Friday, December 12, 2008

Repetitive Teaching

If your preschooler is anything like mine, then s/he is loving the computer.

Each afternoon when I need to do some work, 4 year old Luke and I turn off the television and he sits at the family computer while I sit at my laptop. We call this our "quiet work time."

Sites like can keep him happily occupied for a good 30 minutes or more.

One of the things I've started doing with him is having him type in his own letters to connect to the website he wants to go to. He loves this! As I say each letter to him, I point to it on the keyboard, and he presses the key. After only a week of doing this, many of the letters I only need to SAY and he can find it on his own.

Just another example of how repetitive play can lead to learning.

We also have a "Christmas countdown calendar" that I bought from Avon when my oldest (who is now 21) was first born. It's a cloth "calendar" with 24 numbered pockets and a little mouse that we move each day to a new number as we get closer to Christmas. Each day when the mouse is moved (and with 4 little ones in the house, we have to take turns), Luke watches closely as we talk about what number the day is. Today, we'll move the mouse to number 12 and Luke and I will talk about number 12 many times throughout the day, and count to 12 several times today.

It's so exciting to observe them when they learn at this age. They want to know EVERYTHING and are so thrilled when the are able to make a connection to a letter or number that they recognize.

Counting down....only 12 more "bedtimes" until Santa comes!


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Monday, December 8, 2008

Getting Creative for the Holidays

As the owner of a business that creates custom Christmas cards from a child's artwork, I had really been struggling over how to approach this year's design incorporating the artwork of all 4 of my younger children on one card. In the past, I simply selected a child's artwork that I thought would look best on our family cards, or made several different card designs, and mailed them to my list.

But this year, I came up with an idea to use all four kids' artwork on one card.

Using 4 simple triangle Christmas trees, I had each child take a turn at "decorating" one. Then I added each child's name and age under his/her tree. I think it turned out beautifully and I can't wait to get these mailed to friends and family!

My children are so creative and one of their favorite things to do is sit down with paper and markers and scissors and glue and MOM. We can spend hours on a cold wintry afternoon drawing and cutting and pasting.

And it's such a simple way to spend time with them, nevermind the fine motor skills they're developing!

Have fun.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tissue Paper Crafts!

These were just too cute not to share, and it's such a cute craft idea for all ages, I had to blog about it.

Within two days, two of my children, 4 year old Luke, and 10 year old Analisa, brought home from school these adorable Thanksgiving turkeys. Using basically the same materials -- colored tissue paper, brown construction paper, and glue -- these two age groups created these fun turkeys.

Luke's turkey (on the left), involved his cutting out a pre-drawn turkey head, and then gluing it on a paper plate (with the center cut out), and then gluing several square-shaped pieces of tissue paper around the plate, like a wreath. He even colored in a yellow beak, and a couple of eyes.

Analisa, who is in 4th grade, took her project a bit further, and after cutting out her turkey breast and head and gluing it onto a piece of construction paper, she then "pinched" each piece of colored tissue paper before gluing it around her turkey, giving it a "feather" look.

A simple craft idea that kids of all ages can do! As a mother of 6, I know I'm always looking for ways to keep everyone entertained at the same time!



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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Let the Errands Begin!

It's not even Thanksgiving yet, and already I feel like my errand list has doubled in size. The look on 4-year old Luke's face when I tell him we have to "run errands" almost breaks my heart. The constant in and out of the car seat, the constant "no, honey, that toy is not on our list of things to buy today", is almost more than either of us can take!

So yesterday, before we left, I decided to try to make it into a game. I told him he had a mission (his big brother loves 007, so he knows all about spy missions!).

I told Luke we had to go to three places. At the first stop (the big hardware store), his job was to find 4 (his favorite number) blue (his favorite color) items and point them out to me.

Next, we went to Hobby Lobby (one of my most favorite places). Luke's job at this stop was to find 4 ROUND items. He spotted a huge round mirror, a round pillow, a round Christmas ornament, and try as I might, I can't remember the last round item he spotted!

Finally, the grocery store. This was a longer stop, and so I had to come up with something that would keep him occupied longer, so I asked him to count how many people were in each aisle, then he had to find 4 "orange" items (the color changed each aisle) in that aisle, AND to tell me what aisle number we were in by looking at the sign hanging from the ceiling. Then, when it was time to checkout, he was to count how many people were in line ahead of us, and as each person ahead of us finished her transaction, he had to re-count (5-4-3-2-1!).

The errands were completed with no meltdowns, Luke felt proud of his accomplishments, and I even bought him some sugar-free gum to thank him for his hard work of counting and finding.

Just another day of learning....


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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Time: The Best Gift

It's always a struggle in our busy lives to find "quality" time to spend with our children. But all our children want is our attention and time....and they don't judge us on quality.

4 year old Luke's preschool is a firm believer in sharing time with our children; so much so, in fact, that several times a year his teacher sends home a Family Coupon Book that contains "coupons," each coupon listing a simple activity we can do with our child just to spend some time with him/her.

I'm listing this month's coupon ideas, because I think it shows how simple it is to share a few minutes of time with our pre-schoolers:
  • Make and drink some hot chocolate together
  • Make and eat some popcorn together
  • Draw a picture together
  • Sing a song together
  • Play at the park
  • Match mittens or socks together
  • Bake some cookies (and eat them, too!)
  • Write a letter to a friend, and take it to the post office
  • Play a game together
  • Set the table together

In spite of the crazy, hectic daily schedules we all call our lives, I've found through these coupon ideas that it's really a simple thing to spend some time with our pre-schoolers (oh, and you get to eat a lot, too!).


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Monday, November 17, 2008

It only takes a minute

So many people are shocked when they learn that I have 6 children...."how do you do it?" is a common question.

I won't say I never have bad days (just ask my kids!), but I try to be organized and that has been the key to my "success."

But busy as I am as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur, I've learned that we can teach our children through everyday activites that only take a few extra minutes of our time, especially if we include the "teaching" with the everyday activities that we're doing anyway!

Take laundry (PLEASE!!! Take ALL my laundry! I feel like I'm drowning in it some days!). 4-year old Luke likes to help me fold laundry, so I ask his assistance by having him sort the clothes. He makes a pile for each sibling and one for mom and dad, and one for the towels. You can't believe how much this actually helps me! Then when I start folding, I take one person at a time, and it seems so much simpler this way. Luke then likes to take his siblings' folded laundry and place it neatly on each person's bed (for that person to put away when s/he gets home from school). He also takes his folded clothes, which we've sorted into "shirts" "pants" "underwear & socks" and "pajamas" and he puts these away in the correct drawers in his bedroom.
Have fun!
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Let's Get Cooking!

My kids have all loved to help me in the kitchen....well, up until the age when I started requiring them to help me in the kitchen! But 4 year old Luke is destined to be a world renowned chef! He absolutely loves to cook. (And he absolutely MUST don is "Le Chef" apron before measuring the first ingredient.)

Admittedly, I often have to shoo him away because I'm in a hurry or because, quite honestly, it's not the easiest thing in the world to cook dinner when a 4 year old is measuring and stirring and helping!

But when I have time, he's so eager to jump up on a chair and help me read the recipe, and measure the ingredients, and stir everything together, then open the oven door while I put our creation into the oven.

Sometimes while we're working together, we talk about "WHY?"

  • "Why do you think we only put a little bit of salt in this recipe?"

  • "Why do you think we don't put peanut butter in the mashed potatoes?"

  • "Why do think we have to cook the lasagna before we eat it?"

We also talk about colors (what color is the pepper, what color is the flour, what color is the corn? why is the potato brown on the outside, and white on the inside?) and textures (does the egg feel gooey or soft?) and smells (why does sugar taste sweet, but smell so bad? Does the onion smell sweet?).

He's always so proud when the family sits down to eat a meal that he made. And I have to admit, after having the opportunity to spend that time with him, and seeing the smile on his face and the pride in his stance, my food always tastes a bit better.

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Bon appetit!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Let's Get Moving!

Another cold and rainy day meant finding some fun inside activities. But we're getting restless with not being able to go outside, and we wanted to MOVE!

Luke played "Follow the Leader" at pre-school today, and wanted to teach me how, so I let him lead the way.

The version of "Follow the Leader" we played was similar to "Simon Says" except that we were walking, and I was following behind him. We walked through the house, with him announcing "raise your hand" and I dutifully complied. "Jump on one foot!" "Turn around" "Scratch your head" "Look in the mirror and make a funny face" "Touch your toes" "Jump 4 times" (I told you 4 is his favorite number.) "Lay down on the floor and roll around" "Do a somersault" "Jump on the bed" (yes, I allowed this one today, for the sake of the game). We had such a good time, we collapsed into giggles (a mother's favorite sound).

Then it was my turn to lead, so I threw in some "rights" and "lefts", such as "Raise your left hand" and "Touch your right ear." Since Luke was behind me, he was able to mimic my moves, rather than standing in front of me, when his "rights" and "lefts" would have been mirrored.

I have a feeling this we'll be playing this game frequently this winter...

Have fun.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Honoring our Veterans

I love that our community has an annual Veteran's Day Parade. Rain or shine (and today it was rain!), people line the streets and give tribute to some of the bravest, most honorable people to have walked the earth.

Many schools close today, but in our community, the children attend school and spend the day in celebration and remembrance, including participation in the parade.

Luke was excited to be riding on a float, waving his American flag, and singing patriotic songs.

I'm certain he didn't truly grasp the importance of what he was doing, but I hope that as he grows older, and learns more about his grandparents, and his uncles, and some of his older cousins, and the sacrifices they made for his freedom, that he will learn to appreciate the veterans, and will wave his flag with heartfelt pride.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sticky, smooth, cold, rough, flat, and soft

As promised, when Luke got off the bus today, I had an inside scavenger hunt ready for him.

I decided to break away from colors, and focus more on other physical characteristics, so I went with STICKY, SMOOTH, ROUGH, SOFT, FLAT, COLD and WARM.

I was really curious to see what he would find for each of these physical descriptions, and he didn't let me down!

I think the most fun was sticky....when he opened a piece of Halloween candy, put it in his mouth, then spit it out on his hands, announcing that his hands were now sticky!

He found the outside of the refrigerator smooth, and the inside cold. The top of his dresser was flat. His blankie was soft. The basket on the table was deemed rough.

He wanted to play more, so I threw in some shapes (triangle, rectangle, oval, circle, and square).

It's always so fun to play with our kids, and when they are learning in the process, it makes it even more rewarding.


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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Scavenger Hunt!

Today is another picture perfect day in Illinois....sunny, warm, absolutely not what one would expect in November!

Knowing that the cold rainy weather is on its way as early as tomorrow, when my pre-schooler hopped off the school bus today, I suggested that we sit out on the front porch for several minutes and enjoy the weather while he showed me his papers and told me about his adventures at school that day.

While we were talking, the falling leaves from the tree out front caught Luke's eye. He remarked, "Look, it's still Fall!" Which led naturally to a discussion about seasons, and that seasons are many weeks long, not like holidays, which are only one day. Our discussion then turned to things that we see in Fall, and the next thing you know, we had a list of things, including yellow leaves, and red leaves, and green leaves, and orange leaves, and nuts that fall from the trees, and sticks (small sticks, medium sticks, big sticks), and even rocks (small rocks, medium rocks, and big rocks).

With our list in one hand, and a bag in the other, we set off on a scavenger hunt to see if we could find everything on our list.

I think Luke most enjoyed finding the "big stick" which he insisted on dragging back to the house (although he was disappointed that I wouldn't let him bring it inside!).

When we returned to the porch, we looked through our treasures, and commented on the different sizes and shapes and colors.

It was a fun game, and Luke asked me if we could play it again tomorrow. Since the weather is turning cold and rainy, I'm thinking an inside scavenger hunt might be fun.....

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Importance of Voting

Today is election day.

As my kids have watched their television shows (i.e., Disney channel primarily), they have been told over and over about how important voting is in our country. In fact, I think it was the Disney Channel's website that actually had an online "election" where the kids could vote for either presidential candidate.

At school, my three grade schoolers (2d, 4th, and 6th) are voting in a mock election.

Voting is in the air!

I was thinking last night about my first venture to the voting booth. I'll admit it...I was terrified! I was afraid I would push the wrong button or completely mess something up. I was intimidated and absolutely certain that everyone else knew "how to do it."

So I decided I would take my children with me to the voting booth today and start familiarizing them with the voting process, so that as they eventually reach voting age, they will feel more comfortable. Plus, they're so eager that the candidate our family is voting for win, and the fact that this is such a monumental election, I thought it would be a great way to include them in a bit of history in the making.

Fortunately, we live in a very rural community, so when we arrived there were only 6 people in line ahead of us. As we walked through the line, the judges were so gracious as I explained to the kids about how they first ask for my identification, so they can first be sure it's me, and also to "cross my name off" because each person only gets one vote.

Next, they watched as the judge flipped through the book and found my voter registration form, and then asked me to sign the form so they could compare my signature to the signature on the form.

We stepped further down the line, where a very patient and kind judge explicitly explained the electronic voting procedure (we didn't have the option of a paper ballot this year), how to input the "secret 4-digit code" and then how to turn the wheel to select each candidate before pressing the vote button.

When at last we stepped into the voting booth, the kids gathered around, and watched closely to be sure I didn't make a mistake and vote for the wrong candidate! After all my selections were made, I pressed the "cast ballot" button, and we all double-checked the printed ballot that appeared, then, with their hands all on mine, I pressed the "cast ballot" button one last time and our vote was cast.

The kids then proudly wore their "I voted" stickers to school, and couldn't wait to share their story with all their friends.

On the way to school, I explained to them how privileged we are in America to have the right to vote. But I also explained to them that whichever candidate is elected, he will be our President, and even though that may not be the man we selected, he is definitely a person worthy to be president, and we should respect that he is in that position because of the "will of the people."

I just hope the excitement they are feeling today will stick with them as they mature into adulthood, and they will never forget that the freedom to vote for our candidate of choice is one of the many things that makes our country great.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Fun Activites for Everyday Learning

It's been a tumultuous several months as we've been dealing with trying to get a correct diagnosis for our now 12 year old son. Drake was "diagnosed" with ADHD at the age of 4, and was medicated for over 7 years. We're now closer to a true diagnosis (which appears to be Asperger Syndrome) and the past couple of months have been a roller coaster ride of emotions.

But, now it's time to get back to blogging and talking about fun pre-school learning activities!

Luke (who is now 4 and attending pre-school 3 hours a day) is growing and learning so much! But we always have time to squeeze in some learning in our everyday activities.

Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • We were at a doctor's office last week, and Luke noticed the office number "4" on one of the doors (He's really into the number "4" now that he IS four!). We spent a few minutes walking up and down the hall pointing to each number and saying them out loud.... "1" "2" "3" "4" "5"!

  • Luke loves to sort things, so when I unload the dishwasher, I place all the silverware (that's not too sharp) on the table, and let him sort them, then put them away (this has also become one of his "chores" and he receives a weekly allowance for helping out).

  • We went for a walk and gathered leaves, then when we got home we separated them in various groups. First, we did colors (red, yellow, green, brown). Next, we did small, medium, large.

I've found that the best way to teach a pre-schooler is to keep it fun! And when I show an interest in sizes and shapes and colors, he is more excited to participate. Keep it positive....never push.


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Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Can-Do Day!

Several months ago, after a trip to the grocery store, I needed a way to keep Luke occupied while put things away. So, I put my canned goods in the middle of the living room floor, and told him to have fun building a castle.

This game has since become one of his favorites, and we play it together every chance we get.

I encourage him to come up with creative ways to stack the cans, and he always amazes me. Sometimes he stands them upright and builds a castle, or a "garage" for his cars and trucks; sometimes he lays the cans on their sides, supports the ends, and builds a pyramid; sometimes he lines them up like a snake.

Without fail, however, his favorite part is knocking them down!

But the last few times we played this game, I was thrilled with how he wanted to SORT the cans. He put all the green beans together; all the peas together; all the tomato sauces together, etc. (Sorting is a primary building block to math!)

There are so many fun and creative ways to play with pre-schoolers, that also encourage learning. I'm learning to look around the house with a fresh perspective to see what we can play next!


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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Learning About Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a tricky concept to teach. I don't like to force my kids to say “I'm sorry” unless they really mean it. I also don't let the forgive-ee brush off the apology with a simple “That's ok.” Because it's NOT okay. Rather, I teach my kids to wait until they really mean it, and then tell the offender, “I forgive you.” Sometimes it comes immediately; sometimes it takes a few days. But when it comes, it's sincere.

A few weeks ago, Luke had the time of his life with a huge bottle of baby powder. I can only imagine that it was calling his name. However, the result of his festivities was a sibling's room that was now covered in a layer of sweet-smelling powder (every single surface was covered!), and a lesson in asking for forgiveness.

I was in the kitchen when I noticed it was quiet in the living room. Too quiet for Luke to be in there! He couldn't have been gone more than a few minutes, but as I walked into the living room, he was walking up the steps from the basement where Victoria's room is. He had an extremely guilty expression on his face, and I immediately noticed that he was covered with a fine layer of powder. He smelled wonderful! Like when he was a newborn! He resembled Pigpen from Charlie Brown, with a fine cloud of powder trailing behind him. However, when I asked him what he'd been doing, and he said “nothing,” I knew I needed to investigate.

When I opened the door to his big sister's bedroom, I was overcome with hysterics! It was like a blizzard in there! I couldn't help myself. I laughed until I had tears rolling down my face. I only wish I could have witnessed the fun time that Luke had in that room by himself with that brand new bottle of baby powder. (He later told me he was playing “Smoke & Fire!” -- as he squeezed the plumes of “smoke” into the air.) I also laughed because I'd been asking Victoria to clean her room for several weeks, and now I was going to get my wish! You see, should would never allow ME to clean it (she's 18....her room is her sanctuary!).

I couldn't let Luke see me laughing about his antics, because I knew that in a few hours Victoria would be home from school, and he would need to learn about asking for forgiveness.

When I went back upstairs to talk with him about what he'd done, he was sitting in the middle of the living room floor with a blanket over his head, hiding. He was so afraid that his big sister was going to be angry and think he was a “bad boy.”

I hugged him and assured him that, yes, Victoria would likely be very upset. But, I explained to him, you can't hide from what you've done. I told him that when Victoria arrived home from school he would need to tell her what he had done, and tell her that he was sorry. Then it would be up to her to forgive him. I warned him that it might take her some time, because he had made a very big mess, but I was sure that she would eventually forgive him, and that no matter what, she would always love him.

As for Luke, well, he thought that telling Victoria he was sorry might work; however, he still stayed under the blanket for most of the afternoon, just in case.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Teaching gratefulness

In the past 4 weeks, I've learned things about four women whom I know personally and admire and, I'll admit it, even sometimes envy.

These women are beautiful, well-off financially, have lots of friends, great kids, active in their church and their community.

In the past 4 weeks, one of these women (a 40-something year old mother of 9) was diagnosed with breast cancer; another separated from her husband and is preparing for divorce; another had her foot amputated (complications from diabetes); and the fourth discovered that her youngest child (only 20 months) has severe physical disabilities.

After learning of each of these situations/illnesses, I was initially stunned. Afterall, these are women I admire! These are women with beautiful homes, flat stomachs, gorgeous hair, new cars, good kids. How could this be?! And watching them accept their situations with grace has been a real eye-opener for me......would I react the same way?

In any event, I've become extremely grateful for my good health; I've become grateful for my house that I wish was a little bigger and a lot cleaner; I've become grateful for my 2-year old van that is littered with goldfish cracker crumbs and stray gum wrappers; I've become grateful for my children who bicker and argue most days, and who don't always get As and Bs, and who aren't the best athletes on the team; I'm grateful for my friends, whom I don't spend nearly enough time with; I'm grateful for my parents, who raised me with a good work ethic and a strong faith; I'm grateful for my husband who loves and adores me and, after 6 children, still tells me almost daily that I'm beautiful and that he loves me,and who remembers to thank me for dinner every night.......

I could go on and on, but the point of this post is to say how important I think it is that we teach our children gratefulness.

Since Lent begins in just a few days, I'm planning a "gratefulness lesson" for my family. Each day, I'm going to ask each of them to tell me one thing they are grateful for that day. How hard could that be?

Perhaps it will open their eyes to all that they have to be grateful for, as well.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The importance of creativity for our children

This is long, but it is sooooo powerful!

It will really make you stop and think about the way we teach our children, and how important creativity least, it made me stop and think.

I hope you'll take 15 minutes to watch it.



Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The connection between counting and reading

Pointing and counting.

I learned an interesting thing when Analisa was in kindergarten.....there is a direct correlation between math and reading.

I wish I could tell you the exact terminology (and perhaps if there is a teacher reading this, you can fill me in!), but Analisa's kindergarten teacher explained to me at a teacher conference that Analisa was struggling with what I think she called one-on-one correlation.

In other words, if you were to place 10 pennies down on the table, and ask Analisa to point to them one at a time as she counted them, she would come up with 12 pennies, or 13 pennies, or any other number. Her counting was not in time with her pointing. She was saying the words 1-2-3-4-5 in the correct order.... and she was pointing to the pennies; however, the timing was off. She would be saying the number 3 while her finger was in the air between pennies, or the number 5 while her finger was in the air between pennies.

I thought she was just uncoordinated, but her kindergarten teacher explained to me that this ability to count and point is a basic building block in learning to read. Amazing!!

She stressed that it was VERY important that we practice this basic skill.

Analisa is now in 3rd grade, and has officially been tested and found to be "learning disabled" in both math and reading. I don't know if we didn't practice enough, or if this is just a skill that Analisa was unable to grasp.

In any event, I'm taking the information I learned from Analisa's kindergarten teacher and hoping to help 3-year old Luke become proficient at this important skill. When we read our books every day, I always ask him questions about the pictures he sees. Now that he's grasping the concept of "how many?" I ask him on many of the pages that we read "How many _______ do you see?" and then we POINT and COUNT the butterflies, or the chickens, or the apples, or whatever.

I hope this will help him later as he learns to the meantime, it's just another way to make our reading time more interactive, so it's something we both enjoy anyway!


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

We love personalized books!

Shortly before Christmas, Luke was the fortunate recipient of a personalized book from Aardvark Adventure Stories ( This isn't your typical personalized book, where your child's name is scattered throughout the story; this is a custom-designed story book featuring your child!
I first selected a story line from the many available at the website. Since 3-year old Luke is currently torn between being a race car driver or being a baseball player when he grows up, it was a difficult choice, but we decided on Zoom Zoom Zoom! (subtitled even!!! "Let's Go Zooming with Luke John Pallardy").
In this sturdy, hardback, brightly colored book (that even includes a front page bio), Luke is personally involved in a variety of adventures involving race cars, cranes, boats, helicopters, spaceships, trains, submarines, and more!
The book is LONG! (over 30 pages!) and I think my favorite part is that I was able to submit several of my favorite photos, and the creative geniuses at Aardvark incorporated the various photos and facial expressions into the story in a way that makes them look like Luke was there for a photo shoot for this exact story!
I wish I'd received it earlier so I could have told everyone I know about it in time for Christmas shopping, but with Valentines Day and Easter approaching, this is definitely a fantastic gift idea that any child will love and cherish (and it's such superb quality, I can imagine Luke keeping this book forever, and even reading it to HIS child some day....).
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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

L is for "Luke"

Now that the holidays are over, Luke and I are busy working on letter recognition. Naturally, we chose to start with the letter "L."

As we read books every day before nap time for the past few days, every time I see a capital "L" in a book, I point it out to Luke, and then say, "L is for Luke! and L is for Lisa!"

We were at the grocery store today, and saw lots of Ls on labels and signs (lemons and lettuce and lemonade).

While I don't think Luke quite yet understands the sound of L, he's learning what L looks like.

Our plan is to take one letter at a time, beginning with the first sound of the names of all our family members --- with 5 siblings, that will take up quite a bit of the alphabet, and keep us busy for quite a few weeks!

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