Friday, September 30, 2011

What is preschool science?

Outside time and Nature Study are a primary focus at this age.  To me, nature study is a time to use our senses to discover and marvel at God's creations, like the kid's experiences at the ocean.  I generally let the kids play and discover on their own, however I do look for genuine opportunities to incorporate nature study.  They love to run through the open fields, jump in puddles, throw rocks in those same puddles, listen for birds, and can spend hours observing the farm animals. (See here)  Sometimes I point out the spiderweb.  Sometimes dad finds the bird nest.

But most of the time it is one of the boys that discovers the newest nature find.  Emory found this "bug" under the trampoline...

...and Elliott found these wildflowers growing over the hill ...

...and picked one for Emory.

Some days it's about climbing trees...

...and other days it is about hiding underneath the tree.

Right now we don't have expensive or fancy equipment for nature study, but I do plan on investing in some quality equipment as Elliott is becoming more careful in handling them.  Then his Dollar Tree specials can be passed down to the toddler.

Even though there is nothing more interesting to a preschooler than seeing and experiencing science first hand, I did buy a couple of inexpensive nature activity guides and a preschool science experiment book for inspiration to get us through the long winter months.

The Kid's Nature Book 365 Indoor/Outdoor Activities & Experiences by Susan Milord

Fun With Nature Take-Along Guide

Nature for the Very Young:  A Handbook of Indoor & Outdoor Activities by Marcia Bowden. 

Science Play! by Jill Frankel Hauser is a science experiment/activity book geared for 2-6 year olds.  This should actually take us through Pre-K and Kindergarten, and at the same time, Emory can follow along too.

I also managed to snag a half price subscription to Your Big Backyard, which is a nature magazine geared towards 4-7 year old children issued by the National Wildlife Federation.  It has colorful pictures, age-appropriate information, games and activities, and even extension activities such as recipes, book recommendations and craft suggestions.  We've received our first couple of issues, and so far they look like promising rainy day reads.

I don't want the books and magazines to be our science, just to supplement.  For the next several years, I want focused, hands-on nature study to be the groundwork of our science curriculum.  My hope, though, is that they might give me inspiration in guiding the boys to learn and discover, and again, provide opportunities for us to enjoy other aspects of nature when the weather doesn't allow outdoor play.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study - a review

This book review will be a little unusual compared to the traditional review where I would normally summarize a book and tell you what I liked and disliked.  The reason is, The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study – A Survey of the Bible by Starr Meade is not a traditional book.  It is a Bible study program that the author believes can be used as a supplement as you read through the entire Bible, or as a workbook to give you an overview of the Bible before reading it in its entirety.

Starr Meade believes that not only is the Bible a book, but the ultimate book.  We should not read it sporadically, picking and choosing verses or passages as we see fit.  She contends that we should read it cover to cover and study it, devour it as one might devour a classic novel.  She gently states that it is difficult to understand the Bible or the individual stories within, without first knowing them in context and that studying the Bible chronologically will help the reader understand God as the divine author and how to apply His truths in our own lives.

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study – A Survey of the Bible is a 5 volume set, the first volume starting with the Books of the Bible and general information about them, explaining to the reader how they are divided (Law, History, Poetry, Gospels, etc) and the context of these divisions.  It then goes into the actual Bible study, giving introductory information regarding the book being studied and passages to read.  Throughout the study, there are leading questions with space to answer them right in the book.  Each section is followed by a “test” to see if the reader actually understood the material they just read and studied.  At first I was a little put off by the fact that there were such detailed tests, because I feel like a person reading the Bible should be forming a relationship with God, not stressing over whether they missed a detail.  But when you consider Meade’s statements in the introduction that we need to understand the facts first, and remember that no detail God reveals is minor, it makes sense to at least include a review. 

The Old Testament is covered in volumes 1 and 2, the New Testament is covered in volumes 3 and 4 and the 5th volume is an Answer Key to those tests.

While the study guide is intended for middle and high school students, I believe it would be an excellent introduction for adults that are new Christians and may be intimidated by reading the Bible without some guidance, for those who have never read their Bible in its entirety, or even for those who just feel they need a “refresher” course.  My own children are much too young for this study guide at this point, but I plan to use it myself, as I found I struggle with reading through the Bible with just a list of passages.  I think, though, that with a guide, with a list of questions to search for, I might be able to work more thoroughly and give myself a better foundation behind God's revelations.

**I received a complimentary copy of the full 5 volume set of The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study – A Survey of the Bible by Starr Meade (see a description of this book on the publisher's website here) from Crossway Books as a part of the Crossway Homeschool Book Review Program, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My first Sensory Tub--Autumn

I am always looking for creative ideas that are "new" to me...I love finding educational games and fun activities online to share with my kids.  Since we've decided to homeschool, I admittedly spend too much time looking up ideas in my free time (and with two young boys, that's limited) that will create fun learning experiences that we can enjoy together.  I know the winter months are approaching, and our outdoor time will then be severely limited for quite a while, so I am also stockpiling ideas for both creative and active indoor play.

One idea that keeps popping up on nearly every blog or website that involves preschoolers is the sensory tub/bin.  Some are as simple as colored rice (which was my first intentional sensory activity--you can see our trial run here), and others are very detailed, like this fantastic robot sensory tub...a little beyond my beginner's creativity at this point!  :)

I thought this would be a great idea for Emory, even though I knew Elliott would join in too.  Now I can see why some people seem to be addicted enjoy designing unique sensory tubs, because I loved the challenge of finding things around the house!  I don't want to go overboard on any one concept, so I told myself I am going to limit myself to trying out a few themes, just to see how the boys like them. (Plus, simple ones would be easy to take to church for my Puggles class!)

I chose an Autumn theme first because, well, it's officially fall, the leaves are changing, the weather is getting cooler, and the autumn decorations are out in our house.

--This bin here was my primary inspiration--

I only bought two small bags of autumn decor (leaves, pumpkins, gourds, miniature pine cones, etc) for just over $1 each at Wal-Mart, since I didn't know how much I would be able to salvage from our old cornucopia that had certainly seen better days.

From around the house:
--purple and yellow popcorn kernels
--leaves, gourds and the little straw puff from our old cornucopia
--two little brown baskets (originally held decorative seashells)
--large brown beads and brown knotted ribbon cut into pieces (broken necklace)
--green beads (broken necklace)
--orange scoop from a pumpkin carving kit

I made it during quiet/nap time, and since it happened to be pouring the rain that day, I didn't have to wait long to share it!

It was a hit! I did have to give the boys an extra plastic spoon, and I brought out the medicine spoons and cups that we used for the rice so they could do some scooping and pouring.  They used the travel medicine cups with lids to make shakers. 

 Elliott started growing pumpkins for me, and they went on a treasure hunt for jewels (the green beads).  Emory really enjoyed sorting out all of the beads with Elliott, and he would dump them back again so he could start again. Once he tired of the green "jewels" he moved on to the large brown beads.

The boys played with this for close to 45 minutes, and anything that can occupy both a 2 year old and an almost-5 year old at the same time for that long is a success!

The next time we get it out, it won't be as "new" so I'll be able to suggest some activities, like sorting the green beads by style, counting the green beads and brown beads to see which color has more, and filling the containers to different levels.

Stained Glass Hearts by Patsy Clairmont - book review

In the book Stained Glass Hearts, Patsy Clairmont touches your own heart when she compares it to stained glass windows.  She uses this comparison to explain how God's light shines through and redeems us, just as natural light beautifies a stained glass window.

Patsy Clairmont opens up her own heart, that has been broken and pieced back together by God’s grace, to show us how we can cope and recover from the times we feel depressed, hurt, angry, beat down and helpless.  It was a candid look at a person who has been there, and knows that God will walk you through even the toughest times, no matter how big or small your problem.  The author’s personality truly shines through, and I loved how she recommended art, music and poetry at the end of each chapter in an attempt to allow the reader to immerse themselves in their emotions and see God’s beauty expressed through others.  I read the entire book in one sitting, in the car, so I did not have access at the time, but I will be researching these more thoroughly to get a better understanding of why she recommended these particular works.

One of my favorite passages in the book was when Clairmont discussed the practice of reading to recovery.  She talked about reading for pure joy, for entertainment, and to fill in the gaps in your education.  This is something I wholeheartedly agree with, and I loved how she recommended that “non readers” should start at the very beginning with children’s classics in order to develop a love of reading the same way a child would; with Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, Black Beauty and other timeless favorites.  Open your mind and let loose.

While I normally read fiction, and generally steer clear of motivational and self-help type books, I really appreciated this read.  It was refreshing and gave me a lot to think about in the way I view my own problems.

In exchange for an honest review, I received a complimentary copy of Stained Glass Hearts by Patsy Clairmont through Booksneeze, a book review blogger program. 

I review for BookSneeze®

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Wonders of the Ocean

Although we are blessed to live in a rural area of West Virginia that offers beautiful scenery and peaceful walks, we just aren't close enough to the beach to make it more than once a year.  Our kids are in such awe and amazement when they see the beautiful handiwork of God, and it brings me such joy to watch their faces light up as they walk up to the ocean for the first time each year!  The vacation to the beach is such a lovely way to have nature study, and we had a fantastic week playing and exploring.

Emory's first experience of "liking" the ocean. 

Elliott waiting for the first waves to touch his feet.

Here it comes mom!

Building and playing in the world's largest sandbox.

His expression is so intense.  I think he was watching an airplane descend.

Making his own tracks in the sand.

This is the face a mother loves to see!

Loving every second of it!

Emory found a friend next to us on the beach who showed him how to feed the birds.  My little bird enthusiast thoroughly enjoyed himself!

Emory refused to let Elliott build a sand castle!

There's buried treasures to be found!

These were the "treasures" that Elliott determined to be his most important finds...washed of sand and drying out, waiting to be put in his nature box.

One morning we took the kids to Warbird Park, since they love airplanes (their bedroom is even decorated in airplanes).

Walking the trails at Warbird Park past the runway viewing area and back around to the front.

Emory's new favorite question is "What's that?" at every strange noise.

The resort offered various activities; one of which was buying a duck (which was actually a donation to the Humane Society) to color, then racing it on the lazy river.

The finished ducks!

We had a fantastic vacation.  The kids enjoyed the ocean, playing in the sand, and swimming in the numerous pools.  We played miniature golf, laughed all the way through a mirror maze, played arcade games and raced their ducks on the lazy river.  We walked the boardwalk, observed the birds, stood amazed under the airplanes at Warbird Park, tried to do a little shopping, and brought home two new hermit crabs to join Hermie.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Geometry (and Fractions) through Playful Patterns

This Playful Patterns set was passed down to me from my sister-in-law as her boys are now teenagers.  I think her set was ordered through one of those companies that has "parties" to sell their products, and this was an educational toy party.  It's put out by Discovery Toys.  I have seen many other versions of these on Amazon though, so they must be popular.

Elliott has been enjoying it for a few years now, and Emory is getting to where he can work the basic cards with a little help from me.  This is the first card in the set that he is working here.  The cards get progressively harder as you go.  The first group is shape on shape, with all the outlines provided.

This set also offers the child the opportunity to "do their own thing" so to speak.  Here, Emory had started sorting out all the small circles, without any prompting from me.  (Happy Mom smile!)

Elliott was making a tall house here.

Elliott made Mobot the Robot here, and added the two small circles and the small square on top of the large square, so the robot would have a face.

Later groups of cards have detailed pictures, with some parts having the shapes outlined, and some, like the arms, using several shapes to fill in the space.  By the end, the cards are more like mosaics to fill in, so there are many possibilities.

Elliott likes to know the technical names of everything, so these shapes have even opened up the opportunity to discuss basic fractions.  Here he was telling me that 2 quarter circles make a half circle, and two more will make a whole circle.

He corrected the purple piece, and showed me his finished circle.

This math also carries over into Play-Doh time, because he loves to use the rolling pin to make a pizza, and then cut it into quarter circles so everyone in the family has their own piece.

Based on our own experiences, I can highly recommend this or any other detailed shape/pattern set, because there are so many excellent math opportunities built right in, as well as the opportunity for your kids to create their own designs and experiment with spacial relationships.

When the boys are ready to move on, I have some advanced sets that I found at goodwill, which you can view at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pretzel Dogs and the Letter 'E'

Healthy?  Of course not.  Fun?  Absolutely!

My husband, the impulse shopper, bought an Auntie Anne's At-Home Baking Kit.  He wanted to make pretzels last night, but you had to use the entire mix at one time.  So he decided to make a few pretzels and we would figure out what to do with the leftover dough.  The instructions had pictures of other food items you could make with the dough, and Elliott was drawn to the pretzel dogs.  Now, I'm not particularly a hot dog person, but my boys are not picky eaters and eat just about everything we serve (and we generally serve the healthy things that most 2 and 4 year olds turn their nose up at), so tonight for dinner, he helped me make pretzel dogs.

He helped roll out the the dough and wrap the hotdogs.

 Here's his finished product!

We still had extra dough, so we decided to make a few more pretzels.  Elliott shaped out an 'E' for himself, and one for Emory, and sprinkled some of the salt on them.  Then Elliott finished off the dough with 2 pretzels for me and daddy, but I used the cinnamon sugar for mine and my husband's pretzels.

Elliott had fun making something unusual for supper, and he loved having his own special pretzel for a snack later.  However, if my husband buys another one of those kits, I think I'm going to urge them towards a homemade veggie pizza next time!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our Rice Tray: A Sensory Activity for Preschoolers

While looking for activities to keep us busy this winter, I've come across various "recipes" for colored rice over the last several weeks as a sensory activity for preschoolers.  I also keep seeing rice trays recommended as a pre-writing activity, so I took part of my 15 lb bag of rice, and made up a trial run to see how it would go over with the boys.

I chose to try out this version here, because it did not call for rubbing alcohol, and also just recommended using a metal bowl rather than several Ziploc baggies.  The less resources I have to use, the better!  Basically, you mix water and gel food coloring, then let the rice soak up the color for a few minutes.

I started by initially following those directions with green, but for some reason I had to add more food coloring to the actual rice to get more color; you can see the before and after below.  The colors might come out brighter with rubbing alcohol, I don't know, but for all intents and purposes, this is fine for us.

 Once I mixed a color, I dumped it in a baking sheet and put it in the oven on warm for a few minutes to speed up the drying process.  (I found that suggestion here.)

I started with 4 colors of food coloring that I already had, since it was a trial run after all, but I figure I can create more colors if I decide to expand our rice tray to a floor tote.  When I gave it to the boys, Emory dove right in, while Elliott was a little hesitant.

Then I brought out a few plastic spoons, measuring spoons, small storage containers, and different types of medicine cups.  It was definitely a hit!

About halfway through, I put the baking pan inside of a tray to contain some of the spillage, but I still felt like I cleaned up half of the rice off my floor.  In reality, it was maybe only 1/2 a cup, but preschoolers don't just spill, they spill and spread.  It was everywhere.  I'm thinking next time it is going on a blanket directly on the floor to minimize the cleanup process.  The boys had fun, though, and I think Emory in particular will appreciate adding vehicles to it next time, as he was going "vroom vroom" with my measuring spoons!