Particularly Cool Stuff My Kids and I Have Learned a Ton From or Just Plain Had a Good Time With:
Settlers of Catan, the board game. Jane got this for Christmas last year. We’ve been obsessed ever since. Except when our friends hijack it and keep it for weeks because it is that great a game.
Signing Time DVDs. Catchy songs, immensely useful vocabulary in American Sign Language. I trumpet these wherever I go. We talk about Rachel like she’s one of the family.
Prismacolor colored pencils. Indispensable. I was amused to see that Jane mentioned them in the first line of her “I Am From” poem. She’s right; they have helped color the picture of her life.
Uncle Josh’s Outline Map CD-Rom. Because maps are cool, and maps you can color (with Prismacolor pencils, hey!) are even cooler. The kids are constantly asking me to print out a map of somewhere or other. You can find other outline maps available online (for free), but I like Josh’s for clarity. And once when I had a problem opening a particular map (it’s a PDF file), I called the help number and it was Uncle Josh himself, a most amiable gentleman, who quickly solved my problem.
The Global Puzzle. Big! Very big! Will take over your dinner table! (So clear off that laundry.)
Set. It may annoy you that your eight-year-old will be quicker at spotting the patterns in this card game than you will. There’s a free daily online version as well.
Quiddler. Like Scrabble, only with cards. This, too, can be played online.
Babble. Like Boggle, only online and free.
Chronology, the game. Like Trivial Pursuit, only with history.
Speaking of online games: the BBC History Game site is awfully fun.
And Jane was fairly addicted to Absurd Math for a while there. Need more free math puzzles? Nick’s got a bunch.
A Case of Red Herrings and Mind Benders. Logic and problem-solving puzzles: a fun way to pass the time on long car trips or in waiting rooms.
Zoombinis Logical Journey computer game and sequels. Stretch your brain trying to get the little Zoombinis to a village where they can bounce in peace.
Oregon Trail. The game that launched a massive wagon trail rabbit trail for my kids a couple of years ago—and they still aren’t tired of the game. (Now there’s a Wii version, too!)
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots : Gardening Together with Children. Plant a sunflower house! Up-end a Giant Bucket of Potatoes and dig through the dirt for your rewards! Grow lettuce in rainboots! Boots! With lettuce growing in them!
Wild Goose Science Kits. Fun experiments with a low mess factor. Note to self: remember the Wild Goose Crime Kit come Christmastime. (Sadly, these are no longer available. Wild Science offers similar kits.)
A microscope. Sonlight sells a nifty set of prepared slides with paramecium and other fun stuff for the kids to peer at.
If the scope sparks an interest in dissection, there’s a way to do it online with no actual innards involved: Froguts! The site has a couple of free demos to occupy you while you save up for the full version. (Which I haven’t seen yet, but it does look cool.) HT: Karen Edmisten.
Klutz Books. Over the years, we’ve explored: knitting, embroidery, origami, magic, Sculpey, paper collage, paper dolls, beadlings, and foam shapes. Look under any piece of furniture in my house and you will find remnants of all of the above.
Which reminds me: Sculpey polymer clay. Is it possible to get through a day without some? My children think not.
Usborne’s calligraphy book and a set of markers.
But while I’m on Usborne, my kids also love and use at least weekly: Usborne Science Experiments Volumes 1, 2, and 3.
Muse magazine. The highlight of Jane’s month. From the publishers of Cricket. We also like Odyssey, Click, and Ask.
Classical Kids CDs. Beanie’s favorite is Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery.
Refrigerator poetry magnets. I gave Scott the Shakespearean set a couple of Christmases ago. Note to self: You are not as brilliant as you think! You were an English major, for Pete’s sake, with a minor in drama. Thou knowest full well old William was a bawdy fellow. If you don’t want your little ones writing poems about codpieces, stick to the basic version. But oh how I enjoy the messages Scott leaves for me to find and then pretends he doesn’t know who wrote them:
And of course of course of course, Jim Weiss story CDs. I rave about these every chance I get because they have added such riches to my children’s imaginations. For years, they have listened to Jim’s stories after lights-out. Greek myths, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, folk and fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book: of such stuff are dreams woven.
Check out my Giant List of Book Recommendations too!
In the comments yesterday, Faith of Dumb Ox Academy wrote:
Thanks Lissa! This is perfect timing. We have been doing ten minutes of
drawing at our Family school (or what the kids call Breakfast school).
My kids are very intimidated by drawing and all claim they can’t, so we
decided from now until Christmas we’d draw every morning for ten
minutes. These little exercises will fit perfectly into our new routine.
My kids have all enjoyed and been quite inspired by the I Can Draw series published by Usborne Books. Here’s an excerpt from a long piece about drawing books I wrote last last year—
These are some drawing books my kids are nuts about. The Usborne
ones NEVER stay on the shelf; someone is always using one, it seems.
They’re also fond of the Draw Write Now series, but we’ve always
ignored the Write part. They just like the step-by-step instructions
for drawing things like the Statue of Liberty and buffalo. (We only
have a couple of them, but I’m assuming the others are just as good.)
I Can Draw Animals
I Can Draw People
I Can Crayon
On The Farm, Kids & Critters, Storybook Characters (Draw Write Now, Book 1)
Christopher Columbus, Autumn Harvest, The Weather (Draw Write Now, Book 2)
Native Americans, North America, The Pilgrims (Draw Write Now, Book 3)
The Polar Regions, The Arctic, The Antarctic (Draw Write Now, Book 4)
The United States, From Sea to Sea, Moving Forward (Draw Write Now, Book 5)
Animals & Habitats — On Land, Ponds & Rivers, Oceans (Draw Write Now, Book 6)
Animals of the World, Part 1: Tropical Forests, Northern Forests, Forests Down Under (Draw Write Now, Book 7)
Animals of the World, Part 2: Savannas, Grasslands, Mountains and Deserts (Draw Write Now, Book 8)
Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad
And these are two books that I’ve been using to improve my own
skills a little…I especially love the snippets of advice Claire
Walker Leslie gives for drawing trees, plants, birds, etc. She has a
knack for pointing out just the right way to approach the tricky bits
that don’t come naturally to me, like how to make a tree branch look
like it’s really curving out of a trunk.
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You
The Usborne Complete Book of Drawing
There’s also a highly rated video program called Draw Today which I’ve got on my own Christmas wish list! Have any of you tried it out?
As for stuff with which to draw, I tackled that topic too on Bonny Glen a while back.