Surreal-ness.

Surreal is the word that I’ve been using to describe my life these past few weeks.  My 5 year old son started kindergarten this school year.  My world is upside down once again at the start of another September.  I always imagined myself with children, but they were always babies and toddlers in the pictures in my imagination.  Now, I have a child who gets on the bus every morning and returns six hours later with homework.  I knew it was coming but somehow it still managed to sneak up on me.  I checked off the items on the supply list but I felt like I was watching someone else head into Staples, not that I was actually buying folders and marble notebooks.  I’m proud of myself that I didn’t have a panic attack on the first day, in fact I actually didn’t even cry when the bus drove off with him (with no kind of restraint whatsoever, just freely moving about in his seat!!!).

I did have champagne though.  And I had my mother and my husband, thank goodness.  I probably would have crumbled without them.

We are now getting into our new and structured routine which I find both irritating and comforting all at the same time.  I’m feeling inspired and tired, motivated and sad (missing my little big boy and the freedom of summer).  I really just want the feeling of surreal-ness to go away at this point and I think I will be able to focus a little better.  My husband is back to work, there’s a minute or two of coolness in the air every so often and there was a full display various types of squash at Trader Joe’s today so this all must mean that things are getting underway in the school calendar.

Hopefully life will start to seem real again, soon.

So, one really good thing that is resulting from full day kindergarten is that I feel like I might be able to focus a bit on blogging again.  I’ve been utilizing Instagram to document the adventures with my boys but many followers ask questions and I often want to expand on my reasonings and share more photos of our process.  I will answer those questions to the best of my ability and share how we incorporate nature, mindfulness, the Reggio Emilia approach, etc. into our home and life.

Thank you for following along!

A Simple Way to Encourage Your Child to Answer the Question, “What Did You Do In School Today?”

Up until the current school year, my Oldest son attended the school where I was an Ed Director.  Because I spoke with his teachers throughout the day for various reasons, attended curriculum meetings with them, walked past the classroom multiple times a day and, in addition, received informative journals twice a week, I was never really faced with the need to ask the ever vague, “What did you do in school today?”

This year, things have changed.  I am no longer in the know.

It’s been an adjustment for me to be “just a parent” at my son’s school and one of the things that has challenged me is trying to get an understanding of what happens during his mornings with friends and teachers.  As many parents have said before me, ‘it was like pulling teeth’ to get him to l share a single detail about his day.  I even tried some of the tricks I’d often shared with parents of kids in my classes, such as asking more pointed questions like, “Who did you play with today?” or “What did you do after snack?” But, I was still missing something and not really getting many details.

One day, a light bulb went off and I made a proposal to my son.  I told him that I would share one thing from my morning, if he would then tell me about one thing that happened in school.  His eyes lit up and he accepted.

I went first and told him “Your brother and I went to the post office.  We had to wait in line for a long time.  We mailed two packages.”  Then it was his turn.  He followed up with, “We went to the gazebo.  We ran around and played.”  And then, my favorite part of the experiment, he asked, “What else did you do?”  He was clearly intrigued and we ended up going back and forth three times.

The were two very important pieces in this exchange.  First, I was modeling him for him how to extend a thought and share details while showing him that more information builds an interesting conversation.  And, second, I learned that he was just as interested in the mysterious life his brother and I lead while he is in school as I was about the happenings of his school life.

Over time, his responses have become more detailed and less generic.  For example, instead of ‘we ran around and played’ I hear details such as, “we used the big logs to make a campfire” or “we walked around the lake and saw a bird’s nest in the tree.”  {He goes to a nature and science based preschool.}

This quickly became routine.  We either share in the car on the way home, at the dinner table or while tucking him in at night. And now, he usually starts the conversation on his own with, “Tell me something you did today while I was at school.”  We still have days where he doesn’t necessarily feel like sharing too much or he struggles for details but more often than not, we have a respectful, detailed, back and forth conversation.

An Ice Experiment

Finally, we got some snow here in New York!  We saw pictures of our family playing in snow in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA but we had yet to put on our snow pants and boots that had been waiting by the front door for weeks.  The boys were thrilled to be outside in the white stuff, even if it was only a dusting.

The time outside proved to be more meaningful then I had originally expected.  After finding icicles on Grandma’s car and a big pool of ice in the bed of our Tonka dump truck…

IMG_5398 IMG_5399

…my Oldest and I were inspired to revisit an interest that developed around this time last year.  As his class had embarked on an ice project, we continued the study at home in a number of ways.  One of our favorites was doing an Ice Experiment.  This is how is went this time around…

We chose some random items and put them into a muffin tin.  The boys got their own empty ice tray and filled each cube with the different items.  It was interesting to watch as they started off slow putting one or two pieces in each cube and then became more comfortable and creative as they started to combine things like rocks and blueberries into the same cube.  At this part of the activity we are also able to compare which items float and which items sink, we made a number of hypotheses, observations and comparisons.

IMG_5411 IMG_5409

Next, we filled the trays with water and slipped them into the freezer.

IMG_5427 IMG_5428

Overnight our treasures solidified and after returning home from school we got the them out for exploration.

 IMG_5448

Wow, it was so exciting to see how they looked in this different state.  The boys touched them and remembered putting the items into the cubes but were most excited to free them from the tray.

So, we dumped the ice cubes out and were able to look closely at each cube.

IMG_5450 IMG_5461

There were unique observations made about each individual cube.

IMG_5452 IMG_5457

Some of the materials that only sunk at first had separated during the freezing process.

IMG_5471

We also discovered that when frozen blueberries start to defrost you can lick them to get some “blueberry juice.”

IMG_5462 IMG_5467

Finally, I suggested we sort them by items that sunk and items that floated.  My Oldest picked one up that had a little of both and said “I’m going to put this in the middle.”  Good idea!  Then we counted and discovered that we had the most cubes with items that sunk.

IMG_5470

Playing with the cubes continued and we observed as the ice melted, making more and more water as well as trying to scrape and pull out the items that had been frozen in place.

IMG_5474 IMG_5477

A fun experiment even though our hands were awfully cold 🙂

Nature Inspired DIY Teacher Gifts

This year for teacher gifts, my Oldest and I made some sparkly stick stars and homemade air freshener, and we got so many compliments as well as requests for directions and how-to’s.  I loved the idea of using natural materials for the teachers at his science and nature based school.  Also, these items were affordable, thoughtful and gave us a few days of projects.

IMG_4550

First, to make the stars, we collected sticks in our yard and at the playground.  I hot glued them together in star shapes and then my Oldest chose to paint them with sparkly blue and gold paint.   To finish them off I tied some twine to them so they could be used as ornaments.

IMG_4524IMG_4475IMG_4537

Next, we chose some jars to use for the air freshener.  This time we reused some jars that we already had and were washed and the labels peeled off but I’ve used 8oz. Ball jars in the past.  I also found some fun jars available online as well as a variety of sizes.

IMG_4582  IMG_4584

I’ve been making this scented water for quite a while to use in our home and a handful of times have given jars of it as gifts.  There are so many options for what to use to make a variety of scents but for this batch I used clippings from our Christmas tree, mandarin oranges, cinnamon sticks and a few drops of tangerine essential oil.

IMG_4577

To make these jars, I thinly sliced six very small mandarin oranges and put them in the jar.  Then, I filled the jars almost to the brim with filtered water.  Next, I added the tree clippings and the cinnamon sticks.  By adding these last, you are able to arrange them easily.  Put the top on and add some twine or ribbon.  I also include directions on a piece of card stock.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 8.20.34 PM

IMG_4543_2

Some other ideas for similar scents would be include lemon slices, just the mandarin peels, or other essential oils such as lemon or patchouli.

IMG_4580

In the summertime, I like to use lemon slices and rosemary sprigs, or orange slices and sage sprigs.

Enjoy!

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Baby Edition

Most babies don’t need much in the way of actual toys and will do just fine with some wooden spoons or bowls but here are some of my favorites.

I love toys that are both aesthetically pleasing, are open ended and promote development in a number of different areas.  These two toys from Grimm’s are small enough for little hands but will last long beyond infancy.  They would be a great addition to any nursery and you should expect them to be played with into the preschool years.

Grimm’s Small Wooden Stacking & Nesting Rainbow Bowls

Grimm’s Small Rainbow

This toy was purchased at a time when my Littlest boy was going through a tough period with colic.  For what was actually a short time, but seemed like an eternity, if the poor little guy was awake, he was screaming.  There was not much that got him to stop other then sound.  He loved the sound machine but once we brought this home it was the go-to for distraction.  The B. A-Maze Rain Rush makes some really interesting rain like sounds, it is loud enough to distract a baby who is crying (or screaming), and each time you turn it over the marbles run for a good length of time.  It can be laid on the floor and rolled around by baby as well.

We didn’t have the Plan Toys Activity Baby Gym but a similar one from IKEA.  I really like the simplicity that both of these baby gym’s offer.  They are not brightly colored or overwhelming.  Having neutral colors and only a few items makes it easier for baby to focus on one thing without have a sensory overload.

We also did not have the Plan Toys Van Walker but I am listing it because as soon as I saw this new product I wished we had a non-walker in the house.  I know both my boys would have loved this for their walking toy.  The handle in front is great for pushing when they are still on their knees and the big bucket in front would be really fun for collecting toys and other things as they walk around.

Plan Toy Stacking Ring is a classic always a great addition to any nursery.

Having a basket of sensory balls is great for baby to explore texture and sound.  These are just a couple that I recommend.  I also like wool dryer balls for a different texture.

Infantino Textured Multi Ball Set

Edushape Sensory Ball

Below are just a few of my favorite baby clutching and teething toys.  There are so many great ones out there from Plan Toys, Haba, Green Toys that are all safe and fun.

PlanToys Roller

Triangles

Haba Magica Clutching toy

December Acts of Kindness

I must admit that I have hesitated to write about our December kindness acts.  Originally, my only goal in this journey was to teach my boys to take time to consider others in this world. However, I have been reflecting on how powerful and important it can be to share positive messages.   So, my intentions with this process now include to influence and inspire others to be kind and share kindness.    With that, I am telling the story of how our month of kindness began and what we will be doing this December.

Last year, when debating the idea of an advent calendar, I decided that instead of my kids getting little treats each day, it would make a much bigger impact on their lives (and the world around us) to perform an act of kindness for another person.  Our elderly neighbor had recently lost her husband and while she is an active lady, I knew she must be lonely at times.  So, we put her at the top of our list of people who we wanted to make smile.  We brought her homemade muffins and cookies, special drawings but probably the most meaningful was the time we spent with her in her home.  Teachers were also at the top of the list and received some special goodies like drawings and muffins.

This year, we are stepping it up a bit, as my Oldest is more aware of the effect he and his actions have on others.  Together we talked about things that might make other people smile, what it means to be kind and how important it is to think about people besides ourselves.  We came up with a long list of kindness acts and it was important that the majority of items on our list would be meant for strangers or people who weren’t family or close friends.  Later, I wrote them out on small pieces of paper, folded them up and stored them in a jar.  Each morning our Oldest shakes the jar and takes out one of the cards and that’s how we find out what we will be doing that day.  Some of the items require some prep work like decorating candy canes or making cards, so we will be continuously working on those, while the ingredients for cookies and other edibles are on hand.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 7.32.36 PM

A number of these acts will be repeated and I made enough cards to get us through the entire month.  See below for some pictures of our journey so far…

IMG_4067 IMG_4038

IMG_4094 IMG_4088

IMG_4089 IMG_4092

IMG_4162

 IMG_4234 IMG_4236 IMG_4265 IMG_4268

I hope you are inspired to spread some kindness yourself.  We’d love to get some new ideas so please share photos on our Facebook wall or tag us on Instagram.

Happy Holidays.

A Few of Our Favorite Things – Cognitive & Fine Motor

I’m excited to share some of our favorite toys that encourage cognitive and fine motor development.  I combined these two domains for the majority of this list because each toy or material really fit into both area of development and I didn’t think it would make sense to separate them.  At the bottom you will find a short list of our favorite board games.  Enjoy!   

Toys and Manipulatives

The Haba Bambini Caterpillar Dice was a fun introduction into the social skills of turn taking and game playing.  Each person roles the dice to find out what color bead you have to pick up, then you thread it onto the string.  This toy helps to work on cognitive skills such as color identification and concentration.  The threading, of course, helps with fine motor skills.

We loved these Weight Cylinders with our Oldest right around 2 years old and I’m looking forward to taking them out again soon.  They were great for weight comparison, matching, stacking and counting.

Magical Menagerie is one of my Oldest’s favorite Evening Activities.  These cardboard cut outs have been put together and taken apart so many times.  Each animal comes with an envelope to store the pieces and on one side there are visual directions with corresponding numbers.  These have also made thoughtful gifts for teachers and friends.  We got them at age 3 and he put them together with assistance.

Dado Squares are a bit tricky to manipulate which is why I have to recommend them for your older child with strong fine motor skills.  But, they do make wonderfully intricate, geometric designs when the child has mastered the ability to maneuver these.

Magna-Tiles.  Get them.  Just do it.  Seriously, if you have never experienced magna-tiles, then you are missing out.  The planning, the balancing, the engineering, the creativity…these amazing little magnetic shapes can be manipulated and formed into some incredibly elaborate buildings.  Just check out their Instagram to see some examples.  We had these in our house from the birth of our Oldest and he used them as a toddler just for magnet play but now, 4.5 years later he is so comfortable with them and is creating some really amazing buildings.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 6.59.41 PM

The Grimm’s Extra Large Rainbow Stacker  is worth every penny and great for any age.  I am always a big fan of very open ended toys and this is one of those toys.  It is an aesthetically beautiful piece to have in any play room or bedroom but it’s uses are endless.  From carefully stacking to build a tall tower to putting pieces together to make circles to having a child lay still while the rainbow covers their legs and torso…so many areas of development can be encouraged with this one amazing toy.

This is another great toy that encourages development across domains.  The Rainbow Whirls Pegging Game  can be used in many ways including color identification, sorting, matching, stacking and balancing, and counting.  Another beautiful piece that has seen a lot of love starting at about 18 months in our house.

Board Games

The Ladybug Game is a fun game that was created by an elementary school student.  It promotes counting and patience!  And we all get a kick out of the “Bug off mantis” cards.

The Richard Scarry Busy Town game was a gift from a special friend and it was an instant favorite.  There is no winner in this game so it’s a nice, peaceful entrance in the world of board games.  We all really enjoy when the spinner lands on a “Goldbug” and everyone has to search for minuscule clues.

Does your child see the picture of another book by the same author on the back cover of a book and then beg you to add it to their library? Well, that’s how we came to own the Richard Scarry Airport Game.  On the Busytown box there is a picture of Busy, Busy Airport and once it was spotted we had to have it.  And I’m glad we agreed to order it because it is a really fun game complete with airplanes that fly to different corners of the room to get to places like the mountains or the city.

The Picnic Game was another gift and at first my Oldest just enjoyed using the pieces in the box to set up pretend picnics.  One day we finally sat down to play and discovered a sweet game that was also lots of fun and encourages patience, counting, sorting and even nutrition.  

*Affiliate Links*

A Few of Our Favorite Things – Gross Motor

Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked about a few of the toys and materials that my boys are playing with or using.  I put together a list of some of our favorites and organized them by which developmental domain they best fit into, first up is gross motor.

This Sit-on Crane has been one of the best gifts we have ever received.  Our Oldest has used it to scoop dirt, mud, leaves and snow.  In addition to building upper body strength, it requires concentration, coordination and planning.

Gonge Riverstones are going to be one of the boys Christmas presents this year so I can’t give a child review but from looking at them myself, I can tell they are going to be a hit with both the 1 year old and the 4 year old.  They are incredibly sturdy, do not slide on the floor, and will be a really great way to incorporate gross motor play inside during the winter months.

We got this Balance Board as a gift over two years ago and it has not been removed from regular play ever since.  It was a celebration, years apart, when each of the boys was able to balance on their own for the first time.  They have created many different ways to climb on, jump off, balance without moving, go back and forth quickly and slowly, and even as a ramp for cars and trucks.

This crazy looking thing is called a Bilibo.  I first saw one of these when a student brought one in to share when I was teaching.  I saw two and three year olds enjoy it so much that I knew I wanted one on my list of things to get when I had kids of my own.  It gets a great deal of use in our house and is in our regular toy rotation.  We keep it inside as a way to get gross motor activity indoors.  This toy is on many physical therapists list as something that helps to build balance, coordination and provides sensory input.  Being completely open-ended, it allows for play across developmental domains.

We got the Flying Turtle after playing one at a family member’s house.  It is great for ALL ages!  It requires balance, coordination, upper and lower body strength, and really is just a lot fun, especially when going down hill.

We love our Micro Mini Kick Scooter.  It has gotten so much use over the past two and a half years.  It helps to build leg muscles, requires coordination and can be maneuvered by leaning to one side or the other.  The base is wide enough for a young toddler to feel comfortable but an older preschooler can get some good speed and have fun using the break on the back wheel, as well.

*Affiliated Links*