Engaging students in learning is a can be a daunting task. Knowing what to teach is only half the battle. The real work comes with keeping the learning fun and helping students to WANT to learn. Sometimes the difference between doing the work and not doing it is simply in the materials you use. Tapping into your students’ interests can help. A great example of this is when you can incorporate learning with cars. What was once only a toy, has become a learning tool that is used every day in my class. And the best part is, cars are often readily available at home, so parents can use them too. In this time of distance learning, here are some activities, a few to use at school, and more than a couple of freebies you can share with parents and students learning at home.
GRAB YOUR CARS
If you live in a house with car crazed children as I do, then toy cars are readily available in a variety of shapes, colors, styles, and sizes. It’s absolutely the perfect scenario. But if you don’t, then you’ll want to do a little scouring to find a good variety. Garage sales, Goodwill, and eBay are great resources. But you can also look at local Facebook sale sites to get some deals too. I once got two huge boxes of cars for $20. Also, there are some ‘special’ cars that I like for specific activities, like these little transparent cars.
But really, you don’t have to be picky and that is just another reason why toy vehicles make the most perfect learning tool.
And the wonderful thing about cars is that, with a little tape and a sharpie, a big piece of paper and some crayons, or chalk and a sidewalk, you can pretty much make any at school car activity, a stay at home learning activity. So let’s check out some of my favorites. (You can click on any of the pictures or activity titles to find out more about anything in this article.)
CARS AND MATH
Math activities are natural scenarios where cars make great learning tools. Just by its very nature, math activities call for manipulatives and if your students enjoy playing with cars, then using them for math concepts will spring new life into your math stations.
SIMPLE SORTING AND CLASSIFYING
Are students going to naturally just want to play when you first bring out cars? Yep. That’s understandable and acceptable. I always give them a few minutes and then say, ‘ok now let’s start learning with cars.’ That’s when my students know it’s time to ‘do math.’ Using highly desirable manipulatives is a privilege in class so students know if they’d like to continue using them, they need to do their work when it’s time or that privilege is lost. But let’s face it, they’re going to want to play, so start them out with some easy tasks that let them do a little of that.
Sorting and classifying is just the ticket when you’re starting out. They can sort by color, by vehicle type, 2-door or 4-door, convertible or hardtop, and the criteria goes on and on. While they’re doing this, grab your assessment recording system (I like to use ESGI, and document who can sort and classify and who can’t. I call this easy peasy assessment. )
Once you’ve mastered sorting and classifying, how about moving on to some patterns. Now I know that patterns are not a standard in kindergarten, but I teach patterning and we practice it all year. Because, as kindergarten teachers, we know students need to be able to recognize and repeat patterns not only in math but also in reading and word work as well.
It’s a great activity to suggest for parents at home working with their children, but if you’re like me and need something a bit more structured for math stations, something more independent, you can use these self-correcting cards that ask students to continue the pattern . . .
and then immediately offers them feedback on their answer.
When students begin counting and writing numbers, these math mats make another highly engaging activity where students can ‘drive’ their car over the number, trace it, write it on their own and then represent the number by ‘driving’ cars onto the playing mat.
Of course, the same kind of idea can be used at home with some chalk out on a sidewalk and a chalk-drawn set of parking spots for cars to drive into. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Students will still want to play and they’ll still be learning.
And the counting activity is a natural segway into ‘how many more to make ten’ activity mats.
ADDITION AND SUBTRACTION
When we start working with addition and subtraction, self-correcting cards come in handy. At first, we start with the concept of ‘one more and one less.’
Students use cars to solve and complete the equation. And they immediately know if they’ve completed the equation correctly. This instant feedback makes math stations run more smoothly with less interruptions while I work with small groups.
And after ‘one more and one less,’ we quickly turn towards addition and subtraction through 5.
And then for some of my students, addition through 10. Whatever the readiness level, I can make cars part of the learning. No one is left out to do something less engaging just because their readiness level doesn’t fit. I can make cars work for any skill we are practicing. Cars make all of these Math skills fun and engaging.
MATH GAMES WITH CARS FREE PRINTABLES
The best math activities involve a little gameplay, and cars can be used for these as well. These are two of our favorites, and I’ve included some supporting freebies if you’d like to grab them.
SPIN TO WIN GREATER THAN LESS THAN
Grab some painters tape and write various numbers on cars. You could always use paint markers to make the numbers permanent, but I like the tape. It stays on forever and if I ever need to change them, it’s easy peasy.
Place the cars in the middle of two players. Each player selects a car, identities the number, and then compares it to their partner’s car. Then a player spins the spinner to determine if the person with the greater (or less than) number is the winner. That person gets to drive the two cars onto their parking lot playing mat. The first person to fill their parking lot is the winner.
Parents could easily make their own parking lot on a sidewalk with chalk or on a piece of paper with crayons, but I do have these FREE printable versions here if you’d like to share them. I have also included the spinner card. Now while your parents may not have a transparent spinner as I have here, they can always use a paperclip and a pencil for the same effect.
FILL YOUR PARKING LOT
Using that same set of parking lot mats, you can play ‘Fill Your Parking Lot.’ Just place a large number of cars between two players. Players take turns rolling a dice (or I’ve included a spinner card with numbers). The player then moves that number of cars to their playing mat. First-person to fill their playing mat is the winner.
Another easily adaptable game that parents could make, but the FREE parking lot mats and spinners are available here if you are interested.
You can grab the free parking lot playing mats and spinners by completing the form below and joining my email list. But wait . . . there are even more FREE printables below!
CARS FOR LETTERS AND WORD WORK
Using those same tools, tape and a Sharpie, you can make cars an invaluable tool for working with letters, sounds, and word work, too.
WORKING WITH LETTERS FREE PRINTABLES
My beginning of the year activities with cars always includes simple sorting letters for different attributes . . . letters in our name, tall letters, short letters, capital and lowercase. These FREE sorting mats make a great Back To School center. (Click on the pictures below to grab it free from my store.)
ABC PARKING LOT FREE PRINTABLE
Once students have started noticing the differences in letter shapes and recognizing a few, I break out my ABC Parking Lot. I actually have two sets of these mats because they are so popular. Students match lower case letters to capitals. Because this is a choice activity that I leave in my word work stations for students, it becomes very popular, and long after they have mastered their letters, students beg me to bring it back out.
If you’d like a copy for your own, you can download it for free from my blog store by clicking HERE or on the picture below.
LETTER RECOGNITION AND PRODUCTION
As we start to introduce more and more letters, I can offer more activities like these letter production mats. Students ‘drive’ their cars over the letter, trace it and then write the letter.
When my boys were little, I would take my favorite green frog tape and do the same thing, making letters with the tape for them to drive over on the floor. It could also be done with chalk on a sidewalk.
As students master their letters, we can then move onto letter/sound recognition with these self-correcting cards. Again, those cards are perfect for making this activity an independent one. That’s the kind of activities I like best in my Daily 5 stations. INDEPENDENT!!!
WORKING WITH WORDS
The thing that makes kindergarten so wonderful is that we can use these fun activities to learn, but it often seems that as students progress and become more capable, these engaging tools disappear. I never want to punish a child for learning, so I always make sure that if students love a game, activity, or tool, I make it so anyone can play or use those tools regardless of their readiness level. So when students start to read, cars are still being utilized.
Even if it’s to simply build sight words with cars.
READING FLUENCY DRIVING MATS
One year when I was teaching kindergarten, I had a group of students who just couldn’t get motivated to practice nonsense words. I was at my wits end when I decided to make a ‘highway’ of sight words on a big piece of butcher paper. I handed my students little toy cars and ask them to see how far they could drive, reading the nonsense words in one minute.
It was one of those teaching moments you don’t forget. Ever since then, cars have been a huge part of how I practice fluency. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a piece of butcher paper. Any parent could do it at home. Or better yet, parents could head outside and build a sight word road on the sidewalk with chalk. It works the same way and is tons of fun.
Of course in class, I have things a bit more organized with a variety of mats for students to use depending on what level of sight words they are practicing or other skills like blends, nonsense words, CVC words and digraphs. Students use a timer and ‘police’ their partner as they travel along their road. Then they record how far they’ve traveled. I make it very clear that we never race against each other, but always try to better our best time.
These mats are also a great way for me to assess kids in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s a test. It’s fun, they are relaxed, and they do their best work.
And more word work with self-correcting cards but this time building words.
So you can see, there are so many ways you can use cars with just Math and Word Work. The possibilities are endless.
MORE IDEAS AND TOPICS
And beyond that, you can use cars for STEM challenges, scientific concepts like force and motion, or a way to build creativity and language.
We always do a unit on bridges in my kindergarten class where students work to build a bridge using only specific materials. The bridge has to sustain the weight of a car traveling across it.
It’s an absolute blast to watch their little minds try and figure out the best design.
But it always brings out the best in their creative little minds. . .
From building a ‘stair defying.’ hairpin turn, race track with vintage Hot wheel tracks. . .
to a simple masterpiece of tape highways . . .
cars can build do so much to build creativity . . .
. . . it takes planning and ingenuity . . .
. . . and will expand little peoples’ imagination, build language, and develop problem solving skills. So break out some cars and get learning.
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Click on the pictures below to learn more about the activities included in this post.
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