Friday, April 27, 2012

Explor-a Jars

He's ready for a simple activity I love.  I filled babyfood jars with different objects--(pinto beans, pennies, buttons, screws, popcorn) and hot-glued the lids on.  He can shake, roll, lift, and explore these jars!  We can incorporate them into a little music time by shaking them to the rhythm, and big Sis can play a game where she closes her eyes and we shake them and she tries to guess which jar would make that sound!

You can make a matching activity by filling two jars with the same objects for each set.  You could also get fancy and paint the lids if you wanted!
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ressurrection Garden

I never finished up our Lent/Easter posts...Another fun activity we did together was making a Ressurrection Garden.  I had a rock with a hole in it from a fountain I had at our other house.  I'd saved the rock all these years knowing someday I'd need it for something.  It came in PERFECT as a tomb!  Quinn and I worked together (though she was far more interested in looking for roly polys) to choose some plants, add the rocks and moss, and set up our garden.  We talked about the resurrection story as we worked. 

Sunday morning I got up early for a sunrise service.  Matt came later to church with the kids.  I left Q's garden on her little table with a sign on which I write "He is Not Here!" as a surprise for her to wake up to on Easter morning.  For some reason a basket full of "stuff" for her wouldn't work out for me this year.  I just couldn't fit that into the focus I wanted our family to have on Jesus and not on ourselves.  And ya know what--she was REALLY excited to see this on her table and to take away the stone and peek inside.  I daresay as excited as she would have been over a basket full of jellybeans and bubbles.  I have a lot more to say about this, and hopefully I'll get that post up soon!  But in the meantime, here are pictures of our Easter garden.  We got the idea from all the great ones circling out there on the Internet.  :)
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Monday, April 23, 2012

RE: cleaning up.

I typically do "clean up" rounds twice a day in the playroom (and other work areas such as the little kitchen and the block area in our living room.) In a Montessori classroom this is called "restoring work" and it is done at these same times in a classroom. One night a while back Matt and I were getting ready to go to bed and I remembered I hadn't restored the work downstairs. We were planning on having an "at home" day the next day and I knew the playroom would be used, so I headed down to clean it up. Of course my sweet husband came down to help so we could get to bed, but he commented, "I don't know if this is worth the effort, they'll just mess it up again in the morning." As I began to explain to him the reasoning behind "restoring work," I made a mental note to write a blog post on it. So here it is!

When children come into an area that is not restored (ie: messy, or even arranged from earlier play) two things happen. First they don't settle into play right away. Often they will just start the "clearing and dumping" party--where they go around getting out more work, but don't engage in true play. It seems like they can't settle into play, and that is often because items aren't located in their usual spots and the area does not give off a calm, organized vibe (not to sound too new-agey, but children can pick up on the feel of a room and respond accordingly.)
The other thing that happens is that play is defined by earlier play. For example if the child had been playing school and there are books and school materials out all over the room, when they re-enter the room their brain is going to go automatically to "school." This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does immediately set a boundary to their imagination. So I typically try to restore the room to a blank canvas so that my "play artists" can start from scratch and begin imagining a new scenario for their play.

Of course I encourage my kiddos to restore the work themselves as often as possible. However sometimes they just NEED to get to bed or naptime and cleaning everything up isn't feasible. Also I do a check of the space on a daily basis to make sure (even if the children restored the work) everything was restored to the correct spot, no pieces are missing that I'll need to keep an eye out for, everything is in safe, working condition still, and also to briefly analyze what was played with/not played with that day. Over the course of time I look for patterns of play--and based on my observations I make changes to the work space and interventions to play.

For example if I notice particular items never being selected for play I do one of the following:
1) Decide my child isn't ready for it right now and put it away to try at a later time
2) Move it to another area of the room--sometimes seeing materials/items in a new place spark interest
3) Perhaps my child doesn't know how to use the item--in this case I will engage in play with my child and casually demonstrate how to use the item. Often a brief casual demonstration will ignite interest and the child will begin playing with the item.

Remember that the items I include in the playroom are never there on accident. I try to include just a few carefully chosen items based on the development of my kids, the themes we're exploring, and fostering the different learning modalities (sensory, dramatic play, music....).
For this reason I want to encourage my kids to play with the items I've included, so making observations regarding the items they play with is very important. Hopefully I've explained how part of my "teacher" role is restoring work daily and using this time to observe what work is being used (and sometimes even to make quick additions/deletions or changes to work) is so vital. This literally takes 5 minutes or less of my time during naptime and after my kids are in bed each night. Staying up with keeping the work in its correct spots saves us time doing major clean ups, and keeping up with the work and how it's getting play on a daily basis also saves me time when I do my monthly "lesson planning" because I've often done a great deal of it in my head.

If you have multiple kiddos to keep track of, you might try the sticky note strategy. Write observations and changes you'll want to make to your learning area on stickys with each child's name. Then when you have time to actually go through your work cupboard/materials you'll remember what you wanted to do!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Verses that remind us about our words

We've been needing to talk about "honey words" and "sword words" this week.  These two verses are up on our fridge as a reminder.....
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Pencil Sharpening Work

This is a popular montessori activity in the practical life area.  It also works fine motor skills by twising the pencils and holding the small sharpener. 

Set out some pencils that need sharpened, a bowl for shavings, and a small sharpener.  You may also want to have a small handbroom and dustpan nearby for cleaning up any stray shavings.  We keep a little handbroom/dustpan along the side of the fridge and Q knows she can get it to clean up messes. 

Pencil Sharpening seems to be very popular with 4's and 5's and even my first graders really enjoyed it.  In first grade I had two cans--one labeled "Sharp" and one labeled "dull" for the students to keep them in the right containers. 

You can also put out a crayon sharpening center--and shavings can be used for all sorts of art projects...making new crayons, melting between wax paper, etc. 
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Crown of thorns

Today we made playdough crown of thorns.  Not rocket science, but we had fun and we had a good conversation about how Jesus LET the soldiers put the crown on his head...just another way he showed his love for us.  AND I have been talking to Quinn about how if we have God in our hearts we can even be kind to people who aren't kind to us, so this was a great example.
I had a conversation with some wise friends this week and one of them pointed out that we tend to focus in on the actual crucifixion, but the entire walk to the cross was also a shameful, painful way for Jesus to demonstrate his love for us and it's a great thing to remember.  That ties in so closely with our Stations of the Cross cards....
This activity also reminded me of some fine motor activities that are especially appealing to little boys--crayon breaking--can also use thin sticks or toothpicks
This really works the small muscles in the fingers and the wrists and also allows a constructive way for young children to break things apart.  In my preschool class I put out a small bowl of old crayons for children to break into small pieces.  We then melted the small pieces in a muffin tin to make big crayons with mixed up colors.  You could do the same thing with the sticks or toothpicks (obviously not the melting part...).
Plus this is a good area to send children to when they are using their "breaking hands" or "rough hands" in other areas.  "You may take breaking hands to the crayon-breaking work."  A positive way to get out any need to break something.  :)

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Counting Book

Q loves playing with stickers and I hate them.  They usually mean stickers stuck to my arm, my bootie, my feet, the baby's feet, the dog's feet....Argh.  Yesterday I was trying to get a quick task done on the computer and dodge stickers being applied all over me.  I quickly whipped up a little book.  I wrote the title and the text on each page--1 through 7 bugs.  Then I instructed Quinn to look at each number and stick that amount of bugs on the page.  She surprised me by doing it all on her own in about 5 minutes! 

This is a great activity to encourage number/quantity awareness (and to give stickers a home that doesn't involve someone's bootie.) 

For younger kids you can put dots on the page and they can match each sticker to a dot.  For older kids, try having them put the stickers in pairs (to introduce odd/even) or even fives or tens.  Use bigger numbers!  Stamps would also work.....
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Triumphal Entry Activity

We started out our week by studying the story of the triumphal entry.  We read the story in Q's children's Bible.  Then we had fun doing a craft we found here

First we made gray paint.  A good art lesson for Q on mixing a new color--she has never made gray before!

Then we painted her feet

and turned them into donkeys!

We cut them out and taped them onto her rocking horse to turn him into a donkey.  We tied a rope on it.  We went outside and cut some palm branches and got out our coats.  Then we acted out the story.  We had fun singing the different versions of "Hosanna" songs we know.  We put our coats on the ground and waved our palm branches.  We said the lines that are recorded in the gospels.  We talked about what Hosanna means ("save now").  We got out a rock for Jesus to point to when he (or the person acting as him) says "the rocks will cry out." 

Quinn LOVED this activity--every part of it!  We've acted out the story about a half dozen times.  Yesterday after we finished acting it out I went to make dinner and she had more fun just playing with the props--the donkey, the palm branches and the coats. 

Next year we're going to try to talk Daddy into letting us get a REAL donkey so we can use her for this activity.  Sounds good, right?  ;)
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Monday, April 2, 2012

More pulling work

This is a tissue box I filled with flannel wipes (dry and clean).  The little guy can pull them all out and throw them around the room!

This teaches cause-effect, motor control and concentration.
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Pulling Work for the little one

Beck is ready for some new learning materials!  I made him this one:

I tied different ribbons onto some rings I rounded up in the studio (Did you notice that I save lots of random stuff?  Anytime I have something interesting that "might" be useful for something I throw it in a big wicker basket in my studio for a later project.)  I used a lighter to seal the ends of the ribbons so they won't frey if he chews on them.

The point of this work is for him to pull the rings out by their strings.  It teaches motor control, cause-effect relationships (pull the string and the ring comes out), memory, and texture awareness--I tried to use different feeling ribbons--grosgrain, smooth, crunchy, stretchy, etc. 

The large container is a pancake mix tub we used camping a while back.  I saved it, and it came in perfect for this project!
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More art--string eggs.

In my quest to do ART (as opposed to crafts--and we DO still do crafts, but try to balance them) I have been trying to find a use for all sorts of things around the house instead of throwing them away.  I organized all my embroidery thread this week and had lots of short little scraps left over.  I decided to teach Quinn how to dip them in a glue solution and drop them onto paper to create a "mixed medium."  She wanted to cut our paper in an egg shape, so I did.  Then we both had fun making our string creations.  Hers is on the right if you can't tell.  :)  We learned about glue solutions--we had to keep stirring it because the glue settled to the bottom of the water (yea---science concept here!!) and I didn't put in enough glue because some of the string didn't stay stuck down when dried.  We have plans to try this again with a stronger glue solution (and my girl learned the word "solution" through this project, too!!).  What a fun way to put our repurposed art supply to use!

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I've been extra conscientious lately of making sure what I am calling "art" is actually ART and not a craft.  Nothing wrong with crafts, but I want to be sure I am giving my girl plenty of time to experience ART.  One of the best parts of art is that it's pretty easy to prepare.  Today I cut these pieces off some paper I was trimming down.  I put them on an art tray (fancy term for "rusted cookie sheet") along with some tape (the girl's favorite medium as of late) and scissors and gave her some time for open-ended creation.

Here's her result.  You can't really tell from this picture, but there is a WHOLE LOT of tape involved in this masterpiece.  Through the open-endedness of this art she got to learn about the properties of paper and tape.  You can see her using some geometric concepts in her art--art is a great way for fostering mathmatical development as well. 

I encourage you to make sure you provide some simple, open-ended art time for your kiddos.  It's a great skill we give them when they are able to take some tape and paper and just MAKE something with no direction, no pattern, nothing to copy or replicate.  This fosters independence, self esteem and creative thinking skills. 
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Stations of the Cross Cards/manipulatives

In our preparation for commemorating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus we are reflecting on the passion story. I have decided to use the stations of the cross to help us focus. To begin with I looked online and found a set of the cards that I liked, printed them out and laminated them. I used stickers to put the cardinal numbers (1,2,3) on the cards so that Q could put them in order herself (ding--GREAT math skill!).
Then I got out my Bible and scoured through the crucifixion stories in the 4 gospels to help me know what manipulatives to place with each card.

1 (Jesus condemned to death) ROPE
2 (Jesus carries his cross) CROSS
3 (Jesus falls the first time) Bandaid with a 1 on it

4 (Jesus meets his mother) DOLL TO REPRESENT MARY
5 (Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus) CLOTHESPIN SIMON
6 (Veronica wipes the face of Jesus ) PIECE OF A TOWEL
*The story of Veronica is not in the gospel accounts--but today I talked to Quinn about how Jesus was unusual in that he associated with women and children and they were with him on his walk to the cross and were taking care of him.

7- (Jesus falls a second time) BANDAID WITH 2 ON IT
8- (Jesus and the women of Jerusalem) TISSUES
9-(Jesus falls the third time) BANDAID WITH 3 ON IT

10- (Jesus is striped of his garments) PIECE OF FABRIC CUT INTO A COAT
11- (Jesus is nailed to the cross) NAIL
12-(Jesus dies on the cross) LAMB
*we talked about how Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that wouldn't have to be offered again and again and he was called the "Lamb of God."

13- (Jesus is taken down from the cross) CLOTHESPIN COLORED WITH RED FOR BLOOD
14- (Jesus is left in the tomb) ROCK

Quinn started out by putting the cards in order herself.
Then I sat down with her and we talked about each card and what the gospels say about that particular event. For some of the cards I had verses I shared with her (a key verse for each could be easily written on the back of each card and memorized). We spent a long time talking about some of the events because she had a lot of questions. So of the stuff we talked about went totally over her head (of course!) but the concepts are beginning to come together for her as much as possible in that three year old little mind!

She LOVED this activity. I love that it makes the story of Jesus and the words from the Bible tangible and visual for her in a way that is appropriate for her development. After we finished working with the stations she sat and played with the pieces for a while longer--internalizing the objects and events.

Across from our neighborhood is a church with a garden set up with the stations of the cross. I am excited to practice them with her and then take her there toward the end of the week for a prayer and remembrance time together.


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