Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The cash register (a hack)

 Quinn has been wanting/needing (developmentally) a cash register.  Except that you know I hate all the plasticy ones that make noises and beep and light up.  Because that means my kids would spend all their time pushing buttons to make it light up and beep and ZERO time actually playing with it doing cash-register related tasks.  So I wanted something that isolated the one skill of cash-register-using.  I'd had it on my mind for a while--to be looking for something that worked out as a simple cash register.  I'd even searched for plans to make a cardboard one online and came up with nothing.  Last week when I was putting something in our playroom cabinet I spotted this guy--Beck's wooden shape sorter.  It has a drawer that pulls out.  PERFECT!  I put some play bills (just a few) and some coins--I used the largest foreign money coins I could round up from our junk drawers, thinking they'd be least likely to go in Beck's mouth or get lost in the carpet.  I also found a play credit card from some junkmail.  I made a construction paper sign that I taped on, and voila!  Quinn adores it and plays with it often, selling all sorts of stuff!  Beck likes to drop the coins through the holes in the back and then open the drawer.   So, I encourage you, as always, to be creative with your toys and look for other uses for them to fill a need that your child may have, developmentally.  :)

Word Rack

 I have mentioned that Quinn has started writing on her own and is constantly asking me how to spell things.  In an effort to encourage her independence I set her up with a little writing rack.  I found this board with grooves in it somewhere on a walk near a construction site.  You could also glue another piece of wood onto a board to make a ledge and get the same effect. 

I used some watercolored papers and chalk (crayon melts when laminated) and wrote the names of our family members and her favorite dolls/animals.  Now she can write their names without needing my help PLUS it encourages her prereading skills as she identifies each name in print before writing it.  She is doing great with it!

Preparing their hearts for worship--part 1

I've been meaning to write this post forever--since Quinn was 18 months old.  We're hitting all these topics a second time around with her little brother, so I am determined to keep up with the posting this time!

When Quinn was around 18 months old, she began to get a little more difficult to have with us in worship--ie: she didn't nurse or sleep or stare at her hands during the entire service anymore.  Matt and I knew it was time to evaluate our plan for her.  Our church offered a nursery for up to 3 year olds, but after talking about it, we didn't feel like that was a fit for our family. 

Worship is such an important part of our week--of our relationship with God and with our church family.  We couldn't see excluding her from that--we were a little family of 3 and it made such sense that we'd celebrate the worship time together.  Yikes, so how would that be done?  I started asking around and didn't get a whole lot of help beyond "bring cheerios" or "bring crayons."  We decided, in this particular setting, that cheerios weren't an option for us--we wanted to help her participate in worship, not keep her distracted, and she'd already just eaten breakfast, so she wouldn't be in need of a snack, anyhow. (more on that later). 

After I didn't get a lot of great advice from those I asked, I ended up getting pointed in the direction of two really great books--Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman (a very easy-to-read, fun, insightful book that I recommend as the #1 book on children and worship) and Children in the Worshiping Community by Ng and Thomas (much more theoretical and involved, though still a great read).  These two books inspired me to be intentional about planning ways to include our little one in worship. 

I won't say this was a smooth path.  There were many weeks we left the worship time about to pull our hair out because we had wrestled our very strong-willed toddler the entire time.  However, along the way we got glimpses of really cool things happening in her faith development as a result of her participation in worship with us.  That made it worthwhile.  I will also say that there were many weeks I didn't (or Matt didn't) hear much of the sermon.  But is that why I go to worship?  Nope.  It's not about me.  And I'm an adult, so I can handle streaming the sermon at a later part of my week or finding other ways to challenge myself spiritually so that missing out on a few minutes (or the whole part) of the sermon doesn't detract from my faith walk.  For me the worship situation is kinda like mealtime.  Yes, eating at the table with a toddler is more work--you have to cut up bites, blow on hot morsels, clean up spilled milk, retrieve dropped napkins and forks......and sometimes my food is cold by the time I finish helping little ones.  But the doesn't mean we feed our kids separately--we just accept that this is a teaching season--a time where we're teaching our little people to participate in mealtime and model and help them in each of the elements involved. 

So I began to realize (and YIKES did Castleman's book challenge me) that I needed to begin preparing before Sunday morning to get my children's hearts (and bodies...and stuff....and minds...) ready for worship.  I won't admit I've always done this perfectly and there have been seasons we've slacked off more than we should, but we work hard to be intentional about preparing their hearts for worship.  I wanted to share some of the things that worked for my kids and our worship situation in case they'd be helpful for anyone else. 

Here we go--
#1--Make friends with your worship leader and know what is going to happen during worship.
This might look differently for everyone.  For me, I emailed the worship ministers/music ministers at both of the churches we've attended with little ones.  (For Q it was a different church than we go to now with both kids).  I asked them to send me the order each week so I could think through anything I want to prepare.  This has worked out great!  After I explained why I wanted to know, they were both very eager to help me out. 

So every Thursday I get an email that outlines the songs, prayers, passages, and theme for the week.  I'll go more into detail with what I do in one of the next posts.

So if you're up for the challenge--come aboard!   Your first task--figure out how to obtain a list of the order of worship each week ahead of time so you can put some thought/prayer into the best way to prepare your children's hearts for worship. 

More to come!

(a pic of my computer screen and the order of worship for the upcoming Sunday)

Pretend Play Birthday Party

Last year's Birthday Party play area was such a great success that I decided to set it up again this year.  I opted to use our playroom instead of our breakfast nook this time, as my parents are coming into town and we'll need the extra space in the eating area.  I used many of the same ideas from last year, but we also added on a few more things.  The above banner--Quinn and I chose the fabrics from my scrap basket.  I used letter stamps and brown stamp pad to put the letters for HAPPY BIRTHDAY.  I know Q will probably want to be writing this phrase, so now she can look at the banner to see how to spell it. 
 We changed the tablecloth on the little table.  I also put out some new flowers and we found a couple wooden birthday magnets in our playroom closet, so we put those on the metal tub holding flowers. 
 I raided my party decoration tub and Q fell in love with these pink lanterns, so up they went!  We also took the curtains off the play kitchen so that all the items could be seen.  You can see our party hats hanging from the side of the little kitchen.
 We've used this chalkboard a ton....I changed it from Taco Stand to say whose birthday party it is.  I wrote the words with a chalk pen and then Q can erase the name (written in regular chalk) and write each new celebrant's name.  It's already been changed several times in the last day.  :)
 Plates and party napkins:
 Our Melissa and Doug cake--we have the candles in a little wooden container and also the decorations--displayed nicely!
 I also set up our regular work shelf with more birthday party items. 
 Bags, wrapping paper and bows for gifts: (I cut the wrapping paper into smaller, manageable pieces)
 Tissue paper and gift boxes:
 Cardboard numbers covered in scrapbook paper--Q loves displaying the age of each "person" at the party
 Our Birthday Plate from Mimi, a cupcake candle, HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY HAPPY BDAY book, and a chalkboard sign for decoration:

 Cups for drinks and some large cupcake wrappers--for whatever!  Just fun to play with. 
 This metal stand holds faux strawberries in little mini muffin cups, felt cupcakes, and a piece of cardboard cake (cardstock cake template HERE--so fun!):

 This pan holds items to "bake" a cake so we can pretend to make it first--I will add a few more items as the containers become available in the kitchen (it: empty flour bag, empty baking soda box).  Right now it holds eggs, empty vanilla container, empty baking powder, sprinkles (with lid glued on).  I could also add a few measuring cups/spoons.  And our vintage eggbeater.
 I rounded up all our felt crowns for party guests to wear.
 Pieces of streamer for decorating:
Birthday cards:
We've already had tons of birthday parties just in the last couple of days!  We'll add more items as we think of them--actual birthday cards received, etc.  Such a fun pretend play activity!  I love that both of my kids can participate at their own levels even though they are 3 years apart.  Beck enjoyed the area last year at barely a year old, too!  So this is a very adaptable learning tool!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mulch necklace

One day while we were at the park I noticed that the pieces of mulch were kinda big...and might be good for painting.  I chose some and stuffed them in my pocket and they ended up on my desk in the studio.  One random day Quinn wanted to do some art.  She loves any opportunity to paint something besides paper.  Of course she enjoys painting paper, but getting to paint something else is such a fun task for her.  I took the mulch pieces down to the shop and drilled holes in them then Q and I chose the colors she'd use and got everything ready!  She had the BEST time painting them.  She did one side one day, and then the next day she painted the other sides different colors.  Then she spent a good deal of time choosing some embroidery thread to string them on, and she made a necklace as a birthday gift for one of her friends.  We love giving handmade gifts and Quinn was so proud of her project!  It looked really cute, too.  Too bad I forgot to take a picture. 
So maybe next time you go to the playground you can see those big mulch chunks in new light.  Or even some small sticks.  :) 

Friday, July 19, 2013


 Sweeping is a great toddler and preschooler skill.  It encourages motor coordination, practices cross-lateral movements, utilizes simple problem-solving skills, and promotes practical life skills. 

We have a blue taped square on the tile, a handbroom and small broom, a dustpan and a basket of cotton balls.  My kids love dumping the cotton balls and then sweeping them into the square, into the pan and then dumping them back in the basket.  Quinn can do this no problem, while Beck has a hard time controlling where the cotton balls go.  Right now he mostly just swings at them blindly and they scatter in all directions.  But in no time at all I know he'll be sweeping effectively! 

Often they'll do sweeping together, which promotes some cooperative work skills.  He'll hold the dustpan and she'll sweep.  And though these pictures look like sunshine and rainbows and happiness during sweeping times, of course there is arguing over who gets which broom, who gets to sweep first, yada-yada....and that's okay, too, because we are practicing negotiating turn-taking and tool-using cooperatively. 

I've also used silk flower petals in a montessori classroom as well as colored pompoms.  Any small, light object would work.  And yes, I do pick up random cotton balls around my house over the course of a day.  And yes, it makes me smile every time, thinking of my two lil' sweepees.  :)

Magnet box--toddler style!

Here's Beck, working with the magnet box.  I referred to it in a previous post and took this picture to show him enjoying his sister's work!

Just playdough. And a soapbox. ;)

 Sometimes as a teachermommy in this internet/pinterest/bloggy world it's easy to get captivated by all the amazing ideas/projects/crafts/manipulatives/etc. out there in cyberspace and feel like I have to be on a search to do the most FANTABULOUS (my daughter's word) things in the world with my kids.  Occasionally I have to reground myself and remember that sometimes simple is best.  I use a little visualization trick...I imagine the sweetest little preschool I can conjur up in my mind and think of the children engaged in the most stereotypical, old-fashioned, traditional preschool-ey tasks possible.  And then I take all of 2 minutes to prepare them (yeehaw!) and my kids are enthralled.  

So here's playdough.  Just playdough. 
 Beck is using some leftover green stuff we made at Christmastime from my favorite recipe. 
 Quinn mashed together a storebought can of purple and some leftover green. 
 Tools include some mini rollers, some blunt knives, some pizza cutters (2 that are almost identical but for some reason my kids fight over the "better one"), a couple of cookie cutters and a couple pieces of pvc scraps found in Daddy's shop.  Oh and a couple of buttons. 
 This was Beck's first intro to playdough and he ADORES it.  He asks for it at least a dozen times a day.  I save it for "tablework time" in the mornings after breakfast. 

Did I tell you it's just playdough?  Plain ole playdough.  Not even Pinterest playdough.  Just plain playdough.  And they played with it around 15ish minutes for 3 days this week. 

Now that's not to say I am not going to expand on the playdough and add in some other elements to encourage their creativity as time goes on.  It's just a reminder to be simple sometimes.  :) 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sponge Squeezing

Quinn is using a citrus juicer (could also use a garlic press) to squeeze water out of small sponges.  She's working from left to right. 


Beck has an empty oatmeal canister filled with different types of clips (clothespins of varing sizes, chip clips, binder clips, etc.).  I demonstrated for him how to clip them onto the sides of the cannister.

He can clip some of the clips himself, but he also likes to just open and close them, take them all out, put them back in, etc.

He is fostering fine motor skills through this activity. 

Magnet Sorting

 For this activity I had Q fold a piece of paper in half and then she wrote "yes" on one side and "no" on the other.  I spelled and she wrote. 

I offered her a wooden box filled with various objects--some that would be attracted to a magnet and some that would not.  I tried to use all different types of objects--paper, wood, fabric, different types of metal, etc.  I also offered a bar magnet and a horseshoe magnet (that I happened to have, though any magnet would work). 

Then she used a magnet to try and attract each item.  Once she figured out if it were attracted to the magnet or not, she placed it in the appropriate side of her chart. 
This task introduces the concept of magnetism and properties of solids.

It introduces simple charting/graphing methods.

Q LOVED this!  She has started making yes/no charts on her own for random stuff.

Also, Little Man (22 months) loves playing with this too--sliding the magnet around in the box and seeing what's attracted.

After the child has explored with the box several times, you could show them a new object and ask them to predict whether it will be attracted by the magnet. 

Jars and Lids

Another great toddler tablework task--
Opening and closing containers

*you can either remove all the lids and have the child match them up
*or  just put the items out and allow for free exploration with the objects
*at some point you can put out objects (coins, rocks, marbles, etc.) and ask the child to put one inside each container
*great fine motor and wrist strength promoter
*encourages simple problem solving skills
*fosters independence (teaches child to open items themselves)

Tonging Pom Poms

Great Toddler fine motor activity--
*always have them transfer the objects from left to right (direction of print)
*I start out with one type of tong and after he's mastered that I offer several other choices
*can also offer a spoon and change the activity to spooning work
*can play a color game where you ask him to move certain colors

Sun nature table

 I am constantly rearranging our spaces to fit the current season of our lives.  This summer we've been doing lots of time at the kitchen table, learning, playing and working.  So I made a little nature shelf area right next to the table (under the window.)  Everything on this shelf is to be touched and played-with, of course!

I'll describe in detail what was there during our "sunshine" unit.

These two little cards were colored with chalk--I did one and Q did the other. 
 On the backs of them were our sunshine song (Mr. Sun) and our fingerplay. 

 This was a little sunshine made (sorta) by Beck.  He was wanting to cut with scissors.  I held the paper for him and he made slits all along it.  As I was cleaning up for the day I grabbed a piece of orange paper and rolled it up inside the red and it made a perfect little sun!  So onto the nature table it went!  He loves carrying it around saying, "sunshine" or something that sorta sounds like the word.  :)
 This is just a wooden/felt sunshine I already had that we added to the table. 
 I cut the previously mentioned sunshine paintings into little pieces and put them in this gold bag.  The kids enjoy putting them in, taking them out, carrying them around, etc. 
 This is one of Beck's paintings--we did a lot of painting with the colors of the sun.  I cut a dry painting into a (sorta) sun shape and attached a stick to use as a waver. 
 Summer tealight candle holder from HERE:

Quinn traced the pattern, cut out and sewed this (with my help only to hold it still while she sewed) and I sewed on the beads. 

We also have some sunshine-y artwork hanging--some paintings I cut into our initials after they were dried, a star Beck made (after we talked about the fact that the sun is a star--about which Q still doesn't believe me), a collage sun Beck and I made together, and a few other paintings.  And a random shark Q still doesn't want to take down even though it was made in May.  :)

We also have a little "sun gnomie" that lives on the nature shelf this month, but he was hiding when I took the picture.  He has since been located (hiding in a bouquet of my flowers) and I will soon photograph him and post.