February 7, 2011

My Little Strugglers:The Power of Playdough


Shocking. That is the word I use to describe the teaching of my beautiful younger children, Xander and Milan. I had it so easy with my older two, Harley and Jagger. They flew through reading, math, language arts, etc. so effortlessly. When it came time to school the younger two it was apparent that the methods and tools I was using to teach would be ineffective with them. What was I doing wrong? Why didn't they just "get it"? How was I going to teach myself--reprogram my brain--to meet their needs?

A little background information. Xander and Milan were born 15 months apart. They were, and have always been, joined at the hip, so to speak. They had their own language when they were babies and on into toddlerhood. It was endearing how much they loved one another. They were so close in age people often thought they were twins and we still, now, call them "the twins". My son, Xander, was diagnosed with Autism at the age of four. This made sense to us due to milestones that had not been reached, certain "quirks" that he had and his incessant focus on certain things that just would not go away. He is nine now and still holds strong to many of the items and ideas he had at such an early age. We joked that Xander had Autism and Milan thought she did.

But this is not what this post is about. It's about what happened when we started homeschooling them.

Letters. They became the largest struggle. We had not yet started to incorporate numbers or any other subject other than art--because let's face it, preschool art is FUN. They could see the letters, they knew they represented something, but in their minds they were just another picture. Much like when I would show them a picture of an animal they could identify the correlation, such as DOG equals...

But the letter Aa? Where did that fit in--what did it mean? There was a huge question mark as we tried to make it make sense to them. If a picture of a dog and the word dog was something tangible--something they could "see" and "know" it to be true... where was Aa and what was it?

I thought, "let's try something new". And so we started with writing. I knew at some point they would understand why letters were important and that eventually they would realize the letters would build together to make words, like "DOG".

And guess what I found? Writing hurt! Physically and mentally this new form of learning was a challenge. The use of a pencil was awkward and frustrating and certainly undesired. Again, I decided to take a step back. We needed to tackle coordination or, in general, fine motor skills. And guess what--learning became fun again!

Where to start? I think it would be best to give you the first idea and work my way through the processes over the 10 day period. First plan of action:

Playdough...a dream come true. I wanted something that would join together the following: 
  • visual
  • muscular strengthening of their hands
  • smell
  • artistic freedom
  • fun
  • 2 C Flour
  • 1 C Salt
  • 2 t Cream of Tartar
  • 2 T Oil
  • 2 C Water
  • 5-6 drops of red food coloring
  • 1 T peppermint extract
Heat over low-medium heat until the dough becomes thick, making sure to scrape the bottom constantly. When dough becomes too hard to stir turn out onto a floured surface and knead until playdough consistency.

Oh, the fun they had! They did not know that their little hands were beginning to learn dexterity and strength or that the efforts would plant the small seeds of  ability. Because it was around Valentine's Day we went one better. I added glitter, sequins, cookie cutters and googly eyes to further the fine details. They had to mix the glitter pretty hard-handedly to insure it was easily dispersed. They had to carefully place the sequins, beads and googly eyes. The cookie cutters made them into perfect hearts--they were so careful to remove the outer edge so the heart would not be destroyed.

And when it was done, they were able to reuse the dough and materials to make "monsters" as Xander called them:

I have adapted this post as a "method to my madness" from this article for Heart of the Matter. I do recommend giving them a cookie sheet or casserole dish to make their creations and certainly recommend trying new flavors/colors--yellow banana has been a big hit!

Another playdough project we did can be found here: Indoor Snowmen

By the way, instead of "writing" letters this is a great opportunity to start rolling out "snakes" as we called them. This starts the journey towards getting ready to write. Remember, at this point we are not conquering letter meaning. Trust me. We'll get to that soon. See you tomorrow for Day Two!


Christine said...

I've always said I'm going to make my own playdough, but haven't done so yet. I love the idea of making it with extracts and scents! That's awesome! I'm looking forward to your posts, Angela, your house sounds like mine. :)

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Playdough is a mama's lifesaver! It is also great for older children who have learned to concentrate better but still want something to do with their hands while reading or reciting.

Tara said...

Angela - this is awesome! I've wanted some ideas of what to do with the play-dough!

Can't wait to read more the next few days!

gfcfmomofmany said...

I love you son's monster. lol We are going to try your playdough recipe it looks like fun!

God bless
Heather Laurie