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.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Discovery Jars

Discovering our Discovery Jars!

This would be another one of those things I have been SUPER, super excited about getting together. It's the kind of excitement where you can't stop thinking about it until the project is complete then want to sit and stare at it for HOURS and hours once it is. I have to admit I've been drooling over the Discovery Bottles I've seen all over the web. I first saw them on one of my favorite blogs, Fun at Home with Kids and immediately fell in love. You can check out her post here, Discovery Bottles. They not only provide for hours of fun but are incredibly beautiful too!  I've been trying reeeaally hard to be patient until I could collect or find the right "bottles" to make it work for us. I started saving our plastic peanut butter jars but even with the kiddos' intense love for peanut butter only sandwiches, it was taking much longer than I anticipated. 

I didn't initially envision having jars/canisters this size but they couldn't be more perfect for our family.  I found these beauties at the Dollar Tree and that, of course, makes them even more perfect! Because I hesitated on the size, I regretfully only bought two at first then was left searching Dollar Tree Stores for DAYS looking for more!! I was on a desperate mission to bring the vision to pass.  When I finally found them I sent hubby to get enough to complete my set and maybe just a few more. ;) 

In a very perfect world I'd love to say we took the time to find each item for the jars together but given the ages of my lil ones and time management, it just wasn't fesable. It would have taken days, weeks, MONTHS, maybe even an entire year to complete our set that way! Haha! It was easier for me to do the hunting for the items alone. I did however, really want the kids to have a sense of ownership and pride in our Discovery Jars.  I didn't want them to miss out on all the fun of discovering the objects so placing everything in a bin for us to sort into the jars together worked perfectly! And of course, anytime they find an additional item that we can add, we most definitely do! :) 

I love the fact that we call these our "Discovery Jars".  Every single time we play with them we discover a new way to explore the items as learning takes place and THAT could not possibly make this Momma's heart any happier. One of the reasons I love having jars this size is because the items inside are large enough for us to take out on a regular basis and explore. I even tried to stay away from including super tiny items that our littlest wouldn't be able to resist putting in his mouth just so he could play with us!  The jars sit on a beautiful bookshelf that we were blessed with (thanks to my awesome Father God for always knowing the desires of my heart).  I keep a good size bin in that bookshelf so as the kiddos desire they can take down a jar or two or ALL of them, as my two year old prefers, and play, play, play! Here's some of the fun we've had while discovering our Discovering Jars. 

Open-ended play! 

This will never get old! I hope and pray that my little ones never cease to use their imagination and creativity while playing. Between all that's in these jars they should never run out of silly things to create, roll play, or just stacking jars (castles) before they come tumbling down.

Number Identification and 1:1 Counting

The kids discovered a die while playing with the contents in our green jar and we suddenly found ourselves playing a game! The jar's lid was the perfect size to both roll the die in and contain it's roll. We all took turns rolling, identify the numeral and choosing that number of objects from the bin. Wow was this a surprisingly fun, easy, and exciting game!!  They were very patient with each other while taking turns and were excited about choosing their own objects. You could easily play until you've emptied the items from the bin or if you'd like to make it competitive, you could establish a "winner" based on the most/least items retrieved. You could also pull out a few ice trays or egg cartons to have them place their collected items in. First to fill up all of their spots is the winner! Whoo-hoo so much FUN! I admit at first I hesitated placing ALL of our cute colored dice in the Discovery Jars. I didn't want them to be removed form their "very special" labeled place on the "very special" shelf. Well, all of that quickly went out the window and I grabbed every color die I could find to place in the remaining jars. Every time we pull out a jar to play with I can only hope we'll get the chance to play this game again! There is no time like NOW. Learning was taking place and that is far more important than anything "looking nice" on a shelf.

Memory Games!

My hubby and I love any opportunity we have to play memory games with the kids. Beside the fact that they are FUN, they are also sooo so good for their little brains!  I was always really intrigued by the memory lessons in my Developmental Psychology class. I have to admit though, I was never very good at the exercises. I tried REALLY hard but always disappointed myself with how few I could remember. It excites me to begin memory training really early with the kids by playing games like these. We started nice and easy with strategically placing just a few objects neatly in the bin. We took turns closing our eyes and whoever was "it" removed one object to hide behind their back. We'd open our eyes, took a look at the items and tried  to remember which one was missing. My two year old didn't quite understand the concept of this game. He was so funny when it was his turn to be "it". As soon as we were ready to guess what item was removed he'd yell out the answer. Oh! We really enjoyed that! We chuckled and chuckled and chuckled! He is seriously too cute! 

Exploring with sense of touch

I give my two year old all the credit for engaging us in this activity. He started stuffing a ball into a sock that was suppose to be on his foot, haha! (It was pretty clean, no worries ;)) A little light bulb went off in my head and we took off with his idea. Again here, we took turns choosing an object while everyone else closed their eyes then placed it into the sock (no pEEking!). It was then everyone else's job to hold the sock, feel around and try to guess what object was within. We were having WAY too much fun for us to stop so I could try to find a more appropriate "bag", Oh No, there was none more appropriate than my son's precious sock at that very moment. <3 For the record we have played this game since then and did use a larger cloth bag with a drawstring top. This gave us the chance to place our hand in the bag and feel around while guessing. It provided for a completely different sensory experience. We loved it! I should mention that it is easier for little ones to cheat using a bag, haha! I will never forget my sweet princess's face.  She tried soooo hard to keep her eyes from peeking into that bag as she slid her hand in. Oh goodness! I do have to say she gets it honestly...It's soooo hard not to peek!

Reading, Identifying and Classifying   

I have really been longing for a way to incorporate literacy into our Discovery Jar play time. I started by using a white board and writing the label of an item in the bin. My daughter would then do her best to sound out the word and find it.  Yay, it was a success!
I was then inspired to create this for her to access whenever she desired. I used little cut up pieces of construction paper and wrote labels of many (not all) items in each jar. I hot glued a magnet to the lid, used a metal clip to hold the labels and secured them right to the magnet! Oh how I felt like Tinker Bell at that moment tinkering with lost things to create something truly wonderful! I also tried to prepare for the inevitable lid mix-up when my two year old dumps multiple jars out to play with at once by writing the color name on the back of each card. This has been VERY helpful!
Ahhahah I just love all the learning that's going on with these jars!!!

The magnet on the lid also serves for another incredible purpose as we can use it to help us classify objects as magnetic or non-magnetic! Magnets are ALWAYS so much fun to play with! Here's my sweet princess showing me that the small washer on the sea turtle is magnetic.

Sorting and Classifying Objects! 

WOW to the endless possibilities for sorting and classifying with these items! The picture above shows just a few groups we came up with. I'm SO excited that we can continue to classify based on attributes like: 
  • Texture
  • Color
  • Size 
  • Weight
  • Shape (3-D)
  • Phonics
  • Magnetic and Non-Magnetic

Beginning and/or Ending Sounds

For this activity we worked together on isolating beginning sounds and placed them on the carpet where they belonged. We quickly noticed many letters had no friends and few letters had many.  What a great way to get some mathematics vocabulary in by asking which letter has the most, fewest, more than, less than, equal to and so on. Oh geese I get so excited about learning!  We laughed about the fact that the majority of the items in the jar began with the letter B! 

I'm so very sorry for how long this post has been! I've been so excited about finishing it and sharing it with you in hopes that you'll find some use for them as well. We'd love for you to leave us a comment with more ideas of fun ways to play! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Tree Leaf Collage

A visit to our favorite park in town turned out to be an opportunity to collect valuable materials for some really beautiful fall crafts! 

It just happens that the kiddos' favorite playground is surrounded with the most beautiful trees. In fact the largest of all shades every bit of the play equipment as it spreads its beautiful mature branches right overhead. {sigh!} Have I mentioned how much I LOVE fall? :) Anytime we are close to that playground they don't have to ask more than once to go! It is most definitely one of my "happy places." 

We spent the latter of our park visit crawling all over the leaf covered ground picking up, what felt like, hundreds of leaves and acorns. Every time the wind would gust it felt as though we were being showered with autumn's raindrops... what a memory! 

I can't get over how beautiful our Tree Leaf Collage turned out. I know the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges won't stay for long but they are breathtaking while they last. My sugar and I even had a great discussion about the life span of the leaf once it has fallen to the ground. We talked about the brown crunchy leaves opposed to the bendable/flexable, colorful leaves. She decided the darkest brown leaf should be glued to the "ground" of our collage. 

It turned out perfect, I couldn't love it more! 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Golf Tee Pumpkin FUN!

I am MORE than excited about this activity but can I first say how grateful I am for my Father God who gives me breath, life and inspiration. I cannot live a day of this life without his strength. I am nothing without Him.  I just can't get by without saying thank you and giving all glory where its due, to my God! He is my source.  If it weren't for him I wouldn't have even remembered where I put those golf tees from a year and a half ago, haha! Thank you Jesus! 

So...are you ever WAY more excited about an activity or "learning experience" than your kiddos are? I feel like this is me more times than not, haha! I'm hoping it will level out here in the near future. ;)

I came across a picture of the golf tee pumpkin hammering activity from one of the incredible blogs I follow on Facebook (I hate that I can't remember exactly which one, I follow so many!) and immediately placed it on my mental "we MUST do this as soon as possible!!!" list.  So as soon as I found those golf tees it was ON and BOY was it FUN! 

We started with a couple hammers, small pumpkins and golf tees. What a great way to use those cute lil pumpkins we got from visiting the pumpkin patch! I think anytime you put a hammer in the hands of a child it equates to loads of FUN in their eyes.

The kiddos were super excited about hammering and got to work right away. They seemed to know exactly what to do and didn't even care to listen to directions or watch me model first, they just took off! 

I just love the picture of my lil guy holding the tee and hammering away.  It took him a bit of time to figure out exactly how to hold it just right but he figured it out and it was such a joy to watch him acquire a new skill. 

The kiddos even spent a good amount of time pulling all of the tees out and replacing them again without the hammer. 

Every bit of this activity was TONS of fun in its self but I'm so excited to share some awesome extension activities with you as well! 

I quickly followed up with making sure there were 26 tees in one of the small pumpkins then used a marker to write a single letter of the alphabet on each tee. I then cut and tied some yarn to the stem of the pumpkin (even though I didn't do so, a bit of hot glue here would be helpful) and we had our very own connect the dots/maze activity! It was such a HUGE hit! 

I wondered if the process of holding the yarn snug, wrapping each tee once and slowing releasing yarn between the finger and thumb would be too much to handle for the little ones but after a bit of practice and some help, they were so successful at doing ALL of that on their own! I did help to maneuver the pumpkin given everything else they had to focus on.  I'm not going to lie, my little ones may have even caught me a few times doing this activity alone. :)

I repeated the same concept with numbers 1-20 on the next pumpkin. 

If your little ones get really good and have even got to where they've memorized the route of the ABC or number "maze" you could simply pull the tees out and rearrange them, giving the maze a brand new feel and experience. You could even try giving them the responsibility of rearranging! They'd love that! 

The 3rd pumpkin had the fewest tees so I decided to use them for color matching.  I used permanent markers to color a pair of tees the same color. Although not necessary, I scoured through a bag of colored rubber bands to make sure I had a band that matched the colors I choose for the tees.  The colored bands added just one more opportunity for color recognition. I only wish I had more tees and could have done every color possible! :) It was so much fun watching my 2 year old use his itty bitty fingers to sssstretch those rubber bands over the matching pairs of colored tees.  

Rubber bands are SSOOO much fun to play with.  Using tees and bands with the pumpkin as a geo-board was the initial activity I've seen from others on FB and Pinterest.  You could even use them instead of the yarn on the ABC and number maze by placing the band around two tees at a time until you reach the end. (e.g. A-B, B-C, C-D or 1-2, 2-3, 3-4) 

There are SO many ways to differenciate this activity! Here's a few I've thought of with using the rubber bands to match or pair items...
     upper and lower case letters
     shapes paired with their number of sides or angles

You could even create a key that indicated which colored rubber bands are to be used for different outcomes or answers...
     yellow band around 2 digits whose sum is 7 (e.g. 4 and 3 or 2 and 5)
     green band around 2 digits whose difference is 3 (e.g. 8 and 5 or 6 and 3) 

You could also use the yarn "maze" for skip counting practice! WOW the possibilities are truly endless! In fact, I have 3 large pumpkins sitting outside on the porch who I feel like are begging me to involve them in our learning experiences.   If I get the chance to grab another bag of tees they most definitely will join in on the fun! 

Here's just a few of the skills these activities enhance:
Fine motor skills
Practical life skills
Letter and number identification
Alphabet order
Multitasking and so so much more!

I'd LOVE to hear your comments and ideas for even more opportunities on how to use these incredible tees in pumpkins for FUN!

Monday, November 4, 2013


I am convinced that visual countdowns for toddlers and preschoolers are magical!! My sweet as sugar 4 year old little girl is a planner much like myself and I love that! BUT lots and lots and lots of questions about days' events are asked because of it. On the RARE occasion I tell her about an exciting event weeks or even days in advance, well, I suffer! It's like an extremely long car ride with endless "are we there yet"s!  Like most moms, I've quickly learned to only share exciting plans hours or even minuets before they take place. ;) And if I do share great news weeks before hand, I now count on our countdown chains to keep track of all the "are we there yet"s for me. I'm telling you, it's magic!

Here's one we used to keep track of the days left to visit family in Alabama. My teacher heart absolutely LOVED all of the hidden opportunities the chain provided to expose my little ones to number sense. We had some great discussion about subtraction, totals, remainders and lots of great practice with good ol' plain counting!

For our Thanksgiving countdown we decided to go a different route. I already miss the number visuals but I'm excited about the different opportunities this chain provides for learning. It gives us a much different visual. My sugar and I pulled out these awesome links we picked up at the dollar store a few weeks ago. She picked the perfect colors! We decided they were the most appropriate given the season. I then asked her if we could use these colors and shapes for making a pattern. She was so excited to do so and quickly choose the unit. We continued with the unit until we reached the appropriate number of days left. Now everyday when we take a link off our chain we get the chance to work on our colors and shapes as well as review patterns. I can't wait to see where our future countdowns will take us.

Do you have different idea for a countdown chain? Maybe one you and your kiddos have used? I'd love to hear! We'll be getting our Christmas countdown together before we know it! :)