Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Changing out our work spaces

Yesterday was that time again.  Time to change out our wintery items in our playroom to things more springy.  The best way I know to do it is to empty my cabinet of "stuff" shelf by shelf (remember my shelves are grouped by language, science, math, music, fine motor, etc.) and get out anything I want to put out for this season, and put away items in the playroom we're done with for now.  It makes a big mess and it's time-consuming, but it's worth it!  I consider the biggest "teaching" responsibility to be developing a play area with materials that are relevant and stimulating to each of my children's current development. 

I am not finished and still have several other small changes I want to make and lots of items sitting in a basket that I still want to prepare, but I got the bulk of it changed out in about two hours yesterday.  My kids always get so excited to enter a freshly-changed playspace!
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Toddler Fine Motor

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Lent with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Lent is a season my family chooses to participate in as a means to focus an extra amount on the stories and truths behind Jesus' path to the cross.  Obviously we live every day of our lives "near the cross," but Lent is a good time to focus our studies, decorations, and family traditions around Jesus' path to the cross, and his subsequent resurrection on Easter. 

For young children, they need to connect the stories to things they can touch and see.  I like to use a seasonal table as a tool for this.  This is actually a square chair (the wooden kids' kids kinds that won't tip over--a cargo chair).  We turned it on its side and draped it in purple cloth.  We've talked about how the souldiers put a purple robe on Jesus to mock him, but they didn't know he WAS the king.  We look for crosses as we're out and about driving--most of them are draped in purple, and when we see them we point them out and say, "KING OF KINGS!"  Quinn and I have had some great conversations on why Jesus is the king ABOVE all kings--and she's very into kings and queens and princess, etc., right now, so this is very meaningful to her.  She is learning to connect the color purple to Jesus' royality. 

Our little table has a metal cross the kids can put the purple fabric on and off of.  This one works well because it's steady and doesn't tip well.  I want to get a wooden crucifix to add, so I am keeping my eyes open for one for them to hold and touch.  There are also two candles.  We talk so much about Jesus being the light of the world.  I hope my kids leave this home someday and aren't ever able to look upon a candle without connecting it to Jesus' words. 
There is also a grapevine wreath.  We have a real "crown of throrns" but because Beck is only 18 months, I keep it on our kitchen table so he is safe--because it is REALLY sharp.....the grapevine wreath reminds us of the crown of thorns.  There is also an illustration I took a photo of and printed out from our JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE that Beck is particularly drawn to.  We locate all the "boo-boo's" on Jesus' body and the crown on his head and make the sign-language sign for "hurts."  We also have taught him the sign for Jesus, and he knows are fingers are nails going in Jesus' hands.  These two signs are great ways to introduce toddlers to the crucifixion story in a developmentally appropriate fashion. 
Next year I will likely include a nail on this table, but Beck likes to walk around with things sticking out of his mouth, and I know he'd be very drawn to a nail, so for now that will stay put up in our "Stations of the Cross" kit, which comes down when Mommy is helping. 
All of the items at our seasonal table are meant to hold, touch, and explore.  The kids like to clip Jesus' picture off and on the wreath. 

Additionally at our table we have a candle liturgy we do at dinner.  Basically we lit all the candles and light one less each week leading up to Easter, when they will be all dark.  Easter morning we'll light them all.  Q and I have talked extensively about how Jesus' followers did not understand his words that he would leave them but come back, so as it got closer to the time for the cross, they were sadder and sadder.  When he did die, the earth went dark.  But the best news of all is that he arose on Easter morning and the light was in the world--and now can be inside our hearts.  Q gave Daddy a mini-sermon on this last night at the dinner table.  :)
Candles are such an allure to children, and finding ways to connect routines and traditions to spiritual concepts are very powerful tools when teaching preschoolers and toddlers. 

I made the crown with some horribly thorny vines I found in the woods.  And yes, I did bleed making it.  Making a crown of thorns is definitely a holy experience as you think through what it meant and the pain it caused.  Next year it may go on our seasonal table as Beck will probably be old enough to learn how to touch it safely. 
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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Groundhog Day flashback

Candlemas and Groundhog day are on the same day.  This year they were on a Saturday, so we didn't actually celebrate either on the correct day.  But the following week I decided to teach Q a little bit about the tradition of Groundhog day.  I needlefelted a little groundhog.  Sorta.  I am still not happy with it looking "groundhoggy" enough, but I fussed with it for several days and finally decided it would have to do.  We kept it on our table for the week and the kids enjoyed holding and playing with it.  It went into our box of Valentine decorations to re-emmerge next year!

We read these two books this year:

Note--this book has a Halloween Witch and Santa in the story, so if you are not fans of these two you may want to forego this book.  Though it is a fun read!

We didn't get any more involved than just reading the books and talking a little bit about shadows.  I saved the titles of several more "shadow" and "groundhog" books to my "February" teaching folder on my computer, so next year we may choose to delve deeper!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday

 Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  Last year was my first time to experience this tradition, and I knew it was something I wanted to develop a little further in my kids' spiritual education.  Tomorrow afternoon I am getting together with three other Mommies and all our little ones to talk about the significance of Ash Wednesday and put ashes on the heads of any kiddos who want to participate.  I am breaking one of my own rules and writing a blog post on a day I usually don't, but I want to put this out there in case anyone wants to do Ash Wednesday at home with your own kids. 
I've been doing a lot of reading about using sacraments/sacramental days to teach my children about things of God.  I love this stuff and what it brings--joy and tangible experiences that are appropriate for young children, especially preschoolers.  I am learning through my readings to avoid the temptation to "explain away" these concepts and traditions.  From what I read, it's recommended to give a little bit of explanation but then to simply let our kids become immersed in the experience.  Too much talk takes away from the magic of the experience.  I relate this to what a friend of mine has shared with me about the Classical Conversations education method--that at a young age children spend a lot of time just memorizing dates, events, etc., and then at a later age spiral back to those same concepts (which have already been given a foundation through memorization) and add meaning to them.  That's what I am seeing encouraged as we lead our children to experience spiritual traditions.  Of course this is really hard for me because I want my 4 year old (who is barely venturing into abstract thought....) to understand to the depth I do how Jesus had to die for her sins and the subsequent emotions she should be feeling.....ridiculous....I know.  And at the same time I think about my Heavenly Father, shaking his head at the shallowness of MY understanding of Jesus's sacrifice for me.  Thankfully He does the same thing....lets me spiral back, again and again, to build on my understanding, and best of all, loves me even though I'll never fully grasp it all.
So tomorrow I'll have my little chiminea at the park and the kids will each get to put in some palm branches to be burned to make ashes.  We'll sit in on the ground ("in the dirt"), have a brief talk about the ashes and any child that wants to will then get a chance to have their mom put ashes on their head in the shape of a cross.  I'll be bringing a mirror so they can see what it looks like.  We'll have a prayer and sing the song "Lord, We Lift Your Name on High" (the one with the hand movements).  And that's it!
I hope to keep a tone of quiet and reverence tomorrow, which seems appropriate in light of the subject matter--and the fact that this is important stuff. We'll be quiet and reverent as we enter the park and during the ash time.  I will have everything set up right as the children arrive, as I know little ones' reverence does have its limits.  :)  And after our 10ish minute Ash Liturgy (that sounds so official, but I don't know what else to call it....ash bash?) the kids can run wild and crazy at the park and enjoy some playtime. 
I am so thankful I have friends who stand together with me as we impress Jesus on our children's hearts.  And if this whole thing totally bombs and nothing goes right.....we'll learn better for next year, right? 
I am excited!! 

I sat down and wrote a "script" of what I want to say tomorrow--enough to explain what we're doing, but hopefully not too much.....I'll be praying that the Spirit will lead me when the time comes to speak to these little souls tomorrow.  I wanted to share it in case you want to do your own Ash Bash with your kiddos tomorrow. 

Additionally, here's the LINK to my post from last year, when I introduced 3 year old Quinn to Ash Wednesday.  I share these in hopes you can be inspired to find a way to use this season as a tool to teach your kids even more about their Savior....and also because I have had a hard time finding information on Ash Wednesday and Lent and how to involve preschoolers, so here is some of the information I gleaned, put together in a way that makes sense to me. 

 Today starts a time of 40 days that we work to get our hearts ready to remember that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave so we can someday go to heaven with him.  During this time called Lent, we look into our hearts we take out the things that don't help us love God,  some of the things we want out are our sins. 

I want to show you something we're going to do to remind us how sad our sins make us feel and God feel.  A long time ago when people were sad they would sit in the dirt and dress in rags and rub ashes on themselves to show how their heart was feeling (have some sackcloth (burlap) to hold up and show the children).  On Ash Wednesday, some people want to remember how sad our sins make God feel, so they put ashes on their head to show their sadness.  But they do something special with those ashes--they put them in the shape of a cross, because even though our sins make God so sad, He has given us Jesus to take away our sins by dying on the cross. 

(invite children to sit on the dirt)

If you want to, your Mommy will put some ashes on your head in a cross. (demonstrate)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Some reflection on children and art.....

One thing I am on a quest for as I serve as my children's teacher is to introduce them to the world of art.  Not crafts, but true art.  Of course I love crafts and it's one of my favorite hobbies (and I do some with my kids), I am intentional to make sure we do "art" during our art time.  I also feel like, as a Mama/Teacher I need art in my own life.  I love reading the blogs of a few artists that inspire me.  One is Patricia Zapata, a paper artist and amazing mom.  She posted a discussion of the benefits of art for children lately, and I really recommend it.  It's a quick, enlightening read, and even though there was nothing groundbreakingly new to me in her words, it was a GREAT reminder about why art time is worth the effort. 

I'd really like to encourage the mamas of infants/toddlers/young preschoolers to prevail and press on providing art experiences for your little ones.  Even if they make a huge mess.  Even if they are only "artsy" for two minutes at a time when you spent 10+ minutes preparing the materials.  Even if they don't like getting paint or glue on their hands.  You are setting a framework for art that they will continue to build upon the rest of their lives.  It's worth it, I promise!  I have seen this out in my 4 year old--who is a very independent artist now, but definitely did not start out that way!  And I am working to instill a love for art and creating art in my 18 month old son. 

One of my favorite quotes right now came from a preacher at my church:
"God is in the business of making something out of nothing."  The implications of this can go so many directions, but for me it also speaks for the craving God molded into our beings when He made us in His image--to be a creative, just like Him.  So I feel that teaching my children to create and to love art is part of their spiritual development and an element they need to grow to appreciate our Creator, the Great Artist. 

And now that I've ranted, here's the LINK to Patricia's great article. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Our first year to celebrate Candlemas!  First I had to do a bit of research and found this website helpful.  Here's a quote and a link to Parenting Passageways, one of my favorite educational websites:
 “All Year Round” says in regards to Candlemas ...(Authors Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton and Marije Rowling write: ) “At the beginning of February, when the infant light of spring is greeted thankfully by the hoary winter earth, it seems fitting that we should celebrate a candle Festival to remember that moment when the Light of the World was received into the Temple, when the old yielded to the new.”

February 2nd is Candlemas, and this is traditionally the day that celebrates the ritual cleansing of Mary after the birth of Jesus and also when Mary presented the infant Jesus in the temple as according to Jewish tradition.   Simeon called Jesus a light, thus tying Him to this day. 

Candlemas is a traditional holiday that is celebrated many different ways.  Some of the most common ways involve making candles (in rememberance of Jesus, our Light) and also planting bulbs, as the season of winter is gently moving toward spring.

Candlemas is traditionally celebrated on February 2nd.  That happened to be a Saturday and a day we were chalk-ful of other events, so I postponed our celebrations to Monday.  Works for us!

I had this lovely presentation on the table for the kids when it was time to begin Kitchen School.  

We lit a lantern and began our Bible reading.  And in case you want to know what REALLY goes on in kitchen school, here is Little Man eating the lighter.  :)  And these bulbs...I went to my favorite plant store--Plants for All Seasons.  I asked one of the workers to help me find bulbs.  He was very concerned that it was way too late for me to try and force bulbs.  I told him it was fine, I wouldn't be upset if they didn't work our perfectly, my kids would just enjoy giving it a try.  Ends up he wouldn't even let me pay for the bulbs because he was so convinced it was too late in the year.  He gave me some great information on different bulbs and when to buy/refrigerate/plant them and he sent us home with these 4 paperwhite bulbs for free.  Don't ya just love people like that? 

 We read from Luke 2--the story of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the temple and about Simeon calling him "the Light to the Gentiles" and Anna praying and fasting to see Jesus before she died.  I had printed off a painting from the internet for the kids to look at. 
 At this point Beck was done being at the table so he went off to play.  Quinn and I moved on to candles.  I had racked my brain to figure out what kind of candles we would do that would work for my kids at this age.  We've already rolled beeswax candles recently, and melting and dipping beeswax is still a bit of a reach for us.  I also didn't want to go with punching tin cans into lanterns because I am afraid Beck's too little to be careful holding them and might cut himself.  So...I found these little nest-shaped tealight holders my sister gave me a while back.  We got out some pretty yarn and had fun weaving it into the nests.  Then I crocheted a chain of yarn for a handle so they can be carried.  They can either hold real tealights on the table at meals or the LED kind when being played with.  They turned out so lovely!

Then we planted our bulbs--we filled the containers with rocks--great fine motor because we had to be sooo careful!  We put in the bulbs and Q poured water up to the edge of the roots.  Don't they look nice?!!  We will watch them to see what happens. 

We also made some wire crowns--I need to take a picture so I can show you!

And another tradition on Candlemas is making and eating crepes.  Daddy ended up being out for a birthday celebration with his guy friends, so I attempted this one by myself.  Yikes!  Q and I whipped up the batter, and then I cooked them.  It was fine, but it took a while and the kids were pretty much going crazy....mostly because I was doing dinner on my own and they smell my weakness.  :)  

But the crepes turned out delicious!  We topped them with cheese, preserves and pumpkin butter (individually...not all at once!) and the cheese ones won out in popularity.  Though Little Man liked the preserves pretty well!
We had a good time, learned some more from God's word, and tried a new food!  Candlemas #1 was a success!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snowflake art

Here's a couple art activities we did this week.  I introduced Little Man to gluing.  Now I am not a fan of calling "crafts" "ART," so let me clarify on this one.  This is the first time he's ever gotten to work with glue.  I cut out a snowflake shape and gave him a bowl of cotton balls to explore.  After a couple minutes I put one dot of glue on his paper and showed him how to stick the cotton ball down.  Of course he wanted to lift it off and look at it, which was fine, then we re-stuck it again.  I put one dot at a time and encouraged him to stick down a cotton ball. We put 7 total on, and then we were done for that day.  A 5 minute total activity, but I will begin to teach him more (and allow for more exploration with) about glue in the weeks to come.  We started slow. 

I had planned on cutting paper snowflakes with Q.  I had the paper all ready and I folded it for her to cut, but she wasn't strong enough to get the scissors to cut through all the layers.  We tried using the holepunch (on even just 1 layer) and it was too hard for her to squeeze, too.  So we ended up with Mama cutting the snowflakes and Q decided she wanted to watercolor them for Grammie, who's in the hospital.  She did really enjoy the anticipating of helping me unfold the snowflake and seeing how it would look!
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Library Books we LOVED!

We'd suggest adding these 3 to your "must check out" list!  We enjoyed all three of them immensely!  Fun, funny books!
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Toddler Art Lessons: Learning to use markers and the reason behind the marker block

Markers are a great "first art" experience for toddlers, medium-wise.  They allow a toddler to explore the process of using a writing implement, are washable, and don't need much direct pressure to produce a stroke (they'll even write if you tilt them to the side a bit). 

I am intentional about teaching the markering "process."  As a matter of fact, the first few times I introduce markers to toddlers I don't even push them to actually write with them.  Here's the process:

Choose a marker and show them how to open the cap.  It's hard work!  Great for strengthening those little hand muscles and connecting the hand-eye networks. 

Snap the cap onto the bottom of the marker so it doesn't roll on the floor and get lost.  My little guy (17 months) has a really hard time with this part.  He still likes the cap better than the marker, so he's not wanting to snap the cap on the end.  I model it for him and he'll do it when he's ready. 

Write....if ya want to.  I always use the words "we write on paper" and pat the paper.  If he starts to write on the table or himself I remind him about writing on paper, and if he isn't redirected, I say, "We write on paper.  Here, I'll help your hand find the paper" and move his hand with the marker to the paper.  "There's that paper!" 

After writing, put the lid back on and listen for the "snap" when the lid is on tight enough.  I initially make a big deal of this--we hold the marker up to our ears and listen and say, "SNAP!"  Toddlers and preschoolers love it.  And it's an important part of the process because no one likes dried-out markers!

I am very diligent about keeping markers in a "block."  There are many reasons for this--
*it encourages the math skill of one-to-one correspondance
*it helps the child know immediately if a marker is missing or a lid's no on
*it limits the available choice of markers to a developmentally appropriate amount
*it teaches the child to be organized and neat with art supplies
*it's super portable--you can quickly take markers to another table, outside, etc. 
*it's visually appealing!  How fun to see all the marker colors sticking up so beautifully!
*pencil boxes and bins tend to collect other junk and get cluttery--there's only space for markers here!

There are lots of ways to make this type of block.  Ours was made by wood-gluing together two pieces of scrap two-by-four and drilling holes into it.  You can, of course, purchase these (usually plastic ones) at teacher supply stores, as well, if you don't have access to tools to make one.  I've also see marker lids cemented into a pan to make a similar type of marker block. 

My 17 month old LOVES working with markers and will happily uncap, examine (sometimes draw a mark), and recap for 10-15 minutes.  I often present the markers when I need to get some type of paperwork done at the table so he can "write" with Mama!
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