Saturday, February 27, 2010

7 Quick Takes (Almost-Still-)Friday (Vol. 4): Lent with Little Ones

So, here goes with my 7 Quick Takes Friday – just past the Cinderella strike. (At least I am not doing it on Sunday like last week.  This week, I am focusing on some of our Lenten activities
Lenten Bean Jars:

We made our Lenten Bean Jars with cousin Cat last week and, this week, the kids continue to be really excited about putting their beans in them each night. Nina always asks to put Daddy’s or min in and Luke and Nina both confess when they have broken their “Fast” promises, making it so they can only get their “Pray” and “Give” beans. Indeed, unfortunately, there have been a few bites, pinches and hits around here this week, but, fortunately, there has also been owning up by the kids!

The Temptation Dioramas

The word “devil” really caught the kids’ attention in last Sunday’s gospel reading at Mass. They kept whispering to me, “Mommy, why is he talking about the devil?” So, Monday, we began focusing a bit on the Temptation, which led to a brief study of desert habitats. For this, I found some desert flashcards in a box of Target Dollar Spot cards that we had and we noted the lack of water, as well as the plethora of sand, rocks and cactus plants in the photos. Then, since the kids wanted to color, we printed out some shoe box diorama desert pictures at the American Museum of Natural History site and the kids went to town on these, adding cut out drawings of Jesus and Satan and a pickle-with-stick-pricklies cactus each (as inspired by a craft listed in one of our Catholic Children's Treasure Box books) to complete our diorama. Once complete, the kids decided we should put the diorama on our liturgical table, which was fine with me. We just moved the bean jars over a bit.

Sand and Water

 Luke, especially, immediately took to dramatic play with the diorama and wanted to add to it, so Tuesday, when the weather was good, we all bundled up for some outdoor time, eventually collecting some rocks and sand to add to our Temptation diorama. Granted, later in the week, the kids decided the desert should be less dry and more beautiful and tried to water it so things would grow. So, we now have a small muddy oasis in our wilderness!

Lenten Embertide Weather Predications and Prayers to Our Lady: Wednesday was the first day of Lenten Embertide, and true to our Menu Plan for the week, we had breakfast by our living room window so we could observe and give thanks for nature, as well as make predictions for next month’s weather (which apparently will be warm, but rainy) based on traditional folklore. We also enjoyed some books about Our Lady, including a Mary story from one of our Catholic Children's Treasure Box books, as well as a reading of Just Like Mary. Plus, we said special prayers to Our Lady, asking her to help us do what God wants us to do.

Book Studies: During reading times, we have also been A Story of Three Trees and the Story of the Cross as our book study selections of the week. Luke must be impressed by when the trees in the first book get cut down. For, he asked Grammy today if he could cut down her “Grandpa Tree”, a scraggly pine in her yard that holds special personal meaning. I had to explain to her why he would say that – he wants it to point to God forever.

Giving Can Be Hard: The kids have been favoring giving love and kisses as their “Give” goal each day. But, we’re working on other types of giving, too. As such, Luke had a bit of trouble parting with his and Nina’s old bed today. It took a bit of convincing and a small meltdown before he understood that it should go to someone who needs it and can use it now while we are all set with his and Nina’s new bunks (Thankfully, Nina slept through the whole thing!)

Purgatory Print Outs?: Before we even got to today’s Lenten Embertide focus, which includes prayers for the souls in purgatory, Luke and Nina somehow overheard and became attached to the word “purgatory”. Indeed, Luke has asked Daddy and me to explain purgatory to him and has added “purgatory” to the list of things of things he asks Daddy to print out for him and Nina to color. We’re talking, “dinosaurs, sharks, unicorns...and purgatory” Anyone know a preschool-friendly line drawing of purgatory? I’d appreciate a link!

So, as you can see, we have been learning, laughing and sometimes shaking our heads as we observe Lent with little ones. If you have ideas for observing this liturgical season with kids, please share. Leave me a comment, a link, a thought. Thank you!

And, to see others’ 7 Quick Takes, check out the links at Conversion Diary.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday (on Sunday) (Vol. 3) -- Our Rule of 7 Review for the Week

I have been enjoying taking part in 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary for the past two weeks as a way to reflect upon the kids and our homeschooling efforts. I did not want to break the habit, even if this week, I am a bit late in posting. So here are our 7 Quick Takes Friday on Sunday. This week, I am focusing them around our Jammies School Rule of 7 for:

Loving God: Luke and Nina have been loving God by focusing on Saints and learning about Lent. We thoroughly enjoyed a St. Valentine’s Breakfast Tea and have also been focusing on Lent activities. Every day, we try to do something to help us learn about and live as God wishes us to during Lent. So far, we’ve made a list of ways we could give to others, made Bean Jars for earning and counting out up to three beans a day (for praying, fasting and giving), made purple “Pray”, “Fast”, “Give” letters with smiley faces on them to remind ourselves that it makes Jesus smile when we do these things for Him and begun setting up our Lent liturgical table. We’ve also, of course, been enjoying Lent and Easter theme books, such as the Story of the Cross for Children.

Loving Others: The kids sure enjoyed putting their love for others towards making Valentine’s for friends and family with glue, paper, stickers and glitter on Valentine’s Day. Why did they choose purple hearts as well as red ones? Due to inspiration from an old Valentine theme book I have that Luke enjoyed during our dailt storytimes – The Best Valentine in the World.   (Now I just have to distribute those Valentine’s so their love is really shared!)

Loving Movement: Luke’s OT specialist has suggested we add “heavy work” to his daily routines, including pushing exercises. So, along with pushing Mommy and Daddy over during “rough play” and pretend-pushing down walls, the kids enjoyed helping push about their new-to-us bunk beds the other day as we put them in place to set up. How they showed their muscles!

Loving Beauty: As the old adage goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” right? So, it is when you are two and four. One day this past week, while I attended to some important work papers, Nina and Luke took it upon themselves to decorate the windows for Lent. How? By surreptitiously making their own window “paint” from chocolate sauce, milk, water, toothpaste and who-knows-what-else. (Gotta hand it to their creativity.) Once I realized what they were doing and asked them what they were thinking, Luke responded with a smile that he was helping me. Earlier, when he had asked where our winter window clings were, I told him I wasn’t sure. So, he wanted to help by decorating the windows with Nina... Oh my!

Loving Working: Luckily, Luke and Nina were ready helpers in cleaning up the messes they had made while formulating their paint concoction. They readily sprayed and wiped walls and windows with me and mopped up spills on table and floor.

Loving Playing: For one reason or another, Luke began a new phase of biting and pinching last weekend. (Yikes!) Luckilu, not only did he decide to “fast” from such unkind habits for Lent, but I (succcesully - prasie God!) decided to help him kick start impulse-control with a little chart motivation. Since the beginning of latest biting phase had coincided with spending three days playing with dino figurines and puppets, reading dino books form the library and enjoying a few Land Before Time videos with Daddy, I suggested to Luke that he may have started biting again because of the influence of all those meat-eaters. So, together, we made a no biting-no dinosaurs chart with the numerals 1, 2 and 3 written on it. Then, we collected all his dinosaur toys and books, putting them away for three days until he could prove that he knew carnivorous behavior was unkind. (Well that is all but the two toys I missed, which Luke found and, honestly, brought to me, giving me one, saying “Mama, this one is a carnivore, but this one is a plant eater. He won’t make me bite.” His honesty earned him a pass on the plant-eater.) In any case, Luke -- with many reminders and much effort-- controlled his tooth-bearing impulses for three days and was thrilled when he awoke to find the chart “disappeared” after the third day. He excitedly asked for his dinos back and has been happily – and peacefully – playing with them since!

Loving Learning: Our main learning this past week has centered around practical life and Lent. The kids cannot get enough of juicing clementines, sipping the fruits of their labor with smiles. And, both children are paging through our Lent reading basket regularly. Nina is particular drawn to the page in our Stations of the Cross book where Jesus is stripped. I have yet to figure out if it is because she is concerned for him, as she sometimes gets quite a sympathetic pout going and declares, “Poor, Jesus. He’s naked.” Or, if it is because she happily identifies with Jesus’ in the almost-buff as she smiles with “He’s naked!” – which although not the most sacred or solemn response, is understandable when you consider our little Nina loves stripping herself down to just a diaper or big girl pants lately, as can be seen in the many half-naked pictures of her...

In any case, we are just thankful that the children keep learning and growing so actively with their Jammies School Rule of 7.  And, we look forward to more fun (and challenges) in the weeks and years to come.

We'd love to hear about your own homeschooling, pre-school rearing and chidlren's faith formation experiences.  Please leave a comment!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Step One: Declaring Areas for Interest in the Creative Curriculum® Home

Those who have been following this blog over the past couple weeks already know that I have been trying to get out of Theory Jungle by reflecting on how I might adapt parts of The Creative Curriculum® (CC) to my home.

Today, I'd like to share my first step:  CC dictates that children should be provided with eleven interest areas. After much thought and many makeshift starts at creating a Montessori-type learning space, a dedicated play-n-learn space and a hodge -podge of other types of “classroom” areas in our home over the past four years, I have realized that the idea of interest areas is perhaps the most ideally suited plan for both my children’s and my own personalities – not to mention for our overall home layout. With a new baby on the way, there’s hardly room in our home  -- or our budget --  for a dedicated classroom full of nifty new educational materials. We need to work with what we have. So, let areas be dedicated!

Blocks – These have migrated from our living room to our office/play-n-learn space to the kids’ bedrooms at different times. Their current in-use home is on some shelving in our office/play-n-learn space, while blocks and props to be rotated are in the basement, garage and who knows where. After some consideration, I have decided that the permanent Blocks interest area will be our basement family room after its big de-clutter, with a correlating storage labeled bin in the garage. Until then, the office/play-n-learn space works okay.

Dramatic Play – This interest area has been a free for all in our home with no dedicated space.  The kids (and us) enjoy dramatic play on the entire upper floor of our house, but mostly in the kids’ room and the living room. Materials we use for dramtic play are stored in whatever nook or cranny of the house I have been able to stash them, but mostly in the garage and family room-to-be. Within a year, I hope our Dramatic Play area's permanent home will be divided between the living room and the family room, with labeled storage in the garage. For the time being, the living room and the kids’ room will continue be the main places for Dramatic Play.

Toys & Games – Again, can we say free for all? Currently, toy and game materials are mostly corralled in the living room and the office/play-n-learn space, as well as in closets, the garage and the basement. After our big basement big de-clutter, Toys & Games will, hopefully, be open for usage in the family room, with a few quiet ones in each children’s room, as well as some family games in the living room. Storage will be dedicated and labeled in the garage.

Art – To date, art has had no permanent home in our house. Storage of materials is spread between a variety of closets, cupboards and bureaus in almost every room we have, while art-in-action usually happens in the kitchen, office/play-n-learn space or outside. I think after our big de-clutter, our Art area will find a permanent “doing” home in kitchen as well as outdoors, when weather permits, and in a small area of the family room. Storage space will likely be in labeled bureau drawers the laundry room, but that will depend on how my laundry room de-clutter and organization goes.

Library – We have mini libraries in every room of our house and will continue to do so. However, our main Library will be housed on shelves in the family room after our big de-clutter. For now, the “sorting library” is in Mike and my room.

Discovery – This one, too, has been catch as catch can in our house to date – enjoyed wherever we happen to be and have space. Within the next year, I think I would like to create a small permanent Discovery area near our entryway and a larger one in the family room. It will depend on space organization as our big de-clutter and Order in the Home quest continue.

Sand & Water – These have been enjoyed mostly in the kitchen and outdoors, while sometimes in the bathroom, of course. Because the floor in the kitchen is the most conducive one on our home for clean up, I think I am going to work on carving out a kitchen space for Sand & Water play when weather prevents us from enjoying it outside.  And, of course, impromptu water play in the tubby will continue!  If -- and what a big if here --  we can get the garage in order and find space there, bad weather Sand & Water play may eventually be relocated there.

Music & Movement – This naturally occurs in the living room in our home and, sometimes, extends into the hallway – think percussion band parades! So, I think the living room is the most logical space for Music & Movement to find its permanent home. Done!

Cooking – No brainer in any home – the kitchen!

Computers – This is one area where my philosophy and the Creative Curriculum’s® differ. I am not big fan of young children and screen time – even computer screen time. So, I will not be dedicating a “home” for this interest area, save for occasional lap time with Mommy and Daddy at the computer in wherever our new office space lands when the current office/play-n-learning space becomes a kids’ room - perhaps in our bedroom or the family room.

Outdoors – Hmm? Can we say – outside, of course! If only recreating and improving our outdoor space would be as easy as deciding where this interest area should go! I have a plethora of creative ideas for doing so. The dearth comes with the time and money to do so... One step in the journey at a time, right?  With but a step forward at a time, many miles can be covered!
Now, with this “thought” step of deciding which areas of our home to dedicate to the Creative Curriculum’s® interest areas taken, I am left to wonder if the physical step of creating each area will be as simple. We shall see... But, next, more brain food for the journey.  Coming soon:  Step Two: Thinking about Space Planning Guidelines in the Creative Curriculum®.

As always, I invite you to join me in this journey by leaving comments about how you are organizing your own home play and learning spaces, by lending encouragement, by simply sharing a tale of your own journey.  Please, feel free to comment below.  Your company makes my journey that much more interesting...

In This Series:


Friday, February 12, 2010

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 2): A Homeschool Mom Should "Listen" to Her Children...

Last week, I took part in 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary as a way to reflect upon the kids and our homeschooling efforts. Today, I am participating as an exercise in reaching out for ideas and admitting my own shortcomings as a homeschool mom. The kids make their stages and needs to obvious. I must learn to pre-empt frustrating moments with better listneing to and following of my children.

Faith Formation. It is goal number one in training up my kids. My mind is buzzing with ideas for Lent. I need to take a mini-retreat to get them all down. I also need to keep reminding myself: K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, silly. The kids are so young and I am so stretched by home, work, kids and all right now. No need to bring every idea to fruition. A few quality ones will work better for us all. Any tried-and-true ones you know of? Do tell!

Reading. As I wrote about in my Classical posts a while back, I am convinced that focusing on reading, writing and mathematical literacy is the current path I should be taking right now. So, how am I doing with Reading? Pretty well. The kids enjoy several read aloud sessions with Daddy or I each day. And, they certainly have access to books to peruse on their own. Regular library visits. Mini-libraries throughout our home. Books, books, books. In quantity and quality. How we love and learn from them. Now, I just have to discipline myself into providing Luke a daily one-on-one time to capitalize on his newfound interest in and ability for learning to read by himself. It sounds easy, but I haven’t gotten the rhythm yet...

Writing. Okay. So do the crayon marks on the wall, the kids’ wooden kitchen set and the kids’ wooden dollhouse tell me something? Yep! Two things: (1) The kids are begging (in their own ill-chosen way) for more pre-writing and writing activities and (2) I need to adjust my use of time to build better habits and discipline, as well as more writing activities into our days.

Nature. God’s gift for calming, enjoyment, exploring... Even in winter, it beckons, and sometimes we listen. Every time, when we do, we are all the better for it. From snow angels to animal tracks, spray “painting” to sledding, clearing the car to clearing our minds, feeding the birds to feeding our souls, nature has offered much to us this week. And, when we have gratefully received, the kids and I have stretched our minds and our bodies in such positive ways. Charlotte Mason was onto something with all that outdoor time. The waldkindergartens (outdoor kindergartens) in Europe are, too. I know my kids would benefit from following such philosophies more. Get the gear. Make the time. Just do it, Mom! Parents that are already doing so regularly, any tips for this newbie????

Practical Life. “Mommy, we were cracking eggs.” My proud Luke greeted me at the office door five minutes after I hid behind it to print some things for work the other night. And, what greeted me in the kitchen? Two proud children and lots of local eggs cracked all over the kitchen table, just an ooze away from the clean laundry that I had yet to put away. I am not proud to say, I did not simply laugh at this, noting that the kids did a good job separating the shells and that we were meant to be having a baked omelet for dinner anyway. Instead, I huffed and raged and ended up crying – anything but a good model Mommy. Luckily, the kids are no worse for the wear. They “helped” me clean up. Most of the “wasted” eggs were saved for the planned baked omelet. And, I now know that I have been ignoring our Power Lab a bit too much this past week.

Rhythm. “A told B and B told C...” Ooo, the kids have sure got the rhythm of that beat with the wonderful book and CD set we have out from the library right now. But, what about to their days? I let our morning routine go before it was set and now have to start again with forming the habit in us all. And, I am finding far too many cards from our daily routine ignored of late as I try fail to balance demands and desires each day. Montessori. Charlotte Mason. Creative Curriculum. Common sense. Nature. You name it, it gently reminds (begs for, screams for) regular rhythms. Why am I so off beat of late?

Arithmetic! So, two of our tape measures have been destroyed by curious kid hands this week. Guess it is time for me to take the hint and either get some Montessori-inspired measurement work going or start a Reggio-inspired measurement project. But, how? And, when? I feel stretched enough right now. Simple is best, I know. So, I am open to simple and quick ideas for this! My tired brain is simply not synapsing in the area...  Tried and true homeschooling parents, help!

Thanks for any adive, tips, comments or encouragements you might write udner comments below.  I appreciate them whole-heartedly!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thankful Thursday (Vol. 2): Five Great Books for my Pro-Life Preschoolers

Last week, I joined other grateful bloggers at Grace Alone in "Thankful Thursday", by counting and sharing blessings as we journey along life's paths. The blessing I wrote about was The Gift of Reading, something the kids and I continue to treasure. Today, I want to extend my thanks for the Gift of Reading by adding that I am very grateful for all the wonderful resources that exist for teaching my children to love and respect life -- especially new life, since they are so eager for their little sibling to arrive this summer.

From great books and songs, to websites and blogs, to simply ideas shared among friends and strangers alike, inspiration for and information about loving life abounds. Among the books the kids and I have been reading, the following are favorites for our pro-life preschoolers:

1. Before You Were Born: This lift-the-flap book has become one of Nina's favorite over the past week, and Luke enjoys it, too. We read it several times a day, with Mommy not ever becoming bored of it. The rhyming text makes each reading rhythmical and fun; the way the book counts down from 9 months to go to minutes to go to the actual arrival of the baby, helps me explain to the kids how patient we must be in waiting for our new baby. It also provides some great openers for lessons on math concepts. The small notes about the baby's development inside the womb each month helps the kids envision and appreciate the baby's life from conception through birth.... The book makes for a kid-friendly read and a tender, informative and age-appropriate resource for teaching about new life. And, although I am not crazy about some of the cartoonish illustrations (which are cute -- I simply appreciate picture book art that is more realistic), the kids get a kick out of a lot of it. From the proud Daddy standing on the table shouting with joy through a megaphone about the baby to come on the first pages to the new-born baby, with mic in hand, ready for action in life, towards the end, the kids get quite a giggle from the pictures in the book.

2. Angel in the Waters: I have mentioned this book before, but it is worth a second mention as it is so beautiful and gentle. With age-appropriate, realistic illustrations and a wonderful storyline, this little treasure of a book takes readers on a journey from conception ("In the beginning, I was.") to birth ("There was light." to living and growing as a part of a family and God's great family ("My angel is always there.") Throughout the story, the baby's angel, depicted by gentle sparkles, helps the baby understand the journey, even comforting the baby through moments of fear. I truly cannot say enough about this story. It's one to buy, not simply to borrow.

3. Love Song for a Baby: Our friends the Salasses gifted us this book when our first child was born. Even with my love for picture books, I had never seen it, and instantly wondered, "Why?" It is beautiful! Illustrated with warm, realistic paintings that truly capture the joy of babies, the lyrical text unfolds with the story about "a very special baby...a song about you." It reinforces the idea that "before the first stars blazed in your sky...we loved you" and brings the reader through gently through all the wonderful discoveries of infancy ("ten little tows as sweet and pink as candies") through the realities babyhood ("burps were bells" and "we juggled you") through the affirmation of all life ("how we love you") Not only a wonderful story for answering children’s requests to them about when they were little, but a great gift book for new parents to constantly remind and focus them how precious new life is. This book is one that we will read again and again through the years, someday, when the kids are bigger, tying it more directly to related Bible verses, etc.
4. Baby Born: This is a book we picked up when Luke was little, as it seemed so appropriate for our December baby, telling the story of a new life from "Baby born in winter's sleep" through the seasons of the first year until "Baby takes a step and then like snow falls down again". With gentle verse and charming watercolor illustrations, the book celebrates all babies (especially winter babies) with love and can be enjoyed by young and old readers alike! Since it's sturdy (with pages somewhere between regular and board book) and has fun lift-the-flaps, the book is quite appealing to toddlers. And, with a focus on nature and holidays (from "Baby turns and lifts her head so do seedlings in their beds" to "Baby sits beneath the trees catching all the falling leaves"), the book is ideal for Moms and Dads who, like me, who want to share a genuine love for nature and the rhythms of the year with children. I love this book’s as a way of sharing appreciation not only for human life, but all the wonderful life forms God grants us -- trees, flowers, critters, etc. It is truly a child-friendly, adult-appealing little picture book treasure.

5. I'm a Big Brother : This book by Ronne Randall is less popular than the one of the same title by Joanna Cole. We have read and enjoyed both books, but prefer the one by Ronne Randall. Admittedly, one of the things we like about it is that the big brother in it is named Luke. That aside, we appreciate that the story helps big brothers (and sisters) understand the ins and outs of having a new sibling. From the excitement of birthing day to the impatience of waiting for baby to be big enough to play with to the fun of helping with baby, the book reinforces the realities of having a new baby around, while still celebrating the blessings of the situation. A delightful story with engaging watercolor (I think) illustrations, we enjoyed the book many times after Nina was born and have pulled it out again now that we are expecting another child. Both Nina and Luke love it. And, I do, too, since it shares the story of new life from a young child's perspective so well.

Truly, all of these books (and more!) are priceless for us right now, in that we read them over and over, enjoying their illustrations, learning from their text and growing in greater focus and appreciation of the gift of new life.  I am so grateful for the talent and inspiration of the authors and illustrators everywhere that use their gifts to share important messages.  I am also thankful for the plethora of quality materials available to share with children as we guide them to the great truth that all life -- from conception forward -- is precious!

I would love to hear about some other favorite resources (books, music, websites, whatever) for encouraging my pro-life preschoolers to continue to wonder at and appreciate life! Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spotlight on Nina @ 2 yrs., 8 mos.

Yesterday, we spotlighted Luke. Well, today, we are doing the same for our girl. Nina is two years, eight months old, (plus one day). And what a personality she is developing. A mixture of loving compassion and assertive impatience, she is not “terrible” at two. Rather, she is sweet at times, amusing at others and very demanding at still others.

Here’s a synopsis about Nina this past month or so:

Nina has been loving God spontaneously and overtly every day. She often breaks out in song – “Alleluia, praise the Lord!” – and whenever we ask her about what she is thankful for during mealtime prayers, she says simply, “God”. She loves to say grace and the “Hail Mary” and she still declares at least once a week that she is going to marry God. Truly, Nina melts our heart with her spontaneous faith-filled prayers and songs and ready declarations of fidelity to God. May she always have such an organic love for God, and may it only grow as she ages and learns more about His Word and will.

Nina has been loving others with literal declarations of “I luvf you” – a verbal reminder she randomly offers each and every day. (Again, hearts melt!) Additionally, Nina has an amazing piquant for sharing (even her last koala cookie in the car when Luke is sad that he has devoured his) and is very sensitive to people who are sad or crying – real or in books and on cartoons. She immediately notes their sadness, often offering kisses and hugs. She also is quite an enabler already – taking care of big brother, cleaning up when he is in trouble for not helping to do so, offering to share her chocolate milk when he has been temporarily forbidden from having more of his own after purposefully spilling his, etc. (We are not sure if this enabling habit is good or bad, but it sure is sweet to witness...) And, Nina offers the biggest squeeze hugs to Grammy, aunties and others at times. Plus, Nina love, love, loves her baby sibling. She is constantly offering kisses and conversation to the baby in my belly and often gives me bites of food “for the baby” or drags a blanket over to me because “baby is cold, Mommy”. Indeed, Nina loves all... Or almost all. She can be quite stubborn and petulant when Nina is afraid, not getting her way, overtired or in an uncomfortable situation (such as at a medical facility). Indeed, Nina has a decided dislike for doctors lately, often refusing to share her regular sunshine smile and fun expressions with them. But, for the most part, she is a very amiable and compassionate little girl.

Nina is joyful, too. She loves playing lately, both directed and free... by herself, with Luke, with peers, with Mommy or with Daddy. (“Let’s rough play!”)  She likes putting tiny objects in little holes, building block and cylinder towers, playing with flashcards and other small bits of card and paper that she finds about the house and talking on “phones” (which can be anything from remote controls to pieces from her dollhouse). She especially likes playing with babydolls and things musical.  She also likes getting into things with Brother.  Indeed, Luke and Nina spend long stretches each day alternating between imaginary play and you-can't-imagine-what-they-did-now adventures...  And, with Mommy, Nina enjoys  puzzles, Concentration games and Go Fish games... Plus, she comes alive with  dancing and singing activities , as well as “doing drama” and getting a bit rough-and-tumble at times. A lady and a scamp, Nina is just as likely to be a picture of a gentle, sweet girl-child at play as she is to be an impish little tomboy. She is as likely to hug and pat her dollie’s back as she is to give a good, solid wallop to the punching bag Luke got for Christmas. Gentle or otherwise, Nina simply loves to play!

And Nina loves learning, too. Like many children her age, she is quite a kinesthetic learner, exploring her world through hands-on activities. She is very into mastering fine motor skills – lots of coloring and putting small objects in small places – as well as domestic skills – constantly asking to help with cooking, dishes, sweeping and spray-and-wiping. She’s also an auditory learner – loving to sing our “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...” song every morning, and, then, chanting rhymes and humming songs throughout the day. And, undoubtedly, Nina is verbal! She asks questions, tells tales and simply talks, talks, talks when we are at home together. She’s quieter when we are out, but as she gets going, people often comment to me about how good her verbal skills are. Even though she has never been one to sit as long, and with as much focused concentration, as her brother does with piles of books, I think Nina likes listening to them as he and I read them. A true woman already, it seems Nina has mastered multi-tasking by consuming words and language even as she goes about her other “work”.

And, boy, does our Nina love working! She readily jumps to “helphshu” when I start cooking or sweeping the floor. And, she is more than happy to not only clean up her own messes at times, but to take care of Luke’s, too. Plus, she likes play at being on the “putah” (computer) with calculators, boxes and even windowsills, as well as to busily write and type notes (modeling after Mommy who, perhaps, does too much of these things at times.) She also (sometimes to my chagrin) will determinedly sneak off to the cupboards and fridge alike to fix herself a meal and – yay! – has decided that this week she will be potty trained for No. 2, even if still working on No. 1. Yes, Nina has taken to quietly going off to the bathroom to do her business and, then, trying to clean up everything from the potty to her hands on her own, no matter how quickly I try to step into help. Miss “I do it”, Nina is rarely idle and is often purposeful. Truly, even as I cringe at Nina’s new-found kitchen and potty independence at times, I hope our little lady maintains her confident, enthusiastic work ethic as she matures. It is a habit will serve her – and others – well in days and years to come.

And, as for loving beauty... Nina enjoys music, nature, picture books and prayer regularly. Plus, she creates beauty as often as she admires it. Through experiencing Nina, Mike and I are often reminded of how truly beautiful simplicity can be. Nina’s ready smile, her compassionate gestures, her joy-filled singing, her spontaneous prayers, her quiet (and boisterous at times, too) explorations are all so simple and yet so dear. Nina admires and inspires that which is good.

Now, of course, Nina is still two and does have her fair share of ill-habits and challenging behaviors. She can twist her face into quite a pout. And, she can be shockingly vocal and demanding about her wants “right now. You not listening to my words.” Plus, she is going through a bit of a running away, hitting, testing limits and sometimes being sneaky stage. That said, overall, Nina is surprisingly charming for her age. Nina, at two years, eight months and a day old delights in each day from bright wake-up times to busy explorations to snuggly bedtimes. She goes with the flow, alternating between engaging others and simply enjoying her own thing. And, she does it all with such expression! Nina truly is our delight – a welcome gift and a reminder from God, that joy is always just a perspective away.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Spotlight on Luke @ 4 yrs. 2 mos.

Today (well, yesterday now, since I fell asleep before posting this yesterday...), Mommy is bleary-eyed from being up until 2 a.m. doing must-do family financial paperwork, only to have Luke wake me up by calling out for me at 3:30 a.m. with Nina following suit just as I was falling back to sleep at 4:45, and, then, Nina getting up for the day for good at 6:30 a.m... (Yaw-aw-aw-n...)! Thankfully, both Luke and Nina are being sympathetic – busy, imaginative, but peaceful for their ages today. I think they sense Mommy’s sheer exhaustion. Plus, they are growing up...

Indeed, Luke is four years and two months old today, February 8th. Where does the time go? From 5 lbs. 9 oz. and unable to nurse properly to over 36 lbs. and constantly being reminded to stop climbing up to fridge and cupboard in search of snacks.

What else is going on with out little man lately? Here’s a synopsis of Luke this past month or so:

Luke has been loving God despite telling us he cannot because “God is too much” and he only loves “dinosaurs, moose, unicorns and Puff.” And, although he still often alternates between being a busy body and an escape artist at Mass, he is getting better at sometimes participating or at least staying quiet, happily pouring over Bible story and Catholic Treasury picture books. In the car, he laughs and giggles, singing along with Steve Green's Hide 'Em in Your Heart when I have it on. His favorite song on the CD remains “God Loves a Cheerful Giver”, a song that’s message is beginning to sink into Luke as he willingly selected some books to give away to others when we were honoring St. Brigid recently, and how she was known for her charity. He also is fascinated by good and evil – angels. vs. devils, Wupsy vs. Pong (from the Catholic Children's Treasure Box series) and where King Herod may have gone (to the devil). Prayers don’t come as readily from Luke as they used to these days, but he still joins in on Grace  and can often be heard whispering “God, please bring back the dinosaurs and unicorns, but not moose, because they are already alive and not Puff because I don’t want to go to Honalee” as he lays in his bed at night. He says this prayer with such serious earnest hope. It is too cute.

Luke has been loving others by “taking out his God love and only keeping his boy and girl love, but not for guys who tickle me”, or so he told me when I asked him how he’s been loving others lately. I think what he means is that he has been enjoying playing with, sharing with and being kind with his sister, young cousins, friends and peers at the library and folks elsewhere more than he used to, but that he is also strangely afraid of his older boy cousins, who he claims tickle him until it hurts him. (Really???) In my assessment, Luke is becoming a little more compassionate, helping, teaching and loving Nina these days as often as he torments her the way only a big-brother can. He also has been thinking about others and how he might sometimes make them happy. He often draws things and says they are for certain people and he is starting to get into the idea of giving away some of his books (like "So Big" to the right) and toys to other children. And, though Luke has never been one to offer lots of hugs and kisses at “hello” and “goodbye” times, he sure gives Mommy a huge share of hugs and kisses every day, and the new baby, too. He likes to blow “Any” kisses and to talk to her in my belly. (“Any” is Luke’s name for the new baby until we learn if she is “Gemma” or he is “Jack”. Luke is vying for “Jack”.) Daddy gets a goodly portion of hugs and kisses, too, but not usually at night, when Luke declares, “I love Daddy in the day, but not in the night.” A “Lukism”, for certain.

And, boy does our little man love playing. He spends most of his time these days lost in creative imaginary play – singing, chanting and chattering away as narrator of tales and creatures within them alike... He often tries to get Nina, Daddy or Mommy to enter his imagined scenarios of unicorns, dinosaurs, etc., and especially loves playing dinos with Daddy.  Plus, as I type this, he is stepping on a Serendipty book asking how he might “get into it” as he wants to go run with Morgan the Unicorn. Truly, Luke loves taking his stuffed toys and figurines all about the house, constructing scenes and intricate worlds with them. He creatively uses kitchen implements, toy pieces, scarves, etc. to represent all manner of unicorns, dinosaurs, gingerbread men and other things. He likes to dress himself, Nina and Daddy up with unique pieces of costumes, too. And, he continues to spend hours building original creations with blocks and bricks, as well as models of different scenes and characters from books. Plus, several times a week, Luke asks Mommy to “do drama”, leading him and Nina in mini –creative-dramatics classes based on everything from polar bears to dinosaurs, unicorns to Bible stories, favorite picture books of the moment to holiday topics...

Luke has been loving learning lately mostly by doing and reading. As I just mentioned, he is big into imaginative play and construction, learning about concepts of balance, reason, engineering, etc. as he attends to this “work”. He also enjoys developing his own investigations – recently going through a period of “planting” seeds in water trying to make them grow.  Indeed, Luke is always coming up with his own experiments, sometimes much to my chagrin based on their timing and mess. And, one of his favorite sayings remains, ‘If --, what would happen?” A naturally inquisitive young man, we have – perhaps a future scientist or engineer! But, then again, perhaps liberal arts lover, too. For art and activities based on books are popular with Luke – especially things that involve drawing. And – whoo hoo – he is starting to read some of his first words. I had brought home some Bob Books for a tutoring student of mine; Luke wanted to read them with me. Sure enough, slowly he began making inroads to basic phonetic decoding. So exciting!!!

Luke does not love working unless the work is on his own terms. Unfortunately for Mommy, he isn’t the most agreeable when it comes to tidy times, often claiming to be “so tired”.  But, fortunately (even if it's not the best parenting habit), he jumps to with a little well-placed blackmail – “Pick up ten things and you can watch ‘Who built the ark’ on you-tube, ” or “No snack until we clean up” or, “Maybe Mommy should give these things to a child who wants to take care of them.”... On the other hand, when it comes to self-determined “work” Luke cannot get enough of it. He is forever absconding with tools and kitchen implements to do one project or another. He also enjoys helping with cooking projects when he is not immersed in imaginative play. And, he readily takes up the broom, dustpan, spray bottle and cloth during clean-up times when he is in the mood.  Granted, some of his "work" makes more work for Mommy, but I keep reminding myself it's all in the name of exploration and learning.

Luke’s has been loving beauty mostly through books lately. He simply adores being read to and pouring over picture books on his own. He devours volumes of words and pictures, making me realize more and more that I need to wean the “twaddle” from our diet of books, feeding him with quality writing and artwork whenever possible. Luke also enjoys a fair share of music, art projects and things he notices outside – the stars “following our car”, the colors of the sky, the colors and types of birds visiting our feeders, nature walks,  etc.

Besides that, some of Luke’s more challenging behaviors and habits continue – random outbreaks of hitting, disregarding safety at times, fussing at shopping carts go over bumps, having trouble with potty training, etc. These are realities we deal with and are trying to help Luke improve upon.  As such, Luke is now doing Occupational Therapy sessions twice a week for possible sensory processing disorder. We figure it cannot hurt and he seems to like going to “play” with the ladies that help him at his sessions. So, hopefully, we’ll all learn some strategies to help Luke get through his more challenging behaviors so he can shine with his positive ones!

And, shine Luke does.  He is “unique” in many ways – including many that make Mike and I smile with pride and laugh in amusement. He is always going, with his mind in action even when his busy - for mere moments - stills.  Whether is is on the "retack" playing dinosaurs or has his brow twisted in "recern" for a character in a book (Luke has a habit of adding 're' as the prefix for everything lately), he is always moving and thinking.  Yes, as our little man Luke is apt to say “I can’t sleep, because of my eyes... they come back open... Well, my brain makes them do it... I cannot shut if off at all.” Indeed, Luke, at four years and two months is alert with wonder, curiosity, investigations and constant explorations. With a mischievous smile and a sparkle in his eye, he remains a very special gift and charge for Mike and me.  Praise God (and give us guidance as we continue to train Luke up!)


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