Saturday, July 31, 2010

What My Child Is Reading – July 31, 2010

I usually review our library finds, but our home library is rather large as well, and Anna often pulls her favorites off the shelves for independent reading. The first two books are from our library, the other two are library picks.

What do people do all dayWe love Richard Scarry’s books here and read What People Do All Day many times together since Anna was about 2. Lately, she keeps this book in her bed and studies it every night. She has her favorite stories there (Travel by Train and How the Bread Is Made), and she really sees to be interested in the details of the stories. In general, she seems more and more interested in non-fiction, especially in the books about how things work. Penguins

We had Penguins easy reader since Christmas (a present from my parents), but Anna had no interest in this book whatsoever. Suddenly she keeps reading it, and the pages that really get her attention is a map that shows where penguins live and the pages that range the penguins from smallest to largest and describe their heights. By the way, I didn’t know that some penguins live in Africa until she told me about it.

DK Nursery Rhymes

Anna really likes poems and rhymes. She still keeps This Little Piggy that we received for review from Tiger Tales on her bed shelf. I brought her another good book of nursery rhymes from the library, and she has been reading it every day. It’s too funny to listen to her when she attempts to sing some of the rhymes while reading them. Like me, she seems to have a problem remembering lyrics of her favorite songs and sometimes makes up her own words to them.

Pajama Day

We like Fancy Nancy early readers even better than original big books. I love the illustrations, and the stories focus on friendships and normal activities. Again, I have to say that even though Pajama Day is marked as “Level 1”, it’s a pretty advanced reader, especially due to “fancy words”. Unlike many other books we read about school relationships, nobody in this book is mean, and after being excluded due to poor choices in her wardrobe Nancy is invited to play with her friends again. Anna loved this positive ending a lot.

What are your children reading this week? Join our blog hop and share – the linky is open all week.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Week In Review – July 30, 2010

preschool corner

Anna is 3 years 9 months old 


It was another pleasant week. Last Saturday we made it to The Gilroy Gardens, one of Anna’s favorite places. She also started the third section of her summer camp – it’s supposed to be focusing on animals. Overall, summer camp was sort of disappointing, since we really thought that they will do something special with each theme. Instead the structure of the day was the same as always – just books and crafts are now focusing more on animals. Still, she is adapting to her new classroom and hopefully will not have any problems starting a new year in her preK room in September.


Reading. I cannot read in the car because I am getting carsick. But Anna doesn’t seem to have any problems with it, and we usually take a pile of books with us to make the travel go faster. Lately she likes non-fictional books more – she is very interested in geography books and also in books explaining how things work. I’ll write about some of her current non-fiction favorites in tomorrow’s What My Child Is Reading post.


Math. Anna’s interest in math has rebounded lately, and she chooses a lot of math-related activities. She likes to measure and count and is trying to figure out skip-counting on her own. I might do some games with her on skip counting next week when we have some time. We also do Time4Learning every evening. We might still try some other options before signing up, because we are both frustrated with endless repetition on each screen that wastes a lot of time.


Geography. It was fun this week to introduce Anna to India. I hope to visit in person one day, hopefully with someone who really knows the country and local customs. In the meantime we read books, watched The Jungle Book and learned a little about The Taj Mahal. We also read together Tigers at Twilight from The Magic Treehouse series and made bangles for our StArt project.


Arts and Crafts. Anyone who reads my blog knows that my daughter is not exactly Ms Crafty (and neither am I). But this week we experimented a lot with new materials – scotch tape, corrugated cardboard, yarn and foil, and Anna enjoyed trying them all out. She also asked for playdoh and did some pipleclearner creatures, and I am encouraged to see her getting more interested in creating things.


Play. I saw some beautiful outside stove ideas here and here. But since I am lazy, I just put out the cardboard box and told Anna that it’s her new stove. This was more than enough for her to launch into cooking up a line of delicious mud pies, mud soup and hot chocolate (out of mud, of course). No pictures of her, because we both wisely decided to declare clothing “optional” for this activity. At some point out came a garden hose and one formerly filthy child was allowed back in the house.

Come and share your week’s accomplishments in Preschool Corner hosted by Homeschool Creations.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Discovering Oil Pastels

Oil Pastels

My favorite gift to get for myself is definitely Amazon gift cards. I love Amazon, especially now when I got myself a Prime membership as a Christmas present. My last little shopping spree brought us Crayola Oil Pastels and Melissa and Doug drawing pad (on a great sale too!). Anna is not a big fan of crayons, since they are not bright enough for her liking and don’t “glide”. Pastels are nice and smooth, and the number of colors is not overwhelming like in a big crayon box. I am a bit July29_Coloring disappointed that they still have the usual Crayola problem – the paper wrapper slides off too easily, and my daughter always gets distracted by trying to either fix it or to slide it off completely. Still, she really enjoyed using them today and colored enthusiastically her Taj Mahal. I gave her a simplified version of the story. I told her that an Indian King wanted this “castle” to be as beautiful as his beloved wife, and she kept saying as she was coloring that she is going to try as hard as an Indian King did and that she is going to make her Taj Mahal very colorful.


It always surprises me when Anna “draws to order”, since she is usually not interested in drawing at all. But this time I asked her to draw Indian jungle for our landmarks scrapbook that we are putting together, and she was happy to oblige. She even told me in advance what she is going to draw – a coconut palm, a buzzing bee and a tiger. Unfortunately, she chose a pale yellow for the tiger, but she was very deliberately drawing his paw caught in the trap, just like in Tigers at Twilight from The Magic Tree House series. I have decided to retry the series from the middle after we faltered rather badly with scary Mommies in the Morning, but now she loves Jack and Annie again. Too bad that they never went to Germany, because that’s where she chose to head next in our geography studies.

StArt – Elephant Dance

image Elephant Dance

We read several books for our Indian theme, and Elephant Dance was by far the most age appropriate and interesting. In the book an Indian grandfather visits his family living in US and talks to grandchildren about India. It describes simple things, such as sun, rain and wind, in a very poetic language. It also has a nice map of India as part of the story, a sheet music for the melody little boy makes up and some information about India culture, food and animals.


I had “bangles” as one of the possible Indian-related craft projects in our Indian box, and Anna was quite enthusiastic about making them. The recommendation was to make a bangle out of plastic bottle, but it would have made it too wide for her. We made ours out of Starbucks coffee jackets – my favorite craft item of late. Anna chose to decorate the first with glitter glue, ribbons July27_Foil1 and paint, and then the next day I showed her how to make a silver bangle by using a foil on top of her cardboard bangle (in the book grandfather brings his granddaughter silver bangles). Then I suggested decorating it with windows crayons. Drawing with windows crayons on foil entertained her for an hour – a very long time for my craft-averse daughter. I also found it fun, the crayons July27_Foil2 glide so nicely on the foil. She made a pile of drawings, mostly just covering pieces of foil with crayons, but also trying different abstract squiggles and then interpreting them for me. Strangely, some of them were “an old motorcycle with a high seat, and you can only see one wheel because it’s turned sideways”, “a runway”, “a rollercoaster” and “a mailbox”. Here is her mailbox and my sailboat :). Oh, and she didn’t want to wear her bangles, after all.

Come and share your art inspired by books at StArt at A Mommy’s Adventures.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Geography Track – India

image July27_IndiaBox

The virtual travel of this week was selected by me. I wanted to “go to India” for a long time, because of all the special things I was accumulating due to generosity of my Indian friends. I was excited to put together a special “Indian box” for Anna that had a beautiful hand carved elephant, an interesting collection of hand made spin tops, The Jungle Book (from our home DVD collection), a small elephant craft from Michael’s, a recipe, a book  (it didn’t fit in the box) and a couple of “craft suggestions” (I printed how the finished crafts would look like to give her an idea of what she might want to make).

My Indian friend also brought a very special and July27_IndiaDressbeautiful outfit for Anna from her visit back home – unfortunately it’s still way too big for my daughter. I let Anna wear a shirt from this outfit as a dress, and she was quite pleased with it. She was also very excited about spin tops, especially the ones that require a string to start them, but then spin for a very long time. We are enjoying several books for our Indian theme, and we plan our family movie night tonight to watch  The Jungle Book. Strangely, Anna was quite indifferent to the chance to watch a new movie – she is worried that it’s going to be “scary” even though I assured her that it will end well :) Before we watch a movie, we will eat leftovers from my first ever Indian dish – Chicken Curry. It really exceeded my expectations, and my husband who loves Indian cuisine a lot more than I do gave it big “thumbs up”, so now it goes into our recipe collection.

Share your virtual travels in time and space at History/Geography exchange hosted by Children Grow Children Explore Children Learn.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Discovering Scotch Tape


I have decided that Anna is old enough to handle a scotch tape dispenser. As I expected, she was over the moon – clearly to her it was a major milestone on the path of becoming a big kid. She kept saying excitedly, I am doing it all on my own, like an adult! I am excited too – scotch tape makes certain projects less pretty, but also less messy, and the 3D pieces don’t fall off as easily. Anna ended up making a few collages with July26_ScotchTape2 yarn pieces. I was hoping that she will measure the yarn, but she was not interested… then. The next day she made collages with used up coffee holders and kept measuring them to make sure the pieces will fit on the page. Her coffee holder collage ended up as “an airplane tower and a big building” even though it started originally as a tree and was named “ladder with steps” in the middle of the project. I see a lot more of those scotch tape projects coming our way until scotch tape loses its novelty.

Tiny Talk Tuesday - Forever


Setting – bath in the evening. Me (impatiently): We will only have time for one book tonight, because it took you forever to get ready for your bath.

Anna (after thinking for a moment): But, mama, it’s not forever. It’s still the same day. Forever is when I grow old and die.

Come and share your kids’ pearls of wisdom at Tiny Talk Tuesday hosted at Not Before 7.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Smattering of Math


I really don’t know why Anna developed a notion that her math skills are lacking. I heard that some kids have the same problem with reading – they don’t believe that they are making progress even when they do. I am happy to say that playing math on the computer has helped her confidence dramatically. In her words, I was missing math skills. They were wiggling and jiggling July26_Math3 in my head. Computer helps me out with math, and now they (the skills) wiggled in. I think working on math skills in simple games helps her forget her doubts and focus on the activity itself. It cracks me up that she thinks that computer teaches her math, since we only play games that reinforce what she already knows. Still she comes up with the statements like this: Mama, stop talking July26_Math1 about math. I want to learn math from the computer, not from humans. Despite these protestations, she does quite a lot of math activities of her own choosing that have nothing to do with computer – playing with counting blocks, with her digital and analog clocks, measuring length with a ruler and a measuring tape, rearranging magnetic numbers oJuly26_Math2n the fridge, fiddling with her tangrams. I wrote about our Miniluk before, and I credit this game in reinforcing Anna’s knowledge of numbers and her ability to arrange them into a number line when nobody is looking. I admit that usually she avoids playing with it since my husband threw a few of harder challenges at her, but lately she has been returning to it on her own. She also plays other board games that involve dice and traversing a number board.


We also cook and bake together when opportunity presents itself. Anna loves baking and is always anxious to help. We read the recipe together and discuss teaspoons and tablespoons, how to make two tsp of vanilla extract using a 1/2 tsp measuring spoon, etc. She still uses those terms every which way when she is busy with her pretend cooking, but I am positive that she is learning more from cooking together than from her precious computer even though she might not be thinking so.

Come and share your math activities via Math Links at Joyful Learner.

Sunday, July 25, 2010



Rarely there comes a book that is timely and makes me undergo a major mind shift in the way I look at things. I am very grateful to my friend Cat (we talk about our books, blogs and kids during our morning coffee breaks) for mentioning Drive to me. See, I was very busy lately thinking up a proper reward system to use at home. I did see many of them in the blog world, and the idea of motivating my child to do something that she doesn’t like to do was sort of appealing. Well, after just looking through Drive I was thinking, Phew, good thing I didn’t mess things up any more than I already did!

See, Daniel H. Pink makes a point that we are all born as I-people. We have intrinsic drive to learn, to experiment, to find our own purpose in life. Then somewhere along the way the system of carrots-and-sticks kicks in and messes up our I-drive. Rewards can take our intrinsic motivation away and turn play into work, stress us out and cool our fire instead of igniting it. We become X-people – compliant, insanely competitive or disengaged. By the way, majority of the book is actually about organizational approaches and motivating adults, but there is a chapter about how to help the kids to stay on I-path. I will not get into details of this chapter, but my husband and I already spent two evenings debating implications there. I might save our debates for another post.

I certainly see the truth of the statements in the book when I look at our own family. Small rewards worked well for potty training, but then it took us a year to wean Anna off getting an M&M every time she went potty. Some of my attempts to say if you do X, you can get Y backfired badly by daughter absolutely refusing to do X and saying that she doesn’t care about Y. Really, the best way to motivate my child and to teach her was always through games, and I got a lot more careful lately with not offering any prizes in the games. I noticed that she is rather competitive by nature and loves prizes. I would like her to appreciate the joy of participation more than the end result. We already have some “unlearning” to do here, but I feel that we didn’t get addicted to rewards yet, and Anna’s desire to learn on her own is going strong. I want to do my best to raise her an I-person even though I know from experience that they can be more challenging to deal with. After all, I am already married to one :)

What do you do at home to motivate your children to do what they dislike?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What My Child Is Reading – July 24, 2010

It was a nice reading week. I picked up some books based on the recommendations of WMCIR participants as well as some of our own choice, and majority was well received. One that tanked was Tinker Bell – Anna expelled it from her room, because it was too intense for her liking. But we definitely had some good picks that were enjoyed by all.

On Monday When It Rained

I sometimes pick the books from the Houghton Muffin reading list for Kindergarten, since I know that content-wise they will be age-appropriate for my daughter. That’s how I stumbled On Monday When It Rained. Essentially it’s a “feelings book” combined with “days of the week” book, and it’s illustrated with black-and-white photos. I didn’t expect much from the book, but both of us really liked it, and Anna used it as her “fall asleep with” book this week.

Who Will Be My Friends

I wanted to get Who Will Be My Friends for a while now. We got an older edition of this book in the library, and I am curious if illustrations are updated for a newer edition. Anna asked several times why the policeman in the book is carrying “a baseball bat” and what does it mean “to walk the beat”. I was a bit amused to see how Freddie goes to the park all by himself without a caretaker hovering by. The book doesn’t have a lot of text, but conveys the message that sometimes it takes a bit of courage and time to make friends – a good message for my reserved daughter.

Lines That Wiggle

Lines that Wiggle was something that popped up on Amazon when I was trying to find books on shapes, and this is one of those books that just ask for “Story+Art”. Some of the illustrations are done in glittery puffy paint, so the book has this nice sensory component to the story. The only thing that Anna did not like about the book was the fact that it’s written partially in a very fancy cursive font – it made it hard for her to read. She can read regular cursive fine, but this one was too much.

Seven Magic Shapes

Incidentally both me and Leah from Almost Unschoolers picked Three Pigs, One Wolf and Seven Magic Shapes at about the same time. She wrote about it last week and even did edible tangrams with her children. While Anna enjoyed the book, she was not really into retelling this story with tangrams. I am afraid that the phrase “And the wolf ate the pig and his cat too” was a deal breaker for her. I really liked the ending and how this story ties up with a classic story of Three Little Pigs. I think I will try this book again when she is older.

What are your children reading this week? Join and share your picks – the linky is open all week:

Friday, July 23, 2010

We Are Warming Up…


My previous reviews of here and here were not exactly glowing, and I still feel that there is a lot of room for improvement, but… here is Anna’s opinion the other night:

  • Anna (after she carefully dragged her monkey, and the software repositioned her jungle animal into predefined location on the screen): Mama, why did it move my monkey? Why??? It’s now in the air! I wanted it on the tree!
  • Me: You know, this is a great question. I think software does it, because it wants to make sure that you don’t put one monkey on top of each other in the pile. Then you cannot count them. But the people who created this software gave it to us, so we can ask them questions and tell them what we like and what we don’t like.
  • Anna (excited): I really like it! Tell them that I like it!
  • Me: But maybe we can find something else that you will like even more?
  • Anna (firmly): No, we won’t. I like this one. I want to keep playing with Bunny and her friends.

So what exactly does Anna like? Mostly I think she likes the sense of accomplishment when she completes the task and can progress to the next screen. It’s her first time using computer almost independently (I still sit next to her to answer questions like the one above), and I am impressed with how quickly she mastered drag-and-drop with a track pad. I need to find a smaller mouse for her – mine is too big for her hands.

What I like:

There is a very limited set of choices once you select an activity. I think this helps kids focus on what they are doing instead of contemplating what they could be doing next. For now I bring her directly into an activity of my choice and let her go as far in it as she is interested going. Most of the time she chose to go to the end even when the activity was boring/repetitive to my adult mind.

I like the variety of activities. I did have to jump to the second half of K Math to find something interesting for Anna, but the section introducing addition and subtraction is great. We always had a bit of the block in this area when I would ask Anna how much I would need to add to 1 to make 3, and she would always say, "you need to add three”. Playing the addition game seemed to help her see that I need to add up to three, not to add three more.

Kelly from One Little Room helped me find lesson guides - they are more hidden from parents than they should be. I didn’t use them, but I looked through them and they do a good job explaining how to introduce the activity and also offer additional extensions and printables/worksheets.

Is this an ideal program for us? No, but I am still considering signing up, because essentially I will get access to an entire K-8 set for all the subjects. I don’t want to sound snobbish, but $19.95 a month is not an exorbitant sum for our middle-class budget – maybe I can make one less trip to Michael’s every month.

Week In Review – July 23, 2010

preschool corner


It’s been another good week. For the very first time we left our daughter with a babysitter and made it to our friends’ party. She did very well, but woke me up at 4 am – just wanted to make sure you guys are home. At the same time, she lobbies for another trip to Babushka and Dedushka – but she wants it to be in winter, because she wants to see snow “for real”. I am also excited with Anna’s increased ability to play by herself – lately she is content to play in the backyard or in the kitchen for an hour or so in the evening, so I have time to cook or to catch up with work. She is so busy with her pretend play that she doesn’t have any time for TV – she didn’t ask to watch anything in two weeks, I think, and I really like it this way.

Reading. A couple of times this week I woke up early in the morning to find the light on in Anna’s room and her sleeping on top of several books. She didn’t have those books in her bed in the evening, so I guess somewhere in the middle of the night she wakes up and grabs a couple of books to read herself back to sleep – just like her father.


Geography. It didn’t quite happen by design, but this week was busy with geography. We played with maps, studied landmarks and made Tower of Pisa (OK, it ended up as Pooh bedroom, but still). I find it a lot of fun to share my passion for seeing the world with Anna, even though it’s only a virtual travel so far, and I like to watch how she absorbs this knowledge and uses it in her play.


Math. Anna is obsessed with measuring at the moment, and her favorite book for the past two weeks was Carrie Measures Up. She practically memorized the book and asked me several times to replay the story. The story also involves knitting, and she can’t wait to learn how to knit. Sadly, I completely forgot how to do it, but maybe knitting is like riding a bike, and I will recall it once I take the needles in my hands again.


Playing. I admit that I enjoy just hanging out with Anna nowadays. I used to worry that she wants to be entertained all the time, but this starts to change. She still loves for us to play with her, but she doesn’t seem to be bored or lonely when she is left to her own devices. Sometimes she plays physical games on her own, sometimes she is a ballerina on the stage, but mostly she is buying (or gathering), preparing and serving food. It’s really amazing to watch her imagination grow and listen in to her stories. Now finally I start wishing for time to slow down and I try to treasure every moment of our time together.

Come over and share your week in Preschool Corner at Homeschool Creations.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Read Around the World - Italy

Do you enjoy geography for preschool and elementary school children? Would you like to do a hands-on mini country study at home? Then please visit my hands-on-geography series about introducing children to cultures and countries around the world.Planet Smarty Pants - a book and activities to learn about ItalyThis post has been refreshed in June 2014 with new graphics and resource section. Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

Hands On Geography

We have started introducing our daughter to different cultures since she was about 3 years old. Over years, we read about many different countries trying to encourage daughter to pick a country of her choice when she got older. We also tried to pair up a book with a cooking, craft, or science activity that would make Smarty’s view of the country more “hands on”. You are welcome to check out other posts in Hands-On-Geography series:

A Book About Italy

Angelina of Italy
Angelina of Italy is a part of a short series by a famous poet and writer Maya Angelou. I have to agree with some of Amazon reviews that the story is “contrived” and built around the word play that is more understood by adults than children. Angelina is part of a big family and her favorite food is, of course, pizza. When she learns about The Tower of Pisa, she imagines that it is made out of pizza, and she is very worried that the tower will collapse and the pizza will be ruined. Angelina’s family drives to Pisa where a girl can discover that the famous tower is indeed made out of stone.

Look at the Map

Italy Map

We looked at the atlas and found Italy in Europe. Smarty was amused to see that Italy looks like a fancy boot with a high heel. I pointed out the places in Italy that I visited while working in Europe – Rome, Naples, Florence, and then we looked at the Venice pictures from our Mediterranean cruise that her Papa and I took before she was born.

Tower of Pisa in Model Magic


Lately Smarty expressed more interest in making 3D projects. I like how she brainstorms the ways of making something. She decided that she wants to make a Tower of Pisa with play dough. We had a package of Crayola Model Magic, and finally the moment came to try it out. Both of us loved playing with it. The taller structure that you see on the right is my version of Tower of Pisa – sorry if it looks more like you-know-what, I did my best :). Smarty had terrific time trying to stabilize her towers all the time explaining to me how she is going to dig under it the way Italian engineers did to stabilize the real Tower of Pisa. Eventually, however, she had a change of heart, and both our towers ended up as a furniture set for Pooh and Piglet. At least both of them got mini Pisa Towers for “cuddle friends”. Smarty thought that it’s very important to have plenty of bookshelves with books (stones) in Pooh and Piglet’s bedroom.

Cook Around the World – Pizza

It was not difficult to choose what to make for dinner after reading Angelina from Italy. My favorite homemade pizza dough recipe takes less than an hour to get ready, and Smarty was happy to help with pizza sauce and with putting everything on pizza. Interestingly, however, she is a rare child who doesn’t like pizza, because she doesn’t like neither tomatoes nor melted cheese.

More Activities for Italy

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