Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sensory water bead exploration

Sensory Learning with water beads

The heading of this post probably sounds like a snoozefest unless you work in child development. However...I DO work in child development so this is pretty exciting stuff.

Do you know what water beads are? They are kind of like a squishy bouncy ball. They are small and hard until they absorb water and become a delightful sensory plaything. We keep ours in a shallow tote with a lid for easy access and limited spilling potential. My kids absolutely love them. They are cheap, come in a variety of colors, and completely reusable. I have purchased them online before, but found that with shipping and handling charges the cheapest place to get them is Hobby Lobby or Michaels. For a larger selection, google "water beads."

Significant research over the last decade in child development has been devoted to incorporating sensory input into learning. What we have learned through these studies is that children often retain information better when there is some kind of novel sensory stimulation involved. Bonus! It makes things more fun too!

I picked up some sensory beads a few weeks ago and knew that I wanted to incorporate some kind of learning task into it, but wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I purchased water beads of two different colors, green and blue. It kind of seemed like a water themed thing when I expanded the beads in water, so that's what I went with.

I am a huge fan of organizing activities for my children that all of them can participate in, at a developmentally appropriate level. This can sometimes be a bit tricky, as my children are 2, 5, and 9, respectively...but it makes my life a lot easier to include them all and just organize one task instead of three.

And what I came up with was this:


After digging around our office/room where we just throw stuff we don't know where to put anywhere else, I found several sheets of different colored foam and foam scraps. Aha! I cut several large fish shapes out of the foam, two of each color. On the big shapes I wrote letters that would make up common and simple sight words. When I got tired of cutting out crude shapes that only slightly resembled fish, I just cut out squares of other colors and wrote the rest of the alphabet on these squares. The squares became the "fish food" to make it seem like I had an actual idea in mind for them, instead of just getting tired of cutting out fish. Also though, this made it easy to separate the pieces that were needed for each child's separate activities.

When the water beads were at their full size, the fish and fish food got dumped into our water bead sea. :)

The last thing that was required for this activity was a questionably clean kitchen floor...don't look too closely.

For my two year old, I separated the small squares with letters out and just put the large fish into the water bead bin. We did several things with this; sometimes I would pull out a fish and ask him what color it was, and then if he could find the other fish that was the same color. Sometimes I asked him if he could find one fish of a specific color, or two fishes that were the color I asked him to find. Other times I just asked if he could find two fish of the same color without specifying what color I was looking for. We also had a good time just playing in the water beads, squishing them gently (and sometimes not so gently!), running them through our fingers and talking about how they felt, etc.

We worked on matching, color recognition, sorting, following directions, using language to describe our world...

For my five year old son (and pre-reader) I wanted to work on sounding out some simple sight words. I used the big fish shapes for him as well, and would give him a simple word, like "cat" and then have him sound it out slowly to himself and hunt for the fish letters that would spell the word. We're not quite at sitting down and reading easy readers, but we are at the point where we can read simple words while playing in the water/water beads mixture on our kitchen floor. :)

For my nine year old, we worked on spelling. It's something that's a little bit of a struggle for her, and I've been disappointed in years past to ask teachers about this and have them acknowledge that sitting kids down and writing out spelling tests probably isn't the most effective way to learn spelling. So, we've been coming up with some other ideas. For her, I also included the squares with all of the alphabet letters, making it more challenging but also ensuring that she had all the letters needed to spell out her words. This, she agreed, was definitely more fun than writing out spelling words!

Water bead play was a big success this day...not so much of a success a few days later when the big kids and I went out to run errands and came home to find the toddler had dumped the beads and water all over the carpet! Ah well, it was easily cleaned up.

Just another day at my house. :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Advanced block sorting

We love blocks around here, and probably have more kinds of blocks than really necessary. But there's so many things that really appeal to me about blocks. You can do so many activities with them, and at so many different ages. You know those wooden baby blocks with colored numbers and letters on them, that most people get rid of after their child is a toddler? I still use those with my second grader, to spell out weekly spelling words with. Trust me, it's a lot more interesting to dump a big pile of blocks out and sort through them to make spelling words than to sit and write out spelling words at the table.

And another positive thing about blocks? They don't require batteries or make sound. A HUGE bonus in my book.

Anyways, of all the different things we do with blocks, this is a kind of Montessorian self directed activity with blocks that Preschooler Man loves...if I had to come up with a name for it I'd call it Montessorian advanced block sorting. Sounds pretty clinical, huh?

Sorting is a wonderful pre-mathematical concept that all children should be exposed to in various forms prior to entering into school. Sorting also assists in developing the child's problem solving skills. We do all sorts of sorting things around here....and as I recall I taught my older daughter her colors by grabbing a handful of M&M's after dinner when she was younger and having her sort out and name the colors. One of Preschooler Man's favorite sorting activities as a toddler was to dump all the fruits out on the floor that just came from the grocery store and sort it out by types. He got some sorting experience, and my fruits were rolled in whatever bits of dirt and crumbs happened to be on the floor. Good times.

So here's what we did this time:

I gave Preschooler Man a set of multicolored blocks of different shapes, which I had dumped into a bowl. I gave him the tongs (though we like to call them "snatchers" around here) and asked him to sort out the blocks by shape, using the tongs to pick them up, into a wide variety of different containers. As simple of an activity as this sounds, he enjoyed doing this so much. He did it again and again, though I varied the instructions to give him other tasks to do as well.

As you can see, I used my very fancy fine china for this...or whatever I happened to grab from the cupboard.

So, what are we working on here? Motor coordination. This is a wonderful task for the three year old to four year old age because it is actually a bit tricky to manuever the tongs with the blocks, and gives them a bit of a motor skills challenge. The sorting and matching blocks to the different types, as previously mentioned, is an important pre-mathematical concept. Following directions. Initially I would just asked Preschooler Man to sort out all of the squares, then maybe all of the circles individually, etc. When that was accomplished I asked him to sort out all of the ovals AND stars, giving him more complex directions to carry out. In the end, he sorted all the shapes into different containers completely independently. You could do lots of different things with this as well, and use lots of different materials. I happened to have a set of these lacing beads from Melissa and Doug that worked wonderfully, but you could use so many other things. Things could also be sorted and matched by many other characteristics, like color, texture (hard things and soft things), etc.

Like any activity I discuss, be creative, and tailor it to your child's age! For my baby, I might try a simple sorting game with him in a few months where I sort out a few simple colors from his pegboard pegs, saying the name of each color as I'm doing so. Even if he doesn't participate, observing me do so will be helpful to encouraging his understanding of how things are different and that this means something.

For my older child, let's call her Princess Fancy, I might put an assortment of plastic animal figurines into a big bowl and ask her to sort out the mammals from the reptiles, the herbivores from the carnivores, etc. And trust me, seven year olds are not too cool to sort things using tongs. They love it.

And a final birds eye view of the activity...

Happy sorting!

What we've been up to lately...

So, what have we been up to lately? I'm so glad you asked. :)

I'm going to note a few of the different activites that we've been doing lately...please note that while I do have three children, my middle, preschool age child is highlighted in most of these activities. My oldest is school age and therefore home much less often, and my youngest, who is just one, is far more content to get into things on his own time right now than to sit and do activities with mommy.

So...here are a few of the things we have done, and the skills that we're working on building by doing each one.

While my oldest daughter has a responsibility chart for helping her remember and complete the simple task that she's supposed to do throughout the day (things like getting ready for school, putting her clothes away) I've really been mulling over doing something similar, but more age appropriate for my four year old. Though he's certainly not asked to be responsible for any daily chores or tasks, what I would really like to encourage at this age is being helpful...helping out with whatever task your asked to do, with a good attitude and doing a good job. Inspiration for this came in part from
something that Preschooler Man did in his sunday school class, and I've come up with this idea:

Basically, this is a picture of a spider, and the words "I am a helper!" printed on it, with circles on the body of the spider for Preschooler Man to put stickers on whenever he is helpful. In our household this means when we do something without being asked, when we do a good job of something we're asked to do, and when we have a good attitude!

This is also something that we use as a teaching tool, as well as to assist said Preschooler Man with ceasing his fears of all things creepy crawly. When I choose a bug and make a new sheet for him, I look up a bit of basic information about the insect and we talk about why this insect is helpful to our world. Preschooler Man learns a bit about the insect and what makes it a useful creature, and his fears of said creepy crawly are somewhat eased. Right now, he is working on putting stickers on a picture of an ant, and I couldn't believe when he came in the house a few days ago, joyfully telling me about an ant he had caught and put in his sisters bug house, instead of hearing the tell tale screams of terror coming from the yard and just knowing that some small insect had crossed his path.

Really, though, you could use any animal or object, but I love that this idea incorporates an element of learning about different living things, and I would encourage you if you try this to do that as well. I simply googled for outlines of the insects that I was looking for, and then copied the image into a word program. Not incredibly high tech, but it got the job done.

And Preschooler Man is so pleased with himself when he gets to put a sticker on, and especially when the sheet is full! When he puts stickers on all the spaces he gets a special treat-whether it's playing a game of his choice with Mommy or a piece of gum, he thinks he's really done a good job because he's been so helpful...and that's the whole point. :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Un-Morning Un-Crabby Mommy (at least today)

Woke up this morning to a sweet, but crying baby shaking a tamborine in my face, oblivious to the fact that his mother had a headache...that kind of headache that you unexplicably wake up with and then can't shake all day long.

The morning didn't get any better from there. Just to be clear, I am not a morning person. I'm trying to describe accurately just how not of a morning person I am, and I have to say that I'm an un-morning person. Anti-morning person? You choose.

The crabby  pint sized tamborine player and I came downstairs to find a toilet brush sitting on the kitchen table and the holder for it in the on-deck circle. Funny how I didn't remember wiping the table down with the toilet brush the night before. And then comes that moment when, as a mother, you try to decide whether to find out which child got the toilet brush out, for what purpose, and have them identify EVERY SURFACE THEY MIGHT HAVE EVEN LOOKED AT WHILE HOLDING IT, or to quietly put it away and try not to remember the incident happening. Until you blog about it to the world, at least.

I went for the second option.

The morning proceeded as my preschooler had a serious of meltdowns for various significant reasons, including not being able to squeeze the toothpaste onto his toothbrush and the fact that his mother could not read his mind and just know, inherently, that he wanted Cornflakes for breakfast and certainly not Crispix.

Meanwhile, my daughter is playing a delightful game I'm sure she calls "Ask Mom 500 Random Questions about Things When Her Attention is Clearly Being Drawn Elsewhere Before She's Awake Enough to Even Think Of A Coherent Response." I do not exactly enjoy this game.

It had the makings of a bad day. I mean, a really bad day.

In the not so distant past, this kind of start to the day would have set me on a path of mommy crabbiness for the rest of the day. I just hate beggining the day in that kind of mess. I find myself though, having to make a cognizant choice to thank God for the bad days, and all that those kinds of days can teach me.

It's easy to be patient and kind to your children when they are well-behaved and considerate. But choosing to be patient and kind to my children regardless of their behavior? That can be challenging at times. In my life, I think the bad days teach me to be a better mother. Someone who can be a good example to their children of having a good attitude despite the circumstances, a mother who doesn't contribute to the problems presented by being angry and frusterated, but helps reason through them.

And it didn't magically turn into The Best Day Ever after I made this decision. There were still far too many meltdowns to be had by the preschooler man. And even during dinner, when we were discussing the best and worst parts of the day, I had to say that the highlight of my day was finding some really cute jammies for Gabe and leggings for Lily at the consignment shop.

But choosing to have a good attitude and make the best of the day despite the circumstances made me end the day with a content heart, and not feeling emotionally exhausted and just thankful it was bedtime.

And as I watched my daughter tickle the baby, and heard the precious baby belly laughs that followed, I confessed to Lily that I had to change my answer, because she had provided me with an even better highlight of my day.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My new dealer

On a blog in which I've unabashedly announced my dependence upon caffeine, the second thing I have to let you in on is who my dealer is.

And I'm talking about who I get my coffee from, people. Geez.

This is something that's on my mind at the moment because 1) Not surprisingly, I'm drinking a large cup of coffee right now, and 2) It's a new dealer. And I'm excited to share this with you.

Prior to this I was picking up my drug of choice (because remember, kids, caffeine is a drug) at various coffee shops I happen upon. I have an unexplained gravitational pull towards coffee houses if I happen to be within thirty yards or so of a place smelling of coffee. Sometimes, I even pick up my beans at the store. The grocery store I habit actually does have a fairly decent whole bean coffee.

And then my life changed last week, and definitely for the better.

A friend of mine began a small home business with her husband, the Pella Coffee Company. They buy the organic unroasted beans on a fair trade market, and roast them in small batches just a few houses down from my abode.

Words cannot express the sheer joy I felt at discovering this.

And to make it even sweeter, they offer free delivery. Yes, I know that they only live a few doors down on my block, but still...free delivery is free delivery! Wahoo!

I would definitely encourage you to check it out. Even if you don't live in my town and are unable to take advantage of free delivery, you're still getting great beans at a great price. I love supporting small family owned operations, and a business that is committed to buying only goods purchased for a fair price to the farmer and without harmful pesticides? Fantastic.

And the taste? Amazing. If you've only had coffee beans that have been roasted and packaged several months before you end up brewing them, you'll be delighted to discover the difference.

The Pella Coffee Company offers a nice selection of different beans, but also options for other beverages as well.

Please check them out!