Monday, August 11, 2008

Homemade learning games

I love stores that sell teaching supplies. I could spend hours browsing the merchandise on the shelves or leafing through their big, glossy catalogs. Other women go to the mall for fun, I ditch the kids with my husband and go to Lakeshore Learning Store. If someone would give me a $5,000 gift card to their store, I could spend it in one day with no trouble whatsoever. Not that it would ever happen, I am just trying to illustrate how I like all the things they sell there.

To be sure, I know that most of their stuff is completely unnecessary. I think it would not just be possible, but even beneficial to teach children with nothing more than a couple of books, a pad of writing paper, and a pencil. All the supplies, toys, games and gimmicks are fun to have, but certainly not necessary.

Anyway, because I like the toy factor but not the cost of what these stores have to offer, I made a couple of items that I really liked at home this week. It was easy, fun, and very inexpensive.

First I tried to recreate the "Alphabet Sounds Teaching Tubs", which retail for only $129. My kids love any and all miniatures. We already have a few from teaching games that I found at the thrift store or bought on sale, and they are very helpful in teaching kids to learn the letters, find rhyming objects, group items by color, or find things that go together (i.e. vehicles, food, etc.). So quite honestly, if I thought my husband would let me get by with it, I would have bought this set without giving it a second thought, even though I love to save money any other time.

Instead, I remembered that our local health food store carries clear plastic bins just like the ones in the Lakeshore set for customers who purchase fresh salads from the salad bar. The next time I was there, I packed up 26 little tubs and asked the cashier if they would consider selling them to me, but they said I could have as many as I wanted for free. At home, I pulled out letter stickers that I had bought in the scrapbooking section at the dollar tree, and labeled all the tubs. Over the next few days, I collected little toys and things I found laying around the house, and put them in the corresponding bins. I got many ideas for what to look for by looking at the Lakeshore catalog. Some of my tubs are still empty, and some don't have much in them, but I plan on sitting down one night this week and making a bunch of miniatures out of polymer clay (the stuff you bake in the oven). Since I already had all the supplies at home, my total cost for this project was $0.

I will be able to use many of the same miniatures in other games, such as the "Vowel Teaching Tubs", the "Blends and Digraphs Teaching Tubs", or the "Rhyming Sounds Teaching Tubs".

Here is a picture of the partially finished project:

The second item I really liked was the "What Rhymes? Game", which costs $39.95. Finding rhyming words is great for teaching kids about language and sounds, but the price is really not justifiable for me.

So I spent a couple of hours on the computer and designed my own game board by finding the right clipart in Microsoft Word. Then I printed everything, glued it onto cardboard, laminated it with clear contact paper, cut everything out, and finally glued the yellow ovals onto my gameboard (which is really two cardboard desk dividers taped together in the back and reinforced with some very heavy cardboard). A couple of ladies from church were at my house yesterday afternoon, and they actually did all the cutting for me - what a help! While my game pieces are made of paper rather than using cute miniatures, I am very happy with how they turned out. If I wanted to, I could replace these pieces with miniatures over time as I find/make them, but I don't think I'll bother. Here are two pictures of my version. The first one shows the game before sorting the rhyming objects, the second after they have been sorted. The real thing looks much better than you can see from the picture.

Again, I had all the supplies for this in the house, so my cost was $0 and I had a fun afternoon with friends from church. Just don't ask me how they enjoyed being volunteered for all the cutting... :)

By the way, Lakeshore's website includes the product guides with each of these item. This is the leaflet that usually comes in the package and gives teaching tips and ideas for games, as well as a complete list of contents.

There are still a few other games I would like to make my own versions of in the coming weeks. I have all the materials at home, so finding the time to make them is really my only problem.


  1. Hi! I loved the ideas for your homeschooling games. I have enjoyed reading your blog :) I came across it via your church website via sermonaudio where I was listening to your DH preach. Anyways... just wanted to say hello and God Bless.

  2. Tanya,

    Thank you for the kind comment. We just played the rhyming game before bed tonight and had a lot of fun with it. If you like, I'd be more than happy to send you the Word file for that so you can make one yourself. All you'd need is cardboard, clear contact paper, and a board to mount the game on.

    I am thinking about working on polymer clay miniatures after I get the dishes and laundry going.

  3. Zsuzsanna,
    I love your game ideas. I taught school before I had children. Games are a great way to have fun and learn all at the same time. Now I have three year old boy/girl twins. The girl has started reading and the boy is not far behind. I am always looking for games and hands-on ideas to keep them interested in learning.
    A friend of mine told me how she made a fishing game. She used a box and decorated it like a pond, then she made fish from construction paper and put letters, blends, or words on the fish.(depending on what she was teaching her kids) Then she made a fishing pole and would hook a fish on the pole when the child went "fishing" in the box. I changed the idea a little and put paper clips on the fish and a good sized magnet on the "fishing line". My kids love to fish and then read the fish they caught.
    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  4. I just found your blog as I was looking for a cheaper option for the Alphabet Sound Teaching Tubs because $129 is CRAZY! You have inspired me to make my own. Now to find clear tubs.

  5. Christen, that's great! Thank you for your comment. Do you have any stores near you where you can grind your own peanut butter? The clear plastic tubs they have for putting the nut butter into are perfect. I asked the store if I could buy some tubs from them, but they said I could have as many as I wanted. Just an idea.


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