Monday, November 23, 2009

Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt

Although the weather has been a bit on the wintry side lately, we have been trying to get outside as much as possible. K and B are usually quite enthusiastic about the prospect, but N is sometimes harder to coax out the door. One day, I suggested we make our simple walk around the neighborhood into a scavenger hunt. Bingo!

"Can I make the list?" N asked, suddenly excited. (Um . . . well . . . of course!) I was pleasantly surprised at just how relevant his list was. I'm pretty sure it was better than what I would have come up with in that amount of time. He even drew little checkboxes next to each item! Here it is:
  • An open garage
  • An orange leaf
  • A bare tree
  • Some grass on the sidewalk
  • A two-story house next to a one-story house
  • A fallen-down sign
  • A rocky area
  • A rock bigger than your hand
  • A cloud formation [meaning a cloud in the shape of something]
  • A flock of birds
  • A farmhouse
  • A red leaf
  • A basketball hoop
So, we rounded up some clipboards to make it official and off we went! The wind was pretty brisk, which made keeping the paper flat on the clipboard a bit frustrating, but it was a fun adventure overall. N and K checked off everything except "a flock of birds", and we were deciding that we'd have to find that another day. Then, as we were turning into our own driveway again, we disturbed a flock of house finches who had been snacking at our feeders! The kids were ecstatic at completing the list, and N even handed out prizes (homemade cookies) when we got back inside.

I knew the activity was a success when they asked, "Can we do this again sometime, Mom?" (Um . . . well . . . of course!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Photo Resolution and More Tot School

Tot School
B is currently 26 months old

You know, I've never really been consistent at taking pictures of what we're doing. I love blogs with lots of photos, and I know it adds a lot of interest to a post, but it always seemed like such a hassle to interrupt the flow and go find the camera. Also, our current camera seems to be showing a few signs of preparing for retirement. And there have been so many gray days lately . . . .

Ha! Too many excuses. A couple of weeks ago I made a resolution (all puns intended, of course) and decided to try harder. This meant leaving the camera out where it was accessible more quickly. Sometimes it meant bribing encouraging the kids to do something again, just for a photo. I did find that it interrupted the flow to some extent, but my kids love having their picture taken (just not in a studio setting!). They especially love seeing the pictures on the blog. For me, I found that having the pictures made it easier to remember what I wanted to blog about. It also helped me realize just how much learning is really going on here!

So, without further ado, here are some more of our recent "Tot School" activities:

"SQUEEZY" PAINTS. My kids enjoy using these paints, which we call "squeezy" paints, as an occasional alternative to markers. (We have the 6-pack of "shimmer" paints. I love how they smell! I bought them online from a vendor who no longer carries them, but I recently saw them at our local Jo-Ann store.) B's favorite part is screwing the caps on and off, but he does also enjoy painting with them. He really has his color names down pat now, and my favorite part is hearing him say, "Please pass the purple!"

LIFE SKILLS: FOLDING LAUNDRY. B is, like most toddlers, very interested in doing what "the big people" are doing. He is exceptionally interested in cleaning up, putting in order, and putting away. One morning, for example, I came downstairs to find him "washing" the front of the refrigerator with a sponge. "I clean it, Mommy!" he said with a proud smile. (Um, where do I order a couple more like this?)

So, when he found me folding laundry the other day, I was not surprised to hear, "Leppy [let me] help you!" I gave him a pile of dishcloths and washcloths, then showed him how to 1) "make a square" (lay it out flat), 2) fold it in half, and 3) fold it in half again. I admit I was surprised at how quickly he caught on. He folded them quite neatly, and I even overheard him quietly repeating "Make a square, fold half, fold half." And the look of proud achievement in his eyes after carefully taking his pile to the drawer? Priceless. This is what it's all about!

NUTS AND BOLTS. On a recent trip to the hardware store, I remembered reading this post about using nuts and bolts for motor skills development. I decided to start with just one size, but plan to add additional sizes later. B seems to really enjoy using his hands, so this was a well-received activity. (Don't you just love those chubby fingers?)

LOCK AND KEY. On the same trip to the hardware store, I found a simple lock and key for B to practice with. Lately, he has been quite obsessed with keys, and has managed to lock and unlock some things we'd rather he didn't. I am hoping that having his very own lock and key will help a little with this issue. (Yeah, I'm pretty good at deluding myself. I did remember to get one that came with an extra key, which I promptly put in a place I can find it easily.)

I have lots more "Tot School" activities to share, but time to blog about them? Not so much. I'll just keep trying, though. That's a big part of the agile philosophy, after all!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tot School

Over the past several months, it has become apparent that B, our just-turned-two-year-old, wants very much to be part of our homeschooling experience. He has never been one to just "go play" while I do things with the others. He wants to be right in the middle of everything, which too often leads to frustration for all of us. I realized that something needed to change, but I wasn't sure how to make it all work.

Then, I came across this blog and the concept of "Tot School". When I read the description and purpose of Tot School, I knew this was exactly what B (and all of us) needed. We're still working out some kinks in our system (when aren't we doing that?), but I have already seen a real difference, even after just a short time of structuring our day to include "Learning Time for B".

Here are some of the things we have been enjoying together:

POM-POM FLIPPING. Seriously. All it takes is a plastic spoon, a bag full of fuzzy goodness purchased at the dollar store, and a willingness to find pom-poms in strange places for the next several days. The first couple of times we did this, B spent nearly an hour fully engaged in this activity. The older kids love it, too, and are into creating specific challenges to test each others' pom-pom-flipping prowess.

SHAPE COLLAGES. We started out with a bowl full of simple foam shape stickers and a hamburger bun pan (a regular or jumbo muffin tin would have worked, too). B chose a shape, said its name, and sorted it into the compartment of the pan containing matching shapes. Part two was peeling off the paper backing and sticking the shapes on a paper. (Great fine motor skills practice--bonus!) He was very verbal during this part without any prompting from me at all, saying things like, "I stick a circle . . . HERE!" or "See my oval, Mom?" He also talked a lot about the colors of the shapes.

While this was going on, my older children (7 and 5) explored their "collage box" (filled with newspapers, catalogs, magazines, junk mail, etc.) and created picture collages based on a chosen theme or organizing principle. N decided to do two different ones, with the pictures pasted in very orderly rows and each one meticulously labeled--such an organizer! K finished her first one, then wanted to do another using the foam shapes. She got really creative with using the shapes as jumping-off points for drawings--such a great imagination!

This was one of the most peaceful, productive mornings we've had in a long time!

OUTDOOR PLAY. One thing that B very obviously needs is time and space to be active. He's much more physically-oriented than my others at that age, and he needs to run, jump, throw, kick, and just move around without too many restrictions. Previously, I tried to encourage him to play in the backyard while I fed the baby or worked with the older kids on something, but this was rarely successful. He's a very social child, and dislikes playing alone.

So, I have made a commitment to set aside time each day for family play time (outdoors if weather permits), with a focus on activities he can successfully participate in. On the day pictured above, we started out tossing balls back and forth (with N and K spontaneously making a connection with our science discussion on potential and kinetic energy--bonus!). This morphed into a kick-ball like game for a while, then someone suggested bubbles. Wow. Another great success!

I have several more photos to share of other successful activities, but I think they'll have to wait. Hopefully I'll find time to create another post soon!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Exposure vs. Mastery

A couple of years ago we were visiting my husband's parents. I overheard his grandmother (who also lives with them) asking my oldest son, five years old at the time, what he was learning "in school".

"Well, actually we homeschool," he patiently explained. Then he proceeded to tell her that he was learning about multiplication and division.

A little taken aback, she said, "Isn't that too hard for you?"

"No," he answered cheerfully, "it's fun!"

Now, although math does come easily to my son, he was not memorizing multiplication tables or doing long division at age five. The truth is, he was doing exactly what he said--learning about multiplication and division. The math curriculum we use does a fabulous job of introducing concepts in developmentally appropriate ways and coming back to them again and again to go a little deeper each time.

I love this system's emphasis on exposure, rather than expecting learners to master concepts the first time they are presented. My then five-year-old could readily understand, for example, that division means taking a certain number of items and sorting them into groups of equal size, while multiplication means adding up groups of equal size. He wasn't ready to tell me from memory that 10/2=5, but he could figure out that if he had to share his 10 M&M's with his sister, they would each get 5. He couldn't spout off multiplication facts like 4x3=12, but he could use drawings or manipulatives to discover that if 4 friends each brought 3 cookies to share, there would be 12 cookies altogether. He hadn't mastered multiplication and division, but he was certainly being exposed to the concepts in a meaningful way.

Now, as we are actually working on multiplication and division facts, the foundation has been laid. He comprehends the underlying idea of what these operations mean, so he can focus on practicing the actual facts until they come automatically to him. At this stage, he can see the benefit of knowing basic math facts by heart in order to solve more complex problems. (At age 5, it would have merely been a matter of me telling him it was useful!) His early exposure paved the way for this stage in his mastery.

My point, I guess, is that we should never refrain from teaching a child something because we think it is too difficult for them. They will not master everything (or even most things) the first time they are exposed to them, but they will also never master something they have not been exposed to. Take a chance, and they may just surprise you!