7/18/14

See You Soon!

Wow, I've taken a long break!  I look forward to getting back to blogging very soon to share our unit studies, activity ideas, and some teaching tips I've learned!

I went through a time where I felt overwhelmed with all of life's demands, and my blog seemed the logical thing to "cut out" of my list of to-do's.  But I have really missed it.  I can't count how many times I've written down a list of post ideas over the past several months, and how many times I wished I was sharing the things we were doing and learning.  So, I hope to be back starting next month!

See you soon!

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11/14/13

Gift Ideas for Toddler and Preschool Girls

This post contains affiliate links.

I had two boys before my little girl was born, so I was eager to indulge her in "girly" things.  She's three now, and I am happy to share some of her favorite toys from the past two years, as well as some wish list items.



Looking for Learning Toys?
I believe that most any toy can be a "learning toy," especially at this age.  In each toy category below (pretend play, music, etc), I included a short list of educational values that can be gained through that particular type of play.  So if you want to include an educational toy on your "gifts to buy" list,  I thought it might be helpful to know you probably already have plenty in mind (and in the toy box)!


Pretend Play
Can't say enough about the values of pretend play.  It helps to develop social skills, language skills, imagination, and story telling abilities.  All of that is laying the foundation for future academic success.  Pretend play gifts can range from stuffed animals to dress-up to Little People play sets to play kitchens to the boxes the gifts come in!  My daughter is a big fan of baby dolls, they are definitely her favorite pretend play toy.  She especially loves to feed her babies.  One of her favorite dolls has been this Baby Alive Doll.




This year, the BIG pretend play gift is going to be this KidKraft Uptown Espresso Kitchen.  I can hardly wait to play with it along with the kids!!






Blocks/Construction Play
These types of toys are easily extended to all sorts of educational activities, such as patterning and sorting,  but even in free play they  provide opportunities for problem solving, fine motor strengthening, and color identification.  Building toys are often associated with boys, but girls love them too!  My daughter's favorite "girly" blocks came inside our Mega Bloks Lil' Pink Bus.



This year, Corinne will get a bigger set of girly Mega Bloks to extend her collection.




Puzzles 
Puzzles are great tools to strengthen fine motor skills, enhance hand-eye coordination, and promote problem solving.  My daughter really loves puzzles.  One of her favorites is this Princess Mix 'n Match Peg Puzzle.  Peg puzzles are an easy and natural way for toddlers and preschoolers to strengthen their tripod grasp (which will help with a proper pencil hold).


Music
Child sized instruments provide a wonderful form of sensory play.  Both sensory play and music have been shown to boost brain activity and improve memory- yay!  We all know how much easier it is to commit something to memory, like the alphabet, when it is put into song.

I love to hear Corinne sing in her microphone.  Ours is a cheap plastic dollar store find, but she thinks she is hot stuff when she sings into it.  I think this Pink ELC "Sing Along Star" Microphone would be a super fun upgrade someday!  I can definitely picture her belting out her ABC's and the Hokey Pokey with this cool big girl mic. :)


We have a lot of instruments in our home- child sized and adult sized.  Our kiddos love to gather a few together to form their own little band, and it is SO fun to watch!  Although we don't have this particular set,  I think this "My 1st Band Kit" would make for an adorable band ensemble for a group of younger musicians.






Arts and Crafts
Arts and Crafts foster creativity and self expression, develop fine motor skills, and provide a variety of sensory experiences.

My daughter loves putting together outfits on her various dress-up toys.  And like most three year olds, she loves stickers.  So I think she will absolutely fall in love with this Melissa & Doug Dress-Up Reusable Sticker Pad.


Easels are so much fun for kids!  And as an added bonus, they allow children to create on an incline, which promotes a proper pencil hold.  My boys loved the easel we had when they were younger, but it has since broke. This Pink Step2 Easel  looks sturdy and would make a fun creative center for a little girl.  They also have it in red if you're looking for one a little more gender neutral.






Do you have a little girl?  What is her favorite toy or game?  I would love for you share it in the comments below, it may be helpful to others who are shopping for a little girl.


Need more gift ideas for the little ones in your life?  
Check out the other idea lists from the 2013 Gift Guides for Kids.  



You also won't want to miss the Gift Guide for Kids Pinterest board!  



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11/13/13

How Do I Find Hands-On Learning Activities for my Child?



This is the second post in the series Hands-On Homeschooling: Getting Started.

Regretfully, it has taken me months to get around to picking up where I left off- What Does My Child Need to Learn? (Age 2 to Grade 2 Learning Objectives).  As the title implies, it went over the what-- what learning objectives are age/grade appropriate.  Today I will focus on a bit of the how- how to find quality resources.  So, here we go!

How do I find hands-on learning ideas?
With the popularity of Pinterest, you have likely come across tons of creative hands-on learning ideas there!  I am going to fill you in on my methods for sifting through it all to find quality activities.  Read on for a step-by step illustration of the process I use for each unit study we do.


Pick a theme (or not)
My kids love themed learning, and I love creating unit studies with my kids- so it's a win-win for us.  It  may or may not be something you or your kiddos enjoy.  There are plenty of ways to make learning fun and hands-on without having a theme.  Although I personally enjoy the planning process, the prepping process is another story!  We take lots of breaks between unit studies, mostly because MOM needs a break.


When we don't have a theme, I still like to find a fun way to practice sight words or math concepts.  I have a collection of general ideas for math, reading, writing, sensory, craft ideas, books, etc on my Pinterest boards that I use to keep things interesting on our "off" weeks.  Don't get me wrong, there are many weeks we just do our chosen curriculum with no "extras."

Now when I am planning a unit study, I usually choose our theme based on season or holiday, or whatever the kids are into at the moment.  I made a huge list of theme ideas to help with planning what we might want to explore next, so that is my go-to guide for choosing a theme.


Find Books
After picking a theme, I start my search for good books.  Books are the backbone to any learning activities we do, so this is the most important part of the process for us.  I look for both fiction and non fiction as read alouds for the group, and easy readers for my oldest to read on his own.  Sometimes I look for a complimentary chapter book for group story time as well.  



Here's a look at my personal system for choosing books:

1.  Our Bookshelves- The first logical step is to gather books we have on hand that go along with what we are learning.

2.  Check the Library- The library's website is as wonderful a resource as the library itself!   Without leaving my house, I can choose books by going to my local library's website,  typing in a keyword (the name of our theme/unit) into the search bar, and hold the books that look good.  I may only check out half of what I hold, but it really saves time to search for books online!

3. Amazon-  After I check the library, I hop over to Amazon and I do another keyword search in Amazon's search engine.  Be sure to chose "books" in the drop down menu on the left so you will get a selection of just books (no toys, etc).



Unlike the library website, Amazon brings up the handy "Customers who bought this item also Bought" feature.  With that feature, I often find books that are on the topic I want (let's say "farm," for example), but that may not  have the word "farm" in the title.



When I find books I'm interested in, I write down the titles (or put the books in my Amazon "wish list"), then check the library before buying.  We buy a lot of books (and other stuff!) through Amazon, so it definitely pays for us to be Amazon Prime members.  We get free shipping and orders are delivered in a couple days!


Start Pinning!
Pinterest is a wonderful way to find, organize, and keep track of all the ideas you may want to try with your kiddos.  I really don't have much advice beyond Pinterest for organizing ideas,  it's really the only thing that ever worked for me!  I personally create a board for every theme.

Here are my best tips for finding awesome themed activities on Pinterest:


Keyword search ideas
For really fantastic hands-on learning ideas, add the word "centers" to your Pinterest keyword search.  Public school teachers always have wonderful themed ideas!   In the  Pinterest search bar, type your theme name (let's use "apple" as an example) and add the word "centers" ("apple centers").  Adding "Montessori" to the search ("Apple Montessori" or "Montessori Apple") also produces a lot of quality hands-on learning ideas! 




Look for "boards," not just "pins"
Usually folks who have an entire board dedicated to a theme have quality resources pinned!  To find boards, type your theme name into the Pinterest search engine, then switch to "Boards." 


If you don't have much luck searching for the theme name alone (ex.- "Apples"), then try a new search by adding the word "theme" ("Apple theme"), or "unit" ("Apple Unit").  Remember, you are looking for "boards" and not just "pins."  



Get Specific
If you're still in search of a particular activity, switch back over to "Pins" and type the theme name + a specific learning objective/activity into the search bar.  For example, search for  "Apple math" or "Apple Sensory Bin."  Below is a list of specific activities I like to include in a unit.  


- Reading/Literacy
I like to find a fun themed way for the boys to practice sight words and for Corinne to practice letter sounds.  Planting a Word Garden was a fun way we practiced sight words and letters during our gardening unit.

We also love to do fun reading comprehension activities by finding something to go along with a book.  It may be through a craft and/or writing prompt, or it may be finding a way for children to act out a story through a sensory bin, flannel board, small world play, or just physically act out a story.  Here are some examples of things we have done in the past to act out a book:

Ice Cream King (book-themed) sensory bin

Cat in the Hat pretend play





- Math Concepts
I try to find something that goes along with whatever we are learning about in math at the time, just as extra practice.  The most successful activity to date was counting pumpkin seeds (skip counting by fives) during our Pumpkin Unit.  Sam was really having trouble with the concept until it "came to life" through this hands-on activity!


- Writing prompt
It's usually pretty easy to find seasonal writing prompt ideas either through a Pinterest search or just a general Google search.



- Sensory Play
I love to make a themed sensory bin to go along with our units.  They are usually the most effective way for my kids to learn a science or social studies concept.

- Fine Motor
This usually comes about naturally through other activities, like crafts or sensory play.  But sometimes we throw in something else for extra practice.  Most printable packs include themed cutting practice pages and we use those.  I also use my fine motor board to grab ideas to incorporate into our school day (sometimes themed, sometimes just a general activity).  All of my kids need practice in this area, so I like to have lots of variation in practice activities.


- Craft
Sometimes it's fun to combine a craft and a writing prompt.  Usually our writing prompts are just a sentence or two and can be attached to a craft.   It's a fun way to really celebrate the theme/unit.


- Themed Snack
"Fun food" is one of my favorite things to include in our units.  We usually eat it during what we call "Snack and Story Time."  The kids have a snack during our read aloud time on most days, but we usually only enjoy one "themed" snack per unit. :)


Searching for ideas and resources is fun.  But if you collect a lot of ideas, it can get a bit overwhelming when it comes time to plan out what to do.  Next time, I'll share a bit about how I personally choose what to include and how I plan for a unit.  Hope you follow along!


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11/7/13

Thanksgiving Books and Activities for Kids


I'm over at The Homeschool Classroom sharing Thanksgiving themed books and activities for kids.  I don't have any posts to back up my claim, but we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving unit last year, and this roundup contains a lot of the books and activities we tried- along with some clever ideas we would like to try!  Resources are categorized by the following Thanksgiving themed topics: The Mayflower Voyage, Native Americans, The First Thanksgiving, Turkeys, How Thanksgiving Became a Holiday, Gratitude, and a list of Thanksgiving Themed printable packs.

If you're looking for Thanksgiving themed learning ideas, I would love for you to check out my collection of Thanksgiving Books and Activities for Kids at The Homeschool Classroom.


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10/15/13

Apple Science Investigation

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As part of our apple unit, we explored different types of apples to see how they were the same and how they were different- inside and out.  Read on for the details of our investigation!


Each of the boys got a little investigation book to record their findings. Inside the book, they are asked to observe the outside of their apple, make predictions, and compare/contrast their apples to other types of apples.   


Types of apples
First, they each chose an apple to investigate and explored the outward properties.  They recorded the variety (Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Gala) and the color(s) of the apple they chose.





Measuring apples
The boys measured the length and width of their apples and recorded it in their science investigation books.






Making Predictions


In their books, they answered some questions and made some drawings to predict what the inside of their apples would look like.  They also predicted how their apple would compare to an apple of a different variety.


Sink or float?
We put our apples in a bowl of water to find out if they sink or float.  At first we didn't have enough water in the bowl and the didn't float, so we added more.  Then, sure enough, they floated!  That gave us an opportunity to learn that if the volume of the water weighs less than the object inside, the object will sink.  But if the object weighs less than the amount of water it's in, it will float!





We couldn't let a bowl of floating apples go without bobbing for apples!  They had so much fun.





Corinne especially loved splashing in the water!




Star shaped seed pods and seeds



The boys ate their apples whole, but we cored Corinne's Granny Smith and cut it in half to see the "star" and seeds a little better.  The cut cores made such perfect stamps, we used them to make star prints-- a really fun way to learn about the star shaped seed pods inside every apple!  I thought it would be fun for the kids to make the prints on the covers of their investigation books, but they preferred to draw on their covers instead. :)


Do seeds from different apples look different?
It turns out that the seeds of some apples look a little different from each other in some cases.    It was the most noticeable between the Granny Smith and the Gala apples, mostly in the color.  The boys recorded their seed findings in their books.


Tasting
The kids also did a taste test to explore how different types of apples taste different.  We also talked about how different types of apples are a better fit for different recipes.



The kids had tasted Gala and Red Delicious in the past, but this was their first time tasting a raw Granny Smith.  Corinne was the only one who liked it- she ate the whole thing by herself!  The boys were surprised that the sour tasting apples could taste so good in apple pie!

*   *   *

To print out your own copy of the pages we used, click the link below:


I made ours into little books by sliding them into  report covers, and it worked out really well.  (fyi, I found a 50 pack of report covers for under $20, I think that's a pretty good deal if you use them often.  Personally, I like to use them to store collections of kids' craft projects).  

Please stop back soon to see the rest of the activities we did for our apple unit.  You can also find lots more apple ideas here on my Apple Pinterest board!


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10/9/13

Cooking with Kids: Applesauce Fun & Learning

When I started making plans for our apple theme, I added "make applesauce" to the list of things to try.  At the time, I didn't plan on it being be much more than a fun thing to do.  But then I started thinking of the different things there are to learn through cooking, and then I started thinking of fun ways to enhance our little cooking activity to make it more of a learning experience.  Next thing I knew, I had made a mini-unit out of cooking applesauce!  The kids had so much fun with it, I thought I would share a bit of  a step by step guide to teaching through cooking.   At the bottom of the post, you'll find a little list of things that can be learned from each step.





Read the recipe and help make grocery list
I typed up a simple applesauce recipe for Sam in words that he could read (for the most part).  We also discussed the basic layout of a recipe- ingredients are listed at the top and the directions follow.  As we read, I showed him the measuring cups that would be needed and asked him to identify the fractions on the side.



Then he helped me make our grocery list for the week.  He learned to look at the ingredients section of the recipe and plan our list based on what we had on hand and what we needed to buy.  He narrated to me what to include as I wrote out the list.  I also showed him our meal plan for the week.  I explained that planning what to buy each week for each meal was the same as planning what to buy for the applesauce.


Draw the recipe
I made up a kid-friendly recipe template with space to draw the steps.  His job was to draw the ingredients.  My intention was to make this a writing assignment, but in the interest of time I decided to go ahead and write out the steps for him.



Set up a cooking prep station
I sliced the apples and set out the other ingredients, the measuring cup & spoon needed for the recipe, and an apple corer so the kids could look at the recipe and prep it themselves.



Kids prep ingredients
1. Prep the apples.  The first ingredient in the recipe is "4 apples: peeled, cored, and chopped."  The tray had peeled apple slices ready for them.  Each kid took their turn using the apple corer to core and chop the apple slices and tossed them in our pot.  (I laminated blank pieces of paper for them to use as cutting boards).






2. Measure ingredients.  The rest of the recipe called for 3/4 cup of water, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. 










Turn it into applesauce!


Sam read the direction section of the recipe and told me how to proceed- cover and cook for 20 minutes.  While it cooked, we reviewed the fractions we used to measure the ingredients and talked about all the science that was happening while the apples cooked.  After the apples were cooked, I spooned them out into bowls to cool, then each of the kids mashed up their own and finally got to taste what they had made!


YUM!




What can be learned:
  • Reading the recipe: Reading
  • Copying (drawing) the recipe and helping to make grocery list:  applying reading and writing to a real life situation.
  • Using the apple corer:  fine motor and practical life
  • Following directions in a particular order to get desired result:  math, science
  • Measuring and fractions:  math
  • Ingredients mix together to make a new substance:  science
  • Irreversible change.  After the apples are heated with the water and mushy, they can never go back to being firm apples again:  science

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