Invitations to Play and Learn: Less is More

Follow Me on Pinterest

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working at reducing the number and variety of things available to the big children (7 and 6) in non-school hours and the little boys (4 and 2) during school hours. Part of this is stuff has increased yet again and I find it is too much for them to pick up and keep tidy, but part of my purpose is to release their creativity by giving them fewer things to be distracted by. I know it sounds strange but I find with all the children (and with myself) that they are more ingenious when they have just a set of materials with which to develop their concepts. Here’s some of what I’ve done:

Little Boys

Sorted out the blocks that are useful from the other random building materials. We’d collected a bunch of block like things over the years, not all of them worked together, some weren’t enough to really do anything with. Everything that didn’t fit went in a bag for the thrift store. I was left with a large collection of blocks that were all derived from the same dimensional unit and worked well together. These I divided into two collections: one is rectangles and squares and shapes derived from rectangles and squares (pyramids, cubes, cubical columns etc.). The other one is spheres and things derived from spheres (domes, cylinders, etc.). I also included arches in this set. Jack gets to play with one set or the other, while Bull is allowed to use both at once since he is big enough to sort them back out again.  Many interesting things are being built and I notice much more attention on Bull’s part to what can be created based on the shapes available.

Washing machines made from arches and filler blocks.

Washing machines made from arches and filler blocks.

 

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

I’ve also begun setting aside specific items with the tools needed to use them. Blocks with holes in them, pegs and a hammer for example.

Pounding pegs into holes then adding more blocks to the tower is great for hand-eye coordination, and imagination. Jack spent a good part of his morning making "candles" pegs pounded into the single hole in a square block.

Pounding pegs into holes then adding more blocks to the tower is great for hand-eye coordination, and imagination. Jack spent a good part of his morning making “candles” pegs pounded into the single hole in a square block.

 

Big Kids

I’ve cut back on the materials available in the “Art Center” and made it much more focused on particular projects or themes that have to do with current interests or schoolwork.

For example: I’ve provided a couple of books for further exploration of Ancient Egypt to go along with our history studies. One is just a good coloring book from Dover Publications, with line drawings taken from Egyptian paintings, one is a craft book and one is the first volume of Draw and Write Through History. I put them on top of the Art Center shelves along with a couple of library books. Mouse in particular has gone down and worked for a while either coloring or using the Draw and Write book to show her how to draw a picture.  I find that the reduction in clutter and the reduction in available options leads her to do more careful and attentive work.

 

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for  handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations).

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations). The clementine boxes are for works in progress.

Her picture isn't specifically Egyptian in focus but with less paper available she used every bit of what she had, which is a new step and one I want to encourage

Her picture isn’t specifically Egyptian in focus but with less paper available she used every bit of what she had, which is a new step and one I want to encourage.

My intention is  also to go through Buggle’s workroom and reduce the available projects to encourage him to work more thoroughly with materials rather than jumping from project to project. I need to find a set of shelves for him space as well as just take the time to sort through it- which is rather a daunting thought at the moment!

I’d like to do the same thing with my sewing space- put away everything except the projects and materials I am planning to use this month, and remove the distractions that get me off focus and lead to lots of beginnings and few endings.

Not decluttering to declutter  but trying to find the best ways of presenting materials so that they are used and the children are challenged and encouraged. I want them to create, I want to create myself and I think creativity is so much a part of who we were created to be a image bearers. I also think that our best example of creativity is not creativity thriving in or leading to chaos and I’m trying to learn how to live that and teach it to the children as well.

“Less is More” works well for us. A finite set of materials leads to good work and easy (well easier) restoration of the creative space to order. Order gives us the opportunity to see what we have and begin creating again.

 

Pin It
Posted in Creativity, Elementary Education, free play, Handwork, homeschooling, Housekeeping, Life, Organization, preschool educcation, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Wrapping Up: Glimpses Of Our Week III

Follow Me on Pinterest

Whew! What a week for busyness!

  • Homeschool picnic and first dance class of the fall for Bull on Monday
  • Cleaning up the schoolroom/basement and a visit to  the Farmer’s Market on Tuesday
  • School on Wednesday
  • School Thursday morning, followed by the big three’s first Gym and Swim class at the YMCA
  • School for Mouse Friday morning (Buggle was done for the week already),pick up Mouse’s glasses which had needed repair, Mom’s Bible Study, trip to Walmart, drop Mouse with a friend who would take her to dance, bring boys home, put VERY grumpy Jack down for a nap ( 2 hours later than usual), friend comes to watch boys while I go meet my new GP, out of appointment by 4:15 (so glad someone else could take Mouse to dance at 4:30!), come home, play with the boys for 30 minutes, go pick up Mouse, eat dinner, bedtime!

All good stuff, but I am SO glad our weeks aren’t always that busy!

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

An apartment building to go with the washing machines. One for each floor.

 

One of those places where I am reminded how VERY observant children are!

Try to put a spoonful on a tortilla. Remember just in time not to touch what you’re cooking! Ask for a scraper.

 

Color coding his paper for even/odd and greater or less than 12

Color coding his paper for even/odd and greater or less than 12

 

 

 

Pin It
Posted in homeschooling, Life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kitchen Kids: Toddlers In The Kitchen

Follow Me on Pinterest

One of the reasons that Buggle and Mouse are as comfortable in the kitchen as they are is that they’ve been in the kitchen with us from the time they were tiny!

Some of that is the function of the house we lived in at the time. The kitchen was the largest room in the house and we lived in it. When the children needed something to do while I was making dinner it was natural to put them in a highchair where they could see what I was doing and hand them bits of garlic to peel or bread to cut up with a table knife.

As they grew the things they could do that were useful grew as well and soon enough they could make a salad, or help cut up mushrooms for a meal in a way that really saved me time!

Now Jack is the toddler and most meals are prepped with him standing on a stool, watching, helping where he can and asking lots of questions “Mama, what you doing?” He’s still mostly in the fetch and carry stage of helping but the other day he made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when he saw the sandwich making things left out on the counter!

Six To Twelve Months

 

  • Sit in the highchair and watch and taste bits of things. If the children ask for it I generally give them a taste, unless it might be harmful (raw eggs) or is really spicy. Buggle loved peppercorns at this age and would ask for and then eat them!
  • Peel garlic- crush the clove a bit with a knife to loosen the skin then start the peeling before giving it to the child. They may get it peeled, they may eat it instead of giving it back to you. Keep giving them opportunities to try and they will eventually be able to peel garlic every time you cook!
  • Cutting- we use a table knife at first and just give them a slice of whatever we are cutting to hack at. A little guidance and help from time to time, placing my hand over the child’s hand on the knife and cutting to give them a sense of what cutting feels like. If they want me to use what they’ve cut I always do (sometimes rinsing it off a bit before adding it to the dish). They feel like they’ve really been a big helper and want to try again.
  • Salad- Tearing lettuce isn’t hard but does require concentration and a good pincer grasp. You’ll probably have to re-tear some of the pieces but maybe not, even at this age some children can get pretty obsessive about making small (miniscule!) bits out of a lettuce leaf!

20140728_180108

Twelve Months To Two Years

    • Stand on a stool and learn to keep their hands back when you have something sharp or are working with raw meat. I say “hands back” and gently put their hands away from my work. If they persist then I sit them on the stool where they can’t see what I’m doing for a few minutes.  Much repetition gets the point across and at two Jack knows when he can touch the board and when to keep his hands away.
    • Push buttons- on the blender, mixer, food processor, whatever. The boys especially love to do that and I constantly emphasize safety, teaching them to wait to push until I say and to keep their hands back from the blades if I have the machine open.  Cranking the pasta maker or the strainer for making applesauce are also good and they feel so strong and big.

Filling jars with peaches easy enough for a toddler

  • Putting things into containers (or jars if you can).  If you raw pack your cucumbers for pickles or your fruit for canned fruit a toddler can scoop up handfuls and drop them into the canning funnel. You may have to even out the jars a bit but they will learn.
  • Carrying things from one worker to another. I bought 40 pounds of strawberries this summer and the children helped me freeze them. I cut out the bruises and removed the stems, Buggle and Mouse sliced, Jack picked up what they had sliced and put it in a bowl and Bull loaded bags.  A nice assembly line and Jack’s picking up kept the big children from having to stop slicing to clear their cutting boards. Truly helpful and because he knows to keep his hands away from the knife he only picked up the slices the children had pushed to edge of their boards.

These are just a few of the things that a toddler can do to help in the kitchen.  Jack also gets things out of the cupboards for me and helps by stirring things, greasing pans, and of course lots of tasting! Kitchen time is a great time to spend with the children and learn some life skills along the way.

Pin It
Posted in cooking, Housekeeping, Life, preschool educcation, preschooler chores, preschooler cooking | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Kitchen Kids: The Toddler Made Lunch!

Follow Me on Pinterest

Jack loves to cook! His toy kitchen is in the corner of the big kitchen and when I’m cooking he orbits between a stool by the counter where he can watch and help and making “coffee” and other treats for me out of pom-poms and imagination. I love it.

The other day at he was fighting with Mouse over a toy she had and he wanted; so I invited him into the kitchen to help me make lunch.

I had hard boiled some eggs and was planning to make egg salad- but then I had a thought “egg salad is ridiculously easy to make- easy enough for a toddler to do with some help at strategic points.”

So up on a stool Jack went with a biscuit cutter in hand!

Great for hand-eye coordination and motor skills

Mash the peeled eggs with a pastry cutter!

 

Kitchen Kids: Toddler Made Egg Salad

Mash the mayonnaise and mustard into the eggs.

Mash the mayonnaise and mustard into the eggs.

 

All ready for sandwiches!

All ready for sandwiches!

 

One of those places where I am reminded how VERY observant children are!

Try to put a spoonful on a tortilla. Remember just in time not to touch what you’re cooking! Ask for a scraper.

 

Kitchen Kids: Toddler Made Egg Salad

 

Lunch is ready!

Lunch is ready!

 

Kitchen Kids: Toddler Made Egg Salad

"Baby made lunch! All by him ownself"

“Baby made lunch! All by him ownself”

Pin It
Posted in cooking, Life, preschooler cooking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Wrapping Up: Glimpses of Our Week II

Follow Me on Pinterest
Children romping after church. Buggle is such a good big brother!

Children romping after church. Buggle is such a good big brother!

 

 

Labor Day we took S with us to the creek where we love to swim. Jack and I played and the big three and S waded up the creek - not something I can easily do with Jack.

Labor Day we took S with us to the creek where we love to swim. Jack and I played and the big three and S waded up the creek – not something I can easily do with Jack.

 

I also did the first steps of repainting an old chest of drawers for Mouse's room.

I also did the first steps of repainting an old chest of drawers for Mouse’s room.

 

All finished.

All finished.

 

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for  handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations).

Cleaned up the old art center and re-purposed it specifically for handwork and delving deeper into things we are studying (provocations and invitations).

 

I printed something I found on Pinterest and made a set of directions for a handwork project. My goal is for the big two to do these fairly unassisted and I'll help the little boys who will work together.

I printed something I found on Pinterest and made a set of directions for a handwork project. My goal is for the big two to do these fairly unassisted and I’ll help the little boys who will work together.

 

Bull and Jack started their September handwork today.

Bull and Jack started their September handwork today.

 

Adding a figure of Namer to his Story of The World Notebook.

Adding a figure of Namer to his Story of The World Notebook.

 

I FINALLY got a chance (seized one is more like it) to sort the blocks by type a la Froebel. We now have a set of rectangles for the little boys to experiment with. Later on I'll give them cubes and shapes derived from cubes, and cylinders and shaped derived from cylinders....

I FINALLY got a chance (seized one is more like it) to sort the blocks by type a la Froebel. We now have a set of rectangles for the little boys to experiment with. Later on I’ll give them cubes and shapes derived from cubes, and cylinders and shaped derived from cylinders….

 

This is a rocket driving across the ground.

This is a rocket driving across the ground.

Busy, but good. Next week will be crazier as the big three start a Gym and Swim class at the YMCA and Bull starts dance on Monday with Mouse having Dance on Friday. Buggle is holding out for Cub Scouts……

I did a bunch of writing this week, some of which got posted other bits were saved for later, ran errands (S and I will spend a good bit of the weekend cooking things ahead for the next several weeks of extra-curricular stuff).

My two favorite posts this week were: on Speech, Reading and Phonics  and  Why Our Days Are Tiring

The biggest effort in parenting was continuing to work on the children saying “Yes, Mama”  and then following through (this article from Kendra Tierney at Catholic All Year was a great encouragement ) and on attitude  (read why I think it’s important here).

Looks like it’s going to be a lovely and busy week and fall….K

 

Pin It
Posted in Creativity, Elementary Education, free play, Handwork, homeschooling, Life, preschool educcation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Special Needs: Speech and Reading

Follow Me on Pinterest

One of my first teaching jobs was as a reading remediation tutor for a local first grader. My student was a bright little boy who was clearly trying hard but who appeared to be unable to remember the sounds of most of the letters. He wasn’t dyslexic, he simply was unable to remember which sound went with which symbol on the page. He also was nearly incomprehensible when he spoke and was receiving speech a couple of times a week. His parents gave me a copy of his speech plan and after looking at the number of letters that he couldn’t pronounce correctly I realized that his “reading problem” wasn’t a reading issue at all! His speech evaluation showed that not only did he not pronounce 50% of the letters correctly but that he was also unable to distinguish between the sounds if said correctly by someone else. In most cases he also could not tell that there was a difference between the way he said something and the way the speech therapist said them. No wonder, he couldn’t keep the letters straight when reading! His brain did not distinguish between “R”, “W” and “L” either with his auditorily or visually so it made no sense to him when a reading teacher would say “No” to whatever sound he was applying to the symbol in front of him. Additionally when he spoke he tended to run his words together and had trouble grasping the concept that he needed to begin and end  his sounding out of a word in a particular place. Once we understood the reading problem stemmed from his speech his parents, other teachers and I were able to increase his speech and to focus on pronunciation and enunciation in his reading practice as well. By the time he entered third grade he was doing quite well and was on grade level for reading and related subjects.

Lessons Learned

I learned some things in that encounter that have proven themselves with other students

  1. A special needs problem does not always have an obvious cause. Reading may be effected by vision, auditory issues, or learning style. It is important to look at the whole child.
  2. The way a problem presents can sometimes be confusing. In many ways my student appeared dyslexic ( trouble with sounding out, confusing letters etc.) but he wasn’t.
  3. Early intervention is very important especially when vision or speech/communication are effected. By the time he reached first grade my student had 5 years of bad speech habits to overcome. If he had received speech services as a three year old the reading problem would have been minimized and may never have appeared.
  4. Environment matters: my student’s father was from a family that had been in our rural, somewhat isolated county for over 100 years and he still spoke with the accent of the old people in the county.  In addition my student had been babysat by his great-grandmother (who remembered the first cars in our county and whose county accent combined with the effects of old age to be a very strong accent) and those auditory influences along with whatever issues he already had combined.
  5. It is very hard for parents and other primary caregivers to evaluate their child’s speech. They are used to the way the child speaks, they understand them, and the unconsciously compensate for the child’s communication difficulty.  Homeschool parents need to be particularly careful to solicit feedback about their children’s speech capabilities from people who see them less frequently such as Sunday School teachers in order to be sure they are not compensating for a difficulty that they are accustomed to.
  6. Hard work and coordination from all involved leads to better outcomes. The Speech Therapist, the parents, the classroom teacher and I all had to focus on the same pieces of the problem at the same time in order to make progress. In this case that meant focusing on one group of letters at a time. The Speech Teacher chose them and the rest of us tailored our interactions to reinforce the same sounds. Spelling and reading words contained them, the parents practiced them daily and watched their own pronunciation carefully and so on. The common effort meant that the student found it easier to reset many years of auditory and vocal patterning and learn to speak and read correctly and fluently.
  7. Finally learning disabilities or difficulties even when profound are not a sign of poor parenting.  My student and his parents needed additional assistance in order to move past his speech and reading issues. That didn’t mean they were poor parents, he was a poor student or his classroom teacher wasn’t a good teacher. It just meant that brokenness of the world had manifested in a particular way in their lives and they needed the help of the community to deal with it. Other judgement was beyond the scope of the case and did not need to be considered.

 

I think of these things whenever I work with students, especially those who have difficulties in reading or communication. The reminder of to examine things closely and not make assumptions as to causes has been very important and I would encourage you to keep these things in mind as you work through special needs difficulties yourselves.

 

 

Pin It
Posted in preschool educcation, Special Needs, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Invitations To Play And Learn: The Skeleton In The Sandbox

Follow Me on Pinterest

The big two are doing doing Story of the World Book One this year for their history. The book covers the ancient world from prehistory to the fall of Rome and begins with a discussion of where historians get their information so we’ve been talking and reading about archeology.

As is becoming more typical in our learning, I introduced some of the basic concepts, then checked a couple of books out of the library. We had the books around for about a week, during which the big two looked at them and read bits of them to themselves and the little boys. On Thursday I assigned the main archeology book as their history reading for the day (it was part of the Usborne Young Scientist series). This was a read and report type of assignment. They read together and then used a combination of narration and my asking questions to tell me what they had learned.

Reading about archeology together as part of their study of Ancient History

Reading about archeology together as part of their study of Ancient History

I wanted something more to get across some of the concepts of the precision needed to make a good dig, and the kinds of information that can be gained from archeology so I set up an invitation in the sandbox.

Skeleton, beads, a couple of toys, a broken dish with dried beans and rice grains; a couple of spoons, a sieve and a brush as well as a clipboard with some questions for the big two to think about and some blank paper for drawing whatever they thought they needed to.

When they got up from naps I sent them out, with their equipment to find a site for a dig.

Looking for evidence that the earth had been disturbed and artifacts might be lurking

Looking for evidence that the earth had been disturbed and artifacts might be lurking

After looking at some spots in the yard and doing a bit of exploratory digging (as well as some arguing over whether the disturbed dirt they were seeing had been from a previous dig or a squirrel) they happened upon a promising spot….

Out came spoons and brushes also a very small camp follower....

Out came spoons and brushes also a very small camp follower….

Two of the three archeologists were clearly more treasure hunters than historians. They moved much too quickly for the chief archeologist so he made them leave the dig until he could make a diagram of what had been uncovered and where

My precise child draws the site.

My precise child draws the site.

 

When they resumed digging they removed the skeleton and sifted the sand for small objects.

Discovery of an object buried with the skeleton- a toy boat, what could it mean?

Discovery of an object buried with the skeleton- a toy boat, what could it mean?

 

 

 

 

Sifting for sherds, rice and beans...

Sifting for sherds, rice and beans…

All the finds were cataloged and some preliminary conclusions were reached as to the type of burial, and the importance of the details….but that’s another post!

Pin It
Posted in Elementary Education, History, History, homeschooling, preschool educcation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Days Are Supposed To Be Tiring

Follow Me on Pinterest

Actually all the days are supposed to be tiring and some of them will be more tiring than others. One of those duh! realizations that hits you at 2:40 am when you’ve been trying to get back to sleep after be awakened by a child at 11:10 pm and your brain just won’t SHUT UP!

Here’s the train of thought:

1. A few weeks ago some local mamas and I were at the park together and we got to talking about how we wanted more children and why, oh, why do our husbands object or hesitate on this and give as an argument that we seem “overwhelmed” or “tired out”. One conclusion was that men aren’t multi-taskers in general and most of the men in question are really hyper focused kinds of people and that they felt overwhelmed when they tried to pay attention to several littles at once. And we (the mamas) do tend to tell the papas everything that was tough during the day because we a: want to talk to a grown-up and b: want them to know what’s going on with the family.

2. I’d been reading through the archives on Catholic All Year this weekend and had run across a post where Kendra Tierney mentioned that homeschooling went better when she thought of it as a job, (I don’t remember which post and her archives are worth reading so head on over there) Something I’ve read before and one of the reasons I try to dress for school myself as well as the children but….

3. I laid down in bed (again) and things popped together! Parenting and schooling and keeping a house is work and work makes us tired (we can argue later about whether or not tiredness is an effect of the Fall, work still makes us tired). Our husbands come home from work tired and some days they are more tired than others, and we should expect to reach our evenings tired and some evenings to be more tired than others.

So those days when you do lots of activities and you are ready to sit still and put your feet up by four pm? Normal

And those days when the two year old whines all day about obscure passages of “The Two Year Old’s Guide to Life” that you keep violating and when your husband comes home your mental energy is completely sapped…. Normal

This is work. And it wears on us and wears us out and we trust the Lord for Grace and Rest and Strength to do it all over again….

Pin It
Posted in Encouragement, Life, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Wrapping Up: Glimpses Of Our Week

Follow Me on Pinterest
A trip to the nearby zoo! The weather has been gorgeous so we spent several hours at the zoo, park and farmer's market on Tuesday!

A trip to the nearby zoo! The weather has been gorgeous so we spent several hours at the zoo, park and farmer’s market on Tuesday!

 

Listening to They Might Be Giants sing "We're The Mesopotamians"  counts as History, right?

Listening to They Might Be Giants sing “We’re The Mesopotamians” counts as History, right?

 

Reading about archeology together as part of their study of Ancient History

Reading about archeology together as part of their study of Ancient History

And practicing Latin was a hit with everyone!

Pin It
Posted in Elementary Education, History, homeschooling, Life, preschool educcation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Working The Plan: Last Week of August 2014

Follow Me on Pinterest

Working the plan

 

With school starting up again and a need to fill my days full without overfilling them or forgetting things I think it’s time to start these posts back up!

Yesterday I sat down and made a new (pretty!) little form to fill in my days and plans! Thinking maybe I’ll change up the colors each week or so just because it’s easy to do.

I like something I can write on- somehow I think through my week better with pen in hand than at the keyboard.  I write it down and then tape it to my white board in the kitchen. The children read it and keep me on track!

One thing I used to do (and am returning too) is including the Proper Collect for the week on my weekly plan as a reminder, prayer and something to meditate on. We’re still in Ordinary Time so the prayer this week is for unity in the Church.

 

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church,
being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may
manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy
Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world
without end. Amen.

 

Won’t you join in with your own plans? You can download my form Weekly Overview (121), make your own or just dot something down on the back of an envelope!

Let’s be intentional, encourage one another and take joy!

wpid-20140825_063418.jpg

Pin It
Posted in Collects and Readings, devotional life, Downloads, homeschooling, Housekeeping, Life, Ordinary Time, Organization, Schedule, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment