Monday, April 30, 2012

Stone Soup and other Children's Literature About Food

This activity is an old classic done by many primary teachers in many states for many years.   It seems the story likely originates in France.  Though there is quite a history behind the story (see link below).  The version I have was copyrighted in 1947 and was written and illustrated by Marcia Brown and given the Caldecott Honor.  The story is titled "Stone Soup", 

In the story, three hungry soldiers enter a village and try to get the villagers to offer up food and lodging. The villagers claim they too, are hungry and don't have any food to spare.  So, the soldiers begin making "Stone Soup".
For the activity you will need:
The Book "Stone Soup" (any of its many variations)
A Cooking Pot
Water or pre-made broth
1-2 Large potatoes
1 small head of cabbage
3-4 Large carrots
1/2 lb stew beef that has been browned
Some Pearled Barley (a little for your child to touch and feel that is not prepared, and about a cup of ready-to-use barely).
1 cup of milk
3 round, smooth (and CLEAN/sanitized) stones
AND other seasonings as desired to taste.

I used a crockpot and browned the beef before I began the activity with my little one, but this could be done before dinner time on the stovetop instead of in a crock-pot as well.  The story begins with water, salt and pepper.  I recommend beginning with a broth and additional seasonings for a more flavorful meal.

1. Read the story together.  Stress the use of ordinal numbers (first, second, third. . .)  Ask your child to re-tell the story in his/her own way.  Ask the child what the villagers thought about the idea of Stone Soup.  Why were the villagers so impressed?  Were the soldiers really using magic?  How did the soup really come about?

2. If needed, introduce the word, "ingredient".  Skim through the story together asking your child to pick out the "ingredients" you will need and right down your shopping list.  Use ordinal numbers again, "what will we need first?  What comes second, third?  The Fourth ingredient will be? . . ."

3.  Obtain your ingredients.  Whether your child actually goes to the grocery store with you is not important.  You can simply "obtain" the ingredients from your own supplies, but if he/she does go with to the grocery store or farmer's market, go ahead and put your child in charge of checking off the ingredients as you find them.  If one of your children is in second or third grade, he/she could probably even keep track of the prices on a tablet of paper for you and you can have an extended activity incorporating higher-order math by figuring out how much the soup cost to make.

4.  Read the book together again in the kitchen.  Actually make your soup as you go.  Again, stress the ordinal numbers.  "What do we put in first dear?  Second?" and so on.  Obviously, depending on the age and ability of your child you will want to keep safety around knives and hot objects in mind, but give him/her a role.  My little girl read the ingredients to me and cleaned them before I chopped them and put them in the pot.

5.  Serve your soup with a nice crusty roll made from your favorite bread recipe (or your favorite bakery).  Eat your soup (be sure to remove the stones first and have your child see they have been removed).  Ask, "did we really need to put the stones in there?"  Over dinner discuss how the soldiers tricked the villagers with him/her if he/she wasn't old enough to catch this on his/her own.  Then discuss taste, texture etc. using ordinal numbers again, "what are you tasting first? second? what veggies were in your third bite?" etc.

This story has quite a history and a number of variations.  For information about accessing some of these variations simply take a look at this Wikipedia article - who knew Jim Hensen and Shel Silverstein have both referenced this tale?  Perhaps you'd like to further extend the activity by taking a look at multiple variations of the story and compare.  I know I'm looking forward to seeing Jim Hensen's take on the matter.

Complimentary idea:
If you have another younger child in the home, you can make a simple bread dough recipe and put your younger child to work kneading the dough while you and big sister/brother start the soup.  Bread will take longer to cook unless you use the crock-pot idea, but the sensory experience of kneading dough is pretty engaging for most young kids.

For more information on why and how spending time in the kitchen can help with math skills, check out "Food Math".

Other books that lend themselves to a food-related activity:
The Gingerbread Man or Hansel and Gretle - make a gingerbread house or people. 
All in Just One Cookie - make some chocolate chip cookies while getting a little geography.
Pie in the Sky (Louis Ehlert)  Includes Pie Recipe
Pancakes, Pancakes, Eric Carle  Make Pancakes
Little Black Sambo, Not perfectly PC, but I did once see a more modern take on this             
                             old story you might be able to find (Pancakes).
Little Red Hen  (bread)
The Ugly Vegetables (another soup)
Enemy Pie,  This one is a GREAT one for a lesson in empathy and getting along with 
                            others.  Also a Reading Rainbow Book. (More Pie)
All for Pie, Pie for All  (Even more pie)

Have you encountered other great books or stories that could be inspiration for an activity centered around food preparation?  Please share them with us!  What recipe would you use along with the book if one isn't included?

Art Appreciation

I didn't really grow up around fine art.  I did get to know theater arts fairly well as a dancer and as someone with a lot of friends who acted, but not painting and sculpture etc.  I have truly enjoyed learning about the amazing ways some of the masters have managed to express emotion simply through the texture or color used in their painting as an adult.  The thing that has really blown me away though is how my daughter "sees" fine art.  It is so unfortunate that a hole world of expression is being lost to today's generation.  If an art education for your child is important to you, in most situations, you will need to take the matter into your own hands.  Here are some resources I have found engaging and enlightening for myself and my younger students along with a few activities you might try.  Hope you find these resources as helpful as I did.

For your baby or toddler:  Series of board books: "Quiet Time With ________"  (Fill in the blank with an Artists name.  I know they have Cassatt, Matisse and Picasso).  Poetry matched with copies of works of art by the artist in the title.  Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober

For Your Preschool Child:
Little Einsteins depicts famous works of art within the cartoon while your child also listens to, and gets a lesson in classical music.

For Your 3-7 year old
Actually DO art.  Unfortunately what most kids get at school is largely not art, they do crafts, however the projects where they are given a media (paint, chalk, pencils, charcoal, clay. . . ) and allowed to explore it on their own terms in their own time allow them to begin exploring what artists do.  There are a lot of  creative ways to work the process too.  For example, tape a paintbrush to a flashlight and let them "paint" the light spot in the dark  The youngest ones won't really realize that as they move the brush to "follow" the light made from the flashlight, they are also moving the light.  

You can experiment with the different media on damp and dry paper.  You can also experiment by making usually dry media wet (dip the chalk or charcoal in water).

Painting does not require a brush.  Finger painting is a great sensory experience and doesn't really require paint that is specified "finger paint".  You can also use: spatulas, bubble wands, sponges, craft sticks, bubble wrap, balloons, pipe cleaners, fly swatters, thimbles. . . as your painting implements. 

You can also blow fairly thin paints and inks around by blowing through a straw.  Though I wouldn't do this with the youngest artists because they might try drinking the paint. Try puting watercolor paint in your bubble solution and blow bubbles at a large piece of paper.

You can also look at art with your child.  Surprisingly to me, some kids will look at a great piece of art and see a story there.  At three and four, mine often wanted to tell me the story of the artwork sooner than paint or draw something herself.  But then, she is a talker.

There are also plenty of picture books that include master artists or an art-related theme.  Two that are favorites at our house are: 

Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari  - This delightful picture book follows a young ballerina "Chasing Degas" through the streets of Paris in order to return his paints to him and get her tutu (their bags were swapped accidently at the opera house).  Along the way she meets other impressionists including Renoir, Monet and even the American Cassatt.  

Art and Max by David Wiesner - This book demonstrates the art process (as well as different styles and media) within the story through fun, fanciful and interesting mis-adventures mostly shown in the pictures that accompany the story.  Check out the artist's own explanation at

There are a number of picture books on or related to this subject I have not yet had the opportunity to view myself.  If you go to and do a search "picture books about art" you'll get a whole list of them.  Please let me know if you find any other treasures not yet mentioned here.

For Your Elementary School Child:  
Any of the books listed in the preschool category, particularly the last two might still be used with older children as well.
"A First Look At Art __________" Fill in the blank with a theme word such as places, journeys, or weather.  First Published by Chrysalis Children't Books in UK.  Also published in US by Chelsea Clubhouse 2005 (  

These books are organized in such a way as to present a work of art with a little information about the artist and the work itself.  The text includes questions that ask the child to look for specific things within the picture.  There will be pages with a work of art (or often two to compare in some specific way) followed by another two pages with a realted art project a child can try that incorporates a technique, concept or theme that was used in the works of art at which they were first asked to look.  There are "Arty Tips" and "Picture Hunts" included.  

For example, in "A first Look At Art: Journeys", There is a page layout where "Train Landscape" and "The Westbury Horse", both by Eric Ravilious are presented on opposing pages.  One of the art pieces is depicted from inside the train and you can see the Westbury Horse carved into a hillside through the train window.  The other artpiece is from perspective of the hillside above the horse looking down into a valley where you can see a train weaving its way through the countryside.  The child is asked to ponder how the artist made the train, or the horse more or less important within the painting.  Other layouts may highlight works of art showing contrasting weather using different colors, how shadows show wear the sunlight is coming from, cool vs. warm colors, a layout may contrast use of mainly primary vs. secondary colors etc.

You might also try the series "What your _______ needs to Know" (insert a grade level, K-6 into the blank) edited by E.D. Hirsch Jr.  It always has a section on "art" and includes Examples of paintings, sculptures, etc. with related activities or a series of questions to answer while looking at the artwork.  The questions and activities are fairly similar to those in the "A First Look At" Series, but there is more related text and they offer a different set of works of art.  The books also include activities for the other subjects such as Math and History.

"Come Look With Me" by Gladys Blizzard, is yet another wonderful series of books about masterworks.  In these books, a painting is depicted on one page and on the opposing page is a series of questions intended to inspire "close looking" at the artwork.  The questions are then followed by a paragraph or two biography of the artist who crafted the work shown.  These books are also organized around themes such as children (portraits of children), World of play (celebrations and games depicted in art), exploring landscapes (landscapes) etc. 

This last book I am going to reference is one I want to own and always have on hand in our household.  It presents pieces of artwork chronologically and then gives each a "story" to which kids will be able to relate.  On pages following the opening page about each artwork presented, a little historical context is introduced, as well as critical information to help the observer truly look closely at the painting.  It even offers "close ups" of each masterwork showing especially important details and gives glimpses of other masterworks to which the artwork at hand can be compared for a variety of reasons.  The book offers a wide sweep, gives a sense of art history, and offers up ideas of things kids can try to do themselves (some of them somewhat more related to the science behind the art, some related to art skills and techniques).  The amazing thing, is the truly fun way it does all of the above.  I am excited to really delve into more of this one with Alice.  It is called, "The Story of the World's Greatest Paintings" and was written by Charlie Ayres. 

Again, there are books related to a variety of art topics for various ages I have not yet have the pleasure of enjoying more fully.  The Eyewitness series by DK publishing has visual encyclopedias on a number of topics that include art such as perspective.  You can also explore art through cultures in this series of books by looking at their book on certain time periods or places such as Midieval Life.  Of course they also have books on the greats like DaVinci and His Times.

I know the Magic Tree House series has a guide to DaVinci that is intended to compliment one of the stories in the series.

Again, please let me know about great finds you may encounter by adding a comment below.

Decision number one: To Enroll or not to Enroll? How Do I Know My Kid is Ready?

Traditionally a child was ready for school when he or she recognized his/her name and could give his/her parents names, could sit through circle time or story time that lasts 15 minutes, understand the concept of sharing, and get along most of the time with other kids.  Academically, it was encouraged that kids know most of the alphabet, be able to hold a pen or pencil and be able to roughly use child-sized scissors.  It was also expected that she/he be on the road to independence.  In other words, it may be a bit of a struggle, but children were expected to be able to dress themselves, use the potty themselves, open most of the packages in their lunch without help, etc.

In many schools it is now reccommended though not required at public schools, that in addition to the above, children know all of the letters and numbers one through ten, are able to write their name when they enter kindergarten, and can recognize and name basic shapes and colors.  For safety's sake the child should also know her/his address and phone number.

If you are unsure about your child’s readiness, some school systems also offer an assessment. Even if it is not advertised, you should ask about it.

Preschool teachers often have a pretty good idea of whether children are ready for kindergarten. If your child attends preschool, his or her teacher knows how he acts in the school setting. If he still cries after you drop him at preschool, he might not be ready to get on the bus to kindergarten. Do not hesitate to ask your child’s teacher for her opinion and advice. She might suggest something in-between, like a pre-kindergarten classroom that many public schools have. Also, be sure to visit a kindergarten classroom that your child might attend, talk to the teachers, and observe how the other children behave and interact. Many schools even have a time when you can bring your child with you to visit

If your child is not ready for kindergarten, do not be concerned! So called "academic redshirting" is becoming more and more common and you may decide it is the right answer for your family and child.  The term redshirting originally referred to postponing a college athlete's participation in regular season games for one year to give him an extra year of further growth and practice with the team in the hope of improving the player's skills for future seasons.  Academic redshirting refers to the practice of postponing entrance into kindergarten for a year beyond the typical age of five in order to allow extra time for socioemotional, intellectual, or physical growth. This kind of redshirting is most often practiced in the case of children whose birthdays are so close to the cut-off dates that they are very likely to be among the youngest in their kindergarten class.

Incidence of Redshirting
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that academic redshirting occurs at the rate of about 9% per year among kindergarten-age children. Redshirting is also more common in affluent communities and for children attending private schools.  According to NCES, boys are more often redshirted than girls, and children born in the latter half of the year are more likely to be redshirted than those born earlier. Redshirting may be a response to demands for a higher level of school readiness.  An Alarmingly high percentage of teachers indicate that half of their students lacked important skills, including "following directions" and the ability to "work independently". As mentioned above, it is now common for schools to expect thier kinder students to already know their letters and numbers one - ten (some of the schools near where I taught preschool expected 1-50).  20 years ago these academic skills were taught in the kindergarten and were not expected at entrance. 
Effects of Redshirting
In the short term, redshirting raises the child's academic achievement, increases the child's confidence in social interactions and popularity among classmates and may simply add to the normal mix of ages and abilities within the classroom. However, there is also some speculation that, in classes where there are children who have been redshirted, some older children may feel alienated from their younger classmates, and some older classmates may have an unfair advantage over younger classmates in size and in psychomotor and social skills. The presence of children of a wider age span may also make the class too diverse for a teacher to manage well.  Children that are ready but redshirted, sometimes find themselves not challenged enough and behavioral challenges can arise due to this boredom.

The articles I read included that research is showing that between grades 1 and 3, children that were redshirted have a lower likelihood of receiving "negative feedback from teachers about their academic performance or conduct in class (Cromwell, 1998; West, Meek, & Hurst, 2000) and need less special education intervention than classmates who were retained as kindergartners for a second year (Kundert et al., 1995; May et al., 1995). However, there is also evidence that some first- through third-graders who were redshirted as children required greater use of special education services than their non-redshirted and non-retained classmates (Graue & DiPerna, in press; May et al., 1995).  However, this may be because children with delays might be more likely to be redshirted in the first place.  Cause and effect relationships have not been established scientifically and may not be able to be established.  

Long-term studies are fewer and even less-definitive.  In my experience, by middleschool, the reaching of adolescence and the physical changes that come with it are important in a student's social experience.  Children who develop first or last, can be at a social disadvantage.  Kids who mature in the middle of the pack are usually more accepted by their peers.  Because these changes occur over a range of ages, it is difficult to predict where your child will fall within this spectrum.  Some children simply mature at earlier - or later ages than others and even the decision to redshirt a child does not afford parents control over this aspect of their child's place within this range.  However, it does make it more likely the redshirted child will not be the last to develop physically.

Because the research is inconclusive about the effects of redshirting and few school districts prohibit it, parents are usually the ones who have to decide whether to keep their child out of kindergarten for an extra year. The following are some points for parents to consider in making a decision:

It is not reccommended to delay entrance into kindergarten just because the child is likely to be among the youngest in the class or has a summer birthday.

Check the school's kindergarten readiness screening procedures or tests to get an idea of how your child might fare in the kindergarten classroom in which she or he will most likely be placed.

Be assertive about finding out what the school expects of entering kindergartners and the school's suggestions on how you can help your youngster to be prepared.

Solicit the views of your child's preschool teacher about his or her readiness for kindergarten. Ask, for example, whether your child made some friends in her preschool group. Was he or she usually able to follow directions? Does your child appear to the preschool teacher to be ready to begin academic work?

Find out more about the nature of the kindergarten program at your school. Is it very formal? Is it organized primarily around formal instruction in basic skills or around more informal "learning centers?" Organizing children's learning around informal learning centers can accommodate a greater developmental range of children than a formal, structured arrangement in which basic skills are taught to the whole group of children in rows of desks.

What else would your child be doing if she did not start kindergarten? Would the child have easy and safe access to playmates and play spaces? Are there easily available (and affordable) good preschool programs for your child?  Some schools are unable to continue preschool programs for children that are officially "school-aged".

If you enroll: discuss your concerns with your child's assigned teacher as soon as you recieve this information.  The teacher may have suggestions for activities you can do with your child to help with his/her preparedness or may have information about your specific school or district that will alleviate your fears.

Be careful about discussing your apprehension about starting school with or around your child. If you approach the beginning of kindergarten with your child with real confidence and sufficient reassurance your child is more likely to feel confident and preform better in the school setting.

Be careful not to exaggerate to a child how much fun she or he will have in kindergarten. It would probably be best to say something like "You'll make new friends, get to do lots of interesting things.  Admitting to your child there might be some tough moments when you will miss each-other or when he or she might feel strange in this new setting may prevent a child from coming unstrung when the inevitable difficult moments do occur.

The most helpful approach for parents may be to obtain suggestions from the school, and ideally from the future teacher as well, about how best to help the child during the first few months of school.  Parents can be most helpful by offering the child reassurance and support, and by resisting the temptation to discuss their own anxieties and concerns in front of the child. On the whole, the evidence about the short- and long-term effects of redshirting is inconclusive. The evidence suggests that some benefits of academic redshirting are short lived (Spitzer et al., 1995; Graue & DiPerna, in press).  The decision may turn out to be less important than the concientous parent worries about it being.
Mention Outliers

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Baby and Children's Music Alternatives

For years the idea that playing classical music for baby has been touted as something that will improve cognitive development.  It is even shown as something the baby sitter does in "The Incredibles" for Jack Jack. Perhaps classical music just isn't your thing.  I haven't done a lot of research into this area, but I know a wider variety of music definitely enriches the experience of baby, preschooler and his/her parents too.  It HAS been proven that music and our choices in music have a dramatic impact on mood and motivation.  Taking care with lyrics is important, but It has also been shown that children who learn how to play musical instruments (any musical instrument, not just the violin and piano - harmonica, electric guitar. . . these all count too folks) are generally better at math.  It has also been demonstrated that children exposed to a variety of genres are more likely to be interested in truly mastering one or more instruments during their school years.

Seriously.  Are you sick of "The Backyardigans", "The Wiggles" and "Goofy's Disney Favorites?"  Here are some ideas to put a little spunk into your step and the life of your child.

Universal Music has a line called "Family".  All the discs come in enviromentally-minded packaging and include music initially made for adults but chosen with kids in mind.  Some of the albums are meant to focus on a specific genre or artist, but others offer a wide variety of songs focused around a particular decade or topic.  For example: Albums included in the line have titles like, "Ella's Playhouse",  "J is for Jackson 5", "Totally 80's kids", "Jazz for Kids", "Disco Fever" and Reggae for Kids".  There is one called, "Songs for the Car" that has tracks like, "Route 66" by Chuck Barry and "Allstar" by Smashmouth.  These are the original hits, they are not re-done by a children's choir or some other group in order to make them more "child friendly" it just happens to be music that was child and adult friendly to begin with.

There are also collections of child-oriented songs redone by more modern artists out there in the world. For example, one of the favorites at our house is "Saturday Morning".  The album was done by MCA records in 1995, and focuses mostly on cartoons from the 60's and 70's.  Alternative rock artists current in 1995 re-did theme songs as well as songs from individual episodes for this album.  Some tracks on the album include: "Scooby-Doo, Where are You" performed by Matthew Sweet,  "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)" from "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour" performed by Liz Phair with Material Issue and "Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah (means I Love You)" from the "Jetsons" performed by the Violent Femmes.

A Child's Celebration of. . . are also great albums that focus on songs chosen with children in mind that come from a particular genre.  Titles include "A Child's Celebration of":  "Song", "Showtunes", "Rock", "Country" and others. (put "A Child's Celebration of" in the search box).   Similarly to the Family Line at Universal, these songs are not re-done.  They are the original version (or at least an original version not specifically remade for this particular album) done by artists like (Danny Kaye from "song" and Dick Van Dyke from "Showtunes").

Try this website to find lullabye reditions of some of your favorite artists.  I have a copy of "Lullabye renditions of Led Zeplin"  That was WONDERFUL at nap time.  There are also albums like this for Cold Play, U2, Bon Jovi, Pearl Jam - Even Black Sabbath and more.  Obviously, these albums are songs that have usually been slowed down a bit (or a lot) and the lyrics have been removed.  I also enjoy, The Vitamin String Quartet for its beautiful covers of songs I love.

"Baby Blanket Music CD (Madonna) - Soothing Lullaby Arrangements of Songs Made Famous by Madonna"
"Baby Blanket Music CD (Simon & Garfunkel) - Soothing Lullaby Arrangements of Songs Made Famous by Simon and Garfunkel"
"Baby Blanket Music CD (Garth Brooks) - Soothing Lullaby Arrangements of Songs Made Famous by Garth Brooks"
"Baby Blanket Music CD (Billy Joel) - Soothing Lullaby Arrangements of Songs Made Famous by Billy Joel"

Of course you can also find some great soundtracks.  Megamind has a great Soundtrack  (though this movie was aimed at early elementary students - I might not choose it for a baby or young preschooler).  Curious George was all done by Jack Johnson and is a wonderful collection of songs that DO NOT make me crazy (I really enjoy most of the songs) and keep the little one entertained.  Scores without lyrics can often be beautiful background sounds while doing chores or running errands in the car.  For example, I LOVE the music for "How to Train your Dragon" - oh, and "Dan in Real Life".  

For teaching your preschool kids about music of different genres try,  They make boardbook/CD companion sets that teach about a particular key concept or skill in a variety of genres.  They have Baby Loves. . . Jazz, Salsa, Hip Hop, The Blues and more.

There are also: books out there with ideas for activities you can do with your toddler to teach him or her to be a musician.  Alfred 00-BMR07004 Kids Make Music Series- Babies Make Music- for Parents and Their Babies - Music Book is one of those, but there are also more suggestions in articles to come on this website itself.

Please add comments to make more suggestions or alert all of us to other wonderful resources for your favorite adult music for kids.  There will be more articles to come.

Astronomical Scale Model

Making an approximately to-scale model of the universe is a great activity for kids about to leave elementary school or who are in sixth grade Earth Science.  Enjoy learning about our shared address and impress your teacher or friends with the following.

So everything in space is crazy far away from one another.  Scientists have set the "standard unit" at One AU Or Astronomical Unit.  This is a measurement that is the same as the distance from Earth to our Sun. This means the distance from the sun to Jupiter is greater than 5 AU.  This picture certainly doesn't make the vastness clear!
So, to  demonstrate the relative sizes of Earth and Sun as well as their distance apart you should find the following:
1 really large balloon or a beach ball (2 feet in diameter)
3 cups flour
6 cups warm water
1 large bowl 
newspaper torn into strips.
1 pea or bead 1/4 inch in diameter
Yellow or white, blue and green paint
1 very small paintbrush and 1 medium-large paintbrush.
2 Dowels (or yard sticks) about 3 feet long.
Glue and Tape
Access to a football field

Now use the above items to do the following
1.  Make a model of the sun.  Complete this part in a space that can get messy or cover the area with table cloths or tarps.  Mix the water and flour in the large bowl and then papier-mache the newspaper strips around the ball or balloon.  Cover all of your sphere (except where the air nozzle or tied part of the balloon is) with a few layers.  Let your ball dry over several days.  

2.  Paint your pea or bead so it looks a bit like a miniature globe.

3.  Once your sun sphere is dry, paint your sphere.  The sun is actually a white ball of burning gas, but it looks yellow (some of the time) after its rays have passed through our atmosphere so you can choose whichever color you feel best represents the sun.  Once the paint is dry, pop the balloon or deflate the ball and remove from you sphere.  

4. Attach your pea to the top of one stick and your sun to the top of the other stick.

5.  Go to the large field.  If it is a football field push the stick with the sun model on it into the ground parallel to  a goal line.  (its best to do this just off the field as they are often carefully cared for and putting holes - however small in the field is generally frowned upon).  Then place the stick with the pea half way between the 28th and 29th yardlines on the opposite side of the field.  (How many yards is that?)

6.  Now imagine that all the pieces to your model (the earth, the field, and the sun) are two billion times the size at which you are looking.  Pluto would be about two miles away from you now in the model scale.

(The answer to the question in number 5 is 74.5 meters of 244 feet 6 inches).  Now calculate the real distance in miles or kilometers to the sun!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Watch a Fruit Tree

This activity is perfect for kids up to about kindergarten or first grade.  It may seem like a long time to watch a tree over an entire year, but it helps kids connect to nature in new ways.  A full understanding of how weather and seasons cycle in your locale.  Start by choosing a fruit tree to observe throughout the year.  Sketch or photograph your tree once each month to observe how it changes from month to month.  Make sure to take note of the weather.  At the same time, observe the tree for other life as well.  What kinds of insects and birds are visiting it?  How many of each do you see?  Do you see more or less than the month before?  Are there any animals living in or around it?  You might even increase your frequency of checks during the spring and summer months to once per week.  Your child will learn more than you can imagine from this simple activity even if you miss a month - chances are, once invested, your child won't let you forget anyway.

As an accompianment to the activity you might also read "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein, "The Great Kapok Tree" by Lynne Cherry or any number of other wonderful books about trees.
Bonus Activities:
  • SCIENCE AND MATH:  For kids in elementary school, once you've finished collecting your information you could make a graph showing temperatures from month to month, frequency of visits from pollinators from month to month, or any other numeric data you recorded consistently along your tree observation journey.  To really take it to the next level, you could ask something like, "if the temperature on the day you observed the tree seemed to be related to animal activity around the tree".  Graphing is an important skill in both math and science education and if your child is invested in what is being graphed, he/she will learn a lot more from graphing something "real" to him or her than from doing worksheets about somebody else's graphs and information.
  • THE ARTS:  Ask your kids if they can artistically show their tree in all four of the seasons - this might mean drawing or painting (no the picture here was not done by a child), or it might mean they choreograph a dance that shows how their tree changed, or it could mean some sort of animation if you offer up a video camera and some clay or LOTS of paper. . .

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling

Its that time of year when families are considering options for enrollment in schools.  If you have found this blog because you are considering homeschooling as an option in your home, you might look at "Choices, Choices, Choices" if you haven't already.  I wrote that article when we had just begun homeschooling for the very first time and it talks a little bit about my family and our thought process on the matter.  With one year under our belts, I thought I would just write a quick synopsis of the things we have found advantageous as well as some of the drawbacks we've encountered.  I hope to help you make an informed choice that is right for you.

  • Your schedule is mostly your own.
  • I actually know my kid and her friends really well, not only from conversation between activities and over dinner, but I really know what she is struggling with and what really inspires her.  There are a lot of mortar and brick schooled children who have parents that can say the same thing, but I bet they have to make a really specific extra effort to get there that I haven't had to make other than the time involved in being her teacher.
  • My kid thinks Bill Nye is really cool and will choose his movies over watching junk like Barbie Mariposa and other commercialized movies of the same quality.
  • I get to see my kid's "lightbulb moments" instead of some one else seeing those cherished "ah - ha's"
Contrary to popular belief, according to studies, kids who are homeschooled actually wind up with BETTER social skills than kids who go to mortar and brick location schools.  Check out this article all about it.
  • My kid can be reading 4th and 5th grade literature even while her writing skills are at a kindergarten level and she is in 1st grade math and not be made to feel like a weirdo nerd, or a stupid failure on any of these counts.
  • You can "shelter" your kid as little or as much as you feel is neccessary - this does NOT mean your child will be more sheltered than other children.  He or she just might be more sheltered from a different set of information.  Any sort of discussion of religion, even those that are historically oriented is almost completely taboo in our public schools.  Makes it hard to properly discuss the crusades if you can't really discuss them in their religious context.  On a similar note, did you know that Diary of Anne Frank AND The Grapes of Wrath are both on the banned book list for public schools in our state because apparently they are too "depressing" for even high school children to read in a classroom context!  It simply means you have a little more control over WHAT they are exposed to and aren't exposed to for now.  I'd rather my child be exposed to the things listed above (Some in Highschool - like the books listed), The Bible and Bible stories oh- and you know, a larger vocabulary and some geography etc. than be exposed to drugs, alcohol and sex at the ages of ten and up.

  • Homeschooled kids typically learn more about how to help out around the house, sooner than their mortar and brick peers - therefore, how to take care of the house you hope they will someday own, how to care for the garden, how to cook, where their food actually comes from, how to balance a budget, how to help with younger siblings, how to fold laundry (guess what, all of these skills can relate to legitimate lessons on science, art and math as well.  for example, folding laundry requires an understanding of symmetry). . .
  • Homeschooled kids have more time for extracurricular activities because the time it takes to do a lesson with one, is significantly less than the time it takes to do a lesson with 40.
  • Homeschooled kids typically do better on standardized tests than their mortar and brick peers.
  • Homeschooled kids are now often more sought after by colleges because of their reputation as generally being better writers and great problem solvers.
  • Its one less income and money gets pretty tight.
  • Especially at the elementary level, homeschooling is time-consuming to the parent
  • You MUST be organized and disciplined in order to keep everything running smoothly.
  • Spring fever sets in for the teacher parent as much as it does for the kid so you still have to find a way to motivate yourself and your child even when you don't really feel like it.
  • It is a life style choice and will permeate everything else.  From friends to how you run your household.
  • You really do need to make a specific effort to get away from each-other, because as much as you love them and they love you, "everybody needs a little time away" once in awhile.
  • You find yourself answering the same questions over and over again every time it comes up that you are homeschooling your child.  More often than not, they are simply questions placed out of curiousity, but in rare instances people can become somewhat hostile about it.
Also Regarding Choosing Home-schooling:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Travel Bucket

We all know that traveling by car with kids can be frustrating.  Especially if there are siblings as they tend to entertain themselves by driving each-other nuts.  However, besides portable electronics that allow us to access movies and a variety of games there are also a few old-fashioned tricks that can help as well.

Two items I have found essential on especially-long road trips are my 12 pack cooler bag and my "travel bucket" 

The 12 pack cooler bag is just big enough to fit exactly 12 cans of soda which makes it a perfect place to throw a few juice boxes, some grapes, and a couple of sandwiches.  This results in fewer stops because having a few things packed means stops are only required for the bathroom, two meals, gas (hopefully the kind with which you refill, not the kind that needs relieving) and sleep.

The other essential item basically acts as a catch all for the entertainment.  Variety is the spice of life and even watching TV and playing video games gets boring when enough time as passed.  It is possible to do three and four days in the car (even with a three-year-old) with-out these niceties.  I've done it with my own kid.  The key was the "travel bucket".  Ours, is really more of a basket and is pictured below.  It can actually be belted into the center of a bench seat between two passengers to provide a little "block" between siblings.  Having a boundary line won't prevent all arguments but it certainly does its part in making it clear who is in whose space. 

I purchased this particular basket because ice cube trays for keeping already-made ice that I also found at the same store fit inside it quite nicely.  I simply wove ribbon through the holes in the basket to hold the ice bucket in place.  The travel bucket now has three divisions and can hold books and other "flat" objects vertically as well as store the bucket of small items and larger loose items where they can be easily found.

You would fill this basket differently depending on the age of the child/children with whom you are traveling, however here are some essential ideas that work quite nicely for most school-aged and preschool kids.

A couple of favorite books are a must.  For younger kids you can get the "on tape" versions and play the story on your car's stereo or have mp3's etc. with headphones.  Kids pick up on how to operate these devices quickly and easily so even for a 3 or 4 year old, a quick tutorial before the trip should suffice.  Of course, if it is the three-year-old that taught you how to make it work in the first place, this step is not needed.  Don't worry if they aren't turning the pages in time with the sound - So what?  They are having a good time and being entertained.  On this same note, I've recently discovered a great narrator, Jim Weiss, that I'm sure has been around forever but I was only recently introduced.  He has done wonderful elementary versions of many classics.  You can find him online and download single stories or entire albums of stories easily.  Here is a link to a catalouge of his collection.   Of course, there are no books to go with these, but its a nice way to change the pace occasionally and the way he tells his chosen tales is both calm and engaging.

I also make sure to include at least one search and find.  The one in the bucket pictured, is by Klutz and came with special "tools" for seeing.  I include a new search and find for each trip that takes more than one day.  This way it takes awhile for everything to be found.  Search and finds are made for different development levels so you can find beginner versions as well as adult-oriented search and find books for your teens.

The last book I include is a road atlas that has our route highlighted.  For Alice, when she was three I included pictures representing each stop in a way that made sense to her.  I taped the pictures in over where the city or town was where that stop would take place.  We always go over the route together in advance and this way she knows what to expect as well as how to use her atlas.  As she gets older, she needs less and less help with this, and during our next trip when she asks, "when will we get there" I will simply refer her to her atlas.  "Why don't you look at the map and see if you can guess, we just passed  through. . . "  When we take trips across state lines, I use stickies and label them with the days we will travel through that state.  If you'll be traveling at night at all, make sure to bring a book light for anyone in the back seat old enough to not simply fall asleep.

The next item/s are things I refer to as a "fidgets".  As do many other educators - particularly in the "special ed" departments.  This can be anything that helps to give a kid a place for his or her fidgety energy and every classroom should have a basket full of them.  You know those little stress men that when squeezed have their ears pop out?  He is a great example of a fidget.  Anything squeezable and/or with different textures.  At least one for each traveler (but all different and interchangeable) works well.  You can often find great fidgets in the dollar bins at many stores or you can make your own.  Put 1/2 cup of flour (or a variety of other substances) into a surgical glove or balloon, tie it off tightly and this becomes a wonderful fidget (Be safe this is only for kids who are NOT going to chew on the fidget.  You also wouldn't want them to tear it open and spill the flour all over your car).  You can get different textures for your fidget balloons by including other substances as well, lavender buds, corn starch, lentils and anything with rounded edges will all work.  If your passengers are trustworthy about putting things away when finished, a plastic egg with Silly Putty would also work for this purpose.  Another fidget idea with a different kind of fidgeting motion is a Slinky as long as the sound it makes isn't going to become one more item over which to argue and go crazy.

Art supplies and a sketch book for each passenger are also essential, just be careful about wax crayons sitting in a hot car while taking any sort of leisurely stop.  For travel, I prefer colored pencils.  There are a lot of great "doodle books" as well as coloring books out there.  Also, if you'll be traveling at night, we LOVE our Glodoodle which lights up (multiple color choices) and comes with stencils to get you started.

Bendaroos are a fabulous "toy" that can act as a fidget and as an art supply.  If you aren't familiar with them but have a crafty kid - or one that likes to bend and twist things a lot - get familiar.  They are the modern version of piper cleaners but cooler!  Its string with wax on it so kids can play with these things over and over again and never wind up with a prick from a broken central wire.  Kits come with cards that show you how to make "pictures" out of Bendaroos as well.  Plan ahead though because sometimes the strings need to be cut in half or thirds to complete the pics and although their hands won't be sticky, kids that are particularly sensitive about having clean feeling hands all the time will want to use a wipe when finished.  I pull out just enough to complete the pics on three or four cards, and two more strings of each color, put them in a snack zip-loc bag and include them in the bucket.  Kids of different ages will use these differently so they even grow with your kids a little - Again, please be safe!  Don't give them to anyone that is still in the "sucking and chewing" phase of life.

Be prepared to sing songs and play old fashioned games too.  I know 99 bottles of soda on the wall is repetitive, annoying and cheesy (but maybe that is why kids think it is so much fun).  Make it a game: who can sing all the words to "family favorite" a capella?  Or, find some obscure but fun new titles that can become family favorites for "yelling at the top of our lungs together"  - We like Niel Diamond's "I am the Lion" (seriously, it isn't what you'd likely expect from Mr. Diamond).  There are license plate bingo, find the alphabet, alphabet word games, and a host of other games that may bring back memories for the older members of the traveling group.  Slug Bug anyone?

Lastly, there are all kinds of travel-sized games available these days.  Boggle, Bop It, and Chess are all games I've seen in travel versions.  Mellisa and Doug offers a great flip the tile wooden board version of hang man (pictured in the travel bucket).  Mad Libs tablets can be a lot of fun for kids that can write - you can even be the one to come up with the words if there are only the two of you.  Tablets with grids for playing boxes and tic-tac-toe also work when you have two that can play along with each-other nicely.  One of our favorite road games is Clever Castle because it is something that can be done independently and I only allow Alice to play it as a "rainy day" activity which keeps it special and the idea of playing it is new each time. 

Sprinkle in one short-but-sweet sight seeing stop that allows some leg stretching for each day of travel and you're set.  During one trip we stopped at the fort in Sacramento and toured it in about an hour and a half.  It was at the mid-way point for our drive for the day and worked perfectly to work out the "car kinks" and get us feeling refreshed.  Yes, it meant we didn't make the additional 100 miles are so for the day, but it made for a much more satisfying and peaceful journey and we worked a fun, but educational activity and lunch into the stop.  Your "stretch stops" can be shorter and simpler.  Plan for a 30 minute stop at a park where the youngest ones can swing and slide, or you can simply toss a ball around for a bit. 

This is how we have managed major car trips for the last three years and we haven't had a video player with which to watch movies OR video games at all along the way.

complaining still present at times but significantly minimized!

Here are some links to some companies with travel products I've mentioned.  - Go to think fun - Clever Castle and other problem solving games Clever games and toys made from wood - look for car tag - scavenger hunt and others - these are decks of cards or little booklets with some of those "old fashioned" car games explained and then taken up a notch.  Just makes it easier and less need for "thinking on your feet" is required.