Friday, October 11, 2013

50 States Week

For the past two weeks we've been learning as much as possible about the 50 states, the geography of our country, our current state of Colorado, our home state of Michigan, our flags, animals, and fun state facts. It's been a BUSY two weeks!

When I started this lesson, I looked to the Internet, to teacher sites, and to Pinterest to see how and what they were teaching kids this age. Unfortunately, I found that teaching about the United States isn't really a thing in the pre-school grades. I wasn't upset by this, I just wondered why. I think, after doing some research, that because we are focused on a lot of other things like letters, numbers, shapes, our name, how to spell it, and maybe even where we live; we forget to teach our kids about where they are from, what they are entitled to as an American, about this country, the geography of it and so on. I am always shocked when I meet adults and they can't point out states on a map, or can't point out geographic icons on a map. I wanted to make sure that my kids started early and could start to piece together some of the different aspects of this vast country we live in, and, we live in Colorado with SO MUCH to offer in terms of geography, I didn't want them to miss important things like the Rockies, dinosaurs and volcanoes!

As I sat and watched the Government Shut Down I was determined to make sure that my kids learned from the mistakes we've made in our own government. I wanted to include more than just where the main mountain ranges were, I wanted to teach them about being an American, so I included some difficult tasks for a three year old this week when I had him write a letter to the President, but I want to teach my boys that they are a part of this country, a part of this government and a part of this nation. I want to teach them that they have a voice and that it's okay to participate in policies and things you believe in. I understand that this is a lot for a 3 and 1 year old, but I want to stop living in a world where people confuse the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, I want my boys to be able to recognize important figures in our society and I want them to be involved on every level for their entire life.

Alight, enough lecturing. Here are some things we did over the past two weeks:

Map Identification:

The very first thing we did was play with a map. I wanted them to realize how big our country was, how large some states were and how tiny others were. I taught them that they all had equal representation in our government even though some were big and some were small. We did a lot of talking and questioning during our map time. I would ask, "Can you find a large state?" "How about a small one?" "Can you find one that looks like a shoe? How about one that looks like the profile of a face?" "Can you find a mitten?" "How about a square?" The boys really thought it was fun and even made up shapes for different states, Idaho for example, is a rocket taking off. We also did some games like, "Find Michigan, now, which state is to the left of Michigan?"

I am so proud, and can confidently say that my three and one year olds can identify at least five different states correctly and more on a second try. And, I'll never forget the morning that Theo brought this book into our bedroom and excitedly said, "MOM! READ ME DIS BOOK BOUT MICH-I-GAN!" He had never seen or read that book, he found it in the library bag that I'd brought home, but he knew that the pictures were telling him it was about Michigan!

Mapping Postcards:

Remember when I asked you all to send us postcards? Well, a lot of  you responded! This was an excellent activity that the boys could really get involved in. Once they knew postcards were coming, they wanted each day, to wait for and check the mail! Thank you! It was so fun seeing all of the different places our friends live and little tidbits about each of your states!

Each day after we got a new postcard we'd run to the map to figure out where it came from. The pictures on the map were so helpful in terms of showing the boys what different parts of the country looked like. I think that because of the postcards, we were able to move on quickly to this next activity! 

Animals and Places:

Once they became familiar with the map, I drew up some different landmarks. I focused on geographic regions like deserts, mountains, lakes, and oceans. I also drew up icebergs, palm trees, houses (for where we've lived) and hearts (where our family members live). I had they tell me things like where their Aunts and Uncles lived, where their family lived and so on. I helped them with the other icons. But once we had the deserts, mountains, lakes and oceans in place, they were able to figure out where different kinds of animals lived. We put lobsters in Maine, dolphins in Florida, tropical birds in Hawaii, moose in the mountains, cows in Wisconsin and so on. If you look at our map, you will see a giraffe in Colorado. They are fully aware that there are no giraffes in Colorado, in fact we discussed where they could find them. HOWEVER, they insisted that because they had fed them at our local zoo, there were in fact giraffes in Colorado.
I couldn't argue with that logic, but I insisted that we finish the rest of the map the right way. I was really impressed with their ability to locate the different regions and what kind of habitat these animals lived in. And I'm pretty pleased with their placement of the waterways and geographical features!

This is a really easy project to do, but a lot of fun. My boys LOVE painting and getting messy. One thing that I like is that they have such different personalities when it comes to painting. Before we started this project, I printed out a flag of Colorado. I showed the boys pictures of what the flag looked like and where the different colors went. I even wrote in pencil a B for blue on the blue parts, an R for red, etc. in case they forgot. Henrik was SO careful when he painted his flag and was able to follow the coloring directions and mimic the flag I showed him. Theodor on the other hand can't do his letters yet, though he's getting close so I practiced his colors with him. In this case, Theo wanted to use yellow. All the yellow. At least he called it the correct color as he painted!

One of the best things about this activity was that Henrik was able to identify the Colorado flag while we were driving. "Look, Mom! That sign has a Colorado flag on it!" and sure enough, he was talking about a CO highway. He was so proud that he could identify it, and so was I.

We also decorated the American flag, though here I just hand drew it and only did 3 stars because, well, 50 is a lot to draw. Henrik didn't like that there were just three, he knows that there is a star for each state, but in the end I convinced him it was okay for this particular project.

I did the same thing as with the Colorado flag, I wrote the letters for each color in the correct location, for Hank and for Theo I tested him on his colors. He decided to paint wherever he wanted and that was fine with me. It was his project after all!

Writing Postcards: 
Because we'd received so many cards, we wanted to return the favor! We took the boys to Pikes Peak and picked up some postcards to send our friends. I actually wrote the messages, but I asked the boys to draw something in Colorado for their friends. They had fun trying to think of different animals or different things that they wanted to show or tell their new friends about. If you sent us a card and want one back, send me a message on my Facebook Page with your address! We'll get one to you!

Building Monuments:

Another fun activity that we did was to become architects and build national monuments! I showed the boys pictures of different places: the Washington Monument, The White House, the Golden Gate Bridge, The Grand Hotel, the Mackinac Bridge and the Air Force Academy Chapel. All of these landmarks and monuments are unique in their own way and I wanted the boys to appreciate what these landmarks were and why they were important. They had pictures to look at while they made their version of the structure, but I liked their imagination and improvements that they made on those buildings. We also pretended we were the Statue of Liberty, because they informed me that they couldn't make her face out of Legos. :) 

Critical Thinking:
I challenged Henrik to do a hard project, he said he was up for it so we tried. I spent the day talking about the President and what his job is and how the basic process of government works. I showed him pictures of the President, Vice President and pictures of congress and the Supreme Court. He was actually very interested to find out "who the boss" of the different branches were. He's really into, "I'm the boss of my food" and "Mom's in charge of ______" so I figured that I could relate to him this way. Next, I informed him that when people get elected into office, they usually have a platform or things that they say they will do to help out people or our country. I asked him if he were president what would he do. It was hard at first, he didn't really understand that he could pick anything, so we started talking. I asked him if he liked parks, if he liked water and lakes, if he liked kids or animals, once he answered we went from there and he told me how he'd like to help them out. 

In this picture you'll see his self-portrait, he's wearing a tie because "Barack Obama always has a tie on TV". I'm pretty impressed with what he came up with as his platform. And I'm even more impressed that he can identify the President and Vice President on TV. My favorite was when he said, "Mom! There's Barack Obama at the White House!!" His face lit up with pride when he noticed what was on the news. (the picture below is the white house)

The next day we wrote a letter to the President, this time it was to just talk to him to learn more about him. It still required some abstract thinking on Henrik's part and this was difficult because he's obviously never met him so writing a letter to a person you don't know is hard to grasp for a 3 year old. We'd practiced writing letters before and how you ask how someone is, you relate to them and you tell them about yourself and what you're doing, then you can go back and ask them questions. Henrik was still stumped, but after I told Henrik some facts about the President and the White House (like there's a bowling alley and movie theatre there, they have a garden, he likes basketball...) and Henrik gathered things that HE knew about the White House, we were able to write a letter. This is what we came up with. I helped him form sentences but this is all him. 

We packaged up these things and sent them off to the President, hopefully we'll get a letter back from the President! 

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