Friday, July 31, 2015

Reading to Infants Builds Brain Development - There's a Shocker

Wow. According to this report, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that two-thirds of America's children can't read proficiently the end of 3rd grade. As a public school teacher, I can tell you that, yes, that's probably about right. Hmmm, maybe we should focus on teaching children to read and not on requiring children to compare and contrast themes of books written by the same author, describe characters in terms of traits and motivations, or explain how specific aspects of a text's illustrations contribute to creating mood in a story (all real Common Core standards for 3rd graders).

Funniest Thing My Daughter Said This Week...

"Mom, why wasn't I born in a stable?"

Misheard Lyrics

Last night, we were reading a nursery rhyme book, and we got to "Ring a ring o' roses, a pocketful of posies, a-tishoo, a-tishoo, we all fall down," and my daughter said, Oh, that's like the song:
Ring around the rosies, a pumpkin full of posies...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charlotte Mason Composition: What's a Precis?

Charlotte Mason's Form III students wrote something called a precis. But what's that?

A precis (pronounced pray-see) is:
an abstract or epitome of the essential facts or statements of a work, retaining the order of the original               - A Handbook to Literature by Harmon & Hollman
The precis is a summary of a whole work, which means that a child needs to know how to summarize before attempting this composition task. (One of the misunderstandings out there is that the whole of Mason's composition pedagogy was just writing narrations, longer and longer narrations. But this isn't true. CM composition tasks, of course, get more complex as a student gets older.)

oral narration --> written narration --> summary --> precis

Again, a precis is written after reading a whole work, while a narration and a summary can be written after reading only part of a book. So, in some ways, it's similar to a book report. (In a lot of ways it's very different, but let's use the idea of a book report because we all know what that is.)

There are several ways to write precis (plural of precis is pronounced pray-seez), and I'm working on some future posts about this.

What about you? Do you have your child write precis?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How to Plan a Preschool Field Day

How do you plan a field day for preschoolers?

Well, here's how my husband and I did it...

1. Start with a story.
What better story to read than The Hare and the Tortoise? It's probably the most well-known tale about a race, and it has an important message for preschoolers: Be a good sport. It's not nice to brag and try to make other people feel bad. We're also supposed to feel happy for our friends when they're happy. Lastly, sports are supposed to be fun, plain and simple.
2. Discuss good sportsmanship.
  • You can talk about how being a good sport translates to playing board games like Candyland.
  • Explain what it means to cheer on your team.
  • Give each other high-fives.
  • Practice shaking hands and saying, "Good game."
3. Award medals before the events.
You can purchase a dozen award medals at a party supply store for anywhere from $3.99 to $6.99. Pass these out as a reminder to be a good sport.
4. Three events preschoolers love:
  • In and Out: Set 6 upside-down pails in a straight line, and time each child as they run "in and out" between the pails. After everyone has had a turn, let each child have a second turn to improve their time. (You can use the stopwatch feature on your phone, and don't forget your clipboard!)
  • Standing Long Jump: Put down a tape measure and see how far each child can jump. Let each child have a practice turn and a "real" turn.
  • The Throw: Again using the tape measure, give each child a plastic baseball (like the ones from Little Tikes t-ball) and let them see how far they can throw it. (Set up the upside-down pails to create boundaries, three on one side and three on the other, and show children how to aim down the middle.) Let each child have two balls and record their best distance.
5. Have fun - and snacks! 
Preschoolers won't care at all about their scores, but they will love the math lesson of looking at the tape measure and identifying the number their ball is near. Most importantly, have fruit, pretzels, string cheese, and juice boxes. Your little ones will have worked up a big appetite.
Have you ever planned a field day for preschoolers? What events did you do?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

4 Books for Preschool Artist Study

With all of the children's books about art, how do you find a few really good ones to help you introduce artist study to your preschooler?

Read on for my top four picks...

1. Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d'Harcourt
If your child likes I Spy and Look and Find books, they'll enjoy Art Up Close. It includes 23 famous works of art by artists like Van Eyck, Bruegel, and Renoir. The author has chosen 10 to 12 details from each work for children to find, making looking closely at art a game.
2. A Child's Book of Art: Great Pictures, First Words by Lucy Micklethwait
The works of art in this book are organized by topic (The Family, Pets, Shapes, etc.) Each two-page spread includes approximately four paintings by famous artists that fit the topic. If your preschooler is an early reader, they'll be excited that they can read the "first words" under each picture.
3. Oxford First Book of Art by Gillian Wolfe
While this book is not written for preschoolers, there are two things about it that make it worth using with little ones. The book presents famous works of art with short descriptive paragraphs, and the author's writing voice is wonderful. For example, when describing the ancient Roman sculpture Discus Thrower, she writes, "You try to take up this tricky pose!" Also included on each page is a Look Closer feature in which the child is asked questions that get a child thinking. For instance, on the page with Mary Cassatt's The Child's Bath, the author asks the child to find three different patterns in the painting.
4. Look! Look! Look! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, with Linda K. Friedlaender
This picture book is illustrated using cut paper art, and is about three mice that find a postcard of - get ready for this painting's title - Portrait of a Woman, traditionally identified as Mary Clopton (born Waldegrave), of Kentwell Hall, Suffolk. The mice make "viewing frames" to look at parts of the painting. They observe details, patterns, and colors. And then they realize that there are some colors that the painting does not have. The mice notice that the lady in the painting is made of lines. Then, they cut out shapes from construction paper - cut paper art! - and make the lady out of the shapes. Finally, the mice play with their collage by adding and changing details (like making the woman a mouse, changing the background color, adding a cake, etc.). It's very cute and fun, and it introduces a few basic terms you can use with your preschooler when talking about art.
Those are my top picks. What are yours? :)

Nature Study at the Sea: A Worm Shell

Have you ever found one of these at the beach?

I found this one a few weeks ago. It's the shell of vermitidae, or worm snails.

They grow in colonies, fused together. I think the colors are beautiful, the palest purples, pinks, greens, and yellows.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Charlotte Mason Composition: Writing a Resume

resume: a summary; in French, resumer means "to summarize"
Each week, in Form III (approximately 7th grade), a PNEU student was expected to write a resume (a summary) of something he or she had read in literature, the news, history, or "about an allegorical subject." Composition was once a week for 30 minutes.

I've been thinking about the summary...

When a child narrates, they tell back everything remembered. But when they summarize, they decide on a main idea, and ideas that support that idea. They decide that certain details are irrelevant, and they edit them out.

In public school, we teach children to do this right from the beginning. We want them to tell us what the story is about in one sentence. We don't allow children to go on and on retelling. We want them to get to the point.

In elementary school, I was very good at tests in which I had to read a passage and find the main idea. I was good at these tests because I didn't read the passages. I read the questions' multiple choices, I went back and scanned for key words, and I got right answers. I viewed a test as a game, and the test-makers as my opponent. Fortunately, my first experiences with books were not at school, but at home, in my mother's lap; I learned to love reading, not for main ideas, but for pleasure. This isn't true for a lot of children.

When we school a child to listen/read for a main idea before we train a child to listen/read for story, we do them a huge disservice. We teach them to ignore how the author told the story - word choice, sentence fluency, and voice. But when we train a child to listen/read for story, we are teaching a child to attend to everything. It is all important.

Charlotte Mason had children spend six years narrating (Forms I and II) before they began summarizing. Six years studying - unbeknownst to them - how to be effective writers.

In Form III, composition was once a week for 30 minutes. Only 30 minutes! For a student to be able to write a resume of something they had read in 30 minutes, they needed to know what they were going to write before they came to the table. (Contrast this with a creative writing approach, in which the student comes to the table not knowing what they will write, is given a prompt, freewrites for a bit, develops a piece from the freewrite, workshops the piece, revises and edits, and finally has a finished piece of writing. This approach takes much longer than 30 minutes.)

Writing a Resume

A resume should be written from memory. In a CM-style resume, the text was not used, so direct quotes would not have been used; contrast this with Common Core Standards in which 4th graders must correctly use direct quotes and cite sources. Sometimes student writers learn to rely too much on using direct quotes, instead of paraphrasing material. Writing from memory solves this problem, and it also means that plagiarism is not an issue.

The resume should:
  • be shorter than the original
  • accurately communicate the text's main idea and supporting points (or plot, if the text is a novel or play)
  • include the text's most important terms and concepts
  • follow the same sequence of ideas that the original author used
  • make sense (use complete sentences, use the best words to communicate clearly, etc.) 
  • exclude details that will confuse or distract a reader
  • exclude analysis, argument, or the reader's response
Your thoughts on this? :)

For my other posts on Charlotte Mason Composition,
check out:

A Hand Holding A Whistle

My daughter said this is a hand holding a whistle. When asked about the dark purple rectangles on either side of the arm, she said, "Oh, those are the armpits." :)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Spider Brownies

Making these spider brownies was so much fun for the kindergarten group last night, our final night of VBS. Here is what each child got:
  • a bite-size brownie
  • some broken pretzels
  • two M&Ms
  • three Nerds
  • a spoonful of chocolate frosting (and a plastic knife)
The brownie bite should be upside-down to begin with. Spread frosting on the brownie. Give your spider a face with the candy pieces. Insert eight pretzel legs into your brownie bite. If you want to, you can also use two pretzel pieces for spider mouth-parts called chelicerae.

And, just in case you want to know what a real spider face looks like, here is one from Wikipedia:

Friday, July 24, 2015

VBS Night #4: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Night #4 of VBS, the Frogs (kindergarteners) made a picture to illustrate the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Note my daughter's use of tissue paper and the little girl pictured right. :)

Charlotte Mason Composition: How Long Does It Have To Be?

As a public school teacher, when I give a writing assignment, I'm always asked "How long does it have to be?" This got me curious about how much Form III students in PNEU schools were writing in one sitting.

I looked at the Form III student writing in Mason's School Education (Volume 3). These were answers to exam questions. (You can read the Form III student writing on Ambleside Online. I think I started on page 289.) I entered five of these answers into a word counter. This gave me the word counts as well as the reading level of each piece.

The word or phrase in bold is the topic of the answer. It's followed by the age of the writer, then the word count. I calculated the length based on 250 words (12 point font) equaling 1 typed page. I also included the reading level of each answer.
  • Aristides (age 13) - 423 words (1 2/3 pages) - reading level 9th/10th grade
  • Northern Italy (age 12) - 485 words (almost 2 full pages) - reading level college student
  • Seed Dispersal (age 13) - 271 words (slightly more than 1 page) - reading level 11th/12th grade
  • Tissues of Rhubarb & Potato (age 13) - 147 words for rhubarb, much of the potato paragraph is missing, so I'm going to assume that it was also around 150 words, making this piece around 300 words (1 1/5 pages) - reading level 9th/10th grade
  • Waverly (age 12) - 617 words (2 1/2 pages) - reading level college student
One thing I can't quite wrap my head around is that PNEU Form III students only spent 30 minutes per week on composition. ("High schoolers" spent 40 minutes per week on composition.) So, students needed to be comfortable writing 1 and 2 1/2 coherent pages in 30 minutes.

At one point, I was able to write a 2 page paper in half an hour, so I know it's possible. If a student knows about their topic, has thought about what they want to say and how they want to organize it, has had lots of exposure to masterful writing, has a sense of excitement about communicating what they've learned, has studied grammar, and can spell, this is possible.

Your thoughts on this?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vacation Bible School: Night #3

Here is a recap of Night #3 of Vacation Bible School: Journey Off the Map. The Frogs started with music...
 ...and then made these cute campfire magnets in crafts:
  • orange and yellow craft foam (pre-cut into flame shapes, orange flame larger than yellow)
  • two craft sticks
  • Sharpie marker
  • white glue
  • brown pipe cleaner/chenille stem (cut in half) (this is the marshmallow roasting stick)
  • small white pom pom (this is the marshmallow) (I think these measured .5")
  • magnet (and hot glue gun)
Then the Frogs played outside. Here they are playing Duck Duck Goose. After that, they got their choice of a ball or bubbles. It was a breezy 93 degrees.
For snack, they made s'mores with graham crackers, chocolate frosting, marshmallow fluff, rainbow sprinkles. The Frogs loved being able to spread their own marshmallow fluff and put on their own sprinkles.
 Yes, this treat is loaded with sugar, but it's vacation. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vacation Bible School: Night #2

Last night was the second night of Vacation Bible School. The theme for VBS is Journey Off the Map, and here are the kindergarteners (the Frogs) singing and dancing.
For their craft last night, they made dragonfly clip magnets.
They each used a clothespin, two wooden spoons (the kind you use to eat ice cream cups), white glue, markers, two googly eyes, and some sequins.
My daughter's favorite color is green, so guess what color she made her dragonfly?
So cute.

The adults hot glued magnets to the undersides of the dragonflies, and the Frogs went out to play.
Look at that sky.

I'm not sure what the temperature was at 7 pm, when the Frogs were outside, but at one point (midday), my stepdad looked at the digital thermometer and announced it was 100 degrees. It was 93 degrees when we got home at 8:30 pm.

All that is to say that it was HOT. The Frogs were playing a cross between soccer and keep-away, running hard for 30 minutes. My daughter had already spent 2 1/2 hours swimming in the pool with her cousins, and 30 minutes dancing, so she was worn out.
For snack, they ate fruit-filled ice cream cones (strawberries, apples, and bananas), and hydrated with lemonade.

Then they had their lesson about Daniel.

My daughter was too tired to even sit up, so we left before the closing. Hopefully tonight she'll be able to make it through the evening.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My 4 Year Old Reading "Days With Frog and Toad"

Should You Buy a Puddle Jumper?

This morning, we went to Target for pool toys to use in Grandma and Poppa's pool. We got some diving rings, pool noodles, and a kickboard (with an image of Anna and Elsa from Frozen, of course). But we also got a Puddle Jumper.

I hadn't heard of Puddle Jumpers until this morning.

A Puddle Jumper is a Type V Personal Floation Device (PFD). It's "designed to provide a stable face-up position in calm water for a conscious wearer...Good for calm, inland water, or where there is good chance for fast rescue... Comfortable to wear for extended periods of time."

One of the "disadvantages" of this type of PFD is that the "wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid going face-down." Because we are using this as a swim aid, and not a PFD for boating, and because my daughter can turn to a face-up position from a face-down position in the water, I don't consider this a problem.

I also looked at swim vests, but decided against them for a couple of reasons. 1)I want my daughter to practice swimming in a swimming position. 2)I want her to be comfortable, and swim vests are bulky and have crotch straps.

Because the Puddle Jumper has a floatation band across the chest, I think it actually encouraged my daughter to lean forward and swim on her stomach, unlike arm floaties which kept her in more of a treading water position. (The cost of the Puddle Jumper is only $18, while Speedo inflatable fabric armbands - arm floaties - are $12, and the Puddle Jumper doesn't need to be inflated.)

Here is a video of my little tadpole enjoying swimming with her cousins in her Puddle Jumper:

Vacation Bible School: Night #1

Last night was the first night of Vacation Bible School. The theme this year is Journey Off the Map, an adventure theme, so the kids are grouped into monkeys, frogs, pythons, etc.
My four year old was a monkey (K4) last night, but because she was so quick to answer questions during their lesson - which makes me feel like I've been doing my job ;) - the teachers asked me if she's supposed to be with the kindergarteners. I told them that she just turned four, but if they thought that would be a good fit, they could do that.

Part of me wants her to stay with the preschoolers, because the kindergarteners look so big. But we'll see how tonight goes.
The monkeys made two crafts - cardboard tube binoculars and paper plate/bean rattles.
The decorations were super cute. I have to share. See these flowers and mushrooms? The flowers are made from the chips and dip bowls from the 99 Cent Store. So creative. They painted the centers of the flowers and hot glued on a green pool noodle stem. The mushrooms are also plastic bowls from the 99 Cent Store. They added white dots, and pool noodle stems. And the grass is made from green plastic table cloths.
Keeping with the adventure theme, their snacks were DIY lion cookies. The teachers gave each child a cookie covered with pink frosting, a little plastic cup filled with popcorn, and a little plastic cup containing three M&Ms and two pretzel sticks. The kids put the popcorn around the circumference of the cookie (for a lion's mane) and used the M&Ms to make eyes and a nose, and the pretzel sticks were whiskers. So cute.

The photo at the top of the post is my daughter raising her hand to say, "Excuse me, I need some M&Ms and pretzels. I don't have any. Because I ate them." While she would clearly fail the marshmallow test, she's definitely honest.

She was given an extra cup of M&Ms and pretzels to make her cookie. :)
Decorating her paper plate rattle
Learning the dance moves to the theme song
Check out Night #2 here! :)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sunday: Trains, Games, Strawberry Pizza, and Horses in the Front Yard

Daddy stayed in Santa Monica, but Daughter and I took a train trip to visit family. This is Daughter standing in the middle of Los Angeles' Union Station.
She loved the train ride. I made a point of not even sitting in our coach seats and going straight to the dining car. I let her order whatever she wanted (pizza, an apple, lemonade, and - for dessert - a chocolate chip cookie the size of her head). Mommy got a cinnamon roll and a coffee. We dined and watched farmland pass by.
 Here she is in line for her dessert.
My dad picked us up from the train station and we went to his house. At one point, my stepmom called out that there were horses in the front yard. They live in the city, so this was an oddity. The horse owner picked Daughter up and set her on his horse, Muneca (Spanish for Doll).
My stepmom made strawberry pizza - yum! - for my dad's birthday.
My aunt and uncle and cousin came over, and brought presents for Daughter. Bubbles - always fun - and a game called Some Body that has adhesive vinyl body parts that stick onto a human body. My four year old loves anatomy, so this was a BIG hit.

How was your Sunday? :)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Emperor's New Clothes

Santa Monica College puts on a children's play every summer, and this summer's performance is a one-act musical version of The Emperor's New Clothes.
My daughter talking to the emperor, and other cast members, after the show
In this version, the emperor - Marcus III - is only fourteen years old. He's worried because he doesn't know how to be a good emperor. He looks at the portraits of the Marcuses that came before him, and - with the help of Arno, the royal scrub boy - decides that clothes make the man. 
Giving Arno the scrub boy (played by Marissa DuBois) a hug
Marcus orders his royal clothesmaker to make him clothes that will make him look like an emperor. 

A swindler hears about the emperor's love of clothes and uses it to his advantage. The swindler tells Emperor Marcus that he sells magic clothes that are invisible to anyone who is a fool or a liar. Marcus hires the swindler to make a suit of magic clothes for a royal procession.
The swindler
Of course, during the procession, Arno, the only person unafraid of looking like a fool and the emperor's only true friend, tells Marcus that he's in his underwear. 
Ensemble members costumed for the royal procession
The swindler, who has stayed for the procession to get a good laugh, gets caught. As punishment for his swindling, he's given Arno's job, and Arno is promoted to royal truth-teller.

The show is playing this weekend and next:
  • Friday @ 7pm
  • Saturday @ 1pm and 7pm
  • Sunday @ 1pm
Tickets are $8 for children and $13 for adults at the box office.
My daughter's groovy shirt matched the groovy set design and lighting effects!
It's a very fun show, and I highly recommend it for preschoolers and early elementary school-age children.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nature Study: Campfire at Temescal Canyon

Mmmm, s'mores.

Tonight we went to Temescal Gateway Park for their Thursday night campfire.

Here's how it works:
  • Campfire starts at 7:00 pm, so get there at 6:30 pm to picnic.
  • Park on the street for free, or park in the park for $7.
  • Bring a picnic dinner and beverages, a blanket, sweaters, graham crackers, and a king-size Hershey's chocolate bar. (Marshmallows & marshmallow-roasting-forks are provided.) (Some people even brought hot dogs for roasting.)
  • A naturalist will do a lesson. (Tonight's lesson was on water; this summer, there have been lessons on predators/prey, ground squirrels, etc.)
  • Silly campfire songs are sung.
  • The marshmallow-roasting forks come out. Everyone lines up and gets a fork and a couple of marshmallows and circles up around the fire. (You can bring your own sticks and marshmallows and skip the line, but the line moves so fast so it's not necessary.)
Campfire lasts about an hour. After, you can go down and listen to the frogs, and look for bats. Don't forget that you can use your phone as a flashlight. ;)
Playing Henry the Heron in the campfire skit about the water cycle
Sing along time


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Midsummer Recap

 Summertime and the livin' is...
Performed in first ballet recital
Ate half a cheeseburger
Read lots of books