Friday, October 11, 2013

Up the Coconut Tree

I have not formally taught my boys their shapes, colors, numbers, letters and all such academic essentials. It is not that I do not want them to learn. Obviously, I do want them to learn these very important foundations on which all of their future learning will be built. Yet, I do not want to get caught up in teaching them and miss out on the learning experiences that are right in front of us.

I do not deprive them of learning experiences. Instead, I make sure to provide various and multiple experiences in which they can learn. Every moment in life is an opportunity to learn. I choose to focus on the opportunities to learn, rather than on sitting them down to teach them these things.

It may sound like I am playing with semantics, but it is really a different way of thinking about and approaching learning. I was a preschool teacher for a time and I taught the kids. I sat them down with a plan for what they were to be taught for the day. At home, I have the freedom to allow my kids to learn, with me as their guide, putting opportunities for learning in their way, building it into the normal routines of life. There will be times, in the future, when I will have to teach my kids. They will have to be taught from books and sit and listen in order to learn some things. But for now, I want them to experience learning without even knowing that they are learning.

I am not concerned with whether or not my two year olds can count to 10 or say all their ABCs in the right order or whether they can name all the colors or shapes when I ask them. Unless there are some learning difference that I am not yet aware of, they will learn these on their own before too long. I provide opportunities for them to experience shapes, numbers, letters and colors and we talk about them in the normal setting of our life. I have never sat down with my boys and attempted to teach them these things. They learn by doing, hearing, seeing and living.

I try to take a laid-back approach and allow them to learn as I guide their experiences. This is how our children learn to talk. We do not sit them down and make them repeat words after us. We allow them to pick it up in the normal course of life. We talk to them. We ask them questions even before they are ready to give an answer. We talk about what we are doing and where we are going even though they cannot yet hold a conversation. We show them an object and tell them about it, naming it for them and using those words in normal sentences. And they learn.

I am trying to take this same approach with more"academic" areas as well while they are young. So far, it is working! They are learning their numbers, their shapes, their colors and their letters without being taught, in the traditional sense. They are so curious about all these things that they drive the learning experiences. They want to know what this letter is called and what is the name of this color. They surprise me everyday with some new thing that they have picked up that I have not specifically taught them.

I use books, toys, games and anything else in our every day lives to put letters, numbers, shapes and colors in front of the boys without them knowing that they are learning. We point out cars and trucks and I will say, "Oh! I see a BLUE truck! Do you see the BLUE truck?" They learn pretty quickly how many 3 is when they know that they get 3 bunny fruit treats for going on the potty! I dare not try to give them 2. They will tell me!

My boys love books. One of their favorite books is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. It is such a fun introduction to letters and has a nice rhythm and rhyme. Explorer is not so concerned about the names of the letters, but he likes to hear about the letters going up the tree and all falling out at the end. Scholar (true to his nickname!) wants to know the names of all the letters. He points to the letters and says, "Uh?" (We are working on getting him to say, "What is it?" but he likes to keep things simple and not say any more than he absolutely has to.) He is able to name many of the letters and point them out when asked to do so.

One day the boys were playing with their magnetic fabric letters on the refrigerator. I heard one of them say, "chicka chicka boom boom!" and I got an idea. I decided to make a magnetic felt coconut tree to go with the letters.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom coconut tree
I did a search for patterns to make the tree. Surprisingly, I was not able to find much in the way of patterns that I could easily print and use. So, I did the next best thing. I made my own patterns for the leaves.

You can get the leaf patterns below and check out the instructions to make your own coconut tree!

Click the following links to download patterns of 6 different leaves (I only used the first 4 for my coconut tree, but 6 leaves on the tree would look great, too!):


What you will need:
  • Printouts of leaf patterns (I printed 2 different patterns on each sheet of paper, so each leaf was approximately 8"x5".)
  • 4-6 pieces of green felt 9"x12" (I used 3 different shades of green - 2 leaves were the same color.) Each 9"x12" piece of felt will make one leaf. The leaves are made of two identical pieces sewn together.
  • 1/4 yard brown felt (I bought 1/2 yard in case I made a mistake and needed to try again. I have plenty leftover for future projects.)
  • Embroidery floss in greens and browns to match or contrast with the felt colors, as desired
  • 8 or more quarter-inch coin magnets (or a similar type of magnet)
  • Good pair of scissors (dull scissors will not cut nicely through felt)
  • Sewing needle

Follow the steps below to make your own coconut tree:

Step 1

Cut out the trunk of the tree.

You will need two identical pieces. I cut them both out at the same time, holding the two pieces together. You can make the trunk straight or curved. I chose to make a curved, tapered trunk that is about 5 inches at the base and 4 inches at the top. It is about 25 inches tall. I did not use a pattern for this, but did it freehand. It does not matter how curved the trunk is, or how straight. In the book, it is straight at some times and very curved at others (when the letters all fall out, it is at a 90 degree angle). I went for a slight curve.

For a simpler trunk, cut a rectangle that is about 5 inches wide and 24 inches tall (cut two of these rectangles to be sewn together).

This trunk is curved. A straight trunk would be great, too!

Step 2

Cut out 2 of each of the leaves.

I folded each piece of green felt in half, short ends together, to make a rectangle that was 9 inches by 6 inches. I put one leaf pattern on top of the folded felt and cut out along the lines. This will give you two identical pieces for each leaf.

Cut out coconuts.

Using the brown felt leftover after cutting out the trunk pieces, cut two (or more) coconuts, each having 2 identical pieces and 3-4" in diameter.  I did not use a pattern for these, either, but cut out rough circles freehand. You can trace around the rim of a cup or small bowl to make a perfect circle, or you can cut a circle without any guide so that it is not a perfect circle. I chose to make imperfect circles to more closely resemble the illustrations in the book.
There are two of each shape here, one on top of the other.

Step 3

Stitch identical pieces of leaves, trunk and coconuts together with 3 strands of embroidery floss.

Each length of floss comes with 6 strands twisted together. Separate them into 3 strands each. It is much easier to work with the floss if it is cut in 12 - 18 inch lengths. Otherwise, it tends to tangle.
I used colors that did not completely match the pieces I was stitching. I used a dark green to stitch the light green leaves and so forth. The brown floss was close to the same color as the brown felt. You can match the color of the floss to the felt or use slightly different colors as you prefer.

I made a little pocket in which to place the magnet.
Stitch around the shapes and before finishing, place a magnet in between the two pieces. 
For the leaves, I did not want the magnet sliding around inside, so I stitched a box around the magnet at one end to keep it in place. I think they would work just fine, though, if the magnet was loose inside the leaf.
The magnets inside the coconuts are not stitched in place and move freely about inside.
I put a magnet at each end of the trunk and stitched each one in place. I definitely recommend this since the trunk is such a large piece.

Stitching around the leaves.
Note the box shape on the dark green leaf. That is where the magnet is secured.

The leaves and coconuts stitched together with magnets in between the two pieces.

Step 4

Put the pieces together on the refrigerator and let the kids have fun!

I used the wonderful magnetic letters that I bought on Etsy (visit Evie's Effects to get your own!). The plastic letters that you can get in any supermarket would work well, too. Or you could make your own letters with felt!
The completed coconut tree with magnet letters from Evie's Effects on Etsy.

I had the tree on the refrigerator when the boys came down in the morning and they spent a good amount of time playing with them. They especially liked making the letters go up the tree and then fall down. Of course, all the magnets were swept off the refrigerator and onto the floor for this, including the tree!

I plan on making a sun and moon to go with the tree, too. I know they are not a vital part of the story (they come at the end when the sun goes down and there is a full moon), but my boys are obsessed with the sun and moon (and stars), so I think it will be a good addition for our coconut tree play set.

I hope you enjoy making your own coconut tree. Chicka chicka boom boom!

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