Thursday, May 31, 2012

Controversial Reading Material for Teens

Hunger Games is considered Young Adult Fiction and is marketed to the teen population, yet is set in a dystopic future where kids are pulled into games where they are required to kill each other.  The series includes war as well.  Some Controversy has risen as a result.  Here is what I have to say about it from the perspective of a former teacher of adolescents and teens and the future parent of one.  

Many great pieces of literature have controversial aspects to them. Even Grapes of Wrath and The Diary of Anne Frank are on some banned book lists. With books about future dystopias there is often violence, death, disease, and other sundry taboos. It is part of the story and therefore, part of the comment being made about human nature, the nature of technology and the consequences of our use of it, or the nature of our society the author is trying to make.  Of course some books have these thing gratuitously or in such a way as to be too far over the top, or too mature for our kids.  At the same time though, these kinds of books are often making a strong point, and to make that strong point controversial things are said or depicted. Frankly, if my reading options had not included books with controversial material, my love for reading would have ended at about age eight (maybe sooner) because one of my favorite authors for kids, Roald Dahl, includes a number of things in his books that some parents feel shouldn't be included in books written for that age group.   

The first thing parents should know about reading material for kids and young adults is that reading level is not determined by subject matter, but by a complicated equation that factors vocabulary words and sentence structure complexity to come up with an R.L. or reading level.  Many books written for adults are at a Young Adult reading level, while some books written for young children in terms of the subject matter and content, might be given a higher RL than what the author really intended because of vocabulary and sentence structure.  With picture books, these simply become the read-aloud books where the teacher or parent reads it to the child.

For any age level, as the concerned and loving parent I know you are (or you wouldn't likely be reading this), I recommend you familiarize yourself with what your kids are reading, but rarely would I suggest flat-out banning of certain books they want to read - especially at the teen level.
Reading books ahead of your kids allows you an opportunity to decide not only if the material is just material you don't think they should read at all, but also allows you to have some say in the timing of what they do read.  It allows you to decide if they are developmentally ready for certain books. For example, Alice knows I loved reading the Harry Potter Series and has expressed an interest in reading them too.  At the same time, she is 5 and definitely not ready yet.  At her age, I can put it off and tell her she's not ready yet.  As long as I follow through and recognize when she is ready and let her read them then.  I can guarantee that if I flat out said, "no-way, not ever" she would eventually read them anyway.  If I can read a book with her that may contain things that are hard for parents to want their children to even know about, I am putting myself in the position to also be the one to discuss that topic with her in the context of the book in question first - instead of friends or whover else she may decide to turn to.  Part of my job as parent, is to act as guide - why not with controversial books too.  With preteens and teenagers this becomes even more true, even putting it off by saying, "you're not ready" won't usually work - least not for long.  Instead, insisting the two of you read something communicates that you can respect thier maturity but also puts you in the drivers seat in regard to making sure thoughtful discussion occurs about questionable subject matter.
This discussion thing really is a HUGE advantage.  You can discuss it with them, find out what they think, how they are thinking about the material and the two of you can learn about each other through discussing what you've read.  They might surprise you and have insights you would never have expected.  Maybe you'll discover your kid is more mature than you thought (it happens to me all the time)  At the teen level, they are getting ready to be adults and their brains are ready for ambiguity as well as challenge. If you want your children to be thoughtful, they need thought provoking material. Obviously, not all reading material that includes violence, sex and other taboo-for-kids topics provokes thought and not all thought-provoking material needs to include a lot of violence, sexual content etc.   My Sister's Keeper is a great example of a highly controversial book without violence and sex, but it is also on certain banned book lists. Instead of fretting over the subject that gives you pause about which they are reading, read these books again WITH your kids.   If the book you read is something that offers up a treatise on a controversial political issue or one side of a historic event, follow the book up with reading another book that uses an opposing perspective.  This can be especially easy to do in a home school setting, but can be done as a "supplement" to mortar and brick schooling as well as a "family activity" you do together.

Whatever you are reading, make sure to ask them what they think was necessary to move the story along and make the point. Ask them if they felt anything was gratuitous. Then make sure you really listen and they know you have listened and understood BEFORE offering up your viewpoint, but offer up your thoughts too. Be open to discussing it in a respectful and thoughtful way - as you would with someone else's kid or with another adult. Use resources like and have access to great discussion questions to get you talking to each other about what you encounter while on your reading journey. Just be sure to listen to the responses your teenager gives as much as you want them to listen to yours.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to be the Coolest Parent in Town : Five Simple Habits to Adopt

So, you wonder, how does this author figure she's the coolest mom?

Well, I don't.  I know I'm working on it and although we all have our moments, I do know kids.  After many years of teaching, and teaching a variety of age groups, as well as having my own kid and watching my parents be the coolest parents in town, I have a few ideas of how to at least make a valiant effort. As a side note I would like to add that this article is NOT just for parents of elementary school kids and younger.  The vast majority of my experience with kids outside my home is with adolescents and teens.  The need understanding, structure, your time and your laughter too.

Cool Parent Habit #1:  Spend Time With Them.

Kids really just like to spend time with you, so breaking out that boring old kids game, sucking it up and playing it with them (yes for the umpteenmillionith time) on a regular basis goes a long way toward your winning the Oscar of parenthood - the label of cool.  Talk to them while you both do chores together.  You scrub the dishes while they dry, pull weeds together, vacuum while he dusts. . . Do something crafty together, be involved in a club together, you name it, if it is time spent together, it is time spent together.

Cool Parent Habit #2:  Be Silly (or with Teens, Have a sense of Humor).

Kids love the silly, the slightly off, crazy but simple things. For teens, its sarcasm and the ridiculous.  The more you do to make you both laugh, the cooler you will be and the sooner it will all add up to being the coolest parent in town.  It may, however, mean giving up the adult "cool" label, but what matters most - your relationship with your kids or how cool that group of guys sitting at the coffee shop think you are? 

Some Silly Things you Can Try:

Silly thing number one:  Sing and sing loudly.  As you sing, make up crazy new words to the song you are singing (or go with the ones your kid comes up with).  For example, my daughter thought "Paradise" by cold play was "pears, pears and apples" so now this is how we sing it. Another favorite - instead of "Rumor Has It" we sing about "Boomer" who, apparently "has it" - I have wondered what Boomer has though - a cold?

Silly thing number two: Be willing to wear diapers (clean of course), pots, bowls, and other assorted items as hats.  Do this at an unexpected moment not only during dress - up.  Which reminds me, be willing to dress up too at least once in awhile.  It is important that at least once or twice, this happens in public or at least with other friends.

Silly thing number three:  Get ready to become the world's best actor (at least in the eyes or your child).  Whether you are playing Rapunzel, or Robin Hood, cops and robbers, or something completely original, play along and really get into it.  Are you playing the part of troll? - be loud and make your voice gravelly.  And yes, do this outside too.  So what if your neighbors hear.  It'll probably mean they're more willing to send they're kids over for play dates with yours because they'll know you are tons of fun.  Sometimes "pretend" should be initiated by you when you suddenly become the great big, toe eating alien from planet snarf in the middle of a Saturday afternoon at the park.

Silly thing number four: Participate in strange physical activities.  While walking to the mailbox, pretend you are students at the academy of strange walks, walk backwards, hold a ballet class and do plie's and tondues while in line at the bank (even if you are the dad or have absolutely no dance background - in fact, this makes it better)  Dance with your daughter in the checkout line - even if the piped in music is horribly un-inspiring. As long as you aren't bumping into anyone, I promise most of the looks from the other people in line will mean they're thinking, "what a fun parent" or, "ah, how sweet".  Pretend you are spies together while you are searching for the tub of butter you need at the grocery store.  Sneak through the store as though you are on a secret mission and you are now searching through the hallways of the enemy's lair.  As they get older, this will become less an exercise in being silly and more of an exercise in surprising them with a little fun once in awhile.  Go ahead and start a food fight, or get down and dirty during the neighborhood summer water gun extravaganza.

Silly thing number five: Just look at the world around you as the miraculous thing it is.  When you see an ant carrying a bit of food back to its nest, squeal with delight and say, "oh my gosh, that piece of food is bigger than the ant carrying it!  Check that out!"  be completely overly dramatic about it and your kids will be swept into your enthusiasm with you.  The trick is to do this without any sarcasm, but you can do it.  As they grow you'll find more and more things that excite you both naturally.

Silly thing number six: Find games to play that help you keep your sanity.  When we were on a hike in the woods and trying to be quiet so we could see deer and birds and things and Alice just would not stop talking, I told her the fairies would only let themselves be seen if we watched for them quietly.  She was quiet for half an hour and only whispered when she saw a bit of something magical to point out to us. 

Cool Parent Habit #3:   Never Think that No Rules or No Chores, or Giving Lots of Things Makes you Cool.

Here is the thing about kids. They may pretend like they don't like structure, discipline, bedtimes and rules but all those things give them a sense of security. So rule number three for being cool - be flexible, but don't relax on boundaries related to health, morals and the things you value most. Letting them have their way and what they want all the time, will do the opposite of make you cool and hurts your kid in the long run - remember the characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Cool Parent Habit #4: Keep Your Promises.

It is really easy to let life get in the way, but if you promised to do something with your kid on particular evening or told them you'd see them perform in the school play, show up to do it.  Once in awhile there are true emergencies but if you're keeping your promises most of the time it'll speak volumes to your kids about how important you think they are.

Cool Parent Habit #5: Listen

The last (but certainly not the least important) important thing to do to be cool - listen. No, I mean really listen.  Listen to them talk about their favorite band, princess or other celebrity.  Listen to their feelings, and how their day went each and every day.  Ask and then listen.  Leave your child knowing you care about what he or she thinks about, gets excited about and has to say.  Do not just tell and inform, but let them teach you too, ask lots of questions.  Paraphrase what they are telling you - especially if they are sad or angry and ask if you understood what they said correctly.  Its a great way to let them know you understand and care, even if you disagree. You might even learn something about your kid along the way.

If you're cool in these ways when your kid is a pre-teen, you're likely to stay cool even through the teenage years when they're rolling their eyes at you and telling you how very uncool you are (just because they can't admit to you that their friends really prefer hanging at your place - coolest parent in town).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Unit Study Centering on Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam

One of my favorite books to share with my Middle Schoolers was Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam.  Because of the fact that I specialized in teaching twice exceptional kids for the last three years of my career in Middle School science, I found it especially rewarding when I got to share it in a small group setting.  My favorite go around was with a group of 12 boys that especially liked the part where the Rocket Boys blow up a fence.

What is so wonderful about this book is that it is so rich with character, history and science.  I was able to allow my classes to delve into all things rockets (science) and any part of the book that included trial and error - that was for the science classroom.  My wonderful co-conspirators in engaging kids in learning, the English teacher and the History teacher, enjoyed picking apart the book with me and laying claim to certain passages for their classrooms as well.  The math teacher also enjoyed her hands-on trigonometry to help them ascertain how high their rockets had went after we had our "blast day".

I have to warn this is a HUGE topic and the unit took a lot of time out of the school year - we spent five  weeks on it!  However, it was efficient learning because they were completely engrossed in the project, practicing learning how to learn, using real life application and being exposed to tons of information they will not forget all at the same time.  If you look, you will realize that two major science topics were covered in those five weeks as well as a lot of technological history most kids don't get.

Sub-topics to which the book closely relates:

Literature: To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what the kids did in their English class specifically related to the book.  They did do a lot of writing and practiced their grammar and editing skills within their own writing assignments.  They also did some character and plot analysis.  I'm sure they discussed a number of themes within the story and learned a number of vocabulary words.  In particular, I remember catalyst being one of those important vocabulary words that was discussed in all three classrooms.  I'm sure in English they were identifying catalysts in the boy's lives.  In History, they discussed watershed events as catalysts for changes in society and in science we discussed it as a chemical term as well as its relation technological development and historical developments.  Here are some resources for ideas about discussion questions, essay questions, tests other teachers have used and a vocabulary list created by teachers in Coalwood.

Interested in an author study?
Discussion Questions:
Vocabulary List:
see below for many more ideas.

Obviously the historic center of the book is about the launching of sputnik and the most direct relationship is to the part of history we refer to as the "Space Race".  There is a host of information, videos, activities, books etc. about this era as well as about World War II and the many factors that led up to the space race.  To truly understand the fear faced by the population during the 1950's and 60's kids will have to understand about the nuclear threat as well - hence the relationship to nuclear technology listed in the science portion of this article.

Cold War Ideas and info:

Specific to the Space Race:

Make sure to take a look at Discovery Channel's "When We Left Earth" narrated by Gary Sinise.  Great Documentary done in six episodes.  Of course, if you really want to get into it there are plenty more movies out there - even The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 can easily tie in.

Although some of the math was more advanced than the kids would normally have done, the math teacher did work with them just before and after launch day to help them understand the math involved in figuring out how high the rockets had soared.


The Obvious: 
Aerodynamics, Rocketry-related chemistry and the scientific method.  Unfortunately for us, we were in a high fire hazard area so doing combustion rockets was out of the question so they also learned about pressure, force and motion while we built bottle rockets.  It was easy to relate the scientific method.  As they read, the kids had to keep a "journal" of questions, hypotheses and the related trials and errors the boys made.  They saw first hand how each experiment led to more questions and more experimentation.  We related this to other science lessons we'd learned through the year in discussions, essay questions, and in their own experimentation throughout the unit.
Combustable liquid bottle rocket:

The Less Obvious:
Mining and Coal Production.  Before starting in on rocketry, we did spend about a week on mining in general.  They largely get the basics in minerals in Earth Science in sixth grade, but rarely do kids really spend any time learning about mining.  Each kid chose a type of mineral and did a short report on the production process for that mineral and how we use it.  I also had them do "cookie mining", and we listened to "Allentown" by Billy Joel.  The lyrics were broken down in English class for their poetic value as well as to compare and relate the tale told in the song to what was happening in Coalwood in the latter half of the 1950's.

The Even less Obvious:
Nuclear Technology - just because of time constraints I separated this into a different unit, but made sure it was fully covered before we did Rocket Boys so if a quick review was needed, it could easily be included.

Please Check Out the Book "Ten Things All Future Mathematicians and Scientists should Know" by Zaccaro if you can find it.  I incorporated the lesson on the Challenger within the unit as well.  It really stresses the importance of communicating findings and listening to the results of those findings before moving forward in a way kids relate to.  Its a good book anyway.

This website has a host of ideas with explicit instructions about how to do each.  The lessons included here are all related to the book or movie and either Science and Math, History or English.  These are not my lesson plans, so I have not tried them all, nor have I even reviewed them all, but options even range in age starting from 4th grade through tenth grade.  I personally can't imagine even an advanced reader fully enjoying this book in fourth grade mainly because it is a coming of age story, but every kid is different and it is a fabulous novel.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Assessments of Wiggle Worms

It is really easy to forget that the definition of the word assessment really does not say that a formal "test" with paper and pencil is required.  Even educationally related definitions of the word simply state that is an evaluation of a student's achievement on a course. 

There are many way's to evaluate a child's understanding of material that has been covered in lessons or activities over their course of study.  While testing skills do become important, not every assessment of a child's abilities or understanding needs to be administered in a way that requires sitting still and writing it all down.  Such forms of assessment require reading and writing skills that may not actually be related to the objectives of the assessment and therefore may not give the most genuine idea of the student's abilities anyway.

Dramatic Assessment: 
Why not have your child "act out" their understanding?  Is she or he supposed to show that he or she followed and understood the main ideas and chronology of a story you just finished reading?  Show an understanding of the main events that led to a culminating event in history and the main characters involved in those events?  Is it a scientific cycle that is supposed to have been understood?  Have your child design appropriate costumes, puppets, or felt characters and act out the main events while narrating the story or cycle instead of having to write about it, or answer a bunch of questions about it.  Don't forget about the option of using Dance as a form of expression in this type of assessment as well.  Have your child explaining what the movements represent as he or she dances them.

Conduct an Interview:
Record an interview in which your child acts as one of the main characters in the historical event or story, or as a scientist explaining an important cycle to the general populace (maybe they'd like to imagine themselves a bit like Bill Nye) and you are the reporter.  Ask open-ended questions and see what answers you will get, they will be far more telling in regard to what your child has actually understood than any old multiple choice test would be.

Allow your child to Illustrate:
Perhaps your child would like to write and illustrate a children's book on the subject, or simply make a chart or poster that depicts the information or concepts about which you need to assess understanding.  Many schools have children build dioramas or other types of crafts to depict famous scenes or groups of people.

Sing Lyrics and Play Music:
Maybe you have a budding musician in your household.  Let him or her sing lyrics to you about the subject.  Perhaps the tune will even work to convey ideas.  In a song about the water cycle, maybe the music sounds whispy during the part about evaporation, but plincks and drips when the rain begins falling during precipitation and then floats when the precipitation becomes colder and the precipitation becomes snow.

Whatever you decide to do, mix it up and use different assessment styles at least some of the time.  Traditional paper and pencil assessments have their place, but are not the beginning and end of all evaluation.  Just make sure that whatever type of assessment you'll be using, your child knows exactly what it is that is supposed to be demonstrated up front and ahead of time.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Chemistry Art

Here are a couple of really fun art projects to do that involve a little "chemistry".
Concentration:  Water color with salt:  Have your child cover a page in watercolor paint.  He or she can make a specific picture, or be more abstract about his or her work - it really doesn't matter much.  Then, sprinkle kosher or sea salt over the painting.  This will draw the excess water toward the salt clumps, creating a cool effect.  If your child is old enough to try to explain why this happens, have him or her look up solutions chemistry to answer the question, "why did it do that?"

Acids and Bases:  Put  a piece of thick, non-glossy paper in the bottom of an art tray, or cookie sheet that was raised edges.   Watercolor paper works best.  Sprinkle a light layer of baking soda over the top of the sheet of paper.  Allow your child to drop color onto the baking soda.  You can use a paintbrush and water color, or you can use food coloring droppers.  The color drops should be somewhat spread out with white space between them.  Then give your child a small bowl of vinegar and a pipette, thick paintbrush stick or spoon from which to drip the vinegar onto their color drops.  then let them go at it while they watch this chemical reaction take place. Your child is likely to want to do this more than once but if you lift the paper before it dries the color will run.  Have another sheet and tray ready nearby if you want to allow for "seconds".  Let the paper dry and then spray it with a sealant to keep.

Solids and liquids:  Mix Sea Salt, glue and sand together into three cups.  Drop a few drops of paint into each cup (one red, one yellow, one blue) and stir it all adding ingredients as needed until it is a thick paste like consistency.  Give your child a piece of tag board and a fat craft stick and allow him or her to "scrape" the pasty stuff onto the tag board.  Encourage your child to make globs of color and to mix additional colors right on the page.  Let him or her have fun with if for awhile.  Then let the artwork dry.  It should have a beautiful texture.

Oil and water don't mix:  Use an oil pastel to help your child draw an outline drawing.  Something like the outline of a fish.  Alice used a fish here, but there are many other pictures that would work too (if you don't have pastels, crayons work too.  Just explain that crayons are made of wax which acts the same way as oil.  After the drawing is done.  Have your child watercolor over the drawing and point out how the watercolor moves away from the "oil" on the page.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Prehistoric Man

There is a lot to learn about Ancient Man, but it is easier to learn it once it becomes relatable.  Try these activities to learn about what we know about the men and women that came before civilization and make a memory that will connect your child more deeply to the information he or she is learning.

Do Some Cave Painting:
  • Materials you will need include chalk in a dark red, browns and black, large paper, a table or desk, blankets and tape.  If you will be completing this project in a room that is already fairly dark you may also need (or maybe you want this anyway for ambiance) a tap light, electric lantern, electric candles, or other low-light lighting option.
  • Check out Eyewitness Books: Early Humans
  1. First, introduce your kids to pictures of the cave paintings that were found in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain.  This website is in French but provides wonderful images.  This website will be a rich resource for "ancient man" and his art.  The text is full of information but it is written on an adult level, for kid level, info refer to the resources at the end of this blarticle.  For Cave Art, simply choose from among the options under France Rock Art Archive.  Make sure to stress the content that is drawn.  These artists depicted animals they saw, not rainbows, princesses, cars or other common favorites among young children (Avoid Venus images).
  2. Tape a large sheet of paper (packaging paper's brown color and large size work particularly well for this project) to the flat underside of a table or desk.
  3. Cover the desk or table's openings to the side with blankets to turn it into a cave.  Leave one area open as the "mouth" of the cave.  Make sure the cave is lit, but only dimly.  Hand over the chalk to your child and let them go for it.
Cook Some Stone Age Food:

  • Materials will be listed in the recipe you choose from a site link given in the body of the activity instructions.
  • Make sure to have Eyewitness Books: Early Humans on hand (or other similar, visual reference).
  1. Open to page 8 of your book and take a look at this page together.  If you are not using the eyewitness book, find the page that depicts foods prehistoric main may have eaten.
  2. Check out this History Cook Book and make sure to watch some of the videos about what kinds of materials the ancient nomads had with which to work, how they cooked those materials, and how they ate.  The meal video does show "offering to the gods" by offering the first and best bites of food to a skull of "granny"  there is nothing gory about it, but you might want to be sure to have introduced your child to paleolithic and neolithic beliefs about death and "the gods" before viewing.
  3. Go back to the Prehistoric Cook Book menu page and scroll down to below the movies.  Go ahead and try any of the recipes that look interesting (and for which ingredients are available) to you.  Follow the recipe instructions together allowing your child to complete the steps he or she is able to do safely.  We tried the wild fruit pudding and made kebabs.

Try Some Stone Aged Music:

  • Materials you will need for this activity include:  toilet paper and paper towel tubes, oatmeal canisters (or other containers made of cardboard of the same or similar shapes).  Glue, Ribbons and String, wooden sticks if you have some smooth ones lying around, fabric scraps (particularly if they have the feel and/or look of leather or fur) and a few stones.  Things with which to decorate the instruments such as paint.  The people of the stone age did not have exactly these things, but a child simply can't carve out bone or wood safely - If your child is 5-6 or older, do not supply your child with glue though, this is a good engineering, or problem solving task if the have to figure out how to "tie" or "join" pieces of their instruments together as stone-aged people would have had to do.
  • Books to check out from the library ahead of time: Kali's Song by Jeanette Winter, and the Children's Book of Music: An Introduction to the world's most amazing music and its creators.  If you are home schooling, teach history or music history, or care deeply about supplementing your child's education with music history and music appreciation, I recommend considering purchasing the Children's Book of Music so you have it as an easy reference.

  1. Read Kali's Song by Jeanette Winter if you would like to and the book is available.  It is a fictional tale about how young Kali discovers music.
  2. Watch this video together and if you have the tools and supplies, make a mouth bow like Kali's. Obviously, this is not the method for making a mouth bow that the prehistoric man would have used.
  3. AND/OR you can open to page 12 of the Children's Book of Music and look at the instruments shown there.  We don't really know what stone age music sounded like because it was never written down, but we can guess because of the nomadic tribes that do still have a heritage or "tribal memory" can set an example of possible style.  When we combine that example with the knowledge of what stone aged musicians would have had as instruments from archaeological sites, we can get an idea of the possibilities.  
  4. After the kids have read about these ancient instruments and taken a look at the pictures hand them some of the items from around the house you collected earlier and just see where they take it.  You may need to help if they want a hole cut in something.  
Try a Day in a Shelter Like Prehistoric Man's
If you have the resources and live near a "wild place" such as the woods or a beach with an area that stays dry at night, you could actually build a "fort" or wigwam of sorts.  Start by gathering large rocks and place them in a circle big enough to fit the sleepers that will be using the shelter.  Then find branches (willow branches are especially wonderful for this) and twigs and place one end of each twig into the corner made between the rock and the earth at one side of the circle, bend the pole and place the other end in the same way on the opposite side of the circle.  If the branches are not bendy enough, you can build your shelter in a more tee pee like way too.  Continue doing this until you have a framework on through which you weave vines and thinner branches to create even more structure.

Once there is enough of a shape there to hold the protective covering, you can spread your covering over the structure.  Depending on where they were from and the weather they experienced, prehistoric man would have used "tulle mats (or mats made from other, similar reed plants), or skins" layered over with other materials like mud that was then allowed to dry, bones or branches to keep the mats and skins tight even in the wind.  You can use pine branches (still thick with needles) or flakes of hay from hay bales or even tarps for this if you don't want to actually make your own tulle mats.  If you do decide to make a tulle mat, you might also want to use it for a sitting mat, rather than a roof - reeds and grasses were used in many applications such as this.

Now, do your cooking over a campfire, and spend the day in and around your shelter making flower necklaces, beading, etc.  Prehistoric man would have needed a lot of this time for gathering food, but you'll spend much of the day building your shelter anyway.  These kinds of shelters may not be trustworthy enough for actually sleeping.  Prehistoric man would have had a lot of experience choosing exactly the right supplies and exactly the right angles for things.  Make sure to consider the stability of your shelter before actually going inside and especially before choosing to sleep in the structure. 

OR, have a camp out in a tent and do some bigger pretending, but try making the tulle mats.  Instructions for this are given if you click on the link about tulle mats above.

Please leave a comment if you build a shelter of your own, I did this a lot as a kid, but don't live in a place where this is feasible on a regular basis for my own little Alice.  I'd love to hear how it goes.

If you have older children that have enjoyed reading Hunger Games, you might read it too (if you haven't already) and relate some of these things to the survival skills Katniss had to gain for her family to survive.  Compare the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of her fictional and futuristic family to the lifestyle of the very earliest "settled" humans who would have had goats or sheep or a small plot to farm, but still had to do a lot of hunting and gathering as well.

Resources without direct links within the body of the blarticle.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Newly Discovered Fidget

For those of you not already aware of fidgets, all you need to do is check out my article on the subject matter, Teaching Wiggle Worms.

I don't know why this one has never occurred to me before, but it didn't until Alice had a magnet out and a bunch of nuts (you know, the ones that go with bolts - hex nuts).  We've played with them before, but it gave her something to fidget with while she did her other work all day today.  Go figure!

To put together this decorative, desktop fidget, make sure you have a fairly strong magnet, a pincushion magnet would work really well and can be purchased anywhere you would by sewing supplies (but we were just using one from one of her science kits today).  Then, buy a bag of small hex nuts and voila!  Magical sensory stimulation for one hand, while the other does the writing or the ears do the listening.

You might also try other little metallic objects such as paper clips or coins.  Maybe you have some metallic buttons lying around. . .

This also makes for a great activity with sculpture buy the way!  Put it together and you will see what I mean.  Click the link for more ideas on make at home fidgets.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Another Favorite Product Series

Safari Toobs are sold at craft stores, novelty shops, bookstores and once in awhile, at your local grocer's.  The versions I've often seen on sale, have sea creatures, zoo babies or dinosaurs and are probably most often purchased at these locations as small toys for things like stocking stuffers and to spread out into party grab bags.  Their "Jamestown Settlers Toob" might frequently be purchased to create dioramas for school of what this fort probably looked like.  However, the company site itself demonstrates the multitude of highly educational options these "Toobs" offer.

One of our favorite Toobs has been the "Around the World" Toob with great monuments from around the world.  In the photo above you can see the roof of the Parthenon, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and a few others from this Toob.

One of my favorite things to do with Alice is to ask her to place a landmark or other related figurine on the map.  For example, when we learned about India, I had her to find the Taj Mahal figure from the Around the World Toob collection.  Then she had to find India and hold the figure up to India on our wall map.  

Alice really enjoyed the figurines from the Ancient Egypt Toob and played with them as if they were small dolls, but also related them to the symbols about which she was learning in that history unit.  I look forward to using the Ancient Fossils Toob you see pictured here as well.  In fact, there is a very cool project slated for fall about which I will make sure to publish an article.

Every once in awhile I get out my pencil box full of geography related Toob figures (Animals count because she has to know where they live) and have her spread them out over a map, placing the figures where they belong on the map.  Its a great review of what she has learned and when I time her, it becomes a game we can play.  Can she beat her previous time?

Whatever subject your student might be studying, there is likely a related Toob with which you can practice.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Turn Bubble Time, into Science Time

Once upon a time I "consulted" for the Kindergarten teachers at the school where I was teaching middle school because none of them felt confident with their science knowledge.  So, once a month I did a lesson in the kindergarten.  In September, we blew bubbles to learn about the scientific method, and then again in April or May, we blew bubbles to learn about geometric shapes.

For scientific method, variations to the bubble blower were the key.  We asked, "what is required in a bubble blower to make good bubbles?  We always did three sessions.  In the first session, we studied "bubble blowers" I brought in and discussed which properties they all shared and I demonstrated each blower's bubble blowing abilities.  I had different sizes, shapes, and even things like coat hangers and circles of ribbon tied to a stick.  This was our "research" session.  

For the next class, kids brought in something from home they hypothesized would be a bubble blowing breakthrough.  Kids brought in spatulas, the little tools with which you dip eggs at Easter, one kid even brought in a toilet brush (which his mom reassured me was new and unused) "because bubble wands have those fringes on them" he said.  They had to share their individual hypotheses with the class about, "what made a good bubble blower, good". 

After this first portion, They were broken into four smaller groups and each group was given a giant sheet of paper on which, The teacher's assistant, principle and myself drew pictures representing each of the bubble blowers the kids brought in (we did this as they arrived at school with their blowers).  There were already grid lines drawn ahead of time so it would become a table for recording.  From left to right the columns said,  "blows bubbles",  "blows a bubble or two", "sometimes makes bubbles with difficulty", and "doesn't make bubbles".  The group had to make a hypothesis about each blower by checking the box they thought would be most fitting for each of their blowers.  Then, with a differently colored crayon, they ran their "tests" and marked the results.  All during this, the four of us adults monitored group discussions, used scientific vocabulary as it relates to the scientific method over and over again, celebrated successes with appearances of bubbles and generally had fun being teachers and watching the kids learn while having fun. 

At the end of the session (about 90 minutes total) we spent about twenty minutes discussing our results, drawing conclusions and summarizing the day's activity with an interactive lecture/discussion method.  I always made sure to review the steps of the scientific method we had taken and associated those steps with the actual actions that matched each step.

For the last five minutes or so, I asked the kids if they had any new questions about bubbles that had come up because of their experiment.  The third session was always about one of the questions that arose during the previous session.  Size often came up and was an easy one to experiment with.  I had four sizes of circle bubble blowers, the one shown in the picture here is the smallest.  I always made sure the kids had a table to input their information into.  This introduces them to tables, instills the importance of being in the habit of recording results, and is simple for them to do.  They just mark an x in the "right spot".

At the end of the year, the kindergartners were always excited to hear they would be blowing bubbles with me again.  This time the lesson was about shape and took place after their teacher had introduced the group to three dimensional shapes.  If a circle bubble blower makes a sphere will a triangle make a pyramid?  Will a square make a cube?  You get the idea.

This bubble blowing switch blower, is from the Think Box company and was just something I've picked up in the last few years as part of a kit for something else, but it really isn't required.  I used to use bent coat hangers and they worked just fine (in fact, better than the diamond or heart on this little tool have ever worked).  You only need to be sure the join at the end of the wire is close or tight and flush or flat back to itself.  The switch blower is just easier to store and then carry to different locations with me.

Of course I have the kids track their testing on a chart, (one of which is pictured below) and eventually, they always conclude that the shape of the blower doesn't matter, you will always get a sphere, if the blower works to make bubbles in the first place.

The very last step in the Scientific Method is to communicate your findings.  Unfortunately, this step is often forgotten in science lesson plans that get published or are regularly used in schools.  Without publishing, or sharing findings though, the conclusion a scientist draws can never be replicated by peers and advancements cannot take place.  For kindergartners, communicating their findings meant telling their parents about it, making posters for the walls in the school, or drawing a picture that represented what it was they had done.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jack o Lantern

This article was first published on Facebook in the Fall of 2011.  Here it is for you to access now.

So, we carved our pumpkins today. I was determined to use as much of the left-over bits as possible. Plus, Alice and I have been talking a lot about fruits and veggies lately. We read, "Eating the alphabet" and have been looking for the fruits and veggies listed in it and opportunities to eat them ever since. That was how we discovered Ella likes artichokes. 
There are two foods we eat fairly regularly, that use Pumpkins, pumpkin pie and pumpkin loaf. We made pumpkin pie (Believe it or not, Alice actually made it, though I helped with the crust) last night, and pumpkin loaf this morning. My family always roasted the seeds from the pumpkin we carved and in order to use the scraps from the carving, I also found a recipe for a pumpkin soup. Maybe next year we will really do it right and plant some pumpkins of our own and really take the whole thing from start to finish!

Alice would have absolutely nothing to do with the actual carving though. She grabbed a scraper started to go for it and then said, "no way". When her Daddy walked in the door 5 minutes later she told him, "I don't like that ooey gooey stuff". But she enjoyed hanging out with us while we did the carving anyway.

The Pumpkin loaf was inspired by a recipe we found in a library book called, "The US History Cookbook". However, instead of putting in pecans, we put in what was probably available at Plymouth at the time of the first harvest feast that has since inspired thanksgiving.  "Craneberries" as they were originally called were the pecan replacement. Alice loves craisins so they just made more sense than adding the nuts the recipie called for that she probably would have picked off and not eaten anyway. She liked finding the step we were on in the cookbook and following the numbers as we went along.

The pie was also made with canned puree and we used the recipe right off the can for that one. Alice measured out all the ingredients and learned how to read fractions while she did so, then she mixed the custard and poured it into the crust I'd gotten ready for her. She had fun doing like the birds on Cinderella, and pressed the crust edge with a fork before we put it in the oven. She's proud of her pie! She said cracking the eggs was the favorite part of making the pie AND the pumpkin loaf.

To make the soup, I sliced three large carrots and and sauteed them with 1 chopped bell pepper. Then, we carved our pumpkins and put all the stringy stuff as well as the tops of the carrots in a pot of boiling water (about 2 cups for every cup of pumpkin stuff) and let it simmer while we carved out the faces of the pumpkins. When that was done, we strained the veggie stuff from the water, and added a little salt, pepper and oregano. We roasted the bits of pumpkin from the faces in a dish in the oven and then put the carrots and pepper mixture, the roasted pumpkin, and some of our pumpkin broth into the blender and blended until smooth. I added milk to cool it down a little (and cream it up). This was our pumpkin soup. I'm sure there are yummier recipes out there, but it worked.  

Meanwhile, the seeds had been separated and put in another pot of boiling water with a 1/4 cup of kosher salt. We let it boil for about 10 minutes and then roasted the seeds in the oven on a cookie sheet once we were done roasting the pumpkin pieces.

We had a GREAT time. Alice learned how to read fractions, measure volumes, plan ahead (she helped write out the supplies and grocery list as well as choose faces for the jack-o-lanterns. In addition, although she decided to forgo the tactile experience of cleaning out the "ooey gooey stuff" she had a sensory experience with the pumpkins and pumpkin purees as well as with tasting the foods afterwards.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Make your Own Fidgets

So, it would seem the recent article about Teaching Wiggle Worms was fairly popular.  As a result, I thought you might like some tips on making your own fidgets for your home or classroom.  So here are a few ideas.

These should only be used around kids old enough to know not to chew or suck on such items.  Also be aware of wear and tear as a few might create a bit of a mess if they fall apart.  Lastly, if you multiple children (particularly if they are from multiple families) will have frequent access to these fidgets, make it a part of your weekly routine to thoroughly clean everything in the basket. 

Take two balloons and nest them so that you have a double layer of rubber.  Fill with flour, cornstarch, lavender buds or barley.   Things like popcorn kernels seem like another great idea, but their hard pointy end breaks through the rubber of the balloon.  Tie off both balloons at once.  You can also use surgical gloves (which somehow made them more appealing to kids in the preschool)  The material inside will move around and give an interesting sensation to the fidgeter's fingers while he or she "molds" the object.

Take craft pom poms and glue them together into a larger pile with hot glue.  Some kids might pull this one apart as their fidget, but if it helps them concentrate and learn, oh well.  You've just spent cents and a few minutes to make it so maybe it is a worth while trade-off.

Hand over buttons about the size of a dollar coin with a slightly concave side.  Kids can rub their thumb in the concavity while holding the rest of the button in the palm of their hand.  This works great with polished pebbles as well.

Purchase some remnant fabric in a variety of textures and patch together a few textures, or simply places palm-sized swatches in your fidget basket. 

Add a slinky and a couple of Bendaroos, throw in a clothespin (the kind with springs) and pair of wide (not at all sharp) tweezers or tongs (plastic to minimize noise) for good measure and you have a fairly well rounded box of items.  Reference my article, "Teaching Wiggle Worms" for more fidget ideas as well as ways to work with your "wiggle worm" and get a lot MORE learning done.  Also, for a statement about an outlook on learning that might help an ADD or ADHD student be more successful in academics read both, "Teaching Wiggle Worms" and "What Learning Looks Like to Me".

Monday, May 14, 2012

Photographic Scavenger Hunts

This is a great activity for any age (the whole family can participate together).  This list of activities and activity variations helps kids practice their observational skills.  These skills are incredibly important to both the artist and the scientist.  If you have an eye for art, you can also make this specifically about the art of photography.  Give your child some tips on framing, lighting, angles etc. as you work together to photograph the items on your scavenger hunt list.  If the hunt is to be a part of a lesson or an assessment of understanding toward the end of a unit, make sure to follow up by completing a "sort" at the end of the activity and discussing with the child why he or she chose the photo subjects he or she chose. 

This activity can also simply be a wonderful way to encourage slowing down and looking at the world around you while you go for a family walk and connect.  Or it can be a great way to foster a little healthy competition if you have multiple teams race for speed against each other while at a park. 

You'll need at least one digital camera you feel comfortable handing over to your child or children, or that you can at least use together.  With disposables out there these days, it shouldn't be too hard to find such an item.  While on a walk or hike together, at a park, botanical garden, zoo or other outdoor type of space you can complete a photographic scavenger hunt. 

Things You Might put on a Scavenger Hunt List:

Each of these items can be combined into a list appropriate for your child's age and the region in which you live, or you can choose one theme on which to focus.  For example, you could create an entire list on just plant life alone.  If you were to do this, you might focus on leaf shapes, bark texture, and seeds and flowers that help identify and distinguish between the most common trees in your area.  But it is also just as much fun to combine ideas from different themes to create variety and interest.  Especially if your goal is simply to have a good time together.

Plant Life: 
Different types of leaves (look for different shapes as well as color in the fall), Different types of "seed containers" (any type of fruit, cone, berry, pod etc. . .  ), or different types of flowers.

Make sure you choose numbers of each item to be found, in such a way that suits  the season.  For example, in early spring there will be more flowers to find and fewer "seed containers". 
Seed Containers
For one variation that will help your young child practice colors, you can specify additional flowers you know they will find in particular colors.  Such as, 1 red flower, 1 pink flower, and 2 different yellow flowers.   Or, if it is fall, 1 yellow leaf, 1 red leaf and 3 brown leaves.

Another variation might simply relate to number of petals on flowers photographed.  "Find one flower with six petals and another with three".  You can even call for multiples if you have a child practicing with the concept of multiples in math.  Interesting piece of trivia: all true flowers come with petals in sets that are multiples of 3, 4 or 5.  A list relating to this might look like this: find 1 flower that has a number of petals that is a multiple of three, 2 flowers that are a multiple of 4, 3 flowers that are a multiple of 5, and 4 flowers that have way too many petals to count.

You can make similar variations with the seed containers where you specify finding 2 different types of cones, two different types of pods and two different types of berries or other "fruit" such as drupes or pitted fruits.  Check out these "seed containers" on top of this dessert tree.

It is easy to directly relate a list of items to find from plant life to any biology objective about plants, or diversity of life.  Especially when you preface the activity or follow the activity with a comparison of what the child finds to what is in his or her curriculum.  There are also lots of  books you might pick up and read on the subject.  You can also do a comparison of living to non-living or plant, to animal etc. If you make sure to focus your list appropriately to fit your goals, a child will retain a lot of information after a hunt like this AND remember that information longer than if many other methods of teaching were used.  If you happen to be traveling through different types of habitats, you can stretch your scavenger hunt over days and miles and make sure to include items specific to each habitat through which you will be traveling.  Just follow up with a comparison activity.  Revisit and sort the photos at the end of the "hunt" or trip while you discuss those photos with one-another.

And yes these photos are from our
own walks and adventures.
This one can be a great way to practice with shapes, or you can just say, "go find 10 completely different but interesting shadows to capture on your camera".  If one of your children is learning his or her shapes, create a list with the goal of shape practice in mind.  You might ask him or her to find a straight line, find a wavy line, find a shadow of something rectangular, something square, something circular, a diamond (or rhombus if you want to use geometric terminology) and something hexagonal (then make sure there are some street signs they'll be able to see along the path).
A Shadow hunt is also a great one if you are trying to educate your child about positive and negative space in art.  For more shadow activities click here.

Outdoor Life:
Of course you can put all kinds of animals on your list, perhaps you include one insect, one arachnid and one bird, as well as one or two more crawling things (such as a worm, centipede or snail).  Just insects alone can provide an entire list for a budding young entomologist.  Insects with wings, insects without, insects with two wings vs. insects with four. . . (you get the idea).

You might also offer up part of a list as, a flying animal, a crawling animal, and a swimming animal.  Obviously if you are at a zoo, you would make these numbers a little higher.  If you will be doing this hunt near the beach, you could easily include seashells in most areas.  Since it is a photographic hunt, even still-occupied shells and other living creatures such as sea stars can still be "collected" in the memory storage on your camera.

The Non-living:
If your child is doing a unit on geology, you might include a few of the rocks with which your child should be familiar that you know are easily found in your region.  If you are being less formal about it, or if you are practicing colors, you might pick three rock colors that are easy to find in your area.  Some places have lots of greys while others have lots of browns or even reds, whites and greens or yellows.  You might also list building materials such as "a structure made with wood, a structure made with brick and a structure made with stone", something that is metal, something that is plastic. . .  you get the idea.  This can even be a scavenger hunt idea for traveling families on the road.  Just be ready to pull over for picture taking.  Add man-made landmarks such as bridges and tunnels as well as famous buildings (they'll need to have viewed a picture of these before hand to find the correct buildings).  For you kid who is highly interested in cars, trucks, tractors, trains etc., center your list around their interest.  Construction tools such as cranes and bulldozers, semi trucks, buses and the like can be part of a list you might make as well.

At A Zoo, Aquarium, or Botanical Garden:
Add a little geography to your scavenger hunt by including the idea that a representative from every continent be included in the hunt.  Zoos almost always include habitat ranges for each animal on display, some botanical gardens will include sign posts that give the location by country or range where the plant can naturally be found, but not all.  You may want to know if this information is available in advance of your trip.

Example of a General List for Your Own Backyard in the Late Spring:


Three very different shadow
         (look for different shapes or different types of lines)
Something that holds seeds
Three different colors
An interesting pebble
Two different types of insects
Two things that fly
Two things that crawl
Three different types of leaves
         (leaves do not only come from trees, so even if you don't
             have trees, include this one.  A blade of grass is a leaf).
Something that belongs to you (bring that one back and put it away)
A picture that shows four items that are the same
A picture that shows three items that are the same

Themed Photographic Comparison List Ideas (some of these are great for a walk in the city together too):

For these, give your child categories of things to find.  Then, when you get home sort them out on your computer (or get them printed and have your child sort them as you would cards) into their correct categories.  Have your child aim to get a number appropriate for their age for each category.  For example, I might ask a five year old to get photos of five things that are each of the three primary colors, but I might ask a six year old to get six of each or an eight year old to get ten each of items that are of primary colors and ten that are of secondary colors.

Living, was once living (fallen leaves, dead looking plants, logs, seashells etc.) and non-living things
Things that Walk, Crawl, Fly, and Swim.
Things with curvy edges and things with straight edges.
Things that are hard and things that are soft
Colors: Individual colors, primary and secondary colors, tints and shades etc.
Things with stripes and things without (and other similar variations)
If you can do two walks - one during the day and one at dawn or dusk: Nocturnal and Diurnal.
Man made things and Nature's Treasures
Vertebrate and invertebrate (Intermediate)
Monocot and Dicot (Advanced)
Regular shapes and irregular shapes
Opaque, transparent and translucent
Vehicles for transporting people and vehicles for transporting stuff
At the Farmer's Market you might do Fruit vs. Vegetable (careful, this is actually tricky for many adults
                                                too!  Did you know all types of squash are also fruits)?

With any of these scavenger hunts or comparison hunts, if your objective is specifically about learning or reviewing a specific topic or classification, you'll want to make sure to sort and discuss your photos after the hunting part is over.   A child might even make a poster out of their picture sort (I suggest columns).  Then their work can be proudly displayed some where for awhile and he or she (as well as the rest of the family) will continue to get reinforcement about the subject at hand.

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will inspire you and provide a great place to start.  As you can see, depending on what you put on your list and what goals you have, this exercise can work for any age level from three on. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Teaching Wiggle Worms/ ADHD methods that really help

People need to move around to truly process what they learn.  Studies show that even adults who take a break and get up and stretch and walk every 50 minutes will fair better in their work efficiency than those who do not.  This time frame gets shorter and shorter the younger you are.  Of course, despite the scientific confirmation that most kids need to move to learn, children are still diagnosed with ADHD even at preschool ages.  I specialized in working with kids with ADHD and it is a condition.  However, some kids get diagnosed with if far earlier than one can realistically be sure about such a diagnosis. 

Allowing for movement in the classroom or home during lessons of almost any kind goes against the grain of what most of us have been taught, "Sit still and be quiet" (and other less polite versions).  Historically, before the institution of schools as institutions, most learning was done by doing.  Kids were taught through modeling behaviors in their play, apprenticeship and learning from helping one's family with day to day work of making a living.  It is still true today that most kids need some movement throughout a lesson to fully appreciate what is being taught.  As we are forced to become more efficient and teach the ever-growing population the ever growing amount of information that must be retained in an equal or lesser amount of time, we must acknowledge this fact and make a few changes. 

As a teacher, as often as I could we had labs, hands-on-activities, lessons that incorporated "dramatic" portions, time for individual practice and response etc.  Most good teachers these days are avoiding lecture and trying to impart information with a variety of experiences that include bursts of lecture interspersed with related activity.  Even when lectures are necessitated, the best teachers make sure their students get up and do something physical half way through for a couple of minutes.  For many of my students, even this wasn't enough (they were "severe ADHD cases" that needed more motion).  To this day, my 35 year old husband can't have a conversation with a client while sitting still at his desk.  He has to pace and move to best process his client's needs.  Many kids are like this and lessons taught to them while they "sit still" are lost on them.  They simply do not retain a majority of the information sent out to their ears.

If this is the kind of kid you have.  Whether you are home schooling, or helping with homework assigned by a classroom teacher, honor your child by finding ways to help with study and homework that incorporate movement as much as possible.  It prevents a fight for you and shows your child your unconditional love.  It also demonstrates to your child that he/she can be successful too, even if his/her success comes in a different way than some of her/his peers.  First off, provide ways for your kids to move regularly anyway.  Take "brain breaks" that involve physical activity.  Give them a variety of seats, bean bags, exercise balls and regular seats can all work interchangeably giving them a different sensory experience with each seat they use.  In fact, there are multiple styles of "chairs" to rest exercise balls in so they aren't rolling all over the place, but the sitter can still have the "bouncy" benefits of the ball.

With Reading assignments:  Maybe you can "act out" the reading given.  Have your child direct the family in a play depicting the reading selection assigned or have/him or her create a puppet show for a younger sibling or neighbor kid.  You might also try letting your child "illustrate" the story on a felt board while you read it to him or her (if it isn't an assignment in increasing reading fluency).

Say a spelling word and bounce a tennis ball off a wall and back to your on-the-go child.  have your child bounce the ball against the same wall and then back to him/herself  for each letter in the word and then back to you as he/she repeats the word.  You can adjust this exercise for math facts practice, vocabulary words and their definitions, properties of the chemical elements, poetry, (trade stanzas) etc. . .

Have a basket of "fidgets" available.  This is important, don't hand a fidget to kids you think need it.  Simply have them available.  The kids that need them will gravitate to them.  Fidgets are quiet "toys" that offer up something sensory for kids to do while listening or working on something.  I'm guessing the original "fidgets" were worry balls.  These were two spheres just small enough that one can hold both in one hand.  As they were turned and played with together in one hand by monks, they chimed softly.  It was simply one tool to help in meditation.  Today, these tools might be even more useful in education.  The modern "fidget" originated in therapists offices (you know the little plastic man whose ears pop out when you squeeze him) and were called "stress toys".  Then, use with special education began and fidgets expanded into special needs classrooms.  Then, because many people started using them and enjoying their novelty, and because kids think they are cool, the fidget has expanded into the wider market. 

Current Contents of our Fidget Basket
The fidget provides a place to put all that "fidgety" energy and channels the need for movement into something that is not distracting so work can still be accomplished.  For example, our fidget basket has a few squeeze balls, an egg full of silly putty, a ball and cup game, and one of those alphabet sticks where a bunch of blocks are beaded together on tight elastic so the blocks can be held and rearranged into different shapes. What works one day, may not work another, so you'll want your child to have a variety from which to choose.  I'm also always adding things and when something isn't getting used, it just moves to the toy bin and then eventually leaves the house. 

It is critical to treat having access to the the fidget basket as a privilege.  If your child or students are finding ways to be distracting with their fidgets, take the basket from them.  The purpose of the fidget is to take away  distraction, so if they can't use it for its purpose, they can't have it.  Start fresh the next day and they will begin to get the point.

If you are a fellow homeschooling family, or if you are the classroom teacher herself, try to make sure that at least one option for work is at standing level.  Have a counter where kids can choose to stand to do their work and where there is an accompanying stool to sit on if their legs get tired.  For many kids just being able to shift weight from one foot to another makes a big difference.  If you can allow for a "pace space" this can also be very helpful to thinkers like my husband (and Alice).  There is also nothing wrong with not using a desk or counter (unless you are completing a handwriting or typing lesson about how to sit properly) if clipboards are available. 

When the above options - or some super-creative idea of your own just can't work (please share those that do with us).  Have your child work on the hardest assignment first, set a timer.  Ask your child to sit for 10 minutes while concentrating on his/her work and then give her/him 5 minutes time to move around, next time set the time for 15 minutes but still offer only 5 for the movement break, continue increasing the "focused sitting" time in 5 minute increments until his/her homework is done or until it is just getting late and he/she needs to move on to chores or bedtime or other things.  This type of timing tricks the brain into settling into the work faster and staying focused longer for the duration of the work being done (the idea was recommended along with many others for helping kids use their time wisely and stay organized by Jim Brogan and it does work!) If it isn't finished by bed time, write a note to the teacher (when required) - ask for suggestions even.  If you are homeschooling, you'll just need to pick back up where you left off.  You might also take a look at Assessing Wiggle Worms, for ways to think about alternative types of assignments you can try.  Sometimes it is not worth it to finish an assignment if it means loss of sleep time, loss of time with the family for a family evening activity or it is at the expense of your child's health (down time is necessary for us all). 

If you happen to be a classroom teacher that could use more ideas about how to deal with kids that can be troublesome in your classroom in general.  Here is a link to nicely done list of ideas to help make the classroom experience a little more positive for you, your students and "That Kid".  Once you get to the home page, you'll need to do a search for "that kid", enjoy and please let the writer know I sent you.  For those of you working with such a child at home, this article might (and the associated blog articles and resources) be useful to you as will the balance disc idea and discussion comments in this article.  Please also watch this TED talk by Ken Robinson.  It is witty and fabulously relevent.

Other ADHD topics on Pinch: