Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Paper chains: not just a craft project

In our house, the boys have been struggling to understand the concept of the calendar — the passage of time. More likely is that I haven't found the best way to teach the information. I'm not talking about the hours in a day or the day-night concept, I'm talking about next week or next month.

Let me back up. We do have a routine for certain things, and the boys sort of understand that Daddy is with us all day on the weekends. However, they just don't get that they have to wait 4 more weeks until they get to go to Grandma's house.

Here's what we've tried, with little success:
  1. Mark off days on the calendar. This idea helps, if I can remember to do it every morning.
  2. Sing songs. I've found some cute songs about teaching the days of the week. However, they just haven't really cared for them. <Insert deep sigh>
  3. Not tell them at all, until the day before. This comes from the saying, "Ignorance is bliss." However, I usually end up with really cranky kids that have other ideas for the day's plans.
While the last option does stop the endless questions, I have the hardest time with this because I love preparing for a trip — all the lists, all the packing. Seriously, I start pre-packing plan a few weeks before a trip. The boys know this and get nosy about why I'm packing and carrying around a new 3-ring binder. That's one reason why options #3 is just not good for us.

My mom heard about an idea to make a paper chain for each day that you are waiting for something. Each day, you break off a chain to show that you are one day closer. That's it! This is just the activity I needed to teach them. It's very hands-on, which is perfect for my boys. Plus, I had several other ideas to add.

Here's how I've adapted the Countdown paper-chain idea:

1. Make a list of the days and dates until the trip/event.
Seriously, list out all the days. You need to know how many chains to make, right? It also helps to list the quantity of each day of the week... if you want to add in #2.

2. Find enough paper to make chains.

Use a different color for each day of the week (teaching patterns). I chose to use scrapbook paper (not that I scrapbook, but I LOVE all the cool papers. Plus, I buy them when they are super-uber cheap).

3. Fill in the normal activities that take place on those days.
For example, "Saturday: Daddy's home all day" or "Wednesday: Library day." These things don't change for us, so it's a safe activity to list. I added a few other tasks like "go to the post office to mail XX's gift." As a note, don't try to make the list the same day you want to make the chain <cough, cough>. Give yourself some time to come up with ideas and check your calendar for birthdays and activities.

Here's an example of some of my ideas:
Wednesday, May 4: Library Day!
Thursday, May 5: Make "Happy Anniversary" card for Grandma & Papa
Friday, May 6: Mail card
Thursday, May 19: Let's start our packing list!

4. Cut out the paper chains. I think 1.5" x 8" works best for me.

5. Print out two copies of the activities.
This helps for two reasons: (1) to cut out the strip for each day and activity for step #6 and (2) to have a list to remember what you've written.

6. Paste activity on the inside of each chain. This was a great job for little hands.

7. Loop and staple each chain, looping the next one around the previous day.
I decided to hang ours above the window, so they wouldn't randomly start cutting chains. It did prove to be a bit tricky in getting a new one cut each day. However, I was happy that the chain was not destroyed in the process.

How did it work for us?

Each morning, the boys got to look at the length of the chain then cut off today's link. It's like they were able to open a new present or surprise each day. Not only were we one day closer to Grandma's house, but they found out what we're doing today.
    Whenever they asked about when we're going to Grandma's house, I just brought them back into the school room/dining room/office to look at the chain. "Oh yeah" was usually the response. We could then count all the remaining chains.

    Plus, I was able to use my cute "days of the week" songs, and they actually enjoyed them this time. This activity was perfect for my boys because it was hands-on. Every child can learn with hands-on (kinesthetic) learning, and my boys learn best this way.

    As another added benefit, it took the guess work out of trying to plan my days. The initial list planning took care of that for me. Hmm, sounds like I might actually get the hang of lesson planning.

    I will say that some days I listed two options because I needed to build in some flexibility. Yes, I have to "plan" to be flexible. It just makes us happier to know that we have a couple of options, if our day just isn't turning out as planned.

    We will definitely be using this idea again for our next big date. We're planning a weekend getaway soon, so I think this would be great to do again.

    Do you like to include your kids in vacation planning? What works for you?


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