Friday, January 28, 2011

Homeschool: Clifford unit

I recently borrowed one of the ready-made kits from IDEA to see what they were like; this time we chose Clifford. Along with the startling number of Clifford books we've amassed (who knew I'd bought so many Clifford books over the years??), the IDEA Clifford kit and some amazing online resources we came up with a pretty fun Clifford unit for the week after we got back from Oregon.

Here's something not related to Clifford that I've been doing with Mr. T lately. They've been tracing their names for a few years now but I haven't really been seeing much progress in Mr. T being able to move into writing his name independently. So last week I made this page for him to trace and then write his own name independently twice. I walked away to see if he could do it by himself and he did a great job. So he's been working on first tracing and then writing independently. At the same time we've been practicing saying the letters of his name so that he knows how to spell it too and he can almost tell me all the letters of his name in order (he usually forgets one!) :-)

This week my building project for them was to build different dog houses for the different stuffed dogs we have. We actually have a stuffed T-Bone (a gift for Trevor when he was born) and the IDEA kit came with a stuffed Clifford. I found that independently building two walls and a roof is still way beyond Mr. T's capabilities. Once again, after the first day, I had to take several big steps back and structure the activity way down. I both tried building next to him and also setting out blocks that would work for doing walls and a roof to help him focus his building (he tends to choose triangles and round pieces and then gets frustrated when his buildings fall apart!). We also worked on saying (and using my hands to model) "two walls and a roof" each time we talked about building a dog house. He's definitely still more comfortable staying in the "tower building" phase but he's starting to move into the "bridge" phase where you can understand how to use blocks to bridge a gap (like a roof).

This is O Boy's house he made for Clifford.

Here is Mr. T's extraordinarily improbable house for Clifford. :-) You can see how he still struggles to understand how to choose blocks that would fit together well to make a sturdy building.

This was another house he made for some toy plastic dogs a few days later. The construction is much more solid but we joked with him about the hole above the one dog's head! He refused to add more roofing. Must be a sun roof!

I made some lacing cards for them out of cardstock, contact paper and string. I wrapped strong tape around the end of the string to make a "needle". Mr. T has known how to do lacing cards (in/out) for a long time but doesn't understand the concept of lacing it around the object. At the suggestion of his speech therapist I labeled the numbers around next to the dots and gave it to him to do. After simple instructions I walked away to let him do it on his own. He did it correctly the first time! Hooray!

Cleo and T-Bone lacing cards (thanks to Google Images!)

For a hand strengthening activity I had Mr. T find all sorts of "Cliffords" (red counting bears) in some playdoh.


Here is Mr. T doing another one of his school jobs: a Clifford puzzle I bought a year or so ago. To break down this task I separated the puzzle into 3 groups: top, bottom and center. Each day he did one of the groups. The easiest was when I built the outside of the puzzle and he fitted the pieces into the center. It's not a very easy puzzle so this was quite a challenge for him. You will notice that the Little Sweetie has planted herself right next to him (putting his puzzle in a precarious position!) to read her Clifford books.

One fun thing that was included in the Clifford IDEA kit was a set of Clifford phonics books along with a tape they could listen to and follow along in the book. Since I haven't done something like this before with the boys (phonics readers) but they love listening to books on tape, I added it into their school jobs. I was totally surprised to find O Boy reading the first few books independently after just listening once. It was pretty amazing. I'm not sure if he could transfer this knowledge to another setting or another book but he was definitely figuring out how to read these books! Cool! Mr. T sort of got the pattern for the first few books but mostly he's just not that motivated to move forward in this direction and hasn't developed yet some of the readiness skills that I see falling into place with O Boy (like understanding one-to-one correspondence with the words on the page). But he LOVES books on tape and can follow along perfectly with the directions so he really enjoyed this too!

We haven't done pattern block pictures for a while so I looked around the Net to see if I could find a dog picture and sure enough, someone had made one!

On Scholastic's Clifford page there were too many fun things to pack into one week. A few of the things we did that the boys enjoyed:
The memory game was easy enough for both boys to handle with no problems and they always love a good memory game!
The sound match game was fun but much harder than the same kind of thing on Starfall. Instead of clicking and then dragging an object all the way across the page you had to click, hold down on the mouse, and then drag the object all the way across the page. This was very complicated to implement for both boys. For Mr. T it was challenging enough to match the sounds but then adding the computer piece made it too hard. So I would usually do the computer piece (or do hand-over-hand) and then let him pick out the matching sounds.
They both really enjoyed writing a postcard to Clifford and getting an immediate answer back even though that particular activity seemed to have no redeeming educational value whatsoever in my opinion! Perhaps having to spell out their name was the redeeming value...?

Mr. T listening and reading. Usually (just for the first 2-3 books) after he listened to it on the tape I would have him read it back to me. At least the first book or 2 he was able to do fairly well. After that he lost both accuracy and interest.

O Boy doing a dot-to-dot I found I think at Scholastic's Clifford site. The Little Sweetie was THRILLED to have her very own Emily Elizabeth page to color next to O Boy!

I always try to do some painting or coloring and some cutting each week. So this week we painted each of the 3 main Clifford characters, one each day. Here is O Boy painting Clifford. Please note that he was fully dressed in our dog costume, which he wore for the entire first day of our Clifford unit.

The finished products! Their features got a bit covered over by the paint but they sure make a colorful display in our living room! I was really happy to see how both boys's painting skills are getting more refined. It was nice to do the progression of Clifford (all one color) to T-Bone (2 colors) to Cleo (3 colors) and see how they did keeping the colors in certain areas to match what the characters actually look like.

O Boy's paintings

Mr. T's paintings

The Little Sweetie wasn't too into actually doing these paintings each day (I was surprised) but she was THRILLED to see her paintings hanging up when she woke up from her nap yesterday!
Tot School
Here are a few of the Little Sweetie's tot jobs for the week:

Here she is doing her train puzzle for some reason with surgical gloves on. Fascinating.
You can see in the bottom of the picture some of her picture puzzles that I made for her. She really loves these!


"I did it!" Putting together the two halves of Mimi's face!

This is a tot job that Mr. T is always willing to try too! Scooping and dumping, after all, is one of his favorite things to do! I used packing peanuts at the suggestion of a blog I follow and won't repeat that mistake. It may have worked wonderfully for that other blogger's family, but at our house my kids' favorite thing to do with them was crinkle and crush them - no matter how many times I asked them not to! But here Mr. T was spooning them very nicely.

One thing the Little Sweetie has enjoyed doing this week is working on her " 'puter" (an old keyboard) in our playroom while one of the boys is painting (the easel is right next to the playroom). Sometimes she makes meals or gets drinks for me, but for some reason they are always, always "too hawt" (so she tells me). So I always am instructed to "Bwow on it."
This is always a favorite of everyone's: pounding golf tees into insulation board. There are a million and one fun things you can do with just these 3 simple objects: hammer, golf tee and insulation board.


Homeschool: Snowy Day Unit

In early January we did a unit on the book Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Not only do I never remember reading this book; (!) I didn't know anything about the author. It was lots of fun to read other books by him both online (visit the Ezra Jack Keats website for online books) and from the library. He has a fascinating illustration style that sort of pioneered collage before Eric Carle ever thought to try it! And his subject matter is equally interesting: simple childhood events played out with all their dramas, conflicts and joys. The plots are very gentle and focused directly on the point of view of the child or children in the story. As such, sometimes they seem to end abruptly or without the kind of neatly tied up ending that many children's story books feature. They also wrestle (either directly or indirectly) with very complex themes, but in a very gentle way. Often the illustrations present many good conversation points. This was especially true in the books we read set in a very poor slum-like apartment and the one set in a swamp where a little girl lived with her parents in a bus. I really enjoyed finding out that Peter, the very young main character in Snowy Day, became a character in an entire line of books that follow him (and his friends) as they go through life all the way to their early teen years.

All in all, it was a fun, active book to do with a lot of fresh snow on the ground outside!
After we copied Peter's actions outside (see the slideshow below) we also did an inside obstacle course of many of the same actions.

Here is Mr. T trying to hit a target (the blue paper) with as many snowballs (Dad's socks) as possible as quickly as possible!

Climbing to the top of the mountain

Snow angels - I got out our huge IKEA comforter that is white for this. Every once in a while I would wrap up whoever was down doing snow angels and roll them around in a "gigantic snowball"! We have another book that we read often called The Biggest Snowball in the World in which a whole neighborhood of children get rolled up into a snowball. So they enjoyed pretending they were in a gigantic snowball!

Toes in, toes out. I had noticed that Mr. T had a really hard time understanding how to do especially toes in while we were outside. But when he had to follow these footprints he did very well.

Over the course of several days we made these snowmen on our windows. One day we drew the circles and stamped out the paint. Another day they had to cut out the hat and buttons out of foam paper (much easier to cut than regular paper). Then we cut up eyes and mouth pieces and arm pieces. Finally we put all the details up for some really nice snowmen! These two are Mr. T's and the Little Sweetie's.


O Boy's snowman. He thought it was hilarious that he used one of the "twigs" to make a mustache for his snowman. He also used foam scraps to make 2 knives for him.

These were supposed to be snowmen but Mr. T's turned into a bunny and I don't really remember what kind of creature O Boy made his out to be!

Mr. T's snow bunny (holding a carrot of course). I'm really thankful to see how Mr. T is better able to manipulate these pattern blocks and use them confidently (instead of being frustrated with them) more each time I get them out.


One of Mr. T's many oral motor activities is to blow cotton balls into a bucket; kind of like playing soccer with your mouth! It's highly motivating and he can do it all by himself for quite a while. Other times we'll play against each other, blowing back and forth across the table. But I find that this is more immediately rewarding to him. He uses a straw to focus his mouth muscles into an "o" shape to help him direct the flow of air.

I realized that we were on the letter "o" during the middle of this book study. So of course we practiced drawing snowmen instead of practicing our "o's". The boys both had a really hard time getting all their o's to sit directly one on top of another but as the week went on they began to add more details to their snowmen. This was especially important for Mr. T, who needed a lot of support to think of details to add in the beginning but who became more independent as time went on.

One of Mr. T's early snowmen!

A snowman scene by O Boy (and there's one by me in there too since I was modeling as we talked and drew).

One of the very short science "experiments" our curriculum suggested was to make predictions about how heat affects the rate of snow melting. So we talked about it a bit, got some snow, made our predictions and set out the bowls. We had one in front of the heater, one inside by a window and one outside. You can imagine what the results were! But it was fun to experience it with the kids. I was pretty surprised at the dramatic difference between the three bowls. It really helped to illustrate the point. We ended up with textbook perfect results: one had almost no melt, one was slush with snow still visible and the third had completely melted!
One concept we casually began working with this week was counting by twos. We do it at the end of the month several times when we build up enough numbers on the calendar to really count by twos for a while. ! They like jumping as we skip count. But in this unit it was very natural to do more counting by twos as we talked a lot about footprints in the snow. For several days I had them use 2 fingers and a stamp pad to make "footprints" by twos in the snow. They had to make the same amount as the number on the strip of paper. Then we would count (by twos) the "footprints". My main goal in all this was to help them understand the difference between counting by ones and twos and to get the pattern of at least 2, 4, 6, 8 down.

Another fun activity we did several times (food fun is always popular!) over the course of this unit was to make snowflakes out of toothpicks and marshmallows. This is an infinitely expandable and flexible activity that works for all ages and levels. So the Little Sweetie was able to have fun poking the marshmallows while O Boy was learning how to use triangles to make his snowflakes bigger and stronger.

These are the very first simple snowflakes they made.


I showed them how you could connect a few snowflake points together to make triangles and O Boy decided to try it...

Mr. T came up with putting two marshmallows on one toothpick for a new look! With Mr. T I worked a lot on helping him see how he could make his snowflake look the same (symmetrical) on both sides.

My snowflake!
My suspicion is that all her other marshmallows were eaten!

Here's a complex structure that O Boy made that went well beyond the scope of mere "snowflake"!

Later in the unit Mr. T began learning how to connect the snowflake points to make triangles, a more difficult skill.



Since we have these wonderful white IKEA couch cushions (which are endlessly useful for building things out of) we decided to make indoor snow forts one day and have a snowball fight. This was TONS of fun!

Boys vs. Girls

The snowballs

The girls team (I got to wear one of the boys' snow hats) and O Boy took this pic.

The fight is on!

Another activity we did that was suggested by our curriculum was to make seed circles for the birds to eat. We squirted (thick) lines of glue into circles on wax paper. Then we scooped seeds all over them and left them to dry. This part took MUCH longer than I expected. Even with putting them in front of the heater and peeling them up and flipping them over to dry it still took days and days. Then when they were finally dry I tied strings on them and hung them out for the birds to get. I probably should have hung them on a tree so that the birds could perch and eat, but in the end they figured out a way (I'm not sure how) to pull the strings down so that they could eat the seed circles on the deck!

Early in our Snowy Day unit I took the kids outside and we reenacted some of the things Peter does in the book. Then I used those pictures and phrases on sentence strips to have the boys sequence the events in the book (and we also used them when we made the indoor obstacle course).


Tot School
Here are two of Nea's "tot school" (thanks Carisa at the 1+1+1=1 blog for the above icon) jobs from this unit:
The first is a cereal box in which I cut a small slit in the top only big enough for her to stick popsicle sticks into. This was so incredibly popular with not only her but her brothers. They loved it so much I made another one with a hole for single straws to drop into a cracker box.
Behind her you see Mr. T working in the sensory tub I set up for this unit: white beans. We did lots of things with these beans - scooping, dumping, hiding and finding. I also did some digit span activities with Mr. T in the beans where I would show him 4 bear counters, then we would bury them with beans and he would have to tell me their order (and other variations on that theme).