Thursday, September 30, 2010


I think kids could do a lot with variations on this general idea, don't you?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Colorful Songwriting

When I saw this idea over at Nettle's Notes, I thought it was such a clever way to teach children about reading music and decided to try it right away.

I filled the glasses with varying amounts of water and colored the water in each glass with watercolor paint (the kind in tubes). Then I gathered all of the white contact lens tops I could find (we apparently have a lot!) and placed one in front of each glass and filled each with the corresponding color.

By this time of course, M and G had come over to where I was and were very, very interested. It was all I could do to keep G from trying to drink the pink water (it does look tasty- like fruit punch!). I showed them how to clink the glasses to make the high and low notes, and asked M if she would like to help me write a song.

We called our first song "Sunshine" because it had so many yellow notes in it. After that, I walked away and let M loose to make up her own songs and to paint the notes on the paper. (One of her songs was composed entirely of blue notes- she was full of impish glee when she showed it to me) You can see the names she gave the songs have a certain poetic license. She told me the words were in another language.

She really enjoyed it- especially when her daddy came home that evening and tried his hand at playing the music she had written. What a great little music and art activity!

Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Characteristics of Real Play

There is a certain kind of playing that makes for a magical childhood. Adults look back on the memories of those times with fond wistfulness.

Not all playing fits into this category; a lot of it is just filler and so is quickly forgotten. Other kinds of fun serve valuable purposes but do not qualify as "real playing" (For example, I think educational and athletic activities are great and have their place, but they do not fully capitalize on the uniqueness of childhood the way that real playing does).

So what IS real playing? I've been mulling over that question for a long time. To a certain extent, it is difficult to define, and you just know it when you see it.

I've been thinking lately though about the conversations my siblings and I have when we get together and noting the memories we return to again and again. As I've thought about it, I think I've been able to distill out certain common characteristics of the playing that made up those memories.

This list is my best stab at identifying real play. Please do leave additional thoughts in the comments section (illustrations, additional characteristics, disagreements, whatever!)

Real Play --

1. Is child directed- an adult might find unobtrusive ways to lend support or occasionally spark a fun idea, but the children have a sense of ownership over the style of play.

2. Makes innovative use of the objects available. Not dependent on expensive toys and props.

3. Is focused- Doesn't flit restlessly from toy to toy or activity to activity.

4. Has longevity- Children will return to the same kind of play over the course of days, weeks or even years. Sometimes there is a feeling of urgency to get back to it.

5. Is sometimes inspired by stories from real life or fiction, but not tied to them. The stories are just the jumping-off points. Real play develops the life of the mind and creates an inner world.

6. Is complex- Real play develops its own history, rules, and private jokes over time.

7. Almost always has a child- given name. "Let's go play Jibber Jumpers!" etc.

8. Is treated by children with a certain seriousness. At some level they feel there is something more important going on that just having fun. Hence the need for secrecy, passwords, sober explanations to those they take into their confidence, etc.

9. Often involves working toward the completion of a lofty goal- building a little house, making a road, digging a swimming pool, etc.

10. Is marked by an absence of self-consciousness. Children are free to giggle and be silly and carefree in a way that they wouldn't be if they felt they had an audience.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this little series - How to encourage real playing at your house and Part 4 - Things we as parents sometimes do to inadvertently discourage it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Collecting Rain

Gathering rain in buckets was a fun warm weather rain activity the other evening. Even G enjoyed it! If they had been a little older we might have made a contest out of it!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Under the Table Lunch

This is a picture of me lifting up the tablecloth to peek at M today as she had her lunch under our dining room table while I ate my sandwich in the normal sort of way.

The little kiddie table fit very nicely under the big table. The kiddie chairs were a little too high (M had to duck her head); so she sat on a stool instead.
G started out down there too, but after a little while I decided that under the table is not the best place to keep a thirteen-month-old with food!

What Makes a Good Set of Building Blocks?

CSN, an online family of stores that sells children's toys, shoes, dining ware, dutch ovens and more, is giving me an opportunity to do a review on any one of their items.

I'm choosing to review the Melissa and Doug 100ct set of building blocks because I'd like the opportunity to write about what I think makes a good set of builiding blocks. Stay tuned for the upcoming review!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Make a Puppet out of a Stuffed Animal

If your house if overrun with mountains of stuffed animals you might try doing what we did lately and make puppets out of some of them.

Just cut off the body below the neck and arms, pull out the stuffing and you have a puppet!

(They make much more effective huggers as puppets, AND they take up less room!)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Liquorish Learning and Gingerbread Books

I learned recently in a fun old book I am reading, Child Life in Colonial Days that some colonial mothers made horn books out of gingerbread for little ones.
Says an old rhyme:
"To master John the English maid
a horn-book gives of gingerbread;
And that the child may learn the better,
as he can name, he eats the letter."

But another old English proverb of the time warned,

"No liquorish learning to thy babes extend."

I can sympathize with the wisdom in both perspectives. I don't want my children dependent on gimmicky entertainment in their education, but I do think there is a certain amount of affection that is communicated when a mother or teacher makes an effort to creatively pepper fun moments into the hard work of learning.

What are your thoughts on the place of fun in learning? I would enjoy hearing your insights.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Homemade Toy: Weather Window

I'm not sure why, but I think weather should fascinate children. It's not so much that I've noticed that it actually does fascinate them; it's just that I think there is something really beautiful about a child noticing and thinking about how the sky changes from day to day.

Before our apartment fire, I had painted a "Little Weather Girl dress" with a place on the front of it for M to change the image based on the weather for that day. Someday, I hope to make another dress like that, but for now, I did make this little toy based on the same idea.
Some recent shoes for G came in a box with a plastic window, and I felt inspired to turn it into a little window scene with curtains and backdrops that M could change each day. When she gets up in the morning, she can check to see if the sky is cloudy, sunny, stormy, etc; find the sheet that pictures that and place it in the box. (The top opens up)She also likes to put her doll-house people in the box to "enjoy the nice day."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tropical Storm Hermine Washed our Hair!

This morning when I saw the unusually heavy downpour coming off of our roof and noted the still-summery temperatures, I couldn't think of one reason why it would not be a fun idea to wash our hair in all that rain. So we did.

It's hard to believe that this is the same little girl that is so traumatized by water on her face in the bathtub. :-)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sun Upcycled Crayons

It has always seemed like the oppressively hot Texas summers ought to be good for something or other, and now I've found it- I can use the 100+ degree days to melt down old crayon pieces into fun multicolored crayons. I found the idea on Mama Smiles a while back, and tried it last week (because it's definitely still summer here).
I don't know if it is necessary or not, but I surrounded the little cups of crayons with tin foil and covered the whole thing with plastic wrap. They turned out well, and M had fun checking them every day to see how much they had melted. It took about a week for ours to melt.

Outdoor Play Blog Hop

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bulk Foods Mom and Dad Date

R and I recently had an especially enjoyable date afternoon that cost all of $2.80! Here's what we did:

1. Drove to Central Market and picked out about 18 different snacks from the bulk food bins and bought just a tiny amount of each (about 20 cents worth each snack). They were interesting snacks, most of which we had never tried before: dried cantaloupe, wasabi peas, dried garlic pods (!!), a few international candies, etc.

2. Walked around Mayfield Gardens, a picturesque private park here in Austin that is open to the public and enjoyed the water gardens, flowers, and plenteous peacocks that were wandering around the grounds.
3. Settled on a pleasant bench under the trees there and discussed a chapter of the book Shepherding a Child's Heart (a book that we have both read several times, but we still find fresh food for thought there as our children get older)

The snacks gave us something to do and pleasant, light conversation as we talked about our preferences. The garden gave us quiet (an increasingly precious commodity), and a romantic setting. The book gave us a renewed unity in our vision as parents.

We're fortunate to have a family at our church that regularly does babysitting "swaps" with us; that way, both couples can have inexpensive date nights; so we're always trying to think of new ideas for things we can do for dates. Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Carnival Carrots

We just planted these colorful carrots in our fall garden. I think it will be fun to let M guess what color each carrot will be before she pulls them up!

There are just a few months left of gardening here before the cold, but I've been thinking lately about what to plant in the spring. Does anybody have any recommendations for plants that are especially fun to grow with children?