Having Fun with the Summer Slide (Part II)

It’s been two whole months since I did this post (Part I) about having fun with the summer slide. I had originally meant to do a couple of them by and by, but summer just rushed past and now I suddenly realize we’re already at the fag end of the holiday season. Though schools in our area re-open after August 31, my kids are happily having an extended vacation of sorts; their grandparents are visiting in the next fortnight, hence their home/school classes will actually begin after mid-September.

We’ve been making it a point to read every day this summer, the whole family. Evenings are more often than not spent curled up on the couch or bean bag with a book. I personally love those quiet times together.

Now when the summers are about to end, here are some ways to get your kids up and about, ready for schooling, unschooling and homeschooling. Needless to say, there’s fun involved too!

Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

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Explore” by SchoolPRPro is licensed under CC by 2.0

Science experiments are not meant for the school chemistry lab alone. Neither are they only meant for middle or high school kids. Irrespective of how old your kids are, there is bound to be a variety of science experiments like these you can easily carry out at home, the DIY way. Allow bread mold to grow on a slice of bread and explain what mold is all about. Use food coloring and bleach to carry out the ‘appear-disappear’ act for kids. Make it rain with ice cubes and some hot water in the interiors of your home within a jar. Or even write a spooky secret message using invisible ink (read: lemon juice). The possibilities are endless; and so are the learning and fun parts. For some really good ideas, you could go through this post too.

Kid-Friendly Cooking

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Cooking With Kids” by congerdesign is licensed under CC by 2.0

“Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment and creativity,” says Guy Fieri, the renowned American restaurateur, author, TV personality and game show host. And about creating a BIG mess, if I may add (from personal experience). Here’s why it is all worth it.

First and foremost, cooking becomes fun if the family does it together (followed by the cleaning up which is also done together). Right from something as simple as cracking an egg open to meticulously decorating a bunch of cupcakes fresh out of the oven, there is no denying the fact that these skills will hold your kids in good stead later on in their lives. Finding their way about in the kitchen can only be learnt at home; no amount of schooling can teach them that. What’s more, it can be a good way to brush up on the basic math skills of younger kids as well, say fractions or multiplication tables (for instance: how many cookies on a tray, if there are 6 rows of 6 cookies each?).

Sigh. As I get the next meal ready, I can already see a pile of reading worksheets peeking out at me cheekily from the bottom-most drawer in the next room. An indication perhaps that summer is over and soon enough, like it or not, we’ll have to firmly pull up our socks. Alas!

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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!

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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

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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?

Make Your Own Cloud in a Bottle

The other day it was damp and overcast early in the morning, with a hint of rain in the air. With my steaming cup of coffee, I sat myself down in front of the computer, hoping to get some work done while the kids were still peacefully in bed. And in my quest for simple science experiments which could be easily carried out at home, I chanced upon this interesting experiment in which you could make a cloud in a bottle.

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Image courtesy: wikiHow

Here’s how it works.

What You Need

  • A large mason jar
  • A rubber glove
  • A torch
  • Boiling water
  • Matches

The Procedure

  • Pour a little bit of boiling water into the mason jar – just enough to cover the bottom – and swirl it around a bit gently.
  • Seal the air into the jar by fitting the rubber glove wrist around the mouth of the glass jar such that the fingers point downwards towards the boiling water.
  • After about 10 seconds, insert your fingers into the glove and move it upward so that the fingers are pulled out.
  • Now light a match and drop it into the jar, covering its mouth again with the rubber glove. You will observe smoke forming in the jar and the water at the bottom will put out the lighted matchstick.
  • Again, pull out the glove by inserting your fingers into it. You will observe a cloud forming inside the jar. If you re-insert the glove, the cloud will disappear.
  • Shining a torch into the jar through the glass sides will enable you to observe the clouds better.
  • In about 5 minutes, the cloud formed will gradually disappear with the particles settling down at the bottom.

The Science Behind it:

Inside the mason jar, the warm air is full of water vapor molecules from the boiling water. When the glove is inserted into the jar, it occupies some space; pulling it out frees that space and cools the air inside the jar to a certain extent. The water molecules present attach themselves to the smoke particles emanating from the lighted matchstick, eventually condensing into droplets which form the cloud.  Every time the glove gets re-inserted into the jar, the air present within gets warmed up again and the cloud disappears.

After all, if there can be a storm in a teacup, there can also be a cloud in a bottle! :)

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

5 Back-to-School Classroom Activities for Kids

It’s the festive time of the year again! Back in those days when I used to teach, I remember that kids coming back from the Christmas and New Year vacations would mean that they were in no mood to get back to their books. As a result, homework also suffered during the first week of the New Year or so. And hence, I always used to try my best to come up with a few fun activities to carry out in the classroom with the kids to get them back on track.

Preparing lesson plans and looking for fun ideas for classroom activities is a never-ending process for most teachers. Group activities can build rapport, encourage the class to connect with each other, and produce better quality work if planned well. So what can a teacher do to help her students get to know one another better and foster a healthy community environment? Here are a few fun classroom activity ideas to help your class have fun and become more active.

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New Classroom” by Bart Everson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Classroom activity #1 – The Line of Silence

Ask the students to get into a line based on any criterion such as height, shirt color, shoe color, etc. The challenge is not to talk to each other while they get themselves arranged in a line. Play a couple of rounds of this classroom activity with a different criterion in each round.

Classroom activity #2 – The Color Coded Chits

Fold small chits of paper and write a color from the following on each of them – red, orange, yellow, blue, brown, and green. Next, write the names of the colors on a whiteboard followed by these actions next to them. Below is an example.

Red – Who’s your favorite singer/actor?

Orange – Tell us something you learned last month.

Yellow – What do you think you are really good at, like a pro?

Blue – What is the one thing that you fondly remember from yesterday?

Brown – Tell us a special memory from your childhood.

Green – What is that one thing (not a person) that you can’t live without?

Have the students choose a chit and answer the question corresponding to the color that’s written on the chit.

Classroom activity #3 – The Bookmark Game

This is a great icebreaker activity perfect for the start of a new academic year. You will need to prepare well in advance for this classroom activity before the session begins. Make simple yet colorful bookmarks for the whole class and write the name of a student on each bookmark. Along with the names, write a question that will help you to get to know them better, examples being “name your favorite hangout”, “name your best friend”, “name a food you love to eat”, “what do you love to do when you’re not playing”, etc. Place the bookmarks question side down on a tray and pass the tray along the class for each student to choose a bookmark. Have the students read out the name on his/her bookmark and address the question along with it to the name he/she just got.

Classroom activity #4 – The Friendship Band Activity

Have each student braid a friendship band and tuck in a small piece of paper with his/her name in one of the layers of the band. Distribute the friendship bands among the whole class. If A got the band made by C and D got the band made by A, A will tie the band around C’s wrist and D will tie the band around A’s wrist.

Classroom activity #5 – Truth vs Lie

Each student says aloud three statements about herself/himself to the entire class. Of the 3 statements, 2 are true and 1 is a lie. Any one student from the class will raise his/her hand and volunteer to guess which of the three statements the lie is. This game is a great way for the kids to find out how well they know their friends!

Classroom activities can be a great way to build camaraderie and promote friendship in the class. Feel free to tweak and modify the classroom activities I’ve listed to suit the grade you teach.

3 Reading Games for the Elementary Classroom

I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like to play, so it makes sense to use games as learning tools in the classroom. That’s what I did back in those years when I wanted my first graders to learn and polish their reading skills; I introduced some fun and interactive reading games that helped motivate them to become better readers. These games can be used along with online reading games for a balanced reading experience. Feel free to check them out!

9610012698_84910f7432_z-1SAD_Amidon 70” by US Department of Education, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Guess the Word

Skills taught – Word recognition and sequencing

How to Play

  • Identify a “secret” word from a random chapter or story.
  • Write that word on a piece of paper.
  • Give your students a hint of the word’s location in the book; for instance, you can say “The word is on page 79.”
  • Let the students take turns asking you yes-no questions to help them arrive at the correct answer. For instance they might ask “Is the word on the top half or the bottom half of the page?” Or, “Does it come before the word “careless”?
  • The student who zeroes in on the correct word wins the round.
  • Continue playing the game for as many rounds as you want to. Once the students have mastered the rules, they can play the game in small groups.

The Reading Wagon

A reading wagon is a good investment for your classroom. Acquire a wagon or use any pull vehicle and invite your students to decorate it. Then encourage them to fill it up with their favorite books. Even better, have everyone collect books that fit into a theme they are studying in class and place them all in the wagon. When it’s time to do independent reading, choose a student to pull the wagon around and deliver books to her fellow readers. Each time the wagon stops, students can choose a book and read it. The wagon can go around again when reading time is over and collect all the books.

Spell It

Skills – Spelling and vocabulary

How to Play

  • This variation on the classic Spelling Bee is loads of fun to play in the classroom. First, invite the students to form a circle.
  • Give them a word to spell. The first student says the first letter, the second student says the second letter and the round continues until the word has been spelled.
  • A student who provides the wrong letter must sit down.
  • When the word is completed, the next student says “Done!” and the student next to him must sit down.
  • The game continues until only one student is left standing.

Elementary students would hopefully enjoy playing these games and become better readers as a result. What do you think?

Mathematician of the Month – Archimedes

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Archimedes of Syracuse – a mathematician, a physicist, an engineer, an astronomer, an inventor, a scientist – there was absolutely nothing that this brilliant man couldn’t do! No wonder he is considered to be the greatest mathematician of classical times and one of the greatest till date.

Archimedes’ first tryst with fame came when the ruler of those times, King Hieron, built a ship which was too heavy to go into the sea (Why did he build ‘a ship’ anyways if it couldn’t sail? Archimedes must have had a good laugh at the majesty!). Our budding genius was the savior – he came up with a slick contraption made up of pulleys, levers and cog wheels, which allowed a single individual to launch the massive ship into the waters, all the while sitting back in a chair and relaxing with a cool drink in his hands! And hence the famous Archimedes quote: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth!”

What’s more, this prodigy also had a hand in fighting with the Romans. Legend has it that he helped the army build huge wacky catapults that hurled boulders through oncoming ships and mirrors that reflected the sunlight onto ships, which resulted in them erupting into flames, even before they got close to the land! The best story of all is that of a gigantic crane he constructed that had the capability to reach over the wall, lift entire ships up, shake them around till they rattled and then drop them back into the seas – upside down! Must have been a sight to behold!

To put it in a nutshell, here is a man who invented the water screw, made war machines, made a heat ray, created a miniature planetarium, worked with pulleys and levers, invented calculus (to the woes of many like me, no doubt), invented the odometer and is more famous for his inventions in life than just math alone!

His last words supposedly were: “Don’t disturb my circles!” as a Roman soldier walked across his drawings in the sand for his latest mathematical theorem. The soldier was so incensed, that he stabbed the mathematician. Thus came to an end the extraordinary life of the greatest ‘Eureka’ genius in Greek history.