An October Filled With Pumpkins, Pumpkins. Pumpkins!

It wouldn’t be fall without fun pumpkin activities, yummy pumpkin treats and a visit to the local pumpkin patch.

Roll a Pumpkin Game- This game is played like Cooties where you roll the die to build a pumpkin person. Everyone starts with a pumpkin body. With the youngest player going first you take turns rolling the die and building your pumpkin. The first player to build a pumpkin with a stem, eyes, nose, mouth, arms and legs is the winner!

Five Little Pumpkins- We enjoyed singing the classic song, “Five Little Pumpkins” and reading several different versions of the book. Using a fence and pumpkin play set found in my book Student Made Thematic Mini Books: With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy, my “Little Pumpkin” and I acted out the song and practiced our counting skills.

Pumpkin Bread- Nana helped us make yummy pumpkin bread. We added chocolate chips and enjoyed sharing our bread with others. Paired with Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend hot tea, pumpkin spiced coffee, or even pumpkin beer, it makes the perfect fall treat!

Jack-O-Faces Book- This is another fun rhyme found in my book Student Made Thematic Mini Books: With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy. We enjoyed coloring the book together and reading the fun rhyme about a pumpkin who shows us a variety of faces and emotions but ends up in a pumpkin pie! We acted out the story by making the faces along with the pumpkin. Lillian enjoyed looking at herself in the mirror as she made happy, sad, mad and sleepy faces.

Pumpkin Carving- Daddy helped Lillian carve a Jack-o-Lantern this year. Prior to creating her pumpkin, Lillian planned out her design on a large pumpkin shape. Daddy cut and we all helped clean out the “pumpkin guts,” making sure to save the seeds to roast later. We talked about how the pumpkin smelled, felt and looked. A great way to build vocabulary and to use the five senses.

Pumpkin BINGO- My dad helped me make this pumpkin themed BINGO game when I was teaching kindergarten. We dusted it off and played it at Lillian’s preschool Harvest Party and with our friends. One side has the letters of the alphabet, perfect for developing alphabetic knowledge. Flip the card over and you will find numbers, giving the BINGO players an opportunity to work on both letter and number identification. The children enjoyed using candy corn as cover ups and got to eat the candy corn at the end of the game.

Pumpkin Exploration- Lillian’s preschool teacher incorporated some wonderful pumpkin activities into center-time. An activity new to me was hammering golf tees into a pumpkin to work on fine motor skills. Pulling the golf tees out provided even more motor strength. They also did a pumpkin experiment where they tested a pumpkin to see if it floats or sinks. (It Floats!) Students worked on exploring the inside of a pumpkin, using tweezers to remove the seeds (another great fine motor activity), measured pumpkins, compared pumpkins and recorded their findings in their science journals.

Apples, Apples, Apples!.. Fun Filled Apple Activities For the Entire Family

Fall has arrived and keeping with tradition my husband and I recently took our little one apple picking. Going apple picking with my parents is one of the many joyous memories I have carried with me from my childhood. I first shared my joy of apple picking with my students when I was a kindergarten teacher. Every year we took a field trip to the apple orchard and the boys and girls would ride on a wagon, pick apples right off of the tree and taste various varieties growing in the orchard. Imagine their delight when the things we had been reading and learning about at school were now within their reach!

Below are some apple inspired activities I developed for my kindergarten classroom many, many, years ago. I recently dusted them off so I could share them with my three year old.

Apple Books- There are many high quality books about apples, apple picking and making yummy treats with apples! A few of our favorites include…

Apples by Gail Gibbons

Applesauce Day by: Lisa Amstutz

The Apples on the Tree by: Steve Metzger (our newest book from Lillian’s first Scholastic Book Order)

The Apple Pie Tree by: Zoe Hall (an all time favorite)

Apples and Pumpkins by: Anne Rockwell

The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by: Gail Gibbons

Ten Apples Up on Top by: Dr. Seuss

Ten Red Apples by: Pat Hutchins

Apples! Apples! Apples!- This mini book comes from the book I wrote called Student Made Thematic Mini Books- With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy. The book was published in 2000 by Incentive Publications. My daughter enjoyed coloring the book and reading it over and over to everyone, including her stuffed animals! Repetitive readings help develop early literacy success by increasing fluency and building confidence.

Please click on this link.. “Apples, Apples, Apples!” book to download the book and create one of your own. Prior to creating the book my daughter and I took an apple taste test where we tasted the red apples, green apples and yellow apples we had picked in the orchard. Lillian declared that red was her favorite and she added that to her book!

Apple Treats- My little one loves to bake so Nana came over and helped us make apple pie, mini apple muffins and apple pizza! We followed the recipe in the back of the book  titled The Apples on the Tree by Steve Metzger for the apple pie and enjoyed eating a slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

We used Nana Freeman’s adaptation of a Southern Living recipe for the apple muffins and made them into bite sized snacks by using mini muffin tins. Lillian enjoyed sharing the muffins with her teachers and friends.

Her favorite treat to make were the apple pizzas, an activity my kindergarten students always enjoyed. The recipe can be found in my book, Student Made Thematic Mini Books- With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy. I know the children in your life will love the apple pizza so please click on this link to download the easy to follow child friendly recipe.

Paper Strip Apple Project- Pops is a retired art teacher and this is a project he has been making with students for over fifty years! Pops used red, yellow and green construction paper and cut them in 1 inch x 9 inch strips for the apple. We began by taking two strips and making an X with them and putting a dot of glue or paste in the middle to hold it in place. Then we took a third strip and placed it through the X, creating a star or astrick shape and used a dot of glue to keep it in place. The last step involved matching the strips and gluing them into place. Lillian got lots of practice counting as we counted while pressing the glue into place after each step. We used a brown strip for the stem (1 inch by 4 inch) and cut the leaves out of a 3 x 3 square.

Apple Prints- After we enjoyed eating apples in muffins, pie and pizza, we cut some apples in half and made apple prints. We examined the inside of the apple, identifying the core and the seeds and experimented cutting the apple in half starting at the top and then cutting the apple through the center which reveals a star shape which you can see in the print! The dark paper makes a nice contrast with the bright red, green and yellow paint!

Our entire family enjoyed a month full of apple fun. From reading books, to visiting the apple orchard, to making yummy apple treats and being creative with apple art; we made new memories with activities we enjoyed in the past.

Perfectly Maggie Update… An Exciting Partnership

A few months ago I reviewed the book Perfectly Maggie a Sleepytime Story by Meg Macquire. Click here to read more about the book. The author generously offered to giveaway a Perfectly Maggie gift set to one of my readers! I am grateful to those who read and commented on the post and am happy to announce that Veronika Tait was randomly selected from all of the entries. Congratulations!

The winner, Veronika Tait, reading Perfectly Maggie to her daughter.

Veronika is the creator of the psychology and life blog SaltEmUpSisters.com. Her personal blog features research with a flair of storytelling, including topics on relationships, parenting, data-driven politics, and mental health.  It aims to foster human connection and ensures all readers that they belong. Veronika has a PhD in Social Psychology from Brigham Young University and is currently an adjunct professor at two Utah universities. As a mom of two she is very passionate about parenting and relationships. I encourage you to visit Veronika’s blog.

Lillian and I love reading about Maggie and her kindness!

Thank you for reading noteworthymommy! Your support means the world to me and is greatly appreciated! Please come back and visit noteworthymommy in a few days and read the fun we have been having with APPLES!

Happy Reading,

Jennifer Freeman Talley- The Noteworthy Mommy

Celebrating the First Day of School With “The Kissing Hand”

The first day of school signals new beginnings and kicks off a year filled with possibilities. And in every school across the United States floors shine with fresh wax and bulletin boards are adorned with bright colored construction paper. Nervous children dressed in new clothes enter sparkling classrooms stocked with sharpened pencils and crayons standing tall in boxes. They are warmly greeted by smiling teachers who anticipate a year overflowing with adventure and growth.

I love the beginning of the school year and I have experienced many first days of school. Some as a student, others as a teacher or educational consultant and now my first as a parent. Looking back most passed without any form of celebration. Some years I closed my eyes wishing they didn’t even happen. During the years we struggled with infertility part of me dreaded the back to school season. From August to September “first day of school” photos flooded Facebook and reminded me… photos of a smiling child holding a miniature chalkboard may never appear on my news feed. But we remained optimistic and God blessed us with our little Lillian and now we get to celebrate her first day of school, a day we have been preparing for since we began touring preschools in January.

img_9033Knowing the “first day of school” would be a huge transition for Lillian (and for her mommy) we began reading books during the summer about starting school to help ease any uncertainty. A few of our favorite read alouds include, “Llama Llama Misses Mamma” by Anna Dewdney, “The 12 Days of Preschool” by Jenna Lettice and “The Night Before Preschool” by Natasha Wing. Our favorite book is “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. I was first introduced to “The Kissing Hand” by my graduate school mentor, Dr. Suzie Nall, when she read it aloud in one of my classes in the late 1990’s. I will always remember the strong emotions the book evoked in me and I immediately made “The Kissing Hand” part of my back to school routine, reading it to my new kindergarten students and their parents during “meet the teacher night” that took place a few days before the first day of school. Imagine my delight when Lillian’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Stanglein, mentioned the book during her back to school parent night, encouraging us to read the book and offering up copies for caregivers to borrow.

This fabulous book that assists with separation anxiety is about a little raccoon named Chester who is afraid to go to school for the first time. Every year I choked up while reading the book. Tears streamed down my face when Mrs. Raccoon shared the “kissing hand” secret with her son. Mrs. Raccoon took Chester’s left hand and spread open his tiny fingers into a fan and kissed the middle of his palm. Chester felt his mothers kiss rush from his hand, up his arm and into his heart. It reminded him that… Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you!

The thought of parents leaving their children with me; trusting me to teach them and secretly hoping that I would love their little ones as much as they do still brings tears to my eyes. What a privilege it is to be an educator and to be partly responsible in molding young lives and shaping the future!

I saved “The Kissing Hand” for last, reading it to Lillian a few days before her first day of school. While I read, attempting to hold back tears, Lillian sat beside me taking in every word. A few hours later we said our goodbyes as I left for an overnight trip to train teachers across our state. Without prompting, Lillian took my hand, unfolded it and gently kissed the middle of my palm. She said she wanted to give me a “kissing hand” just like the one Chester gave his mommy. I in turn kissed her palm and then we both put our kissing hands up to our faces like Chester. At that very moment I knew my daughter was going to have a successful first day of school.

The day before Lillian had her first day of preschool my parents came over and Nana helped us make homemade “kissing hand” cookies. She even had hand and heart shaped cookie cutters in her cookie cutter collection! Nana is an excellent baker and Lillian and I were her assistants. Pops assisted with the decorating and Lillian was excited to share some of the cookies with her teacher, the teacher assistant and other administrators at her school. This is a fun back to school tradition I began when I was teaching (every year I made my students heart shaped sugar cookies) and I am excited to share the tradition with my little girl.

If you would like to make Nana Freeman’s delicious sugar cookies please click on this link for the recipe. Nana’s Sugar Cookie Recipe  Sugar cookies taste even yummier with buttercream frosting. Click on this link for her buttercream frosting recipe. Nana’s Buttercream Frosting recipe

Mrs Stanglein’s Purpose…Provide a preschool experience that starts children on the way to loving school and becoming good Christian citizens of God’s world.

This is the first of many “first days of school” for our family of three and I am happy to report there were no tears from Lillian or from her mommy! As a new preschool parent I am comforted to know we have found the perfect early childhood center for our family. Zion Lutheran’s Early Childhood Center is a place where play is valued and seen as the young child’s work. Through experimentation, The Project Approach and exploration, Lillian will learn about God’s world. When I first walked into Mrs. Stanglein’s classroom during a tour in January I cried because her classroom was warm and inviting. It felt like home as it reminded me of my own classroom. Her keen observational skills showed that she had perfected the art of “kid watching” and I knew I had found a teacher who believes every child has potential. I cried because in that instant I knew Mrs. Stanglein would nurture and care for Lillian and the other children in her class like they were her own.

Whether you are a parent sending your child off to school for the first time or you just packed the family mini van to take your baby to college, I wish you and your family blessings for a wonderful school year.

There’s a New Dog in Town…Perfectly Maggie “A Sleepytime Story”

My daughter loves dogs! She has dozens of stuffed pups and everyday one of them is either celebrating a birthday or is sick and needs to visit the doctor. Her favorite dramatic play activity is “doggie daycare” where her stuffed dogs go when their owners are at work. Lillian proudly takes on the roll of “teacher” and leads her stuffed friends in choreographed songs and tricks. Although she loves all of her dogs her favorite is Sweetie Pie. I never imagined there could ever be a stuffed dog that would capture my daughter’s heart like Sweetie Pie…until we met Maggie!

*Although I was given the book Perfectly Maggie A Sleepytime Story to review, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Mommy and Lillian reading “Perfectly Maggie.”

Lillian was introduced to Maggie through the book Perfectly Maggie a Sleepytime Story artfully written by Meg Maguire and beautifully illustrated by Josie Lee. The rhyming words and charming illustrations instantly capture the attention of children and adults who are young at heart.

In the book a charismatic dog named Maggie is far from perfect with her crooked smile, squeaky bark, tangled fur and wobbly knees. But anyone who meets Maggie instantly sees she has a huge heart filled with kindness, making her perfect in her own special way. The book helps children understand that although we all have our own special quirks, we need to embrace what makes us unique and simply be ourselves.

Making sure our daughter develops self esteem while learning how to be kind and helpful are skills my husband and I want to instill in our daughter. Maggie the dog is the perfect model as she empowers her siblings to survive in a puppy mill and naturally puts the needs of others in front of her own. The book Perfectly Maggie a Sleepytime Story encourages the reader to reflect on their day and share a way they were helpful, kind or polite that day. Parents are asked to share too creating a special nighttime routine for the entire family. I really like the “Puppy Pact” at the end of the book for the family to sign that makes them promise to try everyday to make Maggie wag her tail. My family received Maggie and her book set at the beginning of the summer and Perfectly Maggie a Sleepytime Story quickly become a favorite read aloud. The nighttime routine of sharing a success story is something my family looks forward to at the end of the day.

Maggie has a special talent of encouraging others to spread kindness and rigorously wags her tail to and fro when someone acts nicely. “Swoosh, swoosh, goes her tail – swinging left! Swinging right – when someone is helpful, or kind or polite.”

Perfectly Maggie a Sleepytime Story comes in a beautifully packaged set that includes the hard bound book, a bonus pop up book (of Maggie wagging her tail) that can be used to reinforce the nighttime routine. An adorable stuffed dog that perfectly matches the illustrations in the book completes the set. The stuffed dog is high quality and the perfect size for my three year old daughter. My daughter was immediately drawn to the stuffed pup and our Maggie has survived multiple baths in the washing machine after the many adventures she has taken with our little Lillian. Maggie has been on vacation with our family, regularly goes to church and has enjoyed several special celebrations. With the stuffed Maggie by her side Lillian has a special reminder to be helpful, kind and polite wherever she goes. Always remember to be…”Perfectly You!”

This is a book set that every child in your life would enjoy. You can purchase the book Perfectly Maggie a Sleepytime Story on Amazon or by visiting perfectlymaggie.com

The author of Perfectly Maggie a Sleepytime Story has generously offered to give one of my readers an autographed copy of her book set! To enter the random drawing please share this article on social media and leave a comment on my blog. This giveaway is open to United States residents over the age of 18.

This giveaway has ended. Click here to read about the winner.

50 Years of Magic… Cheers to a Golden Couple!

Freeman 50 invite
My parents on their wedding day, June 29, 1968.

My mom and dad met in 1961 during their junior year of high school. My mom told me she had her eye on dad from the start and got his attention by first becoming friends with his cousin. (You have to be careful with the quiet ones, you never know what they might be orchestrating) Once they were formally introduced they hit it off and they have been together ever since.

Together As One- It occurred to me that besides mom’s older brother and a few of dad’s grade school friends, the majority of the people at their 50th wedding anniversary party have never known Keith without his Janet or Janet without her Keith. Throughout their 50 years of marriage they have spent only a handful of nights a part from one another. Besides a few nights away for work related conferences and the work trips dad accompanied me on during the early part of my pregnancy, my mom and dad have spent a mere dozen or so days without seeing each other. That’s 18,250 days minus a few but not including the seven years they knew each other before they got married! I guess it’s safe to say they like being together!

My mom and dad celebrating 50 yers of marriage, June 2018.

What Makes a Successful Marriage? Two people can have a successful marriage when they have a strong faith and similar tastes and interests. Mom and dad are active members in their church, they are both educators, they enjoy attending live theatre and they are Beatles fans. In 1965 they went on a date to see the Beatles in concert at Busch Stadium! But a couple can only happily celebrate 50 years of marriage when they compliment each other and that is one area where my mom and dad have excelled. In fact, neither of them would have graduated from college without teamwork, dad completing all of moms art for the elementary teacher projects and mom editing (well, let’s be honest, rewriting) most of dad’s papers for him. Mom is the quiet reserved part of their duo while dad is the outgoing one! They both collaborated in raising me, worked together to care for aging family members and over the years have created some fabulous holiday traditions and celebrations that they enjoy sharing with others.

The Engagement- On a humid evening in the middle of July 1967, my parents went to The Muny in Forest Park to see a production of Funny Girl. They both enjoy musical theatre and were fellow thespians in high school (dad behind the scenes painting the sets and mom supporting the production as a member of the chorus) Before the show began dad proposed to mom in front of the magnificent Muny with the picturesque pond and gazebo as a backdrop. Mom said yes and the show Funny Girl with the popular song People quickly became “their” show. A year later on June 29, 1968, the two were married in front of family and friends and today they are celebrating 50 years of marriage!

A Marriage With a Strong Foundation- What do you give a couple who has everything they could possibly want? Well, my husband and I thought about it and decided to get them a brick to commemorate their 50 years of marriage. A brick is strong, just like their marriage. Life would be easy if it was simply filled with celebration but during mom and dad’s 50 years of marriage the two have been faced with loss and have experienced some struggles. But even through times of uncertainty they have supported each other, loved each other and their marriage remained as strong as this brick. But this isn’t any ordinary brick just as their marriage is anything but ordinary. This brick is a commemorative brick that will be placed at The Muny in Forest Park just a few feet from where my parents got engaged 51 years ago. The Muny is celebrating 100 years this summer while mom and dad are celebrating their 50th so there is a lot to celebrate! And the inscription reads…

50 Years of Magic

1968-2018

Mr & Mrs K. Freeman

A picture taken at The Muny during their 40th wedding anniversary.

Let’s raise a glass to Janet and Keith in celebration of 50 magical years of marriage. Blessings for many more! You are truly golden together.

Portions of this article were part of a speech/toast I read to my parents at their 50th wedding anniversary party.

Water Safety…a Skill That Saves Lives

The month of May signals the beginning of summer fun: playing outside, splashing in outdoor pools and spending time in or near lakes and oceans. May is also water safety month. Did you know that drowning is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five? Or that a young child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water? Drowning can happen quickly and when we least expect it. Water safety education is extremely important and should be something every parent and early childhood educator teaches their children or students. Although enrolling your preschooler in a quality swim program will not prevent drowning, (proper adult supervision is the best prevention) participation in swimming lessons will add awareness.

British Swim School– We are surrounded by water with a pond in our backyard and summers spent at our family’s lake house. My husband and I want to insure our daughter feels comfortable in the water while developing the proper safety skills, so we enrolled her in the British Swim School when she was two-years old. Founded in 1981, the British Swim School teaches water safety survival skills to children as young as three months. Children are immediately taught the back float which is considered the most important water survival skill as it enables swimmers to rest, breathe and call for help, alleviating the silent danger of floating face down.

Our daughter began in the Swimboree class which requires adult participation (an adult goes in the pool with the child). Through nursery rhymes and engaging songs, our knowledgeable instructor, Miss Kayla, helped our daughter feel comfortable in the water. Miss Kayla assisted Lillian with the ability to turn over in the water until she was independently floating on her back. (Lillian learned quickly and was never afraid) When she turned three, Lillian moved to the Minnow class where she goes into the pool by herself. The thought of going into the pool without Mommy was a bit stressful for Lillian so Miss Kayla gradually got her prepared by having me step out of the pool for longer periods of time, gradually releasing her to independence. Now she eagerly goes into the pool independently and is thriving at the next level where they practice safe pool entry and exit and are learning “monkey, airplane, soldier” (arm movements in the water) as well as jumping into the water and turning onto their backs to float. All of the instructors are well trained and amazing with children but Lillian has a special bound with Miss Kayla. The British Swim School has small class sizes so each student gets one on one instruction and differentiated support. The program is flexible, allowing students to easily make up a class if one is missed due to any circumstance. A busy family like ours really appreciates this benefit. Their number one priority is teaching water safety so water safety rules and procedures are practiced and enforced. Every so many months they have a special “water safety week” where students are encouraged to wear light clothing over their swimsuits so they can get the feel of what it is like to be in water fully clothed. They practice shouting for help and learn how to safely assist someone who has fallen into the water and is in need of help.

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Lillian enjoys taking lessons with the British Swim School. Here she is with her instructor, Miss Kayla.

Josh the Baby Otter (A tale promoting water safety for children)– The British Swim School recently gifted us with the fabulous book “Josh the Baby Otter” by Blake Collingsworth and illustrated by Ashley Spitsnogle. The book was written in honor of the author’s son, Joshua, and in memory of all the precious children who have been lost to the tragedy of drowning. The delightful picture book teaches children about water safety through the adventures of Josh, a baby otter who is learning how to float on his back. “One of the first things otters teach their babies is how to float. This keeps them safe in the water. When we get tired, or the waters are too rough to swim, we can roll on our backs, look up at the sky, relax and float.” Learning how to float is the first step to learning how to swim. The book emphasizes the importance of staying away from all kinds of water unless you are with an adult and making sure you always swim with a buddy. The back of the book contains some valuable resources for children and adults. There is a cute “Learn to Float” song, facts about otters and a list of water safety tips. After reading the book children can take the Josh the Otter Water Safety Pledge. There is also a free “Josh the Otter” app where children can read the story, listen to the song, take the water safety pledge and enjoy coloring pages. Please visit www.joshtheotter.org for more information regarding water safety and to learn more about the “Josh the Otter” project, an organization devoted to water safety education. The book can be purchased on the “Josh the Otter” website or at Amazon. All proceeds from the sale of the book go directly to drowning prevention and instruction.

Two Noteworthy Teachers “Changing Lives Through Music”

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week I wanted to highlight two teachers who have touched my life. To them, teaching isn’t simply a job, it’s a passion! Through their gift of music they are changing the lives of children in a positive way. Portions of this article appeared in the Community Music School of Webster University e-blast in May 2018.

I began taking clarinet lessons at the Community Music School of Webster University (CMS) as a young adult. My teacher, Jeannie York Garesche, helped me with the fundamentals and gave me the confidence as a performer to become a member of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony. “Jeanine personalized each lesson, was patient with me and always set high expectations. Through her instruction, mentor-ship and support, I was able to perform at a level I never thought possible!” Over the years Jeanne and I have kept in touch and my husband and I were honored when she accepted the invitation to perform at our wedding. She is a talented professional musician and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study under her.

Jennifer and her clarinet teacher Ms. Jeanine York Garesche.

Music brings a lot of joy to my life and I want my daughter Lillian to grow up appreciating music and having opportunities to express herself musically. So I enrolled Lillian in Kindermusik classes at the CMS when she was 8 months old. Lillian and I enjoy going to class together and we both love her teacher, Ms. Jeanne Magee! “Ms. Jeanne is outstanding! It is clear she is passionate about music and is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to child development. She is warm and welcoming and makes learning fun.” Jeanne has a beautiful voice, supports my blog and is one of the sweetest people I have ever met! I consider her a mommy mentor and a friend.

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Lillian and her Kindermusik teacher Ms. Jeanne Magee.

A busy life as a full time mommy, part time educational consultant and active musician have sadly made it challenging for me to continue taking clarinet lessons. Even though I don’t currently study privately, when I perform with the Saint Louis Wind Symphony or the Northwinds Concert Band, I continue to apply what Jeanine taught me. If I ever slow down I hope to study with Jeanine again some day. Lillian has learned to keep a steady beat, recognize loud and soft and often sings the songs or does the dances she has learned in Ms. Jeanne’s class. Lillian is three so we get to enjoy two more years of Kindermusik at the CMS! I will always be grateful to the CMS and their dedicated teachers for providing me and my daughter with quality music instruction.

Teachers often don’t get the opportunity to hear how they have changed lives. So I challenge each of you to take the time to write a note or send an email to a teacher who impacted your life. Let your child’s teacher know how much you appreciate the work they do or encourage your child to write a note or draw a picture. As a former teacher I valued those personal notes far more than any of the lotion, scented candles or coffee mugs I received!

An Extraordinary Boy, a Remarkable Book and an Unique Brain

I know a fourteen year old boy who is funny and lovable. He plays soccer and video games. He loves game shows, animated movies, bridges, nature and his family. He dislikes loud noises (especially fireworks), large crowds and changes to his schedule. He loves to explore new places (through the safety of the family mini van) and enjoys leisurely car rides with his mother. He is smart. He can name every exit between my house and my in-laws and knows the name of every bridge in the county! He has a smile that will light up the room and melt your heart. He is void of any sensors and simply says what is on his mind. And as you can imagine this often gets him into trouble. He has one speed which is best described as…supercharged. He has an incredible older brother who is both patient and kind and two loving parents who work hard to help him navigate the world. He is extraordinary! I love him. He is my nephew. His name is Derrick. He is on the autism spectrum.

Statistics show that at least someone you know has autism or is on the autistic spectrum. It might be a neighbor or a friend, a classmate or a family member or a little boy or girl you occasionally see at church. And chances are, at first glance, you don’t even know he or she has autism.

I want my daughter to grow up celebrating and accepting differences. So what’s the best way to help your preschooler understand family members and friends who are extra sensitive because their brains interpret things differently? In our house we use picture books to introduce our daughter to new topics. Picture books are a terrific way to initiate conversations and to build awareness and I am always on the lookout for new titles.

I was recently sent the most amazing picture book, “Stewie Boom! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes and Play-dates,” a new book by author Christine Bronstein with illustrations by Karen L. Young. In the book the teacher explains that like snowflakes and handprints, “No two minds are the same.” Our brains are one-of-a-kind and that is what makes us unique. After the teacher encourages the class to play with someone new, Penelope gets to know Eric who is “on the spectrum.” Eric doesn’t like loud noises so before he comes over for a play-date, Penelope and her brothers practice being quiet and flexible. They also learn how to read body language with their eyes as a way to understand how someone is feeling.

Reading “Stewie Boom! and Princess Penelope: Handprints, Snowflakes and Play-dates.

My daughter and I enjoyed reading the book together. The illustrations are colorful and inviting and the message of inclusion is an important lesson for all ages. The author reminds us, “It’s very important to play with people who may seem different at first because they can teach us new ways of looking at the world.” In the back of the book there are helpful tips for special need families as well as tips to welcome special needs families to a play-date. I really liked the friendship goal chart along with the friendship award as they are useful tools to educate children about inclusion.

People, like snowflakes and hand-prints, are individual and unique. And the way our brains interpret the world is just as distinctive. By embracing neuro-diversity and teaching our children techniques to help everyone feel comfortable and accepted; we can provide our children with a gift that will last a lifetime!

Buy the book here. https://www.amazon.com/Stewie-BOOM-Princess-Penelope-Handprints/dp/0997296275

And Just Like That Our Little Lady Was Potty Trained

Potty training is one of the biggest events in early childhood and everyone appears to have an opinion. There are countless books written on the topic and the Internet is flooded with tips. Although I found the advice useful, every child is different and my daughter’s potty training journey didn’t replicate any of the plans I read online. Her journey from diapers to underwear was individualized and unique, just like her!

Now I have to confess something…our potty training adventure wasn’t exactly as quick as the title of this article implies. In fact, as I browse through old pictures I realize I have been doing things to prepare for this day for an entire year!

Although my parents never mentioned it I could tell they were wondering if I was ever going to potty train my daughter. After all I was potty trained before the age of three and in a little over a month my daughter will be three and a half! I began to feel like I was a bad mommy since all of my daughter’s friends were fully potty trained; many for almost a year now! With some, the parents were forced to speed up the process because of daycare. Some of her friends showed signs of readiness and potty trained at an early age while others had baby siblings on the way and potty training their oldest before a baby was added to the family just made sense.

Since I spend most of the time at home with my daughter and she won’t start preschool for another four months, we had plenty of time to spend on potty training. I carefully observed her for readiness signs and created a potty friendly environment for her to learn in. I believe in child centered learning but there are a lot of things that need to be in place for success. My daughter wouldn’t be potty trained without purposeful intent by me, her teacher. Below I describe the steps I took on our “tear free” potty training journey.

Modeling- When my daughter was very young I took her into the bathroom with me. Through watching me she learned the steps: sitting on the potty, wiping with toilet paper, flushing and washing hands. Although at eighteen months she wasn’t ready to abandon her diapers just yet, she often mimicked me by grabbing a fist full of toilet paper and pretending to wipe herself while she was fully clothed! As Lillian got older, many of her friends were toilet training and during play dates she saw her friends go potty. Through modeling, especially by her peers, Lillian showed more interest in going potty.

Picture Book- We began reading books about going potty shortly after my daughter turned two years of age. A friend gave us the book, “A Potty for Me!” by Karen Katz and it became an instant favorite. Around this time my daughter went through a Daniel Tiger phase and she fell in love with the “Daniel Goes to the Potty” book that comes with a button that makes a flushing sound. The reader is encouraged to press the flush button each time Daniel Tiger uses the potty. The book follows the same storyline and includes the catchy “potty song” that appears in the Daniel Tiger episode “Daniel Goes to the Potty.” “Everyone Poops” is a classic by Taro Gomi and we enjoyed learning about different kinds of animals and the various ways they go to the bathroom.

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A few of our favorite potty themed picture books.

Selecting a Potty- Lillian helped pick out a little Minnie Mouse potty at the store and both sets of grandparents bought matching ones for their homes. This consistency proved to be helpful because Lillian didn’t regress when she spent the day or night with her grandparents. At first she sat on her potty but after awhile she occasionally went on the potty. She role played by having her stuffed animals use her potty. Her little potty is located in our master bathroom and that is where it has stayed throughout the entire process. Even though Lillian had her own little potty she sat on the big potty sometimes. In fact she loved trying out potties in public places and at family and friends homes. We never had a problem using bathrooms in public places because Lillian learned early on that there are potties everywhere!

Lillian’s Minnie Mouse potty.

Motivation Chart and Rewards- A few months after Lillian turned three I introduced a sticker chart for extra motivation. I waited until the holidays were over and we were back to a “normal” schedule with no out of town trips planned or any other unusual distractions. But the chart I selected simply wasn’t working. The goals on the chart were too ambitious for her and she wasn’t earning any stickers. I looked online and found a Paw Patrol Potty Chart! Click on this link to download the chart. paw-patrol-potty-training

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The Paw Patrol chart that was a huge success!

Lillian is really into Paw Patrol and the tasks on the chart were attainable for a beginner. (Told an adult I needed to go, Pulled down my pants, Sat on the potty, Went in the potty, Washed my hands) After she filled an entire chart with stickers she got a small Paw Patrol toy. The chart followed her to her grandparents house and we made sure to add stickers if she went potty while we were away from home. When she began to show success and filled up the chart at a faster pace I changed the categories on the chart to include two columns for “Went on the potty” and then added a column for “Went poop on the potty” and “Staying dry all day.” This gradual release of increased expectation proved to be very successful.

Big Girl Underwear- I bought Lillian Minnie Mouse underwear when she was two years old. She showed no interest in wearing them. One day she spied some Paw Patrol underwear at Target and she got so excited I bought them. But she still refused to wear underwear. I thought starting her in pull ups before underwear would be successful but she showed little interest in wearing pull ups (even though they are very similar to diapers.)  So to my surprise we potty trained in a diaper. She would pull down her pants, rip off her diaper and pee in the potty, so I simply went with it. At first it required suggestions from me but soon after she was running to the bathroom and going independently. On Easter Monday I asked her if she wanted to wear big girl underwear and she said yes! She stayed dry all day and after that she never wore diapers again!

My daughter’s potty training story reminds me that sometimes all it takes is time, motivation and a little bit of encouragement for something to happen. Forcing someone to do something before they are truly ready causes tears and frustration for everyone involved. Learning is a process and everyone learns at his/her own pace, following a timeframe that often doesn’t match our own expectations.