March 25, 2015

Elementary Easter Egg Writing Activity

This game is perfect for motivating reluctant writers and encouraging creativity!






Christopher hates writing. His fine motor skills are not great, spelling does not come naturally to him, and rules for capitalizing and punctuating keep slipping his mind. So whenever it's time for writing there are lots of tears.

Except when we play this simple game.

To play, you will need some easter eggs which have been prepared with numbers inside them. You will also need paper and a couple of pencils. Players take turns picking eggs then adding that many words to the collaborative story.

I went first. I drew the number 8. I wrote "Once upon a time, in a dark forest, ". Now it was Christopher's turn. He opened up the number 4. He added the words "a dragon slept in". (I knew it would be a dragon. He always writes about dragons.) I opened up an egg and found the number 8. (How come I keep getting big numbers?) I wrote "a pile of dirty laundry. Suddenly a loud "

"Mom!" he yelled. "That was supposed to be a cave! Not a pile of laundry!"

And that's one of the reasons this game is so fun for him. He loves when I add silly things or when he has the chance to add silly things.

While we are writing, I am helping him remember when to capitalize, where to add punctuation, and how to spell. It is great practice for him, but he doesn't see it as writing practice. He sees it as playing a fun game with his mom, making this the perfect way for him to learn.

Tips for using this game with your children or in your classroom:

1. Play for a set number of turns or a set number of minutes so there's a clear stopping point. You can always come back and finish the story the next day.

2. Use mostly small numbers for beginning writers so they don't get overwhelmed trying to think of 12 words to right. Bigger numbers work well for older kids.

3. Play with more than 2 people, making the story even more fun. Use smaller numbers so everyone gets plenty of turns to add to the story.

4. Use different colored pencils for each person so it's easy to see at a glance who added what parts of the story.

5. If you don't have plastic Easter eggs lying around, instead roll dice (affiliate link) to determine the number of words written.

6. Have the children draw pictures of their favorite part when done writing to further develop fine motor skills.


I hope you have fun writing your own silly stories!!

March 18, 2015

The Chore Olympic Games

This is a fun way to teach kids how to do chores around the house.








This activity works great to teach kids how to do chores and let them practice in a fun way. You can have kids compete against each other, or your family could invite another family to compete, or it can be used with a church youth group. I used this with the activity day girls in my church (ages 8-11).

To begin your chorelympics, divide the kids into teams. Let them come up with their team name and color a flag. Play some music and have them march into the room and take their seats.

With any of these chores, some kids will need instruction and practice before competing. You can either do training right before the event or have a separate training time.

Here are some ideas for events:
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1. Sweeping - Spread bits of paper around the room. Make a square out of tape on the floor. When you say "go" the kids will start to sweep their pieces of paper toward their square. First team to sweep their area clean wins.

2. Sock Matching - set out one laundry basket for each team. Spread single socks around the room. When you say "go" the kids try to match and fold the socks and get them in their basket. The team with the most matched and folded socks in their basket wins.

3. Table Washing - teach the kids how to scoop crumbs into their hand while washing a table instead of pushing them onto the floor in this game. Spread bits of paper on a table. Give a child a dry rag. Start a timer and see how quickly they can wipe all the bits of paper into their hand. Add penalty seconds for each piece of paper that falls on the floor. You can either have the team choose one child to participate or let each child have a turn and combine their scores for the final score. Whichever team has the lowest score wins!

4. Towel Folding - This can be a more creative competition. Choose music all the kids will know (I used "let it go") and give the teams a few minutes to work out their routines. The idea is to fold the towels while dancing. The girls had lots of fun with this one! They were tossing towels in the air and catching them while spinning and being very graceful. Kids will be judged based on how neatly the towels are folded and on their dance routine, just for fun. I let the kids who were uncomfortable dancing sit this one out and just cheer on their team.

5. Toy Sorting - You will need buckets and lots of toys on the ground. Assign each team a toy category (such as cars, dolls, blocks, etc . . .) then see which team can pick up their items and fill up their basket first. Or you can have one team go at a time and do all the categories, and just time how quickly they get things picked up. Add penalty seconds for things put in wrong baskets.

6. Bed Making - You will probably need to be home for this game. Teach the kids how to make the bed nicely, then see which team can do the best job in the shortest time. Bonus points for artful pillow arranging.

7. Table Setting - Teach the kids how to set a table. Set this up as a relay race. Each team has a box with items needed in it. (You will probably want to use plastic dinnerware). When the whistle blows, the first player grabs out the placemat, runs to put it on the table, then runs back and tags the next player who runs over to the table with the plate, and so on. Which team can get their place set first?

This list is longer than what we did at activity days. I only got through 3 activities in the hour, but the girls had lots of fun. At the end they each received a gold medal made from a candy necklace with a chocolate gold coin taped on.



You can make up games for chores you have your kids do around the house, such as mirror washing, toilet cleaning, mopping, etc . . . Once the Chorelympics are done you can continue the fun each chore day by checking their work and giving them a Chorelympic score and see which child rates the highest, or give your whole family a score and track your progress as a family to see if you can improve your house cleaning score from the week before.


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March 16, 2015

Murder Mystery Party for Tweens

This Murder Mystery birthday party was a lot of fun for my 10 year old and his guests.







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On Monday we realized we finally had a free weekend to throw that birthday party for Joshua that was 3 months overdue. On Tuesday I invited the guests. On Wednesday I had an inkling of an idea. On Thursday I tweaked it. On Friday I planned and cleaned and shopped and videotaped. And Friday night we had a fun party that I hope I can describe well enough that someone else can use the idea too. 

Since this was a last minute party, I did not send out invitations, and the kids actually had no idea what type of party this was going to be. On Thursday I emailed the parents to ask their kids to come dressed up as any type of character they would like to be, but they didn't know why. When they arrived, the Butler (aka Jason) welcomed them to Mr. Negg's home.

Decorations were very sparse. On the front table I had a black tablecloth with a picture of Mr. Negg (probably one of my favorite pictures of Nathan ever because it's hilarious) along with some papers which we handed to the guests as they arrived. And then we had black balloons hanging up in some places and that was pretty much it. 



There was an obituary for Mr. Negg on the front of the page of the paper:

"Mr. Beeta Negg, born 1965, was a famed chicken trainer and circus performer. He learned to love chickens while growing up on his family's farm. He could never bring himself to eat them though, and became a vegetarian at an early age.

One day he discovered that by feeding his chickens marshmallows he could train them to do whatever he asked. Soon people were coming from all over the world to watch him and his trained chickens.

At age 17, Beeta opened the world's first Chicken Circus. The chickens would perform amazing death defying stunts. Soon other circuses wanted to add chickens to their performances and Mr. Negg opened up the now world famous Negg School for Chickens. His trained chickens were highly sought after and performed in cuicruses all over the world.

Mr. Negg was found dead in his home late Monday night. He is survived by the 10 trained chickens which currently reside with him and one son, who has been missing for some time now.

The world will miss this eggcentric chicken farmer."


And on the back it explained what they were doing here and gave them space to work out who their character was: 

"Early yesterday morning you received a phone call. Mr. Beeta Negg, the eggcentric chicken trainer, had unexpectedly passed away. What was even more surprising was that you were named as a beneficiary in his will! (That means he has left you something, such as money or his old belongings.) You were invited to come to his house for dinner and a meeting with Mr. Negg's lawyer to hear the will be read. What could Mr. Negg have left for you?

Fill out your character's story below:

My name:
Age:
Occupation:
Where I live:
How I know Beeta Negg:"


The kids did a great job coming up with their characters. They discussed who they were during dinner. Since the kids didn't know what to expect when they dressed up, we had all sorts of funny characters. We had a zebra who said she knew Mr. Negg from biting him once at a circus. We had a private detective who said he was hired to find Mr. Negg's missing son. We also had the Joker who said he had killed Mr. Negg (although he later changed his tune).

During dinner I also introduced the guests to the house staff. I played the part of the lawyer, my husband played the part of the Butler, my 12 year old daughter played the part of "assistant chicken keeper", my 8 year old son played the part of a policeman, and my 5 year old was a servant. It was nice to be able to involve my other kids in the party.  Maren carried around "Bob", Mr. Negg's favorite chicken during the party. It was this Folkmanis Rooster Puppet (have I ever told you how much I love puppets?), and she would make him peck her as if the chicken didn't like her. Hmmmm . . . I wonder why?

I forgot to get a good picture of all the kids dressed up as their parts, so this will have to do.

We took about 45 minutes to create characters, eat dinner, eat cake, and open presents. Joshua opened the presents while his friends ate cake. I told him he could eat cake later if he didn't have time to finish. I was kind of rushing the kids because I had absolutely no idea how long this party was going to take.

Joshua was dressed as a super spy named Samuel Keen Diggory. 


After dinner, the guests were invited into the drawing room to hear the will be read. I had prepared envelopes to hold the different parts of the will. I pretended to open up the will and read "Welcome. I would like for everyone to enjoy a piece of my favorite treat before reading the rest of the will." The servant (aka Nathan) then passed around a silver tray with little robin's eggs in candy cups for everyone to take a piece. After everyone had eaten the candy, I said "now Mr. Negg asks that we watch this video." I then opened "envelope 1", pulled out a dvd, and turned it on. Nathan helped make this video, and it cracks me up every time. You can tell when he's trying to remember exactly what I said and when he's just improvising:







I clarified to the kids what the video had said: "So Mr. Negg is convinced one of you killed him so he has poisoned all of us and we have to figure out who did it before we can get the antidote." I then gave the kids each a little notebook and pencil to write down notes on, as well as a list of questions they might want to ask the people in the room to help them get started. The questions were:

"How did Mr. Negg die? (the policeman answers this one)
How was the Negg School for Chickens doing financially? (lawyer and/or assistant chicken keeper answers)
Did Mr. Negg have any enemies? (Butler answers)
What were you doing the night Mr. Negg died? (all can answer)
Who receives the most money in the will?" (lawyer answers)

Before the party I had given scripts to the house staff so they were prepared to answer these questions. Rather than type them all up again in this post, you can access the document here.

As lawyer, I was able to help guide the children's questions if they got stuck. It was funny because even though they had a list of questions in front of them, there were still times when no one could think of anything to ask. I'd have to say "look at the paper!"

But the kids finally did figure out that (spoiler alert!) the Negg School for Chickens was not doing well as circuses were no longer interested in chicken performers. Mara, the assistant chicken keeper, was trying to convince Mr. Negg to sell the chickens as food, but Mr. Negg wouldn't hear of it. So Mara slipped a piece of chicken into Mr. Negg's ice cream which he had before bed every night, convinced that if he tasted how delicious chicken was he would change his mind. But unfortunately Mr. Negg liked to swallow his ice cream really fast and didn't notice the chicken, which had a small bone in it, which became lodged in his throat and killed him. Mara performed a very dramatic confession and apology. The poor unfortunate girl was carted off by the police and the rest of the beneficiaries were left to figure out where the antidote was.

After the kids had solved the mystery of "who killed Mr. Negg", I opened up the envelope which was supposed to be the antidote. BUT it was not the antidote! It contained two pieces of paper with the letters "A" and "N", as well as a coded clue which would lead to another clue, etc . . . That tricky Mr. Negg was not making this easy for us! I told the kids we had better hurry because we only had about 30 minutes before the poison killed us all!

Joshua's only request for this party was that we have no competitive games. He doesn't like them. The idea of us all working through games together for a common goal is how this whole murder mystery idea got started in the first place. Each time they found a new clue, they also found two letters which would end up spelling a word. The games played were:



1st - the kids had to figure out a coded message. It ended up reading "the chickens got loose in the basement".



2nd - they all ran to the basement and started hunting for easter eggs. Inside the easter eggs they found two more letters, "S" and "L", as well as puzzle pieces. The puzzle showed a picture of toys, so the kids ran up to the toy room where they found another envelope.

3rd - this envelope had the letter "O" and told them that two of their players had just lost their voices due to the poison. They had to do charades to get their friends to say "Why did the chicken cross the road." This was actually very funny. Jason and I were shaking our heads. The kids had managed to figure out that the phrase had 7 words, that the first 2 were "Why did" and then they figured out "chicken" and they still couldn't get it. Then some of the kids were saying "Why did the chicken dance? Why did the chicken . . .?" Hah. So funny. Finally someone figured out "road", and then Jason had to say "kids. come on. why did the chicken blank blank road? you can do this". And then someone got it. Yikes. We'll chalk it up to the excitement of the party. I told them the answer to the question was "because they were hungry" and we all went into the kitchen to find the next envelope.




4th - The next envelope had the letter "L" and told them that one of their friends had just lost use of their legs from the poison. That player was going to have to kneel and hold a bucket on their head while everyone else threw marshmallows into the bucket. We had to get 50 marshmallows in the bucket in 60 seconds to pass this test. The kids had to do it twice before they got the right amount. There was a lot of laughing with this game. (tip: leave the mini marshmallows out for a while to harden before the party. Then you won't have a sticky mess on your hands if people step on them). The kids could go and collect the marshmallows if they ran out but had to go back behind the line before they could throw them again.

5th - The last envelope had the letters "O" and "B" and told the players that they all just lost the use of their arms and hands. Their last task was to clean up the hen house of all the feathers. I had spread craft feathers all over the room. Some kids used their toes and some kids used their mouths (yes, really!) to pick up the feathers and put them in the bucket. There was no time limit, but we were running out of time before the poison killed us at this point. I had wished I had told the kids we had 45 minutes instead of 30 to complete all these tasks! But luckily the kids got it done pretty quickly and we still had 5 minutes to figure out the letters and find the antidote.

The kids figured out that the letters spelled the word "BALLOONS" and they raced to find the balloons hanging up in the house. I pointed out that they didn't need to pop all the balloons, just shake them and find the one with the antidote. (Before the party I had stuck some Mike and Ike's in a plastic bag and put the bag in a balloon.) They found the balloon, popped it, and everyone was saved from the poison with two minutes to spare - except for the butler because it turned out I put in one too few candies. Oops.



Phew. What a party, right? But wait, it's not done!! (seriously you guys, I asked myself several times while frantically planning this thing "why am I doing this?")

After we were all safe, we went back to the drawing room to finish reading the will. Mr. Negg split the bulk of his estate between the Butler (who turned out to be his long lost son, see the script) and his favorite chicken Bob. But everyone else received $275. I handed out play money and announced that Bob and the Butler had gone through the estate and picked out some things neither of them wanted which would now be auctioned off.

yay! Money!


This was probably the kids' favorite part of the evening. I had about 18 items, mostly from the dollar store or target dollar aisle. I had written down a list of the items for my reference and put them all in a box. I pulled them out one at a time and started bidding at 5 or 10 dollars. The kids were supposed to go up in increments of 5 or greater. This was tricky for the kids because they didn't know if they should spend all their money at the beginning or wait until the end. The things at the beginning went for pretty cheap because the kids were saving their money for something better. I told the kids that pretty much everything was just something small and not to expect big prizes but just spend their money already!

For fun I had a few joke items thrown in. Item number 4 was a pair of Mr. Negg's favorite socks (which I had hid some extra play money in). 4 items were hidden in bags and the kids had to bid on them sight unseen, although I did give them clues such as "These items belonged to Mrs. Negg" (it was candy jewelry). One child ended up buying a bag of "items found in Mr. Negg's personal quarters" for $200. It contained 2 bandaids, a roll of toilet paper, soap from a hotel, and a crazy straw. Everyone got a good laugh about that, and the boy was a good sport. I gave him some chocolate coins later because I felt bad he spent so much of his money on it.

Other items I auctioned included a can of sprite, colored pencils, glow sticks, strawberry nesquik, chapstick, fun pencils, and small candies. Once the auction was over, the kids continued to trade things with each other and some started collecting the pretend money to take home.

In addition to whatever auction items they had won, the kids each took home a bottle of extra antidote to help cure any leftover symptoms of the poison. I found these cute little bottles at the dollar store and made some printable labels and filled them with Mike and Ikes. Empty pill bottles would have worked well too, but I didn't have any nor did I have time to order them.



To review, there were 4 parts of the party:
 1- create characters, dinner, cake, presents (about 45 minutes)
 2 - figure out who killed Mr. Negg (about 20 minutes)
 3 - find the antidote (about 30 minutes, but I wish I had given them 45)
 4 - the auction (about 30 minutes)

So yes, I went a little overboard, especially given my time restraints, but it was a really fun party and one that the guests talked about much after.

I hope someone else uses these ideas too, so that my work is able to benefit someone else! Let me know if you end up throwing your own murder mystery party!

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