Melissa and Doug Abacus Review

I’ve always wanted an abacus. I just like the way they look. I have a habit of buying wooden toys because I like the way they look over plastic flashy ones partly because they just look more attractive (also because of environmental issues, but mostly because flashy musical toys are just really bloody annoying).  When I saw the Melissa and Doug wooden abacus on offer on Amazon for a bargain £6.00 I gave in to temptation. I thought Skylar might be a bit old for it and Tiggy too young, but I thought at least Tiggy would grow into it. I am pleased to be proven wrong however, and as we’ve used it so much I just wanted to give it a quick review.

Not only is it useful for what it’s famous for. A basic calculator, simple addition, subtraction, division, looking at number bonds, skip counting, looking at tens and units, we’ve found a few other ways of playing with it. Firstly here’s Skylar using it for simple counting, when she runs out of fingers when doing maths games like Sum Swamp. Yes she’s wearing pyjamas and swimming goggles.

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She had far more fun than I anticipated making patterns with it. I found some great pattern printables on this Melissa and Doug blog post, via Pinterest here.  She also likes to take it in turns to make a pattern (or a picture or a letter), to take a photo, and then to shake it up and try and copy what the other one did from memory. I’ve done this with her, and she also asked to get it down when a friend came so they could do it too, so it must pass the fun test.

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 We built on the pattern sheets by talking about symmetry.

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The quality is fantastic, it’s solid and robust, my friends toddler tried to climb and stand on the top of it, and even jumped on it with shoes on, and whilst I can’t sing it’s praises highly enough to include it in gymnastics, I wasn’t at all concerned it would be damaged. And even Tiggy loves it too. Like a bead frame, she loves to move the beads along the wires, and she loves to bat at them and spin them with her hand and fingers which makes a great sound. She loves to spin things so it’s a great toy for her. And although it’s too heavy for her, one of us often uses it as musical instrument, by shaking it from side to side whilst she has a rattle or maracas. There are no sharp corners on it, but it is heavy, and she has started to try and pull herself up on it now so she can’t be left with it, but with supervision she plays with it a bit every day.

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Free Outdoors

More than I want my children to have a plethora of certificates and qualifications that lead to financial success, I want them to have a good grasp of ethical issues. I’m not dismissing the value of financial success as it would make their lives easier, but if they were to achieve it I’d be most proud if they had managed to do so without abandoning moral issues. I do however appreciate that this is neigh on impossible to achieve in today’s capitalist society. Personally, the only jobs I have had that didn’t challenge my morals too much has been bar work. The others-child care, care work, primary and special needs education have all been emotionally taxing because the practices and policies went against all my research and beliefs. I hope my children can be more successful than me in that respect, to have the same question of ethics but more confidence and creative power to challenge them. For a start, I want them to have a good sense of environmental ethics. I am hoping that giving them an opportunity to be outdoors a lot will foster a love of nature. I hope that this will encourage them to know their place in the world.

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A passion for physics, biology, chemistry, history, geography, literature and arts all come from nature. An interest in what is going on outdoors is a big motivation for learning. This is one of the biggest failings of classroom education. A bit of classroom education I think could be useful, but when the perception in our society that children can only learn if they are in a classroom sat at a desk is a bizarre and sorry one. Whilst discussing home education with a friend recently they told me that another home educating friend of theirs had been stopped by a truancy officer in the park. After explaining that the children weren’t playing truant and were home educated, the officer apologized, but proceeded to ask them why they weren’t at home learning. The parent explained that they had been learning about life cycles, plant and tree classification and the change of seasons that morning. The officer said that’s great, you should hurry up home and get back to it. Unfortunately classroom education is so ingrained in our culture that we can’t see that real life learning is more valuable than desk and textbook learning. Some people can’t even contemplate that you can learn at all without sitting and listening.

Currently Skylar attends some sessions at a forest school. I will do a post all about forest school and what it’s all about soon. We try to visit local beaches, woods and green spaces as often as possible. Another way I hope to encourage a love of nature is with regular camping trips. What better way to learn and enjoy the outdoors than by looking at and studying the night sky, building campfires, and being self sufficient. It’s all the more important when home is in the midst of a concrete jungle with very little wildlife to observe. Unless you count the local crack heads that congregate on the grass verge adjacent, or the alcoholics who sit on the library steps opposite. I just hope that this tactic of mine doesn’t have the opposite effect, as most of my parenting techniques with Skylar often do! I guess there is a pretty good chance she ends up writing a blog post of her own in ten years time about her complete hatred of the outdoors due to all the horrible camping trips she was forced to endure as a child.

We recently went on our first camping trip of the season. As Tiggy was born end of August this also happened to be her first camping trip. And her first gig in one. Tiggy was a dream baby and really enjoyed it. Skylar on the other hand despite having camped lots before was a total nightmare. I think it was a mix of extreme excitement, coupled with late nights and a bad diet choice (a packet of Wotsits on the journey there…she is never allowed Wotsits again, for fear of a repeat episode). I’ve been coming up with some strategies to keep her calm during our impending two week camping trip to the south west coast in a few weeks. We also have a 5 day home-ed camp not long after we return, probably a weekend in north Wales and another festival or two planned. Be prepared for this to turn into a camping blog until September.  

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The weekend (Guttercrush Punk Festival) was held at Llanfyllin Workhouse. The building was a workhouse until the 1930’s. After becoming a care home amongst other things and then being abandoned, it was taken over by a charity as a community project. There are many other small festivals held here, we will be going to one (or two) later in the summer. It’s a really interesting site, the big stone building with it’s cruel history as a workhouse (with mainly women and children as inmates) is set in now beautiful and carefully landscaped garden. There is a children’s playhouse and tree swing and once Skylar found it and a couple of other children, she spent nearly all her time there. She even planted a tree. 

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On our way back from Wales we stopped in Ashton for another gig/biker rally, to complete our history/geography/music field trip. 

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