Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monsters and Art: Where the Wild Things Are

We are all pumpkin'd out, so we are doing a small Monster theme to finish up October.  It was a last minute decision, so I just went with the few books we had on the shelves for our themed read-alouds this week.

We started the week with a favorite!

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak!

I actually read this one morning to Iron Man while little Hulk was still asleep.  He loved talking about the "monsters" and we also talked about how fun our imagination can be.  We talked about the Caldecott Medal, and then looked through the pictures again.  Since it was just the two of us, I knew the perfect follow-up activity.  We used this Monster Watercolor Drawing and Painting for inspiration.

First I gave Iron Man some watercolor paper and asked him to draw his monster with pencil.

After he finished, I outlined it with a black marker.  Then he was able to paint it with watercolors.  I definitely think he is ready for me to invest in better quality art supplies, so that's going to the top of my wishlist.

His finished product!  I asked him to tell me about it.  The monster has blue eyes like daddy (the rest of our family has brown eyes), but he is sad because he was being chased and didn't know why.

This is great for the creative process, because he was able to do whatever he wanted, and there's no right or wrong.

I only have a couple more books to fit the theme, but I know we'll have fun reading them this week.  I'm sure I have some more Elmo Sesame Street toddler books packed up in the baby's room-to-be (which I am going to be working on this week anyway), so I will pull them out for Hulk, but for now I know for sure we have The Monster at the End of this Book by John Stone.  I'm not sure we've ever read this book, despite how long we've had it, so it'll be fun!

Beast in the Bed by Barbara Dillon.  I haven't read this book to the boys in well over a year, so it'll be like reading a new book.  It's about a beast who befriends lonely children.  He becomes friends with Marsha one summer, and they have great adventures together.  But what happens to the beast when Marsha goes off to school?  Chris Conover's illustrations are black and white, except for the green beast, making it an interesting visual experience for little ones!
Cover of: The beast in the bed by Barbara Dillon

Monday, October 29, 2012

Activity Bags

One of the best ways to keep young children working diligently and quietly is to have engaging activities prepared for them that they can work on confidently and independently.  If you're looking for a great way to provide educational opportunities that are easily assembled ahead of time and ready-to-use without the hassle of preparing an activity, experiment, or project on the spot, I can highly recommend Activity Bags!

"Where fun and education meet in the same bag."

While Activity Bags offer many subjects and age ranges, I was given the opportunity to review the books Preschool Activities in a Bag 1 and Preschool Activities in a Bag 2.  I chose these books because they are geared for ages 3-6.  My boys are 3 and 5, so I knew there would be activities to meet the needs of both boys.  Honestly, I wanted something that my 3 year old could do while big brother was doing his Kindergarten work, but they are great for Kindergarten review too!


How do Activity Bags work?
These books were written by homeschooling mothers, Paula Reetz and Sherri MacLean, with their own preschoolers in mind.  Between the two books, there are 60+ individual activities designed to develop preschool skills such as colors, shapes, ABCs, numbers, patterns or fine motor skills.  Each activity can be created with simple household objects (buttons, beads, straws, pompoms, etc) and/or reproducible master pages that are included with the book, and they can be stored in a gallon size zipper bag.  The majority of the bags are very easy to put together--just gather the items and drop them in the bag!  Some of the bags may require a little "work" but it's hardly more involved than printing, cutting, and/or laminating to prepare the bags ahead of time.

The bags are meant to be grab and go type activities, so your preschooler can easily choose a bag based on the contents.  Younger children may need to be showed once how to do the activities, but they are self-directed and self-correcting, so most children can work independently.  This makes them ideal for when you are homeschooling older siblings, on the phone, or otherwise need something to engage your little learner.  I keep them in a basket near our usual school area, so they are easily accessible.

Using the Books
The books have a wealth of information in the introduction and the Q&A section.  Then each activity is clearly laid out and includes a description of the activity, the skills covered, the materials you will need, assembly instructions, and even an example of a label to affix to the bag.

I specifically went through the two books looking for activities that I could put together with things I already had around the house, and that did not require printing (I was low on the ink when I received the download) and I was still able to put together several bags immediately.  That's how easy they are!  Then I decided to keep a running list for the next few activities on my list.

The great things is that while they are typical household items, the materials needed can also be substituted with what you have on hand or can find in the store.

For instance, for Shape Tracing, I already had several pre-cut foam shapes, so I saved myself a little work by using some of those.  Then I only had to cut out a few more to have enough for the activity bag.  This is a great bag to include in our Shapes Quiet Time box too!

Another example of the flexibility of the materials is Wrapping Paper Match.  I used scraps of scrapbook paper and it still works just as intended!

For Some Stick Some Don't, directions are included for making a magnetic wand, but for our bag I included one from a science kit we already owned.  Magnets are always a hit with both boys, so variations of this activity will go a long way!  I can always change out the items for more exploration opportunities!

The authors are very supportive of using substitutions to meet your needs as long as the quality of the activities are not compromised.  I love being able to "tweak" the activities for my kids!

Coordinate a Swap
If you are interested in owning several bags for less work, you can coordinating a swap.  Both Preschool books and Science books 1 and 2 include detailed information for the coordinator who can organize a swap.  If you have one of the other books, you can get the Coordinator Handbook with all of the information and forms for free.  I am not coordinating or participating in a swap at this time, but it is something I might consider in the future to add to our collection!

Are you Interested?  There are Samples Other Subjects Available too!
The Preschool Activities books are offered as e-book downloads.  Individually they are $15.00, or $27 as a bundle.  There is also Book 3 in the works!  Yay!  Remember, there are also many other subjects available, including science experiments, math games, reading games, travel activities and daily journals.  Craft kits in a bag are in the final stages of editing.  As you can tell, there's a little of something for everyone, and I'm interested in some of the other books as my kids get a little older!  You can check out all of the Activity Bag Products for more information, browse the website and fill out the survey about their website for a great sample of their Preschool and Science activities, and definitely read what my Crew Mates are writing in their reviews!

My Final Thoughts on the Preschool Activity Bags
These are similar to "trays," "workboxes," and "busy bags" for preschoolers.  Some of these are activities you could come up with on your own, but I like having a whole collection together in one place so I'm not constantly scrambling for new ideas or wondering where on earth I saw a particular idea.

The activities are definitely varied enough to to appeal to the full 3-6 age range, as well as different personalities and interests.  For instance, my 3 year likes snipping the paper with scissors, while my 5 year old loves the Texture Rubbing Activity Bag.
Texture Rubbing:  Foam Star

The bags are great for rotating so the activities stay interesting!  I plan to save some of the bags for after the baby is born.  They are easy enough for dad to have some one-on-one with the big kids without any instruction from me, and this will allow me to have several completely new activities to keep the boys engaged and learning while I am too sleepy to function!  ;-)

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of this product in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are based on my personal experiences and were not influenced in any way.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall Fest and enjoying Autumn!

Loving the Fall Weather here, but prayers for those that are being affected by Sandy!

Iron Man is 5 and in Kindergarten
Hulk is 3 and is doing an informal Tot School

Iron Man - 5 yrs - Kindergarten

Iron Man is still enjoying his new Language Arts programs, and is now showing a little excitement about reading, since he can clearly see his progress.  The program has several games with it, and one night he wanted to play a game he hadn't played before.  Since the games coincide with lessons, I decided we would play something else instead.

Four Words came from a discount store, and the "easy" side of each card is basically a letter matching game for young children.  However, there are phonics rules we've been reviewing, so it was a nice way to review without feeling like we were doing a lesson.  He wanted to "play the hard way by turning the letters over and searching for the right letters."  Turns out the original game-play is described like Memory, so that's how we played.  He won!

Fall Festival
Apparently I didn't take any other pictures of Iron Man doing "school" work, but here are some fun pictures from the Fall Festival at daddy's work.

The bubble guy came and set up, and there were a variety of wands for the kids to try.

There was also coloring, a craft table, pumpkin painting, face painting, games and other activities.

(shhh...don't tell him his spider only had 6 legs!)

There was also a live bluegrass band and some great vendors.  I found the most delicious peanut brittle I've ever had!  My bag didn't last 24 hours.  :-)

Fun at Home
We've been spending a lot of time outside enjoying the beautiful fall weather too.

He still thinks raking the yard is fun.  Who am I to tell him otherwise!?

Hulk - 3 yrs - Tot School

Linking Cubes

Linking Cubes and Pegs...he came up with this one on his own, but this would be an easy impromptu color-matching activity as well.

Of course Hulk wanted to join in the Four Words game.  I just handed him matching letter tiles as I found them during my turn, and he enjoyed matching them up.

This little Pumpkin thing is like a candy machine...he put the beads in and turned the knob so they would roll out.

Fall Festival
I didn't seem to get as many pictures of Hulk in action, since I had to help him more.

He loved painting his pumpkin!

He also spent a lot of time at the craft table.  He decorated foam pumpkins and colored a couple of pictures for me.

Outdoor Play
This one was all about jumping in the leaf piles!

Family Read - Alouds

Most of the books I pull out around Halloween aren't actually about Halloween; they just easily fit into a Halloween theme.

Trick or Treat
I may or may not get around to sharing photos of the actual activities this weekend, so here's a photo of my Spiderman and Darth Vadar.  I kind of hoped they'd go for themed costumes again this year, because they're so cute when they're all matchy-matchy (they've been Batman and Robin and Woody and Rex from Toy Story in the past), but oh well.  I'll survive!  ;-)

Linked Up:  Preschool and Kindergarten Corner, Weekly Wrap-Up, Friday Fun School, Tot School

Monday, October 22, 2012

Samson's Classroom

As you know, I have a beginning reader.  I'm always looking for fun ways to review or enhance what we're learning, so when I was given the opportunity to try out Samson's Classroom, I knew we should give it a try.

What is Samson's Classroom?
Samson's Classroom is an online program for K-5th graders.  It is divided into three sections:  Sight Words, Spelling, and Reading.  While the Sight Words section is geared for the younger end, the Reading is for older students.

How does Samson's Classroom Work?
Parent Account:  Once I set up my account, I was then able to create an account for Iron Man.  He had his own separate user name and password, so we logged in and out individually.  From my parent account, I can monitor his progress on each level, create spelling lists, and do other administrative tasks.

Student Account:  Once Iron Man is logged in, he can choose a section.  Iron Man is in Kindergarten and is 5 years old.  Being at the at the youngest end of the intended age range, we focus primarily on the Sight Words and Spelling sections.

Sight Words
When choosing where to start your lesson, there are 4 levels of words, progressing in difficulty.  There are a total of 224 words for your student(s) to work on!  Level 1 List 1 included the words and, big, for, in, is, me, the, to.  Now, in addition to big there are other words on other lists (cat, dog, sit, etc) that some may not consider sight words, since they are often introduced phonetically to beginning readers.  However, that is personal opinion.

There are 5 different components within Sight Words: Learn Words, Build Words, Identify Words, Quiz and a Challenge.  Between these sections, there are many opportunities for the student to see the word and hear the word, see the individual letters, identify the spoken word and build the words themselves.  This helps appeal to auditory and visual learners.

There are an abundance of additional resources besides the interactive lessons/games.  You can access lesson plans, printable certificates, worksheets, articles on literacy and more!  This is a great way to add some variety to the program, reinforce concepts in a fun way, and show the student their progress.

How Do We Use Samson's Classroom?
We work on the sight word portion as a supplement, since the words do not really coincide in order with our reading program.  We choose a list, and Iron Man works as independently as possible.  This is where the resources then come in, because they give ideas for practicing the words in different ways so it doesn't become monotonous for the student.

Although there are many ideas for using the flash cards, these are something that are easily adaptable.  I called out a word for him to read, then he was allowed to shoot a nerf dart at it.  It's a good way to get wiggly kids up and moving, yet still learning!

I really wanted to be able to make a customized sight word list, but since I couldn't find this option, I chose to utilize the Spelling section so we could try it out on his level.  Since we've been learning colors with our reading program, I inserted those into a spelling list for review.  The games/lessons are different, since it targets different skills, but at least he can see those words in a different capacity.  The Spelling section is intended for mid-elementary (approximately) so some of the games were above his ability, but he loved Missing Letters and helping Samson "karate chop" the correct answer!

I imagine learning spelling words through this program would more be exciting for almost any student than the drudgery of studying spelling lists like I did in school!

I did not review the reading section with Iron Man, since it's intended for upper-elementary, independent readers.  I did look over it myself though, and the reading comprehension questions are very basic at the beginning level (what color an item was, how many children were participating in a particular activity, etc).  It would be good for children who need to develop better attention to detail.

What Did We Think?
Iron Man:  He doesn't mind working on this website.  He doesn't love it, but then again he doesn't love anything that's not nature study, so the fact that he does his work willingly and enjoys the animations is enough for me to continue with the program for now.  

Mom:  I think it is a thorough supplemental program all around, and I would love it if I could personalize the sight word lists to customize it to our reading program.

You can try Samson's Classroom if you want to get a better feel for the program.  For a Home plan (1 user) the program is $30/year, or for a Family plan (4 users) it is only $50/year.  Larger packages are available as well.  If you have children at different stages of reading development, or are in need of a well-rounded supplement, this could be a good investment if you are looking for an inclusive program that targets different needs!

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a complimentary 1-year Family subscription in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions expressed here are based on our personal experiences and were not influenced in any way.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pumpkin Dissection, Seed Estimation and More

Since pumpkins are everywhere, I knew this week would primarily be about pumpkins.

Iron Man is 5 and in Kindergarten
Hulk is 3 and is doing an informal Tot School

Iron Man - 5 yrs - Kindergarten

Science - Life Cycle of a Pumpkin
We started by reading the book From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer.  Then we did this Pumpkin Life Cycle activity from A to Z Teacher Stuff.  We did ours slightly differently than the directions, but that's okay!  He cut out a large pumpkin, and then put the stages of a pumpkin in order.

Science - Pumpkin Dissection
We weren't planning on getting pumpkins for the house to carve until this weekend, but my husband's work is hosting a Fall Fest Saturday and he had picked up small pumpkins for the event.  Since he was going to be traveling for a meeting the next day, they made an overnight stay at our house.  At some point our chocolate lab managed to do a taste test on the outside of one, rendering it unusable for children to paint, so I figured the boys might as well dig in since it went perfectly with our lessons this week!

They were excited about cutting it open, but they were not particularly interested in being the one who scooped the guts and seeds out!  However, we talked about colors and textures, and once Iron Man got past the slimy texture he was ready to help me.

Math - Estimation
I asked Iron Man to estimate the number of pumpkin seeds.  I figured it would be easier (and probably more accurate) with the smaller pumpkin than when we carve our larger pumpkins.  He guessed 100.  We grouped them in 10's since he enjoys skip counting, and we ended up with 178.  This was a great opportunity to review comparisons, which happens to go nicely with what we're doing in Math right now anyway.

100 < 178

Mathematics - Spatial Awareness
These Block Puzzles from All Our Days were created to use as busy bags with these blocks from Dollar Tree.  I already had the blocks, so I printed the puzzles to keep with them.  They were brought out after we used the blocks as a counting manipulative for math, and Iron Man enjoyed them.

Mathematics - Number Sequencing
We also worked on another page from the Fall Math Pack Freebie again.  Iron Man likes his dry erase pocket, because it's much easier to correct mistakes or work the page again if he likes it.  As you might have guessed, Handwriting is still his least favorite subject!

Science - Nature Study
We are watching a wonderful DVD series right now (Growing Up Wild; review coming soon!) that includes an activity guide with suggested enrichment activities.  One activity involved finding a tree in your yard (or neighborhood) to draw.  Iron Man was happy to have a new nature journal entry.  He chose a tree in our backyard and happily drew fall leaves on the tree and a few on the ground.  I think there were a few stray limbs laying around too, which is not surprising after the strong winds we've had.  ;-)

Science - Nature Study
Examining slugs with one of their new neighborhood friends...

Sight Words
We've been working on color words in our reading program, so I put them into a spelling list on Samson's Classroom and he loved the 'karate chop' game as he calls it!

Free Style Art
I set out some various items that could be used for their creative expression.  There were orange construction paper pumpkins, and various types of fall, Halloween, and funny face stickers.  The Mickey Mouse Halloween stickers and the pumpkin pencil sharpener were from their trick-or-treat loot last year.  There was also plain sketch paper, colored pencils, glue and other basic supplies available.

Iron Man did draw a picture and add some pumpkin stickers to make a pumpkin patch, but I only managed to get a picture of some of his pumpkin faces!

Food Fun
I'm not super creative, and I was mostly trying to use up a little of this and that one day, so this is what we ended up with.  Be prepared to be under-impressed!

Tortilla Pumpkins

One tortilla pumpkin had pumpkin/cream cheese spread with a raisin face; one had a turkey and cheese face.  The third was left plain so they could decorate with the "scraps" that were cut into shapes and were served on the side.  There were also grapes, celery and pretzels.

Hulk - 3 yrs - Tot School

Hulk participated in some of the above activities, like the lunch of course, nature study, and the readings, and he did color his own life cycle pumpkin pictures. Even though they're black and blue, I'm just impressed at his effort to actually color semi-neatly, because Iron Man was not interested in coloring at 3 years old!

He also created his own pumpkins.  They all started with faces, but one turned into a sticker collage, and the other two...well, it's the creative licensing of a 3 year old!

Although he does join us for some activities, many times he is interested in doing his own thing, which is fine for his age!

Enjoying a Star Wars picture book!

Playing a game on the iPad.

He's been really into the wooden blocks and the Winnie the Pooh dominoes this week.

This was a fence for the miniature farm animals!

Lining them up neatly on the table...although he still won't actually play dominoes with me.

I bought this Melissa & Doug bear family dressing puzzle at a discount/buyout store for a really great price last year, and I'm so glad I did!  I don't bring it out a lot, but when I do it always gets a lot of play.

These lacing beads were from Target's $1 spot a while ago, and he decided he wanted to separate them by shape first.

Then when big brother had the small counting blocks out, he had to add to his work.

We also introduced a Halloween Quiet Time Box, which did help.  The ghost is hollow, and I'm pretty sure I heard him getting his gut stuffed with pumpkins!  ;-)

This weekend is Fall Fest at daddy's work, and there should be music, face painting, pumpkin painting, games and other fun activities.  I will try to remember my camera!

Linked Up:  Read.Explore.Learn, PreK & Kindergarten Corner, Weekly Wrap-Up, Show and Share Saturday, Link & Learn, Tot School