Just in time for the holidays! I have blogged about not letting the current issues in public schools steal the today that you have enjoying your children and helping them to learn. I know that is easier said than done. But the teacher and mom in me wants to step away from criticism against Common Core and high-stakes testing and talk about something fun that teaches at the same time.
Often the best materials or toys for children are homemade! I’m no Martha Stewart, don’t get me wrong, but making homemade materials for children can be a fun thing to do as a parent and a teacher. There is something creative about this endeavor, and if you are budget minded, without a million dollars to spend on toys, or in your classroom, it is helpful too. Even if you have a million dollars for toys and games, I guarantee, homemade games and activities can really be interesting and help your child learn.
Most importantly, certain activities also target learning disabilities. I once took a remarkably enjoyable teaching class, where we studied all kinds of activities that can be geared to a particular learning problem facing a child. Today I’d like to discuss my favorite—puzzles.
Puzzles help children put together small parts to make the product whole, and they also teach cause and effect. They are a great analytic activity. Putting together puzzles involves a great deal of visual perception—ideal for a student with difficulties learning to read. This task also demands that a child sit still and focus, so it can help a hyperactive student settle down.
Thinking skills surrounding puzzles can be helpful to the elderly too. There have been some studies lately suggesting that mental exercises keep you young. Voila—puzzles! Therefore, Grandpa and Grandma might find puzzles a fun and useful thing to do with their grandchildren.
Gage the kind of size puzzles should be. Of course, you don’t want to overwhelm a young child with a 500 piece puzzle for Christmas! But you want to make it challenging.
If you are lucky and have money to spend, you can find some elaborate puzzles. Barnes and Noble have some great puzzles around the holidays. We did a Santa once that I actually framed. Walgreens and Target and similar stores have puzzles too—including mini puzzles. Hallmark used to carry great mini-puzzles (maybe they still do). I once found one where Snoopy sported a huge smile wearing braces! This was a real hit with my middle schoolers.
Mini puzzles with a small group of students (if they like to compete) can be a timed activity. My middle-schoolers loved this activity as well, even if they were given different min-puzzle pictures. Just make sure puzzles have the same number of pieces.
But the best puzzles are the ones made of magazine pictures. I stocked my classes with a variety of picture puzzles…people’s faces, dogs, cats, cars, etc. To this day I can’t read a magazine without identifying great puzzle pictures.
Paste the picture on poster board or on file folders you no longer need, then cut to the level of difficulty you want. If you are teaching and have access to a laminating machine, you can preserve your puzzles. Simply store them in a baggy to keep them organized.
One of the last things I liked to do with puzzles is write a personalized letter to a student on poster board or lightweight cardboard. Cut the letter into pieces, put in a fancy envelope and give it to them as a simple gift. This was always an end of the year activity for me. As teachers know, the last day of the school year is usually mayhem, but I don’t think I ever had a student that didn’t sit focused on that puzzle eager to see what I had to say to them. Of course, I did this with my daughter on certain special occasions when she was young. She also liked it.
So, if you get a chance this holiday season, make some homemade puzzles for stocking stuffers and know that your child, like, with most play, is learning at the same time….
And as always, parents and teachers are a treasure trove of creativity. I always welcome your suggestions and ideas on this blog.