Monday, August 26, 2013

It's a new school year!

Howdy folks!  Did you have a fantastic summer?  Today was the first day back at school for kids in our district.  Mind you, that doesn't include any of my kids, as The Gibbon is still only four, and the district rule is that you have to be five before the first day of school to start kindergarten.  What about preschool, you ask?  I've found that saying, "We've decided not to send The Gibbon to preschool," results in arguments from some people and silent judgement from others.  So my standard reply is, "We're homeschooling preschool." 

Here's the thing, because parents around here push for it, the preschools tend to be more academic leaning.  Except for the really-really-really pricy ones.  We can't afford a really expensive play-based preschool, and I don't actually want to pay anything for a dubiously beneficial academic-based program.  I figure, since I'm a reasonably engaged parent with a reasonable number of resources at my disposal, "homeschooling preschool" and "being the stay-at-home parent of my preschool children" are probably basically the same thing.

Sample curriculum!  Observing the vegetables available at our local supermarket and touching the ones we are going to buy (literacy, math, tactile processing, and health/nutrition).  Picking up the toys before vacuuming the carpet (sequencing, motor control, and cooperation).  Jumping on the bed and yelling while intermittently turning the radio on and off.(creative thinking, gross motor skills, and auditory processing).  What a well rounded program I'm running here!

No, seriously.  The Littles and I talked about what we'd each like to learn and do this school year so that we would be sure to cover all the basics.  And we're also starting up Something New Day again.  We did Something New Day from August through maybe April last year, and The Gibbon has been asking to bring it back.  The basic premiss is that on Mondays we do something we've never done before.  It doesn't have to be big or complicated, but it has to be new.  Last year we introduced new art supplies (colored pencils one week, big sheets of tag board another), tried new activities (making an obstacle course, painting on the sidewalk), did old things in a new way (eating dinner on the front lawn, wearing our clothes backwards), ate new foods (cheese fondu, pepper jelly) and occasionally even went new places (a playground we walked to, a museum).  A few things were big hits and went into the regular rotation of what we do around here.  But mostly it was good entertainment for me to come up with the New things, and the kids both enjoyed having something special planned for every Monday.

Today, The Gibbon ran the blender and we made our first ever granata.  Watermelon granata.  It was supposed to be Watermelon Sorbet, but after The Gibbon stirred it all in the ice cream maker for 30 minutes, it became abundantly clear that something was wrong with our ice cream maker, and the sorbet would never ever be frozen.  So we improvised.  And we froze the watermelon slurry in ice cube trays before mashing it with forks, because I figured that would make it freeze faster.  I was totally right.  Also, it was delicious.  Something New!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Toys for the car

Or, what I packed on my 60 hour road trip to Alberta, Canada.

I was really, really nervous about taking a 60 hour, 6 day car trip with my 2 and 4 year old children.  In retrospect, it wasn't so bad, but the anxiety I had leading up to the trip led me to make list upon list of things to pack.  Of course there were clothing and toiletries, diapers and the little potty for the newly potty trained Sparrow, dozens of kid's books, a DVD player with plenty of cartoon movies, and more snacks than you could possibly justify.

But I also packed toys.  The Sparrow isn't much into movies.  And the books that hold her attention tend to be little 5-minute stories that she wants you to read over and over and over and over.  Would you like my giant obsessive compulsive list of toys for the car?  Even if you don't want it, I'd like to record it so the next time we undertake this kind of delightful family togetherness, I've already got the list compiled.  Also, my notes on what worked.

1. A doll or stuffed animal for each kid
2. A magnetic lap tray for each child (In retrospect, we really only needed one at a time.  However, having *A* tray was immensely handy not only for toys and coloring, but also for making and serving meals in the car.)
3. Lots of paper (construction, lined, printer, watercolor)
4. Scissors
5. Crayons (Not markers this trip.  The Sparrow loses the caps like nobody's business.)
6. A dozen sheets of stickers.
7. Homemade I Spy bottle with 34 items and 10 letters
8. A set of magnets with colors, numbers, and shapes.  Maybe 50 magnets total.
9. Rubber stamps (The self-contained stamps were ok, although a bit messy.  The stamp pad was a disaster.  The Gibbon enjoyed it for maybe 3 minutes, and The Sparrow dyed her hands, face, outfit, and car seat blue.  Maybe for older kids, but never again for preschoolers.)
10. Fancy colored Duct Tape (The Gibbon likes to just cut inch long pieces and stick them on paper.)
11. Construction trucks.
12. Little People and their vehicles.
13. Playdough and a few tools to work it. (It definitely keeps the kids occupied for a good length of time, but it crumbles and makes a mess.  I had enough else that I didn't actually get it out of the bag.  Plastic modeling clay will probably be my choice for the future.)
14. LED flashlights.
15. Bubbles (Another idea that didn't go so well.  The kids wanted to hold the bubbles, and that always results in a mess.  So they alternately popped the bubbles I blew and whined that they weren't holding the wand.)
16. Magnifying glass.
17. Clips (I had bulldog paper clips, hair clips, clothes pins, and mini-carabiners.  They clipped themselves, their clothes, their car seats, their hair, and me.  Good times.)
18. Toy doctor kit.
19. Coloring books and preschool worksheets.
20. Post-it notes.  (The Sparrow enjoyed removing each post-it from the stack and handing them to me. The Gibbon enjoyed drawing on the notes and sticking them to things.  I also drew simple shapes or sketches on the notes and hung them on the window after the kids guessed what they were.  We got almost an hour of play out of a $1 stack of post-its.  Totally a win.)
21. Paint rollers and brushes.  (No paint, just the rollers and brushes.  My kids both like to pretend paint.  "What color do you want, Mom?  Dip, Dip, Dip.  I paint your hand blue.")
22. Magnetic drawing pad (Like the Magna Doodle, only generic).
23. Lacing shapes.
24. Dinosaur toys.
25. Pony beads.
26. Pipe Cleaners (These were used for stringing the above mentioned pony beads, but The Sparrow also enjoyed taking them out of and putting them into their package.  Subsequent to the trip we've used them to make fabulous accessories.  Pipe cleaner glasses are awesome.)
27. Pom Poms (Because they're basically balls, but you can't hurt anyone with them.  We played tiny games of catch, blew them on the trays, treated them as fuzzy pets, and of course put them into and took them out of their package.)
28. Dollar store plastic shot glasses.  (For stacking, pretend cooking, and putting pom poms into.)
29. Shape sorter (Didn't get enough play value for the amount of space it took up.  I'd skip it in the future.)
30. A magnetic door puzzle.
31. Calculator (Doubles as a pretend phone and a "find the number" game.)
32. A dozen Easter Eggs stuffed with random tiny toys.  (The Sparrow, being two, likes to open and dump stuff.  Have you noticed that trend yet?)
33. Playing cards. (The Gibbon is old enough for War and Old Maid.)
34. Scrabble ties.  (The Gibbon is also reading and learning to spell.  So these were good fun for him.)
35. Plastic laces.  (You could use these to string pony beads instead of pipe cleaners.  Or you could simply tie them in knots or threaten your siblings with them.)
36. Hole puncher.  (Office supplies are awesome to preschoolers!)
37. Stapler (See #36.)
38. Staple remover. (See #36, again.)
39. Dice. (There are a million games you can play with a handful of dice.  We like to roll them and count.  To make that an actual game, you can say that when you roll doubles your turn is over and try to get the biggest number before then.  Or try to be the first to roll a 1 then a 2 then a 3.  Or just google "easy dice games" and find a few that suit you.)
40. Pirate action figures.  (These are the tiny guys, like you're used to seeing little soldiers.  We've also got football guys, although we didn't bring them on this trip.)
41. A wallet full of cards.  (We honestly used our store discount cards, some business cards, and one of my old student IDs.  But it would be truly awesome if you had a set of these.)
42. Two copies of this free printable travel game.  (The Sparrow got one set hole punched and on a ring.  The Gibbon got seven cards at a time and a snack when he found all seven items.)
43. Glow bracelets. (We used these the one day we ended up traveling after dark.  Good times.)

I was going to make a latch board, but I ran out of time.  Maybe next year.

What are your favorite toys for long road trips with the kids?