Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

Creative Minds at Work — Through Play!

Creative minds at work ...

Creative minds at work …

Construction toys get lots of love in this house, especially magnetic construction toys. So when I had the opportunity to purchase Magtoys Magnetic Building Blocks – Toy for Children’s Creative Intelligence and Educational Development – 84 Pieces With Free Storage Bucket at a discount in exchange for an honest review, I snagged them.

Recreating the Globe Theatre ...

Recreating the Globe Theatre …

Now, my children are no strangers to the joy and versatility of magnetic building tiles. We’ve been amassing Magna-Tiles since Little Bear was a toddler, and we began collecting Magformers style= a couple of years later. Both options run $1/tile or more on sale, making a less-expensive alternative quite attractive to this budget-conscious mama.

Our  new Magtoys Magnetic Building Blocks arrived late one evening. (Yes, UPS delivers after the kids go to bed …) After opening the package and examining them, I left the case (Yes, they come with a sturdy plastic storage case!) in the middle of the living room floor for the kids to discover the next morning.

Little drummer boy ...

Little drummer boy …

Buddy Bear was the first to discover them. He crawled out of bed much too early and sleepily began making his way to the kitchen in search of breakfast, only to discover a new toy along the way. What did my sleepy, hungry boy do? He plopped right down beside the blocks and played with them for the next half hour!

Any toddler mom will realize this speaks volumes for a toy. Few things hold a 2 1/2-year-old’s interest for a full half hour. Even fewer things capture the attention of a tired, cranky, hungry toddler.

Shortly after Buddy Bear’s discovery, his sisters too crawled out of bed and headed for the kitchen. They too stopped short in the living room, sat down, and began to play. Given that we already own similar toys, I was somewhat surprised that our new Magtoys Magnetic Building Blocks captured Little Bear and Bitty Bear’s attention. So I asked the kids what they liked most about their new toy.

Little Bear immediately pointed to the variety of shapes. Most of our Magformers are squares and equilateral triangles, with a few pentagons thrown in for good measure. The Magtoys set included diamonds, hexagons, trapezoids, and isosceles triangles.

DSCN1207

DSCN1194 For my younger two, the appeal was simpler. “WHEELS!” they squealed in unison, holding up the two sets of magnetic wheels included with the set.

As a mom, I wanted to see how the quality of this less expensive brand stood up to that of a more established brand. In comparing the two side by side, I found the components of this set to be almost identical to their more expensive counterparts. The magnets in these pieces are a fraction (less than 1/16 of an inch) smaller and the plastic a touch heavier. Despite the differences, these blocks held together just as well as the more expensive brand and proved to be compatible with the Magformers sets we already had.

Because tiny magnets pose a danger if swallowed, I actively tried to break a piece of this set to see just how easy it would be for my 2 1/2-year-old to get a magnet out of the plastic and into his mouth. I won’t say the task is impossible, but I will say that nothing I could envision him thinking of — throwing a piece across the living room, dropping a creation onto the hardwood floor, smashing a piece with a toy wooden hammer, stomping on one, etc. — cracked the plastic. At the end of the day, I felt comfortable leaving even my littlest builder to build to his heart’s content.

Sleeping Beauty's castle

Sleeping Beauty’s castle

One week in, this set of blocks is still getting daily play, and all three kids still enjoy playing with it. Today, Bitty Bear created a castle for Sleeping Beauty, while Buddy Bear showed me the different three-dimensional shapes he could create. Overall, I think Magtoys will be a great addition to our construction toy library, and I would recommend the product highly. Given the difference in cost, in fact, I would choose it over its name brand competitor.

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In the Good Ol’ Summertime …

Just fishin'

Just fishin’

My summer plans have been curtailed due to an injured Achilles’ tendon and a cumbersome pressure boot. But Little Bear and Bitty Bear enjoyed some old-fashioned summertime fun this weekend fishin’ with their daddy at a local park.

"Sister, take the reel ..."

“Sister, take the reel …”

No, they didn’t bait a hook or catch any fish. (It would seem they fish much like their mother. …) They each got a turn handling a rod and reel, however, and they managed *not* to embed a hook in anyone’s face. And that, my friends, is a WIN.

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Laugh More …

It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. Six and a half years into this crazy venture called “parenting,” I’m finding that laughter is sometimes the *only* medicine that keeps us all sane. It diffuses tension, lightens mood, makes people feel good, and keeps the atmosphere positive.

So how we are going to laugh more this year?

(1) Develop a sense of humor.

You know all those “laugh or cry” moments that go along with parenthood? Well, I’ve found that laughing usually helps us recover a lot faster than crying. So I’m working on finding the humor in diaper fails, craft messes, clothing mishaps, and haircuts executed by pint-sized barber wannabes.  And along with learning to laugh at life’s little mishaps, I’m also learning to laugh at myself

(2) Be silly.

Kids excel at “silly” quite naturally, but I often find myself reining them in — “Don’t sing at the table!” “Don’t hang upside when you’re supposed to be doing your schoolwork!” “Knock it off with knock-knock jokes!”

Now, I think we can all agree that there’s a time and place for silliness and a time and place for more serious behavior. I’m not going to let my kids sing and dance their ways down a hospital corridor or share knock-knock jokes in the middle of a church service. But if Little Bear wants to bounce on an exercise ball while she does her spelling words, or if Baby Bear wants to share her latest favorite song with her immediate family at the dinner table, so be it.

Beyond kid silliness, though, this Mama Bear is making an effort to insert more silliness into daily life. Sometimes a silly voice, a crazy face, or a deliberate “mistake” can make the most tedious tasks a little more fun.

(3) Read silly books or tell silly stories.

Books are our go-to when we all need a reset. We snuggle up in a recliner or on the sofa and read our hearts out. Here are a few silly favorites that appeal to all three of our little people:

 

(4) Sing silly songs.

Whether we’re watching classic Wee Sing DVDs style= on TV or listening to something like Beethoven’s Wig CDs style= in the van, fun music lightens any mood and brings a smile to the kids’ faces.

(5) Play together!

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Living More

After promising my children that we would “live more” during 2015, I found myself wrestling with how to keep that promise. There’s just not a lot of down time any more. It seems there are always diapers to be changed, laundry to be done, dishes to be washed, meals to be fixed, disputes to be arbitrated, clutter to be picked up, floors to be vacuumed … you get the picture.

To “live more,” I quickly realized I’d have to …

1. Prioritize.

      Twenty years from now, my kids aren’t going to care remember whether the refrigerator door was free from fingerprints, but they are going to remember whether Mommy took time to finger paint with them (or at least let them finger paint, even at the risk of “a mess”).
      That doesn’t mean that we’re going to let garbage pile up knee deep and dishes grow mold while we stand around singing “Kumbaya” or “The Alphabet Song.” It does, however, mean that at least one of us (ahem) needs to figure out what does and doesn’t really matter. A kitchen that’s clean enough to safely prepare food? That’s a priority. A bathroom that doesn’t spawn microscopic life forms? Priority. Spotless mirrors and glass doors? Not necessarily a priority.
      For me, prioritizing means making sure that certain chores consistently happen at certain times. The dining table (which doubles as craft/school space) needs to be cleared before each meal. Period. It’s a lot easier to clean up spilled milk when it’s not soaking through a math book. The table needs to get wiped down, and the floor under/around it needs to get vacuumed after each meal. Period. Clean-up is a lot easier *before* crumbs get mixed in with Play-Doh or tracked all over the house. The bathroom is most easily cleaned while the littles are bathing. I need to be in there anyway, and it’s easy enough to wipe down counters, clean the mirror, scrub the toilet, and steam mop the floor while they’re splashing away happily in the tub. Granted, the mirror may be covered with water spots by 3 p.m., but as long as all surfaces get wiped down once a day (or even every other day!), the bathroom won’t test the limits of bacterial evolution.
      On the flip side, we live here. The 48-piece floor puzzle my 3-year-old put together all by herself, the one she wants to leave on the living room floor until Daddy gets home so that he can see her work? It’s OK. It can stay out. The floor doesn’t have to be clear at all times. We have small children. And they live here.
      The jumbo cardboard block tower with a blanket roof that’s populated with dozens of Safari Toob critters and guarded by a mishmash of Playmobil knights (armed with LEGO weapons) and their dinosaur Anamalz companions? It can stay out for awhile … even after a 29-inch Godzilla roars through the bedroom and reduces it to rubble. It’s OK if active play consumes the bedroom floor for awhile. We have small children. And they live here. (Come bedtime, though, everything *must* be picked up and put in its place. In the event of a fire or other emergency, I don’t want half-asleep children tripping over toys as they try to make their ways out doors or windows!)

2. Simplify.

      In the midst of a recent “I’ve told you to pick up your toys at least three times. WHY IS THERE STILL JUNK ON YOUR FLOOR?” Mommy tantrum, I grabbed a box to start packing stuff up. And about two minutes into the process, I realized that my kids weren’t opposing me. There was no mad scramble to save “stuff.” They were actually pulling things off shelves to add *to* the box. They craved order almost as much as I did, but didn’t know how to achieve it on their own. No small wonder. I’m seven times their age and still struggle with achieving the order my brain craves.
      I took a deep breath and called the girls to me. We hugged. We regrouped. And we talked things out. When I looked at their room through their eyes and with an open mind, I realized that most of the toys that consistently created problems were things that they had outgrown.
      The rack full of wooden peg puzzles? The only person who found it irresistible was Buddy Bear, and he’s far more interested in dumping puzzles than doing them. I put one age-appropriate jumbo knob puzzle in his room and packed up the oh-so-tempting puzzle rack until he’s actually ready for it, much to the relief of his older sisters who’d spent way too much time cleaning up his daily puzzle messes.
      The Fisher Price Little People Princess Songs Palace Bitty Bear got for her second Christmas? She liked it when she got it, and she played with it for a few months. But it had barely been touched in the past year, and it occupied precious space the girls wanted to put to better use. “I think we should give my castle to another little girl,” Bitty Bear said. So we did. It went to a 2-year-old whose single mom was struggling to make Christmas happen for her kids. It brought a smile to her and her Mama’s faces, and the space cleared to welcome LEGO creations and Zoob monsters brought smiles to the faces of my girls.
      After the castle and puzzle clean-up, it became easier to part with other outgrown toys (that truth be told, I was far more attached to than my kids). We tucked one large box of high quality, open ended, wooden toys away for Buddy Bear to enjoy in a few months. We donated two more boxes overflowing with pink, plastic commercial toys that had done little more than occupy space since coming into our house.
      And the pre-Christmas purge was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that the girls have tasted the freedom of decluttering, they’re continuing to par down possessions. Their beloved My Little Pony figures? The ponies stay, but we all agree that we don’t need the half dozen junky plastic brushes that accompanied them. The Melissa & Doug sorting clock whose “4” mysteriously disappeared some months ago? Goodbye. Completed sticker story books? Trash. Old art projects that DD1 hoarded for months? Tossed to make room for fresh new work.

3. Be more organized.

 For me, this means lesson planning and meal planning. Not an unrelenting, etched in stone, “law of the Medes and Persians” plan, but a plan nonetheless. If the weather’s nice, we may well put academics on the back burner and head to the zoo for the day. If the girls are happily painting or reading or building the next great invention, I’ll leave them to their own devices. But when quarrels start and small bodies struggle to occupy their time appropriately, I have a plan. When a child interrupts our read-aloud time to announce that she’s starving and ask how long it is until lunch, I have a plan. When an unexpected ice storm strands us all five at home for the better part of a week, the refrigerator and freezer are well-stocked, and I have a plan.

4. Enlist help.

Though it may be obvious to most, it’s taken me eight years of marriage and motherhood to realize that I really can’t do it all alone and that it’s OK to ask for help. No, my 6-year-old can’t do laundry all by herself, but she can sort socks and turn underwear right side out. My 3-year-old isn’t ready to take on the dirty dishes, but she can sort clean silverware and put it away. Even my 1-year-old can help pick up blocks or hand me books to re-shelve. What’s more, they’ll all three help willingly and cheerfully (most of the time!) if I “use my nice words” and ASK for help. They respond much less positively when I try to do it all alone, get overloaded, and start barking out orders that must be carried out now, now, NOW. (Kids want to have their time and efforts respected just as much as the rest of us do!)

5. Take time to enjoy life.

There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. There is no way to “make” more time. To “live more,” we must take the time we have already been given and consciously choose to use it to its fullest potential. …

Spend more time reading to the kids and less time reading online.

Spend more time enjoying what we have and less time in the race to acquire more.

Spend more time making memories and less time fretting over messes.

Spend more time forging connections that will last a life time and less time cleaning stuff that will need to be cleaned again tomorrow.

Choose to invest limited time in the things — or more precisely, the people — that really count.

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New Year, New Adventures

2015 sneaked up on us. Yes, the calendar gave us warning that 2014 was drawing to a close, but life was so busy that I had no time to “process” the fact that a new year was about to be upon us.

Then January 1, 2015, rolled around, and my 3 1/2-year-old bounced out of bed way too early with the words, “Mommy, Mommy, it’s a brand new year!” … followed quickly with the question, “What are we going to DO this year?”

In my sleep-deprived state, I wanted to mumble, “Try to survive.”

I mean, I have a twice-exceptional 6-year-old who alone is enough to keep two parents on their toes, an always-busy 3-year-old who’s desperately trying *not* to get lost in the shuffle, and a teething 15-month-old who’s into everything during his waking hours and still waking regularly to nurse through the nighttime hours. I’m exhausted. (Hence the seven months of no blogging …)

But my kids deserve more than “Survival Mode Mom.” My husband deserves more than “Survival Mode Wife.” And for that matter, I owe myself something more than a “survival mode” life.

So when my sweet, snugly girl asked what we were going to do this year, I pulled her into the bed beside me and sleepily told her, “We’re going to live, laugh, and love even more than we did in 2014.”

Thankfully, she’s a big picture kid. She was content to know that Mama had (or sounded like she had) a plan. She didn’t demand details … which was good, because at 0:dark thirty on New Year’s morning, I didn’t have details.

In the days that followed, however, I would formulate a plan.

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Mommy, Mommy, I can use fractions!

The long weekend bumped our usual Monday activities to Tuesday, and a doctor visit for a sick Buddy Bear pushed morning work into the afternoon. Nonetheless, both girls proved eager to work and learn today, despite the unusual schedule.

We began our late day’s work with chapter 7 of Wisdom and the Millers: Proverbs for Children and a look at Proverbs 11:13 — “A gossip tells everything, but a true friend will keep a secret..” … We have one child who loves to “tell all” and another child who resents having her every deed reported, so both girls took this particular story to heart. Little Bear even asked that I create posters of the questions the children in our story learned to ask themselves before speaking —

  • Is what I’m about to say really true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Will it hurt someone’s feelings?
  • Will it spoil someone’s surprise?

— so that we could have visual reminders to ask ourselves the same questions.

Moving on to language arts, Little Bear practiced writing the letter J, reviewed ending sounds and beginning digraphs, and worked with contractions. She also completed another 10 pages in Spectrum Reading Grade 1. I’ve never been a fan of reading textbooks or workbooks and had no interest in this Spectrum title when we first saw it. Little Bear spends hours a day reading “real” books and comfortably reads at a 3rd grade level. She begged to get the book, though; and I try to feed her interests — especially when feeding them costs me less than $2. So we got it. … And it’s proving to be a good investment. She can read the actual text with ease, so she’s reading loudly, clearly, and with excellent expression. She delights in answering all the “What do you think?” style questions in the book since she cannot possibly get them wrong. (She is indeed her mother’s daughter and hates to make mistakes.) Most importantly, she’s gaining confidence in spades as she easily works through a book that’s above her supposed grade level; and the confidence and oral fluency she’s gaining through this “easy” book is carrying over into more challenging reading.

Not to be left out, Bitty Bear began working on lowercase letter recognition today. I found a Lauri A to Z Lower Case Crepe Rubber Puzzle in a box yesterday, and she promptly seized it. She asked at least 20 times over the course of the morning if it was time to do her puzzle. And when I finally did have time to do it with her, she removed one row of letters at a time, repeating their names, lining them up in order, attempting to match them with their sounds, then carefully returning them to the puzzle and moving on. She practiced tracing uppercase and lowercase A’s on the Magnadoodle and hunted for A’s as we read through a couple of board books with Buddy Bear.

The highlight of the day, however, came when we sat down to do Little Bear’s math lesson, an introduction to fractions. The textbook showed a square piece of paper folded in halves, then in fourths. So I grabbed a pack of origami paper to demonstrate. We folded the first sheet once diagonally to form triangular halves, then in half again to form triangular quarters. We folded the second sheet horizontally to form rectangular halves, then in half again to form square quarters. We folded a third sheet horizontally to form rectangular halves, then folded each half in half again to form rectangular quarters. Both girls saw clearly that fractions translated into equal parts and that equal parts could be formed and shaped in different ways.

Origami paper isn’t cheap, though. I didn’t want to waste several sheets of paper, so I pulled up a digital copy of Follow-the-Directions Art: Easy Origami and quickly hunted for projects we could do with prefolded sheets of origami paper.

Fraction Origami Art

Fraction Origami Art

With a bit of assistance from Mom, one of the horizontally folded pieces morphed into a house. Little Bear used our prior fold to establish the center point so that she could fold the top corners down and form a roofline. The diagonally-folded piece was transformed into a cat. Again, we used the crease left behind from our prior quarter-fold to fashion (relatively) equal ears. Then, I pulled out a box of oil pastels (since crayons wouldn’t work on the glossy paper) and turned the girls loose to decorate their creations.

Now, origami may sound like a fun-but-trivial extension. But Little Bear lives and breathes art. Her art box is the first thing she pulls out every morning and the last thing she reluctantly puts away before dinner each night. Midway through coloring one of her projects, she ran back into the living room and yelled, “Mommy! Mommy! I can use fractions! I can use fractions to create ART!”

Boom. Math just gained new relevance.

She dutifully and cheerfully gives her best most days because she wants to please her Mommy. Today’s lesson, though, is one that she’ll remember for some time to come because it had immediate purpose for her. How I wish I could successfully create and fill a need with every lesson!

We rounded out the day with three more chapters of Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures (a FREE Kindle download), more adventures with the Bobbsey Twins, a slew of picture books, Little Bear’s first game of Blokus, and plenty of muddy outdoor play time. Bring on the rain!

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I Went to the Animal Fair …

Pyramid of Animals

Pyramid of Animals

We wrapped up the week with a Friday Fun Day. After an early morning nature walk, we came home and put on our very own animal fair.

We kicked off the morning’s fun by reading Animal Fair, a cutely-illustrated, slightly-extended, and sanitized version of the traditional folk song. (Monkeys falling out of bunks and consorting with skunks seemed a bit more age-appropriate than an intoxicated primate!) Next up was The Animal Fair, a Hoopla Kidz music video which the girls insisted on watching, singing along with, dancing to, and accompanying with their rhythm instruments several times over.

While the girls sang and danced, I dug out a forgotten bin of  animal finger puppets and Beanie Babies and our Twig Building Blocks. The girls brainstormed feats for their willing animal performers, then entertained Buddy Bear and myself with their performance.

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Chameleon skillfully navigates the balance beam.

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Crab balances perfectly atop Bitty Bear’s head.

Once the girls tired of their creative play, we all piled into the recliner for a couple of chapters of Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures, From Head to Toe, and Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. Little Bear also squeezed in some grammar practice as she identified nouns and action verbs in From Head to Toe.

Then, the girls were ready to move some more. Drawing inspiration from Bitty Bear’s crab-balancing act, we had a contest to see who could walk the farthest with first the crab, then a hedgehog balanced on her head. Of course, victory celebration called for more dancing, so we cranked up Eric Herman favorite Dance Like an Animal for more rowdy fun.

With noon approaching, Little Bear and I sat down for a bit of formal work. She completed two pages of subtraction strategies review in her Intensive Practice workbook (not the most exciting aspect of Singagpore math …), and I “rewarded” her with a series of animal fair-themed word problems such as …

  • Tiger ate four boxes of popcorn. Elephant ate twice as many boxes of popcorn as tiger. How many boxes did they eat altogether?
  • Sixteen animals stood in line to ride the merry-go-round. Bear was 5th in line. Hyena was 7th from the end of the line. How many animals stood between Bear and Hyena?
  • Puppy had 30 game tokens. Then, he gave some to Duck. Now, puppy has 18 tokens. How many did he give to Duck?

Some kids complain about word problems, but my child begs for them. They’re the “reward” that gets her through the more mundane parts of each lesson. Her passion for stories run deep.

We wrapped up the day’s fun with a game of Spot It Junior Animals, followed by a game of Baby Animals Mix and Match— painless visual discrimination and memory practice coupled with competitive fun.

It wasn’t our most traditional day of school or our most academic, but it was a fun and welcome break from routine … just what Little Bear needed to distract her from her anxiety and excitement over this weekend’s main event, her first dance recital:

Ready to dance!

Ready to dance!

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And so it goes …

In the four months since I last posted, we’ve bought a house, spent a month getting it ready to live in, moved, and somehow nearly finished first grade. Yes, Little Bear is just five and is officially a kindergartner. But when I sat down to plan our “first grade” curriculum, I realized I was buying second grade texts for everything except writing. In the midst of the moving process, we ventured into the world of homeschool co-ops, devoting one morning a week to craft, art, and dance classes in a more traditional classroom setting. Then, late last month, we celebrated Bitty Bear’s third birthday. The day after her third birthday, Bitty Bear solemnly informed me that she was now old enough for school and that she wanted some school books of her very own. Last but not least, Buddy Bear has progressed from a sweet-but-helpless newborn to a still-sweet-but-ever-on-the-move crawler … with an affinity for eating paper, crayons, and markers.

So what exactly are doing these days? Whatever we can squeeze into the day.

Today, we began the day with some just-for-fun reading in the girls’ room, while Buddy Bear played happily with their maracas, tambourine, and bells. When I tired of reading Mr. Men and Little Miss books, the girls introduced their brother to a few more instruments and some of their favorite songs.

At last Buddy Bear tired of playing and wanted his morning nap. I read today’s Bible story followed by a chapter of In Grandma’s Attic; then, we practiced this week’s Bible verse and sang a couple of songs as I rocked Buddy Bear to sleep. We also took time to squeeze in a chapter of Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures before moving on to academics.

Today’s memory verse was John 8:12 — “I am the light of the world.” We used this verse as a springboard to delve into a bit of the science of light. Closing ourselves in a dark room, we turned on one flashlight, then another, then finally the overhead light to observe how light dispels darkness. The girls observed that the greater the light, the more darkness it dispelled. The girls also observed how quickly light dispelled darkness and learned that light moves faster than any other known substance in the universe.

Moving on to math, Little Bear started her lesson with a timed subtraction flashcard drill and answered 52 problems in just over three minutes with only two errors (both times she added instead of subtracted) — not as fast as I’d like, but definite progress! We completed a couple of addition with regrouping review pages orally in Primary Mathematics Intensive Practice 1B, then moved on to some fun probability and estimation activities in Mathematical Reasoning Level B. Little Bear then completed one more addition review page on her own while I worked with Bitty Bear.

Bitty Bear had tackled a number train floor puzzle during Little Bear’s math lesson and had gotten stuck after number 12. I helped her finish, then spent some time reviewing numbers with her. We counted together; she counted alone; then, she jumped on numbers as I called them out. (Good thing Melissa & Doug puzzles are durable!)

Next, we worked through a few pages of Mathematical Reasoning Beginning 1, the math book I purchased for her at her request. Today’s lesson reviewed shapes, lines, and corners, then required her to find shapes that best fit descriptions. We also reviewed the concepts of more, less, and equal.

Math finished, we sat down to read and discuss the next couple of chapters in The Adventures of Laura & Jack, Little Bear’s current “reading book.” Both girls had questions about the story, so with the Internet at our fingertips we took time to view images of covered wagons, learn a bit more about life along the trail, and see how wagons  ford a creek or river. We also reviewed distinctions between pilgrims and pioneers and discussed why a good watch dog (Jack in this case) was so important to a pioneer family. By the time our reading-turned-social studies lesson ended, it was nearly lunch time. I sent the girls outside for some fresh air and sunshine while I fixed lunch.

Just before lunch was ready, Little Bear came running in with Bitty Bear following close behind. “Mommy, Mommy!” she cried, “{Bitty Bear} put a BEAD up her nose, and she can’t get it out.

I could neither see nor feel a bead, but Bitty Bear insisted it was still there. After several unsuccessful attempts to get her to blow the bead out, we headed to the urgent care clinic. Much poking and prodding later, the nurse practitioner concluded the bead had either come out or gone down somewhere along the way, but that there was nothing still obstructing Bitty Bear’s left nostril.  Add in one impromptu health and safety lesson about NOT inserting foreign objects into bodily orifices, and we were on our way home for a late lunch and the rest of our work.

After lunch, the girls spent some time drawing, coloring, and reading. (Little Bear read while Bitty Bear listened.) When they tired of playing together, I called Little Bear over for a quick phonics lesson since we hadn’t gotten phonics in this morning. We reviewed the /th/ diphthong, then tackled the /sh/ diphthong. Little Bear brainstormed a list of words that began with sh-, a list of words that ended with -sh, and a list of words that had -sh- somewhere in the middle. (The last list was idea because “sushi,” her current favorite food, included an -sh- but didn’t fit on either of the two previous lists.) We wrapped up today’s lesson with her listening to t-, s-, th-, and sh- words, identifying the beginning sound, and writing it on the Magnadoodle.

Bitty Bear then wanted to do her lesson, so we read an alphabet book, sang the alphabet song, and practiced letter recognition with alphabet flash cards.

We wrapped up today’s planned work by reading about skin in National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Why. I drew 1-inch squares on the girls arms, and we learned that every square inch of skin includes approximately 9 feet of blood vessels, 12 feet of nerve fibers, 3 million cells, and 32 million bacteria. (No wonder Mommy tells them to wash their hands before they eat!) We also learned how melanin creates skin color and sebum makes our bodies almost entirely waterproof. At the girls’ pleading, we took time to do a few puzzle cards from the The World Almanac for Kids Puzzler Deck: Life Science.

Then, with them still begging for more, I banished them to the great outdoors and ordered them to run, jump on the trampoline, swing, and play in the sand. We never got around to today’s planned art activity, but sandcastles adorned with custom-made flags sufficed.

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Changes

We’ve had several exciting changes in our home since I last posted some 3 1/2 months ago. First and foremost, we’ve added a family member:

Introducing Buddy Bear

Introducing Buddy Bear!

The new little guy officially made his appearance shortly before noon Oct. 10, 2013 — on my 39th birthday. What a birthday present! And while I was recovering from a c-section, all three kids enjoyed a rare visit from Nana.

Precious moments ...

Precious moments …

Of course, Buddy Bear’s arrival threw a kink into our Little Bear/Baby Bear nickname system. Baby Bear politely informed us that she was no longer the baby and no longer wished to be referred to as such. She was, however, perfectly content to continue responding to “Bitty Bear.” Meantime, our new little buddy quickly became known as “Buddy Bear.”

The arrival of a new cub put us over the legal limit of four residents in our two-bedroom apartment, so house hunting became the chief focus of November and December. With a move looming on the horizon, we hadn’t planned to take of a break over Christmas. But between family visits and house negotiations, our planned one-week break quickly stretched into three.Yesterday, we we officially dusted off the school books and began easing back into a school routine. So how much ground did we lose amid the chaos and craziness of life?

None.

With more free hours to fill, Little Bear has read and read and read. Over the past three months, she’s progressed from easy readers to classic picture books to chapter books. She’s entertained herself in the car with various “mental math” games and mastered double digit addition with regrouping in the process. She’s discovered Playmobil and progressed from Duplos to Legos — great for honing her fine motor skills. She’s learning to play the zither and the xylophone. She’s spent countless hours watching Wild Kratts and Popular Mechanics for Kids, and she can remember almost every detail of every show. She’s learned plenty, even with limited formal schooling.

That’s not to say that we entirely abandoned school. We trimmed quite a bit of the extras and cut Mommy’s involvement sharply, but have continued working steadily through math and phonics texts. Little Bear is now nearing the end of a first grade phonics curriculum (and reading at a high second or low third grade level) and has completed Horizons Kindergarten Math, Mathematical Reasoning A, and the first three levels of Life of Fred. She’s now midway through Mathematical Reasoning B and Primary Mathematics 1B … and she’s begging for more. (She lamented today that she had forgotten to put more Life of Fred books on her Christmas list.) Handwriting continues to be a challenge, but we’re continuing to work on it. She desperately wants to be able to keep “fact notebooks” like Jack does in her beloved Magic Tree House books, so she’s at least writing more willingly than she did six months ago.

Bitty Bear, meantime, has begun to show an early interest in all things mathematical as well. She loves counting, likes comparing groups of objects, and is beginning to understand the concepts of addition and subtraction.

On the language front, she loves books. She’ll sit and listen for as long as anyone — parent, sister, grandparents, or aunt — will sit and read to her. And when no one is available to read, she’ll sit down with a stack of favorite books and “read” them to herself, looking at the pictures and retelling the stories in surprisingly accurate detail. She recognizes most letters of the alphabet and can match many of them with their initial sounds.

Most of her time, though, is devoted to singing, dancing, taking care of her baby dolls, cooking in her play kitchen, making noise with her toy instruments, scribbling with crayons, dressing up, running around wildly, and enjoying life at top volume — exactly what she should be doing at 2 1/2 years old.

We’ve got still more changes looming on the horizon. We close on our new house Friday, then comes the work of painting, making minor repairs, packing, and moving. We’ll soon be adding in one morning a week of coop classes. We’re also looking forward to more outdoor time and some spring planting once we get into a space of our home. There will be days when we do extra bookwork and days — perhaps weeks — where we barely touch the textbooks. But I’m confident the kids will go on learning because life itself truly is the best teacher.

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Making Memories … Not Masterpieces!

With Little Man’s arrival getting ever closer, doctors’ appointments more frequent and Mommy tireder, we’ve largely cut back to the basics in recent weeks — phonics, math, a bit of writing, a lot of drawing, countless hours of read-alouds, LOTS of free play, and daily science/nature shows on PBS or Netflix (alternately known as “Mommy’s nap time”). This week, though, we’ve managed to squeeze in some apple-themed extras in honor of Johnny Appleseed’s birthday.

More than anything, Little Bear wanted to visit an apple orchard. Unfortunately, we were not able to find one anywhere within a reasonable driving distance (probably because our mild winters create a less-than-ideal climate for commercial apple growing). So we tagged along with The Produce Guy and took a virtual YouTube tour of Duncan Orchards in Bountiful, Utah. We then read several nonfictional and fictional books about apples, apple orchards, and apple picking:


 

Then, we toured the produce department of our local supermarket and chose half a dozen varieties of apples to sample — Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Honeycrisp. So far, the girls have tasted the Fuji, Honeyscrip, and Granny Smith. The Fuji they devoured for lunch today, and Little Bear declared it to be the best apple she’d ever had. (Baby Bear was too busy eating to comment!) Apparently, half a Fuji apple was not enough to satiate Baby Bear. A few minutes after lunch, I found her back at the dining table with a Honeycrisp apple she’d helped herself to. And judging by the fact that she ate over half of it before deciding she’d had enough, I’d venture to guess she liked it also. Little Bear ate a small slice and deemed it good, “but not as good as the Fuji.” (I welcomed this news, partly because Fuji apples are also my favorite, but mostly because they’re less than half the price of Honeycrisps!)

The girls sampled their third apple variety of the day after I chopped a couple of Granny Smith to make an apple cake. As expected, raw Granny Smith apple proved to be a bit tarter than they liked … until I rolled the diced apples in cinnamon and sugar and set them aside for baking. Then, the Granny Smith dices too began to disappear one surreptitious handful at a time.

Speaking of apple cake, baking a cake from scratch easily ranked at the top of both girls’ lists of favorite activities. For Little Bear, baking provided ample opportunities to read, measure ingredients, and follow directions. For Baby Bear, it was all about being involved and doing what she saw her Mommy and her big sister doing. All in all, it took us about 25 minutes to make a recipe that I could easily have done alone in 10, but oh, how the girls enjoyed those minutes! I failed to take photos of the process — mostly because I dared not leave curious little fingers unattended near my KitchenAid mixer long enough to go in search of the camera! At Little Bear’s request, I did photograph the final product:

Making memories ... not masterpieces!

Making memories … not masterpieces!

Yep, the entire top stuck to my my well-greased, well-floured, “non-stick” bundt pan.

“Oooh, is it an upside down cake?” Little Bear asked, gleefully clapping her hands at the sight of crustless apple chunks.

“No, honey, it’s just a mess,” I said, silently wishing I’d disposed of the offending pan on one of the previous occasions when it had failed me.

“Well, it looks yummy to me!” Little Bear allowed.

Even as I stood there peeling the top crust out of the cake pan, I had to agree that the cake did look rather tasty. Taking a deep breath, I abandoned all hope of repairing the cake in any decent fashion and, instead, decided to make two little girls very happy.

“Here,” I said, handing them each a chunk of the top crust, “let’s see if it tastes as yummy as it looks.”

Both girls devoured the bites I handed them and begged for more.

“You know, Mommy, I’m really glad the cake came apart,” Little Bear said afterward.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Because if it had been pretty, you wouldn’t have let us have any until after dinner!” she replied.

Sigh. Out of the mouth of babes. … She had a valid point. We weren’t in some bake-off contest. We weren’t trying to wow anyone. We weren’t taking the cake out anywhere or even baking it for any special occasion (aside from the birthday of a long-dead folk hero — and I’m pretty sure he long ago ceased to care how birthday cakes baked in his honor look!). We were simply making memories — messes and mistakes included.

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