Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

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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Too Busy to Blog …

The past few days have been a whirlwind, with life and “school” melding into a single chaotic adventure.

Topping the charts, Baby Bear has developed a sudden fascination with the toilet. Not a safe, portable, toddler-sized potty. Oh, no, Little Miss Must-Do-What-the-Big-People-Do will have none of that. She insists upon perching her 17-month-old self on the “real” toilet … although she now accepts the kiddy seat as a necessary evil after falling through the regular seat and getting herself quite “Guck! Guck! Guck!” a couple of days ago.

She’s young, and she’s got a long way to go to master the process, but bless her heart, she’s trying. And trying. And trying. In fact, she gets so excited when she succeeds in going potty that she refuses to get off the potty. She’s sat there for up to half an hour at a time, shaking her head each time I ask if she’s finished and declaring “More! More!” … which means I’ve spent a good part of the last three days sitting in the bathroom alongside her, cheering her on, keeping her safe, and begging her to declare her business finished and let us all move on with life.

Little Bear, meantime, has been having to work alone more than she’d like. As I told her this evening, “You can write, color, draw, cut, paste, and to a certain degree, even read without assistance. Your 17-month-old sister cannot perch precariously above a tank full of water without supervision.”

On Monday, she busied herself with the fine motor work in her work bins, played Camelot Jr. (a single-player logic game), played a rhyming word matching game, and put together her human body layer puzzle. We also squeezed a reading lesson, several critical thinking activities, and some number practice into Baby Bear’s nap time. We did theme reading and just-for-fun reading between Baby Bear’s bathroom breaks.

On Tuesday, we spent much of the morning reading Usborne’s Flip Flap Body Book, discussing our five senses, and diving into a study of hearing. We used our senses of hearing to arrange a set of handbells from the lowest note to the highest note, to duplicate a beat, and to identify sounds. We discussed how the ear drum, much like a musical drum, carries and amplifies sound vibrations. In the process, we drummed on a blanket, a pillow, the floor, and a hand drum, observing how only the leather (aka skin) covered hand drum “carried” the sound. We wrapped up the morning with a game of Sound Bingo.

Today was library day. We spent an hour there gathering books and enjoying story time; then, the girls had a lunch date with Daddy while I shopped for groceries. By the time we got home, Baby Bear was more than ready for a nap (after some potty time, of course). Little Bear “worked” on the iPad, reluctantly tracing letters and building word families and much more eagerly dressing princesses between rounds of “work.” I’d planned to work with her while Baby Bear slept, but she was thoroughly enjoying her screen time (after several days without). So I instead handed her the computer and let her finish up with a couple of lessons on ABCMouse.com.

Once Baby Bear awoke, we headed outside for a couple of hours of active play and fun with friends. Then it was time for dinner, bubble baths, and bedtime stories — LOTS of bedtime stories.

At the library today, I stumbled upon a copy of Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry. Yes, the original tales as penned by the man who created Thomas and his friends. At 415 pages, it’s hardly a one-night read, but we put a significant dent in it this evening. Then, Little Bear asked to read the other 11 books we’d gotten at the library today. … We made it through half of those before I finally insisted that it was time to turn out the lights and go to sleep … a half hour past bedtime. Oops! But really, who wants to go to sleep in the face of a bag full of books just begging to be read?

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Friday Fun … or The Lack Thereof

Fridays are supposed to be *fun* days. Granted, we try to have fun every day, but Fridays are reserved for games, projects, going places, and doing stuff that’s extra special. So when Little Bear’s weekly speech therapy session got rescheduled for today, I decided I’d some cinnamon rolls in the oven and let her wake to a yummy treat.

In hindsight, this was a Really Bad Idea. None of us are morning people, and today’s speech therapy appointment required us to be clothed, fed, and out of the house before the girls are usually even awake. Wake them up an hour early, and they don’t want Mommy in the kitchen. They want Mommy in the living room, cuddling them, rocking them, and helping them wake up.

What’s more, I’m not the Pioneer Woman. In my world “baking cinnamon rolls” means opening a can. Since most refrigerated doughs are pumped full of chemicals and I’ve got a chemically-sensitive child, we rarely “bake cinnamon rolls.” But I spied an unfamiliar brand on sale last week, saw that they were free of the demon dye Red #40, and threw them in the shopping cart.

Someday, I will learn *not* to try reading labels while simultaneously trying to corral an overly-stimulated 4-year-old and trying to keep a 1-year-old from diving head first out of a shopping cart. While that $1.50 can of cinnamon rolls did not contain Red #40, they did contain its evil twin Yellow #5.

Too little sleep, too much sugar, + petroleum-based food additives = DISASTER!

By 5 p.m., I was putting dinner on plates and planning on an early bedtime. Then we sat down to eat, and Little Bear quietly said, “We’ve had a bad day, haven’t we Mommy?”

“It’s definitely been a rough one,” I replied. “Why do you think that is?”

“Because I’ve made a lot of bad choices,” she said sadly, as she half sat, half stood on her chair, balancing precariously on one knee and spilling more rice than she managed to get into her mouth.

I started to agree with her … but I didn’t.
I started to tell her to sit on her bottom … but I didn’t.
I started to tell her yet again to eat her rice with her spoon instead of her fork and to keep her mouth over her plate … but I didn’t.

Instead, I reached out and took her hand; and as she abandoned her dinner to climb up in my lap for a hug, I realized that on this, the day when I most “needed” to send her to bed, she most needed to reconnect.

She didn’t choose to have a “bad day.”
She didn’t willfully spiral out of control.
She didn’t enjoy being tired and out of sorts.
She was still my sweet girl. She wanted to please me, to be accepted by me, to be assured yet again that she was loved unconditionally.

… And so we ended our “disaster” of a day with bubble baths and a craft project. Yes, she was still bouncing around like a jumping bean on an adrenaline high. She fell off her stool at least four times and knocked the table over once, but she had fun. She completed a task successfully. And most importantly, we reconnected.

Cupcake fairy creation …

The finished project …

Baby Bear joins in the fun …

Their cupcake fairies finished, both girls climbed up in my lap for bedtime stories and good night cuddles. There, Little Bear fell asleep, still clutching her creation.

Here’s hoping that a good ending to the day and a good night’s sleep usher in a better day tomorrow.

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Not-So-Scary Skeletons

With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, skeletons seem to be popping up in all sorts of places — from neighbors’ yards to store windows. Little Bear, much like her mother, isn’t fond of dancing bones, spider webs, or other ghoulish decorations. So in an effort to demystify the creepy and help ease her anxieties, we’re taking time this month to learn about all about bodies and explore the wonders that lurk beneath our skin.

The girls have especially enjoyed our Beleduc Your Body (Girl) 5-Layer Wooden Puzzle that lets them see the skeletal system, major organs, muscles, skin, and a clothed body. Little Bear has paired each “layer” of the puzzle with a corresponding spread in See Inside Your Body, assembled the puzzle layer, then asked me to read about the corresponding text.

Major organs

Skeletal system

Skin

A girl like me!

As Little Bear learns to identify bones, organs, and muscles, Baby Bear continues to work on learning her body parts. We sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” at least four times in the car this morning, with Baby Bear loudly insisting that we sing it “‘gin! ‘gin!” each time we tried to stop. We’ve also done the Hokey Pokey several times over, danced along with Greg & Steve in “Can’t Sit Still,” played countless rounds of “Simon Says,” and began memorizing this little ditty I remembered from my own kindergarten days:

I have ten little fingers and ten little toes
Two little arms and one little nose,
One little mouth and two little ears,
Two little eyes for smiles and tears,
One little head and two little feet,
One little chin, that’s me complete!

Today’s work got cut short when a morning doctor’s appointment stretched into 3 hours away from home. Beyond our theme work, though, we still made time for a short reading lesson, some short /a/ word reading and spelling practice, and some independent reading. I stuck a copy of Everyone Poops (My Body Science Series) in with this week’s themed read-alouds in the hopes that it would encourage Baby Bear’s potty learning efforts. (Yes, I’m becoming “that mom.” The child can get out of a diaper faster than Houdini could extricate himself from a pair of cheap handcuffs, and I’m tired of cleaning carpet!) Baby Bear, sadly, had little interest in the book, but Little Bear discovered that the text was simple enough for her to read by herself. And so she has read that book again and again and again. I think Daddy Bear is ready for her to find a new “favorite” book, but Mama Bear is just enjoying the sight of her little cub happily reading.

We reviewed numbers, days, months, and seasons while waiting at the doctor’s office. Little Bear also practiced writing her numbers while we waited and played a rhyming word matching game on the iPad. She didn’t complete any of the activities I’d stuck in her work bins for today, but did spend an hour drawing, coloring, and working on a sticker mosaic this afternoon — good fine motor practice even if it wasn’t part of my “plan” for the day.

We’ll begin the day tomorrow with speech therapy, then come home to wrap up our week’s learning with a couple of science experiments, a craft project, and a game of How Tall Am I?. Little do the girls know that Friday Fun Days are Mommy’s favorite day of the week!

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Give a Girl Wheels …

It’s official. Baby Bear sweet-babbled Daddy Bear into buying her first set of wheels:

Baby Bear’s new ride

My “baby” is infatuated with wheels. She’s been climbing on any ride-on toy she sees since her first birthday, she squeals “Bike! Bike!” with delight every time she sees one, and she’s even tried to wrangle her big sister’s bike out from under her on several occasions. When Daddy spied a shiny Schwinn Roadster in Sam’s Club and let her try the display model, it was love at first sight. She hasn’t yet figured out how to work the peddles, but she’s not one to fret over details. Within 24 hours of tricycle receipt, she was operating her own sidewalk taxi service and taking the “big[ger] kids” for a spin:

Taking the “big kids” for a spin …

Of course, at the girls’ ages, almost everything turns into a learning experience, and Baby Bear’s tricycle exploits were no exception. We’re studying the human body this month, and Baby Bear’s “big kid” fun served as the perfect introduction to growth and development. Today’s read-alouds included the following:

We spent the better part of an hour looking back through old pictures, enjoying memories of days gone by, and sequencing scenes from the girls’ lives. We compared the ages at which they reached developmental milestones. Little Bear talked earlier, but Baby Bear walked earlier. Little Bear cut her first tooth earlier, but Baby Bear ate solid food earlier. We also made a simple timeline charting Little Bear’s development. With photos and a bit of help from Mommy, she narrated the following:

“When I was born, I could nurse, sleep, and cry.

When I was six months old, I could sit up and crawl.

When I was 1 year old, I could walk and talk.

When I was 2, I could feed myself and use the potty. I could say my ABCs.

When I was 3, I could draw, do puzzles, play games, and play on the playground.

Now that I’m 4, I can do everything I could do when I was younger. I can also ride my bike, write my name, read some words, and help take care of my little sister. I’m growing and changing.”

Yes, Precious Child, you are …

Now …

Then …

… and I’m blessed to share the adventure of Growing Up with you and your sister!

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Stop, Drop, and Roll!

In the spirit of National Fire Prevention Week, we’ve taken time this week to learn about fire, fire safety, and fire fighting. The girls began the day today with some dress-up fun. Baby Bear dressed up as a firefighter while Little Bear built a block tower. The tower caught fire, so Little Bear “dialed 911” (on their toy phone), and Baby Bear came running with a toy fire extinguisher. Little Bear helped the people inside her tower get out safely, while Baby Bear pointed the extinguisher at the base of the pretend fire and extinguished it.

After a laundry break, a Bible story, and a reading lesson, we sat down with a stack of read-alouds to resume our fire study. I have to say that the girls have been fascinated with this study and have begged to read this week’s books time and again. Little Bear has taken the safety messages to heart and insisted on showing Baby Bear how to “stay low and go,” crawling to and out the door. We also practiced “stop, drop, and roll” — a lesson I fully intended to photograph. But I, of course, had to demonstrate what the girls needed to do and … well, when Mommy starts rolling around on the floor, “school time” quickly morphs into “play time.”

Little Bear and I worked through a couple of critical thinking puzzles while Baby Bear played independently. Then, we sat down altogether for calendar time and math time, counting out the date with bristle blocks and making a small block/small block/large block pattern. We sang “Ten Little Firefighters” (to the tune of “Ten Little Indians”) counting up and down, while I made the corresponding number of firefighters appear on the computer screen to the delight of Baby Bear. Finally, Little Bear and I drilled numeral recognition using flash cards.

I’d planned to let the girls paint fire scenes using marbles dipped in red, orange, and yellow paint. But the great outdoors beckoned, so we put the books away and headed outside for a couple of hours of active play and fun with friends. We came back inside to a picnic dinner in the living room, along with a couple of episodes of The Adventures of Paddington Bear. Then it was time to clean up two tired little girls and put them to bed. Here’s hoping we find time for two art projects tomorrow!

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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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Little Girls, Big World

Little girls, big world

For a third day in a row, we left books on the shelves this morning and began our day outside. Little Bear rode her bicycle up and down the sidewalk, while Baby Bear ran after her — and after the squirrels, the birds, and even the occasional falling leaf. The girls paused to collect acorns, Little Bear in hopes of “planting” them and growing a yard full of oak trees and Baby Bear simply to examine them.

“Look what I found!”

Little Bear used a stick to write her letters in the dirt, while Baby Bear and I made rows of one, two, three, four, and five rocks. The girls had just returned to more active play when Daddy Bear came home from school and reminded me that library books were due today. So we wiped the dirt off the girls’ faces, made Baby Bear take off her beloved squeaky shoes, made Little Bear put on a pair of shoes, and headed to what Little Bear excitedly referred to as her “most favorite place in the whole wide world!”

Once at the library, the girls played on the computers in the kids’ area while I hurriedly grabbed a bag full of books.

Alphabet games

A girl and her bike

We ran a few more errands, then headed home for stories, failed attempts at naps, and more outside play, this time with friends. The one painful lesson of the day came when my child who refuses to keep her shoes on outside ran barefoot through a ginormous hill of red ants (we’re talking at least 2 feet in diameter and swarming with hundreds of tiny red ants). A dozen or more ant bites, many tears, and a baking soda foot soak later, several lessons were acknowledged:

  1. Ants are not our “friends.” They will bite, and their bites hurt! (We’ve had some debate over this issue in recent weeks. Little Bear has previously tried to convince me that the ants are her friends and that they’ve told her they won’t bite her if she plays with them. …)
  2. Mommy has good reasons for insisting on shoes in certain areas of the yard. Disregarding this rule can be painful, as evidenced by a grass burr encounter last week and the ant hill encounter this week.
  3. It helps to watch where you’re going — especially when you’re barefoot, especially when you’re pursuing a playmate who just stirred up a giant ant hill and brought its angry inhabitants swarming to the surface.

We finally got around to tackling a couple of our workboxes after dinner and baths this evening. As we sat down to play an addition and subtraction game, Little Bear allowed, “We didn’t get much school work done today.”

“Did you learn anything today?” I asked.

“Oh, yes!” she replied.

“Honey,” I continued, “Life itself is school, and the world is our classroom. You’ve used your senses. You’ve used your brain. You’ve used your muscles. You’ve listened to stories and created stories with your own imagination. You’ve played alone and played with others. You’ve made choices, and experienced their consequences. … We’ve most certainly ‘done school’ today. We just didn’t complete many worksheets along the way.”

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