Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Learning for Little Ones

Peeper is all over the letters and numbers and shapes and colors these days, and so eager to learn everything, so I've been googling around to get ideas for more things that we can do with her, besides reading her books, and playing with the same old magnets over and over.

I've found a lot of really cool resources with projects and lesson plans and curricula (such as they are at this age) and the like for toddlers. A lot of it is from moms who are homeschooling their older kids, and looking for ways to involve (and occupy) the little ones, and some of it is from moms who are just looking to enrich their toddlers' day with some more structured and directed play.

I've seen some really structured stuff that I think she's way too young for, I but mostly I've found a lot of cute projects and interesting games and toys with an educational twist - and even the most structured of the curricula that I've looked at have some good ideas within them.

I really don't think we need some sort of structured system to help us teach Peeper her numbers and letters, because that's something that we're just doing naturally (and that she's picking up really well), but I've realized that there are lots of things that she does need to learn, or at least to be exposed to, that do not come naturally to us, such as art.

Neither of us is artistic, nor is art something that we particularly value. Which is not to say that we don't believe that art has value, it just doesn't have a lot of personal value to us. (Does that make sense at all?)

What if Peeper has some incredible underlying artistic talent (from Popeye, I would presume) that she never discovers because we never bothered to mention that such a thing exists?

So, my point is that I figured I ought to, at the very least, start making an effort to do some artsy-craftsy stuff with her, and I like the idea of adding some other more intentional and directed educational activities to our very unstructured "routine."

While I don't think a real curriculum would be appropriate for her at this age, I think there is a lot that you can do that goes a bit beyond just willy-nilly playing.

Of all the various approaches I've been reading about online, I think the one that seems to resonate the most with me is "Tot School," as described here: "(Tot School) is not a curriculum, it's just a way of life! ... Tot School is nothing more than intentionally providing your tot with age appropriate activities that are fun and engaging. By choosing specific toys and activities, we expose our tots to a variety of early learning skills. Mastery is not the goal, FUN is!"

There's a whole network of "Tot Schooling" mommies blogging about their activities and linking back to the blog referenced above. In surfing through them, I've seen some activities that look really fun, a few that I think Peeper could handle now and a whole lot that I'm filing away for a few months down the road.

If I continue to do this in any organized manner, I may start doing "official" Tot School posts and linking up with them, but maybe I should make sure first that they don't have a problem with the PG13ness of the rest of my blog!

So, anyway, I like low-key Tot School philosophy, and in terms of "but what do I do with her?" I like the idea of a "unit studies" approach, which for her age would just mean that "This week we're talking a lot about _____" and maybe reading some books on that subject, and doing some art, and singing some songs, and possibly even talking a "field trip" to somewhere related.

Last week, I decided to jump wade in with the ever-so-creative-for-early-November topic of "Leaves."

We looked at leaves in the yard, and collected some, and talked about how they go "crunch-crunch-crunch" when we step on them, and sang a song (okay, Mama made up a little song) about them, and colored pictures of them, and did two more involved art projects about them.

Wanna see?

She got very excited about these leaf coloring pages, all of which I just googled up and printed out. When she was working on the one at the top left, with the face, she scribbled on the face and told me "Eyes!" and then scribbled on the stem and said, "Tay-uhl!" (tail)

I also drew a naked tree, and she colored in the leaves. More or less.

This is our first "project." I traced her hands/arms to make the trunk and limbs of two trees - and then her "toesies" to make, well, bushes, I suppose (that part was her idea) - and she (with a lot of help) glued bits of tissue paper on them, for leaves. I would've liked to have had some orange leaves as well, but I was working with what I could find in the box of leftover gift bags and such. Evidently there aren't many orange gift-giving occassions.

Also, I evidently don't know what month it is. I've really had trouble wrapping my head around the concept of "November."

After I introduced the idea of tracing body parts on paper, she became a bit obsessed with it, and asks us to trace her "hayuns" and "toesies" and "aahms" quite often. I've even "taaaced" her "neee" and "ehboh," and both our faces.

She looooves for us to trace her magnet letters and numbers, and has even brought us "Humhummuh" (Santa Claus) to be "taaaced" several times.

Of course, you can't study leaves without studying some actual leaves, so we collected a bunch in the backyard.

And talked about the ones in the trees.

When we took the doggies for a walk, we came across a couple of nice pine boughs on the ground, so we "branched out" a bit and talked about evergreens versus deciduous trees.

And then we used the leaves we'd collected to make a "leaf picture" by encasing them in clear contact paper. Here she is trying to hang it up in the window. We gave up on that. It's sitting on the table.

Did she actually learn anything about leaves? Eh, I dunno.

But she had an opportunity to play with them, and explore how they feel and sound and look, and she produced some pictures that she's rather proud of.

So, I give us both an A+ for the week!

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