Monday, September 17, 2012

Fly-Swatter Painting

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Montessori-Inspired Toddler Activity Trays

According to the sun, the moon, the stars and the school-supplies setup at Target, it's back-to-school time! I'm feeling the peer pressure to get back to work, so for the first time in months I put together some Montessori-style work for Jackson. Herewith:

Jackson has never evidenced even the least interest in threading anything, but I'm trying again. This is a plastic lanyard string from the dollar store and plastic spools I ordered from S&S Worldwide. Orange is his favorite color right now, so maybe that will entice him to play with these a little.

Inspired by an excellent Montessori Minute post about using the hardware store as a resource for DIY educational gizmos, I hit Culver City Industrial Hardware today for a collection of hex nuts in different sizes. I was skeptical about the value of this exercise at first, but as I was selecting the nuts, I realized was straining to distinguish the sizes and that I was naturally drawn to stack and sort them--hopefully J will have the same reaction. Then I took the collection to FedEx Office and arranged them on a photocopier and then laminated the copy. That way (a) J has a matching activity to work on, (b) when pieces are inevitably lost and roll under the couch etc. I will have a reference with which I can determine the missing pieces that need to be replaced!

I had every intention of this activity being cutting straws, which I read somewhere is the first step in developing scissor skills, but then I discovered I'd thrown out our straws during a decluttering binge. Bah. In lieu of that, I turned to the printable cutting worksheets page on the School Sparks site. This should make a fine mess and he might even get a fine-motor workout in the process, which is just the way I like it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What Your Toddler/Preschooler Should or Could Know, According to Engelmann's Give Your Child a Superior Mind

I learned in blogging school that provocative posts get the most clicks! So, just to needle my dear readers, allow me to circle back to Engelmann's Give Your Child a Superior Mind (1965). As promised in my last post, here is his list of various rules and "what your preschooler should know by milestone X" statements. There may be others but these are the ones I noted and marked on my first pass through the book.

Note: I do not endorse these assertions, I just find them fascinating and uniquely, crazily blunt, because setting academic standards for the 0-5 set is considered verboten in contemporary society. Do with them what you will, and by that I mean: Enjoy the added awareness, please be nice to your kids, and don't you dare stress about this stuff! Amen.
  • By the time the child is 34 months old, he should know his capital letters perfectly.
  • By the time the child is 3 years old, he should be able to identify all of the small letters except b, d, p and q.
  • The child should know all of the more obvious colors thoroughly by the time he's 3.
  • Introduce relation some time after the child is 2½ years old. Begin with the prepositions in, on, next to, behind, over, under, around and between.
  • The child should learn to count to ten by the time he is 30 months.
  • [At three to four years old], the child should spend about half an hour a day on formal material. His reading lesson should last 10 to 15 minutes. Other lessons, which should be handled more casually than reading, consume another 15 minutes.
  • We suggest purchasing at least four simple books. The child should read each of them at least twice before his fourth birthday.
  • By the time the child is 4, he should have a sight vocabulary (words he can recognize without help) of about one hundred words and he should read very hesitantly.
  • One body of knowledge should be required [for five-year-olds]--facts about the human body (the name of bones and muscles, the functioning of the various body systems).
Also, just because I have it in front of me, here's the text from the dustjacket:

About the authors: Siegfried Engelmann, a Research Associate at the Institute for Research on Exceptional Children at the University of Illinois, specializes in developing material and courses for preschool-age children. He is the author of two concept-comprehension tests and has developed a number of programs for culturally disadvantaged, deaf, mentally retarded and gifted children. Mr. Engelmann has served as a preschool consultant to the states of New York and Pennsylvania. Therese Engelmann, who has degrees in psychology and law, helps develop and test teaching techniques. She also studies various learning problems confronting the preschool child.

Front and back flap: Give Your Child a Superior Mind is a programmed, step-by-step guide--how to increase your child's intelligence. If you are a parent, or a prospective parent, this may well be the most important book you will ever read! Based on the Engelmann's extensive practical experience with preschool-age children, Give Your Child a Superior Mind is the expression of a new philosophy of teaching. But more than this, it is a complete course in itself, giving lessons, examples, experiments and guidelines for each age group, from the eighteen-month-old infant (who must be taught such concepts as shape and direction) to the four- and five-year-old (who can be handling algebra and geometry with practiced ease). The rules are simple and easy to follow, the method is one of logic and common sense, rooted in the games, the play, the everyday life of the home. If you have ever helped your baby grasp an object, told him it is a ball, described it to him as round, you have given him the first lesson. For by giving your child, from the beginning, an active and realistic environment in which learning is an extension of the activities you share, you are taking the first step to giving your child a superior mind. In the words of the authors: "The purpose of this book is to give conscientious parents a program with the confusion, doubt and uncertainty removed--a program that tells what to do and say, what mistakes the child will probably make, what long-range effects to expect, a program based on facts, not on theories."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My New Happy Place on the Internet

This online gallery of Little Free Libraries around the country and the world is the most heartening thing I've seen in ages. It's like Cute Overload but with substance and civic meaning! I love seeing all the earnestness, not to mention the creative designs and the regionalism.

If you're new to the Little Free Libraries movement, USA Today and NPR and the L.A. Times and the N.Y. Times have nice primers.

Concrete Experiences

Field trips are expensive. And time-consuming. And incredibly tiring. And I think we're going to do more of them.

We just had a run of daily field trips--DH was away last week, and I needed to get the stir-crazy toddler out of the house every day or risk losing my mind--and I think this fall we're going to switch from Park Day to Museum and/or Cultural Institution Day. Kiddo is old enough now that he's able to react to at least some displays and exhibits, and he has enough of a speech baseline that we can really converse about what he's seeing. Also, to his credit, he has a great attention span and interest level for a little dude. We went to Griffith Observatory and he sat through the entire 30-minute planetarium show, exhibiting interest and reacting appropriately throughout. Yes, maybe he just liked watching TV on the ceiling, but I think it bodes well for future such outings.

Truth be told, I am a vocabulary fanatic. If there's one thing I want to do for the kiddo before he fully escapes my clutches, it's build the most complex word-based brain framework that I possibly can for him. Research shows, and I personally believe, that understanding the meanings of many words allows for deeper learning throughout life. (I could refer you to actual science-y papers so you think I'm really educated and stuff, but in lieu of overdoing it, I will simply point to this perfectly adequate Q&A.)

ANYWAY, I'm told that concrete experiences help reinforce book-learned word knowledge, as well as presumably building separate neural connections about the time and place of the concrete experience. I want my kid to have those opportunities! And if I'm being honest, I might as well admit that I am terrified of my kid not having those opportunities.


Because of articles like this 2009 piece from the New York Times about how Harlem kids are taken on special outings to farms so that they can encounter sheep and wool and eggs and chickens in situ, so when they encounter questions about multiplying cornstalks on a standardized test, they won't go, "Wuh?," which is apparently a genuine thing that happens. (This whole article makes me want to sit on a concrete floor rocking back and forth and humming.)

In the same vein, my parents are docents at the Getty Villa in Malibu and my dad just told me this: As part of their educational mission, the richer-than-Croesus Getty pays for school buses to bring kids to tour the museum and gardens. As you may know if you've been there, the only way to get to the Getty Villa is along Pacific Coast Highway. Apparently it is common knowledge among Getty staff that many of these Southern California schoolchildren are amazed to find themselves confronted with the ocean, which they have never seen before. They live in SoCal, and the Pacific Ocean is...I can't even deal, people! Aaah!

FWIW, Hart & Risley indicates that vocabulary-building via direct instruction and hands-on experience is effective, although it doesn't seem to alter overall vocabulary growth trajectories.

Long story short, we are lucky enough to live in a vast megalopolis full of cultural institutions that can reinforce learned words and introduce new ones, and I think this year we're going to pony up the $15-$20-$25 admission fees (plus parking, sigh) and go see some more museums and zoos and stuff.