Monday, October 31, 2011

A Nice November Book and an Upcoming Thanksgiving Book Linky

In November by Cynthia Rylant captures in pictures and words so much about this time of year.

 I really like that she talks about some of the more obscure nature phenomena- like bees burrowing down into the earth and berries becoming "treasures" to birds.  And she does it so poetically!

The Thanksgiving pictures at the end of the book are particularly warm and cozy because they have been preceded by the stark, cold outdoor scenes.

 Cynthia Rylant has written a LOT of children's books. What are some of your favorites?  

Also, on Monday, November 7th I'll be writing about a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving books as well as providing a linky for anyone who would like to talk about their favorites.  I really hope some of you all link up.  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and I would love to hear some more good books for this time of year!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Museum Scavenger Hunts

Since Thursdays are free days at the Blanton Museum of Art here in Austin we decided to take a visit.  To make it more fun for the girls, I made up a pictorial scavenger hunt ahead of time by printing out snippets of paintings from the Blanton collections that I could find online.

I ended up making 3 different hunts:

1.  Unique objects (a book, or hat, jewelry, etc) from paintings in the European collection
2.  Animals from all over the museum
3.  A collection of black and white photographs of the very colorful modern art sculptures.  (The girls' job was to find each sculpture and color it the color that it appears in real life.)

It worked well.  I think they looked at the paintings more closely than they might have.  M enjoyed circling the pictures as she found them, and even G found a couple on her own.

I'll be tweaking the pictures for my particular scavenger hunts to share in another post in the next couple of days (in case any fellow Austinites want to use them), but I think the idea could work for other museums as well- especially small museums or ones with smaller collections of paintings so it is not too overwhelming for small children.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cooking with Little Children

I'll admit- cooking with little ones seriously tries my patience.  The combination of too much going on all at once in my kitchen, countless dribbles, spills, recipes that sometimes don't turn out, and little tempers flaring when they feel the job allocations are unfair often makes me want to give up on the whole endeavor... for all time.
But of course there's so much that's great about cooking with children. I love the way it builds real life skills that they will draw upon later; all the educational multi-sensory experiences, and the fact that they enjoy it SO MUCH.

I have gradually been getting better in this area.  I'm learning some tricks along the way that make things run more smoothly, and of course when things go well I want to cook with them more frequently.

This morning we baked Peanut Butter Stuffed Chocolate Cookies at the suggestion of my sister-in-law.  (There are some unique twists to the recipe that make it fun for little hands)

As we were working, I found our experience the usual combination of delightful and ugly.  It got me reflecting on what makes for good cooking experiences with M and G.  These are the thoughts I came up with:

1.  Bigger mixing bowls- easier for little hands to stir without spilling

2.  Starting with a clean kitchen to begin with.  Seems counter- intuitive because they are just going to mess it up anyway, but contributes to my feeling of peace and control.

3.  Feeling free to ask them to just watch for a while. Sometimes I forget how much they can enjoy that- what would be boring for me is magical alchemy to them-especially when I remember to talk about each step of what I am doing.

4.  Instructing them ahead of time to wait for instructions.  They are usually so excited to be involved that they are tempted to jump right in with their "help."  Of course, their unchecked impulses lead to aggravation 90% of the time. If I remind them ahead of time that there will be times when they will need to be patient, it's amazing how much differently they act.

5.  Thinking ahead of time of what tasks in the recipe will work for little hands.

6.   Assigning each child a station- a place to be so they don't crowd me or each other.

7.  Being creative about finding super simple tasks for them.  One of my favorites is asking G to go watch the cookies (or whatever) bake in the oven for me.  She takes the job very seriously and loves to watch the baked goods rise.  Or I may ask M to separate out the wet and dry ingredients for me on the counter so they're ready to go into two different bowls.

8.  Picking the right times.  If I'm short on time, if it really matters how it turns out, or if I'm not confident about the recipe for any reason, I won't usually allow help.

9.  Treating the clean-up time afterward as part of the cooking process, involving them in it when I can, but allowing them to watch me do it even when they can't contribute.  Sometimes I've felt tempted to just leave the mess and move on to something different for a while, coming back to clean after the girls are down for a nap, etc.  But I've been realizing that the habit is not good for me or them.  They need a realistic view of cooking (that it's not all play) and I need to keep on top of my cleaning so I'm not buried at nap time.

10.  Periodically announcing little "play breaks" for one or both of them.  Gives me a chance to regroup.

What works well for you in the kitchen with your children?  Have you discovered cooking tasks particularly well-suited for toddlers or preschoolers?  Please share!

Works for Me Wednesday

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

3 Anticipation Games to Play with Baby

Babies love anticipation, but they especially like familiar anticipation.  That's why "peek-a-boo" and "This Little Piggy" become more and more of a hit every time you do them.  Baby knows a fun surprise is coming and approximately when they can expect it, and that is exactly how they like it.
So, chances are you could stick with "peek-a-boo" and "This Little Piggy" forty times a day for the rest of your child's baby career, and your baby wouldn't mind a bit.  But you might get a little bored.  :-)

Here are 3 more fun anticipation games to play with baby to mix things up a little.

1.  Who's Coming to See Baby?  Hide a stuffed animal in a cloth bag, and let baby see the bag.  Ask:  "Who's coming to see (baby)?  Is it Grandpa Walker (or some other ridiculous suggestion)?"   Gradually pull the stuffed animal out of the bag and into sight little by little, offering more suggestions as you go.  When the animal is all the way out, exclaim, "It's (Bunny!)"  and bring Bunny up to tickle Baby's neck.

2.  "I'm going to Kiss Your... Eyes!" Lay baby on his back and lean over him.  Say, "I'm going to kiss your...." and pause with an excited look in your eyes while your lips hover over the part of his body that you plan to kiss.  Quickly exclaim, "Cheeks!" and go move in for lots of quick, excited kisses.  Repeat over and over with lots of body parts.

3.  Tickling Fingers Walk.  I learned this one from watching my mother in law change my babies' pajamas.  (works best when baby has a bare chest.)  Slowly walk two of your fingers up Baby's tummy and chest as you sing "Bum, bum, bum" to the tune of "Doe, Ray, Me."  When you reach the very highest note and the top of baby's chest, quickly run your fingers around baby's body, tickling him and squeaking, "Tickle, tickle, tickle!" (This Little Piggy Style)

Start these traditions even before your baby learns to laugh.  It's fun to watch their little eyes smile up at you in delight as they start to catch on.

What other fun anticipation activities have you played with your babies?

Monday, October 24, 2011

File Folder Puppet Theatres

To make an easy, foldable puppet theatre, tape two manila file folders together at the edges, cover this new wide flat surface with a piece of paper, and cut a large opening to be the "stage."  I used a blank piece of paper for the front of the stage so that it could be decorated to go along with the story.

I didn't cut the normal rectangular hole for my stage because it was a go-along for the book Down, Down the Mountain (part of our Five in a Row Co-op).  I wanted the kids to be able to reenact the journey down the mountain to town.   I scanned the characters from the book, printed them, and taped them to popsicle sticks.   I taped a little pocket on the inside of one of the sides to store the puppets.

This would be a fun way to encourage kids to retell any story they had just read.

Check out Fairy Dust Teaching for more detailed instructions and inspiration!

Learning Laboratory

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fall Leaf Puzzles

As our first project with our wonderful surprise leaves we made some fall leaf puzzles.

We took Maryanne's (Mama Smiles) suggestion of covering the leaves with Mod Podge for the sake of longevity, and also to make them less brittle.  It worked great, and also gave them a pretty shininess.

I  cut each leaf in half and gave M and G turns at putting them back together.  It really was more of a four-year-old kind of puzzle than a 2-year-old puzzle.  (G wasn't as sure when she actually had the leaf together correctly and needed a lot of help)

Counting Activities

Looking for fun and simple ways to practice counting with your little one?  Here are some cute ideas from around the web.

1.  Paper rolls and twigs from Montessori on a Budget
2.  Roll and Stamp Man from Pre-K Pages
3.  Pipe Cleaner Counters from Kids Matter
4.  Marshmallow Teeth Game from Mama Bee from the Hive

1.  Jumbo Clothes Pin Letters from Counting Coconuts
2.  Shells and Glass Beads from RockaBye Butterfly
3.  Peanut Butter and Jelly Counting from Time for Play
4.  Gumball Machines from Michelle's Charm World

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Homemade Interactive Books

When I first saw the idea in the children's book Press Here by Herve Tullet I knew we were going to have lots of fun.  Not only the fun of reading the book together, but MAKING our own little books built on the same concept.

In Press Here each page tells your child to do something different to the little colored dots. Rub the dots, tilt the page, shake them, etc.  You turn the page, and something amazing has happened in response to the child's action.

Today we made our first couple of books built on this concept.  First- Three Teddies.
1.  Kiss the teddy on the left.
(Teddy smiles)
2.  Awwww, you made him one happy teddy!  Now blow on the middle teddy.
(Teddy's fur poofs out)
3.  Oh my!  That was a big blow!  Maybe you could give him a couple of pats to smooth down his fur.
(Teddy gets smushed)
4.  Ooops!  I guess teddy got a little bit squished.  Now take two fingers and stretch him out a little.
(Teddy is elongated)
5.  Whoa!  Tall teddy!  Tap him gently on the top of his head to get him back down to size.
(Teddy is back to normal size and now has a smile on his face)
6.  Ahhhh, much better. The teddy on the right has a secret.  Can you whisper in his ear and ask him what his secret is?
(A birthday hat appears on teddy's head)
7.  It's his birthday!  Can you run and go find a present to give to him?
(teddy smiles)
8.  He really likes the present you gave him.  Happy Birthday, Teddy!
(now all three teddies are smiling)

We also made one with balloons.  Directions included tapping the balloons, inflating them by blowing on them, turning them upside down, singing to them, and tickling them.  In response, they turned colors, got bigger, popped, donned crazy designs, and finally turned into moon balloons and went to sleep.

 There are soooo many possibilities for book-making with this concept.  No real artistic ability required (that's why I choose teddies and balloons- who can't draw those? :-) M had fun reading the book to little G, and letting little G do the actions.  I think it would be neat to let an older child MAKE a book like this for a younger sibling.

(We used a blank paperback book for this project.  For homemade books in the past we've used blank board books for longevity, but the paperbacks are smaller and have more pages- so better suited for the interactive books.)

It's Playtime!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Surprise Package

Look what just came in the mail from Michigan! 
A children's book.

But not just a children's book...
a children's book chock full of REAL FALL LEAVES!

 It was like a treasure hunt finding them all!
So what should we do with all these little beauties?  I'm off to brainstorm and gather ideas.  :-)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lower Case Carrot Garden

You may remember my letter matching board from a couple of months ago.  It turned out to be a good tool for letter recognition; G thinks of it as a game, and it keeps her moving around while she learns.

   For a while now G has been ready to tackle lower case letters, but I didn't have any inspiration for the letter board until my husband suggested little carrots growing in the flower pots. M had fun gluing the carrot top greens onto her sister's game board.
 This morning we tried them out!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fun Scarecrow Ideas

1.  Plant a little garden of sunflower sprouts and make a scarecrow for it.  From Creative Jewish Mom
2.  Make a brown sack scarecrow and put a surprise inside.  From KatherineMarie Photography
3.  Toilet Paper Roll Scarecrow from Busy Bee Kid's Crafts
4.  Scarecrow Candy Necklace from Family Fun
5.  Felt Scarecrow Game from Let's Explore
6. Poseable Scarecrow printable from Piikea

A Habit that Warms Children

Deliberately catching your child's eye and sending a kind, focused smile specifically to them.  

I remember reading once that children's evaluation of how physically attractive a person is centers largely around how much that person smiles.  Smiling at your children not only makes you prettier in their eyes, but it creates a special bond between you.  

Sometimes in the midst of dirty diapers and laundry and busyness smiling does not come naturally, but you can practice it as a discipline.  Be intentional about smiling at each of your children often, and it will change your outlook as well as delight your child.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Childmade Gift: Homemade Bath Fizzies

M's little friend just turned five the other day.  M and G helped me to make little heart shaped peppermint bath fizzies for a gift.  The directions came from Martha Stewart.
Things I liked about this as a birthday gift:

1.  It allowed M and G to give the gift of time and service instead of their parents' money.
2. The bath fizzies really are a fun gift to receive (unlike, say a picture, which may not be very exciting for the receiver)
3.  Bath fizzies get used up and don't add to the toy clutter problem so many families have.
4.  They were fun and interesting to make.  The girls enjoyed stirring the ingredients together, spritzing it with a spray bottle, and packing it into the heart-shaped ice cube trays.

Things that weren't as wonderful:

1.  Citric acid can be a bit difficult to find.  (It is sometimes sold for canning, and can be found at Central Market for any interested Austin readers)
2.  They take a long time to make.  You have to moisten the mixture slowly with a spray bottle so that it doesn't fizz while you're doing it.  Martha Stewart's website warned that spritzing could take quite a while, and it DID. We spritzed for about 35 minutes before it was ready to pack into the trays.
3.  It can be a bit messy.  G, in fact, spilled the entire bottle of peppermint oil onto my dining room table.  At least the mess smelled pleasantly of Christmas though!

What are some other child-made gifts you have enjoyed giving?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fall Handprint Art Ideas

Check out these clever fall handprint ideas from around the web!

1. Turkeys from Share and Remember
2.  Candy Corn from The Education Center
3.  Native Americans from Hand and Footprint Art
4. Apple Trees from All Kids Network

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Word Family Paper Dolls

This project combines three things that I love:

1.  Paper dolls
2.  Paper chains
3.  Early Literacy

To make a paper doll chain, fold a piece of paper several times in a fan style, like this:
Draw the figure of a doll on the front of one of the folded sections, making sure the hands reach all the way to both sides.  Cut out (but leave the folds intact!) Here's a template for a doll and dress if you'd like to use mine.
Unfold dolls.  Let your little girl decorate the faces, etc.
Cut several dresses out of scrapbook paper or fabric (you might not even want to bother with the tabs because it can get a little tricky to work with all those tabs on a string of dolls)

Write a letter on each dress, and let your little girl arrange into words
and sentences!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Active Alphabet for Toddlers

I'm realizing more and more that G is just a more naturally active little girl than M was at her age.   Sitting still during school time can be a bit of a trial for her; so to make it  more engaging I've come up with a list of actions to go with each letter of the alphabet when we are reviewing phonics.

At first I tried super active gestures, and soon realized that was a BIG mistake.  Little G would start hopping and slithering all over the room, and it was impossible to get her focused again.  This list is comprised entirely of actions a little one can do while sitting.

A is for antlers (hold arms up high over head)
B is for baby (rock imaginary baby in arms)
C is for cuddle (wrap arms around self or eachother and hug)
D is for dig (hold hand as if grasping a shovel and pretend to dig dirt)
E is for elephant (hold arm out to nose and wave like a trunk)
F is for fan (fan self with hand as if hot)
G is for give (pretend to hand a box to the other person)
H is for happy (smile big)
I is for icky (make a face as if something is gross)
J is for jiggle (hold hands around an imaginary box and wiggle it)
K is for kiss (blow a kiss)
L is for laugh (hold one hand on belly and laugh heartily)
M is for monkey (scratch ribs with hands and make monkey noises)
N is for no!  (shake index finger and say "no" sternly- she really likes this one!)
O is for octopus (wave arms around as if they were tentacles)
P is for pillow (lay head on hands as if going to sleep)
Q- quiet (hold finger to lips and say "shhh")
R is for roar (place hand around face as if they are a lion's mane and roar)
S is for strong (flex muscles and look tough)
T is for touch (gently touch a person or object with a single finger)
U is for under (place one hand under the other)
V is for violin (pretend to play the violin)
W is for water (move hands over imaginary waves)
X says xxxxxxx (draw a giant x in the air)
Y is for yawn (yawn big and cover mouth)
Z is for zig zag (using pointer finger, draw a zig zag in the air)
Little G after some happy active backyard time.
I try to use words that : 

1.  a toddler knows and can relate to
2.  use the simplest phonic sounds (hard g and c sounds, short vowel sounds)

but I definitely think there's room for improvement.  Have you found any action words that work really well for your little one?