Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Bins

Every January, for at least the past three years, I get in the mood to organizing...EVERYTHING! Part of that involves daydreaming about creating a flawless rotating system for our learning toys. I LOVE the idea of toy rotating. Keeping fewer toys out at a time provides for deeper engagement, helps with organization and minimizes the overwhelming feeling little ones may have when faced with an abundance of toys.  When it's time to rotate, toys have the feeling of becoming brand new all over again. How exciting is that?! This post does a great job explaining some of the benefits to toy rotating. 

It sounds oh, SO wonderful but unfortunately I have yet to fully accomplish it. :/ It's a work in progress over here. For some reason I find it slightly intimidating. Maybe because there are few steps involved in-which I'd really like to start AND finish all at the same time and well, time doesn't lend itself well to that right now. Perhaps one day though, one day soon. :) 

When I thought however, about applying the same idea to our collection of books the task didn't seem quite as daunting. It actually seemed manageable. 

I really love children's books! I mean I love, LOVE children's books! I fight an internal raging war when I walk into Barnes and Noble. I head straight to the children's section to gawk at all the books I'd like to add to our collection. It's close to the top of my list of places that make me feel peaceful and happy. :)

I'm so thankful that between my (previous) teaching career and having our three little ones, we have a pretty great selection of books at home. 

We've tried a few different storage solutions for our books; bins, rain gutter shelves and our current solution, a bookshelf. I've come to realize how they are displayed doesn't matter much at all to a two and four year old.  With an overwhelming selection, our storage system wasn't providing my little ones opportunities to create beloved experiences with each endearing book. (Is that crazy for me to expect from a toddler and preschooler????) 

Many books often got overlooked as little hands always seemed to reach for the same reads, like the over-sized Look and Find books. Mainly because they are large and visually appealing to their little eyes. The timeless Dr. Seuss selections or great character reads like Molly Lou Melon (one of our current favorites) sat on the shelf just like Corduroy, sadly waiting for their turn to be chosen.  

I do, most definitely, want to encourage them to choose books they are interested in and what's great is that we've managed to allow them that very opportunity with our book rotating system. I have a strong desire to foster a love for reading within them and I believe allowing them to choose books they are naturally drawn to will play a large role in that. 

Book rotating makes us feel like we have our own little library at home. Here's what it looks like for us...

I took a few moments one day to organize our books, mainly by size and type. For example, I placed all the durable board books together, picture books, softback books, etc. 

I used plain white bins from the dollar store and proudly pronounced them as their book bins. They each keep their bin by their bedside for nap/bedtime read-a-louds and independent "reading". The sentence strips taped to the bins were also a great dollar store find! :) 

Gabriella's Bin:

Mikey's Bin: 

Even Josiah and mommy have a bin :) 

I realize Josiah's is mainly cosmetic for now but before long I know he'll be using his just like big brother and sister are. 

I know it may seem silly but I have really enjoy having one for myself. :) It's nice to have a designated spot for my books, journals and devotions. It's also nice for the little ones to see that reading is important at any age. <3 

And last but not least, our living room bin:
We keep one in the living room for well, reading...anytime!  Occasional lunchtime stories, just because stories and sometimes nap-time or bedtime stories are even read here. 

When it's time to rotate books, Gabriella and Mikey bring their bins to our bookshelf and I help guide them towards the types of books I think they may enjoy the most. For example, I guide Mikey towards the board books since his two year old fingers haven't quite perfected turning thin paper pages without tearing them. If he shows interest in other books I'm 100% OK with that too. I expect a few rips and tears to happen in the process of learning how to care for books. Fortunately we have a book doctor on duty at all times ;) I guide Gabriella towards the picture books, although she's free to choose from any as well. She has quite a soft spot for many of our board books given the four plus years we've read them together, over and over again. :) Brown Bear any one??? 

I ask them to choose anywhere between 8-10 books for their bin. Yes, I'm a softy so 11 or 12 is fine as well if they are must haves. :) 

I admit I get just as excited as the kiddos do for book rotating day and for that very reason I've deemed the living room bin mine!!! Love! :) I occasionally take a book or two that has just come out of their rotation and place it in the living room bin. Their little eyes light up when I pull it out to read as I hear them say something along the lines of "Hey! That was MY book!". The living room bin is also a great place for seasonal books, holiday books and even a fantastic place for our weekly library books.  

I've also noticed on book rotating day there are certain selections that they are not quite ready to part with. That makes my heart smile and I most definitely encourage them keep those books for as long as their little heart desires. There are no over-due book fees to worry about here! :) 

Here are a few pictures I just had to take of the kiddos after choosing "new" books for their bin. They were so excited to read them that they laid their blankets out in the living room and got right to work. <3 

We don't follow any master plan for when to rotate. With a four year old, two year old and one year old I try not to make such grand plans but rather go with the flow. :) So far we seem to rotate around every 2 weeks. I want to keep their excitement high so I'd rather rotate books before they've lost interest than after. 

And that's it! Extremely simple and really manageable! Book rotating has been such a wonderful experience so far. 

Mikey occasionally carries his bin around the house with him.  This was him with his book after bringing his bin with him into our room for our Saturday morning family cuddle session.  

Gabriella likes to show our visitors her book bin. She told a dear friend of mine "this is my book bin for when I get bored!" Eeehhhhh.....???? Mmmm well, that's not exactly what I hoped for. :/ I'm not too sure where she got that phrase "bored" from but at least there was some excitement in her voice when she said it. Haha! 

Wanna know what has been my favorite part of this whole experience?????? This...
Peeking in their rooms at night, catching their little fingers fumble through books and watching them "read" as they sit/lay there before drifting off to sleep. {sigh}...Oh how I LOVE that! 

And then getting to snap pictures like these after they've fallen asleep...

Oh my heart...absolutely priceless!

May each book that finds itself in their little hands become alive within their imagination as they find ways to make connections with characters and illustrations.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Our Love Soup

Our Love Soup was such a hit! Well, as you know, any thing that makes a mess turns out to be a hit around here!! :)

I saw Fun at Home with Kids' Valentine Soup and couldn't wait to throw foam hearts in some water and let the kiddos play! I love her ideas, they are always so practical and so easy to put together. Water play isn't new to us but a BIG bin of water is and boy, did it add a new dimension of fun!!! 

One of my bribes for nap time today (yep, I know, I'm not too proud of it but it works :)) was that I'd have Love Soup ready for play after they woke.  I'm not sure they knew exactly what I was talking about but they sure were excited and more importantly, it worked! They non-reluctantly napped away, yay!! So I took advantage and prepped...
I also came across the idea of using a hot glue to create invisible letters and took this opportunity to give it a try...
I just peeled them right off the parchment paper and added 'em to our Love Soup! Can't you just feel the love??? :) 
Ok, ok I can't keep these precious pictures from you any longer! They had so much fun! 
Of course Mikey, my letter loving boy, was drawn to the letters! When he found one, he'd get so excited and show me right away!

Here he's showing me "V" and saying "V.../v/, /v/, /v/, VACATION!"
I thought they'd be WAY more interested in the really cool invisible letters :/ but they weren't.  Haha and that's ok! 

Mikey was excited to have "caught" some hearts...

Gabriella really enjoyed using the basters to fill containers...
Her and Mikey worked together quite a bit, I loved it! 
Their excitement heightened when they started using the bottle dispensers...
Gabriella even gave it a try standing :) Oh my! 

Josiah, oh my goodness, was just so hard to keep my eyes off of!!! Besides the fact that I had to constantly watch him to keep him from crawling IN the bin, he was just sooooo stinkin cute! He had soooo much fun!! 

He splashed...

And reeeeeached...

And looked...

And poured...

He really acted like he knew exactly what he was doing! LOL! 

It wasn't until I took the next picture that I realized the addition to his attire! I was so tickled, I laughed and laughed and laughed! 

With all the splashing he was doing I truly thought he had done it himself  but Gabriella's giggle gave it away! I just had to add my own touch! What do you think????
He never even realized it was there :)! 
It's 100% true...such a bundle of love!

Oh my heart was full! The pink water wasn't what mattered, what was in the water didn't matter, the mess they made didn't even matter...but rather, the smiles on their faces, the memories they made and the love they filled my heart with is what really mattered. 

I love these three! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Our DIY Dressing Frame: Bow Tying

I'm soooo proud of my Little Butterfly Love Bug for mastering her first set of tying bows!
Bow tying is a skill we've tried and abandoned quite a few times in the past year. We'd attempt it but if frustration arose we'd simply commit to trying again later. And really, there is no reason for her needing to know how to do this right now. She only has one pair of shoes that lace and they're purple so are not even worn often! ;) Mastering this skill is really just for fun and for the thrill of learning something new! 

(Just a little side note if you're curious like I was...based on Internet research, first attempts at tying bows start around 4 to 5 years of age and mastery may not occur until 6 to 7 years of age.) 

I recently stumbled across a video that introduced me to Montessori Dressing Frames and I immediately fell in love! I want them ALL! (aannnd the cute lil stand to put 'em all in :)) 

Since that's just not feasible my brain went to work thinking about how I could make something similar and functional. Woodwork and sewing isn't really an option for me but a makeshift from cardboard boxes?!?! Oh yes! I knew saving all those random Christmas boxes would come in handy somehow! 

Materials we used for our DIY Bow Tying Frame:

Empty box
Box cutter 
Hole puncher 
Lacing string 

We borrowed the string from the lacing  activity below. 

And that's it! It literally took me maybe 10 minutes to gather the materials and create it! Then, after modeling and working together for another 10 minutes, she had it! Her first bow! I'm not sure who was more excited, her or I. 

It is truly an added bonus that our DIY frame is a box.  Gabriella has titled it her "Extra Special Secret Tying Box" in which she stores "special girly things"! Oh I love my girly-girl!

I realize my Willow Tree Figures should not be a child's toy but Gabriella is just in awe at the moment with how special they are just because they're mine. She is fascinated with anything she thinks is from my childhood, especially anything fragile that needs to be handled with extra care. (Big {hug} to my special sister that gifted me with this one.) 

She really is just as delightful as it sounds! Well, at least to this momma she is! :)

I expect it won't be long before little Mikey ends up stepping on our special box. I'd love for it to last forever but for now it's served it's purpose and for that I am grateful. I'm sure Gabriella and I will eventually recover from the pain of loosing it. :) Nonetheless, It will be exciting to create a new one for Mikey when he's ready. As for the other Dressing Frames??? Mmm...I'll work on figuring them out too. :)
Here's a little snippet of her working away. I LOVE her self talk! Her focus impressed me considering the flying distractions. Haha! 
Mommy's so proud of you big girl! 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

From Oooos and Aahhhs to Wowws and Eewws

We started with Oooos and Aahhhs over bubbling and fizzing and ended with Wows and Eewws over oozing and goozing today! Such a messy, messy fun (and exhausting) day!!!
I've been wanting to revisit the vinegar and baking soda experiment for a few weeks now and today's chilly, rainy day provided perfectly for it! I finally picked up some bottle dispensers from Wal-mart that I've been eyeing for quite some time. They were less than a dollar each and I just knew they'd be the perfect vehicle for our vinegar!  A few turkey basters are next on my list. :) 

I don't hate the smell of vinegar but I don't love it either. I had read somewhere online that adding a bit of Peppermint oil to vinegar masks the smell so we tried it and whaahh...laa, NO vinegar smell! It really worked. Instead of bearing the smell of vinegar during our play we enjoyed the relaxing smell of pure peppermint oil. Definitely a win! 

We filled our dispensers with vinegar, a few drops of food coloring, 2 drops of peppermint oil and got to work. I evenly dispersed a small box of baking soda for each of them onto a clear disposable top left over from all of our Thanksgiving baking. 

They were so eager to start experimenting! I was a bit worried that they'd hastily empty their dispensers and the fun would be over just as quickly as it begun so I asked them to carefully let the vinegar solution come out on its own. (Eye droppers would be loads of fun too!) It really made me laugh at how well they listened to my request. Not that I didn't expect them to but rather I'm not sure I would have even been able to restrain from the tempting ssqueeezze! Oh I love my babies! They practiced great self control. :) 
Look how nice and neat it begun...haha! 
Gabriella said it sounded just like Sprite fizzing away. :)

After I gave them the go-a-head to squeeze, their excitement heightened and new level fun began! 
They squeeeeezes until there was no squeezing left to be done. Once we were out of vinegar Gabriella noticed the layer of baking soda that remained was perfect grounds for drawing. 
And for hand prints...
Mikey joined in as well...
Our vinegar and baking soda experiment was lots of fun and we will most definitely do it over and over but to be quite honest I was pretty sad that the fun was over so quickly. I love doing experiments with the kiddos but with all the effort it takes to prepare I'd like to spend a valuable amount of time exploring. Sooo since I felt ambitious I reached for the cornstarch.  

If you're ever up for experimenting with messy sensory play give cornstarch a try! It's my go-to when we finish with any liquid sensory play and I'm curious as to what adding cornstarch will do. Cornstarch is amazing! 

We've added cornstarch and water to pumpkin clay we made before Thanksgiving and that was messy, messy, messy! Haha! I may not decide to do that combo in the future. 

I wasn't sure what would come of adding cornstarch to our vinegar but ohhhh was it perfect! It turned into the most delightful Oobleck. 

Getting Oobleck to the right consistency can be a bit tricky. You man have to experiment with how "loose" you want it to be. If you've never played with Oobleck before pleases do! Yes, it is super messy (at least it is the way my 2 year old plays) but it is SOOO much fun! It acts both as a solid and a liquid. There are some really great step by step instructions for making Oobleck here. The term Oobleck comes from Dr. Seuss's book, Bartholomew and the OobleckHaving literature to extend or preface experiments or play time makes it all the more exciting! This momma is all about trying to make connections. :)

Gabriella was fascinated (I was too!) with making large rocks then watching them melt right before her eyes!
Mikey enjoyed watching his hands sink into the solid-liquidy substance. He'd pull them out and watch it ooze from his fingertips. He did this over and over! :) 
I'm not going to pretend at all like this was mess free! It wasn't. Not one bit! :) See...
We made a huge mess! I can't believe I really made a photo collage of just messy pictures!  

Here's a helpful tip for cleaning...because I just can't  leave you with this mess. :) 

Set out a bowl of warm water (I set one close to each of them) for rinsing hands and arms, that's it! I'm not sure WHY I never thought of this helpful tip before but oh was it helpful. You DO NOT  want to carry Oobleck covered kiddos from the play site to the kitchen sink or bathroom for clean up. You will not be able to move quicker that Oobleck oozes. Believe me, I tried. Haha! You'll have little droplets of Oobleck everywhere. Although its really not hard to clean up, its just easier if the mess is confined to one area.  

Mikey enjoyed using his bowl of water to make his Oobleck as runny as possible and then covered every inch of his arm with it! :0 Oh my Mikey! 

This messy play would have been ideal on a sheet/towels on the floor but if you end up with a mess like I did just use a fresh bowl of warm water and a rag to wipe up the rest. Clean up really is that easy, promise! 

I'm going to end this post with my favorite picture from our messy play day...

Just look at those whittle feet and those toes!!!! Oh so cute!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Foam Christmas Tree and Snowmen Fun!

Our early December has brought quite a few chilly, rainy days so I was very thankful when I came across this post from Fun at Home with Kids. 

All you need for this incredible, reusable activity is "special glue" (water), foam pieces and a window (or mirror)! 

When I find things like this online I always have the same thoughts:
1. This is GENIUS!  Which is always followed by...
2. WHY have I never thought of this?!?! haha! 

We play with foam letters in the bathtub all the time so this makes complete sense! 

We decided to go with Christmas tree decorating and save the snowmen fun for January. I started with cutting out small, medium and large size trees with corresponding stars.  I'm so grateful for the large random bag of multicolored shapes I saved from my teaching days. They worked their way perfectly into this activity as ornaments. My obsessive compulsiveness may have kept me up all night cutting foam "ornaments" for decorating our foam trees. I won't tell you how many times I erased the penciled sketches from attempt after attempt in drawing three decent looking stars.  :/

Gabriella was right alongside of me "helping" as she cut her happy little heart away. (Cutting foam is really rather soothing. Well, at least Gabriella and I think so :)) I LOVED when she realized some of the scraps from her cutting were squares and rectangles that would serve perfectly as presents under the trees! She also did an incredible job cutting out three different size candy canes for decorating. It was challenging but she was rewarded with pure joy when she accomplished it. 

When it was time to play I laid out two white tubs, one to hold the pieces and the other to hold a small amount of "special glue" (water) for sticking the foam to the window. 

My little love bugs would pick up a piece, lay it in the glue then place it on the window. So easy and so fun! I did place a towel under the play area for two reasons; the floor was cold due to the weather out and I have a two year old, haha! Even if it was only a 1/4th of a cup of water, I didn't expect any of it to remain after my Mikey got a hold of it. :) 

We also experimented with using paintbrushes to paint the "glue" on the window.  I think we all liked that a bit better than the water tub. There's just something about holding a paintbrush in your hand that makes you feel like your doing something extra special.  

I really loved all the learning I got to sneak in with this activity while they played. 

We talked about the size of the trees and the relationship between them. 
We also worked on following verbal directions like,
"Place a yellow circle on the largest tree"
"Place two presents under the medium size tree" 
We even got a chance to reinforce directional terms like,
"Place the star on top of the tree"
"Place the ornament under, beside, to the right, to the left"

We used the trees to help sort shapes as we talked about their attributes. 

It wasn't until a day or two into playing with this activity that I realized we could utilize the window clings on my window. (We found then at my favorite store, The Dollar Tree)! I was actually busy trying to get them out from behind the trees (honistely, it wasn't bothering anyone but me) when it dawned on me...we can use these! So we did. :) 

With a little color sorting and graphing...

Then with number representation and counting...

We really have enjoyed decorating our foam trees. I think what I love most about this activity is that I'm not being wasteful. I can pack them up and save them for next Christmas. Definitely a win! 

Merry Christmas to all of you! May your holiday season be filled with God's love and peace and may we never forget the real meaning of Christmas...Jesus. 

Updated January 2014

Look how sweet our little snowmen turned out! 

Gabriella had such a great time helping me with them. We decided to work on them while the boys napped and surprisingly, we finished before they woke AND had a little time to play!!! Yay!

We followed the same concept we had with the foam Christmas trees; one small, one medium and one large. I decided to number the three circle body parts of each snowman to make it a bit easier when putting them together. I used a pencil to write the number 1 on each of the "large" snowman's body parts, 2s on the "medium" snowman's body parts and 3s for the "small". I also used a black permanent marker to drawl the coal smile onto each snowman's face.

The boys had a great time playing around with them too! 

Oh Josiah! He always goes straight for the unattended cup with "special glue"! He gets such a kick out of playing with the very small amount of water in there!   

I'm excited for all the future opportunities to create new foam window art. Maybe we'll try big raindrops and umbrellas for April and a little flower garden for May! Can't wait to see what we come up with. I'll keep you updated with pictures! :) 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Our Thankful Tree

Gratitude. What a tremendously important lesson to teach little ones. 

This is only the second year we've made our "thankful tree" but I hope to make it a lasting tradition. 

We like to take a trip to the park and hunt for the perfect twigs for our tree and this year it was as though they were just waiting for us! I can't get over how beautiful they are. As for the leaves, last year I hand cut them from yellow, red and orange construction paper (not so much fun) but this year I came across the prettiest bag of them at the dollar store. Whoo-hoo for a time saver! I am so thankful for the Dollar Tree! :) 

We usually add a few leaves to the tree each morning during our breakfast and devotion time but recently Gabriella will randomly ask me throughout the day to add things like,

...while she's walking through the house humming she'll excitedly say "mommy, I have something we can add to our tree, MUSIC!!!"

...after waving to our neighbors across the street she'll come close and whisper "let's add our neighbors to our tree Mommy" (they really are wonderful neighbors, we are so thankful)

...or my favorite, just the other night after dinner, Gabriella says "Oh mommy, mommy! I have something to add to our thankful tree!!!....I'm thankful for Jesus of the Christ" Yes, Jesus of the Christ. I had to ask her twice too. Haha! It was just as precious as it sounds! That would be the 4th time we've added Jesus to our tree but really, could we ever be thankful enough for him? {big sigh} 

And I just can't leave out Mikey. Although he may not understand completely, every time we talk about what we are thankful for he blurts out "and mommy and daddy and Gabby and Mikey and Siah (Josiah)". Oh how I love his adorable two year old self!  

So I think Gabriella's got it...I think she's found her heart of gratitude and my Mikey is well on his way...for that, I am so thankful.

Although there has been a lot of talk in our home recently about being thankful, I don't think our "tree" or our talks are most efficient in teaching it. I do hope the deliberate discussion and act of writing down what we're thankful for is helpful but what I really long for is that my little loves catch ME "teaching them" gratitude...teaching them daily as they hear me say grace, thank a stranger for holding a door open, Josiah for his sweet cuddles, Mikey for his tender kisses and Gabriella for her companionship. I pray they catch me thanking God for patience, for the birds singing and the sun shining. I pray they hear gratitude during bedtime prayers as we thank God for the day's blessings and thank him for carrying us through. I pray they soak up God's favor and thank Him for every special gift. I pray they learn to be truly grateful... knowing that if it weren't for HIM, we'd have NOTHING. My prayer is that I lead by example. Let it be I who sets gratitude into action.