Friday, 25 May 2012

The Pig and Rabbit is back!

Right. That was a looooong break from blogging.  Since my last post was on 25 May 2011, I figured that I might as well wait a full year before posting something new.  So here we are – 25 May 2012! The year of silence is official over, and I’m ready to say hello again.

Quick updates are in order.  Emily, almost five, is midway through her K1 year in school and we celebrated Nicholas’ first birthday about two months ago. 

The past year saw us seriously bump up Emily’s music instruction. She’s still in the Music for Young Children (MYC) programme, but we switched teachers about a year ago, and now we’re doing what can only be described as “MYC on Steroids”.  Just keeping up with the programme requires Emily to practise on the piano for somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes a day.  But she has really learnt a lot this past year, including sightreading across two octaves on the staff and two-note chords for C major, G major and A minor. 

In January, we also added the violin to the mix.  After a disappointing start at a certain well-known music school when Emily was three, we stopped sending her to violin lessons and her 1/36 was left untouched in our music room at home.  However, because she kept asking us for violin lessons, we eventually enrolled her in NAFA’s violin programme and she started in their Preparatory class (with a 1/10-size violin) this year.  Violin practice probably takes Emily another half an hour each day, although she has been known to practice for up to an hour and a half on days when she feels particularly motivated.

With all this going on, it’s a wonder we had time for other home learning activities.  We have had to scale down a bit, as my time is now split between two children, but thankfully, we have still been able to get some things done. 

Let’s get Mathematics out of the way first.  We made good progress with Right Start Math (RSM) but I hesitated when we reached four-digit addition last year because Emily seemed to be struggling a bit with place value. The worksheets literally asked the child to solve "2631 + 1250 = ___ " which seemed a bit much to me. 

Thus, when other mummy friends purchased Math U See packages from the local distributor, I jumped on the bandwagon to give Emily more practice with basic concepts like addition, subtraction and place value.  We completed the Primer level programme fairly quickly, and are now working on the Alpha books.  I suspect that we’ll be in a better place to resume our RSM Level B work once we’ve completed Alpha.

Topping off the Mathematics line-up are the abacus classes which Emily does in school.  They are currently working on multi-number addition and subtraction and Emily seems to enjoy the workbook-based programme enough to keep going with it for a while.

We haven’t felt the need to work too hard on reading this year.  After Emily reached a certain level of proficiency (probably around Book 8a of Peter and Jane), we stopped formal reading instruction altogether.  These days, we just try to find time to read books together, and I ask her to read brochures, mailers, recipes, road signs, advertisement billboards and other random print.  We continued reading books listed in the Five in a Row curriculum - including The Story of Ping, Papa Piccolo, Night of the Moonjellies and The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge - but have not done a new lapbook since the New Baby one she worked on. I definitely want us to read together a lot more in the year ahead.

Emily is now reading comfortably at a second-grade level and she is enjoying the readers at that level which I purchased recently. She has also mastered all the Dolch commonly-used sight words for the Pre-Primer to Third Grade levels, which has helped her read a larger variety of books.   

Handwriting was a new challenge in the last few months, with more worksheets coming in from school now that she is in K1.  This will be something we definitely have to work on in the year ahead.  We also made a start on spelling but haven’t been working very consistently on this in recent months.

For Chinese, we’ve been depending on Emily’s kindergarten to give her a proper foundation and we also started Emily on Berries classes, which she enjoys.  I want (and probably need!) to do more here.  Along with the other one thousand things Emily and I would like to do, that is!

All said and done, it’s been a busy, busy year.  Phew! That was the catch-up post. Still with me?  J

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

World Map Puzzle - Completed!

Today, we finally completed the puzzle I blogged about here.  The puzzle is now taking up considerable floor space in my bedroom!

As I mentioned before, it's not easy for a three and a half year old to complete this puzzle which has 100 pieces.  Each piece has mostly the same colour palette which adds to the difficulty.   And there is a whole lot of water!  One blue piece looks like another blue piece after a while.

I ended up dividing the puzzle up into continents,  I then grouped the puzzle pieces by continent.  I would then hand Emily the pieces for say, Asia, and she would complete that part of the puzzle by herself.  I would then hand her the pieces for Africa and she would complete that section, and so on. 

I noticed today that Emily doesn't refer to the picture of the world map on the puzzle's box or on the poster that came with the puzzle.  Instead, she examines the ten or so pieces that make up the section she's working on, and she fits the pieces in for each section based on the shapes of the pieces and the colours shown on each piece. 

We will continue working on the puzzle from time to time.  Emily keeps asking me to dismantle certain continents at a time so that she can put the puzzle back together again.  It's easy to keep the activity challenging by asking her to complete larger chunks of the puzzle each time.  Besides developing her puzzle solving skills, our learning objectives are to have Emily understand the concept of continents - that different countries make up a continent - and to be able to identify the different continents and to have her identify the location of certain countries of interest.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Lemonade for Sale - a lesson in bar graphs, resources and advertising

I bought a stack of MathStart books some time ago and Emily recently expressed interest in a number of them, including "Lemonade for Sale". 

The children in the book need to repair their clubhouse and decide to make and sell lemonade to raise funds for this.  They make a bar graph to show their sales figures over a one-week period.

This is a Level 3 book and may not have been my first choice for Emily.  The MathStart books (there are 63 of them!) are categorised into Level 1 (for children aged 3+), Level 2 (for children aged 6+) and Level 3 (for children aged 7+) books, and being the methodical person that I am, I would have preferred to start with appropriate Level 1 books before moving to the higher levels.

But Emily really liked this book and I really like lemonade, and so I decided to look for some activities around this book.

Resources, Producers and Consumers
A worksheet on resources

The good news is that there are a number of good Lemonade for Sale resources on the web.  Using these as a basis, I've introduced concepts like "human resources", "capital resources" and "natural resources" to Emily.  We discussed what resources were used by the children in the book - for example, lemons and water were some of the natural resources used, while a jug and a freezer (to make ice) were some of the capital resources featured.  The children, who were busy that week making the lemonade and offering it for sale, constituted the human resources. 

Emily understood "human resources" very quickly, but had more problems with "natural resources".  In a funny moment though, when I asked her what "capital resources" had to be used to make lemonade, her first response was "a Thermomix", which is the magic machine which we use at home to make lemonade in all of five seconds!

We then did a craft activity to reinforce some of these concepts. I presented Emily with some coloured cardboard, Japanese origami paper, orchids (which Emily had helped me pick from a vase of flowers at home earlier that morning), sticky tape and a pair of scissors, and asked her to make a "product" which she could sell. 

After some discussion with my sister, who helped us with the craft activity, it was decided that Emily would make a necklace.  After this was made, we discussed what the natural resources used were (the orchids) and what capital resources (the pair of scissors and the sticky tape) and human resources (the efforts and handiwork of both Emily and my sister) had been employed.  I then talked Emily through a worksheet about this activity.  I decided that it would be easier if I filled in the answers for her, but Emily dictated all the answers to me. 

 This worksheet provided an opportunity to introduce the concept of "consumer" and "producer" to Emily.  She now understands that by making the necklace for sale, she was a producer, while the buyer of the necklace (Mama or Grandma) is the consumer. 

We plan to cover some activities about advertising and bar graphs in the future.  Watch this space!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Emily's "New Baby" Lapbook

Nicholas (the Rabbit in The Pig and Rabbit) arrived on 7 April 2011, presenting us with the opportunity to do a New Baby lapbook with Emily.  I say "us", but in sooth, all credit must go to one of Emily's favourite persons, her aunt Sharon (my sister), who conceptualised the lapbook, looked for materials and activities and then sat down with Emily to do the activities.  I am very grateful that I can outsource homeschooling to members of the family from time to time - you guys rock!

This is the lapbook cover.  Emily loves scrapbook shops and the stickers and materials available in these shops.  I love the bib craft project which was incorporated into the cover.

The lapbook features a matching activity on animals and their young (calf-cow, puppy-dog, etc).  Emily has been learning about these animals in her French playgroup so we decided to incorporate some French into the mix as well.  She knows the French names but hasn't figured out how to read the words, so I just wrote the French names next to the relevant pictures for her.

With some assistance, Emily also wrote a letter to Nicholas.  She filled in most of the blanks herself and it was her first attempt at a "cloze passage" and she seemed to enjoy the activity. 

And she also helped complete this height/weight comparison summary and did activities related to counting and writing numbers.  There is also a Relationship card game - Emily had to stick photos of family members on the cards and figure out what Nicholas' relationship to each family members was - e.g. "Mama has a new son", "Mimi has a new grandson" and "Aunty Jess has a new nephew".

Overall, a great "life lessons" lapbook to add to Emily's collection.  Emily is excited and happy about being a new Big Sister and this lapbook will be a good keepsake for her to remember this time in her life.

Friday, 15 April 2011

World Map Puzzle

One of the things I like best about the Five in a Row curriculum is how it exposes you to such a wide range of books covering different countries, cultures and eras.  A Pair of Red Clogs transports the child to Japan, while How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World brings her to places as diverse as Vermont and Sri Lanka.  Emily is always asking me where these different countries are.  She also asks me to show her, on maps, where her US-based cousins live, where Venice is (the scene for Papa Piccolo, another FIAR book), where Barcelona is (we visited the city last year) and so on.

It therefore made sense for us to buy this Map of the World "Puzzle Doubles" kit, which is a 100-piece floor puzzle featuring a map of the world and some flags, as well as a colourful map which you can hang as a poster in the playroom or study. 

I asked Emily to place flashcards with the names of some of the cities and countries she is currently interested in at the relevant spots on the map.  I haven't shied away from teaching her the names of cities, and Emily seems to understand that Paris is in a country called France, while Barcelona is in Spain, and so on. 

We also looked for Singapore on the map and for the Singapore flag!

Putting the puzzle together is no mean feat.  Now I understand why this set was marked "for ages 5 and up"; it's tough for a young child to figure out which piece goes where, especially because the colours repeat themselves and there are large chunks of sea in between!  So we're tackling this puzzle in parts.  For each section (e.g. the part featuring flags), I worked with Emily to find the pieces for the section by looking for certain common features (e.g. flags or a blue border).  I then let Emily do that section of the puzzle herself using just the selected pieces.  This is Emily working on the Europe section of the map:

And this is what we managed to finish today:

I think we will get many happy learning hours from this puzzle set, and Emily seemed to enjoy the activity.  It was evident from today that she has started to recognise the flags of certain countries, mainly those we've worked on in our lapbooks, like Japan, Spain, Singapore and France, and she seems interested to learn more.  And that poster belongs on a wall in our house somewhere!  Now, I just need to figure out where to display it...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Lapbook - "A Pair of Red Clogs"

Emily is rather predictable when it comes to books she likes.  While she generally loves reading about just about anything (ranging from lighthouses to the lives of Venetian street cats), her favourite books tend to have the following common elements: a young female protagonist and a story theme which is built around an article of clothing (like a coat or footwear).

As such, it came as no surprise when Emily requested that we lapbook A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno, a book which is featured in the Five in a Row (Fiar) homeschool curriculum. The book, which is set in Japan and gorgeously-illustrated, is about a young girl named Mako who is given a pair of red clogs.  She adores her beautiful clogs and wears them to school every day.  One day, she plays a traditional weather-telling game with her friends which involves her flinging one of her clogs into the air.  This damages the clogs and Mako decides to soil them in mud so that her mother will buy her a new pair.  However, she starts to feels guilty about lying to her mother and about her hidden motives.  Mako's mother asks her to wash the clogs and to continue using the washed clogs until a new pair is bought.  Mako decides that she will never lie to her mother again.

This is the cover of Emily's lapbook.  She coloured the traditional Japanese house scene on her own (which explains the (over-) liberal use of black for the screen).  The cover also features a craft activity which Emily enjoyed.  I cut out paper clogs and Emily painted them bright red.  We then used pipe cleaners as thongs, and stuck them on some gorgeous Japanese print wrapping paper which a friend had used to wrap a gift for us. 

Here is the inside of the lapbook, with the central flap lifted.  We showcased a finger painting of a cherry blossom tree which Emily did on the underside of the flap.  She did the finger blobs, while I added the tree branches and trunk later.

The topside of the central flap has a world map to show where Japan is in relation to Singapore (where we live) and to the United States (where Emily's young aunts and uncle live).  The Japanese flag is a lot easier to colour than the Spanish flag, and Emily used red paint to colour the sun.

We were also working on phonics quite a bit during this period, which explains the exercises on words ending with "ig" and "og".  It took me a bit more time to make the "ig" exercise, but the use of velcro tape has allowed Emily to redo the exercise many many times.  We like velcro tape!

We also embarked on some simple Mathematics word problems.  I read the words to her and she figured out the answers on her own.

I also found print resources for this Clog Matching Game online.  We play it as a memory game.  Emily lines up a string of cards, places them face down and then seeks to recall the colours of the clogs featured on each card.  She can usually handle a series of at least six or eight different cards, especially when she uses the Linking Memory skills taught in Shichida (we did two terms many moons ago!).

We also made a mini-book about Emily's Exciting Week to teach words related to the seasons (a link to Mako's weather-telling game) and the days of the week.  Emily helped colour the illustrations and choose the photos for the front cover of the mini-book.  Because the book is about her and about activities and places familiar to her, she loves to read it over and over again.

This is one of my favourite lapbooks from our growing collection.  I like how we managed to integrate some reading and vocabulary activities alongside Mathematics-based ones.  I also love the craft and game elements and Emily really enjoyed doing the craft bits.  There are a ton and a half of other great ideas available online as this is a very popular Fiar book, and this would make a great first lapbook project for any family thinking of getting started with lapbooking at home.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Logic Puzzles and Memory Games

We recently added a new spice to the mix by letting Emily try her hand at a Taiwanese puzzle kit called "Logical Genius" which contains materials for four-colour, 16-piece logic puzzles and memory games. 

The logic puzzles are good fun and the fast pace of play keeps Emily engaged.  The materials are well-made and hardy, and the fact that the child is able to touch and feel the puzzle pieces (more manipulatives!) makes for effective learning.

We just have to place some of the pieces in place (using the book which comes with the set as a reference guide) and hand the puzzle over to her.  She then completes the puzzle and we check her answers.

For example, this is the starting point:

And Emily fills in the other squares, until she completes the puzzle:

We got through about ten different puzzles in 25 minutes.  It was interesting to chart Emily's progress as the session went on.  At first, she only grouped the pieces according to colour and neglected to further sort the pieces into different shapes; however, once she realised that she had to sort by colour and shape, she breezed through a number of puzzles. 

The next challenge came when Emily realised she had to stop automatically dividing the 16-square grid into horizontal and vertical lines.  She started splitting the board up into quadrants (as per the puzzle above) and that was a new concept to grasp as well.

An example of a puzzle where the colours are sorted along horizontal lines while shapes are grouped vertically
The kit is also useful for playing memory games.  We placed two or three pieces on one of the boards provided and flashed this board to her for three seconds.  She then tried to replicate the board using her own board.  We'll need more practice with this.  By the end of the session, she was reasonably accurate with about two pieces, but we'll have to work on introducing more pieces slowly. 

All in all, at a retail price of about $20, this kit is a worthy buy and I reckon we will turn to it every now and then when we take a break from our other homeschooling activities.  It has a fun "game-feel" to it and Emily kept asking to try the next puzzle....and the next....and one more after that.  The materials provided in the kit are very well-made and look like they will withstand rough handling. 

That said, you could easily replicate the kit using home-made materials - cardboard, coloured pens and magnetic strips (for the memory game - but only if you really wanted to get fancy!).

In terms of difficulty-level, the first ten logic puzzles (all of which were at Level 1) were probably not sufficiently difficult for Emily and to be frank, I do wonder if the Level 2 puzzles will prove much of a challenge.  But I haven't been able to figure out Level 3 (and will be consulting my sister, the family's resident puzzle-maven, for help with this), so maybe the real test will lie there!