crafting a meaningful little project at a time

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Make Your Mornings WORK!

The top two options for what to do when Mom’s taking a shower and getting ready for the day?

1.       Watch TV.

2.       Hang out with Mom in the bathroom.

No…and double no thanks!

But at four and five-and-a-half years old, giving my kids the freedom to roam the house and “find something to do while Mommy gets ready” is not a good plan. Huge messes get made, bickering sets in, it either gets really loud or really quiet- either of which is always a sign of trouble- and they just run amok.

Do you have this same trouble in the mornings?

To avoid these undesirable starts to the day, this summer I started setting out Morning Work the night before. I wondered how self-directed they would really be able to be, but they surprised me! After the first two days they caught on to the fact that their Morning Work would be sitting at their breakfast spots next to their cereal in the morning, and they started rushing out to the kitchen first thing to see what was waiting for them! Yes! I’d love to share with you what we’ve done so far…

The first week I printed off some Kindergarten readinessmixed practice pages from A Teeny Tiny Teacher just to see how they would go over. Little Lady raced right through, though she did get some good handwriting practice in. (I have a hard time working with the little lefty as far as penmanship goes.) Even though a lot of the skill practice was not challenging enough for Little Lady, much of it was above Little Man’s head. Since he wants to do everything Big Sis does, he dug in and powered through on his own, which I loved! She was happy to play teacher and explain the directions to him, and helped him give himself a star for his best-looking letters. She was a little hard on him about holding his pencil “the PreK way” (as in not grasped in his fist), but we’re working on that one!

The second week’s morning work brought these little MyPrinting Practice Books from United Art and Education - I think I picked them up for something like $2 apiece. These could have easily been made on the computer, but my ink and time-to-commit to projects was running low, so I splurged! These were a big hit too because each kid got to personalize his or her own book, but they were kind of dry and redundant (in my opinion).

I had to spice things up on Wednesday of that week with these memory practice necklaces I put together! Each necklace includes a set of sight word cards, our home phone number, our address, Mommy’s full name, Daddy’s full name, each child’s birthday, the name of the kids’ school, our family’s favorite memory verse, and the scripture verse theme for the new school year. I printed the sight word cards, which included the blank cards to customize, from Tip Junkie. I shrunk the cards down to half size, laminated and hole-punched them, and strung them on necklaces with beads to show which one belonged to which kid. The kids thought these were AWESOME- we’ve kept one in the car and one in the kitchen to practice, and they think they’re hot stuff when they get the “right” answers!

This week we are trying something new: a combination of self-guided drawing lessons and sight word/printing practice. The littles were asking how to draw this and that all last week, from Lego men to dogs to houses to broccoli, which warms this artist-momma’s soul:  I LOVE working on drawings with them! Little Lady especially gets frustrated with stick people because they don’t look “real.” If I could toss aside what I was working on and do drawing lessons with them on a whim, I would be one happy momma…but I too often find myself putting them off or redirecting them when I’m engaged in other, oh, I don’t know, work! I don’t want to let the passion for drawing fade, though, so I found these simple how-to-draw templates on a site designed to support children with special needs called Do2Learn.
I would recommend this site for any and all children, regardless of where their needs lie: this site is chock-full of any kind of developmental, academic, or skill practice printables and activities I could think of- what an amazing resource!  So I took their how-to-draw examples and kicked them up a notch: I pasted the drawing tutorials into Microsoft Word documents, added a spot for them to write their names at the top, and used a teacher dotted font to write sight word traceable sentences  at the bottom of each page. I made a page for each of the weekdays around the theme of castles, because we have been singing nothing but Kingdom Rock songs from VBS for the last three weeks! We have a castle, princess, prince, dragon, and wizard to work on this week. The first day, the day of drawing the castle, the kids had slept in a bit, so I was able to take a few peeks at their work as I was getting things ready in the kitchen. Loved, loved, LOVED the industrious work and conversation I got to eavesdrop upon! The Little Lady really took off with the page, adding Rapunzel’s tower, a pathway, and other scenery, chatting the whole time about what she was adding and why. Yes! The Little Man worked hard on his castle, tongue poked out through pursed lips, until he came to the windows. He decided he’d rather have circular windows, and once he drew those in, they looked so much like eyes that his picture quickly turned into a Transformer with arms and legs- perfect! I can’t wait to see what the next day’s drawings will look like!

Morning Work has revolutionized our mornings- the kids are not only out of the bathroom while I’m getting ready (yay rah!) and they’re not melting into puddles of ooze in front of the TV first thing after they wake up, but they are excited about finding out what cool new learning activities are waiting for them each morning! My routine has been to troll Pinterest here and there throughout the week to gather ideas, and I spend the last half hour or so before I go to bed on Sundays getting five days-worth of activities printed and set on the breakfast bar, along with any materials they need to do the work. That way everything’s there the night before, ready to set out with the breakfast supplies. The few minutes it takes to gather ideas & supplies and to plan ahead have made our mornings so much more peaceful and productive…just another great way to craft every day!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lego (Learning) Mania!

Operation Rage Against the TV Screen is in full swing around here…and so is Lego Mania! The littles are obsessed with Legos- they have a few sets between the two of them, and they inherited their Daddy’s Lego cases from when he was a little boy, so they have plenty of the little blocks to build with.
Do you have kids who are into Legos at the moment? Or do you have bins full of Legos at home that need new life breathed into them? Here are some of the things we’ve been working on- maybe some will work for you and your little ones this summer!
The first step, after pinning ideas, printing, and laminating of course, was to put together the Big Lego Binder. The bulk of the activities in the binder came from one of the awesome printable learning packs from one of my favorite learning resources, 1+1+1=1 . There are all kinds of printable themed packs available on this site for free for preschoolers and Kinders, and many have related Bible connections and scripture practice too! (The Lego one does not.) The Kindergarten LegoPrintable Pack features sight word practice, patterning, greater than/less than practice, counting with coins, writing, reader booklets, printing practice, matching games, and more. I downloaded the whole pack and just printed the pages I thought would work best for us right now. One of the kids’ favorites from this pack was a memory game that we played as Go Fish- there are so many fun mini-figure cards, from Disco Dude to Indiana Jones to the Mime…finding new “guys” is just as fun as making matches to win the game!

Another activity I adapted and added to the binder is a set of blank mini-figure templates. I found this image on Pinterest as well, and just printed them four-to-a-sheet to make them smaller. The kids have been busy designing their own “Lego people.” When we get these done, I plan to cut them out, laminate them, and glue magnets to the back. The kids have big plans of making a Lego village with scenery on the front of our dishwasher! (I plan to sneak in some sight word practice here too by printing some colored Lego brick shapes, writing in the words we need practice with, and working out a way to make Lego story sentence strips…muah ha ha…)

Another big hit in the binder is the DIY Lego Game from Inspired By Familia. Also a Pinterest find, this game was super easy to assemble- it includes playing cards and a set of directions for the game. I adapted the instructions to simplify the rules a bit, found a free blank game board template online, and colored it instead of setting it up the way this site suggested to save time. I laminated the game board and three-hole-punched it to keep it in the binder. The game works like this: each player picks a mini-figure, which line up on the Start box. The game board is set up for play by making a pile of various Lego pieces, and the pile of playing cards. Play starts with the youngest, progressing to the oldest. The first player draws a card and follows the directions. The cards include directions like, “Take one Lego piece,” “Lose a turn,” or there will just be a color that the player moves to. The goal is two-fold: who will collect the most Lego pieces/build the biggest Lego structure, and who will get to the end of the board game first- so we end up with two winners at the end.

Another fun addition to the binder is a neat spin off of the color-by-number idea, which my kids love. This one is color-by-sight-words, featuring Ninjago characters was called Kindergarten Sight Word Pages from Fun with Learning. It’s pretty self-explanatory: the Ninjago characters are labeled with various sight words, and the kids have to read the sight words- and color words- to decide which part to fill in with which color. I thought this might be beyond my little guy, who is four, but he is so intent on being able to do everything that Big Sister does that he plowed right in and surprised me!

Since Ninjago is the theme of Lego people that my littles are most interested in at the moment, I took some extra time to create a set of Ninjago cards from scratch for a matching game. Totally worth the time! They have had just as much fun playing memory with this set as they have using them as story-starters. They will lay all the cards out, face up, and tell stories about the characters. Sometimes they recreate the story lines from the cartoon, and sometimes they make up their own scenarios. My Little Pony figures have gotten involved at a few points, and I’ve seen them propping the cards up in their rice bins to really set the scenes for their imaginary play episodes as well. I found the pictures on the Brikipedia site- you can find any kind of Lego characters or themes here, or you can brush up on your Lego terminology here too!

’ve kept the Big Lego Binder and a bin of Legos out on the sofa table over the last week so the kids can access it when they want, and we’ve also spent time working on activities from the binder together under my direction. Playing Lego Go Fish has been a popular after-dinner option, and every time they’ve spent time watching a Ninjago episode, they have gone right to the binder afterwards to follow the TV watching with some Lego learning play time. Woo hoo!
I hope some of these Lego learning activities can work for your kids too- they are a cheap, fun alternative to sitting around, staring at a screen all day!  :)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Operation Rage Against the TV Screen

Summer vacation is here, and I’ve already seen the writing on the wall:

“Mommy, can we watch a show?”

What this really means is, “Can we watch every episode of Ninjago on On Demand back to back until our mouths are hanging open, drool is coming out, and our eyes are glazed over? Pleeeease?”

Ack- no!

But here’s the bad thing: with working full-time from home and staring down the barrel of an upcoming maternity leave, I get distracted- so this could totally happen!

Ok, ok, I’ll admit it- this DOES happen! I turn on Ninjago with great intentions to limit it to just one episode, thinking that I’ll get busy killing my to-do list while the kids are quiet and entertained. But now that Little Lady knows how to work remotes, I get busy doing paperwork or laundry or whatever and don’t notice that the minutes have turned into hours…because the kids are quiet and entertained…or rather slack-jawed and staring…yikes!

Operation Rage Against the TV Screen isn’t an effort to remove the TV from our lives entirely: every parent has different views on what amount of TV watching is right for their kids. I’m ok with letting my kids watch TV and movies- I’m not ok with falling into the trap of turning on the TV and letting my kids stagnate in front of the screen for hours on end. Even if it means that I can get a lot of work done while they are quiet and entertained.

Operation Rage Against the TV Screen is our battle against complacency, and the commitment to approach each day with an attitude of creativity and engagement, rather than the attitude “how can I keep the kids quiet and entertained today?”

I spent the last week of school or so digging through my teacher closet, pinning things on Pinterest, overworking my printer, and sitting in front of the laminator putting together kits, pulling out materials, making games, and building my arsenal. My budget for summer bridge activities was a measly $20, so most of the materials we used were things around the house or dollar store deals. We spent the first day of summer break (which happened to be pretty cloudy and overcast) at the kitchen table together making games and learning activities.  I tried to keep the activities simple, cut down on unnecessary frills, and focused on skills that the kids were working on at the end of the year along with what they’d be expected to start with in the fall in preK and Kindergarten.  Also, I tried to come up with plenty of independent activities- reality is, I do need time to work at home this summer while the kids are here. Even though TV Babysitter does keep the kids quiet and entertained, I’d rather see them industrious and engaged.

I will continue adding to the reserves and rotating in new activities throughout the summer, but now that the bulk of the hunting, gathering, and assembling is complete…

Operation Rage Against the TV Screen is a GO!

If you’re looking for ways to engage your kids in crafting meaningful summer days, stay tuned for more ideas to come! My goal is to blog a couple times each week about things we’re doing that may be things YOU’D like to be doing too! (But not if it means TV Babysitter has to take over for me to get it blogged! Ha ha!)