Saturday, February 27, 2010

Easy Felt Flower Craft

Here's a cute and easy felt craft to try with your little one. I feel like I saw these on Dollar Store Crafts, but I've searched for it and can't seem to locate it there. Either way, it wasn't my original idea! I slipped this project into the kid's workboxes a few weeks ago, and they really enjoyed it!
To make these, simply knot a pipe cleaner around a puff ball for the stem. I made a few leaves to twist on out of pipe cleaner as well:
Pre-cut some felt shapes for the child in different styles and sizes, cutting a slit to slide them onto the pipe cleaner:
I had my two sort them by size first and then put them on smallest to largest, so that all the pieces were showing in the end. This was a simple to prepare, short and easy craft for them!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Download and Go, Expedition Australia--TOS Review

I was thrilled when The Old Schoolhouse sent me Expedition Australia to review. A blogging friend is also using these printable unit studies, and I was curious about how they would be for Little Bean, so this was a great opportunity for us! Download and Go is a newer e-book series of unit studies offered on a variety of topics put out by The Old Schoolhouse. True to it's name, this 5-day unit study is ready to use as soon as you print it out! Each unit only costs $7.95 and is purchased as a downloadable file. If you are interested in purchasing several at once, TOS also offers different package deals (38 studies for $190.00, 19 studies for $114.00, or 4 studies for $30.00).

The 103 page unit on Australia is packed full of links and information to teach your student about Australia. We watched short video clips, looked at pictures and maps online, listened to audio files of different Australian words, and checked the time and temperature in different locations in Australia.

For this series, you do need access to high speed internet and a quality color printer to really take advantage of all the great things these units provide. I chose to print out only the pages that we would actually be writing on because some of the pages were quite colorful but lacked a real purpose other than visual enjoyment, and I didn't want to use up my printer ink. Instead, we just enjoyed these pages from the screen of my laptop computer. I punched holes in the unit, and added it to a three-ring binder, separated by tabs. The unit is already separated into days for you, so organizing the unit was a quick and easy process.
In the back of the notebook, I inserted this plastic pocket for keeping all our lapbooking supplies. The unit comes complete with all the lapbooking mini-books you need to make a really great lapbook of your studies. We had not previously done much lapbooking, so this was really exciting for me, as well as for Little Bean. I will say that while this unit is geared toward K through 4th grade, obviously a Kinder cannot cut out all the lapbooking components, so I did have to spend a while cutting and preparing all of the mini-books before hand.

When it was time to start our lessons, I set up another small table near Little Bean's desk to hold my laptop. We worked through the printed pages alongside the saved file on my computer, clicking back and forth from the links and writing down information in our printed book and lapbook as we went. An older child could work through this pretty well independently, but for Little Bean, I needed to be there every step of the way because he is not accustomed to working with technology, nor could he read the information on the websites (though he could understand it all!).
Aren't these lapbooking pieces great? I was really impressed with the wide variety of paper books Expedition Australia provided. Each activity was very fun for Little Bean, and gave him valuable handwriting practice as well. He loves to work with paper, cutting, pasting and the like, so lapbooking was right up his ally.
This unit was like nothing we've done before, so I was a little worried that Little Bean would not understand some of the material. Expedition Australia introduced him to the seven continents, map work, famous animals of Australia, climate and temperatures in Australia, the use of technology to gain information, and more! To my delight, Little Bean LOVED this unit! Several times this week he has shared information that he remembered about Australia with me. He is even making some of his own "lapbook" pieces in his free time, referring to his real lapbook for spelling and information!
Because of his great interest, I immediately went to their website to see what other topics we could explore in the future.

Some other Download N Go units available are:
Winter Wonders
Spring Surprises
Expedition China
Sea Shells
Pizza Party
Birthday Bonanza
Simply Soccer
and Twisting can find them all here!

These units are geared toward grades K through 4th, so Little Bean is right there on the end of the spectrum. I did have to do some scaffolding of the materials for him, but it wasn't burdensome or unrealistic to do a unit like this with him. Some of the other topics Download and Go offers would probably be a little more appropriate for his age (Birthday Bonanza, Pizza Party, Valentines Day, etc) but overall, even a more complex topic like Expedition Australia was easily adapted to fit the needs of my Kinder by simply doing a little more narration or telling-back, instead of handwriting, as handwriting is a skill that he is still perfecting and it can be laborious for him.

If these are of interest to you, you can check them out here!

Note: I was given this product to keep in exchange for my honest opinion. No compensation was given for this review.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Being Present

I am with my kids for 12 hours a day. Yes, you read that right. From sun up to sun down, I am with them and they are with me. But recently I realized that even though I am physically present with them for the majority of my waking hours, and ALL of theirs, much of the time I am not really with them. It's the same with my husband. Him I see a lot less, but still much of the time I spend in his presence is time physically near him, but not really with him.

I want to get rid of all of the junk in my life that is crowding in and sucking up the precious time I have with my family. Not the special days of vacations, the beach or Disneyland, but the ordinary, every day days when the most exciting thing on my agenda is a rousing game of Candyland and a peanut butter sandwhich at noon. Often I think this time isn't precious, isn't important, and won't be remembered by my kids or me in another minute, let alone another day. But that just isn't true.

Those small moments when Miss O asks me to read to her and I am in the middle of an important email or am engrossed in a blog post add up, and the way I respond means something to her. When I stop, fold her little toddler body in my arms and read that book one more time, I am loving her more than words could ever express, and I am showing her that I want to be in her presence, that I bask in it, thrive on it, and can't wait to be a part of it.

It's the same with my husband. When he interrupts me as I am on the last page of a novel to tell me more of the same work-related stories, I have a choice. Will I choose to be present in his life, and show him how much I want to hear his stories (even if I don't), or will I choose to pay minimal attention to his story hoping he'll take the hint and let me return to my all important book? I cringe when I think about the hundreds of times I have let him down by not showing enough interest in him, by showing too much interest in my own pursuits, by prefering to relax at the end of a long day, by putting him off. And I wonder, though it seems like it means nothing to him at the time, really, how long can a person be treated this way before waking up one day and realizing that they are terribly hurt and that the hurt is deep enough that a great chasm has come up between us that cannot be crossed?

I don't want to create chasms. I never have wanted to. But my actions sometimes tell a different story. I want to be present, I want to show love, I want to shove away all the "important" things that I have grown to love, and begin to be present so much more in the lives of my family members. After all, without them, there wouldn't really be much of anything truly important in my life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

100 Easy Lessons or Ordinary Parent's Guide--Which is Best for Your Child?

I've been wanting to do a comparison post between two reading curriculums that I have used--Teach Your Child to Read In 100 Easy Lessons (100 EZ) and Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (OPG) for a while now. There are things I like about both, and things I don't like as much about both. Both are great curriculums, but are also distinctly different from one another. I tried to add links to both curriculum choices, but for some reason blogger isn't letting me. Anyway, you can easily do a search on!

I'll start with OPG. We switched to this book after several months in 100EZ with Little Bean.

Some thoughts that are neither pros nor cons in my view:

--OPG is an explicit phonics program. Each lesson teaches a new rule, or even several rules, and then follows with sample words and sentences

--OPG has no pictures or elaborate stories. The author feels that pictures distract from the text and encourage word guessing. The "stories" are really just a few sentences that are somewhat related to one another, but would not constitute a story in my mind.


--OPG has 230 lessons which take the child from no knowledge of the alphabet all the way to a fourth grade reading level

--OPG is scripted, so the parents knows exactly what to say and when

--OPG teaches words in groupings. For example, our lesson today went over two three-consonant blends--"scr" and "str". The sentences were based on practicing those blends, but also incorporated words from previous lessons

--OPG suggests simple games at the end of each lesson. Sometimes they are as simple as spelling the new words with letter tiles; other times it's other types of games, but they are always optional


--One of my biggest beefs with this curriculum is the pure awkwardness of many (I'll say most) of the sample sentences. I kind of feel like since the author is trying to squeeze in as many practice words of one type into the sentence it comes off really strange.

Here are some examples:
From Lesson 55 on the digraph "sh": Shem shall shelf the ships in the shed and shut the Shell Shack Shop.
From Lesson 52 on the beginning blend "fr": Fred the frog will jump on the frill of the frock.

Honestly, pretty much every lesson my ds is asking me what something means, or he'll read an entire sentence and have no clue what it was about.

--Sometimes the lessons are a little too packed, other times they are too easy. For instance, Lesson 50 covered beginning blends bl, cl, fl, gl, pl, and sl and the sight word "of". Four or five practice words per blend and one sentence was all the lesson covered. Moving on, Lesson 57 covers only the digraph "ch". This lesson has 13 practice words and about 10 sentences, just for this one concept!

--Sometimes (and this may just be geographical differences) the pronunciations given make no sense to me and I have to disregard the rule completely. For example, in a recent lesson the digraph "wh", the book says that wh represents an unvoiced sound like the sound you would make when blowing out a candle. Words like whiff, which, and whistle fall into this category. For me, in this case, wh actually just says /w/ and the h is silent.

Moving on to 100 EZ:

Some general thoughts on 100 EZ:
--I personally really like this curriculum! But, my ds, who was my first child to read, never took to it. Oh, he was reading fine and progressing fine with it, but he just dreaded the lessons. Since we've switched to OPG, he has really turned a corner. Often times I find him pulling out his decodable readers in his free time. My dd, on the other hand, really likes this curriculum. She is 3 (4 in July), and is on Lesson 35. She never complains and loves her reading time. She pulls out her readers all the time too.

--100 EZ is a phonics based program (is not based on sight reading), but it's based on the Distar method, and does not teach explicit rules in the same way that OPG does. When a new sound is presented, it's presented with a special symbol or special font that resembles the regular letter, but has visual cues to make it easier for the child to see the sound as a unit. For example, the sound for "sh" is a lowercase s that is connected at the top to a lowercase h. The fact that they are connected is a cue in the child's mind to say those two letters together. A silent letter is written smaller than a regular letter, another cue for the child to remember not to say that letter when reading. Eventually, the child is weaned off of the special fonts and transitions to regular font by the end of the book. Neither of my children has any problem switching between regular decodable readers and the special font in this book.

--100EZ takes your child from no knowledge of letter sounds to a 2nd grade reading level in just 100 lessons

--100 EZ teaches your child a variety of word patterns so that within a few lessons they are reading sentences and phrases with ease. For example, by Lesson 12, your child can read words like sad, mad, eat, meat, read, am, ram, see, and me. Instead of teaching only 3 letter cvc words, the book gets them started on more complex words right off.

--the sentences make sense and there are no instances of awkward phrasing

--100 EZ has lots and lots of review, and lots of different activities in each lesson. For example, while OPG basically presents the rule, gives practice words and then a practice sentence, 100 EZ has the following activities in each lesson: new sounds, word reading (review of old and new words), review of previously learned sounds, reading a story, reading the story again, comprehension questions and a picture to go along with the story, reading the fast way and word finding. There is a writing component in each lesson, but we don't do it. In the beginning lessons there is also a rhyming section.

--After a while, the stories get really long (about a page), and for my ds, it was too much and the stories are what made him dread reading time

--this may not bother some, but for me it was a problem. Several times in the book the children are taught to read words like gun or hate (or even have stories related to these words about hunting or hating a certain thing--nothing too crazy, lol). We don't use those words in our house, so I had to make sure to preview each lesson and cover up unwanted words (or in some cases, skip the story).

All in all, both are great curriculum choices! My dd loves 100 EZ, and my ds likes OPG. Personally, I prefer 100 EZ, but I like that OPG takes the child to a higher reading level in one volume. So it's a toss up. What do you think? What do you use to teach your child to read?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Explode the Code, Book 2

Little Bean has recently finished his Explode the Code Book 1 workbook, and has moved on to Book 2. I realized this is one resource that I haven't blogged about, so here goes!

Book 1 is very simple words, all consonant-vowel-consonant type stuff, and was serious review for Little Bean. He was really at an instructional level of reading around Book 3 or so, but I found that the review in these books has been so important to his reading confidence and fluency. So even though book 1 was all review for him, it was worth his time because it made him really practice and know immediately those three letter words.

He was happy to finish book one and move on to this one. Book 2 is all about blends. It starts out with initial blends and progresses to final blends. Little Bean can read blends, but as for recognizing them on sight without effort, no. This book will help with that. It's a daily review of all the blends he has learned and that are being taught and reinforced in both All About Spelling and in his reading lessons in Ordinary Parent's Guide. Book 2 has some more interesting activities compared to book 1, and Little Bean has enjoyed this more than he did book 1.
Here's a page where he circles the letters in the word and then writes the word in the blank. His handwriting isn't all the great just because he is young, but in the Explode the Code activities, it's pretty awful. I don't care though because this activity isn't about handwriting, it's about reading. So if he has the correct response, that's all I care about--for this subject anyway.
Here's one where he reads the word, writes the word and then circles the correct picture:
And this one instructs him to read each sentence and then check the sentence that matches what is going on in the picture.
Little Bean usually does this 2 to 3 times a week while I work one on one with Miss O on her preschool skills. He can do it mostly independently too. The only time he runs into problems is when he is unfamiliar with the vocabulary. That rarely happened in book 1, but book 2 has some more rare words like skid, slip (as in a piece of clothing, slip) and slap. Strangely enough, he didn't know what it meant to slap someone (which was what the picture was of!)! When I explained to him what it meant, he was confused because in the picture, a girl is slapping a boy on the shoulder, but she is smiling while she does it. He wondered aloud why she was smiling if she was mad enough to slap the boy. :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Miss O Says...

Miss O is always asking me different things about our faith. It's with great interest that I observe and listen to her and see the way such a small child develops and understands the complexities of religion.

Once Little Bean wasn't listening to me in the car when I asked him to lean back so I could buckle his car seat. Miss O turned to him and said, "Little Bean, if you don't lean back, you're going to hell!" Oh, boy! I was kind of shocked she knew what hell even was at such a young age, and even more so that she would use the word so freely. I had to set her straight on that one! Yipes!

Just today she said to me, "Mommy, I wonder if Jesus gets food on him." When I asked her why, she answered, "You know, because he lives in our hearts and the food might get in our hearts when we eat it." I had to laugh at that one!

She is so sensitive to spiritual things, and she takes it seriously when someone is sick; she will pray for them or for herself if needed. I continually pray that as she grows she will have the ability to understand the Bible and her Christian inhertitance, and that she will grow into a lovely woman of God someday.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Originally posted on my private blog, I thought this one might interest some of my readers as well.

My four year-old, Little Bean, discovered out of nowhere the other day that people die. Not just other people, but us, our family, even he could die. He came up to me while I was lounging on the bed with Miss O and asked me point blank if humans can die. When I told him that every living thing would eventually die, he thought I was joking. But when I insisted that it was true, he began to cry.

His crying broke my heart because it meant that he was growing up. It meant that I couldn't protect him from the inevitable sadness he will feel when someone he loves dies. It meant that soon, very soon, not only will he know what death is, but he will learn what killing is. And once he figures that out, he will know what hate is. My little boy is growing up into a man already, and the big, ugly world is showing itself to him bit by sinful bit.

But his crying was also a reminder that I too should grieve the concept of death. Not just the death of a loved one, but death itself. The very idea of death should bring tears to my eyes as it did for Little Bean. Death only exists because sin exists, and that should grieve me. Every time I am reminded of death, I should be reminded of the cause of death--sin--and I should grieve for a world gone bad.

Thank God that Jesus has conquered death, and that as a Christian I can have hope in His resurrected life. Death may grieve me, but my God has beaten death, and in the process given me life.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Reading Game for Both

We played an impromptu reading game the other day that both of the kids really loved. And that is really saying something because Little Bean doesn't usually get too excited over reading games. :)

If you remember, Miss O has recently started showing an interest in reading, so we are working our way through 100 Lessons. She is on lesson 31 now. She is doing great! And she is very motivated to read, much more so than Little Bean has ever been. She loves to read her Bob books and gets excited that she is able to read different ones as her reading skills are strengthened. She also does a lot of environmental reading. Earlier in the week is she noticed some words on a medicine schedule on our fridge and attempted to sound them out. Then she went over to a Home Depot box we have filled with scrap paper and was trying to read the packing label. This sparked an idea in my head for an easy little reading game.

I used some sentence/word strips and wrote out some simple words in pink marker for her. Then I taped them in various places around the house. She and Little Bean both got very excited as they raced around the house sounding out the different words. Of course, all the words were way too easy for Little Bean, so he asked if I would make some for him. I used a blue marker for his words.

Soon, Little Bean wanted to make up words himself. So I gave him the pink marker and he proceeded to make several word cards for Miss O--easy 3 letter words that he could spell on his own. And that led to him wanting to make cards for himself. So I suggested that he get out his Explode the Code Book 2 and copy some of the words from there, so that the spelling would be correct.

They both really loved this game, and I will leave the cards out for a while so that they have more chances to practice their reading. :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Couple of Valentines Day Projects

We made Valentine's Lei's for the kid's Gymboree teachers the other day. You can find the full directions and see where I got my idea here. But the basics are just paper hearts, cut up straws and a piece of cording for stringing. I drew the hearts and had Little Bean do all of the cutting. He did GREAT! He has recently figured out how to draw and cut out hearts, so this was good practice. For Miss O, I prepared everything beforehand and just had her do the stringing.

And we made these heart sun catchers yesterday. I've seen these all over the blogs, so I won't credit one source. To make, I cut out the heart shape, stuck it to contact paper, let them decorate, and then contact papered the other side as well. The kids really enjoyed these projects, but the prep work was a bit much for me. I'm glad they get to do a lot of crafts at Gymboree, because I just don't have the stamina to cut out all the tiny pieces lately!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oh, Saturdays

I came downstairs after my shower last Saturday to this:
Yes, they ARE having loads of fun. :) The kids and my dear husband raided the craft cupboard and the recycle bin and made this:
I still can't figure what "it" really is, but they loved the freedom of the project, cutting, pasting and creating this in any way that seemed interesting to them.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


This was originally posted on a private blog I have where I like to share more about what God is teaching me as I learn to obey Him more and more each day. I was looking over it, and realizing that some of you may be interested in this part of my life as well, so I thought I'd share it here. :)

We were walking home from my mom's house today when Miss O stopped in front of our neighbor's shiny black truck to dance around. She does this every time we walk home from my mom's house. The shiny black curves of the truck make her reflection short and fat and oh so joyous to behold.

She dances, lifting her squatty legs up and down and the joy just bubbles out of her throat. It's contagious too. Bean is soon joining in her play, and I'm standing there, wondering if the neighbors are wondering if we are all nuts. The kids don't care who is looking; they are just enjoying life.

And I think, isn't that how God wants us to be? I can take a lesson from my kids; learn to let go, to let the joy bubble out of me, learn to find joy in the small things in life.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Drawing Challenge

I saw this idea on Superheroes and Princesses and promptly added it to Little Bean's workboxes the next day. It's a simple activity where you just suggest that the child draw a picture using only one shape--in our case, circles. Knowing how he is (kind of an anxious type), it crossed my mind that he may flip out about the "challenge" inherent in this activity, but it seemed so fun, I thought I'd give it a try and hope for the best.

He proved me right, and promptly began to cry, saying it was too hard, when he started drawing and realized that what he wanted to draw needed shapes and lines other than a circle. Once he calmed down though, he actually enjoyed this activity and laughed at the outcome. Super cute idea, but probably won't be doing that one with him again! :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On Their Own

A huge portion of the kiddos days is spent doing just this: cutting, pasting, coloring, and gluing scrap paper. And let's not forget stickers! What would art be without stickers?! They use it like tape, since I'm kind of stingy with our tape. I love that they are getting SO much practice, espescially with the cutting, but seriously?! My house is pretty much wallpapered and carpeted with little stray pieces of white paper. When I tell them to clean up their scraps and only keep what they've made, they all of the sudden are extremely attached to ALL those little pieces of paper, and hide them in their desks for safe keeping! ;)

Some of the things they've made during these sessions are two paper laptops computers, a paper remote control, paper rings and bracelets, birthday cards (for pretend birthdays), artwork for their Gymboree teachers, blank books (this consists of 20 or so pages glued together on one side and a circle hastily drawn on each page), and a paper abacus. Good times!
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