Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Introducing Letters

Since Felix was introduced to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom he has become absolutely fascinated with letters. One day, about 2 weeks ago, we were playing and he randomly pointed to a letter and said "Y". It was the letter y and that marked the beginning of this learning explosion that is keeping me on my toes and sending me to bed absolutely exhausted at night!

I started with A, B and C but Felix found it so hard to tell A from B that I almost considered packing it in even though he was obviously keen to learn. A fabulous friend mentioned that in school, letters are taught in a specific order and maybe that would help him. I turned to my trusty book "How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way" by Tim Seldon which is a mine of useful information and ideas. Tim suggests teaching the alphabet in small groups of letters as follows:

  • c m a t
  • s r i p
  • b f o g
  • h j u l
  • d w e n
  • k q v x y z

So that is what we are doing. The picture above shows the collection of letters we have for each group. We had the Eric Carle Animal Flash Cards already. The top right is the Leap Frog Fridge Phonics toy. I don't have a link to it because it is so difficult to buy online here in New Zealand for a reasonable price. I ended up contacting Leap Frog NZ directly; they said they're exclusive to Farmer's now but they sourced one to sell me. It is a great toy, slightly grating, but both boys love it. The round blue letters are milk bottle lids with foam letters from the $2 shop stuck on them! The mini foam inter-locking letters and the other fridge magnets are also from the $2 shop.

I introduced the letters to Felix using the principals of the Montessori 3 Period Lesson. The link has a great description of the lesson. It's a very simple process, one that you probably use already without even realising. Once he knew the 4 letters in the first group I got him to lay out the 4 flash cards. Then I would pass him a random letter and he would name it and place it on the appropriate flash card. 

Once Felix reliably knew the first set of letters, I put them aside and introduced the second set. Once he knew the second set well, I combined the first and second set to offer a bit more of a challenge. I don't have all the letters out at one time as I find Felix is happier when activities have a set start and end point. I might choose one set of bottle tops and one set of magnets to use with the flash cards. Once he has them matched, it all gets tidied away, unless he wants to explore more. 

When we combined the first two sets of letters I would just have one set of letters to match with the flash cards or to match with another set i.e. the bottle tops with the foam letters. This keeps Felix from getting bored with the activity and means it never becomes a chore. I am aware that 27 months is relatively early to be working on learning letters but I'm following Felix's lead. The letters live in an easily accessible spot and they stay there until Felix asks to play. That way it always stays fun and there is never any pressure involved.

We are currently starting the third set of letters though Felix has inadvertently learned J, K, V, X, Y and Z just from reading and questioning! I have a number of letter related activities I'm hoping to share with you all soon. At the moment Felix is mastering them faster than I can create, my poor brain. 

Please remember, this is just one way of introducing letters. I'm sure there are a hundred other and better ways, but this is something simple that is working for us. I am not a qualified teacher, just a Mum, winging it!! Always take the lead from your child, go at their pace and do those activities that suit the stage your child is at. Most importantly, make sure you're both always having fun, if you're not, put it away and go bounce on a trampoline together instead.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Book Review: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert has fast become a firm favourite in this house. It is a lively story about the letters of the alphabet. The lower case letters all race to climb to the top of a coconut tree. As they climb the tree begins to sag, and sag, and sag, until eventually; Chicka chicka, BOOM BOOM! They all fall down to the ground in a crumpled, tangled, mussed up heap. Along come the upper case adults to dust off their babies but by the last page it is evident they didn't learn their lesson as 'A is out of bed and this is what he said, “Dare, double dare, you can’t catch me. I’ll beat you to the top of the coconut tree.” '

I love the simple and bright illustrations Lois Elhert has done for this book. The letters are identical to the letters on the Eric Carle Animal Flash Cards which ties them together nicely for learning. The rhyme is catchy which phrases such as "skit skat skoodle doot" and there is lots of repetition which makes it nicely predictable.

Felix adores joining in for the "BOOM BOOM" and we do make quite a production of it. He also loves shouting "OH NO" repeatedly as we get to the part where all the letters have fallen out of the tree. Since we started reading this book he has become so much more interested in letters and is bringing out all the letter related activities to do every day.

We have done some gorgeous fun crafts related to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom which I'll post about soon. I'd love to hear how well this book is received in your homes and what related activities you've been doing.  

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pincer Grasp: Raisins and Toothpicks

Pincer grasp is what enables a child to pick up and object with their thumb and index finger. It's an important pre-writing skill. We've already been developing this skill with simple activities like using tongs and tweezers, posting toothpicks through holes in jar lids, using eye droppers and stringing beads.

I decided to mix things up a little today and what better way to inspire Felix than to use food! My boy loves his food. At snack time I presented him with a plate. It had a serving of raisins and some toothpicks. I showed him how to pick up a raisin and hold it so he could skewer it onto the toothpick.

The idea being that he'd skewer a raisin onto each end of the toothpicks and when they were all full he could eat them. What actually happened was that he would skewer a raisin on each end of the toothpick and then eat them before moving on to do another two.

This was a perfect activity for Felix. It was tricky enough that he had to concentrate on getting the toothpick through the raisins but relatively simple so he mastered it quickly and modified so he was pushing the raisins all the way down the toothpick and also putting 3 or 4 on at a time.

He got through the raisins I gave him and requested more. How could I refuse. It was beautiful to see such absolute concentration on his face. He sat there for at least 20 minutes fully absorbed in the activity. At the end he showed such pride and happily posed for a photo with his accomplishment.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Homemade Toy: Baking Soda & Vinegar

This is an incredibly simple activity and great fun for kids of all ages. This was a quick, last-minute set up so it's very basic. Felix was tired and I needed to get dinner organised. He and Jonny did this one together. I took a few photos and left them to it.

I put a small box of baking soda in the bottom of an oven dish, you can use any type of dish you like and just use enough baking soda to line the bottom, it doesn't have to be too thick. I put a little vinegar in two ramekins; to one I added red food colouring, to the other I added blue food colouring.

We used a medicine syringe since that's what we had on hand. I've since bought a dropper so we can mix things up a little. Jonny showed Felix how to hold the syringe, making sure the tip was in the liquid, pull up the stopper to suck the liquid into the syringe and then squirt it onto the baking soda.

Felix was fascinated with figuring out how to use the syringe. It took a few goes to get the hang of sucking up the vinegar but he got the hang of squirting it out straight away (of course!). He enjoyed watching the vinegar squirt out and learned to aim at a dry area of the baking soda. Jonny showed him how to put the tip of the syringe into the baking soda and then squirt so it would bubble from underneath.

They talked about colours; white baking soda, red vinegar and blue vinegar. This naturally led to talking about purple once Felix used up the red and started adding blue. They talked about bubbles and fizzing, sucking and squirting.

But they also sat there in silence. Felix lost in concentration on his work and Jonny watching him and being there to support his learning, offering explanations or help when needed. I love seeing my boys like this.

Simple activities, like this one, are great for the evenings. It's an opportunity for Felix and Jonny to spend some quality time together after work and on those days when Felix is fractious, it gives him something with purpose to concentrate on, helping him work though whatever it is that's upsetting him.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Toddler Chores: Doing Laundry

Felix adores doing, all the better if doing involves helping either me or his Dad. His favourite phrase of all time is "I do" which often comes out as "IdoIdoIdoIdoIdoIdo" in his enthusiasm. Fantastic. I am going to jump on that, embrace it and milk it for all it's worth. Sure, if Felix helps me do chores, it's going to take twice as long. But if I plan for that in advance and allow that extra time I can teach him a new skill, have some lovely bonding time and make him happy all at once. How could I resist that.

Instead of doing everything for Felix and have him say "Oh, Mum thinks I'm not capable of doing that, I must not be able", I would rather set the bar (relatively) high for him, so he instead thinks "Oh, Mum who is amazing and knows everything there is to know in this world believes I can do it so I must be able to." There is an age old quote "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a toddler to do his own laundry and you can relax on the couch and eat truffles"... well, maybe that's not exactly how it goes but you get the idea!

I've mentioned before on this blog about my slight aversion to kids toys. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for kids having toys but I think that in many, many houses, the toy situation gets out of control. I've seen entire rooms just obliterated with an explosion of plastic. And 90% of those toys are completely pointless. Why on earth would I spend $200 on a toy kitchen when Felix can help me in the real kitchen? Why would I buy a magnetic food cutting toy when Felix can help me cut real food that we will then cook and eat?

Yes, we start small. Yes, we start slow. And yes, in the beginning, little gets accomplished. But Felix practices and in time, gets more and more accomplished. And in time, he needs less supervision. And eventually I will be able to entrust entire tasks to him without having to worry. That will be a sweet, sweet day for both of us.

One task we have been working on for a while is doing the laundry. Felix first showed interest because of the lights on the front of the machine and all he wanted to do was press them. So I explained to him what each button did, its name and how to turn the dial. He would press the buttons I would point to and be delighted. Then he moved on to emptying the machine and soon he was doing everything.

Now he can and does happily help me sort the laundry, puts it in the machine, measures and puts the powder in the correct drawer, closes the drawer and door, turns the dial but I direct him to which setting, adjusts the temperature and wash settings for the nappy washes and turns the machine on. Not to shabby for a just turned 2 year old. So many guys haven't acquired this skill by the time the move out of home!

I really enjoy spending this time with Felix, teaching him new things. It's so lovely to see the look of concentration as he takes it all in, when he stops himself from making a mistake and corrects it without my help and the look of pride when he's finished is heartmelting.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Homemade Toys: Glitter Goo Bag

This is another cheap, quick, and easy homemade toy.

The cast of characters: zip or snaplock bag, hair gel, glitter.
I later added green food colouring, not pictured.

Prepare bag.

Open pot of hair gel, try to ignore the desperate smell of teenage
boy hair and hope the likes never enter my house.

Scrape gel into your snaplock bag.

Add glitter, I use about half of a tiny pot.

Squish the gel and glitter to mix, spread the mixture out,
working from the bottom of the bag so you get rid of the air.
Close up the bag and preferably tape it too, just in case!

Have fun before your toddler wakes up from his nap.

Flattening out the bag.

Squishing the bag.

And there's the look of devilment, he's enjoying this.

While Felix did enjoy the Glitter Goo Bag for a time, it wasn't a hit. I think it will be better received in a few months when he is a bit more interested in drawing shapes etc. Right now, he has little interest in actually drawing with his finger, he prefers to just squish the bag.

I'm planning a few things when I pull this back out. One idea is to tape it to a window so the light shining through makes it easier to see the shapes drawn on the bag. Another idea is to just tape it to some white card for the same benefit.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Homemade Toys: Rice Sensory Bin

Felix turned two on 11 July and as part of his birthday present I made him a rice flavoured sensory bin. A sensory bin is a whole lot of fun. This rice version is our first foray into sensory bins and I'm definitely planning more.
I started with a 10kg bag of rice. I divided it evenly between
5 snaplock bags.
Next I added a bunch of food colouring. I used most of a bottle
of cheap colouring as I wanted strong colours.

Add enough white vinegar to spread the food colouring
without making the rice too wet. I used about 1/3 cup.

Expel most of the air from the bag, seal and mix it all up.

Leave it sit for about an hour so the colour can soak in.
I forgot to photograph the next bit but once the colour is soaked
in you should spread the rice out on trays to dry.

Once it's dry you can empty it into your chosen tub.  I picked
this one up at The Warehouse. It's an under bed storage tub.

So pretty and enticing. I recommend putting a mat down.
Even with the most careful child, rice will spill and it's easy
to empty the rice back in off the mat and hoover the rest up.

I organised some accessories for scooping and pouring.

Felix was quite tentative to begin. He didn't want to mix the colours.

He warmed up quickly and started to really enjoy it.

Dexter got in on the action. He was fascinated.

Lots and lots of pouring.

Felix really started to enjoy the texture of the rice.

He decided Dexter had the right idea and wanted to feel the
rice on his toes too.

He wasn't sure about it getting stuck between his toes.

But he loved sticking his feet in anyway.

Scooping the rice up with his feet.

He had a friend over later that day to join in the fun.

More friends and Grandparents joined in the fun on the weekend.

The Rice Sensory Bin was a huge hit with everyone. Felix played with it non-stop for over three hours on the first day which is phenomenal for a just turned two year old. Dexter at 6 months loved it, I love it and his Grandparents loved it too. There's just something so soothing about the sound of the rice being poured, the feel of it in your hands and the bright colours. It does what it says on the tin and just appeals to all the senses. Well, except smell maybe, the vinegar smell does linger somewhat!

We have had the sensory bin out regularly since then. Felix will bring the big mat to me when he wants to play with it. Since the initial novelty wore off we probably get a good hour of playtime before he wants to put it away. This is definitely the most expensive of our homemade toys since neither the rice nor the bin can be bought cheaply anywhere round here but it has been worth every penny.