Thursday, December 13, 2018

Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians Preschool Lesson

Mmkay, the title already sounds like a doozy, right? I hosted preschool this week, and the topics assigned to me on the master calendar were insects, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Sheesh! That's a lot to cover in two days (fish and birds carry over into next week.) I happily reused my Very Quiet Cricket Lesson from last year (after consulting with SourPatch to see which parts I should change. He said the whole thing was great. He's such an endearing kid...) I added a more comprehensive introduction to insects and had them label a cricket in lieu of the salt painting, but otherwise, it was pretty much the same, butterfly snacks and all.

After reviewing our Letter and Number of the Week (J & 11) and doing circle time (welcome song, calendar, weather, etc.), I asked the kids to feel down their back for their backbone. I explained that many creatures, like the insects we discussed last time, have no backbone (or bones at all!) I showed them pictures of a medley of invertebrates and had them name them. I then said that animals with backbones are divided into different groups, and we were going to discuss three of them today. First the mammals:

Admittedly, this section was the hardest for me. I think it's because mammals can seem more diverse than some of the other groups, and my time was limited. I did find a few books that make great introductions to the characteristics of mammals (forgot to picture Is a Camel a Mammal?; it's also a winner.) In the end, I just had time to read About Mammals by Cathryn Sill.

I wanted something large motor for our activity, so we played "mammal charades." I had several of SourPatch's toys in a sack, let each child take turns taking one out where no one else could see and then acting it out for the rest of the children (sounds allowed, but no talking.) After they correctly identified the animal, we set it up front and discussed the mammal characteristics it has.

Since they were still full of the wiggles, I put on Hop Little Bunnies. Now, this is Gumdrop's favorite song, and he is 2 to 3 years younger than these kids. I was worried they'd think it was lame to hop like bunnies. Not so--apparently this song transcends age and was a blast.

Next, we introduced reptiles with Miles and Miles of Reptiles. It's a long one, but they were attentive. We felt due for a song, so we watched this video of I'm Getting Eaten by a Boa Constrictor two (and then three) times to learn the words and sing along.

We then watched some Planet Earth: Jungles (it's currently on Netflix; I haven't checked to see if clips are available on YouTube.) These kids were mesmerized by Planet Earth; they could have watched it all day. Specifically, we put on the clip of the Draco lizard roughly from minute 8:40 until 11:50. When the lizard leaped into the air, spread its skin flaps, and soared away in a daring escape, the kids "ahh'd." Adorable.

Next we read Blake the Snake, an endearing if not very educational snake book. It segued into my idea to have the kids trace J's and 11's in glue and then, like Blake in the story, have their yarn "snake" make the letter and number. We also utilized our time at the table to do this simple (and free) mammal/reptile sorting page to see if they understood the difference. I'd say half the kiddos could actually do it on their own, but it was a good review for everyone anyway. This is a good age to practice using glue sticks, too.

What was our snack? We had "snakes" in the dirt: chocolate pudding topped with crushed Oreos and a few gummy snakes (okay, they were worms, but the kids went with it.)

Did you know almost 90% of amphibians are frogs (toad are frogs, come to find out.) That's what wikipedia says, anyways. Go figure; I couldn't think of any amphibians but frogs and salamanders. There's also a creepy creature called a caecilian that looks like a slimy snake. That's about all there is, folks.

Luckily, I love frogs (and salamanders! Jury is out on the caecilian...) I used the beginning of this video as an introduction with some hesitation; it makes some generalizations that aren't 100% true about all amphibians. Still, it was an efficient sum-up, and then I again turned back to Planet Earth and the jungle at minute 29:55ish to 35:24. There's this tiny, see-through frog that bravely guards his eggs from wasps. I did skip over the middle where the wasp eats some of the eggs (these are sensitive kids) but absolutely showed the part where the dad frog fends off the next batch of wasps with his kicks. Atta frog! Again, the kids couldn't look away (and begged for more.)

No time for more! Actually, we were running out of time. We didn't get to sing 5 Little Speckled Frogs or watch Caribbean Amphibian, nor did we hope across the living room on felt lily pads. We didn't read any of these great books, either:

Instead, we had time to do our salamander scratch art. After showing photos of how beautiful and colorful salamanders can be, we returned to the table to make some of our own. Do you remember doing scratch art in school? I do, and I remembered it was amazing. Turns out, it still is. My original plan was to DIY the paper with crayons and black paint. After practicing beforehand with SourPatch, the result was lackluster, so I caved and bought this paper instead. It came with four wooden styluses, and I made a few more out of kabob skewers for the rest of the children. I had preciously scratched out the outline of a salamander for each child, but they could then decorate it and the paper as they chose. I was thrilled that they really seemed to love scratching off the black surface to find bright colors beneath.

That's it! It's always a little hard to tell how much the kids absorbed, but when one mom picking up her son asked what he learned today, he enthusiastically said, "A lot!" Right you are; that was a lot of information, and I'm glad you'll take some of it with you.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Human Body Preschool Lesson

I love autumn! I love the colorful leaves and crisp air; I love the pumpkins on porches (and in my bread!) It's also refreshing to get a second "new year" feeling so many months after January first. After all, school is starting, including my third (THIRD?) round of mom-preschool with SourPatch. We keep doubling in numbers; we've gone from two kids to four kids to seven kids. Feeling daunted but determined, I did my first week of preschool at our home last week, and I feel like it was a success.

So we've done an alphabet theme and a literature theme preschool; now we have a "all-sorts-of-topics-under-the-sun" preschool, coupled with a letter and number of the week. Deep breath. Fortunately, my topic for Tuesday was the human body, and boy howdy, I have a passion for it. The human body is incredible; now to just show these children how incredible! 

To try to tap into the "imagination mode", we based out preschool on the "Inside Your Outside" book, a doctor-Seussish journey through the human body. Therefore, I passed out tickets and required the kids to climb through our magical "machine" before we began.

Once through our "machine," we followed along in the book and started with our brain. After reading about the left and right sides of our brain, worked on some fine motor skills with our letter and number of the week. We practiced writing the letter "C" and number "4" to exercise our left brain, then colored a picture to exercise our right brain. I love the letters of all sizes that the Measured Mom puts on her blog (for free!) There are lots of great coloring pages such as this free download from The number four page I accessed through SourPatch's participation in Waterford's upstart program (which we love.)

Brain duly covered, we moved on to the skeleton. Our boys are transfixed by this Dem Bones book, and the preschool loved this semi-dancing video to go along with it. We also sang Hinges after discussing joints.

Since another mother is covering the Five Senses in an upcoming lesson, we moved on to the muscles. An active, large-motor activity here seemed like a must. Ergo, I made a giant, active animal dice (die, but that sounds weird, right?) and let each child have a turn rolling it. All of the kids then used their muscles to imitate the animal; they crawled like crabs, waddled like penguins, flew like birds, hopped like kangaroos... you get the picture.

For the heart section, I pulled out my stethoscope (helps to be a nurse here...) and let them listen to their own hearts beating. One or two weren't terribly impressed, but most got a magical look on their face. They were listening to their very own hearts pumping their blood. I'm glad they caught the wonder of it. The heart is incredible, after all. I also tried to get them to take a quick listen to their lungs while they were at it.

We read through the digestion/urinary part and then were about to wrap up with my grand sticker finale, when I noticed the liver was overlooked. Though I tried to let it go,  I couldn't; the liver is so fascinating and important. However, after finding some really informational videos clearly aimed at adults... I showed them this very, very obnoxious liver video for children. Still not sure if I made the right choice, but they were attentive...

So, to wrap up, I bought (what I consider) to be an extremely cool sticker set of organs in the body from Oriental Trading Company (on a free shipping day, naturally). I knew it might be a lot for preschoolers; I'd toyed with the idea of adding stickers as we talked about each part but quickly abandoned it as preschool kept rolling.Yes, the kids were excited for the stickers. I put up a completed sticker chart for them to copy and then tried to talk them from head-to-toe on how to assemble it. I'd say a third of them ignored me and went right to placing stickers everywhere and anywhere on the torso, a third sort-of-followed along, getting organs in roughly the right spot. The last third were meticulous; it was adorable to watch them carefully, carefully put each sticker in just the right spot.

Probably the most popular body activity we did was this one inspired from this blog's All About Me snack idea: body pizzas. Using a cookie cutter, I punched people shapes out of tortillas to represent skin. Next, I spooned sauce onto each of their "crusts" for them to spread out while we discussed what our blood does. Shredded cheese represented bones followed by pepperoni as muscles. The kids really seemed to enjoying making (and eating!) them.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Footboard/Headboard Bench

It's garage sale time of year again! And that means it's a perfect time to find just the right bed to repurpose into a designer bench. I lucked out last fall when a neighbor put a twin size bed out on the curb with a "free" sign attached. I ran home, grabbed the truck, and nabbed it. (I brought home the entire bed hoping that I would be able to use the slats in the construction, but they were too short, so I had to purchase additional boards at the hardware store.) I have to admit that the headboard/footboard sat on our back porch for several months--the holidays and cold weather slowed me down a bit--but when the spring weather brought warmer days, I finally got to it.

There are a lot of great online sites with step by step instructions for how to benchify your bed, but I used this one from Addicted2Decorating. The directions were clear and easy to follow.

The only thing that I did differently was to use narrower boards for the seat. I chose to do that because I thought it would look better, but I realized the first time I sat on it that I had made a mistake. I had forgotten that narrower would also mean less sturdy, and the boards sagged when anyone sat on them. So I ended up gluing and screwing a brace under the seat for added strength. You can see it between the seat boards and the front apron:

It was a fun and relatively easy project, one that I would love to do again--perhaps with a larger bed. This bench is love-seat size. The problem is. . . . where will I put all these benches?

Friday, April 20, 2018

DIY Tulip Wreath

Apparently I'm into wreaths? I remember each holiday in my childhood, mom would lug a giant rubbermaid box of decorations out of the garage, and we'd bedeck the house. In hindsight, I suspect our decorations were probably a mix of garish-and-cheap next to expensive-and-broken items: White ghosts (stuffed with plastic grocery bags) hanging from the trees out front for Halloween, real pumpkins stabbed with wooden feathers to resemble turkeys at Thanksgiving, or intricate little Christmas nutcrackers with delicate hats, hands, or heads that were super-glued back on after careless children broke them.

Sorry we broke all your stuff, mom (and continue to break; who killed off another wise man from your nativity set last Christmas? It wasn't me this time.) That's not the point, though; the point is that I remember loving the process of decorating our house. However, I'm four years a mother, and I don't really have much of a stash of seasonal decor myself to spread the joy to my children. The one thing I'm slowly accumulating is a small supply of wreaths.

Perhaps it's because my first DIY autumn wreath was (is) so awesome. I really liked how it turned out, and the process was a fun experiment.

Then the Christmas edition came around the next year:

However, pine cones don't really say "spring," do they? I did the unthinkable a bought an Easter wreath on sale at Smith's, but Easter came and went so quickly.  I eyed my barren door last week and knew it was time for something happy, springy, and floral. Thus, to my Pinterest board I went, and I pulled up this lovely tulip wreath tutorial from The How-To Mom. "Laurel," you say, "your wreath doesn't look as great as hers." I know, I know. It's either a product of skill or a Michael's vs. Dollar Tree effect. I do love her two-toned effect, but the dollar store only had pink and pink-with-a-little-bit-of-white varieties. Not much contrast, I'm afraid. Nonetheless, I am super pleased with how it turned out.

I bought the tulip stems and ribbon from Dollar Tree. Fact: I can't remember how many bunches I bought (not enough the first time; I had to go back for more.) My best guess is 12 bunches with 4 or 5 tulips a bunch. I used one spool of 3 inch x 3 yard green burlap ribbon. It... almost reached. I knew it was going to be close, and had I overlapped it slightly less, I think I could have made it seamlessly around. The very last section (where I put the loop to hang it) has a loop of brown burlap that I hope is hidden by the flowers.😊

Since the Dollar Tree only had 9 inch foam wreath forms, I opted for a Walmart one for around $4. I chose the 12 inch (though the original tutorial uses a 14 inch.) All around, that clocks in the price of this beauty at roughly $17 before tax. 

I love the simplicity of this tutorial. After clipping off the individual stems with pliers and securing my ribbon to the foam with hot glue, I wrapped. Just wrapped. No more gluing until securing the ribbon at the very end, no floral wire, pushpins, or eye screws... I loved making this wreath.

I tried to follow the pictures and suggestions from the original tutorial. It looked like she grouped 3 or 4 stems per wrap-around of ribbon, pushing the leaves towards the top so they won't get pinned under the ribbon. The end of the ring is tricky, but I found I could trim the stems slightly shorter and tuck the last flowers into the first loop of ribbon. I used hot glue to secure the end of the ribbon and glued on a loop for hanging.

Voila: spring.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"Big Dreams, Small Spaces" Texas Style

 I am not a fan of most reality TV. But I DO love the "Great British Baking Show," and I have recently discovered another British import that has a similar appeal for me. It's called "Big Dreams, Small Spaces," and it's about a gardening guru, Monte Don, who helps two individuals or families during each episode turn small yards into interesting or beautiful garden spaces. One of the things I love about it is that the participants do most of the work themselves; they don't hire professionals to come in to make the transformation happen. And often they work with a relatively small budget.

I have to admit that I am intrigued. Well, more than intrigued; I am motivated. So over the course of the summer, my plan is to take this small, ugly corner of our yard and transform it into a magical garden for our grandchildren, complete with structures, plantings, and decor. I want to involve them both in designing the space and in working to make it happen.

This really is a small space--only about 15 1/2 feet by 36 feet, but I feel like it has potential, and anything will be an improvement. Right now it is just sort of a graveyard for odds and ends. The only bright spot is the flower bed along the house wall which is just beginning to bloom:

Monte always has the homeowners draw up a plan, so the children and I have plotted out our design. I wish he were here to give us his input, but for now we will go with what we have got:

It may be hard to read, but it includes a narrow flower bed around the giant water tank, a small graveled seating area around an equally small raised fire bowl, a play house w/deck, and a child-size garden bench.

Budget? I'm just having to estimate here, but I'm hoping to pull if all off for under $400. The playhouse plans I have found have a cost of about $250, but I will need to build a deck under it because the ground slopes down to the fence, so that cost will be higher. Add in the cost of the fire feature, the bench, plants, gravel and mulch, and $400 may be too little. But that will be our target.

It's a little (very) scary to post about this as an on-going project because it could turn into a complete disaster. But putting it out there will also encourage me to really make it happen. And along the way I will share what I learn--what works and what doesn't. And if it turns out, maybe it will encourage you to dream big in a small way too.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Can you bake a cake in a KitchenAid mixing bowl?


End of blog post.

Except first, can we talk about internet forums or conversation threads or whatever it's called when someone asks a question and others can post answers? I appreciate such things; I find good tips and helpful answers to the problems that Google doesn't know how to solve. However, upon trying to figure out the above, I found some vague yeses, some "I Don't Knows" (why post at all to say you don't know? Unless you have a related, helpful suggestion?), and a lecture or two about treating the KitchenAid mixing bowl with care rather than hazarding its safety in an oven.

Whatever. The point is, SourPatch had a very specific request for his birthday cake: a chocolate, blue bird cake. A short perusal of Google images later, I found and fell in love with this cake. The artist uses 4 round cakes and shapes them to look like a dome. Then, there's also this very cute tutorial with a pair of round cakes and a dome cake on top.

Here's the rub: I'm trying to cut back on my sugar intake, and the big family party happens after Patch's birthday. For the day of, I just wanted one cake mix worth of cake for the family and a few friends. Further, even if I did want a behemoth of a cake, why not use a cake pan already in the intended shape? So I eyed my stainless steel mixing bowl and asked the internet if I could bake with it.

True, I have had lots of experience baking with the Wilton Wonder Mold Pan. My bestie in high school convinced me to go on a "Barbie Cake" baking run. The advantage this pan has over the KitchenAid bowl is a long, metal skewer running down the center to help it bake evenly. The disadvantage is has is that I don't own one any more.

However, I followed the same baking temperature and time suggested for the Wilton pan: 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Using a Devil's food recipe from the wonderful Cake Mix Doctor Book, I found that time perfect for my cake, even without the metal cylinder in the center. I also found it a little squatty. I know that I managed to cook two mixes at once for a tall Barbie cake, but alas I don't have any memory of how to adjust the time.

The moral is that the cake pan survived (325 is a pretty low baking temp, n'est pas?) and from all appearances returned unscathed from its adventure in the oven. Along with homemade buttercream frosting, I decorated with edible colored baking sheets my mom gifted me in lieu of the fondant (and marshmallows for the eyes.) The final result wasn't polished, but it was delicious!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Preschool Lesson: The Very Quiet Cricket

My husband and I are a little at odds regarding Eric Carle books. I think it's the simple text that fails to wow my sweetheart. However, I remember the childhood magic of opening a book and having it chirp, blink, or squeak at me. Marvelous.

So I was excited about our preschool based around The Very Quiet Cricket. Further, a cursory glance showed that there are many, many preschool lesson plans centered on bugs and insects. "This will be easy," I thought. Yet several days and perusals later, I was having a hard time pegging down my plan. Was it information overload? Did the ideas just not speak? All I know is that it was hard to sketch out a plan. Finally, I decided to let the book be my guide and to have one activity for each of the bugs Eric Carle includes in the story. It made for a fun preschool.

I almost forgot to mention Shoo Fly. I put the song Shoo Fly on repeat while the kids were arriving and had shakers available for them to jam along. SourPatch got so into singing this song, both at the beginning and end of preschool, and his enthusiasm was infectious; everyone got into this song.

Yet all good things must come to an end, so the music went off and we gathered in a circle. After a welcome song, weather song, and calendaring time, we read through The Very Quiet Cricket. After taking a moment to soak in the magic of the chirp on the last page, we talked about insects for a little bit, defining the important characteristics and discovering that crickets fit these parameters. We also put on insect hats. We needed to get our heads in the game, as it were.

We then did our "cricket activity." Okay, I don't know what the dealio is with paint, but this foursome of kids gets so excited about the very thought of painting. They're also an exuberant bunch, and painting is messy. Thus, I was excited to try "salt painting." Previous to preschool, I filled in the outline of a cricket (traced from the cover of the book) with Elmer's glue and covered it with salt. The children then used watered-down paint (very, very watered down paint) to paint the now dry crickets. It's an unusual activity, but the kids enjoyed it, and it gave us time to review what makes the cricket an insect while they colored the six legs, head, abdomen, thorax, antennae, and wings. So I'd call our first salt paint attempt a success.

Back to the book, we read about the locust and sang "Do as I'm Doing" spin style, just like the locust in the book.

Fact: I am now terrified of praying mantises. Not for myself, I suppose, but on principle. They are so, so scary. Did you know they've been known to eat mice, birds, or even turtles? TURTLES? Are you kidding me?!?! I digress, though; for the praying mantis, I showed the children the first two minutes of this video.

Next, the worm. After wiggling together like worms, the kids had to put this puzzle in order and practice using gluesticks to paste it to another page. I found this puzzle in an amazing free download from Royal Baloo. Love this site--she has a giant, creepy crawlies pack full of great activities for multiple age groups.

The spittlebug was a new one for me. Bugs that froth and blow bubbles? Cool. So we stepped out on the porch and blew a few bubbles of our own.

For the cicada, I turned yet again to youtube to let the children listen to a clip of noisy cicadas. I would have loved to show them the creepy exoskeletons I used to find all over the trees growing up...

We buzzed and flew like bees before chanting "Here is the Beehive but where are the Bees?" and doing a little fingerplay.

We did the next two insects back-to-back, as they both activities needing do-a-dot markers (or stickers, if you like). We whizzed like dragonflies and then completed this do-a-dot page from the aforementioned Royal Baloo pack (also the source for the mosquito page below.)

Ah, mosquitoes. Rather than go deep into what these pests do, we practiced sorting lower and uppercase m's in this do-a-dot page.

For the luna moth, we watched a video of its metamorphosis (after silently gliding around the room, of course.) Oh. My. Word. I know I should be used to caterpillars changing into moths or butterflies, but it's still crazy amazing to see. Here's the thing: I can't find the awesome video I showed the kids, and since my old computer sputtered and died, I can't search my history either. My annoyance is real. There are lots of online, time-lapse videos of metamorphosis for butterflies that show the same principle.

Ready for our snack, I arranged pretzels and fruit to look like a butterfly. A little extra effort on presentation goes a long way with these kiddos.

Apart from doing the individual insect activities, we talked briefly about loud and quiet, rounding it out with the "Two Little Blackbirds Sitting on a Cloud" fingerplay.

I loved the idea from to use a box of "Back to Nature" bug pasta (I found it at Target). Sourpatch and I sorted the bugs and dyed them different colors (I discuss how in this post). We then worked on our fine motor skills by threading them onto pipe cleaners like beads, making some bug bracelets. Loved it.

Another great hit was few rounds of Bug in the Rug (I made them put back on their insect hats for this one.) How does one play that, you ask? One of the children leaves the room. Another child hides under the "rug" (or blanket). When the first child returns we chant, "Bug in the rug, bug in the rug, who is that bug in the rug?" The child then has to remember who is missing from the group and correctly guess who is under the blanket. Not hard in a group of four, you point out? Too true, but the kids loved the game all the same.

All these fun activities left no time for other books, which is a pity, since Sourpatch and I read so many books about creepy crawlies leading up to preschool. Two of his favorites were Fly! by Karl Newsom Edwards and The Magic Schoolbus Inside a Beehive.

All in all, it was great fun all around. For me, especially.