Sunday 24 November 2013

Advent Activity Bags

I did these last year and I’m doing them again with a few modifications to make it run more smoothly!

Last year I was heavy on the home-made, time-intensive activity options, this year I am reining it in and replacing them with activities that are easier and quicker to pull together and less daunting for me!
I browsed my Christmas Pinterest board for ideas again but also used some things that are unique to our family….
  • ·         Write letters to Santa (we do this on the 1st to give me time to rustle up their request if at all possible…. They ask for one thing for them, one for someone they love and something for the whole world)
  • ·         Make Christmas biscuits (ambiguous enough so that if I feel like putting together the ingredients for the Rudolph cupcakes I can, or if it boils down to cookie cutters and butter biscuits that fits too!)
  • ·         Set up for a party (we aren’t spending Christmas with my parents this year so will be having a special pre-Christmas rendevue with nibbles and drinks to exchange gifts)
  • ·         Visit the Christmas market (an annual special event to ride the enormous old carousel, browse the shops and eat hot-dogs by the fountain!)
  • ·         Make hot chocolate with marshmallows in (Idris LOVES hot chocolate so this is for him!)
  • ·         Make a gingerbread house (with the kit from Ikea – told you I wasn’t doing homemade this year!)
  • ·         Visit Hooties to look at the lights (a warehouse near us with a darkened area for trees, lights and inflatable decorations)
  • ·         Lolly stick snowflakes
  • ·         Paper village scene for the windows
  • ·         M and m’s nativity poems – make to give to friends
  • ·         Call some family to wish them the best of the season
  • ·         Decorate oranges with cloves and ribbons
  • ·         Make candy cane mice
  • ·         Make thank you notes ready to go (these will cover all the children in one – separate ones have proved over ambitious to get sent out in the past!)
  • ·         Take a box of food to the food bank
  • ·         Make oreo-pops
  • ·         Hama bead snowflakes
  • ·         Make paper chains
  • ·         Make mince pies
  • ·         Make paper snowflakes
  • ·         Make strawberry santas
  • ·         Toast marshmallows on the fire
  • ·         Decorate the tree (always done mid-December the day after Daddy’s birthday)
  • ·         Hang up the stockings!

Apart from the few things that are date fixed like decorating the tree and writing letters, I have made a little stack of the papers in the cupboard and I will pick one to go in every day depending on whether I have the resources needed or the energy required!!

The bags came from Ikea last year, and they have three chocolates in each of them from a variety of Christmas chocolates that I found around and about…. This year’s new addition is a Christmas joke in each bag – I had a real giggle finding jokes to write out and I know the girls will find them hilarious, especially Faith, our resident joker!

I’d love to hang them all down the banister with the tinsel and the lights but last year Idris quickly worked out that they contain fun things to eat and I fear that all the chocolates would get scoffed in a day if I did so they are in the dresser to be drip fed!!

Saturday 19 October 2013

An Amazing Mathematical Story!

I've done a lot of research and reading over the summer about maths as I wanted to find a definite way forwards for the girls to suit them and their strengths. Eve is dyscalculic and struggles with the rote learning and formulaic side of maths but excels at the visual-spatial side of things and Faith is a whizz at formulae and mental maths but isn't so confident applying it logically to solve problems.... I have been plucking up the courage to dive in with some problem solving and today just so happened to be the right time!
I was unpacking a package of maths cubes and the girls began playing.......Eve made a hexagon and Faith made a square and I asked them to predict how many pieces they would need to make a second layer around the first one.... Eve had used six and predicted twelve for the second round... a good guess and based on sensible reasoning! She in fact used 18, and then thought that the third round would use 24, it in fact used 30 pieces to Eve's surprise!

I introduced the idea of recording what she was investigating on paper and gave her a notebook that I'd got ready a few weeks ago for just this purpose!To my amazement, she began to write..... and wrote and wrote and wrote, not only did she write about it, she turned her information into a maths mystery story for someone else to work out! For a dyslexic and dyscalculic child to jump enthusiastically into the two things she struggles with most was just magical to watch!

Halfway through I stopped her and we chatted about the emerging pattern in her investigation, she needed a little prompting to see it as she got cross with me for asking her things that she didn't know.... this is her stock response to many new situations in maths, she panics, shuts down mentally and gets upset, refusing to allow herself to think, automatically assuming that she won't know the answer! With a little patience and coaxing she talked me through it, telling me that the gap between 6 and 18 was 'two sixes' and between 18 and 30 was also 'two sixes' and that she thought that the gap between the next two would also be 'two sixes and therefore the next layer would need 42 pieces to complete.

She had got a bit tangled up in the idea of it being linked to the six times table but it was useful to be able to link it to the number of sides that a hexagon has. Faith had found a pattern in her squares linked to the four times table and I helped them to see that there were four sides to the square and there was a link there also. I'm looking forwards to suggesting that the girls investigate a triangle in the same way, and seeing if they pick up that it has three sides and that there might be a pattern to look for linked to threes.......

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Here's Rose!!

Well..... five and a half weeks later, here are some pictures of our beautiful baby girl...... she was born in the night like her big brother and she weighed 8lb 6oz. We've called her Rose..... Dewi brought me a tiny red rose bud from my favourite rose bush in our garden and gave it to me, and that evening when we were alone together and had time to talk about her name, we realised that we had both been thinking of Rose for just that reason, so Rose it is!
Here, Rose is about 3 1/2 hours old, meeting her brother and sisters for the first time and having a cuddle with them all!
Idris is very taken with his baby sister - I thought he might be a little bit jealous as he has always been very attached to us, but his attachment is obviously secure enough that there is room for another without a worry! People say that toddlers regress when a baby sibling is born but after five days Idris decided that nappies were old news and he wasn't wearing them anymore! What a star!
This is Rose snuggling on my dad when she was a few weeks old... she really loves her cuddles and likes to be held for most of the day but she sleeps really well at night..... what's that all about? I kept waiting for reality to kick in and for her to be wakeful in the night like the last two babies have been but no.....this girl likes her sleep, for which I am truly grateful as like most people, I function better on better sleep!!
Idris loves to snuggle with her and so do her sisters and it's a real help having willing arms to snuggle her when things need doing, although I can't leave Idris to snuggle as he will drop her in a moment to do something else!!
Rose lurrrves a warm bath.... preferably with me but as a bath for me is a rare occurence round here at the moment, she gets dunked in with Idris instead!
We've had a sad time this last few weeks with the sudden loss of Dewi's uncle and his grandmother a few days after. We spent time with dewi's family preparing for the funeral and Rose came into her own for giving comforting snuggles to anyone who needed them.... and there were lots who needed so she had lots of snuggles! Here she is with Dewi's Mam the day after the funeral (it was her Mam that passed away).

So Rose is 5 weeks old already and as I sat feeding her yesterday, saw that her toes were pushing into the ends of even her biggest sleepsuit, so we got out some bigger clothes yesterday, and to my surprise, they didn't drown her! She's very slim, but long like the others..... and her little hands and feet are soooo delicate and slender. Idris had big spades for hands and hobbit feet even as a little baby but Rose is delicate and slender! I love how they are all so different even as tiny little new borns! We get lots of lovely smiles from Rose now, she really is a sweetheart and I forgive her my messy house, pasta-heavy menus, and lack of brain power!

Friday 19 July 2013

News Flash: Unborn Baby Sabotages Blogging efforts!

It has been a whole month since I posted anything at all! There are draft posts waiting to be finished and lots of ideas in my head of things I wanted to write about..... BUT....... It is hot here, has been for two weeks now, I am 38 1/2 weeks pregnant and all my energy is taken up by feeding my family simple food, doing maintenance level cleaning and washing, and then going to bed early! There are a few bits of organisation that I'm trying to finish up to make home educating with a newborn a little easier and they are taking priority over my time when I have some spare energy!! So for now I'm going to admit defeat and let things slide!

I WILL be posting about my lovely boy who is TWO very soon...... I can't believe it! He is coveting a bike of his own..... will he get one? You'll have to wait until he opens his presents!

Sunday 16 June 2013

What IS Living Maths and How Can I Use it?

Living maths is attributed to Charlotte Mason as she referred often to 'living' books. She actually termed it the 'living teaching' of maths and it has morphed into living maths along the way. I'm really interested in it as a concept for teaching maths at home as the other CM aspects that I've adopted have worked so beautifully well. Recently I've been researching quite a bit about living maths, what that means and how to go about it and this post is a round-up of the information that I've found out and some thoughts about that!

How I came to be here.......
I've been dabbling in it for the last year and have gone on a bit of a journey.... I started out buying a stack of maths story books that I found from the living maths book list written by Mama Jenn that tallied with the maths skills outlined in the National Curriculum. I put together a few activities for each book and we read it every day and did a different activity that illustrated the maths concept in the book. The girls really enjoyed it and it was very effective for concepts such as symmetry and even place value but when I came up against multiplication, I got stuck!! That prompted me to buy a book for teachers to explain to ME what children needed to learn about maths and how they best understood it. That was a good move and I felt much more confident but it lead me on to realising that I couldn't 'teach' some of the concepts in one session and expect it to sink in. Some skills had to be practised over and over like reading does and that meant daily maths........

............which brought me back full circle to where I'd started, wondering how to do that without resorting to a dry boring workbook based curriculum that could completely turn the girls off maths. My age-old curriculum issues arose again as I looked around - they jumped here, there and everywhere - in the name of daily practise but without any seeming logic or continuity, they didn't have explanations, and they all went about it in a different order. Some used manipulatives which I was keen on but didn't fit with my philosophy on how I want the girls to experience learning. Most of them relied on the memorisation and retention of 'maths facts', Eve finds this kind of rote learning nigh on impossible which rules that route out!

I came to a few conclusions about my thinking on maths and where we are now:
  • We can't 'do it all' just like we can't with science and history either but I also don't want there to be glaring gaps that will hamper later maths for the girls.
  • The girls have very good practical maths skills using time, weighing and measuring, handling money etc.
  • They learn by themselves - I know this as they come running in to tell me that 3x4 is 12 or that 70-20 is 50..... but they aren't sure of the terminology and what written symbols mean.
  • The living maths that we have done so far has sunk in and been retained and used, most notably place value.
  • I believe that expertise builds up and stems from truly understanding the subject and seeing it's links to other aspects of life and how it can be used.
  • I want the security of feeling like we have a logical sequence and I'm not just attacking random subject matter and from our literacy approach I know that little and often builds nicely into confidence and understanding.
  • I want the flexibility to scoot ahead or to stop and expand on things that confuse or enthuse the girls.
What I found out about Living Maths........
With all this in mind I launched into my research determined to find the perfect fit once and for all! Some useful resources that I found on the way were the Living Maths Yahoo group, Living Learning Lists from the blog 'everyday snapshots', a fantastic article on squidoo entitled Charlotte Mason on Math, another by the same author called Transitioning to Living Maths and a vast amount of thought provoking information here. Because 'living books' has become a term synonymous with a Charlotte Mason style education, it seems natural to assume that 'living maths' means that maths is taught purely from books alone. Having dabbled in this method myself I am strongly questioning whether it is enough as after all, she didn't advocate teaching children the mechanics of reading by simply reading to them, although very very important, so how can we teach the mechanics of maths by reading about it to them? There must be more to it!

Charlotte Mason didn't use the term 'Living Maths', rather she referred to the 'Living Teaching' of maths. This suggests to me that she believed that maths should be brought alive for the children, and she didn't rule out any particular ways of doing that. Her recommendations followed a pattern of using manipulative materials followed by visualising those materials and methods with mental arithmetic and then moving onto written maths problems once mental arithmetic was secure. Problems should challenge the child without overwhelming them, this is important when doing maths from a CM perspective as she placed importance on accuracy and getting things right first time without retrying it, it will be up to me to ensure that I pitch things at the right level for them. Charlotte Mason believed in a solid foundation of the basics, she disapproved of a child bashing through sums and problems without a true grasp of what they were trying to do. My favourite principle of a CM maths program is that you shouldn't 'overteach', she didn't want parents to get in the way of a child's learning, this is fantastic because it gives me confidence that a well chosen pathway and well-chosen materials will do the job nicely without me having to battle my own maths insecurities to facilitate it! 

How I am approaching Living Maths.....
I found that Charlotte Mason's approach to maths wasn't that far removed from what I thought it would be and how I am planning on approaching it already. I have chosen a four fold approach this year influenced by where the girls are in their maths development, what has worked previously and what I think I can manage with a newborn and a toddler!:

  1. I have chosen The Dyscalculia Toolkit by Ronit Bird as our main spine. It is designed for children aged 7-14 and is aimed at supporting children with learning difficulties in maths..... HOWEVER I think it is a brilliant scheme for all children and it fits really well with Charlotte Mason's explanation of the living teaching of maths as it focuses on maths facts but without a heavy reliance on memorisation - it shows logical ways to get there by reasoning rather than rote learning. It also places an emphasis on understanding backed up with concrete experience of using manipulatives before moving on to mental working out and then written problems. From my personal wish list, it ticks the boxes of providing a logical sequence of small incremental steps that can be tackled at a rate that suits my children. It isn't designed to be a curriculum, but rather a 'pick and choose' selection of activities and games but as I want to ensure that the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are secure by the end of this year, I am going to use it as a curriculum, set-up in much the same way as I use The Reading Reflex. I will post more about how I'm doing that another time! 
  2. I have purchased the first book in the Life of Fred series and will be trying this out with the girls, I've read a range of reviews on it but think we need to try it out to see how it suits us. It will fit nicely into our book basket but I'm unsure of whether the 'jump about' nature of the stories will be sufficient as a standalone curriculum in the long term, although it does follow it's own sequential course building up to high school level. The tone of the stories isn't my cup of tea and there doesn't seem to be much material to allow practise and repetition which over the next year might not suit ME as I don't want to be having to prep extra things to go along with it!!
  3. The third and final aspect that I'm really looking forwards to from a personal interest point of view are living books on maths. I was inspired by this living math through history curriculum and very nearly bought it if it wasn't for a review that praised it highly but said it was pretty much a series of book lists and you needed to do many hours of prep and organisation yourself to utilise it. As they are kind enough to make their book lists freely available I chose instead to trawl through them and choose some interesting books that will tie maths to the history and science that we are doing this year, making it 'live' in terms of linking all the subjects together as a whole, which was another of my personal requirements. I am particularly looking forwards to these as my maths experience in school was limited to formulae and processes with very little enjoyment! I'm going to intersperse these with some of the living maths books that we already own, utilising the method we've found successful before of tying practical activities to them to teach concepts such as time, fractions, measurement and more.
  4. Be mindful of taking advantage of opportunities to measure, weigh, tell the time, use calendars etc on an informal, real-life basis
I haven't worked out yet how I will fit these different aspects in and there is much more to say on the subject of living maths books and the Dyscalculia resource book, but they will have to wait for another post or two, especially as I am so spoiled for choice with the book lists that I can't decide what to get! There are things I would like to bring into our maths that I simply don't have the time and capacity to achieve at the moment. I keep reminding myself that I can't do it all and neither do I have to..... we can try new things another year and I think what we have for this year is rich and varied enough! In the meantime, you can browse through my Charlotte Mason Pinterest board and my Maths Musings Pinterest board for more ideas and inspiration on teaching maths in a CM way!

Saturday 15 June 2013

Teaching Toddlers to Cut

I took these pictures quite a few weeks back now but felt compelled to write about them today due to the incredible difference in Idris's cutting skills in such a short time. I can remember sitting with Faith for hours at a time whilst she mastered scissors and it was a pleasure to be able to replicate that for Idris! I had noticed that he was becoming more interested in the tools that the girls were using and was naming things like 'sizzies'. I picked up a pack of coloured electrical tape in the pound shop when I was in town ready for him..... and off we went as soon as he said 'sizzies, me'
I love the concentration on his face and his opening and closing mouth as he cuts. He started out using one hand on each scissor handle. I gave him proper craft scissors that were sharp enough to cut well but without pointed ends. Blunt toddler scissors simply frustrate children when they are learning to cut and do them no favours as in struggling to cut with them they could hurt themselves more. I have two pairs of scissors with looped handles that spring back open when released and only need squeezing to cut with, without having to worry about which fingers go in which holes. I have left and right handed pairs as you never know which way a little one is going to go! Faith loved cutting with them but Idris eschewed them in favour of a pair the girls were using! I also have a pair that has a small plastic spring on one handle that when folded down helps the blades to spring open easily again..... they came in useful later on.... for the first stage, just let your child hold and move the scissors how they feel comfortable.
It is useful to hold the paper up for them, at right angles to where they are cutting so that they only have to concentrate on moving the scissor blades, not on manipulating them to get them round the paper. You will sense when is the right time to start letting them do both. You can see from the picture that Idris quickly moved on to attempting to use the scissors with one hand only. It wasn't very successful but I said nothing and let him guide his own progress!I also avoid saying too much about which way up to hold the hand...... words get in the way of a concentrating toddler and they will find their own way! Faith was 16 months when she started cutting, Idris is about 22 months here. The first step with learning to cut is usually 'fringing' around the edge of a piece of paper, making a single cut then opening the scissors and making another cut.
With the electrical tape I held that out tight so that they scissors would cut first time and then Idris either showed me where to stick it or put it down for himself. It is nice to use the coloured tape as they can see where it has gone better than clear tape and allows choice of colour too.... Idris was keen to pull out the tape by himself, another reason why electrical tape is good for toddlers as finding and keeping the end is easy and it doesn't wrap itself up quite so much as clear tape!! It also has the benefit of strengthening fingers and increasing co-ordination and control!
After about an hour cutting and sticking, Idris stopped, looked up, gave a huge sigh then jumped down from the table and took his card with him to show Daddy what he had done with the sizzies.... the picture was ceremoniously pinned to the kitchen door with his big sister's pictures and he was so thrilled, he kept coming back to look at it and say 'me, sizzies'!!!!
Roll on a few weeks and he has asked to use scissors quite often. He likes to carry them with him and although I balked at this to start with I then decided to allow it within the parameters of it being a blunt-ended pair and of him carrying them properly with the blades in his hand and pointing down. He forgets a lot but if I say 'carry your scissors properly please' he immediately turns them round again! He has tried cutting all sorts of things and has developed really good cutting skills, so much so that he now cuts one handed, in straight lines across a piece of paper and at a furious pace! Under the table is littered with pieces of snipped paper several times a day at the moment! 

Today's interest was in cutting boxes, it was fascinating to watch him try different techniques and angles until he found one that worked. The recycling bin is a great source of materials to practise cutting skills on - catalogues, thin cardboard boxes, plastic fruit boxes, wax paper cups..... all provide a new experience! Other things to give your toddler to cut up are play dough, drinking straws, vegetable peelings and leaves and thin twigs from the garden!

Saturday 8 June 2013

Idris at 22 months

My sweet boy turned 22 months a few weeks back, and is motoring on towards being 23 months - that is so close to two years old, which is coming round sooooo quickly!! He continues to delight and amaze us and is such a joyful little person...... as you can see from the series of pictures this month, he has discovered the thrills of swinging! He seems to feel safe in the strap seat which hugs him securely and begs for Daddy to push him 'more push peeeeeze'!! Dewi of course responds by pushing him far higher than I feel comfortable with but I bite my lip and smile as he squeals with delight and yells 'peek boo' around the edge of the frame and sticks his tongue out at me!!!
Some other physical skills he is working on:
  • HUGE jumps into the swimming pool - almost bombing, then bobbing back up with a big grin on his face and his eyes wide open!
  • Pushing the girls 'scoot toots' (scooters) around the patio, watching how the handle turns the wheels and picking them up and putting them down, then propping them against things.
  • Climbing ever more challenging structures - whether they are designed for climbing or not!!
  • Carrying a can half full of water and watering plants
  • Cutting with scissors - equally proficient with both hands
  • Tripod grip holding a pen and drawing tiny little circles and marks - he finds it fascinating that he can make small marks and appears to be ambidextrous at the moment

He has discovered tools, to be more specific, hammers..... it started when Daddy, Grandpa (bomp bom) and Dadcu built a wooden cabin in the garden. They all three had hammers and Idris seems to have decided that men have hammers and therefore HE must have hammers (notice the plural here!!). This led to his first major injury of a split finger after he dropped one on his hand.... it has healed nicely though and hasn't put him off! Dewi found him a nice LITTLE hammer and he went all round the garden trying it out on different surfaces, he was enchanted with the 'ting' it made when tapped against the metal bird bath!!
Although he has a wide and varied vocabulary and his understanding is fantastic, he is a boy of few words at present, these few words can sometimes be pretty repetitive though!!

  • He tells little stories like "Bomp bom - dog - oh oh" which was about him throwing a toy dog out of the car window as we were leaving my parent's home and Grandpa had to run up the drive to rescue the dog and give it back! Another one was "cat - shace (face - he can't make 'f'' sounds!) - scatch" accompanied by a gesture, when my friend's cat scratched his face one time. He really loves to tell stories.
  • He purposefully learns new words by pointing to things and looking at me with a questioning look asking for me to name it, then having a go himself. Like most toddlers, he has his own unique sounds that I regularly have to translate for others!
  • He tells the punchline of books before we get there which makes me giggle, and answers the questions or joins in with the words he knows. He has a stock four favourite books that we read over and over at bedtime.... I've tried sneaking a new one in but it isn't accepted!

This is a rare picture - my tough little cookie rarely cries when he tumbles or bangs himself and if he does it is short lived as he comes with the offending hand or leg held out for a kiss better.... cue instant end to tears!! He can tell me now that something is 'sore' and can show me where which helps! The best bit about this last month is that he has started to spontaneously dole out cuddles and it makes me so happy to have his little arms wrapped around my head or neck and squeezed and then a careful kiss planted on my lips!!
This is Idris at his happiest - helping Daddy with whatever Daddy is doing and watching carefully how it is done then mimicking it. He is very much a man's man and starts to talk about his Daddy as soon as we head for home if we are out without him! I love watching him grow up!!