Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

Happy National Ice Cream Day!

In celebration of National Ice Cream Day, we took the girls out for a rare ice cream date and let them choose their favorite flavors complete with mix-ins. Little Bear was tempted by strawberry and even gave banana a passing glance, but settled on cotton candy with miniature marshmallows and Kit Kat chunks mixed in.

Cotton candy ice cream with marshmallows and Kit Kat ...

“Just the way I like it!”

As for Baby Bear, she applied the same criteria she applies to clothes, cups, lip gloss, and even doughnuts. “Dey got pink ice cream?” she asked. “I want pink!” And so she ended up with a cup full of old-fashioned strawberry goodness, marred only slightly by the inclusion of M&M’s and miniature marshmallows.

Good old fashioned strawberry -- "Pink!" -- with marshmallows and M&M's ...

“Mmmmm! Pink!”

Of course, we had to include a bit of learning in the day’s fun, so we took time to watch a brief BBC video clip that showed how ice cream is made. And in this house, every “event” must be accompanied by stories. So after a bit of searching, I chose to read Ice Cream Cows and Mitten Sheep to the girls, along with the tale of Toad’s ice cream mishap in Frog and Toad All Year. I had a much-loved copy of Should I Share My Ice Cream? in our to-be-read stack as well, but Little Bear informed me that she could now read Elephant & Piggie stories all by herself, and she proceeded to do just that.

Wrapping up the day’s fun, the girls played ice cream shop with their Smart Snacks Rainbow Color Cones. They matched colors with flavors, counted out scoops, and even “sold” cones to one another for two rocks per scoop. Then Mommy got in on the fun and challenged them to create a cone with two less than four scoops, a cone taller than a three-scoop cone, a cone with all the scoops in rainbow order, and so on — all in all, a fun and educational ending to a “just for fun” day.

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Two Years Old!

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl!

Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl!

Our sweet Baby Bear turned TWO today! It seems like it was just yesterday that we welcomed her into the world. Now, she’s suddenly running circles around us and speaking in complete sentences. I can’t believe how quickly my “baby” is growing up!

Last year, she tasted cake for the very first time as we celebrated her first birthday. She touched the icing gingerly, drew back in surprise when it stuck to her finger, cautiously tasted the sticky residue, then dove in with both hands — getting more on herself than in herself in the process. This year, she sat down to a plate of cake and ice cream, picked up a spoon, and dove in like an old pro. She had a bit on her face and hands by the time she finished, but a washcloth eliminated the mess in a matter of seconds. (Last year’s birthday cake feast required a bath AND a thorough carpet cleaning!)

Good to the last bite!

Good to the last bite!

With a birthday celebration topping today’s agenda, no formal schoolwork took place. Little Bear spent part of the afternoon making a card for her little sister, complete with a painstakingly-written birthday message, and both girls got a little too much (semi-educational) screen time as I prepped for tonight’s party. Beyond that, the girls played, argued, helped clean house, counted down hours (and later, minutes) until guests were scheduled to arrive, and generally bounced all over the place in eager anticipation of the evening’s fun. Somewhere over the course of the afternoon, Baby Bear did grasp that she was now two, that two was more than one, and that she would be three next year. (Really? My just-turned-two-year-old is already anticipating her next birthday???)

Happy Birthday, sweet Baby Bear! You’ve made our lives richer and fuller than you’ll ever know. We count it a joy to be your Mommy and Daddy.


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Hallmark Moments …

You’ve all seen the “typical” holiday photograph — that oh-so-unrealistic, but oh-so-charming image of happy children smiling sweetly for the camera. It’s the sort of image that earns a spot on Grandma’s mantle, the sort that makes strangers pause to ooh and aah, a true “Hallmark moment,” if you will.

Like most mothers, I like typical holiday photographs. So much so, in fact, that I ordered both my girls to stop just outside our door, look at the camera,  and SMILE for this year’s Halloween photograph. The result?

Not a Hallmark moment!

Baby Bear, bless her heart, was sick and tired. She’d been rudely awakened from a late afternoon nap by the ringing doorbell, seen her sister and daddy going bye-bye, and cried to go along. She wanted to “Go! Go!”, not stand around waiting for Mommy to take a picture.

As for Little Bear, well, she’s familiar with the whole holiday photo routine. And as she watched her baby sister run away screaming, she suddenly realized two things:

  1. The Photograph stood between her and Halloween fun.
  2. Getting The Photograph could take a while.

“Get that camera out of my face before I turn you into a toad!”

My Pirate Princess dreams of chocolate booty

Much to Little Bear’s relief, I realized that a tired, grumpy 18-month-old could not be forced to smile, and opted to photograph my Pirate Princess alone.

Instead of trick-or-treating, we opted to go to a safer (and more fun!) church-sponsored harvest festival. There, Little Bear rode a train, petted goats, played games, bounced in a bounce house, played on an inflatable slide, and collected far more candy than one child actually needs.

Baby Bear enjoyed watching her big sister, but was definitely more subdued than usual … until she saw someone depositing a lollipop in Little Bear’s treat bucket. “Mine!” she declared, catching the lollipop before it had time to hit the bottom of the pail. And with that catch, she was happily entertained for the rest of the evening.

We left the church event in time to stop by our local fire station, where firefighters were giving out candy and offering kids a chance to see their fire trucks and equipment.

“Do you think they’ll let me sit inside a fire truck?” Little Bear asked en route.

“Possibly,” I said. “Why don’t you ask if you can?”

Little Bear has a tendency to be shy in unfamiliar settings, and asking for things takes great effort on her part. But she really wanted to sit in a fire truck. She listened for a couple of minutes as a kind firefighter showed her the equipment on the vehicle, then took a deep breath and asked, “Can I sit inside the truck?”

He opened the back door and lifted her up into a seat where she happily sat … and sat. And then, her shyness vanished, and the firefighter found himself with a new friend. She finally climbed down with the promise of look at his turnout gear. She was amazed to learn that his boots, suit, jacket, helmet, and oxygen tank weighed more than her and her sister put together.

Then, we headed back home where Little Bear was finally able to enjoy some of the treats she’d collected over the course of the evening. I knew she was tired, but didn’t realize how tired until she came running to me and said, “Mommy! Mommy! You know the last piece of candy you said I could have? I’ve lost it, and I can’t find it anywhere!”

“You’ve lost it?” I questioned. “Are you sure you didn’t eat it?”

“No, Mommy!” she replied, almost in tears. “I lost it. And it was really good too. Can you pleeeaaaassse help me find it?”

I was in the middle of something and told her I’d be in to help her in just a minute. As I finished up my task, I heard a sigh of relief.

“Mommy! Mommy! I found it!” she said.

“Where was it?” I asked.

“In my mouth!” she replied. “I must have just put it in there and forgotten about it!”

… I’ve dealt with a lot of missing things over the years, but I’ve never before heard of someone losing something in their own mouth.  One thing I was sure of, though — when a child is tired enough to forget a mouthful of chocolate, it’s time for bed!

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Columbus Day

Ah, Columbus Day … the day the postal service, government offices, and banks set aside to honor an explorer who never reached his intended destination, never found the sea route he actually sought, and died never knowing where he actually had been.

Columbus Day has always been a holiday that tormented me. My earliest memories of the day stem from waking up on my own birthday and discovering that there would be no mail — hence, no birthday cards, packages or crisp $5 bills — that day because it just happened to be the second Monday of October. As I got a little older, I puzzled over why America chose to honor Columbus over all other explorers. As I delved into my own family’s native ancestry, my confusion deepened.

As a classroom teacher, I stuck to the basic script of “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and breathed a silent “thank you” to the universe that put me in a classroom in South Korea where I simply had to make sure that my students knew who Christopher Columbus was and didn’t have to answer questions as to his goodness or badness or the rightness/wrongness of his ventures. As a mom, however, I saw no such route of escape. My children are American children, growing up primarily in the United States of America. As such, they need to know who Columbus is, why we observe his birthday, and ultimately, the good, the bad, and the ugly of European discovery and conquest.

For today, I planned to focus on who Columbus was and what he did.

We began by reading The Discovery of the Americas: From Prehistory Through the Age of Columbus by Betsy and Giulio Maestro, a lengthy read for a four-year-old, but one that kept Little Bear spell bound and did a great job of putting Columbus’s “discovery” (or, more precisely, “rediscovery” of the Americas) in historical perspective. We sat down with our globe and traced the route the first settlers would have taken as they crossed Bering land bridge from Asia into North America. We traced land European explorers had previously taken to Asia and traced the route Columbus was attempting to take when he plowed into the Bahamas. Next, we read several illustrated biographies of Columbus, followed by a history of the holiday … at which point Little Bear asked, “But why is his birthday a holiday, Mommy?”

I’ve been asking myself that same question for 30+ years. Today, all I could offer her were some lessons from Columbus’s life.

  • He thought outside the box. When conventional wisdom failed to solve a problem, he looked for creative alternatives.
  • He was persistent. He was so committed to his cause that he sought an audience with royalty in two different countries. He met with rejection several times over, but kept going back.
  • He was courageous. He didn’t let fear keep him from sailing into the unknown.
  • He “failed” to reach Asia, yet history regards his “failure” as one of the greatest success stories of the Age of Discovery. His life teaches us that failing is not necessarily synonymous with failure.

The heavy stuff aside, we pulled out our Kid K’nex and made a couple of sailboats to sail across a play silk ocean. (We’d planned to make the Nina, the Pinta, and the St. Maria, but Baby Bear woke up before the third and final ship made it out of the basket and into the water.)

Sailing, sailing over the ocean blue …

Of course, sea monsters were a fear of any 15th century sailor, so Little Bear and Daddy Bear created a couple of those to pursue our sailboats!

Terrors of the deep

Next, we headed outside to test the power of the wind. We began by putting a plastic cup in a tub of water. We observed it floating slowly, drifting back and forth as the breeze blew the water. Next we added a paper sail. As the wind filled the sail, it propelled our little boat much more rapidly across the water.

Wind power!

Plans to experiment further with our sail came to an abrupt end when an eager pair of hands capsized our boat. The girl quickly discovered that wet copy paper does not make a good sail! After briefly trying to sail our boat with its collapsing wet paper sail, Little Bear decided to instead see how much water she could put in the boat before it sank. This led to yet more hands-on experimentation and discovery as the girls decided to see what else would float or sink.

Sink or float?

Little Bear discovered that leaves, twigs, acorns, and bottle caps floated, while rocks, toy cars, clay, dirt, and children sank. (Yes, Baby Bear tried to get in the tub …)

Of course, no day is complete without free play time, and today the girls begged to play in their favorite tree. How I love those smiling faces!

Bears in a tree …

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America’s Birthday

We paused today, for the second time this week, to celebrate a birthday — this time, America’s birthday.

We kicked off the day with the following read-alouds:

We located both America and England on our globe. We talked about the freedom and opportunities that drove the early settlers to leave the security of the Old World for the hope of the New World. We pretended to be Pilgrims, making the arduous voyage across the rough Atlantic. We also talked about liberty — and the great price the colonists paid to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their offspring.

We counted the stripes and the stars on our American flag.

We sang and danced to kid-friendly patriotic selections from Wee Sing America. I also introduced Little Bear to the Schoolhouse Rock classics “No More Kings” and “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” although she was less impressed with these than I had hoped.

Little Bear drew a red and blue picture.

We hit the pool along with several of the neighbor kids for some late afternoon fun and sunshine.

Then, we headed to a community-wide celebration for fun, food, and fireworks:

Bouncing …

Climbing …

Sliding …

And lots of smiles …

By 8:30 p.m., the girls were exhausted. So instead of staying ’til the end, we headed home for baths and bedtime snacks, then simply walked outside a couple of minutes before the fireworks were scheduled to start and watched the show from the sidewalk in front of our apartment. We might not have had front row seats, but the girls still got to enjoy a dazzling display of celebratory color, and we got to put them to bed within minutes of the grand finale (unlike last year, when we stayed until the end of the celebration and spent a good half hour just waiting our turn to exit the parking lot …).

Happy Birthday, America! We love you.

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Flag Day

Baby Bear gave us all a scare yesterday, going down for an early nap and refusing to wake up for the rest of the day. At the urging of an on-call nurse, I ended up taking her into the ER about 10 p.m. last night. Much poking and prodding resulted in no real answers, but assurance that she appeared to be healthy aside from the mysterious sleepiness.

Shw finally woke up about 8:30 this morning and hit the ground running. Little Bear did likewise. Mommy Bear, who’d gotten to bed about 3 a.m., wasn’t quite so bright-eyed and alert. In fact, June 14th — Flag Day — didn’t even register on my radar until I started to dress the girls.

“There’s no red, white, or blue in these outfits,” Little Bear said indignantly.

“What?” I asked, still suffering from brain fog.

“We have to wear red, white, and blue for Flag Day,” Little Bear insisted.

We’d been counting down to Flag Day and learning about the flag all week, but on the day itself, Mommy almost forgot! One quick wardrobe adjustment and a couple of workbox switch-outs later, we were ready to celebrate:

  • We began the day by adding June 14th to our calendar and counting out the date in red, white, and blue Duplos. Little Bear then used the blocks to create an ABC pattern.
  • We reviewed the Pledge of Allegiance and took time to count the stripes and stars on our flag.
  • We looked at a timeline of U.S. flags and saw how the number of stars increased as states were added to the Union.
  • We re-read the flag-themed books we’d read earlier in the week:

Beyond that, our only academic task of the day was a math lesson, which involved writing the numeral 4. Little Bear formed the numeral with MagnaTiles, traced it on her Magna-Doodle, and fashioned it with Wikki Stix with no difficulty. But when it came time to reproduce it on paper, tears ensued. In our house, tears are a sure sign that it’s time to take a break. We finished the task at hand, then put all school-related materials away for the day.

The girls spent the afternoon playing indoors and out. We finished reading The Bobbsey Twins’ Mystery at School. Then, we ended the day with some pool time. Tomorrow, we regroup and move forward.

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Lest we forget …

As Memorial Day weekend approached, I was torn on how to broach the subject with Little Bear. Memorial Day stands as a tribute to the countless men and women who have laid down their lives in service to our country. But death and war are tough topics even for adults, much less a not-quite-four-year-old. At the same time, I didn’t want to bypass the heart of the holiday and portray as nothing more than the unofficial start of summer vacation.

In the end, we talked about freedom. We talked about some of the freedoms we enjoy that people elsewhere in the world do not. And we talked about the price of freedom — how our freedoms to live, work, and worship were purchased through the struggles and sacrifices of previous generations and how it’s our duty to preserve these same freedoms for the next generation.

I looked long and hard for resources to help explain the significance of Memorial Day to Little Bear, only to discover that Memorial Day seems to be largely forgotten by publishers of early childhood and elementary resource books. One American publisher (who shall remain nameless) dedicated 19 pages of their May resource book to May Day, 9 pages to Cinco de Mayo, and 11 pages to Mother’s Day, but didn’t even mention Memorial Day. In the end, I turned to What Is Memorial Day?, a simple introduction I’d prepared for my ESL students a few years ago.

As Little Bear and I talked, I felt like I was walking a tightrope, trying to present factual information without overwhelming her with facts. In the end, she concluded that Memorial Day was both a “sad” day as we remembered America’s fallen soldiers and a “happy” day as we celebrated and enjoyed the freedoms they secured for us.

And celebrate we did!

We played frisbee, played baseball (or something akin to it), went swimming, had a picnic, played in the sand, and simply enjoyed spending time with each other and with friends.

Little slugger

Playing frisbee

Mommy's little sweethearts

Sisters ...

Sooo excited to have a picnic!

Attacking her first hot dog


Wandering Through a Water Lily Garden

Water lilies

As our garden theme study continued, we took time today to visit a local water garden that’s home to a variety of tropical water lilies. I wasn’t sure what exactly Little Bear would think of this excursion, because she tends to interpret the word “park” as “playground.” I knew she would love the flowers, but hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed over giving up our usual Thursday picnic at the park/playground just to look at flowers.

… I’d usually find repeated queries of “Are we almost there, Mommy?!?” and “How long until we get there, Mommy?!?” wearying — especially when they came in rapid-fire succession, at least a dozen times over, during the course of what might have been a 10-minute drive. Today, though, they provided welcome assurance that she really was looking forward to this “field trip” and might just enjoy the break from our routine.

As we made our way down to the park, we were greeted by terraced layers of plant life:

A city oasis

and a medley of color:


Scaling the rock walls

Flitting here, flitting there

Little Bear flitted from flowering plant to flowering plant, running back and forth along the cobblestone path, captivated by the wild beauty of her surroundings. Baby Bear, too, was obsessed with her environment, though her curiosity seemed to center on two common questions: “Can I reach it?” and “Can I eat it?” As for me, I divided my time somewhat equally between keeping Little Bear in sight and trying to keep Baby Bear from injuring herself or the surrounding plant life.

After a 50-yard walk that took almost as long as the drive to the park, we reached the international water lily collection.

“Look at all the flowers!” exclaimed Little Bear.

And look we did. But her face soon filled with concern.

“Where are all the frogs?” Little Bear asked.

“What frogs?” I replied.

“The frogs who are supposed to take care of the lilies,” she said.

“Honey, there aren’t any frogs here. It’s just a water garden,” I explained.

“No!” she insisted, “There have to be frogs! There have to be frogs on the leafs to take care of the lilies. The lilies can’t live without them!”

… One of her favorite picture books shows a frog sitting on a lily pad. As an adult, I see a lazy frog who’s found a convenient spot upon which to rest. Her young mind, however, apparently saw that frog as a guardian of nature, without whom the lily could not possibly survive. As I stood there in the park looking into my daughter’s deeply concerned eyes, I recalled that we’d spent quite a bit of time this month talking about what plants need to survive.

“Honey,” I asked, “What do plants need?”

“Air and sun and rain and dirt,” she recounted proudly.

“Air, sun, rain, and soil,” I said. “Hmm. Are frogs on that list?”

She thought for a moment. “No. Does that mean the lilies will be OK without them?”

“Yes, that means the lilies will be OK without them,” I assured her.

Her happy smile returned. “Can you pick me up so I can see better?” she asked.

“Sure, honey,” I said, breathing a silent prayer of relief and thinking “Whew, crisis averted!”

"Hmm, how can I get in THIS puddle?"

… Life has a funny way of lulling you into a false sense of security just before it kicks you in the pants. As I picked up Little Bear, out of the corner of my eye, I spied Baby Bear dart to the side of the path — and turned just in time to see those chubby little legs swing off the path down into a drainage ditch filled with murky black stagnant water. In an instant, Little Bear found herself on the ground, and Baby Bear’s aquatic explorations came to a screeching halt.  The “puddle,” for lack of a better term,” was only 4 or 5 inches deep, and I’m not sure her feet even had time to hit the bottom. But, oh, the stench. The STENCH.

I carried her (quite gingerly) to the nearest rock wall, where I sat her down, removed her almost-outgrown moccasins, and promptly discarded them.

Little Bear looked at me like I had three heads. “What are you doing with [Baby Bear’s] shoes?” she asked.

Much as I’ve hounded her about not being wasteful, I really didn’t want to admit that I was discarding a conceivably-salvageable pair of shoes. But I also wasn’t about to put the reeking things inside our vehicle and ride home with that awful smell so that I could then turn around and spend money trying to launder shoes that were already due for replacement.

“Two words,” I said, “Waterborne pathogens.”

“What???” she said, looking more confused than ever.

“You’ll understand when you get older,” I said. “Let’s go look at the rest of the flowers.”

We visited the last basin of lilies, played on a rock bridge, and meandered through yet more terraces of flowers on our way back to the car. As Little Bear climbed into her car seat, I heard her say to herself, “I still think there ought to be frogs!”

We stopped at Target to get Baby Bear a new pair of shoes, then headed on home for a late lunch. The afternoon was filled with reading, drawing, a bit of fine motor work, an episode of Super Why, building with Duplos and Magnatiles, counting (Little Bear’s current obsession), yet another game of Discovery Garden, and active outdoor play with the neighborhood tyke. And so ended a happy, productive day.


St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day

17 blocks

Little Bear has been counting down to St. Patrick’s Day all week, so she couldn’t wait to add March 17th to the calendar. She counted out the date in green Duplos and used them to build a tower following an AB pattern. She also built a St. Patrick’s Day garden of green Duplo flowers, though Baby Bear demolished it before I got a picture.

After a lazy morning and late brunch, we kicked off the afternoon by reading a simple biography of Saint Patrick, The Story of Saint Patrick. We also read St. Patrick’s Day Alphabet for a second time, then listened to some traditional Irish music and watched a video clip of an Irish jig.

Next, Little Bear followed a trail of shamrocks to find a pot of gold that a leprechaun had left under the dining table. Our leprechaun was a poor leprechaun who shopped the after-Mardi Gras sale at Dollar Tree, so our pot of gold included green and gold plastic coins. We divided these by color, and Little Bear and I took turns trying to toss our coins back into the pot. After each round, we counted the coins that landed inside the pot and compared numbers.

Fill 'n' spill ...

Coin toss ...

Little Bear loved this activity, and by the third round, became fairly proficient at getting her coins back into the pot. Baby Bear was also captivated, probably because we were tossing around shiny, noisy objects. She crawled around picking up the coins that missed their target and gleefully dropped them into the pot … pausing only occasionally to taste them.

We continued our fun with some Play-Doh time and a shamrock coloring page. Little Bear spent the better part of an hour rolling green dough, cutting out shamrocks, and giving them faces. She enjoyed the coloring page as well, although she did insist on making a rainbow of her shamrock.

St. Paddy Play-Doh fun

We took a break for a couple of episodes of Sid the Science Kid and some random just-for-fun reading. Then, I broke out a package of shamrock stickers. I started two patterns and let Little Bear complete them. She created two more of her own. She also used the stickers to outline the letter Pp for St. Patrick’s Day.

Shamrock patterns

We wrapped up the day’s activities with some painting fun. Little Bear used a bell pepper dipped in green paint to stamp shamrocks on sheets of white paper.

Pp is for Patrick

Bell pepper shamrock prints

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Friday Freebie

Tonight, I was enjoying some quiet “Mommy Time” on the computer and browsing other blogs, when I found a link to a free e-book full of activities and ideas for observing the Lenten season with children. The book titled Jesus Loves Me This I Know is the work of two homeschooling moms and was written with 2- to 6-year-olds in mind. It is divided into seven lessons or units, with summaries, teaching points, and craft projects for each. Topics covered include the following:

  1. The Triumphal Entry
  2. The Lord’s Supper
  3. Praying at Gethsemane
  4. Jesus Appears Before Pilate
  5. The Crucifixion
  6. The Empty Tomb
  7. The Resurrection

The book is a guide for parents, not a text for children. Users will need to supplement lessons using relevant Bible passages, excerpts from a story Bible, and/or Bible story books. We’ll be supplementing with the excerpts from the child-friendly NIrV, The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Child’s Story Bible, some Easter-themed Arch Books that I purchased last year, and these printable Holy Week sequencing cards created by one of the book’s authors.

The related art projects would work for children of varying ages. Every lesson contains at least one activity simple enough for my preschooler (age 3 1/2), but equally appropriate for kindergarten or early elementary students. I can’t wait to incorporate these hands-on activities into our Bible study time and will be posting pictures of Little Bear’s completed work.

Thanks to Erin and Nicole for creating and sharing this great resource!

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