I just wanted to share this penguin and its baby that my six-year-old made earlier this summer. This was his own idea, and while he was making it, he looked at a photo of a penguin and its baby on the Internet.
Air-dry modeling clay is a staple in our house. You can buy a 10 lb. box of Amaco air-dry modeling clay for about $8 at craft supply stores, and it lasts us a very long time. I keep the box and a roll of parchment paper in our activity room, and the boys can get it out whenever they want.
Keep in mind that the air-dry clay can crumble and break easily after it dries, so I would not recommend it for serious work, but it’s been great for the boys at this young age.
♥ Show them how to use the materials. ♥ Show them how to take care of them and clean up afterward. ♥ Give them freedom. ♥ Watch the creativity unfold.
Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 30, 2013.
Last October I took my boys to a birthday party, and the birthday boy received a Lego kit. While we were there, my six-year-old sat next to the boy who built the car, helping him find the pieces. Later, when we got home, my six-year-old said, “You know, I think I could do that.”
That was music to my ears. This is a boy who as a toddler was content to watch me build with blocks and rarely took the risk to build his own tower. Later I figured it out it’s partly because he’s a visual learner and likes to watch several times before he feels comfortable doing something on his own.
At the time of the birthday party, we only had Duplo blocks at home, which are the big Legos, and no Lego kits. But we did have a BYGGA construction set from IKEA, which has tools, wooden blocks, shapes, and wheels that you can make a plane, helicopter or motorcycle out of. Like Legos, the instructions are numbered illustrations, so my son could follow them without having to read anything.
The BYGGA set is not as complicated or stable as Legos, but my son had never tried to use it without my help. After the party, he pulled it out and constructed a vehicle with minimal help from me.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what Santa brought my son for Christmas, huh? Yes, a really cool Lego kit that he could build a plane, boat or helicopter with.
I don’t know why adults think that children don’t have long attention spans. I would have given up as soon as I poured those hundreds of tiny Legos on the table. But my son spent two days building the airplane, and again, he needed minimal help from his dad or me.
Last week, my son decided to pull the airplane apart and build the helicopter. Again, he spent a full day and part of another on it, and my husband was starting to get frustrated with him because it looked like his neck and shoulders were hurting, but my six-year-old wanted to persevere.
The next morning, my three-year-old asked his brother to make him a plane out of the BYGGA set, so he could “fly” around the house too. My six-year-old was glad to do it, and then they spent the morning “flying” together.
Even though the BYGGA and Lego kits are beyond my three-year-old’s ability right now, I have always thought of him as my “little builder.” He is clearly hands-on, fearless, and he goes right to it whenever he sees anything he can stack. He even stacked the after dinner coffee cups left on the tables at my in-laws anniversary celebration.
We have several sets of blocks, and my three-year-old will stack them up, or he’ll make walls. I gave him a set of small Legos for Christmas, and he likes to cover the base with one layer of colorful Legos.
I have a small bag of geometric shapes, and he’ll pull those out and make interesting patterns on the floor, or maybe he’ll make a flower – something he saw his brother do. He’s good at puzzles, sorting and making patterns. Once he took a set of cards and lined them up on the floor, three to a row.
I’m thrilled to be home with my children and watch their unique abilities unfold. I’m grateful that they have the time and materials to express themselves and develop skills through hands-on work.
For some more information about how to get your children started building, be sure to see these previous posts:
Boys Like to Build ~ A list of materials you should have on hand for your little builders.
I’ve written a lot about how I haven’t pressed too much formal learning on my five-year-old. I believe playing, fostering his imagination, and letting him acquire a love of stories and books is the most important part of Kindergarten.
I tried short, formal lessons though, and it worked for a while, but now I’ve stopped. This is partly because my two-year-old has stopped taking naps and we’re having an early, beautiful spring, but mostly because he was struggling to stayed focused, and I feared he would start to hate reading (math too). Since he’s above his grade level anyway (his birthday is late August, and he would begin Kindergarten this coming fall, if I were enrolling him in public school), I’m certainly not going to worry about letting him go at his own pace.
To give you an idea of where we’re at, he is a master at the ABCs & phonics. He can sound out many simple words, though he is often reluctant to do so. He knows several sight words. He still struggles when reading early readers, though. He is good at reading the online books at Starfall.com.
This is what I’ve done to get him this far. Click on the links to learn more:
He has watched Meet the Sight Words 1 from Preschool Prep Company several times. (This was a gift, and he likes it. I haven’t bought the others in the series though.) If you have an auditory/visual learner like my son, these may be worth looking into.
I’ve sat with him and had him try to read early readers. We’ve got many books, but I especially like the We Both Read books. Since he struggles to focus, I only make him read 2~3 pages at a time.
Recently I went back to Starfall.com. In the past I’ve let him play with Starfall on his own, but now I sit with him and do one line at a time (if you go to this page, you’ll see how each line is numbered.) He can do the quizzes and read the books well, and I think it’s a good review/practice for him. As we have time, I’ll keep doing this. He likes it as long as I don’t push him too hard. (SF is FREE, but they’ve added more to it that is accessible via subscription, but it’s reasonably priced. I’ve considered signing up for it, and I may in the future, since my son likes the site.)
None of this includes the exposure he gets to reading and phonics through other means, such as books I read to him, computer/iPod games, and television shows he watches. Though he hasn’t asked to play on the computer/iPod in a long time, he does love educational television shows. Right now he’s on a Super Why! kick, which has to be one of the best shows that teaches reading. Another good one in regards to sounding out and building words is Word World. He has watched that quite a bit.
As you can see, if you want a solid, how-to teach my child to read, I’m not the blogger you should read. I have tried different things because 1) I had them or I could afford them, and 2) my son liked them. I watch my son closely to see what he likes and doesn’t like, and I ask him too.
For now, this works for me, although I have great respect for those who need a curriculum plan laid out for them. I completely understand how we need that sometimes, and we each have different personalities, organizational and learning styles. As we teach our children, we have to find what works best for them and us. Otherwise, we’ll get over-anxious, frustrated, and that will not help the learning process for sure!
What are your favorite resources for beginning reading?
Some of it was similar to Michael Gurian’s book, The Wonder of Boys, which I reviewed last year, but there’s enough difference that I highly recommend both. Busy parents may find Raising Boys more concise and practical for their needs, however.
Biddulph begins the book by noting that thirty years ago, a huge effort was raised to help girls gain confidence. While this was good (I think I benefitted from that), there was neglect when it came to boys. He writes, “…today, it’s the girls who are more sure of themselves, motivated, and capable. More girls than boys finish school, more girls go on to college, and they get better grades than boys.”
While this isn’t true for all boys, I have noticed other articles about boys and education reporting similar findings. But work has been underway to change how we treat boys.
Much is known now about the differences between the developments of boys and girls brains. Boys’ brains develop more slowly, and the left and right hemispheres of their brains are less well connected. Since we know this, we can take steps to help boys and girls as they develop.
Biddulph advises, “…when you chatter, interact and tell stories to babies, toddlers and school-age boys, you’re actually building their neural linkages so they will become men who are good with words and feelings.”
In the book Biddulph writes about the three distinct stages of development for boys. From birth to approximately six-years-old, boys are in the “learning to love” years. This is a time that mama is the star of the show, although dads are very important too. From six to fourteen, however, is “when fathers count the most.” After fourteen, boys begin to seek a wider world. They need mentors and caring adults in addition to their parents.
I learned in the book that boys like structure and need to know who’s in charge. “Wherever you see a gang of boys looking unruly, you know the adult leadership is failing,” Biddulph writes. Later he adds, “If the teacher, scoutmaster, or parent is kind and fair (as well as strict), boys will drop their macho act and get on with learning.”
He also explains that “if girls are anxious in a group setting, they tend to cower and be quiet” (that’s true for me!), but boys may run around and make noise.
I found it interesting that he noted that schools such as Montessori schools which engage boys in interesting hands-on work have less of a problem with unruly behavior. He also explains that girls can certainly behave like boys too, and many of the differences between girls and boys are slight.
Boys’ fine-motor skills and cognitive skills develop slower, so most of them would benefit from starting school later. Just watching my little boys, it’s evident to me that they need to move a lot. I don’t make my five-year-old sit at a desk for lessons for more than 20~30 minutes, and even when we are learning, I allow plenty of wiggling.
The book has a chapter each for fathers and mothers and explains the important roles each of them have in their boy’s development. There is also advice for single mothers, a chapter dedicated to finding and creating the right school environment for boys and much more.
My favorite quote from the book is: “Family life is a work in progress. You only get in trouble if you have to be right and you have to show them who’s boss. If you are human, it goes much better.”Raising Boys is an essential read for parents with young boys.
What parenting books would you recommend about raising boys and girls?
A couple of days ago I wrote about how my boys like to build and create inside the house with various materials, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that building outside is even more fun! I’ve posted a photo of our stick shelter before, but the day that I wrote about how the boys like to build, we happened to spend a good chunk of time outside adding to the shelter!
This was my idea many months ago when I was trying to channel my boys affection for sticks into a less dangerous activity. Although sometimes they play around the shelter, they haven’t seemed interested in adding to it. But the other day my five-year-old found some more branches and started to add them to the shelter. (After many months, we had plenty of freshly fallen branches!) The two-year-old picked up his fair share of small sticks. I began helping them, and my husband pitched in too. Before we knew it, the front yard was looking neater, and the shelter was a little taller.
My five-year-old says he wants to keep adding to it and build a little house. You never know!
<—-This photo to the left was taken shortly after we first built the shelter.
Note: And as someone kindly pointed out in my last post, girls definitely love to build too! I write about boys because I have boys, but everything on this blog could definitely pertain to girls too. I’m a girl, so I should know!
Once after watching an episode of Bob the Builder, the five-year-old told me he wanted to build a bridge. Who says TV is bad for kids?!
Thanks to Lori of Camp Creek Blog I tuned into the fact that boys like to build. Boys like hands-on activities. (Of course, lots of girls do too!) Building fosters their creativity, organizational and problem solving skills.
At her suggestion, I started of a box of building supplies, which you can see in my photo down below. You might like to do this too, especially since it’s a great way to recycle! Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:
cardboard from old boxes, cereal boxes, etc.
paper towel and toilet paper tubes
anything laying around the house that looks useful!
I try to let my son run with his ideas, although he often comes up with ideas that are impossible to implement. Without discouraging him too much, I remind him of what materials we have and don’t have, and I tell him when my skills are limited. Sometimes I have to tell him that we simply can’t do what he’s asking. Then I suggest going another route. I’m finding it very rewarding to sit back and let him find out for himself what works and doesn’t work. I do have to help him a lot, but I let him instruct me as to what I’m supposed to do! (Pssst: I’m getting better at not making suggestions. See Building the Titanic: Project-based Homeschooling.)
He can be quite the perfectionist, so if something falls apart on him, he can get quite upset. Then I make suggestions too, and I keep telling him that he just has to try another way. I’m hoping over time that his angst will lessen!
I try very hard not to micro-manage when he “builds.” I was very impressed with how he “measured” the bridge with a measuring tape,and then he counted the popsicle sticks to make sure they were the same size on both sides.
I’ve also begun to slowly accumulate some inexpensive store bought art materials on hand:
various sizes of construction paper and poster paper
special art paper such as watercolor paper
watercolor paints and pencils
crayons & markers
extra scissors & glue
paints and brushes
air-dry modeling clay
craft thread, squares of fabric & fabric scissors
little wooden sticks and cubes
sparkly sequins etc.
Our box of building supplies.
In my attempt to allow the boys ample freedom yet also preserve paper, I keep a box for the scrap paper. We reuse as much as possible.
To my pleasant surprise, and before I even showed my five-year-old the box of building supplies, he announced one night that he wanted to make a rocket. I have no idea where he got this desire, but I was so happy to have that box with a paper towel tube in it! So I showed him the box, and ever since then, he’s frequently wanted to make something.
The Rocket. Making things pretty is definitely a girl thing. I always suggest that we complete these projects by painting them or covering them with paper, but the five-year-old doesn’t care for that. He wants a simple structure that he can play with right away.
Sometimes he comes up with his own ideas. Other times he finds something to build with and asks, “What can I make with this?” The piggy bank was one such item where we started out with a gallon jug and searched for an idea. EcoArt! by Laurie Carlson is a book that we were given one Christmas, and it’s full of great ideas.
Piggy Bank made from gallon jug and wine corks. Five-year-old did want to decorate this with stickers – his favorite!
So here’s a picture portfolio of some of his work thus far. If you are wondering, “Where will she put all this stuff?” that’s a very good question. I’m wondering that myself! (Suggestions or advice will be much appreciated!) Eventually we’ll be able to weed through some of this. We’ll keep a few things and throw the rest away, but I think my son might build at a rate that I can’t keep up with! It’ll be fun to see what happens, though.
octopus made with toilet paper tube, felt and googly eyes
Popsicle stick creations! My son made this, and it’s supposed to be a raft, although we haven’t tried to make it float.
This one worked well, though! Thank goodness my boys like to eat a lot of popsicles.
A blowhorn. Don’t know where he got the idea to make this. But it works well. Unfortunately.
Like the five-year-old at that age, my two-year-old loves to just cut paper. This is where that scrap paper box comes in real handy.
Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on February 15, 2012.
When I was in the first grade, I sat next to a boy named Leo. Every Monday the teacher would put a list of spelling words on the blackboard, and we were supposed to write them down. I did it without a problem, but for some reason, Leo never completed this simple task. He would hand in an unfinished list of words.
Since this was an ongoing problem, the teacher decided to punish him for not completing the list of words. Every week after he handed in his almost blank sheet of paper, she’d take him out into the hallway and paddle his behind with one of those big, wooden paddles. This is when I began to notice him.
It happened every week, and every week, she’d take him into the hallway, and he’d return to his desk with tears in his eyes.
I don’t know when I started to do this, but each Monday as I was copying my words down, I’d glance over at Leo. I noticed that he was staring off into space. I waved my hand at him, and he looked at me. I pointed to his paper. He started writing again.
I don’t remember how many times I had to wave at him to get him to turn his attention back onto this spelling words, but I’ll never forget the look on his face when the teacher saw that he handed in a complete set of words. She praised him and patted him on the back. As he walked back to his seat, he smiled and looked at me.
I did it every single week after that, and that stupid teacher never knew it was me or that all he needed was a little help to refocus. Forgive me for calling a teacher “stupid,” but as I remember that, it makes me angry.
That’s the only memory I have of first grade. In second grade I remember being dismayed when on the first day of class, Leo walked into the room and immediately came to sit behind me. Since at that time I thought he was kind of dopey, I was embarrassed by his endearment for me.
I wish I could say that spanking has been eradicated completely in America’s schools, but it hasn’t. Though it’s banned in 31 states and D.C., it’s still legal in several other states. Did you know it’s legal in Georgia? Each district’s school board has a right to decide if it will be allowed.
If you’re surprised, you may find this recent article interesting: click here.
There has been legislation introduced to end corporal punishment in schools. H.R. 3027 is a bill in the first step of the legislative process. I hope it makes it further.
At least spanking is much less common now, and I’m sure it would never be used in such a manner as it was for Leo – a situation that did not require punishment. One of Georgia’s guidelines is that it “should never be used as a first line of punishment.”
Thank goodness we know more about children and their needs now. We know that children have different learning styles, that different kids learn at different paces, and they even have different needs when it comes to the environment they learn best in. Proactive parents can make a huge difference in a child’s education. (And, no, I’m not advocating homeschooling for everyone.)
The memory of Leo has been coming to my mind lately as I teach my son how to read. I’m experimenting with different methods to see what works best, and I’m trying to gauge if he’s even ready for it. Considering that I would put him into Kindergarten this coming fall, if I weren’t homeschooling, I would say he’s advanced for his level, so I’m not pushing it.
But last week I sat down with him and tried doing a word search with sight words. I don’t do many worksheets with him, but he liked it when he first saw it. However, after he found the first word, I saw Leo all over again. My son sat back and looked at the ceiling. “Look at the word,” I’d say. He’d glance at it. “You won’t be able to find it if you don’t even look.”
It makes me wonder if perhaps Leo was just too young to be in first grade at that time. It also makes me wonder if more students need a one-on-one tutor to remind them to look at the words or even tell them that it’s okay not to do that right now.
What memories – good or bad – do you have of your early education?
Since I have two boys, I cannot help but be interested in information to help me understand the unique needs of boys. Below is a list of books and online resources that I have found, and I plan to add to this list as I find more. I hope you’ll contribute to this by leaving me your recommendations in the comments section! I know there is a lot more out there, but I haven’t had much time to research it.
The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian – I owned this book before I even got married! I liked the first chapter, especially, because it describes the difference in brain development of boys and girls. It’s fascinating. At the time, I guess I needed some insight on understanding the opposite sex, but after I had two boys, I sat down and finished the whole book. I highly recommend this to any parent who has a boy.
Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph – Recently I read Biddulph’s Secret of Happy Children, and now this book is sitting on my night stand ready to be opened. I’ll be sure to review it once I’m finished.
Bloggin’ Bout Boys – Jennifer Fink’s blog has a treasure trove of information. She should know since she has four boys. And she has homeschooled them too!
Why Boys Fail – I haven’t read through Richard Whitmire’s blog yet, but it looks like a good source of information and I want to go back to it.
Building Strong Boys – Not Just Cute – This looks to be a promising series about boys, risk factors and the positive things they need.
Teaching boys to be men – Interesting article about a boy’s school in Kenyan newspaper. The quote I found most provocative in the article: “Why boys? Though she knows she might sound unpopular, Purity believes that the girl child has been empowered at the expense of the boy.”
Educating Boys – ABC Sydney – Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Though this sounds like a good school, I don’t agree with the statement that boys are different because we nurture them differently. They are just different! And we nurture each child according to his/her needs.
‘Girls’ better behaviour results in higher grades than boys’ – Education – Scotsman.com – This is an irritating article. Boys are no less well-behaved than girls. They (and some girls) have different needs, including the need for a better learning environment where they can move and do more hands-on activities! This article is from Scotland, but the expert quoted happens to be from a local university.
As I noted above, this is my attempt to start collecting resources on this topic. I’ll be adding more as I find them, and I hope you’ll contribute by leaving your recommendations in the comments below. Thank you!
Do you think there’s a difference between boys and girls and how they learn?