Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Behind the Scenes: Our Learning Environment

I think that a good environment for a preschooler should be one that naturally encourages exploration and playful learning.   So I have tried to set up our house to do exactly that.  A Montessorian would call this a prepared environment, and unschooler would call this strewing...I just call it our home.  And here is a behind the scenes look at how we have it set up. 

If you notice we tend to have an area for the kids in almost every room of the house.    I do this for several reasons:
-The first and most important is that it keeps kids busy, and a busy kid is a good thing in my book.  A bored kid often tends to get into things that they shouldn't.  A bored kid often tends to fight with their sister or brother.  And a bored kid is also usually "high maintenance" and makes it so it is hard to get anything done around the house.
-The second reason is that I don't spend all day in one room.  My kids naturally tend to follow me around wherever I go, and this gives them something to do as they move from room to room.
-The third reason I do this is because I feel strongly that this is our kid's house too!  Just like my husband and I have something of "ours" in every room, so do our kids.  It doesn't seem natural to us to confine them to one room or area. 

Our listening Center:
Our listening center is in our family room next to the couch where we usually read together.  The kids have several audio books and musical CDs that they can listen to here.  The listening center has a comfy ottoman for laying on while reading, a CD player that is easy for a toddler to work, and plenty of floor space for dancing!
Sophia listening to a Nursery Rhyme CD while following along.
Our Favorite Listening Center Products:
-Themes To Remember, Volume 1,
- Wee Sing Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies,
- Poetry Speaks to Children (Book & CD) (Read & Hear) 
- Various Audio Books for Children (Purchased or record your own)

Our Library:
Near our listening center, we have our home library.  This is several bookshelves that hold all of our families books.  We try to keep these organized by subject.  My husband and my books are on the higher shelves, the kids books are on the lower shelf. 

Water Serving Station:
I try to encourage the kids to help themselves to their own snacks and drinks.  We have a little water serving station sent up for them.  You can see the blog post about it here. 

Help yourself to a glass of water
Update:  Since that post was published, the water station has now now been moved to the kitchen on the linoleum floors due to too many spills on the carpet!  :)   We also keep everything on a small table.  Other than that, the setup and equipment remains much the same. 

Our "Classroom":
This is what I affectionately call our classroom.  Although it is really our dining room.  This picture was taken in early February, so as you can see we have it all decked out for Valentine's day.  This has a small child sized table that we use for painting and other activities that are best done sitting.  
Our "Classroom"
Here we have two little "learning shelves" set up.  You can see them next to either side of our hutch.  One we call our "Language Arts shelf" and the other we call our "Montessori Shelf". 

We use the tops of these shelves to house all of our theme books for the month. This particular month, we were reading and talking about John James Audubon and Groundhogs.  (The groundhogs are because of groundhog's day.) Interesting combination...wouldn't you say? 
Our "Language Arts" Shelf - It has a lot of our Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT) Curriculum
On the "Language Arts" Shelves:
On top of the bookcase:

Our "theme" books for the month.   (This month we are studying Groundhogs, Weather, Shadows, and Hibernation in honor of Groundhog's day.)

Top Shelf (left to right):
Blue Basket - Mat Man Building Supplies
Wooden Box - Wooden Pieces for Capital Letters
Workbooks (Let's Cut Paper! (Kumon First Steps Workbooks), Let's Sticker & Paste! (Kumon First Steps Workbooks), and HWOT Get set for School Workbook)

Middle Shelf (left to right):
Wooden Box for HWOT Wet, Dry, Try Technique Tools (Slate , Little Chalk Bits, Tiny Sponge Cubes)
Sandpaper Letters from Polliwog Learning on Etsy.com
Tub of Tiny Crayon Pieces (The tiny pieces help force the child to grip them correctly)
HWOT Stamp-n-See Screens

Bottom Shelf (left to right):
Green Basket - HWOT Roll-a-Dough Screens, Homemade Playdough (recipe here)
Larger Green Basket - HWOT Capital Letter Cards and Blue Mats

Montessori Shelf

On the Montessori Shelves:
 On top of the bookcase:

Our Art books for the month.   (This month we are studying John James Audubon.)

Top Shelf (left to right):
- Yellow Basket -Melissa & Doug See & Spell
- Sandpaper Numbers from Polliwog Learning Products
- Clear Zipper Pouch - Melissa & Doug Beginner Pattern Blocks

Middle Shelf (left to right):
- Wooden Box-Melissa & Doug Bead Sequencing Set
- Second Wooden Box - Various Magnet exploration items (Magnetic Balls, Magnetic Wands, Stack and Match Magnet Rings)
- Red, Yellow, Blue and Green Wooden Boxes -Montessori Knobless Cylinders

Bottom Shelf (left to right):
- Various Beading Activities (Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden 27-Piece Lacing Beads in a Box)
- Plan Toys Cone Sorting
- Twist & Turn Sorter

This side of the room has our calendar and "weather" tracking stuff.  We also have an easel out for the kids to write on when ever they want. 
Our Calendar Center

In the kitchen, the kids have their own little broom center where they can easily reach their tools when it comes to clean up time.  We use got this broom set here for the kids and have been very happy with it.  The vacuum cleaners are called Super Vac Toy Vacuums.  They really suck up small bits of dirt!  (Very small, but every little bit helps!)  We bought ours through Amazon, however I see that they are currently unavailable.  When it comes to clean up time, the kids also have some spray bottles (with vinegar and water) and some rags/sponges.  They help me wipe down the table and winters in addition to helping me clean the floor.
Kid's Cleaning Supplies
 We also have an area for the kids to hang their aprons up next to mama's aprons. 
Hang up your apron please!

Our Nature Study Basket (Has the kids Nature Notebooks, my Nature Journal, some field guides, and Handbook of Nature Study)

Our Basement / Playroom:
The basement is where we keep most of our toys.  Although we try to have a "play area" on every floor of our house.  (It keeps the kids busy and out of trouble!)  Here are some photos of our main play area. 
Play Kitchen Center

Another Picture of Kitchen and Grocery Store Center  (We have a kitchen, a baby bed/high chair, grocery carts, and a cash register to encourage dramatic play)

Shelf Near Kitchen (This holds the Puzzles, Melissa and Doug Latches Board, Larger Wooden Food Pieces, matryoshka dolls, etc.)

Train Table:  We switch this out from time to time and rotate new activities

Playroom Wall

Bookcases full of toys  We have our block center here near the bottom right.

Close up of the "Building Center"  (Design and Drill, Pound and Roll Tower, Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Pound-A-Peg, Various Pretend tools)

Chalk Board Magnetic Wall, Building Center and Small Table

Dress Up Clothes and Props- I Still need a mirror for this area so the kids can check themselves out
Links to Become Attached To:
-Don't waste your Homemaking
-Homemaking Link-Up
-Tot Tuesday
- Tot School
-We Play
- Montessori Monday
- Preschool Corner

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mommy does some crafting of her own...

Here are some outfits I stitched up for Marcus and Sophie for Valentine's day.
Marcus asked for a Robot or Caveman valentine shirt.  (Odd request, but that is what he wanted.)  So I made him a Robot T-Shirt that said "Love Machine". 

It is an applique that was done on my brand new embroidery machine.  The embroidery machine was a gift from my dear, sweet husband for Christmas.  I have been dreaming of owning an embroidery machine for years, so I have been having a lot of fun playing around with it.  This was my first time using it on a t-shirt.   (T-Shirts can be hard to embroidery on because of the loose, knit fabric.)   I am still very much a beginner...so as you can see I am still getting the hang of things. 

  Really we need a forum capable of "tactile-perception" to get the feel for this t-shirt.  The gray is this silver chenille/minky/velvety-stretchy-mystery fabric that is SO soft.  (I honestly don't know what this fabric is.  I just had it in my scrap bag.)  The black is a corduroy.  The two fabrics really create an extra soft and touchy robot applique.  This was my first time ever using my new embroidery machine on a t-shirt. 

Sophie of course wanted a matching t-shirt...so she also got a robot t-shirt. 
I also sewed Sophia a matching skirt.  She usually doesn't like skirts, but I thought I could lure her into wearing it with the bait of extra, big, luxurious, gathered pockets.  (Sophie LOVES pockets and insists that she has them in everything she wears.)   Sophie made good use of these pockets today.  She used them to stash about 4-5 pacifiers in them should she need them for back up. 

Here is the complete outfit together:

And here is the obligatory "stand by the door and let me take your picture" shot:
Thanks for looking!!

Links to Become Attached To:
- Don't waste your homemaking 
- Homemaking Link Up

Valentine Box Collages

Busy at work on their Valentine Boxes:  here they are showing me their hands covered in glitter glue
Today Marcus and Sophia are participating in their very first Valentine exchange.  For the special event we had to create some very special Valentine's Day boxes.  I really wanted the boxes to be something Marcus and Sophie created.  So, we decided to decorate our boxes "collage style". 
Marcus busy at work decorating his Valentine Box
Sophia busy at work decorating her Valentine Box
 To create your own collage boxes you will need to wrap a small box in white paper for your child.  We used a paper roll that goes to our easel, but you could use white packing paper or whatevever you can find to serve as a "base" for your collage.

Then, provide your chid with lots of fun collage supplies:
Some ideas are:

1)  Washable Paint (We used Red, Pink, and Purple)
2)  Glitter Glue (And LOTS of it!)
3)  Foam cutouts in various shapes (We used Hearts and Flowers)
4)  Red, Pink, and White pom poms
5)  Feathers
6)  Printed vintage valentines.  (Just print and cut out!)  You can download and print those for free from here.

This craft was really special to me because Marcus and Sophia put a LOT of work into decorating their boxes.  I mean, they probably worked hard on them for about an hour in DEEP concentration.  They made heavy use of the paint and  foam shapes.  But most of all, they made use of the glitter glue!!  I made the mistake of putting about 20 tubes of glitter glue on the table.  (Can you tell I like to buy in bulk?)  Well, the kids used all TWENTY glitter glue tubes.  These boxes have so much sparkle that I am not lying to you when I tell you that they took a full FOUR days to dry. 
Using her mouth to open the glitter glue

I know that these boxes may not look as "fancy" as some of the other V-Day crafts you see on the web.  However, in my humble opinion, I think they are the mot beautiful creations out there.  Why?  Because they were made with loving care and attention by my two special Valentines!  

Sophia's finished product

Marcus's finished Valentine's Day Box


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