Monday, January 03, 2011

Homeschooling: Night Tree

The unit we did around Christmas time was structured around a beautiful book called Night Tree by Eve Bunting.
The premise is that a family has a tree they decorate every year outside on Christmas Eve with food for the animals to eat. It was fun to read and pretend out the story with our own Christmas tree in our living room.

I decided to have them make another storyboard for this unit, so we flipped the cardboard scene from the farm unit over and painted on the other side. I tried having them use different things to paint with to give different textures (for the ground they were supposed to just stamp with sponges but they preferred rubbing the sponges over the board which was interesting too.) Pictures of the finished product are at the end of this post.

One of the things we did was memorize a fingerplay about a squirrel with some great rhyming words. After doing the fingerplay we worked on sorting "nuts" (buttons). Because this continues to be a really difficult concept for Mr. T to understand I got out our old faithful Sorting book from the Math Counts series by Henry Arthur Pluckrose. It's a wonderful series that makes basic math concepts extremely concrete. Right now the boys typically sort simply based on color but once in a while O Boy will toss in size as an attribute too.

Another interesting activity that our curriculum suggested was putting paint swatches in order. So I went to our local hardware store and picked up a few sets in their favorite colors. One set had 3 or 4 color changes and another set had more like 7. The curriculum wanted them to learn the words "lightest" and "darkest" and so I put post-its down and they had to line up the colors in order between the post it notes.
I picked up an amazing series of animal encyclopedias this summer at the Goodwill store near my parents home and carted all 23 or so of them home. The series is called Nature's Children and is perfect for this age - 2 animals per book. So while we were doing this unit we would read about another forest animal every few days and chart what they ate and where they lived. It was actually pretty interesting to compare the different animals we read about. This reminded me of the fun animal projects we used to do when I taught third grade at CHA. We've now done enough letters of the alphabet that Mr. T could write the names of the animals and O Boy could draw a mouse for each one, since they all ended up being animals that eat mice! The mice's tails got longer and longer each time until the last one threatened to take over the word skunk.
To practice copying models we spent some time making owls out of playdoh. It was actually interesting to see how O Boy kind of lead this activity after I got it started. He came up with all sorts of details that were probably easier for Mr. T to copy than anything I could have come up with. It's harder than I thought to make an owl out of playdoh. !! Here they are making owl sounds for me.
Trying to fly their owls:
One of the gross motor activities we did was to knock down a "Christmas tree" with a crabwalk kick - something Mr. T's PT suggested working on. This was a really great combo activity because each time the tree got knocked down Mr. T had to put them all back up in order. There was lots of motivation because he wanted to get back in line to kick it down again! Again you see O Boy in full safety gear for this activity...He's wearing a helmet on his head, a fire coat and actually has a jester's hat on his two feet. Safety first! It's always interesting to me to be reminded of how complex these skills (like crabwalking) are for little guys like Mr. T. Something I think will be a breeze takes an incredible amount of work and has to be broken down into many steps. But when it's fun, he works tirelessly at it.
Smash! Crash!

Another sorting activity we did was this...I found this series of animal prints on my new favorite resource, Google Images. I printed it out and choose just a few of the prints that were distinctly different. Then I asked the boys to put them into groups. It was interesting to see the way they grouped them. Then we matched them to the actual page (which was fairly tricky since many of the prints look almost exactly the same) to see what animals made the prints.
O Boy's groups (I gave him a few more prints than Mr. T)
Mr. T's groups:
We did more animal sorting, something they really enjoy doing. It's a great vocabulary activity. Here is how one boy sorted them. I'm guessing this is Mr. T's work because all the groups aren't separated apart much! You can see he sorted by where the animals live: jungle, (with the birds together), "hot place"/desert, farm and "cold place".
Here's O Boy's animal sort along with another very helpful activity we've been working on: pattern puzzles. I've worked on patterns with them in various ways but found this activity at the Kelly's Kindergarten site under her math section. It's a pattern set that a child can work on independently. My boys like to call them pattern trains. I set up the "engine" for them (usually just for Mr. T) and then they have to follow with the remaining pattern train cars. At first Mr. T was flipping his middle cars a lot and not following the pattern. Now he usually makes the pattern correctly on the first try. This is a huge step since the beginning of the year. For O Boy, I started having him make his own patterns for me (see pictures below) since this activity is pretty easy for him.
Here are some close ups of our finished mural. On one step of adding details we put on a bunch of old stickers I had that fit with this theme: forest animals etc. O Boy found a sticker that he thought represented Heaven and insisted we add it. The moon is actually a recycled window from the Titanic. We both painted stars, using Aunt Linda's sponges she recently sent us, and by adding those metallic stars. I was really frustrated with the metallic star stickers; they tear easily and are not punched out well. They are also almost impossible for tiny hands to manipulate. Another suggestion from our curriculum that didn't go so well. This unit we also spent a lot of time talking about two kinds of trees (deciduous and evergreen) so we added them both on to our mural as well. The evergreens were a good cutting exercise since all the lines are straight but you have to cut back and forth.
Here you can see where the Little Sweetie painted her brown "trees" all over the evergreens we put on previously. You can also see the "dust storm" that O Boy painted when we were working on the back ground and adding stickers. He added a swirl of leaf stickers and called it a dust storm. This unit I also did some really simple animal drawing with them (see the pics below) and this is one of the bears they did.
Here's a bear (partly covered by a branch painted on later) and a mouse Mr. T drew and our Night tree. We used our fingers to make popcorn strings, add cranberries and make pinecones (O Boy's idea) on it.
Another way I had Mr. T do the pattern puzzles was to put the first piece of each puzzle at the bottom of the stairs and the remaining pieces all over the banister at the top of the stairs. That way he not only had to get up and down the stairs, but remember which pattern he was looking for, retrieve it and put it in the right place. Once I realized he was terrified of taking the pieces off the side of the stairs which is farthest from the wall (he thought he was going to fall over the edge - I had not seen that reaction coming at all!), I moved all those pieces onto the wall and he did just great!
Here is one of the patterns that O Boy made for his dad and me to solve. He was very excited to have Dad figure this out when he got home for lunch!
Another way I have Mr. T practice his letters sometimes is by making them with buttons in playdoh. Still fairly tricky for him to visualize the entire shape but we keep working on it.
Here are some of the very simple animal drawing lessons I found on Google images:


McDorky said...

Hey Jess! Seeing Mr.T make the letters with buttons in the playdough reminded me of something we do in our school each year during our name study - we use mats similar to these as part of the playdough center for kids to use. Thought you would like the link!

McDorky said...

I also forgot - another good idea for studying animals is to go on a "research" trip with your little scientists. We either use cameras or clipboards (based upon the day, energy level, ability, etc.) and then go on a nature walk. When you see an animal or insect, have the kids take a picture or draw it on the clipboard. Then you can head back home and graph them (similar to sorting but a bunch of good math concepts are more easily visible - more/less, one-to-one correspondence, the concept of zero, how many more, equal, etc.). We usually build the graph and then I just ask them what they notice and we talk about it. I might ask leading questions, "Like what happens if..." maybe not :)

Can you tell bedrest is getting to me? I would do anything to be back in my classroom today!!!