Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fire Trucks for Tots

Again, revealing how behind I am, we took the opportunity during the time of my little guy's birthday (LATE FEBRUARY!) to put a little more focus and effort into an interest-based unit for him...fire trucks!  

Here are my little firefighters in the favorite feature from our time...the box fire truck!  Somehow, much to my surprise, as I actually write this a few MONTHS later, it is still sitting in our living room with only a few minor casualties and still a favorite.  More on making it later in the post.

I put together a little fire sensory bin with a base of tissue paper and some other red, yellow, and orange things tossed in there.  I also included two sets of magnetic letters for the word "fire."

Ezekiel enjoyed the bin a lot this week!

You can also see some cards from the fireman pack from Homeschool Creations in the background.

Of course, big brother got in on the action as well.  He had been dreading his "word work" lately, and while he was playing with this bin, I decided to dump some more letters into the bin and have him search for the letters to form the words he was supposed to make for his lesson.  He got really into it and even made up a song--"Savin' Letters...from the fire...that's our job!"

We did a dot marker fire truck and some fire truck counting (using the clip art from Royal Baloo's pack and a road we already had printed out).  We also used a few other activities like the cutting from her great Zoomin' Movin' Alphabet Letter F pack.

We had a really big box that our electric piano had come in, and those are a rare treasure here, so I had been saving it for a fun project, and I really wanted to try to make it into a fire truck for Ezekiel's birthday.  I found two posts about people who made cardboard fire trucks here and here.  I adapted them, based on what we had around.  I was glad for the idea to hot glue the edges of the box together to stand up.  I used our piano box and one other box, cutting a window out of the other box and hot gluing it to the front part of the piano box.  Buying enough red paint to paint it didn't seem feasible here, so I bought some of the big sheets of handmade red paper that is common here and glued that around the outside.  We attached a few styrofoam packing pieces that my son painted on the top to make the "flashing" lights, and I painted a few things around the outside (ladders, buttons and knobs, headlights, and a "badge").  
I hot glued a few random bits and bobs (plastic bottle caps, a styrofoam plate, some random plastic gear-looking thing we had saved) on the inside for the controls.
I have been absolutely shocked how well this has held up, even a few months later, as it attracts the attention of every kid that comes in our house and has been a continued hit!

For our co-op group that Friday, I was with the little ones and took a few of our books and printables about fire trucks, and we also made this fire truck craft, but I decided to give it some texture and use some varied materials, so I cut the wheels and pieces free-hand from colored paper, and then I used a shiny yellow paper for the lights, wax paper for the windows, foil for the front grill, cut up drinking straws to form the ladder, and pipe cleaners to roll up for the hoses.  The kids had a good time with it, but I think it was just a bit above a few of them, though they seemed to still enjoy it; it just required quite a bit of help. And, I should have taken some stronger glue for the straws and pipe cleaners, as they kept rolling around.  Here are a few of the finished ones.
Zeke's was a little more "abstract," but he still seemed quite pleased with the project! :)

Another big highlight of our week was a visit to the fire station.  As I combed through posts about activities for a fire truck or firefighter theme, almost all of them gave the obvious suggestion of a visit to the fire station.  Well, when you live in a foreign country and aren't really sure how any of that works, it seemed a little daunting.  But, we had seen it before, so we decided to just show up and see what we could see!  You would never do that in the States!  But, it is kind of the way things more commonly operate here, in general, so we gave it a try.  Success!  We walked up and saw that the gates were just sort of opened.  We hung around for a few minutes, peeking in, and at one point, a young guy just walked past us through the gate, and we asked if we could go in, and he nodded and walked on.  So, in we went! :)
No one seemed to mind our being there.  There was a group of guys all circled around in the courtyward, playing a common game that kind of looks like carrom.  They just continued on with playing, so we just wandered around, looking at things.  
A couple of guys were washing one of the trucks, so we watched that for a bit.

My Nepali language skills are sadly limited, but finally, I got up the courage to ask if the boys could go inside the truck that they were washing, and they were glad to let them. 
We continued our roaming and checked out the various trucks there.

There were definitely some distinctly different sights, especially given that we've only been inside a station in the U.S. when it is a special "open house" day or some special event where things are specially set up and cleared for kids to visit.  
I wish my Nepali was good enough to translate this for you, but it gives a little taste of what the script looks like for some lists and schedules here.
I was a little tentative to poke our way into all the rooms, but here is the cooking area, which is an open set of shelves with metal pots and most likely a single burner attached to a gas cylinder.  The room on the right is the sleeping quarters.  The big wooden pallets are the beds.

Here is one of the trucks that was parked in the station, which I'm going to assume isn't one that would be taken out much these days. :)

The boys thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and it felt like some sort of brave adventure we had undertaken to just go on in and explore the station ourselves!  

It was a great week, culminating in the birthday celebrations for my little man!  Happy Birthday (you know, a few months late!) to my Zeke!

Linking up this week with the Tot School Gathering Place from 1+1+1=1.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Zita's Adventures and Ours

There is a lot of buzz in our house about the release of The Return of Zita the Spacegirl.  Today, people!  If you haven't checked it out, do it!  It releases TODAY!

It is the final book in a graphic novel series by Ben Hatke, and my son cannot wait.  I mean, sadly, he's going to have to because Amazon doesn't exactly do 2-day shipping to Nepal!  There actually is a Kindle version of this one, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  I want to hold it in our hands and watch Isaiah pour over it, page by page, for hours like he has with the other two.

Isaiah absolutely LOVES these books.  And, let's be honest, I'm kind of giddy about this one coming out as well.  We first checked out the book based on a recommendation from a friend who is a librarian when I was bemoaning on facebook about the lack of good female superheroes.  My son got hooked on comics and superheroes, and literally, before this phase started, I probably could have named Batman and Superman, and that would have been about it for my knowledge in the comic/superhero realm.  But, as with anything that Isaiah has gotten interested in, he dives in with gusto and becomes totally engrossed (some might say it borders on obsessed) in that thing and he always wants to know more.  The superhero fixation started around 4 when we were doing preschool, and he wanted to "study" superheroes for school.  He's also always been a project kid, never without a dozen ideas of huge projects to complete--or often for someone else to complete!  :)

He asked if we could do a superhero alphabet book, and as I mentioned before, I was nowhere being able to pull that off without some help.  So, I asked my brother, a comic aficionado, and within 24 hours, he had listed at least 2 superheroes/comic characters for every single letter!  Kind of blew my mind actually.  Anyway, there weren't a ton of females in the mix, and even some he included, he warned me might not be appropriate for a preschooler.  It was really hard to find very many who were actually cool AND had a reasonable amount of clothes on!

Enter Zita.  It is literally the first graphic novel I have ever read, and I was excited to find the character because of Isaiah's interest and to have a quality female , but honestly, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it all the much.  I don't really enjoy comics.  Especially the ones that seem appropriate for kids are not exactly well-crafted plots, and I thought I might lose my mind when we would get a new one (usually shipped from my sweet brother), and would have to read it for the 10th time.  I also don't really like science fiction or things along that line.  So, I had low expectations going in to Zita, but I LOVED IT!  It was after losing count after the 12th reading in the first week of having the book when I realized I was actually hoping he would pick to read it again!  I have never, ever felt that way about...well, almost any other kids' book we've read!  It is absolutely brilliant!  The characters are well-developed and not cheesy and one-dimensional like kids' comic book characters often are.  The stories are exciting, and the art is amazing!

I have since poured over both of the first two many times with both boys, and even Zeke (who is 3) will sometimes pick them now to read.  I did get a little tired after countless times of Isaiah telling me to be Madrigal while he was Zita every. place. we. went.  But, that is more about my lack of creativity with pretend play!

That note brings me to the next thing, which is that, with wrapping up our curriculum for this school year and letting Isaiah pick some things he just wants to "do" for school, we ended up with a unit on Zita for next month!  Hopefully, the Nepali postal system will come through for us, and we'll get the book from my parents by then!

Now, this is where my challenge has come.  I love these books!  I can't wait to read it and be able to just dive in and do some fun things for our Zita "unit."  But, I am neither creative nor fun naturally.  Truly.  When we got so into the books, I searched for every possible source to check out Ben Hatke's work.  He has a blog where he posts some of his great art, and he has a profile to follow on facebook.  In spite of feeling a bit like a stalker, I was totally intrigued.  And, well, I have to admit, also a bit intimidated.  While not a smidge of his stuff ever comes off as pretentious in any way, he and his family seem like those people who are uber creative and super cool--not like high school "cool kid" cool.  Like, genuinely, artsy and interesting and a little surreal.  He posted a bit of one of his daughter's art that totally blew me away.

I'm not a creative.  I'm resourceful, which some people perceive as being somewhat creative, but the truth is, I'm a total Type A, structure-loving person who is blown away by the minds of true creatives.  So, as I started to think about a Zita "unit," my initial thoughts of little Zita clip art printables just didn't seem worthy to represent such creativity.  Don't get me wrong, I am totally amazed by and thankful for all the awesome folks who create and share the wonderful printables they've made!  It is also not my strong suit, ha, but I enjoy using a lot of them!

But, it just felt like I needed to stretch myself more.  Let go.  Philosophically, I highly value exploration and open-ended tasks, but the truth is, it takes some discipline (ironically) for me because it kind of clashes with my natural personality tendencies.  So, I usually end up somewhere in the middle, trying to consciously keep it a priority to make some space for that kind of thing, but definitely ending up on the more structured side of things for our "normal."  Well, all that to say, looking ahead to this unit, I am not only excited because it is an amazing book but also because it is a really good challenge for me, and I think it will be really good for all of us!  Every time I start to shift into my natural mode and plan a whole bunch of structured activities, I've been trying to step back and just think about a few basic frames for our time instead, make lists of materials and supplies, and take a deep breath as we roll without all the little squares on my planning sheets filled out!  Still wrapping my brain around some of it, and I don't think I'll actually know the entirety of what our unit will look like (minor panic attach...still breathing) until we do it!

So, here's to Zita's final adventure and one of hopefully many for us!

Note:  We're obviously hoping it is NOT Zita's final adventure! :)

Monday, May 5, 2014

P is for Penguin

Sorting through the backlog of photos and posts and realizing I still have some from FEBRUARY!  Oh, my.  Anyway, here are some of our penguin highlights.

I put together a simple sensory bin for the boys with cotton balls, blue duplos, and a couple penguin and fish that came with our (generic) duplo set.  Isaiah really still enjoys jumping in on stuff like this, and it is a balance of trying to give Zeke space to explore on his own but also giving Isaiah time to still just enjoy play and things like this.

 Speaking of play, a favorite of the week was just doing some pretend play as penguins.  Here is a "papa" protecting his "egg."

It took some creative turns, and the boys were collecting quite a lot to make their penguins comfortable, like blankets and fuzzy foot pajamas.  I'm not too sure how Ironman fits into it all, but maybe the baby penguin needed another protector?  :)

 We were working on tally marks, which Isaiah took to quite easily, and measuring.  I made a quick little chart on a white board with a few of Isaiah's penguin toys listed, and he used tally marks to record how many cubes tall each one was.

We got the idea from our curriculum and from this blog to do a little illustration of how fat helps keep animals warm.  I froze several plastic bags of water, which made for some fun shapes of "icebergs," and we observed how much of them was below the water when we put them in our bowl.  The boys tried to first play in the ice water a bit.
 They soon got tingly fingers, so we pulled out the plastic bags I had prepared.  We can't get shortening here, and butter is pretty expensive, so I used coconut oil, which is pretty plentiful here.  I scooped a bunch into one bag, and then I put another bag inside that in the midst of the coconut oil and had the boys put their hands in the inner bag.  Isaiah has some issues with new textures and creams and squishy things, so I figured this would make it quicker and easier to have it ready and have him just stick his hand in the bag.  He still wasn't thrilled, but he gave it a try long enough to see that his hand didn't feel cold when he put it in the water that way.

 Probably the favorite (and biggest) project from our week was to make a poster of three species of penguins--actual size!  I let Isaiah choose three species (well, I suggested we do Emperors, but he picked the other two) from the National Geographic Kids book we have about penguins.  He chose Humboldt and Fairy.  The book listed the average height for each species, so it was the perfect resource.  It also had a picture of each, and Isaiah was, of course, insistent that the markings be colored to match exactly with the picture.  He is a details kid!

It's too bad our wall where we hung it has a trim around the bottom that sticks out because we couldn't hang it very well flush with the floor, so you can't tell, but Isaiah and the Emperor Penguin turned out to be the exact same height.  That was really exciting for him!

Zeke even got in on some of the coloring action...with very close supervision from older brother, of course!  Zeke was really excited about being part of it, and he was trying to be really careful.

Ezekiel also enjoyed a snowflake matching activity from 1+1+1=1 to round out some winter fun.