Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

Friday Fun

It’s been a long day today, and it’s late — too late, in fact, for me to write a coherent post. (Or rather, re-write. Cyberspace has already eaten one tonight!) We squeezed another morning of fall fun out of this the final day of November, though, and the smiles below practically begged to be shared. We spent the early part of the morning reading about leaves, learning how they make food, and discovering why they change color in the fall. Little Bear also learned to identify the margins, petiole, midrib, and veins in a leaf. Then, we headed outdoors, and the real fun began:

Fall fun!

More fun …

Silly girls!

The girls played until they wore themselves out. Not only did Baby Bear go down for a nap without a fuss today, but her big sister joined her for two solid hours! Since Little Bear and I generally do “book work” while Baby Bear is napping, formal schooling was cut short today — a small price to pay for the morning’s smiles and laughter.

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Winds of Autumn

“Mommy, can you please do a craft with me?” Little Bear pleaded. “Pleeeaaasssee???”

“Do I look like I can do a craft right now?” I asked (probably through gritted teeth). Baby Bear had just used her potty and was running, pull-up and pants around her ankles, to show me its contents. I was trying to catch both potty and toddler before calamity struck.

“When will you be able to do a craft?” Little Bear persisted.

Catching the toddler, but missing the potty, I sighed. “I don’t know. Right now I have to clean the carpet. Again.”

“That’s what you said yesterday,” she lamented.

… Mommy guilt. It’s a powerful force. …

I had brushed the same plea aside not just yesterday, but the day before yesterday as well, and quite possibly the day before that too. With two busy little people ever on the go, there’s always a mess to be cleaned up or a crisis on the horizon. … I dried the carpet, sprayed Bac-Out liberally, dished up dinner for the girls and spread a stalk of celery with peanut butter for myself before heading to the office to root through my kid craft bin in hopes of finding something quick, simple, and relatively mess-free to put a smile on my girl’s face.

Near the top of the first bin, I found a pack of color diffusing leaves, and inspiration struck. Christmas may be less than a month away, but according to the calendar, it’s still autumn. In fact, the girls had played in the leaves just this afternoon, and Little Bear had reminded me that we hadn’t yet done any leaf projects.

Dinner over, we cleared the table and broke out the markers. Little Bear helped pick out autumn colors — yellow, orange, brown, red, even purple and green. Then, we started coloring.

Coloring leaves …

So happy!

Little Bear colored leaves, while Baby Bear colored leaves, the table, both hands, and her face. Thank goodness for washable markers! I negotiated marker exchanges, kept the table upright, and colored when little hands grew tired. Soon, we were ready to add water.

Once colored, our leaves initially looked something like this:

Dry leaf …

A good soaking with the spray bottle turned them into something like this:

Wet leaf …

After a half hour on the drying rack, we ended up with this brilliant cascade of fall colors:

Finished leaves …

By the time we cleaned up, it was time for bedtime stories, good night snuggles, and LOTS of questions about leaves and why they change color. So what’s on the agenda for tomorrow, the final day of November? A stack of books that might answer some of Little Bear’s questions to read aloud and a lot more fun with the crisp autumn leaves that are finally blowing up on our porch!

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Plodding On …

Ever feel like you’re in a rut and frankly too tired to care? That’s where I’ve been for the last few weeks. (Hence, the lack of posts …)

As I type this, I have no idea where we’ll be in two months or what we’ll be doing. DH graduates in three short weeks and is feverishly sending out resumes. He’s had phone interviews from all parts of the country, but as of yet, no solid offers on the table. I’m not sure whether I need to be packing up or hunkering down in an effort to survive whatever the economy throws our way!

Beyond these four walls, my father is dealing with some serious health issues, and I’m helpless to do anything except wait by the telephone. I can’t exactly show up at the hospital with two small children in tow, nor can I leave a nursing toddler at home to travel halfway across the continent solo.

Add in two-year molars, colds all around, the pressure of the holidays … suffice it to say, I’m having a hard time summoning the energy and/or the initiative to plan fun, creative, purposeful learning experiences.

So what have we been doing? We’ve been plodding on, covering the basics and breathing a silent prayer of thanks for ready-made materials that make learning a bit more fun. I wrestled with whether even to post tonight; then, I was struck by several realizations.

  1. I’m not the first mom who’s ever felt uninspired, and I won’t be the last. Some days, some weeks, even some months, you just do what you have to do.
  2. The girls are actively learning even when I’m not actively manufacturing “fun, creative, purposeful learning experiences.” They’re children. They learn as naturally as they breathe.
  3. I started this blog to chronicle our learning journey — not just the fun parts, the easy parts, or the inspiring parts of the journey, but the whole journey.

So what does a “just plodding on” day look like?

As usual, the girls woke up earlier than I would have liked. We spent some time cuddling in the recliner; then, I got up to fix a cup of coffee. While I prepared my morning infusion of caffeine, Baby Bear found a Fisher Price Little People fairy and a Cherry Lane Cottage rocking chair that had been missed in the previous night’s toy clean-up. Her efforts to put the fairy in the rocking chair prompted Little Bear to dig out the Little People Fairy Treehouse, the Cherry Lane Cottage, and all the little people/animals/furniture that went with both. And so ensued a good half hour of make-believe play culminating in a terrifying tornado that sent all the people and animals scurrying for the safety of the storage container storm cellar. The furniture and other play accessories did not fare as well. The aftermath of the child-made disaster prompted Mommy to demand a full-scale clean-up before school began.

Once most of the toys were back in their proper places, we headed into the living room to read our morning Bible stories. Along the way, I realized that neither girl had actually eaten breakfast, so I gave them each of bowl of raisins and macadamia nuts to munch on during story time. After stories, I helped Little Bear review this week’s memory work and Christmas carols. We wrapped up our time together by reading and discussing God Knows My Name.

After a short break, we moved onto The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons, amid protests from Little Bear that it was too hard, she couldn’t read, and she was too tired to do school work. In fact, her protests had nothing to do with the subject at hand and everything to do with the fact that she’d spied a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse video clip on YouTube and wanted to veg out in front of the screen. I responded by closing the computer and telling Little Bear she could choose between doing her reading lesson or going back to bed until she felt rested enough to do school work. She chose the former, and we worked through two painful pages of /d/ and /g/ words. (The hard /g/ sound is one of the sounds that Little Bear struggles with enunciating in normal speech. Her best efforts to read words ending in -g tended to come out as /r/ /a/ /g/ -> /rad/ … which she’d then correct to /red/ or some such thing.)

By the time we finished our daily two pages, we both needed a break. I turned on Christmas music and left the girls to dance around the living room, while I went to the office and dug out a tub of magnetic letters and Learning Resources ABC Cookies Goodie Game. Games tend to make everything better, and reading is no exception. I first prompted Little Bear to build the words in today’s lesson with cookie letters, then played a couple of rounds of a three-letter-word building game with her. Next, we pulled out a magnetic board and used the interlinking magnetic letters to build word families.

Unfortunately, as soon as I left Little Bear to work on her own so that I could fix lunch, Baby Bear joined in and started pulling letters off the magnetic board. Little Bear would put a word on. Baby Bear would pull it off. Angry words and tears soon followed, bringing the activity to an abrupt end. I sent Little Bear to cool off in the bedroom and told Baby Bear to pick up the letters she’d dumped all over the living room while I finished getting lunch on the stove. Then, it was time for a brief chat, hugs and apologies all around, and some chill time with an episode of “Go, Diego, Go!”

After lunch, we left school work behind and headed outside for some active play. Little Bear rode her new bike, while Baby Bear followed behind on her bumper car. Bike riding ultimately gave way to a game of chase … until grass burrs ended up in tender little feet. First aid and kisses followed; then, Baby Bear was ready for a nap. Little Bear retreated to the bedroom for quiet play time and followed a pattern to build a fleet of MagnaTile rockets. She and I also took a few minutes to review numbers while Baby Bear slept.

Following nap time, the girls played dress up, played in their play kitchen, and played with their toy instruments. When they tired of playing, we sat down to read some Thanksgiving-themed books, a couple of Baby Bear’s board books, and a couple of Thomas the Tank Engine stories. We opened a new Melissa & Doug Caterpillar Gear Toy and spent some time playing with and observing the gears. We also opened a new Triazzle Kids Vehicles Puzzle, which Little Bear completed in short order. A magnetic fishing game and an old-fashioned tea party later, it was time for dinner.

DH had some work to do on his computer which he could best do in a quiet house. So the girls and I went out for a rare girls’ night out at a local Mexican restaurant. Baby Bear, of course, insisted upon feeding herself — a messy affair given dinner involved rice, refried beans, enchiladas, and fresh tortillas dipped in honey! We barely got in the door at home before she started requesting “Ba[th]! Ba[th]!”, adding “Bu-bu, pease!” [Bubbles, please!] as she ran for the tub.

In the end, the girls insisted upon bubbles and bath paints which they played with until I practically ordered them out of the tub. By the time we got them dressed and got their teeth brushed, Little Bear was too tired to care about bedtime stories even. She just wanted to curl up in my lap and go to sleep.

And so we made it through another day — not a glamorous day or an exciting day, but a full day of learning, playing, loving and being loved. We plodded on. Some days, that’s the best we can do. And it’s enough.


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A Box Full of Love …

How much love can you fit in a shoe box? That’s the question we asked ourselves this week as we filled boxes for Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a ministry that seeks to share joy, hope, and the love of Jesus with children living in the poorest of conditions.

We tried to strike a balance between essential items and just-for-fun stuff … a daunting task when you’re working with limited space, a limited budget, and two little girls who want to share the things they love (including giant sticker pads and fully-inflated balloons). We packed two boxes, one for a girl between the ages of 2-4 and one for a girl between the ages of 5-9. In the end, these are the items that made the final cut:

For a 2- to 4-year-old girl …

For a 5- to 9-year-old girl …

Both boxes included a toothbrush, toothpaste, a bar of soap, a washcloth, a comb, lip balm, bracelets, a small magnetic drawing board, underwear, a couple of punch balls, stickers, and a small bag of candy.

The younger girl’s box also included a pair of pajamas, fuzzy slipper socks, a small doll, a duck-shaped car, a light-up ball, sidewalk chalk, and jumbo crayons.

The older girl’s included a t-shirt, slippers, pony tail holders, pencils, a pencil sharpener, a small notebook, crayons, scissors, a stuffed monkey, Silly Putty, and an I Spy wand.

Last but not least, both boxes included a letter to their recipients. Little Bear is not yet up to the challenge of writing (or even narrating) a letter all by herself; so I helped her organize her thoughts. I typed our letter, inserted a picture of the girls to put a “face” with the gifts, and Little Bear painstakingly signed both in her best handwriting.

Signing our Operation Christmas Child Letters …

Over the course of the week, we found that our boxes provided several opportunities for learning. We read Houses and Homes (Around the World Series), browsed A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World, and looked at pictures in Material World: A Global Family Portrait, observing vastly different standards of living in different parts of the world. We wrote out shopping lists, compared prices at different stores, and discussed the concept of quality over quantity. (Mommy is still perturbed that we couldn’t find jumbo Crayola crayons anywhere in town and had to settle for an off-brand!) We experimented with volume as we tried to cram every cubic inch of our shoe boxes. We talked at length about gifts and giving. Finally, we prayed that God would use these simple gifts not only to brighten the day of the children who receive them, but ultimately to draw the hearts of these children and their families to the Greatest Gift of All.

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All in a Day’s Play

“Say ‘Cheese!'”

I hadn’t planned to post today. The girls and I spent another long morning in a doctor’s office, reading, playing alphabet games, doing logic puzzles on the iPad, drawing pictures, and finely heading in for a lengthy appointment. By the time we left, it was lunch time and both girls were hungry. We swung by the university, picked up Daddy Bear, then headed to McDonald’s for lunch and play time. (Yes, I let my children eat fast food. I let them socialize with other fast food eating Small People. And I’m admitting my shortcomings in a public forum. Did I just forfeit all rights to membership in the Homeschoolers Club International???)

After an hour or so of active play, it was clear that both girls had reached their limits. We headed home. Little Bear entertained herself with a stack of Berenstain Bear books while I got Baby Bear down for a nap. Then, she asked to watch Disney Junior on the iPad, and I let her. I ran a couple of errands, enjoyed peace and a cup of coffee while both girls were occupied, then tackled some chores. By the time I looked up at the clock, it was nearly 5 p.m. My 18-month-old had been sleeping for two solid hours, and my 4-year-old had been glued to a screen watching cartoons for nearly as long. Suffice it to say, today was not one of our more productive days!

With the day winding to a close, we sat down to Skype with Nana and Papa. Baby Bear used most of her words several times over, then wandered over to the dress-up bin. She came back with a safari hat and proudly showed it off on camera. Not to be outdone, Little Bear ran to find her superhero mask and cape. Baby Bear went back for a tutu. Little Bear headed back to a get a wig. And so they continued, back and forth, until we had a pile of dress-up clothes all over both girls AND the living room.

As we bid a colorful good-bye to Nana and Papa, I reminded Little Bear that we still needed to do her reading lesson for the day, the one “textbook” task we try to cover daily.

“Can I do it with my outfit on?” asked my cape-wearing, mask-wearing, wig-wearing, tutu-wearing, feather boa-wearing, lei-wearing “fancy” superhero.

“Can you see with that mask on?” I asked.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “It gives me super vision!”

“Ok,” I said. “As long as you see the letters, you can wear whatever you want.”

We made it through our 10-minute review with just a couple of errors and no complaints, albeit quite a few lost feathers. Then, Little Bear turned to me and said, “Mommy, I love being a super fancy super reading hero!”

I couldn’t help but smile and reply, “I love it too!”

“You do?” she questioned. “Why?”

“I love to see you have fun, I love to see you learn, and I especially love to see you have fun while you learn,” I said. “I love to see you being yourself, following your interests, using your imagination. I love to see both of my girls growing up together, enjoying each other’s company, and being one another’s best friends. I love being able to ‘do school’ in play clothes or pajamas, in the recliner or on the playground, any time of day, any day of the week, wherever life takes us. I love homeschooling!”

“I do too, Mommy,” Little Bear replied, with a hug. Then, she grinned. “Now are you ready to read to my library books to me?”

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Moon Dough and Holiday Magic

The girls awoke to an early Christmas present Saturday morning and have been playing with it almost non-stop since:

Waking up to her dream kitchen …

Little Bear’s lone Christmas request was for “a bigger play kitchen, one big enough for BOTH of us” to replace their much-loved, but barely-big-enough-for-one Wonderworld Portable Cooker. The one we wanted to get for them went on sale last week, I ordered it, UPS delivered it the very next day, and Daddy Bear assembled it after the cubs went to bed that evening. We managed to keep it hidden for a day — long enough to clear space for it in our living room/dining room/play room/school room and to reach the weekend when we’d have time to watch them enjoy it. But it’s kind of hard to hide a kitchen in a 2-bedroom apartment. Besides, one of this month’s themes is food, and a food theme practically demands kitchen play.

Along with plenty of free play, Little Bear is learning about food groups and has been sorting her play food into protein, dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables. She’s also been trying to create balanced play meals and has separated her “junk food” cookie and cupcake play sets from her healthier play foods … though she told me this morning that her Smart Snacks Sorting Shapes Cupcakes probably shouldn’t be classified as junk food “because they’re probably made with zucchini and bananas and whole wheat flour.” Vegetables hidden in baked goods? I can’t imagine what gave her that idea! (although I have it on good authority that this banana bread recipe tastes even better with a couple of cups of finely shredded zucchini, enough freshly-grated nutmeg to hide the squash taste, a couple of scoops of protein powder, and freshly ground whole wheat flour …)

As for Baby Bear, she can entertain herself for hours by dumping our wooden cutting food out of its storage basket, cutting each piece apart, then picking up the cut pieces and dropping them into whatever pot happens to be nearby. Better yet, she’s beginning to learn how to match halves and put the cut pieces back together.

Beyond playing with the ready-made food, both girls have been wanting to “bake” in their new play oven. Inspired by Robert Munsch’s Mmm, Cookies!, we made a couple of pans of play clay cookies. Then, in an effort to entertain a sick Baby Bear while Daddy Bear and Little Bear were at church Sunday, I pulled out an old bag of Moon Dough and discovered that the stuff was easy to roll with a rolling pin, that it cut beautifully with cookie cutters, and that it was a lot easier to get out of carpet than either Play-Doh or modeling clay. The girls now have access to a jelly roll pan filled with Moon Dough, a couple of toy rolling pins, and a half dozen cookie cutters. They’re using their imaginations, honing their motor skills, and having great tactile fun, while I’m breathing easy instead of Googling new methods of removing stickier modeling substances from carpet.

The girls sweetly left their early Christmas present behind this morning to help create holiday magic for other children, however. This week is National Collections Week for Operation Christmas Child, and with a bit of searching, I found a local drop site for shoe boxes. Little Bear helped make a shopping list, and we went shopping for two little girls, one between the ages of 2 and 4 and one between the ages of 5 and 9. Tomorrow’s project? Praying for the children who will receive our boxes, writing letters to them, and packing shoe boxes!

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Peanut Butter Memories

As we left an overcrowded park Sunday afternoon, I promised the girls that we’d try again on a weekday morning … when the parks are largely deserted and safer for little cubs. And after we shared our tales of bumps and bruises with Daddy Bear, he decided that Monday would be a good day for a family picnic in the park.

The girls and I read our morning Bible story, practiced this week’s verse, and watched an episode of Sid the Science Kid while Daddy Bear went to his one Monday class. Little Bear and I took a few minutes to review last week’s reading lesson, our only formal learning task of the day. Then, the girls danced and sang along with the Cedarmont Kids while I packed a picnic lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, baby carrots, cheese, rice cakes and fruit leather. By the time Daddy Bear got home from school, we were ready to walk out the door.

Our goals for the morning were simple enough. We wanted to run, play, explore, discover, and have fun as a family. With that in mind, we headed for the “big” park in town, a sprawling riverfront park with two playgrounds, a huge sand box, walking trails, fishing pier, and rose garden.

The girls wanted to eat first …

Making memories with peanut butter and jelly …

… then play …

“I’ll spread my wings, and I’ll learn how to fly. …”

Sunshine on her shoulders, sand beneath her feet …

Shared fun is the best fun!

… then explore. We’ve been reading about autumn and the changes it brings for the past month, and today’s visit to the park presented us with an opportunity to see one of those changes — colorful leaves — first hand:

Autumn leaves … Texas style!

I grew up in the shadow of the Blue Ridge mountains, surrounded by brilliant displays of fiery autumn color. After several autumns in West Texas, I’ve finally accepted that our falls will never rival the glorious displays that live in my memory. But for my girls, who are accustomed to seeing leaves in nothing but green or brown, even hints of gold, orange, and red proved magical.

Little leaf collector …

Little Bear packed her lunch box full of colored leaves to bring home and use in “a project.” (When questioned about said project, she replied “Oh, Mommy, I’m sure we can find something to do with them!” Hmm. Wonder where she’s heard that line before?)

Not to be outdone, Baby Bear had to collect leaves too!

Following in Big Sister’s footsteps …

Then the girls spied the rose garden, and they were off again. Texas weather may not be my favorite, but it’s hard to complain too much about the lack of autumn color when you’ve still got roses blooming in November!

Pinks …

Reds …

And more pinks!

The girls ran up and down the rows of rose bushes, oohing and aahing over each fresh display. I ran alongside, reminding Little Bear that real roses have real thorns and trying to keep a tired Baby Bear from tripping over her own feet and landing in the middle of a thorny rose bush! Thankfully, both the girls and the rose bushes escaped injury.

“Look, Mommy, another leaf!”

There’s so much to see and experience when the world is your classroom!

By the time we got home, both girls were ready for long afternoon naps, and Mommy and Daddy weren’t far behind. Thankfully, we all got some sleep because those long afternoon naps translated into late bedtimes … after an evening of sorting shapes, stacking blocks, building MagnaTile apartment complexes, and sharing good books — a fun start to a busy week.

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Weekend Fun

Planned learning got pushed aside for much of this past week, as Baby Bear recovered from her fourth go-around with a nasty stomach bug and I prepped for and worked a consignment sale. By Sunday, though, both girls were feeling well enough to enjoy a fun-filled day.

After church, the girls and I did a bit of shopping … until Baby Bear decided she’d had enough. Clocks and time changes not withstanding, when her body told her it was nap time, she let me — and everyone else within earshot — know! Little Bear played on while I got Baby Bear to sleep, then she and I sat down for some craft fun. We’ve been learning about spiders and other arachnids this past week, so we decided to make a paper plate spider using materials from the Alex Toys Paper Plate Bugs craft kit. (Have I mentioned how much I love the fun, colorful, prepackaged and ready-to-go crafts in the Alex Little Hands craft series??? Of course, I don’t love them enough to pay full price for them, but both Barnes and Noble and tend to run them on sale in November and December each year … at which time I restock the craft closet!)

Spider fun …

We sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” along with several other spider songs while we crafted. We also took time to readĀ Are You a Spider? (Backyard Books) and About Arachnids: A Guide for Children; then, we compared our paper construction to a real spider.

Of course, one finished project prompted Little Bear to beg for “just one more, please! Just one more!” Besides, she argued, our spider couldn’t survive by itself. It positively needed for us to create another bug so it could catch the unlucky second bug in its web and eat it for dinner. And so, Little Miss Bumblebee came to be.

Little Miss Bumblebee

… Once the bee was completed, Little Bear remembered that bees are one of the insects that spiders don’t eat. They’ll actually try to cut them out of their webs and release them, taking great care to avoid the potentially deadly stinger. … Can you see where this is going? Yep, she decided we really needed to make a THIRD bug. By that time, though, Baby Bear was awake and mobile, so I rained reality on Little Bear’s fantasies. I assured her that neither starvation nor our stinger-less paper bee posed a threat to our non-eating paper spider. I also assured that if the paper bugs did come to life at night like Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, they would be friends (because nursery toys are always friends, except in Toy Story which she’s never actually watched). Then, I suggested a trip to the park.

A visit to the park usually solves all of life’s problems. Today, however, we arrived at our friendly neighborhood park to find it swarming with the people. Someone was having the birthday party to beat all birthday parties, and virtually every structure in the park was covered with kids.

The girls did manage to snag a seesaw for a few minutes:

Sisters …

Baby Bear got a turn on the swing:


And both girls enjoyed the tunnels in the tot lot:

Happy days …

… until some tweens/young teens started crowding into the “little kid zone” and running rough shod over the little ones. Baby Bear got bumped off a landing and fell on her head while I was trying to rescue Little Bear from an eminent collision on the monkey bars. That’s when we decided it was time to head home for some quiet fun with Thomas the Tank Engine and our good friends The Berenstain Bears. Dinner, baths, and an hour of story time later, two little girls curled up in my lap to rock to sleepĀ  and dream of more fun in the week ahead.

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