Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

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.


Chameleon skillfully navigates the balance beam.


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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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.


Just Because …

After several weeks of just plodding along and covering the essentials (math, phonics, and whatever theme the girls choose), we woke up this morning to glorious cool weather that hinted of summer’s end. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly cool. But it was less than 80 degrees at 9 o’clock this morning — a rare treat in the almost-desert of West Texas. So we left books on the shelves, quickly donned play clothes, and headed to the playground for the first morning of outdoor play the girls have had in quite some time.

I could write a novella about the fun the girls had running, climbing, dancing, swinging, balancing, and playing “restaurant” with bark chips and leaves, but it’s late, and their smiles speak for themselves:

On top of the world ...

On top of the world …

"Higher! Higher!"

“Higher! Higher!”

Contemplation ...

Contemplation …

Dancing on a swinging bridge ...

Dancing on a swinging bridge …

I wasn’t sure whether the girls would have much energy left to devote to school work, but needn’t have feared. After baths, snacks, a bit of snuggle time, and several just-for-fun read-alouds, they were fully recharged and ready to tackle the rest of our day’s agenda. (Mommy? Not so much …)

For math, Little Bear …

  • listened as I read Life of Fred–Butterflies Units 18-19 and worked through the included problem sets;
  • practiced counting by 2s and 5s;
  • reviewed telling time to the quarter hour and half hour;
  • drilled addition and subtraction facts to 10;
  • forged on ahead in Mathematical Reasoning Level A — just 2 1/2 months into the school year, she’s nearly halfway through this book, despite the fact that we’re using in conjunction with both Life of Fred and Miquon Math. That said, it has proven to be a huge confidence builder for her. I’ve already ordered the next book in the series, and we’ll continue moving forward at her pace.

For phonics, Little Bear …

  • read four pages of The Reading Lesson Unit 10;
  • practiced reading /er/, /ir/, and /ur/ words;
  • practiced using -er and -est to form comparatives and superlatives (which led to an unplanned lesson on adjectives and the correct usage of their positive, comparative, and superlative forms);
  • completed Modern Curriculum Press Phonics: Level A pp. 113-115;
  • used wooden alphabet blocks to build short /o/ word families;
  • read several Brand New Readers and My First I Can Read books aloud.

Baby Bear continued to work on counting to 10, letter recognition, and patterns. She also asked to play a couple of hands of eeboo Preschool Numbers Memory Game.

Formal work aside, both girls completed My First Sticky Mosaics Fairies projects (great for fine motor development!), spent about an hour building with Duplos, and tackled Lauri Butterflies Visual Discrimination Puzzle. On a theme-related note, we’ve been learning about rainforests over the past couple of weeks and wrapped up our study today by watching National Geographic: Really Wild Animals – Totally Tropical Rain Forest. We also read (or in some cases, re-read) the following books:

Tomorrow is library day. We’ll decide there whether to hunt for yet more rainforest-themed books, focus exclusively on our parallel study of reptiles and amphibians, or move on to new ground. Little Bear has recently been asking a number of questions about light and how it travels, so we’ll see if her curiosity leads her to a new section of the library.

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Making a Splash!

Hello, Friday! Hello, fun! Today should have been our monthly art class and museum day, but for a second month in a row, we did not get a reminder e-mail with sign-up link, and for a second month in a row, I didn’t think “first Friday of the month = art class” before all available spots were filled. Oops!

Thankfully, the girls do a great job of manufacturing their own fun. In keeping with our Friday tradition, I left school books on the shelf today and allowed them to choose activities for the morning. With a bedroom full of toys, a living room full of puzzles and games, and a house full of books, they chose … the laundry basket.

Basket cases!

Basket cases!

Apparently, the laundry basket makes the best spot in the house for a fairy to read to a ballerina. (They visited the dress-up bin before discovering the laundry basket.) It took a bit of arranging for them to both get comfortable, but they finally succeeded in getting themselves and a set of Edna Elephant: Brand New Readers tucked into their “ship,” where Little Bear read to an appreciative audience of one.

Of course, after Little Bear read aloud for a bit, both girls decided that *I* should read and ran to get their favorite books. Today’s stories included …

We certainly weren’t lacking in variety!

Just as I reached my limit of random kids’ books, Little Bear reminded me that we had not gotten to Life of Fred: Apples yesterday and begged to do four units — “two for yesterday and two for today” — this morning. Once again, she told me that Life of Fred was her “most favorite book out of all the books in the whole wide world” and that she just couldn’t “bear to go TWO days without doing any of it.” So she and I sat down to do math, while Baby Bear wandered off to play in the play kitchen.

I’m still not sure what I think of the whole Life of Fred approach to math. The stories are odd at best and seem to ramble all over the place. Again today, we reviewed basic addition, ordinal numbers, and time to the hour. We also practiced counting to 100 by 1’s, 5’s, and 10’s, and Little Bear spent a bit of time practicing numeral formation on the MagnaDoodle. I’m not at all sure that this could work as the complete elementary math program it’s touted to be, but there’s got to be some merit in any set of books that makes a kindergartner fall head-over-heels in love with math.

Dragon Tower

Dragon Tower

We wrapped up math with some Verbal Mind Benders, several sample riddles from a couple of Dr. Dooriddles Associative Reasoning Activities that I’m thinking of adding to our logic/critical thinking book collection, and a half dozen visual recall challenges from MindWare Brain Box: My First Brainbox. Then, I sent Little Bear to play with her sister while I fixed lunch. A few minutes later, she called me into her room to show of her newest Magnatile creation, a tower filled with dragons and treasure. She went on to inform me that she’d decided to be a builder as well as a math teacher like Fred and a Mommy when she grew up. I informed her that she was going to be one busy lady!

“Well, I’ll have vacation time,” she said. “That’s when I’ll go be a paleontologist and dig for dinosaur bones.”

"Skidamarink a dink a dink, Skidamarink a doo ..."

“Skidamarink a dink a dink, Skidamarink a doo …”

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who found Little Bear’s aspirations exhausting. I walked back into the living room to find that Baby Bear had appropriated both my pillows and my recliner. She combined them to create a cozy nest for herself and was contentedly singing herself to sleep with “Skidamarink.”

After some unplanned rest time and a later-than-intended lunch, Baby Bear and I played a picture association game and matched baby animals with their mothers while Little Bear did some dot-to-dot puzzles and mazes. Then, one of the girls’ aunts and a cousin arrived for the chief fun of the day: Pool time!

There are a few positives to Texas’ triple-digit summers. In fact, the only one I can think of can best be expressed in terms of “The water’s fine! Come on in!”

Making a splash!

Making a splash!

Basking in the sunshine ...

Basking in the sunshine …

About the only thing these girls enjoy even more than the water is spending time with extended family. Combine the two, and they deem the day practically perfect … even if Mommy forgot to register them for their their much-loved monthly art class.

Active play in the hot sun, followed by more play and family fun indoors left us with two t-i-r-e-d girls. We took just enough time after dinner to play a quick game of POP for Blends and read a few more stories, then it was time to say good-bye to another week of fun and learning and call it a night.

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Two Little Monkeys

We woke this morning to mud puddles, overcast skies, and blessed relief from the usual Texas summer heat, so formal learning got pushed aside for a fun morning out. Our first stop of the day was Bed, Bath, and Beyond, where I stacked coupons to feed my Yankee Candle obsession. I was initially disappointed to find that our local store stocked neither the Vanilla Chai nor the Caramel Pecan Pie fragrances I thought I wanted. But two eager little candle sniffers soon declared Pineapple Cilantro to be their favorite and approved Mommy’s pick of Sage & Citrus as well.

The girls paused to ooh and aah over fairy- and princess-themed Tervis tumblers — until Little Bear looked at the price tag of the smallest cup and realized that even with a coupon, it would cost *all* of her birthday money. Then we headed on to kitchen wares where I tried to compare coffee presses while Little Bear tried unsuccessfully to sell me on 137 single-purpose kitchen gadgets (Really, avocado slicers? Mango splitters? Strawberry hullers? And here I thought a good paring knife was perfectly suited to any one of those tasks. …) and Baby Bear searched for opportunities to test the law of gravity. Testing the law of gravity in a store filled with expensive breakables had the potential to be a more expensive science lesson than I deemed appropriate, so we paid for our candles and left.

Our next stop was a local teacher supply store. Despite two years of regular fine motor practice and several months of one-on-one therapy, Little Bear still struggles with her pencil grip to the point that written work regularly reduces one or both of us to tears. We’ve tried triangular pencils. We’ve tried short pencils. We’ve tried chunky pencils. We’ve tried markers. We’ve tried crayons, triangular crayons, and broken crayons. Up to this point, nothing has made writing any less of a chore. So today, we went in search of pencil grips. I wanted something that would gently encourage a tripod grip. She wanted something pink and preferably glittery. For $6, we walked out with four new tools that met both of our requirements. Now, we just have to practice with them and see if any of them truly help …

Our final stop of the morning was the grocery store — hardly a favorite destination of either girl, but a necessary stop given that they do like to eat. We got in and out in under an hour, got most of what we needed, and had only a few brief tears during the process, so I dubbed the third stop of the morning a success.

After a quick lunch, we tackled our actual work for the day. Today’s planned learning included …

  • sorting through our bin of Safari Toob creatures and identifying ocean animals
  • counting sea creatures (Baby Bear) and using ocean animals to show number bonds (Little Bear)

The girls spent the rest of the day building with bristle blocks, playing with Play-Dough, browsing through favorite books, and playing together. Just before dinner time, Daddy Bear slipped into their room to see what they were doing and found Baby Bear happily “reading” one of her favorite books:

Seven little monkeys jumping on the bed ...

Seven little monkeys jumping on the bed …

Moments later both girls were back in action, burning of a little more energy before dinner, bath, and bed:

Two little monkeys jumping around the room ...

Two little monkeys jumping around the room …

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One Chapter Closes …

For Little Bear, today was just another day of life and learning. For me, however, it marked the bittersweet end of our prekindergarten adventures. On Monday, my little girl will celebrate her fifth birthday. And on Tuesday, we’ll officially transition to kindergarten.

The logical part of my being knows that our day-to-day routine really won’t change a whole lot. Sure, some of the trappings will change. We’ll replace our bedraggled Earlybird Mathematics book with shiny new copies of Mathematical Reasoning and Miquon Math. We’ll add formal handwriting to the schedule with A Reason for Handwriting. We’ll pull a new set of Primary Phonics readers off the shelf and will encourage Little Bear to apply her phonics knowledge in written form with the addition of Explode the Code. But much will continue on, just as it did today. We’ll start each day’s planned learning with a story or two from The Child’s Story Bible for Little Bear and a selection from The Big Picture Story Bible (Book with CD) for Baby Bear. We’ll sing a couple of songs. We’ll do a bit of calendar math, then share a story or two (or several!). Baby Bear’s interest will eventually wane, and she’ll wander off to play. Then, Little Bear and I will tackle the day’s formal work.

As we move into kindergarten, we’ll continue to work at Little Bear’s pace and pursue her interests. We’ll use our textbooks to lend structure and support to core academics, without being bound to them. We’ll continue to make games, crafts, videos, “real” books, and real life the foundation of our learning. We’ll continue learning together, and we’ll continue to have fun in the process.

But, oh, how hard it is sometimes to accept the reality that my “little girl” is growing up. I love watching her grow, change, and develop. I’m delighted with the person she is becoming. Yet each new milestone takes us a bit further away from her precious baby days, from the wonders of toddlerhood, and from the thrill of our earliest home learning adventures.

So how did we spend this, her last day of prekindergarten? Quite unremarkably, by most people’s reckoning.

Our day started at the pediatrician’s office, where Baby Bear was scheduled for a follow-up check on her ears. I’d brought along a couple of I Spy board books to help keep boredom at bay, so Little Bear read the text while Baby Bear hunted for the hidden objects. When the girls tired of these, Little Bear pulled out this month’s copy of Kids Discover magazine and listened as I read about the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Baby Bear soon tired of listening passively and reached for a new-to-us Elephant and Piggie book I’d stuck in our book bag. About that time, though, the pediatrician came in and I thought Elephant and Piggie had been forgotten.

Our appointment over, we headed to the van, where Little Bear immediately asked if she could read There Is a Bird On Your Head! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) to herself on the way home. I was a bit surprised because she usually prefers to listen to books before she attempts to read them, but I wasn’t about to discourage her from trying. So I handed the book back to her, and she rose to the challenge — much to the delight of a listening Baby Bear.

Once home, we ate an early lunch, played for awhile, cleaned up, then officially started our school day. Little Bear breezed through five pages of The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons, fulfilling her personal reading goal. The lesson she’s currently working through introduces long vowel sounds, a skill area she’s largely mastered while reading “real” books. She noticed, however, that several words in the lesson were pronounced the same, but spelled differently — see/sea, be/bee, etc. So today’s phonics lesson turned into an introduction to homophones. She has also noticed the textbook’s annoying insistence upon putting an end mark at the end of every phrase, regardless of whether it’s an actual sentence. So after reading through today’s phrases, she went back through them in search of subjects and actions to determine which were “real” sentences.

Baby Bear needed attention, so Little Bear completed a set of Match It! Rhyme puzzle pairs and a lesson on her own.

Next, the girls watched an episode of The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That and Clifford. Little Bear soon lost interest in Clifford and chose to use the rest of her discretionary screen time playing Dinosaur Train games on (Yes, as a matter of fact, we do love PBS!)

Active play followed screen time. Then, Little Bear and I sat down to do a bit of math. We spent about five minutes practicing number recognition with flash cards, practiced addition and subtraction with a couple of quick games of ThinkFun Math Dice Jr., and worked through five Zoologic task cards while Baby Bear entertained herself with Play-Doh. Finally, at the pleading of both girls, we pulled The Cat in the Hat I Can Do That! off the shelf for a little bit of reading, a little bit of recall, and a whole lot of giggles and active fun — all in all a fitting end to this chapter of our adventures in home learning.

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15 Weeks and Counting …

When we moved in late January, I expected my posts to be sparse to non-existent for a few weeks as we got settled into a new home and new routine. I had not anticipated, however, that they would be sparse to non-existent for a few months.

About the time we got the basics unpacked, though, I was practically knocked off my feet my a vaguely familiar wave of exhaustion. Then, the mood swings hit. And the violent food aversions. Fifteen days after moving into a two-bedroom apartment with a lease stipulation of no more than four residents, we discovered that our family of four was in the process of expanding. …

I’ve had numerous losses in the past, so we were initially reluctant to break the news to the girls … until 24/7 “morning sickness” hit with a vengeance, and Little Bear broke down in tears because Mommy was “so sick” that she thought something must be “seriously wrong.” At that point, we shared our little secret with them, along with our hopes, our fears, and our prayers that Baby-Makes-Three would be joining our family in late October.

In the weeks since then, we’ve gradually moved back toward some semblance of a school schedule. There are still days that I’m really grateful for, and PBS Kids, but overall, we’ve plodded on with formal math and reading, regular fine motor work, and plenty of daily read alouds. We’ve participated in weekly library activities, monthly art classes at our local museum, and various church-based children’s programs. We’ve played games, done crafts, built stuff, explored topics of interest to one or both girls, and followed plenty of rabbit trails along the way. I just haven’t done a very good job of photographing or blogging about our journey because I’ve been napping during their rest time and going to bed shortly after they do each evening. Now that we’re firmly into the second trimester, though, I’m starting to feel human again. And I’m making a concerted effort to get back into a groove before the New Addition derails us again.

Today’s schedule went something like this:

  • Breakfast “date” with Mommy, followed by an hour of active play
  • An hour of shared reading, complete with a dozen read-alouds that ranged from There’s a Cow in the Cabbage Patch (one of Baby Bear’s long-time favorites) to selections from Mary Engelbreit’s Fairy Tales (Mommy’s choice) to several pages of Eye Wonder: Bugs (feeding one of Little Bear’s current interests).
  • Observation of our ladybug larvae/pupas (some of which we’re hoping are actually still alive since we haven’t observed any visible changes in three days …)
  • Sesame Street/Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood (to divert attention away from the ladybug experiment and give Mommy a chance to fix lunch)
  • More shared reading and free play time
  • Little Bear tackled an Orb Factory fairy sticker mosaic (fun and non-threatening fine motor practice), while Baby Bear and Mommy played with puzzles and pattern blocks.
  • Baby Bear played a game on the iPad while Little Bear and Mommy did a couple of pages in The Reading Lesson, reviewed the -at word family, and practiced the -ow- sound. Little Bear chose to wrap up today’s reading lesson by reading a Scholastic Sight Word Reader aloud without assistance.
  • I pried the iPad out of Baby Bear’s hand and took care of laundry while the ensuing tears subsided. Sigh. The child loves her electronics (says the mother who once said her young children would most certainly *not* be allowed to play with an electronic brain until their own brains had time to develop …).
  • We pulled 1-2-3 Farmyard! off the shelf. The first round, we traded cards until we each had 10 animals in our barnyard (putting Little Bear’s addition, subtraction, and reasoning skills to the test). The second round, we traded cards until we had one of each kind of animal in our barnyard (visual discrimination and critical thinking for both girls, though Baby Bear still needed quite a bit of help). Then, we pulled out eeBoo’s Preschool Lotto Game which even Baby Bear could play with little assistance and combined sorting, classifying, memory, and matching practice with wholesome family fun and good sportsmanship.
  • Little Bear completed mazes, coloring, and cutting pages from her Kumon workbooks while Baby Bear and I played with her Busy Poppin’ Pals, shape sorter, and Stacking Tree.
  • Baby Bear dumped Little Bear’s TRIO blocks, and all three of us sat down to build for awhile.
  • I looked at the clock, saw that it was almost dinner time, and wanted to call it a day. Little Bear, however, wanted to do a lesson in her math book. … The puppy dog eyes won out. We used the MagnaDoodle to review correct formation of numerals 7, 8, and 9. Then, she headed off to do a couple of pages in her Singapore Earlybird math book, while Baby Bear challenged me to draw Dora on the Magnadoodle.
  • Both girls ran wild and pestered Daddy Bear while I fixed dinner. Little Bear apparently spent dinnertime planning/plotting a long list of things she hoped to do next, but both girls were visibly tired. Mama Bear insisted on bath, bedtime stories, and BED.
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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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