Saturday, December 18, 2010

Super Sensory Bin!

I made a new bin for Tyler yesterday, and my favorite part about this bin is the smell! Many of the cotton balls were dipped in a bit of peppermint extract and allowed to dry. It made the whole house smell very seasonal for a good while, and his bin has an extra sensory element! I also drizzled glue over several of the cotton balls and sprinkled glitter over them.


Measuring cups of course, for a math element, and for Tyer especially, the science of filling and pouring and dumping, which he's more interested in now. These fell much differently than the rotini of our last bin!

The dumping portion is still fun without all of the noise!

To further expand upon the wrapping paper tube/jingle bell experiment of our last blog, I wrapped a bit of tube in Christmas paper to use in the same manner with his cotton balls.

Since Tyler loves to throw objects (any object!), we made picking-up more fun by tossing them into the bin! Overall, a big hit with Tyler so far, and though it was okay with my husband and I, we do appreciate not having rotini crunch under our feet whenever we step into the kitchen!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cheap and Simple Science

A strong wrapping paper tube and a ball of some sort (we used a jingle bell). That's all this quickly invented idea requires!

I cut the tube into two different sizes, grabbed one of Tyler's favorite jingle bell ornaments from his tree and demonstrated how to put the bell into one end of the tube and how the bell will come out the other. Though the movement itself wasn't difficult, he found this quite interesting, repeating the action over and over again.

I then provided a different sized tube, about half the size of the first, and he experimented again. For some reason, the bell became stuck a few times in the smaller tube, but he soon learned to shake the tube in order for the bell to roll out.

I've left this out for him now and plan to expand upon the activity soon by gathering various object from around the house, some that will fit into the tube and some that won't. I'll also demonstrate holding the tube at different angles to see if he's interested in experimenting in that way. Easy science!

Montessori on

I'm an Amazon Addict, I fully admit this. Now that they've created Amazon Mom for junkies like me to get free Prime (two day) shipping, I'm unstoppable! Though most people probably have their holiday shopping completed by now, I wanted to share some items that I put on Ty's Wishlist, have purchased, or am simply in love with that are out of the ordinary (but wonderful) in my eyes! Doing a search with "Toddler" and "Montessori" will also yield many great results.

Nesting Sort and Stack Cubes. They also sell them in cylinder shape. They're wooden and non-toxic. Win, win! They're a little flashy with the designs on the board, my only compliant.

Kid-O Short to Tall Puzzle. Kid-O also sells a Narrow-to-Wide puzzle on Amazon. These are currently just a little over $10. What a deal!

Little Partners Learning Tower. This is my dream item on Tyler's Wishlist! It allows your child to work at the counter, sink and stove with you at the perfect height, and the child can easily climb onto it by themselves.

Radio Flyer Scoot-About. Metal construction, kid-powered, little ringing bell, no pedals that he's too young for...fantastic! He's getting this from his Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas. I can't wait to see him on it!

Melissa and Doug Latches Board. Wonderful for small motor skills, problem solving, and later independence.

PlanToys Shape Sorter. Identify shapes, colors and learn about fractions at the same time. I couldn't pass this one up! I disagree with the 3+ age rating on this toy, unless it's due to small parts.

One of the places I would really like to see would be one of the enormous warehouses! Not kidding. Any other Amazon addicts out there? Where do you find your materials?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting Creative with Contact Paper

I have taken many ideas from the book "More Things to Do with Toddlers and Twos" by Karen Miller and these are two of them! I used this book when I worked in a traditional Day Care years ago, but had never tried these activities. They were, and are, a big hit with Ty! These activities are wonderful for working within the categories of sensory, science and small motor control.

The first day, I taped a large piece of clear contact paper (available at any Walmart, Target or Dollar Store with the shelf liners) sticky side up, to the floor in our hallway. I lay in wait like a tiger at the end of the hall, waiting for him to find me. He was very surprised when his feet hit the paper! He enjoyed walking over it again and again, and often reached down to touch the sticky spot with his hands. I then talked to him about "sticky" and we touched areas of the floor nearby without the paper, and talked about how they were "smooth". Ty got a big kick out of it!

A couple days later, while Ty was eating a cereal bar for snack, the fruit in the middle became stuck to his fingers. It happened over and over, and I decided that we needed to start the second part of our "sticky" experiment. 

This time I taped the contact paper, again, sticky side out, to the wall. I then went through paper scraps from my scrapbooking days and filled a small container with them. I showed Tyler how to choose a piece of paper and stick it to the paper. It was a challenge for him to realize that he had to let go of the paper once it was stuck, but he picked up on it quickly and really enjoyed making his own sticky art on the wall. He created his own little experiments, attempting to stick the paper to parts of the wall without the contact paper, though he seemed to know before he tried that it wouldn't work. 

I have left this on the wall, with the paper scraps available for him underneath, and he has returned to it often to remove and replace paper, or to add a new piece to his work of art! He also enjoys dumping the scraps from the container whenever he sees that I've cleaned them up; I think he enjoys that just as much!

The next time I do this activity, and as he grows older, I plan to cut out specific shapes, numbers and letters. I've even wondered if it could be used as a sort of felt board for creating and acting out stories.

Have fun!  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homemade beanbags

Homemade beanbags are easy and inexpensive to make and can be used in a variety of ways! All you need is some fabric, sewing supplies, and some dried beans.

For my material, I used some of Tyler's old clothes (and one of my own). Typically, I give his old clothes to a friend who needs them or I sell them at a consignment shop, but these clothes were stained and sitting in a box without a purpose. Ty likes the cute animals on the beanbags and they're also familiar to him as it wasn't that long ago that he was wearing these outfits. He especially enjoys the small doggie beanbag, cut from the foot on one of his footie pajamas, as it's the perfect fit for his hand.

I decided that some of the material in the photo below wasn't really the right kind for the beanbags after making the first, but this was the initial cut-out phase.

I then hand-sewed (only because I don't own a sewing machine) the bean bags almost all of the way around, leaving enough room to allow me to turn them inside-out. After turning them inside-out, I filled with dried beans and stitched the rest of the way around. I've read that you can also put the beans inside of a baggie in case the bags come in contact with water.

At my little guy's age (15 mos), the bean bags will be used to practice throwing, playing catch, and throwing into things like laundry baskets, pots and boxes.

For older children, challenge them to see how far the can throw them, to try throwing them with their eyes closed into containers and throwing from different positions and places (on a chair, at the top of the stars, on their back). You can ask the child to place a bean bag on different parts of the body to help them identify them. If you use solid color or shaped beanbags, you can use them to help the child identify specific shapes and colors by, for example, asking them to throw the purple bean bag over his shoulder, or to put the circle beanbag on her head.

A game I read about on iVillage would be to make different shapes in a straight line on the floor using strips of masking tape (square, triangle, rectangle). If you're playing on carpet, cut the shapes out of construction paper and line them up on the floor. You would then have your child hold the beanbags and ask her to toss the square purple beanbag into the triangle or to toss the small red beanbag into the square.

Have fun!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Common Montessori Myths

People seem to have a lot of mis-information about Montessori, and before I started my research, I did too! Knowing that I have a lot of friends/parents who are curious about Montessori reading my blog, as well as family members, I thought I'd create an informative post on the subject. This is about public Montessori schools, though much of what I do at home at this age is guided by these principles.

Myth 1: Montessori is just for rich kids.
Yes, Montessori is expensive, but today, in the United States, there are over 250 public Montessori schools and 100 charter schools that offer taxpayer-financed schooling, along with thousands of private, not-for-profit Montessori programs that use charitable donations to offer low-cost tuition.Montessori education, through these low-cost options, is available to families interested in quality education. Many private, high-dollar schools offer scholarships, and some states offer childcare credits and assistance to low-income families.

Myth 2: Montessori is just for gifted kids.
Montessori is for all children.To the casual observer, Montessori students may appear advanced for their age, leading to the assumption that the schools cater to gifted children. In reality, Montessori schooling helps each child develop individuality in a way that accentuates his or her innate intelligence. Montessori gives the child the opportunity to gain mastery at a pace that allows each child to be successful. Montessori takes full advantage of the young child.s intense desire to learn while respecting his individuality. The teacher takes her cues from the child.s interests, and learning is organized to make the most of those interests.

Myth #3: Montessori classrooms are chaotic.
Although this may appear true to the untrained eye, anyone who observes a Montessori classroom for several hours will see something very different than chaos.The Montessori system at its best is all about allowing children the opportunity to do things for themselves. We encourage self-discipline even in the very young child, and always aim for a minimum of interference from the adults in the environment. The “teacher” is really more of a “guide” – he enables the child to educate himself  using the materials that have been designed for that purpose.

Children are not moved about the classroom in groups and asked to all do the same activity at the same time. Rather, a wide range of self-correcting (auto-didactic) materials are made available to the child. After the initial demonstration of a material by an experienced adult or an older child, the child in a Montessori classroom is free to choose whatever activity is interesting to him. The student is left alone to experiment and practice with the material, teaching himself and developing concentration, coordination, and independence in an orderly world that does not require the interference of any authority. Montessorians believe that the normal state of any child is to be relaxed, peaceful and absorbed in activity. In the classroom, disputes between children are almost always settled by the children themselves. They absorb conflict management skills from the teachers, who are trained to be deeply respectful of themselves, others and the world around them. The role of the adult (teacher) in the classroom is observer of activity and facilitator of self-discipline as opposed to director of activity and enforcer of  rules.

Myth 4: Montessori classrooms are too structured.
On the contrary, in the Montessori classroom, children are allowed to move freely about to access all the learning materials they need. Additionally, for children, play and “work” are often the same thing. In other words, when children engage with the Montessori learning materials, they are indeed learning but it feels like play to them. For example, think of how your own child can joyfully while away the hours manipulating and arranging objects like toys or blocks. The two experiences are similar, but in the Montessori environment, the student is actually working toward mastery of skills and subjects. Montessori students are allowed to work with specific learning materials for as long as they desire, and the fact that they will until they feel they have mastered it is testimony to the power of the method. Children in Montessori choose to work toward mastery and are internally motivated by a natural love of learning.  

Myth 5: Montessori is an outdated method that peaked in the Sixties.
An education based on the observation of children, and on your child in particular, is hard to outdate. Everyone knows the approximate ages children begin to walk, to talk, to lose teeth, even to learn to read. Fads in education come and go because they are not based on observation of children. Often they’re not even based on child development.  The Montessori Method, on the other hand, represents a solid body of observation of child development that has been successfully employed internationally for over a hundred years. Montessori methodology is closer to a true scientific method of instruction than any other educational program in the world today.
Myth 6: The Montessori method is really just some special materials.
Montessori materials are specifically designed to develop the child's powers and means of observation through the senses. The development of the senses precedes intellectual activity, and Montessori educators understand how to use the materials to facilitate this development. When the senses are finely developed, the child teaches himself. Experience has shown that the child will discard the materials and work without them when the senses are adequately developed.

Myth 7: Montessori does not permit social development.
The respect the teacher shows each child is a model for children to follow in learning to respect each other. Young children interact with each other and with the adults, gradually becoming more giving and more sensitive to others. The two to three year age span within each class causes the learning of younger children from older ones to be a natural occurrence. Montessori respects the child and the child.s need, from time to time, for privacy. Areas and activities in the classroom provide for solitude, as well as, interaction with peers. Older children often tutor and assist the younger children and children may work together or by themselves as they choose.
Myth #8: Montessori teachers are strict and overly concerned with academics
At its core, the Montessori philosophy is based on respect. Respect for the planet, for ourselves and for each other. What Montessori teachers are actually being with the children is: respectful. To some, this might at first appear as emotional distance or hard-heartedness. It’s not! Respect for the child runs deep and means, among other things, that we don’t invade their personal space without being invited. They try not to define children by their appearance, so we don’t make a habit of remarking on their outfits: as a matter of fact, they feel that it’s more important that the child dress him or herself than that their socks match!  As teachers, the love for your children runs very, very deep indeed. You’ll find, as the children do, that it is a firm, fair, steady type of affection without hysteria and not conditioned upon “good” behavior. We strive to avoid patronizing the child; our voices when speaking with them are our normal voices, not high-pitched or saccharine sweet. We  cherish children, and when your child needs that extra helping of compassion, hugs and kisses, the child will find it.

Myth 9: Montessori is affiliated with the Catholic Church.
The Montessori movement has no religious affiliations. Around the world, there are Montessori schools that are part of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other religious communities. Like many preschools, some Montessori programs may be sponsored by a church or synagogue, but most Montessori schools are established as independent entities. Conversely, a school might be housed in a church building and not have any religious affiliation. Since Montessori refers to a philosophy, and not an organization, schools are free to have relationships with other organizations, including churches.

My sources come from various, official Montessori schools, who all share the same philosophy and guidelines.

Sensory Bin Play

Thought I'd share a few of the fun sensory bin play experiences we've done over the past several months!
Sensory play is great for exploring math and science concepts and improving fine motor function as well as, of course, the sensory exposure.
First, there was cooked spaghetti way back in April! We didn't have the bins yet, but this was an important experience for a kid who has texture issues (and is starting to overcome them...yay!).

Then, water, Ty's absolute favorite! He can't resist Mommy's cup of water, kitty's water bowl, the smallest can imagine what a treat bath time is! We did this activity a lot over the summer, much to Tyler's pleasure.

Rice play. Ty was unsure about touching the rice at first, but after he saw me scooping and pouring into different containers, he got excited by the noise the rice could make and got into it. His favorite noise was the rice hitting the floor!

Dry pasta play. I got brave and have left this out on a shelf for Tyler to play with whenever he pleases. I've always provided different sized measuring cups and other containers with sensory bin play, but he's never been much into scooping and's more about the noise that the different containers make when the sensory item thrown into or onto them for him at this stage! I figured leaving this out would mean rotini all over the kitchen floor all day, every day, but he's actually done well with containing it and is good about helping me pick-up.

Other touch/sensory things that we've done have included oatmeal in the bins, fingerpainting, his sand box (dry and wet), play doh, as well as opening up a pumpkin to let him pick out and touch the insides (we did the same with summer squash).

A few more things that I want to try in the bins soon are shredded paper, popcorn, Easter grass, cotton balls (plain or scented with flavoring extracts), snow or ice, mud, water mixed with mild dishwashing liquid to make bubbles, Oobleck (water and cornstarch), and shaving cream. I also remember dying pasta and rice with rubbing alcohol and food coloring in a baggie which I'll have to try again.

What sensory bin activities have you done? What materials and tools have you used inside the bins to further exploration and learning?