Having Fun with the Summer Slide (Part I)

‘A term that suggests a playful amusement park attraction but actually describes a grim reality. The phenomenon was studied extensively by Johns Hopkins University researchers… [in 2007 and their] longitudinal study tracked Baltimore students from 1st grade through age 22… The researchers concluded that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by [lack of] access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school.’

This is how the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) defines ‘summer slide’, the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year.

Though we are a homeschooling family and learn all year round without the concept of any particularly long vacation of sorts, things do tend to get a bit different come summers. We go a bit slower than usual from the drawn-up curriculum, spending our time more on other ‘non-studying’ activities than classes, worksheets and ‘homework’ (yes, my kids still get homework from their homeschooling mom-cum-teacher, which they have to submit for correction the following day). Hence, homeschoolers like us also experience a summer slide, albeit perhaps a milder version as compared to those who attend school regularly.

I’ve decided to do a series of posts that talk about how we can keep our kids gainfully occupied this summer. Some of the ideas are tried-and-tested, others I found interesting while I came across them sometime in the past, which seemed suitable for the coming weeks. These can work for all kids – schooled, unschooled, homeschooled and the rest. Read on, and please feel free to add or subtract or suggest your own ideas.

On Your Mark, Get Set… Read!

Image 1

Kids” by henriquesaf is licensed under CC by 2.0

For kids who love reading (like mine), this one is simple. For parents of kids who don’t, this one will need a patient approach to get them into the habit. Try reading games like these which are interactive and helpful for beginners. If your little ones are old enough to read but simply not interested in curling up on the couch with a book, try something more fun. Join a neighborhood library. Ours organizes read-aloud story sessions for young kids. What’s more, kids do spend more time than usual with books if they have a whole shelf of them to choose from. Or else, read in places along with your child where you wouldn’t generally. Like the beach, or the park, or on a picnic. Make it all about the picnic (say) rather than the act of reading. Another exciting alternative is to read story books which have been made into cartoons or films. I remember reading The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Elves and The Shoemaker with mother back as a child and then following it up watching its video on the television. Reading time should be equivalent to family time.

Summer Camps… Where Strangers Become Friends

Image 2

Holiday” by lentemamaatje is licensed under CC by 2.0

“Summers are a particularly good opportunity to take into account our children’s interests and likes. Building activities around what our children enjoy or want to explore is essential to creating positive summer learning experiences,” says Mr. Boulay from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA).

I’ve never been to summer camp myself but my husband has and vouches for their worth. Camps could be about anything your kids are interested in – skating, swimming, reading, photography, dance, baking, art… the possibilities are endless. In one word, a summer camp is akin to action; kids will be physically active, meeting new people, forming bonds and friendships, getting to know how to work as a team. There’s always something going on at a camp; even sitting around laughing and being silly all day long with your peer group is a learning experience for young minds. Read more here about how camps are a good idea both for your kids as well as for you.

No interesting summer camps in the immediate neighborhood? Not a problem. Discuss with your neighborhood parents and take the kids out on a day trip every weekend. It could be a zoo, an amusement park or just a giant playground where they can run around and play catch. A carefree day well-spent with like-minded kids of their own age will do them a world of good.

After all, aren’t summers all about going crazy and making the best memories possible together, slide and all?

How to Go Crafty this Thanksgiving

I like to call ours a crafty family of sorts. I won’t say we’re particularly good at it, but we try getting all messy and coming up with handmade crafts and painted stuff to put around the rooms whenever we get the chance. What with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it won’t be very difficult dragging the kids away from their favorite cartoon shows and dragon games in order to do up the house or bake some goodies for the occasion. Since the past few days, I have been on the lookout for fun crafts the kids could enjoy their hands at during the holidays. Here are a couple of ideas I came across which seem ideal for the festive season.

Hand-print Turkey Leaf Mats

image-1

Image courtesy: Parenting

As a kid, I remember drawing the outlines of our hands on a large piece of cardboard, filling in color with crayons and marking an eye and a beak on the thumb part of the drawing to make a turkey which could be hung anywhere around the house. Don’t they say ‘old is gold’? This one is a tried-and-tested idea which can never go wrong. Let’s tweak it a little to make it more exciting. Ask your child to carry out the above procedure and then cut out the ‘turkey’, leaving around 2 inches empty space all along the borders. Now, use some big leaves pressed and preserved between the pages of a book to glue them around the edges of your turkey, just leaving the thumb part (where the head is supposed to be) to denote the feathers. If you don’t have preserved leaves, pluck some today and store them away in an old notebook – Thanksgiving is still a couple of days away!

This way, you can get ready some bright and colorful Turkey table mats for the much-awaited Thanksgiving feast.

Edible Fruit Turkey

Cut out a piece of cardboard the size of a bookmark and make two corners on one side of it curved around the edges using a pair of scissors. Stick on or draw eyes and a beak at the curved edges end.  Now take an apple or a pumpkin and cut about half an inch from the bottom. Now place the cut part upside down as a stand and prop the fruit on top of it. Add about 6-8 toothpicks (depending on the size of the fruit) at the back of it like the hands of a clock from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Add another toothpick at the front to pierce in the cardboard face. Add orange slices on each of the toothpicks in the clock positions and, lo and behold, you have a perfectly healthy, edible turkey sitting expectantly on your dining table!

Here are some more food craft ideas which are pretty easy to whip up.

Hand-painted Pine Cones

image-2

Pine Cones” by bergblau is licensed under CC by 2.0

Young kids love nothing better than getting paint all over their fingers and toes, hair and clothes. My rule at home is: Get yourself as dirty as you want to, provided you do it outside the house. Hand painting pine cones is something which falls precisely in that category of activities which are allowed only outdoors. This can be done with both closed as well as open pine cones. As a first step, use an old toothbrush with hard bristles to remove any dust or dirt settled on the surface of the cones. Hand your kids an angled paint brush each and let them choose their favorite shade of acrylic color to paint the pine-cones. The cones that are slightly open would look better on your mantelpiece if only the tips of their scales are colored a particular shade. This is something which can stay on as a decorative accessory for many, many years to come.

If you can lay your hands on some pine cones, well and good; however, if there aren’t any pine cones in your area, most of the art and craft stores do sell them.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween Safety Tips for Kids

Halloween is fun alright, but amidst all the noise and excitement, one must remember to teach their kids how to keep safe while trick-or-treating, even if, say, it’s just in the near neighborhood. Tips for the same have been in the news lately and hence I decided to share some of the points which seemed very valid to me as a parent, here.

image

Cat” by GraphicMama-team is licensed under CC by 2.0

Children should be taught to:

  • Cross over from one street to another only at corners.
  • Note the traffic signals before crossing a road at a crosswalk.
  • Be careful of parked cars suddenly backing out of driveways without notice.
  • Stick to the pre-planned route for trick-or-treating so that the parents are constantly in the know of their whereabouts.
  • Always be in a group of friends or people they know well.

Meanwhile, it’s the responsibility of us parents to make sure that:

  • The kids, if very young, are able to recollect the contact number and address of their parents in case they get lost.
  • Not talk to absolute strangers or follow their instructions, howsoever friendly or trivial they may seem.
  • Their costumes are fire-proof and preferably not flowing so that they don’t get stuck on objects along the way.

Keeping these things in mind, you can be rest assured and eat, drink as well as be as scary as you wish!

Gaming: The Real World vs The Virtual World

At this moment, chances are high that you’ll probably be scouting around lanes and by-lanes in your neighborhood, playground or shopping mall, with your nose glued to your smartphone. Your goal: To capture as many Pokemon (short for ‘pocket monster’) as you can. Welcome to the world of Pokemon Go – which has taken the whole gamut of the gaming world by storm.

Image

Pokemongo” by AnaBanana413 is licensed under CC by 2.0

For the uninitiated, here is what the Pokemon Go fever is all about. This is a game which uses the GPS and mapping capabilities in your smartphone to find endearing little pocket monsters lurking on the streets and other places around you. Why catch them? Well, to train them for battles of course. You get to incubate eggs by walking a particular distance (walking as in physically walking in the real world, not virtually), you are given the option to visit special ‘gyms’ to train and condition your Pokemon to be combat ready and the more Pokemon you catch, the further you progress in the game as a Pokemon trainer.

Welcome to the brand new world of gaming as we know it, where virtual games and the real world come together. Here are a couple of reasons why even those who are usually detractors of the gaming world are vouching for the game:

  • It gets even the erstwhile couch potatoes moving. One needs to ‘travel across the land, searching far and wide’ — in short, it acts as a catalyst to get people to walk around instead of staying indoors playing their favorite game on the tablet.
  • It leads you to discover new places around you and meet new people with similar interests, providing opportunities for heightened social interaction, which otherwise would not have been the case.
  • It is a game which is played universally both by children as well as their parents (read: adults). The same technology tension that is usually thought to divide different generations plays a positive role here in bringing parents and children to spend quality time together, bonding over the same game.

However, there are certain downsides of it as well. For instance, there was news recently that a man crashed into a tree while driving since he was staring into his phone looking for Pokemon while at the wheel. Another road accident occurred where a person suddenly slammed on the brakes to his vehicle in the middle of the road because a rare Pokemon appeared on the screen of his phone, and as a result the car behind bashed into him. What’s more, since the game uses location services, it is a possibility that unknown folks may be tracking your whereabouts while you play; not a very pleasant prospect at all.

All in all, this location-based augmented reality mobile game is entertaining and fun, especially because it provides a fresh new interface between the real world and the virtual world. However, even as these lines of this popular Pokemon jingle hold true while you play the game: “Never know what’s ‘round the bend, We go up a hill, Then down again…”; the following lines of the same song need not always hold true in the real world: “And when there’s trouble we’ll get through, We always have and we always do!”  So, allow your child to play the game by all means, but just keeping a watchful eye through it all is advisable.

Why Homeschooling Works for Our Family

There was a time when I felt I was a part of the minority, having chosen not to send my kids to a traditional school to learn. But recently, I read this article containing research facts on homeschooling which claims that ‘Home education – an age old traditional education practice that a decade ago appeared to be cutting-edge and alternative is now bordering on mainstream in the United States’.

I’ve been asked by many parent friends on different occasions why I chose to homeschool (or unschool, as I like to put it at times) both my kids from such a young age. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that they need to learn something in a particular subject, just in order to pass a test. I was of the view that I would like my children to take learning as something they love doing, at their own pace.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of my kids sitting down with their homework at a designated time each day, willingly or unwillingly poring over their books. I wanted to be able to gauge my kids’ interests and capabilities, and thereby design their own curriculum as I wished to. Learning shouldn’t be all about books and homework; it should be about learning naturally – be it taking a walk in the farm, planting flowers or learning how dough rises by getting your hands messy.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the prospect of one single school curriculum catering to varying kids of a particular age. Some kids are good at math, some are exceptional in painting. Would it be right to judge both of them on a single common scale of math, or painting? No. With homeschooling, I could get the independence of individualizing each of my kids’ learning.

Homeschooling is a choice we’ve made for our family and till date, we’re very happy and satisfied with our decision. I admit there was a time right at the very beginning when I had this sudden doubt over my capabilities: Would I be able to do justice to this role of being a mom and a teacher? Would my kids turn out to be successful and at par or even better than those children who attend public schools? Wouldn’t their social skills suffer if they didn’t go out and mingle all day with other kids their age?

Today, it’s been over five years since we embarked upon this journey. And I can proudly say that all my fears and doubts have been happily laid to rest.

Image

Child” by picjumbo is licensed under CC by 2.0

At our place, four days a week are dedicated to planned lessons as in relatively scheduled learning activities and the remaining three days we are free to do our own thing as a family. Mornings generally begin with a prayer to the Lord above, followed by a leisurely breakfast and then we sit ourselves down in our playroom (which is a study-cum-reading-cum-painting-cum-playroom). We usually start with the basics of Math; on certain days I begin by explaining a new concept followed by sums on the same. Each of my two kids has his and her own learning time. If I am explaining concepts of addition and subtraction to the little one, I’ll make sure the elder one is busy solving a math problem worksheet of the concepts explained the previous day, and vice versa. Math generally goes on for an hour or so and then we take a ‘power break’ as we like to call it, when we take turns reading a story book together out loud.

This story-reading activity is usually one of the best times of our day. The kids love it, I love it and I’ve noticed that they are at their chirpiest best while reading. I’ve noticed how my elder one is getting better at reading out sentences without halting in between; three months ago she would have to stop a couple of times in between a single simple sentence to figure out words but now there’s a world of a difference. The best part is she’s learning without realizing the fact that she’s doing so! My younger one is still busy trying to string out correct spellings of words and we play interactive reading games like these together which are simple yet fun. I’m positive it’ll eventually help him build up his vocabulary and help him get more excited about reading.

By now, it’s time for a light lunch. I usually make sure the kids give me a hand while I go about getting the meal ready. Be it tossing up a salad in a large bowl or setting the table, measuring the volume of water that would go into a spaghetti recipe or practicing basic multiplication by counting the rows of cookies which have come fresh out of the oven, they happily do all this and more.

Image

Little Girl Reading” by jill111 is licensed under CC by 2.0

The supervised instruction period ends with lunch. Post a short siesta, it’s nothing about studies per se any more. About twice a week we make it a point to visit the neighborhood local library which has a dedicated kids’ section and my daughter loves to pick out a book or two for bedtime reading (seeing her hooked onto Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series gives me unparalleled satisfaction; I was inseparable from the said author’s books for a major part of my childhood). Sometimes we spend time reading together in the library itself. The librarian is kind enough to allow my son to carry along his coloring book and crayons while daughter and mom quietly immerse themselves in their books. On the way home, we usually stop at a pond where my son loves to feed bread crumbs to the ducks and the daughter has managed to make friendly acquaintances with the gang of kids who play hide and seek in the evenings at the adjoining park. That is ‘me-time’ for me; I sit back, take in my surroundings and relax.

On Monday and Thursday afternoons, a neighborhood mom holds basic baking classes for children at her own place, which both my kids love to attend. My daughter behaves all grown-up when she proudly instructs me on how to better my baking skills at home! And just recently, my son baked a chocolate muffin ‘all by himself’ and was so thrilled that he didn’t take a bite of it and insisted all of us taste it time and again in order to tell him how magnificent it was!

Image

Coloring” by kaboompics is licensed under CC by 2.0

Sundays are meant for family church visits in the mornings, followed by a crafting club class for the kids, as a result of which the children’s room walls are all plastered with handprints and mountains and waterfalls and glitter and stars and stuff. In the evenings, we have family movie time at home where we all take turns to pick a movie of our choice each weekend. My son recently picked the How to Train Your Dragon film and was thrilled when he learnt that there are dragon games based on the movie too with his favorite characters in it (and I was thrilled because the dragon games had a scientific tilt to them – he was learning science while racing his dragons through mountains and valleys and had no clue!).

We parents have formed a close-knit homeschooling group too and meet once every fortnight, to share notes and have fun. It is pretty fascinating how one gets to learn so much from like-minded parents out there who are in the same boat trying to figure out the same things as you in their homeschooling journey. Makes one feel pretty confident that yes, one is on the right track and the kids are doing well.

I recently came across this quote from Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s mentor and friend; she couldn’t have made a more explicitly correct statement than this:

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less “showily”. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his expressions for himself… Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”

Agreed, a little guidance along the way, a little push in the right direction is essential. Unschooling gives one the liberty to gauge one’s child’s interest and bent of mind, do away with a uniform pre-planned year-long curriculum and set the course for just the right mix of a more wholesome form of learning, replete with DIY science experiments that can be performed at home, craft activities that can be done together as a family, picnics to a nearby zoological park or farm to learn more about nature and lots more.

Would your child be able to enjoy and have the time of his life doing all that he loves and learn alongside, had he been a part of the traditional form of schooling? The answer would be a resounding NO. As Albert Einstein very rightly put it: “I never teach my pupils. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Through my homeschooling efforts, I try to do the same. And the sense of contentment I get as a mom and a teacher when I see them blossom on a daily basis in front of my eyes, cannot be explained in words.

Science Backed Reasons to Get Out and Stay Out

slide_6

I have waxed ad nauseum about all the reasons why PLAY is so essential to your children. I don’t just mean the power of playing games on your phone or playing with Lego. I mean the actual physical act of going outside and letting the wind run through your hair. I know a friend who went to teach English abroad and how she was so shocked to see how the emphasis of education is only on the pure sciences and play time was seen as a waste of time. While play time gives you great life skills, there are a few scientific benefits to it that will make anyone change their mind about going out and playing. Apart from better physical fitness and co-ordination, here is a list of just a few of these great benefits.

Enhanced Resistance to Disease –

This New York Times article has mentioned the evolutionary reasons for kids putting dirt in their mouths or just a natural attraction for soaking their feet in sand. The otherwise “gross” things in the outdoors help improve your immunity.

Better Vision –

This study from the Ohio State University College of Optometry says that 14 hours of natural light every week promotes better vision.

Less Stress –

There have been over a 100 research studies on the role of play in reducing stress and the connection between physical activity and positive psychological responses to them.

More Vitamin D –

While there are food supplements that help you with this, there isn’t enough of this nutrient that can be derived from edibles. 80-90% of our vitamin D source is the sun. No points for guessing what happens if you’re indoors all the time.

Improved Attention Spans –

There are studies done by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that has suggested that even kids with ADHD show reduced symptoms due to outdoor activities. Some studies have shown that your attention span can improve by at least 20% by spending just an hour in nature.

Outdoor Science Experiments Perfect for Summer

Rainbows peeping between two baubles of clouds, bright, wild flowers adding a splash of colors to the backyard, slushy strawberry sauces dripping from tall glasses of vanilla ice cream – that pretty much sums up summers! It’s the ideal time to set up science work stations outdoors and experiment with the wonders of summers! Carry out these fun science experiments and amidst the warmth of summer, in your backyard, garden, community park, or elsewhere!

6807424348_d6916a33f3_zImage Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/6807424348/

Homemade water sprinkler

Summers are synonymous with cool drinks but it’s not very cool to dispose off the plastics in which the drinks come, so we’ve devised this fun science experiment with the not-so-cool plastic bottles.

You will need:

  • A plastic soda bottle
  • Pins
  • Water

Directions

  • Head out, it’s summer.
  • Fill the plastic bottle with water and screw on the cap.
  • Using a pin, make 5 evenly spaced holes on the side of the bottle, towards the bottom.
  • Run your finger along the streams of water that are gushing from the bottle.
  • Do you notice the five streams forming one wider stream? What forms when you run your fingers through the stream of water is called cohesion. The water molecules get stuck to each other and form one single stream while oozing out from the bottle.

DIY rock candy

How about spending the idle summer holidays doing something that you would not just like to see but eat too! Head out to make a rock candy because it may get messy indoors!

You will need:

  • Cane sugar
  • Drinking water
  • Mason jar
  • Pencil string

Directions

  • Fill the mason jar with water.
  • Add 3 cups of cane sugar to the water and stir well.
  • Place the sugar solution in the microwave and heat on high for two minutes.
  • Use oven gloves to remove the mason jar from the microwave and stir another time.
  • Place it back in the microwave and heat for another two minutes. Remove again and stir.
  • Tie a length of string to a chopstick and gently dip it into the mixture. Pull out the string gently again and allow it to dry.
  • Once dry, dip the string again into the mixture and then allow it a week’s time to dry.
  • Your rock candy will be ready in a week’s time!
  • You created a super saturated solution when you heated the water-sugar solution in the microwave. When you dipped a string into the solution, the sugar granules crystallized and formed a rock candy!

DIY vanilla ice cream

What’s summer without a scoop of our favorite vanilla ice cream? Make ice cream while you’re out running after the butterflies in your backyard and enjoying the summer!

You will need:

  • Two sandwich bags, one bigger than the other
  • A cup of full cream
  • Half a cup of milk
  • A teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • One fourth a cup of sugar
  • 3 cups full of ice cubes
  • 3 cups salt

Directions

  • Mix the cream, milk, vanilla essence, and sugar in the smaller sandwich bag. Seal it well.
  • Slip in the smaller bag into the larger and fill up the larger sandwich bag with the ice cubes and salt.
  • Seal the larger bag (with the smaller bag intact) and head out to enjoy the summers. Just make sure you keep shaking the bags for a good five minutes.
  • Come back in and carefully take out the small bag from the large one and pour its contents in a bowl.
  • Don’t you have a bowl gooey vanilla ice cream in front of you!