Friday, December 28, 2012

Surviving School Holidays

In Japan many people start their winter holiday/break time today.  Most schools also started their break this week.  We started a little earlier as we kept Zilla home from school to celebrate Christmas.

Making winter break - summer break - spring break - enjoyable may take a bit of planning but it is so much better than hearing kids fight & squabble for days!

The key two our sanity during these times is twofold - keep the kids busy (minds engaged) and give them a calendar/schedule.  Here is the calendar we made at breakfast on the first day of break:
As we go along we've added things like which room to clean that day (end of the year thorough cleaning it a Japanese tradition), dentist appointments, what we did in homeschool each day and anything special that comes up.

My proof that it works - Zilla woke up asking for Houdini Homeschool!  Any day off of school, or even half day, he usually asks the same thing. 

Why does it work?
Kids love to learn.  They are naturally very curious.  If you give them something productive to do, something that they are honestly interested in, then they are less likely to do things they shouldn't be doing or to have sibling fights. 

How did we get started?
Around the age of 2 we started out with regular activity times in the morning and after the afternoon nap.  Depending on the day these time slots can last anywhere up to 3 hours.  
I don't have a lot of time for planning & preparing activities so I try to keep it simple.  We start with some sit-down work that includes coloring, writing, stickers, cutting etc.  These activities often come from a Gakken, Kumon, School Zone or similar workbook. Sometimes they are Montessori print-outs.  The reason we start this way is because my kids will most likely go through the Japanese school system which has massive amounts of written work.  I want them to get used to doing it now.  I also want them to see how other tools can be used to enhance their written work by combining the workbook based activities with the non-workbook activities.
On a typical day Zilla, 5 yrs. old, does 2 pages in an English phonics book, 2 pages in a math book, 2 mazes or dot-to-to puzzles and a cutting/pasting activity.  Most days this takes him about 30 minutes.
Mega does some stickers and coloring/writing.  She also enjoys cutting/pasting and stickers but we don't do that every day.

After the workbook activities are finished the kids move to the activity shelf to choose something to work on.  I try to have out a variety of activities at each of their levels.  They each have a rug to lay out so they can work in their own space.
The shelf activities last about an hour most days.  I need to be available to help when they ask for help so I stay near by and only work on things that are easy to put down during that time.
If we have a special activity we may do that before the shelf activity time.  Some special activities include making holiday or birthday cards, a seasonal project or something that requires special preparation such as painting.
Another part of our homeschool is to get outside for at least 30 minutes of play before lunch.  It is often too hot in summer and too cold in winter to play outside for much longer than that.  On rainy days we'll have a longer bath time or use the small hallway for bowling, care races or hitting around balloons.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

言葉&サイン リンク Kotoba & Sign Links

With the continuation of my signing journey... and my kids growing older... it is time to line up the blog, homepage, Facebook, YoutubeTwitter feed etc. under the name 言葉&サイン Kotoba & Sign.

This blog will continue to be where I share about many child related things.  However, future posts about Baby Sign Language and benefits of signing in relation to bilingualism will mainly be at  Please update your bookmarks!  And "Like" the Facebook page :-)  Thanks!

Radish Boy

There is a home delivery produce company called "Radish Boya".  The name is the Japanized version of the word "boy".

This week Zilla brought home from school a radish (daikon)  from the school's garden.  I think this picture could inspire a new Radish Boy campaign!

Since April he's brought home 2 kinds of potatos, Asian pears and this week mikans too.  His school may be in the city but they do a pretty good job giving the kids a chance to dig in the dirt and watch things grow!

String + Stick = An Hour of Fun

Zilla is 5 years old
Mega is 2 years old

As the Christmas shopping is coming together I am reminded again that kids really don't need (or even want!) expensive toys that do the playing for them.  They are much more interested in the chance to play freely using their imaginations and laughs.  

Today's "best hit" of toys was...

A string tied to a stick!

 It is a cool day but we managed to fit in an hour of play before it got dark.  I kid you not, they played with the string on a stick for most of that time!

 Zilla figured out how to make a snake...

They both mastered making circles!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pizza Box Solar Oven

Here is something I had wanted to try for a while....

A pizza box solar oven

If you do a google search you'll find various ideas and directions.  We went to the basic saran wrap over a hole cut in the box.  On a summer day in Tokyo it is warm enough to melt cheese on little pizzas in just a couple of hours!
We will be trying this again next year for sure!

Prepared Spaces

At the end of summer I joined the My Organized Chaos online class trial run.  It was a good chance to double check a number of things around the house and to make some improvements.  Many of the ideas/advice that was shared is Montessori based so it easily fit in with what we were already doing.  One of the key point of making organization in the midst of chaos is having prepared spaces.  This is especially important with kids.  The more they can do on their own the better.

This is our reading corner & play room.  Since we don't have a car we use the car seat as a chair when we are home.  This is a great way to get kids used to sitting in a car seat!
the books and toys are rotated through by season and current interest.

This is a smaller, secondary reading space.  With 2 kids there are times when they prefer to be alone so having two spaces has been nice.

A very helpful thing in the kitchen is having towels at kid height.  There is a hand towel, dish towel and wipe-up-mess towel.  It is amazing how many messes kids CAN clean up by themselves if they have the necessary tools within reach!

Here is 1/2 of the toy/activity closet.  Admittedly this is the cleaner half!

The bottom of the closet is toys divided up by type in lightweight boxes.  There are two rows on top and bottom.  This works out well because the kids are generally allowed to take out just one box at a time so that the toys don't get mixed and the room doesn't get messy!
Kids can become very easily overwhelmed by a messy room, making it harder to enjoy playing and more difficult & frustrating to clean up.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Playdough to Lasagna

Zilla is 4 years old
Mega is 2 years old

On a day during summer break I had the crazy idea of letting the kids make lunch - from scratch.
Since they are both pretty good at handeling playdough I figured making lasagna noodles would be doable.  And it was!

I mixed the dough, they shapped and rolled it 

If we do this again we need 2 or 3 rolling pins and a more sturdy surface.  The kids really got into it!  This would also be a good thing to make outside so you don't have to clean up the flour on the floor!!! 

Here is the finished lasagna.  The kids usually like it but they seemed to love this one because they helped make it.

August Activities

Zilla is 4 years old
Mega is 2 years old

I am trying to get caught up... but that means a post a few months out of season!
Here are some of the things we did in August: 

 Zilla discovered that the abacus with the numbers written on it can help him to larger connect-the-dot puzzles!

We had a homeschool time most mornings.  Mega's stuffed dog often attended too.  Here she is reading to her doggie while Zilla's coloring in his finished connect-the-dot puzzle.

As Mega gets bigger we need two work spaces so she has taken over the sensory table. 

FOr a while we have a fishing set nside the sensory table.

Mega has discovered, and mastered, her first puzzles. 

It is amazing how interesting simple things can be - like rubber bands on nails in a board. 

When they get in a groove it is pretty peaceful! 

Another recent favorite - paint with water. 

Play food makes for great roll play! 

Some of Zilla's summer homework included caring for a morning glory.  He also cared for a friend's morning glory while she went to visit her grandparents in another country. 

Mega Mamma....
She can wear two babies, feed them and get the housework done all at the same time!