Thursday, August 29, 2013

Creating a New Balance

Over the last few days we've started our new fall routines. This new school year is bringing some changes for our family and we've spent some time this week getting acclimated to them.

For the past eight years I have taught in the same rural school as a primary grade teacher. As a small K-8 school it's a community school, a place where kids are still kids and where everyone is connected.  It's a school I've always held dear as I attended the middle school program myself many years ago and it still holds onto many of its core values. I love teaching. I particularly love teaching younger children; they still find school a magical place and view their teacher as one of their favorite people. I know this because I am often one of the people they share their most exciting news or treasured items with. There's a thrill for me watching something "click" for kids as they suddenly understand something or realize they are a competent learner. I enjoy taking complex subject matters and making them approachable to even 6 year olds, and then hearing their enlightened points of view on the issues. I like collaborating with other adults in order to help make school a successful place for each child in my classroom. There's something incredible about watching the progress both an individual and a group of kids make in one year's time. Eight years in and I still find myself excited to go to my job. 

But three years ago I became a parent, an equally amazing and rewarding "job." What I experience with other people's children I now experience at home, on a daily basis, with my own child. He too finds the world magical, lights up when something clicks, and shares enlightened kiddo perspectives. He too blows me away when I stop to think about the amazing progress and change he makes each day, each week, each month. When my second arrived, I started this amazing process all over again. Motherhood continues to give me moments when I catch my breath over how much I love these little people and how their accomplishments are a greater sense of pride than my own accomplishments. Figuring out how to crawl across the floor beats a Master's degree any day. Three years into parenthood and I can't imagine my world without them. 

So I was struck last year with trying to balance these two essential elements of my world and finding myself failing a little. With the arrival of Little Brother I was blown away with how quickly Big Brother's young childhood is flashing past us and knew I needed more time with both my boys. Although I deeply appreciated and respected the work our daycare teachers did, I knew I wanted to be there for more of these early years. Yet I also knew I couldn't completely step out of the classroom.

Big Brother's first day of daycare, August 2010.
And so this year my school board has granted me a gift, the opportunity to work part time. Although an unusual situation in the primary grades they have hired a second teacher to work in the afternoons so that I can come home and be with my own kids. By doing so they have shown that they support me as a teacher, but also as a person with other facets to my life outside of my job.

First day of preschool, August 2013.
Our family changes allow Big Brother to attend a local morning preschool. He eagerly started yesterday.
 Although he loves his family time, he also loves his independence, space, and peer friendships and couldn't wait to get started in his new place. 
I know that there will still be balancing this year and there will still be the classic moments of "working mommy guilt" favored in one direction or the other. But I also know that this new balance is one I'm looking forward to taking on because the rewards in all directions will be great.

The boys this afternoon "playing trucks together" on our first afternoon home. 
And just in case you were wondering, I'm still hoping to keep on blogging and sharing it all . . . 
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Alphabet Adventures: K is for Kayak and L is for Lake

It's been a quiet week for the blog and projects as we went on multigenerational family trip and I started my return to work. But we still managed to fit in two more letters on our Alphabet Adventures by doing two letters on one adventure.

Although we had originally planned to fly a kite for letter "K" we had the opportunity to borrow some kayaks while away with family. We were also staying at a lake that was new to us, so it made sense to include "L" in this adventure.

The Adventure
We were excited to try kayaking as my husband and I have only tried ocean kayaking once and the boys had never tried at all. When it became clear the kayaks were available we realized we could not have asked for a better day or timing on the lake to try it out. 

As we headed out it took us each a moment to figure out how to paddle with one of the boys in each kayak but as we progressed it got easier. There was almost no one else on the lake that morning, so we had fun exploring the edges and trying to "catch" the many ducks which were swimming nearby. 

The mountain views from the middle of the lake were beautiful. The water was calm and the air the perfect temperature. Earlier in the day I had heard a loon calling out and hoped we might see one, but no luck. 

Big Brother enjoyed riding in the kayak so much he went back out with Daddy for a second ride. And I started dreaming about finding a pair of used kayaks for next summer. 

The Projects
A few days later when we returned home we were able to complete our "K" and "L" projects: K is for Kiss and L is for Lemon. 

For the K project I let Big Brother put on some lipstick. He thought this was pretty silly. He then "kissed" the paper leaving colorful kiss marks all over the paper. 

For the L project we cut a lemon in half and did lemon prints using yellow poster paint. On the first few prints the paint was thick and printed large circles. The later prints started to show the segments of the lemons. 

Each of the pages will be added to the binder we've continued to create which chronicles are all our adventures. 

Other K adventure ideas: fly a kite, karate class, anything to do with kids, and karting. 
Other L adventure ideas include: lobster pound/restautrant , lighthouse,  and lawn games. 

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Alphabet Adventures: J is for Jump!

Early this summer we learned that a local community center sets up an indoor bounce house two days a week and for a small fee ($3) kids could come jump and play for several hours. We waited for the letter J in our Alphabet Adventures  series to go so we could do J is for Jump!

The Adventure
We're pretty excited to discover this great resource as summer is coming to a close. For our bouncy Big Brother this will be a great indoor activity when the weather gets cold. Not only did the center have a bounce house but also large floor mats, foam climbing shapes, and balls.

Unfortunately, even though we were at the center for quite a while and we all took a turn in the bounce house, it really didn't lend itself very well to photos. 

It was a huge hit with Big Brother, who loves to jump all the time, so we'll definitely go back. An even better part for him was running into some new friends from town so he had other kids to jump with. 

When we returned home we read Hop Jump by Ellen Stoll Walsh. This wonderful tale is about a frog who wants to dance instead of hop and jump. She and the other frogs learn there is always room for both dancers and jumpers. 

The Project
We kept our project simple this time, J is for Jewel! For a long time now Big Brother has enjoyed using gem like stickers. Unlike other stickers they are very easy for little fingers to peel off. We decorated a blue "J" for our book. 

Another great adventure while learning about a new resource for the upcoming fall and winter months. 

Other J ideas: jumgle gym, jewelry shop/store, junkyard, and making jam. 
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Friday, August 16, 2013

Egg Carton Caterpillars

Egg carton caterpillars have been a favorite activity of mine to do with young kids for years and I've used it as both a teacher and camp counselor. It's quick to prepare, uses everyday materials, and gives children the chance to create their own creature.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Alphabet Adventures: I is for Insect Investigation

We had thought about doing I is for ice cream, which seems like a logical summer choice, for our newest Alphabet Adventure. But we have already gone to get ice cream a few times this summer and we wanted to do something new. Lately Big Brother's been very interested in insects and we decided that a fun "I" adventure would be an "Insect Investigation." (Kudos to my husband who added the "investigation" part as I was just going to call it an insect search.)

The Adventure
This was one adventure we could do in our backyard, the woods behind our house, and over near our neighbors' pond. As it's been really wet we all put on some clothes that could get muddy and our rubber boots. I also put together this graph so we could track the insects we found. We don't have a clip board at home, so I used an old cereal box and a binder clip. The insects on the graph were: beetles, ants, butterflies, ladybugs, grasshoppers, and dragonflies. I knew we'd see others, but didn't want to make our graph too broad.

Before heading out on our walk the insect in our clue bag gave us a good opportunity to talk about what an insect really is. I pointed out it needed to have six legs, three body parts, and antennae. Big Brother latched onto the idea of six legs as an indicator pretty quickly. 

We found several insects near our gardens. Once in the woods we enjoyed looking under logs and rocks, on old stumps, and under tree bark on fallen trees. After the woods we made our way to our neighbors' pond where there was some variety in the insects we had been finding. Each time we found an insect we marked a square on our graph. 

In the end, we had found quite a few insects and collected good information on our graph. We'd also found a few not on the list, which we wrote down, and several non-insect animals like spiders and frogs. 

And that evening, we had the opportunity to enjoy some ice cream anyway. 

Book Note: Although there are many awesome books about insects, for this adventure we spent time looking at a handful on nonfiction books about insects and not necessarily reading a story. 

The Project
I is for ice painting. Earlier in the middle of the hottest part of summer I noticed several Pinterest pins on painting with ice. I knew that would be perfect for the letter "I" project.

To begin with I used a small ice cube tray meant for a dorm sized refrigerator. I filled each section halfway with liquid watercolor (but I think you could use regular tempera paint) and then added water. I didn't fill them so full that they would spill over into one another. I put a toothpick in each one. I then froze them for several hours.

We popped them out of the tray and Big Brother was instantly able to start painting with them. As he painted, and they melted, they left beautiful trails of color. 

On his second sheet he decided to take two at a time and race them across the paper. 

Big Brother was enjoying them so much he asked me to save them in the freezer for another day (which we did.)  

Other "I" adventure ideas: ice cream parlor/window/factory, igloo, and something inside.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sun Prints Two Ways

The other day Big Brother was inspecting a newly paved road as we drove on it and became curious about why it was black and the other roads were gray. We started talking about how the sun and weather "faded" the roadway. The conversation inspired me to put together two different sun powered projects.

Sun Prints with Construction Paper

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Alphabet Adventures: H is for Hike

Last week became pretty busy as we tried to enjoy the end of our summer days with several social outings and events. We did manage to fit in one of our Alphabet Adventures over the weekend. H is for Hike! Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate as much as we would have hoped. But we didn't let it "dampen" our spirits and luckily, we all have a great sense of humor.

Big Brother opening the clue bag (he already had a sense of what we were doing) and using the binoculars from the clue. 
The Adventure
We had known from the beginning we wanted to do a hike for the letter H. We live an area where there  are lots of different hikes to choose from, so we had been debating where we would go for a few weeks. I have to admit, in the end our deciding factor was a yard sale which had been advertised south of us that sounded too good to pass up. So we settled on a hike that meant we could do both.

We packed a picnic, filled some water bottles, and loaded our backpacks. Little Brother rode for the first time in the frame pack. This was a more comfortable fit for this adventure than the front pack we tend to use. We were excited to try this as we really haven't hiked on this type of trail as a family yet.

Although the weather looked beautiful as we headed out, and the forecast had been promising, the sky became darker and there were a few sprinkles as we climbed further up the mountain. From the beginning, this wasn't our smoothest adventure. We had forgotten sweatshirts and rain jackets, and it was pretty cool with the sprinkles. (Luckily I had a few of mine in the car, including one that could fit Big Brother and one in the diaper bag for Little Brother.) Little Brother needed to nurse shortly after getting onto the trail and everyone was ready for lunch much earlier than expected. But we stayed positive, stopped when we needed to, and tried to keep moving upwards. Big Brother stuck with the bumpy trail, loved exploring some of the trees and rocks on the side, and scaling the rockier part near the top. The trail proved to be a great one for little feet to do primarily on their own.

Unfortunately, as we reached the summit and we were admiring the view we could see a true rainstorm rolling in. Pretty quickly it started dropping giant, fat raindrops on our heads.

We found a small cluster of trees which provided good coverage from the rain and started our picnic. 

And then we heard the loud thunder claps . . . a definite no-go for our hike. We packed everything back up, and headed as quickly and safely as we could down the mountain. 

We made great time as we moved down the mountain, and even had time to find some more "H" words: help, home, hand, hop, and hurry. Once off the summit we were sheltered from the rain by the trees and the thunder started to move away from us. Of course, shortly before reaching the bottom the rain stopped completely. We were able to slow down and enjoy the end of the hike. 

Once home we extended our hike by reading Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson. We liked how Henry had time to enjoy his hike by connecting to nature and relaxing. 

The Project
It took a few days this time but we did follow up with an "H" project as well: H is for heart. For this project I cut out a heart for Big Brother from orange card stock. I collected three heart shaped paper punches, a glue stick, and scraps of colored card stock.  

He used the punches to cut out smaller hearts and the glue stick to add them to the larger heart. Although the punches took some effort from him, punches are a great way for building hand and forearm strength. These muscles are important for a variety of skills including (but not limited to) writing with a pencil, dressing with buttons and zippers, and doing projects with small parts. 

With some guidance and tips he was able to punch quite a few hearts. He added them to the big heart which will go into our family book.  

So although it was a slightly more bumpy Alphabet Adventure, it was definitely a memorable one filled with humor, helping hands, and of course, heart. 

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