Rainy day activities: Balls and stockings

Ahh, the first rains of winter have hit. Easter as usual has suddenly turned cool and I must dig out the winter clothes and have a trying on and handing down session as the children’s little goose-pimpled legs are freezing.  While I quite like the rain (especially if I am curled up somewhere warm with a good book to read) it brings with it its own challenges for a household full of energetic children. What do you do with them when it’s too wet to go outside and all “sitting and concentrating” capacity is gone?

Time for the stocking balls. We are lucky enough to have a large patio area out the back that gives us a reasonable amount of play space under cover. I gather up a bunch of old pantyhose, stockings or tights and slide a tennis ball inside one leg before tying them to the cross beams of the patio. I hang a couple at a time so several children can play at once and have them at varying heights to cater for a range of sizes. They also need to be well clear from each other and preferably out of walk ways or those toddlers will almost definitely end up with someone’s bat in the face.

We use bats from the totem tennis set, tea-ball bats and whatever else we have at the time and everyone whacks away as hard as they like. (A sturdy cardboard tube is a good option for those not so coordinated toddlers.) Boys in particular seem to like this activity, using up energy and having a good time smashing away. The stockings do tend to stretch after a while so perhaps hanging them a little higher than you actually want them would be useful and yes, the balls will eventually break through the stocking. Mine have lasted for several weeks at a time and can simply be thrown away and replaced when they wear out. An economical and easy to set up activity that will help to bring peace to my household this winter. Now, where are those stockings…

Copywork and narration ideas for the new school year.

The school year start is fast approaching and I am aiming to be extremely organised as we will be interrupted soon into it by the arrival of baby number 6. Everything needs to be sitting there, prepped and ready to go, so today’s thought processes revolve around Charlotte Mason style copywork and dictation for the oldest.

Depending on the age of the child, this year’s copywork and dictation will be a selection from the following:

At least one of my children is excited by brand new fresh workbooks and the opportunity to fill them with beautiful work. I remember the feeling of being given a brand new pad in Primary School and ruling up those fresh unblemished pages. Surely everyone gets at least a glimmer of excitement out of new school books? Stationary shops? Organisational systems?? Hmmm, perhaps that’s just me!

Teaching Toddlers to Cut

Thin card strips (about one inch) are a good first cutting experience. Parallel and diagonal lines can be added to the strips for a new challenge once random snipping has been mastered.

With older siblings to watch, the littlies are always very keen to cut. Rather than have them constantly nag me or try to grab those scissors and have a go on whatever is handy when I’m not looking, I prefer to spend some time and teach them to cut safely – under supervision! It is great for long stints of uninterrupted school time with older children while young ones are happily occupied on a purposeful and satisfying activity.

The stiffness of straws makes them easy to hold and cut. Cut straw pieces can be used for threading activities.

A good pair of child-sized scissors is important. Make sure that they have a larger hole in one side of the handle so the all of the child’s fingers can fit inside, rather than the kind that have two equal sized small handle holes. (See the pair in the photo.) I also buy proper scissors straight away, rather than safety scissors, simply because of the frustration children feel when scissors are not sharp enough to cut well. The initial paper based cutting experiences outlined here would be fine with safety scissors, but once they move on to the straws and other materials they may not be sharp enough.

Streamers are more difficult to cut because they do not stand stiffly out from the "holding hand."

Cutting strips should be about one inch wide so that the child can cut completely through the strip in one snip. Sliding scissors forward and making a second snip to cut through paper is a more difficult skill and should be introduced later. Show your child which hole is for the thumb and check that they continue to hold the scissors correctly with the blades facing away from them. Young children tend to turn their hands around, rather than the object they are cutting, which causes them to end up in all sorts of interesting and uncomfortable positions.

A new level of difficulty. Use cut beads for various craft projects later.

The first material to present is the easiest to cut – one inch strips of thin card stock. Regular paper is too thin and does not stand out stiffly from the child’s hand, flopping down and making it difficult to cut. Remind your child to keep moving their holding hand away from the scissors as they go.

Tinsel makes pretty off-cuts for craft projects. It is quite difficult to handle for beginner cutters though.

I usually set my cutting activities up in the same format (same tray with basket or two wooden bowls) so that once familiar with the task, there is no need to re-explain what to do when a new material is introduced. Scraps are caught in the empty bowl or basket and can be collected and used for art activities such as gluing or collage.

Curling ribbon is also quite difficult to cut because it curls! Add snippets to your collage or other crafty supplies.

When the first cutting experience is presented I demonstrate first, explain what they need to do, then supervise very closely for a time, until I am sure that the child has mastered holding the scissors correctly, points them away from their body, moves their holding hand while cutting, collects their scraps in the container provided and is generally using the scissors in a responsible manner. I am then able to relax my supervision a little and begin to vary the materials once interest in those already available is beginning to wane.

The photographs throughout this article are in a suggested order of difficulty. Stick with thin card strips until the skill is well mastered, moving to thin card strips with straight and diagonal lines to cut along, before introducing the other suggested materials. Moving too fast will simply result in frustration as the material proves too difficult for the child to manipulate and cut successfully. Other items (such as the animals pictured below) can be added to keep interest levels high. Following on from here, a variety of interesting papers, shapes and other materials can be presented, including those that require the child to slide the scissors along and make several cuts. Start with free cutting, straight lines, then curves and other shapes.

My toddlers love this activity. They focussed for an incredibly long time, cutting the streamers into food for the animals to eat. (The scissors should be presented on the tray with the blades facing away from the child.)

Toddler activities: Sensory tables

My sensory table in the kitchen; set up for water play.

Sensory tables are an excellent way to keep a toddler absorbed and concentrating for a good length of time while you homeschool older children, cook some dinner or wash the dishes. They are filled with open-ended activities and once the basic set-up is in place, are easily updated with the addition of household items for a new “theme.” Toddlers will love them and learn to focus and concentrate in the process.

A low table is ideal, however a large crate with lid, old television stand, coffee table, big wooden box or regular bench or table with the legs cut down will all suffice. I used a very large, sturdy crate with a fitted lid and covered it with a beach towel for a non-slip surface.

The sensory tray itself needs to have low sides (around 20 cms high) and be quite large. Under-bed storage crates or something similar are ideal because plastic lends itself to water and sand play and can be easily cleaned out. If the shallow crate comes with a lid this is even more ideal as it can be clipped into place when the tray is not in use.

For water play (as in the photo above) I have a smaller crate that I fill with water and a very shallow tray that goes underneath. This gives me a dry area for the accessories that are not in use and somewhere to put muffin trays for sorting and other activities near the water tub. For dry activities like pasta, the accessories can be kept in the large tray with the pasta and just put to one side.

The tray needs to be low enough for a young child to stand at comfortably, with their hands able to reach to the bottom of the tray. With very young children, you may choose to provide a sturdy step to bring them up to height, rather than cutting the table down too low – remember they will grow very quickly.

Think about age suitability. Scissor activities are not appropriate if it is likely that your 12 month old will get hold of them! Put towels underneath the table for indoor wet play. Plan for an easy clean-up by spreading out a sheet or blanket underneath when your child is using dry materials and simply gather the spills up in the sheet to tip back into the sensory tray when they are finished. You may choose to line it with fabric to cut down the noise, although this is sometimes part of the fun!

Now – what to put it in? (Keeping in mind of course that some materials pose a choking hazard and will not be appropriate for children who still like to put everything in their mouth.)

Some ideas are listed below and there are heaps of other great ideas at:  http://www.perpetualpreschool.com/sensoryideas.html

 

material in tray accessories to add
cheap costume bead necklaces (On strings for children to cut apart.)  Tie scissors to table legs so they are always available and do not get lost in the tray. Provide large tweezers to pick beads up and sort into muffin tins or other multi-compartment trays. Use beads for art and craft activities once interest has died.

 

sand plastic flowers, garden tools, rocks, pebbles, gloves, spray bottles for garden play.
sawdust or washed blue chip gravel or pea gravel or dried coffee grounds or dried tea leaves trucks, cars, rocks, pebbles, road signs
sawdust or shredded paper or packing cornstarch beans magnetic bingo wand and magnetic bingo chips (Chips will attach to wand as it is swept through the tray) or large horseshoe magnet (or similar) with paper clips, cutlery, metal pencil sharpeners etc
water aquarium rocks, pebbles, plastic bait fish or sea animals ($2.00 shops are a good place to look) aquarium net, small containers/buckets for caught fish.
water or wheat (Extremely large bags of wheat are available for at places like City Farmers.) turkey basters, squeezy sauce bottles, cups, containers, funnels, tubes, measuring spoons, sifters, egg cartons, pots, pans, jugs, measuring cups etc.
shredded paper or cotton balls or packing cornstarch beans or birdseed, wheat, pasta, rice, split peas or other clean grain. plastic or wooden letters/numbers/shapes and sorting trays to place in once found. Could be colour coded trays/containers to encourage sorting. Puzzle pieces – put puzzle tray for pieces to be inserted into once found, until picture is complete.
smaller tray – can be a table activity buttons, tweezers and iceblock trays for sorting.
chosen dry material foam board (from craft shops cut into animals or shapes to sort.)
smaller tray – can be a table activity beans and numbered egg carton (child to put correct number in each egg cup.)
ribbons, segments of curling ribbon, strips of crepe paper etc small sections of gutter guard, small hole chicken wire or commercially available weaving mats to thread ribbon through.
water sinking and floating – ping pong balls, boats, sponges, rocks, shells, other household  objects that float and sink. Encourage child to make a prediction before they check to see if the object sinks or floats. Aquarium nets to fish out objects once tested.

 

sand, shredded paper, crepe paper strips, sawdust or birdseed, wheat pasta, rice, split peas or other clean grain. plastic animals, bugs, rocks, shells. farm accessories etc.

(Wheat is available from places like City Farmers for $10.00 for a huge bag. Cheap enough to just sweep up spills and throw out if dirty.) Provide insect or animal books for children to look up their “catch” as they unearth their finds.

iceblocks of a variety of sizes use salt to stick blocks together to create ice sculptures
water different kinds of rocks to scrub, wash and dry (provide t/towels, scrubbing brushes, cloths etc.) Set up a couple of factual book about rocks away from the water for children to try and find their rocks and research rocks in general.)

 

shredded paper, packing beans fishing pole (wooden pole with string tied to the end and a magnet tied on the end of the string.) Cut fish shapes out of card and glue a paper clip to the nose of each. Write numbers, letters, sight words or whatever you are working on onto each fish and have child name them as they are caught. If they cannot recognise the letter etc. toss the fish back and catch again later. Do not work on too many new letters or numbers etc. at a time – ensure most catches are successfully named!

 

dog food stuffed animals, pet accessories, bowls (For the child who is old enough to resist the urge to eat the biscuits!)

 

nature items dry leaves, rocks, sticks, pine cones, honky nuts etc. with magnifying glass. Add plastic animals, bugs, cars etc. later, after the interest in the nature items themselves has worn off.
straws provide different sizes and colours for children to chop up. Tie scissors to leg of table to stop them getting lost in the tub. Once straws are all cut into smaller pieces, hide other objects (as for the ideas above) to find and sort or use cut straws for threading.
fossil dig freeze plastic dinosaurs in a deep tray in a thin layer of water coloured with food colouring. Once frozen, add another layer of different coloured water and so on. Dig out the fossils with metal spoons. Read dinosaur books and information about palaeontology as an intro or follow-up.

De-bone a chicken and soak bones overnight in bleach. Bury “fossils” in selected material for children to dig out.

 

cutting bright scrap paper, wrapping paper, magazines, pictures etc. for children to cut as desired. Hole punches, fancy scissors and staplers can all be added.

 

water pure soap flakes and hand beaters.

 

soapy water dolls clothes, tea sets or plastic dishes to wash and dry up or peg onto string line. Add dish mops, sponges, pegs, bottle washers etc.

 

corn starch packing beans can be used to hide many objects and are edible (ensure you get the correct ones. Encourage children not to eat them, just know they won’t be poisoned if they do!)

Once you have used them for a while dry, you can provide spray bottles filled with water to dampen the beans which are then mouldable.

 

soap and paper clay grate one bar of  soap and mix with equal amount of water then combine with one roll of white toilet paper (torn up) to make a mouldable sculpture material.

 

cities layer bottom of tray with garden soil and sprinkle well with grass seeds. Provide water spray bottles for daily watering. As the grass grows, lay small blocks for roads and add cars or other accessories. Make junk model city buildings and houses and trim “lawns” with scissors.

 

sand shells, seaweed, flags, buckets, yoghurt pots or other containers and water spray bottles to dampen sand.
chosen dry material spray small rocks gold or use plastic jewels or vase rocks as treasure. Link to pirate stories. Make box pirate ships to pile treasure into.
marble run clear flexible tubing, wooden blocks or real pipe and a variety of joiners to create pathways for marbles.
chemistry lab fill a container within the main crate with water. Provide “lab coats” to keep scientists clean and dry. Have a number of small jars containing vinegar, baking soda, flour, salt, oil, red, blue and yellow coloured water. Put small teaspoons in non-liquids and eye droppers in liquids. Children choose two ingredients for each experiment to mix, observe result, then rinse mixing jars in water. Provide t/towels for drying before starting a new experiment.
colour mixing as above, but only with the 3 prime colours in water. Perhaps use before introducing chemistry lab.
soap finger paint beat pure soap flakes, a little food colouring and water to form a thick, shaving cream consistency. Finger paint in crate or directly onto table surface. If painting onto table surface it is better done outside and hosed off once finished. Provide shirts or aprons to protect clothes. Make a print of painting by smoothing paper over lines drawn with fingers or plastic objects.
supersand equal parts cornmeal and dried coffee grounds make “supersand.” Use with many of the ideas listed here.
water different sized bottles and containers. Draw lines for children to fill to. Work together to decide which holds more.


Mega Marbles: A Montessori style transfer activity

Mega Marble Transfer

This was the first Montessori inspired activity I ever made. I presented it to my now 4 year old daughter when she was a toddler and she absolutely loved it. The large ladle was easy for her to manipulate successfully and the marbles were very attractive to her. She always completed this activity several times before putting it away and it was a favourite for some time. The marbles came from a $2.00 shop, the ladle from my kitchen junk drawer and the tray and wooden bowls from a Good Sammies recycled clothing shop. All up it probably cost me $5.00 and all the materials can be re-combined and used again with other activities.  I would usually present it with the marbles in the left hand bowl to encourage left to right directionality in preparation for reading and writing.

DESCRIPTION:

The child uses the scoop provided to transfer the marbles from one bowl to the other and back again. Materials are replaced as they were found before returning the activity to the shelf.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

Practical life

CONCEPT/SKILL:

Fine motor development

Control of ladle

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

Ladle

Large marbles or alternative material to transfer

2 wooden bowls or alternative containers

Tray

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Workboxes – homeschooling multiple ages

With many children in the family, juggling different levels of homeschooling can at times be a challenge. One of my long-term goals is for each child to become a completely independent learner, to be able to educate themselves in any way necessary to equip them for their future careers and life. Once each child is an independent reader, this becomes much easier and it is therefore the children in the 4 to 6-ish bracket that receive the most one-on-one parent directed teaching as they learn their basic phonics, reading and mathematic skills. As they progress through the next couple of years or so and become proficient readers, they begin to work more and more independently.

Workboxes are one method of encouraging independence and organising several different learners at different stages. They can take different forms; some families have a system of drawers whereby the child starts at the top drawer, completes the set task in it, moves on to the drawer below and so on until their daily responsibilities are completed. This allows them to see their progress and gives even non-readers a very clear indicator of what they are to do next. There is no wandering around collecting or organising supplies as everything necessary for the activity is in the drawer (other than a caddy or pencil-case of stationary items that is collected with the first drawer work.)

This kind of system is great for all children and is particularly helpful for those who like to know what is coming next, those who tend to argue or complain about what they do or do not have to do for the day and those who waste a lot of time finding books and supplies instead of working. Everything is black and white and dictated by the drawers. You are not finished until the last drawer is done. They can even include music practice, computer time, chores or any other kind of task a child is responsible for in a day.

I love the idea of workboxes set out in this way but didn’t want to have to swap out activities on a nightly basis. While the year one child for example does reading and phonics every day, they do not do exactly the same activity so the drawer system would require me swapping out the phonics drawer every night. The same applies for maths which is a daily activity, however the form that it takes changes daily.

Miss 3 1/2 year old’s cupboard – 1 workbox and 1 tray per day.

Miss 6 year old’s shelf – 1 workbox per day.

In the end I took the basic idea of the workbox (that is every piece of equipment necessary and every activity needing to be completed throughout the day is in the box) and tweaked it to fit our family. Our workboxes are simply a plastic crate containing every activity that must be completed throughout the day for each child within the one box (or in some cases a box and a tray for each day.) There is a box for each day of the week, apart from Wednesdays when our eldest son attends a homeschooling co-op and the girls have a more relaxed day of craft and cooking etc.

I set them up at the beginning of the term and only need to change them when content such as reading books need to be updated, rather than on a daily or weekly basis.

For those of you who are interested, here is what’s in the boxes.

Miss 3 1/2:

Monday: counting workjob, starter styles (Pre-number at the moment) and peg board. (She is learning the alphabet letter names and sounds but we do them everyday so they sit separately on the top shelf, rather than in any one box.)

Tuesday: Letterland phonics, counting workjob, puzzle and colouring in.

Thursday: Montessori style tong activity, book, counting workjob, pattern blocks and puzzle cards.

Friday: counting workjob, Montessori style spooning activity, diary writing and puzzles.

Miss 6’s work boxes:

Monday: Reading, 3 letter words spelling book, addition workjob, phonics & spelling starter styles and Montessori sight words picture match.

Tuesday: reading, handwriting, Montessori sight words picture match, phonics digraphs, number starter styles and subtraction workjob.

Thursday: Diary writing, Montessori sight words picture match, number starter styles, reading and geoboard activities.

Friday: Reading, calculations starter styles, Montessori sight words picture match, sight words activity book and base 10 activities.

Master 8 yr old’s school work is not in workboxes. He has his own desk with drawers and keeps his school book sorted into those. He does do some hands on work; however the morning session (which is when we use the workboxes) is when he does his book work. He has a weekly schedule to follow which tells him which subject to do on what day and  he works through this in order; a kind of “workbox on paper.”

He uses a mixture of Saxon Maths and Maths-U-See, Mystery of History, Exploring Creation, copywork, lapbook activities, Color the Classics and English for the Thoughtful Child.

We all have circle time together, with the focus on bible reading, character training, scripture memorization, catechism and prayer. I spend time with Miss 3 1/2 while Master 8 and Miss 6 work independently, then one-on-one with Miss 6 while the others work independently and finally time with Master 8 while both girls finish off their activities and head outside.

This is what is working for us at the moment, although as life changes and new challenges appear (such as the twins dropping their morning nap sometime soon!), everything changes again. But that’s life with little ones!

The ten commandments for children

I have been reading quite a few of the books written by Ray Comfort at livingwaters.com. There are some excellent materials available at the website, including several free resources. One free resource that I thought was brilliant was a 5 minute video to help children remember the 10 commandments. In a very simple, yet extremely clever way, the video links visual and story clues to the commandments, helping children to not only remember them, but also recall the correct order. Well worth a visit. Check out “ The 10 Commandments” here.