Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our Story Journal and 10 Additional Ideas for Encouraging Storytelling

This photo cracks me up.
This week we debuted a Story Journal.  For now, I write in it for him as he dictates a story to me (unless he's in a fussy mood, and then he keeps demanding to try to write.  I try to confine him to "The End" or illustrating).

How (and Why) We Started to Encourage Storytelling

I can't remember exactly when it was (6 months ago?) that I introduced the idea of storytelling.  I thought other kids his age (the girls, really) seemed to do a bit more imaginative role-playing than he did - mainly with dolls (feeding them, dressing them, etc.).  So one day I suggested that we tell stories with his hotwheels cars.  Wow did that open the floodgates!  There have been a few days when I thought, "What was I thinking?"  Because we hear about 20 times a day: "Tell a story about a blue car!" as he comes running at us with a miniature blue minivan.  His favorite is for us to tell him stories, but he is fairly good about taking turns, so after I tell a story, he will too.  He wants stories while we're driving, during diaper changes, during his bath...  Once he started to try to tell the stories too, he seemed to suddenly speak in full sentences much more often.  I love that it exercises his verbal and creative thinking skills; it makes him think AND is fun for him -- a winning combo.

Story Journal 

I had twin goals for creating a story journal for him.  First, I wanted to capture the cute stories that he has started telling. And, second, and maybe more selfishly, I wanted to encourage him to be the teller more than I am.  It has been working fairly well so far. 

On Monday, I showed him the journal that I bought him, and gave him a drawer full of stickers and said he could decorate it any way he wanted.  I thought I'd ease into the story writing.  He put on one sticker and insisted it was done and he wanted to write a story together!  (I coaxed him into the second sticker).  Then he dictated this to me:

"Once upon a time, there was a bird.  And the bird was flying away upside down!  The bird was silly.  And the bird was meeting a penguin.  The end."
We used the stickers that I had gotten out to encourage him to think of ideas for the story.  Usually, all of his stories are about cars and trucks - probably because that is what he plays with most often.  I plan to put the journal in his "Reading and Storytelling" box every few days with a prompt to tell a story about a certain topic.

10 Additional Ideas for Encouraging Storytelling
  1. Use what they love as a topic.  In our case, that was cars.  But if your child loves horses, then have every story be about horses until they get the hang of it.
  2. Take turns within a story.  You start, then ask them to say a bit, etc.  Also, prompt them with questions.  Who is your story going to be about?  Where are they going?  How does it end?  I try not to do this TOO much, because I don't want it to just be a fill in the blank exercise, but it can definitely help when they're stuck.
  3. Model/copy ideas from other books.  The author will probably forgive you some idea plagiarism if you are only 2.  We blogged about doing something like this recently with a Sneaky Sheep book (he wrote a story called The Sneaky Cat Book).
  4. Use props!  We used a pile of stickers this week for ideas.  We usually use all of his toy cars (or other cars we see on the road when we're driving).  He has a homemade I-spy quilt that would also be great for inspiration.  You could fill a brown paper bag with small items and let them pick a few each time they tell a story.  Here are some other great examples of storytelling props that we have starred in our google reader for "someday": 
  5. Story Stones from Frugal Family Fun Blog (maybe we'll do this one this week!)
  6. Tell Me a Story Blocks from Chasing Cheerios
  7. I Spy Blocks or Storytelling Dice from Obsessively Stitching 
  8. There's always Google.  This looks like a fun list of activities 
  9. Keep reading!  Books will not only fill their heads with ideas, but teach them about the essential elements (character, setting, plot, resolution, etc.) and the evolution of a story.
  10. Games?  (Of course, we love games!).  I love the sound of this Nanofictionary game, which is unfortunately out of print.  Until they reprint it, how about making your own preschooler version?  There are other board game examples here, probably mostly suited for older kids.
This list isn't anywhere near exhaustive; I'm sure there are many more fantastic ideas out there for encouraging creative storytelling.  The important thing, as always, is that you make it fun!  Then they will want to keep doing it.  Again and again and ... don't blame me.

Comment!  Have an idea for encouraging your storytelling?  Have a link to your blog or someone else's about storytelling that you want to share?   Leave us a comment! 

I am linking this post up with ABC and 123, Tot Tuesdays at My Delicious Ambiguity, and Red Ted Art's new Kids Get Crafty link-up.

Disclosure: If you click on any of the links in this post and purchase anything, we may earn a small commission through our affiliate relationship with Amazon.com.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Tot School" - Opening Day for Our Learning Boxes

We planned to debut our new "learning boxes" on Monday morning (he started asking on Saturday!), but I decided to let him get a sneak peak on Sunday night.  (We wrote about them here and here).  We whipped through four activities pretty quickly.  At one point, I suggested that he watch a video while I eat dinner quickly, and he fussed to keep doing more boxes instead.  Wow!  The real test will be whether we can maintain that level of interest (on his part and mine).  

Here are some of the activities we've covered so far:

From our "Fun with Numbers" box:

Counting Cars Activity  (I embedded the printable in this post).  He enjoyed it.  Thailand won by a landslide.

From our "Countries and Places" box (he named it that):

He had requested something to do with Ireland, so we made an Irish flag.  I'm surprised by how challenging I am finding it to come up with good geography box fillers, since we have always done a lot of geography.  I guess we just do it informally - playing with our stuffed globe, etc. (see 10 Geography Activities for Two Year Olds).  Maybe I'll try to just stick with an Ireland theme for this box this week, since it is what he asked for.

From our "Games" box:

Instead of making anything today, I decided to put Rush Hour into his bin.  We've been playing this often lately, and I love the way it works his brain.  At first he just liked playing with the toy car pieces, but recently he insisted that we show him how to play it the real way.  For those who aren't familiar with it, the game comes with a series of cards with different configurations for arranging the cars.  The player has to move the cars around (only able to move in forward and reverse) to get the red car out of the only exit.  It's a logic game.  I like to set up scenes for him which just require two or three moves to win, but more often than not he insists on doing the actual cards.  Even the easy level cards are too hard for him, but not by too much.   If I sit with him and prompt him a bit (which car is in the red car's way?  Oh, the green?  Well which car is in the green car's way?  Ah, so can you move that one?), then he can solve them... eventually.

From our "Arts and Crafts" box:

A color mixing activity (squirting paint into ziploc baggies).  He still doesn't know which colors mix to make which color, but I guess I don't care enough to make him memorize it.  He had fun squirting and squishing the paint anyway!

I am linking this post up with Tot School and Math Monday at Joyful Learner.

Question: Are you visiting us for the first time from Tot School?  Please comment and say hi!  And for everyone, old and new readers: how far in advance do you plan your activities?  I'm trying to stay ahead of him, so that we don't let the boxes run empty for a few days and have him lose interest (although, that would probably peak his interest more than anything, now that I think of it).  I'm curious how far other people plan ahead.

Disclosure: If you click on any of the links in this post and purchase anything, we may earn a small commission through our affiliate relationship with Amazon.com.

Morse Code

I apologize if this post seems braggy.  It is just too cute not to share.

While the Bibliophile can now speak just fine, it still isn't always easy to discern two year old speak.  He has developed a rather unique way of expressing himself.  We had this conversation at the park yesterday.  He ran up to me and asked, out of the blue:
Bibliophile: What does el mean?
Me: El?
Bibliophile: yes.  E-llllllllllllll.
Me: Like E-L?  A-L?  I'm not sure what you mean, honey.
Bibliophile: dit / di-da-di-dit
Me: Uh, how did you hear it?
Bibliophile: in Spanish
Me: Oh!  "El" means "the" in Spanish.
Last year with Daddy's ham radio
Yup, he communicates to me in morse code!  That's what you get for having a Daddy in a ham radio club.  He knows the whole alphabet in morse code, and just loves to spell words out in morse code to anyone who will listen (especially other ham radio operators).  While I do find it incredibly charming, cute, and clever, it gets a bit tricky, since I have no idea what most of the letters are in Morse Code!  

He learned Morse Code mostly from play quizzing as he and Daddy went on walks together in his stroller.  He also has a (Dad-written) computer game that they play now and then together, and I added a couple of free games/tutorials to my iPhone.  If anyone else really feels the need to teach their child this, there are plenty of free resources available online.

I am linking this post up with Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommyness.  As he gets a bit older, there will be more opportunities for ham radio related science learning.  The Bibliophile's dad helped to arrange a ham radio call with the Space Station for a local elementary school earlier this year.  We considered bringing the Bibliophile, but decided he might not be quiet at the appropriate times.  Someday, we'll also try this fun experiment (last one on the page) for making a room-to-room morse code transmitter using a battery, switch, and light.  The "key" in the photo on the left will also be wired up to something someday to make the morse code beep sounds.  As you can see, he's practicing.

For now, he just uses his Morse Code as an extra way to communicate when we can't understand him, to charm geeky strangers, and to assist his toy bath boats to make SOS calls when they are sinking.

Question: What quirky talents or interests do your kids have?

Tell Me I Won't Have to Start Reading Princess Books Now...

In case I haven't said, our impending arrival is a girl.  We have long joked that if we have a girl, she had better like cars and trucks.  While I don't like gender stereotyping kids (our son just seemed to take so naturally to cars and trucks!), I do look forward to the opportunity to share positive views of girls/women with my little girl.  I added one wonderful new book like this to our collection this week.

My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?
My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?

Don't you already love the book, just from the subtitle?  The first page has a spot to write in the owner's name: This book belongs to _____________ / the sweetest, kindest, smartest, bravest, fastest, toughest, greatest girl that ever was."  It's that kind of a book!  Isabella is a girl with big dreams and a giant imagination.  Through a playful exchange with her mother, Isabella tries on various famous female personas throughout the book.
Good morning, Isabella," the mother said.  'It's time to get up and out of bed.'  'My name is not Isabella!' said the little girl.  'Then who has been sleeping in my daughter's bed?' asked the mother. / 'I am SALLY, the greatest, toughest astronaut who ever was!' 'Well, Sally, blast out of bed, put on your space suit and come downstairs for breakfast.'
And so the format continues throughout the book, as we see Isabella pretend to be an astronaut (Sally Ride), a sharpshooter (Annie Oakley), an activist (Rosa Parks), a scientist (Marie Curie), a doctor (Elizabeth Blackwell), and ... a mother (Mommy).  Her mother responds to each of Isabella's exclamations with patience and encouragement.  And who does Isabella end the day as?  You'll have to read the book to find out, but that book owner's page gives a hint.

The last two pages have paragraph-length descriptions of all of the women mentioned during the book, including a kiddified definition of the appropriate profession ("An astronaut is a person who does their work in space.  There are different jobs on the spacecraft.  Some people are pilots.  Some people fix the spacecraft.  Some people do science research.")
The Bibliophile's Opinion (at 2 years, 9 months):

Mama: Did you like this book?
Bibliophile: Yes!
Mama: What Did You Like About It? 
Bibliophile: You [I] like that it [Isabella] doesn't say what name it [she] really is! 

He then proceeded to open the book again and read it aloud (stopping to ask me what "vittles" and "cowgirl" meant).  Then, during our bedtime routine, he kept joking around:

Mama: "Ok, Bibliophile, time to brush your teeth!"
Bibliophile: "I'm not Bibliophile; I'm...Mama!"   

Queue raucous laughter.
Enjoyed by the (boy) Bibliophile, enjoyed my Mama, and sure to be enjoyed by our little girl someday too.  Also, fun inspiration for meaningful baby girl name ideas.

Other books you might like
The Paper Bag Princess (we reviewed this book, with a companion craft, here)
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes (review here)
Blueberry Girl (we still haven't read this!  But I've heard good things)
Series featuring female characters like Olivia and Madeline.

When I asked for suggestions of positive depictions of female characters in an earlier post, some people also suggested the Harry Potter and Judy Moody series.

Questions: What "girly" books are your favs?  I guess I'll have to read Pinkalicious one of these days, will I?  Also, what should we refer to our next arrival as in blogland?  (We may have to wait for her personality to surface to answer that one).

Disclosure: We were provided with a publisher copy of My Name is Not Isabella in order to write this review.  Also, if you click on any of the links in this post and purchase anything, we may earn a small commission through our affiliate relationship with Amazon.com.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What My Child is Reading - The Letters Are Lost

It has been way too long since we've linked up to What My Child Is Reading.

I thought I'd highlight two books that we have been using for fun games this week.  

In this book, a nice neat set of children's blocks gets slowly scattered about and gradually disappear one by one (sound familiar?).  We learn what really happens to those missing blocks, as the author fills us in on all of their (letter-appropriate) adventures.  A is in an airplane, B is in the bath, etc.  We read the book a few times, and the Bibliophile liked it well enough, but he really started to enjoy it once he paid attention to the question posed on the last page.  It asks the reader: "Soon they will disappear again. Can you guess where they might go?"  Once he realized how to come up with scenarios, this became great fun.  We used it to entertain us at the doctor's office yesterday, and often when he just wakes from his nap.  I'm really impressed with the places he comes up -- those Geopuzzles are paying off!  M, for instance, is often in Mali.  And he likes to say that the letters will join families of animals -- L joined a family of lions, G joined a family of gorillas in Germany, etc.  I love when books (not even necessarily the best books) can become springboards for imaginative play like this.

My "C" Sound Box (New Sound Box Books)My "C" Sound Box  This one tells a story that revolves all around a little girl named C (I'm not sure if I have linked to the same story -- this one says "new sound box books," but I'm sure the idea is the same), who finds various C objects and adds them to her "C Sound Box".  I introduced the idea of writing a story that is limited/inspired by a certain letter.  For instance, the first story we wrote together starred a Gorilla named Gary who went to Germany and ate gorilla food.  We've done it twice now, and he enjoys it, but hasn't fully mastered the technique (it takes some mommy prompting and hinting).  I think it will be fun to revisit the idea again another time.  Seems like a great way to get those mental gears turning.

Question -- Can you think of any other books that have led to interactive play/mental games?  As I'm typing this, I can't think of other good examples, although I feel like we have always enjoyed using his books in this way.  I do remember playing I-spy with everything we read for awhile.    

Disclosure: If you click on any of the links in this post and purchase anything, we may earn a small commission through our affiliate relationship with Amazon.com.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Free Preschool/Kindergarten Printable: Counting Cars Activity

I am linking up for the first time today with Preschool Corner at Homeschool Creations.

preschool corner

As regular readers know, this week, starting Monday, we'll be starting a more formal (if you can even call it that) homeschooling system, with our "learning boxes" filled with activities.  I will post more fully about those activities at the end of the week, once I see how many we actually get to.  I have prepared enough ideas to fill all 10 boxes every day for 5 days, but I don't intend to do nearly that many.  I think we'll just grab one activity from a drawer whenever we have some downtime.

I was surprised by how easy it was to fill certain boxes (like "Fun with Numbers") with ideas, whereas other boxes ("Animals and Nature") stumped me a little more than I had anticipated.

Anyway, I thought I would try to share my first printable here, in honor of our first week with our learning boxes!  This will be the first item in his "Fun with Numbers" box this week.

Counting Cars Activity

My son has a freakishly strong grasp of geography (sadly, far better than mine!)(See 10 Geography Activities for Two Year Olds).  One of the first times we discovered this was when he turned over his hotwheels car, pointed to "made in China," and ran and got his Hugg-a-Planet to show us where China was.  After that, he would run around with his cars making us tell him which ones were from China and which ones were from Malaysia or Thailand.  So, I thought I would introduce the idea of categorizing/tallying/graphing with this simple activity.  It asks him to set three pieces of paper in front of him, with the three countries on them, and place his hotwheels cars on each paper according to where it was made (as clearly labeled on the underside of the car).  Then he'll tally them up and see where the most cars were produced.  (Edit: Oops, I mistakenly made the first printable with Taiwan, but it should have been Thailand!  I am replacing it.  Hopefully it will still display properly after the fix).

Here's the printable.  I've never uploaded a printable before, and this is my first time using Scribd, let alone my first time trying to embed a document, so please tell me if this seems to work for you.  It worked WAY too easily for me, so I am highly suspicious that some calamity will occur.

 Car Counting Activity                                                              

Want some companion book ideas?  You can access all of our reviews of children's books with a transportation theme here.  A few of our favorite car-(as opposed to just truck-)focused ones are:

Beep Beep Vroom Vroom
Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
First Discovery Cars and Trucks
Red Light Green Light
Beep Beep

We also read a lot of Disney Cars early readers around here lately.

Disclosure: If you click on any of the links in this post and purchase anything, we may earn a small commission through our affiliate relationship with Amazon.com.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review: Ruth and the Green Book

I try not to accept books for review if they don't match the Bibliophile's current reading level.  Otherwise, I just end up having to read them on my own time and review them without him, and it seems like a lot of work, and not nearly as fun.  I made an exception when I heard about Ruth and the Green Book.  I hope some of you with older kids might find the review useful.

Ruth and the Green Book (Carolrhoda Picture Books)
Ruth and the Green Book
 (Reading Level: Ages 4-8)

Ruth (an African American girl) sets out on a road trip from Chicago to Alabama with her parents in the 1950's.  Along the way, she realizes that parts of the country are not very welcoming to non-whites - a gas station refuses to let her mother use the restroom, and a hotel owner forces them to sleep in their car for the night.  Fortunately, her parents discover and purchase the "Green Book."  Written in 1936 by a man named Victor Green, the Green Book listed hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that would serve African Americans in every city.  With the Green Book, Ruth and her family are able to safely finish their journey to Alabama, and Ruth learns a sweet lesson about helping others along the way.  The book is beautifully illustrated and written. 

I'm so glad that I decided to read this one for myself.  I didn't end up sharing any of it with the Bibliophile yet, but it will be a wonderful teaching aid when the time is right.  And in the meantime, I learned a little something new myself (I had never heard of the Green Book).

Question: At what age did you start talking about inequality or injustice with your children?  Are they any books you find particularly useful in this regard?

Disclosure: We were provided with a copy of Ruth and the Green Book in order to write this review.  Also, if you click on any of the links in this post and purchase anything, we may earn a small commission through our affilate relationship with Amazon.com

Our "Learning Boxes" Have Arrived

 That's what the Bibliophile decided that they should be called/labeled, after much debate.

This arrived today:

And, voila, we created this!


Free bubble wrap (score!)


Styrofoam building blocks.

"Barn," for those who can't read 2 year old

So, the bins have been put together and labeled, with some input from the Bibliophile as to subject labeling.  Namely, the last one we were labeling was planned to be "How Things Work."  I figured it could include science-type stuff.  But, admittedly, I was finding myself a little lacking in enthusiasm and ideas for filling that drawer, at least daily.  So, as I said to the Bibliophile that he should type into the label maker "How Things Work," he said, "No.  It should be "housework!"  I said, "Housework?  Housework is when you clean up around the house.  You want me to have a housework drawer and I can put things in it like a note that says, 'Help Mama to sweep the floor?'"  He said, "Yes, and empty the dishwasher!"  Twist my arm: housework it is!   We'll squeeze in science things here and there.

If I keep up with really filling them and accomplishing anything, I'd like to start linking to "Tot School," so you might see those posts from us starting next week.  I'm really excited about the fun math print-outs I created today, and I plan to fill the bins starting on Monday.  Filling them daily would be a challenge though: 10 boxes x 5 weekdays = 50 ideas!

As for today, he learned plenty just helping to assemble it, trying to screw on the knobs, and painstakingly sliding each drawer into its slot.  So far, homeschooling is a success.

I'm linking this up with ABC and 123's Let's Get Organized linky party.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Mo Willems "Cat the Cat" Series

At the suggestion of many (thanks, Britt!), we tracked down the rest of the books in Mo Willems "Cat the Cat" series.  Love them!  Here are quick reviews of all four.  I'm not sure whether to reveal the endings; they are only short children's books, afterall, but the endings are so cute and clever.  They really do make the books.  So, I'll just say - go get them.  You'll like them. 

Let's Say Hi to Friends Who Fly! (Cat the Cat)
Let's Say Hi to Friends Who Fly!  -- Possibly our favorite of all four, in terms of both parent and child entertainment.  The story takes place on a playground, with various flying animals demonstrating their ability.  I think the Bibliophile understood the humor in the ending right away, and it was still amusing enough for me to enjoy it also.  The illustrations in all four books are simple, colorful, and eye-catching.  Perfect for the intended audience -- as is the text, which is brief (but as charming as you'd expect from Mr. Willems).

What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound? (Cat the Cat)

What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound? -- This one involves animal sounds.  It makes it fun to read, because your child can pipe in and (loudly) do the animal part.  I wasn't as crazy about the ending.  I had to explain it to the Bibliophile.  He does laugh and explain it to me now each time we read it.  Still a wonderful little book, but I like the other three in the series more.  But, it doesn't matter, because you should read all four anyway!

Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! (Cat the Cat)

Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! -- This ending got the highest points in terms of parental amusement.  It actually made me giggle aloud.  And I made Daddy read it before I even read it to the Bibliophile.  I wish I could say that the Bibliophile understood the ending right away.  He didn't, but I did explain it.  And I think I explained it TOO well, because then he lay awake at night yelling, "Trivial Pursuit, anyone?!" and laughing. 

Cat the Cat, Who Is That?

You can read our review of Cat the Cat Who Is That? here.  Mama and Bibliophile both really like this one.

Question: Are these book covers showing up for you OK?  I know at least one reader had issues, but since they are showing up fine for me, I can't tell if it has been resolved.  What else are you reading this week?  How can I resist buying copies of these?  We don't need more books, right?  Right?!  Very tempted...

Disclosure:  If you click on any of the links in this post and purchase anything, we may earn a small commission through our affiliate relationship with Amazon.com.