Inside the Mommyvan

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


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!

My kids just played Word Racer, with a little bit of help from me, for nearly an hour. Yes, you read that right, an HOUR. They were 20121008-100342.jpgreading and choosing grammatically correct sentences, learning new phonics rules & sight words, and they had fun doing it. I sweetened the pot a little with points on our chart for everyone who reached the finish line (and a couple of warnings that bad behavior would put them out of the game), but once we got into the game I think they would have finished even if I took the points out of the picture.

The gameplay is simple, each player has a car token on a straight racetrack of about 15 spaces. There are a few bonus and hazard spaces (move forward/back or miss a turn). On their turn, each player draws a card from the pile — 50 cards are provided, and you could easily make more of your own. The card has a short sentence with a blank somewhere in it, and two words beneath it from which to choose. The player picks a word and turns the 20121008-100332.jpgcard over to see if their choice is correct and how many spaces to “race ahead” if so. The game ends when one (or all, depending on how you like to play) players reach the finish line.

I’m not sure where I picked up this game, it’s been on the shelf for a while waiting for their reading and grammar skills to reach the level needed to play. We tried it once or twice before with me reading the words and sentences, but it didn’t work quite as well that way. Now that they are sounding out most simple words and some long vowels and sight words, it’s perfect. I provided a little coaching on the digraphs and some of the sight words, but the game keeps things nicely in reach of a strong beginning reader.

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Sure, we could make sentences using the pre-made cards from the sight words set, but our version was much more fun. And fun means that my little pupils pay attention — really pay attention — better and for longer than they do if it’s boring.

We have made noun and verb cards following the ‘word bank’ writing activity from Tapestry of Grace. I’ve had to beg magazines from friends because our few subscriptions are to such esoteric titles as Technology Review, Sound & Vision, and some sport fishing magazine: not the best fodder for easily-identifiable images of elementary level words. 20120830-101311.jpg Anyway, we’ve now got a nice stash of Woman’s Day, Ladies’ Home Journal, and the like, from which we made and color-coded our first two sets of cards. As an aside, I elected to write words on white index cards and then use colored dots to indicate parts of speech, so that we could use one card for words such as bat or wax which have multiple uses.

Today we spread out all the cards on the floor and the kids created their own sentences instead of working with me or simply reading the words I put together. I dealt out nouns and verbs, then put some ‘helper’ cards (articles, verb endings -ing, -ed, -s, etc.) in the middle. Each child picked a subject from their noun pile, an action from the verb stack, and back to the nouns for an object. We inserted ‘helper’ cards as necessary to make things sound right.

Finally they each read their sentences out loud, with some help from the picture cut-outs on the backs of the cards, and the laughter began.

Princesses teach the cat.

Robots punched a watermelon.

Their names were in the mix too, so we also got cute ones like K hugs a hat.

We had a blast, lots of giggles, and it got even more fun as we swapped piles and everyone did the next round with new words. I’m betting that nouns, verbs, subjects, and objects are far better embedded in their little brains than they would be had I settled for more traditional teaching tools.