Our most recent unit centered around the book The Three Little Javelinas (which my parents had purchased for us a few years ago on a trip through the Southwest!).
Since the book is fairly long to read and, though filled with fantastic illustrations, not as well written as I'd like, we also spent a lot of time retelling the basic 3 Little Pigs story in lots of different ways. We also spent a lot of time reading and learning about the desert, since the Three Little Javelinas is set in the desert.
We began learning about the desert by watching the desert section on the Planet Earth DVD series. I had no idea they'd like it or learn as much from it as they did. All three kids really enjoyed watching it - and things they learned came out at other times and places later on in the unit.
We then looked through our desert books and talked about the difference between the colors in the desert sky and the sky where we live! Of course O Boy immediately picked out the one picture of a desert NIGHT sky and insisted he wanted to do that picture because it had lightening in the sky! It worked out well because he did a night sky, Mr. T did a daytime sky and mine (using up paint from their two paintings!) showed sort of afternoon colors. It was fun to talk about the differences in colors.
I wanted them to have the beautiful bands of color that you can see in desert skies so I poured the paint directly on the cardboard and had them roll the paint on in long stripes. We tried to keep the colors from blending completely together so that you could really see 3 different colors in the sky. It was beautiful!
Here's O Boy copying his picture of the desert night scene. He picked the colors of black, blue and purple to use for his night sky. We did these paintings one night before bed so you can see they are in their fantastically mismatched pajamas (mismatching pajamas is a current fad in our house).
I had Mr. T do his colors one at a time so that he wouldn't blend them together completely and lose the brightness of the individual colors. We also added white to each of his colors to keep them light.
The next day we colored on some texture mats with sand colors and then cut shapes out of that and sandpaper to make our sandy ground. Of course O Boy surprised me again by taking the scraps from the sandpaper and turning it on its side and saying, "Hey, Mom! This is like in the video [Planet Earth DVD] where the winds cuts away the sand [erosion!]" Wow! And he also had to include a spaceship landing in his desert for some reason. After arguing about it for awhile I decided that someday he would see Close Encounters of the Third Kind and understand that yes, some spaceships DO land in the desert.
After that we cut out and added different kinds of cacti. Then for some real fine motor fun ! I had them put tiny pieces of toothpicks all over the cacti. I think on that day we drew and cut out our sun and moons and I cut out O Boy's lightening for him. He especially wanted one streak of lightening to hit his tallest cactus.
Next they cut out a few desert animals (and a longhorn skull) to add to their pictures while listening to the extremely hyper Odds Bodkin version of the 3 Little Pigs.
O Boy's finished desert scene. He had a very involved story he told convincing me why the skull and the coyote should be on top of the one rock shape even though I told him in my logical adult way that no coyote or cow could ever get up there - really. He said that's why it's a skull; longhorn climbed up to get away from the coyote and died (because he couldn't get back down). And the coyote got up using his sharp claws. Apparently he'll soon be a just a skull up there too.
O Boy's daytime desert.
Now that they know enough letters I decided to have them practice writing this unit doing short phrases rather than just endless letters over and over (though we were still working specifically on S, J and D at the same time).
O Boy's terrifying wolf saying, "I'll Huff and I'll Puff!"
He was saying, "Huff and puff" to me as I took the picture.
I had them build houses for the 3 pigs on different days. This is O Boy's straw house, build out of yellow blocks of course and with a chimney. The little pig characters I got off the makinglearningfun.com site. Excellent stuff there!
O Boy's stick house
This is his complicated brick house, complete with 2 fireplaces, a forest around it (with trees to cut down for the fireplace) and several pots inside in which to boil big, bad wolves.
Mr. T's bristle block brick house. The pig JUST barely fits in. He kept trying to rest the roof on the pig's head and I told him he had to figure out how to make it be above the pig's head. He built this on his own after copying two other models I made (straw and stick houses).
These are 3 precarious but interesting houses Mr. T made. I was happy to see they had walls and a roof, something we've really been working on. "Bridging" is kind of the next step in the developmental sequence of block building so I've really been working on that with him. He also added chimneys. And at first his roofs were very tippy and slanted and I told him he had to figure out how to make them straight across. So he rearranged some blocks and did!
Taking an idea from the 1+1+1=1 blog I love I had the boys doing different cutting/sorting activities the last few weeks to work on their AWANA verses. They enjoyed it!
Off of this site: http://www-math.uni-paderborn.de/~odenbach/pigs/pigs.html I got a series of great pictures telling the sequence of the 3 pigs story. So several days during our unit I had them sequence out the story. For Mr. T. I often would take out some of the pics and/or just have him sequence 3-5 at a time until he got through the story. Now I have them taped up along the top of our "puppet theater" so that they they do the story with puppets.
I believe also on the makinglearningfun.com site I found these sound match domino cards. I didn't use them to play dominoes, but rather just to have the boys make rhyming pairs. For O Boy this was fun and pretty easy and I was very happy to see that even Mr. T could do it with a bit of support.
Of course we had to build some houses for the 3 pigs and knock them down!
This is when I trick Mr. T into doing "school work" (building with blocks) in the name of helping his sister (which he's generally always happy to do). She, of course, wanted to try knocking down the houses too!
We did several different hammered pictures (an idea I took from my Play and Learn curriculum) this unit. I had a pig picture (from Play and Learn) and then made my own cactus and wolf pictures for them to hammer. It's a great fine motor exercise and we took a few days remembering just how low (but not too low so that you can't pull them back out!) to hammer the golf tees! I got all this insulation stuff from one of our local hardware stores - I just went and asked them for some scrap pieces. The foam pieces I think just came with some mailed item we received.
You can sort of see the cactus outline!
This was a lacing card I made that had too many holes. Mr. T sat in my lap and did it with me while Mimi and Papa read books to the kids (over Skype!).
I copied an idea I'd seen on another blog (in a transportation unit), thinking it might be fun. It ended up just being way too easy for both the boys. They definitely don't know their left and right but this activity doesn't seem to really teach that; rather it's just an exercise in lining up pig noses one way or the other!
Mr. T is always up for doing this kind of fine motor activity; it's really just scooping and dumping! This time I noticed that he very carefully lined all the puff balls up one by one in the ice cube tray spots. When Little Sister arrived and tried dropping them in randomly he was extremely frustrated by this!
Usually before I had him working with the playdoh/building the 3 pigs' houses I would have him line up the post its from 1-10 just to keep practicing it.
This was another activity that didn't turn out as successfully as I'd planned (for Mr. T). To keep them in practice with spotting (knowing the number of dots on each side of the die) I thought I'd turn this color by number sheet (of a pig!) into a spotting/coloring exercise. For Mr. T it was doubly excruciating. Not only had he forgotten most of his spotting skills (or didn't choose to remember them that day), coloring in small spaces is just plain not fun for him. So it was work and work and work. And not really fun. O Boy had a bit more fun with it and did a really nice job coloring but the spotting was difficult for him too. This was frustrating for me because just a few weeks ago they were expert spotters! So it was a good opportunity to review.
Usually each week Mr. T has to write his letters/shapes in cornmeal at least once. This past week we were really hitting SJD hard to try and get them down very well.
This was an activity I came up with to bring pattern blocks back into our unit (we hadn't done anything with them for a few weeks). Since we have 2 really cool books on snakes and many snakes live in deserts, we spent a bit of time reading and talking about snakes - specifically about the designs on their skins. Then I had them both copy designs I'd made with pattern blocks and make up their own snake skin designs. I'd printed out two snake heads that we stuck at the end of their snakes. :-) If they had to simply copy one of my designs, I had them continue out the pattern to see if they could keep repeating the pattern. This was very easy for O Boy and still pretty challenging for Mr. T.
This was a pattern that Mr. T made on his own and I helped him repeat it over and over and over. He needed quite a bit of support and encouragement. It always helps when I pull the 2 colors out of the big pile of blocks and help him isolate his choices down to just two colors/blocks. Then he was able to figure out which block came next much more quickly.
We pulled out our wonderful old animal puzzles again and did some more sorting. This is always a fun activity for me to watch - especially since we've done it several times this year already. Their knowledge about which animals live where has really grown. This time around O Boy was able to start seeing overlaps between where the different animals live. For example, he realized (from watching our Planet Earth Desert DVD) that lizards, turtles, snakes and lions can be found in several different habitats.
Since I'd put out a lot of animals for them to sort I structured the activity for Mr. T by putting all the bottom pieces of the puzzles in a line. Then he was better able to organize how to put all the puzzles together. Before it was just a jumble of pieces and he was pretty overwhelmed.
Now that I've been learning more about digit spans and short term memory issues in people with Down syndrome, I try to do a memory activity every day with Mr. T. The activities I did this time all used some pictures I'd printed off from the makinglearningfun.com site of a wolf, straw, sticks, and bricks houses. Sometimes he would swing and I'd flash the cards at him and he'd have to repeat the sequence. He enjoys doing that. Other times I had him do it this way where I'd lay out my sequence, say it and then take it quickly off the table (which I did immediately after snapping this picture). He would then have to repeat my sequence. He can do a sequence of 2 perfectly, 3 well and 4 is a big challenge. So he has a lot of work to do in this area.
Mr. T's organization of the animals.
This is Mr. T's 1st pig's house (the outline circle-square looking thing). Inside is a wolf (the circle shape with all the dots - fur). For some reason!
This is O Boy's 3rd pig's house. His house looked completely different after I did a short lesson with him on drawing houses. You can see that now his house actually looks like a house. He insisted on adding a basement. :-) His pig is MUCH larger than the house because the wolf (the small shaggy creature) is "very far away." Not sure where he learned how to do that! One this day he decided to write all his letters incredibly small and he decided not to try writing a 3. ! I haven't really pushed writing numbers yet because I want them to get their letters down very well first. But we practice the numbers casually at times.
Here's Mr. T's copy of a house that we drew together, step by step. The long, skinny window looking thing next to the door was his idea. He suggested we draw "kitchen walls"! That was the best I could come up with.
I've been frustrated by Mr. T's inability to count well with one-to-one correspondence. He counts too quickly and sometimes skips numbers. This greatly inhibits his ability to count objects over 4 or 5 accurately. So we began hitting this really hard, working on repetition and practicing the phrase "Touch and count" so that he wouldn't skip items as he counted. I started with really low numbers and only slowly moved to higher numbers after he could show he was doing better at this. The way I tried to motivate him to do this was to create a story. I asked him to build houses for the 3 pigs. Each time he did this he had to build a straw house (using straws), a stick house (using wood colored popsicle sticks) and a brick house (using colored popsicle sticks - it was a big stretch, but the best I could come up with). The goal wasn't at all to make these groups look like houses, but rather to stick them in the playdoh and count them accurately. I started off each time giving him spots to put the correct number (I'd poke the correct number of spots into the playdoh). So it was essentially just a matching exercise. But each time he had to correctly count the right number. Then, after doing that correctly I'd have him put the same number in without any spots to follow. Then we'd huff and puff and blow them all down (a little oral motor exercise thrown in).
This was a game I came up with kind of on the spur of the moment to both test and practice counting to 10 from any number. I wasn't sure how (especially Mr. T) would do with this but they really had fun playing this game and quickly demonstrated they could both count from any number up to 10 (actually with O Boy I just started with the numbers 11-20). We pretended that the cotton ball was a cloud on a rainy day and moved it back and forth in the air above the numbers. Then suddenly we'd say, "It's raining!" and drop the cotton ball. The player then had to count from whatever number it landed on up to 10. Very silly, very simple, but it accomplished the goal. After I could see that Mr. T could easily count from any number up to 10 then we moved on to 11-20.
This is another fun thing I pulled from the the makinglearningfun.com site. It's a memory game where you have to fill in your card with the 3 pigs' homes...unless you get a wolf card! Then you have to remove any straw or stick house cards (but you can keep the brick house card). It's super easy to play and even the Little Sweetie knows how to play it. You can see our plane cabin (from the First Flight unit) turned puppet theater upside-down in the background with the 3 pigs sequence on it so that they can follow the action while doing a show.
This is one of my all-time favorite children's books. The writing is fantastic, the illustrations ingenious and the whole premise is hilarious. My favorite phrase comes after the pig tries to take out one of the homes that the little wolves have built by huffing and puffing and it doesn't work. (From the story:) "But this pig wasn't called Big and Bad for nothing. He went and fetched his sledgehammer and he knocked the house down."
This was a very fun version of the 3 pigs. Instead of huffing and puffing, the big-bottomed boar in this story wiggles his rump with a bump, bump, bump. Totally fun to read aloud.
This is an absolute work of genius. The author/illustrators have taken 5 classic fairy tales and woven them all together, using the same wolf as the unifying character. It is hilarious, witty, fantastically illustrated and a blast to read.
Of course we had to read this one! It's very clever, though I was pretty surprised to discover it was written by some lady in New York. !!
I'm not a big fan of Jan Brett's writing style, even though her illustrations are amazing. But this was a unique (if extremely wordy) version of the 3 little pigs to read.
We read this one so many times I lost count. We're all big Steven Kellogg fans in this house!
I'm not sure they got the sarcasm in this book but it was still fun to read.
Other resources I used for this unit:
We re-read Clementina's Cactus (a wonderful Ezra Jack Keats book about a girl who lives in the desert) from this site: http://www.ezra-jack-keats.org/
We watched this DVD from the library waaaaaaay too many times for my taste, but they absolutely loved it. The Little Sweetie loves shouting "Dellaaaaaaaaaaaaa!", having no idea that it (I'm guessing) is pointing back to the moment in A Streetcar Named Desire when Stanley shouts, "Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"
We watched (as a family) the original Silly Symphony of the 3 pigs made by Disney many, many years ago. You can find it here: http://videosift.com/video/Silly-Symphony-The-Three-Little-Pigs
I had them try some online puzzles from firstschool.com (http://www.first-school.ws/puzzlesonline/alphabet/p_pig.htm). O Boy loved this and figured them out quickly but Mr. T couldn't manipulate the mouse and do the puzzle at the same time without a lot of help.
This was a great new find: http://www.kizclub.com/reading3.htm It features storybooks that have simplified language for early readers. I really like that the words are on the bottom of the story and each word that is read is highlighted so that they can track along. We read the 3 pigs story several times and they enjoyed some of the other stories too.
I got some of my ideas for the desert storyboard that we painted and made from here: http://www.ehow.com/list_6510993_preschool-art-activities-desert-theme.html
After talking about tumbleweeds in the 3 Javelinas, (the first javelina makes his house out of tumbleweeds) we watched this amazing youtube clip.
We read the 3 pigs version on this site, with signing: http://www.signedstories.com/
This is just another nice book about desert animals. It has fun sound words in it that make it nice to read aloud.
This is a fantastic description of the life cycle of a saguaro cactus.
Great pictures in this book