Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cure for the common car ride

Nothing cures a 12-hour car ride like baking brownies with Nana.

And having a couple thousand Brio train pieces scattered all over the living room doesn't hurt either.

(Kudos to Justin's parents for storing their boys' old train set for almost 30 years. Some toys never go out of style.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding our groove

Every once in a while I have a confident parenting moment where I just know I'm doing the right thing for my kids. We had one of those moments at preschool this week. I think we're finally finding our groove. And I'm loving it.

We made the switch to the Kumon letter-learning method this week, which works on the premise that kids should learn the easy-to-write letters first, and build on those foundations until they're able to handle more complicated letters. Kind of seems like a no-brainer now that we're doing it, but when I first started reading about it, my organized mind did not find it at all appealing. I'm glad I got over my need to hang crafts on the wall alphabetically and decided to focus on what works best for Abby instead. We enjoyed fuss-free, tear-free letter time this week, and Abby was encouraged by her great success in drawing simple straight lines, which she quickly recognized look just like the letter l hanging up on her bulletin board.

We reached a compromise when it comes to writing her name to avoid the frustration of failure that seems to set her back so easily. She draws the parts she feels confident about, and I fill in the rest. This week, that meant she would draw a letter A with a straight line next to it, then hand the crayon to me to draw a circle to complete the lowercase letter b. Then she gets the crayon back to draw another straight line, and I complete the second b. And to wrap it up, because she feels so good about her ability to draw straight lines now, she'll happily take the crayon back and write the letter y all by herself. I'm learning that simple tasks move very slowly with a child who would rather give up than fail at something. I shouldn't complain...she gets it from her mom. Together, we're learning to break tasks down into a series of manageable steps.

Caleb, meanwhile, is working on his proper lefty grip. Or rather, I'm manhandling his little man hands until he grips the crayon properly, and he's tolerating it for about three seconds before reverting back to his chubby fist hold. I may put this goal on the back burner for a while.
But the bulk of our preschool days have been, and will continue to be spent like this. We read a lot of books each week. A lot. We read books from the Sonlight Preschool curriculum. We read books that highlight our letter of the week, including My ABC Bible Verses (featuring great life-application stories that focus on a verse in the Bible and how kids can live it out), our BOB books (pre-readers that allow Abby the opportunity to read some simple words that we practice beforehand), and letter books from the My First Steps to Reading series (stories that highlight repetition of the sound of each letter of the alphabet).

When the weather's nice (and lately it's been perfect) we spend as much time as possible outside enjoying God's creation. There are no chores to be done on preschool days. There are no grocery trips to be completed. I get to enjoy my kids and teach them whatever I've put in my lesson plan for the week, and they get some focused mommy time. And when the occasional doctor's appointment interrupts us, we take preschool with us and make it a learning experience, like the time we brought Abby's baby doll and some books about babies to my prenatal visit, or the time we read about Doctor Maisey and the pediatrician let Abby examine her stuffed puppy at at her 3-year checkup. This week we read a lot of stories about ducks, so on Friday we grabbed a loaf of bread (and some scones that didn't turn out quite right) and took a road trip in search of a duck pond. What we found instead was a field of geese, which seemed to satisfy my little ones just fine.

As part of my ongoing quest to create an avid reader out of my little girl (and my little boys one day), we introduced some sight words this week. We did a daily review of the words at opportune times like mealtime or when we were sitting around playing, and by the week's end Abby was able to identify all four words and can correctly read two of them when we come across them in her books.
I must be doing something right, because on our off days, Abby's gotten in the habit of asking when we can do preschool again, or when we can read some more of her "preschool books." It seems we've found a winner with this home-preschool thing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shoes tied tight...

We kicked off our fourth year of Community Bible Study today. Abby and Caleb are both in real classes this year, and I'm excited that they'll both be learning about this year's theme, Trusting in God, through coloring, crafts, stories and music time.

Caleb's one of the youngest in his class, and his teachers reported that he had a great first day. He settled in easily and apparently set to work right away putting all the trucks in a pile for himself and the other boys and bringing all the girls in the class some dolls to play with. It seems he's learned well the art of distraction from his sister. As always, he loved snack time and almost ate his weight in Cheerios, and apparently he was a good helper when it came time to clean up. (This could mean either he ate all the spilled Cheerios off the floor, or he actually helped pick them up and throw them away. I'll ask for clarification next week.)

Abby was super excited to learn that her teacher this year was my teacher a few years ago, and she too had a great first day with all of her new friends. She even noticed that a few of them were bigger than she is, which is rarely the case among her age group. She's the youngest in her class again, but the teachers said she did great, and storytime and coloring were her favorite activities. No surprise there.

And because we all love flashbacks, here are your comparison photos from the last few years. (I wish I had photos from our very first year at CBS, but Abby and I were in the Babes In Arms class together that year, and having a baby in my arms meant I had no hands free for a picture.)

First Day of CBS, September 2010
Abby (3 years), Caleb (19 months)

First Day of CBS, September 2009
Abby (2 years), Caleb (7 months)

First Day of CBS, September 2008
Abby (1 year)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Waitin' on Critter: Week 32

In case you've ever wondered if it's possible for time to simultaneously fly and stand still, the answer is yes. And it occurs when you're pregnant with your third child. As the weeks and months go by, I catch myself wondering how in the world I'm in the last trimester of this pregnancy already. And wondering why in the world it isn't time for this little guy to be born yet!

Our Little Critter is a feisty one, spending most of his waking hours (which, coincidentally, happen to be most of my sleeping hours) kicking, thrashing, punching and rolling over inside my belly. And since most of my belly is him, his movements are pretty noticeable to the outside world. Caleb, in particular, loves to watch my belly shift from side to side and change shape as his little brother moves around. He'll lift my shirt up and put his fat little toddler hands on my bulging middle and yell "Hi, baby!" into my belly button. He typically gets kicked or punched by his little brother in response, which prompts him to jump back and yelp, "Uh-oh, baby." When he's not driving trucks over my belly, that is.

At 32 weeks, our little guy probably weighs about 4 pounds and is about 17 inches long. Although if he follows in the footsteps of his elder siblings, he's probably already a lot fatter and a lot taller than that. His major development is completed, and he and I are mostly just packing on fat in preparation for his birthday from here on out.

And seeing as his birthday is right around the corner, we thought it was about time we named the guy. So we're pleased to announce that our little Critter is now officially...

Jacob Peter Fisher

The Jacob of the Old Testament was promised by God in a dream, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15). It is our prayer for our little Jacob that he will grow to know and love the Lord in his own life, and we are trusting God to be with him throughout his life, to lead and guide him in the right paths, and to complete the work He has planned for our son.

Peter is a middle name our son will inherit from his dad, a tribute to the man I most admire, and the man I hope our son will want to be just like when he grows up.

So keep cooking a little while longer, little Jacob. But don't be late for your birthday. We can't wait to meet you!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Happy feet

"A wise mother, upon arriving at their spot, first sends the children off to run wild and play and make as much noise as they want."
~Charlotte Mason (Outdoor Life for Children)

I'm pretty sure that after this weekend's adventures, our kids might be convinced that we're the most fun parents ever. See those muddy feet? There's a smile on the face of the little guy above them. A great big I-haven't-spent-a-moment-indoors-all-weekend smile. And his sister has one to match.

We woke the kids up early on Saturday and headed to Starbucks for a special breakfast. All good adventures should start with chocolate milk and scones (and a shot of espresso for the adults never hurts). I twisted Abby's hair into some french braids, a sure sign that we're about to have the good kind of fun, the kind that requires your hair to stay out of your face, and then we hit the road for our big day. We chased ducks, held worms, wandered through the woods, played in mud, splashed in the lake, and cheered daddy on as he explored his new fishing hobby.

After a picnic lunch, the kids made it pretty clear they were ready for some naps, so we headed home, scrubbed them down in a bubble bath, and tucked them in. A few hours later our adventures continued.

We picked up a pizza for dinner and headed to the creek to wander around in the cold water and catch crawfish, which is quickly becoming a favorite evening activity for our kids. Abby likes to pick them up in her hand and threaten Caleb with them, while Caleb prefers to hover above the bucket we keep them in, yelling "Hi, crabs!" and occasionally throwing rocks at them. So while the kids and I were busy scooping up crawfish, Justin put Abby's glittery fishing pole and our leftover pizza scraps to good use and reeled in a whopper of a trout, which we dropped in a bucket and let the kids pet for a while before releasing back into the wild.

And because we had so much fun on Saturday, we repeated the process after church on Sunday. Only this time, we brought the boat.
All in all, the only time we spent inside our house all weekend was naptime and nighttime. So, yeah, it was pretty much the best weekend ever.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Learning to adjust

Two weeks into Preschool Lite, and I'm happy to report we're all surviving. Caleb is learning to put up with my efforts to introduce him to the wonders of crafting, Abby is learning to put up with my efforts to help her learn some patience, and I'm learning that sometimes my goals and my kids' strong wills do not mesh well. So we're all learning to adjust to our adventures in home-preschooling.

As promised, I added to our bulletin board the sign that will let Abby know which days are school days. Most other days read "play," and she's becoming very familiar with the words "school" and "play" as she runs to check the bulletin board each morning to see what we'll be up to later. I also added our letter of the week along with some sight words that we'll be reading in her BOB books that week as part of our pre-reading time.

I've picked out a few interesting people from the Bible for us to learn about this year, and this week was about Noah. I figured starting off with the guy who builds a giant floating zoo would be a good way to get Abby interested in learning about some Biblical characters. We read a couple different stories of Noah's Ark and I was pleased to hear Abby recounting the details of the story for Caleb as they played with their Little People Ark during free time.

"The people were very bad," I overheard her telling him, as she acted out the scenes with her plastic animals. "So God told Noah to build a huge boat. Noah obeyed God. And Noah and his family and all the animals got on the boat. And it rained and rained for forty days and forty nights. And then they crashed into a mountain. And all the animals got off the boat, and they saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky."

We also completed a pretty cool Noah's Ark craft for which I've been stashing away popsicle sticks all summer. I'm glad all those banana pops finally paid off. Later, we added Abby's craft to her Bible notebook, which she still thinks is the coolest thing she's ever made. As soon as we were done with craft time, she held up her ark and said, "Put it in my notebook, Mommy!"

I had planned to include a field trip to the zoo this week to go along with all our Noah's Ark talk. So Wednesday we convinced Abby's best friend and her family to join us and we spent the morning outside at the zoo, wondering how in the world Noah put up with that smell for all the time he was stuck on that boat. We fed deer, rode ponies, and got to to pet some bunnies (Caleb's favorite part), then finished up with a picnic lunch, a wagon ride and some quality time in the moon bounce. (By this point, Abby was fairly convinced that preschool might just be the greatest thing ever.) As a bonus, we got a surprise visit from Papa on Thursday, so I postponed our second day of preschool for the week and instead spent a day at the farm with one happy grandpa and two very excited kids.

On Friday it was too nice to be inside, so we took our preschool time outside and did a little crafting and letter a practice. We had prepped for learning to write the lowercase letter a earlier in the week, and Abby was extremely frustrated when her circles didn't look like the ones I showed her. Personally, I thought the little circles she was drawing (or trying to trace) looked great, but she's her own worst critic, and tends to give up when she doesn't accomplish something the way she wants to right away. So she practiced smearing glue onto a letter a I had cut out for her before sprinkling it with sand and black bean "ants," and she practiced drawing the lowercase a in a tray of rice, which proved much more fruitful than her paper-and-crayon attempts.
Later, we took our show on the road and headed to the library for a change of scenery and some more letter practice. Even after we found a cozy little spot all to ourselves next to a window in the children's book section, Abby's must-do-it-right-the-first-time personality won out. After a few minutes of frustration during which she would (a) only attempt to draw a circle with my help, (b) refuse to even try, or (c) draw an only slightly imperfect circle then frantically scribble it out because it wasn't just right, I decided to rethink this whole learning to write our letters thing.

So after retelling the tales of our letter-drawing-induced tantrums for Justin and doing some careful research, we've decided to make one more adjustment to our preschool plan for the year. Beginning next week, we'll be incorporating some Kumon inspiration into our letter learning, beginning with the letters that are easiest to write (straight lines) and moving on to more complicated letters (like that blasted letter a) once the more basic writing skills are established.

**Special thanks to my homeschooling friend Stephanie for pointing me to Raising Rock Stars Preschool, where I first read about this method.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A great source of fiber

I gave her cheerios for breakfast. She insisted she needed bran flakes (which, by the way, both my kids refer to as "chips").

I insisted she needed to finish her cheerios before we would discuss adding more food to her plate.

"But Mommy," she explained, "I need chips."

My inquiring mind wanted to know why.

She turned her plate toward me, knowing an illustration is the best way to drive a point home.

"So this little smiley face can smell," she explained.

Hard to argue with that one.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Precious moments

There are only a few things in his life that Caleb will drop everything for. Food is one. So is his Sharkie. But he also finds time alone with his Daddy and choo-choo trains pretty irresistible. So when those two things combine in the form of story time with Dad while big sister is still napping, you've got a recipe for a picture perfect moment.

I scored this awesome original Thomas the Tank Engine book at our library's used book sale a few months back. It's turned out to be quite a treasure, as the stories and illustrations are fabulous compared to the Thomas books that are printed for kids nowadays. It also fits in nicely with our improved twaddle-free kids library. Since starting preschool with Abby last week (which involved more than doubling the number of books we used to read on some days), I've already noticed an improvement in Caleb's tolerance for "meatier" and less flashy kids' books.

In other news, Caleb made the switch a few weeks ago at the beach from saying "Dada" to "Daddy," and it melts my heart to hear him squeal "Dad-deeeee!" at the top of his lungs any time Justin walks into the room. "Mama" was the next to go, and I'm thrilled to officially be "Mommy" to both my kids now. (It might have something to do with the fact that your face easily turns into a smile when you say a word ends in a "Y" sound. And this kid's got a smile that can light up a room.)

When he's not playing with trains and trucks or following Daddy around the house, Caleb's busy talking up a storm these days. Under his sister's tutelage (read: incessant chatting), his vocabulary is increasing by leaps and bounds, and he's even started forming some basic sentences. ("More milk, please" sounds more like "Muh mick peas." But you get the idea.)

Next on Caleb's agenda: unlearning the awful habits I've let him get into with holding his forks and crayons incorrectly, and teaching this cute little lefty how to hold a utensil the right way. I'm hoping maybe if he could hold onto a fork or spoon properly there might be less careless food slinging in our future. A girl can dream, can't she?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Off to a good start

Considering I had pretty much no idea what I was getting myself into, I'd say Week One of Preschool Lite was a huge success. I've set aside some designated "school time" two days a week and introduced some special "preschool books" that we save for that time in an effort to help Abby understand that we're doing something special. At the end of Day One she asked when we could do preschool again, so I told her we'll make a special sign for her bulletin board that lets her know which days are "school days."

We accomplished exactly what I hoped to accomplish this week during our preschool time. We began reading through some great books from the Sonlight preschool curriculum, including 101 Favorite Stories from the Bible, which includes simple questions at the end of each story to help kids focus on the major points. Abby was frustrated by the questions on Day One, but when we read through two more of the stories on Day Two, she knew what was coming and seemed excited when she knew the right answers at the end.

After reading Crictor, a tale about a green boa constrictor who can wiggle into the shapes of letters and numbers, Abby suggested we play with play doh and make some snakes and letters of our own. While Caleb stamped out sharks, I took the opportunity to review the uppercase alphabet with Abby and was happy to discover she recognized and could sound out every letter.

I tried to incorporate all the fun things that a kid at preschool would enjoy into our preschool time. We had snack time and practiced counting goldfish crackers, and after the kids helped me vacuum up their crumbs, it was time for crafts.

In an effort to help Abby start to understand the basic structure of the Bible (that it's a big book full of lots of little books, and contains tons of different stories that are all part of a bigger story), we're going to spend the year working on her very own Bible notebook. On Day One, she used watercolors to paint a cover for her notebook, and on Day Two I introduced the concept by showing her the notebook I had prepared for her, complete with 66 tabs labeling all the books of the Bible. We reviewed her scripture memory verses from Community Bible Study last year (she still remembered all of them...yay!) and she got to put them in her Bible notebook. This, she told me later, was her favorite activity. I think she likes the giant "button" that opens and closes the three rings of the binder, and the chomping sound it makes when she closes it back. Throughout the year, we'll add worksheets, crafts and memory verses that she does at Community Bible Study or in Sunday School to her notebook so she can start to get a feel for where things happen in the Bible.
We read through a section called "What Happens to Your Food?" in The Usborne Flip-Flap Body Book and I was blown away by just how intrigued Abby was by the concept of the "food tube" and where all the food goes as it travels through her body. We spent a half an hour reading through six pages of everything from which types of food are good for helping you grow, to why we wash germs off our food before we eat it, to the ways our teeth smash our food before it goes down our throats, to how poop is made after the food travels through the large intestine. I learned a lot, and Abby was full of questions the entire time I was reading. Later I gave her some free time to read by herself, and she choose that same book. I couldn't help but smile when I heard her reciting back much of what we had talked about as she turned the pages.
After reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, I let the kids make some cookies of their own. This was the first time I've really let Caleb "help" with a cooking project, so things got a little crazy at times. But Abby enjoyed showing him how to do things like hold down the button on the food processor and roll the dough into balls, and they both enjoyed the part at the end where snack time included fresh baked cookies straight from the oven.
Part of my preschool plan for this year includes teaching Abby to write the letters of the alphabet, so we spent part of our time coloring a worksheet that helped her practice the concept of drawing straight lines and drawing from left to right. And (after I let her simply scribble whatever she wanted for a while) my headstrong daughter, who typically balks at doing anything for the first time that isn't her idea, amazed me once again with her willingness to follow my directions, her patience in letting me show her how to trace the lines, and her excitement when she realized she'd done a great job at it. I had to remind myself not to praise her too much. She tends to get overwhelmed and give up more easily when she realizes we're proud of her, preferring to revel quietly in her own personal success. So I watched silently with pleasure as the smile on her face got bigger and bigger as she traced each of the four lines on the page, realizing that somehow this activity meant something to her, which gives me hope for doing more like it in the future.
In addition to all the coloring, baking, reading and painting, we went on an early morning walk around the neighborhood, played dress up like the Emperor after reading The Emperor's New Clothes, sang songs and talked about what all the "fancy words" in some of Abby's favorite hymns mean, decorated pages with stickers for Daddy's office and figured out how to build a playground for our stuffed animals out of our cool new set of wooden blocks.

So after a few hours of home-preschooling, I'm going to go ahead and admit I love this. The kids had a blast doing all of our preschool activities, and I can already see the benefit of involving Caleb in what we're doing in how his attention span for things like storytime and crafting has increased over the past week. Abby told me she loves preschool and was a little concerned at lunch when I told her we were done for the day. I promised there would be more preschool in her future, and she perked right back up.
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