Tuesday, May 26, 2009

National Tap Dance Day

Did you know that yesterday (May 25th) was National Tap Dance Day? I didn't until today. I took the kids to the library and had picked out a bag full of books. When I thought I had enough, the title of one more book caught my eye. It was "Rap A Tap Tap Here's Bojangles- Think of That!" by Leo and Diane Dillon. I grabbed it and on thumbing through the pages decided it would be a fun one to take home. I'm so glad I did! I sat down with Clara to read it and loved the short, rhythmic lines of each page, but I also loved the fun artwork.
When I came to the last page I found a biography of the real "Bojangles." I learned his real name was Bill Robinson (1878-1949) and he is known as the greatest tap dancer of all time; it was said "he talked with his feet"; his rhythms were so complex and fast it was impossible for other dancers to mimic some of them; he shared his wealth with less fortunate friends during the Great Depression; he performed on Broadway and several films, including four with Shirley Temple.
At the end of the biography I learned that on May 25, 1989, Congress declared that day (which was his birthday) as National Tap Dance Day in Bill Robinson's honor.

When I realized the special day was only just yesterday, I got to my feet and excitedly told the kids. They didn't find it near as exciting as I did, but I didn't care. I turned on a fun song so I could "tap dance" (in my flip flops) in the kitchen. Both the kids kinda looked at me like I was crazy, but I didn't let it get me down. I am no dancer, but I've always had great aspirations to be one. I know I looked silly but I was having fun. Eventually, however, Clara wanted to join in too. But Noah was still embarrassed to know me. I knew he'd love seeing real tap dancing, so I rummaged through our old videos to find my copy of "Singin' in the Rain". It would have been nice to have it on DVD because it took me forever to fast-forward and rewind my way through the movie to try and find some tap dancing. But, finally I found some really good dancing in "Good Mornin.'" Watching that kind of stuff can't help but make you smile. Noah was finally convinced that tap dancing was fun. He really enjoyed it and wanted to watch other fun dances. He LOVED "Make em' Laugh!" He probably would have loved Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain," but he conked out from a fully day of playing, not out of boredom.

Anyway, it was a really fun, spontaneous moment (possibly more for me than the kids). I'll have to rent one of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's movies so I can see the master in action. You can honor his special day too, and you could probably have even more fun with it than I did with a little more planning. Go check out this book and show your kids real tap dancing by him or any of the other masters like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire (I really wanted to show Noah Fred Astaire dancing with firecrackers in "Holiday Inn" but I don't have that one). Then turn on some old music and be silly with your kids by showing off your own tap dancing skills.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Illustration Friday

Even though I already posted today, I am just so excited to share two things with you all. One day while enjoying the blog Bookie Woogie, I noticed the cute family had another cute blog- Chicken Nugget Lemon Tootie. It's a blog where the three kids display their wonderful, creative works of art. Their stuff is really impressive! You really need to check it out. It gave me some fun ideas to do with my kids.

The other thing I wanted to share I discovered on Chicken Nugget Lemon Tootie. It's Illustration Friday. I went to the website and found a blog for amateur and professional artists, and every Friday they give out a theme for everyone to portray in their art. If you want to be sent them theme every week, you just give them your email address, and you can participate too. Chicken Nugget Lemon Tootie bloggers participate in many of the themes. Click here to view their very creative takes on the themes given. Some of their entries blew me away.

This was the first week Noah and I participated. I was nervous to do it, as if ten professional artists were standing behind me, critiquing my very amateur work. But that's the cool thing about this whole thing- no one has to see it. You can just do it for fun. This week's theme is Contagious. That's a new word for Noah, and a big one too. I wasn't sure if he'd understand it or not. I tried explaining that's how people get sick, but from the vacant expression on his face I could see that didn't work. So, I went to smiling and laughter, and that's what our pictures are based on. I started drawing mine, and Noah got inspired. Here is his first:

I call it "A Contagious Smile"

His second I call "If You Chance to Meet a Frown"
This next one is a little embarrassing, but I don't care. Just don't laugh.
I call it "Catching."
Kind of a fun thing, huh? I do think this might work better for older kids, like kindergarten or first grade and up. Noah's mind didn't focus on this as long as I hoped. It was on more important things, like spiders outside that needed feeding. He likes to help spiders get food by putting poor, defenseless bugs near their webs. I don't know how spiders have survived all these years without Noah to help them eat. I'm hoping he'll have more fun with this on weeks that the theme is more understandable for him.
Check out both websites and let me know if you start participating in the Illustration Friday and what you think of it.

Friday Book Review

Since Wednesday is Recipe Day and Thursday is Activity Day, I thought I'd continue on and make Friday Book Review Day.
Today's is Good-night, Owl! by Pat Hutchins. This is the cutest book! It's about an owl trying to sleep in a noisy tree. His nap keeps getting interrupted by all the different varieties of birds and other animals:bees, squirrels, jays, crows, cuckoos, doves, and more. It gets so loud that sleep is impossible. Finally night time arrives and the birds are finally quiet because they're sleeping, but the nocturnal owl gives them a taste of their own medicine.
This book is fun because it talks about the different sounds that birds make. Kids also think it's funny at the end when Owl wakes all the birds up. Kids also learn about nocturnal animals. I also like the book because of the beautiful pictures. Your kids will love this book. Each time I read it, N makes a request for a second or third reading.
Do you have any favorite books that talk about animal sounds? Please share!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food-Coloring Painting

Since Wednesday is Recipe Day, I thought I'd make Thursday Activity Day. I'll try to post a fun activity every week, and if you're a contributor, feel free to post something as well.

Here's another fun activity from The Toddler's Busy Book by Trish Kuffner (in a previous post I mentioned how I'm going to try to do one of her activities a week with my kids). For those of you who own a copy, it's on page 239 in the Arts and Crafts section.

Food-Coloring Painting

You need:

Food coloring
Paper towels or coffee filters

Make your own paint by adding food-coloring to water, enough to get the color you want. Brush the mixture onto a piece of paper towel or coffee filter. Use several colors. When the paper towel is soaked, remove and let dry. Then mount on construction paper to display.

I mostly did this activity for C because I haven't been very good about letting her experiment with art, like I was with N. I thought she'd like this activity, and I was right. She loved watching the paper towel absorb the liquid paint and seeing the colors quickly spread on the paper towel. N also enjoyed it, and they each went through about 3 paper towels. I taught N a new word too: absorbing. I'm pretty sure he won't remember, but it's always good teach them something new, even if they might not really get it. Although, I'm always surprised at the things N does understand that I think he won't. Anyway, both my kids really enjoyed this activity, and their work is proudly displayed on the refrigerator.

I liked this activity because all the supplies are things you have on hand and it was easy to do and clean up.


  • beware that little ones might try drinking the "paint." In the two seconds I turned to help N, C tried to drink her pink paint. Luckily, this paint won't hurt them at all if they drink it.
  • have little ones where a bib. N wanted to wear his apron, which was a good idea too. This activity can get a little messy with kids drinking and spilling the paint.
  • beware the surface you let them do this on. It might be a good idea to put something under the paper towel to protect the surface. I might have stained C's high chair tray. I'm not sure yet, though. I'm going to try a magic eraser to see if it gets it out.

*If you'd like to be a contributor, leave your email address in the comments.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fruit Smoothies

I decided that Wednesday is going to be my Recipe Day. I'll try to post a kid-friendly recipe (hopefully something they won't wine about or gag on) every Wednesday, but some weeks I might not have anything. Those would be good weeks for my contributors (and wanna-be contributors) to post there own recipe (hint! hint!).

On my post about eating healthy, I made a comment that I often make fruit smoothies in an attempt to get make crazy non-fruit eating children to ingest some of the healthy, yummy goodness that is fruit. Someone requested that I post my recipe. So, here they are (I have two). There's really nothing fancy about them.

Mixed Berry Smoothie
  • handful of fresh or frozen mixed berries
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • splash of orange juice
  • half a banana

blend until fruit and ice cubes are crushed and mixed.

Yogurt Smoothie

  • 2-3 large spoonfuls of plain or vanilla yogurt
  • handful of berries (any kind you want)
  • half a banana

blend until fruit is crushed and ingredients are mixed

*Keep in mind that I use a Magic Bullet, which is a lot smaller than a regular blender. So, you may need to adjust your measurements.

*For both these recipes, you really can add whatever fruit you want and how much of it you want. I really just throw stuff together.

Great Idea

My sister had a really good idea. You can buy trays for making your own pop-sickles. My mom got some at Ikea (Good luck finding them on the website. I tried and failed. Let me know if you find them.), and they're really fun because they're tall like a real pop-sickle. Others I've seen are short and squat. Anyway, my sister's idea was to make fruit smoothies and make them into pop-sickles. It sounds delicious and fun for the kids to help make. That might be a fun summer activity.

I'd love for you to post your favorite smoothie recipe in the comments. Maybe one or two will make it in a later post.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

I just wanted to wish all you mothers out there a very Happy Mother's Day! I am in awe of you and are always learning from you. Thanks for what you do, and remember that it's the most important thing you could ever do!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Preschool Dilemma

I am a Dr. Laura fan, and today one of the calls reaffirmed my feelings on preschool. But, before I tell you what they are, lets go back to the day N was born. On a rainy fall morning, six weeks early, our little boy was born. Thrilled to have our premie healthy as any 40 weeker, we were in new mommy and daddy heaven (apart from our feelings of shock, fear, bewilderment, pain, and exhaustion, as are normal for any new parent). We made the huge adjustment that was parenthood and learned day by day what the heck we were supposed to do to raise our little guy to be healthy and happy. I thought my job was to love and kiss him, change his poopie diapers, feed him, bathe him, play with him, sing to him, read to him. Boy, was I naive.

Upon taking my little boy to play dates or other functions where mommies show off their adorable, brilliant babies, I would get questions like:

"What words does he say?"
"Does he know his ABC's?"
"Can he count to 20 yet?"
"Can he spell his name?"
"What are you doing for preschool?"
"Can he sing the Star Spangled Banner?"
"Can he count backwards from 100?"
"Can he spell chrysanthemum?"
"Does he know his 12 times tables?"
"Does he know and understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity?"

To which I would nervously reply, "Um, he's only 6 months old." The other mothers would then give me their fakest sweetest smile, turn up their noses and proceed to tell me all the amazing things their 6 month old has been doing for months. I sat their listening, pretending to be awed by their brilliant children and not at all embarrassed at my apparent brainless child. But inside my own brain was reeling- What have I done? I've failed my son already! I'm a horrible mother! Tomorrow we're starting on a strict schedule! Play time will now be replaced with learning time where we will learn every subject form reading to the history of America! Then we'll see who has the smartest 6 month old!

Well, I may be exaggerating a tad, but I wanted to portray the intense pressure I felt as a young mother. Some of you may understand me from your own experiences. Many mothers are pressured into thinking that if they're not educating their children academically every day and if they're children aren't able to do certain things by certain ages, then they are horrible mothers. At least, that's how I felt. That feeling took the fun out of teaching N. Instead, often it was very stressful. I felt like I should be doing some kind of formal learning time at home every day. To say that was overwhelming for me is an understatement.

Finally I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't worry about a formal learning time at home. I would just play with him, find teaching moments in play time, and let him learn and develop his brain by exploring the world around him and letting him use his imagination. I wasn't always confident with this philosophy. Often I would compare myself with other moms and wonder if I was doing the right thing. But I would reassure myself by saying, "He's not going to be twenty years old and not know how to count to 20."

Now that N is actual preschool age, I've wondered If I should send him away to preschool. N has just one year until kindergarten, but other kids N's age have already had at least one year of preschool. I didn't even bother looking into putting him in last fall because he had speech therapy and kindermusik. They're each only one day a week and no more than an hour and a half (speech is only 1/2 hour), but that's a full plate for a four year if you ask me. But, as this next fall- N's last year before kindergarten- has been approaching I've contemplated on what to do. He'll still be in speech and kindermusik, and really, that is plenty in my book. But, I've been comparing myself to other Moms again (Bad Marianne!) and wondered if he'd be behind all the other kids if he didn't do a year of preschool. Thanks to the advice of some older, wiser people in my life, I have come to a conclusion, which is my feeling on preschool that was reaffirmed today on the Dr. Laura show. It is this:

Let kids be kids. They're going to behind a desk for the rest of their lives! Don't start them any earlier than is necessary! This is the time for them to develop their imaginations, explore the world around them, be silly, and have fun! They'll learn so much more if they do all that with YOU! There will be plenty of time for them to learn the other stuff.
I love what Dr. Laura said to the caller who sounded as pressured as I once felt. She said, "Remember- you're raising a person, not a computer."
Now, let me explain that I'm not against preschool, ones that are at home or away. If you want to take your kids somewhere- great (just make sure class sizes are small)! If you want to do your own at home- great! I'm still not totally against me doing it at home. I've just discovered what my limitations are and what I can handle. Or, if you don't want to do preschool at all- great! There will always be learning opportunities. The main thing is to not feel pressured into whatever you do. That's what I learned. Find out what works for you and your child. Some kids want to learn things, but others don't want to sit and be taught (like mine). You might be a creative, organized mom who loves to come up with her own lessons or you might be like me who likes using the work of another mom's genius. Or you might also be like me in that you get easily overwhelmed, so you like to keep things as simple as possible.
This post is getting really long, and I'm getting tired. I hope this made sense. It did to me when I started, but my eyes have gotten heavy and my brain is working a little sluggish. I have more to say, though, so I think the rest will have to come later.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Cat, Cat, Dog!"

I've had "The Toddler's Busy Book" by Trish Kuffner for a couple years, but I don't use it as much as I should. I always forget I even have it. But today I remembered that it was on my shelf collecting dust, so I thought I'd flip it open and see if I could find something fun for N and I to do. I turned to the Outdoor Adventure section and found a game called "Red, Red, Red" (on page 139 for those of you who own the book). It sounded like something N would enjoy, so I thought I'd give it a whirl, but I modified it a little. I call our version "Cat, Cat, Dog!"

Here's how to play:
  • Have players stand next to each other behind a starting line
  • The leader calls out three animals- If the animals match ("cat, cat, cat") the players stand still like a soldier. If the last animal named is different ("cat, cat, dog"), the players run to a distant designated "safe" spot before the leader tags them.
  • If a player is tagged before they get to the "safe" spot, then that player now has to call out animal names. The original starting line then becomes the new "safe" spot.
  • Variations: instead of animals, you can do body parts or colors or whatever; instead of running to the "safe" spot, you can skip, twirl, hop, or you can pretend to be whatever animal was called out last.

This game is fun because:

  • Every kid LOVES animals
  • It teaches math: Kids have to name one animal three times in a row, then they have to name one animal twice and say a different animal on the third time. I was very impressed that N was able to this because sometimes he has a hard time with numbers.
  • Kids LOVE being chased, and the especially LOVE chasing
  • It's great exercise for you and your kids. You'll both need some quiet time at the end.
  • Parents will enjoy this too!

I had no idea just how much N would like this game. He absolutely LOVED it! He said, "Let's play this game all day!" It really was a lot of fun!

This book really has some great ideas. I made a goal to do at least one a week. Technically, there's one activity for every day of the year, but that's a little overwhelming for me. Maybe someday I'll get to that point, but I'm just going to take it slow for now.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nursery Rhymes

Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away
With the spoon.

Nursery rhymes have been handed down from Mother to child for centuries. Frankly, I've wondered why. I mean, if you think about their words, most of them make absolutely no sense and some have rather depressing endings, like "When the bow breaks the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all." But, despite all that, kids love them.

My kids are no exception. I just bought this book (pictures above) not too long ago because I didn't have a book with nursery rhymes and I sadly only knew a few by heart. I found my copy at Wal-Mart, and I think I may have seen it at Target too. It's also fun because it comes with a CD for added enjoyment, and in case you were wondering, it is made by Priddy Books. Anyway, it became an instant favorite at my house. C is always dragging it off the shelf and begging me with her big cow eyes to read it, and N likes to try and say some of the nursery rhymes with me. I think his favorite is The Three Little Mittens.

One reason I bought the book is because Kindermusik does a lot with nursery rhymes, and their teacher has talked a lot about how important they are for kids development. I thought that was interesting, so I looked up WHY nursery rhymes are so beneficial to kids, and I found some interesting articles to back up what their teacher said. Here's what I found:

10 Reasons Kids Benefit From Nursery Rhymes:

  1. Rhyme: The rhyming format found in nursery rhymes makes it easier for kids to pick out rhyming words, and studies show that kids who struggle with rhyming words, also have struggles with learning to read.

  2. Rhythm: The rhythms found in nursery rhymes help children exercise their auditory memory skills. It's easier for them to remember the words because of the rhythms. Also, my kids seem to enjoy my telling of the nursery rhymes more when I really emphasize the rhythmic pulse, and I'll even bounce or tap on my kids to the beat.

  3. Phonemes: Phonemes are the individual units of sound that make up words. Rhymes sensitize children to these sounds. The rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep" places three /b/ sounds in a row and later in the verse, dame and lane highlight the long /ay/ sound. This helps children develop a sensitivity to language, which prepares them to think about the sequence of sound in a whole word. This skill is crucial for learning to read and spell.

  4. Listening Skills: They introduce the concept of listening from beginning to end. They're the perfect first stories because they're short.

  5. Imagery: The colorful images painted in nursery rhymes help expand a child's imagination. Remember how I said The Three Little Kittens is N's favorite? A lot of times after we read our nursery rhyme book he's off pretending to be a kitten.

  6. Fun: Any time you read to your children, it sends them a message that you enjoy spending time with them. Nursery rhymes introduce literature as something fun, helping your children develop love of reading. I enjoy reading nursery rhymes to my kids because they are fun to read. Some of them I know a tune that fits with the words, like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", but others I've just made up my own tune. Sometimes the tune is quite dorky, but kids don't care. Singing as you read to your kids captures their attention and helps them listen better. If I don't sing the rhymes, I do a lot of vocal inflection and facial expressions. Not only do my kids have fun, but I have a blast too!

  7. Humor: Most nursery rhymes are just plane silly, but kids don't care that they make no sense.

  8. Vocabulary: Because nursery rhymes have been around forever, they often have words that aren't used in everyday language and often introduce math concepts.

  9. Coordination: Many rhymes have hand gestures and clapping to go along with them. This can help a child develop coordination and motor skills.

  10. Confidence: Reciting nursery rhymes gives a child practice and confidence in speaking in front of strangers.

I got the above information from two articles: Nursery Rhyme Benefits and Why Children Need Nursery Rhymes. The latter was very interesting. It had some additional benefits, so I'd encourage you to check out the full article.

Some of you who might be a little uncomfortable reading rhymes like "Jack and Jill" or "Humpty Dumpty" or any of the other more depressing ones. The article "Why Children Need Nursery Rhymes" gave a good suggestion. They suggested taking creative license and coming up with more happy endings. For example, instead of "Couldn't put Humpty together again" you could say, "Took him to the Doctor - now he's better again!"

If you don't have a collection of nursery rhymes in your personal library, I'd encourage you to get one. Your kids will love them, and they're very beneficial. There is a large selection of nursery rhyme books, so you don't necessarily have to get the one I suggested. Although, it might hurt my feelings if you don't.

Happy nursery rhyming!