Tabletop Surprises have been a saving grace for us this summer.
Quick and easy learning on my kids’ own time. They’re digging it.
This week we incorporated some serious creative hands-on learning that involved critical thinking and math, science, and literacy skills. I’d say that by far our first two days were Maddy, Owen, and Cora’s fave activities hands down.
What are Tabletop Surprises? If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know what I’m talking about because each day I’ve shared a quick photo of each day’s surprise each day of the week.
Tabletop Surprises are fun learning or creative thinking opportunities for the kids on our craft room table. Just sitting there.
Waiting for someone to come along and try ‘em out.
This week we got creative and crafty.
Here’s the skinny. . .
- Creative Hands-on Learning for Kids–Tabletop Surprises: Each day is a little different. And honestly? This has been so much fun for me as I think of cool things for the kids to do.
- Create & Invent With Recyclables: Really, all I did for Monday was put out a handful of random recyclables, and the kids went to work trying to design and create something that could help someone or something.
I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it was the hit of the week, by far.
I put a little note on a big box of recyclables—paper rolls, tubes from the toulle from our fairy skirts a while back, plastic containers, you name it. I didn’t put out every recyclable we had; rather, I tried to keep it simple while at the same time provide them with a range of objects that would be usable and cool.
I wanted to keep it open for the kids and make the sky the limit.
Along with the recyclables, I put a roll of duct tape and a roll, a roll of clear packing tape, and a roll of masking tape on the table. And a few pairs of scissors.
Maddy, Owen, and Cora literally sat at the table for an hour or more. And when they finished, they took turns presenting what they created to a small audience of each other and me.
Though none will end up taking first place in Invent America! this activity kept their brains moving and creativity flowing.
Maddy created what she set out to be an automatic dog feeder but that morphed into a binocular system of sorts.
focus: Creative thinking, fine motor, engineering, critical thinking, speaking, and presenting
Seriously? So fun.
- Playing with Flowers: We’ve done this about once a year, and the kids love it. Whenever we have older flowers that are on the outs—ready to be tossed—I let the kids pull them apart.
Because who doesn’t like to have permission to pull petals off of flowers?
On three separate trays, I put a paper plate with several flower stems. I included a small sheet of Parts of a Flower in case they wanted to accurately identify any of the parts, but they weren’t really into it.
I also included a small life cycle of a flower book for Cora that she could color and label as well.
This activity ended up moving from our craft room table to our back porch, and it quickly transitioned from a calm, cool, indoor science lesson into an attempt to make potions and perfume.
Maddy, Owen, and Cora used jars for water and smashed and smushed petals, tiny pieces of stem, grass and dirt. They added yellow pollen, tiny parts of the flower centers, and every petal they could find.
focus: Sensory discovery, fine motor, creative thinking, free play, science
- Drawing Lessons: Drawing lessons was not at all my intention today, but I stumbled across the most amazing site packed full of free resources that I had to use them.
In my opinion, this was the coolest thing we did all week.
I literally stumbled across the most amazing site by Donna Young called Donna Young’s printables and resources. On it is such a wealth of resources for at-home learning, it’s nuts.
I put a little note on the table explaining what they needed to do, and I let ’em at it.
Though it’s difficult to sort through it all, I started with about four sheets of Drawing blocks for younger children and several of Drawing Ia. I wanted it to be engaging without being too tough for them.
They loved it. A few blank sheets stuck to a clip board, a handful of newly sharpened pencils, and the kids found time throughout the day to sit down, draw, and relax.
We’ll definitely return to this site, as the options seem to be endless. Though I totally love and appreciate free play, open-space creativity, and free-form drawing, I also love that this gives kids a challenge–replicating lines and shapes and working hand-eye coordination.
focus: fine motor, hand eye coordination
- Floor Puzzles: Really, on this rainy day, huge and happy floor puzzles was the only option.
No note needed, I gathered all of our big Melissa & Doug floor puzzles and put them on the table. Many we’ve picked up at yard sales over the years, many were gifted to us, and some we’ve bought ourselves.
By the end of the day, our living room floor was carpeted in a huge T-Rex and a bunch of underwater scenes, horses running, presidents, USA maps, the planets, desert, you name it.
focus: fine motor, gross motor, problem-solving
- Scholastic Story Starters: We absolutely love the Scholastic Story Starters site, so today I set the kids up with two of our tiny netbooks and an open invitation for creativity and writing.
Essentially, Story Starters is a free site that lets users choose a theme and then helps them generate ideas For more on Scholastic Story Starters, check out the quick post I wrote about Story Starters for Scholastic Raise a Reader blog.
The kids really liked using this site, and though they did need support at the beginning, soon they could manage and navigate on their own.
The cool thing is that with every writing piece, kids can save, download, or print their final product. Newspaper articles, journal entries, postcards, you name it.
And for activities like this, I do feel thankful that we have two tiny Asus Netbooks–great size for little hands, for sure.
And when stories are printed, they are formatted in cool ways. Kids loved this. And they loved that they could share what they did with their dad when he got home from work.
For Cora and Owen, I let them get started with typing and then I took over as they dictated. I wanted their ideas to flow and didn’t want them to be hindered by their weak typing skills. It worked out great. Maddy liked trying to type on her own, and I let her go.
With all free writing, I didn’t get hung up on spelling, punctuation, or the like. I wanted the kids to freely write, get all of their ideas down, and not worry about mechanics.
Again, something we’ll definitely revisit. Totally worth it.
And that’s it. Week four of our free-bird weeks of summer, and we’re enjoying every day.
Stay on top of the Tabletop Surprises by checking out the past few weeks if you’ve missed them:
Or check out some fun ideas from a our Smart Summer Challenge a few summers back.
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