Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summer of 100 Books: The Sheep on a Mission Edition

I rhymed in my headline on purpose. You'd understand if you were a connoisseur of the "Sheep in a Jeep" series by Nancy Shaw, which by now, we are.

Boy Wonder read the original "Sheep in a Jeep" sometime last year and we loved it. Little did we know our enterprising wool bags went on a hike, went to a shop, went out to eat, and even went to sea. They're amazing sheep, really, with the amount of destruction they can muster in search of a birthday present or even lunch (which turns out to be the restaurant's front lawn.)

There's a few lessons and activities you can incorporate to the books, including recognizing the rhyming patterns (they are aplenty!) and bringing in circular activities like learning about real sheep. Here are a few links:

A to Z teacher stuff: Sheep in a Jeep activities Sheep in a Jeep Lesson Ideas
Sheep in a Jeep Coloring Page

As far as our Summer of 100 Books count, we are in the home stretch and will probably sail past the 100 mark today. I haven't logged our books since before McK was born, so I have a few week's worth of updates. Bear with me...we've done a lot of reading together, and with P's mom in town, Boo has had lots of awesome "Gammies" time with the books, too!

I've included links to more information on a few of our favorites. Read on!

Summer of 100 Books

66. Saint Francis and the Wolf
67. Delicious
68. Slim and Jim
69. The Carrot Seed
70. Can You Find Color?
71. Meal Time
72. Dinosaur Chase
73. Cowboy Bunnies
74. Noisy Barn!
75. When Mama Comes Home Tonight
76. One Red Sun
77. Clip-Clop
78. Click, Clack, 123
79. Off We Go!
80. Julius' Candy Corn
81. Three Billy Goats Gruff
82. Cows in the Kitchen
83. Hop!
84. Eight Animals Bake a Cake
85. How do Dinosaurs Say I love you?
86. Sheep in a Shop
87. Sheep in a Jeep
88. Sheep out to Eat
89. Sheep Take a Hike
90. Elephants Cannot Dance! (Another fabulous one by Mo Willems)
91. I Went Walking

We are so close! (And today happens to be another library day, so we'll get there before sundown, I'm sure.)

Happy reading...


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Summer of the Wild Gorilla Boy

Do you remember that towheaded toddler from about three and a half weeks ago?

The one who would accompany me to the library three times a week and carry books to the car? Would bake cookies with me and swipe chocolate chips and batter when I wasn't looking? The very same who began sleeping 12 hour stretches and woke up bright eyed and smiling?

He's still around, to be sure, but it seems that he morphs into a young mountain gorilla at certain points in the day. (Lots and lots of points in the day, actually...)

Our sweet tempered Boo loves his sister...I swear he does! He browbeats preschoolers at the library who get too close to her stroller. He swats flies that land near her saying "go away FLY! not my baby sister!" He never misses her baths or a chance to wring a wash cloth in her eye.

But since the Sunday evening we brought McK home, the boy has shown certain silverback tendencies I've never seen in him before. If he were to climb the tree out back and start pounding his chest and screeching in a terrifying low gorilla yell, I'd not be surprised. Much.

To date, I've had "NOOOO!" shouted at me at least 3,423 times. I've been spit on (yes, actual mouth driven, icky boy spit) six or seven. He's rocketed me in the head with a water bottle, kicked me in the face when we were all lying on the floor relaxing, and launched a hotwheels at me more times than I can count.

Daddy's threats of "whoopins" are met with a laugh (and maybe another spit). The actual spankings that used to keep Boy Wonder in line (with the mere THREAT of one) do nothing. I swear to God, the boy actually chuckles when you swat his butt in spite of you.

And poor baby sister. In her short three weeks, she's been sniped by a Yoda happy meal toy (don't you dare judge me...), swiffered one or two times when big brother Boo thinks she "looks dirty", been drenched by a soaked washcloth during her bathtimes when big brother helps, had half her face brushed off by the soft bristled weapon Boo found in her toiletry basket, had a bottle nozzle shoved halfway up her nose ("she's hungry") and had her pacifiers and blankets stolen and tossed over the railing once or twice.

Anymore of this sibling affection, and McK is going to be cage-rage ready before preschool...we were hoping for a tough little girl, but neither P or I put in an order for the Terminator and that's just where we're headed if she's raised among the gorilla boys at this rate.

Don't get me wrong, we see enough of our "sweet angel boy" each day to avoid locking him on the back patio over's just that the more stressful times seemed to have come out of nowhere and have me wondering what Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey might have suggested as a way to restore the regain balance and order. To save my sanity.

Tranquilizer dart, anyone?


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Be Your Own Preschool: Introductions and Early Ideas

A glimpse inside our madness

I should start with a snapshot of our house as it is right now.

We have a brand new baby that has taken any shred we might have had that resembled a schedule and imposed herself (rightfully so) upon it. We have a two-year-old caught somewhere between the new baby sister and two tired, busy parents. He's acting out. And at the same time, he's smack dab in the middle of an incredible brain and body growth spurt that we're going to let slip past if we're not careful.

If things work out this fall, our family will be in a new position for us. I'll be able to stay home two days a week and work a more flexible, part time schedule. P will be in school the two days a week that I am home and working in the evenings. Our kids will be with us and not in daycare. It's a wonderful thing, no?

But it also poses the challenge for us to be Boo and McK's first teachers. With Boy Wonder, I was on my own and sent him to daycare from the sixth week (sigh). But along the way, he had a number of fantastic preschool classroom experiences that laid a great foundation for him when it came time to start school.

P and I were shocked at his kindergarten screening to hear a little boy that would be in his class unable to count to five or recite his alphabet past the first six or so letters. Some kids just don't get the foundation that preschool environments offer. And with us being home with the two younger ones this year, I figured we had the opportunity to "be our own preschool" and I set to the library to learn as much as I could about age-appropriate activities and how children learn in these early years.

Just who are we dealing with?

Guess what? Kids are fascinating. Here is a little of what I learned about Boo's age group:
  • they are prime for memorization (something Boo can do in minutes, as long as it's a Black Eyed Pea song)
  • they value conversation more and more and begin to participate in back and forth exchanges
  • they need lots of praise and encouragement as they venture further and further out from their comfort zone
  • they are natural explorers
  • they seek strong gross motor activities as their coordination improves (movement is vital to this age!)
  • they love and rely on schedules
As I pored over the learning and early education books I found (and our library has a treasure trove of them available!), ideas began to take shape about what our days will begin to look like as we mold our time away from television and other media-driven activities toward the learning adventures Boo (and soon McK) craves.

Two warring theories that will make nice in our house

In my reading, I came across two very fascinating books that, at first glance, seem to offer contradictory theories. But I see the logic in both and as such, both will find a place in our logic and thinking.

The first idea is centered around the importance of free play from "Einstein Never Used Flashcards" by Kathy Hirsh Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. The essentials I took away were:

  • children will learn best when you play with them
  • the goal should be to learn in context of an activity, not through rote memorization
  • educational toys are essentially pointless, while everyday objects will teach everyday, essential lessons
Brilliant, right?

On the other hand, two books about raising lifelong readers caught my attention and had TONS of practical, fun activities that might seem a little too structured for the Einstein group. But I like them.

"Raising Confident Readers" by J. Richard Gentry and "How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life" by Paul Kropp offered great learning games and ideas, along with some frightening facts, including:

% of 4th graders who read for pleasure every day: 45.7
% of 12th graders who read for pleasure every day: 24.4
% of 4th graders who use a library once a week: 59
% of 12th graders who use a library once a week: 10.2

Among 8th graders, 71% watch three or more hours of television per day, while only 27% will read for pleasure daily.

And finally, in Boy Wonder's age group (6-11), the number of hours per week watched: 10.9 with 2 hours of video game time thrown in for good measure. Number of murders a child will see before the end of grade school? More than 8,000.

I was floored. And determined that learning to read was going to happen early and often and that some of their suggestions would be hammered into my brain and daily schedule no matter what.

A few starter suggestions?
  • read to your child every day
  • provide books for your children and they'll turn into their favorite stories that they'll memorize and "practice" reading in the near future
  • limit exposure to media whenever possible
I've only just begun this journey of developing our own preschool-esqe environment in our day-to-day life. As far as I can tell, it's going to be a work in progress that will change as we do and adapt to our kids' interests and emerging abilities. But so far, a few guildelins I'm developing to help include:

Get thee a few resources
Again, I cannot state how helpful our library has been. The early literacy section has walls and walls of books that teach you all about classroom environments, curriculum ideas, learning strategies, creativity sparks, etc. And they're free. And when you're working reduced hours like I am, that's essential.

Develop a plan
Hard, solid schedules may sound too harsh and usually are. But we allocate time each day for specific pursuits, be it art, outside playtime at the park, science experiments, number drawing, etc.

Find a tribe
One of the greatest things the daycares and preschools that Boy Wonder attended gave him was socialization. The kid can make friends in any situation these days and is NEVER shy. That's missing when you take outside caregivers out of the equation, but it is so essential for children to learn social situations and cues from other kids. Find a mother/tot playgroups, church groups, folks at the local playground, etc. They are out there. You should find them.

Think about your own strengths and what you can provide your child with. Are you a natural born artists? Does your family love astronomy? Incorporate what you like, what your talents are, and what's important to your family into the learning process and let your tots feel like integral parts of the equation. At our place, P is working toward his engineering degree and loves numbers. I love creative pursuits like art and writing. We go with what we're good at and eventually, it will all fall into place.

In the next few weeks, we'll be exploring more topics in depth with project ideas and teaching philosophies. A resource page will be up soon, too.

Happy learning!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Patron Verse of Parenthood

"We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."
1 Corinthians 15.51


Monday, July 4, 2011

The Lonely Hours

Makenna and I have been sleeping in the living room for the past seven or eight nights.

It's not that I don't miss my sweet husband, or my bed, or my little nook of books downstairs. It's just this weird fear that keeps me on the couch and baby girl in her Moses basket.

Ever since I can remember, I've been a terrible sleeper. I walk in my sleep, hold the most random, confusing conversations in my sleep with my poor husband, I constantly wake up and look around, confused. And from this inability to stay asleep continuously, I've come to realize the fear I have of being the only person awake in a house of sleeping people.

Oh, sure, when I am writing or tinkering, I don't mind being awake by myself. But when I am tired and want nothing more than to drift back asleep, knowing I am there by myself in the dark is actually pretty frightening to me. Weird, isn't it?

So during these tough first weeks when the baby has such odd overnight hours and can't be depended on to fall right back asleep after eating, well, I find weird solace in the overnight court shows our antenna can pick up. And the 24-hour news channel from France with British telecasters. (It's fun to think of how it's really mid-afternoon where they are and there's a whole world alive and moving somewhere out there).

Every night when P goes down to bed, I tell myself that tonight is the last night I'm sleeping upstairs. And then the witching hour strikes and Makenna and I are awake and struggling to get back to sleep and I am grateful for the background noise on television...even if it is some comical televangelist praying for my soul and extolling the good they'll do around the world with my contribution.

And every night, when I think about finally heading downstairs to my bed, the memory of the lonely hour grips me and I hide under the John Deere blanket for one more night.

Just one more night...