Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Flaps, rhymes, transparencies: Appealing fact books for young children

Finn has always been very much into books. He has an extensive and ever growing library of children's fiction and non-fiction books. While he loves stories, he also enjoys books about his favourite topics. He has been asking a lot of questions about various topics and one way to acknowledge his curiosity and respond to it has been to provide him with non-fiction books that specifically address his questionings.
 
We have been buying our fact books mainly from four children's books collections. Here is an overview of what we especially like about each series.
 
The "First discovery" books are published by Moonlight publishing in the UK, Gallimard Jeunesse in France, and Scholastic in the US. Follow this link to know more about the books.
 
These books are simple, short, and suitable for children aged 2.5+ I would say. The illustrations are beautiful and they have transparent pages that add to the appeal. The topics are quite varied: animals, buildings, sports, physics, biology... The simplicity of the information given is a great advantage of this series. The facts are well chosen to appeal to young children, with the last page linking the topic to something real in the child's life to extend the child's learning. We own quite a few of these books, and Finn uses them a lot. They are quite special to me as I had a few as a child.
 
"My first discoveries" also include Torchlight books. These include a white paper "torch" that you slide underneath a dark page to reveal what lives underground, for example. Extremely appealing to young children!

"Bears," My First Discoveries Books




Finn and I have fallen in love with The Cat in the Hat's learning library books. The well-known character of the Cat in the Hat is a reassuring, friendly figure for a young child, and of course the text rhymes! To me, the rhyming text is the main reason why we keep buying the books. It really flows and is a pleasure to the ears, while at the same time delivering fascinating facts. We have three of these books, "Inside your outside", "Fine Feathered Friends" and "Oh say, Can you say dinosaur". The first two are outstanding in originality and offer many little-known facts while being highly engaging. They are both written by Tish Rabe. "Oh say, can you say, dinosaur" is written by Bonnie Worth. I would say this particular book is not as high quality as the other two. The storyline is not as appealing and there are fewer facts. It's still one of Finn's favourites though!
 
"Oh say, can you say, dinosaur?" by The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library

Usborne books, in particular the series Look Inside and See Inside, are truly wonderful. Both series are "lift-the-flap" books, each aimed at a particular age group. Look Inside is for children aged 4+ while See Inside is for children aged 6+. With many topics to choose from, funny, honest illustrations, these fact-filled books are irresistible. We go from surprise to surprise with those books; a flap inside a flap, inside a flap? We borrowed "Look Inside your body" from a friend when Finn had an interest in skeletons a few months ago, but he loved it so much we had to buy our own copy. It was his bedtime book for weeks and he asked many questions about all body functions, not just skeletons, which were his original interest. Recently I found several "See inside" books at a charity shop. I bought them all regardless of topic, which has proved the right decision as Finn has been interested in all of them, even when he hadn't shown an interest in the topic before. Pirates, Houses Long ago, Underground, Atlas, The Ocean... The books are so appealing he couldn't resist! The Usborne website has plenty of information about the books available and even includes previews.

"Look Inside Your Body", Usborne
 
Finally, we turn to "Let's read and find out about Science" books when Finn has a specific question. The most recent example I have is when he asked "Can we make molecules?" I try not to give him definite answers but instead offer him the information he needs to figure it out for himself. The book "What is the world made of, all about solids, liquids and gases" has been perfect to give him an introduction to the facts he needs. Like the Usborne series, they come in two collections; Stage 1 is aimed at preschool children and Stage 2 is for primary age children. The book we have is a Stage 2 book and even though it was made for children a couple of years older than Finn, it seems quite suitable for a child like him who likes to know the details about everything. The book proposes experiments, which really grab Finn's attention and make the topic alive and relevant to him. The amount of subjects covered is mind blowing. They have six different books just about dinosaurs! Each focuses on a more specific topic relating to the dinosaurs. Talk about in-depth exploration!
 
"What is the world made of?" from the collection Let's Read and Find Out about Science

Which fact books do you like? Do you have any recommendations?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

How long is a year?

How long is a month? A year? When is my birthday? Do you remember when it snowed? How many sleeps until... ?
 
The passing of time is a difficult notion for little ones to grasp, but essential if they are to exercise some control over their existence. The idea of past, present and future is one that can only be understood through personal experience.
 
We marked the beginning of 2015 with the introduction of a yearly timeline. Finn had been asking a lot about when Christmas or his birthday would be, so it seemed right to start introducing tools to learn about the passing of time. I found a very good download here but chose to make our labels for days myself as I wanted them to be colourful. Each day has its own colour, which really helps Finn see a pattern when he looks back at past days. Each label simply has the name of one of the seven days of the week handwritten on it.
 

Every morning, Finn enjoys figuring out what day it is by looking back at the colour pattern and reciting the names of the days. Then we say the date together.



The timeline is very long on purpose, as its length gives the child a visual impression of how long a year is. It covers two of the walls in our bedroom. At the moment it is clearly visible that about half a year has gone by.


We also use the timeline to mark future events like a birthday party, departure for holiday or a relative's birthday so that Finn can easily count the days until the event. I chose to write the description rather than use symbols even though Finn can't read fluently yet. He is curious about writing so this is another opportunity for him to try and decipher.


We store the day labels as well as blank event labels in a compartmented box that is inviting and easy to use. Everything is laminated so that it can be used year after year.
 
This year I am consciously keeping the timeline simple as Finn is just 3 and a half and it is the first year we have had one. Next year I would like to add photos of events and display them on the wall with a thin line of tape showing the day they were taken. I think adding a new element each year will allow us to keep up with Finn's understanding as well as keeping it interesting for him.  
 
Do you use a timeline? A weekly/monthly calendar? I'd love to know what other families are doing to help their children understand the concept of time. Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

With or without Montessori


When Finn was a baby, I enjoyed thinking about how I would set up his Montessori learning space in the future, what kind of activities he would enjoy and whether we would have a reserved time each day for Montessori works. I admired bloggers who managed to set aside 3 hours each day for Montessori, in a beautiful prepared environment, with high quality materials and planned presentations for each child. I never imagined not doing Montessori as it seemed the best educational philosophy, encompassing everything a child needs to grow healthily in mind and body. I could only hope I would be able to pull it off!
 
As Finn grew up, I offered him the number rods, spindle box, sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, objects to play I spy and spell, and more. These were specifically to support numeracy and literacy.
 
He has rarely used them. He has (almost) never used any of those independently, and when I suggest he does, he refuses.
 
 
Yet he can count, he can spell and read simple words. I stopped suggesting he uses materials *I* find interesting a while ago, and instead just let him be. I observe him mentally working but still not touching the materials. I frequently hear things like "s-l-u-g. slug" while muttering to himself in bed, or "c-a-s. castle. Mummy how do you spell castle?" The other day he did use the moveable alphabet after he had decided, out of the blue at 10 pm, to spell the word Norway in French (his favourite country). He did a great job. So yes, he has used it, for what must be the first time in six months. He just doesn't seem to have a need for it.
 
He doesn't use sandpaper letters but he will happily and spontaneously trace whole book titles and ask me for the correct way to do it. He notices how some fonts differ, and I have come to see the benefit of being exposed to many ways of writing early on: a much more rich and interesting experience! I feel he chooses to live in the real world when what I originally offered him was limiting, classroom-type pedagogical materials.
 
For a few months he has been spontaneously creating his own "author study" by exploring his Roald Dahl audio book collection. First he couldn't go a day without listening to The BFG. He would ask so many questions about unknown words. Always listening intently, fully focused, sitting still for more than an hour. Then he got to Fantastic Mr Fox, again staying with it until he had extracted all useful information from it. Now he is onto The Enormous Crocodile, which he listens to at home, and asks me to read to him as well. I estimate he must have heard the story 20 times in the last 3 weeks, at the very least. I feel this exposes him to a very rich vocabulary. I can definitely observe a sensitive period for language, and Roald Dahl is meeting his needs. If he was going to school/preschool, I doubt he would be exposed to books with such complicated plots and varied, unusual words at his age (3.5 years old), while having enough quiet time to study them deeply.

As for numeracy, his dad and I agree that he doesn't seem to need any specific support. We are not disappointed that he shows no interest in the number rods, intrigued rather, because he shows us everyday that yes, he can count. He can do simple addition and subtraction. He has a good understanding of quantities. He recognises numerals. Most comes from everyday living. Baking, shopping, sharing food, measuring, weighing, building with unit blocks, conversations... He knows what he needs to know right now, which is how it should be.
 
With or without Montessori.



Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Cathedrals, strawberries and foxes (and more!)

I'm afraid this post is going to be a bit of a muddle. Just a snapshot of a few things we have been doing.
 
A few weeks ago, we tried Paint Dough, from the book First Art by Mary-Ann Kohl that I have mentioned previously.
 
It's basically liquid salt dough with paint added. It's perfect! Squeeze directly out of the bottle onto a sturdy surface. The colours don't mix and you can layer the paint. A nice experience!
 


We went on holiday recently and since we came back, Finn has been building with his blocks as if he had never seen them before! The picture below shows his model of Europe, decorated with artefacts from our Europe continent box.


A few days ago, freshly out of bed, he told me he would like to build a church with his blocks. We looked at pictures of churches and cathedrals in some books, and Notre Dame cathedral caught his eye. He recognised it from the book The man who walked between the towers. I showed him an interactive visit to Notre Dame on our tablet so that he would get a sense of its shape and size.


Below is what he built. It has no depth at all, the blocks are arranged on a line. But if you look closely, you will see what he worked on: Symmetry. That's what he got from looking at the pictures in the books. I feel that this is just the start of a bigger exploration of architecture. He seems really interested in visiting a real church as well, which we will do very soon. I'm thinking about taking drawing materials with us on our visit so we can truly observe the symmetry that interests him so much.


Strawberries are ready! So much fun on our first Pick your own visit of the season. There was lots of talk about how strawberries grow and why the plants at the farm look nothing like the ones in our garden (sigh...)


A couple of evenings ago, as I was lying in bed with Finn to help him settle down, I remembered how I would count to 10 before leaving when he was younger, and how that simple routine had taught him to count. I thought he could count to 11 or 12 now, so I asked him if he would like to do some counting with me. He agreed and I said I would count to 13, and then it would be his turn. He listened to me carefully. When it was his turn, he counted all the way up to... 19! Without hesitation, without a mistake! We both laughed so much as neither of us knew he could do that! It was a really sweet moment. Over the next days it was apparent to me that he was more confident with numbers as he couldn't stop counting things.  
 
He has also shown an interest in clocks, so to help him learn to read a clock (we have ordered this one for him), I thought I could see if he was interested in learning the symbols for higher numbers, starting with teens.
 
I have been thinking that he may enjoy our DIY version of the Montessori coloured stair (I would like him to become familiar with it so I can introduce Seguin Board A, to learn about teen symbols). I got it out with no expectations - it seems to be the only way anything may work nowadays - and he really got into it!
 
I showed the bead bars to him in the triangle shape before mixing them all up for him to build the triangle by himself again. He has never, ever, been interested in the number rods, so I wasn't sure at all this would be appealing to him, but it was! He sweetly commented on how nice the pink bar looks :)
 
After he had finished the triangle, we did a bit of a memory game to associate the number of beads to the colours as it will help him with the Seguin Board later on. He could remember the colours of the first four bars but lost interest afterwards. I was quite pleased with how this presentation went nonetheless!


And lastly, Finn and I have been reading Fantastic Mr Fox for the second time in a few weeks. He is understanding the story and role of each character differently this time. This morning he recreated a scene from the book in his sandpit. There you can see the three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, who have stick guns in their hands, and an excavator digging away at the hill where Mr Fox and his family are hiding. Finn really surprised me when he made his own version of the story where the farmers get the fox! (In case the story is unfamiliar to you, the foxes are supposed to get away!)


A lot more has been going on here for us, with plenty of learning and new experiences, but that will have to wait for another post.

Friday, 12 June 2015

A quick cooperative number game

 
Finn and I played a fun game today following one of those increasingly rare strikes of inspiration!
 
This is a game that includes movement, memory, number recognition, speed and cooperation.
 
You will need:
 
- a timer (I used my phone)
- two sets of numeral cards
 
 Preparation:
 
One set of cards remains at one end of the house (downstairs for example), mixed up and face down. The other set is placed at the other end of the house (upstairs for us), face up, in a row. 
 
 

You and your child play together to beat the timer. Set the timer to 5 minutes. Both of you sit by the scattered pile of face down number cards. Pick one each, trace it, and race to the other end of the house as fast as you can to get the matching one! You are not allowed to bring the card you turned over with you, you have to remember it. When you get back downstairs, place the two matching cards together and turn over a new number. Continue in this way until all the cards have been matched and you have beaten the timer!

Excitement guaranteed! (not recommended right before bedtime)

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Investigating seeds



I am finally writing a new post! Blogging is easy when you get into a routine but as soon as I get off the wagon I find it hard to get back onto it again.
 
I thought I would show you what we have been up to recently. I try to follow Finn's interests closely. He has some deep, long term interests (dinosaurs and trains) and others that are more seasonal, more fleeting.
 
Interestingly, he has been asking to do activities about dinosaurs and trains but what I offer never seems to quite satisfy his desires. Mostly, he just wants to talk about his and ours favourite trains and dinosaurs, and I think he revels in hearing names and facts he already knows rather than learning new information. I assume hearing the same dino or train related vocabulary reassures him in some way and helps him feel secure and confident in his knowledge.
 
Things are different when it comes to his more short term interests. Recently he became really interested in insects. We made an insect table with models, books, caterpillar habitat, insect cards... and watched videos to answer his questions about insects. It was intense but short lived. He did learn a lot, and maybe because he had learnt so much, needed to take a break. We cleared the table for a couple of weeks.
 
Then I caught him curiously dissecting his peas and beans at the dinner table. Not just once. He also investigated any seed pod he found outside and was really interested in flowers. Our next area of investigation had been found, and we set up our seed table.
 
I like to keep things simple, so we have three books, some blossom, beans on a tray, a magnifying glass, microscope, and a lovely poem about seeds.
 
Here is the poem:
 
The Little Plant
 
In the heart of a seed,
Buried deep so deep,
A tiny plant
Lay fast asleep.

"Wake," said the sunshine,
"And creep to the light."
"Wake," said the voice
Of the raindrops bright.

The little plant heard
And it rose to see,
What the wonderful,
Outside world might be.


I didn't write it, and haven't found an author for it.


 
We talked about what a seed may look like, and what it needs to grow. We cut up fruit to find the seeds inside, planted the pips found in an apple, soaked seeds in water to see what would happen, looked at them closely with our microscope...
 

and dissected them! This chart is a printable from Playful Learning. I recommend the lesson "Seeds: an inside edition" which we used.

 
More ideas for Finn to explore seeds further are:
 
- Going on a seed hunt
- Planting seeds in different environments to find out which is most suitable for healthy growth
- Digging deeper into the many ways that seeds travel
- Finding out the connection between seeds and insects
 
 We'll just see where he wants to take his interest to and I will follow the best I can.
 
What have your children been interested in at the moment? Have you also noticed interests at different levels that require different approaches?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Coconut and cranberry snack balls - recipe


The website This Rawsome Vegan Life has changed the way I cook and bake. Its author, Emily, has shown me that you can make all sorts of foods that are healthy for your body without destroying the planet or causing unnecessary suffering. I bought her "Rawsome Vegan Baking" cookbook and have been amazed at the possibilities. I urge anyone to go and have a look at her website.
 
I have tried many of the recipes both from the blog and from the book. They are all so easy and almost impossible to fail! They are perfect for Finn to work on alongside me. I find myself so much more relaxed in the kitchen preparing raw food than when baking with the oven or hob, having to check the temperature, making sure Finn is always at a safe distance, making sure the food isn't either undercooked or overcooked, letting it cool, etc.
 
With raw recipes, all of this anxiety needn't be. We can really take our time and bake together peacefully.
 
The wonderful thing about Emily's recipes is that they have taught me to bake delicious raw, vegan treats. They have taught me to trust myself and have a go at mixing ingredients following my instinct. Raw food is so easily fixable if you make a mistake. Too wet? Add a bit more oats. Too dry? Try some dates. I used to dislike cooking because of all the possible mistakes I could make along the way. Now I find it a lot more fun!
 
I made these coconut and cranberry snack balls the other day. From scratch! I'm amazed that I can do that. They are so delicious!

 

I'm really proud to share my first recipe on this blog. I hope you try it!

Coconut and cranberry snack balls

(You need a blender for this)

Ingredients:

1 cup of porridge oats
1 tbsp of maple syrup
1/2 cup of cashews
2tbsps of melted coconut oil
1/4 cup of cranberries
1/4 cup of ground almonds
1/4 cup dessicated coconut + a bit more for sprinkling on top

Blend the oats, cashews and almonds together into a powder. Add the cranberries and dessicated coconut. Blend. Add in the melted coconut oil and the maple syrup. Blend again.

Spoon out onto a clean surface and roll into walnut-sized balls. Sprinkle with a bit of dessicated coconut.

So easy!


Finn did most of the work by himself. To my surprise, he managed to roll a few balls evenly. It must be all the playdough practice!

The snack balls are so delicious, and a healthy snack too!

I would love to know if you try this recipe.
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