Saturday, December 25, 2010

Farm Unit

Our fourth unit of the year was supposed to be all focused around a book called Picking Apples and Pumpkins. It's a photo story about a little girl and her family who go to a pumpkin patch and apple farm. It didn't get me too excited - it's lot more fun to go to a pumpkin patch than simply look at pictures of one! Plus, a lot of the activity suggestions in our curriculum just weren't doable in our living situation (no field trips to the pumpkin patch readily available up here!). So we took a bit of a detour and spent more time focusing on another book I recently had the library order called Barnyard Song. It's a really fun book to read with a simple plot and LOTS of fun animal sounds. It was much easier to recreate with pretend animals, puppets etc. Thanks again to the Petersburg Library for always providing such great resources for our town!

Instead of recreating the scenes of Barnyard Song by playacting, as we have with previous units, this one leant itself beautifully to a puppet show. Over the years my wonderful friend Deb Ernst has helped us (through Christmas presents) to build up quite a colorful cast of puppets and so we had more than enough creatures to choose from to assemble a great cast. I created a sequence for the book using clipart and taped the sequence on the back of our couch. Then as we did the puppet show, we referred back to the picture sequence to help the boys stay "on script". Of course, O Boy never failed to add several colorful details to the plot. And once, when the vet showed up to ask the farmer why his animals were sick, Mr. T (as Farmer) replied that they'd been blasted out of a volcano. I think something about a monster truck got worked into the conversation as well. I didn't take any pictures because I was usually a part of the show but it was a really great way to practice sequencing the story over and over without it getting boring!

Coming on the heels of building a castle and the Titanic, we had to come up with something to build for this unit. While the curriculum suggested everything from various parts of a farm to a kitchen to an apple orchard (!), I scaled it down to a farm stand. That farm stand came in very handy throughout the whole unit and we used it for a few different fun activities!

Here the kids are painting butcher paper so that we could make pumpkins to sell at our farm stand. This activity I actually pulled from another curriculum I sometimes use called Play and Learn. It was written by OTs (occupational therapists) and while it is weak in the pretend play/more academic areas, it has excellent fine and gross motor activities that I weave in when I can.
One of my favorite new school items is a small paint roller. It's a great tool for Mr. T to use while he is balancing his weight on one hand and painting with the other. Plus, with only one roller there are plenty of opportunities for learning to share and patiently wait your turn! I believe that's what O Boy is lecturing his sister about in this photo!
The next step in the pumpkin process I didn't take pictures of, but for several days leading up to the pumpkin building day I had them using a hand shredder to shred scrap paper to stuff inside our pumpkins. I actually tracked down a manual shredder for this very purpose. It's an excellent FM tool and the Play and Learn curriculum uses it often. It's a lot of work but the boys seem to think it's pretty fun!

Here is Mr. T stapling (nice hand strengthening work!) his pumpkin. He had to draw the pumpkin circles and then cut them out first.
"Dis my punkin!"
Adding in the stuffing:

Before we built the farm stand we had to move some of the boxes and rearrange them. I had them "cut" them down like trees. Of course O Boy turned this into an opportunity to both dress up and direct the activity. Here he is in all his safety gear (Mr. T refused to wear all the safety options O Boy offered him) and instructing Mr. T in how to cut down the tree.
Here he is explaining to me that I was going to need to stand back when he started cutting. It's always "safety first" with O Boy.
One thing we worked a lot on during this unit was spotting, or being able to tell how many dots were on each side of a die without counting them individually. One fun way we did this was a farm game. Each boy had to make a farm enclosure and then pick out which animals they wanted in their farmyards. They each rolled the die and put out however many animals matched the number they'd rolled. They then had to decide who won that round. Then everyone would shout (just like our Great-Grandpa Gotter) "COMESHEEPCOMESHEEPCOMESHEEP!" and all the animals would head back to their farmyards. Then we'd play it all over again!
Here Mr. T was letting his animals climb ON the fences!
Even the Little Sweetie had a farm! You can see the interesting developmental difference in how they used these blocks - O Boy made a very complex fence structure and Mr. T's was pretty basic.
O Boy lost this round!
One of the new "school jobs" I've made up for the Little Sweetie that's been a big recent hit are her own people puzzles. I took photos of all the most special people in her life, printed them out, covered them with contact paper and cut them into 2 or 3 simple shapes. She absolutely loves them!

Here's another one of her "school jobs" for this unit. I try to put out 5 or so different activities for her to do while the boys are doing their school jobs and then I rotate them every few weeks. When I have a free moment in between helping the boys with their jobs I'll pull one and play with it with her. I get great ideas from many places, but one of the most reliably helpful is the 1+1+1=1 blog.
This school job was actually O Boy's idea and it was a big hit! Since we were of course talking about farming he suggested we pull out one of our old favorite activities: picking pufferberries! This was something I came up with a year or so ago and the boys like to do it again every once in a while when we all remember it! We use the tweezer-like tools Mr. T's speech therapist brought us, small Easter baskets, and cotton balls. In the first step of the activity you have to "plant" the pufferberries. On this day I decided to have them do this on the stairs. At other times we've done this on boxes up and down the hall so that they have to get in the upright kneeling position to pick the berries (a trunk strengthening position). Then you simply go around and pick all the berries! Getting them off the ground and into the basket can be pretty tricky.
Each week Mr. T has to make his letter of the week out of playdoh and other materials. This is extremely challenging for him because he really can't even roll a good playdoh snake yet by himself. So usually this means that we practice rolling a snake, I re-roll the snake, and then he puts it correctly on the letter. Each week we do one of the basic shapes as well, so that we've rotated through most of the basic shapes by now a few times. This week we were obviously doing U and I didn't have any bendable "thing" handy for him to make it out of so on the spot we came up with using his hearing aid strap! Very clever, Mr. T!
One other concept we were exploring was a very beginning introduction to weights and balances. I had them use our counting bears to weigh a banana and a toy tractor. That way they learned a little bit about how to use the balance. We did some predicting, recording of results (practice writing numbers), and of course simply the counting of the bears was an important practice step for Mr. T. On this day, O Boy's favorite toy animal, Sheepy, helped out with all his school jobs. He is a farm animal after all!
Here's our fruit (farm) stand with all our produce laid out: pumpkins, squash and off camera there were a few pies. O Boy brought out our old keyboards to use as cash registers and we did a few days of playing out a store using this stand. It was a great way to talk about counting money, price tags, and the whole buying/selling process. I guess the Little Sweetie was manning the stand in this picture!
Picking pufferberries:

Our new easel, generously passed on to us by Mr. T's speech therapist in Juneau. THANKS, Heidi and family! This has been a really useful and fun addition to our home!
Here's Mr. T counting his bears after weighing his (very brown and manhandled) banana.
This was another use we found for the farm stand: a gross motor throwing activity! It worked beautifully as a stand to hold a whole line of bowling pins. Then Mr. T (or O Boy) had to use bean bags to knock each one off. Pretty tricky, especially when standing on a table! They loved doing this and it was a great hand-eye coordination activity. It got very challenging when all the pins had been knocked off except for one or two!
One of the strengths of the curriculum we're using is that they suggest a lot of sorting activities, something that can be very difficult for Mr. T. It's important for many areas of his school and therapy: speech, science, math etc. all require an ability to categorize and describe. So for this unit I pulled out a set of simple puzzles we were given by our sweet friend Maria Anderson years ago when the boys were tiny. They had to put each animal puzzle together and then sort them. I don't recall if I suggested "farm" as one of the categories or if I waited to see if they would group them that way. Here is how one of the boys grouped them (the blocks in the middle divide the two categories).
At the end of the Picking Apples and Pumpkins book one of the characters makes an apple pie. So of course there was always the suggestion hanging out there that we too could make an apple pie. For so many reasons that was incredibly overwhelming for me (I really, really don't like to make pies!). But I finally found a recipe on that purported to be written to do with kids. I trust Family Fun, so I thought, "How bad could this be?"

The boys actually had great fun dicing up all the apples. This was an excellent pacing activity because they could each work at their own speed (Mr. T chopping with wild abandon, O Boy carefully dicing his into tiny, precise pieces) while I got other steps ready. And the Little Sweetie just did her best to eat sugar and wreak havoc however she could! I am so incredibly thankful for the counterside stand that my friend Becky found at the Salvation Army that has 4 sides on it. It has saved her from many, many a fall and gets her right up next to the action, where she loves to be!

The finished product. It was so incredibly delicious I just might have to try this all again.
One other new thing we did in this unit was to make storyboards. This was something I learned about way back in my student teaching days. So I credit my supervising teacher, Rebecca Knudsen with this wonderful idea. I hope that someday I can track her down and thank her again. The final product you see here was built over many days, each thing being added step by step. They each painted their backgrounds first, adding trees, sun, crops (and a storm on Mr. T's side - the left side). Each side was unique and fun to see them create. Then we began cutting, gluing and adding different pieces of the farm setup (from the Wondertime website) each day. I found this cutting activity and tried it with the boys years ago - long before they were ready to do any cutting! But this time around they were able to do both the cutting and the arranging. Then we labeled everything and each day would run through the words, kind of like flashcards on a board. The Little Sweetie even got to do her own (which I didn't take a picture of)!

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