Our pirate week!

Today starts the first day in our pirate week. Lucky for us, the first day is about ships and the ocean.

We bought one of those foam art kits that makes a pirate ship. I looked up all the names of the parts of the ship on the internet and wrote them down, plus their definitions. As we were putting the ship together, we named all the parts and pointed them out on my definitions sheet.

Then we took the ship out to see if it would float in our kiddie pool (it did). And then Nicholas blew into the ship to make it travel, like wind blows into sails. We looked up different types of sailboats on the internet and named the parts that we saw of them that were the same as the parts on the pirate ship. We also watched a video “The Physics of Sailing.

This was our lesson for today. It had some spelling and reading (off the definition sheet, typing things into the search engine on the computer), some science (how sail boats work), and some general fun learning (about boats in general).

The lesson didn’t take long – about an hour, which includes putting the boat together. The prep time took me 40 minutes last night to find everything, print off the definition sheet, get the boat ready to put together, and have everything in one spot and ready to go. These types of lessons are great because they tie into things that my son loves – pirates – and still teaches him things. The lesson isn’t a strict classroom lesson, but is a hands on lesson and enables him to learn in the way he likes to learn – hands on. It also is a theme lesson – a lesson based on a single theme rather than a collection of lessons that are unlinked (which is what they get in a classroom). This is simply the way we like to learn at our house.

Map day is tomorrow!!!


Piano lessons.

People think I’m crazy for doing piano lessons with a 3 year old. But I know I started early – as soon as I could hit a key with one finger. My mother has pictures of me sitting on her lap playing when I was little. I want that same early introduction to music, especially piano playing, for my children.

These aren’t formal piano lessons. In no way do we have a book to work from. Instead, we sit side by side at the piano and hit the keys. We name the keys as we hit them. He is beginning to see the pattern in the keys. He can pick out all the C’s in all the octaves because they have a “white key on one side and a black key on the other.” He knows the black keys are called flats and sharps. We play simple songs, like “Mary had a Little Lamb,” “Down by the Station,” and “ABC,” and sing along. I put my hand over his and play. We also do scales, reciting the notes as we try and match our voices to the notes. This is our lesson.

I did try working on the concept of reading music, but he’s having a hard time differentiating that a note has a letter name just like a letter has a letter name. So instead we work on keeping the same tempo and what a staff looks like. These are early musical concepts that he needs to learn in order for him to have any musical ability, and the earlier he learns them the better.

One day soon, maybe when he is 4, we will get a real book and do real piano lessons. He has no problem with me being his teacher for things; he claims that it is mommy and me time. Today, when he woke up, he said “Mommy and me time at the piano please.” This means he is enjoying it and having fun. If he is enjoying it and having fun, then I am teaching him correctly.

An added bonus is that sometimes, when I am busy feeding the baby or cleaning something, he runs to the piano and picks out notes, one by one. Sometimes he plays scales on his own, reciting the notes. And after breakfast, I even heard my three year old play “Mary has a Little Lamb” on the piano – by himself and pretty correctly. What a sweet sound.

For more on the benefits of learning to play the piano as a child, click on the following links:

How Piano Lessons Benefit Young Children

12 Benefits of Music Education

Benefits of Your Child Taking Piano Lessons

The Psychological Benefits of Piano Playing for Children

German and science – nature lesson

Our window lesson - German, science, spelling, and art all in one.

We have a great back door. It is all glass and looks outside. On rainy days we can do raindrop races down the window. On other days, we can do lessons on the windows.

I recently got the “Crayola window markers.” Sometimes you purchase things hoping they are going to be fun and easy to clean – this was one of those purchases. They are fairly easy to clean, and they are fun; they serve their purpose. Today’s purpose was to do a lesson on the window. I couldn’t get my son to settle for a lesson at the table, so we used the window instead.

Today’s lesson is a repeat, but in different words. He loves to hear about how things grow. So we drew two growing things – a tree and a flower. Then I asked what they needed to grow – I was told water and sun (which is what he has learned). So we drew the sun. Then I asked how we get water. His answers were: a hose or a cloud drops rain. So we drew a cloud and raindrops.  When I say we drew, I mean that I drew these ones and he used the other side of the door to draw his. So we both drew. Lessons go better with us when I participate too.

Then we labeled everything he could label. The sun, cloud, rain, tree, stem, flower, and leaf all got labels. We spelled out each word as we wrote them. Then the words got written in German too. Each word got pronounced in German and English. Then we talked about how a tree grows, and pointed to each thing as we did it.

Finally, we stood back and looked at our work. We decided it was awesome and I won’t clean it up. But tomorrow, Nicholas and I will clean it up with a little Windex and a lot of paper towels. It won’t take too long, but it is a lesson in cleaning up what you mess up.

What is in your trunk?

What is in your trunk?

For some people, their trunk is a place to stash junk or assorted items there is no room for in the garage. For us, the trunk is simply another place to put learning materials.

It is summer time  – almost. This means lots of trips outside. This also means random stops at parks whenever we are out. Or at a lake, or a trail. Really, we will stop almost anywhere. Therefore, our trunk is stashed with fun things to do.

These things don’t take up a lot of room, but they allow us to take any trip and turn it into a learning experience at a moment’s notice.

Our summer list:

  • Chalk – who doesn’t like to draw with chalk? We can trace shadows, ourselves, draw bugs, or plants. Or hopscotch!
  • Paper – In case the urge to draw, write, or document something comes on us.
  • Crayons – to use with the paper, since preschoolers aren’t great with markers and pens. Crayon also comes out of car seats with a little work.
  • A ball – for game playing, bouncing, and overall fun.
  • Sand toys – we always keep a bucket, shovel, and a mold or two in the trunk. The bucket can double as a leaf collector if we get the urge to stop somewhere.
  • Extra wipes – getting dirty is a blast, and we like to have the means to clean up from it.
  • Plastic bags – always a must with children.

See how simple the list is? This allows us to turn anything we want into a learning experience and to have a fuller experience of some things. Sometimes, the house isn’t the best place to learn. I can teach about plants in a park where there are lots of different plants to run around to, touch, see, and draw – or we can do it in our house without those options.

We can learn about shadows at home, or we can go find interesting shadows and trace them outside.

Having these items in the trunk simply allows us more flexibility.

And always keep your camera on you!

iPods and Nooks….and apps for kids.

I am a sucker for my Nook and my iPod. I like playing games on them, using my email, reading books, and using the calendar. What is more, they will keep my preschooler busy while we stand in lines, sit in waiting rooms, and are driving.

Some people feel technology shouldn’t be used in teaching. Technology is a fact of life – it will stay with us. The sooner children learn to use a computer, a touch screen, an iPod/iPad or Nook, the better. So many things are available on the Internet and from apps for mobile devices that kids can play and learn all day. What technology shouldn’t be used for is a substitute for interaction. It also shouldn’t be used as a babysitter; although it can be used to keep a child company while essential tasks get done.

In our house, we have an iPod touch, Nook color, and Leapster (in addition to the computers) that our preschooler uses. Even our infant uses the iPod touch (we have a piano app on it that she likes to play to distract her while we are in lines). I have a multitude of learning apps, as well as fun apps, on there for kids. My son likes the “Leapfrog Scout ABC Garden” app and the “Super Why” app from PBS the best. I like “Settler of Catan” and some of the scheduling/finance apps. Our 6 month old likes the piano app.

Most of the free apps for kids are junk. They involve paying for other things within the app or are simply bad. The apps that are books are great too. The Apple app store has a bunch of Dr. Seuss apps (books) that the kids can read, interact with, or have the app read to them. These are great for lines at the grocery store or other short waits when the child doesn’t want to talk with you or play with you. These are also great for a little down time. The Nook color has some of the same books.

Technology teaches our children in ways we cannot. While I know how a volcano works, and can describe it, nothing teaches better than seeing a volcano erupt and talking about why it is happening. This wouldn’t be possible without the Internet. I can show my son plants, and we can talk about them growing, but on various websites he can practice watering plants and the websites show how roots go down and the plant grows up. These are things that can be described, but without technology, cannot be experienced.

I’m not suggesting technology, especially mobile technology, as a substitute. But technology can certain supplement the teaching we do at home. Technology can provide experiences to our children that they wouldn’t otherwise have. With apps and the Internet, my son can build a car, engineer a train, and race on a horse. These are all things he wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. We can go on a dig for dinosaur bones, try and put them together, and see things in space.

Using technology wisely can only help us teach our children and expose them to a variety of new things that they otherwise wouldn’t get to experience.

Taking walks.

In our house, the more we are outside, the happier everyone is. This results in a lot of walks during the day when the 3 year old gets grumpy. As an added bonus, the baby sleeps when we go on walks (she won’t sleep when her brother is up and playing). So we take lots of walks.

Walks, by themselves, are great experiences. You can talk about everything you see, look for letters, look for shapes and colors, and learn about the outside world. But you can also make each walk have a focus. When you pick a focus for your walk, you can turn it from a random educational/learning experience into a more themed experience.

Basic walks can include picking a letter, a shape, or a color. Then you point out everything along the way that is that color/that shape/starts with that letter. These walks are great for reinforcing colors, shapes, and letters already learned or for working on learning those things.

You can also go on “finding” walks. These work much like a scavenger hunt. For older kids you can make a list and have them find everything on the list, crossing the objects off as they find them. When you are walking with children who do not read, but you want to do a finding walk, you can make a list of pictures: Draw a flower for a flower, a tree for a tree, and so on. Or, for someone who wants to focus on one thing, you can pick that object at the beginning – like flowers – and simply point out all the flowers along the way.

There are also spelling walks. These can work one of two ways; first, you pick words and find the letters on signs and license plates you see on your walk. Second, you find objects that begin with the letters you need. You need to pick appropriate words at the beginning and make a list so that the letters can be crossed off. You can choose to find the letters in order, or find them generally.

Here are some of the lists we use on our walks:

Finding walks

List 1: flower, tree, animals, car, truck, rock, cow, cloud, grass, leaf, stick

List 2: paper, red flower, brown board, green leaf, a leaf with at least three sides, a clover, an oval rock, a brown rock, a white and black cow, a gray bird, an animal in the air, a bug with four legs, a flying bug, a tree with fruit or flowers on it

List 3: a red car, a bulldozer, a yellow car, a pickup truck, a delivery truck, a flatbed truck, a road sign, number 0-9, stop sign, an octagon, a diamond sign

Spelling walks

List 1: car, rock, road, shoe

List 2: star, cloud, cow

List 3: bird, rainbow, banana

List 4: spoon, fork, hat

List 5: water, apple, plate

Variations on hopscotch.

A traditional hopscotch game has the numbers from 1 to 10.

Hopscotch is a great outside game.  You simply draw the hopscotch “board” on the ground with chalk, gather a stone per person and start playing.

There are multiple variations on hopscotch. The one we have been playing starts by throwing the stone on number 1, then you have to jump over the square with the stone, all the way to number 10. The next turn you throw the stone onto number 2, as so on. The first person to reach number 10 – going in order from 1 to 10 – wins.

In our house you also have to say the numbers as you jump on them. This is to help reinforce the ideas of counting and number order.

There are a few things hopscotch does besides help teaching numbers. First, it helps with hand-eye coordination and eye-foot coordination. You have to throw a stone where your eye is looking (hand-eye) and jump over and onto things (eye-foot). For preschoolers who are learning these skills, this is a new and different way of practicing them. Second, it gets kids outside and active. That means it will, hopefully, tire them out. Of course, after the 50th game of hopscotch in a row while holding a baby, you might be tired too.

There are several variations on this game.

Variation number 1: Alphabet

Instead of using numbers, you use a section of the alphabet (A-J, or something similar). Then you have to go in order of the alphabet and say the letters instead of the numbers.

Variation number 2: Mix-it-up

Instead of putting the numbers/letters in order on the board, mix them up. But still require the throwing to be done in order. This will really test whether your child has learned the proper order of numbers and letters because they have to work at finding the right one that comes next, rather than them being all in a row.

Variation number 3: Spelling

This works well for older children. Pick a bunch of rhyming words (like cat, hat, bat, sat, mat…) and put the letter needed to make those words onto the board. Then have them make words. Create a checklist, either on paper or on the ground, and have each player make the words in order by throwing the rock onto the proper letter.

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