Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jamaican Centipede Rhyme

My kids and I enjoyed the book so much the first couple of times through, that I thought we could get more use out of some of the rhymes.  To help  us get the most out each rhyme, I started making up visuals.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Change Game:Level 1

Our family is currently residing in a hotel.  Every week or so I go to the desk ask for alot of quarters and ones.  Quarters for the laundry, ones for the nice lady who cleans for us.  My kids are fascinated by the coins and just love to handle change. So I made a simple game for them.

Book of Thanks

I was really happy with the results of our Thanksgiving calendar last year.  However, this year we'll be living in three or more different locations during the month of November.  Since our hotel rooms are not conducive to hanging butcher paper on the wall, I needed an alternative.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Calendar

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I want my kids to be as excited about it as I am.   Last year,we did a Thanksgiving Calendar.  If you're looking for a Thanksgiving project that will help your children learn to be excited all year long, this would be a great one to try.

Materials for your Thanksgiving Calendar

Large piece of butcher paper

How to make your own Thanksgiving Calendar

At the beginning of the November, I drew a large calendar on a piece of butcher paper, and pinned it to the wall.   I marked Thanksgiving day with a circle.  Each day in November, we reviewed what holiday was approaching.  Since we were living in a country that does not observe Thanksgiving, I felt a special urgency to make sure that my preschoolers were aware of it.

My then three-year-old, chose something that he was thankful for, and I drew a picture of it on that day's square.   Originally, I thought he would draw the picture, but that was a stretch.   After my attempt at drawing, I would encourage him to thank God out loud for his chosen item.

This activity did build excitement for the coming holiday, and after a month of practicing, it became natural for my son to just announce, "I'm thankful for . . ."

Monday, October 22, 2012

School Sparks Worksheets

One day I was seraching for a quick activity to entertain my three-year-old, and I happened into the gold mine that is  On this site retired pre-school teacher, Renee Abramovitz shares insights that she's gained in an entire career of teaching little ones.  She gives a thorough explanation of the knowledge and skills that constitute kindergarten readiness.  As a former secondary teacher turned current mom of pre-schoolers, I was thrilled to have this information outlined so clearly.

  In addition, she provides worksheets for free!  Both of my kids (ages 2 and 4 now) will sit and do work sheet after worksheet.  The only draw back is that printing the lovely color sheets can get pricey.  My brilliant husband, seeing how much the kids were enjoying the worksheets,  suggested that we laminate the sheets so that could they could be done with dry-earase marker or grease pencil, then used again another day.  I was all set to go to the office store to print out a number of worksheets when, Mrs. Abramovitz  put out her new book, 461 worksheets for only $28, and tons of advice for parents along the way.  It's fantastic deal.  I ordered our copy almost immediately and picked up a personal laminater from Wal-mart.  The laminator was the pricey part of the project, but I definitely think the expenditure was worth it.  The evening we laminated, the kids were grabbing the sheets out of the machine.

Here's how we've used School Sparks book of worksheets so far.

 Fine Motor and Counting.

  I knew we wanted to work on writing/fine motor, so I pulled out all the fine motor worksheets, and we laminated them.   My four-year-old will do all the fine motor practice pages in one sitting, and sometimes repeat several before he begins to lose interest.  My two-year-old will do the first three or four.  I love that they can practice over and over, and they think they're just having fun. We also did the counting counting sheets.  My two-year-old works on the first page, while my four year-old works on the more advanced pages.  We only pull these out every few weeks, so it's an exciting new way to count every time.

Reading Skills. 

 The worksheets are printed on good sturdy paper.  However, not even card board would stand up to my little boy's strong hands.  So, we laminated the reading tools as well.  We just started the Dolch sight words, following Mrs. Abramovitz's method, and so far he's doing well.  We also played around with the word makers, and I can tell we'll enjoy those as well. 

I had never realized that rhyming was an important pre-reading step.  We pulled out the rhyming cards this weekend, and there was alot of complaining about putting them away.  We're having a little trouble with it though, so I want to get some books from the library to supplement before we try again.

A nice little side feature of the word makers.  The pictures on the card match the pictures on the strip.  This is a great pre-school organizer, and actually serves as an activity in itself for my toddler.

And there's more!  

Here is our book minus all the hours' worth of materials above. Since some of the worksheets work just as well as parent-child activities, I'm leaving them in the book for now.  The worksheets are graded, meaning you should start with the first, and work progressively in order.  I put an index card with each child's name in each section of the book to mark our place.  Every so often, we'll sit down and work through a page or two.  I find that using the worksheets in this way not only provides instruction for my child, but it's a handy assessment tool to help me know what areas I should be addressing at other times.

Thank you, Thank you! to Renee Abramovitz and her team for providing such a wonderful resource at such a low cost.  As a mother of pre-school children, I will always be grateful.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Project Paper Clip

Last year I was privileged to cross paths with a truly brilliant "reception" teacher.  Reception is kind of like preschool in the British system.  I casually mentioned that my son was struggling to grasp the pencil correctly.  Her attention focused, and she started asking questions.  I told her that he said it hurt.  She told me that his hand muscles were too weak, then rattled off a list of fine motor skill activities that would help him strengthen his hands.  We weren't able to afford the elite school where she teaches, but that bit of insight was priceless.  Ever since, I've been on the look out for projects that interest my son, and cause him to use  his pincer grasp.   His writing grasp has shown huge improvement, and he'll usually hold the pencil correctly for a while before regressing to clasping it with his whole fist.

 A few weeks ago, we read a book that featured Bert making paper clip chains.  That caught my little nerd-in-training's interest.  I grabbed a box of paper clips at the grocery store.  This afternoon I pulled it out, and sure enough, it was a hit with both my four-year-old son and my two-year old daughter. During the course of about ninety minutes we progressed from randomly hooking paper clips together to making a intentional chains and patterns, to "fishing".   All things lead to fishing these days. . .

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ode to Duplos

With my son's fourth birthday came our household's first set of real Legos.  (Thanks, Grandma!) He plays with them almost every day, as does my daughter.  I'm sure we have many happy hours of building ahead of us.  Stashing the Duplos in the closet made me  nostalgic though.  So, before they disappear into the box marked "toddler toys", let me write a little tribute to the good they've done for us.

Read more at Thriving STEM.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nuggets on Child Development from Montessori's "The Absorbent Mind"


Caring well for an infant gives him or her the chance to develop to full potential later on.

"And if this period is helped in conformity with the requirements of human life, to that degree will each one benefit, by being better able, later on, to develop his individual capacities. " from Chapter 7, The Spiritual Embryo.

In particular, it is important to talk and read to babies, even if they don't seem to respond. 

"There is an unconscious development that prepares speech, and succeeded by a conscious process which slowly awakens and takes from the unconscious what it can offer." from Chapter 10,  Some Thoughts on Language,

Children's natural urge for independence should be supported in the toddler years and beyond. 

 "The child's conquest of independance are the steps in what is called natural development." from Chapter 8, The Child's Conquest of Independence.

 I think that this is a critical truth for parents and teachers.  Children are naturally driven to establish their independence from an early age.  If they sense that we are their allies in this pursuit, they will learn from us more readily.

"How does he achieve independence?  He does it by continual activity. " from Chapter 8, The Child's Conquest of Independence

Let me make it my business to make worthwhile activity continually available!

 This principal applies not simply to "academics" but to learning constructive social behaviors. "Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual understanding."  from chapter 23, Cohesion in the Social Unit.

The  pre-school years are a golden time for learning.

"Before three the functions are being created, after three they develop.  .   . So from the ages of three to six, being now able to tackle his environment deliberately and consciously, he beings a period of real constructiveness."  from chapter 16, From Unconscious Creator to Conscious Worker

"It is at this age the vocabulary is most rapidly enriched."  from chapter 17, Further Elaboration Montessori elaborates that between ages three and six is the best time to introduce technical scientific vocabulary and familiarity with the globe.   

Montessori maintains that children's physical and moral movements will progress as their mental processes become disciplined and focused.  "The essential thing is for the the task to arouse the interest of the child so that it engages his entire personality." from chapter 19, the Child's Contribution to Society.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Order from Chaos

One of my favorite parts of teaching is watching my students spontaneously take interest in learning.  Their joy over their new found abilities and knowledge is the sweetest reward a teacher can know.  Last spring I felt that I was having many of these moments with my children. It was wonderful.

After our cross world move, I feel like we've lost that synergy, and I was at a complete loss on how to get it back.  It reminds of me of my first year in the public school and that one class that never really got on track.

Last night, I finished Maria Montessori's Absorbent Mind. In chapter 26, Discipline and the Teacher, I found some help.  Here are the steps I'm going to take.

1.  Create an attractive, simple space.   I'm going to put more effort into coaching my children in maintaining an well ordered environment in our home.   This is my motivation to deal with clutter in our home.

2.  Intentionally spend my time and energy in helping my children use the toys we have in our home well.  The abacus is a perfect example.  I know it's a powerful way to interact with numbers, but I'll have to help my children learn to appreciate it before it can really begin to do them good.  I also need to accept that having disordered our world by moving, it's going to take a significant amount of energy before the learning process can really flourish again.

One of the important things I need to do at this point is give my children is a way to self-correct.  When working with a puzzle, they can easily see whether they've completed it correctly or not.  But I'll need to work on adding some ways for them to check themselves on other tasks.  This gets us ready to take step 3.

3.  Give my children the space to develop their interests without interfering by critique or praise.  Montessori says that children who have begun to focus on a task are distracted by praise and discouraged by criticism.  Her advice is to leave them alone and let the desire mature.  I've noticed that my children hate bribes as much as they hate criticism, so this makes sense.

4.  Pour on the praise when they're ready to share!  Having completed their practice, the children will be ready to preform, and that's when I get to rejoice with them.  I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Play lists, an application of " information rich environment"

Just listening to my children is enough to convince me that they are soaking in what they hear in our home every day.  When we moved to Kuwait last year, we loaded all of our music onto our computers. I found trying to locate and play the kids songs songs stressful with little hands interfering, and the mood of our home suffered.

Card board people

Help your little scientist learn to observe the most important creature in their world!

This was a fun project because it gave me a glimpse of my children see when they look in the mirror. It's also a great way to sharpen the preschool science skill of observation as they get an early start on some human biology!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ben Franklin's and the Magic Squares

My three-year-old loves to listen to books.  He often refers to things that he learned in one of the books we've recently read.  Knowing that he'll remember what he learns now, I went looking for some historical books to add to our library.

Read more at Thriving STEM.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to safely contract leprosy

This morning the 5th grade girls in my class had a great time and so did I. We were learning that God cares about us personally from Matthew 8:1-3. I asked for a brave volunteer… and got lots of eager, waving hands. The rest of the class used stickers to give her leperous spots. Then we talked about how it couldn't be cured and our volunteer said the stickers were a little uncomfortable. So then we dabbed on a variety of lotions, but sadly she still wasn't cured. So she was sent to exile in the back of the room in an out of the way corner. Through the avalanche of giggles we read the verses about how Jesus responded to the leper and invited our leper to rejoin the group and remove her spots.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jesus calms the storm rain-maker craft

Last month, we tried to float sponges on our Sea of Galilee in basin before our lesson in the two year old room. The sponges didn't float, and neither did the children, but both were equally wet.

Here's the part of the lesson that did work like it was supposed to. We were learning about how Jesus calmed the storm. During the lesson we made lots of noise for the rain and the thunder and the waves. After the lesson we colored the clouds and make our own rain-makers using:

• plastic containers from the dollar store

• coloring picture of clouds. Here's mine.

• beads and tin foil bits to sound like rain... other things would probably work fine too. I didn't want them to try to eat beans, I had the beads on hand and they look kinda cool.

• packaging tape to make sure that the lids stayed on even if someone got curious about the beads

How to get Goliath to visit your class…

This week our church Bible story material gave me the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17 to teach to our eager group of 2 year olds. It provided a card-board cut out of David and one of his sheep, but Goliath apparently went missing last year.

Before class, I had some of my favorite 3 and 5 year old helpers help me measure out 8 feet on the cement block wall in our class. Then I used masking tape to make a life-size figure of Goliath on the wall. Next time I'll have to shoot pics, but he was just a little better than a stick figure. He immediately got lots of attention from all ages. My little Davids had a great time hitting him with paper-wad rocks at the end of class. (Hope nobody threw things at their siblings when they got home.)

I got a coloring page from here (but we didn't get to it because we were having too much fun).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Best Way to Help a Child Become a Strong Reader

What is the best way to help a child become a strong reader?  Read to them.

More specifically, have fun reading to them, regularly.

When my son was a baby, I started a daily habit of reading to him for just as long as he was interested.  By the time he was two-and-a-half, I had to cut back to just an hour or so a day!

My children's "big cousins"  are avid readers and great students in late elementary and middle school.  My sister-in-law told me that when they went through stages of being uninterested, she would read to them while they played.  I think that's a great tip.

Some of our favorite board books.

Just for fun, favorite Board Books

Board books are great for the period of time from when those little hands start grabbing, until they finally get the co-ordination to be gentle.  Here are some of our favorites!

Read more at Thriving STEM.

Bead Necklaces

This project originated with our creative Aunt Ranae.  When she came to visit us last fall, she arrived with a whole stash of art supplies stowed in her suitcases.  I had been looking for fine motor skill activities to help prepare for writing.  It has since become one of our favorite activities.