Teachable Moments : Letters

Living with kids, we’re realizing that there are teachable moments all around us! So we’re turning them into a blog series. Example number 1 : BUGS!

I guess it was about a year ago, when Alex was just turning three, that we started to pay more attention to letters. It began with singing the alphabet and spelling his name, and then we started to help him identify the letters all around him : pointing out letters that we saw on daily adventures, spelling words on packages and in store windows, and it’s snowballed from there.

learning_letters

Early on, we realized that we could minimize a lot of letter confusion if we just stuck to one case, and for now our focus is on uppercase letters. They’re everywhere! ūüėČ

And in this post I wanted to share¬†a few of the fun ways that we’ve increased the letter play in our house.

learning_letters2

The Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies from Trader Joes are awesome. They taste great, and the container contains all of the letters as well as a few numbers. I keep a container of these in the car and they become my go-to snack if we’re out longer than expected and caught with empty bellies. The main game with Alex is just passing him a few and asking him to identify the letters and numbers by name.

I was out of the letter U the day I was taking the first pic, so Luc’s name was spelled with an O with the top chomped off… and that brings me to another fun game – when we’re eating pretzels, Alex will take calculated bites to try to form letters! It’s pretty cute and pretty abstract, but I love the creativity, and I think it stems from eating letters in other foods.

learning_letters3b

My mom found the alphabet noodles in the photo above, and she’ll send us a bag every so often (I haven’t found them in any of the stores around us in CO). Just like the cookies, they contain all of the letters and a few numbers. The kids love to eat these with just butter and salt – perfect for still being able to identify the letters when eating. And I find that when Alex has a whole bowl of these in front of him, he’s more likely to try to spell a word, which can’t happen when I’m just giving him one or two cookies at a time.

letters3

As far as non-edible letter fun goes, we realized that the Bananagram tiles are perfect for play. They are plain and uppercase. Win win! I’m sure scrabble would work too.

And below, Alex is showing off his skills at our letterboard. We keep this hanging in the kitchen with a fun saying on it, but whenever I’m going to change the phrase, I bring it down to the counter with a pile of letters and let Alex play.

bats_letters

At first he was really into matching up the same letters in a row, but then we advanced to copying basic words. I’ll write words he’s interested in on an index card, and then he’ll find the letters and spell it on the board. It’s perfect for keeping him occupied while I work on dinner!

And beyond these “tools”, we’re big fans of reading, pointing out letters in everyday life, and answer Alex’s every question about how this or that is spelled.

Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Teachable Moments : Bugs!

I’m starting a new series on the blog to share some of the education adventures that the boys and I go on; you can read my introductory post here.

bugs2_cover

Mamas and Papas, I’ve decided that fall through spring is the perfect time to investigate bugs!

You’re confused, I know, but hear me out : I spend those seasons vacuuming up all sorts of insects in our house. There are stink bugs, green lacewings, some wasps, flies, and¬†sometimes lady bugs. So, rather than toss the dead bugs in the trash, they are the perfect specimens for learning.

bugs

Have your kiddos collect a bunch of bugs, and then start asking them probing questions that get them observing.

  • You could start with an open-ended : What do the bugs look like?
  • And then get more specific : What color are they?
  • How many legs do they have?
  • How many wings?
  • If you’ve found¬†more than one variety : How are the bugs different or the same?
  • And then you could build curiosity: How did they get in the house?

I try not to hammer them with questions. Instead, I like to sit back and let them explore, but the questions can help to get them thinking and/or they’re just handy to have in mind if you’re having a conversation about the insects and want to keep it going.

bugs2

Introduce your kids to scientific tools. We have a few magnifying glasses and the kids’ microscope that you see in the photo above. We also happened upon a super easy trick – use a macro lens on your phone to shoot a zoom-in photo of the insects. If your kids are like mine, they will be amazed at the detail! While they love using their tools, I’ve found that the tools don’t come with the strongest¬†lenses and it can be hard for shaky/excited hands to keep everything in focus. Using the macro photograph is one of the easiest ways to expand your kids’ awe and curiosity about bugs – they can’t believe all of the details that are on the bug sitting there on the table (the fuzzy hairs, the patterns that just looked like stripes now are something else, etc.).

For better or worse, seeing the bugs magnified to this level makes it easier to anthropomorphize the insects, which can lead to some awesome learning conversations. My guys like to talk about the bugs families, what the different members of the family do, where they get their food, etc. And then this can lead to more detailed discussions about the social structure of some bugs, their lifecycle, the predator/prey relationships, and on and on.

When it comes to bug-related tools, we also have a bug box that’s handy when we’re catching and analyzing live insects.

bugs3

We also like to pull out the insect field guides to look up the insects we’ve found. The first time I pulled out this book, Alex went bonkers! He couldn’t believe all of the different insects that were in the book. So, I gave him plenty of time to just browse the book. Then we narrowed in on the insects we had, once we were on the right page, I had him find the specific insect, and then we read about them.

bugs4

My goal is for us to do activities like this over and over again whenever the interest arises, with the intent to increase the boys’ depth of knowledge each time. Some examples include¬†teaching them the correct names of insect parts, the lifecycle of the insect, their role in the ecosystem. And here are a¬†few other simple ideas for extending this activity:

  • draw pictures of the insects
  • discuss and paint a picture of their habitat
  • visit the insect exhibits at your local natural history museum
  • during the summer, we like to start by catching some bugs in the garden! This is one of the easiest ways to discuss the insects’ role in the ecosystem, their preferred habitat, and food. We don’t kill them, but we are still able to carry out a variety of the activities above, and this is where having the bug box is key to keeping your live specimens in one place.

If you’re a bug lover, a parent, or just someone with an idea, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other ideas for introducing kids to insects? Do you have any favorite insect facts?

Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Teachable Moments : an Introduction

Now that Alex is¬†nearing 4 years old and Luc is nearing 2, I’m starting to be more intentional with how we spend some of our time together. While they¬†spend their¬†days playing, I want to highlight more “teachable¬†moments” that challenge the¬†boys to learn new skills, whether it’s¬†physical, practical, and/or academic. And since we blog about what we love and what’s important to us, I’m hoping to share some of these pre-school teaching adventures on the blog.

alex_stick

We’ve already started some of this work and sharing through the Cooking with Kids¬†series, but I’d like to expand the posts to share some of the work we’re doing outside of the kitchen.

Our Learning Philosophy

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, it’s no surprise that Sarah and I enjoy¬†challenging ourselves to learn new things, and (of course), we love to share what we’ve learned with others. Much of what we do here on the blog is from the perspective of an amateur in that we’ve had no formal schooling in cooking, crafting, or potion-making, yet other things we do from the perspective of professionals (Sarah as a photographer and yogi, myself as a scientist, naturalist, and quasi-economist). Beyond spending years as a student, I’ve also¬†worked as an educator in one capacity or another (volunteering to work with high school kids in urban gardens, being a teaching assistant in grad school, and teaching college courses). All that’s to say that we have many passions, some we’ve pursued through formal education and others we’ve pursued as hobbies.

beach2

beach

As you may expect,¬†we’re keen to pass our love of learning on to the boys. The most important skills that I hope to nurture in them are to be observant of the world around them, ask questions about how the world works, and come up with ideas¬†that try to answer those questions. I’m hoping to raise curious problem solvers. Of course, I’m also hoping to raise kiddos with a social conscious, but aren’t we all? I hope?

What are Teachable Moments?

While they’re still young, I’m not concerned about enrolling the kiddos in a rigorous academic environment, rather, I think it’s fairly easy to engage¬†them in teachable moments no matter what we’re doing from one day to the next. For example, Alex is starting to identify letters of the alphabet and spell simple words. He doesn’t need worksheets to help with this, instead, we’re always finding moments to have him find letters (road signs, cereal boxes, books, etc.). And Luc’s learning is much more basic – he’s learning to form sentences, ask questions, and (of course) he tries to copy anything his big brother does from counting to jumping off the furniture. So we spend a lot of time talking to/with Luc¬†(not at him) to help his language develop. I ask him questions, give him time to answer. Before he was even speaking in sentences,¬†I would really listen when he¬†was making noises at me, because often he had something he was trying to communicate.

farm

Whatever the subject manner, there’s often a way to relate to it in our day-to-day lives.¬†For example, Calder and I were total dorks when we bought the NPS pass and talked about the utility we get just from knowing that we could go to any park at any time… and when I’m hiking in the mountains, a rock slide makes me want to talk about entropy –¬†the idea that things gradually go from an ordered to disordered state. The bottom line is that there are so many moments in the day where we could stop, observe, and start an academic conversation about a whole slew of topics.

But those are big ideas. At the boys’ age, I like to follow their curiosity. Some days we’re using blocks to see who can build the highest tower, and why does one stay up while another falls? Other days we’re sitting outside for hours looking for bugs, watching where they go and what they do. And other days, we’re mixing food coloring into homemade gak to see what happens when we mix red with blue (purple!), but what if we add yellow and green too (brown!)?

Teaching Resources

Right now, given the boys’ ages, our conversations and teachable moments are really pretty mellow, but they’re there, and more are happening every day – especially with Alex.

I’ve started to look for some resources that I can refer to¬†as I think about fostering a creative, problem-solving, independent environment in (and outside!) our house.

bats_letters

bats

For the most part, I’ve been leaning on my intuition and ideas from our mom who is a retired teacher, but I’ve also begun to turn to a couple of books:

  • Tinkerlab is a great resource for helping parents to foster a more creative and exploratory learning environment at home. It begins with a few sections discussing the importance of letting kids tinker, how to organize your home, and lists of suggested tinkering supplies for kids. Then the bulk of the book provides ideas for tinkering activities, organized broadly under the topics of “design, build, concoct, and discover”. There’s also a Tinkerlab website bursting with ideas and inspiring posts.
  • The Outdoor Classroom in Practice, Ages 3-7 is a great basic resource if you would like to have some practical help for creating a forest school environment. Admittedly, we aren’t spending our full days outside, but it is a major goal of mine to have a lot of the boys learning and activities taking place outside. This is a month-by-month guide with ideas for introducing children to the idea of a forest school and with a few simple seasonally-appropriate activities for each month.
  • The Kids’ Nature Book¬†This book is out of print, but Sarah picked up a copy for us at a used book store. There are other versions of nature activity books available, but I really love this one. It gives you an activity idea for every day of the year – that’s 365 ideas! Some are super simple (measure the snowfall), while others are more intensive. The bottom line is that you can find an activity that’s appropriate for any moment¬†and age level. I’ll come back to this book in a future post and talk in more detail about how I use it.

In addition to those books, as we all know, the internet is full of ideas, and I have a few Pinterest boards to help me keep those resources organized.

bugs

I’m exciting to start this series on the blog, and am thinking about a variety of future posts covering everything from how we create teachable moments while on vacation to our early experiments with learning letters. I know these posts won’t be for everyone, but I’m hoping that there’s a community of readers who would like to join in this discussion and share their teachable moments.

Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone