Monthly Archives: February 2015

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Cool Stuff Vol. 2: Issue 4

Came across this great little post on How We Montessori about encouraging independence in self care with toddlers. I would only add that what your child is capable of and wants to do is really dependent on them, however these tips and tricks will really encourage them to take . I’ve used How We Montessori as a model for setting up several areas in our house that encourage Cam to be independent and in charge of certain things. 

I really liked this post on Happiness Is Here that talks about arbitrary punishment versus natural consequences. As the saying goes, the punishment should fit the crime. I think the lesson children learn from natural consequences are far more powerful and effective in helping children become successful adults than yelling, guilting or taking away privileges (unless they are connected to the wrong doing). I also think it takes the parent’s ego out of the equation and there are fewer possibilities for power struggles. 

Finally, this is a really different sort of post from one of my library-related blogs I follow: In Defense of Gentle Men It’s a piece that takes a look at the book The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee, which came out last year, and uses it to defend men who don’t fit the gender stereotype of “masculine man”. Give it a read really quickly and come back to my thoughts on it if you like, which are as follows:

I totally agree with this and think there is a trend to apply adult thinking to childlike situations. I also think this problem, the problem of the book seeming “creepy” to some people for the older, gentle man caring for a child, ties into a couple other societal trends that are not healthy or right. The first is over-sexualizing girls clothes. I think there is a problem with girls clothes, they are often too adult too young and restrict movement and emphasize looks over practicality, but I think we also need to realize that by seeing them as sexy we are looking at something that is inherently neutral (clothing) and applying our own adult thoughts and experiences to it. The clothes aren’t sexy, especially when on a little girl, because little girls aren’t sexy. BUT when you have been taught by society that short shorts and tighter fitting clothing is sexy it’s hard to not see girls clothes and apply that idea. The second trend is one of scare tactics. We as a society have never been safer, but we are more afraid, especially when it comes to our children. I think there is great value in teaching children to be cautious, but I don’t think that should get in the way of allowing them some freedom and allowing them to learn from situations. We don’t need to use books like The Farmer and the Clown to teach kids that all men (or people in general) if they are by themselves mean you harm (of whatever kind). There are bad people out there, but by and large they are few and far between. There are genuinely good people who would help out a child in difficult or dire situation without wishing to harm them. I would rather teach my daughter to recognize both those types of people for herself than paint everyone with a broad and scary brush. 

The Diverse Bookshelf: Draw! by Raul Colon

Draw!Draw! illustrated by Raul Colon

Here is the review I wrote on my library  blog: 

I had a really emotional reaction to this book. It is such an incredible story and told entirely without words. It reminds me of some of the best visual storytelling you see in movies (the opening credits of Watchmenand the tear-jerker montage in Up to name two) which is not easy to do well.

While in his room a young boy, possibly Colon, sits on his bed reading a book. The mood strikes him and he picks up his sketch pad. As you leave the world of his bedroom for the African continent the art style changes and the new style, a more lush, layered and colorful style, comes into view through a series of panels that grow in size indicating how they slowly fill the room and the boy’s mind. The effect is done in reverse when the boy returns from his adventure. In the fantasy you see small details included from the room. The backpack of bread slowly empties as the boy shares it with the creatures he meets. He wears the same clothes. It becomes apparent that the elephant is his guide through the savannah. It’s these subtle details that really make the story effective and more complex and therefore interesting.

The story, while about a boy drawing, is really about how art can transport you. And not just drawing but books as well. It’s the book the boy was reading that inspired him to pick up paper and visually represent what he had been reading. I think this book is great for quietly perusing, but is also a great inspriration for kids who love to draw, paint, and create. It would also be a good discussion starter for classes learning about art and inspiration. I know a lot of parents think picture books are for young children, but this book would be wonderful for any age as the story is so timeless and universal.

I want to address that last part of my review. Don’t discount wordless books (or picture books) for any age! They are great for learning visual literacy. They are great for storytelling. I love to ask Cam to help me interpret the story when we look at these types of books together. They are great for looking at details without the distraction of an author telling you the story. They are also wonderful at allowing the reader to add their own spin, interpretation, and experiences to the story. Kids will read picture books at any age so long as you, as the adult, aren’t telling them they are for younger kids, which they often aren’t. I know this doesn’t apply to wordless books, but picture books often have higher reading levels than those chapter books so many parents push on their kids and they require the added visual literacy piece of interpreting and meshing the pictures with the story told in words. Draw! is such a beautiful book and can be enjoyed in your collection for years to come. 

Here’s a great little article on The Horn Book blogs that talks about using wordless picture books in the classroom which could just as easily be done in the home (there are no grand activities to accompany the books, just the books themselves). 

Handwork: Aso-Oke Weaving

I have not really made anything in the last month! I’m working on a little divided container that has a letter in each space and a tiny object whose name begins with that letter. Cam’s showed a bit of interest in letters so I’m working on drawing her attention to initial sounds. She listens, but isn’t overly enthralled so finishing the box hasn’t been at the top of my list. 

However, I came across this awesome blog post on one of the blogs I follow (Africa is a Country) and it most certainly has to do with handwork. The post, Tunde Owolabi brings Aso-Oke to the gallery, is an interview of an artist who became interested in the Yoruba tradition of Aso-Oke weaving. He studied the craft and the people who create the fabric in a village and area that specializes in making it. The interview is short but informative, but watch the video where one of the curators talks about the exhibition and the fabric. The clips of the men weaving the fabric are mesmerizing. You could definitely share the video with your kids.

One of the reasons I find this particularly fascinating is in discovering how much work goes into manufacturing it! Sure, this is a fancy cloth, but all cloth and clothes took that much work to make not that long ago. It kind of boggles the mind. 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 2 Issue 3

Just two links this week:

This first one is to Lee and Low Book’s February booklist. It includes tons of book titles for Black History Month, Rosa Parks’ birthday and more. All diverse title, too. 

Here’s a great post from Eltern Vom Mars, a German Montessori blog. They are working on initial sounds with their toddler and we’re starting to do that too. This post shows a sorting game that reinforces initial sounds and it quite clever. Note that the blog is in German so the sorting is not for English words, but German ones. 

Cam in the Kitchen: Graham Cracker Cake

 This cake has a long and storied history in my family which might make you think it has some top secret family recipe behind it. But it doesn’t. It was my grandfather’s favorite cake and we used to make it every year on his birthday. My grandmother made it for years and then passed the torch to me. The thing is, my grandmother swears up and down it turned out beautifully their first year of marriage- tall, light, airy -but never turned out the same way again. My grandfather corroborated that story, but also admitted he was surprised, because the cake his mother would make was a lot more dense. 

My grandmother spent years trying to recreate that first graham cracker cake, going so far as to contact Nabisco and try every available brand of graham cracker on the market. When she finally passed the recipe on to me, I turned to the internet. Now I always thought the denser cake was fine, if a little dry, but for my grandmother’s sake I kept trying to improve. I found a couple other recipes and have tried incorporating the different ratios and ingredients.

I am not usually a baker. I can do it, but I don’t especially enjoy it. I have,  however, discovered that it’s a great thing to do with Cam. It’s way less stressful than having her help make dinner (when it really counts and it’s late in the day). When we bake I like to get everything set up and pre-measured while she naps so that when she wakes up we just throw everything into the bowl.

A couple weeks ago would have been my grandfather’s 92nd birthday so I we made the cake as a little remembrance.  This year it turned out perfectly. Not light an airy the way my grandmother claims her first one did, but still good enough that it was gone in two days. A record in our house. My husband does not usually eat baked goods and even he went back for seconds. 

Graham Cracker Cake
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Ingredients
  1. 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  2. 1/2 cup butter, softened
  3. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  4. 2 eggs
  5. 1/3 cup flour
  6. 2/3 cup almond meal/almond flour
  7. 3 teaspoons baking powder
  8. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  9. 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  10. 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-inch layer cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together, beating until pale. Allow to sit for five minutes. Add vanilla, then eggs one by one.
  3. While letting butter and sugar mixture to sit, mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.
  4. Begin mixing the dry ingredient mixture into the butter-sugar mixture. Add it a little bit at a time.
  5. Once all the dry mixture is added, slowly add the milk.
  6. Pour into the prepared cake pans and place in oven. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before trying to remove them from the pan.
Atomic Bee Ranch http://atomicbeeranch.com/

For Your Bookshelf: Friendship

This year for Valentine’s Day I thought I would compile a list of our favorite books about friendship. There are a lot of different kinds of love and while Valentine’s Day tends to be about romantic love, I think kids click more with friendship. 

I tried my best to get books that have been tested extensively by my focus group (Cam) and that feature diversity either in their authorship or in the story. I have to admit Cam and I are naturally drawn to books featuring animals as the characters, but there are a couple in there with people too. Last year I posted my two all-time favorite Valentine’s Day books which you can see here. I still love them, but for the sake of keeping with diversity and in order not to repeat myself I did not include them here. 

Valentine's Books 1

Hooray for Hat written and illustrated by Brian Won

A sweet story about cheering up when you feel grumpy. The end twists when lion says he can’t feel happy when their friend giraffe feels bad, so all the animal friends come up with a way to make him feel better. 

Little Elliot, Big City written and illustrated by Mike Curato

I think this is a pretty deep story and the illustrations are stunning. On the surface, though, this is a story about finding a friend in a big city. One who is small like you and understands how hard it is to be small, but together you make a team.

Leonardo the Terrible Monster written and illustrated by Mo Willems

 Leonardo may be a terrible monster, but after scaring someone (finally!) the little boy begins to cry. Leonardo makes a decision to be a terrible monster, but a good friend. Mo Willems always turns out wonderful stories and this is no exception. 

Hug Me written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

A quirky friendship story. Felipe the tiny cactus lives with a prickly family. All he really wants is a hug, but no one in his family understands that. After an incident with a balloon, Felipe sets out on his own, deciding he’s fine without friends or family. But one day he hears someone crying and when he finds a sad little rock, well, he knows just what to do. End papers begin with Feilpe’s austere and imposing family tree and end with snapshots of the two new friends, Felipe and Carnilla. 

Valentine's Books 2 The Other Side written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

From the award-winning Jacqueline Woodson, a subtle and beautiful story about friendship crossing racial boundaries. While the story of two girls meeting and striking up a simple friendship is quiet, the message is incredibly profound. I think the story is fine for all ages, but certainly with older children you can talk about the symbolism of the fence. 

One Love written by Cedella Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Newton

A beautiful little book that celebrates community. Neighbors comes together to build a community garden. The words are adapted lyrics from Bob Marley’s song “One Love”.

Best Friends for Frances written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

I adore Frances. She operates with perfect kid-logic and this story showcases that beautifully. Albert has excluded her from some of his games so Frances decides she’ll exclude him and she and her sister Gloria set out to have a picnic. Albert gets wind of the picnic hamper and wants to come along. Frances decides to let him join in, because things are always more fun with friends. 

The Lion and the Bird written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc

This is one of my all-time favorites. It’s nearly wordless, but has the most wonderful illustrations that convey a range of emotions. When Bird is hurt, Lion takes her in for the winter. The two become fast friends, but when spring returns Bird wants to return to her flock. Lion lets her go, but is still sad. Fall brings Bird back to Lion and they enjoy another winter together. It’s such a gentle story, but it’s incredibly powerful with themes of the power of the friendship bond. 

Activity in the Hive: Sand Play

Around Christmastime we found kinetic sand on sale for really cheap at the craft store. We bought two boxes and put them on a tray for Cam, but it was so popular that we bought several more and a medium sized bin to contain it all. It’s been incredibly popular ever since and inspired Cam to ask if we could play in her outdoor sand pit, which we were able to do this past week because the weather warmed up a bit. I see a lot of small world play around the blogosphere, which is small scenes set up, usually in some sort of medium- penguins and packing peanuts, fairies and a flower pot filled with dirt, etc. Cam is not quite to the point where she wants to play in that way, but she is happy putting toys into the sand to push around, fill, and bury.

Why This Activity

Playing with sand is an awesome way for kids to get sensory feedback. They’re using their hands to manipulate it. They dip their hands and feet and bodies into large sandpits. They squish and pat and knead and form and break and stomp…there is so much to do in sand. And a lot of it’s physical. The kinetic sand box is a bit like an older version of those sensory boxes of rice they played with when they were babies. They’re engaging their sense of touch, but also working fine and gross motor muscles too. 

Plus, you know all those Montessori scooping and pouring activities? Cam could not care less about a couple pitchers on a tray. I tried to put some of those together and she was so uninterested she wouldn’t finish watching the presentation. She’s happy enough, and capable enough, to pour herself a glass of lemonade, so if there’s purpose to it she will be do it. In the sand, she gets to practice all those things. She scoops and pours with a variety of implements and vessels. To her there is purpose there. 

Books

Dreaming UpDreaming Up: A Celebration of Building written & illustrated by Christy Hale

I talked about this book last week in the Diverse Bookshelf. It’s a great collection of poems that show kids using building toys (from sand to sticks to sofa cushions) and pairs them with famous buildings. A lot of sand play, especially outdoor sand play, can involve creating sand castles and the like so a book that shows real buildings and shapes and emphasizes the form of architecture can be excellent inspiration. 

Diggers goDiggers Go written & illustrated by Steve Light

A book of sounds. This is a really fun one to read aloud, but it also is great to pair with a sand bin that has little cars and construction equipment models in it. The current favorite in our house is the wrecking ball. 

 

Indoor

Inside we have the kinetic sand in a clear plastic tub with several types of toys:

Kinetic sand: If you haven’t seen this stuff yet check it out. It’s sand that’s been combined with a binder that allows it to be lumped together, but still maintain the properties of sand. The best part for me is that it doesn’t dry your hands out and isn’t dusty. It’s definitely expensive, but craft stores often sell it and keep your eye out for coupons in the paper or the mail. Our local Michael’s carries it and we routinely get 40%-off-one-item coupons.

Plastic tub: I just bought something at Home Depot. The size will depend on how much sand you have and how much space you want to give your child. You can also choose different depths. I chose something fairly compact and deep so that it wouldn’t take up too much space and the sides help keep the sand in. We originally started with a tray, but a lot was ending up on the floor. 

Toys: We have these toy trucks in our bin, because Cam loves construction equipment. They’re really inexpensive and surprisingly durable. I also threw in some old kitchen molds. The things you would use to make tiny jell-os or panna cotta. You could also try spoons, measuring cups, and ice cube trays. The molds are to make shapes and mounds in the sand. If you have Play-doh molds and tools you can also use those because of the properties of kinetic sand. Or go for little animal figurines.  

Outdoor

Our outdoor sand pit is pretty good sized, but a small one would have made Cam just as happy. Beware, neighborhood cats may find that they like your sand pit too, as well as slugs and snails. Invest in a cover of some sort!

Sand pit: There are a couple options here. We built a wooden frame and filled it with sand. It’s connected to our gravel pit and our bark pit that has the swing set. There are also large plastic pits (shaped like crabs and turtles) that are made to be sand pits. Large toy stores usually carry them and certainly Amazon has them. 

Sand toys: We usually pick one or two up a year in the dollar bin at Target. The set I’ve linked to here is on Amazon and is very inexpensive. What you want are several different sizes of shovels and scoops. Some buckets, also various sizes. A sieve is awesome and a tower with a funnel and wheels is also cool. Alternatively you could use things from your kitchen- measuring spoons and cups, bowls, serving spoons, funnels, etc.

Tonka Trucks: We were both incredibly fortunate and incredibly unfortunate. My husband’s grandmother saved all his toys. All of them. This made going through and cleaning our house difficult, but we have a lot of great toys for Cam that we didn’t have to buy. We still have all of his old toy trucks, including the old steel dump trucks. I know they are a bit expensive new, but they are awesome and since they are metal, if you protect them from moisture (i.e. bring them in in the winter) they should last indefinitely. Ours are over 30 years old and still going strong. Cam loves to fill them with a shovel, drive them across the sand box, and dump them making hills and valleys. 

Water: In the warmer months, this is a must. If you buy one of those plastic sand pits, station it near a hose or hose bib if possible. If you build one, consider placing it near water. We weren’t able to, but we fill buckets and walk them over. Cam doesn’t seem to care. Wet sand is a whole new experience and it allows you to clump the sand into castles and hills.