Wednesday, June 29, 2011

School Time with Little G

I've had a request to write a post describing how I handle school time with my almost-two-year-old.   I'm afraid that lately we haven't been very faithful to have a daily school time.  (We been scrambling around to get ready for a summer vacation)  but I'll go ahead and describe what it looks like when I'm feeling on top of things.

1.  M and G have entirely separate school times.  When I am working with one of them on the couch, the other is having a blanket time on the floor of the living room. 

I like doing it this way for two reasons:

a.  Part of the reason they look forward to school time is because it means one-on-one attention from me.

b. School time at our house is mostly reserved for working on basic skills (phonics, math).  Since M and G are at very different levels,  if I don't separate them, inevitably, the one whose specific skill set is not being worked on finds ways to distract.  (e.g., M will want to answer all of the questions I pose to G) 

We do most other educational activities in a fun, relaxed way together (reading books, birdwatching, little games,etc).

2.  I keep G's school time to a minimal 7-10 minutes.  The girls know that I expect them to focus hard during this time and to not be silly.  M (my almost-four-year-old) is able to concentrate for longer now, but that increase in endurance has come slowly.

3.  We stop right away when I can sense G is tired.  When they have been having a good school time for a while and then G starts to get a little silly or is unable to answer questions I know she knows, I end school time right away.  I try to be tuned in enough to her mood and ability to be able to cut it off right before she starts to fade so we can end on a positive note, but I'm not always able to.

4.  We start each school time with singing an educational song together with G in my lap.  (The alphabet song or another simple song from this list) It seems to work well as a transition into the learning mode.

5  Posture.  I require G to sit up straight while we work together on the couch and to keep her hands on her lap.  Some days this takes a lot of reminders.

6.  Movement.  Lately, I've been increasingly aware that G is just naturally more physically active than M was at this age.  One thing I've been trying to do to help her focus is to work gestures into our drills.  (I'm planning to write a post describing some of these and asking for your ideas sometime soon).

Another time, I may write a post describing our learning content, but hopefully, this gives you some idea of the basic structure of our school time.

I'm definitely learning as I go along, and I would love your input.  What tips have you found to be particularly helpful when teaching two- year- olds? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grocery Store Game: I Love You More Than_______

A friend of mine plays a fun and simple game with her toddlers when she is at the grocery store.  As they go up and down the aisles, they point to things in the store and say, "I love you more than______!" (bananas, bologna, cereal, etc)  Cute!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homemade Book: Surprised by Colors

M gave me the idea for making this book by her "rainbow style" of coloring.

I thought it would be neat to introduce her to the concept that the full range of colors is more varied than the list of basic color names she learned when she was a toddler.  The world is so beautifully complex; it is a privilege to be able to point that out to children as a demonstration of God's amazing creativity. 

M really took to this project.  She enjoyed helping to color the pages and learning new names for colors. 

Directions for Child: Take your huge box of crayons, and spread them all on the floor (even the tiny, stubby ones). Divide the crayons out into blues, greens, browns, pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, and purples. On each page use all the many different shades of the listed color to completely cover the page. Use whatever design you think is most beautiful. Now, read your colorful book!


The blue in the ocean isn’t just one kind of blue.
It’s azure and periwinkle, aqua and saphire.

The green in the grass isn’t one kind of green.
Oh no! It’s emerald and olive, pine, teal
and viridian.

The brown in the dirt isn’t just brown.
It’s sepia and chocolate, chestnut, mocha
and tan.

When you look at the sunset do you see all the
pinks? Rose and salmon, blush,
coral- even magenta.

Roses come red, but it’s more exciting than that.
They’re scarlet, maroon, cherry, vermillion.

Fall leaves turning orange, but can you
say more? Rust, tangerine,
terra cotta, pumpkin.

Canaries aren’t just one shade of
yellow, of course. Their feathers are
chartreuse, buttercup, mustard, and crème.

The purples in an iris go deep, deep, deep.
There’s lavender, orchid, amethyst, indigo,
and sometimes eggplant.

God gave us much more than we think.  When we look we will find, and find, and find! 
To make the book, I folded several small pieces of cardstock in half, punched two holes down the center and tied the holes together with a piece of ribbon.  I covered the text and pictures with packing tape (for lamination) because it made it easier for M to color without messing up the words.
I've attached the page with the pictures I used in case you are interested in making a colors book with your preschooler. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

One Advantage/ Disadvantage of an Outdoor Easel

I came outside and found this...

Very happy campers- especially because it ended in running through the sprinkler.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Popping Posicle Sticks into the Oatmeal Can

I had the empty oatmeal container sitting on my counter for about 2 weeks before I finally figured out what to do with it (couldn't bear to throw it away!).

Using a knife, I slit about 8 holes into the top of the lid and gave G a handful of popsicle sticks to push through the holes.  It was definitely a hit!  They make a satisfying little "pop" when they slide in; plus- it's so fun to shake them around once they're inside. 

I didn't anticipate it being a fun toy for M, but she wanted to play with it too.  The nice thing about multiple holes is they can both do it at the same time if no one gets greedy and decides to pick up the container. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sprinkly Cheerios Bracelet

These are a smidge less healthy than the traditional Cheerio bracelet, but definitely more fun.

Yesterday, in the midst of turning ourselves into cupcakes, we smeared the outside of some Cheerios with plain white icing (powdered sugar and water), and then rolled them in cake sprinkles. The effect was a plate full of teeny, tiny sprinkled donuts!

After they had dried for about an hour, I let M string them onto a pipe cleaner for a bracelet. I really liked using the pipe cleaner; it was stiff enough to thread well, and the fuzziness kept the Cheerios from falling off.

This post is part of It's Playtime!

Turn Yourself into a Cupcake

The project we were working on this morning devolved into a game of "Turn Yourself into a Cupcake." I'm not sure why I didn't anticipate that direction for the morning, but I decided to roll with it when I saw they were so absorbed and I heard M tell G, "This is the most fun day ever!"
I'll have to wait until tomorrow to post about our main project because...well...I have a bit of cleaning to do.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Post-It Labels for the Parts of a Flower

We got to take home the big bouquet of flowers from the front of our church this Sunday.  It's being on our dining room table has led to conversations about the names and parts of flowers; so I thought it would be fun for M to have a chance to practice labeling the parts.

This diagram of a flower that I found was a little too advanced for M; so I simplified it down.  Then I cut a couple sheets of post-it note into strips (with a little sticky on the end of each strip)  I wrote the names of a flower part on each strip.   M used the diagram to help her place the strips on the right places.

The sticky notes don't stick great to the flower, but they did ok. 

A Lesson (Re) Learned on Father's Day

Well, today was Father's Day, and I tackled lots of  little projects to make it memorable and to try honor my wonderful husband.  I attempted so many  things though that I found myself stressed out and a little on the disagreeable side for most of the day.  Some Father's Day present- huh? :-)

Sometimes less definitely is more...a hard lesson for an idea person like me.   Whether it is planning a vacation, entertaining guests, or making dinner, in the end, I'm forced to admit that my family would be better off with a relaxed, happy me than with lots of interesting activities, foods, or presents.

So...if you didn't do that much for Father's Day this year and were feeling a little guilty, maybe wishing you had done more, be comforted:  at least you didn't run yourself ragged and consequently walk around with short nerves toward your poor husband on his special day.

Anybody else have to learn this lesson over and over again?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Duplo Puzzles

Jeanae from I Can Teach My Child has such good ideas!  The other day I was inspired by her post about making animal puzzles made out of two duplos.   I love this activity- especially for very little ones.  It got my mind to thinking though about all the other possibilities for duplo (or lego) puzzles.

The version I tried today involved stacking duplos into a tall tower, gluing on a picture of a tall giraffe and cutting the pieces apart with a razor blade.  It was just the right level puzzle challenge for M.

My second idea was to write a message on a blank piece of paper glued to a duplo tower.  I love projects that involve mystery messages, but we may have to wait a couple of years on this one.  It was definitely beyond M's abilities to figure out how to put it together.

(The surprise was a little bag of craisins in the toy chest, for those of you, like me, who can't stand to leave a mystery hanging :-)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Simple Songs for Memorizing Lists and Facts

I'm not a big fan of using entertainment (DVDs, computer games, Leapfrog, etc) to teach basic skills even though sometimes these things can be amazingly effective. Aside from just a gut feeling that I'd rather find another way, I guess my reasons are:

1. Someone told me once: "Whatever you win them with you win them to." Rather than fostering a love of learning with these tools, I wonder if what is being nurtured is an appetite for TV and prepackaged entertainment. To me, building that attachment is not worth the possible educational pay- off. Kids can catch up in learning phonics and math facts; it's a lot harder to undo an addiction to media.

2. The second reason is related to the first. I don't want my kids to need to be entertained in order to learn something difficult. Eventually, in their educational career they will have to learn something for which no appropriate Sesame Street episode exists. I don't want them to balk against actively applying themselves because it has rarely been expected of them before.

3. Most educational media for children involves rapid fire stimulation with lots of moving images, sounds, and action. The studies that link media consumption to shortened attention span are pretty dramatic. I feel like a loss of attention span in children is a big problem for both the child's character and his trajectory as a life-long learner. In the long run, I would rather have a child who can diligently and happily concentrate for extended periods of time than a child with precocious academic skills.

All that being said, I'm not necessarily against making learning easier or more fun. I think though that there are ways to do it that empower children as learners rather than create an unhealthy dependence.

One of those ways to to set information to music. I've been amazed at the difficult things M and G have been able to learn after they have been turned into songs. At the beginning of every 15-20 minute school time that I do with the girls, we sing an educational song or two together. They enjoy it, and it painlessly transitions them into the learning mode.

To me, it's significant that we are actively involved with this learning tool rather than just listening to the songs on a CD as background entertainment. I want the girls to understand that singing can be a good mneumonic device- but that it is not just something that they have to wait for far-off people to serve up to them. They can make their own helps in learning- including maybe a song or two sometimes.

I've made up a few songs to go along with our lessons (e.g. I've taught the girls to spell their names with a song, and I have a short song for the names of the vowels) But I've also been able to find a few songs on the internet that have been very helpful for more involved memorizing. I thought I would share them with you in case you are interested in doing the same kind of thing.

They are not, for the most part, polished or entertaining links. They are simple, singable songs. I just use them to help me learn the tune and words so I can teach the songs to the girls during school time.

Days of the Week
Books of the Old Testament
Books of the New Testament
States and Capitals
Counting up to 20

The following songs are all on one CD by Montesorri singer Shelly Murley. I don't own the CD but instead learned the songs by listening to the song samples.
Oceans of the World
Months of the Year
Increments of time (how many seconds in a minute, etc)

I have also used a webpage that lists familiar tunes to use in skip counting, but I can't remember where that went.

(For the geography songs we sing the song while we put together an appropriate map puzzle. As each place is named, the child puts the piece of the puzzle in the right place or just points to it. By the way, I have a simple world map puzzle that I LOVE, but I can't seem to find it online, but here is a link to a very similar Montessori puzzle)

Please let me know if you know of any other simple, singable education songs so I can add them to our school time singing rotation!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

10 Ideas for Building Memories this Father's Day

I think Father's Day is tricky.  I always feel a little weird putting a lot of effort into making something cutesy with the kids when I know that a man's appreciation for that sort of thing only goes so far.  And then of course, gifts for men are notoriously difficult.  The kind of idea I do really like for Father's Day is the kind that makes a memory.  Traditions or meaningful time spent with Dad seem like they're really worth the extra effort. 
Here are 10 ideas for building  memories this Father's Day:

*****Spoiler Alert- If your initials are R.M and you love cheeseburgers do not read any further in this post unless you want to ruin a surprise or two *******

1.   Hold an annual competition between kids and their dad.  I love this idea from Make and Takes.  Every year Muriel comes up with a light-hearted contest between her kids and their father.  She even gives a trophy.

2.  A fill- in- the- blank Father's Day card for toddlers and preschoolers

3.  Make a slideshow with pictures of the kids and dad for everyone to watch together.

4.  Make this adorable necktie door wreath with your kids and hang it on the door every Father's Day.  

5. Have the kids help you make a treasure hunt for Dad Help them make clues for him to find his gifts. 

6.  Hold a taste- testing event.  Pick something that Dad really likes, and buy as many varieties of that as you can.  (chocolate ice cream, donuts, pickles, etc)  Let everyone taste the samples and decide on their favorites.  I think I might try this idea this year with white cheddar popcorn because R likes it so much- maybe even include a homemade version!)

7.  Write an annual letter to your children about a quality you really like in their father. 

8.  Print out fun father's day buttons like the ones you find here and here and take the kids around the house to hide the buttons in all kinds of surprising places for Dad to find on Father's Day (sock drawer, refrigerator, etc). Maybe a good idea for what to do while Dad takes a traditional Father's Day nap :-)

9.  With a dry erase marker draw a series of mustaches on your husband's bathroom mirror at the height of his face.  Include the message, "Happy Father's Day to One Classy Dad!"  In the morning call your kids in to have a look at their father with a mustache.

10.  The night before Father's Day have your children hang a room service menu on their father's door for breakfast the next day.  A fun twist to breakfast in bed!

What other simple or elaborate kinds of things have you done on Father's Day to make memories and spend quality time together as a family? 

Works for me Wednesday!

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's Missing? Simple Preschool Game

M and I really enjoyed this game this morning.  It was nice because we took turns, and it was fun for both of us (I actually thought I would find it easier than I did)

1.  We set out 8 distinctive objects in two rows and let M take a good hard look at them.

2.  M turned around and closed her eyes while I removed one of the objects and put it in a box.

3.  M turned back, opened her eyes, and tried to figure out what object was missing.

4.  She looked in the box to see if she was right!

We played many rounds, taking turns guessing the object and then tried two and three missing objects.  After that became easy, we scrambled the order of the objects. 
I was thinking we might try this game with letters, numbers, and words sometime.  Can you think of any other fun or educational twists for this game? 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Things I Don't Do

I spend an awful lot of time on this blog writing about things I do in my home with my family. It occurred to me the other day that some people might get the impression that we do an awful lot. I think though that a stranger spending time in my house might be more struck by the things we don't do than with all our activities. the interest of honesty and openness, I decided to make a list of some of the surprising activities that don't go on in our home. Some of them are things I'm heartily ashamed of and hope to do better as time goes on, but there are other things in the list that I am content with. Their absence reflects our family values and I'm willing to risk criticism from others for the sake of the time, focus, and energy it buys me. There are also some items that lie somewhere in the middle

I've decided not to tell you which are which. You might be able to guess my feelings on a few, but something inside me makes me feel it is better not to tell. I think partly because it will give me the courage to be more open, but also because the purpose of this post is not to make you feel judged for what you decide is or is not important for your family. I would rather this post serve as a reminder that you don't HAVE to do everything the magazines and parenting books recommend. Also, I think it's nice to hear, just every once in a while, another voice admit they don't have it all together.

Some of the Things We Don't Do at our House:

1. Cook every night. We eat a lot of leftovers.

2. Spend time on holiday traditions that are not personally meaningful to us. It shocks a lot of people that we don't even put up a Christmas tree or set out Easter baskets.

3. Put away laundry right away. It often sits until it is a thoroughly wrinkled, schmushed blob.

4. Baby sign language.

5. Keep a well manicured lawn. In fact right now, because we are experiencing a drought our grass is crispy brown.

6. Bathe my children every day.

7. Keep up with the news.

8. Do many child enrichment activities outside the home. (Baby swim lessons, Kindermusic, library story times, etc)

9. Take great pains to avoid exposure to germs. We don't use a grocery cart seat cover, and I generally only disinfect very dirty things.

10. Keep up with all the latest child health studies.

11. Bake from scratch very frequently- Despite having a great bread machine and a mother who has taught me time and time again her secrets for wonderful pie crusts.

12. Sweep under my toddler's high chair after every meal - despite her less-than-neat habits.

13. Fold my children's dresser clothes. seriously. I hang up all of their dresses in the closet, but everything else ends up in the drawers exactly how I throw them.

14. Take my children to the doctor unless they are due for a check-up or are very, very sick.

Well, those are the things that come to mind...I know there are more. :-)

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday.
If you have the inclination, I think I would be really interested to hear some of the things you don't do in your home (whether deliberately or not). Please share them in the comments section to give us all comfort and food for thought!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Interesting Ways to Engage Nature with Children

Now that the weather is nicer, here are some simple ways to feed a child's sense of wonder at the outdoors.

1. Listen to a tree's heartbeat. Spring is actually a pretty good time for this.

2.  Make a whistle out of a blade of grass.

3.  Pop a rose petal by centering your lips on it.  Take a deep, quick breath and the petal will pop, making a unique sound.

4.  Collect pure drinking water from a plant.   

5.  Make a daisy chain.

6.  Build something out of mud bricks made with an ice cube tray.  

7.  Go on an onion hike with some friends.  Let the first friend make a "trail" connecting 8-10 trees by rubbing half of an onion on the trees.  See if the other friends can find the trail by sniffing the trees.

8.  Make dandelion curls. 

9.  Make a rainbow bouquet of queen anne's lace by letting the flowers drink water with food dyes in them.

10.  Play violet wars with a friend.  Two players pick an equal number of violet flowers on their stems. Each player holds one violet in their hand and hooks the head of their flower under the head of their opponent's flower. Violet flowers have a small "spur" under the curved part of the stem and it acts as a hook. When both flowers are clinched together, each player pulls their flower until one of the flower heads is pulled off. The winner keeps the flower head of the opponent. Play continues until both players are out of fresh violets. The winner is the one who accumulates the most flower heads.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Loads of Fun Painting an old VW Beetle

What a fun surprise M and G had yeserday at the McKenna Children's Museum in New Braunfels when they discovered that they were going to be able to paint an old Volkswagen Beetle with as much and as many colors of paint as they wanted!

It got me thinking...wouldn't it be fun to have a corner of one's backyard dedicated on an on-going basis for the painting of some large, unusual object?  Maybe an old statue found at a junkyard, a wooden yard sign, or even just an oversized rock.

What do you think would be fun to paint?

Congratulations to Chantel the winner of the Bedtime Prayers and Promises recordable book!

Thanks to all who participated in the fun giveaway!

(Chantel's comment was 14, the number chosen by

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Soap Snakes

 I was so surprised when I tried this that it was so simple and entertaining, and that we had never done it before. You REALLY have to try it; your kids will be so fascinated.

1.  Cut the bottom off of a small plastic water bottle.  (I tried a pair of scissors, but a knife worked better).

2.  Cover the end of the water bottle with a piece of cloth.  Use a rubber band to hold it on.

3.  Dip the cloth end of the water bottle into a dish of soapy water.

4.  Put your mouth over the small end and blow slowly and steadily.   It doesn't require much pressure at all.

4.  See how long you can make your snake!  (We made some much longer snakes, but I guess our giddy excitement made them hard to capture on camera :-)
 One word of warning:  Make sure you only blow OUT.  If you inhale, you'll end up with a mouth full of suds.  This turned out to be pretty tricky for M and G; so I did most of the blowing. 

It's Playtime!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rubberband Balloon Yo-Yo

Not a toy the girls wanted to play with for hours on end, but a fun novelty.  We filled the balloons with split yellow peas (using a funnel), but rice would have worked too.

Also- not a toy I let them play with unsupervised- seems like maybe a bit of a choking hazard?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fill- in- the-Blank Father's Day Letter from Your Preschooler

You can either read the words to your preschooler as you go along or just ask for the fill-in-the-blank answers Mad Lib style. Either way I think would have endearing results. I haven't figured out yet how I'll do it with M for her letter.

The face at the bottom is ready to be colored as your preschooler's daddy.

Click here to download the printable 8 1/2 x 11 version of the letter.