Inside the Mommyvan

Homeschooling & Life Inside the Mommyvan - an old dog learning new tricks


They made their own! (Sorry, the post title popped into my head and I couldn’t help myself)


We have a basket of fabric remnants, ribbons, pipe cleaners, and other embellishments that the kids can use for crafts or whatever else they want. The girls love to create their own costumes; sometimes they even put on a show using what they’ve made.

This is an activity I don’t ever suggest, they pull it out when they are feeling inspired. The fabric all goes back into the basket afterwards, so they do all of this knowing that their creations are temporary (I do try to get a photo or two of the finished product, though).

A new role in my life, Girl Scout leader, means a new category here on the blog. I have a brand new troop of 18 Daisy (Kindergarten & 1st grade) and Brownie (2nd & 3rd grade) Girl Scouts, most of whom are new to Girl Scouting too. We’re just getting started, and my co-leaders and I have a lot to learn right alongside the girls.

One of our activities this month is a SWAPS meetup with other troops from our area. SWAPS, or Special Whatchamacallits Affectionally Pinned Somewhere, are a fun Girl Scout tradition.The girls each make a batch of little craft items, each hung from a safety pin, then exchange them with other girls at events and Girl Scout gatherings. Many people attach a tag with the girl’s (first) name, troop number, and sometimes the name or date of the event.

Since 2/3 of my troop is the youngest Girl Scouts, I wanted to come up with something that they could do mostly on their own without too much frustration. I feel strongly that it is far more important for kids to create a thing themselves than to have it come out perfect. This takes some careful planning, though, as children’s skill levels can vary widely at this age and just one task that requires fine motor skills they don’t have yet will likely end in tears (theirs or yours). Safe bets at this age are: cutting straight lines, free-form drawing, coloring, or painting (especially painting!), gluing, and embellishing with stick-on or glue-on beads, gems, ribbons, yarn, stickers, and other small baubles (not too small, though!). When gluing, a small cup or plate with a dollop of glue plus an applicator (stick, toothpick, glue spreader) will make it easier to get small amounts where they belong than squeezing a glue bottle. Some kids, especially girls, will be able to do more, but if you’re coming up with a craft for a group, better to aim low and let the more advanced girls add their own special touches like writing, detailed painting, or cutting more complex shapes.

After browsing Pinterest, soliciting ideas via email from other Daisy leaders, and brainstorming with my daughters, we came up with these easy-peasy camping themed SWAPS:

Supplies for Camping SWAPS

Supplies for the sleeping bags: felt, pony beads (small buttons or similar would also work).
Supplies for the tents: felt, toothpicks.
Both will require scissors, white glue, safety pins, and tags (optional).

For both SWAPS, the felt will need to be cut into small rectangles. A cutting mat and rotary cutter are very helpful here, but certainly not necessary. A pen and sharp scissors will do the job, especially if you’re only cutting a few sheets of felt. I first marked the measurements in one direction using a quilting ruler and a fabric marking pencil, then cut the felt into strips in the other direction with my quilting ruler and rotary cutter. This allowed my daughter to cut the strips into rectangles along the marked lines. I quickly learned that kid scissors do not cut felt very well, especially after being used to cut who-knows-what else around the house, so I

had to “help” a bit more at that point. Also, the sheets of craft felt are not always exactly 9″ x 12″, and sometimes the edges aren’t perfectly straight, so plan for some waste in the numbers below.

Sleeping Bag SWAPS

The sleeping bags are the simpler of these two crafts. The bottoms measure 1 1/4″ long x 3/4″ wide. The sleeping bag tops measure 1″ long x 3/4″ wide, in a contrasting color. Two 9″ x 12″ sheet of craft felt (one in each color) will make just over 100 sleeping bags.

When you have the felt pieces cut, just apply some glue to the top and stick it to the bottom piece, aligning three edges (the bottom piece should stick out at the fourth edge). If you have marked your felt sheets for cutting, you can hide the marks by gluing the marked sides together.


Apply a generous dollop of glue to the sticking-out edge of the bottom piece, and add your bead (this represents the camper’s head). Set the whole thing aside to let the glue dry. We liked our pony beads standing on edge—K said it looked like she was yawning that way 🙂 —but this is where even the youngest girls can use a little creativity and feel good about it. Although it may seem inconsequential to the grown-ups, the tiniest details like choosing the color and position of a bead can give a young girl a real sense of ownership and accomplishment.


And that’s all there is to it! Other ideas: make them out of different colors to make use of felt scraps; use them as decoration for a display board or a larger craft project; attach to name tags or tie onto goody bags for a camping-themed party or special event.


Tent sides measure 1″ wide x 1 1/2″ long. A 9″ x 12″ sheet of craft felt will make 72 tent sides, or 36 completed tents. We made our tents with the same color on both sides, but you could certainly get creative here and/or add embellishments.

These are slightly more involved than the sleeping bags, but still easily do-able by a 6 year-old. The first step is to glue two pieces of felt together along one long edge. Do several of these at once and set them aside, because the glue will need to be dry before you move on to the next step.

Once the top seam is dry, it’ time to add the tent poles. Break a toothpick in half. Next is the trickiest part of this craft: bend each toothpick half in half again, but don’t break them all the way. This is another area where girls may need some adult help. They may have trouble getting the toothpicks to break near the middle, or their fingers may get tired after breaking a few.

Spread a line of glue along each inside short edge of the tent and stick the toothpick “poles” in there. The bent toothpick pieces will hold the sides open a bit, giving the whole thing its tent-like shape. If some of your toothpick pieces break apart when you try to bend them, it’s not a disaster. Pair those pieces at one end of a tent with a bent (not broken) pole on the other end.

Stand the tents up to dry so that they hold their shape as the glue dries. That’s it! Older girls might want to embellish the tents, perhaps adding their troop number—maybe on a flag—or even a little camper doll inside. These could even be combined with the sleeping bag and some other pieces to make a whole Girl Scout campsite.

Here are finished SWAPS with safety pins and tags attached. I made the tags by using the “Labels” feature in Microsoft Word. The details may vary slightly depending on the version of Word you have, but the end result is that you type your information once and the software fills the whole page with whatever you type, in neat rows and columns for easy cutting.

Select Labels from the Tools menu, and use the Options button to pick a small label. I used Avery 8667 Return Address labels. Type whatever text you want into the Address box, be sure the Full page of the same label option is selected, and click OK. There should be a Font button somewhere if you need to change your text size to make it fit. When you are happy with the layout you see, print out however many pages you need (the label I used fits 80 on a page), cut them out, and punch holes near one end to make it easier to insert the safety pins. You can just poke the pins through, but a heavy-duty hole punch (if you are or know a scrapbooker, you can get a smaller hole from some scrapbooking tools than a standard notebook hole-puncher) will make the job easier by letting you punch through a stack of tags all at once.

We’re working on basic math facts right now, and as any parent of a grade-schooler knows, this part — as with most things that require rote memorization — isn’t much fun. It’s essential, though, for them to have the basics drilled into their heads until they come as naturally as walking, because these are the tools they will use when they’re doing more advanced math later on.

The basics right now are the “number bonds” (as the Singapore Math curriculum calls them) up to ten. That means that they’re working on all the ways to add two numbers to make any sum up to and including 10. I especially like the “number bonds” concept because it encompasses subtraction and the beginnings of algebraic thinking using single-digit numbers, without much more work on the part of the student.

My younger readers (or those with older kids) may already know this, but for those of us who attended grade school in the stone age, it’s a new way of thinking. Here’s the old way: addition facts (1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3, etc.) now, subtraction next year, word problems after we’d memorized the number facts, and algebra much later on.

The new way is to learn number bonds or number families, and the whole & part operations related to a number family all at once: for example, we worked on 5s today. 5 has three number bonds, one for each set of addends: 0 + 5, 1 + 4, and 2 + 3. For each “family”, they wrote down the addition and subtraction facts, plus some missing number problems — this is the algebraic thinking that will serve them well in years to come — e.g. 2 plus what equals 5?

There are also “number stories”, where pictures and words are used to help the kids grasp the idea of part and whole — a concept as important as the number facts themselves. The picture might show a group of 6 animals with various distinguishing characteristics: standing vs. lying down, different colors, babies vs. adult, and so on. The student is to come up with as many different “stories” as they can about the picture, such as “Three dogs are sitting and four are standing up. How many dogs are there altogether?” This reinforces the part-and-whole thinking that gives meaning to the addition and subtraction facts they are memorizing at the same time: 3 (sitting) + 4 (standing) = 7 (all of the dogs). For a subtraction-based story: of the seven dogs, four are standing up; how many are sitting (translation: 7 – 4 = __ )? This is sure to take some of the pain out of deciphering word problems later on too!

At the end of the day, though, they still have to memorize those basic number facts, and repetition is the way to get there. Nothing says the repetition has to be bland worksheet after worksheet, though, so I have been on the hunt for ways to make these drills fun. Ihit on some real winners yesterday, activities from The School Bell’s Number Family area. On the Worksheet Packet page, the “T-Bar & Puzzle” worksheets were a big hit! After writing all of the addition facts in the T-Bar section, they got to color, cut, and paste the puzzle pieces… and then write the numbers again underneath each completed block. The Number Family Booklets are also turning out to be fun — I’ve skipped the circle mat and counters, and just let them draw little X’s or spots instead of writing the numbers in each half of the circle on the booklet pages.

I hope these resources help, and please share anything you’ve found to make this math memorization process more fun!

A fun activity that exercises many different skills and ends up with a nice portfolio piece! The level of the work can be easily adjusted from preschool on up.

You need:

  • 2 (or more) sheets of sturdy paper or cardstock
  • Old magazines
  • Glue or glue stick
  • Pencil
  • Ruler or straight edge
  • Binding materials (see below)
  • Enbellishments (optional – see below)

Lay the paper in front of you with a long edge nearest you, and fold it in half from left to right, making a sharp crease. Place one piece of folded paper inside the other and secure temporarily with one or two small pieces of tape. This is the basic ‘book’ that I used for my kids (K – 1st grade level). For older students, you might use a cardstock cover with multiple inside pages of plain paper, and adjust the number of pictures and length of story sections to match.

Have your child cut out several pictures from the magazines, thinking up a story to go with the images as they work. Next, they will decide on one picture for their cover, along with a title for their story. Glue the selected picture onto the front page of the book, and have them write the title. Below the title goes ‘by Child’s Name‘. This is a good time to reinforce title, author, illustrator and the parts of a book.

Next, your budding author will think about their story’s beginning, middle, and end. They will glue onto the first inside spread (two pages) the pictures that go with the beginning of the story, leaving room for writing. Using a ruler or straight edge, make light guidelines for writing, working around the pictures. The child will then come up with one to three sentences (again, adjusting for level) to write on these pages. I had my children dictate their sentences to me, I wrote them on a portable white board, and then they copied the words into the book. As we worked, we also reviewed sentence structure, capitalization, and punctuation.

Repeat this process for the middle of the story (center spread) and the end of the story (last two pages). The back cover can be left blank or decorated. One of my children wrote Easy Reader on the back of her book, just like the tags on their library books. This is a project that allows for a lot of creativity and imagination!

For the book’s binding, there are numerous options. You can simply tape or (with a long-reach stapler) staple the pages together. We chose to sew our pages: I punched holes every 1/2″ or so down the center fold, the kids sewed using embroidery floss and a tapestry needle. There are other options as well, consult some scrapbooking resources or come up with your (or your children’s) own ideas!

Finishing touches can now be added. Embellishments, anything from colored markers to stickers to glue-on beads and baubles, can be put on the cover. Inside, your young authors may want to add some extra color to their pages or erase guidelines (if they have written in pen or marker).

Once the story books were finished, we made a show of sitting in the living room and having each child read their book aloud, showing the pictures on each page as they read. They had so much fun making the books and were so proud of their creations, I’m not sure they even realized they were “doing school” much less exercising their fine motor skills (cutting, gluing, sewing), creative expression, organizing thoughts, grammar & punctuation, handwriting, and reading & presentation skills all in one project!

20121003-111730.jpgNumber bond? What’s a number bond? Simple, it’s a number (often inside a circle) with two smaller (circled) numbers connected to it. The top number is the sum of the two bottom numbers. From a number bond diagram, one can derive two addition and two subtraction facts, or ‘number sentences’: for 7, the two smaller numbers might be 3 and 4. From there you get 3 + 4 = 7, 4 + 3 = 7, 7 – 4 = 3, and 7 – 3 = 4.

The Singapore Math workbooks we use (Essential Math: Kindergarten B currently) use the concept of ‘Number Bonds’ to help students understand the relationship between operands and sums or differences. A book I am reading, Arithmetic for Parents, discusses using names and terms for everything, emphasizing that children love special names and explicit wording. “They are proud of their ability to use them,” it says, and I find this to be true with my children. 20121003-111956.jpgThey stand a little taller, speak more seriously, when they talk about ‘number bonds’ so I’m going with it.

Now that my kids have a pretty good understanding of how to do addition and subtraction a few different ways, it’s time to start memorizing. I have decided to post the number bond diagrams for sums 0 through 10 on the walls to help. Since we have a rainy morning with nothing else going on, let’s turn it into a craft! (I was going to make it a craft anyway, but a rainy day makes a nice excuse, doesn’t it?)

What I used: cardstock in several different colors, tacky glue, assorted embellishments (beads, sequins, jewels, buttons, etc.), plus a ruler and pencil to mark the numbers and dividing lines. I’ll use a Sharpie marker to go over the numbers after the glue is dry.20121003-111829.jpg
I made one page myself as an example, and the kids are taking turns making the rest. The only rules I’ve given them is to keep the beads away from the numbers & lines, and each number gets its own shape — all of the markers for each number are of the same shape, and each number on a page has a unique shape. Colors and sizes may vary a bit, since our bead collection is not large enough to find many exactly the same. You might decide that each number will have a color, or an item cut from magazine pages… anything that makes each number group cohesive when you look at it. Once the glue is dry, I will hang the finished products around the room to help with math lessons and memorization of addition facts up to ten.

My kids love tearing paper, I love craft projects that don’t involve a trip to the store, so this idea I swiped from a preschool class was a big hit!

Paper plate – 1 per turtle – I used small ones
Colored paper – green & brown – or use your imagination!
Googly eyes (optional)


Tear up green paper and glue the pieces to the bottom of the paper plate. You could get crative with the turtle’s “shell” and use other colors, wrapping paper, or other decorations.

Cut out a head and four feet from the brown paper. Glue them onto the underside of the turtle’s “shell” and add googly eyes, beads, or just draw them on.

I used some string and another paper plate to make a hanging mobile from our three finished turtles.

Earlier this week, we learned about carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores, and also the differences between things that are alive and things thatare not. After we finished the turtle craft, we talked about how we know turtles are alive, where they live, and what they eat (they are omnivores, BTW).