Hands-on maths; skip counting

I like to keep much of our early mathematical skills as hands-on as possible. If an area will need to be drilled over and over again until mastery is achieved, then it is far more interesting for my children to do that using Montessori style tray activities rather than repetitive book work. Learning addition and subtraction facts, multiplication tables and the like are great examples of this. Lots of work is necessary, but it need not be all written bookwork.

This week my 6-year-old son needed to polish up on his skip counting. I pulled out some plastic Easter eggs and wrote the 2, 5 and 10’s on each hump of the caterpillar, poking a pipecleaner through the first one to make the caterpillar’s head. He placed each in order and recited them to me once finished. Next time I will remove a couple and get him to say them (including the missing numbers) until he can eventually say them all without any numbers as prompting.

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Christian Easter ideas for 2015

c holding string cross IMG_6150

Easter is here and with it the bombardment of chocolates and commercialism that threatens to take over any meaningful celebration. If you are looking for some Christian Easter activities and traditions that help make Easter a Christ-centred affair, take a look at this post or for Jesus trees, Lent ideas and other Christian Easter activities see here and lastly, my Pinterest board with some more activities is here.

Easter decorations

Our Easter space with books and objects that help direct our attention to the real meaning of this season. We used palm branches to act out the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The kids threw down blankets as cloaks as well as the branches and made crowd noises to help tell the story. It was a little chaotic but lots of fun.

cross string up close IMG_6152

An up close view of our string crosses that we made this year. (Original idea and instructions here.) As we hammered the nails into the wood blocks we talked about Jesus being nailed to the cross and what that must have felt like, comparing the size of our nails with the nails that would have been used to pierce Jesus. My oldest son’s comment was “Children’s bibles always make the cross seem so pretty!” It doesn’t hurt our kids to get a better picture of what the events surrounding Easter were really all about. Giving them some understanding of what our sin really cost is so important, especially for those who grow up so saturated in bible stories that they grow immune to the importance and reality of it all.

Our treasure tree reward system

Character development is an ongoing focus in our house. We finished with the marble jar reward system several months ago now and the children have been asking for a while for a return to our praise plates (more on them another day.) Rather than go back to something we have already used, I decided to introduce a “treasure tree” which linked in very nicely with our reading of “The Treasure Tree” by John Trent.

Our treasure tree reward system.

The system is very simple. When the children demonstrate positive character traits they are given a leaf to stick onto the tree. Character qualities like unselfishness, kindness, generosity and the like are promoted and reinforced throughout the day. Flowers are given when all the children have displayed Godly character together. A great chart of character qualities including a definition and the opposite negative quality is available here.

All you need is a painted tree, a bunch of paper leaves, paper flowers and sticky dots or a glue stick to stick them on with. The dots allow us to keep track of how many leaves need to be earned to reach our family reward – once the dots are all used, the tree is full.

You may like to tie it in with scripture memory work and focus on bible verses relating to treasure such as Proverbs 7:1, Proverbs 15:6, Matthew 6:21 and Luke 6:45

For a full explanation of the difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives please see my post on marble jars. We don’t always have a reward system operating, but we do use them every now and then when the tone of the household is becoming negative and the children are beginning to bicker.

Rewarding right behaviour is not enough though, we need to spend time teaching what Godly character looks like in action. We use bible study, good books, songs and discussions during morning circle time and discuss how we can display these qualities throughout the day. It’s one thing to talk about serving, showing kindness and loving others, it’s another thing to practice it!

The Treasure Tree

“The Treasure Tree” by John Trent is an introduction to the 4 personality types for children. It uses the 4 main characters of a lion (choleric), beaver (melancholic), golden retriever (phlegmatic) and otter (sanguine) to tell the story. The animals have to work together to overcome some obstacles and find the golden keys to reach their destination of the treasure tree.

The personality types are woven into the way the animals approach each situation and can begin to give your children an insight into why they each behave differently and help them to understand each other and get along a little bit better.

While no means a detailed overview of the personalities, it does provide a great springboard for discussion and helped us to lead into identifying personality and character strengths and weakness that each child needs to be aware of and work on.

The children loved it and asked for the next chapter every day, even though we were only reading from it once a week! I’m looking for something a little more meaty to go on with, but I would recommend this story as an enjoyable read-aloud and worthwhile discussion starter.

Other posts you might like:

Scripture memorisation

Most Christians understand the importance of memorising scripture; of writing God’s word on our hearts so that we may be able to live by it on a day by day basis. Those occasions where a scripture just pops into our heads when we are caught up in a situation, giving us a warning or guidance that is needed in the moment, are unlikely to happen if we have nothing stored up in our memory for just such an occasion. The same applies to helping our children memorise bible verses.

There are so many ways to go about teaching our little ones how to remember bible verses, the benefit to us being that as we do it together with them we are storing up scripture in our own memories as well. We have tried a few different methods along the way, some of which I’ll outline for you below.

Our favourite system so far (and the one we are using at the moment) is scripture set to song. We start a new verse each Monday during circle time and find that by Friday even our youngest participant (4 years) has easily memorised the song and therefore the scripture passage. There are a few resources around for this but we like the Children Arise CD Series. The music is professionally produced, with children’s’ voices and catchy tunes. They also stay true to the scripture, pretty much singing straight through word for word rather than altering and manipulating the bible verses to fit the music as some other resources do.

Another system we like is the Scripture box from Simply Charlotte Mason. Scriptures are stored on index cards in a simple flip box system and read through on a daily basis until all family members are able to recite the verse. The system details how to cycle through and review verses already memorised and is simple to set up and use.

We have a large white board on the wall near our dining room table and we have written verses we are working on up here. We have redeemed those wasted moments when children tend to lose control while waiting for the meal to arrive at the table by reciting the verses we are working on.

Another great place to pin scriptures that you want children to remember is on the bathroom mirror (you can even write it on in permanent marker and remove once it is well-known) or on the back of the toilet door. When there’s nothing else to do it’s amazing how many times your eyes will travel back over whatever is in front of them.

Pin verses around and about the house anywhere that they are likely to be noticed and read. Above the washing machine to glance through when throwing a load on, above the kitchen sink to contemplate while doing the dishes, above the computer keyboard or any other place you or the children will likely have a spare mental moment to read through and commit to memory.

Reciting verses as part of family devotions can also be very rewarding. Perhaps children who have memorised their verses with Mum can have the thrill of reciting to Dad what they have learnt. I have printed up certificates with the bible verses on them for each child to place into their own keepsake box or pin up on their pinboard as a small reward for learning each one.

However you decide to do it, it’s not as hard as you think once you get going. For me, I need to get a whole bunch prepared ahead of time so that there is no day-to-day planning involved, otherwise it just didn’t happen. You may like to choose scriptures on a day by day basis that are related to character or behavioural issues you are currently dealing with. Which ever way works for you, choose one and get started!

Circle Time

I came across the concept of circle time through a homeschooling friend who directed me to Kendra Fletcher’s blog Preschoolers and Peace. I purchased her e-book about circle time and found it full of great ideas and well worth the $6.99 I paid for it. The basic idea of circle time in our family is starting the day with God as our priority and focus, before the business of everything else that we do crowds in and takes our attention away from where it should be. It ensures that we all (apart from Dad who has left for work at this time) spend some time together before we split up to begin our “school” subjects for the day. Circle time is not the same as family devotions (Dad does that in the evenings) and although everything we do at this time links to the bible in some way, it is not necessarily a bible study time. Circle time can be used for a huge variety of things with memorization and character based activities a focus for us. I love the idea of praying together, memorizing scripture together, teaching the children good character etc. but find that these areas tend to get neglected if I am not intentional about it. At the moment we start our time with some scripture memorization through song, followed by a character story, catechism story or one of our other great resources (I will post a list of more of my favourite resources soon) and finish off with a prayer time together. The children really enjoy the time and it makes for a positive start to the day.

Children Arise CD Volume 2

The Children Arise CD’s are scriptures set to music. They are very professionally done with catchy tunes that you find yourself humming through the day and don’t actually mind! I play the same verse each day for a week and at the end of the week the children receive a certificate if they have memorized the scripture. Even my 3 1/2 year old remembers the verses this way and they all love having a record of what they have achieved through the certificates, with each one having the verse printed on it. 9781605771342

We are reading through the “Help Me Be Good Series” by Joy Berry (they are not Christian and occasionally need verbal editing as I read!) and the children love them. We talk a lot about each page and how we can apply the positive character traits in our lives with each other. We are half way through “The Way of the Master For Kids: Teaching Kids How To Share Their Faith” by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Their adult materials and free sermons are great and we are enjoying this book with their signature message written for kids. The book has three age sections, starting with the very young and moving up, but the younger kids are having no trouble at all understanding the sections that are written for the older children. The Way of the Master for Kids: Teaching Kids How to Share Their Faith