Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tot School for May 24-30

We have had a busy week at Tot School this week! We started out going to the Children's Museum, and ended with a girls' night (T & J were camping with the cubscouts.)

Even though I didn't plan it that way, a lot of our activities this week focused on colors. Our trays this week included: color matching game (match two halves of a printed crayon) which I printed from here, putting flower stickers on paper, stringing, transferring pompoms with tongs, gluing a flower garden, and sorting colored bears. We also spent time playing with our color bottles and doing a matching game with craft sticks. (I painted pairs of them in colors, and M matches the pairs of sticks up.)
Gluing Tray: (The one on the right I did as the example, the other 2 M did.)
Sorting 4 colors of bears into tins. I put matching colored circles in the bottom so she knew where to sort.

Transferring pom-poms from one basket to another using her tongs.

Color Bottles:
Our craft project this week was painting with bubble wrap.
We introduced a few new Montessori ideas this week: the rice sensory bowl (now moved to a box with a lid), open and close items, and walking the line (this works on balance). All three went over very well, and were done every day at M's request. We colored the rice rainbow colors and added some of her counting bears to make it more interesting, and M used a spoon and one of her mini pails to scoop and pour. The open and close activities included an Easter egg, jewelry box, zippered change purse, and hairclip.

I got M a new counting book this week that we worked on. It is a foam book, and each page has two shapes that you lift out. M loves getting them out of the book. They are a little difficult to put back as they have to be lined up just right and are a tight fit, but I was very proud of her concentration and perseverance on this project.
We did a lot of free play including playing outside every day, building with our Winnie the Pooh lego set, playing with playdough, and coloring. I had a large number of boxes in the recycling bin left over from a Costco trip, and M spent one afternoon happily playing with them.
That was our week at Tot School! Don't forget to check out what others are doing in their Tot School .

Saturday, May 30, 2009


One thing I want to start incorporating into our home is the concept of strewing. No, this doesn’t mean letting M leave her toys lying all over the place! Strewing is a concept used by many homeschoolers, especially unschoolers, that refers to leaving educational items or materials out for children to discover on their own and use however they like. (The term was first coined by Sandra Dodd, and she has a great page on strewing here.) While I am not an unschooler at heart, I do think this is one concept we can happily adopt into our methods.

Pretty much anything can be strewn; the idea is to let them discover and use whatever you strewed on their own, in their own way. No getting impatient and pointing it out to them if they don’t discover it right away.

For M, this means gathering several items and arranging them for her to find when she is playing. Leaving cars next to blocks or putting a new tool in her kitchen or a new color of playdough in her bucket is an indirect way of exposing her to new ideas. It stimulates her imagination and results in creativity. The joy of discovering something on her own rather than having us show her is wonderful to see.

For M, strewing right now is reserved to toys and books and discovery object like paper towel tubes, straws and pompoms. But as she gets older, it will include puzzles, pictures, and craft supplies. It can even include spelling new words on the refrigerator with letter magnets and waiting for kids to ask what they mean.

For older kids like J, strewing can include leaving books, crafts, games, nature items (rocks, feathers, leaves, flowers) or other unusual items to be “found” in places like the back seat of the car, the bathroom, or the back patio chairs. I slipped some fun new brushes into the paintbrush jar for him to find next time he feels like creating, for example. It can include posting paintings, cartoons, postcards, quotes or articles they might find interesting on a bulletin board. For computer savvy kids, adding a new bookmarked site to their favorites folder can even be a form of strewing.

I have collected a box of items from the used bookstore, the consignment store and $1 bins at the craft store that we will be strewing this summer, at random intervals, and I can’t wait to see their imaginations at work.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bubble Wrap Painting

When I got a package in the mail today with bubble wrap in it, I knew just what project I wanted to use it on. Normally I just let the kids have fun popping it, but I have been wanting to try this art project for a while now. The kids painted their bubble wrap with washable paint (I used fingerpaint so it was thicker but used brushes), and then carefully laid white card stock over the top and lightly pressed. This was M's first time using a brush! Both J and M made abstract designs, but J's friend who was visiting made an outdoor scene (sky, sun, grass) and they all turned out great! (M is not wearing any clothes because she still insists on painting herself when she is done!)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Our Summer Plans

Our school year officially ends on June 5. That doesn't mean we take the summer off. I cannot stand to hear "I'm bored" and given how hot we get, there are plenty of hours in a day when it is not safe to be playing outside. At the same time, we don't allow more than 1 hour of screen time (TV, computer and Wii combined) in a day. We don't want J to lose all the knowledge he has gained this year, but, we don't want him to have to do school work every day either. Striking a balance is hard, but I am hopeful we have found it.

Our plan is that he will spend 1 hour each morning working on spelling, writing, and math. Spelling and writing are areas he struggles with due to his dyslexia. As for math, he does great overall, but those darn multiplication facts are still causing him issues, and we can't move onto 2-digit multiplication until he gets those down. We are also instituting a new "Quiet Time With God" time at the start of each day. He can use this time as he chooses (reading his bible, praying, singing, learning a memory verse or a new prayer, or saying his rosary), but we are going to be encouraging him to do this daily.

After that, it is on to playtime. Last year, we chose a theme each week and did crafts and read books based on those themes. I had originally not planned to do that this summer, but at J's request we will be doing Vikings. I have found several fun books, crafts, and even a model viking ship that we will be working on throughout the summer, and we'll share as we go along.

Some of our regularly planned activities include:
* The pool (of course)
* Library summer reading program
* Weekly family night at the library (games, movies, crafts, etc.)
* Friday night concerts at the park
* Friday field trips (the first is a trip out to see a friend's new baby goats!)
* One week of cub scout camp
* T is teaching J to play the trumpet

J loves art, so I have also planned out some fun new art projects for him to do this summer using the style of the Great Masters. (You all know that I can hardly draw stick figures, so this comes straight out of a book!)

And then the big one for J is the Hogwart's Summer Correspondence School. J loves Harry Potter; he and T have read most of the books together. He is also at an age where he can tell reality from fantasy, but is still young enough to want to believe. When I found the idea for the HSCS online, I couldn't resist. He got his invitation via tree mail two weeks ago, and eagerly responded. I have initially planned to spend only a few weeks on it, but given his interest level we may continue this throughout the summer. "Magical" assignments are actually science experiments, craft projects, or just game playing so it will be fun and safe!

So, those are our summer plans. M will continue with her Montessori work and Tot School, so nothing changes for her except more time spent playing with her brother!

Color Bottles

M has really been into learning her colors lately. Along with her color bags, I also started to make her color bottles to play with, and these have been a real hit the last few days.
I just used recycled water bottles and items I had around the house. The blue one is vegetable oil and water with blue food coloring added. The food coloring sticks in the water, and when the bottle is shaken it makes a "wave" and bubbles. The red bottle is simply glitter, a little bit of caro syrup, and water. It's like a mini snow globe. The lids are super-glued on to avoid any messy accidents. So simple and frugal to make, yet she loves to shake them up and watch the colors!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Picnic Lunch

The weather is already getting hot here so I am encouraging M to have a "picnic" lunch outside while she still can! However, the concept of eating on a blanket on the grass doesn't go over very well with her. Instead, she used the rubbermaid tub and footstool I was using to do some outside cleaning as her table and chairs. Guess it's time to buy her an outside table! (This is the new face she makes anytime you ask her to smile!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

I hope you enjoyed your day as much as we did. We spent most of the day outside doing yard work and playing as a family. We did participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m., and J made poppy flowers. We talked about the meaning behind Memorial Day, read the poem In Flanders Field, and talked about why the poppy represented Memorial Day. Here is J with the bouquet of poppies we made.

Children's Museum & Spying

Yesterday, we took the kids to the Museum of Nature & Science. J really enjoyed their new "Spying" exhibit, and M enjoyed the Children's Museum. Her favorites were the water room (of course) and the farm. We ended the day at the Dinosaur room digging for fossils (J loved this, but M screamed to be taken out of the "messy" sand.)

One of J's favorite parts was a Chemistry presenation involving density. The presenter took a can of Diet Coke and can of regular Coke and asked the kids if they would both sink in a tub of water, or both float. The kids decided that since they were the same size, shape and the same weight to them they would float. The Diet Coke can floats, but the regular Coke can sinks. The difference is the 37grams of sugar in the Coke can make it denser, so heavier. J loved this experiment, and I have a feeling we will be repeating it at home sometime soon.

Here are a few photos of the day.

Water room:

Spying Exhibit:

Safe cracking in disguise:
Dropping balls through the floor of the farm room. M loved this, and T will be making her a small box version of this for home very soon!

Learning about heat and energy:

That was our Sunday!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tot School Weekly Wrap-Up

We had a busy week at Tot School this week. We continued doing our Montessori-inspired trays, which included stamping shapes onto paper using triangle, square, circle and rectangle shaped stamps (very messy!); using our wire bead stringer; spooning beans using a tiny ladel and wooden sorting tray; pumping water using a cleaned out soap dispenser, bowl and a towel for wiping up; dropping clothespins into an empty soda bottle; and our paintcan color matching game. M loved them all, and even starting mixing trays (pumping water into the soda bottle, for instance). She kept getting out the pieces to her brother's Qwirkle game, Care Bear checkers, and her hairclips to match by colors too!

Clothespin Drop:

Bean spooing and sorting:

Pumping water:

Stamping shapes:

She also did lot's of dramatic play with her Little People this week. She makes them talk to each other, and names them after family members. Too cute!

Of course, we played outside a lot at the park, in our wading pool, or doing sidewalk chalk. She loves to play baby basketball inside using a laundry basket, and did this daily! Our art project this week was our self-portraits.

Baby Basketball:

Sidewalk Chalk with J:

We ended the week playing with our puzzles, sailing our colored ice boat in the bathtub, and reading on our new felt storyboard.

That was our week at Tot School. Don't forget to see what the other's did in their Tot Schools this week!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pet Rocks

J was tasked with choosing a product, creating it, marketing it and selling it at an upcoming kids craft fair as part of an economics lesson. He choose to do Pet Rocks. We set up a budget, he took a "loan" from us to purchase supplies, (rocks were supplied by grandma - thanks mom!) and he created the product.

He has snakes, bears, and turtles which will sell for 25 cents; cats, dogs, and frogs which will go for 50 cents; and one-of-a-kind (only made one of each) fish, mouse, bird and dinosaur which will sell for 75 cents. Any profits will go to a local charity of his choosing; which I think is the local food pantry. He is making his advertising posters now, and I'll post an update after his sale next week! (One of the pictures is sideways, but no matter how I load it blogger flips it, so just tilt your head and enjoy!)

Thursday, May 21, 2009


May in North Texas means hot, muggy weather. We are waiting anxiously for the city to open their outdoor pool this coming weekend, as swimming is a favorite past time of all. In the meantime, J convinced me to buy this $5 plastic pool at Toys R Us the other day, and we set it up earlier this week.

At first, M was in the pool by herself, pouring water and splashing away.

Then J came over to play with her.

Finally, J decided to see if they could both fit (good thing they are so skinny!)

Ms favorite game was to pour water over her brother's head. He had to duck down so she could reach!

And, of course there was a lot of splashing!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I often struggle to find activities that both kids can do together. Given their ages, there is not much that interests both of them. (J is fabulous about helping his sister do her activities, but that is not the same thing as enjoying it himself.) So, when I found this idea on several Tot School blogs last week, I had to try it. The paper is a bit wrinkled since it was recycled filler from a package I received in the mail. I traced around both kids, and they colored themselves in. M dictated what her face should look like while I drew, and then scribbled on it herself. J did his all by himself.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shopping With Daddy!

One of M's favorite things to do is go shopping. It doesn't matter where you are going (grocery store, Home Depot, pet store) she loves to be out and about. She will run to get her shoes on, and lately she grabs her purse and sunglasses as well. The other day T was taking the kids to Costco, and this is the outfit she put on. (If you can't tell, that is a monkey mask on her head.) J reported that they let her wear it throughout the whole store, and got quite a few looks!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why Montessori?

I had a friend ask me the other day why we were choosing to use Montessori with M, especially when we didn’t use it with J. The simple answer is that we didn’t do it with J because we were not familiar with it. This is one of those instances when you learn about something and wish you had known about it earlier. Of course, Montessori methods do extend through high school, and we are researching what aspects we will be incorporating with J. It is easier to start with M, however, since we can start from the beginning with her.

We feel strongly that the best place for M to learn is at home with us, and that is why we are using Montessori methods at home rather in a center. We are by no means experts, and there are certain parts of Montessori we are not implementing as they just don’t fit with our current philosophy, space or budget. With that said, there are several reasons we chose Montessori as our main learning method.

1) The whole basis of Montessori is child-led learning. We find that both the public and private school systems focus too much on making children conform to their list of approved “standards” and do not allow children enough time for creativity, imagination and exploring their own interests. One of the keys of Montessori is that once the teacher introduces an activity, you sit back and let the child explore and learn on their own. This means that rather than learning there is only one right answer (the answer the teacher wants) children learn there are many ways to do something.

2) Montessori focuses on learning through the use of all your senses, literally “hands-on” learning. Our experience with J’s dyslexia has proven to us that kids learn in so many different ways, and the typical auditory and visual learning does not work for everyone. These multi-sensory approaches that Montessori uses are the same as those J is utilizing in his MTA reading learning program. We have seen how well these work, so this was a key for us.

3) Montessori uses both phonics and whole language to teach children. We know that the educational system alternates between which is currently in vogue, but we think both are key to a child developing a strong vocabulary and a firm foundation for literacy.

4) In Montessori children learn to be masters of their own environment, to focus on maintaining their surroundings, respecting the objects around them, and learning to put everything in its proper place. Enough said!

Those are the main reasons we are choosing Montessori methods with M. The fact that she loves doing them and is learning so quickly just reinforces that we have made the right choice.
There are so many wonderful blogs out there with Montessori ideas posted by trained teachers who have a much better grasp of what they are doing than I do! There are also 3 wonderful books we recommend reading: Basic Montessori: Learning Activities for Under-Fives by David Gettman; Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years by Elizabeth Hainstock; Montessori Play & Learn by Lesley Britton.