Bean Bag and Balloon Olympics

With the arrival of the Olympics, my boys are in an especially competitive mood, eagerly desiring to showcase their athletic prowess!  But the heat this last week has been I.N.T.E.N.S.E!  I think I may have chosen one of the hottest days of the year to run errands in the middle of the afternoon. ugh.

So in light of the heat, we decided to do an {indoor} Balloon and Bean Bag Olympics.  The beauty of many of these activities is that they are a means of getting active, burning some of that boundless boy energy and activating their little brains to learn.

I’ve mentioned it in my last two posts, but I cannot emphasize enough how important MOVEMENT is to wiring the brain to learn.  So with that in mind, here are several fun activities that will help increase oxygen flow to the brain, stimulate the vestibular system and increase bilateral integration – all vitally important to the learning process!

Let the games begin!

Balloon Events

1. Balloon Tap Race ~ Pick the longest open stretch in your home and stage a relay race where you tap the balloon in the air to one end and back! Be sure to cheer on your teammates in the process!

2. Balloon Face Race ~ Repeat the relay but this time, get on your hands and knees and push the balloon with your face!

3. Volleyball ~ This started just as a tapping back and forth with my youngest, but soon morphed into a more nuanced volleyball match. Chairs can be lined up to act as the net. You can play to see who can keep it afloat on their side of the ‘net’. We ended up instituting a ‘no spike’ rule.

4. Foot Volleyball ~ This is the activity that sparked the whole idea of our Balloon Olympics when I saw it on pinterest! As a team see how long you can keep a balloon in the air using only your feet.

5. Stationary Tap ~ With feet glued to the floor, see how long they can tap the balloon in the air with one finger!

Bean-Bag Events

1. Head Relay ~ Classic balance game.  We raced the longest indoor length in our home several times.  This is a great way to learn that accuracy and balance makes for faster race times than speed alone. 

2. Bean Bag Crossover ~ This great game requires balance.  While sitting on a ball and one hand held behind your back take the opposite arm and cross over to grab one bean bag at a time and move to the opposite bucket.  Each of the boys biffed it several times and we couldn’t contain the giggles that this challenge induced!

3. Hit the Square ~ Tape a square on the floor and see how many bean bags you can toss into the target.  Beware of the baby.  Tape on carpet is quite alluring!

4. Toe-to-Toe Relay ~ Conduct a relay race where you balance a beanbag on top of each foot. See how long it takes you to devise a strategy to keep them there!

5. Bean Bag Balance Beam ~ We set up wooden blocks for our balance beam and set out to see what kinds of ‘tricks’ we could do while maintaining balance!

Handmade Tradition, Passed On

I am slightly obsessed with making handmade gifts. There is something so fun about the creative process and then giving the results of your dreaming, planning and creating to someone…
This last Christmas, my boys were excited to join in.  My sister had sent me this link since she knew that Keegan had clay to work with.  We were inspired and the boys set to work wrapping fingers around clay and coaxing it into a variety of different shapes.  I couldn’t help myself, but ended up joining them in playing with the pliable clay and forming beautiful beads, poking holes in them with chopsticks and then gently placing on our cookie sheets to bake.
You would have thought a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies were baking with how eagerly they all sat around the oven…
Afterwards, the boys and I discussed placement of beads and strung them onto twine and then added ribbon.  Their hard work was rewarded by a very excited cousin on Christmas morning…
With those memories in mind, we are gathering ideas and looking forward to getting a jump start on gift-making this summer.
Do you or your children make homemade gifts?

Of Pediatricians and Patriots

Of Pediatricians and Patriots: How a sensory and literature rich approach to education can make a difference.

We are knee deep in the middle of our nations fight for independence and the boys couldn’t be happier.  Last fall I picked up two pirate costumes at our PE groups clothing swap.  The red velvet jackets with gold braid are a favorite item being worn these days despite the temperatures approaching 100.  Our only two patriot ‘coats’ are a blue police jacket and my grandmother’s cardigan that has really cool engraved pewter buttons.  Buttons aside, the boys think it is a pretty boring stand-in.  But it has provided an opportunity for the them to realize the benefits of being a soldier of the king verses a patriot in a poor fledgling nation.

As we read about these men that made so many valiant sacrifices, they have also been drawn to the beautiful rhetoric.  Their ability to memorize, when motivated, never ceases to amaze me.

Recently, I took Treyton in for his 4 year old well-check.  This new pediatrician is especially thorough and started asking me all kinds of questions about his development.  As she started to ask about his knowledge of the 1,2,3’s and A,B,C’s I realized that I had come to the point, where I hadn’t really thought about it.  I nodded, indicating that he knew most of what she was asking about, but than explained a bit of my philosophy.

Skills like this come surprisingly easily in a home where there is a lot of interaction.  As I dole out a snack, he learned pretty quick how important it was to count.  Counting wasn’t merely something he memorized to please someone.  There was a lot riding on his understanding of 1-to-1 correspondence.  He could immediately spot that he only received 10 blueberries while his brothers had each snagged 20.

And don’t get me started on the ABC’s.  I mean really, what academic advantage does a child have if he can sing the ABC song?  Until he is ready to start alphabetizing, not much.  Now phonemic SOUNDS…  That is a whole different story.

As I sat there in my pediatricians office, I started to share with her the value in learning ABOUT things instead of merely memorizing and acquiring skills.  One of my goals in the early years is to nurture that natural curiosity and insatiable desire to explore the world around them.  Stoking the fire of inborn curiosity and protecting that natural love of learning is so crucial at this age.

For some reason our culture seems fixated on skill acquisition as if memorizing numbers from 1 to 20 (or 50 or 100) somehow indicates ‘giftedness’.  So much time is spent on trying to get kids reading or counting that could be utilized in far more effective and enjoyable ways.

I’m not sure how convinced she was, until I mentioned our current study of the Revolutionary War and how fascinated he is by it all.  He may or may not be able to recite his ABC’s in the correct order {I’ve never communicated that learning that was important}, but this kid of mine is soaking up so much.

I relayed how I was dialoging with my bigger boys, asking them which famous statesman from Virginia spoke these famous words,

“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take,
but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” 

Treyton was trotting by {in costume, of course} and before the boys had a chance to respond, he glibly responded, “Patrick Henwy”.

The pediatrician just sat staring.

Then I told her that he was currently really into the life of Paul Revere and the events surrounding the battle of Lexington/Concord.  At this point, Treyton piped up and told her about Captain John Parker and his courageous words to the militia on the Lexington Green that day.

Rest assured, while she might think us a bit odd {and I’m totally ok with that}, I don’t think she is worried about his academic development.

Skills will come.  In fact, he’s acquiring them without even realizing it.  More important is that his love of learning -that God has placed in each young child, is alive and well.

After re-enacting the battle at Lexington and the ‘shot heard round the world,’ Treyton wanted me to record the battle for his cousins and grandparents. He is incredibly proud of his make-shift bayonet (a bamboo skewer) and the boys are loving their ‘gun smoke’ that they’ve created by filling their popguns with dirt. After reviewing this clip however, I’ve realized that we need to work on explaining the reality of guns that fire only one shot before needing to be carefully reloaded…

Want to get a few key costume pieces or book ideas for your study of the American Revolution?  Check out my gift guide.

Gifts that Spark a Love of Learning about the Revolutionary War

From Trash to Treasure

(Xander at 3yo enjoying a homemade shield that he asked us to fashion from an egg carton and his lance from an old packing tube.)

As we’ve been talking about, encouraging our kids in open-ended play is a great way for them to learn at their own pace as well as develop important creative and critical thinking skills that will benefit them in so many academic areas later on. Another way that I’ve worked on modeling this creative thinking process to my kids is in encouraging them to use “trash” and convert it into toys. Depending on the nature of the item and how it is being used will determine how long it stays in my house, but needless to say, it has been fun to see what our family comes up with.

A simple google search on common items that end up in our trash cans such as cardboard tubes, packing material, egg cartons, etc will provide a rich source of inspiration for you. Need ideas? Check out this, this or this.  I’ve also enjoyed this blog that posts ideas on things to do with old tp rolls!!! 
To get started with free play, go on a house hunt for open-ended materials, including plastic caps, fabric, wire, cardboard boxes, blocks, paints, and clay. Try a nature walk where you can gather twigs, leaves, and feathers. The list is endless.
We love to go out for a nature walks and collect nature’s trash (leaves, flowers, sand) that is on the ground and made a wreath! The boys had so much fun doing this and now inspect what they find around them so much closer. They love to try and identify what tree or bush their little ‘treasure’ came from.
I’ve kept packages from food we’ve eaten and taped them shut so the boys could play store. They also ended up using the cardboard boxes as blocks. We had a week or so of fun with it and then it was placed in the trash for good!
A friend of mine noticed that her son was into cars and mechanic type stuff, so her hubby “created” this garage for him. It provided hours of entertainment not only for him, but for every friend that visited him for the next month or two.

What do you have lying around your home? Give it a second chance and turn it into something fun! The sky’s the limit!  I’d love to hear any creative ways you or your children have re-used ‘trash’ for creative play!!!

[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 9]

PART 1     PART 2     PART 3    PART 4    PART 5   PART  6   PART 7  PART 8

Coming this weekend: Our PLAYSILK giveaway!!!!!  Stay tuned!

Kitchen Play

Well, as we start to wrap up this little series on open-ended play, I had to include some ways we’ve incorporated everyday things we have around the house into our play and learning.

There are so many toys to be found in the kitchen! Outside of the many practical and original uses for items found in our kitchens of which the educational benefits are many, my focus today will be in keeping with our series on encouraging open-ended play. Here are some creative alternative uses that my kitchen has afforded:

• My boys have borrowed my dough hook to masquerade as Captain Hook trapped in the gaping jaws of the crocodile.
• They have used my Tupperware to not only imitate cooking and eating, but also to sort and store small toys of theirs. It has provided a rich medium to facilitate the development of those motor skills required to open and shut the various lids!

• My guy has even used them to represent drums. (A peek into my future maybe???)
• They have borrowed my rolling pin for play dough, to act as wheels when pretending to be cars, etc.

• Tongs have become lobster or scorpion pincers or bird beaks.
• Large serving spoons have doubled for oars in our “boats”.
• My babies have all enjoyed the simple thrill of getting a play silk or scarf out of a slotted spoon.

All of these activities have challenged them in not only their physical development, but also been great for their creative development as well. Although I modeled much of the “alternative” uses for items at first, it has been exciting to watch my boys grow in their critical thinking skills and making do with what we have around us!

Of course, I’m still working on finding the balance of encouraging creativity and containing the chaos when too much of my kitchen has been taken elsewhere. But then developing the responsibility of putting things back where they go is part of the learning process as well.  I will say that during an especially crazy stage in my life, even the Tupperware cabinet was put under lock.  As the boys get older though, they are learning how to put things away and I’ve been able to loosen up on that again.

Providing our children with rich toys or homeschool props does not need to be expensive.  We usually just use what is lying around the house!

[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 8]


The boys and I just loved our adventure studying the middle ages. (You can read about our previous adventures here, here, here, and here.)

But I think one of the highlights was the focus on knights. My boys were inspired.  They wanted to dress like them, fight like them, behave like them.  Really, they wanted to become knights.

Now I knew this had potential.  We could use more modern day knights these days…  So we took a couple of extra weeks and dove in to pursue the transformation.

First step: getting outfited as knights! Cowboy boots doubled for riding boots, our bow and arrow sets from our study of Native Americans last year came in handy and we added some fun homemade armor to the mix!
DIY knight shields
We cut out cardboard shields, spraypainted them silver and then painted them with their favorite design. Our tempora paints didn’t work, so we had to use {stain prone} acrylics – hence the boys being shirtless.   What did we do before the internet????  I found a great video tutorial on making shields that I watched before we embarked on making our own.
DIY knight shields
DIY knight shields
They all wanted to be George, the red-cross knight and to reduce bickering, I allowed them the cross, but had them paint their shield in their signature color.
DIY knight shields
Our curriculum had a great idea for making helmets.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really think it through and it ended up being far more mommy intensive than I like.  (I don’t consider it the kids project unless they can do most of it themselves.)  It would have been great if my boys had been just a few years older.  If I had to do it over again, I would have just covered their bike helmets with aluminum foil! 🙂
Inspite of that, Keegan enjoyed the paper-mache part…
All the boys liked playing with tape.  And of course they all LOVED the finished product (minus the visor because I just didn’t feel like adding that part).
Now that they are outfitted, I’ll fill you in on their ‘training’ next time!

Part 2: Knights-In-Training

Portcullis Construction

I have fond memories of studying the middle ages when I was a girl.  We visited that era multiple times.  Being in a household of all girls, I’m sure you can imagine our rapt attention as we learned about courtly behavior, medieval dress and the day of good ol’ chivalry!  It was all quite ‘romantic’ and the brocades and silks… :sigh:  I still swoon, even now, when I watch Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. (Makes me wish I had the time and skill to sew up a bunch of cool costumes.) What was supposed to be a 4 week study turned into three months of eating, breathing and living the middle ages.

Although they love it for different reasons (there is zero appreciation for silk gowns over here), my boys are equally enthralled with the middle ages.  Last week we focused on castle construction and warfare.  Yes, that is what they are into!  Xander’s favorite book was Siege!: Can You Capture a Castle?  It is amazing how even a detailed and somewhat complex book can capture their attention when curiosity is piqued.

After I soothed my parched throat from all that reading, we proceeded to make portcullis’ for our castle!  I’m all about using what we have around the house, so we used a mix of bamboo skewers (to get enough height) and popsicle sticks (a crafting essential if you have kids). 

We began by surveying our castle drawbridge and entry gate.  With their trusty measuring tapes, we noted the height and width we would need our portcullis to be and then set to work.  (We’re nipping that ‘who needs math in real life?’ myth in the bud!)

Glue and sticks made for 3 happy boys.

There are few things cuter than seeing your two year old running around shouting ‘portcullis’ at the top of his lungs, although I have to admit that watching him state, “I the king” and ordering his older brothers around the week before was pretty cool too!
And of course they loved playing with the finished product later that afternoon.  Since there were three of them, we ended up having an outer and inner portcullis at the gate and the other one stood in for a siege ladder.
A glorious battle ensued afterwards full of many brave deeds and resulting in a demolished castle.  Somehow all three portcullis’ survived to see another day.

Shibley Smiles

Quarter Tap’n

One of my favorite movies of all time, Singing in the Rain, is coming to life in my home!

It all started with combining these:

Four quarters secured with packing tape to shoes and he’s off tap’n!  Thanks to the introduction in his kindermusik class, Xander was hooked!  His enthusiasm was contagious and before I knew it the four year old was begging for tap shoes too!

So naturally, I introduced them to the greatest tap dancer of all time!  Need a fix?  You Tube can help with that: Make ‘Em Laugh, Moses Supposes and of course the Singing in the Rain sequence. 

May I introduce the next generation of Gene Kelly’s…

When I suggested a Shirley Temple movie to them, they promptly refused. 
And Daddy breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I think I’m going to file this idea away for those hot summer months when we are home bound next year.  Maybe we’ll balance things out then and alert them to the existence Fred Astaire too…

Where Art and Eating Meet

Playdough is so versatile!  This week we’ve been playing around with color mixing!  It is so much more fun to discover things for oneself than to just be told what’s true…
So we set out to find out what happens when you mix blue and yellow.
It was hard work…
Mixing, mixing, mixing.
Look mom, it’s the same color as peas! 🙂
And blue + red?
Our new colors inspired food-like thoughts…
And put everyone in the mood for a healthy snack!
The things I do to encourage healthy eating habits!
Our favorite playdough recipe (thanks Gin!)
1 c. flour
1/2 c salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 c water (room temp)
1 Tbsp veg oil
1 packet kool-aid (must be no sugar kind) or food dye
In saucepan, mix dry ingredients.  Add water, oil.
Cook over medium heat, stiring constantly about 3 minutes or until it pulls away from the pan. 
Knead and store in airtight container. 

Go Team!

The Olympics may be over, but the memories haven’t faded yet!
Training for the 2026 2-man bobsled team has commenced…