MY FIRST WORDS iPhone App – Flashcards by Smart Baby Apps

Recently, a friend has introduced me to this wonderful new iPhone/iPad App for babies. It is an application that has a multitude of flashcards in a variety of categories such as First Words, Opposites, Food Festival, Animal Kingdom and many more. The brilliant thing about this application is that it is interactive and allows babies to control the flashcards all on their own. I have watched with amazement how my friend’s one year old girl wiggled her little fingers over the iPhone screen to flip the flashcards while listening to her mum’s voice and looking at the gorgeous pictures.

Yes, and that is another brilliant thing about this application – you can record your own voice to read out the flashcards labels. This means that for bilingual kids the flashcards can be recorded in another language. The written labels on the cards can also be changed and written in a different language if the language is installed on the iPhone or the iPad.

Overall, this is an amazing way to teach babies their first words and increase their vocabulary. However, if you prefer the real over the virtual flashcards please check out our range of JUMBO Reading Cards for babies and toddlers.

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Using Montessori Materials at Home

In the previous post about the Montessori Snake Game I briefly mentioned the difficulty some parents experiencing when they decide to try using Montessori materials at home. Sure enough, there are wonderful blogs and websites out there which have an abundance of information but it is often difficult and time consuming to find specific instructions for specific materials.

This is where teaching albums and instruction manuals and dvds can come in handy. The following website has manuals and instructional materials created by AMS and AMI accredited teachers.

Montessori Instruction Manuals for Home Use

And best of all, these manuals are very reasonably priced.

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Montessori Addition Snake Game

Many of my customers are mums and dads who just want to buy some great materials to use with their kids at home. Unfortunately, most Montessori products don’t come with instruction manuals and unless they are formally trained or attended Montessori workshops many parents feel lost when they decide to buy Montessori teaching aids.

This is the best time to turn to internet in general and blogs in particular. There is a multitude of Montessori information websites and blogs run by parents that describe how these materials should be used.

Montessori Addition Snake Game

Here are some awesome videos that I found on how to use the Montessori Addition Snake Game

Positive Snake Game – Making Tens

Using the Black and White Remainder Bead Stair

Random Montessori Addition Snake Game Problem

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Astronomy for kids – an astronomically fun Snap Game

Snap is such a fun and easy game to play and it can be used as a learning tool by adapting it to any subject. And since my son has recently developed a real fascination with all things astronomical I have decided to create a simple Snap Game of Astronomy.

I have used all of the planets in our Solar System (including poor Pluto which has been demoted to a dwarf planet) as well as several other solar system bodies such as Moon, Sun, Asteroid, Meteor and Comet. Each card has a picture of the astronomical body and 3 interesting facts listed underneath. There are four identical snap cards for each of the astronomical bodies.

I must say, it has been difficult distilling the information to 3 interesting facts per astronomical body but I have learned a great deal in the process. Hopefully, now I won’t have to resort to Google everytime my son has a question on the subject of astronomy. Although, knowing the type of questions he usually asks (e.g., Mum, can aliens land on Jupiter?) Google wouldn’t have helped anyway.

So I now present to you a new addition to our Free Downloads family – The Astronomy Snap Game for Kids. All you have to do is download, print out the 15 pages (use thick paper for better snap effect) and cut it up into snap cards.

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Flags of the World – Free Geography Download

I have been looking for a website where I could download flags of the world in an easy to print format. My son has a large poster of a world map on his wall and loves looking at it but the flags are small and hard to see. After searching for a while and not being able to find quite what I was looking for I decided to create one myself. This flags of the world download is organised in alphabetical order and contains flag images of 166 countries. You can download it here from our website’s free downloads page

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Kids and Independent Learning

A friend of mine, who is studying childcare at TAFE, told me about a dilemma she faced during one of her assessment pracs. She was at a childcare centre playing with a little girl while the supervisor observed and marked her. The task presented involved making a collage from various materials, using glue and paper. After enjoying a short period of time where she threw around rice and smudged red paint over paper the girl started to become slightly frustrated so my friend gave her a bit of guidance and showed her how a few things can be glued together to make a picture. She was immediately instructed by the supervisor that this was not the right thing to do and might affect her mark in a negative way. The supervisor was adamant that helping the little girl would stifle her ability to learn independently and express herself through play.

How does one keep that fine balance between guidance and allowing the child to enjoy the process of learning and discovery on their own? Independent learning is important but how effective is it when the child becomes frustrated with the task?

I found this amazing video of a little girl working with a Montessori Zipping Dressing Frame that shows how kids, left to their own devices, can eventually master a really difficult task.

Mastering the art of zipping a Montessori Dressing Frame from Karla Norgaard on Vimeo.

Although in the beginning the girl does say “help me zip it” and it takes her a while to get the zipper working, eventually, she achieves the desired result and zips the frame herself. Obviously, this achievement is reward in itself and would work as a motivator for future learning.

Independence in learning works really well in a structured Montessori environment where trained Montessori professionals are able to demonstrate the task effectively and subsequently allow kids progress at their own pace. Kids are also able to observe other children in the classroom as the Montessori classroom usually has a mixture of age groups working together.

However, when this principle is applied in ordinary preschools with less structured activities it seems that it can become counterproductive, cause frustration and de-motivate a child.

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Educational Toys – Construction sets

Construction sets are excellent toys for developing fine motor skills, visuo-spatial abilities and logical thinking. It’s such a fun activity and in the midst of all that fun kids are manipulating small objects (fine motor skills), visualising how the end result will look (visuo-spatial abilities) and thinking what comes next (logical thinking). All in all, construction sets make for a great fun and educational toy.

But the Mic-o-mic construction sets we have in stock right now are super special – they come in a variety of gorgeous colours and designs, look beautiful when assembled but best of all, they provide the child with an opportunity for open-ended play. There is no instructional guide on how to put each toy together so the child has to work out the process on their own which makes it so much more challenging and fun.

The new addition to our Mic-o-mic collection is this irresistible little sail boat:

mic-o-mic sail boat

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Getting ready for a new sibling

It’s a tricky business, preparing your older child (children) for the arrival of a new sibling into the family. And it seems that boys and girls cope very differently with the issue.

A friend who is expecting her third child has told me how differently her two kids have reacted to the news. Her son who is six took it well but wasn’t dwelling too much on the issue afterwards. However, her little four year old daughter became completely obsessed with the idea of a newborn baby and all she played with for the next several weeks afterwards was a baby doll which she swaddled, rocked and pushed around in a pram.

Inspired by the story I added these wonderful newborn baby dolls to our stock

Pretend Play Newborn Baby Boy Doll

They are absolutely delightful, look like real newborn babies and come in a boy or girl variety. And there is a set of accessories perfect for these dolls that include a bathtub and lots of other cool stuff

Pretend Play Doll Bathtub with Accessories

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Kumon – what is it?

Everyone is talking about it – some are recommending it, some are wondering about and some are criticising the heck out of it. But what kind of animal is it? I began to wonder when I realised that my bilingual child needs a lot more help with English at school than his private, very expensive school is able to provide (but that’s another blog topic altogether).

I tried looking for information about the Kumon program on the internet but the stuff I found was mainly marketing material that didn’t really provide anything informative about the structure of the program and how it is administered. Talking to parents of kids who attended the program didn’t help much because all I got was that the kids get work books and attend a class twice a week where the work gets checked. I wanted to know more about the workbooks, what they contain, how they are graded and marked, how do kids actually learn new concepts.

The next thing I have done was to call the Kumon info line and get a few addresses of our local Kumon centres. I called one of them at Maroubra and Patrick, the centre manager, invited me to a free introductory session where all my questions could potentially be answered.

So child and husband in tow I went to the introductory session which began at 6:00 pm. The first half an hour is dedicated to testing the kids in order to assess their skill level. Initially based on their age they are given a small booklet of questions for either English or Maths (depending on the subject you are planning to enrol the child in) and the supervisor (usually a uni student) explains how to fill it out. The start and end time are noted to see the speed of the child. Level 1 Maths was pretty straight forward starting with counting questions and progressing to addition and subtraction. The English booklet contained some simple sentences and pictures that needed to be matched. For instance, one sentence said “The wind begins to blow” and three pictures depicting a tree covered in snow, a tree under rain and a tree whose leaves are being blown away by wind. The child needs to place a tick next to the matching picture. When finished the booklet is marked and the child is assigned into a particular skill level. If the booklet is completed without any mistakes and under a certain time the child is given a more difficult test.

Following this testing session that lasted considerably longer than the 1/2 hour promised, Patrick began to explain how the Kumon system worked in general. Unfortunately, most of what he said was also marketing dispersed with promises that the program, if applied and followed strictly, will guarantee get your child to the top of the class. However, after a 1 hour presentation and thanks to the question/answer section here is what I managed to understand about the program:

1. The child is enrolled into either English or Maths or both subjects and assigned a level based on their initial assessment. The level they are assigned into is deliberately 2 steps lower than their actual skills in order to make the work easy and enjoyable initially and get the kids into the flow of things.

2. The child is to attend the Kumon centre twice a week for 1/2 hour per subject (longer for older kids). Hence, if the child is enrolled in both subjects each session will last 1 hour. At the centre they receive their work booklets that need to be completed and marked at home, they also complete booklets during the actual sessions. Marked booklets are brought back to the centre and are checked and recorded.

3. At home the child is to do Kumon booklets EVERY day of the week and most days during the holidays (although the work load during the holidays is slightly reduced). The child is to spend 1/2 hour per subject per day.

4. What puzzled me was what happens when the child progresses from one level to the next; how is the child to understand a new concept without having the benefit of a formal lesson where the teacher explains it. Patrick kept saying that once the child MASTERS the lower level they will somehow (almost magically), by way of trial and error begin to understand the concepts in the more difficult levels. This was still confusing to me because with concepts such as long division, for instance, I cannot possibly see how the child would be able to even start attempting it until they understand the method. What I gather is that they would have to rely heavily on the examples given in the beginning of each booklet and, of course, they would have the option of asking questions during the weekly sessions at the Kumon centre.

5. The child is to work independently at home, without assistance from the parent, however, it is recommended that they work in full view of the parent and that the parent times each session. The booklet is marked BY THE CHILD, using a special marking guide. The marking system seemed quite complicated so I will not recount it here in order not to mislead people. However, Patrick reassured us that the marking guide is straight forward. It is borrowed from the centre and needs to be returned after each level is completed.

6. For the English subject, CDs are available for home use, however, CD for each level costs approx. $21 and it can be sold back to the centre for half the price. The child also listens to the CD during the weekly sessions at the Kumon centre.

7. Patrick highlighted that common criticism of rote learning that is often given to the Kumon program should actually be viewed as a positive because repetition is what leads to mastery and confidence. Mastery and confidence are, in turn, signs of true knowledge.

All in all, I must say that the session did not make the Kumon method completely transparent and many questions for me remain unanswered. I guess, without actually trying it out it is impossible to understand it in depth. What really instills confidence is the fact that the program obviously works, it is attended by hundreds of kids in different centres throughout Australia and the results speak for themselves. One major concern that we left the session with is that the program requires a huge commitment on behalf of the parents and the child. And this is what, in the end, stopped us from enrolling our 6 yr old son for the time being. However, we will definitely consider it for when he is a little older. I think the program is perfect for kids who are preparing for scholarship or selective schools exams. Or those who just want to improve their school results.

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Hello World! Bright Tomato Learning Blog is here!

This is the first blog post on our brand new gorgeous blog that our brilliant web designer from Ryan Design Studio has kindly installed for us for free! It’s given us a bit of a break in a difficult few weeks so thank you so very much, Ryan.

This blogging world is new to me (I know, I am very far behind the times!) but I have many thoughts on Early Learning, on Australian schools and on education in general and I am hoping that this genius invention – the Blog World, will allow me to share those thoughts with some like-minded people. And some people who are totally opposed to my strong opinions and views. Those comments I am looking forward to most of all! So here we go…

Welcome to the Bright Tomato Learning Blog!

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