Can you read yet, little boy?

My 4yo is interested in reading. He had some exposure to phonetics at his Montessori* daycare, and I picked up on that method at home with him.

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He left that daycare when he joined the public school system in September and entered Junior Kindergarten. And he likes it there…but he is not interested in sitting at a table with some of the other kids and learn to read and write. He’d rather play with blocks.

Which is fine by me. And by his teacher too.

But I observe my child all the time. He loves books, he visits the library weekly, and he often points to a word at the side of a truck, or on a street sign and asks me what it says. So naturally, I try to teach him to read it himself.

It’s not hard. If he knows what sound the letter makes, and strings the sounds together, he can read the word.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work with the English language since there are so many exceptions. But it’s not impossible, and since he’s already familiar with this method, we just keep it up.

One of the things they do in Kindergarten each day is look at a calendar and talk about the day of the week, the month, and other related information. I figured, why not do this at home too?

Like most households, we have a box full of magnetic letters. These are great tools for letter naming, phonetics, and reading and writing exercises. Since Benjamin knows the phonetic sounds of most letters, I use that as my starting point.

Let’s say we’re talking about Tuesday. Since each day of the week ends with the word “day”, I scramble up the remaining letters on the board and ask him to write it out for me. If he simply guesses which letter he should use first, I ask him to tell me what sound the letter makes. This is when I see it click in his brain. Oops, that’s not the ‘t’ for Tuesday, that’s the ‘u’ for umbrella, he’s thinking.

Since he is still mostly comfortable with the phonetics though, I make a point of telling him the name of the letter as well.

Yes, that’s the ‘t’ for Tuesday, or Tyler, or Tiger. This is called the letter Tee.

He likes doing this with me.

One thing I have noticed however is that if he does put the letters in the correct sequence, he sometimes puts them backwards, or upside down. Not sure if that is just a common mistake amongst pre-readers, or if it’s because he’s left-handed, but I’m not going to worry about it right now.

The fact that he’s interested in reading at this age is enough for the moment.

*For further information on phonetics and the Montessori methods, there are some great resources available here and here, and in this blog.

Halloween crafts with preschoolers and toddlers

Halloween never meant much to me BC (before children). I mean, sure, I liked the candy, or the idea of candy at least. But considering that I’ve researched what goes IN some candies these days make me not only not want to eat it, but also keep it from the kids.

Of course the 4yo will have issues with that.  But we’ll cross that bridge later.

In the meantime, I still have to keep these little monkeys occupied and stimulated while they are home with me. So what’s a mother to do?

Why, crafts, of course!

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I don’t know where I got the idea to make these spider-like bugs. Probably a combination of googleing and pondering during the many hours of peace and silence I enjoy each day (enter loud and hysterical laughter).

Anyway, I was at the Dollar Store and saw black pipe cleaners. Once I got home I saw stuff that needs to be thrown out, so I kept a black garbage bag aside after purging to my heart’s content (enter more hysterical laughter). The funky eyeballs I had in my craft bin, and there are always old newspapers hanging around in every nook and cranny of this house.

Here’s how it’s done:

Get the child to crumble up the newspaper into a ball.
Cut the garbage bag into a square that is large enough to cover the newspaper ball.
Tie the four ends at the bottom (the spider’s tummy).
Use the scissors to punch holes into the plastic-covered newspaper, near the bottom where the knot is, and feed the pipe cleaner through. Those will be the legs.
You will have to twist the pipe cleaner to stay in place if you have a toddler who likes to pull things out of things.
Attach the eyeballs with some glue.

* * *

Another day, Benjamin started bugging while I was busy flickring and picniking. So I pulled out black and orange paper and helped him cut them into strips. We were going to make a garland.

Cutting paper has been something he enjoyed doing for many years. They teach cutting with real scissors at Montessori to toddlers, and with supervision, you’d be surprised how quickly they master this tricky skill. Using tape or glue just adds to the fun!

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While he was busy cutting and taping, I used the strips of paper to teach him some simple addition and subtraction.

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* * *

Of course cutting paper that is folded in half, making interesting holes to peek through, is a big hit too. So one night after dinner, when there was little effort on their part to play quietly, I pulled out paper and scissors and had them sit at the table. I had no clue what to make, and just starting fooling around with the paper. Before you knew it, we had this on our living room wall:

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I’m really enjoying this preschool age. He is such a sponge when it comes to learning new things, and introducing him to new things has stimulated me beyond my wildest imagination.

As far as the 2yo is concerned, she wants to participate, and so I let her. Not that I have an option here…but she is very interested, and as long as she doesn’t destroy other people’s stuff, I can usually find something to keep her occupied as well. She loves glueing, she likes taping tape to paper, she’s trying to manipulate the scissors, and when she gets bored, I give her things to sort, or count.

So far, so good. And our house is all decorated with homemade stuff!

Thoughts on mainstream public school

Now that I have one child in a public school system, where the mainstream prevails, I spend more and more time reflecting on a variety of things that could be, if only….what? Better? More alternative? More child-centered? Less mainstream?

If only we lived in a different time? A different country? A different community? If only we had the money to put him in a private alternative school?

Many articles in Psychology Today address the current problem with contemporary child-rearing, and child-education. (Freedom to Learn/Psychology Today)

The reality is that we, most of us, do the best we can with the restrictions and limitations handed out to us.

Had I known just how much I like the Montessori way of educating children back when I was a non-parent, I would have started saving for that benefit with my first job.

We do what we can with what we have (and we make mistakes).  And currently, on day 2 of junior kindergarten, my 4yo doesn’t seem unhappy with his new, non-Montessori environment. Really, he’s only there a few hours per day, the rest of the time he is home with me. I have to focus on this, on him, on what he likes or dislikes, and not subject my negative attitude on him. He doesn’t see things the way I do…

It’s hard…but it has to be done. Like I said, he’s not unhappy. (yet)

A funny, educating, interesting read is Bill Bryson’s The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid. He talks about his childhood in a town in the USA during the 1950s, and boy, is it an eye-opener. If they taught history that way I would have liked the subject a heck of a lot more!

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I’m not sure what kind of parenting will be required of me now that I have one child in the public school system, considering that I dislike almost everything about it, and that only on day 2. Will I have to conform against my will? Will I have to let go of my discomforts if my child ends up “like them” and isn’t unhappy about it? Will I have to move, or homeschool? I’m not uncomfortable with the idea of homeschooling, but I will need some time to adjust to the idea….

For now, I will do what many of us do. Watch the child, follow the child’s needs, and do the best I can with what is.

Even though what is isn’t what I had envisioned.

Mourning…what exactly?

Is this the end or the beginning? I’m not sure…What am I supposed to feel?

Sonja had her inauguration meet-and-greet at in the toddler’s classroom at the Montessori today. The same classroom where her older brother spent one and a half year. With two of the same teachers.

Sonja knows the school. We’ve dropped off and picked up Benjamin upteen times last year and she was always a smidgen disappointed that she couldn’t stay and play with the materials or the children.

Well, now she can. And she did today. She couldn’t wait to get started.

So now I’m a parent of two school-attending children. Even though one is in a daycare and technically still a toddler, and the other only in junior Kindergarden, they’re still both out of the house in a school-type setting for at least part of the day several times a week.

One minute I’m jumping for joy. Coffee and computer without interruption! Shower without interruption! Picking my nose without interruption if I just so happen to be inclined to do that (I don’t do that, I use a kleenex and retreat into a bathroom, but I CAN if I want to since I am not role-modeling that behaviour in front of THEM. So there).

After contemplating my joy, I felt a quiet dread emerging. Maybe I want to have a new baby now to replace the last one? What exactly am I mourning here? The end of parenting small children?

Next Tuesday marks the beginning of my new life. Or the end of an old life. 

Sniff.

Scooters

The Montessori daycare where Ben attends part-time has acquired new scooters for their fenced-in playground out back.
 
Oh the drama these scooters have caused! I never realized that something like this can cause such heartache amongst 4 year old boys! And not just mine, but also other boys. Or so I hear from parents…
 
There are only so many scooters available. Naturally, almost all kids are interested in trying them out. But the teachers, from what I see, don’t really facilitate the kids to take turns. They leave it up to the kids to figure out.
 
In some ways I can understand this approach. Usually when my two get into it in some way or another, I keep an eye but don’t interfere unless deemed necessary by reasons of personal safety (since the younger one is still a toddler).
 
Lately at the school however, there seems to be a situation every single day concerning those new scooters. Every day, several little children are upset and on the verge of crying for not having had a chance to play with them.
 
Like yesterday. I get to the parking lot a few minutes early and sit back inside the car to watch the kids play. The teachers, 5 of them, are talking amongst each other, and the kids all seem occupied with their little groups. Some are climbing the structure, some or sliding down the slide, some are playing in the sand, and some are riding the scooters.
 
At one point, I see Benjamin emerging from behind the structure. He sees some girls sitting on the scooters talking amongst each other, and he stands next to them by the fence. The girls I recognize as a little older (5 and 6), and they don’t notice a little 4 year old standing beside them throwing wistful glances in their direction. 

Toddler labour, or rather, Practical Life

As I sit here typing these words, my 18 month old is cleaning up the kitchen.

Yes. She is helping me by putting all the cuttlery (except for the knives) into the cuttlery drawer (with aid of a step).

Of her own free will.

While I watch this phenomenon, comments I’ve heard people make run through my head. They said things like “oh, he wants to help but I can do it quicker if I could just do it myself”, or “I don’t have time to watch her”, or “he’ll break something, or hurt himself”.

Well, technically, I agree.  All of these things are true. On the other hand, the child needs something to do. We all know how toddlers want to be with you and imitate you all the time. This is both joyful (for you and her) and exhasperating (again, for both of you). If she does in fact hurt herself, you’ll feel bad. If she does in fact break a plate by dropping it on the floor, it’s a pain. You now have an upset toddler, pieces of plate that could cut someone, and a mess to clean up.

BUT, what if she doesn’t have any accidents? What if you are observant and proactive? What if you show her how to do it?

Maria Montessori called this “the Practical Life”..

I am a fan of the Montessori methods.

Earlier, Sonja and I emptied the dishwasher together. She got a lot of the plates out and brought them to me so I could put them away into the cupboard. Then she moved on to the bowls.

The bowls were stuck though. She couldn’t get them out. I said, verbally, without demonstrating, “pick them up from the bottom”. I was prepared to show her how but by the time I stepped up to the dishwasher, she had figured it out herself.

I don’t know if she understood the words but she moved her hands around and when the bowl came loose, she took it out and brought it to me. And continued with the remaining bowls in the same fashion.

I thought “what a smart girl….”.

So yes, it took a bit longer to empty out the dishwasher. But really, emptying out the dishwasher by myself  is about as much fun as sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with a fidgety toddler. And the expression of pride in her face every time I thanked her for giving me an item…now THAT was priceless!

Homemade homeschooling materials for toddlers

These ideas are inspired by the Montessori methods, and cost practically no money. It encourages the child to learn how to sort, and how to manipulate with her hands and fingers the different types of materials.

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To make the materials, all you have to do is keep an empty box, and some plastic containers.  Our containers are from infant food like applesauce, and they’re great because they come with little lids too, which helps tremendously when storing things. But you can use yoghurt containers as well.

You will need large pasta shells (uncooked, in case that’s not clear!), some large pebbles or rocks you can collect with your child(ren) on your next nature walk, or even large dry beans. Buttons work as well.

Word of caution: it’s always a good idea to watch your child play with items that are small enough to put in their mouth to prevent choking.

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Activity:

Place the box with the items inside on a child-sized table. Start with just one item at first, like the pasta shells.

Demonstrate to the child how you can take the shells out of the box and make a pile on the table.

Variations:

Show the child how to take the shells out of the box and place them into a plastic cup.

Observe your child. She will manipulate the items according to her own will, which is fine. There is not right or wrong way to play with these materials. Sonja, who is 14 months in this picture, started by moving the pieces in and out of the box and in and out of the containers at random. She also tried to pour them. This inspired me to show her how to pour dry rice, but that’s another post.

As boredom sets in, mix up different types of materials. In our case we placed the pasta shells and the rocks in the same box. I demonstrated how to make different piles with each item, first on the table, then in the plastic containers.

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Sonja didn’t follow suit, but that is ok. I will demonstrate again next time and observe how she may, or may not, learn to sort.

Once sorting becomes an activity, the choices are limitless. When my older boy was 2 1/2, we used an egg carton and placed different sized and different coloured lego pieces into each egg cup. We learned counting and colours that way. Dry beans of different colours work as well.