Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ten for Tuesday: National Puzzle Day! Play, Learn + Love Puzzles

As a child, I absolutely LOVED puzzles and even (at some point) had a giant puzzle board with my name painted on it that we would slide under the bed because it was the only place it fit. Ah, the memories! Well, I recently discovered that today, Jan. 29th is National Puzzle Day, so I pushed back (AGAIN!!) the resumption of my Ten for Tuesday: Things That Go! Series to give you 10 (or more) educational benefits of puzzles for kids (with an emphasis on Early Childhood Education, since my kiddos are little) -- plus, I am sharing some great great DIY puzzles and fun puzzle activities as well. Enjoy and get puzzled!

1. Problem Solving is a basic (and very important) skill that children gain from doing puzzles as they ask themselves: Will it fit? and assert which puzzle piece goes where. This type of problem solving is clearly in action with this great DIY Wood Block Puzzle from In Lieu of Preschool. 

2. Spatial Recognition/Shape Matching - Puzzles also encourage kids to engage in spatial recognition and matching as they notice straight edges and see how a puzzle piece shape matches to an empty space in the puzzle. A great variation on this is to make your own puzzle/matching game using items you already have on hand like this one from Happy Hooligans, which provides entertainment and learning opportunities for 2-4 year-olds. 

3. Early Math - Puzzles introduce children to math concepts, such as early geometry and spatial awareness in a way that is inviting and fun. Tangrams are the perfect puzzles for this type of learning, and I recently stumbled upon some brilliant DIY Magnetic Tangrams made from Paint Chips when Delicate Construction featured the tangrams that School Time Snippets made.

4. Learning Geography! Puzzles are also a great way to learn geography. Geo-Puzzles work extremely well for this and Mama Smiles shares these as some of her favorite educational toys. Since Wild Thing loves both puzzles and maps, I have to get some of these! 

 5. Early Literacy - Puzzles are a fun way to engage children in early literacy as they put together the puzzle of a word, such as their own name like these Name Puzzles from Teach Preschool. Plus, Letter Puzzles, like the ones from Storytime Katie, can help children identify beginning letter sounds. 

6. Vocabulary Building - Wild Thing loved doing the simple matching puzzle (shown in the very top photo) that our favorite coffee shop happens to have in their kids section. The puzzle consists of several two-piece matching puzzles such as Lock-Key, Child-Mom, Hat-Mittens and he began doing it at age 2, and I noticed that the puzzle really helped him build his vocabulary and oral skills (in addition to all the other benefits, fine motor, hand-eye, etc.) I would love to make a magnetic version of this puzzle. See how simple it is to Make your own Magnetic Puzzle at My Kind of Makeover. 

7. Critical Thinking + Observation Skills - These two go hand-in-hand as completing puzzles requires children to hone their observation skills as they assess the original puzzle and then implore their critical thinking skills to complete the act of putting pieces together to recreate the original image. The DIY Lego Puzzles Kristina of Toddler Approved shared at Kids Activities Blog are a perfect example of these two skills coming together in the world of puzzles. 

8. Fine Motor Skills + Hand-Eye Coordination - These two also go hand-in-hand (in my mind) with puzzles and speak to the benefit of introducing simple puzzles very early on as they can be great for babies who are starting to be able to have some basic control of their fine motor skills and are ready to challenge their hand-eye coordination. 

Wild Thing was not quite 1 when he got his first puzzle.
9. Patience and Diligence - As children work through trial and error and take the time to assess their mistakes and improve their ability to complete a puzzle, they are learning to practice patience and to be diligent when taking on a new or challenging task. An important thing for us to remember as parents is not to rush in and help (i.e. put pieces in for them) too much and too early. It is important to give the child time to figure out the puzzle and complete it on their own, as much as possible. 

10. Memory - Wild Thing loves doing the same puzzles over and over again and of course, eventually, they become less and less challenging, but are still fun. The repetition process in completing the same puzzles over and over helps improve his memory and bolsters his confidence. Yes - I will say it again, I love puzzles!

Bonus Benefit: Gross Motor Skills + Movement, particularly when using large puzzles -- this benefit was brought to my attention through this great post about Jigsaw Puzzles with Toddlers from Triple T Mum.

Before I wrap this up, I have to share two other great puzzle resources I discovered as I was putting the finishing touches on this post: Teach Preschool has a great Puzzles Pinboard, and on it I saw this great post from B. Inspired Mama: 9 Benefits of Wooden Puzzles from B.Inspired Mama, featuring a guest post from Puzzled.

Something I would like to improve in our house is the accessibility of the puzzles with them on child-accessible shelves, rather than in a drawer (as they are now). This is part of a larger effort I am engaged in that includes bringing Montessori concepts into our home. It has worked well in the kitchen with an accessible shelf for Wild Thing to get his own cereal and pour his own milk. The balance involves also keeping the house safe for Caterpillar (18 months old).

P.S. Our favorite puzzles are the Melissa and Doug Wooden Puzzles and the 24-piece Thomas the Train puzzles we have been so lucky as to find at our local dollar store.

What puzzles do you love?

I shared this post at: Tuesday Tots,
Mom's Library Link-Up, It's Playtime!
Play Based Learning Linky, The Sunday Showcase, Sharing It Saturday
After-School Link-Up and Montessori Monday.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

{Project 101: Weekly Library Challenge} Week #2: Feeling A Little Frenchy!

Last week, I decided to start Project 101 in honor of the 101st birthday of our library, the County of Los Angeles Public Library. I will be writing about 2 books each week that we are currently reading. 1 book will be a library book that the boys are loving and the other will be a peek into what I am reading. Last week, it was Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama, which Wild Thing was really drawn to, and I had just finished a re-reading of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Now on to this week where my kid pick and adult pick are connected, loosely, by France. 

Wild Thing (my 3 year-old son) picked Madeline's Tea Party out at the library the last time he went with me. I was a bit surprised and almost told him to pick something else - thinking that a girl book about a tea party was not something that would interest him. Thankfully, I stopped myself. I realized that having him select a different book would do two things: 1) send the message to him that I do not think him capable of selecting a book for himself and 2) assert specific gender stereotypes on him and separate him from reading a book with a strong female lead as a character. Once home with the book, I was glad, again, that I had not suggested he choose another book because he loves the book and it has such a valuable message as Madeline goes and shares a piece of a cake with a boy even though he has ruined her party and acted like a major brat. She chooses kindness. She chooses empathy. These are traits I want my son to have. And, I am glad that he can relate and engage with a female character, just as much as a male character or as his beloved Thomas the Train or Lightning McQueen. (Plus, the book is set in Paris, so that allows for some discovery fun with our map -- which we both love).

As for me, what I have been reading also has a bit of a Parisian connection. I am almost finished with Julie and Julia. People tend to love or hate this book, and I understand how some people struggle with Julie Powell's writing style and tendency toward some crassness. However, as both a blogger and someone who loves to cook, I find many aspects of the book relate-able  and endearing. Plus, I like the snippets of Julia Child's life that are sprinkled in. I highly recommend A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS by Jennet Conant, which I read this summer, to anyone who is interested in Julia Child and in the intrigue of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, U.S. Intelligence Agency formed during World War II). Also, the backdrop of rebuilding at ground zero that is sprinkled throughout Julie and Julia is interesting as well. I must say, even though I love cooking and can commend the massive undertaking of Julie to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, there has not been a French recipe yet discussed in the book that I am remotely interested in attempting -- they all seem too intimidating, especially since we have no dishwasher and many of the recipes seem to use several cooking vessels. Maybe when the boys are older...However, it has got me thinking of spending the year working my way through the ABCs of Montessori from Living Montessori Now...


Anyway, how about you? What is on your bedside table? What book has/have your child(ren) discovered at the library? Or, any weekly (or yearly) challenges tugging at your sleeve? Please comment, share, let me know. I am also looking for books to add to our library list and love hearing from readers - you can share in the comments or at The Good Long Road on Facebook. 

More books we love (with activities to go with them...)

4 Ways to Learn + Play
Fun w/Duck! Rabbit!
Storytelling Board


Friday, January 25, 2013

Kid's Co-Op: Snowmen Activities + Snacks

While we rarely get snow here in Southern California in the Winter and have not yet ventured to the closest snow in the area yet, Wild Thing and Caterpillar still love snowmen and the idea/concept of snow, and their two favorite Winter books: Snowmen at Night and Snow Sounds inspired us to get creative. Our creativity has included
Snow-Inspired Sensory Play and Spool Snowmen, which I featured in our Snow Baby Play post and some snowmen snacks (which are much more sugar intensive than what I usually give them). We are sharing those snacks here along with our favorite Snowmen activities from the Weekly Kid's Co-Op last week.

Food items for our snowmen sledding scene inspired by Snowmen at Night.

Above you can see our simple snowmen donuts (with a clementine smile), our sledding snowmen and a great snowman breakfast from JDaniel4sMom from the Co-Op last week. Plus, here are some creative snowmen activities that also caught my eye last week:

Counting Snowmen from Housing a Forest, Roll a Monster Snowman from Chicken Babies and Five Ways to Make a Snowman from The Stepford Wife.  

I shared this at Tuesday Tots

What snowy (or other) creative play or snack time have you had lately? Please link up and share!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

{Virtual Book Club for Kids} Move, Eat, Draw, Learn with Boy, Bird and Dog by David McPhail

David McPhail is another author we discovered through the Virtual Book Club for Kids, and Boy, Bird and Dog was a huge hit in our house. I love this book for the reading/literacy stage that Wild Thing (just turned 3 in November) is at. He is doing well with identifying beginning letters of words (i.e. B is for Baby). He understands that letters create sounds and thus words, and he is getting interested in putting together those letters/sounds and identifying words. He has some words already under his belt: Go, Stop, Mom, Dad, as well as his name. 

The simple words, writing style and structure in which Boy, Bird and Dog is written compliments exactly where he is at with the reading process and provided us with key sight words/new words to add to his I can read list: Boy, Bird, Dog (obviously) and Up. 

If you follow the blog, you know we always love to share the ways that we Move, Eat, Draw and Learn with our book club books, so here it goes.

Move: This book naturally invites pretend play. After just one reading of it, Wild Thing wanted us to be the Boy, Bird and Dog and act out the book. Luckily, he has parents that are great sports and before I knew it, he and his dad were on the couch (The couch was the treehouse from the book, and they were the bird and boy). The fun continued from there. Ultimately, Caterpillar (almost 18 months old) ended up being the mom bringing cookies to the treehouse, which basically just meant he ran around the living room exclaiming - COOKIES! and giggling with glee. It was very fun impromptu pretend play indeed, and I wish there had been a way to capture an image of this magic, even though we were all completely wrapped in it. 

Given how much fun that impromptu experience was, I put together a Storytelling Bucket (rather than pot, which is what the boy uses in the story to raise his dog and then cookies up into the treehouse) for us to take to the park for a playdate we were having, and the boys got active climbing and pulling the rope as they reenacted the story at the playground! So fun. 

Eat: Somehow we keep selecting books that happen to have cookies in them. We ate and made cookies. I think I am going to start referring to our favorite cookie books as bookies! We have gotten fancy in the past with carrot cake cookies and such, but we kept it simple and made basic chocolate chip cookies this time.  

Draw: This book inspired two art activities. One functional activity that provided us with a bird for our storytelling bucket (see the pinecone bird above - that is a bird, in case you were not quite sure). The other art activity involved some treehouse creativity. We do not have a tree in our yard that would work for a treehouse, and the treehouse in the book certainly captured the imagination of Wild Thing, so we did a multi-media treehouse art activity so that we could have a treehouse of our own at home. The supplies were quite simple and took advantage of what we happened to have on hand - tissue paper, wood chips and Popsicle sticks.

Once the treehouse was done, Wild Thing really wanted to add the Boy, Bird and Dog, so I thought that fingerprint/thumbprints would work well for that. He also wanted me to write out the words and told me which letters to put for each word - sounding it out as we went (you will see below how we used this book for some great early literacy/reading activities). 

I love our masterpiece!
Learn: While the storytelling, pretend play and art activities certainly involve lots of learning, we also did two learning activities that were specifically focused on early reading. We created a simple Sight Word Jumping/Matching Game and a Milk Cap Word Search. With both, I focused on just a few key words from the book, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, so that Wild Thing could really focus on those words - recognizing them and understanding how those words are made (how the letter sounds come together to form the words). 

I put the words on the floor and had him jump to each word after I said it. We did this with just me saying the word and then I read through the book and he jumped from word to word as the word came up in the book. Bird and Boy caused some confusion at first, since they both start with the letter B, but that provided a great learning opportunity as we discussed how the letters in each word sound. I also put out Boy, Bird and Dog toys for him creating a matching game for the set up as well.

I like the Sight Word Jumping/Matching Game because it involves gross motor skills. For active children, learning activities that let them move and that involve their whole bodies can be really helpful. Next time, I think I will use the Milk Cap Letters for literacy activities in the evening time when we focus on quiet activities, rather than mid-day.  

I also learned that spelling downward (rather than across) confuses Wild Thing, so I need to remember to keep it simple when we use the Milk Cap letters for early reading/spelling activities. 

A bonus thing that made this book perfect for our family is that it is also a great book for Caterpillar in terms of vocabulary-building (he is 18 months) and language development. He loves to look at the book and point at the various items and tell me their names. I think this book is going to be in heavy rotation from the library. 

Shared at:
The Educators' Spin On It

Ten Random Acts of Kindness for Kids That Cost Nothing

I am excited to be participating in Toddler Approved's 100 Acts of Kindness Project, which kicked off yesterday and runs through Valentine's Day. Coffee Cups and Crayons, a blog I love that often focuses on kindness and giving, got things started with the Kindness Challenge for Week 1: Love the Environment, which couldn't be more perfect for our post since we have some environmentally-friendly ideas on our list too. Everything on our list is an act that may take some time and effort, but does not take any money.

1. Pick Up Trash - Kids can do this at the park or perhaps at an empty lot in your neighborhood or even along the side of a not-too-busy road with very diligent supervision, of course. This is something anyone/everyone can do. (Wild Thing picked up trash at a community event when he had just turned 2!)

2. Shovel Snow/Rake Leaves/Weed - No matter what the weather/season where you live, a great way to surprise a neighbor and make someone's day would be for a child to help a neighbor out by doing any of these things - whichever they need. This would be an especially kind thing to do for an elderly or ill neighbor who could truly use the help. 

3. Select Toys or Books to Donate - Encourage your child to select some toys or books (or both) to donate to your local thrift store or (in the case of books) public library. This also helps the environment since it encourages reuse and reduces waste. It would be a great way to encourage your family's involvement with International Book Giving Day coming up on February 14th.  

4, Make the Bed - Okay, so this is simple, but is still kind. One sibling can make the bed for the other or do a household chore for someone else. Trust me, this act of kindness will not go unnoticed or unappreciated!

5. Play a Game! (Seriously!) When I ran an after-school program, our students loved playing FreeRice.com games during their computer lab time. These educational games lead to donations of rice to people in need. Everyone will love this act of kindness. 

6. Make a Card for a friend, family member or even a simple card that says Have a Nice Day to give to a stranger or the cashier at the grocery store. This does not have to cost anything - encourage kids to get creative and use art supplies you already have as they create their card(s).

7. Donate Clothing - I listed this separately from toys and books because, depending on the age of your child, picking clothes to give can be a very big deal. For younger kids, donating clothing may not even register, but for older kids it can be pretty major to select clothes to donate and can be a real opportunity for pre-teens and teens to really think about this as an act of kindness. Teens for Jeans is a really cool example of this - it is a DoSomething.org campaign that encourages teenagers to donate their jeans at their local Aeropastle store from Jan. 14th-Feb. 10th. The jeans are given to homeless teenagers for whom a pair of jeans can make a real difference. (Plus, another act that is kind to the environment as well - reduce, reuse, recycle).

8. Make a List - Have your child make a list of all of the things they love about a family member. You can write the list for them (depending on their age) or they can write it themselves. Of course, you can give it to the family member or (if it is a grandparent or cousin that lives elsewhere) you can always email the list to the relative. Receiving a list/email like this can really make someone's day. 

9. Be a Friend/Reach Out - Encourage your child to reach out to a child at school that is sitting alone in the cafeteria or standing alone outside at recess. This amazing and powerful post from Lasso the Moon speaks to the importance of teaching our children active empathy and empowering them to be kind and understanding in such a way that they may actual transform another. Parents, you really must read the post! Also, this is one for us adults too - if you pass somebody who looks like they could use a kind word, say one. :) 

10. Remember, small things matter - Pick one simple small thing and do it everyday for a week: Kids (depending on their age) can open/hold the door for someone, let a friend play with their favorite toy, put away stray shopping carts at the grocery store (depending on their age of course), share their snacks during playgroup or lunch and so much more - any of these small acts of kindness can make a big difference! 

What small acts of kindness do you catch your child doing? Is kindness part of your daily habit? 

Visit Toddler Approved for complete details about  the 100 Acts of Kindness Project and the rest of the weekly challenges, and please, join us and keep the kindness kicking! Thanks!


You might also like:
Random Acts of Kindness Kids Co-Op/Adventure
Teaching Gratitude: Thank You Post Cards

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Project 101: Weekly Library Challenge - What We're Reading Now

I recently realized that our library, the County of Los Angeles Public Library will celebrate its 101st birthday this year, so this year I will share 101 books discovered or enjoyed because of our public library --  I am calling it Project 101. If I start this week and share 2 books each week, we will hit 101 by the end of the year, which is actually an underestimate because I would guess that, on average, we probably have 20 books out from the library in any given week (often more) as well as 3-5 DVDs. Yet, writing about 20 books each week would be a bit much! :)

I have decided to share 1 kid book (i.e. a book that we are enjoying/discovering as a family), and 1 adult book (i.e. a book that I am reading). 

Very appropriately, this week I am highlighting Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long (most known, probably, for illustrating The Little Engine That Could). I have been on an Autobiography/Biography kick and in searching our library system (online) for the Autobiography of Barack Obama, I came across this children's book and put in a request for it. I am very glad that I did. Whatever your political leanings, do not count out this book. 

It is wonderfully illustrated (my husband describes it as a cross between Dr. Seuss and Normal Rockwell in the illustration style). It also has a beautiful message as it highlights valuable traits for our children to have through amazing Americans, ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. to Helen Keller to Cesar Chavez to Neil Armstrong to Georgia O'Keefe to Jackie Robinson and so many more (Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, Sitting Bull, Maya Lin, George Washington, etc.), and ends with joyous words about how each of these people is part of who we all are too.

It is both captivating and inspiring. My 3 year-old listened intently as I read it and loved looking at the images. As I read to him about each extraordinary American mentioned in the book, he responded, we can do that, Mommy. This made me smile and had the perfect effect. Yes, son, we can do that: we can do art, we can work together, we can play baseball, we can go to the moon, and on and on and on. 

And what better timing, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration of Barack Obama, reading a book that honors the diverse, rich history of the United States and the amazing people that have contributed to building and shaping this country.

As for what I am reading, well it is of a slightly different light and is not a book I discovered through the library, but rather a book I decided to revisit: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin. I did a Jane Austin winter course in college in which we read all of her books. It is often interesting to revisit books at different times in life. Reading this classic piece of chick lit, as it is often called, now is very different than when I read it in college. Then, I got caught up in the romance of it. Now, I noticed more the wit of the book and found myself thinking a lot of social class, social structure and how different it is for women today than it was then. 

It certainly fits well within my focus of 2013: abundance and gratitude. Reading a book set in an historical time when the fortune of a man was primary in marital decision-making, and when women had so many restrictions placed upon them reminds me of the abundant life that I live now, in which I dictate my life - choosing who to share my life with (on the basis of love alone), when to start a family and how to shape that family life, both personally and professional. Abundance indeed.

Here, too, is where I see the overlap in these 2 books. Of Thee I Sing also connects to those freedoms and choices, in that so many people in the book connect to my ability to make the choices I have made, people who have sacrificed and struggled for the goals of freedom and equality. In a different time, choosing to share my life with a man whose ethnic and racial background differ from mine would have been, if not impossible, then a very difficult and even dangerous choice. And if my boys had been raised a generation ago, they would have not grown up with a President whose parents looked a lot like theirs. I am grateful that they will be raised knowing, truly, that they can be anything they want, with so many historical examples that verify that, and that I am able to love the man I love openly and proudly. Again, abundance indeed. 

I love sharing! Shared this post at:

Kid Lit Blog Hop

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Diversity, Character, Parenting and MLK
{Perspective} When Things Fall Apart
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kid's Co-Op + Simple Ideas for Baby Play at Home #6

I love my baby play series, which focuses on Simple Baby Play Ideas primarily using Household Items, and the posts are quite popular so I think all of you do too!

Sadly, I suspect my baby play series will be coming to an end soon as Caterpillar will be 18 months old next month and really is, everyday, so much more like a toddler than a baby. Still, I have decided to do two more baby play features (today and next month) before selecting a new series to replace it.  

Still, I plan to enjoy it while I can and am excited to feature this week one fabulous household item for baby play: the humble coffee can. One coffee can can produce lots of play opportunities, as we have discovered.

Babies can roll the can, which is lots of fun.

There is also the option of kicking the can, also very fun.

And, of course, there is the fun of running around the house carrying the can!

This coffee can play is best for babies that can sit up and crawl on their own, as well as early walkers as babies not walking will enjoy crawling after and rolling the can and early walkers often think kicking and chasing a rolling object is lots of fun. Plus, through these activities babies begin to learn and understand cause and effect. 

We also have a coffee can that has lots of beads in it (from a broken piece of jewelry) that Caterpillar loves to shake, basically the same idea as the homemade musical instruments/shakers for baby from The Educator's Spin On It, which were featured in Baby Play #3 (along with many other fun, simple baby play ideas).

Plus, as this is also my Kid's Co-Op post for this week, I want to share Learn with Play at home's Baby Play: Tissue Box Play post from the Co-Op link up last week. Tissue boxes and/or empty wipes containers offer lots of fun baby play ideas and certainly most households (especially with babies) have these items already on hand, so get playing! 

Our other Baby Play posts to check out include: 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Diversity, Character, Parenting and MLK

"…that my children will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the comic book series "13" every child is guaranteed such a world. One in which the trajectory of their lives will be determined not by their skin color, race, creed, or nation of origin, but by the most equitable of criteria - a mathematical computation of their character. How can that be? Well, at the age of 13, every kid is given a power, for one year. They can do whatever they like with that power. No one will stop them. However, for that 13th year, each child's parent is given one full year of paid maternity/paternity leave to shepherd them.

If you had one year to focus exclusively on parenting and help your child determine how the world would view them for the rest of their lives, what would you tell them? If your child had the ability to run a river down Main Street, or fly, what choices would them make? What would you have told them in the twelve years prior to that all-important year about the world, the importance of education, being a good citizen, or responsibility? Would they be prepared for unfettered power and irrevocable consequences for mistakes?

If you've come up with a few answers to those questions, you've not only come upon the mere beginning of the world of "13", but you have also begun to think about raising your child as a global citizen and, hopefully, an individual that will judge others by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin.

This guest post has been written by Dani Dixon, a comic book writer ("13", "M.I.S.//ing", "Five Nations") publisher (http://tumblecreekpress.com/), filmmaker (http://conflictfilms.com/) and blogger (http://danisdvr.blogspot.com/). Dani speaks around the country on topics such as diversity in comics, preparing professional portfolios and women in sci-fi. She has spoken at the Writers Guild of America on the influence of comics on Hollywood and regularly consults on comic book adaptations.

To find out more about the comic book series "13" click here

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