Earth Week Part 1

Normally I have an endless supply of topics I am pondering over, wanting to write about, or actively writing about. Lately though, I have had a hard time willing myself to sit down and actually write much of anything. I think the exhaustion and constant discomfort that this third trimester is bringing with it has totally zapped my creative energy. It has at least hindered my ability to choose writing over laying in bed at 4am, staring at the ceiling and hoping I will magically get comfortable until I need to get up and pee again. Obviously the bouts of cold and snow that have plagued us this April haven’t been helpful, especially when combined with two weeks of sick kids and a serious lack of nutrition on my part since eating more then a piece of peanut butter toast or handful of grapes still sends me running to the bathroom from this nausea.

As usual, when things get a little too intense in life, my reaction is to just scale back on projects, activities, and all house cleaning that needs more energy then I have (you know, anything that requires forcibly removing my body from the couch) and spend more time relaxing, reading, singing, playing phonics and math games, and anything else that demands little more then my presence.

This week, however, has been deemed Earth Week in our house and with much determination I have put together and executed at least a few fun activities and projects with the kidlets each day. I am doing this, in part, for fear of feeling even more useless by the end of the week but also because it is very important to me that Z and Stori get a good idea of just how vital the earth is to our existence, why we need to advocate to protect its resources, and what each of us can do on a small scale to make a difference in the future of this planet and our lives on it.

Luckily, these activities have not only made this week much more bearable for me, but also provided some really fun opportunities for teaching new ideas and concepts and having lots of interesting, meaningful conversations with my sweet preschoolers. I am amazed with how quickly they seem to understand the positive and negative impacts we can have on the environment, especially when we started talking about conserving energy and reducing our waste. I have never seen two little kids so excited to be given this knowledge and fully embrace the small parts they can play in making a difference and helping our earth.

Astoria has become our light conservationist and is constantly on the lookout for a light left on unnecessarily and directs me to open the blinds and shut off the lights in a room if there is daylight to be had. Zoren is taking the waste reduction and recycling in our house to a whole new level and with the smallest amount of guidance, has come up with some great ways to reuse certain things we would normally throw away. He also seems to pop into the kitchen out of no where every time a food or beverage container is emptied, making sure it is being reused for a project or rinsed and taken to the recycling bin in the garage. It’s pretty awesome.

Since Monday and Tuesday were pretty cold and snow covered the ground, we kept our projects indoors and focused on some recycling crafts, of which their favorite was definitely crayon making. We made big chunky heart shaped crayons out of broken pieces of old ones I have been saving since the kids first started coloring so we had plenty of material to work with. Once I removed all the paper, cut the crayon stubs into little pieces, and sorted them out into similar hues, the kids went to town filling up the molds. We had a total blast choosing which color combinations to use for the new crayons and they each had a unique hypothesis about how the colors would combine once they were melted in the oven. The final product turned out great and I had two very proud preschoolers.

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Now that we had some fun new crayons, we decided to use them for texture rubbings which is quickly becoming a favorite past time around here. Since everything in Zoren and Astoria’s world right now revolves around some kind of “hunt” or grand expedition, I made them a little indoor photo texture scavenger hunt. It took nearly no time at all to prep and kept us all entertained for quite awhile. I went around the house while the crayons were cooling and snapped a bunch of photos of items that I thought could be used for crayon rubbings and was surprised with just how many interesting textures I found that I had never even given a moments notice to before. My favorite is the textured pattern on the back of Zoren’s rocking chair that was mine as a child. I remember sitting in that chair and running my fingers through the smooth carved out areas over and over. The pattern is etched forever in my memory so that, even still, the moment that my fingertips touch it they know exactly where each groove leads. And I digress…

Once I was done taking pictures (and spending an additional 5 minutes sitting in Zoren’s room, reminiscing about that rocking chair), I loaded all of the pictures onto the iPad and used that to display the photos so the kids could start hunting for each item.

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Some of the other fun activities we have done this week include making bird feeders and suet holders out of recycled materials and mixing up some home made bird suet using my moms awesome recipe. Our resident blue jay was especially appreciative! We also did some earth paper crafts and made picture charts describing a lot of the important things we get from our planet and, in return, things we can give to our planet.

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Spring Sensory Observation Walk

One of the new Spring activities that I introduced to the kidlets yesterday is a sensory observation walk/scavenger hunt. I aimed the focus of this walk toward using multiple senses together to find particular items on our observation list. I chose a bunch of things that we were most likely to see outside and we came up with some more ideas along the way so we will probably be doing this activity again soon! Here are the items that were on yesterday’s list:

-birds chirping
-water rushing over rocks
-barking dog
-a sparkly rock
-children playing
-airplane or helicopter in the sky
-a bridge to cross
-swimming ducks
-big birds hunting/circling

We used both pictures and words on our lists because Z is just learning to read and Astoria can’t read by herself yet. I think it is great for them to make the connection between pictures and written language and we found that having the visual really helped them remember what we were looking for along the way without needing any reminders.

The observation walk was a huge hit with the kidlets and they stayed intently focused on listening and watching for things on their list while chatting with each other about what they were hearing and seeing almost the whole time. They also decided the next time we did this activity, they would need to make their own additions to our lists. Zoren wants to add “zooming cars” and “the far away snowy mountains”, while Astoria came up with “people not hitting us on bicycles” and “dog poop” to include. All of which we certainly see plenty of on our walks.

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I think this is an especially great activity for a child with hearing loss because it helps prompt them to marry their sense of hearing with their sense of sight to figure out exactly where a particular sound is coming from. This is a skill that Astoria is quite proficient at but something we still work on to continue building a good listening foundation for her once she reaches school and is put into different types of hearing and listening situations. Being able to reliably determine the origin of a specific sound is also something that appears on all of the assessments Stori has been taking every six months for the last three years, so it must be important! Let me go off on a little tangent for a minute to help explain why this is such a fundamental skill for children with hearing loss to master…

Although hearing aids are a great benefit to most people with hearing loss, especially for individuals who test in the mild/moderate range like Astoria, they are essentially just miniature microphones which are positioned behind the ears. This positioning makes it easier to pick up sounds coming from your aft but make it a little more tricky to decipher sounds coming from in front of you when there is a lot of background noise, especially if its coming from multiple directions. I can only imagine now hard it would be in a crowded situation, like a gymnasium full of kids for instance with someone speaking into a microphone, and having to compensate for the echoing room, disrupting children, applause, and other various distractions coming from all sides while trying to pay attention to what the speaker is actually saying.

It is also worth noting that certain hearing aid settings/programs actually take loud noises over a certain decibel range and cut the sound off completely so as not to cause unpleasant feedback and to protect the wearer’s hearing. A perfect example of this is when we were taking Astoria to ballet and tap dance classes. While she loved the ballet part, once the echoey studio was full of little girls and boys running around in tap shoes, she couldn’t hear much of anything. It was especially difficult for her to comprehend any instruction from her teacher because her hearing aids were either cutting out the noise completely, or it was too loud for her to decipher what was being said. I don’t know exactly what she was experiencing because she is so young still and not always able to explain exactly what the problem is. But I do know that she will inevitably be put into a countless number of similarly difficult listening situations throughout school and beyond. Situations that I won’t be present for, have no control over, and can’t guide her through. I will have to trust that the skills we have worked on since she was so small and her feisty, honest nature will allow her to prevail and thrive in those types of environments.

And I digress… We finished up our observation walk with a nice picnic in the park and plenty of time at the playground. Astoria is getting to be quite a proficient climber but is still my little swinging girl and will sit on the swings as long as someone is willing to push her once her legs get tired from pumping. Zoren is my playground conqueror and has mastered pretty much every obstacle aside from the monkey bars, which I am sure he will have down by the end of summer.

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We stayed at the park most of the afternoon, soaking up the last rays of sunshine and watching sinister storms form over the mountains then slowly meander in our direction. Once we saw the ominous clouds start to fill our pretty blue skies and the sun tucked itself away behind them, we made our way back home, quite pleased with the day.

Skill Building with Shamrocks- A St. Patrick’s Day Activity for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Since St. Patrick’s day is right around the corner, I figured it would be fun share one of our favorite March activities. Today we are having our yearly shamrock hunt, but this time we are doing things a little differently as the kids are getting older and each have different skills that we are focusing on developing. The nice thing about this activity is that it can be modified to be appropriate for both toddlers and preschoolers (ages about 18 months to 5 years, give or take) so I will share how we have adapted it over the last few years to focus on different ages and on building different skills.

-A computer with the internet and printer (or some mad shamrock drawing skills)
-Green paper (different shades are optional, or white paper with some green markers for shamrock coloring)
-stickers, markers, crayons, glue, glitter (optional)
-basket, bucket, or bowl for shamrock collection
-containers for shamrock sorting (optional)

For toddlers:
One of the first important skills to work on with toddlers is following simple one or two step directions. This skill opens the door to so many fun activities and projects (and eventually to the self cleaned room of a preschooler) so I think it’s a good skill to start with. Here is what we did:

1. Get online and do a google search for a “shamrock template” to print out. There are a ton out there and available to print so it shouldn’t be hard to find. When the kids were toddlers, I chose a template that had shamrocks which were all the same size and shape and I chose to print out about 12-16 shamrocks on some festive kelly green paper. Then cut them all out (this is the most tedious part of the project).

2. Get a bucket, basket, or bowl to place in the middle of whatever room you are using for this activity. Then go hide all of the shamrocks around the room. For younger toddlers, you may want to hide them in plain sight at first so they can warm up to the concept of having to find something, especially if this is their first encounter with this kind of activity.

3. Bring in your toddler and explain to them what you expect them to do: find a green shamrock, then put it in the basket… Then demonstrate this for them and cheer and clap for yourself when you find one and again when you get it into the basket. Then ask them to do the same. They may need some help and guidance at first but you’d be surprised how quickly they will catch on, especially with continuous positive reinforcement from you. They may want you to hide them again and again, or they may get bored and decide they’ve had enough. Either way, this is a great way to introduce some basic direction following, while keeping it a fun and positive experience for your toddler. And remember, sometimes kids need to see and try things numerous times before they understand or have interest in it so if your tot isn’t into this activity at first, it doesn’t mean they never will be.

We first did this with Zoren when he was about 14 months old, and although it was a hot mess of direction following at first, he got the hang of it pretty quickly and we ended up hiding, finding, and basketing shamrocks for about 20 minutes before he got bored.

How to expand on this activity with your toddler:
- give them a chance to do the hiding of the shamrocks for you to run around and find.
- talk to them about the color of the shamrocks, mentioning they are green each time he/she finds one for awhile, then proposing the question, “Yay! You found another one! What color is the shamrock?” after they have heard you repeat the color to them multiple times.
-make it a point to lay the shamrocks out after the hunt, maybe in sets of three or five and count each set with your toddler, then count them all together. This is a great way to introduce counting to your toddler.
-once they have the hang of it and are ready for more of a challenge you can really start to have fun and expand on skill building by introducing a different color or size in the mix, along with containers for sorting. Once all the shamrocks are found you can sit down with your toddler and help him/her sort the two colors or two sizes into separate containers.

For preschoolers:

1. Just as with toddlers, we start by locating a shamrock template online. Google search “shamrock template”, find one or more that you want to use, and print them out. This year I chose two templates with different sized shamrocks on them and used three different shades of green construction paper to print them on. So we have a total of 18 small shamrocks in varying shades of green, and 9 large shamrocks in the same varying shades of green.

2. Hide all of the shamrocks, and make it a little difficult with only tiny parts of green sticking out to alert them, or make it really difficult for older preschoolers and hide them completely out of sight.

3. Call in your preschooler(s), give them a bucket, and let the hunting begin.

4. Once all of the shamrocks have been found, it’s time for a little skill building. Have an open discussion about the similarities and differences between the shamrocks. Provide containers for sorting and ask them to sort out the shamrocks without much instruction. This will allow them to use their own problem solving skills and allow them to choose how they want to sort things. Then ask them to sort again with more direction from you, i.e. sort by shade of green, or sort by size, or sort by both color and size. Also ask them to count how many shamrocks they have sorted into each container, then to count them all together. You can also make simple addition problems using the shamrocks, which I something I plan to do with Zoren today, because he is really interested in math.

5. Turn it into a crafty project. Once everyone is bored with the hunting and sorting, it’s time to decorate the shamrocks to display for the holiday. Be creative and use whatever you have to decorate them. Younger kids will be happy with some stickers and crayons, and older preschoolers may want to take the glue and glitter route. Once they are done, let the kids decorate their rooms with them, or hang some up on the fridge, whatever floats your boat. We keep a long doubled string of yarn hanging up in the kids playroom with tiny clothespins attached so we can hang up all of their seasonal creations.

I hope you get a chance to try some version of this with your little ones, because it really is a lot of fun for everyone! If you have any other fun ideas on how to expand on this activity even more, please let me know! I am always looking for new things to incorporate that encourage learning in an engaging way!