use spaghetti, clothespins, rocks, cookie cutters, beads, blocks, and bean bags ready to go, but beyond that, I may have to get Googling.  ☺  


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Sharp Knife Practice

Sharp Knife Cutting Practice | Mama Papa BubbaI’m well aware that many people may think I’m crazy, but recently, I’ve been helping Gracen learn how to safely use sharp knives while cooking.  She’s been helping in the kitchen since shortly after her first birthday, and is becoming an expert pourer, mixer, peeler, and grater, so this felt like a natural next step.  I fully subscribe to the notion that children, even wee ones, are very capable little human beings… More so than we often give them credit for.  So, given her kitchen experience, her ability to follow instructions, and her generally cautious nature, I felt like she was ready.  Plus, I sort of feel that being handed a cucumber to cut and a butter knife to do the job must feel a little insulting.  

IMG 9761Wouldn’t you trust this innocent little face? ☺

IMG 9762When she’s practicing her cutting skills, I like to give Grae my favourite tomato knife.  It’s quite sharp, but it doesn’t have a pointed tip and it doesn’t seem to easily puncture the skin – perhaps because it’s serrated?   I also make sure to give her soft foods that have at least one flat side (no rolling) and are long and thinnish (more space for holding).

IMG 9763So far, we’ve been focusing on holding the food at the far end and really being aware of where the knife is in relation to her little fingers.

IMG 9767This morning, while we were at the grocery store, I let Grae pick out what she wanted to cut.  First on her list was cantaloupe.

IMG 9769She also selected a dragon fruit and a couple of kiwi fruits…

IMG 9777Perfect for a fruit salad!  Overall, she’s doing really well with it.  I still always stay close to her and monitor her chopping carefully, and I did ask her to slow down a little bit today, but for the most part, she can safely use a sharp knife on her own.

IMG 9778The best part is how proud she is of herself.  Chopping up all the fruit for a big bowl of fruit salad while using a sharp knife = official big girl status.  


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Gracen Raises Butterflies: The Caterpillar Transfer

IMG 9600After receiving our fuzzy little friends yesterday afternoon, Miss G and I were excited to get them settled into their new homes.  Now while this particular kit said that we could leave the caterpillars right in the shipping container to build their chrysalises, I’ve always transferred them into smaller containers in the past, so I decided we’d go with what I know.  That, and in my experience, some always progress slower than others, so having them in separate containers will allow us to hang the chrysalises in our butterfly home one at a time, as they are ready.  It also makes it easier to whisk away a dead caterpillar if needed (the success rate of raising them indoors is about 80%, so you’re bound to lose one or two), though I’ve always taken the opportunity to explain the circle of life when it’s come up with my students.

In order to transfer the caterpillars into their new mini homes, Miss G and I retrieved a plastic glove, a small paint brush, a small spoon, and several small craft containers our good friend Little Miss Mama drilled holes into (the small take out containers you get for sauces work great for this purpose too – just use a tack to poke several holes in the lids).

IMG 9603Caterpillar Containers | Mama Papa BubbaWith freshly washed hands, we carefully opened the shipping container and took a better look at our babies.  Gracen supervised them closely as I scooped a small chunk of the provided artificial food into each container, making sure leave the dirty bits behind.  With the food in the containers, I used a gloved finger to gently press it down into the bases.

IMG 9607Then, very carefully, we used the tip of our paintbrush to pick up our caterpillars one at a time and place them into their new homes.

IMG 9610While handling them as minimally as possible is definitely the key to success when raising caterpillars/butterflies, Miss G was absolutely desperate to hold one of her fuzzy friends.  With clean hands and a promise not to move, I gently placed one in her little palm.  He crawled around, she watched in wonder, and when he made his way off of her fingertip, we placed him in his new home.  

Since the caterpillars will soon be building their chrysalises from the roofs of their homes (a.k.a. the inside of the container lids) and we’ll need to remove the lids to hang them in our butterfly home before the transformation occurs, we opted not to screw our lids on.  Instead, we just set them on gently and will be extra careful around them.  

In the next couple of days, we’ll be watching our caterpillars eat and grow while setting up their butterfly house.  More fun to come soon! 


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Gracen Raises Butterflies: They’re Here!

IMG 9551IMG 9557IMG 9553When I saw that the awesome teachers’ store in our hometown, Vernon Teach & Learn, was selling butterfly larvae, I jumped on the opportunity and immediately put an order through by phone.  Now while I’m well aware that some people may think raising butterflies in your home is a tad on the crazy side, I actually think it’s pretty awesome.  It’s something I’ve done with my Kindergarten classes in the past and the process is nothing short of amazing.  For a child to be able to witness tiny caterpillars grow, build chrysalises, and emerge as butterflies up close and personal all in a span of a few weeks is pretty special.  I can’t wait to share the experience with Grae.  Ten fuzzy little caterpillars (two of which will be adopted by a friend tomorrow) arrived to our doorstep today and we couldn’t be more excited.

To order butterfly larvae of your own, contact Vernon Teach & Learn.  They are incredibly helpful and kind, and our caterpillars arrived here to Vancouver the day after ordering.  Their larvae packages can be found here.


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Miss G’s Weekly Toddler Calendar

DIY Weekly Toddler Calendar | Mama Papa BubbaWhile Gracen is usually more than game for impromptu adventures, she is, without a doubt, a little girl who thrives on routine and structure.  She very much enjoys being part of the process when it comes to selecting activities and outings and regularly asks me which day of the week it is so she can figure out our agenda for the day.  “Tomorrow is Thursday, Mama?  We have dance class on Thursday! What day it is today?” she’ll say.  I find that when she has a clear picture of our days and knows what’s to come, she’s calmer, happier, and transitions more easily (as many kids do, I think).  

In the winter when we were registered in several classes, I realized that having a visual representation of our week would benefit Gracen greatly.  I knew exactly what I was looking for… A single week calendar that was simple, clearly laid out, easy for Grae to manipulate, and picture-based.  I scoured the web, but when I was unable to find just what I wanted, I decided to make my own.  

IMG 8249I actually made ours using Pages (an awesome word processing program for Macs), but a design-based program like Pixelmator or PhotoShop would obviously work perfectly too.  Since Grae and I do quite a lot on our days at home on our own and weekends tend to include more downtime, I opted for full spaces for Monday to Friday and a shared space for Saturday and Sunday.  

IMG 8247After finishing up the calendar itself, I set off to create activity cards that would fit nicely onto the calendar’s columns. To start off, I made a long list of the activities we do regularly and searched for clipart to match.  I popped the pictures into boxes and added in some text in along the bottoms, and they were done.

IMG 8251Because I wanted the calendar and activity cards printed in colour and  as 11 x 17s, I paid the few dollars it cost to have the files printed professionally.  Then I took everything home, cut the activity cards out, and trimmed the edges of the calendar.

IMG 8538With my pieces cut out, it was back to the store to have everything laminated.  While I think I could have fit everything into 2 laminating pouches, the woman working there was worried the pieces were too close together, so 3 it was (which came to around $14).

IMG 8540Next, I cut all of the laminated pieces out, making sure to leave a substantial plastic border around the edges.

VelcroI went back and forth on whether to use magnets or velcro several times before finally settling on velcro.  The determining factor was the realization that with velcro pieces, the calendar can still be used on a fridge or magnetic board, whereas the opposite isn’t true.  Plus I had a giant roll of adhesive-backed velcro already on hand (if you don’t, you can find similar stuff at fabric, hardware, dollar, and teaching stores), which was nice. I simply cut out squares of velcro, put the scratchy pieces on the activity cards, and the fuzzy pieces on the calendar itself.

IMG 8547With everything ready to go, Gracen and I chose a spot for her brand new calendar (the excitement was uncontainable!)  We thought about putting it in her room or in the hallway just outside of her room, but chose to put it in the kitchen instead, as it’s where we start most of our days.  Now, while I make breakfast, she’ll be able to take a look at her calendar and see what we have planned for the day.

IMG 8604One thing we made sure to do when hanging it was to place it nice and low so that Miss G can see it and move pieces around easily (thigh height on me is perfect for Grae).  I hung it up using painter’s tape rolls, but you could easily use poster mounting squares or something similar. (Teacher tip: If you use tape rolls, place them horizontally to avoid your calendar slowly slipping down the wall.) We’ve had the cool magnetic strip hanging below for a long while now and hadn’t yet found the perfect use for it until now.   While a bag or pouch would do just fine, the magnetic strip holds all of the activity cards  and allows them to be seen all at once which is a perk. 

IMG 8602We’ve only had it up and running for a few of days now, but so far, Gracen is loving her calendar.  As soon as it was hung, she immediately wanted to plan out our week together.  First we popped up things that needed to be done, like errands, a trip to the library to exchange our soon-to-be-due books, and our Thursday dance class, and then we chose some just-for-fun activities for the other days.  She scheduled a hot drink date for her and Bradley on Saturday morning while I’m at a workshop (adorable!) and a family trip to Granville Island on Sunday (fun!)  

In the morning when we wake up, her ‘calendar station’ is the first place she goes. We take a look at the plan for the day, make adjustments if needed, and get our day started.  Today, when she saw that we were going to the library, she immediately went around the house making sure that all of her books were gathered and then began getting dressed. ☺  If it continues to have the same effect it has so far, I think this little calendar is going to be a great tool for us.  

Because I’ve borrowed the clipart from around the web, I wouldn’t feel right about making a printable version for all to use available here, but if you’re a parent or teacher who would like to print out a calendar for personal use with your child or a particular student, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at jen{at}  


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Fruit & Veggie Sorting {Using Flyer Clippings}

Fruit  Veggie Sorting Using Flyer Clippings | Mama Papa BubbaEvery few days, a newspaper bound in a long rubber band makes its way onto our porch.  If it’s not already soaked through with early morning rain, I half-heartedly flip through the stories and flyers {that make up the majority of the paper} so I feel a tiny bit less guilty about recycling it almost immediately.  This morning, however, when we found a bone dry paper on our porch, we decided to put it to use.

Fruit and Vegetable Sorting | Mama Papa BubbaGracen’s been helping me wash our produce and sort it into the different refrigerator sections for a long while now and often asks if things are fruits or vegetables, so I decided we’d use our grocery store flyers to play a little fruit and veggie sorting game.  

We gathered up a small piece of poster board, a ruler, some glue, and some scissors to start.  I drew a quick T chart while explaining that one ‘box’ would be for all the fruit pictures we found and the other would be for the veggies.  Grae shared with me one thing that she was certain was a fruit (an apple) and one thing she was certain was a vegetable (a potato) and we added little picture clues at the top next to the column headings.

IMG 8190Next we had a little chat about how we know if something is a fruit or vegetable…  While it’s kind of a complex subject filled with talk of flowers, ovaries, and plant accessory parts, I subscribe to the fruits have seeds theory when teaching kids (true story – avocados, peppers, and cucumbers are all fruits!)  It’s not a perfect rule because wee ones often don’t realize that things like bananas and blueberries have seeds, but it works for most things.

IMG 8196After adding a few little seeds next to our fruit heading, I began cutting pictures out of the flyers.  I’d pass one to Grae, ask her what it was, whether or not it had seeds, and if she thought it was a fruit or veggie, and she’d paste it in the correct box.

IMG 8197After a couple of times, she took things into her own hands… I’d pass her a picture and she’d say, “Dis is lettuce.  It no have seeds, so it’s a vegetable!”

IMG 8201When we’d used up all of the flyer photos, she took a minute to admire her project.  She was a very proud girl and immediately went to hang her poster on the fridge.

IMG 8213Later on in the day, after a big produce shop, Grae was helping me lay all of the freshly washed produce on the butcher block to dry.  Right away, I could see that she was putting all of the fruits on one side and the veggies on the other, so I grabbed a wooden spoon to act as a divider {and she grabbed her poster to add to the display}.  Instantly we had a real life sorting game.

Fruits vs Veggies | Mama Papa BubbaThese are her piles when she decided she was done playing.  The Chinese eggplant on the right is what she chose this time for our weekly fruit/veggie investigation, and though she’s not sure, her prediction is that it is a vegetable.  We’ll have to see when we open it up!  ☺


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