Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Dissection for Kids

Do you have a plethora of pumpkins? We certainly do, but we aren't hurting for ways to use them! We're carving and cooking, and of course, dissecting.


Oh my, yes. Dissecting. What a great way to talk with kids about the importance of seed development, discuss the process of plant maturation, harvest, and use.

Interested in doing something similar? Here's what the process looked like at our house:

First we gathered supplies. They inclued (clockwise, from the top left corner of the below photo): pans for seeds and pulp (these are burner covers, are the same ones I use for sand letters, and are about 99 cents each at home supply stores), a food scale, clipboards, a large household scale, some small cups for investigation, child tweezers, brushes (or any other instrument you have on hand) for pulp manipulation, tape measure, pumpkins and gourds of various sizes. [For this project, we choose one large and one medium pumpkin, plus one small gourd.]

After I took this picture I remembered that I should also include knives- children's and adult's versions, and metal spoons for scooping. We also made small folded paper "books" to record our findings at each step of the process.
 The first thing we did was measure the circumference of each pumpkin/gourd. I used a household measuring tape that I typically [would] use for sewing.. *ahem*... if I did any.

Then we weighed our pumpkins. Our large one measured up just fine, but our medium and smaller pumpkins registered "zero" on the scale. We discussed whether or not they really weighed nothing... or maybe just weighed less than this particular scale could measure. We questioned whether or not we just needed a more sensitive scale.

Big one does just fine on the large scale...

 We decided we did just needed a more sensitive scale, and thus recorded our results this way.
 Once the circumference and weight of each pumpkin was recorded, we moved on to cutting them open to inspect their, as my kids would say, "guts."

Mommy did the cutting with a large knife, top off only so the children would have a chance to draw what they saw when just the top was removed from the pumpkin.
 This is where we paused to draw in our observation journals what we found as we cut the top of the pumpkin off. I simply asked the children to draw what they saw, explaining that true scientists try to record their findings at each step of the process, even if they're anxious to rip into said "guts." (Smile.)
 Using the same tape measure we used to record the circumference of each pumpkin, we measured the width of the pumpkin flesh from the inside, first on the large, then the medium and smallest pumpkin/gourds.
 Then, we spooned out the seeds and pulp onto trays and went to town exploring how they felt. The kids noticed that the seeds were attached to the pulp, which produced a great conversation about the seeds needing water and nutrients from the growing pumpkin.
 Not so sure at first...
 After we drew a pumpkin diagram in our books which included the different parts of the pumpkin (skin, stem, flesh, pulp and seeds), the kids began using their tools to explore on their own.
 I encouraged them to explore the scales, which they did. They wondered aloud whether the parts of the pumpkin- now cut apart- would weigh the same amount as the whole pumpkin. We investigated.

 ...aaaaaand then we got carried away and just piled everything that we could onto the scale.

Printable for making the record book is coming soon!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Our Halloween Day Plan

Photo from our dress up jack-o-lantern project
Score one for me today because I'm planning ahead here. Halloween isn't until Wednesday and I have our plan in place and we're ready to celebrate!

The weather forecast for Halloween here is bleak. Actually, we're expecting a major hurricane. So I'm ready with lots of fun activities to do all day long in case we don't have the opportunity to get out trick-or-treating. If you'd like to get in on the action (even if you're planning to be hurricane-free on the big day), follow along with us as we plan a simply fun (candy-free) day of celebrations.

Our day will include:

*Doing this (free printable) scavenger hunt from Imagination Soup. (You have to dream up a prize for the end, but everything else is ready to go.)

*Playing dress up jack-o-lanern a few more times

*Eating these spooky ghost peanut butter banana snacks from Creative with Kids, these deviled egg spiders from Keen to be Seen, and these english muffin mummy pizzas from Spoonful.

*Making some apple-print pumpkins like this idea from NurtureStore.

*Working on numeracy using this frankenmath game from No Time For Flashcards.

*Graphing, writing, playing bingo and more using the free pumpkin preschool printable from 1+1+1=1.

*Creating all sorts of spooky things with DIY pumpkin pie playdough from Tinkerlab.

Didn't see something that seems fun for your family? Check out my Halloween Pinterest board for more ideas!

Have another idea that you want to share? Please leave it in the comments!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our Morning School Routine

Well, this post has been a long time coming. :)

I think I took these pictures back in August, with the intent of sharing our morning schooling routine as we began more formal school for the year, but you know, school tends to take center stage for a while every fall, and this one has been no exception.

Now that it's October and we're more settled in our new routine, I'm taking a moment to share what we're doing on school mornings. If you would like to know more about the full run-down of our day, you can check out this post on our daily routine.

Morning school typically starts at around 10 a.m., after breakfast and morning chores.

I took these pictures the night before, knowing that the school day can sometimes get too busy for photo-taking, so the lighting isn't the best. Still, you get the idea.

Here's the setup at the kitchen table, once breakfast and morning snack have been cleaned up. (OK, so we often eat morning snack while we do morning school.) I set out binders for Ben (age 5) and Ava (age 3), which contain different work for each, at their respective level. We use (and love!) Jolanthe's binder printables from Homeschool Creations. Using her printouts we practice writing dates, time, reading the thermometer, track how many days we've been in school, and more. I laminated the sheets we use every day, so we simply wipe them off and reuse them.

I use these colored folders to keep any worksheets or print work that we may do during morning school. The reality of teaching several children at once is that I can't work with each one, every minute. So I fill these folders once per week with productive, skill-practice items they can do independently (like when I'm working with a sibling). I'm not the hugest worksheet fan, so I must say that I tried this system with some trepidation, but it has been working well for us thus far. I put review materials in the green folder- those sheets can be done with no guidance from me at all. The yellow folder contains new skills, but ones that I think each child can work out on their own with minimal guidance. Red folder work is comprised of brand-new concepts which are likely to need some direct instruction and support. Each child has these three folders in his or her morning binder, so as I'm working with one child on her red folder, another can work through his green or yellow one. 

Here's my teaching tool layout for the morning: Handwriting Without Tears materials (pictured here are our slate chalkboards, box of wooden letters and mats), our letter of the day book and puzzle (underneath the book- from a yard sale, but any letter-specific puzzle would do), and our simple, dollar store type stickers which both entertain the baby and motivate the older kids. Love those stickers.
Here's the morning board, hung in our kitchen. Once the kids come in after chores, this is the first thing we do, as a group. We say the pledge, put up our weather tabs (I adhere them with velcro dots), and we set up our day. [My weather chart is left over from my preschool teaching days, but this is a similar idea.]  The daily planner, which is in the bottom left corner of our board is another favorite from Homeschool Creations. Each activity has it's own square (with pictures for my non-readers), and we put together our schedule for the day so the kids know what's coming up. There are some things that almost never change: making beds in the morning, brushing our teeth and eating breakfast, for example, but which subjects we study or which lessons we attend do change. This also gives the children a chance to consider and ask for which subjects they'd like to spend more time on. 

We do a letter, number, and color of the week for the preschool kid(s), which I just write with dry-erase marker on a laminated sheet each week. (I do a corresponding letter display in the school room, also.) The bulletin board is flanked on each side by posters: one is numbers, the other, letters.  The pouches tacked on to the board contain the extra squares for both the weather and daily planner charts.
Ben, working on his morning binder.

Once we've finished morning binders and boards, we break up into other tasks. Since I let the kids choose how we lay out our day, what we do first changes on a daily basis. The week that I took pictures was not an FIAR week for us, so we started right in on Handwriting Without Tears work. I own both the HWT kindergarten teacher's guide and the preschool level Readiness and Writing teacher's guide, which outline daily activities for kids, each building upon the day before. If you're interested in the program I particularly recommend the kindergarten guide, and it only costs $8!

(If we happening to be rowing an FIAR book, I try to do that work in the morning while Ellie is awake because it's more family-oriented than skill work. Still, we try to be flexible.)

Here, Ava is polishing her "big line" with an old sock, as suggested in our HWT manual.
Here, she's building an F with her mat and wooden lines.

Ellie (18 months at the time of this picture), joins in the letter building... even if she's a bit out of sequence.

The girls leave Ben and me at the table to work together, and head into the school room to check out what I've put on their shelves for the day. They choose to work collaboratively on a letter puzzle.
That about wraps it up. When Ben and I are done working together, and the girls are finished with their work, we head outside. I keep our meal plan and our weekly homeschool schedule on my refrigerator, which I pass on the way out the door, so if I discover that I need to be doing something in terms of meal prep or afternoon school prep, I can be thinking about it while we're outside.

That's it! What does your morning look like?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Matisse-Style Art for Kids

When I was an exchange student to France in high school, I was introduced to the work of Henri Matisse. Of course, I'd heard of him before (who hasn't?), but I got the chance to really see his work in a variety of venues and environments while I was there. I fell in love with his work. So bold and expressive, so honest and real- I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Matisse, and it's been in the back of my mind for a long time that I wanted to share that experience with my children. I wondered if they too, would be drawn to this unique artist's perspective? This week, we had the chance to do some art and discovering together.

Before I could begin with the kids, I had to do a little brushing up on my own knowledge. I did that by reading this and this.

Then, I did a quick Google Images search for Matisse, and used the above sources to show the kids a variety of his works. We also own the Looking At Paintings series by Peggy Roalf, which is a fabulous resource thanks to its big, bold pictures and brief biographies on the artists themselves.The kids seemed particularly drawn to the cut paper art that he did toward the end of his life, when his health was failing. Matisse discovered that he could still be creative, if less mobile, by cutting paper in his wheelchair or in bed, and using an assistant to place the paper where he wanted it. Since this also seemed like a feasible place to start art with the kids, we decided to do what Matisse referred to as "drawing with scissors."

Next, it was onto the process. Here's what we did:

We assembled the tools: colored paper, white paper, scissors and glue. I also cut some shapes out ahead of time knowing that my toddler wouldn't be able to cut herself (she did rip some paper to include in her work, though!). 
 Here I am, showing the kids some example of Matisse's work. (Photo by Ben.)
 The kids then began to cut the colored paper. No templates or ideas- just free-flowing creativity. I loved that! They used both the cut-out shapes and the outlines from the remaining paper. They also used some of my shapes, which was fine.

 Once they had cut and arranged, I gave them glue sticks. They moved pretty freely between arranging and gluing at some points, but I tried to encourage them to consider the aesthic appeal of the work before they started gluing- at least to begin with. It slowed them down long enough for them to consider what colors and shapes they were using and why. If they decided they needed another shape or color, then they could add it in a deliberate way. (You might be surprised how young children will show preference for certain arrangements- this is great practice for all ages!)

 Our finished work!
A note about process art: it can be difficult for some children to make art in an abstract way, particularly if they tend to be logical, concrete thinkers. You can see from the photo above that one of my children is just such a thinker, and he struggled a bit with the idea that his art might not represent any concrete item. He began the project by arranging shapes to form bigger pictures, mosaic-style, but with a little coaching he began to open up about his ideas. You can encourage a child to create abstractly by using descriptive words to talk about the shapes ("wow, that looks big, bold, exciting, calm, vibrant, etc.") and by asking your child to imagine what one shape could be ("this shape reminds me of a vase, and I'm thinking about it floating in the sky...") to encourage the concept that the picture can still have meaning without being a literal representation. Have fun!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Outdoor Classroom

This morning the skies parted, and after four days of rain, the luscious sunlight streamed through the clouds. My heart soared. It's incredible what a little vitamin D will do for you, isn't it? (Smile.)

Since we're homeschoolers and we have the flexibility to do so, we often take a quilt out into the yard and do some part of school outside. Typically, that's snack or lunch and read aloud. Occasionally it's bookwork.

But today- today with the sunshine filling up my soul (and addling my brain, my husband feared) I decided that we could move our shelves outside and do all of our (Montessori) work time out there. Now, the ground was way too wet after days of rain to even contemplate a quilt on the lawn, so here's what I did:
Yes, that's just what it looks like. I took over our deck and made it our classroom for the day.

We had an old rug in the basement that I brought up for our floor, and I just picked up two of our shelves from the schoolroom, and set them up as-is. They were already packed with our activities for the day (I try to do that the night before), so it was a simple task. I added the beanbag for relaxing, the plant for aesthetic value, and the pumpkin for natural world exploration (and because we are going to be working with it tomorrow in science and I wanted to pique their interest today). The music basket came out to provide a little free exploration for Ellie as I worked with Ava. But, as you'll see below, everyone played with the instruments today.

Are you curious about our school morning outside? Ben was at swimming lessons with Grammie, so the girls and I had the run of the place. Here's what we did:

Exploration of the prepared environment happened as if it were the first time they'd seen these materials. Probably because everything seemed so different out in the sunlight!

 I knew the beanbag would be a good choice...
 We've been working on shapes of late, so I put all three of our shape stacks out for exploration. Sure enough, a large part of the morning was spent working on those.
 I pulled out an old favorite- our clothespin color wheel.

 Contents of our music basket:
 During some parts of the morning I got Ava to use her work mat. Other times, I did not. No big deal in my book- I'm glad the learning is happening no matter where, and although I like to encourage the habit, it didn't seem like a battle to fight today.
 (Um, where is her headband in this picture?? And why did we decide to grow out her bangs??)
 We've been working on pouring with both girls recently as there has been considerable interest. We've just added cups with handles and are using popcorn now for Ava, which she really feels good about. She has to pour slowly and carefully so the popcorn doesn't spill out.
 Ellie's in the background here, having raided Ava's shelves. She does that a lot. (Smile.)
 Both girls did some colored pasta sorting:

 And both girls worked on a couple shape puzzles.

[The lines between each girl's materials is blurred when we do school together, which was a source of stress for me for quite a while. I worried when, like below, Ava used Ellie's things for fear that she wasn't challenging herself. Conversely, I worried when Ellie used Ava's materials for fear they were too challenging and she'd feel defeated. I no longer worry- I let each child choose their materials each day and trust that they're doing work which is enriching to them in some way.]
 I surprised her when I  took a picture of pumpkin exploration time.
By afternoon the rain had begun to set in once again and our afternoon session was done inside, making me ever-more thankful for the time outside this morning!

In case you're wondering, we are going to do this again. A lot. Set up and take down was surprisingly simple and the pay-off was huge. I can't wait until it stops raining again... next week some time. (Smile.)

Do you learn outside on occasion?

I'm linked up!

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