Monday, May 26, 2008

Prism Colors

The other morning I noticed on the floor a little spot in which the light from the window was making a rainbow.  Apparently our glass oil lamp was in just the right spot to act as a prism in front of the window.  I drew my daughter's attention to the colors magically appearing on the floor, and we started playing with it.  When we put our hands over it, the rainbow was on our hand!  When we stood between it and the window, it disappeared!  We sang our rainbow song (from Signing Time, My Favorite Things), pointing at each of the colors as we sang their names.  It was so much fun.  It gave me the idea to look for a less fragile prism - I obviously wasn't going to let my daughter play with the oil lamp.  I can put the oil lamp at strategic places, though, at certain times of the day when the light is just so (and when she isn't looking), and we can play with the fun rainbow. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bible Chapter Counting

As my daughter was waking up from her nap today, she noticed my Bible.  We opened it and she immediately pointed to the large number 2 marking a chapter number in Isaiah.  She exclaimed, "Two!"  That started our Bible chapter counting.  We went back to chapter 1 and counted along with the big numbers that marked the chapters (the little numbers that marked the verses were apparently too tiny to catch her interest).   It had never occurred to me to do this before, but it ended up being a really great activity.  We got to practiced counting, recognizing numbers, and we got to familiarize her with a little piece of the way the Bible works.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Teaching a Toddler to Share?

Several months ago I was meeting with a mom support group.  One of the moms asked about teaching sharing to her 18 month old.  I said what my husband and I had done with our daughter, which seems to have worked.  But then all the other moms insisted that young children cannot and should not be taught to share.  Sharing is not natural, they said, and toddlers definitely are not programmed to be capable of grasping the concept.  I was startled.  Today I was reviewing the sharing concept with my daughter, and she was really fussy about it.  She hasn't always been like that.  

I had taught her how to share in two parts.  First, we started at home.  She's an only child, and so she doesn't have any sibling competition.  So during music time one evening, my husband and I started taking turns with her playing with the sticks.  We did it to the rhythm of a song she knew.  During one semi-lengthy phrase of music, dad would get to play with them.  During the next phrase, she would.  During the next phrase, I would, and then back around again.  We did it to the music so that she would be able to predict how long she had to wait to get the sticks back.  She protested at first, but then she got the hang of it after a few rotations and became quite the eager sharer.

Second, I worked with her in the presence of other toddlers her age, who care far more than her dad or I who is playing with what.  I started with a 2 and a half year old, whose special doll my daughter wanted to hold.  I prompted the older child to share with this little baby (my daughter), and she unhappily but willingly complied.  I applauded this child's really, really good sharing, saying what a good sharer she is and what a big girl she is.  She was so happy to hear this, that she proceeded to get everything she could off the shelf to share it with my daughter.  Then my daughter, having seen and experienced this other child sharing with her, was happy to share right back.  I've done this in numerous settings now with other kids, and it always works once we get over the initial sharing hump.  

So I really thought this was all well and good until these mothers insisted that children cannot and should not be asked to share.  At first I just disregarded them, but then today when I was practicing taking turns with my daughter as we played with her toy horse, she was going nuts.  "NNNOOOOO!!!" she would squeal when it was my turn.  I pried the toy out of her hands a couple of times, certain she would get the hang of it, but it just made her madder, and I started to feel uneasy about insisting on taking it from her.   And I noticed that she was getting in the habit of handing me the toy for my turn, then not letting go of it and throwing a fit when I reached to take it, but insisting that I reach to take it if I decided not to...  And she's not really consistent with sharing anymore when we're with other kids.  

So I really want to know whether or not to continue to pursue the sharing skill.  I think the music teaching went really well, and maybe we should review it that way more often.  Maybe the problem is that I just assumed, "Okay, now she shares," and didn't review it enough in general.  But I really want to know from other homeschooling moms who are intentionally teaching social skills to their children whether or not sharing is something to work on for a 20 month only child.  

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nurturing a Love for Work

One of the things the Montessori approach to education rightly points out is that children naturally like to work.  Not fake work, but real work.  I remember as a child having toy kitchen sets and such, but these were not nearly so exciting to me as the thought of working in the real kitchen.  Of course, things can go a lot slower for a mom with an 18 month old "helping" in the real kitchen, but I know that if I wait until she is 6 or 7 to start asking her to help, she will have to form the habits and skills of real work without the magical attraction she is naturally experiencing right now.  So these are some of the activities we do together around the house to satisfy and nurture her love for work.  

1.  Laundry.  She LOVES putting things into baskets, and so she helps me put the clothes from the closet into the laundry basket.  Then we drag the basket together to the laundry room (this requires some maneuvering, because stairs are involved, but we make it work).  She hands me the clothes piece by piece and I put them into the washer.  (This typically only lasts through about 5 pieces of clothing before she begins to explore other parts of the laundry room, and because the point is for her to LIKE it, I don't push her too much).  She also helps me take the clothes out of the dryer and put them into the basket again.  We drag the basket to the living room, where I fold the clothes, and then she carries them to put them into the proper closet or chest of drawers (with me right beside her, otherwise the clothes have been known to end up in places like the cabinet below the sink in the bathroom).

2.  Kitchen.  Before dinner, she helps set the table by putting one napkin at each spot.  After dinner, if her dad or someone is with me, he will give her one item off the table at a time to bring to me, and I receive it and put it away.  She gets such a kick out of this, which makes it more fun for me, as well.  I also give her a wipe rag and she helps wipe a little section of the table for me.  (Then she'll, like, take the rag and wipe the carpet with it or something).  When making dinner, she gets little jobs.  Like, when we make something with pasta, she gets to pour the pasta into the water (I hold and guide her hand carefully).  When making pizza crust or bread, she gets to help pat and squeeze the dough (and give it kisses for added sweetness).  

3.  Vacuuming.  She LOVES vacuum time.  I've never vacuumed so much in my life as I do with my toddler around, because she likes it so much and it is such an easy way of keeping the living area from getting too messy.  I just say, "Let's vacuum!  Pick everything up off the floor!  Up!  Up!  Let's clean up!"  I mostly pick the stuff up, but I will also point to a specific toy, tell her where it goes, walk with her to the location, point to the location, and watch her put it there.  She helps me pull the chairs away from the dining room table, one by one, so I can clean under there.  Then she plays on the chairs or with some toy she found while we were picking things up while I vacuum, and when I'm done she helps pull the chairs back where they go.  

I would love to learn how other people have their toddlers help around the house!   

Pillow Shapes

One of my daughter's favorite games we use for reviewing shapes is the pillow shapes game.  We arrange 4 square pillows so that their corners are touching, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, and then - Look! Together their inside sides form the shape of a square!  We do the same thing with 3 pillows, and - Look! They make a triangle!   If you take 2 square pillows and 2 rectangle pillows and put their corners together - A rectangle!  We have fun jumping on the pillows, throwing them in the air and letting them land on our heads, and singing our shapes songs during this activity, as well.  Tons of fun.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Obstacle Course

Today I didn't really feel like going outside, but my daughter still had energy to burn.  So I made an obstacle course in our living room.  First she had to climb a mountain of pillows.  Once she reached the top, she could wiggle her way onto two kitchen chairs I had set up facing each other.  Once on the chairs, she sat down, and I sang, "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great...." (she prepared herself) "FALL!" and she scooted off of the chairs and onto a pillow on the floor.  Next came Daddy's trunk, which served as a step onto the next pair of kitchen chairs, where we did Humpty Dumpty again.  Then, having successfully navigated the path, I had her run, run, run back to the beginning to do it again.  The only problem with this activity was that, as she got creative with it, she wanted to add other obstacles that I didn't feel like adding.  I was pretty low energy today.  If I had felt better, that probably wouldn't have been that big of a deal.  As it was, she LOVED the activity.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Water Drops

My daughter loves playing with water.  Her favorite water game is scoop-the-water, which I wrote about below.  But another game we enjoy is the water drop game.  I take a medicine dropper and fill it with water.  Then I squirt a couple drops of water onto different types of surfaces, and we see what happens to the water when it touches the surface.  When it touches non-porous surfaces, like on some of her hard toys, it leaves a circular drop!  When it touches porous surfaces, like certain fabrics, it disappears, leaving behind a wet circle!  If she were older, I'd ask her to guess, "What do you think will happen to the water when it touches this surface?" before doing a new surface, but she's not ready for that, yet.  We just have fun watching the water drops.  


Sea Shells

This past weekend my husband, daughter, and I were at the ocean as leaders for a youth retreat.  On Saturday morning I took a break and went for a prayer walk along the beach.  There was almost no one around, and the ocean was so beautiful.  I looked down and suddenly noticed that there were all these beautiful shells!  Not, like, super fabulous big shells, but there was quite a variety in terms of size and shape and color, and so I gathered a number of them to show to my daughter.  Today we played with them.  She broke some of the neater ones, but that's okay.  I'd rather them be used and broken than sit uselessly as clutter in some box.  We put them in and out of the sand bucket.  I started a game where we scooped the smaller shells with the bigger shells to put them in the bucket.  She liked the game, but she liked it best when I was the one scooping the shells, which wasn't exactly what I was going for.  We sorted them according to their similarities.  We looked at their colors, we felt their smooth texture against our fingers and cheeks (she thought the cheek thing felt a little weird), and I made up a song that she loved (to the tune of 'I'm a Little Tea Pot'):

I'm a little sea shell, I come from the sea.
Little fishies swim there and they live inside of me.
When the water rises I go high on the sand.
The water goes back in the sea, and I am left on land.

We just basically handled the shells and put them in and out of the bucket, singing the song, for quite some time.  It became today's favorite game.

Warmth of God

I want my daughter to know the warmth of God.  One of the ways I try to help her experience this is through our cuddle time after her nap.  When she wakes up, she almost always wants to just cuddle and nurse.  As we cuddle and she nurses, in a quiet, warm voice I tell her about what I read in the Bible that day.  Sometimes, if I can think of a song to go with it, I'll sing the song, too.  She almost always asks for "more" when I'm done, and so I know she likes it.  And it is helpful with keeping me accountable to reading the Bible each day, as well.  Sometimes, if I skip my prayer time, I try to tell her a story from memory (and I know lots and lots of texts), but the warmth of the Holy Spirit flows through me best when I've been basking in it myself that day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why I Believe in Focused Activities for Toddlers

I have recently come across some literature on the internet suggesting that the best thing you can do for your toddler is NOT to "school" them but to let them just play.  I want to say five things about this.

One, I totally agree that toddlers need to be left to just play.  Toddlers obviously like to be left to play sometimes.  But not all the time.  At least not all toddlers.  If I leave my toddler to play whatever she wants for more than hour at most, she comes looking for company, wanting to hang out with mommy.  If I resist, she clings to my legs and begs.  I can get her engaged in other activities only so many times before she is fed up with it and demands attention.  So we do the laundry together, we put the dishes away together, we vacuum together, and we explore the world around us together.  She is obviously eager to be with me and do things with me.  I know from watching older children that this stage won't last, and I want to lay a good foundation for her while she's here.  I also know this from my experience of Montessori School.  The Montessori pre-school I attended very much followed the principle of leaving us to ourselves to play whatever we wanted, alone or with each other, with very little adult interaction besides just enforcing rules of orderliness.  I remember being STARVED for interaction with an adult.  And I remember feeling lost among so many options for playing with so little adult interest in what I was doing as I was doing it.  A little space to play was great.  Hours and hours was too much.  I got use to it, but it's a lot like just crying it out at night and then being quiet because you realize no one cares.  And so I just don't buy that what toddlers really want and need more than anything is to just be left alone to play or to be watched playing.  Good grief, if that were true then why do so many homeschool moms, at least at first, look for ideas of "what to do with that toddler" while educating the "educatable" children.

Two, I agree that it is possible to push your child into being an overachiever and in the process both of you miss out of this unique stage of development.  But I also see it happen all too often that the parent leaves the child to play on his/her own so much that both of them miss out of this unique stage of development.  Most moms of toddlers that I meet, especially when the toddler is the only child (maybe this changes when there are multiple children?), are so bored watching that child play that they end up filling their own mind and time with activities completely unrelated to their toddler (like, they spend their time on the phone with friends, watch TV, or whatever).  I don't think this is facilitating parent-child bonding better than the mom applying her mind and her time to enjoying the child, interestedly considering "what is my child doing right now in her play?" and, when appropriate, "Is there a way that I can play with her well as she does this?"  This is very different from, like, trying to teach her to parse Latin.  Working together is relationship-building.  Just because it can be done poorly doesn't mean no one should do it.

Three, I believe it is a lie from popular culture that kids are not ready for school until the age of 3 or older.  I believe kids stay at home until 3 or 4 because culture still widely recognizes that children should be at home, if possible, until then, and they are considered too wiggly these young years to "learn" well.  But that buys into the ideas (and I don't know any homeschooling parents who believe this) that children start education AWAY from home and education is properly a solely sit-and-listen activity.  I do all kinds of "educational" activities with my 20 month old, and she loves it.  Maybe if I called them "fun, together playtime" activities it would be less bothersome for people who can only imagine "education" to be stiffling creative play.  But she loves everything we do.  When she doesn't like something I suggest, I follow her lead. Most of the time, though, because I know her so well from working with her, I know what she's going to be interested in and we can work together accordingly.  I mean, I guess I don't think there is a huge difference between a 9 month old developing an interest in learning to walk and babble and a 19 year old contemplating the potential value of narratology.

Four, maybe not all children are like this, but my toddler LOVES the ABC's.  She loves counting the stairs as we go up and down.  Once I showed it to her a couple of times, she started initiating it frequently.  She can't get enough of the activities I do with her.  I had to stop telling her when we were "done" with "school" - meaning the hour in the morning when we do some focused play - because she would throw an absolute fit.  If she was bored or unhappy or didn't want to do this stuff, I could then imagine that I'm "pushing" her.  But, honestly, sometimes I feel like she's dragging me along.  What's more, one reason we do this school time in the morning is that I've noticed she is plays alone better at other times of the day when we do this.  In the morning, she learns a new game or discovers something new to do with a toy as we work together.  Then she starts to take over and make the activities her own as we continue.  And finally, when she is playing alone, she totally takes over, expanding the idea further and further, molding it into things I never imagined, or sometimes just reviewing what we did over and over.  And so I don't think, at least with this child, focused activities necessarily hinder toddler creativity.  

Fifth, and finally, because I am working with her now, she and I know each other so deeply when it comes to learning and playing - I know how she learns and how to tell when she's figured something out even when she gives almost no clue, and she knows me just as well.  I cannot imagine that somehow this will be bad when it comes to homeschooling her when she is older. 

We have so much fun with this stuff, she is doing so well, and we are enjoying each other so much that I just cannot imagine that this is somehow harmful.  And so I wish that the encouragement not to push your toddler would somehow be more balanced with encouragement to learn to work well with the toddler, to learn how to discern what the child is learning through his/her play, and to learn when and how to encourage that development.  Such balanced encouragement would help the mom learn not only how to temper her urges but also how to facilitate the very natural inclination to learn how to work with her child.  Telling the mom - at least the mom of any only child - not to teach the toddler is like telling the mom of a baby not to cuddle for fear of smothering him.

Comparatives: Low, Higher, Highest

My daughter knows her opposites, and so I thought it might be fun to expand the opposites concept with comparatives.  Like, not just little/big but also little/bigger/biggest and big/littler/littlest.   I did this with blocks.  I built a little tower with one block, and I said, "Small tower."  Then next to it I built a tower with 4 blocks, and said, "Bigger tower."  Then I built a tower with 6 blocks, and said, "Biggest tower."  Then I pointed back to the middle-size (4 block) tower again and said "Smaller" and then to the 1 block tower and said "smallest," and then back to the middle-size "bigger" and then the "biggest," back and forth over and over and over.  She was fascinated.  I asked, "Which is the biggest tower?" and she pointed to the correct one.  "Which is the smallest?" and again she got it.

Next, I took some of her little Weeble-Wabble toys (these are good because they are easy for a toddler to set on a high tower of blocks and not fall down, but any little animal or person toy figure would work), and I used the block towers like steps for them.  The first Weeble-Wabble jumped onto the 1 block tower, and I said, "She's low."  Then she jumped to the middle-size tower, and I said, "She's higher."  And then to the 6 block tower, and said, "Highest!"  Then she climbed back down the ladder of towers: "Lower" and "Lowest."  Then the little Weeble-Wabble was joined by some Weeble-Wabble friends, one on each tower, and we continued the game.  She thought it was hilarious as the Webble-Wabbles talked with each other about wanting to go higher and higher and then lower and lower, sometimes trying to go together and sometimes accidently falling off!  After awhile of playing, I said, "Put this Weeble-Wabble on the highest tower!"  And she did.  

Learning about Light

Today we played with the flashlight.  When we shine it through the hole in a box, you can see light in the box!  We followed the light from the flashlight all over the floor, walls, and ceiling.  We played a game in which we would shine the light at something and say, "Light!" and then put our fingers over the flashlight to block the light and say, "No light!"  We had fun seeing what types of materials the light would shine through when we put the flashlight right up against it - like, our clothes, our fingers, our feet, different toys.  And we saw that we could make a looooooooooooooong beam of light on the floor, or a small circle.  In the process she learned a lot about light through interacting with it.  It also worked her coordination as she struggled to get the light at just the right angle so that she could see it through her pockets, under her shirt, or through her toes.

Learning Letters: Three Cheers for the Word Whammer!

I taught my daughter her ABC's using mostly playdough, paints, sand, and crayons.  But she's had a hard time distinguishing little b, d, q, and p.  So today I bought her the Leap Frog Word Whammer.  My cousin, who homeschools her five kids, raves about this toy, and so I thought I'd try it.  It works fabulously!  It comes with lots of upper case fridge letters, and I got the lower case letter expansion set.  Because I want her to interact with lower case letters, I took away the upper case ones and left her with the little ones.  She has had so much fun putting the letters in the Word Whammer and hearing the letter's name and sound.  AND you can't put p, q, b, or d into the Word Whammer in any direction other than the correct one (like, you can't turn d upside down and make a p), which has been helpful.  (For the record, I am not stifling this child's creativity by saying there is a correct way to put the letters, as I fear some will judge.  We do tons and tons of activities in which she makes the type of connection she's making with the p, q, b, and d.  All day long she grabs 2 similar objects and exclaims, "2 bottles!" or whatever it may be.  And so, never fear, we already have a major emphasis the other direction).  This toy has also been great for reviewing her letters and their sounds in general.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Playing with Dirt

Yesterday we took outside into the front yard my daughter's sand shovel, pick, and bucket, along with a booster seat tray, some water in another bucket, a towel, and a cleaning sponge.  We dug up some dirt with the pick and shovel, and we dumped the dirt into the bucket.  When we had enough dirt, we poured the dirt from the bucket onto the tray and examined what we saw:  ants, rocks, dirt, etc.  When we were done, we poured some water onto the tray and I let her use the sponge to wipe it clean (she tried really hard, and she almost did it completely).  Then I finished the cleaning and we wiped it with a towel.  Then we repeated the process.  Throughout the activity, we also saw two beautiful butterflies, looked amazed at some leaves, and saw some other insects, as well.

My goals in doing this with her were (1) to give her a chance to observe, feel, and interact with real dirt (not just sand in a sandbox), (2) to give her a chance to practice her cleaning skills - there is something satisfying about actually seeing a surface change colors from dirty to clean when you wipe it, and wiping dirt definitely has that effect, (3) develop her pouring and scooping coordination (she's really into that right now - that is why I had her both scoop the dirt into the bucket and then pour the dirt from the bucket onto the tray) and (4) to grow in her understanding of the goodness of this world God has made.

"I'm Gonna Thank the Lord" Song

On our walk today, as we came across flowers and trees and grass and roots and dirt, I sang (to the tune of "I'm Gonna Sing when the Spirit says Sing..."):

I'm gonna thank the Lord for the _Tulips_
I'm gonna thank the Lord for the _Tulips_
I'm gonna thank the Lord for the _Tulips_
And praise Him everyday! 

We replaced "Tulips" with the other things we saw as we saw them.  She loved the song, and it helped her learn to notice, care about, and identify the various parts of nature that we encountered along the way.

Sanctuary Play

I'm convinced that the primary way my toddler familiarizes herself with places and objects is through play.  One place I want her to feel really at home in, a special place she can go to for the rest of her life, no matter where she is, to find the peace of familiarity and home, is a church sanctuary.  AND since I'm always on the lookout for places I can take her, not only do we go to church every Sunday (and I keep her with me in the service- more work for me, but the benefits far outweigh the cost in my mind - especially since children learn what they live), but we also sometimes will go to the sanctuary just to be there during the week.  (I check first to make sure there isn't a funeral or something).  I let her wander around and explore the pulpit, the alter, the baptismal font, the kneeling rails, etc.  We climb the steps to the balcony and look around.  She walks across the kneeling rails like a balance beam, she checks out the details of the furniture, she walks up and down and up and down the stairs to the front of the church...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Before you buy curriculum...

...check out what your family can use for free at the library.  My county's library system, for example, has the complete set of Hooked on Phonics, along with 528 other phonics resources.  They have almost all of the Signing Time DVD's (which would be $25 each otherwise - we've used 15 of them for FREE).  They have all kinds of science experiment books.  I found a great one for toddlers ages 2-5.  They even have math textbooks!  If you want sometime in particular, even if your local library doesn't have it, the wider county library system, where your card will work, probably will have it or something comparable.  Also, almost all libraries have special play and reading times that are age specific from babies on through adults, and that is great for social development.  The library at the last place where we lived (we've moved) even had special bi-monthly music time followed by a craft time for all aged children.  I didn't like the baby time at the new place where we moved, but a local library only 10 minutes away had a fabulous one, and we went there every Thursday all year.  If you want more socializing time for yourself and your child(ren), you can even make the rounds, going to different libraries on different days of the week -lots of families do this.  Seriously, if you haven't tapped into this resource, don't spend another cent until you've seen what you can get from your tax dollars at the library.  

Playing with Light and Shadows

We have a window in my daughter's playroom with blinds.  In the morning, when we do school, the sun is shining through the window and the blinds are tilted downward, there is a solid rectangle of light by the window on the floor.  Today we did shadow play with it.  I took one of her small stuffed animals, and I made the shadow of the animal "walk" across.  (She was like, "again! again!")  Then I contorted my fingers into the shape of a rabbit and then an elephant.  We had lots of fun playing with the shadows.  She also had fun observing how the light on the floor vanishes when I tilt the blinds way up, and then reappears when I tilt them back down.  There is so much that can be done with shadow play.  My daughter is too young to be able to do much with her fingers, but she can sit, she can walk, she can jump, she can lie down - and she can observe her shadow doing all of those things, too!   

Sand Bucket Pendulum

I took one of my daughter's sand buckets and attached about 2 ft of yarn to the bucket's handle.  We had so much fun swinging it back and forth.  I had gotten out a bunch of pasta pieces (Mezzi Rigatoni - they are in the bucket in the picture) and was going to put them on the string, one by one, as a counting game.  She had no interest in that, and it turned out to be too difficult for her, anyway (at least with that low of motivation).  Instead, she put all the pasta into the bucket, and we swung the bucket back and forth with the pasta in it.  We played a few little games with this:

1.  It turns out she is really into dumping, scooping, and pouring right now.  So we would dump the pasta out and then put it back in the bucket.  She saw another little cup, and she put the pasta first into the cup and then poured it into the bucket - it was great for working her motion precision and coordination, even if that wasn't what I initially set out to do. 

2.  I showed her that, when you smoothly swing the bucket all the way up and around - upside down and all - the pasta doesn't fall out!  

3.  We played "bang the bucket."  I attached another string of yarn to another bucket for myself, and I would swing that one while she was swinging hers, and we knocked them against each other.

4.  We also played "kick the bucket."  I'd hold it steady, and she'd kick it.  

So I didn't set out today to work on coordination and motor skills, but we had a ton of fun, and she really did end up learning the concept of the pendulum through extensively interacting with one.   We'll work on counting some other time.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Flowers, Trees, and Animals: Learning to Love Nature

Two questions I always am asking myself is, "What are the core things I want my daughter to grow up knowing?" and "What is she experiencing in her life right now to learn those things?"  One of my answers is that I want her to appreciate and care tenderly for this magnificent planet God has created.  And so I try to do nature activities with her frequently.  We've slacked on these the past week or so, and so today we did some catch-up.  Here were our nature activities:

1.  Throughout the Spring we have been going on daily walks/stroller rides.  I've been stopping whenever I see flowers in bloom, and I enthusiastically name them and point to them.  Today, however, we stopped to look at different kinds of leaves.  We saw long, skinny pine tree leaves, flat and broad leaves, big leaves, small leaves, jagged-edge leaves, smooth-edge leaves, etc., etc.  When they were close to the road, I'd let her touch them for a little while to feel as well as see the differences between the leaves.  This was also good for reinforcing opposite concepts (like, showing her two very different leaves and naming them "BIG/little" "jagged/smooth" etc.)

2.  I picked a dandelion and brought it home with us.  When we got home, I took a white sheet of computer paper and put the dandelion on top of it.  I rubbed the flower bud into the paper, and showed her that it made a yellow spot.  Then I pointed out to her the petals, the leaves, and the stem.  Then we took the different parts of the dandelion (all the petals, the leaves, and the stem) apart, looking carefully at each part.  We put the little petals on one part of the paper, the leaves on another part of the paper, and the stem on another (this was good for teaching the sorting concept, as well).  We pulled the stem apart to look inside.  It was very interesting exploration.  I kept reinforcing that this is beautiful and good.

3.  We went to the local nature conservation area.  My daughter chased geese, and she even came across a little family with 6 baby geese!  The mommy goose was not so happy as she kept chasing the little babies, and so I had to put an end to that (with some loud protests), but I am glad she got to see and interact with the geese.  We also saw ducks, a peacock, a turtle, fish, and a rabbit.  The conservation center had some inside rooms with interactive animal books, a bald-eagle puzzle, a life-size bear head, a life-size wooden alligator, lots of types of eggs (behind glass), and some really fun chairs to climb, objects to open and close, and colors to identify.  Check out the types of places like this that your tax dollars are paying for in your area!

4.  There was a pond at the nature conservation center, and we sat down beside it.  She wanted to throw things into it.  I made it into a game.  I'd give her something to throw in, she'd throw it, and we'd see if it sinks or floats.  It was really interesting to me that everything connected with life in some way floated (e.g., leaves, sticks, petals,), but those things not connected with living things all sunk (e.g., rocks).  I wonder if that's always the case?

5.  We spent some time in our yard with our flowers and shrubs.  I excitedly showed her the insects.  Some crawl on the ground, some fly in the air, look - that one went under a rock!, etc.   She very sweetly leaned down to pretend to kiss an insect a few times.  Very sweet.  I'm not a fan of bugs in general, and I figure she'll readily pick that up as she grows.  But I also want her to grow up knowing that we couldn't live without them, and, more importantly, that God made them and called them good.  So they are worthy of our appreciation, even if sometimes they bother us.

Water Bobbing

Another one of our favorite water games is to get out the big kitchen pot, fill it with water, and then get a couple glass containers of different sizes that have lids.  I used a baby food jar and a Snapple bottle.  I put the tops on the containers while they are still full of air, and we try to push them down in the water -but they pop up!  Then we fill them with water, and we try to make them float - but they sink down!  She loves the water bobbing game.  It often ends up getting combined with the water scooping game below in one way or another, as she gets involved in forming the activity.

Water Scooping

One of my daughter's favorite activities is playing with water.  Sometimes we do this in the tub, but during the day I get out my biggest cooking pot and fill it with water.  Then I take my measuring cups - the 1 cup, 1/2 cup, and 1/4 cup, and put it in the pot.  I place the pot on the floor on top of a folded bath towel or two, which we sit on, to catch the spills.  Then we scoop up the water with the cups!  I'll do things like fill up the 1 cup and dump the water into the 1/4 cup - too much water!!!  It won't fit!  Then I pour the water back into the 1 cup, and - not enough water!  We do this over and over.  She's positively fascinated by it.  She'll often add to our little game by getting other containers to put in the pot and scoop the water.  Her favorite are these little stacking toys she has.  They have holes in their bottoms, and so when we try to scoop the water - it falls through!  I look flabbergasted and sing, "There's a hole in the bucket..."  She thinks it's really funny.  If your child is ready for it, you could have him/her try to pour the water from container to container to work the fine motor skills and coordination.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Play dough ABC's

One of our favorite ways to teach and reinforce the alphabet is with play dough.  This is an especially good activity when I'm tired and don't want to put much work into our activity.  It's also really good, because it is a more multi-sensory approach to learning: she not only sees the letter and hears the letter and sound, but she also gets to touch and handle the letter.  I make the letter of the day with the play dough, and then I point it out to her singing the Leap Frog "The b says 'b', the b says 'b', every letter makes a sound, b says 'b'."  I make two or three more, and then I find other B's that we have on her toys and point them out to her.  It has been really effective, even when she doesn't seem to be paying much attention.  Later in the day when we review (e.g., drawing the letter in the sand at the playground, writing it in a notebook while she is on the potty, playing with her alphabet toys, or pointing it out in her books), she almost always remembers immediately.

And remember - if you don't have any play dough around the house, you can cook edible play dough and we can eat it when we're done!  I'm sure there is a recipe online somewhere, like or something.

Play dough is also great for teaching shapes and numbers. 

While on the subject, my daughter is having a hard time learning to distinguish little b, d, p, and q - any suggestions? 

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Homemade Counting Toys

There are tons of counting toys I could buy, and we have a few.  But as interesting as they are at first, they lose their magic after awhile, and so it creates this endless cycle of always having to buy more toys.  Since one of the things I want most is activities I can do with my toddler, and since it is less expensive and less wasteful just to use things around the house in a new way, I decided to come up with a way to create new counting toys for my toddler.  This is what we did today, and I'll record some of my other ideas, too.

I used a teaspoon as the "stick."  I used construction paper to make some little "rings," which became the counting objects.   My toddler's job in making it with me was to press really hard when I put the scotch tape on the paper to make them stay as rings.  We counted them as we put the rings on the spoon, and then as we put the rings on her fingers (her idea! - it was so much fun).  This was fabulous for developing her fine motor skills.  Most of her store-bought ring toys are wood or plastic and relatively big and sturdy.  Small, flimsy paper rings were much more difficult for her, and so it took more effort.

Other ideas for sticks:  
1.  Stick from the backyard and pasta (Mezzi Rigatoni worked really well - I found it at the store - it's a good size).  I could just use one stick and let pasta slide down it, counting as we go.  More complex, I thought about taking 2 or 3 sticks of differing lengths and then using string or something to attach them parallel to one another to a perpendicular 4th stick, which would be the base.   Then we could work on concepts like, different length sticks hold a different number of pasta pieces.   (This worked great!  For some reason my computer won't let me put a picture of it here, but you can do it really simply.  We started with just one long, thin stick and let pasta sliiiiiiiiiiiide down it, counting as we went.
2.  Yarn and pasta.  To keep the pasta from falling all the way off the yarn when it slides down, I could maybe tie it to something, like one of her sand buckets.  Oh, good idea!!!  And then when we're done with the counting, we can swing the bucket, she can kick the bucket while I hold the string, we can jump over the string, we can dress the bucket up like (or just pretend) it is a dog and run around with it going "rough! rough! rough!"  (This one didn't work so well as far as counting went.  But we had a TON of fun playing with the yarn and bucket.  I wrote about it in the Sand Bucket Pendulum post, and there is a picture there.  Seriously, this is her favorite toy in our house now.)

Other suggestions welcome!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Coins, Size, and Puppets

Today my daughter pointed at the floor and said something almost indistinguishable that sounded kind of like "pen."  I didn't see a pen.  But when I looked closer, I saw a penny.  I was surprised - I didn't know she knew what a penny was.  So I thought, maybe she's ready to learn to recognize the different coins?  She was.  This is what we did.

I got out a bunch of coins of different kinds and let her just fiddle around with them for awhile, while I identified them.  I showed her the bird on the quarter, etc.  Then I started a game where we put them through holes into various containers.  Then we'd shake them like music shakers.  The most helpful container was the plastic water bottle.  It is big enough for all the coins except the quarter, and that is when she figured out how to distinguish the quarter from the nickel.  At first she was distraught that the quarter wouldn't fit into the bottle no matter what we did - there were almost tears over this - but I turned it into something funny and it became a game.  She'd put coin after coin into the bottle, and every once in a while, looking at me with a grin, she'd pick up a quarter and go to put it in, shaking her head and saying "no, no."  I knew she could identify the nickel when she systematically picked up just the nickels and put them into the bottle.  (If anyone can think of a common household container with a top that is big enough for a dime but too small for a nickel, please let me know.  I can't find anything.)  We developed a ritual where, after all the coins were in the bottle, she'd dump them out over her head.  It started when I put the bottle with the coins on top of my head like a hat, and then I slowly tilted forward until the coins poured out.  She made her own version of this.  It was very, very silly.

Next we made sock puppets with the coins.  I used Scotch tape to attach the pennies for eyes, the dime for a nose, quarters for ears, and nickels along the upper lip of the mouth.  She helped put the coins on the tape and then onto the sock.  Then we played a game where she tried to take the coins off the puppet but the puppet kept running frantically away from her!  Eventually she caught him and we rearranged which coins got to be what body part.  And then it was back to the bottle!

Shape Jingles

Several months ago I noticed that my daughter learns things when she encounters them in a song.  I was looking for a way to teach her shapes, and so I thought I'd give this a try.  It worked great!  I just made up little jingles for each of the shapes.  (My first thought was to make a song with all the shapes, but in practice that idea sort of morphed into this instead).  When playing with her little shape sorter set or shape puzzle, I would point to the circle and sing the circle jingle over and over, tracing the circle with my finger as I did it.  After a few minutes, I stopped and immediately asked, "Where is the circle?"  It took her few times, but I persisted and she eventually pointed to it.  Next I walked around the room, and wherever I saw a circle I woulde excitedly point to it, sing the jingle, and trace it with my fingers.  I picked her up and we went all over the house.  Circles were everywhere - the knobs of the dresser, the burners of the stove, details in the furniture, etc.  Within a day or two, she had the circle concept down cold.  We did the same thing with the square and triangle, and by that time she totally understood the idea of "shape" and the rest came really, really easy.

These are the jingles I used - not works of art, but they accomplished their purpose:

Circle, circle, round and round
circle, circle, round and round

Square: (to the tune of I'm a little tea pot)
I'm a little square, I have four sides.
One, two, three, four, I have four sides.
I'm a little square, all my sides are the same.
I'm a little square, square is my name.

Triangle, triangle, one, two, three.
Triangle, triangle, sing with me.

Oooooooooval, long and round.
Ooooooooooval, long and round,

Rectangle: (with kind of a Carribean beat)
I'm a rectangle, 
looooooooong side, 
looooooooong side, 
short and short.
I'm a rectangle,
looooooooong side,
looooooooong side,
short and short.
For star we use Twinkle, Twinkle.

For heart I like to use the Christian song:
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart! (where?)
Down in my heart! (where?)
Down in my heart! 
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart to stay.
(Repeat replacing "joy" with "love" and then "peace that passes understanding")

Friday, May 2, 2008

Tunnels and Balls: Motor Development and Counting

We have endless fun working on coordination, motor skills, and counting using tunnels and balls.  This has been a great way to burn energy on a cold or rainy inside-day.  We have several variations on the same theme.  Here is the gist - I lay out a tunnel placing 2 rows of blocks side-by-side.  As I put them in place, I count 1,2-3,4-5,6-etc.  Then we gather a ball or 2 (or 3) and roll it through the tunnel back and forth.  Then we kick it through the tunnel, throw it through the tunnel, run with it through the tunnel, jump with it through the tunnel, etc.  

One of the neat things about working with my daughter at this age is that she naturally takes the role of a co-creator with regard to our activity as her attention wanes every few minutes.  Today, while we were playing this game, we ended up doing these other things as well as we sort of naturally flowed with her attention and interest:

1.  I placed empty plastic water bottles at the end of the tunnel and used them like bowling pins.  We would kick, throw, and roll the ball through the tunnel to knock them over.  It took a little while for her to get the gist of this - at first she just carried the ball over to the "pins" and knocked them down directly.  But as she watched me she figured out my suggestion and ended up getting into it.  I was super impressed, too, as I watched her develop from knocking down the pins directly to kicking one ball to knock down one pin and then another ball to knock down the pin beside it!  

2.  We moved the rows of blocks together so that they formed a balance-beam-like row.  I walked along it, and she thought that looked like fun, and so she walked along it, too.  Obviously, I held her hand because the "beam" was unsteady and I didn't want her to sprain her ankle or something.  But she did really well with it and walked the beam over and over and over...

3.  She got out a flash light, and so we turned it on, shined it on the floor, and the light on the floor became the "ball!"  I moved the light down the (reconstructed) tunnel to the water bottles and shook the light over the bottles like I was knocking them down.  She thought this was hilarious.  The I had her "kick" the light and we did the same thing, "knocking down" the bottles.  

She also dressed up the ball (and then later the light on the floor) with her hair band, moved the blocks around some, and practiced attempting to sit her doll upon one of the tall, skinny blocks standing upright (that one didn't quite work).  The whole thing was tons of fun.

Pillow Counting

This is one of my daughter's favorite counting games.  I put 4 pillows on the floor in a circle and I put my daughter in the middle.  I say, "Where is your finger?"  We show each other our fingers, and then I say, "Let's count the pillows with our fingers."  We count 1-2-3-4.  Then we count the pillows with our noses (she thinks that is really silly), our whole hands, our heads, and our toes. Then, to count with our feet, I help her "jump" from pillow to pillow, counting 1-2-3-4 round and round the circle.  When we're done with that, I put her in the middle again, kind of laying her down, and do 1-2-3-4 TICKLE!  I use her hands (right hand for the pillows on her right and left hand for the ones on the left) and her feet to count, and then I say Tickle! and tickle her tummy with my nose.  She loves it.  

Homeschooling a Toddler?

I'm really interested in homeschooling.  I only have one child, and she's only (not quite) 20 months old, but I'm so excited about this that I've had a "school" time of the day since she was 9 months old.  We do fun and silly activities that target whatever she seems to be ready to learn at any given stage.  When we first started, she was working on saying letter sounds (da-da-da-da-da), and so I would make up funny songs and rhymes focusing on one particular sound each day.  She was also fascinated with touching and tasting everything, and so during school time I would give her interesting textures and tastes to explore.  I would say over and over to her things that I really want her to learn, like the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, John 3:16 (inserting her name), the Shema from Deuteronomy, and I made up a song with the fruit of the Spirit.  I would also dance with her singing Christian songs, began working on colors and animal sounds, etc.  Now, like I said, she is 20 months old, and she is doing fantastic.  I'll never know whether or not any of her amazingly advanced learning has anything to do with our school time, but she blows me away with how well she is doing.  And there have been several really positive things that have come from this:

1. She LOVES school.  I say, "It's school time," and she half runs half leaps to her room, clapping her hands and saying "school!"  Such super positive associations with the word "school" can't be bad. 

2.  I am learning, for my part, how she learns.  Like, yesterday I showed her the lower case r.  She hardly glanced at it, but I suspected, because I know how she learns so well at this point, that she got it.  Sure enough, a little later she picked up the 2 playdough r's I had made and declared "Two r's!"  

3.  It gives me a fun, creative, and intellectual challenge in my parenting.  I am often thinking about new things we can do during our school time, new ways to work on things she seems to be ready to learn.  It is SO MUCH FUN to come up with little games and songs and activities,  and it is so rewarding to watch her enjoy the fruit of my thinking and really learn new things through it.  

4.  It increases the bond between us.  Because I don't have it in my mind that "she'll learn that when she goes to school" - be it social skills or reading or science - I am constantly focusing upon what I can do to help her develop to her fullest potential in every area of her life.  Consequently, parenting is much more engaging for me that it would be otherwise.  As my mothering heart and mind stretch out to cuddle and nurture all of her, we are both growing and we are growing close together.  

So, the point of this blog is going to be to record the activities I'm doing with my daughter both for future reference and to share ideas with other moms who are also interested in working with their children at home, either to supplement nursery school or as a substitute.  One other note - I've noticed that moms homeschooling a large family tend to neglect the toddlers.  Babies go in slings, older kids get "schooled," and toddlers are left to fend for themselves with trucks or something.  I only have one child and imagine it must be very difficult to work with each child well at all points of their lives.  But please don't forget - your 9 year old will never be able to learn Spanish like your 2 year old can right now.  Your toddler is right now establishing his/her capacities and love of math, music, nature, language, etc. - that window isn't going to be open forever.  I think the reason we are inclined to begin homeschooling around the age of 3 or 4 is that this is when the wider culture does so - but they do so because younger children are wiggly, more "difficult" to work with (if your idea of "working" with them is sitting quietly at a table with worksheets), and probably need to be home with mom if possible, anyway.  But as homeschooling families, I think we should know better.  No one thinks the toddler phase is insignificant in their development.  So my plea - please give intentional attention to your toddler as you are able.  The benefits will last for the rest of his/her life.  This blog is devoted to giving ideas geared toward working with those younger years without having to buy curriculum.