Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Accidental Practical Life

My mom came over today and brought over box of thread spools in a clever little acrylic box full of spindles. This turned out to be a perfect activity for developing fine-motor skills--it takes quite a bit of effort to get the hole of the spool directly onto the spindle. You could also make this a color-gradation activity. J was interested for a while but couldn't be persuaded to stick with it.

In any case, we found the perfect color thread for fixing the hole in Dr. Knuffle Monkey and the surgery was a success.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

$10 Well-Spent

I had a few dollars burning a hole in my pocket on Friday so I went to the local children's resale shop to see if I could find some new puzzles for Jackson. We've been looking at the same four or five Melissa & Doug puzzles for over a year now, and they were wearing thin.

We came home with a dinosaur puzzle and a sea creature puzzle and instantly uncovered a puzzle-doing ability that has heretofore not been seen in the kiddo. He usually refuses to play along when I bring out the puzzles, but the newness of these ones has fascinated him and he loves putting the pieces in.

I'll hear a crash from the other room (pieces being dumped on the floor), and a few minutes later he delivers to me a completed puzzle with the announcement "all done all done." Whee!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

American History

American History 

Recommended Books from Young Years Library: Mother's Guide to Children's Reading by Rachele Thomas, Parents' Magazine's Press, 1963. {LOC 63-15865}

Young Years Library was a five or 10-volume anthology of reading material for children. The product evolved over the years, but generally it was sold direct to parents who wanted to provide an educational or literary advantage to their children. Many of the great children's librarians of the day were involved, including the pioneering Augusta Braxton Baxter. My copy, published in 1963, includes a 72-page list of recommended books for various ages and stages. To my eye, many of these books have long since been forgotten, not least because of the revolution in children's literature that took place following the publication that year of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I'll be transcribing the sections of the Mother's Guide to Children's Reading reading list, one by one, in hopes of providing a starting point for modern mamas looking to explore more unusual, likely out-of-print book suggestions, beyond those usually included in generally available contemporary reading prescriptions. Copyright, of course, remains with Home Library Press.


For the Youngest

And There Was America, by Roger Duvoisin, illustrated by the author. Knopf.
Pictures and simple text tell the story of the discovery of America.

Land of the Free, by Enid L. Meadowcroft, illustrated by Lee Ames. Crowell.
American history nicely simplified in the form of episodes understandable to young people.

The Thanksgiving Story, by Alice Dalgliesh, illustrated by Helen Sewell. Scribner.
A Pilgrim family sails to the New World, participates in the founding of Plymouth, and celebrates the first Thanksgiving. A holiday companion book by the same author:
     The Fourth of July Story

For the Nine-to-Twelve-Year-Olds

Abraham Lincoln, by Ingri and Edgar P. d'Aulaire, illustrated by the authors. Doubleday.
A moving story of Abe Lincoln's life, beginning with his boyhood. A Caldecott Medal winner. Other excellent biographies by the d'Aulaires of illustrious men and women in American history:
     Buffalo Bill
     George Washington
     Benjamin Franklin

America: A History for Peter, by Gerald W. Johnson, illustrated by Leonard Fisher. Morrow. American history in a brilliant trilogy:
     America Is Born

A fine introduction to early American history.

Childhood of Famous Americans Series. Bobbs.
This series consists of fictionalized biographies of the important episodes in the childhood of outstanding Americans. The more popular books in the series are:
     Dan Beard: Boy Scout, by Miriam E. Mason
     Buffalo Bill: Boy of the Plains, by Augusta Stevenson
     Daniel Boone: Boy Hunter, by Augusta Stevenson
     Kit Carson: Boy Trapper, by Augusta Stevenson
     George Carver: Boy Scientist, by Augusta Stevenson
     Tom Edison: Boy Inventor, by Sue Guthridge
     Henry Ford: Boy With Ideas, by Hazel B. Aird and Catherine Ruddiman
     Nathan Hale: Puritan Boy, by Augusta Stevenson
     Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: Boy of Justice, by Montrew Dunham
     Cyrus McCormick: Farmer Boy, by Lavinia Dobler
     James Monroe: Good Neighbor Boy, by Mabel C. Widemer
     Paul Revere: Boy of Old Boston, by Augusta Stevenson
     Pocahontas: Brave Girl, by Flora W. Seymour
     Sacagawea: Bird Girl, by Flora W. Seymour
     Sitting Bull: Dakota Boy, by Augusta Stevenson
     Booker T. Washington: Ambitious Boy, by Augusta Stevenson
     Wilbur and Orville Wright: Boys With Wings, by Augusta Stevenson

The Columbus Story, by Alice Dalgliesh, illustrated by Leo Politi. Scribner.
A good biography of the great explorer.

Stirring biography full of hair-raising adventures.

Frontier Living: An Illustrated Guide to Pioneer Life in America, by Edwin Tunis. World.
Life as it was lived on the American frontier. Other good historical portrayals by the same author:

The first of an excellent series of initial biographies of American Presidents. Others are:
     Abraham Lincoln

Authentic facts about the Indian tribes whose territory centered in the State of New York, imaginatively presented. Others in the Indian tribe series by Sonia Bleeker:

Minutemen of the Sea, by Tom Cluff, illustrated by Tom O'Sullivan. Follett.
Five days before the battle of Bunker Hill, a British ship was captured of the coast of Maine by the townspeople of Machias. And thus was the first blow struck for American liberty upon the sea. This is the story of a little-known event in the early days of the American Revolution.

A remarkable biography for young people of a very remarkable man. Other fine biographies of illustrious Americans by the same author.

Excellent biographical accounts of the political leaders of our country.

Story of the Totem Pole, by Ruth Brindze, illustrated by Yeffe Kimball. Vanguard.
The fascinating symbolism and history of the totem poles of the North American Indians.

How Do You Tell If a Toddler Is Color Blind?

Blame Mayim Bialik. I read her blog faithfully, and last year she posted that her six-year-old boy is color blind and that she missed the signs. Ever since I've been On Alert for color blindness. I'm not pushing colors as a general rule, but I won't lie, I was happy to find that BabyCenter topic assuring me that any given kid without a family history of color blindness is in all likelihood not color-blind, he's just not developmentally there yet.

Anyway, I swear I'm more than happy to do colors by osmosis, but Mayim's cautionary tale has been Haunting Me. Happily, the Internet is prepared for this contingency!

I found a site offering a special (free, hallelujah) color blindness test for children and toddlers. Kids need different tests than adults, because the traditional Ishihara color perception tests for color blindness (plate one is pictured above) are based on identifying a number hidden a field of colored dots. Kids who don't know their numbers yet would be confounded by this, regardless of their color perception.

The kid's color blindness test (which apparently originally appeared in Field & Stream magazine) has a bunch of cute little animals, and Jackson found the bear, the deer-cow and the bunny with no problem, so we're almost certainly in the clear. Yay!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Door Chain & Latch Activity Board

I really am on a break but I did get this done today, so yay me!

Don't say I can't learn things. I used two things I learned working with my mom on the first board--taping the drill bit and guesstimating the drill-bit size--to put these together. I've been saving these small square cutting boards for about a year after having gotten them as swag at old job, and I finally got around to screwing on some lock hardware as another attempt at entertaining J. (He loves playing with our door chain!) These don't actually offer the satisfaction of unlocking a door, a la the Melissa & Doug Latches board, but it's better than nothing, and these are very nice and light and portable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Taking a Bit of a Break

We're still here, just taking a bit of a break for recuperation from the holidays, planning the year ahead and settling back into a routine, which has been sorely lacking of late! Should be back up to speed by the end of the month. Cheers! ~j

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Which One Is Different?

If the house caught on fire but I still had some time to rescue a toy after getting all the important stuff out, there is no question in my mind that I would take our Haba blocks. Blocks and balls are pretty much the best toys ever, and I think the kid and I could play well for years with these gorgeous building blocks.

Anyway, J got two new sets of Haba blocks for Christmas, and to my surprise, one set, the Clown Blocks, was on a smaller scale than the usual Haba blocks (3 cm for Clown blocks vs. the usual 4 cm). At first I was very mildly disappointed, but then I realized (a) who cares, they're still great, and (b) this new variety of shapes and sizes offered great opportunity for what Jackson calls a "lesson." In fact, after we did this for the first time yesterday, he come up to me today and said, "Blocks...lesson?" and we did it all over again.

Basically, I unrolled a place mat (Montessori says it focuses the child's attention), set out four blocks in a random arrangement, and asked him to point out which one is different. He did a great job, although for some reason the combination of three rectangular solids and one cube confounded him and/or made him mad. But he blasted through everything else, and I got a chance to very gently introduce vocabulary like taller, wider, diameter, cube, cylinder, cone and so forth.

Here he is pointing out that the larger triangle is the one that is different.
We compared the following sets of blocks:

  • 3 large cubes, 1 small cube
  • 3 small triangles, 1 large triangle (pictured above)
  • 3 red cubes, 1 yellow cube
  • 3 short wide cylinders, 1 narrower taller cylinder
  • 3 rectangular solids, 1 cube
  • 3 cubes, 1 rectangular solid
  • 3 cylinders, 1 rectangular solid
  • 3 rectangular solids, 1 cylinder
  • 3 cylinders, 1 cylinder with a "hat" (conical tower topper thing)
When we got to the cylinders, Jackson took over and decided it was time to play/work on his own. He had a field day exploring the many dimensions of the four cylinders, including shape and sound.

Shapes, Colors, Art

Colored circle labels from the office supply store plus paper plus toddler equals art! Jackson loves playing with stickers, and according to the excellent (if oddly terrifying) book Young at Art*, this is a way for toddlers just starting out with art to engage with basic colors (red, yellow, green, blue) and the shape of a circle.

*Thank you so much for the suggestion, Crimson Wife!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reading the New Year

The New Year seems like a perfect time to talk about calendars and months, which gives me the opportunity to read Jackson three wonderful and stylistically quite different books!
  • The Berenstain Bears in the Bears' Almanac by Stan and Jan Berenstain: The Almanac, included in this case in The Berenstain Bears' Science and Nature Super Treasury, explains weather, seasons and natural cycles with the usual effervesence of Stan and Jan Berenstain. I had the Bears' Almanac as a child and I know every page like the back of my hand. The other two books in the Treasury are The Berenstain Bears' Nature Guide and The Berenstain Bears' Science Fair, which are new to me and I feel lucky to have them. Nature Guide is more my personal style than Science Fair, but Science Fair does a great job of explaining stuff like levers and pulleys and, you know, physics. So far we've just looked at the entries for winter and spring, but we'll progress as the year does.
  • A Child's Calendar, poems by John Updike, illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman. This book is so unique and superlative I don't even know where to start. The month-by-month poems are pitch-perfect, but it's the slice-of-life portraits of two biracial New England kids (and in the background, their parents) that really sets this book apart. The details and nuances of the watercolors are just remarkable, and I could look at this book every day for months and not get bored. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators of all time, thanks in no small part to her cover for Ronia, the Robber's Daughter, and this book just makes me happy. (Jackson liked seeing the kids sled through January.)
  • The Year At Maple Hill Farm, by Alice and Martin Provensen: This is another one from my childhood. I have read it literally hundreds of times. The spread for July is burned into my soul, and the bit about feeding animals their medicine is something I think about strangely often. It's a sequel to another even more wonderful book called Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm, which I just read for the first time this year with Jackson. We both love Animal Friends dearly and can page through it for hours, and now that I know both books, I love finding the connections between them and knowing more about scenes and animals I feel like I've known my whole life.
  • Last but not least, we're reading the New Year's page from the ever-reliable Illustrated Treasury of Poetry for Children, which seems to always have a note-perfect selection for an occasion on the calendar. In this case there is an old-year poem, a new-year poem and Tennyson's evocative "Ring Out, Wild Bells," which I reprint here for your reading pleasure:

    Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
        The flying cloud, the frosty light :
        The year is dying in the night ;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
        Ring, happy bells, across the snow ;
        The year is going, let him go ;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

   Ring out the grief that saps the mind
        For those that here we see no more ;
        Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.

    Ring out a slowly dying cause,
        And ancient forms of party strife ;
        Ring in the nobler modes of life,
    With sweeter manners, purer laws.

    Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
        The faithless coldness of the times ;
        Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in.

    Ring out false pride in place and blood,
        The civic slander and the spite ;
        Ring in the love of truth and right,
    Ring in the common love of good.

    Ring out old shapes of foul disease ;
        Ring out the narrowing lust of gold ;
        Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.

    Ring in the valiant man and free,
        The larger heart, the kindlier hand ;
        Ring out the darkness of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.