Stories that Inspire our Children to Live with Purpose

Listening to The Cat of Bubastes!Time seemed to fly by on this particular trip downtown because we were all swept up into the drama of our newest audio adventure, The Cat of Bubastes.  I heard audible sighs as we arrived at our destination and the boys realized that we would need to put the story on hold. Even Greta was disappointed. There is nothing quite like a good audio book or audio adventure to help these longer trips just speed by and with good reason; stories have a profound impact on our lives. Narrative is powerful because it inspires a sense of purpose. As I watch these kids of mine grow so quickly, I’m reminded of the importance of helping them catch a vision and realize that they are here to make a difference in the lives of those around them.  As we listen to these adventure stories, my boys minds are swirling with a world of possibilities.

I’m not sure if it can count as “work” since I enjoy it so much, but I work hard to find great stories to introduce to my children. We love to read aloud – both chapter books and picture books. After several years without, we are ever so thankful that our van now has a working CD player because it means we have lots of opportunity to enjoy stories on the road. Sometimes it is an audio book from the library, other times it is one of our audio dramas!

We love the audio adventures from Heirloom Audio. These tales are high on adventure, always provide some humor, and yet have important lessons to impart. The newest one, The Cat of Bubastes opens with a young prince marching into a life of slavery in Egypt. Instead of being consumed with anger or destroyed by depression, he resolves to make the best of it. Despite the horrible circumstances in his life, he perseveres and lives with integrity.  He becomes a slave in the home of an Egyptian priest who is kind and gracious.  This man reminds his own son to treat others with love and respect, because you never know what life holds for you and when situations might be reversed. And indeed, this story is full of intrigue and mystery and yes, roles are indeed reversed as they encounter the one true God and the cost that comes with following Him.

My boys need to see that no matter their circumstances – whether in times of triumph and success or in your darkest days, that we can live lives full of purpose. We all need reminders that we do not know what the future holds. We need to see that by being faithful to what we are called to do in the moment that we can play a role in the grander scope of history. As Christians, we are regularly reminded that we are called to play a role in the kingdom of God. Stories like these remind us of the everyday opportunities we have to be faithful and how God can use those moments to make a difference. The grand sweep of narrative has the power to inspire us to live a life of purpose, even and especially in the midst of challenges that people oftentimes face. It does so by providing a safe place to deal with the emotions that come with the triumphs and struggles in life. There is a wisdom that comes only with experience that allows one to truly appreciate and understand life from a big picture perspective, but I’m a firm believer that reading about the lives of others infuses our own life with more wisdom and long-term thinking than we would have without them.

And that would be why I let them read while they cook or listen to stories when they do their chores.

And this is why our audiobooks and audio dramas continue to play an important role in our family life. Oftentimes, they’ll listen to one while they build with their legos.  The older two boys received mp3 players for their birthdays this year and love to clip that baby on and listen to a story while they do their chores. I smile and am thankful for the gift of good stories and the lessons they are learning from them.

We love our Heirloom Audio CD’s. I’ve written about them before. The Cat of Bubastes does not disappoint! It is a beautiful story that will inspire everyone to persevere, to be loyal to friends, to remember that God has a grand plan, and that we are called to play a role! It is a welcome reminder that we are called to live with purpose.

 

Trey doesn’t know it yet, but he will get his own MP3 player for Christmas. This one is our favorite. We like that the sports clip, the variety of colors so each child knows which one is theirs, and the lack of wi-fi capabilities that allows us as parents to set what goes on them.  When Greta gets older, they even have a pink one!

{Disclaimer: While we have listened to and loved these audio’s for a few years now, I was sent The Cat of Bubastes for free and compensated for my time invested in putting this post together. All opinions, as always, are solely my own. Please see my disclosure for more information.}

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Our Secret to Surviving Long Road Trips

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Anyone have some long road trips planned for this summer? We don’t, but that’s only because we clocked about 60 hours in the car at the end of last year…  Surviving with your sanity intact is imperative.  Being ready and willing to do it again is the cherry on top.

I want to share our biggest secret to surviving long road trips and doing so screen-free!

A few years ago I wrote a post about Creative Travel Ideas for Young Kids. When my kids were little, I took as much care with preparing for a road trip as a general would planning an invasion. For our really BIG trips (6 hours to California) I loved to do an hour-by-hour countdown with special activities to pull out along the way.  And when we would fly, I’d break my little to no screen-time rule to let them watch a movie.  I figured that being stuck in a metal box in the sky was NOT the place to be for a melt-down or restless child, so we’d sedate them with a movie which was a special treat for our screen-deprived children. I broke that tradition a few years ago when we flew over the same weekend, that I had agreed to participate in a national “Screen-Free” week. I lived to blog about it later.   But even with the movie my kids would watch on our trips across the country, I was still careful to pack special toys or books to occupy them during the remainder of the flight.

Everything has eased up since then. Now that the kids are older, I throw a few things in a tub for the car, being sure to pack some special items to occupy the 4-year-old and we set off.  Only now we live in Texas where you can drive A.L.L. D.A.Y. and still be in Texas.  Anything under 6 hours is now considered a quick road trip because it takes 15 hours to get to see my family and 9 hours to drive and visit my hubby’s family.

While the kids are older and better able to sit still, we’ve honed in on the BEST way to pass time in the car…  Audio books and audio dramas!

Our absolute favorites, hands-down, are the audio dramas from Heirloom Audio. Have you heard of them? Listened to them? If not, you seriously need to check them out!  This is the newest venture from the former producers of Adventures in Odyssey! The boys received their first one for Christmas 2 years ago.  They fell in love with In Freedom’s Cause, which takes us into the life of William Wallace. He was an amazing man of faith and conviction – a true hero that I love introducing to my boys.

Last fall, I shared about how sick I had been and how we fell in love with In Lee in Virginia which was the perfect companion to our study of the Civil War. We loved them so much that I packed a portable CD player in our aging minivan on our road-trip that we took around Thanksgiving because our CD player in the car was broken. You would not believe how quiet a car full of kids could possibly be as they strained to hear the story from my portable CD player. Thankfully, we had a new-to-us minivan for our 15-hour drive to Arizona. Yes, 15 hours of me with 4 kids as we departed for Arizona for a couple of weeks before Rich joined us at Christmas.  Yes, that was the time we drove ALL DAY and were still in Texas…

We survived, thanks to hours of these audio adventures!

In recent weeks, as we’ve simply been driving around town, we’ve been listening to one of their newest adventures, The Dragon and the Raven. After listening to it one weekend, my middle guy surprised me with this little impromptu note on Monday morning…

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He’s especially excited to now jump into the book that inspired the story that I just happened to have on our bookshelf and was hoping he’d read this summer! #win

Let’s Give Them Access to Real Heroes

The more I look around at what the world has to offer our boys by way of entertainment, the more I’m sold on reading great books to them, exposing them to these kind of heroes via audio dramas. Boys need heroes.  Girls do too, but in an age where boys tend to be adrift without a sense of purpose, I’ve found that filling our boys minds with the stories of brave men who have gone before, performed heroic deeds, made a difference in this world is so very important. These accounts inspire my boys to want to make a difference too. They inspire them to apply themselves to the work of learning and growing up so that they too can make a difference in their culture, in the world they will be thrust into.  And with how things are going, we are in desperate need of modern-day heroes, people who have firm convictions, people who are willing to live selflessly to serve others, to serve a greater good and to draw people to the truth and the One who is Truth.  And I love to watch the role that these audio dramas play in this unfolding of their going from boys – to – men.

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So if you are looking for a way to make the hours in the car just speed by, if you are looking to inspire your kids with some amazing real-life heroes, and you want something they will want to listen to over and over again, then check these out. I’m sure they will become favorites in your home and car, just as they have in ours!

If you would like to order the series now click here.

With this special package you will get:

  • All four audio dramas (The Dragon and the Raven, With Lee in Virginia, In Freedom’s Cause, Under Drake’s Flag –there are 2 copies of each audio drama so that you can give one to a friend!)
  • Study Guide and Discussion Starter Sets for each audio drama
  • Award-winning soundtracks from each audio drama
  • Poster Art from each audio drama
  • Four limited edition Henty Collector Coins
  • ALL of this for only 79.95 !!!

Here are the details:

Recommended Ages: 6+ (some intense action and war scenes, complete with sound effects)

The Dragon and the Raven
Historical Setting: Alfred the Great, 800’s AD, England
Lessons: Mercy, Courage, Faith,
Duration: 2 hours

In Freedom’s Cause
Historical Setting: William Wallace, 1290’s-1305 AD, Scotland
Lessons: Persistence, Courage, Humility, need for God’s guidance
Duration: 2 hours

Under Drake’s Flag 
Historical Setting: Sir Francis Drake, 1500’s, England
Lessons: Courage, Conviction, Character, Faith
Duration: 2 hours

With Lee in Virginia 
Historical Setting: Robert E. Lee, Civil War – 1860’s, United States
Lessons: Loyalty, Freedom, Human Dignity, Honesty, Faith
Duration: 2 hours

{Disclaimer: While we have listened to and loved these audio’s for a few years now, I was sent The Dragon and the Raven for free and compensated for my time invested in putting this post together. All opinions are solely my own. Please see my disclosure for more information.}

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.

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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!

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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.

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.

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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.

RELATED POSTS:
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.}

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!

The Ultimate Gift Guide to Toy Castles (Day 3)

A toy castle can ignite the imagination and work to solidify what kids are learning about. {Gifts that Inspire Learning Series}This post may contain affiliate links.

When we were learning about the middle ages in the spring after Christmas one year, we decided to go all out.  My mom wanted to get the boys a castle.  So we embarked on a research venture to see what kind of play castle would be best.   I’ll list a few here and some pro’s/con’s about each so you can make the decision that is best for your family if you want to go this route.  This gift has been pulled out with great frequency over the years and serves to reinforce what we learned about that semester.

A review and comparison of top castle toys out there that will encourage imaginative play and learning.

1. Schleich Knights Castle in Tan or Grey  (Currently $148.48/$99.99) (Ages 3-12) What’s not to love about having a castle with 2 towers, 4 walls, 2 connecting elements and a working drawbridge!  These two castles look identical, except there is a 2 pound difference and the lighter, grey one is about $50 cheaper.  I don’t remember seeing the grey one when we bought ours several years ago.  After my mom and I poured over reviews and considered every angle we could think of, we decided to go with this one for the kids.  The resin-plastic is incredibly sturdy and so realistic.  It’s withstood 3 boys playing roughly with it for years.  We also loved that the pieces could be moved about as creativity inspired our kids in their play.  A big bonus for mom is the fact that it is easy to pick up each piece and store it in a large tub when not in use!  This castle is compatible with both Schleich and Papo figurines so it is a gift that you can keep adding pieces onto.3castles

Here are my favorite additions to the castle:  A King, Queen or two, two jousting knights on horses (or they can come off  the horses to “fight” on foot), two or three more knights – maybe a crossbowman or one like this or this, and then some weapons such as the {working} battering ram or catapult.  Finally, we love our Medieval Tent for the attaching army’s base of operation.  That’s what we have, but as you can see from a quick search, the possibilities are numerous!

2. Papo Weapon Master Castle  (Currently $74.63) (Ages 5-12)  This castle is also compatible with the gorgeous Schleich and Papo figurines.  It is made out of wood and also able to be reconfigured.  Unlike the Schleich castle, however, this one does have assembly required and there have been complaints that it breaks easily.  Since my boys were young when we bought our castle, that was a serious consideration.  For literal kids who want an enclosed castle, however, this might be a deal maker since there is a courtyard and more options to put up soldiers defending the castle.

3. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Folding Castle  (Currently $74.38) (Ages 3-10) This castle is made out of wood with lovely painted details.  It can be folded up, making it easier to store.  There have been complaints about the smell of the paints and it is smaller and doesn’t perfectly fit with the Schleich or Papo figurines, although some kids have improvised even though they don’t fit well through doors or stand in towers.

I’d pair this set with the Royal Family M&D doll set and/or the  Castle Wooden Figure Set.  While they don’t have the gritty realism that the Papo/Schleich toys have, they are more reasonably priced and perfect especially for the younger crowd.

CastleComparison2

4. Melissa and Doug Princess Castle (Currently $67.99) (Ages 3-10) If you are on the hunt for a fanciful, girlier version, this might appeal to you.  It is the same wooden build and structure as the previous folding castle that I mentioned.  There is also a beautiful furniture set that you can order to go with this castle.

If you want to conserve on space or cost:
CastleBlocks
5. Melissa & Doug Block Castle Set  (Currently $25.49) (Ages 2+) This is much smaller and comprised of wooden blocks.  You have the option of building one castle or going for two opposing castle fronts.  A few wooden figurines come with this, but you could also add the Knights and Dragons Toob Set ($10.20).    Mom Perk:  This comes in a handy wooden box.  You can easily slip it under the couch or on a shelf to store it out of the way when not in play.

LegoCastles

6. Castle Lego’s  And how can I not mention legos!  When we bought our castle set, the boys hadn’t caught lego fever yet.  If your kids have already been captivated by lego mania than this might be a route to consider.  The options seem endless.  I’ve found that with a couple of sets, my boys also get creative in converting the rest of their legos to match the current topic of pretend play interest.

 

Pair it with a Book:

This beautifully written and illustrated tale about St. George and the dragon paired with a few figurines is a fun gift combo!

Saint George and the Dragon – along with a knight and dragon figurine!

 

 

Amazing books on the Middle Ages!
The Door in the Wall – This classic chapter book is a must-read for anyone learning about the Middle Ages.
A Medieval Feast by Aliki.  This is another beautiful book that takes you through a medieval feast.
Castle – MacCauley’s books are amazing.  We loved Cathedral and Castle, in all of its delightful detail, is no different.
A Year in a Castle –  This is a favorite in our home.  It gives an interesting peak into castle life including moving in, what market day is like, getting attacked, being under seige and finally making repairs.  It is a lot of information packed into an engaging diary-like story.
Cross-sections Castle – This book allows you to go into a castle layer by layer, lending to hours of pouring over intricate details of the inner workings of a castle.
The Bravest Knight – This is not a historical book by any stretch of the imagination.  It is simply an inspiring story of the power of a little boys imagination.
The Kitchen Knight: A Tale of King Arthur – A favorite at our home.  This is one of my favorite illustrators (she also illustrated St. George and the Dragon).  It gives an inspiring account of humble leadership, inspiring chivalry, and the love between sisters.  Did I mention the illustrations are amazing?
The Squire and the Scroll – This story is a Christian allegory set in a medieval setting.  It’s a favorite at our home since the boys received it as a birthday gift.
The Making of a Knight – The boys were enthralled with this story that follows a young boy through his apprenticeship and training to become a knight.

 

Be sure to check out yesterday’s post on other medieval inspired gift ideas!

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31 days of gift ideas that will spark and foster your children's love of learning and feed the imagination!

Afternoon Anticipations… Art + Olympics!

Learn how to master pastel art while gearing up for the winter olympics! Honing their artistic flair with some Olympic art tutorials!Art lessons centered on the Winter Olympics with A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels: Winter Olympic edition

This post may contain affiliate links.

Today was the perfect day to pull out our new Olympic Art Pastel lesson book on the kindle fire.  It was overcast (rare for Arizona) and just enough nip in the air to make these desert dwellers feel in the mood for the upcoming winter Olympics.

We’ve been using A Simple Start in Chalk Pastels this year for our art lessons and just loving it.  They are written so that anyone can use them, no matter what their art background is.  I’m thankful for this since my artistic skill starts and stops with stick figures for the most part.  Given my boys love of all things active and Olympian, we were thrilled to dive in to the Winter Olympic edition of this art program.  I love that it has a glossary so we are learning true artist terms/techniques plus HOW to use them!  Of course the boys love the slightly messy factor.  I’m thankful that it isn’t as messy as paint.

Bobsled Play

As we reminisced back to the last Olympics, we remembered that the boys favorite sport was the bobsledding.  They were obsessed and pretended to bobsled endlessly for weeks with the kitchen stools.  In light of that, we chose to tackle the bobsled team tutorial first!

It was the perfect way to end our afternoon before heading into dinner prep!  We laughed, drew and got messy.  And I didn’t freak out too much.  ok, until my five year old started using his shirt as a towel…  I’m a work in progress.

I’m hoping we will have better luck finding some interesting sports to watch this year.  We were pretty disappointed with the sports selections from the last summer Olympics.  {Was anyone else able to see anything other than volleyball or swimming before the kids went to bed?}  With Olympic fever in the house, we’ll be tackling the Olympic torch tutorial next and then some ideas from my Olympic pinterest board.  I’m thinking icehockey in a casserole pan looks like fun!

Learning how to use pastels with A Simple Start in Pastel's: Olympic EditionA Simple Start in Pastel

 

Teaching Typing Skills – Quickly and Efficiently {VLOG}

If you want your children to learn important keyboard typing skills, Keyboard Classroom is a quick and efficient way to do it!

This post may contain affiliate links.

Tap, tap, tap…  “YESSSSSSSSSSSS!” I hear my son shout.

He has just received a promotion.  We are in our second month of exploring Keyboard Classroom and we both couldn’t be more pleased.

Finally, after searching off and on for a while, we’ve found a typing program that we both like.  Our time is just too precious and I wasn’t impressed with the silly games that teach typing skills at a snails pace that I found with most other options.  While I love delight-directed education and hands-on learning, I’m not a fan of entertainment focused learning.  Entertainment-based learning hurts kids in so many other areas of their lives and raises the expectation that something must be infinitely entertaining before kids put any effort into paying attention.

And when it comes to mastering a skill, I want to find a way to do so quickly and efficiently.  Keyboard typing skills are high on my list to have my son learn.  In the early years, I’ve focused on penmanship.  Now, at 9 years old, I wanted him to learn these typing skills that will prove invaluable in whatever he ends up doing in life.    But I didn’t want to do this at the expense of eating up precious time to play, explore, and read.  So when I had the opportunity to try out keyboard classroom, we jumped at the chance.

We We Love Keyboard Classroom

Here’s why we like it in a nutshell:

Quick and Easy

This program sticks to the basics in an engaging way that makes for quickly acquiring the ability to type well.

Self-Paced

Keyboard classroom recommends 15 minutes a day and guarantees that your child will learn to type within 6 months.  We are only a month and a half into our typing adventure and my 9 year old is already making great progress.  He can go as quickly or as slow as he needs to go.  My only problem is setting a limit so we have time for other things…

Skill-Focused vs. Entertainment Focused

This program jumps right into typing.  But it also manages to provide high incentive to progress as well.   As you work on passing timed exercises you move up through a series of military ranks.  For this son of mine, who is NOT self-motivated, this systematic skill-based reinforcement is perfect.  For those that like to play computer games, you also earn tokens for a couple of games included with the program.  The boys don’t really play computer games yet, so this hasn’t been a huge draw for him.  But he sure does love racking up the tokens!

Learning typing can be fun and yet seriously focus on skill building at the same time!

Encourages Proper Positioning by Utilizing Muscle Memory

Muscle memory is powerful.  I love the emphasis on correct positioning and then practice until this becomes second nature.

Strategically and Systematically Builds Typing Skills

1. Keyboard Finger Training

This is the first step where you begin learning where letters are on the keyboard and what fingers you should be using to type each letter.  With the finger guards in place, emphasis is placed on keeping fingers in the “home” position.  The color coded guide on the screen makes it easy to navigate and you move up through the ranks, practicing finding and typing different letters.  Xander wants you all to know that he has achieved Brigadier General  in this category already.

Keyboard Classroom Typing program: Quick and Efficient

2. Typing Words

This section moves you into practicing typing words.  There is the option to do a practice mode with any of these sections before proceeding with a timed mode.

3. Home Stretch

This section works on strategic 3 letter combinations to solidify the skills of moving around the keyboard while sticking close to home position.

4. Typing Sentences

This section lets you practice forming sentences with a series of increasingly more challenging levels.

5. Capital Stretch

The final stage is learning and perfecting the formation of capital letters.  There is systematic practice until this is second nature as well and you have the entire package put together.

Want your children to learn how to type without wasting their time? 

Check this program out!  And since I was so excited about this, I decided to make a quick video for you all because really, I’d much rather sit down with you in real life and TELL you about this than write it all out.  So I tell you here why I love it for my all-boy boy and give you a peek of it in action.  And for those that always stress out by seeing immaculate homes, you can rest easy because you’ll notice that I haven’t dusted in I don’t know how long and I conveniently moved the pile of paperwork off my computer desk before taping. 🙂

 Can’t view the video?  Here’s the direct link.

The program costs $39.99 and includes the finger guards for one child to use it at a time.  I’m super frugal, but feel that our time is so well utilized with this well-researched program that it is worth the investment.   I’m over the moon excited to announce that they have a new pricing structure in place for homeschool families.  For just $10 more you can get a family licence and use it with up to 5 students at one time!   As I was writing this review, that was the only con we found.  But that hurdle for larger families is now gone!    

 

Special Homeschool Pricing for Families
If you want your children to learn important keyboard typing skills, Keyboard Classroom is a quick and efficient way to do it!

MathRider - The Intelligent Math Game

Geeking out on this Architectural, Engineering Toy

BionicBlox - Encouraging the architect, engineer and builder within!

Add THIS to your Christmas list!

With three boys, lots of toys make their way into our home during birthdays and at Christmas.  But not all of them end up sticking around.  I’m always on the lookout for toys that stand the test of time, provide lots of open-ended play and either unleash the imagination or challenge them mentally.   We love playtime around here and guard our time closely to preserve time for open-ended exploration.  It’s just one reason why we limit screentime around here and another perk of homeschooling.

Play is so powerful – it is not only relaxing, but it is also a painless way to learn.  Unless you are rolling in dough or have unlimited space, parents need to be choosy on what kinds of toys they’ll bring into their home.   A toy we recently discovered that totally fits the bill is BionicBlox – now Brackitz.   We received some similar blocks last year for Christmas and fell in love with them, so when the opportunity came up to test these out, we jumped at the chance.

The concept is simple.  small wooden planks and connectors.  We’ve worked with wooden planks, but the connectors added such a fun dimension to their building capacity.  To start with the boys sought to copy some of the pictures that came in the bag.  It was fun to watch them wrestle with figuring out how to make a structure that wouldn’t fall apart.   Each time they pull these out they try something new.  Today, Keegan and I were playing again with them.   As I put a few together, Keegan thoughtfully watched me and then trotted over, bringing an extra plank.  He noticed that my structure lacked stability and devised a solution to remedy that.

BionicBlox - creativity inspiring, open-ended play! BionicBlox - creativity inspiring, open-ended play!

Why We LOVE Bracketz:

Promotes problem solving.

Builds and awareness of geometry

Provides opportunity to flex architectural and engineering skills.

Strengthens gross-motor skills.

Promotes creativity.

It’s open-ended so the kids don’t get easily bored.

The connectors are compatible with Citiblocs, Keva or Kapla blocks!

It’s compact and easy to store! {Do I hear a “Hallelujah” out there?}

  BionicBlox - The perfect educational toy to build the mind!BionicBlox - Soar high with these engaging STEM toys for kids!

This small capsule of blocks and connectors takes creativity to a whole new level.

The only problem?

We need more of them.  Thankfully, Christmas is right around the corner.

 

Disclosure: I received this product for free and was compensated for my time reviewing it. All opinions expressed are my own.

How to Teach Chess When You Don’t Know How to Play

How to teach chess when you don't understand the game - Use the Magic of Story and the Imagination!  Review of Chess at 3.

Outsource or Learn Alongside Them!

I have a strange obsession with learning things that are challenging for me.  For instance, I’m fascinated with learning how to knit, write html, write period {it was torture for me growing up}, etc.   Today’s tangent was researching what it would take to design my own font… {not sure if I want to tackle that one.} I guess there is just an allure in proving to myself that I can do something that I’m not naturally gifted at doing.

Chess falls into that category.  My brain isn’t naturally wired to enjoy and thrive at thinking through complex steps in playing a game.  I lean heavily into the “intuitive” camp when it comes to games.  Added to this is the fact that I {sort of} flunked geometry.  My mom’s philosophy didn’t really allow for flunking.  We simply went over things over and over and over again until we grasped it.  I don’t think in 3-d and so conceptually geometry was quite a challenge.  Thinking 2, 3 or more moves in advance on the chess board is challenging in an almost Mt. Everest kind of way.

So enter that fateful day when I was sitting down to nurse my second-born and I read a magazine article about the benefits of teaching our children chess.  I was mesmerized even though I realized that my brain doesn’t naturally work in a way conducive to winning a chess game.  I knew that I wanted to find a way someway, somehow to help my boys learn this game.  I was convinced that the benefits of this mental workout, as they flexed their critical thinking muscles, would be well worth the investment.  We have a homeschool chess club in Arizona, but it is a 45 minute drive away, smack in the middle of nap time.  Doesn’t work.  Another friend has paid for her son to take chess lessons at a tutor center.  Again, out of the budget since I now have 3 boys itching to play.  I simply put that desire on the back burner…

So when I discovered the Chess at 3 program, I was intrigued.  This revolutionary program is actually designed to teach children as young as 3 years old how to play the game.  How does it do this when the rules are so convoluted and complicated?  It weaves the pieces and their moves into a mesmerizing story.

Our imaginations were captured from the moment we started reading this story.  We were all laughing as we read about King Fisher, who couldn’t stop eating and King Spasky, the timid king who lives in a castle of pillows.  But all of us will never forget that these kings move sloooooooooowly, one space at a time.  As a mom who has a secret obsession with learning the game, but a mind so cluttered with everything else that I’m doing, this has been a great way to learn alongside them as I teach.

The Magic of a Story

For those of you who have been here a while, know that I’m passionate about books, learning through play and unleashing the imagination.  Stories capture the imagination and help our minds to absorb information in a way that sticks.  It gives us mental scaffolding where we can hang new information and then retrieve it again.  Chess at 3 recognizes this and masterfully uses the power of story to help even very young children sort out the complicated moves of a chess game. And it doesn’t just work for those that are 3…  It is working for this busy mama in her 30’s.

Learning Chess provides amazing mental and character development opportunities! Learning Chess provides amazing mental and character development opportunities!

Everything is laid out in a very detailed, conversational way.  The first couple of lessons didn’t even require me to read it through ahead of time.  It was literally open-and-go style.  I have found though that the further we wade in, that it is helpful to read it through in advance.  I’m a pretty competitive person though and it is crushing to watch your five year old legitimately beat you.

Anatomy of a Chess at 3 Lesson

3 Big Ideas ~ Each lesson starts out with giving you, the teacher/parent the 3 main ideas behind the lesson.

Introduction ~ This is mainly for teachers with a class.  Ideas are given for starting the class time.  I appreciated the reminder to keep everything fun and light!

Review ~ A chance to open a dialogue (you are guided every step of the way) to review what’s been previously learned.  My boys LOVED recounting highlights from the previous story.

The Story ~ Oh the funniest part.  My busy, busy boys listened in rapt attention.  Usually, we’d end up reading the story to dad later that day.

Exercises ~ One or two ideas to implement to start moving pieces on the board and begin play.  I liked that there were simple variations to start playing with, say, just the king and pawns.

Summary ~ This section helps you bring home with the kids everything you covered.

I love how the first half of the lessons focus on the basics of the game and how each piece moves.  The last 10 or so lessons tackle different strategies for making good moves.  They are referred to as Secret Missions.  Just as the first half of the book, there is an engaging story to illustrate the principle and then exercises to help put these newly learned principles into practice.

Chess and Character Development

Another benefit of learning to play chess and what this program emphasizes is character development.  Good sportsmanship is a big thing emphasized.  Having 3 very competitive boys, I’ve found it to be so important to teach them how to win well, lose well and enjoy the process of playing.  The last 5 lessons focus a lot how to handle winning, losing and developing courage.

The Only Catch

The only con to this program was the cost.  In fact, while I was so drawn to the idea of using story to teach chess, I almost turned down the opportunity to review it for you all.  The program started out being used in exclusive preschools in New York City – an area where single income budget concerns aren’t on the radar.  But as I started thinking about the fact that it was a comprehensive curriculum that even I could teach to ALL of my kids instead of opting for tutoring, the cost seemed much more manageable.  I believe they are reworking their pricing structure for families, so that might bring it down to a more reasonable amount for budget conscious families like ours.  If the budget isn’t too tight, I highly recommend checking this out!

 

Be sure to check out the Chess at 3 website!

Click here if you can’t see the video.

Disclosure: Chess at 3 sent me a copy of their program to review.  All views are completely my own.  See my full disclosure policy here.