Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trace and Write Activity Center - A Lakeshore Product Review

I'm so excited to be able to do another review for Lakeshore Learning.  I love their products and when I was given the opportunity to pick something that was on CJ's level (My First Science Experiments) and something on EMan's level (this Trace and Write Activity Center) I was delighted!
As EMan is getting ready to join the ranks of preschoolers in August I'm being more proactive about his summer learning.  I want him to feel prepared for preschool activities and confident that he can do it!  What I'm currently working on with him is letter recognition for the letters in his name. In general, that's a fantastic place to start with preschoolers. 
 This engaging trace and write activity center comes with 26 double sided alphabet cards.  They have the capital letter on one side and the lowercase letter on the other.  The font is a bubble font with dashed lines, directional arrows, with a green dot to represent the starting location and a red dot to represent the ending location.
 You place the letter card on the left side of the board and practice tracing the card.  Then you move to the right side of the board where there is an orange transparent plastic sheet that you can "write" on with the pressure from your finger.  The white board underneath is a squishy board that the orange flap makes a connection with as you write.
EMan loves it and takes ownership of it.  He has requested to take it to church to work on quietly during sacrament meeting, we've taken it on the airplane to keep us busy while traveling and it was the first thing he showed off to his Oma and Opa upon arriving to their home for vacation.
I love it because it prompts engaging conversation about the letter name, sound and how to write the letter.  We are successfully working and playing together.  One of the things I have noticed is that CJ struggles with some letter formation and didn't know how to make the "s" in our last name until a few weeks ago when I specifically taught him that.  How to form letters is something I've missed along the way in the preschool years.  I'm so excited to have a product that makes such and important concept easy to practice.
Inside the Box:
*Sturdy wooden 8x12 inch board
*26 double sided tracing cards
Cost: $24.99
Known as the "Summer Slide", children experience a loss in learning throughout the summer.  Engage children with intentional experiences to boost their summer learning and keep their minds sharp until official (or unofficial) "school" starts again.  Enjoy, and Happy Learning!
Be sure to check out the Lakeshore Learning Back to School Sale going on now with 20% off some of our favorite products!
20% off back-to-school sale!

*I was given a copy of this product from Lakeshore to review.  All opinions are my own. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Summer Fun - a Summer Intentional Learning Play Group

During the summer I've been hosting Little Learners, an intentional learning play group.  This week we were able to do our Summer Fun curriculum.  Find the free Preschool Summer Packs and Tot Packs here (just scroll down a tad to download them). 
 Days like this are a lot of fun as kids get to explore and play as they like and as parents we focus their attention on little things along the way.  I believe it is important to engage children in gardening and for our lunch we were going to have BBQ Zucchini sandwiches.  You basically cook some shredded zucchini and mix it with your favorite BBQ sauce and use it as sandwich filling.  We love it!  As a group we headed into the garden together to find some zucchinis that were ready to be picked.  Engage little learners by having them find and pick and hold the plants that you're after.  Engage bigger learners by having them "teach" the littles what we're looking for.

 Because the theme was "Summer Fun" we had out the swimming pool and the water wall toys.  (Check out the DIY Water Wall here.)  I love that they all grabbed pipes and were blowing bubbles into this small container together!
 I encourage our intentional learning groups to try to include as many elements of learning as possible.  We had a couple letters to review and had out some do-a-dot markers to decorate the letters.
 It's also a time that I use to demonstrate to parents the introduction of a new concept.  I think of it as teaching parents how to teach their children concepts they wouldn't have thought of.  This week's math concept was "graphing".  We were working with kids as young as 2 and as old as 4.  There were kids who'd never been introduced to it yet, kids who've seen it but not mastered basic graphing, and kids who new exactly what to do.  I love that homeschooling in a small group gives us the beautiful age range where kids can work together to be successful.
 A great large motor activity for younger kids is bouncing them on a large ball.  Hold their hips and bounce them to the front, side to side, and to the back.  This helps them develop different balancing muscles.
 Even CJ (my 4.5 year old) really likes this game even though he's comfortable bouncing on the ball by himself.  EMan just wanted to ride the horse, and that's ok.  Learning and skill development should always be fun and never forced.

 I ABSOLUTELY love this next activity. On a nice warm day, provide your child(ren) with goggles, a small hammer and cubes of ice.  They love to smash those ice cubes!
 Enjoy summer, and happy learning!

Thursday, July 11, 2013 Review and Giveaway!

I am so excited about this review today.  My kids have been playing on ABCmouse since about March 2013 and they love it.  EMan always asks to play the "mouse game" and I think it makes them feel so grown up to play a computer game like daddy.
I love it because it's a full interactive online curriculum for preschoolers and kindergarteners.  It is customizable to each child with 6 different academic levels.  As the parent it was really easy to sign up for an account and create a user for both of my children that was set at their individual level.
ABC mouse provides 6 levels of kids' education
I started CJ on a "Level 3" because I knew it would be easy enough for him to learn the program and be really excited about completing the games.  CJ had already learned to use a mouse and how to navigate computer games, so it only took a few minutes of us working together to learn what he could do. He enjoyed playing on it while I was doing Tot School with EMan and our toddler friends.
One of the aspects that the kids find really exciting is the Tickets and Rewards System.  Each time they complete an activity they get an amount of digital tickets.  They LOVE counting the tickets as they come out of the ticket dispenser.  They also love choosing their digital prize at the end of each lesson.  These digital prizes are like aquariums and lamps that they get to put in their digital room.  They can then spend their tickets on fish to add to the aquarium, etc.  They love all the choices!
The activities in the Learning Path consist of books, puzzles, games, songs, art, and printables that relate to a specific topic.  Right now EMan is working on recognizing his alphabet.  He's currently playing with letter C on ABCmouse.  Some of the activities include a puzzle of the letter C and a cat, a song about the sounds letter C says, a coloring letter C page, etc.  
In addition to the Learning Path (see the whiteboard below) my boys love the different options provided to them.  They can visit the farm or zoo to complete activities relating to those animals.  They can also visit the Classroom (pictured below) and click on anything within it to interact with it.  They can buy fish for the aquarium, play with the clock and digital/analog forms of telling time, the calendar tells them the day of the week/month/date and allows them to put stickers on different days.  There are so many activities right from the classroom that are engaging and teach about the world around us. There is also the option to pick a subject along the top of the page so kids like EMan who LOVE puzzles can click on that tab and play all the puzzles that relate to his learning level. CJ, on the other hand, LOVES science and "The World Around Us" is his favorite stop.  Lately he's been telling me all about what he's learned about salmon, a topic I wouldn't have even thought of to share with him. 
 ABC mouse classroom
 If you click on the top left "Home" page you'll find a few extra resources that are worth mentioning.  Our favorite is the "Mouse and Pointer Tutorial".  CJ has learned how to use a mouse with great accuracy, but EMan always needed me to play right by his side manipulating the mouse where he wanted it to go.  When I discovered this activity we got right to work and now I'm excited that he's able to start doing it on his own.  In such a digital age it isn't a surprise that kids are learning to utilize computers so early in life.  Remember that even though we have a such a great resource for our kids, to a child LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E.  So, whether on ABCmouse our outside exploring nature give your child your full undivided attention as often as possible (yes, turn off those text messages - you can get to them later). 
There are so many things about this program that I wish I could tell you.  For example, the Parents Section has a curriculum overview so you can know what your child is learning and why/how they are learning.  There is a lesson builder to set up specific lessons for your child and there is a progress tracking page to quickly see what you're child has been working on. There are so many fantastic elements that I simply cannot go over them all, so I'll leave you with this: CJ enjoying a little ABCmouse music:
In these first 5 years of life children learn more than at any other time in their lives.  I am so glad to have a resource like ABCmouse that provides quality exposure and information to children about the world around them.  Being a mom of 2 I know that they are safe and enjoying the experience while I'm working with the other child.  They are developing a joy in the process of learning and a love of reading.  I enjoy the time I get to spend with them exploring these games and discussing topics in further detail.  Overall, I'd highly recommend exploring this online learning tool with the little ones in your life. 
And now, for the part you've been waiting for, the GIVEAWAY!  The great people over at ABCmouse have given me one year subscription to give to a lucky reader.  The good news is that you can win even if you already have a paid subscription!  It will just add a year onto your current membership.  So scroll down a little and enter to win it today!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Art of Playing

We went to a city park yesterday and found this great little playground. The boys played well together on the seesaw first before moving on to other things.
Playing is a child's work.  They learn through making and testing hypotheses even though they wouldn't explain that like a scientist to you.  With a little parental guidance they quickly master a new exploration.  I love how CJ responded to the digger in the sand.  "This is good work!"
Speaking of "Good Work" I believe that fostering a good work ethic early in children is important for long term success.  Digging in the sandbox is in fact "good work". 
 According to constructivist theory (Piaget, 1945), children have an inner drive to build an understanding of their world as they explore and interact with materials.  Concepts about how the world works are built gradually and become increasingly complex as the child enters a rich learning environment and exercises his or her freedom to play.
 Looking back, I wish I would have used more open ended questions to guide him in his discovery instead of just telling him how.  Parents and teachers have the responsibility to structure a rich enviornement, observe what children are doing and thinking, and interact as appropriate.  To encourage problem solving I could have asked questions such as:

  • How could you change/fix that?
  • What else could you do?
  • What would happen if you...?
  • What do you think/feel about ....?
  • How did you do that?
  • Is there another way to...?

By asking these open ended questions I could have provided a framework to enable him to learn more by himself.
I love that when EMan came back around to this scooper CJ worked with him to make him feel successful!
So, here is to more open ended play and questions.  It's my goal for the week.  What's yours?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My First Science Experiments - Product Review from Lakeshore Learning

The brightest and hottest days of the summer are approaching.  Why not stay cool inside while learning some new and exciting things in cool ways?

Summer learning is is something I'm very passionate about.  I spent 4 years teaching 1st and 2nd grade and watching kids come back to school in the fall with such different summer experiences.  I was always delighted with the children who had the opportunity to grow and expand their learning over the summer and sad for those who didn't.  Exercising the mind is such and important thing to do all of the time.  I believe that as parents we are responsible for providing experiences and opportunities for our children to grow year round, whether or not they attend a formal school.

I am thrilled to be able to do a couple summer time product reviews for Lakeshore Learning.  They are one of my favorite places to visit and I always walk out having found everything I needed plus many things that I wanted.  I've even scheduled play dates to take my mom friends there to share the awesome.  Man, the teacher in me is all giddy now :)
We received 2 products from Lakeshore to review this summer.  The "Trace and Write Alphabet Center" geared toward EMan's ability will be featured on July 18th.  Today we're featuring "My First Science Experiments" geared toward CJ's ability.

When the box first arrived and I set the science kit on the piano the boys were immediately drawn to it.  I shared in their excitement and we set a time to get to work learning.
 When we opened it up there were immediately engaging elements that the boys really wanted to dive into right away.  We started with the step-by-step instruction guide and I was SO pleased to see that it was set up in a child friendly manner.  CJ was able to read much of the titles ("What you need:" and the language was interesting to him as I read aloud the instructions.
 He had so much ownership of the project after reading the instructions that he was ready to lead this exploration.  We got to work following the instructions and pouring the water.
 We dropped in one color tablet at a time and watched it fizz and bubble.  I wish that the instruction manual had an extended science section because the boys asked why the color tablets reacted that way in the water and I couldn't find the information online anywhere.  They did love watching the magic tablets dance in the water.
 I'm not too thrilled with the color coding of the color tablets. I *luckily* guessed correctly and we did end up with a red, yellow and blue square like we intended too.  I wish the packaging specified what colors where in there so you didn't feel so uncertain.
 This set is engaging our minds and muscles on so many levels.  We're reading, asking questions, and working on fine motor skills!
 EMan jumped at the opportunity to work on this project with brother.  We were mixing colors and experimenting with the outcomes.  I love the conversation that happens while we explore life together.
"I want to add some blue and see what happens." -CJ
"What would happen if we did a lot of red and a teeny bit if blue?" -me
"What if we add a lot if blue and a teeny tiny bit of red?" -CJ
"How about 2 scoops of red, 3 scoops of yellow and 1 scoop of blue? Mommy, it kinda turned into black!" -CJ
 For the second experiment we added some gel crystals and had to leave them in the water for 1 hour.  The boys sat staring at the timer.  What a great chance to learn about length of time!
 We learned some new vocabulary (primary colors and secondary colors).  We experimented with time to discover how long an hour is.  We explored different textures and discussed what changes had occurred.  We even applied math skills in counting out drops of color.  My First Science Experiments touched on numerous brain building skill sets all while being actively engaging, and that's merely in the first 2 experiments out of 13!  Isn't that what we all want in our learning?  Keep an eye out in the next few weeks for more posts of our engaging science fun!
"What's happening?" -me
"The crystals are changing into the same color as the water. They grew and sucked up the water. It is soft as jello." - CJ

Inside the Box:
*Step-by-step instruction guide
*Materials for 13 different experiments
*Plastic Test Tubes
*Color mixing tray
*Color Tablets
*Gel Beads
Cost: $19.99

Not only does Lakeshore have a great selection of items both in store and online, they also offer great customer perks.  They have free crafts for kids every Saturday, there are teacher workshops throughout the school year and a teacher's club available even for homeschooling parents (yay for cheap laminating!)!  If you follow Lakeshore on Facebook you'll have access to many things that may have gone unnoticed before. I love their July PreK-3rd grade daily activity calendar!

"Make this the summer of learning!" Stop by Lakeshore today and grab that something special to engage your child's mind this summer!

*I was given a copy of this product from Lakeshore to review.  All opinions are my own.