Monday, February 27, 2012

He's entered the world of "Thingy Baskets"

Beck can sit up now, so he's totally into his "Thingy Baskets!" We have one upstairs, one downstairs, and one in the playroom that can also travel outside when we work in the yard or hang laundry.

READ HERE for more details about thingy baskets.

Making Pretzels

Making pretzels is a traditional Lent activity. I'd actually never made pretzels before....only eaten them! :) The story behind pretzels is that they were originally made by a monk to be a good steward in using up all the bread dough, and the crossed shape is to represent arms crossed in prayer. There is lots of info out on the internet about this if you want more details.....

We made the pretzels this morning....a great rainy-day activity!

What you need:
1 package yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups flour
1 egg, beaten
*we added some toppings of garlic powder, salt, parmesan cheese and dried dill*

To make:
-use water that is "baby bath water" warm
-mix yeast, water, sugar and salt and stir
-allow to sit while you sift the flower into a large bowl
-pour water mixture into flour mixture and knead for a while
-I had to add a couple more T. of water to get it the right consistency
-when all flour is incorporated, start taking handfuls of dough, roll into balls, and then roll into a long snake.
-the longer you work each dough ball in your hands the better pretzel it forms
-lay the dough down in the pretzel shape on a sprayed cookie sheet
-brush with egg and sprinkle with toppings

BAKE 425 for about 12 minutes or until golden brown.
(mine yielded 12 pretzels about the size of my fist)

They turned out yummy! Best eaten warm....Would also be good topped with shredded cheddar cheese, with cinnamon and sugar, with pieces of dried apple and could get pretty creative with your toppings!

While the pretzels cooked we talked a little bit about prayer. We read the story of Jesus praying in the Garden before he was arrested and talked about how he was down on his face before God praying. Q has mentioned several times lately that you "HAVE" to close your eyes and fold your hands to pray, so we talked about how we can pray to God anytime, anywhere. We CAN use formal postures when we pray, but God hears our hearts, so prayers can be offered anytime.

This activity is one I highly recommend! It's an easy, fun cooking experience, includes fine motor skills of kneading, rolling, and forming the dough, makes a tactile and concrete connection to Biblical concepts, and is yummy, too!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent

My faith community doesn't really acknowledge or celebrate Lent. A good friend of mine gave me a book of Lenten reflections for each of the 40 days that peaked my interest and got me researching the topic. At the same time I am nearing the end of a study of the book of Philippians. This past week we focused intently on Paul's admonitions for the Philippian church to to live disciplined lives focused on Heaven. So the whole idea of Lent:

Traditionally Lent is a season of sober, realistic reflection on our own lives and our need for a Savior. It is a time for turning away from anything that has kept us from God and for turning or returning to him. It is a time to pray that God renew our love for him and our dependence on him.


Lent is about the gospel. It is a time to narrow the focus of the Church to the work of Christ, in particular His life and death, a season to turn from sin and trust in His atoning work....It is a time for fasting and self-denial, though not for denial itself. It is a period to empty ourselves of lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the gospel.

fits perfectly (and very biblically) into my goal of disciplining myself (and my children!) to follow Christ.

So this morning I went to my very first Ash Wednesday service. Early, outside, a small crowd of people gathered around a cross. We sang "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and had a time of prayer and the speaker talked about the history of putting ashes on heads throughout the old testament as a sign of repentance and sorrow. Then we heard about the great love Jesus has for us and that we are called to crucify the parts of ourselves that are not of Him. What a simple, yet deep way to begin my morning and this season.

Ash Wednesday:
Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ heads or foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin.

Of course I was so excited to share this concept with Quinn in a way appropriate with her. She immediately wanted to know what was on my head. :) So we had our own Ash Wednesday at home today.

We started out by cutting off some dried palm branches. This was a great science lesson--we talked about how they turn brown and crunchy when they die, and green branches are still wet so they don't burn well.

Then we put them in the chiminea and lit them, after a short talk about fire safety and when/who uses fire.

While they burned down, we read in her children's Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible, actually, which I highly recommend owning). We read the story of Jonah (I totally took this idea from the mornings' service I'd attended) and talked about how the people of Ninevah were sorry for their sin and wore sackcloth and put ashes on their head and told God they would change their ways. We talked about how ashes are a visible way people used to show they were sorry and ready to make better choices. (In language appropriate for a 3 year old).

She was very solemn and interested in the ashes and the story of Jonah. We'd read it tons of time before, but I hadn't gone into the way the people of Ninevah showed their repentance and sorrow over their sin, so this was new to her. Then we talked briefly about how we are sad that our sin made Jesus go to the cross and hurts him still every time we sin.

Of course there were some "totally 3 year old" interludes where she said random things like, "can we make soup out of mud after this?" "How about if I am good I don't need a nap today? (nice try....but no) and I know quite a bit of what I said went over her head. But I am confident she picked up some of the ideas and they will begin building a framework for her to add to over time as she is able to process the very abstract concepts of sin and forgiveness and even Jesus, this man we've never seen but talk about and who lives in some place we've never seen called Heaven (which she asked me if we could tear away the sky and climb up there....too much Jack and the Beanstalk!).

Then we dug out some of the ashes and a couple sticks with ashes on them. I touched it and showed her how it had turned black (I was beginning to notice her interest waning at this point or else I'd have talked briefly about the chemical changes that the palm branches had made....isn't God amazing when you think of all of these aspects of creation????!!) She was a little freaked about the ashes and didn't want to touch them, so I put some on my head and we talked about why we make a cross out of the ashes. And then we made mud soup! And now she's napping!

So we are doing this whole Lent thing. I want to take advantage of every opportunity to draw myself and my little family closer to our Savior. I want to oust everything that's not of him, which I know is a lifetime journey--Paul says even he had not yet reached perfection, but continued to press on......(Phil 3) I feel like we are somewhat stumbling through it since it's so foreign and new, but I am praying for the Spirit to guide our steps and I am thankful for the opportunity we have to experience this spiritual discipline afresh--it hasn't become familiar and routine to us!

I'll try to post about our journey regularly......

Monday, February 20, 2012

Shared Writing

Quinn is loving to make up crazy stories these days. At lunch today she mentioned something about a jalopeno with teeth and I told her we HAD to write a story about that! Together we thought out the story line (with lots of re-direction from me to ensure it made somewhat sense...) and then we wrote it down. I paused occasionally to allow her to suggest phrases and words. "And what did you say when the jalopeno bit you?" "was it a HUGE jalopeno or a GIANT one, or what word do you want to use there?"

Then we both draw an illustration. She isn't ready to work on one collaboratively yet, she totally wants to do it herself! I talk aloud while I draw to model the process for her.

Soon I will begin asking her to help me writing the letters she knows, especially at the beginnings of words. Right now that is too much for her, but she is definitely getting close!

The important thing is to make it fun. Too much "teachiness" turns it into a chore, so I work to keep the activity fast-paced and catered to her interest at the time. It's a "mini lesson" of sorts.

We always go back and read what we've already written before adding a new sentence. That helps build fluency for her and also starts building a connection between how words look and sound, as I point to the words as I read them. We usually also make sure to write the title at the top first thing, but we totally spaced that today, so this one is a bad example. :)

We give our stories to family members as a way of "publishing" them. Q loves to see her stories hanging up at family members' houses! and they are good sports to indulge her.
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Valentine Pouch

I always try to think of a way to incorporate Valentines Q's received into her learning. They are such a great tool for literacy! I've made laminated books and baggie books ....
This year I whipped up a felt envelope with stuff I had around the house. I stamped "Mail for Quinn" on a tshirt scrap using stamps, sewed the sides of some felt, used pinking shears to make it pretty, and sewed on a button. She can keep all her valentines inside and use them in her play. We can play post office, Valentine party, mailman, etc......
You could use a glue gun if you don't sew and you could use scraps of fabric from clothes you don't use anymore. Denim would be super cute! This would also be toddler or baby-friendly!!
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March sensory tub

Yesterday someone gave us a big baggie of colored spiral noodles. So I put em in our sensory tub along with cut up pieces of mardi gras beads. Q loves being loud with them--stirring and scooping them as loudly as she can. Once she settles down over the excitement of their newness she can practice pouring, measuring, scooping, etc.

When I taught 2 year olds we did a big tub just of the cut mardi gras beads. The nice thing is you can cut them in longer sections so that they aren't easily swallowed. Then you can use them for impromptu math lessons--can you find 4 beads? 5 beads?
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Rainbow People

We have our playroom downstairs and as a result, I really don't allow many toys upstairs. Quinn tries to secretly take everythign she owns up there, but I purge a couple times a week. Her bedroom is a sleeping/resting place and I like for it to have minimal items, which also helps keep it clean.

She has a book shelf where she keeps her EIGHT Bibles (She has a bit of an obsession) and a few books. She also has a small wooden tea set, a small bucket of blocks, and a couple stuffed animals. I try to only allow items that create opportunities for open-ended pretend play. If she wakes up before me in the mornings she will play tea party or school or library or some other pretend game with her items. She also has given up napping, so her daily quiet time is spent in pretend play with these items.

I wanted to add something new and interesting to her room, but wanted it to fit my guideline of simplicity and encourage pretend play. We are beginning to study the rainbow in March, so Quinn and I made these rainbow people last week. We painted wooden peg dolls we happened to already have using permanent craft paint. Then I cut felt to make little hats and we glued a pretty bead at the top of each hat. She loves them and has already played with them so much!

When she cleans them up we stand them on her shelf in the order of the light spectrum (roygbp....okay, sorta!) We ran out of peg people and she was insistent on a pink one. But she is still picking up some science/art skills as we talk about the colors in the rainbow/light spectrum.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Infants and Eating

So we are totally immersed in the beginning stages of eating with our little guy! What fun! Here is just a general overview of how we introduce solids based on my experiences in a fabulous infant Montessori class a few years back...and how we adapt these things to use at home.

First off, two books I highly recommend when it comes to Infant Feeding are Super Baby Food by Ruth Yarrow and Babywise by Gary Ezzo (the chapters on eating). I think both of them are a little extreme in their views and I tend to draw from what they believe and not use it as a the final word...but it's good background info to have--especially Ezzo's information on how we train babies in response to hunger.

Moving on......
It's important to note that our feeding procedure is what we follow MOST OF THE TIME. Sometimes it's just too cold in our house to feed the poor boy shirtless, so of course I keep him clothed and use a bib. And naturally we don't undress him in restaurants. Sometimes I give him his water in a sippy cup, just to keep him familiar with how to use it (or because, face it, I haven't unloaded the dishwasher that day and have no clean shot glasses.....) But the following is the procedure I learned in my Montessori experience and what we typically follow.

First off, we feed Beck during our mealtimes--the same place and time as the rest of us eat. OF COURSE there are sometimes exceptions--like if he gets off his nap schedule and is asleep during a meal, etc. But we are trying to teach him the concept of "meal time" and to become a participant in the social aspect of eating. He sits with us while we thank God for the blessing of food. He sees how we all sit down together and stay seated during mealtime. He "interacts" with us in our dinnertime/lunchtime conversation (obviously right now it's a little one-sided...). He is taking in so many concepts of "mealtime" and what this means that he wouldn't be exposed to if we fed him separately at another time.

We typically put Beck's food in a clear container. I love the little glass jelly jars for the portion he's eating right now with these fabulous screw-on plastic lids! The reason for the clear container is to begin teaching him the concept that as he eats his food, the amount in the dish decreases and is eventually gone. This is a very basic math skill in volume, and also a cause-effect relationship. It also allows him to begin to observe the properties of the foods he eats--the color and texture as he sees it in the dish (early science skill).

We usually use a metal baby spool because metal responds to the heat of the food being eaten--a metal spoon dipped in refrigerated yogurt turns cold. A metal spoon dipped in warm squash heats up. Beck can begin sensing these differences on his tongue and lips as he eats. A plastic spoon is less responsive to the heat of the food and provides less sensory input for our little eater. Obviously I sometimes use a plastic spoon if the others are dirty or something, but I TRY to stick with uncoated metal spoons.

We introduce sign language with eating. We sign "eat" before giving him any food by asking "Do you want to eat?" and sign "eat" as we say the word. Sometimes he doesn't even look at us at all while we do this, but other times he does. It doesn't matter if he isn't crazy attentive to this--it's a process and exposure to signs matched with speech and action will build up to create understanding over time.

We also sign "more" between bites. Sometimes not between EVERY bite--if he's hungry we don't torture him like that. :) But I do pause occasionally to give him the chance to request more. He'll usually reach for the food or grunt or even scream. At that point we say, "more" and do the sign. We are modeling for him how to request more and providing opportunities for him to have to make the request (early opportunities for independence--even in a 6 month old!!). We also say/sign "water" before giving him drinks, and we sign "all done" when his food is gone or he has shown us he doesn't want to eat anymore. I have seen mealtime signing to be so successful in both infant and toddler classrooms and also in our home setting with Quinn. It's so helpful to know if your baby is full (all done) or wants a drink (later we'll teach "milk") or even needs more Cheerios or strawberries or whatever. It helps reduce mealtime conflict and really adds a strong sense of personal responsibility and independence for infants and toddlers.
We totally go off Beck's cues to not "overdo" the signing and letting it become obtrusive--we use gently when it fits in at appropriate times, and also build it into our routine.

Here is Beck reaching for his yogurt/sweet potato lunch--in a clear glass jar with a metal spoon. We use shot glasses for his water.

At each meal we also offer water--between a series of bites and at the end of the meal. I love small shot glasses. They are the perfect size and the taper makes them easy for little hands to hold while the wide mouth helps get the liquid in baby's mouth.

I sign and offer water by holding the glass slightly out of Beck's reach so he puts his hand(s) out for it. I wrap his hands around the glass so he is holding it himself with me helping to support. He usually is able to tip it himself with me helping as necessary. Allowing him to sip his water without a shirt on provides immediate feedback when he spills or tips too quickly. He will gasp when that cold water hits his chest! Babies can learn to master open cups very quickly--it's surprising! I remember the first time I went into an infant montessori class and saw the older infants drinking from open cups so efficiently!
Open cups teach babies the cause/effect relationship of spillage, allow for personal responsibility, and are nice to use because they hold very small amounts of liquid that can be totally consumed in one setting (again--the cause/effect relationship of liquids decreasing in volume as they are drank).

Feeding shirtless is for the same reason--so the child can get IMMEDIATE feedback when food is spilled/dropped from the mouth onto the chest.

Also, at every meal (or the majority of the time) we give Beck a food he can feed himself. This is important for building personal responsibility/independence and for helping to hone his motor skills in the practical life area of eating. We often use small pieces of bread we've pulled apart (to practice the palmar grasp and later the pincer grasp), a piece of toast, a hard cracker, a steamed large broccoli floret, a whole steamed carrot, a whole banana (with the peel pulled down half way--keeping the peel on makes it easier to hold--bananas are slippery!) and later we'll add in more finger foods. Allowing him to feed himself also gives us time to get our food eaten!

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A must-read!

I unearthed this book in some of my teaching books from when I taught first grade. Unfortunately it's still above the head of my 3 year old because it uses lots of humor too complex for her and also requires that you ALREADY know the Rapunzel story for this book to make sense. But for older preschoolers and elementary kids--this book is HILARIOUS! And a fun twist on the traditional Rapunzel story. I HIGHLY recommend it. And the illustrations are great--encourage your child to examine them in detail to see some surprises!
Check your library....I'm serious, it's funny! ;)
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Felt Food Play-spaghetti

I was making some other project and I ended up with a pile of white strips of felt. Of course you KNOW I couldn't throw it away. So I made Q a dish of play spaghetti. I raided my scrap box, cut up some red tshirt and used a bit of other fabic to stuff inside to make the meatballs "roundish." I used my sewing machine because it was already set up, but you could totally use hot glue or hand sew, too.

There are tons of fabulous tutorials out there on how to make every cuisine of felt food imaginable. Felt food is such a fun tool for play kitchens in encouraging pretend play! I encourage you to raid your castoff clothes or scrap box to make some felt food! Just one dish can bring a whole world of interest to your child's dramatic play area and inspire all sorts of fun.

I can imagine us streaming some Italian opera music on Pandora, spreading out a red checked napkin on Q's play table and pretending we have an Italian restaurant in our home. I can put out a little pad of paper for the waitress to take orders....all sorts of fun can come from a simple plate of play spaghetti!

If you have a baby, what about making some simple fruits from different felt and stuffing them to teach food vocabulary?

For older kids--bring out your scrapbox at the table WITH them and let them decide on foods to make! Yum and fun!!
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Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Bento Lunch

I made Quinn a Valentine bento lunch for school tomorrow. Nothing fancy--just used red and white "containers" which are a small plastic bowl full of almonds (with a couple candy hearts mixed in), a white cookie cutter filled with dried cherries, a pink muffin liner with a smaller white muffin liner filled with some blackberries, a small silicon minimuffin liner filled with cut carrots, and a white heart pick with some little cheese squares. And a little owl valentine from Mama! I didn't pack too much because I know she'll be too excited about Valentine festivities at school to focus on eating much.
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Friday, February 10, 2012

Ribbon toy

I made Beck a new toy to hold during diaper changes. I keep a few toys in his diaper basket for him to explore while we change/dress him. I used a wooden ring and tied red ribbons around it. I used a lighter to seal the ends from freying. He loves it!!!
This toy stimulates his motor skills as he grabs it and brings it to his mouth. It also encourages his visual perception with the different patterns (dots, stripes, etc.). Additionally he can explore different textures between the various ribbon types.
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Valentine Play Gym

Of course Little Man needs a festive play gym! After a couple weeks of enjoying the "jewelery" decorations Quinn put up for him, he was ready for a change.

He's getting pretty active, so he's ready for several different activities on his gym. So here's what he has to do right now:

-large jingle bell hanging on pink and white ribbon
-purple beads
-red and pink tulle (he LOVES feeling this and exploring the texture!)
-buttons tied onto a wooden ring
-a wooden round piece--it's actually a piece to a wooden puzzle, but for now he's using it to teeth on
-a toy I made by threading some super large rick-rack through two plastic lids
-a cardboard heart cut out wrapped with red yarn
-wooden beads hanging from pink ribbon

Items that aren't "mouth friendly" are hung higher and provided for him to watch or reach at. He also makes things "dance" when he kicks the wooden supports of the playgym.

He is loving all his new toys!

Of course we keep a close eye on him when he works with his playgym since these items can come apart or be choking hazards.
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Playdough letters

When we were doing playdough this week I showed Q how to roll "snakes" and turn them into letters. She named letters and then we worked together to create them. I have a set of "playdough letter cards" that I need to round up for her! Basically I took photos of the playdough letters, laminated them, and put them out with the playdough for my students to recreate the letters.

This is a great way to teach letters by appealing to the tactile nature of young children. Rolling and shaping the letters in dough helps build the concept of the various letter forms in their hand muscles and brains.

Dough recipe HERE
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Her collage

Here's a collage she created from the college work I put out last week. She is getting the concept of putting down glue, pouring glitter or whatever substance on the glue, and then shifting the paper back and forth to get all of the medium to stick in the glue. Then she knows that we pour off whatever didn't stick to the glue. A necessary skill for budding artists, of course!
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Stampy Snowman

I had a candle in a jar with a glass lid. The candle was gone so I was getting ready to throw it all away, but I wanted to find some use for the lid. It had a plastic insert in it, and then the glass handle part (imagine a candle from Yankee Candle). I put out some paint and Q had fun stamping out a snowman with it. Then we threw it away. :)

After the snowman dried, she choose some items to add--pine needle arms, bean eyes and nose, felt mouth, and popcorn buttons.

We've been doing a lot of snowman crafts lately, but Quinn is really enjoying the concept and becoming more and more independent at creating the snow creatures!

You could use any round object--jar lid, etc. Paint stamping is so much fun and oh so easy!!
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The past couple of weeks Beck's playgym has been decorated in some play jewelery (inherited from Quinn's grandmothers...). Quinn had fun hanging some necklaces and a bell and a medal for Beck to play with. Of course these items aren't intended for babies, so we supervise him very closely when he is using the playgym. I actually hung some of the jewelery that I didn't want in his mouth higher so it would be something he could bat at or that would jiggle when he kicks against the sides of the playgym.

We have fun "shopping the house" to find toys for Beck that will encourage him to reach and roll and explore!
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A little dot-art-heart

I really love these dot art stampers. Quinn got this set with a bit of her Christmas money--we bought them at Lakeshore. I've seen people get them at the dollar store as bingo stampers, as well. Guessing Hobby Lobby would also have them. They are great tooks for emergent writers--I used them a lot when I taught preschool to have my students trace letters with the dots. Quinn wanted to make a heart, so I drew one lightly with a pencil and she outlined it with all the colors of dots. A great fine-motor activity!
The stampers are also great for toddlers--they can just stamp on a blank paper. A wonderful first "writing tool" and the chubby grip works well for their hands.
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Monday, February 6, 2012

Snow Play

For Christmas my grandma sent Quinn a little tube of fake snow. You just add water to it and it's kinda like shaved up styrofoam or something. Not cold, but white and fluffy and lots of fun. We put it out for Quinn's sensory tub and she has been really enjoying pouring, scooping, measuring, etc. with it!

You could use one of those big bags of economically priced powdered laundry detergent, soap shavings, baking or washing soda, dishwasher detergent powder......any of those items would make great "snow" for those of us frozen-precipitation-challenged southerners.
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Snow Painting

We've been reading SNOWBALLS by Lois Ehlert like crazy. It's the BEST winter book. So much fun and would be usable for ages infant through preschool. It has many different elements (such as objects you can find on the pages) to make it a great book for such a wide age span.

To go with our reading we decided to do a snowman project. We stretched it out over several days since all the steps involved drying time.

I made "Snow Paint" using:
*equal parts salt and flour (I used 1/2 c. each)
*and half as much water as you used for the salt (1/4 c. in my case)

Quinn LOVED painting and spreading it using a pastry brush and a popsicle stick.

I had provided her with the parts of a snowman cut out of construction paper.
This paint is HEAVY, so you might even want to use cardstock or cardboard.
It dries thick and shimmery and looks like snow! It's soooo cool and easy!
Then once it had dried we raided our pantry to find items to make our snowman. He had coffee bean eyes, a peanut nose and a cinnamon stick mouth. Instead of buttons we made a popcorn heart and found sticks outside for his arms. He turned out so cute!!!

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