Sunday, January 30, 2011

Look Who Is 7 Months Old...

Guess who is seven months old today?

That’s right!  Our sweet Jack.

And he is simply full of growth, change and giggles.

Physically, like any baby does, Jack is growing and growing and growing....  His Mama-Milk pudge is still very much with him, and he is only getting fuller as he enjoys new tastes and treats.  Jack began eating “solids” at the start of the year and we have yet to discover one he doesn’t like.  Granted, we go quite slowly with introducing foods; so far Jack has only tasted sweet potatoes, oatmeal, carrots, bananas and avocados.  And, with just this limited diet, we have discovered that Jack is definitely is his mama’s boy:  He loves his carbs! 

Oh, how Jack opens his mouth wide and moves forward to devour oatmeal off his spoon with so much more vigor than he does mere fruits and veggies, which he happily consumes– just not with the gusto that he does his oatmeal.  No matter what is on the spoon, though, it is so much fun to feed Jack.  There is almost no spitting and lots of satisfied smiles (unlike feeding Nina and Luke who both spit more often as babies and now, after happy babyhood consumption of fruits and vegetables, balk at most produce put in front of them.) Please, may Jack’s non-fussy eating habits continue always…

And may we always see Jack’s now-toothed grin.  Yep, he’s got a tooth in there…  The little sharpie surprised us since it came up with so little drama.  (As babies, both Nina and Luke had had nights where they woke up with piercing screams of seemingly inexplicable origin that Mike and I only, later, discovered, were from their teeth cutting through.)  With Jack, a small cold and a lot of extra night nursing were the only precursors to the first-tooth milestone.  Indeed, Jack broke his first tooth the way he does many things – in a quiet, tender way.

Speaking of milestones, Jack has yet to creep and crawl, but he has taken to spinning and reaching to get things.  In fact, as I type this, he has spun himself around and is intent on getting a small rugby ball that Luke and Nina left out.  When he does things like this, it is so much fun to watch his concentration as he sets his eyes on something and goes for it whole-heartedly.  When I take the time to observe Jack at his “work”, I marvel at how people are born to concentrate, to learn through exploration, to reach out…  When do we un-learn such instincts and why?  What is it that fractures our concentration, stunts our desire to explore and makes us fearful of reaching out?  I’m not completely sure, but I pray I can figure it out before whatever it is affects Jack. 

Truly, as I reflect on the past seven months and this delight-filled bundle in front of me now, I am simply grateful for our “surprise” third child.  I may not be able to give Jack the 100% focus I gave Luke at his age, nor share with him the mother-daughter bond that Nina and I have come to know, but I can treasure our snippets of one-to-one moments and affirm that Jack continues to be an incredible gift for our family. 

Luke loves that “we can give Jack lots of hugs and kisses.”  Nina cannot wake or go to sleep without spending a special moment with him.  Daddy adores holding him.  And me? I am rediscovering the value of concentration, exploration and reaching out again myself as I savor the pleasure of observing Jack.

Large, curious eyes.  Contentment.  Giggles.  Occasional babble. We delight in them.  And we are blessed by the fact that Jack is one of those babies that rarely cries or fusses unless he truly has a need – and even then he seems to demonstrate an unusual (for a baby) sense of patience and tolerance.   

Tonight, as I look at Jack with wonder and thanksgiving, I also say a prayer on his seventh month birthday:  Son, may you always know the inner calm and outward peace you shine with.  May the grace of contentment always teach those around you that innate joy is a gift to be savored and shared.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Rich Review: Baby Sing & Sign

I just found the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and am so excited since it will help me focus on one of my personal goals for the year:  Simplicity!  You see, I have a horrible habit of reading multiple books at one time, putting my brain in overload and causing my library renewal pile to reach precarious heights.  In fact, I am so inspired by the idea of reading one book a week every week for 52 weeks, I am considering doing what my husband always wishes I would do: returning all but one of my library loan books and only taking the others out again when I finish the one I keep.  But, before I do, I want to catch up on the challenge by being sure to read and review four books.  So, I will double up on the reviews for this week:
Making up for week one’s review: a Rich Review of Anne Meeker Miller, PhD’s, Baby Sing and Sign.(To see my criteria for Rich Reviews, please see this post.)
Baby Sing and Sign r: Communicate Early with Your Baby: Learning Signs the Fun Way Through Music and Play
* * * * *
 Baby Sing and Sign is very readable.  Fairly wide margins, concise, yet complete how-to’s and busy-Momma-friendly formatting made it as easy for me to buzz through as to go back to as a ready reference.  Song lyrics both in simple text format as well as with the musical notes, clearly black and white photos and captions of signs, bulleted tip lists and well-formatted “Games to Play”, among other things work to make the book accessible for first-time readers and for busy moms wanting to review specific songs, signs, activities and tips.  And – bonus – it comes with a 13 song music CD!  Thus it gets a definite star for readability.
I have already used portions of Baby sing and Sign with my kids, consulting it for some lyrics and signs during our living room music and movement times.  I also plan to consult it for activities to be woven into a “class” that is being planned to keep 0-3 year old siblings of older co-op participants happily enjoying developmentally appropriate activities during a spring homeschooling co-op session.  So, relevant?  You bet!  Whether for home use of for co-op or daycare provider use, if you have young ones in your life, Baby Sing and Sign definitely has some can-do-now-or-soon activities in it.  Another star for relevance!
Likewise, Baby Sing and Sign is very practical.  The book does not simply provide a random menu of signs that you can use with babies.  Instead, it weaves 44 signs, which have been specifically selected to help children express their wants and needs as well as to communicate about common things in their environments, into developmentally appropriate games, songs, activities and literacy connections.  In doing so, the book offers:
  • Songs lyrics with specific suggestions for incorporating signs, movement and play while you sing.
  • Tips for teaching the songs and signs
  • Additional activities to adapt and extend the music and signs presented while continuing to engage children
  • Clear instructions for making toys and laying games with inexpensive and on=hand materials
  • Lists of age-appropriate books to read that fit the musical themes and signing vocabulary presented in the book
  • Brief stories about child development and parenting related to the singing and signing with children.
 Sing and Sign  also has some FAQ’s, a photo dictionary of signs used throughout the book and a glossary.  Another star – this one for practicality!

For longevity, I was tempted to give this book a mere ½ star, because, in all honesty, unless I keep having babies or begin teaching wee ones regularly in a few years, we will outgrow this book in about two years.  But, since my now five year old likes the CD that comes with it, I think the CD alone will still be used in our home for another five years – until our baby is kindergarten-aged.  And, besides, a book like this makes a great pass-along to a family with young children, a daycare provider or a library once you’ve gotten what you can from it.  So, I am giving it a full star for longevity.
And value?  Another starA useful book and song CD* for under $18.  That’s definitely a fair price and one we will consider paying next time Jack receives some gift cards!  I can definitely see using this book and CD enough to warrant multiple lending periods from the library until we take it out.
*I admittedly had to let the voices and songs from the CD grow on me, but they have.  The kids liked them right away.
The Snowy DayLearn to Move, Move to Learn: Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity ThemesAnd for week two’s review:  Another book I have reread this year is Learn to Move, Move to Learn! Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes by Jenny Clark Brack. I simply love this book, which I reviewed previously here, and just adapted a lesson from it to have a wonderful snow-themed sensorimotor morning to go along with our children’s book of the week last week, The Snowy Day.
We’ll be back next week with two more reviews and, then, I think will be caught up and on our way to 52 Books in 52 Weeks, one book at a time!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Our Sensory-Friendly Five in a Row for The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

A Little Library Inspiration
Five in a Row (Five in a Row): Volume 1
 Ages ago, I borrowed Five in a Row (FIAR) from the library after a curriculum recommendation from a friend.  I loved FIAR's concept, but I just couldn’t see purchasing a copy on our tight budget.  I figured between my experience and the Internet I could very easily “row” books on my own, honing in on my kids’ personal developmental needs, while occasionally borrowing FIAR again when I needed inspiration.  Since that time, I have discovered that FIAR is such a popular book that it is nearly impossible to reserve from our library system on a regular basis.  But, that hasn’t stopped us from rowing in our own way.

How do we row?  Merrily, merrily, merrily through the week, when I remember to, and catching the currents of life – sometimes veering off course or in one direction or another – when I don’t. Even in the snow... 
The Snowy Day
The Snowy Day
 This past week was a merrily-in-the-snow week.  Each day, we ready Ezra Jack Keats The Snowy Day, a charming little tale we had on hand in board book form that seemed very appropriate considering the world outside our window: snow-covered and cold!

For those unfamiliar with this classic, it is the story of a boy who wakes to discover snow has fallen during the night and, then, bundles up to go enjoy the magic of a snowy day – experimenting with foot prints, knocking snow from trees, creating snow angels and trying to save a snow ball for another day, among other things.  It was 1963 Caldecott Medal winner and has simple, but beautiful illustrations made from cut-outs, watercolors, and collage

So, what are some of the things we did as we rowed along on snowy days?

Sensory Movement Monday

After reading The Snowy Day, I facilitated an adapted version of Jenny Clark Bracks’s wonderful Learn to Move, Move to Learn!: Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes (book reviewed here) Winter Snow lesson. (Sensorimotor snow lesson details here.) Since then, the kids have been enjoying their own inside-snow events, such as crib mattress sledding and building their own creative indoor "snowman" constructions!

Storytime Tuesday
Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy: Snowflake Edition  
Tuesday brought a full The Snowy Day-inspired storyhour (full details, with fingerplays and song lyrics included, here), complete with craft and snack, to our home.  The keeper from that?  Among other things, Stranger in the Woods.  Luke has requested it as our book of the week for “not next week, Mommy, because its groundhog Day, but the week after”.  (So, if you have favorite groundhog books or Stranger in the Woods activities, suggest away!)

Snow-Time Wednesday
 Wednesday, since the most recent mini-blizzard began, we did not do indoor activities connected with our reading The Snowy Day.  Instead, we enjoyed some weather-based Physical Education and Care of Home: shoveling, sledding and climbing of snow “mountains”.
Just Like Peter Thursday
 At bedtime, Thursday, we read The Snowy Day and talked about which of the things that Peter did that we had also done.  Among the kids’ favorites were climbing up a snow mountain and sliding down, hitting trees with sticks to make the snow fall down and – not that Peter did this – building snow forts!

Co-op Friday
 So long as we can get out of our road today and safely drive a couple towns over, we will be joining in the fun of a new pre-k/kindergarten co-op we are involved in where doing a snowman craft is part of the plan.  (That ever-important and questioned "socialization" piece of homeschooling!) The new co-op is supposed to meet only the second and fourth Friday’s of the month, but last week got rescheduled to this week because – you got it – SNOW!  Sure has been a lot of it around here this winter.   

We don’t mind.  It is instant PE, great outdoor time, a no-brainer for Luke’s daily sensory diet and an inspiration for the kids to construct some great learning around their own ideas as well as through the sensory-friendly, motor-based plans I come up with.  Plus, it's fun to see the snow on our front walkway get taller than the kids (as in the picture above!)

This post is being shared at Conversion Diary’s 7 Quick Takes

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sensory Snow and Ice Tray

Too cold or stormy outside to get some creative free play in the great outdoors?  Too warm (oh, how we wish some days) to enjoy seasonal snow?  Then, perhaps you'd enjoy helping your children make their very own Sensory Snow and Ice Tray.  It's easy
  1. Run about a half-inch of water into the base of a plastic food container and freeze it.
  2. Gather a tray, some favorite figurines and shaving cream.
  3. Squeeze the shaving cream liberally all over the tray to make "snow", leaving but one small space clear.
  4. Once the water has frozen in the plastic food tub, pop it out and put in that space.
Viola!  Your own Sensory Snow and Ice Tray - an indoor winter wonderland for imaginative minds, as great for creating stories as for retelling ones you've been reading through a bit of dramatic play.  Good for learning - or just for plain old fun!  And, great for keeping hands and minds happily engaged while attending to other children, a phone call or a few brief chores.

Gotta love Luke's current obsession with hockey for inspiring this take on our sensory and shaving cream fun.  Textures.  Temperatures.  Great tactile input!  A delectable bite for a healthy sensory diet and another good tie in for our book of the week - The Snowy Day.  (Sensorimotor/movement lesson ideas for that here and storyhour ideas here.)

We'd love to hear about some of your recent sensory play and learning experiences.  Do share them in a comment.  And, if you'd like to peruse others tips today, be sure to check out Many Little Blessings' Helpful Homeschool Hints, where this post is being shared.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow Theme Storyhour Plan

 On Tuesdays, we often participate in our library’s family story hour, complete with fingerplays, parachute play, three stories, songs, rhymes, a craft and a snack.  It’s fantastic!  The kids love it and we all get social time.

However, yesterday, I just could not bring myself to shovel us out, bundle three little children, coral them into the car, drive down yet-to-be-plowed roads and find a parking spot near the library.  So, to abate Luke’s and Nina’s disappointment, I suggested having our own library storyhour here at the house.  “Yes!”  They jumped with enthusiasm.  “What theme?” Luke asked.  “Snow, of course,” I replied, because this week we are reading Ezra Jack Keat’s The Snowy Day and I wanted to continue on with more fun with the book after Monday's awesome The Snowy Day Sensorimotor fun!  And, so it began.

I collected some snow-themed books from the basement while the kids set up a “librarian chair and blanket “parachute”.   Then, I had the kids hold corners of a baby blanket “parachute” to sing:

Here was go ‘round the parachute, parachute, parachute.
Here we go ‘round the parachute,
at our story hour.

The kids immediately corrected me, “Mommy, we sing a new song, now.”  I let them know that Mommy is not our new librarian, Miss Liz, nor our old librarian, Miss Marilyn, and that Mommy Librarian would be using some of the other librarian’s songs and ideas along with some of her own.  Hence, Nina began calling me “Librarian” for the remainder of the morning and eager participants, Nina and Luke, happy onlooker, Jack, and me, “Librarian”, continued on to have a fantastic at-home storyhour.

Perhaps you’d like to borrow some of our spontaneous plan:

  • The aforementioned song, sung once while walking around in one direction and once in the opposite direction, holding a blanket “parachute”.
  • Have children sit down on blankets.
  • Introduce theme with a stuffed toy geared up for snow.  (We used out Spot’s First Christmas doll that comes with a red cap and scarf.) Talk about why the stuffie might be dressed the way he is, what we wear in the winter, etc. and introduce the stuffie and each other: 
    • “Hi.  I’m Spot.  What’s your name?” (Toss stuffie to child, who introduces self and tosses the stuffie back.)

Theme Talk: 
  • Talk about what we already know about winter using book covers for inspiration as needed.
  • Review what the four seasons are, asking children to name them.

“Parachute” Play and Transition
  • Make “wind” for a small snow storm by holding the blanket taut and rippling it just slightly.
  • Make “wind” for a bigger one by making large movements.
  • Play “Colors” by calling out colors the children are wearing and having them hide under the blanket if they are wearing the colors called.
  • Ask children to sit on the blanket again.
  • Do Criss Cross Applesauce Poem.
Criss-cross applesauce.
Give a little clap. (clap hands)
Criss-cross applesauce.
Put them in my lap. (put hands in lap)
Criss-cross applesauce.
Quiet as can be.
Criss-cross-apple sauce.
Eyes on me. (point to self)
  • Do Wiggle Poem.
I wiggle my fingers, (Suit actions to words.)
I wiggle my toes.
I wiggle my shoulders,
I wiggle my nose.
Now the wiggles are out of me,
And I'm just as still as can be.

First Story
    The Snowy Day
  • Read Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day
  • “Read” the illustrations as well as the words.  For example, take note of the rooftops, signal lights, etc. and talk about where you think the child might live.  Or, notice the child’s changing expressions, particularly when the snow falls from the tree onto his head.
  • Include movement-drama breaks such as acting like Peter waking and looking outside or walking with toes in and toes out.
  • Pause to discuss other points as they come up.

Fingerplays, Rhymes and Songs
Who makes us dress in our winder suits? (Pretend to put on coat.)
Who causes us to wear our boots? (Point to feet.)
Who comes on a cold and wintry night? (Shiver.)
Who decorates the windows white? (Draw a rectangular window in the air.)
Who makes the tress glisten in the lane? (Make triangles over heads with hands like fir trees)
And taps on our window with his icicle cane? (Pretend to knock.)
Jack Frost!

Snowflakes falling, falling down (Flutter fingers.)
The wind blows them round and round. (Move hands in a circular motion.)
They whip and whirl in the air. (Move hands around.)
Then land softly everywhere. (Place hands down.)

  • Adapt the plays to do with baby brother, for example, snowing on the top of his head down to his toes.  Then, stand the last one up and make up new actions to it with kids, getting in some good level work and spinning.
  • Sing:
I’m a little snowman
Short and fat
Here are my buttons
Here is my hat
When the sun comes out
I melt away
But I’ll come back another day

  • Transition back to sitting with Criss-Cross Applesauce and Wiggle rhyme.
Geraldine's Big SnowSecond Story
  • Read Holly Keller’s Geraldine’s Big Snow.
  • Make predictions throughout the story:  Why is she looking out the window?  Will it snow?  What will Mrs. Wilson do with the apples?
  • Discuss why Geraldine bumped into Mr. Peters.  Why was she looking up?  Was this safe?  How can we be safe when we are walking?  How can we be aware of our body space?

Rhyme Tickles and Bounces
Here’s a hill.  (Make a hill with your arm at an angle.)
All covered with snow.  (Tickle arm with a hand as snowflakes falling.
We’ll get on our sled.
And, ZOOM!, Down we’ll go.  (swoop a hand down the arm hill.)

  • Repeat rhyme as a bounce (with baby, too), bouncing the entire rhyme and dropping child backwards on “Zoom”, “Want to got to London…fall in” style.
Third Story

Movement Break
  • Act out parts of the story, particularly the onomatopoeic ones.
Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy: Snowflake Edition 
Fourth Story
  • Read Stranger in the Woods.
  • Name creatures in the story.
  • Guess who the stranger is,
  • Discuss ways to be kind to animals.



Sincence staying out of the snow, safe at home, to have storyhour worked for us, we are sharing it at worked for us, we are sharing it at We are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday.  Enjoy the links there and be sure to leave a comment here to tell us about your recent storytimes or to request one on a particular theme.

I am also linking to Sunrise Learning Lab's Reggio Emilia Wednesday Link Up, for even though our home storyhour was more parent-led than child-led, it was a mini-project.  The kids really wanted to do it and set up the storyhour space, got snack set out like "at real storyhour", etc.  Also, it is part of our greater explorations on the theme of snow - something very present and real in the childen's environment, which is "teaching" them.  Baby steps to Reggio... Check out the links at sunrise Learning Lab for more Reggio inspiration.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sensorimotor Fun for Ezra Jack Keat's The Snowy Day

How do you move from this:

 The Snowy Day

to this:

And what is that anyway?

Let me share: Yesterday, after reading our read-aloud book of the week, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, I facilitated an adapted version of Jenny Clark Bracks’s wonderful Learn to Move, Move to Learn!: Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes Winter Snow lesson. First, Luke. Nina and I rolled “snowballs” on our bodies while singing an impromptu verse:

We roll the snowball on our (body part).
We roll it.
We roll it.
We roll the snowball on our (body part).
We roll it all around.

The “snowballs” were rolled up flexible ice packs for Luke and me and a rolled up burp cloth for Nina, who was not too keen on the cold of the ice packs. Rolling them on our bodies gave us some tactile input, while encouraging body awareness. Singing while doing it provided auditory and oral-motor input. Plus, perhaps more importantly, our “snowball” singing elicited lots of giggles as the kids took turns trying to outdo each other with which body part we should roll our snowballs on next.

Bodies warmed up (or, more literally, cooled off), we, then snuck in a bit of math while stimulating our vestibular senses with a bit of Snowman Freeze. How? We became snowmen by spinning in circles while counting until I called, “freeze”, at which point, we all froze at different levels as short, fat, tall or skinny snowmen. As per Jennie Clark Brack’s suggestion in the Winter Snow theme lesson, we only did this twice in each direction so as not to overload our vestibular sense. That worked for the kids, but not for Momma. I suffered a bit of being off-balance for the rest of the afternoon. So, other adults with aged systems, take not and beware: spinning may be best left to the kiddoes!

From there, it was time for some more vestibular input for the kids, along with a huge dose of proprioception as we jumped and dove into a “snowpile” (a bean bag chair), rolled our bodies into snowballs and rolled around the floor. The kids loved this so much, they have been attacking the snowpile at random moments ever since.

After that, it was time for some balance work, along with some motor planning and auditory input. This took the form of “skating” on styrofoam trays to the “Clap Your Hands” song from Baby Sing and Sign. Amazing how just the addition of the styrofoam trays made the skating activity so much more engaging for the kids than our usual sock-skating has become. (Thanks, Jennie!) And, how much more fun was it to try to skate the actions in the “Clap Your Hands” song. Good times!

Then, for the final guided portion of the “lesson”, we crumpled up sales flyers as “snowballs” to throw at a “snow bank” ( the beanbag chair). This led naturally into free exploratory child-led play. Thus, we did not go on to make any more of Jennie Clark Brack’s Winter Snow lesson our own.

Instead, the kids worked their fine motor and cooperation skills by teaming up to rip apart the styrofoam trays – which had broken a bit during our skating activity – in order to make more snow. Nina, then, went and got her real snow boots to stomp around in the snow, before deciding to play a little fill-and-dump, by making it snow with “different kinds of snow” (the paper and styrofoam) into her boots, dumping it and starting again. She also went and got her broom to practice some practical life skills through sweeping the snow into a pile.

Meanwhile Luke filled his high-need for proprioception by throwing around a giant snowball ( the beanbag) before – and here is where that picture from the top of the post comes in – building a snowman.

I cannot say enough about how “loose parts” inspire creativity (even when I would prefer some of the parts – like our lamp shade – not become “loose”.) and, if you are wondering, the base of the snowman is the beanbag chair. The next "ball" is a couch cushion and the face is made from an old keyboard as the mouth, the round broken knob of a little synthesizer as the nose and some hand weights as eyes, all topped off with a lampshade hat. Luke came up with this 100% on his own as I watched in wonder as to what he was creating -- and Nina liked the creation so much, she left her dump-and-full boot on the couch to come over to play with the snowman!

Together again, Luke and Nina used boppy pillows, a cradle mattress and a hand weight holder as sleds, sliding off couches and chairs and around the room -- another favorite activity they came up with all on their own and continue to do today.

And Jack? He was not so interested in all the snow. He preferred to explore his own sensorimotor world by busying himself with spinning round on his belly on a blanket to grasp toys and chew on nearby backpack straps.

How about you and your children? how have you been enjoying sensorimotor play this week? do share in a comment. And, to enjoy more play inspiration, check out the links at Childhood 101's We Play.


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