Thursday, 21 November 2013

When Work Really Is A Child's Play

Early on I decided my parenting style would be Playful Parenting so that I wouldn't take myself too seriously.   And then I discovered Montessori when Ladybug Girl turned three.  So both influences merged, and sometimes they contradict each other.

I find Montessori too serious sometimes.  Case in point: "in the life of a child, play is perhaps something of little importance which he undertakes for the lack of something better to do."  This is pretty much a direct contradiction of me believing in the importance of play.

But this weekend I found out what she really meant.  Children want to be useful.

We organised a child-friendly relief goods packing effort at our home for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.    These kids were barely five years old but were so eager to be in charge of an area.  They stayed the whole three hours without playing, very much engaged in the real work they were doing.  I was amazed.

So this is what Montessori meant after all.  She found out all those decades ago that her students tended to drop the toys in class in favor of participating in practical work because they have a natural preference for real work over make-believe.

In "Playful Parenting" the author uses the word "power" a lot, like Montessori uses "work".  Basic belief is that kids feel powerless in this world of grown-ups.  Once we see their tantrums for what they really are, play becomes the way for kids to feel understood, express feelings and be empowered.

So one uses work and the other uses play.  Hey, I'll use both.

Letting kids label the boxes: work or play?

Or both!
When everything was cleared away and brought outside for pickup, the kids did art.  
Is that work or play?

Or both!

 And then it became unmistakably all about play.

No child can resist a plastic pool and a hose.

I wrote earlier about explaining the lessons from the Million People March to my daughter.  But I found I didn't have to explain much about helping our countrymen.  Compassion - like work and play - is truly universal.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Round-up: More Leave-Behind Art Trays

The name of this blog may be deceiving because I'm not this crafty artistic person.  I can't draw, and I can't create anything by myself if I'm faced with a blank paper or screen.  With some inspiration, it's always easier.

It's the same reason I've been leaving behind art trays for Ladybug Girl since she was three.  With some inspiration, she can experiment even if I'm at the office.  Here's another super-easy round up of what's on our shelves:

Pardon the corporate jargon, but  I wanted to say that this is grouped according to "strategic territories".  But I'm really just trying to make it appear more carefully planned!

1.  Same-But-New Materials.   Highly dependent on what you have around, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to pull together.
Leave sandpaper and oil pastels as an invitation.  This is great sensorial art!
Washi tape-resist letters.   I experimented with foam and do-a-dot-markers, but this can be anything really.  Washi tape peels right off, even on regular paper.
We had been reading about spiders, so I left a DIY spiderweb for her to do.
This is just a marble in a cup, white paint, and a box lid.
I  wrote "make a Mister Maker spiderweb" on the side of the box.

2.  Slow-Art Trays.  The art equivalent of slow-cooking because it usually takes a long time on our shelves.  And that's fine.  This is where all the lovely gifts are put to use.  When asked what Ladybug Girl wants for a gift, I always say something consumable like art kits and supplies.

She got canvas colouring set from a classmate last Christmas.  I left it out with water-colour pencils and this took months before it got done a little bit at a time.  Great for building patience.

Another example is this great kit I saved from the gifting season when she was two:

I left them out with leftover paint (not the tiny markers it came with) and she did one at a time.

Left: "I need some colour!" invitation.   Middle: "Draw some detail!".   Right: all done.

Different days, different animals until all are done.

Finished!  As in most things at this age, it's all about the process. 

3.  "What Art Can You Make?"  Because art is always a part of our shelves, I started this semi-permanent series of art randomness:

Black foam from packaging as the canvas.  Leftover acrylic paint from a gift set.  And these paper fasteners.

It was untouched because she didn't know what to do as her first time.  So we did this one together after work.  I love that these leave-behinds become a way of learning about my daughter even if I'm work.  

She helped paint the rainbow and clouds.

I stapled extra cloth to an extra picture frame to make a mini canvas, and set out watercolors.

While Ladybug Girl can read well, these examples are still very intuitive without the signs.  I do notice that the activities with signs get more excitement, even if it's a simple "try this!".

Our first art tray round-up and why we got started with them is here.  I hope you can share some of your favourite art randomness with your kids, so we can try them too!  

See our gallery of leave-behind activity ideas

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Handwriting Headaches

Even though I'm a mom who reads baby books that say every child develops differently, I am always anxious when I see taller kids, braver kids... and kids who wield pencils with no trouble.  

I wish I discovered playful learning and Montessori early.  Like many moms, I handed a marker to my toddler and I thought that was it.  

She stayed in this scribbling stage for nearly three years

Little did I know that writing is actually a "complex" task and that there are steps in between scribbles and letters that can encourage progress.  We started late in terms of age, but it all depends on readiness.  Follow your child and all that.  But if your child is just a toddler, the most important thing is to make it fun.

Early this year I sat through twenty painful minutes of watching her listlessly doing letter drills.
  After this it ruined my impression that Montessori always lets the child choose her own work.

I wasn't sure if it was because she was a lefty, her late-blooming dexterity, or because of her shy-away personality from intimidating tasks -- getting her to practice is still a challenge today.

Those black scratches are her "words".
She finally started recognizable drawings at four years old, but the letters were left behind. 

So maybe we moms can make practice more fun at home instead.

One thing I read about consistently was to let babies and toddlers experience 'writing' using their hands.  Markers don't come until later.  Wish I knew this earlier!  

Yogurt Painting from  No Time For Flashcards

Salt trays are the most common sensorial material - you can leave them out on the playroom shelves, or use them in different ways.

Ladybug Girl is drawing a story with chalk pastels -- it colors the salt!

A leave-behind activity on her shelf.  The timer is for this use here.

Montessori uses sandpaper letters to start learning the letters.  So genius.  

I found these at  If you're feeling up to it,  they are easy to make (and teach) with a complete guide here.

To make practicing fun, we turn them into silly drawings.  
Especially those tricky letters she doesn't want to do.

Practice the letter, turn it into a silly drawing, and then go back a trace over the letter with a crayon again.

Seriously giggly fun.  Not just because Daddy fell asleep in the background.
I personally find most writing workbooks horrible, but this one, "Mr. Men Learn to Write" was fun.  They didn't just slap on a character to the usual drills.

To see her quietly absorbed in a pre-writing exercise was a big relief in contrast to the letter drills at school.
Yeah, after a few pages this was inevitable.  I'm just thankful her fine motor skills are getting better, hahaha.

As a right-handed mom with a lefty-child, I read up on it and found out a lot of surprising things and guidelines to teach lefties how to write.  
 After I saw this drill in her take-home folder, I wrote to her teachers to pass a tip along: for lefties, put the guide letter to copy on the RIGHT side of the paper, not the left so that her hand won't cover it.

Here's a bit of trivia I picked up: did you know that lefties tend to be smarter, better judges of character and better in certain sports?  It's because the connections between the two hemispheres in the brain become stronger after being forced to compensate in a right-handed world.

I asked little-miss-careful-what-you-say to use her stronger left hand to carry water one day:
Her: Because I'm left-handed!  And I'm smarter!
This led me to "Handwriting Without Tears" which is a whole program in itself with these helpful downloads that make teaching at home easier.  For example, instead saying "do this, then this, and this" which means nothing, you can say this:

Free downloads for capital, lowercase, numbers, and cursive from here

Lefty in action

Our handwriting challenges continue today, and it's taking more patience than I thought.  From her and from me too.  I just need to keep telling myself to keep it relaxed and fun, and let myself be surprised.   

But supposedly by six years old next year, she should be tying a bow. 
Darn you, milestone charts!

I finally started a Facebook page.  I would be honoured if you would follow our page and leave your thoughts!