Thursday, February 23, 2017

Get Ready for Seuss-a-pallooza

Dr. Seuss was born on March 2, 1904. That means in a week readers all over the world will be celebrating Dr. Seuss's great contribution to the world. Here are a couple ideas for celebrating Dr. Seuss...

Ten Apples Up on Top 
"Ten Apples Up on Top" is one of the books that Dr. Seuss wrote using one of his other pen names: Theo LeSieg and someone else illustrated it (gasp!). I like the boardbook version for preschoolers...

After reading it, you might want to try balancing apples on your heads and otherwise stacking apple-like objects. Try any of these ideas:

Balloons (5")
Static Electricity
- Blow up the balloons.
- Rub a balloon all over your head, which will give it static cling.
- Stick it to your head!

Balloon Tower
- Blow up the balloons.
- Use loops of tape (or other ingenuity) to make a stack of balloons.

Perfect Posture (Think Walking with a Book on Your Head)
- Cut Paper Circles
- Place one paper circle flat on your head and walk across the room.
- Place more paper circles flat on your head and walk across the room.

Green Eggs and Ham
"Green Eggs and Ham" is a classic for a reason. The skepticism of not wanting to try a new weird food and the insistence by another person that "no, really! You'll love it!" is something that I think most people can appreciate...especially young children.

Why not make a tasting game out of it?! [Alert: I guess food allergies is a good reason. But surely, you can think of some safe foods to try...] After reading the book, offer new foods to try like star fruit, pomegranate seeds, or even a new combination like celery with peanut butter.

Tip: Something I learned from food therapy: tasting involves many senses. If they don't want to try it then they shouldn't have to. But there are smaller steps that just taking a bite. Maybe just smell the food, or lick it. Then if they are up for it they can take a bite!

The Cat in the Hat 
At some point, every young reader should get their hands on Dr. Seuss's revolutionary book "The Cat in the Hat." However, I am well-aware that the story sometimes inspires mischief. So if you want to read "The Cat in the Hat" and have an activity to go with it, consider having Hide and Seek, Fort Building, or some other childhood favorite.

If you want to kick it up a notch, then consider getting a Cat Hat for Adults or a Cat Hat for Kids for the leader of the activity to wear.

Or if everyone needs a Cat Hat, then you can get a whole bunch of Paper Hats.

The Great Doodler
I love learning biographical stuff from picture books. This book, Dr. Seuss the Great Doodler, provided us (ok, me) with as much info as we cared to know about the great man.

One of my favorite parts of his story is that he wrote and re-wrote, sketched and re-sketched. This is the part that I would use as a jumping off point for an activity with older preschoolers (or anyone for that matter). All you need is a timer, a pencil, some paper, and a simple drawing prompt. Then explore how creativity manifests differently given 10 seconds to draw versus 10 minutes to draw.

Still not sure? Watch this video to see what I mean...

For more ideas for celebrating Dr. Seuss, surf over to

And I found this complete list of the books he wrote:

The Simplest Scissor Safety Tip Ever

Flowers are Pretty
I have always enjoyed watching young children discover flowers. In our family, dandelions have always been a first opportunity for them to touch and learn about flowers. As toddlers, my children would pluck the yellow heads off the plant and pull the yellow petals apart. Usually when they were doing that, I would pick them by the stems and make a small bouquet to offer.

I suppose that is how they learned to hold a flower by the stem.

At home, my children loved the power of scissors. As we learned our way around the tool, I found myself (like many parents I assume) worried when they walked with the tool in hand. "Where were they going?" you ask. Well, usually if they were walking with scissors it was because they had been working on a project and wanted to cut something. They left the table, walked to our art cart, got the scissors and turned to head back to their working spot. 

Independent Workers
I fast realized that my children are so confident in knowing what they want and sure that they can do it themselves that I would have to come up with some safety rules. I wouldn't always be able to be sitting with them and offering to fetch the scissors on their behalf, nor should I.

A Reasonable and Easy Safety Rule
The problem I faced was how to explain to a child the best way to hold scissors. As I demonstrated to hold the scissors by the blade, I looked at my hand. I saw how the scissors looked like a small bouquet of flowers and I knew I had it. I explained:

The safe way to hold scissors (when you are not cutting) is like this. 

Pretend the scissors are a flower. 

Here is the stem, here is the flower.

This rule was what came from using positive language combined with our experience of picking flowers. 

"Positive language?" you ask. In essence, you say what you want from your child instead of what you don't want. For example:

Instead of saying "No running!" you say "Use your walking feet!"

and now

"Hold the scissors like a flower."

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Teach Your Child to Love Skiing as Much as You Do

My Happy Place
One of my happiest places is on the ski slopes. I like the cold fresh air tickling my nose. My heart bursts with happiness when I see blue skies hugging mountainous backdrops, speckles of evergreen trees, and sparkling snow.

Gliding on the snow, bouncing gently through bumps, and whizzing by trees is some of the funnest fun I ever have.

So it is important to me that my children have the chance to enjoy my happy place. If they enjoy skiing then it will happen more often...which would serve us all.

A Child's Happy Place
My kids' happy places? Well I think they prefer to be wherever I am. If I am happy then wherever I am is their happiest place, too, which totally makes sense to me.

It will become OUR happy place.

All Good All the Time
It probably goes without saying that I could not expet my toddler to join me on the expert runs. SO before my husband (who is also an avid skier) and I hauled a preschooler to the slopes, we made a commitment to make it all good all the time.

We mustered EVERY OUNCE of patience we had and then... the car we happily sang along to their favorite songs.
...we carried ALL the gear.
...we smiled while we helped them get all their cold-weather clothes and toe-squeezing ski gear on.
...we giggled with them gliding down the bunny slope, cradling them between our knees.
...and when they said, "I'm ready for hot cocoa," after one run we responded cheerfully, "OK!" and schlepped everything to the lodge.

I remember sitting on the sun-drenched deck, sipping hot cocoa and gazing longingly at the wide expanse of mountain that towered over the bunny slope. I thought, "If I play my cards right then this will grow with our family."

They'll Beg for More
It worked.

Every single trip to ski got a little easier and a little longer. Instead of carrying all their gear for them, the children began helping. Instead of doing one run and leaving we began doing two and three and more. Instead of relegating myself and my husband to sit and sip with our kids, one of us does some laps on the big runs while one stays with the kids.

Now when we see snowy peaks from our front range home, the kids (now seven and five years old) say, "I can't wait to go skiing!"

Play the Long Game
So, how do you teach your child to love skiing? (Or whatever you want, really.) 

You play the long game.

You smile and laugh and leave the critical parent hat at home. 

You help them when they need help. (Don't bother teaching independence.) 

You bear in mind that the ONLY goal is for your child to enjoy himself or herself.

You honor their needs, their limits, and what interests them in your happy place. [When my son was very small he just wanted to stare at the giant machine operating the chair lifts.]

In doing so, you will succeed in the long run, and surprise!, you'll succeed in the short term, too.

Because when I treated skiing this way, I began to fall in love with the little parts of the day as much as the big parts. Clomping around in big heavy boots is goofy the same way bouncing down the bumps is thrilling. Stripping off helmets, mittens, neck warmers, and coats is as much a relief as sipping an apres ski beverage (even if it is hot cocoa at 10AM). And enjoying the sights and sounds and smells of mountain life are just as good under the shelter of evergreen trees that surround the bunny hill as they are at the exposed peak...maybe even better.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love: A Great Idea

When I saw the glitter jar of floating hearts I knew I had to make some for my kids for Valentine's Day. It would be my gift to them. What I hadn't expected was to find the perfect vessel for my Preschool Engineers: a glass jar shaped like a lightbulb. 

I couldn't love this gift more because it screams "Love is a great idea!"

p.s. In case you're wondering, I found the jars at Michaels for $1.99. But you can also find them at other craft stores and Amazon.

Adventures in ING: Loving

Adventures in ING
ING is a wonderful world where kindness is important. In fact, kindness is the most important thing in ING and all the elves, sprites, fairies, and gnomes who live there celebrate kindness every chance they get. They celebrate small kindnesses like when someone smiles at them and they smile back. And they celebrate big kindnesses when someone smiles at them and they smile back.

One of the best things about ING is that everyone knows that there are countless ways of being kind and countless ways of celebrating kindness. The tricky thing for humans to learn is how to notice kindnesses. Humans have to learn to notice when other people are being kind to them just as much as the need to learn to notice when they are being kind to others (and themselves). (Yes! You can practice being kind to yourself!)

But...once someone learns how to notice kindness, many wonderful things happen. First, they start to see kindness everywhere. Then they are able to be kind wherever they go. And the funny thing about being kind - the more you do it, the more you want to do it, and the more ways you imagine to do it!

Those are the Adventures in ING. Noticing kindnesses. Being kind. Imagining new ways of being kind.

February is for Loving
The elves from ING take turns inviting humans to practice being kind. Every once in a while a couple of experts from ING offer ideas about how little humans can learn about giving, sharing, caring, loving, laughing, and living in kindness.

In February the Loving Elves, named Heart and Soul, like to explain that love is about more than loving a single other person. There is plenty of work to do to practice loving oneself, other humans, animals, and the earth.

A Letter of Introduction
When they arrive, Heart and Soul like to introduce themselves because that is the kind (and polite) thing to do.

Dear Small Persons,
Our names are Heart and Soul and we are Loving Elves from ING. We like to visit small persons in February, right around Valentine’s Day, to play with Love.

Loving is powerful business and sometimes it is tricky when it involves other creatures. That is why the first place to start Loving work is within you. Once you are good at loving yourself, you can love other persons, other creatures, and even the earth. So let’s get started by thinking about why and how we love ourselves.

We look forward to doing this fun and important work with you! Sincerely,

Heart and Soul

Four Ways of Loving - Some Ideas

Then Heart and Soul suggest some ways to practice loving. They ask the children to notice acts of love - whether they feel love for themselves or others, or when they notice other people acting with love.


Dear Small Persons,  
It is important to love yourself because if you feel loved then you can share your love with others.  
There a many ways to love yourself. You can make a plan to say something loving to yourself every day. Some people say, "I love myself." Others say, "I am strong." or "I am beautiful." or "I am smart." or "I am funny."   
You can even do something nice for yourself. You can make something beautiful to decorate your room. Or you can go outside to smell nature. Or listen to your favorite song.
We think Loving Yourself is important! Do you think you can show yourself a little love today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
Heart and Soul 


Dear Small Persons  
We think Loving Other People feels really good! That is because saying "I love you" to someone usually makes them smile. You can also show your love by doing something nice for the other person or giving them a gift.
What about you? Do you think you can show Love to Someone today? Tomorrow? Every day this week?  
You can start simply by saying, "I love you." 
Heart and Soul

Dear Small Persons,  
Have you ever noticed a dog wagging its tail or a cat purring? Those are ways that we know animals feel loved. They are well-fed and feel safe. 
Loving Animals is often a fur-filled event! Gentle touches, soft words, walking or running together, and giving them tasty snacks are ways to love animals. 
Do you think you can Love an Animal today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? If you want to show love to an animal you don't know then you can start by asking the owner, "Can I pet your dog (or cat)?"
Have furry fun!
Heart and Soul

Dear Small Persons,  
We think Loving Earth is easy because there are so many ways to do it! The easiest way to Love Earth is to spend time outdoors breathing fresh air, enjoying grass (or snow) beneath your feet, planting trees, or smelling flowers. Another way to Loving Earth is to take care of it. You can Love Earth by picking up litter (don't forget to take a trash bag along with you and to wash your hands when you're done), turning the lights off when you leave a room, and turning the water off while you brush your teeth. 
Do you think you can do something to Love Earth today? Tomorrow? Every day this week? 
Heart and Soul 

Saying Goodbye
Before departing, the Loving elves say goodbye because that is the kind thing to do.

Dear Small Persons, 
We have had great fun with you. Thank you for practicing loving with us. You had many clever ways of loving big and loving small. And every kindness counts! 
Heart and Soul


Friday, February 10, 2017

You're Recycling Your Cans and Boxes Too Soon

Playing in the Pantry
Toddlers and preschoolers are often underfoot in the kitchen. They empty drawers, bang on pots and pans, and spill things (and sometimes even try to clean them up). Sometimes they even offer to help put away groceries (or get them out) by playing in the pantry.

It is a life skill, really. Putting food away so that it is easy and safe to retrieve. Precarious stacks of heavy canned goods or glass containers are seldom seen in a well-organized and highly used pantry. And your children can start learning how to put things away pretty early in life. 

However, you might not want their "help" in your kitchen. So, why not make them their own kitchen stash? 

Facepalm, or Lessons from the Children's Museum of Phoenix
I'm not suggesting that you buy a giant, albeit inviting, toy kitchen. Nor am I suggesting that you stock up on wooden or plastic toy foods. Instead, I'm inviting you to take a page out of the playbook used by the Children's Museum of Phoenix - do it yourself.

The grocery store exhibit at the Children's Museum of Phoenix uses recycled containers to stock their shelves.

Just like the ones I have sitting around at home...

Facepalm? Yeah, me too. 

The Flux of New and Old
As you empty the contents of boxes, remove the plastic bag from within and then tape the box closed. Wash out the milk containers, let them dry, and then glue their lids on. You don't even have to do anything to an egg carton (assuming none of the eggs broke). 

How to Open a Can...
The only tricky part piece is having the right can opener so you can recycle your canned goods. Many can openers leave a sharp-edged circle that would fall to the bottom of the can if you tried to re-attach it.

The OXO Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener solves the problem.

As you can see, the top of the can is removed and has a lip on it. You can take it off, wash it, dry it, and place it neatly back on the top of the can. 

...and Close it Up Again
A couple beads of superglue secures the lids just fine.

And if you feel like being fancy then you can drop a few dried beans or uncooked rice into the can before sealing it up. Then you'll have a can that also makes noise! (Certainly a good trick to have up your sleeve to re-invent the toy.)

Speaking of Tricks Up Your Sleeve
Another way to embellish the groceries is to stuff old herb containers with yarn, paper, or fabric.

And, I mean, who DOESN'T have a ton of bits of scrap paper laying around the house? It makes perfect ingredients. Have your kid cut the paper up into tiny pieces and make their own concoction. They could fill an old cracker box with paper crackers; they could make a rainbow soup; or who knows what. But whatever it is, it can be recycled.

Get Started 
How cool is it that you can extend the life of your canned goods by turning them into toys? 

I see two huge things I put in my parenting "win" column: First, my preschooler gets free and novel toys on a regular basis. Second, I can throw out (recycle) the toys with no sneakiness or guilt.

Here's how you can get started:
  1. Buy a good can opener, some packing tape (optional), and superglue.
  2. Go grocery shopping.
  3. As you empty containers, wash them out and let them dry. 
  4. Seal the containers shut.
You can stash the play groceries away for a rainy day surprise. Then you can say, "Let's play grocery store together!" and do a big reveal. 

Kick it Up a Notch

OK, OK. This post would not be complete without a way for your child to haul their new groceries around the "store." So, you might also be interested in a collapsable Grocery Cart...

...or a Grocery Basket.
Whatever version of this post resonates with you, be sure to keep it in mind for the upcoming indoor play season! And I'd love to hear how it goes!

Monday, February 6, 2017

{GHF Blog Hop} When It Becomes a Drag

There is a cartoon by Cathy Thorne that describes my experience as the parent of a twice exceptional child, as a human, and especially as a part-time homeschooler. It says "I love routine. Until I'm bored, then I love excitement. Until I'm overwhelmed, then I love routine."

Sound familiar? This conundrum is the basis for my best tips for when homeschooling becomes a drag...or, really, when anything becomes a drag.

First, Find the Source
I have found that the first thing to do when things begin to drag is to figure out why exactly things are dragging. (Duh? I know. But sometimes I need the gentle reminder to figure out the reason behind difficult situations.) Once I know the answer to "WHY?" then I can formulate an effective plan for how to get us out of our funk. To this end, these are some questions to consider:
  1. For whom is it a drag? Me or them?
  2. Is it a drag because of routine or because of overstimulation?
Once you've answered those two questions you will be able to come up with a plan for how to proceed. Here is how it works for me.

Answer Combo #1: I'm Sick of the Routine
A few weeks ago I was completely depressed about the relentless post-dinner routine. Every evening at 5:30PM I feel myself change. EVERY. EVENING. AT 5:30PM.

Nevertheless, I ride the routine. Finish dinner. Clean kitchen. Clean dining room. "No, you may not do computer research after dinner." "Yes, you can take as many piano lessons as you like." Bath time. Fold laundry. Brush teeth. Read books to kids. Sometimes there is me, by them.

Until one day I just couldn't even ride the routine again. I didn't clean. I didn't parent bath time. I sent a text message to my husband and asked him to please come home earlier than his typical 7PM return. I asked the kids (ages 7 and 4) to leave me alone and I snuggled in my bed with a novel. When my husband got home, he did the whole shebang.

Tips for when you are dragging because of routine: 
  • Ask for help. 
  • Recharge.  
  • Know that it will change. If you are feeling down because of the routines of the work of life and the work of homeschooling then that's OK. It is human nature to have energy cycles. However normal it is, it is equally important that you don't get bogged down, or "diminished" to the point that you can't do your work. 

Answer Combo #2: I'm Overstimulated
Every Sunday morning I go to yoga. Then I do the grocery shopping for the week and return home in time for lunch. Every time I walk in the door I go from quiet alone time to loud together time. My husband is fiddling with something, the kids are squirrely from the transition, I'm showered in other people's energy.

A few months ago I realized that I was having a really hard time with Sunday afternoons because I was overstimulated. What I wanted was for us to have a relaxing Sunday afternoon together but that isn't really the family I have. "Relaxing" rarely describes our household. There is always bouncing, laughing, yelling, arguing, running, crying, playing, spinning... You get the idea.

So I started a new routine. On Sundays, after I have unloaded and put away the groceries, we have a family outing. We all leave the house. By moving our family's energy, I am able to reduce the stimuli, feel better, and parent better.

Tips for when you are dragging because you are overstimulated: 
  • Reduce the stimuli.
  • Change the environment. (Turn off the background music, turn off the lights, clean the floor, etc.)
  • Leave the environment. (Much easier than cleaning.)

Answer Combo #3: They are Sick of the Routine
Our routine weaves together the work of life and playful self-directed learning. So if I think my kids are dragging because they are sick of the routine, I wonder which part of the routine is failing.

Is it the meals and subsequent clean-up? Or is our learning contract somehow failing to meet our needs? Either way we are not bound hard-and-fast to stick it out if it isn't working. We change something about our routine.

Tips for when they are dragging because they are sick of the routine: 

  • Eat outside on the patio.
  • Pack a picnic meal and eat at a playground, museum, or other out-of-the-home venue.
  • Eat at a restaurant.
  • Invite friends to enjoy a meal with you.
  • Find a supplement to the self-directed learning routine. 
  • Buy a new toy, game, CD, or book. 
  • Go to a new exhibit at a museum or zoo.
  • Volunteer at a new non-profit.
  • Shelf the learning contract and go camping.
  • Shelf the learning contract and do whatever they want. It is called having a "yes day."

Answer Combo #4: They are Overstimulated
The signs are easy to see. When my son is overstimulated he begins to stim, he begins to wander aimlessly and seemingly without being aware of his surroundings, and if his stimming or wandering is interrupted he explodes angrily. It happens in loud places, it happens in places that are not loud but are noisy, it happens even when it is quiet but there is a background din of quiet conversations. He can cope for a short amount of time but when he hits his limit, he REQUIRES attention and a change. These are the changes that work for us...

Tips for when they are dragging because they are overstimulated: 
  • Reduce the stimuli. (turn of noises, lights, and reduce clutter.)
  • Change the environment. (Clean.)
  • Leave the environment.
  • Last but not least: Reconnect. This is the most important one for us and the favorite way of reconnecting is through story-telling. We define story-telling pretty broadly. Sometimes play board games, other times we build imaginary worlds out of blocks, magnetic tiles, and LEGO and lead mini-figures on an adventure, sometimes we simply pile on the couch and read.

The Panacea
The one thing that works without fail in every circumstance it to get outside. Sometimes we are dragging so deeply in the ground that it feels like a heroic parenting effort to get the children into the fresh air but it is worth it every time. Wait, that bears repeating: it is worth it every time.

Tips for getting outside:

  • Pack easy sustenance, fast. Fill water bottles  half-way and shove a couple snack bars in your pocket. 
  • Help your children put on their socks, shoes, coats, and hats. Don't expect a heal-dragging threenager to do it herself. 
  • Go somewhere close. Find a playground, park, state park, or trail nearby. That way the drive in the car, which is often filled with bickering and whining, isn't unbearably long.
  • Consider treasure-hunting (geocaching).  

Those are my tips on how to cope when it is a drag (whatever "it" may be). I'd love to hear your approach to the routine/overwhelm paradox...

For more tips on what to do when homeschooling is a drag, surf over to the GHF Blog Hop.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Our Learning Contract

On the long days of the winter break our entire family was stuck indoors due to gloomy freezing wet weather. My husband and I felt inclined to set the kids in front of the TV and rest. But we also are weary of the effects of screen time on our children and conservative when it comes to allowing them to binge on screen-based entertainment. 

In yet another effort to compromise, we came together to discuss a plan. My kids made it clear that they would like to play iPad games and watch the Magic School Bus on Netflix. My husband and I wanted them to not become vegetables and to enjoy some other forms of stimulation. So together we came to agree on four important daily activities: 

Music Performance,
Exercise (Preferably Outside), and 

Each the the four things must happen before they are allowed screen time. It is our Learning Contract and provides just the right amount of structure to our days.

Music Performance
There are two ways this usually manifests:
1. Piano Lessons (free online lessons via The Hoffman Academy)
2. Musical Performances (they dress up and put on a musical show, depicted below)

Prof Bunson and Prof Erlenmeyer perform "Fossil Fuels" from the 21st Century Energy Superheroes album.

There are three ways this happens:
1. I read to them.
2. They read to themselves.
3. We all listen to an audiobook.

Exercise can be spontaneous or directed. If they are moving their bodies then it counts. These are the ways our family exercises:

1. Playing at the playground.
2. Following along with a yoga DVD
3. Yoga Class
4. Karate class
5. Dance class
6. Hiking


This is the most diverse and loosely defined aspects of our Learning Contract. It has at its core the idea of communication - the having and sharing of ideas. Here are some of the things that I count as story-telling:

1. Literally story-telling. Sitting together and weaving a fictitious story about creatures from their books or favorite TV shows.
2. Playing board games.
3. Building with blocks, magna tiles, and LEGO to create entire worlds for their mini-figures to explore.
4. Building forts.
5. Painting.
6. Writing secret codes.
7. Coding in Scratch Jr.
8. Playing Hide and Seek

The structure that our Learning Contract provides fits our family. It provides just the right amount of direction and, as it turns out, fills our days with interesting and rich conversations. It also makes space for screen time because when we're all worn out from performing, exercising, reading, and storytelling, we can sit back, relax, and laugh along with the stories told to us on film.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Fan Favorites - January 2017

What Kids Need From Grown-ups But Aren't Getting
"We're underestimating kids in terms of their capacity to be thoughtful and reflective," argues author Erika Christakis, "because we're not giving them enough time to play and to be in relationships with others."

Dads Can Do (Almost) Anything

Pool Noodles as Lincoln Logs

Eyebrow Baby

Clemens Habicht Puzzles

Rainwater Puddles in Japan

Concrete Castle Built with 3D Printer

Professional Finger Painting 

World's Easiest DIY Electric Train

Thanks to Trump, Scientists Are Planning to Run for Office
I try to be as apolitical as I can but this new organization is making space for preschool engineers to grow up with a new definition of what their role in the world could be...
"The organization, named after the first three digits of pi, is a political action committee that was created to support scientists in running for office. It’s the science version of Emily’s List, which focuses on pro-choice female candidates, or VoteVets, which backs war veterans. “A lot of scientists traditionally feel that science is above politics but we’re seeing that politics is not above getting involved in science,” says founder Shaughnessy Naughton. “We’re losing, and the only way to stop that is to get more people with scientific backgrounds at the table.”"

Preschool Anatomy