Friday, September 30, 2011

Homeschool Mother's Journal (9/30/2011)

In my life this week…

is great thanks!  The week may have begun with a cold that I cannot kick, but it also included a wonderful first day of our fall homeschooling co-op and is ending with the celebration of Jack being 15 month’s old today and Mike and I seventh betrothal anniversary.  Yep, seven years ago today, as the sun set over the sea, it rose on the beginning of our lifelong commitment to each other.  With a betrothal at the beach, followed later by a marriage in the church, we doubly-promised each other our steadfast love and that is one promise we honor!

In our homeschool…

  • delighted in our first day of Catholic Homeschool Co-op and playground fun on Monday.

  • called off Montessori Morning studies on Tuesday because of Mommy feeling beaten down by congestion, headache, earache, slight fever and general malaise, but still enjoyed snuggled-up reading time, some practical life around the house, free time outside in the yard, work on Jack’s speech development at his Early Intervention appointment, use of self-control and courtesy during Jack's well-baby appointment and a bit of formal learning and assessment for the big kids. (Luke read Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers to me and Nina shared which letter sounds she knows.)
  • got our mouths “more familiar” with sweet potatoes, carrots and butternut squash soup in a family (minus Daddy) food study with our super feeding specialist on Wednesday, worked our minds and bodies in the waiting room or sensory gym (depending on who you are referring to) during Luke’s OT appointment, enjoyed a Mommy Blogger luncheon for Signature Moms, had storytime snuggles and enjoyed some time outside, when the kids built fairyhouses.

  • made and used some three-part reading cards to go along with the first few Bob books that Luke is working on, did a little letter study with Nina, played with our St. Jerome and the Lion story basket, practiced deep breathing during our behavior modification appointment, did practical life work (or chores) together, enjoyed Drama Kids classes and more on Thursday.
  • stayed home playing with our St. Jerome and the Lion story basket props on Friday morning instead of joining one of our co-ops at a playground because Mama not only feels cruddy but has almost no voice left and then ????  Let’s let the day unfold.

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…

Let your classroom or learning environment reflect your philosophy.  We revamped ours with Montessori and Sensory ideals in mind this year and have been learning and living in it well so far.

I am inspired by…

my sister. 

As we turn the calendar page to October tomorrow, I have been thinking about the cancer journey, followed by marital issues, my eldest sister faced seven years ago as I was heading into marriage.  It was such a tumultuous time for her, yet she still bubbled over with happiness and hope for me as I entered into my hopeful “happily ever after”.

Today, like all of us, my sister has crosses to bear and challenges to meet.  She remains strong through them and models resilience so often.

I do not get a chance to speak with nor see my big sister much, but I often think of her – all we shared as kids, all we do not share now, but don’t “need to” because even when our lives’ paths have us running in different directions, we know the true north of our family love keeps us bonded…  Also, of course, how amazing she is to have survived cancer and divorce and to still come up fighting.

As I face far lesser challenges, I think about my sister’s strength and pray that I will never have to call on similar fortitude.  But, if I do, I know she is there – to understand and to cheer.  In truth, she is there for that anyway, just as I am for her.

Praise God for keeping my sister here with us through cancer and prayers that hope, strength and a sense of faith blossom within her daily.

My favorite thing over the past week was… 

enjoying simple moments, such as pre-bedtime board game fun with a Franklin board game – just another few minutes in the Million Minute Family Challenge – with bonus early learning and social skills discussion thrown in.

What’s (not) working for us…

is my cold and our weekly rhythm!

With the symptoms of a cold in full force, I am so off this week – throughout the day and night.  That only complicates the fact that I seem to have neglected fully considering some key elements of keeping plates as parent, homemaker, Dramakids teacher, homeschooler and person with an interest in writing balanced when I established our Fall 2011 weekly rhythm earlier this month.  In particular, the whole homemaking plate seems to be piled high and toppling over.  Gotta fix that!

Question I have…

Is a rewards-based behavior modification system really right for us?  The behavior mod people we are working with are lovely folks who specialize in ABA, an evidence-based system that seems to work largely on rewards.  Although there have been some improvements around here since they have been coming, I cannot say that I completely buy into the whole reward thing.  It seems rather like pet training to me.  So, I am praying over it, thinking about it and also wondering, does anyone have a non-rewards-based method of behavior modification they might suggest?

Things I’m working on… 

To be honest, it might take less time and space to list things I am not working on.  Or, rather, to be really honest, it might be so if I were considering things I was or will be…  Today, I feel so cruddy that as soon as I complete this entry I plan to hunker down, turn my mind down as much as possible and simply pace myself for the day while attending to the children.

I’m reading…

an enormous pile of library books in little snatches, plus the regular armloads of children’s books.  More exciting this week for me though is that Luke is reading a bit more on his own.  Many, many months ago, he’d begun to sound out words and to want to read, but when I actually busted out Bob books and similar, he didn’t choose them with the same enthusiasm he devours books I read to him or ones he pages through.  So, I opted to quietly remove them for a while.  This week, he still isn’t begging for them, but he sure seemed proud to read a few Bob books the other day and delighted in making sentences with the Bob book-related 3-part cards I made him.

I’m grateful for… 
  • the happy morning vocalizations of my 15-month old beautiful babe.

  •  the satisfaction and delight  of my four-year-old as she sliced grapes for her brothers at breakfast

  • the imaginary adventures my getting-close-to-six year old takes his siblings on.

  • hugs and a quick backrub from my husband before he went off to work, wishing me better health as the day unfolds.
And, that was just since I woke up.  Truly, my gratitude list is long.  I should focus on it more often!
I’m praying for…

  • a friend who has lost several souls to Heaven in the past years and has been graced with another now.  Please join me to pray that she and the babe get through the first trimester without incident.
  • grace and wisdom as Mike and I continue in our marriage journey.  May we align ourselves and our actions even more to His will.
  • all those affected by cancer.  It is so difficult to deal with such seemingly “wrong” and “unjust” diseases, but as with all things, God is with is through the journey.  May all who struggle with cancer feel His presence multi-fold!
  • all caretakers that are down or out for any reason – illness, cold, exhaustion, whatever.  It can be difficult to keep up with the energy of little ones or the needs of the elderly when you aren’t feeling up to par yourself, but God does not give us the call without giving us the grace.  May we each remember to focus on that grace instead of on whatever ails us and may we serve our charges well.
  • all those struggling with being single.  Every year as my Betrothal and Marriage anniversaries come up I think about how many years I spent sad, angry, hopeless or otherwise feeling negatively as a Singleton.  Sure there were times I loved being single and enjoyed life, but there were also dark, lonely, searching times.  Had I just trusted that God had a plan for me, single or married, a little better, I could have appreciated the stage I was in even more.  I truly pray for trust, faith and happiness for all single people – whether they are single for now or forever.  

Photo to Share 

Fun, friends and vestibular input after Monday's Co-op.  These are the moments you cannot make happen -- the ones that only unfold when given time and space to do so.

Pop on over to The Homeschool Mother's Journal 
to find many examples of encouragement, reality and hope.

I am also sharing this post at Heavenly Homemakers since this past week was filled with such gratitude for me.
Disclosure    If you click the Amazon links at Training Happy Hearts and purchase anything, I may earn a small percentage to use towards our homeschooling expenses.   We thank you for supporting us should you choose to do this.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Fall 2011 Classroom

I sometimes enjoy getting to take a peek at other folk’s classroom spaces and learning nooks online.  Thus, I am finally sharing our Fall 2011 classroom here if others are curious where some of our learning takes place.

Upon Entering 

 On the door entering the room is our Work Room Agreement.  Since our classroom is in a room that has served as a guest bedroom, an office and play-and-learning space, a storage room and a storage room/playroom/office, the children had developed bad habits about its use prior to this academic year beginning.  Thus, when I recreated it as our Fall 2011 classroom, I felt it was important to “make it new” in the kids’ minds. 

We did not let them in it much as I was cleaning out all the stuff that had been stored in it and made it into their classroom and we made a big deal out of how they would wake up in the morning to a new space, filled with fun activities for them to learn and play with.  Then, when they woke up, before we visited the room, we agreed upon the guidelines for it and the kids eagerly signed them and asked to post them on the door.  Luke even wrote “it” on it, which he told me signified that he agreed to it all.

When you enter the room, you see my desk, which only a small corner of is pictured next to some storage shelves (on the left above) covered with a whitish tablecloth to cut down on visual stimulation in the room and topped with the wonderful Shiller Math kit, which we were gifted by a homeschool friend last spring in exchange for some help we offered their family.  (Gotta love trading time, talents and no-longer-needed resources!)  I like having the kit handy so I can easily access it.

Montessori and Faith Exploration Shelves

Next to that are 20 Montessori-inspired cubby shelves. (These are stacked ClosetMaid organizers that have been re-purposed I don’t know how many times over the many years I have had them.)  In each cubby is one “learning toy” or a single tray (dollar store cookie sheets), bin (dollar store fabric boxes or cubby boxes I already had from elsewhere) or basket filled with a Montessori-inspired activity.  On top of the shelves is a puzzle shelf and a cleaning caddy, plus an empty space for the kids to place finished works.

To the right of our Montessori shelves is a light with shelves on it.  We use these for faith-based works, which are sure to include some Godly Play in the coming months now that teaching a lesson inspired by it hooked me this past Monday..

Then, under the print of Jesus is a small reipurposed shelf/magazine holder that will be used as an altar for home Catechesis of the Good Shepherd work when we begin it again.

Work Table

Under the window is a child-sized table and two stools that the kids can work cooperatively at, but, more often than not, it is “Nina’s desk”.

Luke's Multi-Purpose Desk and Workboxes

Next to Nina’s desk, on the wall across from the Montessori shelves is Luke’s desk.  It is not child-height (which some might say is a Montessori no-no), but it is what he wanted.  When we disassembled the kids’ bunk beds, Luke asked if the desk could be his work space.  I agreed, because it provides a three-in-one purpose:

  1. It gives Luke ownership and respect.  He requested it and he takes care of it.
  2. It offers Luke a sensory-friendly place to concentrate on his work.   The white “walls” of the desk against the light paint of the room’s walls limit distracting visual distraction for him and even cut down on sound a bit..
  3. It offers Luke a sensory-friendly place to have quiet time.  Although he has not taken advantage of it yet, we talked about how he could pull out the chair to “hide” under the desk whenever he wished.  He is welcome to bring blankets and pillows in to create a little learning or resting nest for himself when he craves this kind of thing.  

Above Luke’s desk is the dollhouse and a basket of dollhouse furniture that we had to pull out of the kids’ room and have nowhere else to house for the moment.  Right now, it is there just for storage, but we can take it down and use it in the hallway on request or when it is appropriate to enhance certain lessons. It is great for imaginative play, language development and social storytelling.

In the drawers of Luke’s desk, so far, are sensorimotor cards for movement breaks, a body sock and some figurines for playing with when a calming break is needed.

Next to the desk is our workbox tower of drawers topped by the kids’ pencil-scissor-glue boxes.  Luke uses the top five drawers and Nina uses the bottom ones.  I would have preferred to get single-colored drawers to reduce visual stimulation/distraction in the room, but these were the ones that were on sale when I had a coupon. They're working out well as the colors help Luke and Nina discern whose are whose.

Finally, there is an easel with a trash can under it and Montessori work mats behind it.  This is in front of a supply/storage closet.

Planning a Space with Principles and Goals in Mind

As you can see, the room is fairly small and, truth be told, a bit more crowded than might be ideal.   But, so far, it is working nicely for us.  We typically spend Tuesday and Thursday mornings in this room, as well as other times upon the kids’ request.  We also use our yard, other spaces in our home and many walks and excursions for “study”.  I am a strong believer that learning happens everywhere and that young children need ample time to play and explore freely outside.

As a put together the room for this year my three key goals were:

  1. to provide a Montessori-friendly space for some of our learning to take place in order to enhance the "I can do it myself" attitude we seek to develop in our children while helping us with our Rule of Seven, in particular, loving learning, loving working,  and loving playing.
  2. to be mindful of the children’s sensory needs and input and to key into our Rule of Seven goals of loving moving and loving one another (i.e. taking each other's needs into consideration)l
  3. to create a “work room” we could all enjoy, keying into loving beauty a bit, for even if the room is not as beautiful as I would like it to be, it is far more pleasing to the eye, mind and spirit in its current form than it was in its last manifestation as storage area:

I know, horrifying!  So glad that's been taken care of and that so far, our Fall 2011 learning space has been a success!

What does your learning room, nook or area look like?  Please feel free to post a link!

Also, if you have a sensory kid, consider making a last minute entry to the Super Sensory Makeover Contest over at the Secial Needs Network.

Or, if you would like to help us win $250 to make our learning areas even more sensory friendly, start voting for us at the Special Needs network between October 1st and 31st.  It would be an awesome gift to us if you’d consider doing so.  Thanks!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Parables of Jesus (The Sower): A Lesson for a Sensorimotor Preschool Experience

Luke plays with our Parable Box once we get home...

This morning, the kids and I were blessed to begin a new term with the local Catholic co-op we are a part of.  We love this co-op as it gives us all an opportunity to learn, grow and share with like-minded friends of all ages.

This term, Luke is in the "big room" with the "older kids", where he is taking one course about the moon and another about Africa.  Meanwhile, Nina and Jack join me in the "back room" with the five-and-under crowd, where I am the Leader. After lessons finish, we all hop in the car for a short ride over to a local playground where we enjoy some lunch, exercise and social time with some of our co-op friends.  It makes for a full and blessed morning and early afternoon.

Lesson Aims

Of course, me being me, I cannot just do a canned curriculum with the Pre-K's.  Rather, I seek to frame more traditional activities and learning in a way that will introduce the wee ones to faith teachings while offering them opportunities to:

  • practice control of themselves during short circle times
  • explore and exercise with all of their senses
  • weave in some early learning skills and topics
  • reinforce practical life skills
  • pray
  • use grace and courtesy

With that in mind, this is the plan I came up with for this week, which worked more or less as written.  (Although, we missed doing anything after the Craft project because following the children's apparent needs and interests, I afforded some extra block-playing time after outdoor recess and, thus, did not have time to close the lesson as planned.)
I am sharing the lesson as written in case anyone else might like to use it as is or adapt it to personal needs.  Although I wrote the lesson for pre-k's, I think it would work well with K-2, or even older children, with some adaptations.  Also, in all honesty, fit is not written for the two and under crowd.  In fact, I brought some open-ended infant-toddler toys for our youngest participants to use today whenever what the rest of us were doing was not of interest to them.

Now, without further ado:

The Parables of Jesus:
A Sensorimotor Preschool Experience

Planned and Led by Martianne Stanger

Week One: The Sower

Gathering, Introduction and Prayer (15 minutes)

Coming Together Song (Vestibular/ Auditory): 

All children stand in a circle, holding hands or holding onto a blanket moving right while singing:

Here we come together, together, together. 
Yes, here we come together, to pray and to play.
by Martianne Stanger

Repeat, moving left. 

Self-Introductions (Auditory/Motor Planning/Visual): 

Children sit in a circle on carpet squares, parachute edge or blanket edge.  Leader sits in center.

“Hmmm… who has come together today with us?  Let me see.  I’m ~.  You are…”

Leader rolls a soft ball or tosses a soft toy to child.  Child says name and passes ball or toy back.  Leader continues through each child.

Opening Prayers (Motor Planning):

“Well, I am so glad everyone has come together today.  Can anyone think how we should start our day?” 

Leader invites children to offer answers, commenting positively on each one, and guiding to the idea of “with a prayer”.

“That’s right.  And, how do we start our prayers?” 

Leader guides to the idea of the Sign of the Cross.  Then, Leader teaches/reviews:

In the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Leader shows a picture of Jesus.

Now, who is this?

Children answer.

And, who is Jesus’ Mother, our Mother in Heaven?  

Leader shows a picture of Mary while children answer.

 That’s right.  Mary.  Does anyone know a prayer about Jesus and Mary? 

Teacher determines if any child can recall the following prayer.  If not, Leader teaches it/

Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls.

Parable Presentation  (20 minutes)

Parable Introduction:

Leader asks,

Does anyone know who Jesus is?

Leader responds to children and guides them to the idea that He was a Teacher and Storyteller, too. 

Leader explains (using figurines of Jesus and Disciples as a visual):

Jesus traveled with his disciples and, almost everywhere He went, crowds of people followed.  They wanted to meet Jesus and to learn from him.  To teach them Jesus often told stories.  They were called parables.  Does anyone know what a parable is?

Leader responds to children’s ideas and continues:

A parable is a made-up story that teaches a faith lesson.  Jesus made up stories to teach people.

Have you ever heard the story of the Three Little Pigs?  Who can tell me what happens in it?
Leader allows children to retell what they know of the story.

And, what do you think the pigs learned?

Leader responds to answers and suggests that the lesson might be to take the time to prepare for things.

And, why do you remember the story?

Leader responds to children’s replies.

Well, I remember that story lots of other stories and the lessons they teach because I really like listening to and reading children’s stories. 

When Jesus lived, people liked stories, too.  So, He told grown-ups stories in order to help them remember important things.  But, instead of telling stories that were really made up –  with pigs that build houses and wolves that huff – He told stories about real life things.  No pigs building houses.  No big, bad talking wolves.  Instead,  Jesus used real life things.  Who can name some things he might have talked about?

Leader takes answers and gives physical or verbal hints if needed to prompt some answers, such as “flowers”, “trees”, “people”, “sheep”, etc.

Would you like to hear one of Jesus’ parables?

The Sower (inspired by “Godly Play”)

Leader holds a gold box with materials inside.  Throughout the entire telling of the parable, Leader adapts story and questions to engage and maintain children’s attention.

This is a box. It looks old.  Like it’s been around for a long time.  Parables have been around a long time.  It also looks gold.  God is precious and valuable.  Parables are precious, too.  I wonder if there’s a parable inside.  Hmmm.  And, I wonder if this box is a gift.  A parable is a gift.  It was given to us long ago, even before we were born.  Oh, there’s a lid.  It’s like a door.  A closed door.  Parables seem like they have doors sometimes and, sometimes, they don’t open to us.  We have to keep coming back until they open to us.  Maybe we should look inside and see if there is a parable.

Leader opens box and pulls out long brown cloth or paper.

I wonder what this is…  It’s brown and long. 

It looks like that’s all there is to help us get ready for the parable.  So, let’s begin…
There once was a man who said great things and did great things.  People followed him. His name was Jesus.  The people heard him talk about a kingdom, but not like the one they lived in.  And, not like one they had visited.  The kingdom was not even like one they had ever heard about before.  So, they asked Jesus what the kingdom of Heaven was like. 
He said it was like a sower, someone that scatters seeds.

Leader takes our sower figure, walks it along brown material and then moves hand as if scattering seeds.

There was a sower.  He went to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path.  It didn’t get pushed down into the soil, but laid on top of it, and the birds came and ate it up…

Leader places a number of bird figurines on one side of brown material, and if Leader senses the children need a break from “listening” to “do”, has children act like birds pecking to eat seeds.  Leader then takes out a container of rocks, shakes it, listens and makes a “what’s this?” sort of face before placing some rocks next to the birds.

Some fell on rocky places, where there was not much soil. It slipped between the rocks and These seeds sprang up quickly, because the soil was so shallow.  But, when the sun came up, the plants were scorched.  They withered because they had no deep roots. 

Children can act like the sun if they wish or like plants withering.    Leader then shakes a container of “thorns”.  (Dried plant stalks work great for this)  Leader places these next to the rocks.

Other seed fell among thorns.  It pushed itself down between the thorns and began to grow.  But, the thorns grew up and choked it.

Leader takes our a container of soil.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It pushed down deep into the soil.  Then the sun came up and the rains came down and this seed grew and grew.  The seed multiplied thirty, sixty, even a hundred times!

Leader guides children to grow like plants larger and larger.  Then, during the following, the Leader takes and responds to children’s ideas, allowing some time for silence and wondering.

I wonder, does this person have a name?  Who could the sower really be?  I wonder if this person was happy when the birds came and ate all of the seeds… I wonder if the birds were happy when they saw the sower scattering the seeds and why they ate all the seeds so quickly…  I wonder where the sower was when the seeds were trying to push their roots into the stone or when the seeds were being chocked by thorns…  I wonder where the sower was when the little seeds grew and grew and filled the earth…  I wonder if it made him happy…  I wonder what all this could really be…

Leader points to different things when referring to them.  Then, puts them away in the box.

The birds of the air… The rocky ground… The thorny soil… The good soil… The sower…

Art Exploration  (15 minutes)

Seed Sculptures (Tactile/Proprioception): 

Leader guides children in making Air-Dry Clay.  (See recipe sheet.)  Individual children take turns kneading the mixture while other children play with the measuring cups and a bowl of dried bean “seeds”.

Once the Air-Dry Clay is ready, children make their own sculptures with it using seeds and clay.

Break Time (35 minutes)

Bathroom Break

Parents of babies and toddlers come in to do a diaper check/change and offer nursing time/snack.  Other children go to bathrooms to go potty and wash hands. 

Snack (Fine Motor/Motor Planning/Gustatory)

Then, Leader and children work together to prepare a simple family-picnic style snack on a blanket inside or outside, depending on the weather.  To do so:

1.                  Lay out blanket.
2.                  Get cups and small water pitcher.
3.                  Pour snack crackers into a serving dish and put serving utensil in it.
4.                  Get napkins or plates.

Before eating, group says grace together. Leader asks children if they know any prayers spoken before eating and selects a child to lead one.  (If no child wants to, Leader teaches a simple grace.)

Then, Leader encourages children to pour their own cups of water if they are able to do so and to use courtesy, asking one another to pass the snack bowl and serving themselves and each other

Children chat freely during snack.  When there is a lull in the conversation, or as children finish snack, Leader introduces Choice Activities

Choice Activities

As individual children finish their snack, Leader encourages them to be responsible for cleaning up their own spaces and asking to be excused before they move into Choice Activities, which if outside, might include chalk, playing with balls, bubbles or similar and, if inside, might include playing with puzzles, the parable box, the Jesus and disciple figurines, blocks, manipulatives or a sensory bin.  Three to six stations a week are set up depending on how many children there are.

Clean Up (Auditory/Proprioception/Motor Planning)

When children begin to get antsy, or when it is time to move the program along (whichever comes first), Leader begins humming the following clean up song and, then, sings it, while children join in and clean up.

Clean-up Song (tune: Mulberry Bush)

This is the way we clean up, clean up, clean up.
This is the way we clean up, on at Our Lady Queen of Saints. 
            adapted by Martianne Stanger from

Sensorimotor Circle (25 minutes)

Coming Together Again Storytime (Auditory)

Leader thanks children for cleaning up so nicely and asks them to gather in a circle.  Leader then reads one or two short stories or parts of stories related to sowers, seeds and/or the potential God places within people, such as:

§         “The Sower” in Tomie dePaola’s The Parables of Jesus
§         In the Fiddle Is a Song by Durga Bernhard

Prayer (Vestibular/Auditory/Motor planning):

 To get bodies moving again, Leader transitions by asking:

Do you know who made the flowers, seed, even us?  (God.)

Do you know why He made us?... (Because He loves us and wants us to love Him.) 

That’s right.  And, what else did He make?  (…)  Yes, He made the sky.  Can you stretch up to the sky above? 

All stretch reaching up with both hands and alternating hands. 

And He made the ground below

All stretch, bending to touch the ground. 

Yes, he made everyone… Can you stretch your arms out to everyone on your right side?  How about on your left side?  In front of you?  Behind you? 

All stretch and lunges in each direction. 

He made ALL that is good that we come to know. 

Turn around. 

Let’s try that again, but as a thank you prayer.

Thank you, for sky above and for the ground below.  Thank you, God, for all that is good that we come to know

Stretch accordingly.

And, God as Jesus made up many great stories so we could know more about him.  What was today’s parable about again?  (Seeds)

I’m A Little Seed (Vestibular/Auditory)

Leader teaches children the following poem, singing it at least twice with them to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.”

I’m a little seed planted deep in the ground.  (Curl up on the floor with knees tucked into chin and arms around them.)
Out comes the sun, so warm and round.  (Sit up and reach hands in a circle above head.)
Down comes rain.  I need it you know.  (Wiggle fingers, moving hands downward, to simulate rain.)
With sun and rain, up I grow!  (Pop up to standing, growing.)
by Martianne Stanger

Sower Obstacle Course (Proprioception/Vestibular/ Balance)

Leader asks what you call a person who plants seeds.  (A sower.)  Then, leader explains that children will take turns being a Sower, taking a bag of seed to the fields.

Leader and children will construct a small obstacle course, such as one with something to hop or jump along (carpet squares), crawl under (chairs with blanket atop), crawl along (carpet squares), toss something in (block into a bowl) and balance on (beam, tape line or similar).  Children will take turns moving along the path with  a “bag of seeds” (a pillow case with some balls or other small relatively heavy items inside it or a grocery bag of beans.

Seed Gathering Walk or Creative Dramatics Seed Story (Vestibular/Balance)

If the weather is good and the children seem up to it, Leader gives children egg cartons, bags or small containers and takes children on a brief nature walk to collect as many seeds as they can find in these.

If the weather is bad, Leader gathers children on a series of carpet squares set up like a garden plot or on top of a blanket.  Leader then narrates a story about a seed and children act it out.  For example:

Once there was a seed that was planted deep in the ground.  Curl up like a seed.  Now, it is raining gently so you are getting watered.  You can grow.  You are coming up slowly out of the ground.  Ooo, here comes your stem...  I think I see some leaves... A bud... More rain and sunshine... The petals are opening.  Oh, all the flowers look so beautiful!  What kind of flower are you? And you?  Oh, now it’s the height of summer.  It’s such a hot, hot day and there’s been no rain for a while.  You begin to wilt.  God see you and wants to take care of you, He sends a little rain cloud just for you.   You perk up.  He wants to see if you’re strong.  So, he sends a small storm.  Ooo, there is rain and wind.  You are blowing.  The storm ends.  God is happy that you are strong and healthy.... He knows you need some rest though.  You might be tired from growing so quickly.  So, now it’s fall.  Your petals begin to fall off... And, now, it’s getting colder and colder, because it’s winter.  God wants you to really rest so You can grow again later.  You die back until spring, when you can grow again....”

Craft  (10 minutes)

Seed Sowing S’s (Fine Motor)

Leader asks children what today’s parable was about.  After children narrate the parable, Leader asks what letter starts “sower” and “seeds”.  Leader then helps children draw big S’s on paper and offers seeds (beans and/or collected seeds from outside – which children will use pincer grasp to pick up) and glue so children can make seed S’s.  (It’s a good idea to put the glue in water bottle lids and to use q-tips as applicators in order to encourage future pencil grip.)

While children craft, Leader activates early learning concepts with questions such as:

§                     What other words can you think of that start with “s”?
§                     How many seeds do you think you will need?
§                     Can you count the seeds?

Closing Circle, Prayer and Songs (10 minutes)

Closing Circle, Prayer and Song (Auditory)

All gather together.  Leader asks if anyone would like to share a favorite part about the day’s experience.  Then, Leader shares something positive that two to three individual children did, such as:

 “It was wonderful when ~ and ~were sharing ~.”  Or, “Look at the creativity ~ used in this art work.”

Then, Leader asks if everyone is planning to remember to let God’s seeds of love grow within them this week.  Finally, Leader invites children to chant the following closing prayer together:

Thank you, God, (repeat)
For my friends 
We had fun. 
Now we end. (

Leader, then, offers a “teaser” about what we will be doing next week – a few words about one of the activities we might do or what the Parable will be, before singing the Goodbye Everybody song, waving on the goodbye lines and resting hands on “we’ll see you again” ones.

Goodbye Everybody (tune: Goodnight Ladies)
Goodbye everybody, goodbye everybody, goodbye everybody,
We’ll see you again next time!
(add names, such as)
Goodbye Sally, goodbye Johnny, goodbye Carrie,
We’ll see you again next time!

Closing Blessings:

Leader directs all children to get their craft and tells them that it is time for their closing blessings.  One by one, Leader offers each child a blessing by making the Sign of the Cross on the child’s head and saying,

“God bless, you, ~.  May the seed of God’s love always grow within you.”

Resource Links to Offer Parents for Further Exploration of This Parable:

Materials and Supplies

  • blanket, carpet squares or parachute
  • ball
  • pictures of Jesus and Mary
  • box, brown clopth or opened paper bag, bird figurines, sower figurine, rocks, soil and “thorns”
  • 1 cup of flour
  • ½ cup of salt
  • ½ cup of very warm water
  • dry beans
  • bowl
  • spoon
  • measuring cups
  • snack and serving bowl
  • water, water pitcher and cups
  • picnic blanket
  • choice activity materials, such as chalk, ball, bubbles, blocks, puzzles, etc.
  • pillow case with small relatively heavy objects inside or grocery bag filled with dry beans
  • bags, egg cartons or small containers (if doing nature walk)
  • story books
  • paper and marker
  • glue and applicators

No-Cook Air-Dry Clay
(a basic handed-down recipe as I recall it)

You will need:

1 cup of flour
½ cup of salt
½ cup of very warm water

Step 1:

Mix flour and salt.

Step 2:

Pour in water and stir.

Step 3:

Knead for five minutes.

Note:  Will keep on week in air-tight container.  To dry, bake at 200 degrees F 3 hours or leave out.

Note:  Please forgive any funky formatting.  Because I have a feeling if I don't share this now, while the kids are having a quiet time after co-op and playground I never may, I have literally cut and pasted my lesson from the Word document I created it on to this blog post.

Feel free to cut and paste from this post to use the lesson yourself, but, in courtesy to me, if you do so, please offer credit where credit is due on any print or electronic copies with a brief line saying "created by/inspired by Martianne Stanger at Training Happy Hearts (  Thank you! ~ Catholic Crafts and more!
This post is being shared at Tea with St. Anne at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tomie dePaola, A Name to Know for Faith Formation in Young Children

There's nothing quite like cuddling up with the little ones in your life sharing a picture book, is there?

In our home, books seem like as much of a daily staple as food and sleep are.  Nary a day goes by when we don't enjoy a picture book or ten.  And, seldom does a week go by without at least one of those books being faith-based.

This week, as I prepare to teach a six week preschool co-op class, I have been thinking a lot about our favorite faith-related picture books and how I might integrate them into the lessons I am planning.  However, there are so many that we enjoy that it has been hard to narrow down the pickings.  Hard that is until I realized one thing many of the books have in common:  Tomie dePaola.

You may know this name best from the classic Strega Nona books dePaola has written.  Or perhaps you are familiar with one of the other 200+ children's books this talented man has authored and/or illustrated since the 1960's.  Truly, his oeuvre is most impressive.  With board books, big books, legends, folk tales, holiday books, autobiographical stories, and, of course, religious stories, Tomie dePaola has become a favorite among children, parents, teachers and librarians.  He is certainly well-loved in our home!

As we prepare to remember the Feast of the Archangels coming up this week, we have been enjoying the angel theme with the simple book Angels, Angels Everywhere and the faith-based legendPascual and the Kitchen Angels.  The former delights my children with its illustrations and allows them to pretend to read with its very limited text.  The latter not only entertains the kids but has my brain synapsing with ideas for an entire morning's literature-based, sensory-motor lesson plan for co-op.  Yes, it is that rich in concepts, themes and inspiration.

In fact, all of Tomie dePaola's books, religious-based or not, are quite rich in inspiration.  He offers a rich series of folktales and legends from varied cultures, writes stories with overt and subtle morals, and - bonus - is not afraid to evangelize through his writing.  Indeed, as an Irish-Italian Catholic author, he liberally sprinkles inferences to the saints, Mass and other "Catholic" concepts throughout many of his basically secular books and, of course, bases some of his beautifully-illustrated, well-researched and entertaining stories solely on our faith tradition.  

Our local library system, as well as many others throughout the world, offer many of Tomie dePaola's books for patrons to borrow.  I encourage you to do so.

Storytime is such a time-honored, warm and wonderful tradition.  It becomes even richer when it deepens our little one's understanding of our faith.

There are so many wonderful Tomie dePaola titles to choose from.  Below is a carousel of just some that you might want to introduce to your children.  Also, to learn more about Tomie dePaola, his art, his books and more, visit his website, which even features a few simple coloring pages.

Do you have a favorite faith-based author, illustrator or picture book title?  Do share..

As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions in the comments and encourage you to join in on this ongoing discussion of how we might work together to train up the young children in our lives to love and live the faith.

Please continue to join us here each Sunday for new thoughts, tips and sharing about Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation for Young Children.

Disclosure: If you click on any Amazon links here and make a purchase of any item, I may receive a small percentage to help defray the cost of training my children up.  Thank you!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The First Month of School and More: A Homeschool Mother's Journey (8/28-9/23)

 So long, Summer; Happy First Day of Autumn, all. 

As we look forward to the traditions of apple picking, pumpkin carving, scarecrow making, leaf-pile jumping, hiking and all the rest that this awesome season has to offer, I also cannot help but to look backward.

So Happy to Get a "Last" Beach Day In... Maybe An Indian Summer Will Bring Another
Wow! These last four weeks of summer and the transition into fall have been so full. With our homeschool prep week followed by a “practice week” and, then, two “real homeschool” weeks, which were all punctuated by a near-hurricane, regular rounds of appointments and me starting back to part-time work, I kept missing writing up my Friday Homeschool Mother’s Journal posts. So, here’s a mammoth month in review entry:

In my life these past four weeks…

were far too many boxes and bags! I spent many borrowed and dedicated moments trying to turn our Office/Play-n-Learning space, which had turned into a dumping ground and storage area, back into a workable room. It was a daunting task, and I did not accomplish all I wanted to, but I did succeed in readying the room for our home learning this year. Hoorah!

The Newly Decluttered Work Room
Since then, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, in particular, the “big” kids have been enjoying three-hour work period using their Montessori Shelves and Workboxes, while Jack plays alongside them or is encouraged to play in his “classroom” (the hallway) as I go back and forth between all the kids.
The room has been popular at other times, too. Let’s just hope I can eventually do the same magic on our basement, which is our future classroom (hopefully!)

In our homeschool…

we spent the first partial week of September focusing on getting a regular rhythm back, including lots of outdoor time. Or, I should say, Mommy focused on this while the kids unknowingly – and quite contentedly – went along with it.

Building A Fort = Problem-Solving, Team Work, Hurricane Clean Up and Natural Heavy Work

The second week was supposed to be our first official week of homeschooling for the year, but rain precluded that. You see, Luke was set that he was going to ride a carousel on his first day of school instead of a yellow bus like traditional-school kindergartners do. When we woke on Tuesday the 13th to rain and possible thunder storms, we realized that could not happen. So, we opted to do “practice school” instead. 

The 1st Work Nina Chose: Knobless Cylindars
I explained to Luke that his cousin had gone to an orientation day at kindergarten and we could do the same in our classroom space. Boy was that a hit!

The 1st Work Jack Chose: Nursery Rhyme Blocks
I couldn’t get the kids out of the space all day. They eagerly immersed themselves in the Montessori shelf work and workboxing activities I had prepared for them.

The 1st Wok Luke Chose: Dinosaur Basic Concepts Print  Outs
Then, the week continued with them choosing more time in the “classroom” than outside. Weird! Wonderful. But not something I will continue to encourage. For although I want to follow my children and their interests, I also want them to take advantage of all that homeschool has to offer – including lots of outdoor time and field trips! 
Jack Enjoys A Field Trip to Nantasket

Field trips, in fact is how we closed our second week of September. The first was to a great little accessible playground to kick off the new school year with one of our homeschool co-op’s. The kids enjoyed seeing their friends there and discovering all the neat features included on the play structure – such as an all playground seek-and-find of shapes and animals. (Mommy forgot to take any pictures though!)

Luke Loves His Big Yellow School Bus Alternative
The second field trip was our delayed “first day” excursion to ride a carousel. Daddy joined us and we not only got the carousel ride in, but also got some PE time at the playground, had a picnic lunch, did some impromptu nature study with a praying matis we spotted, spent some time working on reading/pre-reading and enjoyed digging holes, drawing in the sand and playing catch on the beach. Such fun! 

Nina Enjoys Luke's Choice, Too
The third week of the month, we continued on with what we had been doing the week prior, but Luke called it "real school".  "Real School" entails trying to follow our new weekly rhythm, which I will share in more detail in an upcoming post of Morning Lotto time/Family Work Time, outdoor times, Montessori and Workbox Mornings, OT, Feeding Specialist, Drama Kids, etc. Full and fun. 

Learning at an Impromptu Field Trip After Luke's OT Appointment

Then, this week, we had Elephant Week, starting off with a family day at a local zoo and rounded out by classroom time, outdoor time, the usual round of appointments and taking learning outside to a fish hatchery.   Amusing this week has been Luke's random rhyme-speak.  He has become enamored with Horton Hears a Who and much of his free play now -- and even a recent melt down -- has been narrated in rhyme.

Playing a Game at elephant Awareness Day at the Zoo

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share… 

Embrace and learn in the moment! 

The past four weeks have been filled with so many unexpected moments to be savored. A keen eye, a spirit of discovery and a love of all things beautiful can inspire so much more learning than even the most well-prepared classroom or curriculum:

How does a frog camouflage itself?

Spontaneous leaf-tracing for fine motor control anyone?

Can you catch a dragonfly to study?

How about a game of logic and fine motor control?

Long pause to observe a praying mantis...

Spot a turtle in an unlikely place in the yard...

Take a gross motor sensory break...

Spontaneous lessons are everywhere. 

I am inspired by… 

my husband. 

Mike began a new job on September 1st and seems to be using it as a catalyst for positive changes in all aspects of his life. With a much shorter commute, more mentally challenging – yet energizing – responsibilities at work and a vision of what professional opportunities may lay ahead, he has become a more upbeat person.  And - bonus - he has more hours in the week to share with the family!

Mike wakes with smiles more often than he used to. He comes home excited to share about his day. He models renewed focus and purpose. He also demonstrates that some risks are worth taking. 

You see, Mike used to be employed by the federal government. Not many in today’s economy would risk leaving a government job for the private sector. Instead, they would opt for the security of federal employment– even if it comes with a dose of daily drudgery. Not Mike.  When a new opportunity arose, he weighed the financial, emotional and personal aspects of life as it was and life as it could be and decided to take a chance. 

The familiar is sometimes easy to hang onto, even if it is not “what is best”. Fear is difficult to let go. I am inspired by my husband’s choice to move forward unafraid to a life that is a better fit for him and us. 

My favorite thing over the past four weeks was… 

witnessing Jack go from pulling himself up on things to stand up and then letting go of them, steadying himself on ever-less-wobbly legs, to seeing him experiment with getting into a standing position from the floor or ground, to watching him tentatively take a single independent step here and there for a few days, to finally sharing in his proud joy as he walked, first, a few independent steps, and, then the entire length of the hallway. 

Nothing seems more precious than his intent look, followed by a beaming grin and happy clapping hands as he celebrates his accomplishments and continues to master mobility! 

What’s working for us… 

Flexible structure in our daily rhythm and mixing Montessori and Workboxes on our “classroom days”, plus continuing to weave faith into every day learning, sometimes making it the main focus of learning as we did on the Nativity of Mary Feast Day

Question I have… 

How might I better let love direct and define me daily?

As I reflect on the fact that it has been a year since my grandmother passed, I think about how I am (and am not) living in ways she modeled so well. One thing I know I can always work on is acceptance of whatever comes and love through it all. 

Things I’m working on… 

Training myself to get enough sleep again! 

I pulled a few late nighters on purpose in order to attend to classroom set up/school prep, writing, etc. Following that, Jack initiated two-plus week's worth of interrupted sleep as he suffered with an infection, on the heels of a bout of croup, complicated by having three teeth coming in at once.  This lack of sleep is getting to me, making me sluggish and, sometimes, grumpier than I should be. 

I need to accept and appreciate the snatches of sleep I can have, be better about going to sleep when I can even when my want- and need-to-lists remain long at the end of the day, and, above all, stay upbeat despite however many hours of sleep I get.  Then, once Jack gets through the end of this difficult teething period, I need to retrain myself to go to sleep at a decent hour and to stay in bed until dawn.  Interrupted sleep cycles are such a difficult habit to break.

Trying to look ahead, not back, as I undo six years of bad homekeeping choices and plain old bad luck.

It is so hard to stay focused on getting our home to a clutter-free, organized, clean – and dare I dream – inspiring place. Homeschool time, family time, social time, online time and the like all motivate me far more than wading through water damage, mold and –eek – a bit of mouse poop in the basement ever could. 

Stumbling blocks for me have been the aforementioned lack of sleep, a lack of focus, a lack of kid-free time and a lack of willpower to just get to it. However, a vision of what I am called to provide for my family is helping me forge ahead now. Well, that, and a family commitment to helping each other build better habits (which I also hope to post more about later). 

My first habit is to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to slogging through the cellar. I started this habit off with a bang, but, admittedly, have lost steam in the past week.  There have been some missed nights.  So, I am not counting it as a true habit formed until I have reached 21 consecutive days in a row.  Wish me luck!

Revamping our home (and classroom) to be more sensory-friendly. 

I have already made great progress on our classroom and am now stockpiling a bevy of sensory-smart resources for the year. To that end, I made some I Can Calm Myself ABC Cards and am thinking about other things we have or I can procure as tools for the kids to learn to self-regulate. I am also constantly thinking of tweaks I might make to increase the overall the sensory-friendliness of our home. 

I’m reading… 

a lot here and there for myself – blogs, books, manuals… But, to be honest, my reading time has so unfocused in the past four weeks, I feel reluctant to share much on any one title. 

However, I can say that I know have a growing knowledge of elephants and can name almost 20 elephant-theme non-fiction and fiction picture books. Boy, is it fun to learn along with your kids! 

I’m cooking… 

for convenience and thrift, mostly, but also starting Food Studies with the kids, which I will write more on later. We did one at home on egg whites for the Nativity of Mary and have done some at Luke’s Feeding Specialist appointments.  

I plan to do more consistent ones here at home as fall progresses. 

I’m grateful for… 

my mother’s help. Not only does she often offer a listening ear and always extend love to us, but she also steps in to watch some of the kids when others of them have appointments, collects stickers for the kids to use (which came in handy again, like this, at Jack’s unexpected doctor’s appointment last week) and happily does little mending projects for me that I could do, but don’t make time for. She supports us in so many practical and spiritual ways.

I’m praying for…
  • continued success with our homeschooling journey
  • all the babies we know who have been welcomed into the world this past month by family and friends (and all we don’t know, too!)
  • the healing of some folks I know who are dealing with broken marriages and growth for extended family members who have just entered into marriage
  • wisdom and peace for all homeschool mothers (and fathers) who are feeling extra-challenged or overwhelmed as the school year begins
  • good leadership at local and national levels and folks to follow their faith as they practice their citizenship 
  • …and so much more. There is simply so much to adore, confess, offer thanks and ask for supplication about. Prayer A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication) as a cornerstone for building better days. That’s a foundation I want myself and my children to continue to build upon! 

    Photo to Share 

    One day, Jack would not go down for nap.  Later, as I was attending to a chore, Luke and Nina called out, "Mommy, come quick."  This is what they were drawing my attention to:

    Jack had pushed a little chair over to "GG's chair", used it as a ladder to climb up onto the soft cushion and had, promptly, fallen asleep.  

    Whew!  I hope I have not made anyone want to do the same thing with the mega First Month of School and More Homeschool Mother's Journal Entry.

    Pop on over to The Homeschool Mother's Journal 
    to find many examples of encouragement, reality and hope.

    Disclosure    If you click the Amazon links at Training Happy Hearts and purchase anything, I may earn a small percentage to use towards our homeschooling expenses.   We thank you for supporting us should you choose to do this.


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