This post contains affiliate links
I was meeting with some moms one night and couldn’t help but gush over the book I had just started, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen. These were the same authors who had penned my recent parenting favorite, Siblings Without Rivalry, so I knew they would have practical, doable, and effective parenting strategies. I had only read one chapter, but there was already so much to digest I had to put the book down to give myself a chance to process and practice it before moving on.
“Ok, so what’s ONE thing you got from it so far?” asked the mom to my right.
“Hmm… well, my biggest personal takeaway so far has been empathy. Mostly because I’m so bad at it. But even saying something as simple as, ‘You’re very upset that your brother isn’t sharing well. That’s frustrating!’ can go a long way in helping her process her emotions and move forward, without much or any further intervention from me,” I replied.
This wasn’t the first time the authors had emphasized the importance of empathy. The first book I read from them also had a lot to say about this, which I shared about last week, but clearly I needed to hear it again.
“But that was just one of the four strategies they presented in the first chapter! I was a little skeptical when reading some of the other ones at first–some sounded pretty bizarre–but as I finished looking through the examples I realized it did make sense and probably would help them feel better. I just would never ever have thought of it myself,” I continued.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Hm… like, giving kids what they want… in fantasy,” I said. I waited for the weirdness of this statement to sink in.
My daughter had only recently graduated from stick figures to drawings with some real weight on them, so when she presented me with this exquisite drawing of Elmer the Elephant, I knew it was something special. It was one of the most detailed and complete drawings she had ever made of an animal! Little did I know that in a few weeks, a magical elf would transform this drawing and bring it to life!
Isn’t this amazing?! When she opened her eyes and discovered that her special drawing was transformed into a real, squishy, squeezable friend to have and to hold, she hardly had words. Her shining eyes said everything, and I knew it would be one of the most treasured and special stuffed animals she’d ever have!
The “magical elf” is actually a company named Budsies, and they are amazing! They can take ANY artwork and turn it into a REAL PLUSHIE!! I first heard about them when my friend Kristen sent me this adorable photo of her niece holding a cute drawing of a smiling rainbow with a crown and wings in one hand, and a GIANT adorable plushie version of her drawing in the other. My heart skipped a beat. Wait… a drawing… turned into a real-life, huggable creation?! NO WAY. That was too good to be true! Kristen shared, “My sister and I gifted it to her for Christmas and she’s slept with it every night since she got it :)” I don’t blame her, it was the most adorable rainbow I have ever seen!
My daughter started writing stories recently. I worked with her individually to teach her to read, but I’ve more or less left her on her own for writing. She likes to go to the paper shelf, grab the first sheet of paper she could find, and then start: Onc upon a time…
I love her stories. I love that she even likes to write, and I love gushing over them. But I have to admit, I get kind of annoyed when I find loose sheets of construction paper scattered all over the house. The construction paper is arranged in the order of the rainbow, and she has systematically worked her way down the colors and now we don’t have any red, orange, or yellow paper left. Also, she’s been into gel pens lately, but since I bought a cheap set from Costco, you can hardly even make out the glittery words, especially when she uses her favorite shimmery gold pen on a yellow sheet of paper. They’re not very pigmented, so even when she uses it on pink or blue, it barely shows up!
Here is an example of her glitter pen + construction paper combination. Her little brother was sad that there were no new episodes of his favorite TV show, Stinky and Dirty, so she took it upon herself to ask them to make more. SO PRECIOUS. But man it was hard to read! It took a few tries but at the right angle with the right light, I was able to capture this gem before mailing it off:
To: Stinky and Dirty, Dear Stinky and Dirty, My brother would love if you made my brother a new Stinky and Dirty [episode].
Love you Love you Love you Love you Love you Love you Love you
I realized she was going to keep writing. But I needed her to use white computer paper. And I wanted it all in one place.
Not only did I want her to have a place to collect her stories, but she struggled to write in a straight line and she would often have to draw her pictures on the back of the sheet. Which is fine. But all of this could be solved with a simple sheet of lined paper made for preschool and kindergarten sized letters! I went online to quickly purchase a notebook for preschoolers, but at nearly $10, I figured I could just print up some pages myself! But when I searched for templates, I came across a few obstacles. For example, I would have to pay for the download. Or I had to create an account before I could download it. Or it didn’t have the space for a picture, or it didn’t have a line at the top for a title. Too many lines. Too few. Why doesn’t anyone just offer a simple FREE sheet of dotted lined paper for big letters and space for a picture? C’mon Internet you should have been on this years ago.
Okay maybe there is a lot available and I’m just really
picky specific. Well, I’m going to tell myself that maybe you are picky in exactly the same way as me and now I am providing the perfect solution for us. You’re welcome.
So I remembered I am part of the Internet so I decided to add this to the www mix. Here ya go. Story templates for preschoolers, for those in kindergarten and first grade… paper for grown-ups who want to make cute stories for their kids :). Just print up 50 of them, punch holes, and put them into a folder with fasteners, like this one:
Before long, your little writer will be drawing pictures of pumpkins and writing sweet thank you notes to family members (okay it was once, but I’m so glad the precious note is saved in this makeshift notebook!!).
Dear Daddy, I am so thankful that you always go to work. Love (daughter). Dear (brother), I love how whenever I ask for something you always give it to me. Love (sister). *heart* *star* *smiley face*
And here is the four year old dropping some informational writing, y’all!!
Yes, I am a proud mama 😀 Though I’m not sure about that pumpkin cider…
It was a innocent mistake. She was having too much fun playing with her cousin and then *crash* the water glass full of chocolate milk tipped over and went all over her dinner… and her daddy.
Her adorable tutu skirt had gotten wet, but the milk had soaked through Ben’s suit. He was not pleased.
She froze, and then immediately tried to hide her face as everyone looked on. She was embarrassed, scared, full of regret and doing everything she could not to start bawling at the wedding. I quickly pulled her away to give her some space, and also to clean her up. I wanted to give her a safe space to cry–something I’m not super familiar with, as I grew up trying hard not to cry much myself–but she kept working to hold it in despite my encouragement to let her feelings out.
Finally, she said she wanted to go home, so I started walking her back to the table. We were passing the photo booth on the way over and she seemed interested, yet not quite in the mood. I wasn’t going to push it. But later, her cousin went over to take pictures, and she wanted to join in. Sort of. But not really. But really, she did. But she was still sad.
We decided to wait in line to see if her mood would improve, but she continued to hold a long face and wouldn’t make eye contact with anybody. They say the best way to get a kid out of a mood like this is to distract them. I tried to joke with her. Then I tried telling her a story. She just turned her face away from me. I tried to reason with her (hah!). Then I tried a little trick that worked really well just earlier that week, with a different group of young kids:
“Hmm… well, let’s get ready for pictures, girls!” I called out. The girls looked at me curiously.
“Puttttttttt your fingerrrrrr onnnnnnnnn youuuuuuuuuurrrrr… NOSE!” I cried out, while proudly sticking my finger on my forehead.
“HEYYYYY,” they giggled, “THAT’S NOT YOUR NOSE!!”
“Yes! I said NOSE! See, this is my NO–waiiiiiiit a second!” I cried, in mock disbelief, “I meant… my… NOSE!” I said, pocking my chin.
“NOOOOO!!” they shouted out gleefully, “THAT’S YOUR CHIN!!!”
“Ohhhh. Right, right. Here is my nose!” I continued, finally placing my finger on the right spot. “Now, stiiiiick your finnnnngerrr onnnn…”
They waited, giggling in anticipation.
“Onnn… yourrr…. EAR!” I called out, stabbing my closed eye with my finger.
“MOOOMMMMMMYYYY THAT’S YOUR EYE!!” my daughter cackled.
“No, of course not! It’s my EAR–WAIIIIITT a second!!” I said, confusedly, “That ISSSS my eye!!”
Well, you get the idea. I did it a couple more times and then moved on to jumping with your hands in the air. For some reason, kids can’t seem to jump without smiling, so it was an easy way to segue from a lifted mood to sheer happiness as we moved forward in the photobooth line. By the time it was our turn, the girls were both all smiles and ready to ham it up for the camera.
It’s a trick I use all the time. The week before, I was asked to substitute for a group of five and six year old kids. When I could feel myself losing their attention, I started doing this little trick and it was a quick, fun, and easy way to grab the attention of even the most antsy child. They giggled, they laughed, and we got a little bit of our wiggles out. It works best with kids who already know their body parts who also are starting to understand jokes. I’d say ages 3-6. If the kids really like you, you might even be able to pull it off with slightly older kids! Have fun and try it out sometime!
How about you? What’s in your bag of tricks for nudging a child from moodiness to smiles? I am always looking for fresh ideas!
Fun ways to involve your young children at every age!
I love to bake. I love my kids. I always daydreamed about the day I would bake with my kids. It would be perfection: We would laugh and smile and get flour in our hair and have chocolate smeared around our mouths. They would take turns cracking eggs and I’d show them how to fish the shells out using bigger shell pieces. They would sit on the counter and turn on the mixer and be amazed as liquid cream whipped up into mounds of fluffy, sweetened clouds of bliss.
It was going to be magical. I could not wait.
Baking is therapeutic to me. I love the quiet rhythm of scooping flour and sometimes sinking my hands into the flour bin and squeezing fistful of the soft powder just for fun. I didn’t know it was “sensory play” at the time, but as a kid I used to love dunking my hands into the huge bin of flour and indulging in the cool, soft, light and almost liquidy sensation it gave. I love the warm smell of cocoa powder and the stress-relieving powers of kneading a smooth dough under my palms (and the amazing smell of fresh bread baking in the house!). It calms me.
Baking with kids is not therapeutic to me. It can actually be pretty stressful. They get eggs everywhere, then lick it off their fingers (ACK! NO!!). They scoop flour, then spill it (ugh). They stir a batter, then tip over the bowl (nooo!!). They constantly beg, “MOMMY CAN I DO THAT MOMMY IT’S MY TURN MOMMY I WANT TO DO THAT!” They sneak bites of chocolate (mmMMmMMMmmm). They sniff at everything (ahhHHHhhHhhH). They squeal with delight when I let them lick freshly churned ice cream off the paddle (which also makes for the cutest chocolate-covered smiling faces!). They smile with closed eyes and then stop talking altogether when they finally get to bite into the freshly-baked cookies they’ve been smelling for the last fifteen minutes.
…Like the ones we had tonight. We used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and somehow it came out wrong. Maybe I made a measurement error while doubling the recipe (I should not have–it already makes a generous amount!). Maybe it was baking with a 2- and 4- year old. Maybe my daughter counted the wrong number of scoops of flour. Whatever the case, the cookies rose too much and were more cakey than chewy. Even as I scooped out hunks of dough to form into logs for freezing, I realized that some logs were really thick and meaty, and some were goopy and weak. They had not been mixed evenly, and now I had seven failed logs of cookie dough (!) to go through before I could make a proper batch again.
But the kids didn’t seem to notice, and Ben didn’t mind at all. When we sat down to milk and cookies, everyone smiled their contented, closed-eyes smiles and there was a chorus of “mmMMm” and “yummMmm” and “Mm, not bad!” around the table. Because really, who’s going to complain about fresh-baked cookies on a rainy day?
And this is always when I start again through the amnesia cycle and think to myself, “Wasn’t that fun? Let’s do it again!” And you know, it IS fun. For the kids. And I know they can’t wait to do it again. There is so much to experience even in cracking an egg. They’ve seen plenty of pictures of eggs, but to hold the cool egg in their palms and tap-tap-tap it against a bowl to crack-CRACK it is another thing. To feel the slimy egg goop on their hands and then watch it blend and disappear into the other ingredients is truly a unique experience. They are seeing, smelling, touching, hearing (and, unfortunately sometimes tasting… bleh!) all in one small little baking task. Baking is such a multi-sensory experience for kids, and one they can actually eventually EAT. There is a special satisfaction that comes with making your own food, and it is such a wonderful thing for kids to create and enjoy the work of their hands.
There is also a ton of practical learning that can take place during a baking session with kids. There are endless opportunities to weave math skills in, such as counting, measuring (fractions!), weighing (units of measure), doubling recipes (multiplication, fractions), measuring time. There is also so much opportunity to introduce rich vocabulary as you describe the smells, textures, tastes, and sounds you hear. They will understand these words in a totally different way when they are actually engaged in hands-on, multi-sensory experiences where they apply. There is plenty of social learning, from taking turns (especially when siblings are involved) to cleanliness (wash yo hands!) to kindness, thoughtfulness, and sharing (cookies for all!). They practice self-control when you tell them not to lick the brownie batter with raw eggs in it, and they have plenty of opportunity practice taking things slowly and cleaning up after themselves.
Sure, JoEllen, that all sounds good, but my kid is only one. Is there really much he can do in the kitchen right now? Why, yes! Yes! There is! And there are plenty of ways to involve toddlers and preschoolers, too. So many that I made lists for you of ways to involve your 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5- year olds in the baking fun! If you don’t bake as often or can’t think of a single task that would seem successful with your child, then start at the ideas for one-year old children and slowly work your way up as your child proves herself more capable. For example, anyone can take a ripe, browned banana and squish it up in its own skin for banana bread! Fair warning, there’s a decent chance it will burst out of its skin and make a mess, but that’s part of the fun, too (for your kid, at least).
Please note that all of the suggested activities are really just suggestions and ideas based on what has worked for me and my kids. They might not be appropriate for the child(ren) you are working with, so please use your own discretion and knowledge of the child(ren) and their abilities to decide if it is an appropriate activity and adjust the activities as needed. Parents should be nearby and supervise all tasks closely!
If the idea of bringing your young child into the kitchen to bake with you seems daunting, you are not alone. I still shy away from baking with my kids sometimes because of all the potential mess and hazards, but I ultimately choose to do it because I think it is so beneficial and fun. I make it more manageable by choosing age-appropriate tasks for them to participate through. You might be surprised at how much they can do! I know I was tinkering away in the kitchen on my own when I was nine, and I hope to give my kids the same freedom when they get older. Until then, I’ll be here to guide them through the kitchen and hope to make great memories through it!
HAPPY SPRING! I am so ready for a new season. This last month concluded with my toddler in a full-arm cast (wrist fracture from a spill at the playground), me in an ankle brace (sprained ankle from volleyball), and my husband in a sling (dislocated shoulder while working out)! It’s been a little crazy here, but we are all moving forward and I am SO HAPPY ABOUT THAT. My son is back in the sand and dirt and water… and I am back on the court. Full speed ahead!
I wanted to share some material I’ve been working on for a local Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group that I’ve been part of. It’s a wonderful group of moms that meets every other Friday to share life and motherhood and coffee together- there is always coffee. A few weeks ago, they were looking for someone to teach something craftsy to the group for a fun artsy morning they were planning. I’m not particularly crafty, so it wasn’t until some of the ladies at my tables remarked about my calligraphy and lettering that I realized I had something to offer!
You might remember that a couple years ago, I picked up brush calligraphy as a nice
stuckstay-at-home mom hobby. Since I was still nursing, many of my fun activities were limited to things that were nearby, easy to start/stop, and not easily ruined by a curious toddler (who is now FOUR… when did that happen?!?!). That’s when I decided to learn brush lettering, which is a branch of hand lettering and modern calligraphy. I got better at it (I can write in a straight line now!) and even taught a brush lettering workshop for a church fundraiser last year. So when the ladies at my table were so encouraging about my lettering (someone even guessed I was a designer based on my lettering! I was so flattered- art has never been my thing haha), I decided to offer to teach the whole group some brush lettering basics.
Since this was a group of “Mothers of Preschoolers,” I thought it would be so cute and appropriate to teach using Crayola markers! They’re such a great tool for learning brush lettering since they are easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and very forgiving for lettering! I figured most of the moms would have a pack handy and it would be a fun and easy thing to practice and doodle with alongside their emerging little artists at home.
So I created these drills, and worksheets just for them:
Someone mentioned that the moms would probably appreciate having access to the videos at home, so I decided to create and upload it all here to share with everybody:
This first video is the starting point for most brush lettering and calligraphy. The basic idea behind calligraphy is to create a contrast between thick lines going down and thin lines going up. When done right, the words come out looking artistic and beautiful. Each letter is made from a series of basic strokes, which you can learn in the first “Drills” video.
Now for actual words. Have you ever tried applying the “heavy downstrokes and light upstrokes” method to the cursive that you learned in third grade, and found that it just didn’t look quite the way you’d hoped? That’s because in modern calligraphy, letters are not formed the same way you learned to write cursive in elementary school. There are different ways to form letters that maximize the beauty of a letter and eventually a word. See the letter “b” in the lowercase alphabet video below for a good example. Realizing that there is a completely different way to form individual letters was the turning point for me in figuring out how to make beautiful brush lettering.
I stood on the side of the playground chatting away with other parents while our young kids roamed freely about the playground. Church service had just let out and we were enjoying the enclosed play space which allowed us to watch our kids while catching up with each other. I kept an eye on my daughter as she climbed about the play structure in all the “wrong” ways. She had recently started imitating the daring moves of an adventurous 5-year old girl at church, which included finding… creative ways to climb about the playground.
While I was okay with her pushing the limits a bit, I could tell it made other parents (who mostly had even younger kids) a bit uneasy. And… maybe it wasn’t the best example for the toddlers who were apt to imitate without having the same strength or command of their limbs. I kept a close eye as she began to proceed over the high tunnel instead of through it like she probably should.
The father I was chatting with watched with growing alarm as she started to climb up and over. When it was apparent that she meant to cross the tunnel by climbing over it, he hesitated, “Uh, Jo, I think she’s going to climb over…!”
“Sweetie, please come down,” I called out to her. She froze for a moment. I imagine she was trying to decide whether to come down or pretend that she didn’t hear me. She started forward again- it appears she chose the latter.
“That’s one,” I called out, matter of factly.
She scampered down in a flash.
I turned to pick up our conversation again but the father looked at me, wide-eyed, “Is that from… 1-2-3 Magic?” he asked, a little wonderingly.
“Yeah! Have you tried it?”
“I’ve read some of it, but we haven’t really gotten too far in it,” he said, “It seems to be working really well for you!”
And thus began yet another animated conversation about the “1-2-3 Magic” program which we had been using for the last couple of years with great success. I figure it’s about time I shared it with you, too!
Yesterday, I had to pay for a lost library item for the first time in my life. I could tell the librarian felt a little bad as I dug out $8.22 for a five dollar kid’s magazine from 2016. They were probably ready to take it out of rotation anyway, but I honestly didn’t mind. We’ve benefited from the library a lot!
“Actually,” I laughed, “I’m surprised this is the first time we’ve lost something! We usually have over a hundred items checked out at any given time… my daughter is such a bookworm.”
“Really? How do you ORGANIZE all of your books??” she asked, genuinely impressed.
I paused to see if she wanted to short or long version. I mean, she was a librarian, and they’re kind of all about reading and sharing and organizing books, right?
“Well, we have this big desk or side table kind of thing… it’s super sturdy,” I began.
She nodded, still eagerly listening.
“It came with an office set, I think, but we use it as a side table in the living room, and it has a sort of shelf underneath,” I continued. “I put a bunch of blankets and pillows underneath to make a reading space for my daughter- we call it her ‘nest,’ and she loves to just sit there and read whenever she can.”
“So how do you organize the books? I mean, there are so many!”
She DID want to know, she really did! My bookworm heart soared. I looked back to see if there was a line forming behind me. There was. She didn’t care. Her eyes were still with me, intrigued. There was another librarian at the counter, so I didn’t feel as bad as I went in depth about how we organized it, and why we did it that way.
“Ok so we used to just have a box of books. But then it was just a big pile of books and I think it felt too messy and overwhelming for her to go through. I also tried just lining the books up on the shelves, but she’s a bit too young to just look at spines to pick out what she wants to read. The main thing that really helped were these book bins I had, kind of the shape of magazine file holders but shorter? I used to be a teacher, so I already had them.”
The librarian nodded, she seemed familiar with them.
“So in one bin we have Elephant and Piggie, another one has Henry and Mudge, then Dear Dragon, and then the Biscuit books.”
To anyone else, this might have sounded like gibberish, but I felt a connection with her as I saw her eyes light up with recognition as I listed off these well-loved early readers.
Maybe I should become a librarian.
“Then we have an actual magazine file for the magazines, and then a bigger miscellaneous box for all the other books. The game changer has been this ONE rule, though: home books stay in her room, and library books stay-”
“-IN THE NEST,” she smiled, “Of course! No commingling, so things don’t get mixed up!”
Okay, you bought the book, you tried the program, and you did, indeed, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. YAY!!!! HIGH FIVE!! WASN’T THAT FUN?!
But… that doesn’t mean they’re fluent readers just yet. Now what? How do I help my child build fluency, improve comprehension, and continue to nurture a confidence in and love of reading from here?
As I told Ben giddily the other day, “This is MY domain. I didn’t really know how to start teaching reading from scratch, but now that she’s got her foundation down, it’s time for guided reading. I know alllll about this!”
Okay maybe that was a little over-confident, but I definitely felt more comfortable moving forward with this than I initially did with teaching the basics.
Guided reading is a core component of the Reader’s Workshop model that I was trained in and used in my years teaching third and fourth grade. During guided reading, you basically have a running conversation with a child as you read through text together. Usually, the child reads the text out loud and you pause him along the way and coach him through his thinking by posing questions and practicing various reading strategies. Learn more about it here!
At the end of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, there is a suggested list of books for moving forward. The idea is that you can continue in the style of the last few lessons using these books as the reading text. Cool, I thought, they already found the perfect next-step books. So I logged into my library account to put them on hold. (By the way, did you know that you can go online, put books on hold, and SOMEBODY ELSE FINDS THEM AND PUTS THEM ALL IN A STACK AT THE FRONT OF THE LIBRARY FOR YOU TO PICK UP?! I discovered this a couple years ago and my mind was blown!!! Best. Service. EVER!!).
Of course some of the first books listed were not available at the library. Well, surely these must be just-right books since they only listed about twenty books, so… I will just spend the money and buy them on Amazon. And then Amazon only had a few “buy it used” options. What?? If these books were so perfect, then why were so few available? Where was my Prime, 2-day shipping option? I pushed away the voice of doubt and forged ahead.
So, for the first time in longer than I remember, I bought it used through Amazon. The last time I remember doing that was in college. And that was a long, long time ago. I even had to pay shipping. These books had better be GREAT.
They were not. Here is the COMPLETE TEXT of one of these books:
Let’s play. We hide and you seek.
We’ll play too.
Ready or not, here I come!
<9 pages of only illustrations>
Now I want my turn to hide.
Where are you?
…WHAT?! I went through ALL THAT TROUBLE and waited SO MANY DAYS (okay, eleven days- please excuse the impatient millennial in me) for THAT?!
Here is the other one I purchased used and paid shipping for (!!) on Amazon:
Look what I can do!
I can do it too!
<lots of illustrations>
Look what I can do!
That was it.
Three sentences. Or two, if you’re looking for unique sentences.
I’m fine with books that focus on pictures, but when the entire point of buying the book is to practice reading, then I’m not so pleased when there are only SEVEN unique words in the entire book. The other book suggestions were slightly more helpful, but not by a lot. One book even has a theme of two kids trying to out-do each other with their beach toy, to the point where one is pulling down the other’s pants and they are both completely not noticing a boy who falls into the water and needs help getting back up. Even worse, the story concludes when they see a girl who has a cooler beach toy that sticks her tongue out at them, and one shouts, “I hate her!” and the boys bond over their shared dislike of this girl.
This is really not the kind of stuff I want my daughter to be reading.
So I decided it was time for me to figure out the best “just right” books myself. After a couple of library trips, I have now compiled a great list of books that are just right for the child who has completed this reading program. They are books that my daughter can mostly read independently. I found two series so far that are just right for her, and each day,
There’s nothing like getting a present when you’re a kid. I still remember the anticipation as my birthday or Christmas approached. For the most part, I was never really hoping for any one item in particular. I was just excited that I was going to get SOMETHING. I couldn’t wait to tear apart the paper and discover what gift awaited me!
In all those years, it never occurred to me how challenging it would be to think of a cool gift to get kids someday when I became an old grown up. But here I’ve been, futzing around the last ten years trying to think of what my little cousins, goddaughter, and friends’ kids would enjoy as gifts. I feel like it’s been easier the last couple years for people with kids around the same age as my kids. I use my own experience and my own children’s interest as reference, but I’m always a loss for kids who are a bit older than my own. So when Sierra from Gifts.com shared this fantastic guide to age appropriate toys with me, I knew I had to share it with you! Not only are there great, gender neutral gift ideas, but they promote growth and are developmentally appropriate!