Friday, February 24, 2012

Hot Dots are HOT!

One of the coolest little educational toys that I have seen is Hot Dots by Educational Insights. They have them for lots of different subjects, but we only have a few sets. I was able to get some phonics ones used and then I splurged and bought the reading comprehension ones for the boys on Black Friday when they were buy one, get one free at a local teaching store. Basically, it is this specialized electronic "pen" (it doesn't write at all) that rings if you touch the correct answer and buzzes if you touch the incorrect answer. The pen works with all Hot Dot cards. You can also buy the dots to create your own if there is something special that you are working on.

Benjamin blew through the phonics ones in one sitting. Even though they are aimed at K-1, Ben's phonics skills are exceptional, so he found them really easy. The reading comprehension cards are aimed at 2nd grade-4th grade, and even the beginning ones are a little difficult for Ben to do without help. I am planning on using them over the summer with Andrew and Benjamin as extra practice. I love that they are great for independent practice.

Since Kate is beginning to read and still learning phonics, I figured that the phonics Hot Dots, although challenging for her, would be good practice. I was actually surprised at how many she was able to get correct. I had her work on "Word Families," and she was able to pick the ending sound combination of multiple letters that went with the picture. She loves when she gets the answer right and if she gets it wrong, will keep working until she figures it out.

The only two drawbacks I have found with this nifty little pen is that 1) if you don't touch the correct answer perfectly, it will sometimes give a false negative. This is especially frustrating for Andrew since his fine motor skills aren't perfect, but he knows that the answer is correct; and 2) the kids can control the volume. It can get especially loud and annoying, especially if you have two little boys who think it is funny to push the wrong answer repeatedly or push the correct answer repeatedly to make silly noises. I don't know if I am the only one struggling with that or not. You can turn off the sound and just have a green or red light come one, but my boys can easily turn the sound back on, so that whole function almost seems pointless. I wish it had a switch somewhere that needed a tool of some sort so that I could turn off the sound, but still keep the pen functional with the red and green lights. I am always looking for used sets of these cards in any subject. I have had some luck with Ebay and some luck with consignment stores/sales.

Here's Kate using the Hot Dots pen and card. She is also dressed like a princess. Check out her beautiful dress, jewelry, and hair accessories. And, yes, she is also wearing two scarfs...all on top of a turtleneck and jeans.

Hmmm... what could it be?

Ah! Fan... ends with "an."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tarra and Bella

To go along with our elephant unit is a book called, Tarra and Bella. It is a book about an elephant and a dog who are best friends. I chose to use this as a read-aloud for my kids on the first day of our elephant unit. Both Benjamin and Kate loved the story.

At the end of the book, I noticed a website for the elephant sanctuary at which this all took place. So, spur of the moment, we made this book a lot more realistic. We went to the website and saw that there was a live elephant cam. There was no sign of Tarra or Bella (although I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between the elephants anyway), but we did get to see one elephant walking around in view of the camera. I then decided to try and find some videos of Tarra and Bella on Youtube. What I found was a ton of different videos of the two animals playing side by side. Ben and Kate loved that they got to see these videos and see the animals from the book. There was mention of Bella (the dog) recently passing away... I have to admit it made me a little sad...

It's been a couple of weeks and Ben is still talking about Tarra and Bella. There was one video of the two animals playing in the snow that Ben especially liked. We have watched it again and again. 

Overall, it's a cute story that would be great for a variety of themes. Go to youtube and search for Tarra and Bella... I think it is totally worth it.

Balancing Bears

We are starting to learn about weight in our math curriculum. I was able to find a really neat weight kit at Smart Start that had bear counters of 3 different sizes (Papa, Mama, and Baby), a balance scale, and a book full of activities for grades K-3. It was PERFECT for learning about weight. I started by explaining how you can tell which side weighs more and how to tell if they weigh the same. We used the baby bears and put the same number on both sides, and then changed up how many on just one side. Then, I had Benjamin experiment with household objects. He held them in his hand and had to tell which one he thought was the heaviest and then use the scale to determine if he was correct.

After introducing the scale and talking about the terminology (heavier than, lighter than, and as heavy as or the same), I followed the lesson plan set forth in the book that came with the kit. The name of the book is Three Bear Family Math Activities: K-3 from Learning Resources. The name of the activity was "Bear Balance." What I liked about this activity is that we used the balancing learned earlier to fill out a chart (another math skill we have been working on) and then using the pattern set forth (using multiples of 2) to predict how many bears will balance out the other side. It's a real-world type comparison that involves more than one math skill. It also included a cute story that the kids had to listen to in order to complete the activity. Since listening comprehension is always something we need to work on with Ben, it was perfect.

We soon discovered that 2 Baby bears is the same weight as one Mama bear and that 3 Baby bears is the same weight at 1 Papa bear. By the time that we figured out the 3rd number on the chart, Benjamin realized that the pattern was skip counting by two's and was able to accurately predict how many bears we needed for the next number of Mama bears. He was so excited that he figured it out all on his own! Also new for today, Ben wrote the numbers on the chart by himself! He wanted to do it and now has enough confidence in his writing to do so! I am finally seeing an end in site to the number stamping we have been using for him to complete his math assignments.

The bears and scales are available on Learning Resources' website. I have never bought a set of counting manipulatives because I have found them to be expensive and I have been able to create or use everyday objects instead. However, I might just be convinced enough to buy these manipulatives or at the very least borrow them often. Having three sizes of manipulatives in lots of colors with the ratio between the weight and size being fixed makes them worth it in my mind. There were lots of good activities in the books, but I can already think of lots more that were not in there.

Smart Start of Union County

For the first time in a long time, I went to a place that we have here in our county called, "Union County Smart Start Resource Center." I don't know specifically know of anywhere else that has something like this, but there might be in your county, so check it out. It is basically a library of teaching supplies that you borrow for a low yearly fee. It is meant for children ages birth-5, but I have found that they have lots of stuff that can be easily modified for whatever grade level that you need. I love it because it allows me to create fun lessons without spending a gazillion dollars on the stuff myself. You have to be a parent of a birth-5 child, teach at a preschool, or regularly take care of kids in that age group to qualify for the center. However, I was told that having special needs kids is an exception that will qualify me for as long as it is needed. If you live in Union County, North Carolina, check it out! It's an awesome resource for homeschooling or even just finding cool toys for your kids to play with. One of the favorites that I have borrowed from there in the past was a wooden farm set. My kids loved it so much that I decided that Kate would get one for Christmas last year. It was a great "test drive" of a toy that I wasn't sure would get played with. They even have dress-up clothes, puppet theaters, baby toys, and tons of books and music to go with thematic units.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What's That NUMBER???!!!!

It's time for everyone's favorite game show, "What's That NUMBER????!!!!" Our contestants are Slither, Squirt, Squeaker, and Sunshine. The rules of the game are: 1) You may not say the number aloud, 2) You may not look at your neighbor's dry erase board, 3) You may not touch the blocks, and 4) You may not hold up your board until your game show host says that it is time. The contestant with the most correct answers wins! The prize: a treat of your choosing!!!! Ok... the ten and one blocks are set for the first problem. On your mark, get set, GO! It's time to write your answer. Come on everybody, WHAT'S THAT NUMBER????!!!!

On days that school is out of session, I often watch another little boy while his parents work. Since I had home all three boys and Kate, I decided to do a math game with them. All of the boys are learning to count numbers using 10 sticks and 1 blocks. They are also learning place value. Andrew and Benjamin are both having some difficulty with these larger numbers. So, I decided that a game show format and a little friendly competition might be just the motivation to get them to learn. The kids all seemed to have a blast with the game. We ended up with a 4 way tie at the end! The modification for Kate (being that she is learning preschool/kindergarten math) was that she was to only count the green one blocks and then write that number on the board. She loved being able to participate in the game with the big boys!

The game was very simple. I simply displayed the ten and one blocks where everyone could see them and had each kid write what they thought the answer was on their dry erase board. When I said "Go," they lifted up their boards to show their answers. A correct answer earns a point. I used my best game show host voice and even attempted a short theme song hum at the beginning to set a playful and fun mood. The winner of the game got a special treat (either a couple M&Ms or Skittles). I tried to do a tie breaker, but after the first round, all of them seemed to understand the concept and got the answers right. The number 100 was actually what allowed Squeaker (aka Ben) to catch up with the other 3.

Asian vs. African Elephant Venn Diagram

I decided to create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Asian and African elephants. This was also to check for Ben's understanding of the differences between them. We first read through sections of Animal Families: Elephants to learn the differences between the two types of elephants. During our reading, Benjamin also learned where elephants live, what they eat, etc. I was amazed that he retained all of the information after reading and talking about it just that one time. I actually had to read through the book again to create the Venn diagram attributes, but Benjamin knew exactly where each attribute went. I cut the attributes out for him as a modification for his fine motor issues and he glued them in the correct places. If your child writes well, you may want them to write out the attribute in the correct place or maybe cut them out and glue them on by themselves.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ben (And Elephants) Can Paint Too!

The first activity that we did in our science unit was read a book called Elephants Can Paint Too! by Katya Arnold. It tells of an art teacher who teaches children, but also teaches elephants, how to paint. I was amazed that elephants could paint. The format of this book is awesome for early readers. The text is easy to read and tells about these elephants who can paint, but then also has information boxes throughout for parents or adults to read to the children. Ben loved that he could read the whole story by himself, but then learn other information during that time. It is a non-fiction book, but in a story format. Since Ben prefers non-fiction, he was instantly immersed in the story.

Not having read or researched this book ever, I didn't know exactly what to expect. However, while Ben was reading me this story, I decided that it would be a perfect time to make a connection to art in our own class. At one point in the book, they show a picture of flowers painted by a human student and then flowers painted by an elephant. Ben thought that an elephant painting flowers was really cool. So, we decided to paint like an elephant. I had lots of different ideas about making him wear a sock on his hand to simulate a trunk, but in the end decided that for a kid with fine motor issues who normally hates art, I should just have him paint his version of the flowers up on an easel. He was very proud of his artwork and enjoyed the activity. He liked it so much, that he actually made two paintings. I still can't believe how much more accepting of fine motor activities that he has become over the last 6 months.

The flowers in the book.

Check out those finished products! He actually attempted to paint something! This kid usually tries his hardest to just paint lines on the paper and refuses to even try to paint something that resembles anything. These are most definitely attempts at recreating the paintings of the flowers.


We are continuing our science study of animals. I have decided that we are going to learn about animals individually and then draw comparisons to figure out what exactly they need to survive. The other morning, I had it in my mind that we were going to learn about penguins. I love penguins and so does Ben. When we went to the zoo last year, he spent a long time watching the penguins swim back and forth in front of him. It was one of the highlights of the trip. So, off we went to get books on penguins at the library when Ben (who was in a particularly bad mood) said, "I don't WANT to learn about penguins! I want to learn about elephants!" Deciding that fighting him over the next few weeks was really not worth it, I agreed that we could change to elephants. I have found that if he has a say in what he learns, he is more motivated, more interested, and learns more (go figure).

Our local library has some awesome books about elephants. I wanted to make sure we had a variety of fiction and non-fiction books to fit the theme. Benjamin greatly prefers non-fiction, but I am trying to get him to read more fiction to check for reading comprehension and increase his ability to retell a story. That's more difficult in a book filled with facts. Here are the books we are using during this thematic unit:

  • Elephants Can Paint Too! by Katya Arnold
  • Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and the Dog who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley
  • Animal Families: Elephants by Daniel Gilpin
  • The Elephant Who Couldn't Forget by Faith McNulty
  • Grandma Elephant's In Charge by Martin Jenkins
Honestly, I have found that some of my "impromptu" lessons turn out better than the ones that I have planned for months on end. We have had so much fun doing the activities that the books led us to naturally.