Sunday, March 22, 2020

Storytime: The Invisible String

This is a book I was just reminded of that seems very fitting for this time of isolation. It is a sweet reminder to our children (and adults) that we are all still connected. If you do not have a copy of this book available to you, click here for a YouTube read aloud.

I have created some of these and borrowed others, to compile a list of extension activities for this book:

1. Discussion questions:
  ± How does this story make you feel?
  ± Is there someone you're missing right now?
  ± How can you stay connected to people even when you're far apart?
  ± Who are some of the people you're connected to by an invisible string?
  ± Can you think of a time you felt a tug on your heart string?

2. Geography: Once you've made a list of people your child is connected to, pull out a map or globe to locate your home, then their homes.

3. Discuss any new vocabulary. Younger children can look for specific letters on the pages (start with the first letter of their name). Older kids could play synonym and antonym games, or practice writing dialogue after studying the way it is used in this story.

4. Writing  practice: since we're trying to stay connected without spreading germs, consider sending an e-card to someone who is far away and isolated. Grandparents, aunts & uncles, old neighbors from the town  you used to live in, etc. Hallmark has some cute cards!

5. More writing practice: Journal:  Think of one of the people on your list. Write a story about a time you spent with that person.

6. I love this idea of using paint and paper, with some unique tools, to create beautiful hearts. We are going to do this, but I will likely have my daughter cover a large piece of paper with paint/designs. When it dries, we will cut hearts out and create our Invisible String wall decor

7. Invisible String wall decor: Have your child write the names (if able) of of the people they listed earlier in the lesson onto individual hearts. Tape them to the wall (masking tape won't pull paint off) and then use yarn to connect the hearts, like the invisible string. If your child is an emergent or pre-emergent reader, you can have them draw these people or print their pictures and cut them out. This wall will be a visual reminder of those who cannot be with us, but love us no matter what. It will also help us remember to reach out and check on our friends and family during a difficult time.

8. This one might be one of my favorite things! Get a shoebox lid (or maybe one slightly larger), popsicle sticks or straws (we like to use popsicle sticks because we can use them again after this project). Tape the sticks to the inside of the box lid to create a maze. Then, cut a small heart that will fit within the walls of the maze and attach a metal paperclip to it. Now, use a magnet on the opposite side of the box to move the heart through the maze. The heart feels the tug of the invisible string!

Let me know if you think of more fun ideas to go along with this book.

Happy storytime, and wash your hands!

Self-Care Sunday : Covid-19 Quarantine

I try to schedule intentional self-care every Sunday. This is something my therapist said was important. You can't look back over your day and figure out what you did that counts as self-care. Instead, *plan* your intentional self-care, which I believe is more important right now than almost anything else (well, other than social distancing/isolation, nutrition, and sleep).

We face a constant barrage of information, and right now most of it isn't very uplifting. For that reason, I am making sure intentional self-care is part of of our self isolation (or family isolation).

Today, I decided to play with bubbles. I am fortunate to have a tub with jets, which makes BIG piles of bubbles. If you don't have that option, you can use a hand mixer or whisk in a large bowl or plastic tub of soapy water. Bubble play is very therapeutic, relaxing, and a great sensory activity, even for adults! We talk often of sensory play for littles, and I have been thinking of ways to use some of these ideas in my self-care activities. This is why ASMR, soap cutting, and the hydraulic press videos have gotten so popular. It's all soothing to the senses.

While I was having bubble play, I filled my hands with bubbles and swirled them around, enjoying the feeling and the crackly sound. Hold the bubbles in your hands and practice square breathing. Watching the bubbles move away from my hands helps keep me focused on my breath. (If you're not playing with bubbles but need to use this technique, try dropping some essential oil on a cotton ball and holding that in your hand. My favorites for this are lemongrass or bergamot.)

Recently, a friend of mine told me her release method for stressors that are beyond her control. Hold an imaginary bubble in your hands and put your worry inside the bubble. Then, blow it away...awAY...AWAY!

Some of my favorite sensory self care activities:

± a peaceful walk, listening for birds, the wind in the trees, smelling fresh air (This is easier than normal right now. With fewer people driving around, the noise pollution has decreased.)

± listening to my favorite music with my eyes closed (If it's loud in your house, could you do this in your car? Recline your seat and just relax.)

± sitting in a quiet room with my cat (I have a 12 year old lump of a cat. He is PERFECT! And perfectly content to sit in my lap and purr. This is proven to lower blood pressure! See, cats are important!)

± sitting in a swing or a hammock and gently rocking (Swings might not be ideal during this time unless you have one at home. Maybe sitting in a rocking chair and closing your eyes while you gently rock would have a similar sensation. You could even play some ambient, outdoor noise on headphones to simulate a hammock experience.)

Lately, there are times I try to relax into a self-care moment and I just can't get there. My mind is racing and the stress continues to overwhelm my body. In these moments I try to use my favorite grounding technique. I call this the anchor because I like the visual I get when I use that name. My kids know this one, too, and we all use it when we need to reset.

Writing blog posts right now is providing an outlet that I desperately need. I hope someone finds these ideas useful, and is inspired to relax and release some built up stress! 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Distance learning road blocks

Access to technology is something many of us take for granted. Now, more than ever, our families are relying on digital connectivity to make life happen.

I ordered groceries online and expect a delivery this week. A local business is selling their food supplies since they don't have enough customers to use it up, and you can order online and pick up at the curb. Neighbors are sharing needed items via social media. Families are video chatting with loved ones. And students all over the country are being asked to log in to various digital platforms to complete assignments and attend virtual classes. But what if you don't have access? What if you don't have equipment? This is a very serious reality many schools will have to deal with, but first they're sorting out nutritional concerns. As always, we can't expect kids to learn on an empty stomach.

I'm still hiding out at home, but wanted to do my part to help however I can. There is a lot of information and it's a bit jumbled, so I took what I could find and created a simplified chart. I hope this helps someone, somewhere. Realistically, those who don't have internet aren't going to see this, so please feel free to pass this information along to those who may need it. Even the wealthy school districts have students who may be in need, and families who may suddenly find themselves in the midst of financial struggle.

Be kind, and wash your hands!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Keeping your little one busy!

This week has been a really long year. This year has been a really long decade. And I'm trying to figure out how to unplug 2020 so we can reset everything. Other than that, things are great! ha!

I feel very fortunate that my family is all together. We have food to eat and a place to sleep. It has been really rainy where we live, but even that is a gift because it washes away the pollen that makes us all sneezy. I am sending all of the positive energy I can to friends who are feeling ill, friends who are struggling to find what they need, and friends whose livelihoods have been interrupted by this. I hope you are finding the help you need.

Back to some fun for your little one!

Yesterday, my sister sent a video of her almost FIVE year old doing a science experiment. You likely know the one...mix food coloring and vinegar in a glass, add some baking soda, and let the giggles commence! He had making fizzy water, elephant toothpaste, or whatever you like to call it. When I saw that I decided it would be fun to compile some simple science activities for your kiddos. These are not new, they're definitely not my own, but they may inspire you or remind you of other fun activities.

Here we go!

1. Exploding Mentos! (If you don't have one of these tubes, you can make your own.)
Materials: paper, tape, a drill (though not required), string, and nail (or even a q-tip with the cotton removed). You also need a 2 liter of diet soda and a pack of mentos (not fruity, but minty).

-How to make the a Mentos tube if you don't have one: Use a piece of paper to make a tube that is just larger in diameter than the Mentos tube (you want the candy to easily slide through the tube). Secure the tube with tape. If you have a drill, open the soda and drill a hole straight through the sides of the opening. The hole should be just a tad bigger than the nail. Tie a string to the end of the nail, then put the nail through the holes. It acts as a stopper, so that you can pull it when you're ready for the candy to enter the soda bottle. Next, tape the paper tube to the mouth of the bottle. Then, drop Mentos into the tube one by one (make sure the nail or q-tip is in place so the candy doesn't enter the bottle yet).

Place the entire contraption in an open area OUTSIDE of your house. Have everyone stand back. Then, countdown from 10, and when you get to 1 pull the pin using the string and RUN RUN RUN! :) But not too far because you need to look back and watch the explosion!

Some science videos for your viewing pleasure:
-Testing the reactivity of other soda flavors:
     This is a great video if you have older kids and want to discuss the steps of the scientific method and the actual science behind this explosion.

2. Fungus Farts! 
Materials: empty water bottle, warm water, sugar, active dry yeast, empty balloon
Here's a fun video that explains the science and will make you want to bake some cinnamon rolls!


Fun note: A couple of years ago I taught this lesson to a multi-age group at our forest school co-op. The kids loved it when I told them the balloon was full of fungus farts!

3. Dried fruit dance party!
A variation using popcorn, vinegar, and baking soda.

4. Static balloon
This is a fun one you probably remember from your childhood. It's as simple as this:
1. Blow up balloon and tie.
2. Rub balloon on your hair and see if you can make your hair stand up!
3. Now try to pick up small squares of tissue paper (not toilet tissue, we can't waste that!).
4. Repeat process using a comb instead of a balloon.

Here's a fun variation:
Materials: salt, pepper, teaspoon, plate, balloon

Other science ideas:
When my kids were little, they LOVED watching Sid the Science Kid. At the time we could stream it, but now if I wanted to watch I'd just find an episode on YouTube. They would watch, then do the same activity, then write in their science journal.

Kanopy Kids: Does your library offer this streaming service? I can log in with my library card number and access so many videos! One of the videos that goes with the Fungus Farts lesson above is Let's Make Bread by Brain Power Studio Rights Inc.

Please let me know if you need help finding activities for other subjects, or just need to vent! And feel free to share. None of these are mine, I just compiled them for your use!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

National Lacy Oatmeal Cookie Day!

One of the ways I find interesting things to do is by checking out the National Day Calendar. If you've never looked, you should. You won't believe all of the things that have a designated national day. 

These are all things that claim today, March 18, 2020:
National Awkward Moments Day...don't even get me started! Ha!

Today I've decided we will embrace and celebrate National Lacy Oatmeal Cookie Day. Growing up, we had a stand-in grandma (ours lived 1200 miles away) who made the most delicious cookies. Lacy oatmeal cookies. Yum! I have her recipe, but today we're trying a simplified and quick version. But's my lesson plan for the day!

1. Build some cookie excitement with a book, Mmm, Cookies! I happen to have this book in my home library, but if you don't there is a decent reading on YouTube. (Ask appropriate questions after the book. Picture books are good for all elementary ages, not just little bitties. Even kids who are fluent readers can benefit from reading picture books.)

2. Discuss the history of cookies. This website has lots of information, but it's pretty dry for most kids. I recommend pre-reading and picking out some interesting facts to share. Grab a map to show cookies migrated from Persia to England to the United States. Dates and geography can be pretty abstract concepts for younger kids, but my kids have always loved to look on the globe to see relative distances.

3. The website has a list of some of the world's most popular cookies. Make your own list of family favorites with your kids. Post on Facebook or text family and friends to find out what kind of cookies they like. Make predictions and write them down.

4. While you're waiting for data to roll in, make some lacy oatmeal cookies. If you don't have all of the ingredients, choose another type of cookie to make. Not a baker? Maybe you have some cookies in the cabinet ready for snack time. (This recipe seems pretty easy and forgiving.) Baking is a great educational opportunity. Not only will your kids learn kitchen skills, but following a recipe is reading & math, and the baking process is science!

5. Cookies are in the oven, now it's time to discuss your data. Make a graph (pie or bar graph would work best with this type of data). You can even use post it notes to make it big on the kitchen table. Or practice making tally marks and counting by 5. Ask your kiddo questions appropriate for their age (How many more? How many total liked chocolate chip and peanut butter? Were our predictions correct?). *If your kids are older, give them the data and ask them to create a way to present it effectively. Then, have them write a few sentences about their graph.

6. Younger kids? Get some play dough out and let them make cookies while theirs are in the oven. If you have craft supplies, encourage them to add sprinkles and icing, decorations, etc. (pipe cleaners, pom pom balls, sequins, beads, etc)

7. Taste test your cookies! When my family traveled to Hershey, PA a couple years ago, we did the chocolate taste test. There, we learned that you *taste* with all five senses. So pick up your cookie. Use adjectives to talk about the texture. Now look at your cookie. Does it look yummy? Color? Shape? Smell your cookie. Mmm! Before you taste, put your cookie by your ear and snap it in half. Is it crunchy or soft? Crisp? What other words can you use to describe the cookie? And, best for last, time to taste! YUM!

8. (Ack! I came back to add this in). At the end of our school time, we like to journal about our day. Today's journal entry: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? 

I am certified to teach PK-8, but specialized in early childhood. Many of these steps are geared toward younger kids, but I will adapt my questions and expectations to my 4th grader's level so she can enjoy this fun day, too!

Whatever you're doing, make sure your kids are having fun. This is such a confusing and stressful time for adults, which means the kids are feeling it and don't always know how to express that. Providing some fun activities will create happy memories of an otherwise difficult time.

And wash your hands! 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Fun at home during social distancing!

We're all feeling a bit uncertain about what we can do: how can we keep our families safe while we help each other? It's hard to be part of a community and then feel so shut off. A few days ago I posted on Facebook that I would be happy to help families that are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of their kids home for an extended period of time. I have been homeschooling for a long time. We have a lot of togetherness experience. So I decided to write some blog posts with ideas.

Yesterday, my kiddos helped me clean out our pantry. I wanted to make sure I knew what we had since we may be doing some creative cooking in the weeks to come. While we sorted, organized, and wiped things down, my 10 year old made the beginning of our social distancing bucket list, which I thought we'd share here. 

  1. Create a backyard scavenger hunt with a prize at the end.
  2. Movie night! Pop your popcorn on the stove.
    Video: How Does Popcorn Work?
    Video: popcorn popping slo-mo
    Experiment from Scientific American:
Song: Pop, pop, popping corn. Pop, pop, pop some more. (Have them bounce like a popcorn kernel while they sing.)
  1. Easy Bake Oven (or regular oven) day. Or, if your kids need something they can do almost entirely on their own, a microwave mug cake! 
  1. Play a board game. Make it into a tournament. Better yet, make up a board game!
  2. Make candy! Get creative, you could melt down lollipops into new shapes, melt chocolate, dip marshmallows into something yummy, etc. There are loads of recipes online, chances are you can find something to make with the stuff shoved to the back of the pantry. 
  3. Dog fashion show. Our dogs don’t have dedicated outfits, but they can fit into some tshirts. We also love to make them bandanas (out of old shirts or swatches of fabric). They always feel pretty & proud when they’re fancied up! 
  4. Dance party! Use Amazon Music or YouTube to create a family playlist (everyone picks a song or two). Turn the lights down a little (people feel less awkward for some reason) and start dancing. Bonus: this counts as PE! 
  5. Reading nooks: task each child with creating a quiet, cozy place for reading time (hint: my kids love to put pillows in the *clean* bathtub to read). Then DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). When we have DEAR time, the adults in the house drop everything, too! 
  6. Make, and fly, paper bag kites. Don’t have room in your own yard for kite flying? You can go to the park during social distancing, just don’t play on the playground. I know, I know. It’ll be hard for your kids, but it’s possible. If you think your kids will fight back, take them to an open space like a practice field. 
  1. If you’re like me and it’s rainy this week, go on a puddle walk! My 16 year old did this just yesterday. It gives you permission to stomp your feet, which is a great way to spend some energy (stress energy, anyone?). Find a rain-made stream and see what you can float in it. Leaves? Make a twig boat? If you’re lucky, while you’re out playing you may see a rainbow! 
Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments. If you have specific questions, post those, too. One of the things I want to remind you...homeschooling isn't about sitting at home and filling in workbooks or listening to online lectures. I can turn almost any activity into a lesson of some kind. Be creative. Use Pinterest. Share your ideas so your friends can use them, too. We're all in this together.

Be kind. And wash your hands.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

She's off to college!

You probably thought I was talking about Sunshine, our college sophomore. I'm actually talking about Belle, our high school sophomore/college freshman.  A few weeks ago she told us she was heading out to take the TSI, a placement test for Texas community colleges.

Let me back up...

We encourage our kids to follow their own paths. Not everybody wants college. Not everybody who wants college is ready at the same time. Everybody has their own path. It is exciting to us, as parents, to see the path unfold in front of our children. When Belle's path turned toward community college, we were excited for her. But we have rules. The number one rule is that we are entirely hands off in this process.  I'm all in for the college prep, but I'm pretty much all out when it comes to procedures, timelines, applications, etc. Since Belle is a minor, there are a few things we have to sign, giving her permission to take classes. That's all we do. Otherwise, I've been sitting back and watching her navigate this process.  (Side note: she navigated the heck out of it!)

Her first day is today. She was up early (as usual) and ready to go before she needed to leave (as usual). We all woke up to see her off. This is a pretty big deal for Belle. She's taken plenty of classes (gymnastics, dance, science at the local nature preserve, art, etc), but this is the FIRST time she's ever been enrolled in an accredited anything. Other than preschool, she's never attended a brick & mortar school.

She's nervous. Maybe a bit overwhelmed. But she's doing it, and doing it all on her own. Autonomy is important to her. More importantly, she needs to have this experience before flying the nest in a couple of years. The time will speed by, and we're working to give her as many life experiences as possible.

We know you can do this, Belle! You're off to great places...

Friday, January 03, 2020

Kid Conferences

Several years ago, Daddio and I started having Kid Conferences with our children. We would sit them down, individually, and work through a list of discussion points. The idea was that they'd happen monthly. To be honest, that didn't really happen. We're a very communicative family. We spend a lot of time together. A LOT. (That's the nature of this home education gig.) We don't lack for conversation. We just didn't always make it a point to call it a kid conference. (I just asked my kids how often they think we had these conferences and they said about once a quarter. Oops!)

How does it work? I have a little notebook that has a page for each kiddo, and this is where I keep a running list of talking points. I'm not going to share pictures of the lists or specifics because Kid Conferences are confidential. I will share a random list of topics without specifying which topic goes with which kid:

As you can see, the topics vary widely. With each kid, each conference covers mental health (how are you doing, where are you in that aspect, is there more we should be doing to support you) and physical touch boundaries. This is a conversation that grows as they grow. When they're little it's a simple (but so serious) reminder of boundaries, safe people, talking to us if they're uncomfortable, etc. As they grow we discuss dating safety, how to be safe in social situations, etc. This part of the conversation is so important. We want them to know we respect them, and that they should expect respect from others.

We also ask them if there are any issues they want to discuss. Today at our conference, our college age Sunshine said she's already thinking about summer storage options. I was just getting around to asking if she wanted to come home for spring break, but she was ahead of me. I made a note of that so we can touch base with her a bit later in the spring to see what she's figured out.

Some conferences take a long time. Sometimes we are frustrated and upset, there are tears, maybe raised voices and disagreements. We also try to do the same thing that many school teachers do at parent/teacher conferences: we sandwich negatives with positives. And, regardless of the topics covered, we end the conference with a reminder of our unconditional love for them: "There is nothing you can say or do that will change the way we love you."