Monday, July 31, 2017

Monthly play roundup: July

We’re right in the middle of winter--the weather is often pretty miserable outside on most days. This is the time in winter where I’m pining for warm and sunny days. But for now we’re staying nice and dry indoors and humming long with out usual hustle and bustle of activities…


The Monkey Game
Earlier this month we celebrated Grace’s fourth birthday. I thought I share one of the party games we prepared which was a version of this game I came across via Pinterest. Nathan helped design a simple board game and I made a giant monkey face with my stash of construction paper. To play the game, each player took turns to throw a dice and move their counters along the board. At the end of their turn, each player then gets to feed the giant monkey a piece of fruit.

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Spiders and Spiderwebs
We had a big week of spiders this month. A couple of girls had freaked out over a spider on a spiderweb they came across in the garden one time. So I thought to extend on that encounter into some learning activities. We read some great spider books (‘Walter’s Wonderful Web’ by Tim Hopgood and ‘The Very Busy Spider’ by Eric Carle). We made our own spiderwebs, incorporating threading and weaving. And we made some spider puppets which we incorporated into some nursery rhyme play.

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Pete the Cat’s Groovy Buttons
A favourite book we read this month was ‘Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons’ by Eric Litwin. We made buttons from paint sample cards using my circle punch. I printed out some shirt templates for the buttons to go onto.

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Circle Drawing Prompts
A simple and fun creative activity I prepared consisted of some pencils and crayons, sheets of paper and circle stencils. The circles were turned into smiley faces, animal faces and even aliens. Lots of scope for imagination through these simple little circles.

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Walkie Talkies
One very wet afternoon, the children were running around inside playing fire fighters and policemen. To extend on their play and just for fun, I rummaged through my stash of recyclables (every good educator should have one) and pulled out some wet wipe lids. We turned them into walkie talkies. The fact they flipped open to reveal hidden buttons inside were just a little extra coolness factor.

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Cheesy Biscuits
Our favourite recipe this month were these cheesy biscuits. The biscuit dough was super simple to whip up and plenty of fun to roll out and cut out shapes from. The savoury biscuits were a nice change from the sweet gingerbread and sugar cookie dough I usually make for our cookie baking activities.

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Pom Pom Drop
A different kind of loose parts I made were using these recycled paper towel tubes. I attached on some magnet strips on the tubes so they could be positioned in different arrangements on the magnet board. We then dropped pom poms into the tubes to explore trajectory, rearranging the tubes to test how the direction of the pom poms change with various arrangements.

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If you enjoyed this post, you can check out  last month’s roundup of activities and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What a girl!

And here she is….

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Presenting four-year-old Grace!

After months of talk of the big day…

“ …I like to have a monkey birthday!

“ …with a monkey cake

“ …the cake must be brown because monkey is brown

“ …and we must have banana sweets

“ …actually I change my mind

“ …I don’t want a monkey birthday anymore

“ …I want a SUPERHERO monkey birthday!”

Everything finally came together in one small but happy celebration.

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I have to admire the fact that despite the overwhelming influx of obsessive princessy talk amongst her peers, Grace did not waver one bit from her theme of choice. One must admire a girl with a mind of her own.

In the weeks leading up to the big day. I admit that I harboured some doubts over that mind of hers though. Where does one draw the line between ‘independent thinking’ and plain obstinate stubbornness?

There were many times when she would explode over the most inconsequential things. Blankets not arranged a particular way. Not being able to wear a particular outfit because it was in the wash. Not being allowed to have a particular treat before dinner. Not being able to use kor-kor’s markers. Things like that.

She added a whole other level to the meaning of ‘tantrum’. Usually when her screeching and screaming gets out of hand, I will tell her to go to her room until she calms down. Her response varies widely from reluctant compliance to often wailing and pleading. On one occasion a week before her birthday she stubbornly refused to budge over an issue…

“Gracie, please go to your room now until you’ve calmed down.”

“No, no, no, NOOOO!!! I DON’T WANT TO!!!”

“I will speak to you once you’ve calmed down. So please go to your room at once!”

“Then I will stay in my room for A HUNDRED YEARS!!!”

[Proceeds to rush off into her room and slams the door. Hard.]

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a classic example of: The Threenager.

I was beginning to worry that all these were somehow indicators of a permanent particular bent in her character. But almost immediately after she officially turned four. It was as if a special switch inside her clicked into place. Her dramatic meltdowns began to mellow down. She still had her moments like everyone does. But the screeching and screaming started to cease.

It was like the calm AFTER the storm.

And I could finally see how those tantrums were simply just indicators of particular quirks in her personality. Some of them still drive me slightly bonkers. But they are decidedly unique quirks for sure.

For one thing she’s obsessed with organising and arranging things.

In. A. Very. Specific. Way.

Which only she knows the right way to do.

The plus side is that her room is in pristine condition compared to her brother’s. Items all stacked or lined up neatly on shelves. Floors clear of clutter. Bed neatly made.

The downside? Well… that is the bit that drives me nuts.

Because I too have my own particular way of arranging things.

Like sofa cushions.

I like them colour-coordinated in a particular way. With the throw rug strewn over the armrest in a deliberate yet casual manner.

And Grace? Well she has her own ideas of how the cushions should go.

So every single day it’s like a silent tennis match.

Grace wakes up to find the cushions arranged my way. So she proceeds to rearrange them. Around mid-morning I try to rearrange them as I routinely neaten up things around the house. After lunch it’s TV time, so Grace rearranges the cushions her way so she can sit back to watch her show. During naptime I usually leave it because I need a break. And it usually stays her way for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening after the kids are in bed, I start clearing things up and take the chance to give the cushions one final rearrangement. My way. Because it’s the end of the day. And I like going to bed seeing the cushions arranged the way I like. Then morning comes and it starts all over again.

Then there’s the matter of the bed. Grace is obsessed with neat beds.

The plus side is that she loves making beds. Including ours. So often, our master bed is neatly made up, courtesy of our in-house bed-making expert, Grace.

The downside is… well, how can I put it? It makes bedtime a pain.

You see, Grace needs to have all her sheets, pillows and quilt arranged absolutely perfectly. She takes her time to arrange her pillow and each toy and lovey, and smoothen down every corner of her quilt. And EVERYTHING has to remain perfect all the way while she gets under the covers. So sometimes bedtime can drag out for a bit while she stealthily tries to wiggle her way in gently from the opening at the top of the quilt. And not a single soft toy or lovey is allowed to shift out of place during this entire exercise. And when she finally manages to get her entire body under the covers, Nathan (knowingly) marches in and announces that he wants to jump in her bed to give Grace a big, hearty goodnight kiss and hug. And then all hell breaks loose.

There are other interesting facets to these quirks of hers…

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She enjoys writing letters. Repeatedly. She will fill a sheet of paper with them.

Her scissor skills are fairly advanced as she likes to have lines cut as neatly as possible.

She likes to separate different groups of food on her plate and eat them in order.

She is instinctively systematic in her method when assembling puzzles… looking for corner or side pieces, observing patterns in the shapes of the puzzles as she tests their fit.

She can sometimes get a little bossy with friends during play over how things should be arranged in their play house or various play set ups. Though she is learning to compromise.

She is very thorough and meticulous in her work. Such as colouring. She will fill every space thoroughly in marker or crayon or pencil to complete her work.

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She pays great attention to detail. One time we decided to set up a puppet show and a couple of the children insisted that we must have popcorn. Grace immediately set to work making the popcorn. Using her own resourcefulness, she came up with the idea of drawing little cloudy puffs of popcorn on paper. And then using scissors, she meticulously cut out every single puff one by one until she filled a paper container.

But I must clarify that these facets are only one side of her personality…

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On the other side, she exuberantly joins forces with the boys in their play.

I have never ONCE seen her play the damsel in distress in any role play. The other girls gladly comply. But Grace will either be a sword-wielding princess galloping on a horse, a girl-firefighter, Wonder-woman, Supergirl, or lately she has taken on another secret identity as Black Widow (from The Avengers).

Although she is naturally drawn to books and shows featuring fairies and princesses, she keeps up with other boy-dominated trends such as Lego Ninjago, The Avengers and Star Wars (thanks to her brother). She can name all the main Lego Ninjago characters. She will tell you which of The Avengers are her favourite Marvel superheroes. And she guffaws along with Nathan as he watches episodes of his Lego Ninjago or Lego Star Wars series.

She is decidedly tough as nails and strong for her size. Other girls in the group usually leave the heavy lifting to her. And check this out. And this. Not even her brother could match her in this when he was this age.

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What a girl!

Monday, July 03, 2017

Monthly play roundup: June

So we’re finally past the halfway point of the year. Things have begun to cool down rather rapidly recently. But we’ve been keeping nice and cosy indoors and keeping busy with lots of activities…


‘S’ is for Snake
We’ve been focusing a lot more on letter sounds. And this month one of the featured letters was ‘S’… for ‘Snake!’ of course. A favourite book that tied in perfectly was ‘I Saw Anaconda’ by Jane Clarke. I made some snake toys using my scrap fabric stash to make a snake corner. And we made spiral snakes which was good practice for cutting curved lines

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‘L’ is for Lemon
We read ‘Millie-Mae and the Lemon Tree’ by Natalie Marshall which featured Millie-Mae making lemonade. So of course we had to make our own lemonade too. Squeezing lemon juice from lemons was good practice to build up hand/arm strength. We used the extra lemons to do some fruit stamping with paint.

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Freshly baked Baugettes
Our top favourite book this month was ‘Nanette’s Baugette’ by Mo Willems. Learning and recognising rhyming words is one of the early literacy keys. This book certainly plays up the rhymes in a fun and entertaining way, which the children recognised immediately. There was talk of baugettes for days, so what better way to warm up the house in this cold weather by making our own baugettes!

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Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?
We’ve been hit with Frozen fever again since the live ‘Frozen on Ice’ show hit town. I’ve been experiencing a bit of a groundhog day having to listen to ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?’ on repeat in a continuous loop all day as my little girls dance and twirl to the music. To give my ears a break one morning, I set up a ‘make your own snowman’ activity for morning tea with bananas, carrots and other bits.

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Apple & Banana Cars
Tiny Teddies are one of the staple go-to snacks in our pantry. Nathan had discovered a serving suggestion for the teddies using chocolate bikkies and lollies to make mini cars for the teddies. I came up with a healthier version using apples and bananas (and saved myself from the sugar high).

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Sponge Loose Parts
A new addition to our loose parts collection are these colourful sponges. I had cut them into various shapes and sizes. Apart from being used as play sponges for pretend cleaning, they’ve been used as pretend cakes and food, stacking as soft building blocks, arranging together as puzzle pieces, and tiny beds for small toys. I bought two packs at two dollars each and they’ve squeezed out every cents worth and more.

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If you enjoyed this post, you can check out  last month’s roundup of activities and more of my other play and learning ideas. Stay tuned for next month’s roundup!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

More on what I’ve been reading (and listening to)

Since my last ‘what I’ve been reading’ post, a few people have remarked that my choice in books seemed rather morbid. It was nice to spark some conversation on good reads so I thought I’d share more on what’s been on my reading list. I’ve also started getting into podcasts and audiobooks as well, which I find to be a good ‘pick-me-up’ morning routine, listening to a good book while I brush my teeth.


Australian History in 7 Questions
by John HirstTitle details for Australian History in 7 Questions by John Hirst - Available

(Simple, straightforward, and to the point. Not having studied in high school here in Australia, I found this a good book to tie some of the bits and pieces of general knowledge I knew of Australian history together)


The Charisma Myth
Mastering the Art of Personal Magnetism
by Olivia Fox Cabane
Title details for The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane - Available
(This was a typical ‘self help’ type book which laid out very practical tips for ‘mastering the art of personal magnetism’ as the author puts it. Which essentially was about leadership. Some of the chapters seem almost lifted out of Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. Still it was interesting to get a different perspective on how to approach this particular ‘art’).


The Memory Code
The traditional Aboriginal memory technique that unlocks the secrets of
Stonehenge, Easter Island and ancient monuments the world over
by Lynne Kelly 
Title details for The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly - Available
(This big reveal of this book was somewhat anticlimactic for me. I was hoping for some mindblowing insight into the secrets behind Stonehenge, Easter Island etc. But the key topic was essentially all about the link between Indigenous song patterns and physical landmarks as visual cues. I admit that is an interesting key on it’s own. However the various points in the book do not vary far from that one key. So the chapters became somewhat repetitive for me).


Zealot
The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
by Reza Aslan
Title details for Zealot by Reza Aslan - Wait list
(My mind was so blown away by this book that I decided to re-read ‘Zealot’ by Reza Aslan. Particularly the chapters that expanded on the divergence of the apostle Paul’s preaching on the Jesus cult during that period from the original mother church led by James, Peter and John)


Growing Up Godless
A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Without Religion
by Deborah Mitchell
Title details for Growing Up Godless by Deborah Mitchell - Available
(Does this reading choice seem too heretical? I suppose I just like to throw the boundaries wide open. I can judge for myself which points to keep and which to discard. The book reads like collection of personal reflections and essays. I took away a few interesting perspectives to ponder over).


The Crumbs Family Cookbook
150 really quick and very easy recipes
by Claire McDonald
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(Every now and then I need to find a good, solid cookbook to refresh my menu ideas. The ‘Hipster Chilli’ recipe alone makes the entire book worthwhile. Most of the recipes in the book can be prepared within 30 minutes. And even if it takes longer, it would usually involve a ‘leave it to simmer on the stove’. And it has lots of fun ideas for cooking with kids too).


For audiobooks, I’ve been using Borrowbox to access my local library’s collection of eAudiobooks. I especially enjoyed listening to Dan Stevens’ narration of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I must confess that Dan Stevens’ deep, soothing voice was the initial reason I started listening to this old classic. But he has certainly open the doors to the wide array of audiobooks available through this app.


Since the last podcast series I listened to, I haven’t found another one as gripping or addictive. But this one definitely makes the cut: The History of English Podcast. It’s more than just a history of the English language… it’s almost a series on the history of the entire world. The episodes are sometimes a bit repetitive on certain points and topics, but I find that okay as it makes it ideal for listening while you’re on the go. I highly recommend it. Here is the link to the first episode.


And just as a fun little postscript, my music playlist lately has been filled with Latino sounds of David Bisbal and Juanes, which is largely due to my recent guilty pleasure series, ‘Jane The Virgin’.

This is my current favourite song from my favourite scene in the series…


So what good stuff have you been reading, watching or listening to lately?