Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Literacy/Numeracy Breakfast

Letters and numbers can be practiced any time, any where. Don't believe me? Check out breakfast at our house this morning:

 Oh yes, those are gluten free pancakes. And yes, I wrote letters and numbers with the batter to make breakfast a learning experience. I wrote each child's name, and did each child's age with the corresponding number of fruit slices and pancake dots.

I wouldn't consider it an understatement to say that this was the children's favorite breakfast that I've ever made. (I'm under that impression because they kept screaming, "Mom, this is the best breakfast you've ever made!")

Mildly obsessive to make my children learn at breakfast? Possibly. Seriously fun to make/eat/learn? Absolutely. So worth the obsessive moniker, from my perspective.
The secret to perfect letter and number making is to put the batter into an old ketchup bottle before you pour it. Like this:
 I didn't think to take pictures until well into the cooking process, so there are all kinds of crunchy  bits of partially burned pancake in the picture. Don't mind those.

If you drip a little, like I did with the "J" below (J happened to be the letter we were working on all day today so I did that one even though no one's name begins with that letter), just scrape it off with the spatula.
 You can even add some chocolate chips for added appeal... as if this fun little breakfast needs it!

 Finished products:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Homeschooling On The Fly

I like to plan elaborate, intricate lessons which involve every sense and sensibility, providing oodles (oh yes, I said oodles) of exploration opportunities for my children.

Sometimes though, life gets in the way and I don't plan the perfect lesson.

Sometimes I don't even come close.

Sometimes I just grasp at the childrens' coattails and hang on for the ride.

That's OK, though. There is plenty of learning to be done on a child's coattails. 

Here is the document which I use to record our learning on those weeks when I haven't used backwards planning or universal design. It's for those weeks when I haven't aligned our French to our math and vice versa- those weeks when we live our lives and record our learning as we go, as a quick "jot down" on Sunday night.

We all have those moments/weeks, right?

And all of them deserve to be documented in our homeschools, each earning space in our child's portfolio, no?

So here it is. Enjoy. Modify. Embrace learning moments where you find them and fill this chart in at the beginning of the week as a plan, in the middle of the week as learning is happening, or at the end of the week, once the learning is done and you just want to capture it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Early Childhood Camping Unit

Last week our church did Vacation Bible Camp, and as director of the program I wound up with a lot of extra decorations at my house. I couldn't quite toss them since I'd spent so much time assembling them, but at the same time most were too big and bulky to keep for another year.

So, I decided to bring them home to do a camping unit with my kids (the theme of VBC this year was "national parks,") and then to donate the compoents of the unit to a local daycare. Everybody wins!

I re-created a scene that I had put up in church last week, then added a few "learning components" to make it a school activity.

First, I turned our lake and waterfall into a fishing for letters game.
 I printed the free camping printables from 2 Teaching Mommies and made a literacy center out of the camp table.
 A look at our living room when the kids came down the stairs: painted scenery from church, reused blue tablecloths and blue cellophane for the waterfall and lake, some sleeping bags, a camp chair and a kids tent (our real tents wouldn't fit in the living room), a tissue paper campfire, and some Christmas garland wrapped around cellophane paper tubes for trees. Everything was adhered with painters tape so it came off without marring the paint or walls.

 I pulled a few real pieces of firewood and stone from the garden for authenticity.
 This picture shows how I adhered the blue tablecloth and cellophane to the painted backdrop with blue painters tape to make it look seamless. The waterfall starts on my lamp, is taped to the wall, cascades over my couch and is given some character by a few throw pillows underneath.
 The forest was created with the leftover cellophane tubes and some Christmas garland. I stuck one end of the garland right into to the top of the tube and then wound it around the tubes, securing with painter's tape if necessary. I re-used a painted pine tree from VBC scenery in the background. Brown tubes are stuck between couch cushions to make them stand up straight.
 Since our real tents wouldn't stand up inside, I used this kids pop up tent for a similar effect. I moved a couple of ferns into the room on the ground for effect, as well. The book on the chest is one of several woods/camping themed books I put out for the kids to check out. I make a reading nook behind the tent with a camping themed quilt and pillow for snuggling.
This is a look at the large background scene, with the lake already starting to fall down. :) The background is painted on a couple of long strips of brown craft paper, taped together. A couple of kids started the mountains at church last week and I finished them, so the approach is a little different. Still, it gets the point across.
Reading nook for snuggling up with camping books... and Mommy.
 Closer look at "trees."
 Kiddos starting a game of fishing for letters to help them learn the names and sounds each letter makes. For details on how to make and play the game, go here.

 I put a few fish under the cellophane so they'd look like they were underwater.
 I put up some Christmas lights under a bit of cellophane to make a starry night sky. (If you try it, don't put the cellophane too close to the Christmas lights as they could be a fire hazard.)
 Using our letter tiles with the printables from 2 Teaching Mommies:
We collected some branches and made some counting sticks and bundles that looked rustic and expressed place value.  I had the kids count out each bundle of ten for practice. You could also use sticks as Maria Montessori used spindles, as expressed in this video. (We do that often as well, to practice one-to-one correspondence and number recognition.)
 Some sample trays I set out on the children's (respective) shelves to go with this unit (all except stick bundles are from 2 Teaching Mommies). I also put out a tray of small blank books for the children to write/draw their own camping stories in.
 Our art project today consisted of a forest collage. We began by using a comb in green paint to create the pine needle look of pine trees.

 Then we added trunks, some blue tissue paper for lakes, brown tissue paper for caves, some green festoon for well, everything, and some forest animal stickers.
For music during this unit we listened to camp songs I remember singing around the campfire as a child. Oh yes, we rocked out to Puff, The Magic Dragon and This Land is Your Land an awful lot. It was pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We also managed to eat a few camping-staple foods, like s'mores and (nitrate free, all natural) hot dogs. I abandoned these attempts by dinner though, and instead made some roasted potatoes with sauteed summer squash and zucchini. Hey- I'm all for themed eating, but I have to make sure we eat a few veggies right? Besides, Garrett brought the veggies in from the field minutes before we cooked them. No one complained.

All in all, this unit provided us with some great learning opportunities, lots of fun, and the interest to go camping "for real" once the weather starts to cooperate!

Monday, July 23, 2012

40 Ways to Distract a Toddler, text only version

For all of you who seem to see only five ideas when you click on the original 40 Ways to Distract a Toddler post,  I have re-typed and re-presented the post for you. This is a text-only version (sorry, no pictures) in hopes of allowing those who've had difficulty to access a simpler format.

I am sorry for whatever technical issue it is that prevented you from seeing them the first time through, and I thank you for taking the time to check out the full list, presented here. I hope you find inspiration here!

Here goes...

Re-typed exactly as appears in the original post (but without photographs):

As a homeschooling mom there are times when I want to include every member of my family in an a activity, and there are other times when I need to distract the younger set so I can practice a particular skill with my oldest. But you know, that can be tough with two toddlers running around.

Here are some of the strategies that work well with my daughters when I need to devote some attention to schooling their brother. I try to have several examples from the following list on-hand at all times to pull from when necessary. I hope they help your family as much as they do mine! Want more inspiration? Check out my Toddler Ideas Board on Pinterest.

(Please supervise your child at all times, and use your best judgement when choosing activities which are safe and appropriate for your child's readiness level.)

1. Rice/bean bins. All you need is a bin, some rice or beans, and some scoops or cups. (I use an under-the-bed storage container because I actually store mine under a bed, and because that way it's actually long and shallow enough for multiple children to use at once.) These require close supervision for really young children, so I set mine up right next to the table I'm working at so children are always in sight.  And may I mention that I strongly prefer beans to rice? You see, beans vacuum up easily and rice just gets blown every which way.

2. Water bins/tables. These require a nice day and a deck.. smile... but are great. Again, fill up a tub of water and provide scoops, bowls, and a few fun trinkets (some that float and some that sink) and let kids play 'til their heart's content. Add a few drops of food coloring for extra fun!Accept before you begin that each child who plays will require a full wardrobe change. I actually use this one a lot while I'm making dinner- the kids are going to get into the bath at that point anyway, right? Please use your best judgement when allowing children to engage in water play and ensure close supervision at all times.

3. Paint with water books. Yes, they still exist and yes, they are still a great way to get some exploration going with less than half the mess of the full-fledged version.

4. Puzzles. Use the manufactured variety or make your own by cutting up pictures your child (or a sibling) has drawn.

5. Special Play Boxes. The idea is that you only take these special boxes of toys out when you are homeschooling another child. These are special treats.  Change them up every few weeks or so depending upon your younger child's interests. Here, my youngest daughter is playing with Matchbox cars as I work with her brother.

6. Stickers. On paper, on clothes, on favorite chairs...

7. Number Wheels. Print a color wheel and ask kids to place the corresponding clothes pin on the wheel. For details, check out Money Saving Mom's post here. If your child isn't ready for numbers yet, try putting colors onto the wheel and putting colored dots onto the clothes pins for them to match. If your child is really young, try just giving them clothes pins and a variety of materials to try to adhere them to.

8. Legos and blocks. These are great all by themselves, but can also be used on conjunction with props like dolls, cars, shoebxes and and paper towel rolls. What can your child make with them?

9. Tweezers and pom poms. Provide some multi-colored craft pom poms and ask kids to sort by size and/or color. If the child is very young, take away the tweezers and give them a yogurt container with a small hole cut into the top to stuff pom poms through. When they are done, open the container and start again.

10. Toddler sewing basket. For details on how to assemble one of these babies, go here, to Childhood 101.

11. Pipe cleaners in containers. This is a variation of the pom pom suggestion: cut several small holes in a yogurt or coffee container and ask the child to stick pipe cleaners into them. For added challenge, color hole-reinforcers (like you use in three-hole-punches documents) and ask teh child to match the pipe cleaner color to the hole reinforcer color.

12. Magazine scavenger hunts. Really young kids can just rip up the pages, but slightly older toddlers can search through the pages to find the items you ask for, like pictures of smiles, flowers, a Mommy, etc.

13. Alphabet or picture tracing sheets. This is as easy as laminating alphabet practice sheets and providing dry erase markers. All done? Erase and start again.

14. Egg cartons filled with plastic colored eggs. Fill these with trinkets which will make noise within the eggs. This is enough for young kids. For slightly older kids, you can ask them what they hear in the eggs, and then have them open the eggs to discover whether or not they are correct. (Be careful of very small items for very young children.)

15. PlayDoh filled balloons. You never know what a child is going to create with these, but the sensory experience is a major boon. For details, go here

16. Pool noodle stringing. Cut up pool noodles and provide yarn for little kids to string together.

17. Magnetic Magazine Face-Making. Cut out eyes, ears, noses, mouths, etc from magazines, laminate and adhere to magnets. Then, provide your toddler with a magnetic surface to rearrange the faces. For details from the Iowa Farmer's Wife, go here

18. Lacing boards. These can be made with leftover cereal boxes, or can be purchased. You pnch several holes along the outline of a shape, and ask your toddler to weave shoestring in and out of the holes. Don't expect perfection unless you are giving instruction- just let them do it on their own.

19. Felt Face-Making. Same idea as above, but you use felt to create facial features and let little hands assemble as they will. This idea can be adjusted to fit any theme you're working on in your homeschool with just a little forethought. Cupcakes, ice cream comes, firetrucks, fish...the list goes on an on. Just create one larger object and lots of little ones with which to adorn it.

20. Soda bottle filled with oil, glitter, and water. Grab a two-liter and fill it with these ingredients for fun. Roll them, shake them, and put them into containers. Remember to glue the cap on before you give this to your child!

21. Button snake. Tie or sew onto a piece of ribbon and provide felt scraps to thread onto the "snake". For details, go here.

22. Clothesline play. String up a pretned clothesline and provide a few socks, some felt clothes cut-outs, and some scarves, etc. plus a few clothespins and let younger kids have fun putting up the wash.

23. Bathtub painting. Let a squirmy toddler paint in the bathtub with tempra or other washable paint. Just strip them down and let them go to town, then use the shower head to rinse it all (including what's on their bodies) down the drain. Use your best judgement when it comes to supervising your child in the water (which you'll need to use when you're cleaning up the masterpiece).

24. Ziplock bag painting. Fill a bag with paint and tape it to a glass surface. For details form No One Has More Fun Than The Adams', go here.

25. Giving babydolls a bath. This isn't so gender-specific as you may think. You may be surprised at how many boys enjoy a small tub of water, a plastic baby doll, towels, and soap. This is another activity which may require a full wardrobe change, but it's well worth the effort.

26. Stamping. Ink pad, paper, and a variety of stamps. Check out my tutorial on how to make foam stickers into stamps here.

27. Color scavenger hunt. Give your child a paper bag with a color scribbled on the front, or a colored bag, and ask them to run around the house until they find items of that color to put into the bag. You should also *ahem* set some limits as to what can, and cannot, go into the bag.

28. Bottles and cap matching. Take a bunch of used bottles (clean, of course) and let children match the caps to the bottles. Added bonus? This is a self-correcting activity, so when they get to the end and all the caps don't match, they know they've made a mistake and can go back to find it. Want details? Click here for the post from Home Learning from Birth.

29. Rubberband/shoebox guitars. These are fun to play and fun to make. Just a couple of shoeboxes with rubber bands around them make music (but not too loud) and lots of opportunity for exploration).

30. Give them "work." Give your younger child the same worksheet you give your older child and see what they do with it! The more authentic and identical the worksheet, the better.

31. Pudding/Yogurt finger-painting. This is another activity which necessitates prompt bathing (boy, I have a lot of those) but gives you peace of mind while you work with another student that your younger child won't be ingesting paint. Tools like spoons and paintbrushes only add to the fun.

32. Cutting practice. While themed printables are fun, you don't need anything that fancy. Just draw some wiggly lines across a page and ask your toddler to cut the lines you've made.

33. PlayDoh prints. My kids will play with PlayDoh for hours anyway, but they're especially intrigued by anything that makes a print in the soft dough (think Legos, sporks, beaded necklaces, cookie cutters and little truck wheels).

34. Balloons. They don't even need helium just blow them up and provide a pool noodle for hitting, or tie bunches of them up with ribbon and let your kids try to keep them in the air. Try giving kids a straw and having them blow balloons around the room.

35. Sorting. Colored pasta, old keys, nuts and bolts. You name it, a kid can sort it. (Supervise young children closely with small objects.)

36.  Water transfer. This can be done with pipettes and small bowls of water, or with small pitchers. The key here is small amounts of water. Colored water is extra exciting.

37. Chalk. It's versatile- if you have a chalkboard that's great, but chalk can be used on black construction paper, on sidewalks and driveways if you're outside, on rocks, on felt...

38. Masking tape obstacle course. You can tailor this to meet your child's needs- put down a straight line and ask your child to walk/skip/hop along it. Create squares they must jump between, even adhere tape to walls in a hallway and ask your child to go below the lines you've set up.

39. Pattern blocks. The idea is to use a set of blocks and ask your child to create the same patterns that are on a form. This can be done by tracing blocks you already have, or by purchasing a set.

40. Give up. Really. When all else fails: skip school for the time being and give your babies the attention they need. I've seldom regretted calling it quits on a tough school day to give us all the chance to regroup, but I have often regretted not doing so. Realize that you aren't a superhuman and there is nothing so important that should make you ignore a child who wants and needs you.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Morning Motivation

Here's my morning inspiration- what's yours?

Thank you Phil, for the use of your motivating cup and for the amazing coffee you put in it. :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Spring Vegetable Burger

Eating seasonally sometimes means throwing foods together that you might not otherwise think to combine, but do so because that's what the garden/farm is producing! I realize that it isn't spring anymore, just for the record, but we're so far north that we're still pulling the last of our spring crops. So, spring burgers it is!

Here's what our family made up this week for one dinner using just fresh, seasonal foods all produced (in one form or another) from within about 10 miles of our house.

 Yummy, right?

Since we purchase our meat from local producers in our town, we have a deep chest freezer full of meat from the spring slaughter. I realize that not everyone eats meat, and for those who do it isn't exactly the most savory idea to consider slaughter times, but it's a "must" if you plan to eat locally. Most farmers will send their animals to be processed in the spring and fall respectively, so eating meat at those times in most eco-friendly. Thus, the hamburger part of our meal. 
Then we took stock of our CSA distribution and our own garden produce, finding we had an abundance of kale, turnips, garlic scapes, scallions and bleeding heart radish (that's the amazing color in the photo- I think I eat them just because they're so beautiful).

So, while the hamburgers were grilling, we washed and cut the kale to saute with a bit of butter. When it was done (just a few minutes and it wilts), we added a few chopped scallions and garlic scapes into the pan for use as a garnish. We also browned some peeled, sliced turnip in a pan to put on top of the burger. Oh, the sweet flavor of those last spring turnips...

We had some fresh cheese that had just been made- a lovely sharp cheddar to contrast with the sweet turnip, and had a few slices of bacon leftover from breakfast.

To plate, kale went first, then burger with cheese, turnips and garlic scapes and scallions. A few slices of bleeding heart radish on the side and we were done! I would have loved to include a bit of sauted summer squash but alas, it isn't quite ready yet in our northern region.

The (sometimes) downfall of eating locally: one must be flexible with the meal plan and eat what's available. Not too great a downfall as a matter of fact, considering I still got to eat this for dinner:

What delicious local foods have you eaten recently?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Catch the Letter Game

Simple game to reinforce letter identification for young kids: Catch the Letter!

Grab a butterfly net (or the closest thing you have on hand- even a towel could work as a net in this case) and some foam letters. Don't use the hard plastic ones because they might hurt if someone gets bumped on the noggin!

Show your child two letters, and name them both. Say, "I have F [show F] and J [show J]."

Then say, "I'm going to toss both letters in the air and call one of their names. You have to try to catch that letter in your net."

It's really that easy.

Then do it- toss both letters in the air and call, "catch F!".

Can you child catch the letter?

This is a great game for kids who like to move their bodies while they learn (hello kinesthetic learners!), and is a strong reinforcement for automaticity in letter recognition. (That means that it helps children to recognize the letter without thinking about it and figuring it out- they know it automatically.)

Thinks he's going to get them all...
 ..but he misses! (Only a few times, though.)

In what ways to do get your kids moving and learning at once?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sidewalk Chalk Painting

This method has stolen my heart of late.  It's ridiculously easy, which is a huge boon for any mom, and yet so versatile. Who knew that adding just a touch of sugar to some water and soaking plain old sidewalk chalk would be so darn fun and unique?

The basic idea is this: soaking chalk in a sugar/water solution causes it to soften and become a medium much in line with pastel crayons that can be used on the driveway or on paper. My favorite part about this project was doing some drawing myself. I loved the smooth glide of the chalk across the page- I had total control as I would with a pencil, but was able to blend colors as I would with paint.

Here are the steps:

Add a few tablespoons of sugar to a dish. (I doubled the recipe, so my measurements were a bit larger.) This is not an exact science.
Next, add some water to the dish until it's full. Again- not an exact science. You're probably looking for a 1:4 ratio, for all those people who just have to know the numbers. Smile.
 Then take regular old chalk and soak it for a minimum of 10 minutes.
 When you first submerge the chalk you'll see some fizzing and bubbles. This is super duper fun for little eyes to watch or little hands to do.
 Once 10 minutes have passed,  give the kids some paper and let the kids go to town. The longer you soak your chalk the more paint-like it will become until eventually, it becomes a thick, pasty fingerpaint.

I can't tell you how much fun it was to discover what our "paint" would be like after each 10 minute interval. I suggest you begin with lots of chalk if your children are curious about the different consistencies of their art medium, and how that impacts their products, because we wound up making several batches of sugar/water and starting the process over a few times because in our zeal we used all the chalk within 20 minutes!
 The project is so hands on and user-friendly that even the 17-month old discovered that she could further manipulate the effects of her chalk by dipping her chalk into water before she drew on the paper.

 This was the consistency of our chalk after 20 minutes...
 ...and this was how it worked after 10.

Please give this a try and let me know if it got your creative juices flowing as it did mine!

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