Saturday, June 29, 2013

Alphabet: A

I was probably far more excited for the letter A than the boys, staying up extremely late one night, scouring Pinterest for ideas, printing and organizing and brainstorming activities. Partway through the week, Spencer told me he didn't want to do anymore projects. I guess I'll take that as a sign to scale back next week for B.

We started Monday morning with a worksheet at breakfast, where Spencer traced a line from one airplane to the other side of the paper. This lead to more random tracing worksheets, one after the other. His enthusiasm excited me, even if his pencil wandered off the dotted lines more than actually stayed on.

During my late night Pinterest search, I came upon this idea to do alphabet bracelets each week. I was pumped, thinking what a genius idea. It'd serve as a visual reminder all day of the letter we are focusing on. It wasn't until I strapped this homemade bracelet on their wrists that I realized it was definitely a better idea in theory than in practice. Ashton's immediately went in the mouth, repeatedly, even after I shooed his hand away and showed him the pretty pictures. Spencer downright refused to put his on, and then it became a battle of the stubborn. Win for Mommy! Until bedtime, that is. I found it torn, discarded on his bedroom floor the next morning. Same for Asthon's. Hey, they lasted an entire day anyway. An entire day of subliminally learning the letter A. Right? Okay, so it was just a silly idea altogether, and it's been nixed in its entirety for here on out. Bye-bye, alphabet bracelets; you were a genius idea in my head.

The first time Spencer and I tackled the alphabet, we created letters to be displayed on his door each week.  Our alphabet lasted two years, until Ashton gradually tore off bits and pieces of the Y and Z and any other letters he could get his chubby fingers on and quickly shoved in his mouth before I could extract it. Monday we gleefully tore down the remaining letters to make room for new ones. Our first one was an alligator A. I did all of Ashton's because he cannot seem to see past gobbling up the glue stick. Spencer needed quite a bit of assistance attaching the teeth since they were a tad on the small side. (Note to self: cut bigger pieces.)

The favorite project this week was making airplanes out of popsicle sticks and clothespins. They first painted the parts, waited to dry, and I hot glued all the pieces together. They played with those things all week.

Spencer and I quickly tackled a sequence assignment I put together that one late night of organizing, but this activity was not a favorite. He was unfocused, hence just guessing the next item in the sequence.

We watched an Elmo video on Youtube a few times, which was a big hit for my little guy who loves his "Melmo."

Another favorite for both boys was our lesson on alligators. I put together a small sheet of factoids, and I reenacted them, when possible. We did a song describing what alligators eat, chomping the unsuspecting creatures with our hands....until, of course, I explained alligators eat daddies. Then Spencer paused his chomping hands, thought about it for a second, and laughed his disapproval--"They don't eat people!!" We also used a few visual aids for this: a globe to show where they live and a ruler to describe how big they are.

Our last activity was a Do-A-Dot A, where they dabbed circles that formed the letter. Spencer dabbed faster than he has ever dabbed before, proclaimed he was done and asked if he could go swimming. Poor Ashton only got a few dabs in between eating the delicious red dabber, but all he heard was "swimming" and it was over. Homework done; summer fun commences.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Season of Summer

"Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come."
-Thomas Carlyle

Summer's appearance--after a lengthy winter, an absent spring, and an abundance of rain showers--has made me positively giddy. I simply want to savor every moment, knowing the warmth of the sun on my skin is fleeting. Soon my tanned skin will be hidden under layers of clothing, tank tops and flip flops a distant memory. This week was packed full of summer. The evidence:

Small town festival carnivals.

David was honored this year with the privilege of serving as one of the Military Grand Marshals. Mostly that just means he had a nice story in the paper (of which I wrote for him since I'm a good wife) and got to ride in a yellow convertible during the parade. Here he is receiving his award.

Thunderstorm cuddlers.

Pool parties and genius homemade slip 'n slides.

Mud puddles.

And, lastly, boat rides on the Mississippi River.
Tonight we took the boat out for the first time this season and enjoyed the river's peaceful late afternoon. The usually boisterous summer destination was devoid of fellow boaters and sandbar dwellers. We relished the calm and claimed the river for our own, at least for a few hours, anyway. 

We docked the boat at a riverside restaurant for supper and then anchored the boat on a sandbar, feeling the last of the day's sun warm our bodies.

Because we're odd people, we photographed ourselves jumping. Truth be told, this was my idea; and I think I might have injured my wrist in the process. I know, I know, my husband asked the same question: how do you hurt your wrist jumping? You just do, all right?

P.S. I lugged my bulky DSLR camera out with me for the first time in a long while. Thus, the barrage of river photos. And this is only a small percentage of them. Okay, okay, I cannot tell a lie: this is most of them since I have a disease where I can't edit out pictures because I feel each picture deserves it's moment in the spotlight.

Here's to many more summer moments to add to the evidence box. Oh, how I love thee, Summer.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Alphabet: an introduction

Summers provide us with a lot of flexibility in our schedule. We aren't tied down to weekly activities, shuffling here or there to various obligations. Because of this freedom, it is a lot easier to do projects and activities at home. So I decided to resurrect our old alphabet projects once again. This will be Spencer's third go-around with the letters, but Ashton is a virgin. It'll be a bit more challenging gearing the lessons toward two different aged kids, but we're more focused on having fun at this point than a rigorous academic approach. I'll leave that to the trained professionals.

I always try to incorporate learning through our everyday play and activities; and in doing so, I realized that Spencer really doesn't quite grasp what the alphabet is. Or numbers, for that matter. He knows the first letter in his name--or "his letter", as we refer to it--looks like a snake and Ashton's looks like a tent, because that's how I've described them. But if you ask him to tell you his letter, he'll either say snake or three, confusing his age with his first initial. Because of this, I thought it best to spend a week to introduce the alphabet rather than just jump right in with the first letter. This week we did a series of projects and activities surrounding the letters of the alphabet. And, yes, it was definitely more difficult trying to balance my time between the two kids and their different learning abilities. Hopefully I'll get better at this as the weeks go on.

We kickstarted the alphabet series with big posters displaying the letters A-Z. The boys could color, draw, stamp, dab to their hearts' content. I sat beside Spencer, filling in a letter at a time with a color pencil, describing the letter, the sound it makes, and listing objects that start with the letter. Both boys liked this until about letter D; then they just wanted to do their own thing.

I'm a fan of wearable art. We've decorated a few shirts already, so when I saw this idea on Pinterest, I just had to incorporate it into our alphabet series. (For step by step instructions, click on the Pinterest link above.) I prepped the project beforehand (cut out the stencils onto freezer paper, ironed onto the shirts, etc) and after naps the boys colored away. Truthfully, they had more fun coloring the freezer paper and I had to keep urging them to color the shirt; I ended up filling in a lot of Ashton's initial since he was more focused on taking the caps off the fabric markers and then putting them back on, over and over again. The end result was pretty neat, I think.

I posed them in their shirts for a photo and made them raise their hands so we could see the letters.

The favorite project of the week was the alphabet garage. I fused an idea I found on Pinterest and one from the Family Fun magazine to create it. I drew the roads, garages and letters onto an old piece of cardboard and then wrote letters on pieces of tape I put on little cars. (Don't worry, Uncle Brian, no Matchbox cars were harmed in this activity.) Spencer had to drive the car into the garage with the matching letter. Truth be told, this one was like pulling teeth, getting Spencer to participate. All he really wanted to do was VROOM around the race track, and crash cars with Ashton. He unwillingly cooperated with a handful of letters before I gave in and let him play however he liked. We played with this race track throughout the week, even using it as a snack garage once.

One afternoon Spencer and I played a quick game of Alphabet Memory from a homemade deck of letters I crafted. I modified the game to only include a handful of letters because I knew my three-year-old's attention span wouldn't hold up for all 26 letters. Since he loves games and is especially good at Memory, this one was a hit.

Our last activity was fishing for letters. We used the fishing poles I made last year out of sticks, yarn and paper clips and fished magnetic letters out of the water table. (Please note: some of the letters are too heavy for the wimpy paper clip, so I found it's better to double up on the paper clip hooks.)

I've been working on adding labels to all my past posts, so eventually you can locate our old alphabet projects on the right hand column of the blog. Now on to letter A.....

Monday, June 17, 2013

To the father of my children

"A child looks up at the stars and wonders. Great fathers put a child on his shoulders and helps them to grab a star."
-Reed Markham

A lot of times mothers get most of the credit when it comes to raising children and cultivating the family life. But I think there is something oh-so-special about daddies, and they definitely deserve their own holiday. I especially like to recognize this special day for the father of my children, a man my boys love and cherish and adore.

Most mornings when I go into Spencer's room, he'll ask where his daddy is, even though he knows he's at work. Then we go through the spiel about what day it is and list the days daddy does and does not work. When Dave returns from work, they excitedly run to the door, bombarding him with their hugs and squeals and excitement. I often hand them over to him eagerly, grateful for a few moments of peace, and then eavesdrop on their conversations. Indeed, there is something oh-so-special about daddies.

This Father's Day we celebrated at a semi-fancy restaurant, where we were lucky to squeeze into the only available table in the packed dining room, and proceeded to wait an eternity for our food. We always wonder why we torture ourselves just so we can pretend to be the kind of adults who can still patronize such establishments. Who are we kidding, though? Pizza Hut really is more our speed these days. Still, the boys did surprisingly well. We rewarded them with a piddly glance at the Mississippi River at a distance, through a fence and over the railroad tracks.

Happy Father's Day, David. Thank you for being the best daddy to my two little boys. They truly are blessed.

The gifts.

I was struggling with a homemade gift idea. I already knew I was going to buy the man a new pair of skinnier, better fitting jeans to replace his baggy, saggy butt ones he adores so much. But I love giving something homemade when possible. Then my friend sent me this link, and I knew it was perfect. I tweaked it a bit, and here's what I came up with. (I left room on the bottom for a third hand print for some future baby far into the future.) The boys proudly gave it to him on Sunday.

 I also had Spencer do a little worksheet about his daddy, just to see the crazy answers he came up with.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our Attempted Camping Trip 2013

Camping has always been one of those things that my husband and I did together each summer. We started off with a teeny tiny tent and later upgraded to a roomier one. We camped several times a summer--at campgrounds, on a sandbar off the Mississippi River, at the in-law's lodge--wherever and whenever the desire struck. This past-time was slightly compromised once our carefree lifestyle morphed into parenthood, but it was something we wanted to share with our children, too. So each summer we set out with the romantic notion of camping like one big happy family, which undoubtedly is always squashed within five minutes of arriving at the campground.

The initial set-up alone is enough to send us packing back home: kids wanting to help who only get in the way, bugs--oh my goodness, the bugs!!--the troublesome rainfly that we can never remember which direction it goes on the tent, the numerous items to situate and resituate, runaway kids, and did I mention the pesky bugs?

This is where we would have slept if things had gone as planned.
Ashton insisted on dragging his blankie around with him. I'm so glad I thought to bring an extra one for just this specific purpose.

Once camp was finally set-up, we tackled supper. Spencer loved being big enough to roast his own hotdog, until the "steam" blew into his eyes and he quickly handed the stick to me.

Because of the incessant rain, the usually small, inviting river was high with a fast current, washing away the hideaway beach tucked away in a corner off the main beach, where we spent a long afternoon last summer. The first night of our trip we meandered down to the river just to gauge the rain's handiwork to see whether it'd be a manageable trip the next afternoon. Big mistake. The bugs swarmed and viciously attacked us. We stayed only long enough for Spencer to throw a few rocks into the water and then we scurried as fast as we could for escape. Not fast enough, apparently. Mine and Spencer's skin quickly swelled and itched from the bites.

The best part of camping, in my opinion, is the camp fire. There's something mesmerizing about sitting around the blazing heat, watching the embers burn. We only got to enjoy this briefly, making our first s'mores of the season, before the storm chased us off to safety.

We fled to the in-law's, who have a secluded lodge atop a big hill on the property. Our reasoning for stopping there for the night instead of just continuing the short distance back home was because it'd still feel like camping. Another big mistake. We didn't account for the late night and overtired boys who really just needed their own beds. It was a long night, leaving us all a bit sleep deprived. But things looked better in the morning light. We made breakfast, and our coffee was hand-delivered on a Kubota-driving old man always ready to accommodate the ever-present guests at his home. And I'm not going to lie, showering in a house instead of at a campground sure was nice.

Before returning to the campsite, we drove around so the tired boys could nap, not even daring to attempt naps in the tent. After lunch, we hit up the pool, where Spencer showed off his new independent swimming skills.

Later was a hayride and ice cream social.

Then back to the campsite for the night. After supper we heard the loud horn of a trolley that just happened to make a pit stop at the campground's bar. My choo-choo-loving boys' eyes grew large, and we had to investigate. The trolley driver was nice enough to oblige their curiosity and allowed us on board, where they got to ring the bell and sound the horn. I'm pretty sure this was the highlight of their trip.

One last campfire; one last s'more.

Dismayed upon discovering his precious blankie was dirty.

We decided to pack up and head home for the night instead of braving another sleepless night away from home. Our attempted camping trip of 2013 may not have been the romantic picture we visualized in our heads while we sat around the campfire in our carefree, kid-less lifetime, but we sure do know how to make memories nonetheless.