My love/hate relationship with preschool art: Kwik Stix to the Rescue

Can painting with toddlers and preschoolers actually be mess-free? Yes, it can. Thanks to Kwik Stix!

This post may contain affiliate links.

Can I just be honest right now?  I have a love/hate relationship with art.  I’ve never really cared for “craft” projects with preschoolers because it means that I get to make the craft while my antsy toddler or preschooler watches.  Doesn’t that sort of miss the point of letting them do something, if they aren’t actually doing it?  That is why I tend to prefer open-ended art and letting their creative juices flow.

But, BUT… oh, the mess.  When all of mine were little, I’d set aside a day here and there for messy art.  We’d pull out all the paints, I’d smile and soak in the sight of my kids delight, curiosity and creativity at work.  Then I’d take them outside into our hot, dry desert and hose them down…   Want to know what it was really like painting with toddlers/preschoolers in my home?  Here is photographic proof of my glorious life, 5 years ago.  Messy and a whole lot of fun.


Well fast forward a few years and a move to not so dry north-east Texas.  I’m in the throes of homeschooling 3 kids – 3 very unique, often distracted, but oh so very awesome kids.  Homeschooling is taking a lot longer these days and sadly the days of care-free painting with leisurely hose-downs are mostly a distant memory.  I packed our easel because I wanted Greta to experience all of that glorious preschool art. But… the mess.

So when I heard about Kwik Stix, the wheels in my little brain started turning… What if I could give my little girl art – the opportunity to create – without all the mess? What if this could actually be a way for her to explore WHILE I’m homeschooling the boys? So I bit.

Kwik Stix are basically tempera paint in a stick.  No drips, no paint brushes that can so easily be flung around.  It’s paint in a stick that dries within 90 seconds! Yep, I’m game.

I come from the school of hard knocks {see picture above}, so when our Kwik Stix arrived, I made plans to try it out while my little one had my full attention.  Naturally, one of the boys wanted to try them out too.

Kwik Stix provide an easy, mess-free way for kids to create and paint! They are the perfect way to occupy a preschooler or toddler during homeschool time! kwikstix-collage1

Greta was thrilled with her new paint and I promised she could try it again the next day during “school” time.  She was elated.

Because I wasn’t going to be watching her closely, I put her bib/smock on to protect her clothes.  There are no drips, but curious kids can pick at the paint with little fingers and then rub it off on their shirts…  I only do laundry once a week, so I didn’t want to chance her getting a good shirt dirty.

We’re sold.  It was so incredibly easy to supply her with paper and pull out the paint sticks while I grabbed my notebook for a spelling quiz.  She painted, we worked. A win for everyone! Clean up was as easy as grabbing our Kwik Stix and slipping back in a storage box for next time.  This will definitely become a staple in our “occupy the little one while I homeschool” arsenal!

*Kwik Stix GIVEAWAY*  Hurray!

And because all homeschool mama’s with little ones need to stand together and with Christmas right around the corner, I’m doing a QUICK giveaway this week.  One of you, my friends, will win a set of 12 Kwik Stix.  We only have the set of 6 and the colors aren’t nearly as nice as the set of 12.  When we need more, I know Greta will be excited to get her hands on that pink!

The giveaway is open to US residents!kwikstix12

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Want to connect with them?  You can find Kwik Stix on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Art vs. Craft: What’s the difference
Art Therapy or Recovery?
Art Inspired Gift Ideas


{Disclaimer: I was offered these for free and compensated for my time invested. All opinions are solely my own after reviewing this and using it in our home. This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information.}

Something for my preschooler & yours too!

{30 Finger Play and Preschool Song Cards} Convenient and Effective! They help develop so many critical preschool skills. Reading them in book is good. Repetition is even better.

I love the preschool years. When my oldest was in that stage I delighted in crafting literature and sensory rich learning opportunities to do together.

But now that I’m on number 4 and so very busy “officially” homeschooling the older 3, I needed to streamline and make finding those special moments with my youngest actually happen.

Vintage Preschool - embracing the power of finger plays and nursery rhymes!

VINTAGE PRESCHOOL to the rescue!

So I’ve gone old school – vintage, really. I’ve turned to the way our grandmothers and great grandmother’s taught so many essential preschool skills. I’ve embraced the power of finger plays and rhymes.

I did this with my oldest because I had time and drive to pull out nursery rhyme books and read.  I’d then spend time surfing the internet in search of those finger plays that I vaguely remember from my own childhood. But I’ll be the first to admit that it didn’t happen with the next two boys. Since Greta has had some speech delays, I knew that helping her in this area was paramount. So I set out to collect my favorite finger plays and preschool rhymes and this time make cards for everyday use; Because if I had an easy to grab ring with cards where I didn’t have to pull out books, where I didn’t get side tracked by my phone, I knew I could make the most of this simple, yet powerfully effective tool.

Did you know that finger plays and preschool songs go a long way to:

** Develop Fine Motor Skills
** Develop Gross Motor Skills
** Develop Listening Skills
** Develop Self-Regulation
** Develop Numeracy Skills
** Develop Vocabulary (single greatest predictor of school success)
** Develop Phonemic Awareness
** Develop Syllabication Awareness

Most people don’t realize the power tucked in these simple rhymes and songs. I explain more about each of these key early childhood developmental areas here!

Reading them in books is great. Repetition is even better.  Remember when I shared about why we need to read children the same book over, and over, and over again?  Well, the same principle applies here.  Learning is cemented through this kind of playful, fun repetition.

Vintage Preschool - embracing the power of finger plays and nursery rhymes!

It’s crazy to think about how they learn counting, sequencing, and hone fine motor skills simply by singing “1, 2 Buckle My Shoe.”  The “Eensy-Weensy Spider” is full of fun vocabulary and is crazy effective at developing fine-motor skills.  They learn self-regulation by singing “Open, Shut Them,” when they have to strategically pause and hold their bodies completely still. As we sing out the rhyming words they are developing important phonemic skills that not only help them with speaking now, but also lay the foundation for learning how to read later. By moving their bodies, the brain is being wired to learn. As we’ve been using this over the last year and a half, I’ve realized that this really was a baby sister to my Brain Breaks book.  Movement wires the brain to learn and in the early years movement, plus song packs a powerful punch in also developing oral and pre-reading skills!  And I’m just loving the simplicity in embracing this form of vintage preschool prep!

A must-have for every mother of young children: 30 amazing finger plays and preschool songs right at your fingertips!

So here you go…  The benefits of repetition without the work of pulling it together. {You’re welcome!} This set of 30 cards comes professionally printed, hole-punched with a ring so you are ready to go!  All of the words and motions right there at your fingertips.  Here in our home, we pull this out every morning to give some focused attention to Greta!  You can see how she feels about her “school” time!

I’d love to share a special coupon code just for you!  Simply use SING to get 20% off anytime before August 7th!

You can check out the official information page for ordering information!Buy NOW
I also want to give away a copy to one lucky winner.  Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter through Saturday August 1st! If you already ordered the cards, I’ll issue a full refund or I’ll ship the winning set to a friend of yours!  Giveaway open to US and Canadian residents only.

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This set of 30 finger plays and preschool songs includes classics such as: “Jack and Jill,” the “Eensy Weensy Spider,” “Five Little Monkeys,” “Head and Shoulders,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “London Bridges,” “Old McDonald,” “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” and many more…


Series: Integrating Little One’s into the Homeschool Journey
A Different Kind of Brainy
Why Kids Need the Same Book Read Over and Over Again
How to Make the Most of the Preschool Years

Why kids need us to read the same book over and over again…

Find out why your kids ask you to read that book over and over again! It's a good thing.

As our families gathered this last Mother’s Day, we were swapping favorite books for little kids. That’s what the women in my family love to do – talk books!  Husbands, on the other hand, like to photo bomb nice pictures.  I was telling my sister about one of our family favorites, Barn Yard Dance,  and how we’ve read it so much we can recite it from memory while still actually loving the book.  As if on cue, that photo-bombing hubby of mine walked past, heard the title and started reciting the book, word-for-word.  Greta came running in to see if she was missing out on something exciting. 🙂

Have any of you noticed how your kids ask for the same book over and over again?  My boys even now will do it.  When I finish a book and there is a chorus of “again, mommy” that rings out.  I used to let myself get a little annoyed or feel the need to switch out books more often until I read about WHY these repeat readings matter.

Repeat Picture Book Readings Boost Vocabulary

The size of a child’s vocabulary is so very important and one of the best ways to give this a boost is through read-aloud time!  Studies have shown that vocabulary is the single greatest predictor of success when a child starts formal learning. So much of what is taught is verbal.  The child that understands more will naturally be able to learn more.  And then once a child can read, personal vocabulary either feeds or frustrates reading comprehension.

What I find so amazing is that we don’t necessarily have to read a gazillion books to see this increase in vocabulary acquisition.   Sometimes less is more  Study after study has shown the huge benefits in giving in to our children’s pleas for “Again, Again!” and reading that same old book over and over again.

Dr Jessica Horst of Sussex University recently published a study that she conducted on 3 year olds comparing those that read a variety of books vs. those that read the same book or two over and over again for the same amount of time. While both groups saw development of new vocabulary, the latter group far exceeded the variety group in the rate of vocabulary acquisition.  Familiarity is the key to learning new words.

This makes sense when we remind ourselves that they are learning a new language. Immersion through repetition is vitally important.

>>But what about for older kids?<<

While we know this works for toddlers and preschoolers, researchers have also found that repeat picture book readings to elementary aged students increases vocabulary acquisition by 15-40 percent and that these advances are relatively permanent. This is a powerful reminder to KEEP reading to our children, even after they are reading on their own.

Repeat Picture Book Readings Boost Comprehension

In addition to the benefits in boosting vocabulary, repeat picture book readings also boost comprehension.  Different nuances and aspects of a story will come to life as you read that book multiple times.  This helps our children to understand the story at a much deeper level than if we just glossed over it one time.

Repeat Picture Book Readings Boost Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is simply a growing awareness of how individual sounds (phonemes) come together to make words.  Reading aloud strengthens this and repeat readings amplifies the effect. This is an important precursor to learning how to read.

Related to phonemic awareness is the ability to articulate.  Ever heard the saying, “well-read, but poorly pronounced?”  As we read aloud to our children they are not only exposed to new vocabulary, but they hear how those new words are pronounced.  This is helpful for people of all ages.

For our little one’s it is critical. I’ve always KNOWN this to be true, but getting to see it in action is especially powerful.  I mentioned a few months ago that my little girl had some pretty substantial speech delays.  While researching what to do, I was struck by the importance of pretend play with your child and the powerful affects of reading aloud.  As I became more intentional to carve out that one-on-one time to read to my littlest it was amazing to see the results.  Not only was her vocabulary and comprehension growing, but also her phonemic awareness and ability to enunciate.  For her it has given us an opportunity to work on her speech as she practices trying to say newly acquired words.

Little Green - a beautiful book that packs a powerful punch: helps develop fine-motor skills, new vocabulary, promotes artistic expression and is simply a delight to read.

As the research out there has been compiled a few themes emerge that characterize making the most of repeat book readings, including:

• focusing on one or two books at a time

• reading each book four or more times

• reading for 20 minutes or more if the child is still interested 

• reading the book daily or every other day

Now of course these were characteristics found during formal studies looking at the effect of repeat reading on vocabulary and comprehension. In an everyday home environment this typically happens more organically. As you bring good books into your home (if your kids are anything like mine), they’ll gravitate to one or two for a time and then cycle to something else. Mine have all gone through seasons of asking for the same book over and over again in one sitting.

So today’s lesson?

>> Read, read and read again. <<

>> Reading a few repeatedly is more effective than reading many only once. <<

>> Take cues from your child.  If they beg, “please read it again,” then do it! <<


A delightful collection of board books for your toddler {and an explanation of why they want/need that book read over and over again!}

Books My Two Year Old Loves

As I look back over the last few months, I thought I’d compile some of the books that Greta has cycled through.  Ironically enough, they grouped themselves into pairs and yes, she asked for them OVER and OVER AGAIN!

Her Current Fav’s

Most recent set:


1. Little Green ~ I discovered this gem when we were learning about birds several years ago.  It is perfect for the younger crowd.  My kids have loved to trace the down-up-down’s and loops that this little hummingbird makes which is a fun, playful way to start working on writing stroke practice.  It inspires my kids to observe birds and then want to go paint them.  I love the open-ended approach to art in this book.  The words just roll off your tongue like butter.  And finally and probably of utmost importance in the eyes of each of my children has been finding the “caterpillar” hidden on each page.  Greta is obsessed and this little girl that has struggled so much with articulation and saying more than one syllable words loves to play around with saying caterpillar.  It’s one of her clearest words because her incentive is so high to let me know when she’s found it.  We’ve read this 2-3 times every day for the last 2 weeks…

hush2. Hush! A Thai Lullaby ~ This book came to us via a library reading program one year.  It was one of the free books you could pick when the program ended.  I’m so glad I picked it up.  This beautiful book follows a mom as she walks in and around her hut hushing the different animals.  My kids enjoy the antics of the “sleeping baby” and the sounds each of the animals make.  I just noticed this week (after reading it for the 110th time) that each animal is a different color, so it is naturally incorporating color awareness as well.

Set 2

jonah1. The Story of Jonah ~ We received this giant board book (shaped like a fish) when Xander was born.  The rhyming text and interesting illustrations have captured the attention of all our children…

2. Come Aboard Noah’s Ark ~ Another giant board book that includes great rhyming text.  We love just reading the text, hunting for different animals, finding “pairs” and such.  For kids that want to take it a step further, both this one and the Jonah story have some excellent conversation starter questions on the last page.

Set 3

The Seed and the Giant Saguaro - amazing book based on the "This is the House that Jack Built" theme.1. The Seed & the Giant SaguaroI love all of Jennifer Ward’s books.  The author lives here in Arizona, so several of her books are on desert themes.  Her love is the great outdoors and drawing children outside through her sing-songy books.  This one is a variation of the “This is the house that Jack built” and follows a saguaro, it’s fruit that is found by a packrat, who is followed by a rattlesnake, roadrunner, coyote, etc…  Greta was obsessed with pointing out each of the animals and loved the foreshadowing of what would appear on the next page.

2. Time for Bed ~ While we were reading The Seed and the Giant Saguaro, she was also obsessed with this beautiful book.  She loved identifying the baby animals and their mothers.  Again, beautiful rhyming text, great exposure to relate-able vocabulary and a book that even I didn’t mind reading over and over and over again.  This phase lasted 2-3 weeks as well!


Set 4

Little Blue Truck - perfect book for the 4 and under crowd.  1. Little Blue Truck ~ My sister told me about this one.  Lo and behold, little girls love trucks almost as much as little blue boys.  We read this one back in January.  We both loved reading it again and again and again.  I wish I had had this in our collection when the boys were younger.

2. Big Red Barn ~ I love all things Margaret Wise Brown.  When I was looking up The Little Blue Truck, I saw that this was a recommended book.  Don’t you like how effectively Amazon “convinces” you that you need another book.  Thankfully, I resisted the Amazon urge and checked it out from the library first.   Another winner that I didn’t mind reading again and again.  Greta loved finding the tiny butterfly flitting across each page.

After this phase was over, she had a pretty good command of her barnyard animals! 🙂


Set 5

 1. Goodnight Moon ~ Where do I even start?  I love this book.  My mom had to purchase this book twice because we loved it this much.  Even though we had the board book version, it finally bit the dust and we are on round 2 over here as well.  Greta and I have taken to telling things in her room goodnight.  She loves to identify different things in each picture, hush like the mommy bunny and of course find that tiny mouse on each page. {It must be a halmark of great little kid books to have something hidden on each page to find as that seems to be a common thread in books we end up loving…}

runaway2. The Runaway Bunny ~ I told you that I’m obsessed with Margaret Wise Brown books, right?  I love this one so much that my nursery theme (for all four kids) has been centered around this book.  So naturally, I was excited when Greta fixated on this book for a season.


What books have your little one’s love to read over and over again?

Related posts:

Seven Benefits of Reading Aloud
How to Cultivate Read-Aloud Time

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A must-have for every mother of young children: 30 amazing finger plays and preschool songs right at your fingertips!

The Perils of Preschool

Mommy, can we do ‘preschool?’

This 4.5 year old of mine wants special time with me, just as his brothers get during their spelling and math lessons…

As any of you know who have been around for any length of time, I’m pretty passionate about not pushing academics in the early years.  I’ve collected articles and resources to share with you on this very subject.  I’ve explained how their brains are simply wired differently than ours…   And how we should be reading to them A LOT!!!  Cultivating play and experiential learning are great ways to make learning concrete!  Character training, especially in the area of obedience, is so very important in these early years. In my series on Including Little One’s, I also talked about the importance of carving out a bit of one-on-one time for your little ones…

All that to say that when they ask for more, I give it to them as long as they keep asking…  Lately, he’s been begging to learn how to write.  And so we’ve started with some gross-motor work.  I love our Cursive First program because of the ideas it’s given me to make handwriting a gross-motor activity.  At this age, many kids {boys especially} simply don’t have the fine motor skills developed yet to handle a lot of pencil work.  So we focus on the mechanics of correct letter formation in order to ingrain the good habits from the get-go before we move onto pencil work.  This will help not only with the quality of his penmanship down the road, but also his ability to write with less muscle fatigue.  win-win!

With the older boys, we made a nameplate and used glue and sand to make sandpaper letter names. Now I’m hooked on using glitter glue!!!!  No stray sand littering the table {and by extension the floor} anymore.

I’m all about less mess when possible!

We love the glitter glue so much that I even used it when adding ‘sandpaper letters’ to his memory verse/coloring booklet that I recently made for him.

This unpredictable little adventurer of mine has evened out wonderfully this year.  We’ve had no more sharpie incidents or lipstick art all over the carpet.

In fact, I really don’t worry about him at all.

And that, folks, was my undoing.

Last week, we made a trip to the Office of Vital Statistics to get a copy of Greta’s birth certificate.  I was pleased to see that there was only one person in front of us and the boys were excited to see some fun earth science type books in the waiting area.  In no time, I was up at the window handing in my form.  Within a few moments the lady behind the counter had printed off a copy of the certificate and handed it over while I proceeded to pay her $20 for this slip of paper.

Since everything was going so well, I proceeded to ask one more question about a typo on another child’s birth certificate.  In that 30 second window when I asked this question, my newest little hand writer discovered a pen on the counter and a fresh piece of paper and began to leave his mark.  FYI, the Office of Vital Statistics will only hit the print button a second time for an additional $20…

BEWARE: Gross-motor handwriting skills might lead to fine-motor application.

Ahhh, the perils of the preschool years.

A must-have for every mother of young children: 30 amazing finger plays and preschool songs right at your fingertips!

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

ApPEELing Food

My sisters and I nicknamed last summer – the summer of the salads.  We had fun trying all different kinds and I was quite pleased with how my children took to them as well.
The last several months have turned my eating upside down – in the best kind of ways!  While I’ve been making incremental adjustments to our diet for a couple of years, these changes took a drastic shift after Greta’s vast amount of food sensitivities in her first few months.   I love the idea of eating healthier, but preparing fresh food for each and every meal when you can’t utilize dairy, gluten and most all packaged foods anymore can be a LOT of work.  
So when I find a yummy, nourishing and EASY lunch idea, we run with it.  The beauty of our newest favorite lunch is that the kids make most of it.
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to let them have-at-it with a peeler before.  Seriously.  Meal prep help, plus honing fine-motor skills! 
They had so much fun.  Not only did they peel the cucumbers I needed, but the carrots for dinner later that night and then begged to peel more.  As long as boys would eat peeled carrots, I gave my consent to peel the rest of the bag…  Their vitamin A quota for the day was exceeded.  I’m sure of it. 
After my failed attempt at Cabbage Boats last fall, we found Cucumber Boats to be much more to every one’s liking.
Cucumber Boats
  • Peel a cucumber and slice in half, lengthwise.  (We are all big eaters and can pound two boats – an entire cucumber, each.)
  • Give your kids a spoon and let them scoop out the seeds.  {If they beg you to let them eat the seedy pulp, shrug and give consent.}
  • Sprinkle with basil. 
  • Top with slices of avocado and nitrate-free lunch meat (I’m sure grilled chicken slices would be tasty too).  I’m thinking thinly sliced tomato might be good on this too and plan on trying that this week! 
  • If your kids are feeling artistic, they could fashion their own sails like we did with our cabbage boats.  But if they are like mine, there will be a high demand for immediate consumption.

What are you all eating for lunch these days?

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Taking a Snow Day!

We don’t get those here in the Arizona desert, so we decided to create our own – using shaving cream!
I usually teach to the oldest and let the youngers pick up what they pick up (which is usually a surprising amount).  But sometimes I like to ‘take the day off’ from our normal routine and just have some good ol’ open-ended play specifically geared towards my youngest! 
The Snowy Day
So after piling on the couch and reading classic kids book, The Snowy Day we made our way to the dining room table to play with shaving cream.  I let the kids pick out toys that they wanted to bring to our ‘snow play’ and turned them loose.
Sensory activities are so important for little ones.  Exploring new sensations teaches kids a lot about how materials work and sharpens observation skills.  It is amazing how long they will focus and play when there are no expectations and their imaginations can run wild.  These kinds of open-ended imagination inspiring activities are essential and I love incorporating them into our days…
The older boys enjoyed spreading out the cream thin and tracing designs.
Driving thru this kind of snow proved to be a favorite activity…
While it looks messy, it was surprisingly not!  The clean-up was considerably easier than paints or playdough.  Now I just need to make it to the store and stock up again…
Looking for some other fun sensory play ideas?  Check out this link for inspiration!
Linking up with:

Spoonful of Imagination

Special One-on-One Time

Everyone needs a one-on-one attention, don’t they?  I’ve found that although my boys LOVE doing things together, there is also something so very special and emotionally necessary about getting personalized attention.

For my middle son, this is critical.  When discipline and defiance issues flare up, it is always a clear cue that he is in need of some special time with me.  I’ve noticed this with him more than the other two so far.  Has anyone else experienced that with one of their children?

‘Special time’ can take various routes.  We prefer to keep it simple over here. 

  • Special mommy-child walks.
  • Running errands without siblings.
  • Being read to in another room, apart from siblings.
  • Playing a game – uno, go fish, candyland, etc.
  • One-on-one pretend play.
  • New Montessori game or other sorting activity.
  • Special meal-prep helper.  (Everybody rotates doing this, as long as I have the patience and time that day.)

My middle child THRIVES on walks.  I wrote about it before when I ended up backpacking him around the neighborhood after a particularly rough week.  He not only looks like me when I was that age (with shorter hair and a little more meat on his bones), but also has my same need for the great outdoors.  For him, special walks -just the two of us, works wonders.  It doesn’t even have to be long: fifteen minutes and we’re golden.  He opens up, communicates more and responds better to my leading and direction at home. 

For Treyton, I usually put him down for his nap before the other boys go down.  (Everybody rests for at least an hour each afternoon over here.)  While the older boys clear the table and play, I take Treyton upstairs and we read a book.  I don’t think he minds going down before his brothers because he anticipates our special reading time.  It is fun to talk to him and interact without the other boys ‘helping’ him out.  Trey also thrives on having me join him in his imaginative play from time to time.

Each child is unique and finding out what ‘special time’ really rocks their world is a delight and well worth the effort to discover!

Part 5/6 in my series on Integrating Little One’s into the Learning Journey.

Occupying the Little’s: Special Toys/Activities

In this series on Integrating Little One’s Into the Learning Journey, I’ve talked about how we include everyone in our morning start with Circle Time and how we approach most learning with a multi-level/ everyone included kind of mindset.  But sometimes, you need to get things done with the older one’s without the constant input or vying for attention from the younger one’s…  We need to occupy them and keep them out of trouble.  Boy do I understand this one, especially since I blink and my youngest has usually acquired a sharpie or lipstick and his working his artistic magic.

My ideal way that things work out when I’m teaching my oldest is that the younger two, would engage in independent play.  When the weather is nice, they oftentimes will simply go outside.  We have a sandbox and in warmer weather I fill up their water table and let them dump and pour water to their hearts content, while Xander and I sit just inside and work on his ‘skill building’ subjects.  Lately, there have been many brave ‘knightly’ adventures taking place in our backyard.  I’ve also been known to give them spray bottles and let them play with those outside.  They have fun squirting each other, watering the plants, doing water-drawings on the walls, etc…

When that doesn’t work, either because they just want to ‘be’ with us or when our weather is too hot  (we never have problems with it being too cold here in the Arizona desert) I have special ‘toys’ or activities that they only do when we are having phonics/spelling or math time.

During Phonics/Spelling time:

They can have paper and colored pencils, special coloring books for only this time or I have two little white boards that I will hand them and let them draw or ‘practice’ their own writing…  Treyton is so cute when he yells out, ‘talk a me,’ wanting me to dictate a word to him.  He then proceeds to draw lots and lots of circles or long squiggles! 🙂

I’m not an advocate of early phonics instruction.  Until the two hemispheres of the brain have connected it is very challenging for most kids to read phonetically instead of merely memorizing words by sight.  In fact, pushing a child to read too early can have detrimental long-term effects.  And I just see no reason in spending years teaching a child their alphabet and simple letter sounds when in a matter of weeks they will be off and writing/reading/etc with the complete set of phonetic sounds if I just wait until they are ready.  That being said, I don’t prohibit them from being present and participating as they initiate.  (Curious about my philosophy on early education?  Check out the links on my Cultivated Learning page.)

We usually play phonogram and spelling word BINGO one day a week and Keegan loves to play the phonogram BINGO game with us.  When he is stumped, his older brother just jumps in to help.  Trey has fun playing with the discs and although he insists on having a sheet, has no interest in actually playing the game…

During Math time:

Keegan is usually excited to pull out “his” math during this time. I found a set of Cuisenaire Rods at a used curriculum fair and he enjoys playing around with them.  I know that as he plays, he is getting an understanding of quantity, greater than/less than and strengthening his visual/spacial skills.  Simply by being in the same room with Xander and I, he’s also picked up so much of what we work on and I know he will have a huge leg up when we start doing math together!  Sometimes the younger one’s will also play with Pattern Blocks and Boards.  I’ve found free templates for other designs online by doing a quick google search, so they are never at a loss for new designs to try.

When Trey was younger and still putting things in his mouth, I would do math during nap time because I didn’t want him to get ahold of any of the manipulative’s.  Now that he is older, I like to set him up with a Montessori activity if he wants to sit at the table with us.  They are immensely enjoyable and usually help increase concentration, fine motor skills, pincer grasp, and concepts of quantity. 

Here are two activities he’s enjoyed recently.  I love that they simply utilize things I have lying around the house. 

Inserting toothpicks into a spice jar: develops fine motor skills, the pincer grasp, concentration.  It is a self-contained activity.  He unscrews the lid and shakes the toothpicks out and then proceeds to put them back.  Sometimes he counts, other times he will spontaneously sort the toothpicks into piles (you could even color some of them for a color sorting activity) and then finds new and creative ways to put them back.  Today he ‘pounded’ them in. 🙂

Clothspin game: more fine motor skill practice, developing hand strength, pincer grasp, etc… He unscrews the lid, dumps them out and sees how many he can pinch around the edge of the bottle before taking them off and putting them back.  Sometimes he branches out and sees what else he can ‘pinch’! 

I find lots of inspiration by doing a search over at The Montessori Goldmine.  That is a blog well worth subscribing too as there is tons of neat ideas all collected in one central location.  If there is any interest, I could flesh out more of the activities that we use and enjoy here in our home. 

And of course the few Lauri toys we own are always a hit and only come out during ‘school time.  Treyton loves the Shape and Color Sorter and Keegan is kept busy with the Fit-A-Space shape sorter, threading, puzzle activity.  Puzzles are another option and pulling out our beads for some classic sorting always works well too.

What works for ‘occupying toddlers’ in your home?  I’m always on the look-out for fresh ideas, especially as we are just months away from our mostly ‘indoor’ time when the heat soars…

Multi-Level Teaching

Multi-level teaching definitely has its benefits when you have more than one school-aged child because it decreases the number of subjects you need to teach/oversee/grade/etc…  I also love how it fosters a natural learning environment because the entire family is participating.  (I counted going to see The Kings Speech as one of my learning pursuits in our current study of Kings and Queens!)

But there are also huge benefits for the younger one’s as well.

As I mentioned in my first post of this series on Integrating Little One’s into the Learning Journey, we pretty much integrate everyone into all learning in our house with the exception of spelling/phonics and math.  Outside of those two, we pursue hands-on unit studies.  Treyton at 2 years old participates just as the other boys do.

Of course, his attention span is shorter and sometimes he ‘chooses’ to go off and play, but usually he wants to be in on the action.  I think a key for this age is welcoming them, but not requiring them to participate.  I expect Keegan (at 4.5) to participate with almost everything, but occasionally he will even lose interest and is released.  This happened two weeks ago when we were reading The Prince and the Pauper.  I guess the story line was a bit too complex (or maybe the allure of the sunny day outside just proved too intense…).

Our overall theme for the semester is obedience.  It has been a much needed lesson for everyone, mommy included.  During a recent dramatization of Abraham’s call to obedience, the two year old took center stage as Isaac.  The four year old was in one of those moods and only wanted to moniter the ram and play the part of God.  (hmmmmmmm…)  Xander as the eldest and ‘dramatic one’ of the family played the part of Abraham.
Treyton was thrilled with his big role and it was precious to witness what he remembered from our Bible reading, either on his own or with the eager help from his brothers.
He loved getting to add his creative input to the collection of props.  (I believe the golf club ‘sticks’ here his contribution to the alter recreation.)
I am always amazed at what the kids will remember from these hands-on lessons, even months or years later!
Just this last week I had one of those amazing ‘they really are learning things’ moments.  February was my month to teach in our PE co-op.  Since Treyton is too young to participate, he stayed with me.
As I was overseeing a game, he trotted over to me and assertively told me – “You the daddy penguin.”  “I the baby penguin.”  He then proceeded to perch on top of my feet to watch the game.
I was amazed.  We had studied Antarctica and penguins during our geography explorations last summer.  He was only 28 months old and yet, months later, he could remember details from our activities.  In addition to the parental/child relationship, he remembers what they ate, who their predators are and if given a map can point to the right continent.
Really, at two?  Just because he tagged along?  Not only is relationship fostered and a ‘love’ for learning growing, but they actually remember stuff too!
Next up in my series on Integrating Little One’s into the Learning Journey: Special Toys/Activities – what we do during math/phonics times.