Lesson in Vocabulary: Elementary School Activity

I am always amazed at how children can learn something new and then turn around and use it in the correct context…such as learning new vocabulary.  I explained what the word “fickle” meant not long ago and when I was changing my mind at the grocery store, my daughter asked me why I was being so fickle!  So, I thought it would be fun to have an activity for her (simple to make) that she could work on her reading and vocabulary.  This is what I did, but I am sure you can do the same thing in a number of ways.


Cardstock paper
Toilet paper rolls
Bobby pin
Tape – strong packing tape works best


Make a list of the words you are working with first.  I started with “Happy,” “Sad,” “Busy,” “Tired,” and “Angry.”  Then I chose 3 or 4 words that mean the same thing.  For example:

Happy – overjoyed, blissful, merry, cheerful
Sad – melancholy, distressed, somber, gloomy
Busy – engrossed, active, diligent
Tired – weary, fatigued, exhausted
Angry – cross, furious, heated

Then, I cut pieces of cardstock paper that were roughly 3 X 3 inches in size, folded them in half, stapled on one side, slid the q-tip in the middle, then stapled the other side.  I wrote the synonymous words (fatigued, weary, exhausted, etc.) on the q-tip sticks.  Then, on separate pieces of cardstock paper, I wrote the beginning words (Tired, etc.)  With these pieces, I taped them onto a bobby pin, which could be easily placed onto the toilet paper rolls to serve as a “bucket” for the synonymous words.  That all sounds confusing, so just look at the photos and I think you will understand.  Whatever you want to do is going to be great – this was just my way of using only a few supplies I already had in the house.

After she finished placing them in their correct “buckets,” I talked through each word with her and then she practiced writing the new words she didn’t know before.  Using the Magnetic Letters would be a great way to practice the new words too!

DIY: Magnetic Letters (and Numbers)

I may not have taken the easy-route for my kids to play with letters, but it was actually really fun to create!  (I am sure they sell these somewhere, already made.)  I was thinking about activities to do in the car on long road trips, or on the plane, or just during “Independent Time.”  And when I was at this great store, Lakeshore Learning one day, I found some supplies that I thought would be perfect.  My 7-year-old loved helping me make them too!


  • Foam letters, could have sticky backs, but not necessary
  • Small magnets, sticky backs ARE necessary for this
  • Scissors
  • Card-stock paper (thicker paper)
  • Magnetic board (we bought two that are dry-erase and magnetic but also have a tin lid from a random tin box in our house that works awesome too)


I bought a container of 300 small magnets and a container of 500 letters and numbers (it’s mostly letters though).  I peeled the back off the letter, stuck it to a piece of card-stock, cut around the letter to remove the excess card stock.  Then peeled the paper off the magnet and stuck it to the back of the letter.  Done!  Well…repeat several, several times 🙂  I just decided to make enough to have about 5 of each letter.  

Watercoloring to Music

 My kids love to use watercolors, and I love seeing what they create.  It’s not that messy either–it all wipes up so easily off walls, table tops, chairs, floors, clothes, hands, arms, and even faces too. 

Age: 2 and up

a set of watercolors for each child
small paint brushes
small heavy bowls for water–less likely to tip over…I use 8 oz. pyrex bowls
any type of paper
classical music

What to do:
Tell the kids you are going to let them listen to some beautiful music with lots of different instruments, and that you want them to paint whatever pictures the music helps them see in their minds or feel in their hearts. 
Start the music.  A few ideas are any “Water Music” by Handel, “The Swan” or “Aquarium” by Saint Saens, “Reflections on the Water” by Debussy, even “From the Diary of a Fly” by Bartok.  Really anything classical will work great.
Fill water bowls, pass out the paper and watercolors with brushes.
Have fun!  And keep passing out more paper until the kids are ready for a new activity!

Colorful Water: A Lesson on Primary and Secondary Colors

One cold, winter day a couple of years ago, I made up this project to teach my older kids about mixing colors. Plus, it was a fun decoration by the window!

Age: 2 and up, with assistance
-6 ziplock baggies
-marker (sharpie is best)
-duct tape
-food coloring (red, blue, yellow)
-mixing bowl (clear is best so you can see)
-string for hanging (optional)
  1. Fill three of the bags half full with water.
  2. Have the children drop a few drops of food coloring into each bag: red in one, blue in one, and yellow in one.
  3. Label each bag so they also see how each word is spelled.
  4. Ask children what they can think of that is red, blue, and yellow and explain these special colors are called Primary Colors. Explain that primary means first and these three primary colors can be used to make all other colors.
  5. Hold up the red bag and the yellow bag and ask them if they know what color is made when these two are mixed. Explain that the colors created when mixed from two primary colors are called Secondary Colors.
  6. After they have guessed what color will be made from the red and yellow, poor half of the yellow water into the clear bowl and then half of the red water to mix. Poor this orange water into a bag and seal it up with duct tape. Write “orange” on the bag.
  7. Repeat these same steps with blue and yellow (green), as well as red and blue (purple).
  8. When you are finished, you will have bags of colorful water that look pretty by a window…hang them up if you’d like. Warning: tape them up well and choose a “safe” spot in case any of them fall. Have fun!

Foaming Monster

This little project is a fun way to teach kids about chemical reactions. It’s a safe and easy first science experiment!
  • Empty plastic bottle (glass works too but might break if dropped)

  • Construction paper
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Food coloring
  • Tissue (just one kleenex or tissue paper)
  • Cookie sheet
Decorate the bottle as you wish with the construction paper (we cut out hands and legs for the “monster” along with a tail and eyes)
Place the monster on the cookie sheet (this just helps with the clean-up!)
Fill the bottle up halfway with vinegar
Drop 3-4 drops food coloring in and swirl the bottle a little bit to mix the color
Take about 1 tsp baking soda and wrap it up in a small piece of tissue (I wrap it up and twist the ends – just make sure it can fit into the bottle without breaking)
When everyone is ready, drop the baking soda ball into the bottle and wait…the monster will begin foaming after about 30 seconds! Give your children a short lesson on what is happening:
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and Vinegar is acetic acid.
When sodium bicarbonate is mixed with an acid liquid, it releases the gas carbon dioxide.
That is why, when you mix baking soda with vinegar it turns into a fizz. The reason there are bubbles is because the acidic reaction causes carbon dioxide to get trapped inside the baking soda and the CO2 then forms a bubble.

Candy Crystals (A Sugary Lesson in Evaporation)

Good things come to those who wait! This is a little experiment that teaches kids patience and demonstrates a science lesson in evaporation while forming dainty, beautiful treats to enjoy in a few days.

Ages: 2 and up (older children “get” the science concepts a bit better, obviously)
  • coffee mug
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • tin foil
  • small covers or plates or bowls (that you won’t need to use for a few days)
  • Optional: food coloring
  • Heat up the water in the coffee mug, carefully allow the children to pour in the sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Discuss how the warm water helps the sugar “melt” into the water and becomes a sugary solution. Let the solution cool and then let them dip their finger to try a taste.
  • While it is cooling, line several (5-10) small bowls or covers or plates with tin foil; wrap the foil around the edges
  • Press your finger in the center just enough to make a small crater so the solution doesn’t spill off the foil.
  • Use a spoon and put about 1-2 Tablespoons of the sugar water on each piece of foil.
  • Optional: add 1 drop of food coloring (this is very pretty but does add a strange taste to the candy)
  • Place the dishes in a warm area, up high so that little hands do not disturb it for several days. Check on them in 4-5 days…they will be complete when all of the water is evaporated and the candy peels off the foil when you carefully bend it
  • Discuss their thoughts on this crystal formation and explain how the water evaporated into the air over time…leaving little treats! (I like to “google” science topics and read things to them in a way that they can understand)

Vanilla or Kool-Aid Play Dough

I let my kids measure and mix in the kitchen at an early age. They feel so special being the one to pour that 1 cup of flour into the bowl.  It is fun and teaches them about following directions. I like making homemade play doh because it not only is an activity in itself, but it also smells better! The two recipes here will give you yummy smelling dough. The kids will not want to let go of it.  Just make sure they know it’s for squeezing and squishing, not for eating!

Age: 1 and up

Vanilla Play Dough
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3-4 drops food coloring
Start heating the water in a tea pot or microwave. In a medium bowl, mix together 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 salt. Add the oil, boiling water, food coloring and vanilla. Stir with a spatula or in electric mixer until well blended (it will cool quickly). If it’s too sticky, keep adding flour, 1 Tbs at a time, and mix well.
Kool-Aid Play Dough
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 package unsweetened Kool-Aid (choose your color: cherry makes red, etc)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
Start heating the water in a tea pot or microwave. In a medium bowl, mix together 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 salt, and Kool-Aid packet. Add the oil and boiling water. Stir with a spatula until well blended (it will cool quickly). If it’s too sticky, just keep adding flour 1 Tbs. at a time, and mix well. Have a blast!

Note: for a lesson in primary colors, divide dough into thirds and add red, yellow and blue food coloring.  This works well in electric mixer with each individual color.  Then add a little blue with yellow, a little yellow with red, and a little red with yellow to make the three secondary colors!  When doing this, I quadruple the recipe for lots of play dough!

Colorful Goo Bags

This is great activity to teach Primary and Secondary colors. Even adults have fun squishing the goo in the bag…I found myself playing with it during nap time!

Age: 2 and up, but most interesting for 4 and up

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups cold water
  • medium saucepan
  • spatula that can withstand heat
  • 3 mixing bowls
  • food coloring (red, blue, yellow)
  • Freezer Ziploc bags (6-8)
  • Duct tape
  • marker
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cornstarch, sugar and cold water. Stir and heat over medium heat. In about 5 minutes, it should begin to thicken, continue to stir constantly. Once it starts to thicken, remove from the heat and stir for 1 more minute, until it has the consistency of pudding. Separate the mixture into three bowls. Cool for 30 minutes.
  2. Add red food coloring to one bowl, blue to another and yellow to the last. Explain or review that these three colors are the Primary Colors and that they can be combined to make Secondary Colors.
  3. Spoon some of the red goo into a bag with some of the blue goo and zip it up, then reinforce with duct tape. Write the two colors names on the bag and ask children what color they think it will make. Have them squish the goo to find out! Repeat with all of the colors. Have fun!

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