Saturday, October 27, 2007

Exercising the Imagination

Our local newspaper is sponsoring a pumpkin decorating contest. Not the usual kind of pumpkin decorating, where a real pumpkin is used....but more like a virtual pumpkin, where a picture of a pumpkin is decorated.

The online edition of our newspaper provided a link to a picture of a pumpkin. Everyone (kids AND adults!) was to print out the pumpkin and using imagination and creativity, decorate away! The winner gets his/her creation published in the Halloween edition of the newspaper (how's THAT for a prize!).

When I mentioned this contest to Analisa and Quinn, they almost tripped over each other racing for the markers and glue and construction paper.

As I stood by and watched, I was AMAZED at their creativity and ingenuity! Never, in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me to make a "Puppy Pumkin" (that's Quinn's idea!) or a "Franken-Pumpkin" (that belongs to Analisa). They also made a "Queen Pumpkin" and a "Princess Pumpkin" complete with crowns, big eyelashes, Angelina Jolie lips, and dangly earrings.

I was so impressed with how creative they were, I just wanted to share it on my blog.

It's always so important that we encourage creativity and imagination in our children. So let 'em go, and you may be more surprised that you bargained for!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Spelling Test Game

A family favorite in our household....studying for the weekly spelling test!


Many years ago, I came up with an idea that would combine my kids' love of card games, with their love of spending time playing with Mom, with their dread of preparing for their weekly spelling test.

The answer...the Spelling Test Game. Also known as The Matching Game. I just had to share this...

For a 10-word spelling list, I simply take a piece of paper and cut it into 20 fairly equal size rectangles. (For 15-word lists, you'll need 30 rectangles, etc.). Then I print each of the weekly spelling words onto two rectangles. Place all of the rectangles face down on the table and begin.

When a piece of paper is turned over, the person whose turn it is must read the word, and then spell the word. The object, of course, is to find the matching word; however, even a mismatched word offers an opportunity to read and then spell each of the spelling words.

We try to play this game several times each evening during the week. By Friday, without even trying, and without it even hurting, my kids have learned their spelling words, and we've spent some fun time together!


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bringing Nature Inside - Fall Decorating Idea

Today, without a doubt, is a day that, if it had the chance, the Midwest Chamber of Commerce (if there was such an entity) would have special ordered. The sky is the bright blue that children color it when creating artwork; the air is clear and crisp; the sun is shining brightly (like those suns in the upper right hand corner of a child's artwork), and the leaves are turning the most glorious shades of yellow and orange and red.
Luke and I were playing outside this morning, and as we looked around at the trees, and Luke told me all the different colors he saw, it occurred to me that soon all the leaves would be falling off the trees. These spectacularly beautiful days of fall don't last very long.

I decided, then, that it would be fun to bring some of nature's beauty inside.

I lifted Luke up to reach the tree branches of a beautiful tree filled with yellow leaves (he said it was his favorite tree today). He plucked some clusters of yellow leaves, and we brought them inside when we were finished swinging and playing outside.

Using different lengths of thread, I hung the clusters of leaves on the light fixture over the kitchen table (which currently also sports Quinn's 1st grade Halloween artwork). My hope (and I honestly have NO idea if this will happen), is that as the leaves dry, they will begin to "fall" to the table, thus giving us yet another teaching opportunity, as we talk about how the leaves fall from the trees.

In the meantime, I just think it looks so pretty!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Pumpkin Patch at Grandpa's Cabin

Without a doubt, our family's favorite place in the world to be is at Grandpa's Cabin.

It's only a 45 minute drive from our house, yet when we're there, it feels like we're in another world.

While the cabin is complete with hot running water, indoor facilities, a shower, a full kitchen, and, of course, a stone fireplace, the one thing that is NOT found at the cabin is a television. And that's the way we like it! We spend hours there playing outside, enjoying nature, riding the 4-wheeler, playing hide-and-seek. We often cook dinner on the open fire, and s'mores is always the favorite choice for dessert. When the weather doesn't permit outside fun, we have a stack of board games that keeps us entertained.

This year, Grandma and Grandpa bought a $2 packet of pumpkin seeds and tried their hand at pumpkin farming. Well, they ended up with a bumper crop of pumpkins, and no idea what do do with them! Afterall, our family only needed six.

So, the little entrepreneurs that are my children, they wanted to take all the pumpkins home (good thing we drove both the van AND the Suburban that day!) and sell them.

They set up a table on the driveway, donned their Halloween costumes, and flagged down passing cars. They were completely in charge of marketing (signs were everywhere in our yard), pricing, and selling. Within 2 days, they each had an extra $10 in their pockets!
What a terrific learning opportunity for them!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Teaching children responsibility

Do your kids do chores?

I was lining up the Saturday morning "chore chart" today when I got to thinking about the reactions I've received from many parents when I tell them about the chores my kids are responsible for. Most are envious that I get my kids to do these things, and want to know how I do it.

First, let me say that I was brought up in a home where everyone was responsible for something. We didn't have a "chore chart" (I don't think that term had been coined yet back in the dark ages when I was young....kinda like "play date" you know?). But every Saturday morning, my sister and I were responsible for dusting and vaccuming the living room/dining room, cleaning the bathrooms, and cleaning our bedroom. We also were in charge of cleaning the kitchen table off and washing (by hand) the dishes, drying them, and putting them away (no air drying for my mom!).

I will admit that assigning chores for my kids wasn't my idea. I'm a bit OCD, and like things done a certain way....MY way!

But one weekend many years ago, when my sister was visiting from out of town, she witnessed how I never sat still, I wiped up and swept up and dusted up and folded up and cleaned up non-stop around my covey of kids, while they sat contentedly in front of the television. She not so subtly pointed out that "those kids need to help out around here!"

So, thanks to Aunt Brenda, the chore chart was instituted! (See, it's never too late to get started.)

During the summer months, when the kids don't have school, they all know that in addition to practicing at least 10 math problems every morning (THAT's another blog!), they have to check which chore they are responsible for that day, and complete it to the best of their ability (or they'll just have to do it again), before they can go outside and play, or even before they can turn on the television (I'm the meanest mom in the world! Just ask my kids!).

The chores aren't difficult, or even time-consuming. Most take only 5-10 minutes. But it's just fact that they are contributing. That they are helping out. That they are pitching in as a responsible member of the family.

Here are some of the jobs they're responsible for:
  • unload the dishwasher
  • dust the furniture
  • vaccum the living room
  • sweep the kitchen floor
  • windex the appliance fronts in the kitchen
  • clean the bathroom sink and counter
  • clean the front steps
  • pick up the toys in the playroom
  • vaccum the playroom
  • shake the rugs

Some days they trade chores, which is fine. Just so everyone does one, in addition to making their beds and picking up their dirty laundry.

During the school year, the chore chart is only done on the weekends. (Except for bed-making and dirty laundry picking-up.)

It's a great system that works well for my family. And, as a fellow stay-at-home dad once said to me, "Wow! What a great idea! But what do YOU do all day?" (Right!)



Christmas cards made from your child's artwork.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Teaching children through music

I LOVE to sing. My children HATE it when I sing, so that probably tells you a bit about my talent level.

I've been asked to NOT sing outside the house (and have even witnessed my kids scoot themselves away from me when I sing at church!), and have been kindly (and NOT so kindly) asked to PLEASE not sing when friends are over!

However, despite my obvious lack of talent, I persist. It pretty much drives the children crazy when most any every day phrase sets me off singing a tune that I'm reminded of.

A few years ago, when Quinn was 3 or 4, I was trying to teach her her address and telephone number. It occurred to me that all children learn the alphabet by first singing it. So, I thought to myself, why not learn her address and telephone number that way, too?

I set our address to the tune of "76 Trombones in the big parade" (I have NO idea why, but this tune jumped into my head, and the syllables fit, so I ran with it). I wish I could tell you the tune that I used to teach Quinn her telephone number (I think it's "Jenny....remember? 647-5309? At least I think that's what it's called.)

After a few weeks of singing these tunes daily, she could easily recite both her address and telephone number.

I'm using the same tactic now with Luke. Whenever we are driving home from whatever has taken us out that day, when we are about a block from home, I announce excitedly, "Look! We're almost home! What's your address?" And then we sing our address song, which leads naturally into our telephone number song, which then ends with "...that's my phone num-ber, Cha! Cha! Cha!"

Cha! cha! cha!


Teacher gifts, babysitter gifts, grandma gifts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Learning Numbers and Shapes

Luke turned 3 last Friday....what fun! For weeks leading up to the big day, everything he saw, he pointed at it and said, "I want that for my birthday." (I think he may have learned that from his older siblings, who have also been having birthdays recently .... see my previous post about "Birthday Season" at our house.)

This week, then, I decided that learning to recognize the number three would be a top priority, as well as learning to count to three. And since we're working on threes, I also thought it would be a perfect time to teach Luke about a 3-sided shape called a triangle.

We've been busy counting three fingers, three cars, three books (that's how many books we read before nap time each day), three cookies (okay, he usually only gets 2 cookies, but I made an exception today!).

While running errands, we look for signs everywhere with the number 3 .... addresses, price tags, store signs, we even found "Row 3" in the parking lot at WalMart!

And for lunch today, I cut our sandwiches into three-sided triangles....pb&j never tasted so good.

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It's Birthday Season!

Our family is presently smack dab in the middle of what I call "Birthday Season."
Most families celebrate a few birthdays scattered throughout the year, but our big family has all its birthdays concentrated in 6 consecutive months.
Brandon kicks the season off (right after we celebrate our nation's birthday) in July (he's 20 now!); Quinn turned 6 in August (I had a birthday in August too, but I can never remember my age, so I just won't put it here :). Analisa is next, she turned 9 in September. Then Luke and Drake, on October 5 and 6 (yep, two separate kids, two separate birthdays, 2 separate cakes). So Luke is now 3, and Drake is 11. A few days after Halloween, while we're all still gorging ourselves on Halloween candy, on November 3, Victoria will be 18. Then in December is Jack. And, the grand finale....Jesus.
Whew! That's a LOT of presents, and a LOT of cake!
This was the year that Analisa got to celebrate her "school birthday" which means she got to have a birthday party with her friends from school.
My kids think I'm mean because all their friends seem to have big parties every year, where they invite the entire class to celebrate. But in my opinion, that's just too much. And honestly, it gets tiring to me (I know, I know, this can be a very controversial subject!) to buy birthday presents year after year for my kids' classmates (note: I didn't say my kids' "friends"). And in turn, I just think it's too much to expect my kids' classmates to buy birthday presents for my children every year. That's why mine only get one big bash...when they turn 9 in 3rd grade.
And after surveying the haul that Analisa brought home from her big party this year, I'm only more convinced that one party is enough. (I may be borrowing cash from her to fund my Christmas shopping this year!)
The other sticking point I have about birthday parties is the tradition of "goodie bags" given to the guests at the end of the party. After paying to rent a swimming pool and private party room, and feeding all the kids cake and ice cream, I just think the expense of "goodie bags" (filled with cheap toys that will most likely be broken within a matter of days, or candy that will cause "sharing" fights between siblings ) is extreme. So I just don't do them. I wish other parents would forego this unnecessary expense. In fact, I'd like to start a "no goodie bag" revolution!
Anyway, this post is a bit off topic, but it was on my mind.
Now, I've eaten a lot of cake lately. Time to go work out.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Let's Talk - Conversation Starters for Families

Jack and I are always trying to come up with better ways to engage our kids in meaningful conversation. Asking "yes" or "no" type questions rarely results in any kind of discussion that tells us about our kids' days, so we've learned to ask more specific questions about their days, i.e., "Who did you play with at recess today?" "What was the hardest question on your science test?" "Who did you sit next to at lunch? What did you talk about?"

While surfing the internet today, I decided to see if I could find other information on family type conversation starters that went deeper than school, questions that would help all of our family members to take time to talk and learn about each other.

I was thrilled to find this incredible site

The site sells, for just $5 (and I make NO MONEY from referring you there!) small paint cans (with a colorful label) filled with hundreds of thought-provoking conversation starter questions, from thought-provoking, to serious, to just plain fun!

Don't want to spend any money? Get this! If you scroll down to the bottom of the page (the tricitypartners link above), they GIVE you a link to where you can download the label AND the questions, completely free!

I've already got mine printed out, and I can't wait to get started interrogating -- oops, I mean talking with -- my family!


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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Encouraging our children to try new things

When Victoria, our 17 year old, was selecting her classes for her final year of high school, she found that she was faced with having to tread some formerly unknown territory in the way of electives.

Wanting to find an "easy A" to help her GPA, she couldn't for the life of her decide which class to take.

Remembering her love of all things art when she was younger, I encouraged her to try an art class. She fought me on it, claiming that she couldn't draw. But in the end, it was the only elective that would fit into her schedule, so art it was.

It's been such a joy to watch her! She's discovered not only that she loves her art class, but that she's pretty darn good at it! (And, combining art with her love of Michael Barrett, she created the stunning pencil portrait I so proudly display here on my blog!)

This was a big reminder to me that that we always need to encourage our children to try something new and different. The same goes for ourselves. We just never know what we might discover!