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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day

One of the things I miss the most about my kids attending public school, is the looks on their faces when they'd file out carrying a gift they'd made in class just for me.

So, since Mother's Day is this Sunday, I decided to lay out the art supplies, give some general guidelines, ask the older ones to monitor and help the younger ones, print out a few overly gushy poems that I'll probably cry over when I'm old enough to have grandkids, and let them loose!

What they created made me cry...and not because of the GIANT mess they made with the glitter!

The Handprint Poem is a classic, and you can find variations of it all over the internet. Here are a few that I love:

This is the hand
You used to hold
When I was only
(fill in an age) years old.
I miss you when we're not together
I'm growing up so fast
See how big I've gotten
Since you saw me last?
As I grow, I'll change a lot,
The years will fly right by.
You'll wonder how I grew so quick -
When and where and why?
So save this print in a safe place
And take it out each year.
The memories will come back of me,
When I was small and dear.
My dirty little fingerprints
I've left on every wall,
And on the drawers and table tops,
I've really marked them all.
But here is one that won't rub off,
I'm giving it to you,
Because I'm thankful for a (mother, father, brother, sister) just like you!
Sometimes you get discouraged
Because I am so small,
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
But everyday I'm growing,
I'll be grown up someday,
And all these tiny handprints
Will simply fade away.
So here's a final handprint
Just so you can recall,
Exactly how my fingers looked
When I was very small.
This is to remind you
When I have grown so tall,
That once I was quite little
And my hands were very small

This is my hand.
My hand will do
A thousand loving things for you
And you will remember
When I am tall...
That once my hand
Was just this small.
I give my hand
to you this day!
Remember me now,
as I grow and play!

Here my handprints are done
For everyone to view
I had so much fun
Doing this for you.
So look upon this handprint plaque
Hanging on your wall,
And memories will come back
Of me when I was small.

There are always so many of my fingerprints to see,
On the furniture and walls from sticky, grubby me,
But if you stop and think a while,
You'll see I'm growing fast,
Those little handprints will disappear,
You can't bring back the past.
So here's a small reminder,
To keep not throw away,
Of how those tiny hands once looked,
To make you smile one day.

Ten tiny fingers, that always want to play,
That never stop exploring that wonder of today,
Ten tiny fingers, that from the very start,
Will reach out for tomorrow yet always hold your heart.

These little hands can wave hello
Or put smudges on the wall.
They can fold in prayer,
Throw a kiss or
Reach up when I say, "so tall."
They will clasp your hand for an Autumn stroll.
Or shape a dinosaur from clay.
But most of all, they will stay with you
When I'm grown and far away.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

National Public Gardens Day

National Public Gardens Day is a national day of celebration to raise awareness of America’s public gardens and their important role in promoting environmental stewardship and awareness, plant and water conservation, and education in communities nationwide. 

This year is the third annual nationwide celebration, and it is happening this Friday, May 6, 2011! 

Better Homes and Gardens is offering FREE ADMISSION vouchers to participating botanical gardens around the country. Each voucher is good for two free admissions, and you are free to print as many as you need! For example, a family of 4, print the coupon twice; family of 3, print the coupon twice; family of two print coupon once.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Colorful Eggshells

What is this time of year without a few colorful eggshells? My kids always thrill at seeing their creations (to the point of wanting to keep special eggs under pillows…), and they are always heartbroken when the best part of the egg (its colorful wrapper) is thrown out.

This year we decided to turn those eggshells into artwork! I found coloring pages of things each of the kids were interested in (color by numbers make it more educational), had them cut and mount onto black construction paper, and set them loose. 

If you have a budding artist, you could give them a white piece of chalk and have them draw a picture directly onto the black construction paper. The darker the background, the more dramatic the final result.

Mosaic Eggshell Butterfly

 Mosaic Eggshell Turtle

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

National Homeschool Book Award

I just ran across the newly launched National Homeschool Book Award site, and HAD to share. The site offers a wonderful chance for kids to not only find amazing new books, but also gives them an opportunity to celebrate authors who write books that appeal to homeschoolers, and gives home schooled kids a voice.
The award program was created by a group of literature-loving homeschool moms, and they have just announced the four finalists for this year's award.

Being a part of the National Homeschool Book Award is free and simple! All you have to do is read the four books and pick your favorite in October when the voting polls open. The winner will be  announced in November. 
In the meantime, the National Homeschool Book Award blog will post information about the books and their authors, activities and more!
You can also catch them on facebook!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sprouting a Kitchen Garden.

Our kitchen windowsill becomes a makeshift greenhouse every spring as the kids and I attempt to grow various fruits and vegetables to see what happens. We have had lots of successes, and more than a few failures, but we always have fun! Here is what you will need to start your own:

Various vegetable and fruit (seeds and cuttings or whole pieces)—Drinking glasses, recycled glass jars, plastic sandwich bags, or small plant containers—Paper towels—Toothpicks—Potting soil

Sprouting beans
Lima beans are probably my favorites because they sprout very fast and grow rapidly. In order to watch them sprout, (which is always a lot of fun) wet a paper towel and slip it into a plastic sandwich baggie. Slip one lima bean in between the side of the baggie and the paper towel and close. Hang somewhere out of direct sunlight, or the bean will get too hot and cook. Check the paper towel daily and water if it appears to be drying out. In about a week, you’ll see it start to sprout!

Carrots or Parsnips
In order to get these veggies to grow into a beautiful plant, you need to cut off the top (about ½ an inch) and place the flat side down into a shallow bowl. Pour enough water to almost cover and place in a dark area for a few days until it sprouts. Move the plant into the light. Replant into larger pots with potting soil when it becomes large enough.

White or Sweet Potato
Potatoes are always fun to plant because their roots are just as interesting to watch as their leaves. Put three toothpicks into the center of your potato (medium sized works well) and hang on the opening of a drinking glass. Make sure you fill the glass with enough water so that it covers the bottom of the potato. Add fresh water each day and you should see sprouts in about a week.

Orange or Apple Seeds and Peach Pits
These kinds of seeds can be tricky to sprout and it has always been hit or miss with us, but with a little experimenting, we have found that the trick to it is to keep things consistently moist. To plant, rinse and pat dry. Fill a container with potting soil and bury seeds or pit about ½ inch into the soil. Pour in enough water to dampen the soil—be careful not to soak it.

The trick to get them to sprout is to put the entire pot into a plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap. Place the pot in a dark place until you see sprouts. Once the plant sprouts, water and place in a sunny spot. Water when dry and enjoy!  

Thursday, March 24, 2011


This week, we have been tackling probability. I have always enjoyed this area of math, so I was excited to jump right in. We have done the boring textbook lessons with the dice, spinners, and marbles, but I wanted to spice things up—what happens if you toss a coin TEN MILLION TIMES! Unfortunately for my kids, I don’t have the patience or time to find out, so to the internet we ran and—what do you know? It took a while, but we got an answer!

We were also curious about spinning a spinner a million times. My fingers aren’t strong enough to flick a teeny arrow around a circle that many times, but the computer never complains!

Why stop at spinners and coins? Pulling stuff out of sacks is always fun too and Santa’s the guy to turn to if you want a huge sack and an unlimited amount of stuff to take out of it!

After all of this fun, we decided to play Chase Me. (I lost every time!) A printable version can be found here: Tortoise and the Hare.

To round out the lesson, we strolled on over to a site offering amazing probability games for kids. We went to a fair, caught some fish, had fun with a parrot, figured out fractions at a circus, pulled things out of a bag, made predictions with cards, practiced the basics, and took a cool quiz.

Once we had our fill of the computer, we decided to find some games we could play together. Cross the Bridge is a printable game you can laminate and never get tired of playing! MathWire.com also has a bunch of great printable probability games you can laminate and enjoy with your kids! 

The probability of learning is highly likely as you and your children play each of these fun math games!

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Use Books to Encourage Late Talking Toddlers

For toddlers that take their time talking, there is no better way for parents to help than by spending a lot of time reading with them. Books introduce new vocabulary to children and can effectively emphasize word meanings. An example of this type of book is I See, by Helen Oxenbury. This board book shows a drawing on the left page, with a caption identifying the object, and then a toddler interacting with the object on the facing page.

Neil Ricklen also has a wonderful line of board books, which label the everyday activities of specific family members and baby. His titles include Daddy and Me, Mommy and Me, and Grandma and Me.
Another great way to involve your toddler with the story, and emphasize new words, is to get him or her to actively participate by acting out the meanings. A good story to choose would be “Jump or Jiggle” by Evelyn Beyer, which is found on page 16 in the book Poems for the Very Young, by Michael Rosen and Bob Graham.

Children can listen to the poem, and then on the second reading, parents demonstrate how each animal moves. Children benefit from the fun of the movement, the enjoyment of listening to the rhyming language, and as a result, they make connections to new words and their meanings.

Another way to approach language development is to offer your toddler a selection of books that all focus on one specific topic or theme. For instance, perhaps you are planning a trip to the zoo next month. Some books you may want to begin exploring before the trip could include all baby animals. Whose Baby am I, by John Butler introduces children to baby animals and asks, “Whose baby am I?” The book gives the answer, with clear illustrations and vocabulary naming the type of animal of both the baby and its parent.

Another book that would fit the theme of baby animals is The Chick and the Duckling, by Mirra Ginsburg. This is a wonderful story about a chick who attempts everything a duckling does and succeeds, until the duckling decides to go for a swim. This book uses the refrain, “Me too” that parents can use to encourage speech by asking toddlers to join in.

With its reliance on the rhythm, rhyme, and the patterns in language, parents of children with a language delay should not overlook poetry. It sets the stage for continued enjoyment of exploring new books and shows children that the tone and feeling of words contribute to its meaning. Through poetic verses, children learn that words connote as well as denote. Poetry also stimulates children to think about the language itself, not just the message that is conveyed. Linguists call this ability to focus on the forms of language as metalinguistic awareness and suggest that it may be critically important in both reading and writing in later stages.

When exploring poetry books, it is important to note that there are differences in purpose and style. As we have seen with picture storybooks, certain poetry books are also useful in encouraging children to repeat fun refrains repeated throughout the story while others allow children to respond physically to the words being read aloud.

Some poetry books center on the sound of language. Several great titles to introduce to your toddler are Chicken Soup with Rice, by Maurice Sendak, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert, and Grandfather’s Lovesong, by Reeve Lindbergh.

Poetry books can also focus on the patterns within language. The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper is a classic that has been delighting children for over fifty years. Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag is another great example of use of refrain. Like The Little Engine that Could, who repeats “I think I can,” the little old man and the little old woman in Millions of Cats must contend with

Hundreds of cats
Thousands of cats
Millions and billions and trillions of cats

In order to find the one cat that is their own.

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, by Mary Ann Hoberman is another great example of patterning of language. As each new event of character is added, all of the earlier ones are repeated. Repetition is a wonderful way to get reluctant talkers to begin trying new words.

Poetry can also focus on the appearance of the language as it is written. Rebus writing is a visual game played with language. It is a combination of words and pictures put together in sentence form. The Secret Birthday Message, by Eric Carle is a rebus book that pairs shapes with words in the form of a secret letter that invites children to match the shapes in order to find the surprise at the end.

Another visual game authors play with language is to print the word in a way that signifies its meaning. In the book So Say the Little Monkeys, by Nancy Van Laan the words curve around and mirror the actions of the monkeys.

Poetry books can also focus on the meanings of words or phrases. A Little Pigeon Toad and A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, by Fred Gwynne are books more suited for second or third graders who can appreciate the idioms and homophones used throughout. However, toddlers would be able to enjoy A Scale Full of Fish and Other Turnabouts, by Naomi Bossom. This book is a collection of language turnabouts with the examples facing each other. For instance, we read “race for a train,” and are shown passengers hurrying alongside a train; opposite it, we see three runners and read, “train for a race.” 

While selecting and sharing great literature is wonderful for encouraging reluctant talkers to speak, go the extra step and try a few oral activities with your toddler. Don’t worry if nothing happens at first; the more you both practice the better the results!

  • Try to dramatize a story by playing a role from one of your child’s favorite stories. Improvise by creating your own plot or narrate parts of the story and encourage your toddler to act out what comes next. Simple props make play-acting even more exciting.
  • Try using masks and puppets. Children who are reluctant to speak are sometimes more verbal if they are allowed to use masks and puppets because it becomes less about them and more about the character.
  • Create a felt board and encourage your toddler to retell a story using simple felt cutouts.

Most importantly, have fun. Enjoy the time you and your toddler spend together reading and let the words come when they are ready!