Muffins, Maps, Play, Gratitude & Generosity…Day 11 Activities

We didn’t accomplish as much today as I had originally planned and that’s OK. Some days will be like that. As we navigate eLearning and isolation the biggest lessons often come in the unplanned.

Encouraging Play and Clean Up– We began our day cleaning up. With spending all of our time at home our house was getting out of control! So I put on some music and mommy, daddy and our reluctant little one began putting away toys, dishes and art supplies. My daughter loves to play and in doing so she creates scenes that she does not want to destroy by putting the pieces back in place. The latest project was a well designed Doggy Daycare swimming pool complete with a deck for cats to sit on so they don’t get wet. The other project was the bear den we constructed the day before. As she ran around the house, screaming that we were ruining her life by cleaning up, I was reminded that play is a child’s work. I also recalled the “Work in Progress” signs I often see in her classroom. That gave me the idea of compromising and telling my daughter she can keep one “Work in Progress” out per day but the rest will have to be put away. Satisfied with our new agreement it was decided the bear den would be dismantled while the swimming pool would stay open.

Muffins– My daughter loves to bake so today we made raspberry muffins. I pulled out the book If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff and after reading we made muffins together. Through baking my daughter was learning a lot…how to follow directions, how to measure and how to be generous as we saved some to take to Maw Maw and Paw Paw and to their neighbor.

Maps– A mom friend suggested we read Me by Joan Sweeney. I know we had the book upstairs (working for a textbook company has its benefits) so I pulled it out and daddy read it to our little one. Click Here to read a digital copy of the book. Then the two of them set out to draw a map of our house. But our little one had other ideas. She wanted to draw a map of her Doggy Daycare so that’s exactly what we did! Gratitude Journal– Per her teacher’s suggestion we began a Gratitude Journal. Her first entry was a picture of mommy and daddy and her beloved blanket! She knows how to write mommy and daddy on her own and I helped her write the word blanket. We will add a new page to the journal everyday.

Generosity– Perhaps the best part of our day was delivering a weekly care package to Maw Maw and Paw Paw and to their neighbor. While practicing social distancing we were able to see our loved ones and model an example of generosity for our impressionable little one. Without a complicated lesson plan or an on line resource, children are learning. By watching the adults in their life, by listening to the sounds in their environment and by being actively engaged in activity, children are learning. Through play and imagination, children are learning!

Finding JOY in the Journey

This is a photo from our weekend. Taken right before sunset it epitomizes the innocence of childhood, a care free little girl simply experiencing joy in her journey. The photo was taken as we walked (she ran) around the pond in our backyard. Earlier our neighborhood rang with dogs barking, children laughing and lawn mowers humming with the sounds of spring. In this scene people had retreated inside to start their evening routines and our soundtrack came from song birds proudly singing a tune and allowing us to listen in. The grass we walked upon, once dull and brown in color, had awoken to a luscious green. The smell of pollen from flowering trees was in the air giving us another reminder of rebirth. Spring is not in quarantine and neither is God. He created this beautiful day and He is with us on good days and in trying times. Love embraced me as I gazed at our house (shown here in the distance), knowing we would return home to a nutritious meal prepared lovingly by my husband. The wind began to blow indicating a spring storm was on the horizon. But when I looked up at the sky there was hope among the darkness. God was sending a visual reminder as rays of sunlight were peeking through a mass of clouds, reassuring me that we will all get through this.

Fun Friday: Jelly Bean Math, a Jan Brett Book Study and Animals in Our Backyard..Day 9 Activities

Today was FUN FRIDAY but before I explain the fun activities l wanted to share some age appropriate explanations about COVID-19. We had a virtual meeting with our Parents As Teacher home educator the other day and she sent us files of two age appropriate books to help young children better understand what is happening. One explains, in a child friendly way, what Contraviris is and the other offers young children support on why they are having school with their teachers from home. Click on the links below to read on line or print them out and make them into a book to read with your child.

What Is the Contravirus

My New Home School

Jelly Bean Math– My daughter really enjoyed doing math with jelly beans! We each got a baggie of jelly beans and used the free templates created by Simply Kinder on line to sort the jelly beans by color. Then we used the tally mark sheet and made tally marks next to each color indicating how many of each color we had. Our last step was creating a bar graph showing how many jelly beans of each color we had in our bag. We practiced math vocabulary by commenting on which color we had more or less of and which colors were equal. Since my daughter struggles with writing numbers I had her write the total number of each color on the sorting page. This was a great exercise in sorting, counting,  comparing numbers, number recognition and number writing and the best part was eating the jelly beans at the end! 

Holes in the Jelly Beans?– We cut out our jelly bean shapes and punched holes in the jelly beans by using a hole punch to punch the correct number of holes on each jelly bean. Then we strung them together and made a necklace. My daughter needs to work on hand strength and this activity suggested by her teacher really challenged her. Jan Brett– One of my favorite authors is Jan Brett so I pulled out all of my Jan Brett books and shared them with my daughter. We had read some of the books previously but some were new to her. After I took the picture I discovered even more Jan Brett books in my daughters closet! Her intricate illustrations are simply captivating and the fact that she loves animals and incorporates animals from around the world in her stories is one of the reasons why she is one of my favorite authors. Her creative spin on classic fairy tales is another reason why I love her so! In 1994 I had the privilege of meeting Jan Brett and her husband Joe (a double base player for the Boston Pops) at an early childhood conference in southern Illinois. This was decades before smart phones so I don’t think I got a picture of our meeting but she did sign and date one of my favorite books, Berlioz the Bear. My daughter’s favorite book is Comet’s Nine Lives and we adore the Gingerbread Baby books and of course her most famous book, The Mitten.  A family friend presented us with a copy of The Easter Egg a few years ago and my daughter has been requesting it be read every night now that we are nearing Easter. We went to Jan Brett’s website where we played games, watched a video of Jan reading one of her newest books (Cozy, a delightful story of a helpful musk ox from Alaska) and printed out some coloring pages of Hegie the Hedgehog. We also wrote her a letter and are anxiously anticipating a response. Backyard Animal Discovery– My daughter’s teacher shared the brilliant idea of watching for animals (in our backyard and on our daily walks) and graphing how many of each animal we found. We watched for ducks, cardinals, sparrows, robins, rabbits and squirrels and after printing out pictures of each animal my daughter helped me create a chart that we hung on the wall. We enjoyed looking out the window to see if another duck took a swim in the pond or if we could spot a robin on our daily walks around the neighborhood. My daughter loved adding tally marks on our graph and sharing the final count with her teacher. The activity was such a hit we are going to do it again next week!

Spreading SONshine Project– Yesterday was virtual sunglasses day at school and it reminded me to spread SONshine. So spread some SONshine this weekend by calling a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in awhile, mailing a letter or sending a text of encouragement to someone or posting an encouraging bible verse on social media. #spreadingSONshine project

The Weather, Shaving Cream, Trail Mix and Friends!…Day 6 Activities

Today was a good day. In fact it was a GREAT day! We have finally settled into a routine that included a lot of learning and fun! We begin each day with a family meeting where we go over our schedule. Creating a visual schedule for the early childhood age group is a must!

What is the Weather?– This week we began a weather chart. When I was a kindergarten teacher we sang about the weather every day and graphed the weather each week. Singing the weather song signals the beginning of our “school” day. And using weather cards (sunny, windy, rainy, snowy, foggy, rainy) builds vocabulary and graphing builds math skills.

Writing Letters to Friends– My daughter LOVES to write so we are incorporating some writing everyday. Today she wrote letters to her two best friends and a letter to Pete the Cat! She helped me address the letters, add the stamps and then we went outside and placed the letters in the mailbox. Receiving a response back will be exciting and something to look forward to. If you would like to write to Pete the Cat, here is his address…Crazy Hair Day– My daughter’s school is having a virtual spirit week and today was Crazy Hair Day! We read the books Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch and Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg . My little one decided she wanted to wear her hair in a side ponytail! Having a dress up week or day is a lot of fun!

Try Some Math With Your Trail Mix– We made our own trail mix for snack! The activity began with my daughter deciding what five ingredients she wanted to include. Then she scooped each ingredient into a bowl and we mixed it together. After she got her portion she sorted the individual pieces and we created a graph that showed how many pieces of each item she had. My daughter wrote the numbers and I realized she needs more practice on writing numbers as she was a bit unsure how some of the numbers were formed. We worked on the following math vocabulary by asking.. which had more, which had less and were there any that were equal?Friend, Friends, Friends– My daughter misses her friends terribly so I set up a Zoom play date with her two besties from school. The girls loved seeing and talking to each other and the virtual play date went on for an hour! One friend showed us her bunnies, my daughter shared some drawings and another friend showed us her favorite book.

We had a GREAT day but I know not every day will go as well as today. When I was a classroom teacher it was the same way so why would I think schooling from home would be any different?

The Moon, Virtual Learning and Fresh Air…Day 2 Activities

Each day I’m going to share some of the activities we engage in during the quarantine. While I took pride in the fact that day 1 lacked technology, day 2 was filled with it and I’m simply going to be ok with that. I chose the moon activities because my daughter loves Luna Girl, from the animated series PJ Masks, and I know how important it is to create projects on children’s interests.

Scholastic Learn at Home– We are going to do one of the Scholastic Learn at Home modules every day. The modules are broken into different grade levels with each one containing four activities based on a theme. We did one on the moon and it had two books about the moon (one fiction and one non-fiction), a sequencing activity, a fiction/non-fiction sort, a video about the moon and directions for the moon crater activity described below. There were also links to other age appropriate web sites on the topic.

Moon Craters– With a tray of flour acting as the moon’s surface we collected balls and marbles of various weights and sizes to create craters on the moon’s surface. We made predications about the size and circumstance of craters that would be formed when we dropped the various balls and marbles from different distances.

Astronaut Helmets- We used construction paper, tin foil, buttons and star stickers to create an astronaut helmet. This prompted some imaginative play where our staircase turned into a rocket that went on a mission to the moon.

Outdoor Play- Knowing the importance of physical exercise and fresh air we took a walk around our neighborhood searching for shamrocks leftover from yesterday’s neighborhood shamrock hunt.

Weekly Lenten Worship We ended our day by watching the weekly Lenten service recorded by our dedicated church staff at Zion Lutheran Church. My daughter and I found comfort in seeing familiar faces and praying together.

click here to watch the service

An Apple Picking Adventure…A Difficult Lesson for Mommy

There are many fantastic fall activities to engage in during this time of year and one of my favorites is apple picking! I documented the fun apple activities we participated in last year. Click here to read all about them!

Although we enjoyed many of these apple filled activities again this year, it was our trip to the apple orchard that I unfortunately will never forget.

Our Apple Adventure– My daughter had a huge smile on her face as the tractor drove us far into the apple orchard. But it’s when we stepped onto the ground that everything changed. She began crying because she couldn’t find any apples to pick. Although most of the apples were hidden in far away branches, making it impossible for a little one to reach without assistance, when I offered help she refused. Then she experienced a huge melt down when the tall grass brushed against her little legs, showing her discontent by letting out blood curdling screams while I attempted to document our apple outing by snapping a few pictures. She yelled that she wanted to go home and that’s when it hit me. Mommy’s Lesson- My daughter’s life had recently been turned upside down when I accepted an assignment to train teachers for an entire week at a local school district. This was a change for our family of three because I normally work a few days out of each month (rarely back to back days) and am blessed to spend the majority of the time as a stay at home mommy. I knew working for an entire week was going to challenge us but the work was local, guaranteeing I would be home every night and the generous pay would help our family financially.

So in the middle of the apple orchard on that humid day I realized all my daughter wanted was me! Instead of ending the week going apple picking or out to eat or here or there, all she wanted was her mommy. A good book and some cuddles on the couch was what she really needed. Too young to verbalize these feelings she had enthusiastically said “yes” to apple picking when I made the suggestion. After all I was excited about the trip so she should be too.

As parents we try too hard to do it all: continuing fall traditions, working to provide for our families and trying to be successful at parenting. Would the world come to an end if we missed apple picking this year? Life is a balance and what our children need more than “over the top” experiences is quality time with their loved ones. This precious time can be spent in the backyard on the swing set, inside the house with a favorite book, making a yummy snack in the kitchen or building a tower out of blocks. We can’t do all of the fun activities we see on Pinterest or take our little ones to every fall event on the city calendar. It’s ok. In fact it’s more than ok.

Spending quality time doesn’t have to cost us anything but gives us the biggest reward. This is time where we are 100% focused on our children and they have our full attention. Time where we erase the thoughts of our never ending “to do lists,” turn off the technology and have some uninterrupted quality time together. I recently heard if we don’t take the time to listen to our children while they are young we won’t be the ones they come and talk to when they are older. Listen to your children for these are the moments that will become the memories that our children will forever cherish. The memories of a happy childhood filled with love.

After pleading with my daughter I was able to get some pleasant apple picking pictures right before we left the apple orchard. I debated sharing these pictures on Facebook instead of the one where she is crying. I ended up “keeping it real” and sharing the crying photo because that depicted what truly happened.

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.

The Happiest Place

When I accepted an assignment to train teachers in California I got the brilliant idea of taking little Lillian with me. So I invitied my parents to tag along. My husband even flew in for a few days. 

Since our little Lillian is obsessed with all things Minnie Mouse we decided to extend our California trip with a two day visit to Disneyland.


During our California adventure we were in constant communication with Ken’s parents regarding the condition of Grandma Talley. Her health was deteriating after a debilitating bout of pneumonia. Early in the morning, hours before our first day at Disneyland, we got a call that Grandma Talley had passed on. Although we were filled with sadness, we also gave thanks for her 97 years of life. She experienced a lot in her 97 years, including multiple visits to various theme parks. One of my favorite photos of her was taken at Six-Flags Over Mid America when she was in St. Louis visiting my husband and his family. The fun filled memories of a day of pure joy were clearly captured in the photos shared with me years later. 

Grandma Talley with her husband Fraudie riding the carousel at Six Flags.
Grandma Talley riding a roller coaster at Six Flags with her grandchildren.

So my husband and I began our Disneyland trip attempting to capture some of the joy we remember from our childhoods. But I would be lying if I said our entire trip was magical. It wasn’t. There was no magic in changing diapers in a warm, crowded bathroom. And there was a little less magic as the day wore on and we became tired and overheated, our feet aching from walking from one side of the park to the other. But weeks later as I reflect on our trip I barely remember any of the unpleasantries. For the good times overshadow any of the inconviences we experienced. Instead, we are left with happy memories of an excited two year old meeting Mickey Mouse for the very first time. And we are reminded of the bright eyed toddler who was mesmerized by thousands of glowing lights in the electrical light parade. We remember how exciting it was for Nana to ride Dumbo with her daughter and her granddaughter, bringing back memories of when she rode on Dumbo with her own mother a few years after Disneyland opened. Our memories are filled with the face of a little girl smiling from ear to ear as she twirled with her Pops on the tea cups and squealed with delight as she rode the carousel with her Daddy. Our little princess had so much fun she didn’t want the magic to end. After riding on the carousel she held up one finger and asked her Daddy in the sweetest voice, “One more time.”

Lillian meets Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.
A day after we came home from Disneyland we packed the mini van and traveled to Magnolia, Kentucky for Grandma Talley’s funeral. As we drove, my husband and I reflected on all of the wonderful memories we had with grandma. We reminisced the entire drive and my husband shared wonderful stories of summers spent on the farm. I had more recent memories of Grandma Talley smiling at our little Lillian, her namesake, for the first time. We both commented on how weird it felt being in Disneyland and then just days later traveling to Kentucky to say goodbye to Grandma Talley. Although we all secretly wished we could be with Grandma Talley “One more time,”we gave thanks for her blessed life and the time we had together. 

My family and I may have spent two days at the happiest place on Earth but Grandma Talley is now in an even happier place. A place that is better than a million Disneylands put together! A place where there is no pain, no suffering and no hurt. She is in heaven where she was reunited with family and friends. While we spent two days at Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth, I feel comforted to know that grandma will have eternal happiness with her Lord and Savior in heaven.