Monday, November 25, 2013

Unplanned Math Activities

I love math. There, I said it. Call me a nerd, but I just think math is cool. And I can't understand why it intimidates so many people. I find it interesting that a lot of homeschoolers that unschool or use unit studies make an exception and purchase a curriculum for math. Like somehow you can't learn math if you're not doing pages and pages of practice problems. One of my goals with M is to make sure that she discovers math in the world around us. That shouldn't be very hard - math is everywhere!


We count everything. I always counted things when I was bored as a child - especially on a long road trip. I would count cars, lamp posts, exits, anything I saw. I just naturally find myself counting things, and now I count out loud so M can listen and join in with me. We count how many times I push her on the swing, how much food is on her plate, how many flowers she picked, how much Halloween candy she collected, how many rungs are on a ladder or how many hops it takes to reach the other side in hopscotch.

Sometimes she will count as high as she can until she doesn't know the next number, then I will pick up. Sometimes we alternate - I count evens and she counts odds. Sometimes we count together, or repeat after one another. Recently she has started counting larger numbers. She doesn't know all of the numbers up to 100 yet, but she understands that numbers follow a pattern. I love listening to her count, especially when she gets caught up in what she's counting and throws in a "twenty-eleven."

Soon we'll start skip counting - counting by twos or threes or tens. It's a great precursor for learning multiplication.


Multiplication and division do not have to be scary concepts. They also don't need to be all about memorization either. We practice grouping as a form of division: How many groups of two can we make with the ten marbles we have? We also talk about sharing - if three friends are coming over and you have six cookies, how many cookies can each friend have? (These same situations could be used to practice multiplication, of course. If three friends are coming over and you want to have two cookies for each friend, how many cookies do you need?)

Here you can see M counting out the number of fruit snacks in a bag, and dividing them into equal groups to share with me. Of course she checked her work to make sure it was fair!


Fractions and percentages also seem to intimidate a lot of people, yet they are found everywhere! Calculate the tip on your restaurant bill, figure out how much you'll save (or how much you'll need) when merchandise is on sale, determine how much you're actually paying on your house (or car or credit card puchases) when you add in interest charges (ouch!).

M has been really interested in money lately, especially coins (everything on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse costs coins). I gave her a handful of coins and had her sort them into groups. We talked about what they looked like and how she could tell them apart. I told her the names of the coins and how much they were worth. Then we talked about how many of each coin was equal to a dollar (one penny is 1/100th of a dollar, one nickel is 1/20th of a dollar, one dime is 1/10th of a dollar, and one quarter is 1/4th of a dollar).

She likes the quarters the best (smart girl), and I showed her different ways to count them. I also drew some pictures and wrote out the fractions on her easel and showed her the number of quarters that corresponded to each fraction. We talked about why two quarters was the same as 1/2 (she already somewhat understands the idea that half means two equal parts).



M has always been interested in measuring things. She wants to know how tall things are and how much they weigh. She liked playing with my husband's tape measure so much that we bought a small one for her. She loves helping to measure ingredients when we cook, and has her own set of measuring cups in her play kitchen.

I like to get M involved in helping me measure whenever I can. I have a small postal scale that I use to weigh packages so I can ship from home, and she helps me weigh things on the scale (which is also a good opportunity to talk about how postage is calculated). We weigh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store (even though I'm not usually looking for a certain weight). We weigh and measure ourselves at home and when we go to the doctor.

Shapes and Patterns

We talk about shapes all the time, and not just the normal circle/square/triangle, but hexagons and pentagons and trapezoids and quadrilaterals. I don't dumb things down. I want her to be exposed to the proper vocabulary now so she's not intimidated by the "big words" later. We also love this Melissa & Doug Shapes Sound Puzzle that says the names of the shapes as you complete the puzzle. M likes to say the name of the shape first, then put the puzzle piece in the right spot.

M is also really interested in patterns (which she pronounces pat-er-rins). I'm not sure that she totally gets the idea of the repetitive nature of patterns, but she likes putting different things in order and naming the objects and calling it a pattern. You can see her marker "pattern" that she is creating below.

I try to find lots of opportunities to nurture this interest, so I point out patterns in nature or on packaging or store signs. We color different patterns (like on her castle) or line up her animals or play foods in different patterns (fruit, vegetable, fruit, vegetable, etc.).

So tell me, how have you "taught" math through everyday experiences?

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Give That Preschooler a Camera

Handing your smart phone to your toddler or preschooler is certainly not a new concept these days. At the ripe old age of 3, M knows how to unlock my phone, swipe to navigate through the pages of apps, find the icon for the game she wants to play, avoid any in-game ads, exit out of any pop-ups, play videos, and more. She loves looking at pictures and videos of herself on my phone, but for some reason I never thought to show her how to take pictures by herself.

We bought M her own digital camera before she even turned two (this VTech Kidizoom Camera). She loves that she has her own camera, and takes it with her a lot to take "pictures." Typically her pictures consist of shots of the floor, her fingers, the back of the seat in the car, etc. The resolution of the pictures is also so low that there isn't much you can do to actually use them for anything. I don't regret the purchase - she still plays with this camera to this day, but it's more of a toy than an actual camera.

So, when we were sitting around at a fall festival with my parents and my mom handed over her iPhone to M and showed her how to take pictures, you can imagine that I wasn't expecting much. Within minutes M was able to figure out how to angle the phone to get a better shot of her subject, and actually took some decent photos!

Even cooler - in my opinion - was what happened next. She started looking at EVERYTHING through the phone's camera. Everything was new and interesting through this new lens. She examined and took pictures of her reflection in the side of cars, paint lines on the road, cars zooming at an intersection, people's shoes. It was so interesting to me to see some of what she was thinking through the pictures that she took.



I definitely plan to continue to hand over my camera more often, and maybe we'll even put together a book to show the progression of her photography skills over time.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Halloween... Better Late than Never

Everything in our house is moving in slow motion right now... so about a month later, here's what we did for Halloween! There are TONS of great Fall and Halloween festivals and events in our area (Kidding Around Greenville was my go-to source for events this year), so we had quite the line-up for a couple of weeks leading up to Halloween.

Children's Museum of the Upstate
My parents got M a membership at the Children's Museum for her birthday, and we have been taking full advantage of everything they have to offer. They had some great Halloween-themed art activities, including glow-in-the-dark flubber and paint (the pictures are grainy because it was completely dark in the art room!).

We also went to their "Cosmic Candy Capers" show, which was a mini-musical about space explorers who crashed onto Earth on Halloween and got sick from eating too much candy.

Fall-themed Birthday Party
M had a blast at a friend's birthday party right before Halloween. There were so many awesome games - pumpkin bowling, spider fishing, can toss, painting pumpkins, and a giant tub of corn with hidden pumpkins.

Halloween Decorations and Crafts
Most of our minimal decorating for this year involved pumpkins (see our pumpkin post), but we also did a spider web lacing activity that was fun and easy. I punched holes all the way around the edge of a paper plate, tied a piece of black yarn through one of the holes, and let M lace the other end of the yarn however she wanted to create a web. It helped that we had been exploring spiders recently after watching a large barn spider that made its home on her swing set in the back yard. (We also read Charlotte's Web after researching and discovering that Charlotte was also a barn spider.) We added a few plastic spider rings on the web and were done! M liked hanging it on the front door, then running away from it screaming "Ahhh!!! There are spiders in the house!!!"

Boo in the Zoo
We love the Greenville Zoo. My brother gets us a family membership for Christmas every year, and we go a lot. It's just the right size to see a good number of animals without feeling overwhelmed or rushing to get through everything. This was our second year going to their Halloween Boo in the Zoo event, and M enjoyed it again this year. I like that they give out some little toys in addition to candy, and they have some really neat decorations that M loves to look at. We actually went to the zoo a few times leading up to Halloween just to look at the decorations!

Enchanted Tracks at the Pavilion
This was our second year attending Enchanted Tracks as well, and we learned a few lessons last year that served us well. We signed up for our train time slot immediately, and worked our way slowly through the carnival-style games to buy us some time while we waited for the train. Aside from the train ride, M loved walking through the woods to collect candy from some of her favorite fairytale characters.


Greenville Place Assisted Living
There was no shortage of events on the day of Halloween. We started off by meeting some friends at Greenville Place Assisted Living. I thought it was such a neat idea that the assisted living facility was hosting a trick-or-treat event to make the holiday more enjoyable for their residents, and encourage more visitors! I try to expose M to people of all ages, so this was also a great opportunity for her to interact with people she may not normally encounter.

The residents spent weeks making decorations and games for the kids to play. She won a stuffed elephant at the bean bag toss game, and liked watching the ball fall through the bottle chutes. She had a blast! We'll definitely be back again next year!

We stopped in Publix to waste some time between the assisted living event and the start of trick-or-treating at the mall. I didn't get any pictures, but they had some cute little games set up around the store (bean bag toss, ring toss, guess the weight, etc) for the kids to play, as well as candy and cookies that they handed out.

Haywood Mall
We probably overdid it a little this year, but I was definitely successful in finding trick-or-treating events! We walked all the way around the mall, and most of the stores were participating in the event. M collected a TON of candy (maybe too much). She did get tired at one point and decided to sit down right in the middle of the floor for a break - haha! I moved her a chair and we took a break while we waited for Daddy to come to the mall after work to meet us for dinner.


Goblin Fest at Heritage Park
This was a free Greenville Rec event, so it was REALLY crowded, but it was well done. If we go again, we would definitely plan to get there much earlier to avoid waiting in the long line and to finish earlier in the evening. By the time we got there, M was pretty much trick-or-treated out, so she wasn't even interested in collecting the candy - she just wanted to hang out with her friends!

Sorting and Counting Candy
M had quite the stash after her full day of Halloween fun! She was too tired by the time we got home to do anything but change into pj's and head to bed, but we had a good time the next morning sorting her candy and counting everything!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Toddlers Love Pumpkins!

There are so many fun things you can do with pumpkins! I think we probably could have (and maybe should have?) spent two weeks just playing around with pumpkins. (Be sure to check out our other fall themed activities!) Here are a few pumpkin activities we did:


Practical Life


Obviously the first thing you need to do if you're going to play with pumpkins is to buy some pumpkins. We had originally planned on going to a pumpkin farm to pick pumpkins, but it didn't happen. We went to a local garden store and let Madison choose a few pumpkins of different sizes. She wanted more pumpkins, so we talked about prices and how larger pumpkins are more expensive than smaller pumpkins, and how we had a limited pumpkin budget - haha. She also helped pick out some flowers to put in front of the house.

Cooking Skills 

Pumpkins are delicious and can be used for so many different things! We tried several different recipes, some of which were more successful than others. These Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds were pretty good, although M wouldn't go near them. I attempted this recipe for Apple Pumpkin Fruit Roll-ups, but I must have left them in the oven a little too long because the texture just wasn't right. Of course I had plans for a traditional pumpkin pie as well, but I opted for cookies instead and didn't want to have too many desserts around at the same time.

The Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies turned out really well - yum! M loves to help bake, and is starting to help me find ingredients, count and measure ingredients, transfer ingredients into mixing bowls, and carefully turn the mixer on and off.

Safety, Concentration, Precision, Decorating

We got a Disney Pumpkin Carving kit that came free with one of our recent Disney Movie Club orders (shoot me an email if you want me to refer you to join!). M chose Donald and Mickey for the two big pumpkins. She didn't actually help to carve the pumpkins this year, but she sat and watched me do it, and we talked about how to be safe with the carving knife, how to pay close attention to details and concentrate, and how to arrange the pumpkins on the porch when we were finished.


It's obviously not the right time of year to plant pumpkin seeds, but we put a few seeds in a cup of soil, watered them, and talked about what plants need to grow. We talked about some of the reasons that the pumpkin seeds wouldn't grow outside during this time of year. I put the seeds outside one sunny afternoon and accidentally left them outside that night, which probably didn't help their chances of germinating.... oops!


Painting Pumpkins

M had a lot of fun painting her pumpkin. She started coloring patches of different colors, then tried mixing some of the colors. We talked about how she could mix colors to make colors she didn't have (like purple). And of course, every pumpkin needs a little glitter!

Pumpkin Sensory Bag

I tried to convince M to stick her hand inside the pumpkins we were going to carve to help pull out the "guts," but she wanted nothing to do with it. She was interested in what was in there, but wanted a less messy option that wouldn't make her hands all slimy. I saw this Jack-o-Lantern Squish Bag on Fantastic Fun and Learning, and thought that would be the perfect solution! She loved it, and it allowed us to leave it out for a few days. She liked squishing it around, pushing the seeds around with her fingers, and seeing how the sunlight passed through the pumpkin but not the seeds. She also noticed that the seeds would drop down to the bottom of the bag on their own. We talked about gravity (that we had already discussed during our "space theme") and how it was pulling the seeds to the bottom of the bag.

(PS - M loved this Apple Pie Sensory Bin, which could very easily be converted into a Pumpkin Pie Sensory Bin. Maybe even try this pumpkin sensory dough!)


Reading About Pumpkins

As usual, we got some books at the library. We got some general books about fall and seasons, books about gardens and how crops grow, and a couple of books specifically about pumpkins. Here are a few of the books we read:

Mathematics / Science

Pumpkin Seed Observations

Pumpkin seeds are so much fun to play with! I put out a variety of measuring tools for M to use to explore the seeds. She looked at them closely with her magnifying glass, picked them up with her tweezers, filled a measuring cup to see how many would fit, and put some seeds in a cup of water to see if they would sink or float. I had some wet, "slimy" seeds as well as some seeds that I washed and dried so she could compare the texture of the different seeds. I also had a ruler and scale available if she wanted to measure or weigh the seeds. This activity could easily be done with all kinds of natural or synthetic materials (or different types of materials to compare). As she gets a little older, I will get her a "scientific journal" so she can start sketching or making notes about her observations.

Pumpkin Observations

I had no intention of actually allowing pumpkins to rot on my front porch, but that's what happens when it's 80 degrees the week before Halloween. We slowly watched Mickey and Donald's faces distort as the pumpkins molded and caved in. M thought it was pretty cool to feel the mushy pumpkins, and to look at the mold on the inside. We compared how hard the non-carved pumpkins were compared to the carved ones, and talked about why that might have happened.

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