Saturday, November 23, 2013

Quick, easy, Bible-centered advent calendar activity

Advent starts in one week!  Last year, I shared a simple advent calendar that I developed for my own kids. Looking at it last night, I realized that my visual skills have improved in the last year.  One more benefit of blogging!  Sorry, I took the embarrassing "before" evidence down, so you can't go look.  However, I am re-doing the post in case someone might find the content helpful.

 Here are the the themes and verses we will look at each week during the month leading up to Christmas.

Week One:  The Promises of Christmas

1.  To Abraham: Genesis 12:3, Genesis 17:19, Genesis 22: 18;  Page 56 in the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.
2.   To David: 2 Samuel 7:16, Psalm 22; Page 116 in the Jesus Storybook Bible
3.  To Micah:  Micah 5:2, cf. Matthew 2:6
4.  To Isaiah:  Isaiah 7:10 and Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 9:1,2 and Matthew 4:15,16, Isaiah 53:4 ; Page 144 in the Jesus Story book Bible.

I like using the Jesus Sotrybook Bible for this first section of advent because Sally Lloyd-Jones does such a lovely job of tying together the themes of the Old Testament with the coming of Christ.  For the rest of the calendar, I find reading directly from Scripture alone connects well with my children.

Week Two: Songs of Christmas

1.  Elizabeth's song:  Luke 1:42-45
2.  Mary's song:  Luke 1:46-55
3.  Zacahraias's song:  Luke 1:68-79
4.  Simeon's song: Luke 2:28-32

Week Three:  Comings of Angels at Chrstimas

1. To Zacharias: Luke 1:5-24
2.  To Mary:  Lukie 1:26-38
3.  To Joseph: Matthew 1:19-25, Matthew 2:13, 19
4. To Shepherds: Luke 2:8-14

Week four: The Baby Jesus

1.  The Word: John 1:14
2. The King: Matthew 1:25, Matthew 2:11
3. The Baby: Luke 2:1-7
4.  The Savior: Luke 2:15-20

Last night I made up figures for each week, and printed four of each of the figures with one set of verses on each.  Both of my kids will get a figure to decorate if they like, then paste on their own calendar.  We will talk about one figure on each of our normal school days during calendar time.   You could also use this calendar as a basis for a weekly lesson that focuses on one of these themes each week.

My figures are super simple, (maybe I'll figure out beautiful by next year?), but they are available in the form of a free printable!  

To down load a copy of my PDF of Advent Calendar Tokens, click here.

I hope that your Christmas is full of Wonder at the Gift sent from Heaven.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A balloon and a fan

I was cleaning out my photos and found this gem from last summer.  My daughter had discovered this phenomenon and came running to find me.  "Look, Mommy!  The balloon sticks!"

Of course the balloon is not actually sticky.  Why is it hanging there? Gravity is pulling it down.  

Before thinking about what is happening vertically, think horizontally for a moment, into the picture (the y-plane in three dimensions).   The fan blades are pushing air away from the camera, and pulling the air into the fan.  The balloon is pulled along with the air, but cannot enter the fan because of its size.  It is pulled against the grid of the fan.  Wherever it touches the grid of the fan, there is a normal force and friction.  Friction always works against motion.  To whatever degree the balloon would fall due to the gravity, the friction holds it in place.  

Of course I didn't lay all that on my three-year-old.  Just part of it, I couldn't help myself.  Mostly though, I'm just happy that she notices these things.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What will a five-year-old boy want to read?

I have read several articles recently that talk about how difficult it is to interest boys in reading, and gave elaborate suggestions on how to wet their appetite.  Now, there are no guarantees about what anybody else's boy wants to read, but this is what my five-year-old chose.  

Birds because he loves flying, and wants to understand everything possible about flying.  Comics...I don't know, but he loves them!  Although, I have decided to cut them up and just give him the ones I am willing to read and explain.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Posted Note Verses: 1 Timothy 3:16

I shot these photos after my son ordered and explained them to me.  The quality of these pictures is not anything to celebrate, but they are an authentic peek at how we make scripture memory a priority in our day.  Note, the pictures read right to left.

1 Timothy 3:16, And we all agree, that our religion contains amazing revelation.

He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels

proclaimed among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, taken up into glory.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Decomposing numbers into pairs, Duplo activity

This week, we're working on decomposing numbers into their pairs.  For example, three and seven make ten. 

Our materials are pretty simple.  We are using the same box of magnetic numbers that I showed you in my post, Addition at the Fridge, a metal board that allowed us to have our lesson on the front porch rather than in the kitchen, and several Duplos.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Non-writing Kindergarten Math Assessment

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Addition at the Fridge we have been using to practice math.  Once my son was showing a reasonable level of mastery, I put together this simple assessment.  I wanted to have something that I could file to showcase the level of achievement he has obtained.

The assessment itself was printed from Handwriting For Kids. Yes, that is a little ironic.  I will definitely be using this site again in the future.  It took only a few minutes to choose the number of problems, and the range of difficulty and hit print,easiest assessment writing of my life.  I picked up some number stickers at the dollar store, which he could use to record his answers.  Since I wanted to know what he could do from memory, the abacus was not part of this activity.

I was pleased with the results, and my son is hoping for a quiz again soon!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Toy Car Distance Investigation

The final activity in my Toy Car Physics! unit is an experiment involving force and resulting distance on a toy car.  To be frank, this was a little bit of stretch for my three and five-year-olds.  They did enjoy it though, and got some great practice with numbers.

We tried out two apparatuses.  My son used his hotwheels launcher.  This approach requires that the student basically understand the force of gravity. Many kids do by kindergarten, but for those who do not, it would create an unnecessary hassle.  The key is to understand that by launching the cars from lesser heights, you are limiting the time that gravity has to exert the force, therefore there is "less force" on the car. To be precise, you would say that there is less work done by the force.

My daughter used a rubber band powered launcher created by my husband.   It consists of two screws in a board.  We were able to add more and more rubber bands in order to exert more and more force on the car. The results were nicely quantifiable.

However, before we started anything, they had to make their predictions.  I wrote down their verbal hypothesis, and they drew pictures of the effects of little and big pushes.

Each child had the opportunity to launch the cars with three different sized forces.  Then, we measured the distance between the launch point and the point where the car stopped.  For us, this was a fun way to practice reading numbers larger than twenty.

As we worked, we recorded data in the pre-made data table.  When we were finished, we moved it to a graph. 

 We obtained very nice results with both set ups.  By nice, we I mean that when more force was used, more distance was achieved.  That was the standard result and the physics concept I was hoping to reinforce.

This wraps up my Toy Car Physics!  unit.   I hope it gives you some ideas about what can be done to meet some of these science objectives.  If you would like access to these hand outs or more detailed information about how these activities line up with Next Generation Science Standards or Common Core, please click here to download the file from my TpT store.

Learning science is naturally fun for most kids, because it requires them to do the same things they would naturally do when playing with toys.  As a mom, I love to enjoy life with my kids.  As a physics teacher, I appreciated every bit of groundwork that was laid before students walked into my classroom.   Admittedly, my experience in teaching science to large groups of elementary students is limited, so if you are an experienced classroom teacher with observations or concerns about how the activities in this unit would work in a standard class, I would love to have your input.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Toy Car Negative Acceleration Investigation Demonstration (Slowing down cars and showing my students how to do an experiment.)

This activity has two goals.  First, to demonstrate the idea of a force that causes negative acceleration, also known as deceleration or slowing down.   The second purpose was to model the concept of how to do a data chart with numbers, and how to graph numeric data. My children's response startled me.

The set up calls for markers, arranged in a line, and a toy car.  I rolled the car into the row of markers slowly, so that only one marker fell down.  It took one marker to stop a slow car. 

On my data sheet I wrote "slow and "1".  Next I rolled the car at a medium speed, about what I expected to knock down half of the markers.  It took three markers to stop a car from medium speed.  I wrote "medium" and "3". on my data sheet.  I repeated with a fast car.

Next, I hand drew a simple graph representing my data.  I thought that was the end of the lesson.  My intention was to have my kids apply these skills on our final experiment.  I set them free to enjoy knocking down the markers with the car.

A few minutes later my graph had new data.

A few minutes more passed, and I was asked to assist in numbering this master piece.

Real data tables and graphs are done either freehand, or later, on computer.  After seeing my children's enthusiastic response, I am convinced that this is a better way to introduce graphing than through graphing on a pre-done graph.  My final experiment does use a pre-fabricated graph, and my children compliantly followed directions, and where then happy to move on.   

This combination of demonstrating the experiment, with data table and graph, then setting my children free to re-create what I had done worked astonishingly well.  I would love to see how it would work in a standard classroom.  Would you use it as a station activity?  If anyone has the class and the will to try it, please let me know how it goes!

This lesson is part of my new unit Toy Car Physics!  Click here to check out the other activities.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Covering Kindergarten Common Core with Questions

My son loves to listen to books, and looks forward to our daily reading time.  Now that we are working on kindergarten, I am using questions during reading time to cover Common Core objectives.  Tonight I need to figure out what we have done and what we need to to do.  Here is the list of questions we have used or will use to finish covering Reading and Literature objectives.

Read more about this book by clicking here.

Reading: Literature

Tell me about [key details in the text]. (RL. K.1 )
Now that I have read this story to you, you tell it to me. (RL. K.2)
Who is the most important character in this story/poem?
Who else is in this story/poem?
Where did this story happen?
What happened in this story/poem ? (RL.K.3)
What do you think the word [unknown word from book] means? (RL.K.4)
What words from this story/poem are new to you?  (RL.K.4)
What kind of book is this?  (RL.K.5)
Who is the author of this book?
What does it mean to be the author?
Who is the illustrator of this book?
What does the illustrator do? (RL.K.6)
What is happening in this picture?  (RL.K.7)
How is this story like [another story read recently]?
How is this story different from [another story read recently]?

(Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding,  RL.K.10)

Read mroe about this book by clicking here.

Reading:Informational Text

Tell me about [key details in the text]. (RI. K.1 )
What is this book about?
What are the most important things to know about [main subject of the book] (RI.K.2)
What does [person, event, idea, fact] have to do with [second person, event, idea, or fact]? (RI.K.3)
What do you think the word [unknown word from book] means? (RI.K.4)
Show me the front cover of this book.
Show me the  back cover of this book.
Show me the title page of this book. (RI.K.5)
Who is the author of this book?
What does it mean to be the author?
Who is the illustrator of this book?
What does the illustrator do? (RI.K.6)
What is happening in this picture?  (RI.K.7)
Why does the author say [point made in the text]?  Note:  The reasons should be derived from the text. (RI.K.8)
What other book have read recently on this topic?
How are [two books on the same topic] the same?
How are [two books on the same topic] different? (RI.K.9)

(Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding, RI.K.10)

Italics mean that this question is the same for both literature and informational texts.

In addition to our reading times at home, my children participate in a reading time at our local library our home school co-operative.  These extra activities give them some opportunity to engage in group reading activities  as per RL.K.10, and RI.K.10.

Now that I have made my list, I will choose six or so of the questions that we have not thoroughly covered, and write them on an index card and place the card on the kids' bookshelf to remind me what I need to be asking during Monday's reading time.

Are there other questions you would use during reading time with a five-year-old?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Measuring Length

This week, I have been posting about my new physics unit for kindergarten through second grade.  Before we jumped into the final investigation, we needed to learn a new skill, measuring length!

I prepared a simple presentation that demonstrates how to measure correctly.  You can access it along with the other free materials that support this unit by accessing my Teachers Pay Teacher page.  I kept my explanation to a simple, three-step process.  Line up the zero with one edge of the object, read the number on the other edge of the object, add the appropriate units.  

This is a great time for tactile practice.  My son entertained himself for over twenty minutes measuring objects around the house.  He was still working on nomenclature, so that was the skill we reinforced.  Older students could work on fractions or decimals as they find left over halves or 0.5's.  We made verbal notations of the measurements, but students who are comfortable writing could easily make a list of objects and their lengths.

The opportunity to work with a real tool is the key to student engagement in this lesson.  If I was a working with a classroom, I would keep my eyes peeled at yard sales for interesting measuring implements.  For a faster solution, you might consider some little tape measures like these. 

  As a high school physics teacher, one of my favorite amusements was watching students who had believed themselves to be less intelligent than their peers discover that they were good at one of the most difficult sciences.  This activity is a similar opportunity for younger students who may struggle with paper and pencil style work.  Hopefully, the motivation spills over to other subjects.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Toy Car Story Play

We followed our toy car direction investigation with a simple story telling activity.  Each child got a piece of poster paper and access to markers.  They were instructed to draw a scene that they could use to tell a story with a car.  After the restrictions of the previous activity, they welcomed the creative freedom. Since neither of my children is writing independently yet, they narrated the story while driving the car around their scene, and I wrote it down. 

 The process of them telling, me repeating back, and them telling some more, will hopefully turn into creative writing one of these days.  In the mean time we got some fine motor practice and some speech practice.

My idea was that older students could write down their own stories.  Perhaps small groups could perform their stories in the form of skits.  

Two activities were enough for us to call it a day, but we did pick up with measuring a few days later, and finish with one more major investigation.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Toy Car Physics! A playful unit aligned with the Next Generation Science standards

This unit was designed to give kindergarten through second grade teachers some fun ideas about how to approach the Next Generation Science Standards K-PS2-1 and K-PS2-2.  Respectively, these standards read:

Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object.

Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.

Drawing from my background as an AP physics teacher, I used my own kids to test my projects.  We had fun, and I hope you and your students will too.  

If you would like to download the supporting documents, they are available on my Teachers pay Teachers page for free.  (Click here to go to my Teachers pay Teachers page.)

Click on the following links to learn more about how we enjoyed each activity.

If you do decide to try one of these activities, please do let me know how it went for you.  This is my first attempt at elementary unit planning, so constructive feedback is especially welcome.

Toy Car Direction Investigation

This is the first activity in my unit, Toy Car Physics! Our purpose in this activity was to practice documenting our discoveries, and to cement the relationship between the direction of  force (aka a "push" or "pull") and the resulting movement.  

Before we started, I marked a sheet of poster paper with four directions: back, forward, left, and right.  I showed the paper to my kids and explained that we were going to push and pull a toy car along the paper.

Next, I gave them their data collection sheets, with a matching picture.  Since my kids are both still early readers, I had them circle the word in the picture that matched the word in the sentence.  Then, I prompted them to color in the arrow that they felt represented the direction the car would go when pushed or pulled in that direction.  The example shown is of the expected answer, but I was surprised at how often they chose an unexpected answer.

Finally, I let them try pushing and pulling their cars of choice along the grid on the floor.

They marked their answers on the observation sheet, in exactly the same way they had marked their hypothesis earlier.

Once they had finished their investigation and marked their observations we discussed how their two sheets compared, and what we could conclude from our experiments.

My major surprise with this activity is how challenging they seemed to find it, however they completed it happily.

If you would like a copy of the worksheets pictured above, you can download them for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers Page.   (Click here to go to my Teachers Pay Teachers Page.) We continued this unit with some toy car story play.

If you do try this, please let me know how it goes with your students!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kindergarten Math: Addition at the Fridge

  This has been my son's favorite kindergarten activity so far.   I think this particular method works well for us because it uses manipulatives, and requires little writing.  

We use clothespins with magnets attached to post flash cards on the refrigerator.  He answers the equation by placing the correct number magnet at the bottom of the equation.  If he knows the answer from memory, he can skip to checking his work.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Five lessons from my Mom, and how she taught them

My mom's birthday card is sitting on the kitchen table, ready to dropped in the mail tomorrow.  That would be a good thing, except her birthday was two weeks ago.  If you said something about it to her, she would just smile and tell you how busy I am, and how well I handle it.  Love always believes the best about someone, and my Mom is one of the most loving people I know.  I drop the ball on things like cards way too often, but I do appreciate my Mom and her influence on my life.

As a tribute to her, would you allow me to share five of the many lessons my Mother taught me, and how she went about teaching them?

A happy life is one spent for others.

My mom started working as a registered nurse at the age of twenty.  Caring for people was not just her job, it was her passion.  I remember her taking extra to to make sure that "her residents" received the best care, although many of them were incapable  of ever expressing appreciation.  Mom always cared for our family with excellence, cooking, cleaning, listening to spelling words long into the evening.  Even today, you will find her volunteering with some of the neediest children in her area.


When my mom was finally still for a few moments, there was always a book or a magazine in her hand.   Biographies have always been her favorite reading material.  She stayed updated on current world affairs and politics.  She always subscribed to professional journals and read them cover to cover.

I was well into my twenties before I realized what a rare example she had set for me as her daughter.  I will always be grateful for the quiet lesson in the importance of reading much, and of reading material of substance.

Work hard

This lesson became clear to me one day when I was about fourteen.  Mom took my sister and I with her to work so that we could volunteer at the facility where she was a nurse.  At the end of the day, she found us fast asleep in the corner.  At home, I took another nap while she fixed dinner, cleaned the kitchen and prepared for another day.  I realized just how hard she worked on a daily basis.  Yet, she never complained and even made it seem  like it was her joy to wash that last sink full of dishes.

I, her child, am valued and loved.

When I was little, my mom told me often of how happy she was that I had come into her life.  She took ten years off from her career to give my sister and I the best possible start in life.  As an adult, I know what sacrifices she and my dad must have made, but at the time she made it seem like nothing but a privilege to spend her time with us.  When she went back to work part time, I knew that it was not just so she could get out of the house.  It was part of her effort to give us the best of everything.

Trust in God

When I was a little girl, I usually woke up to the sound of my mother praying .  Often, she was praying for me.  Children have the rare opportunity to hear their parents' responses in unguarded moments.  Whether responding to a crazy driver or a head strong pre-schooler or a dramatic teenager, my mother's response was to plea God's mercy.  Sometimes, these days,  I hear myself quoting her,  "Lord, have mercy, I don't know what to do with this child."

My Mother taught me many lessons, some of which I will probably only recognize in  the coming years. But for today, I am grateful for the gift God gave me in My Mother.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Where did That come from? The spirit of science.

My son called my attention to this light on the wall.  "Look, Mom, where did that come from?"  I love this question because it shows that he has the spirit of scientific inquiry.  If we sense something, it came from somewhere.  The fun is in finding out where.  If we can perceive something in the universe, there is a reason for it, and a reason for the reason, and the questions can go on forever, at least they have so far.

It did not take him long to track down the source of the bright spot on our wall,  a high window with the morning sun streaming through.

What has your family noticed this week?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Library Treasures: A Home for Bird

A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead is the inspiring story of a frog who dedicates himself to helping a lost bird find his way home.   My pre-schooler was attracted to the colorful pictures.  The engaging narrative interested us again and again through out the week.   I hope that my kids will dedicate them selves to helping others, particularly the voiceless, in the way that Frog was dedicated to Bird.   

What values have you found in your literature this week?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Writing on the Walls

As the mom of pre-kindergarten children, I am always on the look out for  activities that will help them improve their writing skills.  This week, we broke out the window crayons and headed for the shower.   At first I encouraged them to write their names.  I inverted their whole names and wrote them on the outside of the glass.  They traced them happily without prompting, and spent several minutes working on their names and random letters.  Then we digressed to drawing.

When the shower glass was full, we moved our art to the living room windows, and ended up with this fun result of a camel moving past a palm tree.

Benefits that of using Window Crayons

Improved form, since writing on vertical surface forces the hand to hold the writing implement correctly.

Reinforced knowledge of letter formation.

Artistic development.

Positive attitudes about writing and drawing.

A clearer idea of where soap scum is hiding, since the crayon removes easily from glass, but not scum.  

If you are looking for an activity that develops, writing, art or is just plain fun for an hour or so, I recommend picking up a set of window crayons from your nearest back to school sale.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Matchbox Math: Counting to twenty

 My son is really into his matchbox cars right now.  My mother-in-law says my husband was the same way at this age, and she has generously supplied most of his fleet.  We have been using the cars to practice counting, and he actually asks if we can count cars.  To help him understand the symmetry between one through ten and eleven through twenty, I drew this quick parking lot one day last week.  My son has seen plenty of numbered parking spaces so it was an instant hit.

Over the weekend, I finally buckled down and made some roads from old jeans.  I found the project from LilMopTop on Pinterest.  Click here to check it out.  While I was having fun with glow in the dark paint, I decided to make a more permanent parking lot.   It is seeing some heavy use!

 I ask him to say the numbers while looking at the empty parking lot, then add a couple of cars and do it again.   He is showing great progress.  

Next, I am working on putting together a science unit involving matchbox cars.  I'm really excited to practice  with my kids. Hopefully, it will be ready share sometime next week.

Do you have any fun projects that you like to do with matchbox cars?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More Fluid Dynamics in the Bath Tab

A few nights ago my son and I enjoyed playing around with these water buckets in the bath tub.  Simply watching the water stream out of the little holes at the bottom of the bucket is entertaining.  As the water level inside the bucket decreases, the speed of the water coming out of the holes, and the distance it travels decrease.  The proportional relationship requires some real algebra skills to quantitatively describe, but we could see it pretty easily.  The less gravity can push down on the water in the bucket, the less the water coming out of the holes is accelerated.

Here is another fun little experiment.  Push the empty bucket down into the water and watch it fill up.  How high will the water level inside go?    Since there is more water outside the bucket than inside the bucket, there is more gravity pulling down on the water outside the bucket.  This tempts many people to believe that the bucket will fill up higher than the surrounding water.
However, the water is a fluid, which means that it is affected by pressure.  Pressure increases when force increases and decreases when effected area increases.  The bucket will fill only until the inner and outer pressures are equal.  Since the inner surface area is smaller, the same pressure can be reached with less water.

So what about those demos that show the bottled filled with water above the water line?  We didn't play with those, so I will have to save it for another post.  I will say, that the different results demonstrate why I think it is really important that we spend time playing around with the typical every day world.   We need to fully appreciate the every day events before we can really enjoy the special cases--and that's exactly what we did.

Similar posts:

Pre-school science: Ducky in the Bath

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Circular Motion at the Breakfast Table

One morning my son began amusing himself by rolling the peanut butter lid across the breakfast table.  Of course, little sister wanted in on the fun, so we retrieved the orange juice lid as well.

The orange juice lid did something new.  It rolled in a circle.  

When I asked my kids why the peanut butter lid was traveling in a straight line, while the orange juice lid traveled in a circle, my son was able to tell me that it was because the outside rim of the orange juice lid is longer than the inside rim.

He was right!  As a solid object, the entire lid must maintain the same angular speed.  Every molecule revolves around the center at the same speed.  For the peanut butter lid, which has a uniform circumference, that means that all parts of the lid travel at the same linear speed as well.  However, for the orange juice lid, the smaller circumference on the inside means that a smaller linear distance will be traveled on the inside of the lid during each rotation.  In order for a solid object, like the lid, to travel a smaller linear distance on one side than the other, it has to travel in a circle. 

Other posts you might enjoy:

Summer Rainbows

Friday, June 21, 2013

Science teacher link up!

I was very excited to find this great link up for science teachers.  If you blog about teaching science, please join!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Library Treasures: I Columbus, My Journal

Today, I found in the children's section of our library, a copy of Christopher Columbus's journal of his first trip to the Americas.  Fortunately for my four-year-old and me, Robert H. Fuson translated Columbus's memoir into modern day English.  This book was edited by Peter and Connie Roop.  It is no surprise to learn that they are both accomplished teachers.

What does surprise me is that this work was never required reading for me.  It will not need to be required reading for my son.  We finished the whole thing this afternoon.  Several times, he urged me to keep reading.  When land was sighted, he literally jumped up and started clapping.  He was especially captivated by the illustrations, done by Peter E. Hanson.  At this point, he does understand that Columbus's venture was a key event in the history of what was to become our country, although he misses the philosophical shading of the memoir.  When he is ready to consider the more nuanced cultural and historical implications of the migration of Europeans to the Americas, this would be a perfect starting point.

Typically, I add the books I find in the library to my wish lists, but I  I, Columbus: My Journal went straight to my cart.  It is definitely a book I want to read, and to encourage my children to read again.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Training that sticks

My kids are taking swimming lessons this week.  They seem to be having fun.  The teenagers running the local program are enthusiastic and competent.  I have just one complaint.  One little girl has screamed at the top of her lungs for forty-five minutes, two days in a row.  I do not fault the teachers.  I do fault her mother.  Why would you EVER let your child scream in horror in the arms of  stranger for all that time?  Do you really think she is going to learn to be a great swimmer because you insisted on her completing this task to her absolute objection now?

As a side note, if you you are thinking of swimming lessons, I would highly recommend that you personally take the time to help your child feel comfortable holding on to the side of the pool, in a depth over their head, and happily dunk themselves under water on command before you take them to class.  This did involve some bribing in our case, but now both children love to go under water.  We also invested in some goggles.  

I was, and continue to be, frustrated by the mom who sits insistently by while her daughter mourns the expectations.  Then I realized that I was her.   After we arrived home and ate lunch, we commenced our morning "responsibilities" which we had missed due to the swimming lessons.  I found myself rushing my children, insisting that they finish putting away the dishes and laundry now.  They began to object, and I steeled my resolve.  Then, I realized: I am no better than the mom at the pool.  My goal for my kids was a good one, but my method of obtaining it was not.  Is there a reasons they must hurry?  Why can't putting the dishes away be fun? So, when my son asked where the bowls go (as if he doesn't know!), I responded with, "Under your pillow."  He laughed.  "With the plates?"  More laughter, "With the bowls?"  And it was done.  

Having fun took longer. If I wanted the work done quickly, should I not just do it myself?  If my objective is to help my children learn to see responsibility as a joy, I should do what I can to make chore time a happy time.

 I am looking for suggestions.  How do you make chore time fun for yourself or for your kids?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Summer Rainbows

When my sister and I were little girls, my mother would sometimes let us play with the hose in the back yard.  One of our favorite games, well, one of my favorite games was to walk down the rainbow.  One of us would hold the hose and direct the other to walk either to the right or the left as needed to walk down the rainbow created by the hose.  I was mesmerized by the sight of my sister running down a rainbow.

This summer my own kids have been interested in rainbows created by our hose, and by the sprinklers in our neighborhood.  (For those of you crying out in horror at the sight of sprinklers going off in broad day light, it's all determined by the HOA.   So much for a water shortage.)

But, Why Mommy, Why?

The sun's radiation comes into the earth's atmosphere at all visible wavelengths, and some non-visible wave lengths as well.  When you have an even dispersion of all colors of light, the effect is blindingly white.  As light travels through water, it is slowed.  Different colors of light are slowed at different rates, depending on their wavelengths.   That is why the white rays that entered the spray of water together, leave at different angles separated neatly by color.   In pre-school language, when you bend light, the colors come out. Your clap-able word of the day is diffraction: the bending of waves.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Guest Post: 10 Simple Ideas to Get Your Kids Outside

As a secondary science teacher, one of my top three frustrations was my students' lack of real, physical world experience. Today, I am excited to bring you a guest post by my good friend Summer about getting kids involved in the world outdoors.  You will want to check out her blog Outside Kid for some fantastic project ideas.

“Boys, go outside!”

“No, we don’t want to,” my four year old protests. “We want to stay inside and watch a movie.”

“Movies are boring! It’s a beautiful day! Go outside and play!”

“Nah. Can I watch Shaun the Sheep?”

Ever had a conversation like this with your child? I have had more than I’d like to admit. I thought all kids preferred to be outside. What’s wrong with mine, I wondered?  Well, as it turns out, nothing! I just haven’t been creating the right atmosphere for young children to enjoy the great outdoors. Recently I decided to commit myself to being an outside mom, so I can have outside kids. It’s important to me to stimulate their little brains, introduce adventures, and encourage creativity.

So, for any mom who has ever pleaded with their little ones to get some Vitamin D, here are 10 simple ideas to encourage your children to spend more time outside.

1.  Go outside with them. I know you know this. All little kids want to be in the same place Mommy is. So, if Mom is outside, the children will follow. The housework can wait.  
2.  Institute a No TV Day. We started doing this a while back and it’s amazing how quickly the kids just accepted it. My oldest will ask me most days, “Mom, is it a No TV Day?” We usually have about one day a week where we keep the television off and the kids are forced to find other activities.
3.  Make certain activities outside only, like coloring or eating snacks. This started because we’re in a rental house and my 2 year old got a hold of the crayons and drew on the wall. My husband banished all drawing to the outside. I protested at first, but again, the kids took to it quickly and now if they want to color they just do it outside on their little table. (Obviously this is weather permitting!) Also, they know that most of their snacks they eat outside at their little table, or they roam around in the backyard with a “snack in a bag” which is usually cereal, nuts, dried fruit and a few chocolate chips.
4. Hang your laundry. One of the reasons I’ve often told my children that I can’t go outside to play with them is that my biggest chore for a family of 5 is keeping up with the laundry, and it seems to invariably be something I have to do indoors. A great way to solve this problem—and save a chunk on your electric bill—is to hang your clothes. If this is new for you, start small by just hanging your towels and sheets. You can fold outside, too, which also gives your little ones more time in the fresh air with you.
5.  Invest in comfortable outdoor seating. When we go to visit my extended family, we always enjoy breakfast outside on the back patio. Why? Because they have a comfortable patio set and everyone loves to congregate in the backyard. If you don’t have a outdoor set, check out yard sales (a few cans of spray paint can go a long way!) or keep your eyes open for floor model sales toward the end of the summer.
6.  Commit to buying only active toys. My mom has said that kids today don’t play with their toys, they watch their toys play. Isn’t that true? So for birthdays or holidays, buy your children active toys like bikes, tents, basketball hoops, and things that will keep them healthy. The trick? Get toys that you will enjoy playing with them.
7.  Take up gardening or yardwork. This is a great way to spend more time outside and teach your children about how things grow. Plus, you can save some money on healthy organic fruits and veggies!
8.  Schedule outside time in your child’s day, such as right after breakfast or before dinner. If it’s a routine, they’ll quickly accept it and accustom themselves to finding fun things to do.
9.  Invite their friends over. My boys will stay outside for hours when their little buddies come over. All of a sudden our little backyard is transformed into an enormous game of show and tell.
10. Ditch the TV. If you want to get reckless, go whole hog and get rid of it. Or, for a milder option, cancel your cable and subscribe to Netflix. This is what we do, and while you can certainly still watch a lot of programs, at least your children aren’t exposed to commercials and other advertisements, and it’s not as easy to just leave it on all day.

Have any other good suggestions? Leave it in the comments section, or email me at Summer is a mama to three great kids ages 4, 2 and 6 months and blogs at

Monday, June 3, 2013

Formulating a Master Shopping List: Step One

I am slowly becoming a fan of using multi-step programs to improve one area of my life or another.  My latest favorite is The Granny Plan from Granny's Vital Vittles.  As we have been bouncing around the country, our grocery habits have been rather eccentric.  As we have been settling into our new home, I have also been settling into a routine of grocery shopping and cooking.

The one problem with the "Granny plan" is that Granny did not move nearly as often as we do.  The whole concept of building up a pantry (a key step in the program) is thwarted, when you continually move in a matter of months, rather than years.

So, I thought I would share the system that I have developed over time to help me stream line the store to table process both financially and time wise.  I find it useful to start this process at the beginning every time we move, although pieces of it can be reused.  Ultimately, using this system you can switch over to shopping for staples monthly,  or even less often.  Or, you can plan to start utilizing all the great tricks for purchasing needed goods at the best prices.  Or, you can just be sane and get dinner on the table without stressing about it too much.

Step one:  Write down a list of what you are going to cook for dinner for the next seven days.  

Here are my rules for writing down this week's meal plan.

1.  The complete menu for each dinner is written down--either on a list on the fridge or in my planner.  I can't decide which place I like better

2.  No more than one new recipe may be included in any week's plan.  Cooking new recipes takes more time than cooking things I have already mastered.  This rule keeps me from overwhelming myself.

3.  Repeated meals, purposeful leftovers, frozen pizza, and restaurants are all valid entries on the meal plan.  The point is to plan ahead, so that on a given day you can swing into action rather than using time and energy to make a decision in the moment.   There is plenty of time later for becoming super woman of the kitchen.

That's it.  Go ahead and write yourself a quick meal plan.  Tomorrow, I'll share what I do with my seven day meal-plan.  In the mean time, please share any hints you have on how to write a successful meal-plan.

This post is kind of a mistake.  I meant to be writing on my other blog.  Yes, I was feeling a little tired, and writing is supposed to clear my mind.  If you're interested in this series, please click  here to go over to my other blog and follow along!  

Friday, May 31, 2013

Library Treasure: Moonshot

Moonshot: the Flight of Apollo 11  is a wonderful combination of history, science, art and poetry.  Brian Floca clearly tells the story of man's first flight to the moon using clever verses and beautiful illustrations.   This book captures the romance of the space program in a form that my preschoolers can enjoy.  No wonder my son now says every morning, "Look Mom, There's the moon!"

If you have recently found a treasure at your library, please share!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baking and Writing

I have been on the look out for activities that would allow us to incorporate a little bit of letter writing and reading.  As my little girl and I were making some banana bread this afternoon, I realized we had the perfect opportunity.  Using my finger I wrote her name in the pan I was buttering.  We followed with her brother's name, then did a simple "sound it out" word (sun), and then the more complicated word "Daddy", which uses the "y" that says "ee".

She was so amused that she decided that she wanted to write in the flour on the cookie sheet as we were ready to add it to the pans.  This picture from my post about sugar cookies explains how we came to have flour on the cookie sheet.

Do you have any fun every day ways to practice letter formation and reading words?