Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Goldilocks mends her intrusive ways and my children finally retell a story.

This afternoon we worked on reading comprehension using the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Our family reads together frequently, but the children often stubbornly protest recalling a story when I try to draw a retelling from them. They feel it's horribly boring to be forced to retell a story, and would much rather run off and play.

But with props, retelling the story IS play! They had a lot of fun with this program, and requested more like it for tomorrow.

First, we read The Three Bears by Byron Barton.

 I don't love Barton's illustration style and tend to avoid his books for this reason, but the very simple images worked well with this lesson, which required that the children follow the plot points of the story rather than get become absorbed in detailed artwork. Barton's text is equally simple and straight-forward.

After the story, I brought out a small cupboard full of props. I use this miniature cupboard in many of my storytelling programs because it's small enough to seem magical and fascinating (it's straight out of The Indian in the Cupboard!), but large enough to stow away and transport secret little treasures until their "big reveal" later in the storytime.

The back of this cupboard also just happens to be tall enough that I can hide additional objects out of sight until needed. Opening up the little doors is a very exciting moment for the children, because they know there's always something wonderful, inside.

 If you don't have a magic cupboard like this in your home or classroom, you could substitute a small treasure-chest style box from an antiques shop, a picnic basket or other lidded basket. If you're crafty, you might cover a cardboard box with paper scraps and attach via hot glue a mashup of little jewels or treasures like buttons, polished stones, keys, pearls, thimbals, shells, jewelry, and silver spoons. One trip to Goodwill should supply a bag's worth of treasures to cover your box, at minimal expense.

This project would be well worth your time. Again, I find it very helpful to have a place to store supplies and withdraw treasures during storytelling. It really does add to the magic of the show and makes anything you hide inside, extra special!

Our Goldilocks props consisted of miniatures and doll house furniture gathered from play areas around our home. Your Goldilocks could be any yellow-haired doll, and the three bears might be stuffed animals, if you'd like.

Our props included;

A small rug to define the playspace and set the indoor scene.

Three porcelain bowls - small, medium, and large.

Three chairs - hard, soft, and "just right".

Three beds - hard, soft, and "just right", or big, medium, and small.

We used three bears from the movie Brave, because their size was perfect.

Additional to Goldilocks, I also supplied two extra dolls to symbolize Goldilocks' mother and father.

The children caught on right away, and helped me arrange the kitchen, living room, and bedroom of the bear's house, piece by piece, as I retrieved each from the small cupboard. Then I took the Goldilocks figure and walked her towards the house, "knocked" on the door, and let myself in. At this point, I set the figure down on the rug and asked the first child to pick it up and show us what Goldilocks did first after entering the house.

The child brought Goldilocks over to the kitchen and talked her through three bowls of porridge, repeating lines from the story. I explained that porridge was a kind of hot cereal, but in the children's re-telling, they decided to turn it into "hot soup".

When the first child was finished with retelling his part of the story, I asked him to return Goldilocks to the rug in the center of the house and gave the next child to a turn to pick it up. She carried Goldilocks straight over to the chairs, and recreated Goldilocks' experience of trying out each chair. At the part where the baby bear's chair gets broken, she tipped the smallest chair over to demonstrate that it was "broken".

Last, we worked through the beds, and the first child tucked Goldlocks in under the covers to fall asleep.

Then each child and I took one bear and "walked them home" to discover one by one what Goldilocks had done. The kids did a good job acting out how sad Baby Bear would be to discover that his soup was gone, his favorite chair was broken, and his bed was being used!

The story traditionally ends with Goldlocks jumping out of bed and running out of the house, never to be seen again, but we went a little bit further.

Personally, we wanted to focus on (1) identifying "shades of gray" (seemingly bad choices that were perhaps made for an understandable reason) and (2) correcting bad choices, even if they were made for a good reason.

We paused here to discuss what Goldilocks had done, and why each of those things would have been hurtful to the three bears.

Additionally, why might Goldilocks have made these bad decisions? Was she hungry from walking in the woods? Sleepy because she'd been lost and far from home?

After Goldilocks "ran home", I brought out the Mother and Father dolls, so Goldilocks could tell her parents what she had done at the bear family's home. Goldilocks then asked her parents to go back through the woods with her, so she could return to the bear family's house and tell them that she was sorry.

The children were VERY active during this part of the story, and were quite excited to add onto the story with events that weren't in the book. They quickly took over all of the characters, and speaking as the bears, invited Goldilocks and her parents inside. Goldilocks appoligized and promised never to go where she hadn't been invited, and the bear family forgave her. The children also added that Goldilocks had brought along a huge bowl of hot soup for Baby Bear, as well as some sticky glue to fix his broken chair. She then picked up the messy blankets and made his bed!

Supplying a human Mother, Father, and child that directly mirrored the bear family's Mother, Father, and baby helped the children have empathy for both the bear family's situation, and the human family's situation, which touched upon one concept that we've been trying to impress in our home - empathy and understanding for other people's choices (some of which may outwardly seem "bad" before you know the reason why those decisions were made). 

There were no bad guys at the end of this story. The bears were not mean and scary, and Goldilocks did make a mistake but she found a way to fix it and repair her friendship with the bear family. Better choices were made, feelings were reflected upon, and diversity was overcome. And without realizing it, the children did a splendid job of recalling and reciting the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as well as adding some creative story-telling touches of their own.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Scrubbing the Statue of Liberty: cleaning pennies with vinegar

One of my five year old's recent obsessions is the Statue of Liberty and other world landmarks. So this week, we explored science through the Cleaning Pennies with Vinegar experiment, which was recommended to us by Danielle at The Plain Satisfactions, and originally posted by Science Bob.

Before we began, I had the children sort through their piggy bank and set aside the dirtiest of our pennies.


Dirty pennies                      
1/4 c. white vinegar            
1 teaspoon salt                
Glass bowl
Wooden spoon                    
Paper plates + Sharpie
A small handful of metal screws
A small bowl of water
A small bowl for vinegar

Optional: additional citrus acids to test
(orange, lemon, lime juice, etc)
Optional: glass bowls for additional acids
Optional: a sharp knife to slice fruit

Introduction and Discussion: 

Pennies are made out of a metal called copper. The Statue of Liberty is also made out of copper. What color is the Statue of Liberty? Can we find any pennies in our collection that are the same color as the Statue of Liberty? 

When copper is new, it's a shiny brownish-red color, like THIS (display a bright new penny), and briefly, when it was new, the Statue of Liberty was also shiny and red. But when copper is around water for a long time, it starts to take on a tarnished green color. How do you think the Statue of Liberty got wet? [Rain / Using a photograph, point out that the statue is on an island surrounded by water]

As we clean off our pennies today, you can imagine that you're cleaning off the Statue of Liberty to discover the brilliant copper color beneath her green robes, and you might imagine how her appearance would change if we could dunk her in a giant sea of vinegar. 


Round One

1. Pour the vinegar into the bowl and add the salt. Stir it up until the salt dissolves.
2. Drop about 5 pennies into the bowl and wait about 2 minutes (although we found that sometimes the tarnish came off immediately). Keep the kids busy by allowing them to gently stir the pennies and solution.
3. Remove the pennies and dunk them in fresh water to rinse.
4. Set out on paper plate #1 and label this batch "Vinegar + Water".

Round Two

1. Drop another five pennies into the bowl of vinegar + salt and wait two minutes.
2. DO NOT rinse these pennies. Put them immediatly on paper plate #2 and label this batch "Vinegar + no rinse".

Round Three

1. Drop some metal screws, nuts, or bolts into the vinegar + salt solution and watch as the copper oxide which fell off the "dirty" pennies (but seemed invisible in the water) attaches almost immediately to the new metal object. WOW!

Put your nuts and bolts on paper plate #3 and label it, "Vinegar after Pennies".

Round Four

Explain that vinegar is a liquid called acid, and acids can remove chemical build-ups on certain metals. The acid in our vinegar was able to remove the copper oxide which tarnished our pennies, and other acids might be able to do that, as well.

All citrus fruits contain acid, including clementines, mandarin oranges, tangerines, grapefruits lemons, limes, and navel oranges. You might point out the "low acid" label on some bottles of orange juice or grapefruit juice at the supermarket, and mention that acidic juices are powerful, and can sometimes upset the stomach. 

Continue the experiment by allowing the children to squeeze an assortment of these fruit juices into small bowls and submerge some pennies to see if citrus acids work as well at dissolving copper oxide as the vinegar did. Don't forget to put your pennies on another paper plate and label your results.

Round Five

Will the vinegar or citrus juices clean nickles, dimes, or quarters, or only coins made out of copper?

Round Six

Compare and contrast the results upon your collection of plates. Which method worked the best? Has anything interesting happened on paper plate #2? (Un-rinsed vinegar pennies will begin to turn greenish-blue as a chemical called malachite forms on them.)

Our results:

This experiment was a bit slow-moving for my 3.5 and 5.5 year old children.

They enjoyed adding ingredients to the bowl and stiring to dissolve the salt and jostle the pennies, and my son appreciated my references to the Statue of Liberty, but they simply were not as interested in the results of the experiment as I thought they might be.

They did request further ingredients from the pantry to "test" on our dirty pennies, but more fun was had in the mixing and splashing than in the observing process.

But they did have fun, and a small scientific event was explored, and that's as much as I can hope for!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Harold and the Purple Crayon (Book + Literacy and Measurement Activity)

This week, we've been enjoying the stories in Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon series. This book and activity are perfect for the children, who are now nearly four and five-and-a-half.

Before reading the original Harold and the Purple Crayon, we put the following words up on our Word Wall, and practiced spelling them, sounding them out, and reading them:



I put one child in charge of each word, and as we read the story, I paused each time we came to these particular words, and let the child in charge of it, read it aloud.

A day or two later during our second reading of the story, I added these words to the Word Wall, and we followed a similar procedure: 



A third reading of the story highlighted these words: 




I pointed out the difference between the appearance of the singular word WINDOW and plural word WINDOWS, and we talked about how adding an "s" to the end of a word can add quantity. 

After our first reading of Harold and the Purple Crayon, I set up a work space for the kids so they could make up their own Harold story. 

I taped together five sheets of computer paper for each child and drew a Harold in a different position on each page. This could also have been easily accomplished by photocopying a picture of Harold and printing out a sheet full of Harolds, which the children could cut out and glue down in whatever position or direction they wished.

I filled a bowl with purple crayons, and the kids each picked one and started drawing. They remembered to connect each page of their story with a line, so Harold's journey was continuous across all five pages. The kids were pretty creative, adding dinosaurs to slide down, holes Harold had to climb out of, and water he had to swim through. 

In following the format of the book, we were sure to include two things;

1. The moon was on every page.

2. On the last page, Harold somehow found his bed and went to sleep.

My children usually protest "craft" activities as if they sense that it's busywork, but since this art activity was made with the purpose of making their own book, they were excited and happy to do it. We've added the accordian-folded pages to our Literacy Corner, and they can re-read them whenever they wish. 

When we read Harold's Fairy Tale, we focused on reading the following words;



We talked again about how adding an "S" to the end of a word - specifically, "King" could make a group of more than one thing (Kings). I also introduced the concept of adding an "S" to signify possession, such as something the King owns. 

The following two sentences appear on the same page of the Fairy Tale book, and provided a chance for us to see the letter "S" in action:

"Kings live in large castles."

"Harold had to make sure the castle was big enough to be the King's."

At a fun point in the Fairy Tale book, Harold draws a staircase and remembers that he is exactly four-and-a-half stairs high. We wondered if that was taller or shorter than we were? So after reading the story, we stood at the foot of our stairs used a yard stick upon each child's head to make a level line across to the stairs. 

Peggy discovered that she is nearly five stairs tall, which is taller than Harold. 

Patrick discovered that he is five-and-a-half stairs tall, which is a full stair taller than Harold. 

I discovered that I'm eight stairs tall, which is almost twice as tall as Harold.

Drawing the stairs on paper and marking our heights in different colors helped us to visualize, understand, and be able to compare these nonstandard measurements. Nonstandard forms of measurement are an awesome pre-math skill for children of this age. 

 This lesson could have been expanded for older children by using the yardstick to;

1. Measure the height in inches of each stair (times) how many stairs tall each child was. This would give them a figure close to their own height in inches.

2. Use the yard stick (or two) to measure their height, laying flat on he ground or flush against a wall. 

3. Compare the results from measurements taken during Step 1 and Step 2 to see how accurate their first measurement was to the actual measurement of each child's height in inches. 

4. Estimate how tall Harold is in inches, if he stands only four-and-a-half stairs high.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cemetery Science: examining lichen to learn about air pollution

Today we used Angela Wilkes' My First Green Book to learn about lichen - the fungi-related, moss-like substance often found on tree branches, stone buildings, and gravestones.

Wilkes explains that the color and formation of each set of lichen can help us understand the level of air pollution in our surrounding area.  

Green, "leafy" lichen indicate that healthy clean air is supporting the organism's growth.

Meanwhile, tightly packed, crusty, or "dusty" lichen indicates that the fungi is failing to thrive and had some difficulty growing.

The children and I took a walk to a nearby cemetery and gathered samples of lichen from fallen sticks and old stones, and then examined them. 

We were surprised to find samples of both polluted and non-polluted lichen in the same cemetery; the healthy lichen was at a high altitude atop a large hill that towers over our city, while the polluted lichen abounded in low-lying areas near street access points.

We also discovered crusty lichen in a yellow-approaching-orange hue, indicating even higher levels of air pollution in that particular area.

We hypothesized as to why three different areas of the cemetery contained three different levels of air pollution (proximity to factories, vehicle emissions), and how we might be able to lessen the amount of air pollution expelled into our city (be frugal with electricity so power plants expel less pollution, travel via bus, don't use aresol containers, etc).

We laid out an all-weather blanket and emptied out our satchel with all of our "naturalist essentials" - field guides, magnifying glasses, nature sketchbooks, and colored pencils.

The children sketched some of the interesting objects we'd found in the cemetery, including the lichen, but also tattered flags, seed pods, and some polished stones that someone had scattered lovingly around a grave.

At five and three-and-a-half years old, their sketches are rough, but they're becoming accustomed to the procedure of documenting their discoveries, and it's the process, not the product that counts.

After we'd documented our findings, we ran about and explored until we were thoroughly exhausted, filling nearly two and a half hours with hiking up steep hillsides and good physical activity.

We discussed American flag etiquette, respect for gravestones and those they represent, and touched upon religious topics after the children noticed the letter "X" was repeated upon many stones (the Christian cross). We talked about what each member of our family believed, from Atheism to Christianity, to Buddhism, and mentioned that there were even more options than these - pointing out the Star of David upon an entire neighborhood of gravestones.

 In a focused attempt at cultivating empathy and humanitarian interests in the children, we read many of the epitaphs upon the stones - noting the ages of each person (especially the young) and wondering how they died and who they left behind. We left "thinking of you" stones upon a sad monument marked, "Who is there to mourn for Logan?" (Another blogger has explained the interesting and terrible story behind those words, here.)

Finally, we decided which of our gathered items to return to nature, and which to preserve upon our Nature Table at home. We returned with three new lichen samples, a seed pod, a small pinecone, some deer-nibbled Indian corn, and a tattered American flag rescued from the mud.

Our nature table is becoming quite abundantly filled with treasure.

We plan to return to the cemetery to sketch further natural items of interest, and to conduct more experiments from Andrea Wilkes' environment and nature book. Our interest in nature is instinctual, but supported by the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling, which you can read about, here. We follow a loose, secular form of the Charlotte Mason method.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shadow Puppets

 Just a super-quick post with some super-quick October ideas;

We've been having a lot of playing-in-the-dark fun this month, as we approach Halloween. It's been unseasonably warm, so we linger outside to play flashlight games and have glowstick hunts in the grass.

 You can purchase 3 glowsticks for $1 at the Dollar Store, so for $5, you can fill a basket with 15 glowsticks. The kids love it when I wait until darkness falls, then throw handfuls of glowsticks off the porch and across the yard, sending them on a wild race to locate and retrieve every last one. At ages 4.5 and 3, they'll chase after glowsticks until they're ready to collapse with exhaustion - which makes it an EXCELLENT pre-bedtime experience! After 40 minutes of intense fresh air exercise, bedtimes go off without a hitch, and everyone's in a happy mood!

Another of our recent activities was the creation of an assortment of shadow puppets.


Paperboard - nothing fancy, recycled cereal boxes are sturdy enough
Popsicle sticks, straws, etc
Black acrylic paint
Sharpie marker or printer with ink
Scissors and tape

If you're artistically inclined, you can sketch an object of your choosing onto the cardboard, otherwise, just do a google image search for Silhouettes, then print out and glue that onto the cardboard. Carefully cut out your image. Paint black, if you'd like, and attach to a stick.

We're currently obsessed with crocodiles and ballerinas, so those were included among our first creations.

The afternoon before we brought out our shadow puppets for the first time, we took a walk at sunset and noticed how very long our shadows looked compared to when we went walking at noon and our shadows were very short. 

Later, armed with a flashlight and our shadow puppet, we were able to recreate the apparent movement of the sun, making our shadow puppet's shadows shorter to represent noon, or longer to represent sunset.

Of course, our shadows change because of the Earth's rotation while the sun remains stationary, but that lesson is for another day.

Math Smash!

At 4.5, Patrick is beginning to add numbers together on his fingers, so I've begun introducing more games directly related to addition. This game involves adding two dice together. Peggy, 2.5, isn't quite ready to add yet, so while Patrick had two dice to roll and count, she had just one, and that worked out fine for our purposes and each child's abilities.


Playdoh (we used a homemade batch because it was softer)
2 Dice
Toy hammers or other tools
A tray for each child is helpful

First, we worked together to fill a bowl with playdoh balls.

The pair of dice that Patrick worked with had digits written on them, so instead of seeing three dots, he saw the number "3". Instead of asking him to roll both dice at once and get confused, he rolled one dice at a time, adding the correct number of Playdoh balls to his tray after each dice roll. Finally, he then counted up the new number of balls on his tray and announced the sum of the first two numbers.

Now the fun part!

Using our toy mallets from a Whack-a-Mole boardgame, each child smashed his Playdoh balls, then formed a tall stack of "pancakes", seeing who could get their stack the highest before it toppled over.

I pre-rolled about 70 balls for this activity, and it kept the children's attention long enough that they counted and smashed every last ball, providing about 10 minutes of focused math work and an additional 40 minutes of entertainment branching off from the initial activity.

That's a fairly decent ratio of work vs. play for this age group.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

River Stone Name Scramble

Every time we take a trip to the rocky shore of Lake Ontario, I gather baskets of stones from the beach to be used in crafts and as educational materials. I love the natural beauty of the stones, and have used them in so many projects. You can check out my River Stones Memory Game, here.

River Stones Memory: Mod Podge, old dictionary pages, colored pencils, and ink.
Patrick has been working on recognizing the letters that spell out his name. At first we used bits of torn paper with one letter of his name written on each piece, but this was quite flimsy and uninteresting. So in a project that took literally one minute to complete, I put together a bag of name stones for each child. My materials were simply a few ziplock bags, some river stones, and a Sharpie Marker.

Each bag contains only the exact letters in their name, so it's kind of a word-scramble to sort them out and put them in the right order.

 At four-and-a-half, Patrick can sort out and arrange his first name quite easily, so I'll be adding his last name to the bag, soon. He does sometimes place his letters upside-down, so we're working on that. At two-and-a-half, Peggy has a harder time arranging her name, but really enjoys the challenge.

From a tactile perspective, the river stones are heavy and gritty and round - the perfect size and weight to cup in a little palm. They kids love jostling them around in the bag, and Patrick has more patience working on his letters when we use this method.