Wednesday, 30 July 2014

3 Beginner Games With Number Sticks

Math-Hater-Mom here again, folks - trying to make some preschool love for Math so that future work won't be such a future pain.  (Struggling with profit-and-loss statements takes all the fun out of my job, if you ask me)

So far I've tried-and-junked being all 'teacher' at home and decided to be a 'playmate' instead.  Apparently I was such a drag before that she ended up refusing to work on numbers in school!  As her math 'playmate' today there's less pressure and more fun for both of us.  So I'll leave the teaching for school, but the basics of playing math at home are always Montessori-inspired:

Number sticks, you ask?  If you do so ask, here is the quickest overview ever:
The modern version of Montessori number beads (left) and golden beads (right) are small plastic cubes.
Basically these give children a hands-on way to learn everything from counting to higher math.
These are also called Cuisenaire Rods or Number Sticks (shown).  Cuisenaire Rods have different colours.

My first post (left) about discovering and starting number sticks is here.  Must read first!
A second one  (right) about two ways to use them with a timer is here.
We've been playing with them for the last 13 months and they make me wish I learned math this way!
Remember these games only work once your child can identify each colour stick by heart.  I highly recommend going to Education Unboxed for her video tutorials.  Although her kids are math whizzes and she has more of a teacher vibe, I've adapted her fantastic ideas for my less-inclined younger-age daughter.  
Keeping it playful has always worked in Ladybug Girl's case.
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Game 1 - Score Tracker
We use the sticks to keep track of score.  It can be any silly game, your special game that only you two know the made-up rules.  But you'll find the number sticks can help practice a number of sneaky skills - for example:
I left this play for her to do while I was at work (it's my thing).  It was untouched for a week.
So I reached for it one night to play together and I found out her fingers weren't strong enough yet.

I decided to make it into a game.  Whoever could clip the most would win.  To work in some number practice, I got out the dice and the number sticks.  We each throw the die, count the dots, and clip the same number of clothespins to the box.  
Apparently she needed two hands.
This is a great way to build finger strength needed for writing.
Now it's fun when you play!
  
Counting to see who was the winner.
Two ways where the number sticks come in:  after rolling the die and counting the dots, we each get the corresponding number stick.  Then when the game is done and we counted all the clothespins, I asked her to make the number she got using the sticks.

Using the sticks builds number sense!


Game 2 - Race to the Finish
We use the number sticks as the game board itself - players move by putting down number sticks until they reach the end.
 

For addition practice, add up the two numbers you get after throwing the dice:

For younger children, just use one die
Here she is using the number sticks to solve the equation: 

We had trouble with 'dynamic' addition (when the answer crosses over ten).  When we'd get a sum of eleven or twelve, I'd try to teach but I could tell she hadn't grasped the concept yet.



The best part of this game is that daddy gets to join in.

The tokens move along with the number sticks (just for fun)
This is by far the game we keep coming back to, and it's easy to make things harder along the way for math practice.  Another post on that in the next weeks!  Last game for now:


Game 3 - Make Me The Number
This one is a simple game that practices math sense.  Montessori Math is sensory learning in itself because it makes math real through materials.  It makes the concept of higher numbers a real picture of amounts in their heads.  At some point, so much of math can easily become memorisation rather than real understanding, so having a good foundation helps!

Let me show the little DIY math toolbox we have in her shelves:

Print and laminate number cards from Montessori Printshop.

We use the number cards almost every time we play with the number sticks (or when whatever we're doing can become a practice for understanding numbers past ten).  

Only bring out the cards that can match the amounts of number sticks or base tens that you have.  Turn the cards over and ask her to pick one from each decimal place group.

 

She got '5' from the units (ones) place, and '10' from the tens place.  Here she is making that amount:

She's using the units this time instead of bringing out the five stick

Now for bigger numbers.  Turn it into a game by saying that whoever makes the bigger number wins!

You can compare the sizes of the piles to show that her '888' is obviously bigger than your '111'.
***

What are some sneaky ways you play math with your little ones?  Do workbooks work for you?  I tried sitting her down with a workbook at home and she immediately turned listless.  But at her school she's so much more game to do equations, even long ones.  

I remember my math teacher teaching the concept of 'carrying one' on the blackboard and I didn't get what she was doing.  I memorised the methods, and did a pretty good job at math throughout school life ... until I took an accounting class in college and flunked the damn thing.  I eventually passed when I stopped memorising math methods and started understanding why I was doing what.  But I developed a deep dislike of math.

That's pretty much the cycle we need to break for our kids today.  
Luckily there's always play.

 
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Monday, 28 July 2014

Mix Music Play and Number Practice

Picture yourself arriving home from work in time for bedtime and your toddler misses you so much you get an energy boost for some floor time play before lights out.  Great!  

The bad news is your brain is mush.  

What can you do that will wind down the little one without also winding down all the energy out of you?  That's pretty much my daily challenge.  I started to think of simple ideas after-work that meet the need for time to play together without much effort.  A classic example is this:
  

Ladybug Girl is four years old here but if you've got a two or three year-old learning numbers, this one is great too.  It's already simple but can be made simpler if you needed to.  The important thing is to relax and have fun, not hover to grade like a teacher.

First I must warn you that the rest of the photos will have this groovy lighting:

Turning off the harsh daylight bulbs is a routine I do to wind down at night.

If you have a xylophone set and a die, you're all set:

I put number labels on the xylophone from one upwards as the notes get higher

I let her roll the die and count the dots to see what number she got - sneaky math practice.



Then I let her write the number on a piece of paper - sneaky writing practice.
Do this step instead if your child isn't at this stage yet:



After a few dice throws, you've got yourself a "sheet of musical notes"!



Now play!  It'll make a nice random tune -- sneaky creativity practice.
Mom (or you both) can sing the numbers to the tune of the notes to reinforce the learning.
Somehow when you're a mom it's okay to burst out singing in random moments.


And then pack away and it's time for the bed(-time story).



Score one for the working mom: bonding time, learning, and after-office energy is possible.
Wait, make that score three.


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*If you'd like to see some of our after-work activities, see the gallery on the upper right side of the blog or head on over here.  It's the least filled gallery in this blog - that's how much of a challenge it is.  I'd love more ideas from you!   

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Rain Splatter Art

When it's the weekend, my daughter and I rejoice because we get to play messier and for longer periods of time compared to our after-work routine on weekdays.

Now that the rainy season has come again to Manila, it's time to try this fun art play again:



Pop out a few chosen water-colour shades from the el cheapo set, a "crusher", and mess-keeper bag.


Let the little one whack to her heart's content.  Her patience lasted less than a minute.  So typical.

I think an adult and a rolling pin should finish the job - you'll see why later

Now arrange the crushed colours in a tray:

This should be ground into finer pieces - maybe with a mortar and pestle

Bring outside!  You can watch the rain make art, or you can leave it.  If you choose to leave it though, don't use trays!  We came back to a brown swimming pool.

You can't see it much in these photos, but the fine grains left the best colour

If you'd like to watch on fast forward, try this fun way:

Use food colouring!  This post from Mama.Papa.Bubba inspired our own version.

Making art in the rain?  Or letting the rain make art?


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Find more weekend play activities in the weekend-play gallery in the upper right of the blog or click over to here.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Make a Montessori Nature Corner

I was completely sold on the Montessori method as a working mom because of one of its main beliefs: a prepared environment.  If you haven't been inside a Montessori classroom yet, visit one!  You'll see for yourself how the children use their orderly surroundings to learn work, independence, kindness and respect.

I steal a lot of Montessori ideas to make my home more child-friendly.  Leaving behind a thoughtful environment for my little girl has been a huge priority for me as a working mom who has to have peace of mind while at work.  Here's the easiest way to make a Montessori-inspired space at home:

 
So it's basically indoor plants in a corner of her room.  But it's a good reminder of nature in the concrete jungle of Manila (and our house).  I also use it to model a respect for plants and for her to start learning responsibility in caring for them herself.  I keep all these out in the open:

You can read more about how we use the nature collection box here.

I allow her to take care of this spot all by herself.  Which, for the past year, meant this:
Miura plants from the mall never lasted
And most of these are no longer living.
(Luckily the set of plants you see on the topmost photo have been thriving for months.)

Expect a lot of experimentation even at the expense of some plants.   Part of her responsibilities are removing yellowing leaves, and she tends to get overzealous (and once killed a poor money tree that way -- I came home to a plant with leaves scotch-taped on!).  

Having a nature corner as a reminder inside does spark some more nature play:
An experiment learning how plants grow from seeds
Using the story of Planty from My Milk Toof to feel sorry for plants if they are neglected
At some point, we took care of turtles in this corner for a month, before I gave them to my team at the office for a marketing insight project.

I also encourage her to take care of the plants at home with the same activities in her Montessori school.  This one is polishing the leaves to help the pores take in oxygen.  The leaves really do get dusty:

Dip a cotton ball in some water and go to work

Not only does this encourage respect and responsibility for nature but I love it more for the fine motor skills she gets to practice:


Making a nature corner is super easy to do, and it's one of my favourite spots in her room.   If you'd like to see a gallery of other play spaces we have, click on "galleries" on the upper right page or head on over here.  

As for my own green thumb, that's another post coming.  No judgement please.  I'm also still a work-in-progress!


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Monday, 14 July 2014

The Last Month In Cartoons

Nearing the home stretch of business plan preparations for 2015.
Always the most painful time in corporate life because of this:

Source: Dilbert Comics

 But it's nothing compared to the deep shock and sadness at losing a teammate to an aneurysm after just a few days.  Dear Jesus, bless his journey to You and bless his young family left behind.

Source: Calvin and Hobbes Comics


I feel like I've aged so much in the last few weeks.
I've experienced the downside and upside of knowing and loving my husband for ten years.

Source: The Far Side Cartoon

The downside is you start to get cynical about each other's weaknesses.
The upside is that you've matured enough to let love be stronger.

I am going to feel the aftershocks of this month for months to come:




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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

DIY Montessori Movable Alphabet

Our version of Montessori's movable alphabet is still going strong in our playroom shelf!   It's one of my favourite leave-behind activities for Ladybug Girl to play with while I'm at the office.  

Want to see how we're continuing to use it?



When she was three, I discovered by trial-and-error that a home version of the Montessori movable alphabet worked best for learning letter sounds in starting to make words.  If you're new to this blog (*hello*) please see this post last year on super simple ways to get started at early preschool stage.  

We're using the same DIY set I made more than a year ago: alphabet magnets in drawer organizers.  And a cooking tray from the kitchen.

In hindsight I would have used the cheaper plastic alphabet magnets available everywhere.
These Melissa and Doug magnets went from 550 pesos to 795 pesos in a single year - crazy profit!

We still use them as Montessori intended - to enable kids to practice the sounds of the letters to make words without three hang-ups: correct spelling, legible writing and the pressure of reading aloud.  Those three things are a different set of skills that come later - otherwise they can easily discourage kids from starting to read and communicate.  I've seen all these happen with Ladybug Girl!  

Can you tell I've been reading up on this?  (*nerd cough*)   Well, we're still doing basic word-making:

I put out a simple flashcard prompt at night and sometime during the next days she chooses the letters to make the word.
Remember: don't correct the spelling unless asked!  In Montessori they start correcting spelling at Grade 2.
This one was for Halloween last October
A quick learning opportunity on the "SH" sound

Here's another way to make word-making more sensorial while working on fine motor hand strength at the same time: use moon dough as a stamping pad.  Moon dough doesn't dry up unlike play dough.

I used PlayDoh letters and numbers set and set out a stamping 'pad' made out of moon dough over a small lid.
Extra mommy credit for painstaking letter labels for my left-handed daughter, yes?  Haha

Now that Ladybug Girl is a little older at five, I can see the genius of the movable alphabet in encouraging her to write (the creative kind) even without mastering how to write (the handwriting kind).  Ladybug Girl and fine motor skills were not early friends, you see.  Massive understatement.  

I came across the idea of preschool journaling here and here, but I still need to test how it can be working-mom friendly on top of Ladybug Girl's reluctance to do handwriting.  Using our DIY movable alphabet is a start!

I leave out prompts like this:

"My favourite toys are:" invitation to make a list.
Adapt your words and handwriting to your child's skill level - example "I (heart) my toys:"

Notice the use of a big D instead of the small letter d?  She keeps doing this because that's how she learned to write the D in her name and it's gone uncorrected.  This made me realise that it's time to correct that one in her name, at least.

To make marks on the cooking tray, I used these dry-erase crayons:

Now in Toys R Us in Manila!  No more hoarding these things in Singapore!

Our last one before school started.  I'm looking forward to coming home to more stories and conversations through our movable alphabet play:

"My summer vacation story"

"Boracay, Tagaytay, Play, Write, Buy Toys" made for an interesting conversation after I got home from work.
She says "write" as "writ-uh!" with a very strong T sound in the end : hence the spelling.

For more DIY movable alphabet versions see Montessori Printshop's paper version here and Living Montessori Now's round-up of ideas here.

One hundred years old - and a year into using this at home - it's still shiny and new.  
And now it's working-mom friendly too!


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