The Moon, Music and Muddy Puddles…Day 3 Activities

Today is day 3 and we continued our moon investigation, danced to some fun music and jumped in muddy puddles.

Moon Web– We began our third day by creating a web that documented everything we know about the moon. At first I wrote while my daughter dictated what to write but then she wanted to write and I helped her spell the words. She remembered a few facts from the books we read the day before and through prompting we were able to recall even more. Moon Dot to Dot, Cutting Practice and Drawing– Dot to dots are so good for preschoolers and I found a moon one. I also found lines to trace to help strengthen fine motor skills and a picture of the moon that Lillian drew a face on.

Phases of the Moon– We made a phases of the moon mini book and then made the phases of the moon with Oreo cookies. We didn’t have any chocolate Oreos in the house so we used vanilla and it worked just as well. Visit Science Bob’s website for more details and a template.
Finger Training Activity- My daughter struggles with holding a pencil properly so I am always on the lookout for new activities to strengthen these skills. Her teacher sent home this fun activity.

Dance Party- Laurie Berkner, one of our favorite musicians who sings kid music is doing daily live concerts through Facebook. She also read a book. Go to Laurie Berkner’s website and visit her on Facebook for more info. Muddy Puddles– In our effort to get outside everyday we took a walk around the neighborhood and jumped in muddy puddles!

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

Fun and Educational Activities to Get Your Family Through the Quarantine!

As schools around the country close in response to COVID-19 every family in America is attempting to  home school. Along with wonderful suggestions from my daughter’s school, this Noteworthy Mommy is putting on her kindergarten teacher hat and planning a day full of fun and educational activities for my pre-school aged daughter. In this article I will outline some of the activities I am planning. Check back often as I will continue to share activities with you.

DISCLAIMER– Our first day did not go exactly as planned when I offered to care for the son of a church friend who was suddenly without childcare. I quickly made lesson plans for a preschooler and a first grader but we didn’t come close to following the schedule! We did celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day by decorating some shamrocks for our front door, discovering some real clover in the yard and writing about what we would like to find at the end of the rainbow. The kids were full of excitement when we created all of the colors of the rainbows by mixing colors. We filled one container with water and red food coloring, another with water and blue food coloring and the last with water and yellow food coloring. Then they used pipettes and mixed the colors in an ice cube tray. We predicted what color we would get when we mixed red and blue, yellow and green and so on.Each child read some leveled texts appropriate for their age and reading level and the first grader drew a diagram of a flower after reading a book about plants. We reviewed math facts with colored chalk on the driveway and played on the play set in the backyard.

After lunch we did our Lenten devotional and during snack I snuck in some rhyming and had the first grader work on some phonics. We had a dance party and I surprised both of them when I got out the Star Wars figures I played with as a child (now vintage of course).

But their favorite part of our day was creating super heroes and villains out of pipe cleaners, play dough and cotton balls; an activity they self initiated by pulling supplies out of the art cabinet. This was unplanned but it occupied their creative imaginations for part of the afternoon. As they worked I overheard them giving each other compliments and quickly offer suggestions. Hearing the first grade boy say “Hey, your super hero is cool,” when he saw the preschooler’s creation warmed my heart. And in turn seeing my preschool girl watch her companion with great concentration and then make improvements to her own creation reminded me how much children learn from each other. They created names and backstories for their figures and made a book together. (without any prompting I might add) They simply enjoyed playing and learning together. I take pride in the fact that we did not watch any TV and only played on a digital device for fifteen minutes. During this uncertain time our day was filled with creation, imagination, discovery, cooperation and play. There was no fighting and no tears from any of us..including from the Noteworthy Mommy!

Below is the post I originally planned to publish. As I reflect on our first day I think we accomplished and learned a lot…all three of us!           

Schedule– Children thrive on routine so I am in the process of developing a daily schedule for us to follow. I began by asking my daughter what we should include and plan to incorporate the things she does at school. I went to The Mom Advantage for ideas on creating an age appropriate schedule for my family. This website and companion The Mom Advantage Facebook page was created by an educational friend of mine and I highly recommend subscribing to her newsletter. What I really like about The Mom Advantage is she provides several sample schedules for mommies who find themselves home schooling while trying to work from home. The Mom Advantage is filled with resources for children preschool-grade 3.

Jesus Time– We are a Christian family so setting extra time aside for family devotionals and worship, bible stories, songs and prayer will be important. We will begin our day with a morning Jesus Time and have a family devotional with daddy after dinner. During Lent my daughter has enjoyed opening a new window on a Lenten calendar. There is a bible verse to go along with each revealed picture.

Journal Time or Writing Time– My daughter has recently gotten into book making and writing. We will take time each day to write, illustrate and read books that we write together. Allow your children to freely write each day or give them a topic or sentence starter. Remember young children may draw pictures or use scribbles and mock letters to represent their thoughts and ideas.

Play Dough– Have your child help you make some homemade play dough. There are many recipes out there but I have found the ones that involve boiling water to work the best. We used Mrs. Stanglein’s Playdough recipe. Don’t forget to add some scented oils, vanilla, cinnamon or Kool Aid to make the mixture smell good. It’s also fun to add food coloring and glitter to make it extra fun to play with. Use cookie cutters, straws and scissors to play with the play dough. Playing with play dough helps little hands build fine motor skills.

Storytime– We have a lot of picture books at home but to add variety to our read aloud time we have been watching videos on-line of other people reading. Josh Gad who voices Olaf on Frozen has been recording his favorite books and Lillian’s teacher is sending out a nightly read aloud as well. Click Here to link to favorite authors reading their books. I recommend video chatting with a relative or friend and reading each other books as well. After reading it is always fun to write or draw a picture in response to the reading. You could start a “Reading Response Journal” and add to it after each book you read.

 

 

 

The Tooth Fairy Makes Her First Visit

Losing your first tooth is a right of passage and one we weren’t prepared for. How could my daughter be losing her baby teeth when it seems like it was yesterday that she got her first tooth? I wanted to create some special memories for my little one while establishing what tooth fairy visits will look like in our household. I didn’t have a lot of time to plan as her tooth was wiggly and getting looser every minute!

The Tooth Fairy– I wasn’t sure what our tooth fairy should bring for a lost tooth so I decided to ask friends who have children who have already lost teeth. I quickly realized we live in a world where the tooth fairy brings some children spare change while others get bills ranging from one dollar to ten dollars! Some children even receive toys from the tooth fairy! Wanting to keep things simple I decided on a dollar a tooth presented in quarters because my daughter enjoys putting money in her piggy bank. She claims she is saving for a house and already has one picked out that is close to our local library and no kill animal shelter (where she plans to work). I think a silver dollar would really be special and that is what I plan on giving her in the future but it required planning ahead and I didn’t have time to get one for her first lost tooth.

A Tooth Fairy Pillow– When I was a child I had a special handmade tooth fairy pillow where I placed my lost tooth for the tooth fairy to find. With no time to spare I turned to Amazon Prime to find something similar for my daughter. Although it lacked the charm of my hand crafted pillow I settled on this Tooth Fairy Pillow and Gold Coin Keepsake from Bizzy Bee. There is a companion book titled, “The Original Story of the Tooth Fairy” that explains the history behind the coin. The book can be purchased or viewed for free on You Tube. We watched the story before the Tooth Fairy delivered the special gold coin. A few days later we had a craft fair at church and you’ll never guess what we found… a handmade tooth fairy pillow that resembles the one I had as a child! My daughter and I were so excited.

The handmade Tooth Fairy pillow from our church craft fair.

Toothbrush Painting– We replaced our regular paint brushes with toothbrushes and had a fun afternoon painting. Although most of our time was spent free painting, I drew a mouth filled with dirty teeth on a piece of paper and my daughter pretended the paint was toothpaste and used the toothbrush to clean the teeth.

Painting with a toothbrush

What Foods Make Your Teeth Happy?- We looked through grocery ads and cut out foods that would make our teeth happy. It was a great activity to teach healthy and non-healthy foods and to learn about eating a balanced diet.

What foods make your teeth happy and healthy?

Angel on Assignment…An Angelic Tradition

Angels are the highlight of our Advent celebrations this year. From the angels that adorned the tables at the Advent By Candlelight events I participated in to the messages from the angels that changed everything to the lovely book and plush angel doll that showed up in our mailbox.

The book “Angel on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition,” beautifully written by Wanda Carter Roush has instantly become a family favorite! Written in rhyme, the book shares the heavenly messages delivered by angels to Mary and Joseph, to the shepherds and to the wise men regarding the birth of a baby who would change the world! The book teaches children that angels were present from the birth to the grave to the resurrection…”From a poor simple stable and a bed made of hay, To the cross on a hill, in a borrowed tomb He lay. Angels were there from the star to the stone, When the greatest gift to the world was made known.”

“Angles on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition”, has another message. The book teaches boys and girls that angels are sent from Heaven above and show God’s love by performing special missions. From sending comfort when we are scared to guarding and protecting, angels are all around us. The delightful illustrations by Mike Motz and Alicia Young engage the reader. Angels are hiding on every page and my daughter loved studying the book, shouting with excitement when she located an angel!

An Angelic Tradition– As an “Elf on a Shelf” alternative, our book came with a sweet plush doll that mirrors the little angel hiding in the book. The book explains that angels do much more than just sit on a shelf and suggests starting a new Christmas tradition with your family by assigning an angel to your house. Give your angel a name and use your angel to remind your family of God’s love. While other Christmas traditions center around receiving instead of giving. I like how the book encourages children to be “angels on assignment” looking for people in need and lending a helping hand by giving unto others and sharing kind words. This year our “Angel on Assignment” projects included purchasing gifts off of the angel tree at our church, packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, donating outgrown dance shoes to Traveling Tutus and purchasing cat beds and toys for Five Acres Animal Shelter, a no kill shelter in our community.

The angel my daughter and I made together.

Creating an Angel- You can purchase an angel or make one of your own. Just look in the back of the book, “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition,” and you will find pages filled with ideas on how to make an angel. There are many creative ideas like making the body out of an old paperback book or using coffee filters for wings. The possibilities are endless.! I look forward to starting a new tradition of making an angel with my daughter every Christmas. As she gets older I envision the angels will get more intricate. There are patterns in the book if you want to make an angel out of paper. My daughter and I chose that option this year, tracing her little hands to use as the angel’s wings. We placed our angel by her Advent calendar to remind us of God’s love. We made a few additional angels to gift to others so they too can be reminded of God’s love and the message of showing kindness. The author, Wanda Carter Roush, encourages individuals to post pictures of their angels on the “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition” Facebook page.

I shared “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition” with the students in my daughter’s preschool class at their Christmas party and helped the boys and girls make angels so they can start this angelic tradition with their families. Through kind words or doing a good deed, sometimes it’s the little things that remind us of angel’s wings.

You can purchase this beautiful book on the author’s website at http://wandacarterroush.com or on Amazon. Amazon also has a digital version available. Make sure to check out other books and journals by Wanda Carter Roush. They make perfect gifts!

 

 

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.

Going Back to School…New Beginnings and Familiar Traditions

As I write this post most schools have recently completed their first day of school or will be welcoming students back in a few days. I simply love this time of year as it signals a new start and a fresh beginning for teachers and their students.

Throughout my twenty-six years in the field of education I continue to delight in the sights and smells of a new school year. A few days ago I conducted my last summer in-service training. As I walked into schools across eleven different states, preparing teachers for a new school year, I was greeted with the smell of freshly waxed floors (shined to perfection), saw inspiring bulletin boards decorated with bright construction paper and entered classrooms stocked with new school supplies eagerly awaiting young learners.

This year my daughter started her second year of preschool at Zion Lutheran School. She returned to the same loving teacher and was excited to find some of her friends had returned from last year. The only change was a new classroom space that her teacher successfully made both inviting and engaging. I reveled in the familiarity of it all as I anticipate future years to be a bit more stressful on both of us.

Prior to the first day of school we continued our “back to school” traditions of reading the “Kissing Hand” and making and decorating kissing hand cookies with Nana. We started these fun activities last year and you can read all about them here.

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

Whether you’re a teacher implementing the newest curriculum, a parent sending your teenager off to college, or you have children who are simply moving to the next grade level at the same school, I send you wishes for a prosperous new school year! As the seasons change the crayons will become worn and the bulletin boards will fade, the newness becoming a distant memory. When you and your children begin to lose “the sparkle” simply look back to the beginning and try to recapture some of the excitement and anticipation we all had at the start.

Confessions of a First Time Dance Mom…Surviving the Inaugural Recital

Unlike a majority of American women I never took dance lessons as a child. My parents offered up the opportunity but I was an extremely shy little girl and unless I had a BFF to go with me I refused to try anything new. So when my little one was three I asked her if she wanted to take dance lessons at a real dance studio. My daughter is brave and outgoing and only a wee bit shy, so unlike her mommy, she enthusiastically said “YES” and I became a “dance mom.”

The Studio- Fully unaware of the local dance scene I enrolled my daughter at the nearest studio, a mere two miles from our house! Little did I know that the Performing Arts Centre is a premiere dance studio in the Saint Louis area and has produced internationally known performers. My daughter was blessed to have Ms. Debbie Davenport (one of the owners) as her teacher and we had a drama free year of dance until the big recital edged near. That’s when I faced a wave of uncertainty as I navigated my new role as “dance mom.”

The Make Up- The thought of applying eye shadow and lipstick to a four year old scared the begeevees out of me! So I turned to my mommy mentor for make-up advice. She told me what she used for her daughter’s recent recital and explained in great detail how she applied it. I took copious notes and traveled to three different stores to get what we needed! But then my daughter flat out declared that she had no plans on wearing make-up. She would only wear strawberry flavored lip stick! So I decided to do a trial run with my dad by my side (he is an artist who is skilled at applying make-up) Simply suggesting that she put on make-up led my little one to a giant meltdown so I said, “Why don’t you watch while Pops applies make-up to mommy?” After the transformation I emerged with big red lips and dark purple eyelids. She still refused and I went to bed praying for a miracle.

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Pops applying make-up to our little dancer on the night of the recital.

 The Dress Rehearsal- On the morning of the dress rehearsal I had everything laid out (make-up, ponytail holder, hairspray) prior to greeting my little dancer. She awoke with snot dripping from her nose and I just didn’t know how we were going to make it through the morning! But to my surprise my daughter was cooperative and while she played a game on my phone I successfully applied foundation and eye shadow to her precious little face. Then came the lipstick and a bit of resistance but after bribing her with a stuffed pup she had her eye on at our local supermarket, the lips were done! Another $15.99 to unlock hidden ponies on the “My Little Pony” game she was playing on my phone and her hair was beautifully styled and sprayed with hairspray. I became “that mom” and made promises through sheer desperation, but learned if I was brave enough to become a dance mom I had to go all in and never look back!

The Dressing Room- My daughter’s Godmother came into town for the recital and she accompanied us behind stage. I was immediately overwhelmed as we navigated through a maze of mother’s doing hair, applying make-up and fixing costumes. While little girls, giddy with excitement, ran through a sea of sequins and hairspray in search of their instructors. “Jennifer, I think I’ll go out and sit with your family,” said my daughter’s Godmother. The thought of being left alone with all of the chaos and commotion made me nervous. As the blood drained from my face she saw the horror in her proposal. She gently laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t prepare you for this. It’s ok, I’ll stay.” It was, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts she could have given me. As she applied red nail polish to my little hula baby’s toes, I was overcome with emotion. For at that moment I realized Aunt Kay Kay (what my daughter affectionately calls her Godmother) had traveled from Ohio to Missouri not only for my daughter but for me! My daughter’s Godmother applying polish to my daughter’s little toes backstage.

 The Performance- My daughter danced on the second recital night. Since the studio is bursting with talent the owners split the recital into five three-hour performances on various nights. The competition teams and dance company perform every night, giving the audience a nice sampling of dance styles and abilities through a variety of age groups. My daughter’s class were the “babies of the night” and when working with three and four year olds you never know what will happen! I was surprised how confident my daughter was on stage. She wasn’t born a dancer but she knew the routine and did every step without missing a beat! Her headpiece came off during the end of the dance (an epic beginner dance mom fail) but like a pro she didn’t stop and pick it up, instead she continued on as if nothing happened. She was one of the only girls who remembered to blow a kiss at the end and when I picked her up backstage I could tell she was proud of herself and her accomplishments!

Our little Hula Baby!

Let’s Hear it For the Boys and the Girls and the Adults!– If you’re reading this thinking “I’m a boy mom so I’ll never be a dance mom,” then Shame on You! Three of the seven graduating seniors at my daughter’s dance studio are boys! Dance doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t require prerequisites or prior experience. Everyone is welcome! Boys, girls, even adults! A quality studio will have an appropriate class for everyone! In fact, there was an adult only number that highlighted an introductory tap class. Although far from professional, these men and women were filled with joy and radiated confidence, reminding me that life is filled with taking risks and we should all be open to new adventures!

Dancing Through Life!– I don’t know how long my daughter will continue dancing. She may never make the competitive team or dance professionally but in one short year dance has taught her lessons to last a lifetime. Dance has improved her focus, discipline, gross motor abilities and cooperation skills. She has learned to follow directions, watch her peers, wait her turn and most importantly, what it takes to be part of a team! She took her responsibility on stage seriously and was genuinely upset when one of her peers chose to “do her own thing” during the dance instead of following the practiced routine. Although not unusual at this age, my daughter called it “disappointing” and asked me, “Momma did you see the friend in my class who was not cooperating!” It was an important life lesson. But whether they followed the routine or not the girls all accomplished something many adults have never achieved. They fearlessly got up on a huge stage, faced the blinding lights and joyfully danced in front of a packed audience. And at that moment I was proud to call myself a “dance mom!”

 

 

 

 

Fun With Silly McGilly, a New Saint Patrick’s Day Tradition

My maternal great great grandfather, James Beatty, was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States when he was thirty years old. With an Irish ancestor on our family tree we have always celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day, the day when everyone is a wee bit Irish! This year we added a new tradition to our festivities…Silly McGilly!

In early March Silly McGilly arrived with a special picture book. We began by reading the book Silly McGilly, written in rhyme by Irish sisters Michelle Dougherty, Eileen Cowley and Victoria Coffey with whimsical illustrations by Charlotte Cheng. The book explains the story of Silly McGilly a lively leprechaun who plays tricks at night that are both fun and silly. In March, leprechauns leave Ireland and travel to faraway lands to play tricks both small and grand. The book kept my preschoolers attention and she immediately asked me to read it again. “Each night put your toy by a window in full view, this is my invitation to come visit you.” 

img_1655My daughter couldn’t wait to place Silly McGilly by her bedroom window; eagerly anticipating the fun tricks he would play. I kept some of the tricks simple like turning picture frames on their side, moving stuffed animals around, hiding her speech flash cards around the house and stacking the pillows on top of each other in the middle of the living room. There is a list of suggested tricks for both school and home at the end of the book. In our home, Silly McGilly turned our scrambled eggs green one morning and another day he left a trail of golden wrapped chocolate coins on the steps leading downstairs. My daughter squealed with delight upon this discovery and carefully collected each coin.

Parents and teachers can decide how often Silly McGilly will make a visit (every night, once a week, or just the night before Saint Patrick’s Day.) Children can play with Silly McGilly throughout the day and when he is placed by the window before bedtime it is a signal for the real Silly McGilly to come and play a trick. Although he plays his last trick on Saint Patrick’s Day Eve, before returning to Ireland, the book says Silly McGilly can return anytime children do a good deed or are extra kind. I look forward to having Silly McGilly visit us throughout the year! I thought it would be fun to have him bring doughnuts on National Doughnut Day (June 7) or brownies on National Brownie Day (December 8.)

The magic of Silly McGilly is perfect in the home or at school. As a former kindergarten teacher I would have loved introducing Silly McGilly to my students. His fun tricks would have brought excitement and light to the classroom in an otherwise gloomy time of year when the winter weather is lingering and everyone is dreaming of spring break and sunshine!

The Silly McGilly website provides further suggestions for tricks that can be played at home or at school. The website is filled with coloring pages and other exciting activities for children, parents and teachers. 

The book and doll set can be purchased on the Silly McGilly webiste or on Amazon. I know you can think of a little leprechaun or two who would love him as much as we do! Begin the St. Patrick’s Day tradition today!

My daughter loves Silly McGilly and looks forward to his funny tricks. Putting the Silly McGilly doll by her bedroom window has become part of her bedtime routine and the book is an instant favorite! As we get closer to Saint Patrick’s Day I wonder what shenanigans Silly McGilly has planned for our family?

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Photo by: Larissa Photography ~ http://www.larissaphotography.com

Selecting the Best Preschool For Your Family

In January of last year my husband and I made the difficult decision (maybe it was a bit more difficult for me) as to where we were going to send our daughter to preschool in August. Although the final decision was made in January we began researching possible schools a year or more before.

After visiting several schools, scouring over countless websites, reviews and brochures, I will never forget the emotion that quickly overtook me when we had found the perfect fit. There was child created work scattered around the room, evidence of project work in progress and a huge naturalist playground just outside the classroom door. Far from tidy and probably appearing a bit messy to some, there was evidence of learning and the room was a canvas for children to create and explore. The teacher was inviting, observant and child centered and when a parent asked her what questions he should ask, she quickly replied, “The teacher and the environment are two important things to look at.” (This is exactly what I told my husband to look for before we left the house) The room felt comfortable and oddly familiar. The space reminded me of my own classroom and it felt like home.

A year later we are extremely pleased with our choice. Our daughter is thriving, making new friends and learning everyday! To aid others I compiled a list for parents and caregivers who are beginning their “preschool search.”

Ask Other Families- The first thing I did was ask parents where their children go to preschool. I asked neighbors, moms at the library and parents at the park. I initiated the discussion during Little Gym classes and playgroups. I found many had done their own research and were happy to share with me. The list I compiled showed most of the options in my area. I viewed the schools websites and read reviews online. I began these conversations and web searches a few years before my daughter started preschool.

Location– Location, location, location! Although it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, location is an important factor when selecting a preschool. Some good questions to ask… How far is the school from your home and from your place of work? How early will you have to leave in the morning to drop your child off? If you work, how long will it take you to get to the school after work and then how long will it take to get home? What is the traffic flow? Will you be sitting in rush hour traffic or driving against it?

School Schedule- Are you looking for a full time preschool where you send your child to school five days a week or are you looking for a part time schedule? Do you want half day or full day attendance? Most preschool centers recommend a three year old attend a minimum of two days a week and a four year old three days a week. Does the school have flexibility on the days your child would attend?

Teachers and Staff– Perhaps the most important factor is finding a teacher, an assistant and an early childhood director that are child centered, caring and passionate about working with small children. The teacher and his or her commitment to the learning process and the overall well being of children is crucial in selecting a preschool for your child. Finding a teacher who is a skilled “kid watcher” and has a clear understanding of child development is important. A teacher who gets down on the childrens’ level and knows how to stretch children by asking questions that make them think and directing them to activities and projects that will expand their knowledge and creative thinking are positive things to look for. Other questions to ask… What kind of staff professional development does the center engage in? What is the teacher turnover rate at the school? Most schools have websites that briefly describe each teacher giving his or her experience, education and background. If you can’t find this information on the website don’t be afraid to ask.

Lillian with her teacher, Mrs. Stanglein, at Zion Lutheran Early Childhood Center.
Environment– Often considered a “second teacher,” the classroom environment is crucial to learning. Some things to look for… Is the classroom safe and child centered? Are materials and manipulatives easily accessible to every student? Look for safe shelving with rounded edges that are on the child’s eye level. Are there clearly defined areas in the classroom where children can work during choice time? (writing center, science area, art center, dramatic play, building/construction area, classroom library, sensory table) Is there a classroom library or quiet area with pillows, stuffed animals and soft chairs where children can read books and calm down? Does the room feel warm and inviting with child created work on display, touches of home (picture frames, plants and lamps), open ended toys like wooden blocks and dress up clothing or does it have a cold institutional feel with teacher created bulletin boards, commercialized toys, items stored on high shelves and undefined work spaces?

Pedagogy and Programs– When you enter a preschool classroom it may appear that the children are playing but play is a child’s work. Children learn through play especially when there are trained educators asking them about their work, guiding them to make connections, evaluating their progress and providing support and assistance. A good environment gives children the ability to construct knowledge from the world around them. Perhaps you are looking for an early childhood center that prescribes to a certain pedagogy? There are many being used today: Montessori, Reggio Emilia, The Project Approach, Waldorf, Highscope, just to name a few. Research shows that mixed age grouping is preferred, allowing children to learn from each other and providing teachers the opportunity to focus on the developmental needs of each child instead of their chronological age. Many preschools use a combination of several methods. Some lean towards the traditional with a strong academic emphasis while others are affiliated with a specific religion and incorporate religious studies into their day. No matter what methods are used, all preschools should practice developmentally appropriate practices that provide hands on learning, student choice and play. Before making a school visit it would be beneficial to define what attributes you and your family are looking for.

I hope this article provides some helpful tips as you and your family begin your preschool search. Please visit this NAEYC website (National Association for the Education or Young Children) for more assistance on selecting the perfect preschool for your family.