Finding Quality, Free Educational Materials on the Internet

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I am excited to have Renee from School Sparks visiting Mess For Less! Renee Abramovitz is a recently retired preschool and kindergarten teacher who is passionate about helping young children succeed in the classroom and beyond.  Visit Renee at www.schoolsparks.com for a free kindergarten readiness test and other resources and tips for bringing out the best in your young child. Today, she will be sharing some great tips for finding free educational resources online. Take it away Renee!




As a teacher and mother, I was always on the prowl for quality materials to provide my children with fun learning experiences.  Fortunately, the internet makes finding free educational materials extremely easy.  In fact, a simple search for “kindergarten worksheets” yields nearly 5 million results.  But the vast amount of potential resources can also make this search quite confusing and overwhelming and the challenge becomes finding the quality free materials among these 5 million resources.

Fortunately I have found a few simple guidelines to help parents and teachers navigate the millions of free resources on the internet and target only those that are truly educational and will provide meaningful learning opportunities for your child.

1) Take the time to find appealing materials.  Children need to be engaged.  When they are drawn to a worksheet, for example, because the drawings are delightful and colorful, they will stay focused and involved for longer.  So if your child loves dinosaurs, do not simply search for “kindergarten worksheets.”  Try searching for “dinosaur counting worksheets” and you will likely find free resources and worksheets that are most appealing to your child.

2) Look for materials that offer a variety of approaches to teach and reinforce the same concept.  For example, if a child is learning the names of the letters in the alphabet, a valuable teaching resource will provide several opportunities to learn this.  Perhaps your child will color the letter on one page and circle the uppercase and lowercase letters on another page.  A variety of activities will keep your child interested while allowing him to practice the same skill – and practice is what is needed for skill acquisition.  You may need to find this variety of resources across a few different websites.  The trick here is to find one website you like and then use targeted key words to find similar materials.  For example, don’t simply search for “alphabet worksheets” and then hunt website by website for activities that focus on letter sounds.  Instead, search for “letter sound worksheets” or “sounds of the alphabet worksheets.”  A targeted search will save you a lot of time.

3) Look for materials that provide a range of difficulty.  The ideal resource will provide beginning level worksheets to introduce a concept and then offer additional worksheets that present increasingly challenging tasks.  So do not be afraid to explore a website and do not limit yourself to one set of worksheets simply because of your child’s age.  For example, if your child is about to start kindergarten, check out the website’s preschool, kindergarten, and first grade worksheets.  The preschool worksheets might be a nice introduction, the kindergarten worksheets might be right at your child’s existing skill level, and the first grade worksheets might be a nice challenge for your child once he masters the other worksheets.

4) Find materials in a variety of skill areas.  Children have more fun when they are able to practice honing skills in a variety of areas, such as letters, numbers, visual discrimination, auditory processing, and fine motor skills, to name a few.  When you have materials that allow for practice in several learning areas, your child will stay interested and curious.  So if you find a website that has wonderful alphabet worksheets, for example, take a minute and explore the rest of the website.  If you really like a particular website’s alphabet worksheets, the chances are high you will also like their math worksheets.

5) Hands-on activities keep children involved.  A child learns best by doing something himself.  While adult demonstrations or stories can give a child information, the best way to actually gain skills is through practice.  So do not be afraid to let your child take control of the mouse for a minute or so and use it to point to things on the website that interest him.  Or bring up a free game on a website like www.starfall.com and allow your child to point (either with his finger or with the mouse) at the correct answers and play the game online rather than print it out.

With a little effort, you can easily target free, quality educational materials on the internet.  Using these five tips, for the cost of printer paper and a little ink, you can easily help educate your child at home without breaking the bank.

Thank you so much Renee! When I was teaching Kindergarten we used the Starfall website with the kids and they just loved it and learned a bunch at the same time. Here are some of my favorite posts from the School Sparks blog:


The Importance of Story Time
Memory Game with a Twist of Rhyme
Letting your Child Dress Himself


Vicky
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Moving With Young Children

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You may recall a post I did called "Selling Your House When You Have Kids." In it, I talked about ways you could keep you house ready for showings and keep your kids occupied. We were very blessed to sell our home in two weeks. Finding a home was a bit trickier and we were unable to find a place to move to before we had to be out of this home. We did finally find a home we just loved, but it will not close until mid-June. So tomorrow, we move out of our home and into a small apartment for 17 days. You can bet I am counting the days until we close!

If you have moved before, you know how frantic those last few days before a move can be. If you have moved with young children then you are my hero! I have been working on ways to keep the kids busy and happy while everything they know is being packed up around them. I am blessed with pretty resilient kids and also kids who don't notice a ton. We have sold off sofas and other furniture we are not taking to the new place and they haven't even noticed them missing. This is a good thing because it keeps them from feeling anxious. I think it also helps that they were very involved in the house hunting process and are super excited to move to their new house - eventually.

The more involved kids are in every step of the moving process, the easier it will be for them to adjust. We have been talking about how we will be moving to an apartment for a bit (hubby calls it the "two week house,") and the kids have been helping me figure out what toys we should bring there. 


Another way I have gotten them involved, is by having them help me pack. Lets face it, not everything is fragile or in need of heavy wrapping especially if you are just moving across town like we are. When I come across items that are not fragile I love to let the kids help me pack. This is so fun for them and I get free moving help!


I don't want to bring a bunch of the kids' things to the apartment since we will only be there for a short period of time. The plan is to spend as much time outdoors as possible. We are lucky that the great spring weather is here, so parks are a fabulous, free option. We are also doing lots of play dates with kind friends who sympathize with our predicament. 

It doesn't matter if you are moving into your dream home or staying in temporary housing like we are, you are going to need a few things on hand that you can unpack first or take with you until you get settled. Try to focus on items that are small and easy to pack or can be used in a variety of ways. I will be taking a craft box with glue, paints, beads, pipe cleaners and buttons. Add some paper, crayons and stickers and you've got the possibility for hours of fun. Play dough is another great item to take along since there is so much you can do with it.

As far as the actual move goes, even though my kids are young (2 and 3), I know they will probably be sad about leaving the only home they can remember. We will be taking some time to say goodbye to the house and recalling special memories. But we are also spending time talking about all the fun things they will do in their new house. We have discussed what color they want their rooms to be and what kind of swing set to get for the backyard. 

Finally, this is a perfect time for the kids (and me) to remember that our family and our traditions remain no matter where we are. What makes a home is not the building but the people. Moving is always an adventure and I am so happy that I have my amazing husband and three kids along for the ride. Here's to making new memories and more messes (for less) in our new place!

Vicky
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Frozen Sour Grapes

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How many of you have had frozen grapes? They are a yummy snack especially on a hot day. But lets step up those frozen grapes a little shall we? I was inspired by an idea I saw on Pure Sugar where Carol made what she dubbed "Sour Patch Grapes." I love that she only used two ingredients that I actually happened to have. Score! I changed a few things up, but the general goodness remains.

You will need:
  • Green seedless grapes
  • Lime jello
  • Skewers

I have tried this with both sugar free and regular jello and it tastes the same either way. I think in the future I will only use sugar free jello since who needs the extra sugar? On the Pure Sugar blog they used Melon Fusion Jello but already had lime on hand so I went with that. It adds the perfect tart taste to the grapes.

First wash your grapes thoroughly. You will want to be sure they are plenty wet for the next step so that the jello is able to stick to them.


Place the grapes on a skewer. This is something kids can help with as well. When I do have the kids help, I make sure to cut the sharp tip off so they don't get poked. Pour the packet of jello into a shallow plate.


Turn the skewer in the jello powder to get it fully covered. If this doesn't fully cover the grapes use a spoon to scoop on the powder.



You can also make these sour grapes without the skewer. Simply drop some grapes onto the plate and roll them around until they are completely coated. Pop them in the freezer for a few hours and they are ready to enjoy. I have left these in the freezer overnight as well and they are just as good.


The kids loved these! Please make sure you cut the grapes in half for little ones as grapes can be a
choking hazard.

These sour grapes could not be simpler to make. The sour jello coating really does make you feel like you are eating candy.



Vicky
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Small Hands Creating Hope

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Please visit Mama Smiles for Small Hands Creating Hope, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Check out MaryAnne's amazing story, get some wonderful kid friendly ideas, and make a donation to a wonderful cause! A bunch of amazing kid bloggers contributed projects to an e-book that you can purchase to benefit the American Cancer Society. It's a win win! When you donate at least $15 you get your very own e-book. You can donate on this site, Mama Smiles or any of the blogs listed below. Thanks in advance for your support of this great cause!

Small Hands Creating Hope

A sneak peek at some of the amazing projects you will find in this book:


A glimpse at the project contributed by Mess For Less. We made a butterfly hand print card to cheer up a friend battling cancer.


Anyone who donates at least $15 will receive links to download both the ebook and to purchase a paper copy of the book at production cost. You will receive the email when your donation is received.

If you donate but do not receive this email for any reason, or if you have trouble with the download, email smallhandsproject at gmail dot com.


Donate to the American Cancer Society


Here you can see a list of the bloggers who worked so hard on this and get a sneak peek at their project. Check back each day and click on the daily link.

14 May Mama Smiles
15 May Artsy Craftsy Mom and Rainbows Within Reach
16 May B. Inspired, Mama!
17 May Rainy Day Mum and Imagination Soup
18 May Inspiration Laboratories
19 May Experimenting Mom
20 May Mama Mia’s Heart2Heart
21 May NurtureStore
22 May Living Montessori Now
23 May Mess for Less
24 May Having Fun at Home and CraftoArt
25 May Outlaw Mom
26 May Angelique Felix and Sense of Wonder
27 May Sun Hats & Wellie Boots
28 May Duck Duck Octopus
29 May Smiling like Sunshine
30 May Mommy with Selective Memory
31 May One Perfect Day
1 June The Educators’ Spin On It
2 June Kids Stuff World
3 June Rainy Day Mum
4 June Teach Preschool
5 June Dirt and Boogers
6 June Creative Connections for Kids and The Golden Gleam
7 June Montessori Tidbits
8 June Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas
9 June The Iowa Farmer’s Wife
10 June Scribble Doodle and Draw
11 June Learn with Play
12 June Kitchen Counter Chronicles
13 June CRAYON Freckles
14 June Glittering Muffins
15 June Wise Owl Factory
16 June Crafty Maa
18 June Lessons Learnt Journal
20 June Growing a Jeweled Rose
21 June Growing Play
23 June JDaniel4′s Mom

Vicky
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Eclos Anti Aging Skin Care #EclosBeauty

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This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of éclos Skin Care. All opinions are 100% mine.
I don't know about you, but I have a medicine cabinet full of anti-aging products that I have tried that didn't quite deliver what they promised. So I was a little skeptical when I received éclos Skin Care to try out. When I got the package I was immediately intrigued. You see eclos is revolutionary in that it contains high potency apple stem cells which have actually been extracted from a rare Swiss apple. Why is this so special? Well, the stem cells from that apple have been shown to stimulate your own skin's stem cells. What does this mean for you? According to the folks at ecols, younger looking skin. The eclos aporducts are also loaded with plant extracts, vitamins and anti-oxidents that work together with the stem cells to produce results.
Eclos_StarterKit.jpg
Let me tell you about the eclos products I received. I used most of these morning and night for a week and a half unless the directions specified something different. The éclos Skin Care Starter Kit came with the following:
Anti-Aging Facial Cleanser Skin Prep - this cleanser helps remove makeup and is gentle on the skin. I liked that is was clear and had no strong odors. It just made the product feel really clean.
Cellular Activator Face Serum - This claims to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. I used this after washing my face with the cleanser and it seemed to make my skin feel tighter.

Moisture Therapy Regenerative Cream - The instructions said to use this over the Face Serum and truth be told, I actually preferred this. This cream, which helps skin to repair itself, was creamy and moisturized my skin without making it feel greasy. A little of this stuff goes a long way. 
Anti-Aging Restorative Eye Cream - This worked great under makeup. It went on smooth and the under eye concealer I applied afterward stayed put. I like how it increased moisture to the undereye area. Some undereye creams I have used dry out and then the concealer looks awful.
Instant Radiance Facial Scrub - I used this product every other day and helped my skin to feel refreshed and  exfoliated.
Skin Renewal Clay Mask - I did feel some skin tightening after applying this mask which made me feel like it was doing it's job. However, I am not a mask person as it takes more time than I want to spend on my skincare routine.
Terry Cloth Headband - I LOVE this thing. I wear it every day and night when washing my face and wearing it makes me feel like I am at a spa.
Here are the before and after shots by a person who cannot take a flattering photo of herself. Next time I need to have someone else take the photo.
Before: (Please excuse the red face. I had just spent some time in the sun and even though I was wearing sunscreen it took a while for my face to recover).
After:
What do you think, does my skin look better? Less lines and wrinkles? It's hard for me to tell since I didn't have a lot of lines and wrinkles to start with. Do I think my skin looks better? Absolutely. I even got two compliments on my skin while I was trying out the eclos line. 
Want to try the éclos Skin Care Starter Kit for yourself? Leave a comment below letting me know which product in the starter kit you are most excited to try. Winner will be chosen at random on June 5th. Open to ages 18 and up in the US. Good luck!
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DIY Foam Bath Toys - Guest Post from Raise A Boy

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Today, I get a taste of how the other half lives. As the mom of three girls, I have often thought it would be fun to trade places for a day with a mom of boys. Well I have done the next best thing! I have Melanie from Raise A Boy here to share a fun activity that she made for her son. If you have a boy or a girl, you will find lots more great ideas like this on Raise A Boy. Welcome Melanie!

Hi Mess for Less readers! I'm Melanie from Raise A Boy and am so excited to share these new bath toys I recently made for my son.

Bath Time Book

Bath time used to be my little one's favorite part of the day - given enough toys and bubbles he could have spent hours in there. Lately, however, he hasn't wanted to take a bath so I decided to make him some new toys to get him interested again. He has this bath time book which is super cute and has sea creatures that stick to the walls when wet. They just looked like foam which gave me an idea. The next time I was at Michaels I found this stack of foam for super cheap (plus a 40% off coupon) so I went for it. And sure enough - when it's wet the foam sticks to the bath tub walls! I love when ideas work the way I think they will!

  Foam Needed to Make Bath Stickies

So what did I do with this sticky foam? First, I created a bunch of shapes out of different colors. Now bath time is also learning colors and shapes time.

Bath Sticky Shapes

Then, I got carried away and made some car and road stickies just for fun!

Bath Tub Car Stickies

The possibilities are really only limited by your artistic capabilities (though you can get stencils for lots of things). Here are just a few ideas you could run with.

Educational

  • Cut out letters to practice spelling words in the tub or write love notes for the next person
  • Cut out numbers to practice math problems

Just for Fun

  • If you had a girl, how fun would it be to create paper dolls that you could customize?
  • A Mr. Potato Head
  • Trains
If you would like, you can download my Shape Template or the Car Template. Just a word of caution: These are very thin pieces of foam that are easily chewable. Make sure your child is over the biting everything stage or you'll have to watch him closely - not that I'm speaking from experience or anything. Thanks Vicky for letting us post on your site today!


Thank you Melanie! I think this will help out a lot of moms. I know bath time can be quite a battle in some homes. I love how these were easy and inexpensive to make and you can use the foam for so many other things too. Thanks for the jumping off points - my girls would love some paper (foam) dolls! Here are some of my favorite posts from Raise A Boy:

Latch Activity Board
Photocopied Hands and Feet
Homemade Peanut Butter Bars

Vicky
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Rainbow Fruit Loop Towers - Rainbow Activity

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Faithful readers of Mess For Less might remember the Fruit Loop Towers we did last August. Well this starts with the same basic concept but takes it a few steps further. Since we have been enjoying rainbow activities lately, I added a rainbow component to these fruit loop towers. In addition to helping develop fine motor skills, this kids activity teaches color discrimination, sorting and introduces the concepts of more and less.

Rainbow Fruit Loop Towers - I love how this combines fine motor skills with fun rainbow activities.

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Food Fun Friday: Yogurt Covered Berries on a Stick

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Welcome to Food Fun Friday! Have you noticed that any food is more fun when it's on a stick? Well I have and when I saw these yummy Frozen Yogurt-Covered Blueberry Kabobs from One Good Thing by Jillie, I knew this was a great food activity to try with my little ones. 

You will need:
  • Skewers (I cut the pointy tip off since the kids would be doing this)
  • Blueberries and Strawberries
  • Greek style yogurt (I used honey flavored)

To add some variety, I decided to add strawberries to my stick in addition to blueberries. Since the strawberries are way bigger than the blueberries, I just cut them into smaller chunks before we started the assembly.


I am always looking for teachable moments with my kids and decided that they could place the blueberries and strawberries on the stick to form a pattern. We have been doing lots of work with patterns recently (Patterned Bead Snakes) and it was nice to be able to carry that over here. 

Besides creating a tasty treat, kids will also be perfecting their fine motor skills as they push each piece of fruit onto the skewer. 




Once your pattern is made, you will want to roll the berries into a plate of yogurt. I used a flat plate here since it was easier to roll the stick through. 




Once the kids rolled the stick through the yogurt, I placed it on another plate and popped that in the freezer for 30-40 minutes. 


Because this is made with fruit and yogurt it's a snack you can feel good giving the kids. I think this makes a great low calorie mommy snack too. Hubby suggested that the colors would make it perfect for the 4th of July. Now why didn't I think of that?


Vicky
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Patterned Bead Snakes

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A while ago the kids made Paper Pattern Snakes and they were a big hit. Recently, when the twins came home from school with snakes they made with pipe cleaners and random colored beads, I got inspired. We had all the supplies we needed to make the snakes at home, but I thought I could sneak in some learning and have the kids only use two colors of beads and create a pattern.

You will need:
  • Pipe cleaner (we used green but you can use any color since you won't see it under the beads.)
  • Beads in two colors (or more depending on the age of the child and how complex a pattern you want to make)
  • Small jingle bell
  • Red and green construction paper
  • Black marker
  • Glue


The jingle bell not only serves as the rattle on the snake, but it keeps all the beads from falling off. String the jingle bell through the end of the pipe cleaner and fold the pipe cleaner over about 1/2 and inch. When the kids start putting the beads on the snake, just have then slide the first few over this end of the pipe cleaner.



Ask your child what 2 color beads they want for their snake and place the beads in a cup. Explain that they will be making a pattern snake by placing the beads on the pipe cleaner to form a pattern.

 



Little C loved making her pattern snake. She has not figured out patterns yet, but she loves doing what her big sisters are doing. If you have younger ones, you can give them multi-colored beads for their snake and just focus on the fine motor workout they will be getting.






























Even the older girls got to practice their fine motor skills, which will come in handy as they work on their pencil grips and writing.



B was happily making her pattern when I noticed she had placed two yellow beads next to each other. When I suggested she check her pattern she pointed to each bead saying "yellow, pink, yellow, pink" until she discovered the two yellow beads. She was then able to correct her work.

















When the snakes are done you will want to add a head. I cut an oval out of green construction paper and glued on a tongue I made using the red paper. Add some simple eyes drawn with a black marker and you have yourself a snake head! To attach the snake head, simply poke the remaining end of the pipe cleaner through the back of the head and fold the pipe cleaner over.





Here are our snakes. One of these things is not like the other...



This activity can be done with a wide range of ages. You will want to be sure you don't try this with any little ones who still put things in their mouths. The pattern can get more complicated with older children so they are still challenged. 

Vicky
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