Friday, February 29, 2008

Alphabet Jar

You remember the pretty jar we made last week?I found a use for it. Alphabet storage. A novel container makes the simplest game fun, even for a guy who is quickly approaching 6 years old.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why I Need a Mudroom

Hanging the coats to dry
after playing in the snow.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

WFMW: Happier Children Through Sensory Play

Once again, it is Wednesday, the day in which I pass on a priceless gem of knowledge that "work for me." Like most other great tips, this one is not original, but rather an adaptation of something I learned from other moms. To join in on the tip-giving madness, check out Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in My Dryer.

How do I keep four small children happy all day?

With God's grace and a whole lot of sensory play.

You have probably heard about the benefits of sensory play -- it is calming, organizing, and a really interesting way to discover new things. In our house, sensory play takes many forms. Currently most popular are cooking, pillow crashing, play-do, fingerpaint, shaving cream, and rice.

Lots of rice. In fact, a wading pool of rice located in the corner of our art room. We keep buckets, shovels, egg cartons, empty spice bottles, coffee cans, and (on occasion) pine cones or branches. For added interest we color the rice with food coloring and rubbing alcohol.

Rice play is open-ended. Baby P likes to pour rice into buckets and kick his legs back and forth to make noise. Agent 004 and Cousin F pretend to cook. Agent 002 builds roads with his plastic construction tractors. All four kids would spend the bulk of their day in there if they had the chance, but the room has a door and they are only allowed in with direct adult supervision.

A word of warning: this is a "Works for me Wednesday" tip that may not work for you. If you are a neat freak or if your vacuum cleaner is underpowered, a large sensory pool would probably drive you over the edge. The rice gets everywhere --on the floor, in the kids' hair, and even inside of the baby's diaper. As a result the mess does spread somewhat to other parts of the house. We have decided that the benefit far outweighs the cost, but I thought that it was only fair to warn you of the downside. Remember, however, that even small children can learn how to use a dustpan and broom (see Monday's picture for evidence).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The ABCs of Decoupage and Clean Cars

Decoupage. All the cool kids are doing it!

The unplugged theme this week is "letters."

We focused a lot on letters last year, and even compiled a book of everything we did. I have backed off a bit on actively teaching letters because both of the Agents know them well, but Cousin F is not quite ready for any formal instruction yet.

We did have two activities this week, however, that fit well with the Unplugged theme. The first was an alphabet decoupage. Following the directions here, we covered a super-sized animal cracker jar with construction paper scraps and letters*.

Some additional tips:

  1. If any of the pieces overlap the corner of your object, make sure that there is at least one full inch on each side of the corner. We have several spots where a piece of paper barely overlaps a corner and has popped up
  2. Make sure to cover every square inch of the object with paper. The glue peels off of bare plastic.
  3. If you are using construction paper, be aware that the color may bleed a bit.

*The letters are from Hubbard's Cupboard. It is a PDF with a full page of each capital and lowercase letter in various fonts and styles. It uses a lot of paper, but I have only printed the set once, and we have been using them for various purposes for two years. It is great for letter recognition activities because he gets them used to the many ways that a single letter may look.

The second activity was a shaving cream car wash.

I put a mound of shaving cream in the middle of the art table,and let the kids play in it with wooden alphabet blocks and toy cars. They soon took a sheet of cardboard from the supply shelf to form a roof for their car wash

At Agent 002's request, I cut a hole in the cardboard so that we could spray shaving cream through the roof to further replicate an automated car wash.

We extended the activity by scrubbing the cars with a toothbrush and rinsing the toys off in a bowl of water.

The fun lasted for about forty minutes, and clean up was very easy.

Post edited 3/1/08 to restore the photos I accidentally deleted from Blogger.

Monday, February 25, 2008

After the Craft

I frequently post pictures of our completed crafts. What I don't usually show is what the floor looks like after those activities. Here is a shot of the Agents sweeping up after making their body flip book: This is what the kitchen looked like after building cracker houses this morning. Note the table cloth pulled back so that my creative geniuses did not smear peanut butter mortar all over it. The toys strewn all over the floor is what Baby P accomplished while we "worked."

Kendra of Preschoolers and Peace posted a challenge to share the reality of life as a busy homeschooling household. Any other takers? I'd love to see your messes :)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cat Napping

I never got in a nap yesterday,
but Janice did.
Lucky cat!

Five Little Duck Books

This past week, we learned about ducks. It all started because Agent 004 is fascinated by the song "5 Little Ducks."

Five little ducks
Went out one day
Over the hill and far away
Mother duck said
"Quack, quack, quack, quack."
But only four little ducks came back.
The verses continue with four little ducks going out, then three, then two, then one, until finally, in a surprise (wink, wink) ending, all five little ducks come back.

I made up a set of movable pieces for our new felt board. Agent 004 had a grand old time moving them along with the lyrics. It is great to see that she knows her numerals and is able to subtract one to figure out how many ducks come back each day.

We read a nonfiction book about ducks -- DK's Watch me Grow: Duckling -- as well as about 20 story books.

Of those, here were our 5 favorites.

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon

A stunningly illustrated book, Duck on a Bike is the tale of a farm duck's adventure on two wheels. The kids asked me to read this book again and again.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

The classic 1941 tale of what happens when the ducks cross the road. It has a rare combination of complex vocabulary and rhythmic text, and the monochromatic illustrations draw the children in.
Chibi by Julia Takaya and Barbara Brenner

A true-life version of Make Way for Ducklings, set in Tokyo. The book is lengthy -- 62 pages -- and has some content that may be upsetting to very small children. My 3 year old enjoyed pronouncing the Japanese words that are sprinkled through the text.
Have You Seen my Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri

A Caldecott Honor Book, Have You Seen my Duckling? is beautifully illustrated. The story is told in pictures and small children love to find the missing duck on each page. The story easy lends itself to counting activities and interactive reading.
Curious George and the Dump Truck illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey by Vipah Interactive

George's curiosity gets him in a bit of trouble, but a fortuitous turn of events makes the ducks happy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Internet, You are Going to Hate Me for This

I am exhausted.

Eyes drooping as I pour my third cup of coffee.

Agent 002 had a bad dream last night. Something about a monster opening his door or an astronaut staring at him or monkeys playing basketball -- the story has changed a few times. He came into our room at 1am. I brought him to the bathroom, got him a drink, and carried him back to his bedroom. Five minutes later, mr warillever responded to his screams by checking behind each door for any wayward creatures. Five minutes later... five minutes later... five minutes later... We finally (at 2am) had him sleep in our bed which, as you all know, is not restful for anybody. Shannon very aptly calls sleeping with a distraught child "sleeping with an octopus." I gave up entirely at 5:15, and let him search Google images for pictures of spaceships for the rest of the night while I snoozed with my head on the kitchen counter.

The thing that is killing me is that I am just not used to this. The kids are excellent sleepers, and both of them have slept straight through the night as long as we've known them. Except for a few cold nights when Agent 004 whimpers for more blankets, we almost never need to get up with either of them before dawn.

All of the mothers of newborns are probably throwing tomatoes at their computer monitors by now, but I think I may just take a nap with the little guys this afternoon... See you when I wake up :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brush Those Pearly Whites


Now that he has three teeth, P insists on joining the others for a good tooth-brushing.
The last time I posted a picture like this, P wasn't even born yet ;)

WFMW: One Stop Planning

I have always been a bit of a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to organizational systems. I have never found a commercial product that has all of the features I want in a size or price that I am comfortable with.

In college I photocopied a grid with my weekly class and work schedule drawn in, penciled in meetings as they were scheduled, and then planned homework and my social life around those parameters. I could see my entire week at a glance and know just where I needed to be when. I used some variation of this system for ten years. It was simple and flexible, but thorough. It really worked for me.

Then I became a stay-at-home mom, day care provider, and owner of a very high maintenance home. I had things to be done, but no set schedule -- my time-based organizational system fell apart. With all of the constant (blessed) interruptions, I could not keep track of all of the things I needed to remember and do. I could not remember what on earth I needed at the store, or when I had last vacuumed the playroom. With the help of Flylady, I got daily routines going, but still needed to make the system my own. This January, I finally sat down and made a planner that fits my life. The sheet has a box for everything I need in a week -- appointments, menu plans, preschool plans, shopping lists, and ongoing projects. I also have a checklist of all of the tasks I complete once per week. I even found room to record the kid's milestones and what books we have read together.

I print off a month's worth of sheets, pop them into a soft-covered binder, and keep it in the kitchen cabinet above the computer. The binder rolls up small enough to fit in my coat pocket, which allows me to bring it along to the grocery store and doctor's office even when my hands are busy. Here is what it looks like in use.
That is what works for me. To see what tips others have come up with, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Care and Feeding of a Baby Monster

Caring for a baby monster is a great responsibility,
but Agent 002 is up to the task.

Where Have All the Poems Gone?

I once told you that I "fancied myself a poet."

I am not a poet.

Forcing a poem onto paper is like forcing a toddler's hand into a winter glove -- all of the right parts may exist, but they just wiggle too much to fit.

My thoughts are formed in sentences, not rhythmic lines. Not always in complete sentences, but always structured. More like speech than poetry. Not quite an academic treatise, but never with a musical melody.

I have the soul of a poet trapped in a conformist brain. Bear with me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

So this is What 100 Looks Like

At the Races

The Unplugged theme this week is "fabric."

Pillow cases are made out of fabric, right?

Here is a video of the agents having a sack race. It looks like Agent 004 will take it all, but then Agent 002 comes out of nowhere to win the race.

For more Unplugged projects (that may actually be projects), visit Unplug Your Kids.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Agent 004: Mommy, I love you.
Mama: I love you too, Honey.
Agent 004: But I don't love pirates.

Friday, February 15, 2008

St. Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day. Like Halloween with the begging. Like Easter without the fasting. Candy and kisses for no reason other than giving them.

I am all for this holiday.

We had heart-shaped pizza and red velvet cupcakes* for dinner, followed by chocolates from a heart-shaped box.

...and the best treat of all? My mother was over the house earlier this afternoon, and took the kids to her house for a sleep-over. Mr. warillever will be home in a half hour. Let me get off of the computer.

*I made the cupcakes from scratch, but next year will probably follow Jenny's lead and work from a cake mix. But I will still let P lick the frosting from the bowl:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fancy Treats

Agent 002's Kindergarten class is having a "tea party" this afternoon. I volunteered fruit skewers, otherwise known as grapes on a stick.

Don't I feel all domesticated now?

Valentines and Priorities

Sorry for the silence.

Due to the weather, my husband has been working from home quite a bit. Somehow his job takes precedence over my blog. What gives with that? :)

No posts for today either -- I'll be spending the morning making Valentine's treats for a "high tea" later in the day. Fruit skewers and Red Velvet cupcakes. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WFMW: Creamy Hot Chocolate On the Go

It is Wednesday, so there should be a session of "Works for Me Wednesday" over at Rocks in my Dryer, but since Shannon is in Africa doing great things, Melanie is hosting WFMW at her blog this week. Here is my hot tip:

We live in hot chocolate country, or rather, we live in a hot chocolate climate. We have had 79 inches of snow thus far this winter, and expect another 6 to 10 inches tonight.

When we venture out for an outdoor adventure, we make sure to bring along a child-friendly warm beverage in our handy-dandy thermos.

The problem is, we like our hot chocolate smooth and creamy, but pouring milk in cools the chocolate, which is unacceptable when the thermos will be outdoors for a while before we drink it. My solution: powdered milk. I pour it in at a 1:2 ratio to the hot chocolate mix, fill the thermos half-full with hot water, shake, then fill it up.

Creamy, but stays warm even after 3 hours outside in single-digit temps.

Amazed at my ingenuity? I knew you would be :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lenten Linkage

  • Preschooling moms will appreciate Ironic Catholic's interpretation of the Dr. Seauss classic Green Eggs and Ham:
I am Sam
I am Sam
Sam I am

(The narrative opens with a direct reference to YHWH, "I am who am". Sam is symbolically connected to the Ultimate Good using three syllables per three lines, an indirect trinitarian reference. As Sam will be found to be the instigator of temptation, this triplet announces Sam as an anti-Christ figure, and sets up the dark nature of the book. Henceforth, he shall be referred to as Sam/Satan.)

(read the whole "Twisted Lenten Drama" at Ironic Catholic)
  • Becky responds to Mary about non-Catholics "doing" Lent. They both initially see Lenten devotions as empty ritual, but are coming to understand the power of ritual, discipline and symbolic suffering in bringing us closer to Christ. Becky closes her post with a very interesting question:
Is a religious habit a bad thing? Initially my thought is that as long as it isn't just a habit or ritual and something done with seriousness and observation and reflection to better my relationship with God, it couldn't be wrong. It could be beneficial.
I have been using this question to frame my prayer-time for the past few days. My thoughts are far too complex to reduce to a blog comment, but I will try to have a post-length formulation of my answer soon.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cut and Paste Flip Book

Here is our "Unplugged" project.

Stealing an idea directly from Amber, we made made flip-book people using an old three-ring binder.

After 3-hole punching cereal box sides, I cut them into three strips. Each child was assigned a body part (heads, bodies, and legs), then glued them onto the cardboard strips.

Easy to do, easy to use, and very fun. The best kind of low-tech fun!

Beware, loyal readers! Next week's them is "fabric."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Cast of Characters

The Main Characters:

  • Agent 002 -- our son, born in 2002.
  • Agent 004 -- our daughter, born in 2004.
  • Cousin F -- my Goddaughter and niece, cousin to the Agents, born in 2005. Spends her weekdays at our home.
  • Cousin P -- my nephew, cousin to the Agents, born in 2007. Spends his weekdays at our home.
  • Janice -- the cat
  • mr warillever -- my blessed husband, also known as "Papa"
  • Mama -- that's me!

The Supporting Staff:
  • Grammy -- my mother; Grandmother to the Agents, F, P, Aa and M.
  • Grampy -- my father; Grandfather to he Agents, F, P, Aa and M.
  • Grandma -- mr warillever's mother; Grandmother to the Agents as well as Cousins E, C, T, B, A, Mm and D.
  • The Uncles -- my brothers Jimbo* and Jethro; mr warillever's brothers On, 7, and Ichabod; and our sisters' husbands -- three Ms and a D.
  • The Aunts -- my sisters M and Kak, as well as Uncle On's wife K.
  • The Ants -- mr warillever's sisters E and P.
  • Cousins -- in order they are E, C, T, B, A, Aa, Mm, M, F, D, and P
*Jimbo has also been called JR on this blog

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Our luncheon conversation about mortality on this Ash Wednesday:

Agent 002: When I die, will my skin fall off like the dinosaurs in the museum?
Mama: Yes.
Agent 002: I won't have any skin?
Mama: No. It will decay.
Agent 002: But I will still have hard bones?
Mama: Yes.
Agent 002: Will my eyes decay?
Mama: Yes.
Agent 002: And my heart and my muscles?
Mama: Yes. They will all decay.
Agent 002: Does Jesus send every person a note?
Mama: Huh?
Agent 002: A note to say that I will die and can go to heaven. Does Jesus send them in the mail?
Mama: Every living thing dies. Jesus doesn't need to send notes about it.
Agent 002: But how do you know that people can go to heaven with Jesus?
Mama: There are no notes, but God wrote a book about it -- the Bible.
Cousin F: In the living room?
Mama: Yes, our Bible is in the living room.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

WFMW: Online Shopping

It is Wednesday once again, when I reach deep into my mommy bag of tricks to tell you what Works for Me. Shannon has a special themed edition this week -- "What are your favorite on-line shopping sources? Where do you go for on-line bargains? Or for on-line window shopping?"

I have found that the easiest way to save money is to avoid shopping.

Really. What works for me is to shop as little as possible. One store may be cheaper than another on one or two items, but I know that I will spend more money overall if I go to both. So I go to one, and buy only what I need.

I rarely shop online, because that brings the store into my home. I just don't need that sort of temptation in my life.

...but I just can't resist passing on my favorite gem of a store: Montessori N'Such. A friend suggested it for some preschool supplies I needed. I found those, plus most of the toys I needed for Christmas presents. Fun, educational, and reasonably priced -- what could be better?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Rainbow Fish

Book openAlternate post titles:

  • Adventures in Unit Studies
  • A Moral Misunderstood
  • Wires Unplugged
  • The World's Longest Blog Post Ever
Having finished up our foray through the children's Bible, I am beginning to form our day around popular literature.

Drawing of PigletWe read several versions of Three Little Pigs the week before last. We compared the versions, talking about how the stories were similar and different. I included The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (which is from the wolf's perspective), but it was over their heads. We also read Piglet-heavy portions of The House on Pooh Corner. We looked up information about pigs, talking about what made Piglet and the three little pigs "just pretend." We drew pictures of real pigs and fictional pigs.

This past week we read Rainbow Fish and used it as the basis for several activities.

First up was a coffee filter craft from DLTK

We colored the filters with markers, sprinkled with water, then dried them:

Then we cut them into the shape of fish and glued on aluminum foil:

Later in the day I made up a puppet for each of the characters and the kids retold the story. Each of the fish was double-sided, so that we could demonstrate Rainbow Fish giving away his shimmering scales.

I know that many parents worry about the supposed Communist leanings of this book (look here and here and here, or better yet, just read the reviews over at Amazon). I think those worries, however, are based on a faulty understanding of both Rainbow Fish and Communism itself.

The Rainbow Fish is about sharing. Self-donative love, if you will. Even my three-year old understands that this story is not about fish. Fish do not talk. The story is about people. Similarly, the "shimmering scales" are a metaphor. I would argue that the scales symbolize our God-given gifts. The scales are what makes the rainbow fish special, and they are his gift to share with the other creatures of the sea. When the rainbow fish refuses to share, he is hiding his light under a bushel, but when he shares, he is glorifying God(referencing Matthew 5:15-16). In other words, his sharing makes the world better, and to keep them all to himself is selfish.

Rainbow Fish has no Soviet-style government demanding redistribution of shimmering scales; a fellow sea creature (the octopus) merely advises him that doing so is the right thing to do. There is no communist requirement that everyone own everything, just a fish who individually does the right thing. This is no more communist than donating your wealth to charity is.

Okay, I made up the stuff about God-given gifts and self-donative love. That's just the way that I read it and explained it to my kids. But the same goes for the people who say the book is about Communism. It is a cute story with beautiful artwork and a message that children will understand (as long as their parents don't overthink it for them).

The ladies popping over here from Unplugged are probably starting to wonder what all of this has to do with pipe cleaners or wires. Does this cut it for you?

Using some hard-core supplies, I made a set of numbered fish with metal hidden inside. Then, at Agent 002's direction, we tied our Fridge Phonics machine to utility wire as a fishing rod (we initially used a fridge magnet, but it was not strong enough to lift the out of the pool).

We kept score by adding the numbers on the fish, which allowed the kids to work on numeral recognition and comparison in an active and fun way. None of the kids are ready for addition yet, but Agent 004 understood that to win she needed to collect the biggest numbers. It was very funny listening to her advising F (who does not yet understand the relative value of numbers) on strategy.

Tickle Me Obama

At a Super Bowl Party last night, Agent 002 was giggling so hard that one of his older cousins called him Tickle Me Elmo.

He responded, "Tickle me more, Obama!"

So our son has no idea who Elmo is, but comes up with Obama.... maybe our kids should watch more television ;)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Creative Maintenance

You may have noticed that I have been blogging more regularly.

That is one of my resolutions for 2008. Not that I have blogged about that, because one of my other resolutions is to spend less time at the computer. Contradictory? Yes, but it has been working so far.

I have some interesting posts in "draft" status -- about books, marriage, and fish -- but you won't see any of them until I finish tweaking the blog design and apply labels to select posts in the archive.

Drop me a comment if you like the new template, or if you have any constructive criticism. Do you like the color? I am fond of the third column, but haven't figured out how to balance that with a wider post section.