Friday, January 29, 2010

Frugal Fridays (Vol. 1): Play Dough in the Tutor’s Toolkit

If I had to make a list of must-haves for my tutoring and home educator toolkits, play dough would be high on it. And not just for molding and crafting. Truly, playdough is an adaptable, effective learning tool! And, if you stay away from store-bought Play-Doh, it is extremely cost-effective, too. In less than a half hour, you can easily make a batch of homemade playdough right from your kitchen cabinets. Or, if you, like me, have a mostly organic kitchen pantry, you can do so after a quick stop at the store to pick up generic brands of flour, salt and cooking oil.  (See recipe at the bottom of the post.)

Once your playdough is made, you are ready for a wide variety of planned and impromptu activities to practice reading, writing, arithmetic and other skills. How, you might ask. By keying into children’s learning styles and emerging needs. With a keen eye for how a student learns (we’re talking through games, songs, kinesthetic learning, tactile learning, visual learning, etc.) and a sense of what a student needs to practice (letters, numbers, spelling, math concepts, etc.) or desires to explore (creative retelling of stories, concepts of size, weight and measurement, etc.), plus a bag of playdough on hand, you are ready for fun, effective lessons.

Some examples of activities I have done with playdough  in the past few weeks while tutoring are:
  • tossing a playdough ball back and forth while chanting the ABC’s at different paces and rhythms with a first grade who is very kinesthetic and tactile and still struggling with simply knowing the alphabet.
  • passing a playdough ball back and forth while skip counting by 2’s, 3’s and 5’s with a fifth grader who doesn’t know her multiplication facts yet, but loves games and seems to benefit from auditory learning practises.
  • stamping consonant-vowel-consonant words into playdough with a young boy is just learning phonics, but who is “done” with ‘real books’ by the time I meet with him each day, wants to ‘just play’, even if his mom and I know he needs to practice spelling and reading.
  • breaking a large portion of playdough into parts to visualize match concepts like fractions, number facts, etc. with a gal who learns best ‘by seeing’.
  • rolling playdough into snakes and shaping these into letters with a tactile/visual student who is still trying to discern p/b/d/q, m/n, w/v, etc.
And, at home, we have used playdough to:
  • explore big, medium and small sizes.
  • make snowmen to go along with our book study of The Biggest Best Snowman by Margery Cuyler.
  • familiarize ourselves with letters and write our names, by stamping different letters into rolled out playdough (so much neater than using ink with young ones!)
  • create all kinds of winter creatures.
Truly, the number of learning activities that can be enhanced and effectively taught using playdough is only limited by one's imagination. As such, I always try to keep some playdough on hand when teaching.

If you want to as well, but don’t have your own favorite recipe for homemade playdough, you can try this basic one  that I used the other night between making dinner and running out to tutor:

Measure 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1 tablespoon cooking oil, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar and 1 cup of water into a cooking pan. (Add your choice of food coloring to the water if you wish before adding it in.) Then, stir constantly over low heat until the mixture starts to stick together, pulling away from the sides of the pan and forming a ball.  It will be less wet-looking at this point.

Then, turn the mixture out onto your countertop and knead for a few minutes, or until very smooth. (It dough will be warm when you start kneading, of course, so wait a few minutes if you need to.  Also, some dough will likely be stuck to the sides of the pan.  Just soak the pan for a bit and it should come off without too much trouble.)  While kneading, at scents, glitter or other enhancement sif you wish.

Finally, cool and store in a covered plastic container or a Ziploc bag to have on hand for planned and impromptu lesson activities.

That's it.  PLAYDOUGH -- an economic, effective and engaging tool for teaching!

(For other folk's Frugal Fridays tips on everything from laundry to outfitting a minivan, go to Life as Mom.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pro-Life Preschoolers: Five Things the Kids Do and Say about Baby

This morning, when Nina was finishing her Breakfast 1 – sliced apples – she handed me her bowl of skins, saying,  “Here, Mama.” I told her I didn’t want her leftovers at the moment, but would eat the skins later. She replied, “But, Mama, the baby wants them!” (She often tells me to eat things for the baby in my belly.) Then, she proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to the baby. It made me smile.

Since the day I found out I was pregnant with Number 3 and shared the news with the kids, they have been full of excitement, questions and funny little things that they do and say.

The first five that come to mind are:

1. The Baby Won’t Come Out

Luke: Mommy, you can’t go to the potty.
Mommy: Why, Luke?
Luke: The baby will come out.
Mommy (realizing that Luke reasons that since food that goes into your belly eventually goes out the other way, he thinks that the baby in my belly might come out that way, too.): No, Luke. It’s okay. The baby won’t come out when I got potty. God will keep the baby in.

2. Kisses for the Angel in the Waters

One of the kids’ Christmas books was the wonderful little pro-life kids’ book, Angel in the Waters. One of the first times we read it, Nina spontaneously leaned over and kissed the baby pictured in the book. Since then, whenever we read it, she doesn’t allow me to turn a page until she has given the baby in the book kisses. Then, at the end of the story, insists on blowing kisses to our baby in my belly.

3. How the Baby Get Inside Mama

Luke: Mommy, I know you and Nina have eggs, but how did God put the baby in the eggs. (Horrors to some, I know. But, our kids knows about the eggs because one day they overheard me remarking to Mike how incredulous I found it that Nina was born with all her eggs already inside her.)
Mommy: Well, Luke, when God knows a man and a woman love each other and thinks they are ready, he lets the baby grow, kind of like when we plant seeds and sun, rain and good soil are there.  They seeds grow.
Luke (after a pause for thought): No, Mommy. That’s not how He did it.
(Mommy holds her breath wondering just what Luke knows.)
Luke: He did it when you were sleeping. He opened your mouth and put the baby in.
(Mommy sighs with relief that, at four, Luke does not know everything about the birds and the bees yet!)
Luke: Now, open your mouth.
Mommy: Why?
Luke: Because I want to blow baby a kiss.

4. Happy Birthday to Baby

The other day, when we were driving in the car, Luke and Nina were chatting. Out of nowhere, it seemed, they started talking about the baby and decided that they are going to have a cake the day the baby is born so we can celebrate his or her birthday, just like their own and Jesus’. Then, they broke into rounds of the Happy Birthday song. It was so incredibly cute.

Now, I just have to remember to add “cake” to my hospital overnight bag list so they won’t be disappointed.

5. Everyone Has Likes

The kids like to talk about what the new baby might be like and what he or she will enjoy.  Today, they said:
Luke: I want a boy. If it’s a boy, I will like it... The baby will like dinosaurs, moose, unicorns and Puff... All the things I like, Mommy.

Mommy: I want a girl... I want the baby to like Lukie and Nina... I love baby...

Conversations and moments like these make me laugh and smile. They also make me feel blessed. I am so glad that even at their tender – and sometimes self-centered – ages, Luke and Nina already show a love for new life.  No child – even one in a belly – is too young to understand love. To receive physical and spiritual hugs, kisses and words of affirmation and encouragement. To get the message: “You are valued. You are special child who is dearly loved.” I am grateful that all three of my children enjoy such experiences.

God gifts us life.  May we all appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Works for Me Wednesday (Vol.1): Round-the-Clock Mom, Full-time Home Educator, Part-Time Independent Contractor

This is my first Works for Me Wednesday post, and, to start off, I am taking the title quite literally. My work works for me...

As some folks might know, besides training up my own children, I teach drama to grade and middle schoolers, tutor all ages in a variety of subjects, do typing and resume services for folks who ask and advise young instructors in curriculum planning. I love all of these jobs, because each allows me to use my gifts to serve others while helping our family’s financial outlook. The typing and advising I can do from home – during the day when the kids are engaged in some play or learning experience that mandates that I am nearby, but not necessarily interacting with kids, at night, when the kids are settled, basically, at any time that I can fit in with Mommihood. The tutoring and teaching, of course, I do outside my home. And, though these commitments take me away from my main calling of Wifedom and Mommihood, I often find myself coming home with an “ahhh” sort of feeling. The change of pace from home, husband and kids (as much as I cherish all three!) is sometimes just what I need. Plus, knowing that I am helping kids in my community to learn, grow and develop is awesome. Just as in 1 Cor 12:12-30, by weaving my paid work into my work as Wife, Mom and Homemaker, I feel like I am using the gifts I have been given to help God’s larger body... So, truly, while my work – both paid and unpaid – works for me.

I find I often explain to other Moms why I choose to stay home, focusing on kids, home and husband first. Likewise, I find I cannot recommend any of my paid gigs enough to other parents who need to find employment that works around kids and a variety of scheduled commitments. All the jobs I do are fairly flexible and offer decent income for minimal hours. And, each comes with its own rewards. Teaching drama and tutoring provide fun work with youth and the payoff of seeing children grow. Typing and resume work help me get to know other folks better, using my strengths to bolster theirs. Curriculum advising allows me to mentor and collaborate with young educators, passing on nuggets from my own experience while helping to make my mentees’ experiences that much more successful. So, I often find myself sharing information about what I do with like-minded Moms and Dads. The two franchises I contract with – Drama Kids and Club Z – are both well run and a pleasure to work for. Explo schools, the organization I advise for in the spring, runs fantastic summer discovery programs for kids. All of my independent contracts provide not only simply work, but work that works for me and my family. Perhaps such jobs could work for someone reading this, too. I hope so!

And, I hope, as my own children grow and witness my independent contract work, it works for them – helping them realize that we each have talents and interests, which, when pursued after prayer, can lead to wonderful symbiotic opportunities between “life” and “work”. For, if there are two things I want to train up my children to do when they hit working age, they are:

1. To always remember that we should not live to work, but work to live. By doing something we enjoy and are good at, we can stay true to this ideal.

2. To recognize each of us has gifts and we can honor God, others and ourselves by offering these gifts within the working world.

And, so, this Wednesday, as I head into another day of taking care of home, husband and kids, while finding moments to type, before heading out to teach drama and tutor, I can declare: My work (paid and unpaid) definitely works for me! Time to get to it...

For others Works for Me Wednesday tips on a wide variety of topics, please visit We Are THAT Family.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stuck in the Theory Jungle!

OOPS! I just noticed that Nina pressed some keys this morning as I was going to post the following and deleted parts of it on me. So, if you read it before, you might want to read it again. It will make more sense now that I have caught the error and fixed it...

(To the left:  Mike tries to save the kids from the jungle last May...)

Okay, so I have over 10 years of formal work experience in child care and education and my eldest just turned four. So, you’d think I would have a solid grasp on how I want to approach homeschooling him and his siblings. Well, I thought I had finally settled on a sort of relaxed homeschooling, but, I have more recently come to the conclusion that I want something a little more structured. Now that Luke is four, Nina is 2.5 and there is a baby on the way, I know that I will never get to the “school” part in homeschooling each day if I don’t focus us all a bit more. But, alas, I find myself stuck in a place I never ventured into during my professional career – the theory jungle!

Yes, since deciding to homeschool, I have periodically immersed myself in something that mattered little to me when I was in the working world: Educational Theory! During my professional career, somehow I managed to successfully develop, implement, evaluate and adapt varied curriculums for both private and public organizations, in the United States and abroad, with nary a care for educational theory. Sure, over the years, I had to go to a workshop on a particular theory here or read a book on another there, but I looked at these as silly requirements. Practice was far more important to me than theory. Intuition and creativity were everything. Studying educational dogma seemed rather impractical. There was real work to be done!

But now? As a parent-educator with far more responsibility -- and even less time -- than I ever had in my professional life, I somehow find myself addicted to educational theory. Effective teaching practice, which once seemed to spring from just common sense and creativity, has suddenly grown roots in my mind now that it is attached to my parenting efforts. Oddly enough, many of those roots grow from seeds planted by “institutionalized” learning philosophies, such as Montessori and Reggio Emilia. While others grow from the seeds established by home educators such as Charlotte Mason and folks that have developed the Classical model of education for home learners... And, it seems, these roots are running all over my home. My bookshelves bow under the weight of stacks of library books on such theories. My mind is cluttered with their overgrowth. And, worse? Now, I – a person who always created her own curriculums, rarely taking more than requisite notice of those provided by the organizations I taught for – find myself attracted to other folks’ curriculums. What has happened to me?

I don’t know. But, I do know that if I ever want to navigate the jungle of theory and curriculum I have traversed so deeply into, I must get myself “unstuck” from theory inertia and back onto a path of fulfilling practice. To do so, I know I need to start cutting a clear path and heading in a distinct direction of interest. Thus, today, I begin a focused study of the Creative Curriculum® for Preschool.

The Creative Curriculum® is a program I meandered into by way of the bibliographies in some Reggio Emilia books I was perusing. It kept my interest, not only for its developmentally sound suggestions for planning, implementing, evaluating and reflecting upon early childhood curriculum, but also for the practical ideas it offers for tackling my main personal goal for 2010 – Order in the Home! Indeed, through studying the Creative Curriculum®, I have landed upon an outline for how I might more successfully create engaging learning spaces in my home, while eliminating the need to dedicate an entire room as a play and learning space. (With the new baby on the way, we’ll need what is now our play-and-learning room for a bedroom again, I think.) And besides, I seek to have a home that folks walk into and think, “Ahh, a comfortable child-and-adult friendly space,” not, “Oh my! Am I in a home, a classroom or a storage unit?!” This is a big goal, I realize, especially since, right now, much of my home resembles the aforementioned unorganized storage unit more than anything else. But, as the old saying goes, a great journey begins with but a single step.

Thus, I have decided to take a step towards breaking away from the theory inertia I have been stuck in, while at the same time moving towards Order in the Home, by using the Creative Curriculum® as a source of inspiration. As I journey forward then, re-creating our learning spaces and reorganizing our home, I invite you to come along. Please, share your comments and ideas. Tell me stories of your own successes and challenges in preparing an effective (beautiful, inspiring, organized) environment for your children and a welcoming atmosphere in your home. By all means, chat with me as I journey along. Interesting conversations have always been one of my favorite parts of traveling! Company along the way -- even just virtual company -- will make my journey more successful.

Please, leave a comment.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Living the Liturgical Year: Celebrating Our Lady of Altagracia

Last week, we thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Our Lady of Altagracia, whose feast day was on Thursday. Some of the things we did were: 
  • Reading A Gift of Gracias each day, using it as our “book study” for the week.
  • Creating a Liturgical Table in honor of Our Lady of Altagracia.
  • Printing out and coloring pictures of Our Lady, by enlarging the picture found here.
  • Juicing oranges and clementines – a great Montessori/practical life activity.
  • Saying prayers of thanks to Our Lady.
  • Making delightful baked goods with oranges, as part of our continued effort to include a Power Foods Lab in our Jammies School endeavors (Recipes in prior post.)
  • Including Dominican-inspired dishesin our weekly Menu Plan
  • Enjoying a special Our Lady of Altagracia Tea with Grammy on Our Lady’s Feast Day.
 For the tea, I drew inspiration from lots of resources, which I stumbled upon online in the past few weeks. Some of these were as follows:
The result was a simple, lovely tea with Grammy and the kids this past Thursday. First, while Grammy juiced oranges and clementines herself (since the kids were still playing), I laid GG Sullivan’s blue tablecloth on the table (both to dress up the table, making it special with a traditional color of Our Lady, and also to honor GG Sullivan, who I remember so often prayed to the BVM). Then, I borrowed our framed image of Our Lady of Altagracia, library copy of A Gift of Gracias and orange baskets from our Liturgical Table to decorate our tea table. Plus, I added a candle – also to make things special and to remind us of the light of Jesus that Mary brought us when she said “Yes” to God. From there, Nina helped me set the table with plates before we set out orange muffins, orange snowball cookies and clementine segments with orange glaze dip. Luke had already eagerly clambered up to his seat by this point, and thrilled me with a spontaneous “gracias” when we laid the food on the table. I love when he demonstrates learning and manners all at once, unprompted!
 Once all the goodies were laid on the table, Grammy, Nina and I joined Luke, and Nina led us in a Hail Mary. Then, Luke offered that the oranges in A Gift of Gracias grew because the farmers said thank you when they planted the seeds for them. So, we all said thank you to Our Lady for something in our own lives – Luke for oranges, Nina for Jesus, Grammy for time with us and me for sharing our tea with Grammy – before digging into our orange delights. And, somewhere along the way, the kids spontaneously sang “Happy Birthday” – something they tend to do when they see lighted candles. The lit candle also tempted them greatly blow it out, but, after one appeasing blow each, Grammy and I kept the symbolic candle alit by reminding the kids that they had to be patient, waiting until the end of our tea, to blow it out again.

Because I had to leave to go to a prenatal appointment, I missed the excitement of the kids actually getting to blow the candle out after their “long” anticipation. Plus, I missed sharing A Gift of Gracias with them again. Instead, Grammy read the book to Luke and Nina – and, as I hear, loved the story as much as we do. Then, she guided the kids in cleaning up our tea, which, as I later saw, she did with her special touch. Any goodies that were not devoured, were slyly put away so the kids would not be tempted to help themselves to them before Daddy had a chance to share in them and all the dishes and decorations were put away nicely. Gotta love Grammy-led clean up time. She has a way about her...
So, all in all, we had a delightful week of celebrating Our Lady of Altagracia, capped off by a simple, yet meaningful – and delicious – tea. I look forward to making this an annual tradition!

Jammies School: Power Foods Lab for Our Lady of Altagracia -- Oranges and Clementines

We continued our Power Foods Lab last week Eggs.  The kids enjoyed helping me crack and store them as we made some baked goods, waffles and baked omelets.

This week, we focused on Oranges and Clementines , juicing them, baking with them, making waffles with them, etc. Four recipes enjoyed were as follows. (My apologies, I did not type these in a good form for printing and sharing with children this time, but the basic recipes are there for you to work from!)

Orange/Clementine Juice – a big hit with the kids
Simply made by squeezing oranges and clementines over a juicer.

Truly, if the kids and I were not so eager for our juice the first time we made our fresh-squeezed juice, I would have done a formal Montessori juice presentation, such as the one on Shu-chen Jenny Yen’s free online Montessori albums,  but, instead, we did a simplified version, more akin to the one at Planning With Kids. Then, more often than not, we simply took an orange or clementine, sliced a small puncture in it, squeezed and turned it over the juicer and, then, poured the results into cups to gulp down before grabbing the next piece of fruit!

Orange Muffins – The kids were  involved from start to finish in malking this recipe, adapted from one at Holy Cow! Recipes from a Vegan Kitchen.

 In one bowl, mix 1 cup of fresh-squeezed orange and clementine juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, ½ cup brown sugar and 1 tsp vanilla.

 In another, mix ¾ cups whole wheat flour and ¾ cup while wheat pastry flour, 2 tsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. salt.

 Pour the ingredients from the first bowl into the second and mix until all are just wet and combined. Do not overmix.

 Divide batter into 12 greased muffin cups and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350°F. (We always bake our muffins a bit longer than the usual 20-30 minutes recipes usually call for since we put our muffin pan on a baking stone, which seems to prevent the muffins from burning at the bottoms.)

 Cool and enjoy!

 Orange Glaze – The kids helped with juicing the fruit.

 Mix the juice of a freshly juiced clementine and an orange with enough (organic) powdered sugar to reach a consistency you like.

Orange Snowball Cookies – In full disclosure, I must admit these were mostly Mommy-made simply due to time constraints but were thoroughly enjoyed by Mommy, Daddy, Grammy and the kids.  They were inspired by the ideas at a post on By Sun and Candlelight  and adapted from a recipe at

 Cream together 2 sticks butter and ½ - 1/3 cup natural brown sugar.

 Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and the juice of one small orange or clementine (about 1-2 tablespoons)

 Mix in 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour.

 Roll into 1” balls and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes at 350°F, or a bit longer at the same temperature if baking on stone cooking sheets like us.

 While cookies are warm, roll them in a bowl of (organic) confectioner’s sugar or coat them with Orange Glaze (recipe above).

 And, with these recipes in mind, a quick run-down of some of our Power Labs pre-K learning this past week is as follows:
  • Developed knowledge of print, letters and words through reading the recipes and searching for ingredients at the store.
  • Expanded vocabulary and language through reviewing the recipes together and talking about the words in them, such as “juicing”, “clementine”, and “ingredients”.
  • Developed small muscle control and eye-hand coordination through measuring out ingredients, juicing oranges and clementines, etc.
  • Encouraged social and emotional well being through working cooperatively to make the recipes and taking a sense of pride in the independence of making one’s own breakfast juice!
  •  Increased practical life skills through juicing, measuring, mixing, washing up, setting the table, etc.
  • Made comparisons of “big” oranges and “little” clementines.
  • Reinforced number literacy as we counted spoonfuls, cupfuls, bowlfuls, cookies, muffins, etc.
  • Introduced arithmetic as we discussed how many orange treats we had out on our serving plates, how many would be fair to give to each person, how many were left on out plates after eating some, etc.
  • Practiced one-to-one correspondence through having the children set out as many plates or cups for juice or baked goods as we had people enjoying them.
  • Formed healthier eating habits that we hope will last a lifetime as we talked about how the oranges contribute to our health and well-being by giving us lots of vitamins.
  • Practiced the virtues of patience (as we waited for orange delights to bake and as the kids tried not to cave into the temptation of blowing out the candle too many times during our special tea) and fairness (as we divided orange treats and saved ones for Daddy).
  • Practiced social skills by hosting Grammy at our tea and using table manners while we ate.

Not a bad set of learning outcomes from a simple  $10 starter of on-sale clementines and oranges and a week sprinkled with orange delights!

Next Power Food Labs focus:  Almonds!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Routines and Rhythms: Wake-Up Time and Daily Rhythm Charts

Most early education specialists agree – and this mom is no dissenter – that young children thrive on routine. Yet, I have been less than stellar at ensuring Luke and Nina’s day-to-day lives have distinct routines layered into their natural rhythms. Easily distracted by do-nows, often hyper-focused on minuscule matter and always afraid of becoming too rigid with schedules (as I was in my “former life”), I tend to err on the side of almost-too-relaxed routines with the kids at time.

Somehow, Luke and Nina are not much worse for the wear yet. But, I do note behavioral differences (for the better!) on the days that I concentrate on all of us following a more intentional rhythm. So, as I started 2010 off with a commitment to Order in the Home, I decided I should extend that commitment to Order in the Home School. Jammies School, then, took on two new organizational systems since the New Year began. And, I am happy to report that both are going fairly well.

The first project is one that the kids and I began some weeks ago with a fun photo shoot one day when I realized our mornings were getting way off kilter and needed to be re-balanced. The pictures from that session finally made it onto “laminated” (contact papered) cards that fit into Dollar Spot pocket charts that I found at Target a while back.
The kids, then, chose to put the charts in their room, since that is where they see their Wake-Up Time starting and ending (with actually waking up and, later, getting dressed). So, we tacked the charts to the walls by their beds and, then, set the cards in boxes on their night tables. As we move through the morning, we run in and flip through the cards:

"Did you wake up”
"Yes!” (They giggle as they put the Wake-Up cards in the chart.)
"Did you find Mommy or Daddy to share a hug?”
I get a second or third kiss and hug for the morning before the cards go in -- a true delight!
Did you say good morning to God?”
Nina happily puts her card in, while Luke scrunches his face as I help him begin, “Good morning God, I offer you...” Then, he puts his card in, too.

And so on and so forth it goes until they reach a picture of something they have yet to do and eagerly run off to do it.
Thus, the first few days we used our Wake-Up Time pocket charts, things went exceedingly well. Nina completed her Wake-Up Time with relish, and, although Luke was still wary of actually changing out his jammies when we weren’t leaving the house, he did, of his own volition, lay them out on the bed for “if we go out”, while opting to simply hold off on putting up his last two Wake Up Time cards in his chart (the “Get dressed” and “I am ready for my day” ones). For Luke, and here I mean Luke-who-likes-things-his-way, this is great progress!
Progress came to a halt with our Wake-Up Time system one day, however, when Nina (who loves to use small cards as manipulatives or play credit cards) absconded with all the laminated picture cards without Mike and my notice. We searched many bags, boxes and hiding spaces, asking Nina where she put them, to no avail. Just recently, I found the missing stack in the toe of her just-washed feetie jammies... Surprisingly, they held up quite well. (Love that contact paper!) So, after straying a bit from our new system, we are just now getting back into it and hoping to make it stick... at least until the items pictured in it become habitual.
And the second system? Well, we began using was a Daily Rhythm chart. My intent was to make this a pocket chart thing, too. But, I didn’t have a third pocket chart. So, to preclude an unnecessary purchase, I revamped my idea.

Nina and I quartered a stack of those calendar magnets that many businesses send out at the start of the year, and taped the pieces on to the back of some Daily Rhythm cards I had made and “laminated”. We, then, put these cards on the top door our fridge in four columns – one for morning, one for afternoon, one for evening and one for night, with extra cards for sometimes-activities hanging on the bottom door of the fridge.

Since then, the kids have usually been excited to move a little magnet from card to card as we progress through each day. Granted, Nina sometimes enjoys simply taking the cards down and rearranging them just as much as actually leaving them in order and moving the magnet. And, Luke likes to jump ahead many cards to things like “rough play” or “free play” and, also, to sneak a “play” card in there after “wind-down” time. (Our boy!) But, all in all, the system is helping us.

Since putting the Daily Rhythm cards on the fridge, I have noted Luke and Nina paying more attention to what we actually do each day, looking forward to activities and events that lay ahead on particular days and, yes, even reminding me when I need to stop something I have become embroiled in so that I can help them move onto their next little chunk of the day. As such, our Daily Rhythm fridge chart, has helped the kids see the big picture of the day, while making me realize how easy it is for me to get caught up in one small part of it. I have realized that while they move naturally (with a reminder here and there) throughout the day, I -- too often -- throw our rhythm off, by getting lost in mind-and-task meanderings too long. So, the kids’ chart is proving fruitful not only for them, but for me.

As the saying goes, “Everything I need, I learned in Kindergarten”. Almost any good kindergarten has visual schedules to help teachers and children with routines. I am glad Jammies School finally does, too. I encourage others to employ similar techniques. If you have, please share your systems, successes and stories.  Leave a comment telling us all about it below.

And, if you would like to use our Wake-Up Time or Daily Rhythm cards as a starting point for your own, feel free to leave a comment or email us with a request.  We'd be happy to send you our computer files for them.  (I haven't learned yet how to upload them onto the blog so you can simply download them.  If you know how, do share!)  Or, I think, you can just click on the graphics and you will get enlargements you could print as is.

Have a blessed - and in-rhythm- day!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Feast Days! From Crowns to Oranges...

The kids and I have been enjoying decorating a table in our entryway for different liturgical feasts and celebrations. Today, we finally took down our one for the Feast of the Epiphany.  It was a simple display that started with the paper crowns the kids and I made in order to dress up as the three kings for our Epiphany Day celebration and Tomie de Paolo’s The Story of the Three Wise Kings (which was our main book study book during the second week of January) set on a white cloth (white, of course, being the symbolic color of the liturgical season of Christmas).  To that, we added a cute, little picture of the three kings that Luke spontaneously drew one day (See it below.) and a paper star the kids glued together hanging above it.  (You may wonder why the star is actually a circle with spokes instead of a tradtional star.  If you look at the page the storybook is open to in the picture below you'll see why.  The kids were creating their own stars inspired by the one in the book - a star in a circle.  You can also see parts of their other star creations hanging on either side of the Christmas tree in the picture to the right.  Luke wanted to use paper strips and crayons for his and Nina streamers and paint for hers.  I love how they decide their own mediums for creation!)

In place of our Epiphany table, we began making a table in honor of Our Lady of Altagracia, whose feast day is this week, on January 21. For this display, we looked through the kids’ drawer of silks and scarves for solid blue ones, just like the color of Our Lady’s dress in the Gift of Gracias book we are using for our book study this week. Then, the kids stretched one of these out on the table and we decided to hang another above it (with double stick tape on the wall) as the sky. Luke remembered that we had a star paper punch, so I got some strips of yellow cardstock – by Nina’s request – and white – by Luke’s – which we punched. The punching was a little tough for the kids, so I ended up “helping” to punch the stars out while the kids enjoyed using their pincer grasps to pick the tiny cut-outs up to attach to the bits of double stick tape I had put all over the scarf.  Thus, we made a night sky that the kids declared "beautiful!"

At this point, Luke said we needed a picture of Our Lady, so we all went to the computer to find one online that we could print. The kids liked two, so we printed both – one for a frame, which we draped with a rosary, and one to hang in the sky. We also found a line drawing which we enlarged so Luke and Nina could color it. I thought we might hang these coloring pages near our display, but one page ended up becoming cutting practice for Nina, while the other became a gift from Luke to his GG, who just returned from the hospital to her nursing home – praise God!  (Granting the kids choice and affording them opportunities to practice practical skills like cutting or spiritual ones, like compassion for the sick, sometimes must supercede Mommy's ideas for finsihed displays!
Thus, the scarves and Our Lady images set, and the coloring pages spoken for, I began to envision making an thank you tree out of a bare branch, glue, green streamers and consturction paper oranges with the kids as a project later in the week to add to the display.  I also thought about putting a basket of oranges out. When I mentioned the basket idea to the kids, they got excited. Nina immediately chose a little basket, but Luke balked, quickly taking the Gift of Gracias book, flipping through it, and pointing out that the basket pictured in it is quite large.  So, he insisted we use a large basket.

Not wanting to forgo an opportunity to practise conflict resolution, I encouraged the kids to come to a compromise.  they did -- of sorts.  After a visit to GG and a trip to the store, we ended up filling one small basket with clementines and one larger one with oranges to put on the table as part of our display.  With both baskets there, little room remains for an orange thank you tree... That’s okay!   That was my idea, and the kids are happy with what we have as it is.  Plus, we are simply thankful for Our Lady’s intercessions and for all the graces God grants us, thank you tree or none.  

One such grace, of course, is the fun of using our imaginations and the kids' increasing skills to work together on the creation our liturgical displays.  Another is the joy of celebrating our Catholic feast days.  What a rich heritage we are part of!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wordless Wednesday -- Jammies School: Homemade Crockpot Yogurt

* The recipe is at the end of the prior post.  There is also a JPEG of the adpated one I wrote to use with the kids.  You can click on it to get a full size version to print, I think.*


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