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Archive for March 22nd, 2011

My budget for homeschooling materials varies from month to month, but it is generally less than $10/month for my 2 kids.  We mostly rely on the library, dollar store or Costco materials, and Christmas/birthday gifts (like books, science experiments, and craft supplies).  So to keep learning fun without spending a lot of money, I like to turn games and household supplies into educational materials. My kids prefer to practice their math skills through games, so I figured out how to come up with a variety of games they could play using homemade flashcards and games we already have in our closet.  Chances are, you probably have some of these games, too.   Whether you homeschool or help your kids with homework, you can make learning fun without buying expensive educational supplies.  Here are the instructions for how I make flashcards, and ideas for a variety of ways you can use them.

Homemade Flashcards

  1. You can make these as big or as small as you like.  Simply cut some paper into rectangles that are all the same size.  These should be long enough to be equally divided into thirds: 2/3 for the problem, and 1/3 for the answer.
  2. Depending on what you’re working on, you may want to color code several sets.  For instance, when my son was working on learning his multiplication tables, we made each set a different color.  That way, it’s easier to put the sets back together when you mix them in games later on.  This also works well for addition/subtraction fact families (i.e. 5+8=13, 8+5=13, 13-8=5, 13-5=8), to help your child identify that there are groups of numbers that go together.  (Addition and subtraction are a cinch when your child knows his fact families.)
  3. To use these as a learning exercise initially, you can write the problem and have your child write the answer in the corresponding color.  Have a few extra back-up squares for answers that need to be corrected.
  4. Cut the answer squares so that you have problem rectangles and answer squares (preferably all the same size).

Games Using Homemade Flashcards

  • Matching – When first learning multiplication or fact families, it’s easiest to have the problem facing up in one column, and the answers facing up in another column.  Your child then tries put the right answer next to each problem.
  • Memory – Turn the answers and questions face down in a grid.  Turning over two at a time, your child tries to find a match.  Continue until all problems and answers are matched.  (This also works for any subject with questions that have similar answers, like matching states with state capitols.)
  • Bingo – Make a 4×4 or 5×5 grid with the answer squares (mixing different sets, if necessary) facing up.  Put the problem cards in a stack, facing up.    Using pennies, cover the answer as you solve each problem.  The first person to get 4 (or 5, depending on size of grid) in a row wins.  The great thing about this game is that you can have 2 kids working with separate cards based on their abilities, solving different problems but competing to see who gets Bingo first.  (We played this today with my son reviewing multiplication and my daughter reviewing subtraction.)
  • Race Car Math – All you need for this game is a set of flashcards (homemade or store bought), a board game with a path that leads from start to finish (like Candyland, Life, Mousetrap, or even a homemade loop divided into squares), dice or a spinner, and small matchbox cars or race cars that will fit inside the game spaces.  Players take turns rolling the dice (or spinning the spinner) to determine how many spaces their car will advance if their question is answered correctly.  If the answer is incorrect, they don’t get to move.  The first person to cross the finish wins.  Again, flashcards can be tailored to each child’s ability.  (I tend to prefer store-bought flashcards for this game – which we buy at the dollar store – since they usually have the answers on the back, which allows the kids to check their own answers and play independently.)

Other kids games you can modify as educational games:

  • Trouble – There’s something satisfying about pushing down on the bubble and having it pop the dice for you.  We first used this game with clock flashcards for practicing telling time.  You can play this as a flashcard game by simply requiring a correct answer before a player can advance (as in Race Car Math).  Or you can make a set of number flashcards from 1-20 to be used in reviewing addition (by adding a number card to the number displayed on the dice), subtraction (by subtracting the number displayed on the dice from the flashcard number), or multiplication (using numbers 1-10 to multiply by the number displayed on the dice).
  • Phase 10 Dice – This game has you rolling different sets of numbers for each round, and adding up your total.  So it’s great for practicing adding several numbers, and introduces the concept of multiplication when you have to add a set of 3 or 4 of the same number.  Since you’re also keeping a running total after each phase, you can practice double and triple-digit addition.
  • Scrabble – The first time we played this with the kids, my son said, “Hey Mom, we can play this for both spelling AND math!”  We put a twist on this game by changing the “double letter score” spaces to “multiply by 6 (or 7 or 8 or whatever multiplication set you’re reviewing).  Each child has their own score pad and is responsible for adding their points for each word to their overall total, which involves double and triple-digit addition.
  • Candyland – This game, like Trouble, can be used with any flashcards.  When my son was in kindergarten, we used his sight word cards.  Now we’re working on adding money, so I’m using cards with various dollar amounts that determine how much you earn for each square.  Each child takes the appropriate amount of coins to add up to the amount listed on the card drawn (i.e. $.22), using either play money or real money (I use real money, since we have a lot of change).  If you land on one of the special spaces (i.e. gumdrop), you have to go to that spot on the board and put back the amount of money on the card for that round.   The first person to reach the finish line gets a $1 bonus, but whoever has the most money in the end wins.  You can make the dollar or coin amount as high or low as you want, depending on the level of each child.  Or you can reverse the game and give each child a certain amount of money to begin with.  Each card drawn then determines how much they have to pay, with special spaces serving as a bonus that allows them to earn the amount of money on the card drawn.  The person with the most money left at the end wins.

Obviously, just about any game can be used with flashcards, but the key is to find out what your kids love to play and try to turn it into a learning opportunity.  What works for your family will probably be different from what works for mine.  For instance, I invented “tickle numbers” when my son was learning to recognize numbers 11-20.  If he identified the number correctly, he got to tickle Daddy.  If he was wrong, he got tickled.  It worked because our kids love to be tickled (and to tickle Daddy!), so they loved to play this game.

Games are a great way to learn and review just about anything, and any game can be used for educational purposes.  Games regularly go on sale, and can be purchased inexpensively at thrift stores or garage sales.  Of course, the best place to start is with whatever you already have that your kids enjoy playing.  Make a cheap set of flashcards, and let the learning fun begin!

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