Busy Hands, Happy Heart

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Most of my posts here are about homeschooling Becca, but this one is all about what to do with the little ones… and highlights what I do to keep Gray occupied so Sis can learn.  (And SHHHH! he’s learning, too!)  Keeping your toddler occupied while your older child does homeschool is NOT easy!  But hopefully a few of these ideas will inspire you and be helpful on your journey!

fine-and-gross

One thing we really struggle with with Gray is that he still likes to put things in his mouth – a lot.  I can’t just give him an activity and pay total attention to Sis.  So, I have to very carefully select what he does when I’m busy with her.  He loves our pop beads set – so when I’m teaching her, I pull out only the large beads on a tray and let him sit on the bench right next to me in our family room (which doubles as our homeschool room).

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-homeschool work area-

If we are doing something downstairs at the dining room table, he gets to do play dough next to me, and loves to make prints in the dough.  We have little stackers, dominoes, construction trucks, and dinosaurs that all make awesome dough stamps, not to mention our fabulous cookie cutter set.  He can stay occupied with play dough for almost an hour!  (Plus, I make my own dough, so I can make it any color I want, and he loves to take two different colors of dough and squish them together… which works on those fine AND gross motor skills all at the same time!)

Back upstairs in the family room, we have a little Duplo table (this is the one I’d like to get once we move up to only Legos) and some diaper boxes full of Duplos that Gray loves to build with.  Then we also have big wooden blocks (that my dad made for me when I was little!) with which he can build larger-scale items.  We also keep crayons and coloring books readily available so that he can color when Sis is illustrating – because nothing is more exciting and makes you feel big and important like coloring when Sis is coloring.  And he has been enjoying playing with window clings that I got from Dollar Tree!

There are so many fabulous things you can get your little ones excited about that are going to stretch them and help them grow their fine AND gross motor skills.

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Pretend play is so important for little ones, and Gray is all about pretending.  He is fairly quiet with his pretend play, so he doesn’t distract Sis too much.  If you have a louder child who likes to play really loudly, you might want to skip this section and move on down to the academic ideas, leaving the pretend play for non-school times.

Gray loves our new set of felt dinosaurs.  He likes to tell little stories with the dinosaurs, and can either use the portable board with which they came, or can use the larger cork board that I covered with felt that is up in our family room.  I love that both kids can stand together at the easel and play, or he can play alone right next to me while she works.  He also loves to drive his cars and trains on the activity rug that sits on the floor next to me, and cook “meals” for us in their kitchen, which is across the room. (This link is to a similar set – ours is no longer sold.)

He also loves to grab a reusable shopping bag and pretend he’s shopping, play dress up, and play with Little People figures.  The beauty of doing school in our family room is the multiplicity of options to keep him entertained.  We do not choose to have the tv on during school time.  That is far too distracting for Becca.

academic-activities

Sometimes there is just no other way than to teach her with him sitting in my lap or standing right next to me.  (His love language is touch.)  For those times, I have some little academic activities that aren’t distracting to her that I can do with him while she is working independently.  We have number puzzles matching the numerals 1-10 to their values, and he can sometimes do 1-5 alone.  Sometimes he gets frustrated when they don’t fit exactly together (fine motor work!), but I can help him.

He also loves our pattern block shapes that I made out of thick colored card stock and laminated.  I use them with Sis as math manipulatives, and he also loves to sort them out and try to count them.  You can print your own here for free!

I have also laminated some little basic puzzles that have come out of magazines the kids get – he loves to put the three pieces together to make the trucks, and can put them together wrong to be silly and it’s ok, so he feels very successful with those.

I love the Target dollar section.  Sometimes I get surprised and find a $3 item that I love and just have to have, but normally I stick to the $1 stuff.  I got some really neat felt sticker numbers there (for $1), and placed one each on a set of 10 index cards so that he can actually FEEL the number, and attempts to put them in order.

He loves so much the big bin of Scrabble letter tiles at the DoSeum, so I finally bought this set so that he can play with the letters at home – and Sis can use them for spelling practice!  They are both so excited to have their own letter tiles at home now!  Sis also enjoys playing Scrabble Jr, so this now gives him letter tiles to play with, without messing up the board while we are playing!

I hope that you find these ideas helpful, and I so appreciate you purchasing via my affiliate links!  What helpful hints do you have to share?  What do you like to do with your toddler?  And which of these ideas that I’ve shared are you ready to try this week?  Let me know!  I love to hear from you!  Send me comments, and please be sure to head over to my Facebook Page to get involved in the discussion!

50 States Postcard Exchange!

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It’s been several years since I was in the classroom teaching.  But one of my favorite things was doing a postcard exchange.  There’s nothing more exciting than getting mail – like real, legit snail-mail mail!  This year as Becca’s enthusiasm for geography really gets going, I wanted to provide her with that opportunity as well – to send and receive 49 post cards from the other states in the USA!

And amazingly enough, I got some immediate response when I posted on my Facebook page that I was looking for interest.  Enough that I decided it was worth it to set up a Google spreadsheet and invite the whole country (well, one person from each state) to participate!  We have some states already represented, but we’re still looking for states to join in the fun!  If you would be interested in purchasing (or making if you’re really artistic/adventurous/crazy) 49 post cards (50 if you’d like to keep one from your own state), and then mailing them out to the other 49 states, then please shoot me a comment here and let me know what state you’d be representing!  Then I can get back with you and let you know if your state has already been selected by someone.

Please note – I’ll need your email address if I’m going to include you in the exchange and send you the spreadsheet to update with your information.  So please be sure you include it when you comment.

Logistics:
-Buy 49 post cards that represent your state.  (price??)
—You can usually find them in the book section at Walmart, at your local zoo or aquarium or other tourist trap if you’re in a big city, or some grocery stores even carry them in the office supply section.—
-Answer questions about your state on each postcard (you can type and print on labels to save your hands!)
-Address post cards to the other participants.
-Mail 49 post cards. ($0.34 per stamp = $16.66)
-Receive 49 post cards!

Who can participate?
ANYONE who enjoys getting mail!  Classrooms, homeschool families, lonely college student who wants mail, adult who loves mail, family who wants mail, ANYONE!!!!

Comment today and I’ll let you know if your state has been covered!

Lessons from the Ironing Board

It’s been a while since I’ve had a new post.  I have lots to share, but very little time to share it in… can I get an amen?!  But yesterday I had some realizations that are so worth sharing that I’m starting writing before 6am!  Yup.  That kind of good.  At least, I hope that they impact you the way they did me.

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So I’m standing there yesterday, in my least favorite place (esp in the summertime) … at the ironing board.  I had Klove going on my phone in an effort to keep a positive attitude about my task.  But, as it will, my mind began to wander.

I started thinking about this friend of mine whose husband is a blue collar, commission based worker.  I was thinking about the times when she has mentioned that times are tough (though she isn’t a complainer, don’t get me wrong!!), and I was thinking, “at least SHE doesn’t have to iron her husband’s work shirts all the time!”  Wow.  Seriously ya’ll, that thought came to me.  And then God put that thought to work.  From there, I realized how thankful I should be for ironing those work shirts – because I don’t ever have to worry about how much Cody’s next pay check will be.  It is always the same, always consistent, always there to pay the bills.  No fear.  Wow.  We’re really blessed.

And then my mind began to wander to our other blessings – from the clothes, to the Starbucks coffee sitting on the windowsill, to the view out my window looking out over our land, and finally, to the iron and ironing board itself.  I began to think about the woman who made the shirt I was ironing.  (Hypothetically, of course, since I have no idea where the shirt was made or by whom.)  This woman – so thankful for a job to bring in money for her family, to feed her children.  How much money did she make when she made his shirt?  How much money did it take to pay the bills?  How many shirts would she have to make to come close to paying even one of them?  How old is she?  Does she have a family at 14, or is she old and frail and still having to work?

Yup, ya’ll, my mind was going deep.  Have you ever let your mind wander and sort of subconsciously said “ok God just take me wherever…”?  Sometimes it’ll take you scary good places.  Yesterday, through this mind wandering, I began to realize/remember that God puts each of us where He wants us – for a reason.  And while the grass may sometimes seem greener on the other side, we only have to look for a moment at the side we are on to start seeing the millions of wildflowers surrounding us.  They aren’t weeds needing to be pulled, they are tiny blessings that God has planted in our path to bless us!

Do I magically like ironing now?  No.  Am I looking forward to doing more ironing today?  Nope.  Do I like pulling weeds?  No.  Do I look forward to pulling the weeds invading my flower beds?  Nope.  But every. single. chore is because of a blessing, and I need only look beyond my own physical discomfort to start seeing that blessing.  What are you complaining about today?  And how can you change your view?

Just like my friend should be happy she doesn’t have to iron her husband’s work shirts, I should be thankful for consistency.  Just like I should be happy we can afford the clothes, the shirt maker should be happy that her job to make them provides for her family, however meager.  Finding joy where I’ve been planted is sometimes difficult.  When the rain and the clouds and the wild, crazy children threaten to take over my thoughts, I need only to stop and realize that the rain is a blessing.  The children certainly are blessings.  And all I really need to do is shift my perspective.

How do you need a perspective shift today?  I would love to have you comment and let me know on what things you struggle with your perspective, so I can pray for you.

 

Blog posts coming soon: Back to School, Sensory Learning for Toddlers, and Lessons from a Volcano!

A Little Bit… of Everything

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Whew.  Ya’ll, contrary to popular belief, I have not fallen off the face of the planet.  I have not blasted into outer space (though my kids HAVE sent me into orbit more than a few times lately).  I have not tunneled my way to China (though I have considered digging a hole and sticking my head in it – ostriches don’t pay attention to politics!).  Nope.  I’m still here.  It’s just been crazy around here.  The words for it might more likely be busy, insane, freakish, out of the ordinary…  And yet, through it all, we have been blessed.

My best friend was in the hospital 25 days.  Her sweet daughter who is 13 has been living with us.  In that last 25 days, we moved Grayson into his big boy room upstairs, partially set up the guest room back downstairs in what was the nursery (the rest of it is still in my balcony taunting me every time I sit at the bar or on the couch and look up), climbed Mt. Laundry more times than I can count, surfed the waves of dishes in the sink (again, more times than I can count), drove to visit my parents for four days to do a million and one fun things together, and drove across the worlds largest city (ok, I realize this is an exaggeration) practically every day we were in town to make hospital visits (and once, we even did it twice in one day!).  I’ve been prepping for back to homeschool, running my organization training on Facebook, I’m attempting to start a new workout routine (Beachbody PiYo with a friend, Kelly, coaching me!), oh, and did I mention I’m guzzling coffee like, well, like a Starbucks addict?

Yeah, it’s been crazy.  But wow.  We are SO blessed!  We have a home where each of our kids (including our adopted niece who is currently living with us) has their own personal space.  We have clothes to wear and dishes to eat off.  We have pets to snuggle with and parents/grandparents who love us and planned super fun stuff for us to do on our trip.  We have a very reliable vehicle who gets us where we need to go safely, and with some pretty great gas mileage.  We are blessed.

tulsa collage

And in it all, I am blessed with so many amazing friends who have been encouraging every step of the way.  Every time I walk into Gray’s room, I am reminded of the sweet friends I have from PWAT who came and spent a few hours with me to make his room simply stunning.  He is a very blessed little boy.  He has a beautiful mural to look at on his wall every day, and he has these women in his life who care enough about him to go out of their way and give up an entire day to do this for him.

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finished room

I have friends who have been praying for us multiple times daily.  That’s support that I can’t say thank you enough for.  I have friends who have simply been there to listen to my crazy stressed out self as I have vented about whatever the day’s stress is at the time.  I have friends on social media that I’ve never met in person who have stepped in and accepted the challenge to trust me as I teach them to organize their homes for homeschool.  My “adopted niece” is an amazing help with the kids, household chores, and just generally fun to hang out with.  I love her as if she was my own daughter, and our bond has gotten so strong through all of this.  We. Are. So. Very. Amazingly. Blessed.

w hannah

The heart of a servant is not one that is easily and readily available.  It is one that has to be earned through hard work and tribulation.  And yet, it is what I have been praying for.  My grandmother was a servant.  Through her passing back in February, I was reminded of how I always admired her willingness to put everyone else first.  Sometimes she did it so much that it became an issue of her not being able to think or act for herself.  I want to be an emotionally independent woman.  But I also want to be a woman who is willing to step aside and let God take the glory and do whatever work He has for me.  These last 25 days I have grown in ways I never thought possible.  I desperately pray daily for my friend to be healed.  More than once we have been given her release date only for something to come up and she has to stay in the hospital.  Then, yesterday she got to come home.  Only to have to go back today due to breathing problems.  I want to scream at God and ask Him why on Earth He would put her through this physically, and why He would put us, her family, through this emotionally.  WHY?

Why?  Because.  Sometimes He needs to hedge us in with thorns as He did the children of Israel in the book of Hosea.  Because when He hedges us in with thorns, we are reminded of He who is in charge.  We are reminded of His power.  And we are struck by the awe of Him.  We are forced to focus on the blessings because the stress is just too much to look in the eye.  So why?  Because God.  Because He has blessed us.  Beyond compare.  And it’s taken all of this for me to realize it and fully appreciate it.  And because it’s His way of teaching me how to become that servant that I strive to be. It’s not about being a Martha who daily is climbing Mt. Laundry and surfing the waves of dishes.  It’s about being a Mary and stopping in the midst of the chaos to sit at His feet and see His glory all around me.  It’s about seeing the beauty and not missing the moments of laughter.

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P.W.A.T… for all ages!

I love to paint.  Seriously ya’ll, I LOVE to paint.  And I love nothing more than hanging out with good friends and painting!  And I definitely want to encourage my kids to love art as well.  Earlier in the summer I mentioned that we’re doing this summer on the (relatively) cheap.  And we’re doing pretty good at that.  But the one thing I mentioned in that post that was worth a splurge was Painting with a Twist.  And ya’ll, it so is worth the splurge.

This past week, I finally took the kids (and our babysitter!) to go paint.  I registered Becca and Hannah for canvases, and then planned to just wing it with Gray.  The girls were super excited, and both of their paintings turned out amazing!

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It never ceases to amaze me that these art teachers who instruct adult classes can be so good with even little bitty kids like Becca!  Nik was so patient with her, and when she decided to follow Mommy’s footsteps and “go rogue” with her painting… he didn’t bat an eye!  Instead, he and Katie (the manager/owner’s daughter) swung into action and what was to be a sea turtle turned into a fabulous chalk outline of a dolphin at Becca’s request!  I was so impressed with how compassionate they were and so willing to oblige.  And ya’ll, yes, these are my friends.  But I know they’d do the same for any other child that was in the studio.  And they have BECOME my friends because that’s the kind of people they are…  Because that’s just how they roll.  Becca is so proud of her dolphin – she hung it in her playhouse in the family room.

Katie even provided chalk to occupy Gray so that he could color on the butcher paper covering the table.  Talk about fabulous service!  I drew him a turtle outline, and he loved scribbling all over it.

Gray had a blast, too… it was so much fun for ALL of us, and made me feel like it really is possible to take both of them somewhere and have a really fun, positive time where they both walk away happy and successful!

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All opinions in this post are my own.  I was not compensated for any mention of Painting with a Twist on this blog.  This was my own decision to share this information, and I was not asked to create this post for any intent of advertising for the company.  I am not an affiliate nor employee of Painting with a Twist.