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Legos Unlocked: 15 Ways to Use Legos to Teach Math and Language Arts

Legos are great toys and one of the most creative tools that children can use.  Since children love them so much, they make for excellent Math and Language Arts manipulatives. For parents looking to offer new challenges to keep their kids learning, Legos are a fun medium to test both the parents’ and child’s creativity.


Addition – Write out simple addition equations on a piece of paper.  Leave enough space for your child to match the number of pegs on each block with the written number.  Or you could reverse it, place the pegs on the table and ask your child to write out the numbers that match the pegs.

Subtraction – Place one Lego that has fewer pegs on top of another that has more to reveal subtraction concepts.  For example, a 12-peg Lego beneath an 8-peg Lego of the same color that is being subtracted, helps children to put quantities into groups.

Recognizing Patterns – Choose two or three different colors, and have your child create various pattern types.  Or create the pattern yourself and have your child to determine what the pattern is.

Comparing Numbers – Stack up blocks next to each other, and ask your child which one contains more.  Then demonstrate how the greater than/less than symbol indicates the amount as well.

Measuring – Take any toy that your child likes and use Legos to measure them.  Then ask how many Legos long is your toy?

Making Perfect Squares – Line up Legos so that they form multiplication arrays that display perfect squares.  For example, 2 x 2 is 4.  Then have your child to count the pegs represented in the answer.

Multiplication and Division – Use larger Legos or Duplos to show groups.  Three groups of eight make twenty four. Then write out the equation, 3 x 8 = 24.  You could also write out 8 + 8 + 8 = 24, to show that multiplication is repeated addition.

 Counting and Number Matching – This next one works better on bigger blocks, like Lego Duplos.  I used a small dry erase marker to write on the blocks.  They erase well with the wipe of a tissue.  Separate the blocks, write the numbers on them, then have your child to match them up.  This will help them learn to relate the cardinal number to the written number, and to the quantity – represented in the dots.

Putting the Alphabet in Order – Mix up blocks and spread them out, then have your child to put them in order.  Make this activity more fun by having your child sing the alphabet song while playing the game, or race against a timer.

Making Letters – Work with your child to creatively form as many letters as you can with the blocks.

Sentence Structure – Write a simple sentence, like the one below.  Mix up all the words, and have your child to place them in order, to form a complete sentence.

Prefixes – Write the prefix on the smaller block, and the root word on the larger block to demonstrate how the prefix changes the word.

Suffixes – Write the suffix on the smaller block, and the root word on the larger block to demonstrate how the suffix changes the word.

 Subject & Predicate – Write a basic sentence and then choose two large blocks on which to write ‘subject’ and ‘predicate.’ You can do this with nouns and verbs, or if your child is more advanced, use subjects and predicates.  But use the larger blocks to label the parts of the sentence, and smaller blocks to write the words.

Word Families/Rhyming Words – Use one similar color to write a list of rhyming words.  Point out the spelling of these words and point out how they are similar in sound and spelling.  Use the blocks to group them together.

Sal Khan Preaches The Truth About Mastery Based Learning.

Music Theory and Tracing Pages: Oh My!

One of the things I get frustrated with as a parent are tracing books.  You know those books that teach young children in Preschool and Kindergarten how to write letters and words?  Well they all have one thing in common: they are catered to the non or beginning reader.  The idea is that by practicing to write simple sight words and phonics blends, you will become a better reader.  But what if you are learning to write at a time when you are reading several levels above grade level.  Does writing "ch" or "the" serve your reading skills?  Also does tracing the number 2 while identifying two apples serve your math skills if you are working on 4th grade math?

While I understand that many children learn to read and write around the same time, that has not been true for my children.  So my search for tracing book sand tracing pages that served the needs of my child resulted in nothing.  That is why I am on a mission to create begging level writing pages that help students learn across the curriculum in the arts as well as advanced core academic subjects.

Please check out the first of my products.


14 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Brown Girls

Before becoming a mom to two little girls, I remember having a conversation with a friend about girls and self-worth.  My friend said, “We should not tell little girls they are ‘cute,’ instead we should tell them that they are ‘smart!’”  She argued that because we tell girls how cute they are at a young age, their value becomes wrapped up in their looks and not their brains.  Fast forward to 2012 and President Barack Obama tells his daughters, Malia and Sasha they are strong, smart and beautiful but he gets criticized for saying they’re ‘beautiful.’

But feeling beautiful is an important part of self-esteem for every woman and little girl.  There are products, media and people trying to define what beauty is and is not.  When I see how skin bleaching is becoming so mainstream, and how beautiful brown skinned women struggle with self esteem, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to tell our daughters how beautiful they are, every day. Of course, we do not want our daughters to be so wrapped up in their beauty that they cannot appreciate anything else, but in all things there needs to be balance.  We can raise smart confident girls who know they are beautiful.

When I think about building up the self esteem of my two girls, I hear the phrase in my head, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  If your daughter is struggling with self esteem issues, by all means address them.  But do not wait for that to happen, do all you can to build her up so that her testimony can be I always loved myself.


So how do we build self esteem in little brown girls?  Here are my humble suggestions:

1. Daily Affirmations.  Give lots of praise through words and actions.  Tell her every day the things that make her beautiful, and have her say it as well.  You are beautiful.  Your eyes are beautiful. Your hair is beautiful.  Your skin is beautiful.  Your nose is beautiful.  You are capable of doing great things.  You are intelligent. You are loved.  Have her repeat it:  I love myself, I love my eyes, I love my hair, I love my beautiful brown skin, I love my nose, I am capable of doing great things, I am intelligent, I am smart, I am loved.  I love this video of a father building confidence in his daughter with these affirmations.  Teach your daughter to say daily affirmations.  When we speak words they have power.

2. Surround her with beautiful images of black people in books, media and art around your home.  Need a list?  Like to hear it, here it go.....

3. Sing songs that affirm black beauty like, James Brown’s ‘Say It loud’ or Sesame Street’s ‘I Love My Hair’.

4. Speak well of yourself!  As previously noted on Baby and Blog,  self esteem can be passed down from mother to daughter, so remember to avoid negative talk about yourself, for the sake of your daughters!

5. Speak well of other women!  Nothing screams low self-esteem like a woman who is always speaking negatively of others.  If you are always gossiping or putting down other women, this will rub off on your children.  Women who love themselves and are confident will find more praise to give than negative gossip to spread.

6. Let her hear the stories and testimonies of black voices who speak on self love and self hate.

Kathleen Cleaver-Natural Hair 

Martin Luther King–Black is beautiful

Lupita Nyong’o’s Black Women in Hollywood Acceptance Speech

7. Listen to your daughter, even when she is saying things that do not seem to be important, and especially when she is saying things that are difficult for her to express.  When kids know you are paying attention to them, it makes them feel important. And if they always feel that they don’t have your attention, it hurts their self-esteem. Let her voice be heard, and show her that her voice is powerful, important and meaningful to you.  Engage your daughter in conversation, encourage her to speak her mind, let her know that her opinions and thoughts are important.

8. Limit media. There are so many images of women that are over-sexualized and promote unrealistic and/or Euro-centric ideals of beauty.  Make sure that you monitor her access to these images because they can permeate the mind.

9. Teach your daughter how to dissect the media and analyze it. There will come a time when you won’t be able to control her media consumption, and she will seek out her own information and entertainment. Make sure she is armed and prepared to negotiate and, if necessary, resist the images, narratives and ideals she will encounter.  Media literacy and critical thinking are very important for teenagers these days. We consume so much media and we need to have discerning minds as we take it all in.  A good video that I used to share with my high school students is Killing Us Softly.

10. Get her involved in sports. Studies have shown that girls who are involved in sports have greater confidence than those who are not. Sports gives girls the opportunity to develop confidence in their bodies’ strength and performance rather than its appearance.

11. Challenge your own notions of beauty.  Question the things you laugh at.  The Talk co-host seemed to be caught off guard when attacked by the natural hair community when she joked about saving natural hair.  But sometimes to core of our joke is the root of our self esteem problems.  

12.  Stand up and intervene when others try and tear down your daughters confidence.  This video of Venus' father gives me life every time I watch it.  

13. Introduce them to role models, here is a list.

14.  Give her space to be honest.  Sometime when children tell us of their hurt feelings, we are quick to cut them off and tell them they are beautiful.  Give your child the space to express their feelings without judgement.

What tips would you add to this list?  How do you encourage your daughters self esteem?

How I Use the Grocery Store to Teach My Children Math and Language Arts

Because I am obsessed with learning, I try to look for everyday opportunities to teach my children simple things like math.  One of the most convenient places to do this is on a trip to the grocery store.

When we enter the store I first grab an advertisement.  I tell my girls to look through the paper to see what items they would like to purchase.  Sometimes I remember to bring a marker and have them circle things they like.  Then we go on a scavenger hunt to find the items, which are usually in the produce section because they love fresh fruit.

The produce section is my favorite part of the grocery store because of the scales.  I’ll admit, sometimes we hog the scale and spend a while there.  I like to play guess the weight, and have my girls estimate how much something weighs.  I let them hold, for example one cantaloupe, and then ask them to estimate the weight, then we actually put it on the scale and compare their estimate with the actual weight. Next I give them something lighter like an apple, and we compare.  Usually fruits are sold per pound, so we will measure out how many pounds we can purchase for a given price.
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If I see a variety of different types I like to point them out.  For example, there are many types of apples.  So I ask my daughters to compare and contrast each type of apple, what does it look like, how are the colors different, what are the sizes that make each apple unique. This teaches them to use descriptive language.

When things are sold in packs, I teach them to pay close attention to details.  For example, if they want to buy cheese sticks, we look at the individually wrapped sticks and compare them to the cheese sticks that are in a bulk pack.  I multiply the price of the individual sticks  and explain how buying in bulk saves money.  They do not have to understand how to multiply large numbers, but they can see a real world application for using multiplication.  This makes learning math more interesting and desirable to learn.
Our family is big on reading nutrition labels, at home and when shopping.  So I always take time to look at a label and read it.  I tell my girls to look for sugar content, and how much fiber or protein a particular food has.  They enjoy watching Fizzy’s Lunch Lab and know that protein is good and although sugar is tasty, we should not have so much.

Another thing that I like teaching my children, and this isn’t something that is on the common core standards, but I feel it is very important: how to pick food.  When I am shopping for something like tomatoes, to teach them how to feel for a certain texture.  I prefer my tomatoes to be firm and not so squishy.  I allow my children to help me find the best tomatoes for mommy’s salads.  I want them to connect with food and not just purchase things based on a character being on the box.

How do you use the grocery store to teach lessons?


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