Fun (and free!) children’s activity resources for parents, teachers

The F-word comes to mind when I brainstorm activities for kids that relate to SARAH & KATY AND THE IMAGINATION BLANKETS.

If you’re thinking of a four-letter F-word that is inappropriate at school, you’re on the wrong blog. The one I’m thinking of is “fun.”

But … there’s another F-word (incidentally, it is four letters) I love as well.

Free.

When I find activities that are both fun and free, I consider it a successful day.

In other news: Today was a successful day.

While planning for an upcoming book signing at Prairie Creek Public Library in Dwight, Ill., I decided I should bring some activity pages to hand out to kids. As much as I like to think my sparkling personality and elementary-level dialogue are fun and attention-grabbing, it helps to come bearing activities at a children’s book signing.

I decided to make word searches and a crossword puzzles to hand out with each signed copy of the book. The only cost would be the ink and paper to make a few copies.

The only dilemma was finding a way to easily and effectively create the puzzles.

Lo … behold the power of Google!

A simple Google search of “word search generator” and “crossword generator” produced two reliable (and free) sites to produce customized puzzles for the classroom or home. Word searches and crossword puzzles can be created to tie into recent studies, holiday festivities, and more.

Creating a word search. The top hit for custom word searches is Discovery Education’s puzzlemaker (check it out here). You can set the number of rows and columns, how frequently or minimally letters are shared among words, format (either text or HTML), and the clues.

An important thing to note when creating clues: If you have a two-word clue, don’t include a space or hyphen. (For example: The clue for Aunt Julie would be AuntJulie, with no space.) Otherwise, the puzzle generator will interpret the clue as two words, which will put Aunt on one end of the puzzle and Julie on the other end.

The formatting options are helpful, for the most part. Text allows users to copy/paste, and HTML allows users to print directly from the browser.

I like to have .jpgs and .pdfs when I share puzzles online, so I take the extra step of taking a screen shot (just hit the Print Scrn key on a PC, or Shift + Command + 4 to capture a portion of the screen on a Mac — just click and drag the crosshairs until you’ve highlighted the portion of the screen you want to crop). I then upload the screenshot to my website.

Be sure to download the answer key before you exit the word search generator.

  • Download a copy of the SARAH & KATY Word Search here.

Creating a crossword puzzle. These crossword puzzles won’t look like the modular squares you find in your Sunday Tribune, but they are user-friendly for kids and easy to generate.

I use The Teacher’s Corner for this puzzle (check it out here). Under the entry fields for adding clues and answers, there are two notable check boxes: Make a Line for Name, and Show the Word Bank. The first puts a blank line with “Name:” at the top of the page, and the second adds a word bank to accompany the clues. For my audience of 7- to 10-year-olds, I added the word bank. (Particularly to assist with spelling of the more obscure answers, like Katarah or Kamaria.)

Unlike the word search, the crossword puzzle generator allows you to include spaces with clues; however, if a space is in a clue, it adds an extra box on the crossword puzzle. I recommend omitting spaces and telling children that the clue is two words, but there’s no space between them in the puzzle. That tends to avoid confusion.

This software has an additional cool factor for my design nerd side: After clicking Make Crossword Puzzle, users can manipulate the puzzles design in basic ways. Fonts can be changed, an image can be added (although I don’t recommend this; it’s difficult to move or manipulate the image), and the cell background color can be changed under Advanced Options. Also dear to my heart is the Create PDF option.

As with the word search generator, remember to download the answer key before exiting the website.

  • Download the SARAH & KATY Crossword Puzzle here.

If you know of any other fun and free activities teachers and/or parents can create, please share your tips in the comments!

 

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