Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

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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Three Animal Crackers …

Three animal crackers complete with white frosting and rainbow sprinkles … that’s all it took to sabotage our entire day today.

Little Bear has a long history with food dyes and other additives, and I’m better acquainted with that history than anyone. In fact, I go to great lengths to keep anything containing food coloring out of her pantry and out of both girls’ bodies. But the girls begged for a treat this morning, we had some frosted animal crackers on hand, and … well, a tiny smattering of rainbow nonpareils couldn’t do that much damage, could they?

We kicked off the day with an hour of shared reading time, followed by a couple of rounds of Baby Bear’s new Beleduc Colorful Caterpillars Game. That much of the day, at least, went according to plan. Yes, Little Bear was noticeably more active and impulsive than usual. (After all, she doesn’t usually spent story time hanging upside down or repeatedly falling out of the recliner!) But both girls enjoyed today’s read-alouds, and the game proved an instant favorite.

Concentration ...

Concentration …



Eventually, though, it was time to put the game away and move on to the real work of the day. That’s when things went south quickly. We began with what should have been a page of easy review in The Reading Lesson, a story that Little Bear had read several times last week with fluency and expression. On Friday, she did so well that I would have recorded a video clip for grandparents had our camera chosen to cooperate. Today, though, I might as well have asked her to read text in a foreign language. She missed word after word, and when I’d ask her to try again, she’d randomly jump to a totally different line. After several failed attempts to get her to follow the text with her finger, I finally dug out a ruler and used it to help her focus on only the line she was supposed to be reading. And after three more attempts with the ruler, we finally made it through the lone page of “review.”

In retrospect, we probably should have stopped there, but I didn’t want to end on a less-than-successful note, so we pressed on. Unfortunately, the first page of “new” content was a page of random, disjointed phrases written solely to provide phonetic reading practice. Even on a good day, she dislikes these pages. (According to Little Bear, “Words are supposed to mean something!” And though I generally like this book, I have to admit that she’s got a good point!)

Today, however, her usual angst over meaningless phrases/clauses was multiplied by a factor of at least ten. It took us five minutes to plow through two phrases — a sum total of seven words. … Not because the reading was too difficult, but because she couldn’t get past the text itself. The first phrase, she observed, was actually a sentence and, therefore, should have started with a capital letter. The second was only a phrase and, consequently, should not have ended with a period. The first sentence was, in fact, a command — “Put it here.” Yet both “it” and “here” were ambiguous, prompting a veritable flood of questions.

By the time she got to the third phrase, I found myself saying through gritted teeth, “These are random phrases. They have no meaning. Do NOT ask any more questions. Just read them!” (One might as well tell a butterfly not to flit or tell a bumblebee not to buzz as tell a curious 5-year-old not to ask questions.) By the sixth phrase, I found myself giving her a second dose of her usual Omega-3 supplement along with a dose of Focus Factors and brewing a cup of Tension Tamer tea  for myself! And by the end of the page, I was ready to cry. She, however, wanted to push on, so we tried one more new page with similar results.

“The words won’t be still long enough for me to read them!” she lamented.

A good hour had passed since her “minimal” exposure to food coloring, and by this time, I could feel muscle spasms periodically shaking her whole body as she sat in my lap. I knew then that written work simply was not going to happen and quietly put her Spell & Write Kindergarten book back on the shelf. Instead, we shifted our focus to Modern Curriculum Press Phonics: Level A, which we’ve been doing orally. The first page consisted of spelling short /a/ words orally, a task she completed with relative ease while bouncing up and down on the exercise ball. The next page required her to read short /a/ words and match them with rhyming words. Again, she had no difficulty completing the task, although limiting herself to the task proved impossible. Instead of just matching the words she read to rhyming words pictured in the book, she insisted upon supplying entire word families of rhymes. The third page required her to read sentences and choose the best word to complete each one. Inevitably, she’d read the sentence correctly, choose the correct word to complete it, spell the chosen word correctly orally, and point to an entirely different word when asked to point to the correct word in print.

… We cut phonics short and moved on to math. We started with her much-loved Life of Fred–Butterflies text, but even there ran in to problems. When asked to count to 100 by 5s, she’d lose track of what she was doing and begin counting by 10s. When asked to count by 2s, she’d lapse into counting by 5s — “…22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 35, 40, 45 …” When asked to read or show time on a clock, she’d reverse the minute and hour hands. When asked to subtract, she’d add. But the day’s low came when she was asked to add 30+1.

The dreaded deer-in-headlights look spreading across her face, she insisted that she didn’t know how to add 30+1. “Yes, you do,” I maintained. “You could do it when you were three. You could do it when you were four. You can do it now.”

After much hemming and hawing, she finally ventured a guess: “40?” she asked.

“No, that would be 30+10,” I said. “Try again.”

“50?” she queried. “65?”

I handed her a box of C-rods. “Show me 30,” I said.

She pulled out three 10-rods.

“Now add 1 to it,” I encouraged.

She pulled out a 5-rod.

I then removed everything except a handful of unit cubes and 10-rods.

“Try again,” I encouraged. “Show me 30.”

That much she got right.

“Now, show me 1,” I continued. She held up a cube.

“Now put them together,” I said. “How many do you have?”

“Three tens and a 1,” she replied.

“Very good,” I said. “Now, what number do you get when you have 3 tens and a one?”

“I already said 40!” she replied indignantly.

… We put the rods away. …

“Just count for me,” I pressed. “What number comes after 30?”

“I don’t know!” she insisted. “35?”

Eventually, I resorted to writing 30 + 1 on the MagnaDoodle, and she finally managed to solve the problem — at which point she dissolved into tears.

“Hey, you did it! You got it right!” I said in an effort to comfort her.

“But my brain isn’t working!” she cried. “I feel like it’s full of clouds, and I can’t think through them!”

… We shelved math for the day and instead turned our focus to some very easy riddles and logic puzzles. Those, at least, she was able to solve with few issues. Then, I handed her the iPad and let her and Baby Bear watch an episode of Magic School Bus while I fixed lunch.

After lunch, she retreated into her room to play with MagnaTiles, and I left her to play. We’d barely made a dent in our planned work for the day, but her brain truly was not working properly, and no amount of pleading, cajoling, or redirecting was going to make it work at that point in time.

Thankfully, we had a swim date scheduled for mid-afternoon, so both girls were able to burn off some energy, enjoy the sunshine, and play with a cousin.

By early evening, both girls were visibly exhausted. I fed them an early dinner and got them ready for bed. Then, we did a floor puzzle, played an abbreviated version of their Children of the World Memory Game, read a few more stories, and called it a night. I turned out the lights half an hour earlier than usual with not so much as a peep of protest. I’m hoping for a better day tomorrow, but trying to brace myself for a repeat of the day. When Little Bear reacts to food additives, the ensuing “brain fog” can easily last three or more days — a ridiculously high price to pay for a few bites of animal crackers. Needless to say, such “treats” are once again banished from our house. How I wish I could just as easily banish their side effects!

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Back Into the Swing of Things …

After a Zoo Day Tuesday and a rough day yesterday (the aftermath of too much excitement and too little sleep), both girls woke up happy and eager to start the day today. I wasn’t quite as ready, so I made an exception to our general no-TV-before-afternoon policy and let them watch an episode of Sid the Science Kid while I reviewed grocery ads, planned menus, and made a shopping list. Then it was time to tackle the girls’ least favorite chore of the week: grocery shopping.

Much to the girls’ delight, about half of this week’s shopping was set in the one area of the supermarket they do like — the produce department. Between the two of them, they managed to add raspberries, cantaloupe, grape tomatoes, and corn to an already long list of planned purchases. And that was after I said no to fresh coconut (too much work for Mom!), pineapple (ditto), eggplant (yes, it’s pretty, but the kids don’t actually eat it!), Hatch Chiles (why is my spicy-food-disdaining 5-year-old obsessed with these things???), and probably as many more things that never actually registered on the Mom Radar. The rest of the shopping trip, while perhaps not fun, was at least tolerable … perhaps because the much-desired carton of raspberries somehow managed to stay front and center in the shopping cart.

Errands done, we headed home where the girls built a MagnaTile maze for their Hexbugs while I put groceries away. Building together isn’t usually their forte, and I was admittedly a bit surprised by the welcome peace and quiet. Then, I discovered their motivation. “Stay in here and play with me, {Baby Bear},” I overhead Little Bear say. “Mommy has to put all the refrigerated stuff away before we can have our raspberries, and she can put stuff away a lot faster if we’re not in the kitchen!” … Smart kid! And perhaps I should consider increasing the weekly raspberry budget! …

After raspberries and an early lunch, we finally got started on school work. “Can we p-l-e-a-s-e start with Can You Find Me? K-1,” Little Bear begged. “And some Mind Benders? And more of that new book with all the riddles in it {aka Dr. DooRiddles Book A2}?” (Obviously, the books we’ve gotten from The Critical Thinking Co. tend to be favorites!)

In addition to completing five puzzles from each of the books she asked to do, we rounded out our logic/critical thinking activities for the day with a couple of lessons from Lollipop Logic Book 1 on identifying similarities, three visual recall challenges from MindWare My First Brainbox, and a jigsaw puzzle.

Moving on to phonics, we …

  • continued on through Unit 8 of The Reading Lesson, focusing on improving fluency, pausing between sentences, and reading with expression;
  • began Skill Sharpeners Spell & Write Kindergarten Unit 6 and practiced writing /-an/ words on the MagnaDoodle;
  • reviewed Primary Phonics Reader 2, unscrambled sentences, completed comprehension assessment, formed short /i/ words with magnetic letters, and practiced writing short /i/ words.

For math, we …

  • practiced counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s;
  • continued working with place value of tens and ones — yesterday, I would give Little Bear a number, help her break it down into 10s and ones, then have her “show” the number using base 10 rods and cubes; today, I supplied numbers in the format of “6 tens and 4 ones” and challenged her to supply the correlated number (i.e. “64”);
  • read and discussed Life of Fred–Butterflies Unit 3.

On the science front, we read The Magic School Bus At The Waterworks and reviewed the water cycle. We sang “Water Travels in a Cycle” several times over. We also brainstormed a list of ways we could conserve water and talked about why it is important to conserve water.

Wrapping up the day, we played with Play-Doh and puzzles. Little Bear drew and colored a recognizable picture of an elephant while Baby Bear scribbled to her heart’s content. Finally, we played a couple of games of Colorama after dinner, then settled down into the recliner to enjoy a fun hour of reading before bed.

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Bits and Pieces …

Our schedule for the day got turned on end due to an unplanned visit to the OB’s office to ensure that all was well with Baby No. 3. (Thankfully, it was.)

We’d started the day with phonics and were about midway through our planned lessons for the morning, when I got a call back telling me to head on in for a check-up. So much of the day’s “work” ended up being random stuff that I threw in a bag quickly while the girls put on their shoes and brushed their teeth. All things considered, we accomplished a decent amount.

For phonics, Little Bear …

For math, we …

  • read Life of Fred: Butterflies Unit 2 and completed follow-up exercises. Today’s lesson focused on counting by 2’s. We also practiced counting by 5’s and spent yet more time trying to understand minutes on an analog clock. (I’m on the verge of simplifying life and buying the poor child a digital clock!)
  • worked through today and tomorrow’s exercises in Daily Math Practice Grade 1;
  • reviewed concept of odd/even numbers;
  • reviewed concepts of equal, not equal, greater than, and less than;
  • practiced writing numerals 1-6 correctly.

On the fine motor front, Little Bear …

  • made a birthday card for a family member;
  • completed several dot-to-dot puzzles and mazes;
  • spent about half an hour working on a floor puzzle, then helped her little sister with a couple of peg puzzles (the pegs force both of them to work on their tripod grip!).

On the logic front, Little Bear …

Last but not least, we all three spent about an hour enjoying selections from Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose Book (Baby Bear’s current favorite), Mary Engelbreit’s Nursery Tales (a long-time favorite of both girls), and various Fancy Nancy selections. Little Bear asked me to read Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire! as a final bedtime story, then pleaded to try writing an acrostic poem of her own before calling it a night. She was exhausted and fighting sleep, so she needed a bit more help than usual. But the end result described her to a tee. “Tomorrow I want to try writing a limerick,” she informed me just before succumbing to sleep. That might prove a little more challenging!

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Meandering Along …

“Mommy, I think I’d like some alone time this morning,” Little Bear informed me at breakfast. “I want to build stuff and think about stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?” I asked.

“Oh, just stuff,” she replied. “Like why the Egyptians built pyramids and why sharks don’t love their babies and what it would be like to live on a farm and how Fred got to be so smart by reading books.”

She spent the next hour building a MagnaTile farm and bristle block castle. I seized the free time to plan meals and make grocery lists (in between rescuing Baby Bear from a series of self-inflicted predicaments). Then, I insisted that two unwilling little consumers get dressed and accompany me to the grocery store.

“Where are we going?” Little Bear asked.

“Walmart,” I responded.

“But Mommy, I don’t like Walmart,” she protested.

“Neither do I,” I replied.

“Walmart makes me crazy,” she argued.

“Me too,” I admitted.

“Can’t we wait and go tomorrow?” she pleaded.

“That depends,” I said. “Do you want to eat today?”

“We could go out to eat,” she contended.

Sigh. My children have obviously inherited my disdain for big box stores and the sensory overload that accompanies them. But with Texas’ tax-free weekend slated to start tomorrow, I resorted to the dreaded Mommy edict. “We will not be going anywhere near Walmart tomorrow. Put on your shoes.”

Once we actually got in the store, both girls’ attitudes improved considerably … probably because I agreed to purchase a bouquet of fresh flowers and assured them that both frozen mango and fresh raspberries were on the shopping list. We even managed to get everything on our list in under an hour, bathroom and toy department detours included. We almost escaped without incident. But as I scanned our debit card, excitement overtook Little Bear.

“Mommy, Mommy!” she announced at full volume, “We survived Walmart with NOBODY getting cranky or grumpy or having a meltdown … not even YOU, Mommy!”

… Honesty she has is spades. Lessons in timing, tactfulness, and vocal modulation are apparently still needed. Nonetheless, we all survived yet another grocery run, then came home to start on our school day.

Given our late start, we stuck with the basics today. For math, Little Bear …

For language arts, she …

  • reviewed the concept of the “magic e,” differentiated between similar short vowel and long vowel words, and raced to read short and long vowel words correctly;
  • tackled two new pages in Unit 8 of The Reading Lesson;
  • practiced reading with expression, stopping at periods, and reading entire sentences cohesively;
  • read “The Red Hen” from Skill Sharpeners Spell & Write, Kindergarten, spelled -en words aloud, and completed several pages of related written work;
  • practiced writing the letter Ss correctly.
Finishing her first "big kid" puzzle ...

Finishing her first “big kid” puzzle …

For motor work, she …

For science, we continued to learn about the water cycle, reading through the first half of One Well: The Story of Water on Earth and discussing evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.

Finally, we worked a bit of history into the day as we talked about Henry David Thoreau, read The Trouble with Henry: A Tale of Walden Pond, and read and discussed several short excerpts from Walden.

Baby Bear joined us for most of today’s read-alouds. She counted out today’s date in blue and red Duplo bricks and with a bit of help used an AB pattern to build an eight-brick tower. Most of the day, however, she simply spent playing. She pulled a Melissa & Doug Farm Animals Sound Peg Puzzle off the shelf and completed the {obnoxiously loud} thing at least a dozen times while Little Bear and I did math. She also spent quite a bit of time stacking and nesting her new set of Discovery Toys MEASURE UP!® Cups.

Nothing, however, could equal the fun she had with a Britax box delivered today. What I saw a big in-the-way box, she saw as a royal throne. Running to the bedroom as fast as her little legs could carry her, she dug her favorite princess dress and crown out of the dress-up bin, put them on despite the heat, and ascended the throne:

A princess and her lady-in-waiting ...

A princess and her lady-in-waiting …

“I make up a story for you,” she told her daddy before bedtime. “Once upon a time there was a wittle, wittle pwincess, and her name was … ME! The end.”

Oh, the limitless joy of a child’s imagination and a box!

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Halfway Through Another Week!

After the disaster that was yesterday, I’m happy to say that today flowed much more smoothly. The fact that it was Library Day gave all of us a bit of extra motivation to get started and get through the basics quickly.

We started the Bible stories, songs, and some just-for-fun reading; then, Little Bear and I tackled a new unit in The Reading Lesson and worked through today’s Daily Math Practice Grade 1 exercise. With library time approaching, I sent the girls to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy: Lakes & Ponds, the final video component of our lake and pond study, while I packed up two bags full of books that needed to be returned to the library and did a bit of housework.

They finished watching the video about the time I got everything ready for us to walk out the door — with just enough “extra” time to allow a stop by our local Mardel before library story time. I do most of our school shopping online, but Mardel is running a half-price sale this week on Trend Fun-to-Know puzzles, and I wanted to pick up a few sets for Baby Bear along with fish stickers to add to a planned pond craft project. We found everything on our list quickly and even managed to get out with no “extras” leaping into our shopping basket. Success!

Next, we headed on to the library where the girls enjoyed song and story time, then carefully selected a new stack of just-for-fun books. By the time we got checked out, we were all hungry, and Little Bear reminded me that I’d promised to take her out for Chinese food one day this week. A short drive later, we discovered that her favorite Chinese restaurant was no longer in business.

“I’m really going to miss their sushi,” she lamented.

“Sushi?” I asked. “Honey, if you’re wanting sushi, I promise that we can find better sushi in this town than that buffet ever thought about offering.”

We ended up at a newly opened and decidedly not-marketed-to-kids sushi bar/hibachi grill. But while kids may not have been the restaurant’s intended market, both girls fell in love with the place from their first sip of miso soup. Little Bear devoured most of a sushi roll by herself, while Baby Bear put a substantial dent in a adult-portioned teriyaki chicken bento box. By the time we left, Little Bear declared the new restaurant even better than her old favorite, even though the new restaurant didn’t serve ice cream — high praise indeed from a 5-year-old!

Back home, we read through several of the girls’ just-for-fun book selections along with a couple of pond-themed books I’d selected before our daily rest time (alternately known as “Mommy’s down time”). Baby Bear watched a couple of episodes of Special Agent Oso, while Little Bear completed a couple of lessons on and played several Sid the Science Kid games on

A flower for her  grandmothers ...

A flower for her grandmothers …

Shortly before the girls hit their screen time quota for the day, UPS delivered a box of supplemental materials I’d ordered for this school year, and both girls came running. The immediate favorite was a canister of Edushape Ez-Grip Flexies , a unique rubber construction toy I’d ordered to foster motor skill development. Once we actually held the product in our hand, however, I found that it could do even more than I’d hoped. Little Bear spent a good 15 minutes creating patterns, while Baby Bear contented herself with simply stacking the peg-like Flexies as high as she could.

Little Bear eventually noticed the pattern sheets in the canister and set about to replicate some of the items pictured. Her favorite creation was a simple 3-D flower, which she begged me to photograph and share with her grandmothers.

Leaving Baby Bear to play alone, Little Bear and I turned our attention to the final unit in Life of Fred: Apples and took time to review the concepts we’d covered in the book …

  • identifying number sets
  • using ordinal numbers
  • applying the commutative power of addition to solve problems
  • counting by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, and 100’s
  • telling time to the hour and half-hour
  • solving word problems
  • solving for the value of x in basic arithmetic problems (x + 4 = 7; 10 – x = 5; etc.)

The book now complete, I’m still not sure what I think of the series. The stories begin with a 5-year-old university math professor and only grow odder from there. But Little Bear cannot get enough of them. We completed the first book in less than two weeks, with her mastering most of the material presented in it, and she would have gone through it even faster if I hadn’t imposed a limit of no more than two units per day. (At $16 per book, I can’t afford for her to go through them any faster!) I guess I’m at least somewhat sold on the unique story-based approach given that I ordered the next three books in the series over the weekend, but we won’t be abandoning Miquon any time soon.

We wrapped up math time with a couple of games of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks Game. Baby Bear got some painless practice with basic number recognition, while Little Bear made more/less comparisons and got a bit of basic addition practice. More importantly, the girls both had fun.

Highest number takes the hand!

Highest number takes the hand!

A little more fine motor work and several more read-alouds brought the day to a close. All in all, it was a full one and a good one — a welcome respite after yesterday!

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Some days …

Ever had one of those days where you wish life had a rewind button? Today was a day when we could have surely used one.

It was supposed to have been a fun day filled with new and exciting learning adventures. I stayed up late last night reviewing my plan and making the needed preparations. The girls went to bed on time and got a fairly good night’s rest …

except that Baby Bear woke up about an hour earlier than she should have this morning and spent the first half hour of the day making it abundantly clear that she was NOT happy to be awake. That alone should have clued me in that today was going to be r-o-u-g-h one. Nonetheless, we moved forward according to plan. By 8 a.m., both girls were dressed and ready to begin the day. I had just a bit of laundry that I wanted to fold and put away first.

Then, disaster struck.

“Mommy, Mommy!” Little Bear shouted, “Come quick!”

I walked toward the living room, my hands full of laundry, expecting to see a stray ant or perhaps even a few drops of milk spilled on the carpet. Instead, I met Little Bear clutching an empty tube of triple antibiotic ointment.

“Baby Bear found the medicine you put on my knee yesterday, and she’s smearing it everywhere!” Little Bear informed me. “She’s got it all over her, and she’s painting your chair with it. She even got it on me!”

Little Bear did not exaggerate. And just for the record, a nearly-full 2 oz. tube of triple antibiotic ointment is enough to coat a toddler, a large recliner, and a significant portion of carpet. Oh, and did I mention that the stuff is even more impervious to common household cleaning agents than, say, Silly Putty?

Suffice it to say, the hour that followed was not pleasant. But lots of scrubbing and not a few tears later, the living room was once again habitable, and both kids were mostly ointment free. I brewed another cup of coffee, gave all of us a dose of Rescue Remedy, and pulled both girls into my lap in the hopes of regrouping and salvaging the morning.

… except in the midst of the ointment craziness, I’d forgotten to eat breakfast. And two cups of coffee do not settle well on an empty, already queasy stomach. Three stories and a handful of Mother Goose rhymes into the day, I had to cry uncle. I sent the girls to play, dug out my Zofran, fed myself breakfast, and closed my eyes for 20 blissful minutes …

until angry shrieks sent me running to the girls’ room, where I found two would-be little princesses feuding over a crown. The crown ended up in time out, and we made yet another attempt to start school. We actually got through calendar time and Bible time unscathed. Then, Little Bear begged to do Life of Fred.

The unit we’d stopped on yesterday introduced time to the minute. Little Bear had really struggled to understand how the long hand being on the 1 translated into :05, how 2 translated into :10, and so on. I’d chalked her struggles up to fatigue and put the book away, hoping we’d have better luck with the material today.

But we didn’t.

She’s capable of counting by 5’s. She had no problem counting out minutes on our teaching clock (which shows minutes in the form of small numerals). But whenever she was asked to read time from a “real” clock, she immediately reverted to reading 4:10 as “4:2,” 6:30 as 6:6, and so on.

“Come on,” I challenged, “you can do this! You just have to count by 5’s!”

Instead of rising to the challenge as I expected, my math-loving child suddenly dissolved into puddle of tears and wilted into my arms.

Ever feel like you’ve “broken” you kid? In that moment, I seriously wondered whether I had forever quenched my child’s fascination, and I too melted. Several hugs and a Mommy apology later, she asked to continue on with math. We finished the day’s lesson with some basic geometry and several logic puzzles, but the clock was set aside indefinitely.

Math done, I went to check on Baby Bear who was supposedly looking at books in the girls’ room, and indeed she was.  But she’d apparently grown tired of the easy-to-reach shelves filled with toddler books and had repurposed her bathroom step stool to reach “big kid” pop-up books — one of which was thoroughly dismantled all over the bed.

“Look, Mommy!” she cried in excitement as soon as our eyes met. “Dese pictures come out!”

Yet more tears ensued when I not-so-gently broke the news that without its pop-up pictures, the book she had so thoroughly enjoyed was reduced to landfill fodder.

Then Little Bear arrived on the scene of the carnage, and her eyes also began to fill with tears. “Can’t you fix it, Mommy?” she pleaded. “I love those books so much! I wanted to keep them for my children!”

With that, another hard and unplanned lesson ensued: Some things Mommy just can’t fix.

Science has a great way of distracting from sadness, though. So I pulled both girls onto the bed beside me, pulled several of the undamaged books from the same series off the shelf, and showed them how the pop-ups worked as we read through the stories. The last book finished, Little Bear asked, “Mommy, is it lunch time yet?”

“Probably,” I said. “What time is it?”

“The short hand is on the one,” she replied, “so it’s 1 o’clock. The long hand is on the two, so it’s 1:2 — no, 5, 10 … it’s 1:10! It’s past time for lunch!” (Funny how those “failed” math lessons suddenly seemed to take root when she actually had a reason to use the target skill!)

As we sat eating lunch, Little Bear once again piped up: “Mommy, I have a great idea! What about going swimming this afternoon? We could all use some fresh air and sunshine.”

She was right. We could all benefit from fresh air and sunshine. And today of all days, it seemed that we could benefit more from active outdoor play, fun, and happy togetherness than from any number of formal lessons. At my request, Little Bear cheerfully practiced her reading, reading aloud as I cleaned up from lunch.

Then, we were off to the pool for some much-needed family fun. … Life may not come with a rewind button, but at least “recharge,” “rejuvenate,” and “reset” made the list of options!

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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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Waiting …

Today’s chief lessons? Patience, tolerance, and flexibility.

The girls spent a full third of their waking hours sitting in environments that weren’t exactly kid-friendly and waiting, waiting, waiting while I took care of grown-up business. We kicked off our day at the hospital, where a one-hour glucose test ended up taking 2 1/2 hours. Small waiting rooms aren’t really meant to function as school rooms. But I’d packed a bag full of books (knowing we’d need something to fill the time), and Little Bear proved herself capable of learning anywhere.

For the first hour, we focused on this week’s pond theme. Today’s themed read-alouds included the following:


As we read, both girls enjoyed identifying animals that made their homes in the pond. Little Bear went a step further and distinguished between animals that spent their entire lives in ponds and animals that simply began their lives amid murky waters. We also explored …

  • distinguishing characters of ponds;
  • common differences between lakes and ponds;
  • common pond plants;
  • the importance of algae;
  • identifying characteristics of dragonflies and damselflies.

When Baby Bear’s interest in our theme study waned, I handed her the iPad and did math with Little Bear. Because I wanted to limit the number of books we were toting around, we primarily worked in Mathematical Reasoning Level A. Much of this book reviews concepts Little Bear already understands and had I actually seen a copy before ordering, I probably would have started with a higher level. But Little Bear thoroughly enjoys it — so much so that she’s undaunted by the written work and gets much-needed writing practice while reviewing basic math concepts. Over the course of the ten pages she breezed through this morning, she …

  • practiced correct numeral formation;
  • reviewed even/odd numbers and practiced counting by 2’s;
  • reviewed ordinal numbers;
  • reviewed the concept of number sets and added various number sets;
  • used verbal clues to solve problems.

We also completed the final three logic puzzles in Mind Benders Book 1, much to Little Bear’s delight and consternation. She loves finishing books and danced around as wildly as space would permit in celebration of having finished this one. Suddenly, though, it dawned on her that one of her favorite books was finished.

“Mommy, are there any more books in this series?” she asked.

I assured her that there were, and she resumed her cheering. Then she stopped and asked, “Do we have them?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I need to look and see.”

“Well, can you check just as soon as we get home?” she pressed. “And if we don’t have them, can you order them today? I can’t wait to start the next one!”

Moving on to phonics, Little Bear completed several pages of Explode the Code 1. Once again, the text focused on short /a/ words. In today’s lesson, she

  • spelled /-at/, /-ad/, and /-am/ words aloud;
  • matched pictures and words;
  • read sentences that included similar short /a/ words and matched each sentence with the picture that best illustrated it.

She finished today’s phonics/reading lesson by reading I Love My New Toy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) aloud to Baby Bear.

At last, it was time for my second blood draw of the morning. Both girls watched in fascination, then enjoyed a brief explanation of the process along with an up-close look at the tools used in the lab.

After an early lunch, the girls played while I recovered from the effects of 75 mg. of glucose. Play-Doh time followed active play. Finally, we pulled Zoologic off the shelf for a quick mental work-out before we headed off to our second “hurry up and wait appointment of the day.”

Our second errand of the day took us to a local performing arts company, where Baby Bear will be participating in Kindermusik and Little Bear will be taking dance classes during the 2013-2014 school year. I’d been warned that we needed to be there when the doors for registration today if we wanted to get in the classes of our choice. We got 33 minutes early to stand in a stairwell full of people (in 100-degree weather, no less …) and even at that were No. 46 on the registration list.

I’d naively brought books along on this outing as well, but it quickly became apparent that neither the noise level, nor the crowd, nor my need to listen closely for our number would allow Mommy to entertain. So it was SuperWhy and, later, Doc McStuffins to the rescue as half an hour turned into an hour, then two, while my tired cubs attempted to wait patiently.


Waiting …

On the plus side, we did manage to get in our first choice of classes, and we’ve heard great things about both programs. Here’s hoping they prove to be well worth the wait!

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