Friday, August 31, 2012

Books We Love: The BabyLit Series

It isn't every day that you run into Bram Stoker while browsing in the children's section at the book shop, but if that is your sort of thing, you will absolutely adore the BabyLit series from author Jennifer Adams and illustrator Alison Oliver. Luckily for me, that really is my sort of thing, and these books are a delicious gift for literary nerds and kid lit enthusiasts alike. Marketed as "primers" for children, the series actually consists of concept books for things like colors and numbers. (Here's hoping they do an alphabet book soon!) Ranging from the aforementioned Stoker to masters like Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll, these books are a guaranteed least down memory lane, to what you were reading in high school.

Also, kids love them too!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

World's Easiest Sensory Tub

I'm all about ease of execution when it comes to play, because generally I'm so excited to play right alongside my kid and/or students that I don't want to waste a bunch of time prepping. So without further ado, I present to you world's easiest sensory bin: poms and bowls!

What could be easier? I just opened the huge bag of poms I bought at Hobby Lobby, tossed in a couple of bowls and spoons and - voila! Instant sensory fun with literally no planning or prepping involved! L had friends over recently and this tub was a hit with all of them and bonus - stupendously easy clean up! This may just be my new favorite sensory material!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Small Moments

Whew! It was a CRAZY busy week in our house this past week! The new semester is underway at the college where I work, which meant time to get back in the swing of things for L and me.  I'm back to teaching a full class of toddlers, and L is back to having a full load of friends in her own classroom. Things will settle down eventually, I'm sure, as we get back into our fall routine.

In the meantime, I feel it's so important to connect with my family in the midst of all the craziness. Yesterday, the entire family (dad included!) took a break and had a group pedicure. Cute, right? It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful it feels to slow down for a minute and just enjoy those small moments that make life so delightful. Plus, it was a hoot to watch the hubs get complimented on his purple toes yesterday morning at church!

What do you do to stay connected with your family in the midst of life's craziness?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Books We Love: A Leaf Can Be...

It isn't very often that I request to read a book more frequently than L, but this has totally been the case this week with "A Leaf Can Be..." by Laura Purdie Salas and Violetta Dabija. The sparse rhymes and sweet illustrations make this one a hit with kids and adults a like - and really, did you know how many things a leaf can be?

What fabulous books are your kiddos reading lately?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Magic of Dry Erase

Recently we found ourselves in the pediatrician's office, getting L checked for an ear infection. (Seriously?! I breastfed! My kid is supposed to be immune to those things!) Anyway, while we were waiting for the doc to arrive, we began to doodle on a dry erase board in the exam room. It was an AMAZING way to pass the time! L loved it and it totally took her mind of her (should-be-non-existent) ear pain. It was fantastic!

When we got home later that afternoon, I pulled out a rather large dry erase board I had purchased some months before with the motivation of getting organized. (You'll notice I said nothing about having to take it off a wall somewhere.) L instantly recognized what it was, and was so eager to start doodling again that she could barely contain herself. Needless to say, my child is now an expert at the magic that is the dry erase board, and I have another tool in my repertoire for helping her learn through play. Huzzah!

We wrote and erased letters (okay, mostly I wrote and she erased), shapes, doodles, the names of our family and friends, numbers, all sorts of things. It was so engaging and so much FUN. We even traced a few items from the play room, which I loved because it showed L how you can integrate all kinds of stuff into your artwork. It was a blast!

What kind of non-toy toys are your wee ones digging these days?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Montessori Inspired Life Skills Practice - Pouring Pasta

I'm not much of a cook - by any stretch of the imagination - but I do like to flex my culinary muscles in the fall and winter with lots of baking.  Given that L had only just started toddling around late last fall, I didn't invite her into the kitchen too often. This year, that's all going to change. I am so excited to have my little gal by my side making all kinds of delicious treats! I had sort of been wondering what I could do to help prepare her for our big baking adventures, when I found an idea in a book of Montessori-inspired activities (my apologies for not being able to cite which one - I've been reading a host of different early childhood books lately and they were all very overdue at the library!). In this particular activity, the child practices pouring pasta from one measuring cup to another. I thought this would be a really great activity for L - fun, but also practical in terms of preparing her to hit the kitchen. Plus, I already have tons of rainbow pasta on hand, so I decided to give it a go.

L found this activity fantastically entertaining, and after only a few small spills, she got pretty good at getting all the pasta from one cup into the other and back again. This was such great fine motor practice, in addition to all of the thought she put into doing the job correctly. (And hey, what's a few spilled ingredients between friends, right?) I have complete confidence that, come autumn, we will be having many great adventures in the kitchen!

Do you do any kind of baking or cooking with your little ones?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Car Wheel Paint Prints

During my many years in the early childhood field, I've seen and done some pretty amazing art projects with wee ones. One of my all time faves is one of the simpler things I've tried: painting with the wheels of toy vehicles. L has had a big interest in vehicles for the past several months, so I decided to rustle up a big piece of cardboard for a canvas and let her give it a try.

I put some paint into a pie tin and with just one quick model to show L how the thing was done, she was off and running (driving?) and making some really visually interesting art in the process.

She did a pretty fantastic job of covering the entire piece of cardboard with the wheel prints, and I now have a pretty bitchin' piece of artwork that I plan to frame (seriously!) and hang in our living room.

What unconventional art tools have your kiddos tried?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Playing Hooky Looks Like

Being a mom poses all sorts of challenges, and being a teacher poses an entirely different set of challenges. Recently I had had my fair share of both, so L and I played hooky from school (don't worry, it was legit!) and spent the entire day together, just us girls. It was magical to have some down time with my girl, and I wanted to make it as fun as possible. What's more fun than a bath tub full of shaving cream? Not much!

Love that slippery, slimy girl - who could resist a face like that?!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Table Top Traffic

Want an easy peasy way to bring new life to all those toy cars you have lying around? (I mean, that's not just my house, right?) A little tape, a table top or other flat surface, some toy cars, and you're ready to go!

I just stuck some tape to the table in patterns of roads and parking spaces (and one sad little house), threw in some peg people, and of course, the cars. L was instantly enchanted, which I find endlessly amusing, as those same cars have been sitting in one of her toy bins for weeks completely untouched. The power of novelty, eh?

Of course, after the wonder of the cars and people wore off, there was still a tabletop full of sticky tape just waiting to be unstuck!

Who needs silly old cars when the bright blue roadway will do?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bubbly Baby Bath Time Fun

This has been a summer for the record books in terms of heat, and although I do try to get L outside as much as possible before the hot afternoon sun brings its wrath, it's not always possible and sometimes I have to come up with a backup plan.  This was recently the case, when I found myself wondering what on earth to do with an antsy toddler cooped up in the house. What's the best way to combat a hot day? Water play, of course! And though we decided on this particular day to stay indoors, we managed to have fun all the same. Without further ado, baby bath pretend play!

To get our bath started, we gathered a big bowl for a tub, some soft baby wash cloths, L's baby, and one of those tiny bottles of baby wash (which was great, because I seem to have about a zillion of them in various nooks and crannies in my house) and set up shop on a big towel on the kitchen floor.

L got busy squeezing some soap into the tub, then she was ready to get that baby clean!

This activity was fantastically fun, and it offered a lot of opportunity for talking about gentle touches, how we take care of each other, our own bath time rituals, and why we need to take baths to get clean. It was such a soft, soothing, and quiet activity - and it lasted for a good long stint.

Even Dad got in on the action by blowing some soap bubbles! It was a great time for the entire family.  When the baby was nice and clean, L toweled him off, wrapped him up, and promptly carried him away to find a diaper. It's like she's done this bath thing a time or two herself!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Imaginative Play with Sensory Bins: Pretend Food

At this point it should be very clear that I LOVE sensory bins. Love, love, love 'em! They are like magic - fill them up with even the simplest of materials and you can get kids engaged and playing for hours. Recently L has been very interested in dramatic play, particularly in pretend food and dishes, so I decided to make a new sensory bin inspired by this love. And it was so easy, which is just my style!

I filled up our bin with uncooked, uncolored pasta, in keeping with the food theme. (If you are more inclined to colored pasta, you can find the method here.) Then I added in some of L's pretend food and voila! Instant sensory bin full of something of interest and just right for prompting lots of pretend play.

L got to work exploring immediately and was soon busy "cooking" up food in her new bin. She even grabbed her play dishes (but of course!) and before long I was in for a feast!

The best thing about this particular sensory bin was really that it took about two minutes to put together and incorporated something that is already on L's radar - which made it the perfect activity for engaging my busy little gal.

What areas of play are your kids digging these days?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Books We Love: Not Your Typical Parenting Books!

For this edition of Books We Love, I wanted to share some of my absolute favorite parenting books. These are my parenting go-to's, the books I read when I seek advise or assurance of how I'm bringing up my daughter. Okay, okay, so they won't tell me anything about potty training or developmental milestones, but they are seriously fantastic resources when it comes to being an informed mom. These are books for this modern mama, raising a strong, imaginative, and independent girl who LOVES to read!

How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell

Madame Esme is a personal hero of mine, for not only is she a brilliant novelist and picture book maven, she is a champion for teachers, librarians, and readers of all ages. This book has EVERYTHING you will possibly need to get kids reading. It is a work of literary genius. You can also check out the Planet Esme Book-a-Day Plan for more wonderful resources and titles.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

And while Esme is a hero of mine, her hero is the magnificent Jim Trelease. This literacy guru has been telling it like it is for six editions of his Handbook, which frankly may as well be called The Read-Aloud Bible. Packed with information and tips for making parents and teachers better readers for the children in their lives, Mr. Trelease keeps it entirely readable and entirely wonderful.

A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley

This oldie-but-goodie gets into the research of why fantasy play is so important for kids...and what we as parents and teachers should be doing to foster this important work. Filled with anecdotes from Paley's own years as a preschool teacher, this book is a very enjoyable read. I wrote a paper on it in college and though that was some years ago, I still often think of this book as a great resource for fostering pretend play in the kids in my life.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

Peggy Orenstein's handy guide to raising strong, independent daughters exposes the dangers of the princess culture we live in and what parents need to know about the unethical ways marketers are targeting young girls. A feminist from the start, I read this book when L was just a baby (thankfully AFTER I had politely exchanged all of the pink stuff we were gifted for baby showers) and it has really changed the way I look at media culture and advertising. I recommend this book for everyone with a daughter (it makes a great baby shower gift!) for learning about how corporations are selling sex to four-year-olds and what we parents can do to fight back.

Hope you find something here worth checking out! What parenting books, traditional or otherwise, have you found helpful?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

10 Reasons Public Libraries ROCK!

The first thing I do when I move to a new area? Find the public library, of course! Ahead of even finding the grocery store or nearest gas station, I scope out the locale of the public library. Why? Because public libraries ROCK! Let me tell you all about it!

1. They're free. Or virtually free. Mine generally costs me a few bucks a month in late fees and the like, but if you're even slightly more responsible than me in this area, they are free. FREE!

2. They are a wealth of resources: books, newspapers, magazines, reference materials, music, movies, children's materials, even Internet access.  All right there at your fingertips.

3. They pretty much have any book you could possibly want. Even ones that are (sadly) no longer in print.

4. They contribute to the local community in so many ways: children's programming, book clubs, readers' circle, various other interest clubs, you name it. Libraries bring people together.

5. Even when you owe them money, they are still nice to you.

6. They encourage kids to become readers. Having a personal library card does wonders for getting a reluctant reader to check out some books. Literally and figuratively.

7. They bring in authors and other great speakers so that you can quietly hyperventilate about seeing your idol (like I do!) or you can learn something new.

8. They are air conditioned in the summer and toasty warm in the winter. (This may seem like a lame one, but when you're in the grueling heat of summer or the frigid chill of winter and you need to get the kids out of the house, the library is your best friend.) While you're in there, you may as well pick up a book or two!

9. They put together great thematic lists and compile book recommendations so that when you finish that excellent novel you're reading, they'll be right there with another title you're likely to enjoy. They also make magic happen when your kids are stuck on one subject (be it trains, dinosaurs, the ballet, what have you). They'll help your kids find other titles on subjects that interest them...just in case you need a break from reading Knuffle Bunny for the 712th time.

10. They are filled with people who love books as much as you do! From staffers to other patrons, you can always find someone who will love to talk books with you!

Also, did I mention that they are FREE?!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cotton Ball Painting

In my never-ending quest to present L with art activities that are varied and novel, I've thrown together some interesting things, but we recently experienced a new painting tool that was somehow more delightful than anything we've done for a while: cotton balls. I don't know what it was, exactly, that made this activity so engaging for my very busy girl, but we painted on and on with just a bit of tempera paint and a handful of cotton balls. Perhaps the mood was just so, but we managed to work our way through three pieces of paper, which in the land of Todd is really saying something.

Whatever it was, the cotton or the mood, L loved this activity, as did her dad and I. For me, there was just something so satisfying about the squish of wet cotton on the paper. L, for her part, managed to get through one entire piece of paper before sticking both hands in the pie tin, and that is REALLY saying something!

As the process moved forward, L, Dad, and I all ended up working on the same sheet of paper. The collaborative nature of the thing made it all the more fun, and it was wonderful to spend such quality time bonding over a shared piece of artwork.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gross Motor Sensory Play: Sticky Feet!

Any activity that gets a body moving is the perfect activity for a toddler! L is a big fan of moving and grooving, so she was delighted when I presented her with this sticky feet sensory activity!

I laid out about two feet of contact paper, sticky side up, and taped it to the floor. I encouraged L to walk, run, jump, and dance on the paper (as if she needed any encouragement!) and feel the lovely stick of the paper on her little feet. It was a roaring success!

L had a blast walking on, crawling over, and slapping that sticky paper! Her dad and I got in on the action too, because frankly it was just too hard to resist! I just love a good sensory activity, but this one was beyond awesome!