Monday, May 30, 2011

Changes and Thank You's

Seeing that I've spiked in blog views and the amount of followers within the last couple weeks, I've decided to make some changes to my blog to make it more user-friendly. I've taken the time to label each post so it's now possible to bring up the exact type of activities you're looking for (this can be found in the left panel). I appreciate this in other blogs and wanted to do the same here! My email is now under my profile as well if you'd like to do more than comment. I'm always willing to answer questions or chat with others about what I do. Suggestions are always welcome too!

I wanted to also take a moment to say thank you to my followers, those subscribing by email and all of the others who take the time to read my blog. I love sharing what we do with others, and when I check my stats to find that over a hundred people have checked it out in one day, or that someone has been kind enough to share this blog with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, BBC, or to list me in their own blog, it really encourages me to keep this going! Heck, just one person wanting to see what we're up to makes it worth it!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gelatin Play

Gelatin (Jello) play is such a great sensory activity! It wiggles, it's slippery, brightly colored, smells wonderful, has a good weight to it, can be broken down into pieces, is of course edible, and when you're done, leaves your hands feeling sticky! This activity is also inexpensive. I bought four generic boxes for just $1.52! If you have an older child who you know can be safe stirring boiling hot water, its also a great thing to have your child help you prepare.

Of course, with all of this going for it, Ty wasn't a huge fan. I wasn't surprised. His sensory quirks are slowly improving, but this was too "yucky" for him to touch. If he ever gets used to this kind of thing, I'm going to fill the bottom of his baby pool with gelatin and let him get in and go nuts! Until then, I provided toothpicks and toddler utensils for him to stick into the jello, and a toy hammer to hit it with. This way he'd at least get some sensory input from this strange stuff, and I thought maybe it would warm him up to the idea of touching it. He was intrigued hitting and nudging it with the hammer to see it move but that was it. I played with it and made sure he saw how much fun I was having, picking it up and putting it in a small container, smelling and tasting it, jiggling it in my palm...but he just looked at me like I was nuts and walked away after a while.

A couple days later I tried again, as I still had tons of it in the fridge. This time I provided measuring cups and a second container so he could scoop and dump, as well as a wooden spoon to mix it with. He was brave and gave it a try, but not for long.

Though this didn't go well, I figured I'd post so that others could give it a try. I'm sure most little one's would love to dig into this kind of play; just be ready to give a bath afterwards! This may also be a great outdoor activity...let the ants clean-up for you!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Local Parks: More than a Playground!

Though we live in a large city, we're lucky to have some gorgeous parks tucked away within the metro area. My husband and I grew up in the country, so these have been very welcoming to us. They also have wonderful playgrounds for Tyler, some even with fenced play areas with equipment just for toddlers!

What disappoints me, is that for the vast majority of the patrons, these parks seem to be only about the playgrounds or a place to walk your dog. Whenever we go, or times when I've simply gone by myself to read a book or think, parents arrive at the playground with their children in a stroller, herd them into the playground, close the fence gate behind them, let the kids play (often while talking or texting on their phones the whole time, but that is a whole other story), then put the children right back into the stroller and head back home or to the car. Wait...there's so much more!

Now, excuse me for getting a bit preachy here but... Have many of us forgotten that city parks are also for running around in the grass? Playing with balls? Flying a kite? Running up and down hills, or better yet rolling down them? Have a picnic? Checking out the huge trees, rocks, sticks? Looking for bugs? Watching birds? The general exploring and enjoyment of nature and beautiful open space, especially when you live within a large city? I don't understand.

Tyler barely wanted to play on the playground (which was probably good because he woke later with a clear case of pink eye, not just "getting over being sick eyes" as I had thought) when we went to the park last week. He checked out trees, climbed up tree stumps, simply ran in the open space, walked up and down some big stone steps, threw balls around on the tennis court, climbed the benches, watched ants, ran down a hill with sheer joy, and spent a ton of time putting little wood chips and dead grass down a grate he discovered. We also had a lovely picnic, something we've done a several times on the grass or the lonely picnic benches, but we're always alone in our picnic pursuits.

If this is the way public parks are going, I can see, unfortunately, why so many of them seem to be closing down when it comes to cutting state budgets. Remember your local parks. Play. Explore. Relax. Remember the simple fun most of us had when we were kids!

Preaching is over. Carry on. This probably doesn't apply to many of you anyhow.  :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Question: Sensitive Period for Letters?

This post may seem like a brag at first, but I promise that I truly have questions and concerns that I hope some of the Montessori teachers, or those more experienced than I, would be willing to help me with. I don't want to screw-up.

A few weeks ago, playing with letters on a magnet board at the museum, Tyler (now 21 mos old) was holding the letter "H". I had simply been watching, then casually said to him, "That's the letter "H". To which he replied "Huh-Huh-Huh" to make the sound. I was floored. I thought it must be a weird coincidence. Over the last couple weeks I've randomly asked him what starts with different letters and this is what I have gotten, sometimes letter sounds and sometimes words that start with the letter (note: he isn't a big talker yet at all):

A: Ahhh-Ahhh
B: Ba-ba or Buh-Buh
C: Cookie, Cuh-Cuh or he also gives the soft C sound "Ssss"
D: Dada or Duh
F: Fffffff
G: Guh Guh or Go
H: Huh Huh
K: Kitty or Kuh
L: La la la
M: Mama
S: Ssss
T: Tuh (sometimes he can do this, he has trouble making this sound in general)

I have never taught him anything about letters or their sounds. He doesn't watch television. He has a couple of your typical alphabet books (Sandra Boynton A-Z etc) but nothing that teaches this.

My question is, should I start introducing the sandpaper letters? My fear is that teaching him these things too early will cause him to form weak connections in the brain rather than the strong ones that would form when he's older/truly ready (I forget exactly which book I read about that in). I'm also wondering if he's in a sensitive period for letters right now. I think about how he went through such a stacking obsession for a while and I gave him tons of things to stack with to encourage his drive...then he literally woke up one morning last week and didn't care to stack anymore (though he can...I checked!). Does knowing letter sounds on his own signify readiness?

We've been told recently that Tyler likely has a very high IQ and that we need to challenge him and think of him as a preschooler with some things, but I really am torn with this. To me letters/alphabet/reading are such important skills and I don't want to do this too early and ruin it for him...but don't want to miss a window if it's open now. Any advice would be very welcome!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Practical Life: Using a Funnel

Teaching Ty to use a funnel at this age was simple, as it goes along with everything toddlers are into: scooping, dumping and containers! It is a useful practical life activity for teaching about using kitchen tools as well as a lot of fun. We used both water and colored rice for this activity. Somehow we don't have a kitchen funnel and I had a hard time finding one, so these are automotive funnels found for less than two dollars at a super store.

 Scooping rice from the bowl and dumping it into the funnel. We used a large water container, though something like a milk jug would work great too.

He later decided to use both funnels at once and to stand. What I don't have a good photo of is Ty deciding to dump the rice back into the bowl and starting again, but that was a great skill to practice as well!

Water was a bit more challenging, but he did well and had even more fun with it! He really liked using both funnels at once. Don't mind his eyes here...poor little guy's cold turned into pink eye this weekend.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One-of-a-kind gifts

Over a month ago, my mother told me what she wanted for her birthday (which is today!): A Tyler original masterpiece. Funny, I already knew that a Tyler canvas painting was what we would be giving her! Moms and daughters think alike, huh? It is really rare for my Mom to ask for anything at all for her birthday, so I knew she must really, really want this!

The materials for this gift were quite inexpensive. We have painted on canvas before and I hoped that Big Lots would still have their amazingly priced canvas, which they did. I already had all colors of paint, which I mixed to match the colors in my parent's living room. I'm really liking "Sargent Art" and "Rich Art" tempra      brands lately, both found at Hobby Lobby, which are often on sale. The biggest expense we found was shipping due to the large size.

Creating the work was the easiest and most fun part of course! Tyler just loves to paint with brushes! I sent an album of photos of Tyler creating her work of art as well.

My parent's live on the other side of the country, so when she opened her gift, she sent a photo of her holding the painting for Tyler to see. I think it made a really special connection for him to see Grandma with the painting her made for her.

I think this is such a delightful gift for family, especially grandparents, or those who adore art. Who knows, this heart-felt but inexpensive gift may be worth millions someday! To her, it's certainly priceless already. Happy Birthday Mom!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New on our Montessori shelves

Time has been so sparse lately and my poor little guy has been sick all week, but I wanted to quickly share a bunch of new Montessori-ish activities I've created for Tyler recently.

Here are a few pattern strips that Tyler uses with our wonderfully versatile Melissa and Doug Jumbo Lacing Beads. I used cardstock (could easily use construction paper too) and my laminator to create these in no time. I placed the appropriate amount of beads in each tray and let him create the patterns by matching the color circles to the beads.
He will humor me and do this work on occasion, but it was much too easy for him from the start. I either need to create longer, more complex patterns or find a way to make pattern work more exciting. Ideas are brewing...

For this color matching work, I cut an egg carton to create four sections and painted the insides of each to match puffballs. I used two different shades of types of puffballs for an extra sensorial piece.

After searching quite a bit for rounded toothpicks for fine motor work, we found some colorful cocktail toothpicks that have been quite versatile and fun. For this first work, Tyler the picks into the holes of a parmesan shaker ($1.50 at Big Lots). They don't fall into the shaker due to the card suit characters on top, which makes for easy retrieval.

For the second toothpick work, I cut the tops off so that they would fit inside this mustard container that I found for less than a dollar at our local grocery store. This one is pretty challenging and the opening is pretty small, but it has become a pretty big favorite. I snipped the tip just a bit then colored around the top of the hole with black Sharpie to make it more visible to him.

Ty and I just love using these cheese containers and puffballs, but we've never combined them like this! Here Tyler rests the puffballs on the holes then pushes them in with his index finger. Simple but great fine motor and finger isolation work!

Linking with Tot School and One Hook Wonder

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Challenging...without always spending.

Like a lot of kids, Ty can be a difficult to keep challenged. He has his interests that he works on a bit obsessively, but outside of that he is one who masters things quickly then needs more stimulation. Even as a baby he needed to be carried from thing to thing to thing at a quick pace all day long, until he started to crawl and could get places on his own. To me this has often meant buying more challenging toys or creating more and more works for him, which can be exhausting and of course budget breaking when done exclusively. I've recently learned that simply adding 2-3 more steps to things he already has and does, making it more complex, can be all he needs at times to keep his brain stimulated.

One example that we did this week was a game with balls and bins. Tyler enjoys throwing balls, throwing balls into containers, running, and carrying big balls around, so connecting these made sense. It's a great game for inside on a rainy day or of course can brought outside as well.

I set-up a two large bins (a laundry basket and a crate) on opposite ends of the room, one full of balls. These were our steps, which I demonstrated a couple times first::

Take one ball at a time out of the bin while yelling "ball! or "ball out!"

Run with the ball to the other bin 

Throw the "ball in!".
Give me a high-five (we added this the next time we played)

Run back for another ball

When that bin was full, Ty created his own step of climbing into the crate and throwing the balls out from there. I went with it. I then ran to place each ball in the opposite bin.

We then started over again.

He enjoyed this so much that even after about twenty minutes, when he was clearly tired, he wanted to keep it going. It's now a game that he initiates by himself, setting up the bins and balls and remembering the motions and words.

Another game we created (which I don't have photos for unfortunately) was setting up a bin of balls, a step stool and a large container (I used a crate). Tyler would:
  1. Grab a ball from the bin
  2. Step up onto the stool
  3. Throw the ball in the container
  4. Jump off the step stool
  5. Repeat until balls were all in the container (then refill first bin and start over)
I'm now starting to look at some of his less active toys and other works to add other natural steps as well. For example, with his glass gem and bottle activity, where he simply drops gems into a small or large bottle, I will have him use three different sized jars that he lines up from big to small, then, as he enjoys counting activities, have him put a certain number of gems in each bottle down the line.

If you have limited materials/toys or have a little one who needs a good challenge, this is an easy way to keep you sane and your wallet a bit more full! Adding more steps is also great for learning to follow directions and of course strengthening memory.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Literacy Extension: Acting Out "The Three Little Pigs"

I purchased this iPlay Three Little Pigs Playset for Tyler at Christmas, with dreams of acting out the story together and soon buying a book to go along with it. Well, I didn't anticipate my sensitive little guy being so upset about the wolf blowing the pig's houses down! Though I didn't use a terribly scary voice, he seemed to understand that this was frightening and mean, and after only two times of acting out the story, he didn't want anything to do with it! He's done similar things when certain songs get a little scary or violent on his CD's (the part where the man ties a goat to a railroad track in "Bill Grogan's Goat" for example), immediately turning the CD off or skipping past the song when it gets to the bad part. Anyhow, I left the play set out for him because he did enjoy playing with the pigs, the doors and putting them down the chimney, though he rarely touched that wolf!

Now, months later, I've tried again. I purchased a simple version of story [shown here]. For the first few weeks he had the same reaction to the story, wanting to us to read it, but closing the book quickly when the wolf wants to blow the houses down. My husband and I have gently helped him get past this, and we're now able to get through the book most times, though now he seems to have sympathy for the wolf falling into the pot of hot water.

I've now started to work with Tyler on acting out the story with the play set for the literacy extension I had planned. Extensions are a great way for children to create more meaning, and to continue thinking and talking about the story. Eventually the storyline will be cemented and Tyler will be able to re-create this story on his own and without the book. A feltboard with characters and houses from the story would be another great extension, or even giving roles to a group of children and letting them be actors in the story in a play. Building small houses from hay, wood and bricks would be another fun way to expand upon this story. So many possibilities, though at this time, Tyler is a bit too young for many of these.

Overall, as a review on this play set itself, Ty and I have both really enjoyed it. I especially like how the pig's overalls color coordinate with their houses and that the pig's sizes also go along with the size of their house, giving us several ways to match. There are also keys which match by color to each door to give practice locking and unlocking. The figures themselves, the doors and the chimmney are certainly Tyler's favorites. We give this one and "A" for sure!

Linking up with Tot School

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Materials

Yay for new materials (and a free moment to finally blog about them)! My order from Kid Advance Montessori arrived a while ago and Ty has had mixed reactions. I've found some are just too difficult for him right now and some he doesn't yet care for. I was overall pleased with the transaction and shipping time with this company and was delighted in a low (for Montessori stores) $10 shipping rate.

His favorite has been the cylinders, as I assumed. He stopped playing with the cylinder work that I made for him as it was too easy, so I knew he needed the next step up.This is a small set (very small) of Mini Cylinders that vary in diameter and height (four works total). I am somewhat pleased with them. They cylinders don't fit perfectly so I did have to sand them just a bit. Also, the cylinders that fit by height shouldn't also be different diameters as far as I am aware, so that was a bit odd and I should have noticed that in the photo online. Though their are four works, two are exactly the same as well.

It is quite a challenge for Ty to use the pincer grasp to place and remove the cylinders correctly (by the knobs) because of their itty-bitty size. They serve a purpose for sure, but I will be more excited to purchase the true, full-size cylinders as a second birthday present in August.

Another purchase was a Twist and Sort. He isn't too thrilled with this yet. He expected to be able to simply fit the piece onto the dowel and let it drop, not to have to turn the piece twice. After the first twist down he's had enough and finds something else to do. He tends to have preconcieved notions about things that are similar and this just doesn't fit what he expects. I'll introduce it again after a while.

This Airplane Puzzle by Guidecraft is expecptinally nice and he loves that it's an airplane, but it's too advanced for him right now. I admit to making an impulse purchase with this one and not really looking at it closely enough. It will be a great puzzle to pull out of the closet for him down the road a bit.

I bought him his first Dressing Frame (large buttons) in this order as well. I haven't really sat down with him to demonstrate this yet, but think he may take to it when I do. The fabric was very tight and even I had to struggle a bit to button, so I needed stretch the material a bit, which lukily wasn't difficult. I will likely make my own dressing frames for him in the future, but I wanted to see exactly how they're created first. This has given me a good reference point.

The Pink Tower has fast become one of his favorite things to do right now. With all of the pieces laid out randomly on the rug last week, I watched him walk into the room and stack them in the correct order, self-correcting and completing it in no time. Wow Ty! So glad my camera was close by!
Ty has had a bit of what my husband and I are calling a "brain spurt" the last several days and he shockingly isn't into stacking much anymore, but has moved onto other things of interest. He still enjoys the tower very much, but instead likes to lay them horizontally and have me talk about big and small while he points them out. Yesterday he took five blocks out of the box, lay them horizontally by size and seemed to give me a silent demonstration, sweeping his hand from big to small, pointing at each and looking at me as if to say "do you understand, Mama?". It was incredibly cute and rewarding!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Liquid or solid?! Oobleck play.

Ty and I finally got around to making and playing with a classic kid (and adult) favorite, Oobleck! Oobleck is made from a combination of cornstarch and water and is considered non-Newtonian, as it is both a solid and a liquid. When sitting in whatever container you decide to use, it is a solid mass. When you dig at it to break it up (applying pressure) it instantly becomes a liquid, sliding through your fingers or pouring out of a cup/scoop/spoon. I delighted in making this amazing and fun concoction when working with little one's in daycare years ago. I dare you to try to keep your hands out of it! For the mess-phobic, you may want to take this one outside, though I have to say it does clean quite easily with water.

To make Oobleck, combine 1/2 cup water with 1 cup cornstarch. Adding food coloring is optional. I've always found it interesting to play around with the amount of water and cornstarch while we play as well.

Tyler found Oobleck quite interesting, but wasn't sure he wanted to touch it. When he did try, he was much too unsure and ginger with his touch to dig in and scoop anything up as needed.

So I provided him with a wooden spoon and a measuring cup. He had much more success experimenting this way, and though he didn't want it on his hands, covering his feet with it was quite fun!

Ty was still able recognize the liquid/solid aspect of Oobleck, even without touching it. He was quite intrigued by the fact that he would pour the liquid into the dish, drop the cup into it, and the cup stayed on top rather than sinking in. He noticed as well that it looked like a liquid when in the dish, as it appears wet, but touching it with is hand gave him a different message.  

  By the end, Tyler wanted me to dribble the Oobleck over his hand. Yay! Perhaps next time he'll dig in!

As an extension to this play, there is a classic prose work by Dr. Seuss called Bartholomew and the Oobleck. In this Caldecott Honor book, a king who is bored with the everyday weather asks his royal magicians for a different kind of precipitation. What he gets is sticky green Oobleck falling from the sky, and hence, all over his kingdom! In the end, the king's Page, Bartholomew, then teaches the king a valuable social lesson...saying sorry. Highly recommended!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Introducing the Pink Tower

I am so excited that Tyler has his first true Montessori material, The Pink Tower! Though he is only 20 mos old, with all of the stacking that he does and the observations of him using so much thought and self-correction while stacking, I felt that this may be the next step to take to follow his lead and passions. I love that about Montessori. It's not about the recommended age on a box, it's about whatever a child is ready for, whenever, be it, for example, starting reading at age three or age five. Trusting that the child will show what they're ready for through your careful observation equals the child developing a true love for learning, not pushing concepts before they're ready or truly willing!

I purchased The Pink Tower from Kohburg Montessori Academy here, on Amazon. I had shopped around quite a bit and this seemed to be a great price without paying the astronomical shipping costs that Montessori suppliers are famous for. I was impressed that the blocks are solid wood, that each block came wrapped individually, at that there was an instruction booklet which briefly described how to present the material, as well as giving an extension activity. My only complaint is that some of the paint has already chipped on a couple corners from the blocks falling onto the floor when Tyler knocks them down (which he isn't "supposed" to do which I get more into later).

For those unfamiliar with The Pink Tower, it is made up of 10 pink wooden cubes ranging from 1 cm³ to 10 cm³. It is a sensorial work which encourages a child to visually notice a difference in height, length and width.

To demonstrate, I was to first take one small block and one large, and ask Tyler which was the big block. Well, as I kinda figured, as soon as Tyler saw the blocks, all he wanted to do was stack them and with a fierceness! I was able to stop him for a moment to take the other blocks from the box and lay them horizontally on the rug, which was to be the second presentation step.

The next step was to build the tower up, vertically, then take it down and lay the blocks back on the rug. I didn't get the opportunity to do this. On the other hand, Tyler did it perfectly, without any instruction. Taking each block down the line, one by one, building the tower quickly and correctly. It seemed instinctual to him.

Tyler was so happy with building the tower and had a great sense of satisfaction when he completed it. He then knocked the tower over with his hand. When I introduce the work again, I will demonstrate how to correctly take the tower down, block by block. I assume this is going to take several demonstrations! The next several times, I lay the blocks horizontally for him and each time he went down the line and built correctly and enthusiastically.

I then decided to step back, and with the blocks randomly on the rug, see what he did. He always finished the tower, and typically the first few and last blocks were correct, though as expected, there were a few errors in between. Typically you would only complete the demonstration one time, then demonstrate the next time the materials were introduced if needed, but I did demonstrate numerous times as I didn't want Tyler to associate The Pink Tower with just stacking as he wished like his other blocks. I felt he was too young to "get it" in one shot. Many more demonstrations will likely be needed before this goes on the shelf.

Several times I observed Tyler self-correcting. At first he would attempt to put a block that was too large on a too small block and it wouldn't work. After that, he would have an incorrect block in hand, and before attempting to place it, would realize that it wouldn't work, then would remove the smaller block to fix the error so he could complete the tower.

Well, this isn't going to work is it?!


A set of starter Montessori cylinders (five widths/dimensions rather than ten) I ordered should be arriving this week, along with a couple other Montessori-ish items. The three-width cylinders that I made him are too easy now, so I'm really excited to see him take on the next level with true materials!