Stacking rocks may be simple, but it's a powerful learning activity for kids. Here's how they benefit...

5 Ways Kids Benefit from Stacking Rocks

You don’t need fancy toys to engage your kids. They can play and learn with just about anything!

I walked to the waterfall with my husband and two of our kids recently. As my husband was taking pictures, my six-year-old was starting to grow restless. So I asked her to stack some rocks.

I figured she’d stack them once and then be done. But, she kept working on her creations. As she played, I realized there was some major learning going on!

Benefits of Stacking Rocks

Stacking rocks is simple. All you need are some rocks and a surface to stack them on. So head outside and let your kids gather up rocks. Then challenge them to stack them. They’ll be:

1. Learn about balance

You can’t just throw rocks on top of each other and expect them to stick. Rather, you must set them carefully, achieving balance.

As your child stacks, she’ll likely have to readjust, while learning:

  • Smaller rocks work best on top of bigger rocks
  • The flat side of angled rocks fits best on flat surfaces
  • Building is easier on a flat surface
  • You can increase balance by a change in placement

2. Improve observation skills

To figure out where each rock fits best, children must look at the rocks. As they look at the shape and size of each rock, they’re using the power of observation.

3. Connect with nature

Being outside benefits children in more ways than I can explain. Stacking rocks is an outside activity, and requires picking up rocks. It’s a very grounding experience!

Here’s my six-year-old with one of her rock stacks near the waterfall.

Ellie's stacking rocks!

4. Boost creativity

Stacking rocks might not seem all that enjoyable. But, when you sprinkle in a little creativity, it’s a game changer!

Your child can:

  • Try to build a house
  • Create the tallest tower of rocks possible
  • Use different surfaces as the starting point
  • Build a rock monster
  • Use two rocks at the bottom, like pillars, and build on top of that
  • Build blindfolded, relying on the sense of touch

Creative thinking is a soft skill that children will need in the future, so it’s important to inspire it now.

5. Build geology skills

Rocks are everywhere! What kind do you have in your area? You can talk to your child about some basic geology in your locale.

To let your child learn more, have her:

  • Sort the rocks before stacking
  • Look for patterns in rocks
  • Describe the color of each rock
  • Look for common speckles or other identifying features
  • Drop a rock and see if it fractures
  • Use one rock to scratch another to test hardness

In short, rock stacking is an easy, inexpensive way to build STEM skills!

Have you ever stacked rocks?

Rock stacking rocks! Give it a try if you haven’t! I’d love to hear about your experience, or see pictures of your stacks in the comments.

Photo credit: Deniz Altindas via Unsplash

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Pretend stores are amazing! Here's what your child can learn in the process.

Practice Money Skills (and More) by Setting Up a Pretend Store

Your kids can learn so much by setting up a pretend store. It’s one of our favorite creative play games.

A pretend store doesn’t need to be complicated, or beautiful, to be educational.

How to Set Up a Quick Pretend Store

When I set up a pretend store with my kids, we take the super simple approach. Here’s what we need:

  • Stuff to sell (my kids gather toys or clothes or books or canned food from the cupboard). I’ve found 25 items is a good number to keep it from being too overwhelming or complicated.
  • A place to sell. We use the living room furniture.
  • Fake or real money. (Monopoly money works well!)
  • A cash register. (Before we got one we used a shallow cardboard box!)
  • Paper and a pen for making price tags.

Once we’ve gathered what we need, it’s time to set up the store. We just arrange things on the desk, couch, and coffee table in the living room. I usually let the kids do this, because then they can practice skills like facing merchandise and grouping like items.

And while they’re setting up the store, I can totally get something small knocked off my to-do list! 😀

Price Items

We don’t get complicated with prices. If we’re using Monopoly money, we stick with whole dollar amounts. Sometimes I’ll break out the coins and then we’ll add cents to prices.

When it’s time to price, we take a piece of printer paper and fold it several times. Then we cut on the lines to get our price tags.

Depending on what we’re selling that day, we’ll either use tape to stick tags on, or just put the tags down in front of the item.

Open for Business

After our set-up is done, it’s time to open the store. We pick one person to be the first storekeeper. This person turns on the lights in the living room, and greets customers as they come to the store.

The rest of us browse the aisle, and pick a couple things to buy. When we’re done shopping, we take our merchandise to the storekeeper.

She adds up all the price tags (having extra pen and paper nearby helps!) and then tells us how much we owe. We shell out some of our money to pay, and get any change if needed.

Then we leave the store and someone else can checkout. Once everyone has checked out, we switch store keepers and play some more.

When we’re done, we close the shop by putting everything away.

What Your Child Is Learning with a Pretend Store

Money skills are an obvious learning lesson from a pretend store.Your child will be:

  • Adding money to find a total.
  • Subtracting money to figure out how much change is needed.
  • Counting back change.
  • Learning budgeting skills–knowing what can be purchased with the amount of money they have
  • Gaining confidence in money handling

But, money math skills aren’t the only things learned with a pretend store. Here are eight other skills your child can practice:

1. Customer Service Skills

Treating others kindly is so important. As the shopkeeper, your child has the opportunity to build her customer service skills. She can work on speaking politely, saying please and thank you, and greeting you with a smile.

2. Assigning Value

Every object at your store is worth something. Helping price items helps your child to assign value to objects. They’ll learn that they need to pay for what they want.

This helps them learn that things cost money, and help them understand why they can’t always get what they want.

3. Marketing

Setting up a store is strategic. As the shopkeeper, your child will begin to see a pattern for what is selling. She might discover that setting up her wares in a different way changes the pattern of selling.

How items are displayed play an important role in their appeal, and their sellability.

4. Facing Money

Handing the cashier a big wad of crumpled money isn’t the best way to make a purchase. I make my kids face their money before handing it over. (We get it ready while waiting in line.)

Have your child make sure the paper money is uncrumpled, and that the president’s are all facing the same way. Now their money is faced, and it’s much easier on the cashier to count.

5. Confidence

Going into a store to make a purchase can be intimidating for some kids. Practicing at home makes it a safe environment where your child can gain confidence.

You can have your child ensure he has the money needed to purchase what he wants, learn to verify the price, and speak kindly to the cashier.

Occasionally if I’m the cashier, I’ll tell the wrong price for an item purposefully. I want my kids to have the confined to speak up about the mistake, and question it. This is the perfect opportunity for a teachable moment!

6. Prioritizing

As the shopkeeper, your child will have to figure out how to add up the price tags and how to keep the money organized in the cash register. She’s in charge of making sure the merchandise stays nice, and that the customers are taken care of.

When you have multiple responsibilities occurring at the same time, you have to prioritize them. Your child will need to decide what needs immediate attention (like the customer waiting to check out) and what can wait a few minutes.

7. Improving Vocabulary

There’s a vocabulary learned while shopping, and you can help your child learn to use these words appropriately. Here are some examples:

  • Aisle
  • Price
  • Sale
  • BOGO
  • Cashier
  • Cash Register (or till)
  • Bargain
  • Clearance

You might decide to have a Clearance Rack or a Bargain Bin in your store. Or run a BOGO sale. Using these words at home will help your child master the vocabulary.

8. Patience

If someone else is checking out before you, it’s hard to wait in line. It’s a great opportunity to learn patience. At the real grocery store, we use this time to play games.

At home, it’s a great time to teach some solo things to do while waiting:

  • Counting floor or ceiling tiles
  • Searching for all the colors of the rainbow without running around
  • Thinking about a story read recently
  • Making a picture in your mind
  • People watching

What Can You Add?

I know there are plenty of other benefits from setting up a pretend store. What can you add to my list? Do you enjoy playing store with your kids?

Photo credit: Fabian Blank via Unsplash

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Family walks don't need to be boring! Here are 21 different ways to make family walks more fun for everyone.

21 Simple Ways to Make Family Walks More Fun

Spring is in the air! Now that the snow and ice is off the road, the kids love taking family walks. We’ve walked down to the creek and back each day (about 2/5 of a mile round-trip).

The fresh air feels amazing! And it’s great to be outside after a long winter. The kids have tons of energy to burn off!

But, sometimes walks can get a bit boring. Especially if you’re doing the same walk each day since the rest of the road is still a bit icy. Or involves a hill too steep for everyone.

So here are some ways we’ve boosted the fun level of our family walks. They’re super simple, and as a bonus, many are educational as well! Talk about learning on the go! 😀

1. Sing

We love singing as we walk. The kids take turns picking songs. Silly songs are a big hit!

2. Change Up the Speed

Alternate walking and jogging. If you’re feeling especially energetic, throw in some sprints. See if everyone can jog to the next power pole, or sprint to the driveway.

Using visual clues instead of a stopwatch has been way more engaging for my kids!

3. Check for Signs of Spring

Every where we look, we can see subtle signs of spring coming. I ask the kids what they notice and here are some clues they’ve found:

  • Water running down the side of the road from snow melting
  • Birds chirping
  • The creek flooding
  • Snow levels shrinking
  • Buds on the trees
  • The grass greening
  • The warm feeling in the air
  • A flower coming up

4. Play Follow the Leader

This is a fun way to mix up your movement. Pick one person to be the leader first. They can skip, hop, twirl, or do another movement of their choice. Everyone else follows.

Change up the leader every so often. We use visual markers for this one too so there’s no arguing. (You can be the leader until we reach that flower bed, then it’s someone else’s turn.

5. Find the ABCs

Look up and down and all around and see if you can find things starting with each letter of the alphabet. You might notice:

  • An airplane flying overhead
  • A bubble from someone’s gum
  • A cloud
  • Deer running through the field

And lots more!

If you can’t find a letter, agree to skip it after a minute of looking. That way the game doesn’t slow down.

6. Rhyme Time

Let one person go first and say a word aloud. Everyone else says a word that rhymes. Then, let another person say the beginning word.

Bonus points for starting with a word of something you see!

7. I Spy!

I spy with my little eye, something green!

You’ve probably played this game before, and it’s so much fun to play while walking. Take turns and use your power of observation.

8. Question & Answer

One person asks a question, and everyone else answers. This is a great way to get to know each other a little better. Here are some fun questions:

  • Which RescueBot is your favorite? (Can be used with any favorite cartoon!)
  • If you could go anywhere for a week, where would you go?
  • What season is your favorite?
  • What’s your favorite breakfast food?
  • What are your favorite ice cream toppings?
  • If you could meet any book character, who would it be?
  • If you could go inside any book as a character, which book would you pick?

Just ask away–this game is perfect if you’re all walking at about the same speed.

9. Magnifying Glasses

If you aren’t in a hurry on your walk, bring along a couple of magnifying glasses. Kids learn so much looking at the world up close. Encourage them to check out plants, bugs, rocks, and anything else they see.

10. Copy Cat

Listen carefully, and pick a sound to copy. Then have everyone else guess what you sound like. This works with birds, vehicles, construction noise, and anything else that makes noise!

11. Turn Around

If you’re in a safe place where you don’t have to worry about traffic, turn around and walk backwards. It stretches a completely different set of muscles and is lots of fun!

Just remind your kids to look over their shoulders so they can make sure they aren’t going to run into anything.

12. Animal Walk

This is a fun one for younger kids. Call out an animal and have everyone walk like that animal. Here are some ideas:

  • Elephant
  • Kangaroo
  • Horse
  • Bird
  • Fish

13. Linked

Everyone grabs hands and then walk in a single-file line. The person in front is the leader and tries to make sure everyone avoids obstacles. Don’t break the chain!

14. Shape Spy

Shapes are everywhere. Challenge your kids to find as many as possible. You may notice a circle man-hole cover, a triangle-shaped tree, or a rectangular building.

15. Photo the Way

Bring along a digital camera or two (smartphones or tablets work great!). Have your kids take pictures along the way, taking turns if necessary.

When you get back home, be sure to check out the photos. I love seeing the world through my kids’ eyes, and this is an easy way to make it happen.

16. Make a Boat

My kids love this one, and I hope yours do as well, if you have any water you can walk to. Give everyone a plastic bag before you leave, and urge your kids to pick up a few natural items along the way.

When you get to the water, have everyone use their natural objects to make a boat. No fair using anything man-made–we don’t want to pollute the water!

Once everyone is ready, put your boats in the water and watch them float.

17. Read the Tracks

If you’re off-road (or on a dirt road like us!), look closely for tracks. Then try to figure out what they are. Look for:

  • Tire tracks from vehicles, bikes, or strollers
  • Footprints
  • Animal tracks

18. Cloud Watchers

Keep your eyes to the sky and see what shapes you can find in the clouds. Try to piece what you find into a story. Perhaps there’s a giant dragon sneaking up on a fish. Or a bear walking towards a tree.

Use your imagination!

19. Story Time

Work together to tell a story using what’s around you for inspiration. Everyone can take turns adding details and plot twists to your story. Wrap it up at a logical point, and then start over again!

20. Nature Observer

Look around as you’re out and pay close attention to the nature around you. Talk about different types of flowers, the differences between conifers and deciduous trees, and anything else you notice.

When you get home, you can have your kids draw a picture of something they enjoyed from nature.

21. Street Safety

As you walk, wherever you go, talk to your kids about street safety. Be sure to practice what you preach–head to the crosswalks instead of jay walking, wait for the green lights, and always watch for cars.

Even if you’re in a rural area without much traffic, teach your kids to walk on the side of the road instead of down the middle. Safety is important anywhere!

What other ideas can you add to make family walks more fun?

I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Photo credit: Noah Hinton via Unsplash

Increase the fun on your family walks with these 21 different activities. They're all simple!

Budget board games often rely on taking a large debt load to win. With a few simple modifications, these same games can be used to teach smarter money skills. Here's how to make it work.

How I Modify Budget Board Games to Teach Smarter Money Skills

Do you know what I don’t like about most budget board games? They almost all encourage racking up debt early on to have more cash later. As a family trying hard to get out of debt using Dave Ramsey principles, taking out loans isn’t a skill I want to pass onto my children.

So I change the rules a bit. I talk to the kids about dangers of debt while we play, and explain that we’re going to change the rules so they learn how to better manage their money. It’s an easy way to reinforce smart money skills.

Games I’ve Modified

Here are some of the games I’ve modified, to remove the debt part (yes, those are affiliate links–thanks for your support!):

Now these games might not all encourage going into debt, but the rules are designed so that players often need to take out bank loans to cover unexpected expenses.

5 Easy Ways to Modify Budget Board Games

To help teach smart money management to the kids, here are some specific ways I’ve changed the rules of game play. We mix and match depending on the game, but this will give you a general idea.

Encourage an Emergency Fund

You’ve got to have a small emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses! Otherwise, you’re going to run out of money and need a loan.

So when the banker passes out the initial money to start the game, I remind the kids to put some of their bills in an emergency fund. They decide how much to put in, and slide those bills into another pile.

As they’re buying properties or anything else, they don’t touch their emergency fund. It’s for when they run into unexpected expenses from a card or space on the board. If they have to spend money from this fund, I encourage them to put it back as soon as they can.

Analyzing Purchases and Deals

Not every deal is a great buy. If you go broke in the process, you have to ask yourself if it was really worth it.

So as each player has the opportunity to buy, I encourage them to look closely at their financial situation and make an educated decision. If you don’t know where you are financially, you probably shouldn’t be making big purchases!

Paying Back Debt ASAP

Sometimes a crisis arises, and you have to go into debt. When this happens, I talk to the kids about taking out as small a loan as possible, and aggressively paying it off.

It’s amazing how fast you can get out of debt in games if you put your energy into it.

After all, the goal of the games is to acquire actual money. If you have loans, that’s a big fat negative you have to subtract.

Encourage Giving

These games don’t have a giving component, which is something I want my kids to have. I want them to give generously, and help others out.

If I see that a player is going to have to go into debt, and I have enough to help, I pass them over some money as a gift. Not a loan that I expect to be paid back–I’d much rather they owe the bank than me…

No, I give the money as a gift, to help them out of a tight situation.

My kids are starting to do the same. And this attitude is coming out in real life as well. It’s been amazing to watch!

Play Longer

Some games, like Payday, can be extended in play. When you’re not taking out loans, you don’t get to take advantage of the deals often in the first month or two.

So we play a few months longer. Extending the game play lets the kids capitalize on their smart money decisions and end the game extremely wealthy. It takes time to see this strategy pay off, so if it’s possible we make it happen.

Money Management Is Essential

I’ve learned so many money management skills the hard way. I don’t want my kids to make my same mistakes.

So I take every opportunity I can to teach them a different way. One that doesn’t involve going into debt, but rather saving, working hard, and giving.

But, if they get used to going into debt in these budget board games, they might start thinking that loans are the fast way to money. That’s not an attitude I want to pass on. Thus, rule modification is important to me.

Budget board games often rely on taking a large debt load to win. With a few simple modifications, these same games can be used to teach smarter money skills. Here's how to make it work.

Have You Modified Rules to Teach Money Management?

I’d love to hear other ways you modify budget board games to make them more smart money management friendly. Please share your ideas in the comments!

Photo credit: Vitaly via Unsplash

Sibling love is a beautiful thing! If you need tips on how to encourage love between your kids, read this post!

Help Build Sibling Love with These 7 Strategies

Many people are surprised by how well my kids get along. My oldest enjoys playing with her younger siblings, despite the age difference. The younger kids play together for hours every day. They aren’t perfect, but there’s definitely sibling love in this house.

Sibling love doesn’t just happen automatically. I’ve learned over the years that there are definite strategies to encourage this. Here are seven of my favorites.

1. Sibling Play Time

Our daily quiet time is an hour and a half. After that, we enjoy a quick snack and then it’s time for sibling play time.

Each day, the kids pair off and go play together for half an hour. I spend this time with the child whose day it is.

We rotate who everyone plays with, to keep variety in this time. My goal is for each set of siblings to play together once during the week.

Some of their favorite activities are:

  • Going on a walk
  • Turning a box into something
  • Watching a TV show
  • Playing a 2-person game
  • Using the car rug and cars

This time is dedicated to spending quality time with each other. The siblings take turns picking the activity, which helps squash any squabbles.

2. Spend Time at Home

One benefit of living in the middle of nowhere is that there aren’t many playmates around. My kids play together or they play alone. Those are pretty much the only options.

We stay home most days, giving them plenty of time to play. If we’re out and about constantly, the bickering starts.

3. Invest in Multi-Age Toys

If there’s a gap in age between your kids, be mindful when you buy toys. Look for ones that are safe and fun for a variety of ages.

Here are some ideas:

  • Dress up clothes
  • Fort building kits
  • Puzzles
  • Car rug & cars
  • Train tracks
  • Board Games
  • Construction toys
    • LEGOs
    • Lincoln Logs
    • Mega Bloks
    • K’Nex

The kids can all play together with these. They can create fun scenarios like Andy in Toy Story, and play for hours.

4. Encourage Independent Activities Too

Spending too much time together can have the opposite effective when it comes to sibling love. Since we are home all day most days, that’s a lot of togetherness.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so we have our daily quiet time. This is the time for independent play. The kids stay in their own areas with their own activities for ninety minutes.

By the time the timer beeps, everyone is definitely ready to play with each other once again.

5. Don’t Make Them Share Everything

Most of our toys are family toys. They are meant for everyone.

But, some toys are special. The kids don’t have to share those with their siblings. Everyone has their favorite stuffed animal. The older kids have some special LEGO sets or Pokemon cards that are their personal possessions.

Special toys don’t need shared.

Letting your kids have some things that are just theirs allow them to be more accepting of sharing other toys. It also helps keep the fighting over those special things to a minimum.

Less fighting = more loving.

6. Don’t Compare Your Kids

Everyone is unique and has a different set of strengths and weaknesses. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your kids.

Doing so is a good way to build discontentment. That’s not what you’re going for.

So focus on the positives of each child. Don’t use words like, “Why don’t you do x,y, or z like your sister?” Let them be unique. Encourage them to be themselves instead of trying to imitate someone else.

7. Speak Kind Words

We’ll often spend a few minutes to share kind words about members of our family. I’ll ask everyone to think of something they love about one family member.

Then we all share.

Next, I name another member of the family. We keep going until we’ve covered everyone.

It only takes a few minutes, but it really teaches the kids to focus on the positive traits. It’s also a special feeling to hear everyone say kind things about you.

So urge your kids to use their words carefully, and speak kindness.

How do you encourage sibling love?

I’d love to hear your best tips! Please share in the comments.

Photo credit: Jenn Richardson via Unsplash