Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Learning to Use a Magnifying Glass

This was a great little activity that I found at The Attached Mama, and was so excited to try! I simply printed out the six pages of clip art and cut out all the images.

There were three sheets of images, then another three sheets of the same images- only smaller. The child has to use the magnifying glass to see the smaller object and match it to it's larger partner. Fun, easy, cheap, educaitonal and reusable- it completely met all of my qualifications. :)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Celebrating a birthday

At our house, we love birthdays. The birthday child picks whatever (!) he or she wants for dinner and we accommodate without question. She gets to watch a movie, gets to choose how we spend the afternoon, and is never responsible for doing school for the day (unless she wants to). He wears whatever he wants (not subject to mother approval no matter how weather-inappropriate) and generally gets the reign of the house (assuming all choices are safe!).

I think this is probably the norm for many families (can it be that we are actually doing something that other families do?! This seems strange...) but we also add our own twist. When it comes to giving a gift to our birthday child, we have chosen simply to spend little or no money. We make this choice for a variety of reasons I suppose (for a look at our debt-reduction plan click here), but mostly from a couple of beliefs that we hold as parents: 1) kids don't need a whole lot of Fisher-Price-type stuff to be happy; and 2) as their parents we have a responsibility to help them look beyond today and to prepare for tomorrow.

In that vein, our family works hard to allocate the resources we have in ways which benefit us later more than now, so we choose to invest that would-be toy purchase money on behalf of our children.

Our goal, when our first child was born, was to have $500 in his college savings account by his first birthday. This may seem modest to some, but it was quite a stretch for our budget in those early days of our young marriage. We were so pleased when we made it a reality! Grandparents chipped in for his birthday and at Christmas, and we invested money he received for baptism, our small tax refund for having a child... any extra cash we had we put right into that fund because we knew that it would be most valuable to him there. We were able to meet and exceed our goal that first year, and have continued to increase our contributions to each of our children's college funds each year using many of the same methods.

Our youngest child, Eleanor, will turn one tomorrow, and will have our goal amount (and then some!) in her college account for the occasion. The last bit was added today from her parents, in lieu of a purchased birthday present.

Despite our pleasure at being able to "give" her part of her college education on her first birthday, we also want to give her something to open on her big day.  Enter one hand-me-down doll cradle that I refinished, and that her grandmother made bedding for: the perfect place for her first baby dolls to sleep.  This modest gift will give her something (meaningful and full of love) to open, maintain our priorities as parents and family, and prepare her for her future.

So while our children's birthdays may not be lavish, I think they'll understand. Someday, when our little Eleanor is walking across a stage in a cape and gown, ready to go out into the world on her own, I think she'll forgive us the Barbie she never got, or the clown that didn't come to her party. Instead, I hope that she'll remember all the little things that we did while she was young to help build her dreams, even before we knew what they were.

Happy 1st birthday to Miss Eleanor!

Homemade Battleship Game with Letters

 Although we almost never eat out, we do have a couple of local pizza joints which offer gluten-free options, so every once in a while we get to enjoy something that Mom didn't cook! Still, I can't stand just recycling those big boxes- what a waste for a one time use of 30 minutes or less!

Confession: I accidentally pinned a "Battleshots" drinking game on Pinterest the other day thinking that it was a kids' game (in my defense the kids playing said game really did look like kids to me). After I got over my horror that I had inappropriately added it to my Early Childhood Ideas board (oh, the shame!!), I decided I actually wasn't too traumatized to make my own (real) kid-friendly version of the old Battleship game with a focus on helping us to recognize our letters.

Check out what we did below!

You will need:

Two pizza boxes of the same size
Paper or contact paper for the bottom
Permanent marker to draw board and write letters
Two groups of markers: one for "hits" and one for "misses" (we used pom poms and glass beads, respectively)
Scrap paper or other toys (two of each) to be your battleships

Cut a piece of paper (I had a very plasticy type paper that worked well to cover grease on the bottom of the box, but contact paper would work well too) to fit inside your box. Draw the number of boxes you will need. I did 26 for letters, plus the numbers 1-10, which meant that I could just do 6 rows and 6 columns. Make two, because you'll want to end up with two pizza box game stations.

Add glue...

Fit your paper in once you've added the numbers and/or letters.

While those a drying you can cut out your ships. I just used a couple pieces of scrap paper, but you could be more creative and use toy battleships or anything else you have lying around. The key is to have two of everything because each player will need to use an identical game piece on his board.

Here is everything you need to play, minus the pom-poms, which I added later. :) You need boxes, some sort of small markers to note which spaces you've called out, and identical "battleships."

Put your paper scraps randomly on the board, just like you would in the real Battleship game.

Here's where I added the pom pom idea: we used the glass stones to mark "misses" and pom poms to mark "hits." For example, Ben would call out the letter P, and if I had a ship there he would use a pom pom to mark the P on his board, but if I didn't he would use a glass bead. (This took a few turns to get the hang of, but it eventually worked out. I'm sure others can think of a better way to do this!)

A peek at us mid-game. (Ben's making the sound effects for hitting one of my ships...)

Overall we had a lot of fun with this homemade game, both making it and playing it. I had to keep checking Ben's side to be sure that the proper markers were being used and were being placed on the right letters and numbers, but that was OK. I suspect that as we play this game more often it will be easier, and it certainly did make us work on recognizing those letters!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

10 Crazy Things I Am Grateful For Today

Sometimes it's hard to feel grateful; other times it's not. It's usually when I get mired with a bunch of chores that I find it's hardest to feel my gratitude in earnest, but I know it's still there even if it's buried deep. So here is my list of amazingly beautiful, bountiful, blessings I am fortunate to call my own.

10. The piles of laundry sitting in my basement, waiting to be washed. They tell me that my children are clothed and warm.

9. The mortgage bill sitting on my counter. It tells me that my family has a safe home in which to live.

8. The din in the background so loud that it makes conversation difficult. It tells me that my children have enough joy in their lives that it must be exuberantly shared. 

7. The old couch which is ripped, stained and saggy. It reminds me of the many evenings I've curled up there with my husband to discuss our days. 

6. My oh-so-full calendar hanging in the kitchen. It tells me that people in my life love me as much as I love them, and they want to spend time with me.

5. The foot of unshoveled snow in the driveway. It begs to become a sledding hill for eager children. 

4. The toys underfoot that I seem to trip over constantly. They show me that my children have creative energy to spare and sufficient props to enrich their play.

3. My sleepless nights. They tell me that when my children are afraid they still want me to comfort them against the dark.

2. The stack of dirty dishes in the sink. They remind me of the nutritious meal our family shared together this evening.

1. Moments of quiet because in these moments I can truly reflect upon my blessings.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fishing for Letters Game

This is a wonderful game that I made at a Get Ready to Read! conference a couple of years ago. It never ceases to entice even the most reluctant learners, and it can be differentiated (used for a variety of skill levels) easily by making small changes. For example, for children just beginning to learn the alphabet the fish can be placed in order, in a line. For more advanced learners the letters can be mixed up and even upside down to promote advanced letter recognition! It can also be played by having the parent make the letter sound and the child being asked to find the corresponding letter, or even as a spelling game (if the parent says a word and the child must fish for the letters to create that word). By making a few new fish the game can even be used to help beginning readers to identify sight words. So many possibilities!

Download the free printables for the fish here, under the "Making Progress" section.  There are a lot (!) of amazing resources on this site that I use frequently with my kids. (They are mostly very quick and can be used as great curriculum support.)

Here is the basic idea:
Spread the letters out on the floor and call out a letter for your child to find.
The child uses a dowel with a magnet tied to the end of it (I used yarn and packing tape to secure them) to pick up the fish, which have a paperclip on the end to make them magnetic. I also laminated my fish because they get a lot of use.
Then the child works on the desired skill and has some fun as well by picking up the fish you call out! (For the record, yes, Ben is wearing a cape here and sitting in a basket of laundry to do his fishing.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Bouncing Heart

Fun, fun, fun at a homeschool event this week at a local sports complex. Sometimes the same things that make your body bounce make your heart bounce as well!

FIAR Week: Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans

I only planned to work on Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans for one week, but it took two full weeks to really "row" this book and I still felt there were a few things that we could have added! Ah, next time around!

Monday: Social Studies

First, we placed our story disc on the map.

Of course, we drew a French flag. 

I found this wonderful "pocket size Paris" paper doll-like set online for free, and we used it to act out some of the scenes from the book. It included Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, but we had to make our own Sacre Coeur to align with Bemelmans' illustrations.
The kids work together to put up their city with the Seine.

Here is our Paris with the Seine.
We also talked at length about the difference between cities and towns. Last week we rowed Lentil, by Robert McCloskey and that was a unit which focused on small town life. A book based on the city of Paris provided a great opportunity to compare the two geographical concepts.

We had an unexpected January thaw this week as well, which caused a ridiculous amount of snow to melt, so we took advantage of it! We had already talked about the importance of the Seine to Paris, and the use of rivers as transportation devices, so we decided to test our snow-melt rivers with our own boats. We used some on-hand recycled materials for boats and loaded them up with foam beads as "cargo." So fun, and the point was made!
We test the boats without cargo
Then we load them up with foam bead cargo and send them down the river

Simple construction: yogurt container with a popsicle stick mast, paper sail, adhered with duct tape.

Everyone gets in on the action
Even the baby wants to watch!

Her boat made it from one end of "Paris" to the other!

Tuesday: Language Arts
I never have any good photos for language arts. We talked about rhyming, and we created our own short rhyme about our family and our homeschool. (I don't remember it or I would share it with you- sorry!)

Wednesday: Art
We did a little French Knitting this week to begin our study, and we had a blast doing it! Knitting is great fine motor work for all kids, but also is just plain great for the soul, in my view. We used a new kit which we got for Christmas, from For Small Hands, a Montessori school supply store.

As an additional activity for our art day I asked the kids to do a search on the internet for one of the buildings we learned about in Paris (Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, and the Louvre). We copied the photos into iPhoto (I LOVE my Mac!) and tried a variety of different effects on them. We talked about the variety we found in Belemans' illustrations, and the variety we created in our own.

Thursday: Math
In the book there is a sign on the hospital door, which reads "visitors from two to four." We used our classroom clock to explore what that really means and to begin a discussion of how time is told.
I also used some free printables I found here to give my kids a chance to practice drawing in where the hands should go on a clock to make it both 2- and 4 o'clock, respectively.

We also talked about symmetry by doing one of the age-old symmetry paintings. Everyone on the planet has probably done these, but in case you have been living under a rock and haven't ever had the experience, you paint one side of a paper (anything at all), then fold the paper over so some of the paint is transferred to the other side of the paper. Voila- symmetry.

Last, our middle child worked on putting items in order from smallest (like Madeline) to largest.

Friday: Science
Since Madeline has appendicitis in the story, we decided to find out a bit about how our digestive system works. We watched this very corny video about the digestive system and how it works. Other than a few weird pronunciations it was a good resource to help the kids understand the basics. Plus, we read our human body book to reinforce the idea. Then we checked out this link to learn about appendicitis and did this coloring sheet to reinforce.

Other activities:
Since Madeline's friends brought her flowers in the hospital, we talked about compassion this week and what it means to have compassion for others. Our intent was to bring someone flowers in the hospital (we thought we'd visit someone from our church who was ill), but a snowstorm put an end to that idea. Instead, we made some cards and sent them.

Oh, and I almost forgot! We did a scavenger hunt in French! I called out the names of household items (en francais!) and the kids had to race to find the item and bring it to me. 

Next up: we row Katy and the Big Snow!

Handmade Cards

This was so easy and so fun I will absolutely do it again soon! These cards can make great Valentines or blank cards so they are very versatile as well. Perfect.

The process:

Fold a piece of heavy paper or cardstock to desired size.

Put some paint onto a shallow dish (we reused a plastic food container top), and get the end of a bunch of celery.

Dip celery end into paint.

Press onto paper.

Use other bits of celery to create "leaves" for your flower, if desired.

Voila! Beautiful, handmade flower cards.


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