Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Simplicity Parenting Part One

 I have read many parenting books over the last six years. I use them as a tool every so often to re-ground myself when I feel that I am losing or have already lost my way a little (or a lot) with my parenting. I rarely read them all the way through, just until I find my way through whatever is happening within our family! That is until recently when I started to read a book that resonates with my long-held values about being a mother. I am reading 'Simplicity Parenting' by Kim John Payne and it just hit me between the eyes! I don't think that I will read any of the others again now that I have found this one!

The first thing that this book jogged my thoughts about was the amount of toys that are available to the girls. Until recently they didn't have toys in their room, I preferred that they played downstairs and that their rooms were restful and simple and just for sleeping. They do now play upstairs and it works as they began to need their own space sometimes for a quiet play and that is hard to facilitate with one downstairs room for all of us and having the girls home all day. It had got out of hand though and there were so many things that the girls couldn't keep them tidy and weren't really playing with them properly as they were pretty mixed up. I had a huge clear-out and took lots to the charity shop, some was thrown out and some put by in the garage to swap when a refresher is needed!

The girls haven't noticed that anything has gone, they noticed the space, the tidiness and the toys that remained. Each has a space all of their own so easy to find and easy to put back. It re-invigorated their play and removed the stress of getting them to tidy up! They can find all of their favourite things and having less hasn't dented their amazing imaginations one iota - it has given them space to fly instead of stifling them.

I always did believe that open-ended toys were best and that less was more, just somewhere along the way I allowed more and more to creep in. Why? Partly due to being a childminder and feeling pressure to have 'resources' to satisfy Ofsted, and partly due to me needing 'things' to occupy the girls with sometimes whilst life was happening! I am hoping when I'm back to childminding in January that I can keep hold of the streamlined version of resources and build the level of creative play in other children that my girls have!

Time to digest the next part of the book!

Monday, 26 September 2011

A Montessori Mapping Activity

I set this activity up in response to Eve's interest in mapping and contours. The background work to this was a map that Eve drew with her Granny as part of extension activities to go with the Katie Morag books that the girls adore. Eve drew a map of an island that she dreamed up, using symbols to represent the man-made and natural features of the landscape - she made a key to go with it. I designed the components of this activity based on the elements that Eve had included on her map; contoured hills, lakes and rivers, marsh areas and woodland, footpaths and roads, houses and bridges. There was more on her map as it was an island but I simplified slightly to make it work better as a tray based activity. Above is the set-up that I did to play with it!

This picture shows the details of the contours. We explored contours further by running up and down gentle and steep inclines at a local nature reserve developed on an old colliery site. At this stage the girls understand it simply as 'close together lines = steep slope' and 'far apart lines = gentle slope'. I cut rounded shapes from the green felt in decreasing sizes so that the girls can build them up individually to put their creative stamp on their 'map'.

I also cut different shapes of blue to represent various bodies of water. We discussed whether lakes, ponds, reservoirs, rivers and canals were natural or man-made and the girls surprised me with their knowledge! Once again I kept it simple by leaving lakes as natural features, without muddying the water ('scuse the pun!) with man-made lakes! The girls can use whichever one they want when building their map.

This is a close-up of the 'woodland', made from felt with deciduous and evergreen trees stitched on with embroidery floss! All of the components are made with either felt or embroidery floss. I had thought that I would cut the rivers, roads and footpaths from felt also but realised during construction that the floss would be both more malleable to suit the girl's creative wishes, and more 'in scale' with the felt pieces (we're talking English rivers here, not the Amazon!). I hasten to add that the activity is not to scale, the floss just looked more believable scale wise!

This is how I set it up for the girls to use. The tray has a small chunky base on - it came from Ikea originally and I used to use it with purple sand for forming letters and numbers on. I cut the dark green felt to fit snugly, and the black box, filched from my literacy materials contains the mapping pieces!

This is a close up of the key that I made with felt pieces to match the ones that were in the black box. Some reading is required to decode the key, although I am anticipating that Eve will recognise many of the symbols from her map! I am looking forwards to introducing this activity to the girls for them to explore. They are very interested in rivers and landforms at the moment so I hope they find it fun!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Living Maths Curriculum - Symmetry

We kicked off with symmetry as a starter to our 'Living Maths' curriculum. I have chosen to follow this because it includes both of the girls at the same time and can easily be adapted to different depths of understanding. It also really suits Eve's preferred learning style and makes our days fun and interactive. The final bonus is that we can carry on easily even when Idris needs to sit down and feed or cuddle as we can do it gathered around the sofa with lap trays!!

We started with the book 'Let's Fly a Kite' by Stuart J. Murphy. I read the book to the girls and we talked about the pictures. They giggled at the story and identified with the siblings that bicker occasionally! We read the book everyday and did corresponding activities to build their understanding of symmetry. Above is one of the leaf collages that were made after a walk in the park examining which leaves were symmetrical and which weren't.

Above I had the girls group the alphabet bean bags according to whether they had a line of symmetry or not. They found this a little tricky as a fair amount of visualisation was required. After that the girls drew the lines on their own sheet of letters - I introduced the idea of multiple lines of symmetry as we did this.

Here the girls enjoyed making symmetrical designs on butterflies. I did a quick demonstration about how to make the designs symmetrical before they started. Not all of the designs were entirely successful but they provided a good starter for discussing how they were or weren't symmetrical. I think that it deepened their understanding of the concept and definitely re-enforced the vocabulary!
 This was our first activity of the week - we used the Montessori insets for design and traced then cut them out before folding them along a line of symmetry. The girls found this easy to do. An extension to this would be exploring the multiple lines of symmetry that exist in the shapes. I plan to cycle back round to symmetry when we have covered the other topics and increase the level of difficulty next time round!

I built my Living Maths book list using Mama Jenn's living math book list as a spring board. Once I started searching, Amazon threw up many more options for me to choose from and I was able to select books that are really lovely picture books in addition to being useful maths starters (Get it? In addition to? he he!!). I am choosing a mixture of outdoor or physical activities, games, mental arithmetic and worksheet or art based activities to re-enforce the concept without being samey and boring!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Sight Word Shakers

We are just getting into full swing with our literacy again after taking some time off after Idris being born. This week Eve is working on 'what, where, why, when, who' and I selected some sight words for Faith that are popping up in her reading books - 'I, the, and, he, said, my'. The girls love having them in these jars - they pick them up all the time and give them a shake. I think I'm going to change the slips of card for bottle caps with the words written on with permanent marker though. This is because the cards clump together a little as the rice is heavier than they are.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Setting Reading Targets

Eve loves books but isn't keen on reading. I'm always looking for ways to get her to read without piling pressure on as she crumbles when under pressure and then can't read as she gets so stressed she just can't even recognise letters properly. When she is relaxed and positive she reads fluently and beautifully with delightful expression, and that is how I'd always like it to be for her. I want her to love reading and get as much pleasure from it as I do! With consistent regular reading she improves vastly and then is less likely to get all twisted up over it, but here lies the catch 22, as without some pressure applied to actually read, she doesn't, and then doesn't get the benefit - you see the vicious circle?! Anyhow, I came across these target sheets and suggested to Eve that we make a target for how many books she reads every week. She loved the idea and decided she would read ten books every week - we even did some maths to work out that some days she needed to read two (or more?!) to hit her target! She chose the sharks targets for this week then jumped into her first book, once read she writes the title on the sheet and colours in a shark.

This is our book trolley. Eve's reading books are on the top shelf, Faith's are on the middle shelf and our 'cuddle up and read together's or snuggle up and look at alones' are on the bottom. Eve has a selection made up from different reading schemes that suited her progression through phonics, and some non-fiction books. I have started to include some stories from the bottom shelf too so that she branches out a little. The thing with our Eve is that she is very logical and likes life to follow suit, I think that this is why the target sheets appeal to her as they set out the stall and make her week predictable! It has removed the haggling over 'how many pages' she has to read as well! Faith has gotten in on the action too - only not for ten books a week!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Hands On at The Water Mill

Last weekend was Heritage Open Day where lots of places are opened up or made free entry for the day for everyone to enjoy. We went to a water mill about half an hour away from us and I was amazed by how brilliant it was!

They had scale working models of all of the mill machinery, made from authentic materials, above, Faith is trying out turning the mill stones and watching ground wheat come out from between the stones. It was really good to play with the models then watch the real machinery do the same job - the girls really understood what was happening.

This was the best fun of all - up on the fourth story of the mill house was a pulley and trapdoor to pull the sacks of grain up to the rafters before using gravity to trickle the grain down into the mill stones turning below. The girls got to have a go..... they pulled a handle and it operated a pulley system and all of a sudden a sack flew up through the trapdoor and the doot then banged shut again - brilliant fun!

We went round the tree trail that explained what properties the wood of each of twelve native British trees had and what they were used for - on the way the girls stopped to have a go at weaving on a peg loom.....

And sitting in a classic car pretending to drive - they were very taken with the little catches that held the doors shut so they had to get out and change seats very often!

And Idris? He missed the whole thing because he slept..... all day! The sling I use is called a freedom sling but I have no freedom as one arm is hampered by the sling over it and the other hand is holding up my sweet boy's head. Why? Because he doesn't like to snug in and sleep head on chest like he's supposed to, he likes to sleep with his head tipped back so I have to hold it!!!! Me thinks I need to get me a different sling!!!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Sharing Our Wealth

I went to the NCT sale today to buy some outfits for Idris in the next sizes up. I love scruffling through the piles of clothes and finding little gems that suit the way I like to dress the children. Even better are that they are quality items for really small prices!

Whilst I was there I picked out some clothes for Buba too. Buba is the one year old son of a Gambian man that my parents befriended whilst on holiday in The Gambia last year. My father sponsors Ebrima by sending him money to boost his meagre income. Recently Ebrima was able to re-roof his house to make it safe and dry for his family using that money. I wondered what we could do to help out too that would mean something to the girls. I very carefully chose a few things that I hope will be suitable for him - two pairs of trousers, two t-shirts, one long sleeved top, one short-sleeved jumper and a light raincoat for rainy season!

The girls made a hand print card and we wrote a letter inside for them. It is all parcelled up and ready to go in the post on Monday - addressed to a car park but my mum assures me that Ebrima will get it!

Monday, 12 September 2011

What Can a Newborn Teach Us?

This is me missing Idris's smiles with the camera as he bestows them so rapidly
and I am too taken up with smiling back to react quickly enough!!! He's seven weeks old now and chats with me in little oohs and ahhhs! He's also gaining more control of his arms but only enough to bop himself in the face on a regular basis! We laugh at him and he beams back!!

A lot actually! And there was me thinking that I knew the ropes third time around but my sweet boy has plenty to say! He is so wonderful and making me into a better mummy which I never expected - I thought I would be tired and grouchy and therefore less patient and not such a good mummy but not so. Our pace of life has slowed to accomodate Idris and we are all reaping the benefits as Mummy says 'yes' more rather than 'maybe later' or 'not now, I'm busy' - I'm loving that!

Sometimes when Idris won't be comforted by anything that I have to offer, I put him down by himself somewhere peaceful where he can see out of the window. He becomes still and peaceful..... sometomes staying totally alert and other times going drowsy. It reminds me that we all need our own space at times, we all need time to re-fuel and re-energise by being alone. I try to find this for the girls when they show me that they need it and I protect some time for my husband to have space. I'm working on making sure that I get the alone time I need also!

Idris has also caused me to re-assess how much I may be 'micro-managing' the girls. I always thought that I was very 'hands off' but have realised that I had crept into bad habits and was doing too many things for them beacuse it was quicker or easier in the short term to do that. Having my arms full of a snuggly baby means that I am taking a step back and having the girls be more responsible for their own things again. Generally they are loving it but some things need a little more coaching. It is great for their language skills too as I sometimes have to give quite complex verbal instructions and the girls have to listen carefully to follow them!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Junk Modelling Update!

I love this picture! This is a camera that Eve made, inside it even has a section for the batteries, which are removable of course! Eve is still modelling prolifically, and the range and complexity of her creations astounds me. She uses things in ways that I would never think of, for example the computer (see below) made inside a plastic box by writing on paper then fixing it inside. Eve finds solutions for all the problems she encounters and there is nothing she cannot surmount. This gives me great pleasure to observe as she is usually very hard on herself and gets easily frustrated by difficulties. Not so with her modelling and it is priceless! Nowadays when the girls play together, Eve is often disappearing off to the creation station and returning with a car complete with baby seat, or an ice-breaking boat with a viewing platform on the top and cargo deck below, or various dwellings!

Last week our local community arts recycling facility re-opened after the summer break and I went and chose some bits and bobs to add to the creation station. I came back with blocks of blown plastic foam, a bag of fabric, some crinkled cardboard edging, some gold paper and some lids and corks. It re-invigorated Eve's crafting sessions and she made some wonderful things. The most play-worthy of these were a whole host of people made from foam blocks and fabric clothes that the girls played with for five hours without a break except to eat! The tidying up isn't exactly going to plan but at least it isn't in my living room now!!!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Geography - Model of The Great Lakes

We are reading the lovely book 'Paddle to The Sea' by Holling Clancy Holling and using it as a springboard for some geography studies. After reading the first two chapters today we built a model of the great lakes using food packaging boxes propped up on bricks with a small opening for the water to overflow into the next 'lake'. Our levels needed a bit of tweaking as the girls poured water into the lakes. They really loved this simple activity and it was very effective in illustrating how the lakes flow into each other!
As the story begins in Canada with an Indian boy carving the canoe, we looked at the native Indian models that we brought back from Canada two years ago when we were there for my brother and sister-in-laws wedding. We have a tepee, a little doll traditionally dressed, a canoe with animals in, and a drum.

I've got various other geography related and Native Indian related activities in mind ready for exploring as we make our way through the book.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A Treasure Trove of OY/OI Sounds!

This week's phonics focus is OY and OI sounds. Today eve made gold coins and cut out toy teddies and then I gave her words and she told me which spelling of OY/OI she needed and then wrote them on either a coin or toy as appropriate. After we made them into little books and fixed them to a treasure/toy chest that Eve drew. It turned out well and I was pleased with how hard she worked on them!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Canoeing - My First Try at Organising a Home Ed Event!

We are reading Paddle To the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling as a basis for our geography studies. I thought it would be fun to arrange a canoeing session for our local home ed families.
Our local group is based on the canal and they were so great - they couldn't do enough to help us set it up and were so friendly and welcoming - the children had a wonderful time as you can see from the pictures!
Those that were tall enough went out in a kayak with some verbal instruction from the banks and about eight children whizzing round the water bumping into each other and the side! We knew they were getting the hang of it when they all managed to get out of the way when a canal boat came by!

The younger ones went out in a Canadian canoe with the adults paddling - below Faith is having a great time with her friend as Dewi paddles from the front!

And here they are building up some speed! The club were brilliant - they just let the paddlers work it out by practising and they learned really fast. All the families that came were keen to arrange some more sessions and the club were keen to facilitate that for us so watch this space!

I was nervous this morning that no-one would come but we had a full turnout and I was thrilled it was such a success - it has encouraged me to try again at organising something!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Being Archaeologists

Yesterday we read the second part of 'How Do We Know What Happened?' in our History book. It talked about archaeology and to try it out a little, we collected some artifacts that would give clues to how we lived if they were dug up in the future. The girls chose a crayon, a clothes peg, a toy tractor, a brick, an old pair of trousers, a fork, a cup, a food tin and a toy animal. They buried them enthusiastically in the sand pit then we left them there overnight! Today we marked out a simple grid using wool and pegs and added paper markers inscribed A and B, then 1 and 2 down the side.

Faith chose the quadrant B2 to dig in first and was very excited to make her first discovery - she spent a long time carefully digging out and brushing the sand away from her 'find'.

Eve decided it was very hard work moving lots of sand and was surprised by how hard it was to find things that they had buried only yesterday!

All the finds were recorded on a grid map. I showed the girls how to draw their own grid and to mark it A, B and 1, 2 then how to work out where the find should go on their map relating to where they dug it up from. It took a whole hour to find and mark all the artifacts, the girls really enjoyed themselves! It was really effective as well, and got the girls using some new vocabulary!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Starting From the Beginning Again With History

There is a threefold reason for the title of this post:
  1. We had started off on a terrible footing on Tuesday, with the children resisting me and me getting grumpy about it, so after a heart to heart with my very sensible sounding board of a husband we started over with History.
  2. I started this History curriculum with Eve last Spring but we got no further than chapter three with the Egyptians and then we stayed with the Egyptians (see here) for ages, stalling the progress with the rest of the book but learning a lot in the process!
  3. The curriculum begins with the beginning - a timeline of a child's life to date!
The girls love to hear stories from before they remember and to look at mementoes and photographs so we found out their baby books and boxes and my stash of photos and we pulled out some little snippets. These were things like their first words ('bup bup' or beep beep for Eve and 'look' for Faith!), when they walked, first clapped their hands, drank from a cup, went on holiday, and most importantly.... when their beloved siblings were born! We were happily engaged in this for over an hour and it made a lovely start to the curriculum!

I read the chapter to them whilst they drank milk and a snack and I had a cup of tea
 which was a really companionable snug way to do history - I think I will continue to do it this way. It is a great way of 'calling them to order' without being school teacher ish about it!

The curriculum that we are using was recommended to me by a friend and it is a classical one - 'The Story of the World, Volume One: Ancient Times' by Susan Wise Bauer, and Activity Book One to accompany it by the same author.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Having a Whale of a Time!

Eve is always very interested in Oceans and their wildlife and prompted by a trio of recent BBC programmes about Whales and dolphins, we embarked on some whale activities to explore them a little more.

We listened to Whale Song on YouTube.

We read the books 'Journey of a Humpback Whale' which is a DK level 2 reader that I hope Eve will tackle bu herself a little, and 'Big Blue Whale' by Nicola Davies. This last one is such a lovely book, with factual information described in beautiful language and pitched just right - I am begged to read this over and over again!

From the book 'Awesome Ocean Science' by Cindy Littlefield we did a couple of experiments. (thanks to The Homeschool Den for that recommendation! - check out the brilliant Ocean activities they have been doing - scroll down to find the posts!) 

Here we made a baleen whale by cutting a mouth in the end of a milk carton, and then slits along the side to make the baleen. In the washing up bowl is a generous sprinkling of dried herbs to represent krill. The girls scooped up a mouthful of 'sea water' then emptied it out through the 'baleen' and it left a coating of krill behind for the milk carton whale to lick off and eat! 

The girls remembered from the book that the krill make the whales put on layers of blubber ready for the winter, and that blubber keeps them warm so next we explored that by putting ice cubes in the washing up bowl ocean to see how cold polar seas can be. We then spread lard over the glove and bagged it for the girls to put their hand in again and see the effect of blubber on how much cold they could feel!

Good fun for the girls and simple and effective ways to demonstrate these things - the milk carton baleen whale ended up in the bath tub after a rinse out to be played with at bath time!!!