Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sick Day Websites

We have been sick at our house for the last week. Someone forgot to tell Scientist that you are supposed to take it easy and rest when you're sick, so that your body can use its energy to make you well. One of the ways I found to get him to hold still for a small amount of time was to let him play toddler games on the Internet.

We did a google search for "toddler games" and came up with lots and lots of responses. Most of them I was not impressed with, but I did find a few that we will probably visit again. I think they have some educational value to them. is the first website. It has five different games. The first is putting together dinosaur puzzles. The second is a band and you click on the different instraments to make them play. Third is drawing music. Fourth, and this one is my favorite, if a flower pot game. You get a picture of a seed, a flower pot, a watering can, and the sun with some clouds covering it. You have to pick the right order for planting the seed, watering it, and chasing the clouds away to give it sun. If you do, then a flower will grow in the flower pot. The fifth game is a dot to dot picture. All the games you can play with simple clicks of the mouse. Scientist seemed to catch on to all of them pretty quickly except the puzzles. is the other website. This website has three different categories for Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers. The only one we've been to is the Toddler section. They have about 27 different toddler games. We haven't tried them all out yet, but here are a few of my favorites. The ABC Zoo. You push buttons on the keyboard and a cooresponding letter pops up. It says the name of the letter and then an animal that starts with that letter. So for example, "A, allegator begins with A" and then the little animated allegator chops it's teeth at you. Another one I liked was the Animal Sounds game. Two animals pop up on the screen and then you hear an animal sound. You have to click on the animal that makes that sound. There are also several different "Click and Color" games that Scientist really liked.

These aren't activities that we would do all day everyday, but when you're sick or just needing something "entertaining" that's still educational, we found that these websites were a lot of fun.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Letter F: Fish, Faces, Fingers

Today, my friend Suzy taught the boys about the letter F. First she gave them a paper with a big F and a little f on it. She talked about how fish starts with the letter F. The on the bottom of the paper she traced the boys' heels and then their fingers to make a fish. Then the boys got to color their fish. This is how Scientist's turned out. He wanted me to color the little f and kept handing me the colors he wanted me to color with. Scientist is getting better with his coloring skills. He's still no where close to staying in the lines, but he'll say things like, "I color eyes black." and then scribble black over the eyes. So we're coming right along. :)

The next activity Suzy had, I thought was so cool! She had cut out four circles. On one circle was an empty fish bowl, on another was a head without a face, on another was a fish and plants, and on another was a face. We taped the empty fish bowl and the fish back to back with a straw in between, and the same with the head and the face. (Make sure you get the orientation right or it won't work.) Then when you twist the straw between your fingers fast enough it creates the illusion that the fish is in the fish bowl and that the face in on the head. It's really cool, and the boys loved it.

After that Suzy passed out Shark Fruit Snacks, and we loaded all the kids in the car and took them to Jay's Jungle, a pet store, and let them look at the fish, turtles, snakes, rats, hamsters, birds, and puppies, that they had in the store. All the kids loved it, even Sponge. So I'd say F Day was quite a success.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hole in your Hand

Here's a fun experiment we stumbled onto today. Roll a piece of paper into a tube, place the tube up to one eye. Keep both eyes open and focus on something across the room. Now place your hand in front of your free eye so that it touches the side of the tube. Ta-duh! There's a hole in the middle of your hand! The kids thought this was a hoot and kept playing with it for quite a while. They tried using different colored paper, poking something into the hole and seeing if they could see holes in other solid objects. It was a great chance to discuss how our eyes process images and a hole lot of fun!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

E Day: Elephants and Eggs

The holidays are over, so it's time to get back on track with our letter days. It was my turn this week to do "E". I decided to do an egg and elephant theme. Scientist really loves to paint, and we haven't gotten it out in awhile, so I picked activities that would allow us to get out the paint. When I was little, my Grandma did this activity with us where you poke a hole in each end of an egg, and then blow out the yolk. You are left with a hollow egg. We used to glue little squares of tissue paper on it and then paint a clear coat over it. I thought tissue papaer might be a little advanced for two year olds, so the plan was to just let them paint their eggs.

The night before Aaron helped me do some prep work. We washed the eggs first and then poked holes in each end and blew out the center of the eggs. FYI, it helps a lot if you stick the pin inside the hole and swish it around to break up the egg yolk.

Then, since these are supposed to be decorative eggs, we made egg stands to put them on out of the egg carton. Then we covered the stands in tin foil so it would look fancy.

I know it's a long long way from Easter, so I modified a little bit and decided that these eggs could be Valentines eggs. Ya, ya, I know, Valentines Day is still a ways off too, but it's the closest holiday we've got. So I found some heart stickers that the kids could stick on their eggs after they were painted, to help spice things up a bit.

That was the egg part. For the elephant part, I got the awesome idea to make a paper sack elephant puppet off of a website a friend shared with me called ABC Stuff. It's an awesome website and has multiple activity ideas for each letter of the alphabet. She had a link on there to a sight that had a pattern to print out to make an elephant puppet. I didn't think cutting would go so well for the kids, so I printed out the patterns on cardstock and cut out the pieces for them and made them each their own little envelope (whatever it takes to stick in another E word right?) with all of their elephant peices in it.

That was all the 'before' work. And I think having it all ready made the day go a lot smoother. When our friends got here, I sat the boys down in special "story chairs" (our banana chairs, I hoped having special chairs would help their attention spans, it only sort of worked) and read them Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Suess. Which just so happens to be about an elephant who tries to hatch an egg. Not only that, but it's got a good moral (patients and hard work pay off in the end) as well. Double winner.

After that we headed to the kitchen to paint! Oh, I should mention, the apples on the table are for "Eating", which starts with "E". Couldn't think of any egg snacks that sounded good, so I got creative. The boys painted the paper sack first. They painted it gray. The only color I got out to begin with, so that at least the body and the face would look elephantish. You'll see what I mean in a minute. When they were done with the sacks we put them aside to dry and got the elephant pieces out of the envelopes. Then I got out more colors so the boys could be as creative and artistic as they wanted to be. :) They didn't let me down either.

Here's Scientist painting his elephant ear a nice mix of red and orange. We haven't used brushes very much with him, but let me tell you it's LOTS less messy than finger painting. And he still loved it. So I think from now on I'll have him use the brush for inside, and save finger painting for outside. It was also a nice addition to have the garbage sacks taped to the table. I usually just spread newspaper, and it's more of a hassel, and paint still always manages to get on the table.

When the boys were done with the elephant parts, we put those aside to dry. I took their painting plates away, and got them different ones with only Valentines Day colors on it. Then gave them their eggs. They seemed to have a little bit more trouble painting the eggs because the eggs kept rolling away from them. But I think they enjoyed that too. Once the eggs were nicely painted, we washed up and let the boys down to play while everything dried.

They had a good time playing together, which they always do. Unfortunately the paint did not dry fast enough, so we had to send everything home with Suzy in pieces to have them put together after nap time. We put ours together after nap time too. Here's how they turned out:

Not quite as professional looking as the elephant puppets the lady on ABC Stuff made, or the eggs I used to make with my grandma, (and actually, the ABC Stuff page did some blown eggs as well, that are really well done), but hey, for two year olds, not too bad. :) And we had fun doing it, which is really all that matters.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not to Sound Like an Advertisement, But...

One of my biggest challenges right now is (and probably always will be) finding resources and ideas for activities for Scientist and I that are educational but still on his level. There are lots and lots of things out there for preschool aged kids, but Scientist is not quite there yet. What I usually end up doing is using my imagination to adapt the preschool material to fit a two year old. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes not.

Recently, I have found two recources that I really like, and I thought I would share them, in case anyone out there is looking.

#1 Highlights High Five Magazine

For Christmas, my mom subscribed Scientist to the Highlights High Five magazine (which is similar to the regular Highlights magazine, but for the younger age range of 2-6). Our first issue came today. I remember loving the Highlights magazine as a kid, and was really excited to share it with Scientist. We weren't disappointed either. They have fun little stories, games, and puzzles, that are entertaining as well as educational.

Probably my favorite story/activity in this month's issue was one about space men called Add Them Up! I took a picture of the page to give you an idea. If you click on it, I think it will get big enough that you can read the words on the side. What I liked about it is that it was clever, and pretty versatile. For the younger kids you can work on counting up the space men. Which is what Scientist and I did. But for older kids, you can use the same paragraphs to do simple addition. And if you wanted to add some of your own ideas, you could turn everything around without too much trouble and do simple subtraction. But the best part is that it's fun, so you hardly realize you're "doing math". :)

Anyways, I'm thrilled with the magazine. And I think Scientist enjoyed it enough that we could read it multiple times. Also, for anyone interested they have a website that has a lot of the same kinds of ideas and it's all free. Go to and see if you can find anything to tickle your fancy. I think the age range is 2-12, so you can probably find something. Or, if you want to check out High Five (the one geared just to 2-6 year olds) go to , on the bottom of the page in the center is a blue box called About High Five, and under that if you click on Preview a Sample issue, you'll be able to print out one issue for free. It's at least worth going and getting the free one. You can also check out your local library and see if they carry it.

#2 ABC Stuff

ABC Stuff is a blog put together by a mom with a toddler who wanted something more for him to do than play the computer and watch TV. Every week they focus on a different letter and she posts the activities that they do together. There a lots of art projects and simple math activities, and they are all centered around a specific letter of the alphabet. She is detailed enough that if you wanted to follow her weekly routine, you could. Or, if you are like us and just looking for an activity here and there, it works really well for that too.

She also gives the links to where she finds her ideas on the web, which is another great list of resources.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Self-Directed Learning

One evening last week:
Engineer: Mom, can I earn a special prize by doing a report on Saturn?
Me: No, but you can work on a report during your school time tomorrow.
Engineer: Can I make one of those big 3-sided poster boards?
Me: You would have to write a lot to make a poster that big, are you sure you want to write that much?
Engineer: Yep-can I start now?

3 days later; one page typed and healthy interest in Saturn's moon's developing. I love self-directed learning!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Following Our Dreams

Last month my 28 year old brother, Ryan, (that's him on the left) set sail on a 31 foot sailboat, bound for Australia. He and two friends were fulfilling a crazy dream concocted on the way home from another wild adventure in Costa Rica. His newest adventure made me ponder again on the purpose of life and about what an education really is. Unschooling is becoming a common term in the homeschool world and is gaining some degree of acceptance, but what about "unschooling" as an adult?
Ryan has traveled on five continents. He has done humanitarian work in Thailand and Uganda; ridden the railways of Europe; hiked the mountains of Peru and filmed a documentary in Panama. As he travels he devours stacks of books and meets people from all over the world. Quite honestly I vacillate between raging jealousy, wishing I too had the freedom to live such a life, and self-righteous indignation about the need for him to grow up and settle down. But this latest adventure capitalized on all my fears, not only for his future but for his safety. Neither he nor his companions are experienced sailors and their boat has been patched together and overhauled as cheaply as possible.
Our family expressed our fears but then we and his girlfriend rallied behind him and his dream. We listened to his plans, bought him gear and prayed for his safety. We had to trust in all the wisdom he's gained ever the years and try to believe that he would be ok. The week he started out we all watched his progress, via a satellite dot, with anxious hearts. Then 7 days into the journey we received word that he had decided to come home. Somewhere in the dark hours of the night he came to realize that not all dreams are fulfilled on wild journeys, sometimes our fondest dreams lie closer to the ones we love. In his returning home I feel a sense of triumph, victory in the idea that when we are brave enough to live our dreams and learn all we can along the road, we also gain the wisdom to make the hard choices, even if that means letting some dreams go.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Taught to Learn

Krystal here. The other night my husband Aaron was telling me about an interesting conversation he'd had with his brother. I invited him to share his thoughts. Here's Aaron:

Early in the morning on New Year's Day, I was taking Kelly, my twin brother, home after he'd celebrated New Year's Eve with us, and we got into a conversation. As we drove, Kelly started telling me about a conversation he'd had with a Mongolian friend. To give a little more background to the conversation, Kelly spent two years abroad in Mongolia where he learned to speak the language. His friend had asked him if he thought he could be of some particular profession (Kelly couldn't recall which), and after thinking for a second, Kelly replied that he could. Thinking that his friend was just curious, Kelly responded with the same answer when the question was repeated with a few different professions. Finally, his friend said, a little exasperated, "You just think you can be anything." To which Kelly replied, a little surprised, that he probably could.

After relating the story to me, Kelly said, "I was thinking, isn't it amazing that our parents have prepared us to become whatever we want to be." Kelly and I are both university students, and Kelly recently put dozens of hours of work into a project for a construction managment competition team. He added, as we were driving, that he was currently in a position to become a construction manager, contractor, architect, industrial designer, graphic designer, or a number of other things. I'm in a similar position, having just finished a Bachelor's degree and currently pursuing a Master's degree in electrical engineering.

It was easy for me to see the same conclusion. With some minor exceptions, I have been given the confidence and education to pursue whatever I choose, and to be succesful at it. I believe I owe that foundation to the many many hours of work my mom put into being our primary educator up through 8th grade, and her continued interest in our educational and professional pursuits.

I think the most important idea is that we were taught to learn; we were shown the value of learning, and now there is no limit to our potential. Krystal and I have the goal to pass this type of educational foundation on to our kids.

Problem Solving

Today a friend, who has kids about the same age as mine, gave me something new to think about. She was telling me how her oldest son (two and a half) is afraid of the dark. When he walks into his room and it's dark and he starts crying, instead of just flipping the light on for him, she goes and stands by him in the dark and calmly asks him what he needs to make it not dark. He thinks, and then says, "Light!" and she says, "Good, now what do you need to be able to turn your light on?" Again he thinks for a minute, and then says excitedly, "Stool!" And runs to get his stool and turns on the light. I assume that eventually he'll be able to think for himself to get his stool to turn on the light, without her guiding him every step.

It had never consciously occurred to me to create or allow opportunities for simple problem solving before. But it makes sense. In some of my readings recently, I've come across a few ideas from Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychological theorist, who said that the highest levels of learning occur when students are in what he calls the "Zone of Proximal Development" The ZPD is defined as "the zone above the most difficult task the person can do alone and below the most difficult task they can do with help". I'll try to clarify a little using the example of my friend. A two and a half year old is not able to comprehend on his own that when he walks into a dark room and gets scared that he needs to go find a stool and turn the light on. But with the help of his mom walking him through it, he is able to think about going to get the stool and turning the light on. At that point he is in the ZPD, and according to Vygotsky, that is when he will learn the most.

I think what I like most about the idea of giving our children opportunities to practice problem solving is that it doesn't just solve the problem for the kids, but it gives them experience solving their own problems. Which, in turn, will give them confidence to solve bigger problems in the future. If the kids can make it to adulthood with good problem solving skills, they will be so much better off. Trust me, I manage an apartment complex, I deal with plenty of adults who have zero problem solving capabilities. It's sad.

So, I think my new goal is to keep my eyes open for those little opportunities where I can help Scientist to solve his own problems. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year!

I have been a total bum the last two weeks. At first that made me totally cranky and insane, I'm used to going, going, going. Then this week I finally settled into the idea, OK, actually I only settled for about 2 days, but that was enough time for my mind to clear enough for me to solve some small but nagging educational problems. First, I wanted the kids' computer downstairs where I can keep better tabs on it. One day I was walking through the house and tah-dah I realized how to rearrange to make it work. Second, I've had this perpetual problem of lose projects and half finished papers floating all over the place. (I think it's an unschooling curse) A few days ago I landed on a very simple organization idea. I got 2 folders for each child, one color for each kid. Then I put their name and "Work to be completed" on one set of folders and their name and "Saved work" on the other set. The folders go in two paper trays. Now all the stuff they're working on, book reports, stories, art projects, math activities, history coloring pages, etc, etc can find it's way into one of the folders. Not only will it help with the stacks of random papers, but now when they're dinking around wondering what to do with themselves they can check their Work in progress folder for ideas. It's amazing to me how our minds work out problems when we're "taking a break" and not thinking about them. I'm pretty sure the same holds true for our kids. Sometimes just giving them a break frees their minds from the clutter so new ideas can emerge.