Monday, September 15, 2014

Busy Bags: Pizza!

So all of the previous bags that I made were strictly from materials I had laying around already. But I've had many ideas buzzing around that I have been compiling into a list, and finally went shopping for a few materials that I didn't have.

Among these items is felt pieces. Felt squares are very cheap, about 15 cents each for the plain ones. So I picked out several each of various colors.

And voila! We have pizza!

Our Pizza Busy Bag consists of one light brown triangle pizza crust, three circles of red pepperoni, two orange mushrooms, two green bell peppers, and a handful of cheese! And I think we are going to add some olives, onions, and sausage as well!

Grace, 8, LOVES this! She wants to play with it several times a week, and she expands the game by getting out the play dishes and playing restaurant. She takes our orders, (I prefer Vegetarian, Zak likes Pepperoni). She likes it so much I might have to make another one, just so she can feed two people at once! And she gets Kit completely involved, both as a customer, and busy in the kitchen. Kind of funny, I started making these bags with Kit in mind, but Grace is turning out to be the one that is most interested and plays with them the longest!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Homeschool Highlights: Princess Dresses and Letter Lessons

For the last couple of months, Kit's attire of choice is usually a fluffy "princess dress", and we have several that rotate through the laundry cycles. And a few tutu skirts that are acceptable princess garb as well.

Many nights we are only able to peel them off of her by promising that she can wear them again the next day. (We have even let her sleep in them, but we figured out that they were not contributing to her sleeping well throughout the night, so we try to get her to wear well fitted pjs whenever possible. Everyone has a better night this way.) So unless there is major spillage, she will often wear the same one a couple times a week. 

I'm ecstatic for this development and the fact that it has lasted as long as it has. A year ago, nothing with tulle could even come close to her skin! And while she still is sensitive to rough edges, softer tulle, especially between layers of satin or cotton is no longer an issue for her! In fact, where she used to simply declare it a Naked Day when clothes were bothering her, she now asks for a Princess Dress instead!

And another huge milestone that these dresses help her through is her dislike of having her hair touched, much less brushed and styled. Though not even close to every day yet, she tolerates this so much better now! Occasionally, she even comes and asks to have her hair done in two braids, her favorite.

While technically not about homeschool, my purpose in telling you this is so that when looking through the pictures in the rest of this post, you can now understand why she is only in two different outfits even though I took pictures on several different days. ;)

Preschool Throws:

In keeping with the princess theme, and in an attempt to keep her busy for a while and not be irritating the big kids, Kit and I made a chalk princess. I taped a couple long sheets of butcher paper to the floor, and outlined my sleepy little princess with blue chalk. After she rolled off the paper, she picked out colors and I added embellishments to our paper princess. Most of the details are too light to see in any pictures, but the tiara stood out beautifully! (The right hand however looked a bit like it had a run in with a swarm of angry hornets.)

When Kit gets overtired but won't nap (which is pretty much any day Daddy isn't here to put her down for her nap. Any day Daddy is working basically) she has a tendency to start throwing things. From bath toys to books to breakfast cereal, when she gets tired and dysregulated, she chucks 'em. When I mentioned this to Miss V, her OT, several weeks ago, she recommended setting Kit up with an activity that encourages positive throwing. I remembered this on Thursday when Kit's way of telling me she was done putting stickers on the letter "I" was by catapulting the sticker sheets.

A quick scan of the room spied a box. I grabbed the box, propped it up on a kitchen chair, and told Kit we were done with stickers, and it was time to play a game. She was curiously examining the box and chair in the middle of the floor while I pulled the basket of bean bags out of her locker in the other room. I slid the trampoline in line with the box, about six feet away, and set down the basket on the trampoline. 

"Try to toss the bean bags into the box!" I did not have to repeat myself more than a nod to her raised eyebrows. She tossed them all, one at a time. We laughed when they missed, celebrated when they landed, with a thud, in the box. Then we retrieved them all and repeated the game three times, until she dumped the whole basket onto the trampoline and proceeded to bounce and giggle. 

Below is the lowercase "i", decorated with hearts, which was given to daddy as a present upon his homecoming. Our spur of the moment bean bag toss saved it from being tossed, torn, or otherwise tortured.

Other days this week proved far easier for Kit to cope with. On Tuesday, she picked out her uppercase foam letters to try out. She enjoyed every aspect of this activity, from taking them all out, to me handing her letters and her naming them as she looked for their spots, to squishing them back into position, to the pictures of things with each starting letter. Toward the end she started to dump and scatter them, the sign that she was done. Next week we will try the lowercase letters.

A little later, she played with her magnet maze. The little wand was frustrating her at the beginning. She could get the pieces going just fine, but she wanted to scoot them along so fast the little magnet balls couldn't keep up, and soon the wand was too far to keep the pull through the plastic, and they would roll backward again. So I gave her a larger magnet wand to try, but she really just liked sticking that to the smaller wand and pulling them apart again. After watching me several times and asking for a help a few more, she finally got the hang of going slowly to pull the balls along. Great job Baby Girl!

I have very little recollection of what happened on Wednesday. I'm guessing that is probably not because it was such a fantastic success of a day. There is a very likely chance that the big kids did math, played with the robotics set, and finished a few chores while Daddy entertained Baby, and Mommy hid in the bedroom. Moving on...

On Thursday evening, Kit suddenly jumps off the trampoline, scurries underneath it on her back, and after a few seconds wiggles back out and reports that ''this is my dad's car. I'm fixing it. It's broken." and then shimmies back under. She popped out periodically to report on the progress. 

When she was all done, I asked her if it had been "a problem with the alternator?" 
"The starter?" 
"Oh, well, the battery maybe?"
"No, it wasn't the was the...the...the engine!"
"Wow! The engine? What part of the engine?"
"The whole engine!"
"Wow! That is a big job to fix! Did you fix it?"

And not even a smudge on her princess dress! 

7th Grade Woes

This week for the big kids wasn't quite as exciting. 

Math has been steady but not exactly "problem free". This is the look of a boy sick of long column subtraction:

"I already know how to do this! Why do I have to so many of these again! Why can't I just start with new stuff I don't know yet?! Can I do electronics early?"

"It's good that you know it. You don't actually have to do so many of them, about three per lesson is good with me. It's important to go through the review material to make sure there isn't an important foundation point that you missed. No, you may not, stop asking."

Repeat this conversation for every math concept in the lesson, multiplication, division, writing long numbers in digits, etc. Basically everything except Roman Numerals. There he just gets irritated that the Romans didn't come up with a numeral for zero. And then asks to play electronics early.

3rd Grade Lows

Grace's math difficulties mostly stem from her difficulty with flexible thinking. For example: Despite me for the past year and a half using, with high frequency, the terms addition and subtraction, Grace still asks every time she sees those words or hears them what they mean. In her mind those procedures are called adding and taking away. Period. Her brain has closed the door on any further terminology, no matter how hard she is trying to open it. My job this weekend is to make Grace some keys. 

I call them Cheat Sheets, but they are tools to help lower the drawbridge and let information to pass freely between page and mind. She is highly visual, so I have to give her visual cues. So I will make some sheets that show familiar word = unfamiliar word = example. She needs these in several subjects. On the bright side though, once she knows something or understands, she remembers it forever. I therefore, am very careful about how I explain things to her, because once it's in, it's etched in stone.

The area that is giving her the most trouble however is, no surprise, writing. The act of writing is exceptionally complex. And Grace struggles. I recently have been seeing signs that part of her struggle may be due to weak hand strength. I need to investigate further, but her grip when she tries to squeeze my finger is not nearly as tight as I expected, even though her body is shaking with effort. And she tires quickly of putty with a thicker consistency than play dough. Hopefully we might get professional insight sometime soon just to make sure. 

In the meantime though I try to make the task less tiresome. I purchased some pencil grips that help promote proper grip. And we have switched back to the wider ruled writing paper, with a space between the rows, and the dashed line between top and bottom solid lines. This provides a better visual guide and built in space, leaving her mind freer to concentrate on letter formation and spelling. Her letters have significantly improved again since the switch. For a while her "n"s and "h"s all looked the same, among other letter issues. She wasn't keen on reverting to letter practice, but she commented herself on how much better they looked after.

But Pintrest Knows!

Another way I wanted to help her was to let her focus on spelling, while easing up on how much fine motor was required. I saw this on Pintrest, and knew we would have to try it. Shaving cream was the ticket to giving each kid what they needed at the same time! 

Kit got to smooth and smush up to her elbows, and she did! She totally got in the zone, repeating the same line from Diary of a Wimpy Kid over and over, making the big kids giggle because she doesn't even get the joke. Not that she cared one bit!

Zak, my other mover and shaker, was completely still in body, while his hands kept busy. He would quickly spell in the cream the word I read out loud, then after I got a quick look, he was free to mold and mash until we moved on to the next word. When his hands are engaged completely like this, his brain and body seem to relax, and his constant need to say out loud whatever pops into his head seems to relax, and he can quietly manage to be with us. This is a difficult state for him to attain without electronic means, or a really good book. I love these moments. 

His calm contributed enormously to Grace's. She feels the pressure of needing to hurry up and write her words when we have been doing this as a pencil and paper activity. Pressure makes her flustered. Flustered makes her frustrated. Frustration makes her anxious. And anxiety shuts down her brain. 

Combine those things with the already difficult physical task of writing...recipe for disaster.

But today, without the mental strain of an advanced big brother waiting on her to finish, and without the confines of a pencil and paper, she was able to coordinate her mind and hands! The most words we have been able to do in the last two weeks was twelve, ten of those being base words that we had worked on day after day for several days. Then I stopped before she got overly frustrated. Writing in the shaving cream, she was able to spell ten brand new words, and I only had to really help her twice! 

I'm so glad this helped because the more things we can combine and have the kids do together the easier it is on me. I was beginning to fear that spelling might not be a subject that we can combine, but now I think we will be fine. We just had to find our balance and the right medium.

I might also try sand, or maybe salt. (Both ideas also seen on Pintrest ;) It mostly depends on whether or not Kit decides to start throwing it. Though this might be something we could take outside and try as well. 

There was a lot more to our week, but this is more than plenty for now. I'm compiling another post of what we are reading. And a few other activities that kind of deserve their own posts as well. 

So, happy weekend to all!

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Weekly Wrap-Up

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Word of the Week: Music!

Yay! I'm so excited!

September starts off another year of music for me!

This is now my fifth year with the all-volunteer orchestra that I play in. We had our first rehearsal this past week. And this year brings about some great changes! One of the biggest is: no more summers off!

I am very happy about this because summer generally spells b.u.m.m.e.r. for me. The oppressive heat and humidity keep me hibernating indoors in the air conditioning.  And while I could easily take out my instrument and challenge myself, I am inherently lazy about playing alone and always have been, so my poor violin barely gets air all summer long.

But no more! And bonus! We now get to rehearse twice a month year round. That means nice long quiet drives all by myself (or with friends who need rides and are not fighting over the radio being on, expounding on the intricacies of lucid dreams, or making me sing the same song forty times in a row. That is what car rides are like with my kids, no joke).

Another musical change starting this month is: I'm giving lessons again!

After a six year hiatus, I have two new students starting violin lessons this month.

This is an exciting development in several ways, but the biggest being that it is proof positive that things with Kit have progressed to the point that I can actually act on my desires to teach again, not just daydream about them!

Having other students always acted as a great motivator to keep my own kids' lessons a priority, and I'm hoping it does now again. If it doesn't however, I am prepared to have them seek instruction elsewhere for as long as they are interested in learning to make music. Sounds funny, especially coming from a homeschool mom who plays (and teaches) several instruments, but you know what? It is what it is.

So music is my word of the week? What's yours? Click on the badge below to read  about others' as well!

The Reading Residence

Monday, September 8, 2014

Busy Bags: Bead Counting

We seem to loose a lot of playing cards around here, which means we often have at least one incomplete deck just laying around not getting used.

So I have taken a hand full of the number cards and combined them with decorator beads, which we also have dozens of all over the place, to make a simple matching/counting activity.

Kit already loves lining up these beads and sorting them, so I think she will enjoy using them to place one on each shape on the cards. Then we can count them together.

For the big kids we can use these as math flash cards to practice adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, and even a good visual aide for fractions.