Tuesday, 29 April 2014

What to do with a budding interest?

Finn started being curious about dinosaurs a few weeks ago. I observed him, noticed the very start of an interest emerge, and stood back. I interacted with him about them but did not offer any additional activity. His interest faded away in a couple of days and he forgot about dinosaurs.
His interest was revived when a friend lent him three large dinosaur models and we visited a dinosaur park. I observed once again, but this time decided to step in slightly to support his interest. I supplied him with good quality dinosaur models (from Schleich) which he loves so much he had a nap with yesterday! I let him watch a short dinosaur cartoon which he really enjoyed too and has been asking to watch again. He spontaneously matched his dinosaurs to pictures in a book.
We made this dinosaur land together and he loved watching me use the dinos as props to tell a story. He recreated the stories himself afterwards, with dramatic effects!

We used left over Easter eggs as dinosaur eggs and they were a big part of the play as some of the dinosaurs kept trying to steal the poor Triceratops mummy's eggs!

The Spinosaurus (that one is not Schleich, it belonged to Finn's daddy when he was a child) was definitely the meanie in the story as he even tried to eat the Triceratops mummy after gobbling up all her eggs!

I'm not sure how much more input I should have in this interest of his. We're off to the library this afternoon to find some dinosaur books and I think that's all I'll do with him for this topic, at this moment. The risk in being over present is to steal the interest from the child, which makes them feel out of control and lowers their self-esteem instead of increasing it. At two years old, I want to keep things simple so as not to put him off the whole topic. How much information does a two year old need? How much adult guidance? I have found many ideas of dinosaur-related activities that would be suitable for his age, but I think I'm going to have to practice my self-control and put a leash on my enthusiasm for now!
What is your approach to supporting your child's interests? Do you stand back? Look to Pinterest for ideas on the topic? Plan related activities/visits? Do you consciously try to keep things simple? I would love to have your feedback on this as this is an area where I lack experience!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A few articles I enjoyed

I read a lot of online articles about education and here is a selection of the ones that got me thinking recently.

Montessori articles:

I really loved this one about the importance of uninterrupted work time in a school environment or at home, for adults and children alike.

I recently got confused when a friend told me she was looking for a play-based preschool for her daughter. I wasn't sure what she meant! Here is an article about work vs play in the early years.

Aubrey from Montessori Mischief has also addressed the debate in her article Do Children Work or Play?

Moral education:

Some surprising study outcomes on children's moral behaviour and how best we can support their development in this area.

And lastly, are we giving our children a conflicting message when it comes to the importance of consent?

What are the best articles you have read about education? Please share your links!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Art appreciation: Favourite ressources

Finn has been interested in paintings for a few months now and really enjoys his few books about art. I thought I would share them with you today as they are all books that I would recommend for any family. Please note that I do not link to any online retail shop but to the publishers of the books. I suggest you check whether your local independent bookshop can get them for you, or check your library catalogue.

The Mini Masters series is how it all began for us. There are four sturdy board books, each dedicated to a particular artist. A selection of paintings is used to tell a rhyming story. What a great way to engage children! This collection was a love at first sight for me and Finn adores them. They would make a fantastic gift for a one-year-old.
The I Spy collection is just as engaging for young children (I would say from 18 months). Whether your child is interested in animals, transports, numbers, colours or shapes, there is a book for everyone. The objects to find vary in difficulty, keeping the children's interest high. One thing to note is that the paintings selected are lesser known masterpieces, with a wide variety of styles and origins.

More recently, Finn discovered the Katie series. Katie is a little girl who loves going to galleries and always ends up having adventures with the characters and objects found in the paintings. A highly entertaining and playful collection, full of action and fun, based on a variety of art movements and topics. The title and artists of the artworks are always mentioned in the story. The books are not short and there is a lot of text, so these books would be best suited to 2-year-olds onwards.We are looking forward to discovering more of Katie's stories! Do check out James Mayhew's website, the man is fascinating.
Lastly, Finn has been really enjoying these Usborne Famous Paintings cards. These cards are such a good investment. The first thing I did when we got them was to photocopy them to make matching cards and bingo cards. They are just the right size for little hands, and very sturdy. Great to display or play with! Finn likes to sit and look through them all, observing all the details. I sometimes sit with him and tell him the titles and artists names, which are printed on the back with some more information about each painting. Recently he has been inspired by the cards to make up stories. For example, he says that the screaming man (The Scream by Munch) is running away from the tiger (in The surprise by Rousseau), or that the lady in Un bar aux Folies Bergeres (Manet) is tired and wants to go to bed.

These few ressources have been wonderful for us as they have really accompanied Finn in his discovery of art and sparked his interest. His eyes light up when he recognises a painting when out and about and he points excitedly!
I would love to know about your favourite art appreciation books and activities. Please share any links and ideas!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Three simple sound games

Here are a few ideas for three simple sound games you can play at home with your child. Sound games help your child develop their hearing skills, as well as their attention and concentration. Developing these skills from an early age will give them a headstart in language, literacy and music.

1. Guess which instrument I'm playing (from 18 months onwards)
Depending on your child's age, select a number of instruments (2 or 3 for a young child, 5 or 6 for an older toddler). For the first few times, make sure they vary greatly in the sounds they produce. For example, choose a shaker and a xylophone rather than a shaker and jingle bells. Display the instruments and let your child explore them and remind themselves of the sound they make. Ask your child to turn around while you play one of the instruments. Replace it in its original position. Ask your child which instrument they think made the sound. Can they make the same sound?

2. Guess the sound (from 2 years onwards)

Sit in a familiar room with your child. Ask them to close their eyes, or use a blindfold. It may be easier for some children to turn around and look away as not all children are comfortable keeping their eyes closed. While the child cannot see you, make a noise using some familiar objects from the room. The noise can be a cupboard door opening and closing, some Lego being clipped together and unclipped, a heavy object being dragged on the floor, a small bell ringing... anything that you know your child can identify. After the sound has been made, be sure to silently replace any items you used in their original place. Ask your child what they think the sound they heard was. Can they reproduce it?
3. Where's the telephone? (from 2 years onwards)
For this game, you need a cordless phone with a base that has a button that you press to find the phone. A beeping sound is emitted from the handset, helping you to find it. Ask your child to wait in the room where the phone base is set while you go hide the handset in a different room. Make sure it is not too far from the room your child is waiting in, and easily visible. Ask your child to press the button on the base and listen out for the beeping sound coming from the telephone. The louder, the closer! Encourage your child to listen to the beeping attentively to try and find out where it is coming from.
What sound games do you play with your child? Please add to our list!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A shadow theatre

I was completely inspired by my latest read (about one of the most likely technique used by prehistoric men to draw on cave walls) to try this shadow theatre at home.
It's a simple panel a cardboard with a large piece of paper taped over a frame cut in the middle. We use Finn's toys such as stuffed animals or Schleich animals to create stories from the shadows. We have also made a few silhouette shapes for some extras we needed (a crocodile, a man and a dinosaur). You can print some beautiful silhouettes off the Internet by Googling what you need. 

Finn loves crocodiles at the moment so we have had a few crocodile stories!

Here is Finn's dad telling a story using footsteps sounds by tapping a stick against the floor. Suspense!

Classic nursery rhymes such as Two Little Dickie Birds have found a new life!

And of course, YOU can be in the story too!

It doesn't need to be fancy, stories don't need to have a beginning or an end, not even a plot! Finn has had so much fun creating scenes of crocodile-eat-man/ man-eat-bird/ dinosaur-eat-finger!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A quick animal habitat activity

I gave Finn two containers, one filled with water, the other with soil. Handing him one of six animal figures, I asked him: "Does it live in the water or on the ground?" He understood right away and enjoyed sorting the animals according to their habitat. He was waiting for each new animal with such anticipation!
Using real water, real soil and objects to manipulate as opposed to photographs contributed to making the game appealing for Finn. He loved playing with the animals afterwards and repeating the exercise by himself. Simple but effective!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Our snail garden

The weather here has been rather wet recently, and Finn didn't fail to notice snails appearing everywhere outside! We made a snail den at the park yesterday but the worse weather today prompted us to take the snails inside for a bit of company and a closer look.
Finn loved his two jobs: spray water on the snails regularly, and catch any escapees before they made it out of the box!

We made a pretty garden for the snails with treasure found outside but they were quick to destroy it! Who would have thought those small, slow creatures could change their environment so much in so little time?

We have a snail story in my family. A long time ago, my dad kept pet snails in a big fish tank at home. He was proud to show his dad and step mother one evening as they were spending a couple of days there. That evening, for the first time, my dad forgot to replace the lid of the tank. His step mother got up early the next morning and SCREAMED! There were snails all over the house! On the floor, on the walls, on the sofa, on the breakfast table, dozens of snails everywhere! That is why my dad's house is now called Snail House.

Keeping snails at home brings back such fond memories of doing this with my brother as a child. Snails really have played a part in my childhood, and not just because I'm French! (we don't eat them, by the way)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Using matching cards to enhance your child's interests

Finn has loved matching cards ever since he was a very young toddler. Quickly moving on from a set of four pairs to more than ten pairs, he couldn't seem to get enough!

His concentration really improved through working with the matching cards and our collection grew steadily as I made more sets to match his interests.

I only ever display two sets of cards at once and rotate them on a regular basis.
He has always loved animals, so I made sets of different species. Insects, birds, pets, farm animals... Even different types inside a species, such as dog breeds when he had a strong interest in dogs. I always named each animal or breed as he matched the cards and he now enjoys recognising dog breeds in the street.
I make the cards using images found on Google, which I then get print online. I am very strict in my image selection and have spent many hours looking for images with particular characteristics: The object I want must be alone, clearly visible in its entirety, set against a plain-ish background, and the picture must be of excellent quality. Believe it or not, I enjoy the challenge and I am always rewarded with matching cards of exceptional quality and appeal. 

Finn's most recent interest being music instruments, I made two sets of matching cards for him which he can use together or independently: Instruments on a white background and instruments being played by people. He has learnt the correct way of holding each instrument by looking at the pictures and the names of a lot of them. The next step for me is to make a game to match the sounds to the instruments!

As my matching cards shoe box was getting a bit too full recently, I had the idea of storing some of them in my continent boxes. This works great in our Africa box as our "People from Africa" and "Animals from Africa" contribute to giving Finn an idea of life on that continent. It also gives him something to "do" while exploring the boxes. He has really enjoyed matching his Schleich African animals to the pictures.

Yet another way in which we have used matching cards is for Finn to be exposed to a large vocabulary in his three languages. I always say the words in French, his dad in English, and his au pair/babysitters in German. This has been an efficient and playful approach to languages for us so far.

Finn enjoying a game of matching model frogs to their corresponding pictures.

Does your child enjoy matching cards? Do you make yours or buy them? 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: A story basket

I got inspired by The Very Hungry Caterpillar colouring book to create story props to go with the book.

I coloured, cut out and laminated the illustrations before cutting a hole in each of the pieces so that they could be threaded onto a small plastic caterpillar.
I used a butterfly life cycle set I bought for this purpose.

I superglued a piece of string onto the end of my slimmer caterpillar and knotted a large bead at the other end of the string to stop the laminated foodstuff falling out.

Finn loves me to tell the story while he threads the corresponding pieces onto the caterpillar, making realistic "nom nom" noise effects!
This activity helps him understand the sequence of events in a story as the pictures in the book remind him of the order in which the caterpillar eats its food. Sometimes, his caterpillar eats it in the exact same order as in the book, while at other times, it would rather eat the ice cream cone and chocolate cake first! I wonder if that has anything to do with Finn's hunger at the time of the activity!
And when the caterpillar is full, full, full... it makes a nice snuggly cocoon around itself (I wrap my arms tightly around Finn), stays inside for a while (we wait and we wait and we wait...), makes a little hole in the cocoon (Finn pokes a finger between my arms) and comes out all the way to reveal a beautiful butterfly fluttering around the room!
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