DIY Abacus

After teaching Munchkin the basics of multi digit addition and subtraction this week, I spotted a gorgeous beginner’s abacus at the store and knew instantly that it would be perfect for way to solidify the concept of place value in my little visual/tactile learner’s head.

It was however out of my price range at the time, and far too big to take on the go this busy week. To solve those problems, I made several mini ones with things around the house!

Here are the step by step instructions on how to go about making your very own abacus.

*note that instructions are for a 4 row abacus for working with numbers no greater than 9999. For additional place value rows, add additional skewers with 10 beads apiece*


6 popsicle (craft) sticks
2 long wooden skewers
10 beads for each row
Hot glue gun

Use the marker to mark off where each skewer needs to be on a craft stick in order to be evenly spaced out. Avoid putting the top and bottom ones too close to the ends. Lay a second stick alongside it and mark off the spots so they are aligned.

Cut your skewers down to size. You’ll want them to be just slightly longer than your craft sticks. I found it easiest to use the scissors to put a divot in the wood, then snap them to size with my fingers.

Put a bead of hot glue onto each dot on ONE craft stick. Gently place one end of your skewer pieces into the glue, ensuring it doesn’t poke out past the edge of the craft stick. Make sure your skewers lay straight by squaring the bottom of your craft sticks to the table and matching up the ends of your skewers to the marks on the (still not glued) stick.

Put another bead of glue on top of the ends you just glued down, then sandwich them in between the frame by laying another craft stick on top. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Turn it on its side, and add a line of glue down each of the two popsicle stick edges. Place another stick on the side to cover the glued ends of the skewers.

Gently slide 10 pony beads onto each skewer. We prefer to use a slightly darker bead for the first one, as a visual reminder that it cannot be used in mathematical equations, but its not necessary.

Repeat steps 3 & 4 on the other end of the skewers, being careful not to let the last row of beads slide down to touch the glue before it dries.

That’s all there is to it!

Happy computing!

I’ll be posting an instructional how-to video this afternoon with explanations on how to use it for representing numbers and solving multi-digit addition and subtraction problems.


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Popsicle Stick Puzzles

I recently saw this link on Pinterest to a mental math stick puzzle game and immediately thought of a few ways I could adapt the concept for use with my girls!

I whipped up a bunch of puzzles to use for some independent math and literacy activities.

For Munchkin, I made one with rhyming CVC words, one with rhyming Bossy E words, one with words ending in diagraphs, one for mental addition 0-10, and two with number lines to solve addition and subtraction up to 20.




For my littlest and our preschool aged day care friends, I made an upper and lowercase letter matching puzzle, and one for number recognition.



I added arrows to remind the little ones which way to go

Lay out the sticks face up in front of your child, and have them locate the Starter stick. Read the word/equation/letter/number on the other end of the stick, and find it’s match/answer on the right side of another stick. Slide a finger across to the other end of that stick and repeat the process, searching the left sides of the remaining sticks for the next answer. Repeat until all sticks are in place.

There is only one solution to these, so if they get to the End stick and still have some remaining, they’ll immediately know that something went awry!

These can easily be adapted for mixed mental math, multiplication / division facts, skip counting and so much more.

They are great for on the go entertainment, as they fit easily into a small snack sized ziplock.

Leave a comment with any other suggestions you may have for incorporating these portable puzzles into your day!

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Rainforest Unit Study Day 5

Day 5: D for Dolphin

Amazon River Animals
Water Cycle Review

We started our day by watching this quick video to review the layers of the rainforest.

Then we moved onto a review of the water cycle. As always when this topic comes up, the girls were eager to sing their favourite Water Cycle Song.
Click on to the picture below to download the lyrics free!
watercycle song pic

Munchkin LOVES to use the Google Now Voice options to search for things on my phone. {note: my phone is always on me – she does not have access to do so unsupervised}
This time we put it to use by searching for images of the water cycle at work in the rainforest. We learned a lot from the Rainforest Alliance and wiki links!

Next, we made our own rain sticks!
To start, they tightly rolled an 18″ piece of aluminum foil then carefully wound it into a spiral by wrapping it around the remainder of the foil roll (ours fit inside the tubes we were using). We slipped them into the tubes, using a bit of tape to secure the ends inside. Then we layered several coffee filters together and cut out a circle slightly larger than the base of the paper towel tubes (two sets for each tube). Munchkin taped them together so they couldn’t go flying around when the little princess helped me tape them over one of each tube. We poured some dry rice into them (about 1/2 cup each) then secured the other coffee filter circles to the tops. The girls then decorated the papers of their choosing (“colourful storms” was the theme, according to Munchkin!)
and we taped them around the tubes.

We experimented to see what made the best rain sound: Tip or shake? Fast or slow?

IMG_20150421_112054 IMG_20150421_114857

 After that, we read a bit about the Amazon River Dolphin, and compared what we learned to what we knew about bottle nosed dolphins from our
Under the Sea/Ocean Animals Unit last summer.

Munchkin was once again fascinated by their use of echolocation, so I quickly pulled up this video on echolocation.

We discussed their diet, shapes, size, colouring, familial relations and where they are most commonly found after finding information in our children’s atlases.

They watched this short National Geographic video while I set up the following activity.

Each of these fish have a magnet glued to the back. I dispersed them throughout the blue “water” of our school room rug, and set out one paper plate for each coloured fish (labelled to help Munchkin with her colour word recognition, and colour coded for the Little Princess.) They each have a magnetic fishing rod we made by hot gluing 2ft of yarn to the end of a wooden dowel and gluing a magnet to the other end of the yarn. We use these fishing rods with several different games!

They did a wonderful job collecting the fish and organizing them!IMG_20150422_100259

Next they organized them into columns by colour and made greater than/less than comparisons, counting out how many of each fish they caught this time.IMG_20150422_100652While cleaning them up, we had the perfect opportunity to review what we knew about magnets, as they noticed they way some of the fish would repel each other when they were trying to stack them neatly!

To wrap up the day, we listened to the Magic Treehouse Audiobook, listened as Munchkin read us THREE new library books, and completed a few more pages in her math book.

Check back later to see what fun we have when we study Boa Constrictors on Day 6!

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Felt Quiet Book Pages

In the summer of 2014, I took both girls on their very first plane ride out to Manitoba to visit my parents. While I was there, I made a bunch of felt activity pages to keep the girls entertained on the ride home. My mom found a few templates online, and others I designed myself. The list of templates/links can be found at the end of this post.

These quiet pages are SO useful! Easy to tuck into a bag for car rides and waiting rooms, and ideal for keeping the little one occupied while I work with her big sister. Munchkin has taken to requesting them as her Quiet Time activity lately too!

Some of them are simple, one paged activities:


The pony beads slide up and down. Munchkin loves to use it as an abacus!


The baby can be fed, the diaper undone, and the rattle has a bell in it.


The pink square on this stage scene is full of felt girls and a variety of clothes and props.


The paint splotches on this palette are removable. They love to ‘paint’ their surroundings!


This is the Little Princesses’ FAVOURITE activity.

To play the one pictured above, one person looks away while a second person hides the little mouse finger puppet behind one of the houses. The first person looks back and sings

Little Mouse, Little Mouse,
Are you in the ____ house?

(filling in the blank with the colour of the house they’ve chosen)
They then check behind that house, and if the mouse is not hiding there, they sing the song again, choosing a different house each time, until he is found!

Others are far more detailed:


This farm page has a bunch of play options. All 3 doors open, revealing pockets where the 4 finger puppets are stored. The wooden gate opens, and beneath the green grass are 3 little areas – some grass for the cow, a water trough for the horse, and a mud pile for the pig! There is also a hidden bird behind the cloud that Princess loves.

This next one was a labour of love.
The two pages go together to make a castle play scene.
I made 2 princesses, a knight and a dragon for the finger puppets.
When not in use, all 4 fit in the two hidden pocket behind the tall grass on the castle page.

My favourite part about this page is the drawbridge! It opens and shuts, making a path over the castle’s moat! One of the puppets can fit behind the door.


The centre castle turret has a pocket , and the black window of the right tower can hold a puppet too. There are little fish hiding beneath the grass below the castle moat.

At the top of the scene page is a cloud on a ribbon. One side is a white cloud with a bright sun, the other has a darker cloud with a crescent moon. The dragon lives in the cave at the top of the page. A snake and a squirrel are also hidden in the scene.

My second favourite thing about these pages is the hidden picnic blanket. When folded up and secured with its velcro tab, the blanket is hidden behind some rocks. Opened up, It easily fits the princesses. 🙂
IMG_20140714_134722 IMG_20140714_134727


This one is also a lot of fun! The pieces of the sandcastle fit into the bucket, and the fish are stored in the ocean. I made the fish magnetic by gluing a metal paperclip into each one. When the girls want to fish, they use one of the many magnetic fishing rods we’ve made. (Glue about 2ft of yarn to the end of a 12″ wooden dowel, and
secure a small magnet to the other end of the yarn.)

IMG_20140714_135114IMG_20140714_135153 Munchkin loves this activity. The clothes are stored in the laundry basket, and are hung up on the line using the mini clothespins (great for fine motor practice!)

IMG_20140714_140110   IMG_20140714_140200

IMG_20140714_135920These Mr and Mrs Potato heads are technically the same page. All of the pieces need to make these two (plus one more) are stored in the basket.


IMG_20140714_134752     Untitled4

To see the original inspiration and links to any templates,
click on the page
descriptions below!

Mr. Potato Head (template)
Mailbox (template)
Paint Palette (inspiration)
Itsy Bitsy Spider (inspiration)
Barn and Puppet (template)
Sandcastle (template)

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Rainforest Unit Study Day 4

Day 4: C for Crocodile

Review of Days 1-3
Introduction to Amazon River
Crocodiles of the Rainforest

Illustrated World of Animals
Rainforests by Precious McKenzie

We had a busy day today! In addition to all of the following activities, the girls did 5 pages in their math workbooks, and 3 in their literacy books (EACH!). I also squeezed in a trip to the library this afternoon, as Munchkin is devouring all of the emergent/beginner reader books we got last week!

While Munchkin read two of her beginner books aloud to me, the Little Princess sat quietly doing a fun upper and lowercase matching game I made. She did great with this activity, and used Dr. Seuss’ ABC book to help her on any she didn’t know.

You can get the clip cards free for a limited time HERE, if you’re interested!

After that, we listened to the Dr.Seuss’ ABC Audiobook while they followed along in the book (CD is included with the book when we borrow it from the library!).

After that, they used their Duplo blocks to build a rainforest scene.
We have a Diego set that includes a ton of different wild animals, so they were able to include several Rainforest animals and 2 different types of trees to represent the
Emergent and Canopy layers. The blue pieces in the front represented the Amazon River and the crocodiles we were studying today! 🙂


Next, we snuggled up and read some interesting facts about the Amazon river in our books.
The girls were fascinated with the fact that there are no bridges spanning the river, so we made up a game to play, using paper plates with turtles on them. We pretended our blue carpet was the River, and used the plates to move across the room without touching the ‘water’ (step on one plate, move the second plate in front, step on the next one,
and move the first one in front, repeat).

Next, they had a lot of fun with a colourful crocodile weaving craft.


After their adorable creations were hung on our art wall, we played a game of “Monkey Rescue”. It is part of my Letter Mastery Unit (available HERE).

I made the crocodile by covering an empty Cascade dishwasher tab container with construction paper and drawing a belly and some scales on it.
We glued some googly eyes to the top  for that added cute factor 😉

To play, we put the lowercase deck of alphabet cards, 6 game cards and one monkey card into the crocodile. They took turns reaching in and grabbing one card. The goal is to try and get the monkey card – if it is the last card left in the croc’s belly, we lose!
To make it more challenging for my kinder, I had her give me the sound and one word that started with each letter she chose, while Princess worked on identifying the
lowercase letters.


Then we sang the 5 little monkeys song while using these cute little monkeys
(found here) and a clothespin crocodile I made.

Here are the lyrics we use:

5 little monkeys, swinging in a tree,
Teasing Mr.Crocodile “Can’t catch me,
No, you can’t catch me!”
Along came Mr.Crocodile, sneaky as can be,
then CHOMP – uh oh!

4 little monkeys…..
3 little monkeys…..
2 little monkeys…..
1 little monkey…..

We wrapped up our day by baking some chocolate chip cookies, and enjoyed them while we watched the Rainforest episode of The Magic Schoolbus together.

Check in tomorrow to see what we get up to in our study of the Amazon River Dolphin on Day 5 of our Rainforest Unit Study!

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Rainforest Unit Study Day 3

DAY 3: B for Blue Morpho Butterfly

Animal Defenses
Intro to Nocturnal/Diurnal Animals

Rainforests by Precious McKenzie
Magic School bus: Butterfly Battle
Over in the Jungle – A Rainforest Rhyme by Marianne Collins Berkes

We started the day reviewing what we covered in Day 1 and 2.
Then I introduced the set of rainforest calendar card connections I found here.
The girls really enjoyed looking through the picture cards and hypothesizing what the
topic of each would be. We will be reading one card a day.

We really enjoyed reading “Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme”.
We read it 4 times! After the first time, they remembered that we had animal cards that matched most of the ones in the book, and matched them up to the pages as we read the book the following 3 times.

Click here to get your own set of Free Rainforest Animal Cards,
if you didn’t get it on Day 2!

rf books

It has such a catchy rhyme to it, and the pictures are stunning . They are wonderfully bright and really appealed to the girls!

 rf book

After that, we read a bit more about our animal of the day: The Blue Morpho Butterfly.
We brainstormed and read about different animal defenses, and hypothesized which type of defenses each of the animals on our Rainforest Animal Cards might use.

Next, we did a set of self correcting Make 10 cards (available here).
I chose to laminate ours and use dry erase markers on them.
My girls LOVE getting to use my phone to check their answers!
I use the i-nigma app (free in the google play store).

butterfly math pic

After they ROCKED that mini math lesson,
we listened to this cute little Rainforest song a few times:

They really enjoyed singing along and pointing out all of the animals they recognized!

I then laid out this set of wall borders, purchased at Dollar Tree,
and a cute little frog figurine.

I encouraged them to work together to put them in order while i wrote out
a page each of addition and subtraction questions.


They then took turns hopping the frog on the lily pads to answer the given questions.
(And yes, Little Princess got all dolled up in a princess costume for school today 😛 )IMG_20150417_113144                           IMG_20150417_114320~2

During lunch, they chose their next rainforest food (CUCUMBERS!) and added its card to

our Rainforest Food Board. (Click here to get a set if you missed it on Day 2!)

Munchkin and I read the Magic Schoolbus Chapter book “Butterfly Battle”
while Princess napped.

After nap, we took our lessons outside.
I made up some Sticky hunts for the girls. Munchkin worked on sight words, cvc words and cvce words, while Princess worked on matching uppercase and lowercase letters.

IMG_20150417_155509 IMG_20150417_155950

We had a lot of fun – can’t wait to see what we get up to tomorrow!

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Spring has Sprung – An Unexpected Break from the Rainforest

One of the many things I love about Unit Studies is how we can oftentimes adjust our plans to take advantage of different opportunities as they arise.

Take yesterday for instance – it was a BEAUTIFUL 70 degrees , light breeze, bright blue sky…. after a week of thunderstorms and high winds,
we couldn’t help but enjoy the outdoors!

rf colouring girls

We opted for an unschooling kind of day instead. We relaxed for a bit in the morning, colouring while we listened to some new Audiobooks. We snuggled up with some emergent readers at Munchkin’s request and then headed outside. On our first walk, we made observations about the newly planted trees and budding flowers – taking pictures of our favourites to look up later, then made some new friends and had tons of physical activity between our walks, climbing, jumping, racing, rolling, digging, sliding and swinging at the park! They decided to do a neighbourhood cleanup as our contribution for Earth Day this year, and made a list of what we’d need when we came home for dinner.
We reviewed what we covered yesterday on our walk to the store {yes, they were the ones marching down the sidewalk singing the continent song on repeat!} and practiced skip counting and money sense when they each picked out a toy and a treat to buy with their own money. All in all, a great day 🙂

girls outside

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