Monthly Archives: September 2014

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Reflection: 2014/17

Preparing: Now that Cam and I have a few days where it’s just us at home connecting I’m doing a little more planning of activities and provocations. I don’t think it’s at all necessary that I do this, but I do love to plan. :) We are also gearing up for several family celebrations that come along in Fall like Halloween/All Souls Day, Martinmas, and the end of the summer season. Fall is short where we are in California. 

Gardening: I have got to get out into the garden and clean up. Cam and I are working on preparing the beds for winter and are planting out our fall/winter veggies. Hooray for root veggies and squash! We can also put in peas that should be ready in spring. I tried that a few weeks back, but a rouge chicken snuck into the garden and ate up all my tender shoots. Sometimes those girls are extremely lucky we like them so much.

Celebrating: The weather here is finally (finally!!) cooling down and it’s becoming clear Fall is almost here. We also got some rain this past week which we desperately need here in the West. Cam was thrilled to listen to rain coming down when she woke up. Unfortunately it didn’t stick around long enough for her to wear her rain boots or coat. 

Cool Stuff Vol. 1, Issue 4

Both of the things I have to share today have come to me by way of other projects I’ve been working on. 

I am running a Makerspace for middle and high school students at the school where I used to work. The maker movement is something that is starting to catch on in education. It’s all about making stuff (as you could probably tell from the name), but what underpins the making is learning how to teach yourself and learning through hands-on projects, creative processes, and problem solving. I wrote a blog post about it here on my library blog if you’re interested in learning a bit more about what it is. At any rate, in working on this I found diy.org which is a site that encourages you to try out new hobbies and become an expert. There are a ton of things you can try out and when you choose one they give you a series of activities that you need to complete to become proficient. Once proficient you earn an online badge. I’m less interested in the badges and more interested in the diversity of hobbies and activities. And because it’s part of the maker movement I can see it being applicable to Reggio and project based learning which also tie into the maker movement. It might be a great resource for older kids and homeschooling families. Or families interested in doing this stuff on the weekends. While some of it isn’t going to work for really young kids, I do think you could do this alongside your child. 

Since I love honeybees here’s a link to an awesome video that features high speed video footage of bees. It features some interesting facts in the video too. I used this in an educational kit I created for Zoobean. The kits were part of the inspiration for my For Your Classroom makeover and are similar.

For Your Classroom: Letters and Postcards

About a year ago I subscribed to a couple of magazines for Cam, Ranger Rick, Jr. and High Five (Highlights for younger kids). While she has enjoyed the reading the magazines, recently she has really gotten interested in getting them out of the mailbox. Whenever she sees me check for mail she asks if she got a new magazine. I think everyone loves to receive mail. Not bills of course, but letters and cards and magazines. 

Letter writing and playing Post Office is a great way to encourage literacy and imagination. And your child doesn’t have to be writing or reading yet to enjoy “writing” a letter. They can simply draw a picture or scribble out “words”. You can write them letters, too. Just a card with their name inside will help familiarize them with what their name looks like written out. 

Letters & Postcards

Books* 

The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond: I know I’ve talked about this book before, but I just love it. Cornelia Augusta finds a variety of hearts in a rainstorm and uses them to make Valentine’s cards for her friends which she then mails. It’s such a sweet story about how touching it is to receive a handmade card in the mail. 

The Seven Little Postmen by Margaret Wise Brown: An old classic Golden Book that is still in print. It shows you how a letter from a little boy passes through the postal system to get to his grandmother. The illustrations are funny and have a lot to look at (keep your eye out for the letter) and the story is really engaging. Some of the methods may be a bit outdated, but it’s still relevant. 

The Jolly Little Postman or Other People’s Letters by Allan and Janet Ahlberg: The jolly postman delivers letters to fairy tale characters then returns home at night to his own pot of tea and mail. Not only are the references to the fairy tales clever, but this book has the actual letters he delivers in it. Each time he visits a new person (or animal) there is a pocket that looks like an envelope that has a letter and often something else to pull out and read. So Cinderella gets a letter from her publisher and a copy of the book they are publishing for her. We love this book, and although you have to be a bit gentle with it, it is so worth that lesson. 

Angelina‚Äôs Invitation to the Ballet by Katherine Holabird: I am less familiar with this one, but it has the same format as The Jolly Postman, with letters to pull out and read. It would be good for those fans of Angelina or the ballet. It is out of print so you may have to find a used copy or check your local library system (which is where I found the copy I read).

*I am waiting on a few books from the library to read through and decide if I want to include them here. I will update as I get them in and reflect on them.

Update: 9/25/2014:

The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons: This has surprisingly little text for a Gibbons book, but there are tons of pictures which help tell the story of how the post office receives, sorts, processes, moves, and delivers mail. I like that the colors in it are red, white and blue like the post office and the limited palette in some ways focuses your attention in the drawings so you can read them. A good general information book. It may be a bit outdated (I’m sure there are more computers and automation now), but for the most part it’s still very current. 

The Post Office by David and Patricia Armentrout: This book is less detailed about the mailing process which might make it a slightly better fit for younger kids than Gibbons’ book. Instead of drawings The Post Office book features photographs for illustrations. It is clearly much more recent because it shows a more expensive stamp, an automated postage machine and new machines. There is a great two-page spread detailing how to address an letter. 

A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats: Another classic from Keats. Peter wants to invite his friend and neighbor Amy to his birthday party. To make the invitation more special he decides to make an invitation and mail it. On his way to the mailbox though, a gust of wind carries the letter off. Peter chases it around and catches it just as Amy rounds the corner. Unfortunately Amy is knocked down in the process and runs away crying while Peter slips the letter into the mail. Now he isn’t sure if she’ll be there for his party. A good story about why you might mail a letter as well as a friendship. 

Song

Mail Carrier’s Song

(Sung to Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

Write, write, Write your cards,

and lots of letters, too!

I will bring them to your friends,

And maybe they’ll write back soon!

(Source: http://www.preschool-plan-it.com/post-office.html; You may want to visit this site they have a ton of ideas for a post office theme in a classroom.)

Dramatic Play Area Ideas

Setting up an area with supplies for a post office makes a great dramatic play area that also incorporates literacy. You could also use this as an opportunity to write thank you notes to friends and family if you have recently had a holiday or birthday celebration. Here are some ideas for things to include:

  • Postman Costume for dress up
  • A small canvas bag can become a mail sack for deliveries
  • Cards or stationary from the dollar store or the dollar bin (that way when they scribble on a lot of them, you don’t feel so bad)
  • Stamps (either one cent stamps or stickers that look like stamps)
  • Pens, pencils, markers
  • An example letter (so they can copy the format of the envelope and even the letter inside)
  • Address labels (I get a ton of those address labels from charities, I put those out for Cam to use)
  • A mail box (both for mailing and for receiving letters; we used an old mail box we found in our garage, but you could just as easily create one from a shoebox)
  • A few boxes for packages (the post office has official boxes, you can snag a few for free)

 DIY & Activities

DIY Cardboard Mailbox  If you have a large cardboard box laying around and feel motivated, this would be so awesome for posting letters. 

Writing Station from An Everyday Story I scaled this idea way down for Cam since she isn’t ready to actually write letters or word. A small pencil holder with stamps and stickers, pencils and a couple pens, and some cards and envelopes. 

Draw Your Own Postcard A printable postcard from the Picklebums blog that has a large blank space on the front so you can draw your own postcard. Alternatively you could simple cut some heavy cardstock down to the size of a postcard (approximately 4×6). What I love most about this printable is that the back of the postcard is included with the address lines, a place for the stamp and the line that separates the address and letter portion. 

Reflection: 2014/16

Another school update: There were no tears this week!! I have to admit Cam was not in school this Friday. I had a professional conference that we all went out of town to attend. I didn’t necessarily want to pull her out of school because it might end up causing some regression, but no tears!! She had a really great day last Friday and I think she was able to hold onto those positive feelings for the next week. We also brought a few things in from the wishlist that they talked about at Back to School Night and I think that helped Cam feel a little more connected as she helped pick out books and two dolls..

She also has a friend. A little girl named Olivia who stands by while she cries until Cam is ready to play. I guess they were hugging each other on Wednesday when it was time to leave. Cam’s first school friend! 

The teachers have been really great giving positive feedback about what she’s doing. The teachers have seemed to settle in and there haven’t been any substitutes or assistants or volunteers that I didn’t recognize. All in all I’m feeling a lot better about the situation. 

Handwork: Quiet Book

For Cam’s birthday I made her a quiet book. A quiet book is a fabric book with little activities on each page. Often they involve some kind of fine motor practice like lacing, snapping, tying, etc. I used Pinterest to find inspiration, but the pattern was all mine. With some good planning up front it wasn’t terribly hard. I spend 2-3 hours per page or spread. My mom did the embroidery on the front. I used fat quarters that we had at home and some leftover batting, so out of pocket cost was less than $40 for fabric glue, snaps, and the like. 

 Quiet Book Collage 1

The first page has little colored shapes, shape outlines, and colored squares. Cam can match the shape to its outline or match it to its color. 

The second page has a large patch of Velcro where she can use the pattern blocks to make designs and pictures. The facing page has a pocket for the pattern blocks and two strips of Velcro where Cam can make and/or match patterns with them. 

Quiet Book Collage 2

Next is a clothes line strung between two trees. She can use the tiny clothes pins to clip the clothes to the line. I photocopied clothes from the book Ruby Red Shoes and laminated them.

Next to that is a heart made from ribbons that she can weave. This one is really tricky so it will take some practice and some time before she masters it.

The fifth/sixth page spread has a garden. She can button and unbutton the flowers from their stems and a little bead caterpillar can weave through the holes in the grass. 

Quiet Book Collage 3

After that is a page with a placemat. She can snap the utensils, plate, and cup into place to set the table. The placemat doubles as a pocket.

Then there is a pocket page. It holds all the felt sea creatures for the next two-page spread…

…which is an underwater scene that she can use like a flannel board. She can make up stories with all the fish and animals. 

Quiet Book Collage 4

The last page is a lift the flap. Each flap has a numeral on it from 1-9 and under the flap is the same number of buttons for touching and counting. 

Reflection: 2014/15

Back to School Night: I was using Back to School Night as a gauge of Cam’s school. If we were really under impressed (coupled with some of the issues we’ve been having) we were going to consider pulling Cam out. Fortunately we were able to interact with Cam’s homeroom teacher and with one of the other teachers and really liked them and felt comfortable. Cam is able to keep Archie with her at school and they came across as gentle and caring. We are less impressed with another teacher, but can limit our interaction with her. I also don’t think Cam interacts with her much so we can let it go for now. Our consensus was that we would give it until the end of October to see if Cam has settled in and is no longer having separation anxiety. If she is still having it, that would be a big red flag. If not, then I think we’ll be happy with the program. 

Head Colds: We’ve all been fighting off a head cold that isn’t particularly severe, but just won’t go away. Ugh. I just want to breath through my nose again.

Cool Stuff Vol. 1, Issue 3

This is going to be the TED Radio Hour edition. If you aren’t familiar with TED, it’s a collection of talks given by a variety of people. Originally it was technology, entertainment, and design (hence TED), but they’ve branched out a lot to include just about any topic under the sun. Talks can be short, but many are about 20 minutes. Often they are innovative ideas sometimes they come across more as motivational speeches. I would guess the most famous TED talk is given by Sir Ken Robinson about how schools kill creativity. The TED Radio Hour is a program that picks a theme and finds TED talks around that theme. They then invite the speakers onto the show and have them elaborate and fill in their talk. 

A few weeks ago they ran an episode on happiness. It touched on the idea that happiness is tied to being mindful and present and slowing down and that material possessions do not increase happiness. I was really interested because these are all concepts I’ve been exploring and trying to implement in our house. Turns out I may make us happier. The program is around 45 minutes long. Simply Happy

A few weeks later there was an interesting episode about kids and learning. The whole episode was interesting, but one speaker in particular spoke about how sometimes adults need to get out of kids way when they learn. That kids are capable of teaching themselves most things and that teachers make better guides than lecturers. I thought about how relevant that is to the Reggio approach and to unschooling. When you click the link you can chose to listen to the whole episode or, if you are only interested in part about children teaching themselves, you can listen only to the part by Sugata Mitra. Unstoppable Learning

Cam in the Kitchen: Biscuits

One thing I remember from my childhood is making Bisquick biscuits with my mother. She would mix the dough and I would help her roll it out and cut out the biscuits. When Cam started to ask to help make dinner biscuits were one thing that came to mind to have her help with. Even without a pre-made dry mix they are really easy to whip up.

The less you handle the dough the flakier and more tender the biscuits will be, but with a child helping you can kiss that goodbye. Cam loves to help roll and pat the dough. She loves to push her thumbs into it. And I like to collect it up after cutting out biscuits and roll it back out to use up as much dough as possible and prolong the process. I use a cup to cut out the rounds, not a biscuit cutter which is essentially a round cookie cutter. You can choose any size cup depending on what size biscuit you want. Also ideally, you won’t turn the cutter around as you cut out the biscuit because that crimps the edges shut and doesn’t allow them to rise to flakey perfection. And again, with a kid even with a sharp biscuit cutter, they’re going to want to turn it a bit to cut through. This isn’t really about turning out restaurant quality biscuits, it’s about getting them involved. The results will still taste good and will have a rosy glow from the help you received and time you spent with your child. If it does bother you, or you’re pressed for time, make drop biscuits which have a little more liquid and do not get rolled out.

Here is the recipe we use for biscuits (it’s from an old vintage cookbook from the 1940s):

 

Buttermilk Biscuits
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups flour
  2. 3 tsp baking powder
  3. 1 tsp salt
  4. 1/4 cup cold butter
  5. 2/3 cup cold milk, buttermilk, or cream
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) together in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry cutter. Add the milk and mix quickly. Knead for a few seconds on a lightly floured surface. Pat or roll out to 1/2-inch thickness and cut with a cup or biscuit cutter. Place on a greased or covered cookie sheet. Place them close together if you wish only the top and bottom to have a crust. Place them further apart if you wish the sides to have a crust as well. Bake at once in the oven for about 12 minutes (see note).
Notes
  1. You can do this all by hand or use a stand mixer.
  2. If you use a cup, keep your eye on the biscuits as a smaller biscuit will bake for less time and a larger one for longer. They are finished when they are a nice golden brown on the outside.
  3. For drop biscuits increase the amount of milk by as much as a 1/3 of a cup. The dough should be sticky. Use a spoon to scoop out approximately even amounts of dough and drop them directly onto the cookie sheet.
Atomic Bee Ranch http://atomicbeeranch.com/

 

Reflection: 2014/14

I’m going to change up the format here this week to talk a bit about Cam’s first two days of school and the struggle we’re having with separation anxiety. I’m sorry if I complain too much in this post. I expect things are going to get better, but I wanted to record some of my early thoughts too.

So, we had a chance to visit the classroom the Friday before school started to let Cam see the space and meet the teachers. Meeting the teachers was spotty at best. One was sweet but I got the impression she didn’t want to talk for long with us, another disappeared, and one of the aides didn’t say a word to us. Not even her name. I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I figured the first day of school the teachers would circulate a little more and reassure us and Cam.

This turned out to be not quite the case. One teacher did take Cam’s hand and lead her to the circle. Cam got a little weepy but was alright for the most part. Upon returning though, Cam did cry and the teacher told me she had trouble with transitions and that she was clingy (not the word she used). They did apparently read together, but she said it was just an average day, not good not bad. Okay, first of all, my child is three, of course transitions are hard. She has been home with me for three years, of course she likes adults and needs that support. Of course she’s clingy, this is the first time she’s been away from the people she’s known her WHOLE life. Second, was there anything positive? I’m not feeling very confident about this situation now, especially since you’re essentially telling me, by your standards, she had a bad day. I also feel like you’re irritated she clung to you. To me, she didn’t cry the whole time so the day was a success. Did she have any fun? I have no idea. Not even asking Cam, who was vague, gave me a sense of what happened. Third, it’s the first day, can we please focus on the positive and give me some suggestions to help her with the hardest part, which is feeling comfortable? 

I was already apprehensive on the second day, Friday, and then she SOBBED when I tried to extricate myself. There were a bunch of new people there that hadn’t been on Wednesday, which made it confusing to know who to talk to and also made for some very mixed messages about what I should do and about Cam’s pacifier and Archie, her stuffed owl. I was told to leave and to stay as long as I wanted. After holding her for 15 minutes I was able to pass her off to an amazing parent substitute who picked her up and walked her around and even got her to wave as I left. I did leave the pacifier and Archie.

Now, I know my kid. That cry is one of extreme distress and while I know that staying and staying makes the separation harder, I can’t in good conscience leave my kid while she cries like that. Which is why I chose to stay. I also know that Cam needs an adult with her to help her feel comfortable and a good 15 to 20 minutes to quietly and calmly observe the new situation before she is ready to join in. That’s just her. You can’t push her, it just prolongs the time it takes for her to jump in. I’m happy to leave and let her get comfortable with another adult, but no one offered or asked what they could do to help. Maybe I need to be more assertive, but I would have thought the teachers and aides would have more experience that would at least have them checking in with the parent. Most of them avoided Cam and I and went for the happier playing kids. Again, I’m not feeling so confident about this situation. 

I was finally able to leave with the help of the parent who was absolutely wonderful. When I came back to pick her up Cam was soooooo happy. One teacher said she had discovered the Play-Doh and happily played with that later in the morning. Archie helped her make things and she sang about him and about me. This is the kid I know! Great, things are looking up. She was painting when I found her and she was smiling and wanted to show me and finish what she was doing. While she finished up I talked a bit with the head teacher (?, it hasn’t been clear who is who and what is what) who disdainfully handed the pacifier back to me saying they weren’t allowed. Fine, we want to wean her off it a bit anyway, but I was told it was okay for her to have it this morning and she was clearly having a hard time. Same with Archie. He isn’t actually allowed except for show-and-tell. But again I was told it was okay and she was clearly having a hard time. The teacher finally warmed up and admitted things were still crazy getting the space set up. I was able to tell her that this was Cam’s first time away from family and she was really surprised and noted that it was a huge transition. I agree, but wish we could have had this conversation long before school started. I think that’s important information and explains a lot of her behavior. There was still no communication about how best to help Cam transition except to agree that the shorter the goodbye the better when I asked if she thought that would work. She didn’t offer any suggestions for how to do that or any advice. Just a curt “yes” to my “is it better if I leave quickly?”. I’m still not confident that that is how this needs to be handled and certainly no plan is in place to help Cam and I come Monday. 

As I said, this is Cam’s first experience away from family. I don’t doubt our decision to keep her home or to use our family resources for care. At all. But I can’t help but wonder if we had done this when she was a lot younger if she wouldn’t have cared nearly as much. My problem with this whole experience has been that I need the teachers to tell me what they expect of me and what they need me to do to make this work for everyone. But no one is communicating well. I understand they are in a new building, things are still coming together, but the communication is essential. And it can be done regardless of whether or not your classroom is 100% set up. I feel like I’m in a conundrum or Catch 22 at this point. I guess it’s up to me to devise a plan, talk with Cam, and simply demand the help we need. Which I hate to do because what I come up with by myself may not be ideal for the teachers and could really upset them. But if they aren’t going to communicate then I can’t really worry about what they want. I’m fine advocating for Cam, but having been a teacher I know that those demanding parents can be hard to take. But I also think I’ve taught in situations where the expectations are clear and demanding parents are expecting something above and beyond. 

I’m giving the whole situation until the end of October, or if things are really bad, until the end of September. I expect things will get better, but if they don’t then this isn’t the right choice for Cam right now. She doesn’t have to be in school. I’m still not working and the social experience and wonderful program are really just great opportunities. Wish us luck in the coming week! I’m hoping the positive day on Friday will convince her on Monday that she wants to be there. 

Activity in the Hive: August 2014

It is fall cleaning time in our house. We had to move a cabinet out of the living room and it kicked off a cleaning/getting-rid-of stuff spree. I tackled the classroom over the last couple weeks and really cleaned stuff out. I also shifted some things around on the shelves so that now all of Cam’s tray puzzles are out as are her jigsaw puzzles and any games that are appropriate. There are a number of activity toys, like a tool box with nuts and bolts and the lacing peacock that are also out on the shelves.

Cam is still so into the imaginative play. The My Little Ponies have waned in popularity, but she is still playing with her animals and dolls all the time. For herIMG_3879 birthday she got a doll house which has been in constant use since. There isn’t exactly a story but we do a fair amount of introducing ourselves as characters and asking about what we like to do.

Outside we have a gravel pit next to our swing set. There was another section that had not been filled with anything. I had thrown around the idea of putting in dirt so she could garden in it, but it isn’t a great place for that since there is very little sunlight (except an hour or so of punishing afternoon sun) and no irrigation. After discussing getting a sandbox and discovering how expensive those plastic ones are we decided to fill the empty bin with sand. Cam is over the moon about the sand pit. A lot of the water table toys were actually water toys or mixed use and they have migrated over to the sand pit. Our weather has been a little cool lately which means she doesn’t want to be in the pit in the morning, but oh the afternoons!

This month has been slow as we enjoy our last few weeks of summer and our last days before Cam starts school.