Level 2+: Toys Unit

Have you ever thought about all you can learn from your child’s favorite play things? From teddy bears to video games, this week’s unit is all about taking your child’s natural interests and expanding them into a variety of subjects. We’ll explore science through Barbie dolls, math through LEGOs, literacy through water guns, and history through them all! Ready to play…er…learn? (Why not both?!) Click here to download this week’s tracker, and then play time is on!

Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional books:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the phonics rule about A, E, O, and U usually saying their names at the end of a syllable.

Lesson 1:

We’ll start our unit study with a toy that is often a child’s first love—the stuffed animal! Let’s begin with the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit. If your child has never read this book before, they may have many questions throughout the book about the topic of real vs. not real. Before rushing to the prescribed activities, take time to indulge this conversation. It could include discussing your child’s personal feelings about their toys and how that has changed over the years…to exploring your child’s opinions and how the topic of real vs. not real can extend into bigger topics, like using critical thinking when we hear a news report or gossip. You may be surprised how deeply your child can think about such an abstract idea!

Activity 1: Need to work out some wiggles before focusing on activities today? This stuffed animal “workout” can be a great gross motor activity to help everyone feel more regulated before beginning activities.

Activity 2: The Velveteen Rabbit is a great example of personification in literature. Personification is when you give an animal or object qualities or abilities that only a human can have. This creative literary tool adds interest and fun to poems or stories. Personification is what writers use to bring non-human things to life, and it helps us better understand the writer’s message.

Here are some examples of personification that your child may have heard before:

  • Lightning danced across the sky.
  • The wind howled in the night.
  • The car complained as the key was roughly turned in its ignition.
  • Sara heard the last piece of pie calling her name.
  • My alarm clock yells at me to get out of bed every morning.

Let’s practice some personification of our own with a writing exercise! Have your child write their own short story about a favorite toy coming to life. For this activity, we recommend creating a simple paper book by stapling together three folded sheets of paper. On each page, have your child write 1-2 sentences of the story and they can illustrate if desired. What human traits do they imagine their toy having? After they finish their book, have them read it out loud to you and an “audience” of other toys, or they can read it to the family at dinner time or bed time.
(-) Need something simpler? Pick a quote or two from the book to use for copywork today.

Activity 3: Now, let’s make our own Velveteen Rabbit with this tutorial!
(+) Instead of a pipe cleaner “necklace,” use a ribbon and encourage your child to practice tying a bow around their rabbit’s neck. You may want to use a rubber band to hold the shape of the neck first to make tying easier.

Activity 4: Is your child a self-conscious reader? Why not try introducing a “reading buddy”? Using their handmade rabbit stuffed animal or another beloved toy, encourage them to read out loud to their toy for 5-10 minutes each day. (Or longer, if they enjoy the activity!) Place the chosen toy in a position of honor for the week where they can wait for their special reading time with your child.

Lesson 2:

Another iconic toy enjoyed by many children is Barbie dolls! We’ll be learning more about her history today in the book The Story of Barbie and the Woman Who Invented Her. (But don’t worry—you don’t need to be a Barbie fan to enjoy most of today’s activities!)

Activity 1: Want to try a little Barbie bungee jumping?? This fun STEM activity can work with a real Barbie or any action figure toy. Begin by determining a height that you want your doll to safely bungee without hitting the ground. Measure the distance. We will make our “bungee cord” out of rubber bands, so have your child estimate how many rubber bands they will need to make a safe chain.

Create your chain by looping rubber bands like this:

Once your chain is created, have your child measure it (unstretched). Do they want to adjust their hypothesis? If so, let them! Next, it’s time to test out the cord! Tie one end of the chain to their doll’s waist and drop them from the desired height. If the doll hits the floor or does not come close, have them adjust the length of their chain (measuring it each time) until the doll stops a few inches above the floor. If desired, they can also record their measurements with this printable.

Activity 2: The biggest struggle for any Barbie owner is keeping the doll’s hair smooth and shiny—let’s use a little salon science to determine the best way to do it! For this activity, you’ll need 3-4 Barbie dolls (or similar dolls) with tangly hair.

For our experiment, begin by setting up 3-4 bowls: 1 with hot water, 1 with apple cider vinegar, 1 with white distilled vinegar, and 1 with fabric softener. (Depending on your number of dolls, you could also try other solutions if your child desires!)

Wrap each doll to be tested in a dry washcloth or dish towel from the neck down, and then let their hair soak in one of the solutions for 1 hour. Finally, rinse the solutions out with cold water (you can leave the hot water doll as is) and brush out everyone’s hair.

Which doll’s hair brushes out the easiest? Which ends up with the smoothest hair? Does the shine improve in any of the doll’s hair? Which solution does your child think smoothed the hair the best?

Activity 3: Does your child want to try making their own clothes for their Barbie dolls? This simple tutorial can be created with a sewing machine or hand stitches.
(+) If they’re looking for more DIY Barbie craft, these upcycled DIY headbands are also very cute!

Activity 4: For our last activity today, let’s spend some time practicing reading this week’s phonics rule with a BINGO game! (Which is also a word that follows our rule!) Begin by printing these word cards and boards, cutting out the cards and giving each child a playing board and small objects (like beans, coins, or something similar) to use to cover each word as it’s drawn. Next, draw words and practice reading them until someone gets five in a row! (Note: We have added a small dot in the middle of some words to help your child break down the syllables. It can also be helpful to read through the words on the board first, clapping the syllables to reinforce how to find them.)

Lesson 3:

Today, we’ll use LEGO to build upon your child’s knowledge! (Get it??) Begin by reading the book Awesome Minds: The Inventors of LEGO Toys to learn about the history of these beloved bricks.

Activity 1: LEGO bricks are one of our favorite ways to bring a variety of math lessons to life! Below are two options—choose the one that addresses the skill your child is working on or try them both if your child is engaged!
(-) Looking for a simpler activity to entertain a younger sibling while you work on more challenging math with your older child? Print these number mats to let your younger child work on building and writing numbers with LEGOs while you work.

Option 1: For this activity, we will work on adding and subtracting double digit numbers. Begin by printing this sheet and laminating it and giving your child about 50 of the same kind of brick (2×1 bricks will work perfectly). If you don’t have LEGOs, stacking counting blocks like these will also work for this activity. To set up, create several stacks of 10 bricks, and then keep the rest as single bricks. On a white board or separate sheet of paper, write out your math problem in this format:

For our addition practice, you want to make sure that your ones digits will add up to a number over 10 to practice this skill (example: 17 + 25).

Have your child build the first number using their 10 stacks and single bricks, similarly to how you would use a base 10 manipulative set. Put these bricks in the first row of the printable. Repeat to create the second number in the second row.

Now, slide the pieces down to the third row to combine them. Before finding the total, show your child how they can trade in any group of 10 single pieces for a “10 bar” piece and move these to the tens column. Once there are less than 10 single pieces in the ones column, find the answer. Repeat until your child can do this on their own.

To practice double digit subtraction with borrowing, present your child with an equation where you will need to borrow from the tens column to find the solution (example: 22 – 15). Have your child build the first number on their sheet, but write the second number underneath with dry erase marker, like this:

Explain the problem to your child by saying something like, “I need to take away 5 from 2, but I don’t have enough ones. Let’s borrow from the 10s column to make this work.” Have them take a 10 stack and break it up into 10 ones, and then finish the problem by taking away the number you have written from each column to find the answer. Repeat this activity until your child can do it independently. (You may want to repeat throughout the week or over the next few days.)

Option 2: In this activity, we’ll use our LEGOs to work on multiplication and division. You may want to print this sheet to help create a better visual for your child’s work. To set up, give your child several of the same brick (the 2×1 bricks we used in the previous activity will work perfectly).

Next, write a multiplication problem on a white board or additional piece of paper. Have your child build out the problem with the bricks, using the first number to determine the number of bricks and the second to determine how many boxes need to be filled with that number. For example, with 3×4, you would fill 4 boxes with 3 bricks each. Find the solution by counting the number of bricks. You might point out to your child that they can find the number by adding (example: 3 + 3 + 3 + 3) or skip counting, or multiplying. You can also print this multiplication chart to keep handy for helping them memorize multiplication tables.

Once they have grasped multiplication, you can work on division by working the problem in reverse. You might ask, “If I had 12 bricks and I needed to divide them evenly between four children, how many would each get?” As you work through different examples, alternate between asking your child how many groups they make and how many bricks are in each group to help them have a holistic grasp of the numbers.

Activity 2: Next, let’s use LEGOs to practice contractions! Contracted words, also known as contractions, are short words made by putting two words together. Letters are omitted in the contraction and replaced by an apostrophe. The apostrophe shows where the letters would be if the words were written in full. For example, you could contract “I will” into “I’ll,” or “can not” into “can’t.”

To set up this activity, you will need 10 LEGO bricks in either 2×1 or 4×1 size, and then 20 bricks in either 1×1 or 2×1 size. (You could also do this with DUPLO blocks.) Alternately, you could use one set of the blocks and keep erasing and writing new contractions. Using a dry erase marker, write the contracted word on the larger block and the words that make it up on the smaller blocks. This way, when they link together you child can see how the smaller words come together as the contracted word. It should look like this:

Here are some common contraction examples you could include:

  • can’t (can, not)
  • didn’t (did, not)
  • isn’t (is, not)
  • I’ll (I, will)
  • he’s (he, is)
  • don’t (do not)
  • I’ve (I, have)
  • hadn’t (had, not)
  • haven’t (have, not)
  • doesn’t (did, not)
  • you’ve (you, have)
  • they’re (they, are)
  • you’re (you, are)

Activity 3: Next, let’s learn about a famous artist before creating our own LEGO works of art! Johannes Vermeer is considered one of the greatest portrait painter in the fine art world. Click here to read more about his life, and then here to view his most famous portrait, Girl with a Pearl Earring. (Or, if you have A Child’s Introduction to Art, you can find more about Johannes Vermeer and this painting on pages 34 and 35.)

Some interesting things to note about Vermeer’s painting style:

  • He would often paint several thin layers of paint over one another, letting the bottom layers glow through. He then blended his brushstrokes until they were almost invisible.
  • Vermeer often mixed his own paints, using expensive materials (like semiprecious stones) to create intense, vibrant pigments.
  • Artists in Vermeer’s time liked to paint folded and twisted fabrics (like the turban in this painting) because it allowed them to show off their painting skills as they tried to paint how light would hit these fabrics.
  • Like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, no one knows who the girl in Vermeer’s painting is. Some people suspect it may have been his oldest daughter.

Next, let’s create our own portraits using LEGO as our material! This blog post can give you some inspiration. You may want to give your child a mirror or a photo to work off of (if they are creating a portrait of someone else), or they can try to create a LEGO version of Girl with a Pearl Earring!

Activity 4: Finally, inspire some creative play and geography exploration with this LEGO landmark challenge activity.

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll learn about an inventor who created a toy that has become famous in fairly recent times. Begin by reading Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions (or read it here on OpenLibrary or listen to this read aloud).

Activity 1: Lonnie Johnson’s invention used the power of pressurized air to fire a stream of water over 50 feet! (source) Let’s play around with air pressure and water with this simple activity.

Activity 2: Let’s use a water gun to practice identifying parts of speech! Start by printing these word cards and cutting them out. (You don’t need to laminate unless you think you’d like to repeat the activity.)

We have included words that are nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, and prepositions, but you only need to print the parts of speech that your child is familiar with. Here’s a quick refresher of each part of speech:

  • nouns: a person, place, or thing
  • verb: a main part of speech that is often used to describe or indicate an action—sentences are not complete without a verb
  • adjective: a word that describes an animal, person, thing, or thought
  • adverb: a word that describes how an action is carried out
  • pronouns: a word that stands in for a noun, often to avoid the need to repeat the same noun over and over
  • preposition: a word that tells you where or when something is in relation to something else

After you have printed and cut out your cards, give your child up to 6 mini water guns filled with colored water (create this by mixing a small amount of washable paint with a cup of water). Assign one color to each part of speech. Then, hang the cards around your yard (if the weather is nice) or in the bathroom (you can mount the cards to the shower wall with tape to contain the mess). Have your child discover each word and shoot it with the correct part of speech color.

Activity 3: Let’s keep out our water guns for a bit of math practice! For this activity, you will need sidewalk chalk (if you’re playing outside) or foamy shaving cream (if you’re playing in the bathroom on the shower wall). Give your child a water gun filled with plain water and write numbers 1-20 with either chalk or shaving cream. Then call out a variety of addition and subtractions problems and have your child practice using mental math to “shoot” the answer!
(-) If your child is not ready for mental math, you could use tally marks, either having your child “shoot” the tallies to add them up, or shooting the number of tallies being removed in a subtraction problem to see what remains.

Lesson 5:

For our last day of our Toys Unit, we’ll explore video games! To begin, let’s learn about the inventor of the video game in the book The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer (or listen to this read aloud).

Activity 1: An important part of being a computer programmer is typing! Is your child a confident typer? These online computer games can help them progress in this important life skill.

Activity 2: Many popular video games have been inspired by comic books. Let’s write our own comic book—but with a cool, 3D twist! First, let’s learn how 3D pictures work. We’ll start with some vocabulary!

Most 3D images work using anaglyph images. Anaglyph 3D is a photograph made up of two slightly different views, in complementary colors, of the same subject. When looked at through a pair of corresponding color filters, the picture seems three-dimensional. (source) Traditionally, anaglyphs were made up of red (most often found on the left) and cyan, or a mix of green and blue (most often found on the right). The space between the two images (also called parallax) is not the same everywhere, or is not constant. To create the relief effect, we must use red and cyan filters like the anaglyph’s colors. The eye with the red filter will not filter the red image but will block the blue one. The eye with the blue filter will block the red image but will not filter the blue one.

While each eye only sees one image, the brain has to make sense of what each eye is seeing, and combines them into one image. This is called stereoscopic vision. The small space between the red and the blue images will be interpreted as relief, or space. If the blue image is on the left, our brain will feel that the object is farther from you. If the red is on the left, our brain will feel that the object is closer to you.

This video also helps break down how all of these things work together to create an image that appears to jump off the page or screen.

To create a 3D comic book, you will need a pair of 3D glasses with red and cyan lenses, a red and blue marker, and white paper. Begin by drawing your whole book in red, and then outline the red drawings with blue. After you draw the book and write the story, put on your 3D glasses and watch it come to life!

Activity 3: Would your child like to design their own video game? To start, have your child create their main character! Start by thinking through the character’s back story, crafting a 1-paragraph summary of where and when their character is from, what they do for a job, and any special abilities they have. Next, draw out the character, deciding what they wear; the color of their skin, hair and eyes; how tall or built they are; and any identifiable characteristics they have.

Does your child love the idea of creating a whole video game? This blog post is the perfect walk-through of what to think about when creating challenges, levels, and more! This is a longer term activity that will likely take your child several days, but it can be really inspiring for children who love video games. (And it’s a great way to encourage creativity, writing, and more!)

Activity 4: Does your child love Minecraft? It can actually be a great way to learn about a variety of subjects, from engineering to chemistry. (We even include a lot of Minecraft activities in Level 3 of our unit studies!) If you really want to impress your Minecraft-loving child, make these rice krispy treats that look like dirt grass blocks!
(-) Looking for something simpler? These adorable “video game controller” cookies come together with a graham cracker, frosting, and some candy.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.