Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dancing/Obstacle Course

On Wednesdays we dance.  But lately that has turned into more of an obstacle course, which my kids are loving.  The night before (Tues. night) I sorta plan out my course and set out any materials I will need.  We generally use the same stuff with one or two new things each time.  Then on Wednesday the kids have to stay in the playroom while I set up.  Then I put on music and we follow the course!

We do have rules--
-no passing the person in front of you.  If you catch up to them you can jump or run in place while you wait patiently.  
-use the materials correctly 
-no pushing/shoving
-if you accidentally move an obstacle put it back where it was

Before we start the course I take them on a walk through and explain each obstacle.  
Here are some example photos:

We generally have a "step upon" which is something they can walk on that has a texture to it--in this case pom poms.  Sometimes they are in a pan or dish, sometimes just on the carpet.  Bubble wrap, marbles, or any other object that provides texture will work.  I trade this item out most times.  
This is a dish of nuts in shells (pecans, almonds, etc.)  They dump it out, walk across it, and then put them back in the dish.  Step-upons provide sensory input and teach them how to walk carefully on different surfaces.
This guy was not following one of the rules (don't remember which one now) and he had to sit on the couch for a time out.  My kids can definitely get wild and out of control during obstacles, and I don't want any blood or injuries, so we stick to the rules.
Riding the rocking horse:
Jumping across two rugs and into a down comforter, where you wallow yourself into it, then get up again.  We call it the "snow pit."
The tunnel is a big hit.  $4 at the Goodwill.  I see them there often.
Bendy board bridge.  Daddy made these for us.  Some of the best toys ever.
Stepping across to the ottoman:
Jumping off ottoman:

Rocking in the "boat" laundry basket:
We also have another bendy board that we put the other way so it can be rocked upon.  Sometimes we use diving rings that they have to step through.  We've put down a string line that gets walked upon....the possibilities are endless.  My kids LOVE this activity and it is awesome for proprioceptive awareness, motor control, rule following, and energy releasing, among other things!  I will try to post more obstacle course pics as the weeks go by!

Beginning Origami--making a heart

 Yesterday I introduced 5 year old Quinn to origami.  We looked at simple instructions for making a heart on the tablet then used some origami paper I had on hand to fold our own.  I helped her through the first few--teaching her the essentials like how to line up corners before creasing and how to make crisp folds.  Then after a few with me she was off and folding on her own.  I sat beside her and folded my own hearts and offered help whenever she needed it.  
She LOVED this artform and folded up a dozen hearts to make for people she loves!  She caught on very quickly.  The origami heart (just google instructions--we prefer non-video as it seems easier to follow than youtube videos, but that's just us) is an easy beginning project, and with Valentine's Day approaching it's good timing for heart-folding!

 Obviously there are so many benefits of origami--fine motor, geometry concepts, spatial awareness, sensory awareness, and then just the enjoyment of the artform.  I am excited to think of the world opened to us---Origami wise--that girl and I (and her Daddy, too!) are gonna have lots of fun with the paper-folding.
 Q made this garland for her kindergarten teacher, Ms. Kelsey.  I made my own strand for the mantle in less pastel-ey colors.  :)
 By the way, I would recommend using actual origami paper with beginners.  It folds so much more easily than scrapbook, magazine, or even regular paper.  Plus it's already cut into small squares typically, so that makes it easy to work with.

You should totally get your Origami on!!  Fold away, friends!

Friday, January 17, 2014 the shop!

 Daddy's shop is the most popular place around.  The kids go crazy if he tells them they can come work a little bit.  Here's one thing Matt does with them--He starts nails into scrapwood.  Then he lets them use hammers to pound in the nails.  He has shown them how to hold a hammer and talked about safety with them, of course....They LOVE it, and so many great benefits--practical life, hand-eye coordination, gross motor development, independence, cross-lateral movements....and great time learning from Daddy!  Our Daddy's a pretty good teacher, ya know!

Oats Play

Herb clipping

 I needed some finely chopped rosemary for some rosemary lemon bread we were making for Monday Bread Day.  We have a rosemary bush outside, so we gathered some sprigs, then I put the littles at the table to cut up the pieces.  They really enjoyed this!  Great fine motor, practical life, and finger-strength--in a different way than cutting paper, as the bulky rosemary requires that you hold/use the scissors a bit differently.  Beck asked a few other times during the week to cut rosemary.  One of the times I gave him some fresh oregano to cut, and he loved that, too!  Of course if you don't grow rosemary or other herbs (you TOTALLY should....rosemary is the easiest ever) then you can buy them at the grocery store in the produce section.  Sidenote--it makes your kitchen and your children smell lovely! A great sensory activity, as well!

Older children could actually use a cutting board and paring knife to do this, as well.  Quinn would be ready for that at this point, but she wanted to use the scissors like her brother. :)

And a older infant/young toddler who isn't ready for scissors?  Show them how to pull off the leaves with their hands....if they happen to eat will be good for them!  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Snack time and House Keeping (how we do it)

In my little informal series on Organization/Goal Setting, I have a couple other tools that are working great for us right now.  

First off, we have a pre-set snack menu for every week.
It works AWESOME for many reasons.
-I don't have to do ANY thinking when snack time (4pm-ish) arrives
(ie: What is for dinner later?  What did they already have for lunch?  What nutritional components need to be met?  What food do I even have in the pantry?  How long till dinner, so how substantial does this snack need to be?)  Because yikes, by 4pm my brain is often gone.
-It means no debate/discussion about what's for snack.  I have an argumentative 5 year old.  She would have something to say about EVERY possible snack I could come up with.  This eliminates the venue for that--she knows what is for snack every day and that it never changes.
-I know what to keep stocked in my pantry/fridge.
-I serve whole/unprocessed (mostly) foods, no snack foods, sugary foods or unhealthy stuff.
-my kids learn the rhythm of the days of the week by the snack ("Oh, it's popcorn day!  yeaaa!")
-Quinn can "read" the menu and tell us what's for snack each day
-I have snack menu memorized, so at lunch I know what to serve to help round out our food components for the day 
So....Monday is popcorn.  Because Daddy gets home from work earliest on Mondays, and popcorn is a very light snack.  And very popular!  And healthy!  We just do a couple scoops of plain kernels in a brown paper sack in the microwave.  Don't add anything--it's yummy like that!
Tuesday is cheese and crackers or pb and crackers.  I like the flexibility--that way if we've already had pb that day (such as pbj sandwiches) we can do the cheese.  Daddy works latest on Tuesdays, so dinner is later that night.  Protein from cheese or pb helps tide over their tummies till dinner.  
Wednesday is fruit and nuts.  Any fruit I have on stock.  Any nuts I have on hand.  So that gives us enough variety in our weeks to keep my creative spirit from going crazy from boringness.  :)  
Thursday is toast and jam.  
Friday is granola.  

We always eat snack together at the kitchen table or our outside picnic table.  We use beautiful ceramic/porcelain teacups (bought for .99 at the thrift store!)  We eat our snack in either our wooden bowls or real ceramic plates.  I am a big fan of bringing beauty to our days, even at snack time.  And teaching my kiddos to handle delicate things gently!  So no sippy cups, no plastic bowls, none of those little trappy-snack-bowls that make it impossible to spill.  I love the beauty and joy and peacefulness from sitting down with a real teapot and watching my two year old pour tea (by himself!) into his hand-made ceramic teacup (who knows who handmade it since it's from a thrift store, but we love whomever it was immensely because it's such a beautiful little cup!).  
I spent a morning with a photography client a few months ago and got to enjoy a similar morning snack time with she and her 9 month old and 2 year old.  I watched her little guy pour cream from the cow-shaped pitcher into his tiny espresso cup (filled with mint tea) and the joy on his face when he didn't spill a drop was classic!  

So that is more ranting than I meant to put out there, but that's how snack time works for us, and I am loving the whole snack rhythm thing!  

And then onto cleaning.....

I like my house pretty clean, and so does my husband.  But we have kids.  And pets.  And jobs.  And lives.  So it doesn't ever stay that way, and sometimes doesn't get that way to start with.  And I generally won't sacrifice time playing with my babies to vacuum, so we do most of our cleaning when they are in bed.  But I also don't like sacrificing time with my honey, so we don't spend too much time on it.  :)

Here's what works for us.  
Together we came up with a rhythm for "the big stuff" that needs to happen every week.  By now we have this memorized and know what day it is and what we need to clean.  For example on Monday--We usually do our bathroom together while the kids are in the bath in there.  He does the toilet area, shower and floor and I do the counters, sinks, mirrors, etc.  I often try to get our little half bathroom downstairs cleaned sometime during the day on my own.  And our other upstairs bathroom doesn't get used much, so we clean it every few weeks (or if company's coming...don't worry, Mom!).  
Tuesday--It says pick up bedrooms (usually ours needs tidied) but we've also informally moved vacuuming upstairs to Tuesdays because it seems to work out well for us--Matt will usually vacuum while I finish bath time with the kids.  I need to change our chart, I guess.  :)
Wednesday--We vacuum and mop (if needed) the kitchen floor and Matt takes out all the trash.  Q has to bring her bedroom and bathroom trashcans to our room to be emptied into the trashbag.
Thursday- Matt vacuums downstairs while I am at craft night.  I bet he gets it done in under 5 minutes because that boy loves him some videogames while I am at craft night.  :)
Friday--Dust.  This happens about 50% of the time.  That's why I put it on Fridays, because it is the least important of the jobs and Fridays tend to get filled with other stuff.  :)
Saturday- Kitchen floor again--Matt usually does this.
Sunday--Laundry is the big thing.  Sometimes it carries over to Monday.

Why this works for us:
-We've had more extensive cleaning schedules for ourselves, and they never end up lasting very long.  We get a couple nights behind and then we kinda give up.  This one is easy enough to keep up with and ensures our house is livable.
-I always know when a task will get done next--which means I don't stress about it.  For example, if on the weekend I notice my bathroom floor looking kinda icky or hair all over the counter or toothpaste on the rug (BECK!!!), I don't stress anymore, because I know it will all get cleaned up on Monday.  Before I would try and clean the bathroom right then.  Then notice the kitchen floor looked bad, so I'd clean that, and pretty soon I'd have myself stressed at the condition of my house.
-I only do laundry once a week.  We have enough clothes to last a week, and it means there aren't always various states of laundry all over the house.  Sunday I wash (or Monday if we are busy Sunday) and dump all clean clotehs on our bed.  Matt and I have a folding party that night (Q has to fold and put away her own clothes as well) and it's done for the week.  yeehaw!  No clothes clutter in my house.
-If we miss a day, it depends how we respond.  If it's bathroooms, we usually try to catch up another day that week because bathrooms can get nasty.  If it's vacuuming or dusting or whatever, we usually just wait till the next week cause it's not that big of a deal.  We don't miss often, just if there's a big event that night (family bday party, etc.)

I cook, Matt does the dishes (I help clear the table and pack his lunch, put away leftovers, etc. during this time.)  The kids also clear their own spots at the table.  We do all dishes right after dinner.  Matt unloads the dishwasher.  I think I should keep that boy, don't you!

So that's pretty much been a great system for us and I love that it helps us be cleaner AND less stressed!!  So off to clean the kitchen floor.  It's Wedneday, right?  :)

Hearing God's word

I am doing an awesome Bible study on Gideon via Priscilla Shirer.  We've read/talked/listened in our study to how the Israelites have strayed so far from God in just a few generations, since the time of Moses and Joshua.  One of the reasons is because the parents and older generations didn't take Joshua's words seriously to impress the word of God on the hearts of their children. 

 Obviously, as I am deep in the throes of raising little ones right now, that makes a huge impression on me.  I don't want to be those Israelites.  I want my kids to leave this house with God's words etched into their hearts.

I came across this little passage in my homework this week and it shook me up enough that I had to write a post about it.  Shirer says, "What a difference the systematic hearing of God's Word might have made."  

What struck me, in particular, in that passage was the word "systematic."  I feel challenged and prompted to be more systematic about my kids hearing God's word.  Sometimes I feel like we are in a culture where systematic=boring.  I feel more of a pull to find creative, innovative ways to share things with my kids (and the amount of time and energy necessary to achieve this sometimes prevents it from ever coming to fruition) *ahem, Pinterest*....when the truth is, sometimes the old way of just reading through the Bible from cover to cover is just fine.  Obviously with my two and five year olds this is going to be a developmentally-appropriate Bible (probably a story Bible for the Little Man), but I really love the power that is in "systematic hearing of God's Word."  And obviously it was something God knew to be a tool for remaining steadfast (and remembering what He'd done for his people) because he commanded it to be done yearly in the Old Testatment times.

For us I think this is going to be part of our bedtime routine.  It has been at times during the past, but we always go back and forth between fiction stories and Bible stories.  I think we'll work harder to do a little of both every night with both kiddos.  I'm inspired!

Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with Baby Jesus (Godly Play Set)

We've moved on in our story of Baby Jesus this week.  

First to set up our story on Monday.
A throne room for Herod.  Columns were from the Wedding at Cana playset back over the summer--love how Godly play materials are repurposed for different stories so easily!  Wood flooring samples (from Ikea) make great floors and roads for Godly play, as well!  Little king and throne chair are from a Melissa and Doug set we have.  
Here is Q making a mean face since Herod is so mean.  It kinda rocked her world that Herod killed all babies two and under--when she realized that would have included her little brother.  Sobering moment.....
 We set up a little stable for the donkey.  We put away the rest of the animals from the nativity, but kept the donkey, as they might need this guy to get to Egypt, right?  He is also eating from the manger that Baby Jesus initially slept in, as "Joseph built Jesus a crib."  (according to Quinn).
 Here's the house--notice the wisemens' gifts from last week are still hanging around.  Those are popular items in play!  Then there is the angel that came.  Scripture says that God told Joseph in a dream to go to Egypt.  Q is just sure that means an angel came to his dreams.  I don't know, so I am not arguing.  One way or another Joseph got the message from God.
 We had to have a way to indicate when the house was in Bethlehem or Egypt, so we made a little clip to put on to indicate what town at the different parts of the story.  So when they are in Bethlehem, we clip on that one.  And vise versa.  I happened to have these nifty chalkboard clothespins.  Regular clothespins written on with sharpee would work, too!

 We read the story from our Children's Bible (ICB version).

 This guy loves switching the clips!  Great fine motor practice.  And pre-reading skills!

After Monday (we do the initial introduction in the living room, usually) we move the materials to the shelf in the breakfast nook under the window.  There they are open to be played with at any time, and we can move them back to the living room during the week when we reinact the story again.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Teaching Play-doughing

As with any art mediums, it's important to teach the procedure of playdough to little ones!  
One vital skill is "bomp-bomping!"  You know exactly what I mean, right?
At clean-up time when you take a ball of playdough and smash it down on any little lumps that have  escaped you (while saying "bomp-bomp") as you smash each piece into the larger ball?  A definite must-know when it comes to playdough!

For playdough newbies, this makes a great activity. Cover the cookie sheet/art tray with little lumps of playdough.  Use a ball to smash onto the little nibs and pick them up, while of course saying "bomp-bomp!"  

 He loves this!  And best of all, when it's clean up time he knows exactly how to catch any stray playdough pieces!

(not to mention it encourages one-to-one correspondance and fine-motor skills!!)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Family Tenants

In light of the tradition of goal-setting at the year's beginning, I thought it'd be timely to share a post on our family tenants. 

A while back I had a conversation with a friend who was transitioning out of her job to stay at home with her boys.  In the course of our conversation we discussed some of the pros and cons of being both a working or at at-home  (or a both) mommy.  I shared that one of the hardest things for me has always been staying intentional about using our days wisely and not letting them just slip away and be "boring."  But on the flipside, with the Internet and Pinterest, etc., you can also feel like a Momma failure if you aren't conducting a full-fledged homeschool session complete with flashy craft projects and a light board and amazing field trips to the moon.  So for me, I needed to sit down and decide what was MOST IMPORTANT for our family--to have a set of tenants that I use to conduct our days. 

It took me several days and several drafts, but I came up with something that is so helpful to keep in the back of my mind (and the back page of my journal that goes everywhere with me) as I decide what we do and where we go and what we eat and how our schedule looks.  It both challenges me (some of the tenants are a little difficult to consistently adhere to!) but also gives me relief when we eat fast food for lunch one day (knowing that overall we eat great and one day isn't going to ruin this for us). 

So here's what is most important in our days as a family:
*We serve and love on others every week. 
I had to think through this one.  Could we do it every day?  I sure hope so, but maybe not always.  So AT LEAST once a week we are intentional about a "bigger" act of service (and of course we work hard to live like Jesus and serve in the little things/ways every day)--right now what that looks like is often writing letters/notes/drawings to a handful of shut-ins and sick folks we've committed to encouraging.  Some weeks this is challenging--to get the notes written, addressed, mailed....more work that it sounds!  But it also helps alleviate the guilt when we can't visit every nursing home and cook food for everyone who needs it.  Some day those things may be good fits for us, but right now my kids are learning to serve and love others through a weekly act (and the small things I mentioned before).  I also feel that by not packing our "Serving Schedule" too full we can really focus on the people we write to encourage.

*We pray, praise, and study God's word together every day.
This looks different through different seasons, ages, and even days of the week, but having this tenant helps me be intentional that every day has these elements included in it.  On school days a lot of this happens in our morning "Driving Devotional." 

*We love our neighbors as ourselves: sharing, talking kindly and upliftingly, gentle touches.
This tenant really helps me focus in on my discipline and what battles I choose with my kiddos, and the intent behind discipline encounters with them.  Also guides the language I use with them during discipline. 

*We leave room in our days for the Holy Spirit by not overfilling our calendar(s). 
I mentioned earlier that we are intentional about one act of service a week.  But I really feel that by not overfilling our calendars we leave room for other things the Spirit might lead us to--and often that may be an act of service.  Because we don't have a gazillion extra-curricular activities, we are able to say yes to these things and not feel stressed.  This tenant, in particular, helps guide us in saying no to pretty much all kid-type extra curricular activities for right now (realizing this may change as they age).  We've decided that Quinn's 3 days of preschool and my/Beck's 1 day of Bible Study (on the same day Q does school) is the extent of our extra curricular activities.  No dance, gymnastics, sports, music lessons, etc. at this point in time for us.  I supplement a lot of that at home in simple preschooler-appropriate ways, but we have decided that for us an open calendar is more important that possibly over-filling our days and not leaving room to be together and allow the Spirit to guide our time. 

*We take care of our home together.  
My kids have chores.  Even the 2 year old.  And they are expected to clean up everything they use.  We all live here and we consider our home and our things as blessings God has given us.  As a result, this leads us to use them wisely and be good stewards of them.  Which means everyone pitches in.  And Daddy is the best example of all, to be truthful!  That man can wash some dishes, fold some laundry, and vacuum a floor in a crazy-good way!

*We eat wholesome, unprocessed food together at the table.
We try to limit ourselves to only 2 meals eaten out a week.  We generally don't do food dyes  and added sugar (sweets) except on Saturdays (we call it "sugar day" and have one sweet treat....more on that in later post).  Also we ALWAYS eat at the table.  My kids don't EVER eat anywhere else.  No snacks anywhere else, no drinks anywhere else other than the table. 

*We exercise our bodies with outside play, dancing and touch. 
This means my kids are outside every day.  In the rain.  In the cold.  In the crazy-hot heat.  Obviously we use weather-appropriate clothing and weather-appropriate activities (ie: we are at the pool every day in August!!) but my kids need to exercise those little bodies, develop their proprioceptive systems, use up their energy, and be kids.  And I need fresh air and exercise, too!  We also have dancing time inside several times a week, and tickle sessions (with wrestling for the little man) every night before bed!  We use a lot of massage with the kids, too, especially before bed and especially as a calming tool. 

*We're screen-free during the week and Mama is during awake-hours and Tuesday nights.  
My kids don't watch any tv/video/dvd/computer during the week.  Nothing.  Not even one show.  I don't have the tv on, either.  On Saturday mornings Q often gets to watch Mr.Rogers a bit so the rest of us can sleep in.  And Daddy shows Little Man chainsaw videos on Youtube.  But during the week we feel that research so abundantly proves that it's best for our kids to be screen free.  I work my very hardest to be during their awake hours, too.  No email, computer, etc.  Also we've declared Tuesday nights "No Tech Tuesdays" for Matt and I after dinner.  We spend the time together with no technology.  Do I need to tell you that Tuesday has become my favorite night?  :) 

*We read good books.
We read to the kids before nap/rest and at bedtime every day.  And often in-between!  We go to the library every week.  I keep active book lists of developmentally appropriate and interest-appropriate books for my kiddos.  And I try to read, too, though often it's just my Bible Study material.  But that works!

*We rest our bodies.
We do rest/nap every day.  Q doesn't sleep, so she has to stay on her bed and listen to her books on CD for about an hour, then she can play quietly in her room.  Her body really still needs to slow down and rest, and she also benefits from "forced boredom" by having to use her imagination to play quietly in her room!

*We enjoy God's creation together.
We watch birds, we look at cows and fields on the way to school.  We observe the trees change colors. We take nature walks.  We read nature books.  We love nature and enjoying our God as Elohim--creator God!

*We play and learn together.
Our days contain playful and learning times, in a balance with the other tenants that are important to us.  I spend time making a loose plan for each "home day" and we have a plan for the rhythm of our week.  We follow a general schedule every day of our time. 

So there it is....It has worked so great for me as a mom.  Like I mentioned, this little piece of work guides my days....keeps me on my toes, and keeps me from being overwhelmed.

Wanted to share this time of year in case it might be something that appeals to other Mama's, as they think of the upcoming year and what is most important for their family. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


 Happy Epiphany yesterday!
We had a fun day celebrating the wisemen's visit to Jesus.

I had a glass star candle on the table at breakfast for each kiddo.  A little surprise!  My kids are loving candles, so they were thrilled to have one for their very own and to keep it at their place all week while they eat!  I got these for a dollar at a thrift store. 

 These wisemen were waiting in the middle of the table.  Facing west (since they were coming from the east) but Q rearranged them, as you can probably tell. 
 Daddy built Jesus' family a house!  So we moved em out of the stable and into a little house.  We spent a lot of time talking about the fact that they lived in a simple house--not a castle or mansion, as most people expected the newborn king to live.  We put a little wooden crate in place of a manger so Jesus could have a bed.  We made a path for the camels/wisemen with rocks and acorns and candles.  Q had lots of fun getting things set up "just so!"  I love using godly play to teach spiritual concepts and Bible stories to my kiddos.  This will all be available for them to play with for a couple weeks, as they work through the story during play. 

 I made a star garland that led to Jesus' house.  I traced a little star cookie-cutter on to some cardboard from the recycle bin.  Cut them out.  Quinn and I painted some of them gold.  Then I sewed them (with my machine) onto a piece of jute.  I strung them from the ceiling down to the house. 

 We read the story SMALL CAMEL FOLLOWS THE STAR (Rachel W.N. Brown), which Quinn loved.  It was a little lengthy for Beck, so he squirmed through it.  Later in the day I got out some of our Christmas board books (that talked about Jesus' birth) and we looked at the pages with the wisemen.  He loved this! 

Q and I have been reading in her Bible about how kings were anointed as a sign of them being chosen by God.  So we anointed our "Baby Jesus"--Aka--the King of Kings!  I melted a little coconut oil and put a few drops of lavender oil in it.  Quinn LOVED this activity! 

 Beck was interested for about 2 minutes.  :)
 We read the story from the gospel of Matthew.  We talked a lot about how kings usually live and look, and why people were surprised by Jesus' humble beginnings.  We talked about the gifts--and how we can give Jesus the gift of our love and the gift of following him with our life and our actions. 
 We made "wiseman" hats--I cut out the back from old jeans.  The kids picked fabric from my scrap bin and I  pieced it together then sewed over it all.  I love how they turned out! 
 Here they are yelling "wisemen!" at eachother.  This is so my kids.  :)
We had a special dinner--roast (Daddy's favorite) with sugared apples--I used to make these by putting apples and red hots in the crockpot, but Quinn can't have food dye, so yesterday I used cranberries (sauce--cooked and left over from New Years, a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon, and the apples.  It was soooo yummy!  And a beautiful red color.  
I had set the table with paper stars I'd cut out of brown paper for each person's placemat, and then the stars in the center.  We ate on pretty dishes.  Quinn told the story of the wisemen's visit.  

We also had lots of "camel" pretend play.  We have a stuffed camel they played with, and we also pretend our rocking horse and some other large stuffed animals were camels.  

I look forward to the tradition of celebrating Epiphany and adding a little bit to what we do each year!