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Get a Grip! on Penmanship

The digital age has brought many tremendous advances to education including access to a wealth of information for our children. However the use of technology has also had some unforeseen consequences for our kiddos’ physical development. While it may seem that computers and tablets have made holding a pencil or a pen an outdated skill, as we teach our little ones to navigate the modern world, there are many reasons to continue to practice these skills.

Writing  with a pencil or pen and holding writing instruments allows your little one to develop excellent fine motor skills that translate to all aspects of their life. Brushing teeth, eating, tying their own shoes etc.

Of course, as with all skills, the question becomes “how?”   How do we get our children to practice in a way that is fun and interesting?  First off let’s look at what an expert says on the subject: Dr. Denise Donica, Chair of the Dept. of Occupational Therapy at the East Carolina University mentions that “Selecting the correct grip for a child is truly a trial and error process based on the type of grasp they are naturally using as well as their own motivation to use the grip”. However she also mentions that: “It is important to remember that grasp must be taught, it isn’t necessarily a skill that just develops on its own”.

Is there a right (and wrong) pencil grasp?  Since each child develops his own writing style and this changes depending on their stage of development, it is better to think of their pencil grasp as “functional” or “less functional” instead of “right” and “wrong”.  Studies show that pencil grasp does not on its own influence legibility.  A child can have a perfectly functional pencil grasp and still have “sloppy” handwriting.  However, having a functional grasp will cut down on fatigue or pain during writing tasks, which in turn might make your child more willing to work on letter formation, which will actually impact the legibility of their handwriting.

Teach your little one how to hold their pencil

The first step is to teach your little one how to hold their pencil using a functional grasp. This will not look the same for every child but the basic principles are universal. 

Before even picking up the pencil make sure to sit your little one with feet flat on the floor (if your chairs are too tall place some kind of support such as a box under there feet) and have them sit with good posture.

There are two common functional holds. The three- finger, or tripod hold and the four-finger hold. To use the three finger hold use the thumb and index finger to pick up the pencil. Place the index finger on top of the pencil. Rest the pencil on the middle finger. Rest the pad of your hand on the page.

Tripod hold. Two fingers “pinch” the pencil; middle finger provides support

To use the four finger hold, grasp the pencil with your index finger, thumb, and middle finger. Rest the pencil on your fourth finger.

Four finger hold

Once a functional grasp has been established penmanship just comes down to practice. There are many ways to start working on functional pencil grasp that don’t even require a writing utensil!  Make practice fun by starting with a fine-motor activity such as playing with play doh and carving into it with a plastic knife; transferring pom poms using tweezers; putting coins into a piggie-bank slit; Dropping marbles or beads into a bottle.  Basically anything that has your child using and strengthening their pincer grasp. Not only will your child get the necessary fine-motor skills practice, they will also associate writing time with a fun activity and make them more likely to be willing to cooperate.  Practice doesn’t have to last long.  5 to 10 minutes of the fun activity followed by 5 to 10 minutes of writing is plenty, though… they may ask to repeat the activity after writing,  so keep it to just another 5 minutes.  Short, regular practice will be of more benefit than sporadic long sessions.

What to do for the actual writing part of practice?  Try having your little one practice letter shapes (vertical lines, horizontal lines and circles)  Then practice similar letters. Letters like H, I, L, and T all have similar constructs and straight lines that can help build confidence. B, D, P and R have the straight lines paired with a curved line, and so on.  As your little one is working it’s important to speak to them calmly and reassuringly through each letter (IE “start at the top straight down…” etc)

What does a less functional grasp look like?

Typically a child that is using a less functional grasp will use all his fingers to hold the pencil steady. Notice that in both these examples the pencil is pointing away from the student. Though writing this way is still possible, your child is more likely to become fatigued sooner.

It’s never too late to work on a child’s pencil grasp.  The benefits from doing so will carry over into other fine motor movements and minimize frustration for you both.

(If seeing and differentiating the lines is an issue www.therapyshoppe.com has great options on raised line writing paper that can assist.)

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Shorties and Shadows

Our day started off with the kiddos introducing themselves in Sign Language! They learned to sign “Hi, my name is _______” and to finger-spell their names. This was review for some, but it’s great to see them using what they know and pairing it with last week’s phrase: “I’m learning sign language”.

Our exploration of Puppetry Arts continued this week with shadow puppets. After watching a shadow puppet performance of “The Three Little Pigs”,   the kids got to make their own shadow puppets and create stories and plays in three separate “theaters” set around the room.  I have to admit, I wish I had scheduled more time for this activity since it took on a life of it’s own (in a good way) as the kids used some of their lunch break and recesses to make new cut outs and create more shows. It’s such a simple activity, who would’ve thought it would be such a big hit?

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Our little homeschoolers continued our Human Body Science curriculum this week with the help of our Curiscope Virtuali- Tee!  The augmented reality app pairs with the tee-shirt so kids can learn about the human body on a human body.  This is a great learning tool for our little ones since they can actually interact with the “organs” as they are getting instruction. guts.jpg

After preparing for an imaginary journey into the digestive system (oxygen tanks and full rubber suits so the stomach acid wouldn’t digest us) our travels took us into the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. Huge thanks to our friends at Curiscope for this outstanding resource!

IMG_2619Paired with our pretend trip into the tummy was the educational crafts from our time to learn. The kids designed the outer layer to either look just like them or an imaginary character then rolled the finished drawing into a cylinder and taped or stapled it together so it could stand on its own.  The inner layers were colored in, rolled up and nested inside the original drawing of themselves, giving them a hands- on review of how our body systems fit together.

I love pairing an art project with our science lessons. Not only does this work the kids’ fine motor skills, and help with handwriting and spatial awareness, coloring has also been found to lower stress, reduce anxiety, help with concentration, boost mental clarity, and can even help with falling asleep at night when used as a bedtime ritual.  And that’s for kids AND adults alike!

 

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Puppet Parts and Body Bits Enriching Homeschool

Our final 6-week session for the 2018/2019 school year kicked off this Monday. New this session is our Wednesday class! It’s always so great to be able to welcome new homeschooling families to our #sparkfam and get to know them as they start their journey with us in our enrichment class. Despite the whirlwind that is typical of the first week our days were filled with songs and laughter, and a lot of learning too, of course, With…

Science! Our human body science activity was a 3-parter this week. We started with a “contest” to see who could create the tallest tower out of Play-Doh.  It had to stand unassisted without falling over. Alliances and teams formed quickly to see if combining their Play-Doh could create a taller structure. As you can imagine the structures were nothing to write home about, (most of them going no higher than 3 inches) and the students were soon asking if they could use pencils or something to help it stand up straight.

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At this point I handed out straws and told our intrepid scientist to try again using the straws to help them. This time the average height of the play-doh towers was significantly higher (nearly 7 inches!). I asked them to state their observations after the experiment. They all mentioned some version of how the straw provided structure and their “towers” were much taller with the straw than their play-doh-only counter parts.

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From there I asked them to turn and talk to their newly created teams about what this could tell us about our bodies. The (loudish) whispers began and when decisions had been made the final answer was revealed…BONES! Now that the discovery phase was done it was time for some discussion, coordination and team work. I presented a stack of bone cutouts and instructed them to work together to try and put “Mr. Bones” back together again. After several reworks and with some gentle guidance our class skeleton came together.

 

 

I found the whole project quite humerus and it was fun tibia part of it ;-P   (I’m shamelessly punny and I refuse to apologize)

It wouldn’t be a Spark day without some crafts, so in staying with our bones theme we used cotton swabs on black paper to create “X-rays” of our hands.  We talked about how the cotton swabs were similar to the actual bones in our hands and how they are different. We played music while we glued them down (just a dot, not a lot!)

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This session’s special lessons are all about Puppetry Arts.  To begin our exploration we started reading “I am Jim Henson” by Bradley Meltzer (Available here). And if we’re being honest: I’m probably enjoying this book as much if not more than the kids!

IMG_2191Then, thanks to the wonderful materials provided by Scholastic along with some classic brown paper lunch bags we were able to create our own paper-bag puppets and to let our creative side come out. Even though we all used the same turtle print-out, each puppet captures so much of each student’s personality!

 

 

There was so much more, between learning some greetings in American Sign Language, shaking our sillies out after enjoying Show and Tell and of course, free-play fun during morning recess, lunch break and snack time.  What a great first week!

Enrichment Class

Simple Machines!

We have reached the end of our first six-week session, and the kiddos did great!  Here’s a glimpse into what we covered and a sneak peek at what we have coming up in our next six-week session:

Our day was divided into four main parts: Geography, Writer’s Workshop, Simple Machine Science, and Makerspace.

In Geography we learned that maps are pictures of places as seen from above and are meant to help us find our way to different locations.  We talked about how a map of the world isn’t exactly accurate since the Earth is a sphere.  I drew continents on an orange and peeled it and had the kids try to lay it flat like a map.  This showed them the distortion that happens and how more accurate a globe is when looking at continents. For our littlest littles, the concepts of city, state, country and continent are still abstract. The book Me on the Map by Joan Sweeny is great for simplifying these concepts. After reading it together, the kids drew maps of their rooms with themselves in their favorite spot. I also love this activity which you can do at home to reinforce what was learned in class.

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For Writers’ Workshop we split into groups. While some students worked on letter writing and recognition, others worked on sight words and simple sentences, and our elder kiddos worked on writing prompts to create their own stories. . One week we all wrote our own song, set to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. For our littles that are still working on letters, I had them tell me their ideas, which I then wrote out in highlighter and had them trace. This way no one misses out on the fun of writing silly songs just because they’re at a different writing level!

Students who finished early got bonus silent reading time. Some of our most popular grabs were the Where’sWaldo books that were generously donated to our classroom library. These books are great for building reading skills, and the kids think they’re fun! I know I loved Where’s Waldo as a kid. Did you? Do you have a copy at home? If so, I love these ideas for working on specific skills and growing a kid’s appreciation for reading using these books that they already enjoy.

Our Simple Machines Science unit got the most attention. The kids created science notebooks to collect data, take notes, draw and sketch ideas, and glue in foldables and manipulatives that went along with the day’s lesson.

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Each six-week session’s science unit begins with an introduction to the Scientific Method. One of my favorite ways to introduce it is with the book Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. Ada After reading it aloud we go through each of the steps of the Scientific Method to see how Ada asked questions, came up with hypotheses, conducted experiments, how she then analyzed her finding and came to a conclusion. (Though in the book she actually does not reach a conclusion, the reader is left to analyze the data and come up with a conclusion themselves. Love it!)

 

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The following class we read We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio.  which is a fantastic book with a positive message about respecting differences, being kind, and showing empathy.  We then discussed how we can apply these qualities when working with our classmates on a project.  These qualities are especially applicable for our mixed-age groups, and I am so proud of how they all applied them beautifully the entire session long!

 

Another great book we shared was The Little Engine That Could  by Watty Piper.  This classic story about a little train that is delivering toys to girls and boys is always a favorite, and I loved hearing “I think I can, I think I can” throughout the weeks that followed ;-P   Our discussion of Perseverance that was so encouraging for us all, with the older students sharing stories of when they’ve been afraid or hesitant to try something new and how they overcame that, and even some of our littlest students sharing what they’ve been hesitant to try, and being encouraged by their classmates to try again! I also found that repeating the little engine’s mantra “I think I can, I think I can” to a struggling student cut down on the whiny-from-frustration “I can’t do it” moments.  Love this book!

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Perseverance definitely played a big role in our Simple Machines lessons as the kids were encouraged to use simple machines to solve a problem or perform a task.  We discussed what it means to Work (move an object using force) and how sometimes giving up is simply not an option.  How can we work smarter, not harder and get more work done with less force? Simple Machines!

 

New to Spark this session was our Makerspace.  I was hesitant to set one up, and now I wish I’d been doing it since the beginning!  I was blown away with what the kiddos came up with!  Makerspace was a half-hour to fourty-five minutes at the end of the day for the students to build simple contraptions or crafts out of toilet paper tubes, cereal boxes, food pouch caps, pipe cleaners, and bits of yarn.  I was so impressed at the toys and games they made and played with, and how well they worked together!

Woven into our day is a Money Math component.  Students can earn Spark Dollars by completing their work in a tidy and timely manner and by applying and interviewing for classroom jobs and performing their duties. Some of our more entrepreneurial kiddos used their Makerspace time to create crafts that they then sold to their classmates!  They never cease to amaze me.

rosieOur final Simple Machines lesson was an all encompassing project to build a Rube Goldberg-style contraption using each of the six simple machines we discussed throughout the session (Lever, Pulley, Inclined Plane, Wheel and axle, Wedge and Screw). We closed the unit by reading Rosie Revere, Engineer  also by Andrea Beaty, and talked about how mishaps when building or creating are not failures, but an oportunity for reinvention!

I’ve gotten several texts and videos from moms telling me their child has been collecting their household’s recyclables and creating contraptions in their room! Nothing makes my teacher-heart happier! Here’s a great site for ideas to get your little one creating at home too!

There you have it,  our first session in a nut-shell.  Of course, this doesn’t cover all the things we learned that WEREN’T on my lesson plans!  Our students have been totally rocking Show and Tell and teaching us about the latest toys, games, and shows, as well as sharing souvenirs from their travels which invariably leads us into great discussions and even more learning.  We also had some super cool critter-buddies visit us when students asked to bring their pets in for show-and-tell.  Thank you so much to the Moms and Dads that were willing to play taxi to these little critters since we couldn’t keep them in class the whole day!

 

Next up: Sign Language, Rocks and Minerals, Life Skills and Theater Arts! Along with a performance by all the kids!

Podcast

Miss Moddy’s Buddies – Episode #002

It’s Summer!  Miss Moddy and Alexa are hanging out at the Spark learning studio working on a project to stay cool during the warm summer months.

They talk about the Bower bird and learn how decorations help this little Critter Buddy find a mate.   

Podcast

Shark Week! – special episode

Hi Buddies! This week is Shark Week, so here’s a special episode all about Hammerhead Sharks.
To learn more about these cool critter buddies, you can visit National Geographics for Kids (With your parents’ permission, of course) or visit your local library and ask a librarian to show you where you can find books about sharks.

You can also check out Easy Peasy and Fun‘s blog to make your own shark puppet. Use it to teach friends and family everything you’re learning about sharks!

 

Happy Shark Week!

 

Hammerhead shark image by PhantomMiss
Podcast

Miss Moddy’s Buddies

Episode #001- The Pilot Podcast!

It’s the end of the school year! Miss Moddy and Alexa come up with plans for the summer and learn about how a family of beavers works together.  This inspires them to work together on a fun project you can make at home too!

 

How to build a HUGE Slip N Slide. Fun for ALL AGES!

 

Become a Patron of the Playful Podcasting arts! (P.O.P.P.A for short) you’ll like it when we call you big P.O.P.P.A 😛

www.Patreon.com/Buddies

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Squeeze-Pouch Cap Caterpillar

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You’re reading this blog post, which means you too have found squeeze-pouch caps between couch cushions, under beds, in random drawers and when vacuuming your car. You likely have container full of colorful squeeze-pouch caps that are ready for an up-cycle.

Level up those caps with this easy caterpillar project!

Materials: IMG_0006

6 Squeeze-pouch caps (one red, five green)

1 Pipe cleaner/ Chenille stick

googly eyes (optional)

Hot glue gun (to attach googly eyes)

 

 

Step One: IMG_9303

Fold the ends of the chenille stick

 

 

 

Step 2:

Starting from the bottom of your caterpillar, thread the chenille stick through the 5 green squeeze-pouch caps, saving the red squeeze-pouch cap for last.

 

Step 3:

Leave about an inch and a half of the chenille stick poking out of the red squeeze-pouch cap and go back to the bottom of your caterpillar. (This part is tricky for little hands) Bend your chenille stick so that the other end goes through the bottom of your caterpillar and thread this end up through all the squeeze-pouch caps.

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Step 4: 

You should have two “antennae” coming out of the red squeeze-pouch cap. Twist them together to hold all your squeeze-pouch caps together.

At this point your caterpillar is done!

Optional: 

You can use hot glue to add googly-eyes and “legs” to your caterpillar.

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You can also just draw eyes on your squeeze-pouch cap caterpillar with permanent marker, or you can leave your caterpillar as is and jump right into reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” with your little one.

Enjoy!

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Sacramento Area Homeschool and Independent Study programs

There are a lot of options when it comes to homeschooling your child and it’s easy to get lost in the sea of information. We have compiled a list of the charter schools in the Sacramento area that offer homeschool and independent study programs (not  in any particular order).   You can contact the school directly for more information, or schedule a consultation with us and find the program that’s right for you, your child, and your family’s lifestyle.

Visions in Education

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Choices Charter School

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Horizon Charter Schools
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C.O.R.E. Placer Charter School

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South Sutter Charter School

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Exploding Watermelon!

 

Watch our watermelon burst

 

This week in Spark we shook things up and went out with a bang!

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Ms. Jen took the lead in our Writer’s Workshop and introduced the kids to parts of speech focusing on Nouns with a game of “Bring me a ____”.

Then she taught the kids how to swap out tired boring words with “Juicy” synonyms, adding to our little’s vocabulary and strengthening our older boys’ writing ability.  The kids worked together to come up with new words for “happy” and “sad” to add to our list of Juicy Words.espanol

 

In Spanish class we reviewed our Spanish vowel sounds.  The kids then chose a Spanish name for themselves and we practiced simple introductions.  “Hola! Soy Marisol!” We also practiced conversation starters, asking “Como esta” and answering with “Bien”, “Mal” or “Mas o menos”.

img_0191Then came the moment we were all excited for!

We made predictions as to how many rubber bands it would take until the watermelon exploded, then headed outside to begin the experiment!

 

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We all took turns adding rubber bands and 232 rubber-bands later- Kapowee!