Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real 5

Spent some time at home and some time at my parents' house in Florida recently (left the Gulf area just before Tropical Storm Debby hit!).  There's nothing like being right on the water, and I love staying with Mom and Dad--we get to go to Mass every day in a beautiful spot.


Morning Mass on the island.
Made of this awesome stone!

Carved wood Madonna and Child.


I love having the kids home for the summer!  The girls (Chop is 11, Alleluia is 2-and-one-half, and Peel is 8) play together pretty well.  Chop is always making weapons, Peel likes symmetry, and Alleluia kept making "lollipops" out of the Tinkertoys, presumably because they were so easy--just a stick and a round piece!

Watercolors are relaxing.........


She's always trying to wear other people's shoes! The swim cap obsession just can't be explained....


This week was the last Wednesday Morning Playgroup for my neighbor and founding member, Andrea.  Our kids have grown up a lot in the almost 2 years since we started!  She and her beautiful family will be sorely missed!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Play-Doh Ideas

Saw this post today and it was something I had thought about doing.  I like her ideas, and would just add:  get out the hard-boiled egg slicer, too!

Play-Doh and Kitchen Utensils

Take Off from Thermic Tablets

I liked the gist of this "Montessori Lite" version of (at least an introduction) to Thermic Tablets for a 2-year-old.  Check it out!

Desert Crafter version of Thermic Tablets

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real 4

This week started with the Feast of Corpus Christi.  This first photo is from the conclusion of Mass at our church.  Two of our boys were serving.  For the oldest who is going off to college soon, this may be one of his last times assisting.


Church of the Assumption, Nashville, TN. 


Our 13-year-old made this Ent out of Duplos (from Lord of the Rings).


Was happy to get an Inch Worm like the one I had as a kid.  The kids promptly put a leash on it and led it around the ellipse.

"Tesla" has to get rid of all of his beloved fish from the saltwater tank before he leaves for college.  This brittle star was hiding among the sand and rock for more than two years, unseen!

"The Inchworm"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

11 Family Movies/Series

I'm sure most of you realize that it's much harder these days to find family movies than it was 30 or 40 years ago.  Most of the movies made for adults are things we'd never let our kids see, and most movies made for children either push the boundaries of what is acceptable, or else are mindless and uninteresting to adults.   Hollywood used to make movies designed for the whole family, but those days are (mostly) over.  

Of course, with the magic of DVDs, you can settle down to watch films that WERE made to appeal to the whole family, or you can pick and choose more recent films that somehow managed to be tasteful, interesting, and appealing to a wide range of ages.  Here are some we've enjoyed over the past few years, courtesy of Netflix.  Although I've inserted links, these are for informational purposes; I am NOT advocating that you buy these unless you think you will watch them over and over.  

Please share your recommendations, too -- feel free to add them in the comments section!

1. The Princess Bride (1987)
One of our kids' favorites -- a very unusual fairy tale, but also lots of humor for adults.  Does have one torture scene that might scare young children.

2.  The Muppets (2011)
A rare example of a recent  movie that has humor for both adults and children, and nothing to beware of.

Disney classic starring Fred MacMuray.  Funny for both adults and kids - gives a surprisingly accurate portrayal of your average science professor.  We thought the sequel, "Son of Flubber" was even funnier.  Cannot recommend the Robin Williams re-make ("Flubber").

4. The Court Jester (1956)
Danny Kaye classic.  Although it was (I think) marketed to adults, the kids thought it was hilarious, with lots of slapstick.

5. Apollo 13 (1995)
Most appealing to older kids, but nothing I would be embarrassed to show to any of my children.  Helps teach the kids that there was a time when we went to the moon.

We found that most old movie musicals were great choices for family movies that everyone could enjoy.  This is a compilation of greatest hits from the MGM musicals -- you can try it out to see if your family likes them.  Part of a three-movie series.

7.  Galaxy Quest (1999)
One of our kids' favorites.  A clever spoof of the Star Trek phenomenon.  One slightly scary scene, and slightly suggestive costuming and mild innuendo, but these went over our kids' heads.

8.  The Three Stooges
(No Link necessary!!)  Of course, this will be controversial - you either love them or hate them.  Since my husband, as a child, was allowed pretty much unlimited access to TV after school, he is a lifelong fan (his proudest claim is to have seen the Three Stooges in person when he was 5-years-old).

Excellent adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic.  Slightly scary in places.

10.  Shaun the Sheep (2007+)
Manages to be hilarious for both kids and adults, despite no dialog whatsoever!

11.  Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959-1964)
Watched these as a child.  Viewing them now with my children, I realize that I never "got" most of the jokes!  Well worth another view.

And don't forget other old TV series, from the era when it was safe to let your kids watch TV (pre 1980 or so).  We like LIttle House on the Prairie, Lost in Space, I Love Lucy, The Dick van Dyke Show, and a few others.  Some friends like the old Dr. Who shows, but we haven't tried those yet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Making Ice Cream, AGAIN!

Saturday we made coffee ice cream.  First you mix things in a bowl....

The ice cream ball that Santa brought "Tesla" this year has been a hit.  With more time on our hands there's been a rash of "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream!" around here.

I suggest this as one of those rare activities that can engage children of various ages (here you see some of our kids, from age 17 to 2.5), that can be creative (recipe-wise), involves gross motor (you have to keep this thing moving constantly and it's a workout!), and has a BIG payoff (REALLY good homemade ice cream!).

Saturday we made coffee flavored ice cream, and Sunday it was toffee.  The ball came with a simple recipe book and Santa threw in a Ben and Jerry's book, too.

You need ice cubes and salt to make things SUPER COLD!

This salt was easily found at our neighborhood grocery store.

Once the ice cream mixture was added to the ball we spent 15 minutes on the ellipse, taking turns shaking the ball and rolling it to the next person.  After this you stop to stir things and repeat this process.  To keep our spirits up we started a storytelling game of saying one sentence to start things off (while shaking the ball) and then passing the story and ball on to the next guy.

The ball is actually pretty heavy when full, so I gave Alleluia a little help (especially since she didn't want to give up the balloon string she was holding in one hand!  LOL!)

I'm glad Tesla was around, because the seal on the ball is really tight and hard to  open.


Totally worth the effort!

The next day it was toffee!

"Chop" bashed up the Heath bar to make the pieces smaller.

"Peel" kept wanting to smell the mixture........

"Tesla" was tempted to eat it all right out of the ball.

The big ball is plenty for all 8 of us to have some (it's really rich).

The whole process takes about an hour, but kept "Alleluia" captivated the entire time.
Just one final note:  making homemade butter is a common Montessori classroom activity.  If you are making ice cream one day you might consider doing butter the next, or vice versa.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

10 Games to Play With Toddlers (3 are Free!)

As promised, here are ideas of games to play with your toddler.  Note that many times the box will rate a game for older children because of concerns about choking, so never stop worrying about whether your toddler can reach items that are choking hazards!

The first 3 games are free!
  • I Spy
"I spy with my little eye something red!"  Take turns being the one spying and the one guessing.
  • 20 Questions
A great game for playing while in the doctor's office waiting room!  Start with guesser asking, "Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?"  Then the guesser asks 20 yes-or-no questions to find the answer.
  • Tic Tac Toe
Younger kids don't realize that the game always ends in a draw if everyone plays correctly.  They can enjoy it while it lasts.  Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.  In a pinch, it can be played on dirty car windows.
Players takes turns pulling plastic disks with differently-colored animals out of the farmhouse and putting them on their bingo cards.  This one looks like it's gone out of print, but you might find it at garage sales, etc. 
Also out of print.  A shame, since it had a clever treasure chest that opened "magically" when all of  colored balls were collected. Turns out that old copies now sell for over a hundred dollars!

Players move around the board to collect lego blocks to build the design on their card.
The players collect plastic earrings, bracelets, crowns, etc., and wear them.  The first person to collect a full set of jewelry is crowned "pretty pretty princess."  It's worth the price of the game to watch your husband play with his daughters.
Spin the spinner and harvest cherries from a tree.  It can get a little tedious, since you are constantly losing cherries to natural disasters like birds and spilled baskets.
Designed for children who know their colors, but not numbers or counting.  A classic, of course -- all luck and no decisions to make.  My husband has stooped to "fixing" the deck sometimes to speed up the game and let the kids win.  Don't tell anyone.
My husband's "favorite" of this group.  No skill involved, but it turns out (believe it or not!) that this game is related to some very complex mathematical ideas.  See this website:  At this site you can also find a similar analysis of Candy Land and Battleship!

10 Things to Train Your Kids to Do Before They Leave the Nest

With our oldest about to leave for college it's time to make sure we've taught him--and are teaching are younger kids--some of the basics for survival outside the nest.  Some of these are obvious and you teach these skills on a regular basis.  Others are not so obvious, so it helps to take the long view and ask yourself, "What kind of husband or wife do I hope my child will be?" or "What kind of parent do I hope my child may be?"  (OK some days there's just the fervent hope that no one ends up an ax murderer...)  Jim Stenson's books on raising kids have always been helpful in pointing the way to parenting priorities, and teaching children to eventually be adults is what he says we should always keep in mind!
  1. Grocery Shopping  -- We often need two carts to complete the weekly shopping, so it's been natural for us to take at least one child to the store.  When you get home you can ask everyone to help put things away (my line is, "ALL HANDS ON DECK!" while the ice cream is melting) and when we're done putting things away all of the helpers get a small treat.
  2. Care of the Home/Lawn -- It's a no-brainer that each child should have some chores around the house, but ask yourself if he or she is missing some vital skill.  I recently asked one of my kids to sweep before company came over and he had never noticed that one broom is for the outside (straw) and one is for the inside (nylon bristles).  He did a really terrible job and had to learn the hard way that, YES, the tools you use truly do make a difference.
  3. Laundry -- Numero One:  Never wash a new red shirt with anything else.  Please do not send your child out into the world without at least that one tidbit.  Second:  CLEAN OUT THE LINT FILTER FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!  Third:  Just because you were able to shove three weeks of laundry into the washing machine and you managed to force it shut doesn't mean that that's going to work, buster.
  4. How to Walk Around the Block -- Okay this is mostly for little ones, but not long ago I watched a neighbor's grandmother (who was visiting from out of town) try to take the 7 grandkids for a walk around the block.  They literally didn't know how to stay out of the middle of the street, check driveways for moving cars or stick together.  Sometimes the most basic skills are the hardest to remember to teach!
  5. How to Eat at a Restaurant -- I don't know if the shows are still on, but for a while there were some TV shows like "Supernanny" and "Nanny 911" where families who were struggling would ask for help from an outsider to discipline their children.  It seemed like grocery shopping and eating out at a restaurant were two biggies that frustrated parents  wished they could teach their kids.  Start with basic manners at home (no electronics at the table, stay seated on your bottom until you are excused, take turns when talking, use your "indoor voice," etc) and then make sure to reinforce expectations before you enter the restaurant.
  6. How to Go to Church -- I honestly think families who teach their children how to attend church services and behave for an hour each week are light years ahead of their sleep-in-on-Sunday peers.  When you think about it, that's 52 times per year that your child dresses nicely and is asked to behave!  This is also a great example of how wanting to teach our children becomes a good exercise for us in practicing virtue.
  7. How to Visit the Elderly, Introduce Yourself and Make Small Talk -- For the past two years my younger children have been visiting residents at an assisted living facility each week.  It has made a HUGE difference in their ability to comfortably converse with others and just be mannerly.  I need to write a whole post some day on the many blessings related to these visits.
  8. How to Answer the Phone and Take a Message -- I just want to die every time my mother has called the house and one of my kids has done a sloppy job of answering the phone!  This is just basic training and you can even write out a script.  Taking messages is also an important part of babysitting (see below).
  9. Basics of Babysitting -- First, teach them that safety is top of the list.  Second, if your child is an only child watching several children, teach them about "multitasking."  I remember one family reunion of ours when there were a ga-zillion grandchildren and one babysitter.  She did a great job of interacting one-on-one, but she had no idea how to use her peripheral vision to keep an eye on everyone else (or, in basketball speak, how to switch from Man-on-Man defense to Zone!).
  10. Basics of Cooking -- Think survival, for starters:  How to boil water (Ramen noodles, anyone?); how to scramble and cook an egg; how to brown ground beef (hello, Hamburger Helper!).

Now that the list is done I realize that there are other important things we hope our kids pick up along the way, like How to Be Bored, How Not to Be the Center of Attention, How to Be Grateful.......let's save those for another post, eh?

Books by Jim Stenson on Parenting:
  1. Compass: A Handbook on Parent Leadership
  2. Father, Family Protector
  3. Preparing for Adolescence
  4. Preparing for Peer Pressure

Friday, June 8, 2012

8 Things Kids of Different Ages Can Do Together

Be careful any time you have toddlers and water together.
Montessori classrooms and our own homes may have several things in common.  For starters, the classrooms are meant to look homelike.  They are also "mixed age" classrooms, meaning you may have a 2 1/2 -year-old, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old all doing an activity together (just like you may have at home but without the bickering!).

It's not always easy to find things for children of different ages to do together, but here are eight to try this summer:

1.  Sprinkler play

2.  Bubbles

3.  Squirt Guns

4.  Swing Set/Playground

Even my cheap husband agrees that our huge swing set was one of the best purchases we've ever made!

5.  Sandbox

Okay--I confess...  This is the beach, but even a 16-year-old can enjoy playing in the sand!

6.  Sidewalk Chalk/Paint

This $9.99 set of sidewalk chalk paint lasted 2 days!

7.  Play-Doh

Get some good basic tools to use.

8.  Legos/Duplos/Primos

Thursday, June 7, 2012

10 Board Games to Play with Your Older Kids

"Tesla" plays Agricola over Christmas Break with Uncle Mike and some cousins.

[See also this new post]
My husband, who has an enormous board game collection, enjoys playing them with our kids.  It's a great way to get the children all involved in a single activity, especially over the summer.  These are games that he has a played with the kids as young as Peel (i.e., down to 8 years old).  Some of these are very well-known, but some are a bit more obscure - I've linked to descriptions on Amazon below.  Later I will post a list of games to play with toddlers.  I've listed these in order from easiest to play to most complicated:

1. Monopoly
A classic old standby - in fact this is the Monopoly game my husband owned when he was a kid.  Sometimes the game bogs down a bit, but the girls especially love it.  An oddity - someone must have mixed up the playing pieces with Clue - in addition to the famous shoe and racing car, our set includes a gun.  Eleven-year-old Chop likes to be the gun.
2. Careers
Another old standby.  The game underwent several major revisions after it was first published, but the version we bought is actually a reprint of the 1960s edition.  A lot more strategy than Monopoly, and generally quicker, too.
3. Yahtzee
Also very quick.  Although it requires a bit more thought that Monopoly or Careers, both Peel and Chop were able to understand it.
4. Coloretto
Now we enter the realm of the obscure.  This is a card game that involves collecting different colored chameleons.  Simple rules, but subtle strategy.  Our kids mastered it fairly quickly.  Like many of these games you never heard of, it originated in Germany.
5. Hey, That's my Fish
Players maneuver their penguins across ice floes and compete to eat the most fish.  But as the penguins move, the ice is gradually melting... Lots of fun, simple to play, and a very funny theme.
6. For Sale
Players bid to buy funny houses in the first part of the game, then try to sell them off in the second part.  Might hit a bit too close to reality for some of us!  Wasabi (15 years old), who generally does not like board games, actually enjoyed this one.
7. Uptown
Supposedly about a night out on the town in the 1920s, but in reality it has nothing to do with that.  Each player starts with a set of pieces with numbers, letters, and pictures on them - the number, letter, or picture tells the player where on the board the piece can be placed.  The object is to keep all of your pieces connected.  Chop and Peel love this one.  Along with Battleship, an easy way to introduce your kids to the idea of graphing, without them even knowing it.
8. Settlers of Catan
These last three games are a quantum leap in complexity and price, but the older kids love them.  Peel can, in theory, play them, but she often loses interest halfway through.  Chop is able to play them without difficulty.  This game involves trading cards representing different resources while building cities and roads.  Note that games requiring either trading or auctions can sometimes bog down when younger children are involved.
9. Puerto Rico
Build your own plantation - grow coffee (yum!) sugar, indigo, corn, tobacco (oops), and compete to ship your goods back to Europe.
OK, my husband has only played this with the older kids (17 and 13) so far, but he is planning to teach it to Peel and Chop this summer.  Players run a 16th century German farm, planting and harvesting crops, fencing their land, raising pigs, cows, and sheep.  My husband thinks this is one of the most fun games he owns.  But definitely for older kids.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real 3

This was the first week of summer vacation for me and the kids.  I like summer.  I like walks around the block that take much longer than they should. I like all of the spontaneous play the kids come up with. I like to see who my children are becoming, and I like the more "human" pace of our schedule.  Here's what we've been up to:

Every year a house on the next street up from ours has these amazing Moon Flowers in front.  Early in the morning these are big and open, but later in the day they curl up to "sleep."  My daughter said it looked like a vortex!  How cool is that?!?
What's summer without a sprinkler?

Walked in from an errand to find that 15-year-old "Wasabi" had painted 2-year-old "Alleluia's" finger- and toenails.  I almost put this photo under "Pretty," but something about the chubby fingers, dimpled knuckles and garish pink on a toddler is funny.

Every so often I find that 17-year-old "Tesla" has solved some problem in a radical way.  Here he's proudly converted his pocketless shorts into shorts with pockets!  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real 2

This was a busy week, with five kids finishing school, two graduations and grandparents coming into town.  Lots of extra school activities and exam schedules.  Phew!  We survived.  It's a good thing we took pictures, because it was all a blur.......


Alleluia helped Daddy pick basil for a Caprese Salad (and she insisted on wearing a hat!).


Wasabi invented a "Princess Leia" S'more using two Hershey's chocolate kisses!


Alleluia pretends to eat plastic French Fries and feed the stuffed froggies neopolitan ice cream.


We took a walk yesterday at a local nature center and were amazed at all of the tiny frogs whose eyes were sticking up just above the surface of this pond.