Friday, March 29, 2013

Library Treasures: Camping Day

This was our first week at the library in our new town.  Happily, this town lets you pay for a library card if you cannot qualify by presenting your address.  

This was also my four-year-old son's first time to visit the library in a few months, since my daughter and I have been going while he was at preschool.  He was happy to be there, and this book was his pick.  It has camping and dinosaurs in one book!  Yes, those are alligators, but dinosaurs make an appearance.  He thinks the story is hilarious.

I have to say, I like it too.  This is a great early reader book with lots of simple words and repetition.  Much of the print is large, which makes it easy to ask my children to fill in the sight words they recognize as we read.    Usually, my son is bored by the content in early reader books, but I have observed him "reading" this one to himself and to his sister more than once.  

Do you have a library treasure to share?  Please leave it in the comments!

Previous Library Treasures: The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
                                             Franklin is Messy
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When Should You Start Potty Training?

As any mother of three or more knows, the most knowledgeable moms are those with only two children.  Thus, having pretty well wrapped up potty training with my second, I'd like to share some thoughts on the subject before a third comes along and wrecks my theories!  Please note, these are not scientifically backed assertions, just the observations of a mom who keeps her ears open.

When should you start potty training?

My observation is that the answer to this question is largely cultural.  American pediatricians recommend waiting until the child indicates that he's ready.  You can take a look at the official list of readiness indicators from the American Association of Pediatrics. Some moms say you shouldn't bother at all.  The child will eventually train himself, albeit maybe not until age five! Here's a link to an article by a mom who gave up potty training.  In contrast, my friend in China  received some strong negative feed back from the locals because her daughter was inexcusably old to still be in diapers.  Her daughter was eight months old!  If you are thinking of taking the early route, you may also  want to read this western doctor's opinions, and be sure you're doing it "the way the locals do."

In my opinion the real answer to the question of when is: whenever the primary caregiver says so.   If your child in is in daycare, it's likely that the caregiver has potty trained many children, and you would do well to ask and follow her advice.  Not only will you benefit from her years of wisdom, but your child will have a consistent set of expectations during the day  and in the evening.

Things for the primary caregiver to consider

Potty training is a physical and emotional process.

Muscle tone is an important factor.  A child who is naturally strong will be able to control his body functions faster than one who is more slender.   In addition, some children have special issues that make potty training more difficult.

Toilet use is connected to independence, and the child may react to toilet training depending on how the child feels about independence.  The caregiver may also react based on her feelings about independence, or the act of cleaning up after another.  I  find it somewhat degrading to have to clean up after someone who could have done it for themselves.  It's a personal hang up, but it did effect our toilet training experience.

The younger you start, the longer it will take.

One of my friends did potty train her son, beginning within a week or so of birth.  It took nearly a year before he was consistently using the toilet.  My friend's mom potty trained her child in less than three days, but she waited until after her third birthday.

The younger you start, the sooner you'll be done.

If you glance at the above stories you'll see that starting earlier did result in the child being out of diapers sooner.

The younger you start, the shorter the bathroom intervals you need.

In general, younger children have weaker muscles than older children, so they will need to go more often.  My observation of my children, and friends children is that every twenty minutes is the norm until between eighteen months and passed two-years-old.  This may be why many American moms seem to feel this is the age for potty training.  Running for a toilet every twenty minutes all the time can be quite a chore!

Going on command is different than going as needed.

Although you can apparently train a child to go on command very early, I haven't observed many children who go as needed before three and a half.  If you potty train the child early, you'll also have to train all adults involved in care to think of his or her toilet needs.

Major changes like new siblings and moves will slow down the process.

Most articles and books will actually tell you not to start potty training until you have a period of six months or so free of these kinds of changes.   This is a problem for families like  mine.  By the time we are free of these changes for that long, my oldest might be ten years old!   You can potty train through new babies and through moves.  My son had to deal with a new sister and a move.  My daughter has had to deal with a move across the world, and weeks of other travel.  The changes make it harder, but it can be done.

Going against your community is difficult.

Cultures that advocate early toilet training tend to be more comfortable with children peeing out doors.  Cultures that advocate waiting until the child is ready tend to only accept children peeing in a proper toilet.  If you decide to train your child early, your back up caregivers may not be comfortable following through on your chosen methods.

 On the other hand, if you train later, you may find that people refuse to care for your child at all, as they are not willing to change diapers for older children.  My friend in China ran into this issue with caregivers for her daughter before one-year-old.  In the United States, programs for pre-schoolers around age three may require toilet training.

Let me state again, that the decision of when to potty train resides with the primary caregiver.  There is not a universal right answer for this issue.  I hope that the above thoughts help you make a healthy decision for you and your child.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Swimming Pool Physics

"Mom, why can you hold me in the pool?"  My son has been too heavy for me to physically pick up for some time now, so he loves that he can be a baby again in the pool.  Of course, the answer is physics.

Read more at Thriving STEM

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Easter Week Calendar

I just realized with a start that Palm Sunday is almost here!  Last year we were celebrating in a Muslim country which honored Christmas and Valentines, but the stores had nothing for Easter.  Our family sent treats, but it was too late to ask for other traditional items before I realized I would not be able to buy them.  

Holy Week Calendar

In order to make a big deal of Holy Week, we did two things.  First, starting with Palm Sunday, every day we read the section of Mark that corresponded with the day of the week.  Then I wrote the day of the week on a piece of paper, and we drew a matching picture.

Holy Week Calendar based on Mark

Palm Sunday: Mark 11:1-11
Monday:  Mark 11:12-19
Tuesday:  Mark 11: 20- Mark 13:36
Wednesday:  Mark 14: 1-10
Thursday:  Mark 14:12- 66
Friday: Mark 15
(Saturday:  Nothing recorded, but a great day to use as preparation for the Big Celebration)
Sunday:  Mark 16

A Hymn

A second activity that we did every day is to sing through "Low in the Grave He Lay" by Robert Lowry.  This is the best version I was able to find on Youtube.  Although it does the hymn justice, it is more fun to sing the chorus after every verse, and enjoy the fact that we serve a risen Savior more than once.

This hymn works well as an action song.  We lay on the floor while we sing the verse then jump up and dance around as the phrase "Up from the Grave He Arose!" resounds in the first line of the chorus.

This year we are going to spend part if not all of the holiday week in a hotel, so our celebration will again need to be simple.  I am looking forward to it though.  

Do you have an Easter Tradition that helps your family focus on what it is all about?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Montessori Writing Method: Homemade Tracing Cards

 I am working toward providing a Montessori system of learning to write for my kids, ages three and four.  The three-year-old is wordy and the four-year-old is hands on, so Montessori's system a great fit for both of them now.

Montessori advocates that rather than asking a child to simultaneously remember what the characters represent, how to hold a pencil, and how they are formed, the child should be allowed to separate these tasks.   My husband found the ABC slate app,and it has been a hit.  The portability and the draw of "screen time" make it a fantastic tool. However, I thought that we should have a tactile option in addition.   Montessori talks about wooden blocks with sand paper letters.That seemed like a pretty daunting project, so I stepped things down a little. 

My materials are index cards, yarn, and glue.

1.  Roughly estimate the amount of yarn to make the figure.
2.  Glue on the straight parts.
3.  Glue down the rest, and clip of the excess.


My three-year-old has tried these out a couple of times, and has been very interested in learning to make the letters correctly.  She concentrates really hard, and it is obvious that it truly is an accomplishment every time she makes a figure correctly.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lower Stress Painting

Painting is a fantastic activity.  It allows for creativity as the child makes her own design. It fosters scientific learning as the child learns how textures and colors mix.  It even contributes to a correct pencil grip, especially if you are diligent enough to attach the canvas to the wall.

Painting is also really stressful for moms like me.  Please notice I used the present tense verb.   I would not choose to paint in my free time.  I would not choose messy little fingers while renting a house painted with flat paint.  But, my daughter chooses painting weekly, and I want to free her to go beyond my struggles.  Here are a few strategies I employ to survive while she thrives.

1.  Put an adult size t-shirt on the child, and use a clothespin to shrink the neck hole so that none of her clothing shows.

2.  Cover the table with newspapers.

3.  Use washable paint from squeeze bottles.  Water colors are fun, but my kids destroy them.  My sister, who would know, says that they are a difficult medium to master.  We'll save them for later.

4.  Use divided trays to hold the paint while painting.  Mine came from Hobby Lobby, but you could also just use an old egg carton.  By putting the paint in divided trays, it more or less stays distinct, unless of course my artist wants to have the mixed look. Because I dole out the paint from squeezable bottles, I can always give more yellow if the old yellow has been used to make green.

5.  Use lots of paint brushes, more than one per color.  That way we do not have to wash any brushes until we are totally finished.

6.  Sit down and paint with her.   Putting my energy into creating beside her helps me relax.  It keeps me at arms length in case of a spill or need for more paint.  She seems to enjoy it, and I would like to think it encourages her in a healthy activity.

7.   Before painting, fill an old bottle with clean water to use for cleaning brushes. Here is how we make cleaning up into a quick science add-on.

When everything is dry, the master pieces can go on the refrigerator, and the materials go back in the gallon bag, ready for another day.

This is an area where I would like to continue to grow.  Do you have a hint to add?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Library Treasures: The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Here is a book every teacher, every parent, every politician, and every one who cares anything about education should read.  I found this treasure on the "for parents" shelf.  I picked it up at random with another less helpful volume. Part way through the first chapter I realized that The Read Aloud Handbook was one I wanted to own.   My copy arrived just in time, so on our cross country road trip this weekend I read it in bits to my husband.

As a teacher

Several years ago, in another life, I was a young science teacher with a problem.  My students could not read well.  I had completed a degree in physics, taken education courses, and even student taught under some excellent mentor teachers.  I knew how to teach science. I taught it with all my might. I promise you, my students knew physics.  The problem was that in order to graduate high school in the great state of Texas, you need to pass a written test, and my kids were struggling readers.  For six years I have wondered, "how could I learn to improve reading skills in my future students?"  Jim Trelease answered my question!  It makes sense, it's doable, research backed, and cheap!  I just can not believe no one pointed his work out to me earlier.

As a parent

In my current life, my thoughts are occupied with the welfare of two precious pre-school children.  I want to give them every advantage.  My parents handed me a tradition of reading aloud, and I am trying to pass it on to my children.  Here is one more affirmation that this is a critical ingredient to student success.

Trelease covers so much more.  He covers parenting in the modern age, examples of how to mend socio-economic disparities, how to read a book well, what to do when the parent can not read and when the child does not want to read.   If you are interested enough to read this little post, you will want to read this book!

Oh, and a statistic he mentions: 98% of kids who have a high interest in books in kindergarten are taken to the library.  Guess where I plan to be tomorrow?

If you have found a treasure in the library lately, would you share it in the comments?

Montessori Writing Method: Magnetic Letters

During my most recent re-read of Maria Montessori's The Montessori Method. I realized that her system of teaching a child to write would be a perfect fit for my kids now.  They have  both mastered letter sounds and letter names.  It is fascinating to see that they are developing very differently from this point, which is one more reason to use Montessori's methods.

  Montessori breaks down the process of writing into three parts: proficiency in using a pencil, knowing how to form the shapes, and forming words.  In her book she describes using wooden letters to form the words.  I think she would be ok with using plastic alphabet letters instead.  
I found these letters on Amazon.

Lesson Plan

Montessori directs the teacher to give the child the set of letters.  She is then to pronounce the word clearly, asking the child to choose the letter that corresponds with the sound he hears.  Once he has spelled out the word, the child is then asked to read the word he just wrote.  It surprises me how difficult it is for my children to read the word they've just written.

 So far my daughter, three, enjoys writing names.  My son, four, wants to jump right into some rough sentences as you can see above.  He also wants to write complex words, not just beginner words.  According to Montessori, this process of forming words precedes reading, but continues to help the student perfect spelling skills as long as needed. I'm intrigued to see how their writing progresses.

Have you tried a similar activity?  What were the results?

Related Posts:  Travel friendly storage for magnetic alphabet letters

Montessori Writing Method: Homemade Tracing Cards

Montessori Writing Method:Pencil Practice

Linked to Blog Hop at Monday Kid Corner:  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Travel friendly storage for magnetic alphabet letters.

My brilliant husband gets credit for this idea.  I told him what I was trying to do, and he made it happen.  This lovely storage box came from Grangier.   It isn't the cheapest possible option, but I like it because the letters fit easily,  the clasps fasten the lid securely, and it has a handle.   If you're looking for a cheaper option, check a craft supply store for a bead storage container.   If you want seriously cheap, an egg carton will work.  The main goal is to put each letter in its own compartment so that it can be found easily.

Before we put the letters in, I followed Montessori's direction and wrote the name of each letter on the section where it goes.  Clean up time is not the time to tax tired little brains!

We put capital and lower case letters in the same compartment. There's plenty of space, and so far my kids don't seem confused.  If one of them was struggling, I'd make a point to store capital and lower case letterers separately.

I'm looking forward to pulling this out many, many times in the coming years.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Library Treasures: Franklin is Messy

Every week I have this urge to write about one, or even more, of the great books we find at the local library. Starting this week, I'm going to unleash my inner bookworm and follow the urge.  I will try to just pick one book.  The rest are going on my Amazon wish lists, because it annoys me to no end to be unable to find that "great book we read once."

This week we found Franklin is Messy by Paulette Bourgeos and illustrated by Brenda Clark.  My three-year-old has been crazy about Franklin ever since the Chik-fil-a promotional a few months ago.  I dutifully pulled a few titles today.

As we read through this book tonight, at the request of my four-year-old, I became excited.  We have been trying to instill the value of neatness, which is the theme of the book.  I could feel my son sympathizing with Franklin's struggles.  At the end I asked, "Why did Franklin lose his things?"  He does not know tonight, but I think maybe by the end of the week he will.

This is also going to be a great opportunity to work on Core Standard RL K.1. With prompting and support, as and answer questions about key details in a text.

Have you found a treasure at the library recently?  Please share in the comments!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Biology for my pre-schoolers: Earthworms!

Observing my learners

I'm thoroughly convinced that one of the best things I can do for my kids is let them wonder around outdoors and do whatever they want.  One sunny afternoon, my son began collecting creatures.  A snail, an earthworm for him, and earth worm for his sister.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Virtual Book Club, Julia Donaldson's A Squash and a Squeeze

Julia Donaldson was a new author for us.  The book that we found was a delightful little story called A Squash and a Squeeze.  My daughter was fascinated by the story immediately.    It has rhythm, rhyme, and some simple counting. 

Focusing my Pre-school Physicists

One morning I found my kids filling containers with water and slinging them onto the patio.  When I asked why, they said, "We're doing experiments."  After we insisting on our morning routine, I asked some questions to focus our activities.  "What kind of experiments?"  Answer, "Water."  "What do you want to know about water?"  Answer, " Does it get bigger or smaller?"  Me, "Bigger or smaller when what?" 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Science Add-on for Cooking with Boiling Water: Energy!

Here's a quick physics lesson that you can do while you are cooking pasta for dinner, or any other time you happen to have some water boiling on the stove.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Quick Lesson in Force and Bubbles

We were actually in the middle of a totally different experiment, when the bubbles in the bottle caught my son's interest.  He kept flipping the bottle one way and then the other. Finally he asked,  "Why do the bubbles go to the top?"

Read more at Thriving STEM.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Realization about Counting

These dominoes were a great Christmas gift !

I love watching my kids develop the basic skills that will some day build into the challenging physics I used to teach.  This morning while we were waiting on Daddy to finish up the pancakes, the kids and I played a round of animal dominoes.  My daughter loves the matching aspect and my son loves that we can make shapes with the path of the dominoes.