Saturday, April 30, 2011

What to do with leftover Easter Eggs: word families

I saw this idea on somebody's blog, but I can't remember which one!  If it's yours, please tell me and I will make sure to give you a link. 

Also, I couldn't find a way to do this where the letters didn't rub off when we touched them (I used sharpie).  Does anybody have any ideas to help with this?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ice Cube Game

I really must say that Laura from My Montessori Journey knew what she was doing when she created this simple little game for preschoolers.  It's a dice rolling game to see who can melt their ice cube the fastest.  M and G thoroughly enjoyed it- laughed and laughed and didn't want to stop playing. The level of glee was especially high when my dice roll had me put the ice cube down my shirt!   

You'll find the link for the game at the link above .   All you need to play is a couple of ice cubes, a little cup of water, some dice, and a salt shaker.  Good for a hot day!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

13 Things Parents Do that Inhibit Real Play

If you've been reading my blog for a while you know that I have a passion for a return to "real play"-- the kind children enjoyed 100 years ago-- the kind that adults remember with fondness-- and that is more and more rare these days.  I tried to pin down some of its defining characteristics in my post here.

Since that time I've been tossing around in my head thoughts from experience and observation concerning things that parents (myself included) sometimes do to unintentionally inhibit real play.

This is what I have so far:

1Try to keep children from ever getting dirty.  So...ahem...I could be accused of going a little overboard with this one.  My kids are constantly getting dirty, and  lot of times I regret it.  But I do think there is some real value in making room for the mess.

You only have to take a look at the multitude of "sensory bins" and play dough recipes that are all over the internet these days to realize that kids have a real need for sensory experiences.  Mud and dirt are the ultimate sensory materials. 

2. Go along with our culture's message to little kids that they should try to be "cool" instead of feeling free to enjoy childish play (skate boards and sunglasses, makeup and dating vs baby dolls and toy dump trucks)

3.  Fill their day with too many planned activities.  Some structure is good, but real play needs good long spaces to ripen.   Imaginative play especially requires stretches of time- especially if it is going to be the kind of fiction to which they return again and again.

I think our culture is generally better at recognizing this need in very young children, but in my experience, older kids need it too.  Their imaginative fictions get more complex; they start acting out ideas from books or eras of history.  My older kids have a group of friends who play variations of "loyalists" and "patriots" whenever they get together.  It's a story that has been going on for months, and if my own experience is any indication, they will likely treasure that ongoing story.

(a town I constructed out of magazine cut outs and paper.  I played for hours with this town)

4.  Provide no boundaries.  Children feel safer exploring and playing freely when they feel there are limits.

5.  Allow too much tv time or video game time. I've noticed it as an interesting phenomenon that the more tv my kids watch, the more they seem to be grumpily anxious to watch more.  A week long fast from media every once in a while (or even a few days) usually does wonders to re-set my kids.

6Hover or praise too much.  (creates self-conscious, parent-driven play)

7.  Laugh at their imagination without gentleness.  I have to be careful of this one if there are other adults around.  Sometimes the things kids do or say are just so funny from an adult perspective, but kids are very sensitive to the difference between being laughed "with" versus "at." If you don't want a behavior to stop, be careful not to poke fun at it. 

8.  Give them toys that provide too much entertainment for too little work.  At the push of a single button so many baby toys go absolutely crazy with flashing lights, music, voices.  A child should have to work at the reward a little bit. 

9.  Worry too much about injury.  My mother always treated risks of permanent injuries very seriously (brain damage, paralysis, etc) but if the only real danger was breaking an arm or scraping a leg then we were free to be adventurous and learn from our own mistakes. 

10.  Insist that furniture and toys be confined to their original uses.  Not only can you come up with some super fun ways to play this way, but it may help develop lateral intelligence.
(an old couch that our parents let us have some fun with before they got rid of it)

11.  Grant a wish for toys as soon as the child expresses an interest.  A big spark for creativity for my siblings and me growing up was the fact that we didn't have a swimming pool and we REALLY wanted one. We created so many make-shift pools on our own (pickup truck bed, ditch in our yard, etc) and really enjoyed doing it! 

12.  Treat the eradication of their boredom as the parents' responsibility.  In our family, going back several generations now, a child's "I'm bored" would elicit a stern, "Well, then I'll FIND you something to do!" and the result would be hard work! We quickly learned to keep any boredom to ourselves :-)  As an adult I am almost never bored, and I think that's at least in part because I learned as a child how to occupy and entertain myself. 

13.  Don't expect any chores out of them.  When children have to work part of the day it makes them treasure their free time more.  Also work stimulates children mentally and physically.

I'd love to hear your perspective on the kinds of things that inhibit real play!

Skeleton Puzzle

Through the blog Chasing Cheerios I found this great printable skeleton puzzle.  They even have a small model picture on one of the pages that M used to help put it together.  It did take about a half of an hour for me to cut out all of the pieces, but we found that the time was well-spent because I was able to tell her the names of all of the bones as we went along. 

(We had an interesting side detour in the cutting though when M asked why the pelvis is called a "pelvis".  We looked it up and discovered that it means "basin" in Latin)

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I've been a little missing from my blog lately- mostly because of our family's celebration of Passover (the preparation beforehand and the exhaustion afterward).  This year was the fifth time our family has celebrated a Messianic Passover.  (To read about past years you can look here and here).

We started out very simple, but each year we've added complexity (partly because I've done more research, and partly because our kids are getting older and comprehend more).  This year I was really struck by how thankful I am to be living in the church age; I have freedom in Christ to observe or not observe these kinds of holidays (Colossians 2:20) and also millenia of rich tradition to draw upon!

New elements we added this year:

I did a more thorough spring cleaning of our house before Passover than I have ever done (it didn't actually ALL get cleaned- but for me, it was pretty good :-)

I modified the instructions from this simple seder outline that was written with young children in mind.  (We did not actually celebrate communion around the table as she suggested, but I did think most of her explanations were very good-  If you are interested in our modified version feel free to contact me)

Just before the second cup of grape juice we washed each others' feet (remembering Jesus at the Last Supper)

 We included all of the basic, traditional Jewish foods in our meal.  (matzo, choroset, horseradish, parsley dipped in salt water, roasted eggs, and - although it is no longer a part of most Jewish Passovers- lamb- because of its connection to the original Passover)

M was able to actively participate by asking simplified versions of the four questions typically asked by Jewish children.

Highlights from this Year:

M was very, very interested in why we were doing so many strange things.  It was really neat to have her asking "why?" and having the answers be so meaningful.

G had a hard time waiting so long to eat while we talked about things.  Next time, I think I will try to do a better job feeding her snacks ahead of dinner.  :-)

For Next Year: 

I would love to include another family or two in our celebration.  In years past I didn't really have much confidence that I knew what I was doing and might have been embarrassed to have anyone else there, but it is beginning to feel more like an established tradition- even if I still don't really know what I am doing :-)

Does your family celebrate Passover?  I would love to hear helpful hints as well as links to other blog posts on the subject!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ice Cube Sorting Tray

An ice cube tray makes for such a nice little sorter for toddlers.  I have a packet of colored paper shapes that I inherited from a preschool teacher, but it seems like it would also work well with colored pom poms.  At first, I tried to encourage G to sort according to color or shape, but as this led to frustration, I backed off and let her follow her own little system. 

Any other ideas for things that might work well to sort in the ice cube tray (but that aren't choking hazards?)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scripture Passages for Young Children to Memorize

Breakfast time is when we practice Scripture memory in our house, and lately I've begun to notice something interesting with the girls.  

Some passages are a breeze for them to memorize and seem to give them delight (like Psalm 23); others just don't stick no matter how many times we go over them (like the Beatitudes).  The difference seems to be the absence or presence of concrete imagery to which they can relate. 

It's a familiar idea to me that young children don't relate well to abstract ideas, but I haven't thought as much about implications of this fact for child spirituality.  I think there is something to be said for memorizing things that will benefit them later on, but if I really want to touch their hearts NOW then pictures (word pictures in the case of Scripture memorization) are key. 

So I've begun making a list of Scriptures that convey foundational truths by means of concrete imagery that a child can relate to.  Here's my list of passages so far- along with the imagery that I think would capture a child's imagination.  I'd love to hear other thoughts and Scripture passages!

Psalm 23- green pastures, still water, leading through paths, walking through shadows
Proverbs 18:10- The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run to it and are safe
Ephesians 6:11-17  The armor of God.  (I know a three year old boy who "puts on" and names each piece of armor every morning when he wakes up)
Psalms 119:103- God's words are sweeter than honey (one of my girls' absolute favorites)
Hebrews 4:12 The Word of God is a sharp sword.
Isaiah 53: 1-6  The Suffering Servant grew up like a plant, people hid their faces from Him; He was crushed; we ran away like sheep
Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart
Matthew 6:26  God feeds the birds; we are worth more than the birds
John 8:12  Jesus is the light of the world
Proverbs 8:11 Wisdom is better than jewels
Proverbs 28:1  The wicked run away when no one chases, but the righteous are as brave as a lion
Psalm 1 The righteous will be like a big tree with fruit planted by the water. Its leaves will never dry up or lose their color (wither)
Revelation 3:20 Jesus standing at the door and knocking, people hear His voice and open the door.  He comes in.
Isaiah 1:18- Though your sins are scarlet they will be as white as the snow, crimson, wool

Please leave other verses you can think of along these lines in the comments.  We'll probably use them around the breakfast table!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Capitals and Lower Case- Chicks and Chickens

Since little G LOVES baby and mama animals I made this game to help her practice upper and lower case letters.

Me:  "Here's a baby a.  Can you find the big A?"

G: points

Me:  "Good.  Can you put the baby a with it's mama?"

G: places the chick on the correct chicken.

Me:  "Yay!  The baby found its mama!"

Gracie loves this moment and often HUGS herself with joy. :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Keeping Track of our Backyard Birds

I love activities that help us see the excitement in every day life.  Lately, keeping track of our backyard bird varieties has helped us do that. Every time we spot a new one, I pull out the bird identification books, and we all start thumbing through them until somebody finds it.  Then we hop onto the internet and print off a picture of that kind of bird and mod podge it to the eaves of our back patio. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gelatin Play Food

After the not-so-sucessful jelly printing project of last week I found myself with a tray of unused unflavored gelatin.  As it turns out, gelatin is just about the perfect outdoor play food.  It was so fun to cut, stab with a fork, and mix together in a bowl.  The girls thoroughly enjoyed themselves for almost an hour with it.
AND clean-up was a breeze.  Because it was unflavored and uncolored, it didn't make a mess; the girls' clothing was spotless afterward, and of course, the gelatin breaks down quickly in the rain; so we just left the spills on the ground.  Love it!

Works for me Wednesday!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jello Printing Tutorial

I think the reason this craft so appealed to me is because when I was growing up we used to have a gelatin- type ditto maker that we used to make copies-- back before xerox and scanners, etc were so widely available.  I haven't seen one of those in so long.  Does anyone else know what I'm talking about?

Anyway, this craft works well with either acrylic or fabric paint.  We found that tempera paint doesn't work as well (too runny).


4 packets unflavored gelatin (like Knox)
8 x 8 pan
plastic wrap
paintbrush or paint roller
fabric or paper
leaves, flowers, etc with distinct shapes

1.  Line the bottom of the 8 x 8 pan with a layer of plastic wrap.

2.  In a medium saucepan combine the four gelatin packets with 2 cups cold water.  Warm the pan over low heat and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved.
3.  Pour the gelatin into the plastic lined pan.  Cool in refrigerator for approximately 4 hours or until set.
4.  Remove the gelatin square to a place you don't mind getting dirty (newspaper all around would be a good idea)
5.  Wait a few minutes for condensation from the gelatin to appear on the surface so it can be wiped away.  Cover the gelatin with a layer of paint.

6.  Position leaves, other found objects on the gelatin.
7.  Place a piece of paper or fabric on top.  Gently press and rub with fingers.  Carefully remove fabric.  The fabric will have a negative image of the objects.  You can make a couple of these (will get progressively lighter)

8.  Remove leaves, etc.  Place another piece of fabric, rub gently and remove.  The image you have now is a positive image

I kind of like this set.  Maybe I'll make a pillow out of them someday. :-)

Gelatin can be carefully cleaned with a wet cloth in between each color.
The longer gelatin stays out of the refrigerator the more delicate it becomes.
After a while the gelatin will begin to get cracks, rips, etc.  These can add to the interest of the image.

Afterward, the jello was fun to squash in our hands, and it gave us an opportunity to quote one of our favorite rhymes:

Jelly on the plate!
Jelly on the plate!
Wibble wobble, wibble wobble
Jelly on the plate!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Introducing Coins

In an attempt to insert some new math skills into M's very verbally slanted preschool activities (I'm afraid I just love words soooo much more than numbers) today I introduced her to pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.

First, we counted out the right number of pennies to represent each coin so she could get a visual impression for how much each is worth.
We talked about the names for each coin, and then I had her do some independent work matching the right coins to circles on a page (I had traced the coins and written their numbers on each circle).  That worked pretty well; she mostly paid attention to the sizes of the circles and not the numbers, but when I went back and checked her work with her, I had a chance to review the numbers.  (e.g. "You put the quarter on the number 25; that's right!")  

Of course the trickiest two are the pennies and dimes because they are so close in size.  To make it a little more obvious to her when she had gotten it right or gotten it wrong we made a little play dough puzzle.  I impressed the shape of each coin onto a flattened piece of play dough and imprinted each shape with the number of the coin.  That worked well and M enjoyed squishing the coins into the play dough.