Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

Giggles, Grins, and Good Times

We enjoyed a rare lazy Saturday today. Little Bear slept until nearly 10 a.m., then spent the next hour snuggling with me in the recliner and enjoying story after story. This morning’s read-alouds included the following:

We paid a lunchtime visit to Sam’s Club and snacked on free samples before enjoying $1.50 hot dog lunches. We also meandered through the book section, oohed and aahed over all the fun kids’ books, and purchased a copy of My Big Book of Beginner Books About Me along with two inexpensive kindergarten workbooks for next school year.

M is for MagnaTiles

We came home and built with MagnaTiles. Little Bear found a stray strip of packing tape and used it to make a “kite” (or at least a colorful sheet of paper with a tail). Then, we headed outside so that she could attempt to fly her creation. It might not have sailed high in the sky, but she certainly enjoyed running around the yard with it trailing behind her!

Little Bear attempts to fly her homemade kite.

After the tail fell of Little Bear’s kite, the girls played ball, first with each other, then with neighbors.

Playing ball ...


Waiting ...

We observed a squirrel getting a drink out of the swimming pool, a bird sitting on its nest, and the flowers we planted earlier in the week. Both girls dug in the dirt, and Little Bear collected 14 leaves since today was April 14th. The picnic benches doubled as a balance beam, then served as a place to rest.

Sisters and friends

We headed back inside and assembled the garden tea party puzzle Little Bear got for Easter. She counted the animals, the paper lanterns, and the flowers.

Time for tea!

I’d planned to read Little Bear’s new book and perhaps squeeze some written work in after dinner, but she had other ideas. Before the dishes were even in the sink, she crawled up in my lap. “It’s getting dark outside, Mommy,” she said.

“Are you getting tired?” I asked.

“Yes,” she admitted. “I think it’s my bedtime.”

… Lazy days apparently burn a lot of energy!

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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.


Gardening Girl

Little Bear has been begging to fill the planter box she got for Easter. Now, Easter may have been just three days ago, but to a child eager to embark on a promised activity, three days seems like a really long time. And any mom who’s listened to a child beg for three days would probably also consider three days “a really long time.”

So Little Bear and I headed to the neighborhood hardware store (which also happens to have a good selection of plants) bright and early this morning. From halfway across the parking lot, I spied lantana, or butterfly bushes. I’d searched for lantana during The Great Caterpillar Invasion in hopes of making the yard more appealing to the eminent crop of butterflies, but hadn’t found it at any of the larger chain stores in town and hadn’t thought to check the smaller hardware store. While I searched for the least-damaged plant, Little Bear spied the 99-cent annuals and began making her own selections.

I quickly realized that I couldn’t carry an armload of plants and safely contain a highly-excited 3-year-old in an unenclosed parking lot garden center, so we went inside for a shopping cart. We grabbed a big bag of potting soil, then headed back out to the plants. Little Bear selected purple and hot pink verbena, then reached for some wilted marigolds. “Yellow is my favorite color,” she declared.

“But they’re already half-dead,” I protested.

“But they’re YELLOW,” she implored.

Then I spied a pot of yellow snapdragons. “Look at these,” I said, pinching a flower open . “See how they open and close their mouths?”

“And they’re YELLOW!” she declared happily.

Marigolds forgotten, she chose a pot of red salvia or her fourth and final plant. I reclaimed the lantana I’d selected earlier, and we wandered on over to the herbs. After examining and smelling most of them, we finally settled on rosemary and peppermint. Then, we paid for our selections and headed home for the fun part:

Digging in the dirt

Getting in on the action

Happy little gardener

As I finished potting plants, the cubs played with the neighbor kids and watched a family of birds flit in and out of their nest. Little Bear pitched in to help me start three loads of laundry (while an unhappy Baby Bear pitched a fit over being imprisoned in the laundry room); then, we headed inside for lunch, rest, and stories.

We kicked off the afternoon by playing the Discovery Garden Game Little Bear got in her Easter basket, and once again, she won. This game had rave reviews, and we have not been disappointed by it. It’s basically an I Spy/Memory game with just enough of an element of chance to level the playing field. It’s simple enough that Little Bear can play it on her own, but challenging enough to be fun even for the grown-ups. We used flower stamps to stamp patterns. We also enjoyed the following books:

By the time Daddy Bear got home from school, most of the neighbor tykes were playing in the community yard, so he and Little Bear joined them while Baby Bear finished her nap. Then it was time to get cleaned up, review this week’s AWANA lesson, eat dinner, and head to church. We didn’t get our (limited) written work done today, but that’s OK. There will be plenty of time to cut and color and trace and count and write when triple digit weather hits. For now, we’re going to enjoy whatever vestiges of temperate weather April has to offer.

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Easter Break

I woke up Thursday night with a throbbing jaw and by Friday morning highly suspected an abscessed tooth … but there’s not really anywhere to get a tooth fixed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday weekend, so we’ve been forced to slow down this weekend.

The "prize" egg

On Friday, Little Bear …

  • completed a couple of beginning sound, critical thinking, cutting, and tracing activities
  • played a rhyming word game with me
  • spent about 20 minutes playing Mighty Mind, one of our favorite hands-on critical thinking activities
  • played on for 20 minutes
  • pulled at least a dozen books off the shelf for me to read over the course of the day (Of course, each one was her “favorite” …)
  • watched an episode of SuperWhy
  • enjoyed a family Easter egg hunt

Baby Bear discovers that there's actually something inside these eggs!

Cupcake paper butterfly

On Saturday, we …

  • read and followed directions to dye eggs
  • measured vinegar in tablespoons and water by the half cup
  • used addition, multiplication, counting by 3’s, and a geoboard to calculate how many tablespoons of vinegar we used to create 9 colors of egg dye
  • counted our colored eggs, added different color groups, and made more/less comparisons between groups
  • used cupcake wrappers to create a colorful butterfly
  • read Easter stories
  • played outside

On Sunday, we …

  • discussed the Easter story as a family
  • went to an Easter service at our church (where Little Bear chose to sit quietly in big church instead of going to children’s church — no small accomplishment for a busy little girl!)
  • completed a garden sticker puzzle scene (working on number recognition, sequencing, and fine motor skills)

Resurrection Sunday 2012

And that, I must sadly confess, is where my participation in the day ended. I’ve spent most of the day drugged, wrapped in blankets (in a 75+ degree house) and lazing in the recliner, while Little Bear entertained herself.

I did set the girls’ Easter baskets out before going to bed last night, and there was a flurry of excitement over those this morning. Little Bear has developed a fascination with plants and life cycles, so this year’s Easter basket sets the stage for next week’s learning adventures. Little Bear has told me at least a dozen times today that she hopes I’m “all better” by tomorrow. I suspect her well wishes are motivated at least as much by eagerness to start on our gardening unit as concern over Mommy’s health!

Baby Bear's Easter fun

Little Bear's garden-themed basket

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Spontaneous Fun

The girls had check-ups scheduled for this morning, so we packed some butterfly-themed books, a butterfly puzzle, a counting game, and a handful of worksheets to take along with us. Our wait to see the nurse-practitioner was blissfully short today, so only the game and books actually game out of our activity bag.

The counting game was, quite simply, a small plastic container filled with 10 large pom-poms of various colors and a deck of self-correcting number cards. Little Bear would draw a card, count out the correct number of pom-poms, then flip the card over and make sure that she had the same number of pom-poms as dot stickers on the back of the card. She knows her numbers quite well, so she soon tired of this activity and instead started dividing pom-poms into groups and adding the groups. Then, she handed the tub over to Baby Bear, and Baby Bear amused herself by dumping the pom-poms, picking them up, tasting the occasional one, and dropping them back in the container.

Today’s butterfly-themed reading included the following:

In full bloom

On the way home, we stopped by the park to see the flowers and run around a bit. The roses were at their peak, so I felt compelled to try to use them as a backdrop for a picture of the girls together. Um, yeah. … Posed pictures of an 11-month-old and a 3 1/2-year-old are generally an effort in futility, especially when they’re being taken in bright sunlight and near 90-degree heat. (Somehow, the bright light and heat bother Little Bear far less when she’s free to run around. …) Amazingly enough, one child actually looked at the camera in one shot! What thrilled my mommy heart most as I looked back through our ill-fated photos, though, was the realization that the girls were holding hands. No scripting or staging — Baby Bear reached out to Big Sister, and Big Sister instinctively accepted that chubby little fist.  … I love watching these two sweet sisters become friends.

Amid the roses ...

Mm is for Music

Mm is for Monkey

Of course, since we were at the playground, we also made time for play.

Afterward, we came home and tackled more mundane work. Little Bear did a couple of tracing activities, the butterfly puzzle we hadn’t done at the doctor’s office, a phonics lesson, and a math lesson. Then, I sent her off to build a Duplo mansion while Baby Bear napped in my arms.

While Little Bear played and Baby Bear slept, I Googled Easter activities in town and discovered that the local university was sponsoring an Easter egg hunt this evening. So we put work on hold, packed up Easter baskets, picked up Daddy, and headed to the soccer field for some more spontaneous fun.

Anticipation ...

Found one!

Baby Bear gets in on the action

... and does a happy dance after she drops each egg in her bag!

We wrapped up the day with several Easter-themed stories, including Bunny Trouble, the tale of a soccer-loving bunny who almost became Easter dinner.

Last, but not least, Little Bear added a tail and a magnet to the Letter M mouse she’d made last night and proclaimed him finished.

A monkey and her mouse

Letter M Mouse

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Egg Adventures

Want an egg?

A three-year-old's version of "hiding"

With Easter just a few days away, we headed outside yesterday morning for the express purpose of teaching Baby Bear how to “hunt” for Easter eggs. Little Bear begged to do the egg hiding, so I handed her the bag. I quickly discovered, however, that we had very different definitions of “hiding.” I started to coach her, then thought better of it. We were, after all, hiding eggs to be “found” by an 11-month-old. Plus, this was supposed to be a purely fun activity, with no “right” way or “wrong” way involved. … I kept my mouth closed, stood back, and let them do a practice egg hunt “their” way.

"Look what I found!"

After all the eggs had been collected, Little Bear counted them, sorted them by color, re-counted each color group, and made more/less comparisons. I’d hauled the girls’ pop-up playhouse outside that morning, so she made up a game she called “Eggsketball” and attempted to toss the eggs through the basketball hoop on the side of her playhouse. Last, but not least, she got some fine motor skills practice by putting eggs back together after Baby Bear took them apart. (Note to anyone who hasn’t bought plastic eggs in recent years: The Dollar Tree eggs are NOT easy to snap together.)

After devoting yesterday afternoon’s school time to written work and an episode of Word World, we continued our egg fun today with the following books:

Little Bear has also practiced tracing ovals, drawing her own eggs, and cutting out eggs.

On other fronts, we’ve also taken some time to explore magnetism. I created a small sensory tub filled with shredded paper, paper clips, magnetic letters, safety pins, magnetic marbles, a nail, and a variety of non-magnetic objects. Little Bear has spent hours sweeping through it with a magnetic wand and sorting objects into magnetic and non-magnetic categories. We continued our study by reading What Makes a Magnet? (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2). Little Bear then used the attraction and repulsion properties of magnets to complete a series of magnetic ring puzzle challenges:


Trial and error

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Caterpillar Inspirations

Spiny Elm Caterpillar

Our yard seems to have transformed into one gigantic butterfly garden over the past week. Everywhere we turn, we’re surrounded by spiny elm caterpillars.  They’re in the grass, on the sidewalk, climbing up the brick wall, and hanging from the balcony. There are so many of them that it’s a challenge to bring groceries in without inadvertently squashing one. Of course, Little Bear has declared all of them to be her friends and is most disturbed whenever one meets its demise (except when one of our resident birds sweeps down to snag a spiny meal — seeing them become bird food doesn’t phase her because, in her words, “The birds have to feed their babies, and I like birds better than caterpillars).

I was excited when the first couple appeared and even referred to them as our “caterpillar friends.” When a few dozen more showed up over the weekend, though? Well, I’m starting to sympathize with the ancients who endured plagues of flies and frogs. I’d like them a lot more if they weren’t venomous. But I’ve been too busy trying to keep Little Bear from touching one and Baby Bear from ingesting one to really enjoy them the past couple of days.

After seemingly peaking on Saturday, though, the population is dwindling. Last night, Little Bear and I counted five cocoons within a few yards of our apartment. By this morning, the number of cocoons had doubled, and we saw only half a dozen caterpillars crawling around between the front door and the car. I’m hoping that the caterpillars will soon be a memory and swarms of Mourning Cloak Butterflies will take their place.

Little Bear’s fascination with these creatures is not waning, however, so we postponed most of our planned activities today and instead spent the day learning about caterpillars and butterflies.

We read the following books, along with Now I Know: A Caterpillar Grows Up:


Making watercolor butterflies

Little Bear sequenced the stages of a butterfly’s life using a free set of life cycle sequencing cards we found on Homemade Montessori. She built patterned caterpillars using light green and dark green Duplos. Then, we broke out the paint and created coffee filter butterflies this evening.

And on that note, I have a dark confession to make: I hate craft projects. I loathe and despise them. But my sweet girl loves them, and I love her, so we do them.

Tonight’s project hit all of my dislike buttons, though. It was messy. It involved cheap liquid watercolors that run everywhere and stain everything. It involved colors randomly running together without pattern or design. It required close Mommy supervision. Annnndddd you see that ice tray that we were using as a paint tray? Just as I finished filling it the first time, Baby Bear toddled into the kitchen to see what Mommy was doing, swiped a drum stick along the edge of the kitchen counter, and tipped over one of the tall, skinny, almost-full 16 oz. bottles of liquid watercolors. The heavy bottle struck the end of the much lighter ice tray with bowling ball precision and catapulted color all over my white kitchen counter tops and floor. Baby Bear saw colors fly and clapped her hands.

Now, ordinarily, I would have taken the mess as a sign that this project was not to be. But Little Bear had come to see what I was doing moments before The Great Paint Incident, and I’d told her. She was dancing around the living room, singing, “We’re going to paint butterflies! We’re going to paint butterflies!”

Gotta hold your mouth just so ...

Abandoning the project would have resulted in tears. And tears were NOT on the plan for the evening. So I deposited Baby Bear in the play pen, mopped up the counter tops as quickly as possible, scrubbed the worst of the stains out with countertop cleaner (I’m hoping bleach will take care of the rest …) wiped the paint of the floor, then took a deep breath and refilled the paint tray.

A few of our creations ...

I called Little Bear to the table and gave her strict instructions to observe first, follow the steps I showed her, and please try to limit the mess. Then, I opened a coffee filter, sucked up a dropper of paint … and realized about 30 seconds into the project that I was actually having fun! Ok, so I was still praying that she didn’t send the ice cube paint tray flying or spill paint on her (second-hand, but stain-free) outfit. But the paint part of the project was really fun — so much fun, in fact, that we ended up making a whole kaleidoscope of butterflies.

In other work today, we …

Sprout project

Flower patterns


Weekend Miscellany

The ear and respiratory issues Little Bear has been battling since January have morphed into bronchitis within the past week, and Baby Bear (apparently wanting to join in the “fun”) woke with 103-degree fever and nasty double ear infection Friday morning after a sleepless, scream-filled night. Our chief goal for the weekend has been to keep both girls as comfortable as possible until the doctor’s office opens Monday morning. But in the process, we’ve still squeezed in quiet a bit of painless learning.

On Saturday, Little Bear …

From seeds to sprouts ...

  • built a tower of 31 Duplos using an AB pattern
  • completed a lesson
  • enjoyed a variety of Letter Mm activities on
  • made the letter Mm with Duplos, K’nex, and a Geoboard
  • practiced writing the letter Mm
  • completed cutting, pasting, and paper-folding activities
  • played a matching game
  • counted caterpillars on the sidewalk
  • observed a caterpillar spinning a cocoon
  • checked the progress of our broccoli sprouts (several times over)
  • asked me to read All About Seeds and The Tiny Seed for the third time this week
  • drew a picture of seeds sprouting in a garden
  • acted out “Little Miss Muffet” with stick puppets
  • looked for examples of people using good manners
  • practiced using good manners while playing outside with friends
  • enjoyed the following M-themed books

Mm is for maze

Today, she …

  • reviewed lowercase letters using A to Z Lower Case Crepe Rubber Puzzle
  • listened as I read On the Moon and watched a short video clip of the first moon walk
  • built a rocket out of Duplos
  • observed the moon in the night sky
  • brainstormed words that began and ended with Mm
  • completed a wooden maze and a written maze
  • played a magnetic fishing game
  • painted a picture
  • counted caterpillars on the sidewalk and cocoons overhead
  • noted that there were fewer caterpillars crawling around today, but more cocoons
  • played alphabet I Spy game
  • played with her Barrel of Monkeys and counted monkeys as she strung them together
  • enjoyed the following books:
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