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HACKS! Fun Learning



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FUN Family Games Make the Grade by Sherry Hang Winter break is nearly here, and so are the cries of, “Moooooom! I’m bored!” Keep them entertained (and yourself as well) with these games suggested by the teachers of Bethany School — they’re top picks for both educational value and fun for the whole family! “My favorite learning game is Cranium. The best way to engage a student to play a board game is to have fun while playing. Don’t make it about winning or losing, make it about the time together.”

— Katie Vaughn, second grade teacher

“First, I’d posit that all analog games have the potential to be learning games if used correctly. In laying a foundation for using games for learning, it’s hard to beat the classic abstract strategy games: chess, mancala, go, Othello, backgammon, etc. For the younger kids, I love Hiss (pattern recognition) or Sequence/Sequence Letters (pattern recognition, strategy, team play). For middle grades, I’d recommend Bananagrams (word construction) or Bohnanza (bartering, opportunity cost, limited resources). In the upper grades, my favorites include cooperative games such as Hanabi or Forbidden Island that emphasize resource sharing, communication, and managing priorities. In my experience, students need very little encouragement to embrace tabletop games — most children, whether or not they are aware of it, find the structured interaction and clear limits that board games provide fulfilling and even comforting. Tabletop games can be especially satisfying for visual and kinesthetic learners who thrive off of the tactile experience of manipulating game pieces. Games provide a host of educational benefits, including, but hardly limited to, building skills in: both linear and lateral thinking; persistence; working within designated parameters (i.e., “following the rules”); reinforcing skills in communication and social interaction; planning and strategizing; organization and maximizing time and resources; sportsmanship and graciousness; problem solving and creativity; reading and interpreting symbols and diagrams; manual dexterity; and basic computation and number fluency.” — Jonathan Reardon, fifth grade teacher

“I loved to play the games Rush Hour and Blokus with my boys when they were young. Both games teach you to think outside the box! Have a family game night once a week. Make it really special — have a special snack, talk and plan the game night together throughout the week. Once the children see

All photos courtesy of Bethany School.

how much fun they can have playing board games, they will likely ask to play again. It is a great way also for parents and children to interact and every child likes the one-on-one attention from a parent.”

— Molly Brownley, first grade teacher

“Blokus, Zingo, A to Z Jr., Spot It, and Count Down. Can’t beat the social aspect! Kids still love and need your undivided attention. The gift of your time is the best investment in your child. It tells them they’re worth it and provides a fun opportunity to teach both academic and social skills. Apps don’t really teach you how to take turns or win/lose graciously. It is also hard to exchange a good laugh with an app! I also believe there is value in the kinesthetic aspect of manipulating game pieces. I also believe that seeing sets on dice on a domino helps kids visually develop number sense.”

— Kelly Tedesco, first grade teacher


HACKS School Lunches

Inventive lunch ideas are hard to come by, but local moms get creative with ideas that fit the bill! “Toasted everything bagel with salami and cream cheese (vegetable flavor cream cheese). Trail mix, cheese cubes with pretzel sticks stuck in them. Or turkey and cheese wrapped in a tortilla with ranch dressing. My kids love those.” — Rachel Mills

“I love using our thermos for soups and pasta leftovers. My son loves Lunchables, but that’s a rare occasion. I like recreating his favorite Lunchables in my own way.” — Shelbie Taylor Todd

“Our new thing for lunch is a ‘homemade Lunchable.’ We replicate them with her own food and slip a piece of candy in like a Lunchable.” — Sara Wagenaar

“Packing lunch seemed to always be boring. The most exciting thing was the change of fruit according to what was in season. The kids seemed to settle into their favorite sandwich or salad and I would use that as their staple. If they got sick of something I asked for their input. If it was reasonable, I’d do it.” — Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

HOMEWORK HACKS! “For homework, Will is in fourth grade and has a planner that he has to keep track of. He is responsible to complete assignments but then it’s my responsibility to check homework and sign planner. He has a desk in his room with fun ‘office supplies’ where he completes his homework. He is 9. If he makes a mistake on homework I have him look it back over and try to see where the mistake is before I show him. Then I might do a little re-teaching if I think he doesn’t have the concept. However, his teacher requested this year, especially with math, if he doesn’t get it to not re-teach but rather send him a note attached to his homework so he can show him and/or the class the next morning.” — Michele Tucker

“Once the kids got past the drill and memorize portion of learning (spelling, times tables, etc.) and more to concepts, I switched from the flashcards and practice quizzes and started talking to them about what they were reading. I would even pick up a book they had to read and keep to their schedule so we could talk about the book together. Then when they wrote a paper or book report I could offer them feedback or help them with questions on literary devices. As for math? Go ask your dad!” — Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

“We have created an after school routine in our house. First, both kids bring their backpacks into the kitchen (I have a visual posted where their backpacks go). Second, they sort their papers into two bins (one homework and one finished/Mom and Dad read). Then I go through to make sure they sorted correctly and then I sit them at the kitchen table and give them their work. I read over the directions and check for understanding. Then, I make them start their work without help at first. I want them to feel successful and have ownership over their work. Many times kids ask for help immediately and that can lead to enabling kids to ‘get help, aka, someone else doing their work for them’ without even trying. I will set a visual timer for ‘independent work time’ and then after the timer goes off I can help with work. Both of my kids know that they can skip the ones that are too hard and after the timer goes off we can re-visit and I can re-teach as needed. When homework is finished then they can go play. We have a no-technology rule during the week, so they are not distracted and rush through their work so they can watch a show. Landon’s teacher also does a great job communicating homework and things to work on in her newsletter. School/homework is not just for the kiddo, but parents need to be actively involved as well. Occasionally I will mix

things up (if he has been well behaved at school) and we have a Starbucks homework session. He loves their kiddie hot cocoa!” — Tina Pratt

“Homework depends on age. I like choices: Do you want to do it right when you get home or right after dinner? Can you work well here or in the kitchen or do you need the quiet space in your room? If one of the choices doesn’t work then it is vetoed. Daughter is in 3rd grade and I feel like this is the year of releasing more and more responsibility for knowing what homework needs to be done and when it is due. We also have a lot of success with ‘pretend you’re my teacher and show me how to do this problem/activity.’ Makes it fun and then I know she knows the content. I do step in more if I see her operating in a high level of frustration. We take a break or break things down into smaller goals. Then we try to celebrate those baby step accomplishments.” ­— Sara Wagenaar

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Three Things Water Play Teaches Kids 1. IT’S GOOD TO TAKE THE PLUNGE.

Sometimes the only way to tackle something big — whether it’s the pool or making new friends at school — is to take a deep breath and dive right in. Kids learn to trust that they will get used to cold water; that they can be brave and introduce themselves to someone new; and that bold moves are a chance to show everyone what you’re made of. The world is your diving board, so cannonball in!


What do water slides and school have in common? They’re much more fun with friends! Friends are like the flotation device of life — they’re reliable and strong, and always there when you’re afraid you just might sink. Plus, they’re good for giggles and laughs.


We all need time to relax. If you struggle in the water and try to do too much at once, you’ll never be able to let go and float. So don’t be afraid to take a break from homework or practice, because balance is key. Work hard, swim strong, but always be sure to relax and let yourself float around once in a while.




In the book, Teaching as a Subversive Activity author Charles Weingartner says parents need to believe their kids are capable. That means to stop doing things for them that they can do for themselves. If you believe your child can’t do something from the get-go then you’ve given up before you started.


Pique your child’s interest in learning for herself by teaching her to seek out her own answers. Don’t just answer things for her. Encourage her questions and curiosity and ask her what activities and subjects she’d like to explore on her own. Lead her there then let her alone.


When children are little and playing at home, they gravitate toward things they enjoy. Make sure as your child grows to always provide additional activities he’s interested in outside of subjects required at school. Kids can go through entire school days only vaguely interested in subjects. Provide outlets for your child’s true passions on a daily basis.


When she asks for help, see if she can do it for herself. Gage the tasks difficulty and whether or not you think she can do it, asking,“Are you able?” If she says “Yes,” then let her!


Your goal should be to keep minimizing YOUR responsibilities and transferring them to HIM. Eventually your kids will be fully responsibile for every aspect of their day ... YOU just need to let them go enough to do it!

School Time, Winter 2016  

Second edition of School Time from Cincinnati Family magazine.

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