Monday, June 28, 2010

Evidencing Ten (Okay Three for Now) Tips for Supporting Your Child at Home

I have not had the camera at the ready for much of this past week, so, unfortunately, there will be no photos with this post.  But, I encourage you to read it anyway to see examples of how Luke and Nina are incorporating Montessori and showing evidence of Donna Byrant Goertz’s “Ten Tips for Supporting Your Child at Home” into their daily lives.  (All the numbered, bolded parts are from Goetz’ Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful – a wonderful Montessori read --   book, pp. 123-130)

1.  Prepare every room of your home so your child can participate fully in family life.
Yesterday, after helping me make the batter for pancakes, as I was cooking it up into the kids’ requested “bunny-shapes”, Luke and Nina surprised me by setting our higher adult table and lower kids’ table out on the deck for breakfast.  The fact that the set them came as no surprise, since they often do at my request.  The fact that first Luke asked, “May I set the table?” before I had a chance to suggest it and, then, upon receiving my “Yes, that would be very helpful!” went about doing so with no direction, enlisting his sister for help.  They did a beautiful job collecting dishes, silverware, maple syrup, glasses, even our morning reading basket.  I love how independent and helpful my 4 and 3 year old can be and attribute much of it to my sporadic attempts at being a more Montessorian Mom.  Incorporating a prepared environment and practical life really pay off!

2.  Differentiate carefully between age-appropriate and age-inappropriate participation in family life.
We have very little screen-time in our home.  Video/TV time is quite limited for all and the kids really do not know much about inappropriate  TV/video content as we simply do not have it on when they are around and awake, if we have it at all.  Likewise, although Mommy and Daddy are online maybe more than they should be on some days, we try to grab snippets of computer time around the kids’ needs and schedules and the kids only use the computer with us for appropriate activities, such as looking at photos, playing educational games or researching things they are interested in.  The benefit of this was made clear to me the other day when Luke requested that we play a game on the computer and Nina chimed in that Mommy was doing “adult” work now, but could help them in a minute.  (Oh, how they echo Mommy’s words at times!)  I quickly finished what I was doing and headed over to TVOKids for Choo Choo Choices, by their request, and, then to Starfall and The Puppet Game.  While I am not a big fan of mindless computer games, all of these support things I am trying to instill in the children:  Choo Choo puts emotions and choices to be kind right at the kids’ level in a way that opens up conversation between us, with the kids often asking “Why did he cry?  I want to make him smile”, etc.  Starfall is a well-known wonder for phonics and early reading.  And the Puppet Game helps Luke and Nina learn social/emotional cues and expression. All, when not overdone, are a fun, age-appropriate treat that the kids enjoy (and really fill some SPD diet needs!)  And, since we agree before turning any of the games on how much time we will spend together online with the games or how many games they can choose in one sitting, limits are usually understood and adhered to with little (but, of course some – they are kids!) whining.

3.  Include the child in plans if you don’t want a bored child on your hands.
We are trying to stick to a rather strict family food budget.  We are also aiming at having more pleasant, manageable shopping experiences, even with out two who sometimes prefer to be runners and whiners than helpers.  Thus, I have been really working on strategies to help us meet both of these goals.  For the first, of course, lists are key!  And, lately, instead of making the lists all on my own, I have been sometimes having the kids help me with them and sometimes simply sharing them with the kids.  Then, when we are at the store, the kids try to help me spot things on the list.  I know this is working because I recently heard Luke say to Nina, who was trying to sneak something in her bag, “Nina, that is not on the list.”   Hoorah!

Likewise, to combat the runner syndrome, and prepare for Baby to be, when the cart would be too full with Baby, Luke and Nina to include groceries if I continued to employ my easy-out Mommy corralling technique of simply putting both Luke and Nina in the cart so they cannot run away from me, I have been giving the kids the choice of riding in the cart, pushing it with me or carrying a shopping bag.  They often choose the latter two, so proud to help.  But, just as often ask to go into the cart when they get tired.  (And, admittedly, if I have a lot of shopping to do, for my sanity alone, I let them make the choice only for the last couple aisles, keeping them in the cart of the first few, since they are still very much learning to stay near me in the store, not tempted to run ahead, grab things off shelves, etc.)  The choice that they make that I particularly love is when they choose to carry their own shopping bags.  (Can we say great SPD heavy work?!?)  They take turns picking out items on our list and putting them in their bags to carry, telling me when their bags are getting too heavy and asking me to transfer some of the things in them to my cart before continuing on…  Observing their pride in helping and their honest judgment about their limitations unfold is a delight…

And, now I pause, because this Montessori Mom is realizing that I need to limit my own computer time at the moment to do some other tasks, so I will pick up the rest of this list of ten on another day later this week.  Stop by again to check it out..  And, in the meantime, please leave me comments or links about how you are attempting to make the three things listed above part of your daily home life and how your children are evidencing that they are.  Thanks!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grace Comes...

SceneMommy is feeling very pregnant and a bit impatient, wondering how she is going to make it through bedtime alone with the kids yet another evening when they are wound up, not showing any signs of being tired and demonstrating "selective hearing" and deteriorating behavior.  Nina is kneeling on a chair next to Mommy, scoffing down a failed, but still yummy, attempt at making homemade all-fruit sorbet.  Luke is done with this and has just gone off to get into something.   Mommy is savoring the brief moment of peace.

Luke (reentering kitchen and coming towards Mommy):  I havenever seen anyone like you Mommy?

Mommy braces herself for another "You are soooo big" comment after having her afternoon peppered with observations on how large each part of her body - except her nose, eyes and mouth, according to the kids -- is getting.  Then, she realizes this could be something totally different.:  Oh really, Luke, what do you eman?

Luke (saddling up next to Mommy): You are the greatest Mommy ever. 

Mommy is shock to hear such kind and unprovoked words from her son remains in silence in happy, shock, saying a quiet prayer to God for the warmth and strength to get through the rest of the day that just came with this little exchange.  Luke crawls into mommy's chair to give her a big hug.

Luke:  You always listen to me.   (And, this from the boy who was pitching a fit just a bit earlier about not getting his way.)  You're such a good Mommy.

Mommy hugs and kisses Luke, telling him thank you and she loves him.  she gives Nina, who is dripping with scraped, rock-hard sorbet, a kiss, too.  Then, she realizes Luke has never shared anything quite like this of his own volition as far as she can recall.  She is is moved and touched. 

Very pregnant.  Very behind on to-do's.  Needing to ask others for help lately (a difficult thing for this independent Mama).  Not modeling patience and kindness as much as she should.  Momma has been feeling like a bit of a failure at parenthood lately and depending very much on God to grant her grace along with her third child-gift in the coming weeks, knowing He wouldn't offer the gitrft without the grace... 

Grace is coming early through the mouth of a four year old!

Step Six: Displaying and Labeling Materials with Creative Curriculum® for the Home

“Everything with a place and everything in its place.”  This is, indeed, the rule of any good early education classroom – and any well-organized home for that matter.  But, it is also a rule that we, unfortunately, have yet to fully apply in our home. So, stepping back inside after assessing our Outdoor Area during the last step, today, let's look at how we might apply Creative Curriculum® to displaying and labeling materials.

The Creative Curriculum® focuses on the "everything with a place and a place for everything" rule, reminding practitioners that children benefit from the consistency and predictability of an ordered environment.  It highlights that by knowing where to find things and how things are grouped, children can work independently and constructively and – bonus for the adults –can also care for and clean up their environment much more readily.  It suggests that by having clearly marked places for everything, children are afforded the flexibility of taking materials to areas beyond their “home” for play and learning, but, can also return the materials easier during clean-up time.

To store and display materials the Creative Curriculum® suggests five easy guidelines:

  1. Keep materials that go together in the same place – collage material with glue and paper; cars with blocks and so on.  This seems a no-brainer, but, I must confess, we have materials stored in some very illogical places in my home.  It’s high time, then, to go on a household hunt to group like objects together and put them in accessible places, pending the success of the big de-clutter of course.  No more materials for a single activity housed in four different rooms.  No more collections of everything-the-kids-have-gotten wild-with on top of the fridge. And no more basement disaster area.  A huge, but not insurmountable goal, that I will start tackling now - and, as baby allows - finish in the coming months.
  2. Use containers such as plastic dishpans, clear plastic containers, baskets and shoe boxes to hold materials toys with small pieces.  I love the aesthetic of baskets and other natural materials containers.  However, our limited family budget mandates some plastic and copious amounts of re-purposed materials.  So, baskets on hand, dollar store finds, recycled gift bags, re-purposed food containers, here we come!  As we purge our actual collection of “stuff”, we’ve got to add to our collection of baskets and bins in order to containerize, containerize, containerize.
  3. Hang items, such as dress up clothes, utensils, smocks and whatnot, on pegs, Velcro and child-sized clothes trees.  We love magnet hooks for the side of our fridge and the back of our front door.  Cup holder hooks, peg racks and the like work well in some other areas.  We simply need to discern the best areas for kid-level hung items and, then, go for it.
  4. Display materials on low shelves at children’s eye level and place books with covers facing out.  (Montessori ideals come in handy there)  We work with what we have and are managing, for the most part, to adhere to such guidelines...
  5. Store sharp items, such as knives and graters, out of reach, bringing them out as needed.  We are still working on our balance of child-proofing as versus teaching responsible, independent handling in our home. Here, we tend to ere on the side of independence, allowing the kids to use real glasses and to access some things that might cause others to draw their breath in sharply with an “oh no!”, but it works for us.  Still, with the new baby coming along, we’ll have to be more vigilant again...
    And, wherever materials are stored and displayed, the Creative Curriculum® asks that they be clearly labeled with both words and pictures both on the storage shelf itself, as well as on any containers that hold objects on the shelves.  That way, clean up becomes a matching and literacy game as well as merely an endeavor to care for the environment.   Now, there’s an idea.  On the container and on the shelf – at least for the kids toys – and label everything.  We’ve done this in the Music and Movement area and need to elsewhere.  So, break out the contact paper, packing tape and key chain circles.  Increased label madness, here we come!

    Now, enough theorizing, time to get to more display weeding and area labeling!  And, hopefully, to a further step on our CC journey within the next week.  Stay tuned for it, and, as always:

    One final note:  If you would like to join me on this CC journey, please leave comments.  Grab a copy of the book yourself to review and let me know what you're getting from it.  Or, use my summaries and posts as a starting point for thought.  Tell me how you're moving from theory to practice in your own home.  Cheer me on (or give me constructive criticism) about how I am doing.  Or, simply jot down whatever comes to mind.  Deep conversation or silly banter -- my adventures have always been all the better for sharing both along the way.  Thanks! 

    In This Series:

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Easy (SPD Friendly) Outdoor Fun and Learning: Chalk Numbers and Clackers

    Yesterday, I posted thoughts and reflections on how to best organize and utilize the Outdoor Environment with inspiration from the Creative Curriculum.  As I mentioned in it, we spend a lot of time outdoors here at Jammies School.  But, recently, with Third-Trimester-Pregnant Mama-Teach, whose ligaments are giving her trouble sometimes, our activities must be limited.  Mama cannot run, jump and play alongside the kiddos of late.  So, what to do?

    Break out the chalk and clackers of course for some spontaneous -- and SPD friendly -- Mathematics fun.

    Here's what we did:

    At a good ligament moment, I wrote large chalk numbers -- two of each -- on the front walkway.  Then, I sat down on the step (ahhhh!) and challenged the kids to run and jump on whatever number I called out.  (Number recognition, of course, and with the SPD Lenses on - proprioception with all that running and jumping!)  Since Luke recognizes his numbers better than Nina, I asked him to help her find them when she could not do so on her own. (Teamwork and character/habits of kindness and help building here!) I also gave them both color and shape clues as necessary.  (It's a curvy one written in pink.  It's the one that looks like part of a triangle. Etc.)  Later, the kids took turns calling numbers out for each other, using, upon Luke's suggestion, a hand-me-down numbers book they just received as a guide.
    Then, later in the afternoon, we took our clackers outside for a rhythm extension (music, number recognition, counting and auditory input, too!)  This time, when I called the numbers outs, the kids not only had to find them, but had to try to clack their clackers as many times as the numbers they were standing on indicated.  We also did the reverse.  I clacked a certain number of times while they listened and then they tried to find the corresponding number.
    All the clacking was just too much fun for Luke and Nina!  For, while I was relieved to sit on the stoop, they were getting more and more excited.  So, we forwent the numbers and had clacking,-running Rabbit-and-the-Hare races (a recent favorite story of the kids) across the front lawn. (No shoes because we know our lawn is "safe" and it provides better tactile stimulation!)
    So, in the end:  All fun.  All spur-of-the-moment.  All learning and SPD-friendly, too! ... While Mama gets to sit and the kids burn energy.  Hoorah!

    What simple, summer outdoor fun and learning have you been doing lately? Please share a comment.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Step Five: Outdoor Area of the Creative Curriculum® for the Home

    Finally, here is the Outdoor Space thoughts that I promised in my last Creative Curriculum ® for the Home post before computer woes and other obstacles slowed my course for a couple weeks.

    Why focus on the Outdoor Space right now, when our indoor spaces are all still demanding so much attention?  Well, because good weather is upon us and we find ourselves outside enjoying it more and more often.  I cannot exactly keep the kids (or Mike and me for that matter) inside all the time focused solely on my Order in the Home(school) goal.  But, I can find a nexus between that goal and our desire to enjoy the great outdoors!  The Creative Curriculum® (CC) makes this easy by offering concise guidelines and helpful tips for maximizing the potential of one’s Outdoor Environment.  This delights me!  For both theory and practice often draw us for Jammies School.

    On the theory side, almost all of the philosophies and methods that I am attracted to seem to emphasize outdoor learning, exploration and play.  Charlotte Mason, perhaps, places the greatest prominence on the outdoors, suggesting that children spend hours outside each day regardless of the weather.  Montessori schools often have beautiful outdoor “classrooms” or gardens.  Reggio tends to connect art to nature.  Even our faith studies lead our family outdoors – exploring and being grateful for all God’s amazing creations.  Thus, it is no big surprise that I was pleased when I discovered that the Creative Curriculum® (CC) places importance on outdoor learning, too.  Theoretically, it works!

    Plus, in practice, outdoor time work for us, too.  Reading on blankets.  exploring science through bubbles.  Drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, drive and an outdoor easel.  Doing coloring and crafts on the back deck..  Counting pinecones, flowers, clouds.  Playing "Can You Find Something (color)?"  Singing about the great things we see that the Lord has made.  You name it, we enjoy doing it outside.  Indeed, our Outdoor Environment is a natural place for us to focus on our Core Four, Plus. (Faith, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Extras)

    So, what does the CC have to say about Outdoor Areas and how can it help us improve our own?

    The chapter in the CC that deals with the Outdoors discusses “How Outdoor Play Promotes Development”, “What Children Learn Outdoors”, “The Teacher’s Role” and “A Letter to Families about Outdoor Play”.  It also details “Creating and Using the Outdoor Environment”, which is what I have focused in on as I continue Order in the Home(school) journey, using the CC as a tool.

    The first step the CC suggests in creating and using the Outdoor Environment is to assess one's outdoor space in order to ensure that there is enough room to accommodate all the children that will be using it at the same time, e.g. 80-100 square feet per child.  This may be out of reach for some family housing arrangements, but – never fear – that’s what parks and playgrounds are for.

    Regardless of if you are looking at only your own yard, or at your yard, plus some local open spaces,  the CC offers a list of parameters to that can be helpful when thinking about an ideal environment.  These are that your Outdoor Space should include:
    • an unobstructed view of the children at all times (when you are not hanging laundry, doing outdoor chores, grabbing the phone, etc.!)
    • easy access to and from the indoor space and a bathroom (or a tolerance for emergency potty breaks in out-of-the-way parts of the yard for potty training kiddos like mine)
    • a drinking fountain and water spigot for attaching a hose (or simply a full water bottle at hand, along with some sort of hose, pond, stream or pool as a water play source)
    • age-appropriate equipment for climbing, swinging and building (or some semblance thereof, depending on the size of your yard.  For example, our outdoor space precludes a traditional swing set, but we do have climbing and building things and may eventually get a swing to hang from our deck or to tie from a sturdy tree branch.  Until such time, we use the neighbor’s swing set and nearby playgrounds, extending our outdoor area significantly.)
    • a storage shed (or some sort of storage plan using re-purposed materials, crates, plastic bins, a garage...)
    • soft materials, such as sawdust, sand or bark under swings, slides and climbers (if you have the space for such things and the funds for the ground cover.  If not, local playgorounds are usually up to safety codes and, as long as you use your common sense and  promise not to sue yourself, your own home spaces should work fine, too, however you fir those swings and climbers into it.)
    •  sunny as well as shady areas (Natural ones are best – think trees, sunflower houses, etc. for shade, but rope and blankets can be fun, too!)
    • a paved or hard-surfaced area for riding, skating, chalk drawings and games (which for home learners not blessed with much sidewalk or driveway sopace, but who live on quiet streets, may just be the street itself, and for those on busier streets, might be a nearby tennis court or parking lot)
    •  a covered area for use during wet weather (or a sense of fun and good protective clothing – puddle jumping and getting wet are part of growing up!)
    •  places to be alone with one or two others (boxes, tents, tires, a porch swing, blankets. etc.)
    •  open, grassy spaces for walking, tumbling, running, kicking, throwing and catching balls (which may just be found at  a nearby park if not in your own yard)
    •  an area for digging (sandbox, rough ground, even just a box of dirt!)
    Now, of course, this list was written with preschool centers in mind, but it can easily be adapted to home use, as I noted in my parenthetical comments.  And, once you’ve assessed where in your own yard or community you might find each of the CC’s suggested components for an Outdoor Environment, you might do well to go on, as we have done, to carving out little parts of it for the different kinds of experiences and challenges that the CC suggests.  These include:
    • playing in sand and water
    • riding on, and pushing and pulling, wheeled toys
    • using indoor materials that can be brought outdoors
    • playing games, building constructions and enjoying pretend play
    • planting a garden
    • caring for living things
    Now, with this list (and the paragraphs of details and suggestions that follow it in the CC book) in mind, it is easy to self-assess and create order and appeal in one’s Outdoor Environment.  To help you along, let me share our thought process for doing so:

    Do we have a sand and water play area, located near a water supply if possible, so children can explore the properties of both wet and dry sand, as well as the properties of water?  And is it equipped with a variety of tools for such exploration?  
     Yes!  Currently we have two freecyled covered green sandboxes.  One we use for sand (and mud!) and the other for water (and shaving cream, and bubbles and...)  These migrate throughout our small back yard depending on where the kids want to play – in sun or shade.  We also have a variety of props we've collected for the kids to use when playing in these – buckets, old bowls and pails with handles, shovels, spoons and scoops; funnels and sifters; old pots, pans and molds; plastic pitchers and jugs; old trucks, busses and cars; plastic people and animals; natural objects, such as pinecones, shells, sticks and stones; etc. the kids don;t tire of our little sand and water spaces yet anyway.  (Admittedly, we are still trying to repurpose something for better storage of these.  Ideas are welcome!)   

    Ultimately, we hope to build a large, more natural sand and dirt area under out deck using logs for borders, lots of sand in one section and a mini-mountain of dirt in another section, but, for now, our small plastic sandboxes dot he trick just fine!   Also, even though we would love to get a small wheelbarrow to add to our props and, sometimes find ourselves scoping out,wished-for items in stores and catalogs, we realize that popsicle sticks, plastic spoons and some recycled plastic containers with holes punched in the lids or bottoms, work just fine as sand and water props, and, in all honesty, the rest is just blessed surplus.  When it all comes down to it, even a box full of sand a d a small dish tub full of water, with such recycled materials would work.  

    A good point of advice that the CC reminds us of though, regardless of what materials are used, is to cover the sand area with a hinged lid, plastic sheet or similar when not in use.  Cats and other animals love to use sandboxes as litter boxes and health problems can be avoided with this simple precautionary measure. 

    Do we have an area where the kids can pedal, push and pull wheel toys to build large muscle strength while promoting balance and coordination?  
     Indeed!  We have a variety of handed-down trikes, scooters and push-with-your legs ride-ons, plus a too-big Green Machine, a kids’ plastic shopping cart and a doll stroller at the moment,  And we have an eye out for wagons, wheelbarrows and bikes...  We use these on the sidewalk and the cul de sac we live on, and, when we feel it is safe, on our very steep driveway.  With safety in mind, of course, we have helmets available.  Along with these wheelie toys, we sometimes use chalk or orange cones to add to our wheelie toy play and, with CC suggestions in mind, we are planning to gather up materials for making signs and creating road markers and directional arrows.  We would also like to start extending our wheelie toy play  more through the use of prop boxes or play crates that can transform our collection into ambulances, fire trucks, mail trucks, gas station equipments, a car wash, etc.  (Okay, so the hose and a few dish pans did well the other day for a car wash!) 

    Do we have a garden located away from more active outdoor areas?  
     Yes, we have a flower bed next to our driveway and a small “lasagna garden” planted with tomato pepper seedlings and some herb seeds we hope will actually grow.  As our yard is relatively small, and somewhat shady – and as none of us has yet to develop a true green thumb – we also hope to use some small, movable container gardens in the future.  (The CC even suggests simply placing a container garden on a two-wheeled cart or wagon so it can moved around to control the amount of sun it gets and to clear space for games – great idea!)  To help us with our gardening efforts, we have several child-sized shovels, rakes and hoes, watering buckets and a hose and, of course, seeds and plants.  Over time, we hope to get better at planting relatively quick-growing, child-friendly, useful and appealing gardens to help the kids enjoy and learn, especially the inevitable lessons of patience and perseverance that gardening requires. 

    Do we have areas where children can practice caring for living things?  
     Yes, not only do our gardens help us teach the kids about plants, but we try to observe and learn about all creatures, great and small, that visit our yard.  We regularly make and hang bird feeders and have a bird bath, and we have making birdhouses on our to-do list.  We also leave our spent blooms up a for a while to attract birds and bugs to come feed.  A bunny visits us regularly.  Cats come by.  Sometimes other animals do, too.  And, we compost – a great boon for worm study!   

    Do we have open spaces for games, building and pretend play, plus equipment to facilitate such play? 
    Indeed, our front yard is mostly open and grassy – a great place to run about and have fun, as well as to catch bubbles, climb on a small plastic climber, set up tents, play chase, etc.  And, our back yard has areas where the kids can enjoy construction (using an old screen, blankets, ropes, clothespins, etc. regularly and hammers, nails and whatnot, occasionally, with closer supervision) and pretend play (where an old plastic shelving unit and stove burner covers from our old stove have made a rather nice outdoor play kitchen area for the kids and some recalled door swings make for a dollie play area).  Plus, we are on the look out for “loose parts” and sundry recycled and re-purposed materials to feed the kids’ construction-imaginations.  Planks of wood, plastic crates, carpet samples and scraps, cable spools, old tires, appliance store boxes, plastic pipes and elbows.  One person’s junk can be our children’s building treasures.  Once our new baby comes and we get our house in order (or at least the former!), we hope to start collecting some of these materials (even if we are in the midst of trying to purge many things!) 

    Do we have indoor materials that can be brought outdoors on nice days both to facilitate learning and to provide a new environment for "old" experiences?  
    Yes, we often use our back deck as an outdoor extension of our indoor learning spaces, and I am working on creating organized grab-and-go type bins or bags to keep by each entrance of our home according to the outdoor activities we pursue by it.  We also sometimes take Movement and Music props out to the deck or front yard to sing, dance parade and play.  We do art activities on the deck, in the sensory sandbox, on the driveway and sidewalk, etc..  (And, we have plans to do even more “Messy Art” outside as the weather continues to be so nice!).  Dramatic play props, most often, of late, in the form of dolls and accessories – the kids’ “kids”, often find their way outside for pretend play with the kids building houses and forts for them, giving them rides, taking them for walks, etc.  And, books are not only enjoyed aplenty during reading sessions on the porch rocker, the deck rocker and on blankets on the lawn, but are also referred to during nature observation and study.  (The One Small Square series is one we love!)  And, if I ever get my desired Montessori and workboxing systems up and running, many of our trays and drawers from these will be taken outdoors, too, no doubt.  Thus, it seems we are doing just fine with bringing inside materials out.  The only thing we need a little help with is keeping them organized and finding their way back “home”.  To this end, we are thinking about creating “play crates” as suggested in the CC for camping, laundry, painting, digging, gardening, woodworking, etc.  Doing so, we think, will help us optimally store and rotate materials, we hope.

    And, so that’s our Outdoor Area thoughts and assessment.  Whew, it was long!  But, what can you expect when discussing something as huge as the great outdoors?  Besides, I am pleased that by taking the time to reflect on our outdoor space, I have not only considered, tidied up and re-envisioned some of it, recognizing we are in great shape even if there are still some "wants", but that we also continue to work toward the main goal – creating better order in our home(school), even as we simply enjoy being outdoors.
    That said, I am now ready to escape the recent heat and to tackle thinking about something a little smaller.  So, within a week, I hope to post about the next step on our CC for the Home journey - notes on Displaying and Labeling materials.  Please stay tuned…

    In This Series:

    One final note, as I have mentioned before, if you would like to join me on this CC journey, please leave comments. When thinking about your own outdoor area, you may want to take a peek at the Outdoors pdf at Teaching Strategies, which details what children learn outdoors by subject and how we might interact with children as they learn and play outdoors.  Also, of course, if you want to journey with me, you can grab a copy of the CC  book yourself to review and let me know what you're getting from it.  Or, use my summaries and posts as a starting point for thought.  Tell me how you're moving from theory to practice in your own home.  Cheer me on (or give me constructive criticism) about how I am doing.  Or, simply jot down whatever comes to mind.  Deep conversation or silly banter -- my adventures have always been all the better for sharing both along the way.  Thanks!

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    The Always Book: Richard Scary's Best Story Book Ever

    "Momma, don't forget the always book," Luke said as we headed to his and Nina's room for quiet time the other day.

    "Which book is that, Luke?"

    "You know, the chapter book we always read now."  It took me a minute, but, then, I realized he meant Richard Scary's Best Story Book Ever, a heavy volume from my childhood, held together by tape, that my mom had recently passed onto the kids  after noting how Luke had usurped one of Nina's "attic shopping" gifts -- my old Puzzle Town set -- after Nina's family birthday party.  (For fun, Grammy had gifted Nina three of my old toys for her third birthday.)  Indeed, although somewhat of a "twaddle toy", Luke has shown such a great love for building and playing with Puzzle Town, that I have kept it out now for a couple weeks.  And,  Grammy, astute as ever, knew he'd love the Richard Scary book, and, so she sent it home with us about 10 days ago.

    She could not have been more right!  Since the book came into our home, it has not gone a day without being poured over by Luke, with Nina often at his side.  And, although it doesn't meet my usual children's books standards, being full of talking animals dressed as people, smoking images (including the one on the cover) and some rather silly stories, it will still be one we keep and read.  The sheer joy it brings the kids earns it a place in our home.  Nostalgia secures that place even further.  And, the fact that the book weaves learning themes and lots of nursery rhymes and themed word book type pages in between its twaddle stories does not hurt either.

    So, no, we didn't forget to read the "always book" the other day at quiet time, or at any quiet or bedtime since.  And, the book will live up to Luke's name for it -- remaining always on our shelves (or tucked away in a box at some pint) to pass onto anther generation, we hope, tape binding and all!

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    June Plans & Possibilities

    “There’s no time like the present,” the old adage goes.  And, since June is over half-way through now, I guess it’s high time that I should follow another old saying --  “better late than never” – in order to unwrap the gift of June’s potential to get the Plans & Possibilities focus I mentioned underway…

    Mind you, as I do this, that I have been without a computer for nearly two weeks now, so much of what I had hoped to research and brainstorm about was put on hold.  Now, with the month more than half way over, it seems a poor use of time to flesh the ideas out further.  Thus, here is a partial Plans & Possibilities brainstorm for June:

    Our Core Four:

    Faith Formation:

    •  Richard Scary’s Treasury (as bedtime “chapter book” since the kids are excited by the related Puzzle Town toy Mom uncovered in the attic)
    • Bob Books (to help Luke meet his 10 books for the Borders program)
    • Various books on bubbles, a current interest of the kids
    • Various gardening, spring, etc. picture books
    •  chalk on walkway and drive
    • Dot-to-Dot and Maze Themes; Copywork Ideas and Phrases; Etc.
    • Chalk Number Jumping
    • Cooties
    • Math Games; Math Concept Focus; Etc.
    Habit Training:
    • Character Focus: using kind hands
    • Habit Focus: potty
    • Habit Focus:  better bedtime routines
    Sensory Stuff:  
    • sensory sand box
    • bubbles
    • shaving cream
    •  Yellow irises are blooming in the garden.
    •  Stella Dora (sp?) are blooming mid-month.
    •  Day Lilies are growing tall and blooming mid-month.
    •  Strawberry picking season is beginning.
    •   Lots of spiders in the yard, especially along the laundry line.
    • Bunnies are coming by yard.
    •  Ants are trooping through the house.
    Food (and Power Foods Lab):
    •  Spring Greens (at market, possibly)
    •  Garlic Scapes (at market, possibly)
    •  Herbs (at market, possibly)
    •   Strawberries (picking season)
    •  Rhubarb
    •  Peas (towards the end)
    • New potatoes (at market, possibly)
    • Asparagus (at market, possibly)
    • Power Food Possibilities: Strawberries, Peas and Other Framer’s Market and Pick-Your-Own Fare
    •  Art Ideas; Music Ideas; Etc.
    Home & Garden:
    • Need to use sun screen and bug spray now, plus do tick checks!
    • Turn on outdoor water.
    • Buy and plant some seedlings to start a low-maintenance home vegetable garden.
    • Research and experiment with planting our gone-by winter-stored onions and potatoes ?
    • De-clutter and organize for baby.
    National, Local and Other Observances:
    •  Father’s Day
    • Flag Day
    •  National Dairy Month
    Family Life:
    • Baby almost here
    •  Father’s Day (late celebration when Mike gets back from AT)
    • Mikey’s Graduation?
    • Cousin John’s Service Send Off ?
    Field Trips & Outings:
    • Cirelli’s BBQ Bonanza and Friendly’s Customer Appreciation Day (6/5)
    •  Beach Outings
    • Strawberry Picking
    •  Hiking in State Park
    •  Library (on rainy days)
    •   Local Playgrounds
    •  Circus?
    Special Interests:  
    • Bubbles and TBD based on kids
    Now, as I mentioned, I know this outline is incomplete.  With the hurdles of the past few weeks (car troubles, computer issues, prenatal ligament problems, trying to find time to de-clutter with Mike away at AT, the kids outlasting me energy-wise, etc.) I know I have neglected to list some things on the brainstorm that I could have.  But, it’s a start. 

    That said, now with Baby even closer to making his arrival and our home still in disorder, I am rethinking my June goal.  I had hoped to get almost a full year’s worth of Plans & Possibilities brainstorms done.  But, now I am considering changing my focus and pushing off the rest of the Plans & Possibilities brainstorms until later in the year…  We shall see.

    Regardless of what I end up doing, I would love to hear about your monthly or sesonal learning and fun plans.  Please leave a comment.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Resource Round Up of Body Parts Cards

    Most early childhood and elementary school checklists and assessment guidelines state something to the effect of, “Child will be able to name, point to and use various body parts appropriately.” Unlike with many directives in official State standards documents, most parents and educators have no qualms about helping children to meet this one. Age appropriate activities and fun abound when doing so.

    One avenue for exploring this standard is through playing games using Body Parts cards. Of course, there are loads of traditional and less-traditional card games that can be played, such as the ones we shared about here and here. Then, there are more unique ways to use the cards – attaching tape to them and having children race to attach them to appropriate places on dolls or actual bodies; attaching them to the sides of large dice and playing “Move your ~” after rolling the dice, grabbing a bean bag or small stuffed toy and challenging children to balance them on whatever Body Parts card they draw from your hands… Ideas for using Body Parts cards are almost as numerous as resources for the cards themselves.
    And, it is with these resources in mind that I share the following round up of links to some of our favorite free Body Parts cards:
    • For those who like photographs and prefer Montessori-style three-part cards for learning and activities, check out the 22 different ones that Basia at United Teaching made.
    • For those who like realistic graphics and would like cards that could be used three-part card style, but are a small enough for children’s hands to handle easily for games such as Memory or Go Fish, check out the four sets at the bottom of the page on  We used some of these for our travel activity bags, which we wrote about here.
    • For those who would like a quick deck to keep in your pocket or purse for long card rides, waiting room time, etc., feel free to use the ones I made for one of our car trips. Just click on the graphic on this post. When you do, a large picture of the graphic, ready for printing and cutting, should pop up. (or, if you’d prefer a Publisher version of the file, simply leave a comment with email address and I will send you one!
    • For those who want to choose the size of their picture cards – large, medium or small – or would like power point flashcards. As well as for those who would like some ideas and plans for use, try the ones at MSL English Free Printables for Teachers.
    • For fun smaller ones that can be printed in black-white or color, Bingo style, follow the steps a DLTK’s Custom Bingo Cards.  The third click of the process (which is actually labeled “second step”) will allow you to choose body parts.
    • For a variety of small or larger body parts cards, with words or without, see the downloadable ones at ESL-Kids. These are great for early readers as they use the written style "a" not the type print style one  that is used throughout thisw post.
    • And for those who like giggle-inducing cartoon-like drawings, there are three sets of picture cards available at ESL Flashcards.
    Of course, with a topic as ubiquitous as “Body Parts”, wonderful resources – both free and otherwise – abound. We’d love links to those you enjoy as well as comments about how you explore body parts with your own children.  and, be on the look out at Sensational Homeschooling in the next few days for the Don’t Lose Your Head! Keep Body Parts Cards Handy this Summer post, which will offer simple, silly and sensory-smart ideas for using Body Parts cards to hone in on each of the senses.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Wearing SPD Lenses: New Uses for Your Old Fly Swatter

    Whether you are a home educator or a traditional one, here's a challenge that should not only make your lesson times more purposeful and fun, but should also get you looking at common objects and events in new ways.  What is it?

    Reach your hands out.  Grab a pair of imaginary glasses – ones that help you envision the world through all seven senses, not just your sense of sight – and put them on!  Got your new SPD lenses on?

    Now, look around.  See a fly swatter?  Look at it carefully.  Think...  "How can this help me help the SPD children in my life?"  Think sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, muscles, balance...  Anything coming to mind?

    If so, GREAT!  You're now looking at life through SPD lenses.  If not, no worries.  Click here to see my post over at OJTA Sensational Homeschooling where you'll find the old purpose of killing flies revamped through SPD lenses to include:
    • sound and sight fun, studying patterns, color mixing, free expression, etc.
    • a tactile tool for a fun sensory break time
    • a vestibular, visual tracking (and maybe olfactory stimulating) tool for exploring science or math 
    • a proprioceptive tool for exploring English Language Arts or really any subject with with short answer concepts

    Saturday, June 5, 2010

    Posting Break Due to Computer Virus

    Thank you to all who visit us here at Training Happy Hearts.  We have lots to share still, of course, but no way to do so regularly at the moment.  Our home computer has caught a virus and cannot even be turned on right now.  So, we won't be posting again until we get it fixed.  Sorry!  Please chekc back in a week or two.

    Until then, blessings to all!

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Resource Roundup of Animal Card Links

    “They are acting like animals!”  It’s a common comment when spending time with toddlers and even older children.  Well, sometimes, that is exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  At least here at Jammies School they are.  We so enjoy acting like animals during Music Time, Outdoor Time... Anytime!  Plus, we love animal card games of all kinds, sometimes at the playground (as described in my guest post over at Hartley’s Life with 3 Boys) and sometimes as we go card crazy inside (with adapted versions of card games described in this post and post).  Truly, we need no excuse to act like animals. But, sometimes, a few free resources are helpful.  So, today, I would like to share a Resource Roundup of Animal Card Links:

    For those who like real pictures of animals and want to use three-part cards for further studies, try the ones under “Animal Classification” at Montessori Materials.

    For those who want larger pictures (think visual needs), some categorized by animal types can be found here.

    For an entire Animal Classification Unit with beautiful photo cards at the end, this one is for you!

    If  you would like an entire alphabet of animal photo cards, check out Billy Bear 4 Kids.

    For those desiring cards with semi-realistic looking animal graphics in their habitats, the Animal Habitats cards on this site are cute

    For a wide variety of word and animal graphic matching cards that are simple black and white outlines that kids can color in, Kaboose offers some.

    For some very cartoonish animal cards of common animals, if that’s what your children like, try ESL Flashcards.

    And, of course, If you have some favorite animal card links that are not listed, let us know with a comment so we can check it out.  Plus, while you are at it, leave a comment to tell us how you enjoy acting like animals in your home!

     And, if you are as thankful for something as I am for finding great free resources like these and having some animal fun with them with my kiddos, link up with Thankful Thursday, this week at Grace Alone, where you can share your gratitude for all things - great and small!

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Plans & Possibilities Introduction

    My end-of-May focus was to get our home, and thus homeschool, in a better physical condition.  Although I have not met this goal completely, I have managed to make some visible strides and feel that our family has developed a few habits and routines that will help us continue to progress on our mission despite my growing belly and our crazy upcoming family schedule and commitments.  Thus, as I turned the calendar page yesterday, I decided to make a change in my homeschooling focus, too.  In June, since I am comfortable that we will continue to progress towards our Order in the Home(school) goal even if the focus towards it is nudged aside a bit by other things, I am declaring a new primary goal: Plans & Possibilities for Jammies School.

    Why this particular goal at this particular time?  Why push myself to outline ideas for next homeschool year at the very time many homeschoolers are wrapping up their studies, and, thus, their planning, taking a break before preparing for Fall.  Well, with Baby on the way, I know that if I do not plan now, I may never do so.  And, thus, when Luke’s official Kindergarten age comes round in December, I may find myself still meandering along the homeschooling path in a very casual, see-what-we-will-see, do-what-we-will-do way if I do not begin pre-planning now.

    Admittedly, there is nothing wrong with this indirect path.  In fact, we have been managing on it with fair success for a while now, and I know that a large number of people have been doing so for years on end.  Unschoolers, many of these folks call themselves.  And, and even without “schooling” they manage to train and teach their children extraordinarily well.

    I admire these folks and see how the philosophy of Unschooling might fit our home circumstances and our kids’ personalities at times.  Yet, I also face a couple facts that make me realize the Unschooling approach may not the best long-term one for our family.  One of our children (if not both) lives best with regular rhythms and routines.  Unschooling (at least with me at the helm) doesn’t always mesh with these.  And, one parent (That would be me!) is a born Type A – maybe even OCD type, if you ask some friends and family – underneath the clutter of life.  Hence, a more structured approach appears to be in order...

    Undeniably, with me as the main Jammies School guide, it only makes sense that our homeschooling journey follows routes I am most comfortable with.  I am a planner. I thrive on checking off lists, researching ideas, brainstorming creative plans.  So, I readily admit that even though I have been managing with an Unschooling-by-default homeschool endeavor for a while now, the philosophy is not the best match for this Mama Educator’s personality.  In truth, I “need” a detailed plan in mind, if not on paper, even if I veer from it dramatically.  With this in mind, my June focus commences.

    My intention is create a year’s worth of Plans & Possibilities as this month goes on (or at least as many moth’s worth as circumstances and focus allow.)  I will do this as both a way for me to synthesize my own thoughts with the wonderful ideas I have gleaned from others through books, blogs, etc and  as a way for me to offer ideas back to folks who might benefit from them.  As such, over the next month, I hope to crank out (and post!) brainstormed lists of Plans & Possibilities for each month of the year based on the categories that follow.  Mind you, these lists will definitely be “brainstorms”, not “to-do” ones.  Consequently, they will definitely be works in progress. 

    I am sure to add, cut and adapt Plans & Possibilities ideas as we actually move throughout the year.  I am just as likely to only delve into exploring a few of the listed possibilities with the kids as I am to follow some rabbit trails to things unlisted as the months ahead unfold.  That being said, it is my hope that Plans & Possibilities will still serve as a “paper brain” and inspiration for a successful year of Jammies School, helping to map our journey with both structure and flexibility – especially when upcoming sleepless nights of baby-growth-spurt nursing or “I need Mama, too” older-children-needs pop up..  Perhaps, Plans & Possibilities will help others, too.  For ideas shared often grow exponentially in unexpected and delightful ways! 

    So, with no further explanation or ado, let me share the framework I intend to use when brainstorming each list.  Your comments, suggestions, ideas, links and related thoughts on tweaking it or fleshing it out are most welcome!

    Our Core Four:
    -          Faith Formation: Liturgical Season; Liturgical Monthly Focus; Feast Days and Memorials of Note; Bible Story Focus; Catechism Focus; Scripture Focus; CSG Focus; Etc.
    -          Reading: Read Alouds; Seasonal Book Baskets, Boxes and Bins; Alphabet Focus; Phonics and Reading Focus: Literacy Goals; Poems and Nursery Rhymes; Etc.
    -          Writing: Dot-to-Dot and Maze Themes; Copywork Ideas and Phrases; Etc.
    -          Arithmetic: Math Games; Math Concept Focus; Etc.
    -          Habit Training: Character Focus; Habit Focus; Etc.
    -          Sensory Stuff: Seasonal Ideas and Activities
    -          Nature: Moon; Weather; Animals; Plants; Etc.
    -          Food (and Power Foods Lab): Foods in Season; Power Food Possibilities; Special Day Recipes: Etc.
    -          Enrichment: Art Ideas; Music Ideas; Etc.
    -          Home & Garden: Practical Training about Seasonal Maintainance, Home Cleaning and Organization, Household Habits, Home Improvement Projects, Etc.
    -          National, Local and Other Observances: Federal Holidays; Cultural Holidays; Random Days of Honors; Local Events; Etc. that we might explore
    -          Family Life: Birthdays; Special Events; Etc. that we can explore, prepare for, celebrate and focus learning activities around
    -          Field Trips & Outings: Free and Low Cost Places to Go; Seasonal Parks; Etc.
    -          Special Interests: TBD based on kids

    As I move forward fleshing out this framework for each month, one place I know I am sure to borrow many ideas from is By Sun and Candlelight’s Themes and Plans posts.  Although I have never met nor had personal contact with their author Dawn, I find that she is a Godsend to me.  Often, as I Google for ideas and thoughts, I am led to her blog, which is soooo rich in relevant information that, at times, it seems written just for me.  So, thank you, Dawn, for all you do and share that makes my homeschooling (and faith) journey (and that of others) that much richer.  And, others, if you have links to other inspirational writing of your own or others, please share!

    Now, onto June planning...


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