Saturday, December 24, 2011

My children know that this:
 is because of this:

The also know that tomorrow is a day to begin celebrating Jesus' birth.  

Reaching our own children through their natural connection with the Baby Jesus is such  a beautiful thing.  

Remembering that more is often caught than taught is important, too.

Thus, I will be taking a blogging break for the next few days (or weeks) in order to focus more fully on faith and family.  Before this break begins, however, I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a most blessed Christmas season.  

May you see Jesus in every young child in your life.  May you let the Lord help you be His hands, mouth and heart to fellow children of God that you encounter.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Honoring the Saints: Celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe through the Senses as a Way of Training Happy Hearts

As I reflect on the past week, I am grateful for the opportunity that Saints Days provide for engaging children in physical and spiritual exploration of faith.

Earlier in this A Call to Faith Formation for Young Children series, I suggested Creating a Sacred (but Touchable) Space and Making Story Baskets in conjunction with Saints Days.  Today, I would like to share how we honor the saints through all of our senses sometimes.
Like many Catholic families, our family celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day this past Monday.  In doing so, we keyed into many of our senses.

Luke "Juan Diego" gets in some heavy work on his way to see the bishop.

A Feast for the Senses with a Saints “Tea” Breakfast

We began the day with a simple GFCF breakfast “tea”, replete with sensory input. 

Ready to Awaken Mouth and Nose
 Mexican hot cocoa, made with cocoa, agave, water, salt, cinnamon and almond milk, added a sweet and spicy aroma to our morning.  Our Lady’s “Roses” provided a chance for the children to use their pincer grasps while popping firm, juicy raspberries onto their tongues.  Mexican Wedding Cookies looked a bit off since my adaptation of a gluten-full recipe did not result in delightfully round delicacies, but the children did not mind at all.  They simply enjoyed the sugar-sprinkled crunch of the treats.

Note to self on the menu, though: Expand it for next year’s tea.  The simple fare I prepared for our Lady of Guadalupe breakfast went quickly, and though it provided some wonderful olfactory, tactile and gustatory input, it did not fill the children’s bellies.  They seemed to have woken up in ravenous moods.  So, we supplemented our themed-tea with leftover turkey, some nuts and a few rice cakes.

As the children satiated their physical hunger, we tended to our thirst for spiritual growth (and some added visual input) with a reading of Tomie de Paola’s The Lady of Guadalupe, followed by some prayer and discussion.

Then, the children enjoyed more fine motor work while coloring pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego with thanks to Waltzing Matilda, Coloring Saints and Domestic Church.

Intent on Fine Motor Fun
Getting in Some Saintly Heavy Work with an Obstacle Course

After breakfast, the children helped me set up an Our Lady of Guadalupe-based obstacle course.  It included:

Jaun Diego’s hut
(an infant gym toy with a blanket over it 
to encourage getting in a low-level prone-extension position
with tactile input, too)

 mountains and hills
(cushions and pillows to encourage balance and gross motor muscle work)

Our Lady atop the mountain
(Nina’s coloring taped to the wall, 
which offered opportunities for both control of movement – 
through providing a place for the children to stop traversing the hills – 
and visual focus and imagination – when they stopped to talk with Our Lady)

 and the bishop’s room 
(a blanket rigged up between door knobs and a mini-desk, 
which required the children to get down on a low level again to crawl under)

Just building this course offered opportunities for the children to engage in bending, lifting and carrying – all great vestibular and proprioceptive input.  Then, making our way through the course multiple times as we acted out the story of The Lady of Guadalupe provided the mornings full dose of heavy work.

"Juan Diego" picks winter roses...

and presents them to the "bishop"...
who is amazed by the image discovered on Juan Diego's tilma.

Fine Motor Fun with a Self-Designed Saint Story Play Set

Once our gross motor dramatic play was done, my two older children came up with their own fine motor activity.  The only help they asked me for was twist them some chenille strip people and to help them tape wings onto some.  These, they used to design their own Saints Day Story Set.

 They shaped a representation out of tinfoil of a church, 
complete with a cross on it, 
built to honor Our Lady's requests.  

 Near the church, they competed their playset.

The set included:

  • a hut made a tinfoil for Jaun Diego to live in next to the church.
  • a vision of Our Lady, cut out of one of the coloring pages they had completed at breakfast
  • figurines of Juan Diego, his family and his friends, represented by the chenille strip people they asked me to make, which they clothed tin foil bits
  • angels, made using the chenille people and tinfoil with wings fashioned from cut paper p
  • fish and food to feed all of the people flocking to the church, represented by rolled up bits of tin foil.
With fingers fast at work, my children developed their play set.  With imaginations ignited, they dramatized their own version of what may have happened after the bishop witnessed the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Best of all, they cooperated while they did so.

Continuing On

Throughout the day, whenever it seemed “natural” to do so, we revisited the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady through further reading, conversation and play.  We noted some of Juan’s character traits (faith-filled, caring, loving, dedicated, persistent, obedience…) and tried to model our own real-life and pretend-play behaviors after these.  We also enjoyed Mexican-inspired snack and dinner menus.  Plus, of course, we offered extra prayers to Our Lady from wake up time to bedtime.

 How did you observe the feast day?  Do you add sensory-based activities into your liturgical year celebrations?    Do you have any other ideas to share about training young children up with happy hearts for God? I’d love to hear them in a comment, or to have you link your own posts up below.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Can You Help: Your Chance to Pay It Forward

I know that I closed yesterday's post by saying that I would not be online much for the next couple weeks in order to attend to what I feel I am called to during this season.  But, this morning, something I read called me to share.

While my children are happily playing together in our safe home after a decent night's sleep, a bloggie-friend of mine is facing another day of just getting by, minute-to-minute.  Knowing this tugs at my heart, prompting me to offer what I can.

That's why I am borrowing some time from my kids to jump online.  For not only can I extend some concrete aid, but I can also offer my time through this post.  I ask you offer yours back by reading on and responding however you feel called to do so.
Your Chance to Pay It Forward to a Family in Need

Can you spare a prayer this Christmas season? How about an ornament?  Or a few dollars?  A gift card?  A small gift?  A postcard? A dog biscuit?

Here's your chance to pay it forward!

Regular readers may recognize the name Danette as the generous woman who offers her time and talent over at Help! S-O-S for Parents, the site that sponsored the Pajaggle review our family recently enjoyed putting together and the one with the B-O-B events each month in which we participate.  And, even if you don't recognize the name, you can likely recognize a mom in need.

It has come to my attention that Danette is one of those moms right now.  I had been wondering why she has not been posting at S-O-S lately and had even sent a brief email to inquire.  Then, yesterday my friend Tiffani let me know the bare bones of what is going on with Danette.  Today, she has published a piece at OJTA about it.  The call for help begins:

"Sometimes life has a way of punching you in the gut and knocking the wind right out of you. You think you have lived through some challenging issues until, bam, out of the blue, one of your worst parental nightmares sends you breathlessly into a tail spin. All you can do is live one hour at a time, one minute at a time as you wipe the continuous stream of tears and attempt with little bit of emotional energy you have left to wade through the process to get back to a new sense of normal.

Danette Schott
, publisher of S-O-S Research is living in that very tail spin and has been since two days after Thanksgiving when life gave her a serious punch in the gut. She has been in the midst of a family crisis leaving her living minute by minute, attempting to navigate unchartered waters, trying desperately to achieve a new sense of normal for her family...."
Read on for details about how you can help.

I would to see a HUGE response to Tiffani's call.  

Act with Speed and Sensitivity

As a blogger, a parent, a mother of a child with special needs or all of these, I am sure you can relate as well as I can to Danette's desire to make it through difficult times with dignity, as well as a look of delight in her children's eyes this holiday season.  We can help make that happen.  

We can respond quickly to Tiffani's call to help Danette through commenting with encouraging words at Tiffani's post, sending prayers or sending concrete messages, gift cards or monetary donations to:

S-O-S Research
PO Box 5172
San Jose, CA 95150

We can also extend an invitation to friends and family to do so.  In other words, we can let the call for help go viral, but do so quietly.  We can share Tiffani's post through word-of-mouth and our own social media outlets with a caveat to consider Danette's need for support as well as sensitivity.

Whether with this situation or with another you are familiar with, I encourage you to be a bearer of J.O.Y this season, that is Just Offering Yourself, however you can as you can.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Parables of Jesus (The Parable of the Good Shepherd): A Lesson for a Sensorimotor Preschool Experience Inspired by Godly Play

I have been so busy with home, work, appointments and children lately that blogging has had to take a back seat.  However, the other day after returning from a Spring Co-op planning meeting, I realized I have yet to share many of the plans I created for the fall Co-op class I led.  One of the lessons is quite seasonal in the sense that with all the great picture books that have lambs in them at this time of year, there are many tie-ins that can be made to it.  So, I have dug through my files and am following up our Parable of the Sower post by sharing my lesson plans for the Parable of the Good Shepherd: A Lesson for a Sensorimotor Preschool Experience Inspired by Godly Play today.  It is a lesson that offers songs, games, sensory experiences, art and Montessori-friendly Godly Play-inspired work in it.  (You will find the link for the lesson plans at the end of this post.)

Protecting the Sheep from Harm

Although I have no photos of it, I had particular fun planning this lesson, since my husband was home when I did so and we played many of the games included in it as a family outdoors.

Drinking the Clean Water (with the Shepherd Literally at Hand)

Looking back, I can also say that of all the Sensorimotor Parable of Jesus lessons I led this past fall, this one ended up being my favorite.  The children really seemed to "get it".  They not only shared about their understanding of the parable, but they also loved the games! Keying into their need to move that day, I adapted the plan, pulling some of the games to the first half of the class and reprising them in the latter.  It worked splendidly!  The children appreciated having creative, on-your-feet games bracketing the more cerebral and stationary Godly play portion.  This style may not be in keeping with the true Godly Play format, but it worked for us:  Giggles, movement, prayer and learning.  I loved it!

Unafraid to Lay Self Down for Sheep

At home, my own children particularly enjoyed the Parable Box I whipped together for this lesson from supplies we had on hand.  It was a joy to watch them use it.  They completely immersed themselves in retelling the parable, discussing it with each other and dramatizing how the Lord watches over us all.  It was also this parable that inspired a story my son wrote, which I described in A Learning Story:  A Boy, The Good Shepherd and A Story.

Cleaning Up, but Will Play Again

I hope you enjoy the photos of my children working with the Godly Play-inspired portion of this lesson in this post.  You can find a PDF of the full Parable of the Good Shepherd lesson, including all the sensory-based games, art activities and songs here.  Please feel free to borrow any and all ideas from it for your own home or classroom use.  I know we will  again!

Undoubtedly, I will be revisiting all or part of our Good Shepherd lesson here at home throughout the year, especially during this season and the Easter season.  It is also likely I will take elements of it when planning future co-op lessons as well.

What is unlikely is that I will be posting much more here regularly from now through the beginning of the New Year.  For while there are many things I would like to share, this season of holidays and an increased work-outside-the-home schedule for me requires that I back of blogging some in order to honor time spent attending to my main calling:  my family.  When I can can back online more often again, I hope post more lesson plans like this as well as my usual reflections, sensory activities, homeschool updates, etc. 

May the Good Shepherd lead you where He wants you to be this season, too!

Should you have a favorite parable or Bible story you'd like sensory ideas for, please leave a comment saying so.  I will try to put something together.  Also, should you have other ideas or links for the Good Shepherd, do share.  I appreciate the inspiration of others' work.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Be Present!

Sometimes, as we seek to train our children up in their faith, the best thing we can do for them is to simply be present – to cuddle and comfort them when they don't feel well, to attend to their needs, both body and spirit.

This is exactly how I spent the final hours of my evening last night.

My son has caught the cold that many of the rest of our family and I have been suffering with.  For him, it has caused a persistent cough.  This made getting to sleep – which is always a challenge for him – particularly difficult.  So, I laid holding my six-year-old son, alternately stroking his hair, patting his back and simply being present.

As I lay there, my son's mind wandered as it usually does at bedtime, unable to "shut off".  As he chattered away between coughs about his thoughts, he asked, "If I love God and he loves me, why do I still get sick or hurt?"  In response, I asked him if he recalled the beginning of the story we'd continued reading just before bed, One Wintry Night, or the beginning of one of the stories we've been reading in the mornings lately, The Jesse Tree.  He did:  the story of Adam and Eve.

Hence, began a brief, but fruitful conversation between my son and me, one that answered his question, reminded him of the true meaning of Christmas and also gave him comfort, both in body (as I lay holding his hand while we talked) and spirit (as he remembered that there is a day coming when all sickness and hurt will be gone.)

Eventually, my son fell asleep, but not before he piped up with a question I have yet to figure out how to answer completely in terms he will understand and accept:  "Will we go to Heaven body and soul?"  For now, I just responded, "as Mary did?" and gave him a squeeze.

Choosing to be present with my son last night, and to parent him to sleep, offered an opportunity for my son to ask me something he'd been thinking about, which, in turn, allowed us to dive into his understanding of faith further.  Have you found that taking time with your young children opens up moments of faith formation, too?  

Thanks to folks who linked up here at A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children last week.  Tercets Plaque for Our Lady of Guadalupe post might be particularly inspirational for folks seeking to honor Our Lady tomorrow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Business, Busyness and Blessings: A Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…

was busyness and business, very little sleep and a bounty of blessings, especially those that involved continuing to pause to enjoy quality time with our three kiddoes!

The school week started with a near all-nighter due to Jack’s croup. It has taken me the rest of the week to get myself back on track as far as adequate rest goes. In fact, I am not sure I am there yet.

Since Mike and I rarely are able to converse without little ears around, we took advantage of time do so last night after I got home from work and we discovered, to our surprise, that we had both outlasted Luke. (Many nights, one or both of us fall asleep while trying to ensure Luke gets his winks.) So, Mike and I stayed up for a while talking and, today, I find myself almost as tired as I was on Monday.

Looking back at the week, I cannot blame just croup and conversation for my grogginess though. Business and busyness have a lot to do with it: I have started my “spring” tutoring contracts with Club Z in addition to my regular Drama Kids teaching, so I am out three nights a week working. Then, this week, we spent one of our "free" nights at Edaville.

Days were filled with usual, including appointments for OT, Feeding Specialist and Early intervention.  Plus, we celebrated Luke’s birthday, starting with an early birthday breakfast, since it was the only time yesterday when our whole family would be together . No wonder I am still tired!

But tired or not, I know one thing is certain:  I am blessed!  As my son peers out the window right now eagerly announcing to me that a woodpecker and another little bird are at our bird feeders, I reflect on the joy of feeding and being fed.  I think about how well each of us are fed what we need daily, sometimes directly through the Spirit and sometimes through God's work as done by the hearts, hands and words of others.  

In our homeschool …

we continue our relatively relaxed, Alphabet of Advent approach. Our book basket is overflowing with books, which we enjoy snuggling together to read.  There have been active times using Advent Word Wall and focused times doing sensory activities and free choice ones.  For Luke and Nina self-directed activities usually includes some combination of cutting, taping, stapling, drawing and “writing”.

I am just as happy many days to let my children use "school time" to dream up and pursue self-designed projects as I am to guide them in more traditional formal lessons. I feel there is merit in offering time for creativity and independent pursuits. Plus, the vigor with which my children pursue their projects at four and six entails plenty of fine motor work, practical life skills, math concepts and the like.

Just to be sure that my subjective assessment of how my children are progressing with what we are doing in homeschool is spot on, I used a local public grade school’s report card this week as an objective guide to do a check-in assessment of Luke for Kindergarten. I am happy to report that he is on track with his traditionally-schooled peers, with of course, a few areas that he needs improvement in and some others he excels at.

Helpful Homeschooling Tips to Share

Take time to reflect.

One thing I constantly crave as a homeschool mother is the dedicated planning time I had as a traditional school teacher. Now, from early morning through my children’s bedtime, a daily interlude for me to plan, reflect, do paperwork, etc. is sorely lacking. There is no “planning period”.

Likewise, “Mom time” that many other mothers manage also eludes me. I have only one napper. My other two are not only very “busy” children who don’t do well with an established quiet time, but are also children who need to be parented to sleep instead of put to sleep. And, as I already mentioned, this parent sometimes falls asleep when doing that. So, truly personal time is gift I rarely enjoy.

Instead of wishing for a gift that is not mine, however, I have decided to simply accept what is mine is enough. I may not have an established rhythm of me-time, but I do now relish almost daily moments to breathe and reflect. Instead of rushing to the next to-do when I find my children engaged enough in something that they do not need my full attention, I have been making a habit of mulling over things I am too tired to at night once they are asleep. The balance that is slowly being recalibrated because of it is a good thing!

I am inspired by…

Deb Chitwood and John Bowman’s desire to share Montessori-inspired suggestions and activities that anyone can use at home or school. I love Deb’s blog and John’s book and so, earlier this year when they sent out a request for folks respond to some questions for a new e-book they teaming up to write, I did so. Now, I am honored to have some of my thoughts and activity ideas included in their book and excited to dive into all those listed by other folks. Yes, the book is complete. Just click here to learn more about this free resource!

Places We’ve Been Going and People We’ve Been Seeing

We’ve had a busy week of outings.

Last Saturday found us making train cabooses at another Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinic, before heading down to a fun, free holiday event at the Pine Hills, where we met some friends and...

chatted with Santa...

decorated cookies...

made ornaments...

toured some gingerbread houses...

met seasonal characters...

enjoyed hot cider...

fed animals at the petting zoo and watched the rein-dog parade...

Then, on Monday night, we enjoyed Edaville with thanks to Grampy and Grammy.  We might have put off our Edaville visit since Jack had been up the night prior with croup, but we had the non-refundable tickets already purchased and everyone seemed to be feeling okay at departure time. So, we went. No regrets! The sparkle in all the children’s eyes was priceless, and – bonus – all the cool, fresh, night air seemed to do the trick for Jack. We didn’t face a typical second night of croup attacks.

Some of our Edaville fun included:

Jack's joy at his first carnival-like ride...

the kids peering in at the same displays I did as a child...

Daddy taking the kids on lots of round-and-round rides...

Nina excited to be tall enough to ride the ferris wheel...

Jack taking his first ride on the same merry-go-round that his mummy, aunts, uncles and cousins have enjoyed for decades...

riding the "little train"...

and the big one...

with the kids pressed against the window to see the light displays...

and so excited to get a bell from Santa's sleigh on the Polar Express...

and decompressing from all the delight (or perhaps getting even more wound up?) in an enormous ball pit.

Our final outing of the week was closer to home – a walk in our neighborhood to collect pine cones to make bird feeders with. We were supposed to head down to the “big slide” at the WWI Memorial Park for Luke’s birthday, by his request, but since it had rained all day Wednesday, I thought the ground at the park might be just a bit too mucky for me to cope with. I did not relish the thought of muddy clothes, shoes and car seats to contend with just prior to going to Mass and work in the late afternoon, so I kept Luke immersed in all things bird feeding and housing for much of the day yesterday (based on his requested birthday gifts – bird seed, a bird house and a bird feeder) and promised to fulfill his requested birthday wish (going to the big slide) on another day when the ground is drier or Daddy is home to help. Proof that Luke is growing up? He agreed with my adjusted plan.

What’s working for me…

is staying focused on the big picture.

Midweek, I began to get down on myself about what I am NOT able to do (or choosing to do?) well. Then, I realized that everything I was thinking about was “little stuff”. Details of daily life. When I look at the big picture of my call and the adults I am raising my children to become, things look pretty good.

Thoughts I have…

with the big picture in mind, I have been trying to ask myself at different moments during the day:

  • What can I do right now to make this moment the best it can be?
  • Is what I am doing at this moment in line with what I value?
  • How about with the future I seek for my family and myself?
It really is an easy check and way to reframe my brain when I need to.

Things I’ve been Working On

With all the busyness, business and sleepiness this week, I have not made much progress on my own pursuits. But, wow, our front tree is a bevy of bird-friendliness. 

The kids have long been designing simple bird houses out of recyclables to hang on the tree. Then, after our birthday breakfast for Luke yesterday morning, they spent much of the day on bird-stuff:

They refilled our bird feeder with Luke’s birthday birdseed

painted the birds a decoration

and painted and hung a birdhouse.

I hope our feathered-friends flock to their handiwork with as much enthusiasm as the kids put into it

I’ve been reading…

many books from our Alphabet of Advent Plans with the kids and warmed by each time I do. Whether I am pre-reading the books on my own or reading them aloud to my children, I am consistently moved by the power of picture books. Emotions elicited, thoughts inspired, learning loved. It’s all there in time spent with these books.

I’m cooking…

recipes from a pre-release copy Kim Wilson’s new Good and Easy Eats e-cookbook, which I reviewed and am offering a giveaway of. It goes on sale tomorrow. Check it out!


I’m grateful for…

restoration born from choosing to cuddle with my kids.

The other day, I was feeling overtired, less than productive and therefore, stuck and wallowing. So, once I got Jack to sleep for nap, I caved to screen time for Luke and Nina. As they hopped up on my bed to watch thMax Lucado videos we have borrowed from the library, I realized that using the time that they were watching the videos to try to rest, write or do tasks was not a good choice. A gift I am given daily is time to love my children. So, I cuddled up with Luke and Nina – one child in each arm as the videos elicited their laughter and comments and my smiles and sappy, quiet tears. I am so grateful for time to cuddle with my kids and so glad God made each of us the way He has!

I am praying...

among other things, 

  • for sound judgement in balancing business and busyness as I embrace life's blessings.
  • with thanksgiving for the past six years of motherhood and the opportunity to grow as my children to.
  • that each of us may better discern and take up our callings.
  • that the light of love may shine brightly for all this season and that much like the lamb inThe Crippled Lamb, we each will realize we are made as we should be made and in the places we should be if only we will let God use as as He has planned.  (Oh, His will not ours, can be so challenging, huh?  But it is so awesome when we acquiesce.)

A Photo to Share

This may not look like much of a photo, but it encapsulates some of what I love about our newly-six-year-old Luke:  his different perspective, his attention to detail, his desire to figure out how things work, his will to share   wonder...  

As others peered out train windows at light displays when we were riding the train at Edaville this past week, Luke glanced down at the floor and noticed that he could see something beneath it.  He dove down to inspect and discovered that the floor slats were put together in such a way that tracks could be spied through them.  So, he called his sister down to the floor to share his discovery.  There the two lay peeking between the slats.  Noticing what others fail to see and seeking to understand things.  Luke has so much to teach me.

The Homeschool Mother's Journal
Pop on over to The Homeschool Mother's Journal to find many (briefer) journal entries from hoemschoolers.


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