Building day.

Abby thought the bridge building looked like fun, so she got in to build her own bridge to span the gap between blocks.

Abby thought the bridge building looked like fun, so she got in to build her own bridge to span the gap between blocks.

Fridays tend to be more relaxed at our house. We are finishing up lessons, doing projects, and most of all – we spend a lot of time building.

We’ve been playing around with the West Point Bridge Designer software for a few weeks.  The software is part of a competition, but since Nicholas isn’t old enough for the competition, we just play with it at home.

This morning I decided to set Nicholas a challenge. I took the blocks out and set them up about 1.5 feet from each other. I asked him to build a bridge with his Legos that would go across the pan, without touching the ground, and hold 3 of this toy cars. It took him about 25 minutes, but he built one.

Then we moved the blocks farther apart. He decided it had to hold his army tanks too. So began a new challenge.

Nicholas was challenged to build a bridge between the two blocks that didn't touch the ground and could hold his cars. He managed it after a few false starts.

Nicholas was challenged to build a bridge between the two blocks that didn’t touch the ground and could hold his cars. He managed it after a few false starts.

Best of all, Abby got into the challenge too. She wanted my help to design a bridge that would hold her dolls. So we pulled out her Lego Duplo’s and built bridges too.

Nicholas got a little tired of building bridges, so he pulled out his new kit and built a hydraulic crane – it moves using water pressure through a series of tubes. Then he used the crane to help build another bridge.

I went to go grab some other things for Abby, and before I knew it he had some pipe cleaners out and was making a suspension bridge. He put one “pylon” down into the carpet because he says all suspension bridges have pylons into the water. Then he went on building suspension bridges with his crane, pipe cleaners, and Legos.

We did this for about 2 hours this morning, and it was great fun. I didn’t have to do anything except ask questions. My most used questions was, “Why do you think that didn’t work?” I don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer. Instead I have them think.

When kids are engaging in this type of play, they are learning critical thinking skills. They are presented with a problem, they have to solve the problem, and then evaluate their solution. It’s a great way of developing skills without workbooks.

I enjoy playing and building with my kids. And having them use and develop their critical thinking skills is a plus.

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Puzzles!

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Today’s lesson was about dinosaurs. Nicholas got to choose between Ancient Egypt, Knights and castles, or dinosaurs for this week. He chose dinosaurs.

Our words for the day were: dinosaur, tyrannosaurs, carnivore, herbivore, Jurassic, and paws. We practiced those words and then did our lesson.

We did a puzzle for our lesson. It was a 2 foot by 3 foot puzzle of dinosaurs. The point of the lesson was less about dinosaurs and more about puzzle-solving. We did talk about dinosaurs as we did the puzzle and named them, talks about what they ate, and their relative sizes. But really I wanted to focus on puzzle solving.

Puzzle solving is a skill kids have to learn. It involves thinking things through and reasoning.

First we separated the pieces into edge and not-edge pieces. It’s amazing to see how difficult this is at first. By the end of sorting there were no problems.

Then I had him choose a corner piece and put it where he thought it would go. He had to look at the box and decide what hi piece looks like. It took 2 tries before he laid it on the proper spot. Then he had to build from there.

It was hard to let him do it an not jump in. I wanted, many times, to stop him and say “Does that piece really look like it goes there?” He didn’t always make the best matching choices. But he did it. It took an hour, but he did it.

By the end he was better about finding matching colors to help guide him. He also started judging relative sizes better for what pieces fit where.

But the best thing was seeing him undo the puzzle and do it again because “I like doing this.”

Toddler Tuesdays: Shape puzzles

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We have these shape puzzles. They are wooden and come with shapes of various colors and sizes. The puzzles boards have holes for the shapes that the kids have to fill in. The puzzles are basic things like birds and planes, trains and cars.

They are a great activity to do all together. They help my youngest learn her shapes and colors. She has to put the right shape of the right color in the right spot in order to make the complete puzzle. Nicholas gets the experience of learning to teach her. There is something very rewarding about watching him patiently show her where the green circle is and pointing to where it goes in the puzzle.

But we can also use this as German time. In addition to doing the colors and shapes in English, we do then in German. When I ask Abby what shape and color she needs for a puzzle, and Nicholas responds in English, I then ask the question in German and get a German answer.

Differentiated learning, where you teach children of different levels in one setting or lesson, is difficult but not impossible. Part of differentiated learning is letting the more advanced children teach. Teaching reinforces knowledge and doesn’t require a child to engage in pointless repetition. Another part of differentiated learning is finding a way of using the basics to teach a new lesson – in this case German.

Regardless, it is a blast for all concerned.

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Critical thinking skills: Mind benders

I really enjoy finding new ways to help my kids develop their thinking skills. Critical thinking is an essential skill and it’s hard to teach. It is something that needs practice and development. I found this book –Mind Benders Beginning Book 1 (PreK-K) – at our local homeschool store. I thought it might be fun.

We are having a ton of fun doing these puzzles. We sat down and did 1o of them at once! I had to make him stop or else we would’ve gone through the whole book today. It took Nicholas – who is 4 – three puzzles to get the hang of how they work. Now he can do them on his own if I’m there to help him read the clues.

I really like it. The puzzles are short and start out very, very easy. The clues are short and don’t have too many clues. The clues stick to concepts that young children will know – smallest, biggest, widest, tallest – and don’t require that they rank the options (Mary has a fish that is smaller than Joan’s, who has a fish smaller than Mark’s). Instead they are one step clues that help them learn how to process things. The pictures are silly, but they are clear about what is what. Nothing is confusing. The pictures, instead of words, on the logic charts make it so the children can do their own markings once they have help with the clues.

You can get the book with the link below (or above).

Mind Benders Beginning Book 1 (PreK-K)

Engineering experiments

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Tinker toys are one of the best inventions ever. They help kids with their motor skills and lets them explore creativity, engineering, and various building principles.

Guided play doesn’t always have to be strictly guided; free play doesn’t alway mean free. Sometimes it is a matter of guiding by choosing toys and letting them free play with certain toys instead of simply giving the children free rein.

Our free play today involved tinker toys. And my budding engineer built his version of a fire engine.

Engineering experiments

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Tinker toys are one of the best inventions ever. They help kids with their motor skills and lets them explore creativity, engineering, and various building principles.

Guided play doesn’t always have to be strictly guided; free play doesn’t alway mean free. Sometimes it is a matter of guiding by choosing toys and letting them free play with certain toys instead of simply giving the children free rein.

Our free play today involved tinker toys. And my budding engineer built his version of a fire engine.

Product Review: Kumon Book of Easy Mazes (ages 2-3-4).

Kumon's Easy Mazes: An opportunity for children to being logical thinking and problem solving.

I purchased this book from the Barnes and Noble on Sunrise in Sacramento. This particular Barnes and Noble has a big section of “schooling” books and kids developmental toys and projects. I went browsing for a book that would do three things:

1. Teach him how to follow directions.

2. Learn beginning problem solving and logical thinking.

3. Practice drawing and tracing.

I saw the “My Book of Easy Mazes” and decided it would do all three things. The mazes are all set up the same – go from the arrow to the star staying on the path (following directions). Figuring out how to get from the arrow to the star teaches beginning problem solving and logical thinking (when I hit the wall I have to turn around). Then actually drawing the path works on his fine motor skills that he’s going to need to write letters in the future (drawing and tracing).

My son loves the mazes and wants to do them before he eats breakfast. They go from very easy (the first maze has the arrow at the mouth of a worm and the star at the end and no deviations from the path), to more complex mazes. We are working our way up and he’s doing much better now with tracing the path and drawing than he was at the beginning. He’s also developing more problem solving skills with problems other than how to reach the cookies on the top shelf.

I like it because the instructions are clear. There are even tips on how to work the book in the front (for parents). Every maze is done in a set of two – you can rip the pages out and put them in a folder and each “lesson” is simply the front and back of the page.

This book is easy to use, does what I wanted it to do, and is age appropriate. It is not so “baby” that he’s not interested and not so complex he’s unable to do them.

I recommend this book.

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