Giving away my favorite preschool resources

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“Mommy, can you do something with me?”

It’s a common refrain that I’m hearing these days.  Instead of simply making sure my youngest doesn’t get into trouble, we’ve transitioned quite fully into the phase where she is wanting to do “real school” and participate in every tiny aspect of our days!  I know I’m not alone with having one or more kids in this phase, so I thought I’d share about some resources that I’m loving right now.

I thought it would be extra fun to give away a copy of each, so be sure to check out the giveaway at the bottom of this post!

Here are three areas where I need to have something special for my preschooler!

Together Learning!

The power of finger plays for preschool learning!

I love things that bring us together as a family.  We start our morning together for something we’ve come to call, “Circle Time.”  We pray, sing, and read together. I love focusing some of this time on my youngest and bringing my older kids into the process of investing in their sister’s life. I used to try to think of a preschool song or finger play that I could add into this mix, but oftentimes would either forget or end up doing the same old songs each day.  That’s when I decided to get a little strategic and my Finger Play and Preschool Song cards were birthed.

Preschool Finger Play and Song CardsA must-have for every mother of young children: 30 amazing finger plays and preschool songs right at your fingertips!

Want to know the easiest way to develop important preschool skills in as little as 5-10 minutes a day?  Sing songs and do finger plays with your kids! There was a reason why our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did all kinds of finger plays with us.  It is a fun, natural way to learn most of the preschool skills needed in order to be ready for more formal learning.  It’s a painless way to learn how to count, develop their vocabulary, cultivate phonemic awareness and work on those gross and fine-motor skills.

We have just loved using these cards each morning in our home.  While I love this “vintage preschool” resource for my youngest, I’m amazed at some of the conversations I’ve had with my other kids.  My littlest loves this special time each morning when we focus on her!  We pick out a song or two and sing.  It’s been fun to watch her develop the dexterity and fine motor skills to really do all of the hand motions for the Eensy Weensy Spider.  While I sort of miss the looks of concentration she would display when trying to wiggle her fingers while simultaneously raining them downwards, it is now fun to watch her utilize all the motions with a look of triumph.  The improvements in her pronunciation and vocabulary have been fun to witness, too!  This will definitely continue to be a tool that we’ll utilize every day in our home for a while longer.

SongCards3

I also have a coupon code for you!  You can utilize the coupon code “SPRING” to receive $2 off good through the end of March!  If you purchase a card set and then win the giveaway, I’ll send you a complete refund.  No excuses, right?

 

One-on-One Learning!

One-on-one time with each of our children is so important and naturally Greta sees me working with each of her brothers on math and spelling/grammar each day and has started inquiring about doing “school”, too.  I’m a firm believer in not rushing academics, so unless they are showing clear signs of readiness (like when my middle taught himself how to read at 4.5), we don’t start reading instruction until 5 or 6. But I do strive to make them feel included. While I have a couple of math items that I pull out during math time and a whiteboard and marker that she can use to follow along during spelling lessons, she wants a lesson of her own.  I have limited time and to be honest, think that many of the “preschool” activity books out there simply aren’t necessary.  But I do love Basic Shapes

Basic Shapes for Beginners

My friend, Heather Gruetman who blogs over at Growing Hands On Kids, is an occupational therapist by trade.  She put together Basic Shapes for Beginners * for families to utilize to have a fun way to develop the important fine-motor skills needed to start writing.  While I used to research this kind of thing with my oldest, I love that I have an easy-to-use resource now with my youngest.  In our home, we teach our kids how to read by teaching them how to spell first which explains why we are always talking about “spelling.” My littlest calls this “my spelling” and asks to do it all the time.  I’ve done a few of the activities informally up until now, but we are systematically working through a little bit each week and she loves this special time to do “school” with me!  (I don’t do this every day, but try to hit it once or twice a week for a quick 10 min lesson.)

You can purchase the ebook (PDF format) from her website or get the Kindle or print version at Amazon.

Basic Shapes for Beginners eBook

 

Something to Occupy Them!

I love items that they can play with that don’t require active adult supervision.  I keep a box of these items that only come out during “school time”.  Favorites include: Lauri Fit-A-Space, watercolors, pattern blocks, and of course puzzles. Here is my favorite new addition!

Kwik Stixkwikstix

I wrote about falling in love with these Kwik Stix last fall.  Whoever invented tempera paint in a stick deserves an award and certainly receives the thanks of mothers everywhere!  I keep thick paper and these sticks in a drawer next to our dining room table and Greta joins us during our table time almost everyday to create works of art.  There is little to no mess.  In the name of complete honesty, Greta did dig her fingernails into the paint stick once and then proceeded to wipe that off on her clothes.  But there is no way I could give a 3 or 4 year old regular tempera paint and let them at it while I tackle a spelling lesson with someone else.  They’ve just come out with neon colors which Greta loves because there is hot pink and a pretty lavender purple in the mix!  My artist boys of course couldn’t resist organizing our classic and neon colors according to the colors of the rainbow! And our metallic kwik stix set is due to arrive this week! I love that you can now buy the classic, neon and metallic colors all as a set now!

kwikstixgiveaway

Find ideas and inspiration for using Kwik Stix on their Pinterest page and follow them on social media.

 

  Facebook  Pinterest

I’m excited to give away a copy of each of these resources today to help a fellow mama out!

What’s included?

** Preschool Song and Finger Play Card set (ring included)

** Basic Shapes: Hands-on Pre-Writing Activities

** Kwik Stix Classic and Neon set

You can enter below to win this great set!  Giveaway ends Monday, March 28th, night at midnight. (for U.S. mailing only)

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*Some affiliate links are used in this post – full disclosure here.

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…

RELATED POSTS:

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

Favorite Gifts for 3-5 year olds!

Perfect Gift Ideas for 3-5 Year Olds that Inspire Learning and Development

This post may contain affiliate links.

In keeping in line with my last post on toys that inspire open-ended play, I thought I’d camp out on favorite toys during these magical preschool/kinder years!  I love this age.  It is a time when imaginations really start to kick into high gear and our children are eagerly exploring their environment.  They question everything and they love to use their senses to experience the world around them.

So here are some of our favorites for the 3-5 year old crowd:

Costumes & Books – My philosophy of education during this stage is to stoke their curiosity by learning about INTERESTING things. Kids love to ask questions. Introducing our kids to great books, encouraging free, imaginative play and talking with them about anything and everything gives them such a wonderful foundation.  As such, pairing costumes and books is a favorite gift combination as is reflected all throughout this 31 day gift guide series.

Of particular interest might be:

Stacking wood bowls: The perfect preschool Christmas gift!

Colored Wood Stacking Bowls.  I love Waldorf-inspired wood toys and these gorgeous bowls top the list.  My babies and toddlers love to stack them and find hidden ‘treasures’ that we’ll place under some of them.  My preschoolers have played lots of sorting games and they have come in handy as my boys have played all kinds of imaginary games – including ‘house’.  For all of their macho, rough and tumble tendencies, they also love family and have played ‘house’ with surprising frequency.  If bright primary color aren’t quite your thing they come in natural stain, cool or warm colors.  I was at my sister’s house this week and noticed that her kids have a set too which means that all 3 of us sisters have purchased these beauties for our kids!Beautiful wooden bowls and colored bugs are the perfect combo for developing important preschool skills.

Bug Counters (we use these for counting, building patterns, sorting by color or by type of bug, etc)  I love these and they pair beautifully with our wooden bowls.

Lauri toys are perfect for the preschool age!

Lauri Toys – Do you own any Lauri toys? They are simple, portable, and engaging. Plus they have an excellent replacement policy. Lose or break a part of your set and they’ll replace it!  If your kids are anything like mine, that’s a nice policy to have around.  Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Color/Shape Sorter – I love this peg stacker/sorter.  We’ve used it to learn colors and identify shapes.  Plus it is a great way to hone fine-motor skills!  It is a popular item that I’ll put in our bag when going to piano lessons or church and I need to occupy the little ones.
  • Pegs/Pegboard – another great Lauri toy.  I like the box and handle that stores it all, making it easy to tote around and quietly occupy the preschooler.
  • Fit-A-Space – this set packs a powerful punch.  It helps develop the pincer grasp (essential for writing), provides sorting opportunities, color comparisons, and fine-motor dexterity as you put the puzzle pieces back together.
  • See-the-Difference-Puzzle – This is a great puzzle that hones visual discrimination.

Pattern Blocks and Boards – Melissa & Doug has a great pattern block set.  Even a three year old can work on matching the colors/shapes to the boards.  Plus it is a great toy that grows with your child.  My older kids will make patterns on a table simply by looking at the pattern or will make their own.  I printed and laminated some extra pattern cards from Confessions of a Homeschooler that I keep with our set.

Kitchen Play – All kids love to imitate life and a good deal of our life is spent in the kitchen – cooking, cleaning, and eating!  Plus this is a great way to work on fine-motor skill development as you pour, stir, stack and cut!

  • Kitchen ideas: You can make your own with any of the ideas I’ve posted in my play kitchen pinterest board.  I love the diversity of ideas out there. (An outdoor mud kitchen could be fun too!)  You can also buy one.  I prefer wood and these options are beautiful: turquoise vintage kitchen, classic red, and I’m partial to this unfinished wood kitchen because it’s the one we own.   We found ours on Craigslist!  As long as something is in good condition, your kids won’t know that it isn’t new!}
  • Food: We love these two sets that promote imaginative play and fine-motor skill development: Pizza, Fruit cutting.  Here is an amazing collection of felt food tutorials if you are the DIY type!
  • Utensils: Greta enjoys her tin tea set and we’ve been happy with our Ikea dishes and pots/pans/utensils (crazy that you can also get these on Amazon) that she received for her birthday!

Gifts that Promote MOVEMENT.

Movement is so essential for wiring the brain to learn.  I enjoy giving gifts that inspire my kids to go outside, to play hard, and explore.

  • Balls, sports equipment and such make for great gifts.  We want our kids kicking, climbing and running.  All of these strengthen vestibular stimulation which in turn promotes learning.
  • We love our Plasma car and having a set of plastic cones.  This Spin n’ Saucer is a fun alternative indoor/outdoor toy to the Plasma car that provides lots of sensory stimulation.

Pairing a book and a real-life item make for some fun Christmas Gifts!

Flashlight + Book {Flashlight}
Flashlights and kids go together.  My dad has a set of mag-lights in different colors that he keeps at their house.  When the boys were younger, he’d come up behind and them and whisper and invitation to go hunting for “DANGER” with him.  These advenutrous boys of mine were all in.  I’m a big fan of wordless books and this book is breathtaking in showcasing the wonder awaiting discovery with a flashlight.

Umbrella + Book {Yellow Umbrella} 
I don’t think there can possibly be a child who doesn’t like umbrellas.  We’ve had a set of vintage-esque duck umbrellas in different colors for as long as we can remember.  My kids love them.  In fact, I wrote about how valuable they are as an open-ended play item back 5 years ago.  So why not give the gift of an umbrella and a book to go with it.  I stumbed upon this beautiful book at my sisters house several years ago.  It is nearly wordless and the illustrations are stunning.  I was bummed to see that it is out-of-print, but as long as you don’t mind buying a used copy, I think it would pair well with an umbrella and capture the imagination for some rainy day play.  This book seems to beg for a yellow umbrella!  We love our duck head umbrealla, but this one with the curved handle has great reviews for kid use and it is adorable.

Curious about cultivating these precious preschool years?  Here are resources that I love to share every time I speak on the topic:

10 Ways to Make the Most of the Preschool Years {resources from Heather Haupt's presentation}

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

To check out the whole series31 days of gift ideas that will spark and foster your children's love of learning and feed the imagination!

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:

LittleGreen

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!

Not a Stick…

This little book inspires countless outdoor adventures.  All you need is a stick!

Sticks + Imagination = Ample Outdoor Adventures Sticks + Imagination = Ample Outdoor Adventures Sticks (or in this case PVC pipes) + Imagination = Ample Outdoor Adventures

We love finding a fun book that inspires outdoor explorations.  This last week we read, Not a Stick.  The boys were laughing and enthralled with guessing what this cute character was making his stick into next using the magic of the imagination.  When we were done, the boys were sad to see that it was a library book and promptly declared that we needed to add this book to our permanent collection.  Because we loved it so much, we are eager to check out his other book, Not a Box next!

A stick, the great outdoors and a child’s imagination are all the ingredients you need for a beautiful adventure!  In our case pvc pipes work well too!

How do your kids play with sticks?

The boys are busy having outdoor and indoor adventures with the grandparents this weekend while Rich and I are at the Arizona Homeschool Convention!  I’m excited to share more of our Nature Mapping adventures next week!

Have you had any fun, creative or even beautifully ordinary adventures outdoors lately.  Link up so the rest of us can gather fresh inspiration to spend time each and every day OUTSIDE!

Playsilks: Unleashing the Imagination

Imagination

The imagination is a powerful tool.  One of my objectives in raising my children is to stoke the fire of their imagination.  Imagination ignites creativity and curiosity.  Imagination enables the innovative application of knowledge.  Our kids need both!  What I love about the development of the imagination is how natural and fun it can be.  A child’s play is one place where the seeds of the imagination grow.  When a child reads and learns about something new, they work it out in meaningful ways through their play.  As such, I like to keep open-ended toys around our home – toys that can be used in a limitless number of ways.

As I continue to share about things we love in our home, no conversation would be complete if I didn’t mention our all-time-favorite toy – PLAYSILKS!!!  Any of you who have been around here for a while know that we love incorporating dramatic play into our everyday learning.  There is something powerful about walking out and experiencing what we are learning.  I keep a costume bin upstairs, but most frequently, the boys will raid the basket of playsilks we keep at the bottom of the stairs.

I just love how this pile of silks has transformed their play and our learning adventures in so many powerful ways.

A play silk + the imagination of a child = endless possibilities!

So I wanted to share a bit today about what they are and why we love them so much!

WHAT IS A PLAYSILK?

A play silk is simply a silk square (most commonly 36×36, but can be purchased/found in other sizes.  Durable, beautiful, and useful in so many ways, play silks are an affordable way to inspire creativity and pretend play often absent from today’s toy box. They are probably the most used toy in our home and promote open-ended and imaginative play in a way that scripted toys simply cannot.

Now those of you who have priced play silks are probably scratching your head when I say affordable…  We’ve used a few random silks we’ve found at thrift stores but the size, color/design and quality just don’t grab my kids attention like our play silks do and they quickly fell apart.   I bought a set of 20 from A Toy Garden many years ago because the cost per playsilk was so much lower.  We gave our kids a few at a time each year for Christmas.   It also ended up being my go-to gift when for children’s birthdays.  I gave away my last two silks on this blog a few years ago because they were girly colors and I was certain that I would only be a ‘boy-mom’.  Hahahaha…

Play silks are perfect for: playing peek-a-boo, a doll blanket, sling, wings, a cape, a river, a turban, pirate’s headscarf, skirt, toga, belt, knights uniform, fort, or anything else a child dreams up…  They are compact and weigh next to nothing, making them a popular addition to the suitcase when we go on trips.

When I wrote my series on Open-Ended Play, I wrote about the how our playsilks inspirie creativity.  I just love watching them unleash their imaginations and see what they creatively come up with.  This is important for any age, but it is really critical during those preschool/kindergarten years!

As my kids get older, I’m finding that we still use our play silks all the time.  It is fun to see them get incorporated into our homeschool days.
Here are some peak into some of the ways our boys have played with them:

The pond for our fish when they were pretending to be a fish eating bird during our bird unit
 beaks5b
They played an integral role when we acted out the Triumphal Entry for Palm Sunday!
PlaysilksforEaster
Easterlearning22
Impromptu ‘pouches’ when we were learning about kangaroos during our study of Australia!
Re-enacting Bible stories such as the account of Abraham and Isaac.
Butterfly wings during our study of metamorphosis!
Adding to the feel of being a knight!
KnightPlaysilk

The boys loved pulling them out last year when we dramatized the crossing of the Delaware (blue play silks) and huddling around the fire (orange play silks) at Valley Forge as we studied the Revolutionary War…  Ahhh, yes.  We play with them every single day.

You can purchase playsilks here!

housewarming

I’m celebrating the move to this new blog home address and and having a ‘house-warming’ party! We’ll have a few giveaways posted each week in March as I share about things my family loves! Check out the opportunity to win

Educating the Whole-Hearted Child (through 3/20)

Arizona Homeschool Convention and Curriculum Fair pass giveaway (through 3/20)

Linked to: Hip Homeschool Mom’s Giveaway Day.

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!

Painting and Pinning Patriotism

Tips on this very easy-to-do craft that has beautiful results!  Perfect for #FlagDay or the Fourth of July!
With Independence Day right around the corner, the boys asked to repeat both of these activities that we did back in April when studying the American War for Independence.

We love watercoloring.  I like it because the mess is minimal and the boys like it because of the flexibility they have with varying the depth and variety of color.  As we learned about Betsy Ross, I decided that we should paint flags.

To get our white starts we used our white colored pencil (a white crayon would also work) to draw the thirteen starts.  The boys loved painting that square blue and watching the stars magically appear!  There is something so peaceful about watercoloring.  Watercolors and our Lyra colored pencils are my two favorite art mediums!  Of course the four year old took a good deal of creative license with his flag!

I’m always looking to include fine motor skill work into our days and so we pulled out our pin-punching activity that we utilized when “Pinning Down Africa.”  The boys were mesmerized with pricking holes in the star outline and then punching it out.  It kept them occupied for almost an hour while I read to them.  What better way to help them work on that correct pencil grip than with fun ‘work’ such as this!

Using a classic montessori "pin-pushing" activity with a patriotic twist.  Excellent for developing #FineMotorSkills.

What are your plans for the Fourth of July?  I think we’re going to go outside (early) and read the Declaration of Independence and pretend that we were there on that momentous day.  It is supposed to rain on Wednesday which means the humidity will be up to around 45%, so the mugginess will only add to the effect.  If we close our eyes and imagine big leafy green trees everywhere I think we’ll just about have it!

Of course BBQ pork, homemade coleslaw, watermelon, swimming and fireworks are on the agenda for that evening!

If You Can’t Beat It, Utilize It!

Harnesing the power of the sun to make new crayons!  If you can't beat the heat, utilize it. @CultivatedLivesIt’s been hot around here.  As I type this, it is 9pm and still around 108 degrees F outside…

Of course this has meant that outdoor time, aside from being in a pool, is not as compelling as it usually is.  But we’ve decided to make the best of it and braved the ‘heat of the day’ to conduct two experiments.

Experiment #1 ~ Making Block Crayons

Over the years I’ve seen others using bits of broken crayons and muffin molds to make new multi-colored crayons. So we decided to take our baggie of broken crayons and see how long it would take to let the heat outside melt them.  The idea of turning on my oven this time of year is just not appealing…

The boys enjoyed taking the paper off of the crayons.  I found this to be a great fine-motor activity for my preschooler!  He’s quite a busy fellow and this kept him mesmerized for quite a while!  Then they had fun placing colored bits in our silicone muffin forms.

Next up, we took our molds outside and started forming hypotheses on how long they would take to melt.  I had no idea since many of the ‘recipes’ found online obviously utilized temperatures far warmer than ours.  Oldest guessed an hour, Second born guessed two and my crazy four year old guessed 9 hours!

The older boys were bummed that there was no clear winner.  When we thought to go back outside an hour and a half later, they were mostly melted so I called it a tie!  I can’t imagine how quickly these would have melted if we had tried this in the afternoon instead of mid-morning!

Because we had some dirt cheap crayons in there, the colors weren’t that great when we went to color with them, but the boys were thrilled anyways because they made them – with the sun’s help!

Experiment #2 ~ Baking an Egg on the Sidewalk!

Over 30 years living here in the hot, hot desert and I’ve never tried this…  until now.  Every summer, you’ll hear about the toddler that fell on the sidewalk and severely burning his skin.  And of course, there will be talk about it being so hot you can cook an egg on the sidewalk.

We decided to give it a try!  Again we made guesses on whether it would actually work or not and how long it would take to cook an egg on the sidewalk.  See, I even took out some cooking spray for easy clean-up afterwards.

An hour and a half in to our experiment the yolk was all bulgy, but the whites hadn’t cooked at all.   I would love to be able to report further on our little experiment, but we simply don’t know as a certain four year old found it and decided to kick that irresistible little golden ‘ball’.  I’m skeptical on if this even works…  But I think we’ll go ahead and try it again on a warmer day since it was merely 109 that day.  We’ll also  shoot for the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead.

Has anyone else tried to ‘cook’ foot on the sidewalk before?  I’m thinking that this will not be the end of our summer heat experiments!

As for the rest of the days, we’ve been focusing on swimming and water play.  My middle guy still doesn’t know how to swim.  Yes, we live in Arizona, he’s almost 6 and STILL doesn’t know how to swim.   He had a pretty traumatic experience 2 years ago when a man he didn’t know threw him into a pool at a party and has resisted learning how to swim ever since.  I’m working on trying to get him comfortable this year so that we can proceed with actually learning how to swim.  Anyone have any ideas???

What have you all been up to outside?  I’d love to hear of your adventures in being intentional to spend time outdoors WITH your children.

The Daily Outdoor Challenge @Heather{CultivatedLives}

A Week of Walks!

Since evening heat isn’t too intense yet, we’ve taken to an after-dinner walk. Greta’s in bed by 6pm and my amazing husband does the dinner dishes each night (How blessed am I???), so the boys and I have taken this time to depart for an evening stroll! Because we get bored easily, we came up with a couple of variations to add some fresh spark to these adventures!

So here you go.

7 creative ideas for taking a walk!
1. Color Walk

This was the most popular of our walks this week!  We simply took our colored pencils and a tiny notebook and marked a square for each main color.  As we walked, we hunted for different colors and kept a tally of what we found!  The only rule I had was that we couldn’t count the bark of every tree for our brown category.  Although I did allow them to include twigs from a bush and bark from a tree as two distinct sightings!

This Red Bird of Paradise was one of our favorite sightings since we could mark off both the red and orange category in one fell swoop.

2. Listening Walk

We love doing these.  The book, The Listening Walk, inspired us to throw this into the mix.  {I mentioned this book last year when doing my series on Nature Walks and books that inspire them!}

Simply map out your walk and then keep as quiet as you can so you can see how many different sounds you can discern.  Keegan even bent down to the ground to see if he could determine if ants made noise.  I’m sure they do, but we were unable to detect it!  For these walks, any kind of sound counts – birds, lizards sliding through the bushes, an airplane going by, a siren in the distance…

3. Phonemic Walk

We play around a lot with letter sounds.  A favorite game in the car is to make our way through the alphabet trying to come up with as many words as possible to go with the currently assigned letter/phonemic sound.  Phonemic awareness is an important precurser to being able to read and the ability to break a word down into its phonemic units is an important skill in needing to be able to spell well.

We decided to try this out on our walk.  At the zoo, each boy was assigned a specific sound and kept a tally of what each found with that sound.  At home, we filled a notbook page with the alphabet and wrote down what we found on our walk that fit with each sound.  The goal is to fill up every space!

4. Animal Count Walk

These kinds of walks are a bit more rewarding if you head to a nature preserve, but we were surprised at how many different kinds of birds we found in addition to lizards, ants, cockroaches (ugh) and even a cottontail rabbit!  Not bad for our suburban desert neighborhood!

I’m not sure where they are nesting, but two roadrunners have taken up residence near our home.  We love catching glimpses of them running around our front yard!

5. Misty Walk

With the temperatures continuing to climb, we enjoyed filling our squirt bottles with ice water and heading out.  The boys had fun walking into a cool mist as they pumped away.  And naturally, it evolved into a squirt battle!

6. Race Walk

I don’t know if anyone deals with this, but my boys like to RUN!  I ran into problems last year though when they would get carried away and run too far in front of me.  I didn’t want to have to yell to get them to stop, but being hugely pregnant and trying to stay OFF bed rest didn’t make it easy to race and catch up.  We instituted ‘race walks’ where I set a goal, i.e. two lamp posts, the stop sign, the end of the street, etc, where they can race to before stopping for me to catch up!  They love these race walks and it is an incredible way to burn their seemingly endless energy!  It also has been great at teaching them to pay attention to my verbal instructions which my four year old has a particularly difficult time doing.

Since Greta has been going to bed early, I’ve had fun racing with them.

7. God-Talk Walk

These are my favorite of all.  Typically they work best when I only have one child with me, but we’ve also had a few God-Talk Walks that work out well when they are all with me.  We take the time to thank God as we walk for things we are enjoying in His creation.  I love slowing down and drawing our attention to the Creator of this beautiful world we live in.  Another way to have a ‘God-Talk Walk’ is to model using this time to just converse with God.  God and I have our very best conversations when I’m walking, hiking or jogging.  There is something about the fresh air and a busy body which helps my heart and mind slow down and connect with the Lord.  I’ve starting telling the boys about what I do on my walks and then will pray out loud as I walk with one of them.  My favorite part is when I share with them the importance of listening and then we talk about what God is impressing on our hearts.  Oh these are precious memories that I know I’ll treasure forever.  My prayer is that they will see how natural and essential spending time with the Lord in prayer can be.

100+ Easy and Fun Nature Walk Ideas book