Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 3-Part Charades Cards Free Printable

Happy Halloween and All Saints Day Eve!

Today, we are headed off to Co-op and a fun All Saints Day celebration where we will be playing this teamwork/engineering/problem-solving game among others.  But, before we do, in honor of Montessori Monday, I wanted to share some free printables that fellow Montessori-inspired friends might enjoy:

Saturday, Luke and Nina helped me plan and prepare for a Halloween party that they wanted to host for Grammy, Grampy and a cousin.  Among the activities they wished to include in the party was an adapted version of Charades for Kids, a board game that we have been enjoying as a family some nights after dinner as a part of the Million Minute Family Challenge ,which I wrote about at Signature Moms.

For our adapted game, the kids wanted Halloween-themed picture-word cards to act out.  They helped me pick out the graphics for these, which I put into a template that would allow us to use the cards as:

  1. Playing Cards for Charades for Kids at the party.
  2. Traditional 3-Part Cards in Montessori lessons in the coming week (as well as for years to come).
  3. Matching Cards to play Concentration, Go Fish, the Slap Game, the Dice Game and other Card Crazy games with.

Now, we are sharing them in case you would like a fun last minute Halloween activity to do with your children. To use them, simply click on the graphics above.  Click "print" on the graphic that pops up and you should get full-sized cards to cut and enjoy in traditional Montessori 3-part card style or in other ways.

We'd love to hear how you use them, so please leave a comment.

P.S.  If you are going trick-or-treating tonight, have fun and please be extra-careful when crossing roads.  Let our scare from last year be your reminder for this one and with little ones, practice Road Safety songs or role plays before heading out.

This post is being shared at Montessori Monday hosted by One Hook Wonder and Living Montessori Now.

Disclaimer:  If you click on any Amazon links at this blog and make any purchase, I may receive a small percentage that can help defray the cost of training my children up.  THANK YOU for considering supporting us in this way.  Every little bit helps!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Pumpkin Patch Parable: A Wonderful Resource for Faith Formation in Young Children

When I began this series on Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation for Young Children, I promised to share ideas and resources for guiding the young children in our lives towards God.  This week in our home, one resource we have turned to again and again during snuggly read aloud times is The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs

Many years ago, before marriage and children, I ran across a copy of this book at a Christian book store and fell in love with it immediately.  I was captured by its bright, engaging illustrations, enjoyable storyline and underlying message of how God works in each of us.  So, I bought it.

Although I have read the book every year since, I still find it moves me.  Just like Jesus’ parables in the Bible, the parable told about the farmer and the pumpkin in The Pumpkin Patch Parable is a simple one, but holds deep meaning.  It is a story that can be understood on many levels, and as I have been sharing it with my children this week, I have appreciated how it speaks to them and me at the same time in different ways. 

Yes, I even admit that although The Pumpkin Patch Parable is a cheerful story, there have been times in the past week when this sappy mama has caught myself with tears brimming at the corner of my eyes as I read the book to my children.  On those days when cuddle time on the couch has come after moments of less-than-stellar Mommy moments, as I have read about the Farmer choosing a pumpkin, removing all its yucky parts and making it shine anew, I have felt tearfully grateful – and convicted. 

My kids?  They just enjoy the story as we read the book by following the large-font story about the farmer and the pumpkin.  They also sometimes make connections about the Farmer and Our Heavenly Father and the pumpkin and us as we occasionally flip through the book page by page, reading and discussing the finer print Bible verses that accompany each illustration.   

Always, The Pumpkin Patch Parable is a hit with my children and me.  It is definitely a book that I will replace should my current copy get to worn to keep re-reading every year and it is the book that encouraged me to purchase the rest of Liz Curtis Higgs’ Parable Series, which have become favorites in our household, too.

In fact, the other day, as my son and I were talking about gutting pumpkins he asked me about “that other story” like the one we’ve been reading about the pumpkin.  “The one with the girl and the seed.”  He was recalling the Parable of the Lily, a favorite spring/Easter story of ours.

If you’ve never checked out the Parable Series, I encourage you to do so.  They truly are delightful, faith-inspired read-alouds for young children, with messages for caregivers, too.   Reading them has certainly become a our home!

What other faith-based holiday books do you enjoy with the young children in your life?  
Have any brought a tear to your eye?

As always, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments and stop back next Sunday to join us for more thoughts, tips and resource ideas on Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation for Young Children.  Also, as always, if you'd like to guest post here one Sunday with a way you help the young children in your life to know and love God , you'd be most welcome to.  Just ask!

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon links at Training Happy Hearts and make a purchase of any item, I may receive a small percentage of your purchase prince to help defray the cost of training my children up.  Our family thanks you if you choose to help support us in this way!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

All Saints Day St. Francis of Assisi Party Game Printable

Today, we have been busy getting ready for a small Halloween party the kids are hosting for Grammy, Grampy and a cousin.  We are also looking forward to the All Saints Day party we will be having at Co-op on Monday.

As a part of our All Saints Day festivities, groups of 5-8 children will rotate around game stations.  The kids and I volunteered to host one of those stations, and after many ideas from Luke and Nina, settled on one that will be easy to set up and fun for kids of all ages to participate in.  It will also slide in some vestibular and proprioceptive input, as kids bend and move to carry blocks from one location to another, as well as some teamwork, engineering and problem-solving skills, as the children work together to build church structures. Now, that's our kind of game!

If you need a quick game for a Saints Day party, simply click on the graphic at the top of this post and a larger version you can print should pop up.  The grab some masking tape to make two rectangles and some blocks and you'll be all set.  Or, if you'd like other St. Francis ideas, see my prior post over at the Wayback Page of Catholic Mothers Online, 10+ Ideas for celebrating St. Francis of Assisi with Young Ones.

Alternately, you could borrow one of Luke and Nina's other ideas:
  • Make a nest and get a bird figurine.  Then, like the young Blessed Virgin, who was said to have helped a wounded bird, try to get the bird back in its nest.
  • Make a stable or manger.  Hide it.  Then, be the Holy Family trying to find a place to stay.
  • Hide a donkey figurine.  Then be St. Jerome and his lion and try to find it.
  • Get some babydolls, clothing and pretend food.  Hide the dolls in corners.  Be Blessed Mother Teresa, take the food and clothing, find the sick and hungry and help them.
Yep, I do have some creative little ones, I guess.  It truly warmed my heart as they came up with these ideas, evidencing that all the saint stories and activities we weave into our lives are sinking in!

Happy All Saints Day!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning from the Almost-19-Year-Old Me: Things Change and Yet Stay the Same

Birthday Ages Pictures This weekend, I will turn 41.  Just writing that baffles me.  How did I become 41?  I mean, I know how the days turn into weeks and the weeks into years, but it seems that the past few years have just flown by and the young woman, who was so grateful to finally receive the gift of marriage, then motherhood and then motherhood times two and three, has gotten, well, old.

Now, before anyone says it, I know 41 is hardly old.  My maternal grandmother doubled my age and then some.  But, the fact is, lately I have been feeling a little less spry.

Evenings, I find myself exhausted.  Mornings, I wake up with less vigor than I once did.  And, although gratitude is something I feel and express to our Lord each and every day, my husband will be the first to point out that I hardly appear to be the thankful, happy mom of late.  The fact is, when he comes home from work, I am too often a picture of a weary woman beat by her day.  I hardly brim with joy and thankfulness.

This is not good.  This is not what I want, nor what my husband desires, nor what my children deserve, and, I certainly sense it is not what our Good Lord has planned for me. 


As I face my 41st birthday, I recognize that I have not been letting the Spirit lead me in the details of my days as well as I could be and thus my spirits are flagging – unnecessarily! 

So, what am I going to do about it?  Well, as the almost-19-year-old me said to, I’m going to “accept failures, not defeat: drive on!”  But, I am not going to drive alone.  Instead, I am going to “Remember (my) Lord” and, with through grace, “Hold on” and “Discipline (my)self” among other things.

Where am I getting all these quotes?  Well, when I was reflecting on my age, stage and demeanor today, I was about to do a typical me thing – to write down a list of tasks and goals to get me back on track in the year ahead.  But, then, I felt moved to do something else instead:  to dig out a very old journal of mine, which, miraculously, was just where I thought it was.  (Not many items in my home are these days!) 

When I opened to the journal’s first page, I smiled.  On it was a list written in early October 1989.  It was a list of action phrases preceded by the words: You must do the following to “make it”.

I no longer recall what the “it” I was referring to then was, but I can say that the list seems as appropriate to my life now as it was then.  Funny how the circumstances of life change multiple times through the years, yet the core of each of us can remain very much the same.

So, this year, as I turn 41, my gift to myself, to my husband and to my children is going to be to take the gift of reflection the Spirit led me to today and to listen parts of what the almost-19-year-old me had to say, putting into daily action many of the things penned in a journal over two decades ago, starting with “Pray” and “SMILE!” 

Choosing to do just these two things alone during times when I feel old will, no doubt, help me reach the blessed period of life my maternal grandmother did. 

Forty-one.  Old?  No way!  If we “Just Believe”, “Go day by day”, “Laugh a lot” “and dream BIG!!!” we can “make it” day-to-day, detail-by-detail to the Ultimate Goal!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The CVC Chalk Word Jump Game: A Classic Outdoor Approach to Early Phonics with Sensory Diet Heavy Work Thrown In

Two weeks ago when I was trying to wind down a quick outdoor lunch visit to Grammy’s so my children and I could go home and do some lessons, my son pleaded for us not to go and my daughter suggested, “Mommy, we can do school here.” Following their lead, I opted to lead our day’s lessons outside on Grammy’s newly re-surfaced driveway.

Although we had spent time at Luke’s Feeding Specialist and Occupational Therapy appointments prior to visiting Grammy, I sensed that my children needed some more “heavy work” after lunch and I knew we’d all enjoy outdoor time. So, I employed the strategy of a CVC Chalk Word Jump Game among other things to practice reading skills.

Here’s a brief how-to on how to play

the CVC Chalk Word Jump Game 


  • a paved surface
  • chalk
  • a bouncy child who is learning phonics. 


  1.  Write a number of CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words jumping distance apart on the pavement. Be sure to include at least two words that begin with each onset you use. (An onset is the starting sound, such a c in cat or cup.) For extra challenge, try to include two words with each rime as well. (A rime is the ending sound of a word, such as at in cat, hat and mat.)
  2. Call your child over and ask him or her to jump on a particular word. You can do this by simply saying one of the written words, by giving a definition for the word (such as, “Jump on a word that means something you drink from,”), by offering a sound cue for the word (such as, “What goes meow?”) or by giving a rhyming word (such as, “Jump on a word that rhymes with up,”)
  3. Continue, using words that are within jumping distance, forward, back, sideways or diagonally.
  4. As you note your child fatiguing, wind the game down by asking your child to start at one end of the word path and to jump from word to word, reading each aloud. 

  • Decoding C-V-C words
  • Gross Motor
  • Motor Coordination/Motor Planning
  • Listening/Following Directions 

Quick Tips/Extensions

  • Get even more vestibular and proprioceptive action in by having your child do other things on or around target words – hop on, run around, skip to, slither by, gallop to, spin around, etc.
  • To help children gain confidence, begin by using only a half dozen or so words. Then, gradually increase the choices by writing more words.
  • Once your child has caught onto how to play, to encourage writing, have your child make another C-V-C word path for your child or you to jump on.
  • To encourage thinking skills, give your child a break from jumping and have the child offer definition, rhyming or other clues as cues for you to jump on particular words.
  • Encourage creativity and storytelling by using the word path to tell a story with your child. Have your child jump on a word and begin a story. For example, “I saw a big cat.” Then, jump on another word and add to the story yourself. “He was running all over my yard, went up to our picnic table and knocked over my cup.” Have your child add the next part, while jumping on another word. “The cat was being chased by a dog.”

What movement-based ways do you encourage early reading skills?
Do you have a frugal, fun and effective early learning activity to share? 
Please share your ideas or links.

This post is being shared at We Are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday because outdoor reading lessons that include heavy work really work for us and at Homeschool Creations Preschool Corner and 5K, too, where you will find many fabulous ideas for teaching little ones!

Chalk Image courtesy of Jacci Howard Bear

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Power of Pause

Our Lean-To

A Blissful Moment

My youngest sleeps peacefully in his stroller.  My middle child tugs persistently at a large rock in the ground. My eldest gathers fallen pine branches.  I bathe in a streaming ray of sunshine that dances down from the heavens between a canopy of autumn leaves above me.  Life is good.  The “Power of Pause” has renewed my spirit.

A Negative Model

You see, Thursday was not a stellar day in our household.  Challenges with my children made and how I reacted to resulted in a less than joy-filled atmosphere. 

The frustrations of the day spilled over into the next.  Early Friday morning I found myself succumbing to thoughts of, “Ugh, another day…” instead of, “Thank you, God, for this new day!”  I yielded to defeat and despair instead of simply accepting what was and offering each small trial to God.  My bad!  I was not in a mode, nor a mood, that was provided a good model for my young children.

The Power of Pause

Luckily, I remembered to pray and, even though I hardly felt like it, to pause, pray and play.

Ahh, play!  The work of children and an elixir for caretakers as well, especially when it involves letting go of schedules, taking a reprieve from task lists and following a child’s request to romp in nearby natural surroundings, which God so kindly put in place for us.

As my children and I built a lean-to in the woods, frustration and defeat made way for delight and blessings.  My eldest son sang as he worked.  My daughter’s imagination turned rocks into future resting places.  My youngest son smiled in his sleep.  At times, my older children worked as a team and, at other moments, they carried on with solo intent and imagination.    Our afternoon became infused with peace, purpose, quiet and contentedness.  It offered a true sense of retreat and renewal for me.

It also inspired my almost six-year-old to ask a question which opened up a brief, by fruitful chat about God.  As we left the woods by way of a path, which thorn bushes had begun to overtake, my son wondered aloud why God makes briars if they can hurt people.  Attuned to his thoughts, I shared some ideas.  He listened keenly, questioned more and offered his own insights.  I delighted in seeing how his understanding of faith was developing through the catalyst of nature-inspired conversation.

At dinnertime, I also marveled at the powerful impression our time in the woods had had on my children.  During grace, my daughter spontaneously offered thanks for “building together on the woods” and my son chimed in with praise for the materials God created with which we had built our lean-to.  Me? I voiced gratitude for God’s natural handicrafts and for the blessed opportunity to share some with my children.

Later, as I went to bed, I reflected on how a woodsy pause had renewed and uplifted our spirits. 

Modeling Prayer and Pause

Modern day life can get very busy.  Challenges arise.  Frustrations levels sometimes increase accordingly.  Perhaps when we recognize this happening, our best recourse is to simply model for our children the behavior Christ modeled for us – to pray and to pause. 

Jesus took time away in the wilderness.  In literal, practical terms, we can teach our young children to practice similar retreats from daily life.  I know I’m glad I followed my son’s request to do so on Friday.  Through our experience, the Lord certainly made all things work together for good. 

How have you experienced the Power of Pause with your young children of late?  Have you caught yourself modeling less than desirable character and behavior and choosing to change them?  How has nature acted as a catalyst for faith development?  Do share in a comment.

Also, please feel free to ask a question or share a thought, idea or resources for guiding faith formation in young children.  We would be happy to try to respond in future weeks of Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation for Young Children, published here every Sunday.

P.S.   If you’d be kind enough to do so, please click over to our contest entry at My Special Needs Network and leave a comment, which will act as a vote towards helping our win $250 in sensory supplies and equipment.  And, if you have any friends who might be interested in the Network or willing to vote for us, feel free to pass the information along.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Boat Making Co-op Lesson

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Reading, Science, Pre-Engineering and Social Time with residual fun.  Now that’s what I call a successful morning of Co-op!

Look what I made!
Last week, in honor of Columbus Day, the moms from our informal Creative Kids Co-op wanted to make boats.  Since we have a hand-me-down water-and-sand table plus two sizable plastic sand-sensory boxes we could fill to float boats in, I offered to host our gathering group at my house.  I thought it would be beautiful outdoor morning with our co-op friends.

Enter threatening rain!

I went to bed Thursday night knowing that a boat-building extravaganza in the front yard might be off and that a last-minute lesson plan to keep the kids engaged inside was in order.  No problem! 

On Friday morning, after quick tidy of our front rooms  and clearing of items in and around our sinks and tub (just in case we needed them to float the boats in), the fun began.   (Okay, well it began after I got drenched by a sudden downpour while pulling the sandboxes into our front yard just in case anyone wanted to use them despite rain, as well as after I dried off, the rain subsided and Jack decided to take a swim (fully dressed!) in the sandbox pools as Luke and Nina filled them in preparation for their friends to come.)

Many of our friends arrived with pre-made boats in hand. Two of our young girl guests also brought lovely little pictures they had created as hostess gifts.  (So sweet!)  And, one mom brought the most delicious pumpkin bread for snack.  Yum! 

Jack snuck over to help himself to the pumpkin bread.

After greetings,  and once the young ones had satisfied their curiosity by exploring our play kitchen corner and the kids’ room, I asked all the children to settle onto a blanket on our living room floor and began our lesson:

  • We had a quick chat about who Columbus was and why we celebrate his day.
  • Then, I told a paper-folding story adapted from one I learned in Japan years ago of a boy who wanted to be a sailor. 

  • Then, in response to some questions and suppositions the children were making about air and water, I spontaneously decided to do a simple experiment I know about these concepts that utilizes just a glass, a bowl and a tissue.  (I will post directions for this soon.)
  • Finally, it was boat time.  We took a picture of all the children with some of their pre-made boats. 

Creative Kids Co-op Boat Making Morning

Those with boats made went outside to test them.  (Praise God for showers that had passed!) 

Those, like my children, who had yet to make their boats gathered materials from our buffet of recyclables, tape, fasteners and other supplies and set to work with their designs, building a variety of boat structures
Boat Making Buffet

They tested these and their friends came in to design more.

Testing New Designs

Lesson ended, we enjoyed snack and closed the morning with jumping on the bed!  (Yes, Luke and Nina’s friends were happily surprised to learn that we allow jumping on Nina’s and Jack’s mattresses in our home.  I only wish I had thought to take a photo of them all bouncing up and down with glee.)

Overall, our Boat-Making Co-Op gathering was a fantastic morning, which proved some things I already knew, but sometimes enjoy being reminded of:

  • Not every lesson needs to be meticulously planned well in advance.  Sometimes lessons thrown together at the last minute are the most fun and fruitful!
  • Kids are amazingly creative and bring a dimension to design adults have difficulty imagining.
  • It doesn’t matter if one’s house is less-than-clean-and-organized.  A home is a place where friends are welcomed and when, indeed, they do visit, life is good.  Make that great!
  • You never know what will light a fire in a child’s imagination.

Luke and Nina continued to want to design new boats throughout the weekend and even made me laugh by gathering figurines to take people to “the new land” during tubbie times.

Note the passengers in the boat.

And do you see the "New Land" over by the bottle on the tub ledge?
What spontaneous studies have you enjoyed lately?  Do you have any “back pocket” stories or experiments that you pull out as needed?  What fun have you been having with informal co-ops or on playdates?  Do share in a comment.

 This post is being shared at Homeschool Creations Preschool Corner and 5K, too, where you will find many fabulous ideas for teaching little ones!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Readers, Please Share Your Opinions


As the new year looms just around the corner, I know my recent burst of blogging energy and time is about to dissipate again, so even though I have a list of things I want to document and share in my mind, I also have a few quick questions for you.  I would be grateful if you took the time to leave a comment in response: 

  • What kind of posts do you most enjoy here at Training Happy Hearts?
  • Is there anything you’d like to see me writing more or less on? 
  • Would you like to see more on sensory topics, faith, a particular type/philosophy of education we are inspired by, home management, organizing attempts, reflections or something else?
  • Would you like longer posts?  Shorter posts?  Or a combo?
  • Do you have other “requests” for making the sharing of our family’s journey here more helpful to you and your family?

Why do I ask? 

Well, as it says in the sidebar, we began this blog “to journal about our learning – both the kids’ and the adults – as we more fully embrace the adventure of following God’s call in each of our lives”.  Since doing so, I have found that this blog is as much “for us” as “for you”, our readers, and have been feeling called to use it as a way to help others as much as a way to journal for ourselves.  So, I’d like to know what you’d most enjoy or benefit from reading here.

I know this might seem silly, but it is a part of my quest for “J.O.Y”, which is something I have been thinking a lot about this year (even if I have not written much about it).  J.O.Y. was an acronym that came to me during the first days of the year.  It means “just offer yourself”.  I cannot offer much here online, but in letting J.O.Y permeate all aspects of my life, I want to make a conscious effort towards offering what I can of "me" to benefit you and yours.

Similarly, one of the main reasons my posting here waxes and wanes is that in order for me to offer myself to my children, husband and home better, I sometimes have to abbreviate time spent writing and reading online.  This is difficult for me -- as I so enjoy being online -- but it is important to discipline myself, I think.

When I do have time to be online, I seek to not only “selfishly” journal about our family’s journey with life and homeschooling, but to do so with an eye (or rather, typing hands) for others.  Indeed, I feel called to consider you, your wishes and your needs.

So, thank you in advance for helping me with my quest to best use the limited time I have for blogging as a way to meet my call to motherhood, homeschooling and J.O.Y.  I truly appreciate your thoughts and requests. 

Please, don’t be shy.  Be candid.  Let me know what you do (or don’t!) want to read about at Training Happy Hearts.  I value your opinions!

Thanks and blessings!

P.S.  If you have not already done so, please consider voting for us by leaving a comment, which acts as a vote, over at our entry at My Special Needs Network.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Celebrating with Song the Day that the Lord Has Made

The sun is shining.  The breeze is perfect.  Around us, nature’s splendor decorates the day.  My children and I sit on a swing, rocking back and forth, enjoying it all while singing praises.

Another day it is overcast.  Rain splashes on our minivan windshield as we drive from one appointment to another.  Yet, inside the car, we are bright with song.

What song?

This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, and glad in it.
This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made.

This refrain is one we have enjoyed time and time again over the past few years, and one we have adapted into a bit of a game.

A Little Vocabulary and Science and A Lot of Thanksgiving

The game goes like this:

One child points out something in our field of vision.  Then, we either sing something akin to:

That is the tree.  That is the tree that the Lord has made…
Let us rejoice and be glad He did….
That is the tree that the Lord has made.

Or, if the thing pointed out is man-made, something such as

That is the car.  That is the car that the people made...
God gave them the talent and I’m glad He did…
That is the sign that the people made.

And on and on we sing, taking turns noticing all that is around this.

In doing so, we get natural practice with vocabulary through naming the things we notice.  (I often try to notice things that might include vocabulary the children rarely hear.)  We also get in a bit of scientific classification:  What is natural and what is made by human hands?  And, finally, we offer much thanks to God.

The children delight in song and play, while I am uplifted by seeing the details of the world through their eyes while joining them in praise.

What are some of your favorite faith songs for children?  Have you adapted any of them into games or learning activities?  Please share in a comment and feel free to include lyrics, a link to an audio or video clip or a link to a post you’ve written about it.

Also, please feel free to ask a question or share a thought, idea or resources for guiding faith formation in young children.  Other readers and I would be happy to respond in future weeks of Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation for Young Children, published here every Sunday.

P.S.   If you’d be kind enough to do so, please click over to our contest entry at My Special Needs Network and leave a comment, which will act as a vote towards helping our win $250 in sensory supplies and equipment.  And, if you have any friends who might be interested in the Network or willing to vote for us, feel free to pass the information along.

Friday, October 14, 2011

52 Weeks of Organizing: Classroom, Shoes and Books

Everyone pitches in...
Okay, so the last time I actually posted about our progress in the 52 Weeks of Organizing Home(school) Challenge, I was only on Project 14.  Now, that is pretty pathetic considering we are actually in the 41st week of the year. 

So, let me set the record straight:  I have not stopped trying to organize our home(school) as part of the 52 Weeks of Organizing Challenge.  I did, however, revert (more than once) to my old, not-so-effective habit of putting organization low on my focus list – doing what I could, when I could, as I could, around the busyness of my children and their needs, the desire for our family to spend ample time together enjoying the great outdoors and, well my own distractable mind. 

As I look back at the past several months, I see a two-steps-forward-one-step-back pattern in which the steps back were sometimes enormous ones that set me further “behind” than I was to begin with.  Not so heartening…  Yet, there have some successes and those are worth noting.  Among them, I:

Recreated Our Classroom Space (#15)

I spent quite a lot of time making a classroom space that would work for us this fall based on our needs and goals.  You can see pictures and read all about it here and, if you’d be kind enough to do so, you can click over to our contest entry at My Special Needs Network and leave a comment, which will act as a vote towards helping us win $250 in sensory supplies and equipment.

Enabled More Independence with Footwear Storage and Accessibility (#16)

As the kids’ feet are getting bigger, my old system for storing and accessing shoes was not working.  One recent morning, the shoe explosion by our front door was just more than I could take, so I printed out a kids’ shoe-sizer and measured the each child’s foot.  Then, I spent time sorting out out-sized and out-of-season shoes (the latter of which I had to retrieve with our welcome, but unseasonably warm weather of late).   

From there, I re-purposed shelves, bins and boxes that we already had in order to house everyone’s footwear close to the front door.  Once this functional, but far from fancy (or even appealing!) updated shoe system was in place, the kids helped me put their shoes where they belong.  No more shoe explosion!  Ahhhh.  (Happy sigh.)  However, further work still needs to be done both in simplifying our shoe collection and also in finding a more compact, attractive, yet accessible system to house shoes by the front door for a family of five. Ahhh!  (Not-so-happy groan.)  Your ideas are most welcome!

Re-Housed Kids’ Room Books (#17)

We were all satisfied with the Montessori-Inspired Quiet Time and bed Time Book Shelf System we had in place.  That is, until Jack moved in with his siblings and began to wreak havoc on it.  Now, paper-paged books just aren’t safe in his 15-month old curious hands.  Something had to be done.  

I wanted to take the shelf out of the kids’ room, but Luke and Nina protested.  So, we compromised.  We decided to take the labels off the shelf and to fill it with board books that Jack could use without causing too much damage.   

Then, we opted to limit paged books that would be housed in the room to two bedtime reading selections, which are now kept on a high shelf for Mommy or Daddy to retrieve as needed.  

Of course, this required clearing that high shelf, which had collected an entire shopping bag’s worth of odds and ends, which the kids were reluctant to put back where the bits and pieces really belonged or to part with the things altogether.  It also meant stopping to read each of the "I remember this board books" that they had not seen in a while before shelving it.  

And, of course, Jack tried to unshelf the Jack-safe books as quickly as Luke and Nina could shelf them.

So, a project should have taken under a half hour turned into one that dragged on all afternoon.  That's okay.  No one ever said organizing with five- and four-year-old “help” is expedient or easy.  But it sire is worth it. Through “helping”, the children gain a sense of ownership over the end result and also begin learning life lessons about decluttering, organizing, cleaning and maintaining spaces.  Plus, in this case, we now have tweaked our bedroom book system to one that works for little hands and big hands alike.  

And, let me tell you, Mr. Little Hands is happy to be able to select books without anyone stopping him. And, mama is happy to make the room just that much more Montessori-inspired by revamping this corner to allow for more independence and freedom for Jack.

Moving Forward

Of course, there has been far more organizing going on in the house than those three projects – including much time spent slogging through our basement disaster – but it's slow progress down there and nothing  worth documenting yet.

Thus, in week 41, I find myself not even half-way through the 52 projects goal for the year.  I could be disheartened by that, especially as the 52nd week is just around the corner and autumn always flies by.  But, instead, I am choosing to be motivated. 

It’s time to really rev things up again.  If I aim to reach my goal of doing 52 projects, I cannot keep up the haphazard pattern of work I have been in nor can I simply do one project week.  Nope.  I have got to focus, focus, focus and make this a DAILY habit – over and above other habits and interests. (Um, like stealing moments to blog instead of to clean and organize at times.  Oops!)

Now, I know I have intended to do this before and failed.  Today is a day to begin anew.  Wish me luck!

(And, sorry, no before pictures.  It's hard enough some days to motivate to organize without taking a picture of the small corners of disaster I have yet to tackle.)

How have your own organization projects been going?  Are spaces you've finished working for you or do old habits come back to haunt you?  Any ideas for maintaining "done" spaces would be appreciated.

This post is being shared at I'm an Organizing Junkie's 52 Weeks of Organizing Challenge.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Learning Story: A Boy, The Good Shepherd and A Story

Some time ago, I wrote about Learning Stories and Our Boy Who Drew A List.  Since then, many Learning Stories about Luke, Nina and Jack have gone undocumented.  However, the learning never ceases and my observation of it brings such joy.
Last night, while I was taking time to purge a pile of paper, I ran across a picture Luke had drawn at the beginning of the month.  It made me smile and reminded me of a story I have been meaning to tell.
  A Boy, The Good Shepherd and A Story
I was lying on the couch one evening, not feeling very well, as Daddy took care of the dinner dishes.  Luke, who had been busy drawing something in order to keep himself somewhat calm and quiet, came over to me.  He crawled up onto me with a paper in hand and asked, “Mommy, can I tell you a story?”
When I said, “Of course, I would love you to.” Luke settled in, stroking my hair with one hand as he held his picture with the other.  He began to narrate the following story about a picture he had drawn. 
"Luke’s Sheep (Because the Shepherd’s Named Luke)"

by Luke Stanger, as narrated to Mom on 10/1/2011

There was once a shepherd. He had one, two sheep and a lamb.

Well, the Mom and the Dad black sheep were lost in the forest. Well, a huge open-jawed eagle came swooping for their baby and, all the sudden, they ran back into their pen.

Well, out flew the tiniest duck in the world from inside a huge egg. He was looking to see if the eagle was around.

Then, with a startle, the shepherd flew his spear at the bird. (The shepherd was holding his staff.) The spear hit the eagle. The eagle fell onto the ground and had a big bloody body.
As Luke told the story, his voice and hands became increasingly animated and expressive.  His tender stroking of “sick Mommy” made way for his enthusiastic storytelling.  Still, he remained seated close to me, making eye contact occasionally.
Since I had a computer nearby, I asked Luke if I might record his story.  He smiled and handed me the computer.  Then, he began his story again, pacing his telling of it so I could type the words.  When his story was nearly done, I asked him what happened to the sheep and the shepherd and how they felt.  He replied:
The sheep felt good because the baby was saved by the shepherd.

The shepherd hugged his sheep.
When I read him back what he had narrated, he stopped me at one point in order to correct a sentence.  He told me that he had made a mistake.  He did not mean, “Then, with a startle, the shepherd flew his spear at the bird. It was an eagle.  He wanted the story to read with the line, “Then, with a startle, the shepherd flew his spear at the eagle.” After making the correction, he asked me to reread him the story.  He smiled with satisfaction as I did.
I set the computer aside and hugged Luke.  He gave me a strong squeeze back.  Then, Daddy came into the room.  As Daddy sat in a chair nearby, I mentioned that Luke had written a wonderful story.  While Daddy was commenting back, Luke walked over to him, drawing in hand.  Luke climbed up into Daddy’s lap and asked me to read his story so Daddy could hear it.
What It Means

Luke, it warms my heart to have experienced this moment with you.

You saw that I was not feeling well, so you tried your best to remain peaceful during our after-dinner hour by busying yourself drawing.  I know that night time can be a difficult time for you, because you feel energetic and wound-up despite it being “wind down” time.  You made such a good choice to channel your energy into the creative pursuit of drawing and telling a story.

I am touched about how you shared your illustration and story with me.  Often, when you aren’t feeling well, we snuggle, I stroke you hair or skin, and I tell you a story.  You offered to do the same for me, showing tender compassion.  It can be difficult to think about others and how we might make them feel loved and cared for.  You did that.

As you told me your story the first time, you proved so many things.  Your story contained a definite beginning, middle and an end.  It also contained conflict and drama.  Plus, it was told using interesting, specific vocabulary.   Both your illustration and your words demonstrated that your talent as an author-illustrator.  They also informed me that you are synthesizing the Good Shepherd parable we have talked about before. 

When you told me your story for the second time, you showed an understanding of phonemes, or the sounds and pieces of words.  You broke longer words up into parts and spoke at a pace that you felt I could type at.

Then, when I read your story back, you chose to change the word “bird” to “eagle”, which showed me that you know how to revise stories to make them even more interesting and understandable.  Your attention to detail is interesting.

Finally, once you had created your story and narrated it to me, you sought to share it with your father.  Inviting others to enjoy our creative works shows confidence and initiative. 

It is a joy to watch your skills and creativity unfold, as well as your compassion and sense of self and others.  It is also wonderful to see how you integrate the principles of our faith – of the Shepherd protecting His sheep into your work and play.

Opportunities and Possibilities

You demonstrated initiative, creativity and compassion in so many ways through creating and sharing your story, Luke’s Sheep. 

I wonder if you could think of other ways to show love, kindness and caring to those around you who are feeling sick or unhappy…  I wonder if you could do the same for people you do not know.  Might you draw pictures, write stories or create other works to share with them?  Could you dedicate some time to simply being present with folks who aren’t feeling their best, sharing your time and smile with them?

I also wonder if we could continue to encourage your interest in writing and illustrating stories?  Might we make a notebook of your creative works?  Could we make a book?  Would you like to publish some online?  Might we collect all your work in one place and occasionally choose which ones you want to enjoy just for yourself, as things to draw or write, and those you would like to share with others?  Maybe we could look into working with other children on a creative writing or illustrating project.  Sometimes working together with others in a creative circle or workshop can be fun and inspiring.

Finally, I wonder if you would like to explore the Good Shepherd parables and other faith stories in other ways.  You seem to enjoy the parable Boxes we make.  Might we try collaging, painting, sculpting or other artwork about faith stories?  Would you like to write your own faith stories book?

Possibilities are endless.  Your imagination and talent are limitless, too.  I know sometimes it’s fun to just play, create and explore with no particular purpose in mind.  At other times, doing so with a reason in mind or to share with others is great.  However you wish to continue creating, Mommy and Daddy are here to support you.

Thank you for sharing your story and your caring with me,

Why Learning Stories?

Learning Stories are an effective tool to encouraging parents and educators to take time to observe children, reflect on what children are doing and facilitate opportunities for future learning.  For more information about them, Learning Stories Examples is a great place to start.  Typically, Learning stories have a number of photographs in them and at least one of the child, but since I was not feeling well when this story unfolded, I did not take any photos.

If you’ve written a Learning Story about your own child, I would love for you to leave a link in the comments below.  Also, please share your tools and approached for observing and reflecting upon the growth and learning of the children you care for.

P.S. We'd it if you'd consider helping us win $250 in sensory stuff by voting for us through leaving a comment at our entry at My Special Needs Network.

This month’s S-O-S Best of the Best (BOB), which will be live on the 15th, features special moments in our day to day lives as folks facing special needs.  Contributions include thoughts and stories about simply being a family and enjoying our children just as they are.  In other words, instead of focusing on the usual therapies, methodologies and schedules that families with special needs must contend with, they celebrate the joy that unfolds in life daily.   Luke’s imagination, desire to synthesize and expand upon learning though hands-on activities and willingness to share his gifts bring smiles to our family on a regular basis.  I share the Learning Story above as a part of BOB in hopes that it will encourage others to reflect upon the simple, yet special moments of life with children, how they learn and how we learn from them.  I encourage you to try utilizing Learning Stories in your own parenting or teaching journey.

This post is also being shared at Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers since moments like the ones described above, and the time to reflect upon them as has been done with this post, are things I am thankful for.  What a gift our children are and what responsibility, grace and joy we are given in observing, responding to and reflecting upon their growth.


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