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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last day of 2008

December 31st 2008 - I love the idea that tomorrow I get to start over and try again. Not that anything really changes, but I like seeing a clean calendar, fresh to-do list and I honestly enjoy the sense of anticipation as I strive for that unreachable state of perfection that exists only in my mind.

This past week has been dedicated to lesson planning for our second semester. In order to do this I had to take a serious look back at what has, and has not worked for us over the last 4 months. I'm sure none of this is earth shaking for anyone who has taught a kindergartener before, but it was important for me to think it through. Here are the highlights:

We love attending co-op - the kids enjoy each other's company, and I appreciate the accountability of "Having" to complete my lesson plans and organize experiments and craft supplies in advance. Plus, it is nice to see how my kids respond to teaching methods that I may not have tried on my own.

Handwriting worksheets can be discouraging - Handwriting has been our struggle this year. My oldest is very aware of the difference between her markings and "perfect
" letters and can become very frustrated at her shortcomings. What has worked to encourage her has been to write in, and on, strange things. Pudding is by far our favorite handwriting tool (and snack). The kids also enjoy using their Aquadoodle water pens to trace over Mom's words, erasing them from our chalkboard. We use dry erase markers on the shower walls, chalk on the basement floor, and old eyeliner on each other. It's not something that you can file at the end of the day, but it works for us! Over Christmas we began with some basic copywork and she will tolerate it as long at she sees it as having a purpose (writing nonsense letters for the sake of practice is "silly" according to her) so I will try to expand on this.

Audio books are an easy way to sneak in lessons - My two are very auditory (as you can easily tell by the volume in our home on any average day) so books on CD have been a God-send. "The Story of the World" is their absolute favorite. We are doing volume 1 this year (Creation to the Fall of Rome) and I am amazed at how much they have learned about Ancient Egypt, China, Africa etc. with very little prompting from me. We have listened to many fiction books too. And I recently picked up a new skip counting CD. While these are fun, my clan just can't get enough about history. Thankfully, I love history too, so we have very quiet car rides on our way to and from the grocery store.  

"Learn to Read" books are dull and aggravating. - Beginning Reading has been a fun task this year. At first I was focusing on "teaching" them phonics and encouraging them to read little books (like the Bob Books set) but the kids were thoroughly bored with the story lines. (These two have huge attention spans and love LONG stories, so something that they can finish in less than a minute actually makes them angry). Instead we have created our own reading system. Mommy reads the book, usually a Five In A Row title that goes along with our science or social studies theme, and then we will re-read it with the kids being given specific words to sound out as we go. We play other phonics games too. Sometimes they will be given letters to search for on the page ("Who can find a 'q'), and phonics games ("where is a word that contains a silent e") Going through the book more slowly also gives us a chance to look at it in more depth and dwell on the artwork on each page, or the author's use of certain phrases etc. The key for us is that they are only willing to read if the reading material is worthy of their attention.

Sticking to a schedule is key - We do the same things in the same order every day with very little exception: Wake, breakfast, dress and chores, 15 min of free time (no longer or they get too absorbed in their game), Reading, Handwriting, Math. Snack time and another 15 minute break. A "fun" lesson, and then they are free to play (preferably outdoors). Science and Social Studies are saved for last because they are "fun" but we don't do these every day. Sometimes we will do an art project or craft just for fun instead. On the days that I stick to this schedule everything hums along smoothly - but if I get a phone call or try to check my e-mail before we have finished our lessons, forget it.

The math book doesn't know my kids - Although my oldest is capable of filling out the pages in her math book, and I really love the colorful simple BJ program we chose, she honestly hasn't mastered basic counting, so she struggles more than necessary. I've decided to ditch the book for a while and focus simply on numbers. Writing them, reading them, and quickly identifying amounts. The book is good, and we will get back to it after a few weeks off, but it was forcing her to rush past the basic comprehension that she missed which isn't helping her at all. This will also give me a chance to focus more on what my 3 year old needs. Bye-bye book.

2009 is going to be a busy year for us with our new baby girl arriving in April. I am really excited about our 2nd semester and I have confidence that God has great things planned for us. Here's hoping that my excitement will turn in to determination and perseverance as the year progresses.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Celebrating Jesus' Birth

I read this recently and it has really forced me to think.

"The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ
The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. 
The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. 
The spirit of Christmas is a human product; 
the Spirit of Christ is a Divine Person. 
That makes all the difference in the world." 
- Stuart Briscoe in Meet Him at the Manger 

It is so easy to get caught up in the "Spirit of Christmas" and yet somehow forget that Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, so instead of jumping right into tons of photos about what the kids received as gifts yesterday (gifts really should be the least important thing about Christmas, shouldn't they?) , I have a random assortment of other Christmas memories to share first.  

~ A few days ago the kids initiated their own Christmas Pagent. Our tree skirt became Mary's head covering, stick ponies carried them to and from Bethlehem, and for some reason there were two baby Jesuses. Although the details were kinda' mixed up, I was amazed to hear the accuracy of their story line - including the arrival of the Magi and the family's flight to Egypt.

~ I gave up on making a traditional gingerbread house this year, and instead we made a graham cracker and candy nativity. Joseph came out looking like a cross between the Michelin Man and a cave dweller, and our star keeps falling off, but I think the candy-bar donkey is adorable. The proximity of so much candy has been a huge temptation to the kids, but so far all they have done is lick the frosting out of the joints of the barn. They love moving their little candy figurines and narrating the story.  Again we have two baby Jesuses - I'd better check with them and see why they think we need two.

~ For the past week the kids have been working to create place cards for our annual Christmas morning breakfast. With a dozen people attending, this is not an easy task for beginning writers. They were thrilled to get to the final step of making snowmen out of clay and were very particular about who should receive each little sculpture.

~ The kids named our Christmas Tree "Sikett" this year ;-) giggle ;-) Don't ask me why, I really don't know. There are some things that don't make sense, and are better that way.  They made me promise to take "his" picture . . . So here is Sikett, with my daughter and her beloved Auntie on Christmas morning.

~ After a leisurely breakfast and gift exchange we traveled across town to join the rest of our family for Christmas Dinner (Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding yum!) at my Mom's house.  Dad allowed the kids to sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus in place of the regular dinnertime prayer.  The kids loved it, and it subtly reminded all of us of what we were celebrating.  I really enjoyed this change from our routine.  

~ We concluded our busy day with the annual measuring of the children on my Dad's hall closet door. The kids LOVE this tradition, and were the ones to remind us of it this year.

~ And a few more photos just for good measure:

~ This morning (before daddy even got out of bed) the kids insisted on having a bath with some of their new toys.  These indians were one of their favorite gifts - they were not made to float, but that didn't stop my little ones from trying.  The kids didn't last long after that.  A busy day just begs for a cuddly new bear and a comfy couch to nap on.  

Isaiah 9:6
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Polar Express Pajama Party

Today we celebrated the end of our studies of the Polar region with a Polar Express Pajama Party. It was a perfect activity for "Christmas-Eve-Eve," and a snuggly way to enjoy a snowy morning.

The kids woke up to find the house scattered with train photos and toys, and were so excited about the fun day we had planned with their cousins that they could hardly contain themselves. Getting to spend the day in PJs is such a treat to them.

As the kids arrived my daughter put herself in charge of "selling" them train tickets and making sure that everyone had a number (for the gift bags I will explain later). She had each child sign their name on her chalkboard and asked if they wanted to see her "travel brochure" that she created about the north pole.

After creating our own train collages, everyone piled into the living room for the movie. We created a nest for them out of all of the blankets and pillows we could find tossed on our floor. They all tumbled and toppled over each other as they clamored into what they called their "train."  They were so excited to have their golden tickets punched!

Before we started the movie the kids were told that they would be getting two surprises, but they had to find the right place in the movie before they could open their treat bags. The first was the Hot Chocolate scene (They received mugs for hot cocoa, marshmallows, napkins, and "snowball" cookies), and the second was Santa giving the first gift of Christmas (they received bells and bell-themed song sheets along with a few mini chocolates). You should have heard the ruckus as they found the "hidden" scenes. Everyone started yelling at once "That's it! It's the right picture! We get our bags now?" It was great to feel their excitement. We paused the movie and allowed them to enjoy each of their gifts and activities before getting back to the movie.  It took us several hours to get through the movie!

Afterward we all enjoyed a leisurely lunch together and the kids played happily.  Later that afternoon we had a doctor appointment scheduled and I needed to stop at the post office, but I didn't have the heart to force the kids out of their pajamas, so we simply went as we were. We received a few funny glances, but the kids loved it. It doesn't take much to make their day special.

Pajama Parties may become a standard in our house - low effort and fun, who can ask for better?

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Visit From The Tooth Fairy

 remember loosing my baby teeth.  Showing off a really wiggly tooth for several days then poking my tongue through the curiously empty spot between my teeth after it fell out. For my little girl it didn't happen this way at all.

Our dentist noticed her "loose" tooth well over a year ago - but it never really wiggled, it just barely moved if you intentionally pushed it, hard, with your fingernail.  After 12 months of barely moving the "big girl tooth" (Yikes, is she really old enough to possess anything officially called "permanent?") grew in behind her baby tooth several weeks ago. We called the dentist and were assured that as long as the baby tooth wiggled, even just a little, it should come out on it's own. Well the first week went by, then the second, and then the third. The tooth would wiggle, but still just barely, and it seemed to be getting less "wiggle-able" so I braced myself for a visit to the dentist and wrote "call pedi-dentist" on my to-do list. Well, thanks to my incurable procrastination I didn't call that day, or the next, or the day after that. 
On Wednesday I heard a quiet, "my tooth is loose . . . my tooth fell out" from upstairs during the kids' resting time. The story she told me is that she pulled her skirt out of her mouth (for some reason I never bothered to ask why the skirt was in her mouth in the first place) and it simply fell out - no fuss.
Well, as you can imagine, resting time was completely over. She danced around her room trying to figure out exactly what she should do with her new treasure. Ultimately she decided to wrap it in her favorite handkerchief (a hand-me-down from my grandmother - I'll try to remember to write about her adorable fascination with hankies another time) and put it in her jewelry box until Daddy got home. She insisted that it was a big secret, and we could not call Daddy - she wanted to tell him in person.
That night she happily tucked it under her pillow and received in exchange a silver dollar and a chocolate coin.
Now I am stuck with a new dilemma - what do normal people do with lost teeth? It seems like such a momentous occasion in her life that throwing it into the trash seems somehow disrespectful. On the other hand, I have enough clutter already and saving a box full of teeth is simply odd.  Any suggestions?

Oh, by the way - her big girl tooth is already slowly moving forward to take the place of the tooth that fell out. No visit to the dentist needed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Power Outage!

Over the past few days our state has been hit major power loss problems. First it was the ice storm, then falling trees, and now we are having a new round of outages probably caused by the process of fixing the previously downed lines. Emergency Services says that it will be at least 7 more days for everyone in our town to have service restored - and it has already been out for 4 days.

At first the change of routine was fun. We were able to read by lantern light, snuggle by the fire, and I was thrilled that my husband got out of work early. We took the time to finish up on some of our Christmas shopping (in the stores with generators or who hadn't been affected) and visit with family. It was kinda' like an unplanned vacation.

During the 2nd day of the outage we took the kids on the "Santa Express."   They had a fabulous time riding the train and we all enjoyed some extra family time together.  

Luckily ours was one of the first homes to have power restored (we live near a local school), so while we were still up North our family was able to come by to warm up , take showers, and enjoy the unsung indulgance of flushing toilets.

This is what I came home to:

I love the scent of baking, the joy of seeing 3 expectant faces asking if they are done yet and then happily munching when they are finally ready, the feeling of accomplishment having FINISHED a project. But even better is walking into your own house to the decadent scent of an afternoon of baking, and not having to lift a finger.

They will only last a few days - maybe less if my husband gets another day off - but we will enjoy them while we can, as we bask in the luxury of a nice warm home and functioning appliances.

Sadly, many of our neighbors aren't having fun anymore. They are living at the local high-school or with friends and hoping that their pipes don't freeze and their basements don't flood. The kids are getting grumpy from the change in their routine and even the pets are getting shuffled off to the Animal Rescue League to keep warm. If you get a chance please pray for them. It certainly can't be easy to be displaced at this time of year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thoughts on Christmas Movies

There are certain movies that you have to watch at Christmas time -- it's just not Christmas without the classic Christmas Movies, but while we think of them as primarily kids' shows, many of them are surprisingly negative. This was the scene in my house yesterday:

I thought that allowing the kids to watch "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" would be a big treat, but instead turned around to find both of them crouched by the door in the hallway - they couldn't even tolerate being in the same room as the big noisy Winter Warlock (whom I had forgotten about). In the same DVD set we have one of my favorite shows "The Little Drummer Boy" but we always have to fast-forward the scene where the little boy's parent's are murdered.  And this is a cartoon!

Here's another one. Think (really think) about "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". It tells the story of two misfits, Rudolph and Hermy. Rudolph is rejected by the reindeer because his nose lights up, and Hermy is rejected by the elves because he doesn't like making toys. Yes, eventually everyone is happy in the end, but what a sad story for us to tell little kids over and over - if you feel left out, just run away, people will realize how much they miss you and it will make you feel better.  Yikes!

Then there is "The Grinch who stole Christmas". In this movie the bad guy somehow turns into the hero because he is thoughtful enough to return all of the gifts that he stole.  I feel bad for the poor guy with a heart that is too small, but that certainly doesn't excuse his breaking into every house in town, stealing their gifts, and destroying their homes.

Now there is the newest addition to our Christmas library, "The Polar Express". We have been having a ton of fun learning about trains and the Arctic based on this book and movie, but I still can't believe that it is a positive thing to tell kids that if a stranger offers you a ride, you should say “Yes” so that you will get a free gift.  Then again, having a mystical steam engine pull into the driveway is a lot less threatening than a creepy guy circling the neighborhood, but it is still the wrong message to be sending our little ones.
The funny thing is - I still love these movies. All of them. They are part of the traditions that make this time of year feel special. So, if this post has scared or depressed you, click here and fill your brain with some more of these wonderful Christmas movies. I can guarantee that all of the characters will be happy at the end of the show and you will be reminded of great memories from your own childhood.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St. Nicholas

Today is officially St. Nicholas Day.   This is not a holiday we usually celebrate, but after having heard of it on the FIAR boards last year, I thought it might be a fun tradition to add to my family's Christmas season.  I told the kids about it on Friday and read them a great book called "Mommy Was Santa Claus Born on Christmas Too?"so that they could get an idea of what the day is all about.  Then today we all enthusiastically celebrated with a full day of holiday fun. 
We began our day at a "Breakfast With Santa" event run by a local women's group.  When we arrived we were surprised to learn that almost 500 people were registered, so you can imagine the chaotic scramble of at least 350 excited little kids that we walked in to.  Then, just to make the situation a bit more fun they gave them all hot chocolate, donuts, and cookies for breakfast.  To my amusement, the organizer of the event (my neighbor from across the street) stood at the platform and asked if everyone could "please quiet down for a few announcements."  Asking quiet of a group of 4 year olds is like asking birds not to fly - of course the din in the room barely dimmed for a second or so, and was back up to full volume soon.  As I looked across the room I watched all the mom's shoot each other knowing glances and giggles at my neighbor's naive comment.  The kids had no idea what was being said up front, they were just happy to be getting coloring books and candy at 10AM.

After a long nap (mostly for my benefit, but kinda' for the kids too) we baked my Mother-in-Law's famous lemon flavored sugar cookies while listening to Christmas music and packaged up a few boxes to bring to friends.  We got in a great discussion about generosity.  For kids, cookies are harder to share than St. Nicholas' gold.

The evening was full of holiday parties.  First a celebration with a group of our former neighbors, and then a 60th birthday party for my aunt.  Phew . . . I'm exhausted!