THE IMPORTANCE OF BLOGGING IN THE CLASSROOM

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This topic strikes fear into the hearts of safety conscious educational leaders, but I believe every school should have a blog, written by the children, and preferably linked to social media.

Having worked with high risk, and extremely sensitive groups in the past I fully understand the reasons why many schools do not have a ‘school blog’ (privacy, ethical and even marketing risks).  But I believe in most settings the potential for learning far outweighs the risk management involved (which can largely be managed with clear process and simple digital solutions).

I’ve talked before about digital literacy in the early years, and how record keeping influences memory and identity. I’ll explain how blogs aid specific class room learning in more detail later, but for now let’s see how my own children arrived at blog writing…

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PRINTABLE FOR A DIY EGG STORY!

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We were lucky enough to find a fresh chicken egg in our friends new chicken coup, but chickens aren’t the only ones who lay eggs.

First lets talk a little about the magic of finding an egg: Even as an adult, I am swept with joy if I find a little eggshell left behind by a wren. The whole prep class was mesmerised when a girl bought in a sharks egg that she had found. And, there is nothing quite like collecting chicken eggs. The other day we were introduced to our friends new pets: 3 stunning young chickens who (to our collective delight) had produced an egg! The girls took turns nursing the treasured egg all the way home, and tomorrow morning it will be used to make a small batch of our traditional celebration food: pancakes.

Birds eggs in themselves are a structural marvel. Calcium formed so perfectly that it is strong from the outside (particularly to vertical pressure) and weak from the inside (so that the small and weak new creature can break free with relative ease). Not only this, but all eggs contain everything the little creature needs to develop (regardless of what species – platypus, lizard, frog, shark or chicken!) they are amazing, and a marvel well worth sharing with your young ones.

This is a great free printable for you to create your own ‘Brown Bear’ inspired story. (And if your young literary nuts are anything like mine, you can probably recite ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’ backwards, while sleeping – yes, that book it well worn!)

Each page is designed by Mrs Wills Kindergarten so your tot can depict their own creature that starts life as an egg. Obviously the template isn’t necessarily the exact shape of a frogs egg, or a turtle egg etc. but the joy of making a little book  with the freedom to decide what will be included (rather than proscribed by the egg shape) makes up for this in my opinion.

If you are up for a full afternoon of craft you may like to layer tissue paper to create your works (Eric Carl style) or alternatively simply hand over a biro and your little artist can complete the book at the kitchen table while dinner is on!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: CARVE YOUR NAME IN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS

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How could you look at Egypt without touching on the captivating subject of hieroglyphics!

While it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that hieroglyphics were the first alphabet, they certainly predate our alphabet and it is a great introduction to early literacy (early literacy from a historical sense, rather than a personal sense, great to add to your timeline!)

We (unintentionally) took a backwards approach to learning about early language: First we used the iPhone to find this great website that simplifies the complex system of writing to an easily palatable kid friendly format. We then noted on paper the children’s names (using the website as our guide.) Then we took our paper and transformed it into a more fun (and historically accurate) medium; the clay tablet.

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Notice this backwards approach to the evolution of the presentation of information? (iPhone, paper, clay tablet – sure we miss a few stages in between, but we’re just after the basics here!)

Once I finally realised that we had made this organic ‘de-evolution’ we put a bit more focus on this aspect. Imagining a world without touch screens and Google – let alone a world before paper and common writing – is a big concept for anyone. (Talking about how there wasn’t always an alphabet seemed almost treason to my kids!)

Here’s a super simplified history of writing that you can use to guide your conversation with your young writers (for more details, look up the answers together – it’s always good to model the finding of information.)

From a very general sense it is widely believed that improved farming techniques (and thus an increase in yield) allowed early communities to trade goods with one another, and as trade increased there was a need for improved notation of the transactions (so, in a sense, very early writing was basically accounting!) As trade increased so too did the written ‘vocabulary’ until eventually ‘writing’ was used for important things (outside of accounting!) like scriptures and such.

The lack of paper and pen in the final stage of this activity (when the kids transferred their name to clay tablets) was particularly good at drawing attention to how the written language evolved from pictorial representations (that are quite difficult to make as marks in clay with limited tools) to a simplified form that eventually evolved into an alphabetic system that we use today.

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Now, I’d love to tell you that we are looking at the industrial revolution (and thus how the printing press brought written language to the masses) shortly, but to be honest my planning hasn’t got quite that far ahead yet!

For now check out the website, write down your tots name together in hieroglyphics. If you’re up for a bit of clay action then simply role yourself a clay tablet and get mark making (sun dry your clay for the authentic Egyptian touch, or cook it in the oven if the current Tasmanian weather won’t allow the sun to reach your clay!)

Come on, you know you want to get those little fingers into some clay!

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WORKSHEETS: LIMITING CREATIVITY OR PROVIDING A FRAMEWORK?

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There are lots of ways to learn your  letters, and different things will work for different children.

My oldest child knew all the shapes and the names of the letters long before she had a grasp of their use or sound. My youngest is the opposite and can sound out any word and tell you the letters, but can not recognise (or form) many letters. Each child benefits from different learning methods (and indeed enjoys different styles of learning.)

In our house, with learners on different ends of the letter learning spectrum, we are going for a bit of an immersion style of learning environment focusing on each letter (yes, learning about P means we had pumpkin soup for dinner, then pomegranate for desert!) and this is wonderful to encourage the recognition of sounds (something Anica is learning fast and seems to come very naturally to Elkas learning style).

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This is fun, but doesn’t teach the formation of the letters (in Anica’s case to improve her hand writing, and in Elkas case to recognise and form the letters). For this we have a series of worksheets (enjoyed most by Anica as it appeals to her learning style, but perhaps of the most obvious benefit to Elka as she links the sounds she knows with the formation of letters.)

Of course worksheets are not the only solution. We’ve talked before about ‘finding the o‘ or ‘sparkle writing‘, forming letters on the screen… and indeed we write letters on each other’s skin, in the sand, have them on the fridge, in the bath and so on… But for Elka in particular it seems that these worksheets have the most direct improvement on her ability to recognise letters.

Perhaps it is the repetition of the letters, or the novelty of the formal learning style, but I wanted to test what seems to be a very effective way for my children to supplement their learning: Half way through our work on P (before we had done the worksheet, but had done a number of other activities), I asked Elka a series of questions about the letters we’d been working on. The only letter that she knew but still couldn’t form was P (having already completed the other letters). Immediately after the worksheets (and then again a couple of days after) she could then form the letter P to complete her knowledge of the letter (adding to what sound it makes, what words it starts etc – i.e. this image below is Elka realising that ‘pen’ starts with ‘P’ and she was writing P’s with a Pen – hilarious!) While printable worksheets are not always appropriate, as a small dose for my family they are working very well.

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If you are new to the site and want to re-visit the post where I detail all the free printable that we are working from then head back to: Setting up for simple success.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: TURN A STORY INTO ART.

Peter Pan is a delightfully whimsical tale (and for those adults who want a little whimsy in their life “Finding Neverland” is a movie worth watching). My children somehow do not scare when they fall asleep listening to tales of pirates and man eating crocodiles, and I hope that the portrayal of female characters is not effecting their subconscious. For a bonus activity here is a little pirate adventure.

FullSizeRenderSimply read your favourite pirate story (or in our case we have an audio book of petter pan that the children love) and give them a large piece of paper with the instructions to create a pirate ship. Our pirate ship contained some dialogue from the story, and a second ship was needed in order to continue the narrative.

The activity did not take any adult preparation (other than setting up a story and getting the pens out) and yet was enjoyed immensely as a perfect quite time activity. Imaginations fired, little hands worked hard to craft their vision and at the end we had a beautifully imagined pirate vessel to hang on our wall as part of our ocean themed lounge room!

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EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: FREE PENGUIN PRINTABLE.

This week we’ve got a little reader book for your young tots to colour (it’s a free download, but you will need to sign up to the free membership for Teachers Pay Teachers – I signed up myself and have not regretted it.)

Sample of the work found in the full pack of penguin printables made by teacher Jennifer Drake of Crayons and Cuties in Kindergarten.

This download is great for learning the different penguins and also early readers. Because my oldest is right at the transition into independent reading I splashed out the $10 and downloaded the full set of penguins for us to carry with us on our travels. You can see what is included at the creators blog. The books don’t just give an opportunity to colour, but also give great facts about the different types of penguins, their environments and what similarities and differences there are between the different species!

BIG HISTORY CONCEPTS FOR LITTLE TOTS.

We’ve talked before about the importance of introducing a bit of ‘big history’ into early learning, and with everything from the dinosaurs to when mumma was born classed as ‘the olden days’ this project will help give a little perspective to our place in time.

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Our strategy for the year is to provide some understanding of big history concepts. We have created a time line on one wall and as we come across facts, figures, dates and details we add them to our timeline.

When we visited a cave (that began forming tens of millions of years ago) we added that to our timeline, giving the experience even more historical wonder than the simple beauty they saw. When we talked about how the waterwheel that was used to make flour in the ‘olden days’ we were able to add that to our time line and see that it is relatively recent in our history. When the kids asked when the first person was born (being a believer in evolution rather than creation) we added that to our timeline and could explain the idea of evolution far more simply when they could physically see the degree of time passing and the changes happening.

We have left some space for the future too, so they can imagine and dream about what might be in store in the near future. We hope to get to this after a few more history concepts are visited. (Over the coming months as we work through the letters we will look back at the first civilizations, dinosaurs, and so on). I am also excited to see a few more concepts overlapping (ie “this was happening at the same time the pyramids were being built” etc).

Now, if you plan to set up your own timeline you may wish to ‘cheat history’ a little as we did. Human history is so tiny in relation to many of the other big history concepts (such as the evolution of plants, Dinosaurs, mammals etc) that our entire human history is just a dot at the end of a 2m stretch of history (and that’s not even going back to the formation of planets etc!)

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To solve this problem of scale we ‘expanded’ our little dot of history into another timeline to allow for more detail in the human history. We used a coloured ribbon for each timeline (blue for the overall time line, with a dot of orange at the end. And orange for the human history.) This colour reference made it easer for the little historians to understand that the orange line represented that tiny little dot at the end of the blue line. We marked up our history over a 3m stretch of wall, simply using chalk directly on the wall to label the periods in time, and to add new concepts. When adding new ideas the little historians often create an image (painting, gluing, drawing etc) and we blue-tack that image to the wall at the relevant place on the timeline. This visual cue that they created is far easier for them to remember and explain to the other adults in their life than a simple text ‘entry’ on our timeline. By re-visiting the concepts as they explain their work they re-enforce their understanding of what they have learnt.

If you wish to create a similar timeline in your own learning space, we used this as a guide for our own timeline (you can calculate and measure this out to fit your space, but we were not so precise as the exact accuracy of the spacing is not so important – it’s a general concept that we are working towards at this stage so just sketching up an approximation is totally fine!)

World History:

  • 600 million years (before common time) – until the year 3,000(ish)
  • Separated at 100 million year intervals.

Human* History:

  • 10,000 years (before common time) – until the year 3,000.
  • Separated at 1000 year intervals

*Please note; the beginning of ‘human history’ that we expanded is determined at a point where there are some interesting things to add to the timeline (ie beginning of farming etc) rather than the beginning of Humans as a species. For practical scale reasons we found this to be more workable as it allowed a little more space between centuries once scaled to fit our space.

While my own little historians are not the ‘remember exact facts and figures’ type of learners, that is not our primary goal. Our aim with this timeline is to give the little historians a sense of their place in history. A sense of belonging in something much greater than themselves, an idea that things change gradually over time, and (as we enter further into human history) some understanding of how they can alter the future by their own actions.

A sense of belonging in time (as well as in space, community, culture etc) is vital for growing our young people into the adults we want in our world.

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: TASTY LETTER RECOGNITION GAME.

O is a vital letter in the English language, and yet it rarely starts common words (indeed the worlds that we often think of are far more closely related to their Greek origins than most of the words we use in common language – ie octagon, octopus, ox etc) There are a number of O words that we may use as parents and teachers (ie organized, oblivious or even obnoxious… yes, I have been found trying to explain the meaning of obnoxious to my 5yo at those trying times!) but still, very few words that most young children will naturally say when compared to other letters.

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This activity is intended to highlight the importance of the letter O in our language, even if it is not at the beginning of a great deal of words.

Simply choose any book with a large font. (We used a Maisy book with lift the flap fun.) Hand your child some Cheerios and get them to label each O with a Cheerio.

(Alternatively if you would rather avoid Cheerios in your life then you can photocopy a book and have them highlight the letter O – but in our house Cheerios are quite novel so they are a very exciting O shaped dry snack – the kids have no idea that they are meant to be consumed with milk for breakfast!)

For early readers you can talk about the different sounds that O makes when influenced by other letters, for younger children simply identifying the O among the other rounded letters will be enough excitement and challenge.

Of course you can then check that they have found all the Os by reading the page, and eating the Cheerios as you get to each word with an O. Have fun reading!

EASY ACTIVITIES TO BUILD YOUNG BRAINS: SPARKLE WRITING.

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Sand writing is a lovely tactile way to learn letter shapes… but sparkle writing is something that is hard not to be excited about starting!

Simply fill a container with glitter (not too thick, you only need a couple of mm deep for the letters to form).

When they want a fresh surface to write on simply shake the container slightly and it will clear the way for more creations.

The 5yo wanted to write words, the 3yo was happy making letters and shapes (all these activities can be supported by showing an example for them to model their own work on)… but by far the most fun was had when the 3yo returned to play on her own; she was consumed for quite some time drawing little pictures by herself. It served not only as a shape recognition and letter forming practice, but also as a quite, meditative time for the kids throughout their day. Quite reflective time (forgive the pun) is essential for processing information, particularly for those with more introvert tendencies, and is as important to learning as the abundance of information and stimulation that we must also provide to their developing minds.

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House tip: We welcome glitter in our world, but I know many sensible people who avoid it because of the excessive cleaning up required after the fact. To my surprise this unmonitored glitter quite area did not spread (like other glitter art experiences do!) and even more astounding was that it lasted an entire week without mess. I believe the heavy container that we put the glitter in helped with this, and because it was seen as something special the kids were happy playing with the magic dust in their own time, and without spreading it!