Monday, May 31, 2010

Step Four: Materials Madness -- Basic Principles for Equipping Interest Areas Using the Creative Curriculum® at Home

Creative Curriculum for Preschool- Spanish EditionWhen applying the Creative Curriculum® (CC), interest areas should be equipped with attractive, inviting and challenging, but not frustrating materials.  This charge should be an easy one for anyone interested in Reggio, Charlotte Mason, Montessori or Waldorf education – all of which we appreciate parts of here at Jammies School – since each of these philosophies keys into well-made, beautiful materials that are appropriate to children’s ages and interests.   Indeed, the CC echoes many other philospophies in stating that materials should encourage exploration of topics in science, math, literacy, technology, etc.  Anything from natural collections to sort and graph (math, with echoes of Montessori, Reggio and Charlotte Mason) to gears and clocks to take apart (technology, which meshes with Charlotte Mason handiworks) to resource books for looking things up (literacy, Montessori style).  Luckily, packrat/freecycle-happy me has already collected a store of such types of materials.  Now, it is just a matter of digging them out from the twaddle we have also amassed and rotating them to display in attractive, inviting ways for prime usage!

As we do this, pointers the Creative Curriculum® offers are:

-         to offer fewer materials at the outset, allowing time for children to learn to use and care for them (Do I hear echoes of Montessori here?)
-         to minimize sharing problems by putting out duplicates of basic materials rather than a large selection of different items (This is not really something I intend to do regularly with two, soon to be three, children, but it is a thought for those with more...  That being said, for Montessori followers, this suggestion runs counter to Montessori philosophy and practice.)
-         to include simple, familiar materials such as stringing beads, crayons and puzzles (Reggio aficionados, especially, can appreciate the amazing things children can create and discover using quality materials and recycled, re-purposed ones!)

Obviously these pointers are mostly consistent with other education philosophies I am interested in.  Yet, admittedly, they are ones I  sometimes forget to heed – often putting out too much at one time or offering too many unfamiliar or new materials and activities at once.  Thus, as I continue on our Order in the Home quest, getting excited about the variety of materials we have collected that I am uncovering as we move along, and as I delight in the newly improved spaces I create, I continually remind myself to pay better attention to these pointers, remembering a tried and true maxim – less IS more!

And, with this axiom in mind, I’d like to stop thinking and start doing again – this time by creating a better learn-and-play space in our small yard for my children. Spring has sprung with summer-like weather in our area and we seem to be outside for hours and hours each day.  This precludes me from doing as much with the Order in the Home(school)  opens the door for examining and improving the Outdoor Area.  So, please join me soon for thoughts, reflections and assessment ideas for outdoor spaces based on the Creative Curriculum® .

In This Series:

One final note, as I have mentioned before, if you would like to join me on this CC journey, please leave comments. When thinking about materials for your own space, you might want to take a look at the Setting Up a Classroom for 20 Students at Teaching Strategies.  Although meant for schools, not home, this checklist offers and idea of materials to think about acquiring as you hit spring and summer yard sales and thrift shops...  Also, of course, if you want to journey with me, you can grab a copy of the CC  book yourself to review and let me know what you're getting from it.  Or, use my summaries and posts as a starting point for thought.  Tell me how you're moving from theory to practice in your own home.  Cheer me on (or give me constructive criticism) about how I am doing.  Or, simply jot down whatever comes to mind.  Deep conversation or silly banter -- my journeys have always been all the better for sharing both along the way.  I'd love to heat about yours, particularly as pertains to materials selection today.  What are your favorites?  You children's?  How do you present and store them? 

Thank you and enjoy the day!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making Picture-Word Labels for Learning Environments -- A Simple How-To

Someone asked me what my actual picture-word labels look like for our Music and Movement area and how we made them.  Here's the low down:

  1. After deciding where things would go, I took pictures of each thing in its basket, drawer, etc.
  2. I uploaded the pictures onto our computer.
  3. Using Microsfot Publisher, I created a document much like that I use for Montessori three-part cards.  For each card, I inserted a small picture of a specific material.  Below, I typed the name of the material.
  4. I printed two copies of the document, "laminated" them with contact paper and cut them out.
  5. I put one picture-word label in the actual basket, drawer bottom, etc. that its corresponding material goes in and one on the outside of the cupboard or drawer or on the shelf that we put that container.  (This way, the kids (and Daddy for that matter!) know which material goes in which container and which container goes in which place.)
I find that this system works well for us in a home environment.  I think it would work in a classroom one, too, although I might suggest larger labels.

As a side note: I purposely made the cards small enough to fit nicely into baseball card page protector pockets.  That way, as I rearrange our home or switch out materials, I can simply take the tape off the backs of the cards before placing the cards into a three-ring binder full of pocket protectors.  Then, the kids can use this 3-ring binder to choose activities and supplies as I catalog more of them and get the binders organized.  (This is my hope, at least.)  A similar idea could work well in other home and school environments.

Likewise, I purposely made them three-part card style so that if I ever desire, I can use any of our picture-word label cards as nomenclature and matching ones as we move along with different homeschool endeavors.

I would love to hear how you label your home or classroom for ease of use, organization and future activities. please leave a comment.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Step Three: Music and Movement Area Creative Curriculum® for the Home

Creative Curriculum®. Charlotte Mason. Montessori.  You name the young children’s educational philosophy, and somewhere in it you are sure to find thoughts on a vital and enriching part of early childhood development: Music and Movement. 

Although I am anything but musically gifted, I certainly desire to immerse my children in the wonder, beauty and fun of music. In fact, I had them listening to classical music (something I only gained appreciation for later in life) in utero and have focused on filling a portion of each week since with rhythmic rhymes, meaningful lyrics, soothing melodies and interesting compositions.  Likewise, I have collected an array of instruments for the kids to explore with a not-so-secret hope that they will one day learn to read and play music, as I always wished to, but have yet to do. 

And Movement?  While not trained in this area, I am adept at it.  Indeed, for this Drama Mama, creative movement, silly dancing, beginning yoga and the like all are natural joys to share with children.  Thus, it seems only fitting that the Music and Movement Interest Area in our home became the first one we got to work on when tuning up things as part of our Creative Curriculum® (CC) for the home endeavor.

The chapter on Music and Movement in CC is rich with ideas not only for creating an environment for music and movement, but for recognizing how the interest connects to literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts and technology.  It also offers ideas on the teacher’s role in music, including thoughts on how to engage children in music and movement and how to respond to children and assess things as they do.  Truly, CC is rich in basic information to extrapolate upon as you create your own Music and Movement program at home. 

However, for the purposes of my focus on Home(schooling) Organization, I am focusing only on the environment portion of the chapter here:

CC states that “music and movement involves children in listening activities, joining in group experiences and experimenting with materials on their own.”  Thus, the environment should include:
  • a specific location to store musical instruments:  This might be a pegboard  with silhouettes of musical instruments showing where instruments should be hung, a labeled shelf or a labeled box.
  • storage space for tapes and CD’s that is labeled for easy selection of music:  CD’s may be labeled with pictures of children sleeping, dancing or marching; colors or symbols to identify the type of music, etc.  Selections should include songs that are “fast or slow and soothing; diverse in style and tradition... representative of children’s backgrounds”.
  • an open area with carpeting if possible and tumbling mats:  However, any open space a (inside or out!) will do fine.
  • an easy to operate music player with headphones
  • props in or on picture-and-and word labeled storage:  These might include streamers, scarves, fabric pieces, hats, feathers, cultural costumes, pom-poms, etc.
  • rhythm instruments in easy reach of children: These might include drums, tambourines, kazoos, rhythm sticks, bells, triangles, cymbals, xylophones, melody bells, maracas, shakers, rattles – homemade or purchased.
Bearing these suggestions in mind and reflecting on the Music and Movement space we have re-organized, here is my quick assessment of our area:
  • Are instruments and props clearly labeled and accessible to children?  Yep!  Although, admittedly, they do take up a relatively large area of space in our small home.  So, eventually I might condense them.  I truly think a couple of bags on hooks or a well-organize basket or bin would do the trick nicely.  Right now, though, our current arrangement works for us.
  • Is there an easy-to-operate CD player for children to use, with headphones, if possible?  Ah, no.  Our family room record/CD/tape player has seen better working days and the kids personal CD player skips.  So, a new CD player is on our wish list.  Freecycle has yet to come through for us, so perhaps a birthday or holiday will...
  • Are there a variety of instruments, a variety of dance props (streamers, scarves, etc.) and a variety of CD’s, representing diverse cultural and musical styles?  Yes, yes and somewhat.  We have a wide variety of rhythm instruments, even if most are of the plastic, homemade and found-for-free kind, rather than the beautiful wooden fine materials and  cultural ones I would love.  We also have scarves in a labeled drawer ready for play and imagination, and, sometimes, bring out other props as well.  And, our CD collection, though currently heavy on the Bible, lullaby and silly songs side, with a smattering of classical, culture-specific and jazz thrown in, can, thankfully, be augmented by our local library to fill obvious holes without breaking our budget.  Now, I just have to get on finding re-purposed or freecycled storage to better house our owned-and-borrowed CD collection.  Ideally, I am looking for something that is easy to access, yet protects CD’s from getting scratched by being “too easy” to access.  Ideas for pre-k friendly CD storade are appreciated!
  • Are there books with words to songs and rhymes?  Indeed! Not only do we  have a few of these out in our Music and Movement area, along with some Montessori-inspired yoga cards, thanks to Meg at Montessori by Hand, and a changing basket of movement cards especially for SPD breaks (currently these wonderful ABC Exercise Cards and soon our Alerting Activity ABC cards), but we also have a collection of music, rhyme and movement books in our larger family library collection that we rotate with the kids’ interests.  And, as we continue on our homeschool journey, we hope to add some Charlotte Mason inspired composer study photos, books and music selections to the area, as well as some Montessori-inspired three-part cards and our growing notebook of Yoga Kids Poses of the Week.
How is your Music and Movement space shaping up?  Is it organized, accessible and fun to use?  That is key.  Not the size of it!  Truly, please do not think you have to have a sizable area dedicated to Music and Movement.  For, as mentioned, although we currently dedicate a fair portion of our living room to our Music and Movement area, in all honesty, a simple labeled basket of instruments, next to a CD player with a sleeve of CD’s, in an area where you can push a few things aside for movement space would do just as well.  It’s not the size of the space that counts, but the quality of materials in it, and, even more so, the time spent exploring music and movement that counts!

To help us as we explore our area, if you have some favorite composers, musical artists, CD titles or instrument resources, please share them in a comment!  We are always looking to improve our selection.  And, if you are interested in joining a group to discuss Montessori-inspired Music Ideas, please consider joining the Montessori Music Collaborative, a YahooGroup I began in hopes of getting like-minded folks together to collaborate on lesson ideas, resource lists and other related information for conducting music lessons with our children (and their friends!) As a group, we hope to come up with a basic "music lesson" template/plan.  Then, combining our knowledge and experience, we seek to put together a Montessori-inspired set of Music and Movement lesson ideas.  Of late, progress is slow with all this, but, hopefully, it will pick up as the ebb and flow of all the members’ lives allow. Until then, free exploration is just as fun and useful and I'd love to share ideas for it through comments below!

In closing, now that our Music and Movement area is established anew, as I dream about equipment and organizational items I still want for it, I cannot help but to pause for another thinking cap moment in my journey through Theory Jungle.  As such, I am asking myself if such wants are truly needs and if they are even helpful.  Thus, next up in this Creative Curriculum for the Home expedition will be Step Four: Materials Madness  -- Basic Principles for Equipping Interest Areas.  Check back within the next few days to a week for it, when I hope to have reading done and thoughts on that step ready to share.

In This Series:

Please note: As I have mentioned before, if you would like to join me on this CC journey, please leave comments.  Grab a copy of the book yourself to review and let me know what you're getting from it.  Or, use my summaries and posts as a starting point for thought.  Or, if you want to read what CC says, verbatim, about how Music and Movement promotes development, what an educator’s role in  Music and Movement is, and how to create an environment for Music and Movement, please check out this link at Teaching Strategies.  Likewise, for a one page synopsis of CC Music and Movement ideas see this Sample Letter to Families About Music and Movement.  And, of course, please share with me how you're moving from theory to practice in your own home learning environment.  Cheer me on or give me constructive criticism.  Or, simply jot down whatever comes to mind.  Deep conversation or silly banter --  I appreciate them all.  Thanks! 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Alerting Activity ABC Cards

This past weekend, we had our first family yard sale.  As I collected items for it from amongst the clutter of our home, it made me think about how much “stuff” we think kids “need” or “could use” only to find they outgrow it quickly.  Then, when I was at a friend’s house for a playdate, we ended up talking about the “too many toys syndrome” that plagues so many homes these days.  Thus, later, as I began flipping through an SPD resource catalog, coveting pricey supplies and games, I immediately caught myself.  “Neither my kids nor my budget needs any of this!  We have been doing just fine with frugal ideas and the view from my SPD lenses.”  Still, I thought we could use something “new” to spice up late afternoons when I am thoroughly wiped from third-trimester pregnancy just as the kids are primed for some sensory fun.  “Hmmm..." I continued to think, "I would really like something that would allow me to sit and them to move... Something that costs just pennies."  It was then an idea struck: Alerting Activity ABC Cards!

I am  excited to say that I just finished making some.  They were inspired by a mind for frugal fun, a desire to meet the kids late-afternoon need to move and mine to sit and, also, by some wonderful ABC Exercise Cards*  that an awesome activity bag swap partner I had included in a box of goodies for my children a couple months back.  (I wish I knew who created the cards originally, so I could credit that person.  if you know, please tell me!)

You see, Luke and Nina love the ABC Exercise cards, as well as some sensory diet inspired movement cards I put together for them for a recent road trip.  So, I was confident that Alerting Activity ABC Cards would be a hit, allowing me a few minutes on the couch while still facilitating late-in-the-day movement and sensory diet activities for the kids...

Perhaps, you’d like to use them to.  Please do!
To Prep the Cards:
Simply click on the thumbnails of the cards throughout this post.  When you do, larger, printable versions should pop up.  (Since I have not yet had time to figure out how to share documents through any of the free online sharing sites that exist, and do not have a PDF file maker yet, I simply uploaded the cards as images.)    Should you want a Publisher version of the cards instead so you can tweak my creation to suit your own child's need, simply leave a comment and your email address and I will get a copy out to you.  (Of course, if you do this, I would expect the courtesy of getting copies of your tweaked cards in return!)

Once you print the cards, simply cut them out and laminate them for durability of you wish.  (I simply use clear contact paper).  Then, stack the cards in a pile on a tray (Montessori style), tuck them in a Ziploc (activity bag style) or hole punch their corners and put them on a ring (handy style).  And, you'll be ready to play.
To Play
Be aware that in the set of cards, there are quick activities kids can do to alert each of their seven senses: auditory (hearing), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), proprioceptive (muscle sense), visual (sight) and vestibular (balance).  With just their bodies and some typical items found at home (or prepared ahead of time if at school, camp or other locations), kids can use the cards to key into each of their seven senses, enjoying a few minutes –or as much time as they wish—of simple, fun activities aimed at “speeding up their engines”.  Before playing, in deference to your child's individual needs and abilities, as well as to what supplies you may or may not have on hand (think lemons and lemonade!), take a quick flip through the deck to pull out any that might not work for your child.

Once the deck is ready, when your child needs some alerting activities, pick a random card – or have the child do so – and follow the challenge on it.  It’s that simple!  Pick one at a time; pick several in a row; pick only ones of certain colors (The cards are color-coded by sense.)  Spend two minutes or twenty.  Whatever works for your child!
Or, for Variation, try these activities:

Board Game Style:  Lay the cards out, face down, in a “snake”,  board game style.  Choose small objects as place markers and grab a coin.  Place the markers before the first card in your game board snake.  Have the first player flip a coin.  Heads= two spaces.  Tails =one.  Move accordingly.  Flip the card over and follow the challenge on it.  Play until someone gets to the end of the “snake”.  (Of course, you can use dice or a number spinner for this game, too if coins are too small and, thus, a choking hazard, for your child or if finger dexterity does not allow for flipping.)
Spelling Snake:  Play as above, but have players collect the cards they land upon and meet the challenges of.  Whoever collects enough cards to spell a word wins.  (Printing two or more decks, or at least extras of the letters A, E, I, O, U, R, S, T, L and N can be helpful for this version.)

Pick a Letter, Any Letter:  Have your child choose a letter of the alphabet.  Then, find the corresponding card.  Follow the challenge on it.

Mother, May I?:  To help practice the habit of polite questioning and obedience, give each child a set of the cards.  Have them pick one and ask, “Mother, may I (do whatever is pictured on the selected card)?”  Answer, “Yes, you may,” or “No, you may ot” and have the child respond accordingly.

What letter Is It?:  To practice letter recognition, show players a card.  Whoever can name the letter (or its sound if working on phonics) first is asked to meet the challenge on it and gets to keep the card.  The winner is the player who ends up with the most cards.  Or, for more cooperative play, ask each player a letter directly by turn (not racing to be the first to name them) and consider it a "win for all" once all letters have been identified and all challenges met.

Can You Think Of...?:  For creative kids that have become familiar with the cards, set a challenge:  Can you think of another activity you could do that uses this letter?

Three-Part Cards: Although not traditional 3-part./nomenclature cards, I made these cards with the 3-part card style in mind.  So, Montessori-inspired folks, feel free to print out two copies of the cards.  Leave one whole and cut the other right below the letters.  Then, use one as the control set and one as the matching set, having children complete the challenges as they successfully match the cards.

Of course, there are many other ways to use the cards... Let your children take the lead (as mine often do!) and they will make up their own game versions.  You'll be amazed!  So, now, stop reading and get to having some sensory fun by printing out the Alerting Activity ABC Cards!

Then later, if you have a moment, stop back by this post to let me know how you and yours enjoyed using the cards.  And, please also leave any tips you might have for improving or modifying them.  (Since the cards were made in snippets of time between life’s many duties, often with the kids-in-lap, there are likely things that could be improved about them.  So, don’t be shy.  I value constructive criticism as much as kudos.)

Finally, for others' Frugal Friday ideas, please check out the links at Life As Mom.

NOTE:  The Exercise ABC cards I mentioned can now be found at The Homeschool Share site, My Body Lapbook on pages 54 to page 60, as I understand.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sensory Integration: Learn to Move, Move to Learn! Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes by Jenny Clark Brack, A Rich Resource Review

Not long ago, I was excited to find the blog carnival “What’s On Your Nightstand” at 5 Minutes for Books.  As an avid book lover, this monthly meme immediately spoke to me as something I wanted to participate in, sharing books I have been enjoying, as well as getting ideas from other readers about books they like. And, so this month, I join in with a partial list of what’s on my nightstand – as there are far too many books in the pile to name them all! – as well as a spotlight  Rich Resource Review about Learn to Move, Move to Learn! Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes by Jenny Clark Brack.  First, the review:

Learn to Move, Move to Learn: Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity ThemesLearn to Move, Move to Learn! Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes by Jenny Clark Brack

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Looking for lesson plans for sensorimotor activities?  Brainstorming sensory diet activities to match various seasonal, nature, holiday and other themes?  Just looking for some background and new ideas?  Learn to Move, Move to Learn! might be a good book for you!  Written by a pediatric occupational therapist with over 14 years’ experience in school settings, as well as experience presenting nationally on sensory integration, handwriting, learning disabilities, ADD and learning-related visual deficits, and published by the Autism Aspberger Publishing Company, Learn to Move, Move to Learn! offers a host of tried-and-true concrete, themed ideas for early childhood educators in a ready-to-go lesson plan format that both school educators and parents can draw from.  In addition, it provides information on planning activities and adapting them to different children’s needs, as well a host of useful checklists and resource lists.

Learn to Move, Move to Learn! easily earns a star for Readability with wide margins, relatively large fonts, cute graphics and a great format.  A comprehensive table of contents guides readers easily to just the information they might be looking for.  Chapters on “Over view of Sensory Systems”, “School Readiness Skills”, “Program Structure”, “Adaptations”, “Dynamic Problem Solving”, “Planning” and “Lesson Themes” quickly provide readers with a variety of information they might seek – both theoretical (but easy to read!) and practical (in plenty!).  Also, there is a quality selected Biography and a resource list of companies that provide sensory equipment, supplies, books and website addresses that relate to the books themes.  Plus, an Appendix with a “Signs and Symptoms of Sensory Integration/Processing Dysfunction” checklist, a number of “Progress Data Collection Forms”, a “Lesson Planning Form”, an illustrated list of “Definitions of Positions Mentioned in Lessons”, a list of “Recommended Children’s Books” and over 25 pages of large black-and-white drawings/patterns that can be used with lessons round out browsing pleasure.  Read cover-to-cover or browsed as needed, Learn to Move, Move to Learn! is definitely an easy to navigate and digest book!  (I read it while the kids did activities and/or laid on my lap and shoulder.)

As one can imagine just from reading its chapter titles, this book also provides plenty of Relevant information.  I loved how it helped me wrap my head around how easy it is to make traditional lesson plans and activities into quality sensory integration ones through an easy to follow (and duplicate!) sensory integration, theme-and literature-based, transdisciplinary, inclusive model.  The lesson format the book presents is simple yet comprehensive.  It includes:
  • a Warm Up, introducing the lesson theme and including things such as story reading, simple songs, finger plays and action songs
  • a theme-related Vestibular activity that might include rolling, spinning, galloping, running, hopping, skipping, jumping, crab walking, bear walking, scooter board work, obstacle navigation or the like
  • a theme-related Proprioceptive activity that might include lifting, carrying, passing, pushing or pulling heavy objects, making “kid sandwiches”, jumping or Theraband stretching
  • a theme-related Balance activity to build on the foundation of an integrated vestibular and proprioception system that might include balance beam work, walking on a hula-hoop, jump rope or strip of tape, playing balance games, doing kid yoga or working on balance boards
  • a theme-related Eye-Hand Coordination exercise, such as throwing and catching, using balls, balloons and bubbles or throwing something at a target, to help with mastery of such purposeful skills as cutting on a line, stringing beads and reproducing letters, shapes and numbers
  • a theme-related Cool Down activity, such as a relaxation exercise, simple songs, finger plays or story time, to foster a “just right” alertness level in preparation for the final lesson activity
  • a Fine Motor task, related to the theme, of course, that might include art with a focus on process, making a snack, cutting and gluing, coloring, drawing or some sort of a tactile activity
This plan format, although it may seem “heavy” or “difficult” to put together and carry out at first glance, seems quite do-able after browsing the plethora of concrete lesson examples included in the book.  Truly, after reading Learn to Move, Move to Learn!, planning lessons in the format becomes almost second-nature.  Thus, for the lesson format and concrete plans alone (and, trust me, there was plenty more I found relevant, worthy of “doing now” or “thinking abut later” in the book!), Learn to Move, Move to Learn! earns its Relevance star hands down.  It certainly has helped me see how simple the seemingly complicated task of integrating sensory learning into everyday life with my children can be – formal lessons or none!

With this in mind, Learn to Move, Move to Learn! earns a Practicality star from me, too.  I have already tried out some of the activities included in it with my children, plan to eventually make some activity choice cards based on the illustrated definitions of positions in the book’s Appendix, and have found the book has only added to my “Oo, I can do that!” list, not my “lost in theory jungle” mire.  Truly, I found the book packed with ideas for easy, steps to take towards creating opportunities for rich, fun sensory-integrated activities based on themes with the kids!

Now, for me, with a four year old, an almost three year old and a to-come-this-summer infant, the book also earns a Longevity star, but for all, perhaps only a half-star.  For where I can definitely see it becoming a regular book that we order from the library as I plan seasonal ideas for learning activities, for others, once the lesson plan format is digested, the themed lessons culled and the Appendix used, the book might not have as much staying power.  In essence, for homeschoolers and parents with kids leaving their early education stage or educators with classes that rotate in age from year to year, the book might not be as useful in the long run, but those with young ones, like me, as well as for home daycare and preschool owners, early childhood specialists, early elementary school teachers and camp staff who work with young children regularly, the book would be a great addition to their more permanent shelves.

As for Value, I think for its ease of use, rich information, variety of activities and well-researched and tested ideas the book is one that would be worth a purchase.  Granted, with our budget being what it is, I will simply trade off with other readers in borrowing it regularly from the library! But, when I get some money together, I would love to purchase it and Jenny Clark Brack's other stuff - like her new CD which I would love to hear!  You can learn more about her materials and get some great info at her site SPD Connection.

Learn to Move, Move to Learn! Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes by Jenny Clark Brack is definitely: worth a lengthy look, if not a purchase.  Enjoy it!  And, if you would like to see Jenny Clark Brack's website, head on over to SPD Connection.

And what else in on my nightstand?  Well, as I mentioned, the pile is far too high for me to list them all here, but some titles include:

The Creative Curriculum Preschool 4th Edition (Again!  I had it out before and reviewed it here and here.)
Literacy: the Creative Curriculum Approach (which I have yet to review, but am enjoying gleaning ideas from)
Sensory Integration: A Guide for Preschool Teachers (which I reviewed here)
Body By God (which I finally got from a Paperback Swapper after taking it out from the library multiple times, and which I plan to make some health study curriculum plans using)
Starting Sensory Integration Therapy (which I reviewed yesterday)
Learn to Move, Move to Learn! (which I am spotlighting below)

Obviously, my current book interests revolve around creating a richer home learning environment for my children. To see what I base my star criteria on, please see my first Rich Resource Review post.  To get further ideas for reading on all topics, visit the links at 5 Minutes for Books.  And, of course, leave a comment if inspired.  Your thoughts are always appreciated.

Recommended reads:

To see what I base my star criteria on, please see my first Rich Resource Review post.  To get further ideas for reading on all topics, visit the links at 5 Minutes for Books.  And, of course, leave a comment if inspired.  Your thoughts are always appreciated.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Starting Sensory Integration Therapy by Bonnie Arnwine Works for Me! - A Rich Resource Review

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Starting Sensory Integration Therapy: Fun Activities That Won't Destroy Your Home or ClassroomA book rich in activity ideas, light on theory and appropriate for kids (SPD or not) at home, at school, even in faith formation classes?  If this is what you are looking for, then Starting Sensory Integration Therapy by Bonnie Arnwine might be the book for you.  Written by a mother who employs sensory integration therapy as an integral part of her son’s daily life and who is a former preschool and Sunday School teacher, as well as the current Director of Children’s Ministries at her church, the book is bursting with concise, straight-forward instructions for inexpensive, fun sensory activities that can be set up and cleaned up quickly in most homes and facilities.

With a comprehensive Table of Contents and Index, the book makes finding activities by type (Tactile, Gross Motor/Vestibular/Proprioceptive, Visual, Hearing, Smell Oral Motor and Fine Motor) or materials used (everything from aluminum foil to Ziploc bags) easy.  Chapters start with brief personal vignettes and commentaries that give relevance to the activities that follow and, then, contain recipe after easy-to-follow recipe for specific activities, which include lists of What You Will Need and Optional Items; tips for making each activity more successful, easier to facilitate or simpler to clean up; and clear instructions not only for presenting the activities themselves, but also for adapting them to prolong children’s interests with "Extend It!” ideas.  Additionally, the book contains a brief introductory chapter on Our Senses, which explains in very simple terms what Sensory Processing Disorder is, what a Sensory Diet is and how to start Sensory Integration Therapy,  And, as an extra bonus, there are several lists of Helpful Toys and Games sprinkled throughout the book for folks looking to purchase sensory-diet friendly, ready-made games and activities to have on hand.  A relatively thin volume, but one that is organized so that parents and educators might quickly take it off the shelf, browse and “go” with an activity, this book definitely earns a star for Readability.

Likewise, it easily earns one for Relevance.  Replete with dozens and dozens of activities that have been successfully tested by the author’s own children, as well as those she has worked with at preschool and Sunday School classes, the book contains many “do-now” ideas.  And, better yet, the book calls for “ingredients” and supplies that are commonly found in most households – perfect for budget-conscious parents and educators, as well as for those without access to expensive therapeutic equipment.

For many of the same reasons, this book earns another star for Practicality.  What could be more practical than taking a book off the shelf, browsing for a game, song or activity idea that will provide the sensory stimulation a youngster needs and, then, following easy directions with readily accessible materials to bring the activity into play?  Likewise, how simple to see a familiar activity, song or game that you may not have connected as “therapy” before in a new light – recognizing that it can provide a child with just what he or she needs as a part of an effective sensory diet!  Indeed, Starting Sensory Integration Therapy is about more than just starting therapy, it is about continuing it, adapting it and – best of all – making it simple!  With a menu of engaging, effective ideas, the book is sure to fulfill the appetite of many who utilize it for sensory diet ideas.

While, right now, I use the book for both spur-of-the-moment and planned ideas for my children, I can also see using it down the line as a resource for them to select activities from.  Also, with its many activity and “Extend It!” ideas, I can see using the book over time – making it as worth a look now as it will be in a month, a year or two years.  It is not one I can see culling only a few useful ideas from and then setting down for good.  Thus, it earns a Longevity star.

And Value?  Well, I did take this book out from the library and have found that I have renewed it for as long as I am allowed to.  And, I do see myself taking it out regularly, as well as putting it on my holiday and Paperback Swap wish lists (since we are on a no-spending diet in our household at the moment), so I am giving Starting Sensory Integration Therapy a Value star, too.  For, while I think with creativity and time, many of the ideas in the book can be discovered by oneself or found free online, I also recognize that Bonnie Arnwine has put together an excellent resource of time-and-kid-tested ideas.  Honoring and appreciating her effort, I cannot see why one would want to waste their time reinventing the wheel?  The selection in Starting Sensory Integration Therapy is proven to help, practical to put together and pleasing to kids.  Fun and functional, the recipes in the book are worth keeping handy on one’s shelf!

And as a side note:  Through one of the yahoogroups I belong to, I fell upon Sensory Fun this week.  It just happens to be the site of the author of Starting Sensory Integration.  Timely and cool.  Take a peek at her site for some good ideas and resources.

works for me wednesday at we are that familyBoth the book and the site mentioned above really work for me as a parent to two busy youngsters -- one with SPD.  To see what works for other folks today on everything from household tips to child rearing, please see links at We Are THAT Family.

Also, to see my criteria for Rich Reviews, see my initial Rich Resource Review post.

As always, comments are not only welcome, but encouraged!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shaving Cream: Faith Formation and Springtime Snow in a Can

Today, I am thankful for shaving cream. Yes, shaving cream.

Why? Well, like many, I recognize it is a wonderful, inexpensive sensory "tool".  But, whoever knew it could be an equally useful faith formation prop as well?

The other day at our Jammies School Morning Circle time, I was reading Luke and Nina some longer selections of the Mary books we have in our book basket right now in honor of the Month or Mary. Well, I sensed that even though they wanted me to read, they were a bit antsy, so I grabbed some Little People, trays and shaving cream, so they could  get a good bite of tactile sensory stimulation by playing "Mary, Jesus and Company" as I read to them.

They loved this idea and went to town with the activity, renaming the Little People Mary, Joseph, Joachim, Anne, etc. while pretending to put their newly named Bible characters in all manner of environments - from Bible story ones to sheer imaginary ones. Then, Nina began dabbing shaving cream on the heads of hers, with Luke following suit. At this point, amused, I stopped reading in order to just observe and interact with them, but they protested.  "Keep reading, Mama.". They were both very content to listen and play at the same time.

So, on I read until, suddenly, Luke interrupted me. "Mama, why is there white on their heads?"

"I don't know Luke. Because you and Nina put it there."

"But, what is it?"

"Shaving cream."

"No, I mean what is it... you know, like when Jesus died."

"Oh. A halo?"

"No, Mama, you know... With Mary and the, di... what's it called?"


"Yes. With Mary and the disciples. It came down on them."

"Do you mean the Holy Spirit?"


Oh, my boy! I was so pleased and proud. And, so encouraged... Luke may not sit through Mass very well. And, he often says awful things about prayer, God and Jesus in his worser moments these days. But, God is writing on his heart and Bible stories and catechism concepts are sinking in. As I watched him place the Holy Spirit on each little figurine's head, I smiled.  Moments like this remind me that Luke and Nina's faith is forming every day in so many pre-k friendly ways.  Truly, I had not even begun to focus on Pentecost this year with the kids and there Luke was having his dramatic play moment with it -- and teaching Nina, too.  Faith formation through shaving cream. I love it and am so grateful for it!

And, I am also pleased as punch that the shaving cream fun continued with some outdoor play a few days later... Yes, yesterday, Luke and Nina remembered our "Holy Spirit" play and requested to play with shaving cream after lunch. Since, it was beautiful out, and I wanted to get the kids outside again so I could take down and fold some laundry, I suggested that we play with the shaving cream in their kiddie pool. Luke balked at this at first, since sometimes "different" reads as "not right" to him and he wanted to recreate his "same" as before Holy Spirit play experience,  But, Nina was so excited by the idea that Luke soon caught her fever for it, especially after I said that, outside, they could play with their hands and their feet!

So, quickly, Nina and Luke grabbed some play props (Little People, plastic motor bikes, etc.), while I got the shaving cream. We washed out their kiddie pool together and, then, I let the kids spray the shaving cream into it, figuring they'd lean in to reach play with their props in the foam, or maybe sit on the edge to dip their feet in to slide a bit.
Oh no! They had other plans... Luke has been missing snow. So, with no provocation, he decided to make his own with Nina. Before I knew it, the two of them were giggling inside the pool, clapping shaving cream covered hands together to make it snow and, then, covering each other - literally head to toe - as they made themselves into snowmen.

Watching them get so messy as their little minds worked, creating sunny, springtime snow was such a delight. Laundry duty went on pause. I grabbed the camera. Smiled. Enjoyed the moment. Laughed. Encouraged more imagination and play. Generally delighted in their "snowy" discoveries.

Shaving cream -- springtime toddler fun in a can!  Another simple thing to be thankful for.

To see what others are grateful for today, check out the Gratituesday links at Heavenly Homemakers.

Also, not that my imagination-packed kids need it, but if you have ideas for shaving cream fun, props, activities, do share. Other indoor-outdoor sensory ideas would be great, too. Please leave a comment or link.

Now, go grab some shaving cream and go to town with your kids!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Step Two: Spaced Out -- Thinking about Space Planning Guidelines in the Creative Curriculum® for the Home

I have decided that I will attack my May Focus on the Locus of Control in Home(Schooling) front  in part, by continuing the Creative Curriculum® (CC) for the Home exploration I began prior to Lent, but somehow let go for a while.  Now, let me explain that I did not entirely “space out” with the whole CC thing, forgetting to move onto Step Two as I indicated I would in my long-ago last CC post.  I simply chose to stay true to my Lenten promise to myself to save blogging for when all my other tasks and duties were done, and, thus, felt unmotivated to continue much with my CC path. No longer! I am grabbing my thinking cap and my work boots and taking a few more steps this month...

Now, before setting about to physically create each of the Creative Curriculum’s ® interest areas I mentioned in my last post, I guess I should think about guidelines for them.  In general, the Creative Curriculum® suggests the obvious – that the physical environment of a classroom has a profound effect on children and that a safe, attractive, comfortable and well-designed space helps engage children in activities.  Likewise, it suggests dividing space into the separate interest areas that are stocked with varied, well-displayed materials that offer children a clear range of choices.  As a whole, the classroom should, of course, have spaces which vary in size and set up, allowing for both quiet and louder play and for children to explore as individuals, partners and groups.

Now that’s all well and good for a classroom, but what about in a home?  As I study the Creative Curriculum®’s ideas on setting up and maintaining the physical environment for optimal early childhood learning, I adapt ideas as I go.  The curriculum’s Space Planning Guidelines were easy!
  • Are there established traffic patterns for such things as entering our home, putting belongings away, using the potty, and moving from one area to another?  Yep.  No worries there.  Although, when the new baby comes, we will have to adapt our entryway to include one more person, as well as include better space for visitors while we are at it.  And, of course, we are always looking to improve the organization and accessibility of storage areas in all the rooms of our house!
  • Have we clearly defined areas that need protection, such as block building areas, library areas, shelf areas, etc.?  To some degree.  In our current learn-and-play space, we had temporarily put down tape lines as a guide for where Luke and Nina could build constructions and leave them up.  We also placed tape lines indicating space in front of shelving that needed to stay clear of toys and construction in order to facilitate putting things away.  And, we put another line around our computer desk to remind the kids to ask before entering Mom and Dad’s work space.  (These were working, but have recently been shrunk and adapted as the room has taken on another temporary use –storing sorted books until we get our home library together.)  Plus, in almost all our rooms, we have cozy reading nooks that remain mostly undisturbed and allow for snuggly reading times.  As we move forward, we will think more deliberately of how to define open spaces, protected spaces, etc.
  • Do we have enough table spaces, allowing the whole family to be seated at once for a snack or meal, as well as for any writing, cooking or other activity that the kids might prefer to do at a table as opposed to on the floor?  Indeed, we do!  And, what a reminder it was for me to read in the Creative Curriculum® that there is no need for extra table space as kids prefer to work on the floor.  Sometimes I envision having perfectly sized children’s tables and chairs in each area of our home – one for snack time, one for coloring, one for game playing, one for you-name-it – but, really, we don’t need these.  The tables and chairs we have suit our needs just fine!  We might even do well to get rid of some of the extra kids’ tables and chairs we’ve collected if we cannot find logical spaces for them.  Cute and perfectly sized or not, they become just distracting clutter when they don’t have a home.  So, I took the first step towards this by selling one such table at our big yard sale yesterday.  Clutter, we release you!
  • What kind of floor surfaces do we have and, therefore, where might different activities work best?  Cooking, art, sand play and water exploration areas work best on floors that can easily be washed.  Blocks require comfortable flooring where kids can sit or work on their knees.  Between the hard flooring in our kitchen and living room, rugged floors in other rooms, a few movable foam floor mats and a handy old shower curtain drop or two, we are fine on this account.  Now, it’s just a matter of training us all to do logical things on logical floor types!
  • Are interest areas near needed resources?  Yes and no.  On the positive side, indeed, we do cooking and art in the kitchen, where a water source is vital.  And, as we clean the basement, we can move some art down there, as we have an accessible ½ bathroom there.  Plus, we have outlets near music and storytime areas, where CD players are used. However, on the negative side, our storage is a mess right now, with many things tucked in the most illogical places throughout the less-used recesses of our home.  Granted, we did purge some things over the weekend and, in the past few months, we’ve made some headway at sorting and labeling in the garage and laundry room, but we still have a long way to go and our basement family-room-to-be looks somewhat like news photos of post-hurricane and earthquake areas.  Thus, many resources are currently lost in the abyss.  More focused sorting and purging are definitely in order, followed by finding logical at-hand homes for things.  As such, the physical steps we partake in, inspired by the Creative Curriculum®, will undoubtedly bring beads of sweat to the brow!
  • Are we capitalizing on areas with lots of light?  Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of natural light in our house.  But, we do place writing, drawing and reading areas near windows as much as possible and we are working on getting better mood and task lighting in all areas of our home.  Plus, once I get some hanging plant holders, I intend to add “caring for plant” areas in naturally lit spaces of the house, too.  (Right now, our small collection of house plants, which are on their last legs, are atop our entryway shelf – out of reach of curious hands and bumps from moving boxes of clutter but not basking in light.) As we move forward, we truly hope to let there be more light – figurative and literal – in our home.  Until then, with the good weather upon us, we take a lot of our work and play outside! 

  • Are rooms organized so we can see as much as possible from every location to ensure children’s safety?  Eek!  How do you do this in a house with two floors and a ranch design – i.e not a lot of open space.    Not sure, but we do our best to keep the kids within sight! ;)  And, as Order in the Home continues, our sight lines will improve, we hope.
    Thus, the space survey ends.  And, I plan to take a break from thinking cap tasks to start some physical work creating one interest area.  Thus, Step Three will be our Music and Movement Area.

    In This Series:

    One final note, as I have mentioned before, if you would like to join me on this CC journey, please leave comments.  Grab a copy of the book yourself to review and let me know what you're getting from it.  Or, use my summaries and posts as a starting point for thought.  For today's topic, you can also see an excerpt of the book at Teaching Strategies.  Then, ell me how you're moving from theory to practice in your own home.  Cheer me on (or give me constructive criticism) about how I am doing.  Or, simply jot down whatever comes to mind.  Deep conversation or silly banter -- any adventure I have ever partaken in has always been all the better for the sharing that happens along the way.  Thanks! 

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Works for Me Wednesday: Fruit, Faith and Fun

    Lately, mornings have not been going as well as they could in our home.  In thinking about why, I recognized that I have been slipping with evening and morning routines, so I decided to get back on them!

    Part of what we are trying to train Luke and Nina to do is eat healthy.  Simple?  Not with two finicky eaters that seem to protest anything that is not carb nor cheese!  My peaceful attempt at a solution?  I try to get produce in them first thing in the morning when they are very hungry and my patience for their protests is the greatest.  Or, I should say, I had been trying...  Lately, caught up in deadlines for contract work, more often than not, I have been working in our home office first thing as they wake up, sneak out to the kitchen and grab something starchy instead.

    So, my fix?  This week, I went back to prepping at night to lay some fruit out on the table first thing in the morning.  Then, the kids are greeted with a welcoming array of fresh fruit to be squeezed, sliced apples and/or pears, defrosted berries and whatnot, along with a faith-based book or two for morning prayer and reading together and, as of yesterday, a bonus (which I will get to in a minute.)

    This works!  (Well, to be honest, it works to a degree: Luke still doesn’t eat much whole fruit.)  Nina happily scoffs down some sliced fruit or berries and Luke, despite refusing most whole fruits, loves to juice oranges and will drink what he juices to get his morning fruit vitamin fix.  And, as the kids and I sit together, we share in some Faith First prayers, songs, chats and readings in lieu of morning Mass, which just wasn’t working for us recently.

    Now what about the “bonus”?  The photo might give you clue.  It’s a Surprise Toy or Activity of the Day.  By putting out something, on the table or in the living room, that the kids that have not seen in a while, I almost guarantee that after our fruit breakfast (and our subsequent carb one), they will be thoroughly engaged in the toy or activity.  This affords me the time I need to finish up whatever computer contract work I had started on my computer prior to their waking.  And, so our morning start on a more positive note and our rhythm moves along in a way we can march to together.

    Will this all continue to work?  Time will tell.  But, it works for us now and that is what is important.

    If you’d like to share in what works for you (on any topic) and to read what works for others, please visit the links at We Are THAT Family.  And, also, if you’d like to share your own experiences about morning routines, healthy diet strategies, meeting work and kids’ needs all at once, etc. I would love it if you would leave a comment and/or link below. 

    Thanks and have a blessed day!


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