Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Earth Day

I've been having technical difficulties. As in, technically I don't really have time to be writing a blog; therefore, I find it difficult to generate a post. :) I added an extra work day to my schedule last week, bringing me up to a whopping two days. That somehow managed to set off avalanche of laundry & house work that even I couldn't ignore. It also gave me an even greater respect for moms who work every day. I hope you ladies are reading this with your feet up while someone else is cleaning your house. This stuff isn't for the faint of heart.

So, needless to say, I had the best intentions of writing my Earth Day post on the actual Earth Day. Since that obviously didn't happen, I decided to go ahead a write it now, a week later. I am that into Earth Day; well, that and it was already half written. I have swing set to stain before the baby gets up. Time is of the essence.

I don't consider myself a hippie, more like a hippie wannabe. I love the idea of the long, flowing skirts, flowers in my braided hair. I have visions of myself hanging on the beach, listening to Jack Johnson, not judging people. Namaste. Truth be told, I'm way too high strung to embrace that lifestyle for more than a week. I don't have the patience to braid my hair and the nearest Trader Joe's is 30 minutes away. Ain't nobody got time for that. I'd rather load Jack onto my ipod & burn through some hot yoga. I know my limits.

Instead, we've adopted a few more manageable behaviors to do our part for the earth. We have reusable grocery bags. We plant a small garden to grow our own veggies. We fill our recycle bin weekly. We're going to buy a rain barrel when one of us remembers to go to Lowe's. We make an effort & could always do more, especially when teaching our boys to take care of the earth. They're young & caring; the time is ripe for making an impression.

So this Earth Day, I set out to make an impression & teach a little conservation. I had visions of my Earth Day looking like this:

Isn't it adorable? Yeah, didn't happen. 

Instead, I opted for a less adorable approach. I looked around our house & tried to figure out what generates the most trash. Turns out, we use a LOT of paper towels, napkins & ziploc bags. We could use less- unlikely- or we could  go reusable. Sounds easy, right? Unless, of course, you're me. A normal person would just go buy what they need. I did that... sort of. I bought microfiber cloths to use instead of paper towels. Thank you, Costco. Then, I had the brilliant idea to make my cloth napkins & reusable snack bags. Straight lines, right? Easy-peasy. 

Weeeelllll, turns out not so easy-peasy. There's a LOT of folding & ironing & sewing & folding & ironing & sewing & folding & ironing & sewing involved in hemming a cloth napkin. Top it off with my need for perfectionism & you have yourself quite a project. The snack bags are a little easier but there's more cutting since I'm lining them. 

On the plus side, the boys are really on board when it comes to using the napkins & snack bags. And while I still have plenty of napkins left to make, we do enough laundry that the few I have made are almost always clean & ready for use. I like that my boys check first to see what's clean before going right to the paper napkins. I'd like to think we're making a small difference in the amount of waste we produce. Now, if I can only get the rest of them made... maybe after the swing set.

follow me on twitter @preschoolmomma
share your Earth Day ideas, embrace your inner hippie :)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cheers & Jeers: We Got the Dude a Pager

I have been blessed with four wonderful sleepers. That's probably a big reason why we have so many of them! (Sidebar: if you have not been blessed with good sleepers, please continue reading. I promise that this isn't one of those posts where I tell you everything you're doing wrong. There's a method to my madness, stick with me!) My children will sleep through anything, literally. The smoke detector has gone off in the middle of the night before & no one wakes up. Uh, scary right? The other downside to a heavy sleeper, besides safety, is bed wetting.

Bed Wetting

Ugh, I can barely type it without cringing. One of my children, who will remain nameless in hopes that someday my blog may be cool enough for him & his friends to actually read it, is was a perpetual bed wetter. Potty trained super early (barely two), I had high hopes that we could shelf the diapers soon. I kept waiting, buying pull-ups, washing sheets DAILY when the pull-ups started to fail. Year after year, I discussed this with my pediatrician & year after year, I was told "it's normal, he'll grow out of it. Give it more time." This year, maybe it was finally long enough or maybe it was my look of desperation, he finally gave me a brochure for an item that changed my life: the Potty Pager. 

Cheers to: the Potty Pager


This little device actually looks/feels like the pagers of old. The idea is that the pager has sensors that pick up any sign of moisture. Once the moisture is present, the pager lets off a series of vibrations that wake your child up & alert him to the need to use the restroom. The vibrations are strong & don't stop until the pager is removed from the moisture. It contains a lithium battery so there is no danger of battery acid leakage. 

Our nights went like this: underwear with the Potty Pager clipped inside plus a pull-up on top for sheet protection. He would go to bed like normal & then, when he started to urinate the pager would vibrate & wake him up. I'd meet him in the bathroom where we'd change & rinse everything. Then, I'd send him back to bed, redressed & ready for round 2. This went on for weeks, it was a bit like having a newborn all over again except with much less wake-time (except, of course, those nights when I couldn't go back to sleep, ugh). This went on for about a month before he started getting up on his own to use the restroom- hallelujah! Then, the impossible happened: he started staying dry all. night. long. Seriously, after YEARS of daily changing smelly, wet sheets I can now say that he is nearly cured. I say nearly because though Potty Pager recommends using the pager for a few weeks after your child stays dry, I decided that he didn't need it after he stayed dry for a week. I was wrong (I know, write it down) so we're back on the pager for the allotted time to ensure that he is, in fact, cured. It's okay with me.

The Potty Pager is a bit pricey, around $75 plus a lithium battery, tax & shipping. They do offer a 30 money-back guarantee if the pager fails to wake your child, the essential piece of the puzzle. If it doesn't wake up your heavy sleeper, it's not going to work. They stand behind their product. While expensive, the math works when you figure how much you're spending on pull-ups, new sheets/mattress pads, daily washings, etc. It was also worth it to me to prevent the social stigma of bed wetting. My son wasn't embarrassed, yet, but it was only a matter of time before his self-esteem was affected, which, makes this product priceless. 

And while we're at it...

Jeers to: Bed Wetting

Dear Bed Wetting,
You are smelly, gross, expensive, embarrassing & a disgrace to human kind. You are the worst kind of bully, the kind that won't go away without some serious intervention. You hurt families & encourage others to be mean. Go Away! You are no longer welcome in our house. 
There, that should do it. 

Do you have Cheers & Jeers for this week? Share them with me!
Follow me on Twitter @preschoolmomma

Thursday, April 11, 2013

App of the Week

I'm going to let you in on a little life secret- the best ideas come from other people. Very rarely do you come up with some earth-shattering concept on your own. Often, our great ideas are the byproduct of other people's good ideas. In my opinion, we work best when we feed off of other people's brilliance.
(Side bar: this is not your free pass to go steal other people's thoughts. There are laws against that, use your sense. I'm merely pointing out that we have a world of resources around us. Tap into it.)

When I come across something awesome, I like to share it. There is another Cheers & Jeers coming your way soon but until then, I had to share this little gem:

App of the Week

Like most Apple users, we have a plethora of apps to choose from. There are some great ones, some silly one, some excellent time-wasters. But every now & then, a truly excellent one comes along that's worth diving  into and that, my friends, is Story Kit. This little beauty came recommended in a teacher newsletter (see above) & I just happened to be with-it enough that day to actually read the newsletter. Surprisingly, there's some good stuff in those things. Kidding! I used to write them, I know you're supposed to actually read them. Let's see how much info you retain with a screaming toddler attached to your leg!

Story kit is an app that let's your child make his own book. Your child starts with a blank, virtual book where he can add pictures by either drawing on the pages or adding photographs from your camera roll. Or as my boys do, he can add the photographs & then draw over them :) Your child can type in the words using a keyboard and/or he can also record his voice to narrate the story. You have the option to share your story when you are finished. The sharing of your story is completely controlled by you- Story Kit sends you a link that you can email/share, it doesn't post your child's story online for the world to see. Its private & requires your permission before your story can be shared. The finished books are stored on a "bookshelf" for your child to access & enjoy later. 

Why I like it

Uh, where do I start?

It's literacy rich for all skill levels.

Your preschooler can easily use this app independently. It's a great place to start applying that early concept of story writing/story telling. Your child can go at her own pace. She can start by sequencing the story, getting all the key parts down on "paper" in the right order. When she's ready, she can begin to label pictures, she can start applying those letter sounds to words/sentences, or she can just verbally narrate the story. The options are all there to teach the concept of story telling.
For your older child, he can keyboard & write his story as well as narrating. My boys like to do both. It's really fun to listen to how they read their stories out loud. It's also an excellent teachable moment.  You can practice fluency, or sounding like a reader. You can encourage your child to change his voice & inflection in different parts of the story so the voice of the story comes through- the way you'd expect it to sound when you read it to yourself. You can encourage your child to use appropriate punctuation so that the reader knows how the story is supposed to sound. So many fun ways to learn in this app!

It's green.

Meaning that your family isn't killing multiple trees to get your stories told. I have countless binders of paperwork, drawings & stories that we've accumulated over the years that I can't bear to throw out yet.  I'm not exactly sure how to save their stories on Story Kit forever & ever, but they're there at least until we get our next device. I've also noticed that my boys rarely go back & look at the paper books they've made, but they're quick to open up Story Kit & read & listen to the stories they've made there. 

It's screen time without being mindless screen time.

My kiddos love anything electronic. It's a lot easier for me to swallow an hour of electronics if they're working in Story Kit & applying literacy skills instead of mindless clicking. Or fighting bad guys. Sometimes both are necessary. 

It's FREE!

That's right, I said FREE! How do you say no? Your child gets to do something fun on an electronic device that helps them learn AND  you don't have to fork over your credit card #. (insert happy face)

Just a word of warning: the microphone that records their narration is very sensitive. It picks up screaming babies and, ahem, screaming Mommas. You also might want to check your conversation while your child is recording. And yes, that is experience talking... ugh.

Oh & according to my brief research, this app is available only for Apple users. Sorry, Android friends! Come over to the dark side, everybody's doing it... 

Share your favorite apps with me! @preschoolmomma on twitter 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gimme an A!

Given that this is a preschool blog, I deemed it appropriate to share some actual preschool stuff this time around. Get out your notepads tablets, you're going to want to write this one down.

I teach extended-day preschool one day a week for this adorable little preschool named Magical Moments. You can access their website here. It's the same preschool my older boys attended while they were of preschool age. Extended-day preschool is just that, an extension of the regular preschool day. The children attend regular preschool & instead of going home at the end of the morning, they come & eat lunch with me. Then we have about an hour after lunch for instructional time. Extended-day looks different in each preschool. In this particular school, we use that instruction time to teach early literacy skills. It's a little extra bonus to the regular preschool day.

I really enjoy this time; its super fun to be around preschoolers. They are bouncy, happy individuals & it's hard to be in a bad mood around that much spark. I enjoy that I get to teach basically whatever I'd like & I don't have to follow any set curriculum since I'm an extension of the regular day. I try to stay within the themes that the other teachers are teaching and I always try to do something fun. I believe that when you're 4 & 5 years old, your learning should be fun. Actually, your entire life should be fun at that age. This week I brought out the big dogs:

Oh, Yeah!

Now, I am one for cost savings & I do know that Pinterest has about a 1000 make-your-own-play-doh recipes. But to a child (and to me!), there are few things more glorious than sinking your fingers into a fresh jar of Play-Doh. There is no comparison between the homemade stuff & the real stuff. The consistency is never the same. AND Play-Doh is pretty cheap. So, do your child a favor & spring for the good stuff. It's worth it. Just throw it out when it gets dry- gross.

I love Play-Doh for many reasons: the smell, its educational versatility, the smell. I know some people hate Play-Doh; it makes my husband seize every time those jars come out. If you can get past the crumbs, there's a lot of teaching that can be done with Play-Doh. It's also great fine-motor practice. I'm going to share with you one way I used Play-Doh to teach early literacy.

The Lesson

This week we used Play-Doh to teach & review the properties of letters, how letters are formed. Now, most of the students in my preschool class know the majority of their letters & can name them when shown that particular letter. So, why am I still teaching letters? The shift in education has switched from memorization & regurgitation of knowledge to the application of knowledge. This is true in all subject matter & all grades, from high school down to kindergarten. Kindergartners are no longer expected just to know letters; they are expected to apply them in reading & writing. In our school district, this application begins right away, usually within the first months of kindergarten. The more children know about letters, the easier to begin this application process; therefore putting your child ahead of the game when he walks in the door on the first day of kindergarten. 

Short sticks, long sticks, curves, slants & tunnels

Those are the properties of letters, the shapes you need to make each individual letter. The way you put letters together matters. We started by rolling the Play-Doh into "snakes". Then, we chose a letter to make first. "E" was our winner. I asked them to think about how you'd make an uppercase E. It went like this:
"What piece do we need first? A stick or a curve?"
"We need a stick."
"A long stick or a short stick?"
"A long stick, that goes up & down."
"Great, what's next?"
"Short sticks."
"How many?" 
"Three, they go like this."

We did the same thing for lowercase b.
"How do you start a lowercase b?"
"With a long stick, going up & down."
"Great! What's next?"
"A curve."
"How many curves for lowercase b? You need two curves for uppercase B."
"One curve."
"Where does it go? Be careful that you don't make a lowercase d."

You have same conversations about each letter as you make them, bringing awareness to how they are formed. Lowercase n has a tunnel, u has an upside down tunnel, you make uppercase K with two slants, etc.  The purpose is just reemphasizing letter formation.

Why is this important?

In order to apply letter knowledge during reading & writing, children need to recall from memory what those letters look like and how to form them. The faster they can do this, the more fluent their reading is going to become & the more accurate their written word & handwriting will become. It's a lot easier to decode the word "dog" if you know at first glance that first letter is a d instead of a b. When we ask children to label pictures or write a sentence, we're asking them to do a lot of steps all at the same time.
They have to:
  1.  Say the word they're trying to spell 
  2. Listen for the letter sounds they hear in that word
  3.  Remember which letter makes that sound 
  4. Recall how to form that letter correctly 
  5.  Write that letter in the appropriate place on the paper 
  6. Get those letter sounds in the right order, so it's phonetically "correct"
Then, they have to remember the next word in that sentence & do it all over again. Phew! See why it's important to know your letters really, really well?

What else can I do?

Well, there are a lot of fun ways to teach & apply this concept without having to break out the Play-Doh. You could use magnetic letters or any kind of tangible letter to sort letters by sticks, no stick, curves, no curves, etc. If salt or shaving cream doesn't scare you, you could put either on a tray & let your little one practice writing the letters with her fingers. If you want to get super crafty, you could cut out sticks, tunnels & curves out of foam paper (so they're sturdy) & practice forming the letters using the pieces. Does your child need something more physical to keep his attention? Try sidewalk chalk or a fun game where you write the letters & he has to jump to the ones that have only sticks, only curves, and so on. Anything FUN is fair game!

Letter learning is more meaningful when those letters are attached to something your child can relate to: his first & last name, names of siblings, favorite characters, toys, etc. Practicing those letters individually will definitely help, but you may get more bang for your buck if you connect them to something that your child thinks is awesome. 

Happy letter learning! Oh, & don't forget to inhale while you're squishing that lovely Play-Doh. :)

What's your favorite letter learning strategy? Did anything help your child learn those letters fast? Share your ideas via email, comments or Twitter @preschoolmomma

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, April 1, 2013

Update: Workin' It, Still Workin'

A little more than a month ago I decided to take charge of my house & put together a chore system for my kids that works. Instead of chores, I was hoping to establish "habits" that would continue without needing to be monitored by me. You can read about it here. Five weeks later, I'm happy to announce that it STILL WORKS! (whoop, whoop, picture me raisin' the roof)

Now, I am not one to toot my own horn but I'm pretty darn happy with the fact that I'm able to follow through with this 5 weeks later, with little to no effort on my part. Parenting is major hard work so I can find a way to lighten my load I'm going to celebrate it. Preferably, with something chocolate & in the privacy of my own laundry room where I do not have to share with anyone ;) Please, like you've never locked the door & shoved your face into something delicious. I digress. 

 Here are a few observations along the way:

It Works Because...

I don't have to maintain it. 

It's there, posted every morning & I don't have to do anything- literally. I do my morning check of the "did you's" (i.e. did you brush your teeth, change your underwear, make your bed, do your job for today) & we go on about our day. Done & done.

We established the routine right way. 

During the 1st few weeks, I stood over them & make sure they did everything the way I wanted it to be done. I observed sink & toilet wiping, bed stripping, etc. We made sure they were stocked with the supplies they needed. We observed the hard & fast rule of being strict about it at first. They had to do each chore each morning those first few weeks. Now, we're at the point that if we have a crazy morning I'll sometimes let them do their job after school, but 95% of the time I stick to the routine. 

Their jobs are easy.

I gave the boys jobs that they can do. Easy as that. The jobs are quick, they take very little time if they stay focused. The expectations are reasonable according to their ages. It's simple & I've found that in parenting, less is definitely more. 

The Hiccups...

Of course, nothing is perfect or absolute. There is always something that happens along the way!

You've gotta get your butt out of bed.

in time to do your work! My biggest hang up is getting everyone moving the morning. Period. Myself included. I am not a morning person. I value every ounce of sleep I can squeeze in those last few minutes of a peaceful morning. I know exactly what time everyone needs to be moving in order to get on that bus. Sometimes you run late, & anyone with a child over the age of 2 knows that kids don't move fast. There is noooo concept of hurry until you reach a certain age. And no, I have no idea what age that is because we're not there yet. I hold onto the fact that we have to be close!

We forget to pay them.

AND they don't seem to care. WHAT? I know, not normal. We'll get subtle reminders or a "you didn't pay us last week." So, sometimes our paydays are a little larger. Whatever. NO ONE had better teach them about interest...

You don't mess with the chore habit charts.

Do not even think about adding to the chart. I don't mean additional chores. I mean, embellishments, like stickers or art work. Sometimes little brothers like to make things nicer... guess some art is only valuable to the artist. Unwanted art has been known to incite a riot. You've been warned. 

So, What's next?

After much careful thought & consideration, I've decided to keep it simple. After all, less is more, right? I've compiled a list of basic chores that the boys can do if they decide they'd like to earn extra cash. Each job pays 25 cents. What's on my list? Things like vacuuming, dusting, drying dishes, wiping off the table. Things that I normally would have made "chores" and things that I'd have to somewhat maintain. Things are that nice to have done for me but that are optional- taking out my extra job of having to make sure it gets done. 

I've come up with a super-awesome way of charting which chores each child has done. Wanna see it?

I worked really hard at hanging that on my refrigerator. Don't judge.

The plan is to write down each child's initial each time he does an extra chore. On payday, I'll total up the initials & pay each child accordingly. Then, I'll tear off that piece of paper & start again the next week. Or the next time I remember to pay them. We've established I'm not good at this. See above.

That's it. Less is more. Say it with me. Less IS more. 

Let's simplify. We're busy enough.

Do you have a chore system that works for you? I'd LOVE to see it & share it! Email, tweet or share it below!
Follow me on twitter @preschoolmomma