Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Look at Loyalty

This activity can be used as a stand-alone activity, but I am presenting it as one in a series of activities related to our reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  For more information and resources for the entire LWW unit, click here.

The instructions for each step in the activity are available on the images here.  Simply click on each image and it will open in its own window.  You can then clearly see what is written there and print.

I ask only that you please use these pages for educational uses with your child/children in your home or classroom and for no other reason.

 Aesop's The Goatherd and the Wild Goats can be found online here.  The BBC has done an Audio version that gives the story more context and shares the story with more elaborate description building pictures in a listener's head about each character and the setting.  It tells the story from the perspective of the wild goats instead of in third person also making the story a little more personal (which is a nice touch).  Additionally, there is this animated version on YouTube.  I used all three versions, starting with Aesop's original and moving through them as they are listed in this paragraph.  Young children are benefited by repetition in regard to understanding (as are adults when learning something new really) so it does not get boring - especially since you are adding a new medium with each step through the three.

Other Great Stories with a theme involving loyalty:
Josefina and the Story Quilt - We talked a lot about Faith's Sense of loyalty toward her chicken, Josefina.
This blog article lists and briefly describes another five picture books with a loyalty theme.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Part 3

For Information about more resources for the entire book and how to use these activities, click here.
For Chapter Nine, I chose to focus on Temptation.

Here are the rest of the chapters with activities attached.  (I did not have her do special activities for all the remaining chapters).

As usual, these were inspired by the Educator's Guide from the C.S. Lewis Foundation, but altered to fit for a younger student.  I recommend using these in conjunction with the guide or guides found at the link offered above.
These activities may be downloaded in their entirety, copied and pasted into learner activities and used, in part or in whole, as deemed most appropriate to the learning styles and developmental levels of particular student groupings.


A Look at Temptation (Narnia)

For information and resources about other Chapters in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, click here.

In Chapter four, Edmund Pevensie is tempted by the White Witch and her Turkish Delights.

Just for fun, we discovered Turkish Delights for ourselves.  As a child, I ate Aplets and Cotlets having no idea they were the same thing Edmund Pevensie became addicted to in one of my favorite stories, but the link above will include such details as well as the history behind the delicious (and disgustingly unhealthy) "mouthfuls" of temptation.  For a recipe to make your own, click here.

However, this lesson isn't supposed to be in how to cook or eat, it is a look at temptation, so kids can best appreciate the challenge presented to Edmund here.

Fairy tales are often helpful in illustrating concepts such as temptation.  I suggest introducing your child to the word using an example from their own lives or yours.  Additionally, the apple scene in Snow White is a  familiar way to introduce children to what temptation is.  Snow white likes the idea of crunching into a nice juicy apple and though she says, "no" at first, she does let the temptation get the better of her in the end. The scene is a nice parallel with what Edmund faces in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (and of course, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden).

I also like to use Aesop Fables with Alice, so here are two related fables and links to online versions.

The Dog and His Master's Meal (Text)
The Dog, The Meat and The Shadow (Text) While this second one isn't specifically about temptation, you can certainly speak about it in the context of temptation after reading the fable.  The dog is tempted by the idea of even more yummy stuff to chew on.  Greed and temptations must be close cousins.

If you would like an explicitly Christian take on the matter, here is something from Sermons4Kids.

Since the activities provided by the C.S. Lewis foundation seemed a little above my daughter's head in terms of social awareness and even example temptations (she doesn't even know what marijuana is, let alone why it would be tempting), I felt a need to tweak this one a little.  I liked the idea of having kids make an advertisement for something "tempting" but the project would have required a lot more time than we could devote, so here is my take on things as adapted for our situation.  Even so, the activity is a twist on one of the activities originally offered in the Educator's Values Guide from the C.S. Lewis foundation, so I will ask the same as they in regard to its use:
They may be downloaded in their entirety, copied and pasted into learner activities and used, in part or in whole, as deemed most appropriate to the learning styles and developmental levels of particular student groupings.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Part 2

This is the second portion of a literary unit centered around The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  Click on First Chapters for resources for the beginning of the book and on The Last Chapters for resources regarding the book's final chapters.

In Chapter Four - Turkish Delight, Edmund meets the White Witch and enjoys her treats of the same name.  There is something sinister about the delights the reader will discover and the theme of temptation enters the story.  I suggest Narnian Temptation, before you finish reading chapter five together as an activity to help in getting your child to think about how Temptation plagues us all at times.  

It is worth talking about the Professor's attitude about Lucy's story when you come to it during chapter five.  Very few children will not think this character unique in his fairly open attitude about magical lands and places.  If you have not yet read "The Magician's Nephew," but plan to, a conversation about the Professor that leaves the children wondering about him, will make the moment of realization in the "earlier" book to be read later  that much more precious.

 If you would like to take a little time out from the story during Chapter Seven to learn about real beavers, here are some resources for you.

Nat Geo's Beaver Family Video of Beavers with informative narration.
NatGeo Beaver Range Map and Informative Article with photo
Britannica Kids diagram of Beaver lodge showing interior and construction.

I have incorporated the following printable options for chapters 4-8  below.  By clicking on them and opening as a separate page, you should be able to print them for your own use.  If the following printables are too young for your child, you will find a wonderful Educator's Guide aimed at older children at the link for the C.S. Lewis Foundation.  I ask that credit for their inspiration be given to the C.S. Lewis foundation for question and activity ideas.  For that reason, I will also input their user statement here and ask that it be applied to my alterations and additions as well:
They may be downloaded in their entirety, copied and pasted into learner activities and used, in part or in whole, as deemed most appropriate to the learning styles and developmental levels of particular student groupings.

Literary Unit: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Before beginning on this story with your children, you may be interested to know there is quite a controversy over reading order of The Chronicles of Narnia.  If you care to make a specific choice considering these arguments, I have included a summary of the information here.

At this point, Alice has only read chapter 1 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (hereafter referred to in the following abbreviated form: LWW) but I do plan on having her do a more traditionally "academic" study of the book.  I found the resource guides provided by the C.S. Lewis Foundation exceedingly helpful in forming my plans with her.  For those of you with Middle School Children, this single guide (and its partner, the "Values Guide" also on the link) will be a wonderful resource.  For readers that are a bit younger than the children for which this guide was intended, I have made some adaptations as follows.

I printed the Educator's Guide that specifies vocabulary, critical thinking and etc. out and then added pages at the end of each chapter in the guide to create a sort-of workbook for Alice.

I plan to have her spend a day or two with each chapter at least.  The idea is that she answer the Vocabulary, Fill in the Blanks, True and False and Comprehension questions while reading or immediately after finishing each chapter.  The Write, Discuss, Create section is the part that will be a lot more time consuming (and since the whole thing is designed for classrooms it does not always fit our situation).  Often, she will be given the "discuss topic" as an alternative writing topic or she and I will just discuss it together.  I may not expect her to handle both the "Write," "Discuss" AND "Create" rather, she will often be asked to do only two of the three, or discuss all and only do one of the  three in a written form.

The story is ultimately set in Narnia, but begins in the UK during World War II.  The Pevensie Children have been evacuated from their homes and are just moving in with a "professor" in the country.  For today's children to understand the historical context, they will need a bit of an explanation to understand what is going on.  BBC Schools - Primary History offers a wonderful resource for a quick or extensive look at this part of history and what children like the Pevensie Kids were experiencing.  For a quick look, explore the heading "Evacuation."  I'd recommend a more extensive look at some point.  However, a word of caution; I suggest previewing the site with your child so you can discuss sensitive topics such as Nazi treatment of Jews, civilian casualties and the dropping of the atom bomb together.  Alice enjoyed going shopping and learn how rationing impacted what was available for eating, reading the articles and of course, playing the time-capsule game.  She was horrified to learn about the Nazi's and their treatment of Jews and other marginalized groups such as the handicapped, but it is a part of our history that cannot be covered up or ignored.    If you are a home-schooling family with elementary kids, I highly suggest bookmarking this resource.  We have used it in our studies of Ancient Greece, India, and Rome as well - it is fabulous!

Also from BBC Schools - Primary, is this page all about Lewis himself.  The wonderful thing for a child to know, is that Lewis took in three children during the time of the war himself.  While the children he took in were not exactly Lucy, Peter, Susan and Edmond, the children he did shelter helped inspire him to write for children and ultimately were a big part of why The LWW (and successive stories) got written in the first place.  Part of learning about literature includes learning about its authors.  As learning coach, you might appreciate this article about Lewis for its rich background information on how he viewed himself with kids.  Lewis wrote and corresponded with a number of Children.  Many of these letters have been published in this book - which though I have not read it yet, is on my wish list.

I have incorporated these printables options for adaptations to the Lewis Foundation's Educator's Guides for chapters 1 -3 below.  By clicking on them and opening as a separate page, you should be able to print them for your own use.  I ask that credit for their inspiration be given to the C.S. Lewis foundation for question and activity ideas.  For that reason, I will also input their user statement here and ask that it be applied to my alterations and additions as well:
They may be downloaded in their entirety, copied and pasted into learner activities and used, in part or in whole, as deemed most appropriate to the learning styles and developmental levels of particular student groupings.
For Vocabulary, Comprehension, True/False questions and more for each chapter, make sure to check out the original guide at the C.S. Lewis Foundation website.
Lewis felt that it was wonderful for kids to read the Narnia stories for the sake of enjoying the land of Narnia alone, but it does also contains Christian themes.  For more information about Christian aspects of his tale, I highly suggest checking out the Great Course Series Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis for a full accounting of the Christian messages within the tale.  While I am, a scientist who disagreed with a few intermediary remarks made by professor Markos in the lectures, the entire course was engaging to hear and eye-opening about Lewis himself, and his beliefs as depicted in his writings on the whole.  I enjoyed every minute of the lessons and feel inspired to read some of Lewis' non-fictional works after having heard the lecture series.  If you can't purchase the course, it is possible it is available within your library system, or you can get a basic summary of SOME of Lewis' Christian Themes and so-called allegory contained within the Narnia Chronicles with this online articleThis PBS special, might also be of interest.  I have not yet been able to view it, but hope to do so in the near future.

At the end of chapter three, I plan to take an extra day to Have a Look at Loyalty using one of Aesop's Fables.  We will then discuss Edmond as a character choosing to express his loyalty to either the White Witch or to his Siblings.  For access to this lesson and its related activity pages, click here.

Sparknotes also offers a guide to the book with chapter summaries and an analysis of major characters, themes and motifs.

Showtime for teachers presents a study guide for children having viewed the play.  This short study guide has even more wonderful activities that are suited to the Elementary school student and can easily be incorporated into your own "workbook creation."  If you let your child see the whole thing before finishing the book, you will give away some of the secrets, but by stragegically separating the guide into pages for your kids within the context of reading, as you read, you have one more wonderful resource for ideas.  There is even a recipe for making your own Turkish Delight.  Tempting as it may be, these delights don't have quite the same magical qualities as the White Queen's.

For later Chapters in The LWW and their associated resources (part two), Click Here

Studies in Narnia - Choosing Book Order

One of the world's leading fantasy children classics is the wonderful series; "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis.  Since Alice has become interested in reading ever more complex books, and we read together a lot, I felt it was time to introduce her to this fantastic collection of stories.
Before you begin to use the Narnia Chronicles with your kids, you'll have a choice to make about which order to present them.  There is quite a controversy over which order the books should be read in.  When first written and published, "The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe" came first.  However, late in his life, Harper Collins got the rights to re-publish the books and wanted to publish them in order according to their internal chronology and got permission from Lewis to label "The Magician's Nephew" as book number one.  As with anything, there are fans that vehemently disagree with this change and others that argue, there is not other way to read them - Lewis signed off on the change after-all.

In the interests of "full disclosure" I'm going to say, I read them in the order in which they were first published, and I am really glad I did so.  If you read about the Pevensie siblings and their visits to Narnia first, followed by "The Magician's Nephew" you get a nice little surprise that is really fun this way.  If you read the books in the other order, the surprise is ruined for the reader.  I was glad to have that surprise.  Since The Lion, the Witch  and the Wardrobe was the first published, It makes perfect sense as a stand-alone story and the "earlier story" chronologically can later act as a flash-back.  Obviously, Lewis was fine with their original publishing order, as they were published in this order during his lifetime.

Here are some succinctly made arguments from Narnia Web:

1: The Lion is presented very much as the first of a series. It concludes with the words ‘That is the very end of the adventure of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right, it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.’ The ‘second’ book, Prince Caspian, is subtitled ‘The Return to Narnia.’

2: The narrator of The Lion says ‘None of the children knew who Aslan was, any more than you do.’ But if ‘you’ are supposed to have read The Magician’s Nephew, then you do know who Aslan was.

3: The charm of the opening of The Lion is spoiled if you already know, from Magician’s Nephew, that the wardrobe is magical; that the Professor has been to Narnia, and why there is a street lamp in Narnia. Similarly, the ‘shock of recognition’ in Magician’s Nephew is spoiled if you don’t know the significance of the wardrobe.

4: Why should The Horse and His Boy, which happens during the final chapter of The Lion, be set after it? Could an equally valid case not be made for saying that it should be set after The Silver Chair where it is presented as a story-within-a-story?

Having said all that, Lewis did indicate a mild preference for the Chronological order, but also says order probably doesn't matter at all:

"I think I agree with your order {i.e. chronological} for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last. But I found as I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published."

C.S. Lewis in a letter written in 1957 to an American boy named Laurence.

The "Surprise" I mention that happens in The Magician's Nephew, if you read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe first, is not an earth-shattering one and does not make or break the story.  If you have not already read the books yourself and would prefer to read everything in its "chronological order" (more or less) there is nothing wrong with the Harper Collins order.  One book is a bit of a sticking point, "The Horse and His Boy" actually falls chronologically simultaneously with the adventures of the Pevensie children - or at least there is some overlap in time.  Since "The Horse and His Boy" takes place while the Pevensie children are in Narnia, its placement as set by Harper Collins makes a lot of sense if you'd like to read the story from its "beginning" to its "ending" with as little "flashback effect" as possible.

If you are interested in using the original publishing order, this article goes into more detail about the arguments for the original order and outlines which order the books go in, if you choose to read them this way.

I have personally decided to begin with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (ever after, abbreviated as LWW) with Alice.  The book is one of my favorites and I find the whole series more engaging when beginning with LWW.  It has all the information one needs about the rules of the world of Narnia, how one gets to and from Narnia, what life is like there and offers a sweeping sense of the geography and topography of this fascinating imaginary world.  I will not, follow the publishing order either though.  The Magician's Nephew will be moved from placement as book one, to the placement as book six and treated as one large "Flashback".  Other than that, I will be following the more chronological ordering Harper Collins has chosen.  Lewis himself, said, "So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them."  Though I do think he does an injustice to The LWW for its introductory quality when he said it.  Point is, for that reason, if you would like to use the resources and lesson plans I will be using, it may be a bit of a wait for the resources that go with The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Educational resources

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wet Touch Sensory Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Although this article is aimed at parents of toddlers and preschoolers, I have to say that a lot of these are just plain fun for just about anyone.  I've seen teenagers have a great time with Ooblek, for example, when it is a new phenomenon to them.  Sensory activities do a few things for kids including, soothe, entertain and act as an impetus for verbal communication.  I recommend their use especially with toddlers that no longer need to such and chew on everything.  If they still put everything in their mouth, it is too early for this.  These activities can be particularly good for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.  If your child is still sticking everything in his or her mouth, here is an article with some edible alternatives for you.

With sensory activities for kids, it is great to rotate through different substances.  This keeps the activities "fresh."   When I say sensory activities are entertaining, I really mean it.  Kids that won't sit still for anything, will often engage in these kinds of activities for two to three times longer than they'll engage with the average set of toys.  Rotating helps to keep sensory activities as engaging as possible and allows them different experiences inspiring the need for different descriptive word sets and different kinds of conversation.

I have previously written this article about dry sensory experience options that are a lot less messy than the list that follows, but the items below can be done inside over a table cloth (spread out on the floor) and scooped up fairly easily too when the kids are done.  Most of these activities are best done in some sort of tub or pan.  In the preschool we used to use tubs for mixing mortar because they are nice and big for multiple kids to access the activity.  In your home, a brownie pan is likely to work well.  Include utensils for scooping and pouring and you are all set.

Different Substances to Try:

Finger Painting:  This classic activity is a no-brainer that has the potential to fill an afternoon with funny squishing and squashing of colors to make "pictures."  Experiment with your child with mixing the primary colors and see what they get, can they figure out how to make brown (bet they will on accident!)?  Just let them delight in the cool squishiness of finger paints.  Here is a recipe if you'd like to make your own.

Ooblek:  This one has to be my favorite.  Like slime, it is non-Newtonian (or amorphous) and so it has some reactions to touch that are pretty outside of the general experience and expectation.  All you need is cornstarch and water.  It can be pretty messy.  However, once it dries out all one need do is sweep it up (don't pour it down your drain!  It will clog).  As an activity for the outdoors, ooblek seriously can't be beat.  Nature will clean up the mess.  Her is a recipe and list of amazing things to try with your toddler and your older kids while experimenting with ooblek.

Sand and Water: This is another classic that most associate with a visit to the beach, but why not make a sandcastle in a tub on your table at home?  You need just enough water to make the sand moist and "sticky."  Then, let your child, scoop, pour, mold, mash and mold again with the sand to his or her heart's content.

Magic Sand:  This is sand that has been treated with petroleum jelly so it will repel liquids.  Most pet stores that sell hermit crabs have a supply of bags of this stuff at more reasonable prices than you pay if you order from education science suppliers because it is often used as the hermit crab's substrate.  Pour a little water into your "sensory tub" and then place about 2-3 times the amount of sand in the tub.  If your child has already played with sand and water, how this sand reacts will be a surprise and the difference will be fun for your child to explore.  Your child can make "beads" of sand in the water, pour water over the sand and watch how it beads up and drains down the "beach," scoop and pour the water, and scoop and pour the sand. 

Shaving Cream:  Just spray some shaving cream out on a counter top, or vinyl table cloth and let your kid go at it.  Its simple, but watch how entertaining your little ones will find it.  Mix in a little food coloring and you've even got a color experience (though some food dies will stain).  In a mixing bowl, dribble in white glue and fold gently until it is a bit "sticky" and your child can even scoop it onto paper to make puffy art. 

Dough: Any kind of dough will do, the more different doughs with different textures you can engage a child with over time, the better.  Aside from play dough play, try actually making bread doughs, and noodle dough.  In each case, playing with dough actually strengthens many of the same muscles in the hand as those that are later used in writing and is considered in preschools as one of many important precursor activities to teaching writing.  Punching down bread dough can be a great way to "let some anger out" for a frustrated two year old.  AND making bread is a great exercise in delayed gratification.  If you Make your Own Play Dough, you can also add (just a tsp or so) mint or lavender oil and it will smell a thousand times better than the stuff you buy at the store.  I also like adding bits of crushed spices or herbs occasionally because it changes the texture experience.

Water: Water is an amazing thing all on its own.  Check out The Magic of Water for ideas about using this substance in your sensory table.

Blowing Bubbles:  A big tub of bubble fluid to splash in is a great sensory experience, as is actually blowing the bubbles.

Jello: Make some Jello with your child's favorite plastic toys in it.  Then let him or her squish and moosh the Jello to get the toys out.  Jello is really fun to "play" with.  Give him or her a plastic butter knife (and associated "safety" talk) to cut the Jello apart with, a spoon to scoop it with and then enjoy a few minutes to scrub that sink without her running off.

Goop: This is great!  Use a bar of ivor soap and grate it as you would cheese.  Add just enough water to make it "mold-able" and then separate it into three separate containers and add a touch of color to each with Kool-Aid, or food dye.  Let him or her squish and slosh in the soap mixing the colors.  This one is especially good for in the bath tub.  If you grate the soap finely enough, you may even be able to show your little one how to pipe it through a large tip frosting piping bag so he or she can "draw" on your shower wall.

Prime-Time Slime: 1 cup of liquid starch, 2 cups of white glue (and a few drops of any color you would like to add).  If using color, mix it and the glue first.  Add starch slowly.  If you store this in an air tight container you can reuse it.

Clean Mud: (Very similar to Goop) 1 bar of soap (Dove and Ivory seem to work best), Some toilet paper and warm water.  Grate the soap and add other ingredients until it looks like whipped cream.  Play until bored.  More squishing activity.  Because of the paper, you'll want to throw this one away rather than wash it down a drain.

Flubber:  Do you remember the Absent Minded Professor?  Well, this stuff won't make your car fly, but it will "fart" if squeezed right, bounce, and keep your kids entertained.  You will need 2 bowls for this one in order to mix it.  Mix 1 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of glue.  Add any color you might desire.  SEPARATELY Mix 1 cup of water and 5 TBS of Borax.  after the Borax is dissolved, pour and mix slowly into the first mixture.  Put in the sensory tub and allow your child to help you continue kneading and mixing.  It will look slimy at first but eventually become a big ball of flubber.  It will keep and be reusable for about a week if you keep it in an airtight container.

Glittery Puff Paint: Mix 1/2 cup of flour, salt and water.  Add a few drops of color and put into a squeeze bottle (like an old glue bottle) for your little one to squeeze out and then touch and squish etc.

Pumpkin Goop:  The goop from inside your pumpkin at Halloween can be sorted from its seeds in your sensory tub (making a jack-o-lantern is a wonderful sensory activity by the way).  Related Article.

Ice:  There are so many wonderful things to do with ice, with kids, but for starters you can try giving them a pile of shaved ice to scoop and mold.  Then, check out my upcoming article about Ice play.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Neverland Topography

To create a topographical map of your Neverland, you will need to have Created a Neverland in the first place.  The directions for doing so are given on the linked article.


In addition to the materials used in creating your Neverland, you will need a toothpick or other pointed tool to scratch lines into the dough used for your model, a ruler, and a way to secure the toothpick to the ruler and still be able to move it again.  We used scotch tape and a firm grip.

What to Do:

  1. Choose and increment and attach the tooth pick to the ruler at a low increment that makes sense for your child's island (and age).  For example, Alice's Island rose to about two inches and at age six she still struggles with precise fine motor skills so 1/2 inch increments made sense to demonstrate topographical lines on a map, while not over-doing the project.  If she was a little better and precise action with her fingers, I might have had her do 1/4 inch increments.  Likewise, if her island had had little to no relief (was relatively flat) we would have needed smaller increments to give her something to measure. 
  2. You can see Alice "scratching out" her one inch increment in the picture below.
  3. Trace the scratched lines in much the same way as tracing the coastline of your Neverland.
  4. Add a key denoting the elevation line increments and a title stating what the map is depicting.

Once all the Topographical lines are traced, you can make a copy onto a regular piece of paper, or use tracing paper to get the topographical lines transferred onto paper on which your child can color in the rest of his or her map.  If you plan on doing the whole unit, you may want to have at least three copies of the map.  In the picture below, you see Alice tracing her lines of elevation onto her topographical transparency with a Crayola Dry Erase Crayon (not a paid advertisement).

Discuss with your child how the closeness of the lines show steep inclines.  Where there are "steep slopes" or "cliffs" the lines come really close to one another, but where the lines are further apart the land moves like a gentler hill.  Compare this map with some other topographical maps to help your child see a "real" topographical map (Printable online topographical maps) and how it represents important information to those moving around on the land that was mapped.  For example, I suggest having your child pick out the shortest distances to travel up a mountain side and then also find routes that would be the "easiest routes" even if they are longer.  What kind of additional equipment is needed for the shortest route? 

The beginning of the Neverland Unit Article is linked Here.  Don't forget to also have your child make a political/ecological map of his or her Neverland.  For instructions, click here.

Creating your Neverland Model

To help your child be prepared for this lesson, you will want to have lots of maps available for taking a look at before you begin.  In fact, I suggest having the maps lying around for a few days before and after this lesson in such a way they are easy for your child to access.  In particular, maps showing islands or whole continents will be most exemplary.

Other Materials:

clay or dough that won't dry out.
Airtight container with lid and stiff sides.
sculpting tools (optional - even toothpicks can be handy for the purpose though)
Sketch paper.
Dry erase crayons or markers.
A Hard and clear surface (I have a Plexiglas clipboard, but any surface the child can see through will do).
Overhead projector transparency sheet.

Make sure to point out the legend on the maps you are looking at for examples as well as the thought that a map is made in such a way as to give the user of the map a view as though one is flying right over the land and looking down on it.  Then, using clay or playdough, you'll want to actually mold an Island.  This one is your example.  While molding your own version of Neverland, show your child how to shape the dough so it makes beaches, hills, cliffs, plateaus, mountains, peninsulas, bays and lagoons.  If you want to do the landforms extension, now is the time to discuss the different landforms you want your child to learn.

It is also probably a good idea to have a "brainstorming session".  For this session, simply list all the things a good Neverland must have in the eyes of your child.  Are there fairy cities?  Should there be a pirate ship anchored in a cove?  Does your child's Neverland have animals from our world or only magical ones?  Which kinds of animals from our world?  Polar Bears, Pandas, Grizzlies or no bears at all?  Which kinds of magical ones?  Unicorns? Dragons? Wyverns? Wangdoodles?  Are there great big cities anywhere or is it mostly wild lands?  For any of the animals that exist, the child will need to incorporate the appropriate type of habitat for that animal into their plans.

If you plan on skipping the topographical portion of this activity, you'll want to read Chapter Four, while your child draws his or her island and move on to Making your Neverland Coastline Map.

While you read Chapter Four, your child can work on sculpting his or her Neverland.

When the clay model is completed, it is time to learn to "trace" its coastline. 

Place a piece of Plexiglas or other clear and hard surface over the top of the container the Island was built in.  Hand over a transparency and the thinnest dry erase marker you can find.  Start by tracing the island while looking at the tracing surface at a significant angle - 45 degrees should work nicely.  Show your child how looking at an angle distorted the map.  Erase the transparency and then have your child trace the coastline carefully again, this time looking directly over the center of the island.  This is also a tougher task than it appears so be patient and if a few tries are needed, just know your child is practicing his or her fine motor skills.  Particularly if you have a very young child (third grade or younger) if this is a struggle and becoming overly frustrating, "trace" the coastline together with both of you holding the pen.

For very young kids that will not also be creating the topographical map, just letting them sketch the outline of their island will suffice, but if you plan on doing topography as well, your child will need to practice tracing the coastline more than once  to get the coastline down in a precise manner.  You will want two copies of this coastline map.  One for the activity, Making your Neverland Coastline Map, and one to use in continuting with the Topographical step.

For the first Post in the Neverland Unit Series; Click Here.  

 Landforms Extension:

In order to use this opportunity to expand your child's vocabulary, introduce your child to a variety of landforms.  A few are already listed above but you might add, alluvial plains or deltas, an isthmus, sand bar or spit, reef, atoll, haystack islands, tombolos or tied islands, valleys, canyons, any number of other landforms you might frequently encounter where you live.

Here Alice is looking up different types of landforms

Make sure to take a look at what each land form looks like in photos or pictures of the land form itself as well as how it is mapped out on more than one example from your atlas or map samples you have out for the project.  Then give your child a list of landforms that must be included on his or her Neverland and encourage your child to start molding.  This task is tougher than you might think, so I suggest molding alongside your sweetie pie and if actually forming the clay into a particular land form is tougher than you thought it would be you can problem solve together.

NatGeo Land Form Education Resources

Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting to Know the Instruments

Learning the different instruments of the orchestra can be a lot of fun.  Especially when you use music kids already love to do it.  With the advent of Youtube, it is even easier to give kids a visual of the different instruments as they are played.

Especially with very young children, I suggest reading a book or watching a movie about the four main instrument families in the orchestra first.  Two books I found to be great resources in this area are:

Zin Zin Zin, A Violin

This wonderful book Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman introduces children to different instruments through poetry and beautiful illustration.  The book begins with one solo trombone and continues on counting up the duet, trio, quartet and so on until most of the orchestra is assembled.  Not only is this book a great way to discuss counting with a very young child, but it also could be used as a wonderful tool for introducing the instruments of the orchestra and classical music to a preschool child.  Three instrument families are introduced in the following order, brass, string, woodwind.  I really don't know why percussion was not included except that the book may have become too long.  

The Story of the Orchestra
This fabulous book and CD combo is GREAT for introducing kids to the basics of the symphony/orchestra.  It gives a brief overview of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern Eras by introducing kids to a clip of music from master composers that helped to shape or characterize the period being described.  The second (and largest) portion of the book and disk is the part organized by instrument family.  A short piece of music highlighting each instrument family and then a number of its individual members is included along with pictures of each instrument and historical trivia relating to each instrument.  "Orchestra Bob" makes things clear and even funny as he takes us through the basics of the Orchestra.  Song choices include things like Haydn's "Surprise Symphony" and Paul Dukas' "Sorcerer's Apprentice".  The tidbits of information given about each piece of music chosen give kids a "story" to keep them engaged, entertained and wanting more.

For your Preschoolers, this animated short from Sesame Street may be useful.  

For Some Kids, this "reading step may not be necessary if they already have some idea of which instruments make what kinds of sounds.  Ravel's Bolero is a great choice for introducing the look and sound of the different instruments to any age because it features so many of them. A great way to do this is to watch the video a couple of times and try identifying each instrument as it is shown.  Have a copy of "The Story of Orchestra" or another similar book that outlines each instrument and its sound with pictures of the instruments included as you watch so you can "find" the instruments in the book while you watch.  I do not suggest pausing the movie as you go.  Just find what you can so the music can be heard fully while you watch.

Especially with older kids, I suggest watching a video of an orchestra playing a song from the soundtrack of a favorite movie.  Start here as an "in" and then watch the clip of Bolero and begin to identify the different instruments.  Since we've been reading Harry Potter at our house, Hedwig's Theme worked really well for this, but you could also try, This bit from Lord of the Rings Symphony, or this portion of James Bond.  It might also help to let the kids see the orchestral instruments rocking out with Metallica, or watch a Pop-up Orchestral Performance by the Sussex Symphony Orchestra, or along a similar theme, a Flash Mob Orchestral Hit and Run (Here is Bolero Again but in "Flash" Style, Ode to Joy or you can try Star Wars.  For some "different" instruments try this performance of Spaghetti Western at the Proms.

And I had to include this because its just cool:  Call me Maybe-string "quartet".

For even more resources and activities:
  • Try this Related Article also from pinch - scroll to the bottom for lots more links and clips for your youngest music aficionados.  
  • This website is a classic for kids because it has all sorts of learning games, sound bytes, and visual information about classical music. 
  • The Piano Student has music curricula designed for homeschooling families

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fiction or Biography: Legends of King Arthur?

There are subtle differences between Myth, Legend, Fiction and Historical Fiction children will eventually need to grasp.  The legend of King Arthur is a great way to introduce the differences between Legend and History precisely because there is not definitive evidence that the Story of King Arthur is nothing but pure fiction, yet many of us, including historians, would like to believe there is some reality or at least true person or persons that inspired the tales allowing us to call the stories Legends rather than Myths.

So who was King Arthur and Where do the Stories Come From?

This fabulous documentary "In Search of Myths and Heroes: Arthur" Goes over the possibilities vs. the realities about how the many myths of King Arthur and his knights arose.  The documentary is also available on Netflix Streaming.  If you can, I recommend watching it there for better picture and sound quality.  It also discusses why the stories are so historically important despite the absence of solid evidence in any truth behind the tale.

Quest for King Arthur as narrated by Patrick Stewart and from the History Channel was an interesting viewing though the very beginning section goes over the lustful intrigue behind Arthur's Birth quite clearly so as I usually recommend, you will want to preview the movie before viewing it with your young child.  Though clear, the discussion is not excessive nor are there explicitly clear images so it is almost certainly fine for your average middle school student or older.

Histories Mysteries has also covered The Knights of Camelot.  The movie doesn't truly delve into the question in any depth or detail, but it does offer a summary of the highlights of the history of the tales and the re-writes that have taken place over the centuries.

Make sure you actually read at least some of the tales.  They have been written and re-written many times over and are available in versions for any age from about second grade on.  I have completed a short article about using the Legends in a literature lesson or two that includes a few resource ideas on books to use.  Whether you read "Le Morte D'Arthur" by Thomas Mallory, together with your highschooler, or you pick up "The Kitchen Knight" by Margaret Hodges and other Arthurian picture books for the youngest Arthurian pupil, having read some of these tales, will make further reading and movie watching that much more enriching.  So many of our modern "quest tales" have been influenced by the Arthurian Tradition, you will start seeing it oozing out of even modern movies.

Writing their Own Legends and Tall Tales:

Have your kids take a real-life historical figure about whom we know a lot and turn that person into the basis for a legendary tale or tall tale.  Start with a look at an already written legend like Robin Hood (who was probably really an amalgamation of many real-life people) as well as a more modern legend such as Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill as examples.  Compare these legends to The Legends of Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable.  Then, let your kids imaginations run wild as they figure out how people would have exaggerated the characteristics of the well-known historical figure and his/her exploits in history.  A take on this assignment that would be great for your teen or teens is to have them write a skit about the famous figure in keeping with the spirit of Saturday Night Live that makes fun of the "Super Powers" that make this figure "Legendary".

Online Resources for Lessons and Activities Related to Arthurian Legend

Web English Teacher has a whole page with links to a variety of lessons, activities and ideas for different ways to go about using Arthurian Legend in your classroom.  If you, like myself, are a homeschooling parent, don't be afraid to check it out and make alterations to suit your needs too.  Some of these lessons have more to do with Medieval History, than with Arthur, or with Myths and Legends themselves, but many of us like to include cross curricular components to what we do with our kids, so all of the links here may be helpful.

Early British Kingdoms, is a page specifically designed for primary school kids so it is especially good for your youngest "schoolers."  It has broken up Arthur's Life story into easy to understand sections for kids to study.  You can also purchase related activity sheets on the site.  I did not personally purchase any of the sheets, but the samples they show look decent enough.  If you do make a purchase, please come back and add a comment about their service and your satisfaction with the quality of the activity sheets.

Lesson Pathways, This site is another that provides links to a variety of activities one might do with a child while learning about Arthurian Legend.  Of those linked here, I'd have to say this is my favorite site.  The idea of having kids write a resume to "apply" for a position at the round-table is just one of a number of great lessons offered here.

An Archaeological Quest for Arthur: This Final Site is really one with more information about the History and Mysteries surrounding the Legends of King Arthur, what is known and how it is known.  A good resource for students learning research skills while studying Arthur.

Britannia: Links to more information on King Arthur

Friday, January 18, 2013

Think Fun hits One Out of the Park Again!

I'm not usually one to become loyal to one particular company when it comes to kids stuff.  I tend to think each project should be judged based on its own merits, but I have had a few favorites.  One company that I have never been dissatisfied with yet is ThinkFun (By the way, Think Fun has not paid me for writing this article, nor sent any freebies or in any other way "purchased" my endorsement here).

I write in particular today because of their ingenious game, "Solitaire Chess." 

Ever since reading, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - HP and the Philosopher's Stone in the UK, Alice has wanted to learn to play chess.  I taught her the moves, but playing the game with her is painstakingly tedious because she is a beginner and young.  While doing such things anyway is part of the job of being Mom and guide (and even if she had an older sibling to play with, problems would also arise), when I saw "Solitaire Chess" sitting on the shelf at a local bookstore, I thought, "Hmmmm. . . ?"

I'm always on the look out for games she can play that will help her practice her critical thinking skills, games she can play on her own during long car trips or at home while I am doing work that doesn't include her (like writing) or whatever, and things that will intrigue or interest her and build on what she already knows and finds interesting.  This game addressed all three desires.

Think fun games tend to be self contained and well organized, small without being tiny and able to "travel."

Think fun games usually have a critical thinking or at least educational component to them.

This game involved practicing with Chess pieces and becoming more familiar with how those pieces move as well as how they capture other pieces.

The game cost a little more than I'd like to think it had to, but you do get what you pay for and since I've had such good experiences with games like, "Clever Castle" and "Math Dice," I was much more willing to pay just a bit more than I might have otherwise.
So, we brought the game home.

While taking it out of the packaging, I was glad to see that again, the whole thing is self contained in something more durable than a cardboard box filled with loose pieces.  There is a "drawer" for the pieces and a slot for the challenge cards and instruction booklet and the box itself becomes the game board with the challenge card you choose visible through the "board."  The board has little concavities the pieces fit on so they don't easily just slide off the board making the whole thing more feasible to use in environments like the car and on planes.

The directions were clear enough Alice could figure out the game on her own and it has visual charts about how each piece moves for reminders as well as a "When you Get Stuck" checklist of tips to think through.
Alice proceeded to spend the next hour and a half working her way up through most of the "beginner" cards and getting more and more familiar with both how the different pieces move, and the idea that "thinking ahead" (otherwise known as employing strategy) are to her advantage.

The game is definitely a great buy for anyone that might like Chess and is old enough and developed enough to understand the game rules.  If you can find it on discount - even better.  The game is labeled for 8+, but if your kid can manage understanding how the different pieces move, someone younger can play and the pieces are large enough I don't think they would pose a huge safety hazard for most younger siblings.  For little mouthers (kids that still chew on everything), if they can get the pieces inside their mouths, you will want to be careful as you would just about any toy for an 8+ kid.

Link to ThinkFun

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Your Child's Neverland

Today I am launching a unit with Alice that uses J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan as a launch point for a unit of study that will include map skills, geographical features, reading and vocabulary, descriptive writing and a little ecology.  I hope the unit will be a lot of fun and that some of my readers might join us on our journey and use the comments to chime in on highlights or challenges encountered during the Unit.  It should be a lot of fun.

Of course, as we read the story, I also had her define important vocabulary words, answer comprehension questions and do some typical Language Arts types of Activities.  There are many different versions of Peter Pan out there now, from the original, to Disney's version rewritten for book form and beyond.  Alice's School recommended an Early reader version, but she preferred an entirely different version of the book for its added complexity.  For that reason, it is difficult to offer helpful guides or even vocabulary lists here, but I will offer a "resources list" with links at the end of the article.  This article will focus more on my intentions for the "map" activities I am adding to the mix.


Students Will: 
  • Read, or have read to them, any version of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan that includes the concept of all children having their own Neverland's already created in their own minds.
  • Create a political map of their Neverland
  • Create a topographical map of their Neverland
  • Expand their vocabularies in regard to Geographic Features.
  • Identify different types of geographic features such as mountains, mountain chains, island, isthmus, and peninsula.


  • A copy of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie - multiple adaptations out there are available at different reading levels.  The HarperFestival adaptation: Peter Pan The Original Story (the motion picture event) will work well for a slightly more advanced reader and there is a version adapted by Cathy East Dubowski done by Random House Stepping Stones written at a second grade level.  I'm sure there other adaptations out there that will work equally as well too.
  • Clay.
  • A piece of plexiglass or other hard and clear surface.
  • Lots of graph paper.
  • Writing paper.
  • Paper on which to sketch.
  • Typical classroom supplies such as colored pencils and/or crayons, writing pencils, and rulers.
  • An imagination.
  • An atlas or other reference for children about maps that will have examples of different types of maps.
  • You may decide to use a movie version of Peter Pan at some point during the unit as well.  There are still copies of the original play with Mary Martin available at some libraries and you can find it on Youtube as well (Here is part 1).  Of course there is the animated Disney version and the newer movie from 2003.



Resources for Language Arts Activities:

Wikipedia: Typical Wikipedia Entry with synopsis, history and references to the author and his other works, other works inspired by the book, and additional information.
Book Rags:  Summary, Plot and Character Notes.
eNotes: Short Biography of J.M. Barrie, and links to character, plot, and theme summaries, essays and critiques, and an article about Media adaptations.  Membership is required for full versions of some of the articles, but there sufficient information for basics without as well.
Lit2go: Audio Version
Schvoong: Reviews, summaries and other information as submitted by Schvoong community contributors.  Things to think about.

Themes To Highlight/Research you and your child Can Do:

Then and Now - ask kids to compare:  
  • How Barrie depicts life at the Darling house and how life for children of the late 1800's and early 1900's compares to daily life for children now (in your location, or in UK compared to today's UK).
  • How people saw Native Americans in the early 1900's compared to how they are seen and understood today.

Historical Societies -
  • Life as a Middle Class Society Member in London in 1900
  • Native American Life in 1900 - you may need to choose a few representative tribes from different Regions in North America to narrow down your scope.  Make it clear there are multiple life styles that were lived at the time, just as there are multiple life styles lived for any other community in time.
  • Pirates from the 1700's- 1800's. 

Aging - The "Classic" aspect of this book and its major theme:
  • Some questions to ask:  Why doesn't Peter Want to Grow Up?  What is he afraid of?  What is so bad about being an adult?
  • Have your child define Aging.
  • Instruct your child to form an "interview" for each of her living grandparents, or other family members that are retired or near-retirement.  Have your child use the interview to discover what growing up was like for them and how they see aging.  Have your child ask you (or another person in mid-life) the same interview questions.  Draw connections between answers by comparing and contrasting.
If you have more wonderful thematic ideas, Please share them in a comment.  I hope this article will act only as a starting point and inspiration for further development.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Best Children's Dictionary Ever

I know that kids can now use certain websites to look up words and things these days.  However, they still need to learn alphabetical order as well as how to understand pronunciation guides and I believe learning both the old fashioned and the modern way to do things useful because it just makes a kid more versatile.

I have the dictionary I used in my own childhood available to my little girl, but she has a very large vocabulary for her age and we were finding Alice already knew most of the words in that old dictionary.  As a result, we have been on a search for a good children's dictionary for her for ages now.  The problem with many children's dictionaries is that they really just don't have that many words in them.

We finally found just the right thing!  DK got together with Merriam Webster to create the best children's dictionary ever.  The book is priced right at only $22 (US) yet it has all the color and visual vitality one might expect from a reference book presented by DK and 35,000 quality entries like one would expect from Merriam Webster.

There are two things I find especially unique and helpful for kids about this dictionary that really sets its makers apart.
  1. Along the edges of every layout is the entire alphabet typed out vertically.  For kids still getting familiar with alphabetical order, this tool serves to help in speeding the process of figuring out whether the word being sought is a page or two ahead or a page or two behind because they can take a look at the alphabet for help with that third or fourth letter in the word rather than having to say the alphabet to themselves.
  2. Along the bottom edge of the layout is a pronunciation guide key.  This helps kids quickly remember what the sound for an upside down e is when they are trying to learn how to correctly pronounce new words.  The fact that the key is right there on the page instead of having to refer to an appendix or a separate page at the front of the book, makes it a lot more likely kids will actually use the pronunciation guides.
As with all Children's dictionaries, this one also contains lots of pictures and diagrams, but what is really special is that, true to DK style, the diagrams in this dictionary are truly a highlighted feature.  For example, when you find a picture of gymnastics, you don't just see one gymnast doing a flip, you see a whole page diagram showing different positions and tools a gymnast might use.  Similarly, when a child looks up "cloud" he or she will find a diagram covering more than a quarter of the page showing a model of the various types of clouds one might typically see in the sky.   While not everything is pictured with this kind of detail, there are quite a few "diagrams," and every layout is visually interesting with multiple images interspersed throughout the definition entries.

At the end of the dictionary is a short atlas including a layout for each of the continents with a little information about climate, history, culture and a fact file that lists the largest and smallest countries, and the largest city, and lake and the longest river on the continent.  There is also a map of the United States, a section for flags of the world and one for the flags of each of the states.  Another section in the appendix includes a listing of all the provinces of Canada and states of the US, their capitol cities, and for the states, the date the state entered the union.  You will also find a listing of the first 46 presidents, common abbreviations, and signs and symbols used in mathematics, astronomy, and a few others.

As a final word.  DK nor anyone associated with the dictionary has given me any money for this article.  This is an honest review of a really good product and if you are looking for a children's dictionary I highly recommend it, purely because I think it is high caliber for a good price and my daughter is even enjoying just flipping through it and reading different word entries while looking at the stunning photos and quality diagrams and images.