Thursday, 28 February 2013

Kitchen cupboard textile dying

Here's a little experiment we played with lasts week.  We stirred various things from the kitchen (turmeric, tea, coffee etc...) into water in bowls and then tried dying bits of wool with them.  The main skills for this activity included fine motor skills in using a pair of (kids plastic) scissors to cut the wool, and descriptive skills - what did the various brews smell like, what colours were they, which strand of wool held onto the colour best, which was Ollie's favourite, and also a little about time, as we used a clock with five minutes marked on the face in drywipe pen to measure how long to leave the strands in the bowls.  Both boys also liked having a little taste of each concoction before we added the wool in, although I reinforced the message withOllie not to taste anything unless he checks with me first.  The tea and coffee were decaf and I made sure Ollie didn't choose anything too firey such as the chilli powder to make up a colour.  This could be another experiment that can be expanded on later, for example by trying out warm versus cold brews, adding a mordant such as salt etc... to see if the colours take better, and of course using different colourants. A seasonal theme could be added by mashing or blending non-poisonous leaves and berries from each season, maybe mud in winter, new nettle shoots in spring, strawberries in summer and blackberries in autumn.

Physics is either super accelerating particles to beyond the speed of light, or it's melting ice in a bucket

 Here we are exploring ice.  Ice is a brilliant medium for home experimenting as it is easy to make and very tactile.  At it's most basic form of experiment, kids love handling ice and seeing how it changes.  Ice cubes can be a choking hazard though, so for Toby I first wrapped some cubes up in a tea towel and smashed them to bits with a rolling pin.  Also, don't let your kids chew ice as it is now known that this can cause micro-fractures in the enamel of their teeth.

I use simple experiments like this to develop Ollie's descriptive skills and vocabulary.  Questioning method is the key here: "what does it feel like?" can be tricky for a little one to answer when they're first getting going, but 'or' questions can help them to frame their ideas "is it slippery or rough?".  If you're keen on written logs (as by now you know I am, mainly because Ollie feels like he's doing real science if it goes in his book) you can make a little table for them with the descriptive word pairs in, and
help them to highlight the word they think is the best description of the sensation they're experiencing.

Predicting outcomes is often tricky too, and is a lovely way for us adults to step back and realise that our little one's don't magically know the information we take for granted.  Ollie's response to "what do you think the ice will turn in to when it warms up?" was "bugs, or a really big cow".  A three year old has very few preconceptions about the world, and having seen that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, why shouldn't an ice cube turn in to a cow?  Although in this case I think he was being facetious as he thought I was asking a silly question, since the next thing he said was "I'm off to play with my toys while we wait for this ice to melt".  I've not sat him down with ice cubes before, so it took me by surprise :)

Since I was apparently being to simple for him, the next thing we did was test to see if adding salt had any effect on how quickly the ice melted.  Ollie counted the ice cubes, and then I explained we needed the same number in each box, and how many we needed to count out for it to be half.  Ollie counted half the ice cubes into the box, then added as much salt as he wanted (which was all of it).  He thought that the ice with no salt would melt faster, so when he saw the opposite happened it was really interesting to him.  This allowed us to then come back to a discussion we'd had last week about why the car was so dirty - salty grit put on the road to melt the ice spraying up on to the car.  I kept the salt well away from Toby though, as it's very tempting to eat and not good at all for babies.  He seemed pleased sliding the tiny chips of ice around, and again this was good for a new topic to talk to him about "brr Toby, that feels cold and wet" etc...

Growing experiment

 All kids love growing seeds.  There's something satisfying and magical about watching tiny bits of dry nothing turn into little green cress plants for example.  Ollie's been growing cress every few months since he turned two, so I decided to add another dimension to today's experiment.  Ollie is finding out whether big seeds start growing before little seeds, or the other way around.  I gathered the materials he needed and then discussed with Ollie what they were, which I then wrote down for him in his notebook.  Today we used a glass jar filled with scrunched up kitchen paper, an egg box with kitchen paper in the wells, broad bean seeds and cress seeds.

We talked about what plants needed to grow, and whether he thought the seeds would grow if they were dry.  Ollie said they needed a drink, so I helped him to water the paper substrate in the egg box and glass jar (if he hadn't decided this I would have encouraged him to water them anyway, as disappointment from seeds that haven't grown is not helpful at this age).  Ollie then used his best sprinkly fingers to sow his cress seeds in the egg box (and over the table, chairs and floor - science should not care too much about tidiness after all).  The broad bean seeds were carefully wedged down the side of the jar.  A plastic pot works just as well, so long as it is transparent so your little one can see the roots and shoots forming.  Finally, Ollie drew some pictures of his seeds in their containers, which I labelled for him.  We'll check back every day to watch our experiment's progress.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

When to start teaching reading

My friend just asked me a fab question 'when should you start teaching reading?'.  It's really osmotic Nat - it's one of the big arguments for 'unschooling' (as opposed to traditional 'homeschooling') that if you read regularly to your kids they will start to read for themselves and don't need formalised lessons.  In Europe, lots of schools don't start formal reading and writing lessons until the age of seven, when all of the kids are ready, to avoid making boys fail from the start as they usually develop a bit slower in reading and writing.

We read to the boys every day, although at first it was often more about picture recognition than narrative.  Interactive books are fantastic - the 'that's not my ...' range for example (we love that's not my dinosaur) and anything that has noisy buttons to press.

In order to read, children need to have good speech development and so by interacting with your baby, using books or anything you have to hand, you're preparing their brain to learn reading later.  In addition, bright interesting picture books with things they will be able to recognise quickly helps to build the baby's shape recognition abilities, which will later be essential for reading.  Books with faces in are a great place to start as this is the first shape a baby's brain can recognise (something that stays with us - hence all the Elvis on burnt toast sightings).  Also, fill their surroundings with stimulation - we have alphabet and number posters up that both boys love to be held in front of while we make the noises of the animals, or shout out the names of.

We used to read our own books out loud to Ollie too, and this is another way of helping language development as the baby is listening to the rhythms of your speech.  When your little one is about two years, you may like to try introducing things like the Cbeebies range of sticker magazines.  They may not be able to do most of the activities at first, but will enjoy putting on stickers with your help, scribbling on the pictures and listening to you read the stories,  Over time you will be amazed at how much more they are able to do.

As far as writing goes, Ollie started copying '0' and '1' out by himself (weird huh!), so I showed him how to write his name using those.  He's still a bit shakey on the letter 'e'.  You may find opposition from some schools and other parents 'you'll teach them wrong' as my parents were told when I arrived at school aged 4 and reading basic words competently.  I would say, sod 'em and do what feels right to you.  If that means structured lessons, or completely unstructured absorption of reading, it's all good, so long as it suits you and your little person is having fun.

Reading to boys

The author Dan Patterson teamed up with the Duchess of Cornwall last week to launch a new campaign to encourage more fathers to read with their children.  The theory is that because fathers don't read to their kids, reading becomes something the children see as a feminine activity and adds to boys falling behind girls when it comes to reading attainment at school.  This seems to me to be making the argument for reading to your children in the wrong way.  Read to your kids because they love to spend one to one time with you, read to them because it's fun, and as a really important part of the bedtime routine (as well as during the day when you want a quiet sit down).  Let them see you reading for pleasure.  Learning to read can be an effortless osmotic process if children are read to regularly.  Even if you've never heard the phrase 'synthetic phonics' your child will learn to read at a pace that suits them because you expose them to reading every day.  Dads reading being essential for boys to love reading?  I don't think so, as any lone mum with bookworm children will tell you.

Any adult in the child's family being able and willing to read to them every day, now that really is a gift every child deserves.  As to what to read to boys - anything and everything, but they will guide you towards things they really like.  Ollie loves books with stereotypical 'boys' things in them - dinosaurs, trains, diggers etc..., and as you can see from the picture, Spot's noisy marching band book with sound effect buttons is a favourite with all my boys :)

Magnetic letters

After a busy day, how to keep little man amused while I finished off the dinner (the hot bits he couldn't help with)?  Fridge letters!  Ollie had great fun plastering these on to the fridge, reading the letters and counting them -"look mummy, four 'O's says oooo".  It also turned out to be a good way of him looking at the way that words are made up of individual letters "why are these letters all stuck together?" - "because that is a word, and words are made up of letters stuck together".  At 3 and a quarter Ollie constantly surprises me with how literate he is becoming.  He has an Alphablocks alphabet poster bluetacked to the wall next to his potty and he likes to read out the letters.  A few days ago he pointed to the 'n' and the 'o' and said "n,o, that says NO! mummy" and then laughed because he thought he was being naughty.  That isn't a phrase I've noticed us use in this house, so it was really funny coming out the way it did.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cracking on with studying

That's that chapter finished.  Next stop TMA01.  For anyone not used to Open University acronyms, that my first Tutor Marked Assignment for this course.  It's a very front loaded course, so I'm glad I've hit this spot a month ahead of schedule to give me plenty of time to work on it.  I know that if I tried to follow the recommended calendar I'd end up falling behind as with two small children the chances of being taken out of action for a week or so is pretty high.  All it takes is a poorly sleepless child needing extra cuddles, and my two hours study after their bedtime goes out the window.  I would 100% recommend studying to any stay-at-home parent though as it added a brain work out that I needed to prevent mush brain.  I started with a social sciences introductory course (too easy) then a maths for science module (fantastic - really faced my demons, made my brain feel like I was chomping on wasabe, and gave me a huge high when I got 92%).  This year I've jumped to a Level 3 course as the OU is allowing me to cash in my first degree, so I only need 120 credits of Level 3 modules to get a second degree.  I think this will take me about 4 years in total, so long as I can fund it.

Toy's picnic

Our main planned activity for the day (a three hour tumble gymn session at a local gymnastics club) had to be cancelled at the last minute today when I found a spot on Toby that looked very much like the chickenpox Ollie had last week.  So a quick rethink was in order, and here is the result - our very own toy's picnic.  Teddy bear's picnic is a firm favourite already, which involves taking a teddy on a walk with a picnic.  After the food is gone, teddy then explores all the places Ollie can't get his head - in holes and up trees and everyone gets very dirty and goes home for a bath, especially teddy.  Given the cold and the potential chickenpox trying it inside seemed like a good plan.  Ollie chose the toys to invite, set out all the plates and cups and made sure everyone got enough food and drink.  The bit that made me laugh the most was when he had to take the toy dog out to 'the garden' (the hallway) because he "needed to poo and he's not allowed to poo in the house".  Ollie even picked up the imaginary poo with a bag, put the bag in the bin and then went to wash his hands.  He also fielded a few 'phone calls' from naughty dinosaurs who wanted to come, but were told they were not allowed as they might stomp on the food.  This is a fantastic way to get down on the floor and share in your child's rich imaginary world, and can be a really good way of promoting their nurturing behaviour towards others when they help their toys to eat and drink.  It also has proved to be a good way of getting less favoured foods down the hatch - "you need to eat your tomato so that turtle will be a good boy and eat his" worked a treat.

Squishy fun and fine motor skills

 Today we started our activities by making a collage of the photos we took yesterday on our 'Bear Hunt' and Ollie also drew a picture of the bear in his cave.  Ollie then asked for the play dough, so we had great fun rolling it, squishing it, marking it with glue spreaders and cutting it with play scissors and cookie cutters.  Ollie finds it tricky to cut paper with the blunt play scissors so gets a lot of satisfaction from being able to achieve good cutting with the dough.  Play dough is easy to make (a quick web search will provide recipes, including gluten-free ones using cornflour) and is a fantastic way of developing your little one's fine motor skills and hand strength.
If you want to increase the sensory experience then adding food flavourings can add an exciting scent dimension.  Scented dough is available to buy, but making your own is really cheap.  You can even tailor the scent to the time of day.  I use zingy scents like lemon in the morning, and calmer ones such as a couple of drops of lavender for evening play (lavender essential oil is generally safe for children, but I really mean a couple of drops - any more is a stimulant not a relaxant!).  Dough play is fantastic for all young kids, but can be especially good as an occupational therapy if you've got a really stressed child on your hands, for example if you have an ASD or ADHD child in your family and you want a fast way to redirect their energy and improve their emotional state, sitting down with them to play with a relaxing scented dough could be very helpful.  One word of warning though - you may get a bit too involved and get frustrated yourself when your little one has more fun destroying your creations than making his own :)

Monday, 25 February 2013

Thanks folks

Wow, 70 views already, from UK, America, Jersey, France and Germany.  That's awesome, thank you lovely people :)
So that's my Open University S366 Evolution module home kit exercise done.  32 Brachiopods measured, data inputted, graphs drawn, stats done, conclusions drawn, results checked (fine - yay!).  On to Section F 'A History of Life on Earth'.  Oh, and I just sent Matt the link to this blog and he says apparently I live in Nebraska.  That explains the hits I've been getting from America then :)  Off to fiddle with my settings.

Glue and stick letters

On Friday Ollie was still suffering the tail end of chickenpox, so we went for some indoor fun, including making 3D letters by sticking down things from his craft box.  The first one Ollie wanted to make was a T for little brother Toby.  It turned out really well, unlike Toby's sticky fun which ended when he tried very hard to eat a feather.  back to the finger paints for you.  Some of the items Ollie chose to use where things I'd saved from the CBeebies magazines he likes (For example I didn't want to let Ollie loose with a bag of small plastic spiders at Halloween when there was a mouth exploring baby crawling around).  These kinds of activities are fantastic for showing there isn't just one way to make art if you're in a rut with just a paintbox, and also makes picking up letters fun.  All you need to do as a parent is to put the glue on in the shape of the letter, let the little have free reign with sticking, and then weigh it all down with something at the end until it dries.  The boys are now proud owners of lovely letter pictures on their respective doors.

We're going on a bear hunt

Oh no! a bumpy lumpy hill!
This afternoon our theme was the book 'We're all going on a bear hunt' by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.  This is always a real favourite on our woodland walks.  We changed the weather from 'It's a beautiful day' to 'It's a cold and windy day' and then added in all of the obstacles we encountered, real or imaginary.  I introduced most of the first obstacles 'Oh no, a whizzy busy road...' and then Ollie progressively added more 'Oh no, rustly leaves...'.  We also took some pictures so we can make a memory sheet tomorrow morning, and looked out for the first tentative sign of spring.  Both Ollie and Toby especially liked the yellow hazel catkins which have appeared.  Ollie was fascinated that this was the 'boy bit where the pollen comes from' and really happy when after searching hard he found the tiny red 'girl bit, where the pollen gets stuck on and makes a hazel nut'.  He thought a squirrel or a mouse might like a hazelnut.  Tonight we read Bear Hunt again, and looked at pictures in a book about forests to reinforce his new vocabulary (as well as his Castles book again).  His new vocabulary today 'catkins' and I was really impressed that he had remembered 'moss', 'oak tree', 'holly', 'ivy' and 'brambles' from our other walks.

History lesson: Dover Castle

Cooking or doing laundry?
Still snowing, but on Sunday we decided to brave it and go for a history exploration day at Dover Castle.  We were really lucky because as well as the usual fantastic displays, we arrived in the Keep just in time for a fantastic interactive reenactment of the moment Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine won the rights to her lands in Aquitaine from her son Richard, in in so doing also her freedom from her husband King Henry.  The actors and the costumes were fantastic, and Ollie was very excited to receive a gold (chocolate) coin from the Queen and a writ entitling him to the freedom of the Royal Forests. Ollie's favourite part was the guided tour of the underground dressing station.  To reinforce what he had seen, we read his castles book to him that night at bedtime (well, did our best to translate the only kids book on castles we have from French into English for him).  Then today we printed out the photos I took, cut them out and Ollie stuck them down on a sheet of card.  I added the labels and he drew a picture of the hospital in the tunnel.  He asked for the Castles book again as one of tonight's bedtime books, which once again helps to reinforce his memory of what he saw on Sunday, including his new vocabulary 'gate house', 'keep', 'drawbridge' and 'crenelations'.

Snow day role play

All my boys are geeks :)
What exciting learning experience can you have when it's freezing cold and snowing out, but not the fun snow on the ground snow man building kind of snow?  Visit a popular Swedish furniture showroom and let your little one's imaginations run wild.  We played boats in the chairs, computer geeks in the offices and cooked in every place that looked remotely like a kitchen (we also ended up getting a load of stuff we didn't know we needed but suddenly couldn't live without).

Friday, 22 February 2013

New and old

So this is the Maz Shack #2, created after I found that I am actually not the same person I was last time I blogged, at least in the eyes of Blogger and Hotmail, neither of which I have used in nearly three years, and neither of which I can remember the passwords for :)  Older posts are therefore at  I had a blog before as a way of teaching myself how to use one in order to help my students get to grips with them, but for the last three years found that Facebook suited my needs at that time better.  Now, as I have been foraying into freelance writing, it seems a good time to revisit blogging.  It feels good to be back :)