Friday, February 28, 2014

Busy Bag: Pegboard Letters

This bag is really built around a great "toy" that I suggest buying.  I picked these up at a teacher store years ago, and they have provided hours of building entertainment for Theodore and now Eli.  Ours are similar to these Stacking Pegs, and could be used to work on colors, patterns, or just developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Connecting Pegs at 20 months
Building a Tower at 24 months

Because of his interest in letters this last year, we decided to make this into an alphabet activity to extend the use of this toy for Theo.  I used illuminations dynamic paper, and created a dot template that we printed out.  Then we drew most of the letters (not all worked with straight lines) on the templates.  Theo watched me draw and "okayed" all the templates and agreed on the letters they represented.  We'll see how Theo likes this new task.

Letter activity at 4 years old.

Cool Homemade Toys: Spinny Speller

I decided that Theo was finally ready for a Spinny Speller this year for his birthday.  I pinned this ages ago, but was waiting to make it until he was starting to put sounds together when playing with words and letters.  My version of this Spinny Speller is based on a tutorial here.  

I changed mine up a bit, using craft paint rather than crayons, and different letter combinations.  I planned this around the fact that I wanted Theodore to be able to spell out his nickname, but also make as many words as possible.  This limited a lot of the choices I had in what letters to use, but the combination that I picked makes at least 40 words.  A few words that were new to us, but lots of common ones as well.  My husband did offer to write a script to help me in finding these, but I just used a lot of logic, a lot of scrabble dictionaries, and I did indeed list out all 256 options possible with the final letter choices to check all the combinations.  And there's only one that is a mildly offensive word.

You can guess that the math teacher in me will come out again in a few years and use this as we're discussing combinations and permutations.

In case your child has the same name and you'd like to know my letter choices, they are:
First Letter:  B, C, S, T
Second Letter:  E, H, K, R
Third Letter:  A, E, I, O
Fourth Letter:  M, O, P, W

*I wanted a keepsake speller with his name.  If I was doing this just to work on phonics, I would probably just use labels and duplos like these awesome ones here.*

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Busy Bags: Pre-School Math (Bear Patterns, Butterfly Symmetry, Numbers in the Sand)

For the past couple years, we have been getting very restless come February.  That gets me in the mood to put together some "busy bag" activities for Theodore to keep him from going too crazy with cabin fever. So, I'm going to be putting up a handful of our favorite activities and busy bags.

In addition to some activities that focus on shape and number identification, I wanted to put together some more math inspired ones for my just turned four-year-old.

I bought these counting bears on sale at a teacher store years ago, and they have had quite the life getting carried all around in dump trunks, shot down the bobsled ramp, working on one-to-one correspondence, and used as cargo on the railroad.  They were a big part of color sorting with Theo was younger, and now I wanted him to be able to explore patterns with them.

Materials:  counting bears, pattern cards (I can email you a set if you ask), construction paper (optional) and laminator (optional)

Assembly:  I found an image for each color bear, and then started making the typical ABAB, AABB, ABCABC patterns in Microsoft Word.  On some I left space for the pattern to be continued while on others I inserted blank boxes in between bears to be filled in.  After this I cut mine out, backed with construction paper, and laminated them for long life.

Activity:  Have your child pick which cards he would like to complete, and they can continue patterns or fill in the empty boxes.  Be sure to check for accuracy.

I fell in love with this one the first time I saw it, as I'm a huge lover of all types of symmetry, plus, butterflies are such a popular subject for children's literature and science activities.

Materials:  butterfly pieces printed on cardstock from here, felt, laminator (optional)

Assembly:  Cut out the felt pieces as directed.  Laminate butterfly cards if desired.  *If you choose to make blanks, you will need to cut out extra pieces of the wings as there are only one of each color.*

Activity:  Model how to set up the butterfly and create a mirror image with the felt pieces, and then let your child go.  With my child, he first wanted to use the cards more as puzzles, finding the circles and wedges that fit on each wing.  As a young four-year-old, this has been a challenging activity for him so far but he keeps chugging away at it.

This one is not so much a bag, but is a great activity I saw that I wanted to share.

Materials:  container (the wooden card holders from Melissa and Doug work great), sand, numeral cards, roller (optional)

Assembly:  Pour clean sand into container.

Activity:  I used some number bean bags for this, and simply had Theodore pick a bean bag, and then try to trace that number in the sand.  He decided he would like a "roller" from his play-do set to help him smooth the sand out after each number and I thought that was a great idea.  He went through and did all the numbers, some with more success than others.

Monday, February 24, 2014

To Theo @ 4

About 37 months old.
 Yesterday was the big 0-4.  We had a great day taking you to church and sharing cupcakes during fellowship time, riding the train into the city and exploring the gardens and museums, and having pizza, cake, and gifts for super.  You were very excited your grandparents were here to spend the day with you.  Next year we may try and have your first friend party, but I'd hate to have to share you with lots of other kids on your special day.  

About 38 months old.
 This past year you have really come into your own.  Your world is expanding so rapidly. For your first three years on earth, your days were spent primarily within our house with either mama, dada, or a sitter (other than a few months in three-days-a-week day care back when you were just two).  That has all changed in the last year.

About 39 months old.
About 40 months old.
Just a few days after your birthday, we packed up your first home in Delaware and headed to Indiana for a few months before moving officially to Virginia.  You loved all the time in Indiana with cousins, grandparents, and new friends.  You started attending Sunday School, and loved all the new museums, zoos, and places we explored.  You did well during this transition period that was filled with activity but also uncertainty.

About 41 months old.
When we got to our new house in Virginia, you started a soccer league, joined a new church with lots of kids, and started pre-school three afternoons a week.  You have your own little world now, and I love peeking in on it and seeing how you interact with all these other kids.  You are very sweet, playful, and friendly.  You have lots to chatter about, and are always good for a laugh.  For a while your favorite thing to do was being one of the three little pigs, while dada/mama/your teachers would be the big bad wolf.  This has been played at many different playgrounds.

About 42 months old.
I love taking you places to learn and explore, as your personality really comes out when you enjoy yourself learning.  You thrive in structured environments where you listen to science demonstrations, interact with zoologists giving animal talks, participating in story time, or watch a live puppet show.  At home you still can spend hours with train tracks, duplos, or building forts in the living room.  You also love arts and crafts and projects.  And of course your shows-which are current the PBS morning line up.  You'd watch Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger, Sid the Science Kid, Super Why, and Thomas and Friends every day if we let you. 

About 43 months old.
 Also at this age, I will remember that you don't always nap now, but when you do it will be for hours and it is almost impossible to wake you.  You hate baths, until your hair is finished being washed then you want to stay in and play forever.  You would wear pajamas everyday if we let you.  And you are sometimes picky with food.  You love riding in car carts at the grocery stores, and have started riding your little scooter on our walks to school.  You are mostly a great big brother, and you also take care of Cori by feeding her everyday.

About 44 months old.
And even though you are all boy in your interests and favorites, you have a gentleness about you.  You give hugs to your classmates when you leave school, you sometimes think your brother is in an "enchanted sleep" so you give him kisses to wake him, and you are convinced that Humpty-Dumpty can indeed be put back together with enough band-aids and some help from the hospital.  You love your family and friends and love making people happy.

About 45 months old.
You're starting to learn your abilities, and are sad that you haven't been able to score a soccer goal or run as fast as other kids, but you believe if you practice you will get better.  You are smart.  You're just like your dada, struggling with speech, but you're able to tell me all the letter sounds (even multiple sounds, like for letter c) and are on the brink of sounding out words (we don't push it, but I'm watching you closely to see when you are ready).  And you absolutely cannot go to sleep without a story.  Sometimes you will fall asleep on the couch, but when we move you to your bed you will wake right up and ask for a story. 

About 46 months old.
I think I could write a million more sentences starting with "you", but hopefully this is enough to help me remember this special year of childhood and for you to get a glimpse of yourself as a child when you read this years down the road.  Last year I said 2-3 was all about gaining language for you, it looks like 3-4 was all about becoming social.  I suspect I might know what 4-5 is going to be all about, but I'm excited to find out with you.

About 47 month old.
Here you are at 4 years old!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

2014 Sochi Olympics (Indoor Play)

 After seeing an idea for strapping some pop-sickle sticks (skis) on some little people and creating a ski jump competition, I was all about setting up some Olympic play activities for the boys.  Making an ice rink was pretty simple, I just popped a pan of water in the freezer.  But making a skeleton/luge track was going to be a little more work.  Luckily I have been saving empty wrapping paper tubes for a while now, and with a little painter's tape I was able to set this up for the boys.  The only thing small enough to fit down the track are counter bears, but they don't seem to mind.

 We also did some sensory play with a bowl of snow this week.  It was pretty awesome how long they were interested in this, and Theo even did some investigations with salt and snow.  I'm thinking I should put a few extra bowls in our deep freezer before it all melts.  It would be awesome to pull out in July.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Birthday Girls! Baby Doll Sling, Diapers; Tea Crown and Pretend Teabags

So we are on a great schedule now.  Though it is sad that Elijah is down to just one nap a day now, it works out great when that nap is from 12:30 to 3:30 when Theodore is at school.  I'm allowed two to three hours of mama time that has been used lately in my "new" sewing room/office/craft room.  I really disliked this room when we first moved in, but I've finally gotten it all organized and it is now my favorite place in the house.

Inspiration and computer station on the left, sewing desk on the right.

The closet is packed full, with all sorts of crafty supplies, fabric, and tools.  I decided to use a bunch of glass jars I had to organize my materials slightly.  And the bags from Ikea were helpful in organizing extra fabric and all my "recyclables" that we keep for projects.
The striped box contains all of my stationary and different types of paper.  The boys craft materials and busy bags are housed in here as well.  Above the desk are some bulletin board areas where I post reminders, inspirations, Theo's homework, and announcements.

This wall is still blank, save for a temporary family tree print off.  I'm planning to hang some of my favorite old (50 years +) family photos here.  The bottom row of the bookshelf is full of my genealogy research.  Both of the wicker boxes here are stuffed full of fabric, with each kind wound carefully around a piece of cardboard to keep it all neat.

After Natalie's quilt was finished up, I got to work on birthday presents for two of my other nieces.

For Annalyn, who turns two, and is about to be a big sister in a few months, I picked some accessories for her baby doll so she can get some practice in.  The tutorial from Little Giggler for this sling worked out great, and the idea for baby diapers from Make It and Love it was perfect.  I may have to make some extras of these as my boys have always loved diapering their dolls and stuffed animals.

For Maci, who is now three, I gained inspiration from her recent tea parties with dinosaurs and grandmas.  I decided to make some of the cute little teabags that I've saw on pinterest.  And, of course, she needs a princess crown for when she is playing tea party, so I added that as well. Click on any of the links above for tutorials!

For the teabags, I basically just used pinking shears to cut out small squares and hexagonal pieces of fabric in the shape of a tea bag, and sewed them together adding a bit of stuffing inside and a bit of twine to connect the two pieces.

What has mama done to me now?
  Hoping they love them, and that their mamas send me photos since Eli wasn't the most happy model.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Presidents' Day: Mount Vernon

Presidents' Day:  Normally this day is just a great excuse to have the day off, and maybe a time to look for some great sales. But now that we are living 18.2 miles from our original president's beloved home place, it's a little bigger deal than normal.  Alexandria hosts a parade, and the museums around here had events all weekend long.  We decided to celebrate today by heading up to the (normally expensive) free day at Mount Vernon itself.  We recently visited the grounds at the end of August with my family when they visited, and enjoyed seeing and hiking through the extensive grounds on a very hot summer day.  But Brian did not get to tour the house due to the repair men coming to fix our air conditioner (earlier than planned), so we wanted to return so he could.  This visit was a little different, with the grounds mostly snow covered, and an even bigger crowd.  We spent more of this visit indoors, exploring the educational exhibits. 
Winter Visit

Some important info:
-Tickets are normally $17 for adults, $8 for youth, and free for 5 and under.
-They also have an "annual pass" that you might consider if you live as close as we do.  Different seasons offer very different experiences.
 -You normally pick a time for your mansion tour when you buy your tickets.  Since it was free today, we were handed tickets when we walked over to the front of the mansion.
 -The orientation video is not very kid friendly-since it includes many battle scenes.  Skip it if you have a young pre-schooler/elementary student.
-Most of the grounds are stroller friendly, but some paths definitely are not.  Seek advice from the map or a docent if you aren't sure.
-There is stroller parking outside the mansion, so be prepared to leave it there.
-The Education Center is very kid friendly, with large exhibits and even has a "hands on history" section where kids can do puzzles, play with period toys, or other activities.
-We still haven't made it through the museum, I'll update this once we do.
-Boots would come in handy when it is wet, but the trails really were in pretty good shape considering the recent weather and the size of the crowds.

Summer Visit

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Local & Not So Local Favorites: Mom's Apple Pie Bakery & Julian Pie Company

While Brian's main Valentine's Day treat was a couple dozen molasses cookies, I wanted to follow that up with a good excuse to try out a nearby pie shop.  We finally headed over to Occoquan to have a bite at Mom's Apple Pie Bakery there.

In a town with limited parking, this locale is blessed with a corner lot with lots of parking, making it easy for a quick stop.

We headed there on a Sunday afternoon, and were tempted by not only pie packaged by the slice or by the whole pie, but also baked goods, jars of candy and gelato.  There is also a great selection of drinks, from specialty sodas to milk.  Or, you can step into the wine shop section of the store for beer or wine (or cheese).

Definitely somewhere we can add to our list of local favorites.

Though they are about 2700 miles apart, this visit brought to mind our favorite pie shop, Julian Pie Company in Julian, California.  I think we discovered this pie shop from a suggested itenerary we found in the front of an atlas, almost ten years ago! It wasn't quite the same feeling to sit outside sharing pie with our two little boys in the Virginia cold, but Brian may have enjoyed his coffee more this time.

Back in the fall of 2005, during our second visit.