Thursday, July 31, 2014

Felt Mickey Mouse Ears

Munchkin's 3rd birthday is coming up and we are celebrating by throwing him a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse party! He's going to love it! And what party could go without some goodies for the party guests? I decided to put my crafting skills to use and make some Mickey Mouse ears for all the kids (and a few adults too). 

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Altogether this project cost us under $15! $5 for a yard of black felt and $5 for two sets of 10-count headbands from Target. The foam sheets were bought months ago at Dollar Tree for $2 (two sets), and we already owned the glue gun. I'm pretty sure a Disney brand Mickey Mouse ears headband would have cost that much just for one! We love that this was an affordable craft that will hold up after lots of hours of play. (I can attest to that, as my children have a pair for pretend play and so far they have suffered no damage.)

Supplies you will need:
Hot Glue Gun (glue sticks, too, of course)
Pen (for tracing pattern)
Pattern (I just used the ears part)

This project did take a couple hours though and I worked on it over the course of a couple days. I spent an hour tracing and cutting out the foam sheets and about another hour cutting out the felt. The gluing part took much longer, but it was definitely worth it!

The paper pattern was limited to the space on the foam sheets, so they aren't perfectly rounded and the top 1/4" was cut off. However, that's fine because no one will see the foam inside the ears. I worked with the space I had and simply cut the foam a 1/4" inch shorter than the felt pattern. I cut out the first traced pattern and used that to trace around the rest of the foam pieces, that way the paper remained intact.

Since I was using a piece of black felt that desperately needed to be ironed, I should have ironed the entire piece first, before cutting out the shapes. But I didn't... So after cutting out all the rectangles, I individually ironed out all the pieces so the felt was smooth. It took about an hour, but it was well worth the effort. And instead of tracing (because it's nearly impossible to see purple ink on black fabric), I pinned the paper pattern to the felt and cut around it carefully. That took another hour.

Then I set up the assembly line! Headbands, foam, felt. Check!

As you can see in the picture below, I just used a small amount of hot glue to bind the foam to the headband and to itself. I folded over the foam and made sure everything lined up and pressed it firmly together, just a few seconds, to let it set. In the above picture, you can barely tell that it was glued because everything is pressed firmly together. This will make sure there are no lumps and that the felt won't be loose.

Once the foam ears were glued on, I placed the felt ear underneath it and lined it up. I made sure that the middle lined up to the bottom of the foam and that there was enough space around the foam to use the hot glue. I glued along where the dotted line is.  I did not add glue to the outer side of the foam because then you'd be able to feel lumps. I carefully glued around the edge of the foam and then quickly folded it closed and firmly pressed all the edges and the bottom to make sure it was smooth and there were no gaps. 

There's one ear completed! I followed the same steps for all the remaining ears. I made a total of 20 ears, not including the ones I made for pretend play around the house.

And there you have it! These Mickey Mouse ears will be perfect for Munchkin's 3rd birthday. They are comfortable and sturdy. The ears stand up on their own, so no need to worry about them flopping over! And they are perfect for pretend play, so I know these ears will see hours of fun play time!

Next up is our tutorial on how to make your own Mickey Mouse gloves! 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hewitt Homeschooling: Lightning Literature and Composition Grade 1 {Review}

Hewitt Homeschooling is a provider of fantastic curriculum that teaches literature comprehension using full-length novels and autobiographies, plays, essays, short stories and poems. They also offer many other materials for different subjects, including art, history, math, music and science. Since we will choose enriching literature over a dull textbook any day, this curriculum is ideal for our homeschool. We were very excited to review Hewitt Homeschooling's Lightning Literature and Composition Grade 1 Student Workbook and Lightning Literature and Composition: Grade 1 Teacher's Guide.

Both of these were physical books and the Student Workbook is consumable (meaning you can only use it once with one student). This product is intended for students in first or second grade and costs $49.95 for the Student Workbook and $29.95 for the Teacher's Guide. The teacher's guide provides answers to the questions, ideas for additional lessons and scripted questions. The Teacher's Guide also tells you which story from Aesop's Fables you should read with each lesson. The student workbook includes: Reading Journal Pages, Dictionary Pages, and Alphabet and Sentence Puzzle Pages. 

This literature curriculum focuses on three components: literature, grammar and mechanics, and composition. The author of this curriculum said this curriculum would,“instill a love of great literature in children, expand their ability to read intelligently and deeply, improve their communication abilities, and prepare them for more advanced language arts concepts.” I feel like the curriculum does do that. My children have always enjoyed reading, but now they are able to point out parts of the story and are able to recall stories more easily by pieces the story-line together.

The Teacher's Guide is so helpful in detailing all of the lessons throughout the week. The start of each book begins with an "at a Glance" page, which tells you what lessons will be covered throughout the week, which fable to pair with the story and any additional materials you may want to use. There are literature questions with space provided for the teacher to record answers, there are guidelines to follow that explain the different parts of the story, so you can more easily guide the conversation to include all of these points, and it is encouraged to work with your children throughout the lessons. These are all things that I find helpful, as a still-new homeschooler and mother who enjoys hand-on learning with her children.

The curriculum lasts for 36 weeks, with one book per week. Most of these books are popular and you might even own a copy. Others were completely new to us and we loved reading them and look forward to reading the others. You can tell that they carefully selected books for this curriculum. For this curriculum to work, you will need to sign these books out at a library or purchase them. Since the lessons for each book only last a week, you will have no issue getting those books back in on time.

Hewitt Homeschooling does sell a copy of Aesop's Fables for Children that is read-and-listen book and CD for $12.98, but it was not included in our package to review. You can easily find a free copy of Aesop's Fables for Amazon Kindle or visit your local library. We purchased our copy last year at Kohl's and love the artwork! It definitely pairs well with this literature curriculum, though I suppose you could use it without it. We have read the entire book several times over the past few months, but this is the first time we have used individual fables paired with literature activities. I have set up the Aesop's Fables book next to the student workbook at our work table. In order for the kids to easily find the page they need to work on, I have used post-it tabs to mark the pages (they stick out at the top), but I have also posted a note on their work board that lists the title and author of the current book, which page they are on in the workbook and the title and page number in Aesop's Fables.

Since some of these Lessons feature an Alphabet Page with a theme, we have used that as a starting point for literacy themed activities for playing. We have also been using them as our spelling words of the week. For example: For week 25, the book is called Bill and Pete to the Rescue and the themed words are "Exotic Animals." For that, we will be using several animals from the Safari Ltd. TOOB collection we own to create a small rescue center so my children can act out animal rescues. For Week 34's book, How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head, the themed words are "Mythical Creatures." So we will be using Safari Ltd.'s Mythical Creatures TOOB, along with some dragons we own to create a sensory bin or small world that looks like a fantasy world. I have lots of plans to make the most out of this literature curriculum and will always add an element of play to the activities. This curriculum also encourages you to do your own thing and make up your own activities on Friday's, so that is why we are ending each story with a themed play activity.

We also use a few other materials that we bought or printed off to go with this literature curriculum. For instance, the Madeline week deals with learning to capitalize the first letter of the week and month, so we set up a small calendar next to their table. This way they can look through the calendar and see which words are capitalized and which aren't. Since this is a common activity for many of the other books as well, we have decided to hang the calendar on the wall in front of them so they are able to mark the days. We printed and laminated a sheet to go next to it that lists the names of the week and months, so they will always have it to reference. Please note that my children are in preschool and kindergarten and not at a 1st grade reading and comprehension level. So while you may disagree with me for having the answers so nearby, it is simply there as a reference to check answers.

Along with the calendar, we have also provided maps. For instance, Grandfather's Journey talks about Japan, the Atlantic Ocean and California, along with other places, so we pinned up maps to look at and read about those locations. Other stories talk about animals, people, and vehicles and for those, I usually set out a small tray with figures for small world play. For others, they talk about puzzles or mazes, and I will give them some to complete while I read to them.

We did not use this literature curriculum in order. While it is recommended to use the book in order, we decided to start with the books we already had on hand or already planned to pick up at the library. We did take a one-week break from this curriculum, since we were on vacation, though we took along the book we were going to be working on when we got home to read at night. Typically we read these books right before we sit down to do the activities and sometimes we read it again at bedtime. My kids never bore of reading the same book multiple times and it also helps them to remember more details and are even able to tell me about the story or recreate it with their toys. For a handful of these books, we have been able to find coloring pages online that you can print off. I let them color while I read to them the story, and this helps them remember what the characters look like and can describe them with more detail.

One part of this curriculum that my children have not used yet are the sections for independent writing. My 4 1/2 year old loves writing letters and short words, but is not at the point of writing complete sentences. So for those activities, I simply asked her the question and I wrote down her answer. For instance, if the question was, "What was this story about?", she would tell me in her own words how she interpreted the story and I would write it down in the space. Sometimes her stories would be much longer than the space provided, so I quickly learned to keep a few spare sheets of paper tucked inside the workbook so I could write down her entire story. She also loves when I read the stories back to her and ask her if there was any more I should add. Storytelling has become a huge part of her lessons and she never turns down an invitation to tell one.

My daughter really likes that the student workbook comes with a dictionary at the end and you are able to write in words from the story as you learn them. She now keeps her own little dictionary in a note book, for when we are not working in this workbook, and will have me spell out words for her so she can write them down. Any time she hears a new word, she asks me to spell it for her and to sound out the syllables. She is mostly an auditory learner, so hearing me spell and sound out the word while she writes it down helps her to remember it better.

One feature we really like about this curriculum is that each book lesson only lasts a week and each day has specific activity pages. There is no need for the parent/s or school teacher to gather any other supplies, other than the story book and student workbook. It's a compact curriculum that makes literature lessons super easy to set up! We also order the books at the library ahead of time, so they are sure to be there when we go there. Our librarians are also super helpful and are able to suggest similar themed books to supplement their lessons. The Teacher's Guide also provides suggestions for similar books by the same author or by different authors. We usually pick up these books in addition to the main book, to further explore the subject.

Below is the list of books that are needed for this curriculum. You can obviously skip any of them, however they do work together. You can work on them in order, or out of order, based on your preferences or the needs of your child. Or perhaps you pick up all your books at the library and it's not there the week you need it, you can always move on to the next book and go back when the library has the last book in stock again.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Hellerv
Umbrella by Taro Yashimav
The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Tabackv
The Napping House by Audrey & Don Wood
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
Doctor De Soto by William Steig
Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Mother Goose Rhymes by Mother Goose
Mabela the Clever by Margaret Read MacDonald
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack
Mouse Soup by Arnold Lobel
Bill and Pete to the Rescue by Tomie dePaola
Best Friends for Frances by Russell Hoban
Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic Leodhas
Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág
Curious George Flies a Kite by Margret Reyv
Babar the King by Jean de Brunhoff
This Is London by M. Sasek
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head by Bill Peet
The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein

My overall opinion is that we really enjoyed this curriculum. We read the reviews and they were all positive and so we were really excited to try out this product. Once we got into it, I knew Lightning Literature was going to be a great curriculum to use over the next few years. However, while Hewitt Homeschooling has many literature curriculum courses for middle school and high school, they do not have many choices for elementary school. They are working on it, though! The 1st grade curriculum is brand new and each year they plan to add a new grade. Since we do not need the second grade curriculum right away, I'm not worried about the wait. Especially not since I checked out their preview of the 3rd grade reading list and it's filled with books that we love! It makes me even more excited to see what we can expect and we look forward to purchasing the second grade literature pack when it becomes available.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Munchkin is turning 3! (and Gift Guide)

Munchkin turns 3 soon and we are so excited to celebrate his birthday! He's getting to the age where he understands that a holiday or party is coming up and Bean has been reminding him nearly daily that it's going to be his birthday soon and that he will be 3. He is great with numbers and knows that he is 2 currently, so every time she mentions that he will be 3, he reminds her that he's not yet. "No, I'm two!" It is really cute.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!

In anticipation of his birthday, we went over what themes we could work with. What he love most (currently) is Mickey Mouse and Vehicles. We had a Thomas the Train themed birthday for him last year, so we decided to go with Mickey Mouse this year, so we wouldn't have two vehicle themed birthdays in a row. And not to mention, he is obsessed with Mickey Mouse and will be positively thrilled to be surrounded by Mickey Mouse stuff all day. :)

This will also be the first year that I make small gifts for the children to go along with their goodie bags. Last year I had no idea what to make (I admit I am not a fan of Thomas, so I was stumped), but this year I had a clear idea of what I wanted to make. If we were going to have a Mickey Mouse themed party, then all the kids needed to have their own Mickey Mouse ears! And if everything goes according to plan, they will also have a set of white Mickey Mouse gloves too! Or maybe only Munchkin will. We'll see how it goes. Munchkin is obsessed with the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse show, so I really wanted to add something to symbolize Toodles. I'll let you know if I end up making anything!

SO easy to make!

I'll provide the tutorials on how to make your own felt Mickey Mouse ears and fleece Mickey Mouse gloves in an upcoming post. For now I wanted to share the gifts we bought for Munchkin and why. Mainly I wanted to purchase educational gifts that he could play with, but could also be incorporated into our homeschool lessons. The majority of the gifts I chose for Munchkin were purchased at Kohl's, although I have provided affiliate links to Amazon because the prices are lower.

We decided on picking up some pattern blocks. At the time, we only had our felt set and our jumbo set (Parquetry Blocks from Learning Resources). I choose Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards and Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Pattern Blocks Set. This way there are two sets that can be used differently. Munchkin loves creative play, so I know he will enjoy these! The magnetic set will also be perfect for traveling (the picture below shows it in the bag it stores easily in)! We also chose the Melissa and Doug sets because they are wooden and durable, but also because I was making the purchase at Kohl's and that was what was available. Otherwise I might have opted for the Learning Resources Pattern Block Activity Pack, which comes with many more pattern design cards.

We also purchased the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Vehicles in a Box Jigsaw Puzzles because this set comes with 8 small wooden puzzles, that I know Munchkin will not get bored with. There is also a wooden box that the puzzles fit neatly into, so it will make the puzzles easier to clean up and store. We have several puzzles that he loves, but only one features any vehicles. The wooden puzzles are a little bit harder to use, but they are durable and won't fall apart the way cardboard puzzles do. Over time the pieces will become easier to use.

We purchased the Discovery Kids Activity World Map and Discovery Kids ABC's Fabric Play Set to hang on the wall in the children's learning area. We don't own too many posters, just a set of Alphabet letters and Numbers 1-20. So these will make a great addition! Both sets are made of fabric and come with several pieces that can be moved around and played with. This will be like having a huge felt board! These will be used for geography and literacy lessons, but they will also be there whenever learning strikes his fancy. I'm fairly certain the World Map will be his favorite of the two, because there are several animals for him to move around. This set comes with 76 velcro pieces for animals, bodies of water, countries and landmarks. I really hope Discovery Kids will make a Numbers and USA fabric play set. :)

One thing my kids also love to do is play outside. What child doesn't? Because they play with a lot of the neighborhood kids who are older, they have learned the basics of a few games and have decided they really like basketball and soccer (football for the rest of the world). We bought him a medium-size basketball and a Franklin Sports Night Lightning Soccer Ball. We opted for the smaller basketball because Munchkin is little and struggles to throw and dribble a regular size basketball. This smaller basketball will definitely be better suited for someone his size. We chose that particular soccer ball because it is made of super sturdy materials, is perfect for any season, AND it glows in the dark. How cool is that? That means we will likely stay up late one night to have a night time picnic at the park, star gaze and play soccer! The only difference is that he chose a purple and green soccer ball.

Along with these gifts, he will also receive some clothes and a lot of books! Many of the books are Mickey Mouse or Little Critter. The Little Critter books are from the current Kohl's Cares Charity set. We check each month to see what the books are and usually pick them up. Not only do these books support great causes, but the books themselves are amazing! Each only costs $5 and many of our favorite books come from the Kohl's Cares line. In particular, the Skippyjon Jones, Llama Llama, The Pout Pout Fish and Winnie the Pooh stories are well-loved. Usually there is a matching stuffed animal available to go with the books, which can make story time even more fun!

I really think he will love all of his gifts! I'm also happy to have chosen durable gifts that will last years and will hopefully inspire many hours of fun! 

What gifts did you give to your 3 year old for their birthday? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nature Activities for Toddlers

I'm a nature-loving mama, so it has always been important to me for my children to experience nature. It's not the same as when I was growing up, because I lived on a mountain surrounded on all sides by a forest. My kids and I live on the outskirts of a city, so we are lucky enough to be next to a river and a nice park that we can frequent daily. 

Here are a few easy nature activities for toddlers. I chose the things my kids enjoy most, but this is by no means the only options. The ideas for play are only limited by your imagination, so get out there and be creative and have fun! Let the kids decide what they want to do in nature and they will thank you for it!

Collect Sticks!

Or stones. Or shells. Or leaves. Whatever you can find and pick up outside in nature will do. You wouldn't think it, but it is so fun for a toddler! My little man loves collecting sticks at the park! He will diligently, and with more focus than he normally exerts, collect sticks for an hour. Then when his arms are full and he can't carry any more, he will set them down behind his "rock slide" and count them (it's his "pretend cave"). Or build a stick teepee. Or make a fence or road with them for his cars. Or have a stick sword fight with his sister. Lots of possibilities! 

He was so proud of himself and even counted all of them to tell Bean how many he found!

Find Insects!

Or birds or animals, whatever lives in your area. My son especially loves finding honey bees and watching them slurp up delicious nectar. We don't know where these bees have their hive, but they are constantly hanging out around this patch of milkweed at the end of our driveway. Butterflies also love it here, but I haven't been able to catch a picture of them. You can just barely see the bee zipping by. 

Go Rock Jumping!

Ok, so for a younger toddler, you may be thinking, no way! But seriously, if your kid is a jumper, let them jump! Obviously, somewhere safe where they won't break a leg or something, but if the rock is only a foot off the ground and they happen to fall down the first few times, it's ok. Kids are resilient and they will get back up on that rock and jump off again! They will learn to balance and be able to work on their coordination skills, along with other important gross motor skills. This is also a great exercise to build confidence! Parents these days are scared of anything bad happening to their kids. I admit, I am one of those moms, even though I was the kind of kid who used to jump off bridges into rivers and swim in lakes where I often saw moose and bears not ten feet from me. And yes, if my kids fall and start to cry, I do rush over and see if they need help. But if they are fine, I wipe their tears and encourage them to go play again rather than remove them from their playing. My son was always really cautious, but the day he decided to climb up on the "rock slide" (it has one smooth side they can slide down), and jump off it, he was sold! Jumping off of stuff is now one of his favorite activities!

Go Swimming!

Find a local beach, lake, pond or river that is safe to swim in. Kids will learn wherever they go, be it collecting shells, spotting fish, finding driftwood or building sandcastles. Some kids will prefer to sit on the beach, digging holes or searching for rocks and shells, while others will want to explore in the water and go swimming. It is always a fun experience for us and gradually over time they become more confident in the water. 

Go on a Nature Walk!

We are very fortunate to have grandparents who own a summer cottage on an island with no electricity. We have to go over from the mainland on a boat and once we are there, we are immersed in a wonderful world. I grew up spending every summer there and now I am glad I can bring my kids there! They love exploring the paths, wandering into the trees and discovering giant June bugs or catching a toad and letting it go. They love that they can walk on their own and be fearless lions (their current favorite animal to pretend to be) that are making a home for themselves on a giant boulder. 

Lastly, if you're stuck in a city and can't get out to explore nature with your little ones, you could create a nature table or a treasure basket filled with natural things to explore at home, like shells, pine cones, leaves of all shapes and sizes, rocks and flowers. Whatever you have on hand or can collect. Our nature collection has grown over time and my kids love it. We have even asked family members who have gone on vacation to bring us home something from where they visited, like a small bag of sand and shells from a beach in Aruba. :)

Be sure to stop by Suzy Homeschooler's too, she is sharing The Benefits of Being Bored Outdoors! And next week is our last week of our Toddler Series! We really hope you enjoyed the activities we shared (and we will share more toddler activities, just not as part of this series). Look forward to our upcoming series! 

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