Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pumpkin Week

We have been enjoying lots of fall-themed activities already this month, so it wasn't a huge surprise when the sprouts requested to have  Pumpkin Week next. It was a great opportunity to work on some science and math, in addition to enjoying pumpkin-themed read alouds.
Measuring the circumference of our pumpkin.

We started off the week by reading Pick a Pumpkin, Mrs. Millie! and making some delicious chocolate-chip pumpkin bread (because even pumpkin bread is better with chocolate).
Thankfully the kids liked cleaning the pumpkin out more than I do!

Then we enjoyed reading Pumpkin Day! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. We also took the time to observe and measure a pumpkin using non-standard and standard measurements.
First sprout made the excellent choice to group the seeds by tens, we ended up with 750 total-- whew!

After reading How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? By Margaret McNamara, we made observations about the inside of a pumpkin, estimated the numbers of seeds, and counted them. The sprouts were so excited about carving a jack-o-lantern, that we went ahead and did it the same day even though I had planned on saving it for when we read Five Little Pumpkins.
Appropriately spooky pumpkin face. The sprouts have named him "Wicked Jack."

Pumpkin Week isn't over yet, but we have zipped through all of the big activities I had planned. Tomorrow will probably be time for us to write about the steps to carve a pumpkin, and maybe do some more baking (I'm thinking pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting!). If the weather cooperates, we will probably head to the local pumpkin patch for even more fun.

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

25 Super Spelling Activities (Plus 6 More!)

While we spend a lot of time learning through play (which I wrote about here and here), we also spend time on more "traditional" school activities. One thing that I work on a lot with First Sprout is spelling because I feel like spelling and word work provides the necessary "tools" for reading and writing. First Sprout loves to read and writes stories, but learning the steps has been a real struggle. This year, I really want to make sure that she gets a strong base knowledge of word building so that she can apply it throughout her journey as a learner.

With that in mind, I created a series of spelling lists featuring one common spelling pattern each week, progressing from C-V-C words (short vowels) all the way to long vowels. I also try to match our guided reading for the week to the spelling pattern that we are practicing. This provides a natural and effective way of reinforcing the skill. Thankfully, First Sprout is used to this approach to reading and word work from her time in private school last year, so it's easy for us to maintain the routine. She also really enjoys the sense of progress at the end of the week when she can spell her words and read the book; she is motivated to practice!
Number 21: Build the words with magnetic letters.

Today, I thought I'd share some of the ideas and activities we have used (or plan to use) for practicing spelling words...

25 Super Spelling Activities

1. Write or paste words into a Word Journal
2. Create flashcards with pictures on the front and the word on the back
3. Incorporate spelling words into a scenic picture
4. Write the words with vowels in red and consonants in blue
5. Use Elkonin boxes to visualize the shape of the word
6. Write the words in shaving cream
7. Trace words in a sand tray or on sand paper
8. Use PlayDoh or modeling clay to form words (or cut them out with letter cutters)
9. Paint or stamp the words
10. Write the words in the shower with bathtub-friendly crayons
11. Trace the words in a sensory salt tray or rice tray
12. On-the-back writing (Write a word-- one letter at a time--on someone else's back. Then, switch places and guess the word your partner traces on your back.)
13. Form the words using ASL Fingerspelling
14. Bounce a ball or yourself while spelling the word (one bounce per letter)
15. Elbow writing (Use the point of your elbow to trace the word in the air.)
16. Rainbow writing (Use three colors to trace over the word.)
17, Write a story (or sentences) using the words
18. Email a story (or sentences) using the words
19. Write the words on a real or digital scratch pad (We like this one for our tablet.)
20. Write with sidewalk chalk
21. Build the words with magnetic letters
22. Build the words with Tinker Toys
23. Do a Word Search or Crossword puzzle
24. Turn the words into a song
25. Have a good-ol'- fashioned spelling bee!

Plus 6 More!

26. Write the words in ABC order.
27. Trace the words on a homemade sensory bag (You can make one by filling a Ziploc bag with dish soap or hair gel.)
28. Build the words with blocks (Thank you, Heidi!) or letter tiles.
29. Spell the words while swinging (Each time the swing goes up, say a letter-- also thank to Heidi!)
30. Write the words as triangles or pyramids, with each row adding one letter of the word (Thank you, Aubrey!)
31. Turn spelling words into a math activity like this one from Teacher by the Beach (Thanks, Jen!)

Number 19: Use a Scratch Pad app for a tablet or smart phone.
I hope these ideas for practicing spelling prove fun and useful. I tried to incorporate ideas for all kinds of learners (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) since it is helpful to practice with activities that meet your child's learning style AND with activities that challenge their style as well. I'd love to get more ideas on what other teachers and families do for spelling with first graders, so please feel free to leave comments!

Happy Learning!

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Learning Through Play

The more I think about the value of learning through play and the unique opportunities we have to use play as a homeschooling family, the more I am trying to find opportunities to make that option available. As I mentioned previously, sometimes the sprouts have different ideas about what they want to learn from play than I do. I am trying really hard to relax some of my expectations and simply observe what they are doing.

This week, the sprouts were clamoring for toys. They wanted toys from their favorite TV shows and movies (in our case, Wild Kratts and Frozen) so that they could incorporate these characters into their play. At first, I tried to talk them into playing with toys that they already had, Or, maybe we could find some other ways to play that I felt would be more constructive-- books, puzzles, blocks, etc.

But then I reminded myself to step back and think about what they were asking.

They were familiar with a set of characters and stories. First Sprout is especially of enamored with Wild Kratts and learns so much from their shows that it's amazing. I am also super familiar with the characters from Frozen, and I have used the dialogue and songs to connect with them playfully (we wrote a ballad about going to the grocery store to the tune of "Let It Go"). Maybe what they were telling me by asking for the toys is that really they wanted more opportunities to engage with the stories and characters. Maybe we could use this as a learning opportunity!

Interestingly enough, Common Core has broadened the definition of "text" to include a wider range of multi-media material. So technically, we could look examine Frozen for story elements or use it as a basis for re-telling. In the same vein of thinking, we could discuss the difference between fact and fiction in Wild Kratts and explore some science standards too.

The whole idea of taking our screen time and using it to build more learning opportunities really appealed to me because I am already in the habit of watching with them and incorporating what they see into real-world situations. Also, to be honest, I love cartoons.

The glaring problem is that I don't want to buy a lot of extra toys, nor do I want to store them. Then I had an idea while we were talking about Halloween costumes. What if we dressed up dolls that we already have to look like characters the sprouts wanted?

I am a huge fan of Hearts for Hearts dolls for their multiculturalism and humanitarian efforts. Also, they are ridiculously cute and thankfully in my price range. We have been slowly collecting the dolls for the last year and a half, so we have a lots of clothes (both purchased and made) for them as well. Here's what we came up with:

Zelia is dress up as Anna using a motley combination of clothes from other Hearts for Hearts dolls. We didn't really have anything that matched Elsa's dress closely enough, so Second Sprout helped me find suitable fabric from my stash to make a dress. It's not authentic, but it's close enough for imaginary play!
We also dressed Consuelo and Rahel up as Aviva and Koki, respectively, from Wild Kratts. We used a mix of clothes from other dolls and clothes that I made previously to create the "costumes"
The sprouts embraced this plan so whole-heartedly that I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out that they didn't just want toys because of the influence of rampant consumerism; they really wanted the ability to process information they had learned and stories they had seen through play. Although we spend a part of each school day doing more traditional work, we were also able to spend a good part of the day dressing and playing with the dolls. The sprouts spent a lot of time analyzing the characters (in both appearance and action) and creating their settings. It was really amazing to watch them play, and I learned a lot by noticing what they re-created.

As a result, I am more resolved than ever to find more ways to learn through play as part of our homeschooling journey. I am also interested in exploring ways to make our media usage an avenue for learning as well. We don't watch tons of TV, but maybe I will feel less guilty about what we do watch if I am more thoughtful about what we are learning from it.

We are always learning in unexpected and exciting ways! This why I am grateful to be doing what I do where I am right now.

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Changing Leaves

Mother Nature is ready for a change of wardrobe. Even though we have seen a few leaves changing here and there, this morning we woke up to lots of color all of the sudden. To celebrate, the sprouts and I headed off to the downtown park for a walk and some play time.

Happy Learning!