Our First Advent Calendar: 24 Days of Yuletide Fun

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After days of trolling Pintrest for Advent Calendar ideas, followed by more days of collecting materials and a very late night setting up, our first family advent calendar is up and creating christmas magic.

Instead of 24 Days of candy (and candy crazed kids) I opted for 24  of activities (with some candy here and there).

The whole kit and caboodle cost $100 including all materials, gifts, and activities (could be cheaper if you already have supplies).
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Materials:
Gift bags
String
Command Strip Hooks
Clothespins
Tags numbered 1-25 (25 if you want to include your xmas tree for the big day)
24 cheap craft items, books, gifts, and treats

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“Hands On” Learning Tip

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The boys will take this morning’s homeschool lesson with them all day-on their hands. Simply writing or drawing on your kiddo can be a handy way to help them remember a new concept. Plus, it’s super versatile!

After discussing Maxwell’s sight word of the day “and” I wrote it on his hand and told him every time he found and showed me the word I’d give him a high five on his and hand.

For little brother, he got his shape of the day-triangle.

Other ideas for “hands on” learning:
1. Left vs right
2. Letter of the day
3. Number of the day
4. Color
5. Shape
6. Sight word
7. Vocabulary

Classroom in the Kitchen: Making Edible Legs

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We’ve been learning all about the body; our most recent topic has been muscles and bones. It’s hard for kids to understand that there are things inside of them since they can’t see it.  So, with the help of some simple ingredients we explored the most basic elements of the legs-bones, muscles, fat, and blood- in our kitchen, and ended the lesson with a tasty snack!

Materials:
Premade pizza dough (skin)
Marinara (blood)
Mozzarella cheese stick (bone)
Shredded cheddar cheese (fat)

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Objective: (for 3-5 year olds)
Child will be able to identify skin, fat, bone, and blood.
Child will be able to briefly explain the function of:
Skin-helps us feel
Blood-sends oxygen and nutrients around our body
Bone-helps us stand up and makes blood
Muscles-helps us move

A note on objectives: these are variations on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and are likely very similar to objectives for prek in most states. The expectation is not that the child will master the objective after just one lesson, but rather that they are simply working towards mastery over time

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“Grow Your Own” Graphing Activity: Our Spooky Skeleton Graph

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A $1 grow your own skeleton, our October Body Unit, some chart paper, and a couple of makers made for a weeks worth of morning math and science learning. Oh, and a magical end of week skeleton surprise.

Graphing of one kind or another is a common fixture of the circle time routine in many preschool classrooms. Our three person classroom had been graphing the weather, but a wild little brother put an end to that by ripping down as many posters as he could before I could stop him. Instead of mourning our lost weather chart I took the opportunity to explore the other ways I could integrate math and scienc.

Materials:
A “grow your own” toy– You know, the things you put in water and they grow. We used a skeleton, but you could just as easily use an animal, person, or whatever. Wish We’d Bought One of These Bigger Ones
A large bowl of water in a place the kids can’t easily get to and mess with in between measurements
Chart paper
Markers

Objective:
Child will be able identify and name basic body parts (head, neck, ribs, arms, legs, skull, hips, legs, feet)
Child will be able to recognize and record change over time
Child will compare objects by size
Child will be able to make logical predictions

A note on objectives: these are variations on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and are likely very similar to objectives for prek in most states. The expectation is not that the child will master the objective after just one lesson, but rather that they are simply working towards mastery over time

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Monster Eggs: Seasonal Fine Motor Activity

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We’ve been learning all about our body this October. These silly little monster egg faces were a great way to bring the fun of Halloween together with our months theme. Plus, peeling the eggs was an accidentally awesome fine motor skill for the boys. We may have lost half of the eggs in the process, but they really worked those tiny finger muscles.

If you can make hard boiled eggs you can make these monster eggs.
Just hard boil some eggs, lightly tap eggs to create cracks all over, and then soak in dyed water for at least a couple of hours. Peel and voila, you’ve got monster/dragon/dinosaur eggs.

If you’ve got some Mr. Potato head pieces you can then make the little faces too!

The Mud-Don’t-Scare-Me Mom Tribe

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My youngest son is 21 months old and is able to find a mud puddle in a dry park the same way I’m able to find a Starbucks in a new mall. Today was no exception, but instead of throwing my day into chaos, the mudpocolyps was managed with humor, a garden hose and the help of two great ladies.

Since moving nine months ago I’ve been trying to find like-minded moms of children the same general age and temperament of my boys. This proved to be much more difficult than I had anticipated, but after joining countless area mom groups and trolling the neighborhood parks I am finally beginning to feel like I’m finding my niche. I’ve been meeting up with a couple of moms regularly for a few months now and today it was clear that we are all part of the same tribe- the mud-don’t-scare-me tribe. Finding your Mom Tribe is kind of a big deal-especially when your children are covered in mud at a park.

So, when my curly headed cutie began to splash in the mud with the joy and thoroughness of a hippopotamus at a safari day spa, these ladies didn’t cast me an “I can not believe she’s letting him do that” look.  Instead, they laughed along with me. Then when my 3 year old became so engrossed in play with their children that he had a potty accident I felt no fear of judgement when I sighed and said to him, “alright, take off your pants and join your brother if you want.”

This moment was the toddler exemplification of the phrase “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

While I was overseeing this bacchanal of mud, one of the moms found a garden hose and the other mom found the spicket. It is this kind of practical, judgement free, and resourceful problem solving that defines members of the mud-don’t-scare-me tribe.

Within 10 minutes both boys where hosed down and I was more than ready to fasten them securely in our mud puddle free car. While I was driving my half naked boys home I was grateful that instead of crying from the stress of the seemingly impossible task of managing them I was laughing at the memory of their gleefully mud-spattered faces and counting my lucky stars that there are other moms out there who aren’t afraid of a little mud.

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Being Your Child’s First Teacher: 3 Practices That Will Help You Raise Lifelong Learners

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Being your child’s first teacher is less about doing specific educational activities a few times a day than it is about transforming your every day tasks into learning experiences.

Imagine that you’re time with your children is one big ongoing field trip.

Prior to staying home full time with my one and three year old boys I taught preschool and then middle school. Parents always asked me what they could do to help their young children succeed in school. Now that I have kids of my own, I understand why parents wanted suggestions beyond completing homework, reading nightly, and taking an active interest in their children’s learning. School is some kind of alchemical institution that transforms young minds into golden vessels of knowledge and skills, right? Whatever a mere parent could do to contribute must be special too, right? I’ve found myself asking these questions as well, since having children and still have to remind myself that they’re wrong in their very premise. Learning is not a series of magical lessons that add up to an educated child; learning is a way of looking at the world like every experience is an opportunity to deepen understanding and improve the way in which we act in that world. One of the greatest educational gifts we can give our children is to teach them to live like lifelong learners by exhibiting curiosity, modeling persistence, and celebrating creativity.

3 Simple Practices for Teaching Young Children
1. Narrate your life: You may feel crazy describing everything you do as you do it but doing this regularly will help build your child’s vocabulary unlike anything else-even if you don’t think they’re listening. “We’re going to buy 1,2,3,4 juicy red apples. I’m going up drop them into the brown bag. Ooh they smell so fresh. I bet they’re delicious!”

2. Think Out Loud: Teaching your child HOW to think is probably even more important than teaching them WHAT to think.”Ugh! This jar lid is stuck on tight! I can’t get it off. I won’t give up. I’ll need to try another way. Maybe heating the lid in hot water will help loosen the lid. Yes! It opened now that the metal is hotter.”

3. Ask Questions: Asking questions about what they see and what you’re doing is great for helping steer and enhance their observational skills. Go even deeper by asking questions back to them when they ask you a question and encourage experimentation. My son asks, “Why can’t I put my popsicle in the water? “. I respond, “Well, you can but the popsicle is cold and the water is warm. What do you think will happen?” Then I went and got another popsicle to avoid another meltdown.

Internalizing these practices and making them habit expands the time and geography of a child’s learning from inside a classroom for a limited amount of time, to the world at large for their entire life.