Authentic Teaching – The Read Aloud

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From my Exceptional Parent/Teacher Guest Blogger Carissa Yfantis-

“The wind began to blow. The tree house started to spin.” In case you don’t recognize those famous lines, they are from ​The Magic Tree House​ series of fiction adventure books for young readers. They are the opening lines that lead the main characters to an adventure in each book. When my daughter was 4 1⁄2 years-old, my friend gave her a complete set of the first 28 books for Christmas. She had begun reading them to her own daughter when she was four, and they both adored them. My friend assured me that if we read them aloud to my daughter, we would all love them, too. At first, I wasn’t sure if the stories and themes would be too mature or too frightening. I previewed a few of the books, trusted my friend, and embarked on a six-month read-aloud adventure.

Back then we read aloud to our daughter at least twice a day, before afternoon rest time (formerly known as nap time – naps were a distant memory at this point, even though ​I​​still needed her to take one) and at bedtime. This gave us plenty of opportunities to read these chapter books aloud. As promised, we all loved the books immediately. Each one is based on a specific event or time period from history. Even though she was quite young, we were able to teach her little bits of history (edited as necessary to be age-appropriate) as we read the different books. Our daughter was totally engaged with the stories, and the illustrations scattered throughout each book gave a visual representation of important points in the text.

I was happy to enjoy the stories and squeeze in some history, but the best part of reading these books was the few times when my daughter was inspired to create things from the stories. At some point during our second reading of ​Tonight on the Titanic, she decided to draw a picture of the ship with SOS above it. ​On her own.​ (I need to mention that we did not tell her anyone died, just that the ship sank.) I was overjoyed. The history had truly become authentic for her. In ​Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve​, the two main characters turn into ravens. We discussed what ravens were and found photos of real ones on the internet. There were also illustrations of ravens in the book. One day, she made raven’s wings out of black construction paper and a beak out of yellow paper. She asked me to tape them to her arms and face. Again, this was o​n her own.​ Knock me over with a feather. She had an authentic learning experience because this piece of the story was interesting to her.

When you read aloud with your children, whether you read to them or they read to you, there will be many opportunities to converse about the subject matter. With the world at our fingertips, you can quickly find photos, definitions, and facts about topics that interest them. Authentic learning takes place when your child actively explores a topic in a way that is meaningful to her.

By the way, lest you think we have some sort of child prodigy, her spontaneous bursts of creativity have dwindled considerably since ​The Magic Tree House​ days. Okay, they’re basically gone, but it was amazing while it was lasted!

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The Authentic Teaching Moment – Hurricane Names

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It’s easy to miss those Authentic Teaching Moments.  If you stop and listen, kids are giving us opportunities every day to engage their natural curiosity. 

From my wonderful Guest Blogger Carissa Yfantis-

News about Hurricane Florence dominated the television recently and my daughter became very interested in watching the track of the storm. As she watched the news, I shared with her my own hurricane story. When I was in 7th grade, back in 1985, Hurricane Gloria hit New York and we actually got the day off from school. The New York City Public School system NEVER closed (seriously, ​ne-ver​), so this was truly a momentous occasion. Always the studious student (okay, nerd), I used the day off to complete my current events report about the AIDS epidemic. She couldn’t believe that AIDS was a current event when I was her age and took the opportunity to remind me that I am “so old”.

Moving on from my age, I told her that hurricanes used to be named with only female names. This was interesting to her, so she decided to investigate how hurricanes are named. She found out that in 1953, the National Weather Service started giving the storms female names. Some people were upset by this, so in 1979, they began using male names also. The National Hurricane Center website informed her that there are six lists of hurricane names prepared up to the year 2023. They are recycled every six years. Some names are retired, like Katrina and Harvey because it would be inappropriate to use those names again. She learned that the World Meteorological Organization manages the system that names hurricanes. The names are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization’s Hurricane Committee and they are meant to be recognizable to people in the areas where hurricanes typically hit. Who knew any of this? A little spark of interest led to an authentic learning experience.

She scoured the six lists, and we have two family members who could have hurricanes with their names in 2019 and 2020. Both female…hmm…

Currency Exchange – The Value of a Dollar

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From my wonderful Guest Blogger Carissa Yfantis-

Before a recent trip to Grand Cayman (for vacation, not to visit our hidden millions), my husband and I were lamenting the fact that their money is worth more than the US dollar and that everything would be more expensive. We explained to our daughter that the Cayman dollar was worth $1.20 for every one US dollar, and that each time we purchased something, we would be paying 20 cents more. We told her that if we exchanged one US dollar for Cayman money, we only get back 80 cents. She didn’t think this was quite fair, but she didn’t appear to be overly concerned. We didn’t tell her that sometimes you have to pay an exchange fee in addition to the conversion. A discussion for another day.

Grand Cayman accepts US dollars, and most things are priced in Cayman and US dollars to make things easier for the sun addled tourists. We did not exchange money since it isn’t necessary, but looking back, I wish we had exchanged a few dollars. Physically handing over one dollar and receiving only 80 cents back would have been an amazing authentic experience for our daughter.

Even without actually exchanging money, she had some valuable authentic experiences. When we ate at restaurants, she saw both prices on the menus. She was shocked when her chicken tenders were $14 Cayman and $16.80 US and when her spaghetti was $15 Cayman and $18 US. Now things were getting personal, but not personal enough. We were paying for her food, so this “unfair” pricing didn’t have any impact. However, when we went to the resort gift shop on our last day, the exchange rate became real. We gave her a budget of $20 US, but reminded her about the 20 cent deduction per dollar. This left her with about $17 Cayman to spend. She was less than thrilled with the automatic $3 deduction from her spending limit, but when in Cayman… She chose a Christmas ornament that was $10 Cayman and keychain that was $4 Cayman (every tween needs at least 15 keychains to hang off their backpack-with no actual keys on them.) She had to leave behind the $5 magnet (that would have ended up lost in a desk drawer for all eternity). She advised us that in the future we should pick a place where their money is worth less than ours. We advised her that next time we could leave her home!

Reading Labels and Teaching Responsibility

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From my wonderful Guest Blogger Carissa Yfantis-

One of the first words my daughter learned to read was “nut” and not because we had read ​Guess How Much I Love You?​ several hundred times (Nutbrown Hare was always a favorite). She is allergic to some tree nuts and it was vital that she could read that word on a food label. Food labels typically state if there are “tree nuts” in the product or if it was manufactured in a facility where they are processed. We knew that as a preschooler, there was little chance she would need to independently decide if she could eat something, but being able to read “nuts” was a first step in teaching her to manage her allergies. (She already knew not to eat anything unless one of us or a teacher said it was safe for her.)

Our daughter had an authentic learning experience reading food labels when she was four years old. It was the first time she found the words “tree nut” on a package of chocolate chip cookies at the grocery store. We had practiced reading the word “nut”, looking at food labels, and finding the allergy statement at the end of the ingredients list, but this was the first time an authentic learning experience had presented itself. When she asked if she could have the cookies, I told her to read the ingredients. She had eaten chocolate chip cookies before, but not the brand she had picked up. She turned the package over, found the ingredients list and, as we had taught her, pointed to each word. I watched her face as she “read” the ingredients and saw the disappointment when she reached the familiar words “tree nuts” in the allergen statement. I gave her high-fives fit for Super Bowl winners and praised her for reading the label so carefully. I reminded her that if she had not read the label and had eaten the cookies, she could have had an allergic reaction. I was beyond proud of her and she was very excited to tell my husband that she “saved herself” at the store. She eventually chose a box of allergy-friendly cookies, so fear not, she did not suffer from lack of sugar consumption that day. That experience taught her how vital it was to read the ingredients even when the picture on it appeared to be something she could eat.

Reading food labels has had an unexpected benefit. Although I always tried to eat healthfully and limit junk food, I don’t recall ever reading an ingredients list until our daughter was diagnosed. It was (and continues to be) a truly eye-opening experience. When you are forced to read ​every​ ingredient on ​everything​, you see exactly what is in all those packaged products. It is usually not appetizing in the least. You see the chemicals, the various forms of sugar, the dyes, the preservatives, and the processed ingredients. Reading food labels has been an ongoing authentic experience for me because it has led to a greater awareness of what is in various products. It has caused me to make cleaner, more nutritious food choices. I encourage everyone to start reading food labels. Children, teens, and adults can all learn so much in the minute or two it takes to read the label. You may even decide to make a homemade version of something you were about to buy when you see all the unnecessary ingredients in the packaged version. Cooking at home lends itself to myriad authentic learning experiences.

Having food allergies has provided our daughter many authentic experiences. She now knows that ingredients may have more than one name (for example: casein for milk, sucrose/glucose/fructose for sugar, filbert for hazelnut) and she learned the importance of not cross-contaminating ingredients when cooking or baking. I hope that as she gets older, reading the ingredients will cause her to become more discerning with her food choices. For now, as long as there as there are no tree nuts in something she chooses, there can be radioactive waste in it!  Although I would obviously erase all of these experiences to erase her allergies, they provide a small compensation and a little silver lining for anyone who lives with an allergy.

Measurement, Money, and Chemistry

Written by my new and amazing Guest Blogger – Carissa Yfantis.  Carissa has a Master’s in Education and is a Master Parent.  I am honored that she will be contributing to this blog.

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When making slime became popular, my daughter asked to make some at home. She told me that she needed white glue, Borax, laundry detergent, and food coloring to make two different slime recipes. My initial thought was absolutely not! I could already see the sandy Borax all over my floor, stained chair cushions, sticky glue handprints on my furniture, and detergent spilled everywhere. Knowing my penchant for cleanliness, my daughter quickly added that she could make it in our basement and she promised to be very careful. I put aside visions of myself sweeping up Borax and agreed to let her make it. As a former educator, I knew this would be a great authentic learning experience. Of course, I didn’t share that with my daughter!

When we arrived at the store to purchase the ingredients, I stood back and let her shop using one of her birthday gift cards. Spending the least amount of money possible was suddenly very important to her since she was paying! When she checked the recipe using Borax, she saw that it it needed 1⁄2 cup of white glue. However, the glue bottles were labeled in ounces. I told her we needed to convert the units. She already knew there were 8 ounces in one cup, so she halved it to find that 1⁄2 cup was 4 ounces. She “did math” without realizing it! The recipe also needed 1 teaspoon of Borax. Upon finding it in a 4 pound box, she happily stated that it was enough to make slime forever! At this point I had to hold onto the cart because I suddenly felt faint. The words forever and slime should never be in the same sentence.

To make slime using laundry detergent (which is also labeled in ounces), the recipe called for 1⁄4 cup. At first she picked up a very large bottle. When I reminded her to check the recipe, she figured out that she only needed 2 ounces of detergent. This enabled her to buy the smallest (and cheapest!) one. More authentic learning. This recipe also needed 1⁄2 cup of glue, so 8 ounces was needed in order to make both recipes. I advised her to check the price of the 4 ounce bottle and the 7.6 ounce bottle. She figured out that the larger bottle was less money than two 4 ounce bottles, so she chose the 7.6 ounce bottle instead. She said it was close enough to 8 ounces. So frugal with her own money. And more hidden math!

Upon returning from the store, I asked my daughter how the ingredients actually became slime. She had no idea. Neither did I – it’s been a long time since my high school chemistry class. I seized this teachable moment and quickly (very quickly – I didn’t want to lose my audience) looked up how slime forms. Basically the glue is a polymer and the Borax and detergent are activators. When they mix, a reaction occurs that causes the molecules in the glue to become tangled and create a slimy substance. Quick authentic chemistry lesson!

To make the Borax slime, she carefully measured each ingredient (“doing math” again), followed the directions, and was quite excited when slime formed! It actually was pretty cool! Then she followed the recipe for the laundry detergent slime. She liked the consistency of the detergent slime better because it was softer and more stretchy. I liked it better because we were able to relegate the sandy Borax to a dark corner of the basement.

Over the next few months, my basement became a slime factory and my daughter and her friends became expert slime makers. They learned how to alter the consistency of the slime by experimenting with different amounts of each ingredient and recorded the recipes they liked. They also made the equally important discovery that some combinations did not make good slime. They modified recipes to make larger or smaller batches and created various hues with the food coloring. Making slime provided authentic learning experiences with basic measurement, a tiny bit of finance, and a bit of elementary chemistry. My daughter had hours of fun and never realized she was learning! And I never told her!